Read an Extract from Always with Love by Giovanna Fletcher

Read an Extract from Always with Love by Giovanna Fletcher

Part One

I

‘Would you like some breakfast?’ someone asks me in the dark, startling me as they gently touch my shoulder and wake me from my slumber.

My hand flies to the black mask on my face and lifts it up a smidge, my brown eyes squinting as the light comes pouring in and blinds me momentarily.

‘Erm,’ I start, my mouth dry as I sleepily look at the air stewardess crouching down beside me. Her perfectly highlighted hair is immaculately swept back off her flawless face and her bright red skirt suit silhouettes her shape beautifully. I feel a state in comparison in my baggy black pyjama set. Beyond her I spot other people either still fast asleep in their individual pods or waking up and milling around the plane we’re in.

I’ll admit that I was feeling pretty jittery and anxious when my mum and her new fiancé Colin dropped us off at the airport earlier.

Slowly, I remember where I am – on a Virgin flight to Los Angeles. In Upper Class, no less. Not that I actually paid for the luxury, though. Rather that the Premium Economy tickets I had bought us were kindly upgraded by the smiling girl at the check‑in desk as soon as she saw who I was travelling with. Never mind the Christmas madness – there’s always space for a VIP. We were whisked through fast-­track security and into the gorgeous lounge fairly swiftly after that bump up. Not that I’m complaining – this is actually my first flight as an adult, so travelling in such comfort has certainly made the whole thing much more exciting. I’ll admit that I was feeling pretty jittery and anxious when my mum and her new fiancé Colin dropped us off at the airport earlier. The glass of bubbles on arrival didn’t quite make me blasé about being tens of thousands of feet up in the air (I still paid extremely close attention to the safety announcement and demonstration before we took off), but it certainly took my mind off it slightly.

I glance to my left but can’t see over the seat divider in my horizontal position, so just gawp back at the air stewardess’s smiling red lips in an undecided, hazy, fashion – as though the simple question of breakfast requires more than just a yes or no in reply. I’m clearly not great at functioning when my sleep is interrupted while travelling over time zones.

‘He’s already munching away,’ she smiles, answering my non-­voiced question and tilting her head to nod in his direction.

‘Oh, great. Then, yes please,’ I smile, rubbing at my face, which suddenly feels dry from the air conditioning.

And what would you like?’ she asks, her tone friendly, calm and warm – clearly used to jumbled exchanges like this with lethargic passengers. ‘Cereal? Pastries? A bacon butty?’

‘Ooh, bacon butty, please,’ I coo, unable to resist – my rumbling tummy telling me it’s still Christmas time and that it’s OK to indulge. Well, it’s only the day after Boxing Day, after all. ‘Do you have ketchup?’

‘Yes,’ she laughs, standing upright. ‘Tea? Coffee?’

‘Tea, please,’ I smile, removing the eye mask from my head properly and sweeping my hands back over my hair to smooth out my brown frizzy mane and collect it into a tidy ponytail  –  hoping it makes me look a tad more presentable.

‘No problem,’ she says, gliding off towards the kitchen in the sky.

I get on to my knees and look over at my companion, who’s sat upright watching something on the TV screen attached to his seat, whilst wearing the same pyjama set as me (we were handed them when we boarded the flight in London), although he somehow manages to make them look far cooler than I do. But that’s Billy Buskin for you – effortlessly brilliant.

‘Morning sleepy head,’ he winks, noticing me peering over while he chews on some toast – the small table in front of him buried under empty bowls and plates. ‘Got hungry,’ he admits, his dark chocolaty brown eyes endearingly screwing up as he laughs, causing them to twinkle.

That being said, Billy had just given the most romantic acceptance speech of all time, so I was probably still shell-­shocked from that. I don’t think my mind could handle any more dramatics.

‘So I see,’ I smile, finding him utterly adorable. ‘Did you sleep?’

‘A bit,’ he nods. ‘Then I started watching a film and that snowballed into me watching a couple more.’

‘You must be shattered.’

He draws his hands across his face and stretches out the skin around his eyes, looking completely knackered. ‘Great films though.

‘Clearly.’

‘I watched Deserted. It was so intense and awesome. Hardly surprising Ralph Joplin got Best Director at the Oscars for it – it’s incredible,’ he sighs, shaking his head in awe at the screen, as though he’s still watching it.

He might as well be talking to himself.

There was a time in my life when my desire to watch a film over reading a book was usually led by whether Jude Law made an appearance in it or not. But then gorgeous Billy Buskin entered my life with his big booming laugh, stylish quiff and purple Converse trainers and helped change that. Everyone knew a film crew was rolling into the village to make an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but when Billy wandered into the shop one day I wrongly assumed he was one of the crew . . . I didn’t realize he was starring in the film as Mr Darcy and that he was arguably the biggest actor of our generation. Gosh, it makes me cringe just looking back on our first few exchanges, but for some reason Billy loved my jittery ways and swept me off my feet.

Needless to say, dating a film star has increased my liking for cinema, broadened my tastes and made me watch things I wouldn’t normally pick (I also talked him into letting me watch the Halo trilogy and Twisted Drops – films he actually stars in). I still don’t have the foggiest who he’s on about when he talks of directors, producers and all the hundreds and thousands of people who work the other side of the camera, though. It’s such a huge industry to get my head around and even though I’m enjoying building my love for something Billy is passionate about, I have to admit that The Holiday is still my favourite film of all time. Yes, my love for Jude lives on – especially as I got to meet him just after Billy won a BAFTA for Best Actor in Twisted Drops. Somehow I managed to stay calm, cool and collected when talking to Jude, even though all I wanted to do was shriek in his face and tell him I loved him. That being said, Billy had just given the most romantic acceptance speech of all time, so I was probably still shell-­shocked from that. I don’t think my mind could handle any more dramatics.

‘Did you watch anything?’ Billy asks, raising his eyebrow at me – already knowing the answer.

‘No . . . I read my book,’ I smile.

‘Of course you did, my little bookworm,’ he grins. ‘And what was it this time?’

Little Women.’

‘Again?’ he laughs.

‘It’s a favourite,’ I shrug, knowing he’s not actually poking fun at me and my desire to read the same books over and over again. There’s a reason such stories have become classics and are still bought in bookshops today, and it’s not just because kids are forced to read them in schools  –  if anything that’s detrimental to their enjoyment factor. ‘How long do we have left?’ I ask, leaning over and running my fingers through his thick dark hair. He still wears it in the quiff he had when we first met, although right now it’s floppy and product-­free, meaning he doesn’t mind me playing with it.

‘I did not!’ I gasp, horrified as I snatch my hand away.

‘Hour and a half, maybe?’ he guesses, closing his eyes and enjoying my touch.

‘Wow. I must’ve slept for ages,’ I note.

‘You did,’ he nods, opening his eyes and peering up at me. ‘Even heard you snoring.’

‘I did not!’ I gasp, horrified as I snatch my hand away.

‘Talking too,’ he grins, clearly enjoying himself. ‘Telling the whole of upper class about your desire to join the mile high club.’

‘Oh really,’ I say, raising my eyebrows at him, now knowing he’s definitely trying to wind me up.

‘I know. Everyone was quite surprised,’ he exclaims, his eyes glittering. ‘Never would they have thought sweet Sophie May would come out with something like that. Little do they know she can be a total vixen when she wants to be.’

‘Oh, shush you!’ I blush, getting up, grabbing my bag and change of clothes from beneath my seat and making my way to the loo.

When I get to the tiny cubicle I turn to see Billy shaking his head at me in mock disgust. ‘I’m not doing it,’ he mouths, pursing his lips in protest, his dark eyes wide with objection.

‘What?’ I mouth back, thoroughly confused.

He gestures towards the toilet door with a frown.

I frown back.

We stay like that for a few seconds before his face breaks into a grin and lights up with amusement.

Mile high club.

Cheeky monkey.

I roll my eyes in his direction and head inside the small box of a space – horrified to see I’ve had black mascara smudged around my eyes, that my pale skin is now bordering on ghost white and that I look puffier than normal. This is what I looked like during the whole exchange with Billy and the air stewardess. They were both clearly too polite to mention the state I was in  –  and there I was thinking it was just my hair that needed taking care of.

‘Never would they have thought sweet Sophie May would come out with something like that. Little do they know she can be a total vixen when she wants to be.’

It’s only when I’ve freshened up, got changed into my own clothes (a pair of thin jeans and a plain mint-­coloured t‑shirt), whipped my hair back into a giant turquoise hanky and am back in my seat, biting into my bacon roll, that reality hits and the nerves start to seep in. I’m about to meet Billy’s family for the first time.

Even though we’ve distantly been in each other’s lives for almost two years, our paths have never crossed beyond the occasional Skype chat – so I guess it’s perfectly natural to have a tummy filled with a million manic butterflies . . .right? Especially as my family consisted of just me and my mum after my dad was killed in a hit-­and-­run accident when I was just eleven. My quiet home life was miles away from Billy’s upbringing with his four siblings (older twin sisters Jenny and Hayley, younger sister Lauren and little brother Jay  –  the baby of the house who’s just turned twenty-­one). I can’t even begin to imagine what a family of seven must be like, although it can’t be too dissimilar to the mayhem The Waltons portrayed, right?

The Buskins all live stateside, something that the family, originally from Surrey, all decided was for the best once Billy started having success in Hollywood, thanks to him playing the lead role in Halo  –a huge teen movie which turned Billy into a heart-throb overnight. With Halo dominating the teen market and Billy becoming highly sought after for future projects in LA, it looked like he was set to live there indefinitely and, understandably, his mum wasn’t too keen on letting her young son move across the Atlantic without her. After much thought the Buskins decided that they’d all make the move with him. Leaving their jobs, friends, extended families and schools behind, they started a new life for themselves in a big family home in sunny LA and haven’t looked back since, it seems.  From what Billy’s told me they all settled in extremely quickly and loved the sudden change of pace.

Several years after they all made the upheaval, Billy’s job took him back to London – although this time it was decided they would stick with the sunnier climate as Billy was bound to be back in LA working again soon enough. They clearly weren’t banking on him meeting me and declaring a break from the big bad world of fame soon after, choosing instead to live a peaceful existence in the place where I grew up, the tranquil village of Rosefont Hill in Kent.

I wonder how they feel about that. It wasn’t something I ever pushed for or encouraged, but I did welcome it. I was thankful to have Billy by my side, declaring I was all he’d ever wanted. What girl wouldn’t go weak at the knees to hear someone they loved give themselves over so completely? Obviously I’ve spoken to his mum and dad since and they’ve been nothing but lovely, but I wonder if the relaxed reaction to the whole thing is actually how they felt . . . or if they’d rather Billy was still ‘playing the game’ with one of his fellow actors, like the disastrous Heidi Black (his ex, who’s more than a little psychotic). Or maybe I’m being pathetic and overthinking things. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that. It seems to be a hobby of mine if I’m honest. I guess I’ll know more in about an hour and fifteen minutes when we touch down in LAX. My tummy is in knots at the thought.

‘What’s the frown for, baby?’ Billy asks, peering over the seat divider.

‘Oh, nothing.’

‘Getting nervous about meeting the in‑laws?’ he asks correctly, causing me to flounder in response. ‘They love you already,’ he grins.

‘Just trying to stay calm,’ I breathe.

‘Don’t you go having a panic attack on them. It might’ve charmed me but Mum will get in a right tizz and be flapping around you no end,’ he jokes, making me think of the first time we met in the teashop, when I shamefully had a little episode. Luckily, they’ve tailed off and I haven’t had one in a while, but I always feel like there’s an extra little shadow following me around. No matter how sunny and bright my day might be, it’s just there  . . . lurking. Waiting. ‘You know they’ll be just as nervous about meeting you,’ he adds with a wry smile.

‘As if. There’s an army of them and just one of me.’

‘True. But I can guarantee Mum’s been driving everyone mad with her worrying, wanting to make sure everything’s perfect for your arrival. She’ll have been bossing everyone around. Dad will be out in the garden making sure there’s not a rose out of place, the girls will have been scrubbing the floors with toothbrushes and poor little Jay has probably had to tidy his own room for the first time ever. I’m telling you, you’re causing pandemonium in the Buskin household.’

‘You have staff,’ I laugh.

‘Yeah, but saying the maid’s been working overtime doesn’t set quite the same image,’ Billy grins. ‘You eating that?’ he continues, looking greedily at the food in my hands.

‘Yes, I blooming am,’ I laugh in response, taking a bite out of my bacon butty and chewing on it with gusto, feeling a little less apprehensive than before and thankful that the man I love knows how to calm my worrisome ways.