[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]
I knew it! It was going to be the most romantic moment of my life.
The waiter had just lit the candle and melted into the shadows. Celine Dion began to coo softly from above. Gary put down his knife and fork, still chewing, looked me deep into the eyes and cleared his throat. I squealed inside and clicked my Manolo Blahniks together two times. Tilda had bought her bridesmaid’s dress with my credit card this morning. She still owed me two hundred quid from last night.
“Daisy,” said Gary mid-chew, “As it’s Valentine’s Day” – he coughed – “and stuff, I wonder if you’d do me the very great honour…”
He looked askance at the waiter who slid forward from nowhere. I shut my eyes and waited in breathless bliss.
“…of letting me have the rest of ya potatoes,” continued Gary, “This place is like a bloody concentration camp. Eh, mate, how about bringing us another plate of chips?”
I looked at Gary like a popped balloon. He wiped his greasy mouth with the back of his hand, let out a loud burp and looked back at me.
“What?” he said.
I stood up like an unfolding pylon. There was a horrific ripping sound. My gorgeous floaty little black number, never worn before, had torn lengthwise along my hip. I looked like Elizabeth Hurley without the pins.
“Careful, else the waiter’ll see your bits,” said Gary with a fat laugh. I stared at him, speechless. Tilda had been right about him, after all. As soon as she saw him on Can’t Diet Won’t Diet she said he reminded her of Johnny Vegas.
“No, you can’t have my potatoes!” I cried. “They’re Japanese sea cucumbers, not potatoes!” I picked one up and let it splash back into the dish. “I’ve been on the Atkins Diet since November to get into this bloody dress!”
“Eh, calm down, calm down,” said Gary, befuddled. “Never mind about the dress, lovey. It’s only a piece of nylon.”
This was the final insult.
“It’s an ALAIA!” I screamed, throwing my bowl of sea cucumber broth across the table at his head. There was a clunk, and Gary wobbled, eyes rolling, as the soup began to slide down his considerable chest.
“Bloody hell,” he managed, “You win a reality show and women go mad for you,” before he fainted dead away.
After the paramedics had revived Gary with a couple of well-placed slaps, I found myself tottering through the deserted streets of Foolham, on my own, in the rain, without a coat, thoroughly miserable. On top of that, my gorgeous shoes were taking on a slightly mildewed look. It was nearly midnight and all I had was Tilda chattering in my ear.
“I can’t believe he said that about your dress,” Tilda was saying.
“I’ve got nowhere to live,” I muttered.
“Heavens, look at the time!” Tilda squealed. “This is all terribly enthralling, but I have to be in like twinkletoes at 6.30 tomorrow morning for next month’s Feature Meeting.”
The phone went dead. I sighed in icy envy. Tilda led something of the high life. She worked for the society magazine Bitch! and although she’d spent three weeks in cosmetic surgery to get the job, she said it was the best five thousand quid she’d ever spent. I’d given up reminding her it was actually my five thousand quid.
There was no other option, as I stood bedraggled on the corner of Tootling Road and Belgropia Lane, than to flag down a cab and go to Fintan’s.
In the car, my phone rang harshly again.
“You don’t mind if I write about your charming little Valentine’s débâcle?” trilled Tilda. “I can just see the headline. Chucked for Chips. Dumped for Dumplings.”
“Sea cucumbers,” I said.
“Think of the feel-good factor!” warbled Tilda. “At least our readers would know there’s always some poor cow who’s worse off than they are!”
I cut her off.
Fintan answered the door holding a glass of white wine and wearing a Roman toga.
“Daisy!” he said, bowing elegantly. “Nice shoes. Do join us. We’re holding a Roman orgy.”
“Fintan,” I began, “Gary and I have just –” but I was interrupted by a coo from beyond.
“Oh Fintan!” sang a sibilant voice. “My grapes are getting cold!”
“Do excuse me,” said Fintan, straight-faced. “My guests need attending to. Help yourself to drinks. Light bites. Olives. You know where the bathroom is!”
He flounced off towards the sounds of clinking and cooing. Wet, tired and miserable, I stamped up the stairs, kicked off my shoes, collapsed on scattering of silken cushions and began to count Prada handbags. No Gary. No wedding. And a ripped apart Alaia. Apart from the week I worked at Megabowl, my life, I realized, had never been worse.
I woke in a muddled haze. My phone was buzzing under pile of abandoned grapes.
“Are you on your own?” screeched a voice. “I know you what you‘re like!”
“Tilda!” I hissed. “Do you know what time it is?”
“It’s exactly six thirty-one!” said Tilda, unconcerned. “And I want you here at once.”
“What about your Feature Meeting?” I whispered, rolling off the cushions. In the corner lay a heap of ruffled togas. To my horror, I counted three – no four – bronzed faces snoozing lightly up in Fintan’s four-poster bed.
“What meeting?” said Tilda. “Look, I was just coming out of Starbucks with my double whipped mochaccino extra maple hold-the-mayo decaff lite when I saw this absolutely adorable pair of Jimmy Choos in the window. You have got to get here and see them. They will go with that bridesmaid’s dress like a dream! I’ll even let you copy me and get some yourself.”
“Tilda, I told you,” I hissed back. “I’m not getting married any more.”
“What? But what a wasted opportunity,” she began. “Think of all the freebies you’d get for marrying a reality TV star! And there’s always divorce.”
“I suppose I could do with some retail therapy,” I sighed and looked around for my shoes, but they had disappeared under a pile of Roman sandals.
Thirty minutes later I was flat-footing it along Boxford Street. To avoid looking like she had been stood up on a date, Tilda was pretending to be a Japanese tourist and was photographing Selfridges from many angles with her phone.
“I didn’t know Roman sandals were in again,” said Tilda, snapping my footwear rapidly as I approached. “I’ll let Moo know. She does the ‘Ra! I’m a Bitch and I love…’ column.”
“Let me see those Jimmy Choos,” I said, my ankles bleeding from the Roman straps.
Three hours later I was poised in front of a mirror with Tilda and an onlooking assistant, trying to decide on either the pinks or the duck egg blues, when I heard Big Ben chime ten.
“Christ!” I screeched, grabbing Tilda’s faux fur coat. “Work!”
“Work?” frowned the assistant faintly. “What’s that?”
“It’s what you do in this shop to get money, dear,” said Tilda.
“Oh no,” trailed the assistant who wasn’t an assistant. “I don’t work here. I just shop.”
“Do you hunt?” asked Tilda, with interest.
“Ya, I do actually!” said the girl, looking animated. “Where do you meet?”
“I’ve just remembered!” I muttered, “There’s a new recruit arriving today!” I squeezed my cut wet feet back into the sandals. “Bloody hell! And Simon said last time that if I was late again –”
“Tilda Field,” said Tilda, flashing her ID at the waif girl. “Fashion Editor, Bitch! Small hint. Roman sandals are in again. You heard it here first.”
The lift insisted on stopping on every floor. Christ! The very day I was most late. And the heating had broken down. What century did we live in? When the doors hissed open for the fourth time I was about to scream when into the lift stepped a hunk and a half.
“Well, hello,” sang a silky voice. I looked straight into a pair of ocean blue eyes. “Sure you look like you had a good night, now, so you do.”
I swallowed, mesmerized. Out of the corner of my eye I could see myself in the lift mirror.
My arms were goose-pimpled with cold and my hair was like a haystack. The precious Alaia still clung to my skin, ripped along my thigh, leaving bare mud-splattered legs all the way down to my Roman sandals. There was blood on the floor.
“I’m – a kissagram,” I said in desperation. The hunk smiled.
“A kissagram, eh?” he said, flexing his muscles like a tiger. He had a slight accent that I couldn’t place. “How much do you charge?”
The lift doors opened onto my floor.
There was a pause.
I decided to carpe el diem and raised my phone camera to get a quick snap of him. Tilda would drool.
The hunk blinked in surprise.
“Excuse me,” I croaked, and made a crab-like movement to get out of the lift.
To my horror, he followed me out and started walking behind me to the office. I began to run, sandals flopping on the carpet and, in full view of him, tripped head over heels, landing flat on my backside in front of Piggy on reception. She had been sipping a latte and choked when she saw me, exploding froth all over my dress.
“What happened to you?” snorted Piggy.
“Piggy, I’m a kissagram,” I said, wiping off the froth. “Shut up or ship out. Where’s – “
As if to my answer my question, Simon Chester came swaggering towards me, rattling the filing cupboards with every heavy tread.
“Ah ha ha!” he said, waggling a fat finger at me. “Who’s been a naughty girl and is late for class again?”
“Daddy,” said Piggy, giggling.
My boss stood in front of me, arms folded, his piglet eyes leering at the rip in my crushed Alaia. A button popped on his shirt. I saw my old colleague David Butterfield, who we all punched on the arm and called Bunty, mouthing “Lunch later?” and nodded back as invisibly as I could.
“Seems you have a kissagram, Simon,” said the hunk from behind me, leaning himself contentedly against the filing cupboard.
“Is that so?” purred Simon, rubbing his hands together. “Why did you deceive our new Regional Sales Director into thinking you were a kissagram, Daisy? Especially when you hardly have the figure for it.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The hunk was, incredibly, the new recruit.
“It was a mistake,” I said, blushing scarlet as a red nose. “I didn’t know he – you – worked here.”
“Miss Chicklit – it is Miss, isn’t it?” droned Simon to my chest. “None of this feminist Ms nonsense that’s bandying about, eh?” He drew himself up to his full height of five foot six. “Lateness is one crime but deception is another, young lady. My office. Now! – Later, Toby,” he nodded to the hunk.
I traipsed after Simon with Piggy honking and hooting in my ears. The boss slammed his office door shut and leaned against his desk. I stood looking at my sandals.
“Daisy,” he said at length, “You’ve been late four times this month. What’s going on?”
“I object, Simon,” I said, “Last Tuesday I had the decorators in.”
“I assume you are referring to women’s troubles and will let that one slide,” said Simon. “But it doesn’t look good, Daisy. Toby O’Dash is our new Regional Sales Director and” – he scratched his head – “while I know women can’t be expected to keep up with men in terms of sheer business competence, I do expect that they keep up a professional appearance.” He looked at my feet. “What’s with the sandals?”
I sighed and muttered something about Tilda, Gary and Roman toga parties.
“Look Daisy,” said Simon, “I’ll overlook this cock-up on one condition.“
I looked up questioningly. Take out the trash? Clean up his coffee cups? Clear away his McLunch? That’s what it was last time, although I never did get to the bottom of why I found a tube of mascara in his fries.
“The condition is that you give me a kiss,” leered Simon and thrust his face forwards.
“What’s up with you?” said Piggy through her buck teeth in the ladies as I stood vigorously brushing my teeth.
“I had to kiss Simon because I was late,” I said through toothpaste.
Piggy was applying Tippex to whiten her teeth.
“I can’t believe how you think it was a punishment,” she pouted. “Daddy works very hard and never comes home till after I’ve gone to bed. I never get to kiss him at all.”
“Piggy,” I said, ripping off my Roman sandals, “Did you know that Roman sandals will be making a comeback this season? Get ahead of the trend.”
Piggy snorted in excitement as I threw the sandals at her.
I checked my watch. I was meeting Bunty for lunch in fifteen minutes. Unexpectedly, I felt all warm inside. Unlike Gary, good old Bunty would never let me down. Right?
[Chapter 2 to follow!]
© Joanna Rubery 2017