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Authors: Lucy Diamond

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BOOK: Hens Reunited
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‘It’s Mum,’ came the reply. ‘I’m at the hospital. Bad news, love.’ Her voice broke into a sob. ‘It’s your nan.’

 

Alices Hen Weekend

November 2002

Alice Johnson lowered herself into the pool and leaned back against the tiled surface. Jets of water bubbled up beneath her Lycra-clad bottom, pummelling her thighs, making her insides feel as if they were vibrating.
Let’s hope they break up the cellulite before the wedding
, Alice thought to herself, crossing her fingers under the water.

She closed her eyes and inhaled the warm, faintly perfumed air, trying not to think about how many bottoms had sat there before hers. Bubble, bubble, pummel, pummel. Quite uncomfortable after a while. Like having your legs in a washing machine on the tough-stains cycle, she imagined. Still, she was forking out enough cash for this place, she felt obliged to kid herself it was perfect.

‘This is bliss,’ she murmured dutifully, wondering how long she’d have to sit there before she could return to dry land.

‘Mmmm, heavenly,’ Katie said, from across the jacuzzi.

Alice wondered if there would be a jacuzzi at their honeymoon hotel. If there was, Jake was sure to want to have sex in it. He said all that spurting water turned him on. Mind you, anything turned him on. Just the word ‘spurt’ was probably enough to give him a semi.

Jake seemed to think about sex every other second. He was fond of telling Alice how often she gave him ‘the horn’, as he so charmingly phrased it. Bending over to put a video in the machine – that gave him the horn. Rolling over in bed at night – that gave him the horn. Whenever Alice was in the shower – oh yes, that really gave him the horn. She’d have only just squirted the shampoo onto her palm (squirt – another word that did it for him) and he’d be in there with her, cock at a right angle, telling her that God, he just couldn’t resist joining her . . .

It was flattering that he wanted to get her knickers down constantly, really. A compliment that he was always attempting to feel her up when she was getting dressed, or making a cup of tea, or trying to watch
Coronation Street.

All the same . . . it was exhausting.
Would marriage calm him down?
she wondered.
Would being a husband tame the rampant horn?
Somehow she doubted it.

‘Where’s Georgia, by the way?’ Katie asked drowsily. ‘I haven’t seen her for a while.’

‘She went off for her massage ages ago,’ Alice said, opening her eyes and glancing around the room for a clock. No clock. Of course. People here were meant to be relaxing, not clock-watching. Georgia had been gone a long time, though, Alice was sure. Knowing Georgia, she was up to something. She’d probably lucked in with a fit male masseur who was giving her a very special rub-down. ‘Any extras?’ Alice could imagine Georgia asking in that throaty purr of hers. No doubt she herself would get a skinny bitch for
her
massage, who’d sneer disapprovingly at Alice’s wobbly bits while Alice had her eyes shut. ‘God, I had a dumpy one just now,’ Alice could already imagine the woman saying to her colleagues afterwards. ‘Legs like marshmallows, no muscle tone whatsoever!’

She tried not to dwell on that. Or on Georgia and her masseur, having a bunk-up in the towel cupboard.

Actually, now that she came to think about it, Georgia was probably on the phone to someone from the paper. Alice was amazed that Georgia had come all the way out of London, to the Cotswolds, for her hen weekend. Originally she’d said no, sorry, she was too busy with work and Alice had felt crestfallen because she’d only invited Katie and Georgia, and what good was a hen night with only one other hen?

Luckily, Georgia had called back to say that actually she could come, but she could only stay the Saturday night and she’d have to get the train back early-ish on Sunday, okay?

Alice didn’t mind the conditions. She was so grateful that Georgia was coming at all, she’d said yes, fine, thank you to everything. She couldn’t help wondering if Katie had leaned on Georgia a bit, talked her into coming. Probably. Katie was nice like that. Or perhaps Georgia had had a tip-off that one of her celebs was checking in for a weekend too. She could never resist a sniff of gossip.

It still seemed something of a dream to Alice that she was having a hen night in the first place. A miracle that she, quiet Alice Johnson, was having a wedding,
getting married
to sexy, charismatic Jake Archer. A lot of the time, she found herself checking the ring on her finger, making sure she hadn’t imagined the whole thing. But it was true. And he was so gorgeous. So funny. And such a good actor, even if Hollywood hadn’t realized that yet. (Or Theatre-land in London, for that matter. But give it time. They were sure to realize he had talent with a capital T soon.) And oh yes, he loved her! He wanted to marry her! She could hardly believe her luck.

The bubbling and pummelling had turned her legs to jelly. She clambered out of the pool and wrapped a soft white towel around herself. ‘I’m going for a swim,’ she told Katie, who still had her eyes shut. ‘See you in a bit.’

She was having a lovely time, she told herself as she wandered down to the main pool, cocooned in white fluffiness, hoping her legs weren’t looking too much like gooseflesh. A hen weekend here in a spa, with a salt-scrub back massage to look forward to later this afternoon (she hoped it wouldn’t be too painful) and an evening of good food and wine with her two best friends tonight. Best of all, she had a bed of her own upstairs – clean crisp sheets and duvet, and nobody pestering her for a shag in the middle of the night.

Not ‘pestering’. No. That sounded as if she was moaning. And she wasn’t, of course. Why would she moan about Jake? He was absolutely perfect. And, in just three weeks’ time, he’d be her husband.

‘So, not long to go, eh?’ Georgia said that evening over dinner. ‘Are you all sorted for the big day?’

Alice swallowed a mouthful of rocket salad (she’d barely eaten a single calorie for weeks) and smiled. ‘Nearly,’ she said. ‘It’s all just about coming together. I’ve finished the dress, pretty much—’

‘Ooh, what’s it like?’ Katie put in, spooning more potatoes onto her plate and slipping a few onto Alice’s.

‘Well, the dress itself is quite ordinary – it’s strapless and very tight on the waist, which is why I’m dieting like mad,’ Alice replied, putting the potatoes straight back in the dish. ‘But I’ve also made this gorgeous fluffy faux-fur muff and . . .’ She bit her lip. ‘I’m thinking about a cape as well. I’ve found this beautiful red velvet fabric, but I’m not sure if it’s too much of a Superman vibe. Or Little Red Riding Hood.’

‘Sounds fab to me,’ Georgia said. ‘I think winter weddings are lovely – really magical. How are you decorating the church?’

‘Lots of holly and ivy garlands, big fat candles and fairy lights,’ Alice said dreamily. ‘And poinsettias too.’ She giggled. ‘Jake quite fancied some fake snow, but I drew the line at that. No sleigh bells either.’

‘It’s going to be brilliant,’ Katie said. ‘Go on, then, who have you put us on a table with? Has Jake got any sexy single mates you can seat us next to?’

Georgia glugged back her wine. ‘Please tell me he’s bezzy mates with Daniel Craig, Alice. Please!’

Alice shook her head. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Jake’s mates are all scruffy indie-kid sorts. Anyway, what are you on about, I bet you’re always bumping into Daniel Craig at your glam parties, Georgia. You don’t need me and Jake to sort you out with some totty, surely!’

Georgia wrinkled her nose. ‘Well, I wouldn’t say no,’ she replied. ‘It’s wall-to-wall WAGs and bimbos for me these days. I’m getting a bit fed up of it, to be honest. I reckon another year and I’ll be done on the showbiz circuit. Any longer and I’ll be burned out, or an alcoholic. Or just a hard-hearted bitch, like some of the other gossip girls.’ She poured everyone another glass of wine. ‘It eats away at you after a while, this job. Sometimes I wonder about giving it all up to write my best-selling novel.’

‘Oh yeah?’ Katie looked up with interest. ‘What best-selling novel is this, then?’

Georgia shrugged. ‘Oh, you know, just a little pipe dream. Something I’ve been thinking about for a while. But I need to stockpile some savings first if I’m ever going to manage it, so I guess I’m stuck where I am for the time being.’ She smiled. ‘Anyway, enough about me. We’re here for Alice after all. Lovely Alice and lovely Jake. Here’s to years of happiness and hot sex.’

Alice blushed, but Katie was already raising her glass. ‘Happiness and hot sex!’

 

Chapter Three

Everything Changes

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Alice turned the key in the lock and pushed the door. It didn’t budge. Great. That was a good start.

She wiggled the key tentatively, twisting the door handle at the same time. Still nothing.

Behind her, on the front path to the cottage, Iris was crying in her car seat and kicking her bare feet. A bead of sweat trickled down Alice’s back. Just her luck that she’d decided to move house on the hottest day of the year. Just her luck that she couldn’t even get
in
her new house!

She yanked the door handle a degree more fiercely, turning the key so hard now she almost expected the top half to snap off in her fingers. ‘All right, Iris, just a sec,’ she murmured, trying to sound as soothing as she could, while her daughter ramped up the volume, veering dangerously towards full-throttle sobs.

‘You need to give it a shove, my love,’ came an amused voice from further behind her. A rich country burr, strong enough to churn the butter, as her mum would say.

Alice turned and wiped her sweaty forehead with her bare arm. A man was leaning over the front gate, her dad’s age, white curly hair, his face nut-brown, the colour and texture of shoe leather. ‘Hello,’ she said, feeling flustered as she joggled Iris’s car seat with her foot. Still Iris wailed, becoming redder and redder in the face.

‘Give the door a shove,’ the man said again. ‘It’s swollen in the heat, is all. Always sticking, that door.’

Alice wasn’t sure if she liked how familiar this complete stranger was with her new front door. But he was watching her expectantly and Iris was still grizzling, hot tears spouting out of her grey eyes, fists banging up and down. So she put the key in again, twisted it (hard), turned the door handle (hard), and gave it a smart shove with her bottom.

The door swung open, and Alice went stumbling in after it.

The man hanging over the gate laughed. ‘There she goes!’ he said. He gave her a mock salute. ‘Cheerio now!’

‘Thanks,’ Alice said, righting herself and standing on the threshold. But he was already off, whistling as he went down the road. ‘Um . . . cheerio!’ she called after him, and he raised a weathered hand in the air in acknowledgement.

She bent down to Iris, who looked as if she were about to explode, and released her from the straps. ‘Come on, tired girl,’ Alice said, scooping her up. She could smell the lavender from the dusty flowerbed nearby now that she was crouching. Bees droned around the purple heads, dive-bombing through the leggy grey stems. Alice stood up and patted Iris’s back. ‘Let’s go and see our new house.’

Iris sobbed into her shoulder, her tears wetting Alice’s top, as they stepped over the threshold. Alice could see her daughter’s point. It was dark and dingy in there after the glaring sun outside. Dark, dingy, cluttered with old furniture, and ripe with a choking musty smell. Oh God. It was so much smaller than she remembered it.

She walked across the room – which took all of three steps – and sank into an armchair that had stuffing leaking from its side like Father Christmas beards. It creaked under her weight and she leaned back gingerly, Iris still attached to her like a sniffling baby monkey. Oh no. What had she done, agreeing to this?

By rights, she should be with Jake, in their Chelsea flat, bought three years ago when his career went into orbit and he landed his first big Brit-flick deal. By rights, they’d be snuggled up on that ridiculously large bed he’d bought, all three of them, one big happy family on the Egyptian cotton sheets. By rights, Iris would be dressed top to toe in organic fleecy baby clothes, instead of charity-shop bargains, and . . .

The tears were leaking down her cheeks, dripping into Iris’s tufty black hair like rain. Instead, here she was, making a so-called new start, in this grotty little cottage in the arse-end of Nowhere. How had things gone so spectacularly wrong?

‘I never liked him,’ her mum had said loyally. ‘Never thought he was good enough for you. Nor did your dad.’

But that wasn’t the point, was it?
Alice
had thought Jake was good enough for her (too good, actually, if truth be told). And once upon a time, Jake had seemed to think they were good enough for each other, too. He’d married her, hadn’t he?

She looked down at her wedding ring, still on her finger. She couldn’t bear to take it off. Her fingers had puffed up so much during the pregnancy that the ring had hurt her, cut into her, the metal leaving red tracks on her tender skin. But Alice – stupid, devoted Alice! – had ignored the pain and carried on wearing it. It was a symbol, wasn’t it? A symbol of eternal love.

Ha. That was a laugh. Eternal disappointment, more like. The puffiness from her swollen fingers had long since gone; after Jake had unceremoniously ditched her (‘In your condition, too! Has the man a heart of stone?’ her mum had railed), she’d seemed to shrink with misery. The ring spun loosely on her finger now. One of these days it would drop off when she wasn’t paying attention, and she’d lose it. Her mind, as well as the ring, that was.

Alice hoisted Iris higher on her shoulder and delved into her skirt pocket for a tissue. It hit her every now and then, the full sick horror of what had happened. She almost thought it would have been easier if Jake had died. At least then she could grieve his loss wholeheartedly, safe in the knowledge that a line had been drawn, a chapter closed. At least then nobody would say such bloody irritating things to her.

‘Well, you’ve certainly seen his true colours now, Alice.’ That had been Georgia, of course – before Alice had slammed the phone down on her. Like Alice gave two hoots for anything Georgia Knight had to say any more, after what she’d done. The bitch.

BOOK: Hens Reunited
13.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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