‘Want that tour now?’
So she takes me from room to room while I gawp and gape and struggle to still that snake of envy twisting and hissing in my heart. We used to be schoolmates. We used to live on a council estate. We were both grindingly poor. Yet, here she is living the perfect life. She has everything anyone could ever dream of having. She has made it and I have not.
‘We won’t be living here after the wedding. I’d like Sorab to have a garden to play in so we’ll be moving to a house in Kensington Palace Gardens.’
Yeah right, billionaire’s row.
The thoughts die in my brain as Lana opens the master bedroom. Wow! Just wow! My eyes move to the bed. Three of my beds could fit into that massive thing. I have the irrational urge to go lie on the beautifully made luxurious sheets with its profusion of pillows.
‘Come on,’ Lana says. ‘Your gift is in here.’
She opens a door and we are in a walk-in closet. She opens a cupboard and we are staring at a whole collection of to-die-for designer handbags. My dazed eyes fall on a Rene Lautrec bag. I have read about these bags in magazines and seen a picture of Madonna carrying one. Each one is handmade using the center cut from the belly of a grade-one, farm-raised American alligator, crocodile, stingray or South African ostrich. I never thought I would see one. As if in a trance I go to touch it.
‘Blake gave that to me on Valentine’s day.’
‘It’s beautiful,’ I whisper, thinking of the rude card with pop up penis the van driver from the shop next door slipped through the letterbox of the florist shop where I worked.
‘Yes, but I so hope you will think this is too…’ She pulls out a box from the top shelf and holds it out to me.
I look at the box. It has Dior stamped on it. I am frozen. She bought me a Dior. A real Dior. I lift my eyes to her face. She is looking at me expectantly, a smile on her face.
‘Go on,’ she urges and moves it closer toward me.
I take the box, lift the lid, and take the bag out of its protective cover. If this is a dream I don’t want to wake up. I hold it up. This year’s collection. I have seen a photo of it being modeled on a Paris catwalk in last month’s Marie Claire. I take my stupefied gaze away from the bag and fix it on Lana’s face. She is looking at me with bright eyes and suddenly an image flashes into my mind.
I am twelve years old and running as fast as my fat body will allow me to. My brother’s oversized oilskin coat is flapping behind me. I am panting, my breath is catching in my throat and my lungs burn as if on fire. Behind me are the shouts of boys. The yobs. The bullies. They are throwing stones at me.
‘Yah, get her,’ they shout.
One hits the back of my head and my foot catches on something on the ground. I pitch forward, the weight of my body pushing me through the air with frightening momentum. I land sprawled, face inches away from the ground.
I feel the tears stinging my eyes. I won’t cry. I won’t cry. I will stand up and face them. My knees are scraped raw and the palms of my hands are bleeding. Hyperventilating wildly, I roll over and sit up before I am surrounded by the jeering bullies. Desperately, I try to catch my breath. I can beat them. I wish then for a fierce dog, a pit bull that will grab their growing willies and bite them clean off. But I have no fierce dog. I reflect on my situation. The stones are only pebbles. It is not the stones, only the intent that hurts. I look up at them. I won’t stand up to them today. I’ll do whatever they want me to and they will let me go.
‘It’s a fat gorilla escaped from the zoo,’ one of them says cruelly.
And then Lana is breaking through the circle like an avenging angel.
‘Leave her alone,’ she shouts, staring down boys that are twice her size.
‘It’s just a joke,’ Jason, the leader of the gang, says.
‘Look at her. She’s bleeding,’ Lana states angrily.
‘She’s so fat she tripped and fell on her own,’ one of the boys says cheerfully, and they all laugh as if it is the funniest thing they have heard in years.
‘Come on, guys,’ Jason says, and they go away.
‘Are you all right?’ Lana asks, holding her hand out to me.
Ignoring her hand I heave myself up and without thanking her I run away. One day I will be thinner than you.
‘If you don’t like it, we can exchange it for something else,’ says Lana from far away. She seems disappointed. She thinks I don’t like her gift.
I smile suddenly, happily. ‘No, I love it. I’ve never been given anything so beautiful in all my life.’
She flashes a relieved smile. ‘Thank God. I think it’s beautiful, but I wasn’t sure if we have the same taste.’
We smile at each other.
‘I was wondering if you would like to have a makeover. Have Bruce Lenhart restyle your hair? And let a really great make-up artist do your face?’ For a split second her eyes slide down to my mouth. Then she is smiling again. Briefly I entertain the idea that my lipstick is smudged, but I know it is not. There is something wrong with my mouth. I become convinced it is an insult. She can keep her f**king makeover.
I start shaking my head. ‘Please, Julie. It’ll be fun. I looked so much better when they finished with me.’
But I like the way I look. I work very hard to maintain this ‘look’.
‘Even Billie has agreed.’
Bruce Lenhart? The idea is tempting. Celebrities go to him. It costs hundreds of pounds just for a simple haircut.
‘But what if I go to him and he does something that I can’t afford to keep up?’
‘We’ll tell him that he has to give you a style that can be maintained by you, hmnnn, what say you?’
Bruce Lenhart? Who was I kidding? Of course I want him to style my hair. ‘All right.’
‘Good.’ She grins. ‘Come on, let’s go have some tea and we’ll sort a date out for next week.’
We move into her kitchen. Vast. It reminds me of the yellow kitchen from that famous kitchen designer, I forget his name, that I keep seeing in all the mags. But unlike Billie’s kitchen it is obvious that it is well used. I pop myself on a high stool facing the island while she fills the kettle with water. Her phone rings. She looks at it and appears surprised.
‘Sorry, I have to take this,’ she tells me and answers it. ‘Brian… What?... No… That’s OK… Let him come up.’ She ends the call and slowly puts the phone on the counter. The kettle has boiled. The blue light has gone off.