Nothing – Chapter 3

A/N: Here you go, chapter three. Sorry I'm so slow. Blame school and my two jobs – I do. And once again thank you very much for the reviews! I am seriously unhappy with this chapter so expect it to be rewritten soon. Advice on the pace would be appreciated.

We came out of the newsagent's and stood in the freezing street. My hands were almost shaking as I held the copy of the magazine in my hands. Fame was, literally, in my grasp. "Go on," Sarah urged, nudging my arm. I took a deep breath and flicked through it. Finally I found it: my first published fashion shoot.

What had they done to my face?! My eyes were larger and glowed a brighter green, my forehead higher, my mouth fuller. My hair was shinier and a slightly different brown. And I could have sworn they'd lengthened my torso. Those bastards had airbrushed me out of all recognition!

I turned to look at Sarah for confirmation that this was most certainly not normal, but she was smiling. "You look fantastic!" she cooed. "You'll have to wear suits like that more often."

"But they…! My face…! They've -"

"Tim, don't be daft. Airbrushing is part of the whole process. You should know that, you're a Media graduate. And look, look what they've done to your nose! Not that it needed it," she added, probably out of kindness. I peered more closely and found that yes, my nose had been straightened slightly, and the hideous bump removed. I supposed that was one positive outcome of this whole hideous farce.

"I don't look anything like myself!"

"You look how they want you to look. Deal with it. Come on, let's go and show Jon. You have a lot to thank him for." That was true: I did have a lot to thank him for. Sarah and I had successfully managed to get him and Alex together, which, needless to say, had helped my modelling slightly. I'd only been working at Elite for two months and already I had my own double-page spread. Finally, someone had recognised my potential.

"You're not disappointed, are you?" she asked as we walked arm-in-arm back to the flat.

"No, not at all," I garbled, gripping the magazine tighter. But of course I was disappointed. How would people recognise me?! And if they did, they'd see all the so-called 'imperfections' that had been airbrushed out. I was livid. I knew I'd be tweaked, but not this much. Was I not handsome enough already? What more did they want?!

Sarah opened the door to the flat using her own key – how I wished I'd never agreed to that – and we stumbled in from the cold stairway. I immediately collapsed on the sofa, rubbing my hands together. It was far too cold for October, I decided. Sarah put the kettle on and started to make us a cup of tea.

I watched her with barely concealed contempt. I hadn't planned this and, looking back, I'm not sure how it even happened. Somehow, what was effectively prostitution had mutated into a hideous, 'wholesome' relationship.

After that second date, she'd started plaguing me with texts again, using our plan to get Alex and Jon together as an excuse. And when we'd finally succeeded, she started 'bumping into me' at work, checking up on me. She made me come out for drinks after work. She forced me to kiss her. She practically raped me – well, maybe I acquiesced to that part a little more willingly. But she conned me into a relationship. And, I decided as she handed me my tea, it needed to end, and soon.

"Jon?" she called into his bedroom. I heard a muffled groan, which meant he was awake at least. "Jon, it's been published, come and see!" More groans. In our university days Jon hadn't been employed, and he was finding his new job as a waiter tough going – even if it was only a few nights a week.

"Leave him be, it's his day off," I called over my shoulder. Quite honestly, I was glad he wasn't as enthusiastic as Sarah wanted him to be.

"Don't you want him to see it?"

"Not really." She came back into the living room, a concerned expression on her face. Oh God. I hated Concerned Sarah. But not quite as much as Lovey-Dovey Sarah or Excited Sarah. I shuddered a little at the mere thought.

"Aaw, Timmy, what's u-u-up? Come here, have a kiss and cuddle, let me warm you up." She pounced on me and I had to fight her off.

"Sarah! No – it's – nothing, it's nothing. I'm just a little embarrassed by it – the shoot – that's all. I look so pompous," I lied. I would have looked fantastic had they not changed my every pore. Well, I still did look fantastic but it wasn't really me.

Her eyes narrowed and I could tell she was trying to 'read me', another of her annoying little mannerisms. I tried to make my face as neutral as possible. The silence was broken by Jon stumbling out of his room in nothing but his unfortunately lurid boxers, rubbing his eyes and scratching his arse.

"Jon – pants – now," I commanded, feeling like I was looking after a small child. Ignoring me, he lurched over to the sofa and grabbed the magazine from where it lay beside me.

"Go on, what page is our little media darling on?" he said sleepily, flicking through. "Aah, yes, here you are. Wow, you look… different."

"I know," I said grumpily. "Give it back."

"Nah, this is good, mate! Nice one. And it's paying for our rent as well, double bonus."

"And I'm sure Tim is very grateful to you for persuading Alex to do this, isn't he?" Sarah said with arched eyebrows and a pointed tone. I took the rather heavy hint and mumbled a thanks.

"You're welcome. Right, I want my breakfast." And with that Jon went off to the kitchen, leaving Sarah and I alone again. This was a good chance, I realised.

"Sarah, listen for a second," I said, distancing myself from her slightly. "Now, I just want to say that I've had a great time with you over the few months or so." She beamed at me. "But – but I think we should…" I watched confused as her smile grew even wider.

"So soon?" she gasped. "Tim, I'm – I'm speechless. You want us to move in together?!" It was my turn to be speechless. "Oh! Yes, let's! I can't wait to get out of my crappy bedsit."

"No, wait, that's not –"

"Oh, it's a right little hole, isn't it. Remember, you rejected me at first because of it, you little neat-freak," she teased, pulling at my cheek. I willed her silently to stop.

"Sarah-I-can't-move-in-with-you," I gabbled suddenly. She stopped pulling at my cheek and gave me a quizzical look. "In fact… I can't go out with you any more. I think we're done." Feeling relieved, I sat back and waited for the aftermath.

It never came, though. Instead, she laughed. Laughed! I'd just said I wanted to end it, and she laughs. Evidently, I didn't hold much authority in this relationship. "Oh, that's a good joke, Tim," she spluttered.

I smiled weakly. "Yes… a joke. Look, I'm off for a walk, I need some fresh air."

"Right, I'll get my coat –"

"If it's ok, I'd rather go on my own." She looked crestfallen. Not caring, I got my coat and stormed out of the flat.

First of all, I must establish I was not afraid of commitment. I didn't crave it exactly, but I didn't resist it either. The idea of someone worshipping the ground I walked on was most pleasing. I believe that this was part of the reason why I didn't put my foot down: I was, pitifully, grateful for Sarah and her undying adoration.

As I breathed in the smell of car exhaust , I tried to visualise my future. It was definitely not in Manchester, as nice as it was to live here. No, I belonged in London, I was convinced. I belonged in London in a TV studio, with my own show and my name in huge letters on the wall behind me. That was where I was going to end up, and Sarah just didn't fit into the equation. She did have some of the factors I was looking for, such as the aforementioned adoration. And she was rather attractive. But she was too needy and clingy and far too domineering. The fact she was taking over my life didn't help either.

I made a plan. I had to move on: I had to speak to Alex, see if he had any contacts in TV or radio and get my name known. I couldn't afford to wait any longer. If I wanted to be famous, I had to do it when I was young and (naturally) good-looking. Sarah just didn't fit in. She had damaged my confidence and that was the one thing I couldn't live without. She had to go.

A couple of hours later I reluctantly made my way back at the flat. Sarah was slobbed in front of the television on the cream leather sofa, watching daytime TV and wearing one of my jumpers. When I came in she looked up at me with those pleading brown eyes of hers. With the knowledge of what I was about to do and the power I wielded, I felt like my old self again instead of this timid, stuttering man I had become. "Woman!" I greeted her, attempting to assert my authority. "It's over, sweetheart. You and me are finished." I hadn't meant to sound like Humphrey Bogart, but it wasn't an entirely unpleasant effect. In fact, it gave it a dramatic flair which I rather liked.

Instead of looking heartbroken and hysterical with mascara streaking her cheeks as I had expected her to, Sarah just gave me an odd look. "Woman?" she repeated dumbly.

"You heard me, sugar. Get your things and go."

"Tim, this was funny the first time. It's just tedious now."

"Come on," I demanded, hauling her up from the sofa. "Give me back my jumper and beat it."

"What are you on about?!"

I dragged her towards the door. "We're not moving in together! We're not going out together! We're not sleeping together! And we're not doing each other any more favours! Ok? Now… fuck off!" I really had to stop ruining these dramatic moments with expletives, I reflected as I practically threw her out of the door. She turned back to me, struggling out of my jumper. I didn't help her.

Eventually she pulled it off her head and handed it back to me. I wanted to laugh: her hair looked like it had been dragged through a hedge. "My coat," she whispered. I grudgingly fetched it, and silently she turned and made her way down the stairs.

I closed the door grinning like a fool. I was free once again.

"Tim?" Jon called. I peered into the kitchen. He was standing there with a cup of tea to his lips.

"Ah, Jon."

"What the hell was that? Why did you get rid of Sarah? And in such a… theatrical fashion?"

For the first time I realised Jon knew nothing of how we'd got together. I could see I had a lot of explaining to do. But I just couldn't be bothered.

"Oh, many reasons, mate. Is the water still hot?" I said dismissively, indicating the kettle.

"Yeah, it is… seriously, what's going on?"

"Not much, except she's a conniving, manipulative cow with no concept of the word 'no'. Have we run out of sugar? And by the way, I have a favour to ask." Not waiting for his reply, I ploughed on. "Do you know if Alex knows anyone in television?"

"I'm not sure…"

"Or radio. Radio would be fine, for now." The countertop was filthy. I grabbed a cloth from the sink and started to wipe it down.

"Tim, are you feeling alright?"

"Perfectly fine," I said, still wiping. "But this flat is disgusting." Ignoring whatever look he was giving me, I continued to clean.

If I had one flaw – if – then I was looking at it right now. Long, thin, stupid crooked nose. I peered in the mirror at different angles. Just how much did it stick out? Was that bump endearing or unpleasant? I cursed my genes and vowed to get plastic surgery as soon as I had enough money.

"What are you doing?" Jon asked as he watched his foul Sunday morning TV, eating his equally foul bowl of soggy Cheerios. I loathed the merriment they represented.

"Wondering whether a ski jump-style nose would suit me or if I should go for a more Romanesque look."

"It all depends on your face structure."

"That's just what I was thinking. I have these quite marvellous cheekbones, especially with my glasses, see -"

"I was being sarcastic. Tim, your nose is fine, you don't need surgery, and you're going to be late." I glanced at my watch and saw that he was right, I was indeed going to be late. I continued the close examination of my otherwise stunning form.

"Maybe you should go?"

I would have, had I not been so compelling.

"Tim, you know what your mum's like…" Jon warned.

"Alright, alright, I am going!" I snapped, grabbing my coat. "I'll see you later. What time do you finish work?"

"The tenth of never, it seems. I'm working till 10."

"A mere five hours, Jon. It won't kill you."

"Whatever," he said, not taking his eyes off the screen and waving me off. "Bye."

"Bye." I pulled my coat on as I opened the door and made my way down the stairs.

One twenty-minute bus ride later, in which I contemplated the various merits of cosmetic surgery as opposed to growing old gracefully (oh, how that made me laugh), I arrived at my parents' old Victorian terraced house. I steeled myself at the bottom of the path. Talking with them was always difficult, but today I imagined it would be worse than usual. Taking a deep breath, I walked up the path and rang the bell.

My mother answered, reeking of Eau de Last Birthday Present, smiling from ear to flipping ear. Needless to say, I was considerably less cheery. She gave me a quick hug that was far too formal for a mother to her son, ushered me into the lounge and bustled off to get the traditional English fare of tea and biscuits. I took in the familiar surroundings: the pale pink sofa and matching chairs, the fussy ornaments on every available surface, the Cliff Richard plates hung on the wall. It was all so fucking twee.

My father sat waiting for me in his customary chair by the window – a custom that to this day I still don't understand. Was I to believe he sat there at all times among the inconceivable amounts of floral print, awaiting my arrival?

"Aah, Timothy!" he said, standing to greet me like a business colleague. His jet-black greased-back hair glistened in the light from the bay window behind him. I tried not to laugh.

"Hi, Dad," I said, immediately earning a despairing glare.

"Evidently, university has coarsened your language somewhat," he muttered. "How have you been?"

"S'good, been hanging with my homies -" As my father gave me what can only be described as a middle-class death stare, we were presented with refreshments. Mother sat down on my other side and poured the tea, and we sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the sound of clinking china. I knew what was coming.

"Have you thought about what you're going to do next?" Mother asked.

"Well…" I began, debating whether to lie or not. I decided to get their backs up by telling the truth. "I've started some modelling work -" My reply was cut short with a small but sputtering cough from my father. "Modelling?" he repeated in the tone of voice one would use for the word 'prostitute'.

"Yes, I am a model. And I have a double page spread in this week's Suit and Tailoring Monthly," I said smugly.

"Well. Yes. I suppose you must do what you must do to pay the rent," he conceded.

"Oh no, I hope to make it into a career. If Alex – that's my boss – knows anyone in television, who knows where it could lead?"

"It will lead to the gutter and beyond!" he exploded, placing his cup down on the saucer alarmingly carefully lest he break it. Even when letting his emotions get the better of him, however briefly, he was still worried about the sodding china. "Timothy, we have discussed this before. Enough of this 'fame' nonsense. What is the attraction? People hounding you all the time, your every utterance twisted out of form by the confounded press, your every move scrutinised!"

"Why not join the police?" my mother said sweetly from my other side. We were treading on old ground. "It's a good profession, and you'd be giving something back to society."

"Indeed I would, Mother, but it holds very little appeal. I think I could make good money from celebrity. Father, listen. I have the looks, the charm…"

"And obviously the sheer stupidity! Timothy, I will not stand for this. I beseech you, join the force. Or make use of your – frankly, frivolous – degree. Just do… something!"

"Male prostitute?"

"And how's your love life?" my mother swiftly changed the subject. "And how's Jon?"

"Love life, fine," I lied. "Jon, fine. He's a waiter now."

My mother raised her eyebrows, but quickly tried to look nonplussed. "How… bohemian. And you and he are getting along ok?"

I gave her the look of contempt she deserved. "He's my best friend, of course we are. In fact, we're having this wonderful gay affair," I added sarcastically, for good measure.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, placing her tea down in a manner similar to my father's. Her jewelled hands fluttered to her chest and tried to 'steady' her 'palpitating' heart. "Oh, now that's a bit of a bombshell! You're… you're gay?" I glanced over at my father, whose look of deep and utter disappointment said it all.

"No, of course not!" I snapped. "I was winding you up."

"But you're so terribly brave to admit it. Oh, my poor boy, you must have been so tortured-"

Why did all the women in life think I was gay? Did I give off a vibe?! I resolved to stop using the aftershave Jon gave me last Christmas. And as I watched my mother flush and grow faint, I spied a flicker of enjoyment in her eyes. She was loving this. Just think: when she had her blasted friends round for coffee and scones, she could bemoan the fact I was a homosexual and how I'd been struggling to repress it for years, and how I'd finally settled down with a nice lad I met on my course at university. They would nod and tut and tsk, and my mother would be the centre of attention, at the expense of her son. Such is life.

"I am not gay. And on that bombshell, I need to be off. I have an underwear shoot later today. For FHM." I was, of course, lying again, but I couldn't help it. Something about my parents just made me want to horrify them constantly, and no doubt lead them to early graves.

It took me a further twenty minutes to extract myself from my mother's sobbing embrace and distance myself from my father's stern stare. He was stiffer than usual with me, keeping his distance, as if being gay was contagious. Not that I was gay, of course, but once parents get an idea into their heads it's hard to persuade them of the truth. What the hell, I thought on the bus on the way back, let them think I was a gay underwear model. It would give them something to talk about. And it would be an amusing anecdote for my eventual autobiography.

I got back to the flat exhausted. A mere hour with my parents had left me drained. I opened the door and relished the calm, the order, this haven of stillness and control I had created for myself. When we'd moved in Jon had made it clear he didn't give two hoots about the aesthetics of our accommodation, so I made it my own and I liked that. Wooden floors gleamed, leather sofas were cool to the touch, everything was at right angles to one another. I took a few minutes to compose myself, and realised Jon wasn't in. Hopefully he'd gone to get supplies; the fridge was looking despairingly bare.

I decided to lie down for a few minutes and get some energy back. Maybe Jon and I could go out that night and celebrate my freedom. I walked into my bedroom, eagerly anticipating the wonderfully crisp bedcovers, but as I opened the door all I could do was gasp. Taped to my pillow was a message. An A4 sheet covered in thick black scrawl read: You've made a big mistake.