Nothing – Chapter 1
I awoke in unfamiliar surroundings with a smug smile. It was a bright, breezy August day. A mere twenty-four hours ago I had received my (very favourable) degree results and this was my first day as a free man. A fully-fledged graduate. The world was my proverbial oyster.
…What the fuck was I supposed to do?!
Then the hangover kicked in. Clutching my head, I examined my situation in more detail. I was in the most squalid bedsit you could imagine. I lay on a mattress on the floor, with a sink to my immediate left and a toilet just mere metres away. The floor was hidden in a mass of women's underwear. The smell was a cross between feminine perfume and stale cigarette smoke. Merely for fear of my health, I had to get out of there.
I felt very cold. I sat bolt upright and looked down. My suspicions were confirmed: my clothes had somehow disappeared through the course of the night. I slid from under the inadequate bed-covers and started to search for the missing articles, gingerly lifting various undergarments and praying I wouldn't be caught. I wished I was wearing my glasses – my eyesight was blurry enough as it was.
I could hear voices ascending the stairs outside. Three women. An image from last night flashed back to me – three women leading me up those very same stairs. I panicked and glanced around wildly. Miraculously, I spotted my jeans lying in a heap by the toilet. Trying not to think about how they got there, I buttoned and zipped them on just as the door opened.
Two blondes and a brunette stood in the doorway, bearing a shopping bag each. In unison, they took in my undeniably chiselled torso. The brunette smiled. "We were just about to make you breakfast," she said, opening her bag to reveal a box of eggs, a carton of milk and some bacon.
"Excellent," I replied, my hangover starting to lift already. I shook my chestnut hair out of my eyes, flashed them my most dazzling smile and watched them simper. "Now. Could one of you young ladies tell me where I appear to have mislaid my shirt? And locating my underpants would also be a good idea, I think."
Back at my own pristine flat, showered and in clean clothes, I made myself a very British cup of tea and attempted to remember the events of the previous evening. A hazy memory of a club, many a vodka shot… suddenly I didn't want to remember. I sipped my tea and burnt my tongue, steaming up my glasses in the process. All in all, I mused, not the best start to my new life.
My roommate stumbled out of his bedroom, looking disorientated. "Where am I?" he slurred.
"The flat, Jonathon," I sighed, wiping my glasses clean. I knew this routine by heart.
"Who are you?"
"Your esteemed ex-course-mate and best friend in all the world, Tim."
"Oh." Jon shook his head and his eyes opened a fraction more. He winced at the sunlight.
"Bad night?" I enquired.
"No, no. A very good night, actually," he grinned, suddenly awake. Right on cue, I heard shuffling from his bedroom and a cough. I raised an eyebrow. "He's called… erm, I have a feeling it's Alan. Or Adam."
"Alex, actually," came the muffled reply from the bedroom. Our meagre flat, though better than the flea-pit I had awoken in that morning, wasn't fully soundproof. I was quite glad I hadn't been here, even if I had spent the night in a disease-ridden bedsit. I averted my gaze as 'Alex' emerged and said goodbye to Jon. As he trudged down the stairs, I placed a cup of tea in front of Jon. "Drink," I ordered. He complied and I could see the cogs in his head working to a halfway decent speed. "Well... we're no longer students. So what next?" he asked.
"Don't know about you," I said, inspecting my fingernails, "but I have a job interview lined up."
"Oh yeah, I remember you saying. Lucky you. But what am I going to do? What can you do with an Media Studies degree?"
"Bugger only knows, mate. That's exactly what my parents asked me when I chose the course. My guess is you'll go into the Media business, funnily enough. But I suppose it doesn't really matter for me. You don't need qualifications to be famous."
"You don't even need brain cells to be famous, Tim. Just ride a giant inflatable cock or something through the centre of Manchester and you'll make the paper."
"Pah! Small time, my good friend, small time. No, I shall be known up and down the land. Every man, woman and child, of noble or peasant origin, shall know my name and revere it!" I sounded cocky (and terribly eloquent), but I knew what I needed to do and where I needed to go. I knew where I was going to end up. And the one thing I was most certain of was this: I, Timothy Evans, would be the most famous man in the UK, if not Europe. If not the world.
What talents did I have? I didn't sing or dance. I didn't write. No, it was my natural charm and charisma that was going to lead me to fame, fortune, and fountains of champagne. And, of course, my looks. Then again, I could become famous even without my divine gifts in this media-obsessed society. It was going to be easy. Especially as I already had a job interview lined up for Radio Lancashire tomorrow. You have to start small – you can't just jump straight on the TV and expect people to love you. I would be patient. It could take years but damn it, I was going to succeed.
"Sure, sure," came the familiar reply. "And I'm –"
"Gordon Brown," I finished. Jon glared at me. I think we both needed a hangover cure, and fast. And, more than anything, Jon needed a shower. His brown hair was limp with sweat and alcohol, and his face greasy with the same. Needless to say, he did not smell pleasant that morning.
My thoughts were interrupted with a tinny sound emerging from the kitchen table. My mobile was ringing and when I looked at the caller ID I didn't recognise the number. Jon winced with every ring, so I pressed the 'accept' button quickly. "Hello?"
"Timothy-y-y-y," a female voice said, dragging out the last syllable as far as she could. "Guess who it is!"
"Mum?! Now that just takes the biscuit, Tim. I'm sure I don't sound like your mother!"
"Stranger things have happened. Now, who are you?"
"Sarah. Sarah Lewis." Sarah… Sarah? I didn't know a Sarah, never mind a Sarah Lewis. "Sarah! I made you eggs and bacon this morning," she said impatiently.
"Oh, Sarah!" I gushed, maybe a trifle too enthusiastically. "Yes, Sarah, from the lovely flat."
"Liar. It's a squalid little bedsit." That I had to agree with. Something occurred to me then.
"How did you get my number?"
"Well, you gave it to me. I'm sitting on it right now," she giggled. My mouth opened in horror as I remembered some... misdeeds involving bare bottoms and magic markers.
"Ah, I remember now. Erm… so… any reason you're ringing?"
"You left your wallet here. Thought you should come and pick it up later? Say, around seven? And then maybe we could go and get dinner somewhere…" She babbled on and on. I tried to interrupt but to no avail. Eventually she ran out of steam and I agreed to pick up my wallet later. I hung up the phone and sighed heavily.
"Oh, it's so difficult being you, isn't it," Jon mocked. "Women ringing you up, begging for a second date…"
"You heard that? Anyway, this isn't a date, let alone a second. I'm going to pick up the wallet and bugger off. There is no way I'm going back to that hell-hole again. For a start, it's disgusting. And she's just… irritating. Her friends are too. I had them all fussing round me this morning, making me eggs and bacon and all manner of breakfast dishes – all on a camping stove. They're not exactly… sophisticated." Jon rolled his eyes. "Maybe you don't have quite such high standards as I do, old bean," I said scathingly.
"On the contrary, old chap. Alex is the head of a modelling agency." Suddenly I paused to think. My hungover brain was trying to tell me something.
"Modelling! Of course! Jon, have you got his number?"
"Probably… somewhere about here…" he said, glancing around the room.
"Find it and call him," I snapped, "and tell him you've got an exceptional potential client you can recommend to him. Tell him I'll do anything. Anything. Now!"
I purposely dressed down to collect my wallet from Squalid Sarah's abode. Normally I always look my best, whatever the occasion, but I didn't want to be dragged to her favourite restaurant or a darling little bar as she had suggested. I wanted my money and I wanted out.
The whole building was foul. The wall of the halls were painted in flecked sludge-green paint and the stone floor was stained in numerous places in numerous colours. The stairs, predictably, stank of piss. I held my breath as I knocked at her door, praying she'd answer quickly. Thankfully, she did. I gave her an appreciative once-over. She was wearing a short denim skirt and tight-fitting shirt, with very high heels. Something sparkled at her throat and she'd done something to her eyelashes to make them much longer and thicker than they should be. A flicker of disappointment flashed across her face when she glanced at my attire, but then she smiled widely in a way that, if we were in a different setting, would instantly melt me. The fact of the matter was I couldn't ignore her living arrangements.
"Sarah," I said brightly. "I believe you have something for me?"
"Indeed I do, Mr Evans. Would you like to come in?"
"Best not, really. I've got somewhere to be." Looking crestfallen, she retreated into the flat and came back a second later with my wallet. "Thanks, Sarah, I appreciate it."
"Sure you don't fancy a night on the town?" she tried again. She still had my wallet.
"Sadly, I cannot. I have a job interview tomorrow – very important."
"We'll be back early, then."
"I, erm, am visiting my great aunt tonight. She needs, erm, her rose bush trimming."
"That shouldn't take too long, why don't you call after -"
"It's a very big rose bush," I interrupted. Finally, she got the message. The anger in her eyes was intense. I backed away slightly, on impulse.
"Fine," she said sulkily, lobbing my wallet with considerable force down the stairs. I heard it land in something wet. While I hoped it wasn't urine, she slammed the door in my face. I smiled. That was easier than I thought.
"Timothy Evans? My name is Dan Berry, pleased to meet you." Berry, a tall and well-built brute of a man, held out his hand and I received the limpest handshake I had ever encountered. Evidently, appearances could be deceptive. He gestured for me to sit down on the plastic chair by his desk. The office was dark and cramped, and cluttered with various newspapers and general debris. "So, what brings you to Radio Lancashire?" he smiled, rubbing his hands together in a let's get down to business way. I tried not to notice the way he constantly looked like he was going to wring my neck.
"Well," I said, mentally preparing myself to bullshit my way through the interview, "I've always liked radio, and frequently listen to it. During my degree I toyed with the idea of being a DJ or newsreader, and now that I've graduated I've decided that this is my perfect career."
"Ok. And your degree is in…" Berry glanced at my CV. Silently I noted a bald patch at the top of his coconut head.
"Media Studies," I prompted. From there on, I shone. I dazzled him with my wit, I wowed him with my passion, and damn it, if I didn't get that job I just wouldn't believe it. I left Berry's untidy office feeling confident that I would be Radio Lancashire's new evening disc-jockey.
On my way to the train station, I rang Jon at the flat. He informed me that he had rung Alex and left a message, and had had a call back saying that I should go down to the studio tomorrow for an informal interview. I hung up, feeling elated. Two job interviews in two days! I thought it'd come easy, but I did not expect it to be this easy. A DJ-stroke-model – it just sounded too good to be true.
My lucky streak ended, however, as I boarded the train. My mobile rang and I recognised the number. I wanted to hang up but curiosity overwhelmed me. What had I left this time? "Hello, Sarah," I said wearily.
"Timothy Evans, you're a bad man." I located at seat with a table and sat down opposite an old lady dressed head to toe in lavender.
"Is that all you wanted to tell me? Because I kind of already knew that, having known myself – well, my whole life, in fact."
"Don't get sarky with me, Timbo. Now, I demand a date."
"Don't beat about the bush, eh, just –"
"I demand a date," she repeated. She sounded serious. "You're pretty transparent, you know. My living arrangements don't make me who I am."
"Of course not," I cooed while trying to figure out how to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
"So take me out. Tonight. You will pick me up at eight, you will wear something nice, and you will take me out for a meal."
"Is this your usual seduction technique? It's pretty coarse. Maybe you should soften up." The old woman sitting opposite me was giving me funny looks. I frowned at her and she looked away.
"No, it's not, but then you're not my usual type. A different approach is needed with you, I think. So, tonight at eight, and have the money to pay for a meal. And flowers wouldn't go amiss either."
"But –" She hung up before I could protest. I glared at the phone, the old lady, and the scenery rolling past in turn. It didn't matter how much she demanded, I was not taking her out. It was no longer about her appalling accommodation; it was now the fact that she was a whiny and tyrannical individual that was stopping me from even entertaining the idea. Oh, she'd be ready at eight alright, but I wouldn't be there. Instead I spent a pleasant evening relaxing and reflecting on my stunning interview and making sure I looked perfect for tomorrow's. As a safety precaution, I switched my phone off.
However, when I woke the next morning from an excellent night's sleep, I switched my phone on to find messages amounting to double figures from the persistent Sarah. The first was a fairly calm where are you, the last a shrieking, sobbing affair, with graphic details about where she'd like to stick my wallet. I listened to each one the whole way through, feeling more irritated by the minute. I hung up and threw the phone on my bed, deciding not to care. My interview today depended entirely – well, mostly – on how I looked and, while that shouldn't have been too much of a problem, it helps to make a bit of an effort. I decided to wear my glasses for once. They made me look professional and enabled me to see better but also, critically, brought out the structure of my cheekbones.
I strode into Alex's agency building five minutes early and shown to his office on the third floor straight away. I loved it on sight: the polished mahogany, the cream sofa, and the immaculate presentation. I confess I do have a fondness for tidiness and order; I just like things to be in their place. The fact that Alex's office was so made me like him before I even set eyes on him properly.
When he left our flat the previous morning I didn't manage to get a good look at him, but I could instantly see why Jon was drawn to him. He was attractive: a slim man with blonde hair that was limp with cleanliness. His brown eyes bore into me as I introduced myself. I dearly wished I had his grey suit. "Hello, Tim – may I call you Tim?"
"Sure, Tim's fine." Alex sat down on the sofa by the window and gestured me to join him. Once I was in the light, he studied my face intently, tilting it this way and that with his index finger. "Yes," he said almost to himself. "You've certainly got a good bone structure." That, I knew, was thanks to my sex-specs. "You've got excellent eyes and lips too. Not quite sure about your nose…" My nose? How dare he criticise my nose! My nose was maybe a little on the crooked side, but every model these days is airbrushed. "…but otherwise, very good. Of course, that's only one aspect of the job. You'll need a thick skin – no room for egos in this business."
"Of course," I agreed, whilst trying to look as suave as possible.
"Have you had any experience?"
"Sadly not, but I am eager to learn."
"Well, why don't we go down to the studio? Don't worry," he said, though I was positively ecstatic at the prospect, "we'll put you through make-up first. And we'll go easy on you, as it's your first time." I'd almost forgotten he was gay until he said that, smiling in a vaguely seductive way. "Come, you can meet some of the other models while you're here." He stood up and I followed him down to the second floor, where I was shown into a brilliant white room. Various beautiful women were milling about in various stages of undress.
"Is anyone from make-up free?" Alex shouted across the room. A small brunette scurried across the room, wearing a make-up bag on a belt and wielding a hairbrush. She was familiar. As she met my eyes I realised who it was: Sarah. I was sure I was mistaken; it was far too much of a coincidence. Her eyes narrowed. With a sinking heart I conceded it was indeed her. "Sarah, dear, get this man looking natural and get him kitted out. I'm thinking geek-chic for this one." Before I even had time to bluster over the term geek-chic – damn my glasses! – Sarah was dragging me by my bicep towards the dressing rooms. I looked back desperately for Alex but he had long since departed.
Rather worryingly, I was alone in a room with a women who wanted to stick men's accessories up my arse. Surely this was not a good situation to be in, especially as she seemed to be holding that hairbrush like it was a dagger.
"Sit," she commanded, ripping off my glasses and shaking a bottle of foundation viciously. "Head back." Without warning she slapped the stuff on my face and rubbed it in, hard. When she finished I feared my youthful skin would sag prematurely with the damage she'd done. Stabbing my face with the powder brush wasn't entirely enjoyable either, and I was glad when she was done twenty minutes later. I looked in the mirror. I looked exactly the same, but more… statuesque. I liked it immensely.
She pointed at the door. "One minute," she spat. I stood in the dressing room like a made-up lemon while she disappeared, presumably to get my clothes. She returned with a Doctor Who-esque long coat, cords, jumper and shirt, and excessively long scarf. "On. Now. I'll return in five minutes. Don't smudge your make-up. Remember the glasses." And with that she left me to get changed. It was a small mercy she hadn't stayed.
I emerged with a minute to spare, not knowing what to do next. Suddenly Sarah sprung up by my side and angrily adjusted my scarf, practically choking me. "Dean! Dean," she called, and a very camp man scuttled towards us. I prayed he wasn't the photographer, but I deduced with a sinking heart he was – the camera was a bit of a giveaway. If he called me 'babe' or 'princess' even once, I would be out of there.
"Darling!" he gushed. "Simply darling. What does Alex want doing?"
"He's an interviewee. Standard shoot."
"Wonderful, darling, wonderful. Come, come! I'm going to make you look darling." He trotted off and I followed, feeling like a faithful dog at his master's heel.
As I posed this way and that, I saw Sarah glaring at me from the corner of my eye more than once. I could see that this could be a potential occupational hazard. When I did get this job, I would have to find a way to get her fired.