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Authors: Claudia Carroll

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BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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All of a sudden I’m nervous again, not only at her appalling rudeness, but at the mere mention of Jack Hamilton’s name . . .

Come on, Cassie, hold it together
.

Anyway, before I even have time to dwell on it, the
studio
goes deathly quiet and the floor manager is over. ‘OK, ladies, we’re back on in five, four, three, two, one . . .’

‘And welcome back,’ beams Mary. ‘Now, we have a lovely treat for any readers of
Tattle
magazine who might be watching. Their resident psychic columnist is here with us this morning for a nice little chat. Cassandra, you’re very welcome and thank you so much for coming along.’

‘Emm . . . hi!’ I say, trying my best to sound all chirpy and relaxed.

‘Now, tell us, I understand that you were born with this very special
gift
,’ Mary goes on, stressing the word ‘gift’ as if it were something that came wrapped in a big blue bow from Tiffany’s.

‘But then, it’s a bit like the weather report, isn’t it?’ Maura chips in. ‘I’m not interested in what today was like, tell me about tomorrow.’

There’s an awkward pause as they both just look at me.

Shit. This must be the part where I’m expected to perform.

‘Emm . . . well, you see,’ I stammer, doing my very best to sound confident, ‘as I always say, being psychic isn’t something that’s on tap twenty-four hours a day. I just sometimes get these very strong visions about things that haven’t happened yet, but . . . you
see
. . . I can never actually tell when I’m going to get a flash.’

‘Well, that’s convenient,’ snipes Maura and I swear to God I want to die.

Another silence. I can hear someone behind the camera coughing, loud and clear. Oh God, all this awful scene needs is tumbleweed rolling through it.

‘So your gift is a sort of
force of nature
, then, is that what you mean?’ Maura continues in a tone I can only describe as disparaging. ‘Like Niagara Falls.’

‘Yeah. Or a fifty-per-cent sale at H & M.’ What the hell, she’s being so rude I might as well try to lighten things up a bit.

I can see Lisa out of the corner of my eye sniggering beside a studio monitor and silently giving me the thumbs up, bless her.

‘Mmm,’ says Maura. ‘OK, I accept that you may not perform to order, but you do go around calling yourself a psychic, don’t you? So come on then, make a prediction.’ She’s glaring at me, almost challenging me and there’s a very long, very awkward pause. Which probably only lasts for a minute, but, oh my God, it feels like half an hour. I must have been deranged to agree to do this. Never, ever again as long as I live . . .

Then Mary obviously gets a frantic instruction in her earpiece about filling in the silence because she starts twittering inanely, which only gives me a fresh bout of
nerves.
‘Well, maybe you could help me with this one, Cassandra. For the life of me I can’t decide where to take my son on holiday after he’s finished his college exams. He’s turned Buddhist now and wants to go to Tibet, but I’d be more of a Lanzarote woman myself. So I said to him last night that if he worked hard and got good grades, maybe we could reach a compromise. Like Gran Canaria. Well, you can’t go wrong in the Canaries, now can you?’

And then I get a flash.

It’s a tabloid paper, with a grainy picture of Maura – yes, it’s definitely Maura, I’d recognize that pinched-looking face a mile off. She’s falling out of a nightclub, looking the worse for wear and kissing an older-looking man, with a banner headline that reads
‘BREAKFAST CLUB
STAR’S MARRIED LOVER’
. . .

‘So come on then,’ says Maura, almost goading me. ‘Are you seeing anything now, or is there some kind of roadblock in the cosmos this morning?’

Another flash. Another headline and Maura’s still snapping at me. Bloody hell, this is unbelievable. It’s like the more she talks and the ruder she gets, the more I’m seeing:
‘TV STAR BRANDED HOMEWRECKER AS HER MARRIED BOYFRIEND’S WIFE SPEAKS OUT.
BREAKFAST CLUB
CONTRACT “UNDER REVIEW” SAYS CHANNEL SEVEN SOURCE.

‘Emm . . . no. Not really,’ I say in a small voice.

‘Sorry?’

‘Nothing. At the moment. Sorry . . .’

Well, what am I supposed to say? Yes, I’ve seen the writing on the wall for your television career? What do you want me to do, I’m frantically thinking, announce it live to the nation? Oh hell, this is where I’d kill
not
to be psychic . . .

‘So,’ says Maura, who’s gone back to looking bored again. ‘How do I phrase this politely? Maybe your psychic powers aren’t at their best first thing in the morning?’

By now, I’m starting to wish for either (a) a medical emergency or (b) some major international incident, like an assassination attempt or the collapse of a government, something that’ll mean they have to go straight to a news bulletin and stay there for the rest of the day. Hopefully. With a bit of luck. Anything, and I really mean
anything
, just to get me out of here.

What’s even worse is Maura’s stony silence. She’s glaring at me with an expression that manages to say both ‘despicable con-artist’ and ‘chancer who has just been ruthlessly exposed in huge important
Breakfast Club
scoop’ all at the same time. And then the miracle happens.

‘What’s that?’ says Mary, nervously tapping her earpiece before turning back to camera. ‘Oh, right, OK.
Ladies
and gentlemen, a bit of good news, we have a caller on line one who’d like to ask Cassandra’s advice, if that’s OK?’

‘Emm . . . yes, sure, I’m delighted to . . . emm . . . help . . .’ Thank God, thank God, now please just let me be able to see something, anything . . .

A woman’s voice immediately fills the studio. She sounds about as agitated as I feel and her voice is low, hushed. ‘Ehh, hello? Am I through to Cassandra?
The
Cassandra?’

I’m dimly aware of Maura glowering at me, willing me to fall flat on my face (again) and I’m madly trying to tune out her negative energy – this caller really sounds like she needs help.

‘Yes, I’m Cassandra. What’s the problem?’

‘Can you hear me? I have to whisper just in case anyone in my office overhears me. I’d die of embarrassment if anyone here copped on to what I’m at.’

‘I understand,’ I say, dropping my voice instinctively too, so it really feels like an intimate chat and that half the country isn’t listening in.

‘We were all having coffee in our office canteen and the TV was on and there you were and . . . I just HAD to ring you. I hope you don’t mind?’

‘Of course not. What’s your name?’

‘Emm, Jenny.’

She’s lying, I instantly feel, but then, would you
blame
her? Although her name begins with a G, I think.

‘Emm, well, here’s the thing. I’m . . . thirty-nine’ – her voice is now a total whisper and I have to sit forward and really strain to hear her – ‘next birthday and I’m still single and I
so
don’t want to be. I mean, all my friends are getting married and engaged now and are dropping babies like you wouldn’t believe and I can’t even get arrested. So I went to’ – another whisper – ‘a speed-dating do last night—’

‘Brave girl,’ I say, hoping to calm her down a bit. Gina, that’s it, that’s her real name, but I better be careful not to mortify the poor girl by calling her that live to the nation.

‘So there I was, all dressed up, hair done, nails done and probably looking like a right dog’s dinner, but I really felt like I’d put in the effort, and you know how many guys ticked my box? None, not a single one. So there was a drinks do afterwards and I was on my own, as per bloody usual and, oh God, I’m so embarrassed to tell you what happened . . .’

‘It’s OK, emm, Jenny,’ I say gently, coaxingly, ‘none of us here is Judge Judy and executioner.’

I’m dimly aware of Mary and Maura both staring at me, unsure of whether I’ll fall to pieces or not, but I’m suddenly filled with a huge surge of confidence. I can do this. I do this every day of the week. After all, ninety
per
cent of all the letters I get sent are from women and ninety per cent again all involve relationship queries, don’t they?

The only thing that’s making this different is that I’m being watched by thousands— No, banish that thought and keep concentrating on Gina. Sorry, Jenny.

‘So, we were all in this very trendy cocktail bar after the speed dating wrapped up,’ she’s going on, ‘and most of the women there are far younger and far, far hotter than me and then as the night wears on, everyone’s starting to pair off with a few drinks in them, you know the way . . .’

‘I do indeed. My flatmate’s always saying that, with Irish fellas, alcohol is the only jump lead you’ll ever need.’

There’s laughter coming from behind the camera as Gina/Jenny keeps on talking, sounding a bit less wobbly now and a lot more self-assured.

‘And then, oh Cassandra, I’m so embarrassed, I just stood at the bar, all on my own, and started feeling so miserable for myself . . . and I know all the self-help books tell you that you have to smile at the room brightly and confidently and trust that some guy will eventually come and chat you up, but no one did and then . . . Oh, it was just so
embarrassing
. . .’

‘It’s OK, you can tell me. Can’t be anything worse than what I’ve done myself in the past.’

‘Promise you won’t judge me?’

‘Cross my heart.’

‘I burst into tears. In public. And not just a few snivels. I wailed, and I really mean
howled
, to the four walls. So everyone’s looking at me thinking what a poor, sad spinny and they’re probably right – I mean, how pathetic am I? It’s one thing to have a bit of a bawl in the privacy of your own home, or in front of a girlfriend, but to let yourself down in front of a bar full of total strangers . . .’

‘And you start looking like you’re dangerously close to butterfly-net territory,’ snipes Maura and without even being aware of what I’m doing, I find myself signalling at her to
shut up
.

Jenny/Gina mercifully doesn’t hear and is now in full flow. ‘So then the barman comes over to me, just to make sure I’m not about to open a vein or anything and, I’m not joking you, he’s about half my age and the next thing he’s escorting me to a taxi and . . . oh Cassandra, I just felt so completely and utterly alone that I ended up dragging him into the back of the cab with me, and then he came back to my place and I don’t even have the excuse of being plastered because I was stone-cold sober but in my desperation I was thinking: He’s way too young for me, I don’t really fancy him all that much so he
can’t
break my heart . . . hey, this could work! But of course when I woke up this morning he was gone and I can’t tell you how sordid and cheap I felt, that I let a total

stranger pick me up in a bar and now I’m frightened that I’ll end up as one of those pathetic older women who go out with shiny guys called Brad who just use them for sex and never marry them and, Cassandra, the thing is I really, desperately want to have a child and, please God, a family and I’m so afraid it’ll never happen for me . . . I mean is this really my life? Miserable and unhappy and phoning up a psychic on a TV show, desperate for some chink of hope?’

Thank God.
Thank you, God
. During her monologue, a flash comes.

Jenny/Gina’s on a train, and it’s lashing rain. I can see her clear as crystal. She’s small, tiny, very pretty, with dark brown hair and big soulful brown eyes. She’s laden down with files and folders and is looking very stressed and hassled, then
. . .

‘Sorry to interrupt you,’ I say to her gently, afraid she’ll hang up at any minute, ‘but, by any chance, do you take a train to work every day?’

There’s a stunned silence. ‘Wow! Yes, I do. How did you know?’

Another flash.

A guy bumps into her, knocking over her stuff and instantly apologizes and helps her to pick it all up. He’s older, maybe
fifties,
attractive, newly divorced with a grown-up daughter, I think
. . .

‘Gina . . . sorry, I mean Jenny, that’s where romance will come to you. Relax. Your days of standing on your own in singles bars and regretting one-night stands will soon be at an end. I’m certain of it.’

‘Oh my God, that’s astonishing!’

‘Oh, this guy is so lovely,’ I add for good measure. Can’t help myself, I just feel this so strongly. ‘I really think that he’ll be good for you, and you for him.’

‘Cassandra, I really can’t thank you enough,’ she says, sounding a bit teary now, ‘you’re just
amazing
.’

Mary’s in like a shot. ‘Well now, isn’t that lovely, just lovely. If there’s one thing I love it’s a nice, happy ending, all neatly wrapped up.’

‘Of course, that’s presuming you’re not bluffing just to get out of an awkward situation,’ smiles Maura so smugly that I swear I want to smack her across her pinched little face. ‘I mean, how are viewers supposed to know whether or not that caller’s love life will pan out all neatly and tidily, just like you said?’

There’s no time for me to answer her back though, as Mary immediately takes over. ‘Sorry, sorry to interrupt you there, but we have another caller on line two. Hello? Line two? Yes, you’re through to Cassandra. Go right ahead.’

‘Ehh, hello? Am I through to Cassandra?
Tattle
magazine Cassandra?’

‘Yes, here I am,’ I say cheerily, mentally reminding myself to try and not sound like one of those cheesy radio phone-in psychiatrists that they have in the States.

‘Cassandra, thank Jesus it’s you. I’ve an emergency on my hands and if you can’t help me, I am so dead.’

A woman’s voice. She’s middle-aged, stressed and . . . Nuala. That’s it, that’s her name. Definitely a Nuala. ‘Go ahead, Nuala.’ Please understand, I wasn’t showing off or acting flashy for the sake of it, the name just slipped out.

‘That’s my name! How did you know?’

I shoot a glance over at Maura, who’s rolling her eyes up to heaven. Like I’d staged this and got some hoaxer to ring up. As if.

‘All part of the gig, Nuala,’ I say, calmly. ‘So, what’s the problem?’

BOOK: I Never Fancied Him Anyway
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