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Authors: Lucy Diamond

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Hens Reunited (37 page)

BOOK: Hens Reunited
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Alice nodded. ‘Help yourself,’ she said, but wished he wouldn’t. She wished he would stop now. Merry and jovial, fine, but he was necking the booze alarmingly fast. Too fast. She didn’t want to go all prim and virtuous on him – it wasn’t as if she didn’t like a drop herself – but at the same time, she wanted to be able to talk to him properly without him being pissed.

Maybe he was just nervous. That was probably it. He was nervous, and needed a bit of Dutch courage. All the same, she watched him fill his glass and it made her feel stone-cold sober to see him do so.

‘You know,’ he said, as he sat down next to her again, ‘if I do get one of these Hollywood jobs, you should come out there with me. You and Iris. What do you think?’

I think you’re drunk
, she wanted to say. But she smiled even though her insides were churning with disappointment. ‘Sounds great,’ she said lightly, not meeting him in the eye.

By half ten, Alice was done in. The whole build-up to Jake’s arrival, the adrenalin and whirl of emotions she’d felt as he’d stepped back into her life, the confusion and doubt that had seeped through her during the evening . . . she was exhausted. Jake didn’t seem to have noticed it was dark outside. He was still chatting away, his eyes brighter now that he’d eaten, his face more animated and relaxed.

Oh, Jake.
It felt so natural to have him by her side again, but he had changed. He seemed harder, somehow. Spikier. She couldn’t imagine ever feeling as if she were his equal again, now that he had his film-star haircut and expensive clothes. Mind you, she had never felt his equal even when they first got together; she’d always been in his shadow, always felt in his thrall.

But what had she expected? That he’d walk in here untouched by his fame and money, the same affectionate Jake, the same horny, couldn’t-take-his-hands-off-her Jake? This seemed like a cloned copy of her husband. A badly cloned copy. His voice had become a shade more London, his look had become sharper, classier . . . and somehow his normalness had vanished.

Maybe she was being unfair.

‘Alice? You look very faraway there.’ He put a hand on her arm and she jumped at his touch.

‘Me? No, I’m . . .’ She felt goosebumpy as he leaned closer. Was he going to kiss her?

‘You’re so beautiful,’ he went on, not seeming to notice that she’d spoken. ‘Why did I ever let you go, Alice?’

The big question.
Yes, why, Jake?

‘I must have been mad,’ he said, tracing a finger very slowly down the side of her face. ‘Stark, raving mad. But I’ve come to my senses, Alice. I really have.’

He smelled strongly of wine. Alcoholic fumes were pouring from his mouth with every word.
Don’t think about that, Alice.

‘You have?’ she said, feeling shivery at the way he touched her skin.

‘Mmmm,’ he said. And now his palm was cupping the side of her face and he was drawing her in towards him. His mouth met hers and he kissed her. Gently at first, then harder and more passionately.

She pulled away. ‘Jake, I—’ Her heart was hammering and she felt giddy, unsure of herself.

‘Sorry,’ he said. His mouth was wet from the kiss, his pupils huge pools of darkness. ‘I’ve drunk too much and I couldn’t resist you sitting there, so lovely and perfect.’

She wanted to cry. This was all going wrong. Why was it only now he was calling her lovely and perfect? Why hadn’t she been lovely and perfect enough for him to resist getting tangled up with Victoria? The worst thing was, she didn’t even believe him. She looked at him and felt let down.

‘I’m going to bed,’ she said, trying to make it clear that it wasn’t an invitation. She needed space to think straight, without him drunkenly pawing at her knickers. ‘I’ll get you a blanket and pillow. You’ll be all right on the sofa, won’t you?’

The next morning, Iris woke with the dawn as usual and Alice took her into bed with her. She’d barely slept, listening out for Jake’s tread on the stairs – would he come up and try to get in bed with her? – but then, when it became clear he wasn’t going to attempt anything of the sort, she’d tossed and turned, feeling utterly thrown by the whole encounter.

Jake was back. Jake had kissed her. Jake had talked all sorts about life in LA together and dinners in expensive restaurants. So why – WHY – didn’t she feel happier? Why wasn’t she snogging the face off him, overjoyed at his return?

It just didn’t feel right. Something about him jarred with her. She couldn’t imagine how they’d ever fitted together as a couple in the first place now. She certainly couldn’t imagine how they’d fit together in the future.

But . . . he was Iris’s dad! So surely if he was talking about trying again, she ought to give it a whirl? Maybe in time they’d click back into their easy intimacy. Maybe in time he’d prove his devotion again and she’d feel able to trust him.

Time. That was what they needed. Time together, with Iris, doing normal things, getting used to each other again. But could she really bring herself to give up her life in this country for a fresh start in the States with Jake?

‘I just don’t know, baby,’ she murmured to Iris, tracing her daughter’s eyebrows as they lay together in the bed. Iris gurgled a reply and grabbed one of her own feet to chew.

‘Hungry, hmmm?’ she said, stroking Iris’s little body. Bless her, she looked so cute in the pyjamas Jake had bought her. She wondered if he’d chosen them himself or if some dogsbody assistant had been sent to buy them.

She shut her eyes. Wondering such things made her feel disloyal. He was trying, wasn’t he? He was here, at least. That counted for something.

‘Come on, sweetie-pea,’ she said, pulling on her dressing gown and scooping up Iris in one arm. ‘Let’s get some breakfast. But try not to wake Daddy up, okay? He’s probably a bit tired.’

It was lovely to say the words. Just like a real family, she thought, as she carried her daughter downstairs.

The door to the living room had been pulled to, and she tiptoed through to the kitchen, feeling a wave of optimism about the future. She’d expected too much from this visit, really. You didn’t just click back with somebody after being away from them for a whole year – you couldn’t! – and it was stupid of her ever to have imagined it might happen that way. But given time, things really might work out. One step at a time.

She plopped Iris on the floor and pulled up the blinds to let the sun stream in. Another lovely day. Perhaps they could take a picnic and go out somewhere, she thought cheerfully, as she got out the Weetabix for Iris and the tea bags for herself. Maybe drive to the Mendips, or . . .

She heard a scuffling sound and looked around on the floor for Iris, just in time to see her daughter’s big nappy bottom crawling away from her. ‘Hey you, cheeky girl,’ she said. Iris went faster at her voice, giggling. So cute. So unbelievably lovely. Alice went after her, smiling. It was only a couple of steps to the living room but Iris was so fast on all fours now, she was already there, pushing at the door with her little fingers.

‘No, come on, Daddy’s asleep in there,’ Alice hissed, bending down to scoop her up. But Iris had already got the door open and squirmed between Alice’s hands like a little pink eel.

Alice had expected the room to be in darkness, but only one of the curtains had been dragged over the window, and sunlight was pouring in. Jake was slumped on the sofa, spark out, the blanket half off his body to reveal his bare chest. She swallowed at the sight. He looked so handsomely dishevelled, even in his sleep.

Then she saw what was on the coffee table. White grains of powder and a credit card. Drugs. Drugs in her house!

Oh my God.

‘Iris, no!’ she cried, making a lunge for her daughter, who was making straight for the coffee table. Alice snatched her up quickly, her skin crawling with disgust, and backed away, unable to believe what she’d just seen.

Oh my God.
She couldn’t stop staring. Iris could have dabbled her fingers in that stuff, swallowed it, died, even!

Iris let out a yell at being captured but Alice barely heard her. She felt so angry, she wanted to scream at Jake, still lying there on her sofa, the selfish idiot! What was he thinking? What was he
doing
? Why did he feel the need to snort coke, or whatever it was, in her house? It wasn’t exactly a nightclub!

A low moan had emerged from her lips. Was that why he’d been so talkative last night, was he some kind of addict?

God. It shook her – right to the core when she thought what could have happened to Iris. A trip to A&E, a stomach pump, a visit from social services . . . the events unravelled before her like a horror movie. All because of Jake!

She started to cry with the shock. It could have gone so badly wrong. What if she hadn’t followed Iris in there? What if Iris had died?

She held Iris close as she stumbled back to the kitchen, then strapped her safely in her high chair. And oh, she was so bitterly disappointed in Jake, it was indescribable. Just like that, all her dreams of starting over had evaporated and were gone.

Of course, she’d sent him packing as soon as he woke up. He’d cried – he’d actually cried! – tears leaking from his bloodshot eyes, head in his hands, the works. Nice performance, if you liked that sort of thing. She didn’t. She could do without that kind of drama in her life.

‘I’m sorry, Alice,’ he’d said, scrubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes like a boy. ‘I’m going to get some help. It’s all got a bit much for me lately, I . . .’

Pathetic. It had all got a bit much for Alice too, being a single mum, but she hadn’t turned to chemicals to prop herself up. She didn’t say as much, though, just watched him weep into his uneaten toast and felt . . . nothing.

‘You can’t stay here,’ she’d said. ‘Don’t you understand? I’ve got to put Iris first. She comes first.’
I’ve got to protect her from druggie Daddy who leaves his cocaine all over the table.
She softened a fraction at the mournful look in his eyes. He looked as if he’d been whipped. ‘Look We can be friends, can’t we? For Iris. I’d like that. She would too, I’m sure. We’ll come and see you in LA, we’ll keep in contact, yeah?’

It was amazing how poised she felt, how in control of the situation. She was at the helm of the relationship now, deciding the direction it would take. It was a good feeling.

And after she’d watched him shamble down the path to Jed’s car half an hour later, and waved him goodbye, her eyes fell upon the sweet peas in the front garden. The flowers were so pretty with their papery petals, their leggy green stems, and the wonderful fragrance that spilled from their heads.

Later, she decided, she’d cut some and take them round to Dom’s house. Just as a friend, of course. Now that Jake had left in disgrace, she felt free, light and free, like a bird spiralling joyfully up into the sky. The sun was on her face, and she felt sure there was still a happy ending out there for her somewhere.

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

Beautiful World

Katie’s Hen Night, November 2008

Katie sat on the high stool at the bar, twisting her fingers nervously in her lap. She was here first, of course. She was always everywhere first. She’d have to make a real effort to arrive at the registry office
after
Steve next month. Punctuality was fine on one’s wedding day, but being an early bride was definitely uncool.

She put her phone on the bar, half expecting it to buzz with an apologetic text.
So sorry, can’t make it . . .
She wouldn’t be surprised. She’d had to beg Alice and Georgia to come out tonight, after all. A reunion could go horribly wrong. But still. It wasn’t every year that a girl got married, was it? The least they could do was show up and have a dance with her.

She sipped her drink, smiling at the thought of the wedding. Just two weeks to go now, and she couldn’t wait. After all her angst, the proposal had slipped from her lips as easily as if she’d planned to say it all along. What was more, it had felt right. It was going to be so different this time around.

Steve had stood up and held her and laughed into her hair, his arms tight around her, and said, ‘Yes. Yes!’, and it had felt brilliant, like fireworks going off all around them. It had been such a fantastic night from there on. The two of them had taken over the dance floor, swinging each other round to ‘Come on Eileen’ and ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ and all the other greats, laughing and doing stupid moves and then smooching like teenagers to the slow songs . . . She wasn’t even drunk, but she felt high as a kite, bursting with exuberance and happiness.

And oh, it had been so romantic after that. Steve had ordered champagne to be sent up to the room and they’d made love all night, unable to take their hands off each other. God, he was just lovely. Definitely the marrying kind.

‘Let’s stay here the whole weekend,’ he’d suggested the next morning as they sat in the tangled white sheets feeding each other bits of croissant.

She’d dipped her finger into the raspberry jam and put it into his mouth. ‘Mmm, that would be nice,’ she said as he licked it off. ‘But I don’t have any clothes.’

He’d grinned and given her breast a gentle squeeze. ‘Who needs clothes?’

Who indeed. They barely surfaced from the bed that day, just ordered in room service and made the most of the facilities. It wasn’t as posh as the Bristol hotel room they’d stayed in the week before, but it was definitely more intimate. Sure, it was something of a squash, both of them fitting under the drenching shower, and they had to stay pressed pretty close together throughout – but that was okay. (That was
more
than okay, actually.) And the bath wasn’t as gargantuan or elegant as the one last week, but Katie didn’t care. Full to the brim with the steaming water and the entire contents of the complimentary bubble bath, it left barely any room for her and Steve to get in together, but they’d managed it (and very erotic it was too).

So no, Katie hadn’t actually been too fussed about clean clothes in the end. It was only when they got home to Bristol on the Sunday night, still glowing from their Birmingham shagathon, that she remembered what else might have come in handy. ‘Oh shit,’ she cried that evening over a takeaway curry. ‘I forgot to take my pill. That’s two days I’ve missed!’

BOOK: Hens Reunited
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