For a while we’re both silent — then Luke seems to come to, and looks up.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to hold a few hands today,” he says abruptly. “So I won’t be able to make this charity lunch with you and my mother.”
Oh shit. Luke’s mother. Of course, that’s today.
“Can’t she rearrange?” I suggest. “So we can both go?”
“Unfortunately not,” says Luke. He gives a quick smile, but I can see true disappointment on his face, and I feel a flash of indignation toward his mother.
“Surely she could find time—”
“She’s got a very busy schedule. And as she pointed out, I didn’t give her very much warning.” He frowns. “You know, my mother’s not just some… society lady of leisure. She has a lot of important commitments. She can’t just drop everything, much as she would like to.”
“Of course not,” I say hurriedly. “Anyway, it’ll be fine. I’ll just go along to this lunch with her on my own, shall I?” I add, trying to sound as though I’m not at all intimidated by this prospect.
“She has to go to the spa first,” says Luke, “and she suggested you accompany her.”
“Oh right!” I say cautiously. “Well, that could be fun…”
“And then there’s the charity lunch she’s going to take you to. It’ll be a chance for you two to get to know one another. I really hope you hit it off.”
“Of course we will,” I say firmly. “It’ll be really nice.” I get out of bed and go and put my arms around Luke’s neck. His face still looks strained, and I put up my hand to smooth away the creases in his brow. “Don’t worry, Luke. People will be queuing up to back you. Round the block.”
Luke gives a half-smile and kisses my hand.
“Let’s hope so.”
As I sit in reception, waiting for Luke’s mother to arrive, I feel a combination of nerves and intrigue. I mean, for a start, what are we going to talk about? If I were meeting his stepmum, she could tell me all about Luke when he was a little boy, and bring out all the embarrassing photographs. But Luke’s real mum barely saw him when he was a little boy. Apparently she just used to send him huge presents at school, and visit about every three years.
You’d think that would have made him a bit resentful — but he adores her. In fact, he simply can’t find one bad thing to say about her. I once asked him whether he minded that she left him — and he got all defensive and said she had no choice. And he’s got this enormous glamorous photograph of her in his study at home — much bigger than the one of his dad and stepmum on their wedding day. I do sometimes wonder what they think about that. But it’s not something I really feel I can bring up.
“Rebecca?” A voice interrupts my thoughts and I look up, startled. A tall, elegant woman in a pale suit, with very long legs and crocodile shoes, is staring down at me. It’s the glamorous photograph in the flesh! And she looks just the same as she does in the picture, with high cheekbones and dark, Jackie Kennedy — style hair — except her skin is kind of tighter, and her eyes are unnaturally wide. In fact, it looks as though she might have some difficulty closing them.
“Hello!” I say, getting awkwardly to my feet and holding out my hand. “How do you do?”
“Elinor Sherman,” she says in a strange half-English, half-American drawl. Her hand is cold and bony, and she’s wearing two enormous diamond rings that press into my flesh. “So pleased to meet you.”
“Luke was very sorry he couldn’t make it,” I say, and hand her the present he gave me to give. As she undoes the wrapping, I can’t help goggling. A Herm`es scarf!
“Nice,” she says dismissively, and puts it back into the box. “My car is waiting.”
“Luke was really hoping we might get to know each other a bit,” I say, with a friendly smile.
“I have until two fifteen,” says Elinor crisply.
“Oh,” I say. “Well, never m—”
“So that should be ample time. Shall we go?”
Blimey. A car with a chauffeur. And a crocodile Kelly bag — and are those earrings real emeralds?
As we drive away, I can’t help surreptitiously staring at Elinor. Now I’m close up I realize she’s older than I first thought, probably in her fifties. And although she looks wonderful, it’s a bit as though that glamorous photo has been left out in the sun and lost its color — and then been painted over with makeup. Her lashes are heavy with mascara and her hair is shiny with lacquer and her nails are so heavily varnished, they could be red porcelain. She’s so completely… done. Groomed in a way I know I could never be, however many people went to work on me.