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Authors: Cate Kendall

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Chanel Sweethearts (6 page)

BOOK: Chanel Sweethearts
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10

Tori tapped at the screen door. She was holding a bottle of pink moscato in one hand, and a platter of antipasto in the other.

‘Yum,' Jess said as she opened the door and took the wine. ‘I love a guest who comes prepared.'

‘Well, I figure you must get sick of everyone expecting you to be the queen of catering all the time, so I thought we'd break into some of my Christmas stash a bit early,' Tori replied as she made herself at home on a stool at Jess's broad kitchen bench. ‘Oooh, looks like you've been busy here. What are you making?' she asked.

‘Oh, it's just something I was putting together for the boys,' Jess said, picking up the scrapbook she'd been working on. ‘It's photos of us all together, and captions so the boys can remember their country life,' she said, flipping the pages. ‘Look, that's last Christmas at Rainbow and Songbird's: Nick dressed up as Santa and gave out lollies to all the kids.' She laughed at the memory.

‘This is gorgeous, sweetheart, they'll love it,' Tori said, poring over the thick cardboard book with its handwritten captions, dozens of photos and bright borders. ‘Do you think you might be able to give it to them in person?' she asked, closing the book and passing it back to Jess.

‘I doubt it,' Jess answered sadly. ‘I rang Graham again last night, but he still won't even return my calls.'

‘Bastard,' Tori spat. ‘Oh thanks, love,' as she took the glass of pink bubbly from Jessica.

‘I agree.' Jess took a gulp of her wine. ‘Ooh, this is lovely,' she said. ‘Now tell me what's going on with you, girl. I haven't been able to stop thinking about you all afternoon.' She indicated the pile of paper, photos, scissors and glue scattered across the bench. ‘You talk and I'll clean; I've been on a bit of a roll tonight.'

Tori picked at the sun-dried tomatoes on the platter before her. ‘Okay,' she finally said and sighed deeply. ‘It's Joseph and me. It's ... ah ... well, I think we're in trouble.'

Jess's arms were heaped with craft items and photo albums. She looked around for a place to set them down, taking a step one way and then another before finally dumping them back on the bench and walking over to embrace her friend.

‘Shit, Tori, when you said serious I had no idea you meant seriously serious.' She sat on the stool next to her and looked into Tori's face with concern. ‘What happened?' she asked.

‘It's just come to an end. I am so frustrated with everything; we both are. We can't seem to be together without screaming at each other. And worst of all is ... well, I don't even think I love him anymore. And I doubt he has any feelings left for me either.'

‘Oh hell. Since when?' Jess asked.

‘Well it's all so humiliating,' Tori paused for a mouthful of wine. ‘It seems to stem from money troubles, embarrassingly enough. I mean, could it be any more clichéd and suburban?' Her eyes swam with tears.

‘I just can't believe it, sweetheart,' Jess sympathised, rubbing Tori's arm. ‘You guys have always been so great together.'

‘I know,' she wailed. ‘But now he's constantly hassling me about spending, and it's not as if I buy every designer bag that comes out, I'm really quite restrained, you know,' her eyes widened at the injustice of it all. ‘Although I did just buy this fabulous Chanel bag last month in LA when I took the children to Disneyland; isn't it to die for?' She dropped the bag back onto the sofa in defeat.

‘Our relationship has just become so stale and awful, there's nothing but squabbles. And with everyone talking about this stupid economic crisis – well, it's just too boring, isn't it?'

‘Have you tried counselling?' Jessica asked and moved to retrieve the wine from the fridge.

‘He's suggested it a few times, but I figure why bother? It's not going to help. I don't know if I even want to work on the relationship. I just don't know what to do. Please don't tell anyone.'

‘Of course not,' Jess promised, topping up both their glasses.

‘You know what? I really don't want to talk about it any more, it's so hideous,' Tori said.

‘No worries,' Jessica said, ‘but I'm here whenever you need me, okay?'

‘Thanks, love,' Tori nodded, plucking a slice of baked eggplant from the platter. ‘And I'm sorry for dumping all this on you. You have enough relationship angst of your own to deal with.'

Jess went back to sorting out her scrapbooking supplies. ‘That's okay, sweetie, your stuff doesn't make mine any harder; we all have things to deal with.' She screwed the lid tightly onto her glue pot. ‘Sometimes I just wish I hadn't been so sucked in by him, you know, but then I think that at least by trusting him I got those wonderful years with Liam and Callum.' She sighed. ‘I can't decide what would have been worse; never having them to begin with, or losing them the way I have.'

‘Darling, it's an impossible situation and there's really no point thinking about all the what-ifs,' Tori counselled.

‘I know you're right,' Jess said as she screwed up scrap paper and threw it in the recycling bin. ‘He was such a phoney, you know,' she said suddenly. ‘That's what it was. He was such a good salesman as a wine rep that it spilled over to his private life. He would do or say anything to get his own way.'

‘Oh, for sure,' Tori said. ‘Like when he told Nick he barracked for St Kilda and managed to get him around to work all day during last year's finals when Nick had origin ally said no.'

‘Yeah, that's right. I was so surprised about that. I couldn't work out why Nick wasn't going to the game. But he said, “Anything for a Saints fan.” Then when I told him that Graham was a Kiwi who didn't even follow AFL he just stormed off. He never returned another of Graham's calls.'

‘Wow, what a dog.' Tori shook her head.

‘Come on, let's go and sit out on the deck,' Jessica suggested. ‘It's a beautiful night.'

Outside a blanket of stars sparkled from above and a gentle breeze flirted with the gums. ‘Here, this'll keep you warm,' Jess said and threw a mohair rug to Tori, who slipped it around her shoulders.

They settled into the outdoor furniture with their drinks, the snacks on a table between them, and Jess continued her story.

‘It wasn't as if there was one big moment where everything fell apart between us, you know; it was more like a whole lot of little things that slowly eroded our relationship.'

‘I know absolutely what you mean,' Tori replied. She pulled the rug closer around her. ‘It's like there's just a long horrible rumbling of nastiness.'

‘Exactly,' Jessica nodded, tucking her feet under her body. ‘But I was so in love with the boys that Graham sort of faded out of the picture. The boys and I were a team. Perhaps that's why he left, maybe he felt excluded from our little group.'

‘Not at all, you all had fun together, I saw it,' Tori protested. ‘You guys did all the picnics and camping and stuff that any other family does. But Graham was never bloody happy, was he? He was always grumpy about something.'

Jess slapped at a mosquito that was humming around her legs. ‘You know, I reckon he has a real nasty streak – well, in fact I've discovered just how nasty in the past year, but back then I'd only see it every now and then. He would occasionally tease the boys, but not good-naturedly, you know, almost like he enjoyed upsetting them.'

‘Really, how do you mean?' Tori replied. She sat upright with surprise.

‘Oh, nothing abusive or anything, just things like saying, in a sing-song manner, “Liam's got a girlfriend,” and you know how sensitive little Liam is, he
hated
it. He'd beg his dad to stop until he was in tears. But Graham kept doing it. Sometimes he acted just like an annoying little brother, not a father at all.'

‘That's just plain strange,' Tori said.

‘Yeah, I know,' Jess said ‘Hey, this marinated capsicum is gorgeous. Where'd you get it from? It might even be better than mine.'

Tori threw her head back with laughter. ‘That's because it is yours, darling! I had the store send me some up for the season and I threw it on the platter with some other bits from The Essential Ingredient.'

Jess cracked up with laughter. ‘Thank God I didn't say it was awful then,' she cried. ‘Oh god, that feels good,' she said and wiped tears from her cheeks. ‘It's nice to laugh.'

‘We both need it,' Tori said, raising her glass. ‘It's been a tough year.'

‘It sure has,' Jess said. Her laughter turned to seriousness again. ‘I tried so hard to make it work with Graham. I wish it hadn't ended, especially not the way it did. It was so ugly, so cruel.'

‘The man is a creep,' Tori said, patting Jess's knee.

‘You're right,' Jessica admitted, ‘and he got worse so subtly, so slowly that I barely noticed. It crept up on me until suddenly I looked at him one day and thought, I don't even like you. But the boys made it worth putting up with his crap; well, to a point anyway. I always thought if we broke up I'd have joint custody of the boys.'

‘Yeah, what's up with that?' Tori asked. ‘No joy there at all?'

‘The lawyers tell me I can't fight for the kids. I was just a girlfriend in the eye of the law as we didn't
officially
live together.'

‘That's insane! He and his kids lived in your house for more than three years! You housed him! He owes you rent at least.'

‘But there's no proof of that, can you believe it? He owned, and still owns, a house in Williamstown that he'd been renting out for cash – he's so dodgy – so he told the courts that it had always been his principal place of residence. We never had any formal documentation about rent or mortgage or anything. I'm such an idiot,' she said as she put her head in her hands.

‘No, not an idiot; just trusting and too generous – beautiful traits,' said Tori, grabbing her friend by the hand.

‘I've spent a fortune on lawyers but apparently the only option is to keep the relationship civil and appeal to him as a human being and try to make arrangements to see the boys privately, which I don't see happening any time soon. He's doing his best to just delete me from their lives, like I never existed.' Her face creased with pain. ‘I get to speak to them once a month when their Aunty Samantha has them for the afternoon, so that's a blessing. But it breaks my heart when Liam cries and asks why he can't see me anymore. It's almost not worth it.'

‘And there's nothing you can do?'

‘Believe me,' Jess said, staring at the endless stars twinkling above, ‘I have been through this so many times. If there was I would have done it by now.'

11

The car parks were full. The shops were teeming with well-groomed families in Country Road weekend wear. The main street was choked with flashy four-wheel drives and shiny European sports cars, and basic provisions were dwindling in the shops. The townies were back.

The township of Stumpy Gully was groaning under the weight of its tripled summer population. The summer holidays had begun and the city had emptied a good chunk of its population into the small towns dotted around the picturesque coast.

The visitors were easy to spot: their riding boots were shiny and dust-free, their Driza-Bones were unfaded and their children used hair products to keep their complicated styles in place.

The city ladies breezed up and down the main street placing orders with the bakery, butcher and florist to stock up for their holiday break. Their manicures were immaculate, designer sun glasses held back well-coiffed locks, and their designer weekend wear was clearly monogrammed with the appropriate designers; Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and even Burberry gumboots.

‘Dahling-how-are-yous' echoed through the car park as the visitors joyfully ran into other holiday-makers they'd seen only a few days before in the big smoke.

The locals rolled their eyes and swapped amused smiles as the city dwellers played at country life, singing out happily to each other in the shops:

‘You must pop into the estate: I'm whipping up a pomegranate tart.'

‘Do come to the property: we've had the gardener put in the most divine Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden.'

‘We've had the living room done in French Provincial with a dash of Shabby Chic, it's just too
Country Life!'

The shopkeepers stored up their favourite overheard quotes and shared them among themselves after hours.

Jess often felt torn between her friendships with the locals and the visitors; it was a tricky balance at times. This morning a throng of townies was at her store and she was dividing her time between work and sharing a coffee with Tori.

‘So, what's on for this New Year's festivities?' Tori asked her as she scanned the menu.

‘Sorted, darling!' A voice from above their heads boomed.

‘Cat!' the two women exclaimed and stood to greet the new arrival with a round of air kisses and compliments. Cat heaved her bottom onto a chair and groaned in relief at taking the weight off her feet.

‘Fi's doing a masquerade ball on her estate New Year's Eve. And I'm bringing in the nanny army for the children at mine.'

‘Fantastic,' Jessica said. ‘Sounds like heaps of fun!'

‘Yep, the fun's at Fi's and the kids are at Cat's,' Cat boomed with laughter at her play on words. ‘Cap, lovey, and don't spare the full cream!' she boomed over the heads of the patrons to the busy barista. ‘Fi's actually on her way in now; she's out in the car park trying to negotiate a space for that beastly truck of hers.'

‘Oh, she didn't buy the Hummer, did she?' Tori asked with a look of distaste. ‘They're so, I don't know ... pedestrian.'

‘How can a car be pedestrian, you goose?' Cat replied. ‘Yes, bloody great barge of a thing: she's already taken out the front bumper. On my stone gate post, no less. The gate survived, thank Christ. A small nick just improves the rural look of the entrance. Can't say that about her entrance though.' Cat indicated the front door as Fi stood holding it open for her four small boys. They barrelled in mid-wrestle, mid-argument and mid-squeal.

Fi stood with a tight grin on her face before following the rabble inside. She was wearing a long, sixties-inspired maxidress. Bony shoulders and clavicle poked past the spaghetti straps. Teetering cork espadrilles and a wide paisley headband completed the vintage look; her long blonde hair was highlighted to perfection.

Fi deftly dispatched the four boys to the kids' table, slapped orange juices in front of them and ordered four toasted sandwiches, all within ten seconds.

No wonder she was so thin, Jessica noted. If that woman even found time to go to the loo, let alone eat, it would be a miracle. Fi and her second husband, Anthony, had planned their first two boys, but the third unplanned pregnancy resulted in a pair of wild twin boys, which, when combined with Fi's two daughters from her first marriage, Missy and Gracie, meant the woman was run off her feet constantly. Yet she was the type to revel in the challenge – always working on a new charity committee, function or project – which was why it came as no surprise to anyone that she had volunteered to host the New Year's Eve function at her place.

‘Girls, mwah,' she moued in the general direction of the table. She even shorthanded air kisses, Jess thought.

‘It's on, at my place, huge masquerade ball. Everyone's coming. Harley, put that down. You must do the decorating, Jess – Tom, take that out of your ear this instant. Tori, you look great. Latte please. Did Cat tell you she's having the kids at hers?'

‘Just starting to, lovey, before your family hurricane blew in.'

‘It'll be brilliant. Tell them.' Fi downed her latte the second it was placed in front of her before a child-related event could prevent her ingesting the caffeine. It was probably why she never bothered ordering food, Jess thought: there was no chance she'd get to eat it. Even the laid-back Jess was on edge when she spent too much time in Fi's company.

Cat raised her speaking volume a few notches to compete with the cacophony from the children's table. ‘We're turning the old stables into bunk rooms. We've got a jumping castle, a kiddie band, the local foodies are catering all the nibbly bits–'

Fi leaned forward to interrupt. ‘And the best thing is Gracie's school friend is doing a nanny course and is bringing a truckload of trainee nannies down with her to supervise the entire shebang. It'll be like school camp. But with X-Box.'

‘See, it'll be great!' Cat said.

‘Fab,' Fi agreed. ‘Hugh, pick that up. Tom, put that down. Must be off: they're turning.' She downed the glass of water in front of her and stood, swinging her Prada sac over her slight frame and collecting her charges as they darted left and right to avoid her grasp. ‘Honestly, it's like herding cats. Get in the car you little monkeys.' With Fendi shades firmly in place, she eventually left and the entire cafe breathed a sigh of relief.

‘Crazy!' Cat's booming tone soon disrupted the silence.

BOOK: Chanel Sweethearts
5.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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