Bride without a Groom
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Bride without a Groom
A division of HarperCollinsPublishers
Published by Avon an imprint of
1 London Bridge Street,
London SE1 9GF
First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Publishers 2015
Copyright © Amy Lynch 2015
Cover illustration © Alice Moore 2015
Amy Lynch asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Digital eFirst: Automatically produced by Atomik ePublisher from Easypress.
Ebook Edition © May 2015 ISBN: 9780008146443
For Eoin Sorry about all the burnt dinners, darling. As you can see, I’ve been a little busy…
This is it.I can feel it. Four years of waiting for my beloved Barry to pop the question. Four years of hinting. Four years of dreaming and praying and wishing. Tonight’s the night.
He has chosen the perfect evening for it. You’ve got to give the man credit where credit is due. I mean, surprising me with an engagement ring on my thirtieth birthday in Jacques restaurant? It’s elegant class. I couldn’t have scripted it better.
I spied the velvet box last week, accidentally stumbling upon it when I was innocently vacuuming under the mattress. I’d already gone through his wardrobe and chest of drawers with a feather duster and rummaged through his bedside locker with a wet cloth. OK, OK, you’ve got me. I don’t dust. I don’t vacuum. I don’t wipe sticky things clean with wet cloths. Yuk! I admit it, I was snooping. But can you blame me? The suspense was killing me.
Fumbling with the box, so close to opening it, I heard the key in the door. Rumbled! Sneaking back later, he’d moved it. Next thing you know, he’s booked a table at the most pretentious restaurant in town. All deliciously suspicious behaviour.
The night is upon us. I have taken glam to a whole new level, even shelling out for a new posh frock, a designer one. The works! My tan is flawless, not pasty, not orange, just perfectly in the middle. My lipstick and shellac nails are a deep vixen red. It’s the kind of colour that says ‘Yes, I’ll marry you, my darling. And I’ll rip you apart in bed later.’
Barry is driving so that I can have a drink when we get there. Super sweet! He probably wants to keep a clear head. You know, for the proposal and all. I close my eyes. I love Barry so much I could explode.
‘Now, I just got you something small for your birthday. Give it to you later.’
He plays a good game, I’ll give him that. He’s throwing me off the scent.
Yeah, right! Something small, is it? I love the whole fake out. So devious of him!
‘Of course,’ I wink at him. He doesn’t wink back. ‘Sure, the best things come in small packages, eh?’ I wink again.
He glances sideways with a confused look on his face.
‘Yeah, I suppose so.’
Oh, this is great! Bless him. He really thinks he has me fooled! Of course, to spare his manhood, I will naturally act all, like, shock horror when he produces the bling ring. The poor man is probably sweating buckets. It must be so much pressure to ask someone to marry you!
He is concentrating hard on the road, probably practising his romantic speech. Perhaps he is considering whether he should go down on bended knee or not. Maybe he’s worried he’ll cry when I say yes. I send him a telepathic message.
Bended knee, yes! Declaration of love, yes! Tears, no!
The man needs his dignity, after all.
‘You’re quiet,’ he breaks my fantasy.
I’m thinking about my supersized reaction and visualising the smattering of applause from the waiters.
‘Just thinking how lucky I am. You know – being whisked out for my birthday, and all. Special night, eh?’
‘Absolutely. You only turn thirty once, right?’
Don’t remind me. At least I will have reached the goal I set when I was twelve to be engaged by the time I am thirty. I have no intention of failing. I will have scraped to the finish line by the elastic of my knickers. If he pops the question before midnight, I will be on target.
Barry opens the car door for me. He’s always such a gent! The waiter shows us to our table. I am grinning so much that I have a pain in my jaw. It doesn’t matter. I want to mentally record the whole evening.
‘This is magical. Don’t you think it’s magical?’
‘Champagne?’ I suggest to Barry as the waiter approaches with our menus.
‘Eh… Sure, order whatever you like. I’ll have a Coke.’
Sweet! He’s dedicated to remaining sober and clear headed so that he doesn’t muddle his words. He’s probably overwrought with emotion at this very moment.
‘Jesus, I’m bloody starving,’ Barry is looking around for his starter.
I will have to edit out his impatience when I regale our freckle-faced-pig-tailed grand kiddies with tales of the storybook evening. ‘Tell me again, Granny, about the night Granddad proposed,’ the little ones will plead as I sip my G&T.
The dessert is coming now. I can feel the anticipation building. It’s either anticipation or heartburn due to the copious amount of Bollinger I am knocking back. The jury is still out. It’s nothing a ridiculously large rock on my ring finger and a bumper packet of Rennie’s can’t cure.
Barry reaches subconsciously for the pocket of his sports jacket and taps lightly. I hold my breath. He is checking that the lush velvet box is still safely nestled, waiting to dazzle me.
Still, I play the game. We are making small talk. We are weaving and bobbing. What holiday do I think we should go on next year? How is work going? Is that a new dress? Where am I off to with the girls tomorrow night?
The waiter arrives with banoffee and profiteroles.
‘Bon app?tit.’ The waiter beams at us. He gives a quick glance at my cleavage and then smiles into my face.
OH…MY…GOD! The waiter knows! The whole restaurant is probably in on it. It is all one big conspiracy. Do Mum and Dad know? Did Barry ask Dad for my delicate hand in marriage? Did my BFFs help him with the arrangements?
The banoffee is heaven sent but I can’t stomach it. Still, I make a pretty good attempt so as not to be rude. I don’t want Barry to be suspicious.
‘So. I almost forgot,’ Barry clears his throat and puts his fork down.
This is it.
‘Yes!’ I cry, startling the couple at the next table.
‘Eh, so…yeah. Happy birthday, Rebecca.’
Barry reaches into his breast pocket. Here it is. I watch in slow motion. I can’t take the suspense any longer. It is killing me. I nearly shout at him to hurry the flip up, but I catch myself in time.
‘Oh, what’s this?’ I force my eyebrows back down.
‘Open it and see. Just a small little something. I saw you admiring it a while ago in the jeweller’s window.’
Holy Flipping Divine. I try a deep breath. The banoffee is performing somersaults. The box looks too big for a ring, now that I examine it a second time. It must be a whopper. He must have blown a packet on it.
Slowly, tantalisingly, I tease open the box. I am savouring the moment of joy. Tears are pricking my lids in preparation. As the velvet lid opens ajar, I get a flash of diamond. There, in all its glory is a… surely not. What the?!
‘It’s a …’ I swallow.
There is an uncomfortable lump in my throat. Perhaps the dessert is coming back up for its final revenge. I reach for my champagne flute but it is empty. I reach for the bottle, which is also empty.
‘A…’ I can hardly pronounce the word, a dirty word, a vulgar word.
‘Yes, it’s the diamond tennis bracelet. I saw you admiring it in the window of Weir’s in Dundrum town centre. That’s the one you were pointing to, yeah?’
I try to speak but can’t. All I can do is nod mutely. Inside, I am screaming.
‘Yes, that’s the one alright.’ I scrounge a smile.
He’s right. It’s the one I pointed to. However, it was after I’d pointed to the engagement rings. It was a greedy afterthought, following much drooling at the diamond and platinum pretties to the left.
‘Do you like it?’ Barry looks hurt. I’d better say something. I’d better fix this. I’m ruining the evening.
‘Thank you,’ my voice is small. ‘So much. I love it.’
The waiter doesn’t even glance in our direction. There is no mariachi band hiding behind the curtains to serenade the newly engaged couple. There are no fellow diners clapping and smiling. The dream is over. Soon, it will be midnight and my golden carriage will turn back into a pumpkin. My dress will turn into rags. The waiters will turn into mice.
A twelve-year-old Rebecca is shaking her head; the mission will be marked harshly with an ink stamp.
Barry is oblivious. ‘Cheque, please.’
I tell him I’m tired, bit of a headache, too much champers perhaps. We drive home in silence.
What will the girls think? I’m a wreck; we’re talking tears and snot, here. Scrambling through my overstuffed Chlo? handbag, in between soggy tissues, my wallet and a hairbrush, I retrieve a make-up bag and study myself in a compact mirror. Once I wipe away the panda eyes and smooth my sleek blonde hair, I’m passable. A dash of daring red lippie finishes the patch-up job. You can do this!
The taxi pulls up at the Ice bar, and I thrust a tenner at the driver. He mutters something, but doesn’t even have the decency to ogle my legs as I get out. I’m scuttling towards the door to escape the drizzle which threatens to frizz my hair. This is not easy in an overpriced pair of Manolo Blahniks, as they are of six-inch-heel proportions, and are already killing me. Still, they make me feel like I might pass for my late twenties, so I decide that it will be worth it. Beauty is pain!
A few stiff drinks will be just the ticket. Yes, Barry and I have had the mother ship of arguments. No, last night’s birthday dinner didn’t exactly go to plan. But deadlines are extended all the time. It will all work out.
I’m ready to make an entrance.
The girls have already arrived, and are sitting in a booth with the drinks lined up. They spot me instantly and are on their feet to greet me.
‘OMG! Rebecca, you look so thin!’ Emer squeals in approval as we air kiss.
‘Becks! You skinny malink.’ Pam kisses me twice on each cheek. I think the month in France at the family chalet has gone to her head.
I’m sucking in my tummy.
‘No! Are you serious? I’ve bloody ballooned. Thanks, though.’
Quick aside: I’d squeezed myself into something very tight and black before the taxi had honked. FYI, the ensemble was over a one-size-too-small pair of Spanx that I had purchased (with huge shame) in Marks & Spencer’s. Judging by my gal pals, it has sucked me in at all the right places and created a slimming illusion. Honestly, it is a kind of black magic – worth every penny. Breathing is so over-rated, anyway.
Since I’ve now passed the big Three-Oh threshold, I’ll need to be on major frump alert.
‘Happy birthday,’ Emer and Pam chorus as I slide in beside them.
Pam passes me a Brown Thomas gift bag, and I air kiss her again. It’s probably a darling lipstick from the Chanel counter. Pam slides a birthday card over to me, with a badge that reads ‘I’m 30, buy me a drink!’, and there is a spa gift voucher inside.
‘Thanks, girls,’ I give a watery smile. ‘Let’s hope this evening is better than last night.’
The girls exchange uneasy looks. I’d texted them both this afternoon in a right state, so they know that something is up. Hopefully, they can utter words of wisdom in between cocktails.
‘What happened, pet?’ Emer asks.
Dressed in a jersey wrap dress and expensive jewellery, Emer oozes effortless class. She smacks of old money. You know, there’s not much of that about these days. Such a pity. Her blonde hair is shoulder length and sensible.
Pam, on the other hand, is dressed in a black shapeless dress, and her auburn hair is scraped into a large clip. I can tell that she’s hungover from the night before by the way she’s knocking back her Malibu and Coke. Her eye make-up is smudged.
‘Well,’ I sigh dramatically for effect.
The girls lean in closer. I’m the centre of attention, and loving every minute.
‘I think I’ll start with a Sex on the Beach. For old time’s sake.’
‘Forget the drinks!’ says Pam. ‘Tell us!’
‘What’s up?’ Emer rests her chin on her left hand, and I notice her dazzler. At three carats, it’s hard to miss. You can probably see it from space. I’m practically blind looking at it, but can’t avert my gaze. The bitchy school girl in me shouts how gauche it is, but I know that if I had a granny I’d sell her for one just like it. Emer orders us a Strawberry Daiquiri, a Mojito and an Appletini. I’m ready to divulge the sordid details.
‘It’s all gone tits up, girls. Barry took me out to dinner last night for my birthday and gave me this.’
I produce my limp wrist with the bracelet dangling, and study their faces for a reaction.
‘Oh, wow. It’s gorgeous.’ Emer strokes the diamonds.
‘Yeah. I suppose. Kind of hoping for something else though, you know?’ I point to my bare left ring finger.
‘Ah, Rebecca, don’t worry. Give him time.’
Emer is right, of course she is, but I can’t help it, I’m devastated.
‘Anyway, this morning before work we had a massive row.’
‘Jesus, another one?’
Pam can be a tad cheeky. I decide to take the high road. Much less traffic.
‘He says he’s not ready to get married just yet.’
‘Selfish eejit,’ Pam declares.
‘He stormed off to work and I haven’t seen him since. He hasn’t called to check on me or anything. I think it’s over. I had to ring in sick to work, I was in such a state.’
‘He’ll be back,’ soothes Emer. ‘Let him cool off.’
I’m fluttering my fingertips at my eyes, as if I can shoo the tears back in. One lands with a plop on the table. I feel all wobbly. Perhaps it’s the emotional trauma of it all. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before. Now, I know it’s hard to believe, but if I don’t get my full ten hours a night, I’m a complete diva! Besides, according to Tyra Banks, the best thing you can have in your make-up bag is a good night’s sleep.
‘You poor thing,’ Emer continues.
That’s more like it.
‘Thanks. And you know, all I said to set the war off this time was “What are your thoughts on wedding lists?” It’s a simple enough question, yeah? I mean, am I not allowed to make conversation over breakfast? Are people these days meant to resort to censorship? This isn’t communist Russia, last time I checked!’
‘Good riddance to him. Like I always say,’ Pam is slurring already, ‘another man is just around the next cocktail!’
Pam raises her glass and loses half of the contents of her Malibu and Coke. Emer elbows her in the ribs and gives her a warning look.
‘Ah, give him a chance.’ Emer touches her pearl earring with a French-manicured finger.
Pam is the devil on my shoulder and Emer is the angel. They’re kind of a package deal, you know? It’s like buying the lasagne sauce and getting the free dish. We all met in the late nineties in Trinity College Dublin (or Trinners, as we fondly refer to it). This was, of course, back in the days before we discovered mobile phones and fake tans. Frankly, I don’t know how we survived before either. Emer completed an honours business and marketing degree and graduated first in her year. In sharp contrast, Pam had started an arts degree like myself, but never quite limped to the finish line. A trip to India got in the way. She went to find herself, but I think she’s still looking.
Emer has it all. While I slip slowly into insanity in a dead-end job, she’s a successful marketing director with a finance firm in the city centre. I’m still not sure exactly what that entails, although she’s explained it to me a few times, but I know it involves a lot of hiring and firing of incompetent assistants and wearing tailored suits. While I drive a beaten-up Volkswagen Golf with windscreen wipers that don’t move (not ideal in this climate), her latest bonus allows her to drive a convertible Mercedes. And most infuriatingly, while I can’t seem to get Barry to commit, she and husband David are DINKS – Double Income No Kids. They enjoy luxury breaks and the latest gadgets. It’s ever so slightly sickening, really. If I wasn’t simply mad about her (oh, and if Barry and I didn’t holiday in her Majorcan villa), she would likely be someone I would despise.
Pam, on the other hand, is not so lucky. This is especially true in love. Between you and me, she is like a Jedward performance when it comes to the romance department. Quite the cringe fest! She bounces from one poisonous relationship to the next. Married men, sleazy men, men who don’t call the next day – she has experienced them all. Twice. The worst part is that she gives them so many chances, and then Emer and I have to tell her to cop the flip on. Still, it doesn’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm. Bless her.
I give a blow-by-blow account of the row of the century that we’d had this morning. They nod sympathetically in all the right spots as I rehash every unpleasant detail. By now, they’re no strangers to the dilemma at hand: Barry will not commit. We’ve thrashed out the issue and analysed the details many times.
‘I mean, Barry hasn’t taken me on a romantic spa mini break in practically weeks!’ I whine, trying to force out another tear. ‘This back won’t massage itself. I’m so tense!’
The girls nod dutifully.
‘He’s busy with work,’ Emer reasons.
‘He’s selfish!’ Pam cries.
‘And another thing,’ I rage. ‘Barry is definitely commitment phobic. According to Dr Phil’s Relationship Recovery, you have to invest in your emotional currency!’
I’ve got the full collection of Dr Phil’s enlightening books, and I’ve memorised certain quotes from them. You can borrow one if you like. Also, I don’t mean to brag, but I took an entire lecture in psychology once. I’d accidentally stumbled into the wrong lecture hall in the arts block, and was too hungover to leave. A surprising amount of useful information must have sunk in.
Pam erupts into hysterical laughter and then burps. Not very lady-like if you ask me. I’m starting to suspect that she’s not taking this at all seriously. Undeterred, I go on, full throttle. I start at the top of the list of Barry’s flaws and work my way down. Like Pam’s flatulence, this stuff is better out than in.
‘Oh, and he outright refused to attend a wedding fair with me last week. Something about his grandfather’s removal? Shoddy excuse!’
Emer’s jaw drops. Her eyebrows would be raised if the Botox wasn’t so potent. My tummy churns with the guilt of slagging Barry off, but sometimes I just need to vent to the girls.
‘Look, he doesn’t deserve you,’ Pam manages to get a word in.
‘Damn right!’ I thump my fist on the table in agreement and slosh half of a Pi?a Colada on Pam’s shoes. She doesn’t seem to notice. The three of us make our way through the cocktail list and the ex-boyfriend list. We murder both.
I smile. To my delight, another tray of the overpriced multi-coloured drinks arrives. Before I can weakly protest, Emer whips out her platinum card. Pam points to a nearby table. A group of lads are smiling over. One says something to the other, and they howl with laughter. Pam says they’re cute and they probably fancy us, so she wants to join them, but I’m afraid of losing my audience. Besides, I haven’t even gotten to the part about Barry’s refusal to sample wedding cake yet.
‘Anyway,’ Emer lovingly diverts the conversational traffic back in my direction. ‘Did you go to look at engagement rings that time? You said that he was going to take you ring shopping?’
A deep burgundy hue creeps up my neck, and the stomach churn returns. The ever so shameful truth is that, technically, he did not promise anything of the kind. Technically, I led him blindly by the arm to Weir & Sons the last time we went to Dundrum town centre. I’d accidentally on purpose taken a wrong turn, falsely luring him to the centre with a sneaky suggestion that he take a look in Tommy Hilfiger for a new polo shirt. His old one was decidedly shabby, I had convinced him. I couldn’t give a flying flip about his polo shirts, but the tactic worked. He allowed me to stand and point at the window in the direction of engagement rings. The chocolate cake I’d fed him moments before from Butler’s made him sluggish and docile. He’s easier to manage that way. Sadly, as you may have guessed, it was the tennis bracelet that caught his eye.
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