Read Lovestruck Online

Authors: Julia Llewellyn

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

Lovestruck (7 page)

It had all happened too quickly for that. Rosie had pairs of tights she’d owned far longer than she’d been with Jake. The night they’d met at Christy’s little drinks party – Christy was always having little drinks parties full of important people – Rosie had been very low. She was thirty, she hadn’t gone out with anyone since Adam, and she was coming to terms with the certainty that she’d never meet anyone, that she’d have to abandon dreams of kids, and instead buy a cat and become an IT-support businesswoman supremo who wore tightly belted macs and went to spas in Mauritius.

But then there was Jake, standing in the corner, smoking a cigarette out of the window, and he’d turned and they’d made eye contact, and her body had jolted like it was plugged into the national grid.

Christy had appeared waving a bottle of champagne and cried, ‘Rosie, you must meet my amazing client, Jake. Jake meet my oldest and bestest friend, Rosie!’

Two hours later they were in his unmade bed in the shabby, untidy flat in Neasden and by the morning they were officially in love. After that, it was all a blur. Holding hands in old men’s pubs that to them seemed not rank but amusing and retro. Walking in the park. Hours in bed together, gazing into each other’s eyes. They’d just started to emerge from their cocoon, to introduce each other to their friends, when Rosie had noticed that her period hadn’t come and their world changed forever …

There’d been no holidays post-kids; they couldn’t afford to go abroad and the hassle didn’t seem worth it. They went to Yolande’s for long weekends and the boys jumped in cow pats and rolled into nettle bushes.

Rosie had hoped they’d go away this summer, but now Jake was flat out with rehearsals. Her dream, in fact, was to take the boys to Disneyland. She could still recall the pain in her chest when she’d heard that Christy, aged ten, was going there – the dull recognition that Nanna would never be able to treat her to something like that in a million years. But now they could do it easily. Though, in the meantime, here she was reading about her husband swanning around Thai islands, no doubt with a supermodel. OK, she knew her husband wasn’t a virgin when they’d married. She’d been on holiday with several boyfriends herself. But all the same, he’d never told her any of this.

No point brooding on it, Rosie figured. This was one of the reasons she’d given up work, precisely in order to get to know Jake. It sounded bonkers, how could you not know your husband? But they’d moved so fast from crazy infatuation to harried parenthood that there hadn’t been time to really spend time with each other. This was what their new date-night regime would be all about.

‘Sorry, Bean. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry!’ Every diner’s head whiplashed as Jake hurried across the room. He wore his grinning yes-yes-you’re-very-kind-but-I’m-in-a-hurry-otherwise-I’d-love-to-talk expression, which he
now always adopted in public. Rosie sighed. She’d hoped the village would be so sophisticated they wouldn’t blink an eye at Jake. In Neasden, towards the end, he’d became a local curiosity. Crowds followed him to the Tube and someone once left a nasty note on their car calling them ‘cheapskates’ because Jake hadn’t put money in the charity box outside the corner shop. ‘Sorry!’ Jake repeated, sitting down in front of her. ‘Yum, I’m starving.’

‘So am I.’ It came out more grumpily than she’d intended. Rosie coughed, then repeated with a smile on her face, ‘So am I. Let’s eat.’

It wasn’t quite as easy as that, though. First, they had to order drinks, then the menu arrived, then – when the waitress returned ten minutes later – they had to listen to a never-ending explanation of how the dishes were locally sourced, not to mention ask several questions about what
annatto
was, what
cacao porcelana
was, and what white
kiwicha
was. Rosie thought of the pizza restaurant and her stomach rumbled so loudly she had to disguise it with a cough.

As always in restaurants, Jake was dithering. His indecisiveness drove Rosie up the wall.

‘I think I’ll have the soup. No, hang on, does it have cheese in it?’

‘I don’t think so,’ smiled the waitress, doing a job of hiding her regrets at not having studied harder for A levels, like her parents had warned her.

‘Would you mind checking?’

‘What are you doing?’ Rosie hissed.

‘I’m trying to avoid cheese.’ Jake looked pained. ‘Ellie says it’s the best way to lose weight.’

‘Ellie Lewis?’ He nodded. ‘Fucking hell, Jake, the way she loses weight is by consuming nothing but bottled water from a spring on a Patagonian mountaintop and working out for two hours every day.’

‘She eats like a pig. She keeps ordering in McDonald’s.’

‘And chucking it up down the loo.’

‘Don’t be mean!’ Jake said defensively.

‘There is some cheese in the soup, yes,’ said the waitress, returning.

‘Ah. OK, maybe the
kiwicha
with Amazon fish then. No, no! Sorry, the beetroot salad or—’

‘He’ll have the beetroot salad,’ Rosie said firmly. The waitress backed off, resolving to look into mature student options in the morning.

‘What’s all this?’ Rosie said to Jake. ‘Are you actually listening to Christy and this losing-weight stuff?’

Jake was leaning forward, ready with a confession. ‘I think I need a personal trainer.’

‘Really?’ She tried to keep the incredulity out of her voice. This was the man who’d laughed until he’d almost burst a blood vessel when he’d been telling her about how one of his new celebrity chums – Ricky Gervais, was it? – had weekly facials.

‘And …’ His voice lowered another five notches. ‘We may have to look into a hair transplant.’

Now Rosie couldn’t contain her hilarity. She clapped her hands together. ‘Oh, now I’ve heard it all.’

‘Christy thinks it’s a good idea,’ Jake said huffily. ‘There are fewer parts for bald men. The Americans are big on all this.’

‘Oh, we’re not talking about the Americans again? I’ve told you, Jake, I don’t want to go there.’

‘But they could offer millions. There’s all these deals in the pipeline. You could fly home any time to see Nanna.’

‘I know, but … It wouldn’t be the same as every month. And what about the boys? I don’t want them growing up as 90210 brats.’

‘I’m sure Beverly Hills is no worse than the Village.’

Rosie decided distraction was the best technique. ‘Shall we get back to holidays? I thought your ideal holiday was Saint Petersburg. The Hermitage.’

‘You must be joking. Freezing Russia and an art gallery? Fuck that for a game of soldiers.’

‘That’s not what you told the
Sentinel
,’ she said slyly, as the waitress deposited two square plates in front of them, each containing a thumbnail of green leaves.

‘Your amuse-bouche,’ she smiled. ‘Enjoy!’

‘Well, this will help you lose weight,’ Rosie said, thinking longingly of a four-seasons pizza.

‘What about the
Sentinel
?’ her husband asked, swallowing. ‘Urgh. I’m not entirely sure about that. What do you think it was? The chef’s toenails?’

‘Oh, don’t! “Me and My Travels” with Jake Perry.’

‘Oh that. Is it out? Can I see?’

‘Why did you say you wanted to go to Saint Petersburg?’

‘Because it makes me sound sophisticated, of course. Where’s the article?’

‘I’ll show you later. And what was all this about adoring
Wolf Hall
? I thought you said Hilary Mantel was middle-class brain porn to make people feel important, because they’d read a book that was longer than five hundred pages.’

‘It is. You know I’m a Jack Reacher boy through and through.’

‘You’re such a hypocrite!’ She was going to mention the ‘my then girlfriend’ thing, but was distracted by her starter being placed under her nose. It looked horrible. Garlic bread and thick-stuffed crusts, where were you now?

‘I know. But I don’t want to tell the world the truth. I want to keep my distance from them. I don’t want them knowing the real Jake Perry. He’s reserved for you.’ He smiled at her in that winning way of his, but Rosie wasn’t looking, her eyes were on the middle-aged man in chinos and a blazer, standing behind him.

‘Er, Jake.’ Her husband looked round.

‘Excuse me, I’m most terribly sorry, but can I have your autograph?’

‘Sure,’ said Jake. ‘Do you have a pen?’

‘Terribly sorry. Don’t you?’

‘Sorry!’

‘I have one,’ said Rosie, reaching in her bag for the beautiful black fountain pen Christy had given her for her twenty-first. It was one of her favourite possessions, along with the bracelet Jake had given her when she was pregnant with George.

‘Do you have a piece of paper?’ Jake continued.

‘Terribly sorry, I thought you might have?’

‘Sorry! I came out for dinner with my wife, not to pass an exam.’ Jake was trying to sound jokey, but somehow it came across as peevish.

‘Thanks for nothing,’ snapped the man. He turned and crossed the room, rejoining his wife. He spoke to her rapidly and she gasped audibly. Both looked daggers at Jake and Rosie, as if they’d informed him their hobby was having sex with meerkats.

‘He’s still got my pen!’ exclaimed Rosie. ‘I’m going to get it back off him.’

‘No, don’t.’

‘I bloody am.’ Rosie jumped up and crossed the room. ‘Please could I have my pen back? It has sentimental value.’

‘I used to like your husband,’ the man said, reluctantly handing it over.

‘Trevor,’ his wife cautioned, as he pulled out his phone and began jabbing something into it.

Rosie returned to the table, face flaming. ‘We should never have gone out,’ she hissed.

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘He’s probably on Twitter now, telling the world what an arsehole you are.’

‘That’s his problem,’ Jake said calmly. ‘You just have to rise above it.’

But Rosie could feel the man’s eyes on them, as they tried and failed to relax and talk normally.

Jake pushed his plate away. ‘This is horrible.’

‘It’s not that bad,’ Rosie protested, but her duck was actively nasty. Disappointment engulfed her. She must have been counting on this evening to somehow change something between them more than she had realized.

‘Next time we’ll go for a curry,’ she said, trying to sound comforting.

‘There won’t be a next time,’ Jake snapped. ‘Sod this. In future, we’re staying in, or I’m going out in Soho where no one blinks an eyelid.’

‘And where does that leave me?’ Rosie exclaimed. ‘Stuck at home with the boys?’

‘You can come and join me in Soho,’ he said, but he didn’t look at all certain. ‘Let’s get the bill.’

Perry Nice – The
Daily Comet
Interview by Fabian Osmond

It’s hard to find a moment to talk to Jake Perry between rehearsals for his new theatre role in
Twelfth Night.
When we eventually meet in his dressing room, I find a tall, thin, surprisingly shy man. In his jeans and a military jacket – complete with long fingers, haunted look and dark, only slightly thinning hair – he could still pass for the drama student he aspired to be during his boyhood at a Midlands comprehensive. He’s slow to open up, but when he does, a thoughtful, gentle person emerges
.

As a child, Perry loved fishing, cycling and wildlife. It wasn’t until he was sixteen that he joined a local youth theatre – so often a magnet for creatives and misfits – and loved it. ‘I was a bit of a loner oddball at school,’ he recalls, ‘but that gang from youth theatre, they‘re still my closest friends
.

‘I dreamed of going to drama school, but my mother didn’t consider it a proper education, and insisted I went to uni instead. Amazingly I got into Oxford, but I was a fish out of water, so to make things easier for myself I got involved with every drama production going.’ On graduating he went into ‘character stand-up on the cabaret circuit … a way to break into acting – which took ten years’. He supported himself via numerous temp jobs, working at Pizza Hut for a couple of years, followed by night shifts at a mortuary
.

But now, at the relatively ripe old age of thirty-five, Perry’s name is everywhere. After his breakthrough role in TV sitcom
Archbishop Grace
last year (‘Not on
my
patio.’), quickly followed by the equally stellar
Private Wives,
there’s
been a scramble to sign him up. He’s got two British films in the diary, another
Archbishop Grace
to be released next month, two more British dramas in the can, and Hollywood is slavering at his door
.

But for now he’s concentrating on his first love – stage – with his role as Malvolio in a hotly anticipated version of
Twelfth Night,
featuring
O’Rourke’s
star Ellie Lewis. Perry absolutely refuses to be drawn on this fashion for ‘stunt casting’, only saying, ‘It’s a joy to work with Ellie. She’s really impressed me.’

The show opens in November at the Criffon Theatre in the West End. ‘When I was a kid I only went to the theatre once a year to the panto, so to be in the West End every night, next to a bona fide movie legend. It’s a dream come true
.’

These days, despite the fame, Perry lives with his two children in down-to-earth Neasden in north-west London, taking his family to a patch of woodland in Essex, ‘to learn to love the natural world like I did and to camp out
’.

Compared to film and TV, theatre is modestly paid. But when I ask Perry if he’s now made enough money to do what he likes, he laughs. ‘No, I’m not in any position to retire and do things for the love of it. But I want to better myself as an actor, which you do by doing things like this. I’m not bothered particularly about making money. People are so greedy these days. I’m disgusted by our culture allowing the big companies these tax loopholes, while taking benefits away from the people who need them most. It’s all them, them, them. Nobody ever has enough. I just don’t feel that way. So long as I have my family and my job – wow, that’s more than enough for me
.’

7

The email landed in her inbox when she was sneakily reading about Victoria Beckham’s alleged cellulite in the
Sentinel
online, instead of investigating a school for Toby.

Hi Rosie,

It’s Patrizia, the twins’ mom!!! Remember me? I saw ‘Me and My Travels’ with your handsome husband and it made me think of you. ☺ Anyway, haven’t seen you at Wendy’s for a while – mind you, I’ve been pretty busy organizing a charity ball (hope you and hubby will come – maybe he could offer some signed DVDs for the raffle or, even better, give a speech??!!). But in the meantime do you wanna come to a book club? Thursday. My place. 7.30. We’re reading
The Help.
See you there!!!

Xx

Rosie was embarrassed at how excited this made her. She still hadn’t made mum friends in the Village; she rarely spotted anyone at the nursery gates and when she did was too shy to strike up a conversation. When the boys were invited on play dates, they were always hosted
by nannies, who were very sweet, but usually ten years older or ten years younger than Rosie and with a limited grasp of English. Jake was rehearsing all day and not coming back until late and she missed adult company.

Book club would be her opportunity, not to network – that was
another
vomit-inducing phrase – but simply to meet new people, to start to feel part of the community. She dutifully read
The Help
. Her margins were covered in notes. She’d even put ‘Civil Rights Movement’ into Wikipedia and swotted up on all the cogent issues.

Finally the day had come and she was in her new skinny jeans and one of the floaty tops she’d bought on ASOS. She’d applied make-up following guidelines from a YouTube video, but then lost her nerve and scrubbed most of it off again. She’d tried to do something with her too-thin brown shoulder-length hair but given up and pinned it in a loose topknot. The boys were curled up in front of CBeebies on iPlayer when her phone rang. It had better not be Jake saying he was going for a drink with Simon.

‘Hello?’ she snapped, then seeing it wasn’t her husband but Bosey his oldest friend, repeated more softly: ‘Hello!’

‘Oh, hello, Rosie. You all right? I’m calling you because I know Mr Famous will be hanging out in Soho House with Jonathan Ross where no cell phones …’ he pronounced the last phrase with an atrocious American accent ‘… are allowed.’

‘Actually. I hope he’s on his way home from work, because I’m going out.’

‘To the Groucho Club to hang out with Fearne Cotton? So, listen, I was having my post-work pint and I picked up the
Evening Comet
.’

‘Because the
Guardian
wasn’t to hand, of course.’

‘I’d have preferred the
Economist
, but yes, needs must. Anyway, there’s an interview with Stooks.’

All Jake’s old schoolmates called him Stooks, their stupid nicknames were a minor-public-school thing, like smashing up restaurants after a few drinks. Rosie could never remember what Bosey’s real name was. Anyway. ‘Oh, right?’

‘An interview saying he was an oddball and bullied at school. Comprehensive school. Total fucking bollocks. He was fucking head of house at our
private
school, head of orchestra, head of chess club. All right, so he never had a proper girlfriend until he met you, unsurprisingly with a face like that, but Christ …’

‘The journalist probably made it all up to have a better story,’ Rosie said firmly, reaching for her phone to google the
Comet
.

‘Do you think?’ Bosey sounded mischievous. ‘I don’t. I think it’s Stooks trying to play the plebeian card. Anyway, tell him from me, he’s a prat and to call me.’

‘I will. Actually, listen, Bosey, I’ve been meaning to get in touch. You and Stella must come over soon. It’s been ages.’

‘That’s because Stooks is always so busy hanging out
with Jonathan Ross and Alan Carr.’ Was there an edge to Bosey’s voice? Before Jake had shut down his Facebook account some of his old school friends had been rather snarky about his change in fortune. The landline started ringing. ‘Bosey, I have to go, there’s a call waiting. I’ll text Stella and put a date in. Hello?’

‘Rosie,’ said Yolande’s voice. ‘Have you read the interview with Perry in the
Comet
?’

‘Um, not yet. I’ve only just heard about it. I’ll have a—’

‘Comprehensive school, indeed! He went to the best school money could buy, and thrived there. We put all our money into the children’s education, that’s why … well, never mind. And why do they say you’re still living in that horrible Neasden? Did he do the interview before you moved?’

‘Journalists make things up,’ Rosie said, still trying to google the darn thing but her phone had misread ‘comet’ as ‘comic’.

‘But surely not to this extent!’ Yolande exclaimed. ‘I mean, did he really say he was a fish out of water at school? He was so popular.’

‘I have no idea what he said. I wasn’t there.’

‘He was desperate to go to Oxford,’ Yolande continued. ‘I remember him working all summer holiday before he applied to have the relevant experience. And the stuff about him not fitting in there … he adored the place. Still, it’s a lovely photo of him. They’ve done something to his hairline … and how lovely that he’s
been taking the boys into the Essex woodlands, I didn’t know he did that.’


What?
’ Jake was the man who thought nature was all about sticks and things that sting you, whose idea of entertaining the boys was to hand over the iPad and then lie on a sofa with an eye mask on. Her phone was beeping again. ‘Sorry, Yolande, that’ll be Jake on the other line, I have to go …’

‘Just tell the boys that I went out with Dorothy and her little granddaughter the other day. It turns out she’s learning the piano. Not Dorothy. The granddaughter. Have you thought about Toby taking up the piano, only—’

‘Yolande, I have to go, we’ll talk about piano another time.’

‘It says he has all this work lined up. He doesn’t. Only the next
Archbishop Grace
. He’s keeping his options open.’

‘Like I said, papers get loads of things wrong.’

‘You are still coming to the party? Fraser will be there after all. We rearranged his flights for him.’

‘Of course! Sorry, I have to go. Hello?’

‘Oh, hello, Rosie?’ A woman’s voice. Light, friendly. Probably one of the book-club mums.

‘Yes,’ Rosie replied warmly. ‘Sorry if I sound a bit harassed, I was talking to my mother-in-law and—’

‘Mothers-in-law, oh tell me about them. It’s Isobel Orchard from the
Sentinel
here.’ She spoke as if Rosie were an old, old friend. ‘How are you?’

‘Fine. Um. Do I know you?’

Isobel ignored this pertinent question. ‘I was just hoping you’d be able to help me. I’m writing a feature on cougar wives and I thought you’d be perfect to comment on what it’s like to be married to a much younger man. We’d need a little chat on the phone – I can call back if now’s not good and then we’d take a lovely photo, with a stylist and make-up artist and everything. We’d make you look really young. So—’

‘I’m not married to a younger man. They got my age wrong.’

‘Oh. Are you sure? Because on IMDB it says that Jake is thirty-five and if you’re forty-four then …’

‘I’m not forty-four. I’m thirty-four. Just. It was my birthday a couple of months ago, so I’m not even thirty-four and a quarter.’ Christ, she sounded like Toby.

‘Oh.’ Isobel’s genial tone had vanished. ‘Are you
sure
?’

‘Feel free to check.’ Rosie’s face was burning. This was outrageous, she’d done nothing, nothing, except fall in love with Jake when he was an unknown and wash his pants for years, but as a result this cheeky mare thought she had carte blanche to insult her. She heard the front door opening. ‘Sorry, I have to go.’

‘Rosie, wait! How about an interview anyway? How It Feels to Be Married to Patio Man?’

Rosie hung up, as Jake sauntered into the room. ‘I have to go!’ she snapped at him.

‘Oh. Right. Lovely to see you too, my darling. Boys OK?’ He added as a kind of afterthought.

‘Fine.’ Fuming, Rosie grabbed her bag and dashed out of the front door, across the drive, down the road, and crossed on to the Green. It was still light; the days were getting longer and people were out walking their dogs and sitting on benches contemplating the ducks on the pond.

An unfamiliar nanny/maid – there were about eight on rotation – opened the Conifers’ front door. ‘Hello, come in.’

‘Am I late?’

‘Yes, they’re all in there.’ She nodded towards the room where Gary Guitar and Peppa Pig had last been seen battling for supremacy. Rosie hurried through. A cloud of perfectly highlighted heads turned from the uncomfortable white sofas.

‘Rosie!’ cried Patrizia. ‘Last but, of course, not at all least.’

‘Sorry! Jake was late home.’

‘Husbands.’ Everyone shook their head understandingly. ‘Darling, you should have told me, you could have borrowed one of my girls,’ said Patrizia. ‘Or if you need someone more permanent I’ve just heard of an amazing Filipina who’s on the market. She refuses to take a day off, can you imagine how wonderful? She doesn’t even have a problem with Christmas and she works from six to nine every day, Sundays too.’ The room mumbled in approbation. ‘
Plus
she costs a pittance. She’s bound to have been snapped up, but you never know, if you offered her six pounds an hour rather than five … Champagne?’

‘Great, thank you.’ There was a bowl of peanutty-looking things on the table. Rosie couldn’t resist; she was starving. She should have eaten with the boys. She stuffed a handful into her mouth, then spluttered, coughed and gasped.

‘Are you all right?’ asked a Chinese woman, one Rosie dimly remembered from the birthday party, chatting to Caroline about lipo.

‘Just a bit …’ Rosie tried to enunciate, eyes watering. ‘A bit hot.’

‘Wasabi peanuts,’ Patrizia explained. ‘Spicy. Suppresses the appetite.’ She clapped her hands. ‘So, introductions. Everyone, this is Rosie. Rosie, this is Caroline, Bella, Elise, Minette’

‘Hi.’ Rosie waved.

Minette was the Chinese woman and Caroline the one who’d asked for tickets to
Twelfth Night
. Bella was in a tracksuit, but not the sort mums wore to the school gates in St Pauls, but the kind Gwyneth donned to work out with Madonna. Elise had a black bob splattered with grey streaks, an indignant face obscured by huge glasses, and was in a sleek, bronze-coloured shift dress.

‘So shall we all start?’ Elise asked impatiently.

‘Before we begin,’ said Caroline, ‘I must just say that the bit when she split up with her fiancé so reminded me of how I felt when I left Johann. I mean, the pain was indescribable for him, but also for me. The guilt, the heartache. But like the heroine of this book, sorry I forget her name, I know I am pursuing the right cause.’

The others exchanged glances. Clearly such comments were par for the course.

‘She was trying to aid the Civil Rights movement,’ said Elise. ‘My issue with this book was that it was trash. Trash dressed up as serious stuff, but trash.’

‘I quite liked it,’ Rosie said softly, and Elise shot her a fierce look.

‘Too heavy going for me,’ said Minette, fingering her earrings. ‘I have an idea for next month.
Fifty Shades of Grey
.’

‘Everyone’s read that already,’ Patrizia objected.

‘God, if I had been married to Christian Grey instead of Johann, my life would have been so very different,’ Caroline chuckled.

‘I think
The Help
explored some really interesting themes, relating to friendship,’ said Rosie, glancing at her notes.

‘Can I make a confession?’ Bella said. ‘I didn’t actually have time to read the book. But I did watch the DVD!’

Elise harrumphed. ‘Personally I think we may need to introduce a new rule. Anyone who hasn’t read the book is not allowed to attend.’

‘I’ve been re-reading
Harry Potter
,’ continued Bella. ‘Maybe we should think of that? Then we could help our kids as well.’

Elise sighed. ‘So. I was very interested in the role of the narrator. Is she entirely reliable?’

‘Um, excuse me!’ Caroline called to one of the
servants, tapping her glass meaningfully. Everyone’s glass was topped up. Rosie glanced at her watch, wondering if she could invent an excuse about one of the boys being sick just as Elise’s phone rang.

‘Oh shit, excuse me,’ she said. ‘Office. Better take this outside. Hello, Brian. Yes, I’m actually on my way to a work dinner with one of the clients …’

The other women looked at each other significantly.

‘No wonder poor Charles is so mixed up,’ Patrizia said softly. ‘His mother is never there. Always talking to the office.’

‘She says she has to work, to pay the school fees,’ Caroline said. ‘Her husband’s a painter, but she has her heart set on Gadney’s. Rosie, what are your thoughts on schools for your little boys?’

The air rustled, as the women all turned to Rosie, twitching with eagerness to get stuck into what was clearly their favourite topic.

‘Well, I thought about Jacqueline France but they’ve no places.’

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