Authors: Rebecca Chance
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #dpgroup.org
,’ Bettany went on, her voice wavering. ‘In
. You only have half an hour to make a dish.
it’s in front of a studio audience. There are cameras
. It’s really only for professional chefs – I mean, people who’ve worked in kitchens a lot, who do cooking demonstrations – you know we’ve always steered you away from those big live shows at Birmingham and Earl’s Court, it’s not the best use of your talents—’
‘This is exactly what I need to do!’ Devon interrupted imperiously. ‘I’m going to go on one of those crash protein-shake diets, and in a month I’ll have lost pounds and pounds, and then I’ll go on
and everyone will see that I’ve lost weight
that I can cook!’
She drew herself up to her full height, looking majestic and imposing.
‘It’ll turn everything around,’ she proclaimed. ‘So fuck you, Rory!’ She tossed her hair back dramatically and turned on her heels.
‘Oh no, wait,’ she said, looking over her shoulder with perfect dramatic timing. ‘I already did.’
She stormed out of the conference room, bosoms heaving, her hair bouncing dramatically on her shoulders, the people seated on her side of the table squeezing in frantically to let her pass. The door slammed shut behind her, and an even deeper silence fell than the one that had hung like a pall at the start of the meeting; the researchers hardly even dared to breathe, for fear of calling attention to themselves.
,’ Rory eventually said, summing up perfectly what everyone was thinking. ‘We’re totally and utterly fucked.’
Devon fumed all the way home in the taxi. Shepherd’s Bush to Mayfair was a long ride in bad traffic, but the forty minutes it took to chug along the side of Hyde Park didn’t calm her down at all; her mobile kept ringing, Bettany desperately trying to get in touch with her.
I’m not answering her
, Devon thought furiously, sitting there as the phone rang and rang, letting the calls go to voicemail, one after the other.
She’s just going to be totally unsupportive, like she was in the meeting
. The cabbie glanced in the rear-view mirror the first few times, wondering why she wasn’t answering her phone, but at the sight of Devon’s furious face, he sensibly avoided making a comment, choosing to slide shut the Plexiglass panel between them and turn up his radio instead.
Every time the phone rang, Devon looked at the little screen, hoping it was Rory calling her to apologize, tell her he was sorry for the awful insults he’d thrown at her. If Rory rang, that would mean he’d had second thoughts; that he valued her as talent he still wanted to work with. The fact that he was remaining resolutely silent after her diva-esque exit from the meeting spoke volumes. He was washing his hands of her. He wouldn’t commission any more Devon McKenna cookery series.
Her career was going down the toilet – unless she managed to turn it around on her own.
All they did was criticize me!
Devon thought, sizzling with anger.
No one offered one constructive suggestion about how we could sort this out! I was the one who said I’d do a crash diet! I was the one who offered to go on
They shot down my ideas, but did they bloody come up with anything else that would work? No, they bloody didn’t! Useless bastards – they’ve made a shitload of money out of me, and now they’re just sitting back and watching me drown without even chucking me a lifejacket!
She knew she still had a great deal of goodwill from the public. For everyone who mocked her weight, there’d be plenty of supporters, women who sympathized because they were struggling hard to keep slim themselves and knew how difficult it was. If she could lose the extra pounds, get back to where she’d been before, it would be a triumph. Devon had never been thin: no one would expect her to put out an exercise video, like soap opera stars or reality TV would-be celebrities clinging to their last few seconds of fame. She wouldn’t have to be photographed working out in a public park with her trainer, or standing on her doorstep taking delivery of a PowerPlate machine, dressed in workout gear to show how keen she was to get herself into shape.
No, she’d just have to slim back to a voluptuous size 12, diet the muffin top down from the waistband of her jeans, and the Devon McKenna brand would be stronger than ever.
Look at the singers and actors who go into rehab and make amazing comebacks afterwards!
Devon told herself.
And no publicity is bad publicity, surely
. . .
The cab was pulling to a stop outside the Green Street house. Devon glanced down past the area steps, to the safety-barred windows of the basement flat in which Deeley was ensconced. She sighed. Having Deeley downstairs was stirring up such a confusing mixture of feelings in Devon. She was realizing how much she had missed her little sister. They’d shared a room for their whole childhood: squabbled, made up, shared confidences and crushes, helped each other stay brave through all the turbulence of their mother’s drug abuse, and crawled into bed with each other many nights, especially after Bill’s death, when both of them had had awful nightmares for years afterwards.
And then I finished school and shot off to London, and I was so busy working I barely even had time to talk to Deeley on the phone. And when she came down to London too, we didn’t see much of each other. Maxie said to let her go her own way, that she needed to grow up and find her feet.
When Nicky had whisked Deeley off to LA, Maxie had said that it was the best thing that could possibly happen; she had even discouraged Devon from visiting Deeley. Maxie had assumed that Deeley would stay in LA forever, because why would anyone leave California for rainy old London?
She’ll meet some rich man over there and marry him,
Maxie had said.
She’ll never come back. And it’s better that way. Deeley needs to forget all about us. All about Bill. Because Deeley had that stupid little girl crush on him; she always felt bad about what happened. And the one thing that could bring us down is if Deeley starts talking about it to someone.
Sadly, Devon had agreed with Maxie.
Though when don’t I?
Devon thought now.
When do I ever do anything Maxie disapproves of?
She sighed again.
But Maxie’s always right. She warned me that Deeley can’t keep her mouth shut, and look what happened with that magazine article!
Anger rose up in Devon, anger and an even more powerful sense of betrayal. Deeley had been unforgivably careless, had chattered away to a journalist and skimmed the edges of the McKenna sisters’ deadly secret. Maxie and Devon had tried so hard for all those years to take care of little, sweet-faced, vulnerable Deeley, and look how she’d rewarded them: by proving that Maxie was right, that Deeley was a total loose cannon, not safe anywhere near the UK press.
. . . Devon felt horribly torn. Between Maxie and Deeley. Between her memories of curling up on a narrow single bed with her little sister, both of them crying quietly, overwhelmed by the mess and insecurity of their lives, clinging to each other, drawing comfort from the warmth of another body, from the familiar smell and feel of their sister; and the knowledge that, so recently, Deeley had totally messed up. She hadn’t been in the UK for a week before she’d started talking to journalists and putting everything her older sisters had worked so hard for into terrible jeopardy.
Part of Devon wanted to go down the area steps right now, to find Deeley and hug her hard, to sit down on the sofa, holding each other’s hands, and catch up on everything that had been going on in their lives for the years that they hadn’t been in contact. To confide in Deeley about what had just happened with her awful meeting, about her need to diet, about the way that she and Matt just seemed to keep going past each other, about her underlying fear that Matt and she weren’t actually that compatible . . .
And part of her was afraid that Maxie, as usual, was absolutely right. That Deeley wasn’t a safe confidante, that she simply couldn’t be trusted, and that it would have been much better for both of them if she’d stayed permanently in LA.
‘Um – miss?’ The cabbie was looking at her in the rear-view mirror. ‘The meter’s still running. You getting out or what?’
‘Oh! Yes!’ Devon gathered her coat and bag and stepped out, settling up the fare. She hesitated for a moment, still wondering whether she should see if Deeley was in. And just then, the front door swung open. Matt was standing on the doorstep, having seen the cab draw up outside the house.
‘Everything OK?’ Matt bounded down the short flight of stairs. ‘I didn’t expect you back this early . . .’
He trailed off as he saw the expression on Devon’s face: if she’d been in a comic, the graphic artist would have drawn thunderclouds clustering round her head. Without saying a word, she strode past him, heading up the stairs and into the house.
Where she stopped dead at the sight in front of her. A waist-high silver champagne cooler stood in the centre of the black-and-white tiled hall, two lead-crystal champagne flutes on a small circular table beside it.
I didn’t even know we had a cooler like that
, she thought, dazed, as she took in the rest of the new decorations: a trail of red roses leading up the wide circular staircase, the bright crimson blooms standing out beautifully against the cream of the stair carpet, like big drops of blood. Two-thirds of the way up the stairs lay a huge bunch of roses, next to a basket which was spilling over with scarlet, velvety rose petals.
‘I thought I had a good hour or so at least,’ Matt said apologetically, closing the front door behind him. ‘I saw you coming from up there,’ he gestured to the long window set into the stair wall, which gave onto Green Street, ‘and shot down to welcome you – but maybe I should’ve kept going and finished the job – I was going to do a whole line of red roses, all the way upstairs and into the bedroom, and scatter the petals all over the bed – you know, like in a film . . .’
He looked anxiously at his wife.
‘Is everything OK?’ he asked nervously.
‘No,’ Devon snapped, all the frustration and humiliation from her abortive meeting, and the tangle of confusion that surrounded her relationship with her younger sister, spilling out on her poor husband. ‘No, it isn’t.’
She grabbed the bottle of champagne out of the cooler, sending cubes of ice clattering to the tiled floor like rough chunks of glass, scattering to the far corners of the hallway. The foil covering the cork had already, thoughtfully, been removed by Matt; she twisted off the wire in one swift, practised movement, throwing it to the floor, and eased the cork out with her thumbs with a quiet pop. It followed the wire, as she leaned over to the table and filled one of the glasses so impatiently with Veuve Cliquot that bubbles spilled all down the side, flooding onto the steel top of the table.
‘I bought the champagne thingy yesterday,’ Matt mumbled. ‘I thought it’d be really nice to make a bit of a special moment for us when you got back from your big commissioning meeting – we haven’t really spent much time together for the last month or two, have we? So . . . um . . .’
He came up behind her, putting his two big hands on her shoulders. It was meant to be a comforting gesture, but Devon twisted away from him. Angrily, she raised the glass to her mouth and drank half of it in one go, coughing on the bubbles.
‘I wish you wouldn’t drink so much,’ Matt said unwisely, his handsome, chunky face frowning now. ‘Sometimes I get down in the morning and see what’s in the recycling. I mean, the whole bottle from the night before’ll be in there, and I just had one glass.’
Devon refused to meet his eyes. Defiantly, she finished the glass and refilled it, not even offering her husband any.
‘I don’t need a lecture, OK?’ she snapped. ‘I’ve just had the most totally shitty meeting of my entire life!’
‘Oh no! Babe! What happened?’ Matt’s blue eyes clouded with worry. Devon had once told him, jokingly, that he’d be perfect for panto, and he’d laughed and said that all the lads’d troop along to watch him playing Widow Twanky in a dress, wig and lots of lipstick.
But now his transparency annoyed her. It was like talking to a child. Children got upset by your news, and then you ended up looking after them, instead of being allowed to be upset on your own account. Vivid memories of Deeley as a little girl rushed back to Devon as she started on her second glass of Veuve; how Deeley’s big brown eyes had welled up with tears at every bit of bad news, every time their mum had been arrested or banged up, every time they’d had to move from one shithole to the next. And she, Devon, had had to comfort her little sister, to stop her kicking off, when all the time she’d been desperate to burst into tears herself.
That was who Matt reminded her of, she realized suddenly. Deeley. Matt and Deeley had had things comparatively easy: looked after, practically cosseted, sheltered from the worst of life’s problems by a loving family. Matt was the youngest of three boys, with an adoring mum and a firm-but-fair dad who were still together – no divorce in the Bates family. He’d grown up in a leafy part of Hertfordshire, in a nice detached house; he’d been given a decent education, and his parents had been willing to drive him all over for his rugby practice – junior club side matches, county squad events, often ferrying around other team members, muddied and bloodied, never complaining.
He doesn’t know he’s born
, Devon thought viciously, looking at her big, sturdy husband and feeling horribly resentful of all the privileges he’d enjoyed.
‘The show’s doing really badly. And the book sales are falling off a cliff,’ she snapped, using the publisher’s vivid metaphor.
‘Ah, bugger!’ Matt said, pulling a long face. ‘Still, it’s just one show, isn’t it? And just one book?’
He still hadn’t gauged the full extent of the dark mood that was surrounding Devon; he knew enough now not to approach her, but he opened his arms wide for her to walk into and have a big, comforting hug. Six foot four of Matt was huge enough, but with his arms open, he looked to Devon like a bear rearing up in front of her, like something off an Alaskan nature show, enormous and overwhelming.