When the love of your life says you're not The One, who are you? Read the first chapter from Giovanna's magical new novel Some Kind of Wonderful
When the love of your life says you're not The One, who are you? Read the first chapter from Giovanna's magical new novel Some Kind of Wonderful
My phone bleeps at me via my headphones, interrupting the sound of Ryan Adams as he tries to calm me down with his soulful voice and the skilful bell-like picking of his guitar. I’m sitting on a sun lounger, on the beach of a swanky hotel in Dubai. I should be relaxed and carefree already. I should be dreamily looking over at my wonderful fiancé and cracking into a foolish grin as I think about the way in which he popped ‘the question’, while excitedly thinking through all the things we need to arrange for our wedding day. I should be wondering whether it’s OK to sit Mum and Dad together on the top table or if I should include Mum’s other half too, before deciding to buck the trend completely and sit with our mates. I should be debating with myself whether I have to ask all three of my future sisters-in-law to be bridesmaids, even though, back in 1995 when we were just munchkins, I promised my best mate Connie that she’d be my one and only. I should be thinking about whether I’ll wax or simply shave before the Big Day to prevent me getting a rash, whether heels would make me look too tall next to the groom in our wedding photos and if I have to get myself something ‘old, borrowed, new or blue’ or wait for someone else to think of it. I have absolutely no idea why it’s a tradition, but I’m not one to take chances on superstitions so I obviously wouldn’t wait in hope that someone else has the foresight to save my marriage from doom. No, no! I’d get those goodies myself, to be sure. Get myself a nice blue silk garter that’s for Ian’s eyes only.
I should be thinking these things with a lightness in my heart as I gaze lovingly at him across our sun loungers, because these are the worries and concerns I’ve been longing to ponder over for as long as I can remember.
That’s what I should be doing, but I can’t look at my fiancé in that way. I literally can’t look at him.
He’s just my boyfriend. Just. I can’t bear to look at him any more because every time I do a feeling of disappointment swells through me and I have to fight back big fat tears. Tears that confirm I am not good enough to be Mrs Lizzy Hall, even after all the legwork I’ve put in. Tears that confirm he doesn’t want to commit, even though we’ve bought a flat together and that he seemed delighted when we wrongly thought I was pregnant last year. We were gutted to realize I wasn’t. I thought our reactions let us know we were ready for more, for things to progress.
I don’t understand.
I know he does want to marry me. I know that because he’s asked my dad. He did that years ago and told me he was doing it so he could ‘bank it’ ahead of the right time. That’s how he worded it to me. So I’ve been living with this air of expectation, of it being the inevitable, of it being on the horizon ever since. But the horizon seems to be getting further away from me and harder to see. I feel like I’m on a dinghy desperately trying to get to that line in the distance but to no avail.
I don’t want to be on a dinghy.
I hate the things. I fail to see the point of them.
I used to think I was a sturdy cruise liner, heading into the future with purpose and direction, yet my transportation has shrunk over the years and so has my certainty of getting to where I was confident of going. Any longer and I’ll be like Rose on the Titanic, holding on to a piece of debris and willing it to keep my hopes and dreams alive, while selfishly watching my lover freeze to death (Jack could’ve fit, FYI).
Sometimes I want to say something drastic, like, ‘If he doesn’t propose by the end of the year then I’m off,’ but I love him and would hate for things to end up that way. Plus, I’ve dedicated ten years to this relationship and I’ve invested so much into us. We both have. Flippant ultimatums must stay in my head, because if they were uttered out loud, I’d be horrified at having to follow such a thing through.
Maybe marriage isn’t so important anyway.
Yeah right. My repetitive drawing of wedding dresses when I was a little girl would suggest I felt, and still feel, somewhat different. And it’s not just the marriage part. I’m not obsessed with the idea of a big white dress draped in the rarest lace, the massive marquee with a fifty-foot dance floor, the bridal bouquet made entirely of cream roses or the Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede candles I’d love to put on every table to ensure the place smells divine. No. That’s not it at all. I’m driven by the thought of marrying Ian. That’s what I want. I want to be HIS wife – and I want him to want that too.
My phone bleeps again through my headphones. Bringing it up to my face and shielding it from the glare of the sun, I see it’s my mum. She’s phoned every day since we’ve been here, which is more than she’d usually phone me at home. She’s getting ahead of herself, as usual. I had to have a word with her before we left for this very reason.
‘It’s happening. It’s happening!’ she continuously shrieked when I went over to drop off an onion that she’d asked me to pick up for her on my way to visit my sister Michelle. I’m sure it was a ruse to get me over there as Ted was walking in with fish and chips for them both when I left.
‘Pardon?’ I asked, frowning at her manic expression and hysterical excitement as she hopped from foot to foot. Even her own divorce hasn’t been enough to dampen her joy at the prospect of marrying me off. Neither has the fact my younger sister Michelle is getting married to Stuart next week – and that Michelle’s about to drop Mum’s first ever grandchild shortly after – been able to distract her. None of that is enough to wane her interest in me and my future nuptials.
‘He’s going to propose! I know it!’
Obviously I knew what she was getting at. Every time I’ve mentioned this trip to friends or family they’ve had the same reaction. Even the cashier in the local supermarket, who usually rattles through my basket of nutritious shopping without even acknowledging me, gave me a certain look when she spotted my suntan cream along with my usual collection of organic vegetables and asked where we were off to.
But this is nothing new. Whenever we go away it’s the same. People suppressing their grins as though they know something I don’t, or adamantly declaring Ian’s going to propose while we’re away, just like Mum did.
I’m used to batting away their predictions, something I’ve realized I do for three reasons – one, because it’s a little embarrassing having people speculate over my love life and whether Ian thinks I’m The One. Two, to stop myself feeling disappointed when the question doesn’t come, because what these people don’t realize is that they’re feeding into my own hopes of that teeny tiny question being asked. And three, to stop them feeling sorry for me when I come home sans ring or fiancé. So I swipe my hands in front of my face, knocking their assumptions out of my aura (is that how they work?), and screw up my face while I give a strained ‘Nooooo . . .’ Making it look like I’m not ready for that stage in our relationship anyway. Commitment from the love of my life is not what I’m after at all. Don’t they realize I’m super hip and happy not to be a Mrs? I’m a feminist, don’t you know . . .
Don’t believe a word of it.
My heart literally skipped a beat when we were up in the Peak District and I turned to find Ian on what I thought was one knee. He’d simply tripped. Not only that but he’d landed in a cow pat so I had to listen to him moaning (and smelling) the whole way back to our tent while I held in the tears of disappointment that were stinging behind my eyes. Then there’s the time he insisted we travelled into London on New Year’s Eve so we could watch the fireworks. Ian has no interest in New Year’s or fireworks, so I thought it was his plan to get me somewhere romantic under false pretences. Nope. He actually did want to watch the fireworks while being squished and pushed by thousands of strangers, all elbowing each other out of the way to secure the best view above The Eye. Then there was Paris. Oh Paris, how you failed me! The City of Love turned into the City of Nothing. A big project came in at work that urgently needed Ian’s attention, so he spent the whole time on his computer bashing away on his emails or with his mobile phone pressed firmly against his ear. I don’t even think he’d have noticed if I were there or not – well, apart from the one horny bonk we had when we first arrived which ended abruptly thanks to another ruddy phone call. There wasn’t a hint of ‘amour’ in the air, apart from the love affair Ian had with his electronic devices.
I’ve had years of feeling excited and then disgruntled when the longed-for question hasn’t been popped. Yet despite giving myself a stern talking-to over the black hole of self-pity I will fall into when Ian doesn’t get down on one knee in Dubai, I found I was smiling to myself as the plane took off from Heathrow. A feeling of anticipation flitted around my insides. At that point I did look to Ian with an expression of complete and utter love, feeling like we were on the cusp of our forever promise.
But here we are. Thirteen days into our two-week holiday, ready to fly home tomorrow, and the all important finger is as bare as it was when we arrived.
I thought it might happen on the first night, but then Ian announced he was shattered from travelling and wanted an early night. Then, when that didn’t happen I had high hopes for the second day – we were out on a boat trip after travelling to Khasab by bus earlier that morning. As soon as I saw the idyllic spot where we’d be spending the majority of the day I knew a proposal was about to be gifted. The sea beneath us was so turquoise it was almost fluorescent, and surrounding us were gigantic, barren rocks, as high as they were wide. I’d never seen a spot more magical. It was beyond stunning. As was the little sail we took to the nearby beaches, which saw half a dozen dolphins swimming alongside us as we went. It had all the makings of a movie-perfect proposal. Literally, Richard Curtis couldn’t come up with anything better.
On the third and fourth day we were just by the pool so I didn’t think it would happen then, so I spent the majority of that time wrestling with an inflatable flamingo. But on the fifth day we went out to the desert and rode camels. It was exactly as you’d imagine. Perfect.
He didn’t even seem to be enjoying spending time with me. He was as grumpy and humpy as the camel I was riding. I couldn’t work out what was wrong with him. Each day has been the same since, with me questioning every little detail and him seeming almost indifferent towards me. The past few days I’ve given up hope. It’s not going to happen this time. It’s made me angry and annoyed at Ian, which I know has caused me to be a snappy bitch. I would be inclined to say that my foul manner isn’t fair on him, but I wouldn’t be feeling this way if he’d just declare some lifelong commitment.
I see Ian sit up next to me and look out at the picturesque sea in front of us. His dark blond hair is far shorter than it was when we first got together at eighteen. It used to be longer than mine. He was rocking the man bun before it was even a thing. It’s the first thing I noticed about him. He looked so exotic while he leant on the student bar and ordered a snakebite from the barmaid. I couldn’t fight the urge to go over and have a little flirt. I batted my eyelids, made him laugh, made myself laugh, and loved how he took me in. His eyes slowly moving over me as he listened intently to what I was saying, and absorbed all I had to offer.
I couldn’t believe it when he revealed he also lived in Essex – and only twenty minutes away from the family home in Ingatestone that I’d moved out of the day before. I’d gone all the way to Sheffield and somehow found myself being enticed by a local boy. So he wasn’t as exotic as I’d imagined, yet there was still an incredibly sexy and mysterious air about him. I felt drawn to him. He was magnetic.
A decade on and he’s lost the man bun. It was something that happened before we left Sheffield and rejoined the real world. He decided to chop off his golden locks so that he would be taken more seriously and get a ‘decent job’. It turned brown for a while, but his sacrifice worked. He was offered a cracking job in recruitment a month before we left university, thanks to a graduate training scheme. He’s never once had to worry about the possibility of unemployment. The haircut paid off and I’ve slowly got used to the slightly darker-haired, more grown- up, version of him.
Along with the loss of hair went all air of mystery.
Although I’m not suggesting it’s a Samson and Delilah situation – rather that the titillation that comes with the unknown can only last for so long before it becomes annoying.
I look at his tanned bulging arms and along his muscular back. Physically he’s nothing like he once was either. At the start of uni he was tall and slim – quite pole-like. Most of the guys were. Then he got a bit porky by the end of the first year, which was clearly down to the copious amounts of pasta I cooked us, and the fact we’d often get raucously drunk with our mates before chomping on a greasy feast from the kebab shop. In the second year he started riding his bike to lectures. Over time he started having less pasta and food dripping with fat and oil. By the time we graduated he had rock hard abs and ten times more stamina – in every way.
Since then he’s bounced between bulking up and slimming down into more of an athletic frame. It’s always led by whatever he’s currently obsessed with. Once it was weight training, then it was spinning classes. Now he varies what he does and has a body that looks capable of doing anything as a result. By comparison my body doesn’t look quite as competent, but at least it’s gorgeously tanned right now. Plus, I’ve been religiously body-brushing before showers in the lead-up to this holiday so the cellulite situation is looking a little less garish.
Keeping his eyes trained out front, Ian turns his head to me.
I press pause on my phone so I can hear him.
‘I’m going for a dip,’ he says, before swiftly getting up and walking off.
He didn’t even ask if I wanted to join him.
I swallow the hurt, remembering that I was pretty mean at lunch and snapped at him for food pressuring me. I had wanted a burger, he ordered a salad. Yes, I know I should’ve just had what I wanted because I’m on holiday and a flaming grown-up so can do what I sodding like, but I find it difficult to enjoy such treats when I’m sitting opposite someone who’s eating a smug salad. Not that Ian ever eats salad in a smug fashion, but rather that the lettuce sits there calling me a fat cow and I can’t deal with it. It makes me angry.
Anyway, I barked at him in front of the waiter and then begrudgingly ordered myself a salad because I knew it was ‘the right thing to do’. To be fair it was a delicious non-talking bit of rabbit food, but I had to grit my teeth when a plate of burger and chips went by and I got a waft of it.
As a result my chat wasn’t the best, but neither was Ian’s. We pretty much sat there in silence while we munched on the plate of health.
I look out to sea at my gorgeous boyfriend and let out a heavy sigh.
If only he’d pop the question, I know I’d be an absolute delight.
Novels to swoon, cry and sigh wistfully over this Valentine's Day, as chosen by Giovanna Fletcher, Caleb Femi, Andrew Hunter Murray and more.