You thought you’d always be safe there… you were wrong. Carly had thought they’d always live there. The beautiful Cornish cliffside house they’d taken on as a wreck, that Mark had obsessively re-designed and renovated – a project that had made him famous. It was where they’d raised their children, where they’d sat cosily on the sofa watching storms raging over the sea below. It was where they’d promised to keep each other’s secrets… Until now. Because Mark has fallen in love. With someone he definitely shouldn’t have. Someone who isn’t Carly. And suddenly their family home doesn’t feel like so much of a safe haven. Carly thinks forever should mean forever though: it’s her home and she’ll stay there. Even the dark family secrets it contains feel like they belong to her. But someone disagrees. And, as threats start to arrive at her front door, it becomes clear, someone will stop at nothing. Because someone wants to demolish every last thing that makes Carly feel safe. Forever. An utterly unputdownable psychological thriller about what lies are hidden in the most beautiful homes. Perfect for fans of Date Night, Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window. Readers are loving The Forever Home : ‘ Hold on tight, buckle up baby, the ride’s about to begin with Sue Watson leading us to an epic thriller!... it’s hot, it’s sizzling, it’s a scorcher and it’s like right out of the oven and into the fire – real drama!... that ending was the bomb! ’ The Secret Book Sleuth ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I absolutely loved The Forever Home. It’s perfect. I really mean that. The twists kept coming, the story kept getting juicier and juicier, the plot unwinding. My god this is fiction done right… I was reading late at night and first thing in the morning to get this one finished. The best book I’ve read in a long time.’ NetGalley reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ What a book! Once I started I couldn't put it down, twists and turns galore… A fabulously fast paced story.’ Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Wow this was an incredible book… I was hooked from the very first page and once I started reading I couldn’t put it down… Every time I thought I had sussed out what was happening something else cropped up and really kept me on my toes.’ Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Engrossing… unputdownable… twisty, riveting, deliciously addictive… makes you hold your breath till the last chapter…This gripping thriller forces you sit at the edge on your seat.’ NetGalley reviewer ‘ Wow! I loved this book so much!... I love Sue Watson’s writing style. Detailed with just enough that leaves you wondering where that little golden nugget will lead… Amazing! ’ The Fiction Cafe Book Club ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ I raced through those final chapters to find out what was going to happen… Made my jaw drop… So twisty… You will devour it… Excellent’ Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Sue Watson knocks it out of the park… such a great read! Just when you think the story is almost over, another twist comes happens and shocks you! I couldn't put this book down! I highly recommend!’ Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Amazing… Intriguing. Your head is whirling… A must read… Sue Watson never lets readers down, leaves you needing an hour to recover when you’re finished... Wow.’ BonkersAboutBooks ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Oh my gawd! I devoured this heart pounding book! And didn't want it stop ever! This crazy, twisty, unputdownable book will have you thinking you might know what is going to happen but you won't have a clue… A masterpiece waiting to be devoured! I was hooked! ’ Goodreads reviewer
Release date: June 4, 2021
Print pages: 350
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The Forever Home
It was late summer, the sun was high in a very blue sky, the salty air tingled with expectation. Life was good, and though I longed to stay in the garden, I felt guilty and went inside to see if I could help. It didn’t feel like my house. We’d been invaded by ‘party people’, caterers working hard to provide this for me, for us. I was excited, and grateful, and stood in the kitchen, feeling rather useless as the experts did their job.
It was my silver wedding. Twenty-five years of marriage, two children and a beautiful home, perched – some said precariously – on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic in Cornwall. My assistance clearly wasn’t needed here, so I wandered to the window and gazed out at the sea beyond the garden, my thoughts skipping between nervousness and happiness. Tonight, Mark and I would celebrate our marriage, and the life we’d made, and we’d drink champagne, our smiles wide as family and friends told us how lucky we were. But anyone who’s ever been slightly successful at anything will tell you, luck only plays a small part, and hard work, planning and hope were my ingredients for a marriage. In fact, they were my ingredients for most things in life, tonight’s party included, and I hadn’t left anything to chance. I’d pored over every canapé recipe, polished every pane of glass, dusted the white shutters and styled the garden to within an inch of its life. Soon I would welcome our guests with a smile, a word and a drink, the perfect wife, hostess and mother, my handsome husband by my side – when he finally turned up.
Our story began miles away in London, where we met, but, for me, London was a pause, and my real life was resumed when we came back here, to Cornwall and my childhood home. This six-bedroomed, four-bathroomed white, art deco house had seen better days when I first returned, but over the years it became the canvas on which we’d painted our life. A labour of love for both of us, Mark had literally made a career from our home, transforming it from a beautiful old relic, to something contemporary, and visually stunning. He’d spent the first years of our marriage demolishing walls, while adding extensions, glass, light and space. Time, love, sweat and tears had gone into this house, and sometimes it seemed like we were woven into the very fabric of the building. We lived in it, and it lived in us; our roots were twisted through here, wrapped around the house, and each other.
‘Mark and I are so different, and we often argue about what works and what doesn’t,’ I’d told a red-haired journalist only the previous day. The interview was for an interiors magazine, and I’d been flattered to be asked; my husband was the star. But Charlotte Cooper – the journalist who’d been sent to interview me – seemed keen to know where I fitted into things, both personally and professionally. She was young and pretty, close to my daughter’s age, and pleasant to chat to, so I asked her to stay for lunch. Over home-made quiche and salad from the garden, I’d told her all about our lives, well the PR version of course. Then Mark came home early, and joined us for lunch and was soon centre stage, talking excitedly about his next plans for our home, and for the programme.
‘A streaming service in America is interested in The Forever Home,’ he announced, and she sat up in her seat, looked over at me for confirmation, and I smiled awkwardly. I didn’t realise he was planning to tell anyone, least of all a journalist; it was, as yet, just ‘talks’ and I’d been sworn to secrecy.
‘Ooh, America?’ she sighed, gazing at him.
‘Yes, we’re really hoping this comes off,’ I added, knowing she would be phoning this in to a tabloid within seconds if I didn’t back-pedal slightly. ‘Mark’s always looking ahead with the programme, reaching out for new platforms,’ I heard myself say, sounding like a bloody PR woman. ‘He thrives on new ideas, contemporary stuff, always reinventing, designing new looks, whereas I love old stuff – vintage, shabby chic, and…’ I’d started trying to get the conversation back onto design – which was, after all, why she was here.
‘Er, when you say you love old stuff, I hope you aren’t referring to your husband,’ Mark had cut in, winking at me. We all laughed, and I’d watched as lovely Charlotte sipped her coffee slowly, gazing over the rim at my husband.
‘It’s true though, darling,’ I’d said, smiling at him lovingly, ‘you’re always reaching into the future, but I linger in the past. I’m happy there. This house has preserved the past for me,’ I added, turning to Charlotte. ‘You see, when Mark had finished transforming our home, and we had the idea for him to work on other homes, this one stayed as it was. Yes, it’s beautiful with its huge glass wall looking onto the sea, the high ceilings, the whitewashed curves of the exterior walls, giving a whole art deco vibe, but to me it’s so much more. The scuff marks at the bottom of the stairs where the children raced to get to the bottom – or top – first, and the measuring chart on the wall over there.’ I’d pointed to the back wall where my pencil had charted the growth of my two children. Tiny little lead snags, almost invisible, but I knew they were there, a record of the annual countdown to my babies growing up. Leaving the nest, and finding new places to call home. For me, the house held onto the past; sometimes I swear I heard the children’s laughter running through the hall. Their giggles chased me around rooms, and out into the garden, where more memories would rush to meet me in a dizzy breeze of salt and seagulls. It had always been a house full of happy noise, battered, beautiful sofas, and windows so big and high my son once swore he saw heaven. And in a way it had always been my heaven. The house was our creation, a third child and mine and Mark’s window to the world. Our home spoke for us – on YouTube, television, Instagram. We didn’t need to tell anyone how achingly cool/happy/wealthy/complete we were – because our very own beach house in Cornwall said it all for us. Even if, at times, it lied.
Our marriage, like the house, had weathered storms, but we were still together, unlike so many of our friends, who’d sadly been abandoned or evicted from their own marriages. We were one of the few couples left standing, and I looked forward very much to marking this with those we loved, who would clink glasses and marvel aloud at our fortitude. Let’s face it, anyone who’s been married more than a few years knows it isn’t the romance, the passion or even the kids that keep two people together – it’s sheer bloody determination.
‘Mrs Anderson?’ I was suddenly awoken from my thoughts by Ryan Jarvis, who’d come to help with the preparations. Jarvis & Son had always had a great reputation locally, and Ryan’s father was the first builder we’d brought in on our home project years before. Once the programme took off and was on TV, Mark became the presenter/designer and replicated the show’s formula with other homes throughout the UK. By then, we had the children, so I stayed home, still contributing ideas, helping Mark with his scripts, et cetera. Meanwhile, the TV production team took over, travelling to locations with Mark, renovating ‘forever homes’ everywhere. Ryan’s dad Ted went along as the off-screen builder on the TV series and worked with the TV team right up until his death three years before. Max, Ryan’s brother, had taken over and continued to work with Mark, often travelling out to locations with him, while Ryan went off travelling, returning only recently to do the work local to Looe, here in Cornwall. I remember Ryan’s dad saying he didn’t like the TV cameras: ‘My eldest isn’t interested in being on the telly, Carly,’ he’d said in his rich, Cornish accent, and Ryan spoke in the same, clotted-cream voice with the ghost of Ted’s smile. I’d watched him earlier that afternoon as he’d carefully prepared the ground and instructed a small team to erect the marquee for the party, expertly co-ordinating all staff and equipment as self-appointed project manager. ‘Is Mr Anderson here yet?’ he was asking me now.
I shook my head. Mark had been due home about two hours ago, and I was trying very hard not to become anxious. After all, he was often late home from the studio. After a lifetime of living with someone who worked in TV, I was used to it, but today was different, and I wanted everything to be special. ‘He won’t be long now,’ I said, more to myself than Ryan. ‘I told him this morning we might be celebrating twenty-five years marriage but if he isn’t home by 4 p.m., we won’t be celebrating twenty-six years!’
Ryan laughed. ‘Oh dear, well I hope he does turn up, because the champagne’s arrived. You can’t drink it all on your own,’ he said, smiling.
‘You want to bet? I like a challenge.’
He smiled again. ‘Well, you can’t start drinking it yet – the delivery driver needs to park up. We could do with moving the car… do you have the keys?’
‘Sorry! It’s Mark’s car. He probably has the keys on him,’ I said, cursing my husband, who had no doubt absently put his keys in his pocket even though the production team were driving him to and from location. ‘He should be back soon,’ I offered, checking my watch; it was now almost 6 p.m.
‘We might have to give it a push. Mr Anderson won’t mind, will he?’
‘No, and it doesn’t matter if he does. Needs must, Ryan, and if there’s a lorry full of booze, then I’m afraid that takes priority over his car,’ I laughed.
‘Thanks, Mrs Anderson,’ he said, smiling at my joke. Ryan was good-looking, probably in his early thirties, with a little bit of a swagger. He smiled a lot. He smiled at me. He was very polite, too polite really – with his Mrs Anderson this and Mrs Anderson that.
‘I’ve told you, call me Carly. “Mrs Anderson”: it makes me feel ancient,’ I called after him. Feeling ancient.
He stuck his thumb in the air and replied, ‘Sorry,’ without turning around.
The kitchen was getting busy, and I felt in the way, so wandered through to what Phoebe, our eldest, used to call ‘the sunshine room’. Facing south, it was drenched in Cornish sunshine most of the day, and on summer evenings the walls turned shades of orange as the sun slowly set. The TV company used to love filming in here, and me and the kids would curl up on the cream sofas watching Mark do PTCs (TV speak for pieces to camera) espousing the new brickwork, the landscaped garden, the shabby-chic side tables, chosen by me, in an attempt to mark my territory. Shabby chic was all the rage in the late nineties, and Mark would laugh affectionately at what he referred to as ‘Carly’s artsy musings’. But that was where we differed: I saw the house as a living, breathing thing to be nurtured, added to, whereas Mark saw it as something to transform, to make over, do up. He could never stand still, and once he’d painted the walls in the latest shade, he had to move onto the next latest colour. Only a couple of weeks before the party he’d suggested we change the faded stripes, white shutters and pale-walled interiors from Cape Cod Beach House to ‘something more edgy’.
‘What?’ I’d said, laughing.
‘Edgy, industrial, bare brick walls and…’
‘No Mark,’ I’d cut in, horrified at the prospect of living in an industrial chic warehouse, not to mention the upheaval just ahead of our party. ‘Why do you always do this – we love this beachy look, it’s fresh and clean and suits the setting. We’ve finally got it just how we want it – but that’s so typical of you, as soon as everything’s perfect, you want to change it.’
‘We can’t rest on our laurels now, darling,’ he’d said, kissing me on the lips, his way of trying to seduce me into the idea of exposed brickwork, rusty pipes and cold concrete flooring.
I smiled now, as I wandered through the house plumping cushions, running my palms along the folded throws in shades of blue. I gazed around me, looking at my home as a mother would gaze at a loved child. It was perfect, I was happy, and I’d been right to fight Mark to keep the fresh, summery look of pastel linens and white shuttered windows.
I stepped out onto the decking, feeling the rush that only salty sea air can bring, and took a moment to breathe. But just then, my phone rang, making me start. ‘Carly, are you okay? Do you need me to do anything, or can you cope?’
It was my best friend, Lara.
‘No, I’m good thanks. I told you, I’ve got the caterers in.’
‘What? Is that some euphemism for your period… or… oh God, it’s not the menopause, is it?’
‘No, actual caterers, I laughed. ‘I said we couldn’t afford it but Mark said we could.’
‘Oh yeah, yeah. Thank God. I mean, at forty-seven you’re young for the menopause, but…’
‘Lara, can we not talk about the menopause? You and another hundred guests will be descending on me very soon, my front garden’s a car park, and my husband is AWOL. The last thing I need is a hot flush brought on by suggestion.’
‘Okay, but as you are always keen to remind me, I’m six months older, so if you’re menopausal, that’s scary, because it means that mine is imminent. God, the night sweats… all my silk nighties will be ruined!’
She continued to talk, and I listened, with one ear on a conversation between the waitresses, who seemed to think the champagne wouldn’t be cold enough. My heart sank, warm champagne, then I got a grip and reminded myself I didn’t want to sound like one of Mark’s TV friends, who’d say things like, ‘It’s only telly – not life and death,’ while chain-smoking and not believing a word they’d just said. I’d been in this rather privileged world a little too long if I was genuinely worried about the temperature of champagne.
‘Anyway, I digress,’ Lara was saying. I smiled; she always ‘digressed’. Mark said she was too noisy, but I enjoyed her. ‘As you know, I was hoping to be with you by now for moral support, but it’s been a bitch of a day,’ she sighed. ‘Bloody clients banging on about needing tractor-inspired boots and blue bucket hats, I mean really. Last week, they were clamouring for trench coats in sorbet shades. Somebody make it stop!’
Lara ran an online fashion website, and spent most of her time sourcing the maddest items of clothes for wealthy women with nothing better to worry about.
‘One of them was in tears, in actual tears, because I’d sold out of the hour glass nano croc-effect leather tote bag.’
‘I’m not even sure what you just said,’ I laughed.
‘Balenciaga,’ she replied, like that explained everything.
‘Trust me Carly it’s a fabulous thing, especially in bubble-gum pink – but not worth dying for. I spent an hour on the bloody phone to her, I felt like a therapist! God, they’re all just so attention-seeking. Where’s my “me” time?’ she sighed theatrically, but before I could respond, she was off again. ‘And now Erin’s just called, saying, “OMG, Mum, I need to talk to you as soon as you get home. It’s urgent!” I’d only just left the office, and what’s the betting it’s something really urgent like… “Mum, I’ve got a date, we so need to discuss what nail varnish I should wear tonight.”’
‘Yeah, it’s tough being twenty-four and beautiful with bare nails,’ I laughed.
‘Anyway, I’m so sorry, I can’t be there yet, but I promise I’ll be as fast as I can. I’ve been looking forward to my best friend’s wedding anniversary, and happen to know she’s ordered several crates of champagne,’ she said, ‘and after today I’ll need several crates all to myself!’
‘I just hope it’s cold enough,’ I said, echoing the waitresses.
‘Jesus, Carly, who cares? Having waded through a delivery of statement handbags, Grace Kelly headscarves and an urgent talk with my over-anxious only child, I’ll be drinking straight from the bottle regardless of how cold it is. See you ASAP.’
With that, she clicked off, and I returned to the silence, pierced only by seagulls. Lara was just what I needed at that moment, someone to drink with, make me laugh and tell me it didn’t matter if the bloody champagne was warm. I really wished she could have come early, as planned, but it sounded like her day had been pretty chaotic, and now poor Erin was having another drama. She was a complicated girl, quite beautiful, in a fragile, blonde way, but seemed to pick unsuitable boys to fall in love with, which often resulted in heartbreak and angst.
Poor Lara, I thought as I pushed my phone back into my jeans pocket. I’d met her at the nursery Erin and Phoebe, my daughter, attended and as the girls were now twenty-four, that meant I’d known her almost twenty years. We’d been through a lot together, and when she’d lost her husband, thirteen years before, she leaned on me a lot, and I was glad to be there for her. In the years since Steve’s death, Lara had worked her way through several boyfriends, and though her relationships with men hadn’t lasted, our friendship remained solid. She often said she wished she’d married me. ‘I wouldn’t fancy you, but at least we’d still be together,’ she’d joke.
We were quite different, Lara and I. She was loud, unafraid to say what she thought, and usually the centre of attention. I, on the other hand, was the calm, quiet one, who was there to step in and take over when Lara couldn’t. She was either very up or very down, and I’d had to rescue her through break-ups and caring for Erin when life got too much for her. Lara was, at times, rather flaky, especially when it came to timekeeping and childcare. When Erin was younger, she’d often fly off at a minute’s notice to source fashion items for her business from some souk in Marrakesh, or an Ibizan hippy market. I’d always been happy to look after Erin in her absence, and in her way, Lara had been there for me. Like tonight, at the party, I knew she’d calm my nerves, make me laugh, and probably make me drink too much. Lara always put things in perspective, stopped me from stressing about things – and tonight, that was just what I needed,
I was especially nervous because friends and neighbours made up only a third of our party guest list. The other guests were Mark’s, the glamorous colleagues and new best friends he’d picked up on his showbiz journey. His world of TV fame was brimming with people on the edges of success, who thought by merely being close to someone like Mark, a sprinkling of stardust would land on them. Mark would chat for hours, give advice, even sometimes invite practical strangers for dinner. He loved including people; there was always someone new and interesting at Sunday lunch. I was used to it now, but when we were younger, I’d be horrified when he turned up with someone he’d met on the nearby beach, or at the pub, and tell them to take a seat at our table. I remember it as extra work, an intrusion. ‘We can’t afford to feed every Tom, Dick and Harry you get chatting to,’ I’d said.
‘But he was such a nice bloke,’ he’d say, or, ‘But they’re a lovely couple and you’d made plenty of food.’ I’d realised then that to stop Mark was to change him, and one of the things I loved about him was his kindness. I’d also loved the way he loved me back then. It wasn’t conventional perhaps – nor was it perfect – but when it came to us, particularly in those early days, he was imaginative, exciting, loving.
It was hard to believe Mark and I had been together for so long. It was twenty-five years since he’d carried me over the threshold of our home. This house was where we’d made our family and, apart from student lodgings in London in the mid-nineties, the only home I’d ever known. The house had grown along with me, and from the moment we met, I knew I wanted to bring Mark back here, to Cornwall, to my childhood home above the beach.
Mark loved to tell everyone, ‘I was admiring her underwear when we met.’ It always got a laugh, and it was true, in a way, because we met at my graduate art exhibition, and my final body of work was called ‘Knickers!’ It was a rather earnest attempt to show how women’s underwear illustrated ‘the continuing female struggle with body consciousness in a post-feminist, end-of-millennium era’. And when Mark wandered through the exhibition on the way to meet his girlfriend, our eyes met over my lacy briefs. I was just twenty-one, and Mark, the ‘older man’, at almost twenty-six. We chatted, he told me my work was new and different, and he loved the tongue-in-cheek aspect, which, in truth, I hadn’t really meant. But he waxed lyrical about ‘the depth and flair’ of my work, ‘ribboned with humour’, and seemed to know what he was talking about. I was enchanted, and when, within just a few minutes he’d offered to buy all my pieces, because he loved them so much, I was completely in his thrall.
He invited me for coffee, where, over a millionaire shortbread and a skinny latte, he beguiled me with his gorgeous face and irresistible charm. A few hours later, I was naked in his cramped flat in Crouch End, and that was it. Twenty-five years on, we had two children, a lifetime behind us and were, tonight celebrating with possibly warm champagne.
Meeting Mark had changed my life in so many ways; it had taken me from the path I was following, a career in art, but had given me back the home life I craved. Within weeks, I was pregnant, and abandoned my plans to become the next Tracey Emin and returned to Cornwall. This time, I took Mark with me and announced to my widowed mother that a wedding was on the cards. After the initial shock, Mum began sewing my dress and making big plans with the vicar.
‘We still joke about the fact Mark never actually asked me to marry him, but, to his credit, it was never a question,’ I'd told Charlotte, the lovely magazine interviewer, the previous day.
‘You have the most amazing life, Carly,’ she’d sighed, after Mark had left. But I could tell by the way she said this that what she really meant was that I had the most amazing husband.
‘I do,’ I’d said with a smile. ‘I have two perfect kids, a great husband, and this –’ I’d gestured around me, ‘this house, which I’m privileged to spend my days in,’ I paused a moment. ‘But,’ I’d added, leaning forward, my fingers looping into the handle of my now empty coffee cup, ‘we never take any of it for granted, Charlotte.’
She’d leaned in. Like everyone, she longed to know my recipe for success – the colour palette of my life, the intimate secrets of my marriage, how I raised my kids and folded my towels.
‘Mark and I have to work at our marriage like everyone else. It isn’t always perfect. This morning we had a huge argument,’ I’d started.
Her eyes had widened – was I about to reveal something juicy, scandalous, were things not so perfect after all? She was trained to seek the truth, to spot the flaws, the real lives beneath the glossy, household interiors, and probably felt wasted on DIY journalism. All Charlotte needed was one celebrity scoop to escape from typing endless stories on paint shades and fancy flooring.
‘An argument? You and Mark?’ she’d murmured. Her journalist tongue licked her lips, shiny red fingernails now twitching for her pen, which lay tantalisingly at the far end of the table.
‘Yes, it was quite the row. I’m glad we don’t have neighbours nearby,’ I’d said, still fiddling with my coffee cup. Still enjoying the game. Mark had taught me all I knew about the press. We’d discovered together after the first flush of celebrity that our lives were fascinating to others. My husband’s prime time presence had kept the interest, the questions, the probing, and we were constantly testing it. ‘Yeah, we had this really angry exchange in the garden of all places,’ I’d said, pausing. ‘He wants to turn our beautiful, rugged, sea-swept garden into a contemporary space – fake grass and structured plants.’ I’d rolled my eyes. The fire left Charlotte’s eyes. She was hoping for something far more juicy. She didn’t even reach for her pen, her disappointment was visible.
I thought now, as I wandered the garden, about Charlotte and all the others who’d wanted to know the secret of our success. From friends to family to news reporters, even chat show hosts, they all asked Mark, ‘Where did it all go right?’ A recent cover in a Sunday supplement was a photo of Mark and me sitting on the sofa, wrapped around each other, talking about twenty-five years of married bliss. The tease was a smaller photo of us, headlined, ‘Winning at life’.
I was thinking about this as I almost collided with a stranger carrying a tonne of glassware through my garden. ‘Winning at life’? Perhaps it looked like that, but I wasn’t winning the battle to keep tonight’s anniversary party intimate. It was beginning to look more like an awards ceremony than the celebration of a marriage. We were lucky, we had everything, but sometimes having everything could take you away from what you really wanted.
I continued down the garden, a last grasp at a few minutes of peace before the madness, and breathed deeply, stealing the summery scent wafting on the air. Escaping the clanking crockery, loud voices and tense revving of delivery trucks, I tasted the calm, salty tang that only the sea could bring. And standing high on the edge, I caught my breath as sharp spray from the waves spritzed my face. It revived me within seconds and reminded me of what I still held onto. Perhaps the magazine with its over-the-top declaration was right? Perhaps Mark and I were finally winning at life? The children had grown, and our nest was empty, but it was a beautiful nest. Despite my protests at change, Mark had recently installed a wood and glass-panelled extension, with breath-taking views and underfloor heating. Perhaps we’d stay home together more, like other couples? Things might calm down and our lives would make sense again after the tumultuous years of work and fame and child-rearing?
We’d come a long way together, and tonight we would show the world – our world – how happy we were. We’d laugh about that first meeting; Mark on his way to meet another girl, and me hoping to change the world with my political underwear. I often wondered about the girl he was rushing to meet when he’d bumped into me that day. How long had she waited before she realised he wasn’t turning up, and how different would everything be if he’d gone to meet her instead?
It was almost seven when Mark finally arrived home from work, just minutes before the first guests were due to arrive.
‘I know making television is life and death,’ I said, joking sarcastically as he ran into the hallway, taking off his shoes, ‘but this is our silver wedding. It only happens once.’
‘Sorry, sorry.’ He held his hands up in a surrendering gesture. ‘You know what it’s like, filming took ages!’ He kissed me.
‘Mmm, well, fortunately for you, superwoman was here to sort everything in your absence,’ I said. ‘As always.’
‘Yes, you are amazing, but don’t forget whose brilliant idea it was to get caterers to assist superwoman,’ he replied, smiling.
‘A brilliant, but expensive idea,’ I countered.
He stopped in the hallway, brushed a tendril of hair from my face and looked into my eyes. ‘But worth every penny?’
I felt a rush of something like love, and nodded reluctantly.
‘Sherrie swears by them – “None of the stress and all of the nibbles,”’ he said, standing in his socks at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Oh, and by the way, she’ll be along later,’ he added, an apologetic grimace on his face.
‘Great,’ I sighed, my heart dipping. That was all we needed, his new co-presenter sashaying around the place. Mark said she was a bit full of herself and apparently treated the runners like rubbish; the producer had had to have a word with her.
He looked at me, holding out his hands helplessly. ‘I know, I know, Sherrie can be a little… irritating, but I had to invite her. I’ve invited everyone on the team, it would be odd if I left her out.’
‘She doesn’t like me,’ I said. ‘She never even smiled at me when we saw her at the TV awards.’
‘That’s the botox. She doesn’t smile at anyone,’ he replied, with a shrug.
I laughed, feeling a bit mean, but she deserved it. At the very few social occasions I’d attended with the. . .
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