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The rain was beating down on the windscreen, as we tried to navigate (rather damply) along the winding country road.
'I hate the country,' I said gloomily.
'Yes, well, you hate everything that isn't fifteen seconds from an overpriced cappuccino,' said Oliver crossly, although in his defence he had been driving from London for six hours.
'I don't hate everything,' I said. 'Only...those things over there.'
'Those...oh, you know.'
'Yes, that's it.'
'You can't recognise a cow?'
'Remind me.' He used to think this was really cute.
'It's where your latte comes from,' he said, sighing.
Oliver does like the country. He was born, bred and boarding-schooled here. He couldn't understand why someone who'd lived their whole life in London wouldn't want to get out of it once in a while. I had patiently explained to him several times the necessity of all-night Harts the Grocers, proper bagels, and the choice, if one so wished, to pay six pounds for a bottle of mineral water in a nightclub, but he would bang on about fields and animals as if they were a good thing.
I examined his profile in the dimming light. He looked tired. God, he "was" tired, very tired. So was I. 0lly worked for a law firm that did a lot of boring corporate stuff that dragged on for months and was fundamentally big rich b astards (0l excepted, of course) working out ways to screw other big rich b astards for reasons that remained mysterious, with companies called things that sounded like covers for James Bond. I worked as an accountant for a mega firm-- there were thousands of us. I tried to tellpeople it was more fun than it sounded, but I think after eleven years they could tell by my tone of voice that it wasn't. It had seemed like a nice safe option at the time. It was even fun at first, dressing up and wearing a suit, but recently the sixty-hour weeks, the hideous internal politics, the climate of economic fear, and the Sundays 0l and I spent with our work spread out over the kitchen table were, you know, starting to get to me. I spent a lot of time--so much time --in the arid, thrice-breathed air. When we were getting to the end of a deal I'd spend twelve hours a day in there. That was about seventy-five per cent of my waking seconds. Every time I thought about that, I started to panic.
It wasn't that we didn't have a good lifestyle, I reflected, peering out through the rain, and thinking how strangely black it was out
here: I hadn't had much total darkness in my life. I mean, we both made plenty of money--0lly would probably even make partner eventually, as he worked really hard. But the s hit we went through to get it...Jeez.
We took nice holidays, and 0lly had a lovely flat in Battersea that I practically lived in. It was a good area, with lots of bars and restaurants and things to do, and if we got round to having kids, it would be a good place to bring them up too. Parks nearby and all that. Good schools, blah blah blah.
Good friends too. The best, really. In fact, that was why we were here, splashing through the mud in the godforsaken middle of nowhere. My oldest friend from school, Tashy, was getting married. Even though we'd both grown up in Highgate, she'd come over all "Four Weddings" when she and Max got engaged, and insisted on hiring some country house hotel out in the middle of nowhere with no connection to either of them.
I was glad she was getting married, give or take the bridegroom. We'd planned this a lot at school. Of course, not until we were at least twenty-two (we were both now thirty-two). In the manner of Princess Diana, if you please (although I'd been to the dress fitting and it was a very sharp and attractive column-style Vera Wang, thank you very much), and we'd probably be marrying Prince Edward (if we'd only known ...) or John Taylor.
0lly caught me looking at him.
'Don't tell me--you want to drive.'
'Do I fuck.'
He grimaced. 'Look, I know you're tired, but do you really, have to swear so much?'
'What? We're not driving the Popemobile. We're all grown-ups.' I wrinkled my nose. 'How would you start to corrupt a lawyer anyway?'
'It's just not nice to hear it.'
'From a lady?'
He sniffed and stared through the windscreen.
I hate it when we get snippy like this, but really, I was exhausted. And now we'd have to go in and be super jolly! And Fun! All Evening! So I could keep Tashy's spirits up. I wondered who else was going to be there. Tashy was a lot better at keeping in touch with people than I was. When really, all I wanted to do on a Friday evening was pour an enormous glass of wine, curl up in front of the TV and drift off before the best of Graham Norton, which might, just might, mean I woke up rested enough either to go to the gym or have sex with Ol (not both).
Oliver stayed quiet, staring out into the darkness. I turned up the radio, which was playing 'Colourblind' by Darius. Eventually he couldn't stand it any longer.
'I can't believe you still listen to music like that.'
'I'm breaking--what--the after-thirty pop music bill of rights?'
'It's just so childish.'
'It's not childish! Darius wrote this all by himself!'
Ol gave me a look. 'That's not what I mean.'
'I'm not listening to Dido, OK? It's not going to happen. I'd rather die.'
'At least she's your age.'
'And what's that supposed to mean?'
0l shrugged it off, and I let him. I knew why we were squabbling anyway, and it was very little to do with the respective ages of pop musicians.
It put a lot of pressure on a couple, especially our age, when one's friends baled out and got married, I reckoned. I mean, who was next? I was worried it was going to be like musical chairs, and we'd all sit down at once, wherever we happened to be.
I looked at 0l, who knew already I wouldn't know. He turned anyway, and a hedge brushed the window. It was very dark.
I mean, everyone was rambling along, having fun, working their guts out all week to get ahead, and p issing away the weekends for fun... then suddenly, ding dong, the first thirtieth birthday party and engagement bash invites had fallen on the doormat all at the same time, and we kept finding ourselves trailing round Habitat, buying the same vase over and over again.
Copyright (c) 2004 by Jenny Colgan