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It was Jane's inner monologue, her mantra for the morning, so strong that she had to choose her words carefully to avoid speaking it out loud as she finished up her slide presentation and answered questions on behalf of her creative team.
Particularly because the person who was asking the most questions was Gary Kaplan, the senior account manager, whom she had believed she was going to marry next June, and who had seen her crying five days before.
'Fortunately for our time schedules,' she continued, clicking off her slide show and shutting down her laptop, 'the model we've selected for the Franco cologne campaign is available this week, so we're starting production straight away. I'll be seeing him and his agent for lunch after I have my design team briefing.'
'Excellent.' Allen Pearce, one of the advertising agency's partners, smiled as he rose from his chair. 'I have every confidence that my team will do the firm proud while Michael and I are in New York. Good work, Jane, Gary, and everyone.'
She'd pulled it off. She thanked Allen Pearce, thanked her team, and packed up her laptop to go back to her office. Five minutes would be enough to take a few deep breaths, compose herself, enjoy her success.
Jane stopped on her way out of the boardroom. It was Gary who'd called her back, so she made sure her expression was cheerful before she turned around. 'Yes, Gary?'
'Are you all right?'
Stephen and Hasan were still gathering their things from the boardroom table, so she pretended that Gary's question was a casual enquiry.
'Fine, thanks, Gary. And you?' She hadn't thoughtthat her voice betrayed any of her emotions, but she did notice that Stephen and Hasan pulled together their papers and pens more quickly and headed for the door. Hasan caught her eye as he left and gave her half a smile, which, she thought, sickeningly, was probably sympathetic.
Once the other members of the team were gone, she stepped all the way back into the room and closed the door. The board-room was, like every room in Pearce Grey Advertising Agency, ultra-modern and minimalist, with white walls and grey streamlined furniture. Sometimes she found the blank space conducive to creativity, but right now she found it cold.
Gary was still sitting in one of the sleek chairs. His creaseless grey suit fitted right into the room. She wondered if Gary was doing his own ironing, or if Kathleen lived up to his exacting standards in that department, too.
'Gary, I would appreciate it if you wouldn't ask me personal questions in front of our colleagues.' She stayed standing.
'It wasn't a personal question. I just asked you how you were doing.'
Jane used to admire Gary's calm demeanour. Now it made her hands curl up into fists. She did it behind her back, though, because one entire wall of the boardroom was glass, looking out into the main office area of Pearce Grey.
'In this context, it was a personal question,' she said.
'I asked the bloke in the newsagent the same thing this morning.'
Yes, but you didn't leave the bloke in the newsagent for another woman. 'I'm fine, Gary, thank you. How are you?'
'I'm concerned that you're not well. You look tired.'
'Isn't it odd, Gary, that when we were together you never noticed when I was tired and not well?'
He had the good sense to look uncomfortable at that question. 'Well, we weren't working so closely before your promotion.'
Which also reminded her that he had seniority. How considerate of him.
'We need you on top form,' he continued. 'The Giovanni Franco cologne campaign is vital to the agency—'
'And Giovanni Franco himself is edgy and difficult, and has sacked their last three agencies, and wants everything done yesterday,' she finished for him. 'I know. I'm on top of it.'
But then she thought about Hasan's half-smile, and how he and Stephen had hustled it out of the boardroom. Maybe she wasn't hiding her feelings as well as she'd thought.
Gary rested his arms on the desk in front of him. He was handsome enough, with light brown hair and regular features and a body that saw a gym regularly. Once upon a time he'd been a great catch for her.
'I'm wondering if it's time we let people know about our—you know.' A flicker of guilt passed across Gary's face.
She crossed her arms. 'You said it would be up to me when we told the rest of Pearce Grey we'd split up.'
'Yes, but I think it might be easier for you if we made it public sooner rather than later. We wouldn't have to worry about how it appeared to other people.'
Jane glanced through the boardroom window at the busy office outside. It wasn't as if she and Gary had ever been demonstrative at work. But their engagement was common knowledge, and people did, she supposed, expect them to have a certain familiarity and intimacy in the way they behaved with each other.
'You mean it would be easier for you,' she said. 'You could talk about your new relationship all you liked.'
While she would be regarded with pity as the scorned fiancée. The woman who'd landed a promotion and promptly been dumped on her backside.
'It's not time yet,' she said. 'Excuse me, I have work to do.'
She left the boardroom and headed for her office, avoiding the glances of the other people who worked for the agency. She really could have used those five minutes before she had to go to her lunch meeting. Even three minutes would have been enough, a breath of time where she could look in her email inbox, see the message that Jonny had probably sent her this morning from up in the Lake District. A message from Jonny would make her smile for real.
But the design team were already gathering outside her office door. Which meant she'd be lucky to have thirty seconds to herself before she had to leave for her lunch meeting.
Jane put on a bright expression. Her email, and a real smile, would have to wait. 'Is everyone ready?' she asked.
'Jonny. Yo, Jonny.'
Jonny pushed his glasses up his nose and narrowed his eyes, forcing himself to concentrate on the HTML code on the laptop screen in front of him. Thom's voice wasn't easy to ignore. It was loud, vibrant, and unabashedly Californian. Jonny typed in a line of code anyway.
'Jonathan Richard Cole Junior!'Thom leaned across the first-class railway carriage table and waved his hand in Jonny's face.
Jonny gave up and looked at his friend. 'In case you hadn't noticed, I was ignoring you. I gave you one condition for this trip when you kidnapped me, remember?'
'I didn't kidnap you, dude!' Thom put on his fake-innocent grin. 'I let you go get your computer and a toothbrush before I dragged you to the Penrith train station. And I only came up to get you in person because I know what you're like when you're writing a book.'
Jonny smiled, because it was impossible to stay annoyed with Thom Erikson. The man was incredibly rich, incredibly generous, and he talked as if he had a surfboard permanently attached to his person. And he'd stayed close to Jonny, even when Jonny had left California to go back to England.
In a world full of transitions and disillusion, Jonny had learned to appreciate loyalty, even when the loyalty was also accompanied by unrelenting persistence.
'You also agreed not to call me by my real name,' Jonny reminded him. 'When I'm working with you I'm not Jonny Cole, I'm Jay Richard.'
'Oh, yeah. I forgot because you had your Clark Kent glasses on. Sorry.'
Clark Kent. Jonny took off his glasses and rubbed his nose, thinking that comparison wasn't so far-fetched. He didn't become a Superman when he took his glasses off, but his life certainly got different.
He'd prefer leaping tall buildings to posing in front of cameras, though.
'I wish you'd change your mind about the pseudonym,' Thom continued. 'Your double life would make great publicity: computer how-to guru moonlights as one of Britain's most up-and-coming male models. From geek to gorgeous. Dweeb to dude. Nerd to—'
'Enough.'Jonny laughed, holding up his hands. 'I'm not going to use my real job to get myself publicity, because as soon as I make enough money I'm quitting modelling. I told you that when I started.'
'You are so deluded, my man. You're a natural and the camera loves you. You could have a very, very good career in modelling. And this new job is a real triumph. The face of Giovanni Franco's new cologne.' Thom whistled.
Jonny did have to concede that Thom should know what he was talking about. The man ran one of the most successful modelling agencies on the west coast of the USA, so successful he'd started to branch into Europe.
And Jonny also had to admit that, much as he disliked the idea of being a model, it was a godsend right now.
'I didn't have an easy time of it as a teenager,' he told Thom. 'I really was a computer geek then. I only started working out so I could fight back against the guys who used to beat me up on a regular basis.'
'And success is the best revenge, right?' Jonny shook his head. 'The situation hasn't changed. I'm still being judged by my appearance. Ultimately, it's not honest. I'm not a body, I'm a bloke. I'm a writer. I'm me.
That's why I want to keep my modelling life and my real life separate. And then when I've made enough money, it's back to the writing.'
'Dude.' Thom leaned forward again. 'If you need money, I'll write you a cheque. You don't need to face a single camera. You know that.'
'No,' Jonny said, and then realised he'd said it violently enough to make his friend blink. 'I mean, thank you, Thom. But I'll earn my money.'
'What do you need so much money for, anyway? If you're in trouble—'
'I'll be all right,'Jonny said, and, although he didn't want to hurt Thom's feelings, he said it crisply enough to stop the discussion.
Thom was a Californian, and Californians talked about everything. Despite Jonny's own years on the west coast of America, he was still English, and he still knew that some things were best kept private.
A woman came down the train aisle with a trolley of coffee and tea. They gave it to you free in first class, a fact Jonny never would have discovered without Thom and his insistence on travelling the best way possible. 'Coffee, thanks,' Jonny said when she stopped at their seats, and his eyes wandered back to his laptop. When the coffee didn't arrive, he looked up.
The woman was staring at him, half a smile on her face. She was cute, with blonde hair scraped back into a pony-tail. Her cheeks flushed slightly as she said, 'I'm sorry, I don't usually ask things like this, but haven't I seen you somewhere before?'
'Now that you ask, Jay's been in—'
Jonny interrupted before Thom could start on the list of magazines and advertisements he'd got Jonny jobs modelling for. 'I don't think we've met, no. Sorry.'
The woman looked from Jonny's polite smile to Thom's grin, and then back to Jonny. 'Oh. Well, here's your coffee, and if I can get you anything else ' Her voice, though shy, was unmistakably flirtatious.
'Just the coffee is fine, thank you.' Thom snagged a can of cola as the trolley passed, and settled back in his seat, shaking his head sadly. 'You disappoint me, my friend. That was your perfect chance. Stewardesses are hot.'
'She wasn't a stewardess. This is a train, not a plane.' Thom leaned out into the aisle and looked after the woman. 'Uniform is still pretty cute from behind, though.' He turned back to Jonny. 'Do you know how many women are hot for models? And how many of those models are actually straight? You're a rarity and you should be shagging everything in sight.'
'Thom, I want to hook up with a woman because I have something in common with her, not because she's seen me in some magazine.'
'You mean you want a female computer geek.' Thom took a long drink of his cola. 'That's fortunate, because, with the amount of time you spend on a computer, I bet the only sex you're getting is virtual.'
'You know, Thom, I'd be much more offended by what you're saying if I didn't personally know that you haven't had sex since the last leap year.'
'We're not talking about me. We're talking about you. You're living up in the middle of nowhere and you spend all your time online. When we get to London, how about I set you up with somebody?'
'That won't be necessary. I'm meeting somebody already.' Like his evasion of Thom's questions about his financial situation, this wasn't quite the whole truth, and Jonny felt a stab of guilt. It was a measure of how much the circumstances of the past few months had affected him that he was being deliberately misleading.
'I mean, I'm going to try to meet a friend,' he corrected himself. 'You didn't give me a whole lot of notice that I was coming to London.'
'A friend.' Thom looked interested. 'Is this a sex friend?'
'No. She's a friend. I've known her since I was a kid, but we fell out of touch, and we only started emailing each other a few months ago when I got back to England and found her on the web. She lives in London.'
'A virtual girlfriend. How do you do that whole cyber-sex thing? I never really understood it. Do you, like, describe what you're doing to each other, and then use toys, or—?'
Jonny had to laugh at Thom's single-mindedness. 'We're not having cyber sex. I used to have a huge crush on her, but that was when we were kids. I haven't seen her since we were about eleven years old. And she's engaged. She's just—'
He tried to think of how to describe it. Jane was his friend, but it was more than that. Even though they'd never met up, over the past few months Jane's emails had been just about the only thing that kept him sane.
'She's got a great sense of humour, and we seem to have a lot in common. We email four or five times a day.'
'Oh.' Thom's playful interest had been replaced by something more serious. 'She's the one you tell things to, huh?'
The one you tell things to. Yeah, he wished. How many times had he sat down and written to Jane, typed all of his problems and worries and disillusion into the computer to send to her and then deleted the whole thing before he sent it?
It was too painful to say. Even not out loud, even to someone he didn't see in person. Even to someone he cared about.
'Anyway,' he said, 'she's got a fiancé, so there's never going to be anything between us.'
'Man, you've got to be crazy. There is no way her fiancé is as good-looking as you. You just snap your fingers, she'll drop at your feet.'
'Thom,' Jonny said warningly. 'Okay, okay. I was just saying. I get it, you're deeper than that and you're a decent guy who doesn't break up relationships. I think you're insane, but that's nothing new. You do like her despite the fiancé, though, right? Tell Uncle Thom.'
'I've wanted to marry her since I was nine,' Jonny admitted. 'But I'll settle for dinner—if you give me any time off from posing for a camera.'
Thom pulled out his palm organiser and began tapping through it. 'Well, we've got shoots scheduled for most of the day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but you should have some time free in the evening to meet your lady friend.'
'And to do my real work. I've got a deadline for a book in three weeks. HTML for Utter Beginners.'
'And to play. There are some mega parties you need to go to, especially mine on Friday. First, though, you and I are having lunch with the creative director from Pearce Grey, the advertising agency who's hired you for the Franco campaign. Her name's Jane Miller. You'll like her.'
At the name, Jonny sat up straighter and smothered a chuckle. He knew Jane Miller. And he definitely liked her.
In fact, he'd wanted to marry her since he was nine. 'Sounds perfect,' he said, pushing his glasses back on and clicking open his email program on his laptop. He'd already emailed Jane once today, this morning before he'd caught the train, but this called for another message.
'Just one thing, Jonny?'
'Put in your contact lenses before we get to London, or I'll call you Clark Kent by mistake.'
'No problem,' said Jonny, and started to type.
Subject: Today Hey Jane, remember I said I was coming to London if you wanted to meet up? Turns out we're meeting after all. I have something to confess to you: I'm moonlighting as a model, and you've got a lunch date today with my agent Thom Erikson and me.
He smiled. It felt good to come clean about his double life to someone else.
He glanced over at Thom, who was absorbed in his organiser again.
Jonny remembered Jane as a kid. She'd been vibrant, exciting and full of adventure, as outgoing as her four older brothers. She'd looked like a naughty porcelain doll, with her long wavy hair and her sparkling grey eyes.
Jane was up for a little bit of intrigue. She could keep this secret; in fact, she'd probably think it was fun.
Thing is, when I'm modelling, I'm known as Jay Richard instead of Jonny Cole. When we're with other people, would you mind calling me Jay? It sounds weird, but I'll explain it to you when we get a minute by ourselves. Looking forward to seeing you again. Love, Jonny.
As he hit the send button, he wondered if Jane Miller was still as adventurous as she used to be.
He hoped so.
Posted June 17, 2011
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