Poles apart, p.4
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       Poles Apart, p.4
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           Kirsty Moseley

  you’ll find somewhere.”

  Carson nodded. “Yeah, they don’t have fried chicken over here like they do back home. English fried chicken is the best; I miss it when I’m away…” He trailed off, laughing as one of his team grabbed him into a headlock, rubbing their knuckles in his sweaty hair. He dragged him away, Carson shouting bye at the camera as he play-fought with the guy who was holding him.

  The interviewer turned back to the camera, a bemused smile on his lips. “Well, there you have it. Carson Matthews’ eleventh straight win. I think he’s now going to get some lunch. Back to you, Steve,” he said laughing, and then they cut back to the studio.

  I miss it when I’m away… oh, God, that was so freaking sweet! Was he really missing me? I sure as hell knew I was missing him, and he always told me that he missed me, but did he really?

  I bit my lip as the happiness built even more. That was so incredible. He’d remembered to say those things, just for me. I sighed contentedly and sat back in my seat, ignoring the way Rory looked at me – one eyebrow raised, a quizzical-yet-knowing smile pulling at his lips.

  “Well, he either just said hi to you on TV, or the guy’s hungry,” Rory teased, shaking his head.

  I didn’t say anything, just watched the TV as Carson climbed the stairs, heading to the number one podium, standing there smiling proudly while they played the English national anthem. I couldn’t keep the smile from my face because of just how adorable he looked standing there. I was so proud of him that happy tears prickled in my eyes.

  After, Carson shook up a big bottle of champagne, spraying it over the two guys who had come second and third. In return, they both seemed to dump the entire contents of theirs right in his face. When the spray died down, Carson took a big swig out of his bottle. Champagne dribbled down his chin, dripping from his clothes and the brim of the team hat he was wearing.

  I let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding and felt myself relax. Another race over and he was fine. I didn’t need to worry about him again for at least another week.

  Suddenly, Sasha threw her juice cup into my lap, making me jump because I was in my own little Carson-land. “Drink!” she demanded. Her big blue eyes were so like her father’s that seeing them made my heart stutter.

  “Drink, please,” I corrected, smiling as I pushed myself off the sofa and practically skipped to get her another drink.

  MY HAPPY MOOD LASTED all through the rest of the day; I couldn’t keep the smile at bay even when I was at work that night. My feet were hurting, my eyes were stinging with tiredness, my whole body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, but I still smiled happily. All because the adorable boy had given me a little attention on TV in front of millions of people. Sure, no one knew he was talking to me, but he did and so did I.

  In fact, my happy mood lasted well into the next day, too, right up until the point when Rory came back from the shop and tossed the newspaper down onto the table in front of me. That was when the happy smile finally slid from my face as my heart sank.

  On the front of the paper was a picture of Carson, obviously out celebrating his win from the night before. The big picture on the front was him with an extremely pretty, exotic-looking, olive-skinned goddess in his arms. Literally. He was carrying her bridal-style out of a club. She had one shoe on, her arms tight around his neck, her other shoe hung from one of her fingers, resting against his chest with the heel broken. He was looking down at her with a sexy little smirk, which promised she was in for a good night. There were a couple of smaller pictures from earlier in the night, too, taken inside the club. The two of them dancing, her hand on his arm as he laughed with a guy standing next to him.

  I couldn’t bring myself to read the article. When my eyes started to prickle with tears, I knew I needed to go before I broke down in front of Rory and Sasha. “Rory, can you watch Sash while I go for a shower?” My voice broke as I spoke but, thankfully, he didn’t seem to notice.

  “Sure, no worries.” He sat himself on the floor next to her, picking up the coloured shape sorter toy Sasha liked, gaining her attention immediately.

  I gulped and headed to the bathroom. Sitting on the edge of the bath as I turned on the shower, I let the water heat because it always took a few minutes for the hot water to come through. As I sat there, I looked down at the beautiful girl in the picture on the paper. She was wearing a gorgeous yellow dress, which looked extremely expensive. My eyes flicked up from the paper to the mirror on the wall. I stared at myself in my cheap, supermarket-brand tracksuit bottoms and vest top. I looked an absolute mess compared to the girl in Carson’s arms in the paper.

  As I looked at myself in the mirror, a wave of hatred washed over me. I hated everything about myself in that moment because I would never be that girl in Carson’s arms he smiled down at so unashamedly. I would always be a lap dancer. That stigma would follow me around long after I graduated university and finally had enough money to leave there. I would always be that dirty little girl who danced for money in a seedy club. I would never, ever be good enough. That knowledge made my hand tighten on the newspaper, screwing it up into a ball before tossing it across the room and into the bin, which stood in the corner. I barely had enough time to strip out of my clothes and step into the shower before the tears hit me. I cried in the spray until I felt sick.

  Times like this just forced me to face the fact that Carson wasn’t mine. He never had been.

  ON TOP OF THE SADNESS which was eating me up because of the newspaper article and the stunner in the yellow dress, on Tuesday I started getting ill. My throat was killing me and I could barely swallow. After a couple of days of suffering in silence, I finally gave in and went to the doctor. I hated to make a fuss out of things about myself or admit I was sick. I was the person who took care of others, not the other way around.

  As it turned out, I had tonsillitis. I was given a course of antibiotics and sat munching on throat lozenges like they were going out of fashion, but my life couldn’t stop just because I was feeling poorly. The flat didn’t clean itself, Sasha didn’t magically raise herself, and my university classes didn’t suddenly disappear. So I struggled on, the same as normal. Except, instead of my life just feeling like hard work, everything felt almost impossible at the moment.

  By the time Saturday came around, I was feeling a little better, but everything was taking its toll on me. I looked a mess. I was extremely tired because my sore throat stopped me from sleeping very well for the last few days, and I was just generally more exhausted than normal.

  Once Sasha had settled to sleep, I grabbed my uniform for work and went for a quick shower. When I was dry, I pulled on warmer clothes over the top of my uniform. I was going to be freezing at work tonight. I’d been so cold for the last couple of days that I’d had to sleep in tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie.

  As I dried my hair in the kitchen, I tried not to look in the mirror at the dark circles residing under my eyes; I’d sort them out with some concealer at work. I didn’t own much make-up, mainly because I couldn’t afford to buy it, so I always just used the stuff they had at the club.

  I plopped down next to Rory, resting my head back on the sofa. I really could just do with going to sleep right now instead of going to work until after two in the morning. “Sasha’s asleep. Don’t stay up too late tonight, okay?” I croaked, my voice sounding husky and sore.

  He smiled sympathetically. “Are you sure you can’t just call in sick?”

  I shook my head. “Can’t afford it. I’ll be fine; it won’t be too busy tonight.” At least I hoped it wasn’t too busy. If it was too much I could pull in a favour and have Lucie do one of my tables if I got too tired. She owed me because I worked three of her tables a couple of weeks ago when she was sick. Lucie Cooper was my good friend at the club; she was the person who made it possible for me to go back to school when I got pregnant. She was a single mother, too. Her man had walked out on her about three years ago, leaving her with three kids on her own. We helped
each other out with babysitting and sleepovers when we needed to. It was nice; she was my best friend even though she was ten years older than me.

  Rory sighed. “I wish I could go to work instead of you. As soon as I’ve done my exams, I’ll get a job and take care of you and Sash for a change.” He patted my leg, smiling sadly.

  I looked at my little brother. He really was my rock and I loved him so much. “When you finish your exams you’ll be doing your A-levels, buster,” I rebutted sternly, but it sounded a little weak because of me barely being able to talk. “Besides, you take care of us all the time.”

  He smiled and shook his head, frowning. This was an old argument. I wanted him to stay in school, and he wanted to leave and get a job. Rory was a smart kid; I couldn’t let him waste his brain because I needed money. That wouldn’t be good for anyone in the long run.

  “I’m going now,” I said before he could protest. I couldn’t argue with him tonight, my throat was too sore. “Lock the door and I’ll see you in the morning.” I pushed myself off the sofa and grabbed my keys, mobile phone and purse from the sideboard.

  “Emma,” Rory called as I had my hand on the door about to open it. I turned back to face him, just as something came flying towards me. I instinctively caught it and looked down to see a packet of throat sweets. “Don’t forget those.”

  I smiled gratefully. “Thanks. See ya.”

  The walk to work was uneventful. Well, as uneventful as Central London after dark can be. I ignored a couple of comments from guys drinking and hanging out in the streets. I crossed the road when the door of a pub burst open and two men fell out, fighting and shouting at each other.

  By the time I got to work, I was shivering so hard my back was aching. I headed to the shared dressing rooms, saying my hellos to the performers and waitresses as I flopped down into an empty chair. Looking into the mirror, I silently wondered what I could do to salvage the mess that was my face. I really should have called in sick tonight, but I just needed the money too badly. Carson’s money from two weeks ago was already gone, and my wages from the previous week were dwindling down too fast for comfort. I liked to have spare money; I didn’t like to literally live off my wages and then have nothing when it was gone. If I had called in sick tonight then I would be short next week instead, and I couldn’t have that.

  Lucie plopped down in the seat next to mine and looked at me worriedly. “Wow, you still look like shit.”

  I laughed humourlessly. Way to make a girl feel better about herself, Lucie! “Thanks for that. You look totally bangin’ as usual.”

  She laughed and grabbed the make-up bag from the counter, gripping the arm of my swivel chair and turning me to face her. “You obviously don’t feel much better.” She sighed, smiling sympathetically as she started plastering make-up on my face. I closed my eyes and just let her do it, grateful I didn’t have to lift my arms and do it myself.

  “I’m okay. I just hope tonight goes quickly. You think if I get in trouble I could push a table or two your way tonight?” I asked hopefully.

  “Of course you can, sweetie! Hey, is Carson coming tonight?” she asked, dabbing a thick layer of concealer under my eyes.

  I shrugged, not really wanting to think about him. I was still hurting over the beauty in the paper last week. What with being sick, everything just seemed to pile up and I couldn’t stop myself wallowing in self-pity about him. “I hope not,” I admitted. I didn’t want to see him while I was sick. There were two reasons, really. One, I didn’t want him to get sick, as well. And two, I looked a mess, and I didn’t want him taking one look at me and requesting a different waitress. That would kill me, seeing him get dances and flirting with other waitresses right in front of me.

  At exactly ten o’clock, there was a bang on the dressing room door. “Doors are now opening, ladies. Waitresses need to come out and take their places to welcome the customers,” Jason called through the door.

  I groaned, not wanting to get up. “Let’s get this over with,” I mumbled to Lucie as the six waitresses all stood up, along with the six reserve girls who floated around doing lap dances or covering sections if a girl went to the backroom. Lucie was floating tonight so that was great for me; I knew she’d help me out. I pulled off my tracksuit bottoms and hoodie, slipped on my heels, and then followed them into the club.

  I headed straight over to the bar, leaning against it, praying as the customers walked in that that they would choose a table which wasn’t mine so I wouldn’t have to start working yet. Luckily for me, no one sat in my section until just after ten-thirty. I just hung out at the bar with Jason and bitched about being sick and tired, while he laughed at me and rolled his eyes.

  So far, I only had one table. It was occupied by three middle-aged men who didn’t seem to be interested in me in the slightest and were watching the empty stage eagerly.

  The door opened and I heard a lot of commotion. I flicked my eyes to the door, seeing about twelve guys all walking in, laughing, and pushing each other around teasingly. Raising one eyebrow, I looked at Jason in question. He usually knew if there was to be a big party like this booked in.

  He shrugged. “Stag night, apparently,” he answered my unspoken question.

  Stag night? Oh, no! Not my section! Please, not my section!

  I watched them walk in, looking through the photos of the waitresses on the board by the door. They got to choose a waitress if they wanted to, and the photos showed which sections to sit in if you liked the look of a particular girl.

  Please, please, please not me!

  I held my breath as they sauntered across the room, bypassing Charlotte’s and Andie’s tables. I watched with wide eyes as they checked table numbers as they walked past.

  Please, no!

  Lucie walked up to them and flashed her killer smile, making them stop and talk to her. She pointed to Kaitlin and then waved at Kaitlin’s section. I felt like doing a little happy dance – until the guy at the front shook his head and said something to Lucie. Her eyes flicked to me and I groaned. They wanted me. The guy turned around and looked at me before nodding. I plastered on a fake smile. The only upside to this was, with it being a stag-do I would get a lot of dances tonight, and the money would definitely come in handy. Lucie smiled and nodded, showing them over to table three.

  I looked back at Jason and sighed in defeat. He shrugged in response. “Sorry. Maybe they like blondes?” he suggested.

  “Awesome,” I grunted, grabbing the tray of drinks from the bar and going to deliver them to the three older guys in my section. After bringing their drinks, I put on my brightest smile and headed to the stag party. They were all sitting, talking animatedly and looking around excitedly, obviously waiting for the show to start. I leant on the back of one of the chairs, sticking my hip out sexily as I balanced the tray on one hand.

  “Well, hi there, boys. Who’s the lucky guy getting married?” I asked, scanning them quickly. I put them all in their mid-twenties. A couple of them were raking their eyes down my body already, and I knew those were the ones I needed to stay away from. Those would be the ones who get a little touchy-feely after a few drinks.

  A guy with brown hair and a black shirt put his hand up, grinning. “That would be me.”

  I smiled seductively. “Name?”

  “Tyson.”

  I bit my lip and nodded, trying to look sexy, even though I felt anything but at that moment. “Well then, Tyson, I hope you have a great night. I’m Emma, and I’ll be your waitress. We also have some dancers who walk around. Dances are fifty pounds cash to the girl before it starts. The show starts in about ten minutes,” I reeled off my spiel, nodding toward the stage.

  “Perfect,” one guy purred. He was one of the touchy ones I had sussed out earlier. His eyes were watching me like they were glued to me, clearly mentally undressing me as I stood there.

  I shifted uncomfortably. “The menus are on the table. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes to take your orders.” I turned and went t
o walk off just as I felt someone slap my bum. Gritting my teeth, I carried on walking; I didn’t have the energy or the patience to explain the rules to them right now. Hopefully they’d behave. If not, then I would have to ask one of the bouncers to come, have a polite word, and explain the rules to them.

  AFTER HALF AN HOUR, I had already done two dances and they were only just finishing their first drinks. This was going to be a long night. I already felt dead on my feet. Obviously, the germs and bags under my eyes didn’t put some people off.

  As I was scribbling down their next drink order, an arm wrapped around my waist and a hand clamped over my mouth, effortlessly lifting me off my feet. I yelped against the hand and tried to struggle free. I couldn’t move. I flicked my eyes to the guys at the table, but they were staring over my shoulder with wide eyes and their mouths hanging open. Panicked, I jerked my elbow into my attacker’s stomach, making him grunt and release me. As soon as I was free, I jumped away and turned to see who it was. Carson was clutching at his stomach, laughing.

  The first thing that entered my head was he looked beautiful; his smile was dazzling as he chuckled, rubbing his stomach where I’d elbowed him. My chest tightened as happiness consumed me. All thoughts of him and the girl from the paper were completely gone because, for tonight, he was here with me.

  The second thought which entered my head was that he had just frightened the shit out of me on purpose.

  I slapped his arm with my order pad, which just made him laugh harder. “That wasn’t funny, dickhead. That scared me!” I cried angrily, making my throat hurt even more. He smirked at me so I slapped his arm again with my pad, pushing on his chest. “You idiot! Seriously, you could’ve given me a heart attack!”

  He grabbed my wrist as I went to hit him again. “Hey, I could get you fired for hitting a customer,” he teased cockily.

  I rolled my eyes and pulled my hand away from him before slapping him again with my pad for emphasis. “If you did that, then who’d bring your champagne, Mr Matthews?”

  He tapped his chin, pretending to think. “You’re right there. I doubt anyone can carry the tray with the finesse you have. And I’d miss that hot little behind of yours in those shorts if you weren’t here.”

  I stuck my tongue out at him and he just laughed. “Go find a table, Mr Matthews, I’m busy,” I instructed, waving my hand dismissively, trying hard to keep the excited smile from my face.

  “You’re so rude nowadays. You used to be so polite,” he joked, winking at me teasingly.

  “That was before you started scaring the crap out of me by grabbing me when I’m at work,” I protested.

 
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