‘How can you tell?’ I ask curiously.
‘Listen, love, I’ve been to bed with enough men to know who’s going to whip it out, whip it in and wipe it, and who’s got the slooooow hand and dazzling moves.’
I stare at her without comprehension. What the hell is a sloooow hand? I have only been with three guys and all three times it was a total and complete disaster. I was drunk, they were drunk. First time I was sixteen and he didn’t even use a condom. He promised he would withdraw before he came and he didn’t. He apologized, but what a bastard! What he did afterwards was unforgivable. Fortunately, that didn’t end with an STD or a nine-month bump for me.
The second time it was three years later. I was at a party. He was confident, the way Jack was, but he had a big nose. He put his finger into my knickers and poked me when I wasn’t expecting it. It was painful. I was drunk so he got on top and went for it. He said having sex with a condom on was like sucking a sweet with a wrapper still on it, but he didn’t want no squalling baby. He wanted to spray his se**n on my stomach. So he did. It was sticky and messy and I hated it. He tried to ask me out again, but I refused.
The next guy was at a club. I was very drunk. He was the deejay. He took me around the back and pushed his hard length against me. It was exciting. I had a condom in my purse and we used it, but afterwards I was still ashamed. I felt as if I had betrayed Jack. I know it sounds crazy but that’s how I felt.
Fat Mary goes to sit on the bed and looks at Lana. ‘So who is he?’
‘His…father used to…work for Blake’s family,’ Lana explains, but I did not miss the pause before father and work.
‘In what capacity?’
‘His father was the butler. But Blake and Vann are very close. They grew up together so they are as close as brothers.’
‘What does he do now?’
‘I think he’s trying to be an artist. He lives in Paris.’
All I hear is ‘trying to be’ and I decode that as poor. Church mouse poor.
‘Oooo what I wouldn’t do for one night with his steaming flesh,’ purrs Fat Mary.
Lana laughs. ‘You could be in luck, Mary. Blake tells me he likes the fuller figured woman.’
‘That’s sealed Grandview’s fate for tonight, then,’ she says in such a black widow spider voice that we all laugh.
‘You are a terrible slut,’ says Billie.
‘Slut is so harsh. Dragon on the hunt is more appetizing.’
There is a knock on the door. Still laughing, Billie goes to open it.
‘Hi,’ she says, but her voice is suddenly different. We all turn towards the door.
‘Hi,’ a man’s voice says and I feel my heart stop.
Oh! my God! Oh my God! The man standing at the door is none other than my Jack.
My stomach does a backflip. I swallow hard and compose my face. Billie opens the door wider and I see him framed in the doorway. I have never seen him in a suit, and, oh boy, he is so incredibly handsome he dazzles my eyes. But on closer examination he is Jack and yet he is not. The African sun has turned him as brown as a berry, but it is his eyes. They are dull and sad. Has he seen what he shouldn’t have in Africa?
I have never been able to forget that time waiting at the dentist and, having read all the magazines on offer, picking up something on photography. Skimming through it bored me out of my skull, and coming upon that iconic picture of the sickly skeletal child crawling on the dusty, barren landscape towards a help center. Behind the child, a vulture following on foot, waiting for it to die. I researched the photographer on the net later, and it didn’t shock me when I learned that he eventually took his own life.
Jack’s eyes zero in on Lana. She stands up, her hand clamped on her mouth. For a moment no one moves and then she is flying across the room towards him, but instead of lunging into his arms as I have sometimes seen her do, she stops two feet away from him. There it is, the tension that Lana and Billie were discussing in the restaurant. Did they fall out?
‘Hello, Lana,’ he says. His voice is the same.
‘You came,’ Lana whispers. Her hand is pressed to her stomach.
‘Of course. I did promise to give you away,’ he says, and smiles. And for just one moment he seems as he was before.
‘Oh!’ Lana’s face falls. She bites her lower lip. ‘I’m sorry, Jack, but you never replied to any of my emails. I thought you weren’t coming. Billie’s father is giving me away,’
He shakes his head slowly. ‘No he’s not. I am. This is a surprise from Blake.’
It is only then that I realize that he is dressed in the color scheme chosen for the wedding. A blush-colored square of handkerchief is sticking out of his breast pocket. That little piece of material unifies his attire with mine.
Lana flings her arms around his neck joyfully. ‘Oh, Jack. You almost ruined my wedding.’
His arms go around her. She lifts herself up on her toes and kisses his cheek. ‘I’m so glad you’re here. So glad. Thank you, thank you so much for coming.’
‘I’ll always be here for you.’
‘Don’t spoil your make-up,’ cries the make-up lady in a panic.
‘I guess I’d better leave and let you finish getting dressed. I’ll come back for you when you’re ready.’
Lana disengages herself from him. He throws a quick glance at the rest of us in the room. ‘Ladies,’ he says, and then he is gone.
Lana looks at Billie. ‘Did you know?’
‘Of course,’ Billie admits airily.
Lana goes to her mobile and calls Blake. All she says is, ‘Thank you.’
I don’t get to hear what he says, but her reply is rather intriguing as she says in a perfectly serious tone, ‘I consider that sexual blackmail.’ Then she turns around and goes back to sit in front of the mirror. She looks like the happiest bunny in the field. When she catches my eyes, she grins like a cat that has got the cream.
By the time the hairdresser puts the last wave into Lana’s hair I am made up, coiffeured and dressed. Billie and I stand around and watch while the hairdresser carefully attaches Lana’s mother’s tiara in her hair. It is a cheap thing, a little tarnished, but the hairdresser is clever, fills it with tiny babies breath so it looks romantic and dreamy. We help Lana get into the dress. It looks even more gloriously beautiful now that her hair and face have been done up. Carefully the girl fits the veil onto Lana’s head.