Authors: Claudia Carroll
When we do get to hostility, sorry hospitality, Jo, Marc with a C and Valentine are all there. In fact, we have the place to ourselves, as the show isn’t even over yet. Which means they left, just to support me, to see if I was OK.
Oh God, here I go.
The very fact that they’re here to bolster up their pathetic friend in her hour of need and . . . all their
makes me start snivelling all over again. ‘You guys,’ I say, hugging them all. ‘What would I do without you?’
‘Well, just take a look at the miracle of Halloween,’ says Marc with a C, trying to cheer me up.
‘You, baby, and our dearest Charlene back best
again. Oh, there’s nothing I love more than a good reconciliation in the final act. If I were wearing pearls right now, I’d be clutching them.’
‘As I always say,’ says Charlene, equanimity restored, ‘guys may come and go, but friends and Manolo Blahniks are always here to stay.’
‘You know, this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise,’ says Jo, pulling a chair out for me and sitting me down.
‘If it is, it’s a very good disguise,’ I say dully.
‘No, what I mean is that now you know what that horse’s bum Oliver has put into his documentary, maybe you could try to get it pulled, on the ground that he completely misled you. Couldn’t you? I mean, he only got you to take part under false pretences and you agreed in good faith.’
I look at her blankly. I know she means well, but the thought of having to have any more dealings with that malevolent bastard . . .
‘All I mean is that we may be able to do a bit of damage limitation,’ she says softly. ‘It’s not the end of the world.’
Only a great pal like Jo would come out with something like that after my public humiliation live on the national airwaves. ‘Thanks, hon,’ I say, taking a big mouthful of gin and tonic. It burns as it goes down and almost makes me choke.
‘Jaypurs, I know a few lads down home wouldn’t be long putting manners on that Oliver Hall fella for you,’ says Valentine kindly. ‘Just say the word, Cassie, that’s all you’ve got to do.’
‘I love it,’ Marc with a C says to him. ‘Protectiveness and brotherliness, all wrapped up with just the merest hint of violence. Why are men like you never, ever gay?’
Valentine looks a bit embarrassed, but Charlene comes to his rescue.
‘Hands off,’ says Charlene. ‘Valentine, would you mind getting me a teeny glass of champers from the bar? This wine tastes kind of like fermented battery acid.’
‘Of course, you stay there,’ he says, getting up. ‘Anyone else want anything?’
Jo and Marc with a C put in their orders and then I get a flash.
Dear God. In a million years, I would never have seen this one coming.
It’s Valentine, now a major celebrity in his own right and . . . bloody hell. He’s with Charlene. Yes, it’s definitely her, he has his arm protectively around her and she’s snuggled up against him. There are press cameras and reporters clustered all around the pair of them and she’s flashing – I do not believe this – an engagement ring for all to see. It’s stunning, and, boy, will it put Anna Regan in her place
Not quite love at first sight, but we got there in the end.’ Charlene is beaming as a load of flashes go off in her face. ‘Can you believe I landed him? He’s the most eligible bachelor in Ireland, and he isn’t even bald!
‘What’s wrong, what’s the matter?’ says Jo, clocking that I’ve drifted off. ‘Are you seeing something?’
‘You’d never believe me if I told you,’ I say. ‘I can barely believe it myself.’ And it’s the first time all evening I think I’ve cracked a smile.
Things slowly get better. The show must have wrapped up by now, because some of the other guests start drifting in, led by Greenpeace man, whose name I couldn’t hear for applause. The guy I saw for Jo.
My God, this is just incredible. It’s almost getting to be like the ballroom of romance in here tonight. Now, if I could just see a special someone in the pipeline for Marc with a C . . .
I can’t, but two out of the four of us happily matched up isn’t bad going, is it? Anyway, considering the misery I’ve just been through, this certainly is a very welcome distraction. Can’t ask for miracles.
A few minutes later, the audience have all begun to drift in and the bar is rapidly filling up. I’m beginning to be aware of a few pitying looks being thrown in my direction and if I could lip read, I’d swear people were saying, ‘There’s the poor girl that made a show of herself
. You know, the one that claims to have a gift but when it comes down to it, is beyond useless.’
I take another gulp of lovely, nerve-calming gin and tonic and then whisper to Marc with a C, ‘I think I might very subtly exit stage left. If you don’t mind?’
Marc with a C looks around. Jo has gone off to congratulate Greenpeace guy (I’m seeing a J in his name for some reason, and he’s . . . yes, got it. Pisces. Definitely a Piscean). And Charlene and Valentine are chatting away very amicably in the corner. ‘Don’t think the others would even notice,’ says Marc with a C. ‘As one who entirely understands your need to be where other people are not, let me walk you to your car. Least I can do.’
I smile at him, grab my bag and the two of us slip out, unnoticed.
I’m not being rude, you understand, it’s just that I don’t know if I’d be up for anyone coming over to commiserate with me. For being such an out-and-out failure, I mean. I’m so close to tears that really the best thing all round is for me to put as much distance between myself and Channel Seven as is physically possible.
Marc with a C links me as we head down the corridor, past TV reception and on out into the car park. It’s pitch dark and freezing cold and there’re fireworks going off everywhere.
‘Wouldn’t this be romantic, if only you and I were an item?’ he says as we stroll companionably towards where I parked my car. ‘My God, did you see the way that Valentine guy was throwing himself at Charlene? There are baboons out there with more subtle dating rituals.’
‘Now, now, don’t get narky just because it’s Halloween and you and I are dateless,’ I say, and then a flash comes. ‘Joe! That’s it!’
God, that really did come out of nowhere.
‘What, what? Joe who? Is that the name of the next guy I’ll date? Do you see it?’
‘No.’ I smile. ‘It’s the name of the guy that Jo—’
‘Ahh, I get it, Joe and Jo. How original,’ he says. ‘Greenpeace man. Now don’t think me gossipy, but did you get close enough to smell him? Dear God! I thought: Has this man ever met a clove of garlic he didn’t like? Anyway, he and our Jo will be a match made in eco-warrior heaven. Well, cheer up, babes, at least you and I have each other to console on the long winter nights ahead. Sure you’ll be OK?’
‘Mmm, and thank you again, so much,’ I say, reaching up to hug him. ‘I’m going home, hot bath, straight to bed and tomorrow . . . tomorrow . . .’
‘. . . is another day, Miss Scarlett,’ he says in a truly awful Southern accent.
I’m just about to open the door when another car
up right beside mine, beeping the horn at me. It’s so dark, I can hardly see who it is, but the beeping keeps up and I keep squinting, and then . . .
The door opens and out steps Jack.
Marc with a C almost falls over. ‘A
deus ex machina
!’ he says theatrically. ‘Love, love, love it! Well, I’ll be tactful and leave you two in peace but, Cassie dear, I will expect a text with updates every hour on the hour.’
He practically skips back inside, leaving Jack and me alone.
There’s a long pause as we just look at each other. I’m suddenly aware that I’ve been crying and am all red-eyed and tear-streaked. But, thank Christ, at least I’m not dressed as Alice in Wonderland any more.
He breaks the silence. ‘I liked the Disney look on you, Cassie. You were adorable.’
I can’t help laughing, but it’s a laughter-through-tears type thing. ‘You saw it then. You witnessed my public downfall. All Oliver was short of doing was putting me in medieval stocks and getting the studio audience to throw rotten tomatoes at me.’ I’m doing my best to make light of it, to sound bright and breezy, but it’s not working. The tears I’ve been holding back start to flow and before I know where I am or what’s happening, he’s folded me in his arms and is hugging me tight.
‘Shh, shh, come on, Cassie, it wasn’t your fault.’
I try to say ‘Of course it bloody was, who else’s fault
it possibly be?’ but I think it might have come out as ‘Waaaaahhhhh! I’m such a miserable failure!’
‘Hey, hey, hey,’ he says, not letting me go. (And I’m not letting him go either.)
‘I was the one who told you that Oliver Hall was a widely respected journalist. I may even have used the word trusted, but I’m kind of hoping you won’t bring that up. At times like this, a good memory is unforgivable. If it’s any consolation, one of the reasons I jumped in my car and came around here was to punch the bastard in the jaw for putting you through that. It was unforgivable, unethical and, I’m telling you right now, he’ll pay.’
‘One of the reasons?’
‘And to see if my star was OK, of course.’
I smile, still feeling a bit wobbly. But so glad he’s here.
‘Listen to me, Cassie,’ he says, taking me by the shoulders and looking me straight in the eye. ‘Everything’s going to be fine. Over my dead body will I allow that documentary to be broadcast. Small comfort, I know, but it’s the least I can do.’
‘Thanks,’ is all I can say, in a tiny voice.
‘You’re not to worry, Cassie. The nightmare ends here.’
‘I haven’t lost my slot then? I’m not fired?’
‘You daft lass, why would you be fired? You’re one of our biggest assets and don’t you forget it.’
He grins at me and I do my best to smile back and there’s another awkward moment. He’s just being professional. That’s the only reason he came round here.
This is not the end of the world. Oliver, the unctuous git, can do me no more harm, I’ve still managed to hang on to my slot, so this is all good then, isn’t it?
Yeah. A happy ending, I suppose.
It just doesn’t really
like one, that’s all.
Come on, Cassie, you can’t have everything. You’ve got your friend back and that’s worth its weight in gold
A loud firework goes off in the background and I nearly jump out of my skin and he laughs at me. It’s one of those Catherine wheels, multicoloured, and it’s just stunning. We both stare up at the sky, side by side, in silence.
This is getting awkward. Say something, Cassie, say anything. Just try not to sound like a gibbering eejit
‘Thanks, Jack,’ I say eventually.
‘Coming here. Making everything better. Being the human equivalent of six Valium. Calming me down.’
He slips his arm around my waist which makes me freeze inwardly, thinking, Aghhh! His arm is around my waist!
‘Cassie, I’m suddenly very aware that we’re in a car park. It’s just that I can think of better places where you and I can talk, can’t you?’
Half an hour later, we’re tucked in the corner of a tiny, gorgeous Italian trattoria in Temple Bar, where Jack is obviously a regular, because we’re treated like minor royalty when we arrive. The tables are cosy and intimate, covered in red-and-white gingham tablecloths, with candles stuck in bottles. You get the picture. It’s snug and romantic and Dean Martin is singing ‘That’s Amore’ in the background and it’s exactly what I need right now.
Jack orders a bottle of red wine and a yummy, comforting plate of pasta for both of us and I don’t put up any arguments. After everything that’s happened, this is like the perfect end to the most miserable day.
We talk and talk for what seems like a very short time, but we must have been there for hours because in no time they’re putting chairs on top of tables and locking up. We’re the last two customers here.
I tell him all about Charlene and her about-turn and Valentine and the flash I had and maybe it’s because I’m actually a bit squiffy now, but . . .
‘So, any flashes about me?’ he asks, leaning forward and playing with my hand.
And I tell him. Everything. All about how I can’t see a bloody thing when he’s around, and he roars laughing and says they’ll have to have a barring order on him next time I’m doing the
and then, before I know how it even happened, he leans in and kisses me.
And I kiss him back and it’s wonderful.
‘So,’ he says, gently playing with my hair, ‘here we are.’
‘Mmm,’ I murmur, moving in as close to him as I can get, considering we’re in a public place.
‘Now, I may not be psychic like you,’ he whispers in my ear. ‘But go on, have a guess what I think your future holds.’
Oh dear. Never a flash when you need one. ‘Haven’t a clue,’ I whisper back at him, kissing his cheek and snuggling into him. ‘But I can’t wait to find out.’
First of all, congratulations on finally getting your own TV show. I’m thrilled for you; it’s about time. I saw a stunning picture of you at your show’s launch party in
magazine and you looked a million dollars. Is it true that you’re dating the producer, Jack Hamilton? I saw a photo of you both and you look like such a cool couple. Come to think of it, I also saw you together at that dizzy socialite’s engagement party in the Four Seasons a while back – Charlene something or other, isn’t it? The one who’s getting married to the columnist from Valentine’s Day.
See? What can I say? I get my hair done a lot and am always abreast of what’s happening in the world of
Sorry, I digress . . .
Anyway, here’s my question. Nothing but happy people beaming out at me from all the glossies – when, oh when, will it be my turn?
No pressure, Cassandra, but you are like this beacon of hope for single gals like me. I cannot do any more bad dates. I’m so tired of my friends saying to me, ‘But how do you meet all of these headcases/losers/weirdos?’
The answer is simple. I answer their ads.