1 - A Night Off
Poke. Poke. Poke.
My shoulder aches. Last night, I kicked a gang of vampires in the face, sprayed tonic water at them, and staked them all with a broken chair leg. Then a doorknob thought it would be funny to hit me on the way out. Not exactly a triumphant exit.
Poke. Poke. Poke!
I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I fell in and out of consciousness, knowing I only had four hours before the alarm…three hours…two…thirty minutes…thirty seconds. Up again at 5AM to train for an hour. Then school, then more training and homework. On most nights I’m working, either in a theatre, in a studio, or in London’s rotten underbelly of hostile monsters.
Poke! Poke! Poke!
Tonight’s my first night off in weeks. I’m just Iorwen Davis. Not Olivier-winning West End prodigy here for your entertainment. Not the Red Slayer who takes down criminal vampire sects with her cohorts. I’m just Iorwen.
‘Stop that!’ I snap, batting away the finger and its pointy fake nail.
A girl in a strapless pink dress and white pashmina puffs up her padded chest and sneers. ‘Sor-ry. Just thought you might like to know we’re five minutes away.’
′Five minutes?’ I sigh. ’You wake me up to tell me we have fi—why couldn’t you wait until we got there to wake me?’
Miranda, that’s her name, shrugs and looks out the window. ‘Bit pointless to spend so much money on a limo only to sleep the whole way.’
I look around. Besides the two of us, there’s nothing but an empty minibar. ‘I still think we should have taken the train.’
Miranda scoffs. ’I am not going on the Tube in this dress. It’s Prada.’
‘Well, you can at least pay me your half of the rental fee soon,’ I say, ‘It’s three-hundred for a two-way trip.’
‘So? You should have got your dad to pay for it if you didn’t want to fork out.’
‘I don’t go around getting my dad to pay for everything, thank you very much.’ He gives me an allowance, but I put most of it into savings, allowing myself £100 a week for food, transport and emergency shoe sales.
Miranda ignores me and looks out the window. Who is she, you ask? In short, she’s an Instagram personality who does makeup tutorials. But she’s also the reason why you don’t hook up with the biggest pair of boobs at a friend of a friend of a friend’s party. Consider the person attached to those boobs before you get her number and invite her to a charity ball in the centre of London.
We haven’t arrived and I’m regretting inviting her instead of my friends. Dante hates wearing suits and Luke is busy preparing for an art show in April. Olga is currently with my father in his secret lab building a Zeta Function machine for fun because the Riemann Hypothesis is easy for to understand apparently. I tried, but then I learned thinking about integers temporarily cures insomnia.
My shoulder smarts endless poking. It’s hurt on and off since I dislocated it. I settled and I’m paying for it. While regular teens struggle to balance studying and socialising, I’ve fought tooth and nail just to interact with other teenagers and possibly date some. But unless my genius father can invent more hours in the day, there’s no time for commitment. I can’t see Miranda lasting beyond tonight. At least it’ll be a memorable end.
The limo pulls to a stop and Miranda eagerly climbs out to make a grand entrance as though this is Hollywood, not Bishopsgate. I’m stunted by seeing the skyscrapers from here. I’m used to navigating London via the rooftops. Down here, the streets are a jungle. The building we enter is brand new with a sloped glass roof that’s been hailed as an architectural marvel. To me, it looks like a giant glass doorstop.
This is probably a good time to mention my outfit could not be more different than Miranda’s strapless, push-up display. I thought I’d give dresses a try. This deep-blue dress has a high neckline with long, baggy sleeves and it’s form-fitting enough to show the curve of my boobs. My hair, dark red and halfway down my back is pinned up in an array of braids. My only accessories are my black stilettoes and a matching handbag on a long strap. While Miranda is wearing the best of her makeup tutorials, I have just enough so people won’t say I look tired.
In the lobby, Miranda strides toward a bored security guard behind a desk and announces her name. The guard checks his clipboard once and says, ‘Not on the list.’ Her jaw drops.
‘Sorry,’ I say and step in. ‘We’re here for the charity ball. I’m Lady Iorwen Davis.’
The guard looks at his board again. ‘How’d you spell that?’
‘It’s “I-oh-are-double-ewe-ee-en”, but it’s pronounced “Yor-wen”.’
He nods and lets us through the security gates. ‘Odd name that,’ he says, ‘Polish?’
‘No,’ I laugh, ‘Welsh.’
That’s a new one. People have assumed it’s Celtic or Scandinavian, but never Polish.
Once Miranda and I are in the lift, and I press the button for the thirtieth floor, Miranda rounds on me. ‘Why isn’t my name on that list?’
I blink. ‘What?’
‘When we sit down for dinner, is my place card just going to say, “Iorwen Davis” hyphen “Guest?”’
‘It’s a buffet, not a sit-down dinner.’
Her shoulders droop. ‘What? I was going to use my place card to show everyone I’d been to a high-end party.’
I stay quiet. The uncomfortable silence of the rest of the elevator ride promises me I’m in for a long night.
On the thirtieth floor, we enter a giant room marked Pertwee Suite. Every wall is glass, showing a glittering view of London beneath us. About two dozen people are already inside, hanging around the bar while a string quartet and pianist play nearby. The majority of the room is taken up with a large dance floor, with seats and tables lining it. I feel quite literally overdressed compared with the other women in their halter-necks and spaghetti straps, or no straps at all.
Next to the bar is a giant red banner of three silhouetted children inside a house with the name Safe Children plastered across it. They’re a charity that helps children and teens who live in poverty and/or suffer abuse. I was in their Christmas ad campaign.
In seconds, I feel Miranda’s hand clamp on my wrist as she pulls me toward the banner with her phone and a selfie stick. She poses for a picture, but I’m too distracted to do the same. I have just met eyes with the most gorgeous man in the world standing near the bar.
‘Kaarlo!’ I squeal, rushing to him.
How can one man with olive skin and matching dark brown hair and eyes be so perfect? Having a heart-melting smile certainly helps. He brandishes one now as he pulls me into a hug. I’d say Miranda glares at us jealously, but she doesn’t even look up from her phone.
‘I didn’t know you were coming,’ he says. ‘I was worried there wouldn’t be anyone here I know.’
Kaarlo and I met when I was doing work experience at Drury Lane and I dislocated my shoulder saving a kitten. Months later, we found ourselves working on the set of Beautiful Sins, a show about young people having sex and stabbing each other in the back. The second series aired last month. My character is currently in a coma while Kaarlo’s has just been arrested.
‘I wonder if people will ask us what the next episode will be,’ I say.
‘Just tell them we’re not allowed to divulge. Are you here on your own?’
I shake my head, glancing at Miranda posing with the prizes for the silent auction, sporting a cringeworthy “fingers-crossed” pose.
‘Did you bring anyone?’ I ask.
He frowns. ‘I was going to bring my girlfriend, but we broke up last week.’
I gasp, smack my hand across my mouth before lowering it to my heart. The one time acting fails me and it’s now. My ‘Oh no’ sounds so fake, but Kaarlo takes it for sarcasm and laughs.
‘It’s okay. You saw what a wreck we were.’
I bite my lip. He’s had five since I met him and she was the worst one yet. I couldn’t look at him without getting the stink eye.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ Kaarlo asks. I nod and a bartender takes his order. ‘A large scotch on the rocks for me, please. For you, Iorwen?’
’A virgin cosmopolitan please,’ I say. That’s cranberry juice and fizzy water.
Kaarlo grins. ‘Still underage?’
I nod. ‘For another year and three days.’
‘Hey, how about we go clubbing on your eighteenth?’
I restrain my gasp this time and lean on the bar. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah,’ he says. Our drinks arrive, he pays with his phone and we clink our glasses together. ‘I’ll look after you, like a big brother.’
Ouch! Why not pat me on the head and give me a boiled sweet while you’re at it?
I take a sip of my cosmo, wishing it had vodka in it now, when I feel the poking again. Miranda asks, ‘Are any famous people here?’
I stand up straight again. ‘Kaarlo, this is Miranda. Miranda, this is Kaarlo Rochester. We’ve both worked on the West End. He’s a musician too.’
He offers her a handshake, on the brink of saying how nice it is to meet her, when she states, ′I’ve never heard of you.’
Kaarlo redacts his hand. ‘I’m going to check the seating plan,’ he says. ‘Be right back.’ Which we all know is code for, ‘I don’t need this, I’m out.’
I give Miranda a judging glare. She ignores it but notices my mocktail. Immediately, she drops her rudeness for flattery and bats her eyelashes at me. I’m surprised a halo and a heavenly choir doesn’t appear behind her.
‘Buy me a drink, babe,’ she says. ‘I didn’t bring my purse.’
My left eyebrow jumps up. ‘What?’
’There wasn’t enough room in my handbag. I thought you were going to pay for everything.’
My jaw drops. ’It’s a charity ball and you weren’t going to pay for anything? I paid for the limo, which, I remind you, I am yet to see your half for.’
Her shoulders, boobs and face deflate and she starts looking around like a lost lamb. ‘But why should money be a big deal to you? I’m your girlfriend.’
‘Because I’m not your sugar daddy, Miranda!’
The room has gone silent. The musicians have stopped playing. I must have shouted louder than I meant. I look around to see the other guests gawping.
‘Are you calling me a gold-digger?’ Miranda squeaks.
‘You’re showing off being at a fundraiser that you have no intention of contributing to. All you care about is your image. You’re not a Kardashian, so stop acting like one.’
Miranda storms forward, practically towering over me. Then again, I’m very easy to tower over, even in stilettoes. ‘At least I’m not a prudish little freak.’
I drop my cosmo and the glass shatters on the floor. If people weren’t looking at us before, they are now. I step forward, regardless of the shards on the sparkly tiles, and give her my signature death glare. It’s enough to make her step back slowly.
‘You can walk home,’ I say, voice eerily calm, before I turn out of the suite doors through a parting crowd and go straight to the ladies. My hands clutch the sink and I stare down into the basin.
Who is she to call me that? Prudish? Maybe. Freak? I’m proud of that. Little? The last one to call me that got garlic salt in their blood martini. Miranda’s lucky she wasn’t a vampire.
© Alice of Sherwood, August 2020