The second exclusive extract from Sam Brick's new book - only on SFN!

After the dogs have been fed, watered and walked they are both snoring gently at my feet as we enjoy our first aperitif. The terrace, a gravelled area in front of the chateau, gives way to a landscape which is simply stunning; a freshwater lake with swans gliding idly past and paddocks either side with impossibly beautiful horses in them, gracefully shimmying and strutting through the grass. The sun, still shining, bounces off the creamy walls of the chateau. Way after 6 p.m. it is heavenly to sit outside. I know it’s fairly warm because Mother has let her wrap fall from her shoulders.
‘It’s perfect, isn’t it?’ We clink glasses. I stare off into the distance. ‘You’re doing the right thing, you know,’ her voice gently interrupts my thoughts. ‘Am I?’ Am I? ‘Who gets invited to move to France by their French lover?’ ‘True, true,’ I reply, a sliver of a smile fighting across my face. ‘There was nothing left for you in the UK, you know,’ Mother
continues gently, ‘not after everything that happened...’
‘I know, I know!’ I reply, willing the tears to stay at bay for once.
‘Your friends... well, your real friends...’ Mother sniffs. ‘... they’ll always stay in touch, and your dad will come round to the idea.’
I recognise the start of yet another pep talk, one of many Mother has had on rotation over the last fourteen hours.
‘I know, I know!’ I agree. It’s easier that way. It’s like trying to wind up an Academy Award winner when she gets going with one of her speeches – best just to let her get it over with.

My final hours in England were grim. A 4 a.m. start in the dark, rain lashing down, a breakfast wrap at a service station, before finally boarding a grubby ferry. Even the dogs knew something was up; refusing (refusing!) to eat when we arrived at the docks. I kept looking for a ‘sign’; from the heavens, from the spirit world, even a dishevelled feather would have done. Just something to make me realise I was right to close the door on my old life and open a new one in France.
Apart from getting hopelessly lost – several times – between Cherbourg and Le Mans (was that a sign, I’d wondered or – more alarmingly – a lack of one?) I’d received nothing.
‘Is that your phone?’ Mother nudges me as I scoop it out of my soft leather handbag.
‘Allô mon amour?’ booms the voice as I open the phone. ‘O-o-oui?’ I stutter. ‘You arrive?’ ‘We arrive just!’ I find myself flipping over into a clipped version of English that the French seem to prefer.
‘Ah, zat is good.’
‘Ça va?’ I ask, one of the very few phrases in my French vocabulary right now.
‘Ouai, ouai...’
A few stilted words between us and the conversation is over. ‘Everything all right?’ Mother peers at me. ‘Yes!’ I bleat. ‘Of course!’ I am, of course, OK, aren’t I? Why wouldn’t I be? This is the
start of my new life.
After another walk around the grounds with the dogs, who, annoyingly, are showing no signs of settling down for the evening, we climb the stairs and enter the suite. Mother, in holiday mode, has already laid out her outfit for the evening. I know my mother; having already eyed up the French mistress of the house, she has prepared not just a dress but accessories too (if I know her, she’ll have a fascinator in her luggage somewhere, ‘just in case’).
‘Bath, Sam?’ ‘Absolutely.’ I turn on the taps, tip in some bath oil and undress, pulling off dirty jeans and T-shirt, peeling off my bra and slipping off my underwear. I catch myself in the many mirrors in the bathroom.
At thirty-six years old, I am closer to forty than I am to thirty. I suck in my stomach and pull the excess skin on my thighs towards the back of my legs. If only my legs were like that, I think ruefully to myself, letting my squashy thighs fall.
One hour later we’re in the drawing room where aperitifs are being served and Mother is already mingling with the other guests.
All British. All house hunting. All with dreams of a new life in France.
‘Buying a house, you say?’ Mother jumps straight into the conversation. ‘Sam’s moving in with a Frenchman!’
Lots of murmurs of approval shoot round the drinks party. To my horror I am thus deemed an expert at this living in France lark.
For the record: I am no authority on living in France. ‘Where?’ one of the couples eagerly asks. ‘Where is it we’re going again, Sam?’ Mother’s eyeballs swivel in my direction – I realise she wants me to help her out. ‘In the Lot, the south-west.’ I walk over, attempting to sound breezy and confident. ‘Do you know the area?’ ‘Aye, we do, have friends there I think, right Bob?’ The woman, whose name is Babs, strokes her husband’s hand. ‘It’s a little village in the middle of nowhere really,’ I continue. ‘Such a romantic story,’ Mother picks up now she’s in her
comfort zone again. ‘This Frenchman has wooed her for the last six months. He’s been to visit. Very charming. Different, though.’ Everyone nods, knowing exactly what Mother means. ‘Doesn’t stop calling her, ran up a two-hundred-and-fifty- pound phone bill during one week – isn’t that right, Sam?’
‘That’s right.’ I smile awkwardly.
The Comtesse enters the drawing room; Mother is already draining her second aperitif.
‘Alors, dinner is served.’ Six of us head towards the dining room.
The walls are all panelled in wood, thick blood-red curtains are at the windows. The table itself could seat twenty-five comfortably. As it is the six of us are in the middle section.
Mother and I immediately make a dive for the wine. ‘It’s been a long day, right Sam?’ she says as she pours the silky red liquid into my fussily cut glass.
‘Very long, Mum,’ I agree, glugging a large mouthful.
‘Voilà, your starters.’ As the Comtesse arrives with little plates, from the distance I realise two things.
We are not going to be offered a menu to select from. We will be dining on foie gras. I, alas, have been a vegetarian ever since Morrissey declared meat is murder. I am not one for making a fuss at meals. Those annoying
vegetarians who kick off over everything? Not guilty. So I say nothing and slip the slice of foie gras onto Mother’s plate. After a day dining on Red Bull and jelly babies she hoovers everything up in no time.
I am famished.
The next course is, for me, even worse: pigeon. Pigeon! I instantly visualise those poor disabled birds that hobble around Trafalgar Square.
The Comtesse is no fool.
‘You don’t like zat?’ she asks when she clocks me accepting it without the same relish as everyone else at the table.
‘I’m vegetarian,’ I mutter. Everyone around the table stops and looks.
‘Why you no tell me before?’ I thought there’d be a choice! I want to wail, but don’t.
‘Sorry,’ I mumble.
‘Well, I ’ave nothing else.’ And so I pay forty euros for salad and potatoes. Lovely.
After dinner Mother and I retire to the drawing room and drink more wine.
Bob and Babs follow us.
‘You must be so looking forward to seeing your fella,’ Babs smiles.
‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘Yes I am.’ It’s only then I realise I really am looking forward to seeing my ‘fella’.
By 11 p.m. the Comtesse has been drained of her bottle of brandy, most of her coffee is still stewing in the pot and we’re already onto the subject of ‘the trouble with the French’. I’m not sure I really want to get involved in this conversation.
At some point Mother and I stagger up the staircase, trying to find each of the timer switches and then race to the next one before the previous light has been extinguished in the gloomy corridor. As I open the bedroom door, Barney – the fatter, greedier one of my dogs, who I can spy has turned over the bins looking for food – launches himself at us.
‘Ugh! Barney, get off!’ Mother roars.
It is well after midnight and most of the other occupants in the chateau appear to have turned in for the night. I open the heavy front door for the dogs’ final pee and as they bound past me I take in the vast star-filled sky above me. Moths dance around a night light, an owl hoots and there is a rustle in a nearby hedge.
Is my Frenchman looking at the same night sky, I wonder?

You can read the next extract here...