Authors: Jenny Colgan
Finally, I opened the door, putting on an ingratiating look â not that the fat postman on the doorstep gave a toss.
I signed for it, trying not to get too excited, but this
was one huge parcel. Perhaps I had a secret admirer who was sending me precious gifts because they were totally rich and also perhaps completely famous.
Fran wandered through to try and use the loo. The fat postman noticed
â every man noticed her.
âHello, fat postman,' she said. Then, indicating the parcel: âHey, is that for you?'
I turned it over in anticipation. âNo, it's for Linda. Bum bum bum.'
âGod, what is it â the latest in the Woodland Farm Princess Diana
âNo, too heavy.'
The postman wobbled off. As ever, we looked at each other, wondering how a man who walked ten miles a day could get that fat.
âLinda doesn't read books. She eats them.'
âIs that true, or is it just that you don't like her?'
I looked at my feet.
âIt's just that I don't like her.'
âWell then, can we open it?'
âNo, of course not.'
âWhy not? She wouldn't mind.'
âFran, I believe she might, in fact, mind.'
To be honest, I had no idea whether she'd mind or not. In fact, all I knew about Linda was that she worked in a bank â I couldn't remember which one â was an only child, and had inherited money from her grandmother to buy this lovely flat and cover it in pastel tat. And I had learnt all this from the
flat interview, where I had tried to look unbelievably fascinated, thus moving in under false pretences â which was a huge relief, as at the time I'd been on the run from a cabal of physiotherapists who were terrorizing me out of my shared flat in Edmonton, a period of my life I normally only flashed back to at four o'clock in the morning, wide awake and sweating.
As if hearing our thoughts â or, more likely, she'd had her ear up against the door earwigging our entire conversation â Linda stomped out into the corridor from her big bedroom at the back of the house, managing not to look either of us in the eye, even while grabbing the parcel out of my hand. She was short and round, with a definite aura of moustache. As she stomped back to her room, Fran and I swapped our familiar âLinda' look.
âErm, guys â¦ ha ha â¦' came a strangulated voice, âcan I, er, come out of the bathroom now?'
Fran raised her eyes to heaven. âAny time you like, darling. We'll be right here.'
I started to giggle.
âRight, OK, right â¦' came the voice. Then there was a pause, during which we didn't move back to the kitchen.
Finally, the door started to open and Nicholas emerged, with a mass of tissue paper covering his genitals. And I mean a
âBwah hah! Corking night, eh, ladies!' he hollered, putting on a good front, I have to say. âWhat's for breakfast?'
âFor you, a number sixty-eight bus,' said Fran. âThey deliver.'
âHaw haw haw â I'll get my dancing trousers on and be right with you. And how are
, my darling?'
We both looked round, till I realized he was talking to me.
âOh, you know, some variation of fantastic,' I said, hunched over, still in my towel. âThe negative one.' Suddenly I saw something on the floor which I hadn't seen previously. I picked it up. It was a postcard, and this time it was for me.
âFra-an!' my voice quavered as I followed her into the living room. âIt's a postcard.'
âSo I see. Oh, and look over there, Nicholas â it's a door!'
âCwah cwah!' came the voice from the other room. âJust wait till I tell the boys at work about this.'
I sighed. â
,' I said urgently. âLook who it's from.'
The postcard was of the Empire State Building, almost completely obscured by a close-up of a woman's breasts. On the other side it said simply:
Darling, I'm so sorry â big mistake. I'm coming home. Alex
There was a long dramatic pause. Or, well, there would have been a long dramatic pause, except that Nicholas chose that moment to launch into the room wearing purple trousers (I hadn't noticed they were purple; the effect was like a terrible plum-canning factory accident), shouting, âHey, I know what would be
â let's make some French toast!!'
Fran gave him a Paddington Bear hard stare. âGo look for some chocolate, Nicholas.'
I was in shock, and scarcely noticed when Nicholas disappeared, then returned obediently with a dozen chocolate mini rolls. I was too busy staring straight ahead without blinking and trying to work everything out: Alex, Alex, Alex â my âone true love', according to me. Alex, Alex, Alex, that âlow-level rat bastard' according to Fran and pretty much everyone else in the world.
The first time I ever saw Alex I thought, âPhwoar, I'd like to get into his pants!' And he looked at me and thought exactly the same thing: it was a true meeting of minds. Oh! That shitty West London party (well, I should have known better than to go to parties in West London and expect to have a good time, but just that once it paid off).
I was searching for the more expensive beer that hosts hide at the back of the fridge, when:
âIs it just me,' growled a tall voice, âor does everyone here look like they've got something uncomfortable up their bums?'
,' I hissed. âYou're supposed to be
them. They're only
not to be having a good time.'
âOhhhhh, now I understand. Right. So I can either try and get out of West London â¦'
âCan't be done,' I pointed out.
âTrue â¦ Or I could get absolutely wasted and do something awful which I could later abdicate any responsibility for.'
This was so pointed that I gulped and took a closer look at this six foot two, dark-haired, unruly-looking character with the most heavy-lidded, pointy-lashed brown eyes I'd ever seen.
âThat,' I said, âsounds like it would be
out of character.'
Eighteen astonishing hours later, damp, grubby and absolutely starving, lying in an unfamiliar bedroom having my tummy tickled with a tea bag, I realized I was on to something.
A year later I was blissful, swanning around with Alex, who was trying to make it as something in the music industry. He knew everyone; we always ended up at a party and all his friends were louche, slightly dodgy but with terribly nice accents. I was with the band: it was great. He wasn't exactly the most romantic character on the planet, but I didn't care; here I was, Melanie Pepper, twenty-six and watching minor pop-stars throw up in the corner of filthy nightclubs. Life was cool.
More than that, though, I absolutely adored him. I loved his cool long floppy hair, and his sad brown puppy eyes, and was constantly trying to get him to notice me. I would jump up and down trying to reach him, and he would give me his big lazy grin and check out who else was in on the conversation. Occasionally he would indulge me with his attention, and I would be like one of those pathetically affectionate little dogs they're always rescuing on programmes about the RSPCA. Other times he'd flirt with women for ages and I would be distraught. In short, he was not
that good a boyfriend, no doubt about it. But in his leather trousers â¦ well, you know, a girl is a girl, and leather trousers and pop-star friends are leather trousers and pop-star friends, so of course I did what the cool girls should NEVER do, which is fall in love with the cool boys. It blows the whole thing.
Still, he'd been coming round. I'd notice the occasional look of tenderness on his face. Or he'd phone me, for no reason. Or come home early from a gig. He was coming round, I could sense it. He loved me. He even passed the âWould you mind just picking me up some Tampax on the way over?' test. So I was just about to suggest that we â¦ possibly â¦ think about moving in together â not seriously or anything, just a casual moving-in thing because, after all, all that toothbrush expense just didn't seem worth it, ha ha â when he vanished. Off the face of the earth.
I waited for him to call one weekend and he never did. It was that simple. Assuming it was an
type incident and could have nothing to do with me, I let twenty-four hours go by before I finally phoned his flatmate, Charlie, who lived in Fulham. Charlie wasn't best pleased to have to put up with Alex's shit, and too posh to be kind. He informed me wearily that Alex had gone to the States to find himself, and was sorry he hadn't told me but it seemed easier that way.
Not even a desultory note! Alex had dumped me by moving continents and leaving a message with a laconic friend!
For weeks I was too strung out even to cry. It felt like someone had scooped out my insides with a cold spoon.
Fran was wonderful then; I'd never known anyone with a fuller range of colourful epithets and hexes. She spat venom for me; I sat in corners and rocked myself. I felt embarrassed just walking down to the shops for more crisps, with the sheer humiliation I felt must be written all over my face. It was pain like I'd never known, worse even than when I got the Spangles papers stuck up my nose (I was four; I'm not weird or anything).
As the months passed, everything had settled to the occasional dull ache, which I had most recently attempted to assuage with the guest now smacking his lips over the chocolate mini rolls as if they were caviar.
âOK,' said Fran. âI'm just going to take this little piece of junk mail and put it where it belongs â¦'
I snatched it out of her hand.
, Mel. This is low-life trash bastard post. In fact, if you like, I'll even give you the honour of setting fire to it.'
âHey, guys, what's going on?' said Nicholas the Intuitive, through a mouthful of chocolate mush. Apparently, if he didn't get 15,000 calories a day he'd die.
I opened my eyes.
âLook, I really don't want to be rude, but would you just GO AWAY!' I burst out, but I couldn't hold the moment. âEhm, it's just that Fran and I have this REALLY IMPORTANT THING to do that we've been planning for ages â¦'
âYeah, it's called the Getting Away From Nicholas Thing,' said Fran, not quite under her breath.
âSure, hey, not a problem, babe. How about I pick you up tonight at seven and we go for a ludicrously expensive dinner at my client's expense? Chaw chaw chaw!'
âUnfortunately this THING that Mel and I have to do lasts for AGES,' said Fran. â
sorry. But you have to go. NOW.'
âHey, cool your jets. No one ever said that Nicholas Snodley couldn't take a hint.'
I suddenly ran to the other side of the room and started de-alphabetizing Linda's CDs in case he tried to give me a kiss. Linda's CDs:
The Greatest Love Songs Ever â One, The Greatest Love Songs Ever â Two
and, for a bit of variety,
The Greatest Love Songs in the World â Ever!
And some dolphin noises.
âMel, babe, I'll ring you soon, huh? About the Brian May Appreciation bash?'
âAbsolutely,' I said. âBYE.'
He went for playing it cool: âYeah, right. What's your number again?'
I meant to give him the wrong number, but in my confused emotional state got mixed up and accidentally gave him the right one.
âCiao then, babes,' he sleazed, and, bending under the doorframe, he was gone. I swear I could hear the echoing âchaw chaw chaw' down the corridor in his wake.
Out of the frying pan, I thought to myself, picking up the postcard again. I moved back and collapsed on the sofa next to Fran, leaning my head on her shoulder.
âPlease, never do the Nicholas thing again,' she said.
âBut it's so much fun for you.'
âMel, you know I'd rather grate myself than see you go anywhere near that eight-foot pole of slime.'
I held up the postcard weakly. âI missed him so much.'
âI know you did.'
âI still do.'
âI know you do. But what kind of man would do what he did to you without being a total bastard?'
don't know. Boys are weird.'
âYes, they are. All of them. And they think we're weird. But some of them are nice-weird and some of them are not. Think of Alex as an Amanda of the boy world. He made you feel exactly the same way as that snotty cow did when she took up with all those nobs and dropped you like a stone.'
âAnd I still see her.'
Fran sighed. âAnd she makes you miserable. Which means you probably won't listen to a word I say.'
âOK, well, fuck that for sisterly advice then. Any mini rolls left?'
We regarded the debris of tinfoil strewn across the floor.