As requested by Nina 🙂 If you haven’t yet read any of MTFL, it’s psychological women’s fiction, so rather different to my normal young adult stuff. Click on the following links for earlier chapters –
Life Three – 2013
‘Good Morning London, you’re listening to Hear Say, and I’m Amy March, here with all of today’s top gossip! First up, Olympic champion Matty McAllister isn’t looking quite so golden these days! Whilst his long-term girlfriend India Masters is on location, filming in LA, McAllister has been spotted romancing a mysterious brunette, near his home in Holburn.’
My name is Ashleigh Vaughan and I’m 26. Not only am I the ‘mysterious brunette’ in question … but I’ve also fucked up big-style!
Before you judge me, there are a couple of things I should explain. First off, India Masters is my best friend. And Matty McAllister isn’t dating her. He’s dating me. It’s just that we’re pretty much the only people who know any of that …
I probably ought to start at the beginning. Matty is arguably the most famous rower in Britain at the moment. His honey-blond locks and chocolate brown eyes, combined with a Gold medal on home turf last year, were the perfect recipe for the British media. They descended on him … and descended on him hard. These days Matty can’t walk down the street without being recognised. His every move is documented in photograph-form, from arriving at an airport, to popping to the local corner shop for milk. He has a sponsor for his clothes, his hair gel and his trainers. In fact, if he’s seen drinking the wrong sports drink, the press, and his sponsors, will have kittens. So just think what will happen now he’s been caught kissing the wrong girl …
But the thing is I’m not the wrong girl!
The media weren’t the first to notice how special Matty McAllister is. I was … seven whole years ago! I was the girl who stood at the side of the Cam in the wind and the rain, willing Matty to ‘bump’ other boats in the name of St. John’s. I was the girl who painted her face Cambridge blue, and dressed in rowing team stash five-times too big for me, to show my true colours in the Boat Race, whilst all around me those bloody Oxford supporters yelled some nonsense about ‘shoe’-ing ‘the Tabs’! I sat next to him in lectures, and stood by him through Finals and interviews for consultancy firms. I pulled all-nighters with him in Exam Term, and fought off impending sleep with him at the annual May Balls. And I have watched him win every level of university, national and international rowing competition in the last five years.
I just happened to do it from the shadows …
I’ve never been one for the limelight. Even when we were back at university, I found myself referred to more often as ‘her friend’, or ‘his girlfriend’, than by my actual name. It’s not something I ever had a problem with. Reputation means nothing to me. Or rather, fame means nothing to me. As long as the people I care about know who I really am, why should I worry too much about what the rest of the world thinks?
I’m a lawyer.
At university, it was an over-used classification. We were automatically drawn into groups, and clustered under stereotypes, according to our major. I studied in the Law Faculty … therefore I was a ‘lawyer’.
At university that kind of classification annoyed me. And yet nowadays … nowadays I don’t want to be known as India Masters’ best friend, or Matty McAllister’s girlfriend.
I just want to be a lawyer!
I’m a barrister… finally! For two long years, I battled through my pupillage, barely enough time to myself to be classified as anything other than a pupil anyway … but finally I’m free. Free from the shackles of servant-hood … because that was essentially what being a pupil was. I wasn’t a lawyer, I was someone else’s bitch. But I gritted my teeth, and did my time, and finally I am a barrister. In July last year, ironically the same month Matty became an Olympic Gold medallist, I was called to the London Bar, to practice Media Law.
I’m a lawyer. I just happen to also be dating the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, and best friends with one of Britain’s newest additions to Hollywood …
And I know, that if I were to play all of those three cards, then the law would be the last thing people would see.
The thing with the Bar, is it’s a community based on reputation. Your face has to fit. And even in this day and age, having a female face, and may I say, a rather pretty one at that, often works to my detriment. I worked hard … beyond hard … for two years, proving to the top Wigs at my Chambers that I was serious about my job. That I was serious about my career. That being called to the Bar wasn’t simply an item on a long check-list of life achievements … That being called to the Bar was my life.
And even though we all know it’s possible to have a job, and a boyfriend, and friendships, I just doubted that the powers-that-be would see things that way, if my relationships and friendships were quite literally front-page news.
And so I made a decision.
And now, as I stare up at the TV screen declaring my boyfriend to be a lying, cheating scumbag … I’m beginning to wonder if the decision I made was the right one.
Almost exactly two years ago, I put my career first. And in doing so, I thought I was doing my best friend a favour. India was a struggling actress at the time. She needed contacts, and she needed to be noticed. Matty had just been selected for the GB squad, and his calendar was quickly filling up with social events I knew I couldn’t commit to. He needed a ‘plus one’. And if I couldn’t be at his side, there was no one I trusted more than my best friend.
We had definitely under-estimated the press interest. Originally Ind and I had just assumed that she’d be able to rub shoulders with a couple of influential people, and have her face noticed in the right places. And she had done. Within months she was offered a part on the cult independent movie Vipers. The problem was, that Matty and India’s faces fit too well. They were beautiful. They are beautiful. And the British press honed in on that, and ran with it.
The sports star and the actress. It was like the Beckhams, Mark Two. Britain needed new icons, and Matty McAllister and India Masters were the perfect fit. A gorgeous, successful rower, and his glamorous, educated actress girlfriend.
The only problem was that she wasn’t really his girlfriend.
At first I just sat back and enjoyed life out of the heat of the spotlight. I would push anonymously through the crowds of photographers in hotel lobbies, giggling to myself at the irony of the situation. There they were, waiting for a single snap of Matty’s ‘famous girlfriend’ sneakily doing the walk of shame, and yet his real girlfriend was brazenly pushing through the crowd, completely unnoticed!
I would grin to myself, when the wives of my colleagues asked me if I had studied at St. John’s at the same time as ‘that gorgeous Matthew McAllister’? And breathe a sigh of relief when I saw yet another magazine picture criticising India for not wearing makeup, or for eating McDonalds, or God forbid … for wearing tracksuit bottoms!
But then I began to realise how cold life outside the spotlight can be, when the man you love is in it the entire time. Last year, when Matty was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year, I was obviously seated at his family table, however, when his name was read out, it was India’s face that the camera automatically switched to, and Indi who Matty was dutifully expected to kiss on the cheek.
Because of my ‘bright idea’ I could no longer kiss my boyfriend in public, or so much as hold his hand. I couldn’t go to the cinema alone with him, or go out to a restaurant with him, without an entourage of friends in tow.
I already spend my life behind closed doors … the office and the court-room. And those few sparing hours that I get to myself these days … well they are spent behind closed doors too. Because they have to be! Because the world believes that my Matty is one half of a couple, of which I am not a part.
I’m beginning to understand now why my parents told me not to lie as a child …
A lie grows. It spawns, like a plant … and each seed brings new challenges, new issues. On a daily basis I feel like my world is being overgrown … like this weed that I have unwittingly created is growing and spawning, and strangling my life as I know it. I feel under attack. And the one person I’ve always turned to, to shelter me from my problems, can’t help. Because he is right at the heart of them!
I almost cracked during the Olympics. Matty was busy training, and it was getting harder and harder for me to see him, because the press had got wind of the squad’s conjugal visits, and were camped outside the athlete’s village, waiting for India to make an appearance.
Meanwhile my work-colleagues couldn’t understand why I was so adamant about getting time off over the Olympics. Here I was, newly qualified, and completely unyielding, that I was taking two weeks holiday slap bang in the middle of the year’s biggest libel case.
Thankfully it turned out I wasn’t the only one struggling under the weight of our lie. India excused herself from the hype for a month, disappearing off to America ‘on location’, and only returning on the day of the Final, when she figured she couldn’t not be seen at Matty’s side.
Meanwhile Matty had found a confidante in his crew member and roommate Hugo. The adorable old Etonian was single, and more than happy to try and help his stroke out by pretending I was his girlfriend. With the media attention all comfortably on the front of their boat, I managed to sneak in and out of the British compound in the contrastingly anonymous role of Hugo Redmond’s girlfriend. That role gave me a seat on the VIP balcony, and a reason to run down to the boats the minute the boys crossed the finish line … though it still wasn’t a passport to celebrate my boyfriend’s Olympic Gold Medal the way I ought to have done …
I remember the minute they crossed the line.
I was sitting beside India, one hand clamped in hers. My other hand was at my neck, tightly holding onto the locket that Matty had given me on our first anniversary. My link to him. The thing that in the whole madness of this lie, reminded me of who I really was.
I had seen the boys finish in slow motion, just inches ahead of the American crew. I leapt to my feet, and was already running, pushing my way off the balcony, and down the steep aluminium stairs towards the water’s edge. As I landed on the muddy bank, I kicked off my £600 Louboutins without a second thought … something I later regretted when I spent a good thirty minutes hunting down an errant gold high-heel.
I pushed my way towards the boat, ready to fling my arms around my victorious boyfriend, only for India to race in front of me and shoot me a warning look. I watched on, pained, as India threw her arms around Matty, suddenly all too aware of the hundreds of cameras pointing in his direction. Blinking back tears, I felt a hand on my back. I turned, and tried to smile at Hugo. ‘Congratulations!’ I muttered, knowing all the joy had left my voice. He tugged me into his chest, to hide my tears from the world, and whispered in my ear, ‘It’s all ok, it’s just a few moments.’
I shook my head, angry at myself. Those few moments were Hugo’s as much as they were Matty’s. And I was stealing them from him. I pulled away, and gave him a grateful kiss on the cheek. ‘You need to celebrate with your parents!’ I tried to grin, and then ostentatiously congratulated the other two members of the crew, before waiting patiently in line to celebrate my boyfriend’s once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
That was ten months ago. After the Olympics, India’s fame sky-rocketed. She was signed onto bigger and better movies, and I guess the fame became addictive. I tried a couple of times to suggest that maybe it was time that she and Matty ‘broke up’, but India’s agency had other ideas. Apparently India’s real worth came from her role as half of a product. Split that product up, and she no longer had any value. And so the celebrity couple continued.
And I buried myself in work. After all, a lawyer was what I wanted to be. It was what I had always wanted to be.
I had actually thought myself incredibly lucky all those years ago. I have friends still searching for the ‘One’, and yet mine had practically landed in my lap in my first week at university. I guess I had taken it for granted. I’d always assumed that that box had been comfortably ticked, and thought it time to work on one of my other goals in life … a career. But I’d taken that first ticked box for granted … and now I was paying the price.
Matty and I had been dating for seven years. We’d told each other ‘I love you’ every single night for the last seven years, and talked of marriage and children and the future …
And yet we still lived in separate apartments. We couldn’t so much as food shop in public together, let along hold hands. We no longer took holidays together, for fear that Matty would be recognised, and all my work-colleagues thought of me as some sad singleton because I couldn’t bring my real boyfriend to social events.
And whilst two years ago, the last thing I needed was everyone knowing I was Matty McAllister’s boyfriend, right now it’s all I want.
I want to walk down a beach holding hands with my boyfriend. I want an engagement ring and then a wedding ring. I want to be Mrs. Matty McAllister, rather than that girl who people just assume is dating his crewmate. I want to run down to the boats at the end of a race, and fling my arms around his neck without having to worry who is watching. I want to parade him at Chambers dinners, and cuddle up to him in a cinema. I want to take him to Tesco!
I want a normal life.
And so yesterday afternoon, I threw a hissy fit. More than a hissy fit … I had a Class A tantrum. We were at his flat in Holburn, and it was my turn to cook dinner. Staring at the well-stocked pantry, I suddenly decided there was nothing to cook. I dunno … it had been a long day, and I’d seen one too many magazine covers with my boyfriend and another woman on them. I just wanted to spend time with him. I wanted a normal life. I didn’t want to sneak around anymore. And so, for no reason whatsoever, I demanded Matty come to Tesco with me!
It was silly, I know. And the stupid thing was that I was really my own enemy. This wasn’t Matty’s fault. Nor was it India’s fault. It had been my idea. But in that moment I had blamed Matty and India, and anyone but myself. And I had marched my boyfriend through the streets, hand in hand. I had made him push the trolley around Tescos as I flung food angrily into it, and then as we left the supermarket, I had all but mauled him in the street for the whole world to see.
God, what have I done?
My mobile phone is ringing. I know who it’ll be. It won’t be India. It’ll be her bitch of a publicist, reprimanding me like a schoolgirl for actually living my own life. I fling my Blackberry across the room angrily.
Fuck! What have I done? How can I even begin to fix this?
I’m so stupid. Not only have I ruined my adoring boyfriend’s reputation, but I had made myself look like a heartless whore in the process. Who knows? Maybe I am a heartless whore… Though deep down I know I just love him way too much.
I pace backwards and forwards across the room, wondering what I’m going to say to Ind. Wondering what I’m going to say to my boyfriend! There’s a knock at the door.
I peer through the peephole, suddenly worried the media have tracked me down already. A familiar pair of chocolate brown eyes greet me on the other side. I bite my lip like a naughty child, and open the door.
‘Just wondered if you fancied coming to Tesco with me?’ Matty asks with a cheeky grin.
I punch his arm in mock anger. ‘Don’t joke … oh God Matty, what have I done?’
Matty shakes his head, ‘Don’t be silly, it’s fine. We can fix this. Come on, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. No one’s been hurt, no one’s died. Ash, it’s honestly nothing! To be honest, we’ve been lying for too long – it hasn’t been fair on you. It hasn’t been fair on us.’
My eyes fill with tears, as my gorgeous, adoring boyfriend pulls me tightly into his muscular chest. ‘We can sort this out …’ he mumbles into my ear. ‘It’s just time to tell the truth. It’s that simple.’
I shake my head against his arms, warm tears rolling down my face. ‘We can’t do that Matty! You’ll be branded a liar! That’s not fair on you. It’s your reputation at stake. This was my idea … I should pay the consequences. I’ll say I accosted you! I’ll say I stalked you! I dunno … I should be the one to suffer!’
‘Ssssh,’ Matty breathes into my hair. ‘No one needs to suffer Ash. It’s all gonna be fine.’ He strokes my back.
‘But Matty it’s everywhere ….’
‘It’ll be yesterday’s news soon enough,’ he replies gently, leaning away from me briefly to switch off the television.
He pushes a strand of hair away from my face, and uses the pad of his thumb, probably the only soft part of his calloused hand, the brush the tears from my cheek.
‘Now, can we talk about something more important?’ he asks.
I shrug. ‘Like what?’ I feel as if I’d pulled away a brick, which has led to my whole world falling down around me.
‘Like why we’ve been putting our life on hold for India’s movie career!’
I frown, fresh tears forming in my eyes. I know Matty has never wanted any of this. He’s just a rower after all. The spotlight means as little to him as it did to me ….
‘Hey! No more tears!’ Matty smiles, though I can read the concern in his face.
When I don’t smile back, he gives me a look that tells me he’s serious.
‘Ash, come on … please? I’m trying to do something serious!’
I can’t help but smile.
‘Ok, ok, do something serious!’ I mutter, still distracted.
Matty takes a deep breath, and then reaching into his pocket, hands me a small pink Post-It Note.
‘Ashleigh I love you with all my heart … would you do me the honour of being my wife?’ it reads.
I run my finger over the words of the note, and look up at him in disbelief. Now he’s the one with tears in his eyes.
‘Why have we been delaying this Ash? Why have we been living our lives to please other people? When you are genuinely the only one I care about pleasing? I love you Ashleigh. Always have done. Always will do. And I want to start living the rest of our lives … together, and now’. He gestures to the Post-It Note. ‘This can’t wait. We can’t wait! ….’
I grip his waist to steady myself.
‘I love you too. And of course I’ll marry you. You’re right, this can’t wait. We’ve waited way too long.’ I stare down at the Post-It again. ‘I can’t believe you remembered …’ I smile.
‘Of course I remember.’ He grins. ‘It’s our history remember? Our history. And this is about us!’
Matty had asked me out on our first ever date by Post-It Note. He had passed it to me in the back of the lecture hall, one bored afternoon of Criminal Law. It had quite simply said ‘I rather fancy you, Miss Vaughan!’ To which I had simply replied, ‘Ditto!’.
I chuckle to myself at the memory. ‘You know, I should really have replied with a Post-It Note … in keeping with tradition!’
Matty shrugs. ‘I’ll accept an ‘I owe you’’ He grins, his face wide with excitement … ‘as long as the Post-It says Yes!’
‘Does the ‘I owe you’ need to be on a Post-It note too?’ I ask teasingly.
‘Ssssh you!’ he laughs, hugging me tightly to himself, and then lifting me up off my feet.
He carefully backs out of the room, my feet still lifted up off the floor. He steps into my bedroom, and lays me gently down upon my bed.
As he begins to undress me, kissing my neck delicately whilst tugging my jumper up from the waist. I smile to myself, wondering how I could have been so unhappy and so happy in the space of just a few minutes. I reason that this is just what love does to you.
That when you hand over your heart, you’re accepting that risk that someone can hurt you at a minute’s notice. But you’re also allowing for possibility. Allowing for the possibility that someone can knock on your door, and change your life within a matter of seconds. I clutch Matty’s broad shoulders tightly, just to check that all this is real. To check that his picture-perfect imperfect proposal is for real. That I’m not just dreaming.
Because this is us. This is Matty and me. We don’t need grand gestures. He doesn’t need to propose to me in front of the world. Fuck it – he doesn’t even need to kiss me in front of the world! As long as this is us behind closed doors.
And that wedding proposal … well that was about as ‘us’ as he could get!
© C-C Lester 2010