The art of being smooth
“Mum, I’m not avoiding you.” Celeste had another go at stabbing the security code into the pad by the club’s rear door, desperately trying to remember the sequence. She couldn’t focus through the sounds of displeasure at the other end of the line. Her mother was in a thorough mood, her rant covering Celeste’s poor job choices, hermit-like behaviour, the unlikelihood that she’d meet a nice sort working in a nightclub, and her failure to clean the kitchen floor. She had to move out. Which she would, when she’d saved a deposit for a place of her own. If she didn’t get fired. Two weeks of Steve having to use the staffroom as a changing room was playing havoc with her concentration.
“Are you even listening, darling?”
“Yes!” She hauled the door open, relieved that the music hadn’t started yet. This meant that she wasn’t technically ‘late’. But she didn’t want to be on the phone when she went past Ian’s office. She paused at the corner of the corridor. “Look Mum, you’re on a morning shift and I’ll be up by one, so why don’t we have a late lunch before you go off to bridge?”
“Will you not be around for tea, darling? Uncle Dave will be here and you don’t start work till nine.”
“No, I’ve got to …um—” Shit, what did she have to do? She needed to keep excuses handy for these evasive moments. She wasn’t in the mood for being wistfully gazed upon as the under-achieving sheep in the family.
“And he mentioned that they had openings at his office at your level. He’s bringing a prospectus for the post-graduate management accountancy scheme. It’s highly competitive and you wouldn’t have stood a chance a few months back, but now you’ve got some experience under your belt—”
“Tell him thanks, and that I’ll call him. See you tomorrow!” Celeste hung up with an abruptness that made her feel vaguely guilty and tiptoed towards Ian’s office, hoping to move past the open door without being seen. He was usually friendly enough before shift, but even his good moods tended to come with patronising pep talks about how to break down big and scary into bite-sized pieces ‘to fight the beast of procrastination.’
She crept past his door. His chair was angled towards the window and he sat with legs crossed, fingers steepled in front of his chest. She’d actually fancied him when he’d first swaggered in with his transatlantic drawl, his animated conversation, and Nordic blend of bronze and blond hair. The soft yellow light of the angle-poise lamp picked out the strong lines of his cheekbones and jaw in blurred shades of primrose and burnt orange. The image would make a good Rembrandt masterpiece. ‘Dickhead in Repose’, perhaps.
When she got to the staffroom, Tish and Steve were already in the kitchenette. Steve was padding around in a towel, rub-drying his hair. Celeste approached timidly as he turned his back to open his locker.
He got his door open and fought with the dry-cleaning packaging, clearly a job that required his complete concentration. Pointless concentration, because his hire suit had finally been delivered. She stepped closer and put a little oomph into her volume just as he turned round.
“Fuck!” He stumbled into his locker door and struggled himself back upright, rubbing his chest and laughing nervously.
“Um … sorry. Did you hurt yourself?”
She tried not to pay any attention to his nipples, which were almost exactly in line with her lips. “Your hire suit finally arrived. It’s on the back of the bathroom door. Sorry it took so long.”
“Cheers.” He flashed a grin that nearly put her off balance, put his own monkey suit away and dressed quickly in the authorised attire, flicking her a wink as he went out to work. She stared after him through the little window in the fire door, well aware that she was wearing her crush for him as subtly as a slushie down her front. Celeste grunted as Tish shoved a matey elbow into her ribs.
“Wow! Someone got a smile out of SS-Steve!”
“Duh! Single-Syllable Steve! That’s what Ian’s PA calls him. Oh—I forgot you think you’re above ‘staffroom gossip’.”
Celeste was stung. There was a difference between being snooty and trying to get work done. “I don’t think I’m ‘above’ staffr—”
“Big Craig says that the only things he’s heard from Steve since he started are ‘yeah’, ‘nah’, ‘out’, ‘sod’, and ‘oi’.”
And ‘cheers’, apparently. Steve clearly reserved his communications for moments of necessity. It was nice to feel that saying ‘thanks’ to her was necessary. She tried containing her grin as she bent to unlock her laptop cabinet, but clearly did a very bad job of it because Tish let out a sympathetic sigh.
“I know he’s hot, but it’s not worth your bother fancying him. He’s one of them me-sausage-nistic types.”
Celeste blinked. “Pardon?”
“Doesn’t like girls at all.”
Ah. Misogynistic, then. Celeste kept a straight face. “How do you know?”
“He blanks me and Sandra most of the time and he doesn’t even look at Tina’s arse, so…”
“So what chance do I have?” Celeste finished for her.
“You said it, not me.” Tish shrugged, then went back to work.