‘Emma has an awful spot the night before her prom,’ one had said, pointing at her own unblemished chin for emphasis. ‘What would you suggest?’
Luckily, even at the interview stage, Sarah was my saviour; our Delancey Street bathroom shelf came straight to mind. ‘Sudocrem. They sell that stuff for babies’ bums, but it’s also a secret weapon for spots.’
They’d both written that down really fast; I got the distinct impression they’d be running out to the chemist as soon as the interview was over.
‘A run in your tights on an important day?’ the other interviewer asked me, her eyes narrowed.
‘Clear nail varnish to stop it spreading,’ I’d shot straight back. Standard sixth-former tip. By the time they’d finished I felt as if I’d been grilled by the Stasi rather than for a prospective job with a magazine.
‘Christ, I hope no one asks you for advice about false eyelashes,’ Sarah says. ‘You’ll get sued.’
‘Tell me about it. I’m relying on you to be my main research source.’
‘Well, you know me, I’m the font of all knowledge on all things false and glittery!’ She sounds giddy. ‘I can’t believe you’re finally coming back, Lu, it’s the best news I’ve had all year. Wait till I tell Jack!’
She rings off, and I sit on the bottom step of the stairs and grin like a loon. Is ten in the morning too early to drink gin?
Oscar reaches behind the sofa and pulls out a ribboned box. ‘I’ve got something for you.’
He lays the large square gift on my knees and I shoot him a surprised look. ‘Oscar, I’ve only just had my birthday.’
‘I know. This is different. It’s for the new job.’
It’s Saturday night, we’re full of Chinese takeaway and halfway down a bottle of champagne, and come Monday, I’ll be gainfully employed by Skylark, the publishing house who put out GlitterGirl magazine.
‘Open it then,’ he says, nudging the box. ‘You can change it if it’s not right.’
I look from his excited eyes to the box, and slowly tug the lime-green ribbons open. He’s already made a big fuss of me on my birthday, so this feels like real extravagance. I shake the lid of the smart gift box free and fold back the striped tissue paper to admire the black Kate Spade tote inside.
‘Oh, Oscar! It’s perfect.’ I smile, tracing my finger over the discreet gold logo. I sense Sarah’s involvement, seeing as I admired a very similar one on her arm at the restaurant where we celebrated my birthday. ‘But you know you shouldn’t have. It’s too much.’
‘Making you happy makes me happy,’ he shrugs, as if it’s a no-brainer. ‘Look in the inside pocket, there’s something else.’
I reach into the bag, curious, and unzip the pocket. ‘What is it?’ I laugh, pushing my fingers in until they touch cool metal. And then I know, and extract the set of keys dangling from a silver Tiffany padlock.
‘How will you come and go as you please if you don’t have your own set?’ he asks, going out of his way to make light of the fact he’s giving me the keys to his home. Or to our home, as it’s going to be for the short-term, at least. It was pretty much the first thing he said after ‘Congratulations’ when I told him about my new job: ‘You’ll stay with me for a while, won’t you?’ I have to admit I’d kind of hoped he’d offer, seeing as I’m starting on not much more than a pauper’s wage. We’ve agreed it’s an interim measure while I work something out. But as I look at the shiny set of keys, I see the huge set of expectations that come with it and I falter, wondering if I’m doing the wrong thing. We’ve only been together for eight months, after all, and I’ve always been determined to do this my own way.
‘I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage of your generosity, Oscar. And you know me – Miss Independent,’ I say.
His dark eyes brim with amusement. ‘Trust me, I plan on taking advantage of you too.’ He takes the keys from my fingers, raising his eyebrows at me. ‘Besides, how else will you be able to let yourself in to have dinner ready and waiting for me?’
I punch him on the arm.
‘I hope you like baked beans.’
He drops the keys inside my fancy new bag as he sets it down on the floor, then presses me back into the deep leather sofa and kisses me. ‘Let’s not talk about dull stuff any more. I can think of better things we can do.’
I’d rather punch myself in the face than go to a dinner party at Laurie and Oscar’s tonight, especially since they’ve invited his brother as well. Another banker wanker. What are the odds? Sarah’s all but tattooed the time I need to be there on my head. Bring flowers, she said. I’ll take wine, she said. I think she’s been googling dinner-party etiquette.
She’s just sent me a text – Think of some good questions to ask Oscar’s brother tonight. I’m tempted to send something pissy back, but I just switched my phone off. I’m at work, I don’t have time for this shit.
I’m grateful to have playlists to draw up for the next seven days, and a meeting with the producer tabled for this afternoon to discuss a new quiz we’re thinking of introducing. Reaching for a biro, I make a note on my hand of the latest possible time I can leave and still scrape in on time. God knows I don’t want to be early.
‘Are you sure it looks okay?’
I stand back with my hands on my hips and cast a critical eye over the dining table. Oscar slings his arm over my shoulders.
‘Looks fine to me,’ he says.
I was hoping for more fulsome praise than that; this is my first ever grown-up three-course dinner party, a far cry from pizza on our knees at Delancey Street. I wish I’d had the chance to just invite Sarah and Jack, a trial run before extending the invite out further. Not that I did, actually; it was only meant to be the four of us, but then Oscar invited his brother, Gerry, and his wife, Fliss, last weekend when we ran into them at Borough Market while buying artisan chocolate for the mousse. I know. Could I sound any more like a middle-class twat if I tried? Indulge me, this is my first dinner party and I’ve watched back-to-back episodes of Nigella snapping artisan chocolate into a pan while batting her eyelashes at the camera for weeks in preparation.
I’ve only met Oscar’s brother once before. All I can recall is that Gerry doesn’t seem to be much like his easy-going younger brother, and his poker-thin wife, Felicity, looks as if she exists on fresh air and Chanel No. 5. She reminds me of someone famous, I just can’t put my finger on who it is. Anyway, that’s how my cosy party of four became a scary party of six, and I’ve spent the whole day in the kitchen painstakingly following a complicated recipe for coq au vin. It’s no ordinary coq, either. This lucky bird was corn-fed and pampered and folded into waxy brown paper by a butcher, and I hope to God this is reflected in the taste because it was triple the cost of its shrink-wrapped supermarket brethren. I’ve whipped air into the chocolate mousse, tossed the salad, and now I’m gagging for a glass of wine.
‘Would it annoy you if I kissed your lipstick off?’
One of the perks of working on a teen magazine is the plethora of beauty samples that flood the office; teenage girls today clearly spend a hell of a lot more on cosmetics than I did a decade ago. Tonight I’m testing out a trendy new brand of lipstick; the case looked more like a space-age dildo than a lippy and while it doesn’t quite give the promised bee-stung look, the product is creamy and rich and makes me feel that tiny bit more confident.
Oscar looks momentarily crestfallen, but the sound of the buzzer cuts the conversation dead.
‘Someone’s here,’ I whisper, staring at him.
‘That is the general idea of a dinner party,’ he says. ‘Shall I get it or do you want to?’
I creep towards the door and peer through the peephole, hoping Sarah and Jack are first. I’m out of luck.
‘It’s your brother,’ I mouth, tiptoeing back to Oscar.
‘I take it that means I’m answering it?’ he asks.