She sat on the deck of her houseboat waiting for the sunset. It was her evening ritual even in the winter. With a glass of red wine in her hand, Alice loved to soak up the breeze that passed along the River Thames at this time. She didn’t even mind the familiar sound of the traffic passing by because it linked her to another important part of her life, the King’s Road.
Alice remembered the first time she had walked along King’s Road. She first arrived at Sloane Square in 1981 for her interview at Chelsea Art College and she was scared because she couldn’t imagine leaving the safety of the village where she had lived her whole life. Some of her friends were boarders at school but she was a day girl which meant she had never lived away from home. And now she was here in the heart of where it was all happening.
These were the memories Alice loved to reminisce about and as she counted down to the day when she might have to leave the home she had lived in for over twenty years, because she was being forced to move her houseboat, her heart ached. It wasn’t fair. All her memories of her husband and the family they raised together were here. She couldn’t imagine mooring her houseboat anywhere else. Nowhere else would feel like home.
As Alice sat on her deck that evening she remembered the first time she had met her husband. It was at a wine bar called Drummonds where there now sits a McDonalds on the King’s Road. It was the first night of her final year at art college. So much had happened since she had first arrived in Chelsea, she was starting to feel relieved this chapter was almost over. She would look back at this time with no regrets but also with little fondness. She was dreading bumping into her ex.
The first day back at college went well; she had managed to evade him and his friends but unless she wanted to stay in every night for the next year, she was going to have to risk bumping into him when she went out. She held her breath stepping into Drummonds, hoping that he had decided to go to the Admiral Codrington like they sometimes did together. But it was unlikely. The buzz was on the King’s Road that night. Luckily, the bar was rammed. They might not see each other.
‘I’ll get this one, you get the next,’ Marie shouted.
Alice didn’t quite hear her best friend but she knew Marie always got the first round. It had been like that for two years. ‘Ok,’ she bellowed over the loud music as she stood on her tiptoes and leaned towards Marie’s ear. Marie mouthed something else back, a question perhaps. It was difficult to hear with all the nudging and chatter happening around her. So Alice nodded again, hoping Marie had asked if she had wanted a Malibu and pineapple. It was the only drink she ever ordered after all.
Marie pushed her way to the bar leaving Alice to stand in a sea of students. And as Alice’s nerves started to settle and her ears started to tune into the music instead of the conversations around her, there it was. Her ex was walking in with his hand in someone else’s hand. She was so pretty. She must be a first year and Alice spun round, repulsed at the sight that he had moved on so quickly. Had she been so naïve to think that she was so special that he too had picked her out on her very first day at college. Alice didn’t know where to look. The crowd around the bar was at least four rows deep and Marie had disappeared. Alice was desperate to leave. She wished there was another way out, but she couldn’t also leave her friend.
Then she heard a mumble in her ear, it was getting louder. She looked up to see a young man looking down at her. ‘You ok?’ Alice nodded, then she shook her head. She didn’t know how she was feeling. She wasn’t sure why she should tell this stranger even if she did. Something cold touched her hand. It was her drink and Marie was standing in front of her.
Alice took her glass and before she could say anything, Marie spoke first. ‘I’ll be over there,’ Marie shouted pointing to a corner with all their friends. Marie looked at the man with his eyes on Alice and she moved fast into the crowd, leaving Alice feeling very awkward.
‘You’re not from the college are you?’
He shook his head. ‘I guess the suit gives it away?’ Alice laughed and nodded. It was the ice breaker she needed and it helped her forget about her ex. ‘Do you want to get out of here?’ The young man asked.
Alice looked around. She could see her ex watching her. ‘I’d love to.’ And putting her drink onto a nearby table, she led the way out of the bar.
Now that she was standing on the King’s Road with this man, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. ‘I have a confession.’
‘You used me to make your ex jealous?’
‘Don’t be. I consider it perfect timing. Now I have a chance to show you what a great guy I am.’
‘I guess you do. So what’s your name?’
‘Max, and yours?’
‘Lovely to meet you Alice.’
‘Lovely to meet you, Max.’
That evening Max and Alice didn’t go anywhere and they went everywhere. They wandered the streets of Chelsea talking about everything and anything. Max pointed out the landmarks of the great love stories in Chelsea such as Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s love nest and the Chelsea Town Hall where Wallis Simpson had married for the second time. Alice enjoyed the salacious gossip which reminded her that the path of true love did not run smooth in Chelsea or anywhere else.
At the end of the evening, Max and Alice stood on Battersea Bridge looking down at the house boats along Chelsea Embankment.
‘I’d love to live on one of those boats,’ Alice mused.
‘We will, one day,’ Max replied.
And they did. They spent many happy years there together.