Who knows what David is going to be like, perhaps it will be third time lucky. I’m not going to hold my breath. Maybe he’ll be the love of my life or maybe he’ll be hideous, but either way I’m undeniably intrigued and more than up for letting my hair down. It’s not something I’ve done very often over the course of the last year; we’ve both had the upheaval of moving out of the cushioned world of uni into the reality of work, more successfully in Sarah’s case than mine. She practically walked into a junior position with a regional TV network, whereas I’m still working on the reception desk at the hotel. Yes, despite my New Year’s Resolution I am decidedly not working in my dream job yet. But it was that or go home to Birmingham, and I fear that if I leave London I’ll never get back again. It was always going to come more easily for Sarah; she’s the gregarious one and I’m slightly socially awkward, which means interviews don’t tend to go so well.
None of that tonight though. I’m determined to get so drunk that social awkwardness is a complete impossibility. After all, we’ll have the buffer of New Year to forget our ill-advised, alcohol-fuelled behaviour. I mean, come on, that happened last year for God’s sake. Move on already!
It’s also the night that I finally get to meet Sarah’s new boyfriend. She’s known him for several weeks already but for one reason or another I’ve yet to lay eyes on him in the apparently incredibly hot flesh. I’ve heard enough about him to write a book, though. Unfortunately for him, I already know he’s a sex god in bed and that Sarah fully expects to have his children and be his wife once he’s the high-flying media celeb he’s clearly on track to becoming. I almost feel sorry for him having his future mapped out for the next ten years at the age of twenty-four. But hey, this is Sarah. However cool he is, he’s still the lucky one.
She can’t stop talking about him. She’s doing it again now, telling me far more about their rampant sex life than I’d ideally like to know.
I scatter bubbles in the air like a child waving a wand as I hold my soapy fingers up to halt her flow. ‘Okay, okay, please stop. I’ll try not to orgasm on sight when I finally clap eyes on your future husband.’
‘Don’t say that to him though, will you?’ she grins. ‘The future husband thing? Because he doesn’t know that bit yet and, you know, it might, like, shock him.’
‘You reckon?’ I deadpan.
‘Far better if he thinks it’s all his own brilliant idea in a few years’ time.’ She dusts off the knees of her jeans as she stands up.
I nod. If I know Sarah, which I do, she’ll have him wrapped round her little finger and more than ready to spontaneously propose whenever she decides the time is right. You know those people that everyone gravitates towards? Those rare effervescent birds who radiate this aura that draws people into their orbit? Sarah’s that person. But if you think that makes her sound insufferable, you’d be wrong.
I first met her right here, the first year of uni. I’d decided to go for one of the university rentals rather than halls and I’d picked this place. It’s a tall old townhouse split into three: two bigger flats downstairs and our attic perched on the top like a jaunty afterthought. I was utterly charmed when I first viewed it, my rose-tinted glasses jammed all the way on. You know that shabby-chic little flat Bridget Jones lives in? It reminded me of that, only more shabby and less chic, and I was going to have to share it with a total stranger to meet the rent. None of those drawbacks stopped me from signing on the dotted line; one stranger was easier to contemplate than a crowded, noisy hall full of them. I still remember carting all of my stuff up three flights of stairs on moving-in day, all the time hoping that my new flatmate wasn’t going to crush my Bridget Jones fantasy dead.
She’d tacked a welcome note to the door, big, loopy red handwriting scrawled across the back of a used envelope:
Dear new housemate,
Have gone to buy cheap fizzy piss to celebrate our new home. Take the bigger room if you like, I prefer being in stumbling distance of the bog anyway!
And that was it. She had me in the palm of her hand before I’d even laid eyes on her. She’s different to me in lots of ways, but we share exactly enough middle ground to get on like a house on fire. She’s in-your-face gorgeous with waves of fire-engine red hair that almost reach her bum, and her figure is amazing, though she doesn’t give a toss about how she looks.
Normally someone as gorgeous as her would make me feel like the ugly sister, but Sarah has this way of making you feel good about yourself. The first thing she said to me when she got back from the corner shop that day was, ‘Fucking hell! You’re a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor. We’re going to have to get a deadlock on the door or else we’re gonna cause a riot.’
She was exaggerating, of course. I don’t look very much like Elizabeth Taylor. I have my French maternal grandmother to thank for my dark hair and blue eyes; she was quite a celebrated ballerina in her twenties; we have the prized programmes and grainy press cuttings to prove it. But I’ve always thought of myself as more of a failed Parisian; I have inherited my grandmother’s form but not her grace, and her neat brunette chignon has become a permanently electrocuted mass of curls in my hands. Besides, there’s no way I’d ever have the discipline for dancing, I’m far too fond of an extra chocolate biscuit. I’m going to be a goner when my metabolism catches up with me.
Sarah jokingly refers to us as the prozzie and the princess. In truth, she’s not got an ounce of slut in her and I’m nowhere near ladylike enough for a princess. Like I said, we meet in the middle and we make each other laugh. She’s Thelma to my Louise, hence the reason I’m disconcerted that she’s suddenly fallen hook, line and sinker for a guy I haven’t even met or vetted for suitability.
‘Do we have enough booze, do you think?’ she asks now, casting a critical eye over the bottles lined up across the kitchen work surface. No one could call it a sophisticated collection; it’s pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap supermarket special offer wine and vodka we’ve been hoarding for the last three months to make sure our party is one to remember.
Or not remember, perhaps.
‘More than. People will bring a bottle too,’ I say. ‘It’s going to be great.’ My stomach rumbles, reminding me that neither of us has eaten since breakfast.
‘Did you hear that?’ I say, rubbing my middle. ‘My guts just asked you to make a DS special.’
Sarah’s sandwiches are the stuff of Delancey Street myth and legend. She’s taught me her holy breakfast trinity of bacon, beetroot and mushrooms, and it took us the best part of two years to settle on our signature dish, the DS special, named after our flat.
She rolls her eyes, laughing. ‘You can make it yourself, you know.’
‘Not the way you do it.’
She preens a little, opening the fridge. ‘That’s true.’
I watch her layer chicken and blue cheese with lettuce, mayo and cranberry, an exact science that I’ve yet to master. I know it sounds hideous, but trust me, it’s not. It may not be your average student food, but ever since we hit on the winning combo back in our uni days we make sure to always have the ingredients in the fridge. It’s pretty much our staple diet. That, ice cream and cheap wine.
‘It’s the cranberry that does it,’ I say after my first bite.
‘It’s a quantity thing,’ she says. ‘Too much cranberry and it’s basically a jam sandwich. Too much cheese and you’re licking a teenager’s dirty sock.’
I raise my sandwich for another bite, but she lunges and pushes my arm down. ‘Wait. We need a drink with it to get us in the party mood.’
I groan, because I realize what she’s going to do when she reaches for two shot glasses. She’s laughing under her breath already as she reaches into the back of the cupboard behind the cereal boxes for the dusty bottle.
‘Monks’ piss,’ she says, pouring us each a ceremonial shot. Or Benedictine, to give the old herbal liqueur that came with the flat its proper name. The bottle informs us that it’s a special blend of secret herbs and spices, and on first taste not long after we moved in we decided that one of those secret ingredients was almost certainly Benedictine monks’ piss. Every now and then, usually at Christmas, we have one shot each, a ritual we’ve come to enjoy and loathe in equal measures.