Read an Excerpt
Making Mr Perfect by Allegra Fielding
You've met a new guy. You're hot, hot, hot for each other. He's everything you ever wanted. But have you noticed that the infatuation phase never lasts? 'Fess up, ladies. How long before you're out with the girls and you find yourself saying, 'He'd be perfect if only he talked about his feelings/cooked occasionally/arranged a surprise mini-break/unfriended his ex on Facebook/insert peeve of your choice? He's still hot, you still love him to bits, but he's not quite as perfect as he seemed at first.
Are we asking too much of men nowadays? In a fairy tale, Prince Charm- ing's task is clear. He has to hack his way through a thicket, slay a dragon and rescue the princess. Easy. In real life, we want our men to do a whole lot more to deserve us. Here at Glitz we've been conducting our own super-scientific survey over a few cocktails (pomegranate martinis, anyone?) and it seems that we want it all. The perfect boyfriend, it turns out, can fix our cars and dance without looking like a total dork. He looks good and he'll get rid of that spider in the shower. He'll sit through a romcom without complaining and be strong enough to literally sweep us off our feet when required.
But does such a man exist? And if he doesn't, is it possible to create him? Glitz gives one lucky guy the chance of the ultimate makeover. Read on and see how one unreconstructed male rose to the challenge of becoming the perfect man. Meet
Allegra lifted her fingers from the keyboard and flexed them. Meet who? Good question. Funny how the world was full of unreconstructed males until you actually needed one. But as soon as she had started asking around, it turned out that nobody wanted to admit that their boyfriends were anywhere near imperfect enough to take part in her experiment.
With a sigh, Allegra closed the document and shut down her computer. Had she been too ambitious? But Stella had liked the idea. The editor in chief had inclined her head by an infinitesimal degree, which signified enthusiasm. Now Allegra had a big break at lastand it would all fall apart if she couldn't find a man in need of a major makeover. One measly man, that was all she needed. He had to be out there somewhere but where?
'Ouf!' Allegra threw herself extravagantly into the armchair and toed off her mock-croc stilettos with a grimace of pain. The needle-thin metal heels were to die for, but she had been on them for over twelve hours and while they might be long on style, they were extremely short on comfort.
Max didn't even look away from the television. He was stretched out on the sofa, flicking through channels, looking oddly at home in her sitting room. He had been tidying again, Allegra registered with a roll of her eyes. You would never catch the magazines being neatly lined up on the coffee table when it was just her and Libby. The radiators would be festooned with bras and thongs and the surfaces comfortingly cluttered with useful stuff like nail polish remover, empty shoe boxes, expired vouchers, cosmetic samples and screwed up receipts. She and Libby knew to check down the back of the sofa for chargers. They knew where they were with the mess.
There was no point in trying to tell Max that, though. Libby's brother was an engineer. They said cosy sitting room, he said tip.
She massaged her sore toes. 'My feet are killing me!'
'Why do you wear those ridiculous shoes?' Max demanded. 'It's like you put yourself through torture every day. Why don't you wear trainers or something more comfortable?'
'Because, Max, I work for Glitz,' said Allegra with exaggerated patience. 'That's a fashion magazine and, while I realise that as Mr Hasn't-got-a-clue you don't know what fashion is, I can assure you that my editor would send me home if I turned up in trainers!'
'They can't sack you for what you wear,' said Max, unimpressed.
'Stella can do whatever she likes.' Such was her editor's power and personality that Allegra found herself glancing over her shoulder and speaking in hushed tones whenever her name was mentioned.
'That woman's a monster. You should tell her where to get off.'
'And lose my job? Do you have any idea how hard it was to get a job at Glitz?' Cautiously Allegra wiggled the blood back into her poor toes. 'People kill for the chance to work with Stella. She's like the high priestess of fashion. She's totally awesome.'
'You're terrified of her.'
'I'm not terrified,' said Allegra, not quite honestly. 'I respect her. Everyone respects her.'
Everyone except her mother, of course, but then it took a lot to impress Flick Fielding, as Allegra knew to her cost. She suppressed a little sigh at the thought. She had been so hoping that Flick would approve of the fact that Stella had given her a job in the face of such competition, but her mother had only raised perfectly groomed brows.
'Glitz?' she'd echoed as if Allegra had boasted of a first journalist job with Waste Collectors Weekly instead of a top-selling glossy magazine. 'Well, if you're pleased, then of course well done, darling.'
Allegra would never have applied to Glitz in the first place if she had known that Stella had once mocked Flick's choice of outfit for an awards ceremony. Flick, a formidably high-powered journalist, had not been amused.
Still, Allegra wouldn't allow herself to be downcast. She just needed to make her mark at Glitz and a good reference from Stella would make her CV stand out anywhere, whatever her mother might say. And then she would get a job that would really make Flick proud of her. Sadly, that would probably mean boning up on politics and economics rather than shoes and handbags, but she would worry about that when the time came. For now the important thing was to impress Stella.
'Well, I think you're mad,' said Max. 'It's bad enough having to wear a suit to work every day.'
Allegra eyed the striped polo shirt that Max changed into the moment he got home with disfavour. 'Thank God they do make you wear a suit,' she said. 'Even you can't go too far wrong with a suit and tie. The rest of the time, it's like you've got an unerring sense of what will be least stylish.'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, take that that,' she said, pointing at his top and Max looked down at his chest.
'What's wrong with it?' 'It's hideous!'
'It's comfortable,' he said, unbothered. 'I don't care about style.'
'You don't say,' said Allegra sarcastically.
It was quite incredible how lively Libby had ended up with such a stuffy brother!
Max didn't have a clue about music, or clothes, or anything other than engineering, as far as Allegra could tell. He didn't look too bad in a conventional suit, but his taste in casual wear made her wince every time.
'I wouldn't even use that thing you're wearing as a duster,' she said.
'You wouldn't use anything as a duster,' Max countered. 'You never do any housework.'
'Where does the dustpan and brush live?'
There was a pause. 'Under the sink?'
He made a bleeping noise. 'In the cupboard under the stairs.'
'There's a cupboard under the stairs?'
'I rest my case.' Max shook his head and returned his attention to the television.
Gingerly, Allegra tested her feet and decided that she could manage a hobble to the kitchen to find something to eat. She was starving. Like the sitting room, the kitchen was so tidy nowadays she hardly recognized it.
Max had moved in a couple of weeks earlier. Libby's three-month placement in Paris had coincided with the break-up of her brother's engagement, and she had offered him her room while she was away.
'Would you mind?' she had asked Allegra. 'It's only for a couple of months before he'll get a chance to go out to Shofrar, so it's hard for him to find somewhere temporary. And I'm worried about him. You know what Max is like; he's not exactly big on talking about feelings, but I think he must be really gutted about Emma.'
'Why did she break it off, do you know?' Allegra had been shocked when she heard. She'd only met Emma a couple of times, but she'd seemed perfect for Max. An engineer like him, Emma had been pretty, nice the word boring shimmered in Al-legra's head but it was too unkind so she pushed it away practical, she decided instead. Exactly the kind of sensible girl Max would choose and the last person Allegra would have expected to have broken it all off six months before the wedding.
'He hasn't told me.' Libby shook her head. 'Just says it's all for the best. But I know he was planning for them to go out to Sho-frar together and now that's all off well, I'd feel better if you were around to cheer him up. As long as you really don't mind.'
'Of course I don't mind,' said Allegra. She'd been at school with Libby and had spent many holidays with her friend's family while Flick was working. Max was the brother she had never had, and over the years she had bickered with him and relied on him almost as much as Libby did.
'At least I know he's not a serial killer or anything,' she'd said cheerfully. 'I'll stop him missing Emma too much.'
In fact, she didn't see much of him. Max left for work early in the morning, and she was out most evenings. When they did coincide, like now, Max grumbled about her untidiness and Allegra criticised his clothes. They fought over the remote and shared the occasional takeaway. It was all perfectly comfortable.
And why wouldn't it be? Allegra asked herself as she opened the fridge and studied its contents without enthusiasm. This was Max, after all. Libby's brother. Allegra was fond of him, when she wasn't being irritated by his wardrobe and that way he had of making her feel like an idiot a lot of the time. Max wasn't ugly, but he wasn't exactly a hunk either. Certainly not a man to set your heart pattering.
Apart from that one night, of course. Don't forget that.
Allegra sighed as she picked out a low-fat yoghurt. Did everyone have an irritating voice in their head that would pop up at the least convenient times to remind them of precisely the things they most wanted to forget?
And it wasn't a night, she felt compelled to argue with herself, rummaging for a teaspoon. It had been an odd little incident, that was all. Not even an incident, really. A moment. And so long ago, really she had almost forgotten it.
Or she would have done if that pesky voice would let her.
No, it was all very comfortable. It was fine. Allegra was glad Max wasn't gorgeous or sexy. It made it easy to be relaxed with him. Which wasn't to say he couldn't make more of an effort on the clothes front. He didn't seem to care what he looked like, Allegra thought critically. That shirt was appalling and he would fasten it almost to the neck, no matter how often she told him to undo another button. He had no idea at all. If he smartened himself up a bit
And that was when it hit her. Allegra froze with the teaspoon in her mouth.
Max. He was perfect! Why on earth hadn't she thought of him before?
She'd pitched the 'create a perfect boyfriend' idea to Stella at an editorial meeting the previous week. It was the first of her ideas that she'd been given the go-ahead to follow up, and Allegra had been fired with enthusiasm at first. But she had begun to wonder if she could make it work without the right man.
And now she had found him, lying in her own sitting room!
Already Allegra's mind was leaping forward, all her excitement about the project refuelled. She would write the best article ever. It would be fun, it would be interesting, it would tap into every woman's fantasy of making her man perfect. It would win awards, be syndicated worldwide. Stella would gasp with admiration.
At this point Allegra's imagination, vivid as it was, faltered. Stella, gasping? But a little strategic tweaking and the fantasy still worked. All right, Stella would look as enigmatic as ever but her words would be sweet. Allegra, she would say, you're our new star writer. Have a massive salary.
I'd love to, Stella, Allegra imagined herself saying in reply, super casual. But the Financial Times has made me an offer I can't refuse.
Surely her mother would be impressed by the FT?
Sucking yoghurt thoughtfully from her spoon, Allegra went to the kitchen doorway from where she could study Max without being observed.
He was still on the sofa, still flicking through channels in search of the news or sport, which was all he ever watched. Definitely not the kind of guy you would check out in a bar. Brown hair, ordinary features, steady blue-grey eyes: there was nothing wrong with him, but nothing special either.
Yep, he was perfect.
Max played rugby so he was pretty fit, but he didn't make anything of himself. Allegra mentally trimmed his hair and got rid of the polo shirt only to stop, unnerved, when she realised that the image of him lying on the sofa bare-chested was quite startling.
Hastily, she put the shirt back on in her imagination. Whatever, the man was ripe for a makeover.
All she had to do was get Max to agree. Scraping out the yoghurt pot, Allegra tossed it in the bin with a clatter and squared her shoulders. Only last week she'd written an article on the benefits of thinking positive and getting what you wanted. It was time to put all that useful research into practice.
Back in the sitting room, she batted at Max's knees until he shifted his legs and she could plonk herself down on the sofa next to him. 'Max,' she began carefully.
'No.' Max settled his legs back across her lap and crossed his ankles on the arm of the sofa, all without taking his eyes off the television.