Making your mind up, p.11

Making Your Mind Up, page 11

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  “And don’t you dare throw up in my car,” Derek ordered as Jeff’s head lolled slackly against the headrest.

  “Why does he do it?” Giselle said helplessly as the car’s taillights disappeared from view. “He’s so lovely the rest of the time. When he isn’t drinking, he’s perfect. Then every couple of months he just goes off on a complete bender. It’s so stupid and pointless.”

  It was, but Freddie couldn’t bring himself to admit it. Jeff was Jeff, and he wasn’t going to be disloyal toward his best friend. Instead he said with forced cheerfulness, “He’ll be fine in the morning. Everyone has a few too many every now and again. Come on, let’s get you home.”

  They were heading back to Oxford along the deserted A34 when a fox darted into the road ahead of them. Braking violently and swerving to avoid the animal, Freddie felt the back wheel of the powerful Norton begin to slide sideways beneath him. After that it all seemed to happen in slow motion. Giselle’s arms tightened convulsively around his waist, he heard her scream as he lost control of the bike, and the next thing he knew they were careering toward a wall.

  Impact was sudden, noisy, and brutal. Giselle, catapulted off the back of the bike, landed with a sickening thud on the other side of the wall. By some miracle Freddie found himself flung sideways onto the grass verge. Pain shot through every inch of his body, but he told himself that at least he could still feel pain, which was better than not feeling it. Stumbling to his feet, he made his way dazedly over to the drystone wall and croaked, “Giselle? Are you all right?”

  Nothing. Just an eerie silence punctuated by the hiss of steam escaping from the engine of the Norton. Somehow in the pitch-dark Freddie managed to clamber over the wall into the field where she lay. Finally he heard her gasp, followed by the rustle of her stiff taffeta petticoat as she struggled to sit up.

  “Giselle! Oh God…”

  “I’m OK. I think. I landed on some rocks. My leg hurts,” Giselle whispered, her breath catching in her throat. “And my back.”

  When Freddie touched her arm, he found it sticky with blood and his heart turned over. He had almost killed the girl he loved, the girl who was engaged to be married to his closest friend. As he reached for her hand and squeezed it, he felt the tiny engagement ring digging into his clammy palm. “Oh God, what have I done?”

  “Written off Jeff’s bike by the sound of things.” Giselle murmured the words with difficulty as the ominous hissing noise intensified. “He’s not going to be thrilled with you.”

  Shortly afterward Freddie flagged down a passing motorist who took them both to the emergency room at the Radcliffe Infirmary. While they were waiting to be seen by the doctor, Giselle told Freddie over and over again that it wasn’t his fault, he hadn’t done anything wrong. With tears in his eyes, Freddie shook his head and said, “I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you.”

  The next thing he knew, right there in the middle of the emergency room, with blood trickling down her arms and her cherry-red top muddy and torn, Giselle was kissing him. When the kiss finally ended, she held his face gently between her hands, saw the long-hidden truth in his eyes, and whispered, “Oh, Freddie, don’t you see? It already has.”

  Then Giselle’s anxious parents arrived, and she introduced Freddie to them, explaining that he had swerved to avoid a fox and hadn’t been to blame for the accident. Giselle’s father, regarding Freddie grimly for several seconds, said curtly, “And where’s lover boy?”

  “He got a lift home with Derek.” Giselle’s tone was calm.

  “You mean he was off his rocker again.”

  “Yes. And I’m not going to be marrying him either.” Glancing down at the blood-spattered cluster of diamond chips on her left hand, Giselle announced, “The engagement’s off.”

  Her mother burst into tears of relief.

  “Well, thank Christ for that,” her father retorted. “He was never good enough for you.”

  Giselle gazed up at Freddie, and his heart expanded with love and the urge to protect her forever from idiots like Jeff. Then, turning to face her father, Giselle slipped her hand into Freddie’s and said simply, “No, he wasn’t. But I know a man who is.”

  That was how it had happened. Overnight Freddie’s life had changed. Having done such an excellent job of concealing his true feelings for Giselle during the course of the previous eight months, he found himself faced with the prospect of announcing them to the world in general and Jeff in particular. As they were leaving the emergency room at three thirty that morning, stitched up and bandaged like a couple of mummies, Giselle said, “I’ll tell Jeff today, OK? That it’s all over between us and from now on I’m with you.”

  Freddie didn’t like to wonder whether he was a man or a mouse, but he heard himself saying, “Or maybe we should wait a bit.”

  “Why?”

  “Well, you know.” He gestured awkwardly. “To spare Jeff’s feelings.” Plus the fact that Jeff had a famously volatile temper.

  “It’s his own fault. He’ll just have to put up with it.” Giselle had evidently made up her mind. “I’m not going to lie to him, Freddie. That’s not the kind of person I am.”

  “Right.” Freddie nodded and swallowed hard. Later that day, Jeff would find out that his fiancée had chucked him and that his beloved 1959 Norton Model 50 350 was a write-off.

  He would also discover who Giselle had left him for.

  Freddie didn’t sleep terribly well that night.

  * * *

  Jerked out of his reverie by the looming blue motorway sign announcing that the next junction was the one he needed to turn off, Freddie indicated left and pulled in behind a swaying caravan. Exeter, then Exmouth, then Jeff’s house on the road to Sandy Bay. He’d be there in thirty minutes.

  Freddie touched his nose, wondering if Jeff still packed a bone-crunching left hook.

  Chapter 17

  Lottie was having a wonderful time in the supermarket reveling in the air-conditioning and filling her cart with all manner of tempting food. The fifteen-minute drive from Hestacombe had been hot and sticky, but in the store, the air was blissfully cool. Best of all, having forgone breakfast this morning in favor of an hour of paperwork in the office before setting out, the fact that her stomach was empty and she was ravenous had rendered practically everything in the store irresistible.

  Well, apart from the cat food.

  Now, lustfully eyeing trays of just-baked croissants and pains au chocolat, she was wondering how many of each to buy—would half a dozen be enough?—when out of the corner of her eye she became aware that she was being watched. Turning, Lottie saw a man gazing at her with undisguised amusement. He was tall and rangy, wearing a faded denim shirt over baggy khaki shorts and leaning against an empty cart. His hair was surfer’s blond, his teeth white, and his bare feet shoved into a pair of battered turquoise flip-flops, yet the watch on his tanned wrist was unmistakably expensive.

  Which probably meant he was a mugger.

  Turning back, inwardly enjoying the attention, Lottie peeled open two bags and helped herself to three croissants and three…no, four…OK, five pains au chocolat. It made quite a change to see such a good-looking man in the bread section of the supermarket at eleven fifteen on a Sunday morning. Was he still looking at her? Why was his shopping cart empty? Was he waiting for his wife and kids who were busy around the corner in fruit and veg?

  Glad she was wearing her pink spindly-strapped dress and had bothered to brush her hair this morning, Lottie chucked the pastries into her cart, then super casually swung it around so she could catch the good-looking blond stranger’s eye again and maybe acknowledge his interest with a brief super casual smile of her own.

  Except he was gone; neither he nor his cart were anywhere in sight. The pair of them had vanished, which wasn’t exactly flattering. So much for getting her hopes up.

  Bugger.

 
Twenty minutes later Lottie was in the wines and spirits section engrossed in the labels on the special offers. The trouble was, the labels all tended to waffle on about fruity undertones this and refreshingly zesty that, when what you really wanted was one that said: OK, I know I’m only £2.99 but I promise I won’t be bitter or gross or strip the top layer off your teeth.

  But since none of them did say that, Lottie was in the process of narrowing them down by other methods. The one in her left hand claimed to be spicy, peppery, and red, while the one in her right hand claimed to be crisp, summery, and white. This one would probably win because it came in a cobalt-blue bottle with a pretty silver label, plus it had been reduced by an enticing £1.50, whereas the other was only down by—

  “Don’t do it,” said a voice behind her, and Lottie almost dropped both bottles. She knew at once who the voice belonged to.

  When she swung around he was shaking his head at her. “You deserve better than that.”

  “I know.” Lottie tried not to breathe too quickly, but it wasn’t so easy when your heart was going this fast. “The trouble is, my bank manager might not agree.”

  “Cheap wine is a false economy. Better one decent bottle than three nasty ones.”

  “I’ll remember that when I’ve won the lottery.” She put the blue bottle with the silver label into her cart and the other one back on the shelf. The man promptly reached past her and swapped them around.

  “And never ever buy wine because it comes in a pretty bottle.” He looked pained. “That means it’s bound to be horrendous.”

  “You’ve lost your cart,” Lottie pointed out, having observed that he was unencumbered.

  “It’s very badly trained. Should really keep it on a leash.” He put his fingers in his mouth and whistled, startling the other customers in the vicinity.

  Amused, Lottie said, “Will it come to heel?”

  “Oh, I should think so. Sooner or later, when it’s finished chasing after all the other carts…ah, see what I mean?” He tilted his head as a cart came skittering around the corner of the aisle, steered by a skinny Knightsbridge blond in a crisp blue shirt with a turned-up collar, immaculately pressed jeans, and full makeup.

  Ah. Bugger again.

  “Seb, there you are,” the blond chided. “We’ve already done this aisle. Now, just the cocktail sticks and we’ll be finished. I promised Mummy we’d be back by twelve.”

  Lottie was doing her best not to boggle at the cart the blond was pushing. There had to be sixty bottles of champagne in there. Precariously balanced on top of the bottles were packets and packets of smoked salmon and Parma ham, boxes of quails’ eggs, and half a dozen cartons of freshly squeezed orange juice.

  “And this is bloody heavy,” the girl chirped, shoving the cart at Seb. “You can jolly well push.”

  “Party,” Seb drawled, Lottie’s boggling not having gone unnoticed. “It’s Tiffany’s birthday today.”

  Automatically Lottie said, “Happy birthday.”

  Tiffany heaved a harassed sigh. “It will be, when we get out of this bloody place.”

  “It’s a Breakfast at Tiffany’s party,” Seb went on, indicating the contents of the cart. “Only it doesn’t start until three, so it’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the afternoon.”

  “Why not?” Lottie flashed them both a bright smile and prepared to move off.

  “Actually”—Seb put out a hand to stop her—“you could come along. If you’re not doing anything else this afternoon, we’d love to—”

  “Thanks, but I’m busy.” This was true, she would be swimming in the lake with Ruby and Nat, but the look of alarm in Tiffany’s perfectly made-up eyes hadn’t escaped Lottie. Briskly reversing her cart and wishing it didn’t contain cans of beans, cartoon pasta shapes in tomato sauce, and a mega pack of toilet paper, she said, “Have a good time anyway. Bye.”

  And headed for the checkouts as casually as if being invited to a glamorous party by a complete stranger in a supermarket was the kind of thing that happened to her all the time.

  “Honestly, Seb, you’re so bloody thoughtless. All you ever think about is yourself.” Tiffany’s voice behind her was high-pitched, tinged with irritation, and carried like nobody’s business. “It’s my party, OK? You can’t just go inviting people willy-nilly. I mean, who is she?”

  Lottie slowed, she couldn’t help herself.

  “Not the foggiest.” Unperturbed, Seb drawled, “But she’s got a sensational arse.”

  As always, Lottie managed to choose the checkout that looked as if it would be the quickest but turned out to be the slowest. She was still packing her cans of Batman pasta shapes and packets of cookies into bags when she glanced up and saw Seb and Tiffany leaving the store, because of course couples like them always magically chose the right checkout. Tuh, they probably had a chauffeur-driven limo waiting outside to whisk them home.

  “Got your saver card?” said the bored cashier.

  “Hang on. Yep, here it is.” Lottie bet that people like Seb and Tiffany didn’t bother with saver cards either. When you were that posh, no doubt a platinum Amex did nicely.

  Five minutes later she was out in the parking lot unloading her cart when another car drew up behind her.

  “Hey.”

  Straightening up and thinking that he’d just been getting a peerless view of her sensational backside, Lottie turned to see Seb behind the wheel of a filthy green Volkswagen Golf with Tiffany next to him in the passenger seat.

  So much for the chauffeur-driven limo.

  “Hey.” Lottie wondered if he was planning to persuade her to change her mind and come along to the party after all. Her gaze flickered in the direction of Tiffany’s left hand to see if there were any significant rings on view.

  Spotting the glance, Seb said, “She’s my sister.”

  “Worse luck.” Tiffany rolled her eyes.

  Maybe for you, thought Lottie, inwardly fizzing with anticipation. It was no good. She still couldn’t go to their party, but he’d stopped his car, which meant he was definitely interested. If he asked for her phone number, she could scribble it on the back of his hand with one of Ruby’s felt-tip pens and then he could ring her and—

  “Here. Don’t drink that red crap.” Cutting into her excited thoughts, Seb thrust a bottle of Veuve Clicquot through the Golf’s open window. “Drink something decent for a change.”

  Taken by surprise—and because he was dangling the bottle perilously by two fingers—Lottie reached out and grabbed it before it could slip to the ground. “Why?”

  “Because I like your eyes.”

  “And my bum.”

  He laughed. “That too.”

  “Well, thanks.” Lottie waited for him to ask for her number.

  “My pleasure. Enjoy it. Bye.”

  Flabbergasted, she watched the dusty Golf shoot out of the parking lot. He’d gone. Gone! This wasn’t supposed to happen, unless…

  Feverishly Lottie scrutinized the bottle, telling herself that of course he must have scribbled his phone number somewhere on the label so she could ring and thank him properly. But, unbelievably, he hadn’t. There was nothing. He’d just handed over a bottle of rather expensive champagne and driven off, leaving her with no way of contacting him or even discovering who he was.

  Why? Why would he do that?

  More to the point, bugger.

  Chapter 18

  Jeff Barrowcliffe lived in a 1930s bungalow painted sky blue and adorned with bright hanging baskets and window boxes. As Freddie clicked open the front gate he saw Jeff on the driveway at the side of the bungalow, tinkering with the engine of a motorbike. It was ridiculous to say he hadn’t changed a bit, but he was still instantly recognizable—albeit bald, wirier, and more wrinkled.

  Straightening up, Jeff wiped his hands on an oily rag and waited for Freddie to reach him. They’d never hugg
ed each other in their lives—back in the fifties, hugging was strictly for homosexuals—and Freddie wasn’t sure he had the courage to give it a go now. Thankfully, by clutching the oily rag in front of him, Jeff ensured this wasn’t an option.

  “Jeff. It’s good to see you again.”

  “You too. Took me back the other day, hearing from you out of the blue like that.” Rubbing a grimy hand over his tanned head, Jeff said, “Still don’t know why you called.”

  “Curiosity, I suppose. We’re all getting on a bit now”—Freddie shrugged—“and none of us is going to live forever. I just wanted to catch up with people from the past, find out what happened to my old friends.”

  Jeff said drily, “Lost touch with a fair few of them then, have you?”

  Since he deserved the jibe, Freddie simply nodded. “Yes.” Then he said, “The other reason I’m here is to apologize.”

  “The last time I saw you, you were flat on your back with blood running down your face. And I had bruised knuckles.” There was a glimmer of a smile on Jeff’s face as he recalled the occasion. “Do I have to apologize as well?”

  “No. I deserved it.” The memory of that day was etched indelibly in Freddie’s mind. Giselle had told Jeff about the incident the night before, then had gone on to announce that their engagement was off and from now on she and Freddie were an item. Freddie, chain-smoking in his bedroom, had heard the sounds of arguing coming from Jeff’s house next door. The next thing he knew, Jeff was hammering on his front door demanding to see him and threatening to punch his lights out, and Freddie had gone downstairs to face him. Under the circumstances, it had seemed the least he could do.

  That was the last any of them had seen of Jeff. He had packed a rucksack, left Oxford that same night, and joined the army.

  In a way it had been a relief.

  “Coming in for a cup of tea?” Jeff said now.

  “I’d love that.” Freddie nodded. There was so much to catch up on, he barely knew where to start. Prompted by the abundance of hanging baskets he said, “Are you married?”

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll