Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
‘We wondered why we were the only girls on the beach.’
‘And we thought it was an Italian thing, all the men walking around holding hands.’
They both shrieked with laughter.
‘No wonder they made such of a fuss of us in that disco, plying us with free drinks. We were probably the only women ever to set foot in there.’
Tears poured down Rosie’s face at the memory. ‘I miss you,’ she said suddenly.
‘I miss you too,’ Christy said softly.
‘You know, it’s weird because if it wasn’t for you I’d never have met Jake and had the boys and everything but …’
‘… it all means we can’t see as much of each other. I know. But things will change. The boys will get bigger and you’ll have more free time.’
‘But you’ll always be Jake’s agent?’
‘Well, I hope so,’ Christy said. If she’d picked up on Rosie’s hint, she didn’t acknowledge it. The little carriage clock on her mantelpiece struck three. Rosie started.
‘Fuck! I have to be up in three hours. Fuck! Fuck, fuck.’
Christy laughed. ‘I’ll call you a cab, Cinderella.’
There was a brief hiatus as Rosie struggled to open the gates and then tried to insert the correct keys in each lock of the front door. Finally she was in her house. She managed to pull herself together just enough to stumble into the kitchen and concoct that old magic potion of two Berocca and a pint of water, then drag herself up to the bedroom, stumbling over George’s monkey on the stairs.
Daylight illuminated the tiny Ikea bed where Jake lay sleeping. Rosie fell on top of him.
‘Whaa … ?’
‘I love you,’ she slurred. ‘I love you so much.’
She yanked at his boxer shorts. He pushed her away.
‘Bean, what time is it?’
‘Nearly five,’ she giggled, still trying to grope him.
‘George will be up in about an hour. Gerroff.’ He rolled on to his side and started snoring. If the fans could see him now.
Rosie fell on to her back, slightly put out. But then a diorama of the night started jiggling in her head, and she smiled. She loved Christy, why was she ever cross
with her? Los Angeles talk and married men aside. She needed more nights like this. She’d have to see what could be arranged.
Two and a half hours later, Rosie felt less enthusiastic about such nights, when a little tongue started licking her face and a shrill voice cried: ‘Mummy, morning time!’
‘Mummy, Mummy. With a big, fat bummy.’ The boys had learned this hilarious line from Horrid Henry. So much for the benefits of reading to your children.
‘George, darling, Mummy’s very tired. Could you just get into bed and keep the noise down? Shall we all play at going to sleep?’
‘No! Let’s play lions.’
‘Oof.’ Someone was whacking Rosie over the head with a hammer as she attempted to balance on a dinghy in treacherous seas. Last night was the stupidest activity she’d ever participated in. What had possessed her?
‘Grraaargh, Mummy! I am
king of the jungle
‘Jake,’ she pleaded. ‘Can you take him downstairs, let me have a little lie-in?’
‘I can,’ Jake sniggered. ‘But we have to be at King’s Mount for our tour in just over an hour.’
‘Mummy!’ they both exclaimed delightedly.
‘Sorry, I mean fudge. But I’m about to die,’ Rosie protested.
reap what we sow,’ Jake said cheekily. ‘I did ask Cinderella to leave at midnight but you wanted to go pole dancing.’ He paused and then said: ‘Wasn’t that what you were whining about the other night, never throwing your cares to the wind, never shedding responsibilities?’
whining. And I wasn’t pole dancing.’ Though she’d have loved to, given half a chance, she acknowledged to herself.
‘Downing shots then.’
‘Christy made me,’ she groaned. Her brain was a burnt-out engine stuck in a bog. Then she remembered something. She grabbed her phone from the floor. Oh, thank God, a text from Nanna.
All fine, luvr. Don’t u worry bt a thing. Luv the dress. Can’t wait 2 hear all bout preemeer. Did u meet Ellie? Seen her in the
this morning, looking gorge – saw Jake too, none of u. xx ☺
‘Oh, thank goodness.’ She fell back on her pillows and then sat bolt upright. The room tilted. ‘Ugh.’ Rosie forced herself to roll out of bed and stumbled to the en suite, where she caught sight of herself in the mirror. Oh help. A shower would sort her out. That and some Touche Eclat. They’d had better.
King’s Mount was a towering Gothic pile that they approached through tall gates and up a leafy, winding drive.
‘It doesn’t look like a school; it looks like a hotel!’
impressive, no?’ said Jake, parking beside a Lamborghini. ‘Think of how much more fun it would be for Tobes to go to school here than that cramped little place down the road.’
‘Mmm.’ Rosie was too weak to argue. She wanted nothing more than to be lying in a darkened room.
In the school lobby, lined with portraits of severe-looking men in mortar boards and notices covered in gold writing listing scholarships to Eton, three other mothers and two fathers were waiting. Covertly Rosie surveyed them. Everyone said the friendships you made at the school gates bonded you for life. These were women she would laugh and cry and grow old with. One was in a houndstooth suit, carrying a briefcase and tapping her foot impatiently. Another was in a tracksuit, hair pulled back in a ponytail and actually hopping up and down as if she couldn’t wait to bound away and start jogging again. There was a couple: he in a suit, frowning over his BlackBerry, and she in a floaty summer dress, looking very pale.
‘I feel sick,’ the woman said confidingly to Rosie, as they poured themselves coffees at a trestle table.
‘Me too,’ Rosie smiled. ‘I was out until three, getting wasted.’
The woman looked at her, horrified. ‘I didn’t mean that. I’m sick with nerves to see if Ruben gets in here. We only moved here when he was two months and I was worried I’d be too late.’
‘You’ll be fine,’ said Rosie, hurriedly returning to
Jake with the coffee. He was talking to a man who’d just walked in. In contrast to her husband, who, at her insistence, was in a smart pair of trousers and a shirt, he was in combats and a baggy shirt. He was slightly unshaven, radiating the message I-do-something-arty-that-I-can-fit-around-the-kids.
‘Hello,’ he said, holding out a hand. ‘I’m Kim.’
‘So who’s your boy?’
‘Um.’ In her hungover state, it took Rosie a moment to remember.
‘He’s called Toby,’ Jake said impatiently.
‘This is Shane.’ He pulled out his phone and showed them a photo of a tousle-mopped tot.
‘Aah, bless,’ Rosie gushed. ‘How old is he?’ The old chestnut that she’d always pulled out at dire baby groups when she’d wanted a trapdoor in the floor to open up and deliver her from her exhaustion. As if she cared. Nothing was more boring than a stranger’s child.
‘Nearly two. We’ve almost certainly left it too late to get in here, but Shannon and I thought what the hell, give it a go. Unfortunately, Shannon couldn’t come to look round. She’s at Barclays; it’s pretty full on. So what do you do, mate?’
‘I’m an actor,’ Jake said slightly frostily.
Rosie squirmed. Did her husband expect everyone to recognize him now?
‘Oh yeah? Been in anything I’d have heard of?’
A tall lady in a tweed suit marched into the hallway
and everyone stood to attention. ‘Good morning!’ she yelled, or so it seemed to Rosie’s delicate ears. ‘Welcome, welcome to King’s Mount. Are we all here?’ She glanced at a list. ‘Mr Hobbs?’
‘Yes,’ Kim barked.
Down the list, she went. ‘Mr and Mrs Perry?’ she finished. Everyone’s heads turned and the suited husband muttered something to the anxious wife. The tweedy lady’s expression softened. ‘Thank you so much for coming’, she cooed.
‘Er, pleasure!’ Rosie glanced down at her top. It bore a huge sticker emblazoned with a smiley face and the message
I’VE BEEN A GOOD BOY
. George’s Wendy reward from yesterday. Shit. With as much dignity as she could muster, she ripped the sticker off and stuffed it in her pocket.
The tour commenced. Brightman’s had smelled of cabbage and soap, but King’s Mount reeked of lavish flower arrangements.
‘This is like Anne Hathaway’s hotel suite on Oscar night,’ she muttered to Jake, as they were led into gleaming labs that might put NASA to shame.
‘I’ve just realized your husband’s Jake Perry,’ Kim said in her ear. ‘Not on
‘Ha ha.’ Rosie seriously thought she might be sick any second.
‘I hated him in
. I didn’t think he was funny at all.’ He shrugged. ‘Hope you don’t mind me saying. Constructive criticism’s always so useful, I find.’
smiled, as if they’d been exchanging pleasantries about the weather. It never failed to astonish Rosie how people thought it was acceptable to criticize your spouse, because they’d seen him on telly. Did they think actors and their families weren’t real people, that they only existed on a screen? Did he think Rosie would pass on his ‘constructive criticism’ and that Jake would be grateful for it?
‘Do you think he’d sign a DVD for my mum?’ he continued.
She could only ignore this. ‘So you’re the … uh –’ Rosie didn’t want to say house husband, it sounded so politically incorrect, so she tried – ‘the primary caregiver in your family?’
‘That’s right,’ he smirked. ‘After Lalage was born, I decided to downsize, so I could fully participate in my children’s formative years.’ He shrugged. ‘I suppose I just love my children.’
And other people didn’t? Who was this man? Penelope Leach disguised as a dad from a building-society advert?
‘So you must know all the gossip,’ said the nervous mum, suddenly slipping in beside her as they exited the building through a side door and strode across a windswept playing field. ‘Is Ellie Lewis a total bitch? Is she still with that guy, what’s his name? Oh baby brain! Darling, who was that handsome young man who played the French painter in that film we saw when your mum babysat that one time?’
don’t remember,’ her husband snapped, still studying his phone. ‘You’re the one who dragged me to see it.’
‘Your husband’s so funny,’ the woman continued. ‘The first time I saw him I thought he was gay but …’
Rosie laughed weakly. ‘Obviously not.’
‘Well … no.’ The woman didn’t look convinced. They were standing outside a classroom now: through the glass in the door Rosie could see rows of neat little boys in blazers, heads buried in textbooks. Would Toby really fit in here? Not to mention the far wilder George.
‘It’s amazing,’ Jake said to her softly. ‘We have to get the boys in here.’
‘What do you think?’ asked the businesswoman under her breath. ‘I’m not that convinced. They only offer German as a second language and that’s from the age of ten. What about Mandarin? What about Spanish?
Rosie’s stomach churned. There was a very tempting bin just there …
‘Excuse me,’ she said. Leaning over it, she deposited three cocktails, two shots, a selection of canapés, three glasses of champagne, two slices of dry toast and five cups of coffee.
The tweedy lady called to say she was so sorry about Rosie’s food poisoning and she’d be in touch very shortly about any last-minute vacancies.
‘Well done for cocking that one up,’ Jake had snapped as they drove home, windows wide open, to lessen the chances of Rosie hurling again.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said abjectly. ‘I couldn’t help it.’
‘You could have not stayed out all night and got wasted. This is our sons’ future on the line.’
Rosie stared at his profile in astonishment. Jake laughed at people who said things like that. They’d agreed early on that they were laid-back parents. They mocked couples who Gina-Forded their babies and poured scorn on Baby Einstein DVDs. But he certainly wasn’t laughing now.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said again.
‘At least I was there,’ Jake said. ‘Hopefully I made a good enough impression to pull us through.’
‘Hopefully you did.’
‘Don’t be sodding sarcastic.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry I got so drunk last night. It’s just … You know I don’t go out much any more.’
Rosie’s face flamed and her body stiffened. Jake continued driving, looking angry. How could he speak to her like that? She started dreaming up rebukes, but she simply didn’t have the energy. Instead, she dwelled on the most slow and painful ways of torturing her husband, who was muttering to himself about the bad traffic and how he’d be late for rehearsals. Indeed, traffic was so slow that by the time they reached the house she had to abandon her plan of half an hour in front of Jeremy Kyle with a bar of Galaxy and more or less rush straight out to pick up the boys from nursery.
‘Mummy,’ George said as they ambled home, ‘I didn’t sleep very well last night. My bum was all itchy and bothering me and Dizzy says she thinks I must have worms.’
So now the three of them were in the chemist across the road. The chemist held a special place in Rosie’s heart. Its stock made a supermarket in Siberia in the nineteen seventies look like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, consisting of two packs of nappies, three of sanitary towels, a couple of toothbrushes and three bars of soap. It was run by the world’s grumpiest woman, who took positive pleasure in humiliating her tiny band of customers, who were too elderly or too desperate for a cure to be able to walk further afield to the smarter chemist by the Green.
‘Do you really think you should be on the pill?’ Grumpy had asked Rosie a couple of weeks previously
in front of a queue of pensioners. ‘It can’t be doing your body much good. Anyway, at your age are you sure you really need it?’
It was impossible right now to see how the shop made any money. Rosie was certain it was a front for international arms dealers. But there was no alternative. Head high, shoulders back, deep breath.
‘I’d like some treatment for threadworms, please.’ She couldn’t face the ticking off she was going to receive for not making her children wash their hands more, so she found herself adding: ‘For my friend.’
Grumpy smiled, relishing the conversation they were about to have. ‘Sorry? What did you say you wanted?’
She snorted. ‘Right.
. What did you say your
‘Worm pills,’ Rosie muttered. She should have gone to the Green.
Grumpy shook her head. ‘You must tell your children to wash their hands more.’
children. Child. It’s just one child. And my friend.’ Rosie’s imagination was running riot now. ‘And the au pair, she’s … Bulgarian! And the husband – he’s Spanish, he’s a … bullfighter! Retired now. So we’ll need treatment for four.’
Grumpy smirked. ‘And how old is this
‘Hang on …’ Rosie made great show of trying to remember. ‘Um, four, I think.’
Same age as
As they were leaving with an expensive packet of pills (‘Remember you need to treat the whole family, all four of you and again in a fortnight if you want to say goodbye to itchy bottoms.’), a teenager appeared from the back room. Rosie couldn’t bear to imagine Grumpy One procreating but the girl had a boss-eye squint that meant she must be her daughter.
She looked Rosie up and down and then said, ‘Is it true you’re Jake Perry’s wife?’
‘Wow! That’s amazing. I love Jake Perry. Will you tell him I said hello?’
‘My name’s Shanice. You’ll be sure to tell him that, won’t you? Shanice. God, I can’t believe you’re married to Jake Perry.’ She looked her up and down again. ‘I mean … are you
‘Last time I checked. Ha ha.’
‘Amazing,’ she breathed, shaking her head.
‘Sorry about the kiddies. You know, having worms and everything.’
‘It’s a friend’s child, actually.’
‘Oh sure, and I’m the bride of Dracula,’ she snapped back as Rosie hurried out of the door. Her phone was ringing. Jake. Calling to apologize, no doubt. About time too.
how’s it going? God, we’ve just been mortified in the chem—’
‘King’s Mount called me.’
‘They’ve found a place for Toby. He can start in September. Isn’t that great?’
‘Well, sound a bit more pleased, won’t you?’ Jake snapped. ‘I thought you’d be overjoyed after your performance this morning …’
‘It’s great, I suppose.’
‘You suppose? You go and hurl in front of the head of one of the best prep schools in the country and they still offer our son a place, despite it allegedly being booked up for years. It’s amazing news. Toby’s a made man.’
Rosie looked at Toby, who was squatting down, poking something no doubt vile on the pavement with a stick.
‘He’s a made man?’ she asked incredulously. What was happening to her husband? Next minute, he’d be insisting the boys went to Eton like all the Wendy’s mums. Followed by a spell at Sandhurst.
‘I have to go, Simon’s calling us back into rehearsals. I’m sorry you’re not more pleased about this.’ Jake was gone.
Rosie swayed slightly. Was she going to be sick again?
‘Come on, boys, let’s get home. It’s a telly day.’
‘Wa-hoo!’ they cried.