As readers of the Shopaholic series will know, I have never described Becky and Luke’s honeymoon, which happens after they get married in Shopaholic Ties the Knot. So as a free short story for Shopaholic fans, I have decided to share with you one of the adventures of the newly-wed Becky and Luke. I hope you enjoy it!
Love Sophie x
(CLICK ON THE EXTRACT TAB ABOVE TO READ THE STORY!)
The new Mr and Mrs Brandon are on honeymoon, and Becky has big plans! They’ve got a whole year to explore Venice, learn yoga in India, sleep in little wooden huts in South America… maybe even see penguins in the Arctic. And of course they’ll need to buy just a few essential souvenirs along the way (everyone needs a set of Murano glass goblets, after all).
They’re not just tourists, they’re travellers. Becky is sure it is just the thing that Luke needs – time to unwind. He’ll come back a changed man… with all the good bits still intact of course.
But it soon becomes clear that Luke has different plans entirely. Can Becky help him let go, or will this little disagreement threaten their whole honeymoon?
OK. Don’t panic.
Don’t panic. The water taxi isn’t going to sink. We’ll just have to rearrange our packages. Venetian water taxis must be used to a bit of shopping, surely?
‘What the hell’s this?’ Luke is sweating as he manhandles our last purchase into the water taxi: a massive bundle of bubble wrap and corrugated card and Sellotape.
I look at him indignantly. How can he ask, ‘What’s this?’
‘It’s our set of twelve Murano glass goblets!’ I say. ‘You were there when we chose them! All the different colours, remember? Weren’t you concentrating?’
‘Right.’ Luke looks at the huge parcel again. ‘Did we have to buy twelve glass goblets?’
‘They’re Murano glass,’ I repeat patiently. ‘We’re in Venice, Luke. Everyone buys Murano glass in Venice. It’s practically the law.’
‘But we bought some Murano glass,’ he points out. ‘When we were actually on Murano, yesterday. The dish. Remember?’
I’m silent for a moment. I know we bought a dish on Murano. But what’s a tiny little dish compared to twelve amazing goblets? I’m already imagining all the dinner parties we’ll throw, using the goblets for aperitifs. We’ll have our dining room totally Venetian. People will say, ‘Have you seen the Brandons’ Venetian goblets?’
‘Everyone needs goblets,’ I say at last. ‘Come on. Sit down. Enjoy the sunshine.’
Luke makes his way past all our bags and lifts a hand to the water taxi driver.
‘Scusi,’ he says. ‘Finito.’
As we move off down the canal, I lean back, put on my shades and beam at Luke. We’re having the perfect honeymoon. No, the über-perfect honeymoon.
To be honest, we needed it. Our whole wedding situation turned into a bit of a saga, and we’ve both been really tense. In fact, at one point I actually thought we might both have nervous breakdowns. Or heart attacks. (Or some kind of horrible, stressy skin complaint, which would have been the worst.) Anyway. That all seems ages ago, now. We set off last week from Oxshott, and spent a week in Rome, then flew on to Venice.
We’ve been here for two days and already I’m completely used to travelling about on canals. In fact, I don’t know why we don’t use the Thames more when we’re in London. Why don’t we have gondolas and water taxis whizzing about all the time?
And look at the way they’re all dressed so smartly in matching stripy tops and boaters. Why don’t London taxi drivers wear matching costumes? You’d think the Mayor would have thought of that. In fact, I might write him a letter about it.
‘Luke, when we get back to London, I think you should commute to work by boat,’ I say firmly. ‘It makes total sense. And it’s probably greener, too. Maybe we could buy a boat, even!’
Luke turns to look at me. His face is silhouetted against the backdrop of an amazing Venetian building with crumbling shutters, and I can’t quite read his expression.
‘Darling, are you going to be like this all the way round the world?’ he says at last.
‘When we get to Sri Lanka, are you going to tell me I should really start commuting by elephant?’
‘When we get to the Arctic, are you going to want to buy a skidoo?’
‘No!’ I say, immediately wondering what a skidoo is and how much they cost. ‘Anyway, we’re not going to the Arctic.’
‘Glad to hear it.’
I squeeze his hand and beam at him. I’m in charge of our itinerary and I haven’t divulged it yet, except that we’re going round the world. I want to surprise him as we go along.
Also, I want to stay flexible. Maybe we’ll want to spend longer in one place . . . leave out another . . . think of somewhere completely new . . . Perhaps we should go to the Arctic. I’ve always wanted to see penguins. Or are they at the Antarctic? Could we do both?
Anyway. The point is, we’ve got a year to fill. Just the thought of it makes me feels exhilarated. We’re free! Luke has temporarily handed over his company, Brandon Communications, to his old friend Michael. We have no commitments. So we don’t need to be on some rigid schedule. We’re not tourists, we’re travellers.
It takes two journeys to struggle into our hotel with all the packages, and the receptionist watches us with growing concern. She’s a dark-haired girl with luscious dimples and has already become my new best friend after a slight hair-related emergency I had on the first day. (It turns out you can buy Frizz-Ease in Venice, if you know where to look. But the proportion is one bottle of Frizz-Ease to 55,000 Venetian carnival masks. They might want to look at that.)
‘You’d like to ship your purchases?’ She comes out from behind her desk and looks dubiously at the package of goblets. ‘Would you like us to arrange it?’
‘Yes, please.’ I beam at her. I’d already thought of this solution in the glass shop. We don’t need to struggle round the world with all our mementoes. We’ll just send them home!
‘Won’t it be fun when we get home and open everything we’ve bought?’ I turn to Luke. ‘It’ll be like Christmas!’
‘Yes.’ Luke looks a little doubtful. ‘Becky, we must keep track of everything we send back.’
‘Of course we will!’ I say, a bit impatiently. ‘I’ll remember everything.’
Luke has such a way of inventing problems that don’t exist.
‘Come on.’ I tug at his hand. ‘Let’s go and have a cup of coffee and decide where to go next.’
Our hotel was once a palazzo, and has a beautiful courtyard where you can sit and have cappuccinos and look at everyone’s outfits. Plus the coffee is delicious, so I’d be quite happy to sit here for a while and just chill. But Luke has already got his guidebook out and is riffling through the pages.
This is the only tiny difference between Luke and me. He likes reading about buildings and exhibits and history, whereas I only have to read the words ‘Built in 1755, the church was originally . . .’ and I fall asleep. (Which is quite handy on planes, as it happens.)
‘So, I was thinking about going to the Peggy Guggenheim,’ he says cautiously. ‘It’s supposed to be spectacular. But if you’d rather not . . .’
‘Why would I rather not?’ I say, puzzled.
‘Well,’ he says after a pause. ‘The Guggenheim has . . . history for you. Doesn’t it?’
What? I nearly spit out my coffee, I’m so offended. How can he bring that up? OK, so I did have a slight issue over the Guggenheim museum in New York a while ago. But we’re married now. This is our honeymoon. Everyone knows that when you get married the slate is wiped clean and neither party should refer to any unfortunate incidents in the past, either Guggenheim-related or non-Guggenheim-related.
‘I’d love to go to the Guggenheim,’ I say haughtily. ‘I’m actually developing quite an interest in art. In fact, I got talking to some artists yesterday, while you were paying the restaurant bill.’
Which is true. They were Americans, over here to study. They were standing at their easels in the square, sketching a church, and they all looked really cool and one of them had the cutest little dog called Beanie.
‘Oh.’ Luke seems taken aback. ‘I didn’t know.’
‘I was actually thinking I might study art in my spare time,’ I add for good measure. ‘Maybe do a fine art degree.’
‘I thought you were going to study pasta-making?’
I stare at Luke blankly for a moment, before I suddenly remember saying that in Rome. I was so inspired by the scrummy ravioli.
‘Well, I’ll do both. Evening classes. When I’m not doing yoga.’
Yoga is the other art I’m determined to learn on this holiday. My best friend, Suze, is really into yoga and she’s told me about this brilliant place you can go in India to learn it. Or Sri Lanka. Somewhere, anyway. It’s on my list.
‘I can’t wait to get to the Far East,’ I add longingly. ‘I’m going to get you into yoga, too. That’ll de-stress you.’
I prod him with my toe and he laughs.
‘So, where’s next after Venice?’
‘Prague! Great.’ He nods. ‘And then?’
‘Don’t be so impatient! Wait and see! There’s plenty of time.’
The truth is, Luke’s not brilliant at going on holiday. He doesn’t really get the whole chilling-out-and-doing-nothing thing. He always wants a plan and a timescale and to have our daily schedule on his BlackBerry. But that’s the whole point of this year. To unwind him. To turn him into a different Luke Brandon.
I mean, not totally different, obviously. He can keep all his good bits.
‘What are you thinking?’ He smiles at me, and for an instant I imagine telling him the truth. I was thinking about how I want to change you, all except your good bits.
‘Er . . . nothing!’ I smile back. ‘Let’s go.’
It turns out the Guggenheim in Venice is the perfect museum! Number one: it’s not really a museum, it’s a house. Number two: it’s got a gorgeous garden and a view over the Grand Canal. Number three: there’s just the right amount of art. Enough that you can nod and go ‘Mmmm,’ and appreciate it and everything, but not so much that your eyes start to blur over and you start wanting to die.
Luke is really into modern art, and he spends ages staring at a couple of paintings that look just a teeny bit like random, senseless scribbles to me, so I decide to go and appreciate the art in the garden, where you can sit on a bench and close your eyes and just soak up the vibe in more of a holistic way.
After a while, I feel a tap on my shoulder and look up to see Luke in front of me.
‘That was great!’ I say at once. ‘Amazing concepts. I was just thinking about them.’
‘Isn’t it a fantastic exhibition?’ Luke nods enthusiastically. ‘I thought I might pop into the gift shop,’ he adds. ‘There’s a book I want to buy. Do you mind if I just have a quick look?’
I stare at him, flummoxed. Something about this conversation feels back to front. I’m waiting for Luke to shop?
‘Of course,’ I say at last. ‘If you want to pop into the shop, I don’t mind. No problem. Take your time.’
As Luke heads into the gift shop, I can’t resist leaning against the door, looking a little bored, just like Luke normally does when we’re out shopping. Then I get out my phone and start tapping a text to Suze, which is even more like Luke. Whenever I’m buying shoes, he always suddenly has a million urgent emails to do, and barely even glances at what I’m trying on. Well, now he’ll know what it feels like.
‘What do you think?’ He brings two big hardback books over for me to see. ‘I can’t decide.’
‘They both look good,’ I say, looking up politely from my text.
‘One’s quite a lot more expensive than the other, but it’s more substantial . . .’ He riffles the pages, frowning. ‘Shall I get both?’
‘Do you need both?’ I reply innocently.
Ha! This is fun. Next I’ll say, ‘Surely you’ve got lots of art books at home already, Luke?’ or ‘Do you really think you’ll use them?’ or ‘They both look the same to me.’
I’m about to look at my watch and sigh, which is another thing Luke always does when we’re shopping . . . when something catches my eye, perched on a display in the middle of the shop. It’s a triple-layer, all-in-one art set. It has a palette of paints in every colour, brushes, sketching pencils, pastels . . . even a little artist’s mannequin.
I walk towards it, mesmerized. I’ve always wanted an art set, ever since I was a little girl. And this one is amazing. The case is velvet-lined. The brushes are polished wood. The paint colours are fabulous. It reminds me of my Urban Decay eye palette.
I run my fingers over the graphite pencils, experiment with the cantilevered lid and try out the biggest, fattest sable brush. I can’t tear myself away. It’s exquisite, and I’ve been wanting to get into art, and if I don’t do it in Venice, then where?
There’s an easel for sale, too. And some pads of smooth white paper that I’m already itching to draw on. I can feel a whole new exciting creative urge rising through me. Maybe I’ve got an artistic talent that I’ve never tapped into!
Plus, the easel folds up. I could easily get it on to a vaporetto. I could go and join the American art students in that little square! Yes! I have a sudden vision of myself arriving home from honeymoon with a portfolio of amazing art. Our new home will be lined with framed sketches from our travels, everyone will be so impressed . . .
I’m just manhandling the easel down off the display when Luke appears, holding one of the books.
‘You’re right,’ he says. ‘I think they’re pretty similar. I’ll just get this one. You don’t want anything, do you?’ His eyes fall in puzzlement on the easel. ‘What’s that?’
OK, we are in serious danger of having our first honeymoon row. A waste of money?
For someone who claims to be an ‘art-lover’, Luke has a surprising way of showing it. You’d think he’d support his wife’s artistic endeavours. You’d think he’d be pleased. Not say, ‘Drawing? You? Really?’ Not say, ‘How much?’ Not say, ‘What about just getting a box of paints for five euros?’ He so doesn’t understand anything.
Anyway, the lady in the shop took my side, so there. And the easel isn’t that heavy. Still, I might just stop and catch my breath for a moment.
‘Are you all right?’ says Luke, looking at me in alarm. ‘Becky, let me carry it.’
‘No,’ I say obstinately. ‘It’s fine. It hardly weighs anything.’
We’re on our way to the little tucked-away square where I saw the American art students before. I’m clutching my easel and pad of paper, with my art set slung over my shoulder by the long strap.
‘Becky, don’t be ridiculous.’ He’s trying to take the easel from me. ‘It’s clearly too heavy for you.’
‘It’s not! That’s not why I stopped. I stopped because . . .’ I look around for inspiration. ‘Because we’ve got to choose you a mask.’
There’s a mask shop to our left and I drag the easel towards the window, trying to hide the fact that I’m out of breath.
Luke laughs. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘What about that one?’ I point to a mask in a red, gold and silver harlequin design. ‘Or one on a stick?’
I’ve bought two masks already, which are both stunning. One has peacock feathers and one has a glittery hood. (We have to throw a masked Venetian party when we get back home.) But Luke hasn’t got into it at all. He keeps trying to buy the smallest, simplest mask in the shop. Which is so not the point.
‘That one!’ I suddenly spot an elaborate masked headdress, in purple and black satin. ‘Go and try it on!’
‘You’re not getting me into that!’ Luke recoils.
‘Well, you have to buy something special before we leave. This is our honeymoon, remember.’
I pick up the easel and walk determinedly on, towards the square. As I arrive, I see all the American students gathered, drawing at their easels, and my spirits lift. Here we are! How’s this for an amazing, unique experience? Drawing in Venice!
The square is quiet and shady, with nothing but a solitary café, a church and a fountain. The students are all drawing the church, so I decide to do the same. I set up my easel alongside a girl with tangled blonde curls, and get out my art materials, trying not to look self-conscious.
‘You could sit there and read your art book,’ I suggest to Luke, gesturing at a nearby café table. ‘We could order a bottle of wine . . . you read . . . I’ll draw . . . we’ll just have a lazy afternoon.’
‘OK.’ Luke nods, but as he sits down I can tell he’s twitchy. He opens his book, looks at his watch, then shuts it again.
‘I want to see the Scuola di San Rocco before we leave,’ he says.
‘Right.’ I nod. ‘Well, shall we do that tomorrow? Or the next day?’
By now, I’ve clipped my paper to my easel. I get out a charcoal stick and hold it up, copying the girl with blonde curls. Then I notice that Luke is tapping his fingers.
‘Do you want to see the Scuola di San Rocco?’ he asks abruptly.
I’ve never even heard of the Scuola di whatsit, not that I’ll admit it.
‘Not particularly.’ I shrug.
‘Well, I’ll go along there now. Get it done. I’ll catch up with you later. He gives me a kiss, then strides off, already consulting his map of Venice.
I watch him go, feeling a bit hurt, despite myself. Didn’t he want to spend a lazy afternoon with me? What’s some old building got that I haven’t?
Anyway. Never mind. The important thing is, I’m here with my easel and my gorgeous art set, and I’m going to have a lovely afternoon being creative. The girl with tangled blonde curls looks over and smiles.
‘Hi again,’ she says. ‘You decided to join us!’
‘That’s right.’ I draw a brisk, confident stroke across my page. ‘Just going to do a bit of sketching.’
I draw a few more lines, letting my artistic instinct take over, then shade a bit, then step back to look.
Oh God. I must have defective instincts. I’ve basically just drawn a triangle with a bobbly bit.
Right. Let’s start again.
After an hour my arm is aching and my head is throbbing and I’m feeling a bit discouraged. This art business is harder than I thought. I know what I want to draw, it’s just . . . it doesn’t seem to be happening on the page.
I’ve used all my charcoals, all my pastels, all my gouaches and fourteen sheets of paper. Now I’m on to the graphite pencils, but every time I draw a line I immediately rub it out.
The other problem I hadn’t foreseen is, it’s so public here. Tourists keep coming up to have a look, which puts me off my stride, and one little boy even burst out laughing, which was totally uncalled for.
I need a whole new approach. I screw up my fifteenth piece of paper and take a deep breath. Forget perspective and shading and all that. I’m going to do modern art. I draw a thin blue stripe down one side of the paper, and add a red spot next to it. I stand back and look at it admiringly.
Brilliant. Now I just have to think of a fancy title that sounds deep and meaningful, which is easy-peasy. I can think of about ten off the top of my head.
The splinter leaves the body.
I quite like that last one, In Vietnam, although what it has to do with a stripe and a spot, God only knows. But it sounds cool and arty. I write ‘In Vietnam’ in pencil at the bottom of the page and add a flashy signature.
Perfect! And it took about thirty seconds.
The girl with tangled curls comes over and says, ‘You mind if I have a look?’
‘Go ahead,’ I say nonchalantly.
‘Right.’ The girl stares at the paper for a while, nodding slowly. ‘I like your use of vertical space.’
‘Thanks,’ I say modestly. ‘Yours is nice too,’ I add, wandering over to her sketch.
Hers is pretty expert, I have to admit. It looks exactly like the church and is all cloudy and shady. But she hasn’t got a fancy title like In Vietnam, has she? I’m about to offer to think of a cool title for her when I see Luke walking across the square.
‘Hi!’ I wave at him. ‘That’s my husband,’ I add to the girl. ‘We’re on honeymoon.’
‘Oh, awesome! How long are you here for? Are you going to the masked ball next week?’
‘Masked ball?’ I stare at her, riveted. ‘I didn’t know there was a masked ball.’
‘Oh, sure. You can buy tickets at the kiosk in St Mark’s Square. It’s next Saturday.’
This is so cool! A masked ball! I have a vision of me and Luke in amazing masks and evening dress, whisking along the Grand Canal in a candle-lit gondola. We have to go. We have to.
‘How did you do?’ Luke comes up, kisses me, then surveys my paper. For a few moments he doesn’t speak. When at last he turns, his mouth is twitching.
‘In Vietnam,’ he says.
‘That’s right.’ I nod carelessly. ‘It’s conceptual.’
‘Ah.’ He nods. ‘What’s the concept?’
For a moment I’m silenced.
‘I don’t have to tell you the concept,’ I say at last. ‘It’s private.’
‘Yes. It’s very personal and profound. Actually.’
I hastily fold up all my discarded bits of paper before he can look at them.
‘So, will you be working every day?’ Luke lifts his eyebrows. ‘Do we have to structure our holiday round your creative impulses?’
‘We’ll see,’ I say evasively.
I’m going off art a bit, to be honest. I mean, I still love all the stuff – all the pencils and brushes and cute little pots of paint. It’s just the actual doing the art, which . . .
Well. It gets a bit samey. I bet this is an open secret among artists which no one ever admits. I bet Picasso sometimes used to think to himself, God, not another bloody cube.
‘I was just hearing there’s a masked ball next Saturday,’ I say, changing the subject. ‘We have to go. It’ll be amazing!’
‘Next Saturday?’ Luke’s face crinkles in a way I don’t quite understand.
‘Yes. Don’t worry, I’m sure we can extend our stay by a week or two.’ I start packing up my easel. ‘Let’s go for an ice-cream.’
We go and eat the most scrumptious gelati, sitting by the side of a canal with the late sun shining on the water. It’s basically your perfect honeymoon scenario – but Luke’s face stays crinkled.
Why is his face crinkled?
Also, a couple of times he starts to say, ‘Becky . . .’ then stops. And when I say ‘What?’ he replies, ‘Doesn’t matter,’ which means it does matter, but he just doesn’t want to say it.
What doesn’t he want to say?
As we head back to the hotel in silence, I feel increasingly fretful. And it isn’t just because this easel is a complete pain and keeps bumping against my legs and I wish I’d never bought it.
It’s Luke. He isn’t being honeymoony. He isn’t being joyful. He isn’t behaving like someone embarking on the biggest adventure of their whole life. He looks harassed.
It makes no sense. I mean, he’s not even organizing the trip. All he has to do is come along for the ride. All he has to do is remember his passport. If someone was taking me round the world for a whole year, I’d be on cloud nine! And my face would definitely not crinkle.
I’m going to confront him, I decide. As soon as I’ve got rid of this bloody easel and we’ve got upstairs to our room. We head up the steps into our hotel, and I practically shove the easel at the receptionist.
‘Could you please ship this to England? Same address. Thank you so much.’
‘Is the art career over already, then?’ enquires Luke, but I ignore him.
‘And we’d like to extend our stay,’ I add to the receptionist. ‘We’d like to stay at least another week. Will that be possible?’
‘Becky.’ Luke’s face is crinkling harder than ever. ‘Hold on a minute.’
‘It’s fine!’ I reassure him. ‘The air tickets are totally flexible. I’ll sort it all out. You don’t have to do anything.’
‘I don’t understand.’ The receptionist is looking from my face to Luke’s, bewildered. ‘You want to stay for longer? I thought you wanted to check out early.’
‘Early?’ I stare at her. ‘Why would we check out early?’
The receptionist doesn’t reply, just looks questioningly at Luke. ‘What’s going on?’ I turn to him. ‘What’s she talking about?’
‘Becky—’ He stops. ‘I’ve been thinking. We need to talk about this holiday.’
‘Honeymoon,’ I correct him.
‘Honeymoon.’ He nods. ‘Let’s go and . . .’ He gestures to a nearby seating area with two love seats. The receptionist takes the easel, and I follow Luke, feeling more agitated than ever.
‘OK,’ I say, as soon as we’re out of earshot. ‘What’s up? Why are you being all weird and saying we want to check out early?’
‘I’m not being weird,’ he retorts. ‘I just think we should crack on if we want to get to Prague and all these other places.’
Crack on? That has to be the least honeymoony term in the world. We’re not in a meeting. We’re not meeting some time-efficient objective, or whatever he does at work. He has to get out of that mentality, and then he’ll start enjoying himself.
‘We’re supposed to be relaxing, remember?’ I point out. ‘If we want to spend three weeks in Venice, we can. Why not? We’ve got all year.’
There’s silence. Something about Luke’s expression is wrong. And now he won’t meet my eye.
‘Haven’t we?’ I say at last, and he sighs.
‘Becky . . . I know you wanted to take a year.’
My heart instantly drops. No. No. He cannot be doing this.
‘You wanted to take a year too,’ I say, trying to stay calm. ‘We agreed. Luke, we are taking a year!’
‘A year? Seriously? Becky, I have a business to run. I have commitments. I can’t just duck out of life.’
This is why he went to the Scuola di whatsit this afternoon, I suddenly realize in dismay. He was trying to hurry things up.
‘But we agreed! Michael’s taking over while you’re away, everything’s arranged, we set it all up . . .’
Luke’s shaking his head. ‘You set it up. I didn’t have the heart to argue when you landed it on me. But you must realize it’s not feasible.’
‘It is feasible!’ I grab his hands. ‘Luke, it’s essential. You need some time out. You were practically having a nervous breakdown before the wedding. The company will be fine, the tickets are booked . . . we’re doing this. We’re doing it, OK?’
‘We can still do it,’ he says impatiently, pulling his hands away. ‘We can do a shorter version. We can still go to plenty of places.’
‘Like, how long?’
There’s a pause, then he says, ‘A month?’
‘A month?’ I stare at him in horror. ‘We can’t have a life-changing experience in a month! I wanted us to explore South America . . . sleep in little huts . . .’
‘Why little huts?’ puts in Luke.
Does he understand nothing?
‘Because! We’re travellers! I wanted to do yoga in India . . . maybe even go to the Arctic! I wanted us to change as people.’
He gives a slight laugh. ‘Can you honestly see me doing yoga?’
‘Not at the moment, no,’ I say heatedly. ‘That’s the point. I want you to change.’
‘Oh, you want me to change.’ He flares with sudden anger. ‘Two weeks into our marriage and I’m already not up to scratch. Well, great.’
‘That’s not what I mean! I’m doing this for you.’ I feel so angry I could cry. ‘You’ve never had any time off. You need to take stock. You need to do this.’
‘Well, I’m sorry. I can’t.’
‘You can. You can if you want to. Everything’s in place for you to do it.’ I’m breathing hard, my face flushed. ‘The question is . . . do you want to?’
He doesn’t reply. He’s not even looking at me. I guess that tells me all I need to know.
‘I won’t argue with you, Luke,’ I say in a trembling, dignified voice. ‘There’s clearly nothing more to say. I’m going out for a drink. Goodbye.’
I grab my bag and head a few steps towards the door before I find myself turning round, still churning with indignation.
‘I wish I’d never married you!’ The words fly out before I can think whether I mean them or not. ‘I thought I’d married someone who can see the big picture. That’s all.’
I stride out of the door, not really knowing where I’m going, but determined to get out.
Our hotel is in a small side street near St Mark’s Square and within a few minutes I find that I’ve automatically headed there, along with all the other tourists.
Well, fine. I’ll just sit and have a drink and soak up St Mark’s Square. If I’m going home in two weeks’ time, I’d better enjoy every second of this honeymoon that’s left. I look around at the colonnade and the pigeons and the shiny domes, and heave a great sigh. As I take a seat at Florian’s café, my heart feels like a lump of sand in my chest, and it’s not even because I’ve seen the price of a cappuccino.
I know Luke runs a business. I know he has responsibilities. But what about his responsibility to us as a couple? To himself? If he doesn’t take a year off and travel now, he never will. And it was all so perfect. It was all so exciting.
Miserably I order a glass of Prosecco, which costs exactly the same as I once paid for a Moschino scarf at Century 21 in New York. Mind you, I immediately lost the scarf on the subway, so maybe I can make this drink last longer. The trick is to sip it very slowly. Veeery sloooowly.
Except there’s something incredibly depressing about sipping a glass of Prosecco at 0.1 bubbles an hour. After about twenty minutes I’ve had enough. Rebelliously, I take a few deep, delicious slurps and empty the glass, then immediately order another one. Maybe I’ll sit here all evening, drinking Prosecco. It’ll cost me the same amount as a small car, but maybe I don’t care.
The late-afternoon light is making the square all gleamy-goldy and a band is playing, and if I hadn’t just argued with my new husband, it would all be totally gorgeous. Morosely I watch a couple having a picture taken in the middle of the square. They’re both wearing straw hats and have sunburnt arms and look really happy. I expect they’re on honeymoon too, but I bet the husband isn’t trying to bail out in the middle.
Surely it’s against the marriage vows to bail out of your honeymoon? Talk about lack of commitment. Talk about lack of priorities. Talk about—
‘Is this seat taken?’
I look up in shock. Luke is standing in front of me, silhouetted against the evening light, his eyes unreadable and his hair burnished at the ends. He should grow his hair, I find myself thinking randomly. Loosen up a bit.
Huh. Like that’s ever going to happen.
‘Go ahead.’ I jerk my chin at the other chair. I’m not going to smile and I’m not going to pretend everything’s OK. And nor can he have any of my Prosecco.
Luke pulls out a chair and I pretend to be very interested in the man playing the accordion in the band.
‘I’m sorry,’ says Luke at length, and I give the merest little shrug. Sorry doesn’t clarify anything. Is he sorry because he’s flying home tomorrow and wishes he’d married some Brandon C. clone who wouldn’t even want a honeymoon? Is he sorry because this marriage has clearly been a huge mistake and it’s going to be a nightmare sorting out the divorce? Is he sorry I chose Florian’s to come and drown my sorrows in, because I could have done so at half the price round the corner?
‘I was inspired by your art set,’ he adds. ‘So I came up with my own picture.’
He slowly unrolls a piece of paper and spreads it across the table. Reluctantly I raise my eyes to look at it, and the first shock I get is: he can draw.
‘You never told me you can draw!’ I say, almost accusingly.
‘Did Art A-level,’ he shrugs. ‘But this is more of a . . .’ He pauses. ‘Conceptual piece.’
‘What do you think?’
‘Let me just . . .’ I clear my throat. ‘Assess it.’
I stare resolutely down at the picture, not wanting to give anything away. It shows the globe, all coloured in with blues and greens. There’s a drawing of me and Luke, standing on the globe, holding suitcases, hand-in-hand, with arrows curving all round the world. He’s drawn the Pyramids in Egypt and the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Ayers Rock in Australia and penguins at the South Pole. He’s even got my shoes right: red and white polka-dot wedges. And right at the bottom there’s a drawing of a calendar, showing twelve pages with one month on each page.
I can’t quite speak.
‘What do you think?’ he says again.
As I look at the little drawings of him and me, my eyes feel suddenly hot. We look so positive and dynamic and, somehow, together. Even if my hair is a bit weird. (Is that really what he thinks it looks like?)
‘Does it have a title?’ I say at last.
‘Honeymoon Interrupted Briefly But Then Resumed,’ he says.
I lift my eyes and see him gazing at me with that warm, familiar, Luke look.
‘Right.’ I swallow. ‘Well, that’s a good title.’
‘Is it a good plan?’
I’m searching for an answer when the waiter arrives with my second glass of Prosecco.
‘Good idea,’ says Luke. ‘I’ll have one of those, too, please.’ He reaches into a small paper bag and produces something with a flourish. ‘And look what I bought.’
He lifts up a Venetian carnival mask – black edged with gold – and covers his eyes. ‘I’ll need it for the ball next week.’
‘Really?’ I gaze at him, half-wanting to laugh, he looks so ridiculous.
‘Really.’ He takes the mask down and meets my eyes, suddenly serious. ‘Let’s do it, Becky. Let’s do it all. Europe, South America, yoga, penguins . . . whatever. And for as long as it takes.’
‘Right.’ I swallow hard, marshalling my thoughts. I should be triumphant. I mean, I won. I got my way. But now that I have, I feel suddenly anxious. ‘You’re sure? What about all your commitments? What about all the . . . stuff?’
‘The stuff is in my head,’ he says. ‘The stuff doesn’t exist. You’re right. Big picture. One life.’
‘Two lives,’ I correct him. ‘You’re in it with me now. Sorry about that.’
Luke smiles and reaches for my hand, and for a while we just sit: listening to the music, watching the pigeons flap about and sharing the Prosecco.
And as we sit there, I start to feel sparks of fresh excitement. We’re going to do it. We’re going to go round the world together! The truth is, I landed this whole year-long honeymoon idea on Luke out of the blue and he got swept away and it’s no wonder he’s had a wobble. But now, it’s as if we’re starting again. The two of us.
‘One proviso, Becky,’ Luke suddenly adds, looking up. ‘We’ve done our shopping, OK? We don’t need to buy souvenirs from everywhere we go. It’ll get ridiculous.’
‘Fine.’ I beam at him. ‘No problem. In fact, I totally agree. I just need to buy a few sets of marbled stationery and then I’m done.’
‘Marbled stationery?’ He stares at me. ‘What’s marbled stationery?’
Honestly. Does he not keep his eyes open as he walks around a city? He needs to learn to be more observant.
‘Marbled stationery! That gorgeous handblocked, traditional paper! You have to buy marbled stationery in Venice. I’m going to get some photo albums and some notecards and some pencils. They’ll be brilliant presents,’ I add. ‘I can give some to Suze for Christmas. And Mum. In fact, I’ll be sorted for everyone. I won’t need to buy anything else at all.’
‘OK,’ says Luke after a pause. ‘Marbled stationery, then that’s it.’
‘That’s it,’ I agree.
‘Nothing else.’ I nod firmly, and raise my glass to him, feeling suddenly ecstatic. We’ve patched up our fight and the sun is shining and we’re drinking Prosecco and we’re going to a masked ball next week! And I already know exactly which marbled stationery shop I’m going to go to.
This is going to be a fabulous honeymoon.
THE MAYOR OF LONDON’S OFFICE
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2AA
Dear Mrs Brandon
Thank you for your letter of 10th July.
I was interested to hear of your proposal to ‘turn London into a new Venice’.
Introducing a fleet of gondolas to the Thames is certainly an innovative idea. I fear, however, that gondolas would not be suited to the tidal waters of the Thames and it would be unlikely that, as you suggest, Londoners would ‘start travelling everywhere by water’.
As for your proposal to attire London taxi drivers in ‘gorgeous matching costumes like gondoliers’, this is also interesting, and we appreciated your enclosed sketches. However, we think it unlikely that our taxi drivers would agree to wear ‘military-style Westwood jackets’ and ‘retro peaked caps’, nor agree to greet passengers with ‘Ciao, bella’.
We thank you for your interest in London’s continuing prosperity and growth and wish you an enjoyable honeymoon.
With best wishes,
Assistant to the Mayor
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