A Proper Charlie
Charlie Wallis has everything a girl could wish for: a trendy flat, a loving boyfriend and a fantastic job as a newspaper journalist.
Trouble is Charlie’s boyfriend is a loser, her job title really reads `clerk` and her flat, at the top of a high-rise, isn’t that nice after all.
Her new boss, Ben, is a huge bear of a man. A gentle giant, with chocolate brown eyes that hold a secret.
While her paper investigates the disappearances of local prostitutes, Charlie wants in on the action, deciding that dressing as a hooker and walking the streets is good research.
Bumping into Ben was the last thing she expected.
A story of opposites who not only attract, but ignite!
Charlie loves Andy. Andy loves Charlie. Charlie has an exciting job working for a daily newspaper. The newspaper is called London Core. Charlie’s life is exciting and fulfilled. Charlie tells lies.
Charlie Wallis sat at her desk writing on an old summary report. Around her, the hubbub of her colleagues, planning the office party, presented snatches of conversation.
‘… where can I get an Amy Winehouse wig?’
‘… I’ve an Elvis wig, would that do?’
‘… Fanny’s looking. Head down, pretend to work…’
‘… where can I get an Amy Winehouse wig?
She sighed, and doodled a stick figure with a sad face. Telephones rang; some were answered while others trilled relentlessly. Sarah ran past, shrieking, ‘I’ve Jordan Price on line two for you, Faye.’ Charlie stopped paperwork from her pending tray floating in the excited woman’s wake, and watched as Faye received this apparently thrilling news.
London Core, even though termed ‘rag’ by others in the trade, pulled in a decent amount of readers – no wonder the Middleton Group wanted to buy it. Had bought it, she corrected unhappily.
The Middleton Group was renowned for swallowing up small newspapers like Core, changing the dynamics of the workforce, creating redundancies and relocating staff. Management had called a meeting earlier this morning and told them of the takeover and merge with the national The Globe, another of Middleton’s publications. They’d been assured their jobs were safe, but undoubtedly there would be shake-ups.
There was a shocked silence when all had trooped back into the open-plan office, which had lasted all of thirty seconds when everyone began talking at once.
Charlie stopped doodling for a moment to add Charlie loves her job to her nonsense writing. But her job doesn’t love Charlie, she continued in an illegible scrawl. She doodled another sad face, added tears and after a moment’s hesitation, jug ears.
Even though management had assured them their jobs were safe, rumours had been rife. And because of that, the workers were organising a party to either celebrate or commiserate with those who may be chucked by the wayside.
The party had been arranged, and venue booked inside an hour after the takeover was announced. It’d been organised to coincide with the official date of the takeover in two weeks’ time. From a Tarts and Victors party, it was now going to be a pop-star fancy dress, past and present, and Charlie planned to go as Ginger Spice. She sighed again, and fingered a strand of her red hair. How could she enjoy herself at the party knowing her job was on the line and that her boyfriend was about to dump her?
She’d been seeing Andy Chambers for seven months; seven months and two days to be exact, and she’d been certain he was going to ask her to marry him. He’d mentioned settling down on several occasions, admittedly they might have been made in a jest, but still, why plant the seed if you don’t want it sown, as a foster carer used to say.
Charlie had spent her childhood in a children’s home. She’d have loved a family of her own, but it was never to be. It was at the top of her list of future achievements. Second was keeping her job. Third, having her ears pinned back when she won the lottery. All to be crossed out simultaneously, she thought dolefully.
Andy wasn’t going to ask her to marry him. She’d brought it up last month and practically had to resuscitate him.
‘I’m like a bird,’ he had said. ‘A wild bird that can never be tamed.’
She had repeated the conversation to Melvin, her best friend, who’d said if Andy was a bird, he’d be a turkey. It hadn’t helped. And ever since then, Andy had been distant towards her, and she knew the signs, even if she pretended not to. The cancelled dates, long trips away… they all signalled one thing and that was she was soon-to-be single – and jobless as well.
‘You dozy mare!’ shrieked Faye, and Charlie looked up ready with a retort but for a change the insult hadn’t been hurled at her. The deliverer of ‘Jordan Price on line two’ was Sarah, red-faced and in direct line of Faye’s attack. Charlie watched with interest, glad that for once, she was in the clear.
‘That!’ Faye boomed. ‘Wasn’t Big Tits Jordan, it was Jordan Price the catalogue model – a bloody fella. How the hell did you make that mistake? I need Jordan – Katie Price – the one with the big knockers, you moron. Jesus, Sarah, have you been drinking from the same cup as Charlie today?’
Cheeky bugger! She’d been quietly sitting here all morning; purposely not talking, or working for that matter, and keeping out of everyone’s way and she’d still received a sarky comment from queen bitch.
Melvin, sitting at the desk in front of her, turned with a grin. ‘Faye’s on the ball today,’ he said, andlaughed.
‘Not from where I’m sitting,’ said Charlie.
Mel flicked off imaginary fluff from his T-shirt, which bore the slogan: I’m knot a real blonde, I’m Knot, and fixed her with a concerned gaze. ‘You know, you’ve been causing a draught down the back of my neck for the last hour. I thought if I ignored you you’d cheer up.’
‘Thanks,’ she said dryly.
Melvin pouted in an attempt to imitate her gloomy face. ‘You’re really down, aren’t you? Come on, tell uncle Melly, what’s the matter.’
‘I’m going to be unemployed and single, which means I won’t be able to pay my rent and I’m going to end up an old spinster like my neighbour, Mavis. Oh God, I’ll have to buy a budgie. I hate budgies.’
‘Fanny’s assured us our jobs are safe,’ he said, although he didn’t look convinced. Mr Fanton was their managing editor, and called ‘Fanny’, although never to his face.
‘It’s last in, first out. And I haven’t exactly made a brilliant impression, have I? Fanny hates me,’ she added, remembering on her first morning the way his bulky frame appeared out of nowhere after she’d shredded what turned out to be important documents. He’d stood over her, his chins wobbling around his neck, beads of sweat on his upper lip as his comb-over hung limply down one side of his face. Charlie stifled a giggle at the memory. She sobered. Ever since then her relationship with him had been a non-starter. It was sad really.
‘Don’t antagonise him, then.’
‘Not intentionally maybe,’ he said. ‘Just be on your best behaviour until you sign your new contract, doll.’ He pushed against his desk to free wheel in his office chair towards her desk. He lowered his voice. ‘So what’s this about “being single”? What’s Andy Pandy done now?’
‘He’s done nothing – yet. I hope I’m just being over dramatic like usual.’
‘Sounds ominous.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘Don’t tell me, you’ve seen the light and chucked him for a homeless drunk in a shop doorway, stinking of piss? You’ve gotta admit the better prospects there, doll.’
Melvin didn’t like Andy and never bothered to hide it. He was fed up of the ‘chances’ Charlie had repeatedly given him in the past. And while he thought she was treated like shite, she thought Andy was a romantic drifter; spontaneous and exciting.
‘He’s going to chuck me any day now. It’s like I’m waiting for the noose to tighten. God, I hate my life.’ She lowered her forehead to rest on her doodlings. ‘It always goes wrong,’ she muttered.
‘Baby doll,’ Melvin said. ‘The man’s a prat, and you’d be better off without him – if only you could see it. But as for your job, you are not going to lose it.’
She looked up; the report was sticking to her forehead. ‘But it’s Fanny’s choice, not yours.’
Melvin yanked off the paper, leaving an inky stickfigure imprint on her forehead. He was grinning. ‘It’s Mr Middleton’s actually, our new boss, so whether Fanny hates you or not, is irrelevant.’
At that moment, Faye thudded past their desks, storming up the aisle and shouting to the air, ‘I’m going to be Baby Spice. Those who mix up a man with Katie Price don’t deserve first pickings.’
Charlie and Melvin watched as Sarah followed, answering back in a singsong voice, ‘It was my idea, and I’m Baby.’
If Faye was queen bitch, then Sarah was princess bitch. Charlie and Melvin often had to duck behind their desks as the insults hurled from one to the other. Still, it made the day tick along nicely.
Melvin raised his eyebrows at Charlie, who pulled a face in return. ‘This party is causing more problems than it’s worth,’ he said.
‘I can’t see why they’re arranging it, anyway. It’ll be like a kick in the teeth for those who’ve lost their jobs.’
‘OK THEN!’ Faye announced loudly. ‘We’ll ask Melvin,’ she said, causing Melvin to groan even louder. Charlie giggled.
‘Mel…’ Faye began, as she sauntered over. She pouted and pushed out her more than ample chest as she shamelessly flirted. Sarah, glancing down at her flat chest, stood normally. ‘We’ve decided to join Charlie and become a Spice Girl for this do –’
Charlie’s groan was ignored.
‘- and we value your opinion,’ Faye went on. ‘We both want to be Baby Spice, so Mel, as a superior member of staff you get to choose.’
‘Lucky me,’ he said, as Charlie snorted behind him. Melvin Giles was senior copy editor and it had been mainly down to him that Charlie became an employee of London Core. They had met in a children’s home; both orphaned. She was a skinny seven-year-old and he was a skinnier nine-year-old. They’d bonded instantly and pretended they were brother and sister to anyone who seemed interested, little realising that the system would split them up when Charlie was twelve and Melvin fourteen.
‘What happened to Lady Gaga?’ he asked.
‘She found out Bev on reception’s going as her,’ said Sarah with a hoot of laughter. ‘We both thought it’d be a good idea to dress as the rest of the Spice group and obviously with my blonde hair I’d be the perfect Baby.’
Faye cleared her throat and said, ‘Right, now which one is Baby?’
‘Sarah,’ he said.
Charlie clamped a hand over her mouth to hold back her laughter over the look on Faye’s face.
Faye glared at him, her hands on her hips. ‘And your reason?’
Faye stroked the back of her neck, then placed her hands back on her hips. ‘Forget the obvious,’ she said.
‘As a superior member of staff,’ he said, quoting her and dismissing her simultaneously, ‘discuss this at lunchtime. Charlie,’ he said, turning back towards her, ‘meeting at the vending machine, pronto.’
Charlie tugged her forelock. ‘Aye, aye, Cap’n.’
At the machine, Melvin ordered two coffees. It served tea instead, but as they were lucky to receive anything at all from the temperamental machine, they didn’t complain.
‘As I was saying, everyone needs an office clerk and you make a great one, doll,’ he said. ‘Anyway, Fanny reckons the Mid Group will keep all staff on. It’ll still be London Core, and you and me will still have jobs. Look on the bright side, doll, we might even get a promotion.’
‘Good luck never lasts, Mel, you know that,’ she said. ‘And I’ve had too much of that lately.’ She raised a hand and began to count off her fingers. ‘Us,’ she indicated herself and Melvin, ‘Andy, and then a job with Core. I even passed my driving test and got a little car! Mel, the luck simply can’t last.’
‘You’re talking alien again,’ he said and Charlie punched him on the arm.
‘So why weren’t we told about this takeover earlier? I mean, as from next week some guy called Donald Middleton will be our boss. Sir Donald Middleton, in fact. Will I have to curtsy?’ She chewed on her lip.
‘That’s just royalty, doll.’ He smiled down at her affectionately. ‘I don’t recommend you try it. Old Middleton might think you’re taking the piss.’
She pouted, but already felt better. Melvin always did that to her; made her feel wanted and worthwhile.
He suddenly enveloped her in a bear hug. He was Charlie’s best friend/brother/father figure all rolled into one tall, skinny frame. And with cropped blond hair, several ear piercings and black eye-lined eyes he was as gay as a Maypole.
‘As long as we have one another,’ he said. ‘We’ll always be bessy mates, won’t we?’
‘Always,’ she said the best she could with her face pressed against his chest.
‘Feeling better now?’ he asked, releasing her.
‘Good. So, is going as a Spice Girl official, even though the ugly sisters are joining the group?’ he asked.
Charlie laughed. ‘It’ll be OK. Girls on News are going as Girls Aloud. Jen wants Jimbob to go as Simon Cowell just because she’s Cheryl Cole. But I think going as a Spice Girl is more recognisable, don’t you?’
‘Only because you want to wear the Union Jack frock.’
She grinned. ‘Yeah. I shall look on eBay.’
He laughed. ‘So, who’ll go as Posh?’
‘Juliet did say she’d come with me.’ They both looked across as Juliet stood to retrieve a mound of paperwork from a shelf above her desk. Her shirt sleeves fell back to reveal many tattoos. She plonked the paperwork on her desk and the motion caused her family-pack of cheesy puffs to fall to the floor. She swore, snatched them up and filled her mouth.
Charlie nodded. ‘I shall ask Andy to come with me. He could go as Bon Jovi. He loves his music.’
‘Pete Doherty would be better.’
Charlie threw him a look, and Melvin looked back unashamed.
‘OK,’ he said. ‘So maybe Doherty is a little tame for Andy Pandy.’
Charlie exchanged her look for another light punch. ‘Andy’s off drugs now. He told me.’
Melvin raised twin eyebrows. ‘Run out of benefits?’
‘I will not dignify that question with an answer,’ she said primly.