[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 awoke at five o’clock with a nagging suspicion in my stomach, and turned over, warily, in the spare bed. It was still dark, but a couple of birds were hooting outside.
Something was bothering me about today.
Christ. The Presentation.
Simon had commissioned me last week to prepare a six-month review of Profit and Loss for the Board, and had breathed garlic down my neck in hinting that ‘big rewards’ would come my way if I wowed them with my overhead expertise. The trouble was, in all the excitement of the anticipated Valentine’s proposal from Gary, I hadn’t really prepared for it and had been sneaking heat into work and discussing Nicole’s third eyelid with Bunty. The presentation was at 11 this morning. More to the point, I was still in my ripped Alaia.
“Bunty!” I croaked, banging on his door. There was a rustling sound, and then Bunty opened it a crack. He wearing a pair of pyjamas dotted with ponies.
“Daisy, it’s five in the morning,” grunted old Bunty as I pushed past him.
“Didn’t you say your sister left her stuff here when she moved out?” I asked, yanking open one of the doors to his fitted wardrobe. This must be Bunty’s stuff. A row of ochre and puce shirts and a motley collection of novelty ties.
“Yeah, five years ago,” said Bunty, rubbing his eyes. “I don’t think she’ll be back for it.”
I opened another door to reveal an entire Dracula costume hanging proudly in full regalia from the rails.
“Anyway,” I said, quickly moving on, “You said she dumped loads of her clothes? I need something for the presentation, Bunty.”
“What pres – “
I pulled out an old camel-coloured suit and trouser combination. It was creased, and a little too short, but otherwise seemed up to the job. Five minutes’ frantic rummaging in the rest of the wardrobes produced nothing other than a frilly satin nightie, a skirt-over-trousers thing and a Hawaiian bikini.
“There’s only one thing for it,” I said, running for the shower.
“The figures are remarkably interesting,” Roland Cresson-White was murmuring as I tiptoed delicately into the glass-sided meeting room in Bunty’s sister’s ballet shoes, just two minutes shy of my presentation deadline. I was clutching a bundle of acetates close to my chest. The suit, I had discovered while flying out the door, was from New Look and liable to unbutton itself randomly, an effect which thousands of New Look shoppers actually desired, but which I had very good reason not to.
“Yes, they’re incredibly lithe,” Simon replied, handing our Company Sales Director a hot coffee. Then I noticed they were looking at the Sun’s coverage of I’m a Page Three Model…Get Me Out Of Here! I began to manoeuvre the overhead projector with one hand. The five Board members were shuffling papers and muttering ‘stocks’, ‘shares’ and ‘ya.’
“Ah, latte,” said Roland Cresson-White brightly, putting his coffee down in front of him. He leaned forward and began to lap it up like a kitten.
“Let’s get on with the game!” said Simon, clapping his hands nervously. “The lovely Daisy here – “
Roland Cresson-White wolf-whistled. Some coffee bubbled over from his cup.
“ – will now present to us the six-month review of Profit and Loss at Chester, Chaster & Charlie.”
I switched on the overhead projector to reveal a beautiful graph of ascending profit margins, the wrong way round.
“The – ah –” I began, flustered, and just at that moment Toby O’Dash opened the door with a blue-eyed wink and an apology.
This was too much. I blushed scarlet, and began to shake in my ballet shoes. Toby O’Dash pulled out a chair at the front just on my left, cracking his knuckles as he sat down. The next acetate had a sweaty fingerprint right over the middle of the figures table.
“As you can no doubt see,” I stammered, “The figures for January are looking strong despite a slump in pre-Christmas sales…and…”
Toby was looking at the screen very intently, and I threw a glance behind me to check the acetate was straight. There seemed to be nothing wrong with the graph, except for some slight indentations in the corner of the – oh hell.
I had been doodling outside the meeting room on my pad of acetates, and I must have pressed too hard with the pen, for just visible in the corner of the projection was the faint outline of ‘Daisy O’Dash. Daisy O’Dash’ in several different attempts at cultured handwriting.
“Moving on,” I said, snatching the acetate away and rifling through the ones I held, “If we consider the figures for retail as a whole –”
“I have a question,” asked one of the Board.
I looked at him.
“I left my Cranberries CD in reception,” he said.
“Piggy will sort that out for you,” said Simon, nodding at me to carry on, but I was interrupted again.
“I have a question,” said Toby O’Dash.
I dropped all the acetates.
“If the stock figures for January are reconciled with the trading figures for December, can the company prove it has made a profit despite a net loss of 7% across the retail sector as a whole as declared in this morning’s Financial Times?”
“Ah,” I said, frantically snatching and picking up acetates off the floor and hoping for a bolt of inspiration. “Ah, Chester, Chaster & Charlie have consistently raised profits since Black Thursday of 1999 and this year is no –”
“Chester, Chaster & Charlie have made a net loss of 2% in line with the industry as a whole,” retorted Toby without smiling.
“Nonsense, Chester, Chaster & Charlie are on the up!” muttered Roland Cresson-White.
“Chester, Chaster & Charlie have a unique formulation of the future,” said Simon.
“Chester, Chaster & Charlie have made themselves extremely vulnerable to stock market fluctuations caused by 9/11,” said Toby poker-faced.
“Ah – “ I said, scrambling to get up and knocking the table in the process. The remainder of Roland Cresson-White’s latte rolled lazily into his lap.
“Chezza, Chaz and Shirley,” I said. “I mean Cheshire – Chister –”
Roland Cresson-White was smirking.
“Shister – Shyster – “ I stammered, and then realized my suit had unbuttoned itself and the whole room could see the glory of my yellow polka dot bikini. Toby looked straight back up at my face, and gave me an almighty wink.
I ran. Only later did I realize that I’d left one ballet shoe behind.
I was traipsing down Boxford Street with red eyes, after throwing all my work stuff in a carrier bag, knowing I was sacked for life, when my phone buzzed.
“What?” I sniffed.
There was a pause.
“Now that doesn’t sound like the über-successful business woman I know,” said the voice of Toby O’Dash.
“Toby,” I said after a sneeze.
“Do you fancy a bite?” he asked. “Or are you busy signing autographs for the board?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” I said for the fourth time, as Toby O’Dash stretched out like a sleek cat opposite me in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The restaurant was strewn with exotic plants, and a few yards away a fountain was splashing merrily in the late afternoon sun.
“No, I’ve told you I’m not,” said Toby, “Roland Cresson-White thought you were fantastic. He mentioned bonuses and Head Office to Simon as soon as you’d scarpered. They were really impressed. Why don’t you believe me?” he asked teasingly.
“I can’t believe you’re taking me out to dinner,” I replied, blowing my nose.
“What can I say?” said Toby sleekly, oozing style in a blue silk shirt. He brushed a dark curl out of his face with a wave of his cultured Celtic hand. “Quite frankly, you entertained me more in ten minutes than I thought was humanly possible.”
He leaned across and cupped my face with his silky smooth hands.
“And besides,” he said, “You’re just too good to look at.”
I felt myself blushing again. Toby had been staring at me all the way through the meal with his ocean blue eyes and I had only been able to nibble on one Japanese sea cucumber.
“What are you doing later?” he asked.
I suddenly remembered that Fintan and I always went swimming on Wednesday evenings. Well, Fintan went swimming. I sat in the spa.
“I – might try the pool,” I said in a high-pitched voice.
“Excellent,” lilted Toby. “I’ve always been a dab hand at the game myself. Will we go to O’Rourke’s? They’ve a few tables there.”
And so it was that in the smoke of O’Rourke’s pub on a crisp spring evening Toby O’Dash kissed me on the lips and said he was making plans to woo and marry me.
Next morning, the lift stopped at my floor and I swaggered out like a peacock. The Board loved me! Toby O’Dash loved me! I was on top of the world.
My phone buzzed.
“Daisy O’Dash,” I trilled into my phone, trying it out for size. “Head Office!”
“it’s not fair, Daisy,” came Fintan’s voice. “Why do you get all the lovely gentlemen?”
“Fintan,” I soothed. “What happened to the” – I sidestepped Bill Barton from Accounts – “Roman togas?”
“Men are all bastards,” snapped Fintan. “That Finbar cancelled on me. I’ve no-one to go to the Elton bash with now.”
I heard weeping.
“It was going to be the highlight of my year,” sobbed Fintan, “Liza Minnelli and David Gest are singing a duet.”
“I’ll find you a man, Fintan,” I promised, and snapped my phone shut.
Piggy sniggered as I strutted past her desk.
“What happened to you?” she snorted through her tippexed teeth.
I switched on my computer, ignoring her, and trawled through my emails. There was one from Simon Chester, saying, “See me immediately,” and one from – eek! – Toby, which just said, “This evening?? x”. I didn’t know which made me more happy. Love and promotion! Promotion and love! I marched over to Simon’s office and flung open the door. Simon was flicking through Opera Today and hastily shoved it in a drawer.
“Daisy!” he said, “Sit down.”
“Well? When do I go?” I asked, buzzing.
“Go?” he said, looking confused.
“Yes! Go! You know, promotion, Head Office, etc etc.”
Simon looked pained.
“Daisy, you seem to have got the wrong end of the stick,” he said, after a pause. “We’re restructuring the place and, ah… we’d like to offer you a new contract.”
“Well? Fire away!” I replied. “As long as it involves more money!”
“Basically, it involves – reception,” he said.
I was stunned.
“ – But that’s Piggy’s job!” I said eventually.
“No, Daisy, Piggy is being promoted to your job and you are being moved to reception,” said Simon firmly.
“But – Toby said…”
I trailed off.
“Toby?” asked Simon.
“Toby said you liked my presentation,” I muttered to the floor. “I thought I passed.”
“Like is not the word I would use,” said Simon in a strained voice. “Let’s see. You dropped all the acetates, smudged the tables, were unable to answer a reasonable question from the floor, doodled your name all over the graph and underneath it all, you were wearing a bikini. Offhand, I’d say you failed.”
“Failed? But you can’t be, like, the last word on this?” I asked desperately. “What about Roland Cresson-White?”
“Daisy, as far as you are concerned, I am the Messiah of Chester, Chaster & Charlie,” said Simon. “Listen – you as an Office Co-ordinator – doesn’t make sense. You as a receptionist – makes sense!”
“Just because Piggy is your daughter,” I said unhappily, “There’s nothing like a spot of nepotism to make the soul feel good. You are a snob and a half.”
I scuttled back to my desk and scowled at the screen. Just then, I spied the gorgeous locks of Toby over the partition. I stood up and waved, but Toby didn’t see me, so I gave him a quick call across the office.
“ – Toby O’Dash?”
“Hi babes,” I murmured.
There was a silence, then something that sounded like “Piggy?”
“It’s Daisy,” I said, crestfallen.
The phone went dead.
I was on reception a few minutes later with a mood like a cactus when my phone trilled with a message.
It was from Selma.
JUDE RUN ORFF WITH OLENKA I NEW SHE WAS ALWAYS A BITCH FROM HELL MEET U AT VINCENZOS ONE SELMA
My phone was ringing again when I got up and left for lunch but I ignored it.
“How COULD he?” exploded Selma. Her lentil soup was already full of salty tears. “I should have trusted my gut and got her deported weeks ago.” Selma snorted. “It’s not like she was even a real blonde.”
“There, there,” I said, struggling with spaghetti omelette. “Hello Tony! – Oh Selma, it’s not your fault. Where’s Oscar?”
“I got up this morning and found him and that – that – scrawny – Swedish –”
“I thought she was Estonian?”
“What’s the difference? – there they were, snogging at the bottom of the stairs as a taxi pulled up. He hadn’t even been going to TELL me!” shrieked Selma and sank her head down into her lentil soup bowl. She didn’t re-emerge for a while.
“Selma!’ I said, shaking her, but the only response was bubbles.
“Selma!’ I repeated, but her hands fell limply at her sides. Tony was already asking Vincenzo to call an ambulance.
“Oh my God,” I said, getting up in haste. “I think she’s trying to drown herself. – Vincenzo! I object. This soup is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
My phone rang again. It was Tilda.
“Daisy! I’ve seen this DKNY jacket – “
“Tilda, Selma’s drowning,” I snapped.
“But I saw this jacket –”
“Tilda!” I looked up anxiously as a paramedic appeared who looked remarkably like Jeremy Spake. “Reserve it for me, will you?’ I whispered down the phone.
“Oh my goodness, I think I’ve been beaten here,” said the possible Jeremy Spake, looking calmly at the scene. “She’s long gone.”
“Daisy, there’s something else I think you should see,” babbled Tilda down the phone. “You know that Toby guy – “
“Shut up!” I hissed and helped Jeremy lift Selma onto a stretcher. Jeremy climbed into the driver’s seat.
“I’m the only paramedic in London,” he explained to me. “I have to do everything myself.”
“I know someone who can help you with that,” I said. “Tony!” I waved him over. “Meet Jeremy.”
I left the two of them ordering a pot of tea, while lay Selma stretched out behind them, and glanced at my watch. One thing was for sure: there was no time to nip to DKNY and pick up that jacket Tilda had been talking about. It had been bad timing on Selma’s part. My phone buzzed again. Irritated, I looked down.
It was a photo of Toby sitting in Regent’s Park with a girl who looked oddly like Piggy. But that wasn’t the worst part. He was kissing her. And she was kissing him back. The photo was just ten minutes old. And that was the moment my heart finally broke in two.
[Final chapter to follow!]
© Joanna Rubery 2017