Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Gina pushed the door open slightly and called softly. ‘Kam?’
The room was in darkness apart from the oddly strobing effect of the television. The windows, looking across the green, were flung wide open, and murmurs of laughter floated upwards from the beer garden on the stifling air.
Gina click-clacked in her high-heeled sandals across the polished floorboards, carefully avoiding the ones she knew from her housekeeping experience squeaked in protest when anything heavier than a feather escaping from the goose-down duvet landed on them.
Placing the tray on the table she turned round to leave.
Kam was stretched out on the bed. Asleep. And naked. Well, she assumed he was naked. The white Egyptian cotton sheet pulled up to his waist contrasted with his smooth, butterscotch skin.
Gina just stared. Dear Lord, he was so beautiful.
His black hair, still damp from the shower, was spiky against the pillow. The long eyelashes threw dark crescents across the killer cheekbones.
Gina drank in the total physical perfection of him.
He was, without doubt, the most stunning man she’d ever seen in her life.
His chest rose and fell in deep sleep. His lips were curved slightly in a smile. Before she could stop herself, Gina moved silently closer to the bed. She could smell the glorious faint clean scent of his lemon shower gel and shampoo.
She leaned down
and gently kissed his cheek.
‘What the f–?’ Kam shot up in bed, blinking.
‘Oh God, er, sorry.’ Gina stepped quickly backwards. ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.’
Kam shook his head sleepily. ‘Gina? What …?’
‘I, um, brought your food.’ Gina wanted to die on the spot. ‘It’s on the table. Sorry for disturbing you.’
‘Did you just kiss me?’ Kam rubbed his eyes.
‘What? Er … Good Lord, no. I was just, um, making sure that … er … you were OK, you know,’ Gina floundered.
‘Maybe I was dreaming?’
‘Maybe you were.’ She grabbed the lifeline. ‘Or, um, more probably it was the breeze from the open window.’
Kam stared drowsily at the window where the curtains hung motionless in the stultifying night air, pulled the sheet up to rib level and exhaled. ‘Yeah, maybe. OK, thanks a million for the food. Really kind of you. I hope I’ll stay awake long enough to eat it now you’ve gone to all that trouble. Goodnight, Gina.’
‘Um, yes … Goodnight.’
Gina hurried from the bedroom and shut the door behind her. Then she leaned against it and closed her eyes.
Oh. My. God.
He knew. She knew that he knew.
Oooh. She groaned in total embarrassment. What a bloody, bloody stupid thing to have done.
He knew, and she’d never be able to face him again.
Nalisha, dressed in a white and
silver sari, all drifty and twinkling, like some ethereal Indian spirit, clapped her hands and beamed round the crowd gathered in the village hall.
‘Thank you all so much for being here. So, are we all ready for this?’
Everyone stopped chattering, stared at Nalisha, shuffled a bit and nodded in embarrassed anticipation.
‘Eugh – look at her,’ Bella hissed. ‘Look at her! I mean, she’s a nice woman, but now I feel like some huge bloated flump!’
A collection of fans whirred their way through the stifling air, dust motes danced in shafts of evening sunlight splintering through the tiny windows, and the gods and goddesses still stared at their rather run-down new home with haughty disdain.
There were, Erin had to admit, far more people than she’d expected. The village hall hummed with a mixed assortment of Nook Greeners, including all the Yee-Hawers, and also quite a few strangers who must have
seen the adverts plastered on every available surface throughout the village and surrounding areas.
Erin returned waved hellos from Dora Wilberforce and Gina and Renata and Julia and several other village friends and tried hard to summon some enthusiasm. Yes, when Nalisha had first mentioned the Bollywood dance classes, she’d been enthusiastic – but that was before she’d found out that Nalisha loved Jay. That Nalisha would have married Jay.
Nalisha and Jay – it was a mantra that insisted on pounding out its rhythm in her brain. Night and day.
So, when Sophie and Bella had suggested they should all have a girls’ night out, Erin had leaped at the idea.
not what I’d imagined when you suggested a girlie night out to cheer me up,’ Erin, standing between Bella and Sophie at the back of the village hall, leaned across and whispered. ‘I really needed a completely trashy night – in every meaning of the word – to forget about everything. I did
want to be prancing around in the village hall in a heatwave to the sort of background music you get in every Indian restaurant and looking stupid to boot.’
‘You didn’t have to come,’ Bella pointed out reasonably. ‘Nobody forced you. You knew what was going to happen here. We told you where we were going. You could have stayed at home and sulked.’
Erin sighed. She could have done – maybe should have done – but, she admitted to herself, she was curious. And OK, she’d love it if Nalisha made a complete dog’s breakfast of the whole thing.
‘And now you’re here you might as well enjoy it.’ Sophie nodded. ‘Please don’t be grouchy tonight, Erin. What happened to the radiant, happy-as-a-lark, uber irritatingly cheerful bride-to-be?’
‘Oh, she’s been completely
swamped by beautiful Indian ex-girlfriends and barking Indian rellies-to-be.’
Bella laughed. ‘OK, I’ll give you the mad family bit. And Nalisha is a bit too fab for my liking, but she’s such a sweetheart, and she’s not Jay’s ex, is she?’
Erin sighed. ‘I honestly don’t know. He says they were just friends.’
‘So believe him.’
‘But she’s gorgeous, and every time I mention she might have been something more, he just laughs.’
‘In a scary embarrassed “ohmigod she’s found out” way?’
‘No, like it was the daftest idea in the world. He says he’s always been close to her, but never thought of her as anything but a friend … a sister …’
‘Well, there you are then.’
‘But she’s shared so much of his life. She knows so much about him. And Deena and Tavish adore her.’
‘And he’s marrying
, you crazy bat,’ Sophie chuckled. ‘So get a grip.’
‘I’m trying,’ Erin sighed, ‘believe me I’m trying.’
Bella shook her head. ‘Anyway, I thought your Uncle Doug was spending a lot of time with the fragrant Nalisha now?’
‘Oh, he is. Every spare minute. He’s doing his usual ancient hippie laid-back charm offensive, which seems to amuse Nalisha.’
‘Auntie Nalisha,’ Sophie laughed. ‘It’s got a nice ring to it.’
Erin groaned. ‘Yeah, in his dreams. And my worst nightmare.’
Bella hugged her. ‘See? You
joke. So, what else is bugging you?’
‘Well, despite Jay saying he
agrees with me about our wedding, now Nalisha’s reminded him about all the zillions of Indian marriage ceremonies they’ve been to, together, I’ve got a sneaking feeling that my husband-to-be might just swap sides at any minute.’
‘Oh, don’t be so silly.’ Bella sighed. ‘Jay’s one billion per cent with you on the wedding. Why on earth do you think he’d give in and go along with his mad family?’
‘Because he’s dutiful and gentle and hates upsetting anyone. Because I know he thinks, deep down in his heart, even if he doesn’t say it, that maybe, just maybe, his parents are right and we should be having a more Indian-type ceremony.’
‘Pffft,’ Sophie sniffed. ‘Rubbish. Wedding nerves. You’re just getting stressed over nothing. You and Jay have planned your wedding exactly as you want it. End of. Forget the Indian rellies – and the Nalisha thing tonight – and have some fun.’
‘Yeah, right. So, how do you suggest that I do that? Being here?’ Erin sighed and threw her arms out dramatically, encompassing the gods and goddesses and Nalisha, looking every inch like the winner of the Miss India Pageant. ‘It really isn’t helping.’
‘It might,’ Sophie said placatingly, ‘if you try to forget the Indian connection for a while.’
Bella frowned. ‘That might be a bit tricky, don’t you think, Soph? Given that Nalisha’s Indian, we’re at an Indian dance class, and the whole hall is surrounded by Indian idols. All we need is for someone to rush in with vindaloos all round and we’d have a full-house.’
Sophie tutted in irritation. ‘That’s not being very helpful, is it?’
‘Bloody funny though,’ Bella chuckled. ‘Sorry, Erin.’
Erin shook her head.
Sophie tried again. ‘No, but seriously. Exercise is good for the serotonin
levels and serotonin is the feel-good hormone or brain chemical or whatever, so after all this shimmying and serotonin overload, Erin’ll be back to being a sunny bunny again.’
‘Don’t think so,’ Erin sighed mutinously. ‘It’ll take much, much more than serotonin. Several dozen cocktails and some mind-numbing music in a club
just have worked. This definitely won’t.’
Sophie and Bella sighed heavily.
The rest of the villagers, clearly assuming that Nalisha no longer needed their attention, all started talking to each other again.
Nalisha, still looking supremely confident, shook her head and clapped her hands more loudly this time to attract their attention. Erin felt there’d probably be a lot of clapping needed tonight. The Nook Greeners, when they got together on social occasions, always forgot that they’d seen each other merely hours before and nattered and chattered about anything and everything.
Nalisha’s bangles, earrings and multiple jewels glittered and jingled prettily. Again.
She raised her voice. ‘I said, are we all ready to start our first lesson?’
The chattering stopped, and the affirmative answer was ragged but fairly convincing.
‘OK, now we’re all here –’ Nalisha beamed a bit more ‘– I thought we’d just start with the basics. I’ve chosen some lovely lively music for you, and look what I have here …’
Erin frowned. ‘Oh Lordy – what’s she doing now? What’s she dragging out? Is that a
dressing-up box? Nooo – they’re the biggest suitcases she brought with her when she first came to stay. Oh God.’
‘Oooh!’ Bella clapped her hands together in delight. ‘We’ve got saris!’
‘Oh, goody,’ Erin muttered. ‘Just what I need.’
‘They’re not all saris,’ Nalisha said, overhearing and adopting a bit of a supermodel pose and exposing her perfectly toned midriff. ‘Now, I’m wearing a ceremonial sari. But we also have
. You get the petticoat – which you’d call the skirt; the blouse – which you probably think is more of a crop top; and the dupatta – which is the long trailing scarf.’
Everyone cooed enthusiastically.
Nalisha smiled encouragingly at her audience. ‘You get dupattas with saris and Salwars too. Everyone wears a dupatta with everything. So useful and so glam and wonderful for dancing. And these –’ she held up a handful of glorious, shimmering sequinned and jewelled rainbow fabrics from her suitcase ‘– are the Salwar suits, with lovely baggy trousers. And look, we even have some of Kam and Jay’s long-forgotten kurtas for the boys.’
The boys – the majority of them over sixty – stared at the brightly coloured and lavishly embroidered tunics with mass typical rustic mistrust for anything sartorial that wasn’t ginger cords and a nice checked shirt.
‘Please don’t be shy,’ Nalisha called cheerfully. ‘Dive in and find something lovely and loose and floaty. You can just pop something on over or drape it round what you’re already wearing. There’s no need to undress. Oh, and shoes and socks off too, please. We must all be barefooted for this. And once we’re all ready, we can start dancing.’
‘Barefooted, duck? We’ll get splinters.’
came from several directions.
‘No you won’t,’ Nalisha assured them. ‘I’ve had the floor swept and washed and Mr Prior ran his sander over it and then washed it again. There are no splinters. It’ll be like dancing on glass.’
‘I bloody hope not,’ Ted Blundell muttered.
After everyone had tried sliding their feet tentatively across the floor to test out Nalisha’s claims – just like children at infant school, Erin thought – shoes and sandals and socks were removed with varying degrees of ease and varying volumes of groans and sighs depending on the age of the wearer and the condition of their feet.
Bella, heading for the suitcase, frowned at Nalisha. ‘Just one question – are all the clothes in a minus size eight? Like you?’
‘Not at all. Sizing isn’t a problem with most of these outfits.’ Nalisha smiled. ‘Indian clothes are amazingly comfortable to wear. You can drape and pleat and gather most of the saris, and the scarves are just well, scarves, and the petticoats and trousers have massive drawstring waists – like clown’s pantaloons – so everyone should find something to fit them.’
Within seconds, the rural reticence had disappeared, and the would-be Bollywooders were all shrieking with delight as they pulled out vivid silks and taffetas and satins and held them up against themselves and each other.
All colours of the rainbow – and several more never seen in nature – wafted and billowed round the dusty village hall. There were oohs and aaahs of approval as everyone managed to find something suitable to wear.
Erin sighed and reluctantly followed as Sophie joined Bella and the rest of the chattering crowd round the open suitcases.
She was never usually so
churlish, but dressing up in a sari –
‘I think this pink and gold sari would look lovely on you, Erin.’ Nalisha held out a fluttering armful of silk. ‘Just wrap it round over your shorts and vest, and tuck it in at the waist – well, you know how it goes, don’t you?’
‘Yes. Thank you.’
‘I’m so glad you came tonight.’ Nalisha smiled kindly. ‘It’s great exercise and you look as though you could do with losing a few pounds before the wedding. Now! Come along everyone!’
Erin wanted to strangle her with the nearest dupatta.
‘This is brilliant.’ Sophie pranced round, waving her dark green and gold multi-beaded dupatta. ‘Soooo pretty.’