Authors: Jenny Colgan
âAre you going to make less money?'
âFran, I'll speak to Alex now, OK?'
Damn. Still, at least she didn't get the audition, or she'd have told me. I lived in constant fear that she would get unbelievably famous and never hang around with me ever again, and I'd be the old sop in the bar telling strangers boring stories
they didn't believe about how she used to be my best friend.
I was pretty upset and frustrated and tired and pissed off, and the last thing I wanted to do was phone Alex and ask difficult questions. I wished he'd phone to tell me how he'd seen the light about that creep Charlie last night and beg to come and live with me instead, as he loved me SO MUCH. Then I caught a glimpse of my unhealthy pallor and dribbling mascara in the window and realized that: (1) I was actually crying a bit, and (2) if I were Alex and saw me, I'd run ten miles.
Fortunately I'm not, because the phone rang, and it was him.
âHey, sweet chops.'
âHey, nasty friend-chops.'
âGod, yes, Charlie was a bit pished, wasn't he?'
âHe really upset Fran, you know.'
âFran? That girl eats Charlies for breakfast. If ginger boy hadn't leapt in, she'd have gnawed his nads off.'
This was undeniable.
âAre you still going to live with that wanker?'
âWell, it's either that or trail through
for the next two months and end up in some Turkish bedsit in SE13.'
âBut Fulham â¦ it's Tosserama over there.'
âOh, they're not too bad once you get to know them.'
âBut I can't get to know them! They're all ice weasels!'
He sighed. âIs this about the public school thing again? Are you getting all chippy?'
âYeah, right, like I want a private income, a cushy job in publishing and long flicky blonde hair.'
âOh, come on, Mel, stop being daft. Anyway, I need to live somewhere. I mean, it's not â¦ it's not like we could live together or anything.'
I paused, that one instant too long.
âNo, of course not.' Oh God, that didn't even sound like my voice.
There was a bit of a silence. Then he said, âYou know, I'm sorry I hurt you when I left. But it was because of things like this. You always want to push too fast, pumpkin. I mean, I've only been back a fortnight. Can't you, like, chill out?'
âRight. Right then. Ehrm, I'll phone you later.'
âNo, Mel, don't be like this. You'll upset yourself. All I'm saying is that there's no rush â¦'
I hung up. Oh, bloody bloody hell! Maybe I should just get a T-shirt printed: âIncredibly needy woman; gets very upset without constant attention and immediate commitment. Histrionic tendencies. Unable to live independent life without man. Disloyal to friends. Bursts into tears over nothing.'
I burst into tears.
I knew it had only been two weeks, but it hadn't really, if you counted the year before he disappeared which now appeared to be my fault, but anyway â¦
My boss floated past again.
âOh, my dear girl, I'm so sorry. Marketing will be absolutely fine, you know â they'll love you. Don't
think of this as a setback, think of it as an opportunity. There there.'
He actually had a spotless handkerchief.
âAnd don't worry too much about your flatmate either.'
I struggled to remember why I might worry about her, and fortunately did.
âYou can't take all the responsibilities of the world on your shoulders, you know. I tell you what â¦' He looked mischievous. âGo on, take the day off. I won't tell a soul.'
I faked shock, but with a wounded little half-smile to show my complicity.
âI know, normally something I'd never do. But go on. I reckon you need it.'
Truly, the sweetest man in the world. He even walked me to the door, talking loudly about some imaginary new project. I felt an odd sense of
, then escaped to the fresh air â hooray!
A free day in London when I was feeling totally depressed and my boyfriend was moving to Fulham. What to do? Well, I could go shopping, I supposed. Or perhaps I could go shopping. I decided I was absolutely depressed and therefore deserved shopping and should go at it with a clean conscience. Linda hadn't put the rent up for two years, so actually I was fairly solvent. Even though I hadn't shaved my armpits and didn't have my shopping underwear on, I headed for Regent Street.
They'd put the Christmas decorations up, which made me realize it was only November. Months and months and months of winter to go. Oh, and Alex was going to leave me because I was a needy cow. And my best friend hated him. And my rival was getting married and going to have a perfect life. And she had size three feet! I nearly started blubbing again in the middle of the street, but pulled myself together in the usual way (imagining our school bully walking past, having become really successful, seeing me, and laughing), and headed for Dickins and Jones. The smell of perfume was instantly reassuring.
I wandered around Hobbs, thinking that it really was time to change my image and become a classy girl. But it was no use wearing brown with my brown frizzy hair and brown mousy eyes and brown freckles: I'd just look like one long walking poo.
Over in the sale section I started picking up bits and pieces, including a ridiculous pair of pink mid calf-length trousers a size too small for me because they were Â£79.99 reduced to Â£14.99 and, who knew, they might just make me look instantly fantastic. I don't know quite why I thought I suddenly resembled Fran, who had wonderful elongated limbs that were angular and gawky when we were small but were now wildly desirable. Anyway, it was hot in the changing room, and I kept falling out of the curtain trying to wriggle those things up my leg. By the time I had wangled myself into them and examined my overstuffed posterior in the mirror, I was feeling about as thoroughly foul as a person can without actual physical illness.
âLook at you!' I was saying to myself. âYou're miserable, so you come here and dress your legs up like two big fat pink sausages! What is the matter with you?'
I stomped out to see if the full-length mirror was going to help â chuh huh â and gazed helplessly at my dishevelled hair, sweaty red face, lumpy hips and the way my eyes appeared to have disappeared, as if in protest at all the crying, leaving behind only black smudges of mascara.
âOh well, at least Alex isn't likely to walk past,' I thought, to console myself.
Angus walked past.
Slouching in what could only be described as an anorak, at first I thought he was going to miss me. Then he looked up and saw me in the mirror. For a second he seemed almost jolly, but he soon remembered himself â and my status as friend-of-Amanda-lover-of-Alex â and walked over stiffly.
âWhat the hell are you doing in women's pants?' I hollered, using the well-known âaggressive' technique to try and cover my embarrassment.
âTrying to buy my mother a birthday present. What's the matter with you?'
âNothing. I'm FINE.'
âI like those trousers.'
âBog off. Oh God, I'm sorry.' I was suddenly tired of being mean. âI didn't really mean that. I've had a shitty day, then I got the day off and I thought that would be cool, but it's pissy and I'm FED UP.'
We stood there, me in ridiculous pink trousers so tight that I couldn't get the zip done up, him in his anorak.
âWould you like a cup of tea and a bun?' he offered politely.
I snuffled a little. âYes, please.'
We sat together in the cafÃ© rather awkwardly, surrounded by rich shouty women. I wondered if people were looking at us and speculating on what kind of relationship we had: I always did. Or maybe it was obvious he was my non-friend's fiancÃ©'s bitter little brother.
I looked a bit more presentable after I managed to get rid of the worst of the mascara with a wrinkle-creating rub, brushed my hair upside down, and shrugged back into my navy blue trouser suit â the one that almost made me look like my arse didn't stick out, although it did make me look flat-chested, and if I buttoned it up it was a bit Pee-wee Herman.
âDo you usually buy your mother lingerie?'
âNo, I was just pissing about. I never know what to get her, so I drift about hoping something fantastic will leap out at me â then end up getting her a bath mat or something.'
I knew that feeling. I didn't know how many Delia Smith books my mother could take, but she was bearing up manfully.
âWhy don't you and Fraser club together; send her on a cruise, maybe?'
âI don't know â¦ How much money do you spend on your mother?'
âHmm, well, about thirty pounds, I suppose.'
There was a long pause, during which I started to worry in case I'd insulted his mother: I knew what the Scots were like. And just what I needed, too: to upset someone else in the world. I was losing a popularity contest with the ebola virus.
He frowned. âThat would get her about halfway into the Camden canal then?'
âWell, she is a bit of an old boot.'
He laughed at my utterly shit joke, which made me realize that he was feeling as uncomfortable as I was.
âYes, I don't spend thirty pounds lightly,' I went on.
âI know. I could tell by those pink trousers.'
I smiled for the first time all day.
âOh, thanks for the fashion tip, Anorak Man.'
He half smiled.
âWhat?' I demanded.
âWhat? Is it, like, a magic anorak?'
âNo.' But he was grinning now.
âYes, it is, isn't it? It's a magic anorak that gives you â oh, I don't know, a supernatural ability to notate trains.'
âHff. Actually, my lovely anorak is North Sea standard issue. I had to go see the BP people today and they
take you more seriously if they think you just got out of the helicopter.'
âWow, you've been in a helicopter?' D'oh. Who was I â Amanda?
âYes,' he said seriously, âjust like Noel Edmonds.'
âWell, I didn't know you got to go in helicopters. I thought you went down pipes and stuff.'
âI do. But I need a helicopter to get me to the pipes. And the pipes are underwater.'
I was impressed, but wouldn't show it.
âSo what are you saying, that this is, like, your James Bond anorak?'
He stared me straight in the eye.
âYesh, schweetheart, thish ish my James Bond anorak.'
And, weirdly, that was the moment I fell in like with Angus McConnald.
An hour and a half later we'd bought his mother some hideous golfing memorabilia from the Disney shop. (She golfed. I'd wondered if maybe this was an obligatory Scottish thing to do, but apparently it was a real hobby.) And I'd bought some comfortable size fourteen navy blue trousers from Racing Green, which proved I was getting old, but I had to buy something.
A boy who liked shopping? I'd cheered up considerably, as I must have appeared to the world like the kind of girl that boys liked enough to go shopping with, even if they were a bit ginga. And we chatted easily about everything under the sun â except
when we passed an enormous crystal display in one of the glassware departments. A young, smartly dressed couple were looking at it and checking things off on an enormous list.
âMarcus, you must hurry up and choose the place settings,' the girl was saying bossily. Marcus, who looked exactly as he must have done at the age of six, only larger, pouted and turned red.
Angus leaned over to me.
âDoes everyone in London look up new minor peers five minutes after their fathers have died and move in on them like piranha fish?'
I turned to him in surprise. âDo you know him?'
âI know the type,' he said darkly, looking at the girl. That pissed me off.
âWell, excuse me. I didn't realize it was international sexist day. And for your information, the answer is yes. I personally am killing time with you on my way to seduce Prince William.'
âHuh!' he said. Then, less grumpily: âI didn't mean it like that.' Then he clammed up like a, umm, clam.
Still, it was time to go home anyway, and I really felt quite relaxed.
âIt was good to bump into you,' I said lamely at the tube station.
âSerendipity.' He grinned through his anorak.
âOh, a word with lots of syllables in it! Was that meant to turn me on?'
God, WHY did I say that? Angus turned red and neither of us knew what to say.
âErm, no, no, it wasn't. I'll â¦ see you later.' And he scuttled off into the crowd.