When it is all said and done she feels strangely deflated. She didn’t expect it to be like this, if nothing else she expected to feel a great sense of relief. Last year had been somewhat of a whirlwind. That’s saying a lot given she has experienced more that her fair share of whirlwinds. The most recent tornado saw her hurtled into the stratosphere. She forfeited her identity as a girl band member, transcended everything a former reality TV contestant should be allowed to be and became something close to iconic.
Being the nation’s sweetheart is not without it’s perks. She knows that she would not have landed the L’Oreal gig without that status and that in all likelihood her solo career would have faltered badly if she had never become a judge on the X-factor. She finds it bemusing that her success on one reality show has cancelled out her origins on another. The general public is a strange and fickle beast. Part of the downside to her recent credibility and success in that her position is precarious and what the public giveth they can taketh away.
Last year it had been so much easier. She had nothing to lose. Sure there were plenty of people who felt that her appointment as a judge was a joke but she had nowhere to go but up in their eyes. Now she sits on her throne waiting to be toppled. She filmed the interviews and made the bold statements about how her contestants where going to win, even before she knew who they would be, and felt the bile rise with each ridiculous word. She knows it’s part of the job and that all the judges make equally ludicrous claims but she feels that she has more at stake. They are well established and if they fail to win their careers will go on. She fears that she is the only one whose livelihood is subject to the success of her contestants.
Already she feels the backlash. Last year she was the underdog and a nation happily stood behind her. Now she watches the tide turn and her support base slowly erode pledging allegiance to Dannii instead. She can’t help but feel that the deck is stacked against her. She wonders whether people will bother to remember that she managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and produce a win after being given one of the weaker categories or if they will simply wait for her to lose and state this as irrefutable proof that she never knew what she was doing.
The relief that she thought she would feel if Joe won never came. She managed to pass straight over that moment and begin worrying about what will happen next year. Her marriage, her solo career, her whole life has become like that – she finds it hard to enjoy the ups because she is too busy being terrified of the inevitable downs. Still she is nothing but professional. She jumps and screams and smiles just the way a winner should, she holds her husband’s hand for the cameras and she tries her best to live up to the role model label that has been thrust upon her. She doesn’t know what happened to the girl with the big personality and even bigger dreams but she doesn’t see her when she looks in the mirror.
She arrives home bone weary after the post show blitz. Before she opens the door she makes one last glance at her phone and feels that it is mocking her. It is full of congratulatory messages from every man and their dog with the exception of the two people she really wants to hear from. She has no idea how she has managed to commit herself to two people who are so very different and yet are both failing to support her. She silently curses their names as she resets the alarm and then is forced to retract some of that cursing as she feels arms encircle her waist.
Some of the antipathy fades as she sinks back into those arms and lets her brain register the floral scent and the daintiness of the limbs holding her. She jumps forward in surprise.
“Not who were expecting?” Nadine somehow manages to combine a smirk with an air of disappointment.
“What are you doing here?
“Well I did put some serious thought into waiting for you naked in your bed but I thought that might be slightly difficult to explain to your husband.”
“And how exactly were you planning on explaining your presence here? Not to mentioned how you managed to get in.”
“That I’m a good friend waiting here to support you regardless of what tonight’s outcome had been and that as your good friend I have a key and know the code because I have had to carry his legless wife home on more than one occasion.”
She weighs this up and really can’t fault the logic, “It’s ok, he’s not going to be home tonight anyway.”
“So what was the third degree about?”
“You didn’t know he wasn’t going be here.”
“And hence I’m not in your bed ready and waiting. I have missed valuable naked time,” Nadine pouts as she slides her hands up Cheryl’s sides.
She shivers involuntarily and lets Nadine’s lips capture hers finding that they are easily erasing the feelings of betrayal that she had allowed herself to generate earlier. “I can’t believe you’re really here,” it seems that Nadine’s kisses have not taken her breath away but they have certainly made her voice husky.
“Where else would I be?”
“I didn’t think you cared about tonight,” she admits. “I am a bad girlfriend sometimes.”
“Yes you are,” Nadine confirms.
“Really?” she bites at her lip to stop it trembling.
“Well you do lose major points for the whole husband thing,” Nadine nips at her neck playfully.
“I think you lose just as many for moving continents.” Her hands roam under the back of Nadine’s shirt in search of her bra strap.
“Possibly,” Nadine replies absentmindedly as she manages to snake her fingers under both Cheryl’s jeans and underwear. “I will have to come up with some sort of a scale.”
She has managed to unhook Nadine’s bra and now her hands direct their attention to the front of Nadine’s chest. “At this rate I doubt that we will make it to the bed.”
“We can save that for round two,” Nadine decides as removes her own bra and top.
She was going to spend a moment drinking in the sight of Nadine’s bare flesh but instead finds that their bodies are crushed together and Nadine is pressing her against the wall. A firm thigh slides between her legs and her hips start dancing to a familiar rhythm. Her fingers find Nadine’s nipples as more pressure is applied to her groin and the seam of her jeans flirts dangerously close to an area in dire need of contact. Her head falls against the wall and her fingers claw at Nadine’s back as she attempts to find the right angle. Nadine grabs a firmer hold on her hips and begins directing their movements while she peppers Cheryl’s collarbone with kisses and suddenly the stars align and she is shuddering over the edge.
Nadine is still holding her when the world rights itself. “Hey,” Nadine states with tenderness.
“Hey,” she responds with what she is sure is a blissful smile plastered to her face.
“This wasn’t quite the slow seduction that I had planned.”
“You are the one who threw me up against the wall like you wanted to screw my brains out.”
“I don’t regret that it just wasn’t how I planned the evening.”
“We can consider that a teaser and you can take me to bed for the slow seduction bit now.”
She is about to loudly voice her disapproval when Nadine grabs her hand and draws her into the living room. The lights and are low and the champagne is chilled and waiting patiently in the ice bucket. “How were you were going to explain this to Ashley?”
“God it’s not like there are rose petals everywhere. There’s not even music playing.” Nadine drags her to the couch and hands her the champagne bottle prompting her to screw her nose up. “So you are still terrified of popping corks?”
“You make that sound silly but they are dangerous little buggers and I want no part in it.”
Nadine lets out a gentle laugh, “When I met you I thought you were fearless. I kinda thought that you might be the sort of girl who could open beer bottles with her teeth.”
“Who says I’m not but that ain’t a beer bottle so there’s no need to make fun of us.”
Nadine takes the bottle and manages to release the pressure with a small adjustment of the cork and minimal sound. Cheryl’s face clearly registers her approval as Nadine’s smile is adorably smug, “I’m a bartender now.”
She happily accepts the glass that Nadine offers and raises it in toast, “Too us.”
“We’ve certainly come a long way.”
“It doesn’t feel like that.”
Nadine leans over and takes a piece of glittered paper out of her hair, “Baby you were on national tv tonight in a couture gown and we are drinking vintage bubbles. We are a long way from where we started.”
“When I’m with you none of that seems real. I still feel young and excited.”
“Thanks. I think.”
“Oh no it’s definitely a good thing,” she laces their fingers together, “when I am with you I feel like I can be meself.”
“Good,” Nadine pulls Cheryl’s head down to rest on her shoulder.
“I’m so happy you’re here.”
“I’m glad.” Nadine shuffles on the couch so that she can face Cheryl, “I have something for you.”
“I thought we agreed to post our gifts.”
“It’s not that,” Nadine learns over and produces an envelope from her bag.
She opens it to find herself looking plane tickets and swallows the lump that rises in her throat, “I’m not sure…”
“It’s ok. I just happened to read that you were planning on spending Christmas alone and I thought you might like an alternate option.”
“You happened to read?”
“I keep myself informed of your movements. Haven’t you heard I have embraced the Internet?”
“Sweetie sending an occasional tweet does not make you Internet savvy.”
“And yet I managed to find out about your Christmas plans online.”
“Which you could have just asked me about,” she points out.
“I don’t like hearing about plans that don’t involve me.”
“Fair enough,” she concedes. “But are you really sure about this?”
“What will your boyfriend think?”
“He is spending Christmas with his family and I am spending Christmas with mine.”
“But I’m not family.”
“The hell you’re not.”
“I’m not officially part of your family.”
“Well we are not officially shagging either and yet here we are, you looking all sexed up and me half naked.”
“Yes you’re sexed up and I’m near naked?”
“Well that’s true but yes to Ireland.”
Nadine lets out a squeal and kisses her soundly. “Cheryl?”
“Can I take you to bed now?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
They manage to lose the rest of their clothing on their trip up the stairs but are protective of the bottle of champagne. Later as she is lying tangled in the sheets with a slumbering Nadine against her chest she thinks that although her life is difficult and far from what she imagined it would be but she wouldn’t have it any other way.