Bachelor Boys [NOOK Book]

Overview

Cassie is determined to grant the dying Phoebe her last wish and see her two sons Fritz and Ben safely married off. Yet, entertaining as they were as children, they make terrible adults. Surely no intelligent woman could be persuaded to take one on?

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Bachelor Boys

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Overview

Cassie is determined to grant the dying Phoebe her last wish and see her two sons Fritz and Ben safely married off. Yet, entertaining as they were as children, they make terrible adults. Surely no intelligent woman could be persuaded to take one on?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her sprightly second novel, Saunders (The Marrying Game) humorously captures the love affair between the boisterous British Darling family and their lifelong girl-next-door, Cassie. With emotionally distant parents of her own, Cassie has looked to the Darlings-Phoebe, Jimmy and their sons Ben and Fritz-for warmth ever since she was a child. At 31, Cassie, who is a literary editor, is thrust into the role of matchmaker when terminally ill Phoebe asks her to find suitable wives for 31-year-old Fritz and 29-year-old Ben. Much like the boys of Peter Pan, Fritz and Ben don't want to grow up: they don't have proper careers or serious girlfriends, and they still live at home with Phoebe. So it's much to Cassie's surprise that they're willing to help her fulfill their mother's dying wish. Soon Cassie is keeping the boys in dates while also dealing with her own relationship woes. With steady work and steadier girlfriends, Fritz and Ben suddenly seem headed toward a belated adulthood, and Cassie wrestles with deepening feelings for Fritz. Though Phoebe doesn't live to see the day, Cassie ultimately makes a very suitable match for her son. Witty banter and spirited characters propel this lighthearted novel to its heartwarming if formulaic conclusion. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Phoebe, who is dying of leukemia, has one final wish: to see her two wild sons finally settle down. It's now up to Cassie, who has known the boys since the three of them were runny-nosed playmates, to help marry them off-though she's not entirely sure that's feasible. Sensitive, poetic, unemployed musician Ben and fiery, sexy, unemployed actor Fritz are simply having too much fun playing the field and running through some of London's most eligible women. But Cassie is determined to make Phoebe's final wish come true, because warm and generous Phoebe has always been like a mother to her. In the meantime, Cassie has to deal with her own relationship problems, pull off a major publishing event at work, and come to terms with her real mother. First published in England, this novel has only one flaw: its heavy dose of local slang may be a bit too British for some readers. Otherwise, this is a witty tale full of smartly written characters and is sure to be a hit with both chick-lit fans and those who enjoy British fiction. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/05.]-Rebecca Vnuk, River Forest P.L., IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Engaging, witty fare, Saunders's novel of matchmaking gone awry (think modern-day Emma) is smart fiction masquerading as a light summer read. Phoebe has a last dying wish-to see her two sons happily wed. Ben Darling, unemployed pianist, and Fritz Darling, unemployed actor, are handsome, charming men. In fact, they've charmed the knickers off of half the girls in London. But Phoebe wants better for her boys, so calls on Cassie to help. As a small girl, she spent lonely days peeping through the hedge to the Darling's back garden (her own parents were icy and indifferent) until the Darlings brought her into their happy fold. As a grateful surrogate daughter, Cassie dotes on sweet Phoebe and promises to find proper matches for her sons, but she's without Phoebe's blind loyalty and sees Ben and Fritz for what they are. Bemoaned in her circle of high-achieving friends, the Darling boys are the archetype of spoiled foppishness, irresponsibility and devastating magnetism, used to lure sensible girls into their web of short-term bliss. Nevertheless, Cassie cleans the two up, scrubs their flat (really just the basement of their mother's posh home) and makes them promise to get some kind of paying job. Cassie's initial success begins to diminish as love lives go in all sorts of unplanned directions-including Cassie's own. Practically engaged (as she always claims) to the stodgy Mathew, Cassie finds him in bed with her friend Honor. Hazel, who she had planned to match with Ben, is instead getting hitched to Jonah, an even lazier lad than the Darling boys, and best friend Annabel, well-matched with Fritz, is reeling now that he's dumped her for a haughty actress. Cassie complains she feels trapped inan Anita Brookner novel, instead of Helen Fielding. And, of course, shadowing everything is Phoebe's impending death, her sons' touching, desperate devotion to her and the worry that her best, last wish may not come true. London lovers and happy families unite in this satisfying and touching work.
From the Publisher

Bachelor Boys is about going next door to find family, about keeping promises, and about how people live forever in the hearts of those who love them. Kate Saunders has written a wonderful novel filled with the real and magical power of love.” —Luanne Rice, author of Dance with Me

Praise for The Marrying Game

“Is it possible to be too beautiful? Too talented? Too intelligent? Too odd? The four Hasty daughters are all that and more, simultaneously blessed and cursed by the genetic gifts of their eccentric sire. . . . [A] whimsical and witty comedy of manners.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An absolute delight!” —Susan Isaacs, author of Any Place I Hang My Hat
“Such wit, such charm, such intelligence, and what I loved most is that although in some ways it’s a very serious book, it gave me that money-can’t-buy serene glow that everything was going to be okay. This is a gloriously buoyant, uplifting book.” —Marian Keyes, author of The Other Side of the Story

“Elegant, funny, and deliciously romantic.” —Katie Fforde, author of Paradise Fields

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429908573
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2005
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 429,540
  • File size: 348 KB

Meet the Author

KATE SAUNDERS has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Express, Daily Telegraph and Cosmopolitan, and has contributed to Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Start the Week and Kaleidoscope. She lives in London with her son.

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Read an Excerpt


  Bachelor Boys
CHAPTER ONEI was in the middle of cutting down a dotty and rambling piece about the Golden Age of Crime Fiction when Phoebe rang.“Cassie, darling. I know how busy you are, so I won’t keep you.”Her voice was soft and fresh, with a faint Edinburgh accent like the scent of heather. It was the voice of gentleness and safety and I unconsciously curled up in it, ripping off my glasses and stretching out in my office chair.“That’s okay, we’re not particularly busy.”“The thing is,” Phoebe said, “I’ve been thinking about something. And I really need your advice.”“Mine?”“It’s in your area of expertise.”“You mean books.” I was the editor of The Cavendish Quarterly, London’s most respectable literary magazine, and Phoebe often asked me to recommend books for various friends (in vain did I hint that this was not, in fact, a normal part of my job description).“Not this time,” Phoebe said. “I can’t tell you over the phone, because you’ll laugh.”I said, “You’ve had one of your ideas.”This was not a question. Phoebe was famous for having ideas.“Well, yes,” she said, with that familiar air of being awed by her own brilliance. “It’s a wonderful idea, but I don’t see how it can be done without you.”“As long as it doesn’t involve dressing up as a squirrel,” I said.At the other end of the phone, Phoebe giggled. Ten years before, in my student days, she had persuaded me to hand out leaflets dressed as a red squirrel. This ghastly experience had left deep scars on my psyche, and I never let her forget it.“Nothing like that,” she assured me. “This is a totally different sort of ideal. I can’t wait to tell you—could you possibly come tonight?”I made a quick calculation. It would mean putting off Matthew, which he wouldn’t like. But he would understand. He knew that any summons from Phoebe was sacred. She was the nearest thing I had to a mother.“Of course,” I said. “I’d love to.”“I’ll make some supper. I’ve got some lovely fresh tagliatelli.”“Can I bring anything?”“No, my darling, just yourself,” Phoebe said tenderly. “It’ll only be the two of us. This isn’t something I can talk about in front of the boys.”I might have guessed it would be about the boys. For as long as I had known her, Phoebe had been cockeyed about those boys of hers. In every other department she was perfectly rational, but where the boys were concerned, she could talk herself into anything. I loved her all the more for this large blind spot.“You’re being very mysterious,” I said. “What’s going on?”“Wait and see.” Her voice was light and teasing, which I took as a good sign. “And Cassie, if you happen to run into Fritz or Ben, you mustn’t say a word about any of this. I mean, you can say you’re coming to supper, but that’s all.”“Okay, my lips are sealed. See you tonight.”The call ended with me holding up the receiver so that Betsy could shout greetings from the other side of the office. Betsy Salmon was my deputy editor, but I had been at school with her four daughters, and she had known Phoebe since the boys were babies—she had once smacked Fritz at a birthday party, for persecuting the conjuror.As soon as the phone was down, Betsy asked, “Well? How do you think she is?”“Fine. Tired, obviously.” I was sharp. I hated talking about Phoebe’s health.“And how are the boys?”“She didn’t say, so I assume they’re fine.” I knew it was mean to be sharp with Betsy, when she was so unfailingly kind. I stretched and rolled my chair back. “I heard Shay and Puffin sloping off to the pub just now,” I said. “So let’s declare an official lunch break.”“Oh, good idea,” Betsy said. “Just what we need to turn morning into afternoon.” She bent down to the tartan shopping bag she used as a briefcase and pulled out a Tupperware box, a Thermos flask and some rainbow-colored knitting. Her oldest daughter had baby triplets, and Betsy snatched her knitting whenever her hands came free.I dug in my briefcase for the cheese baguette I had bought on the way in, now squashed under Volume Three of a biography of Lord Beacons-field. While I ate, I watched Betsy lapping at her vegetable soup between stitches, and thought what a comfortable presence she was to have nearby. She had long gray hair, which she bolted into a bun with a hideous leather slide, and she was usually dressed in a washed-out needlecord sack. She had been holding the Quarterly together since the Repeal of the Corn Laws, and I knew that I’d have been lost without her. It was odd how quickly I’d got used to working a few feet away from my classmate Sally Salmon’s mum.“You know,” I said, “we really ought to stop calling them ‘boys.’ They’re grown men now, even if poor Phoebe can’t see it.”“Of course. Fritz must be thirty-one—the same age as you and Sally,” Betsy said thoughtfully. “And I know Ben’s the same age as Jonah, because Phoebe and I used to meet at the baby clinic.” Jonah was (and is) Betsy’s only son, then living in the attic of his parents’ home. Sally called him “Mrs. Rochester.” “It’s so hard to remember sometimes how grown-up you all are these days.”Betsy and Phoebe had matching blind spots. I frankly wondered sometimes why women bothered with sons. The boys I had grown up with, in our segment of middle-class London, were a disappointing crew. Betsy’s Jonah was only too typical. He had two degrees (one more and he could have sung as a group), but he had never had a proper job. Betsy’s daughters said he spent his entire life eating, smoking and running up phone bills. And there were so many like him—hearty young men who had never broken an honest bead of sweat in their lives, and who cheerfully assumed the world owed them a living.My female friends and I were always trying to solve the mystery of what had gone wrong with the middle-class boys of our generation. We were all educated up to the nines, but the paths of the two sexes seemed to have divided somewhere in the late teens. Us girls were high achievers—ravenously ambitious, and obsessed with success. We set our sights as high as possible, and went for our goals like starving tigresses fighting over meat.Take me. At the age of thirty-one, I was turning round a threadbare old warhorse of a literary magazine. True, my only qualifications for the job had been a spell in publishing, a longer spell with a national newspaper and ridiculous amounts of chutzpah. But I was slowly inching up the circulation. I was often to be heard on radio book programs, and seen on television. I had helped to judge several literary prizes. I don’t like boasting, but I was proud of the things I had achieved because I had to work so hard for them. And I applied this relentless work ethic to all areas of my life. My natural state, I often think, is chaos. Left to myself, I create mess and clutter—far more than a normal, tidy person. A normal person can brush her hair and wash her face and look passable. I knew that more effort was required of me. I put incredible amounts of work into being as perfect as I could. The point is not that I’m clever or talented. The key word here is “work.”My achievements were only average when set against those of my (female) friends and acquaintances. All Betsy’s daughters were hugely successful—one was in banking, Sally was a barrister, one produced award-winning documentaries and the one with triplets was (appropriately) an obstetrician. Still in the same neighborhood, my old form prefect had been short-listed for the Turner Prize and the girl who shared my flute lessons had made a fortune from mail-order fashion. I could go on.Where, meanwhile, were the boys who had grown up beside us? My female friends and I often sighed over the dreadful shortage of proper men. We had to cast our nets far and wide, because there was nothing worth catching at home. In the bee community, all those useless drones would have been stung to death years ago. In the human community they toiled not, neither did they spin, and they clung to their family homes like ornamental plasterwork. Their aging parents were resigned to buying economy sizes and paying drug fines until the crack of doom. I only hoped those without daughters were saving for their funerals—if they left it to their sons, they’d be buried in wheelie-bins.Not that the mothers would admit to any of this. Betsy, Phoebe and the whole regiment of genteel mums with useless sons all delighted in finding ingenious excuses for their boys’ chronic idleness. Jonah, for example, claimed to be writing poetry. Not one jot or tittle of poetry ever issued from his attic, and his sisters regarded him as a waste of food, but his doting old mum maintained that he was “sensitive.” This was a popular, almost standard excuse among the doting mums.“Sensitive—phooey,” my friend Hazel (youngest-ever editor of a glossy magazine) would say. “Lazy, more like. Why can’t gorgeous, successful women like us find decent male counterparts?”“Just solvent and self-supporting, that’s all I ask,” my best friend Annabel (merchant banking) would sigh wistfully. “Why can’t I ever fall in love with a guy who has a job?”“Or even a guy who does housework sometimes,” my friend Claudette would add. Claudette was a doctor. We didn’t think she had much right to complain, since she was safely married to another doctor, and her brother had regular work, albeit as a nightclub bouncer. But Claudette said her brother was only employed as a bouncer because he was six foot four and black, and they would fire him as soon as they found out how lazy he was.Hazel would sometimes murmur, “Still, he’s awfully good-looking.”And Claudette would firmly say, “Don’t even think about it. You didn’t do all that grafting to support a man who was chucked out of Cambridge for sleeping all day.”“Yes, but when he’s got himself together—”“All day, Haze. Never forget that. Dearly as I love him, I wouldn’t wish him on my worst enemy.”I was aware that I was one of the lucky ones. I was madly in love with Matthew, who was pursuing a glittering career in corporate law with the single-minded intensity of a woman. This was because he had been brought up far, far away from middle-class, woolly-liberal north London, and was therefore able to think about more than recreational drugs and the club scene.Matthew Jeremy Peale had been brought up in Cheadle by wealthy Tory parents with no books. He had attended a respectable but unglamorous public school, from which he was never once suspended. He had a serious character, and serious tastes. I had always dreamed of a boyfriend who could sit through heavy culture without flinching, and Matthew had delighted me by booking us a holiday in Salzburg, for the festival. Yes, my girlfriends teased me horribly about this (Hazel kept e-mailing me with sarky suggestions about bikinis), but I felt there was something heroic about a man who could take that much pure Mozart and class it as leisure. If that was his definition of leisure, how tough did that make him at work?Besides, when my friends protested that Matthew was “dull,” I felt they were missing the whole point of our relationship. Matthew was the first man I’d ever been out with who liked “dull” culture as much as I did. Yes, I have peculiar tastes. I’m a highbrow—out and proud. And Matthew’s brow was even higher. The hardest plays, the most fatiguing operas, the obscurest chamber concerts were nothing to him. Sometimes, he even made me feel shallow. I found this a mighty turn-on.I had met Matthew about two years before, at a dinner party given by an old publishing colleague. He had come straight from his office. He wore a crisp gray suit and striped (not remotely gaudy) silk tie. He was fair-haired, with blunt, strong features and what I can only describe as an air of clean certainty. There was a calmness to his confidence, an earnestness to his interest, which I found incredibly attractive. I had dreamed of a man like this for years, and Matthew slotted neatly into the space I had made for him.I didn’t see much of him for the first year or so. His firm moved him to New York, and we kept up a rather glamorous and very expensive transatlantic affair. At the time I am writing of, he had been back in London for about six months. We planned to move in together, when the time was right. We were still working through the practicalities. But his prolonged absence had definitely made my heart fonder, and I freely admit that I adored him. Yes, he had his flaws. Knowing about them made me love him more.I swallowed the last of my mangled baguette, and punched Matthew’s direct line into the phone. I knew I would get him. He only went out to lunch if there was money involved.“Cassie!” He sounded pleased. “Hi, darling. How’s it going?”“Darling,” I plunged straight in, “I’m really sorry, but I’ll have to put you off for tonight. Phoebe wants to see me.”Matthew’s voice was immediately full of concern. “Is she all right?”“Oh yes, she just wants to talk to me about something—lord knows what.”“Well, of course you must go.”“Oh, Matthew, you are nice. I hate standing you up. Can you come round tomorrow instead?”“I’ve got a better offer for tomorrow,” Matthew said cheerfully. “You’re going to love this. I’ve managed to blag a box at the Coliseum—that new production of The Flying Dutchman.”“Oh, how amazing!”He chuckled down the phone. “I knew you’d be thrilled. The tickets are like gold dust.”“God, yes!”“I’ll meet you in the foyer at six forty-five tomorrow, and we’ll have a bottle of champagne. As it’s a box, we can take it in with us.”“Heavenly!”You will have noticed, as Matthew did not, the slightly forced quality of my interjections. Yes, I was interested in the hot new production of The Flying Dutchman at the English National Opera. But my overwhelming reaction was disappointment. Matthew and I hadn’t had an evening at home together for nearly three weeks. He preferred going out to staying in. He was forever getting tickets to operas and concerts, saying his job made him hungry for the higher culture. I was tough enough to take any amount of culture on the chin, but I did absolutely love it when Matthew just came round to my place for dinner. On these occasions, I would cook one of the elegant little dishes taught to me by Phoebe. Matthew would arrive with his briefcase, a bottle of wine and a clean shirt for the next day. This last item was an unofficial guarantee that we would have sex and sleep together afterward.I thought of the four lamb chops sitting in my fridge. I had bought them for Matthew. Now that I was seeing Phoebe, he would not come round to dinner and there would be no sex. And now that we were going to the opera I wouldn’t get any sex tomorrow, either. After the opera, Matthew preferred to go home alone, because he always seemed to have meetings at the crack of dawn. I was a little hurt that he had not thought of this while congratulating himself over the tickets. When would we have sex again? Never, at this rate.“He’s got tickets for The Flying Dutchman tomorrow,” I told Betsy, testing the sound of it.“Hmmm. That’s nice.” Betsy guessed how I felt, but was too kind to challenge me.“It’s had stunning reviews—Annabel’s been, and she said it was mind-blowing.”“Wonderful,” Betsy said, exuding benevolent skepticism.I was talking myself into the right frame of mind. “I’m so lucky to have a man who actually likes going out and seeing something worthwhile. I can’t stand too many evenings in.”“All the same,” Betsy said, “it wouldn’t do young Matthew any harm to slow down a bit. Is this his idea of fun, or is he trying to prove something?”“Some people actually enjoy opera, Betsy, strange as it may seem.”“But how do you know he’s enjoying himself? I mean, a night at the opera isn’t exactly letting your hair down.”“He says it relaxes him,” I said.“Funny notion of relaxation. He’ll never unwind properly until he stops thinking about work all the time.”It was never any use trying to make Betsy understand the inner workings of the ambitious male. “He can’t stop thinking about work till he’s a partner.”Betsy drained the last of her soup and began a new row of knitting. “Has he said any more about getting engaged?”No. He had not. I was not going to admit this to Betsy, when I could hardly admit it to myself. “We talk about it from time to time,” I said. “The time’s not right at the moment. We both have too much to do first.”She looked at me solemnly over her glasses. “You know, by the time I was your age, I’d been married for six years and I had three children.”“Yes, I know. But a little thing called feminism came along, just in time to save women like me from the same ghastly fate.”“Cassie, one of the few advantages of being an old bag is that you know what’s really important. I don’t like to see you throwing so much of your energy into your career. What’s the point of being the most successful person in the world if you don’t have a life outside the office?”She didn’t expect an answer to this question, but it hung in the air like the aftertaste of cheese. The embarrassing fact was that I longed, longed, longed to marry Matthew. Somewhere inside this single-minded career woman there apparently lurked a frilly creature with no ambition beyond being loved. When my work became too stressful, I often escaped into a furtive little fantasy about jacking it all in, moving to a leafy suburb and raising a family.
 I didn’t feel I’d ever had a real family of my own. My childhood had left me with a permanent ache of outrage. On paper, I was fortunate. My parents were both psychiatrists (my father wrote fashionable books, my mother had a reputation for treating the criminally insane) and we lived in a handsome Georgian house in Hampstead.But it was a house without warmth. My parents—mainly my father, I think—liked white walls and blond wood, and modernist sculptures that bristled with barbed wire. Nothing in the place acknowledged the existence of a child. My tasteful educational toys were confined to my bare and drafty playroom. My parents worked all hours: my father in a rented office and my mother in her locked wards. The business of bringing me up was left to a series of foreign au pairs.My parents were chilly people. I have no memory of caresses or playfulness. I was trained to keep quiet and not bump into the expensive, scary furniture. My father is a dry, unexpressive, critical man. My mother was, at that time, silent and impossibly distant. I grew up under the distinct impression that my father was in charge, and my mother was his resentful prisoner. Her baffling relationship with him surrounded her like a fog, leaving little room for me. They divorced when I was in my teens, and I felt nothing except a mild relief. I was glad to leave our petrified house, and move to a less pretentious but more comfortable flat near the railway in Gospel Oak. Without my father, I could draw a proper breath. I found I could live quite easily with my mother’s gloom. You can ignore gloom.Later, I came to a better understanding of the sadness that lay between my parents, without coming near to guessing what caused it. As I grew up, Phoebe urged me to keep in touch with my mother. Mainly to please Phoebe, I called her about once a week. It was hard work. Ruth, my mother, had absolutely no gift for light conversation. We were distantly courteous, and I couldn’t help thinking of Winnie-the-Pooh trying to cheer up Eeyore.I couldn’t mention Winnie-the-Pooh to my father. He banned the book during my childhood, on the grounds that it was “elitist and anthropomorphic.” Yes, he was a barrel of laughs. We met then as we do now. He takes me out to lunch at Simpson’s in the Strand, twice a year, Christmas and birthday. He used to express a tepid interest in my career. I used to enjoy listing my various academic and professional triumphs, until I realized he was only showing the interest he would have shown to one of his patients. I’d spent my whole life trying to impress him, but it was a waste of time. I don’t think he ever wanted children. What freakish spasm of heat warmed me into being? I have no memory of a single sexual frisson between him and my mother.All the warmth and love in my childhood (and my access to the unsuitable works of A. A. Milne, E. Nesbit and C. S. Lewis) came from the house next door. My parents were insular and never fraternized with the neighbors, but as soon as I was aware of a longing for anything, I longed for the next-door garden like the banished Peri at the gates of Paradise.The home of the Darling family vibrated with noise and heaved with chaos. I used to sit in our bay window in the mornings, hungrily watching the drama of Jimmy Darling leaving for work. Jimmy was a handsome, rosy, boisterous man, with a loud and tuneful voice (we often heard him singing through the wall) and a jubilant laugh. He was a venereologist at the Royal Free Hospital. He would come bursting out of his front door scattering papers, shouting over his shoulder to his wife and their two little sons. Sometimes he would swear because he had forgotten something, and dash back inside. Sometimes he would run back to give his wife and the boys one more bear hug. Although he was very busy, and although my parents had only spoken to him to complain about a tree house he had built, Jimmy never forgot to wave to the solitary little girl in the window. He was the kindest man I have ever known.And I adored his wife, who used to give me the sweetest smiles and hellos when we met in the street. What can I say about Phoebe Darling? The greatest writers have a hard time describing real goodness, so I have to fall back on lukewarm clichés—“sweet,” “warm”—which can never convey the pure essence of Phoebe. I can’t write about the scent of a rose.In those days, she must have been at the height of her special brand of loveliness. She was slight and dark and softly spoken, and her brown velvet eyes brimmed with watchful humor. I was interested to see how often Jimmy kissed her lips and swept her into his arms. Both parents practically worshipped their two dark-eyed sons. The fortunate Darling boys were hugged and squeezed and kissed and thrown into the air. Slight as she was, Phoebe carried Ben on her hip until he was at least four.The day the barrier between the gardens came down is seared into my memory. I was four years old. A photograph of the time shows the little girl I was: tiny and defensive, with anxious brown eyes under a fringe of wispy brown curls. This is the child who pulled a kitchen chair into her paved back garden, one glorious summer afternoon.I stood on the chair, gazing into the leafy well of the garden next door. That garden was my theater, and the show that day was particularly good. They had a paddling pool. Four-year-old Frederick and three-year-old Benedict were stark naked, splashing and fighting like a pair of noisy puppies. Both had Phoebe’s beautiful dark eyes. Little Ben had ringlets, and behaved (his brother would claim later) in an offensively ringletty manner—he sucked his thumb and was given to weeping big, photogenic tears.Frederick (equally pretty, but an unmistakable little devil) looked up at the top of the fence, and saw my earnest face through the clematis. He stared. I stared back, in a vacant way, as if watching television.Then he startled me by asking, “What’s your name?”He had noticed me, as so few people did. I was not invisible. “Cassie,” I whispered.“My name’s Frederick. That’s Ben. That’s our mummy.”Phoebe, coming out of the back door with a tray of orange squash, walked across the lawn toward me. She wore a striped Breton shirt, and denim shorts that showed endless bare brown legs. Her long, glossy black plait lay over one shoulder.“Her name’s Cassie,” Frederick informed her.“Hello, Cassie. I’m Phoebe.”Feebee. I turned the funny name over in my mind, liking it.Phoebe put her tray down on the grass. She poured orange squash from a glass jug into a plastic beaker. She handed this libation through the clematis like Hebe dispensing nectar. I was not allowed orange squash at my house, and I sipped it reverently, amazed by the violent golden sweetness that flooded my tongue.“Thank you,” I whispered, daring to hand back the drained beaker.“Would you like to play in our pool?”Of course I wanted to, but I shook my head. I didn’t have the language to explain that I wasn’t strong enough to break through the screen into Paradise. I couldn’t imagine what would happen to me if I did. I was beyond shy. Suddenly feeling exposed, I jumped off the chair and dragged it back to the house. I was partly sorry and partly glad that I had ended the conversation.I was reckoning without Phoebe. A short time later she appeared at the front door, clutching a German phrasebook. Haltingly, she told Gudrun (the au pair of the moment and a nice girl, if dim) that I would be next door until six. She held out her hand to me. I slipped my sharp little paw into her soft, cool palm. We walked next door and I became part of the beautiful picture. Dazzled, I sank down on the tattered lawn—still watching, but from a better seat.Phoebe gently persuaded me out of my dress and into the cool silver water. I felt the delight of it like an internal explosion, and Phoebe giggled at the look on my face. The two boys soon forgot I was a novelty, and threw open their game to include me. Frederick appeared to be loud and rough, and I was a little wary of him. But he was also kind, and he let me sit in the deep end of the pool where the lawn sloped. The game was that Benedict and I were daffodil bulbs and Frederick was growing us. He watered our heads with his red plastic watering can. We all thought this was hilarious.Time sprouted wings. The sunlight danced on the leaves, beads of water dried on my warm skin. Phoebe sat cross-legged on the grass, watching us. Every so often she darted into the kitchen and emerged with more squash, or slices of apple. The grand finale, as I still remember, was a chocolate biscuit of astounding deliciousness.Jimmy came home. The boys flung their wet bodies at him, soaking his shirt. I wondered if he would be cross. He laughed and tickled Ben’s tummy. He hurled Frederick back into the pool with a tremendous splash. He landed a hard kiss on Phoebe’s mouth.She loosened his tie, saying he looked hot. “Look who’s here,” she said, nodding toward me.He smiled down at me. “So you’ve enticed Rapunzel out of her tower.”“She’s not called Rapunzel,” Frederick said. “Her name’s Cassie. And guess what—she’s never seen anyone’s willy before.”This was true—I forgot to mention the interest we expressed in each other’s privates. Once my initial shyness had worn off, I wanted to know everything.Jimmy said something like, “I wish I could say the same—I’ve been eyeballing willies all day.”Phoebe laughed, and said, “Don’t, darling—what if she repeats it? They won’t let her come back.”“Well, we can’t have that,” Jimmy said. “It’s taken us too long to get to know Cassie. We want her to come back very soon. Don’t we, monkeys?”“Yes,” Frederick said firmly. “I like her, and I like her bottom.”
 That was the start of my acceptance into the Darling family. Ben and Frederick became my first proper friends. We played and fought and giggled, through long summer days that seemed to have no beginning and no end. Gudrun and Phoebe found that they could pass me to and fro over the garden wall through a hole in the trellis. I was automatically included in any treats that were going on. As the year moved on, I joined them at the pantomime and the zoo, Madame Tussaud’s, the Tower, and all the other attractions enjoyed by well-off London children. Phoebe threw in educational outings, as a sop to my parents, and I have happy memories of strolling round the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection, where men in peaked caps told Frederick off for sliding across the parquet and strumming the radiators.Jimmy very quickly forgot there had ever been a time without me. I got my full share of hurling and tickling and hair-ruffling. He was a warm-blooded, passionate man who loved the company of children. He was given to shouting, but I was never scared when Jimmy shouted at me. It was all part of the package, as harmless and exhilarating as a stiff breeze. It meant I belonged.Frederick (to my own father’s icy irritation) liked to throw clods of soil at our windows to bring me out. Ben called to me over the wall every time Phoebe made a batch of cakes. Once, when I was for some reason unavailable, he kindly posted a chocolate brownie through our front door. The three of us were a team. I look back now, and it pierces me to think how sweet Phoebe was, opening her arms and her heart to the prickly little animal I must have been.My parents did not approve of the Darlings. Nothing was said, so I can only guess at the reasons for this. I think it was something to do with control. My father feared chaos, and had trained my mother to avoid emotional actings-out that might be dangerous. But they put up with the amount of time I spent next door. In fact, they were relieved to have me off their hands when Gudrun was otherwise engaged. They often implied that the responsibility of a child was painful, and that the Darlings were somehow too crude to mind about it.This was how it went on for the next few years. The Darlings and I went to different schools, but kept up the easy, informal shuttling between the two houses. Our two sets of parents managed a distant cordiality. Every Christmas, the Darlings invited my parents over for a drink (and what a pair of ghouls they looked amidst the tinselly clutter). One day, however, the relationship shifted into a different gear.It was a desolate afternoon in February, just before my seventh birthday. I arrived home to find an empty house. I had been driven home by the mother of a schoolmate, who roared off the minute I climbed out of her car. It dawned on me gradually that nobody was coming out to receive me. Not Gudrun, not my mother, not my father. The house was blind and shuttered, cold as a tomb. I remember ringing the bell for ages, and hearing its forlorn echo through the empty rooms.I wasn’t exactly afraid. I was mainly anxious about doing the right thing, whatever that might be. I wasn’t surprised. A kind of fog settled around me, as I accepted what seemed to be the completion of a long process. They had finally made me disappear. There was nothing to do except sit on the doorstep and wait for something to happen, so this was what I did.Phoebe found me when she came home with the boys, twenty minutes or so later. I was shivering stoically and doing my French homework. I was taken aback by her concern, and startled by her indignation. She smiled, to show it wasn’t me she was cross with.“Oh dear,” she said. “There’s been some silly mix-up. Come and have tea with us, and we’ll sort it out.”I was happy at once. I loved having tea with the Darlings, and wasn’t normally allowed to do it on a school night. I wasn’t allowed television on a school night, either—which may have been good for my burgeoning intellect, but made me an outcast in the playground. My father had drawn up all these rules. He was an authentic lentil-scoffing, humorless middle-class killjoy. At the Darlings’ I could expect forbidden foods like fish fingers and Penguin biscuits, forbidden books about animals who talked and wore tweed, and incredibly forbidden American cartoons. I trotted into the warmth behind Ben, feeling that things were looking up.The boys and I sat round the kitchen table in the basement, all horribly overexcited by the novelty of the situation. I can see us now—Frederick and Benedict in their gray prep-school jerseys, me in my blue pinafore, all three of us singing loud enough to make the crockery rattle. The inimitable Frederick had learned a new song. The words were simply “willy-bum” in various combinations, sung to the tune of the William Tell overture (try it at home—willy-bum, willy-bum, willy-bum-bum-BUM!). Benedict, a musical child, soon found that the words went to many other tunes. How little it takes to make children happy. The joke seemed exquisite to us, and infinite. Odd that I should associate this sense of timeless happiness with the day I was abandoned by my parents.Because this was, essentially, what they did. The details didn’t emerge until Gudrun returned the following day, from an unauthorized jaunt in Wales with her boyfriend. It seemed that my parents—not bothering to wonder where Gudrun was—had left her a note on the hall table, to the effect that they had gone to a conference in Vienna.On that first evening, they might as well have fled to Samarkand for all anyone knew of their whereabouts. The house remained dark and empty, and Phoebe became increasingly worried. “You’ll have to stay here tonight,” she said, almost to herself. “And Jimmy can drop you at school in the morning.”The boys and I thought this sounded terrific. We ate ginger biscuits and watched Star Trek, and I felt this was really living.Jimmy came home when it was dark. The boys hurled themselves at him, giving him the news headlines and singing the willy-bum song.“Hello,” Jimmy said, a small boy under each arm, “it’s Cassie—what are you doing here, my lovely?”Phoebe pulled him away to the other end of the long open-plan kitchen. I heard her telling him, in a low, stricken voice, what had happened. I had apparently been deserted with only the clothes I stood up in. What on earth should they do?Jimmy said, “That pair of—” followed by a string of strange words which I didn’t understand then, but can now imagine. I saw, in all its glory, Jimmy’s intense dislike of my father, his polar opposite. Jimmy despised my parents for forgetting their only child, and almost hated them for making Phoebe cry. I saw her sobbing into his shoulder, deeply hurt that there should be such cold hearts in the world.We—the boys and I—might have started to be frightened. Jimmy, however, had a talent for making everything all right. He poured Phoebe a glass of red wine and led a rousing chorus of the willy-bum song. He made me giggle by suggesting silly things—tea towels, cushion covers—I’d have to wear in bed because I didn’t have my nightie. In the end I wore a pair of Ben’s pajamas, and Jimmy gave all three of us piggybacks upstairs.I never found out exactly what happened between my parents and the Darlings. When Gudrun came back and the note from my parents was found, Jimmy pounced on the contact phone number and gave my father a dressing-down that nearly melted the receiver. The upshot of it all was that the shamefaced Gudrun was only allowed to bring round a bundle of my belongings. Jimmy refused to hand me over until I was claimed by a parent. In the meantime, I was to stay with the Darlings, in the blessed land of sweets and television. Even better—it was arranged that Phoebe would give me tea and supervise my homework every day.Now I really was part of the family. The arrangement continued until my parents’ divorce. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, as I often told Phoebe. She shared Jimmy’s dislike of my father, but she staunchly maintained a bridge between me and my mother, when the whole relationship might have been lost forever. That’s just one of the things I owe to her.The boys quickly accepted the relationship. Frederick, who was a tease, nicknamed me “Grimble,” after the boy in Clement Freud’s story whose unreliable parents go to Peru without telling him. I didn’t like the nickname, but was honored by Frederick’s attention. He was our leader, though I was closer at that time to Ben. When Frederick wasn’t around, Ben and I were free to live up to our ringlets with teddy bears’ picnics and other harmless, girly pursuits. We had a pointless game called “Cotton Houses,” which involved nothing more than sitting against a wall with our duffel coats on backward and the hoods over our faces.I’m beating back a whole flock of memories that rise up whenever I remember my peculiar, borrowed childhood. The past becomes more important every day. You have to store up every moment and treasure it, as we all learned six years ago, when Jimmy died. It was liver cancer, and it wore him out in a matter of months.They never accepted living without him. Phoebe, though sweet and humorous as ever, carried a spike of anguish in her heart. In my sadder moments, I used to think this anguish was slowly killing her. But let’s call things by their right names. Phoebe was dying of leukemia.When I left work that evening, I hurried along Piccadilly toward the tube station thinking about anything that would distract me from the arctic waste that was the future. She was going out so gently that it was still possible to carry on, if you pretended time had stopped.BACHELOR BOYS. Copyright © 2004 by Kate Saunders. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2007

    Fabulous!

    This book was amazing. I couldn't put it down. I loved the story and the characters. If you're looking for great chick lit that is intelligent, hiliarious and tender, this is for you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2006

    Charming Brit Chick Lit!

    It is a dying mothers wish to she her 2 boys married off before she passes away so she ropes in Cassie, who was the girl next door while growing up and because of a couple bad parents she could be considered a sister to the boys. It is Cassie's job to find eligable women for the boys and to clean up their lifestyle. Cassie finds the job a little harder then expected when she ends up match making for everyone else execpt her and the boys, especially because all along she has been trying to hide her love for the eldest brother, Fritz. Finally, love falls in the lap of the youngest brother, Ben, but Cassie and Fritz aren't so lucky... Or are they? This was a fantastic novel, one of my favorites. I am going out right this second to find more books by Kate Saunders. If you love chick lit, especially british chick lit then you will love this book. It has 'movie' written all over it!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2010

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