Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
‘Hey,’ said a toothpick-slim woman in a wrap dress, sitting down beside her. ‘I’m Caroline. I hear you’re Jake Perry’s wife. “Not on
patio.” God, I love that programme.’
‘Your husband’s working today? Gosh, even mine manages to take Sundays off. Turns off the iPhone for a couple of hours. Financial pages are banned.’
‘He has a big show coming up in the West End,’ Rosie said, thinking of her big-shot husband slumped
in front of the cricket, blinds drawn, hands no doubt in his comfort position down the front of his tracksuit bottoms.
‘What’s the show?’
‘It’s Shakespeare. An updated version of
. Starring Ellie Lewis.’
‘Ellie Lewis! Oh my God. What’s she like?’
‘I’ve no idea. I haven’t met her.’ Of course she’d been badgering Jake for gossip every day but he had none. He said Ellie was very professional and spent all her time offstage in her dressing room, never socializing with the rest of the cast and crew.
‘Ellie Lewis in Shakespeare. I’d love to see that. Can you get us tickets?’
People always asked this. ‘Er, it’s probably better to go through the box office, so you can go the night you want.’ Luckily Caroline didn’t press the point, unlike the random mum at Tiny Tots whom Rosie had never exchanged a word with, who out of the blue demanded two front stalls tickets on a Saturday night to see Jake in his tiny bit part in
Flutes and Rosalinds
in the West End, the play that got him noticed by the woman casting
‘Five green speckled frogs, sat on a yellow log.’
George’s hand had wandered down the front of his pants, just like his dad’s when he wasn’t concentrating. Rosie glared at him but he didn’t notice. Suddenly the children gave a collective shout of delight. Rosie looked around. Behind Gary Guitar, an enormous Peppa Pig
had appeared, who started gyrating vigorously to the music.
‘Peppa, Peppa, Peppa!’ The children leaped to their feet and flocked around her, as if she were Jesus giving his Sermon on the Mount. Gary looked distinctly put out and started strumming louder. Peppa’s dancing became even more flamboyant. The children fought to high-five her. Gary stopped playing.
‘Peppa,’ he said between gritted teeth. ‘Would you mind terribly waiting your turn in the other room? Just until I’ve finished.’
Peppa attempted a high five.
Gary loftily ignored him. ‘Please, Peppa?’
With a sulky shrug, Peppa ambled off. The children shrieked in disappointment.
‘Well, children. How about “Zoom, zoom, zoom. We’re going to …” ’
‘Well, you’re getting Gary,’ Mr Guitar said over brightly.
‘Sorry, I lost you for a moment there,’ said Patrizia, sitting down beside Rosie. ‘So how are your boys settling in at Wendy’s? I know some people say it’s not up to the standard of the Montessori, but have you been to that place? The atmosphere is so restrictive. Wendy’s children are creative, who cares if they don’t get as many children into St Botolph’s? The Montessori children all have tutors to pass the assessment.’
‘They’re loving Wendy’s, but they’re bloody hard
work when they get home at the moment,’ Rosie replied truthfully, wondering what St Botolph’s and ‘the assessment’ was. ‘They’re both really playing up at bedtime. It takes hours to get them from the bath into bed and then I’m too frazzled to do anything more than have a glass of wine and collapse myself.’
Patrizia tried and failed to raise an eyebrow. ‘I never have this problem with my boys. I insist on total calm for an hour before bedtime. You know, reading, perhaps listening to classical music.’ She winked like Sarah Palin. ‘Try it. You’ll be surprised.’
She wafted away from the fight that was rapidly developing between Gary and Peppa, leaving Rosie reeling. In Neasden when you said something like this it was a cue for the other mum to comfort you by retorting: ‘Think that’s bad? My kids are both up on charges of GBH.’ Like when you said: ‘I’m so fat,’ your friend was supposed to reply: ‘Oh no, you’re not.
so fat.’ But Patrizia obviously wouldn’t. Patrizia would say: ‘Well, have lipo then, like me.’
She downed her glass in one. ‘We’re not in Neasden any more, Rosie,’ she told herself, and took some sashimi on a skewer from a waitress. She dipped it in the soy sauce. It splattered all over the Betty dress.
A week had passed. It was Sunday morning and the family were in the car, coming off the M4 into Bristol, for the monthly visit to Nanna.
tootled out of the ancient speakers and Rosie’s eyes were watering: the enormous bouquet she’d bought Nanna that morning was giving her hay fever. But who cared? It was so exciting to be able to treat her grandmother.
‘Why can’t Nanna come and see us?’ George asked, kicking the back of Rosie’s seat.
‘She’s too old, darling, it would be too tricky for her.’
‘She could get in the car.’
‘She doesn’t have a car.’
‘We could buy her one. We’re rich now.’
Rosie and Jake exchanged glances. The boys had been making a few remarks like this. They needed to be nipped in the bud.
‘She’s too old to drive,’ Jake said. ‘She’s eighty-nine.’
‘Will she live to be a hundred? Will she get a birthday card from the queen?’
‘I hope so,’ Rosie said. ‘And I hope she does come to visit us one day. I’ll pick her up and she’ll stay for a week. I want her to see the new house.’ She didn’t mention her secret dream, that maybe one day Nanna
would be persuaded to leave the little flat above the now-bankrupt bookies and move in with them. She’d earmarked the ‘boudoir’, as Samantha had called it, on the ground floor with a view of the garden for transformation into a Nanna flat with en suite.
‘Did you really grow up, here, Mummy?’ George asked, as they left the city centre with its Costas and branches of Paperchase and carried on into St Pauls with its derelict-looking terraces, tower blocks and scary-looking pubs.
‘Certainly did,’ Rosie said cheerfully. She had made a firm decision some time back to never be ashamed of her origins. She’d suffered throughout school, but she was over it now.
‘If we keep on visiting, then I think we should put the idea of a new car on the back burner,’ said Jake. ‘Something fancy will be wrecked in seconds.’
Toby panicked. ‘Is somebody going to hurt our car?’
‘No, darling,’ Rosie soothed, nudging her husband. ‘Everything is going to be just fine. And of course we’re going to keep visiting.’
‘Of course we are. Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.’
Nanna lived up two steep flights of stairs.
‘How can she manage with her shopping?’ Jake asked.
‘I know. I’m going to see if Ocado deliver here.’
‘Let’s hope the delivery men wear flak jackets.’
‘Enough!’ Rosie snapped. She glared at Jake. He was annoying her today.
Nanna had been watching them park from behind her net curtains and was standing at her front door.
‘You’re early! Were you sick, lover?’ She chucked George under the chin. Nanna called everyone ‘lover’; it was a Bristol thing. ‘No? Well done.’
‘Couldn’t wait to see you, Marjorie.’ Jake kissed Nanna on the cheek. Rosie smiled. She’d been in love with Jake from the second she laid eyes on him. But when she’d taken him to visit Nanna (he hadn’t said rude things about St Pauls that time, in fact he’d clearly been rather impressed that his girlfriend had grown up in something resembling a ’hood) she’d known it was forever. He’d chatted to Nanna so warmly, rather than tolerating her like her ex, Adam, would have done – not that Adam would ever even have agreed to give up a weekend of hangovers and football to visit an old lady.
‘Come in. Kettle’s on. I’ve got chips in the oven for you, boys. I know even you love chips, fusspot Toby. And a Mars Bar each for afters. Oh my goodness gracious, Rosie Prest. Is this for me?’
‘Who did you think it was for?’ Rosie handed her the bouquet, trying to hold in a sneeze. Her flower allergy had never been an issue until Jake became famous, but now someone seemed to send them a huge bouquet virtually every week and she was getting through boxes of tissues like Elvis devoured cheeseburgers.
‘I don’t have a vase for it,’ Nanna said, pretending to sound cross, though you could tell she was delighted.
Rosie glowed. This was what this sudden burst of fortune was all about – being able to treat your loved ones.
‘I thought of that!’ Rosie stepped back into the tiny hall and returned with the huge crystal vase she’d bought yesterday from an extortionately priced gift shop in the village. It reminded her of the one Christy used to have in her sitting room.
‘Oh, you! There’s no space for it.’
‘Oh.’ Nanna was right. ‘It’ll fit on the counter top if you move the bread bin,’ Rosie said dubiously, handing it over.
‘All right,’ Nanna said, taking it. But when she stepped backwards the vase dropped on the floor, smashing into a million pieces.
‘Oh bugger it!’ Nanna slammed her fist on the counter.
‘Never mind, Nanna. Sit down. I’ll tidy up.’ Rosie took a dustpan from the cupboard under the sink.
‘I’m so sorry, lover.’
‘Don’t be mad, Nanna. It’s a vase. I’ll buy you another one. A smaller one.’ She started sweeping up. Nanna sat at the kitchen table. She looked devastated; in fact, she was trembling. Not like her at all. Rosie looked at her more closely. Her skin was very pale, her eyes seemed larger and her cheekbones more defined than on their last visit.
‘Nanna, you’re losing weight still. Are you OK?’
‘This place is tiny. Did you really live here, Mummy?’ Toby was incredulous.
‘Toby, you know I did,’ Rosie said crossly, still sweeping, as Nanna replied calmly. ‘She lived here until she was eighteen. She did all her homework at that table, while I cooked.’
‘And my mum slept,’ Rosie said more sharply than she’d intended.
‘Well, she was usually working nights.’ Nanna always defended her only daughter when Rosie criticized her. ‘I don’t know how we managed, but we did. Now, who wants a beer? Then tell me about Ellie Lewis.’
Nanna was an
devotee. Rosie had given her the complete box set for Christmas and she watched the episodes again and again. She couldn’t believe her grandson-in-law was actually spending every day with the most glamorous cast member.
‘There’s nothing much to tell,’ sighed Jake, who was bored of this line of questioning. ‘She’s having trouble learning the lines, she spends every break on the phone to the US and she doesn’t socialize with us.’
‘Does she have a fella? Someone as beautiful as her must.’
‘Not that I’m aware. Like I say, she doesn’t talk to us mortals. She’s not really coming to grips with Shakespeare.’
‘Well, why would she be? She’s comes from Nowheresville, Ohio, not Stratford-upon-Avon. And
how’s your beautiful new house? I’m so looking forward to seeing it.’
‘I’ll show you photos,’ Jake said, pulling out his phone. While Nanna peered at the shots of the house – ‘How will you keep it clean? Oh, you’ll have a cleaner will you? And a gardener? Well, yes, you’ll need one’ – and the boys watched CBeebies on the telly in the corner, Rosie wandered to the window and stared out at the boarded-up shopfronts across the way.
When she’d lived here there’d been, respectively, a fish and chip shop – they must have been its best customers – and a hairdressers. Rosie remembered sitting in that chair, a scratchy black gown on, having her first professional cut aged thirteen – before that Nanna had always done it with a pudding bowl and, God, it had shown.
There’d been a newsagents and a corner shop too. All gone now, destroyed by the power of Cribbs Causeway and the Internet. Nanna had to walk a mile both ways in each direction now, when she ran out of fags.
She turned back to the room. Nanna was chatting to Jake as she chucked frozen peas into boiling water. On the stained wall beside her was a poster of Snoopy and Charlie Brown lying back to back. ‘All You Need Is Love’ was the slogan. For years Rosie had thought it the cutest thing she’d ever seen. Next to it there was a photo of Rosie the summer after GCSEs. God, she looked awful, she thought. That unfortunate bleached mop of hair, the horrible peachy lipstick, the terribly
applied fake tan – fake tan had dominated those years, she’d ruined so many sheets with the stuff. The grey and yellow T-shirt from Jane Norman too – whatever happened to Jane Norman? Did it still exist? What nonsense that your teens were your salad days. Every single thing about Rosie’s life was better now. The only good thing about that photo was she wasn’t wearing her horrible black-framed glasses – when she was fourteen Christy had nagged her into getting contact lenses, which Rosie had paid for with the funds from her paper round.
She owed it all to Christy. And to Nanna, for making sure she met Christy. Brightman’s, their school, was on the other side of town, and even though they lived nowhere near the catchment, Nanna had wangled her a place by working for the feeder primary Mount Seward for a few terms as a dinner lady. Nanna was always looking out for her.
Mount Seward wasn’t a particularly special school either, but compared to the local primary it was Eton College. Rosie’s journey there involved two bus rides, which she loved because she spent them reading: something that was very hard to do in the flat with Mum’s music always turned up full blast. Christy had lived just two roads away from Mount Seward.
She didn’t really hang out with Christy at first. Christy had been best friends with Belinda Crighton, who was the class golden girl. But when Christy turned eight, twelve of them were invited to her birthday party. Rosie
wore her best dress, which Nanna had bought her in the Tammy Girl sale – a sailor number with a huge sailor collar shot with gold thread and – after some nagging from Rosie – money was found to buy Christy a splendid colouring book that Rosie had coveted for herself. Christy, who answered the door to Rosie, beaming, was in a white frilly dress – the antithesis of the kind of thing she wore now – which emphasized her round tummy. Her brown curls hung round her cheeks in ringlets like Nanna’s old dolly Violet.
‘You’re here!’ she cried. ‘Mummy said you might not come. She said your grandmother might not be able to afford the bus fare.’
‘Of course she could afford the bus fare,’ Rosie replied, immediately defensive.
But Christy just laughed and held out her hand. ‘Let me give you a tour. That’s what Mummy always does.’
Rosie couldn’t get over the size of Christy’s house. It was on two storeys, with a huge, mature garden, and the furniture was all new and white. Everything was immaculate: cushions were plumped, surfaces were dust-free. Christy had a gorgeous dressing table in her bedroom, white with a massive gilt-edged mirror and draped in hot-pink taffeta like something from the Sindy bedroom set Nanna refused to buy Rosie, because it was too expensive. Maybe they
poor then. An empty perfume bottle – ‘One of Mummy’s old ones,’ Christy had said – sat on top, next to an lacy embroidered tissue-box cover and a silver-backed mirror.
Rosie had gasped, gazing around. ‘This is so beautiful. If I lived somewhere like this, I’d never feel sad again.’ In the hallway Christy opened a little door that revealed a tiny washroom with pink walls. ‘Even your toilet sparkles.’
‘So you must be Rosie,’ said a cool voice behind them. It was the first time Rosie had seen Christy’s mother Sandra Papadopolous. She was tall, taller than Christy’s dad, with bobbed brown hair, and was wearing a cream shirt dress, like a mother from a book. Mum always wore combats and T-shirts that revealed her tattoos. Rosie knew Sandra was a doctor at the local hospital; Nanna had made some remark about how both Christy’s parents were doctors and how they couldn’t have any money problems. She looked Rosie up and down slowly. Rosie shifted from one foot to another and looked down to check her dress wasn’t stained, then glanced in the mirror to see if her face was dirty. Something was wrong with her, Sandra was making that quite clear.
‘Come along,’ she said. ‘The party’s starting.’
The party was in the lounge. There was a big vase on the side table with criss-crosses etched into it. Christy said it was called a harlequin pattern. Three nights a week, she said, her mother filled it with fresh flowers. There were pink and white shiny balloons everywhere, and the table was laden with plates of cupcakes – brilliantly iced and decorated with little silver beads. There was a cake in the shape of a princess
with a purple dress latticed with silver. They played games like pass the parcel and grandmother’s footsteps with Nick Papadopolous being grandmother and wearing a silly orange wig. Rosie decided she liked Nick far more than Sandra.
The other unnerving presence had been Barron – Christy’s older brother. Rosie had been dimly aware of a brother, but Christy had said something about him being at boarding school, a concept that Rosie had found so exotic – and frankly unbelievable – she’d simply put it out of her mind.
But there he was standing in a corner, hands in pockets, watching proceedings with dark eyes concealed by a too-long fringe. He was about twelve, Rosie recalled, but very tall for his age and he was fat too – not obese, but definitely chubby, and you didn’t often see chubby children back in those days. Rosie was a little bit scared of him. Sometimes he tried to join in, but he got over-excited playing musical statues and knocked over Billy Wildman, who’d cried and cried, and Sandra, who’d been tidying up in the kitchen, appeared in a stripy pinny and said ‘Barron! Sit down and behave!’ in a soft voice that nonetheless chilled.