"Ahh, can't forget about those," George says, fingers grasping for the pair of reds at Lola's elbow.
"One second, luv." Lola slips her hand down the left and draws out the bottle of champagne she'd stashed earlier, winking at George's chuckle. "Had a feeling someone wouldn't make it down to the party on time."
They look upward, as in sync as any Angel Boys' routine she's ever choreographed. The scruffy brown crown of Charlie's head is just visible at this angle, bent as he is over whatever paperwork that's been so beguiling all evening. Lola sighs, but George chuckles and gives her a manly slap on the shoulder.
"Best make sure the party gets to him, then," he says, scooping the boots into his arms. "I'll just be finishing up with these."
Lola nods absently, nails ting-ting-tinging against glass as she ponders the quandary of one very stubborn, confusing man. But doing is better than thinking--thinking always gets her into trouble--so she transfers the bottle to her left hand and slowly makes her way up those break-neck stairs. Shame there's no one around to appreciate her elegant sway. She'd lay money that not a few eyes would be on her backside, even if it's not cloaked in a frock.
She's humming as she pushes the door closed behind her, I want to be evil on a pleasant little loop under her breath, but Charlie doesn't look up.
"You missed the party."
Charlie sighs. "Yeah, sorry about that. Have to finish all this paperwork for tomorrow, or this whole thing's been for nothing."
"Always the boy scout, hmm? Well, handily enough, I've brought the party to you." Lola inspects the coffee mug on the corner of the desk, and finding it not too terribly awful, pops the cork on the champagne and pours.
"Thanks, Lola," Charlie murmurs. His eyes go right back down to the papers in front of him. Rows and columns of numbers. How many would be in screaming red, Lola wonders, if only Charlie had the ink to spare? Not her concern, she tells herself. Tomorrow, Milan and all its wonders, her debut on the world stage. Whatever happens after that can't be worried about.
Lola wanders over to the window overlooking the floor. Lauren's down there now, smiling as George helps her into her coat. He says something to her, and then she squeezes both of his hands in hers and leans in to kiss him on the cheek.
"You know, you've got good people in this factory," Lola murmurs. Lauren looks up, face pensive until she spots Lola. She's got a sunshine smile, that one. Lola brings her hand up to the window, and Lauren responds with a little finger wave. For a moment, Lola thinks about crooking her finger, beckoning Lauren up here with them--but she doesn't do it. She's not sure whether it's a selfish act or a generous one.
"Even Don?" Charlie asks.
"Hmm?" Lola turns, eyebrow cocked.
Charlie tosses his pen down onto the desk and clasps his hands behind his head. "You said I've got some good people here. You including Don in that?"
Lola snorts. "Even Don. They did right by you, Charlie-boy."
Charlie nods. "They did. I just hope I've done right by them."
Lola sighs. None of her business is starting to sound a lot like those are really laugh lines in her head. She sways back over to the desk (the boots are fabulous, without a doubt) and nudges the champagne closer to Charlie's hand. "Come on, forget about Milan for a little while. Let's have a little toast."
Charlie gives her a look, but it softens into one of his not-quite-there smiles. He picks up the mug, pushes away from the desk, and comes around to lean against the edge, facing Lola. "To good people, then?"
"To good people," Lola says, raising her mug, and then, unable to help herself, just as Charlie tilts his back, adds, "Especially Lauren."
Charlie coughs a little before getting it all down. Lola manages to hold back a snicker as he wipes his mouth clean. "Oh, right. Especially Lauren. I never would have got the idea for this, if it hadn't been for Lauren, you know."
Lola nods genially. "That, and she's a real looker, too."
Charlie's head snaps up, meeting her gaze for a brief count before he flushes and looks away again. His thumb finds something to do, running the rim of his mug like it's the finest crystal. "So, ah. You think Lauren's attractive then?"
Charlie fidgets some more. "You two looked good together, earlier. When you were, you know. Dancing."
Lola shrugs, but she can still feel Lauren in her arms. They'd fit together, so right, even when the whole time her mind had been screaming not for you. "I expect so. Two beautiful girls dancing together, that's every man's fantasy, isn't it?"
Lola truly expects him to flush again. Maybe roll his eyes, or even get angry and order her out. Instead he laughs, eyes twinkling as he raises his cup in a salute. "I don't think it's the dancing that's what most men think about."
"Why, Mr. Price!" Lola chuckles, shocked in the very best way. "There's a very naughty boy in there somewhere."
Charlie smiles again, then takes a long drink of champagne before going back to studying the bottom of the mug. Lola waits, but he doesn't say anything else. He's going to drown in his what-ifs if he sinks any further. Swimwear is not her first choice in fashion, but Lola's the only one standing on the beach at this point.
"Come on," she says, clunking her mug down on the desk. She crooks a finger at Charlie, but he just stares blankly at her.
"Come on, what?"
Lola plucks the mug out of his hands and sets it down next to hers. Charlie doesn't resist when she pulls him upward by the wrists. Such a tractable boy. No wonder Nicola... Well. Nicola is a thought better left untouched, all things considered. Lola tosses her head, sweeping back hair that's not there, and holds her hand out.
"Dance with me."
Charlie stares at her hand. Not that he shouldn't be appreciative; Lola does a damn fine job on her nails, after all. But it's enough to make her wonder if he's always been this slow on the uptake, or if that little knock to the head when they first met did more damage than she'd thought.
"Um. Lola." He looks up and tries to smile. "It's not that... It's just that I'm not a very good... There's no music, anyway."
"So I'll sing." Lola rolls her eyes. "Don't get all knotted up about it. You do want me to put these ladies through all the paces, right?"
Charlie looks blank again, so Lola pulls out the whip and gives the heel of the right boot a good whack. He startles a little, and Lola doesn't try to hide her smile.
"Wasn't there enough dancing earlier?" he asks, and if she didn't know better she wouldn't hear the edge of jealousy in that question. But Lola saw him looking at them earlier, and she does know better.
"I could dance all day with Lauren," she says, and the look that crosses Charlie's face this time is just as intriguing as the one earlier. Lola extends the whip, just like she did with Lauren. "But Ginger Rogers, darling. I've got to know that these heels will follow a man's lead, not just hold up a man's weight."
She doesn't really think Charlie will do it. It's a thin excuse, weighing less than all those papers on his desk. More, though, is the fact that she's not dressed fully as Lola right now. She's caught Charlie in moments of unconscious gallantry before, but always when she's wearing a wig and a frock. Now, with her short hair and bare face, it's so much more confusing for him.
She should have remembered that hope is something that belongs in fairy tales. Lola sighs and lets the whip drop.
It's caught before she can return it to her thigh.
"Something slow," he says--and then he yanks. Not hard enough that she couldn't resist normally, but she's caught off guard and she stumbles a bit. Charlie's hands are strong on her upper arms, steadying her before him.
"Slow?" she asks, and yes, she's capable of recognising irony when it hits her square in the face, thank you very much, but for the life of her she can't figure out what he's talking about.
Charlie's smile is devilish. "You said you'd sing. I'm not a very good dancer, so pick something slow."
She can't think of anything. It's ridiculous, really. She's sung for her supper for years, after all. But Charlie's standing there, holding her in his arms like it's the most natural thing in the world, and the pressure to think of the perfect something before he changes his mind has driven every single tune out of her head.
She goes with her theme song. It's not a perfect choice by any means, and she can't get herself to actually open her mouth and vocalise whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, but her throat-deep humming gets their feet moving. It's terribly awkward at first--no matter what she said earlier, Lola is not the kind of girl who takes easily to being led. But then she takes a deep breath and consciously cedes that control to Charlie, and it's almost perfect. Charlie's a much better dancer than he said, at least at this shuffling sway that they've got going, and he's holding her much closer than she expected.
Closer still, as they both relax into it. He smells like machine oil and leather, old coffee and faded cologne, and his breath whistles loud in his nose. They're of a height in flats, but in the boots Lola towers over him. She finds herself wishing that he was taller, or that she was shorter.
When Lola realises it's because she wants to lay her head on his shoulder, she stops humming. Stops dancing and steps back. Or tries to, anyway; Charlie follows her, his gentlemanly grip still strong.
"Lola?" he asks once he catches up to the fact that she's stopped. His face is so precious, brow furrowed over the soft worry in his eyes. "Is something--"
The trapdoor squeaks open. Charlie darts back, hands arrowing for his pockets almost before he's released Lola all the way. George's head pokes up, a little grey-haired ground squirrel with a smile, and then he climbs the rest of the way when he sees them.
"I just had a question on the final batch," he says, and Charlie's back over to the desk and its ubiquitous stack of papers. Lola tunes out the conversation, heart still beating fast as she pushes the door open and heads down the stairs with dangerous speed.
She chooses the ladies' loo. There's nobody else here but the three of them, and she knows that Charlie won't follow her in here. And Lola badly needs a moment of safety. She splashes her face with water, then carefully pats it dry with a square of the rough paper. She takes a deep breath, and then faces herself in the mirror.
She doesn't know who stares back at her. Simon? Lola? Both? Neither? Charlie Price has turned her world upside down, yes. She's known that he would from the moment he stood outside her cab and begged her with those big brown eyes of his to save his factory. But this... Laurens are her type, not Charlies. This is not who she is.
Or at least it's not who she was, anyway.
"Right. No reason to get your knickers in a twist, is it? Just one more thing to put on the list of things Daddy disowned you for." Lola snorts, and the face in the mirror quirks with a wry smile. Not a bad face at all, whoever's it is. "Damn you, Charlie Price. Damn you and your big brown eyes."
She knows she's flirting with hope again, that dangerous, fickle bitch. Charlie can hardly bear to look at her at times, and there's still the question of Lauren. Beautiful Lauren. But Lola's always loved danger, and she can't forget the way Charlie held her earlier, the way he'd looked into her eyes.
Well. Doing is always better than thinking, and no time like the present. A nice dinner would be the perfect first step, and there's a story about pot-holers rattling around in the back of her head.
Lola smiles at herself, wiping away the last straggling drops of water on her forehead, and then turns for the door.
She's got a Mr. Price to catch.