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Authors: Lauren Davies

Serve Cool

BOOK: Serve Cool
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Serve Cool

Lauren Davies

Copyright © 2013, Lauren Davies

In memory of
Randall

catching waves in heaven
and
Jimmy

who helped me research this book

Acknowledgements

Thank you to:

Mum and Dad who have helped me so much. Thank you for your amazing love and support and for believing in me.

Anthony and Lucy for ploughing through endless chapters, finding me jobs, lending me your computer and for the giant Toblerone you kept in your cupboard (which I may have forgotten to mention).

Martin, my ‘twin’, for making me laugh since I was born and my sister Debbie.

Owain my Geordie dictionary, Annette and Peter, prolific readers of the North-East, Jesse, Joel, Davy, Nathan, Cainy, Trev and all our friends in Tynemouth and Newcastle for all your help and humour.

Elaine for being a special friend and for helping to keep me solvent when all I had left to sell was a pair of PVC roller boots.

Naomi, a huge talent waiting to be discovered, and Rob, the bonsai king, the most enthusiastic and fantastic couple I know.

All the wonderful people who have helped me along the way – Alf Alderson, Alison, Michaela, Ching, Nat and Lloyd, Richie, Lee, Peggy, Mark Fletcher, JDPP Perrin, the Navins, Martyn Diaper, Amy, Rachael, George, Anita Butt and the McCrossan clan.

Anna Telfer for discovering me, Imogen Taylor for your advice and enthusiasm and for putting your faith in my novel, Emma Gibb and all at Little, Brown.

And above all to Gabriel for encouraging me to chase my dreams, for never once saying I couldn’t achieve them and for showing me how fun life can be. You are my best friend, my soulmate and my inspiration. Thank you xxx.

Chapter One

1st January, 12:29 a.m.

Less than half an hour into the New Year and my only remaining party buddy was Armitage Shanks, second cubicle on the left, Tuxedo Royale nightclub, Newcastle. I had considered starting up a rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ among my fellow chunderers, but I didn’t think a chorus of ‘For the sake of hyurg blurgh yoogh’ would be particularly appropriate.

Happy bloody New Year, Jennifer,
I thought, just as my inner self decided to show itself for the fourth time already that year.

Only twelve hours before, I had been contemplating the most significant night of my life. New outfit, new hair-do, New Year’s Eve and soon a new
fiancé.
Personally, I had always loathed that word: ‘
fiancé
’. It conjures up images of size-eight Posh Spice lookalikes, sporting diamonds worth more than a small country. Funny how the word had become
instantly more appealing when I thought it was finally my turn.

‘My
fiancé
and I will probably move to one of those chic condominiums by the river,’ I had told Casey, my hairdresser, as she struggled to control my curls. Condominium? The thought of my own engagement had suddenly turned me into a stuck-up, twin-set, hoise-in-the-Dordogne-darling kind of girl. By the time I had my head between my legs being ‘diffused’, Casey and I had made hair-do plans for myself, my mother and the 26 bridesmaids. In the car on the way home I had planned the eight-tier cake, vol-au-vents and full lilac colour scheme. By leg-shaving and bikini-line torture in the shower, I had already worked out the hymns, seating arrangements and the requisite number of frilly pouches containing inedible pink sweets. The honeymoon we would plan together during our post-engagement love fest.

What the hell was happening to me? I had always been so anti weddings. After my sister Susie’s big do I had vowed never to go through the same scenario. It had taken over eighteen months to plan. Should the colour scheme be peach or fuchsia? Was little Charlotte too fat to be a bridesmaid? Would she unbalance the photos? Should we invite the coffin-dodger relatives and would the iron lungs require separate invitations? Could Dad bear to sit next to Susie’s mother-in-law for the whole reception or should she have a table for one? I had suggested a muzzle and doggy chews but my opinion had not been well received. The whole thing had been a complete nightmare for anyone unlucky enough to qualify as a member of the political wedding party. By the time the big day arrived, there were so many
divisions in the ranks the atmosphere was more befitting of a wake.

This time, though, things would be different. Jack and I would be the model bride and groom,
Hello!
magazine would beg for exclusive rights to the photographs and ‘Love is in the Air’ would sing joyously from every stereo in Newcastle in celebration of our perfect love.

When Jack had informed me of our impending important discussion (he liked to speak only in words of three or more syllables), feminine intuition had told me it was my turn. Call it stupidity, call it festive fever or call it one too many peach schnapps at lunchtime. Call it what you will, feminine intuition had got me in the shit again.

Armitage Shanks reached up to say hello for the fifth time as Kim Wilde’s dulcet tones bounced off the walls of the stinking cubicle. I reflected on the fact that when perfectly sober, I would refuse point blank to even sit on a public toilet seat, especially a wet one. I tend to perch above in a Rosemary Conley-style quad-strengthening squat and aim as best I can. Yet here I knelt, cheek pressed firmly against the cold rim, with my arms gripping the wheel of the porcelain bus. Two bottles of wine with a beer, alcopop and vodka cocktail chaser combine to produce the perfect antidote for human pride.

Pride? How could I ever experience that feeling again? Approaching 1:00 a.m. on the first day of the year and I had already been publicly humiliated, dumped and abandoned. Jack had picked a great time to get it all off his tanned, dark-haired chest. While the rest of the party-goers on the floating
boat nightclub counted down to Big Ben on the revolving dance floor, Jack was manoeuvring an incredible weight from his shoulders and depositing it squarely on my aching head.

‘I just feel we’re getting too intense,’ he had said.

‘Intense!’ I had shouted. ‘I have to book our dates through your secretary and I practically need a written invitation to visit your flat.’

‘I just need space, Jenny, to do my own thing.’

‘Space!’ Any more space and we would be conducting our relationship from two distant planets. Of course, I pathetically assumed that it had to be my fault.

‘Are my thighs too fat?’ I had whined.

‘No, Jenny, not really.’

‘Not really?’ Hardly the resounding negative I had hoped for. ‘My hair then? It’s my hair isn’t it? You don’t like curls. I’ll straighten it. I’ll dye it blonde. Whatever you want.’

Why was it that in a crisis I always thought a classic blonde bob would solve my problems? People always described my hair as ‘wacky’, ‘wild’ or, worst of all, ‘different’. Unfortunately, that inferred chaos seemed to filter through to my personality. General disorganisation was not a particularly appropriate quality for a soon-to-be-qualified solicitor. Girls with perfect hair just seemed so in control.

‘It’s not your hair, Jennifer,’ he had said stiffly. ‘It’s just … I don’t want the commitment right now.’

‘COMMITMENT!’ That little gem. Jack had obviously been reading
Dumping For Beginners
but hadn’t got past the second page. Next he would be using the ‘I just want to be friends’ line.

‘The thing is, Jenny, I think I just want to be friends.’

Aaaaaagh! God give me the strength to kick his designer butt. I had felt an immense rage bubbling up from somewhere around my thigh-high boots. How could he do this to me? My beautiful, perfect Jack. So he didn’t show his emotions much, I liked a man to be strong. So he wasn’t really romantic, but who wanted flowers, chocolates and cuddly teddy bears? So he didn’t talk much, but he had a mighty fine bum for black Calvin Kleins. All of the girls in the office, bar the high-powered City lesbians, drooled at the sound of his authoritative yet sultry lawyer voice. How proud I had been when he had plucked me from the admiring throng to be his ‘regular date’. My best friend Maz had strongly criticised my ‘pathetically non-existent self-esteem’ but I hadn’t cared. At least I could walk through the office with a swagger, knowing that they seethed with jealousy at my every step.

Oh damn, the office. How could I go back there and face their knowing glances? The gossip would fly faster than a bee on amphetamines. Jennifer had thought he was going to propose. Ha ha ha. Jennifer had been unceremoniously dumped. Ha ha ha. Jack was now available. Every girl for herself! I would be a laughing stock, a mockery, a-lone.

Somehow things had got totally out of proportion (not a rare occurrence on the odd night that I aim for total alcohol saturation). Jack had stood in front of me, his shoulders wide in his starched blue shirt, his square jaw shut tight with a strange, curious-yet-disgusted look in his dark eyes. I had wobbled in front of him, tears bursting out at all angles sending my apparently waterproof mascara rapidly
southwards. I had given up trying to hold in my stomach, which had now broken for freedom between my size-too-small skirt and my sequined crop top.

‘But Jacky Wacky, I luv you,’ I had slobbered in an attempt to recreate Baby-Spice-esque vulnerability.

That had soon turned into Psycho Spice as Jack had replied coolly, ‘But I don’t love you, Jennifer. Not at all.’

The rumbling rage had started again, coupled with a real desire to throw up. My legal training skills had eluded me momentarily as all professional negotiation techniques flew out of the nearest window. It would be safe to say I lost my cool. The drink in the face had been a promising start, which led to the attempted headlock and the irreparable damage to the ‘This cost £85 you know!’ shirt. Shouted obscenities had followed that even Jim Davidson would have had trouble repeating. I had suddenly turned into a deranged, irrational extra from a particularly rough episode of
The Bill.
It was only when I had tried to remove Jack’s hair and vital components simultaneously that the bemused bouncers had stepped in to put a stop to the cheap entertainment.

At 11:58 p.m. Jack had been forcefully removed from the club and told, in words of four letters or less, never to set foot on the ship again. By 11:59 p.m. I was slumped over the bar ordering a ‘Steamy Passion’ and pouring my heart out to Gareth, the adolescent glass-collector.

‘Stwas sposed to be a shelabrayshun,’ I had slurred. ‘I got all dressded up shexy ya know (hiccup) … I am shexy ’in I?’ I had shouted as ‘Boom Shake Shake Shake the Room’ blared over the speaker next to my ear.

‘Aye,’ Gareth had grunted, evidently more interested in
the leopard-skin-clad voluptuous breasts that had just slunk into range.

Flippin’ heck, I couldn’t even interest an 18-year-old spotty Robbie Williams clone whose testosterone levels could overpower the National Grid. At 12:00 midnight, Big Ben had let rip, hugs and kisses had been exchanged beneath the silver disco ball and the DJ had unleashed his ‘Songs for Special Occasions’ LP on the unsuspecting revellers. I had taken a sip of ‘Steamy Passion’, got a glacé cherry lodged up my nose and fallen off my stool.

My intimate relationship with the toilet bowl was rudely interrupted when a horizontally-challenged Geordie barmaid decided to open the cubicle door with a Shearer-style hoof.

‘Howay man lass,’ she hollered in my face, ‘gan yem will ya. I wanna leave this flippin’ joint before next year ye kna.’

I know better than to provoke big lasses in leather hot pants, so I scrambled to my feet, almost losing my left arm down the toilet in the process.

‘As you’ve asked so nicely I’ll get going,’ I said politely, through gritted teeth.

She stood in the doorway, one hand on each hip, drawing attention to the array of large metallic rings adorning each podgy hand. I wasn’t sure whether they would fall within the legal definition of knuckle-dusters, but I was sober enough to realise that they would add a certain amount of kick to her left hook.

‘Why-aye it’s a gobby southerner who cannat tek her pints. What’s the matter pet? Too many shandies?’

All of a sudden, ten replicas of my new ‘friend’ moved into view.

‘Batter ’er man!’ they yelled. ‘Aye, chin the cheeky tramp!’

I suppressed the tears that were welling up in my eyes. I moved backwards gingerly until my legs touched the toilet bowl. At this point, I thought I’d better make a stand and try to look threatening (not an easy task when facing the oestrogen army).

‘I’m not a southerner actually, I moved here when I was twelve.’ Bloody hell, why do I suddenly sound like Fergie’s sister in these critical situations?

My brain was reaching for the ‘mouth shut’ button with every word I blurted out. A roar of laughter broke forth from my assailants.

‘A’im nort a southerner ayctually,’ they squealed.

This is it,
I thought. Two hours into the New Year and I was about to get my head pummelled as a bit of après-work entertainment. Not that anyone would care, of course. I mean, it’s not like anyone loves me or anything. I was lost in self-pity, and felt warm tears trickling down my face. Mid-wallow, I suddenly realised the raucous laughter had stopped. I opened my eyes and looked up to see that the space in front of the cubicle had cleared. All that remained was my own hideous reflection in the mirror on the wall opposite.

‘Blimey, I’m not even worth battering,’ I moaned, trying to focus on the repulsive vision before me.

Why is it that enforced singledom has a strange doubling effect on the world? I become single, through no choice of
my own, and all of a sudden the rest of the world moves in pairs. I’d found myself outside the nearest kebab shop and everywhere I looked there were couples ‘fornicating’ (as my mum would say) and, more to the point, enjoying it. All around me they kissed, cuddled, giggled and fed each other chips. Beautiful girls in spangly outfits held hands with their beautiful boyfriends and whispered sweet nothings in each other’s ears as they made their way home to their perfect love nests. Even the dogs roaming the streets ran around in pairs, yelping happily. It was a night for romance and I wasn’t invited to the party. The rest of the world was shoving it in my face and shouting ‘Loser!’ Gripped by a sudden urge to stage a large-scale massacre, I decided it was time to leave. I needed my best friend and fast.

Maz was like a breath of fresh air in a curry house kitchen. Boisterous, bold and scared of no man, she always knew the right thing to say to cheer me up. Her goal in life was to be a talk-show host on national television, airing problems and donning out advice. My ridiculously complicated love life had been a constant test of her counselling ability. Maz and I had been friends ever since my first day at high school. I was a 12-year-old Surrey convent schoolgirl with a very blinkered outlook on life. She was a born and bred Geordie lass. A fiery redhead with a checkered history who had fought her way to the position of top dog in the school. Luckily for me, Maz liked me from day one and probably saved me from being totally skinned on many an occasion. We were like chalk and cheese then and, ever since, our lives had taken completely diverging paths, but a hidden
link seemed to hold us together and our friendship never faltered.

I instantly felt a pang of guilt at the thought of my friend. Maz and I had planned this night for weeks. Drinks at my flat, drinks in the pub where Maz worked as a barmaid, drinks in town at the Big Market and a general evening of drunken debauchery. Of course, at the last minute Jack’s secretary had called and requested that I spend the evening with the arrogant pig. I should have said no but, as they say, love is blind and I am brainless. I had deserted my best, most loyal friend on New Year’s Eve in favour of a man who had about as much interest in me as I had in a four-hour cricket special. Maz had warned me about him from the start and she had the annoying habit of always being right. I kicked myself at the realisation that I had become one of those love-struck girlies who would dump her friends at the first opportunity. Poor Maz, she had probably had a terrible night and it was entirely my fault. I vowed to make it up to her and, as I wanted some company, this seemed like a good time.

BOOK: Serve Cool
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