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Authors: Claudia Carroll

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BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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Then Charlene comes back on. ‘As your brand-new agent, my darling, I’ve just got you your very first gig! Well, you know how Jack is from TV?’ she asks, making it sound almost as if he’s from another country. ‘Anyway, he had a free slot on the
Breakfast Club
tomorrow morning, all because of some soap-opera star I never heard of having a last-minute scheduling problem, so guess what? You’re the replacement!’


What
did you say?’ My mouth is full of wine and I splurt some of it out, I’m so stunned.

‘You, my darling, who has practically been screaming to be on TV for years now, are finally getting your big break!’

‘Charlene, you have got to be joking, or let me rephrase, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING!’

‘Oh honey, there’s nothing for you to worry about. It’ll all be over in a few minutes, probably. And you won’t be on till well after nine-thirty so only housewives and the unemployed will be watching— Oops! Sorry, Jack, I didn’t mean that to come out like that, I’m sure you have a lovely audience made up of only the most discerning viewers.’

‘We’d really love to have you on,’ says Jack, coming on the phone again. Even at the sound of his voice, I swear my tummy is flipping somersaults. In my head,
I’ve
already cast him as a Baldwin brother. Billy, or Alec, maybe, when he was pre-Kim Basinger. You know, young, hot and really,
really
sexy . . .

‘It’s nothing really, just a quick chat. Think of it a bit like the interview section on
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
, except stretched out to ten minutes.’

I can’t help giggling. I knew he’d have a sense of humour, I just
knew
it . . .

Then Charlene comes back, putting on her best bossy schoolmarm voice. ‘Now just listen to me, Cassandra, this is a wonderful opportunity and only the start of big things for you!’

‘Charlene!’ I say, suddenly nervous. ‘I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know if I can go on television. There’s a strong possibility I could end up being a laughing stock for years to come.’

‘Too late, the deal’s done: Jack’s already put you into the programme schedule so there’s no backing out now. I’ll pick you up at eight!’

And, with a click, she’s gone.

Chapter Three

THE TAROT DECK

THE ACE OF WANDS CARD, INVERTED

Symbolizes a new beginning. It could be a business venture, a new work project or some other fortuitous, unlooked-for opportunity. All going well, you should prosper and do very well at whatever it is, unless of course the card is inverted, in which case it heralds bad news. The ace of wands then becomes a card of warning and the exact opposite will apply
.

In other words, God help you, because you’re about to make a complete and utter show of yourself
. . .

IN THE END
, it’s Jo who talks me into it.

I sleep it out (surprise, surprise) and she comes walloping on my bedroom door to haul me out of bed and into Charlene’s car which, unbelievably, is waiting outside, punctual to the dot. (A limited edition Porsche GT, by the way, which she only drives when sober, invariably in the morning, before she heads off on one of her four-hour-long, girlie-boozy lunches.)

‘Jo, I’ll donate my entire next week’s wages to Amnesty if you go down there and tell her I’m not doing it, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it,’ I say, groggily hauling myself up on to one elbow and squinting sleepily at Jo who, bless her, is plonking a lovely steaming mug of tea down on my bedside table.

‘Too late to back out now, I’m afraid,’ she says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. ‘The Tipsy Queen herself is downstairs with an armful of the most horrible-looking flowery dresses she’s brought for you to try on. God knows where she got them from. I wouldn’t even sell them at Oxfam.’

‘How horrible?’

‘Hyacinth Bouquet horrible. Barbara Bush senior horrible.’

‘Oh God, Jo, I sooooo don’t want to go through with this,’ I groan, slumping back against the pillow. ‘And believe you me, Charlene and her cast-off outfits are the least of my worries.’ Now that I’m fully awake, the
overwhelming
nervousness I’m feeling is nauseatingly unreal.

‘Oh come on, this could actually be a really good thing for you, Cassie. You’ve been given an amazing gift and it’s your duty to help people with it, isn’t it? So here’s a chance to help them on a much wider scale. Why would you not want to do that?’

I try to take a gulp of tea but am afraid it’ll make me throw up. ‘I dunno. In no particular order, one: sheer, paralysing terror. I’ve never voluntarily got up in front of an audience in my life, apart from the time I was at that awful play with you—’

‘Oh yeah, I’d totally blanked that out, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, wasn’t it?’

‘And there was audience participation and they dragged me up and made me be Ophelia.’

‘And you threw up, got weak and then passed out, in that order.’

I shudder just at the memory. ‘How I’m still not recounting that God-awful night on some psychiatrist’s couch somewhere is nothing short of a miracle. Number two, there’s the very real fear that I could make a total eejit out of myself, live on national television—’

‘You will NOT make an eejit of yourself.’

‘Jo, I regularly make an eejit of myself. I’ve hit my humiliation limit so many times, I should have T-shirts printed and coasters made. Or even upgrade to
business-class
humiliation. And let’s not forget point number three—’

‘You
cannot
avoid Jack Hamilton for ever,’ says Jo firmly, reading my thoughts with one-hundred-per-cent accuracy. ‘Besides, you’re the one who’s always saying that everyone has the power to choose between fate and destiny. Can’t you just decide
not
to fall for a guy?’

It’s an interesting point and now I’m actually kind of hoping Jo might turn this into one of her great debates. Anything to buy me a bit of time.

‘Mmm,’ I say, rubbing my eyes, ‘good one. Do we actually get to choose who we love—?’

‘Well, I for one refuse to believe what chick-flicks are constantly peddling to us,’ says Jo, not even letting me finish my sentence, but then, this particular subject is something of a well-worn hobby horse for her. And don’t even dare get her started on the subject of the movies of Jennifer Aniston, her personal pet peeve. ‘All romance
cannot
be predestined. It’s just not possible.’

‘It’s not so much about predestination, it’s just that if fate has something specific in store for you, it can sometimes be incredibly difficult to dodge. But then, on the other hand, not a week goes by when I don’t write in the column that we’re all human beings with free will, not farmyard animals.’

‘There’s the Dunkirk spirit,’ says Jo, getting up briskly.
‘Now,
are you going to lie there all day philosophizing, or are you actually going to get up?’

‘Yeah. Terrific. Great plan. That’s the answer. I’ll just keep telling myself over and over that if he’s not available, then he’s not available,’ I say, staring at the ceiling, repeating it like a mantra and making no attempt whatsoever to physically get out of bed.

‘Hmm. Not available for the moment. We’ll just see how unavailable he is in a week or so,’ says Jo, looking a bit disapproving. ‘Now, out of bed and hop in the shower, missy. Charlene’s in the kitchen downstairs and, I swear, it’s worth getting up just to feast your eyes on the sight of her trying to use our coffee maker.’

One lightning-quick shower and by the time I get back to my room, Charlene and Jo are standing in front of my full-length mirror, bickering over a pile of clothes that are strewn all over the floor. Charlene’s looking very businesslike today, with her mane of red curls tied back and wearing a beautifully cut Paul Costelloe trouser suit which I happen to know he gave her for free as a thank you, not only for being his bestest customer but for practically keeping him in business.

‘Just try it on, that’s all I’m asking,’ Charlene is pleading to poor old Jo, waving a revolting, garish, flowery dress with (I’m
not
messing) a corsage sewn on to it in front of her.

‘Charlene, if you don’t stop trying to change my
image,
I will go downstairs, open the oven door and personally shove your head in. I’m not a girlie girl and I never will be.’

‘Don’t be so ratty, you’re the one who hasn’t changed her look since we did the Leaving Cert,’ says Charlene defensively. ‘Here am I only trying to help and you’re just so ungrateful. Honestly, Josephine, I feel like sticking my finger in your coffee only I’m afraid I’d lose an acrylic nail.’

‘Yes, and I’m sure you must need those for climbing up trees and warding off predators.’

‘You’re only jealous, but surely you know me well enough to know that I take all forms of jealousy as inverted compliments. Oh, look, it’s our resident TV star.’ Charlene beams at me as she clocks me padding in behind them, still wrapped in a towel. ‘Help me out, will you, sweetie? Here’s our darling Jo, screaming for a makeover and all I’m getting is a torrent of dog’s abuse.’

‘Leave me out of your squabbling, girlies,’ I plead, rummaging around in my wardrobe for my good Armani jeans and a crisp white Zara shirt that I’m pretty certain I washed last week. From bitter experience, I’ve learned to keep well out of the way when Jo and Charlene are at each other’s throats. It’s a very regular occurrence and I’m just not feeling well enough this morning to referee between the pair of them.

‘Josephine, it’s not often I compliment you,’ says
Charlene
imperiously, ‘but it’s just that underneath that’ – she pokes at Jo’s chunky-knit, bum-and-thigh-covering jumper – ‘you have the rack of an angel and the waist of a fifteen-year-old just waiting to be unleashed. So why do you insist on going around dressed like a refugee?’

‘Because I don’t
care
about the way I look,’ Jo almost shouts back at her. ‘There are far more important things in this world than appearances. I’m actually comfortable in my own skin and I just wonder if you can say the same. Now can we please change the subject? This conversation demeans women.’

‘I’m only trying to help. You’re like the ultimate challenge for me to make over. I look on you kind of like the dowdy sister I never had.’

‘One more crack like that and I’ll drag you downstairs and wash your mouth out with cheap wine.’

‘You’d have far more success with men if you reinvented a bit. Just look at me and learn by osmosis. May I point out that I am the only one in this room with a bona fide boyfriend?’

A hint of a glance from Jo, which only makes my tummy churn even more. Jesus, I think there’s a very real chance I might be sick . . .

Charlene goes on: ‘What I’m trying to say is that the only living person who changes their look more than me is Madonna.’

‘The only reason you reinvent is to compensate for your short attention span,’ says Jo. ‘Now get that flowery thing away from me and throw it over there, in the suck pile.’

‘Oh drama, drama, drama,’ snaps Charlene, deeply put out and beginning to get a bit upset, ‘and FYI? This dress is not some flowery thing, as you choose to call it. This happens to be vintage Versace.’

‘Great. Well, can you donate it to Oxfam? I’ll be sure to put it in our vintage
crap
section.’

‘Jo . . .’ But Jo’s on a roll and there’s no stopping her now.

‘Where did you buy it, anyway? The same shop Jordan goes to for all her clothes? You know, where the more money you spend, the worse you end up looking?’

‘Actually, that dress was Mum’s,’ Charlene says simply.

There’s a long, long pause.

‘I’m sorry,’ Jo eventually says in a small voice, looking mortified.

‘OK. You weren’t to know.’

‘It’s, emm . . . Well, on second thoughts, it’s not actually that bad. Emm, the dress, I mean.’

‘Jo, please. You don’t have to do this. It’s fine. Really.’

‘Oh come here, you daft lass,’ says Jo softly, pulling Charlene to sit down on the bed beside her and hugging her tight. ‘Sorry for being an insensitive cow.’

Charlene lets herself be hugged, looking absolutely tiny and frail and vulnerable. ‘It’s OK. I’m used to you.’

‘Are we still buddies?’

‘Course. Although there are times when I don’t know why I hang around with you. The ingratitude . . .’

Charlene has a bit of a glint in her eye now, which Jo immediately picks up on and starts teasing her again, except more gently this time.

‘You hang around with us because we keep you normal. Ish.’

‘I know. Anyway, this conversation demeans my wardrobe, I suppose,’ says Charlene, doing a very accurate impression of Jo at her most Millie-Tant.

A quick smile at each other and the tropical storm has blown over.

‘So, Cassie, what do you think about wearing the Valentino skirt— Oh my God, honey, are you OK?’

The minute they notice me, like lightning they’re both over to where I’m now slumped against a chair, head between my knees, frantically gulping for air.

‘It’s only nerves, that’s all, I’ll be fine in a minute,’ I say, trying to convince myself as much as the pair of them.

‘You’re not a bit fine,’ says Jo, really concerned, ‘you’re as white as a sheet. Stay right there and I’ll grab you a glass of water.’

‘Charlene, I’ll make a deal with you,’ I say, slowly feeling the blood coming back to my head.

‘Whatever you say, hon,’ she says, patting my wrists and loosening the top button on my shirt.

‘What are you doing?’

‘This is what they do on
ER
. Trust me, I watch a lot of medical dramas.’

‘Look, I’ll come in the car with you and go as far as the TV studios, but if I still feel like this when we get there, I’m chickening out. Deal?’

She mightn’t look too happy about it, but then she doesn’t exactly have a choice. ‘Deal,’ she eventually agrees, with a big bright smile. ‘Hey, I’m your agent and you’re my star. Got to keep the talent happy, don’t I?’

Channel Seven isn’t too far from our house, and by the time we get there I’m actually starting to feel a little better. This is mainly due to the fact that (a) while Charlene is busy on her mobile telling everyone she’s ever met in her entire life that I’m about to go on TV, the one person she can’t get hold of is Jack Hamilton. This makes me secretly hope against hope that I’ve hit the karmic jackpot and some eleventh-hour domestic/ personal/medical crisis has kept him out of work for the day. Also, (b) I managed to root out a bottle of Rescue Remedy from the depths of my handbag and am now taking huge, calming gulps of it, dispensing with the dropper-thing altogether. If this isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is.

BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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