“I’m so nervous,” said Lucy looking out of the window at the oncoming traffic.
“Don’t be, it’s just a dinner. I’ve known these people since I was three, it’ll be ok!”
James kissed her knuckles then put his hand back on the steering wheel.
“That doesn’t make feel better, if I screw it up that’s basically your family I’m blowing”.
James looked at her briefly with amusement.
“Now, do that and you’re golden!”
Lucy gave him a side look and mocked a laugh.
“What do you know? You’re Mr Congeniality! You walk in the room and they’re all like Oooh Lucy, he’s so dreamy! Don’t you think he’s dreamy?? He’s so perfect, Lucy, he’s so cute, he can do no wrong!"
James tried to high a laugh.
“That’s not true,” he said eventually. “You didn’t think I was dreamy.”
“I didn’t know you. I wasn’t even sure if you were you or James Hannigan...”
“Ouch!” exclaimed James.
“You two look similar...” said Lucy apologetically. “But that’s not the point!”
“The point is that your brain is racing up again and you need to take a deep breath.” James softly stroke her thigh. “You’re so good at dealing with people, I see you connecting with strangers all the time when we go out, I’ve seen you at work. They will love you, I’m sure of that”.
Lucy took a deep breath and prayed that James was right.
The restaurant was a renowned Japanese place in South London with glass tables and bamboo walls.
It was Sunday evening and the room was crowded with tourists and locals enjoying the last bit of the weekend before the beginning of a new week.
When Lucy and James arrived, his friends were already sitting at a round table in a secluded corner, away from the window. James approached the group with a bright smile.
“Hey, guys! So, this is Lucy. Lucy these are Rob and his girlfriend Carolina, and David and his fiance Mary.”
Lucy held her hand up in hello.
“Nice to meet you all, and congratulations to you two!” she said turning to the last couple.
They all sat and busied themselves with ordering food and drinks.
“So Lucy, James tells us you are a flight attendant”. Said with a sweet smile Mary, a petite blonde that reminded her of Harriet. She decided she liked her.
“Erm, yes I am,” replied Lucy matching her smile.
“That must be such an interesting job! I’ve always wanted to be one! You need to tell us some stories.” Intervened Carolina with excitement.
Here we go, thought Lucy, sensing the Mile High Club question coming any seconds now.
“Oh I certainly have many stories to tell, but for most of them we have to become a little more intimate, and surely not be sat at a dinner table,” she winked.
The group laughed. Lucy took a deep breath, glad to have survived the first round.
“What do you guys do?” She asked with interest, shifting the attention on the rest of the table.
They all started to talk about their jobs and their lives. Lucy talked about her recent trips and answered some technicalities about her job.
Mary demanded a detail report of the day Lucy and James met, which was told by both of them, omitting some private details; and then the subject moved to stories of the three men as teenagers and memories of shenanigans.
“James William Blackwood, you used to smoke weed?” Lucy asked with fake indignation.
James laughed “Yep, another thing you can’t find on Wikipedia”.
Lucy smiled at the inside joke.
“Right Rob, I think I’ll go to the ladies,” said Carolina. “Then we better get going”.
The man nodded.
“Oh, I’ll go with you!” Said Mary.
Lucy decided to give the men a moment on their own.
“I’ll join you.” She kissed James on the lips and followed the two women.
The three friends were silent for a moment.
“She’s sound,” said David eventually.
“Thanks, man,” nodded James then looked at Rob.
The man nodded with a smile.
“I like the way she looks at you, the way you look at each other. Happy for you, man”.
James smiled back, relieved.
“Is it serious, then? Do you see a future?” asked David.
“It is. And yes, I do”.
As he said that the three girls appeared behind him.
“Shall we?” asked Carolina, putting on her coat.
The group said goodbye just outside the restaurant and then they parted.
James lit a cigarette.
“They loved you,” he said with a grin.
Lucy took a liberatory sigh.
“It was fun, I really enjoyed it.”
James inhaled and blew out a ring of smoke
“I’m glad you did, love”.
Then he looked up and his gaze shifted behind her. He nonchalantly looked back at her and cleared his throat, still smiling.
“Baby, there are two paparazzi across the street behind you. They’re taking pictures as we speak”.
Lucy didn’t say anything and didn’t move; since dating publicly they had never sighted photographers while they were together and as the weeks went by, she had almost forgotten about that possibility.
She had stalked James’ fan pages on Instagram and on the Internet but nothing had come out and after a while, she had lost interest.
But now this was happening, she wasn’t sure what to do.
James threw his cigarette on the pavement and extinguished hit with his trainer, then grabbed his car keys and unlocked the Nissan GTR across the street.
He was calm and natural as if nothing was going on, and it probably was like that for him, thought Lucy.
“Let’s go,” he said with a smile.
Lucy nodded and followed him, ever so thankful for choosing to wear her new hat on that cold day.
James walked next to her, covering her from the lenses and when they arrived at the car he opened the door for her and helped her in. Then quickly walked around it and drove away.
“Are you ok?” he asked as they turned the corner.
“Yes, sure. I mean, nothing really happened. I was just taken aback, I wasn’t mentally prepared like I was two weeks ago!” She said with a nervous laugh.
James looked at her from the corner of his eye.
“The pictures could be out tomorrow. I’m not sure how long they’ve been there but I’m quite confident they were waiting for us to leave the restaurant”.
Lucy nodded, silent.
“I’m no trying to scare you, Lucy, I just want to make sure you are prepared. It’s possible they are not too interested in the shots as nothing happened. You were never really facing them...” James said, evaluating the situation in his head.
Lucy sighed. “James, I’ll be fine. Either way. I said I was committed to this and I’m not backing away for a couple fo innocent pictures”.
He squeezed her hand and kissed it.
“I love you”.
When Lucy woke up it was two in the afternoon, she was due a night flight and wanted to get as much sleep in as possible.
She stirred in the bed and felt its cold emptiness where James should have been, she was so used to sleeping next to him that the few nights they spent at their respective flats, it felt unnatural to be alone.
She rubbed her face and yawned, then memory hit her: the paparazzi!
She grabbed her phone and detached it from the charging cable, now anxious to open her notifications and quantify the damage.
A text from James.
I didn’t want to wake you up, so I didn’t call but I saw the pictures, I’ve sent them to you on Instagram. I don’t think there’s much to worry about.
“I’ll be the judge of that”. She said aloud.
She quickly opened the Instagram message from James and clicked on the linked pictures, her heart racing.
There were four pictures, in sequence.
The first showed James and Lucy saying goodby to the group, Lucy had her back to the camera.
The second was of the two of them together, James smiling and stroking her arm.
In the third picture, James had a cigarette between his thumb and index finger and was blowing out smoke, looking straight at the camera.
The last picture was the only one where Lucy didn’t have her back to the photographers, she was walking slightly in front of James holding her bag as they crossed the street. She was looking at the tarmac and her hat covered a good part of her face, making it really hard to tell her features.
The caption of the post read.
Actor James Kent in south London yesterday evening, leaving the restaurant with a female friend. He escorted her to his car and they drove away together.
“A female friend?!” Lucy exclaimed.
She quickly sent the pictures to Harriet and called her, hoping she wasn’t flying.
Her friend answered on the second ring.
“Hey honey, are you ok?”
“Yes, all good.” Replied Lucy. “Are you busy?”
Harriet explained she had just come home from the shops.
“I’ve sent you some pictures. Can you have a look at them, please?”
Plastic bags noise from the other end.
“Sure honey, any hint on what I’m looking for?”
“No,” said Lucy. “Just have a look”.
Harriet put her on speaker and opened the message, she was silent for a moment while examining the pictures.
“That’s James,” she said matter of factly, then “that’s like the hat I gave you...oh, that’s you!“.
“Yes. It’s me...”
“Oh, my goodness! You’ve been papped!”
Lucy covered her face with her hands
“It happened eventually”.
“How does it feel?” asked Harriet, trying to evaluate her friend’s mood.
“I don’t know, weird. But I think you can’t really tell it’s me. I mean I knew you’d guess it because you know the situations and you know me, but it took you a moment so it’s not that obvious”.
“It’s practically impossible. Unrecognizable”.
Lucy was relieved to hear that, she hung up with her and called James.
"I told you, we’re absolutely fine!” he said after Lucy reported her conversation with Harriet.
“Yes, I think I just need time to get used to it”.
"You just need to learn how to ignore it,” corrected James.
“I’ll get there. For you”.
“I love you,” said James.
Lucy got out of bed and put some music on, dancing in her underwear as she made herself lunch. The sun was shining, James loved her and she had survived her first paparazzi encounter.
Life was good.
Things seem to finally be getting on the right track for Lucy and James!