Authors: Paige Toon
Tags: #Fiction, #General
I roll my eyes. ‘That’s wrong on so many levels. One, I’d be using Lachie to take my mind off Alex, and two, I’d feel completely shit when he sleeps with me and moves on
to the next chick.’
‘Do you think he’s like that?’
She frowns. ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure.’
‘Yeah, well, I’m not about to risk it for the sake of a twenty-four-year-old guitar bum.’
She laughs. ‘He’s not a guitar bum.’
‘If you like him so much, why don’t you sleep with him?’
‘Alright then, maybe I will,’ she replies flippantly and I stare at her in shock. She smirks at the look on my face. ‘I’m just joking.’ She points her forefinger at
me accusingly. ‘I
you liked him.’
‘I don’t.’ I frown. ‘Not really. Not like that.’
‘Well, he likes
not me, anyway,’ she points out.
I pull a face. ‘Do you seriously think he does?’
She gives me a ‘duh!’ look. ‘But whatever. If you’re not attracted to him...’
‘I didn’t say I wasn’t attracted to him.’
‘Who isn’t?’ I say.
‘Fair point,’ she concedes.
I sigh and get up from the bed, stretching my arms over my head and yawning loudly. ‘I’m going to see if I can fall asleep now.’
‘Alright. Night-night, Bronte.’
I walk out of the door, but she calls after me, ‘Night-night, Mary Ann!’
I call back, ‘Night-night, Billy Bob!’ I turn into my room.
‘Night-night, Suzie Lynn!’
I smirk. ‘Night-night, Sally Jo!’
‘Shut up, Bridget!’ I cut her off and slam my bedroom door.
She cracks up laughing and I do too.
Monday rolls around quickly. I’m nervous as I travel into work, wondering how Alex is going to be around me.
For the first time since I saw him on the up escalator when I was going down, our paths cross over in Tottenham Court Road Tube station.
‘Hi!’ he exclaims with surprise as we pass through the turnstiles next to each other.
‘Hi yourself,’ I bat back, feeling myself blush. I must’ve walked straight past him on the escalator – I’m in my own little world today. He adjusts his bag over his
shoulder as we make our way to the stairs. I’m still a little out of breath and I feel awkward. I don’t know what to say so I hope he does.
‘Did you speak to Polly?’ he asks.
‘No.’ My mouth turns down. ‘Couldn’t face it.’ I glance at him. ‘I guess that makes me a bad person.’
We spill out of the Tube station and into the cold, wet street. I run for cover under the Centre Point overhang as the rain pelts down with a vengeance.
‘What happened to summer?’ I mutter as Alex joins me, shoving his damp, dark hair off his face. It’s still only mid-August. I pull my super-lightweight umbrella out of my bag.
Since moving to England, I’ve found it as essential as my Tube pass.
‘At least it was nice yesterday,’ he says as we set off towards Covent Garden and our magazine offices. I’m holding my umbrella over both of us, but we’re not huddled
together so his right shoulder will be getting wet. ‘I went to see my sister and her husband in St Albans,’ he reveals.
‘Is this Jo and Brian?’
‘Yeah.’ He smiles down at me. ‘Your memory is amazing.’
I shrug. ‘Yeah, it’s pretty shit-hot.’
He laughs and the sound fills me with warmth. I like making him laugh.
‘Do you have a photographic memory?’ he teases.
‘I wish. No, I usually only remember the things I want to fff—’
He finishes my sentence for me. ‘Forget?’
I try to laugh it off, but the sound catches in my throat. I nod instead.
Yes, there are definitely some things I’d rather forget.
When I start up my computer a familiar name jumps out at me from my inbox. I click on the message from Lily and squeak.
Elizabeth Rose Whiting arrived on Sunday 17 August at 7.15 a.m. weighing 3.3 kg. She was two weeks early so Ben is hoping this is a sign that she
won’t keep us waiting (up all night) in the years to come. Mummy thinks Daddy’s dreaming... I’m recovering well after a relatively easy labour – no, I never thought
I’d utter those words either! (Thank you Dr Gowri and your hypnosis CDs!) Pictures of our beautiful little girl attached. We are so in love right now xxx
I put my hand to my mouth as I stare at the photographs of the tiny baby. She is so adorable. I can’t wait to meet her.
The latest issue of
lands on my desk and I look up at Simon.
‘Thanks,’ I say. He pauses and smiles, seeing the baby snaps on my screen.
‘Who’s that?’ he asks.
‘My friend Lily had her baby,’ I tell him.
‘The Lily who got us the Joseph Strike pictures?’ he asks with interest.
He leans forward and peers at the pictures. ‘Aah. She’s cute. Why don’t you get Sarah to send her some flowers from us? That baby bump issue is still our highest-selling issue
of the year.’
Followed in close second place by the Joe Strike baby issue.
‘Aw, thank you, I will.’
How sweet is that? I get up and go to speak to Sarah, the editorial assistant, who’s only too happy to oblige. She’s still super-keen and efficient, but I wonder how long Simon will
be able to hang onto her before she moves onwards and upwards.
A week later, Nicky resigns. I seem to be the only person in the office who is shocked.
‘She was pushed,’ Russ whispers gleefully when we’re in the kitchen.
I frown at him. ‘What makes you say that?’
‘It’s obvious, isn’t it? She’s rubbish.’
‘Russ,’ I tut, rolling my eyes.
‘Good riddance,’ he adds.
‘She’s not that bad.’ I can’t believe I’m defending her. If she had superpowers, her evil stares would have bored a huge hole right through my head.
Simon calls me into the back office for a meeting later that week.
‘As you know, Nicky has resigned,’ he says.
There’s still no clear indication of whether she was pushed. She claims she wanted to take a break and spend some more time with her ageing parents.
‘Yes.’ I nod.
‘It’s company policy to advertise, but I’ve spoken to Clare and she agrees. We’d like you to step up.’
My eyes widen as I stare at him. Just like that? They’re not going to make me jump through horrible interviewing hoops like they usually do? My face breaks into a grin.
‘It takes a certain person to be able to deal with celebrities and get them to do the things that you want them to do,’ he says with a smile. ‘Some of these people are very,
very difficult to deal with. You have to be extremely tactful, you can’t upset or annoy them, yet all the time you have to still,
convince, cajole, and do whatever’s
necessary to get them to deliver. Nelly Lott is a very good example of how you achieved that.’
‘Well, that was mostly Alex,’ I say automatically.
‘It was a joint effort,’ he insists, and I can’t argue. He continues. ‘As Picture Director, you’ll also have to manage the budget and negotiate big sets of
pictures, which means handling large amounts of money. We’ll send you on some courses, including one for management, because you’ll be in charge of two people. I know you’ve
covered for Nicky before, but it would help for you to shadow her before she leaves, so you can learn the ropes properly.’
It goes without saying that I’m not overly keen on this idea. ‘Will she be okay with me doing that?’ I ask tentatively.
‘Absolutely.’ He sounds very confident. Then again, if she wants to leave with a good reference... ‘Helen will move up and we’ll advertise for a picture
‘Okay,’ I nod, still trying to take all of this in.
‘Happy?’ he asks.
Surely he can tell by my face that I am. Very. ‘Yes!’ I enthuse. ‘Thank you!’ But hang on... ‘What about my visa? It expires in March. I’m supposed to be
going home. Is this just temporary?’
He appears thoughtful. ‘I’d forgotten about that,’ he admits.
My heart sinks, but he doesn’t look perturbed.
‘Would you consider staying here in the UK?’ he asks.
‘Can I just do that?’
‘I don’t think it will be a problem to extend your visa, if that’s what you’d like?’
Is that what I’d like? I think so.
‘I’ll speak to Clare about it,’ he says of the publisher. ‘She’s handled visa situations in the past. She’ll know what to do.’
‘Either way, I still want you to step up,’ he says. ‘Even if we only have you for another six months or so.’
I grin. ‘Cool.’
‘I’ll make the announcement on Friday, so please keep it under your hat until then.’
The meeting is over, but an idea comes to me. ‘Do you have anyone in mind for the assistant job?’
‘No.’ He shakes his head. ‘Do you?’
‘I was wondering about Sarah?’
‘Our editorial assistant?’
‘Yes. She’s shown an interest in pictures, and I think she’d be great.’ She was intrigued to know that my first job in the magazine industry was editorial assistant,
‘Let’s talk to her together,’ he says.
Everyone in the office cheers on Friday afternoon when the announcement is made. Three of us are stepping up: Helen, Sarah and me. Sarah was absolutely ecstatic to be given the
opportunity, which was lovely. Simon is advertising for a new editorial assistant position and he’ll be inundated with applications.
It’s a given that my friends and I will all be heading to the pub. Alex seems genuinely proud of me when we chink glasses.
‘You deserve it,’ he says.
‘Thank you.’ I purse my lips at him, cheekily. ‘I think it was that Nelly Lott shoot that swung it, so thanks for that.’
He looks perplexed. ‘Why are you thanking me?’
‘You were the one who convinced her to pose in her dodgy PJs without any make-up on.’
‘There’s no way I’m taking credit for that,’ he says resolutely, shaking his head. ‘You convinced her, too. You were amazing on that shoot.’
I smile at him. I thought the same about him.
‘Aren’t you going back to Oz in March?’ Lisa interrupts us. Simon didn’t go into details about my visa, so I relay the developments to my colleagues. Clare thinks we
won’t have too much trouble getting an extension.
‘So you’re staying in the UK?’ Alex asks, shocked.
‘Looks like it,’ I reply.
He seems taken aback, but he quickly recovers and appears happy. ‘Well, cheers to that.’
We chink glasses again. ‘How are the wedding plans coming along?’ I ask Russ.
‘Service is booked in,’ he tells us. ‘Who’s sorted their flights?’ He stares around the table with purpose and then points at each and every one of us in turn.
‘I’m doing it at the weekend,’ Lisa replies.
He skips over Pete who looks a little shamefaced. ‘I know you’re not coming.’
‘Sorry, we can’t afford it,’ he makes his excuses. ‘The wedding wiped us out.’
‘I know you said they’re really cheap, but it’s all the other costs. Anyway, Sylvie can’t get any more time off work.’
‘Fine.’ Russ sighs melodramatically and turns to me. ‘I know you’re coming,’ he says with a grin.
Despite my objections, Russ and Maria paid for my flight, Rachel’s and, I assume, Lachie’s too. I haven’t spoken to him since the Friday before last.
‘I’m booking mine tomorrow,’ Alex promises, snapping me to attention.
‘Yay!’ Russ holds his arms aloft like a champion. ‘Zara as well?’
‘She can’t. She’s in New York again that weekend,’ Alex replies, and it feels like someone has removed my heart from my body for a second before putting it back in again.
Zara’s not coming, but he is?
‘She’s always in bloody New York!’ Russ exclaims. ‘Can’t she go another week?’
Alex shrugs. ‘Nope. Her boss is pretty full-on.’
Russ moves on to the next person at the table, Tim. I hear him say he’s got his tickets booked, but I’m still pondering Alex’s revelation. He’s coming to Russ and
Maria’s wedding – alone.
‘Hey,’ Lachie says with an easy grin, getting up to greet Bridget and me. We’ve met up in the departure lounge of Stansted Airport. I give him a big bear hug
– I haven’t seen him since that weird night with Polly, but I’m so pleased he’s here. He pulls away and smiles affectionately down at me before turning to Bridget. I greet
everyone else, but it’s the sight of Alex that makes me the most jittery.
The flight to Bilbao is short but sweet. Some of Russ and Maria’s other friends and close family also joined us at the airport and there’s a fun feeling of camaraderie between all of
When we arrive in Bilbao at just after one o’clock in the afternoon, the skies are mostly blue, but a few clouds are hanging over the mountains by the time we get to our destination just
over an hour away. Maria’s grandfather’s property is in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The villa itself is sprawling and a little bit random, stepped down in several levels over a steep
incline. At the higher end of the large property there are three two-bed apartments, separated from the main villa by a driveway. Russ has reserved these for his family and some of his and
Maria’s close friends, while Maria’s family are staying with her grandfather in his separate apartment at the lowest level of the villa.
Her grandfather and parents are waiting on the drive when we pull up, and there’s much hugging and kissing and talking in Spanish – which sounds very welcoming, although I
don’t understand a word of it – before we’re allowed to take our bags inside.
The ramshackle main body of the house has been built above the apartment and that’s where the rest of us are staying. We enter into a large kitchen with a long wooden table that seats
twelve. A few steps down take us into a TV room, then more steps take us further towards the back of the house where two double bedrooms with balconies look out at the gorgeous, tree-covered
mountains. Russ dumps his bag in the larger of these two rooms. He has a huge south-facing balcony that looks over the swimming pool and grassy lawn below. A white marquee has already been set up
on the lawn and the sight makes Maria squeak with delight. Despite the fact that she’s pregnant with his child, Maria’s parents were allegedly aghast at the thought of her sharing
Russ’s bedroom. It’s bad luck to see the groom before the wedding, anyway, so tonight she’s staying in the apartment downstairs and tomorrow they’ll sleep together as man