After being introduced to the rest of the party – including the very suave and charismatic Sam, the director, as well as Rosalind Beaumont, Freddie Whittaker and Laura – I was instructed to show Lucas to his room. In my opinion, Lucas had the best room in the hotel. It was right up on the top floor with a massive window seat and a view that went across the whole of Edinburgh, the castle looming in the slight fog on the horizon. Even when rain pelted against the glass, droplets rapidly racing against each other, the scene was unparalleled. I was definitely the kind of person who could be moved by views: my childhood was spent in a house a five minute walk from the beach, so for the first eighteen years of my life I woke up to the ocean.
Out of all the rooms booked by the Pride and Prejudice production company, Lucas’ wasn’t the biggest, but I believed the view more than made up for it. Whilst rooms fourteen to seventeen trailed down the hallway facing the back of the house, room thirteen stood on its own, hidden away in a recently refurbished turret. Hawdon was an old house, owned by an Earl and his Countess, before being sold off by their son after the Earl died in the fifties. Since then it had always been a hotel, with the managers desperate to bring the manor out from the last decade and into the next; old houses could still retain their beauty and intrigue even if the lifestyle associated with them gradually died out.
The look room thirteen had now was fresh and bright, with the walls painted a pale duck-egg blue and white. A king sized bed swallowed the back wall and a wardrobe fitted into the wall neatly next to a desk and dresser. A door off the side revealed a spacious bathroom, complete with claw-foot tub and luxury shower facility. Paired with the small yet elegant chandelier that hung overhead, Donna and her team of decorators had managed to create a beautifully graceful yet homely environment in a relatively small space. There were still elements of Hawdon’s history too embedded into the architecture – the old, ornate fireplace opposite the bed and the antique clock that ticked on the mantelpiece, remnants of a time now lost. All of Hawdon’s rooms were like that. Each suite was completely unique, different colours and prints on the walls, but each always had a nod to its routes too. Maybe that’s why people kept coming back, after all, not just for the good customer service.
The moment I unlocked the door Lucas immediately paced towards the window. His hands gripped to the window sill and he stared out across my world, the city that had become my home, and his grin was borderline magical. “Now, that is a view. Living in London you completely forget that stuff like this exists.”
I followed him over, tracing his eyeline. I could forget about my headache if we were talking about landscapes. “Isn’t London a different sort of magical?” When he glanced over at me, inquisitive, I could feel my cheeks burning. Jesus, Charlie, not everyone wants to hear about your love of skylines. “All skyscrapers and stuff. People. Noise. You don’t really get that here.”
Lucas considered what I’d said, looking at me with half a smile on his face, before turning back to Edinburgh. “If you live in central London, maybe. Not in places like Hackney, though. There’s not much to look at in Hackney.”
“Not true,” I argued back, “I believe there’s always something worth looking at. You just have to go beneath the surface, beyond what is actually there, I think. You can always find something.” Lucas’s gaze was something I couldn’t pinpoint – like he was assessing whether he thought I was mad or just strange. “Oh God – just ignore me. Please.”
“No, no,” Lucas laughed, “It’s good. Really.”
“I’m an English student,” I professed, trying to hide my embarrassment, “It’s just instinct for me to talk utter bollocks.”
Oh great. Bollocks. Classy, Charlie. Luckily, Lucas seemed totally unfazed. Instead, he laughed again, his brown eyes glittering. “An English student. I’ve known plenty of those. You at the university?”
“Yeah. I’ve just started my PhD.”
Lucas raised a single dark eyebrow enquiringly. “Clever clogs.”
“Let’s stop talking about me. I get embarrassed,” I insisted weakly, mainly because I really couldn’t handle compliments or gentle teasing all that well with people I’d just met. Lucas seemed reluctant, like he was genuinely interested in my studies, when I really was only there to welcome him to the hotel and not for general chatter and small talk. I think I had totally forgotten that just because he was famous it didn’t mean he had no interest in the mundane exploits of people like me.
“Cool,” he said, his accent shaping his vowels, “Whatever you say, Charlie. What is the deal with you and me while I’m here?”
“An excellent question,” I smiled, the headache beginning to pulse yet again, but I had to hide it for the sake of professionalism. “I’m here to provide whatever you need. Any time, you can contact me and I’ll try and get it sorted for you.” I scanned the room for a piece of paper and found a Hawdon embossed notepad and pen on the desk, quickly scribbling down my phone number while Lucas stared on bemusedly. As I handed it over he scrutinised my neat, joined up script, perfected after years of writing countless essays. “Just call me on that number and delete it when you leave. I’ll obviously, uh, delete yours.”
(I couldn’t just have the number of a famous actor in my phone. That could cause all kinds of trouble, especially seeing as one time Roisin got drunk and texted everyone in my contacts something incredibly obscene when I wasn’t looking. It took a hell of a lot of explaining, especially when my dad asked what exactly teabagging was.)
Lucas got his iPhone out the back pocket of his jeans and immediately tapped my number in. “Contact you any time, you say? What if… it’s two am, and I’ve ran out of bourbons?”
“Oh, definitely not,” I grinned. Even the mention of biscuits was making me feel queasy. “But if you said custard creams, I definitely would consider it.”
When Lucas laughed, it was effervescent and unabridged; like butterflies were trapped in his ribcage and every time he found something funny they’d be set free into the room, exploding in colour. I hadn’t been mesmerised by a laugh in such a long time.
As the moment passed, I handed Lucas his door key and he curled it up in his gloved palm, hiding it from view. “Breakfast is typically served between six and ten, lunch eleven until three, dinner five until nine. Room service is available round the clock. If you fancy new sheets, pillows, coat-hangers, anything – you can ring the service number but if they aren’t available just ring me. If the fire alarm goes off the assembly point is round the front of the hotel. If you have any questions, any at all, I am always on the other end of the phone.”
“Always?” Lucas queried, “You’re a student. Do you not have lectures to go to? Seems a pretty full on job to be my guardian angel all week.”
He had a good point. I did have lectures this week and a proposal to write, but all that had been put on hold because I couldn’t say no to Donna. I shrugged my shoulders. “You’re my priority this week.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he grinned, “But please – I’m really not that high maintenance. Make your PhD your priority, because that is much more important and special than I am.”
“Thank you, but my boss – “
“Forget about your boss. Jesus, I’m not saying this to get you fired! I will be out filming most of the day. Just give me the lowdown on some good bars in the area and you’ll barely see me, and I’ll give you the best review on TripAdvisor.” He extended out his hand so I could shake it. “Deal, Charlotte Costello?”
My scepticism was paramount, but I shook his hand anyway. When Karen and Gemma suggested that he wouldn’t be much trouble, I wasn’t anticipating that. Maybe he really didn’t like me and just preferred it if I was totally out of his hair for the whole week he was here.
It wasn’t such an awful arrangement, though. I was getting paid more to do even less work than I normally did, as well as concentrate on my dissertation. Lucas North had actually done me a favour.
Oh, I did like him though. I didn’t get crazy over celebrities like other people did, swooning over photos in magazines or bursting into tears when they came on the telly. For such a long time I had a love that made every other man fade into greyscale, totally romantically irrelevant, even those who showed off their abs in action movies or wore tuxedos to film premieres. But Lucas was nice, he was friendly, and not awful to look at, based on my first encounter with him. It was refreshing to meet a man who didn’t feel totally inadequate in comparison to past experience.
He just obviously didn’t feel the same way about me. But that was fine – I didn’t expect him to like me. He hung around with supermodels and socialites at the coolest bars in the coolest parts of London. Karen always said it was completely pointless trying to compare yourself to those in the media, who were nearly always photoshopped and fabricated purely to make us civilians envious. But it was a natural reflex and one that I wasn’t immune to.
Unfortunately, the other natural reflex I wasn’t immune to was the consequences of drinking. A wave of nausea washed over me, catching me completely off guard – if I didn’t bolt for the toilet I would ruin the cream carpet as well as Lucas’ jeans. He didn’t even have time to react. I flung open the closed bathroom door and vomited into the porcelain basin, my hands shaking and sweat creeping up my back. Oh, dear God. It was impossible for this day to get any worse and it was only nine in the morning.
“Jesus,” Lucas remarked, my body shuddering in shock. When I turned to look at him he had his arms crossed around his chest and a less than impressed look on his face. “Thought you looked a little bit shaky.”
I’d completely fucking ruined it. Well done me. However, to my surprise, he didn’t just walk away and let Donna know that one of her employees was currently throwing up on his bathroom floor. Instead, he grabbed the glass in the holder by the sink and filled it to the brim, handing it over to me.
“Give me a sec… I’ve got some aspirin in my bag…” Lucas said, his voice trailing into the next room.
“No, you don’t have to,” I coughed up what little bile I had left in me, “This is my fault.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” he teased, popping two capsules out the tray. He dropped them into my clammy palms and refused to stop watching me until I’d swallowed them back along with the water. Even then, he sat on the edge of the bath, face concerned and concentrated. “Back when I was eighteen, I got an audition for a part I really wanted. Like really wanted. The only problem was that the audition was the morning after my eighteenth birthday. I’d obviously been out drinking and I bet even if you’ve never been to Dublin you’ll be aware of its reputation – so I turned up the next day absolutely ruined. I didn’t get the part. We all have days like these.”
Lucas smiled warmly, clasping his gloved hands together. I found myself smiling back up at him. People did all have days like these, except the whole world knew when Lucas North went out on a bender.
“I’m so sorry,” I murmured, “I’m not usually like this. Really.”
“Don’t apologise,” he replied softly, “Shit happens.”
As I scrambled to my feet he leaned down to help me up, his fingers wrapped around my elbow. His smile was sympathetic, understanding, but it didn’t ease my embarrassment. I was supposed to be professional, not confiding in a man I’d just met whilst I sat a wreck on his bathroom floor. I hastily coughed, combing back my hair. “I’ll go and get someone to clean this, tell them I…”
“Say it was me,” Lucas interjected, “Say I got carsick. It happens sometimes.”
His kindness and willingness to take the blame left me in a state of shock, totally dazed as to why he would do this for me in the first place. For a moment, I thought he was going to turn around and say it was some massive joke, that in fact I deserved to be fired because who the hell gets drunk the night before work, but he seemed genuine.
“You don’t have to do that for me.”
“Charlie,” he sighed with a smile, “Trust me when I tell you I don’t want you to get fired. If your boss gets pissy with you, who will look after me while I’m here?”
His eyes glinted mischievously. For a brief second, I felt my heart surge up my throat – it reminded me so much of Matt, the way he’d glance over at me in class back when we were in school and there was five minutes left of the lesson and the ice cream van was parked a short walk from the gates. He’d buy me ice cream and his lips would taste like strawberries when he kissed me.
It struck me that it had been almost three years since somebody had kissed me.
“Fine,” I relented, “Thank you.”
Lucas nodded, satisfied with the outcome. “Now, please, go and lie down or something. Drink a gallon of water.” When I looked dubious, he practically manhandled me towards the door. “I’m a grown man. I can look after myself for a few hours. And by my word, I will ring if I have a problem. It’s just I’m sure you will be able to carry out your job more effectively when you aren’t going to pass out any second.”
I didn’t even want to know what I looked like to him now. As I was throwing up, the stinging in my throat caused my eyes to water, makeup inevitably starting to drift from my eyes to my face. Sweat prickled in the underarms of my shirt. The only word that could come to mind was pity. He felt sorry for me, how out of my depth I was, like a child who was walking through the doors of secondary school for the first time and had no idea which direction their first class was.
I didn’t want to be pitied by him. I felt weak and ridiculous and ashamed, because work was the one place where I had control at all times and knew what was coming next. Well, until Donna shook up my life like a snow-globe.
As soon as he saw my disparaged look, his features softened into a laugh. “Thank you for your help, Miss Costello. You have been most obliging. I am very glad that Miss Marsden pointed your good self in my direction. And as your, uh, client, I request that you please get some rest.” His hands pressed into my shoulders. “Will you accept that?”
“Looks like I have no choice,” I admitted hesitantly. “I’ll sort out the toilet for you.”
“Well that’s a phrase I just love to hear,” Lucas grinned from ear to ear, “And please, don’t think…It’s fine. It’s really, very fine.”
Lucas left me standing in the hallway, his figure hidden behind his now locked wooden door.
Once I’d got over the humiliation in the bathroom and called maintenance to clean out Lucas’s toilet, I’d retreated to my comfort zone of the office and sat for about two hours cursing how utterly moronic I was. Even though he was so nice about it, that episode would go down in history as my most embarrassing moment of all time – and I was one of those kids who wet themselves playing a non-speaking part in the primary school nativity play.
It wasn’t long after I left that Lucas’s aspirin had started to kick in and my mind was a lot less foggy. Before, I felt like I was constantly submerged under water, people’s voices blurring into background audio. The world was a lot more transparent now. I managed to sort out some delayed invoices, double check the latest delivery and vacate the office of all its green teabags. The whole time, no-one came in or out. Everyone was so busy with the Pride and Prejudice gang whilst I sat alone, ordered out by my “client” because I was too fucking hungover to do my job properly.
I thought my embarrassment would fade if I told someone about it. Gemma had the early shift at work, Karen wasn’t picking up her phone and the only person left was Roisin.
My theory was incorrect. When it came to my borderline-psycho, constantly drunk and dark sense of humoured best friend, it was so much better to keep your problems to yourself.
My eyes flickered close as I kneaded my forehead. I’d since relocated to the staff room because it had a comfier sofa and more hobnobs, as well as better mobile phone signal. “I threw up on him, Sheen. Well, not him. I met him then threw up in his toilet.”
Roisin’s manic laughter was so outrageously loud that I was certain that everyone within a mile radius of my mobile phone could hear it, let alone the people who were near her on the other end. This went on for at least two minutes, every second a second closer to me hanging up. I knew Roisin wasn’t the most sympathetic of people. I’d brought this on myself.
“Sheen. Sheen. It’s not funny.”
Roisin had a smoker’s laugh: she’d ditched the cigarettes over three years ago but its effects still played on her, her chest heavy and hazy and dirty. We all believed her when she said she didn’t smoke anymore, but Karen had her doubts. “Oh dear God,” she said between exhales, “Thank you, Charlie.”
My forehead creased. “Thank you for what?”
“Thank you, because I was having another shitty day, and you’ve cheered me right up,” Roisin eased back to somewhat composed stature, “This morning I’ve been writing slogans for one of those fucking seat things old people have in their showers, but at least I didn’t throw up on a Hollywood actor.”
It was probably worth mentioning that Roisin’s job, when she wasn’t studying at the university, was writing product descriptions for an Edinburgh-based company producing “essentials” for geriatrics. She absolutely hated everything about it: the minimum wage, her unbearable colleagues, the Aldi basics coffee in the coffee machine. But she wanted to be a writer, and this was as close as she got whilst she completed her PhD. A stepping stone to greater things, she’d said, or that sort of bullshit.
“Yeah. Lucky you,” I snorted, “I rang up asking you to cheer me up, not the other way round.”
“Fine, fine,” she sighed, “Okay. There is one story that I heard this morning that is a lot worse than your thing. Like, a lot worse.”
“I highly doubt it, but go for it.”
“I got a snapchat from one of Scott’s mates last night – yeah, he uses snapchat, lame I know – and they were at an office party thing, and Scott shat in the bathroom sink. He actually shat in it.”
“Oh bloody hell!” I exclaimed, grimacing, “You are both depraved, do you know that? And Scott’s mate is depraved too! I mean shitting in a sink is one thing, but someone taking a photograph…”
Roisin cackled. “That is so much worse than your thing though! At least you were sick in a toilet. I am going to rinse him next time he’s over here. Which is next week, by the way.”
Well, that was the icing on top of the cake. I met Scott every time he was in Edinburgh, but not because he was making Roisin breakfast if I popped in on a morning or because we all went for a nice big lovely dinner together. No, the only reason I saw Scott was if he was banging on our flat door at stupid o’clock in the morning because Roisin had temporarily moved onto our sofa after an argument. It begged the question are they really right for each other, but both of them were so stubborn that they couldn’t even agree to split up properly.
“Great!” I said through gritted teeth, “It will be lovely to see him again!”
“I know. You know what a long-distance relationship is like, Charlie…” she paused, like she was reconsidering her words. Roisin never censored, always saying what came into her head next, but some subjects even she was sensitive about.
When Matt died, it was approximately four thousand, six hundred and eighty-eight miles away in the sandy metropolis of Kabul, Afghanistan. Whenever he wrote home he’d describe the landscape in intimate detail, because he knew exactly what I was like and what I needed to know, and he’d described it so stunningly. I pictured this ragged beauty of a war-torn nation, exotic and faraway and slightly unreal. Before Matt, I’d only ever seen Afghanistan on the news; blood and wire and children crying, jagged scars on cut lips. The kind of Afghanistan Matt told me about was misunderstood. The kind of Afghanistan Matt died in was brutal, unforgiving and utterly heartbreaking.
“Anyway, at least you didn’t shit in a sink.”
Thankfully, Roisin had dodged the bullet rather than take it head on. Almost three years on and it was still so raw, you know? Maybe it wouldn’t ever heal over.
“Yeah,” I half-laughed, “At least I didn’t shit in a sink.”
There was a brief muffling on the other end of the phone, like Roisin was covering her receiver. I thought I was losing signal, but her clipped accent quickly alerted me otherwise. “Ah, shit – my boss is poking around. Gotta go, lovely. Golf club commercials don’t write themselves.”
“Obviously,” I said, but she’d hung up before I had the chance to reply. Roisin wasn’t very good at goodbyes. Strangely enough, her weird attempts of consolation did cheer me up somehow. There was always someone worse off than you, even if that was not shitting in a sink. I could live with that.
I was about to traipse back through to the office and catch up on more admin, but just seconds after I hung up a message came in from a number I didn’t recognise.
Oh. Well. At least I didn’t shit in a sink.