I head into the bedroom and slide naked between the covers and into Oscar’s open arms, pressing my lips against his chest.
* * *
New Year’s Resolutions
For the last few years I’ve started my resolutions with a wish for my first job in publishing.
Officially, I don’t need to put that this year, although I will secretly express a desire to move into something slightly more taxing than replying to teenage girls about boys and how to plait their hair like Katniss Everdeen. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it; it’s more that our readership is relatively modest and I can’t see how I’m ever going to progress there. Plus I don’t even like Justin Bieber.
Technically, I should write down finding somewhere else to live as a resolution, because I’ve been living with Oscar for six months now and it was only ever supposed to be a temporary arrangement. But I don’t want to live anywhere else, and he doesn’t want me to go, so I’m not going to. We seem to have leapfrogged several conventional stages in our relationship, but it’s been that way for us from the very first moment he spoke to me in Thailand. Who’s to say what’s right and wrong with love, anyway? This isn’t romance by numbers, it’s real life. Yes, I find his adoration overwhelming sometimes; he wears his heart on his sleeve with my name scored through it. He still asks me to marry him at least once a week, and although I know he’s ninety per cent kidding, I think he’d book the church if I shocked him and said yes. He’s a gift giver and a considerate lover and a steady ship.
So I don’t really know what my New Year’s resolution is. Just try not to fall overboard, I guess.
‘Are you sure the recipe said to put the whole bottle of rum in?’ I splutter a little into the glass teacup of punch Sarah has just passed me to taste. ‘I think it’s taken the roof off my mouth.’
She laughs wickedly. ‘I might have adulterated it a tiny bit.’
‘Well, at least everyone will be too pissed to notice if it’s not a very good party,’ I say, surveying the flat. Oscar has been away in Brussels for most of this week with work, which has left me free to spend my evenings getting everything surprise-birthday-party perfect. He’s twenty-nine tomorrow. I’ve carefully packed away anything of his mother’s that looks expensive or breakable, cooked and frozen Delia-worthy canapés, and Sarah and I have spent most of this afternoon rearranging the furniture to maximize on space. We’re lucky to live in the garden flat; we can always let people spill out there if it gets too full. Hopefully not though, as it’s freezing and the weather forecast mentioned the possibility of snow later.
‘It’ll be brilliant,’ she says over her shoulder as she heads for the loo. ‘You’ve bagged the coolest DJ in town, after all.’ I can’t quite tell if she’s being sarcastic or not.
It’s been three months since that hideous Saturday-morning showdown at Jack’s house, and thank God it seems as if he’s finally getting himself back on track, including agreeing to DJ at my boyfriend’s birthday party. And much more importantly than that, his old station have taken him back on, albeit in a slightly less prestigious slot than the one he had before, and Sarah mentioned earlier that he’s already scouting around for something better. I’ve only seen him once or twice since Christmas, and never alone. The first time, back in January, was incredibly awkward; despite the beautiful flowers he sent me, I hadn’t really found it in myself to properly forgive him. But when Sarah went to the loo he grabbed my hand and apologized, begged me, almost, and the intense, broken way he looked at me put a crack in my heart. I knew he meant it. He’d hurt me, but he’d hurt himself more.
I’m heartened to report that his beard has finally bitten the dust and the spark is returning to his green-gold eyes. I cannot tell you how relieved I am; for a while I wasn’t certain how he’d find the strength to pull himself back from the edge.
Sarah’s left her mobile on the kitchen work surface while she’s in the loo, and when it bleeps I look at it out of habit. The message is from Luke.
Don’t suppose you’re at a loose end tonight? Last minute plan fail, am Billy no mates. Save me, Sazzle!
I look at it for a few moments, my mind whirring, then walk away and stand gazing into the fridge. I don’t want Sarah to think I was snooping. It was an innocent-enough text; friendly, not flirty. I’ve only met Luke once when I bumped into them in a cafe close to where Sarah works, and he’s not Sarah’s usual type at all; he’s huge, all muscles and floppy surfer hair. But Sazzle? She’s told me that they’ve chatted, of course, and that he’s super-easy to talk to about things. Is there any more to it than that? I watch her out of the corner of my eye as she comes into the kitchen and picks up her phone, then laughs softly and slides it into the back pocket of her jeans without comment. It takes me by surprise, but then I don’t tell her about every text I get, either. Not to mention the other things I’ve never told her.
‘This is a long way from our Delancey Street parties, isn’t it?’ she says, pouring us both a glass of wine as we admire the smart, gleaming kitchen. ‘You’ve changed, Lu.’
I laugh at her sarcasm. ‘We both have.’
‘You know who I genuinely had a drink with last week?’ She slants her eyes at me, up to no good. ‘Amanda Holden.’
‘No!’ I clutch my stomach as if she’s stabbed me. ‘I knew it.’
She brushes her shoulders off with her fingertips and arches her eyebrows at me, then relents and starts to laugh. ‘We were in the same bar, anyway.’
I roll my eyes. ‘One day.’ And I mean it. She was promoted over New Year to a regular spot on the lunchtime news bulletin; she’s becoming someone who people know they’ve seen before but can’t think where. Give her a few years and she’ll need to wear a baseball cap and dark glasses to meet me for coffee.
‘What did you get Oscar for his birthday?’
A flicker of excitement licks through me. I can’t wait for him to see his gift. ‘I’ll show you,’ I say. ‘Come on.’ I lead her down the hallway towards our bedroom and push the door open. ‘There. What do you think?’ Hanging in pride of place over our bed is a large canvas painting. ‘Carly, one of the girls at work, painted it for me from a photograph I gave her.’
‘Wow.’ Sarah’s soft exclamation tells me that she’s as blown away as I am by the way Carly has managed to capture so much more than just the dawn colours and the dimensions of our little shack on the beach in Thailand. The painting vibrates with life and serenity; as I look at it I can almost hear the gentle rush of the sea and smell the strong-but-sweet black coffee as we sit on the front step and watch the sun come up. I nearly cried the first time I saw it.
‘I know,’ I say, not wanting to take my eyes away from it. ‘God knows why she works at the magazine. People would queue round the block if they knew how good she is.’
‘I wish I had a talent like that,’ Sarah sighs.
‘You’re kidding me, right?’ I say, ushering her from the bedroom and clicking the door closed. ‘I have to shade my eyes when you’re on TV.’
‘Piss off,’ she says, but I can hear in her voice that she’s bolstered by my words. Sarah’s always been a funny mix of brilliant and insecure; one second she’ll be prancing around the room like an overexcited show horse and the next she’ll be agonizing over a word she got wrong in her last broadcast.
‘What time is Oscar coming home?’
I look at the clock, working out how long I have to get everything and everyone in place. ‘His plane touches down just after six,’ I say. ‘So around half seven? I’ve asked everyone to be here for seven just to be sure.’
She grimaces. ‘I really hope Jack remembers.’
She doesn’t add ‘this time’. But I think both of our thoughts turn back to that other night a few months back, and I send up a silent hope that tonight will be memorable for all the right reasons.
I’m pretty sure Sarah is expecting me to be late. I can’t seem to win with her any more, despite my almost-constant apologies. She banged on and on about me finding a job, and now I have one again she’s on at me because I’m always at work. It’s not as if it matters whether or not I’m there for the big jazz-hands surprise when Oscar arrives at his party. Who has those anyway? I thought they were the domain of American sit-coms. Sarah’s perfectly able to manage the Spotify playlist without me, and I’m pretty certain I don’t feature on Oscar’s ‘it’s not a party until you’re here’ list. That’s okay. He wouldn’t feature on mine, either.