Authors: Jenny Colgan
âWhat, like vegetables?'
âYou're right â bloody Americans and their healthy eating! That's why they're all in such fantastic physical shape.'
He giggled, then took my face in his hands. Here it came.
âGee, Mel, it's good to be back. Americans â¦ they never mean what they say. I never feel I can talk bullshit with anyone as much as I can with you.'
âI think that's possibly the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me,' I said gravely.
He laughed, and ruffled my hair.
âI mean â¦ I behaved like a complete dork, Mel. I'm sorry. I really am. What I did to you, it really bit. You know, I had no idea what I was doing. With all my parents and stuff â¦ I can find it really hard to open up â¦ and I got scared. I was so worried you were going to â¦ just ignore me. Which I would probably have deserved.'
âYes, you would.'
âYou're special to me, you know.'
âI do know. And if you ever EVER do anything like that again, I'm going to impale a testicle on each arm of a pair of scissors and start snipping.'
He winced. âIs that nice?'
And that was it. I was very happy.
The next week passed in a blur â a dirty-sheeted, stupid, giggling, New York-time blur. I finally got it together to go into work, but was so glowing and smiley that I got away with more murder than usual. Even the secretaries couldn't hurt me. No one in the
world had ever been as happy as us, ever, and in fact could have no idea what it was like. I floated around, occasionally stopping to pity people for not being as happy as me.
At home, I stopped answering the phone and made Linda do it, which was mean of me as she hated doing it and my friends hated speaking to her. Fran eventually stomped round in a fury, having gleaned, accurately, that things weren't exactly going the way she'd planned. This surmise was confirmed when she came to the door and Alex opened it, clearly in possession of both kneecaps.
âHey there, Fran,' he said winningly. âGood to see you again.'
I wondered what she was going to do. For a moment she looked as if she would completely ignore him, then she shook her mane of hair and smiled.
âHello! Great to see you â you complete bastard! How nice!' she said, walking straight past him to kiss me on the cheek.
Alex grimaced at me, but I shrugged. Even if I hadn't been able to give him a hard time for what he'd done, I had no objections to Fran doing it.
I put the kettle on. From the other room I could hear Fran's trained voice, devastatingly polite.
âSo, did you stay in lots of interesting places â¦ cocksucker?'
âWell, yeah,' Alex stammered. âYeah, I moved around a bit, saw a few states. Bumming around, mostly.'
âReally? How unusual â¦ for such a rampant arsehole.'
âMEL!' shouted Alex, coming through to the kitchen. âHow long do I have to put up with this?'
âAs long as it takes â¦ buttcheeks.'
âButtcheeks? That's complimentary, surely?'
I blushed. âShut up and take in this tea. And try and make it up to Fran.'
âI didn't do anything to Fran.'
âWhat, you want to get on her bad side? Be nice.'
He sighed, hung his head, and we carried in the tea.
âI like knobchop's new fake accent,' Fran said to me. âDo you remember when he came back from Goa? He talked about his karma all the time and wanted to be a hippie. Gosh, wasn't it jolly funny! What a wankfox!' And she laughed a tinkly little Amanda laugh.
âFran, give me a break!' said Alex. âI'm sorry. I'm sorry, goddamnit.'
âGimme a break! Ah'm sawry, gawdamnit.'
âOh, for God's sake, stop it!'
âOK, OK, OK.' He got up and made to leave the room.
Fran wasn't finished. âSo what are your plans now, worthless anal wart?'
He looked at me and then at the floor.
âTo make it up to Melanie and never leave abruptly again and be a good human being and find a good job and become respectable, SUH!'
Fran nodded slowly, winked at me, and smiled at Alex, who gradually sat down again. Then she launched
into filling us in on the gossip. It looked like things were going to be OK.
And they were. Alex and I swanned about London, doing all the things we normally couldn't be bothered with, like Art and Culture, for example. I cooked us fabulous meals, to which I politely asked Linda. However, she didn't seem to fancy them. She'd had another big parcel, anyway, and stayed in her room a lot, not really giving me a chance to thank her for doing the washing-up.
Alex did have some plans. This pop-star bloke was apparently lined up to get him some work here in the record business, so it was all going to be cool and he might even try and get a band together. I nodded supportively â¦ For the moment, I was simply happy to keep playing Hide the Trousers and didn't really care.
Eventually, I phoned Amanda back about the party. OK, I was happy, but it didn't stop me feeling an urge to get a gloat in, given half a chance.
âDarling, hi. I've just got a call on the other line â give me a second.'
Crap. This meant she must already have heard and had gone into defensive mode, which meant I wouldn't have the satisfaction of relaying the news.
âThere,' she said, ânow what's all this about Alex? I couldn't believe it when I heard. Really, Melanie, haven't you ever thought of playing hard to get?'
âNo, it's great,' I said. âWe're really â¦ happy to be
back together, get everything sorted out, you know. We worked out we wanted to be together.'
âOh!' she squealed. âTell me you're going to get married too! We could have a joint celebration.'
She knew damn well I wasn't.
âNo, of course not. That's for grown-ups. Which reminds me, we're coming to your do on Saturday night.'
âOK â¦ well, Alex will know everyone, I suppose. You know it's black tie?'
âOK, darling. Well, improvise as best you can. Must dash! We've got a Teletubby stuck in a lift! Bye, darling!'
By the following Saturday, I knew for a fact that everything was all right with the world and I was ready to hit Amanda's engagement do. I had it all worked out. No doubt there'd be a lot of nudging. Someone might even say, âHey, it'll be you two next!' and I'd blush modestly and do a shy smile, and Alex would look at me tenderly and say, âWell, you never know â¦ maybe one day, if I'm lucky!' and that'd get all round the party and I'd be the queen! By the time my imagination had supplied a huge circular staircase down which we could descend to mass applause, I had to pretend to be Fran and tell myself not to be so silly. But, oh â look how wonderfully compatible we were! We hadn't fallen out once, all week. He'd grovelled, he'd done his bit. He was home again,
he was beautiful, and he was mine. Everything was brilliant.
Amanda's party turned out to be a pretty swish affair. Fortunately, what with all the shagging and healthy gourmet meals, I could get into last year's grey silk frock. And if I kept my right-hand side to the wall, the wine stain scarcely showed. Alex had shoved on his usual T-shirt and jeans, but looked gorgeous anyway.
I'd begged Fran to come, but she'd absolutely declined, on the grounds that I would be snogging Alex all night and everyone else would be horrible.
The party was in an exclusive club on the Thames: all noisy gravel and ginormous bouquets of unnaturallooking yellow flowers clustered around a bunch of braying men and sharp-lipsticked women. Everyone was taller than me and knew everyone else, and before I was two steps through the door, my carefully groomed confidence started to plummet, until once again I was Melanie Pepper, unruly loudmouth of 2C, worrying about puppy fat and what would happen if George Michael didn't want to marry me after all. (Well, who knew?)
This was definitely not my race, this mob of anorexic, complacent, poshtastic freeloaders. I caught sight of myself in the enormous gold-tinted mirror opposite, surrounded by the glitterprati. I looked like I was wearing my mother's shoes, en route to the dentist.
I turned round for the consolation of having the handsomest man in the room on my arm. But my heart sank again. How could I forget? Alex's hair flopped! He went skiing! His parents couldn't remember his
first name! He was One of Them! Even before I had grabbed my first free glass of champers (
Don't grab, Mel
You have a right to be here, remember
?), he was practically being mobbed.
âAl! Al, darling! Where
âAlex! Sara said she bumped into you in LA â had a few fantastic days, I hear?'
âOh, come over and see Benedict and Claire â we haven't seen you since the pool party!'
I too had been at the pool party, having a thoroughly miserable time. I too hadn't seen any of these poncey poseurs since then. I pretended to look politely interested and waited for Alex to re-introduce me.
âGuys, you remember Melanie, don't you?'
A blonde horse glanced at me cursorily, and I wished â for God's sake! â that my name was a little less common.
There was a short pause in the conversation as they gave me simpering nob smiles and enquiring looks, then they fell back into loud guffaws as Alex recounted his adventures yet again, cast me one apologetic glance, then hurled himself into dissecting the rugby season and knocking back the 'poo.
So much for the grey silk dress. The entire circle, defying the laws of physics, appeared to have its back to me, and I felt out in the cold. Deflated, I wondered what had happened to my fantasy big night at Amanda's party. I would have made my excuses and left, but there was no one to give my excuses to. So I wandered off, pretending to be in search of a toilet,
and wondering whether or not to go and have a little cry by myself.
Weighing up my options, I spotted Amanda. After all, she was the hostess, she had to talk to me! I wandered up to her group in my best âI'm not at all desperate to talk to anyone at this party, ha!' manner.
âHello, darling!' air-kissed Amanda. For once, her shallowness was pitched at precisely the right level for me, and I was extremely grateful for it. She was wearing a Barbie doll-sized dress made of some pastel, girlie, lacy thing that was almost, but not quite, see-through. âThat's flaunting it a bit when you're meant to be celebrating your union with someone you'll love for the rest of your life,' I thought nastily as a waiter did a full body-swerve trying to make out her nipples â but I decided not to mention it.
âEhmm â¦ are you having a nice party?' A stunning social opener from me.
âDarling, it's fantastic! There's a
There was social success, and there was social success.
Amanda was looking even tinier and more cutesy than ever. Her sly little features glowed in the gold of the room as she checked her reflection again in the mirrors and â I swear to God â simpered at herself.
âHo!' I said heartily. âMaybe he'd like to photograph me and Alex, back from the grave!'
This was meant to be a weak joke, but as I would so patently never be
! magazine material, it just came out as a bit sad.
âSo, tell me all about it!' pouted the minuscule radiant one, while doing a quick scan of the room to make sure no one could see her talking to me.
I did start to try and explain, but other people's happy love lives are so unbelievably boring â we shagged, we stared deep into one another's eyes and, hey, we had this really funny private joke whereby we turned the pillowcase into a singing animal â and Amanda hid her boredom less than most. It also didn't help that the other half of this indivisible team was guffawing his head off, miles away. I found my voice trailing off into a litany of hmm, so, it's great, yeah, fine. Then there was a bit of a pause. My shoulder was being looked over. I knew I should have paid my homage and left by now, but I could hear big roars of laughter from Alex's clique â laughter I simply could not share (I was tending towards the melodramatic by this stage) â and my options remained either clinging desperately to Amanda like a limpet or bursting into tears in the toilet.
âSo,' I stalled, âwhere's Fraser?'
âHullo thair,' lilted the Scottish tones behind me. I turned round, with the only genuine smile of pleasure I'd felt all evening. He must have remembered me after all.
Despite the kilt, however, this character wasn't Fraser. He wasn't even looking at me â he was looking at Amanda, who returned a rather icy stare. I felt a complete fool.
âAngus,' pronounced Amanda beautifully, âhave you
met my old schoolfriend, Melanie? Melanie, this is Fraser's baby brother.'