When the train finally rolled into Paddington, Laura was ready to get off. It was a long journey and she’d been increasingly cramped as the train picked up more and more passengers the closer they got to London, and her tension and anxiety mounted with each mile. Within seconds of trying to move along the platform she missed the relaxed laidback home she’d left. Once she’d thrived on the hustle and bustle of the City, but not now. She’d really become a beach babe, or rather a beach lover at least.
She’d kind of hoped that maybe her mother would meet her at the station; it would at least feel like she was coming home to something, as it was she was a stranger, and out of her comfort zone. Her father’s Chelsea apartment was a fifteen minute tube trip. Laura was so tempted to just get a cab, at least it was quieter, but that was an expense she didn’t need to waste money on. Her mother’s gift, a new dress for dinner, all were eating into the income she was normally so frugal with. So she needed to save pennies where she could.
Almost an hour later, apparently there’d been a suicide three stops away from her station that caused absolute chaos, she finally re-emerged into the bright sun, feeling like a mole, squinting in the light. Whilst she felt pain for the person who’d ended their life so dramatically and sympathy for any remaining relatives, she couldn’t help but be angry at the way it had inconvenienced her day. Ruing her own selfishness, she strolled the last mile in the comfort of less people and fresh air.
Laura was sure she still had a key to her parents’ home, but she couldn’t find it for the life of her, so she rang the bell. But there was no answer. She couldn’t remember any of the neighbours, so she really wasn’t able to knock their doors to see if they had a key for her family’s apartment. Suddenly she had a waft of fear, maybe they were in Hertfordshire! Suddenly Laura couldn’t remember what she’d agreed with her mother.
Phone, she thought, that was all she could do. Firstly she called the penthouse apartment above her, but there was no answer. As she hung up she connected to her mother’s mobile, just as a voice echoed from behind.
“Darling! You’re earlier than I imagined!”
With a sigh of relief Laura turned to see Maggie Marshall wafting towards her. She’d give anything for the slightest hint of her mother’s grace, but she was blessed with nothing, none of it had rubbed off on her at any point in her life. Her mother in one word was immaculate, her long dark hair hung down to her mid back and the gentle breeze seemed to lift it and it was almost ethereal. Her skin was pale, but warm, and her eyes behind her shades would be glistening with excitement. Laura knew that. As her mother hitched her handbag to her elbow, she pulled her daughter into a strong embrace, and Laura slumped against her, loving the feeling of arms supporting her.
“Happy Birthday Mum! You look great!”
She beamed, leaving an arm around Laura’s shoulders she led her back to the steps that led to the front door, “I’ve just had three hours making this all look natural!”
Laura groaned, the last three hours in stark contrast she’d spent on a train sitting beside a spotty teenager who kept trying to lean on her to sleep. Hardly a pampering beauty session! No wonder her mother looked so perfect.
“So what have you got to wear to the party tonight?” her mother glanced back after opening the door.
Suddenly that envy was replaced by fear; her mother had ‘that look’ in her eyes. It was the same look that had led to the ruin of her end of school prom, and her first date disaster. Her mother had the fashion sense of a haute couture model. She lived for bespoke clothing from top designers, years of modelling had left her with an eye for the extreme, and she’d give Stella McCartney a run for her money. At sixteen the simple floor length powder blue dress she’d bought in Miss Selfridge had been shelved in honour of the creation her mother had ‘discovered’, and so she’d stood out like a sore thumb amongst the other floor length dresses, in a midnight blue taffeta dress short skirt at the front, but with a full bustle and train at the back.
She had looked ridiculous, as she had on her first date when jeans and a blouse were shelved for pleated pants and a sailor top, Laura had fought the hat, but had the matching deck shoes...another ridiculous concoction that it had taken months to live down, but several years to forget. Her mother at her high society functions looked wonderful, but Laura who shunned that level of attention hated it. And now the ‘I’ve bought you something to wear’ look was heading her way, and the bile started to rise in her throat.
“I’ve bought a new dress! And it’s great!” She rushed up to the flat trying to avoid the subject. Ultimately she loved seeing her mother happy, and that’s a large part of the reason why she‘d succumbed to her whim’s in the past. The last thing she wanted was to attend her mother’s forty-eighth birthday party dressed like the crinoline lady that her grandmother had used to cover a toilet roll in the bathroom. She wanted to wear her simple yet pretty black dress, plain but flattering, it was enough, and she wanted to feel comfortable.
“I picked you something up, at Enrique’s yesterday!”
Laura cringed at the thought, “Enrique?”
Her mother nodded, tossing her bag and light jacket onto a bench in the hallway, “a wonderful designer I discovered. You will love it!”
“I’m fine Mum, honest!”
Her mother reached out and squeezed her cheek, “you will look divine in it, maybe then you’ll find a man, someone to love...”
And there it was, the start of the pressure. It was time you were married...you need to settle down Laura...when are you going to grow up and realise your responsibilities? As far as Laura was concerned, she wasn’t one of her father’s assets, she was a person. She didn’t rely on him for handouts, and she had never been in trouble with the law. Why couldn’t he be happy with that?
“If I want to find a man, then my dress will be fine, at the end of the day I am what I am, and an expensive dress would be like a Trading Standards breach...when he saw me in jeans the next day, he’d be asking for his money back!”
Her mother tutted, heading for the kitchen, but Laura knew that wasn’t the end of the pressure.
“So what have you got planned tonight? All I know is dinner.” Laura was sat opposite her mum, sipping at a mug of coffee.
“Well,” her mother poured cream from a porcelain jug into her cup of coffee, she insisted on a cup and saucer for any hot drink. “It’s rather extravagant, dinner is at the Ritz, and then there’s dancing and champagne at the Market Club, your father’s latest venture. You will LOVE it!”
Laura hid her apprehension, the Ritz was the greatest place in London in her opinion, dinner would be both extortionately priced and divine, but she felt further away from London society every time she ventured home. But it was her mother’s day; she had to stop feeling sorry for herself.
“Will you just look at the dress? I know you’re more subtle with your tastes than me...but I have really tried to think of something you’d like.
How could you refuse that? As she nodded her mother added, “try it on before you judge it, promise?”
Laura looked at her reflection in amazement, had her mother got things exactly right for once? The dress had looked shapeless and gaudy on the hanger, but on, it fitted her like a dream, with a wide neck line which fell off one shoulder, it then fell loose to the mid thigh, almost short enough to be risqué, but not quite, but there was the slightest hint of the waist being cinched in which accentuated her slim figure. The dress was an unusual style, and the material was stunning, black with a large symmetrical pattern of palm leaves in ivory, it was trimmed with a silver satin. It should never work, the fabrics and colours that merged, but it made for a really beautiful creation.
“You like?” Her mother’s voice asked quietly from behind. “It looks wonderful! You are so beautiful!”
As she saw the wonder still evident in her daughter’s eyes, Maggie added, “I know that you and I have such differing tastes, but the second I saw this, I knew it was perfect for you...and it is!”
Laura felt tears in her eyes, and tried to smile at her mother, “thank you SO much...it is perfect.”
The two hugged, then her mother smiled, “great! Let’s go get lunch!”
Several hours later, she had slipped into the dress again, with her chunky jewellery, high heeled sandals and her hair piled up on her head, she felt more elegant than she had before. Her mother was more than positive in her appraisal, but then she looked a million dollars in a staggering red dress.
“We’re meeting Daddy at the Ritz; he’s been caught up with some deal. Taxi’s just arrived. You ready?”
Linking arms the two women headed out of the home and into the waiting limo - her mother had never been in a taxi. It was a short run to the Ritz, and they were met by a top hatted man who opened their door and assisted them out.
“Evening Mrs Marshall,” he greeted her with great chivalry, “how are you this evening?”
Maggie smiled at the greeter, “I’m great James, now that I have my little girl with me!”
James glanced from the beautiful brunette to the blonde who for once oozed confidence, and smiled, “very good Mrs Marshall!”
Grinning her mother almost skipped in through the door he held open for them.
“Good evening Mrs Marshall.”
All staff they passed inclined their head and acknowledged her, and Laura nudged her mother, “when did you become so regular here?”
Her mother laughed, an attractive tinkling sound, “I’ve organised so many events here over the last few years. They all know me.” She glanced around as they entered the restaurant at the back of the elaborate hallway, whist Laura was gawping at the extravagance and beauty that surrounded them. “Ah! There’s your father!”
Laura followed her mother’s eyes to see her father standing at a table to their left, as they approached Stafford pulled his wife into an embrace, giving her a gentle and loving kiss. It was an intimate moment and Laura almost felt awkward. But all too soon it was over and her father was pulling her close.
“Darling, it’s been too long! You look amazing!” Finally pulling back he gestured to the table, “you remember Sylvie and Michel?” Laura of course did, her mother had lived in Paris with Sylvie who was also a model, before she was born, she and her husband Michel were regular visitors to their home over the years. Next to Michel was a man, presumably close in age to herself, short, quite stocky, with dark eyes that studied her intently as Laura kissed the cheeks of the two family friends.
“And this is Jonathan Lander, a colleague and friend.” Her father beamed, and suddenly Laura realised she wasn’t going to be nagged into submission, her parents weren’t about to try and coax her into giving up her life. It was far worse. In the chosen clothing that her parents approved of, she was about to be set up, set up with Jonathan who looked about as interesting as a wilting stick of celery. Hiding her groan, she slipped into the only vacant seat...next to Jonathan of course and plastered on a smile.