Authors: Julia Llewellyn
Tags: #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Humour, #Love Stories, #Marriage, #Romance, #Women's Fiction
‘George, angel, please drink from your beaker,’ Rosie pleaded.
‘No! Want to drink from a big boys’ cup.’
‘If you do, you’ll get it all over your lovely shirt. And I know how much you love that shirt.’
Rosie sighed. Every weekday morning was the same: she ran around wrestling the boys into cleanish clothes, begging them to have a spoonful more Weetabix, cajoling them to brush their teeth and generally having a mini-nervous breakdown at an hour when, pre-children, she’d have been blow-drying her hair in order to impress the new bloke she fancied in HR.
Jake, meanwhile, tended to wander in, pour a bowl of cereal and then disappear into Samantha’s boudoir overlooking the garden, which he’d designated his office, in order to write emails until the car that took him to rehearsals arrived. In Neasden he’d have had nowhere to hide, but in the new house it was different.
‘Jake. Jaaaake! Come and help find Toby’s shoe,’ she tried now. Surprise, surprise. No reply.
Rosie’s phone started ringing. Exasperatedly she grabbed it. Christy. Typical. Oblivious to the timing of
the nursery run. She considered ignoring her, but then decided just to get it over with.
‘Hi, Chris. How are you?’
busy, you have no idea. And you?’
Toby started to scream. ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!’
‘Er, busy too. Toby, what is it, darling?’
‘It’s show and tell today. Did you forget again?’
‘Oh, well remembered! What letter is it this week?’
He thrust Wendy’s weekly letter, the fount of all information, into her hand. Rosie peered at it. ‘F. What can we bring in beginning with “F”? Christy, we need an object beginning with “F”.’
‘Fig? Fennel? Fur?’ Typical Christy. ‘No? Fruit?’
‘We have no fruit,’ Rosie said, looking at the hideous empty glass fruit bowl Patty had given her as a wedding present and that she would never have the heart to get rid of. ‘Oh bloody hell, Patrizia’s kids will be bringing in a Ferrari.’
‘Or a Ferragamo bag. Maybe Fendi?’
‘I know!’ cried Christy. ‘Fluff!’
‘From your tumble dryer.’
‘Christy Papadopolous. You’re a genius.’
‘I know. So, listen, are you busy?’
A hollow laugh. ‘What do you think?
‘You know what I mean. Later. After you’ve taken the boys to nursery?’
‘Um, well, I have bits and bobs to do, but …’
‘Good,’ Christy said firmly. ‘I have to visit Eliza in Putney, remember Eliza? Did you ever call that interior designer of hers I recommended? But I’ve a couple of hours before that, so I thought we could maybe have a coffee. You could show me your new haunts.’
‘Oh.’ A tiny part of Rosie felt resentful. All right, so she had nothing much to do except continue putting photos in her collage, but how did Christy know that? Why did Christy always expect her to be free? But she was being silly. ‘OK. Great. I’ll be back home about nine fifteen.’
‘I’ll pick you up and we’ll go out for breakfast.’
‘I’ve already …’ But Christy had hung up.
By the time she returned, Christy’s Audi was in the drive.
‘We could have coffee here,’ Rosie suggested.
‘What, with your coffee-making skills? No, thanks, we’ll go into the Village.’
‘You’ll have to walk there,’ Rosie teased back. ‘Can you cope?’ Christy prided herself on never going anywhere she couldn’t access by car; the last time she’d travelled on the tube was around the Millennium.
‘I’ll be fine,’ she said crossly.
The sun was breaking through the clouds as they strolled down to the Green and along the high street. Groups of women sat outside coffee shops chattering, dogs sitting obediently at their feet, babies sleeping in three-thousand-pound buggies.
‘Where are all the men?’ Christy asked.
‘In the City, earning a crust.’
‘Hello, nineteen fifties!’
‘Someone has to bring up the children.’
‘I guess.’ Christy looked around her bemused. ‘It’s another world, though. Where are the under thirties?’
‘In Soho, drinking cocktails and discussing the Finnish film they saw last night.’ For a second Rosie thought of Jake’s avowal only to go out in Soho from now on. She distracted herself by looking into one of the many boutique windows. ‘Hey, look at that dress. Isn’t it gorgeous?’
Christy looked. It was a gold number, made of a kind of starchy taffeta, draping artfully round the neck and down to the knee. ‘Go and try it on.’
‘I couldn’t do that!’
‘Why not? You need something like that to wear to all the posh dos you and Jake will be attending.’
Rosie laughed. ‘We never attend posh dos. Well, he does sometimes, but I’m at home with the boys.’
‘He said you had a babysitter now. You should get out more.’
‘Thank you for your concern.’ Her sarcasm wasn’t lost on Christy.
‘Jake is getting all these invitations and you should be by his side. It’s not good for him, or for you, if you’re never together.’
‘But it’s not good for the boys if I’m always attending the launch of a new brand of tissues when I could
be reading them bedtime stories.’
Unlike my own dear mother
, she thought. She knew a lot of her desire to spend time with the boys was to be as unlike Marianne Prest as possible.
‘There’s a balance,’ Christy said, pushing open the door of the boutique. It had wide polished floors and a few spartan clothes racks. ‘Come on, let’s take a look at the dress.’
One was hanging right by the door. Rosie fingered the glorious material. It sparkled in her hand. Then she looked at the price tag. ‘Fuck me. Two thousand and five pounds.’
Christy laughed. ‘Your Bristol accent was very strong just then.’
‘Sorry. But bloody hell!’
beautiful. Try it on.’
‘It is lovely,’ said the woman at the till. Rosie turned round and clocked her. It was Minette from book club.
‘Oh, hi! Is this your shop?’
Minette nodded. ‘Adrian bought it for me. I’ve always wanted a shop. I do have an eye for fashion, though I say so myself. I thought I recognized you. Treating yourself? Go on. You’ll need something pretty to wear at all the events your hubby must be invited to attend.’
‘Mmm,’ Rosie smiled. She turned towards the small children’s section. ‘Oh, but what about this shirt for George?’ She held up a little check number.
Christy yawned. ‘I’m sure George doesn’t need any more shirts.’
‘But he always has his brother’s hand-me-downs.’ Rosie looked at the price tag and her expression changed. ‘Um, actually, maybe not.’
‘You don’t need to be so careful, you know,’ Christy whispered, as Minette eyed them curiously. But then Rosie showed her the price tag. ‘Oh God. For a child? No bloody way. If you’re going to treat someone, buy something for a person who won’t grow out of it within three days.’ She picked up a dark blue cashmere jumper and stroked it lovingly. ‘This would suit Jake.’
‘Have you seen how much it is?’ Rosie hissed.
‘You can afford it.’
‘But it’s not
‘But he’d never get round to buying it himself,’ Christy said. ‘You’re doing him a favour.’
‘I guess you’re right.’ Rosie picked up a soft yellow cotton shirt folded beside it. ‘He could do with one of these too. Oh, and a pair of trousers.’ She shook her head. ‘I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to this. Depending on Jake. It always used to be the other way round.’
‘You give him as much as he gives you.’
‘I hope so. I’ll have to try.’ Rosie had chosen six garments and was just about to pay when Christy, plucking the gold dress from the rack, said warningly, ‘Ro. Don’t forget yourself.’
‘The colour would really suit you!’ Minette exclaimed. ‘It’s Vivienne Westwood. There’s never been anyone like Vivienne.’
‘When would I wear it? To take the boys to nursery?’
‘Enough of the dowdy housewife bollocks. Try it on.’
In the changing room, Rosie pulled off her T-shirt and jeans and tugged the dress over her head, zipping it at the side. It was a beautiful dress, but not her style at all, far too flouncy, and whoever wore gold for heaven’s sake?
‘Oh.’ Christy peeked round the curtain. ‘Oh yes.’
‘It’s … nice,’ Rosie admitted, gazing at herself.
to get it. It’s amazing.’
‘But it’s so expensive.’
‘I’ve told you, relax, you can afford it.’
‘I know, but …’ As her head emerged blinking through the neck, she thought of her school days and how there’d never been enough money for her to have new shoes, so the old pairs had pinched her toes, and how she’d always had second-hand uniforms, and flicked through Sandra’s old
in a haze of envy and desire. ‘Are you sure it doesn’t make me look like a Quality Street wrapper?’
‘You all right there?’ called Minette.
‘Just trying to persuade my friend she should buy this beautiful dress!’ Christy hollered back.
Minette appeared. ‘Oh my word, yes! Stunning. Absolutely.’ Seeing Rosie was tempted, but struggling, she hastily added: ‘I hope I mentioned it’s ten per cent off all dresses today.’
That did it. Rosie could never resist a discount. ‘OK, then,’ she said. ‘But I’m blaming you,’ she added pointedly to Christy.
‘OK, I hear you. I’ll work even harder than I do already to make your husband even richer!’
Ten minutes and several thousand – thousand, this was crazy – pounds lighter, they emerged into the mid-morning sunlight.
‘Thank God I bought all that for Jake or I’d feel terrible,’ Rosie said. ‘She did say I could bring it back within a month, so if I change my mind …’
‘Relax, you nutter. Enjoy it.’
‘I don’t get it,’ Rosie said, as they plonked themselves down outside a café – just like real Village women. ‘Why the sudden desire to make me shop?’
‘You always used to go on about how it was your dream to drift into a posh clothes shop and buy whatever you like. You should get some new make-up too. Go to one of the counters in the big department stores, they do makeovers. Have them transform you.’
Rosie remembered them messing around at the Clinique counter, aged about twelve, at Bristol House of Fraser, doing the ‘computer’ test to work out what kind of skin they had. They’d thought it ludicrous then, but that was a long time ago. As Christy grew older, she’d begun collecting make-up almost obsessively, convinced there was a product out there that could solve any problem. ‘Yeah, I’ll think about it,’ Rosie said. ‘It’s just a question of finding the time.’
They ordered: Rosie a cappuccino, Christy, who always maintained milk was only for babies, her usual Americano. They sat back in their metal chairs, the sun bathing
their faces and for a moment were silent, then Christy said, ‘So, am I right in thinking your in-laws are having a party for Jake soon?’
‘Next weekend. God help us. It’s meant to be because Fraser’s back in town between surfing contests, but really it’s so Yolande can show off Jake to all her village buddies.’
Christy stirred her coffee. ‘Do you want me to come?’
‘You? What on earth would you want to attend a Perry family gathering in the middle of nowhere for?’
‘Moral support. Sounds grim. If I was there we could have a laugh.’
Rosie thought. She wasn’t looking forward to the party remotely and it was really kind of Christy to volunteer herself, but she couldn’t make her leave her bed on a Sunday morning and drive all the way to the Cotswolds. After all, it wasn’t like the olden days when they could have hidden themselves in a corner and laughed at the other guests; she’d be constantly having to police the boys, and make sure they weren’t too rowdy and didn’t stuff themselves with too much trifle from the buffet.
‘You’re really sweet, but honestly no need. You’ll be bored silly.’
‘All the same,’ Christy persisted. ‘I’d like to see where Jake grew up. I’m doing so much work for him at the moment and all the little details really help.’
‘I’m sure Yolande would be overjoyed if you came. But you’d be nuts to. Seriously.’
‘Will you ask her?’
‘If you like.’ Rosie said, as Caroline, jogging past with two handsome red setters trotting behind her, waved. ‘Hey, Rosie.’
‘See, you’re settling in. You know everyone.’
‘I’ll get there. It takes time.’ Rosie gulped down the rest of her coffee. ‘I have to run or I’ll be late for pick-up.’
‘Wear the gold dress.’
Rosie laughed. ‘Not today. Maybe tomorrow.’
Coffee morning at Caroline’s next Wednesday after drop-off! No need to bring anything except your beautiful self. Goodies provided. ☺
‘Do you know anything about King’s Mount School?’ Rosie asked Dizzy in the morning. She’d had her head in the sand about the school situation, but she could ignore it no longer. At pick-up yesterday even Wendy, who normally took no notice at all of her charges’ welfare, had remarked acidly that it was ‘very unusual’ for a child only months before ‘graduation’, to have no school place sorted out.
Dizzy laughed. She was in orange pedal pushers today with her shirt knotted at her rather large waist like Doris Day. ‘God, yah. Both my bros went there before Stowe. They absolutely loved it. It has the most wonderful cricket pitch with views over the river. I think one of Mick Jagger’s kids goes there, or is it one of his grandkids? It has a helicopter landing pad, great fun on sports’ day when all the Russians arrive. Are you thinking about it for the boys?’
‘Possibly. Since they haven’t got a place right now at Jacqueline France.’
‘Jacqueline France?’ Dizzy screwed up her nose. ‘That’s dog rough. K. M. is the business. Or there are lots of other schools.’
‘Um, I was wondering. The cleaning is a short-term
thing presumably. What do you really want to do?’ Rosie had been dying to pose this question for ages. After all, what had been the point of Dizzy’s expensive education? ‘Aren’t most of your friends at uni?’
‘Uni’s not for me. I’m happy cleaning. I make far more money than I would working in a shop. I pay no tax. Mummy cooks for me and does my washing. One day I’ll do something else.’
‘I don’t know. Work in the City? My uncle will help me find a job.’
While Dizzy crashed around in the kitchen, Rosie googled King’s Mount. The website was full of pictures of beaming boys – one token black, the rest all solidly Caucasian – in blazers and ties.
We believe King’s Mount School is a very special place
, she read.
We are a school with a warm family atmosphere, where children feel safe and happy
‘Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?’ Rosie muttered. ‘What school’s going to say their children are bored and can’t wait to leave and go to be cleaners?’
But she mustn’t be cynical. She should at least go and have a look. After all, at this stage, what was the alternative – home-school? She picked up the phone and dialled.
‘Hellairgh,’ said a voice so posh, it made the queen sound like she had been brought up on a council estate.
‘Oh, er, hello,’ Rosie said falteringly. ‘Um, my name’s Rosie … Prest and I was wondering if you could help. My son’s starting reception in September. He’s very
sweet … a bit naughty sometimes, but you know, that’s boys, and, anyway, I wondered if you had any places … ?’
There was a stunned pause.
?’ She was Lady Bracknell, enunciating ‘handbag’.
‘Yes, I mean … I know it’s soon, but we live quite close and I thought someone might pull out at the last minute …’
The woman laughed. ‘Mrs Prest, King’s Mount boys are usually registered at birth.’
‘Oh. I see.’
‘Some are even registered pre-birth, as soon as have people have the twelve-week scan.’
’ All Rosie could think about around the time of her scans was where her next Snickers bar might be coming from.
‘It’s a very popular school. After all, it does feed the top public schools. I’m sorry to disappoint you. I can take your details and send you a prospectus, and then if you take a tour you could register for an occasional place, though I must warn you we do assess for these.’
‘Oh, I see,’ she said again. Assess? Assess what, Toby’s Lego-building skills? It was all bollocks, but Rosie gave her address. At least then she could tell everyone she’d tried.
‘Oh!’ the lady said. ‘You live
Suddenly Rosie saw the light. ‘Yes, we’ve just moved in. Dizzy Mackenzie-Stuart recommended I call you and Patrizia … er …’ She couldn’t remember Patrizia’s
surname for the life of her. ‘Brazilian Patrizia!’ She took a deep breath, hating herself but knowing she had no choice if Toby wasn’t to end up school-less. ‘And my husband’s name is Jake Perry. The actor.’
‘Oh!’ The woman’s tone had definitely changed. ‘We’ll be in touch very soon, Mrs Perry. Last-minute places do come up fairly regularly, you know. London being such a cosmopolitan city, people move all the time. Thank you so much for your enquiry.’
Ten minutes later, the phone rang.
‘Mrs Perry, it’s Daphne Riversdale from King’s Mount. Wonderful news! It seems there might be a place available after all. Would you and your husband be able to come in shortly for a tour?’
Seeing she was on a roll, Rosie put her discomfort to one side and resolved to phone Eliza whatsit’s decorator. The fantasies she’d entertained of rising at five to visit Kempton Antiques Market were losing their appeal and her mood boards, composed of pages from her precious magazines, were becoming more and more schizophrenic. She couldn’t work out if she wanted a shabby-chic vibe for the house, or a hip Balinese look like the ex-wife of a rock star was ‘channelling’ in this month’s
. Or maybe a Scandi pared-down neutral look would be better, with everything in shades of stone? But then she really fancied a Versailles-type bed with a rococo headboard. Christy was right, she was
beginning to concede. If the house were to live up to its potential, she would need help.
‘David Allen Robertson,’ trilled a woman who sounded like Dizzy’s long-lost sister. ‘How may I help you?’
‘Oh hello, my name’s Rosie –’ she paused a second, making up her mind, then decided – ‘Rosie
and I was wondering if I might be able to make an appointment for David to come and see my house.’
busy,’ the woman replied. ‘Could you give me your address, so I can see if he’s working in the area any time soon?’
Rosie heard tapping, as she told her. Checking them out on Streetview. Sure enough …
‘I see,’ she said. ‘Well, as I say, I can put you on our waiting list and if a slot comes up – it probably won’t be for a year or so, though – I can arrange for David to come and interview you.’
Didn’t she interview him?
‘OK,’ Rosie said meekly.
‘So let me just take down a few details, Mrs Prest.’
‘No, thanks,’ Rosie said shortly. ‘I can’t wait two years, I’m afraid. By the way, Christy Papadopolous recommended I call you, because her client Eliza … whatsit used you; I forget her last name but she lives in Putney.’ Another deep breath, then cringing she said: ‘My husband’s Jake Perry.’
‘Oh. You should have
.’ She sounded as if Rosie had informed her that both Santa and the tooth fairy were actually real. ‘Christy said you’d call. So sorry, we
do get so many requests, but David’s such a fan of your husband’s, not to mention he adores Christy. I’m sure you’ll have so much fun working together. So, tomorrow morning would work for him, if it would be OK with you? Nine thirty all right?’
Rosie hung up feeling faintly grubby. She hated the way she was using Perry to queue-jump. It made her feel pushy and grabby; it wasn’t even her name – she was like a WAG, but without the benefits of a boob job and Botox and a
Strictly Come Dancing
glitter ball. She picked up the phone once more, this time to call Nanna. She needed to hear a Bristol accent, to be reminded of her roots. But then she saw the time and realized Nanna would be at bingo and, more pertinently, if she didn’t run she’d be late for pick-up and incur Wendy’s wrath and King’s Mount would be alerted that, famous husband or not, she was a useless mother and her sons would end up flipping burgers.
The following morning, Rosie tidied the toys, hid her piles of magazines under the bed and placed Jake’s battered uni copy of
Roland Barthes and the Art of Deconstruction
on the coffee table in the living room. She put the vase Patty had given them for their wedding present in a wardrobe, though – whatever David Allen Robertson’s verdict, she knew she’d never be able to bring herself to throw it out. Rupert and Yolande’s tat however … now there was a different matter.
She glanced at her watch. Just time to call Nanna. As
the number rang, she smiled, imagining her grandmother turning off the telly after her morning fix of Holly and Philip and preparing to go to bingo.
‘Hello, only me!’
‘How are you doing, lover? Settling into that lovely house of yours? Any more thoughts on what you’ll wear to Jake’s show?’
‘Yes, I bought something with Christy the other day. Vivienne Westwood. It’s gold, very flouncy. I’ll email you a photo. So, what’s your news?’
‘Oh, not much.’
But something about Nanna’s tone belied this. ‘Is everything OK?’ Rosie asked, alarmed.
Nanna sounded grumpy. ‘Yes. Fine.’
‘I have to go to hospital,’ Nanna said crossly. ‘Just for a scan. But it’s a pain. It’s over the other side of town and I’ll have to miss my aqua zumba at the sports centre. It’s ever so much fun, did I tell you about it? We have this hilarious instructor called Cherelle. Mind, she could do with losing a few pounds, so maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, but we do have a laugh.’
‘Scan? What for?’
‘I’ve just been feeling a bit tired lately.’
‘Oh! Is that all?’ Rosie felt vaguely reassured. ‘You shouldn’t go out on the razz so much, Nanna,’ she teased, telling herself not to worry, as the gate buzzer went. ‘Nanna. I have to go. Someone’s here. A fancy interior decorator. I’ll call you later. Love you.’
Still, her heart was thudding as she answered the door. Scans were never good. What was going on? She did her best to focus on David Allen Robertson, who was freakishly tall, youngish, with close-cropped gingery hair and a sharp suit, and Felicity, who was willowy, blonde, early twenties, and wore a patterned minidress.
‘Mrs Perry! Or may I call you Rosie? David.’ He held out a hand, smiling winningly. ‘So thrilled to meet you. What a house.’ He looked around the hallway and did a low wolf whistle. ‘What space. What potential.’
‘Well, yes, I hope so …’ Rosie began walking to the lounge – no! living room – and they followed. ‘I mean. It needs work, obviously. It’s a bit nineties at the moment. The curtains,’ Rosie said, seizing on her particular bête noire. ‘Any advice on what to do about the curtains?’
The pair gazed at the curtains, as if they were the Turin Shroud. Then David turned to Felicity. ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’
‘I’ll say,’ she grinned.
to be scarlet.’
‘Scarlet!’ Felicity screamed like Meg Ryan in the orgasm scene in Katz’s Deli.
‘It would bring
vibrancy to the room. Bring it completely up to date. Lose the gastropub look, all the junk.’ He nodded at the chesterfield sofa, Rosie’s pride and joy bought in an auction when she was pregnant with Toby.
‘Not that anything in here is junk,’ said Felicity hastily, noticing her expression.
‘Of course not!’ David cried. ‘The furniture shows you have exquisite taste. It’s the decor. Did a footballer live here before? Now show us around, darling, and we’ll be able to explain all the things we can do for you.’ Showing them round, Rosie felt very self-conscious. The vast rooms echoed, most of them still unfurnished, their cheap, scruffy furniture incongruous in these grand surroundings. She was suddenly acutely aware that the dream house hadn’t lived up to her expectations, so far: it felt like a mausoleum, rather than a home.
David had very pronounced views. Rip out the kitchen and install a new one from a company called Plain English: all distressed units in ethereal shades of green and blue. The Aga needed to go too and be replaced with another Aga, but one you could text, telling it when you were going to be home, so it would start warming your dinner, as if you were a feckless teenager and it was your cross mum.
‘But I never go out,’ Rosie pointed out.
‘Ha ha ha.’ David clearly thought she was joking. Little did he know.
The bathrooms, obviously, were for the skip – the jacuzzi, of which, actually, Rosie had grown rather fond, to be replaced by freestanding baths with claw feet. There’d be special bunk beds with slides attached for the boys – well, they’d love that. Huge abstract canvases for the walls – David showed Rosie a selection on his iPhone, which he could apparently acquire as a job
lot. Rosie wasn’t at all sure she liked them, but she made polite noises anyway.
He moved on to the garden, suggesting a playhouse for the boys, at a cost – with discount – of ‘only seven thousand pounds, and they’ll love it.’ He also had plans for the lawn.
‘We’ll get rid of it.’
‘What? We can’t do that!’ Rosie had visions of austere York stone stretching as far as the horizon. She didn’t want that. She wanted grass flecked with daisies, apple trees, rose bushes.
‘We’ll replace it with fake grass. You can’t tell the difference and no more mowing for your gardener. I take it you will be employing a gardener?’
‘I don’t know yet, I was kind of looking forward to doing it myself. It was one of the reasons I gave up work – to get my hands dirty. Ha ha.’