Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
They could have a dog. They
have another baby, but Rosie wasn’t interested. She was so grateful and thrilled that she’d been able to jack in her job and spend more time with the boys, but at the same time the reality of being at home with small children wasn’t quite living up to her fantasy. It was messier than she’d imagined, noisier, more boring and sometimes more
lonely – though of course there were brilliant bits too. Still, the first item on her to-do list was finding a good nursery. Then she’d have mornings off, time to … she didn’t know. Well, do up the house obviously. She’d drive to antiques markets that started at dawn and scour eBay for finds just like people did in
, people whose children were called things like Indigo, Thorn and Bushfire.
But then? Take up pottery? Start training for entry to
The Great British Bake Off
? Study for a PhD in Spanish literature? Who knew? At least she wouldn’t be strap-hanging on the Bakerloo line, beating herself up because Toby had a rash and she’d said nothing about it to the nursery staff or having to deal with dreary Cillian at the next-door desk complaining about his adenoids.
Only eighteen months ago that had been her life. She’d been working in that little office in Paddington for Tapper-Green IT Consultants, earning OK-ish money, but money that all seemed to be going on nursery fees Jake was a struggling actor, often doing gigs for free, just to get his face seen. Rosie was exhausted from rushing from home to nursery to work to nursery to home again, too grumpy and tired to really enjoy the boys. But just as she was teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown, about to beg Jake to jack in the acting dream and find a proper job, he got the part in
It was an overnight sensation. From being a nobody, people had started pointing and nudging at her
husband as he walked down the street. They asked for autographs when he was standing in the queue at Tesco’s. A man had approached him the other day in Oxford Street and picked him up and licked his face. People filmed him peeing in public toilets. Everywhere he went, people yelled out his catchphrase: ‘Not under
patio.’ Everyone thought this was hilarious. Rosie had trained herself to smile when they did it, even though the joke had long lost its lustre.
He was interviewed constantly for every publication imaginable. He had four hundred and fifty-three thousand-odd followers on Twitter and had closed down his Facebook page because so many weirdos were jumping on there. He had been to the pub with Ricky Gervais after filming a comedy quiz show and had Jonathan Ross’s email.
He was just about to start rehearsing for a West End version of
– not the glitziest choice, and certainly not the best paid, though the fact that Ellie Lewis, star for years of the insanely popular, brainy and glamorous American drama
, was going to be Viola, had given the enterprise a load more sex appeal. Not to mention, Christy Papadopolous, Rosie’s best and oldest friend – and as it happened, her husband’s agent, but that was another story – had assured Jake the play was the best step to take if he wanted to be regarded not just as a sitcom star but as a serious actor. And Christy knew what she was talking about.
Anyway, Rosie thought, as she moved from the
reception room to the ‘snug’, which, despite its name, could contain their old flat, the end result was suddenly money had been pouring into Jake’s bank account. She wouldn’t call herself rich, because she didn’t feel like a rich person. Rich people spoke like the queen and spent their nights out at Boujis or Annabel’s, rather than in front of a Love Film DVD. She didn’t look rich – her shoulder-length hair was always pulled back in a practical ponytail and she hadn’t had time to have her highlights done for six months and she wore no make-up. Again, when would you find the time to apply it when the boys were displaying their kung-fu kicks? Her jeans were from Gap (bought with a thirty-percent-off voucher). Her trainers were FitFlops (
comfy). Her top was River Island. Then there was her turquoise necklace purchased on that holiday with Christy in Rimini, when they’d danced until dawn every night.
‘Happy?’ said Jake behind her. He slipped his arms over her shoulders and rubbed himself against her bottom. Jake would have to be in a coma not to want to have sex. Rosie slapped his hand gently as it moved towards the zip of her jeans.
‘Stop it, you sick pervert. We have a vomit-encrusted child to bathe.’
‘Later?’ he whispered in her ear. ‘To christen the bedroom?’
‘Of course later,’ Rosie grinned.
‘Mummy!’ shouted Toby. ‘The moving van is here.’
She ran back into the hallway and peered through one of the windowpanes that flanked the front door. Sure enough, the van was drawing up.
‘Better put the kettle on.’
‘Can I help them?’ Toby cried.
‘Well … You can perhaps help unpack something.’ She’d originally said they’d do the unpacking themselves, but Jake had overridden her and said they’d pay the premium and have the removal guys do it. Why not? They could afford it. He was always saying that these days.
There was just one thing she needed to do before making cups of tea. She pulled out her old Samsung – as soon as she had a moment she’d get round to finally upgrading to an iPhone – and jabbed out a quick text. Two recipients: Christy and Sandrine.
We’re finally here! So excited. Can’t wait for you to come and see it. xxx
She opened the door and as she stepped outside into the spring sunshine, her phone tringed. Sandrine.
So excited for you, honey-bunny. xx
Rosie smiled. Truly, there was no one lovelier than Sandrine. She imagined her pootling around her kitchen in Hebden Bridge in her huge shabby slippers and one of her baggy sweatshirts, cat rubbing against her ankles, while her partner June pottered in their little herb garden. Rosie hoped she’d visit soon. She’d die of laughter
when she saw the gold taps, but it would be kind, supportive laughter.
The inbox showed another text. Christy. Rosie’s best friend since she was seven years old.
Can’t wait to see the results of all my hard work! Xx PS Bottle of Moët on the way. Let me know if it doesn’t turn up.
‘Oh, Christy,’ Rosie grinned. She showed the text to Jake.
He smiled wryly. ‘That woman and Moët. She’s getting more
by the second.’
Rosie smiled up at him. Sometimes she felt like she was standing in a rainstorm, being pelted with the force of her love for Jake. She was so lucky. She had everything – her wonderful husband, her two boys and now all this. And her best friend who’d helped her achieve all this. When they were kids, she’d always made up little stories about living in a huge house with a beautiful garden and now …
‘All right?’ asked Nicky, head of the delivery squad, winking as he climbed down from the driver’s cab.
‘Never better,’ Rosie replied. ‘Just need to unpack the soap, some boys’ clothes, the kettle and we’ll be raring to go.’
It was very early the following morning. Rosie and Jake were lying in their tiny double bed. It had barely fitted into their old room in Neasden, but which in their new bedroom with its dressing area looked like a breadcrumb on a dinner plate.
Between them lay George slurping from his sippy cup of milk. In Neasden they’d had to dash across the hall into the kitchenette to warm it in the microwave. Here, at six a.m., Rosie had had to go down two storeys and pad in bare feet across the kitchen’s acres of freezing flagstones, then go all the way back upstairs again.
‘I think we’d better wean Georgie off his morning milk soon,’ she said.
‘Nooo! Mummy! Love my cuppy.’
‘Poor little Georgie,’ Jake agreed annoyingly. He loved to do this, side with the boys to be the fun dad. It wound Rosie up that she was always the misery guts, saying ‘No’ to everything.
‘Well, then, you go down for his milk tomorrow. Either that or we’re going to have to have a microwave in the bedroom. We’ll need to keep a stash of nappies in here too,’ she added, patting her son’s damp bottom through his pyjama trousers.
‘Try not to make it six tomorrow, Georgie Porgie,’ Jake pleaded. Rosie glanced at her husband in the sunshine, streaming in through a gap in Samantha’s peach curtains.
She loved the way he looked in the morning: his black hair rumpled, chin stubbly, touchingly vulnerable without his glasses. Jake wasn’t traditionally handsome; he was too tall and skinny for that, and his face wasn’t symmetrical: his nose a little too large, his mouth too wide and … whisper it, because it was a subject on which Jake was extremely touchy … his crown was showing just the earliest hints of balding. But he had a gangly charm to him – one that Rosie thought she’d been the only one to appreciate, but which, according to dozens of Internet forums and, freakily, one ‘tribute site’ set up by a mystery admirer, thousands of women shared.
‘I’m full of beans!’ George replied proudly. Granny Yolande had told him this and he never tired of repeating it. George was a mini-Jake: dark and vital with rosy chipmunk cheeks. Toby was so much more like Rosie: pale and inclined to fade into the background.
‘Did you like sleeping in your new bedroom, Georgie?’ Rosie asked.
George drained his cup. ‘Want breakfast now!’
‘Oh, George, it’s so early.’ And Rosie and Jake had been up until past midnight, finishing Christy’s Moët, which had arrived as promised, and then christening the rooms in the house. They’d done the lot, bar the boys’ bedrooms, and it had been hilarious, even if
Rosie’s bottom and back ached from all the cold stone floors.
‘Full of beans!’
Jake laughed. ‘I’ll take him down,’ he said, just as the buzzer signalling someone was at the front gates hummed like a huge bumblebee.
‘Who the fuck is that?’
‘I don’t know. It’s …’ Rosie peered at her phone, unable to see much without her contact lenses. ‘Just gone seven.’
‘Who the fuck!’ sang George. Rosie cringed.
‘I’ll go and see.’ Jake jumped out of bed and grabbed last night’s pants from last’s night’s discarded clothes on the floor.
‘You can’t open the door like that,’ Rosie laughed.
‘Why not? It might be the paparazzi. Let them have something decent to take a picture of for once.’ Just after
was first screened, they’d left the flat in Neasden one Monday morning pushing the double buggy when a man with a huge camera had jumped out from behind a bush and started snapping away. It had been a bit scary, but then funny – the pictures were so dull they’d never made the papers and word had clearly got round that the Perrys weren’t worth bothering with, as after that they’d been left well alone.
‘Come on, Georgie,’ Jake said, as the buzzing started again. ‘Let’s see who it is.’
‘It might be burglars!’ Rosie cried as the pair dashed down the stairs, no doubt waking Toby in the process.
She ran into the hall in her pair of horrible old pants, which had turned yellow from too much washing. She peered over the balustrade, with its view down two storeys into the hallway. Jake was peering at the little screen by the intercom.
‘Surprise!’ it crackled.
‘Mum, bloody hell. What are you doing?’ Jake pressed the button to open the gates. Seconds later, there was banging on the front door. Rosie ducked down below the banister.
‘You know me and Dad,’ bellowed her mother-in-law as she marched into the hall. ‘Early risers, us old folk. It’s the hormones going doolally. So we thought: Well, they’ll be awake soon, and we jumped in the motor – hello, my little chickadee, yes, Granny
pleased to see you – so here we are.’
Rupert was looking around him. ‘My word, Perry. It’s a mansion.’
‘I told you,’ Yolande said smugly.
‘Mummy!’ cried Toby from his room on the floor below. ‘What’s happening?’
‘Don’t worry, darling!’ replied Rosie, still crouching down. ‘Granny’s just here early, that’s all. Go down and see her.’
‘Come and get me, Mummy.’
‘I can’t, darling. I have to get dressed.’
Rosie peeked through the railings. Yolande stood in the middle of the hall, resplendent in a primrose-yellow
top and Not Your Daughter’s jeans, ash-blonde hair perfectly highlighted and coral lipstick (‘It makes your teeth appear so much whiter’) applied. Her slightly sarcastic tone suggested it was nearly noon, rather than literally the crack of dawn.
‘Morning, Yolande, be down in just a sec’.’ Rosie started crawling back to the bedroom. She hoped Rupert didn’t look up.
‘What are you doing, Mummy?’ George yelled. Rosie ignored him. Safe in the bedroom, she pulled on yesterday’s jeans and top. Oh, Yolande and Rupert. Why were they five hours early? Couldn’t they give them just a little more space? She hadn’t seen her own mother for years, but this was taking things to another extreme altogether.
Jake had two siblings, but his mother often seemed to forget that. Fraser the oldest was, at forty-three, a surfing addict, who spent his life travelling from beach to beach in pursuit of the perfect wave, supporting himself through the occasional bartending job. Becki, the second child, led a blameless existence as a teaching assistant and slightly smug mother of four in Swindon.
But Yolande clearly longed for glamour and excitement in contrast to her own respectable but unexciting life as an accountant, and her hopes for this were all invested in Jake. At school, he’d told Rosie, his mother had attended every single football, cricket and rugby match he took part in, yelling ‘Kill them!’ from the
sidelines. There were days’ worth of video footage of Jake in every school and uni play and, after uni, it had been Yolande who’d persuaded him to reach for the stars and audition for drama school.
Every review from every fringe play Jake had been in, no matter how ropey or obscure, was pasted into a scrapbook. As break after break eluded Jake, Yolande had been the one to insist he kept plugging away, never gave up hope. And so now fame had finally, belatedly, arrived, she was ecstatic. She’d taken charge of their new wealth, investing Jake’s money, urging them to buy the biggest property they could. Rosie was a little bit apprehensive about listening to her – after all, not that long ago, she’d lost virtually all of the family’s money in some dodgy pyramid scheme; they’d only kept the house because it was in Rupert’s – a retired dentist – name. But Yolande had learned her lesson, she told them repeatedly, and property was always a safe bet.
Her interest was touching really, Rosie told herself as Toby screamed, ‘Mummy! Come and get me! I’m scared!’
‘Oh, Tobes.’ Rosie hurried out of the room and down the stairs and long corridor to Toby’s room. Her son was sitting in his bed, duvet pulled around him, his earnest little nose poking out. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s scary in this room. Something lives in that cupboard.’
He pointed at the huge built-in wardrobe, which Rosie had fallen in love with. No more toys scattered all over
the floor. She obsessed over storage like she’d obsessed over pop music as a teenager. It was one of the many freaky ways in which motherhood had changed her life.
‘Nothing lives in the cupboard, Tobes. Shall I look for you?’ She opened the door. ‘See? Nothing.’
Toby’s expression was dubious.
‘Oh, darling.’ Rosie picked him up and carried him to the cupboard, enjoying the warmth of his body against hers, the smell of tousled mousy hair. ‘See?’
‘Granny and Grandpa are downstairs. Shall we go and see them?’
In the kitchen Rupert was sitting at their tiny Ikea dining table reading the paper. He was wearing a beautifully ironed blue shirt that set off his eyes, and his grey hair was immaculate. Rupert was a very handsome man, but surprisingly low-key for someone so good-looking. Yolande was reading something on her iPhone.
‘I see Billy Whitely’s got a part in the new Trevor Nunn musical,’ she said to Jake. Billy Whiteley had been the star of Jake’s year at drama school and had long been a thorn in Yolande’s side. ‘But the last thing he did bombed, so he needs a hit.’
‘Billy’s all right, Mum.’
‘What about Julianna Frost? Haven’t seen her in anything for ages.’ Yolande tapped ferociously into Google. She visited the IMDB site about nine hundred and twenty-seven times a day.
‘Julianna’s just had a baby,’ Rosie said firmly. She liked
Julianna and refused to encourage her mother-in-law’s aspersions.
‘Your lawn needs cutting,’ said Yolande, putting down the phone and turning towards the French windows that led into the garden. ‘We should have brought the mower; Dad could have done it.’ She began walking around the room, proprietorially sweeping imaginary specks of dust off the Shaker units. ‘This is lovely, but gosh, they could have left it cleaner.’ She bent down to kiss Toby. ‘How is Granny’s boy? Granny’s bought you some sweeties for later. Mind you, it’s all dependent on you eating a good lunch. Do you know, I was talking to your Auntie Becki and she says when Noah was nearly five, he
nothing more than broccoli and salmon and roast potatoes. Do you think if Granny cooked broccoli and salmon and roast potatoes for your lunch you could eat it all up and we could tell Noah what a good boy you are?’
‘No,’ said Toby.
‘I was planning on doing pasta for lunch,’ Rosie said.
Yolande wrinkled her nose. She didn’t consider pasta a proper meal – where was the meat? ‘But I’ve filled the freezer already with home-cooked meals. Just like I used to. Remember, Perry, when you were a bachelor boy? That’ll take the pressure off, won’t it?’
‘That’s so kind of you.’ Rosie’s heart sank. She hated Yolande’s cooking. It was all overdone roasts and soggy vegetables. But some battles were simply not worth fighting.
‘Think nothing of it. Now – and you needn’t thank me for this either – I have a little surprise for you all. Well, actually, quite a big surprise. Rupert go and fetch it, love. Perry, you can help.’
‘Why does Granny call Daddy “Perry”?’ Toby asked as the men went outside. Out of the corner of her eye, Rosie could see them unloading things from the back of the ancient Range Rover. Oh no. Oh help.
‘Darling, you know the answer to that.’ Oh bugger. Not that hideous carpet that looked like a homage to a Tarantino shoot-out.
‘No, I don’t!’
‘You do.’ She smiled. Toby loved hearing the same things again and again; it reassured him.
‘It’s his real name, love,’ Yolande said. ‘Peregrine. Peregrine Merlin Jake-Clements. I loved the name Peregrine when I was pregnant, it reminded me of a falcon sailing through the skies. We all called him Perry when he was a boy. Grandpa and I still do.’
‘But why is he Jake Perry now?’
, Rosie thought, as her mother-in-law explained. ‘Shorter. Peregrine Jake-Clements is a terrible mouthful for people to have to remember.’
‘So his real name is Perry?’
‘Yes. But he’s been Jake for ages. Since he was twenty-two and went to drama school.’
‘You’re Toby Perry, love,’ Yolande agreed. ‘Daddy
changed his name by something called deed poll. And George is George Perry and Mummy is—’
‘And Mummy is Rosie Prest,’ Rosie said firmly. She’d always vowed never to change her name if and when she got married. It was the most pointless, old-fashioned exercise she could imagine. Yolande shook her head as if George had said something cute.
Rosie Prest until she married Daddy.’
‘She’s still Rosie Prest,’ Rosie said firmly. ‘Yolande, have you seen the house yet? Do you want Toby to give you a tour?’
‘Come and see the lounge, Granny.’ Toby pulled at Yolande’s arm.
Yolande blenched. ‘Living room, darling.’
Rosie concealed a smile, as Rupert in the hallway yelled: ‘Come and look!’
Just as she’d feared – a pile of ancient furniture sat there. Well, that was going straight to the tip.
‘We really don’t need all this any more,’ Yolande said. ‘But it’ll be so much help to you in this enormous space.’ She picked up a pair of violet flowery curtains that Rosie dimly remembered seeing in their spare bedroom. ‘Look at these. We thought we’d get shutters in that room but they’d be ideal for you. Look what good-quality they are. Lined and everything.’ She waved a fake gold vase in the air. ‘And this’ll be useful for all the flowers everyone’s sending Perry.’