Remember I said I'll tell you a story, well a few actually. Here's one from a few years back.
George Michael's 'Fastlove' punched through the SUV's speakers as we drove through some wrought iron gates.
Our fingers (James and mine) drumming the beat in unison. He with both hands on the lower half of the steering wheel, mine punching through the air. Lungs strangling out the tune. Honestly, I'm unsure how James didn't stop halfway and throw me out.
The song ends. I check my phone and nothing. No missed calls, no texts. My lips didn't speak, but my body did, and James clocked it. I think he's guessed but says nothing, which spares my blushes. I lock it, toss it back in my bag, turn the music down, go quiet.
Eyes looked out the vehicle's window but took nothing in. Those wrought iron gates some way behind us now. Instead, my right hand absentmindedly counts invisible rosary beads, all the beads going to one prayer.
You're doing that thing again.
With your hand.
He looked at my right hand and back to the road, and I stopped with my thumb. If he only knew my thoughts were being tied up on a king-sized bed.
Well, here we are. He said.
Freeing those thoughts of mine. Dropping the curtain on reality. Our vehicle joined a three vehicle train of cars moving left of a water fountain in this circular courtyard. Eyes to his left, he watched as two boys darted between the very manicured shrubs hedging the side of the place. The hedges mimic the curvature of the front of this red brick building.
The entrance, much like some rich person's understated country manor where some ten to twelve, evidently well-heeled, long-time haven't-seen family and friends exchanged longing hugs and kisses with each other. And where men in grey suits busied themselves offloading luggage from the personalised reg plates of V8s and V12s they were packed in.
I had caught on. It was a grand wedding, and grateful now for having the good sense to google and Instagram the place. Not to leave it to a man's description, even when that man is James. Nevertheless, I had short-changed my thinking on just how grand. So, here's hoping my chosen wedding outfit covers the shortfall balance. For my sake, at least.
And in that lively chaos of the courtyard, I'd spot a woman, twentysomething, looks vaguely familiar but Chanel(ed) from head to toe, do a double before bounding our way.
You remember Charlotte? James unexpectedly asks.
Ye-aa-ss. Lips keeping time with my brain.
The vehicle moves up in the queue, bringing it on this woman's footstep, and she knocks on his tinted window. He looks at the window, slowly lets it down. A little squeal and two arms gush inside the vehicle, are around his neck before lips go in for a kiss of his. My neck straightens, eyes double blink. He, however, gives his side cheek. And I can see she has been more impressed.
Hello Charlotte. He says.
Her dark hair, now a sandy blonde, teased into a ponytail. I actually like it.
You remember Jess? He says, looking over at me.
I smile, give her a wiggly wave of the left hand. She says hi back to James, but I get a once over. It seems my face and hair (still black and the same pixie haircut) are insufficient a memory. She scans me, head to toe, totting up everything I'm wearing. That much I know, having crossed Charlotte and her type before.
She said hello, alright. Looks away from me to James, but her face betrays her feelings.
And I, I stay serene in my preppie chick Ralph Lauren Blazer-blue, skinny jeans and heels, the same hue.
I thought you were bringing a guy.
And you thought that because?
I just thought that since you and Sofia broke up...
Well, Charlotte, I am sorry if I disappointed. Cutting her off.
She does a wheel in her Chanel heels. The hotel's frontal now bearing the brunt of her contempt. The air around me starts feeling light again. But she just as quickly spins back, the pendulum of contempt with her. The said heels grating on the paving slabs. Madame Chanel clutched her pearls-and-long-cc-necklace (I'm sure), and the paving slabs gritted teeth.
By the way, James, why haven't you responded to my texts or calls?
Oh, that. As you I've been busy trying to get the firm off the ground.
Tilts her head at him.
Well, it doesn't matter anymore anyway. You're here now.
So what was it?
Well I came over here to tell you, since you could not be bothered to get back to me, that I saved you a seat for the dinner tonight.
Rather Charlotte was beaming. That seat must be on James' lap. If so, I'd be beaming too. Just like I'd be beaming if they were shortly to say they couldn't change the room.
I hope it's two seats and not just the one you saved. You at least knew I kept my plus one.
Her face smacked back. Gave me another quick glance.
It's okay, Charlotte, if there isn't seating for the two of us, the one of us isn't coming.'
Lungs trapped the air I'd just inhaled. I glanced from Charlotte to James and back.
What? Why not?
Well, Charlotte, let's turn the tables here. You are my plus one. Would you like it if it was just me who got invited?
Well, it depends on the circumstances.
In this circumstance, Charlotte. He was quick back.
Did I say I have always liked James? Smart, fair, hot, sexy hot, hot... okay.
Eyes were once again on me, lasering in reverse. From me to James and back to me. I sensed whatever I was radiating must have increased as she stepped back from the vehicle.
Those heels wheeled and scraped again as she finally left.
You know James, I'm ok, with you going to whatever dinner it is they're having'. Lying through my teeth, wide smile.
He looked at me, but instead of answering anything I'd said, looked to where Charlotte walked into the building.
Remind me. Why did you two break up again? Still looking at him, chuckling.
He shrugged the question.
But that was my second encounter with Ms Charlotte Feversham. The first even briefer.
We'd edged up sufficiently near the front of the building to switch down the engine. One of the said busy men in grey, tall and seemingly welcoming, came directly to my door, opened it on my behalf.
Good afternoon, and welcome to Chewton Glen Hotel. He said to me.
His right hand to me, with the other, he kept the vehicle's door open. A smile, my response. I stepped down and away, my four-inch heels keeping me as tall as him.
Nice to see you again, Mr Adlington.
Having overseen my safe step down from the vehicle, he reaches into it, where he and James are shaking each other's hands.
Nice to see you again too, James. How is that son of yours? Has he decided to come home yet?'
Oh, they're both called, James. That could get tricky.
Well, he's good. Doing well. Though I'm not expecting to see him back here anytime soon with him now landing a job out there.
That's good news.
I'm wondering where out there was. Wondering just how many times James has been to this hotel? Who all these people are, though, from the looks of it, it is clear they're some of the country's upper crust. And with everyone calling out to him, he at least knew them too.
My James came round to me. The grey-suited James busied himself with our carry-ons and suit bags.
The sound of a helicopter whirred in the distance. I looked up and around. Saw nothing.
Some of our guests arriving. James in the grey suit pointed out.
So James... (I started).
Both men answer.
We drove all this way when we could have simply flown in by helicopter.
He looks over at me.
Yes, but you couldn't blast 'Fastlove' on repeat and strangle out the tune like you just did in the helicopter.
Taps on my nose with his slap back. I could only smile as Mr Adlington got me good and proper.
He walks on in his victory, I stand still in my defeat. The trickling of the water fountain on my right keeps me in my stance, injects calm amidst the flush of excitement.
From the door's entrance, James looks back, finds me standing where he'd left me. I walk towards him, taking in the well-tended gardens, the fleur de lis wrapped in a butterfly's wings on the bronze plaque behind him. And thought, if the tables don't turn anymore in my favour, I was at least assured of warm hospitality and food that sees me wanting to take the chef home.
Because had Sofia not packed off back to Italy and left James over a dream, I'd not be here. And yes, you read that right. Not just any old dream, mind. Apparently, I, was in it, and this dream happened more than once. And, she was the one who had these dreams. I promise you, I did not make that up but I suppose people have broken up over less. No don't laugh.
Maybe I'll tell you about this dream, but first we've got to get past this congregation gathering in Reception. With any luck, I'll have one of those dreams myself. Or better yet...
Inside, a long corridor takes my eyes past picture framed walls and under arches to a dining area and out the windows to the other side of the building. There's much laughter coming from a room on my left. I want to sneak a peek but Mr Receptionist has already taken James' signature, insured our room, checked us in. And James, with our luggage, is now taking us up the stairs. In front of him a group of women, robed in the hotel's insignia white spa gowns, conversing and cackling. My James follows, and I, too, like a lemming. And when they stop, I bump into my James, who looks back at me.
You okay? His side helping of smirk still on.
Our room door now open, James and our luggage enter first. Mr Adlington ushers me in, in front of him. I note the name on the door says - Lord Gilpin. A prayer goes up and I follow the luggage.
Well, it's clear now there were insufficient beads on my rosary. It is also clear that Lord Gilpin and I weren't practising the same religion. That or he was at his supper (dared not be disturbed) because it was twin beds that layout looking back at me.