Chapter 4 : what friends are for
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We’d been in Austria a whole week. A week of hiding from Violet, of stealing cakes from the buffets, of breaking umbrellas in the foul weather, of generally avoiding work and of slowly getting closer to Charlie.
Okay, maybe I liked him a little more.
We were on set at the castle- it looked like something out of a fairytale, with towering turrets, wide courtyards, wild ivy clambering up high stone walls, delicate carvings and imposing statues.
The only less-than-perfect aspect of it –apart from the near constant rain-, was that a ‘Burg’ sounds a lot less fairytale-like than a ‘castle’.
I voiced my opinion to Charlie, who apparently had spent half of his life in a castle, judging from the way he kept correcting everyone. His job description had gone from ‘mythical expert’ to ‘smarmy know-it-all’ (it’s not a statue, it’s a gargoyle).
“Tell that to the Austrians and see if they change the name then,” he said, brushing back his wet hair. It was growing longer.
We both turned. It was the assistant director. “You’re wanted!” he yelled, before running back inside.
I groaned. “Come on then,” I said. I pulled my hood up over my face, and sprinted out from underneath the arch where we had been sheltering.
I skidded into the makeshift tent that had been set up in the middle of the courtyard, and gingerly eased off my jacket, giving it a shake. The rain droplets flew everywhere.
“Not on the paperwork!” moaned the producer, attempting to shield it with his skinny little arms. “Anyway, we’re wrapping up for the day,” he said, having to shout over the loud, rhythmic drumming of rainfall on the tent roof. “We can’t film outside in this, it’s ridiculous.”
“The rain is set to continue for a couple more days, so we’re going to jiggle the schedule around to see if we can get the indoor filming done first.” He sighed and knuckled his forehead. “We’ve got a restriction of how long we can keep Violet for, and this rain is not helping,” he confessed.
“Make her film in the rain?” I suggested vindictively. Charlie elbowed me.
“The make-up department don’t like it, and the people on costumes will go nuts,” the producer said, shaking his head. “We’ve already got the hall for this afternoon to film a fight between Russell and Nick, and if we get it tomorrow as well, then we can do the wedding...” he trailed off, talking to himself, so I grabbed Charlie’s sleeve and pulled him out the tent. We ran to the dry, warm safety of my car.
“Why do you even have a car, anyway?” Charlie asked as we pulled out of the car park.
“It is stipulated in my contract that I get a car which has at least a 1.6 engine,” I said, checking the windscreen wipers were up to the max.
“You made sure that was in there, but you didn’t see the clause about you bending over backwards to Violet’s every wish?”
I scowled at the road. “If it had been phrased like that, I’m sure I would have noticed.”
Charlie snorted. “Whatever.” He paused, and the sudden uneasy silence was only filled by the steady thrumming of my heater.
I waited. He was clearly about to say something, and he wasn’t sure about my reaction to it. I just hoped he didn’t insult my car or something.
I focussed on the road instead. It was long, and the grey clouds seemed to suck all the light away. It was dismal weather. I had been to Austria once before, and had been amazed at the beautiful scenery- the mountains, lakes and fields looked like they had been painted there. Plus, I had read ‘Heidi’. At the moment, however, I couldn’t see twenty feet in front of me, and the fog felt oppressive and heavy.
And still, the silence continued, a thick blanket of awkwardness covering us both- like the fog. I was seconds away from turning on the radio.
“Spit it out,” I said.
He fiddled with something in his deep coat pockets, and then clasped and unclasped his hands on his lap. “There’s some sort of a party tomorrow night, right?” he blurted out suddenly.
I blinked. Unexpected. “Yeah, one of the tech guy’s wife just had a baby. And you know what the tech guys are like- they’ll use any excuse for a party.”
“Are you going to go?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Erm, I don’t think so. I usually don’t.”
“Well, Jess inevitably finds someone she likes, and I’m left looking like a lemon in the corner. I don’t particularly like mingling.”
“Why do you dress as a lemon then?” he asked.
I bit the inside of my cheek.
“Sorry,” he said immediately. “That’s a truly terrible joke.” He stared out the window for a few seconds. “Are you going to the party tomorrow then?”
Oh Christ. I realised what he was trying to say- well, at least, I hoped I had it right. Otherwise, that could triple the awkwardness. I might suffocate.
“That depends,” I said, trying to act blasé.
“On what?” he asked, still looking steadily out the window. Dear Lord, he was adorable.
“Well,” I said, pretending to consider. “Are you going?”
Charlie looked alarmed at where the conversation was going.
“I mean,” I continued, “I’m not doing anything else tomorrow night, and if you aren’t, then I’ll probably see you there, right?”
I pulled up outside Charlie’s hotel. The organisers allocated accommodation to people with regards to their role in the production, so I was in a hotel with Violet and the rest of her entourage, while Charlie got lumped in with the techies and production team. I turned the engine off and waited for Charlie either to say something, or get out of my car.
Neither was very forthcoming.
“Well?” I prompted.
He opened and shut his mouth a couple of times. “Yeah, I’ll see you there then,” he garbled, and rushed to get out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him.
Well. That was odd. I wasn’t entirely sure if what I thought had happened had just happened, or if I was reading into it too far, and I was wrong, and what I thought had happened hadn’t actually happened, instead, something totally innocent and unlike what I thought had happened had happened.
Christ. I was confusing myself. I subtly adjusted my rear view mirror and watched him walk away, his broad shoulders hunched against the rain. He didn’t look particularly happy. He looked back at the car, and I hurriedly started the engine. I didn’t want him to think I was watching!
I saw a grin from underneath his hood, and I quickly accelerated off, cheeks burning. He had seen me watching! I checked the clock on the dashboard- it had just gone eleven o’clock. Definitely time for me to wake up Jess. I had something I needed to talk to her about.
Surprisingly, Jess was not in bed. Or anywhere in the hotel. I was just checking with reception as to her whereabouts when a dishevelled Jess sloped in, carrying her heels and looking sheepish.
“Jessie!” I practically squealed. “I have to talk to you.”
“Great!” Jess said, faking enthusiasm. “What about? Can it wait?”
“No! Not really, I need advice, and I need help and I may possibly need make- up.” I eyed up the blonde receptionist, who was looking interested. “And I need to talk to you in private,” I clarified. “Wait- where have you been?”
She raised an eyebrow. “You first, then I’ll explain myself.” Jess turned to the receptionist, who looked disappointed to be missing out hearing our gossip. “You know the room service menu? Can you send up everything on it?”
“Everything?” the receptionist and I spoke at the same time.
“Yup.” Jessie looked slightly crazed. “I’m hungry, and I want food. Put it on the room tab, it’s 458,” she added, and swept off to the lift.
I followed. “You’re telling me first, because I’m worried for your mental health.” Jess showed no inclination of having heard me. “Please?”
Jess smiled. It was really creepy.
I folded my arms over my chest. “Who was it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Liar. Come on, who was it?”
She still refused to answer, instead pressing the button for the fourth floor. I narrowed my eyes at her.
“It was Nick, wasn’t it?” I said suddenly, and the way she turned on me was proof.
I burst out laughing. “You slept with Nick Grant?” I said. I was actually pretty astonished. “The recently divorced famous film star and the guy you’ve had a crush on since you were fifteen? Good lord, there is hope for fan girls everywhere!”
The lift stopped and a man got in, nodding at the pair of us. I think I knew him- he was in marketing and promotions. Jess’ eyes pleaded with me not to mention anything else, so I bit my lip until we got to our floor.
As soon as the door shut behind us, she quickly checked that there wasn’t anyone on the corridor. “I didn’t sleep with him!” she protested.
I eyed her suspiciously, but she seemed to be telling the truth. “What did you do then?” I asked eagerly. “Come on woman, I want details!”
“Sorry to disappoint, but we just talked, and watched a few of his old films and laughed at them and then we went out for a meal and I had a steak and realised how much I missed meat-”
“So you’re also not a vegetarian anymore?”
She gave me a crooked smile. “Nope, carnivore and proud!”
“Technically, you’re an omnivore,” I corrected.
Jess pulled out her key-card from her purse and swiped it, opening the door to her pristine hotel room. It was all white and fancy. I was up on the bloody top floor, and the colour scheme there was a light apple green- it was not impressive. In fact, it was slightly nauseating.
I followed her inside and flopped down on her bed, while she went to freshen up in the bathroom.
“So you just talked?” I said, raising my voice slightly.
“Yeah,” she called back over the sound of running water. “Mellie, you can’t tell anyone!”
“I pinky swear!” I told her.
She laughed. “Nick said he’d like to go out with me properly some time,” she said. “I can’t believe it!”
“Neither can I,” I said. “I mean, you’ve got awful dress sense, you look like the back end of a bus and your personality is barely sufferable. What on earth does he see in you?”
I wasn’t quick enough, and a wet flannel, covered in make-up came flying out of Jessie’s en suite and hit me in the chest, leaving a stain.
“And you’re abusive and disgusting!” I moaned, peeling it away. “Why are you so horrible to me?”
“I can’t think why!” she said in mock-astonishment. “So, what was your news? Why do you need help with make-up? You don’t even wear make-up!”
“That’s why I need help, Einstein,” I told her. “I may or may not have a date with Charlie.”
There was silence, and then Jess stuck her head out of the bathroom door. It was pink from being scrubbed clean. “Charlie Weasley?”
“No, Charlie the mountain lion,” I said.
She glared at me, and I held up my hands in surrender. “Yes! Charlie Weasley, I’m sorry, it’s Charlie Weasley. Please don’t throw anything else that’s gross at me!”
“Charlie Weasley?” she asked again.
I nodded, afraid if I said anything, my mouth might decide to be smart again.
“I don’t like him,” she said, and disappeared back into the bathroom.
“What?” I walked over to the bathroom, and leant on the doorframe. “Why?”
She shrugged, squeezing toothpaste onto her brush. I inwardly cringed. Brushing your teeth before you eat... it’s unnatural.
“I think he’s shifty,” she said. “And last week he was kissing Violet, remember?”
I groaned. “That’s why I need your help! Remember what I told you?”
Jess pulled an exasperated face. “About how Violet was insecure and pretty and funny?”
“Thanks, you make me feel so much better.”
“Well, you’re confident and beautiful and hilarious,” Jess said. “Sometimes.”
I winked at her. “Which is why I have you,” I said, “You make me great the rest of the time!”
She shook her head disparagingly. “You should pay me. What’s this date then?”
“Well, it’s kind of a date,” I said slowly. “He asked me if I was going to the party tomorrow night-”
“And you said no, because you think the tech guys are animals,” Jess chipped in.
“That’s what I said roughly, and then I implied that if he was going I might be persuaded to go- basically, we parted on a mutual understanding that we’d see each other at the party.”
“Are you sure?” Jess asked. “It doesn’t sound very concrete.”
I frowned. “No, not really, neither of us were very coherent.”
She smiled at me condescendingly. “Aww, were you like a couple of teenagers?”
I nodded. “Embarrassingly, I think we were. At least thirty other hormonal teenagers weren’t watching.”
Jess raised an eyebrow. “What happened that time?”
I snorted. “What do you think? I kicked him in the balls and told him to join the girls-only choir.”
Jess turned back to the mirror, grinning at the idea of a teenaged me attacking defenceless boys. “So,” she said, toothpaste dribbling down her chin. “What are you going to wear?”
I winked again. “You’re the stylist!”
Jess rolled her eyes.
“Aw, come on!” I begged. “If you ever wanted to go bungee-jumping or something, you know I’d help!”
“Fine,” she said, relenting. “But I do not want to go bungee-jumping, ever. Okay?”
“I love you, Jess!” I squealed, tackling her in a hug.
“Yeah yeah yeah, whatever. Let’s go eat like pigs and plan how we’re going to make your ugly face pretty.”
A lot later, we’d eaten like pigs and meticulously planned every aspect of everything tomorrow. It was looking to be amazing. Nick had also phoned, and Jess had tried to sit on me so I wouldn’t say anything. She’d tried to sit on me. I dread to think what it sounded like down the phone, but eventually she gave up and locked herself in her wardrobe. I was forced to resort to crooning power ballads through the crack in the door.
Until she opened the door in my face and nearly broke my nose.
She was still laughing a quarter of an hour later when ice was finally delivered to the hotel room.
But now Jess had gone to ‘oversee’ the make-up of Nick and Russell for the fight scene- at least, that’s what she called it. I’d hung around a bit longer in her room, making sure that every conceivable surface had some rubbish on it, before sloping off to my room. All by myself. I could practically hear the violins scraping in sympathy for me.
I opened the door- and nearly ran away again. Sitting on my bed was Violet, looking exceptionally bored.
“There you are!” she said, sounding genuinely pleased to see me. But then, she was a very good actress.
All I had to do was act normal, and not like I was planning to steal the guy she liked.
“How did you get in?” I asked, raising an eyebrow, and combining that with a natural smile. Perfection. “Have you been waiting long? You could have called me if you needed me desperately.”
She smiled back, and it didn’t even seem forced. Damn this fakery-fake woman.
“No, it’s not urgent,” she said. “I just wanted to remind you that your contract is up for renewal in a couple of months.”
I nodded benignly, despite the fact that my blood seemed to have turned to ice. “Oh, thanks! I had forgotten, but I’ll put it on the calendar,” I said. “Wouldn’t want to forget.”
I don’t think improvising was one of my strong suits, to be honest with you.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” Violet said. She paused. “I assume you’ll be watching the wedding scene? Or have you got something better to do?”
I shook my head, and tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. Keep breathing, I reminded myself. “Nope, I’ll be there.”
“Well, I’ll be off then,” she said, gracefully standing up.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I could order up some drinks or something if you wanted to stay?”
“I’d love to, but this colour scheme- it hurts my eyes. I don’t know how you cope! You’re welcome to come around my suite anytime you want though,” she added.
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind, Violet.”
She paused before she left. “That’s Miss Thornton to you, please.”
Violet shut the door behind her, and for the first time ever, I properly contemplated quitting. At least, before she fired me. There was a certain kind of dignity in leaving a job.
I sat down heavily on my stupid apple-green bed- my hands were shaking. I had never really realised before how expendable I was, especially to someone like Violet. We all were- Jess, even Rebecca. If she wanted, we’d be out of a job by this time tomorrow, contract or no contract.
Violet wouldn’t even care.
I had joked about it earlier, but it was true. Charlie Weasley could easily make me lose my job- because I didn’t doubt that was what Violet was hinting at. And then I’d be left living with my cousin in London, hopelessly waiting outside agencies for auditions for crappy roles, in exactly the same position I was in when I was nineteen.
Six years, and nothing to show for it, except a nice car and a couple of credits at the end of the film reel. Somehow, that made me angrier than the prospect of losing my job. I had slaved away, suffered broken bones because Violet didn’t want to break a nail, and at the end of the day I had nothing of my own to be proud of. You couldn’t even tell which scenes were me and which were Violet.
Perhaps I needed a break; perhaps I needed to be fired. A chance to go it alone and see how well Melanie Thompson could do, and not what were the achievements of facsimile of Violet.
I grabbed my mobile, and called Jess. If I was going out, I would go out with fireworks and explosions. And preferably on the arm of a certain buff redhead.
A/N: another chapter! 'Heidi' belongs to Johanna Spyri, and I know it was set in Switzerland, but Mellie doesn't.
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