Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
‘But, Mum, it was an accident,’ Barron protested in a growly voice, as Billy – who was a terrible wuss – continued to scream.
‘I am not hearing any more from you today, Barron,’ Sandra hissed. She never spoke to Christy that way. To everyone’s horror Barron began to cry too – a
twelve-year-old boy! Large, drippy, snotty-nosed sobs.
‘Go to your room!’ Sandra ordered. None of the children moved.
‘Sandy,’ Nick tried.
‘I have had enough,’ she said coldly to her husband. ‘We should have sent him to a holiday camp. Go to your room.’
Barron left, shutting the door quietly behind him. After a moment, the party resumed. Everyone got a going-home present of a little packet of felt tips, some sweets and a tiny bouncy rubber ball. Sandra gave Rosie a special slice of the birthday cake that included the princess’s crown. Rosie was overwhelmed. On the way home, next to Nanna on the bus, she’d vowed that one day she’d live in a house like Christy’s and give all her guests little packets of treats when they left.
‘You never told me about Barron,’ she said to Christy on Monday.
‘What do you want me to tell you? He was born with a funny ear and he didn’t hear well until he had grommets put in. Mummy says he’s difficult and so he had to go to boarding school.’
‘Shall I draw you a picture? I can’t wait for your party.’ Christy reached into her school bag.
‘What are you looking for,
?’ sneered Belinda, who’d just walked into the classroom. ‘A tissue to wipe your brother’s tears?’
‘He’s a cry baby,’ said Julie Anderson, snatching the bag from Christy.
‘Give it back, please,’ Christy said calmly.
‘Give it back, please,’ Belinda mimicked.
‘Don’t cry,’ Rosie said quietly. ‘Take it back.’
Christy made a grab for it. Belinda and Julie started throwing the bag at each other over her head. ‘Piggy in the middle. Your party was rubbish.’
Rosie dived in and snatched the bag. She handed it back to Christy, who sat at her desk stony-faced. ‘Here you go. Leave her alone, you bullies.’
‘Ooh, bullies,’ mocked Belinda, as Miss Bryne entered the classroom. The teasing abruptly stopped, only to recommence at break time. From that day on, Christy ignored Belinda and she and Rosie were best friends.
‘You’re not with us, love,’ Nanna said now, snapping her fingers under Rosie’s nose. ‘I was asking. So what are you going to do, living in this mansion as a lady of leisure?’
‘I’ll be busy with the boys, Nanna. They’re only at nursery three hours a day.’
‘Still three hours you have to fill. And then Toby’ll be at school in September and George the next year. What will you do then?’
‘That’s a while off. I don’t know, Nanna. Something will come up. I might start my own business.’
‘Well, make sure it’s not baking your own cupcakes, like those yummy mummies in the magazines.’
‘It won’t be cupcakes,’ said Rosie.
Nanna stared at her fondly. ‘I can’t imagine you not working, love. You’ve always been such a grafter. Talking of which, any news from your mum?’
‘She hasn’t been in touch with you?’ Rosie chewed a cuticle. It infuriated her the way her mother didn’t keep tabs on Nanna.
‘She called me a few weeks ago. Couldn’t stop talking about you. Well, about Jake … She’s very proud.’
Nice if she were proud of me, rather than who I married
, Rosie thought. Time to change the subject. ‘You’re coming to the play, aren’t you, Nanna?’
‘Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away,’ Nanna said. ‘I’ve written the first night in my calendar, and I’ve already booked a hairdo. I need to stun Ellie Lewis. What are you going to wear, lover?’
‘I’m thinking of my dress from New Look.’
Nanna wrinkled her nose. ‘You can do better than that. Don’t worry, I’ll scout out something for you next time Maureen gives me a lift over to Cribbs.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Boys, are you ready? Sausages and chips time!’
It was around six in the morning and she and Jake were lying in bed. George nestled between them slurping on his milk and tunelessly singing the ‘bum-bum song’, which he had recently composed. Normally she would feel flat and exhausted, but today was different.
Rosie was excited. Tonight Christy and Sandrine were visiting. Sandrine was travelling all the way down from Yorkshire and was going to stay for the next couple of nights. It was the first time they’d had people over for dinner, and Rosie had been planning it for days.
She’d bought lamb shoulder from the Village’s butcher. (A butcher!
butcher. Recipe books always said ‘Ask your butcher’ and she’d always snarled back, ‘Where do you think I live? Little Snoring?’ But no longer.).
She’d been soaking chickpeas overnight to make her legendary (immodest but true) side dish from a recipe torn from a copy of the
in the GP’s waiting room. She was planning a huge tomato salad scattered with basil. They’d eat in Louis and Samantha’s conservatory with its views out over the garden, and laugh and talk and toast their new home and Rosie would be floating on air, with her children asleep upstairs and her oldest friends and her husband all together in her forever home.
Jake said, ‘Listen, Bean. Sorry to be a pain in the bum-bum, but I can’t be here this evening.’
Rosie’s insides turned cold: ‘Why not?’
‘This American agent is in town and he really wants to have dinner with me.’
‘But Christy and Sandrine are coming! You knew that.’
‘I know, I’m gutted. But I’ll be back in time to see them. I’ll just be out for dinner.’
‘See him another time.’
‘He’s only in town tonight. I really do need to meet him. He’s one of the biggest players in Hollywood. If he takes me on we could be talking sky’s the limit. Bean, I’d rather be here with you than with some American bore eating gluten-free and raising his eyebrows when I have a glass of wine, but that’s my job.’
‘I thought your job was prancing around pretending to be someone else. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?’
‘Christy emailed me last night about it and I saw it when we’d just got back from your nanna’s and it was chaos getting the boys into bed. I meant to tell you, but I forgot.’
He was so transparent: he meant he knew he’d get into trouble, so he’d decided to ambush Rosie at the last minute, when it would be too late to rearrange. What was Christy thinking of? She knew she was coming over, so why arrange an appointment that would clash? But then maybe Christy had done it on purpose. Maybe she saw enough of Jake at work, and wanted girl-time for the three of them?
‘Off you go,’ she said crossly.
Jake beamed in relief. ‘You’re a star, Old Bean. Thanks for being so understanding.’
‘You didn’t give me a lot of choice,’ she mumbled.
In the afternoon, the boys played on the trampoline, without fighting too much, and Rosie cooked. By the time Jake headed off to Claridge’s, the house was filled with appetizing smells and she was feeling rather proud of herself. This was her new life as a roaringly successful hostess. First, Christy and Sandrine, next the whole of the Wendy’s mums for a buffet supper, then perhaps Simon Barry –
’s director and his German supermodel wife, Brunhilde von Fournigan – then Ellie Lewis and the rest of the cast, then the Obamas …
‘I wish I didn’t have to go out,’ Jake said again.
‘Oh, bugger off and have a lovely time.’ Rosie kissed him on the cheek. He’d shaved, which she always loved, his skin felt so soft and raw.
He put his hand on her bottom. ‘I wish no one was coming over. I wish I could just stay home alone with you.’
‘Get off.’ Rosie removed his hand. ‘You don’t want to be late for Mr Hollywood and I have to get the boys in the bath. Sandrine’ll be here any minute.’
‘Tell her I’ll see her in the morning. She can cook me a fry-up.’ He pulled an innocent face, at Rosie’s
mock-outraged expression. ‘What? She does run a bloody B & B.’
Half an hour later, the boys were in their pyjamas with their faces pressed to Toby’s bedroom window that looked out over the drive. ‘Sandrine!’ yelled George. ‘I can see her car.’
They dashed down the stairs, a whirlwind of arms and legs, to the front door. ‘Hey!’ cried Rosie as Sandrine’s wide face loomed in the entry-system screen. She hit the button that opened the gates. Two seconds later, Sandrine was climbing out of her orange Renault and they were hugging each other hard. Rosie stepped back and looked at her. Sandrine was in jeans and a flowery top, she’d guess came from Evans in Manchester, which was Sandrine’s favourite shop, catering, as it did, for the larger lady. Christy occasionally bought her something from somewhere like Brora, but Sandrine never wore it or shrunk it in the wash. Her hair was longer than before and she was wearing pink lipstick and purplish eyeshadow.
‘How are you doing? Was the drive OK?’
‘Piece of cake,’ Sandrine replied, in her funny deep voice. ‘About four hours door to door. And no worries about parking at the destination.’ She grinned. ‘Your own gated drive, lady. Now that’s what I call fancy.’
‘I told you,’ Rosie giggled.
Toby pulled at Sandrine’s arm. ‘Come and see the garden. We’ve got a trampoline.’
‘OK, my darling.’ She gestured at her tiny wheelie case. ‘Shall I just put this in my room first? I can’t believe it. An actual bed. No more futon in the living room for me.’
A horn honked, as a silver Audi – Christy’s – turned into the drive. Christy parked adeptly beside the Renault and jumped out. In so many ways she’d hardly changed since those Brightman’s days. Same chestnut hair (with just a few highlights added) that she used to tie back in a ponytail, but which now framed her face in a chin-length bob, her curls tamed with expensive and time-consuming straightening treatments. Same big brown eyes and pointy nose, same alert expression as she gazed around her.
She was wearing a dress with a black skirt and a top with a pattern of exploding red flowers and flat pumps in a red that reflected the colours. The effect was very French. As soon as she’d broken free from her mother and her fondness for frilly frocks, Christy had always dressed like a grown-up: jeans and T-shirts had never been her thing.
More hugs, first for Rosie, before the customary bottle of Moët was retrieved from the passenger seat and handed over. Rosie hid a smile as she accepted it. She remembered well how Christy used to say champagne was just fizzy pop, that people who insisted on designer French labels instead of Cava were arse-wipes. But that
was a long time ago before she realized a bottle of French vintage stuff was the best way to woo A-list clients.
Christy turned to Sandrine. ‘Hey, sis!’
‘Hey!’ They hugged, then Christy turned and looked up at the house. A slow appreciative whistle. Rosie had always envied Christy’s ability to whistle.
‘Yowza! It’s even bigger than it looks on Street View.’
‘Shall I give you a tour? Isn’t that what your mum always used to say?’
‘Please don’t say you’re turning into my mum.’
They giggled as they ascended the stairs into the hall, climbing over Rosie’s sons, who were huddled over the iPad that they never failed to unearth, no matter how carefully she hid it. ‘Hi, boys,’ Christy said,
‘Nrrr-ffm,’ they mumbled. The boys had never warmed to Christy like they had to Sandrine, even though she lavished them with generous presents at birthday and Christmas time. ‘Sandrine, come on the trampoline. Now!’
‘Don’t you want to do the tour, Sands? I can tell them to leave you alone?’
‘I’m staying the night, aren’t I? I can have the tour later. Come on, boys.’
They dragged her towards the garden.
On the wide landing, Christy looked around her happily. ‘Well. I see what you mean about the decor. Straight from my childhood home.’
‘That’s what I thought!’
Christy laughed. ‘That’s probably why you wanted this place so badly. You always used to say you wanted to live in my house. Before you realized it was run by a psychopath. But we can sort this out.’ She pulled out her phone and scrolled rapidly through her contacts. ‘I’m going to ask Eliza for her decorator’s details.’
‘Eliza?’ Eliza would be a hot star on Christy’s books. Christy always did this never-mentioning-surnames thing, to show how close she was to the person in question.
‘Eliza Wragg? You know, the actress. She was in that ITV police drama. You don’t? Shit, I need to work on raising her profile. She has this amazing house in Wimbledon. She’s got kids too, but she manages to make it look as if they don’t exist. I really recommend her guy. He’s hugely in demand but if you mention my name, he’ll fit you in, I’m sure.’
‘I wasn’t planning on a decorator. Didn’t you once say people who employed decorators were people who were colour-blind and had money to flush down the toilet?’
‘I used to think that, then I saw the effect these pros can achieve. Lover, seriously, when are you ever going to find the time to decorate this house yourself? Believe me, go for this guy. It’ll so be worth it. He can get you discounts on everything, so in the end it’ll pay for itself.’ Christy looked around the hallway. Evening sunshine slanted in through the high windows and pooled on the
tiles, like a golden puddle. In the garden, Sandrine and the boys were whooping. ‘Yes, I’ve done good. I really have.’
Behind her back, Rosie rolled her eyes. She loved Christy, obviously, but her smugness about Jake’s – about their – change in fortune, was slightly tiresome. Yes, she had got him the
audition and had negotiated some great deals for him, but ultimately it was all about Jake’s talent. Any agent could have pulled off something similar.
‘We don’t have a swimming pool,’ Rosie pointed out.
‘You will have, before long. Trust me. There’s so much interest in Jake; it’s just amazing. I guess the only thing is that it may not be long before you move to Hollywood.’
‘Why do you think he’s meeting this agent? So many movie parts on offer, not to mention mini-series.’
‘But I don’t want to live in Hollywood.’ Eurgh. It would be everything that unnerved Rosie about the Village, only a million times worse. Most importantly, she’d be thousands of miles away from Nanna.
‘It’s the centre of your husband’s industry,’ Christy said gently. ‘Ultimately if you want to be a star it’s where you end up. Think of the house you could live in there. Maybe the Beckhams’ old mansion?’
‘Don’t be daft. We’re not exactly Beckham-level, are we?’
‘The sky’s the limit, lover,’ said Christy in her
strongest Bristol accent, defusing the tension by making Rosie laugh.
George came dashing in from the garden. ‘Mummy, Mummy. Come and see the new bum-bum dance.’
‘Your what?’ Christy looked appalled. Rosie always remembered her expression when she’d once casually sniffed Toby’s nappy-clad bottom to see if he’d done a poo. People without children just didn’t get it – and why should they?
George giggled. ‘Our bum-bum dance. We boing on the trampoline and show you our bums while we sing the bum-bum song. It’s really funny. Come and see it, Mummy, please!’
Post bum-bum dance, which Christy watched pretending to be thrilled (admittedly she had to do enough of that humouring her adult clients), the boys went to bed. Sandrine read them four stories. Eventually they sat down to dinner.
‘Cooking dinner in a room where you can stretch out both your arms and not touch the walls,’ gloated Rosie as she dished out the chickpeas – they didn’t look as appetizing as usual, but then everything came out a bit differently from the Aga. ‘It makes me feel like a grown-up.’
‘It’s an amazing place,’ said Sandrine. ‘Like something on telly.’
‘I know. It’s the sort of place unfeasibly gorgeous people live, who do something unspecified that brings in huge wealth and leaves loads of time for
rumpy-pump with the gardener and plotting to murder their spouses.’
‘All you need is a chihuahua called President Muh-gah-bay, who’ll touch nothing but Beluga and will only wear a diamond-studded collar and you’ll be made.’
‘I’ll put one on my shopping list.’ They laughed.
‘Shame Jake’s not here,’ Sandrine said, as Rosie removed Christy’s Moët from the fridge.
‘He drinks far too much champagne as it is,’ Rosie said, then couldn’t resist a mischievous, ‘Blame Christy, she scheduled this meeting with the American agent for tonight.’
‘Sorry, Rosalba fucked up.’ Rosalba was Christy’s slinky PA, who tended to get the blame for an awful lot. ‘I thought of asking her to cancel but this guy is the key to Hollywood.’
Hollywood. That sick feeling hit Rosie again.
‘You’re his agent, why are you introducing him to another?’ Sandrine asked.
‘We’ll work in cahoots. He has the West Coast link. I have London. Powerful combination.’
‘If your clients keep doing this well, you’ll be able to buy yourself a mansion soon, sis,’ said Sandrine teasingly. ‘Have your very own gold taps and jacuzzi.’
‘Stop taking the piss out of the gold taps,’ Christy retorted, as Rosie popped the cork. ‘Rosie’s going to get rid of them.’