Disclaimer: The Chanel advert I used here is NOT MINE. I took in an old advert (still Chanel with Keira Knightley as model) and used it shamelessly. I tweaked a few things, but other than minor details, I totally ripped-off that idea.
Chapter Four: The Encounter
Two weeks later.
"Tell the people to stop looking," Rachel grumbled to the photographer while posing in front of the cobblestone wall of the college building.
They were in a photo shoot for Chanel's winter collection and the director of the campaign decided the Birkbeck college walls as a perfect backdrop for their theme. Naturally, being in a college with thousands of students, people came by to watch. Thankfully, it was for the winter collection, therefore she wasn't wearing scant clothing. But the stares of the students have definitely put her off.
"Can't do that, hun," the photographer called back in a light Scandinavian accent. "We've tried, but the most we could do is keep them away. Now come on, arch your chin higher."
"Whatever," she muttered and grudgingly complied.
They called for a break ten minutes later—an hour late for lunch. The crew already had a buffet of food lined up, so they were able to eat during the shoot. Rachel, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky.
"Ah," she sighed happily, sniffing a sandwich heartily before taking a huge bite.
Alex stopped in his tracks. He just came from the café for lunch and was about to head to the library to study before his next lecture, when he saw a crowd of people milling round the front steps of the main university building. He briefly wondered what was so interesting about the archway (which he thought was what they were looking at), when a bright light shone his way that nearly blinded him.
"Are they filming something?" he asked the nearest person who crossed his path.
"Dunno. I heard there's supposedly a very famous model somewhere in there," the man answered before rushing off.
"Huh," Alex was perplexed but thought nothing of it. But before he walked on, he caught a glimpse of the supposed famous model walking out of the circle of the curious people. And his heart started to race.
She was dressed quite warmly for autumn and had on very heavy eye makeup that made her eyes look even paler than ever. And that was enough for him to go into cardiac arrest. She seemed to notice him, because she paused and looked at him with very surprised eyes.
"Alex," she said tentatively.
"Er. Ra—er, yeah, hi," he stammered, unsure of what to say or what to do. "What're you… I mean, how are you?"
She gazed up at him timidly with her captivating eyes, and he was entranced for a moment. "Tired," she answered with a small smile. "Weary. Annoyed."
"I've been standing in heels for more than an hour straight with a flock of people swarming around to watch. It's a little annoying," she said with an impish smile. "Plus the fact that I'm really hungry but I can't eat with people watching me, adds up to the annoyance. So now it seems I have to walk while eating," she showed him her sandwich.
"Right. I see the dilemma," Alex nodded. "Would you want to eat in the courtyard? It's not too far from here. I could show you to it if you want."
She kept smiling at him, grateful for his help, and astounded they were having another conversation that didn't involve her shutting up like a clam.
"I'd love that, thanks."
"Don't you have anywhere else you need to be?" Rachel asked when Alex sat on the chair across from her as she started to eat her sandwich.
"Not for another hour," he answered. "Why, are you trying to get rid of me?"
"No!" she exclaimed worriedly. "Of course not. I just didn't want to monopolise your time. I understand you must have a pretty heavy workload."
"Yeah. But it's still early in the term. I like to cram until the last possible moment."
"Scandalous. My mum would have your head chopped off. She almost did when I told her I wouldn't go to uni as I first said I would," Rachel pretended to shudder at the thought.
"Really? How does she feel now that her daughter's quite famous?"
"She loves it. But she still keeps asking when I'm enrolling in uni," she rolled her eyes. Oh," she said suddenly, ducking her head and brightening a light shade of pink.
"What's wrong?" he was worried.
"Someone's looking at me. It makes me feel uncomfortable," she confided in a soft voice.
"It's very odd that a model such as yourself would shy away from attention, is it not?"
"It is. But I didn't sign up for the job because I love attention. I just stumbled my way into it accidentally, and I keep at it out of habit and the perks of travelling for free. I love free stuff, what can I say?" she shrugged helplessly.
Alex laughed. "Everyone does. Are you sure you're not secretly in love with attention?" he teased, feeling slightly more comfortable around her. He was surprised when she blushed profusely.
"Maybe," she said, gazing away from him. "I was never really noticed before any of this happened to me. Guilty pleasure, I suppose."
"That's not true," he argued.
She remained silent and bit into her sandwich. "It is," she sighed. "You know it is."
He was about to speak up when she suddenly started to hiccup.
"Are you alright?"
She took in a deep breath before answering. "I just need something to drink. I forgot to bring water with me."
"Here," he pulled out a bottle of water from his bag and held it out to her. His hand tingled at her touch when she reached for it.
"Ah," she smacked her lips after a long mouthful. "Thanks. Bread got stuck in my throat," she laughed awkwardly. She sighed when her mobile rang a silly tone. "Probably the director calling me back," she said and checked her messages.
"Do you have to go?" Alex asked after she finished typing a reply.
"No," she looked up at him with a bright smile. "False alarm. That was just Brandon—you met him the other night—informing me that he left something at my place and would like to know when he could retrieve it."
She saw him visibly pale, but thought it was probably just the trick of the light. He coughed before speaking. "Brandon's that bloke on the cover of Arena, right?"
"You saw that?"
"Just a glimpse. He looked very smart."
She burst out laughing. "Looks can be very deceiving. I'd hate for you to think that and have the wrong impression."
"He's… not smart?"
"A complete idiot," she corrected.
Alex was bewildered. "I take it he's not your boyfriend?"
She laughed even louder. "Never! That's preposterous, but a very entertaining idea."
"I'm sorry. You must think I go round and say bad things about people. Brandon's a darling, really. He's good fun and a terrific friend, but he's not boyfriend material."
"Nuh-uh," she grinned. "Why? You interested?"
He grinned deviously, getting into the game. "Maybe," he said mischievously. He was delighted to hear Rachel's peals of laughter.
"I'll be sure to tell him then," she said after calming down. "He's a huge fan of his fans, it'd be no trouble scoring you a date with him."
Alex made a face. "I'll have to back out now before anything goes awry."
"Aw, too bad," she pouted. "Oh, I have to go," she said, looking at her mobile that just beeped. This time it was from the director demanding where she'd gone off to and that she was needed on set in five minutes (which she doubted and was certain she'd have to wait fifteen minutes before she's actually needed once she arrived).
"Oh, okay," Alex said awkwardly, planning on the best way to ask for her number. But it was too late, she was already walking away. "Hey, Rach?"
She turned back to look at him expectantly.
"Do you… erm… do you want to—"
"I'm sorry, I'm really late," she cut in, hurriedly looking at her phone to check the time. She wasn't a top model for nothing. She was a professional, and even though she knew she'd still have to wait once she was on set, the fact of the matter is, she couldn't be late and the photographer couldn't be bothered to send out a search party for her—no matter how famous she is. She saw him take in a sharp breath of air. Gaining confidence (she was after all clad in Chanel and fully made up, confidence was just teasing for her to come and grab it. And thoughts of Ashley telling her she missed another chance flashed through her head), she spoke. "Why don't we catch up next time? Do you have a pen? Let me just give you my number…"
"Er, here," he handed her his phone so she could store her number. He was taken aback by the sudden twist of things, but not at all disappointed. In fact, his heart was practically skipping and singing happy tunes.
"Should I put my last name, or is Rachel good enough?" she asked after she finished punching in her number.
"Rachel's perfect," he said, his nervous system giddy with joy.
"Alright," she handed him back his mobile. "I can't stay any longer, they're demanding me back. Phone me whenever, alright?" she waved before walking back briskly to the set.
Alex couldn't sit still the entire two hour lecture he had that afternoon. He was still bustling with inner excitement from speaking to Rachel and actually gaining her number. If he weren't in public, he'd probably even do a happy jig. He fumbled with his phone, scrolling to the entry that said RACHEL in big block letters (he changed the way she entered her name, wanting it to be more visible as he still couldn't believe it).
He was thinking if he should send her a message. But what could he say? Nothing that wasn't childish/immature/stupid/useless came to mind. He wanted to say something witty, but most his brain cells had already been used up.
Still jittery and wearing a perma-smile, he constructed a short message that took up more than fifteen minutes just to make sure it was alright and not humiliating or overeager in anyway.
Hey. This is my number. Just so you know. I thought it was only fair. –Alex
She didn't reply, but he didn't mind. He knew she was still probably stuck in front of the camera with people gawking at her. He was already thinking of the best way to ask her out, and where and when.
Rachel flew up the flight of stairs to her flat hours later, still cursing about the broken lifts, and hurriedly flung the door open. She was still a bundle of nerves from her meeting with Alex earlier. She received a text message from him just an hour after she bade him goodbye, and she still hadn't replied. It was already five, three and a half hours since she received the message.
What was she to say? A message such as his didn't require a reply… did it?
A far distance away, Alex was rapping on a white door hurriedly.
"Yeah?" a frustrated Owen answered the door. His face relaxed when he saw it was only Alex. (He was worried it might be his boss)
"Good afternoon to you too," Alex greeted him jauntily and flopped down on the chair in front of Owen's desk, a huge smile plastered on his face.
"I'm tired, it's late, I'm not in the mood for whatever pranks you have in mind," Owen said darkly and went back to the computer monitor he'd been staring at for half an hour without understanding the figures he was reading.
"Pranks?" Alex asked, full of mirth and innocence in his voice. "Never!"
Owen snorted. "Right. What do you need, mate?"
"Nothing at all. Can't I just drop by to see an old friend and ask how he's doing?"
"And you're absolutely right!" Alex grinned, jumping on his feet and sat atop Owen's desk. "I'm here to brag. Show off. Tell you how fair the world is treating me at the moment. Want to know why? Do you? Do you?"
"I want to smack you in the face," Owen responded wryly.
"I know. But humour me for a sec, alright?"
"Ashley!" Rachel called out, yelling for the entire world to hear. "Ashleyyyyy!" she shrieked out when there was no reply.
"What?" Ashley hurriedly came out of the shower decked in a white towel, wet hair and had soap suds dripping down her arms. "What's wrong? And please tell me you brought me out from my shower for a good reason!"
"A damn good reason!" Rachel squealed, taking Ashley's hand into hers and squeezing tightly.
"Okay, ouch," Ashley calmly said, removing Rachel's hold on her. "What's going on?"
"IsawAlex," she said in one breath.
"Say that again?"
"I saw Alex. I was doing a shoot this morning, the one I told you about before, and it just so happened that the location we shot at is the university where Alex is taking his post-grad studies, right?"
Ashley squealed and started jumping up and down, eagerly joined by Rachel. "I knew it!" she crowed. "I knew this was bound to happen. Okay. So. What happened next?"
"I did as you told me to do. Gained an ounce of confidence and gave him my number. I was the one who initiated it though…"
"You did not!" Ashley was surprised.
Rachel bit her lip, suddenly unsure of what she did. "Should I have not done that?"
"Not at all! It's perfect!"
"Yeah?" Rachel was still feeling a bit uncertain, that maybe what she did was too forward.
"I promise! No—I swear!"
"And… he sent me this," Rachel handed her phone to Ashley for her to read the message. "What do you think? Should I send a reply?"
"This was three hours ago, Rach. Isn't it a bit too late for a reply?"
"Yeah… but I didn't know what to say. Or if I should even say anything."
"Ermm… alright. Tell him you just read his message—you know, because you're very busy and everything—and that you appreciate him giving you his number… wait no. Tell him you just received his message and that you've stored it in your phone and that you look forward to hanging out with him again sometime."
"Even if its three hours late?"
"You're a busy woman. Loads of people are in need of your attention. It's perfectly fine."
Hi! Just read your msg. Stored ur number. Looking forward to hanging out with you again.
"Type some X's in," Ashley urged, peering over Rachel's shoulder.
"I will not!" Rachel looked affronted.
"Please!" Ashley rolled her eyes. "Everyone does it. It means nothing. It's flirty and fun. That's all."
"I don't know…"
"Do you need the pep talk again? It's nothing. Go on."
Rachel sighed but gave in and typed in two X's before sending the message. "You're so asking Gardener Man's name tomorrow."
"Alright," Owen rolled his eyes. "It's not like I have anything better to do anyway. What's up?"
"Rachel," Alex pronounced her name proudly. "Rachel Herwood gave me her number today. And told me Brandon Humphrey, the epitome of male perfection, is not her boyfriend."
Owen gaped at him. "What??"
"I know!" Alex was grinning smugly. "Hold on," he said and flipped open his phone when he heard his familiar message alert tone.
Hi! Just read your msg. Stored ur number. Looking forward to hanging out with you again. XX
"Lookit," he showed the message to Owen.
"Wow. I have to say, you did well."
"D'you think the x's mean anything?"
"Er. No. My mum signs all her notes to me with mini-X's. Trust me, you wouldn't want them to mean anything other than a sign-off."
"Oh. Right," Alex was a bit disappointed, but he didn't allow that to faze him. Hell, he had Rachel's number!
"So any mention of a boyfriend? Because as much as I hate to burst your bubble, I doubt someone like her would lack a significant other."
Alex narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I've only seen her several times in sixth year and I wanted to know why you were so shaken and everything. Naturally, I Googled her. She's a bloody goddess, mate."
"I know that. Wait—you Googled her? What did you find?"
Owen fiddled with his computer for a while and then twisted the monitor to face Alex's direction a little. There were little thumbnails of her photos in the image section of the search. Most of them were advertisements, some were from the runway, and others were from premiers and events she attended.
"This is my personal favourite, meaning no offence to anyone," Owen said and clicked on a thumbnail and waited for the photo to load.
It was for a Chanel perfume advert. She was looking at the camera with a doe-eyed gaze. Her face was lightly made-up to flaunt her eyes and her lips, and… Alex gulped. She wasn't wearing anything. She sat on a king-sized bed, a white cloth draped around her waist and she held a black top hat to her chest to hide what needed to be hidden. Her skin was soft and creamy all around and her waist was tiny, her abdomen showing a little muscle.
"You pervert!" Alex hit Owen on the side of his head.
"What? I just saw it out of curiosity. I'm sure loads of other men, and not only in this country, would be goggling over her photos! Which I'm not," he said hastily. "I was just admiring the art…"
"Shut up," Alex growled crossly.
"Sorry. It does lead back to the question if she has a boyfriend or not. It seems rather impossible."
"Why would she go to the reunion with someone else if she has a boyfriend?" Alex was still frowning.
"Celebrity boyfriends can be needed in other countries. You'll never know, her Johnny Depp look-alike boyfriend might be in Venice or Prague or… I don't know, Liechtenstein maybe, to shoot a film or something."
"Or I could be wrong," Owen said brightly, trying to lighten up Alex's dampened mood. "Invite her over… oh wait, you can't do that. Your flat is tiny and smelly. What do models like to do in their spare time anyway? Not eat?"
Alex threw a nearby book at him.
"Fuck! That hurt, you wank!" Owen rubbed the side of his head where the book hit him. He didn't have quality reflexes.
"She hates being stereotyped like that. Besides. She's smart."
"Bring her to the National Museum, then."
"I said smart. I didn't say boring."
"A play! At the West End!"
"Not enough money."
Owen rolled his eyes. "I don't even know why I'm doing this for you, you pleb. You should think of this on your own and let me get back to work."