Marina could feel the effects of the morning pain killers diminishing as she jerked back to reality from her foggy daydream. She was sitting in her favourite Sunday brunch café, watching Brendan scoop the last of the baked beans in his mouth as he scanned over the Sun sports pages. It was 12:20 on an early spring Sunday and Café Vishnu looked like a place in high spirits, buzzing with customers in new spring clothes, excited about the long awaited arrival of a little sun and pink blossom on the trees.
Contrastingly, Marina was dressed all in black. She had reached for the closest tracksuit and jacket after her long exhausting shower, but thinking back perhaps she had selected them also as a sign of the mourning and drama that was about to commence. She wasn’t to know exactly what would happen, but her hangover had shades of that sensation you get at the pit of your stomach, like a swarm of butterflies, that there is something worth worrying about around the corner.
Perhaps it was the face of the man in the beige baseball cap that kept expanding in her head, especially when she closed her eyes to escape the harsh daylight. She could recall him clearly now, standing against the green railing of the flower shop, pulling on his cigarette, nodding when he saw her look at him and smiling to let her know, yep she’d been got. She had tried to simulate a scene where she was just an innocent passer by, her walk and composure holding an inconspicuous act, last nights creased sequence dress hidden by the safety of her all covering overcoat. However, she couldn’t pretend that there was nothing in that knowing look he gave her, but she had foolishly let the jolt register on her face and that had sealed the knowledge between them.
Flash, snap, click, flash, click.
30 miles, that’s how far she had to get away before she could even try to shake off that scene, that street and that night. She had walked quickly down the road, pretending to look indifferent, glancing at her mobile phone, dreadfully aware that the man was either watching or following her. When she got to the end of the road to take a left towards the taxi rank she glanced behind and he waved with his free hand, the hand that was not gripping the camera.
‘Babe, you ready’ Brendan recoiled her once again from her expressionless daze. It was a statement rather than a question as he had already got up leaving the money on the table. Brendan liked to think he could read his girlfriend like a book and the truth was had he not been engrossed in finishing their late breakfast so that he could get back to the flat where he was expecting his brother round to watch the opening of the rugby, his mind would most probably have been clear enough to sense the tension in Marina’s posture and the way her eyes kept darting from his face to the newspaper and out of the door.
Marina stood up holding her jacket and handbag tight against her as if she was cold, which she wasn’t, she was just nervous and needed some kind of reassurance even if it meant squeezing herself, anything to channel her energies on. And then, as her eyes followed Brendan’s green t-shirt leading her out of the café she recognised that awful snapshot that had been imbedded in her memory since 7am this morning. This time he was wearing a black cap, as if he had known about her mourning clothes theme. He was talking to another man, laughing and showing off a few gold teeth, camera in hand. A tune from a rap song flooded into the café as someone turned the music channel on, angry lyrics pitched against orchestral violin music. Marina panicked and looked around herself to see where she could escape before he spotted her. She lunged into a nearby couple who were deep in conversation, knocking over the vase on their table so it smashed onto the grey tiled floor cascading white and yellow flowers and water and sparkling glass everywhere. Great, this kind of attention grabbing is not what she needed. She lurched forward in the mess of broken vase, startled faces and white shirted staff to take hold of the back of Brendan’s shirt to stop him.
‘Wait! I need to go to the ladies, I don’t feel too well.’
While Marina was delaying their departure from Café Vishnu’s, on the other side of town Fleur Youngman was slowing down to the end of her daily afternoon run. She had stopped off by the newsagents for cigarettes and red bull, which she sipped climbing the hill back home, her cottage gradually emerging from behind the peak of the hill and from behind the tree lined drive, amongst puzzling flashes of red. Three cars were parked on her drive.
This was more than out of the ordinary for 2pm on a Sunday. She was not expecting any visitors. Fleur froze suddenly; maybe something had happened to the girls. She had dropped Kirsten and Veronica off at her sister Beverly’s house a few hours ago to clear some time to run errands and see her dentist about fixing her chipped crown. She ran her tongue over the jagged edge hoping Dr. Ferguson would be able to see her today on a Sunday before anyone else saw her flawed smile. But cosmetic dentistry is not what should have been troubling her; it was the presence of these alien cars.
Letting herself into the cottage via the back path, Fleur threw off her cap and keys onto the coach and searched the kitchen cupboards for a quick sugar fix, found the girls jelly babies and hurried with them up the stairs and towards the front window, peeping out to take a clearer look at the 3 men that were positioned around thee cars. Two were talking into their mobile phones a third was studying the display on his large camera.
They had somehow left the café and neighbourhood behind without running into the man in the baseball cap. Driving back through noisy roadworks and stubborn traffic, Brendan’s creased brow and unyielding expression confirmed to Marina that the scene in the café had raised suspicion in his mind. She sat in the back seat without explanation and they drove in silence for what started to seem an awkward amount of time until Brendan asked if she wanted to stop by the chemists. She declined and feigned tiredness, need of sleep, anything to avoid having to explain her mood. Brendan kept glancing in the rear view mirror to try and make eye contact. He’d been talking about his trip to the doctors that morning, that Marina had persuaded him to go, to have his knee looked at after a painful injury from playing football after work last week. There was no response or even acknowledgment. More frustrated than worried, Brendan stopped himself from raising his voice to appeal for his girlfriends conversational negligence - and what was she doing sitting in the back seat - he wasn’t a taxi driver! As he waited in traffic he looked over his shoulder to see her lying across her jacket, doing her best impression of pretending to sleep.
And she would have fallen asleep, as they waited at a traffic bottleneck 5 minutes away from their flat, had the shrill ring tone of her mobile not snapped her right back, flashing number withheld with each pulsating ring. She quickly turned the sound off and hid in it her coat pocket, where it continued to whirr with silent vibrations.
Later that afternoon she would listen to the voicemail in the privacy of the bathroom in horror, Craig Matheson, from The Daily Tribute, gruff business voice, yet happy and feigning a charitable disposition, but would only be able to recall snippets of that cutting voicemail after deleting the message in nervous fluster.
‘Saw some snaps of you today…. leaving Oliver Youngman’s hotel room this morning……….wondered if we could have a chat…… Give me a call….0795 789……We wont mention your name……… very beautiful girl……. chance to clear your name………public would want to read about your story…………’
Paparazzi. Fleur was not sure whether to feel excited or worried. She popped the jelly babies into her mouth, observing straight ahead the scene on her drive without registering their soft texture or sweet and sour taste. On the one hand this was all still new to her, even though this happened at random occasions throughout the last three years that her and Oliver had been together, when he had been just a two dimensional thirty something morning TV presenter. But lately Oliver’s celebrity status had gained momentum almost overnight after he had appeared in a popular celebrity reality show where he had become a hit with the tabloids and the great British voting public. Since then Fleur had been snapped by cameras when out with Oliver shopping, in the park with their children, queuing to use an ATM, coming out of restaurants. But always in London, never near her home in the suburbs of Berkshire.
Without him there and with Fleur in her sweaty gym clothes she was reluctant to let them see her. Something out of the ordinary must have happened for paparazzi to have turned up to their home today. There was only one thing to do, she sat down on her bed putting the jelly babies to one side and turned on the TV.
Previous night, 11pm. Was it drink that was to blame? Or was that a convenient excuse on which to blame thoughtless decisions. Probably the latter because Marina had known what she was doing was wrong, but under the influence of countless cocktails and shared bottles of Merlot her recognition of what felt wrong and right seemed intrinsically tangled. She had been in Oliver’s company for most of the night and he had showered her with compliments, made her feel interesting and desirable. They had flirted in that teasing, subtle way where nothing forward is said only hinted at through carefully constructed utterances that unveil just the right amount of what’s intended, suggestive eyes and too comfortable body language. That’s why she had to see it through. If he had just said outright that he wanted her she would have found the come-on boring and restrictive and would have decided to leave for home rather than his hotel room. As soon as the hotel room door had closed and she had slipped off her shoes, there had been no more conversational foreplay around the subject, just the inevitable.
During the early hours, Marina had woken gasping for water and with the first thundering impact of her alcohol consumption. She was now sober enough to see the uglier side of decisions made last night and as she lay in the king sized bed staring at the stationary gold and white ceiling fan, she remembered Oliver’s words last night straight after they had completed their first shag.
‘It goes without saying, but no one needs to know about this.’
He was going to Russia the next day so would not be able to see her anyway until he returned, whenever that would be. Marina had laughed and remarked at his high opinion of himself, who had said anything about seeing each other again? But that had been a cover up of the shame she felt at finding herself too easily in such a one night stand cliché. Even worse, a one night stand cliché with a married minor celebrity. She fell back asleep dreaming of times she used to watch him on Morning TV, when she was a coco pops eating, grey uniformed schoolgirl.
In the morning he had left while she pretended to sleep, leaving his number scrawled on the back of a receipt from last nights bar tab. Later in the taxi she took a closer look at the rumpled receipt, £247 + vat and wondered if that had been a fair price.