Harriett – November 2004
Harriett was rattling around in her mother’s Belgravia town house. She had loved the place as a child and had many happy memories associated with the place. However, much as Hattie liked to party she didn’t feel comfortable inviting folks back here. She would be more than pleased to receive a visit from either her sister or her mother to liven the place up a little she thought one (rare) evening when she had determined to stay in, wash her hair and paint her nails. She was busy with the remote control and the nail varnish when the house phone rang shrilly from the hall.
Hattie hopped up pleased to have a distraction from the less than riveting TV programmes she had been relentlessly cruising,
‘Hello, Harriett Alexander’s residence’ she answered with a feigned foreign accent of dubious derivation,
‘Hi Hattie’ Charlie responded without a shadow of hesitation, ‘amazed to catch you in I’ve been trying for days. I only have your old cell number, d’you have a new one now for the UK?’
‘Oops, sorry Charlie; I forgot to send it to you. Well I didn’t forget really I didn’t get round to it yet. You have so many cell phones, I never know what number to call.’ Hattie complained.
‘It doesn’t matter they all message to each other. Give me your UK number now and I’ll put it in my phone and send you a message so you can store my number.’
‘OK’ Hattie read out her number and glanced back at the phone as it beeped, ‘Got it thanks Charlie. Where are you?’
‘I’m in Paris until tomorrow night and then London next week. I wondered if I could crash at Mama’s with you. We could do something together over the weekend?’
‘Ooh lovely’ Hattie was unequivocally delighted by the thought of seeing her big sister, ‘we could go shopping. I know, I can take you in to Palmerstone and help you to chose some stuff then we can get dressed up and go out on the town. I know some great clubs.’
‘You’re enjoying Palmerstone then?’ Charlotte asked unnecessarily, Hattie’s voice was brimming with enthusiasm.
‘Yea it’s really cool. We get masses of famous people coming in but we have to pretend that they’re just normal customers…Well you’re famous now too Charlie after that feature in Elle Interiors.’
‘Not exactly pop star material I’m afraid’ Charlie deflected modestly, ‘did you hear from Mama? I spoke to her a couple of days ago and she said she’s planning to come over to London for a few weeks. She wants to keep an eye on her baby I think.’ Charlotte furnished with a laugh.
‘Honestly!’ Hattie rolled her eyes to herself, ‘I’m a grown up workingwoman now. I actually get paid, real money.’ Harriett added, self importantly, almost causing Charlie to laugh out loud.
‘Great stuff, well drinks are on you then’ Charlie teased.
‘OK we’ll have champagne if you like?’ Hattie responded seriously pleased to be entertaining her big sister.
‘Well I’ll see you tomorrow evening then. I should be at Eaton Square by 7.30 if the flight’s on schedule. Look forward to seeing you mia bella’ Charlie slipped into her father’s habitual endearment, ‘love you.’
‘Love you too. See you tomorrow Charlie.’ Hattie bounced back to the TV room to finish her nails with a grin on her face and great expectations for the weekend.
Charlotte arrived at her mother’s house to an effulgent reception from her sister. Harriett looking gorgeous and rather sophisticated in one of her new outfits rushed to the door to greet her sister,
‘Charlie!’ Hattie threw her arms around Charlotte’s neck and kissed her affectionately, ‘come in, I have drinks and deli stuff ready.’ Hattie bustled about hanging Charlotte’s coat and scarf as she chatted non-stop, dragging her sister through to the kitchen cum living room, a large though cosy space replete with a big squashy sofa. The sisters sat facing each other with their backs leaned against opposite arms of the sofa.
‘This is nice, thanks Hattie’ Charlotte remarked, with a smile as she sampled from the tray of canapés and sipped a little nicely chilled Prosecco.
‘There’s this fab little deli right next to the shop’ Hattie declared happily, ‘too tempting sometimes…’ and added, biting the bullet figuratively, ‘I have to be careful what I eat or I’ll get way too fat to fit into ‘Aunt’ Becca’s amazing selection of clothes which would be a mortal shame. Not like you. You’re so skinny Charlie.’ Hattie was proud of herself that she had been able to go near the subject that had haunted her childhood and threatened occasionally to jeopardise her relationship with her older sister. Charlotte recognised the watershed moment for what it was.
‘I often wished that I was more like you. That is y’know it’s not that great being skinny. Men love women with figures like yours, I’d hardly get a glance next to you.’ Harriett took this information in with a slight feeling of disbelief, although she knew that Charlotte’s wasn’t lying to placate her. It was true then what the girls at work had said.
‘Really! You would like to be more like me?’ Hattie tested the theory in disbelief,
‘Yes baby’ Charlie grinned and reached over to hug her little sister, ‘everyone loves you and spoils you no matter what you do. And do you know why that is; because you’re so full of life and because you radiate joie de vie and because you’re so nice and open and fun and because you’re beautiful. You should never ever think yourself as anything less than super special.’ Hattie met her sister’s eyes. Charlotte’s were soft with affection for her; Hattie’s brimmed over with emotion,
‘Thank you Charlie’ Hattie breathed, hoping that she would be able to hang on to this moment forever, a moment where she loved her sister unambiguously without envy.
The feeling of complete harmony between the two of them was too good for Hattie not to use the opportunity. She had long wanted to know more about her father; the moment had never seemed right to tackle either her mother or her sister. Hattie suspected that Charlotte might know more than she had ever let on, she was after all seven years her senior.
‘We are so different, you and I’ Hattie embarked tentatively, ‘and I obviously know that Papa isn’t my real father. I’ve known that for ages of course’ Harriett’s voice suggested that only a simpleton wouldn’t have known, ‘and that he’s gay’ she added proving her woman of the world credentials. ‘Charlie, do you remember my father? Was he mama’s boyfriend? What happened?’ Charlotte could feel her heart being torn apart. She didn’t want to lie to Hattie or to be disloyal to her mother and all at the same time the terror and dislike she had felt as a small child surfaced making her feel like she was suffocating.
‘It was a long time ago’ Charlotte spoke carefully, ‘I know that mama always wanted you and adored you from the minute you were born; well we all did.’ Harriett knew that Charlotte had sidestepped her question but she could put herself in Charlotte’s position; wouldn’t she have done the same? ‘If you must know’ Charlotte’s voice was hesitant, ‘you have to ask Mama.’
‘I did’ Hattie furnished with a sigh, ‘she said the same as you.’ Charlotte almost advised Hattie to ask again now she was older, her mother would tell her the truth. No, that would be opening a real can of worms; what good could it possibly do? Charlotte gathered her inner resources and changed the subject,
‘I thought that you were planning to take me out on the town? I haven’t hung out in a bar or been to a nightclub in eons.’ It was not a prompt to be taken lightly. In a moment Hattie was distracted into revealing her plans for the evening,
‘You must get changed though Charlie. Wear something eye-catching, you always look so chic but much too sober’ Hattie advised with newfound authority from her experience at Palmerstone.