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By Jasmine Oliver
Simon PulseCopyright © 2007 Jasmine Oliver
All right reserved.
I can do this stuff! Marina told herself. I can, I can!
Naked man alert! Frankie took a deep breath. Whoah, naked man!
The life model walked into the center of the studio and took off his robe.
What's the big deal? Sinead thought. She chose a chunky stick of charcoal from her box.
The scrawny guy sat on a chair. His skin was the color of cheese, his light-brown hair matted into long dreads.
"Billy's body has good definition, so make the most of it," the tutor advised. "You're using A1 paper, and I want your drawing to fill the whole area."
Jeez! Frankie breathed out. Man, this life-drawing deal was in your face. Was she the only one here who was finding it weird? She looked over at the girl with long blond hair on her left.
Marina swallowed hard and tried not to feel nauseous. She picked up the messy stick of charcoal and twiddled it between her tapered fingers, blood-red fingernails stark against the black.
The model was stretched out full-frontal now.
"Yes, that's right." Jack Irvine, the tutor, nodded as Sinead used the side of her charcoal block to shade in the dark areas. "Don't hold back," he told the others. "I know this is a first for most of you, but you're not schoolkids anymore. This is theCentral School of Fashion and you're bona fide students now, so grow up and concentrate on your technique."
Suitably chastized, Frankie blinked and forced herself to start work.
"Gross!" Marina groaned. After the ordeal of the life-drawing class, she, Frankie, and Sinead had sloped off for coffee. "What was that model guy thinking? He must have been at least sixty years old!"
"Yeah, you'd have to pay me shed-loads to do that," Frankie agreed. "I mean, getting your kit off in front of a room full of strangers for just twenty pounds -- it's not worth the shame!"
"It's a job," Sinead pointed out. "Better than stacking super-market shelves."
"No way!" Frankie and Marina argued. Personally, they would take piling up baked-bean cans over nude modeling any day.
"Anyway, listen to the good Catholic girl! What would your mama think?" Marina stirred her black coffee and winked at Sinead, before checking out the room. There were two other refugees from the life class, plus two guys she'd seen somewhere before. Freshers' Week? Serving behind the Union bar? No, she couldn't remember where. She gave up and checked her reflection in the mirror behind the counter.
"Did you notice he went to sleep on the job?" Frankie said, grinning, her voice almost drowned out by the hiss and suck of the coffee machine.
The others laughed.
"No, not like that! I mean, he got paid for taking a snooze."
"And he moved," Marina complained. "I had to rub his torso out and start over." She giggled. The two guys across the room were looking their way and muttering.
Frankie leaned back and eased her hands over her flat stomach. "I kept wanting to laugh so much it hurt!"
"Haven't either of you two seen a naked man before?" Sinead muttered.
"Ye-ah, of course!" Marina said, edgily.
Frankie kept quiet. Then she changed the subject. "Your drawing was cool," she told Sinead.
"Hey, don't look now, but where have we seen those two guys before?" Marina asked, in a big stage whisper.
Sinead and Frankie turned to stare.
"I said, don't look!" Marina hissed.
The one in the leather jacket was getting up and coming toward them. No, he wasn't. He was heading to the counter for more coffee. The other, more hunky, one was reading a music magazine.
"They live in a house across the square from us," Frankie told Marina, matter-of-factly. "The one in the jacket rides a silver motorbike. I've seen him parking it outside."
"He's cute," Marina said.
"You two together would be like Beauty and the Beast," Sinead said. Marina looked like she'd walked out of a nineteen-forties movie -- blond hair, painted nails, gloss-slicked lips -- while the Neanderthal biker guy probably lived in a cave and communicated in grunts. Except that Frankie had just said he lived in the house opposite them. "Now, the one reading the magazine -- he's cute!"
"More coffee anyone?" Marina said suddenly, jumping up and heading for the counter. Before you could say "Marilyn Monroe," she was deep in conversation with Leather-Jacket Man.
"I'm a first-year fashion student here at Central," Marina cooed.
"Yeah?" Rob paid for his coffee.
"You look like Marlon Brando," she told him, out of the blue.
He laughed. "Yeah, in The Godfather."
"No, Brando like he was in On the Waterfront. Y'know: 'I could've been a contender!'" All muscles and six-pack and sexy voice, she thought to herself. "I'm Marina. We live near you on Walgrave Square."
"Rob," he told her, taking his change. "Which number?"
"His name's Rob and he lives at Number 45," Marina reported to Sinead and Frankie three minutes later. "And guess what? He works in the jewelry lab!"
"Where?" Frankie asked. Jewelry was her thing.
"Here, at college," Marina explained. Then she held up her phone. "And I got his number!"
"Two-nil to Arsenal," Rob said. He was slouched on the sofa back at his place, boots and jacket unzipped.
"Cool," Travis murmured, his back to the television, sitting at the table and reading up about his expensive new camera lens.
Rob threw a cold can across the room. "Fancy a lager?"
Pssst-pssst! The magical, musical chorus of two cans opening in unison.
"Only three minutes to go, not including extra time," Rob reported. "Hey, did you see that blonde chatting me up in the coffee bar?"
"No, mate. When?" The lens was an up-to-the-minute telephoto and had cost Travis an arm and a leg.
"Earlier. A fresher. She asked for my number."
"In your dreams."
"She bloody did." The match went into extra time. The Gunners had it sewn up now.
Travis fitted the new lens onto his Nikon, then zoomed in on Rob slumped on the sofa. "Yeah, right -- and you're God's gift to women!"
Rob grinned. "The first years always fancy an older man, mate. Whoah, ref, your effing man's offside!"
Rob was caught in the viewfinder now, a can of lager in hand, leaning toward the television and swearing his head off. Travis zoomed out and focused on the screen instead. "It must be a wind-up," he muttered.
"Nope," Rob promised confidently. The match ended and he relaxed. "Her name's Marina. She said she'd call me."
It's all so...new! Frankie thought, as she and Marina stood on the doorstep waiting for Sinead to find her key. New house, new city, new people. She'd been here a week, sussed out the charity shops and market stalls selling vintage gear, done the freshers' stuff, got drunk, and joined about fifty societies and clubs, but she still felt like Gretel lost in the woods without Hansel. It was dark, and there were big bad wolves and woodcutters out there.
"Get a move on, Sinead, it's freezing!" Marina moaned.
"Wear a jacket," Sinead suggested, turfing out half a dozen lip-glosses, a hairbrush, some coins, and paper tissues from her bag.
How come the other two act like they've been at college forever? Frankie wondered. She was in awe, totally overwhelmed.
"Hey, come and see your hot new date!" Travis called Rob away from the post-match analysis. He stood at the window with his camera up to his eye, focusing on the three glamour girls across the square.
"She's not my hot new date," Rob grunted, but he went and took a good look anyway.
"God, this wind is ruining my hair!" Marina complained, turning from Sinead to Frankie. "Haven't you got a key with you?"
"No. Have you?"
"No pockets," Marina pointed out. She'd dressed down in denim cut-offs and a boat-necked T-shirt for the drawing class, but pockets had spoiled the line of the trousers, so she'd sewn them all up. The wind blew stray blond curls across her cheeks now, and her arms were covered in goosepimples. "I wish I was like you," she sighed to Frankie, as Sinead tipped the entire contents of her bag onto the doorstep.
"Meaning?" Frankie frowned. She guessed she wasn't going to like the answer.
"Well, you're so casual, you don't care what you look like," Marina pointed out. "I'm more high maintenance, if you know what I mean."
I was right. I don't like it, Frankie thought. "Yeah, I know what you mean," she muttered.
Marina winced. Me and my big mouth! Thank heavens Sinead had found the stupid key at last.
"They're going inside!" Travis ran the commentary for Rob. "Your one with the blond hair is tottering in first. The wacky one in thigh-length boots is picking up her stuff. The leggy brunette's bending down to help her. Now they're all in the house, they're closing the door.... They think it's all over.... It is now!"
"Huh. What's on Sky?" Rob wondered, turning back to Teletext.
"Home sweet home!" Sinead sighed, running her hand through her short, fluffy hair. It had been light-blond for a month. Tomorrow she planned to run a bright-red rinse through it, to match the retro corduroy jacket she'd picked up in the market. For now, though, there were boxes and black bin-bags in the hallway to clear, suitcases on the stairs to unpack. Wires from Frankie's sound system snaked across the living room, into the front lounge.
"When will your mum come back to check the place out?" Marina asked Sinead, lugging her giant case up two more steps before she grew exhausted and gave in.
"Not for ages. She went back to Dublin."
"Who wants coffee?" Frankie asked, tackling the obstacle course into the kitchen. "Bleeding Ikea!" she yelped, as she stumbled over a flat-pack chest of drawers.
Typical Mum! Sinead thought. She buys a student house so I have somewhere to live. Cool. Then she fills it with stuff that needs assembling and sods off back to her man in Ireland!
"Coffee!" Frankie announced. "No milk. We ran out." She put three mugs down in the middle of the living-room mess.
"We need a man!" Sinead sighed. She was fine with fabrics and scissors, pins and sewing machines, but furniture was not her thing. "Men can actually turn stuff in these boxes into three-D objects you can sit on and eat off."
There was a silence, then Marina said slowly, "I can find us a man..."
"Where? In the Yellow Pages?" Sinead asked, wearily.
"No. The guy I met earlier." Taking out her phone, Marina wandered into the empty front room overlooking the square. It had beige walls, an old-fashioned radiator, tall, built-in bookshelves, and a long bay window down to the floor. She looked out of the window and across the square.
"Rob Leather-Jacket?" Sinead laughed. "Am I wrong, or did you have one teensy-weensy, two-minute conversation while you had him pinned against the counter?"
"So? He's on my speed-dial."
"Hang on!" Sinead protested. "You can't invite him over. What if he turns out to be a weirdo?"
"He won't be, and I can." Beep-beep, bip. She dialed the number.
"Stop her!" Sinead appealed to Frankie.
But Frankie was with Marina on this. "The guy's a lab technician. He's probably ace with an Allen key!"
"Yep...?" said the laid-back, unsuspecting voice on the end of the phone.
"Hi, Rob!" Marina said in honey-sweet tones. "This is Marina from Number 13 -- we just met, remember?"
Copyright © 2005 by Jasmine Oliver
Excerpted from Gucci Girls by Jasmine Oliver Copyright © 2007 by Jasmine Oliver. Excerpted by permission.
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