It’s bad enough that we will be having Chinese food. That stuff is loaded with MSG. And MSG is the stuff researchers feed rats to make them fat fast. My eyes run over Billie’s body. She has the type of body that Pink the singer has. Firm and muscular. I guess Billie carries it off well, but in my books that’s just one step away from running into fat. I am surprised to see that her legs are unshaved. She catches me staring in the mirror.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll shave before I get into that bridesmaid dress,’ she says, amused by my blatant curiosity.
‘I…’ Oh good God, she probably thinks I’m lusting after her.
Billie laughs at my expression. ‘Sorry, but I don’t sleep with straight girls.’
Suddenly all the years of working to better myself drop off a cliff. Deep down inside me I know nothing has changed. I am still the fat unattractive kid with the hairstyle that looks like a mental illness. Chased and bullied and monstrously ugly. Blood slams into my head. For a lightning moment I imagine rushing at her, my nails curved like talons. They pierce the jelly of her eyes.
Then she winks at me and I realize it was just a joke to cover an uncomfortable moment. She didn’t mean any harm. It was me who had been rudely staring at her unclothed body. With that knowledge all is forgiven. She is the kid I always wanted to befriend, the coolest girl in school. The other kids were merciless, but neither Lana nor she ever took part in shaming me.
I smile back. ‘You’ve done up the place real nice.’
‘It’s easy to make something look good when you have no budget constraints.’
‘Really?’ My voice is incredulous. ‘You were allowed to have anything you wanted?’
Billie nods and puts away the hairdryer.
‘What’s Blake like?’ I ask curiously. I have only met Lana’s man once at a party when he came to collect her. Intimidating as hell. As if chiseled from stone he stood in our midst, haughty, disdainful, and broadcasting universal sex appeal. Suddenly our eyes met across the room. His had poured over me like iced water, found nothing of interest and dismissively moved on. It was clear that he found us all utterly beneath him. He had not stayed long.
‘Banker boy?’ Billie says. There is indulgence and genuine affection in her voice. ‘He can be cold-blooded, but he’s always been good to me and he loves Lana.’ She pauses. ‘In fact, don’t think I’ve ever seen a man so passionately in love. He loves her more than anything or anyone else in this world.’
A shaft of white-hot jealousy stabs me in the gut. Lana gets it right every time. Not only has she snared a billionaire, but one who is completely smitten with her. I make a huge effort to keep my smile in place.
‘What about his son?’
‘He would give up his life for the boy, but if Sorab and Lana were drowning, and he could only save one, there would be no hesitation. No matter what it cost him it would always be Lana.’
I lapse into silence and wonder what it must be like to be so treasured. No one has ever loved me, let alone so desperately. Billie slides open a cupboard and takes out a purple T-shirt that screams I MIGHT SAY YES in green and a pair of banana yellow jeans. She dresses quickly, pulls on a pair of leopard print boots with red soles and, snagging a man’s black leather jacket from a hanger, turns towards me.
‘Shall we go?’
We hail a cab and it drops us off outside the restaurant. This is where Billie and Lana often meet for dim sum. Lana has telephoned to say she is running late. We go in without her. The restaurant has no natural light. The walls are lacquered black, the carpet under our feet is the color of soot and the place is lit only with strategically placed spotlights that make the tablecloths rise out of the dark ground like very white lilies in a pond. We take our seats. I choose one that faces the door. I want to watch Lana come in.
A waitress comes to hand us our menus and ask what we would like to drink.
‘Vodka,’ pips Billie.
‘Chinese tea,’ I say more slowly.
I have just taken my first sip when Lana comes in carrying her baby. Every head in the room turns to look. A knife twists in my heart.
She is the living embodiment of that elusive quality: glamour.
He has a silly name, Sorab. I would have called him Brad. He looks like a Brad, with sparkly blue eyes fringed by long curling lashes and the most solemn face you ever saw in a child.
‘So sorry I’m late,’ Lana apologizes breathlessly, and going around the table kisses first Billie and then me on the cheek. Her skin is softly perfumed and her lips are soft as they rest briefly on my skin. Strangely, the kiss from my sworn enemy doesn’t cause me to flinch inwardly. In fact, some part of me welcomes the feel of it.
Both Billie and I assure her that she is not late, we have only just arrived ourselves. While she settles Sorab into a high chair and ties some highly colored toys to it and Billie is fussing over the child, I surreptitiously watch her over my menu. In truth I am shocked.
I had expected designer gear, Manolo Blahniks and diamonds, but she is dressed simply in a beige cashmere jumper that comes to her hips, black drainpipe jeans and a pair of those unfussy, flat-heeled riding boots you see in equestrian magazines. They look like nothing but cost the earth.
‘Are you guys ready to order?’ she asks, opening her menu, and the massive rock in her engagement ring blinds me.
‘Goodness!’ I exclaim. ‘How many carats is that?’
Lana looks embarrassed. ‘Ten.’
‘Wow! Can I see it?’
She holds her hand out to me and I take it. Her fingers are finely boned and elegant, the skin soft and unblemished. I feel ashamed of mine. My stubby digits are scratched by rose thorns, and the knuckles scarred and grazed from forcing my fingers down my throat to induce vomiting. Suddenly even my beautiful pink nails look garish and brazen.
Under the spotlights of the restaurant the stone—an oval cut pink diamond—is so dazzling it is almost impossible to look away from its brilliance. To show off the vividly pink flawless stone it has been mounted on a plain band without any fuss or embellishments. I recognize the design. I have seen it before.
‘It’s a Repossi, isn’t it?’
Lana looks surprised and impressed. ‘Yes. How did you know?’
‘I saw it in a magazine.’
‘How observant you are, Jules? It is custom, but the setting is from a collection called Tell Me Yes.
‘It’s very, very beautiful.’