But with the love and support of three friends and a little bit of luck, the girls soon realise that happy ever afters are not just reserved for the world of fairy tales - as long as they start believing in them.
EXCERPT (Chapter One):
I knew I had to keep the rhythm going if I was going to get that all important result. However, my wrist was already beginning to scorch under the pressure. I let out a huge gasp as the fire spread up my arm and into my shoulder but I disregarded the pain and continued to pump like hell.
I would not admit defeat easily but why was it taking so long? I usually had infinite stamina and succeeded within minutes – yes I was that good, the envy of all my friends in fact. But today that stiff peak eluded me. I had lost my touch.
My phone buzzed like an angry wasp trapped under a glass for the seventh time, its dull drone punctuating my grunts of frustration. Teeth clenched, eyes shut, I gave one last exerted effort and pumped like mad before letting every sinew relax with a dramatic huff.
‘Clare, I’m kinda in the middle of something,’ I snapped as I eased the cramp in my neck.
‘You’re always in the middle of something Maddie.’
‘Look, I’ll be there in ten minutes okay?’ I lied.
Ten minutes was my standard guestimation for any departure, whether I had hair to wash, nails to paint or clothes still to iron. Actually scrap that last one. I had never so much as picked up the bright pink Russell Hobbs iron my grandmother had bought me as a house warming present two years ago. I mean, why iron when you could dry clothes perfectly straight on the radiator? Anyway, Clare ironed things twice, including her thongs, so in reality I was merely helping to balance out the domestic equilibrium.
‘It will take you twenty minutes to get here at least,’ she said in a partly disappointed, partly pissed off tone.
‘Okay, I’ll be there in thirty minutes then.’
‘No you won’t.’
‘Yes I will,’ I protested feigning offence. My hair only needed a brush, my makeup was already done and although I needed to find some clothes to throw on, I could still be leaving in ten minutes. ‘No Clare,’ I asserted, ‘I promise I will be there in thirty minutes. Time me if you like?’
‘It’s alright. Just make sure you’re here. It’s Sophie’s big night and I won’t have you spoiling it.’
Clare was not just a perfectionist, she was an exorcist of all things unorganised and tardy and could make anyone’s head spin with her clockwork rituals and need for order.
‘How could I spoil her night when I’m the one who’s going to make it all the more special with my big surprise?’ I asked.
‘Oh yes! Is it as fabulous as I imagine?’ she enthused.
I sniggered as I listened to Miss Jekyll suddenly rip the phone from Miss Hyde’s grasp. Our friend Isobel was meant to be the actress, not Clare the neat freak. ‘You’ll just have to wait and see,’ I teased. ‘Besides, it’s an artist’s prerogative to be late.’
‘Yes well...finish whatever it is you’re doing and hurry up. Your thirty minutes start now,’ she ordered.
‘Can we make it thirty-two minutes please as it could take a while to scrub this stuff off my hands? This one is a lot stickier than I expected.’
There was a long pause, making me wonder if we had lost connection. ‘What on earth are you doing Madeline?’ Clare asked eventually, a hint of suspicion in her timid voice.
I sighed exaggeratedly. ‘What else would I be doing at this time on a Friday evening?’
She didn’t respond.
‘I’m making meringue of course! But I just can’t seem to get the mixture light enough. I must have lost my culinary mojo and the kitchen is in a dreadful state.’ I paused. ‘Why, what did you think I was doing?’
I listened to her panicked twittering until it became annoying. She was the purist non-virgin I knew and would have looked quite comfortable in a twin-set and pearls and an elaborate up-do. ‘Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can,’ I told her.
‘Well good. Yes, hurry up, clean up and be here for eight o’clock.’
I knew an appeal to Clare’s cleanly sensibilities would make her cave in to my impractical unpunctuality. She hung up promptly while I gave my egg whites one more violent whisk. They would have to do and I put the mixture in the fridge before giving the worktop a quick wipe down with a soggy towel – the absolute epitome of hygiene.
I then adjusted the last few sugared flourishes on the two-tier masterpiece I had spent the last week making in honour of Sophie’s new flat, before encasing it in a rather pricey card box with a pearl sheen.
Just thirteen minutes later, I was ready to go.
The city streets were relatively empty for a Friday evening but that was probably because it was a week before payday and no one had the cash to splash. Well everyone except the herds of students who stumbled the streets dressed as Oompa Loompas, Wombles, Thunderbirds and various other cartoon heroes.
Checking my online account this morning at work, even I had been forced to shush the computer, which had scolded at me like a howler in Harry Potter. ‘Eleven pounds Madeline!’ it had chided. ‘That’s all? You should think twice next time before buying a pair of eighty pound shoes that are such an unusual shade of coral that they go with practically nothing in your wardrobe!’
I had blushed before apologising sincerely to the computer, telling it I had many items I could wear with coral but seeing as I no longer had a boyfriend, I had no one to dress up for. The computer had gone silent with pity.
Thirty-two days into the split with Jason - my boyfriend of two years, one hundred and three days and five hours - and my heart was eventually on the mend. My mantra of ‘it wasn’t my fault’ was beginning to work and in defiance of being single, I was wearing those coral dreams right now on my tired feet, even if the six inch heels did render them completely impractical to drive my little Lexemoto scooter in.
The teal vintage dress I had dug out was also proving to be a challenge as I tried to keep it and the net underskirt from flying about my ears. Although these city streets undoubtedly saw many a pair of knickers flashed about during the course of an evening, I continued on to my destination in a lady-like manner and I arrived with my dignity intact...just.
Hands full, I tapped the door of the brand new fifth floor apartment lightly with my shoe.
I tried again, angry at the prospect of having to ruin my accessories to be heard. Again, there was no answer. The door was quickly becoming a red rag to my bull-like huffs and I turned around before slamming my bum into the wooden barricade three times, knowing full well the occupants inside would hear the quaking.
I pictured parents in neighbouring apartments coaxing their children out from their hideaways, explaining the building was not falling down and that it was just Madeline Gilbert getting more and more pissed off.
A soft light suddenly flooded the hallway, illuminating my scowl. ‘I thought you were expecting me,’ I snorted as the draft unsettled my hair.
‘It’s three minutes past eight and you should learn to be on time,’ Clare retorted. ‘We found better things to do than just listen out for your stomping.’ She looked at me quizzically. ‘And you’ve dyed your hair again haven’t you?’ she asked.
I shook my head softly in a way that was worthy of a commercial. ‘I don’t like it when it fades.’
‘Don’t worry Maddie, it’s still very purple.’