This book is dedicated to Simon
For his kindness, grace under fire and saxpertise : )
Chapter 1 – One Flew East, One Flew West
Chapter 2 – Babe in Toyland
Chapter 3 – The Awakening
Chapter 4 – Home Alone
Chapter 5 – New Moon
Chapter 6 – Brief Encounters
Chapter 7 – The Color of Money
Chapter 8 – The Last Picture Show
Chapter 9 – Cool Hand Puke
Chapter 10 – Working Girl
Chapter 11 – Clueless
Chapter 12 – Notes on a Scandal
Chapter 13 – True Lies
Chapter 14 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Chapter 15 – Cinema Paradiso
Chapter 16 – Love Actually
Chapter 17 – The Day After Tomorrow
Chapter 18 – Deep Throat
Chapter 19 – Truly, Madly, Deeply
Chapter 20 – The End of the Affair
One Flew East, One Flew West
I was late but there he was, waiting for me – my own personal miracle. Well, when I say ‘my’ he wasn’t really mine at all and looking at his beautiful face, I knew he never would be. So I was settling for best friend, which wasn’t bad.
He looked miserable, and I felt my face crease in sympathy.
“Hey, Miles. Sorry I’m late. What’s up?”
I slid onto the bench next to him and gave him a peck on the cheek; he hadn’t shaved and the rough hairs prickled on my lips.
He stared moodily into his beer.
“I got fired. From that job. Kicked out. On the scrapheap. Finished.”
“Bill, the director… he said it ‘wasn’t working’. God, Clare! I was trying so hard – I really thought I was doing something interesting and different. But Bill thought ‘interesting and different’ was ‘bizarre and unconvincing’.”
I was outraged! How dare this moron fire Miles? Didn’t he realize he was working with one of the finest actors in London?
“The guy’s an idiot!”
I almost shouted the words, and a ghost of a smile touched his lips. His shoulders were still hunched defensively.
“Yeah, well…” the words trailed off unhappily. “I don’t think I’m cut out for all this. I think I’ll stick to the music. Nazzer and Paul have been on about touring the jazz and beer festivals in Germany this summer. I dunno.”
Oh yeah, did I mention that Miles also played alto sax like a god?
“Could be fun,” I said, non-committal.
“Yeah, sharing a camper van with two sweaty guys.”
I had to laugh. I’d have shared the black hole of Calcutta if it meant being with Miles. Not that I could tell him that.
He smiled up at me.
“Yeah, I know. I’m being a miserable git. The beer festival circuit could be a laugh.”
“Jazz and beer – two of your favorite things,” I pointed out.
“True. Maybe you could come, too, unless you’re working?”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Sharing a camper van with three sweaty guys?”
I’d perfected that casual tone. I’d had years of practice.
Miles and I had grown up together: I was literally the girl-next-door, and as plain as the words suggested.
He was tall and slim, with long, lean muscles, and in the summer, his dark blond hair was streaked with gold. He had the kind of angular beauty that you usually only saw staring out from fashion magazines, but his ready smile was warm and gentle.
The short version: he was out of my league.
Miles was nearly 16 before he finally realized why girls giggled when he spoke to them. But by then, his natural sweetness had become ingrained, and his friendliness a successful mask for his shyness. Then he discovered the magical alchemy of hair gel, and he developed his trademark, just fallen out of bed look.
The first real test of friendship came when our English teacher, Mr. Brady, cast him in the role of Romeo – who else – in the school play. In a panic, he came to me to help him learn his lines. Having not been cast as Juliet, of course, I had plenty of free time.
Then I had to endure the painful spectacle of watching him fall spectacularly in love with his leading lady – and not for the last time.
‘Lady’ was a loose term for Emma Thomas. She may have had the glossy hair and rosebud lips necessary to play Juliet, and a good memory for lines, which was all Mr. Brady cared about, but I knew that she was a heinous bitch who was so loose she rattled when she walked. No way I was jealous of someone like her. No bloody way.
It came as a surprise to everyone – including Miles – to discover that he really could act. He was good. This was a revelation. Miles wasn’t dumb, but he was held back because he was dyslexic. Printed words made him panic.
So every night for two months I helped him learn his lines and helped him to overcome his crippling lack of confidence, or at least to control it. And every rehearsal for two months I had to watch Emma Thomas force her tongue down his throat as she played the virginal Juliet. I wanted to beat her to within an inch of her life. I wanted to swing her around by her hair extensions and toss her into the River Thames. Or face first into the stinking mud. The level of my fury scared me, sending me into the willing arms of Eli Grant, a short and spotty page to Mercutio.
My first sexual encounter was notably disappointing. Perhaps I shouldn’t have blinked at the wrong moment. Not even a two pump chump, and not what you’d call a Kodak moment. Even so, I couldn’t wait to brag to Miles that I had broken my duck and scored at last. He’d given me a half smile and confided that he and Emma had been sleeping together since the first rehearsal – and that he was in love.
I was heartbroken. More because he hadn’t told me than anything else. I knew Emma wouldn’t last. I’d describe her as a slutty scrubber, but only if I was feeling generous.
My romance was merely hours long when we broke up. Eli tucked his tiny todger into his jeans, wiped his fingers on his t-shirt and said, “See ya.”
Miles dated Emma for the length of the play although, as I’d predicted, by the last-night party she was dancing a tonsil tango with Tybalt. For the first time in my life I’d seen Miles angry enough to want to punch someone. I dragged him home where he hugged me and cried and told me I was his best friend in the whole world. Then he drank half a bottle of vodka and passed out on my mum’s couch.
Friend. Strange how that ordinary word pierced me.
And then, two days after Miles’ triumph as Romeo, before he was barely sober, Melody Rimes had come into his life. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: what kind of skank has a made-up name like that? Some barely articulate rapper’s ho?
Melody was an agent for a top-class talent agency in town. She’d been dragged along to see the play as someone’s unwilling aunt. And there she’d seen my beautiful boy, and there she’d decided she could ‘do’ something with him.
No, really, I don’t think she had any devious designs on his undeniably gorgeous bod; the only thing that turned on Ms Rimes was $$$.
The result was that Miles had a real life, tin knickered, West End agent. Melody started to get him small parts in smaller made for TV films and one detective drama where he was brutally murdered before the opening credits. You know, lots of that fake blood stuff they use. You could hardly tell it was him. She even got him to try modeling, but once was enough. He said he hated people staring at him when he was being himself – he was more comfortable playing a role.
The work was steady but the pay was poor. Miles spent most of the cash on CDs. He said he liked the sleeve notes. Whatever. It all ended up on my iPod, too.
Any piece of music that Miles Davis had even breathed on was bought and cherished, along with David Sanborn and Charlie Parker – jazz stuff. Not really my thing but I couldn’t help liking what Miles loved. Pathetic.
We had a few epic nights out in Camden, too. Miles was tall, over six foot, so he’d been buying drinks in pubs since he was 15. I had to lurk in the corner, being barely over five foot. I didn’t really mind: I was a natural lurker, doing anything to avoid the spotlight. Which is pretty funny, bearing in mind how things turned out.
Our final two years of school followed a similar pattern. Miles would get an acting job, fall in love with an actress, often older, who would turn him inside out and dump him for being ‘too nice’. My affairs were less eventful but equally unsatisfying.
We might have gone our separate ways when we were 18 because I had the chance to go to university. The sad truth was I couldn’t bear to be far away from him, so I accepted a place at University College London to study History and English Literature. Not that it would be an easy ride – it was a tough place to get into. Miles was so damn proud of my academic achievements, bless him. He could have gone on to college classes too, but he decided he wanted to develop his music and acting. And he’d had enough of studying, he said.
He moved out into a revolting house share in Euston – seriously gross carpets that were sticky, and you don’t want to know what bacteria had taken up residence in the kitchen. He shared the rent with one of his acting buddies. At least, Jim was supposed to be an actor but I never knew him to have a job. He was a happy-go-lucky no-mark who seemed to spend most of his time smoking weed, drinking cheap beer, and chatting up the slut fest of women who were always hanging around Miles. They were almost always actresses, occasionally singers or musicians, almost always stunning and they hated me. The feeling was mutual.
And then, to my surprise, Melody came up with the goods.
Miles had been so pleased when he’d landed the second male lead in a ‘real play’ – his words – in a real theater. There was a budget, a lighting department, a costume and makeup department, and a well known TV actor headlining, which meant guaranteed ticket sales. His moment had arrived.
We celebrated with cheap champagne and for the first time we shared a bed. No, not like that. I wish. After a marathon drinking session, Miles had finally collapsed like an exhausted puppy and I had to help him to his room. He hugged me and told me that he loved me and fell asleep, tugging me down onto the bed with him, his strong arms still wrapped around my waist. I was too happy to want to move. I snuggled up to him, enjoying the fleeting closeness, listening to the peaceful sound of his heavy breaths on the back of my neck and knew I was in heaven. And, like a fallen angel, I was soon cast out. Yeah, Literature student.
Miles’ phone rang at ten o’clock the following morning, with a demand from the director to attend a pre-rehearsal discussion. He stumbled out of the house pale, shaky and very hung-over. I wandered home, alone with my thoughts.
When I saw him again, his naturally dark blond hair had been dyed a deep auburn on the director’s orders, highlighting the tired rings under his eyes in his pale face. It had taken some getting used to. That’s a lie – I hated it on sight. No, I didn’t say anything.
Three weeks into rehearsals and just two before the opening night, Miles was fired. Which was why I was sitting next to him in a tiny Soho pub, ready to give that short-sighted git of a director a good kicking. Yeah, I was seriously pissed off.
Miles’ confidence, fragile at the best of times, and especially when it came to his acting ability, was entirely broken.
“I’ve got to face it,” he said. “I’m never going to make it as an actor. I’m just wasting my time – and everyone else’s. What a bleedin’ joke.”
“Listen to me,” I said, fiercely, “just because one dickhead of a director can’t see what he’s got with you, doesn’t mean that you give up.”
He shook his head wearily, his wide gray eyes unspeakably sad, his mouth turned down at the corners.
Well, I wasn’t giving up.
“What did Melody say when you told her?” I demanded.
He shifted uncomfortably and ran his hands through his too-dark hair.
“I don’t know. I didn’t get the chance. Bill was on the phone to her before I’d got the bus home. She sent me a text – she wants to see me in her office tomorrow.” He paused. “It doesn’t look good. I think she’s going to fire me, too.”
“Why would she do that?” I was seething.
He shrugged helplessly.
“She’s an agent. If I’m not earning then she’s not earning her 15% – she can’t go on like that forever with a client.”
So bloody noble and self-sacrificing. I wanted to hit him. Or kiss him. Maybe both.
But he was wrong. About Melody, I mean.
Poor Clare. She spent the next two hours trying to nag me into a more positive frame of mind. So far, it wasn’t working. The five pints of beer I sank might have had something to do with it, and I could feel myself sliding into a pathetic pit of despair. In the end, she manhandled me out of the King’s Head and force-fed me kebab with curried sauce until I sobered up enough to stumble home. Having Clare around was a bit like having a second mum: a shorter, fiercer mum with a hair-trigger temper. If she was a dog, she’d be a Jack Russell terrier. One of the short legged ones.
She wasn’t like most women, thank God. She said what she thought with very little editing. I always knew exactly what she was thinking, and because we had the same sense of humor, I only had to look at her for us both to start sniggering. That had got us into a lot of trouble over the years. She was my best friend.
There was only one subject that we disagreed on: Clare didn’t really get the whole acting thing. She put up with it in a way that was kind of patronizing, but she didn’t take it seriously. So it was hard to explain to her how I felt when I was fired from Brief Memories. Even though the thought of walking out onto a stage reduced me to a shivering wreck, it was something I needed to do. It wasn’t about being in the spotlight – pretending to be someone else was the only time I felt like me. I knew Clare thought that because some women were attracted to me that I could breeze through life; she didn’t get that it was just skin-deep, and inside I was just as messed up as the next guy. Probably more so. Clare was always confident and clever, always herself – I’d have felt like a moron if I tried to explain it to her. But then again, she was 100% loyal and always on my side, so perhaps I didn’t need to.
The next morning I was halfway to Melody’s office before I realized I should have tried to tidy myself up a bit. It was too late now. I felt even more self-conscious than usual when I noticed that my jeans weren’t the cleanest they’d ever been, and that my Nikes looked like I’d stolen them from some less fortunate homeless person. On the other hand, she might give me the sympathy vote. And I was fucking pathetic.
Melody’s agency was in a modern, steel and glass building, sandwiched between a Regency townhouse and a Victorian shop front near central London. I pushed through the old-fashioned, revolving wooden door, and the receptionist stared at me. Damn, I knew I looked scruffy and I could feel myself reddening under her gaze, and wishing I’d worn a clean shirt at least.
After a short phone call where she didn’t take her eyes off me, probably in case I stole something or carved my name into the desk, she turned and gave me a chilly, professional smile.
“Mr. Stephens, Ms Rimes will see you now. Fourth floor.”
I stammered my thanks and shuffled off to the lift, feeling her piercing gaze on my back. It was unnerving. I was glad that the mirrored interior of the lift was dark but then realized I still looked like shit. I closed my eyes until the doors reopened four floors up.
Melody’s assistant Daniela was wait
ing. Luckily, she was smiling at me – she’d always been friendly.
“Hi Miles! How are you?”
“Hey, Dan. Well, okay, I guess. How are you?”
Peachy? Only an American could get away with saying they were ‘peachy’. Clare would have laughed. I found myself grinning inanely at Daniela, who tossed her hair over her shoulder and winked.
“Melody’s ready for you,” she said, bringing me back to earth. “Can I offer you a coffee?”
“Oh, sure, thanks, Dan.”
“Black, one sugar. Right?”
I was impressed.
“How do you remember stuff like that?”
I thought she was about to answer when we heard Melody’s testicle-tightening voice from the inner realms.
“Good morning, Miles. I’ll have tea, thank you, Daniela.”
Daniela scuttled off and I peered around the door.
“Uh, hi, Melody.”
“Sit,” she ordered, waving me to a chair while she scanned a file on her desk. I didn’t know if she was waiting for the drinks to arrive or if she was trying to freak me out. Honestly, I was so wound up, she didn’t need to prolong the agony just to make a point. Daniela delivered the coffee in silence, throwing me a sympathetic glance. Uh oh. Finally Melody glared at me over the top of her glasses. “So, Bill Howden fired you.”
“Er, well, yeah.” Shit. This was it.
Melody should have been an actor – there was a world of meaning in that ‘hmm’. I tried to analyze how she did it. It was the look, definitely: steely but thoughtful. I’d have to practice that one. Crap! I realized I was staring at her. Unemployable and acting like a weirdo – could the day get any worse?
“I might have something else for you,” she said.
What? That was a surprise. I blinked, my eyes coming into focus as I met her gaze for the first time. She smiled.
“Yes, I thought that might get your attention.” She was laughing at me. “Do you remember the audition tape you did a couple of months ago?”
I frowned, trying to remember. “Oh, yeah? The American thing?”