10.55. I hit the floor, crawling around on my hands and knees until I locate my good overnight bag – Orla Kiely, fifty per cent off in the Kilkenny Shop because there was a stain on one side but I swear to God you can’t see it, even in broad daylight. I grab my clothes and stumble into the en suite – two sinks, nice touch – where John is simultaneously brushing his teeth, rubbing a cloth across his face and attempting to hold in a puke. I catch sight of my reflection – mother of God, I didn’t even take off my make-up last night, that’s highly unusual – and wince. Brown mascara is muddied under my blue-green eyes and there are traces of Heather Shimmer still clinging to the corners of my mouth. The layer of foundation I applied twenty-four hours ago is long gone and my freckles are well and truly back out to play. My hair looks like a crow’s nest. Róisín Flood did my usual wedding updo in Scissor Sisters yesterday, but you pay for it the next morning trying to find the three hundred clips you know well she put into it. They’ll be finding them in this hotel room for a week. I’ve no idea where my dress is – I got it in TK Maxx, only delighted to get a twelve to fit me rather than the usual fourteen – but I somehow managed to get into my pyjamas last night. I’ve an awful fear my holdy-in knickers are lying around on the floor somewhere. I know John wouldn’t care but even after all these years together, it’s nice to hold onto some bit of mystery. Scrubbing at my face with a baby wipe – they’re exactly as the same as the make-up remover ones, only cheaper – I pray that I won’t bump into anyone I know downstairs. They’ve probably all been and gone, I think. Sure you’d want to be mad to miss a hotel breakfast.
10.59. In a cloud of Lynx Africa (John) and Clinique Happy (me), we slip out of the room and leg it to the lift, which, and this is proof that God exists, is apparently waiting for us. Forty-five seconds later, we walk into the dining room, which, to my horror and disgust, is absolutely heaving.
I’ve an awful fear my holdy-in knickers are lying around on the floor somewhere.
It’s 11.25 a.m. and people are still arriving down to breakfast, heading sheepishly towards the buffet like they have all the time in the world. The staff, apparently used to this kind of carry-on, are still happily taking orders, and towering plates of bacon, sausages, eggs and beans keep being paraded past me as my stomach starts to flip. I’m not feeling great. Of course I had the works – fresh fruit and yoghurt, croissant, made-to-order omelette, pain au chocolat, full Irish, about three litres of orange juice in those little thimbles that you get in hotels, although the glasses in the Ard Rí are quite generous – because we’d already paid for it. But it’s starting to turn on me. The smoked salmon was probably a bad choice. I catch Sinéad McGrath’s eye across the room – she’s tucking into a stack of pancakes like someone who’s never heard of a Syn – and give her a wave. Her own wedding is less than a year away. She’d want to lob a few Speeds onto that plate. No sign of Kerry and Updo.
Beside me, John is horsing into the contents of his second trip to the buffet. He’s always happiest when he’s eating, and he looks so cute that I can’t stop myself reaching out and squeezing his hand affectionately. His dark brown hair is sticking up here and there but he’s pulling it off. You can get away with a lot when you’re tall and wear a day’s worth of stubble as well as he does. His plain white T-shirt is inside out, I’ve just noticed – the big gom. And his hungover eyes are puffy. Cute as anything though. He looks up from his sausage-sandwich as I touch him and raises his eyebrows quizzically.
‘Nothing,’ I say, coyly. ‘I was just thinking – imagine, this could be us in a couple of years.’
He raises his eyebrows even higher.
‘Here, in a nice hotel, the day after a wedding,’ I clarify, looking at him straight in the eye. ‘Except it could be our wedding,’ I add, glancing across at the door where the bride, clearly a bit worse for wear, is making an entrance wearing a blue and yellow Knocknamanagh Rangers jersey with ‘Mrs Kelly’ printed on the back above Liam’s number, 8. A present from the bridesmaids, Sinéad told me at the bar last night. They gave it to her at the hen. I wasn’t there myself, due to being at my great-aunt Breda’s ninetieth birthday.
I feel a little sting of jealousy watching everyone crowd around Denise. John and I have actually been going out eight months longer than she and Liam, and they got engaged two years ago. Meanwhile, we’re not even living together. It’s not that I’m not happy with how things are going – I am. It’s just that I always thought they’d be going a bit quicker after being together for seven years. Sure we were at those three weddings last year alone – all Rangers lads – so it’s not like we’d be blazing a trail or anything.
‘Maybe more than a “couple”,’ John guffaws, looking back at his sausage, knocking me out of my trance. I hold out my cup for a tea top-up. Barry’s, of course.
‘What do you mean, more than a couple?’ I ask, trying to keep my tone breezy.
‘Well, it’s not exactly on the horizon for us, is it? I’m twenty-nine and you’re only twenty-eight. You’d be a child-bride by today’s standards,’ he adds with a hollow laugh, spraying toast crumbs onto the white linen table-cloth.
‘Denise is twenty-seven,’ I reply quietly. ‘She didn’t do Transition Year. She thought it was only a doss and that it would get her out of the routine of studying – she actually never shut up about it …’
I let the words trail off and look down at my plate full of croissant crumbs so he won’t see my eyes fill with tears. I can’t cry here, in a room full of girls I went to school with and GAA lads. I’d never live it down. And I don’t want to get into a disagreement about potentially getting married in the dining room of the bloody Ard Rí Hotel. I haven’t even showered.
‘Come on – check out is at half twelve and I want to have a wash before we go. The toiletries are Crabtree & Evelyn, I’m not missing that,’ I say, standing up and throwing my napkin on the chair a little harder than I mean to.
At 12.31, we’re pulling out of the driveway, the atmosphere between us in the car a little warmer than in the dining room, but there’s still a strange tension, hanging around like a ferocious smell.
More about the book
'An utter ray of sunshine' Red | 'Hilarious, heart warming' 5* reader review
Ever been a small town girl trying to make a life in the big city?
Meet twenty-something Aisling - that's pronounced Ashling - she can barely boil an egg let alone figure out what night bus to catch home.
But she's got a job in the big city, a flat and a boyfriend. She has an umbrella for rainy days, an electric blanket for cold nights and keeps her kitten heels firmly on the ground.
Until the day she accidentally ditches her only slightly useless boyfriend John. And finds herself in a spot of bother at work.
Is it time to pack up and go back to the sticks?
Or can Aisling fix the mess she's made?
What's a Complete Aisling to do?
'Sweet, funny, moving . . . perfect' The Pool
'A great big thumping heart' Sunday Times
'You'll shed a tear as well as laugh your socks off' Fabulous
'A riot of a novel' 5* reader review