West End Girls - Jenny Colgan

Chapter One

Lizzie squinted at the old LED alarm clock she’d had since she was at school. 03:39. She had to get up in three and a half hours, which was a slightly comforting thought in itself—that was ages away, so that wasn’t why she’d woken with a start.

There was a stumbling noise. Lizzie’s heart stopped. Someone was in the room. Someone was definitely there. It was a burglar. A murdering, raping burglar. There were loads of them around here, everyone knew it. God, if only she kept a gun under her bed. She had never seen, touched, or learned how to work a real gun, and disagreed with them in principle, but . . . she wanted a gun, goddamn it!

“Oh, tittin’ hell,” came a familiar voice.

Penny. Lizzie’s longing for a gun lasted for a couple of seconds longer than it ought to have.

In drunkenness, Lizzie noticed, and at 3:39 in the morning, Penny’s Essex accent rang out even stronger than usual.

“What the effin’ eff was that?”

Lizzie sat upright and turned on the bedside light, from which Penny recoiled, hissing crossly.

“That is my shoe,” said Lizzie, trying not to shout and so wake their mother down the hall, although the walls were so thin she could hear her snoring from here.

“What’s it doing in my bloody room?” Penny squinted. “And what are you doing in my bloody bed?”

For a second, Lizzie double-checked just in case it was Penny’s room. “This is my room, you idiot.”

Penny looked dumbfounded. “I know my own bloody room.”

“You’d think.”

Penny looked around her. “Oh. Bugger it.”

Lizzie sat up. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m awake now.”

This room had belonged to both of them when they’d had to share and their mother had had Sarcastic Alex, the lodger. When he’d moved out Penny had taken the smaller room, claiming it didn’t matter, she’d be moving out practically any day to get married and live in London and only occasionally come to visit them in a really big car. Well, that was six years ago now, and it was the last unselfish act on her part Lizzie could remember.

“How was it?” said Lizzie, passing Penny her water glass. She could feel the waistband of her pajamas dig in as she did so. Oh, God. She wasn’t going up another size, she absolutely wasn’t, 16 was bad enough, 18, no way.

“What time is it?” said Penny, ignoring her question.

“It’s an inbetween-y kind of time: between a good night out and a really, really bad one. So?”

Penny took a long gulp of water, then shrugged. “Hmm.”



“Did he lavish you with compliments and jewels?”

“Hmm,” said Penny, squinting at the water glass. “You know, I’m beginning to wonder if this lavishing-with-jewels type really exists.”

“My God,” said Lizzie. “You can’t stop searching now. That’d be like a nun renouncing Jesus on her deathbed.”

“Shut up,” said Penny.

There was a break in the snoring from down the hall.

“You shut up,” said Lizzie. “And go to bed.”

Penny sighed theatrically. “We did go to Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant. He wasn’t there though.”

“That’s good. That’s very good. I’m very pleased for you. I thought restaurants shut at twelve, but we’ll just draw a veil over that.”

“And he spent the entire time complaining about the cost of his divorce. And the chateaubriand, as it happens.”

“I don’t know what that is,” said Lizzie.

“Never mind, darling,” said Penny patronizingly.

Don’t think about the gun, thought Lizzie. “What is it then?”

Penny sniffed.

“So? What have you been doing? Taking cocktails at the Ritz? Dancing under umbrellas in the rain? Ice skating in Central Park?”

“Night bus.”

Lizzie winced in sympathy. “Who’d you get?”

“One bung-eye, three general lunatics, and one wanker.”

“Only one wanker on a night bus? That sounds amazing. There’s usually hordes of them putting traffic cones on their heads.”

“No, just one literal wanker. One man having a wank. There were thirty-five with traffic cones on their heads.”

Lizzie tutted.

“And I had to change at Seven Sisters.”

“Seven Sisters is far too dangerous for girls! What kind of man is he?”

“Not one who sends a nice girl home in a cab.”

“What about a slightly sluttish girl?”

“Shut up.”

“Get out of my bedroom then.”

Penny heaved a big sigh. “Oh, it’s so boring.”

“Going to the Ritz for cocktails and out to fancy dinner. Well, it does sound boring. Mum and I watched Property Ladder and ate potato waffles.”

“I had to hear about his terrible divorce and how that witch kept the house and how he’s terrified of gold diggers getting hold of what’s left of his money and did I mind getting my