Authors: Sophie Ranald
with a View
A Groom With a View © Sophie Ranald 2014
All rights reserved in all media. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical (including but not limited to: the internet, photocopying, recoding or by any information storage and retrieval system), without prior permission in writing from the author and/or publisher.
The moral right of Sophie Ranald as the author of the work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For my wonderful friends at STBC,
the drinking group with a book problem
Table of Contents
From: [email protected]
Subject: Last night of freedom
Just a quick one to say all the best on your last day as a single man. If your stag night was anything to go by, tomorrow is going to be one hell of a party! See you at noon – I’ll keep my hip flask handy and resist finishing the contents until my ushering duties are over. Shout if you need anything. Hope you get some kip tonight.
I don’t remember very much about the night it happened, because we were a bit pissed. That sounds so bad, doesn’t it? I know a proposal’s meant to be right up there in the high points of a girl’s life, along with the wedding it leads to, but there you have it – I was wankered and so was Nick. And neither of us can clearly remember, even now, exactly when he demanded to make an honest woman of me, popped the question, went down on one knee (actually, that was when he tripped up the stairs coming out of the Tube station), or asked for my hand in marriage.
Nick loves to quote some rock god idol of his who apparently once said, after some or other shameful rock god antics on stage at a gig, that everyone, from time to time, behaves badly and everyone, from time to time, gets drunk. I’m afraid that was us at Iain and Katharine’s wedding. Okay, there were no screaming groupies involved and no mic stand to wave around in a manner contrary to all health and safety guidelines, but we worked with what we had. We behaved as badly as we could have, really, considering it was your typical civilised London wedding.
Iain is Nick’s former business partner, and the two of them used to play in a band together before they got respectable and started a graphic design agency, and although they certainly didn’t set the world on fire, they were quite well thought of at one stage, opening for Snow Patrol back in 2004 (admittedly only at a tiny gig in a pub in Bournemouth, but still). Since then, Iain’s gone via more respectable to extremely respectable – the old Iain, with his waist-length hair and squat in Dalston, wouldn’t have stood a chance with Katharine; the new one, with his designer suits and penthouse in Shoreditch, married her.
In all the years I’d known him, Iain had never been single. First there were groupies who he’d take to bed, take to his gigs, then invariably cheat on and be dumped by amid screaming rows. Later there were work experience girls who he’d dazzle with expense-account lunches at Itsu, sleep with and then part from with some relief when their three-week stint at the agency ended. Then, about three years ago, Katharine came on the scene. She’s the marketing manager at Brightside.com, a toe-curlingly stylish interiors e-tailer that’s one of the agency’s biggest clients. I’m not sure if it was fear of losing the account or fear of losing Katharine, but Iain seemed to clean up his act and stop shagging around, and in due course he proposed. I liked Katharine – she was sweet and a bit kooky but had a will of iron and an impressive ability to get what she wanted.
Anyway, the point is that there was no expense spared at Iain and Katharine’s wedding. They hired the ballroom at The Mortimer. They had gulls’ egg canapés with gold leaf stuck to them. I overheard two girls talking in the ladies’ saying the flowers cost six thousand pounds, but they must have been joking, because of course no one spends that on flowers for a wedding. Do they?
There were two hundred of the bride and groom’s closest friends there, some of whom were Nick’s and my old mates from school and from the Deathly Hush days. And there was free-flowing Krug and lethal cinnamon mojitos (Nick had five. I counted). It was a bloody brilliant day, and by the time Nick and I sprinted for the last Jubilee Line train home, making it with seconds to spare, we were, as I’ve said, a bit the worse for wear.
“That was so cool,” I said, lifting my hair and fanning my sweating neck.
“Wicked,” agreed Nick, swaying slightly, out of synch with the motion of the train. “We’re never going to do it, right?”
Nick and I have always said marriage isn’t for us. When we first got together, when I was only sixteen, we said it was because we didn’t want to do anything that would make us in any way at all like our parents. Then when we got together the second time, Nick said that marriage was a bourgeois construct aimed at commodifying women and entrenching Judeo-Christian morality, and I agreed vehemently (then went off and googled what all that meant). Then after a few more years together, we’d bought our first flat and Nick had had his thirtieth birthday and we were fine as we were. Even if our relationship wasn’t perfect, what relationship is? We were happy and settled we saw no reason to change anything. We weren’t into soppiness and romance. We thought what we had worked just fine.
So all our friends had more or less given up asking, “Are you two going to be next?” at every single one of the weddings we’d been to that summer (and there had been lots; last time I counted I had seventeen hats).
“No chance,” I said to Nick, as the train pulled out of Southwark, sending him lurching off balance again. “Not a hovering batfuck.”
He grinned at me and I grinned back, and we moved together and had a proper full-on snog on the train, in front of everybody, until some teenagers shouted at us to get a room, and the sudden, jerking stop at Bermondsey almost sent us flying. We snogged some more on the escalator, and again when we stepped out of the station and the hot September night hit us like a sponge, and again when I stopped to take off my shoes because my toes felt like they were bleeding.
By the time we got upstairs to the flat, I was dizzy with desire for him. You know what it’s like, if you’ve been with someone for ages. Some days the only conversation you have is a one-liner about whose turn it is to take out the bins. There are weeks when you don’t have any physical contact more meaningful than a kiss goodbye in the morning and the warmth of their back against yours at night. And then there are times when you’re knocked sideways by lust, like Nick and I were that night.
Of course, he is absolutely gorgeous. Properly hot – but I’ve got so used to seeing him every day that sometimes I just don’t notice. That night, though, I was devouring the sight of him like someone on the 5:2 diet slavering at the window of Greggs. His dark hair is slightly wavy and always shiny and, back in his lead-guitarist days when he had it long, was considerably nicer looking than my own. His steely grey eyes still manage to be warm and smiley even though their colour is cold as a winter sky. Deep dimples press into his cheeks when he smiles his special, wicked grin that’s just for me. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, and his legs are all muscly from running.
It sounds like I’m showing off. I don’t mean to. I’m not some model-gorgeous stunner who automatically assumes she’ll get the best-looking guy, I’m just averagely pretty, if you don’t mind short girls, so it amazes me that I was able to pull Nick in the first place, let alone be his girlfriend for more than a decade. So that night I was truly swept away by how lucky I was to have him, and by the knowledge that he wanted me as much as I wanted him.
We ran up the stairs to our flat together, holding hands, and tumbled into the hallway, and Nick swept my hat off and whizzed it like a frisbee on to the kitchen table (he’s always had impressive aim). We didn’t even make it as far as the living room before he’d unzipped my dress and let it fall to the floor in a puddle of silvery satin. And you’ll appreciate the intensity of the moment when I tell you that I didn’t even consider saying, “That’s Anglomania! I need to hang it up or Spanx will sleep on it!” like I normally would.
(Spanx is our ginger cat. We couldn’t decide what to call him when we first got him, and we were in the middle of a heated argument about it when he came trotting into the room with a pair of my suck-it-all-in knickers, which he’d retrieved from the washing basket, in his mouth. And that settled it.)
Soon Nick’s jacket had joined my dress on the floor and we were both gasping with desire and laughter, our hands and mouths all over each other’s bodies. Nick and I have been together for ages, as I said, and you know how you sort of get into a routine? Not this time. This was filthy. At one point he. . . but that’s too much information. I will say that we fell off the sofa, which made us laugh so much I could hardly breathe, and then we went upstairs to bed and service, as they say, resumed. It was totally amazing, the way sex sometimes is when you’ve had a lot to drink and have no inhibitions left to speak of.
And that’s pretty much all I can remember. I suppose there must have been a moment – maybe when I was on top of him, my hair falling in a tangle over his face, his hands gripping my waist; maybe when we were lying together afterwards, sweaty and sated – when one of us said it. Or perhaps it was more of a team effort – I quite like to imagine that.
Me: You know, I bloody love you.
Him: You’re not too shabby either, Pip.
Me: Iain and Katharine looked really happy today.
Him: They did. You know, you don’t make me suicidally miserable either.
Me: I know what you mean. Some days, being with you is almost bearable.
Him: So this marriage malarkey. . .
Me: Maybe it’s not actually. . .
Him: Such a bad idea. . .
Me: So should we. . .?
Him: So will you. . .?
Kind of like that. You get the idea. Spontaneous. A sort of joint proposal. But unfortunately I can’t say for sure what happened, because I genuinely don’t remember a thing about that night beyond our tumble off the sofa and stumble up the stairs, and the rush of love and pleasure flooding over me.
What I do remember is waking up the next day with about as awful a hangover as I’ve ever had in my life, cuddling up to Nick’s warm bare back for comfort and kissing his neck, and him saying sleepily, “Did what I think happened last night really happen, Pippa?”
And me saying, “Oh fuck, I’m going to be sick,” and legging it to the bathroom just in time.
Like I said, that’s Nick and me. A right pair of old romantics.
Foolishly, I’d arranged to meet Callie that day for breakfast and I was already late, so I didn’t have time to question Nick further about what had or hadn’t taken place between us the previous night. I showered at top speed, left my hair to dry on its own (even though I knew it would mean my head would look like the aftermath of an explosion in a cotton wool factory by lunchtime), dragged on a pair of jeans and went out, bashing out a quick text to Callie as I ran to the bus stop to tell her I’d be there in half an hour.
I don’t see Callie as much as I used to, nor as much as I’d like to, but she’s still my best friend. We grew up together, after all. It was Callie who punched Lauren Davidson in the nose for bullying me when we were eight, and then was made to sit in the corner, and her parents got called in for a meeting with the Head. It was Callie who showed me how to paint my nails when we were eleven, and to whom I owe my current shamefully excessive nail enamel collection (last count: one hundred and seventy-two colours, plus base and top coats, and my nails still look shite. I’ve learned that having nail polishes sat in a drawer doesn’t do anything to improve the appearance of your nails – you have to actually use them. But still I keep buying them). It was Callie who I told when I got my first period and when I lost my virginity.
So even though there’d been a weird distance creeping in between us recently, I wanted Callie to be the first person I told about Nick’s non-proposal, and not even the most vicious hangover would have stopped me taking advantage of her being in London, for some conference about legal aid that was starting the next day. I was really excited about seeing her, especially as she’d be on her own, without her flatmate Phoebe. Phoebe’s lovely and a proper good laugh, but recently it had seemed a bit like every time I arranged to see Callie, she was there too, and sometimes I felt a bit left out. So I was glad to have Callie to myself for once.
Callie was already waiting when I arrived at the café I’d chosen, a former greasy spoon that had recently chi-chi’d itself up and started describing the weekend fry-up as ‘brunch’. Even though it was Sunday, she was wearing tailored trousers and a white shirt and her blonde hair was perfectly straightened.
“What’s up?” I said, once I’d ordered a sorely needed Diet Coke. “How’s work? How’s Southampton? How’s Phoebe? How’s Phoebe’s dad?”
It always comes as a surprise to people who were at school with Callie and me that, rather than moving to London and setting the world of law alight with her brilliance, she chose to stay in the town where we grew up, working in a small high-street practice and learning to draw up wills and sort house purchases and defend people in court when they fail to abate a smoking chimney, and whatever else solicitors in small firms do.
“Work’s great,” Callie said. “Really good. One of the senior partners, Jeremy Gardner, who’s been there so long his office chair is practically welded to his flesh, has finally decided to retire. Which means there might be a vacancy for a junior partner. Which means. . .” She crossed her fingers.
“Callie, that’s fantastic news! Really great! When will you find out?”
“Hopefully early next year, but I’m not going to get excited about it until I know for sure. Phoebs is fine,” she went on. “Her dad’s not. So no change there.”
“Poor Phoebe,” I said. “It’s utterly shit for her. Having to be a part-time carer is tough anyway, but how much tougher must it be when the person you’re caring for is vile Vernon?”
At first I’d felt really sorry for Phoebe’s dad, because being in constant pain must be an awful thing. But then I began to realise that his pain seemed to mysteriously get worse whenever Phoebe was planning something she was looking forward to, or was under lots of pressure at work, or had just finished being under lots of pressure at work and was planning to spend a weekend vegging in front of the telly. I actually went so far as to google the condition she told us he had. I forget its name now but it’s some distant and horrible member of the arthritis family, and I learned that it was one of those things that are meant to get better the more active you are. As far as I could tell, the only form of physical activity Vernon practised was pressing the keys of his mobile to summon Phoebe and her mum to do his bidding.