This is my entry for the AutoCit Short Story competition 2019.
I take the eyeshadow out of my makeup bag and scrutinise it. The pale shadow has a subtle sheen to it yet is classy, like the vanilla buttercream my mother used in the butterfly shaped fairy cakes when she was small.
I look at my reflection in my dressing table mirror; high cheekbones below huge brown eyes that my mother had said were pretty. Today, they are outlined with dark liquid liner and I’m wearing my signature look: perfectly smudged charcoal grey shadow. I look over to my bed where a huge array of Vogue and Elle magazines lay strewn. Not the best when it comes to order, I do not really care. I live alone anyway, and every inch of this London flat is mine.
I look over to my computer as a sound alerts me to an incoming email.
We are delighted to invite you for an interview at 10 AM on Thursday 15 June with Alicia Freymore.
I smile and punch the air, it seems like mum is smiling down on me today. I sit in my chair and think awhile before typing my reply.
Thank you for your email and considering me for interview.
See you on the day.
I hear a meow and look down to see my black cat Nightshade.
“Hi girl,” I say as I bend to scoop her up for a cuddle. Nightshade’s warm body vibrates with purrs and I feel myself relax. If I ace the interview, I’ll be one step closer to following my dream of owning my own makeup brand. I am already a makeup artist as my mum was before me.
I let my mind wander awhile, Doing makeup at London Fashion Week. Paris, Madrid the world could be my oyster. That is far off now, but I can dream…..Who knows? Maybe one day I can make that my reality.
I make a move to get up and Nightshade leaps gracefully off my lap and onto my bed where she curls and sleeps. I busy myself with chores before taking a long hot bath and crawling into bed.
Interview day arrives after a week that seems to crawl by. I have bitten my nails down to the quick, but, thanks to my supply of fake nails, my hands look manicure ready with pale rose polish. I chide myself as I smooth down my burgundy skirt suit, a much loved wardrobe staple from my time as a fashion editor for Trendsetter, a small fashion magazine.
My heart beats with painful memories as I remember the way I left work the day my mother had a massive stroke.I wipe an errant tear away and my eyes fall on the photo of my mum on my bedside table.
“Wish me luck, Mum,” I say, fighting to keep my voice steady.
I look around for Nightshade who is nowhere to be seen, grab my car keys and rush out the door as fast as my Prada heels can carry me.
The building is imposing grey stone with mirrored windows; AF Associates is home to the beauty brand that’s a household name for anyone who is anyone in the beauty industry. I throw away the disposable coffee cup and quickly rummage in my black Kate Spade bag for some breath freshener spray. I avoid mints, too much sugar. I reach into my bag and flip open my gold pocket mirror, checking that my reflection is as perfect as possible. Urban Decay is my favourite everyday beauty brand, but I’m wearing a slick of my rose gold toned Chanel lipstick for the occasion. Satisfied, my reflection smiles at me and I take a deep breath and walk towards the building.
Sitting in Cassie’s, my favourite coffee shop, later, I grip my cappuccino with a firm hand as I run back over the interview in my mind. Had I answered well? Did my voice betray me? Honestly, I hadn’t noticed, I’d just wanted to get through it. I need to put the moment out of my mind with a little treat, I decide as I swallow the last of my drink.
Urban Decay’s shop is my paradise; it is where I can relax. Minutes later, I leave Cassie’s and walk through Urban Decay’s electric doors. I see row upon row of foundations, blushers, eye shadows and accessories. A beauty addict’s dream. I whip my phone out, snapping photos of the products that catch my eye.
The silver bullet of the lipstick gleams under the shop lights. On sale! A red card announces. My hand shoots out for a tester. The creamy fuchsia shade is outrageous against my skin, but I love it. Grabbing a black wire shopping basket, I fill it with my beauty essentials.
I stop off at the supermarket for a bottle of wine for myself and some special cat food for Nightshade. I can’t help myself but I have a good feeling about the outcome of the interview.
I am really feeling the hunger pangs by the time I get home. The Underground was slow. I throw my keys on the counter and phone for a pizza.
Half an hour is enough time for a quick shower before it comes. Twenty minutes later, I’m sat on the couch in a peach fleece and my comfy jeans, a small folding table by my side, wine and phone at the ready. The doorbell rings; I get up to answer it.
Just as I do, my phone buzzes. Indecision slices through me: phone or pizza? My stomach growls and I near the door.
I take a bite of the steaming pepperoni pizza and relish the taste as I chew. Nightshade, lured by the smell of food, comes into the room and gazes longingly at me. I laugh and say, “Not for you I’m afraid, this is my treat. Anyway, you’ve just eaten.” Nightshade jumps onto the sofa and delicately sniffs the air.
“I know, the garlic’s strong, isn’t it?” I finger a piece of garlic bread and moan at the buttery deliciousness that assaults my taste buds.
I swallow and my mobile rings. I reach for it.
“Hello?” I look around for the time. The retro cookie shaped clock on the wall reads 5:20. I know AF Associates are open until 5:30PM but maybe it isn’t them. I take a dainty bite of pizza and swallow it as quickly as I can and answer the phone.
“Yes? Speaking,” I say politely.
“It’s Jenny, from AF Associates.” My fingers tremble and I try to get a grip on my phone and myself.
“We really want you as part of the team, Congratulations!”
I resist the urge to fist pump. I want to run round the house screaming “Yes!” but I swallow my excitement just like I had the pizza only moments before.
“When do I start?”
“Monday at 9, have a great weekend. And congratulations again.”
I can hear the smile in Jenny’s voice and my heart lifts at what I have achieved.
That Monday, I near the familiar office buildings. The sun glints off the plaque which reads AF ASSOCIATES: A NEW KIND OF BEAUTY.
My hands are sweating and I have nowhere to wipe them. I suddenly feel extremely self conscious, like maybe this is a bad idea. But no. I have to follow through. My mum’s voice sounds in my head. If you want something, you have to fight to get it. I’ve got this far so I will continue, I must.
I take a few deep breaths and open the glass door.
Jenny welcomes me in the same friendly manner she’d done when I was here for my interview. I greet her and take the gold panelled lift up to Alicia’s office.
Alicia is turned out immaculately in a dove grey trouser suit and a wine shirt. Wine toned stilettos are on her narrow feet.
“Hi Alicia, great to see you again.”
“Great to see you too, Rina. I hope you had a good weekend.” She extends her hand and I shake it.
“Welcome to the team, there’s your desk, just there.” She gestures to a white table with an iMac. I raise my eyebrows; I have never had the money for one.
“OK,” Alicia says. “Lunch is at 1 and as my assistant you’ll be expected to get my lunch and any coffees as well.” Suddenly, I have a flashback to the scene where Andy arrives at Runway in The Devil Wears Prada. I feel intimidated. Is it me or is Alicia being bossy?” I’m only a newbie; maybe I am being too sensitive. Whatever the problem is, I hope Alicia is just having a fleeting bad moment.
Suddenly, Alicia smiles and says “Rina, relax, I really am glad to have you as my new assistant.”
The phone rings and Alicia gestures to me to pick it up. I shake my head mutely; my blood runs cold and goose bumps form on my skin.
Alicia nods insistently, gesturing towards the phone with an upturned palm.
I relent and answer. “Hello, AF Associates, Yes….I’ll put you through.”
I direct the call to Alicia while Alicia closes the glass door between her office and my desk for some privacy and focus on my computer screen. I play around a little, changing the colour of the screen from lilac to fuchsia and changing the AF Associates logo, two lipsticks, each with one of Alicia’s initials on the end of the bullet, to a spinning bright gold 3D version instead of the usual black 2D.
“Chanel HQ wants us to design some eyeshadows and lipsticks for a new collection. They say surprise them with a theme. I think this will be a good challenge for you to start with,”
I can’t believe it Chanel!
“Great, when do we start?”
“You have 2 weeks and will be working with Gerry, who’s our design team chief. Amy will take you to his office.”
Suddenly, a tall, rail thin blonde stands up from a desk and crosses the room.
“Hi, I’m Amy.” Her hand shoots out and I shake it gently as if it’s made of paper.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Bye Alicia,” she says as she leads me away. Alicia smiles at her and winks at me. My heart speeds up. What does that mean? I don’t know, but I am determined to impress my new boss.
A few polished wood floor metres and another clear glass door later, we are outside Gerry’s office. Amy knocks daintily and waits before opening the door.
“Amy, how are you doing? And who is this?”
“Rina, she’s new.”
“Hi Rina, pleased to meet you.” Gerry has a tall, lean physique and blonde hair that is slightly wavy. His skin is lightly toasted, and I wonder if he travels much and where to. I fleetingly think I wouldn’t mind taking him places….his grey eyes are mesmerising and I find myself drawn into their sinister depths like a sudden storm over a previously calm tropical paradise. Oh, how I want to discover that paradise….
“What? Sorry,” I blush as I realise my mind has wandered.
He fixes those mesmerising eyes on mine.
“I said welcome to the design team.”
I can’t stop thinking about him in the car on the way home. Those eyes. That smile.
I am still smiling as I unlock the door to my flat.
As soon as I do, Nightshade winds herself around my legs, meowing for food.
“Hi girl, oh it’s good to be home.”
I feed Nightshade and then turn on some chillout music and pour myself a glass of wine. I let the alcohol and music calm me as I heat up some spaghetti and meatballs in the microwave. Nightshade jumps up on the sofa and sniffs around me.
I finish my food, have a bath and go straight to bed. I try to concentrate on at least a chapter of the book I’m reading but I can’t. I can only think about Gerry. We’ve only just met but why do I have a hunch about him?
A week into working with Gerry, I feel like we are getting to slowly know each other. He’s funny, and a real gentleman. I sip my coffee and pass him my sketch of the lipstick tube. Rhinestones decorate the black, cat shaped tube. I want something fun, and the tube is complete with fake fur cat ears and a tail. The Black Cat Collection is Halloween inspired and created in honour of Nightshade. Each black cat has different coloured rhinestones and eyes. Pink, purple, turquoise and red.
“I love it,” Gerry says as he clutches the printout. He looks into her eyes.
“What does Alicia think?” My heart sinks, I haven’t thought at all about Alicia. I feel the same nerves I had felt at school when I was in the queue waiting for my exam results.
“Be right back,” I say grabbing the printout and racing out of his office.
”She loved it!” Back in his office minutes later I can’t contain my excitement as I tell him.
He gets up from his desk chair where he’s sitting to wait for me and goes to close his office door. He turns back to me and suddenly I am in his arms and he is trailing kisses down the sensitive areas of my neck, stroking me and kissing me on the lips again and again. When we have finished, I feel dizzy with hope and desire.
“Fancy some proper coffee sometime?” he throws our empty cups from earlier in the bin.
“Proper coffee?” I ask, eyes shining.
“I want to take you out, Rina.”
My stomach hitches. “I really enjoyed this week working together and I want to get to know you more, spend time somewhere away from work.”
I take a breath in but it comes out shaky. “Where?”
“My Nonna’s cafe, my family’s Italian and she makes the most amazing food and serves the best coffee this side of Rome.”
“OK,” I say.
“Great,” I say.
“I’ll come to yours,” he suggests. “7 OK? Tomorrow night?”
My answer is a kiss.
Driving home that night, I sing along to the radio, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel.
Nightshade is ready and waiting for company and cuddles.
I eat a quick salad and then go into my bedroom to pick out what I am going to wear the following night. Nightshade jumps onto my bed and my heart is in my throat. I cover my heart with a fluttering hand and laugh, stroking my beloved cat’s onyx fur.
I reach into my wardrobe for first a black dress with a sweetheart neckline, a side slit and a deep scoop back. I then find a blood red V neck dress with a ruffle hem. Nightshade sits by the black dress and starts purring louder. I laugh again.
“Great choice Nightshade.” I scratch my beloved cat behind her ears and her tail starts swinging like a grandfather clock pendulum.
One by one, I put my dresses back and settle on the sofa to watch some TV.
Work goes quickly the next day and I happily leave at with a spring in my step. I want to get back as quickly as possible to have enough time to get ready. I want to create a knockout makeup look. Maybe I’d do something different with my hair, too. My long brown poker straight hair could do with some curls. I get out my curling tongs and leave them to heat and then practise. It’s so long since I have styled my hair that the first time the curl doesn’t come out right. I search YouTube for some curly hair looks and find a few I like. I add them to favourite videos in my account and then run a bath with lots of bubbles.
As the bubbles and hot water relax me, I feel my mind go back to when I had first become interested in makeup. I remember my mother getting ready for work one day when I was about 8 years old. In the memory, the hot pink lipstick was bright against the dark wood of the dressing table and I picked the tube up after my mother left the house. I squinted at the worn sticker on the end of the tube and, if I concentrated hard, I can just about read the name Electric Rose. Cute but edgy.
Next, I remember I turned my hand facing palm down and dragged the lipstick over the back of it as if drawing with a brand new crayon. This was how I felt then, excited. Mum’s lipstick, although well used, was well cared for.
From that day on, mum loved me wearing makeup. She would do my makeup on any special occasion in my life, from school fun days to carnivals to school plays, and then when I left school and before I graduated as a makeup artist .
I bought more and more makeup, and promised myself that one day I would make a living from it.
Suddenly, I feel a pang of nostalgia and wish mum was there to do my makeup.
I sigh, and some bubbles from the surface of the bathwater float upwards. I reach my hand out and touch them. They don’t pop. Maybe there’s still hope for my dreams.
Back in my bedroom and now in the dress, I sit at my dressing table. Makeup palettes are spread before me and I have a makeup mixing palette to one side but within reach. What look shall I go for?
Anything looks good with black, but I want my eyes to be the focus tonight. I prime them with my favourite primer. The product glides onto my lids and I mix deep burgundy eyeshadow with a red glitter one in my beauty palette. The result is a deeper, richer colour with some sparkle. It isn’t overpowering but it does not need to be.
I highlight the inner corner with a soft gold shadow and add the dramatic flourishes of bright gold eyeliner and finally lots of deep black mascara. I keep my base and lips light with powder foundation a slight dusting of nude blusher and warm, peachy nude lipstick. I add some random curls with the curling iron. A spritz of perfume I’m done.
The doorbell goes and Nightshade is unusually nervous, pacing and flighty, meowing more than usual.
I open the door to Gerry in a dark plum shirt and pale jeans.
“Hi Rina, bought you some flowers,” He hands me the deep red roses and kisses me. I kiss him back.
“Hi,” I say as I let him in and smell the flowers. “They’re beautiful, thanks!”
“You’re so welcome,” he says, flashing his smile that makes my knees weak. I grip the doorframe to steady myself.
“Hi kitty,” he says as Nightshade winds herself round my legs then shoots out the open front door.
“She’s protective of you,” Gerry observed.
“Yes, she is my own personal guard cat.” Whoa, bad joke, Rina, what’s wrong with you?”
I laugh good-naturedly, and walk to the kitchen for a vase. He follows me.
As I set the vase of flowers on the coffee table in the sitting room, he looks at his watch.
“We’d better go, my Nonna’s waiting.”
I feel intrigued. “Where are we going?” I ask.
“It’s a surprise,” he says mysteriously as we begin our walk into town.
“Here we are,” he says as he opens the door to a small restaurant. “My Beautiful Little Italy was owned by my grandparents. Nonna has run it alone since my grandfather’s death.”
“Wow!” I look around me. White tablecloths on small square tables, dark wood chairs. Rust red walls packed with coloured and sepia photos and family memorabilia show happy times. The place is cosy and homely.
Nonna is petite and deeply tanned with salt and pepper hair in a bun. She and Gerry greet each other with a kiss on each cheek.
She sees me and says “Ah, I finally get to meet Rina.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say.
She places kisses on my cheeks.
“Dinner is served.” She leads us to a central table where food is laid out. First pasta in olive oil then a pizza to share and tiramisu.
Nonna smiles. “I’ll let you have the restaurant to yourselves.”
We make small talk, kissing now and then as we make our way through the home cooked culinary feast.
Then Gerry says “So, ready for the real coffee?”
He gets up and goes to the kitchen, returning with nutty smelling coffee which wafts round the restaurant.
After the meal, satisfied and happy, we walk slowly back to mine.
No sign of Nightshade.
“Probably on a night prowl.”
“Yeah, maybe.” We smile knowingly.
We talk some more and then somehow end up kissing. First slow, then more insistent. His arms feel tight, but secure around my body and I feel a safeness I do not remember having felt in so long.
We stay like that for some time and he cradles me as if I’m the most important thing to him. We are interrupted by a meow and Nightshade walks in.
“There you are!” I laugh. Nightshade jumps up and walks across the couch and then our laps before settling on Gerry’s lap.
“I think she likes you!” We laugh once again and sit there for a few minutes while he strokes a purring, very relaxed, Nightshade.
“Fancy a tour of the house?” I stand up, tugging on his arm. He gently moves Nightshade to a new spot then gets up and follows me.
“I think you have a nice place here” he says as we walk from room to room.
“Thanks,” I smile at the compliment. The touch of his hand in mine sends shivers down my spine. I love the fact that he likes how I live. Yes, my life is cosy and quiet and I have done the best I can to get by since mum died.
I try to push the memory of that day away but a tear trickles down my cheek. Gerry must notice out the corner of his eye, because he turns to me and asks “Hey, you OK?”
I sniff and fumble in my pocket for a tissue. Finding none, I she sniff louder and breathe deep as I try to control the flow of my tears.
Gerry stops looking around the room and puts his arms round me. “Look, I know we have not known each other long at all but whatever it is, you can tell me, OK?”
I nod, and we resume walking along the corridor. I say “In here, I want to show you something.”
We turn into the bedroom. I lead him straight to the bedside table where the photo of mum sits.
“This is why I’m sad,” I say. He’s silent, just looking at the photo. “This is my mum, she died.”
“You look like her.”
I do, I have the same long dark hair and eyes. I’m tall like her too. My gut squeezes I look away trying not to show him my tears as they began to fall.
“Hey, it’s OK. I’m here.” He hugs me tighter, which only makes the tears flow quicker. I suddenly feel a wave of gratitude for having met him and hope there can be more between us. Maybe that will come in time.
Back at work, I realise how lucky she am to have found something I love doing, I am even getting to know Amy better. Alicia is not as strict as I had feared. I remember that I was nervous at first but I feel like here is where I’m supposed to be.
At the end of the two weeks, Gerry and I are called into the office and given some paper with gold lettering on it.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“The invitation to the product launch, the manufacturer really liked the lipsticks and they want to do a special event.”
The day is here. Gerry and I are driven to the event in an official looking car with tinted windows. I bought a new dress for the occasion, and he’s in a new suit.
After a short while, the car stops outside the building where the event is. The chauffeur opens the car door and Gerry takes my hand leading me.
Inside, the building, chandeliers glow and tables are filled with food. We mingle with people we know.
Alicia comes up to us and says, “Well, this is a big night for you, isn’t it?”
“Yes definitely.” I look around in wonder at the building’s high ceiling and classical design. It really is the perfect place to have this event.
“We’re up next,” Gerry says, as he pulls me to the front, where a microphone sits on a podium in front of a glittery backdrop. A large banner with the name of the event hangs across the room. I say a silent prayer and hope that I do my best in this presentation. I get nervous in presentations, and have done since I was at school.
I breathe deep. “Welcome to the launch for our product. It’s a collection of lipsticks which are completely original and you have different colours and designs within the same collection.” The company have paid extra to have people hand out a product sample to each of the people at the event and I see people doing that.
People grab the products and they seem impressed and there are exclamations of “Oh, this is cute!” “Really original.”
We have break for lunch. As we near the tables trying to get around the crowds, I hear a voice that makes fear slice through me. My hands start to shake and I drop the sausage roll I’m holding. Gerry is piling food onto his plate and doesn’t seem to notice.
That is until the person shouts “Hey, great to see you, Rina!”
Rooted to the spot, I look around for the exit. I look at him, trying to convey a silent message that we should just leave. He understands and lets me lead him to a corner of the room behind people. I think we’ll be well hidden.
“We have to go,” I say to him.
“It’s Sandy Braymer, from my old job. She was the one who wanted me out, she made my life hell.” My urgent whisper catches the attention of people near us who turn to stare.
“We can’t leave,” he protests. “Today is our big day.”
“Ah ha! There you are!” The chilling voice cuts through the room’s atmosphere and I freeze.
People start whispering louder, fidgeting, looking concerned.
Suddenly, Sandy runs up to the mic and pushes the guy next to her out of the way.
“Rina!” she shouts. “You think this is your big day? I was meant to be successful! My ideas are so much better than yours! You are incapable, You ought to know that. It’s obvious to me, ever since you stole my idea about the diamond-infused eyeshadow.”
She turns to the event organizers and says “And her products should not be on the market!”
Suddenly, two burly security guards are on either side of her and one of them quickly turns the microphone off so we are spared the rest of her rant as she is led away.
“Wow, she’s intense,” Gerry says.
People start gossiping again and staring at me.
“Right, I need to set the record straight,” I walk through the crowd to find Alicia.
“You know this rubbish isn’t true,” I say.
“Yes, I do,” she says. “We checked your references when we employed you and that didn’t come up.” She hugs me. “Don’t worry, today’s your day.”
I feel worry niggle still and say “Thanks, but I have to set the record straight.” I grab Gerry’s hand and lead him up to the front of the room. People are still murmuring but I forge on.
“Erm, hi,” I say. “That was something that I wasn’t planning on- she’s crazy. I didn’t steal her idea for an eyeshadow.”
Suddenly, Alicia is by my side talking to the organizer. A slide with my employment credentials is on the screen. People gasp. Then the clapping starts. Cameras flash left right and centre and then there are questions during which there’s an avalanche of possible buyers and investors for my lipstick campaign.
I feel amazing. My heart is singing.
“Well done!” Alicia hugs me once everyone is gone.
Gerry does too, and he’s not ashamed to do so in front of my boss.
“Look after her, she’s special,” she advises.
“Oh I will do,” he assures her.
And once she’s gone, he kisses me once more.
So, I did it, I created my own brand. I couldn’t have done it without Gerry though, and as for Nightshade, she’s a real celebrity. Sponsors of the brand have provided cat treats and toys for her as well as rooms at the best cat hotels so she can have her own pampering sessions.
Oh, and did I tell you Gerry proposed? Well he did. And guess who will be the ring bearer? You guessed it-Nightshade!
And we plan to go to Italy, Paris and Madrid. Nightshade will come too because even the hotel will be pet friendly.
So, a lesson to take away from my story. If you don’t fight, you don’t get what you want. With a fighting spirit, love, and a little help, I have renewed faith that anything is possible. I feel a glow, and know mum is looking down on us and feels proud.