Extract: Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings by Wendy Holden
To Harriet, with love from Karl
To Harriet, with love from Miuccia
To Harriet, with love from Stella
The fashion editor did not seem to run an especially tight sartorial ship. The department was a mess. All over the desk and on the floor, designer carrier bags were tangled up with tissue paper, bubble wrap and shoes. More mess spilled from the open door of a small room nearby. Laura peered in. It was piled with great heaps of clothes and looked like a fashion avalanche, or perhaps a landfill site bristling with famous logos. She moved on, glad that clearing it up wouldn’t be her responsibility.
The bank of desks in the middle of the office were the only ones that seemed to be used for actual work. No one sent the people here any flowers. The desks were covered with printouts of magazine pages. This must be where the sub-editors sat, the writers of headlines and checkers of facts. Here was a cover mock-up. A blonde in a big red coat beamed out above a coverline that read: ‘HOW TO WEAR THE NEW STATEMENT GOAT’.
Someone had crossed out the G, put a C above it and scribbled, ‘Whoever did this is fucking fired. Carinthia’.
Grinning, Laura slid the cover aside. Some girls with large teeth, tiaras and black leather jackets looked out haughtily from a photograph. The accompanying piece was about three heiresses who all dressed in identical clothes. How lame, Laura thought. She had much better ideas than that.
Beneath it was an article about how fencing was fashionable. Four superior-looking youths in tight white breeches stood holding their masks and foils. This didn’t seem terribly original to Laura either. It also brought back a horrid memory.
That first term at St Margaret’s. She had fallen foul of Clemency Makepeace immediately, although completely by accident. One night, walking into the dormitory they shared, Laura had found Clemency savagely pillow-beating one of the room’s other occupants, a new girl like herself called Ella. The weeping Ella, her thick glasses shattered on the carpet before her, was being held by Kate, the fourth girl in the dormitory, and, like Clemency, an older girl.
Laura had not paused to think. Her instinct, to grab Clemency by the hair and smash her face into the wall, was one she followed to the letter. It marked the end of Clemency’s campaign against Ella and began the one against Laura herself. Word soon got around the school of how the all-dominant school bully had been shown up by a new girl, and that funny, skinny French one at that.
As the vicious attacks began, no one, not even Ella, came to Laura’s rescue. Fear of Clemency and her henchwomen was too great. Laura fought back as best she could but made no complaint to the teachers. There was no point; authority was always on Clemency’s side. When not snarling and beating Laura, she sat in the front of the class paying wide-eyed attention and answering questions in a highpitched little-girl voice. The teachers loved her.
As the campaign against her stepped up, Laura got used to finding her bed soaked with cold water and her clothes serving as bedding for the school’s rabbits and hamsters. Efforts to track down missing shoes led to lateness, for which she was punished. As, at roll call, the housemistress rebuked her, Laura would see, out of the corner of her eye, Clemency smirking.
Trying to keep out of her way, Laura had taken up obscure pastimes. Fencing was one of them. The sport had been started at St Margaret’s under the auspices of a housemistress who had been in the national team. Once it was known that Laura had an especial aptitude for it, Clemency struck. Literally.
It had all happened so quickly. One moment she stood in her fencing whites, reaching for her mask. The next, she felt a sharp bite of pain in her face. Raising her hand in its protective glove, Laura was shocked to see red blood running between the fingers, soaking the white fabric.
She pulled off the glove and touched her cheek. It felt swollen, wet. She could feel the blood pulsing out and taste its brassy flavour on her lips.
Laura had thought herself alone in the sports hall, but she saw now that she was not. Retreating, sabre in hand, was a masked figure, also in fencing whites. The black mesh meant that identification was impossible, but as the figure turned, Laura caught a glimpse of auburn hair tucked into a collar. Then darkness swirled over her eyes and she fell.
She woke to find herself in bed. Not in her usual dormitory, but in a small white room by herself. Her face throbbed and felt heavy. She raised a hand; her cheek was thickly padded. She was no longer in fencing whites but the pyjamas Mimi had sent her. They had Eiffel Towers and poodles on them. Laura stared at the poodles.
‘And how are you feeling?’ She looked up into the friendly gaze of Matron. ‘Someone slashed me in the face.’
Matron gasped. ‘Of course they didn’t! You blacked out just as you were putting your mask on. You fell on the sabre blades in the rack.’
‘I didn’t!’ Laura protested, raising herself up. ‘And I couldn’t have done anyway. The blades point down, not up.’
‘Well, one of them was upright.’
‘Who found me?’ Laura asked. There was more than one way of approaching this mystery. ‘Clemency Makepeace,’ Matron said fondly. ‘She raised the alarm, the dear girl. She was awfully shocked herself, poor thing. But very helpful. She found the sabre that you fell on. Apparently it was absolutely covered in blood.’
Laura jumped, jerked rudely back into the present as someone now entered the office. She hoped it was Carinthia. To be alone in the office with the editor would be a wonderful opportunity. She could present some of her ideas.
It was not Carinthia, however, but a slight, tanned girl in a leather waistcoat and denim miniskirt. With her side-parted dark hair in a single plait which ended in a neon-pink feather, there was something of the squaw about her. Dreamcatcher earrings and brown gladiator sandals completed the look, along with a great heap of dry-cleaning. Laura took a deep breath and gave the girl a broad smile. ‘Hi. I’m Laura Lake. I’m the intern.’
The girl nodded. ‘I’m Demelza. Carinthia’s assistant.’
‘I thought she was called Xanthe.’ ‘Xanthe was the one before me. None of us last long. Working for Carinthia’s like being married to Henry VIII.’
‘Surely it’s not that bad,’ Laura said brightly.
Demelza chuckled. ‘You’ll find out.’ She snapped off the elastic band around the post and began to open it. ‘Just watch out for The Gaze.’
‘Kind of a freezing thousand-yard stare. If you get that, you’re in trouble.’ Laura immediately resolved never to get it.
‘Where should I sit?’ she asked.
‘What department are you?’ Laura did not hesitate.
‘Features,’ she said firmly.
‘Oh well, here’s your answer!’ Demelza said cheerfully.
‘The features editor’s just come in!’ Laura turned, and looked. And blinked, disbelieving. It could not be true. Please let it not be true!
‘God, how bad was the Tube this morning?’ exclaimed the familiar, breathy, little-girl voice. Clemency was busy shrugging off a tiny gold leather jacket. She hadn’t yet glanced at Laura.
Laura was still struggling to gather her wits. It felt as if her brain had blown up and the pieces were floating back down only slowly. Clemency Makepeace, her long red hair flowing glossily over her shoulders, was the Society features editor? The disappointment was shattering. It was as if a plug had been pulled and all Laura’s happiness and excitement had drained out. Her heart banged painfully in her chest and the scar on her cheek burned and throbbed.
The smell of the flowers rose overpoweringly up her nose. The room started to whirl. She gripped the edge of the desk. She would not faint! She stared at the spinning carpet, willing it to stop. She wouldn’t let this stop her. She had overcome so much already. What could a school bully from years ago do to hurt her now?
Clemency was looking at her, she could feel it. ‘Who’s this?’ asked the breathy little voice.
Laura looked up, pushing back her hair to reveal her face, plastering on the calmest smile she could. This was the moment.
It was an anti-climax, however. The green stare that met hers looked merely bored. Clemency had not recognised her!
‘Your new intern,’ Demelza said cheerfully.
‘My new intern?’ Clemency sounded put out. ‘Carinthia never said anything.’
‘Carinthia never does.’
‘Name?’ Clemency glared at Laura, whose mind was whirling. As Clemency had no idea who she was, might she somehow remain anonymous? Invent a nickname?
‘Laura Lake,’ Demelza helpfully put in. The green eyes flexed in shock.
‘Laura Lake? It can’t be!’
‘Hey,’ said Demelza, delighted. ‘You two know each other?’
‘We were at school together,’ Laura managed, as Clemency remained silent.
‘How great is that? Aw, look at Clemency! She literally can’t speak, she’s so thrilled.’ Demelza’s fond expression now changed to one of panic. She gave a sharp gasp. ‘Someone’s put poppies in Carinthia’s office! She thinks red flowers are common. She’ll freak.’
The executive assistant hurried off.
Laura turned to Clemency.
‘So,’ she said, brightly.
‘So what?’ Clemency snarled, conclusively abandoning the fetching lisp.
It wasn’t an especially promising start, but Laura was determined to try. ‘So perhaps we can put school behind us? It’s a long time ago, after all. Let bygones be bygones and all that.’ It seemed to her a magnanimous offer; she had been the injured party after all. Quite literally, and on many occasions.
Clemency did not reply. Hopefully she was considering the suggestion.
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