“Ollie!” Jackson, as enthusiastic as always, greeted me at the door to his office. His sunglasses were pushed up above his head, giving him the appearance of a large, wobbly gecko.
“Hey, Jackson.” I gestured towards the door. “My arch nemesis, slash, love interest in there?” “Sure is.” Jackson looked altogether too happy at this news. I was suspicious.
“Is she uh…okay? I mean, what’s her name?”
He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Ask them yourself.” He pushed the door open, and we entered his office.
I didn’t get very far inside. Standing by the window, silhouetted by the midday sun, stood a figure who was almost as tall as me. It was masculine looking, with short curly hair and clothes that my grandfather would have approved of—trench coat, check shirt, and wrinkled jeans. Two arms from dark brown glasses poked over its ears.
Jackson cleared his throat. “Oliver, meet Edmund. I believe you two know each other? Even so, I’ll just…” He backed outside smartly and shut the door behind him—probably a good idea, as there was someone I was wanting to strangle at this very moment who was fat and looked like a gecko. I shifted awkwardly, smothered by the awkwardness, feeling beyond awkward, and fairly certain that this was the most awkward situation I’d ever been in. I cleared my throat.
“I thought you were a girl there for a minute.” Oh, nice one, Oliver. Smooth. Edmund and his astronomical vocabulary are really going to be impressed by—oh, hang on, we’re not trying to impress him, because we’re straight. Carry on.
“Yes, um, I’m not sure what I thought you were. I’m not absolutely certain what’s going on. Three hours ago I was in a cinema in England.”
I tried to lean nonchalantly against the wall. “Jackson jumped you?”
“Uh, he made a surprise visit to your exact location through magical stalking techniques and has now roped you into acting in a film?”
Edmund was leaning nonchalantly as well, although I’m pleased to say that I managed it far better than he did. “Yeah…look, all I know is that we’re going to be co-actors., I wasn’t…I think we should sort something out.”
There was a strand of hair caught in the hinge of his glasses. “Yeah…” Oh, how eloquent. Eloquent, see? You do have a vocabulary, now use it. “I have a girlfriend.” HOW IS THAT USING YOUR VOCABULARY, OLIVER?
I did an internal facepalm.
“Oh.” Edmund scratched at the back of his neck, made a noise in the back of his throat, pushed past me, and left.
Well, that went well. Two months, and when you meet him you’re as tongue tied as someone with their tongue actually tied in a knot. Go after him, you fool. Explain! Explain that you don’t hate him, you’re just as cold towards guys as an iceberg on Pluto for reasons you never think about!
I banged my head against the wall.
Ow. Okay. Don’t go after him—just follow him. Out of interest. See where he goes.
I considered banging my head against the wall again, but decided against it.
Instead, I followed Edmund.
He walked through the corridors with his shoulders hunched and his head down, avoiding the other people who washed along beside him like a tide of brightly coloured aliens. He stood out, being almost as tall as me, and also being the only person within a ten mile radius wearing dark clothing. He was easy to follow.
I snuck along pressed flat against the wall, attracting some curious glances and some worried ones. What was I doing? I honestly didn’t know. I’d promised myself nothing like this would ever happen, that I’d stick to girls, especially after the last time.
I was jerked out of my reverie by a sharp buzz in my pocket. I flipped it out, assassin style, trying to hold it surreptitiously to my ear while still sliding sneakily across the wall.
“Hello? This is Smith speaking.”
“I know you’re following me, so stop. If you want to know where I live just ask.” Not so sneaky now, hmm?
“Where do you live?”
“None of your business. Actually, I’d tell you if I knew, but I don’t. Might want to look up by the way, you’re about to bump into me.”
I snatched my gaze up just in time to avoid knocking over a trench coat. Edmund was smiling, green eyes lit up like lanterns. “Never join MI6, Oliver.”
I adjusted my jacket collar. “Point taken.” Okay, this cannot get awkward, this is a perfect moment, this CANNOT get awkward. “Tea?’
Edmund rubbed his knuckle against the bridge of his nose. “Okay. Although you’ll have to get it, as I have no money.”
“Jackson really did jump you, eh?” I put my hand to Edmund’s arm and steered him through the corridor.
“Like a jumping walrus-gecko.”
We arrived abruptly at the cafeteria. Edmund stopped just inside the door, frowning.
“You have a café in a film studio?”
“Cafeteria, but yeah.”
“There’s a difference?”
“Apparently…” I trailed off. My stomach felt like I’d just missed a step on the stairs. Edmund was looking at me worriedly.
I couldn’t answer, too choked up on a horrible realisation, so held up my phone for him to see. He leaned in, and I could see his eyebrows travel up his forehead as he registered the forty-three missed calls from Marie-Ann. He nodded, impressed.
“She’s certainly persistent.”
“I hate her.” I slumped on a chair and dropped my head into my hands. Poor thing was probably finding it hard to deal with the fact we hadn’t seen Edmund for two months, only to have him turn up and become our temporary psychologist.
Afore mentioned psychologist slid into a seat next to me and pushed his glasses further up his nose.
“Then why is she your girlfriend?”
I fiddled with my knife and tried to avoid his eyes. “It’s a relationship of convenience. She cheats on me all the time, and reaps the benefits of accompanying me to events.”
“That doesn’t sound very nice.”
“No. It’s not.”
We listened to the clanging of the cafeteria for a while, shifting uncomfortably in the plastic chairs and avoiding puddles of muck on the table. Then, without warning, Edmund moved his hand onto my arm. I tensed, but he didn’t feel this through my jacket and slid his hand further up, onto my shoulder. He might have even made it round to my other shoulder, but we were interrupted by a shrill call.
“Ollie?” We jumped as though someone had electrocuted us. Edmund snatched his hand back to his side, face going bright red.
In the Bible, there is a story about a woman who is told by God not to look back at the city she is fleeing. She does, however, and is consumed by Heavenly fire and turned into salt.
I suddenly understood how she must have felt. Marie-Ann stood behind us, hands on hips, scarlet mouth pursed, painted toes in fluorescent shoes clicking an impatient tattoo on the linoleum.
“Oliver, you haven’t called me back yet, and we were supposed to get coffee together. You never call me back, and we never get coffee together. And what the Hell are you even, like, doing? Who’s this guy?’
Edmund’s face matched Marie-Ann’s lipstick. I stood abruptly, my chair creaking a racket across the floor.
“Marie-Ann, you don’t own me. Besides, why are you so uptight about Edmund—my co-star, by the way—when I know that you were sleeping with Jackson’s brother!”
There was silence in the cafeteria. Edmund was shrinking by my elbow, as opposed to Marie-Ann, who was inflating like a balloon.
“OMG, Oliver, you don’t understand me!”
I stepped up to her, towering over her even in her heels. “Then maybe you should find someone who does.”
Someone dropped a fork on the ground. The sound reverberated around the room, seeming to distort the air in front of Marie-Ann’s face, making her ugly and twisted. There were some things makeup couldn’t hide. She swelled, deflated, went red, went purple, then turned on her heel and stormed away.
Slowly, a wave of applause swept over the crowd. I turned and bowed theatrically, then grabbed Edmund by his elbow and proceeded to drag him to the set.