Thanks to everyone who read chapter two, and as always, thanks to Hubby for the edit.
I woke up the next morning in a bed that wasn't my own, with Maria's purple painted toes sticking in my face. I sat up and looked around, noticing some kind soul had left painkillers and two bottles of water on the bedside table. I was in Chloe's spare room, and assumed the four of us had gone home together; I couldn't quite remember.
"Ugh," I groaned, reaching for the water. "What time is it?"
Maria pulled her phone out from under the pillow and checked. "Just after eight. Thank God none of us are on the early shifts."
"Right? Though I don't fancy being in the studio until midnight with a hangover like the one we're going to have today."
Maria sat up and I handed her the painkillers and the other bottle of water.
"God damn Mike and his stupid ladies drink free." She winced as she lifted the bottle to her lips and took a long gulp.
"Could have been worse. At least we didn't spend all night being groped by Jon, like Chloe did. Is she really into him?"
It boggled my mind. Chloe was stunning. Almost six foot, lithe and, slender, with long golden blonde hair. She could have had any man she wanted, and while Jon was good looking, he knew it, and had a reputation to match his ego. I couldn't understand what she saw in him.
"Nah. I just think she's lonely. And horny."
"Sex is one thing, but how can she be lonely? She has a new boyfriend almost every month." I pulled the pillow from behind me and hugged it to my chest.
I'd been working for the GEM network for almost five years, and had known Chloe for three of them, and in all that time, she'd had a string of admirers and boyfriends.
"Yeah, but none of them are for real, are they?" At the other end of the bed, Maria mirrored me, hugging her own pillow to her. "It's like you said to Kelly last night about this dinner date, she needs to be careful he's not just interested because of who she is. The same goes for Chloe. At least with Jon she knows what she's getting."
"I suppose so. And they are both consenting adults. As long as neither is getting hurt, I guess they're free to do whatever they want."
"Exactly. She seems happy enough, so I'm not going to get involved. Unless he hurts her, then I'll chop his balls off."
I laughed and nodded my head. "You take the left and I'll take the right?" When we'd finished giggling I asked, "So, you and Rich?"
Maria leaned forwards, her gaze fixed on mine. "He seriously said he likes me? He wasn't joking around?"
"He seriously said he likes you. But he's going to kill me if he finds out I told you. He said he didn't want me trying to set the two of you up, and that he didn't want you agreeing to anything because I'd put you up to it."
"Aww. He actually said that?"
"Yeah, pretty much word for word. Why, are you interested?"
Red blazed across Maria's cheeks, and she looked away. She nodded sheepishly.
"OH MY GOD! You have to let me tell him!"
Maria threw her pillow at me. "Shush, you'll wake the others."
"Shut up, you're just trying to distract me from you liking Rich. This is huge."
"Yes, it is. We've know each other for three years, and we work together. I don't want to screw this up. That's why I never said anything until you said he liked me too."
"Yeah, but now you know he does, you can go for it."
"It isn't that simple. What happens if it ends badly, and we still have to see each other every day at work. Don't you remember the other John and that girl, Louisa, who used to work here?"
John and Louisa were the hot couple everyone talked about when I started at GEM. They'd been seeing each other for almost a year, and everyone thought we'd soon be getting our first network wedding. Only it didn't happen, and instead, Louisa abruptly called time on their romance, apparently for no reason. For the next few months, the whole studio walked on egg shells, as they edged around each other, or had blazing arguments in the middle of corridors. Eventually, they both left; the rumour was Louisa had gotten a new job in London, and John had moved to Ibiza.
"Okay, just because one couple who also worked together didn't make it, doesn't mean you and Rich won't. You should at least give it a shot."
"And ruin our friendship?"
"But what if one of you meets someone else? Won't that ruin the friendship, because the other will be jealous?"
Maria reached forward and took her pillow back, holding it to her chest again. She let out a long breath. "I need to give this a try, don't I?"
Grinning, I said, "Yes. You'll only regret it if you don't."
A small smile broke out across her lips. "I'll see if I can catch him on his own, and see if he wants to go out for coffee or something." Her smile morphed into a mischievous grin. "And then it'll just be you we need to set up. How do you feel about Mike?"
I burst out laughing. "I don't think I'm his type. I reckon he'd be after Chloe if Jon wasn't."
"Nah. Him and Chloe are like brother and sister."
She was right there. While both Jon and Mike flirted with everyone, there'd always been something sibling-like about Chloe and Mike's friendship. In fact, I had the feeling she was the only one of our group he hadn't propositioned at one time or another.
"Okay, but my point still stands. Suggesting me and Mike hook up is like saying a penguin would enjoy a trip to the Sahara. Never going to happen. And besides, we don't all need to be coupled off, you know?"
"Yeah, but it would be fun, wouldn't it? Going out on double dates and stuff."
"I guess, but I don't even know if Chloe and Jon will get to the dating stage, they might just be fuckbuddies. And Kelly only just met Carl. Don't count your chickens before they're omelettes."
Maria sighed. "I know. I can't help it though. I just want everyone to find their true love, get married and live happily ever after."
"Are you still drunk or have you seen one too many Disney movies?" Shaking my head, I climbed out of bed. "I'm going to see if Chloe and Kelly are awake. It's time we started thinking about getting ready for work."
"Ugh, don't remind me."
Chloe was surprisingly chipper for someone who'd drank so much the night before and gotten so little sleep. When I went to wake her and Kelly, I discovered Chloe had already got up, showered, and dressed, and was now cooking everyone breakfast while Kelly showered. As none of us had had the sense to bring our things with us, and our clothes from the day before were all at work, Chloe lent everyone something to wear. After having a shower, I changed into the leggings and oversized grey sweater she'd left out for me, and then headed to the kitchen to devour a bacon and egg sandwich and gulp down a mug of coffee.
We caught a taxi together back to the studio and replaced the clothes we'd borrowed the night before. Having given back the high heels I'd been wearing, I pulled my Converse out of my locker, and slipped them on.
Charlotte was just taking a break – still in the beauty department – when I started unpacking my kit.
"Did you have a good time last night?" she asked.
"Yeah, it was a blast. Did you?"
She grinned like the cat who'd gotten the cream. "Chris took me out for dinner, and then we had desert in bed."
"Too much info! So, what's on the cards for today?"
She passed me the itinerary and I scanned the page. As I was on the afternoon to evening shift, a lot of the shows were ones I didn't see regularly, as I normally covered breakfast. I was pleased to see the network's soap, The Company, wasn't filming, so I wouldn't have to deal with Courtney. I smiled seeing Seth's show on the schedule, and hoped I'd bump into him before it started filming so I could wish him good luck.
The first person needing my services that day was Josie, the entertainment presenter, who had an interview with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them star Eddie Redmayne.
"I'm so excited," Josie said, as she settled on the makeup stool and I covered her clothes.
"I bet! I'm totally jealous."
After Josie had left, my next client was the newsreader, Philippa, followed by the network's chef, André. Finally, at about half-five there was a lull in work, and Charlotte said I could take a break. Glad to get off my feet and have some food, I made my way to the canteen and then once I'd bought something to eat, settled in my favourite chair by the window.
Soaking up the blissful silence, I finished eating and pulled out my e-reader, just as the doors swung open. Hoping it was no one I knew, so I wouldn't be interrupted, I looked up, and saw Seth crossing the room. I switched off my tablet, shoved it in my bag, and then joined him in the queue, suddenly fancying a second coffee.
He greeted me with that broad grin I was getting used to seeing on his face, and my heart did a little flip-flop in my chest.
"Not too hung over today then?" he asked.
"Nah. Chloe cooked us breakfast, and after a few hours working, I'm all good. How about you, did you have a good time?"
"I did, largely due to you keeping the women at bay. I forgot how much attention going out alone brings. I'm still used to not having Tessa around."
My shoulders slumped. "Tessa?"
"Sorry, Tessa is my ex-wife. We split up almost a year ago and I'm still getting used to the single life."
"That must be tough on you. How long we you guys together?"
"Almost twenty years, and yeah, it hasn't been easy." He raked his hands through his black hair, the overhead light catching the strands of grey. I couldn't imagine how difficult going through a divorce after almost two decades must be. "The move here's helped though, as has having the show to focus on."
"It's good you've got something positive in your life to take your mind off it."
The smile was back, and to my surprise, his dark eyes glimmered as he spoke. "Yeah, it's been a rough few months, but since moving here, and getting the presenting gig, things have been looking up. But you don't want to hear about the woes of an old man."
I laughed. "You're hardly ready for the knacker's yard yet."
Seth grinned at me. "Who said anything about the knacker's yard? I drunk you under the table last night."
"Bollocks did you. I'd already had some wine before we'd even left, and I was only a bit tipsy when you headed home. I'd hardly call that wasted."
"Think you can keep up with the man who performed an entire Glastonbury set wasted?"
We reached the front of the queue, and Seth bought a burger and fries, and a can of Coke, then turned to me and asked, "What are you having?"
"Oh, erm, just a coffee please."
Taking our stuff back to the sofas I'd previously being sitting at, I pulled a couple of pound coins out of my purse, and said, "How much do I owe you for the coffee?"
Seth waved me off. "Forget about it. You bought me enough drinks last night."
"Yeah, but technically they were free as I was using my promo token."
"All right, you can buy them next time."
We fell silent as Seth started eating, and I pulled out my tablet again, but I couldn't focus on the words in my e-book, as I kept staring over the rim at him.
Realising how daft I was being, I looked down, determined to read at least a page.
"Good book? You looked miles away."
I looked up to see Seth had finished eating and was grinning at me. That damn smile was infectious, and I couldn't help returning it.
I switched off my tablet, having barely read a paragraph. "Are you excited about your first proper show later?"
"Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. Yesterday was just a warm up. I filmed a few promos advertising I was taking over as presenter, but today, I actually get to go on set, and interview people and talk about music and stuff."
The excitement in his voice reminded me of how me and the girls sounded when we spoke about clothes and makeup. I knew, even if the last few months had been rough on him, getting this job had been good for him.
"That's so awesome. I hope the first show goes well for you."
"Thanks … which reminds me, I need to start prepping. I'm on air in an hour."
I grabbed my bag from the sofa, and pulled it onto my shoulder. "Want to head down to the beauty department with me now and I can get you ready for being in front of the camera?"
"Sure. I'm interested to see how the self-claimed 'cosmetologist extraordinaire' does her magic."
I laughed at him throwing my words from the day before back at me, and stood up from the couch.
We headed along the corridor talking about who the network had lined up for him to interview, and as we reached the makeup department, I showed him to the seat in my booth.
I instantly snapped into work-mode, and instinctively got out the protective cape and wrapped it around Seth, then began applying primer to his face. But, as my fingers tips danced across his cheekbones, for the first time in my career, I was acutely aware of the intimacy of applying cosmetics to someone.
It had never bothered me before, even when I had the likes of Jon making innuendos, but suddenly the booth seemed very small, and the scent of Seth's aftershave overwhelmed me.
His face primed, I quickly turned away, and busied myself looking for the setting powder that was right in front of me.
"Do you want me to style your hair, too?" My voice came out as a squeak, and I coughed to clear my throat.
"If it's not too much trouble."
"Sure. No trouble at all."
I turned back to Seth and dusted setting powder across his face, glad I had to use a brush, so I could put a little distance between us. Then, taking a comb, I started running it through his dark hair.
"I'm not as good as Charlotte at styling, but I can slick it back for you."
My fingers brushed through his hair as I worked the comb, and I noticed how soft it was – like 'I'd be jealous if I didn't use argan oil on my own hair' soft – and once again I became aware of how close we were.
This is stupid, a voice inside my head said. You've never reacted like this with any other guy you're styling, even that time you had to prep the Villa goalie.
It was true. During my first year working for GEM, I'd come face to face with Aston Villa F.C.'s goal keeper at the time, and my 'celebrity crush.' I'd worried I was going to come over all star struck, and do something totally embarrassing like blurt out that I loved him. But I'd acted like the consummate professional and treated him like any other client.
Forcing myself to get a grip, I finished styling Seth's hair, ran some product through it, then handed him the compact mirror.
"Okay, you're all set." I removed the protective cape, and then he handed the mirror back to me.
"No problem. Good luck with the show."
Seth stood up from the stool and turned to face me. "Thanks. I'll catch you later."
With a wink, he strode out of the beauty department and headed off along the corridor. I fell into the seat he'd just vacated, my heart hammering, and let out a long breath.
What the actual fuck?
Maybe it's just because we've become friendly so quickly that it's weird.
You're friends with Jon and Mike and never act like this.
Yeah, but they're always so flirty it's hard not to be relaxed around them.
Augh. I raked my hands through my hair.
It's just a daft crush, I told myself. Like when I fancied Mr. Morris at school, and dropped the test tubes every time he so much as looked at me in science class.
Yeah, just a daft crush, like the one I had on Mr. Morris, I reaffirmed. And in a few days, it will all blow over, and I'll go back to working normally.