The second TODAY Book Club pick is the long-awaited third installment of the Bridget Jones series, “Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy!” Share your thoughts about the book’s big revelations by joining the TODAY Book Club community, a fresh and interactive digital discussion series. RSVP to the Google Hangout with author Helen Fielding, happening Nov. 4 at 11 a.m.ET., follow @TODAYsBooks and stay up to date with the TODAY Book Club newsletter. Catch Helen Fielding live on her author tour.
In this exclusive excerpt from Helen Fielding's "Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy," the new pick for the TODAY Book Club, former boyfriend Daniel Cleaver is back on Bridget's radar, but now fulfilling the seemingly incongruous role of godfather and ersatz babysitter, but still maintaining his inimitable charm. Here's an excerpt.
A DANIEL IN SHINING ARMOUR
Wednesday 5 September 2012 (continued)
‘Jones, you little devil,’ growled Daniel when I called. ‘What are you wearing, what colour are your knickers and how are my godchildren?’
Daniel Cleaver, my former Emotional F___wit ‘boyfriend’ and Mark’s former arch-enemy, has, to his credit, really done his best to help since Mark was killed. After years of bitter one-upmanship, when Billy arrived the two of them finally made it up and Daniel is actually the children’s godfather.
Daniel’s best isn’t exactly everyone’s best: the last time he had them to stay, it turned out he just wanted to impress some girl by boasting that he had godchildren and . . . suffice it to say he dropped them off at school three hours late, and when I picked up Mabel later, her hair was in an incredibly complex plaited chignon.
‘Mabel, what fabulous hair!’ I said, imagining Daniel had brought John Frieda in to do full hair and make-up on Mabel at 7.30 a.m.
‘De teacher did it,’ said Mabel. ‘Daniel brushed my hair wid a fork,’ adding, ‘it had maple syrup on it.’
‘Jones? Are you still there, Jones?’
‘Yes,’ I said, startled.
‘Babysitting call, Jones?’
‘Would you . . . ?’
‘Absolutely. When were you thinking?’
I cringed: ‘Tomorrow?’
There was a slight pause. Daniel was obviously doing something. ‘Tomorrow night is absolutely fine. I find myself at a loose end, having been rejected by all human women under the age of eighty- four.’ Awww.
‘We might be quite late, is that OK?’
‘My dear girl, I am nocturnal.’
‘You won’t . . . I mean, you won’t bring a model or—’
‘No, no, no, Jones. I shall be a model. A paragon of babysitting. Ludo. Wholesome vitamin-packed fare. And by the way . . .’
‘Yes?’ I said suspiciously. ‘What kind of knickers are you wearing? At this moment? Are they mummy pants? Mummy’s lovely mummy panties? Will you show them to Daddy tomorrow night?’
Still love Daniel, though obviously not to the point that I would get involved with any of his crap.
THE PERFECT BABYSITTER
Thursday 6 September 2012
133lb (v.g.), alcohol units 4, sexual encounters in last 5 years 0, sexual encounters in last 5 hours 2, embarrassing sexual encounters in last 5 hours 2.
The day of the Stronghold outing was upon us. Billy was wildly excited that Daniel was coming. ‘Will Amanda be here?’
‘The lady with the big boobies who was there last time.’
‘No!’ I said. ‘Mabel, what are you looking for?’
‘My hairbrush,’ she said darkly.
Managed somehow in the excitement to get them bathed and asleep, and scrambled to get ready before Daniel arrived.
I had opted for jeans (a brand chillingly called Not Your Daughter’s Jeans) and a cowboy shirt, thinking it would fit in with the Americana theme.
Daniel arrived late, in his usual suit, hair shorter now, still gorgeous with that irresistible smile, bearing armfuls of unsuitable gifts – toy guns, semi-naked Barbies, giant bags of sweets, Krispy Kreme doughnuts – and a suspicious-looking half-hidden DVD, which I decided to ignore as I was cataclysmically late now.
‘Ding-dong! Jones,’ he said. ‘Have you been on a diet? I thought I’d never see you looking like this again.’
It’s horrifying how differently some people treat you when you’re fat, to when you’re not. And when you’re all done up and when you’re just normal. No wonder women are so insecure. I know men are too. But when one is a woman, with all the tools at a modern woman’s disposal, one can literally look like a completely different person from one half-hour to the next.
Even then, you think you don’t look like you should. Sometimes look at billboards of beautiful models, and the real people underneath, and think it’s a bit like if we were on a planet where all the space creatures were short, green and fat. Except a very few of them were tall, thin and yellow. And all the advertising was of the tall, yellow ones, airbrushed to make them even taller and yellower. So all the little green space creatures spent their whole time feeling sad because they weren’t tall, thin and yellow.
‘Jones? Are you still inhabiting your head? I said, I suppose a ____ would be out of the question?’
‘Yes!’ I said, jerking back to the present. ‘Yes, it would. Though this is in no way a sign of my lack of gratitude for the babysit.’ Rattled through a gabble of instructions and thanks and shot out of the door, feeling outraged as a feminist by Daniel’s complex fattist pass, but uplifted as a female.
When I arrived at Talitha’s, however, Tom burst out laughing. ‘Seriously? Dolly Parton?’
‘You can’t rely on your arse in jeans at our age,’ said Talitha briskly, sweeping in with a tray of mojitos. ‘You’ve got to have something else going on.’
‘I don’t want to look like mutton,’ I said. ‘Or a prostitute.’
‘Well, quite, but you need something to start the idea of sexuality. Legs or boobs. Not both.’
‘What about one leg and one boob?’ said Tom.
Eventually I ended up in a very expensive short black silk tunic of Talitha’s and insanely high Yves Saint Laurent thigh boots.
‘But I can’t walk in them.’
‘Honey,’ said Talitha, ‘you’re not going to need to walk.’
In the cab started to think about how much Mark would have loved the thigh boots.
‘Stoppit,’ said Tom, seeing my face. ‘He would want you to have a life’
Next I started to panic about the children. Talitha, who has known Daniel since Sit Up Britain days, took out her phone and texted:
No reply. We all stared nervously at the phone.
‘Daniel doesn’t text,’ I said, suddenly remembering. Then added, giggling, ‘He’s too old.’
Talitha put her mobile on speakerphone and called him.
‘Daniel, you bloody old bastard?’
‘Talitha! My dear girl! The very thought of you finds me suddenly, unaccountably, over-aroused. What are you up to at this moment and what colour are your panties?’
Grrr. He was supposed to be BABYSITTING.
‘I’m with Bridget,’ she said, drily. ‘How’s it going?’
‘Yup, all perfectly splendid. Children fast asleep. Am patrolling the doors, windows and corridors like a sentry. I shall be impeccable.’
She clicked off the phone. ‘You see? It will all be fine. Now stop worrying.’
The Stronghold was in a brick warehouse with an unmarked metal door and a buzzer with a code. Tom punched in the code, and we teetered in our insane heels up a concrete staircase which smelt as if somebody had weed in it.
But once we got in, as Tom gave our names for the guest list, I felt a reckless surge of excitement. The walls were brick, there were bales of straw round the edges which made me slightly wish I’d remained as Dolly Parton, and battered sofas. There was a band playing and a bar in the corner, manned by youths who were adding to the atmosphere by looking around nervously, as if a sheriff was going to tie up his horse, burst in in a cowboy hat and break it all up. It was hard to make the people out in the artistic lighting, but it was instantly clear that they weren’t all teenagers, and that there were some . . .
‘. . . very hot men in the room,’ murmured Talitha.
‘Come on, girl,’ said Tom. ‘Get back on that horse.’
‘I’m too old!’ I said.
‘So? It’s practically pitch black.’
‘What am I going to talk about?’ I gabbled. ‘I’m not au fait with popular music.’
‘Bridget,’ said Talitha, ‘we are gathered here to rediscover your inner sensual woman. This has nothing whatsoever to do with talking.’
It felt like going back to being a teenager with the same leaping sense of doubt and possibility. It reminded me of the parties I used to go to when I was sixteen, when as soon as the parents had dropped us off, the lights would go out and everyone would get on the floor and start snogging anyone with whom they had made the most perfunctory eye contact.
‘Look at him,’ said Tom. ‘He’s looking at you! He’s looking at you!’
‘Tom, shut urrp,’ I said out of the side of my mouth, folding my arms across my chest and trying to tug the tunic down to reach the thigh boots.
‘Pull yourself together, Bridget. DO SOMETHING.’
I forced myself to look across, with an attempt at smoulderingness. The cute guy was, however, now making out with a stunning iBabe in short-shorts and an off-the-shoulder sweater.
‘OhMyGod, that’s disgusting – she’s an embryo,’ said Jude.
‘Call me old-fashioned, but I did read in Glamour that one’s shorts should always be longer than one’s vagina,’ murmured Talitha.
We all became crestfallen, our confidence collapsing like a house of cards. ‘Oh God. Do we just look like an ensemble of elderly transvestites?’ said Tom.
‘It’s happened, just as I always feared,’ I said. ‘We’ve ended up as tragic old fools convincing ourselves the vicar is in love with us because he’s mentioned his organ.’
‘Darlings!’ said Talitha. ‘I forbid you to continue in this vein.’
Talitha, Tom and Jude went off to dance, while I sulked on a hay bale, thinking, ‘I want to go home and snuggle my babies, and hear their quiet breathing and know who I am and what I stand for’, shamelessly using the children to gloss over me being old and past it.
Then a pair of legs in jeans sat down beside me on the hay bale. I caught a scent of a MAN, darling, as Talitha would put it, as he leaned in to my hair. ‘Do you want to dance?’
It was as simple as that. I didn’t need to formulate a plan, work out what to say, or indeed do anything but look up into his attractive brown eyes and nod. He took my hand, and hoisted me up with a strong arm. He kept hold of my waist as we walked towards the floor, which was fortunate, given the thigh boots. Thankfully, it was a slow dance or I would have broken an ankle. He had a crinkly smile, and looked in the darkness like the sort of man who appears in adverts for SUVs. He was wearing a leather jacket. He put his hand on my waist and pulled me in to him.
As I laid my arm on his shoulder I suddenly realized what Tom and Talitha were on about. Sex is just sex.
Flashes and pulses of long-forgotten lust started running through me, like Frankenstein’s monster when he was plugged into the electricity, only more romantic and sensual, and I found myself instinctively slipping my fingers to feel the hair on the stranger’s collar, the skin on the back of his neck. He pulled me even closer to him, making it unmistakable that he was into sex at least with someone. As we turned slowly to the music, I saw Tom and Talitha staring at me with a mixture of awe and astonishment. I felt like a fourteen-year-old who’d pulled her first boy. I made a face to stop them doing anything stupid as I felt him, slowly, irresistibly, in manner of Mills & Boon hero, moving his lips to find mine.
And then we were kissing. Suddenly everything started going crazy. It was like driving a very fast car in a pair of stilettos. Nothing had stopped functioning despite years in the garage. One minute I was blocked at every turn and in a flash there were zero restraints and what was I doing? What about the children and what about Mark and who was this impertinent man anyway?
‘Let’s go somewhere quieter,’ he murmured. It was all a plot. Why else would he have asked me to dance? He was planning to murder me and then eat me!
‘I’ve got to go! Now!’
I looked up at him, terrified. It was midnight. I was Cinderella and I had to get back to the cots and the nannies, and the sleeplessness and sense of being totally asexual and staring down the barrel of single life till the end of my days . . . but wasn’t that better than being murdered?
‘Awfully sorry! Must be going. Jolly good! Thanks!’
‘Go?’ he said. ‘Oh God. That face.’
Even as I was stumbling down the wee-smelling stairs I was becoming puffed up by his last phrase. ‘That face’! I was Kate Moss! I was Cheryl Cole! Once in the minicab, however, explaining the whole incident, a glance at my wild expression and drink-bloated features, mascara smeared under the eyes, somewhat ruined the concept.
‘He means tormented by the face of a geriatric mother who’s decided he’s planning to murder her because he’s kissed her!’ shrieked Tom.
‘And then eat her,’ added Talitha, as everyone fell about laughing.
‘What were you thinking?’ said Jude, giggling hysterically. ‘He was hot!’
‘It’s all right,’ said Talitha, recovering her composure and trying to settle elegantly back into the minicab seat, which smelt of curry. ‘I got his number.’
12.10 a.m. Just got back and crept into house. Everything was quiet and dark. Where was Daniel?
12.20 a.m. Tiptoed downstairs and turned on the light. The basement looked like a bomb had hit it. The Xbox was still going, there were Sylvanian bunnies arranged in a line from one end to the other, Barbies, toy dinosaurs and machine guns, cushions, pizza cartons, Krispy Kreme doughnut bags and chocolate wrappers all over the floor, and a tub of melted chocolate fudge Häagen-Dazs upside down on the sofa. They would probably throw up in the night but at least they’d had a good time. But where was Daniel?
Crept up to their room. They were fast asleep, chocolate all over their faces but breathing peacefully. No Daniel. Started to panic.
Rushed down to the sofa bed in the sitting room – nothing. Rushed back up to my bedroom, opened the door and let out a noise. Daniel was in the bed. He raised his head and squinted through the darkness.
‘Good God, Jones,’ he said. ‘Could those possibly be . . . thigh boots? Could I take a closer look?’
He pulled back the sheet. He was half-naked.
‘Come on in, Jones,’ he said. ‘I promise I won’t lay a finger on you.’
The whole combination of being slightly drunk, aroused by a recent kiss and Daniel half-naked and devilish in the half-light made me flash back to being a thirty-something singleton. A split second later I was giggling and lurching into bed in the thigh boots.
‘Now, Jones,’ began Daniel, ‘these are very, very naughty boots, and this is a very, very silly little tunic’ – and then another split second later I fast-forwarded back to the present moment and remembered . . . well, everything, really.
‘Gaah! Can’t do this! Terribly sorry. Jolly good!’ I gabbled, leaping out of the bed.
Daniel stared, then started laughing. ‘Jones, Jones, Jones, you’re completely bonkers as usual.’
I waited outside the door while he got up and dressed, and then, in the midst of my apologies and thanks for the babysitting, there was another moment when I felt so confused and turned on I almost jumped on him again and started devouring him like an animal. Then his mobile rang.
‘Sorry, sorry,’ he said into the phone. ‘No, my plumptious, just got terribly stuck at work, look, I know, ____!’ Cross Daniel now. ‘Look! Jesus! I said I had a presentation. It’s a huge big deal for the project and . . . OK, OK, I’ll be back in fifteen minutes, yes . . . yes . . . mmm . . . I long for your orb-like radiance . . .’
Orb-like radiance?? ‘. . . I long to plunge myself into . . .’
Sighing with relief that I hadn’t succumbed to the old routine, I managed to get him out of the door, then wrestle Talitha’s thigh boots off. I cleared up the sitting room enough to not make Chloe hand in her notice in despair tomorrow, and sank into the empty bed.
12.55 a.m. But now feeling all restless and aroused. Feel like it has gone from total Man-Desert to, in the space of one evening, literally raining men.
Excerpted from "Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy" by Helen Fielding. Copyright © 2013 by Helen Fielding. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.