Authors: Celia Hayes
DON'T MARRY THOMAS CLARK
Thomas Clark is a wealthy aristocrat. Sandy Price is from an ordinary family. They grew up spending their summer holidays on the same country estate, but Sandy couldn't stand Thomas and he hasn't crossed her mind since she was a kid and made herself a promise that she would never, ever marry him.
Years later, an unexpected turn of events brings him back into her lifeâwhether she likes it or not. When Thomas's grandfather dies, his will is opened, and Thomas is faced with a shocking announcement...his grandfather has left him everything, but only on the condition that he settles down and gets married. And who to? The very same Sandy Price! Thomas must find a way to make this happen, otherwise the entire estate will go to charity.
Sandy is unemployed and trying to renovate a bistro with some friends. But at the last moment the bank withdraws its offer of a loan. So, when she receives a call from Thomas offering her an attractive proposal, she has no choice but to accept...
Canterbury, 22 August, 2002
It's here â today is the last day of the holidays. We were supposed to spend another week at Garden House, but Dad has been called back to Cork because of work and mum doesn't want to leave him alone with the washing machine.
Weather permitting, we leave tomorrow morning.
The idea of going back to boarding school early should make me sad, but I think I've taken it much better than everyone imagined. Poor things, they didn't know quite how to tell me. At dinner they just babbled on, trying to soften the blow, while I tried to work out what was actually going on, hoping that all their agitation hadn't been caused by the recent discovery of the contents of my piggy bank. Just try to imagine my parents' faces when they finally managed to come out with the dramatic revelation and saw me breathe a sigh of relief and race off to my room to pack my suitcases. Did you hear that? Me, packing suitcases! Me, who'd quite happily carry my stuff around in a sack if I could, just to avoid wasting half a day finding a way to fit my panties into my case without it bursting open unexpectedly.
I know, it wasn't very nice of me to welcome the news so enthusiastically, not in front of our hosts, butâ¦ I just can't wait to leave. I swear, this is the last time that I'm going to let my parents drag me to Canterbury. It's not that the place is unpleasant â far from it. There's no way you could get bored on the Clark estate. Sir Roger has a magnificent stables, there's a huge pool next to the greenhouse and two days ago they even opened a new tennis court. It would be a brilliant place to spend the summer, if it weren't for the constant, annoying presence of the count's grandson. Yes, him again â Thomas Clark. My personal nightmare. And once again, he's spent the summer tormenting me. Him and his friend, that brain-dead Robby-lapdog-Cooper. The worst thing is that I can't avoid him. I have to follow him about wherever he goes, unless I'd rather sit through the âMy Degenerate Daughter!' show on Channel Desperate Mum every time I decide to think for myself.
I really don't understand how he manages to fool everyone. If you ask them, they just go into
over that flipping snotty penguin.
He's perfect. Worse, he is perfect and untouchable. Gentle, friendly, good-looking, athletic, rich, intelligent, studious, a lover of literature, the apple of the eye of any mother in the neighbourhood who's in search of a son-in-law, and he even does volunteer work for good causes.
Annoying, in a word. Massively annoying. Because the only reason he does all this is so he can gloat about his superiority. Don't believe me? OK, I'll give you an example: late afternoon, my mother comes home after a trip into town carrying a shopping bag or a parcel, or some other thing she is perfectly capable of coping with. And what does His Excellency do? He makes sure that I'm within sight and am ignoring, unaware of or simply indifferent to the situation and then, boom!, off he trots to ask her if she needs help with all the desperate urgency of a Friend of the Earth looking at a whale trapped in an oil slick. End result? âDon't worry.' âOh it's no worry.' âOh, you shouldn't have.' âIt's my pleasure,' and then the inevitable finale: the realization by both of us that my petulant progenitor will now spend the entire evening moaning about
lack of manners.
Not enough for you? OK, another example. Ever heard of adolescence? No, I didn't choose the word at random. That magical collection of acne, hormones and early dalliances with alcohol that everybody calls the best years of their lives, just to underline the gloomy desolation that follows. Well everybody I know of seems to understand what it is. I live with it, my mother battles it, my father ignores it â but him? No, not him! He went straight from infant school to the geriatric ward in a single chronological leap. I mean, let's be serious â has anyone ever heard of a teenager on holiday who goes to bed at ten and gets up every morning at six? No. And that's what I need to make everyone understand: it's genetically impossible! The explanation? There's only one, and it's glaringly obvious: the diabolical creature who sleeps in the room next to mine inflicts two months of sleep deprivation upon himself just to show everyone that I'm hardly able to crawl out of bed before teatime. And you know what the worst thing is? That
the only one who sees it.
Yes, me. It's like a Greek tragedy. They're all blind. Can that really be possible? Yes, it can. However much I go on about it, they just don't see the evil schemer that lurks behind those pleasant smiles.
On top of that, he
makes a mistake â nobody
catches him out. But I'm not falling for it. No way! I know him too well. No, absolutely not. I am
going to end up joining the Thomas Clark fan club. Yes, you heard me rightâ¦ he actually has a fan club! How many of them are there? Twenty? Thirty? They move in packs, swooning at the very sight of him. Jenny has turned into one of them. And to think, I thought she was clever! She's gone now, we've lost her. She spends all her time drooling over him and covering whole pages and pages of her diary with stuff like âJenny 4 Thomas Clark,' âThomas I love you,' âJenny + Thomas 4ever.' Practically her only aspiration is to marry Thomas and spend the rest of her days with him.
Well I'm going to dedicate a couple of lines to the question myself.
I hereby declare that I will
marry Thomas Clark â not even if he were the last man left on the planet. Not even to preserve the human species from extinction. I will
marry Thomas Clark.
There, I've written it. Phewâ¦
I've got to go now, they're calling me down to dinner. His nibs isn't here tonight, thank God. For once I can enjoy the potatoes without having to worry about where I put my elbows!
Ten years later, in a charming chapel in the verdant county of Kent, with a wave of his chubby hand, Father Declan declaims solemnly, âDo you, Sandy Price, take as your lawfully wedded husband present here, Thomas Clark, to love, honour and obey, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, till death do you part?'
Silence falls among those present, and an inopportune cough echoes from the back rows. All eyes are on her, and it feels as though her answer is anything but certain.
But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. We'd better go back a few months, to the 13
of May, 2012, shortly after the death of Sir Roger Aaron Clark, who has passed away at the ripe old age of eighty-seven.
âIf we'd all like to sit down,' suggests Cameron Hill, pointing to the desk.
Everything feels preordained, each gesture part of a script that has already been written. We are in his office. His little kingdom. A room furnished in an old-fashioned way on the second floor of an elegant building in the City. The heart of London's bustling economy, the Square Mile, the oldest and yet most modern part of town. A few steps from The Gherkin overlooking Waterloo Bridge, this precious property is the fruit of all his sacrifices. He started off when he was still a kid, doing paperwork for good old Bones at three quid an hour, and today, almost twenty years later, his company can boast the most illustrious clientele in the country.
âPlease, Thomas, after youâ¦' mutters one of those present, in the direction of the youngest.
A profound sense of exhaustion is audible in his voice. If for Mr. Hill this meeting is the culmination of a brilliant career, for the rest of them it is simply the epilogue of a melancholy farewell. Among the few guests are Rupert Evans, professor of applied physics, retired, William Owen, faithful family butler of the Clark family and Thomas Clark, only grandson of the deceased. Gathered around the table to hear the last will and testament of Sir Roger Aaron Clark, they accept the notary's invitation in silence and move in unison toward the chairs.
Cameron waits until they are seated, then takes out a sealed envelope containing his notes and prepares to open it. Inside is the final will and testament of one of the nation's most valuable assets, but there's no sign of anxiety in the eyes of the heirs. They are certain it will all be left to the boy, except for a nice golden handshake for William to ensure a prosperous old age after many years of distinguished service.
Rupert, a long-time friend of the count, is the only one who is ignorant of why he has been invited. âPerhaps Roger has decided to give me a couple of old books from his collection?' he has been wondering more or less since he entered the lift of the building. At that moment, the notary calls in his secretary to ask her not to put any calls through which might interrupt them. He's a skinny little chap, elegantly dressed, with round glasses, buck teeth and a gaunt face. It's almost impossible to determine his age, but his attachment to his work is immediately visible from the manic, repetitive, almost obsessive way he tidies up his sheets, pens and folders.
âSoâ¦' he begins, clearing his throat with a cough. âI, the undersigned, Sir Roger Aaron Clark, born in Canterbury on February 3, 1925, being in full possession of my faculties, do hereby cancel and revoke any previous arrangement and name as heirs to my heritage Thomas Clark, Rupert Evans and William Owen.'