Taxiing my way into the office (my car was still rather inconveniently parked outside my office), I tried to doze, but it proved impossible, due to the squawking emanating from the cab radio, which magnified my hangover a hundred fold.
“Can you please turn off that screeching,” I yelled at the cabbie through the partition. “It sounds like a bunch of parakeets.”
“Mackaws, parakeets, whatever. Turn it off.”
“I mean, it’s The Curly Mackaw Show.” Of course it was. If I really strained my ears I could make out a few words here and there. Each snippet: “What dykes need is a good shagging” … ”She gives me a raging hard on”, even “Sponsored by Villorex,” were like jagged bits of glass being inserted into my skull.
“It’s just that my head’s very sensitive this morning,” I said, pressing my hands over my ears. Hearing the word Villorex made me yearn, with a sudden abrupt longing, for Connor, but even that thought was drowned out by the roar of pain in my head.
I was never drinking again. It was official. I simply wasn’t up to it after so many years of clean living.
“All right, love,” said the cabbie, clicking off Curly. “What’s eating you? Time of the month is it?”
I sank back into the seat and closed my eyes, hoping for a bit of peace, but instead images from last night popped into my head. Dancing with Sachiko, listening to her pour her heart out, Malc and
Once I was sitting down behind my desk, my head began to feel heavy, like I was trying to balance a rock on a pipe cleaner. It wouldn’t matter if I just laid it down for a second, would it?
My head had just crashed down onto my outstretched palms, when I heard a peppy voice say, “Scarlett? What on earth’s the matter?”
“What?” I jerked upright. My PA, Nicki, gradually came into focus, short hair framing an elfin face. She was holding a newspaper against her chest.
“Well, this is a turn up for the books. You’re hungover aren’t you?”
“No, not at all. I’ve just got a bit of a migraine, that’s all,” I fibbed. Nicki had never seen me in such a state and I felt pretty embarrassed.
“Well, well, you have been a busy girl,” she said. “Your friend Sachiko’s in all the papers.”
I’d told her I was going to yesterday’s taping with Sachiko. The excitement of me knowing a celebrity had obviously gone to her head.
“Some friend. She practically forced me to go to this club with her last night.”
“Whatever you say.” She thrust the newspaper under my nose. “This is page thirteen of the Star. It’s in the Sun too, and a few others.”
“Look Nicki, no offence, but my head’s killing me.” I squinted at the picture of Sachiko leaning out of a car window, kissing some blonde chick.
“So Sachiko has a new girlfriend? So what?” I said brusquely.
“Well, look, I don’t have a problem with it. But I think you should know you’ve got the gossipmongers at Zanorax in quite a flurry.”
“Why?” I asked, perplexed. My brain was groaning with the effort of making sense of what she was saying. I guess she’d told everyone I was meeting Sachiko last night. “Because I hang out with gay people?”
Nicki was staring at me like I had boogers hanging out of both nostrils.
“Is there anything else?” I said. “Because I’d really like to get started on some work.”
“So, this is no big deal to you?” she said eventually. “This is who you are now?”
I thought that my colleagues might be overreacting just a tad. It was the power of celebrity, it had to be. Just because I’d shared a bottle or three of Cristal with Sachiko, I was evidently famous by proxy.
“Of course that’s who I am. Look, could you do me a huge favour and run out and get me a mocha?”
“I can’t. The phones have been ringing all morning. All the papers are anxious to talk to you.”
This was all I needed. The day I had a stonking hangover, was the day the press suddenly decreed incontinence pants a hot topic. “I’m really not in the mood. Just tell them I’m out.”
“What? Out as in out? You’re absolutely sure?”
What on earth was she blathering on about? “Well of course I am. You’re either in or you’re out, and I am absolutely, one hundred per cent out.”
“Gotcha,” said Nicki, plopping the newspaper on my desk, before making a hasty exit.
Next, I locked the door behind her, went over to my armchair, and promptly fell asleep.
When I awoke, it was nearly two, my headache had faded to a dull buzz and I felt remarkably refreshed. As I looked down, I was shocked to see that my suit was badly creased, but short of going out and buying a new one, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I smoothed it out as best I could, got up and walked back to my desk, where the Star still lay open on my desk.
As I was about to flip it closed, I hesitated. That was funny, I thought, peering at the woman kissing Sachiko. Her nose looked awfully familiar. And hadn’t I seen that fawn coloured Jil Sander suit somewhere before? Ditto her high heeled Manolos with the pointy toes?
Recognition ripped through me. The suit and shoes: mine. The nose: also mine. The mouth pressed against Sachiko’s: mine. A fleeting memory of her tongue in my mouth caused me to sink down in my chair and put my head in my hands. Oh yes, that. My brain must have blanked the kiss out, because it had been too bizarre to process.
It would have all been forgotten, if some pesky photographer hadn’t been on the scene. Nevertheless, I told myself, it had just been a kiss. I saw that I was indeed named, as Sachiko’s new friend, PR girl, Scarlett Staines, in the brief blurb beneath the picture. So that’s what had got my colleagues in a lather.
But maybe, just maybe, my colleagues were the least of my problems. I grabbed the paper and rushed next door to Nicki’s office, where she was eating a packet of cheese and onion crisps. Gosh, they looked yummy. And wow, was I was starving.
“Nicki, earlier on, when you said the press were keen to talk to me, did you mean they wanted to talk about this,” I put the paper down in front of her, “or about Flowerette?”
Nicki went pale. She had obviously choked on a crisp. Since she couldn’t talk, she jabbed her finger at the picture of Sachiko and me.
I went round behind her and started thumping her on the back.
“Oh, right. This is so silly, isn’t it? The worst part of it is that you were right, I was hungover. Would you believe I didn’t even realize this was me until just now?” I gave a short, hysterical laugh as I continued to thump her back.
“You can stop that now. I think I’m all right.”
“Okay then.” I headed towards the door, desperate to fill my grumbling stomach. If I stayed here a moment longer, I’d rip her crisp bag right out of her hands.
Hovering in the doorway, I said, “I’m going to go out and get some lunch now, but look, about this Sachiko business. I know I don’t need to tell you that it was just a drunken kiss and didn’t mean a thing, right?”
“Scarlett. I need to tell you something.”
“Well, get on with it.”
Nicki stared at her desk. “This morning, when you said you were out, I thought you meant you were out of the closet.”
I started to giggle. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
Nicki threw down her bag of crisps. “You did. You said it was no big deal that Sachiko had a new girlfriend. How was I to know you couldn’t recognize your own face? I’ve been telling every journo who’s rung up that you and Sachiko are a couple.”
“You what?” I said, hurrying back into the room. I was about to have a go at her, but now, looking at the evidence, it was clear that I was the one who hadn’t been thinking straight.
“Look, this doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just call them back and tell them there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. That I’m ramrod straight and Sachiko’s just a pal, okay?”
“I’ll try, but you know how it is. Most of them switch to voice-mail in the afternoons while they’re writing up their copy.”
“I have absolute faith in you,” I said, slipping out before this ridiculous conversation could go any further.
Once I’d returned from a hurried prawn sandwich lunch, I picked up my pen, and was about to commence a productive afternoon’s work, when someone started knocking at my door. On opening it, I found Stan from accounts grinning at me, a well thumbed newspaper in his hands.
“So, wow, you and Sachiko eh? How long have you two been going out?”
“We haven’t. We aren’t. And now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do,” I said, closing the door in his eager little face. Minutes later, there was another knock. Another curious face, with a slightly different, albeit idiotic query. And so it continued, for the rest of the afternoon.
Since the questions were all pretty similar, I finally stuck a notice on my door which said:
I am not going out with Sachiko
It was just a goodbye kiss
I am not gay
Then I locked my door, ignored the laughter outside and concentrated on phoning Gillian, a journalist I know at the Sunday Express, in order to drum up some publicity for a thirteen mile Fun Run sponsored by Flowerette that was taking place in October.
“Scarlett, so good to hear from you,” said Gillian. “I am so glad you called, darling. You don’t know how long I’ve been expecting this.”
“That you’d finally come out, of course.” Gillian had left her husband for another woman last year and never stopped going on about how happy she was without men. “I’ve always thought you might be, and when I saw that pic of you and Sachiko, well, I was thrilled. I hear on the grapevine you’ve left Alistair? Is that right?”
“Yes, we’re separated.”
Gillian rattled on, “Well, that’s marvellous. Of course you remember when I first discovered I was gay, how my husband wouldn’t believe me. But when I moved in with Isabelle, the penny dropped all right. How is Alistair taking it by the way?”
“Look Gillian, if you must know, I’m not seeing Sachiko. And I’m not the remotest bit gay.”
“Oh darling,” said Gillian. “Denial is a river in
“Okay, okay, enough with the water metaphors. I’m not gay, cross my heart and hope to die. Now listen, I’m calling to see whether you could do a feature on this Fun Run I’m organizing in aid of breast cancer. I just faxed you the info. I’ve got a bunch of celebrities involved.” That was a bit of a lie, I only had two so far. But lies were what greased the PR wheel. If you could pretend to a paper you had celebrities on board for an event, they might promise to cover it, and then, hey presto, you used the lure of press coverage to reel in some prize celebrity fish.
“I might be able to do something. Depends who the celebs are, of course.”
“Well, Janey Powell from Eastenders has confirmed.” I couldn’t bear to tell her that the other celeb was an aging rock star who practically had to use a zimmerframe when he performed on stage.
As it happens, I didn’t have to, because Gillian was off on her pet topic again. “Look, you can talk to me about this, you know. I won’t blab a word. Have you had other female lovers, or was Sachiko your first? I suppose I’ve always known, deep down, that I was attracted to women, but kept hoping the feelings would go away. Was that how it was for you?”
What should I do? Issue another denial? No, it was pointless. Best to wind it up before I lost my rag. “Look Gillian, I’d really love to chat, but I’m going to have to dash. Do think about what kind of piece you’re going to do on the Fun Run, “I said sweetly, before putting down the phone.
What a disaster. Gillian clearly wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the Fun Run. The only thing she’d wanted to talk about, the only thing anyone wanted to talk about, was my ‘affair’ with Sachiko. Why had I kissed Sachiko? Why, why, why?
Desperate for caffeine, I rushed into the kitchen, anxious to make a very quick cup before anyone came in and started showering me with questions. In the process, I knocked the jar of coffee granules to the floor, and was just sweeping up the mess when Jimbo, a married guy who‘d been having an affair with Nicki for months, came in and smiled down at me.
I was so relieved that he hadn’t asked me about Sachiko that I said, “Tell me, why is no one the remotest bit surprised that the papers are making out I’m gay? Which I’m not, by the way.”
He shrugged. “I expect there are still a lot of people who actually believe what they read in the papers.”
“But that’s crazy. We’re PR people. We make up stories, day after day,” I said, getting up off the floor, grabbing my coffee and rushing out.
Back at my desk, I couldn’t concentrate. I took a call from Sachiko, in which she told me that Natasha had seen the photo and had gone off the deep end.
“What the heck happened? Did you come on to me?”
“I don’t really remember exactly,” I said, although I was pretty sure she’d instigated the kiss. “I think we were both a bit pissed.”
“What am I going to do?” she whined.
“Be happy. You wanted her back. Looks like she still has feelings for you.”
Once I’d got rid of Sachiko I took a few deep breaths at my desk. The day had been unnerving, perplexing, confusing and downright weird. Right now I needed escapism, I needed to feel wanted, but most of all I needed to forget.
So I called Gavin.
“Hi there, it’s Scarlett. I take it you’ve seen the photo?”
“Who hasn’t?” he said, chuckling. “I take it you’re not too pleased.”
“Pleased everyone thinks I’m gay?”
“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m gay, and I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of.”
I giggled despite myself. “Oh shut up. The difference is, you got yourself into that mess and I didn’t.”
“Fair enough. You sound like you need to unwind. Shall we say my place, seven thirty?”
“Sure,” I said, biting my lip, relieved that he hadn’t made me beg.
After he buzzed me up, I found him waiting for me, standing in the doorway, wearing just a pair of beaten up combats. He was watching me take the last flight of stairs two at a time.
“In a hurry are we?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
I flushed, as I realized he’d caught me out in my act of raw desperation. “Yeah, well, I’ve had one heck of a day.”
I went up to him and he pulled me into his embrace. I pressed my face into his naked chest, breathing in his musky scent, wanting him. His mouth pressed down on my forehead, finding its way down the bridge of my nose, and finally melding with mine in a rather steamy kiss.
“So, is Sachiko as good a kisser as me?” he said, once he’d pulled away.
A dart of anger rose up inside me. “Hmm, I wonder if you’d be quite so interested if I’d been snapped kissing another man.”
“You’re right of course, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m not going to answer it, because you’re a hypocrite.”
“I don’t care if I am,” he said, stroking my breast through my shirt. “The thought of the two of you together is just so sexy.”
I ran the backs of my nails along his chest, slowly, enjoying the sense that he was evidently quite excited by the whole thing. I wanted to pretend I was cool, in control, but while he grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the bedroom, while he pulled off my trousers and fucked me beneath the flashing lights of the PEEPSHOW sign, I realized I wasn’t in control at all.