Read Not Quite Perfect Online

Authors: Annie Lyons

Not Quite Perfect

Sometimes having it all isn’t enough…

Emma has everything she’s ever wanted. Her boyfriend’s just proposed and her career has finally taken off. And so what if her latest client just happens to be downright gorgeous? She’s getting married. Isn’t she?

Rachel’s married with 2.4 children (well, actually, 3) and life is all about trying to leave the house in a non-stained top. Once it was about skinny cappuccinos, cocktails and dynamic ad agency meetings. She wants her old life back, but can it ever be the same?

A sparkling, funny tale of two sisters and how often you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Not Quite Perfect
Annie Lyons

After leaving university,
decided that she ‘rather liked books’ and got a job as a bookseller on Charing Cross Road, London. Two years later she left the retail world and continued rather liking books during an eleven-year career in publishing. Following redundancy in 2009 she realised that she would rather like to write books and having undertaken a creative writing course, lots of reading and a bit of practice she produced
Not Quite Perfect
. She now realises that she loves writing as much as coffee, not as much as her children and a bit more than gardening. She has since written another novel and is about to start work on her third. She lives in a house in south-east London with her husband and two children. The garden is somewhat overgrown. One day she hopes to own a chocolate-brown Labrador named John and have tea with Mary Berry.

Big thanks to my early readers for their insightful comments and huge encouragement: Gill Mclay, Viv Peters, Heather Williams, Fiona Veacock, Sarah Livingston, Jenice Collins, Jane Clements, Mary Vacher and Lisa Stevens.

Thanks to Sally Williamson, Nicky Lovick and all at Carina for their support and enthusiasm, and to Jenny Hutton for putting me in touch with them. Thanks also to Charlotte Robertson.

Many thanks to Chris Cleave for allowing me to use the phrase ‘angels and tigers’ from his brilliant novel,

Heartfelt thanks to my mum and dad for instilling in me a great love of books.

Finally, special thanks to Lily and Alfie for being a daily source of inspiration and to Rich for never allowing me to give up.

For Rich

Chapter 1

Emma Darcy wakes to the brain-imploding sensation of another hangover and wishes she had more self-control. She opens one eye and, finding the prospect of daylight nauseating, closes it again and rolls over with a groan. She wants the duvet to comfort her, to wrap its arms around her and cure her but all it is doing is making her feel sweaty and restless. She glances at the empty space next to her and moves into it, breathing in the musty aroma of man. She can already hear said man, also known as her fiancé Martin, in the shower, cheerfully murdering a Stevie Wonder song. She pulls the pillow over her head and prays for sleep or death or both.

The volume of the singing gets louder as Martin makes his way back into the bedroom and flings open the curtains. Ignoring her protests, he pries the pillow from her face and kisses her forehead. She opens one eye and attempts a weak smile. It doesn’t feel good.

‘Wake up, Bungle Bonce. It’s gone eleven and we’ve got to be at your parents’ in an hour.’

‘Nnnnnnnng’ is the only sound Emma can make.

‘Someone should have stopped after that first bottle of champagne, shouldn’t they?’ grins Martin, running a hand through his dark brown hair, still wet from the shower.

Emma can find no reason to disagree.

‘Magical Martin’s Hangover Cure coming right up!’ he whispers, stroking her cheek and gently kissing the corner of her mouth. ‘I hate to say it Em, but I wonder if you might want a shower before we head over to your parent’s. You smell like a barmaid’s apron!’ Emma aims a feeble punch in Martin’s direction, which he sidesteps with ease. He laughs and jogs down the stairs, whistling happily.

Emma marvels at this man: he drinks far more than she does and yet never seems to have any side effects. She seems to have a permanent hangover of late. It’s hardly surprising as ever since she and Martin announced their engagement a month ago it’s been a steady round of celebratory drinks and dinners with friends and family. Last night, it was just the two of them with a Chinese take-away and yet they still managed to polish off the champagne from Emma’s godmother, Rosie, plus another bottle and possibly something more potent in a smaller glass.

They had been in celebratory mood as Emma had picked up some honeymoon brochures and they had worked their way through them narrowing it down to a beach holiday in Bali or a safari in Kenya. They had then celebrated this decision by casting the brochures to one side and indulging in passionate sex on the living-room rug. As she fell asleep that night, Emma couldn’t imagine being happier. As Sunday morning dawned, she couldn’t imagine feeling worse.

While waiting for the shower to warm up, she shudders at the thought of lunch at her parents with a hangover, her sister, her brother-in-law and their three not particularly quiet children. She stands underneath the jet of water, its warmth slightly masking the feeling that her brain is trying to exit her body through her ears.

Martin is kind and presents her with a poached egg, which she nibbles, a cup of coffee, which she sips, and a glass of water with two paracetamol, which she almost inhales. She is feeling nearly human again as she staggers to the car for the short drive to her parents’ house.

Her recovery is short-lived as Emma’s mother opens the door and Buzz Lightyear leaps out in best Space Ranger form, fixing her with a determined eye, his stubby finger poised over his wrist-laser.

‘Prepared to be eliminated, evil Emperor Zurg!’ he squeaks.

‘Fuck!’ cries Emma in genuine surprise.

‘Gra-neeeeeee. Auntie Em said fuck. Again.’

‘Emma honestly,’ chides her mother.

‘Sorry. He just sort of scared me.’

‘Em’s a bit shaky today, Diana,’ says Martin, putting an arm around his fiancée. ‘She’s tired. She’s been working far too hard and then of course there’s the wedding to think about.

Emma rests heavily against Martin’s shoulder, grateful for his attempt at damage limitation.

‘Auntie Em, Uncle Martin!’ squeals Lily with unmitigated glee, darting down the hall towards them.

‘Ah my darling Pica-Lily.’ Emma scoops up her niece and tickles her delightfully chubby little ribs.

‘Doppit, doppit, doppit!’ shrieks Lily and then, ‘again, again, again!’

‘Let them come in, you horrible lot,’ interrupts Emma’s dad. ‘Gin and tonic, Mart? And maybe just a tonic for you eh, lovely girl?’ he says, wrapping Emma in a restorative embrace. She kisses him on the cheek and puts an arm around his middle as they walk into the living room, where Rachel is flicking through the Sunday newspapers.

‘I warn you, your mother’s current favourite topic is weddings,’ he whispers as he disappears into the kitchen to fetch the drinks.

Emma grimaces.

‘Who’s talking about WEDDINGS?’ says Rachel in a too-loud voice, giving her sister a playful nudge as she flops down next to her on the sofa.

Emma pulls a face. ‘Keep it down, Rach. I’ve got a hangover the size of Wales and could really do without Mum on my back today.’

‘What? I only said the word “WEDDING”’ smirks Rachel.

Alfie appears at Emma’s side and seeing his mother’s smiling face, decides to join in the game. ‘WEDDING! WEDDING! WEDDING!’ he cries with glee.

Emma gives her sister a look. ‘Could you ask him not to do that?’

Lily appears alongside him and starts to join in. Rachel grins at her sister and shrugs her shoulders. ‘I’m so sorry. I’ve lost control of my children,’ she says innocently.

‘Yes, well, not for the first time, Rachel,’ declares Diana, appearing behind them. ‘Emma, we need to talk menus, dresses and flowers.’

Emma and Rachel roll their eyes at one another as Edward returns with the drinks. ‘At least let them have a drink first, eh darling?’ he says, handing out the glasses and winking at the girls.

Diana adopts a look that suggests she is not to be trifled with. ‘Well Emma is the one who’s decided to get married. If she wants our help I think she needs to co-operate a bit more. Yes?’

‘Yes, Mum,’ says Emma with tired resignation.

‘And you can stop this conspiratorial “Mummy is a villain” thing, Edward. I only want what’s best for my family.’

‘Yes, dear,’ says Edward, suppressing a smile.

‘Right, I’ve made quiche and salad. I don’t expect the children will eat it as it’s not fish fingers but I’ve done my best.’

Rachel opens her mouth to protest but sees Emma looking smug and decides to change tack. ‘Sounds delicious. Let’s eat so that we can talk weddings,’ she says, looking victoriously at her sister.

Emma manages to pick her way through lunch feeling more and more miserable as her mother attacks each item on her list with the gusto of a military commander.

‘So Lily will be your flower girl and Rachel your matron of honour.’

‘Of course and I want Ella to be a bridesmaid too.’

‘Who is this Ella? Do I know her?’

‘She’s my best friend at work, Mum, and no, you’ve never met her.’

‘Yes, but don’t forget that Daddy and I will be putting money towards this so we don’t want people there we don’t know.’

‘Look, Mum, I know you’re doing this with the best intentions, but we haven’t even set a date yet. It is up to Martin and me.’ Emma’s painkillers are starting to wear off and she can feel a dull throbbing at her temples. She looks around for an ally.

Rachel is sitting with her arms folded enjoying every second of the spectacle while her husband, Steve, talks to Edward about football. Meanwhile, Martin is being coerced into the role of Captain Hook by the three children.

‘I’m only trying to help. I know how stressful these things can be and I’m just trying to take some of the pain out of it. By the way, my cousin Eunice has already said she will do the flowers and I think it has to be white lilies, yes?’

‘Mum, just stop it!’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I said stop it. You’re not helping, you’re interfering!’

Rachel is watching Emma wide-eyed and impressed.

‘Well really, there’s no need to be rude!’

‘I’m sorry. It’s just that –’

‘I only wanted to help.’

‘I know but –’

‘I’m just trying to make it special for my little girl. I mean Rachel just eloped so I didn’t get the chance then.’ Her eyes are beginning to fill with tears and Emma is wishing she could dig a large hole and crawl into it.

‘Mum, please!’

The tension is broken by a piercing cry as Alfie falls off the lowest branch of an apple tree having been made to walk the plank by his determined older brother, Will. Chaos ensues and everyone runs over offering advice. Steve and Rachel bundle the hysterical patient into the car with Diana following them, barking instructions about where to park when they get to A&E. Edward reassures the distraught Will, and soon has him and his sister are distracted with a spot of blackberry-picking.

Martin looks sheepishly at Emma.

‘I hope you’ll take better care of our children,’ she jokes.

Martin wraps her in his arms. ‘I will always take care of my family,’ he says.

Sensing an exit plan, he and Emma take the chance to leave, but she is still wound up on the journey home.

‘I mean, what is she on? How many years exactly do you get for matricide?’

‘You probably won’t want to hear this, but I think she is just trying to help, Em.’

‘Oh why do you have to be so bloody reasonable?’

‘It’s why you love me.’

‘I know and I do feel bad because I guess she is trying to help and I’m just tired and hung over, but it’s our big day and I don’t want anyone hijacking it,’ she says resting her hand on Martin’s knee.

He smiles at her. ‘It will be fine, try not to worry. We’ll find a way to manage your mum. We probably just need to put her in charge of something like the cake or flowers or something.’

Emma feels a little consoled and leans over to kiss him on the cheek. ‘I knew there was a reason I was marrying you.’

‘What apart from my infinite charm and the fact that I’m so much better looking than Daniel Craig?’

‘Yeah, that as well.’ Emma’s phone beeps and she flicks it to read the text: ‘Hope you’re not too nervous re tomorrow. Get an early night, lovely. Exx’

Emma smiles at Ella’s message and is suddenly filled with nerves at the thought of what lies ahead tomorrow. She is pitching for a new book, which, given the buzz in publishing circles, is destined to become the next big thing. Her anxiety and waning hangover make her feel tired so she foregoes Sunday evening TV and a glass of wine for an early night curled up with Allen Chandler’s potential new bestseller. Martin comes up to find her and picks up some of the scattered pages.

The Red Orchid
. Sounds a bit poncey.’

‘It’s not poncey: It’s going to be huge and I’m going to publish it.’

‘Well I hope you do, my sweet. Have I ever told you how proud I am of you?’

‘Never,’ says Emma with a grin.

‘Would you like me to show you?’ asks Martin, prising the pages of the book from her fingers, kissing her hand and along her wrist.

‘I really should finish this,’ sighs Emma, as Martin works his way up her arm and onto her neck.

‘Well if you really have to,’ he adds, continuing to kiss her chin and face and the corner of her mouth.

‘Oh sod it. I’ll do it on the train!’ says Emma, casting the manuscript to one side, wrapping her arms and legs around him and pulling him down on top of her. There is an urgency and intensity to the movement so that minutes later they are pulling at each other’s clothes and Martin is exploring Emma’s body with his tongue: down the curve of her breast to one nipple where he toys a while, inciting and enjoying her reaction. Emma’s body rises and she lifts her pelvis in a moment of pure pleasure and lust. And suddenly, he reaches down, moves her underwear to one side and is inside her causing Emma to gasp and pull him deeper into her. Later, after they have both come and Emma has retrieved her underwear from the nose of an indignant looking giant toy frog they won on a trip to Brighton, they lay together like spoons, both heavy and warm with sleep.

‘I do love you,’ says Emma, reaching an arm up to stroke his face.

‘‘Course you do,’ says Martin and she can feel the grin on his face. ‘I’m bloody lovely.’

Rachel throws miscellaneous chunks of Lego and tiny dolls’ shoes into whichever receptacle is nearest.

‘Glass of wine?’ asks Steve.

‘Lovely,’ she answers without looking up.

He returns smiling, placing the glasses on the coffee table and stretching out an arm to her. ‘What a day eh? At least Alfie’s OK though.’

Rachel nods, accepting the embrace for a second and then pulling away. ‘Just got to reclaim the living room before I sit down.’

‘Sure, sweet-cheeks, you do what you godda do,’ says Steve turning on the TV and flicking to the sports news.

‘Maaaarm!’ yells a small voice from the top of the stairs.

‘Alfie,’ says Rachel in a weary voice.

‘I’ll go. You sit,’ says Steve.

Rachel accepts with gratitude, slumping onto the sofa and sipping her wine.

‘He’s fine. He’d just dropped Raggy,’ reports Steve on his return.

‘Good. Thanks. So, do you want to watch
Grey’s Anatomy
The Wire
? I’ve got them both on Sky Plus.’

‘Actually Rach, I need to talk to you.’

She looks at his weary face and realises how little she actually looks at him these days. The early months of their relationship had been spent memorising every part of each other’s face and body, but with time and children their faces became somewhat obscured as they were replaced by younger, smaller and more impatient versions of themselves. Looking at him now, she recognises the man she fell for, but his face is punctuated with more lines and his eyes are underlined with purple-grey shadows. She looked at her own face in the mirror recently and had been shocked when she realised that the lines were now caused by too much frowning rather than too much laughter.

‘OK, sounds serious. What’s up?’

‘Well –’ Steve looks unsure where to begin and Rachel is starting to feel a little worried.

‘You’re having an affair? With Kate Winslet? Again?’

Rachel’s attempt at humour makes Steve smile, but only just.

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