Oops you did it again.
"Thanks," DJ said as I handed him his jacket and walked him to the door. He had his hands slotted into the pockets of his trousers. His shoulders were hunched with tiredness. "I had a great time tonight."
My heart skipped a beat as I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. "Me too."
We both looked away.
"It's late. I should go, let you get some sleep." He fumbled for the doorknob, but I reached forward and tugged it open for him.
"Take care. See you soon."
He was already a small figure down the hallway as he raised a hand to say goodbye. "See you around."
I smiled and waited until he disappeared around the corner. "And here I was thinking you were the good one out of us two," Christie purred in my ear.
"Christie! Jesus! That's creepy."
She gave me a nudge. "Don't change the subject. I know what you're doing. Thinking you can distract me. You can't! I'm living vicariously through you now that Mitchell has clipped my wings. You're my only link to the outside world! Etcetera, etcetera." She gave me a stern look. "Here's where you give me the goss."
I looked at her blankly.
"What? I'm dying for news. You're my only link to the outside world and what's going on!"
I snorted. "Yeah, me and something modern technology has birthed. Here's a hint, it's called the internet."
Christie rolled her eyes. "So spill. What base did you get to tonight?"
I rolled my eyes as well. "We're not all you, Christie. Not everything is about bases."
She pretended to look offended. "I think about other things apart from sex and boys."
"And I'm sure your hair is a topic that really taxes your mind."
"You know, sometimes, I get the feeling you think I'm self absorbed."
"And you're denying it?"
"Nope!" Christie gave me puppy dog eyes from behind long, not-all-hers lashes. She snapped her fingers like the diva she was. "Details."
I gave a frustrated sigh. "There's nothing to tell." I turned tail and ran to the safety of my room.
"You're a spoilsport," she cried to my retreating back.
"Yeah, yeah," I mumbled as I breathed in the safety of my room. I caught sight of myself in the mirror, cheeks flushed, hair windswept. I looked content. I looked more than content.
I looked happy. And when I went to bed that night, I dreamt of dancing under the stars.
DJ met me in the foyer of our high security flat, phone in one hand, rose in the other. "Happy third date," he said with a disarming smile.
He looked great as always. I tucked a bit of hair behind my ear, and bit my lip as he leaned close to kiss my cheek. The scent of his cologne was clean and crisp, and it did things to a girl's stomach. Good things.
"You look gorgeous," he complimented, blue eyes sweeping over my midnight blue dress and matching shoes.
"You too." I swallowed thickly, as he led me towards his car.
He opened the door for me, as he always did. "So, you know what they say about third dates," he smiled as he got round to get into the driver's seat, leaving the sentence hanging.
I turned my head to look at him and raised an eyebrow. "I don't think that applies here."
DJ laughed as he brought the car to life. "A guy can dream."
I pursed my lips and shook my head, entirely unsuccessful at concealing the smile that was spreading across my face. There was something about DJ that made me smile, that made me act in a way I hadn't acted in a long time.
"So, where did Mitchell make reservations?" DJ's fingers drummed the screen on the dashboard.
Pulling out my phone, I flicked through the emails before finding an address. "Circus."
DJ's eyebrow lifted, "Good call. Have you been there before?"
I shook my head.
"The churrasco is amazing. You've got to try it. It'll blow your mind."
The drive there was uneventful, just a girl talking to a guy she liked. I inquired about work, how his week had been since I'd last seen him, and if he had any plans for this weekend.
And, by the time we'd pulled outside the restaurant, DJ casually flipping his keys to the valet, my heart was thumping against my ribs, pressing almost painfully against the bony confines.
DJ took my hand, looping his fingers with mine as he led me past mirrored walls and into the red and gold restaurant. My stomach was fluttering, my cheeks flushed as I caught sight of myself in the corridor of mirrors.
DJ caught me looking into the mirror, and he must have mistook my look of wonderment as a look of apprehension, because all of a sudden he was pressing gently against me, tucking my hair behind my ears, and looking so deep into my eyes, I think he could see into my soul. "Have I told you how stunning you look tonight?"
"Because you do." His hand gave mine a gentle squeeze. "You look amazing." He brought my hand to his lips and kissed the palm.
I didn't know what to say. I said nothing; I just stood there, looking at him, wondering how I could know someone so nice, and so beautiful inside and out. I'd judged him wrong. I was ashamed of myself for it. Just because DJ looked a certain way didn't mean he would act in a certain way.
And with that, my weariness melted away. I smiled and pressed myself closer to him, looping my arms around him for a hug. It was nothing dirty, nothing like what the papers would make it out to be the next day; it was innocent and it was well meant and most of all, it was nice.
DJ didn't find my display of affection strange at all. He just hugged me back.
I pulled away first. "So, what were you saying about the churrasco?"
DJ's eyes lit up. I didn't think I'd ever heard anyone wax lyrical about meat before. As it turns out, he was right to.
"Oh my god!"
"Right?" DJ beamed over the large platter piled high with food. "It's good, right?"
I looked at him like the crazy person he was. "Good? It's heaven!"
DJ laughed as he raised his glass of wine to make a toast. "To good food and good company."
I raised my glass and it clinked against his. "And damned good dessert!"
DJ leaned over the table to whisper surreptitiously. "Have I told you about the cheesecake?"
I think DJ just wanted me to get fat. But if Mitchell was paying, how could I say no?
I snuck into my own flat at a very respectable time of quarter to three. "You're late," Christie said as I shut the door as quietly as I could.
She was up, like the night owl she was, hair up in a towel, clad in nothing but a dressing gown. Her toes were up on the coffee table, the scent of acrylic wafting over to me as I stepped closer to her.
I nodded to the wide screen television. "What are you watching?"
Christie shrugged. "Something with a hot guy."
I rolled my eyes over the predictability of her answer.
Flopping down on the couch and toeing off the pretty shoes that were a bitch to wear, I caved in and asked her. "Aren't you going to even ask me?"
Christie squinted at her toe nails, screwing closed the bottle of nail varnish as she eyed her handiwork.
"It depends. Are you going to tell me?"
I grabbed a cushion and threw it at her. "It depends. Are you going to ask?"
Christie squealed, fussing over her toe nails. "Jesus woman. No need to resort to violence. How was it then? Was he a gentleman? Did he wine you and dine you and then do you in the back seat?"
I choked on air. "Christie!"
She looked at me with innocent doe eyes. "What?"
I shook my head. "He was wonderful. And he's so nice, so much nicer than I thought he would be. And the food was amazing, and so was the restaurant. Have you ever heard of Circus? It's great. We should go there some time. The cheesecake is mind blowing."
Christie leant back, an odd sort of smile on her face. "You had fun then?"
I leant back too, feeling a smile spread across my face. It was as if it had been there all night. I supposed it had. "I had fun. It was the perfect night."
Christie rested her head against my shoulder. "Good. You deserve some fun."
I thought about DJ twirling me as we waited for the valet to bring his car to the front of the restaurant. If it wasn't for DJ, I think I would've almost forgotten to have fun. The thought didn't sit well with me, so I pushed it to the back of my mind.
The next night was very different, in that it saw Christie and me on stage, singing our hearts out to the throngs of cheering people in a club. And, when our set was over, we were expected to live it up, live the pop star life in the VIP area. I sipped champagne – complimentary, of course – as I surveyed the people that passed me by. Many were familiar, the same old faces that I saw on TV, in the papers, and now, in real life. I smiled and waved, never saying more than hello and goodbye. The people I didn't know were guests, either lucky fans or people that were wise enough to stay out the beady eye of the media.
I'd been sitting in the corner for a good hour, growing more restless by the second as Christie did her thing, flitting from famous face to face, air kissing and charming everyone around her. I wanted to go home, go home and curl up in front of the TV and dream of cheesecake and churrasco, but not necessarily in that order.
I'd done this kind of thing loads of times before. Christie joking called me homely. It wasn't far from the truth, but just like Christie wasn't entirely the wild party animal people made her out to be, I wasn't the boring old spinster I came across as. And while I wasn't exactly a boring old spinster, the truth was that tonight, I just wasn't in the mood to socialize.
I toyed with my half full glass of champagne a bit more, playing with the side as the condensation gathered and beads of water trickled down the stem.
Pulling my phone out, my fingers flew across the keyboard before stilling over DJ's number. His presence would most certainly make the night more fun, but it'd been so long since I'd done this, that I wasn't sure what was socially acceptable and what was not. DJ and I weren't friends, but we weren't strangers either. In a weird sort of way, we were more like close colleagues. I wasn't sure if close colleagues invited each other for drinks or not.
I was thinking too much about this.
"This seat taken?"
I looked up, just as I hit the delete button.
It was Ace, the fallen angel of our world. It was almost difficult to recognise him in the barely lit club, his spiky hair masked in the shadows, button down shirt rolled up casually to his elbows.
He sat down before I'd even answered, but I did so anyway. "Sure." The word left my mouth before I could check them.
He leant back as he flexed his neck from side to side. "Where's your entourage?" It was weird seeing him without people surrounding him; I didn't think he knew how to do anything by himself.
He shrugged. "Don't know. Far away I hope."
I knew for a fact that his entourage were people that spent all their time cleaning up his messes, arranging his entire life. He was so ungrateful, it made me mad. He was just so ungrateful, so arrogant that it was repulsive. I turned away from him.
Ace looked at me from the corner of his eye. "You don't like me."
I was terse. "Is that such a crime?"
I'd piqued his curiosity. "Why don't you like me?"
"You're arrogant. Why should I like you?"
He shrugged. "Everyone else does."
"Everyone else has serious judgment issues."
He slung an arm around me, reeking of beer and strong spirits. "You and me, we're going to get on just fine."
I backed away, mainly because he was so close; we were practically nose to nose. "What makes you think that?"
He gave me a rough smile, like he knew something I didn't. "Trust me, being liked is overrated."
I scoffed. "Yes, I imagine it's awful being worshiped. You poor little rich boy, my heart goes out to you."
Ace looked at me. "So caustic."
I looked at him. "So ungrateful."
"And I suppose you're happy then." He gestured to the club, full of the famous and the fabulous. "I bet you just love all of this, don't you?"
"I am. I do."
"You're so happy that you're here, in a corner, skulking. Just like me. You know what they say about people in glass houses."
He made me mad, mad because in part he was right, but also in part because he knew nothing about me and yet here he was, judging me, exposing all my flaws for anyone to come by and see. So I stood up, about to leave when his hand shot out and tugged me back into my seat.
His voice was soft, almost sorry. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Then how did you mean it?" My voice was terse.
"I meant to say that sometimes, people are just better unhappy."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that maybe for the first time in a long time I'm being true to myself." He drained his drink and stood up to leave. "You should think about that. I think a girl like you knows what I mean." And then he left, leaving me mystified.
"What'd he want?" Christie asked as she walked past him and towards me.
"I have no idea."
"He's weird, isn't he?" she asked. "The whole moody and broody thing is hot, but a girl can only take so much."
"Oh?" I pretended like he hadn't dumped her and that she hadn't been heartbroken over it.
"He's bad news Az. And I know I'm not one to talk, but you should stay away from him. Guys like him aren't good for girls like you."
"You care. That's sweet."
"Please. I'm just thinking about our reputation. You've got a boyfriend now, don't you go forgetting that."
I scoffed. "Who are you to talk?" I regretted the words the second they left my lips.
Christie bristled. "Just don't fuck up, okay. I don't want Mitchell to screw at us both."
I stayed quiet, heading for the door. Christie was right. I had a reputation to protect and as callous as it was, my reputation mattered. I'd avoid Ace from here on out. I suddenly felt tired, restricted by all these do's and don'ts. Everything I did was magnified, analysed a thousand times over. It was too much pressure for a girl who'd only ever wanted to sing.
"You all right?" someone asked me, as I brushed past them with a 'fine'.
I didn't stop, not until I reached the elevator and pressed a button with a shaky finger.
In the elevator, the girl in the mirror looked tired and thin and like she'd been styled by a very clever Christie. As I frowned, the girl in the mirror frowned too. And then, as I let out a sigh, she did too from coral painted lips.
"Hold up!" I held the elevator patiently as heavy footsteps thudded along the floor, screeching to a halt as a body hurled itself into the small metal rectangle. A hand shot out, frantically jabbing the button that made the lift doors close.
The figure straightened to their full height, adjusting the collar of an expensive looking, leather jacket. "Fucking paps."
I turned. "You!" Of course it'd be Ace. Who else would it be?
"Me." He pulled out a lighter and a cigarette.
For a second, I stared in disbelief.
"You can't smoke in a lift! It's not the seventies anymore."
He pulled the cigarette from his mouth. "I've just spent the last five minutes fending off skanks and their boyfriends. What else do you suggest I do to relieve my stress?" He looked me up and down, and I blushed.
"You're such a twat."
"You love me really."
"I really don't."
He gave me a little smile. "Don't you think it's twisted that I make an effort to be nice to you and you just throw it in my face?"
If he thought this was him being nice, he was delusional. "And you don't think it's twisted that you like me because I don't worship the crap you spout?"
"Trust me, if you've been in the business as long as I have, nothing's ever twisted." The lift doors opened as he dug around in his pocket. "Ah, here at last." He pushed a set of car keys into my face. "You drive."
"Drive. The thing where you turn the wheel and punch the pedals to make the big metal box go vroom vroom."
"I know what driving is. What I meant was why the hell can't you drive?"
"You wouldn't want me to drive would you? That's irresponsible Az. I've just had two beers." He thought about it a little more. "Maybe more than two."
"You're really something, you know that?"
He gave me a wink. "I'll grow on you."
I scowled. "I doubt it."
He turned to me, his face almost tinged with weariness. "Look, there's no one else. I can't drive and in a few minutes we're going to have a fucking pack of paps chasing after the pair of us. So either you drive, or you see our picture in the paper. I don't think your boyfriend would be too happy about that, do you?"
"Are you threatening me?"
"I don't need to." I gave him the dirtiest look I could muster. "Time's running out, princess of prissy pop."
"Now there's a good tactic to convince me to help you out; insulting me into agreeing."
He rolled his eyes. "Like you're going to say no."
I was severely tempted to say no, but imagining the look on Mitchell's face the next day when pictures of Ace and I would be splashed across the papers, made me change my mind.
"You think you're so smart."
"Like you don't think my arrogance is attractive."
"I'm thinking it's something, but it's certainly not attractive." I jabbed the key into the ignition, fiddling with the gearstick and the handbrake as the car purred to life.
Ace snorted like he didn't believe me.
And so began the longest night of my life.
As always, thanks to sealednectar for beta-ing.