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Authors: Claudia Carroll

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BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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‘Sorry, what did you just say?’ My head is spinning just from the effort of trying to keep up with her. It’s hard enough at the best of times, but throw in a hangover . . .

‘So meet your new agent.
Moi
. Yesterday I got fired, but then I took my personal pain and channelled it to joy, just like Oprah is always telling us to do. So aren’t you proud of me?’

‘Charlene, are you kidding me? It’s a really sweet offer, but please understand, I don’t want an agent, I don’t need an agent—’

‘If you want a television career, you do.’

‘I don’t want a television career.’

‘You do now that I’m representing you.’

‘Charlene!’

‘Just ride the wave, honey, will you? The wonderful news for you is that I’m making you my brand-new pet project. I’m going to make it the focus of my remaining years to expand your brand and turn you into a global name. Would anyone have ever heard of U2 if Paul McGuinness hadn’t been such a shit-hot manager? No,
they’d
probably be the resident wedding band now at some Holiday Inn beside Heathrow Airport.’

‘Honey, don’t get me wrong, I’m very flattered that you’d want to devote time to my career—’

‘And your image, honey.’

‘What’s wrong with my image?’

‘Nothing, if you want people to think you’ve got some boring office job.’

‘These trousers are Joseph! You made me buy them at a discount sale and you told me they’d practically pay for themselves.’

‘Oh darling, don’t be cross with me when I’ve got such a filthy hangover. All I meant is that I want to get you out of all the city-chic gear and hippy-dippy you up a bit. You know, a bit less glamourella and a bit more Mystic Meg. Esoteric. We might even put you in a headscarf and start calling you Madame Cassandra.’

‘Thanks so much. Why don’t you just drop a safe on my head while you’re at it?’

‘You’re so pretty, darling, but I want to make you into a TV personality.’

‘Why can’t I help feeling that all your compliments are in fact thinly disguised blows to my self-esteem?’

‘Oh, come on, I’ve been thinking about nothing else but the grand makeover – or should I say make-under? – I’m going to give you all morning. So you see? Unemployment pays.’ Then her mobile rings. Marc
with
a C, dying to know what became of her after they parted company in Odessa the previous night.

‘Do you mind if I take this, sweetie?’ she coos at me. ‘I need to feign gratitude to Marc with a C for disappearing as soon as I got chatting to my darling Jack, although, no kidding, I only had to invoke our dating code word about eighteen times just to get rid of him. What can I say? You know what he’s like when he’s a bit . . . well, you know,
gin-discreet
, and I didn’t want him telling Jack any home truths about me at this early and highly critical stage— Hello? Marc with a C! How are you, my angel? How are you not working for the United Nations, you left so tactfully last night?’

I glance at my watch and realize that if I don’t want to completely miss my deadline/lose my job, I’d better leg it at full speed to the
Tattle
magazine office.

This is not cowardice, you understand, this is not a case of me doing anything to avoid the conversation I’m going to have to have with Charlene at
some
point, this is just a case of I need my job, I love my job and I really,
really
don’t want to get fired.

I make my excuses and leave, scarcely able to believe that I didn’t have to tell her. Correction. That I didn’t have to tell her yet.

‘Spill it all out, right from the very start and omit no detail, however minute.’

Jo’s so cool. Honest to God, I don’t know what I’d do without her. We’re both home much later that night, sharing a lovely bottle of Chianti and chatting about our respective days. It’s one of those wild and windy autumny nights when you’re just delighted
not
to be going out; i.e., lashing rain and freezing cold outside, but great TV on, the fire lit and our little sitting room all snug and cosy and smelling of the delicious incense that Jo brought back from her last trip to India.

‘Oh Jo, this just seems so trivial compared with what you’ve been working on.’

‘I don’t care. Go for it, I could use the distraction.’

Jo, I should point out, has spent her whole day spearheading a campaign to stop the death penalty in China, where there’s evidence to prove that high profits from organs taken for transplant from the unlawfully executed might be an incentive for the government to keep capital punishment in place. She’s deeply concerned and is actually having sleepless nights about this. I, on the other hand, spent my day typing up my column, answering love queries from women (it’s rarely guys, believe me, and I’d conservatively guess that about ninety per cent of the questions I get asked are all relationship-based).

Oh yeah. That and fielding calls from Charlene, demanding that I speak to her/shop with her/go afternoon boozing with her on the grounds that she’s now
my
new agent. I tell Jo exactly what I’d seen the previous night, in glorious Technicolor. She’s a fabulous listener, and the minute I’m finished rambling, she reaches for a notebook and pen.

‘OK, let’s make a list and then whittle away at what’s worrying you, on a point-by-point basis.’

Lists, I should also tell you, figure very largely in Jo’s highly organized life. She’s always making them and I roar laughing at her, but she assures me it gives her a smug feeling of achievement every time she ticks something off, even if it’s only ‘Get up’, ‘Brush teeth’, ‘Remember to floss’. Lists and debates. Whenever there’s a topic on the floor for discussion, she’ll examine the pros and cons of each argument as forensically as Jeremy Paxman would on
Newsnight
. She’s just one of those people.

‘OK,’ I say, taking another slug of lovely, nerve-calming wine. ‘Jack Hamilton is – correction, could be – oh who am I kidding? – is, one hundred per cent . . . oh God . . .’ I almost drop the wine glass, the mental picture I’m getting of him at this moment is so pin-sharp, I can practically smell his aftershave. It’s almost like he’s standing right in front of me.

He’s tall, six feet, trim, jet-black hair and olive skin, but with deep green eyes, the most amazingly toned body I’ve ever seen on a man and a lovely, sexy, dimply smile that makes
him
look as if he’s distantly related to Michael/Kirk Douglas. And I think he’s in a car right now . . . I’m feeling him driving fast, but it’s only a short journey
. . .

‘Jo, I haven’t even met him and already the physical attraction I’m feeling for him is . . . what can I say? Up until now, I thought I’d be perfectly happy just to settle for a guy with normal social skills, but this man . . . oh my God, this man is like the heterosexual Holy Grail. Come to Mama.’

‘Let’s leave emotion out of the equation for the moment and concentrate on the facts. Point one. You think—’

‘I
know
. . .’

‘Sorry, you
know
that Jack Hamilton is probably—’

‘Is
definitely
. . .’

‘Is
definitely
the first true—’

‘The first
real
true . . .’

‘Sorry, the first
real
true love of your life.’

‘Correct.’

‘OK. Point two. Your predictions have never yet been known to be wrong, so if you are right in your assumptions, then that brings us neatly to point three . . .’

We say it in unison. ‘He’s going out with Charlene.’

I look at Jo hopelessly but she carries on undeterred.

‘Point four. Much as we adore our dear friend Charlene, the Tipsy Queen herself, she has yet to have
a
relationship that lasts longer than her roots. Her boyfriends tend to have the same shelf life as a carton of milk.’

‘This is different. She’s deadly serious about this guy. I nearly gave myself an ulcer when I met her this morning, I was so terrified she’d ask me if I had any strong psychic feelings about him. Not about her and him as a couple, I mean, about just
him
as a person. I’d have had to tell her what I saw straight out. It’s an absolute miracle that she didn’t.’

‘Point accepted; she’s serious about him. Last week she was serious about giving up processed sugar. Next week, she’ll have moved on to something else. I love the girl dearly, but let’s just be searingly honest for a minute here. Focus and staying power are not exactly her strong suits.’

‘Jo, she’s so serious she went for a full Brazilian wax this afternoon. I had to hear all the gory graphic details when I was trying to work and believe you me, that is
not
a conversation you’d want me to repeat.’

‘Ugh, please, do you mind? That image is so distressing I want to go and exfoliate my eyes. I’m sorry, but I happen to find the idea of putting yourself through physical pain for the sake of beauty just so
demeaning
. Do you ever see guys torturing themselves purely to look good for the opposite sex? When I meet someone, I’m sorry, but it’ll be a case of love me, love my hairy legs.’

I choose not to get sidetracked into this particular discussion with her and top up our wine glasses instead. Not that I don’t enjoy debating with Jo, it’s just that right now I wouldn’t really be up to that level of concentration.

‘Well, I’ve barely been able to think about anything else all day. How I got my column delivered on time is nothing short of a miracle.’

‘I just thought of point five,’ says Jo crisply. ‘We have lumps of cheese lying at the back of our fridge that have been around far longer than some of Charlene’s boyfriends. Come on, Cassie, so she got there first. Big deal, fifty euro says she’ll dump him by the end of the week, have forgotten him by the end of the month and by the end of the year, won’t even care if you’re having his baby. This, after all, is the woman who broke up with her last boyfriend because he had a hairy back and a car that failed its NCT.’

‘I thought of that,’ I say, staring blankly into the crackling fire, ‘which brings me to my next question. Assuming that Charlene
does
dump him—’

‘I’ll take that bet,’ Jo chips in.

‘And assuming that free will doesn’t come into play . . .’

‘Explain?’

‘You know, that he doesn’t up sticks and move to the Outer Hebrides, then – Oh, how do I put this? – what
is
the statute of limitations on going out with a friend’s ex-boyfriend?’

We look at each other blankly. It’s virgin territory for both of us.

‘Well, I’d have no problem with you going out with any of the sad parade of losers that I ever dated,’ she says firmly. ‘And while we’re on the subject, can I just add that the thought of any of us clinging to the ghost of relationships past is completely abhorrent. That level of possessiveness over men, just because you used to go out with them, is just so demeaning to women. Don’t you agree?’

‘Of course,’ I say, a bit worried now that this debate could go on into the wee small hours.

‘My point is that if a guy exhibited the same obsessive control over an ex-girlfriend, society would label him a stalker,’ Jo goes on, slowly warming to her theme. ‘Equality works both ways. Agreed?’

‘Agreed. My only concern is that none of my exes would be good enough for you.’

‘But then you never fancied them anyway, did you?’ she says, coming out of her Millie-Tant mode a bit and teasing me, which is a relief.

‘The thing is, this is
Charlene
we’re dealing with. You know what she’s like if you even borrow her shoes.’

‘Just thought of point six,’ Jo says, scribbling away on her notepad.

‘Shoot.’

‘Well, it’s obvious. You avoid contact with him at all costs. If you never meet him in the first place, then how can you fall for each other? Problem solved.’

‘Could be tricky. Charlene will wonder why I’m dodging her new boyfriend. Suppose she has one of her posh dinner parties so we can all meet him. Don’t you think she’ll wonder why I’m a no-show? Nope, there’s nothing else for it.’

‘What?’

‘I tell her out straight. Come clean. It’ll be tough, but at least it’ll all be out in the open. Now is the perfect time, before I’ve even met him.’

Jo is tapping her Biro against the notepad now, all of a sudden looking like she’s miles away.

‘What?’ I ask. ‘Don’t you think that’s the best thing all round?’

‘Mmm,’ she says absent-mindedly. ‘I’m about to say an awful thing, but it would be on my conscience if I didn’t.’

‘Go on.’

‘Well, I just can’t help wondering if she’d do the same for you. How often have you thought there was a guy out there for you, Cassie? I’ll tell you how often –
never
. Not once, in all the years I’ve known you. And now here you are, convinced that there actually could be someone and what do you do? Walk away. You spend all day
helping
other people with their romantic problems and when the first smell of real love comes along, you run very fast in the opposite direction.’

There’s a silence as I try to digest what she’s just said.

And then my mobile rings.

Charlene.

Before answering, I let the phone ring in my hand for a moment, then turn to Jo. ‘I’m a great believer in signs from the Universe and here’s one right now. I’m going to tell her. Get it over with. Just stay here beside me in case it gets ugly.’

Jo just shakes her head as I answer.

‘Sweetie!’ Charlene trills. ‘I thought you’d never pick up! Oh, do I have the most fantabulous news for you!’

‘I’m really glad you rang,’ I say, trying to sound all casual and normal, ‘because there’s something I really have to—’

A disapproving look from Jo, but Charlene doesn’t let me get a word in.

‘I’m here with Jack now. Say hello, darling.’

‘Hi there!’ I hear him distantly, as if he’s driving and she’s just put me on speakerphone. His voice is deep, sexy. Like I knew it would be. And he’s Libra, I’m feeling, definitely Libra . . .

‘I’ve heard so much about you,’ he says simply. ‘Can’t wait to meet you.’

‘And you,’ I say, trying to sound light and bright and
breezy
and not like a stammering schoolgirl, which is exactly how I feel.

BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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