Rosie beams with satisfaction. ‘Doesn’t she look gorgeous?’
‘It’s a show stopper, the best dress you will ever wear,’ Billie declares.
‘It’s the most dazzling thing I’ve ever seen,’ I say in agreement.
‘Do you think the back is too low?’ Lana asks, turning slightly to survey the long expanse of her naked back.
‘Absolutely not,’ I tell her firmly.
‘It’s going to give Blake one hell of a hard-on in the church,’ Billie deadpans.
Lana breaks into an excited giggle, and it is so infectious that both Billie and I join in like giddy teenagers. She looks so happy. And for the first time in my life I don’t begrudge her this happiness. Perhaps because I am part of it. This memory will remain bottled and fizzing in my mind.
We are still standing around in the warm glow of old friendships, when Rosie’s assistant brings the bridesmaids’ dresses out from a metal rack. Mine is a floor-length silk and organza number with a mermaid silhouette, sweetheart neckline and in the color I love most: the softest pink you could imagine. Rosie calls it blush. While Rosie and her assistant fuss and flap needlessly around Lana’s totally perfect dress we try on our dresses and slip into shoes that have been fashioned from the same material as our dresses.
We come out from behind the curtain and Lana claps her hands with delight. I look into the mirror and have to agree. Both dresses are divinely beautiful with crystal scatters over the bodice and chest. The effect of the blush organza swirling around our silk clad feet is almost cloud-like. In the three-way mirror the layers of organza and Swarovski crystal unify our look and we complement Lana perfectly.
This is the first time I can compare what I look like beside Lana. I have always imagined that I am much bigger than her, especially during that time when she lost a lot of weight and was very much thinner, but it looks like we are both about the same size now. It is even possible that I might be, by a whisper, the thinner one. I am elated by my discovery.
‘Are the two men outside bodyguards?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ Lana admits awkwardly. ‘But they are mostly for Sorab.’
And yet a look passes between her and Billie.
There are secrets here. Smoothly I step backwards so I am no longer reflected in the mirrors. There is only Lana and Billie. I have become invisible.
‘Has she tried to make contact again?’ Billie asks.
‘No, but last week I saw her across the road. She simply stood and stared at me.’ Lana shudders with the memory.
‘Did you tell Blake?’
‘No. What could I say? She didn’t do me any harm. And I don’t think she will.’
‘How many times do I have to tell you? Stop judging everybody by your standards. Just because you wouldn’t do something doesn’t mean someone else won’t. She is going to try to harm you. You must tell Blake.’
‘I don’t know, Bill. He has a very high opinion of her. They’ve been friends since they were children, and he’ll only think I am being petty and jealous.’
‘Look, if you don’t tell him I will.’
‘All right, all right, I will.’
‘Who is she?’ I ask softly.
Both girls look at me. They had forgotten I was there.
‘Victoria, Blake’s ex,’ says Lana guardedly.
‘Blake’s crazy ex. She’s like Cleopatra and the serpent all rolled into one,’ Billie supplies generously, but her voice is vicious.
Billie kisses the sleeping child, Lana and then me, in that order, and slips into a black cab. The chauffeur helps put Sorab into the baby seat strapped in the front and Lana and I climb into the back of the car. The trip to her place is less uncomfortable than I thought it might be as Lana first gets a phone call from Blake. I know because her voice softens and a small smile curves her lips. I turn my head to look out of the window and pretend not to listen.
‘Hi, darling. Yeah, we’re done… Nope, no more fittings… It’s absolutely beautiful… We’re on our way home now. I forgot to bring Julie’s present so I’m taking her back with me… Yeah… He’s asleep… Good as gold. As usual.’ He says something that makes her laugh. She is silent while she listens and then she giggles and says, ‘Mmnnn…that sounds right up my street. Honestly can’t wait.’ She makes a kissing sound and ends the call.
I turn my head, a polite smile plastered on my face, and her phone rings again. ‘Oh dear. Do you mind if I take this? It’s the wedding organizer.’
‘Not at all. Go ahead.’
Since her replies are mostly monosyllabic sounds of agreement I lose interest and stare out of the window. I wonder what her home will be like. By the time Lana ends her call we are already driving up to her apartment block. Not a whiff of low rent despair here. And, oh my, she lives right opposite a park too. We get out of the car and enter the building. It’s all very posh and new-money flash inside. Lana waves to the Asian man sitting at the reception desk and he literally splits his face in two while executing an almighty grin.
We get into the lift, and in the confined space I find my first awkward moment. I turn quickly towards the baby. He is fast asleep in his pushchair. In sleep he looks angelic. I look up and Lana is looking at me.
‘We’re nearly there,’ she says without the least trace of awkwardness.
I clear my throat, flash a smile, and turn to stare at the gleaming doors.
Lana drops her card key into a slot and we are standing in the kind of apartment I have only seen in magazines. I cannot help it. I draw a quick breath of surprise.
‘I forget sometimes how beautiful it is,’ Lana says, as she moves towards a long gray box that had been placed on a table near a large gilded mirror. I watch her in the mirror pull the red ribbons off it and lift the lid. I peek inside. My favorite. Long-stemmed yellow roses in a deep box. She reaches for the envelope inside and pulling out the card reads, and smiles, a secret smile.
‘Yes.’ There is happiness in her voice. ‘I’ll give you a tour after I put him into bed.’ She bends to pick the child up.
‘Do you need help?’
She lifts the sleeping child in her arms. ‘No, I can manage. I am actually dreading the day I will no longer be able to carry him.’
Silently, I follow her into the boy’s bedroom. The trompe l’oeil on the walls gives the illusion we are floating in a blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds. There is a white cot, a playpen and enough toys to fill a toyshop in the room. I stand back and watch her gently place the boy in the cot, take his shoes off, and smooth the hair away from his forehead. She turns to me.