Category Archives: My Ten Future Lives

#ScriptFrenzy

Thanks to some blog-stalking and tweeting, have just discovered Script Frenzy

Ok, so I might be a day late … but I have a feeling this could be just the inspiration I needed to get started on turned My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay …

Watch this space for developments!

C-C xxx

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Filed under C-C Lester, My Ten Future Lives, Writing

My Ten Future Lives – Life Three

As requested by Nina 🙂 If you haven’t yet read any of MTFL, it’s psychological women’s fiction, so rather different to my normal young adult stuff. Click on the following links for earlier chapters –

Introduction

Life One

Life Two

 

Life Three – 2013

‘Good Morning London, you’re listening to Hear Say, and I’m Amy March, here with all of today’s top gossip!  First up, Olympic champion Matty McAllister isn’t looking quite so golden these days!  Whilst his long-term girlfriend India Masters is on location, filming in LA, McAllister has been spotted romancing a mysterious brunette, near his home in Holburn.’

Bugger!

My name is Ashleigh Vaughan and I’m 26.  Not only am I the ‘mysterious brunette’ in question … but I’ve also fucked up big-style!

Before you judge me, there are a couple of things I should explain.  First off, India Masters is my best friend.  And Matty McAllister isn’t dating her.  He’s dating me.  It’s just that we’re pretty much the only people who know any of that …

I probably ought to start at the beginning.  Matty is arguably the most famous rower in Britain at the moment.  His honey-blond locks and chocolate brown eyes, combined with a Gold medal on home turf last year, were the perfect recipe for the British media.  They descended on him … and descended on him hard. These days Matty can’t walk down the street without being recognised.  His every move is documented in photograph-form, from arriving at an airport, to popping to the local corner shop for milk.  He has a sponsor for his clothes, his hair gel and his trainers.  In fact, if he’s seen drinking the wrong sports drink, the press, and his sponsors, will have kittens.  So just think what will happen now he’s been caught kissing the wrong girl …

But the thing is I’m not the wrong girl!

The media weren’t the first to notice how special Matty McAllister is.  I was … seven whole years ago!  I was the girl who stood at the side of the Cam in the wind and the rain, willing Matty to ‘bump’ other boats in the name of St. John’s.  I was the girl who painted her face Cambridge blue, and dressed in rowing team stash five-times too big for me, to show my true colours in the Boat Race, whilst all around me those bloody Oxford supporters yelled some nonsense about ‘shoe’-ing ‘the Tabs’!  I sat next to him in lectures, and stood by him through Finals and interviews for consultancy firms.  I pulled all-nighters with him in Exam Term, and fought off impending sleep with him at the annual May Balls.  And I have watched him win every level of university, national and international rowing competition in the last five years.

I just happened to do it from the shadows …

I’ve never been one for the limelight.  Even when we were back at university, I found myself referred to more often as ‘her friend’, or ‘his girlfriend’, than by my actual name.  It’s not something I ever had a problem with.  Reputation means nothing to me.  Or rather, fame means nothing to me.  As long as the people I care about know who I really am, why should I worry too much about what the rest of the world thinks?

I’m a lawyer.

At university, it was an over-used classification.  We were automatically drawn into groups, and clustered under stereotypes, according to our major.  I studied in the Law Faculty … therefore I was a ‘lawyer’.

At university that kind of classification annoyed me.  And yet nowadays … nowadays I don’t want to be known as India Masters’ best friend, or Matty McAllister’s girlfriend.

I just want to be a lawyer!

I’m a barrister… finally!  For two long years, I battled through my pupillage, barely enough time to myself to be classified as anything other than a pupil anyway … but finally I’m free.  Free from the shackles of servant-hood … because that was essentially what being a pupil was.  I wasn’t a lawyer, I was someone else’s bitch.  But I gritted my teeth, and did my time, and finally I am a barrister.  In July last year, ironically the same month Matty became an Olympic Gold medallist, I was called to the London Bar, to practice Media Law.

I’m a lawyer.  I just happen to also be dating the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, and best friends with one of Britain’s newest additions to Hollywood …

And I know, that if I were to play all of those three cards, then the law would be the last thing people would see.

The thing with the Bar, is it’s a community based on reputation.  Your face has to fit.  And even in this day and age, having a female face, and may I say, a rather pretty one at that, often works to my detriment.  I worked hard … beyond hard … for two years, proving to the top Wigs at my Chambers that I was serious about my job.  That I was serious about my career.  That being called to the Bar wasn’t simply an item on a long check-list of life achievements … That being called to the Bar was my life.

And even though we all know it’s possible to have a job, and a boyfriend, and friendships, I just doubted that the powers-that-be would see things that way, if my relationships and friendships were quite literally front-page news.

And so I made a decision.

And now, as I stare up at the TV screen declaring my boyfriend to be a lying, cheating scumbag … I’m beginning to wonder if the decision I made was the right one.

Almost exactly two years ago, I put my career first.  And in doing so, I thought I was doing my best friend a favour.  India was a struggling actress at the time.  She needed contacts, and she needed to be noticed.  Matty had just been selected for the GB squad, and his calendar was quickly filling up with social events I knew I couldn’t commit to.  He needed a ‘plus one’.  And if I couldn’t be at his side, there was no one I trusted more than my best friend.

We had definitely under-estimated the press interest.  Originally Ind and I had just assumed that she’d be able to rub shoulders with a couple of influential people, and have her face noticed in the right places.  And she had done.  Within months she was offered a part on the cult independent movie Vipers. The problem was, that Matty and India’s faces fit too well.  They were beautiful.  They are beautiful.  And the British press honed in on that, and ran with it.

The sports star and the actress.  It was like the Beckhams, Mark Two.  Britain needed new icons, and Matty McAllister and India Masters were the perfect fit.  A gorgeous, successful rower, and his glamorous, educated actress girlfriend.

The only problem was that she wasn’t really his girlfriend.

At first I just sat back and enjoyed life out of the heat of the spotlight.  I would push anonymously through the crowds of photographers in hotel lobbies, giggling to myself at the irony of the situation.  There they were, waiting for a single snap of Matty’s ‘famous girlfriend’ sneakily doing the walk of shame, and yet his real girlfriend was brazenly pushing through the crowd, completely unnoticed!

I would grin to myself, when the wives of my colleagues asked me if I had studied at St. John’s at the same time as ‘that gorgeous Matthew McAllister’?  And breathe a sigh of relief when I saw yet another magazine picture criticising India for not wearing makeup, or for eating McDonalds, or God forbid … for wearing tracksuit bottoms!

But then I began to realise how cold life outside the spotlight can be, when the man you love is in it the entire time.  Last year, when Matty was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year, I was obviously seated at his family table, however, when his name was read out, it was India’s face that the camera automatically switched to, and Indi who Matty was dutifully expected to kiss on the cheek.

Because of my ‘bright idea’ I could no longer kiss my boyfriend in public, or so much as hold his hand.  I couldn’t go to the cinema alone with him, or go out to a restaurant with him, without an entourage of friends in tow.

I already spend my life behind closed doors … the office and the court-room.  And those few sparing hours that I get to myself these days … well they are spent behind closed doors too.  Because they have to be!  Because the world believes that my Matty is one half of a couple, of which I am not a part.

I’m beginning to understand now why my parents told me not to lie as a child …

A lie grows.  It spawns, like a plant … and each seed brings new challenges, new issues.  On a daily basis I feel like my world is being overgrown … like this weed that I have unwittingly created is growing and spawning, and strangling my life as I know it.  I feel under attack.  And the one person I’ve always turned to, to shelter me from my problems, can’t help. Because he is right at the heart of them!

I almost cracked during the Olympics.  Matty was busy training, and it was getting harder and harder for me to see him, because the press had got wind of the squad’s conjugal visits, and were camped outside the athlete’s village, waiting for India to make an appearance.

Meanwhile my work-colleagues couldn’t understand why I was so adamant about getting time off over the Olympics.  Here I was, newly qualified, and completely unyielding, that I was taking two weeks holiday slap bang in the middle of the year’s biggest libel case.

Thankfully it turned out I wasn’t the only one struggling under the weight of our lie.  India excused herself from the hype for a month, disappearing off to America ‘on location’, and only returning on the day of the Final, when she figured she couldn’t not be seen at Matty’s side.

Meanwhile Matty had found a confidante in his crew member and roommate Hugo.  The adorable old Etonian was single, and more than happy to try and help his stroke out by pretending I was his girlfriend.  With the media attention all comfortably on the front of their boat, I managed to sneak in and out of the British compound in the contrastingly anonymous role of Hugo Redmond’s girlfriend.  That role gave me a seat on the VIP balcony, and a reason to run down to the boats the minute the boys crossed the finish line … though it still wasn’t a passport to celebrate my boyfriend’s Olympic Gold Medal the way I ought to have done …

I remember the minute they crossed the line.

I was sitting beside India, one hand clamped in hers.  My other hand was at my neck, tightly holding onto the locket that Matty had given me on our first anniversary.  My link to him.  The thing that in the whole madness of this lie, reminded me of who I really was.

I had seen the boys finish in slow motion, just inches ahead of the American crew.  I leapt to my feet, and was already running, pushing my way off the balcony, and down the steep aluminium stairs towards the water’s edge.  As I landed on the muddy bank, I kicked off my £600 Louboutins without a second thought … something I later regretted when I spent a good thirty minutes hunting down an errant gold high-heel.

I pushed my way towards the boat, ready to fling my arms around my victorious boyfriend, only for India to race in front of me and shoot me a warning look.  I watched on, pained, as India threw her arms around Matty, suddenly all too aware of the hundreds of cameras pointing in his direction.  Blinking back tears, I felt a hand on my back.  I turned, and tried to smile at Hugo.  ‘Congratulations!’ I muttered, knowing all the joy had left my voice.  He tugged me into his chest, to hide my tears from the world, and whispered in my ear, ‘It’s all ok, it’s just a few moments.’

I shook my head, angry at myself.  Those few moments were Hugo’s as much as they were Matty’s.  And I was stealing them from him.  I pulled away, and gave him a grateful kiss on the cheek.  ‘You need to celebrate with your parents!’  I tried to grin, and then ostentatiously congratulated the other two members of the crew, before waiting patiently in line to celebrate my boyfriend’s once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

That was ten months ago.  After the Olympics, India’s fame sky-rocketed.  She was signed onto bigger and better movies, and I guess the fame became addictive.  I tried a couple of times to suggest that maybe it was time that she and Matty ‘broke up’, but India’s agency had other ideas.  Apparently India’s real worth came from her role as half of a product.  Split that product up, and she no longer had any value.  And so the celebrity couple continued.

And I buried myself in work.  After all, a lawyer was what I wanted to be.  It was what I had always wanted to be.

I had actually thought myself incredibly lucky all those years ago.  I have friends still searching for the ‘One’, and yet mine had practically landed in my lap in my first week at university.  I guess I had taken it for granted.  I’d always assumed that that box had been comfortably ticked, and thought it time to work on one of my other goals in life … a career.  But I’d taken that first ticked box for granted … and now I was paying the price.

Matty and I had been dating for seven years.  We’d told each other ‘I love you’ every single night for the last seven years, and talked of marriage and children and the future …

And yet we still lived in separate apartments.  We couldn’t so much as food shop in public together, let along hold hands.  We no longer took holidays together, for fear that Matty would be recognised, and all my work-colleagues thought of me as some sad singleton because I couldn’t bring my real boyfriend to social events.

And whilst two years ago, the last thing I needed was everyone knowing I was Matty McAllister’s boyfriend, right now it’s all I want.

I want to walk down a beach holding hands with my boyfriend.  I want an engagement ring and then a wedding ring.  I want to be Mrs. Matty McAllister, rather than that girl who people just assume is dating his crewmate.  I want to run down to the boats at the end of a race, and fling my arms around his neck without having to worry who is watching.  I want to parade him at Chambers dinners, and cuddle up to him in a cinema.  I want to take him to Tesco!

I want a normal life.

And so yesterday afternoon, I threw a hissy fit.  More than a hissy fit … I had a Class A tantrum.  We were at his flat in Holburn, and it was my turn to cook dinner.  Staring at the well-stocked pantry, I suddenly decided there was nothing to cook.  I dunno … it had been a long day, and I’d seen one too many magazine covers with my boyfriend and another woman on them.  I just wanted to spend time with him.  I wanted a normal life.  I didn’t want to sneak around anymore.  And so, for no reason whatsoever, I demanded Matty come to Tesco with me!

It was silly, I know.  And the stupid thing was that I was really my own enemy.  This wasn’t Matty’s fault.  Nor was it India’s fault.  It had been my idea.  But in that moment I had blamed Matty and India, and anyone but myself.  And I had marched my boyfriend through the streets, hand in hand.  I had made him push the trolley around Tescos as I flung food angrily into it, and then as we left the supermarket, I had all but mauled him in the street for the whole world to see.

God, what have I done?

My mobile phone is ringing.  I know who it’ll be.  It won’t be India.  It’ll be her bitch of a publicist, reprimanding me like a schoolgirl for actually living my own life.  I fling my Blackberry across the room angrily.

Fuck!  What have I done?  How can I even begin to fix this?

I’m so stupid.  Not only have I ruined my adoring boyfriend’s reputation, but I had made myself look like a heartless whore in the process.  Who knows?  Maybe I am a heartless whore…  Though deep down I know I just love him way too much.

I pace backwards and forwards across the room, wondering what I’m going to say to Ind.  Wondering what I’m going to say to my boyfriend!  There’s a knock at the door.

I peer through the peephole, suddenly worried the media have tracked me down already.  A familiar pair of chocolate brown eyes greet me on the other side.  I bite my lip like a naughty child, and open the door.

‘Just wondered if you fancied coming to Tesco with me?’ Matty asks with a cheeky grin.

I punch his arm in mock anger.  ‘Don’t joke … oh God Matty, what have I done?’

Matty shakes his head, ‘Don’t be silly, it’s fine.  We can fix this.  Come on, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. No one’s been hurt, no one’s died.  Ash, it’s honestly nothing!  To be honest, we’ve been lying for too long – it hasn’t been fair on you.  It hasn’t been fair on us.’

My eyes fill with tears, as my gorgeous, adoring boyfriend pulls me tightly into his muscular chest.  ‘We can sort this out …’ he mumbles into my ear.  ‘It’s just time to tell the truth.  It’s that simple.’

I shake my head against his arms, warm tears rolling down my face.  ‘We can’t do that Matty!  You’ll be branded a liar!  That’s not fair on you.  It’s your reputation at stake.  This was my idea … I should pay the consequences.  I’ll say I accosted you!  I’ll say I stalked you!  I dunno … I should be the one to suffer!’

‘Ssssh,’ Matty breathes into my hair.  ‘No one needs to suffer Ash.  It’s all gonna be fine.’ He strokes my back.

‘But Matty it’s everywhere ….’

‘It’ll be yesterday’s news soon enough,’ he replies gently, leaning away from me briefly to switch off the television.

He pushes a strand of hair away from my face, and uses the pad of his thumb, probably the only soft part of his calloused hand, the brush the tears from my cheek.

‘Now, can we talk about something more important?’  he asks.

I shrug.  ‘Like what?’ I feel as if I’d pulled away a brick, which has led to my whole world falling down around me.

‘Like why we’ve been putting our life on hold for India’s movie career!’

I frown, fresh tears forming in my eyes.  I know Matty has never wanted any of this.  He’s just a rower after all.  The spotlight means as little to him as it did to me ….

‘Hey!  No more tears!’ Matty smiles, though I can read the concern in his face.

When I don’t smile back, he gives me a look that tells me he’s serious.

‘Ash, come on … please?  I’m trying to do something serious!’

I can’t help but smile.

‘Ok, ok, do something serious!’ I mutter, still distracted.

Matty takes a deep breath, and then reaching into his pocket, hands me a small pink Post-It Note.

‘Ashleigh I love you with all my heart … would you do me the honour of being my wife?’ it reads.

I run my finger over the words of the note, and look up at him in disbelief.  Now he’s the one with tears in his eyes.

‘Why have we been delaying this Ash?  Why have we been living our lives to please other people?  When you are genuinely the only one I care about pleasing?  I love you Ashleigh.  Always have done.  Always will do.  And I want to start living the rest of our lives … together, and now’.  He gestures to the Post-It Note.  ‘This can’t wait.  We can’t wait! ….’

I grip his waist to steady myself.

‘I love you too.  And of course I’ll marry you.  You’re right, this can’t wait.  We’ve waited way too long.’  I stare down at the Post-It again.  ‘I can’t believe you remembered …’ I smile.

‘Of course I remember.’  He grins.  ‘It’s our history remember?  Our history.  And this is about us!’

Matty had asked me out on our first ever date by Post-It Note.  He had passed it to me in the back of the lecture hall, one bored afternoon of Criminal Law.  It had quite simply said ‘I rather fancy you, Miss Vaughan!’ To which I had simply replied, ‘Ditto!’.

I chuckle to myself at the memory.  ‘You know, I should really have replied with a Post-It Note … in keeping with tradition!’

Matty shrugs.  ‘I’ll accept an ‘I owe you’’ He grins, his face wide with excitement … ‘as long as the Post-It says Yes!’

‘Does the ‘I owe you’ need to be on a Post-It note too?’  I ask teasingly.

‘Ssssh you!’ he laughs, hugging me tightly to himself, and then lifting me up off my feet.

He carefully backs out of the room, my feet still lifted up off the floor.  He steps into my bedroom, and lays me gently down upon my bed.

As he begins to undress me, kissing my neck delicately whilst tugging my jumper up from the waist. I smile to myself, wondering how I could have been so unhappy and so happy in the space of just a few minutes.  I reason that this is just what love does to you.

That when you hand over your heart, you’re accepting that risk that someone can hurt you at a minute’s notice.  But you’re also allowing for possibility.  Allowing for the possibility that someone can knock on your door, and change your life within a matter of seconds.  I clutch Matty’s broad shoulders tightly, just to check that all this is real.  To check that his picture-perfect imperfect proposal is for real.  That I’m not just dreaming.

Because this is us.  This is Matty and me.  We don’t need grand gestures.  He doesn’t need to propose to me in front of the world.  Fuck it – he doesn’t even need to kiss me in front of the world!  As long as this is us behind closed doors.

And that wedding proposal … well that was about as ‘us’ as he could get!

© C-C Lester 2010

 

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Filed under C-C Lester, My Ten Future Lives, Novel Excerpt, Writing

My Ten Future Lives – Life Two

Following on from –
Introduction & Life One

Life Two – 2016

‘Good morning, Vipers VIP Concierge Service, Ashleigh Vaughan speaking ….’

There’s a familiar snort of laughter at the end of the phone.

‘Do you seriously not have me on your caller ID?’ India laughs.  ‘I only ring you five times a day!’

‘It’s a work phone!’ I grin into the receiver, glad to hear my best friend’s voice.

‘So I gathered … seeing as you actually answered it!  Do you ever leave the office?’

I roll my eyes, even though I know she can’t see me.

‘There’s heaps to do if I’m taking a fortnight off to come home ….’

India laughs again.  ‘Fine, fine, play the wedding card, just this once!  Though we both know you’d be working just as hard, even if you weren’t coming home!  So anyway, how’s the new business going.’

I smile, a rush of warm pride flooding to my cheeks.  ‘Business is good … better than good! You know Ind, I really think I might have hit the jackpot with this one!’

‘That’s what we like to hear!  Though I still don’t get why you couldn’t have set up the company on this side of the pond.’ She adds, a little sullenly.

‘There isn’t the same market for concierge services in England.  You know that just as well as I do.  Just let me make things happen over here first … you never know, Vipers could be going global in no time!’

‘I bloomin’ well hope so!  It’s one thing having my maid of honour on the other side of the world! But it’ll be quite another when you’re also a godmother!’

‘What?  India … you’re not pregnant are you?!’

‘Of course not!’  India tuts, and I smile, remembering how proper her parents are.  Sir Harry would have kittens at the thought of his only daughter getting pregnant outside of wedlock!  ‘I’m just saying … that you oughtn’t stay out there too long … you have duties over here!’

I laugh.  ‘Duties?’

‘Yes … duties.  Speaking of which, have you found yourself a date for the wedding?’

‘Since when has finding a date for the wedding been an official duty for the maid of honour?’

‘Since now … come on, it’s hardly inspirational to all those single bridesmaids, if the maid of honour herself can’t even find a man!’

‘Aren’t two of your bridesmaids married?’

‘Well yes … and one’s pregnant … but that’s beside the point!!’

‘India, where am I going to find a man to fly back to England with me?  And at two week’s notice?  It’s hardly your average first date scenario!’

‘Exactly … so that was why I … we … were thinking, perhaps we could find you a date who’s already over here?’

‘We?’

‘You know how much Matty loves you Ash … he thinks of you like a sister … we just want the best for you!’

Who exactly, do you consider to be the best for me?’

I hear India breathe a sigh of relief, she’d clearly expected this to be harder.

‘His name’s Hugo March.  I’m not sure if you’d remember him from uni?  But he rowed in Blue Boat with Matty in first year?’

I shrugged. ‘Name rings a bell …’

‘Well anyway … he’s divine!! And he’s just started work at Matty’s firm, and so Matt decided to take him under his wing …’

‘And arrange a date for him with me to your wedding??!!’

‘Hmm … well, yeah … in a nutshell!’

‘When are you guys going to realise I don’t need looking after?  I manage perfectly well all by myself …’

‘Sorry, who was it you said you were planning on bringing to the wedding?’ India replies breezily.

‘Ok!  Ok! You’ve got me!  Hugo the Rower it is!!!’

‘Hmm, well I don’t know how much he rows these days …’

‘Ha ha … ok, Hugo the Lawyer then… but only on one condition!’

‘Name it!’

‘You let me borrow your gold Louboutins!’

‘Hmm ….’

‘Oh come on Ind … it’s not like you were planning on wearing them!’

India giggles.  ‘That’s true!  Actually, do you reckon I could get away with flip-flops under the wedding dress?’

‘Not a chance!’

‘Love you too!’  She rings off, her intercontinental mission clearly accomplished.

In case you haven’t realised, my name is Ashleigh Vaughan, I’m twenty-nine years old, and I’m the CEO of a rather new VIP concierge service!  At the moment I’m based in New York, though I’m originally from glamorous old Essex!

And India … well India is my best friend by association.

We met at university, when she began dating my then best friend, Matty McAllister.  The very same Matty who she will, in just a few weeks, be marrying!

If I’m honest I’m not really sure how particularly similar we are, deep down, but I guess our friendship blossomed out of necessity.  She was in love with Matty, and I was his best friend, so she had to get on with me.  And as with all awkward threesomes, eventually something has to give … and with us, it was my connection with Matty.  Not that he’s no longer my friend.  It’s just that the battle of the sexes won out, and I ended up growing closer to India, for simplicity’s sake.  I wasn’t about to become the third wheel in someone else’s relationship, and so I assumed the sociably acceptable role in things … her best friend instead.

And so, in two short weeks I will be maid of honour, at a wedding I could have very plausibly have been ‘best-man’ at … or perhaps even played a more pivotal role in … not that I ever choose to think about those could-have-maybes ….

*                                  *                                  *

Those two weeks running up to the wedding were indeed short.  In what feels like no time, I’m back on English soil.  And rather famous English soil at that!  St. John’s College – one of the oldest, and most famous, Cambridge colleges, and Matty’s, India’s, and my alma mater.

The happy couple have decided to wed in the rather grand college chapel, and for novelty value … according to India’s wedding planner at least … all the guests are sleeping in student accommodation.

I’m not quite sure how long I stand outside the 16th century set before I finally go in.  It had been India’s and my home in third year, a gorgeously simple flat – two bedrooms and a spacious living room.  I bite my lip nervously, unable to pinpoint why I feel so apprehensive.  Perhaps it’s just that in my head this room is frozen in time, and seeing it covered in someone else’s posters and clutter might tarnish my memories?  Or maybe it’s just that I will be staying here alone for the first time.

In third year there had always been three of us.  Matty had lived on the outskirts of town and so always stayed here rather than India sleeping over at his.  And yet today marks a difference.  Today India and Matty are sleeping in the honeymoon suite at the Hyatt … leaving me to enjoy the current occupant’s scented candles and predictably rebellious decor, alone.

‘The worker bee returns! I never thought I’d see you dawdling outside the Hive!’ comes a warm voice from behind me.

‘Matty!’ I squeal, wrapping my arms around his neck.  ‘You know, I’d forgotten you called it that!’

Matty raises an eyebrow.  ‘You girls loved it!  Why this set was the centre of college … home of the two Queen Bees!’

I laugh.  ‘Hardly!! As you pointed out, I was always way too busy to be any form of royalty!  No, I definitely left all that to Ind!  How is she, by the way?  I haven’t been able to get hold of her since I landed.’

Matty smiles.  ‘She’s all good, just stressing, as expected!  The morning sickness isn’t helping either … poor girl, she was throwing up for hours today.’

‘Morning sickness?’

Matty’s face goes pale.  ‘Oh god, she hasn’t told you?  But I thought … you of all people would know …’

I shake my head slowly.  ‘No, though come to think of it, she did make a funny comment the other day …’ I frown, unwittingly.  ‘Lord, how on earth is Sir Harry coping with the news?’

‘He isn’t!  No one knows … no one, it seems, apart from you and me!’

‘Ah well, not to worry … Mum’s the word … apparently!’ I laugh, a little awkwardly.  ‘Though surely he’ll work it out in a few months time?’

Matty shrugs.  ‘She’s gonna kill me for being the one who tells you this, but I guess I’m in big enough trouble as it is … it’s twins!  So they’d be a bit early anyway … Ind’s just hoping they’re not too early, so that she can pass them off as ‘legitimate!’’

‘Congratulations hun!’  I smile, and squeeze Matty’s calloused hand.

‘Still getting enough time to row?’ I remark, nodding down at his leathery palm.

He shrugs sadly.  ‘Not really, just the erg in the company gym.’

He gestures around himself at the expansive college.  ‘All this seems a lifetime ago!’

‘Doesn’t it just!’

‘Now come on, Miss Vaughan … why are we still standing outside?  I do believe it was customary that you made me at least three cups of tea whenever I came to visit!’

Matty bends down and scoops me onto his back, in a very unladylike piggyback, before carrying me unconventionally over the threshold of my old room.

I’d forgotten quite how much I missed him.

*                      *                      *

‘Now are you sure you’re not going to be lonely in here?’  Matty asks, exactly three cups of tea later.  ‘I mean, you only have … Kermit the Frog, and, whoever they are …’ he asks gesturing at the inevitable poster-covered wall of the living room.

‘Don’t tell me you don’t recognise the Choir Boys?  They’re practically vintage!’ I interject, a little defensively.

‘Um yes, Kermit and The Choir Boys, to keep you company … ?  It does seem rather empty in here!’

‘Matthew McAllister … it’s your wedding! There’s no way you could convince India to spend your wedding night in the same cramped single bed you spent most of university in!’

‘Well technically it wasn’t a single bed, once we’d used Tesco delivery crates and pillows to add an extra metre or so …’

I roll my eyes at my old friend.

‘Anyway … I wasn’t suggesting us!’ Matty grinned.  ‘Fun as it would be to re-enact the old days!  I was thinking more of your wedding date!’

‘Oh Jesus Christ, Matty!  Could you try any harder to set me up?  Is it not enough that I’m going to the wedding with him?  We’re sitting next to each other at dinner!  We don’t need to be roomies too!’

Matty looks a little hurt.  ‘I was just thinking … I figured if you shared the set, then you might get to know one another a little better, and actually have something to talk about at dinner?’

I study his face for a moment.  ‘Hang on a minute … you’re not just suggesting this, are you?  You’ve already gone and arranged it!’

Matty frowns, and then looks over my shoulder distractedly.  ‘Right on time!’ he exclaims.  ‘Um Ash … meet Hugo March.  Hugo, this is my best friend Ashleigh Vaughan.’

I glared pointedly at Matty, but shift my frown into a forced smile as I spin around to greet Hugo.

Hugo March is pushing six foot two, his hair falling in messy honey-blond curls around his eyes.  His full lips look bee-stung, his eyes deep chocolatey pools.  In a word … Hugo March is hot! Not that I’m about to admit that to either Matty or India!

I roll my eyes.  ‘If I were really your best friend, I’d be the Best Man, not Maid of Honour!’  I banter back immediately, though I felt a definite twinge of something I couldn’t define on hearing him call me his best friend.

‘I wish my best friend was this attractive!’ Hugo smiles, and extends his hand.  ‘It’s great to finally meet you Ashleigh.’

‘Ditto!’ I smile.

‘I hear we’re going to be roommates?’ I add, giving Matt a sideways glance to let him know he hasn’t gotten away with that particular decision.

‘Only if that’s alright?  According to Matty this is one of the best rooms in college?’

I chuckle in spite of myself.  ‘He would say that, he was desperate to live here!’  I wink.

Hugo had been in his third year at Cambridge when we were in first year.  He’d studied History at St. Catharine’s, a college famous for its sport and drinking societies, and had rowed in the Boat Race alongside Matty.  His accent is surprisingly Scottish – a point of great banter between him and Matty, who he refers to as the ‘fake Scot.’  For despite Matthew McAllister’s grand Scottish name, the farthest North Matty has ever been is York!

As I watch him joking easily with Matty, I wonder why I don’t remember him.  Not only is he gorgeous, but it is really difficult not to like him.  And trust me … I’m trying!  He’s warm, and funny, and yet seems almost a little nervous around me, which in such a towering, attractive guy, is really rather cute!

Finally Matty excuses himself, and disappears off back to the Hyatt, with a cautionary glance in my direction.  I roll my eyes at him, just as he closes the door to the set, and then yawn loudly.

‘How silly of me, you must be exhausted!  How are you still awake?’ Hugo asks, checking his watch.  ‘It normally takes me days to recover from jet lag!’

I laugh.  ‘Dare I even ask what time it is?’  It isn’t even dark outside.

‘A monumental eight pm!’ Hugo grins.

I groan.  ‘I think there were some days in third year where I’d barely even woken up by this time!’

‘Ah, the good old Cambridge all-nighters!  Have to admit, that’s not a part of university life I miss all too much!’

‘Depends what you were doing to keep you up all night!’  I reply cheekily, before checking myself.  Am I actually flirting with him?

Hurriedly, I excuse myself to my bedroom, still determined to prove Matty and India wrong.  I know they mean well, but this all just feels too contrived … too set-up.  I don’t want to meet my Mr. Right like this … I dunno, I just always imagined catching his eye in the gym, and knowing it was him, or bumping into a tall handsome stranger in a hostel in a far-flung hostel and feeling my heart leap appropriately.  I need adventure, excitement, spontaneity …  Argh, sometimes I just wish they would stop molly-coddling me …  I find myself doubting their intentions.

Quickly I shrug on a baggy pair of granddad-style pyjama bottoms, and an old sweatshirt.  No matter how gorgeous and perfect he is, I can still make myself totally unapproachable … thus scuppering their little plan!  I pause for a second, wondering who I’m really fighting with, and as I do so, I take a glance around the bedroom.  My old bedroom.  God, the things I and India got up to in this set.  I grin to myself.  I’d been half tempted to switch rooms today.  To insist that Hugo have my old room, and take India’s bedroom instead … just for a change.  To mark a new era maybe?  But old habits die hard … and I have so many lovely memories of this room…

‘Have you fallen asleep already?’ Hugo asks nervously from outside the door.

I stifle a giggle.  ‘Nope, just coming!’

As I step back out into the living room, Hugo holds up two mugs.  ‘Coffee or hot chocolate?’

I frown, wondering how much I want to stay awake right now.

‘I’ll do coffee!’  I grin.

‘I was hoping you’d say that!’ he smiles back, before adding hurriedly … ‘I’ve always had a sweet tooth!’

I settle myself back down on the decrepit sofa, wondering to myself how often they change the furniture in the college rooms, and Hugo gives me a peculiar look.

I check myself again, suddenly nervous.  Have I gone too far with the pyjamas?

‘Where did you get that sweater from?’ he asks eventually.

I look down at the faded blue rowing shirt, and tug pensively at the hem.  I shrug ‘I guess it must have once belonged to Matty?’

Hugo frowns.  ‘Sorry, would you mind if I just have a quick look at it?’

I bite my lip nervously, and then finally shrug off the sweatshirt.  As I pass it over to him, he chuckles.

‘This is my jumper!’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘This jumper – it’s mine!  I knew I recognised you from somewhere!  I gave this to you … years ago!’  He chuckles and smiles down at the sweater.

I stare at the Cambridge Rowing team jumper, still confused.  Surely I’d just borrowed it from Matty?

‘But we’ve never met before!  Are you sure it’s yours?  Wouldn’t you and Matty have had similar kit?’

He points at the collar of the shirt, to a red paint stain I’ve never been able to remove.  ‘I got this on the collar helping out the May Ball committee.  It’s definitely mine … and now I think about it, I can actually remember giving it to you!’

I frown.

‘It was the Cuppers rugby final – Johns vs Catz, and you were standing shivering next to me on the sideline …’

‘Oh my God!  You had a broken arm!’

‘Collar bone …’ Hugo corrects.

I laugh nervously.  ‘I stole your jumper!’

Hugo laughs.  ‘How about we just say that you never gave it back?!’

I grab the sweater back teasingly.  ‘Well I hope you realise you’re never getting it back!  It’s my favourite jumper!’

Hugo shrugs.  ‘I’ll try not to hold it against you!’  He retorts, grinning widely.

*                                  *                                  *

‘So you’re telling me, you not only met him ten years ago … but you also stole his jumper … and never even realised?!’  India’s face is a picture of comic surprise.  She’s quite literally gawping, but what makes it more amusing, is that she’s currently trussed up in her customised designer wedding dress, on top of a pedestal, with the seamstress fussing around her feet, fixing the hem.

‘You know, I think the part of this story which bemuses me the most, is that fact you were wearing the sweatshirt in front of him in the first place!  Have you no shame?  Are you honestly not attracted to him?!’

I shrug, knowing whatever I say, India knows me too well.  ‘I was jet-lagged.  It was comfy.’

‘Well luckily, I didn’t choose you this,because it was comfy!’’ She motions over to my bridesmaid dress, a gorgeous turquoise halter-neck.

Before I can say anything, she pipes up again.  ‘I did all the initial fittings for you, seeing as we’re the same size.  But obviously you’ll need to try it on, and have Miranda give it the once over …’

I bite my lip.  I hate how India always refers to us as ‘the same size’.  I mean, granted, we’re not too dissimilar in shape, but she’s always been at least a half size smaller than me in all the places that matter … and a full cup size larger up top.  I shrug off the comment, I’m sure she just meant to be nice.  Besides, by the sounds of things, her body will be changing rather dramatically in the near future … not that she’s felt the need to share that particularly bombshell with me yet!

‘Are you two sisters?’  Miranda, the tailor asks, rising up from her stooped position at the hem.

‘Practically!’  India beams, before I can deny it.

*                                  *                                  *

‘If anyone present should know of any reason why this man and woman shouldn’t be joined in holy matrimony, speak now, or forever hold your peace.’

I can feel the awkward shuffle in the chapel.  I never know why they still include this part in wedding vows.  It just makes people unnecessarily suspicious.  Suddenly everyone in the chapel’s mind has been turned to infidelity and lies, just seconds before India and Matty are joined in supposedly beautiful marriage.

I look down at the two bouquets in my hand.  India’s grand arrangement of roses and other spiky things, and my own diminutive clutch of posies, suddenly all too aware that either bunch of flowers could have at one time been mine.  I chide myself for even thinking as much, and stare over at Hugo in order to distract my wandering mind.

Hugo is standing on the other side of Matty’s brother Toby, the Best Man.  It’s only now that I realise he’s wearing a kilt made out of the McAllister tartan.  The touching little gesture brings a smile to my face.  And besides, I’m yet to see a man look bad in a kilt!  I manage to catch his eye, and he smiles warmly back at me, his expression a little bashful.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

The little wedding rhyme pops randomly into my head, and my thoughts turn to the stolen sweater.  It is something old, borrowed, and blue … could Hugo March possibly turn out to be my something new?

I tune back into the ceremony.  This is the only time my two closest friends will ever be tying the knot.  The main event. I really ought to be paying attention!

And within seconds it is all over, and the crowds are rushing towards the newly-weds, clamouring to bestow their congratulations and embraces.  A wry smile plays over my lips as it reminds me randomly of Matty’s first Boat Race.  As the boys had passed over the finish line at Chiswick, a full eight-lengths ahead of the Dark Blue boat, I had run down meet the boats.  I could almost feel the mud underneath my heels now.  At the time I had lost all sense of propriety and waded across the slippery bank in my delicate formal wear, my only concern to wish my best friend ‘Congratulations’.  It’s funny to think, that at that moment, India Masters wasn’t a part of either my life, or Matty’s.  And bizarrely, it turns out that Hugo March was! Because he was sat in that boat, just behind Matty!  And I hadn’t so much as noticed him …

*                      *                      *

I stumble back across the familiar courtyard in the dark, a little light-headed from all the Dom Perignon India’s father had had shipped in.  I slip off India’s golden heels, and with a cheeky glance around, decide the make a run for it, and dance across the forbidden Cambridge lawn.  When we were students, running across the grass was punishable with a Deaning.  Who knows what the punishments are like these days?

As I creak open the set door, a skill I used to be so well practiced at, I find myself wondering if Hugo is back already.  The evening just got away with me, and I feel like I spent half the reception talking to India and Matty’s families.  I guess that’s the problem when you don’t know which side of the church you’re meant to be sitting on!  It seems like forever since I last saw Hugo, let alone talked to him … and if I’m honest, I’m a little disappointed.

I tiptoe across the living room to my bedroom, and a bright Post-It note on my door catches my attention.

‘You looked beautiful tonight …’ The note reads.  ‘EVEN more beautiful than you did in MY sweatshirt!  Sweet dreams, H xx’

I grin, in spite of myself, wondering when the last time I received an actual hand-written note from a boy was!  I peel the Post-It from the door, and hold it against my chest absent-mindedly as I consider my options.

He likes me!  He really, genuinely likes me!  And despite my best attempts otherwise, I really rather like him too.  I drop India’s heels on the living room carpet, reminding myself that life is about taking risks … What is it she sometimes says?  Something about at least trying a closed door?  Just because something appears shut, doesn’t mean it’s locked closed.  I sneak a glance at India’s old bedroom door.  It definitely appears shut … but surely it’s worth a knock?

I take a deep breath, and knock quietly on Hugo’s bedroom door.  ‘Come in!’ comes a dozy-sounding voice.

‘Sorry, did I wake you?’ I ask quietly, as I step gingerly into the dark room.

Hugo clicks on the bedside lamp and shakes his head, ‘Not at all, I only got back a few minutes ago myself.’  He sits up in bed, and pats the spot beside him with a smile.  ‘Fancy a seat?’

I grin nervously, and perch beside him.  ‘I wondered where you went.’

Hugo shrugs, ‘Every time I looked your way you were busy talking to someone else … and seeing as you were the only person I really wanted to be talking to, I figured I’d call it a night.’

‘Oh,’ I reply shyly.

He grins back, equally shy.  ‘Oh yes? Or, oh no?’

‘Um …. Oh sorry? India’s aunts love to corner me and quiz me on why I haven’t found a man yet!’  I laugh a little awkwardly, before realising what I’ve said.

‘And why haven’t you found yourself a man yet, Miss Vaughan?’

‘What is this, Truth or Dare?’  I ask sarcastically.

‘I guess it could be,’ Hugo grins back cheekily.

‘Ok, well if I’m honest, I’ve just never met the right person …’

Hugo raises an eyebrow.

‘What’s the supposed to mean?’ I ask defensively.

‘Is that your question?’ Hugo asks cheekily.

I shrug, curious.  ‘Sure.’

‘I dunno, I just always assumed there was something between you and Matty.  Even that day I first met you … the rugby match.  The reason you were there was to watch him play, right?’

This time I raise my eyebrow.  ‘So is that your next question?’

Hugo shakes his head.  ‘My next question is … how long have you been in love with Matty McAllister?’

I bite my lip, a weird feeling in the back of my throat, like I’ve been caught doing something naughty.  I frown, and then decide to answer properly.

‘If I’m honest, from the day I first met him … until just a few hours ago!’

I can’t read Hugo’s expression.

‘And the reason for that … is it because he married your best-friend?’ Hugo asks. ‘Or because you met me?’ Hugo adds quietly, his nervous expression defying the presumption of his question.

I slip my hand into his large, callused palm.

‘I’m afraid that was two questions in one go!’  I reply cheekily.  ‘It’s my turn to ask a question, and you know what, next time I think I’ll pick Dare, so maybe you’ll just have to work out the answer to that one by yourself.’

Hugo grins.  ‘In that case, I’d like a Dare too.’

I smile back at him, amazed at how comfortable I felt around this virtual stranger.

‘Ok … I dare you to kiss me!’

© C-C Lester 2010

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Filed under C-C Lester, My Ten Future Lives, Novel Excerpt, Writing

My Ten Future Lives – Life One

Following on from My Ten Future Lives – Introduction, found on the separate page of the blog, here is the first of the ten future lives ….

Each chapter will work as a stand alone, but also intertwine with the others, so watch this space for the book to start making some sense!!!

(This is the one I’m thinking of turning into a screenplay

Please note, unlike TDN and Flicker, which are teenage fantasy, I would probably class MTFL as ‘women’s psychological fiction’ if that’s even a genre?!

Enjoy! And please give me your feedback!

C-C xx

Life One – 2020

‘Good Morning, this is a wake-up call for Mr. and Mrs. McAllister.  The time is 4.55.  Have a great day!’

My name is Ashleigh McAllister, I’m thirty-three years old, and today my husband is rowing in the 2020 Olympic Finals.

‘Ash, you need to rest, stay in bed.’ Matty murmurs, kissing me gently on the forehead.

I smile back tiredly, then wince, ‘I’m afraid the next generation of McAllisters aren’t so thoughtful, Daddy!’ I race to the hotel bathroom in a burst of morning sickness.

As Matty rubs my pyjama-clad shoulders, I mumble an apology.  ‘I’m so sorry.  Hardly your ideal Olympic morning!’

He kisses the top of my head.  ‘Ashleigh, nothing could ever top London!  Besides, I wouldn’t have it any other way!’  He slips a hand delicately over my bump.

I finally pull myself away from the porcelain bowl and unforgiving cold floor, and slip myself back beneath the sheets to reassure Matty that I’ll be fine on my own.

‘Are you sure you don’t want me to go wake Mum?’

‘Don’t be silly.  I’m fine!  Now, go think of England!’ I wink.

‘And Scotland!’ he banters back.  ‘You’re sure you’re ok, Ash?’

‘Girl Scouts’ honour.  Now, go show the world those guns, and make the twins proud, hey?  Not many kids can say their Dad was out winning a Gold medal while they were still a bump!’

‘I love you Mrs. McAllister!’

‘Ditto, you old softy! Now GO!’

‘Ok, ok, going … just one thing ok?’

‘It’s already in my bag!’ I reassure.

He laughs.  ‘No I know you won’t forget that after all these years!  Just promise me you won’t run down to the boats, ok?  Those steps aren’t safe, and I’ll worry.’

‘I’ve still got three months Matty, I’m not immobile!’

‘Ashleigh Luella …’

‘Ok, ok! I promise … now go!  And you don’t need luck!’

‘Of course I don’t, I have you!’

Oh dear, we really are a cringey pair!  I can imagine the twins as teenagers, pulling puke faces every time Mom and Dad so much as share a glance, but I love it.  Matty knows exactly what I need, and I guess, after twelve years together, I have a fair idea how to tick his boxes too.  Silly things, like the way he can’t stand to be wished ‘Good Luck’; a nuance his mother, to this day, refuses to acknowledge, causing rather comic scenes when it sends the thirty-four year-old man into a teenage tantrum!

I remember him at the World Champs, steam practically coming out of his ears because poor old Jane had woken specially at five to wish her eldest son a harmless ‘Good Luck’. To be perfectly honest I think the tantrum has become as much a part of Matty’s pre-race superstition as had my roles – ring-bearer, shirt stand, and wisher of no good luck messages.  In fact, that’s probably why he asked whether I needed Jane – an excuse to receive her inevitable tidings!

I drift back off to sleep and rise to a second wake-up call at eleven.  The boys wouldn’t be rowing until late this afternoon, giving me more than enough time to prepare, travel to the lakeside, and be settled in the VIP Balcony at least an hour before the race.

I draw a conservative wrap-around dress from the closet.  Shrugging it over my swollen dimensions, I frown.  It’s difficult not to feel like a lumbering whale knowing how pert and coltish the rest of the VIPers will be.

We prefer ‘VIPers’ to the awful ‘WAG’ term they use to brand footballers’ wives.  I guess an allusion to a snake is more stealthy and glamorous than one to a dog!  In the early days, when I was still young enough to be affected by the all-girls’ school bitchiness of the balcony, Dad and I used to refer to the other VIPers as the ‘Whinneys’.  Good old down-to-earth Dad, always happy to point out when a girl had spent far too much time with her ponies!

Nowadays I’m something of an unwitting Queen Bee. This being Matty’s third Olympics, I’m the most experienced of the VIPers.  The rest of the girls are all new to the scene, and in need of a knowledgeable Head Girl to help them through their first days of ‘school’ … and since the media attention at Rio 2016, that particular ‘honour’ has pinned itself to my chest.

But today that chest is unrecognisable.  Six months of stretch-marks, swelling and water-retention, and I couldn’t feel any further from the glamorous, educated wife of the British flag-bearer, whom the World had embraced four years ago, when her victorious boyfriend proposed to her whilst still half inside the Gold-winning boat!

I shake myself, flatten down the dress, and pull open the wardrobe door to look in the full-length mirror.  A ‘Sport for England’ post-it was stuck in the centre of the glass.

‘You’re NOT FAT, you are PREGNANT, and you are the most FOXY WOMAN I have ever seen, bump or no bump.  If I wasn’t on my pre-race ban, and you weren’t in your third trimester ….! I LOVE YOU, M xxx’

I smile at the note, place it carefully in the pocket of my bag, and finish my make-up with a flourish. Who gives a shit what the other VIPers, the press, or anyone else, think?  Matty loves me, and his love is genuinely all I need.

Reassured, I decide against the Prada slingbacks I’d been dreading, yet had felt obliged to wear, and slip on a comfy pair of sandals.  I’m almost tempted to pop on a pair of Matty’s old boat shoes – there must be six pairs of flip-flops littering the hotel floor – but then I reason that, forgiving as the media and world may be to a pregnant woman’s prerogative to comfy shoes, their style-carte-blanche may not stretch to rubber flip-flops seven sizes larger than her feet!

I can see the headlines now … ‘Ro-Ing Mad, Ashleigh McAllister goes GaGa before her twins do!’ Fun as a libel case could be, it’s probably safer and far less stressful to reach for the bronze slip-ons I’d picked up in Accessorise.

*                                  *                                  *

My phone rings three times between the hotel and the lake.  First Mom, checking that I’ve eaten today, and wishing Matty ‘best of’ from her and Dad.  Then India to make sure that I’m on my way – by the sounds of things the VIPers are already in full force.  After promising that I’ll be there soon, and telling her to go and find Jane and Patrick, Jane McAllister herself rings.  She asks whether I need Patrick to grab anything from the hotel for me.  Glancing at the seasoned tote-bag at my side in the taxi, its packing as much a part of the race as the boys’ Lycra, I decline and assure her that I’ll be there in two ticks.

Matty’s Mom meets me at the entrance to the family enclosure.

‘I’ve had the team chefs rustle up some plain toast and a spot of porridge, just in case you feel faint? I don’t trust foreigners with simple food – always too keen to throw in cream or herbs or something, but Rory, the Head Chef, is brilliant.  And from Edinburgh! Couldn’t ask for more if I tried!’

I giggle as my mother-in-law continues to sing the praises of the browbeaten British support-staff, biting back a suggestion that perhaps Jane could find a nice match for Amy, Matty’s younger sister.  Amy’s hyperactive love life is possibly not the best topic of conversation for a woman about to see her two sons take on the world!

As we slowly mount the steps up to the VIP box, I adopt my best interviewer voice.  ‘So Mrs. McAllister, how does it feel to have two sons competing in the same Olympic rowing Final?’

‘Do you know how many bloody reporters have asked that?!  I’m considering switching name badges with Frau Littleman … rumour has it she doesn’t speak a word of English!’ Jane replies with a sparkle in her eye.

‘Now, now Janey!’ comes Patrick’s warm Scottish lilt.  ‘Ashleigh, my dear you look radiant! … You have got the sweater haven’t you?’

I kissed Patrick affectionately on the cheek, smiling at the knowledge of what my husband will look like in twenty-five years time.  ‘But of course!  I don’t leave the house without it these days!’ I wink, drawing a well-travelled sweatshirt from my tote.

I tie the Cambridge blue sweater around my ‘waist’, smile at my in-laws, and pat the bump.  ‘I hope one of these guys is a girl.  That way she can take over my sweater-bearing duties!’

‘Don’t let Matt or Toby hear you say you don’t want two boys!’ beams Amy, coming up behind her father. ‘You know they’ve already earmarked the twins for stroke and three at the 2036s!!’

I hug my sister-in-law, and whisper thanks for the expresso, which she slyly passes me as an alternative to the warm milk Jane has set beside my porridge and toast.

The sweater is Matty’s good luck charm – a remnant of our university days, and what he’d been wearing the day we first met.  I’d stood freezing on the St. John’s pitches in late October watching the college rugby team play St. Catharine’s in Cuppers.   Matty, an avid rugby player, had been sworn off the sport by the University Rowing Club, in an attempt to protect their interests, and so he was passively indulging in his second sport by watching his flatmate Hugo play.  As my teeth began to chatter, Matty had silently handed me his rowing team sweater, and in that moment I had met my ‘One’.

Whilst St. John’s had lost the rugby that day, and Hugo had broken his collarbone during the match, Matty insists that the jumper is luckier than anything he has ever come in contact with, and thus, for this race, and every other, as his doting wife and life-long supporter, I am obliged to wear it.

I look around the gallery, eyeing up the other VIPers and indulging in my time-honoured pre-match pastime, ‘Spot The Good Luck Charm!’.

Miranda Tyler-Ellis, Dominic’s wife, is nervously clutching something resembling a rabbit’s foot … how very Countryside Alliance of her! Meanwhile Sophia De Marco, girlfriend of Thom Jagger, is running her hands over an awkwardly clunky pendant hanging from her neck.

Fiddling with Matty’s wedding ring, which is currently sitting on my left thumb, its designated ‘race spot’, I smile wistfully at the stress experienced by a group of women who have no real effect on the outcome of what is essentially just a peculiar means of futile transport.  Not that anyone would ever dare to express such cynicism!  And so, we twist, clutch, stroke and kneed out charms and idols, mumbling words to ourselves like Shakespearean witches.

A fellow spell-caster shimmies my way, long dark hair spilling down her bare back, ‘India Masters! You look divine!’  I step back to take in the beauty of the turquoise halterneck  (Gucci), and her golden five-inch stilettos (Christian Louboutin).  Completed with a neat silver Chloe bag, my best friend is the picture of youth.  Though, saying that, she really has to be.

India and I have been friends since our very first day in college, when we’d celebrated a common  (and rather embarrassing) adoration of ‘The Choir Boys’ at the jukebox in the St. John’s bar.  India, one year my senior, yet in my matriculating class thanks to a gap year, is very much involved with Matty’s younger brother Toby, wait for it … six years her junior!  Hence the need to look young!  And she does, bless her, though I couldn’t help wondering if my doubled waistline is adding to my sense of seniority next to my pint-sized friend.

Jane is beaming.  ‘My two good luck charms! With girls like you two to come home to, I can’t see any reason for my boys to delay getting to that finish line!!’ she clucks.

‘Welcome to the clan!’  Amy giggles, clinking champagne glasses with India, and then gently tapping my coffee.

‘Amy, are you sure you should be drinking?’ worries Jane, unable to snap out of the role of mother she has played so well for thirty years.

Before her daughter replies, Patrick steps in, enveloping both ladies in his broad arms, ‘Janey, Janey, Janey … how many times will Amy be able to say that not one, but two, of her brothers were in the winning boat at the Olympics, hey?’

While Jane attempts to hush her husband from jinxing the boys’ imminent success, India, Amy and I gather conspiratorially.  ‘So, no pressure Ames, I mean you only have two Olympic medal-winning, Oxbridge graduate, gorgeous older brothers to aspire to!’

Amy grimaces good-naturedly. ‘Thank God I don’t have a small penis!’ she laughs.

‘So ladies … who fancies a bottle of Dom Perignon’, asks Patrick, ‘Ash, one glass’ll be ok won’t it?’ he winks in cheeky defiance of his wife.

‘Sounds heavenly’ I grin back, settling myself in a comfy recliner, and pulling India, who is still rigid with nerves, to my side.

‘Don’t you need to do the Meet and Greet?’ she worries.

As senior VIPer it is my unspoken duty to do the rounds of the gallery.  ‘Five minutes,’ I shrug casually. ‘I just wanted to check everything’s ok with you.  After all, you are my favourite snake!’

She gives me a relieved hug, and nods, though her expression is more reminiscent of a paralysed rabbit, about to be gorged by a snake.

VIPers.  The girls like to think we are all cut from the same cloth.  Confident, deadly women in total control of the situation.  Personally I find that illusion a load of crap. – the only common feature I’d ever discovered between myself and majority of the balcony is that we are all shagging (or rather, due to performance-orientated guidelines, not shagging) the best rowers in Britain!

Well, that and our role ensuring we do everything in our superstitious power to ensure that the gods are looking favourably upon their boats!

I briefly check over India to find her charm.  It’s not difficult – she’s wearing a chunky man’s bracelet, which she can’t leave alone.  As if that wasn’t a big enough tell, the bracelet clashes awfully with the only other jewellery she is wearing – a delicate silver locket, which she’d worn since we were at St. Johns, and which I know contains two tiny black and white photos of her late parents.

‘India, I know you think as little as I do of this hive of wasps, but can I suggest you try and relax a little, if only so that you don’t find a snap of you on the cover of tomorrow’s issue of Hearsay Magazine looking like you’re about to get run over!’

India giggles.

‘And there we go! Immediate improvement! Right, go mingle … if anything just so that you can inform Jane exactly how little English Karl Littleman’s mother speaks!!’

My best friend hugs me once more, and kneels near my bump to whisper ‘Your mum’s gonna be fab!!’ to the twins, before loosening her grip ever-so-slightly on the bracelet.  ‘Love you’, she mouths.

‘Love you too! Now shoo!’ I smile, realising how similar the order is to the one I gave Matty this morning.

‘Come on Matty’, I think quickly as I push myself out of the chair, shrugging off the three pairs of hands that came to my aid, and begin my rounds.

As I weave my way through blazers of old; proud fathers posting their colours at every infrequent opportunity, and mothers competing for the ‘biggest hat in the room’ award, I hand out smiles, greetings, and snippets of small-talk, remembering just one of the many reasons I adore Matthew’s parents.  I turn to look back at them, happily sitting away from the pack, comfortable in the company of their own clutch.  Patrick is wearing a simple navy blazer, not even a shimmer of his own sparkling rowing career evident. This is Matty and Toby’s day.  Meanwhile Jane is too busy checking the eating habits and general health of each of her brood to concern herself with something as petty as hat one-up(wo)manship!  I’m sure that tucked away in some corner is the same trusty powder-blue hat she wore in 2012, 2016, and to our wedding.  I can hear her inevitable words. ‘And why should I go to the trouble of buying another Ash?  I paid a small fortune for it, have worn it three times, and even then it was on my head for 10 minutes max before it got in the way and I popped it in the corner!’ A woman after my own mother’s heart.  At our wedding, three years’ ago, she and Mom had conspired to only wear their hats as I walked down the aisle, and for the photographs.  In fact, as Dad had passed my hand from his into Matty’s, I swear I had heard the rustles from either side of the castle as two hats were carefully removed in unison.

‘Ashleigh!’ Catherine Redmond buzzes.

‘Ash!’ Persephone slides stealthily into the group, quickly joined by an over-excited Bianca.  We exchange pleasantries, and I answer the litany of questions both Matty and I could now answer in our sleep.

‘October, but with twins it’s normally eight months max … No we don’t know. Matty wants boys, I’d like one of each, but obviously we’d just be happy to have two healthy babies. … Yep, fraternal, no I think there are identical twin genes on Matty’s side – Patrick’s mother and sisters, but the doctors seem pretty certain these guys are non-identical…Yeah a bit, but it’s not been too bad – to be honest I barely knew if it was morning sickness or nerves this morning…Yep the Sports Council was great – Matty’s been able to stay with me rather than in the village accommodation most nights, which has been a real help, and Jane and Patrick have been in the same hotel all week…’

Just as I begin to worry that my eyes are glazing over, I feel a warm hand on the small of my back and Patrick whispers in my ear.  ‘Thought you might need saving from the drones, Queen Bee.’

I smile widely to stop myself from giggling and excuse myself from the gaggle of designer dresses.  Taking my father-in-law’s arm I snuggle into his shoulder and whisper ‘aren’t drones male?’  Patrick shrugs conspiratorially and we settle ourselves at the front of the balcony.

The buzzer sounds, and we all focus on the big screen.  The start of the race is some two kilometres away.  I watch as Matty falls into his age-old rhythm, and the British boat pulls comfortably ahead of the pack within the first five hundred-metres.  The Canadians are up beside them, but there’s nothing to worry about at this stage.  The camera shots cover all six boats in the race, and I marvel at how similar the British boys look from afar, their movements so in sync that they could be the carefully crafted pieces of a simple wooden toy.  Forwards, back, forwards, back.

I place a protective hand on my bump, and silently cheer on the twins’ father on their behalf.  Come on Dad! I smile to myself.  Come on Matty! An aerial view of the race shows Matty’s boat and the Canadians, a full boat’s length ahead of the rest of the pack by the third quarter. Still the boats glide delicately across the surface of the water.  It’s funny, I’ve watched a hundred of these races, and yet the peculiar watercrafts still remind me of pond-skaters, moving in such a way, that it’s as if they don’t even touch the water.  The boys’ oars spread out like the delicate legs of an insect, and suddenly they hit the fifteen hundred-metre mark and the insect’s legs go crazy.

Matty has upped the pace, urging the boys forward.  This is his forte, the final five-hundred metres.  I know Matty.  I know how he considers a silver medal a failure!  This is his moment.  Make or break.  And I know my husband.  He will make it!  Back in the day I would have been screaming by this point!  I would have jumped to my feet, and be manically gesturing and hollering at the speck of a boat in the distance, as if somehow my actions could add power to their strokes!  But I know this race, and I know my husband.  I’m all too aware what he’d say about me leaping up and down in my condition.   I also know that I have already played my ‘part’ in Matty’s race simply by wearing his jumper and wedding ring.  And so, I just sit there, and smile.  I smile as the British boat overtakes the Canadians.  I smile as Matty’s boat cuts through the finish line, at least a half boat’s length ahead of its nearest competitors.  And I smile as the concise announcer declares Great Britain the winners of the 2020 Olympic coxless fours.

The rest of the McAllisters bounce around me.  India sits, knuckles still white, her hands melded to the balcony front, her mouth awkwardly frozen, jaw clenched, yet smiling. Eyes yet to register the reality of the moment.

And I just smile.

You see, I’ve known the entire time.  I knew it weeks, if not months ago.  For twelve years I have watched Matty row, in countless crews, in the whole spectrum of races – Lent Bumps, Mays, BUSA, Henley, Varsity, Worlds’, Olympics.  I’d seen the crew dynamics, the personalities that rocked the boat; the boys too big for their footplates, incapable of recognising that you can’t stand out in the crew of four.  The minute one rower becomes anything other than the role he’s been designated – Bow, Two, Three, Stroke…  that’s when the symmetry is lost – three men pull in one direction while the fourth is at front-stops, waiting for the photo-call.

For that reason I genuinely think it was a godsend that the media picked Matty as the ‘golden blade’ in the boat.  He was the unwilling hero, unfazed and disinterested with the media attention.  He was a small-town Scotsman, unaffected since the day we’d met.  He was the physics geek with genetics that directed him into the boat, but a personality and upbringing that dedicated him to the family and the close clutch of friends that shared his dry sense of humour.  He took the media attention in his stride, and blocked out everything other than the movement of the boat, the rhythm of the blades and the voice of his coaches.

With all eyes on Matty, the younger members of the boat focussed on the task at hand, realising that fame and fortune would only come if their career started in the rear of Matthew McAllister’s Gold-winning boat.  And so I’d watched them glide – through the qualifiers, the quarters and the semis – favourites of the bookies and the crowds, but most importantly the only crew worthy of the simple title ‘boat’ rather than a fragmented concept of four individuals.  They rowed as one – unified and disciplined in their reflection of Matty’s commanding rhythm.

They were the best crew I’d seen Matty with, and now the World recognised that!

My Matty.

I smile again and realise the balcony is awash with movement.  I go to grab my bag. I can’t wait to get down to that boat.

“Ashleigh!” I hear Jane reprimand, “If you think for one moment I’m letting you move from that seat!”

“Uh- uh” Amy joins in, “Big brother’s orders – don’t you think he’s briefed us all at least five times that you’re not to go meet the boats?!” I smile inwardly at my husband’s preparation for me to defy his orders! Oh dear!

With three pairs of brown eyes, far too similar to Matty’s own, staring me out, I settle back in my chair.  “Can you tell him that the girls are very proud of Daddy?” I grin, only now registering the kicks that had pounded my stomach throughout the race, “and say that I don’t believe for one minute that he’s retiring!”

Patrick ruffles my hair, Jane kisses my forehead, Amy swoops in for a hug and a pat of the bump, and then they are gone, racing down the aluminium steps and down to the water’s edge.  India looks at me, clearly torn between her victorious boyfriend and beached best friend.  “Go!” I insist. “Hun, I’ve done it before … Toby’s never won Gold before, and never had you there to celebrate it with him.  Go now!” She smiles gratefully and takes off in a run for the boat.  I shoo the remaining VIPers down to the waters’ edge.

“Come on girls – make sure the groupies know your men are truly taken!”   And as the last of the fillies canters off the balcony, I rub my belly and turn to the replays.  “Look guys …” I whisper to my over-sized tummy, “that’s Daddy winning the most important boat race in the world!”

I glow with pride for my boy and focus on the slow-motion footage of the four men grimacing and carving the lake into submission.  Staring at Greg’s facial contortions in quarter-speed I chuckle, remembering something his wife Sophie had mentioned once about the awful ‘sex faces’ that the boys pull.  Oh dear!  My eyes flick forward to my husband’s own contortions, and I think gratefully, that at least where Matthew is concerned, the theory is flawed.  If my Matty looked anything like that during sex then the twins would most definitely have never been conceived!  I look at the other two in the boat – Karl and Toby … oh dear Toby, the thought of him having sex was like imagining a little brother in bed.  Yuk!

My stream of thought is interrupted by my cell phone.

“Hi Mom!! Yep, I know, amazing wasn’t it! Yes of course I will! … Yes I’ve eaten – Jane got me some dry toast and porridge.  Yep a sit-down dinner … Yes of course they know … Ok, ok, love you too!! Ok … hi Daddy!  I know, awesome!  But of course.  Yep will do, I’ve no doubt he sends his love.  What, oh Karl!  Yep, German, no, no his Dad’s English!  Daddy!! Ok, ok, I’d better go, I think the medal ceremony is about to start, ok will do. Love you too.  Bye.”

As I turn back to the plasma screen, the footage has changed to the medals podium –  crowds beginning to filter around the empty blocks as the commentator runs through a brief biography of the McAllister brothers, Greg and Karl.

Suddenly everything goes black as a familiar pair of calloused hands gently covers my eyes.  Without turning I tuck the back of my head comfortably under Matty’s chin.  “Shouldn’t you be off collecting something?” I ask lightly.

The gorgeously seasoned hands slide slowly down my front and come to rest protectively over my bump.  “Well I believe you have something of mine!”

I giggle, and put my hands on top of his, “I’m afraid I can’t hand them over for at least two months, gold medal or no gold medal.”

Carefully Matty spins me round to face him, pulling me towards his lycra-clad body, and cupping my face in his rugged palms.  Kissing me ever-so-gently with the same gorgeously large lips that had kept me captivated since university, he brushes my chocolate brown hair from my face, seemingly ignorant to the curls of honey that have fallen in his own eyes.  As he slips his tongue ever so gently between my lips, and draws me in towards his bare chest, his hands stroke my neck, tickle across my shoulders, and work masterfully down my arms, outwards and slightly behind me, tickling my palms, ever so delicately for a 16 stone giant, and then almost un-detectably he removes his wedding ring from my left thumb.

Resting my head on his characteristically white rower’s chest, my eyes trace the outline of his lycra immortalised by the deep golden tan of his substantial arms, and I slip my hands comfortably into the small of his back, toying playfully with the back of his suit, which is now pushed around his waist,

“Shouldn’t I be returning the favour and presenting you with that in the boat?!”  I joke, nodding at his wedding ring.

When Matty’s crew had won in 2016, being the coltish 20-something year-old VIPer I was back then, complete with fully intact waistline and an ability to wear designer heels, I’d kicked off my Manohlos and raced to the boats, with the rest of the fillies.  Flushed and panting, I had practically launched myself at the boys … obviously graceful and dignified at all times!  Completely oblivious to the thirty-odd cameras pointed at him, I’d grabbed my then-boyfriend, as if I hadn’t seen him in years, and half-in, half-out of the boat, nearly mauled the poor boy!  Tears running down my face, hair and dress blowing every which-way in the humid Rio breeze, I’d all but collapsed in Matty’s lap only for him to cough awkwardly over my shoulder.  Half-expecting a member of the British team’s security to remove me from the area, I looked up to see a hand (that I later found out belonged to a land-bound Toby) reach over and pass something to Matthew.

Looking at me, and only me, with the same contained and steadfast focus that had got him his place in that boat, he had popped open a small velvet box, and asked me to marry him.  Only as Matty climbed from the boat and scooped me towards him, had either of us realised that our private milestone was being translated across the world in every language imaginable.

Shrugging self-consciously, Matty had kissed my hair and held me into his chest, turning his broad shoulders towards the hungry reporters, in an unspoken promise that our world would always remain for our eyes only.

For the two-hundredth time I ask playfully “So what would you have done if you guys hadn’t won Gold?!”

“Proposed to the girlfriend of one of the guys who did!”

I kiss his comically paper-white chest and then look up proudly into his brown eyes.

“I’m sure you’re meant to be collecting a prize of some sort?  Egg and spoon race? Sack race? Hopskotch?”  I giggle as he tickles my back.

He breathes into my hair, “I’m sure they’re not gonna start the ceremony without the stroke of the winning boat!”  He winks comically, and drawls in a mock-American accent, “The world can wait for you honey!”

I wince, and add in an equally appalling American accent. “Golly gosh, my husband, the best ‘stroker’ in the world for another four years!”

“Shall we make a move, Mrs. McAllister, and sons?”

“I guess we’d better, Mr McAllister, and guns”, I reply, and kissing his bicep, I take one of his tough hands in both of mine, and let him lead me out.

As we step down from the VIPers nest, Matty turns to face me, a step below me, and carefully helps me and the bump down the steep steps.  The world below goes silent.

Every television camera turns from the expectant medal podium to focus on the shoulders of Matthew McAllister, British Team Flag Bearer, twice Olympic Gold Medallist, World Champion, devoted husband, and soon-to-be father, as he leads his heavily pregnant wife down to collect yet another medal.

I blush self-consciously, realising that for the second time running, Matty and I have inadvertently been crowned media King and Queen of the Olympics.

Continue to Life Two by clicking here!

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