Home > I Owe You One(11)

I Owe You One(11)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

“Here we are.” Nicole finally stops on a photo of Ariana wearing a pink crop top and leggings, standing in an arabesque pose, holding out a big salad to the camera.

“I mean, is she exercising or cooking or what?” I say at last.

“Both,” says Nicole. “It’s her new thing. She cooks and works out all at once.”

“Right,” I say, trying not to fixate on Ariana’s white teeth and perfect rounded butt. “Well. You know. Good for her.”

As Nicole releases another ringlet, her phone bleeps and she reaches for it. “Oh,” she says, frowning at a message. “I have to go.” She puts the curling wand down and reaches for her bag. “Sorry,” she adds as an afterthought. “Julie from my yoga class is at the tube station. I said I’d meet her, because she’s never been here before.”

“You’re going now?” I say in horror. “But what about my hair?”

“I’ve started you off,” says Nicole. “You can finish it yourself.”

“No, I can’t!”

I catch my reflection in the mirror and wince. Half my head is a ringletty mass of curls. The rest is lying flat and dispirited, like a girl who hasn’t been asked to dance.

“Please finish it off,” I beg. “It won’t take long.”

“But Julie’s waiting,” says Nicole. “She’s there.”

“She could find the way, surely—”

“That’s not the point!” Nicole seems offended. “Fixie, you could be a little less selfish. My husband is halfway across the world, OK? This is a really difficult time for me.”

Her phones buzzes with a call and she lifts it to her ear. “Oh, hi, Drew,” she says irritably. “I’m in the middle of something, yeah? I’ll call you back.”

She rings off and glowers at me again. “Friendship is vital for my endorphin levels right now. And you want me to stay here and fix your hair?”

Now she puts it like that, I suddenly feel shallow.

“Sorry,” I say humbly. “I’m sure I can finish it off myself. You go.”

“Thank you,” says Nicole in pointed tones. “And blow the candles out when you leave. Otherwise, like …” She trails off in her vague way.

“I will,” I say hastily. “And thanks!”

As she heads out of the room, I pick up the wand. I wind some hair around it, trying—unsuccessfully—not to burn my fingers, then release it and stare at my hair in dismay.

I’ve made it curl backward somehow. It looks totally weird.

I try one more time—burning my fingers again—then give up. I can’t sit here struggling with a hair wand when Mum’s doing all the work. I’ll shove my hair in a clip. It’ll be fine.

I switch off the wand, blow out the candles, straighten a plaque which says, BELIEVE YOU CAN AND YOU’RE HALFWAY THERE, then leave the room. I go to my bedroom, grab one of my new hair clips, and wind my hair in a knot. I put on my shortest black dress, because Ryan once said to me, “Great legs.” I do my makeup as quickly as I can and peer at myself, trying not to think how pale and English I look compared to Ariana.

Then I hear a noise from Mum’s room and turn away from the mirror, impatient with staring at myself. Enough brooding. I’ll go and see if Mum needs any help.

Mum only has two smart dresses and she never goes shopping. (“Not for me, love.”) But she’s so slim, she can’t help looking lovely in her trusty blue linen shift and matching heels from the charity shop. She’s sitting in front of her kidney-shaped dressing table and I perch on the bed, passing makeup to her out of my makeup bag. (Mum’s had the same No. 7 palette forever, and all the good colors have worn away.)

“Tell me about the day,” she says, as she squirts foundation onto her fingers.

“Oh, it was pretty good. A couple came in this morning to stock their whole kitchen. They bought everything.”

“Excellent!” Mum’s eyes sparkle with the fire she always gets when we make a good sale.

“Only I had to get rid of Greg,” I add. “He kept asking them how often they cook at home and what they make. You know, quizzing them about risotto. He was trying to be helpful, but it freaked them out.”

“Poor Greg.” Mum shakes her head ruefully. “He does try.”

“And then Jake brought round his olive-oil people.… You know, he has all these really grand ideas, Mum,” I say, feeling a knot of tension rise. “He wants to open a branch in Notting Hill. He wants to rename the shop the Notting Hill Family Deli; can you believe it? We’re not even a deli!”

I’m expecting Mum to be as wounded by this idea as I am. But she just nods thoughtfully and says, “That’ll never happen. You know Jake. He needs his little schemes. Always has done.” She glances at me and smiles. “Don’t worry, Fixie. I’ll have a word.”

She sounds so easy and unruffled, the knot in my stomach starts to unclench. Mum is magic like that. She’s like one of those therapists who know where all the pressure points are. A word here, a hug there, and everything eases. Sitting here with her, I feel like all the threat has melted away. Our shop will never be anything but Farrs. And Jake will never get his stupid pretentious schemes past Mum.

“Ryan’s coming tonight, I hear?” says Mum, brushing shadow vaguely onto her eyelids with the air of someone who really doesn’t care how it comes out. It’s not that she can’t do makeup—she used to do mine perfectly when I competed in junior skating competitions. Eye shadow, glitter, the works. But when it’s herself, she hardly bothers.

“Yes.” I try to sound casual. “Apparently he is. I wonder what brings him to the UK.”

“Fixie, darling …” Mum hesitates, brush in hand. “Be careful. I know he hurt you last year.”

Not Mum too.

“He didn’t!” My voice shoots out before I can stop it. “God! I mean, I wasn’t hurt. We had a thing, we ended … no big deal.”

Mum looks so unconvinced, I don’t know why I bother.

“I know Ryan’s always been there in your life,” she says, applying highlighter. “And we’re all fond of him. But there are lots of other men in the world, love.”

“I know,” I say, although a voice in my brain is instantly protesting, Yes, but not like Ryan.

“He may be nice-looking,” Mum continues resolutely, “and he may be a big success in Hollywood, but when it comes to emotional matters, he’s always been a bit—” She breaks off and her face creases in thought. “Oh, love, my head’s not working. What’s the word you all use? Crumbly.”

“Crumbly?” I stare at her before it hits me. “You mean flaky?”

“Flaky!” Mum meets my eye and starts to laugh. “Yes! Flaky.”

I can’t help dissolving into giggles too, even as I’m thinking: So maybe Ryan has been a bit flaky. People change, don’t they?

“Anyway.” Clearly Mum considers the lecture over. She closes up the highlighter and surveys herself without great interest. “Will we do?”

“Mascara?” I suggest.

“Oh, love. So fiddly. I leave that for other people.”

“Hi, Fixie! Hi, Joanne!” We both turn to see Hannah standing in the doorway, wearing an amazing clingy red dress. Hannah has the most sexy wardrobe in the world, which she says compensates for having the least sexy job in the world. When she tells people what she does, they goggle at her and say, “You’re an actuary?”

“Hiya!” I go to give her a hug. “I didn’t hear the doorbell.”

“Nicole was on her way out and she let me in,” says Hannah. “There’s a few guests here too, came in with me. They’ve all arrived early to help.”

This is typical of Mum’s friends. Maybe in some circles you arrive fashionably late. In Mum’s circle, you pop along early and ask if there’s anything you can do. All the women will be rolling up their sleeves and fighting over who should carry the vol-au-vents through. All the men will be drinking beers and smoking and telling each other what a great guy Mike was.

“Tim’s on his way,” adds Hannah, and I quickly say, “Great!”

I’m always careful to sound enthusiastic when we discuss Tim. He’s a good, solid, loyal guy. He’s got the same kind of logical brain as Hannah’s. But he’s missing her empathy. He always pursues the conversation a bit too far and says tactless things without even realizing.

I’ll always remember him saying, “But, Fixie, presumably you simply didn’t revise hard enough,” when I failed an English test at school. Who talks like that? (Tim, that’s who.)

Hannah doesn’t mind, though. She says she likes the fact he’s straightforward and doesn’t play games. (I can’t actually imagine Tim playing a game, except some super-high-IQ contest in which he’d keep correcting his competitor.)

“Did you get yourself a drink, love?” says Mum to Hannah, and Hannah waves back a glass at her.

“Grapefruit juice.”

“Ah.” Mum nods wisely. We both know all about Hannah’s regime for conceiving. She and Tim have been trying for four months, and Hannah is already a total expert on maternity-leave rights, cribs, and breastfeeding counselors. She’s also read a million books on child-rearing and has decided to bring up her children as Danish-French hybrids. Apparently then they’ll be super-relaxed, stylish, and eat their vegetables. (I said once, “Why not bring them up British?” and she stared at me and said, “British?” like I was nuts.)

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