A month later Abby is back at the Rogues Café. She is sitting at a table near the front window with a laptop on the table in front of her. Her hair is cropped to a pixie style cut; square shape glasses sit on her perfectly straight nose. Her attire no longer screams ‘hard-up student’, to the contrary, she is wearing a cream satin boat necked top, navy drainpipe cotton trousers and soft leather ballet pumps in navy with cream bows. No sign of the puppy fat at her middle from beer drinking student jaunts. She is a streamlined Abby with a cool new look.
There are five other people in the café, a young couple sitting two tables across from her with their index fingers entwined, giggling shyly from time to time. They only have eyes for each other. A man wearing a striped blazer leans at the bar, murmuring to the barista who is the same spotty youth from a month ago. A woman in the corner whose bob cut hair has pink streaks in the fringe is reading a hefty novel with black and white figures on the cover. Over near a large pot plant sits a middle aged man, he is quite thin, his eyes are hooded, they look world weary, he is scribbling on a notepad and keeps reaching into his briefcase to retrieve various papers.
Abby ignores them all. Her attention is on the screen in front of her. The Twitter timeline a conveyor belt of observations, interchanges, jokes, pictures and shared thoughts and actions moves before her, a never-ending stream of information. She is waiting for a DM, a direct message from Romana Blaze. It should have been there by now; she has been waiting for over half an hour, the two lattes she sipped through are now making her heart beat loudly in her chest, caffeine or nerves, hard to tell, probably both.
She stares at her new smart phone for a moment, no messages. Well perhaps all the work over the past few weeks has not paid off after all. She sighs and stares out at shoppers ambling along laden with shiny bags from local boutiques, or more commonly supermarket express stores. If she can pull this off, who knows where it might lead? If only she had known whom she had been staring at a month ago, she could have perhaps cut through weeks of trying to forge a Twitter relationship with the elusive Romana. Her own fault for not being like countless other young women who feast on celebrity magazines; hanging out with the likes of Jane, Keiron and Duff had left her striving to be a serious intellectual type, deriding anything popular. By trying not to be one kind of sheep, she had become another.
She wonders whether to call Anton and ask him what to do. For the past few weeks Abby has relied heavily on Anton, clung to his every word. He’d apologised profusely for freaking her out by arriving at her flat before she did. Begged her forgiveness for stalking her at uni to find out where she lived. “I knew you used the Rogues Café sometimes, it was a dream come true when you happened to be there at the same time of Romana’s tweetup.”
Anton had chased her because he wanted her to go back to the café to carry on eavesdropping. ‘She sort of knows me, but can’t place me. I can’t approach her.’ He said full of apologetic gestations and smiles. Oh his smile.
‘But why me?” Abby asked him. They’d walked across the estate to another café, a greasy spoon run by a kindly woman with the features of a Rottweiller.
Anton chose his words like he probably chose his suits, carefully picking out the ones that would make him look good.
‘I wanted someone who wouldn’t necessarily be that in awe of Romana Blaze.’
‘Well you failed there, I felt tongue tied from the moment I saw her!’ Abby frowned at him ‘even though I didn’t really know who she is.’
Anton laughed wryly, ‘yes, she is quite something isn’t she?’
Rottweiller woman eyed him anxiously, Abby knew the woman felt nervous in case he might be Inland Revenue or a benefits investigator. Anyone in a suit meant trouble around here. She tried to smile reassuringly but got a brown-eyed look of doom.
Anton fixed Abby with a serious stare. “Look I work for a celebrity online magazine, we’re trying to take a new approach to getting our stories. I just can’t seem to get near that woman without making her think I’m out to dish the dirt on her. I’m not, honestly. Her agent won’t return my calls; I’ve tried explaining on the answer phone but let’s face it that’s not the best form of communication, you wouldn’t believe the trouble I had getting the number. I can’t blame her for not talking to the press but we want to put her side of the story.’ He paused and took a sip of anaemic tea.
‘So you want me to do your dirty work?’ Abby sat back in her chair fingering a pigtailed plait.
Anton chuckled ‘no, it’s not dirty work Abby, honestly it’s not, and I’ll make sure you get paid. It’s not a huge amount of money, but it could mean a good little job for you if you can pull off this interview. I’ve sort of headhunted you to replace me. Be flattered!’
‘Oh yes, I’ve been offered the editor’s job. I used to go to your uni, that’s why I decided to choose someone from there. It’s got a great media course, I know you aren’t on it but I didn’t want someone that savvy. I think Romana might be more open with someone like you.’ Anton looked over at Rottweiller woman. ‘I think we better leave, looks like closing time.’
They walked back across the estate, past ragamuffin boys playing football in holey t-shirts and hand me down trainers. Older looking girls who were no doubt the same age looked on, some with cigarettes between their talon-topped fingers. A flash of the future hit Abby, jobs weren’t guaranteed these days, the TV news continued to give stark warnings of unemployment figures, people losing pensions, lack of opportunity for the young. Abby imagined her life on this estate, perhaps things wouldn’t change; she might graduate but then have no guarantee of employment. Her father would be mortified if she didn’t make him proud by landing a ‘top notch job with all of the benefits.’ Especially after his continual reminders of the ‘sacrifices’ he had made.
Anton continued to talk ‘the thing is Abby; you will have to change your look a bit. I don’t think Romana will see that she has anything in common with a student but if you look a bit more, well chic shall we say? Well then she might take an interest.’
Abby stared up at him, ‘do you know what I have to survive on?’
He smiled, ‘Course I do, I was a student once too y’know. Here’s a hundred quid, it’s my own money. Go kit yourself out and lose the plaits, you need to look more sophisticated.’
‘Oh I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it.’ Abby felt a little peeved at his sudden criticism of her hairstyle.
Anton touched her shoulder, ‘that’s ok, it’s up to you.’ He delved into the inner chest pocket of his jacket, ‘here’s my card, contact me how you want but I need to know by tomorrow.’ He walked her to the tower block entrance. ‘Not a word to anyone Abby, whichever way you decide.’
In truth it wasn’t hard for Abby to make up her mind. Independence from her all controlling father beckoned and to tell the truth she felt drawn to Anton, he had an appealing manner, straight clean teeth and wore aftershave. Just those three things alone were enough to make her respond to his bidding. Student boys were hardly the most alluring of creatures. Seduction usually involved a four pack of Stella and shared chips, if you were lucky, they used a toothbrush or soap and you could consider it a bonus.
One restless night later, Abby borrowed Duff’s mobile and called Anton. “Ok, I’ll do it.” Four simple words left on his voice mail, a bigger commitment than she could know.
As Abby is about to give up hope, Romana steps through the café door, her eyes dart the room in a multi second search then rest on Abby with an intrigued glint of recognition. “Wow, look at you!”
Barista boy is at the table in moments. Abby takes stock of the fact that everyone else has to go to the bar to attract his attention but Romana has it on entry.
“You are the same girl who was here when we were at the tweetup?”
“Oh yes,” shyness overtakes Abby like a hair blanket, embarrassment makes her skin itch, “I er, decided it was time for a makeover.”
“Well lady, you sure got made over, well done you!” Romana orders a vodka and gestures to Abby “come girl, you are all grown up now, take a little lifter with me.” She smiles with delight, “you look so much better Abby, who did your hair?”
As much as Abby would like to say someone Romana would have respect for, she can’t “oh some place I’ve always gone to, cheap and cheerful.”
“Well thank God you got yourself on Twitter, it’s such fun isn’t it? I’ve had loads of fun meeting people though that Linette girl is a bit hard to shake off, very intense you know. I think Joe is coming over in a bit.”
“Yes, and Millicent of course. She is such a great friend, and a kind of a mentor to me.”
“Oh yes, we’ve known each other since my teens. Millicent taught me drama at school, convinced me I could do great things. Well I can’t say I’ve done anything great yet, but there is always hope. Twitter gives me the chance to meet normal every day people, all the luvvies can get a bit much you know.” Romana pauses to accept her vodka, barely acknowledging barista boy. “I’m an ordinary girl at heart, I want to keep a foot in both worlds though I have to be careful now.”
“Well of course, get your face in a few publications and a bit of airtime on certain channels and weirdo’s crawl out of the woodwork at every which way. Don’t even get me started on the press.”
“But people must recognise you?”
“Not as much as you might think. I keep it cool on the whole, if you don’t attract attention you can get away with walking about quite normally on the whole. It’s only at industry events all the craziness starts.” Romana fingers her expensive sunglasses and eyes Abby’s laptop. “You working on studenty stuff then?”
Abby lowers the screen. “Kind of.”
Keep your information to a minimum. Abby can hear Anton’s words in her ear. Lately he has been impatient to know when she will meet Romana. It isn’t easy to develop a Twitter relationship in just a few weeks, especially when you are trying to build a false profile.
Keep it real. Anton liked to say this, a lot. He’d taken her out a couple of times to very nice restaurants, complimented her on her new look, acted the perfect gentleman. Abby felt special in his company, and later, when she curled up in sheets smelling of mould, fantasised that he might kiss her one day, sooner than later she hoped. Though she guessed that wouldn’t be professional.
Romana drank her vodka quite quickly. “Excuse me hun.” She checked her phone. “Joe’s on his way but Millicent won’t be here until two. She’s amazing that lady, always networking, a never-ending source of gossip and information. Protects me too, against the media sharks.”
Abby notes that no one in the café appears to recognise Romana. She looked her up on the Internet, she isn’t exactly A list, and even struggling to reach B list but it became apparent through various searches those lists were very much within her sights. A few more people have entered the café and are ordering lunch. The woman with the pink streaked fringe has a big bowl of soup in front of her and keeps accidentally dripping soup from her spoon on to her chin so absorbed is she in her novel. Abby appreciates she doesn’t have much time before the others arrive.
“So you have been having a little difficulty in your relationship?” Abby hopes this doesn’t sound too forward, after all they hardly know each other really, despite having exchanged approximately seventy or so Twitter messages over the course of the last few weeks.
Romana smiles a bitter little smile and her eyes harden. “Success has its pitfalls of course. There are those whose egos get knocked when I get all the attention.”
“You mean ‘H’?”
Romana gives a sharp shrug. “Who else?”
“So who is H?”
“Can’t say. It would be saying too much and to be fair hun, I don’t know you, do I? For all I know you could be a ragster.”
“Someone from the gutter press.”
Abby nods and shifts in her seat. Anton warned her not to go in too fast. “I’m ready for another drink, are you?” She hopes she doesn’t sound nervous.
Romana’s face softens a little. “Sorry, I’m just a bit paranoid, you understand? Last time we were here, there was this bloke, in a suit. I knew him from somewhere but couldn’t quite think. It’s still niggling me. Did you notice him?”
It is Abby’s turn to shrug “he took the paper I think. I wanted it to fill in the crossword but he got there first.” Lying feels bad but money makes it better, Abby looks at her empty glass as she imparts the fib. It has been good having money; Anton is generous with money and compliments. For the first time in her short life, Abby has felt special. She doesn’t want it to stop. “Who do you think he was?”
Romana twists the chunky bangle on her wrist, “I really don’t know. I’ve had bad experiences in the past. Still, I haven’t seen him since so probably I’m just being over sensitive. Let’s get the drinks in.”
Later when Abby rings Anton, her voice wavers “Romana is very alert, it’ll take longer than we thought.”
Anton’s response is curt “don’t disappoint me Abby, we don’t have long.”
Copyright 2011 © Petra Kidd