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‘I’m off to suck a fag,’ she says, picking up her box of cigarettes.

I kind of panic at the thought of being left alone with Lana. ‘Smoking will give you cancer.’

‘Great, that’ll save me from dying of boredom,’ she quips and then she is gone.

I look at Lana and she is pulling a wet-wipe out of its box and cleaning her baby’s hands. Terrified that an uncomfortable silence will descend upon us I blurt out the first thing that comes into my mind.

‘How old is he now?’ As if I’m interested.

‘Fourteen months tomorrow.’

‘He’s a very quiet baby, isn’t he?’

‘Yes, he is like his father. Blake’s first language is silence.’ She glances at me with a smile. ‘When he was young his capacity for silence was such that his parents thought there was something wrong with him.’

‘Do you think you will have more kids?’

Lana glows. ‘For sure. At least two, but most probably three.’

‘Oh.’ Does she not care that having so many kids will ruin her body? I suppose now she has the money she can go and remodel her body in any way she wants.

‘There you go. All done,’ she tells her son and turning to me says, ‘He hates it when any part of him gets dirty.’ She puts the soiled wipe on the table. ‘I got a little gift for you to say thank you for being my bridesmaid, but I was in such a rush this morning, thanks to him,’ she rolls her eyes in the direction of the child, ‘I forgot to bring it. If you don’t have anything planned for this evening perhaps you’d like to come home with me after the fitting? We can have tea together.’

I can barely believe it. I am dying to see where Lana lives now. I school my voice so I don’t sound too eager. ‘That would be nice, thanks.’

Lana pays the bill and we are thankfully out of the restaurant. I take a deep breath of the cool air. That is the last time I go to a restaurant with them.

The Bentley arrives and we all climb into it. Inside it is the byword in comfort. I settle in and we are borne towards that girlie ceremony called a dress fitting.

Five

I am the thief of secrets. For I have learned the ritual of being quiet. I can become so still, it is as if I become invisible, and people forget I am there and begin to take me into their labyrinth of secrets.

—Julie Sugar

Lana disappears behind the curtain with a seamstress called Rosie and her assistant, whose name I didn’t catch. Strange, but I must admit I feel a surge of excitement. What is it about wedding dresses? Most of them are like meringues and yet… Perhaps it is the idea of a bride. I try to imagine what Lana’s dress might be like. Obviously floor length. But I have never seen a custom-made dress that has been flown across half the world twice and requires four fittings. As Lana explained in the car the first fitting was for when the dress was skeletal, the second when it was half complete, the third when it was almost compete, and this fourth and last fitting when it needs only to be zipped up.

Five minutes pass.

Sorab has fallen asleep in his pushchair and Billie is lounging on one of the long sofas playing with her phone. I walk around the large space. It belongs to some other designer, but Lana’s designers, two Australian men, have rented it for the afternoon. The late afternoon sun is low in the sky and soft silver light is filtering through. I go to the window and look at the street below.

I have only the view of the back of another gray building, but I love London. Every time I come to London I start to feel alive. On the street below two men are standing by a lamp post casually looking around them. I recognize them. They were at the restaurant too. From behind me comes the soft rustle of Billie’s trouser legs brushing against each other as she crosses and uncrosses her legs.

I turn back and glance at her. She is still messing about with her phone. I leave the window and go to the long table pushed up against one end of the room and glance at the stuff on it. Dressmaker’s chalk, sketches, fabric samples, a curved ruler, a pair of scissors, a length of lace.

And I think of the two men outside.

‘Out she comes,’ Rosie calls in her strong Australian accent and starts pulling the curtain aside.

Billie springs up and comically starts singing, ‘Here comes the bride.’ But she stops mid-sentence, gasping, her hands flying to her cheeks when all of Lana, head dipped to avoid the hanging material, comes out from behind the curtain. Even my mouth falls open. The dress is breathtakingly exquisite—couture at its best—and Lana—Lana is unimaginably, impossibly beautiful.

I have literally never seen anything so lovely in my life.

Rosie describes the dress. I hear snatches. French lace, Italian silk, antique seed pearls, Swarovski crystals, mounted on Italian silk.

So let me describe it to you. It has a halter neck. The bodice is made from French lace that has been intricately embroidered and embellished with antique seed pearls and Swarovski crystals, and mounted onto Italian silk. The way the material molds to her body so seamlessly without even the tiniest puckering, sagging or bulging anywhere is truly amazing. Somewhere about the tops of her thighs it trumpets out into a ball gown—all tulle and layers and layers of organza, probably hundreds. The craftsmanship is astonishing. No wonder they needed four fittings.

‘Oh, Lana, you look so beautiful,’ cries Billie. Her voice sounds choked.

Lana grins happily and then looks to me.

‘It’s fantastic. You look…regal,’ I enthuse, genuinely impressed and awed by the sight of Lana in her dress. And at that moment I don’t feel like an outsider. We are joined in a beautiful ritual. Three friends who went to try out Lana’s wedding dress. It connects us. I actually feel tears prickling the backs of my own eyes. No one has ever included me in their plans like this before.

‘Turn,’ commands Billie. Lana turns.

Now it is my turn to gasp. The dress is daringly cut right down to the small of her back, from where it unexpectedly takes a romantic turn and becomes the beginnings of a rose bustle. All the layers are petals of the most delicately conceived and dramatically executed rose I have ever encountered. The ends of some of the petals are frayed to give the impression of lustrous softness. The flowing layers finally sweep down to form the chapel train of the dress. The dress is risqué and perfect.

Jaws will hit the floor.

The two fitters lift the train off the floor and Lana goes to stand on the raised platform. ‘There is a silver sixpence sewed into the netting of the dress,’ Lana tells us.

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