Authors: Lucy Diamond
Tags: #Fiction, #General
‘Favourite colour blue, favourite smell lavender?’ the driver went on, glancing up at her from his paper. He raised his eyebrows. ‘Very nice,’ he said to himself.
‘Well yes, but—’ She glanced around, wondering if some annoying teenage boys would be having a good laugh about this nearby. How did he know all this stuff? Had someone swiped a personal file from the office? It was probably Miss Dickens, befuddled by her class schedule, who’d given out a load of information about—
‘Right, well, that must be you, then,’ the driver said. ‘He said I’d have to prove it before you’d believe me. Hop in, my lovely, and we’ll get going.’
She put her hands on her hips. ‘Go where? Who said that, anyway? Look, I really think this is a mistake. My own car is . . .’ She waved her hand at where her red Clio usually sat in the car park, waiting faithfully for her all day until it was time to go home. She prided herself on always parking it exactly between the white lines. You could have taken a ruler and measured each side, and it would be bang slap in the middle. Katie liked precision. But her eyebrows shot up now as she realized there was nothing in her parking space but shimmering heat. ‘It’s gone! My car’s gone!’
The driver looked as if he was getting fed up. He turned the engine off and leaned against the wheel. ‘Yeah, I know it’s gone. Steve took it. That’s why I’m here.’
‘Steve?’ Katie echoed, feeling more baffled by the second. What was Steve doing with her car?
‘Yep, he picked up your car to be serviced. So I’m here to give you a lift. All right? Any more questions?’
Katie blinked. She felt as if someone had snatched her up from her ordinary everyday life where her car was precision parked and her day ran like well-oiled clockwork, and dumped her into a parallel universe where the mechanism of her routine had rusted over, and nothing made sense. So Steve had taken her car to the garage? But what was with the cloak-and-dagger Q-and-A session? Why all that favourite-colour stuff?
The driver was still staring at her, waiting for an answer. One of his pink sausagey fingers scratched the salt-and-pepper stubble on his chin.
‘Um . . . no,’ she said faintly in the end. ‘No more questions.’
‘Right. In you get then. Might even miss the rush hour if we go now.’
Katie thought briefly of the pile of homework books she’d left unfinished on her desk, then banished the image from her mind. She’d have to come in early on Monday and do them then. How incredibly annoying! She hated having work hanging over her for the whole weekend; she preferred to clear the decks first. Work first, fun later. She’d always been like that, even as a schoolgirl.
, her teachers had written in her school reports.
Still. She didn’t want to start quibbling with this driver, not now he’d started the car again and was revving the engine so impatiently. Not now she’d discovered he was her only means of transport home. Bloody hell!
She pulled open the back door and sat down on the bouncy vinyl seat. She felt odd, disorientated, as if it wasn’t really her, sitting there being driven along. She had work to do, and the supermarket shopping to get through! How was she supposed to do that without her own wheels?
Honestly! Steve didn’t think things through sometimes. It was all very kind of him taking her car off like that, but he might have told her. Might have given her a bit of notice, rather than sending a cab round like this. But then, that was Steve for you. Him and his impetuousness . . .
She leaned back against the seat as the car rumbled through the estate. She and Steve had been together for just over two years and he was the first person she’d let herself get properly attached to since her disastrous marriage break-up all those years ago. She’d been so disillusioned after Neil that she’d sworn off men for a long time, only allowing herself brief flings and dalliances to keep from total Old Maid Meltdown. But no one had ever got close. She was just starting to think that her mum had actually been right all along about men, when she met Steve.
Steve was different. He made her laugh. He made her happy. And ooh, she really really fancied him, like she hadn’t fancied anyone for years. He had sandy hair and brown eyes, a nice bum, and a wicked sense of humour. She’d kept him at arm’s length for a long time, not quite able to let go and trust him. But he’d been persistent. Steady. He kept his promises just as consistently as he kept her warm in bed. And she hadn’t intended to let him move in so quickly but . . . it had just happened. It seemed easier that way. And it was surprisingly nice to live with a man again, curling up on the sofa together in front of
and what-have-you, even if Steve did spend the whole programme doing his terrible Alan Sugar impressions. Throwing dinner parties together, and watching Steve across the candlelight as he made everyone laugh with his stories about work. Lying in bed on Sunday mornings, hearing his heart beat as she rested her head on his bare chest . . . yes, they were all good things. Very good.
approved. ‘Well, he’s a step up from Neil, I’ll give him that,’ she’d said when they’d met at a mutual friend’s party. She’d exhaled a long plume of cigarette smoke as she and Katie watched Steve chat to everyone on his way to the bar. ‘He’s got social skills at least.’
‘George! And the rest!’ Katie had scolded. ‘Come on, you can be a bit more generous than that.’
‘All right, social skills and a sexy arse,’ Georgia had conceded. ‘And best of all, he’s not Neil. Look, I’m complimenting the guy, all right?’
Katie jerked out of her thoughts now as she realized the driver was taking her the wrong way. She sighed crossly. For heaven’s sake! What was he
? She leaned forward. ‘Excuse me – I live on
Road,’ she reminded him. ‘You’ve gone past the turn-off, you know.’
The driver didn’t seem to have heard. He was whistling along with Beyoncé on the radio and slapping the steering wheel to the beat.
Katie felt her hackles rising with annoyance. It was Friday, she was tired, she didn’t like being messed around, she didn’t like her plans being changed by
, and now she was going to spend half her precious evening being driven around Bristol by some moron cabbie . . . ‘I
, you’ve missed the turn-off!’ she told him in her most teachery voice
You’re going the wrong way!’
The driver still didn’t answer. Katie was starting to feel disconcerted. What was going on here? Why wasn’t the driver taking her home? Was this all part of Steve’s plan, or was something more sinister going on?
It IS Friday the thirteenth, after all
, wittered Miss Dickens in her head.
Enough game-playing. She got her mobile phone out of her bag and brandished it so that he could see it in his rear-view mirror. ‘If you don’t pull over and let me get out
, I’m calling the police,’ she told him, her voice shaking.
To her consternation, he merely laughed. ‘He said you might get cross with me,’ the driver replied. ‘He told me, just ignore her if she starts getting shirty. Sorry, sweetheart. But he’s paying the bill, see, so . . .’
Katie’s mouth dropped open in outrage.
Just ignore her if she starts getting shirty
? Had Steve actually said that about her? She glared as she imagined the words coming out of his mouth. She’d give him shirty! What
this wild goose chase he was sending her on, anyway?
pay the bill,’ Katie said, fuming, as they turned into a leafy Georgian square. ‘Just stop the car and I’ll pay. I’ve had enough of this game now. I just want to—’
‘No need for that, my darlin’,’ the driver said, indicating and pulling over. ‘Because we’re here. Allow me.’
He nipped out and held the back door open for her. She stared suspiciously at him, and then up at the hotel she was standing in front of. Berkeley Square Hotel? Why had he brought her here? ‘And . . . dare I ask what happens now?’ she said icily
All part of the joke, eh?’
His hands were up in a
gesture, and he was laughing. ‘Calm down. He said to go and check in. You have a good weekend now.’ And with that, he was back in the driver’s seat, giving her a cheery wave and pulling off.
Katie watched him go, feeling bewildered. ‘He said to go and check in?’ she repeated to herself. ‘What, in
She eyed the hotel. She knew for sure that this was a wind-up now. Any second, Steve would pop out, laughing his head off, then take her to their favourite pub in town.
you, then, Steve?
, she thought, looking around.
, she’d say when she spotted him.
You had me going for a minute, then. I thought I was getting kidnapped!
Steve didn’t appear. She looked at the hotel again. It occupied several townhouses in the quiet Georgian square, and had a pleasingly symmetrical frontage, with its large sash windows and the olive trees in pots either side of the main door. It was meant to have an amazing restaurant, with luxurious double rooms. The sort of place she’d never go, unless someone was having a really special birthday do there. She’d read about it in the
when it had been revamped six months or so ago, had said, ‘Ooh! That looks a bit flash for Brizzle’, and then forgotten about it.
So deep down, she knew it was all a tease about her checking in there. It had to be, didn’t it? Steve was probably taking a picture of her right now on his mobile phone from where he was hiding. He’d take the mickey out of her about it later. ‘Did you really believe that cabbie?’ he’d laugh. ‘You dozy mare. What are you like?’
She was standing there like a lemon, not able to think straight. She might as well go inside the place, now that she was here, she supposed. She could always pretend she was checking out the facilities or something. And then, once she’d done that, she’d get the bus back home. Oh, and she’d send
out on the supermarket run. It was the least he could do after all this.
She stepped inside the hotel lobby. It felt cool and light, and practically smelled of money. Classical music was playing, and there was a small ornate fountain in the waiting area, water tumbling over slick white cobbles, which immediately made Katie need the loo. She felt sweaty and grubby in her Friday work clothes – whatever had possessed her to put on this skanky old vest top today, anyway? – and tried to smooth her hair behind her ears as she went up to reception.
The woman behind the desk smiled at her, foundation dewy on her skin, clothes immaculate, a subtle hint of sweet perfume lingering around her.
Maria Porter, Reception Manager
, it said on her name tag. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked in a pleasant voice
Katie felt instantly ridiculous. What was she doing here? Why had she even come in? ‘I . . .’ she began uncertainly, her face flooding with colour.
Maria Porter sat there, looking composed as she waited for Katie to form a coherent sentence.
‘I don’t suppose . . .’ Katie swallowed, ‘. . . you’ve got a reservation for Katie Taylor, have you?’ Her heart thumped uncomfortably. ‘Or Steven Patrick?’ Her fingers squeezed together. She felt so embarrassed! Any second now, Maria Porter, Reception Manager was going to send her packing and she’d be back out through those fancy doors, with her tail between her legs.
‘Let’s see,’ said the receptionist, turning to her computer monitor and pressing a couple of buttons with her highly polished fingernails. Click, click. ‘Ahh yes, here we are,’ she said after a moment. ‘Mr Patrick is waiting for you upstairs. Your suite is on the top floor, the last door on your right as you come out of the lift. Enjoy your stay!’
This was a dream. This wasn’t actually real. Things like this didn’t happen to her. Katie stared at Maria Porter for a full ten seconds, jaw hanging open so that all her fillings were on display, before remembering her manners. ‘Thank you,’ she managed to say, and she walked in a daze towards the lift. Her head was spinning. She had been so convinced that this was a wind-up, had been certain it was some elaborate trick. Apparently not.
Oh my God, This was so exciting. The sort of thing you saw in a film, and thought, Yeah
. Like any bloke in real life would ever do
But it seemed that Steve had. What was he up to? Had he been promoted, maybe, and was splashing the cash? He’d mentioned some big conference he was hoping to be asked along to, but there’d been no indication of a pay rise in the offing.
Up she went in the mirrored lift, horrified to see how pink her cheeks were and how scruffy her hair was. And was that really a splodge of yogurt on her top? She was half surprised she hadn’t been frogmarched out of the building by now for being such a pleb.
The door slid open again at the top floor, and she stepped out onto carpet so thick and soft, her feet didn’t make a sound as she walked along the corridor.
She knocked at the door at the end and turned the handle, her heart thumping as she went in.
There inside the room, sitting on an enormous double bed, looking pleased with himself and nervous all at the same time, was Steve. Katie stared at him, taking in several things at once.
There was a bouquet of red roses on one of the bedside tables.
There was a bottle of Moët on ice on the other.
There was a neatly packed bag of Katie’s clothes and make-up on a chair, with her best black dress already on a hanger.
Wow. Even better than a film. This was amazing! So romantic! So . . .
Her blood ran cold suddenly as she noticed that Steve had his hand outstretched. And there, on his upturned palm, was a turquoise satin jewellery box. He opened it up and she saw a silver ring inside.
Her eyes sought out his face, shocked. He was smiling. ‘Katie,’ he said, dropping to his knees and proffering the box. ‘Will you marry me?’
Georgia’s Hen Night