It’s like life is being deliberately cruel – our village being overtaken by a beer festival on the first weekend of my sobriety! Fortunately, “real” ale isn’t my bag, so temptation wasn’t exactly overpowering. Now, if it had been a wine festival… failure city?
Actually, no. I don’t think so.
You see, in #Forfeit, I give Daisy the Herculean task of staying sober for October. And because it’s a writer’s job to throw all manner of obstacles in their character’s path, I made Daisy attend a wine-tasting. “But I can’t drink,” she argued. “Ah, but with winetasting, you spit, not swallow,” came the reply.
Actually, it’s Saturday night. Here’s the hell I put Daisy through…
‘Hello, miss.’ Freya Dowson-Jones stood in the doorway to the Old Library rooms where the wine tasting would take place. She handed them leaflets about the outdoor stage they were fundraising for. ‘I don’t know why they’re bothering with this. Mum told me she’d pay for it, but she wasn’t being arsed sitting with a horse-faced bunch of old fogies. Nice to see you have your own boyfriend these days. Might keep you away from mine.’
The cheeky little… Daisy’s cheeks burned and Xander trying not to laugh beside her wasn’t helping. Daisy itched to take Freya down a peg, but the Bursar acting as Master of Ceremonies, hit the school dinner gong, reducing the majority of old boys and girls to fits of nostalgic, honking laughter.
Overconfident, twatty posh kids – thank God, she’d gone to a state run school.
The most divine Pinot Noir sat in her mouth, begging to be swallowed. Why had she made the stupid bet with James? The five hundred quid stake she might’ve been able to pay back to Clara in instalments, but the five hundred quid she’d owe James if she failed? He’d want it on October 31st or he’d undoubtedly take his pound of flesh.
Of course, who’d know if she swallowed the odd mouthful? No one except her.
Daisy spat the wine into the spittoon.
Not a drop could fall down her throat because when she took James’ five hundred pounds, she had to do it with a clear conscience. Stupid bloody game.
‘… blackberry and mint undertones. Remember, Mrs Lovelace,’ Marcus joked, ‘swish and spit. We’ve still got seven wines to go…’
Seven? They’d already tried five. Daisy sipped her water. Wine, wine everywhere and not a drop for her to drink.
The one good thing about being the only sober person in the room was that Daisy heard everything. Pissed people wittered in so many circles, she could pay attention to Marcus’ tasting notes, take in Olympic village tales from the ruddy-faced woman opposite her and keep an eye on the elderly gay chap hitting on the sixth former pouring their wine.
‘They charged the poor rowing fellow she’d been seeing,’ said the ex-Team GB women’s hockey player, ‘but we all knew, it was the gymnast. Roofied the poor mite but fell off the rings in the end. Rumour has it the rope was cut. Tragic loss to sport.’
OMG, was she on about the cycling girl who was raped? Who cut the rope, the rower? Daisy yearned to pry.
‘But you must play rugby?’ said the ancient man in a pink cravat. ‘With thighs like those…’
‘Sam?’ Daisy beckoned the wide-eyed sixth former over. ‘Could we get some fresh water, please?’
‘Yes, miss.’ He sagged with relief. ‘Thanks, miss.’
Peach, pears a hint of citrus… though it pained her to do so, Daisy spat out the most divine white she’d ever tasted. God, this was simply cruel. Daisy scowled at Xander as he drained his wine in one gulp. He hadn’t attempted to savour those flavours.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
His eyes glinted, glazed with alcohol. ‘I’m going away next week.’
Daisy’s heart plummeted, as much worrying for his mental well-being as for her own happiness. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘I just did.’ He sank the rest of her wine. ‘I wasn’t sure I was going to go, but it’s money, right?’
‘Every penny for your restaurant, baby,’ she leant up to kiss him. The rest of the room would be too pissed to notice. ‘A cruise?’
‘Mountain biking in Portugal.’ His arm draped around her, his finger twirling a curl. ‘I’m looking forward to it. Rob’s going too.’
‘But who’s going to keep me sober?’
‘I’ll ring you every night.’
‘Will you send me sexts?’ she joked.
‘Now you’re getting the hang of it.’ He dropped a kiss on her neck.
‘But you’ll be back in time for Clara’s wedding?’
‘I’ll be back on the Friday, I promise.’
‘You’d better. Clara said the best man’s second in line to Robbie for the Sexiest Man In Town title.’
Finally, bottle twelve sat upturned in the bucket, and Daisy donned her coat ready to leave, but Jennifer Lovelace, the head teacher beckoned her over.
‘Do we have to?’ Xander whispered. ‘She still terrifies me.’
‘She’s my boss. Yes.’ Daisy tried not to grin. ‘She’s actually very cool.’
‘Great news,’ Jennifer said. ‘We’ve got the money for the outdoor auditorium. Now, do you think Finn might come and open it if we asked?’
Daisy forced a smile. ‘Maybe.’
Xander clutched her hand, but Daisy had played on Finn’s name to get the interview; it was only fair the school got Finn in return.
‘And how are you, Alexander?’ Jennifer asked, maintaining her duties as head, despite the purple tinge to her teeth.
‘Good, miss–’ He stopped himself, laughing before letting the confident, Colgate smile work its magic. ‘Jennifer, lovely to see you again. I swear you haven’t aged a day in six years.’
The next time Jennifer gave her a dressing down for arriving a few minutes late to some stupid staff meeting, Daisy would remember this moment – how her boss, resplendent with a red wine moustache, flicked her hair back, fluttering her eye lashes at Xander. This woman could silence an assembly of chattering students with the slightest lift of an eyebrow, but now she simpered like a schoolgirl.
‘I have to say goodbye to Marcus,’ Xander explained. ‘Please, excuse me.’
Jennifer shook her head, an affectionate smile reaching her eyes as Marcus and Xander shared a back-slapping boy-hug.
‘Be thankful you don’t have to teach boys like them.’
Daisy didn’t respond. The trick to getting information out of pissed people was not to ask questions. You simply didn’t need to. Give them silence and they couldn’t help filling it.
‘Heartbreakers, the pair of them.’
‘What was Xander like at school? I gather he wasn’t the most academic of students.’
‘Bright as any, but couldn’t care less about anything other than cooking.’ Jennifer slugged her port and grabbed a stilton-topped cracker from a passing waiter. ‘Idolised his grandfather, but his parents… a different kettle of fish. Never took to his mother. It’s criminal that he left Anthony Errington. Genius chef.’
‘Xander. His grandfather said the boy could become England’s finest chef.’
‘It’s still his dream. He and his brother are going to open a restaurant. I seem to spend all my free time trying to find them a decent venue.’
‘I take it you and he…’
‘You want to be careful,’ Jennifer said, fixing a stern eye on her. ‘Troubled thing he was, when he came here, and his year were an odd bunch. I blamed James Dowson-Jones at the time, but when Xander left at sixteen, James and Marcus settled down and behaved like any other sixth formers. It seems Xander was the bad egg. I’d never seen it, too swayed by his impeccable manners and – let’s be honest – that boy can charm bees.’
Daisy bit back her questions, as a tall woman approached them. From her professionally coiffed, if unnaturally dark locks, to her LK Bennett pumps, she was a perfect Duchess of Cambridge wannabe.
‘Ah… Cressida Marshall, Pippa’s mother,’ Jennifer whispered. ‘Desperate for a chat with you.’
After a quick introduction, Jennifer darted off, muttering she must talk to Henry Dowson-Gunn to see if India really would foot the entire bill for the outdoor stage.
‘Darling to meet you at last,’ Cressida cooed, kissing Daisy’s cheeks.
Daisy smiled, anticipating some serious parent-teacher gushing. ‘Pippa’s such a good student, a real asset to the school.’
The previous week, twelve year-old Pippa had produced a beautiful silk painting in art. A gift for her mum’s birthday, she’d said, glowing with pride. But if Mrs Marshall had received it, she never mentioned it.
‘Actually, I was hoping for a teeny favour. Are you still in touch with Finn?’ She held a hand against her reddening neck. ‘Only when he was at school with my eldest daughter, we were so very close.’
Did she mean close-close? Cressida had to be mid-forties. What was it with married cougars and teenage boys in the Lakes?
‘And I wondered… do you have his number?’ Cressida went on. ‘I’m in New York next month and I’d love to meet up with him.’
No, no, no. ‘I… um… don’t think…’
Cressida grasped Daisy’s arm, leaning forward to whisper conspiratorially. ‘Quite frankly, he was the most fantastic fuck. You must be insane to let that man go.’
The old hag was completely and utterly clueless. Daisy glanced across to where Xander stood watching her with a concerned frown.
‘Sorry, Cressida,’ Daisy said, giving her most insincere smile, ‘but part of my divorce settlement was that I’d promise not to give his number to desperate hags like you.’
As Cressida gave a marvellous impression of a goldfish, Xander joined them.
‘Ready to go?’ he asked.
‘And actually, I’m not insane,’ Daisy said, leaning in to whisper to Cressida, ‘because this is the most fantastic fuck I’ve ever had.’
Being sober rocked.
And if Daisy can do it, so can I. Besides, that’s something I’m actually looking forward to – being the sober one who hears and remembers juicy snippets the hammered people keep giving out.
Weight? x-1. So no change from yesterday.
Before and After shot? Maybe tomorrow.
Check out how Daisy got on when she undertook “Dry-Tober” in #Forfeit…