Esme looked at the smart leather travel pouch that Joel, her impossibly handsome father-figure boyfriend, had dropped on her keyboard and hoped he hadn’t spotted she was on Instagram (“Live your own life, not the lives of others”).
She hurriedly closed the page and looked up at him with her prettiest blonde smile. “What’s this?”
“A new pair of shoes. What do you think it is, baby? Go on, take a look.”
Esme obliged. Two plane tickets – business class, naturally – to Venice. She leapt up squealing, and gave him a hug. “You’re taking me on a Micro Odyssey!”
Joel held her at arm’s length and looked at her, deadly serious. “No, baby. Not Greece. Venice is in Italy.”
Esme laughed. She loved how old-fashioned he was. “I know that!” she giggled. “A Micro Odyssey is what everyone calls a mini-break these days.”
Venice in September, she thought. What could be more romantic? “We’re staying at the Cipriani.” Actually, that – that was more romantic. “You spoil me,” she purred into his tanned, Eau Sauvage-scented neck. “But are you sure somewhere – well – less boaty might not be better?”
It was a joke that Esme was only just able to make. This summer ¬ their first heady summer of togetherness – had been somewhat marred by Joel’s wobbly sea legs. For their first date he had driven her to Oxford in his open-topped Aston Martin and they picnicked from a Daylesford hamper by the river. All very Brideshead, until she suggested they go punting, whereupon he abruptly invented a business meeting and zoomed them back to London.
The two weeks they had spent at one of his investor’s villas in Mykonos had almost passed without event until her girlfriends, who were having a whale of a time with the great unwashed at a nearby resort, had persuaded them onto pedalos for the afternoon. Joel had reacted with uncharacteristic bad humour (“Just leave them to their Hawaiian Tropic and Grazia mags”) and fallen headfirst off his pedestal when, slightly green around the gills, he had been incapable of getting them beyond the waves. It was not something Joel liked being reminded of.
“I’m fine on a Riva,” he snapped.
Venice did not disappoint. As the elegant hotel launch jetted them across the lagoon, it’s misty impressionist beauty brought a tear to Esme’s eye. If it hadn’t been for a thwarted urge to Instagram, it would have been one of the happiest moments of her life.
Just as she thought life couldn’t get much better, Esme alighted at the hotel to discover that their Micro Odyssey had neatly coincided with the Venice Film Festival. The only thing more delicious than a night at Harry’s Bar was a night at Harry’s Bar with Brad and Angelina at the next table.
But while Esme would have been more than happy following Al Pacino down the alleyways of the most romantic city on earth, Joel insisted on taking them out of the sunshine and into the chilly darkness of church after church. A fully paid-up member of the “once you’ve seen one fresco, you’ve seen ’em all” school of thought, Esme began to secretly wish they’d gone to St Tropez instead.
Things looked up when they stopped for an ice cream on a sun-drenched bridge and a gondolier doffed his boater at them. “Oh please can we go on a gondola,” Esme begged, turning on her most beguiling smile. As Joel looked at the narrow boat, he seemed to lose a little of his end-of-summer sheen. “It’s a racket,” he protested. “And I’m not sure how safe they are… No life jackets or anything.”
But it was too late. Esme had hopped aboard, and Joel had no choice but to follow. Silent for the entire journey, the only time Joel said anything was when he snapped at the gondolier, who was crooning a bit of Puccini, to “put a bloody sock in it!”
“Oh my God, look!” Esme squealed, as a Riva full of movie stars glided past. “Surely I’m allowed to Instagram that?”
But she had missed her moment. To the horror of the passing A-listers, Joel was noisily heaving up Harry’s Bar into the twinkling waters of the Grand Canal.