Authors: Jenny Colgan
For Andrew McConnell Stott
Most of the really messy things in life don't actually have a beginning â they kind of bear down on you over years, like the consequences of not cleaning your bathroom floor (stickiness, cholera, etcetera).
This one did, though. It definitely did, and I remember it extremely clearly. Well, in a fuzzy kind of way.
Thank God â it was my bed. So: (1) I was actually in a bed, and (2) it was mine. I was beating the odds already.
I prised open one very sticky eye and attempted to focus it, to try and work out where the smell was coming from. I appeared to be jammed between the wall and an extremely large and unidentifiable chunk of flesh.
The chunk of flesh was connected to lots of other chunks, all in the right order, but I didn't notice this until after I'd sat bolt upright in terror at a potential
-type situation in my bed.
Everything seemed weirdly out of proportion. Maybe I was still drunk. I pawed at the sticky stuff at the corner of my eyes. No, something was very wrong.
An inappropriate hand was slung across me. It appeared to be about the size of my stomach, and my stomach is not renowned for its tiny-ness â¦ A thought began to worm its way into my head.
I knew that thought and tried to avoid it for as long as possible, but alongside my hangover voice that was howling âFluid! Fluid!' the thought whispered, âOh my God â¦ it's Nicholas â¦ Again!'
I grimaced like I'd just swallowed something nasty â which, let's face it, I probably had.
Slowly creeping my way off the end of the futon, and feeling worse and worse, I crawled into the kitchen in search of aspirin and Diet Coke. Fran, of course, was lying in wait. She didn't live here, but she made herself more at home than I did. Her own place was a three-foot-square studio which induced immediate Colditz fever, so I'd got used to her wandering in and out.
âGood morning!' trilled Fran, bright and breezy. She must have been putting it on. Through a strange fog â which I supposed was the alcohol in my system filling me right up to the eyes â she actually looked quite good. I couldn't focus on her mass of fuzzy hair, but I did notice that she was wearing one of my T-shirts,
not quite covering thighs that didn't even meet in the middle. I hated that.
I summoned all my energy to pipe, âHello!'
âNo, no, absolutely fine. I've just suddenly developed a taste for a half-bottle of warm, flat Coke, OK?'
.' There was a pause. Then she said, âI take it you'll be wanting two glasses?'
âAaaaaaargh!' I put my head down on the kitchen unit.
âMel. Mel Mel Mel Mel Mel!'
Fran backed away.
âI know, I know, I know,' I admitted. âOh my God. Shit. SHIT! I think maybe I'll just move house, starting now.'
âIn a towel?'
âYou're right â all my clothes are in my bedroom, and I'm never going in there again! Why don't I start a fire?'
âWell, it's a bit risky, and I don't think Nicholas would fit in a fire engine.'
âThat's OK! He could die! In fact, that would be good!'
Fran poured us both a cup of tea and looked sorrowfully at me. âCome on, don't worry. Look on the bright side.'
âThere's an eight foot tall accountant in my bed who smells like a polecat, whom I have now woken up with TWICE, thus ruining ANY potential excuses â and you're telling me to look on the
âEhmm, how about â¦ if you spill any tea on the towel, it won't matter, because you'll have a towel handy? OK then â¦ ehmm â¦ it means you're not the type of girl who has one-night stands?'
âOh God, WHAT am I going to do? Is Linda around?' Linda was my dumpy flatmate. I only saw her about once a fortnight. Possibly, she hid from me.
âShe scuttled past about twenty minutes ago. She looked pretty tired. We might have been a bit noisy last night. Wasn't Nicholas trying to pretend he could play the trumpet?'
I grimaced. âThat wasn't a trumpet.'
Fran grimaced back at the memory. âBloody Amanda!' she said. I nodded vehemently. Whenever anything
bad happened, Amanda was
mixed up in it somewhere.
Fran, Amanda and I were at school together in Woking, one of those dreary endless London suburban towns, not city or country, just lots of people hanging round bus shelters wondering if they were missing something. I'd met Fran when she ran past our house, aged four, chasing my older brother with a cricket bat.
Amanda lived next to us, and the three of us walked to school together for years, Amanda usually in possession of the latest Barbie-doll outfits, and extra sweets
from the man at the corner shop with slightly dubious tendencies. Despite her blue eyes, strawberry blonde ringlets and general air of pinkness, she was pure evil, and played Fran and me off against each other with the talent of a Borgia poisoner.
Our biggest wish as children was to grow up famous and be on
. Twenty years on, we were all still following this wish: Fran in the time-honoured method of going to drama school then hanging about for years and years and years, usually round my flat. I'd decided to do it by marrying someone very handsome and famous. I kept a close eye on
magazine to check out when celebrities got divorced. Amanda, however, trumped all of us totally while still at school, by getting her dad to invent a new way of opening milk cartons or something, and suddenly becoming utterly stinking rich.
We didn't really notice at first, just that all through the last year of secondary school she kept sighing and talking about how boring everything was â but then, we were teenage girls. Only when we saw the new house, with the pool and the built-in bar, did we realize something was seriously up. Her dad had left her mum by this stage and was too busy chasing totty our age to really care what we did, so we had big parties, shopped, and got tipsy in the new jacuzzi with the gold taps: it was a fabulous year.
Eventually, Fran went off to the Central School of Drama to pretend to be a lizard for three years. Amanda was heading for Durham University and, not having
much imagination, and rather less sense, I applied there too.
I hardly recognized Amanda when we went up on the first day of freshers' week â mainly because her hair had changed colour and she talked differently. She gave me a lift up in the open-topped sports car her dad had given her for getting into university, and cut through the town like she owned it.
I knew when she dumped me in my seven-foots-square midden in the nasty students halls with damp running down the walls and shouted, âThere you are, darling! See you around, yah?' that somehow things had changed. Things had. She never spoke to me again, except once every six months when she'd condescend to take me out for a drink to remind me how wonderful everything was for her. I don't think her glittering success meant as much to her if she didn't have someone to look down on, and that was my job. I fell for it every time; the next day, she'd ignore me in the corridor.
If things were fair, I reckoned, it would all go wrong for her one day. As things were, she got a good degree and, as a result of her blondeness, qualified for a job in PR, and now was invited to lots of show-biz parties. I got a terrible degree, probably something to do with the bile marks on the paper, and ended up reading copy for a boring stationery company in Holborn.
But I still saw her. Every so often she'd phone, Fran and I would go see her, she'd gloat, and we'd get her to pay for all the drinks. And that's how it had started last night, when the phone rang.
I've finally worked out that
is PR code for
She hated that.
âListen, how about you and Francesca and I meet up for a drinkey tonight â¦?'
Tonight? As if we had nothing better to do.
âI have news!' she trilled.
âOh no, this is definitely drinkey kind of news.'
âOK. Fran!' Fran was lying on the sofa drawing a moustache on herself. âFancy a drink with Amanda tonight?'
Fran made a snarling noise, shook her head violently and contorted her face into that of a cougar, which apparently they teach you at drama school.
âGreat,' I said down the phone. âWe'd love to. Where?'
âThe Atlantic?' she simpered.
No chance. Cocktails and nob-ends. Plus, she lived in posh North London and we lived in Kennington, one of the nice but scruffy ends of South London, so it was like trying to arrange an inter-galactic alliance. I parried with the Ship and Shovel â both dirty and potentially dangerous.
âOh, for goodness' sake, Melanie. All right, the Ozone then.'
âI'll raise you to the Pitcher and Piano and no further.'
There was a sigh on the end of the line. âWell, if you
must â¦' She pouted audibly, which had zero effect on me as I don't have a penis.
âWhat did you do that for?' groaned Fran once I got off the phone. âShe'll only have been promoted or been asked out by some poof in a West End musical or something.'
âYou never know,' I said. âMaybe something's gone horribly wrong. Maybe she's up the duff by some sailors, and we, as her oldest friends, are the only ones who can truly comfort her. Heh heh heh.'
âDid she have an up-the-duff voice on? Or perhaps a twee gloaty voice?'
I thought for a minute. âEhmm, twee gloaty voice.'
âWell, that's it then. Sean Connery's son has asked her to lunch. And we're going to have to listen to two boring hours of how fantastic everything is for her, and we'll be so bored we'll get accidentally drunk, then she'll drive off somewhere much more exciting, completely sober, and we'll stay and get totally plastered out of bitterness and self-loathing, and hate ourselves for days.'