Authors: Jenny Colgan
I looked at him like a surprised fish.
âHullo there,' he said again.
A rather ruddy-faced boy stared back at me. He was as tall as Fraser, but didn't share any of his features. His hair was reddy-brown, and he had freckles. Hmm.
âHello,' I said casually. âAre you the best man?'
Whoops. Patently not the thing to ask. Ongas, or whatever his name was, blushed to the roots of his â almost ginger in this light, really â hair and mumbled, âEhm, well, I don't think so â¦ erm, no.' Amanda looked cross. âWell, we had to make all these decisions for the church and so on!' This was so meaningless I took the point and didn't enquire further. Amanda had, however, managed to say this in transit and had already made her exit, leaving us with âUnpopular at Parties' syndrome. We both knew we were the leftovers, so we certainly didn't want to be speaking to each other, but we didn't have anyone else to talk to.
âSo, what do you do, Angus?' Jesus, I sounded like the Queen.
âI'm a mechanical engineer.'
âOh, like your brother?'
âEhm, no, it's a bit more boring than that.'
As if in cruel mockery, this remark was punctuated by yet another enormous laugh from Alex's group, who were obviously having the best time any one group of people had ever had, in any place, ever. Someone had a napkin tied on as a blindfold, I noticed.
Another long pause. Every fibre of my being screeched for Fran to mince in, or for Alex to run up declaring, âI'm so sorry to have been parted from you, my darling. God, these awful bores, they just won't leave me alone. Come, let me ravish you in the gazebo, you amazing raunch-puppet.' Maybe then I could find out what a gazebo was.
âSo, did you come down from Scotland?' This remark was pointless before it came out of my mouth, judging from the kilt. Actually, I was dying to ask why he and the lovely Fraser clearly didn't get on, and why they had fallen out, but looking at his face as he failed to hide his disbelief at the idiocy of my remark, I decided against it.
âYes. Yes, I did.'
We dabbled, excruciatingly, in the myriad available modes of transport from Scotland to London, before lapsing, once more, into an uncompanionable silence. Finally, I decided that Tears in Toilet beat this hands down and, preparing to make my exit, I laid down my last small-talk tool:
âSo, what do you think about your big brother and little âmanda then?'
Suddenly he faced me full on and, for the first time, managed to look cold and cross without going red. His eyes were a very bright blue. Out of nowhere he said, âI think he's being a twat. And I'm sorry, but I think your friend is a witch. Excuse me.'
I really looked at him then. So much for party chitchat.
âCare to elaborate?' I asked, in what I hoped was a
casually wry manner, and not the kind of thing middle-aged women said when their husbands announced they were having an affair.
âShe treats our mother like a skivvy, she treats Fraser like dirt, she treats that bloody title like a cure for cancer, and she wants to re-do the old place like some fucking King's Road bam-pot house. So, I apologize, but I'm not quite in the mood to meet her pals. Excuse me.'
And with that he stomped off, deserting me! Bloody hell, what a pig.
Secretly, I was quite impressed. It was kind of true. Amanda was a witch. Fraser was being a twat. But even so! There was I, trying to be nice to the poor bloke, who obviously didn't know anyone. He'd hardly needed to be so rude as to march off at the first opportunity. He could have at least waited for me to do so first. I stared after him, then examined the chandelier very hard in case anyone thought I was staring at someone who'd just walked away from me as opposed to doing some hearty chandelier-spotting.
Well, at least there were deliciously expensive hors d'oeuvres. I stuffed my face and wished I'd brought a magazine â I could almost enjoy myself.
Alex's group were by now completely plastered and utterly hysterical over nothing â well, not nothing, something about a chap called Biffy and an imaginatively cruel PE teacher â but, to be honest, I couldn't follow the details. Alex slung a drunken arm round me and hollered, âTotty!' I pretended to laugh and inadvertently caught Fraser's brother's eye. The look
on his face plainly showed that he thought we were all a big bunch of wankers. Over in one corner I could see Joan, Amanda's distinctly tipsy mother, pawing Alex's old flatmate, Charlie, who was clearly drunk himself but doing his best to reciprocate. It was not a pretty sight.
The speeches came and went as a welcome distraction, because everyone had to be quiet, and not just me. Fraser was eloquent, Amanda fluttered and blushed attractively. Then Amanda's dad said something, but God knows what â it was lost in the car crash of his new-posh and Estuary vowels. And then they brought on an Irish samba band, which was apparently the latest thing on the snooty party circuit. There was a mass screeching noise as three hundred people who could all ride horses scrambled for the dance floor. I decided to feign illness.
I sat down and tried to look pale and a bit brave, hoping someone would come up and ask me what was wrong and I could complain of feeling faint and not wanting to ruin anyone's night, thus drawing lots of sympathetic attention to myself. I was sitting there for quite some time until â AT LAST! â Alex came up to me when the crowd had dispersed on to the dance floor, and grabbed me under the arms.
âHaving a good time, pumpkin pie chicken thing?'
I struggled to escape. âMm hmm â¦'
He ignored this blatant message of despair and started to tickle me.
âCome on, come dance with me.'
Perhaps the evening could be salvaged after all.
However, my image of a romantic smoochy dance-floor show of togetherness in which I could show everyone (well, that poxy brother of Fraser's) what a successful character I was lasted about two seconds, till I remembered that Alex was one of the world's all-time worst dancers. He counted out the beat, wrongly, while bouncing from foot to foot. Not only this, but he was so pissed that he got distracted and forgot who he was dancing with, so that he was bouncing around the room like Tigger before he takes his medicine, while I was left bopping along on my own, like a girl in a Human League video. I checked the clock and it was only midnight.
Cursing the fact that I didn't go with the feeling ill thing twenty minutes ago when I could still have caught the tube, I leaned over and, gently but firmly, grabbed Alex's attention.
âI'm going home.' I smiled sweetly.
It was impossible to hear a damn thing.
âI'M GOING HOME! I'M HAVING A SHIT TIME AND I'M GOING HOME!' I hollered, exactly as the music stopped, and everyone turned around to play âSpot the Harpy'. I flinched, tried a half-hearted grin, and decided to scram.
âThanks, Amanda, it was wonderful, lovely to chat, speak to you soon, bye!' For once, I was the one doing my socializing on the run.
Heading out the door, an extremely puzzled and drunk Alex staggering behind me, I practically bumped into Fraser, who'd been saying goodnight to guests.
He looked at me for a second, quizzically. Fuck it. I wasn't going to remind him yet again how insignificant I'd been in his life.
Alex scrunched warily ahead down the gravel drive. Of course, the pre-booked taxis wouldn't turn up for hours yet, so it was a mile-long walk down the drive, then out into fucking Fulham to try and catch a black cab on a wet Saturday night just after pub chucking-out time.
âMelanie?' I heard behind me as I stomped off.
I turned round. He was wearing the same kilt as Angus, but with a less porcine effect, and his curly hair had fallen over his eyes from dancing. I resisted the urge to run up and give him a huge hug and rub him painfully on the head to show him how pleased I was to see him again.
âHi,' I said, coolly. âEhm â¦ great party.'
âI suppose. Yes. Yes, it was. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you on the phone.'
So, bring it up again whydoncha
âOh, no, I didn't recognize you either,' I stuttered.
That's why I shouted out
âWell, I suppose it's been a while.'
âYes, it has.'
âSo, I'll see you around then.'
The beautiful grounds were quiet. Silhouetted against the big house, taller but less of the long streak of piss he used to be, Fraser looked both extremely familiar and, now, extremely foreign to me.
âNo doubt.' Scintillating.
âC'mon, darling!' hollered Alex, sounding a bit worried. I smiled weakly at Fraser and followed him down the path. After being hustled out of the building, he wasn't sure whether or not he'd done anything wrong â and neither was I. After all, who was I cross at? Him? His friends? My parents, for not being better off? My parents' distant ancestors, for not being friends with the king? I could see his fuddled brain trying to work it out. Fortunately, he plumped for the former, to be on the safe side.
âAre you OK?'
I had to work out my strategy quickly. What I wanted to say was:
âNo, I hate your friends because they're all horrible to me. Well, they're not even horrible, they just ignore me because I didn't go to the right school and have a crap name, so actually I'm jealous more than actual dislike, but I don't like it, waaaaaaah.'
Being an independent nineties girl with her own opinions, though, what I actually said was:
âYes, gorgeous, I just couldn't wait to get you home â I had to get you out of there somehow.' And I added a girlish giggle for effect.
As the blazing golden lights of the illuminated mansion dimmed behind the trees and I looked at my big, strong, placated, slightly wobbly man, I felt better again.
We spent a wonderful Sunday morning in bed the next day, ânursing' his hangover. Then â after he saw
I wasn't too interested in dissecting what a fantastic night it had been, âparticularly the bit when Barfield stuck the napkin up his arse, ha ha ha!' â he went out to see his mates.
I lolled around with the papers all day.
Back late, he barged in loudly, waking Linda, probably, and certainly me. After bouncing around the kitchen looking for something to eat (I never seemed to have any food in the house after my first week of being a show-off chef, so God knows what he found, although Linda was looking, if anything, even more fucked off these days, so it might have been that. You'd think she'd like having a man around the house â God knows, I did), he came in, sat on the end of the bed, kissed me squarely on the nose and announced, âHey, guess what! I've found a flat! Or rather, I've found my old flat â Charlie's forgiven me and I'm moving back in with him!'
I sat up. I hadn't rationally thought about it, but now he'd told me, I realized that I had planned our future out, after all, in my head. We would go find a room together somewhere nice, and eventually get our own place, once he had this music company job. Or we would both stay where we were â Linda wouldn't mind. Perhaps she'd even move out â oh no, she couldn't, it was her flat. Either way, I hadn't seen us being apart so soon, nor the decision so gleefully made on his part. Despite it being only two weeks, waking up next to him every day already felt a necessity of my life, something I didn't want to do without.
âErmm, great!' I said casually. âSo, is Charlie still
living in â¦?' As if Charlie and I had had tons of in-depth chats about our personal lives.
âFulham, yeah. It's a great flat.'
âBut it's bloody miles away! And it's in West London â¦ you hate West London!'
âWell, I can't stay here pestering you for ever, can I?'
Actually, that's exactly what I'd been planning on.
I pouted prettily, in what I hoped was an appealing manner. âI wouldn't mind.'
He looked at me and ruffled my hair again. But not as enthusiastically as before.
âIt'll be fine. You're still my favourite pumpkin, aren't you?' I was. We dived under the bedsheets. End of matter. Well, apart from when I got up to get a glass of water at three o'clock in the morning and found myself inexplicably staring at my reflection in the kitchen window and starting to cry. I went back to bed and tried to forget all about it, clinging on to him in the night.
Fran popped by on Monday evening before we went to the pub.
âEnjoy the party then?'
âHa ha. You were missed.'
âYes, only by you and Alex's ghastly mate Charlie, who seems to think that because I didn't go to public school he has God-given leave to put his hand on my arse every time he's pissed.'
âAh, well, there's good news about Charlie â¦'
I told her everything. All I needed her to say was, âMel, just because he's moving out doesn't mean he doesn't love you. He's getting his own space together, that's all, so that wherever you do end up, you'll have chosen it yourself and everything will be absolutely fine.'