The thing about lying to your parents is, you have to do it to
them. It’s for their own good. I mean, take my own parents. If they knew the unvarnished truth about my finances/love life/plumbing/council tax, they’d have instant heart attacks and the doctor would say, “Did anyone give them a terrible shock?” and it would all be my fault. Therefore, they have been in my flat for approximately ten minutes and already I have told them the following lies:
1. L &N Executive Recruitment will start making profits soon, I’m sure of it.
2. Natalie is a fantastic business partner, and it was a really brilliant idea to chuck in my job to become a headhunter with her.
3. Of course I don’t just exist on pizza, black cherry yogurts, and vodka.
4. Yes, I did know about interest on parking tickets.
5. Yes, I did watch that Charles Dickens DVD they gave me for Christmas; it was great, especially that lady in the bonnet. Yes, Peggotty. That’s who I meant.
6. I was actually
“Don’t worry,” I say quickly. “I’m going to sort that out.”
“Only, if you don’t,” says Mum, “they’ll cut off your line, and it’ll take ages for you to get it installed again, and the mobile signal is so patchy here. What if there was an emergency? What would you do?” Her brow is creased with anxiety. She looks as though this is all totally imminent, as though there’s a woman screaming in labor in the bedroom and floods are rising outside the window and how will we contact the helicopter?
Mum’s always been a worrier. She gets this tense smile with distant, frightened eyes, and you just know she’s playing out some apocalyptic scenario in her head. She looked like that throughout my last speech day at school; afterward she confessed she’d suddenly noticed a chandelier hanging above on a rickety chain and became obsessed by what would happen if it fell down on the girls’ heads and splintered into smithereens?
Now she tugs at her black suit, which has shoulder pads and weird metal buttons and is swamping her. I vaguely remember it from about ten years ago, when she had a phase of going on job interviews and I had to teach her all the really basic computer stuff like how to use a mouse. She ended up working for a children’s charity, which doesn’t have a formal dress code, thank goodness.
No one in my family looks good in black. Dad’s wearing a suit made out of a dull black fabric which flattens all his features. He’s actually quite handsome, my dad, in a kind of fine-boned, understated way. His hair is brown and wispy, whereas Mum’s is fair and wispy like mine. They both look really great when they’re relaxed and on their own territory-like, say, when we’re all in Cornwall on Dad’s rickety old boat, wearing fleeces and eating pasties. Or when Mum and Dad are playing in their local amateur orchestra, which is where they first met. But today, nobody’s relaxed.
“So are you ready?” Mum glances at my stockinged feet. “Where are your shoes, darling?”
I slump down on the sofa. “Do I
“So what? I didn’t know her. None of us knew her. This is so stupid. Why are we schlepping to Potters Bar for some crumbly old woman we didn’t even ever meet?” I hunch my shoulders up, feeling more like a sulky three-year-old than a mature twenty-seven-year-old with her own business.
“Uncle Bill and the others are going,” says Dad. “And if they can make the effort…”
“It’s a family occasion!” puts in Mum brightly.
My shoulders hunch even harder. I’m allergic to family occasions. Sometimes I think we’d do better as dandelion seeds-no family, no history, just floating off into the world, each on our own piece of fluff.
“It won’t take long,” Mum says coaxingly
“It will.” I stare at the carpet. “And everyone will ask me about… things.”
“No, they won’t!” says Mum at once, glancing at Dad for backup. “No one will even mention… things.”
There’s silence. The Subject is hovering in the air. It’s as though we’re all avoiding looking at it. At last Dad plunges in.
“So! Speaking of… things.” He hesitates. “Are you generally… OK?”
I can see Mum listening on super-high-alert, even though she’s pretending to be concentrating on combing her hair.
“Oh, you know,” I say after a pause. “I’m fine. I mean, you can’t expect me just to snap back into-”
“No, of course not!” Dad immediately backs off. Then he tries again. “But you’re… in good spirits?”
I nod assent.
“Good!” says Mum, looking relieved. “I knew you’d get over… things.”
My parents don’t say “Josh” out loud anymore, because of the way I used to dissolve into heaving sobs whenever I heard his name. For a while, Mum referred to him as “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Now he’s just “Things.”
“And you haven’t… been in touch with him?” Dad is looking anywhere but at me, and Mum appears engrossed in her handbag.
That’s another euphemism. What he means is, “Have you sent him any more obsessive texts?”
“No,” I say, flushing. “I haven’t, OK?”
It’s so unfair of him to bring that up. In fact, the whole thing was totally blown out of proportion. I only sent Josh a few texts. Three a day, if that. Hardly any. And they weren’t obsessive. They were just me being honest and open, which, by the way, you’re
to be in a relationship.
I mean, you can’t just switch off your feelings because the other person did, can you? You can’t just say, “Oh right! So your plan is, we never see each other again, never make love again, never talk or communicate in any way. Fab idea, Josh, why didn’t I think of that?”
So what happens is, you write your true feelings down in a text simply because you want to share them, and next minute your ex-boyfriend changes his phone number and tells your parents. He’s such a sneak.
“Lara, I know you were very hurt, and this has been a painful time for you.” Dad clears his throat. “But it’s been nearly two months now. You’ve got to move on, darling. See other young men… go out and enjoy yourself…”
Oh God, I can’t face another of Dad’s lectures about how plenty of men are going to fall at the feet of a beauty like me. I mean, for a start, there aren’t any men in the world, everyone knows that. And a five-foot-three girl with a snubby nose and no suntan isn’t exactly a beauty.
OK. I know I look all right sometimes. I have a heart-shaped face, wide-set green eyes, and a few freckles over my nose. And to top it off, I have this little bee-stung mouth which no one else in my family has. But take it from me, I’m no supermodel.
“So, is that what you did when you and Mum broke up that time in Polzeath? Go out and see other people?” I can’t help throwing it out, even though this is going over old ground. Dad sighs and exchanges glances with Mum.