I don't own LWD, as ever. I am appropriately apologetic for not updating in two weeks. I've had Dasey withdrawal symptoms and reviewer withdrawal symptoms all mixed up, so am personally very happy to be back, even with this teaser. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter Three – Shopping with the Enemy
We're done finally. Derek's wife has tried on every dress in the store (over the price of three hundred dollars, because cheap material brings her out in a rash, her nanny once told her when she was six, and she's believed it ever since). I've stood at the entrance to a sequence of perfumed changing rooms, fiddling with my cell phone, chewing the ends of my twisted hair, sickening more with each bite. No one has called to save me from this trite little drama of wannabe mistress watching real-life wife try on new clothes. Not a solitary soul. And why should they? Who cares or even knows, for that matter apart from the man who set it all up in the first place? But I can't think about him. Not here, and not now. The pain is just too raw.
Um. Did I just write that stuff about mistresses and wives? It must be my feet (killing me); or my mind (lost, so very lost); certainly not my heart – sobbing, writhing, but curiously refusing to die.
What I actually mean is that curiosity was the only thing that kept me breathing through those taut, surreal hours.
Because while I stood and watched, and she tried on armloads of clothes – chiffons and silks, scarves and suits, evening gowns and glamour wear, stuff I'd have gossiped about and rated with Emily but simply gawped at on her – in stores I'd walked past for ten years but never been into, she also talked and talked and talked: and I, of course, listened.
Derek this and Derek that. How he'd swept her off her feet at a music festival in Reading, England. Of all the shallow places.
Mud and tambourines and bass guitars and the sickeningly sweet patter of a devastatingly handsome man looking for a quick romance with no strings attached (was it just me, or did she leave out that last part?).
Except that this time, the invisible golden strings (Daddy's money, not a harp, unfortunately) had wound themselves tightly around my thirty-something step-brother's ankles before he was even aware of them, and were drawing him inexorably back to Daddy's Estate in Oxfordshire, to the velvet lawns and brocade cushions and the poached-eggs-for-breakfast that my Derek – the dashing, tumultuous, spoilt but irresistibly wild-hearted boy I'd honed my wit and staked my spirit upon – used to swear would make him gag.
There was even a butler in their family mansion, I gathered from her gushing recital. Fancy that. And Derek – her Derek – thought it was all totally grand. In fact, it wasn't long before she knew, just knew, that he was Mr Right. Days, rather than weeks.
How perfectly awesome, I muttered, imagining him learning to shoot pheasants with her father, and trying not to imagine what happened after dark, when they lit real fires and her parents retired to their respective bedrooms with a brandy or a cocoa but definitely with a wink in Derek's direction.
Why wasn't she promised already to some neighbouring politician? How could they have allowed an uncouth interloper like Derek Venturi – a Canadian high-school teacher on Spring break, with no money and dim prospects – to court their one and only daughter and the heir to their wealth? Why hadn't they simply run him off their property? You'd think I was jealous.
She didn't quite get to tell me the bit about when he proposed to her though, because, wounded and shrieking as my heart was, my brain was functioning enough to make me say at that point that she looked utterly smashing in a sequinned green ball gown with a slit up to the knee. As, indeed, she did, in a sort of pinched, bleached, polished way.
Distracted by this unwholesome praise, she had to look at herself in a mirror very carefully for a full half hour, and then to have it wrapped and charged to her Daddy's account, which, given that we were in Montreal, and that her accent was not immediately understood by the fresh-faced teenager at the till, took rather a long time.
After that there was lunch, which consisted of something tough and bloody, that forced her to chew very hard and take little gasping sips of champagne in between.
And then – spooky luck, this! – we just happened to be around the corner from my office and I said, 'Oops! I have a meeting that I'd forgotten all about, but since we're here, I really should go in and apologise to the team and find out what they decided about the Year Two curriculum. Why don't you come along in? It shouldn't be more than an hour.' Her look of surprise was matched only by the expression of boredom when I started to discuss with her the content of the (highly fictitious) meeting I'd been meant to attend. I lie with more verve, these days, than I did as a teenager. And it pays off.
'Leave you to it, then, Casey. But do call when you're done, darling! Here's my address.' were her parting words, as she unburdened me of her many shopping bags (cloth, paper and gilt-edged cardboard, no plebeian plastic for her) and started down the hill towards their apartment (which, it turns out, is eerily close to mine).
So here I am, hiding out in my empty faculty office, leaning back in a worn old chair near the wide open window, idly watching the dancing sunlight on the trees, the way it weaves its feathery fingers in and out, in and out between the twigs and branches, making even the best words seem too humble a description. I tap my feet on the windowsill, sniff the air. Someone, somewhere along the street, is frying pancakes. It is a homely, loving smell.
Then I sigh, several times – because, of course, there's no-one here and I have the place to myself again. And finally I unclasp the lock on that awkward, delicious caravan trip with Derek and our family that was both the undoing and the making of us. My fingers, first so restrained, then snatching wildly at his hair. The smell of rain all around our tent and the jagged silence of our long-suppressed desire. Fresh as blood.
Lack of sleep has sharpened my memory.
Next one real soon, I promise: 'Caravan Blues' with the rest of the memory. Review this, and it'll appear all the quicker!