Authors: Andy Jones
Andy Jones lives in London with his wife and two little girls. During the day he works in an advertising agency; at weekends and horribly early in the mornings, he writes
fiction. Follow Andy on twitter: @andyjonesauthor
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2015
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Copyright © Andy Jones 2015
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PB ISBN: 978-1-4711-4244-4
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-4711-4243-7
TPB ISBN: 978-1-4711-4294-9
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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How long have you been together? How did you meet?
You’re sitting at a table, fizzing with the defiant ostentation of new love (is that what it is? Is it love already?), laughing too loud and kissing more enthusiastically than is
in a quiet country pub, and someone will say,
Put her down! Get a room! You make a lovely couple
, or some variation on the theme.
You’re surreptitiously nibbling your new girlfriend’s earlobe when a voice says,
They serve crisps at the bar, you know. If you’re hungry.
You turn and apologize to
the large middle-aged lady at the adjacent table. She laughs good-naturedly, then shuffles her chair sideways so she is now sitting at your table. And here it comes . . .
, she says,
How did you two lovebirds meet?
In the last week, we must have been questioned about the particulars of our romance on half a dozen separate occasions. On other nights and afternoons we have told increasingly pale shades of
We work together
Blind date; I cut his hair; Book club.
But now, emboldened by wine and routine, Ivy leans forward and says in a conspiratorial voice:
awful; I’m best friends with his wife. But . . .
she places her hand on top of mine . . .
you’re a woman of the world, you know what it’s like. When you
The woman – ruddy-faced and emanating a warm aroma of cheese and onion – she nods, says,
Aye, well, yes, you have a nice . . . you know . . . night
, and shuffles back to her
Because the truth is, the truth is too long a story to tell a stranger in a country pub when all you want to do is finish your drink and get upstairs to your room. And anyway,
met is academic – you don’t ask how the rain began, you simply appreciate the rainbow.
People talk about chemistry, and perhaps it was – something molecular, something transmitted, something genetic. Whatever the mechanism, there was something about Ivy that immediately made
me want to
sleep with her. And what higher compliment can a scoundrel pay a lady? Not that it matters, but at the time I was going through a phase where I wasn’t looking for any
kind of commitment beyond those to personal hygiene and discretion. I had broken up with my girlfriend six months earlier, I was young, I was free, I was . . . well, let’s just say I was
being generous with my affections. Then along came Ivy with her handsome, uncontrived beauty, trailing pheromones, nonchalance and easy humour.
Not that any of that matters. What matters is that we met. And what matters most is what happens next.
It’s the last week in August and my sunburn prickles as Ivy steers the car into the street I grew up in, towards the house I came home to the day I was born.
When the radio is on Ivy sings; when it’s off she whistles, and she whistles badly. I almost recognize the tune, but can’t quite grasp it. The left side of her face is scarred from a
childhood accident – the lines are white now, but the grooves and misalignments are stark – and when she whistles the scars pinch and deepen. Whether this affects her whistling or not,
I don’t know, but if her singing is any indication, she’s simply tone deaf and entirely oblivious of the fact. We’ve been together less than three weeks so it’s a little too
early to be drawing up a list of ‘things I like most about my new girlfriend’ but if I were so inclined, Ivy’s careless tuneless whistling would be up there in the top eleven. And
whilst we’re on the subject of sequencing, it’s also a bit premature for
meet the family
. But here we are, about one minute from lift-off.
‘Brace yourself,’ I say.
Ivy turns to me: ‘Hnn?’
‘The family,’ I say. ‘They’re a bit . . . you know.’
‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘I’ve done this before. Loads of times, hundreds of times.’ And she smiles to herself.
‘Funny. Anyway, it’s not you I’m worried about.’
We round a corner and Dad’s house comes into view.
I’ve never paid attention to the way my childhood home looks; it’s been there as long as I’ve been alive and I scrutinize it no more than I do my feet – probably less.
But today, with Ivy beside me, I’m aware of its ordinariness, banality, of everything it isn’t. Victorian houses – like the one I live in in London – age improves them,
bestows character and integrity; but houses like this, built in the sixties and seventies, they age like old factory workers made ugly with time and effort and smoke and disappointment. Maybe
it’s not my sunburn prickling; perhaps it’s my inner snob. I look at Ivy and she glances back, raises her eyebrows as she pulls up in front of number 9 Rose Park.
And forget the house, wait till she gets a load of the family.
They must have been lying in wait because before Ivy has a chance to kill the engine, my father, sister, brother-in-law and twin nieces pour out of the front door. I wave, grin, mouth
‘Hiya’ through the windscreen, but no one is looking in my direction. They line up in the middle of the road, faces lit with excitement as Dad opens Ivy’s door as if she’s
some kind of dignitary. The twins, Imogen and Rosalind, are only ten years old, so I can forgive them dancing impatiently on the spot and jostling to get a better look at my girlfriend (it does
feel good to say:
), but my sister and Dad have a combined age of almost one hundred and they’re behaving like imbeciles. And then it comes to me what Ivy was whistling:
‘It Must Be Love’. She climbs out of the car and straight into a bear hug from my dad. I grimace an apology as he lifts her off her feet and Ivy either winks or winces in return –
but with her face squashed against my old man’s neck, it’s hard to tell which.
As I slip unnoticed from the car, it occurs to me that I may have misidentified Ivy’s whistling. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced it was ‘House of Fun’ or
possibly even ‘Embarrassment’. Whatever it was, it’s definitely Madness.
By the time the welcoming party gets off the road and into the house, I’ve hauled the bags out of the boot and upstairs, taken a pee, boiled a kettle and made a pot of tea.
‘Tea’s in the pot,’ I say as everyone troops into the kitchen.
‘Have we got any wine?’ asks Maria.
will be okay?’ says Dad, opening the fridge with an excruciating flourish.
‘Wow,’ says Ivy.
‘Well,’ says Dad, ‘special occasion, isn’t it. Get the glasses, son.’ And he steers Ivy into the living room.
Maria hangs back to help me rinse the dust from five champagne glasses. ‘Seems nice,’ she says, smirking.
‘She is. No Hermione?’ I say, heading off the inevitable (
what does she see in you?
) sarcasm from my big sister.
Maria wasn’t quite sixteen when she gave birth to my eldest niece. Mum had been dead less than a year, and baby Herms played a big part in our collective healing. For the first six years
of her life (until Maria met and married Hector) I was, I suppose, more like a father than an uncle to Hermione. And more than a decade later, I continue to think of her more as a daughter than a
‘Hot date,’ Maria says.
‘You’re kidding! What’s he like?’
Maria shrugs. ‘Better than the last shit-bag.’
‘That’s not hard. I was hoping she’d be here.’
‘You’re no match for new love,’ Maria says.
‘Some might beg to differ,’ I say. ‘Come on, let’s save Ivy from Dad.’
When we get through to the living room, Dad has already got the family albums out. This is the first time I have ever brought a girl – let alone a woman – home, and I guess everyone
has been waiting too long to do all the things you do in these situations. So I sip my champagne and take my humiliation like a man as they laugh at my hair, clothes and bare backside through the
ages. My girlfriend of nineteen days tilts her glass in my direction, smiles a coy smile and winks.
Both Ivy and I work in film production (commercials in my case, everything you can think of in hers), which means we are essentially freelance. For our first four days together we didn’t
leave Ivy’s flat. Nothing was explicitly said, but we seemed to arrive at a psychic agreement not to venture outdoors until it became unavoidable. Because we understood (and understood that
each other understood) that after the bubble bursts there’s no returning to the intimate stupid collusion of the First Days. When provisions ran low we drank our coffee black, picked mould
from the last of the bread and ate toast with holes. We dined on eggs and biscuits, aubergine and mayonnaise sandwiches and pasta in chicken-soup sauce. Ivy read while I watched American detective
shows on her crappy portable TV; we played Monopoly, Scrabble and Snap, and got drunk on wine then vodka and finally a bottle of semi-crystallized booze of unknown origin. We resisted anything more
practical than ordering pizza, instinctively knowing that delivery men fit the romantic script only if they drive mopeds and not supermarket lorries. The pin came in the form of a job, with Ivy
booked to work on a pop promo all day Friday. On her way to the shoot she dropped me – and a bagful of her clothes – at my flat, and we kissed goodbye with the kind of fervour normally
reserved for airports. Work took up most of the following week, but we spent every night together, sometimes meeting in a restaurant, other times in bed. On our second Saturday we packed my Fiat
126 and drove with no specific agenda or destination, spending nights in the New Forest, Cotswolds, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District. We walked, ate, drove, drank and missed breakfast every
morning. Yesterday I realized we were less than a two-hour drive from my dad’s house and I was in too good a mood not to visit. Ivy and I must have driven more than five hundred miles in the
last week – singing to the radio, Ivy feeding me M&Ms from the passenger seat, me feeding her Skittles when we switched – but there was something different on the drive here today.
I can even identify the point at which the atmosphere changed.