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Authors: Claudia Carroll

I Never Fancied Him Anyway (36 page)

BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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‘What I always do. Wing it. Hope for the best.’

‘Ah now, come on, Cassie, you can’t leave me in the dark like this. I’m not letting you off the hook till you tell me who he is. A cameraman, maybe? Or somebody
famous
, someone I might know? A newsreader? That fella that does the National Lottery? The girls at home are all mad about him.’

‘My lips are sealed.’ I giggle, thinking: bit late for any kind of discretion now.

‘Well, he’ll be a lucky man, whoever he is. A gorgeous girl like you? Sure, all you have to do is pick and choose.’

Oh, isn’t Valentine just
adorable?
Lucky, lucky Danish girl.

‘I wish my life was that straightforward, I really do. But there’re . . . Well, let’s just say that there are complications about this guy. He kind of falls into the untouchable category.’

‘Oh right. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be nosey.’ And I can immediately see what he’s thinking. The fella I fancy is married. With a large family. And I’m the worst kind of wannabe home-wrecker.

‘Valentine, I promise, whatever you’re thinking, it’s not the case. Honestly.’

‘Right, grand. Sure, I was only thinking that if the Channel Seven guy isn’t for you, there’s a fella just come in the door who hasn’t stopped staring over at you.’

‘What? Where?’ Someone who recognizes me from TV, maybe? Ooh, how cool is that? I’ve always fancied being recognized, maybe even asked for my autograph . . . Hmm . . .

‘There, he’s coming over.’

I don’t believe it. Serves me right for being so bloody indiscreet. My karma really is instant. It’s Jack, with Lisa, the stage manager, who’s looking so young I’m almost wondering how they let her in without ID. She spots a guy at the bar, waves and goes straight over to him. Then I barely have time to gather my thoughts before Jack’s standing in front of me, looking yummy, as usual, in jeans and a chunky cable-knit sweater in deep green, exactly the same colour as his eyes.

Stop your bloody drooling, Cassie. For once in you life, can’t you just act cool?

‘Hi, Cassie, great to see you!’

‘Emm . . . hi there . . . emm . . . Jack.’

Brilliant, Cassie. My, what an incredibly gifted orator you are
.

‘So, what are you doing here?’ he says, hugging me warmly. ‘Didn’t know you were a stand-up comedy fan.’

‘Didn’t know you were either.’

‘That’s a pal of mine up there,’ he says, looking up at the stage and indicating the Rowan Atkinson lookalike. ‘Jim Keane. We were in college together.’

‘Oh, right. Well, I came here with Valentine’ – Oh no! That makes it sound as if he’s my date. Back pedal, fast, very fast – ‘who’s just started work at
Tattle
magazine. Only today, in fact. Ooh, he rang up the
Breakfast Club
on Monday, do you remember?’

‘Ah, you’re
that
Valentine!’ says Jack, shaking him warmly by the hand. ‘How could I ever forget that call? Hey, you’ll have to call out to our production office at Channel Seven sometime. There must be at least two dozen messages waiting there for you. All from women, all wanting dates, no less.’

‘You work at Channel Seven, do you?’ says Valentine, all innocence. ‘Maybe you know this mysterious fella Cassie’s been telling me about? You know, the one who makes her lose her gift whenever he’s around?’

‘What was that?’ says Jack, all ears.

Shit. Now, I may be a bit tipsy, but the bit of my brain that’s relatively sober is screaming at me MASSIVE damage limitation required – now. ‘Oh, don’t mind him, he’s only messing. Valentine, come on, your round.’

Brilliant, get him up to the bar. Just get him away and then I’ll come up with something . . . anything . . .

Valentine, however, shows absolutely no inclination to budge. ‘Do you see, I was only asking Cassie if there was anyone special in her life, and she was telling me there
is
someone, a guy that works on the TV show who she can’t go near for some mysterious reason—’

‘Valentine, I really can’t tell you how much I’m just
gagging
for that glass of wine,’ I almost snap at him in a shut-up-for-the-love-of-God tone of voice. He may be a lovely, warm-hearted man but bloody hell, tact is not
one
of his more obvious qualities. However, I continue to glare at him and it seems to work.

‘Oh right so, on the way, and what’ll you have, Jack?’ he asks,
eventually
taking the hint.

‘Guinness would be great, thanks.’

He heads for the bar, leaving Jack and me alone. We sit down in the booth and I immediately make a valiant effort to try to get off this highly embarrassing topic.

‘So, emm . . . you’re here with Lisa?’ Oh shit, did that sound as if I’m suspicious that there’s something going on? Because I’m fairly sure there isn’t. No, scrap that, I
know
there isn’t.

‘Yes, she wanted to come with me. To meet her
boyfriend
.’ He points up the word slightly as if to say, ‘I am here on my own, actually.’

As am I. OK, change the subject.

‘So, that guy onstage is a friend of yours, then? He’s hysterical. So funny. Kind of reminds me of—’

Jack’s having none of it, though. ‘So you have a crush on someone out at Channel Seven?’ He looks down at me in that twinkly-eyed way he has when he’s teasing. ‘Anyone I might know?’

My stomach starts to flip and . . . oh shit, I’m really in trouble here. He’s sitting close to me, so close I can smell that yummy aftershave he always wears.

You’re going to have to say something, Cassie. You can’t just sit here, mute for the rest of the night
. . .

‘Oh, pay no attention to Valentine, he’s just trying to embarrass me, that’s all. You see, I tried to fix him up with my best friend Jo earlier. You remember Jo?’

‘Yes, I remember Jo.’

‘With zero per cent success, so then we got here and I had a flash about – do you see that girl over there at the bar?’

‘Certainly do.’

‘I had a flash that they’d end up together, for now at least, because you see the thing about Valentine is that there’re going to be literally hundreds of dates ahead of him – for the foreseeable future, that is—’

‘Emm, Cassie?’ he interrupts gently.

‘What?’

‘I hate to cut you off mid-ramble—’

‘I wasn’t rambling.’

‘Yes you were. Grade A rambling. Answer the question. Who’s this guy who’s taken your fancy at Channel Seven?’ He’s smiling down at me now, almost as if he’s daring me to answer him.

‘Oh look, they’re asking for us to shout up more suggestions at the stage,’ I almost stutter.

‘You are so great at changing the subject.’

‘Was not.’

‘Was too. OK then. Have it your way. If you don’t tell me, I’ll just have to guess. Doubt that it’s Oliver—’

‘No bloody way!’

‘Besides, based on what I saw this morning, I think he might be, shall we say, involved elsewhere.’

Then he did see Charlene throwing herself at him. Oh God, this is just so embarrassing. I glance back over to the bar to see if there’s any sign of Valentine getting back with those drinks, but he’s too busy chatting up Danish girl.

Jack doesn’t let up though; it’s almost as if he’s having great crack with this.

‘And for some reason, you can’t go near this guy.’

‘You know, you’re being very rude to your friend up on stage. You should really concentrate on the gig.’

‘He’ll understand. How often do I get you all to myself?’

Oh my God, did he really just say that?

‘I’m just idly wondering here . . .’

‘Where are our drinks? Isn’t Valentine taking ages?’

‘. . . if the reason this guy is so out of bounds
might
just be that . . .’

I know what he’s going to say before he even says it.

‘. . . he briefly dated a friend of yours.’

We look at each other for what seems like a long, long time.

He breaks the silence. ‘Cassie, for the record, my so-called involvement with your friend consisted of one night, where, yes, I admit I did kiss her, but she was falling-over drunk, couldn’t get a taxi so she came back
to
my place, where I put her on the sofa and let her sleep it off. Then she kept calling and calling so I met her for a quick drink and then, shortly after that, I realized that, nice as Charlene is, I couldn’t be involved with her any more.’

‘Why?’ I’m on the edge of my seat. No pressure or anything, but my entire future happiness could depend on the next sentence that comes out of his mouth.

‘Because it’s not right to be with someone when you fancy their best friend, now is it?’

Oh my God
. I can’t speak, I can hardly breathe.

‘Cassie, I don’t want you to think badly of me. I promise you, I didn’t string Charlene along, whatever you might think. I tried to finish things with her on at least two occasions. Firstly, when she invited me to her house for a pizza after work, I thought: This is perfect, I’ll talk to her, explain that I’d prefer it if we were just friends. But when I got there, I found she was having a formal sit-down dinner for what felt like about two hundred very scary-looking people.’

I shudder, just remembering that awful night too . . .

‘Then a couple of days later she called out to Channel Seven and I thought: Right,
this
is the perfect time. I’m not someone who can just have these God-awful break-up conversations over the phone. So I took her for a drink, but it turned out she had a family crisis going on, so what could I do? I was stymied, there was nothing
else
for me to do but postpone the inevitable. You know, there’s never a good time to say these things, but if something’s not right, it’s not right.’

His hand is so close to mine now, so close we’re almost touching. It’s driving me nuts. The physical attraction I’m feeling for him right now is so unbelievably overwhelming . . .

Think of Charlene, think of Charlene. There are rules about this sort of moral dilemma
. . .

But it doesn’t work. Maybe I’m too drunk, but when Charlene comes into my head, all I can think about is that awful row we had today and how furious I was – still am – with her.

‘Cassie?’ he asks gently, looking directly at me.

He’s moved in even closer. And I’m not imagining it.

‘Do you think it would be OK if you and I, sometime, in the future I mean, when – you know – when everyone’s moved on a bit . . . And just so you’re clear, by everyone, I mean Charlene. Anyway, my question is, would it be OK if I . . .?’

He doesn’t get to finish his sentence. I look up at him; he smiles down, and we kiss.

Chapter Sixteen

THE TAROT DECK

THE THREE OF SWORDS CARD

Oh, Not Good. A time of hugely intense emotion, pain and distress. Can often symbolize a separation of some kind from a loved one. A tough time, involving friction, dispute and a lot of malicious gossip. This period will be nothing short of torment while it lasts, deeply painful for all three people concerned
.

That’s the thing about this card, you see. It almost always involves a triangle
. . .

IN THE END
, it’s like Chinese whispers. Awful, awful, beyond awful . . . I wake up and have to stare at the ceiling for ages before last night all comes flooding back to me. OK, it’s not so bad. As they say on all those TV shows set in the White House, you know, like
The West Wing
, I have spin control. All I did was kiss Jack, that’s it.

At least I think that’s it. Shit, why did I have to drink so much? My hangover is already starting to kick in and I’m not kidding, it feels as if a troupe of Irish dancers are doing Riverdance inside my brain. That and the fact that my mouth is as dry as parchment.

No, no, hang on, this mightn’t be too bad. I remember Jack putting me into the back of a taxi – good. Then I remember him hopping into the taxi beside me – OK, maybe not so good. Then I remember the taxi taking me home – good. Then I distinctly remember not inviting Jack in – better than good, excellent. I am a model of virtue and discipline. Practically nun-like, you might say. Yes, just keep telling myself that.

The situation may yet be salvageable. I mean, I’m not so much of an old trollop that I spent the night with him. And one drunken snog doesn’t exactly make me Mata Hari, now does it?

The only thing that’s making me feel, if possible,
worse
than the hangover I’m nursing is the one, unavoidable hurdle that lies ahead. Oh God, the very thought of it
is
making my tummy churn so much that I have to concentrate really, really hard on not getting sick when suddenly my mobile phone rings.

Shit. Can’t find it.

I spill the contents of my handbag out on to the bedroom floor and eventually, yes, there it is, under a mound of lipstick, hairbrushes and yellow Post-it stickers with predictions for the magazine scribbled all over them.

Oh, thank God. It’s Jo.

‘Hey, hon, are you OK?’

‘Yeeee . . . no.’

‘Oohkaaaaay,’ she says in that drawn-out way she has when she can sense there’s something up. Told you she could sound you out quicker than a sniffer dog at Dublin Airport. Any day. ‘Something to do with last night, maybe?’

‘Maybe.’ I can’t tell her over the phone, just can’t. Mainly because I already know precisely what she’s going to say, in her role as the group’s moral barometer. And I know what’s ahead deep down myself, except I’m just trying to postpone the inevitable, that’s all. Until my head stops thumping, at least.

I have to tell Charlene.

Everything, in glorious Technicolor. I know it’s unavoidable, I know it’s just a question of getting it over with and that’s all there is to it. I just need to talk things over with Jo first, that’s all. She’ll help me to think
straight
, put all this into perspective and – who knows? – maybe even come up with a few good lines for the speech I’m going to have to deliver to Charlene at some point during the day.

‘So, how soon can you meet me?’

‘Oh, this sounds like an emergency.’

‘If this isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is. Advice needed. Rapidly.’

BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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