“He asked me to marry him!”
Emma White felt her mouth drop open as she looked at her best friend in all the world in amazement. She should have known when the overly conscientious teacher, who never normally left school during lunch hours to focus on lesson plans for her class of seven year old children insisted on meeting her in this trendy cafe halfway between their work places. Isobel Prior was dedicated to her work, unlike Emma who was disinterested in her job as a temp. So this change in her friend’s behaviour should have alerted her something.
And it was a shock.
It wasn’t that she didn’t think that Nathan Blacker would marry Isobel, quite the opposite. In fact he’d be a mug not to, the man worshipped her, and she deserved that. Her best friend was beautiful, inside and out. But as much as she hated to admit it, Emma’s immediate realisation, which she admitted was SO selfish, was that this was both the end of their world as they knew it, and that her family, and indeed everyone else South of Birmingham with an opinion, had further evidence that she was falling further and further behind her peers in EVERY way.
Shaking away the negativity she burst into a huge smile and pulled her friend into a hug. It was wonderful news, Isobel was as besotted with Nathan as he was with her, not in a nauseating way, Emma loved spending time in their home, it was so friendly and warm. And they longed for a family; they’d both hinted at that on several occasions, both of them would want that to happen in the security of marriage.
Isobel smiled as they broke the hug, and extended an elegant hand in her direction smiling coyly as she displayed her new gift, the perfect ring, “he’d arranged for ‘IZZY WILL YOU MARRY ME?’ to be printed inside the menu at La Garde. I had NO idea, when I opened it I almost died, then I looked around and the whole of the restaurant was watching me. I was terrified!”
Emma grinned, her friend was so gentle, so unassuming, and she didn’t seek attention, always happy to sit back and be part of a group, not that she had any reason for that. She was such an attractive woman, tall, willowy with her strong Mediterranean colouring, she lit up any room she entered. “So you immediately snatched at the ring and screeched ‘YES’?”
Isobel giggled and it was infectious, “it was so...brilliant, yet embarrassing...but more for Nathan than for me I suppose, I mean if I’d said no...he’d have looked such a fool!”
“But you were never going to say no, he knew that! If ever there were two people made for each other, it was you two. I’m going to have to congratulate him on his romance factor. Usually Nathan is too practical for his own good.”
Isobel giggled, “I know, he’s not one for grand gestures normally!”
“He’s perfect for you Iz, absolutely perfect!”
Isobel blushed, “you think?”
Emma hated that hint of jealousy that had preceded her pleasure for her friend. Whey had she become so selfish? “Of course! I am SO excited for you. Have you worked out when? Where? I’m going to have to renew my gym membership.”
Isobel smiled a happier and more confident smile, “as if. You’re almost six foot and have curves most women would die for. And the best teeth!”
“Teeth?” she asked in confusion.
Isobel nodded, “you have perfect teeth Ems.” She placed a hand over her friend’s, “and this doesn’t mean that you’ll become some sort of Victorian spinster.”
Emma grinned typical of Isobel to think of her at her greatest, happiest moment. “This is your perfect moment mate; don’t bring the disaster zone of my love life into this, ok?” She raised her glass latte mug and toasted her, “cheers best buddy! This is truly THE greatest news! The greatest day!”
And it really, truly was.
It was just THE worst timed news ever for Emma. Since her cousin Charlotte married the previous year at “only twenty four”, closely followed by her already\ married cousin James fathering a chubby baby boy at “only twenty eight”, not to mention the fact that he owned his own home, and was recently promoted to manager of a chain of hardware shops in Leighton Buzzard. According to her parents’ marriage, children and an endless supply of cross blade screws was the recipe to success.
Emma hated to admit that at three months short of thirty she was starting to feel that her life wasn’t going anywhere either, but she’d never let her folks know that. There was nothing as masochistic as fuelling the war against you. Her parents’ loved her, she knew that, but they judged life by achievements, and as a single woman in a rented flat, in a temporary job, she didn’t tick any of their milestone boxes. But for Emma change meant giving up on her dream, to be an actress. It was a pipedream, she was getting to realise that more every day, but she’d put so much effort into it that she had no plan B, no backup. And it was so hard to both lose your dream...and admit your parents were right!
Two days later Emma was embroiled in badly typing letters from the CEO of Carter Stationary to various suppliers. She was a bad typist. No that was a lie. At emails and IM’s to friends she excelled, but reproducing the schmoozing tomes in badly constructed sentences from a really poor quality Dictaphone, wasn’t met with either enthusiasm or interest. But then beggars couldn’t be choosers, and whilst she had this job as a temporary receptionist she was paying the bills...just. She would have to wait for the miracle break that was always just around the next corner; she’d promised herself that at thirty she’d give up on her dream. No more extra work, bit parts or voiceovers. No more unrealistic dreams. Three months, that was all she had left.
With a sigh she pulled off her headphones, needing a break from the monotonous voice of Mr Pritchard, and then smiled at the perfectly timed arrival of an email. Clicking on the icon she smiled when she saw Isobel’s name, in her inbox, her friend had been like a shaken but un-popped bottle of champagne since her revelation earlier in the week.
“All sorted girlfriend! I’ve finally managed to tie down a couple of friends, and its all go! Hen weekend...or rather five days. Vegas BABY! Hope your passport is up to date!”
Emma groaned, hell. Her idea of hell.
“Iz, it’s not my thing, you know that. Maybe we could do a spa day somewhere?”
She couldn’t send it. Of course she’d walk to the ends of the earth for her best friend. So instead she deleted, then penned a rather brief, “Sounds amazing, I’ll call you tonight!”
“I don’t know what you’re worried about. I mean it’s VEGAS!” Matt was the temp in the mail room, he visited the office twice a day to deliver and collect mail. In the three months she’d been in the job they’d become great friends. “I LOVE Vegas! You know, I remember the last time I was there...”
He’d drifted off in a dream world and Emma did not want to think of where his mind had gone.
“Back in the room Matthew!” She pulled him from his daydream.
He shook his head and smiled at her, “sorry, Cameron...”
Emma held up her hand, “we are not going to hear more Cameron related stories, ok?” Cameron was Matt’s on/off partner; they had the most explosive relationship, huge highs, but THE biggest blow outs ever. It was worse than a soap opera.
“Ok, ok, ok! But anyway Vegas, it’s like hedonism. You will love it!”
Emma wasn’t so sure. She’d be constantly worried about breaking the bank, she had zero savings, and then there was four days of partying once she got there. But it wasn’t a choice. She had to go, so she’d blitz her credit card and create more life controlling debt. There wasn’t really another option.
Back in High School, even at University she’d been the life and soul of the party, Emma White equalled fun lover. But she felt too old these days, that was what this was all about. The weight of those three months until she was thirty were hanging over her like a black cloud, and with it the realisation that NOTHING had changed since leaving University eight years earlier. She had no money, lived in a grotty rented flat, and got by on supermarket value branded food.
The previous week she’d had an audition, a really small part in a British made drama, but there was dialogue, actual words. And she’d heard nothing. Truth being she didn’t think she’d been successful, that was why her phone was quiet. It felt like the final straw.
Leaving work Emma tried to gee herself up a bit, she was raining on Isobel’s parade. Pulling out her credit card she bought a bottle of champagne from a nearby wine shop, then took the tube to Izzy’s.
Emma could remember the day she first met Isobel Prior, five years old and she’d changed schools, her seat had been next to a petite dark haired girl with THE friendliest smile. At break time Emma had cried through the stress of it all, and Isobel had saved her. Since then they had both looked after each other through thick and thin.
Their families and backgrounds couldn’t be any different, but that didn’t’ seem to matter. Isobel had a non identical twin sister Eve, who was almost the blonder version of her, and three brothers. Her father was a retired Sergeant Major from the Royal Artillery Regiment, her mother a Cypriot by birth who’d fallen in love with a young Stanley Prior. She’d grown up in a home where her father was often absent, but was more than hands on and enthusiastic when he did return home. On the contrary, she was an only child of older parents who’d met late. Her mother was her father’s secretary and he’d left his wife for her. Mavis White had been forty one when she’d been born, her father forty five.
Which meant that they were both in their seventies and desperate for a grandchild.
Time was running out for all concerned. Not that she wanted to think like that. “I’m in the prime of my life!” She called out to no one in particular, then made for Isobel’s house.
Isobel had met Nathan, a charming and rich junior banker at an Italian cuisine class at a small local restaurant three years earlier, and they’d instantly hit it off. They’d become inseparable, and she’d moved in to his West London home eighteen months earlier. And in that year and a half the house had changed dramatically. Gone was the minimalist mancave and the weekly poker nights, now every room was filled with colours, textures and the distinctive touch that was Isobel, a comfortable and colourful house that was instantly homely.
Tonight was no exception. Nathan opened the door after Emma had rung the doorbell. He smiled when he saw her stood there with the champagne in her outstretched hand.
“A delayed congratulations!” Emma announced as she pulled him into a hug. “I’m so proud of you big man! Never thought you had the romance in you!”
He groaned as they pulled apart, “it’s still haunting me at night days later!”
She grinned, “she loved it, and that’s the important thing!”
He nodded, “I wanted to show her in a special way!”
This was exactly why Emma loved Nathan! He was so keen to please Isobel, she couldn’t have asked for a better man, and he was man enough to be open with his feelings! She only wished all men were as transparent and honest as him. Emma sighed; here she was dragging her own doom and gloom into the celebrations. She had to forget Damien, and him dumping her after three years, and the other losers she had seemed to attract since.
“Something smells good!” Emma fished for information and was rewarded by Nathan’s smile.
“Carciofi alla Romano!” When she looked puzzled he added, “artichokes, Roman style. And enough for three! Come on in!”
Isobel met them in the hall, wondering what had happened to her chef, and the two sat in the kitchen watching him cook the food, drinking cold chardonnay as the champagne chilled.
“So six weeks.” Isobel informed her once they’d devoured the delicious food. “Vegas. Me, you, Eve and Angelina!”
Eve, Isobel’s twin was a fashion photographer, she was SO much fun, and she partied all over the world. If anyone could find them great parties in Vegas it was Eve. If not then Angelina Coleman would. The daughter of a diamond miner and a Zambian actress, Eve was a ex-catwalk model, since she’d given up on the cutthroat world of Milan, Paris and London fashion houses, she’d become a magazine editor for a London based fashion edition. The two of them together were a stark contrast, Eve was as blond as Angelina was dark, and the two were as close as friends as she and Isobel were.
“Wow! I’m thinking two words...expensive and carnage!” Emma couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Once she’d accepted that she was bankrupting herself doing it, she was looking forward to it. How could she not?
Nathan laughed, “I’m SO glad I’m not expected to go on these things, I’m sensing it’s going to me crazy!”
That was the exact echo of Emma’s feelings.