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Authors: Radhika Sanghani

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BOOK: Not That Easy
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“Um, it's . . . very honest,” said Emma slowly. “The virgin thing is particularly, uh . . . Ellie,
why
did you put that in?”

“Because I want to be honest. I feel like this is a chance for me to meet guys who like me for me, and respect me. I just want to make sure I end up sleeping with someone who doesn't care that I only just lost my V-plates.”

“Yeah, you're going to have to take that out,” said Lara bluntly.
“And—support bras? You want to seduce these men, not scare the shit out of them. Also, the 36Ds? Ellie, that's just cheap, as is the fact that you're looking for
whatever they can give you
.”

“That was flirty,” I said hotly.

“Is the fact that you can only cook pasta and are clearly having an existential crisis flirty too?” she asked.

Emma nodded in agreement. “Babe, they don't need to know all this stuff up front. Maybe just tone it down a bit?” She looked at my crestfallen face. “I mean, I love that it's so
you
, but I'm not really sure it works. Like, the passed out drunk in an alleyway part sounds a bit . . . wrong.”

Lara snorted with laughter and I turned to her angrily. “It isn't
wrong
; it's just
funny
. I said I'm good at making my friends laugh and I was trying to prove my point.” They were now both laughing hysterically into their glasses of rosé. “Ugh, whatever. If you think you can do better, why don't you take over?”

“I thought you'd never ask,” said Lara, grabbing the laptop. “Come on, Emma, let's fix this.”

ELK123
22, London

My self-summary:

I live in East London and work in the media. Studied English at uni and am now wondering why.

What I'm doing with my life:

Interning for a high-profile online magazine.

I'm really good at:

Making my friends laugh.

The first things people usually notice about me:

My smile.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music and food:

Love romcoms, old Disney films and trashy American TV.

Listen to everything from old-school rap to drum and bass.

Favorite authors range from Jane Austen to Jack Kerouac.

The six things I could never do without:

My friends

Clothes

Alcohol

Coffee

Novels

Saturday nights

I spend a lot of time thinking about:

How fun last weekend was.

On a typical Friday night I am:

Out drinking with my friends.

The most private thing I'm willing to admit:

I've never been on a dating site before.

I'm looking for:

Whatever happens.

You should message me if:

You want to.

“What
is
this?” I cried out. “Message me
if you want to
? I sound like a fucking PROSTITUTE. And, you both know I hate Jack Kerouac. This is . . . This is all lies,” I spluttered.

“Nooo, it's not lies,” said Emma. “It's more of an airbrushed version of the truth. We kept in some of it anyway, like . . . the bit about music?”

“Drum and bass? Do I look like the kind of person who wants to take E and jump up and down to music without words?” I shrieked.

“Babe, you don't really
jump
to drum and bass,” said Emma, before catching sight of my face. “Okay, okay, if you hate it, we can change it. But, honestly, I think this would work a bit better than your one. I mean, would you rather your future date sees you as self-deprecating and awkward—which we love about you—or sexy and fun?”

“Exactly,” said Lara. “You'd exaggerate your CV so you may as well do the same for this. Just think of it as a dating CV. It's like, um, an online portfolio.”

I frowned at them both and then broke into a grin. “Wait, so do you guys really think I have a good smile?”

“We wrote that?” asked Lara. “Oh yeah. We figured it was better than drawing attention to the mass of hair on your head or your massive tits. Besides, smiles sound sexy.”

“But this isn't me being myself. It's me trying to be the kind of girl guys like.”

“Exactly,” said Emma. “Guys will like it.”

“Uh, what happened to you being a feminist?” I asked. “One boyfriend and you're all ‘pretend you like Kerouac and drum and bass' to get a guy.”

“It's just playing them at their own game,” replied Emma, waving
her hand at me. “They do it too—how many of these guys really like half the stuff they say they do? The ones who put ‘looking for friendship'? Utter bollocks. All they want is a casual fuck, but they can't say that or no one will click on them. It's just the game.”

“Well . . . that's shit,” I said. “I thought
The Game
was an anti-women self-help book for men to pull girls by ebbing away at their self-esteem.”

“Yeah, it's that too,” said Emma. “But I was talking about the concept, not the book.”

“Either way, it sounds like crap,” I said. “It's so old-fashioned. I'm so over the game. In fact, I officially opt out of the game.”

Lara raised an eyebrow at me. “So, you're going to use your original profile then?”

I threw a cushion at her. “Oh fuck off, you both know my attempt was shit and I'm using your version. But you don't have to look so smug about it.”

They grinned at each other. “Knew it,” said Emma. “As much as we hate the game, it's just gotta be played.”

“Okay, this is it,” said Lara. “I'm clicking save, and . . . it's done! Now we've just got to hope that this mass of lies gets Ellie laid.”

4

Forty-eight hours had passed since the creation of ELK123 and I was yet to get laid. However, I had just checked my phone and there were FOUR messages waiting for me. I was well on my way to slutdom.

•   •   •

Hey, sexy, can I come on your face? How about Tues night?

I blushed and dropped my phone onto my keyboard. I looked around the office furtively, but Maxine was yelling down her phone and no one else was in yet. It was only the unpaid intern who was expected to be in at eight a.m.

I clicked on HotDog69 and gagged. His profile picture was a topless selfie, and his beer belly—covered in sparse pube-like hairs—was glaring at me. I quickly exited his profile and went back to my inbox. There were three more messages. My heart beat in trepidation as I read the next one.

•   •   •

Hey, hun. u ok. I hope we could become mates and get to know each other.

My names percy. I gotta say you are the definition of beautiful and got beautiful eyes. I hope we have the chance to become good mates and maybe more. I think we would get along well and ill always be here for you whenever you need someone to talk to. I will never ever judge you no matter what and i always try to be a good mate xx

I stared at the message in confusion. He wanted to be there for me? He didn't even know me. And were the spelling mistakes intentional or could he really just not use punctuation? I hesitantly clicked on Perce69's profile—I was noticing a username theme here—and was met with a picture of a sweet-looking guy with a receding hairline and blue eyes.

He didn't look as horrid as HotDog so I scrolled down. Okay, he worked in sales, was twenty-nine, lived in North London and . . . the most private thing he was willing to admit was that he had a sex addiction. Ew. At least he thought I was beautiful and would never judge me. Feeling more confident, I looked at my third message.

•   •   •

I would hug a cactus, then swim through shark infested salt water to the arctic to do battle with an angry mother polar bear on a 2x2 foot iceberg for the chance to share a Nandos half chicken with corn on the cob with you on a webcam over a dial-up connection. X

Right. At least that was original. Everyone liked a Nando's half chicken—but if we were sharing shouldn't we get a full chicken?
Not only was Marcus1986 clearly a nutter, he was also stingy. I didn't bother clicking on his profile and moved on to my last message.
Please be normal
, I prayed. It was from someone called JT_ldn and there was no 69 on the end of his username. This looked promising.

•   •   •

Hey, Elk, your profile seems cool. So what kind of media work do you do? I live in East London too. Have you been living amongst the hipsters for a while or are you a new kid on the block?

JT x

Oh my God. It was an actual message from a normal person who had read my profile and wasn't just spamming me with perv-mail. Okay, so he had mistaken my initials for my name, but that was easily done. There had to be a few people out there called Elk.

I clicked on his profile and was instantly impressed. JT was HOT. He was also twenty-nine—exciting—from Ireland—sexy accent—and worked at Marc Jacobs—shit. Gay??? I quickly scrolled down and breathed out in relief as I saw he worked in the IT section of Marc Jacobs. That was promising, as was the fact that he was six foot three and loved nights in with red wine and film noirs. If you swapped it for carbs and romcoms, that was my ideal night in too.

•   •   •

Hey JT, nice to (virtually!) meet you. I'm “working” for an online magazine, which is pretty cool except for the fact it's unpaid.
I'm new to East—what about you? Amazing you work for MJ. Do you get free stuff?

Ellie x

I tapped out the message quickly, so that I could edit it afterwards. The awkward “virtually” joke would probably have to go. I ended it with a kiss, which felt weird considering I'd never met him but decided it would be rude not to after he'd given me one. It was probably just Internet dating etiquette. Come to think of it, HotDog69 was quite rude for not putting a kiss on his.

“Ellie, what are you doing?” screeched Maxine. I dropped my phone onto my desk and realized with horror that I'd pressed send. Why had I put in those cringe attempts to be flirty? There was no way he'd reply now.

“Just booking the restaurant for your lunch meeting with Clara,” I said brightly, as I turned to face my boss. Her dark hair was piled onto her head in a messy bun, but her red lipstick immaculately framed her snarling mouth.

“Good—make it for two p.m.,” she said. “Now, we need someone to write a feature about London stereotypes.” Oh my God. Was she finally about to ask me to actually
write
something for her? “So, do the research then send it over to Camilla and she'll write it.”

My heart sank. Typical. “Okay, sounds great,” I said. “What kind of things are you thinking?”

She sighed theatrically and replied in the same exasperated tone she used whenever I asked her a question. “You know . . . a North London girl who buys Jo Malone and the Brixton girl in flowery skirts and Doc Martens, blow-dries in Notting Hill.”

I nodded rapidly as I scribbled down what she was saying. It sounded like exactly the sort of thing I had read multiple times on
various websites and could write in my sleep. But instead I'd have to do all the work then send it on to the star writer who would just move a few words around and stick her name on it.

“Send it to her by lunch,” barked Maxine. “I'm off out. When you get a minute can you also sort out the stationery cupboard and do me a cuts search on that latest socialite? I'm doing an interview with her.”

“Um, who?” I asked nervously.

“Oh God,” she sighed. “You know, the eyebrow one? The model?”

“Cara Delevingne?”

“Exactly. Next thing you'll be asking me what a cuts search is,” she said, as she grabbed her camel jacket.

I fake-laughed. “Right, as if I didn't know it was . . . general research?”

She looked straight at me. “Ellie. Newspaper clippings. The username and login is on the whiteboard.”

“Thankyousomuch,” I garbled in relief and she shook her head at me in despair.

•   •   •

I threw on my leather jacket and grabbed my blue canvas tote bag. It was six p.m. and I only had ten minutes before Maxine came back. If she saw that I was still there she would inevitably give me more tasks to do, so I was taking my chance to leave.

It had been a long Monday. As always my colleagues just ignored me as they discussed their dates on the Kings Road, and what happened at Annabelle's on Saturday. I'd been left with the hard work, and they'd buggered off at five p.m.

Today Camilla had even made me source the photos for her article, so I was now officially late to meet my mum. The only thing that had kept me going all day was the fact that JT had replied. He'd
told me that he did get a discount, he loved East London and he knew loads about media. He'd only confused “your” with “you're” once, and he hadn't called me Elk again.

My phone beeped. I tapped it open and saw the bright pink OKC app icon. I opened it, grinning in anticipation of a reply from JT.

•   •   •

Hello Elk

How are you this morning? I like your profile. I wondered how you felt about discreetly humiliating a man that secretly wears tights and using him for your benefit?

I hope you don't mind me asking!

The picture was of a pair of shiny silver leggings and I could see the outline of Superman69's squashed penis.

“Aghh,” I shrieked, as I crashed into my mum.

“Elena, about time,” she said, rubbing dirt off my coat. “Do you have to run like that? I could hear you thudding all the way down the road. And you shouldn't walk looking at your phone. Someone could steal it.”

The subtle criticisms had begun already. I told myself to take deep breaths and stay calm. I was a grown-up now. I had my own flat, £30,000 worth of debt and a job. Well, an internship, but still. I was an adult and I could handle one weekday dinner with my mother.

“Nice to see you too, Mum. Shall we go inside the restaurant then?”

She made a noncommittal sound so I walked into Pizza Express and let the waiter guide us to a table.

“So, this is nice, isn't it?” I said brightly.

“Is that jacket new?” she asked, eyeing up my new Anthropologie purchase.

“It's just Target, Mum,” I groaned in exasperation.

“Does Target do real leather?”

I forced my face into a calm smile. “Mum, what's with all the questions? It's just pleather. But if you like it that much, you can borrow it!”

Her eyes narrowed. “You know I'm not asking because I want to borrow it, Elena. I'm just wondering what you're spending my money on.”

“Mum, why don't we just order first before we get into all that? Shall we get dough balls to share? I bet I know what you're going to get—the avocado and goat cheese salad, right?”

“The cannelloni. Maybe you should get the salad?” she asked.

“Are you kidding me? Salad isn't real food. I'm famished,” I announced, ignoring the fact that she was staring pointedly at my stomach. “Dough balls to start, then a pepperoni pizza and probably a dessert too.”

“Right, okay,” she said and looked back down at her menu.

“What does that mean, Mum?” I asked. I could feel irritation rising up my esophagus, and tried to take deep breaths.

“Nothing,” she said. “I just said okay, but . . . maybe you shouldn't be eating so much.”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I shrieked. All hopes of staying calm and rational had fully evaporated. “Do you want me to be ANOREXIC? I can't believe you would even bring up my weight—I'm a size six slash eight slash ten. That is
healthy
, Mum. God, I can't believe you're trying to give me an eating disorder.”

“Elena,” she hissed. “Will you keep your voice down? You know I just want you to be healthy and look good. Obviously you're not fat but if you carry on as you are . . .”

“Oh. My. God. Are you saying you think I'm going to get fat? That is
so
typical of you. I work ten-hour days, and I don't have an income. All I can afford is pasta and cheap food that just happens
to be unhealthy. I don't have time to go to the gym, and I couldn't even afford a membership if I did. Do you even know how much vegetables cost these days? This is just not my fault.”

She sighed. “I wish you wouldn't buy cheap rubbish like pasta the whole time. When are they going to start paying you at your work?”

“Don't know,” I mumbled moodily.

“Why can't you just get a job that pays?” she asked.

I felt a twinge of guilt. She was asking the question that ran through my head on a daily basis, but it was too depressing to deal with. If I wanted my dream writing job, I had to work unpaid for months and then I may or may not get a permanent position with a salary at the end of it. That was just how it worked. The only way to get a typical paid job was to go back in time and do a law degree.

“Mum, I've explained this to you like a hundred times,” I sighed. “Everyone who wants to work in media has to work unpaid for a few months. Just be glad I'm only doing a two-month internship—Emma's friend worked unpaid for nine months before she got a job at
Tatler
.”

“Doesn't that girl we met at your graduation have a job at
Tatler
? She told me she was starting immediately.”

Fucking Hannah Fielding. “She is a complete bitch, Mum,” I cried. “Besides, she only got the job because her parents know people. It's pure nepotism.”

My mum sighed. “Okay, Elena, do your unpaid work, but I'm only helping you out for now. Next month I'm not going to pay your rent anymore.”

“Sure, that's fine,” I said confidently. “I'll definitely have a paid job by then.” I crossed my fingers under the table. It could happen. Probably. “But in the meantime . . .” I gave her my most daughterly smile.

“Yes, okay,” she said wearily. “You can have one hundred pounds on top of your rent and bills.”

My mouth dropped open. “Mum, I can't survive on a hundred quid a month! I'll starve to death. Or—even worse—I'll end up just buying reduced ready meals, then I'll get a really high salt intake and cholesterol will build up in my arteries and I'll probably get diabetes. And acne. Then no one will ever fancy me.”

She looked alarmed. “Elena, you have to eat well. Can't you buy couscous and quinoa? They're not expensive if you buy in bulk and you can just cook them with fresh vegetables.”

“Quinoa is very expensive these days,” I said authoritatively. “So is hummus. And tzatziki.”

“I've taught you so many times to make your own dips, Lena,” she said. She had used the name she called me as a baby. I grinned to myself—I knew I'd win her over by name-dropping Greek food. “Will two hundred pounds help?”

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