Sample of Painting Naked
Painting Naked-Chapter 1
Wickham Forge, England
Sophie Neville and I are painting her bedroom. We’re naked, or close to it, because Sophie insists it’s easier to wash paint off skin than off clothes. Her bikini is two scraps of silk held together by lace. The back’s no bigger than a child’s hanky and the front barely covers all the rude bits. I try not to look.
She takes off her bra. “I’m hot.”
“Sophie! What if someone comes in?” I’m wearing far more than her, but still feel exposed despite navy gym knickers and a size 34-B Cross-Your-Heart bra that I’m already spilling out of. Nobody runs around half dressed in my house. Certainly not my parents. I doubt Mum’s ever seen my dad without clothes and I’m sure she’s never bared herself to him.
“Don’t worry, no one’s home,” Sophie says, sloshing blue paint on the wall. “Besides, we used to swim in the buff with Hugh and Keith. Remember?”
“We were five and the boys were six,” I remind her. “It’s a bit different now.”
“I’ll say.” She grins. “They’re camping out this weekend.”
“In the fort?”
I shrug because I don’t want to seem interested, but I am. Desperately. Colin Carpenter hangs out with Hugh, Sophie’s brother, and I lust for information about him. He’s sixteen and they’ve built a tree fort in the woods behind Keith Lombard’s house. Keith lives next door. He and Hugh have been best friends forever.
Hugh, Keith, and Colin.
They fancy themselves as the Three Musketeers. Sophie calls them the Three Stooges. I call them two twits and a miracle.
“Shall we go spy on them?” Sophie climbs down the ladder and strikes a pose. Hips thrust forward, head tilted. Her breasts don’t droop like mine.
“No, this weekend, stupid.”
“What if they catch us?”
“They’ll probably torture us.” Sophie pulls a tank top from her dresser and drags it over her head. “But if you don’t want to come, I’ll ask Heather instead.”
That’s all I need. The sexiest girl in school hiding behind a bush and making eyes at Colin. My Colin. I grit my teeth and scowl.
Sophie steps into her shorts. “Only teasing.”
The floorboards outside Sophie’s room are an early warning system. Step on the wrong one and it creaks. Me and Sophie know how to avoid it. So do Keith and Hugh. But Colin doesn’t. He hasn’t hung around here long enough to learn the ins and outs of the Neville family’s house.
So, of course, it creaks.
I turn toward the noise and see the tail end of someone’s shirt fly by Sophie’s open bedroom door.
“The boys are back,” she says.
I glare at her. It’s me that’s half naked. I yank my shirt off the bed, thrust my arms through its sleeves, and do the buttons up all wrong. I’m redoing them when Sophie says, “So, are you coming or not?”
I nod. Rabid cows wouldn’t keep me away.
Snorts and muffled laughter drift across the hall from Hugh’s bedroom and I wonder how long the boys have been spying on us.
* * *
Friday morning, I get my period. Bad cramps. Mum says it’ll be less painful once I have a baby. I don’t want one. I don’t want to be like Mum, pinched face, always cross, always complaining. It’s my fault. She was happier before I came along. I can see it in the photos of her and Dad on holiday. She was pretty then, with dark brown curls and a generous smile. Not like she is now, hair scragged back in a bun so tight it stretches her eyebrows.
I look at her hunched over the sewing machine, hemming another set of curtains for the living room. She never stops doing things over. Once, my dad came home late and didn’t want to turn on the lights in case he woke us up. But he did because Mum had rearranged furniture in the living room, yet again, and Dad crashed into the gateleg table and broke his toe. I’d never heard him swear till that night.
Sophie rings up. Our phone’s in the front hall. There’s no chair so I have to stand and lean against Mum’s antique bombé chest. I’ve begged for a phone in my room, but no luck. My tummy is killing me. Something in there is dragging a rake through my gut.
“Don’t spend all day on the phone,” Mum yells above the whirr of her Singer.
“Is she in one of her moods?” Sophie asks.
“When is she not?” I wince as a wave of pain hammers me to the wall. I gasp. If this is what having a baby’s like, I definitely don’t want one.
“You still coming over?” Sophie says.
She knows I’ve got my period. “I’m not sure.”
“Come on, Jill. It’s only cramps. You’ll forget all about them when you see Colin.” She blows a raspberry. “You should see the junk Hugh’s packing right now. You’d think he was going to China instead of next door.”
Shit, shit, shit. I don’t want to miss out. “I’ll ring you tomorrow. Okay? Maybe I’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Go to bed with a hot-water bottle,” Sophie says. “And take an Aspro. Take two.”
How would she know? She’s never had a cramp in her life.
Then she plays her trump card. “If you don’t show up, I’ll tell Colin Heather fancies him.”
* * *
I saw Colin Carpenter for the first time last summer. Hugh and Keith had just started building their tree fort when Colin’s family moved to Wickham Forge. Colin’s father works in the City—investment banking, I think—and they bought a house on the posh side of town. Colin was good with his hands. He had all sorts of power tools that the other two lacked—saws, drills, and sanders—and he knew how to use them. The fort looked a whole lot better once he got through with it.
Except for one thing: It didn’t have a ladder. The only way you could get to it was by climbing the adjacent tree—easy because it had plenty of low branches—then walking across a plank of wood the boys slung between it and the fort. The boys scampered across it like squirrels, then dared Sophie and me to follow. I didn’t want to, but Sophie danced after them like a gymnast on a balance beam.
I held back, scared witless, while Hugh and Keith hurled insults at me. Colin told them to shut up, so I sat down and straddled the plank and bumped my way toward him. He reached for my hands, pulled me into the fort, and we fell backward amid a chorus of jeers. Then he rolled over and suddenly he was lying on top of me.
His hair flopped forward and tickled my cheek. His eyes were so close I could see yellow flecks among the green. He smiled. So did I. And when he helped me sit up, I could swear his lips brushed the top of my head.
* * *
I take a hot bath, using the last of Mum’s pink bath salts. They’re gritty and they don’t dissolve very well because the water’s not hot enough, so it’s like sitting in sand but without the fun of being at the beach. If I could be bothered, I’d go and get a kettle of hot water, but then Mum would want to know why. So I ignore the grit and lie back with my feet propped on the taps and wonder what it’s like to fall in love.
Is it like Sophie, who’s ecstatic about one boy this week and head over heels about another the week after? Or is it like my parents, who’re so different I can’t begin to imagine why they got married in the first place? Mum bosses Dad around something awful, yet he puts up with it. Sophie reckons it’s because he’s got a girlfriend on the side. I think she’s mad. My father would never do that.
I pull the plug and haul myself out of the tub. It’s summer but the bathroom is cold. I wrap myself in a towel and peer in the mirror. Maybe I’ll cut my hair. Or get a perm. Anything would be better than plaits. Yes, plaits. I’m fifteen and my mother insists on plaits. The only girls my age with hair like this are called Heidi and they’re blond and they live in Switzerland and they know how to yodel.
I pick up Mum’s nail scissors and trim off some split ends. I snip a bit more, then chicken out and drop the scissors in the sink. If I really wanted to piss her off, this’d be the way to do it. Cut it all off. Instead, I scoop my hair into a ponytail and secure it with an elastic band.
The door opens.
“Jillian Hunter, how many times have I told you not to wear your hair like that?” Mum snatches the elastic. It snaps and my ponytail falls apart.
“Ouch!” I rub my head.
“Put something on,” she says. “You’re half naked.”
“Mum, I just had a bath.”
I gather up my clothes and slope off to my bedroom.
Oh, God, my bedroom. My mother’s memorial to the Flopsy Bunnies and apple-cheeked girls in long dresses, pantaloons, and poke bonnets. In one corner, Peter Rabbit wages war on Mr McGregor; in another, Mrs Tittlemouse tells Mr Jackson to get lost. Good for her. I wish I was brave enough to say that to my mother. I want Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney on my walls—not bloody Mabel Lucie Attwell and Beatrix Potter. And I want plain, ordinary paint—lavender, blue, yellow—I don’t care, as long as it’s not baby pink.
Dad comes in to wish me goodnight. “Do you need anything?”
“You feeling all right, love?” His brow is furrowed like a washboard. I run the tips of my fingers down it—bump, bump, bump—like I used to when I was little. He smiles, takes my hand, and kisses it. His mustache tickles. “Will you be seeing Sophie tomorrow?”
“Yes.” I snuggle into bed. Right now I’m not fifteen. I’m back to being five, and my father’s about to tell me the story of Katherine, his magic princess, who rides a giant cat with wings and a unicorn’s horn.
“Well, then,” he says, getting up. “You girls have a lovely time. Okay?”
“Painting Naked is a sparklingly attractive novel written with humour, brio, and a refreshing unsentimentality.” Elizabeth Buchan, author of Wives Behaving Badly
Jillian Hunter treasures her independence. She’s raised two sons by herself, launched a small business, and restored a tumbledown beach cottage in Connecticut. Finally, at fifty-two, she’s ready for another shot at love, but soon discovers most single men her age prefer women in their twenties. Then a trip to London reunites her with Colin an old flame she hasn’t seen in thirty-five years and Jill falls for him all over again.
This could be her chance for a new beginning, one she never expected, and certainly not at her age. But Colin isn’t quite the boy Jill remembers and she ends up risking everything she’s worked for her business, her home, and her two closest friends to make a life with him. And when faced with the risk of losing Colin as well, Jill is forced to take an uncomfortably close look at the woman she’s allowed herself to become and figure out a way to win herself back.
Funny, sophisticated, and wise, Painting Naked is a coming-of-middle-age story about girlfriends when you’re no longer a girl, about growing up when you’re already grown up, and the price you’re willing to pay for the love of your life.
“A wonderfully uplifting story about a woman on her way to fulfillment.” Katie Fforde, author of Wedding Season
“Painting Naked seduces easily and satisfies completely. Rich, funny, and loving, reading this book is akin to sharing a perfect meal with old friends. I never wanted the story to end.” Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo
“With clear-eyed affection, sumptuous prose, and indomitable wit, Painting Naked examines loss, sorrow, and redemption. Maggie Dana’s first novel is proof that middle age offers no protection against vulnerability when it comes to love and lust. Fifty-something Jill Hunter is as vital, lively, and as optimistic about the future as any twenty-year-old.” Carrie Kabak, author of Cover the Butter
Previously published as Beachcombing in 2009.
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Maggie Dana grew up in England and moved to the U.S. in her early 20s. In addition to raising a family, caring for numerous animals, and working full-time, Maggie wrote books for children once her own had gone to bed. Several years later, after she complained there weren’t enough novels about feisty, middle-aged women, a friend challenged Maggie to write one of her own. So she did.
A freelance book designer and typesetter, Maggie lives on the Connecticut shoreline where she enjoys gardening, riding horses, and walking the beach with her family. She is currently working on her next novel, along with a new series of books for horse-crazy girls.Find out more