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Authors: Radhika Sanghani

Not That Easy

BOOK: Not That Easy
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ALSO BY RADHIKA SANGHANI

Virgin

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2015 by Radhika Sanghani.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® and the “B” design are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-16923-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Sanghani, Radhika.

Not that easy / Radhika Sanghani.—Berkley trade paperback edition.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-425-27642-6

I. Title.

PR6119.A569N68 2015

823'.92—dc23

2015022840

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley trade paperback edition / November 2015

Cover design by Rita Frangie

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Version_1

To anyone who has ever felt like their life is a total mess

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I feel so lucky to have so many amazing people in my life. Thank you so much to all of you for supporting me—that's my parents, my wonderful friends, and the best friend I've ever had.

Thanks to all of you for helping me work through the “second-book doubts” and reminding me why I write. It means so much to me when you tell me how you snorted out loud on the train reading my first drafts and that you can relate to Ellie's problems—that's all I can ask for from my readers.

On that note, thank you so much to all the people out there who loved
Virgin
. I LOVE getting your messages about how much you enjoyed Ellie's story, and I love hearing your own stories—keep 'em coming.

And of course, thanks again to my amazing agent, Madeleine Milburn, who made all of this happen, and to my editors for all their hard work, and for always believing in Ellie.

1

“Ellie, you're single. You should take the single room.”

I stared at Will in shock. He couldn't be serious.

“The rest of us are all seeing people so we need the double bedrooms,” he continued.

“Please tell me you're kidding,” I said slowly.

Will stood up tall and went straight into accountant mode. “I'm not trying to be a dick,” he said diplomatically. “I just think it makes sense for us three to take the big rooms because Emma is with Sergio, Ollie is with Yomi and I'm with Cheng. You're single so you should have this room. Logically, you don't need the double bed.”

I looked around the tiny room at the others. Emma was shuffling awkwardly on her black-wedged heels and avoiding eye contact with me while Ollie was inspecting the laminated floorboards. He ran his hand over his short bleached hair and blinked at me innocently with his bright blue eyes. I forgave him immediately.

“It won't be that bad, you can pay slightly less rent,” said Will.

He was serious. He was actually serious. I stared at Emma and Ollie again, waiting for them to stick up for me.

Ten seconds later, I was still waiting.

This was a trap. A coup de whatever in my own bloody home. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I cried out.

Will's tweezed eyebrows settled themselves into a familiar frown and he crossed his arms.

“Emma?” I demanded as I turned to face her. “Do you agree with Will? Are you a part of this blatant singleism now?”

She shook her short blonde hair. “No, of course not, babe, but, I do kind of really need a double bedroom. Serge will stay here loads and he's six foot six, El. I don't think he'll fit in a single bed.”

I gave her a withering look before turning to Ollie. “Ollie? What about you?” I asked, hoping my eyes looked more doe-eyed than rabid.

“Ah, I'm really sorry, Ellie,” he said, “it's just that Yomi will stay with me whenever she's down visiting me from uni in Bristol.”

I sighed. Of course the perfect almost-doctor girlfriend was going to visit him whenever she had time off from saving people's lives.

“Come on, Ellie, it's the easiest option,” said Will with a look of faux sympathy on his annoyingly symmetrical face. “If you had a boyfriend it would be different, but you don't really need all that extra space. If you're worried about wardrobe space we can all give you sections in ours, can't we?”

Emma nodded fervently. “Of course! You can put whatever you want in my room and borrow my stuff whenever. Even my thigh-high leather boots.”

Oh God. Was this actually happening? Were my friends really consigning me to the single bed and a life of singledom? Even my BFF Emma was siding with them and slowly losing the second
F
from her acronym.

I had to try to stop this or I would die alone in my child-sized bed.

“I cannot
believe
this,” I finally spluttered. “You can't just
relegate the smallest room in the house to me like I'm some kind of unwanted spinster aunt. I'm part of this household too, and we're going to live together the whole year—I'm not staying in this shoebox the entire time.”

“I guess we could switch halfway?” Ollie offered. “I mean, I dunno if I could, but maybe you could, Will? You're not in a serious relationship with Cheng, are you? If you split up maybe you could swap with Ellie?”

“Whoah,” I said, holding up my left hand. “Firstly, stop talking as though I have agreed to taking the smallest room because I haven't, and secondly, Will. What the fuck—Cheng isn't even your boyfriend?”

Will looked uneasy. “We're not exclusive,” he admitted, “but we do spend most nights together. And, if I'm not with him, let's face it, I'm shagging someone else. I need the double for when I bring guys home.”

“But what if I want to bring someone home?” I asked.

He snorted and Emma suppressed a laugh. The cow.

“Ellie, I love you,” said Will, “but after hanging out with you a fair bit this summer, I think I can safely say you're not the kind of girl to bring a guy home.”

“That's so unfair!” I cried. “Just because I didn't sleep with any strangers over the summer doesn't mean I never will.”

He raised the perfectly arched eyebrows at me. “Ellie, have you ever even had a one-night stand?”

I flushed and felt my face heating up. This was a very sore topic. I couldn't lie because I'd sworn to stop covering up the truth about my—limited, very limited—sexual history, and besides, Emma knew everything anyway. If I lied she'd just think I was pathetic.

“Fine,” I growled. “I have never had a one-night stand, but if you give me this shitty little room, I never will.”

“You could go back to theirs,” suggested Ollie.

“What?” I asked in exasperation. “How is this even a conversation? I am twenty-two years old. I am clearly capable of casual sex and, if I want to do it, I will. I'm not taking this room on the basis of being single because that is . . .”

Shit, what was it?

“That is outright discrimination,” I declared. “We live in a democracy and we're . . . we're going to pick names out of a hat.”

“Ellie, stop acting so childish, we can reach an agreement like adults,” said Will.

“I dunno, it seems fair to me,” said Ollie. I flashed him a look of utter gratitude. “Shall we just do rock, paper, scissors?”

“Meh, fuck it,” said Emma, shrugging her shoulders and sticking her right hand out into the air above the bed.

On the other corner of the bed, Will rolled his eyes and stuck his fist out. Ollie did the same and, from the one remaining corner, I placed my trembling arm out so our hands met in a charged square.

I had to win this. If I wanted to live the life of a young professional graduate in London I needed the right setting. I couldn't go on dates if I didn't have anywhere to bring them back to.

“Okay, on the count of three,” said Ollie. “One . . .”

Please, Julius Caesar, help me out here
, I prayed to my own personal hero. God had never really done it for me—which broke my Greek Orthodox mother's heart—but the Roman conqueror had helped me out once before, and he could do it again.

“Two . . .”

Oh shit, I had to pick one. Um . . . rock. The strongest one. Caesar would pick the strongest.

“Three.”

There were two rocks and two pieces of paper in front of us.

Will scowled at me. “Okay, Ellie, it's between you and me now,” he said, as Emma whooped with joy and Ollie high-fived her. It
was fine. I hadn't actually lost. Caesar had helped me out. The rock was clearly a keeper. I would play it again.

“I'll count,” offered Ollie.

Will and I faced each other across the bed and I stood with my legs wide open. This was it. Roman luck was on my side; I could squash this Gallic peasant.

“One . . . two . . . three.”

My pale rock lay in the shadow of a triumphant palm paper. Will grinned smugly at me. Bollocks. Just like my hero I'd forgotten the cunning of Brutus's betrayal.
Et tu,
Brutus.

“I knew you would go for a rock again, Ellie,” said Will. “You're so predictable.”

My face dropped and Emma reached out across the bed to squeeze my limp fist. My Ides of March had begun.

•   •   •

I looked around my room. I'd covered the bed in a floral bedspread, and hung scarves from the ceiling to give it an Aladdin's cave vibe. There were fairy lights around the window, and photos of me, Emma and Lara taped onto the walls. If I stood on the bed, I could touch all four walls and reach pretty much any item in the room.

The bed, for lack of other options, was pushed up against the non-double-glazed window. It meant condensation was slowly dripping onto my throw pillows. I sighed. Throughout my three years of university I'd lived in halls of residence and constantly dreamed about living in a proper flatshare with friends. This was not what I'd expected. A room of my own it may be, but I bet even Virginia Woolf would be seriously unimpressed with it.

“Nooo, get off me!” squealed a high-pitched voice.

I thumped the wall behind me with my fist.

“Nope, not me,” called Ollie from behind the wall.

I rolled my eyes and stood on my bed to hit the ceiling.

I could hear suppressed giggles before Cheng yelled, “Sorry. We'll keep it down.”

Will's low voice murmured something and then the squealing came back. I sighed and collapsed back onto my bed. We'd only been living here for forty-eight hours but I—quite literally—knew the ins and outs of Will and Cheng's relationship. Thanks to the shitty plaster walls I also knew every loving word Ollie said to Yomi whenever she was visiting. The only person whose relationship I couldn't overhear was Emma's because her room was down the hall, but she told me every detail about her sex life with Sergio every time we hung out anyway.

As fun as it was living in the youngest—and cheapest—part of London, I had never felt more single. I opened my laptop and logged on to Facebook to see how great everyone else's lives were now that we had graduated.

Kara was back in a relationship with Tom and working for a publishing company. Belgian Marie seemed to have five boyfriends who all looked like varying versions of Burberry models, and my arch-nemesis Hannah Fielding was working as a writer for
Tatler
. Ugh, she was even tagged in a picture with Kate Moss. That was just so bloody typical.

I looked around my tiny room where the mold was growing over the landlord's cheap paint, and I felt an urge to start crying. Instead, I decided to tech-harm.

I reached out slowly for my iPhone, knowing I would regret what I was about to do. I tapped open the screen and, feeling preemptively sick, opened up Instagram. The sepia-filtered world burst into life and I scrolled down the feed to see photos of my uni friends dating beautiful people, working for high-powered companies and sunbathing on the rooftop of Shoreditch House in white bikinis
with retro sunglasses. I could feel self-pitying tears pricking my eyelids when the door burst open.

“Ellie, we're having a major crisis,” gasped Will. He was standing in my doorway wearing red boxers patterned with blue trains. Were those mini Thomas the Tank Engines? I craned my head forward. “Stop staring at my penis and help me,” he snapped.

“Oh, right, sorry. What's up?”

“No one in the house has any lube,” he declared.

I snorted. “Oh right, and you think
me
, the single flatmate with the single bedroom, is going to be the one to help you out with that?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Please, I'm not that deluded. But I just wondered if you have any more of that Aussie miracle conditioner you use?”

I stared at him. “Um, no? I need to go to the supermarket. Why do you want to wash your hair now anyway?”

“It's not going on my hair, babe. At least, not for the hair you can see.” He smirked.

“I literally have no clue what you're talking—OH MY GOD. You want to use my £4.49 conditioner for lube?!”

“Well, that's what I've been using for the past week until you ran out. You don't mind, do you?” he asked.

“Yes, I bloody mind!” I cried. “I can't believe that's why I've had to buy double the amount I normally buy. I thought I just had really . . . knotty hair lately,” I finished lamely.

He rolled his eyes at me. “I'll go and ask Emma.” His Thomas the Tank Engine boxers retreated down the hallway until he paused to face me.

“Hey, were you crying?” he asked.

“No, course not,” I cried. “Why would you think that?”

“You have Facebook open on your computer and Instagram on your phone. You only do that when you're miserable, Ellie.”

“Will, you've lived with me for less than a week and have only
known me for a few months. That doesn't mean anything,” I replied tartly.

“How about the fact you have mascara running down your face then?”

Bugger.

“Oh, fuck off, Will,” I yelled as he laughed and walked off.

I pulled the duvet over me. I felt as single as my bed. It wasn't that I wanted a boyfriend per se, it was more that everyone else was so ahead of me in the romantic—well, sexual—stages of life. Hell, they were shagging with conditioner while I was stalking them on Instagram.

The problem was that everyone I'd grown up with had lost their virginities aged fifteen to seventeen. At school, all my girlfriends had gone out with the boys at the school next door and, after a year of climbing up the bases, they'd eventually “done it.”

But because I was the frizzy-haired Greek girl with thick eyebrows and ill-fitting jeans, no one had been particularly interested. My only sexual encounter during my school years happened when I was seventeen and it was so bad that my friends nicknamed it “The Bite Job.” So, while I was still recovering from the humiliation of biting James Martell's penis, they were sharing sex stories in the sixth-form common room. Even my best and oldest friend Lara had gotten involved.

It was worse at uni. By then, everyone had already had a couple of relationships, peppering the gaps with drunken one-night stands and the odd inappropriate fling. They carried on shagging throughout uni, boasting about it in drinking games. As always, I either had to listen with a fake smile on my face or—the less awkward option—make up a sexual past of my own. Because I'd been a virgin until the ripe old age of twenty-one.

It wasn't out of choice. All I'd wanted to do was break my hymen, but no one vaguely attractive had offered. In my final year of uni, I'd been so desperate to lose my V-plates that when freckly, twenty-six-year-old graphic designer Jack Brown asked me out, I
practically threw myself at him. He didn't protest and, after a few dates, he deflowered me. I thought my happiness would never end.

BOOK: Not That Easy
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