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The Accidental Socialite: Read an extract

On 15th April we’re hugely excited to be publishing THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE by Stephanie Wahlstrom.

This semi-autobiographical story of a girl who leaves Canada for London, only to be thrust into the limelight after a series of unfortunate events is touching at times, fun and laugh-out-loud funny.

Today we’re delighted to share the first two chapters.

Watch this space for more information, extracts and competitions for The Accidental Socialite.

 

Chapter One

It was 3:00 A.M. and all I wanted was a cheeseburger.

“Miss, we only sell Big Macs after midnight,” said the McDonald’s employee.
My stomach grumbled. My diet since I got off the plane had consisted mostly of champagne, vodka, and seared tuna.
“Yes, I understand that and I will pay for a Big Mac, but I would like a cheeseburger. So can you, like, remove a patty and mid-bun and hold the secret sauce? Please?”
“Miss, I am sorry but we do not have this item.”
Liar. He didn’t look sorry. I immediately wanted to get on the next flight home. It rained cheeseburgers in Canada.
A tall, drunk, and incredibly beautiful blond South African girl appeared at the till next to me.
“I’ll have a hot dog.” That was my new best friend, Lucinda.
We walked out of McDonald’s with a small fries to “split,” which really meant Lucinda was going to watch me eat them. As I was elegantly shoving eight fries into my mouth at once, not unlike a four-year-old, a swarm of camera-wielding hyenas approached. One flash triggered the rest and little white dots burned into my retinas. I stumbled, almost dropping my fries.
What was going on? I looked for the celebrity garnering all this attention. I couldn’t believe my luck; I was about to spot someone famous on my first day in London! But when Lucinda slapped the second fistful of fries out of my hand and pulled me towards a taxi, I realized the so-called celebrity was me.

  ***

  Less than twenty-four hours earlier, my eighteen-hour flight from Edmonton to London connecting in Denver landed at 9:38 A.M. on a grey, drizzly Saturday in late January. I struggled to get my large carry-on bag out of the overhead compartment, not just because it was heavy, but also because I had inadvertently rendered myself immobile. When you move over six thousand kilometers away from home, a place you spent twenty-two years accumulating crap, it’s hard to pack everything into two suitcases that adhere to airline regulations. So, instead of taking up valuable suitcase space, I wore my short red peacoat and black trench on the plane, along with pink Lululemon sweatpants over my skinny jeans.
As if that wasn’t enough, my makeup was running down my face in beads of sweat because I also had on a green sweater and leopard-print cardigan. Disapproving tuts came from those on the plane not wearing a third of their wardrobe all at once. They had better things to do than watch my plight, but apparently none of those things included helping me.
I’d read Bridget Jones’s Diary in preparation for the move and owned the last Spice Girls album, so I felt I could hold a conversation. But, when I got to the front of the line, the immigration officer didn’t say anything. She just glanced at my visa that was valid for the next two years, stamped it, and sent me on my way to generally figure out what I was going to do with my new life.
I guess it kind of hit me when I was waiting for my bags. It’s actually pretty easy to plan to leave home and even get on a plane, but shit gets pretty real when the wheels of that plane hit foreign soil and you realize that technically, at that exact moment, you’re homeless.
This was my chance to start new, to have a conversation about something other than hockey and dog-poop bylaws. I’d finally graduated from University and what came next was totally up to me. I could see the world, debate politics, meet people from places I didn’t even know existed, and for once in my life be, I don’t know, I guess I wanted to be special, maybe even exotic. In London I could be Paige Crawford, (fill in awesome life here), not Paige Crawford, wannabe current-events journalist, weird Jackie’s little sister, and all-around ordinary girl.
Jackie and I wouldn’t get along in any universe, but we did have one thing in common, which you’d have to look at under a microscope to find. We both just wanted the chance to create our own labels. Jackie did that by becoming a vegan and piercing anything she could think of. I wanted to do the same thing except, you know, still eat bacon and have fewer holes in my face.
Since I’d had eighteen hours to reflect on what a massive and rash decision I’d just made, I’d decided to firm up that whole “awesome life” concept I was running after. I pulled out the airsick bag in my pocket that I’d hastily written my initial set of goals on.

Things to do in London (in no particular order)
• Get a job, preferably one that is well-paid and satisfying
• Meet the Queen
• Make a friend from somewhere I’ve never heard of before
• Avoid internationally embarrassing my family
• Have a cup of tea
• Eat something I can’t pronounce
• Watch a soccer game
• Try not to get maimed/killed
• Eat gelato in Italy
• Go to something where I have to wear a hat
• See the Eiffel Tower
• Date a guy whose first language isn’t English

They seemed reasonable enough and a good start to filling in my blank. Feeling reassured, I dragged my bags off the conveyer belt and made my way to the exit. I looked up at the “nothing to declare” sign. Fitting.
I walked through the big double doors and entered the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. A woman ran by me and into the arms of a man holding a bouquet of pink tulips. Just past them, an older couple anxiously awaited the arrival of … well, someone. I stopped for a second and realized nobody was waiting for me. Not that I was expecting anyone. A tear welled up in my right eye, which I quickly blinked away before I continued towards the train. Big girls don’t cry in the arrivals hall.
The Heathrow Express arrived at Paddington and I took a taxi from there to my new home in Chelsea. I called one of my flatmates, a French girl named Natalie, when I was standing outside the rundown block of flats.
“Allo?”
Oh thank god, she’s real.
“Hi, Natalie? It’s Paige. I’m outside with my stuff. Can you let me in?”
“Yes of course. I will come now.”
Click.
A few moments later a smiling and impeccably chic Natalie appeared in the doorway, hurriedly beckoning me in from the rain. I did my best not to fall and thought I was succeeding until my smaller suitcase went tumbling down the front steps, bursting open when it landed on the sidewalk below. Obviously, it wasn’t the suitcase filled with my shoes and shampoo. This one was filled with my not-cute bras, underwear, and tampons amongst other embarrassing things, which were now rolling away out of my control.
“Oh là là! Are you ok?” Natalie was genuinely concerned, not a hint of laughter as she picked up my pink, full-seat underwear with “Baby Got Back” screened on in silver glitter.
“Yeah, fine,” I said as I was scooping up my last tan bra, which now had dark marks that resembled nipples caused by the wet cement.
“Hey, do you need some help?” A deep Southern American drawl came from behind me.
I turned around and saw one of the more beautiful men I had ever seen in my life, suddenly wishing I had lip gloss on and had showered in the last twenty-four hours. His hair was dark blond, wavy, and a little on the long side.
“Oh, uh … um ya, I’m fine thanks, just dropped my suitcase,” I mumbled, holding my underwear over the broken Samsonite.
He smiled at me. “Where are ya off to?”
“Nowhere,” Natalie answered for me as I was distracted by his green eyes and white smile. “She is from Canada and living here.” She indicated the derelict house we were standing in front of.
I was slightly alarmed at how much info Natalie had just given to a stranger on the street. A hot stranger, but a stranger nonetheless.
“Well,” said the friendly hot stranger, “looks like we’ll be neighbors. I live just down the street. Nice to meet you—sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t throw it.” Cringe. “I’m Paige.”
“I’m Jason. Are you sure you don’t need any help?” He seemed skeptical and glanced at the Baby Got Back underwear Natalie had neatly set on top of my suitcase.
I shook my head no and quickly stuffed the offending undergarment in my coat pocket.
“Guess I’ll be seeing you around then.” Jason smiled and moved to walk up the street, but then turned back.
“Paige, if you’re not too tired, a bunch of friends and I are going to The Box tonight. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Sure, that sounds great,” I said, hoping it was a club and not an actual box people hung out in. I was in Europe; anything was possible.
“What’s your last name? I’ll put you on the list.”
“It’s Crawford.”
“Cool. Any problems at the door, just say you’re with Jason Frost.” He gave a quick wave and walked away.
Did I just get asked out by the nicest and hottest guy ever in life while looking and smelling like a homeless person? Maybe London wasn’t so lonely after all.
My basement room was damp with an exposed lightbulb dangling from the center of the ceiling and dingy eggshell walls accented with grey-blue carpet. There was a bare single bed in the corner and a chest of drawers. This was my new “not quite as glamorous as I had hoped” life.
I went upstairs to ask if anyone had any extra sheets and was offered the communal blanket draped over the couch, which I politely declined due to my aversion to hepatitis.
According to Philip, who was the only person in the flat born in this country, the other option was to venture to the high street. I was too embarrassed to ask if I should be looking for an elevated street, or just one by that name. There was also a possibility it was a street he bought drugs on. Either way, I wasn’t willing to take that risk. Backing away slowly, I left Philip as he pulled out a piece of wood vaguely in the shape of a badger and began to slowly whittle. In the living room.
I went outside to see if there was any place selling sheets nearby but instead found a bright cafe down the street called Balans that was full of well put-together gay couples.
“Hey hun! How many?” asked the waiter, looking like he’d just walked out of a Gap ad. I held up my solo index finger apologetically. He nodded and pointed to an empty seat next to another lone woman.
I sat down and smiled at the blond Victoria’s Secret model in recognition of our shared situation, although hers was probably by choice. She smiled back, then looked at her menu.
My eyes were immediately drawn to the varieties of eggs benedict on the menu. Poached eggs on an English muffin with bacon and hollandaise sauce … I didn’t know exactly what that was, but the fat girl inside of me ordered it before I knew what was going on. The model next to me raised an eyebrow and ordered the egg-white omelet.
“I wish I could eat that, but I’d be as big as a buckie! Where do you put it, chicken?” she said in a funny accent. Was it Australian? And what’s a buckie?
“I haven’t technically eaten since yesterday. In Canada. I’m Paige.” I waved awkwardly, even though we were in hand-shaking vicinity.
“I’m Lucinda. You’re from Canada? I’m South African.” She kissed me on both cheeks. Unprepared for such intimacy, I recoiled slightly then overcompensated, hitting her very high cheekbone hard with my nose.
“Sorry.” I stared at the table and tried to think of something to say that would ease the tension. “Wow! I’ve never met anyone from Africa before.” That probably wasn’t the best option.
Her mimosa arrived. So did my orange juice.
“Don’t make me drink alone, chicken.” She ordered me a mimosa with the flutter of her impossibly long eyelashes. I tried to do the same, but instead of producing alcohol, Gap model/waiter asked me if I had something in my eye.
“What brought you to London?” asked Lucinda.
“A plane.”
Lucinda almost spit out her mimosa. “You make me laugh.”
I smiled back at her. “I actually came here because I was bored.” It wasn’t a great answer, but I didn’t think she’d have any idea what it was like to be an uninteresting nobody or want to be friends with one.
“Me too. Cape Town is beautiful, but sometimes you just want to go to Paris for the weekend.”
I suddenly felt better. She was right. I was completely free, could do anything I wanted. I could go to Paris for the weekend, not that I even knew how to go about making that happen. But I could, if I wanted to.
The Gap model/waiter brought our bills at the same time. I lingered, taking my time with my coat because I was unsure about how to ask her for her number. I hadn’t made new friends since grade one.
“So … it was nice meeting you, Lucinda. We should meet up again, if that’s ok with you?” I tried my hardest not to sound like a lesbian.
“Of course, chicken! Why don’t you come out with me tonight?”
I already had plans with Jason. How was it possible to be here for seven hours and be double-booked already? I probably needed a friend before I needed to get laid though.
“I’d love to!”
Lucinda gave me her number. I was supposed to meet her at a club called Maddox at nine for a free dinner with a Promoter, which I hoped wasn’t the English word for Pimp, and stay for the drinks afterwards.
“Thanks. Um … Lucinda, I know this is a strange question, but do you know where to get sheets around here and maybe a cell phone?”
She laughed. “You are right off the plane, aren’t you? Go up this street to High Street Kensington; there are a few places there.”
So that’s what Philip meant by high street. He could have been more specific. After getting the necessities, I went home and was greeted with shouting.
“Pronto! Pronto!” Guillermo, the Italian who also lived in the flat, was yelling into the phone. He must have been having problems with it because five seconds later it rang again and he resumed shouting. That’s when it dawned on me that I was sharing a house with four other people that I didn’t know at all. I checked the violent sex-offender registry, just in case. Once the UK government assured me I wasn’t living with any known sex offenders, I immediately passed out.

  ***

  When I walked into Maddox it was like another world. You would never know from the outside that behind that plain black door lay a world full of champagne, seared tuna, and a six-foot tall supermodel/DJ. I saw Lucinda and walked towards her table, slightly slipping in my wet heels just before the stairs. I sat down and was immediately offered champagne.
“Hello, I’m François,” said a Ryan Gosling look-a-like in a very sexy French accent. “What is your name?”
“I’m Paige.” I smiled. God, people were so nice here. Why didn’t I move to London when I was, like, born?
“Paige? Like in a book? How unique!” At least I was off to a great start with him. “Well, Paige like in a book, what do you study here in London?”
“I—”
Lucinda got my attention.
“My little chicken, you look fabulous. Let me introduce you to everyone else.” She rolled off several names I would never remember as I realized where I was and who I was with. Not only was there nothing like this at home, it definitely wasn’t free and full of models. Food? Check. Champagne? Check. Guys who look like Ryan Gosling? Check. It might have actually been heaven. Hopefully I hadn’t been hit by one of those big red double-decker buses and died, but then again if I had my afterlife was awesome.
The waiter arrived, so I quickly had a look at the menu. I had a choice of starter, main, and dessert, and they all sounded good. I listened to everyone else order.
“All of this is free?” I asked the waiter, rightly skeptical.
He blushed slightly.
“She’ll have the same as me.” Lucinda smiled quickly at the waiter and inched my champagne glass closer to my hands. “You’re so cute.”
Hmmm … cute like a puppy playing in garbage or cute like Selena Gomez?
I had to take baby bites of my cheesecake in a martini glass dessert because I wolfed down the seared tuna and tender-stem broccoli and was the first one finished. The waiter was being a jerk and wouldn’t let me sit there with an empty plate, so when mine was cleared a good fifteen minutes before everyone else, I got fat girl stares. I was determined to be in the last 10% for the final course. After dessert, which took forever because it was like me and these two stick figures on the end were in the slowest eating contest ever, Lucinda whispered in my ear.
“We should go somewhere else soon. It gets lame here after a while.”
“Lame?” Was there anything in life better than this?
She nodded.
“I ran into this guy and he invited me to The Box, so we could go there.”
She let out a sly smile. “The Box. Do you think you’re ready for it?”
I shrugged my shoulders. It was just a club, right?

  ***

  It was not just a club. There was a very long line of people outside and I was too shy to walk up to the doorman.
“Darling, just go. We’ll be standing here all night.” She rolled her eyes and nudged me towards the menacing doorman and a waif-like drag queen dressed as Little Bo Peep.
“Umm, I’m Paige Crawford, with Jason Frost?” I practically whispered to Bo while trying to avoid the eyes of the bouncer. Bo nodded and the bouncer moved the black velvet rope preventing mere mortals from entering the exclusive club.
We entered a large room, decorated like an old burlesque theater with tiers of tables topped with buckets of ice and vodka. I was scanning the crowd of people in very nice clothes when I felt someone grab me around my waist from behind.
“Canada!” It was Jason. “Come over to our table, you don’t want to be standing here when the show starts.”
Show? Lucinda and I followed him to a corner booth on the second tier. There were several attractive men in suits and a few sixteen-year-old Russian hookers/models. I wasn’t sure of the protocol so I just stood there for a few seconds bobbing my head to the music and smiling like a moron. Jason came over to put me out of my misery and handed me a vodka and soda.
Suddenly the lights came up on stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like you to welcome to the stage a lady who is a gentleman. Miss Holly Wood.”
The curtain opened and revealed Holly Wood standing in a short skirt and bikini top. Holly was definitely a man but also had a pair of very large fake breasts.
Holly Wood began to dance and grabbed a large bottle of vodka off one of the tables in front, very near to where I was standing when Jason found me. She spun around and I saw her flaccid penis helicopter. Hoping not to project a flashing sign that said, “I’m a redneck from Canada,” I held a straight face, like this was no big deal to me. Come on, I saw transvestite penis all the time. Except I didn’t.
Now, I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded person. I even had a French friend growing up. However, then I saw something that I think would even be hard to find online.
Holly Wood had placed the half full bottle of vodka on the ground and was grinding her way down, penis on full show. Eventually, she sat on the bottle of vodka and continued to grind until the neck was fully up her ass. Then, to prove to everyone that it was definitely in there good, she stood up and the full part of the bottle hung down between her legs. Incidentally, that made her penis look kinda small, but I guess that wasn’t her biggest concern. Finally, she pulled the bottle out of her behind, drank out of it, and spit the contents of her mouth onto the crowd below.
My mouth hung open in shock. Jason came over to me, laughing. “Don’t see that in Canada much, do you, Paige?”
Well, good news was he did remember my name was Paige, not Canada, but the bad news? I would probably need therapy, or more vodka. Jason came by with the latter.
Four hours and a bottle of vodka later, I leaned in to say goodbye and thank you to Jason, but he grabbed me by the waist with one arm and moved the other hand around the back of my neck and kissed me hard. My legs decided they wanted to stay and kiss him some more, but my brain wanted to do cartwheels. The result was an awkward stumble, knocking over a half-empty glass of vodka soda. Was I having a stroke?
Jason kissed me again.
Nope, I was just totally head over heels for him. Literally. Pheromones were no joke.
“See ya around, Canada.” He smirked and turned back to his party while I was left in a haze of drunken lust.
Lucinda and I stumbled our way back to the entrance. Flashing lights from cameras were frantically going off and a commotion started outside every time someone opened the door. I didn’t care. At that point, there was nothing that could keep me from the dungeon I slept in, except possibly McDonald’s. I was drunk, hungry, and it was tomorrow already.
I pushed past everyone congregating near the club’s entrance and stepped outside. Suddenly, there were thousands of flashes everywhere and I was temporarily blinded. Dazed, I took a step and could feel myself fall forward. As I headed for the ground, a strong and sturdy arm caught me and instead of hitting the ground, I felt my face hit someone else’s.
It didn’t matter who it was, I was so grateful to not be mortally injured, it could have been Holly Wood for all I cared.
“Thank you! You saved my life!” I slurred as Lucinda grabbed my arm and lead me out of the chaos. “Lucinda, let’s get McDonald’s.”

Chapter Two

I woke up to creepy Philip knocking on my bedroom door.
“Paige, do you have your radiator on? The gas bill arrived today and it’s higher than normal since you moved in.”
Umm dick-face, I moved in, like, five minutes ago.
“Philip, I’m not sure if that has anything to do with me. I moved in yesterday.” And what was a radiator? I listened to Philip march up the stairs unnecessarily loudly. Ugh, he was one of those people who made sure everyone within earshot knew what kind of mood he was in based on how much noise he made.
I rolled over onto my back and the pungent smell of vomit filled the room. Did I? I peered over the edge of my bed and saw last night’s heels lying on the floor covered in puke. Crap! I tried to get up quickly, but all the calories I drank went straight to my head and it had miraculously gained fifty pounds overnight.
I swore right then I was never drinking again, but three seconds later realized I was in a new continent and had my life to figure out. Eliminating alcohol at this point would be unwise.
I literally rolled out of bed and cleaned off my shoes as best I could. My stomach felt as though it was caving in and I hadn’t gone grocery shopping yet. Balans it was. I could already taste the creamy hollandaise sauce and crispy bacon.
Amazingly, my hair didn’t have any chunks of vomit in it, so I quickly threw on clothes, brushed my teeth three times, and then left the house.
Walking down Old Brompton Road with my head down and sunglasses on, I tried as hard as I could to stay upright. Thoughts of food took over and everything on the street other than that lovely little door leading me to culinary bliss was blurred. The portions at Maddox were really small and I must have drank my weight in vodka and champagne. The mixture was quietly threatening to relieve itself all over the street.
Balans was crowded and the lively internationals brunching were clearly in better shape than I was. Apparently it was the place to be on Sunday, and I smelled like a homeless hooker. Awesome.
Scanning the room, I hoped Jason wouldn’t be here and thankfully I didn’t see him. I was practically down on my knees praying they would have a table for one when the Gap model/waiter from the other day spotted me and came over.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, eyes darting around behind me.
“Ummm, you serve food and I’m hungry, isn’t that normally how restaurants work?” I was clearly doing all I could to squash that “Canadians are super nice” rumor.
“Come with me.” He grabbed my arm and dragged me to the back of the restaurant. “No, I mean what are you doing out after last night?”
I knew I looked like shit, but how did he know what kind of night I’d had? He grew impatient with my obvious hangover-induced mental handicap and shoved today’s copy of The Sun in my face.
It took me a minute to register what I was seeing but once I did, I dropped onto the banquette in shock. There I was, on the front cover of England’s best-selling national newspaper in an apparent romantic embrace with a man I’d never seen before. The paper named him as Stuart Smith, superstar Chelsea footballer, notorious ladies’ man, and apparently married to some pop star named Kerry. Poop.
Gap model/waiter sat down next to me. “What happened? Are you dating him?”
“Uh–uh, no! No, I’m not! I was at The Box and there were all these flashes and I tripped and I don’t know. Oh my god! Seriously, I got here YESTERDAY!” Why was I on the front cover of this paper?
The article insinuated that I was some home wrecker that this Stuart guy had been fooling around with behind the back of his beautiful wife. Easy, I was just going to have to call up the paper and get this whole thing fixed. No big deal. And it was a pretty good picture of me, so that was an upside to the whole debacle.
The waiter flapped his arms as if flying away from this situation was the only solution available. “Listen honey, my name is Duncan, and this is my number. I know someone at The Sun, and I’m sure he’ll sort this out for you. Are you hungry? Eggs benedict again?” This guy seemed to think this was a bigger deal than I did. My brain knew I should be slightly more alarmed, but my head was still clouded and would be until I had food.
“Yes, please.” I gave him my biggest smile. Nobody actually cared about this, right?
I picked at my meal and pretended not to notice everyone staring at me. Discreetly running my hands through my hair, I made a new rule not to leave the house in a state I wouldn’t be happy explaining to my grandmother. My appetite was gone, which was not only strange, but also tragic because the hollandaise was shouting “eat me now!”
Why on earth did this paper jump to a conclusion that was so clearly false? And why did everyone believe what they read?
My phone rang.
Lucinda didn’t give me time to say hello. “Have you seen the paper? Where are you?”
“Yes, I’ve seen it. I’m at Balans. They don’t have my name so I really don’t think it’s that bad.” I was trying to brush off the situation so she would. It wasn’t working.
“Come over to mine. I have better coffee than Balans, and we can figure out how to deal with this. You are going to need to burn that dress and cut your hair.”
“Umm first of all, Luc, no, my hair is staying as is. That dress was expensive and, judging by those pictures, I look super hot in it. Besides, what is there to deal with? It’s not true, and I have a visa entry stamp to prove it. Honestly, who cares if some athlete is cheating on his wife? That’s not exactly shocking. People are staring though. See you in a sec.”
I paid my bill, and Duncan gave me a sympathetic smile mouthing “call me” as I waved goodbye and walked out.
Lucinda’s flat was immaculate and just off Kings Road which made me realize I was, in fact, living in a shit hole/mental hospital.
“Lucinda, this place is beautiful!”
“I know what you’re thinking and don’t worry, I work in finance, I’m not a prostitute.”
I needed to get me a job in finance.
“I thought you were a model.”
“Oh chicken, you’re so sweet. I haven’t modeled since I was sixteen.”
So in other words, she was a model. She turned on the shiny stainless steel cappuccino machine in the far corner of her kitchen. I could smell the roasted beans and closed my eyes in delight.
“Let’s see how bad this actually is.” Lucinda grabbed her laptop.
She had only typed two letters in and clicked once when her face dropped. “OK’s picked it up as a story. And they know your name. Paige, is your surname Crawford?” She looked up, hopeful that I would say no. I nodded my head slowly.
How was this possible? My flatmates didn’t even know my last name, how did OK Magazine? Immediately my mom’s disappointed face ran through my head, followed shortly by a disapproving tut from my grandmother. Not internationally embarrassing my family was specifically on my list of things to do in London. I’d failed at it in less than twenty-four hours.
Lucinda and I decided that the best thing to do was to call Duncan and have his friend fix the story. I would lay low for a few days and hopefully some other footballer would cheat on his wife and this would all be an anecdote I’d tell at fancy dinner parties one day. Simple. Nobody at home needed to know about this.
My phone rang again.
“Paige? It’s Natalie. Men with cameras outside are asking for you. Why?” F my life! How did they know where I lived?
“Just some stupid mix up. I’m going to call the police and get them to leave. Sorry, Natalie.” I sighed as I hung up the phone and told Lucinda the new development.
“You can stay at mine today, darling. Those vultures will get sick of standing out in the cold eventually.”
I called the police and they said there wasn’t anything they could do. As invasive as it was, paparazzi outside my house wasn’t illegal because they hadn’t actually harassed me. Yet.
I had a nap on Lucinda’s plush white couch and woke up to the doorbell several hours later. It was early evening and last night seemed like a hazy dream. The smell of hot pizza filled the room.
“Pizza and movie night?” Lucinda smiled and held up a DVD.

  ***

  The best time to go home was first thing in the morning when I figured even the paparazzi had to have some sleep, so I walked home at six. Lucinda fixed my hair and makeup just in case the photographers were still outside, but thankfully they weren’t. I laughed at myself for being so vain. Why on earth would they wait outside all night to get a picture of me?
I collapsed onto my bed and, like a magnet, my hand was picking up my laptop off my dresser. Even though part of my brain told me it was a terrible idea, the other part punched it in the face and Googled “Paige Crawford Stuart Smith.” My heart sank. Overnight the story had been picked up by Heat and a couple of other gossip magazines. Normally, if I was still back at home, I would put my head in the snow and pretend it wasn’t happening. But I was a grown up now and my mom wasn’t here to take care of the bullies. It was time to end this before it really got out of hand.
“Duncan? This is Paige Crawford, the girl from Balans?”
“Of course! How are you doing, hun? I saw they have your name.” He sounded sleepy, and then I realized it was stupid o’clock on a Monday. Jet lag sucks.
“Sorry for waking you up. I thought it would go away on its own, but it hasn’t, so I was hoping your friend could help me out?”
“No problem. I’ll get him to come by Balans today and you can have a little chat, say around one? Don’t worry about it, hun, it will all work out.”
When I arrived at the restaurant, Duncan ushered me to the same back table he’d brought me to the day before. Peter was another stunning man, with a chiseled jaw and Tiffany green-blue eyes. He smiled at me. His teeth were … there aren’t even words. Seriously, how did he even manage to eat? They had a green tinge, not one of them was at a right angle with his gums and … I was counting … I’m pretty sure there was at least one missing, but I guess lucky for him they were so off center that missing teeth weren’t instantly noticeable. I was going to ask him who his dentist was just so I knew where to avoid.
“Darling! You’re gorgeous! This is going to be fabulous!”
“Hi, Peter, nice to meet you.” I had no idea what to say next, painfully aware that he was a journalist for a paper that had started this mess in the first place. That, and I was freely staring at his homeless-man teeth.
“Don’t be shy, honey, I’m here to help. Duncan told me all about what happened blah blah blah. I want to know about you. You have a cute little body, how do you feel about a lingerie shoot?”
“Excuse me?”
“Maybe a bikini? It’s just that people won’t read it otherwise.”
“No,” I said as clearly as humanly possible so it couldn’t be mistaken for any other word.
“Right.” He was visibly disappointed. “Well, shall we get started then?”
So, Duncan brought me a cosmo—yes it was one in the afternoon on a Monday, but I seriously needed it—and I told Peter an abridged version of everything.
By the time I had finished, I was on my second cosmo and drunk. Duncan called for a picture to celebrate our new friendship and my name being cleared, so the three of us crammed into the corner booth and grinned as the manager took the photo.
“It’s all going to be fine, doll. We’ll run the story tomorrow.” Peter sent me on my way with a double kiss.
Just as I turned to leave the table, he stopped me.
“Paige, you’re still searching for a job, right?”
I hoped he wasn’t saying he knew of a position at The Sun, because seeing what I did in the last edition, it really wasn’t my place to work. I nodded affirmatively anyway.
“Well, I have a friend who works at Fashionista. Here is his email. Send over your CV, and you never know what might happen.” He scribbled an email on a clean napkin.
“Thank you!” Although I was fairly sure I wasn’t qualified and didn’t know what a CV was.
He gave me a look that was very similar to ones I used to give to the cows ready for slaughter at my uncle’s farm back home. They never saw it coming and you felt sorry for them, but not sorry enough not to eat them. That was weird.