Authors: Alexandra Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance
‘Ahh, that’s nice to hear, but I don’t know, Sam. All I know is that a retail expert, Maxine somebody or another, has been brought in to conduct some kind of review. I’ve got a meeting with her on Tuesday, so I’ll guess I’ll find out more then.’ A trickle of panic starts. I try and shake the feeling off, desperate to keep an open mind.
‘Maybe you’ll get a promotion, you never know,’ she says gently, and I know that she’s only trying to make me feel better.
‘Perhaps,’ I say wryly. The feeling of panic lurches up again. What if I really do lose my job? Everything I’ve worked so hard for could disappear overnight. I don’t even have any savings – nothing to fall back on – and my credit cards are all maxed out. And then there are the loans …
‘Well, let’s not worry about it until it happens, and I don’t for a minute think it will. Now, will you tell me if you like this please?’ she says, handing me a miniature heart-shaped sparkly pinkberry cake. ‘It’s a new recipe I’m trying out for Valentine’s Day.’
‘Mmm, it’s divine,’ I say, after taking a bite. I manage to put a smile on my face, although I can’t help thinking that it’s OK for Sam – she’s never been poor, or even had to struggle, how can she ever know what it really feels like? ‘Will we still be friends if I lose my job and end up in some dingy dump surviving on Super Noodles?’ I ask, trying to lighten the mood, but remembering the early days when I left care, I relied so heavily on overdrafts, even paying by cheque for groceries, just to buy me an extra few days until payday when the same horrible cycle would start all over again.
‘Don’t be so dramatic. You know that’s never going to happen. People don’t just lose their job, you know, unless the company they work for goes bust or they’ve done something really bad, and then it’s usually their own fault …’ Sam’s face drops when she realises what she’s said. ‘Oh Georgie, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.’ She tries to grab my hand, but I quickly pull it away.
‘Like what?’ is all I can muster. I lean back in the seat. My mind leaps back to the hideous day at school when I was summoned to Miss Braintree’s office and ordered to pack up my things. I was on the next train home and in the local school playground the following morning in my ill-fitting second-hand uniform, being slapped around for ‘talking posh’.
‘Well, you know. That business with your dad,’ Sam whispers the word ‘dad’.
‘But I’m not my dad, I’m me. I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?’ I know I’m shouting, but the feeling is mounting. I’ve worked twice as hard to prove I’m not like him.
‘No. Of course not. Georgie, honestly, everything will be OK, really it will. You’re my best friend and always will be because you’re funny, kind, really brave given what you’ve been through, smart … even if you do have a tendency to put two and two together and come up with five on occasion.’ She smiles kindly. ‘Look, try not to panic. You’re going to be fine.’ Sam leans forward to stroke my arm and I feel tears stinging my eyes. I swallow hard and silently pray that she’s right. ‘But if you’re really worried then you must cover every eventuality. Why don’t you look for another job, just in case?’ There’s silence while I take in what Sam has said.
‘The thought has crossed my mind, but what if Maxine finds out? I don’t want her thinking I’m disloyal to Carrington’s or lacking in confidence over my position here.’
‘She won’t. Not if I talk to Dad, discreetly,’ Sam suggests. I think of Alfie, her lovely father. During those lonely years at Nanny Jean’s I would fantasise that Alfie would come and rescue me. He had even contacted social services and said I could live with him and Sam, but they had not allowed me to as he travels too much and Sam was looked after by a nanny in the school holidays after her interior designer mum ran off to LA with a rock-star client when Sam was just a baby. Said I needed stability.
‘Oh Sam, but isn’t that cheating?’
‘Don’t be daft. You’ve already proved yourself. It’s not like you’re looking for something you haven’t already worked hard for. Let me call him, it can’t do any harm,’ she pleads.
‘I’m not sure. Anyway, I’m a sales assistant not an estate agent.’
‘Oh, everybody does it. It’s not just
you know these days, but
you know as well. And besides, you’ll just be selling houses instead of handbags. Is simples,’ she grins.
I guess it won’t do any harm to ask him, to have a backup just in case, but promise me you’ll be discreet,’ I say, reluctantly. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
t’s been ages since I’ve had a good night out, so after the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve had this week, I intend to make the most of tonight, Sam’s birthday.
After The Heff’s announcement, the mood at work has been subdued. I managed to find out that we all have meetings with Maxine next week, but nobody knows more than that, not even James, and we still don’t know anything about Tom, or what he’s going to be doing. Even Eddie has been very down, although he’s the only one who knows for definite that his job is safe. Mind you, he’s in a major strop now that his workload has doubled since Maxine got The Heff to agree to him working for her as well. Apparently, her old PA left to work somewhere else, the day before Maxine came to Carrington’s, and they haven’t managed to find a replacement yet. Cost cutting, she calls it, but Eddie reckons it’s his punishment for calling her a ‘tapeworm host’.
So after enduring the sweaty huddle on the bus journey from work to Sam’s palatial clifftop house, where I cursed every second for economising on the cost of a taxi fare, I press the intercom on her sunshine-yellow front door.
As the buzzer sounds I push the door open and a delicious aroma tempts my nostrils. I’m starving, in a way that feels like my stomach has given up expecting food and actually started eating itself from the inside out.
Ceeeelebration time, come on
,’ Sam sings, as she comes dancing down the hallway to meet me. She’s got a cocktail sloshing precariously around in her left hand, whilst her right hand is busy keeping an enormous turbaned white towel about her head. ‘Oh, are you OK? You look a bit frazzled.’ She stops singing.
‘Yeah, I’m fine. Packed bus with the windows jammed shut and the fan heaters pumped up to max … it was like being in a sauna with all your clothes on,’ I say, dumping my bag on the floor.
‘Ew.’ Sam places the cocktail on the hall table and gives me a hug. ‘Well, you’re here now. Come in and say hello to Dad, he’s just leaving.’
Alfie appears, wearing a soft grey cashmere V-neck over a pale pink shirt. He smells of his usual Aramis and has the same blond hair and twinkly blue eyes as Sam.
‘Georgie! How are you, sweetheart?’ he says, stepping forward and enveloping me in a huge bear hug.
‘Dad, be careful,’ Sam yells. ‘You’re practically crushing her.’
‘Don’t be silly. Everyone loves a big hug now and again.’ Alfie releases me and takes a step back.
‘I’m good thanks,’ I say, not wanting to get into what’s happening at work and spoil the evening before it’s even started.
‘I’m pleased to hear it, and I have to say you’re looking mighty fine these days, young lady.’ Alfie looks me up and down before smiling appreciatively.
, stop flirting.’ Sam gives Alfie a gentle nudge and we all laugh.
‘Well, I better be off. Leave you two girls to it. Samantha’s such a bore when she gets going,’ he winks at me.
‘Love you too, Daddy,’ Sam teases.
‘Here, have a good night.’ Alfie pulls a roll of £20 notes from his pocket. ‘And make sure you take taxis. No walking the streets.’
‘Oh Dad, put it away,’ Sam says, waving a hand.
‘I insist.’ He splits the notes in two. ‘Here.’ He hands half to me and half to Sam. ‘And no arguments. From either of you,’ he says, pretending to be stern as he wags his index finger between us both. I glance at Sam, feeling a bit awkward and waiting for her cue as Alfie presses the notes into my hand.
‘OK. If you insist.’ Sam grins at me as she reaches up to give Alfie a kiss.
‘Thank you,’ I say, knowing from previous experience there’s absolutely no point in arguing with Alfie. I was sixteen when he first tried to give me money one Christmas. I refused, of course, only to find it inside my coat pocket when it was time to return to Nanny Jean’s. I hid it inside a book in my locker at school, and later used it to buy a duvet when I moved to the bedsit.
‘My pleasure. Have fun girls,’ Alfie says, pulling the door open.
Once we’ve finished waving goodbye and Alfie’s roared off in his Aston Martin, I reach inside my handbag, pull out a little gift bag and swing it in front of Sam. Her eyes light up like a child’s. I’m so pleased I could get it for her.
‘Happy Birthday lovely.’ I lean forward, and give her a big birthday kiss on each cheek. She peers into the bag.
‘Thank you honey.’ She lifts out the box. As she opens it she lets out a little squeal.
‘It’s gorgeous, how did you know that I’ve always wanted one of these?’ she says, holding the rainbow crystal Shamballa bracelet against her wrist.
‘Lucky guess. Or maybe it was the trillion hints you’ve been dropping.’ I can’t help teasing her. She’s like a big kid when it comes to birthdays, and not just her own. On my last birthday, she thoroughly spoilt me with a weekend in Barcelona that she had meant to be a surprise, but that she just couldn’t resist telling me about beforehand.
‘Was it really that many times? I’m so sorry, how boring,’ she says, handing me the cocktail. I take the mini rose-pink macaroon from the side of the glass and take a bite before quickly slurping a big mouthful of liquid through the silver bendy straw as we walk along the hallway and into the kitchen.
‘Mmm, what’s in this? It’s heavenly,’ I say, my mouth full of the luscious concoction.
‘It’s a secret recipe. Do you like it?’
‘Like it? I love it.’ I laugh, letting the liquid linger in my mouth. ‘I’m ravenous. I’ve only had a Wispa since breakfast time.’
‘There’s a lasagne in the oven if you want some, with no garlic in it of course. Just in case you pull. I’m determined to find you a Valentine’s date,’ Sam says, with a cheeky grin as I swing myself up onto the granite-topped breakfast bar and kick off my wedges.
‘Oh go on then, just a little bit though, not one of your monster helpings,’ I reply, hoping she ignores my half-hearted instruction. Sam is a fantastic cook. The year she spent at the culinary school in Paris was definitely worth it, even if she didn’t think so at the time. She spent months begging Alfie to let her go on a round-the-world cruise instead, but he was having none of it; said if she was serious about cooking then she needed to learn properly, luckily for me and my rumbling tummy.
‘Don’t tell me, another diet. Georgie, why do you bother? You know they don’t work.
I bet Wispas aren’t allowed.’ She snorts at me with disapproval. It’s OK for her, she’s one of those lucky people who really can eat whatever they want and stay slim.
‘Well, I lost six pounds doing
No Carbs Before Marbs
,’ I say, swinging my legs and flexing my crumpled toes.
‘So why are you doing another diet then? It’s not like you even need to lose weight. I’d love to have your gorgeous hourglass figure. Very Marilyn Monroe. Oooh, it’s the bombshell, isn’t it?’
‘Maybe,’ I smile coyly.
‘Well I hope so. And are you are all set for tonight? Nathan said he’ll see us there … with a few friends,’ Sam says, quickly changing the subject.
‘What did I say about trying to fix me up?’ I ask, pretending to be cross.
‘I don’t know, couldn’t hear … remember?’ Sam replies, flippantly.
‘Well I hope his friends are an improvement on the last batch of that – whatever his name was – guy you were seeing before Nathan.’
‘Trust me, if they have a fraction of the hotness that Nathan exudes, then you’ll have no complaint, that’s for sure.’
‘Cor, I’m not sure I can wait.’ We both laugh. I already feel more cheerful, looking forward to a good evening out. ‘And thanks for picking up my dress for tonight. I can’t believe I forgot to bring it with me this morning.’ I’d been in such a mad rush when I got up that I dashed out with only my shoes, make-up and Velcro rollers, so I had to make a mercy call to Sam and plead with her to bomb over to my flat on the other side of town.
‘No problem. That’s what BFFs are for. Follow me.’ I grab the bowl of lasagne from the worktop and take a forkful – it tastes divine. I then follow Sam as she runs off into her baby-blue-coloured dressing room with Sylvester, her chubby cat named after his striking resemblance to the cartoon version, springing along behind her.
As I enter the room I see Sam standing by one of her wardrobes. She’s beaming.
‘This is your gown for this evening, madam,’ she says, sounding like a camp fashion stylist. My gaze follows her outstretched arm towards the wardrobe door as she flings it open to reveal a vintage halter-neck investment dress hanging on the inside of the door.
‘Where did you find this?’ I ask, running my hand down the silky material.
‘In the back of your wardrobe, screwed up in a ball. It still had the price tag on it. Honestly, this dress is gorgeous,’ Sam says, indignantly.
‘Oh Sam, you shouldn’t have. I can’t wear it, I’ll never get into it,’ I whine, with trepidation, as the memory of trying to squeeze into it comes flooding back. ‘Besides, it’ll smell all musty, won’t it, having been scrunched up in the wardrobe for years,’ I add, panic mounting at the thought of wedging my curvy bits into the ultra-clingy dress.
‘I got it cleaned for you. So don’t worry about that.’ Sam waves her hand dismissively.
‘But where’s my dress? The one I planned to wear tonight? It was hanging on the back of the bathroom door,’ I say. ‘So I wouldn’t forget it,’ I then add, lamely.
‘Oh, that old rag. Trust me, this dress is
’ she says, in her best
voice, as she gestures her hand in a circular movement over the front of the dress. ‘Just try it … with this miracle suit thing.’ And she pulls a surgical-looking square of Lycra from behind her back and dangles it in front of me. Grabbing the pork-chop-coloured monstrosity from her, I scrutinise it. I think it is what is laughably called a ‘body-shaper’. It’s minuscule but I decide to give it a go. I don’t have much choice, unless I want to go clubbing in my black top and trouser work combo, complete with Carrington’s name badge, the pin of which has bent somehow, making it impossible to remove.