Lauren Henderson My Lurid Past

ISBN 13: 9780743464680

My Lurid Past

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9780743464680: My Lurid Past

She's a bona fide man-eater.
As a successful publicist specializing in the food trade, Juliet Cooper has never had any trouble meeting men; she just doesn't want them hanging around her London flat on a Sunday, asking her how she feels about her mother (who, for the record, hails from hell). After four years of serial dating Juliet's suddenly realized that men -- like big lunches -- have a tendency to repeat on you. But what else is a girl to do?
She's hungry for love.
Though Juliet secretly envies her friend Gillian's life -- The comfort and companionship of marriage? Lovely! -- Gillian said goodbye to her sex life when she said, "I do." And as much as Juliet likes sporting leather for her friend Mel's fetish parties, she's much too lazy to be a dominatrix. Fortunately, as Juliet masterminds the career of her new celebrity chef client Liam, who has the sex drive of a testosterone-crazed rhino, these friends are about to discover the truth about what women really want, and how sometimes -- against the odds -- they end up getting it.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Lauren Henderson is the author of My Lurid Past, also available from Downtown Press. She studied English at Cambridge University and writes for the UK newspapers The Guardian, The Times, and The Mail on Sunday. Born in London, she used to live in Tuscany and is now based in New York. Her website is www.tartcity.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Have you ever looked at someone in the street and wished you had their life? Just like that, without knowing anything real about them? Because it happens to me all the time.

Yesterday I saw a girl getting off the bus at Westbourne Grove: pink fleecy sweater, lime-green lacy skirt, a fake fuschia flower in her dark hair, big trendy trainers which made her thin ankles look almost spindly. Matte white skin, straight black fringe and narrow hips. Notting Hill goes to Chinatown. She didn't look at all like me. I wanted to be that girl so badly I could feel the yearning around me like an aura.

It's not that I dislike my life, or my clothes. But somehow they're never enough. Without giving up myself, I want to be the girl on the bus too. Every time I walk into a clothes store I want every nice thing on the racks, no matter if it doesn't suit me, still less if I already have an item so similar at home that nobody but me would know the difference between them. I still crave them.

At this point you may well be thinking that this must be the shallowest expression of dissatisfaction imaginable. I want the world, but how narrowly I want it, how obsessed I am with myself -- mainly with how I look. Forget travel, new perspectives, new adventures; I just want to keep transforming myself until I can be, for a brief moment, anyone I want to be. But even then I run the risk of leaving the house as the girl on the bus and seeing someone else in a club whose identity I suddenly want to assume instead. Somehow, all common sense to the contrary, I think that if I finally get my appearance right then everything deeper than my skin will fall into place too.

I do know how ridiculous that is. But I keep on believing it. Wait for it, though. I am capable of being even shallower than this. I can't even stay faithful to a perfume or a jeans label. How can I, when I'm being constantly seduced by reams of advertising and product placements? No matter how well I know that the brand of jeans I wear is the best I'll ever find, I keep trying the latest thing to hit the billboards in the hope of a miracle transformation. You never know, they just might be the pair that will turn me into the model who's wearing them. And the disappointment never lasts long enough for me to realize how unrealistic my fantasies are, because there's always something else new to try, and something after that...

A few days ago I went into the supermarket, the big one a couple of bus stops down the road. I practically never shop at supermarkets because I just don't have the time; if I'm not eating out -- which I usually do, because it's my job -- I grab a sandwich at lunchtime and some frozen meal for dinner, calorie-counted and microwave-ready, perfect for the working girl in a hurry and on a perpetual diet. But last Sunday, for some reason, I got the impulse to stock up my store cupboards. I think it was residual guilt from my job. I'm a food PR. I spend my days promoting restaurants, TV shows featuring the chefs from the restaurants, and -- often equally lucrative -- the spin-off cookbooks from both. I had spent most of the previous week on the phone, trying to convince dubious journalists that the latest cookbook by one of my clients would transform the way they looked at food. "Just a few simple ingredients...fresh reinterpretations of all those classic old recipes we used to love...no more than twenty minutes in the kitchen..." Blah, blah, blah. The usual string of tired old clichés. Of course I assured them that for me, personally (that redundant word which cretins think sounds extra-sincere), cooking my way through the wretched tome had been an almost life-changing experience. The truth was that I had barely even rifled through its glossy pages. And, contemplating the dusty, bare shelves in my kitchen cupboards that evening, I was filled with shame. Two tins of kidney beans past their sell-by dates and an opened bag of couscous, probably ditto.

I was a disgrace to my profession. Hence the trip to the supermarket. I had forgotten how intimidating they could be, and how enormous. My nemesis, surreally enough, came in the form of the tinned tomato aisle. That there could even be a whole aisle devoted to tinned tomatoes was extraordinary. I stood there, frozen with indecision. Should I go for the own-brand stuff, which was bound to be reliable if not exciting? Or the heavily advertised labels, rich in celebrity endorsements? Or the Italian ones, which would look much more authentic on my shelves? Chopped or whole? Flavored or plain? And should I also consider the bottles of passata -- but, if I went for passata, did I want it smooth or chunky? There were tomatoes with chilli, basil, cumin, garlic, onion, garlic and onion, Italian herbs, five-spice, mixed peppers, even fennel seed. I mused for a moment about the eccentric in Product Research who had thought there would really be a demand for chopped tomatoes with fennel seed.

The aisle seemed to expand before me, stretching out to either side like a computer-generated hallucination. Tomatoes to right of me, tomatoes to left of me. It was the tomato Valley of Death. Gingerly I reached out and dropped a tin of chopped tomatoes with mixed peppers into my trolley. Then one of cherry tomatoes in their own juice (as opposed, I assumed, to somebody else's), then a jar of chunky passata with garlic and onion. Then the five-spice tomatoes, and one with Italian herbs. And I needed tomato purée as well. But did I want it plain or with mixed vegetable concentrate? And maybe I should get a tube of sundried tomato purée too...

By the time I had finished my supermarket tour my trolley was so full I looked as if I were stocking up a nuclear shelter. I could barely get it all into my kitchen cupboards. Not really knowing what I wanted, I had bought one of practically everything. I tried to reassure myself by the reflection that the excesses of globalized capitalism offered us far too many choices. The only way to remain sane was to limit these drastically by -- for instance -- refusing to buy any tomatoes but chopped ones with mixed peppers, wearing any jeans but one's usual brand, and sticking to the same sexual partner as long as one could.

It made a lot of sense. But that was the irony. Ever since I had broken up with my long-term boyfriend, I had been happily working my way through large quantities of young men of most conceivable flavors, not to mention textures. Smooth, chunky, coarsely chopped...Just as in the supermarket, I had been collecting at least one of practically everything; and yet, throughout this happy odyssey, I had never once felt overwhelmed by choice.

Quite the contrary. Some pretty twenty-five-year-old would catch my eye in a club and I would think, "Hmn, he looks like James -- no, the one I'm thinking of wasn't called James -- what was he called? Anyway, mmn, interesting: a toned-up version of what's-his-name! I wonder what that would be like?" Or, if the guy were out of my usual range: "Oooh, look at that bleached blond hair. He's skinny, isn't he -- God, those cheekbones. Haven't had anything like him before. Definitely not a natural blond. I wonder what that would be like?" It came to much the same thing in the end.

No, picking them off the shelf had never been the problem. And afterward it was equally simple; the length of time it lasted was dictated by a basic equation: how good the sex was, multiplied by how easy it was to hang out with them when we weren't having sex, equals a time limit that could be anything from a few hours to a few months. Up till now, the math had worked, and it had been pretty blissful. But little did I know that the supermarket incident was some sort of cosmic warning that the tectonic plates on which my life was based were beginning to shift. Earthquake alert.

In retrospect, the signs were clear enough. An uncharacteristic attempt at domesticity; the sensation of being swamped by choice, rather than relishing it; the hopelessness that overcame me when I had finally made my selection and carried it back to my lair; and, most significantly, the profound wish simply to stuff it all into a cupboard because I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it.

It wasn't very fair on Tom, though. I do feel a bit guilty about that. But after all this time of happily cruising along, how could I tell that I was about to stall so precipitately? And Tom was just the start. It was like some awful parody of that saying that you always remember the first man you have sex with. Poor Tom would certainly be burned into my mind as the first man I --

I'm rushing ahead. I'll start at the beginning. Rolling around on a sofa at a conference with a near-stranger trying to undo my bra.

I do pick my moments for cosmic revelations.

I wasn't expecting any sofa action at all that weekend. There are rarely any good-looking men at conferences, and the few that are tend to be gay. It's pretty much an axiom of the circuit. PR women are usually better looking, but I'm so much less judgmental about other women's looks. I see their good points as well as the soft spots. I'm much harder on myself than I am on my friends, or even other women. I'm not as slim as I would like to be and I punish myself for that by thinking about it constantly. My friends don't notice those extra pounds, and my boyfriends either don't notice or don't care; men have a wonderful ability to concentrate on the good bits. It's almost as refined as a woman's ability to pick out her own bad ones.

There are plenty of thin girls at cookery conferences, contrary to what you might think. But, equally, they are not generally as popular with men as most women imagine. I know this perfectly well from long years of experience. And yet I can't stop flogging myself about that extra half-stone, probably because the issue isn't men at all. It's perfection. I'm very good at my job, and I want to be that good at everything else, all the time. That I can't is the cross to which I'm nailed. Which, incidentally, must weigh a lot more than half a stone; if I could just put it down things might even themselves out...

I could tell, even across the room, that the young man I was ogling wasn't gay. His blond hair was disheveled, and though his sweater was perfectly nice it was slightly creased and too loose-fitting for him to have been anything but straight, considering that the torso beneath looked in good condition. If he were gay, he would have shown it off more. Besides, he was talking to a group of people and his long arms -- he was very tall -- were flailing at the air with an awkwardness that any gay man would have mastered by his teenage years.

Actually, he looked oddly familiar. He must have sensed my speculative gaze: turning around, he caught my eye and waved enthusiastically. I still didn't recognize him but the gesture was, naturally enough, more than welcome.

"Hey!" he said, surging across the room to my side with the enthusiasm and clumsiness of a Labrador puppy after a sudden growth spurt. "You're Juliet Cooper, aren't you? You probably don't remember me. We met at the opening of Samsara, you know, that bar on Charlotte Street? Three years ago? I'm Tom."

I racked my brains to remember the conversation we might have had. Or even to place his name.

"I made you a dry martini with a twist," he added helpfully. "Gin, not vodka."

Oh no. A barman.

"You have a really good memory," I said politely.

Now I had a classic dilemma. I wasn't doing either waiters or barmen any longer. Waiters and barmen were practically always dissatisfied with their jobs, no matter how much money they were making, and I had resolved a long time ago to put the struggling artist/writer/musician phase firmly behind me. In my twenties it had been fine, but at thirty-three, with a proper job, the imbalance was too great. I was happy with my life, and making good money, factors that the struggling wannabees all too quickly started to resent.

But Tom was undeniably eager, and I was charmed by that. He looked like a big fresh hunk of meat, the kind you could sink your teeth deep into and still never reach the other side. I was still debating my no-barmen rule when he added, pushing back a large chunk of fair hair which had flopped over his forehead, "But I'm not working at Samsara any more."

"Oh?" I said cautiously.

"No, thank God. Enough was enough. I've got into organizing events. I'm on the staff here, actually."

"Got bored with having to remember every food PR's favorite drink?" I said, trying not to smirk. An events organizer was definitely possible.

"I broke too many bottles to be a good barman," he said cheerfully. "Boyish charm can take you only so far."

"Funny, too," I commented appreciatively.

"As well as what?"

I looked up at him -- he was unnecessarily tall -- and I was tempted to give him the answer he wanted. But he looked like he would blush too easily.

"As well as making a good martini," I said.

"I didn't think you remembered," he said, looking hugely flattered. I had been right, he really was like a puppy -- one that knows you have a treat for it and is jumping around your ankles, panting in happy expectation, its big eyes wide. And who can resist a cute puppy looking for love?

"It's coming back to me," I said.

And it was, actually. That floppy, straw-blond fringe, those dangerously over-quick movements...

But just then I spotted a food critic I really needed to talk to coming out of the lift.

"I've just seen someone I need to catch up with," I said apologetically to Tom, nodding in Jemima's direction.

"Oh yeah, sure. Well, really nice to see you again. Will you be around later? At the banquet?"

"Definitely."

I bet that he would search me out. And if he didn't, I would make sure we bumped into each other. I found myself smiling as I headed off to talk to Jemima.

"Who was that?" she said, squinting after Tom. "Trust you to find the good-looking ones, Juliet."

I shrugged.

"Oh, just some ex-barman," I said, truthfully enough.

"Oh."

She lost interest immediately, as I had known she would. I don't mean to say that neither of us would have been interested in Tom if he'd still been a barman/waiter/whatever; but, if we'd slept with him, we'd probably be pretty drunk, and we certainly wouldn't tell anyone but our closest friends about it. That wasn't snobbery -- it was career politics. Women couldn't afford to get a reputation for screwing around, and particularly not with the hired help. Very unfair. Men could shag waitresses till the cows came home and no one would blink an eye.

Even after I'd finished telling Jemima all about some posh chocolates I was promoting, I realized I was still smiling. It was Tom. His enthusiasm for seeing me had been infectious.

"You're much nicer to me now that I'm an events organizer," Tom said much later, as we milled around the wreckage of the awards banquet. The tables were littered with what, an hour or so ago, had been enticing sources of pleasure. Now all the crème brûlée was eaten, the dessert wine drunk, the petits fours demolished, the tablecloths thoroughly stained, and cigarettes stubbed out in every available container. It looked like Attila and most of the Huns had stopped by for dinner. Smoke hung in the air, as thick as dry ice.

I picked at the remains of my crème brûlée. Hotel banquet food is never that good, even at food awards dinners, but we're all greedy, we all need some reward for having to network and make nice all day, and so by God we all stuff our faces anyway.

Tom had tracked me down with a couple of martinis -- gin, with a ...

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