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It could be said that she’s spending a blissful morning whiling away her time in bed and that would be accurate if she could only shake the sensation of being trapped. She is hardly bound and gagged but the arm stretched across her abdomen seems to have somehow become heavier and instead of bliss what she feels is claustrophobia and a sense of impeding doom. Nadine shifts her head so that she can gaze at Jessie and studies his face as he slumbers. Up close he is impossibly beautiful, as though he is a sculptured work of art crafted by someone with an unhealthy obsession for pretty young boys. They make an attractive couple and she finds that comforting. Being with someone who virtually assures that their coupling is a tabloid sensation is more than enough to allow her to overlook his flaws and ignore the stench of alcohol emanating from his body. She realises that some people would observe the situation and judge her as pathetic or possibly pitiful and that those would be the generous assessments, most people would think she is an opportunistic fame whore, but she is beyond their judgement, immune to their scrutiny. He offers media attention and she welcomes it, the paparazzi and gossip magazines can intrude on her life because she needs the world to have her relationship with Jessie splashed in front of its eyes, cemented in its mind. She has become somewhat accustomed to being seen as an entity rather than a person – she is ‘the Irish one’, ‘the one that can sing’ and now she is ‘the one that’s dating the gardener from Desperate Housewives’. These are all labels that she can live with because they pigeonhole her and create a character for the public arena, they protect her from the label that, whilst true, has the power to ruin many lives – she can be many things but what she can not be is ‘the one who is shagging Cheryl’.

Her thoughts are broken by the ringing of her phone. Even though Jessie remains soundly asleep the disturbance causes a tightening around his eyes as though he wants to remind her that he doesn’t think that she should bring her phone into the bedroom. In all fairness she probably shouldn’t or at least she should turn it off but she can’t do that, can’t sever her lifeline to the person that she shouldn’t be thinking about; the person calling her now. She used to think that there was some sort of weird psychic connection that caused Cheryl to call when she was thinking about her but has come to realise that the reason she always seems to be thinking about her when she calls is that Cheryl occupies all or her thoughts.

Her own greeting is met with a clipped, “Hi.” The conversation isn’t exactly off to a rolling start and she suddenly feels an unwavering certainty that she has done the wrong thing. She wishes that she believed her error lay in answering the call when she knows that her boyfriend would object but instead her regret is embedded in the fact that she is on a different continent to the voice on the end of the line.

“How are you?” her words are soft and intimate and she resents that simply talking to Cheryl does that to her voice. She has enough problems attempting to mask her feelings, she doesn’t need her body creating involuntary responses that serve to make her affection obvious. Seeing Cheryl’s picture appear on the display of her phone shouldn’t produce palpitations, it should cause irritation - they had promised that they wouldn’t call one another, that they were going to survive the time apart without contact unless it was a dire emergency. She has been doing her best to live up to her end of the bargain but she has to admit that the virtuous glow of moral self-righteousness isn’t as rewarding as she had hoped. Cheryl, on the other hand, is either unburdened by a sense of commitment to the pack that they made or has a very loose interpretation of what constitutes a dire emergency and has called five times in the last two days over such crisis states as what colour lip gloss she should wear shopping. She wants to be mad at Cheryl but the only times that she has truly been happy since she arrived in LA were the times that Cheryl called.

“Cold and shaky and a little freaked.”

“Oh was that tonight?” she tries to sound nonchalant but she is well aware that the filming would have been taking place and has been dreading and hoping for a call ever since she woke up. The noise has caused Jessie to stir and he looks at her with confused eyes. She mouths the words ‘Ghost Hunting’ at him and he is instantly more alert, gesturing at her to put the phone on speaker so that he can listen. She scowls at him and hisses, “We are not going to make fun.” He shrugs and pulls the covers over his head as she gets up and exits the room.

“Does he know who you are talking to?”

“Not sure,” she replies whilst carving out a comfortable position for herself on the couch.

“You think he automatically assumes it’s us?”

“If he does he never mentions it.” He seems to lump all of the girls together, if he has noticed that the vast majority of the contact is with one member of the group in particular he has made no comment, she’s not sure if he’s oblivious or in some heavy state of denial.

“You don’t think that’s odd.”

“I don’t know, this isn’t really a situation that I have been in before, I haven’t thought about what would be the normal way for someone in his position to react.”

“Ashley doesn’t say nothing either.”

“Ashley probably doesn’t even know which one I am.”

“Yeah he does, he thinks you’re hot.” She doesn’t know what to say to that. The thought of Cheryl and Ashley talking about her isn’t something that she wants to contemplate. Cheryl seems to sense her discomfort and adds, “Does that worry ya?”

“Not really,” she doesn’t like lying to Cheryl but she doesn’t like the thought that their precious phone time will be taken up by a conversation about Cheryl’s husband either.

“I thought you might consider it a sign that he does have a little bit of sense and taste.”

“I guess he has to have some good qualities,” she doesn’t need to continue this line of conversation, despite what Cheryl thinks she is aware that Ashley has some sense and taste, after all he married Cheryl.

“I really wish you could try to like him a little.”

“And I really wish we could talk about something else.”

“Don’t get mad at us.”

“I’m not, I just don’t see why you bothered to call if you just wanted to talk about him,” she doesn’t know why she is saying these things when she wouldn’t care if Cheryl spent the whole conversation extolling Ashley’s virtues. Well, saying she wouldn’t care might be a slight exaggeration but a conversation about the finer points of Cheryl’s spouse is still a conversation with Cheryl and there are few things in the world that she likes more than talking to Cheryl.

“It’s silly but I got pretty scared tonight and needed to talk to someone.”

“And you couldn’t talk to your husband?” the bitterness keeps on coming, maybe distance is not good for their relationship.

“I could have but I want to talk to you.” Cheryl’s words somehow have the power to make her feel incredibly warm and she lets out a small sigh. Cheryl giggles awkwardly but then firmly declares, “I wish you hadda been there tonight.”

“I don’t think it would have been a good idea.”

“I know it’s not really your thing but I woulda like to have ya there.”

“Then it’s probably for the best that I wasn’t.”

“You don’t wanna do things that would make us happy?”

“Course I wanna do things to make you happy but I don’t think being with you while we cowered in the dark would have been wise.”

“I thought you liked being in the dark with me.”

“I do but not when there are cameras monitoring our moves.”

“So I should put my plans to tape us in bed on hold then?”

“I thought you rang cause you wanted comforting.”

“I did. I don’t think I need that anymore.”

“What happened? Did you suddenly realise that the whole thing tonight was just a hoax?”

“If it was real or not it still got to me but that doesn’t really matter anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Things just have a way of being ok when I am talking to you.”

Sometimes the smallest things have such an impact on her. Cheryl’s words are hardly the stuff of legends, they won’t go down in history, they won’t end poverty or eradicate hunger, they won’t change the world but yet they seem so incredibly profound to Nadine that she feels they deserve to be so much more than just a throw away line in a phone conversation. The effect that Cheryl has on her is so intense that sometimes she feels like a tide of emotion is rising around her and that it is only a matter of time before she drowns. The current status quo is probably sustainable for the time being – Jessie is in another country and focused on his career and Ashley is away a lot – but they won’t just tread water forever, eventually things will have to change. She knows that whatever happens she wants Cheryl in her life, when she looks at Cheryl she sees her future but she is not sure how she makes that happen. They seem to have set a course of events into action that they may not be able to undo. When things started, keeping their relationship a secret seemed a necessary action but she has to admit that nowadays she spends a lot of time wondering why that was so crucial. Her speculation is pointless because the situation is worse now, they may not be past the point of no return but there are certainly more people involved, more lives to damage. It is only a matter of time before Cheryl has children and part of her really wants to bring things out in the open before that but at the same time she knows that Cheryl wants and needs things that she will never be able to provide and fears that she would never be enough to make her happy.

In many ways she has resigned herself to the fact that some things will not change. If things last with Cheryl their relationship will never be the one at the forefront, at least not publicly. That does leave her with the problem of dealing with other relationships in her life and how she manages being with someone else when a large proportion of her heart already belongs to Cheryl.

“Are you freaking out about the future again?”

She avoids the question and instead focuses on the slight clicking at the other end of the phone, “Are you stroking the phone in some misguided effort to feel closer to me again?”

“Naturally,” she envies Cheryl’s ability to be open and guileless in these matters.

“I love you,” the intimate tone appears to have returned to her voice.

“I love you too baby.”

“So do you want to tell be about your crazy paranormal experience and try to convince me that it wasn’t just all done with wires?”

“Telling us you love us doesn’t mean you can go straight to taking the piss.”

“That’s not why I said it.”

“I know and it bloody wasn’t all done with wires.”

“How can you know that?”

“There was definitely a presence there and I am pretty sure I made it angry.”

“What did you do?” Nadine asks in her best reproachful mother voice.

“I asked it to show itself.”

“Asked?”

“You think I wasn’t polite?”

“I am aware that you can be a little on the demanding side at times.”

“That don’t bother ya?”

“I actually seem to find it endearing.”

“So it’d be ok for us to just tell you we miss ya and demand that you come home.”

“How about you wait and see if you still feel so strongly about this once you’ve had some sleep.”

“Won’t change anything.”

“It might.”

“I’ve been wanting to demand that you come home from the moment you got on the plane.”

“My sweet baby.”

“Yes I am,” Cheryl’s reply is earnest.

“Confident aren’t you?”

“I just happen to think that I am lovely and to know that I am yours.”

Suddenly her heart palpitations had returned, “I miss you.”

“Miss you too.”

“I,” the heartfelt sentiment that she had been planning on dispensing is interrupted when the bedroom door opens, “I had better be going.”

Cheryl doesn’t need the reasons spelt out, their shorthand is well developed, “I understand.”

“Get a good night’s sleep.”

“I will. Bye.” Cheryl’s last word comes out as a tender whisper and she can’t help but respond in kind. She is not sure if Jessie is monitoring her conversation but she notes that he choses that exact moment to stroke her hair possessively. Her life is so much more complicated than she would like it to be but she can hardly blame Jessie for that and so she will do her best to enjoy her time with him even if she will be spending every single moment counting the seconds until she can be in Cheryl’s arms again.