Authors: Adele Parks
Jess has a hangover and she doesn’t appreciate my jumping up and down on her bed and pointing out that I’m not suffering from one because Scott Taylor sang to me! I think she may be a bit jealous. She’s used to being the one that exciting things happen to. She’s normally the one bursting into my room on a Saturday morning with a whirling head and excited chatter about new flirtations. For years I’ve watched her being wined and dined by a dazzling array of blokes, and although she swears she’d swap all the variety for a bit of consistency that’s just because she doesn’t know how disappointing consistency can be. Consistency that leads to wedding bells and babies has its advantages, I don’t doubt. But consistency which amounts to little more than an encyclopedic knowledge of Saturday TV schedules and the menus of all the local takeaway services is not something to covet.
‘What did Adam say about Scottie’s impromptu singsong?’ she asks.
‘Well, he was huffy about it, mostly because it screwed up his light sequence, I think.’ Her question stops me jumping up and down. It’s hard to think about Adam without feeling… what? Sad? Bad? Mad?
‘He must feel a bit threatened. No man would like Scottie Taylor making a move on his girlfriend.’
‘He’s not threatened. Adam just doesn’t like me having fun,’ I say a bit sulkily and a bit unreasonably.
‘That’s not true,’ says Jess gently.
‘It seems that way.’ I sit on the side of her bed. Still and serious now, I struggle to be clearer. ‘Or rather, I’m beginning to think that Adam is just indifferent to whether I have fun or not, whether I am happy or not. After all, he didn’t acknowledge my request for more commitment.’
‘You mean your scary, demanding ultimatum,’ she clarifies with a wry grin.
‘Is the thought of marrying me so scary?’ I ask with a sigh. ‘You know, I’m getting the feeling that Adam has one foot out of the door. We’re not going anywhere. If we were, he’d have proposed. Why didn’t he propose?’ Jess doesn’t reply, she doesn’t know how to. She just looks uncomfortable.
‘Will you carry out your threat? Will you break up?’ she asks.
Now I don’t know how to answer her question. We fall silent. I get a feeling similar to that of being at a wake. I think we might be burying my relationship with Adam. I use the pause to think about what Jess first said.
‘So, do you think Scott was making a move?’ I try to keep the hope in my voice subdued to a reasonable level.
‘Well, yes, he probably does fancy you but that’s not important, is it?’
‘No,’ I lie. Actually, hearing that Scott might fancy me seems magnificently important, especially right now when I feel Adam has passed up the chance to be with me. A boyfriend of four years not wanting to get married is a weighty blow to a girl’s confidence and Scott Taylor taking an interest is a mighty lift.
‘I mean, it’s not like he’s going to actively pursue you, is it?’ continues Jess. ‘He’ll have moved on today, probably slept with someone else last night.’
‘Probably,’ I mutter. My stomach is full of swiftly solidifying cement. I don’t want to hear this.
‘It was just a bit of fun, wasn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ I mumble reluctantly.
‘I mean, realistically, like you said yesterday, Scottie Taylor probably does this sort of thing all the time. Not so much a girl in every port, more a girl in every pavement crack. He can’t take a step without some woman offering herself up. Even if you rolled out of a rug and fell naked at his feet à la Cleopatra there’s no guarantee that Scottie Taylor would even recognize you today.’ Jess catches sight of my face and stops blathering. Maybe I’m not hiding my disappointment as well as I’d like to. She reaches over and squeezes my hand and gently says, ‘I mean you wouldn’t want to be just yet another woman he had sex with.’
Oh God, it’s terrible, but part of me wants exactly that. I can’t look at Jess in case she can see my wantonness written all over my face.
‘I wouldn’t mind being asked,’ I mumble. ‘Maybe Scott could ask me to sleep with him and then, obviously, I’ll say no. That way I’ll have the undisputed joy of knowing that he wanted me but the comfort of knowing that I’m a good moral person who stood by my man. Maybe that will be enough. Maybe that’s the ultimate fantasy once you hit thirty.’
Or it might just be letting him fuck my brains out and not getting caught, I don’t know.
‘Still, this little flirtation has cheered you up after the disappointment of Adam not producing an engagement ring. The idiot,’ adds Jess.
I nod but don’t trust myself to say anything. I’m in turmoil. My confidence and ego have been on a roller-coaster ride. One minute I’m up, the next I’m down. I don’t know how to feel or act, but I do know that when I crash it will be spectacularly messy.
‘This might be the wake-up call Adam needs,’ says Jess with a sympathetic smile. ‘Now he’s been reminded that his girl is hot enough to catch the eye of Scottie Taylor, he might just get his arse in gear and pop the question.’
‘Do you think there’s even the slightest chance?’ I ask her.
‘What, of Adam popping the question? Yes, I do.’ Jess nods confidently.
And only yesterday this is exactly what I wanted to hear. All I wanted to hear. I was desperate for even the smallest glimmer of hope that Adam might propose; today everything is different. ‘No, not that. Do you think there is the smallest chance of Scott noticing me if I roll out of a rug and fall naked at his feet?’ I ask.
‘Ha, ha, very funny,’ says Jess.
‘Deadly serious,’ I reply. Suddenly it’s clear to me; I’m going to have to move on. Adam doesn’t want me. He had his chance and he tossed it away. Did I have a chance with Scott Taylor yesterday, a real chance? Did I toss it away? I hope not, I hate waste.
Jess doesn’t say anything more; she just flops back into bed and pulls the duvet over her head.
OK, the rolling naked from carpet thing might be a stretch. What worked for an Egyptian queen thousands of years ago might not do the trick for a twenty-first century, ordinary girl, but this time I do at least take great care with my outfit. I consider buying something new but don’t want to waste a morning trailing around the shops, so I plump for a high-waisted grey pencil skirt that I bought in Zara last year but have only had occasion to wear twice, a silky emerald green top with a pussy bow and high, round-toed, petrol blue patent shoes. The combination of spray-on tight skirt and stilt-height shoes means that I can barely walk but I don’t care because I know I look as good as it gets. No pain, no gain.
I hop-stroke-hobble on to the tube and set off for Wembley. Jess said I should leave Adam a note, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I can’t think about it right now, it’s all too strange and raw and unsettled. I do know that whatever I have to say should probably be said face to face. I tell myself that I’ll find Adam at the stadium and talk to him there, but I have a feeling I might be lying to me. I think I might just go directly to Scott’s dressing-room and avoid Adam like the bubonic plague. I don’t share this choice piece of info with Jess; I guess I know my intentions are far from honourable. I know that I’m not behaving especially well towards Adam right now; the fairest thing would be to formally finish our relationship before I move on with Scott but I don’t have the luxury of time. Scott is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and despite the nasty spikes of guilt jabbing my conscience for the entire journey to Wembley, I’m determined not to blow it. It’s an odd thing, but knowing that I ought to be behaving better and actually behaving better don’t seem to be at all sequential.
It’s easy to find his room today. I still have a pass, and besides which I walk with a new confidence through the labyrinth of corridors. A couple of people catch my eye and nod to me. It’s possible they recognize me from last night’s gig and think I have a right and a reason to be mooching around the dressing-rooms. I’ve almost convinced myself of as much.
After just a split second of hesitation I knock on his door and then walk straight in.
He is there. We lock eyes and my heart stops. He grins and it starts again. He’s detonated a bomb of sensations. Effervescent shards of excitement, desire, fear and lust ambush me. The muddles of emotions settle, almost painfully, in my head and knickers. I am freshly overwhelmed by his presence.
‘Good morning,’ he says, with a mock formality.
‘Morning,’ I mutter, my determination and confidence flooding out of me with every passing moment.
He is sat facing the door, as though expecting me, which is impossible – so expecting someone else maybe? Again, he’s dressed casually in jeans and a simple blue T-shirt. He hasn’t shaved or combed his hair. His crumpled, just-got-out-of-bed appearance is once more irresistible. His legs are splayed and I can’t concentrate. I daren’t move closer to him or else I’ll be stood between his thighs, like some sort of lap dancer.
‘What did you think of the concert?’ he asks.
‘I was glad we met before I went to it,’ I admit truthfully.
‘Was it that bad?’ he asks with a grin, leaning forward hands on knees now.
I smile back. ‘No, not at all. It was…’ I search for a big enough word but can’t think of one. I settle for ‘Amazing. That’s what I mean. I’d have been too overwhelmed to talk to you the way I did yesterday if I’d had any idea the power you have. You are so big. I knew it but hadn’t seen what that meant up close. You’re bigger than anything I could ever have imagined.’
‘Now, that is no word of a lie. That’s not just PR, that’s true, that is.’ He jokingly grabs his crotch, in case I miss his innuendo.
He’s being obvious, just like when he humped the mike on stage last night. I’m not normally a fan of Benny Hill humour but I can’t help but wonder if his crass bragging is true. I can’t help but hope it is.
‘I didn’t mean that, exactly,’ I say, although in a way I did. The sexual energy he oozes is meshed with the creative performance. I can’t pretend I don’t find it attractive; me and several million others. ‘It was all those girls. I was quite taken aback,’ I add.
‘What do you mean?’
We haven’t taken our eyes off one another since the conversation began. The door behind me is still wide open, which is disconcerting considering the private nature of our exchange. I daren’t close it until he invites me to do so.
‘The flesh, the bums, the breasts. Just everywhere. Abundantly offered up.’
He laughs. ‘What about it?’
‘I don’t want you to think I’m like those other women in the crowd.’ The admission is awkward, mostly because to some extent I am just like them and I know it. I played strip poker with the man, shortly after meeting him for the first time. I wouldn’t have done that with anyone else or under any other circumstances, would I? Plus, I’m stood in front of him in my sexiest outfit. I’m wearing stockings for God’s sake; I’m not playing what anyone could describe as hard to get.
‘So how are you different from those women? You’re made of flesh, you have a bum, don’t you?’ He lets his gaze drop down from my eyes, to my boobs, my legs, and slowly, oh so slowly, he drags his look of longing back up to meet my eyes. My cheeks turn scarlet.
‘Yes and boobs but I’m not here to flash them at you.’
‘Shame, I’d guarantee you an appreciative audience.’
I can’t help it, I smile, but then I bravely get to the heart of what I’m afraid of. ‘Yeah, just the once, I imagine you would.’
‘That’s not what you are after?’
‘I have a boyfriend,’ I say, pretty much avoiding a direct answer. ‘And I’ve never been into one-night stands, they’re pointless; that’s why I left in such a hurry yesterday.’
Scott nods. ‘So why are you back here?’
‘Because you sang to me.’
‘I did, didn’t I.’
‘And so I thought maybe –’
He interrupts. ‘That you are different?’
‘Yeah.’ I stand on the knife edge, blade slicing my feet, waiting to see if I’ve got this all muddled.
‘And so you are, Fern, so you are.’ He beckons me. ‘Close the door.’
We play cards again; this time we keep our clothes on and stick to matches. Yesterday our conversation was limited to small talk about the hand we held, the room temperature, which flavour crisps we prefer. Yesterday our flirting did not have a time-line. We had flirted in the moment, for the moment, and with no regard or expectations of what, if anything, might come after. Today, we have upped the ante. Our flirtation reaches a new level. It’s not quite so glib. It feels a little more individual. It’s the sort of flirting that definitely has consequences. Plus we talk without flirting at all, which in my mind is much more of a compliment, especially after watching the show last night. I know he can flirt with anyone, anywhere, any time. Talking is a big deal. He tells me normal stuff. Stuff about himself that demonstrates a confidence in me that fills me with pride and pleasure.
Scott tells me about what he did after the gig last night (he was whisked away on the helicopter and taken to a swanky hotel in West London). ‘I fell asleep in the reception,’ he says bright-eyed and amazed.
‘I’m not surprised, you jumped around for hours on stage.’
‘I know, but it’s the first time ever that I’ve done a gig and then fallen into such a deep, relaxed slumber. No one could believe it. You see, I don’t do relaxed. Saadi, my PA, commented on it. You’ll have to meet her. I’d been on tenterhooks all afternoon. So fucking nervous about the gig. Having not performed live for two years I was all sort of –’
‘Yeah, scared, and then it was all great.’
‘That’s why you slept so well,’ I assure him. ‘The slumber of a man who knows he’s done a bloody great job.’
‘No, it wasn’t. I’ve had great gigs in the past and it’s taken me hours to come down from them.’
‘Is it because you didn’t hit the bars? You mentioned you’re clean.’
I resist adding ‘at the moment’. I know he casually volunteered this information yesterday but I’m not sure how to handle myself around addicts and don’t know what to say for the best. I don’t want to say anything that sounds like I assume that he’ll fall off the wagon but nor do I want to sound as though I think the job’s done. I know enough to understand once an addict, always an addict, and that every day is a struggle. Life’s just harder for people born with that gene. The way it’s harder if you are born with the gene which gives you a terrible disease or a really ugly face, it’s just that the ill and even the slap-arsed ugly get more sympathy than addicts. I don’t want to seem like I’m having a go.
‘Yeah, that might have helped, but I think it was because of you,’ says Scott. The ‘you’ is dropped like an atom bomb. It mushrooms and eclipses everything that has gone before.
‘Me?’ I’m stunned.
‘Yeah. Come on. You know what I mean. You make me feel happy. Relaxed. Right in my skin. I can’t explain it,’ he says shyly.
I know exactly what he means. We stare at each other a bit stupidly, unsure what to do or say next. It’s almost a relief when there’s a knock at the door.
Scott’s entourage file in and out of the dressing-room all morning. He introduces me to everyone and I try to hang on to as many names as I can but it’s tricky. For a start, it appears there’s a uniform of scruffy jeans and black T-shirts and, another thing, I keep thinking, Oh. My. God. I can’t believe this. I’m in the same room as Scott Taylor! I’m spending a lot of effort and energy holding in my stomach and trying to touch up my makeup covertly at every given opportunity. This is undoubtedly really immature of me but cut me some slack. Scott Taylor is hitting on me!
Besides Bob, the security guy, several runners, the occasional (carefully escorted) journalist, a photographer and the guys from catering, six or seven band members wander into his room at some point in the day. The band members all wrap Scott in elaborate hugs. Hugs that involve slapping hands, sticking out their tongues and even wiggling their bums. There are waves of affection flowing as everyone is pleased with yesterday’s gig and excited about tonight’s. I am not on the receiving end of hugs – thank goodness. I’d be freaked out if I was deluged with mwahmwah air kisses from strangers – but I am treated to a number of grateful and genuine smiles.
There are two male guitarists, one female, a drummer, a pianist and a couple of backing singers. Surprisingly, none of the band members are classically good-looking. There’s no sign of chiselled jaws or tight, defined abs, yet every last member is mesmerizing. They ooze commitment to their craft and joy with their lives and as such are totally exhilarating to be around. It’s fair to presume they have all endured years of struggling as members of inconsequential bands at tiny gigs, waiting for the big break. Now they are Scott’s band they have officially made it. It doesn’t get any bigger. They are confident and focused. They glow with satisfaction – so elusive in the streets I normally pound. It’s fantastic to be around so many realized dreams. My friends are all struggling, waiting for something great to happen to them or resigned to the fact that it probably never will.
The production manager and two people from wardrobe also visit Scott. They remind him that tonight the concert is being filmed for TV and DVD. The production manager steals a quick glance my way and then says, ‘You can’t do the “Happy Birthday” thing tonight, Scott. It won’t work on DVD.’
Scott stares at his employee for some time and then says, ‘It’s not Fern’s birthday tonight, it was her birthday last night, so there is no danger of me singing “Happy Birthday” to her tonight. That would be silly.’
The production guy looks relieved and slightly miffed at the same time. He realizes that Scott is being vaguely condescending. Nothing mean; he’s just flexing his muscles. A shiver of excitement runs up my back as I realize that Scott is flexing his muscles for my benefit. It’s just like some kid showing he’s the big boy in the playground in order to get the attention of the little girl with plaits; the little girl who doesn’t normally join in kiss-chase. Although truthfully, I always joined in kiss-chase; shrinking violet, I ain’t. Before I can wallow in the good feeling the production manager throws a bucket of cold ice.
He turns to me and says, ‘Adam said hi.’ He leaves the dressing-room before I can stammer a response.
Scott catches my eye but sensibly says nothing.
Adam, bloody hell, Adam. He knows I’m in here. What a nightmare. It’s as though the production guy has just thrown a hair shirt on me. I itch with a terrible sensation of panic and unease. I really haven’t given Adam any thought since I entered Scott’s dressing-room. I’m shocked at myself that I have forgotten him so completely, so quickly; it’s as though I’m on another planet, one lit by a dazzling, brilliant star. My old world – the world I shared with Adam – doesn’t seem to even be in the same galaxy.
I stare at Scott and silently will him to reassure me. He reads my mind.
‘You OK?’ he asks.
‘I think so,’ I mutter.
‘I could sack him,’ Scott offers, casually.
‘Adam?’ I’m horrified.
‘No, the production guy.’ Scott grins at me to show that he’s just joking anyway. He then steps forward and wraps me in a big hug. He strokes my hair and his touch is both comforting and wild. I barely understand it. Our bodies throb as one. I am aware of every single muscle, sinew, nerve; his and mine but I don’t know where one starts and the other stops. ‘I’m sorry for Adam,’ he whispers in my ear. ‘To have held you like this and then to have let you slip away, how does a man live with a mistake like that?’
Oh. My. God. What is Scott saying? Have I slipped away? I think I have.
The woman with the blonde bob who massaged Scott’s shoulders yesterday turns out to be Saadi, his PA. She coughs, taps Scott on the shoulder and tells him that the choreographer needs to run through small changes to the dance routine. With painful reluctance Scott and I break apart. Bereft, we stare at one another until the choreographer practically drags Scott away and Saadi frogmarches me to the other end of the room.
‘You OK?’ she asks me, clicking her fingers in front of my face.
She has an Australian accent. I always warm to Australians. I think they are all my friends because they are the one nation with a positive cultural stereotype. I like the fact that they are known for their easy-going temperaments and their no-bullshit approach to life. In Britain you can know someone for years before you get the same level of honesty that you can get from an Australian after just two beers. It’s not that we Brits are intrinsically mistrustful; it’s just we live in fear of saying the wrong thing and therefore prefer not to say anything meaningful at all. The best of us hide behind impeccable manners, the worst of us think like an angry mob and covet ASBOs the way other nations covet Olympic medals.
‘Never better,’ I reply with a broad, open grin. It’s true. I feel like a winner. I have never felt more excited and exciting in my entire life. This blows away when I got short-listed for a Blue Peter drawing competition when I was eleven.
‘Have you had sex with him yet?’ asks Saadi.
The question startles me; it certainly causes me to focus on her instead of staring dreamingly at the door Scott’s just walked out through. Even for an Aussie, that question is upfront. She asked it in the same way the nurse who performs smears asks you to open your legs and relax; a clinical probing that seems cold and unnatural.
‘No,’ I stammer, hating myself for revealing so much. What has it to do with her?
‘That’s great,’ she smiles. ‘Do you mind holding off until Sunday?’
‘Sunday?’ I stutter, unsure why I’m having this conversation with Saadi. Surely this is a negotiation Scott and I should be having – if sex is ever going to be negotiated, that is, and yes, yes, yes I admit it, I hope it is. My body is throbbing for his after that tight hug.
‘These gigs are really important to him. To us. To everyone. A lot of money is riding on them. A lot. More than you could imagine in your wildest dreams. Just one night of sex can ruin months and months of planning and hard, hard work.’
She smiles and pats my hand. Her hand is cool and makes me think of a strict and demanding schoolteacher. ‘Look, I don’t want to spoil his fun. Or yours, for that matter. It’s just sex complicates everything, unnecessarily so.’
This conversation is surreal. ‘In what way?’
‘Well, think about it. If it is good sex then he stays up all night and is knackered and then he’ll be completely out of sorts the next day.’ An image of Scott and me writhing all over one another explodes into my mind. I think I must be grinning because Saadi smiles at me, indulgently. ‘Yeah, but a good performance for you means a crap one for the paying punters. Yet, if the worst happens and the sex is rubbish, then he’ll be fighting demons the following day. No one needs their ego kicking just before they stand up on stage in order to make ninety thousand people happy, do they?’
‘It would be great sex,’ I assure her, hotly.
‘No doubt,’ says Saadi. She doesn’t look as though she cares either way. ‘I’m just asking for a little co-operation here. A bit of help. You can wait until Sunday, can’t you? I wouldn’t mention it if it wasn’t in Scott’s best interests.’
Saadi smiles, briefly, coolly. The conversation is over. In truth she isn’t asking for my help; she’s telling me how things are going to be. She picks up her plastic cup of coffee and clipboard and swiftly exits the room.