The One Saving Grace | Chapter 9 of 42

Author: Julie Houston | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1038 Views | Add a Review

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‘Hat?’ God, that must be a record. Nick hadn’t been home before eight p.m. for months. He breezed in, hesitated briefly on seeing both of the twins asleep, and then grabbed me in a bear hug.

‘How’s my little bruiser?’ he whispered, as he kissed my neck and ruffled my hair.

‘Bruised,’ I sighed. ‘But don’t let that put you off,’ I went on, pulling him back towards me and enjoying the almost illicit pleasure of snogging my husband in the middle of the afternoon. I breathed in his familiar Nick smell, and felt the stirrings of lust. ‘What are you doing home at this time of the day?’ I asked, pulling away slightly in the knowledge that any afternoon delight was a no-no with two babies, a bruised fanjo and a wandering granny to contend with.

Nick sat up and I could sense his animation. ‘What’s up?’ I asked. ‘You seem to be buzzing?’

‘You, my darling Harriet, are looking at a man who has just pulled off a brilliant deal with a Russian businessman who wants to work with L’uomo. I’ve been chasing a couple of guys for weeks and finally got one of them on my side this lunchtime. I was supposed to be meeting up with the two of them but only one could make it. Anyway, he was the main man, so it all worked out well in the end.’

L’uomo was Nick’s fledgling company, which had been up and running for only a year but which, with the backing of Amanda’s husband, David Henderson, was absolutely flying. I did sometimes worry that it might be expanding too quickly – after all, despite some economists’ optimism over ‘little green shoots’, we were still seemingly manacled to this recession. It really was incredible to think that this time last year we’d been broke, worried about where the next pound was coming from – and now I was shopping online at Waitrose rather than skulking among the unbranded baked beans at Aldi and Lidl.

‘Where? In Russia?’ I now asked, thoughts of baked beans turning instead to vodka and Vladivostok.

‘Russia? No. Manchester, you daft thing. I’ve just come back from Manchester, not Moscow. I took him for lunch in this fabulous little place in Canal Street.’

‘Why? Is he gay?’

‘Gay?’ Nick looked puzzled. ‘He’s Russian, not gay.’

‘Well, I’m sure you can have gay Russians. Look at the Gay Hussars.’

Nick looked even more perplexed. ‘Gay Hussars? They were Hungarian, not Russian, weren’t they?’

‘Same neck of the woods,’ I said dismissively. ‘So, anyway, you took him to Canal Street? You do know Canal Street in Manchester is the hub of the gay scene there?’

Nick looked horrified. ‘You’re joking… I met him at his hotel in Piccadilly and it was he who suggested Canal Street. I assumed he must have an interest in barges.’ Nick frowned and then said, ‘Actually, I did think there was an abundance of rather exotic looking characters there. I took him to a fabulous restaurant called Velvet – the crab linguine was to die for – and there was a crowd of very masculine looking women at the table across from us.’

‘Trannies,’ I said knowingly. ‘It’s a great place for gays and transvestites to hang out, is Canal Street. I really can’t believe you’ve lived up here for over fifteen years and never heard of it.’

‘I’ve obviously led a very sheltered life,’ Nick said, looking crestfallen. He did like to think of himself as a man of the world, did my husband. Obviously not of the world down on Canal Street.


Three hours later and we were almost ready for the off. Libby, complaining that she had way too much homework to even think about going out for tea, had nevertheless showered and changed and was now leaning against the Aga, physics book in one hand and Red Bull in the other, while we waited for Sylvia to come downstairs. While I hated the idea of her having a caffeine drink to keep her going after a hard day studying, at least there was no vodka in it. Well, I assumed there wasn’t.

I glanced across at her and sighed. She seemed to grow more beautiful with each passing day and was, as usual, wearing the skin tight cream leather trousers she’d not had off her backside since being given them as a present once Nick began to earn money again. Only a just-turned-seventeen-year-old could get away with those trousers, and I felt an unbecoming pang of envy for her youth and all that wonderful life that still lay ahead of her. All that learning still to take in: all those wonderful love affairs still to have.

Libby was a bit of a closed book when it came to affairs of the heart. I don’t think it was that she wasn’t interested in boys, more that she was intent on not letting her mother in on anything she might be up to. It all seemed a lot different from my day: you fancied someone, your mate went over and told them – and then, if they fancied you back, it was all systems go for a trip to the cinema or youth club and you were ‘going out’ with them. Now, it seemed, you had a whole load of friends and ‘going out’ with someone wasn’t something that you did willy-nilly. ‘Going out’ with someone meant commitment, exclusivity – whereas, unless I was much mistaken – ‘having sex’ with someone was just something you did at a party, in the same way that we’d snogged for Britain.

I continued taking in every aspect of my daughter as she stood, totally immersed in her textbook. She’d artfully piled her wavy, caramel coloured hair on top of her head, and her eyes were outlined in a smudgy grey coloured kohl. Her full lips held only a slick of lip gloss and she’d enhanced her cheekbones with just the lightest touch of blusher. I was grateful that she didn’t go overboard with the black eye make-up as so many of her friends seemed to do. Libby, overnight, seemed to have blossomed and metamorphosed from a rather gangly colt of a teenager into a beautiful woman without me noticing. I felt left behind.

‘What?’ Libby, glancing up from her A level textbook and catching me ogling, stared back. ‘What’s the matter?’

I sighed again. ‘Nothing, darling. I was just thinking how gorgeous you looked. Sort of blooming.’

‘I thought only pregnant women were blooming.’ She smiled and tutted, pleased at my compliment.

‘You’re just blooming horrible.’ Kit, his mouth full of the cheese sandwich he’d had to consume in order not to ‘die of starvation’ before we reached the restaurant, ducked as Libby threw her physics textbook at him. ‘And if she is blooming, Mother, that’s because she’s in love. She fancies somebody like mad.’

‘For God’s sake, Mum. Do something with him. You should have done us all a favour and drowned him at birth.’ Libby made to retrieve the book that had fallen short of my elder son’s head and, swiping but missing her grinning brother once more, stalked from the room, slamming the door behind her.

‘For heaven’s sake, Kit,’ I shouted, attempting a swipe at him myself. ‘I’d just about got you all rounded up, ready to go. It’s like being on a sheep farm getting you lot ready.’ And then, as the need to know got the better of me, asked, ‘So, who is it? Who does she fancy? That new boy on the bus she mentioned a while ago? Come on, tell me what you know.’

Kit filled his mouth once more, chewed quickly and shrugged. ‘No idea. I just heard her on her mobile to one of her mates, going on and on about how gorgeous he is, and how she really thinks he fancies her too.’

Well, that didn’t surprise me. Looking at her this evening in those tight trousers, how could any boy not fancy her? And then, when he wasn’t any more forthcoming, I did what Libby had failed to do and took a swipe at him for eavesdropping and gossiping about his sister, successfully making contact with his backside.

The twins, waiting ensconced in their car seats, were on their best behaviour, as if they knew they were going out to dine. ‘It’s only pizza,’ I said to them. ‘Don’t get too excited. Well, at least you two are ready. Where the hell is everyone else?’

Nick appeared, ear glued to his mobile. ‘Come on,’ I mouthed, shaking car keys at him. ‘If we don’t go now we won’t get a table.’

Nick frowned at me to shut up, obviously engrossed in his conversation and then, laughing genially as only a businessman who’s just pulled off another great deal can do, said into the phone, ‘Well, that’s absolutely great, Anasim. Pleasure to do business with you… I’m sure she’d love to meet you, too. Yes, of course… This evening…? Erm…Well…’ Nick trailed off, looking beseechingly in my direction while shrugging his shoulders before continuing. ‘Just a little pizza place down in the village… Yes, no problem… Great…’ Nick slowly spelled out the name of both the new restaurant and our village before putting his mobile on the table and reaching for his sweater. ‘Bit cold, these evenings, now,’ he muttered sheepishly, pulling a beautiful brown cashmere sweater – one sold by L’uomo – over his head, and thus avoiding, for a moment, my eyes.

‘Nicholas, don’t tell me you’ve invited your Russian trannie to come with us? Our first family night out in ages, and your mum’s last night before she goes back, and you invite a cross-dressing oligarch to come with us?’

‘It’ll be fine,’ Nick soothed, grabbing a baby seat in each hand and, shouting to the rest of the household that we were going now, this minute, he kissed me – somewhat patronisingly – on the top of my head and headed for the door.

‘How on earth is a Russian businessman going to find his way to a little pizza place in the back of beyond?’ I grumbled, as I thought, once more, that we really were going to have to do something about our car situation. Now that there were seven of us, plus all the paraphernalia that goes with two babies, we were unable to go out en famille in just one car. This evening we were OK – we had Sylvia’s car as well as our own to transport the Westmoreland menagerie.

‘No problem,’ Nick said, pulling out into our lane, which led up to the main road and down to the village, ‘Anasim has hired a driver. He’ll be down the M62 from Manchester before you can say perestroika.’ Nick guffawed at his own wit. No one else joined in.

‘Does he speak English? Does he eat pizza? Does he realise he’s joining ‘feeding time at the zoo’, and that your wife looks like something off The Jeremy Kyle Show?’ I asked, shelving our transport problem away for another day.

‘Well, he certainly does the first.’ Nick paused, before adding, ‘although, to be honest, not very well. Anyone here speak Russian?’ He turned in the driver’s seat and grinned at us all. Gosh, what a difference from the Nick of a year ago. Although he was probably just as knackered as he was when he was trying to get L’uomo off the ground, he was no longer tense, cross and knackered. Just knackered. And happy.

On the back seat Kit grunted, Thea snored and Finn blew a raspberry. We were obviously in for an evening of high intellect, sparkling wit and conversation. Glancing over at my two elder daughters as we pulled into the restaurant car park and they slowly worked their way out of their grandmother’s little Corsa, I wasn’t reassured that they would be any more forthcoming: Liberty was still obviously bored by the whole idea of tea out with the Westmoreland circus, and one look at India’s frozen little face as she slowly walked into the restaurant after her big sister told me there was an obvious problem in her little six year old life.

‘What’s the matter, darling?’ I’d made sure India was seated next to me at the table and I leaned over to her, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. Her face was pale and pinched and I silently berated myself for not giving her the attention she probably needed. After all, until four months ago, she’d been the baby of the family. When had I last heard her read? Or made her favourite butterfly cakes with her? Or simply sat down with her and chatted about her day?

‘Nothing.’ India avoided my eyes and took the first sip of her juice, but kept her hand in mine.

‘What are you going to have?’ I asked, putting my arm round her as we shared the menu.

‘Don’t know. I’ve got a tummy ache, Mummy.’

‘Have you, darling?’ I rubbed her tummy and kissed the uneven parting on the blonde crown of her head. She was such a little thing still and I wanted to shield her from all the hurt and pain she’d have to go through in life. I had a sudden inkling as to what might be wrong. ‘Is Adriana Saxton being horrible again?’ I whispered as, heads together, we continued to study the menu. Libby and Kit had obviously loosened up and were laughing at some joke Nick was telling them, blithely unaware of India’s unhappiness.

India nodded numbly as a tear plopped on to my hand. Adriana, a spoilt little princess, had ruled India’s life since their first day at nursery: she was either India’s possessive best friend, not allowing India friendships with anyone else, or she totally ignored her, avoiding her in the playground as she ran off with one or more of the little girls who couldn’t believe their luck at being allowed to step into the breach.

‘Said… old… baby… Daddy… blonde lady…’ India whispered, sobbing into my hair as tears continued to fall. ‘Auntie Grace… old… baby… young… poorly.’

‘Darling,’ I whispered back, ‘try to stop crying because I can’t work out what you’re saying. Take a deep breath, have a drink of your juice and start again.’

India paused, took a long drink, a very deep breath and then said, in a very loud voice as it all came out in a rush, ‘Adriana says her mummy says you are far too old to be having babies at your age. That Daddy is doing sexy with the blonde lady and Auntie Grace is too old to have babies too and Uncle Sebastian will very soon be off down the M1 on his motorbike because Auntie Grace is poorly and going to die. Mummy, are you poorly and going to die too because you’ve had two babies when you’re past it, as well?’ India’s beautiful big brown eyes welled up again as one hand clutched tightly at the menu and the other, cold and clammy, still held on to mine.

Every head in that restaurant – and there were quite a few – had turned my way as we’d walked in quarter of an hour earlier. The sight of my bruised and battered face had obviously been as good a talking point over the bread and olive oil dip as the different suggestions on the menu. At India’s raised voice every head turned once more, and eyes flicked from the twins in their chairs to the ancient, beaten-up and dying mother and back to the allegedly adulterous husband.

For a couple of seconds no one at our table said a word. I could feel the start of hysterical giggling welling up inside me, but didn’t want India to think I wasn’t taking her seriously. The bloody nerve of that Saxton woman. Obviously having a right old gossip with her gym bunny mates in the presence of Adriana’s pricked up, radar ears. For once I was glad of my black eye because first thing in the morning I’d be at that school gate waiting for her. I wondered if I could borrow a Rottweiler from somewhere to add to my appearance: screaming twins, black eye and a pulling and slavering out-of-control beast would really put the wind up Adriana’s mother.

Nick walked over to India and, taking her hand, brought her back to his place at the table where he pulled her on to his knee and gave her a big kiss. ‘You know, darling, there are some very horrid people in this world, and Adriana’s mother is one of them. For some reason she likes hurting people – not with her hands, but with what she says. Both Mummy and Auntie Grace are very young and very beautiful’ (a bit over the top there, Nicholas) ‘and Adriana’s mummy isn’t either of those things – in fact I think she is really an old witch like in Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat, and so she makes up horrid things to say about people. Horrid old bitches – sorry, witches – do that, you know. Auntie Grace is a little bit poorly because she’s moved into the old farm when it’s not ready yet and it’s making her a bit fed up. And as for Uncle Sebastian…’ here Nick paused as he looked towards the restaurant door, ‘well, as you can see he’s here and certainly not zooming down any motorway on his motorbike.’

All members of the Westmoreland menagerie turned as one as Seb approached our table. While still undoubtedly sublime – it wasn’t only our table that had turned to stare at this ravishing six foot Enrique Iglesias lookalike – Sebastian looked tired, his face pale against his black motorbike leathers.

‘How did you know we were all here?’ I asked, as Seb put his helmet on the floor and pulled up another chair to the already crowded table.

‘I didn’t. I called round to your place and no one was there and then on the way back I happened to spot your car outside the restaurant. What are you celebrating?’ Seb smiled as he looked round at us all.

Your arrival,’ Sylvia purred, flirting shamelessly. God, ever since she’d hooked Judge Colin she seemed to think she was Mata Hari and was irresistible to all men. I’d caught her yesterday chatting up the window cleaner. I hadn’t had the heart to tell her he was gay, firmly ensconced in a relationship with Frank the fishmonger in town.

‘How’s Grace?’ I asked, batting Sylvia out of the way with the breadbasket.

‘That’s why I’m here,’ Seb replied, helping himself to a couple of pieces of bread and accepting the glass of wine Sylvia had thrust under his nose. ‘I’ve taken Grace and Jonty round to Mum and Dad’s place and wanted you to have a key to the farm. The workmen have got one, but I’d rather you had one too.’

‘So Grace has agreed to go, has she? Is that just until you can find somewhere to rent?’ I couldn’t believe Grace would willingly have agreed to stay with Amanda for any length of time: they’d been enemies since our grammar school days.

Seb was obviously hungry. He reached for the last piece of bread, buttering it lavishly before pausing to speak. ‘She had to, Harriet. She really isn’t herself at the moment. She just doesn’t seem able to cope with the baby and the farm.’

‘Well, I’m not surprised. You can’t bring up a baby in a virtual building site. Having said that, I’m not sure how she and your mother are going to get on living under the same roof for any length of time.’

‘She’ll be fine,’ Sylvia butted in. ‘Best place for her, having her mother-in-law to look after her when she’s got the baby blues. We mothers-in-law are very good at that,’ she went on, simpering across at Sebastian. Any minute now she’d be stroking his arm.

‘Don’t forget, Sylvia, Amanda’s only four years older than Grace. Hardly mother-in-law material. And Grace and Seb aren’t married – so the title doesn’t count, anyway.’

‘Oh, don’t be pedantic, Harriet. You know what I mean.’ And then turning to Sebastian said, ‘You’ll join us and stay to eat, won’t you? We haven’t ordered yet.’

It was a statement rather than a question, and I was surprised when Sebastian appeared more than ready to accept her offer and began taking off his biker jacket. Poor old Grace, a guest at Amanda’s and David’s pile. She really would be fed up without Sebastian to back her up. India, still on Nick’s lap, seemed to have regained some of her usual bounce, and I felt I could turn my attention to Seb. I was just about to ask him how he felt Grace really was, and when he thought the farm might be ready to move back into, when Nick jumped up, spilling India on to her grandmother and knocking over a glass of wine in his efforts to meet another newcomer. Once more, all heads in the pizza joint turned as a huge, handsome man crossed the restaurant towards us.

‘Nikolai,’ the man roared, grabbing Nick in an all embracing hug before planting a kiss on each of his cheeks in turn and returning him to the floor. India giggled from the safety of Sylvia’s knee and I restrained myself from joining in with her. I didn’t know anything about Russians (I assumed that he was the Russian Nick was expecting, rather than some random Midhope man hugger who had just happened to catch sight of Nick through the restaurant window), my only terms of reference being President Putin and those bloody annoying meerkat things on the TV advert. He beamed round at all of us while a flustered ‘Nikolai’ introduced the Russian as ‘Anasim’, before getting the attention of the nearest waiter and asking for yet another chair and more drinks. We all shuffled one way or another and Anasim took the chair, shoehorned in between Sylvia and Nick. India continued to stare in fascination at the newcomer and he chucked her under the chin, asked her her name and poured a huge glass of vodka from the bottle that appeared on his side of the table.

The rest of the evening was a riot. Anasim, who it appeared had a huge propensity not only for vodka but for all women, took it upon himself to charm every female around that table whether as young as India or as old as Sylvia. I was convinced if Thea had woken up – which, amazingly, she didn’t – Anasim would have been in there, jiggling, cooing and flirting even with her. Nikolai, now an honorary Russian on account of his new name and the vodka he too was knocking back, was guaranteed an aching head in the morning – and Sylvia was in heaven, what with a flirty Russian on one side and the gorgeous Seb on the other.

Glancing at my watch, I realised it was way past India’s bedtime: I needed to make a move with her and the twins. The others would just have to make their way home in taxis as there wasn’t an adult left, apart from Seb, who was capable of driving. It had been a great evening and I was feeling magnanimous enough to let both Libby and Kit stay on with the others. While it was school in the morning, I reckoned Libby in particular deserved a treat, as she’d been working so hard at her A level studies the past few days. Gathering the detritus of babies, jackets, handbags and the leftover pizza India insisted she take home with her, my little party made its way towards the exit and the car park. It was only once I’d settled my three little ones into their respective seats in the car and began pulling out into the main road, India chattering sleepily, that two thoughts occurred to me. The ‘handkerchief’ that Anasim had taken from his pocket to wipe his profusely sweating brow was pink, silky and distinctly women’s panty shaped… while the position of our cars in the restaurant car park meant there was no way Seb could have known we were all in that particular restaurant, as he had claimed.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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