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Authors: Claudia Carroll

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BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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Jo squeezes my arm. ‘So what
did
you see in store for Marilyn?’

‘Long story. Tell you later.’

It goes without saying that the dinner is beyond excruciating.

Marc with a C is in ratty humour because the one cute guy he targeted was, shall we say, not of his persuasion. ‘I really, really hate it when straight guys look like that,’ he hisses to me between courses. ‘Simon Cowell has a lot to answer for.’

‘What are you talking about? For inventing
The X Factor
?’

‘No, dopey. For inventing the concept of the metero-sexual.’

Charlene is completely distracted throughout the whole meal and when she’s not checking her mobile phone every two minutes, she’s almost jumping out of her seat whenever someone comes in or out of the dining-room door, then getting upset with them for not being Jack.

The good news for me is that I’m sitting across from Jo; the bad news is that I’m right beside Anna Regan. The beyond-awful Anna Regan. And her fiancé, Timmy. And her famous Tiffany-cut engagement ring. And the same story, told over and over again, about how rich he is and how he proposed to her on top of the Eiffel Tower and how
stunned
she was and how rich he is and how he
went
down on bended knee, oh . . . and did I remember to mention how
rich
he is?

To give you an idea just how agonizing the whole conversation is, purely to get a breather I suggest to Jo and Marc with a C that we slip outside to the garden between courses for cigarette breaks. None of us actually smokes, but we’re hoping that’s a detail no one will notice. It’s also freezing, but none of us cares much about that either.

‘Stroke of genius thinking of that, Cassie,’ says Marc with a C as the three of us plonk down on to an elegant Louis XVI wrought-iron bench on the terrace. ‘I humbly thank you from the heart of my bottom.’

‘Anna Regan’s fiancé is the most boring, geekiest-looking yoke I have
ever
come across,’ says Jo, dismally. ‘What can she possibly see in him? Or, more to the point, what can he possibly see in her?’

‘Apart from the fifty million, you mean?’ I say. ‘Oh God, she’s only been engaged five minutes and already she’s turned into Bridezilla. I really don’t know how much more of her I can listen to.’

And it’s only half-nine. On the plus side though, there’s still no sign of Jack.

Jack, my new boss, I remind myself. Jack, who I’ll be working with very regularly from next week onwards. Jack, who I’m just going to have to bloody well get used to being around, whether I like it or not.

‘So it’s all going to be very informal and low-key,’ Anna Regan is still chirruping on as we’re dragged back inside for yet another course. ‘Just your typical, normal, two-hundred-thousand-euro wedding, you know. There you are, Cassie!’ she says, spotting me and patting imperiously on the empty seat beside her. ‘No pressure, but what do you see about our astrological compatibility? I’m Taurus and Timmy here is Aries. Oh, and I was wondering if you had any psychic episodes, or flashes or whatever it is you call them, about next July for a wedding? If I go for the strapless Vera Wang with the twelve-foot train and then it rains, I’ll look
sooooo
ridiculous.’

‘Well, long-range weather forecasting wouldn’t really be my thing, Anna,’ I say, mortified.

She always, unfailingly, does this whenever I’m in her company; treats me like some kind of freak show/ performing monkey, at her beck and call to play soothsayer for the night. It
really
drives me nuts.

‘Oh, and in Chinese astrology, I was born in the year of the Monkey! I know, nineteen eighty! Can you just believe that I’m only twenty-six and I’ll be the first of the gang to get married!’

I’m not kidding; this really is how she goes on. I’ve never met anyone like her; Anna Regan actually does speak in exclamation marks.

‘Ooh, and do you see anything in my lifeline about how long I’ll live for?’ she says, shoving her hand under
my
nose. As if I’ve suddenly turned into a fortune-teller at a circus or something. Jesus, she’ll be crossing my palm with silver in a minute. ‘I hate to sound ghoulish, but when I die, I want it to be at the exact same moment as Timmy, so neither of us ever has to be alone again, not even for a single second. I strongly believe in mating for life. You know, kind of like penguins.’

I look over at Jo and am relieved to see that I’m not the only one fit to throw up at this.

‘Ooh, how fab! Is Cassandra doing predictions?’ says a blonde-haired girl from the other side of the table, who I think is called Ayesha, although Marc with a C keeps drunkenly referring to her as ‘Eyeshadow’. ‘Can you see anything in the future for me?’ she’s pleading with me. ‘My love life is just such a natural disaster. Kind of like Julia Roberts’s hair, you know.’

It’s almost like some kind of floodgate has been opened and they’re all acting as if they’ve just been waiting for this the entire night and now it’s open season for freebie predictions.

‘Me next! My go!’ says the girl beside her, who has bright red hair and a trout-pout. ‘Do you think this is a good time for me to get a job, like my mother is always telling me to? A boob-job, that is.’

‘Leave Cassie alone, you big thunder-stealer,’ says Anna. ‘She’s dealing with me first. So, who should I ask to be my chief bridesmaid? I love everyone here dearly, but I
think
we all know there can only be one clear winner! Oh, and do you think I’ll lose a few pounds before the big day? It would be so cool if you saw me down to a size two. That would be my absolute thinspiration.’

‘But can I ask just one teeny thing?’ says a deep-voiced, dark-haired girl on the other side of Anna, who’s hardly said a single word all night. ‘Do you think that I’m destined to repeat patterns in my love life over and over again, like my analyst keeps telling me? She says I’m like a magnet for emotionally unavailable men. She also says I need to live in the now, but as far as I can see, women who do that tend to die alone and penniless and single. Which, I suppose, is why we turn to psychics.’

‘Yes, but you’re
better
at being single than some of us,’ says red-haired girl again. ‘What about the guy I’m seeing at the moment? Because I think his idea of fidelity is not to flirt with other women until the end of the evening. Is that a bad sign, do you think? I really need guidance here, Cassandra, and I’d be far too embarrassed to write to you care of your magazine.’

‘Ha! You think that’s bad?’ says the girl who Marc with a C keeps calling Eyeshadow, and now, forevermore, that’ll be her name in my head. ‘Do you realize a guy rang my mobile number by accident and we got chatting and it turned out to be probably the best conversation with a single man that I’ve had in months? A wrong number. I’m not kidding, girls, squirrels get more
action
than me. Everyone keeps telling me to get a cat, just to alleviate the sheer loneliness, but my problem is, I distrust anything that loves me that unconditionally.’

You’ve no idea what this all sounds like. A cacophony of relationship problems is being hurled at me from all different directions and I’m beginning to feel like some kind of freak show.

And then, quite unexpectedly, the flashes start. A load of them, like an avalanche, all at once. I’m seeing things and I haven’t got the first clue what they mean, or what they signify.

I see Anna Regan, sitting at an immaculate kitchen table, looking like a cross between a Stepford wife and something out of a 1950s’ Doris Day movie, wearing a Cath Kidston apron with her hair freshly blow-dried and immaculately applied lipstick. There’s a strong smell of burning coming from her oven and the clock on the wall says it’s eleven at night. And it’s pitch dark outside and she’s alone and there’s no sign of her husband. Everything around her is absolutely pristine and gleaming, right down to the granite work surfaces and the Villeroy and Boch china, all beautifully laid out for dinner. For two
.

But the feeling of utter desolation and despair I’m getting from her is almost overwhelming
.

Then I see her pouring herself a very large brandy and knocking it back in a single gulp
. . .

‘Cassie? Are you OK? Can you hear me?’ I can hear Jo’s voice dimly in the background, but it’s almost as if I’m in the deepest sleep you could imagine and can’t quite bring myself to wake up.

‘Maybe she’s not actually seeing things,’ I can hear Charlene saying, concerned. ‘Maybe it’s just an ice-cream headache.’

‘Don’t be so ridiculous. Will you just look at her? She’s shaking like a paint-mixer.’

Then I see Eyeshadow. At least I think it’s her. It’s hard to tell as she’s wearing a ski-suit and is all muffled up in a huge scarf. Thank God, I’m glad to say this is a much happier flash: she’s strolling hand-in-hand with someone, also in ski gear, and they’re having fun, relaxed, in love. It’s all just so romantic, it’s twilight and there’s deep snow on the ground, chalets in the distance, and I’d swear they were in Austria, or somewhere near the Alps
.

Then she impulsively turns round to kiss her partner and, at the same time, they both pull their hoods down a bit and . . . I don’t believe it, it’s a woman. The partner is a woman. Definitely. She’s older, more mature, very attractive, and the two of them look as if they’re absolutely mad about each other; they’re just so loved-up, it’s adorable . . . This is it, this is for ever, I just feel it
. . .

‘Is she OK? Should I get her some water?’

Oh God, it’s Jack’s voice. I’m certain. I’d know that voice anywhere. Shit. He came then.

I open my eyes and he’s standing right in front of me, looking really worried. Oh, and very sexy, too, by the way. Charlene is beside him, hands on hips, and Jo is patting my hand and looking matronly, just like you see the nurses doing on
Grey’s Anatomy
.

‘Sorry,’ I say in a tiny voice, ‘I think I might have got a bit weak.’

‘Hey, I hope there’s nothing wrong with my TV star,’ Jack says, smiling kindly down at me. ‘I don’t want you cancelling on me next week. There’ll be a public outcry. People will start demanding their licence fees back.’

I smile and so, I notice sneakily, does Jo. Good. That means she likes him.

‘So where were you all evening then, Jack?’ Charlene asks, tugging on his arm.

‘Big drama at work. I don’t know if you’ve seen the papers today, but—’

‘I only ever read the gossip pages and the horoscopes,’ says Charlene innocently.

‘Oh right,’ he says, looking at her, a bit puzzled, as if he’s wondering whether or not she’s actually being serious. (She is.) ‘Anyway, there was a lot of, shall we say, very negative press coverage about one of the
Breakfast Club
presenters—’

‘Maura,’ I say, gratefully taking a sip of water.

‘That’s it,’ he goes on. ‘Anyway, to make a long story short, we had an emergency production meeting to discuss her future with the show and . . . I’ll let you read all about it in tomorrow’s papers,’ he trails off, a bit embarrassed. ‘It was the Director General’s call in the end and not a popular decision, but, well, put it this way, Cassie, I think you’ll only have one person interviewing you on the show next week. I’m really sorry about this. Circumstances way beyond my control, I’m afraid.’

‘That’s fine,’ I say, knowing exactly what he means and exactly what happened to Maura. Bloody hell.

‘Come on,’ says Jo, gripping me tightly. ‘I’m putting you into a taxi and I’m taking you home.’

‘Can I give you ladies a lift?’ asks Jack politely.


What
did you say?’ says Charlene, looking panicky, then stops, remembers herself and beams angelically. ‘I mean, you have to stay and have something to eat, Jack. Dinner is finished but maybe you’ll have some dessert? There’s loads left over.’

‘That’s really nice,’ he says, looking mortified, ‘but I had no idea you were having company. And such posh company too. I wouldn’t have dreamt of barging in like this if I’d known you were entertaining. I should really leave. I’m sure I’m the last person you want to see.’

Poor guy, if only he knew . . .

Now Charlene looks really flustered, but Jo rescues her.

‘It’s fine, thanks,’ she says firmly. ‘You stay and have a drink, Jack. I can take Cassie home from here.’

‘Right then,’ he says, looking a bit, well, snookered. ‘If you’re sure, that is.’

‘Certain, thanks. By the way, it’s really nice to meet you.’ And I can tell by looking at her that she means it.

It’s only when we get into a taxi on our way home that she tells me what she really thinks. ‘Don’t you get it?’ she says to me. ‘It’s so obvious what’s happening.’

‘Ehh, couldn’t make it a bit more obvious, could you?’

‘Why did none of us see this before?’

‘Jo! See what?’

‘There you were, seeing things, getting flashes all over the place the whole evening, being amazing, until the minute Jack walked into the room. It’s just like what happened to you in that TV studio. It might as well have been a repeat performance.’

‘Jo, what are you talking about?’

‘You have a gift, this incredible gift. Which goes completely out the window whenever he’s in the room. It wasn’t
nerves
that made you dry in that TV studio, it was
him
. Don’t you understand?’

My stomach starts to feel a bit sick: that awful, nauseous feeling you get when you hear something you’d far rather not and you know it’s the truth, whether you like it or not. And then I think about next week.
And
the contract I’ve just signed with the
Breakfast Club
. And how there is absolutely no way of getting out of it.

Absolutely none . . .

In the end, Jo says it out loud. ‘Cassie, I don’t mean to alarm you, but, unless we come up with a plan, and
fast
, I think you could be in really big trouble here.’

Chapter Seven

THE TAROT DECK

THE HANGED MAN CARD

Oh Dear. Probably the most feared card in the whole deck. Generally people who pick this card should think about what they’re going to do, then not do it and then run very, very fast in the opposite direction
.

BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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