Authors: Adele Parks
By the same author
Larger Than Life
The Other Woman’s Shoes
Still Thinking of You
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Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2007
Copyright © Adele Parks, 2007
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I close the door with a little too much force; the slam reverberates throughout the house. In the instant that the bang disappears I notice the emptiness. A void. Silence. I consider shouting ‘Hello’but I know there is no one to answer. The blankness shouldn’t be a surprise. This is the third September I have returned to an empty home after a long summer break and noticed the all-consuming silence. The calm is partly a relief, partly heartbreaking. This year the hush is particularly distressing because I did not have to cajole, bribe, beg or threaten my boys to get them to surrender their vice-like grips at the school gate. This year, Sebastian ran into the playground without so much as a backward glance, let alone a kiss goodbye, and even Henry (normally the most openly affectionate twin) was only prepared to wave at me. From a distance.
Haven’t I done a marvellous job? Excellent. Wonderful. I should be congratulated. I have produced confident, independent and secure boys. Well done me.
I think I’m going to cry.
I briefly consider pouring myself a glass of whisky. But dismiss the silly idea because in reality the only spirit in my cupboard is cooking sherry. I could have a glass of wine. I think there’s half a bottle of Chablis in the fridge but I content myself with putting on the kettle. Strong coffee is the more sensible choice and I’m famed for my sensible nature.
The phone rings; its cheerful tring is a Red Cross parcel. I pick up hastily and gratefully.
Me, in this case, is Connie, one of my best and oldest friends. She sounds tearful and I remember that it’s her eldest daughter’s first day at school.
‘How was Fran’s drop-off?’
‘OK,’she mutters; she doesn’t sound convinced. ‘She looked amazing. The uniform is so cute. But…’
‘Is it usual for them to cling to your leg and sob? I couldn’t pry her off; she was like a tiny monkey. She kept begging to come home with Flora and me. She even offered to tidy up her Barbies – that’s unprecedented.’Connie is trying to laugh but I’m not fooled.
‘Very usual,’I assure her. ‘Do you fancy a coffee?’
‘I want vodka, but I’ll settle for coffee. I’ll be with you in five. I’m just around the corner.’
If I round up, Connie and I have known each other for nearly twenty years, which is phenomenal and unbelievable. To have known someone that long must mean I’m a fully fledged adult, and digesting that fact requires a mountain of sugar, not a teaspoon. We originally
met through my sister, Daisy. Daisy and Connie went to university together; they were very tight. Connie and I have only become particularly friendly in the last five or six years. We both have kids and, sadly, Daisy doesn’t. I’ve found that kids pull you towards women that you would never have considered being friends with if you didn’t have children in common – it’s one of the perks of the job. Besides, Connie was very kind to me when my husband left me for one of our mutual friends.
The situation was officially ugly.
Connie was a great pal of Lucy,
, but despite that she’s managed to walk a diplomatic line and remain friends with both of us. Sometimes, I think I should have demanded that Connie take a more moralistic stance. I should have asked her to spurn her old buddy and my deceiving ex but I couldn’t risk it. Friends were thin on the ground at the time and so few people are prepared to see the world in black and white. Extremism isn’t fashionable. Not even extremely nice. People who are extremely nice are mistrusted or taken advantage of. Believe me, I’m talking from experience. So, I make do with knowing that Connie is a great friend to me and I ignore the fact that she’s a great friend to Lucy as well.
Since Peter left, I’ve battled with every instinct when talking to Connie and somehow I’ve trained myself to make only casual, polite enquiries about Peter and Lucy. I do not allow myself the indulgence of ridiculing or vilifying them, which would embarrass and compromise
her. I limit myself to the type of enquiry one makes after an old work colleague two people might have in common – civil, distant, even a little distracted – and I glean the occasional piece of choice information using this covert method.
Sometimes, in the early days, I couldn’t help myself; little bits of pain or grief would eke out however tightly I tried to guard my feelings – and I’d mention Peter’s name. I might have moaned about him or admitted I missed him. Yet I did this with the absolute certainty that I could trust Connie. She’d never, ever repeat to Lucy anything I say about him. This is a remarkable feat of self-restraint for anyone, but for Connie it’s a breathtaking tribute to our friendship. Connie isn’t discreet and it must kill her to keep mum. I’ve never allowed myself to reveal my true feelings about Lucy at all. The thing is I don’t have the vocab – I don’t like using expletives.
I don’t worry that Lucy talks about me to Connie. I know that if she does Connie will be loyal and supportive of me, but I can’t imagine the scenario ever arising. I don’t think I’ve ever entered Lucy’s consciousness, not even when she was eating Sunday roast at my house and giving my husband a quick blow-job in our cloakroom before I served up the pudding and coffee. She was always too busy giving literal meaning to the words ‘Let’s take an intercourse break’to think about me. I’m not glamorous enough to rank among her friends and I’m not rich enough to be her client. Therefore, I am beneath her notice.
True to her word, Connie arrives at my house within moments. I open the door and see that she’s fighting tears.
something worse than them clinging to your leg and begging you not to leave, you know,’I comment.
Connie plonks Flora, her youngest, on the kitchen floor and sits on a bar stool; she reaches for the biscuit tin.
‘Sebastian and Henry literally skipped away from me this morning. Not so much as a casual endearment flung my way.’
As I’d hoped, Connie puts aside her own upset and grins sympathetically. ‘I saw them in the playground, they did seem really settled. Running around like crazy. I think it was a good idea to stagger the drop-off on the first day so it wasn’t too overwhelming for the new starters.’
‘You mean new parents, don’t you?’
‘Yes.’She smiles, more relaxed now.
I turn away from Connie and busy myself with making the coffee so I can ask the next question with some dignity. ‘Did you see Peter and Lucy drop Auriol off this morning?’
Because, here’s the thing. In among the several million crimes against me that my bleep bleep ex-husband has committed, this one possibly takes the prize. He and his hussy mistress – oh, OK then, his wife – have decided to send their child to
school. My school! Well, of course, when I say
I mean the boys’school. Hello? Isn’t anything sacrosanct? Well, no, obviously not. With her form I can’t imagine Lucy being squeamish about moving in on my school turf.
I thought I’d be safe. I never thought Lucy would choose the state school route for her daughter. Peter and Lucy both work in the City and earn shedloads. They could easily afford a posh little school with incredible alumni.
Sebastian and Henry’s school is gorgeous. It does really well in the league tables and there’s a marvellous playground; it’s almost impossible to get a school with grass in London, yet this one has enormous trees with preservation orders. I’d carefully researched school catchment areas even before I conceived. I insisted Peter and I bought in a particular road to guarantee that we’d get our kids into Holland House. Then several years later, after Lucy had stolen my husband and destroyed my family, the woman had the cheek to announce that she thought it would be nice for Auriol to go to the same school as her big brothers.
Curse the cow.
This had to be a calculated move to hurt me. And it did hurt me, which is astounding because I’d thought that I was already dead to pain that she could inflict, slain by a thousand cuts. Their house in Holland Park isn’t even in catchment, but Lucy visited the school and charmed the pants off Mr Walker, the headmaster (and I may mean literally, who knows with that conniving she-devil?). She spun the tale of how it was such a good
idea for Sebastian and Henry because they ought to be close to their sister. Cow, bitch, witch. How dare she? As if she cares about the boys’welfare. If she did, then she wouldn’t have slept with my husband, while pretending to be my friend, would she? And Auriol is not their
. She is a
sister, which is a very important distinction. They have a father in common and nothing more, and what does that mean really? All Peter had to do to earn the title of father was get me up the duff and that simply wasn’t too taxing, whatever he might claim now.
It’s not like he’s had to mop their tiny bodies with cold flannels to bring down temperatures when they were babies, nor has he once applied calamine lotion to a single chicken-pox spot. He hasn’t ever taken them to the dentist, the doctor or the optician. He hasn’t yet cut nails or hair. He hasn’t packed lunches. He does not do their homework with them. He does not have their friends to his house for tea. He does not sew labels into their uniforms. He does not answer their questions on death or bullies.
He does play football with them on Sunday mornings, he bought them Game Boy Advance and introduced them to their first love – Sonic – and he does take them on holiday to Cornwall once a year. It’s not that he’s a terrible father, in fact he’s quite a good father; I’m just saying being a father isn’t that tricky, is it? Least not from where I’m standing.
It’s not that I have anything against little Auriol, either. She’s actually a fairly sweet child, especially
considering she’s handicapped with the most evil mother known to the western world since Snow White’s stepmother. But really…the school! Isn’t it enough for the woman that she has my husband and I don’t have a husband at all, mine or anyone else’s? She has silky blonde hair, pert breasts, long legs, lots of cash and more shoes in her wardrobe than Russell & Bromley stock each season. While I have red frizzy hair, breasts that schoolboys would describe as bazookas and fat legs that have so many varicose veins popping and swelling that I look like I’m wearing the tube map. Lucy is a woman comfortable in her skin (although in my opinion she ought to be wearing sackcloth and ashes and beating herself soundly every day). I’m basically a nice enough person who lacks confidence, marked talents and sometimes even a sense of humour. I guess because I can give such a realistic account of us both I understand why my husband left me for her.
But I did have the school. That was my territory. I am class rep this year. A position I’ve done my time to earn. I always volunteer to take the kids on trips when the teachers need an extra pair of hands. I was solely responsible for the cake stall at the summer fair and for two years in a row I sold more raffle tickets than any other mother for the Christmas tombola. I’m known and liked at Holland House. The school gate is my social life, my haven in times of need and where I get a buzz. That’s important. That’s sacred. It should be untouchable.
I say none of this. I take a deep breath, turn to
Connie with two full cups of coffee and a wide grin and repeat my question. ‘So did you happen to see Peter and Lucy at the gate this morning?’
‘No. Eva, the latest nanny, dropped Auriol off.’
‘I hope she settles,’I say with a smile.
I can’t quite meet Connie’s eye so I concentrate on blowing my coffee to cool it off. I do hope the little girl settles. I wouldn’t want any kid to be unsettled. But, on the other hand, if she doesn’t settle they might move her to another school. I wish her well but mostly I wish her well away.
Connie reaches to squeeze my arm. ‘Are you OK with Auriol coming to Holland House, Rose? It’s not an easy situation.’
‘Oh, it’s fine,’I lie.
‘I feel a little bit to blame. I always think that Lucy was influenced to move to Holland Park after Luke and I moved to Notting Hill.’
Connie is a lovely girl but a bit self-centred, and she does hold a general belief that the whole world revolves around her and that everyone’s actions are a result of, or a reaction to, her own. To be fair, she is aware of this trait in herself and, more often than not, fights it.