Love. Lust. Lost. Ch. 02byknownobounds©
Another night to remember with Avril
If you missed the first chapter and would like to catch up, it's also in Celebrities under Love. Lust. Lost. (Ch. 01). Thanks!
The ear-shattering shriek of the alarm clock man-handled me out of the deepest sleep. The room was still blanketed in blackness and a sheen of sweat coated my skin.
I reached out and fumbled for the clock, its shrill shout promising to split my skull. My fingers found the plastic case, but it slipped and landed with a thump on the carpet.
I sat up, scrabbling for the bedside lamp. The stark glare assaulted my eyes and I scrunched them shut. I rubbed them with hands screwed up into fists and tried again, but they were still not prepared for the invasion.
I swung my foot blindly and connected with the clock. The pain that flared through my toes was sated as the clock hit the wall and spat out the battery, bathing the room in a golden silence.
With my feet flat on the carpet and my elbows on my knees, I rested my chin on my hands and finally managed to open my eyes.
Mornings are not my thing.
My mobile rang. I can't stand musical ring tones, so it trilled like a digital phone. It sounded too much like my alarm clock. I snatched it off the table.
"Yep." I barked.
"Oh dear." It was Dave from work.
"Er. Dave? What the fuck. It's…I don't even know what time it is."
"You told me to wake you, remember? We've got breakfast at the Moat House with BBH at seven. Assuming you still work here obviously."
"Yeah. Cheers mate. How was it yesterday?" I asked, my voice like gravel.
"Quiet. You did the right thing. This meeting goes well, and no one will give a shit anyway. You gonna be there in time?"
"Course I am. Look, what time is it? I think I just killed my clock."
"It's just gone six. You've got an hour. Shall I pick you up?"
"I'll be there before any of you. It's only ten minutes away and I need the air."
"Where did you end up last night anyway? You sound like you've only been in bed ten minutes."
I laughed humourlessly. "See you at seven." I said and killed the call.
"Six o'clock" I said to no one in particular and shook my head. I'd been asleep for about forty minutes and was still dressed.
I stripped and fumbled through to the bathroom. I flicked the switch and once again squinted against the invasion from the vivid fluorescent tube that stretched across the ceiling.
I squinted in the mirror whilst I waited for the shower to heat up. Where the hell had I been last night? I leaned closer to my reflection. Dark and swollen rings hung like bruises beneath my eyes, absurdly complimenting my dark stubble, and there was a red welt on my cheek. I touched it carefully and it smudged. I blinked hard, trying to focus my vision and my sleep-deprived mind. I touched it again. It was lipstick. Then in a sudden moment of clarity I realised I could smell perfume and the previous night came flooding back, wrenching the breath from my lungs.
"Fuck." Was the only thing I could think to say. I stepped into the shower and felt the hot water slowly inject a semblance of life into me and my mind flashed back to last night. Reluctantly, I washed her scent from my skin knowing that whilst I'd never forget it, I would also never really capture it.
My body was numb and my stomach churned. I was in love, but it was a dead love already lost and the pain was deep. I felt fourteen again. The same as I had on a cold winter's day at school. February the tenth. The day Jennifer Carter, every fourteen year olds wet dream, walked up to me after a school football match and kissed me as I stood with my hair steaming and mud streaked over my face. The day she had told everyone her parents were moving, so whilst my body exploded with feelings I had never felt before, I knew it was the only kiss I would ever enjoy.
But I was twenty-three, she was just nineteen. I had loved and lost before, so I knew the feelings that tangled inside me. But love at first sight? Reducing myself to a physical, emotional and mental wreck overnight?
I was stood back in front of the mirror dragging a razor across my face.
"Get a fucking grip on yourself." I mocked, my voice stronger now my body had submitted to consciousness. I stood up straight and took a deep breath, closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on the meeting, the day ahead and saving my job. The rest would have to wait. I opened my eyes, but my stomach still boiled.
Stepping out into the damp morning, I stuffed my hands in my pockets, and sank my shoulders into my warm overcoat. My laptop was slung over my shoulder and I focussed on the meeting as I wandered almost alone though the dark streets.
I don't remember at which point my mind strayed, but when a female voice spoke to me my mind swam lazily into focus.
"Stay in or take-away?"
"Take away." I replied looking down at the till to see what I had ordered, but the screen changed before I saw and I reached for my wallet. I hoped I had ordered a straight cappuccino, it was too early for something sweet. My feet had trudged me around to Starbucks, but not just any of the four in town, but the one I had been in the previous evening. As I waited for the barista I tried to tell myself that it was the logical one to be at as I wasn't heading for the office, but I wondered just how long this would last. How long would I walk around the town where I had spent most of my life and think, this is where we did this, that is the place where we…and so on?
The barista cleared her throat and I looked up as she handed me the large take-out cup.
"Too early." She said and I nodded, wondering how many times she had tried to attract my attention. I smiled, mumbled my thanks and headed back outside.
Cappuccino with an extra shot - at least one part of me had a grip on reality. I responded instantly to the piping hot liquid, more at the thought of caffeine than the actual buzz itself, which I hoped would arrive in time for the meeting. As the warmth spread, I actually felt my body come alive. I straightened up, squared my shoulders and held my head high. My stride lengthened and my pace quickened. Finally, my mind turned to the meeting.
I drained my cup, pitched it into the bin and strode confidently through the revolving doors into the lobby of the Moat House Hotel. God, this place needs a refurb', I thought, and wondered how long it had been since I was last here.
Carl and Dom from BBH were already in reception, still in their coats and clutching their briefcases. Instinctively, I checked my watch and the clock behind the concierge's desk. I was early and had beaten Dave.
Dave and I stood shoulder to shoulder and watched as Carl and Dom disappeared through the hotel doors.
"Bloody hell." Breathed Dave beside me. "Bloody hell. You did it." His voice unable to hide his excitement.
"We did it." I said and a smile as wide as mine spread across his face.
The lobby was filled with the rising aroma of lunch. The meeting had stolen the whole morning. Breakfast was taken, then cleared and the restaurant cleaned and set for lunch and as staff realised we weren't going to budge, they simply made sure the coffee pot was full and steaming.
Finally, as morning surrendered to afternoon, Carl put pen to paper and slid the contract across the table. And that was that. They stood, shook hands, gathered their papers and left.
I blinked hard and when I opened my eyes they had disappeared. I turned back towards the restaurant and saw the waitress staring nervously after us. I dug Dave in the ribs,
"Think I'd better go and settle the tab." I said and turned towards the young woman, a look of instant relief spreading over her face.
"I'll call the office." Dave said, reaching for his phone.
"Not yet." I said and checked my watch. "I think I might buy you a drink first."
As the waitress waited for my corporate credit card to clear, I gathered up the paperwork and flicked absent-mindedly through the contract. One million pounds over four years. The largest single service contract the agency had ever signed. What's more, my MD was sat in his office waiting for me to bring back contract amendments, not signed paperwork. After yesterday, I figured Dave and I deserved to bask in our own glory for awhile before heading back.
The office actually stopped. Heads turned, conversation was choked off and all eyes followed me. It seems I was the only grape on the gossip-vine and I began to wonder if I had already been terminated.
I shrugged my coat off and hung it next to the one I had left yesterday, reaching immediately for the phone. Janice, the MD's usually friendly secretary picked up the phone and answered my request for a meeting curtly.
"He's waiting for you." She said with unmistakable authority.
I replaced the phone and took a deep breath, alarmed at the slight tremor in my clammy hands.
"Dave." I called too loudly, to where he was chatting up one of the junior account managers. "Upstairs. Sharpish." I grabbed the contract like a talisman and headed for the stairs.
"You alright?" Dave asked as the fire door swung behind us and the office resumed its previous bustle.
"Don't know." I said, stopping with one foot on the first step, my hand on the polished banister. "Something's going on." I turned to face him, looking down on my junior with the advantage of several inches of height and a step. "I think I may have fucked it yesterday." I paused, I wasn't comfortable with this, I had been taught not to lie, however small, by a previous boss, who seemed to be able to pluck the truth out of your soul, then use it to beat you into submission with. "Look, I may need you to do me a favour. I'm not going to land you in the shit, trust me. But if I go off on a tangent, I need you to go with it." He raised an eye-brow questioningly. I put my hand on his shoulder. "Trust me, Dave. If I'm gone, I won't take you with me." I felt him relax beneath my hand and I nodded my thanks, then turned and headed up the stairs. Not only did I need this job, with this contract in place, I actually wanted it. It would make life very interesting, not to mention the bonus we were both due being not far short of our respective annual salaries.
I walked into the ante-room and Janice waved us straight through. I knocked out of courtesy, but stepped straight in, knowing he would not invite us in.
"Ah." Said the sexagenarian as he leant back in his huge, black leather armchair, his ancient mahogany desk dominating the room. He pushed his gold half-moon glasses up his nose and fired me a look that stopped me in my tracks. I could actually hear my heart and feel it pumping in my temples.
"So, you've decided to join us today." He said, turning theatrically towards the clock on the windowsill and I wondered fleetingly if he could actually see what time it was. For the record, it was ten past two. For the record, I kept that little nugget to myself.
"Erm. Look, I'm sorry about yesterday." I flustered, looking down at my shoes. "I, er, I'm sorry. It was unprofessional." I looked up to see him wave his hand dismissively.
"It was and I know you're sorry." He said still staring at me stood half-way between his desk and the door with Dave hidden behind me like a naughty school boy. "What I'm more concerned about is why you've taken until now to crawl into work – both of you."
"Um" Dave mumbled behind me, and I finally found my tongue.
"Mr Johnson, we've been with BBH about the incentive programme." I said suspiciously as I didn't believe his tack-sharp mind had forgotten anything in his life. This time he checked the time-piece on his wrist, a beautiful gold Patek Philippe treasure his wife had bought him on his fiftieth.
"The seven o'clock breakfast meeting at the Moat House." It was a statement. I nodded. "It's not that far away." He said, looking out of the leaded window as if he could actually see the hotel. Instinctively, my eyes followed his.
"Actually. Sir. The meeting's only just finished. It went on all morning. Plus a bit actually. They signed it. The contract I mean. No amendments. One mill. Four years." Dave machine-gunned behind me, and I stepped aside to give him room.
"That it?" the MD said, pointing an arthritic finger at the paper I was still clutching.
The silence in the room whilst he scanned the contract was excruciating and despite myself, I shuffled my feet nervously. Finally, he looked up, head-masterly over the rim of his glasses.
"None at all." I replied, shaking my head.
"How did you manage that?"
"Phil knows the product inside out, sir, he ran through it all, through the pitch, talked them around on the contract, they signed it no problem in the end." I was worried Dave wasn't going to take a breath. It was a ramble in total contrast to his earlier automatic fire.
I watched as Mr Johnson stood up and walked purposefully towards us.
"Hell of a job." He said, extending his hand. I shook it, amazed as always at the strength in his long, bony fingers. "Hell of a job." He repeated almost under his breath as he smiled a smile full of nicotine-yellowed teeth. "So, what the hell happened yesterday?" He said standing up straight in front of me, almost matching my 6"4 frame.
"Flipped out." I shrugged. "It just got to me and I flipped out. I'm sorry."
"So you've said. He's not good at not getting his own way." He said to Dave, before firing me a look out of the corner of his eye. I smiled and nodded in agreement. He was damn right there. He stopped and turned sharply back towards me, looking into my eyes with a blazing intensity. "Nothing wrong with that, young man." He said, then he poked me with the end of his index finger, just above the pocket of my jacket. "You just have to make sure you're always bloody right, that's the problem with that." He said with a humourless grin. "But this time, you're lucky. You were right."
He was back behind his desk leaning on it, his palms flat on the surface as he looked us both up and down, before turning back to me. "At least it looks like you were up all night preparing." He said and again I nodded in agreement. I knew I looked like shit. It had been a very long thirty hour day. "Or more likely out on the piss, feeling sorry for yourself, because you didn't get your own way and thought you're tantrum had cost you your beer tokens." I shook my head and couldn't suppress a smile. He'd got me again. Again he walked around his desk.
"Don't make a habit of it." He said and I found myself counting my laces again. "And congratulations!" I looked up from the floor. "Both of you." He shook our hands warmly again. "Now go home, get some sleep and we'll announce it to everyone at 9am."
I have no idea what woke me, but my heart was charging. The room was dark, my legs were numb, I could feel my pulse in my temples and taste the coppery tang of blood in my throat.
I sat up and swung my legs onto the floor. They had been draped over the end of my couch.
I bent down and gently massaged life back into my calf muscles. I was still in my suit, my tie still tight around my neck. I peered at my watch. It was almost seven o'clock. I had been asleep for a couple of hours.
My stomach rattled, reminding me of how long it had been since breakfast. I was ravenous, and as soon as my legs regained enough life to support me, I hobbled off in search of anything instantly edible.
I flicked the wall switch and the spotlights banished the shadows from the four corners of the kitchen. The cooker's digital clock confirmed the time as 6.55pm. I stooped and pulled open the fridge, the seal giving way with a pop.
Reaching in, I grabbed a block of cheddar and a jar of mayonnaise and swung the door shut to reach for the bread. The gig ticket was stuck to the front with a Beefeater fridge magnet and I wondered briefly who had treated me to that, but my mind was not ready to relinquish that little gem.
I pulled a half eaten loaf from the breadbin and checked it over for signs of mould, but it was fine, if a little dry. Turning away from the freezer, I dropped the items onto the white work surface and started to reach for a knife to cut the cheese and froze.
I turned back to the freezer and stared at the ticket. I reached out and plucked it off the door, the magnet fell and bounced with a clatter.
Doors opened in half an hour with support at eight. Instantly my stomach boiled. I turned back to my sandwich, but my appetite was gone.
"This is fucking ridiculous." I said to no one and instead turned back to the freezer and retrieved a bottle of Ketel One, the glass so cold, my fingers stuck to the layer of ice shrouding the bottle.
I threw the first one down my neck and refilled the tall shot glass. The thick, icy liquid slid like oil down my throat before igniting and sweeping through my body like a fire-bomb.
I placed the second shot on the counter and picked up the ticket. Holding it in shaking hands, I twisted the paper and started to tear. If I skip the gig, I can start to put all this behind me and get back the confidence that seemed to have been stripped from me overnight. Besides, I had plenty to look forward to. When the client scribbled on that contract, it started the ball rolling on a twenty grand bonus in my next pay packet – eighty percent of my annual salary.
I stared at the tear. It had stopped growing, the pressure from my grip gone.
Why not go anyway. I thought. You don't have to go back-stage. Just go, watch and come home. I swapped the ticket for the shot glass, this time just sipping the top off the vodka. I closed my eyes and tipped my head back as if swallowing a tablet. Go to the gig and not go backstage? Well that wasn't going to happen.
Feeling like a love-sick teenager, my hunger was history and the fact that the ticket was not lying in shreds told me everything I needed to know. God knows what I would do if I got there and there was no pass, or if I saw her and she introduced me to the band, had a drink and then sent me packing, but I simply had to find out. I could not ignore the chance to taste those candy lips once more.
It was 7.15pm and I was just wasting time. Vodka in hand, I headed for the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, my hair damp, I grabbed my denim jacket and headed out. Rock City was just across town, so I knew, queues permitting, that I could still be there, pint in hand, by the time the support band started.
Walking briskly to generate defence against the chill, I strode through town and let my mind wander back over the previous evening. I was helpless to control my feelings, so I gave in and let them control me.
The venue was like a magnet and the closer I got, the sicker I felt. I was glad I had not managed to eat anything, I think it would have ended up in the gutter. It felt like a first date where I was convinced I would be stood up. At twenty-three I thought this was all behind me. The constant thrill and agony of first love is a marvellous part of being a teenager – with hindsight at least - but not now.
Standing in the short queue outside Rock City, the wind bit through my clothing and the film of sweat that had formed on my back seemed to freeze and sap the heat from my skin.
The two minute wait was an eternity and I shuffled my feet nervously as the queue crept forward.
Finally inside I felt the warmth start to seep back into my body. Initially, I walked straight past the ticket collection booth. I knew I could collect the pass at any time and was still trying to convince myself that I might just watch the gig and leave.
In the end, I didn't even get to the back of the queue for the cloakroom, before I turned and headed for the girl sat behind the window.