An Extract From It Happened at Boot Camp

Chapter One
The Bet

The car crunched off a beaten track and onto a graveled road. A plaque swung from a tree. NUYOU FITNESS FACILITY it stated in black italics.

‘We could die here,’ Lulu threatened, twirling a long strand of hair into a spirally pasta loop.

Die? As if.

I gripped the steering wheel.

‘Hardly likely,’ I said with vague concern, although privately I wasn’t totally ruling that out as a possibility. This was a boot camp, a place where high intensity physical training is just for fun and you’re force fed nutritionally balanced food; a place where you’re deprived of alcohol and you get out of bed before your alarm goes off. And we were going to be staying here for five days! Five whole days! Why did I let her talk me into this? Why? I mean, it’s not as though we’re gym bunnies. In fact, Lulu has never been in a gym. And I’ve only been once.

I slid her a sidelong glare.

‘Coming here was your idea,’ I reminded her sharply.

She straightened, scooped her long Nordic-blonde hair into a ponytail, jammed her sunglasses onto her face and scowled at the even rows of conifers flanking the sprawling driveway.

‘I’m joking,’ she said, with a stretched smile. ‘This boot camp experience will kick-start a whole new lifestyle for both of us, we’ll be different people. We could end up addicted to sit-ups and water, instead of kettle chips and white wine,’ she said, accentuating the sentiment with a bicep curl.

‘A whole new lifestyle, is that why we’re here? I thought we were here because you know that if we stayed home, and you went out, you would meet a man, have sex and lose our bet.’

She folded her arms, spring-boarding her 34D cups into a tipping forth arrangement, and turned to me, indignantly.

‘Evie, our bet has got nothing to do with us coming here. It’s not as though we’ve taken a space shuttle to the Planet of the Apes, I’m sure there will be men here to tempt me,’ she said with a wave at the view. ‘Although I will not be led astray,’ she added forcefully, bending to gather the tattered pages of Heat Magazine, Snickers wrappers and her empty gin and tonic cans. ‘I simply thought it high time we did something recreational other than eating and drinking, and nursing our hangovers,’ she argued. ‘We need to lose weight and get fit.’

I gave my tummy an evaluating glance. OK, that much I agreed with, totally. And that’s why I’m here . . . to lose weight and get fit, I’m determined. Well, I’m kind of determined.

‘Anyone would think I was a nymphet or something the way you go on,’ she said, affronted.

Actually, I couldn’t have put it better myself – that’s exactly what she is, I thought as I dropped down a gear. Lulu has what can only be described as having raw sex appeal. Her hair is a sheet of spun vanilla silk, her eyes are almond shaped pools of chocolate fringed with long feathery lashes and her complexion is peachy and flawless. She entraps men first with her good looks and furthermore by her witty banter. Men love Lulu, and Lulu loves men. Subsequently she’s never without one. Ever.

‘It’s mind-blowingly simple,’ Lulu maintains. ‘If you want to keep a man interested, talk to him about himself. When you want to get rid of him, change the subject.’

Quite a formidable best friend and flatmate, I know. But for all her bravado Lulu is not a man’s woman, she is a girl’s girl, her friends come first, always. And there’s not a conceited bone in her body.

‘You can out-blonde any blonde I know, with that explosion of chestnut hair, and those fluorescent blue eyes,’ she often tells me. ‘Your look is different – mine is samey,’ she maintains.

I flicked my eyes towards her. Her profile was haloed by the afternoon sun as she studiously tapped out a text on her phone. Her expression piqued.

‘One night stands are not supposed to contact you again!’ she said forcefully. ‘Are they?’ she asked, turning to me for confirmation.

‘Of course not,’ I agreed loyally.

‘I shouldn’t have to be making that clear,’ she complained, rapping her thumbs on her iPhone keypad.

A smile played on my lips at her reasoning.

Lulu operates on a totally unique frequency, an example of this being she has absolutely no conscience. Lulu is able to justify everything she does. And in taking the role of best friend seriously she will loyally justify everything that I do. This gives me a glorious feeling of liberation, (if only on a temporary basis), because however badly I behave, I’ll (a) never behave worse than she does, and (b) she’s able to rationalise with conviction that everyone has rocketing overdrafts, gets fired a couple of times, has the odd pregnancy scare, and gets thrown in a police cell at least once in their life. And I believe her, because she vehemently believes herself. When it suits me, Lulu leads me astray, and I quite like it that way, because most of the time I am the sensible one.

She put her phone in her bag and stared into the middle distance in a preoccupied way. I had a sudden flashback of the first time Lulu and I met, age six, when her family moved in three doors from mine. She had been trying to feed the stone duck in our front garden. I had tipped my dark head to her white fur hairband and with the wisdom and diplomacy of my own six years, teased the breadcrumbs from her hand and lead her to our bird table. Our friendship has been as solid as the stone duck ever since. Sort of. Most of the time. But obviously not every day.

‘It was a stupid bet, I don’t know why I accepted it,’ she said moodily, and sounding about three years old.

My mind drifted back to last weekend, and the events that prompted the bet in the first place. We’d had an argument as a consequence of me finding a naked man in our bath, wearing inflatable armbands and floaties.

I’d slammed the bathroom door in disgust and collided with Lulu in the hallway.

‘Careful,’ she’d said, balancing a full to the brim glass of wine in each hand.

I looked her up and down. She wore her black silk Agent Provocateur dressing gown and her hair was piled high in a pineapple arrangement. She took a delicate mouthful of wine and smiled.

‘Who is he?’ I’d snapped, gesturing towards the bathroom.

Her smile buckled; she looked confused; she searched her drink for inspiration. It was a simple enough question, but she didn’t have a clue. There was a sharp silence. Her eyes widened thoughtfully and then like a newsreader promoted by an autocue, she blurted it out.

‘Greg! It’s Greg!’

‘Greg who?’ I shot back quickly.

She was thrown. Playing for time she took two swift sips from her glass. This was a question of Mastermind enormity. I’d glared at her and waited. She should know the name of a bloke she’s having a bath with, surely?

‘That is totally an irrelevant point,’ she rallied. ‘You wouldn’t ask Rihanna who?’ Her challenge was conclusive and she gave a loud sniff.

‘Have you seen what he’s wearing? Is he worried that he might be sucked down the plug hole?’

She gave me a petulant look.

‘Actually, he’s a lifeguard,’ she’d said proudly. ‘We were playing . . . well, you don’t need details.’

She was right, I didn’t.

‘It’s one o’clock on a Sunday afternoon,’ I’d informed her stiffly, ‘we should be chatting about our working week, cooking lunch, and watching the film that we taped last night.’

She held her glass aloft.

‘Fine, we can do that . . . later,’ she said, and took a greedy gulp of wine.

‘I want a weekend where it’s just us in the flat, and no one else.’

Her eyes clouded in deliberation.

‘It was just us last weekend . . . wasn’t it?’

‘No. it wasn’t. You had Ali here on Saturday.’

Her face brightened as the memory clicked.

‘I had to have Ali here. I couldn’t finish with him after a meaningful relationship of six months without closure sex, could I? And anyway, everyone knows relationships are a winter sport. From spring to summer I’ll absorb myself in other pursuits, and we’ll do whatever you want at the weekend.’

‘Relationships are a winter sport.’ Listen to her!

Her stare challenged mine. I relaxed lazily against the wall.

‘You can’t do it can you?’ I’d demanded.

Her brows met confusedly.

‘I can’t do what?’

‘Survive without a man in tow.’

She gave me a pop-eyed look.

‘Are you serious? Of course I can,’ she’d insisted and laughed hard as if I’d told the funniest joke she’d ever heard in her life.

‘Do it then.’

‘Do what?’

‘Give up men! Give up men for . . . for . . . two weeks,’ I’d blurted. ‘I bet you can’t, you haven’t got it in you.’

She put on her ‘thinking shrewdly’ look. A blizzard of thoughts swirled through her mind. I waited, arms crossed, in anticipation. She drew a deep breath and took a closing step towards me.

‘What are the stakes?’ she asked solemnly, dramatically, like the leading actress in an expensive spy movie.

I’d plucked what was obviously Greg’s wine glass from her hand and sipped musingly, (I was the supporting actress in the same spy movie). There was no point waging cash, because neither of us has any. Unless you count remaining Visa credit or Tesco Club Card vouchers.

‘The loser cleans the flat for six months,’ I suggested, with a coy smile.

She’d taken a moment to consider this. Lulu loathes housework. Her smile stretched.

‘Two weeks without a man is nothing,’ she said boldly, and knocked back the last of her wine. ‘I can do it,’ she boasted.

I raised my brows doubtfully.

‘I can.’

We turned to the sound of a loud splash and a curse from the bathroom.

‘You’re on,’ she said in a rush, ‘I will not have a man in my life for two whole weeks. And d’you know what? I’m looking forward to it. I won’t have to bother shaving, will I? It’ll be quite therapeutic. It’ll be like Lent when I gave up shopping for seventy-two hours,’ she’d said, tweaking Greg’s glass from my hand and simultaneously kicking the bathroom door opened.

That was six days ago, this was day seven of the bet – and so far she was winning. But I’m optimistic that there will be a dark-haired fitness instructor with piercing green eyes and muscles on his muscles here at the boot camp to tempt her. In fact, I’m banking on it.

I pulled up in the forecourt, cut the engine and unclicked my seat belt. Driving is exhausting, I thought, as I got out of the car. My calf muscles were throbbing. I’ve never understood why people cycle for miles. Why would anyone want to do that? Driving is tiring enough. I yawned and gazed silently at the imposing Victorian house. It looked more like a stately home than a boot camp. The façade was a jigsaw of sandy, russet and charcoal brickwork, with beveled leaded light windows. Romanesque sculptures stood either side of a heavy oak-paneled door decorated with brass furniture. And the whole breathtaking Disney effect was complimented by a cloud-tickling turreted roof. I was impressed, very impressed.

Lulu curved an arm above her head and stretched, her eyes roved across the explosion of terracotta pots brimming with spring flowers that underscored the ground floor windows.

‘It looks like a lunatic asylum,’ she proclaimed. ‘I bet the attic is infested with bats.’

She glared at the marble steps leading to the entrance.

‘Are we supposed to climb all of those stairs? Surely there’s a lift?’ she said, incredulous.

I took a minute to admire the rural setting. To the left was a field of nodding daffodils and to the right a small herd of grazing deer. It was as though
I’d driven onto the set of a scented fabric conditioner commercial. It felt so nice to get out of the city, to leave London behind. I felt like a new person, as the spirit of the countryside swelled inside me.

Here I am in the heart of rural Berkshire, I thought to myself. The Queen’s only a couple of miles down the road. Not that I’ll be popping in on her, still, it’s nice to know she’s there.

I gave a happy sigh. Lulu fielded my gaze.

‘Evie, can you smell shit?’ She sucked her teeth at the view. ‘Something stinks,’ she said grimly, ‘something stinks really badly.’

I reached in my bag for my facial mist. Now that she mentioned it there was a rather unpleasant odor. In fact, the smell was bloody awful. I sprayed the lemony scent all over my face and neck as though I were dousing out a blazing inferno. And took a pleasant breath.

‘It’s mother earth you smell,’ I told her primly. ‘I so envy people that live their entire lives outdoors. Who warm their hands each evening on an open camp fire and watch the sun set from the comfort of a leafy glade.’

She raised quizzical brows.

‘What good is a leafy glade if you can’t plug in your phone charger or watch Sky Movies?’ she asked.

Actually where do people that live outdoors charge their phone?

‘Welcome!’ a voice shouted.

We swiveled. A young blonde girl stood at the top of the marble steps. She was a size zero. She had to be. That could be me. Maybe it is possible to be addicted to sit-ups and water, I hoped so. This girl certainly looked as though she was. I was suddenly filled with a percolating sense of excitement. I felt slimmer, simply by being here at the boot camp. I brushed past Lulu with a Grecian sweep and a purposeful stride. I couldn’t wait to get started.

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