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Authors: Julia Llewellyn

Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction

Lovestruck (21 page)

BOOK: Lovestruck
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Jake shrugged. ‘Really, you know it’s just been luck. You were always more talented than me. And you know, after tonight, it’s probably all over. The show’s bombed.’

‘Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,’ said Nick. He was a very handsome guy. Talented too. Rosie remembered
him now in the BBC drama. He didn’t deserve to be pouring drinks. It could so easily have been Jake standing there, and Nick being the man of the night. It was all so unfair.

‘Hey,’ snapped an elderly man behind Nick. ‘Guests need serving.’

‘Later, then,’ said Nick, raising a wry eyebrow.

‘Yeah, later. Let’s have a drink some time …’ But Nick was already at the other end of the bar. Jake’s family surrounded him in a pincer movement, though all the other guests seemed to be backing away from him.

Rosie held her head high. ‘It wasn’t that bad,’ she said firmly.

‘It was a very strange decision to move it to contemporary times,’ said Becki. ‘Those canapés look nice. Hey, Dave, look.’ She turned to Jake. ‘Listen, while we have a moment … because God knows you’re not easy to get hold of these days, I was wondering if there’s any chance you could open this fundraising event for the local cats’ home in September. All you’d have to do is make a speech – a funny one – and cut a ribbon, and then maybe hang around for a bit to sign autographs. It would mean so much to the cats; they’ve had such hard lives.’

‘I’d love to, Becks, you know I would.’ Jake had got so much smoother at this kind of answer, not so long ago he would have stumbled and stuttered. ‘But it may be tricky. I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing in September – I could be filming, I could be in America …’

‘I
doubt that,’ Rosie said firmly, as Becki said even more firmly: ‘We can be flexible. We could move the fete, so it fits in with your timetable. Rosie, keep me posted.’

‘You should really have a word with Christy,’ Rosie said. ‘She’s in charge of the diary.’

She snatched a glass of champagne off a passing tray. There was no other way to get through the night. In the distance she saw Simon the director looking thunderous and Brunhilde von Fournigan stony-faced, although still shockingly beautiful. They had four children, Rosie knew from hairdresser gossip mags, so no wonder she looked a bit stressed out. All that wealth and beauty was no protection against worrying if your kid had fallen out with his best friend or had a high temperature.

‘You OK?’ Christy asked. She looked tense, slightly edgy, obviously wondering how to deal with the fall-out.


I’m
fine. I’m just wondering how I’ll deal with Mr Grumpy once we get home.’


I’ll
deal with him. It’s not the end of the world. His performance wasn’t the problem; it’s the whole production that was idiotic. And as for Miss Ellie over there …’ She glared in the direction of Ellie, who was standing surrounded by gay men, laughing uproariously and clapping their hands together like seals, a radiant smile still plastered over her perfect features. Rosie had once or twice tried to catch her eye and wave, but she
appeared not to have noticed her. ‘She could have at least bothered
trying
to learn the lines.’

So if the production was so doomed, why did you push Jake to do it?
Rosie thought. Instead, she asked, ‘Is that the end of his glorious career?’ How would she feel about that? Not as bad as she ought to. God, she was a terrible wife.

‘I shouldn’t think so for one millisecond.’ Christy’s tone was firm, but suddenly her expression changed. Her olive skin grew paler, her brown eyes even more anxious and she stood on tiptoes, eyes focused on something in the far corner.

‘Are you OK?’ Rosie asked, turning to look, but all she could see was a crowd of guests pretending to enjoy themselves.

‘Yes,’ Christy snapped, holding her glass so tightly Rosie thought she might crush it.

‘Is it the married man again?’

‘No,’ Christy said unconvincingly. Rosie’s head shot round. Who was he? But the room was packed and she’d didn’t recognize most of the people.

‘Rosie!’ said a soft voice behind them.

Rosie turned and Ellie stood there, arms outstretched. ‘Ellie! Hi!’ Kiss, kiss. This was more like it. ‘You were … wow.’

Ellie shrugged. ‘I stank. I lost the plot.’ She didn’t sound remotely bothered.

‘Not at all! And you look amazing.’

Ellie
smiled. ‘Thank you. You too. Is that the Vivienne Westwood you wore to those other events? Good choice to recycle; it really suits you. So where’s your … nah-nah, is it? I’ve been so looking forward to meeting her.’

Rosie’s eyes filled with tears. ‘She couldn’t come. She wasn’t well enough.’

‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear that.’

‘She was really looking forward to meeting you.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Ellie said briskly. ‘We’ll go to meet her.’

‘Sorry?’

‘We’ll visit her. I’ll tell Sharon. Take her out for lunch, or tea or something.’

‘Oh …’ It was a lovely gesture but Rosie didn’t actually believe a word of it. Ellie had promised lunch already. It would never actually happen.

‘I mean it,’ Ellie said firmly. ‘This
will
take place.’

‘That would be …’ Her husband was standing, glowering, behind them.


Hey,
Jake. How are you?’

‘The first review from the
Guardian
’s gone online,’ Jake said. He looked like he had that time he’d eaten the dodgy prawn from the Bengal King.

The party started emptying out pretty much immediately. No one wanted to be around when the reviews were arriving. The handful of hardy souls who remained frowned at their phones as if they had just been presented with the obituary of a loved one.

‘The best bit about it is the third act, which is far shorter than the preceding two,’ Yolande read disdainfully from her iPhone.

‘Everyone’s taxis have arrived,’ cried Christy. ‘Shall we get going?’

At home Yolande instantly set up her iBook on the kitchen table and started googling incoming reviews.

‘This one says “Perry is acceptable,” ’ she said brightly, peering through the bifocals, which she only donned when utterly necessary.

‘The Disney people will read it! I’ll never get the job.’

‘It was all the director’s fault and they’ll know that,’ Yolande affirmed. ‘They shouldn’t have cast that silly starlet. It was a gimmick. It misfired.’

‘Shall we go to bed?’ Rosie tried.

‘Come on,’ said Jake.

In their tiny bed in the huge room, they lay very still.

‘This bed is so claustrophobic,’ Jake snapped. ‘When are we going to replace it?’

Rosie said nothing. Still, they lay. She couldn’t bear it, knowing they were both awake, unhappy, beside each other. She reached for his hand.

‘Don’t!’ he snapped.

‘I’m trying to be nice to you,’ she exclaimed. ‘Don’t push me away.’

‘Everything’s ruined,’ he said numbly.

‘No, it’s not. This play’s been cursed. The run will be curtailed and then you’ll be free of it.’ She yanked at his underpants. ‘C’mon.’

But
he wiggled away. Almost instantly he was snoring. But Rosie lay awake for a long time staring at the ceiling. She wished that their life together had a rewind button, that they could return to the time when they were poor, struggling, dull. But happy.

Oh, they’d been so happy. When they’d squabbled it had been over Jake putting wooden spoons in the dishwasher and the way she left coffee granules on the work surface. Inconsequential nonsense. Whereas now the canyon between them seemed to be widening every day. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps they’d had their happy time together and they’d never be able to capture it again.

Twelfth Night
– Felt Like It Was the Two Thousandth Sleepless Night of My Life, Criffon Theatre, Review
,
Sunday Comet

If you’ve always felt guilty about your lack of exposure to Shakespeare – don’t worry! This revival can safely be missed. Set in a contemporary
Big Brother-
style house Simon Barry’s production of the Bard’s great comedy was supposed to run for three hours; it seemed like thirty
.

The setting is as delicate and pretty as an upmarket soap wrapper, but the cast cavort around like elephants on an ice rink. Flash-in-the-pan discovery of the week Jake Perry is acceptable as Malvolio, but Ellie Lewis as Viola is in quite another category. It’s true she looks ethereal and perfect, but when she speaks we’re down to the level of the Artful Dodger
.

She spoke all her lines as if they were on an autocue slightly too far away for comfort – and on several occasions the prompter had to step in and help her. Scientists devoting their lives to discovering if dolphins can talk would be put to better use enquiring whether producer Jeremy Frank can actually think. Because if he could he’d never have resorted to this dire bit of stunt casting
.

Verdict: Avoid 0/5

29

After tentative overtures, summer had descended in force. Everyone said ‘Hot enough for you?’, because their brains had mushed like ice cream and they simply couldn’t think of anything more sophisticated.

It was definitely hot enough for Rosie. No one was sleeping well – why hadn’t Samantha and Louis thought to put in air conditioning? David was on at them, asking when he could resume work, and Nanna’s doctor said she needed to slightly rejig the prescription, as she was concerned the drugs were no longer working well enough.

Rosie kept trying to ask Jake for his opinion, but Jake was acting like a wounded … not lion, that was too noble a word, Rosie thought crossly, more like a ferret who’d trapped his paw. As more and more terrible reviews appeared, he was spending longer and longer locked in the bathroom. Rosie
knew
he was masochistically studying Twitter feedback and examining his bald spot in the mirror. When she asked him about money, he brusquely told her not to spend anything.

‘The play’s still a sell-out, so it really doesn’t matter,’ Christy said. She was calling about five times a day to check on morale.

‘I
don’t think Jake sees it that way. He sees it as the end of his career.’ Rosie was beginning to feel really rather anxious.

‘He’s got plenty in the diary. One lot of bad reviews will make not a jot of difference to all the other stuff that’s lined up. Relax.’


I’m
relaxed,’ Rosie lied. ‘It’s everyone else that’s stressed.’

Somehow Jake had struggled through the play’s second night. His parents had stayed the weekend, with Yolande loudly berating the reviewers and Rupert disappearing for long walks on his own. Rosie didn’t blame him; she’d have joined him if she could possibly have escaped cooking for everyone and supervizing the boys. But, mercifully, they had departed on Sunday night. Now it was Tuesday morning and Jake – just back from a two-hour training session with Rolla – was slumped morosely on the sofa googling theatre forums.

‘Like it’s my fucking fault Ellie couldn’t learn her lines!’ he shouted, chucking the iPad to one side.

‘Shhh,’ Rosie snapped. ‘Calm down.’

‘What time is it? Ten thirty? Great. Only another six hours until the car comes and leads me off to the hellhole. All these disappointed people, who spend zillions on their tickets, are going to sit there bored out of their skulls, listening to the prompter give that dingbat her lines.’

‘It won’t be so bad,’ Rosie chivvied. ‘Why don’t we go for a little walk round the Village? We could pick up
the boys early from nursery, maybe have a picnic? It would be fun.’

‘People will stare,’ Jake said. ‘It’ll stress me out.’

‘It’s not always about bloody you!’ Rosie snapped again. She turned her back on him. She thought of how Jake used to love going for picnics, having fun, being spontaneous. That seemed so far away now. He stood up and walked into his office, firmly shutting the door. She flicked a V-sign at the mahogany panels. Probably Jake would be announcing soon they should dismantle them and sell them on eBay.

He emerged as she was about to head off to the shops to run a few errands before pick-up. ‘You know, I’ve been thinking. I don’t think this private-school idea is a good one,’ he said gruffly.


What?

‘I think you’re right. I think Tobes’ll be just fine at the school down the road. Why fork out all that money for Latin lessons?’

Rosie exploded. ‘But the school down the road doesn’t have a place! And I haven’t looked anywhere else, because you and your mum insisted on King’s Mount. And we’ve paid the first term’s fees. They won’t give them back.’

‘Losing one term’s fees against paying for thirteen years is OK,’ Jake said. ‘You were right. It’s not disastrous to go to a state school. I mean you turned out OK. I know the school down the road’s full, but there must be other ones.’

Rosie
couldn’t believe her ears. ‘There aren’t! We looked into all this when we moved.’

‘And I’ve been thinking about the decorating. We shouldn’t carry on. We don’t need a pool and fake grass and all the other gyms and saunas and whatever. It’s ridiculous.’

‘The boys will be so disappointed.’ Despite herself, Rosie had come round to the pool idea.

‘The boys will get over it,’ Jake snapped.

‘What’s wrong, Jake? I know the play had bad reviews, but you’ve all this work lined up. Do you have a secret gambling habit I don’t know about?’ She tried to keep her tone jokey, but she was genuinely suspicious. But before he could reply, someone buzzed at the gates.

‘Oh, who’s that now?’ Rosie wailed, noting the relief on his face. Probably another flower delivery. Even though the play was a failure, flowers kept coming, though perhaps not at the rate they’d arrived after
Archbishop Grace
. She went to the entryphone. On the screen she saw a big man in a black suit. Shades. Earpiece.

‘Hello?’

‘Mrs Perry?’ asked a booming male voice.

‘Er, she is no home,’ Rosie squealed in what she hoped was a squeaky foreign accent. Who was this? The Mafia coming to collect Jake’s debts?

‘Is she close by, madam? Because Ms Ellie Lewis is waiting for her outside the gates. She wants to go and visit her grandmother.’

‘Wha—? Jus’ one second,’ Rosie gabbled. ‘I go find
her. She be right down.’ She turned to Jake. ‘I’m going out. You pick up the boys from nursery. I’ll text Dizzy and tell her she’s babysitting.’

‘What?’

‘I won’t be back late.’ She couldn’t be, Ellie was in the evening’s performance. But what a chance for Nanna to meet her idol! Rosie couldn’t pass it up for anything.

Nanna wasn’t at home.

‘Ah,’ Rosie said after she’d buzzed on the door four times and left three messages on the mobile, which was going straight to voicemail. ‘Um, what shall we do?’

‘Where else is she likely to be?’ Ellie stood beside her on the pavement in a bright blue sleeveless blouse and pedal pushers.

‘I don’t know. Bingo? The community centre?’

‘Let’s try bingo and the community centre then,’ Ellie said firmly. ‘Where are they?’

‘Um.’ Rosie tried to remember. ‘I think you turn right and then …’ But then it came to her. Tuesday. Today was Tuesday. ‘She does pensioners’ aqua aerobics on a Tuesday.’

‘Oh? Well, then. Let’s go to the health club.’

Rosie smiled. ‘It’s not exactly a club, it’s the public baths.’

‘Whatever, let’s go.’

The blacked-out car was an incongruous sight making its way through the back streets of St Paul’s. Tired
mums pushing buggies stopped to stare, as did teenagers on street corners and old men leaning on sticks.

‘This kinda reminds me of Cleveland,’ Ellie said, staring through the darkened glass at a burnt-out precinct. ‘Your nah-nah really likes it here?’

‘It’s what she knows. All her friends are here.’

‘I guess.’ Ellie shrugged. ‘I’ve lost touch with all my friends from home. I tried, but it just became too hard. They envied me for being famous and they couldn’t see I kind of envied them for being ordinary.’

‘It’s the same with Jake,’ Rosie said, as the limo drew up outside the leisure centre. They walked in through the sliding plate-glass doors and up to the desk, where the shell-suited receptionist was watching a music video on her phone. She looked up. She did a double take.

‘Er, we’re here to find my grandmother,’ Rosie said. ‘We think she’s in the OAP Aqua Zumba.’

‘You’ll have to buy two tickets to use the pool.’ Her Bristol accent was so strong Ellie gawped in confusion.

‘We don’t want to use to the pool, just to go in and surprise my Nanna.’

The receptionist folded her arms over her ample chest and stared at them grimly. ‘That’s the rule.’

‘How much are tickets?’

‘Two pounds fifty unless you’re eligible for a concession.’

‘Um.’ Rosie realized she’d come rushing out of the house without her purse. ‘Do you have five pounds?’ she asked Ellie.

Ellie
looked blank. Like the queen, she clearly never travelled with money. ‘I’ll have to go and ask my driver.’

After all this time despising the don’t-you-know-who-I-am card, it was time to play it.

‘Oh for God’s sake!’ Rosie exploded at the receptionist. ‘This is
Ellie Lewis
. You recognize her, I know you do. My nanna is sick. She’s come to take her out for tea. Just let us go to the poolside and wave at her.’

‘I …’ Before the receptionist could say more, Rosie pushed through the barrier and Ellie followed. Down the hot corridor stinking of chlorine they went, through the harshly lit women’s changing room, with its shabby green tiles and smell of shoes, full of half-naked women, wet heads turning incredulously as they passed. The receptionist followed, yelling, ‘I’m going to tell my boss!’

From the pool came the sound of thumping Latino music. ‘OK, ladies,’ boomed a woman’s voice. ‘Shake those booties. And – a-one, a-two, a-three.’

‘Oh,’ squeaked Ellie. They’d reached a little puddle of chlorinated water that had to be waded through to reach the pool. ‘Quick!’ She pulled off her red-soled Louboutins and ran through it and over to the poolside. Rosie followed. There was Nanna in the water, a plastic cap framing a gaunt face, her limbs scrawny in the fifties-style swimming costume she’d so excitedly bought from Primark the previous year. Her arms were waving in the air, but Rosie could see she was struggling to keep up with the rest of the group.

‘Nanna, Nanna!’ she called, her voice bouncing off
the walls, but she couldn’t be heard above the music. Ellie stepped forward and started waving her arms in the air. One by one, the Zumba class stopped dancing.

‘Nanna!’ Rosie yelled, stepping forward. ‘Ellie and I have come to take you out to tea.’

An hour later, they were sitting in the lounge of a Marriott hotel drinking tea (green for Ellie). Rosie and her grandmother nibbled at scones piled high with thick yellowish cream and strawberry jam, Rosie also managed a couple of sneaky biscuits from the tiered cake stand. Nanna’s hair was still wet and sticking out wispily at crazy angles, but her expression was one of dazed delight.

Ellie was in apologetic mood. ‘I’m sorry this is the best we could find to take you to, Marjorie. Apparently Bristol has no five-star hotel.’ She looked as if she couldn’t really believe this news. ‘Even Cleveland has a Hyatt.’

‘Really,’ Nanna assured her, wiping some crumbs away from her mouth, ‘this is more than perfect. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I’m having tea with Ellie Lewis. It’s better than meeting the queen.’

‘I hardly think so,’ Ellie said, laughing. She took Nanna’s hand. ‘You know, this is just as much for my benefit as yours. My dad is so sick and I can’t be with him, so you’re going to have to be my adopted grandmother for the duration.’

Nanna laughed. ‘I’ll see what I can do, lover. Are you finding it lonely here?’


So
lonely,’ Ellie said passionately, tears welling in her eyes. ‘I’ve been working so hard, and I know I’ve ruined the play for everyone, but there’s been all this stuff going on in my life. I didn’t use to let personal stuff affect me but this …’

‘With your dad,’ Rosie said knowingly, taking another cucumber sandwich.

‘It’s actually not just with my dad,’ Ellie said. She smiled and then said: ‘I’m pregnant.’

‘Pregnant!’

‘Nearly four months gone.’ She looked uncharacteristically shy and very proud.

‘By your agent?’ Rosie asked stupidly.

Rosie laughed. ‘No, silly. By Simon, the director.’

‘Simon who’s married to Brunhilde von Fournigan?’ Rosie screeched. Bloody hell. That innocuous little man shagging two of the most beautiful women in the world? No wonder he always looked so pleased with himself.

‘Shh. No one must ever know,’ Ellie implored. ‘We’ve agreed that. It was just a stupid fling. But I’m going to keep the baby – it’s a little boy – and I’m going to call him Volcan. Simon will have nothing to do with it. But, oh, it’s been hard. I’m so tired all the time and I was feeling so sick.’

Rosie shook her head. ‘No wonder rehearsals were so difficult.’

‘It hasn’t been easy.’

Nanna’s face was a picture as she took it all in. ‘I don’t advise married men, love,’ she said. ‘My daughter
got involved with a few, messed up her life nice and proper.’

‘You’re so right,’ Ellie agreed. ‘It’s all over now. I’ve learned my lesson. But what can I say? I’ll have a baby. I’ve always wanted a baby.’

‘Well, you’re rich,’ Nanna said. ‘Always helps. You can have a nanny from day one.’

Ellie laughed. ‘I’m not rich.’

‘Oh, yeah?’

‘No! I mean, I’m comfortable, sure. But not rich like Henry Malvion, you know my co-star in
O’Rourke’s
? He always travels private; I go commercial, even if it’s first.’

Nanna looked utterly baffled. Rosie glanced at her watch. ‘Ellie. It’s gone four o’clock. We need to be getting back. You’re doing the show tonight.’

‘If you say so.’ Ellie shrugged. She took one of Nanna’s hands. Blue veins jutted through the translucent skin. ‘Do you want to come with us? See the show?’

‘In all honesty,’ Nanna said, ‘it’s a very kind offer, but the reviews haven’t been that great. So if it’s OK with you, I’ll take a rain check. I’m a little tired anyway. Must be all that swimming.’

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