Sunday, 30 April 2017

the girl in the yellow dress - part 9

The office block was sterile looking and on an empty Sunday morning it looked even more clinical and unwelcoming. It was a plush part of town and perhaps they couldn’t really afford it Sebastian thought ruefully. They desperately needed Summer Brooke to be a success.

Reaching the fourteenth floor he made his way to their corner office.

Without a word Melanie took the offered coffee cup and spying the branding discarded it immediately pushing it to the furthest reaches of the desk. Meanwhile Sebastian made a show of taking a large gulp from his own cup. It really was foul stuff.

He sat down quietly beside her and they looked at the photo open on the large screen in front of them.

“She’s quite photogenic in a way.” Melanie had a note of surprise in her voice as she scrolled through each frame.

“Stop, back one, zoom in a bit.” He delighted in giving the instructions for a change but actually found he was fascinated by the face before him. Alice was smiling in the photo and he could hear her laugh resound in his head, it had a pure, untainted quality about it.

“A bit of blush maybe, some definition.”

The face changed as Melanie manipulated the image to add cheekbones that were sharp and fake.

Sebastian grabbed her hand firmly by the wrist to stop her and clicked the undo button.

“She looks better like this, more rounded, softer.”

“Plump you mean.” The words were said with scorn as she faced him. “What do you see in her?” The half-hearted question was left hanging in the air as Melanie scrolled to another set of shots.

Some had Sebastian beside her looking less than attentive and then there was another group of Alice dancing with Edgar, if you could call it dancing. The images passed by in a blur, none of them really capturing their imagination. However one face kept reappearing in the background, the waiter.

Melanie zoomed in. “Now he is cute. Look at that expression of awe on his face as he’s looking at her, we can definitely use these. The look you get when you drink Summer Brooke sparkling wine is one you never forget.”

“No.” The word came out sharply.

“Touchy. Green is not a good colour on you! Is there a photo of you looking at her like that? I don’t think so.” She paused. “Maybe Edgar has a good look about him?”

“Or maybe we just stick to the first one, of Alice on her own.”

Melanie shrugged. “I guess we can work with that for the actual advertising campaign, cheaper to use that than get a model in, but we need this for the society pages.” She opened a new file showing an image of Sebastian, Alice, Edgar and herself. Plastic smiles on all their faces with only Melanie looking like she wanted to be there.

But Sebastian suspected she had photo-shopped that one to "perfection" before he arrived.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

the girl in the yellow dress - part 8

There was a ringing in his ears. It stopped. He turned over pulling the duvet over his head. 

The ringing started again. He reached a sleepy arm out from under the covers to retrieve his phone but it had stopped ringing again by the time he had pulled it towards him.

He touched the screen. It lit up brighter than the sun. He blinked. Melanie’s name filled the screen.

She rang again.


“Rise and shine sleepy head – we need to get the photos out there for our promotion.”

“Melanie, it’s Sunday morning, it was a late night, can it not wait until tomorrow.”

“No it can’t. So haul your lazy arse out of bed.” When she swore like that he imagined she had a secret pleasure of watching trashy American cop shows although with her accent the r in “arse” was always very well defined. “We have work to do. Summer Brooke is our only account and Edgar can’t pay all our bills forever, especially now you’ve ditched Celia and all her worldly worth. Your new squeeze might have looked a million dollars in that dress but trust me, all that glitters is not gold! You have half an hour and bring coffee!”

The call ended abruptly.

Sebastian stretched out remembering lazy Sunday mornings of the past spent with Celia when they didn’t get dressed until long after noon then whizzed off in her Porsche to either set of parents for lunch.

He sighed, finally moving his “arse” along with the rest of his body into the shower.

He tried to shake thoughts of his ex from his head and down the plug hole.

Melanie was probably even more upset than he was about the break up. Although in her case she was in mourning over the loss of Celia’s trust fund which had always been seen as the reserve capital for their fledgling company.

The Italian coffee shop where he first met Alice didn’t open on a Sunday so instead he brought generic coffee from a chain that he knew Melanie detested. It was the price for working on a Sunday he would tell her.

Monday, 24 April 2017

the girl in the yellow dress - part 7

Clare was still up when Alice crept back to the flat, asleep on the sofa surrounded by an antique lace and tartan creation she was in the process of hemming.

“Oi sleeping beauty, don’t you have a bed to go to?” Alice said as she carefully removed the needle from Clare’s sleepy fingers.

“What?” Clare retorted dozily catching her arm on a pin as she stretched. “Ow!” The scratch brought her to her senses; she focused her bleary eyes on the girl in the yellow dress in front of her.

“The ball!” She screeched, “How was it?”

Alice had to laugh at her flatmate. “Shall I make us some cocoa, you can tidy up in here and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Clare lifted the dress off her lap, dropped it in a heap besides the sofa and followed Alice into the tiny kitchen.

Alice switched the kettle on and searched for some clean mugs, “Thought it was your turn to wash up! You said you’d do it tonight.”

“Got distracted, any way never mind that,” Clare cleared enough space on the counter top pushing dirty plates to the side and had hauled herself up ready to listen. “How was your evening?”

“Well Sebastian forgot to tell me it was a black and white ball.” Alice had her hands in the sink by this point.

“No! That’s unforgiveable. I told you he was no good for you. His type only thinks of themselves, but you’ve only just got home at, what is the time? 3 a.m. Can’t have all been bad.” A new thought occurred to her. “Did you meet someone else there? And does he have a friend?”

Alice turned around and flicked a large handful of washing up bubbles over Clare to shut her up for a minute and proceeded to make two mugs of cocoa.
She carried them back to the lounge, Clare followed grabbing the biscuit tin on the way.

“You’re being very coy. You did have a good time didn’t you?”

With her hands wrapped round her mug Alice suddenly wanted to keep all the good feelings from the evening inside. She nodded, in the end she had had an amazing time but Sebastian was still a bit of a mystery to her and she wasn’t quite ready to share him yet even with her best friend.

Clare knew not to push so asked her other burning question. “The yellow dress? Was it a hit? Maybe you should have worn something more conventional, a little back number instead?”

“Honestly the dress was the star of the evening.”

She put her mug on the table and from one end of their squashy sofa to the other she opened up and told Clare about the waiter comparing the colour of the dress to “champagne”, Melanie, just how haughty and annoying she was, the lovely Edgar and then answered endless questions about what everyone was wearing.

It was almost five in the morning by the time Alice was finally curled up in bed, she gazed at her dress, hung up on her wardrobe door and blissfully fell asleep.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

the girl in the yellow dress - part 6

“May I cut in?” His voice had that quintessential upper class quality about it that sent a shiver down her spine.

Before reluctantly letting her go Edgar moved forward, kissed her on the cheek and said “thank you for the lovely dance,” then he placed her hand in Sebastian’s.

“I thought you might need rescuing.” Sebastian laughed before Edgar was really out of earshot.

“Do I look like a damsel in distress?” Looking up at him she was not quite sure how to behave in the inscrutable gaze of his cold blue eyes.

He just smiled or maybe some would call it a smirk.

She threw down another challenge, “Besides isn’t Edgar your boss, being CEO and all that? And paying for all this I assume.”

 “Well technically I suppose but he is a worse dancer than Ed Balls on Strictly!”

“You don’t watch Strictly! Do you?” Alice was caught off guard.  Her own Saturday nights comprised of watching TV in her pyjama’s but surely Sebastian moved in very different circles.

“Not as a rule, I have a younger sister who does; it was the topic of conversation over Sunday lunch.” With that he twirled and then dipped her.

She’d imagined dancing with him would be a bit like dancing with a Mr Darcy type figure in a period drama, each step accompanied with a witty riposte.  But she soon realised she didn’t have Elizabeth Bennet’s gumption and had already run out of words to say. 

He enfolded her in his strong arms and she felt immediately safe, he spun her round but never let her fall and by the time the song ended she was giddy.

“Another drink? Some fresh air perhaps?”

“Air I think.” She whispered breathlessly.

He led her out to the balcony and she watched the twinkly lights of the city below.

“The view up here is stunning!”

“It’s not bad from where I’m standing either.” He was staring at her and grinning. He smiled a lot she realised but his eyes had softened, they were no longer icy. “You really are the belle of the ball.”

“Oh give over.” She could feel her face warming despite the cool breeze.

“No honestly. No one can keep their eyes off you in there. Yellow dress I suppose, it really stands out.”

Alice never spoke but gave him a hard stare at that one.

“Yes I know, completely my mistake but you must be my lucky charm Alice. You could be the girl to turn my life around.”

And he really meant it because things hadn’t been so great recently, but we’ll come back to that a little later…

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The girl in the yellow dress - part 5

Sebastian wondered just how he had got here. The past two weeks were catching up on him. His head was beginning to throb.

“Champagne sir?” Said a waiter.

“Sparkling wine! It’s English. Sparkling. Wine. How many times do we have to remind you of that fact?” Melanie’s shrill voice echoed in his ear.

“Have you got anything stronger behind the bar?” He enquired.

The waiter nodded and disappeared.

“Well apart from the hired help this seems to be going well.” Melanie said smuggly. “Where did you pick her up from by the way?”  She added nodding at Alice, dancing with Edgar. It would have been her worse nightmare dancing with the ruddy faced farmer, she was glad to have been spared the ordeal. 

“Coffee shop, the Italian one on the High Street actually.”

“Bit down market for you Seb but each to his own. And where did she get that dress? Shabby Chic I suppose you’d call it. Fits well though. You always did go for the more voluptuous woman. Anyway duty calls must mingle. And you might like to rescue her shortly; poor girl will have no toes left soon.” And she trotted off.

The waiter appeared with a generous measure of whisky.

Sebastian downed it in one.

“Very pretty girl.” The waiter commented gazing across at Alice, “Lovely smile.” 

Sebastian banged his glass down on the tray. “Keep your eyes off the guests and your mind on the job. If I catch you leering at my date again this evening you won’t be getting paid!”

Surveying the room Sebastian couldn’t help noticing that Alice was getting attention from every corner, everyone seemed mesmerised by the golden girl. It was time to take control; he strode onto the dance floor a man on a mission.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

the girl in the yellow dress - part 4

The band started calling people up on the dancefloor.

“You two should have the first dance together!” Melanie beckoned the photographer back over nudging Alice into the arms of Edgar as she did so.

“I’m not much of a dancer.” Stuttered Edgar with a terrified look of his face.

“Poppycock!” Melanie laughed and then snorted. “One two three, one two three.” She turned to Alice. “You can manage that surely?”

Accepting the challenge Alice grabbed Edgar’s hand. “We’ll just sway a bit in time to the music, let them get a few photos,” she whispered in his ear.

Awkwardly they moved to the dance floor and soon found some kind of rhythm although Edgar was no good at moving his feet and kept stepping on her toes.

He apologised every time until Alice asked him how he got into the wine business.

“Kind of stumbled into in, bit like I’m stumbling here actually.” His smile was genuine.  Alice found herself relaxing for the first time that evening. 

“I have a farm, Brook Farm although now it’s changed its name to Summer Brooke Winery!”

“Would that be with an e?” 

Edgar guffawed at her mimickry, swept her around almost gracefully this time before treading on her foot again.

“So was it Sebastian’s idea this yellow dress? Are you a model of something?”

“No way. To be honest my friend found this dress in a charity shop and made a few alterations. She’s great with a sewing machine. Sebastian forgot to tell me it was a black and white ball.”

“Bit of a prat if you ask me. You are far too good for him.”

“Ah but I’ve been dreaming of someone like him noticing me for far too long.” She sighed. “Really I should have set my sights on a kind man like you Edgar.” 

A man often overlooked, discarded for the more self-assured Sebastian’s of this world. It made perfect sense in her head but then she caught sight of her elusive date, every bit the knight in shining armour, striding towards her with purpose and she couldn’t help it but her heart melted…

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The girl in the yellow dress - part 3

Edgar Braithwaite was uncomfortable. He shuffled from foot to foot in fancy shoes that pinched his bunions. He’s rather be in his work boots feeling the earth beneath his feet and breathing the country air. 

He wasn’t impressed with this black and white corporate world he’d been plunged into. But here was a spark of colour, a young girl being led like a lamb to the slaughter by the look on her face in a dress as dazzling as a buttercup. A pretty young thing with that ponsey trussed up Sebastian. And leading the way as ever motormouth Melanie.

He rolled his eyes, how did he end up in this mess?

It was his niece Victoria’s fault, sweet liitle Vicky, who had followed him round the farm when she was little, had got herself mixed up with a strange crowd make no mistake. She was very la-di-dah these days.  

There was a market for grapes and the soil at the farm seemed to be just right. A good opportunity to diversify, it’s what you had to do these days to stay afloat. It seemed a much better bet than these glamping pods springing up everywhere. Edgar wasn’t one for strange people milling about the place. Wasn’t one for people full stop to be honest.

Then Vicky said she had this friend with money to invest, wine was the way forward and if they made sparkling wine actually on the “estate” they couldn’t lose – apparently.

And so Brook Farm became Summer Brooke Winery. With an e “so much more prestigious” said Melanie who was brought in as head of PR and marketing.

Overnight Edgar found himself elevated from humble farmer minding his own business to CEO of a proper limited company.

“If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well, and doing it with style and sparkle, that should be our motto. Don’t you agree Mr Braithwaite?”

“Edgar, just call me Edgar.” He liked things plain and simple, always had and always would.

“Edgar, I’d like you to meet… oh I’m sorry I never did catch your name?” Melanie looked at Alice properly for the first time but seemed completed unfazed by her distinct lack of manners in the introductions.

Alice wanted to reply, you never gave me chance to tell you but instead she looked past the woman and caught the eye of the robust Edgar. 

He looked as startled by it all as she did and she warmed to him immediately.

With some hesitancy she held out her hand, “Hi I’m Alice.” 

His grip was firm, “Edgar Braithwaite, pleased to meet you.” 

“CEO of Summer Brooke Winery.” Trilled Melanie, right on cue. “And Alice here is our golden girl, full of sparkle for our advertising campaign. I can’t take all the credit, something Sebastian and I cooked up together. A black and white ball but with one golden girl, standing out in the crowd, a golden English rose in a black and white world, drinking Summer Brooke Sparkling Wine – naturally!”

You had to hand it to her, the girl could talk bullshit for England, thought Alice and if she’d been brave enough to share her thoughts then and there with Edgar he would have wholeheartedly agreed.

The girl in the yellow dress - part 2

Alice was precipitously dazzled by the flash of a camera, not a silly little flash from a mobile phone but the monster brilliance of a paparazzi lens.

“Oh dahling,” a nasally voice whined, “How splendid, a champagne coloured dress. Sebastian. Sebastian, please introduce me to your date. I did see you escort this heavenly creature, now don’t be shy.”

All of a sudden her errant date was beside her again drawing her closer as they had their photo taken together.

“Smile Alice.” He hissed from the corner of his mouth as he switched on that disarming smile again.

She should have just chucked the champagne over him there and then but instead forced a grin for the camera. 

For fortitude she took another gulp of the sparkling nectar, bubbles went up her nose, alcohol rushed to her head and she giggled causing everyone around her to titter too.

She wanted to ask what was happening but whiny woman  was speaking again.

“Sebastian, you said you had a plan up your sleeve. You’ve come up trumps this time. What a fabulous marketing plan. I can see the campaign now,” She waved a graceful arm in the air. “The golden girl of Summer Brook sparkling English wine. Of course everyone is comparing it to champagne but we can’t use the name officially. And you my dear are such an English rose, with that pale yet interesting complexion. We’ll photoshop in a little blush on those cheeks but otherwise there is very little to do.”

Alice nearly choked. Did this woman ever shut up?

“But where are my manners.” The whiny whirlwind extended a slender manicured hand. “Melanie Preston Smythe with an e but not hyphenated. Sebastian and I work together in the marketing department. We put this whole  event on. Marvellous isn’t it?” Melanie drew breath for a fraction of a second as she glanced around the room. “Of course you must talk to Edgar, C.E.O. of Summer Brooke. Sebastian, he’s going to just love our idea. Come on.”

And where she led it seemed they had to follow. Sebastian grabbed Alice by the hand and almost dragged her in his wake.

As Alice passed the waiter he looked a bit subdued.  He was still smiling but it was fake, never quite reaching his eyes. She noticed because he didn’t wink this time instead held the tray out in a resigned manner. As if he’d rather be anywhere else than here. I know the feeling Alice wanted to tell him.

“You might need another glass.” He sighed.

She graciously exchanged her empty glass for a full one. She reasoned she might need quite a few to get through this evening.

The girl in the yellow dress - part 1

He was dressed like James Bond, very suave she thought, the unmistakable tailoring of his suit had the air of extravagance to it. 

“You’ve picked a good one this time.” She congratulated herself silently.

As she was assessing him she noted he was making his own appraisal. She was thankful for her friend Clare whose skill with a needle created a masterpiece that showed off her curves to best effect.  

Seemingly he approved too, his smile was both dangerous and disarming and something inside her fluttered. 

Her dress was the colour of rich butter; she was no longer a margarine girl from the council estate. She was off to a grand ball, only Sebastian had neglected to tell her it was a black and white do.

As soon as they entered the ballroom her mistake became obvious even to her uneducated eye. She stood out for all the wrong reasons, a lone daffodil in a bouquet of exquisite lilies. Common – that was the only word for it.

Suddenly she was fourteen again in a hand-me-down dress at the school disco. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. Sebastian realising his faux pas of picking the wrong kind of flower was nonchalantly looking around and ever so slightly distancing himself from her.

It took courage not to turn her back on the lot of them and run. She didn’t belong here, that was painfully obvious. Were they already sniggering? Or was it her overworked imagination.

In the split second of deciding what to do for the best to salvage the situation a waiter appeared by her side.

“Champagne?” Glasses sparkled on a tray elegantly presented to her. “The colour perfectly matches your dress.” He added with a wink and she knew it would be rude to refuse.

Of course Sebastian had completely deserted her by this point, but she stood a little taller, breathed deeply and took a sip…

the girl in the yellow dress - part 20

The girls sat in silence for the first twenty minutes of the journey. Melanie concentrating on driving the unfamiliar narrow roads, Alice l...