Read Lovestruck Online

Authors: Julia Llewellyn

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

Lovestruck (6 page)

‘Eventually,’ Rosie cautioned. She poured the fizz into three wine glasses.

‘I can’t believe you don’t have champagne flutes,’ Sandrine teased. ‘Well, now I know what to get you for your birthday.’

‘Yes, please,’ said Rosie, proudly removing the lid of her new Le Creuset casserole she’d ordered from John Lewis. Le Creuset in the kitchen. Molton Brown in the bathroom. Scatter cushions in the living room. Cake ingredients in the cupboards. She had finally become a grown-up. But was the lamb OK? It had shrunk strangely since she’d last seen it several hours ago.

‘Mmm!’ Sandrine cried, as Rosie frowned over the diminished offering. ‘Smells yum.’

As she dished out the lamb, she told them about Patrizia’s comments about how to bring up her children. ‘Fair enough, they are pretty feral,’ Rosie concluded, sounding cheerful, though the usual pincers of doubt about her mothering abilities were squeezing tight. Maybe she shouldn’t be a stay-at-home mother? What did she know about bringing up kids?

‘She sounds like an idiot,’ Sandrine said firmly.

‘No. I am rubbish at controlling them.’ Rosie took a bite of the lamb. It had a bitter, charred taste. ‘Oh God, sorry. This really isn’t very nice.’

‘It’s fine,’ said Christy, pushing the food around her plate.

‘I had a moment of wishing we’d never moved here,’ Rosie suddenly confessed. Until that moment, she didn’t even know she’d harboured this thought. ‘Why are we starting from scratch all over again? We should
have stayed in Neasden and just bought a bigger place. Then I could still see all my old mates.’

Christy looked outraged. ‘Rosie, the only large place you could have bought in Neasden would have been the boys’ reform school. The place you have now is
amazing
. I can’t believe you’re complaining about it. You always said if you lived in a lovely house your life would be perfect. You have everything you ever wanted.’

Christy’s fantastic memory again. ‘I have no problems about the area – or the house – I just miss things about the old neighbourhood.’

‘Like litter blowing up and down the high street and yellow police signs about stabbings at the tube station? God, people would kill to live in the Village.’

‘It takes time to settle into a new place,’ said Sandrine, who usually had an enormous appetite, but whose plate now was only half touched. ‘It took me at least six months to feel happy in Hebden. You’ve only been here – what – a month?’

‘You’re right. I keep pinching myself. I can’t believe it’s real.’

Christy sniffed, vaguely appeased.

‘I’m sorry, Chris. I know I sound ungrateful, but sometimes it all seems overwhelming. The guy who cleans the windows rang the bell the other day and said he had a deal with Samantha to come once a month for two hundred pounds. I mean … how much is that! But cleaning the windows would take all day here and there’s
no point owning this beautiful house and not looking after it. But, it’s just so …’

‘I know,’ Christy said, her tone and expression softening. ‘I understand. I’ve seen it so many times before, you know. Jake’s going to be away a lot, and all your routines have been overturned. There are all sorts of new people hanging around, wanting a piece of him, which is why you’re so lucky
I
am your agent, rather than some money-grabber. I’m going to make sure both you and Jake are looked after.’

She paused triumphantly. It was Rosie’s cue to sound grateful, and reluctantly she filled it. ‘I don’t know what we’d do without you, Chris. Anyway,’ she continued hastily, ‘what’s the news with the Papadopolouses? How’s Nick?’

Cuddly, jovial Nick had long retired from his work as a paediatrician and was living in Australia with his second wife, Bettina.

‘He’s good,’ Sandrine said. ‘He pulled a ligament the other day jogging, but at least he’s trying to keep fit. They’re hoping to visit next summer. I might go over there at Christmas.’

‘Cool!’ Christy exclaimed. ‘I might go with you. Though God knows how I’d manage to get the time off.’

‘You’d need to be with Mum, wouldn’t you?’ asked Sandrine, and then after a tiny pause in a quieter voice. ‘How is she?’

‘She’s fine,’ Christy said. ‘She’s on a sports kick too,
determined to get her handicap down again. Oh, and Bryan’s thinking of running as a council candidate for UKIP.’

‘You’re not serious! Anyway, how can he? They live in France.’

‘You’ve never met Bryan. He’ll know a way. He’s got the villa all wired up to get British telly, he reads the
Daily Mail
online every morning first thing and red-arrows other people’s comments, and he’s found a supermarket that sells Marmite and HP Sauce. He collects ale glasses. He wears Reactolite sunglasses. They make him look like a paedophile.’

‘I was thinking of writing to her,’ Sandrine said. ‘It’s her seventieth this year. I was hoping …’ She tailed off.

Christy caught Rosie’s eye and cleared her throat. ‘Be careful, Sand, don’t get your hopes up. You know what Mum’s like. Delicious pork, Ro. I knew you were wasted in IT.’

‘It’s lamb, actually,’ Rosie giggled.

‘Whatever. You should have been a chef. Though you need to watch the portion sizes with Jake.’

Rosie put down her fork. ‘Are you serious? Jake’s skinny as a pencil.’

‘I know, but he still has to watch it. I mean, he’s not out there to play the romantic leads, fortunately he’s more of a comedy actor, but still … these LA people don’t do fat. They think you’re morally lacking if you’re just a pound overweight. So best go in for the low-fat yoghurt and fruit for now.’

‘I …’ Rosie opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again.

‘I know I sound like a twat,’ Christy said. ‘But that’s the way these people think.’

‘I’m completely full,’ said Sandrine, pushing her unfinished plate away.

Rosie burst out laughing. ‘With me cooking there’s no chance of Jake getting fat, Chris. I really wouldn’t worry.’

‘That’s not what I meant …’ Christy began, but she was drowned out by Rosie and Sandrine’s laughter. Christy laughed too, before asking: ‘So how’s your mum?’

‘In Corby shacked up with her boyfriend, as far as I know.’ Rosie shrugged. ‘Still the worst mum in the world, basically.’

Now Christy laughed. ‘No, that’s my mum.’

‘Excuse me, but my mother is way worse than yours.’ It had been their own, private joke since year eight when they’d heard Belinda Crighton and Shanna Vaughan competing about who had the best mum in the world.

‘And your nanna?’

‘We saw her yesterday. Still on top form. Though for how much longer, who knows. Which is why I ain’t moving to LA.’

‘Think what kind of care you could afford,’ Christy said.

Rosie had had enough. ‘Chris! It’s not about affording care. It’s about being there for her.’

‘OK, OK,’ Christy said hastily. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you, I know you love your nanna.’

Rosie smiled, grateful to her for changing the subject. ‘Yolande’s as obsessive and doting as ever. I think she goes into chat rooms under made-up names and defends Jake from trolls. I know she wrote his Wikipedia page.’

Sandrine and Rosie giggled, but Christy looked horrifed. ‘That woman is awful. You can get in loads of trouble for that!’

‘Don’t worry, she knows. She did it in an Internet café, so they can’t trace the ISP.’

‘All the same.’ Christy tapped a little note into her iPhone. Then she was distracted by an email. ‘Oh Christ,’ she muttered. ‘Sorry, girls, just got to dash out a response to this.’

Sandrine winked at Rosie. ‘So how about you, Christy?’ she asked. ‘Work going well obviously. What’s up with your love life?’

‘What?’ Christy was still frowning at the screen, pretending not to hear them. Christy discussed her love life about as often as giant pandas mate. Sandrine and Rosie grinned at each other again. Rosie felt so radiant with happiness a bunch of campers could have gathered around her and toasted marshmallows. So what if she couldn’t cook? So what if Christy was scaring her with LA talk? She was happy in the here and now. She was in this perfect house, with her two oldest dearest friends. If only she saw more of them.

Me and My Travels with Jake Perry

Perry
,
34
,
is best known for playing Reverend Keith Bong (‘Not on
my
patio.’) in BBC1

s hit sitcom
Archbishop Grace.
He stars alongside Ellie Lewis in the upcoming West End production of
Twelfth Night.
He lives in north-west London and is married to Rosemary
,
44
.
They have two children
.

Great Holidays …

Which was your best holiday?

A trip to Phuket in Thailand was amazing. I loved getting out on the sea to explore the islands. Sometimes I’d sleep on a boat overnight so that I could watch the sunrise. There’s a spirit to Thailand – an energy – that calms me down the moment I arrive.

And the best hotel you’ve stayed in?

I can’t remember its name but it was a little beach shack in Phuket. No running water, cockroaches on the floor. Perfection
.

What do you need for a perfect holiday?

Now: a good kids’ club
.

What do you always take with you?

A pile of books. Next on my reading list is
Bring Up the Bodies
by Hilary Mantel. I adored
Wolf Hall
and can’t wait to check this one out
.

What’s your best piece of travel advice?

Just go with the flow. Delays happen, plans change – it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry
.

Where do you want to go next?

I’m a bit of an art fan, so I’d love to go to Saint Petersburg and discover the treasures in the Hermitage

… and Disasters

Which was your worst holiday?

About ten years ago I went to Belize with my then girlfriend. We had to change flights in Miami and when I grabbed her bag from the luggage carousel, I twisted my lower back. The pain was excruciating. Then I picked up an ear infection snorkelling. The last straw was getting about fifty mosquito bites! I’ve not been back to Belize since
.

Which is the worst hotel you’ve stayed in?

It was in Hamburg about fifteen years ago with my then girlfriend. The door of our hotel room had been kicked in and wouldn’t lock. All that was on offer in the hotel restaurant was salami with noodles. Horrible.

What do you avoid on holiday?

I don’t really avoid anything. I take the holiday as it comes. Years ago I was in Barcelona, watching a show with my then girlfriend and this guy called me up on stage and said, ‘Walk across the stage with a ten-cent piece between your butt cheeks and then drop it in that glass over there.’ The reward was a free cab back to the hotel. I’ll never forget my girlfriend’s horrified expression when I dropped my trousers. We got the free cab ride, though.

What do you hate about holidays?

I’m always working, so when I do get a holiday I surrender to it. However, after two weeks I’m ready to get back to the coalface
.

6

Sandrine returned to Hebden after two blissful days of wandering round the Village together and long laughter-filled dinners. The next morning, Rosie was reimmersed in her new life: the cleaner, who used to work for Samantha, was starting.

‘She’s only nineteen, but an absolute treasure,’ Samantha had said during their cup of tea after their offer had been accepted. ‘She lives just down the road, so the job’s convenient for her.’ But for the past three weeks, the treasure had been on holiday, with an agreement – conducted over text – to start the day after her return.

Rosie imagined a rude girl from the estate, headphones round her neck, orange tan, probably the daughter of a single mother. She’d treat her very kindly, mentor her, encourage her to return to education.

Nanna had done a lot of cleaning over the years and Rosie had heard so many stories about bad clients. There were the ones who never had any cash on them and said they’d pay her next week. The nutters who wouldn’t let her use ‘unnatural’ cleaning products, insisting she scrubbed the toilet with bicarbonate of soda and an old toothbrush. The ones who’d expected her to
take care of children at the same time as de-linescaling the shower. There was one woman who used to hold out a bin bag to her without meeting her eye. There was another whose Filofax Nanna had once sneaked through to see if she was listed under ‘M’ for Marjorie or ‘P’ for Prest. She was under ‘C’ for Cleaner.

On her return from nursery Rosie dashed around, tidying up and wiping surfaces. She’d always been super-tidy herself, the result of living in that tiny flat with no room for mess, but Jake was the opposite – he was a hoarder, who kept everything in old shoeboxes that had all been faithfully removed from Neasden and transplanted here. There were old school play programmes, ticket stubs, birthday cards. Rosie had tried to chuck some out during the move but he kept rescuing old film magazines from the recycling, asking what she thought she was doing and didn’t she understand the sentimental value? She’d have another crack at it soon.

The doorbell rang. Rosie ran to answer it. ‘Dizzy, hello,’ she said, smiling. Then she stopped short.

Dizzy was indeed about nineteen years old. She was also six foot tall with shiny bobbed auburn hair that spoke of a lifetime of nutritious meals and bi-annual trips to Verbier. She had a make-up free face and was dressed in a Barbour, jeans, a yellow gilet and riding boots.

‘Hello,’ she said in pure Cheltenham Ladies College tones, holding out a gracious hand. ‘Dizzy. You must be Rosie. So pleased to meet you.’

‘Er, likewise. Come in.’

Dizzy marched in, pulled off her Barbour and looked around her. ‘Where’s the coat rack gawn? Oh, God, of course, Samantha’s taken it?’ She pulled off her riding boots and picked up a piece of Lego from the floor. ‘I
love
Lego.’

‘I’m getting around to furnishing the house properly,’ Rosie said. ‘We were in quite a small flat before; it’s a bit of a leap.’

‘Yes, it must have been.’ Dizzy looked at her with pity. ‘Well, don’t worry, you’re going to
love
living in the Village. I’ve lived here all my life. It’s
so
lovely. We’re in Conifer Gardens, just round the corner, so I know everything. If you need any tips, just ask.’

‘Thank you,’ Rosie said humbly.

‘No problem.’ Dizzy winked. Was she really nineteen or was she fifty-two? ‘Looks like you need me, so I’ll get to work. Do you think you’ll replace Sam’s Aga? Mummy has a Falcon range. Honestly, they’re so much better; I’d really recommend one. By the way, you know tonight is my night?’

‘Sorry?’

‘I always doggy-sat for Samantha and Louis on Tuesdays when they went to bridge. So called. I was sure they were swinging.’ Dizzy snorted at her wit. ‘So, for you, I’ll babysit. You can go somewhere lovely with your husband.’

‘Oh!’

‘Try Gepetto’s in the Village. My friend Miranda is a
waitress there. They do fabulous pizzas – yum. Try a four seasons, you’ll
adore
.’

The thought was extraordinary. She and Jake go out for dinner, just for the hell of it – on a week night, with no birthday or anniversary to celebrate? There’d never been any room in their old lives for ‘date nights’, it had all been such a hamster wheel. Rosie had returned from work, utterly frazzled, and before she’d even removed her coat had had to start preparing meals and laying out bags of clean nappies and clothes for the following day’s nursery. There’d been no time for conversations about anything, except had Jake remembered to send Becki a birthday card? Even if she hadn’t been so shattered, how could they have afforded it? Forty-odd pounds to the babysitter, plus her taxi home, just to spend another eighty-odd pounds in a restaurant where all they’d talk about was the children and how broke they were. But now money was not an object. Someone was being insane enough to volunteer babysitting.

‘I
love
kids,’ Dizzy said, as if reading her mind.

‘Why not?’ Rosie exclaimed.

‘Great,’ said Jake, when she called him. ‘Why not? But not some tacky pizza place in the Village. Let’s go a little swankier.’

‘I don’t think the pizzeria’s tacky. It looks cute.’

‘We can do better. Try the one-star Michelin place I pointed out the day we moved in. Listen, got to go, Simon’s calling us back into rehearsals.’

Rosie hung up, annoyed. She wasn’t a fan of fancy
restaurants. She liked discovering cosy neighbourhood haunts – and Gepetto’s, from what she’d glimpsed of it when running errands in the high street, seemed exactly her kind of place. But whatever.

She called the one-star Michelin. At first, the woman at the end of the phone hummed and hawed, then she said she could squeeze them in at seven. ‘But we’ll need the table back at eight thirty,’ she added severely.

‘Fine,’ said Rosie.

‘I’ll need a credit-card number for the reservation.’

Annoyed, Rosie fumbled in her purse and pulled out their joint card – a new thing since she’d given up work, which she still felt guilty about spending. She gave the details.

‘And the name is Prest?’ asked the receptionist.

‘Well, yes, Ms R. Prest and Mr J. Perry, my husband.’

‘J. Perry?’ The voice altered. ‘
Jake Perry
? We’d heard he’d just moved into the area.’

Rosie was even more annoyed now. ‘Um, yes, that’s my husband.’

‘You should have said. No need to give the table back. We look forward to seeing you at seven, Mrs Perry. Or later if need be. No worries.’

She hung up crossly, but before there was time to muse on how she felt about this new level of treatment, the phone rang again. Withheld number. Heart in mouth – she still associated withheld numbers with scary phone calls from the bank, even though those days were long gone – she answered. ‘Hello?’

‘No need to sound so scared. It’s me, Patty!’

‘Patty! How are you? How’s everyone?’

Patty was the office manager at Tapper-Green, where Rosie had worked until their lives had so miraculously changed. An ultra-efficient PA, with a sharp, red Mary Portas bob and a bottom the size of Rosie’s old flat, which she always showed to best advantage in tight leggings and sleeveless tops. In her spare time Patty was a beautiful bodies campaigner, who went on anti-fattist marches, chanting slogans like: ‘Say it Out Loud, We’re Fat and We’re Proud.’

‘We’re all good. We miss you, though. You’d have loved the other night. We all went to the Dangler’s after work and Matt got shitfaced and puked in Julie’s handbag. It was hilarious. And there’s a rumour that Siobhan fancies Alun; she’s been coming in early and staying late, all dolled up.’

‘Really?’ Rosie’s heart twanged with nostalgia. When she’d quit the job, it hadn’t occurred to her how much she’d miss all that officey stuff. The boys were lovely, but they didn’t provide gossip fodder and when they puked (often) it was far from hilarious. ‘Brilliant, I wish I’d been there.’

‘Oh no, you’ll be having far more fun now with those little bundles of joy. Anyway, you won’t care about all our gossip now. I was just calling because I saw that “Me and My Travels” thing today. I didn’t know Jake was your toy boy.’

‘He’s not!’

‘ “His wife Rosemary, forty-four”,’ it says. You’re looking good for your age – I never knew. I had you down for about thirty-five.’

‘I’m thirty-four. And my name isn’t Rosemary, it’s Rosie. Short for nothing.’

‘Are you sure?’ Patty said teasingly. ‘I can check the personnel files, you know. I was a bit surprised. You should get on to them, ask them to correct it.’

‘They never correct,’ Rosie said, speaking from experience. ‘And I’d just have a reputation as a vain nightmare.’

‘They should interview me. “The Real Rosie Perry by Patty Belshaw”.’

‘Rosie
Prest
, Patty.’

‘We can’t call you Prest. No one would know who you were. Oh shite, I’d better go – Cillian’s calling me.’

‘Cillian,’ said Rosie nostalgically. ‘Still dribbling snot everywhere?’

‘Oh yes, and telling us all how noble he is to come in with his cold and then hacking all day into a single tissue. Bless. Anyway, love, if you’re ever in the ’hood drop in and see us. We miss you. No one to tell us what the stars are really like. Give us the dirt on Ellie Lewis.’

‘I’d love to.’ Rosie was sincere about this. ‘Maybe we should have—’

‘Gotta go,’ Patty squeaked and the line went dead.

Rosie worried the boys would be upset at the concept of a new babysitter, but Dizzy had their number straightaway. ‘Right!’ she bellowed. ‘I’m going to chase you round the house three times and anyone not in bed after the third round is a stinky poo and will be flushed down the loo.’

‘Flushed down the loo,’ the boys screamed in ecstasy.

‘Now chop-chop. Off you go,’ she ordered Rosie. ‘Try the duck, it’s absolutely delish.’

‘Great,’ Rosie said. The restaurant was just ten minutes walk away through the Village and she revelled in the sensation of being out in the evening alone, unencumbered by buggies, nappies and irrational demands to pat a mangy dog or pick an ugly flower. She could stop off at a pub and have a drink – but she wouldn’t because Jake would be on his way from the theatre and she didn’t want to keep him waiting.

She pushed open the restaurant door. It was a small, bright room with a fire – not strictly necessary on this warm spring evening, but still very cheering – crackling in the corner. A handful of tables were set wide apart and some serious-looking couples were dining. No sound at all. Right. One of those places where everyone whispered: too intimidated by the menu to dare have a good time.

‘Hello,’ she said to the man behind the desk. ‘We have a reservation. Perry.’ She winced slightly.

‘Perry?’ He sounded French. He frowned as he stared at the book. Rosie leaned over, keen to help him. She saw their name. Beside it, someone had written
Semi-VIP
.

‘Ah, yes, madam. Welcome. So glad to have you here. Please, we have a lovely table for you. Quite private. I hope you enjoy it.’

Oh do shut up
. Still, as she was led to a secluded table near the crackling fire, Rosie couldn’t help smiling at the semi-VIP tag. So that was where Jake sat on the pecking order. Slightly above the rest, but hardly in the Beyoncé or Chris ’n’ Gwyneth league. That would keep him in his place. She couldn’t wait to tell him about it. She glanced at her phone. A text had arrived from him.

Sozza. Just leaving now. Got held up.

For Christ’s sake. Jake finished rehearsals at five. He should easily be home by six, with a copy of the
Evening Standard
that Rosie virtually snatched from him, her umbilical cord to the outside world. But, more and more, he was coming later and later, calling to say he was buzzed after all the rehearsing and was going to wind down with a ‘quick drink’ with Simon, who instead of wanting to rush home to Brunhilde von Fournigan and their three perfect children often ended up encouraging Jake to stay for two or three more ‘quick drinks’ before continuing to Soho House for a ‘quick bite’,
while the meal Rosie had so carefully prepared as part of her new housewife incarnation ended up in the bin.

‘Are you OK?’ asked a waitress. ‘Would you like a drink while you’re waiting? A newspaper to read?’

Rosie smiled. ‘Yes, that would be lovely.’

A few seconds later, she had a large glass of Merlot and a copy of the
Sentinel
. Yippee. She
loved
this paper, though she’d never have admitted it. Usually she only dared glance at it online when George was napping and Toby glued to C-Beebies. She flicked through the pages, enjoying some scandal involving Justin Bieber, another involving Prince William and his dogs, and, suddenly, there it was … half a page, featuring a ridiculously flattering photo of her husband, minus glasses, leaning with his chin on his hand, wearing … could it be
eyeliner
? Oh crikey, it was the article Patty had called about. She’d meant to look it up, but things were so frantic after nursery she’d clean forgot. She gestured to the waitress. ‘Could I have another glass of wine, please?’

My then girlfriend, Belize. My then girlfriend, bloody Hamburg. My then girlfriend, Barcelona. Jealousy poured through Rosie’s veins like poison. It wasn’t so much about the ex (or exes, it wasn’t clear), it was the mention of all these exotic holidays. The only holiday she and Jake had ever had had been their honeymoon in the Lake District, when she’d been seven months pregnant and it had rained every day, not that they’d cared as they’d spent all of it in bed. Mad but true. Two
sons, a huge house, but they’d never been on an aeroplane together.

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