OK. Don't panic. The answer will come to me any minute. I just have to think hard about what marriage is all about. It's about love, obviously. And companionship, and mutual support. And . . . soup?
My eye rests on a huge antique silver tureen, complete with ladle. Now, that would make a perfect wedding gift. I can just see it: Suze and Tarquin sitting by the fire, ladling soup into each other's bowls. It'll be all lovely and domestic and heartwarming, and every time they drink soup they'll think of me.
Perhaps I could even have it engraved. "To my best friends Suze and Tarquin on their wedding day with love and affection from Becky." And a little poem, maybe.
Mind you, engraving is quite expensive. I'd better check how much it would all come to.
"Excuse me, how much is this soup tureen?" I say, turning to Arthur Graham, who is the owner of Graham's Antiques. This shop has to be one of my favorites in the West Village. It's small and intimate like someone's home, and everywhere you turn, there's something you might want. Like that fantastic carved chair, and a hand-painted velvet throw, and that amazing grandfather clock over in the corner . . .
"The tureen?" Arthur comes over, dapper in his jacket and tie. "This is very special. Eighteenth-century silver. Exquisite craftsmanship. You see this detail on the rim?"
"Beautiful!" I look obediently.
"And it's priced at . . ." He consults a little book. "Four thousand dollars."
"Oh, right." My smile falters, and I carefully put the ladle back. "Thanks. I'll . . . keep looking."
So maybe marriage isn't about soup. Maybe it's about . . . chess? I run my hand over a beautiful old chess set, all set up as though a game's in progress. But I'm not sure Suze knows how to play chess.
A clock? No.
A . . . an antique barometer?
Oh God, I'm really clutching at straws here. I can't believe it's Suze's wedding in two days and I still haven't got her and Tarquin a present. Or at least, not one I can actually give them. Months ago I bought them this gorgeous picnic hamper, filled with picnicware, a champagne cooler, really cool knives and forks, and even a rug. It took me ages to choose all the stuff, and I was so pleased with it. But Suze phoned last night to check what time we'd be arriving, and told me her aunt had just given her a fantastic present--a picnic hamper filled with Conran tableware!
Well, no way am I giving Suze the same present as someone else. So here I am in the only place I can think of where I'll find something unique. Except . . . what? She hasn't registered for gifts, because she says she hates the idea of asking people for things. And anyway, I'd never just get her some boring set of plates off a list. Suze is my best friend, and I'm going to be her bridesmaid, and my present has to be something really special.
I can feel myself starting to get anxious. OK, just think laterally. What do Suze and Tarquin enjoy doing?
"Do you have any horse saddles?" I ask in sudden inspiration. "Or . . . bridles?"
"Not at the moment."
Oh well. Anyway, I'd have to get two, wouldn't I? And they probably wouldn't even fit the horses properly . . .
A carved music stand? Except how would I get it home on the plane? And anyway, neither of them plays an instrument. A marble bust of Abraham Lincoln? A picture of . . .
Hang on a minute. I push the bust of Lincoln aside and look carefully at the old trunk he's been resting on. Now that's rather nice. In fact it's very nice. I undo the straps and gently lift the lid, inhaling the smell of old leather.
Wow. This is stunning. All pale silk and leather straps, and a mirror, and little compartments to put your cuff links in. Suze will adore this, I know she will. She can use it to keep jumpers in and when she and Tarquin go on a cruise a porter can wheel it up the ramp for her and she'll look all glamorous and film-star-like.
And the point is, even if someone else gives them a suitcase or something, one of my great maxims of life is: you can never have too much luggage.
"How much is this trunk?" I ask Arthur Graham a little nervously. Please don't let it be $10,000--
"We've had that a while." He frowns at it. "I could let you have it for . . . three hundred."
"Perfect." I breathe a sigh of relief. "I'll take it."
Mission accomplished! I've got Suze's wedding present! Thank goodness for that. Now all I need is my bridesmaid's dress, and I'm there.
"It's Miss Bloomwood, isn't it?" says Arthur, opening a large leather-bound notebook. "I'm sure we have your address . . . And yes. Here it is." He smiles at me. "Is that all for today?"
I don't need anything else. I don't even need to look around the rest of the shop.
"Um . . . Well." Idly I glance around again. It's always a good idea to have your eyes open when you're in antique shops, because there are some really good bargains out there. And it's all a good investment. I mean, this is how some people make their money.
Through the door to the back room I see the corner of a lace shawl, and feel a tug of desire. Antique shawls are so in at the moment. And since I'm buying the trunk, it occurs to me, Arthur might give it to me for half price. Or maybe even for free!
Oh, come on. I'll just have a quick look. But only at very small things, because I've promised Luke no more furniture.
"I'll have a bit of a browse." I smile back at Arthur. "Thanks."
I head happily into the back room and reach for the lace shawl, but close up it looks a bit ragged. I put it down again and pick up a cocktail shaker. This is nice. Maybe I should get it for Suze as well.
"This is cool!" I beam at Arthur, who has followed me in.
"It's fun, isn't it?" he agrees. "It goes with the 1930s cocktail cabinet."
"Cocktail cabinet?" I echo, feeling prickles of interest. "I didn't see a--"
"Here." He walks over to what I thought was a cupboard, unhooks the front flap, and displays the mirrored Art Deco fittings inside. "You see, here's where your bottles go . . . here are your highballs . . ."
I gaze at it, completely smitten. A real, genuine, 1930s cocktail cabinet. I've always wanted a cocktail cabinet.
Just think, if we had one of these in the apartment it would change our lives. Every night Luke and I would mix martinis, and dance to old-fashioned songs, and watch the sun go down. It'd be so atmospheric! We'd have to buy one of those old-fashioned record players with the big horns, and start collecting 78s, and I'd start wearing gorgeous vintage tea dresses.
We have to have this. We have to. This isn't some boring chair, or set of shelves. This is different. Luke will understand.
"How much is that?" I say, trying to sound nonchalant. I'm rather good at getting good prices in this shop. The trick is to sound as though you don't care whether you buy it or not.
"This?" Arthur looks at it thoughtfully, and I hold my breath. "This really should be seven hundred dollars. But since you're taking the trunk as well . . . I could let you have the pair for . . . eight hundred?"
Eight hundred dollars. For a wedding present and a unique cocktail cabinet that we'll treasure all our lives. I mean, this isn't like buying some pair of shoes that you'll forget about. This is a genuine investment for the future.
"I'll take them!" I beam at Arthur Graham.
"Excellent!" He smiles back. "You have a very good eye."
Luke and I've been living together in New York now for a year, and our apartment is on West 11th Street, in the really nice leafy, atmospheric bit. There are ornate little balconies on all the houses, and stone steps up to all the front doors, and trees all along the pavement. Right opposite us lives someone who plays jazz piano, and on summer evenings we stroll up to the roof terrace that we share with our neighbors, and sit on cushions and drink wine and listen. (At least, we did that one time and I'm sure we will again.)
As I let myself into the house, there's a pile of post for us in the hall, and I quickly flick through it.
Boring . . .
Boring . . .
Boring . . .
Oh. My Saks Fifth Avenue store card bill.
I look at the envelope for moment, then remove it and put it in my bag. Not because I'm hiding it. Simply because there's no particular point in Luke seeing it. I read this really good magazine article recently, entitled "Too Much Information?" in which it said you should filter out the day's events rather than tell your partner every single tiny thing and overload his or her weary mind. It said your home should be a sanctuary, and that no one needs to know everything. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense.
I put the rest of the post under my arm and start to walk up the stairs. There aren't any letters from England, but then, I wouldn't expect there to be today, because tonight we're flying home for the wedding! I just can't wait.
Suze is my first friend to take the plunge and get married. She's marrying Tarquin, who's a really sweet guy she's known all her life. (In fact, he's her cousin. But it's legal. They checked.) The wedding's going to be at her parents' house in Hampshire, and there's going to be loads of champagne, and a horse and carriage . . . and best of all, I'm going to be her bridesmaid!
At the thought, I feel a pang of yearning. I'm so looking forward to it. Not just being bridesmaid--but seeing Suze, my parents, and my home. It occurred to me yesterday I haven't been back to Britain for over six months, which suddenly seems like a really long time. I completely missed Dad getting elected captain of the golf club, which was his life ambition. And I missed the scandal when Siobhan at the church stole the roof money and used it to go to Cyprus. And worst of all, I missed Suze getting engaged--although she came out to New York two weeks later to show me her ring.
It's not that I mind exactly, because I'm having such a great time out here. My job at Barneys is perfect, and living in the West Village is even more perfect. I love walking through the tiny tucked-away streets, and buying cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery on Saturday mornings and walking back through the market. Basically, I love everything I have here in New York. Except possibly Luke's mother.
But still. Your home's your home.
As I reach the second floor, I hear music coming from our apartment, and I feel a little fizz of anticipation inside. That'll be Danny, working away. He'll probably have finished by now! My dress will be ready!
Danny Kovitz lives upstairs from us, in his brother's apartment, and he's become one of my best friends since I've been in New York. He's a fabulous designer, really talented--but he's not that successful yet. Five years after leaving fashion school, he's still waiting for his big break to come along. But like he always says, making it as a designer is even harder than making it as an actor. If you don't know the right people or have an ex-Beatle as a father, you might as well forget it. I feel so sorry for him, because he does deserve to succeed. So as soon as Suze asked me to be her bridesmaid, I asked him to make my dress. The great thing is, Suze's wedding is going to be stuffed full of rich, important guests. So hopefully loads of people will ask me who designed my dress, and then a whole word-of-mouth buzz will start, and Danny will be made!
I just can't wait to see what he's done. All the sketches he's shown me have been amazing--and of course, a handmade dress will have far more workmanship and detail than you'd get off the peg. Like, the bodice is going to be a boned, hand-embroidered corset--and Danny suggested putting in a tiny beaded love-knot using the birthstones of all the bridal party, which is just so original.
My only slight worry--tiny niggle--is that the wedding's in two days' time, and I haven't actually tried the dress on yet. Or even seen it. This morning I rang Danny's doorbell to remind him I was leaving for England today, and after he'd eventually staggered to the door, he promised me he'd have it by lunchtime. He told me he always lets his ideas ferment until the very last minute--then he gets a surge of adrenaline and inspiration. It's just the way he works, he assured me, and he's never missed a deadline yet.
I open the door and call "Hello!" cheerfully. There's no response, so I push open the door to our all-purpose living room. The radio is blaring Madonna, the television is playing MTV, and Danny's novelty robot dog is trying to walk up the side of the sofa.
And Danny is slumped over his sewing machine in a cloud of gold silk, fast asleep.
"Danny?" I say in dismay. "Hey, wake up!"
With a start, Danny sits up and rubs his thin face. His curly hair is rumpled, and his pale blue eyes are even more bloodshot than they were when he answered the door this morning. His skinny frame is clad in an old gray T-shirt and a bony knee is poking out of his ripped jeans, complete with a scab that he got Rollerblading this past weekend. He looks like a ten-year-old with stubble.
"Becky!" he says blearily. "Hi! What are you doing here?"
"This is my apartment. Remember? You were working down here because your electricity fused."
"Oh. Yeah." He looks around dazedly. "Right."
"Are you OK?" I peer at him anxiously. "I got some coffee."
I hand him a cup and he takes a couple of deep gulps. Then his eyes land on the pile of mail in my hand and for the first time, he seems to wake up.