Thanks again to everyone who has been liking and commenting on UB. You’re all in this next instalment, along with a goat.
Here’s where it all began and where it’s progressed since then. Enjoy!
It was such a whirlwind, that first six months. Of course, I was on my very best behaviour when Hayden picked me up and took me to Rockpool, the latest and greatest city restaurant. I had to practice enormous constraint just to keep my hands off him, and instantly I knew he was The One. It was, quite literally, love at first sight. “How did you manage to get a reservation at such short notice?” I asked him. Rockpool is always booked out months in advance. “At first they said no, but then I told them you’d be disappointed and all of a sudden there was a table available,” he said. He’d told her the truth but she laughed as if it was an incredible joke.
Over a magnificent dinner they got to know each other. That is, she got to know him; she deflected some questions about herself and simply ignored others. When you’ve been exposed to the mainstream media and paparazzi for years, you learn all about graceful deflection and building the impenetrable walls of personal secrecy.
The restaurant was abuzz with chatter about her, and she revelled in it. It never got old and she never tired of it. Every eye was a camera; they weren’t recording seconds, they were recording moments of memory, and Rockpool would come a distant second that night. She noticed with less than delight, but didn’t show it, that Hayden was receiving his share of appreciative glances from some quite attractive women. It was setting her on edge; he was hers.
When he excused himself to use the mens’ room, she took advantage to work the room, to smile and wave at some and grace others with a word, a friendly acknowledgement, and a few surprising comments. “He’s with me, Sweetie,” she whispered to one woman she’d caught eyeing Hayden. Her face shone with beauty but her words dripped with venom. “You might have had a chance, if only you were ten years younger,” she laughingly whispered to another. “You have lovely eyes!” she said to a woman who had made her lust for Hayden obvious. “It’d be such a pity if I scratched them out,” she said maliciously.
For his part, Hayden had a privacy problem in the bathroom. A few men heartily congratulated him on landing a catch like her, on having the best looking chick in the room, as if she were a fish or poultry. A few ribald jokes were made about the size of his cock, and then, mercifully, he was out of there and back to her.
She was safe. Plausible deniability was second nature to her, and her words, stripped of their true context, sounded like ‘girl talk’ between friends. Who’d believe them? Who’d take their word over hers? ‘Sour grapes’ would be the least they’d get away with if they voiced the truth. She might not even lose them as fans, because the weight of pubic opinion would have them questioning themselves and what they thought they heard.
She had wished Hayden would see her up to her apartment, but he didn’t. He didn’t even kiss her, which she thought was sweet and quaint, if somewhat frustrating. She’d have to take care of herself tonight, just as he would, she was sure.
“Well, that was intense,” Hayden said aloud when she was out of the car and gone. She’d been all over him like a lovesick schoolgirl, flirting madly, and they’d never come close to discussing the issue that had brought them together. “Be careful here, mate,” he said to himself as he drove away. “You could get lost in all of this.”
“Hello, you beautiful, beautiful man!” she said when he picked up the call at exactly 9:00am the next day. Her enthusiasm surprised him, but he was also flattered. “Hello yourself,” he said, laughing. “Sorry we didn’t get to the important stuff. You’re … distracting,” he said. Mariana laughed at that; it was music to her ears. “Well, then, we’ll just have to curb ourselves and do it again. Look, I’m meeting a few bloggers for an informal today – I totally love these ones – but can we catch up for dinner again tonight?” she asked.
He didn’t know what to say. “Ummm … I can’t make it tonight, I’m sorry. My boss and I will be out with some potential clients and its sort of a big deal,” he said. There was complete silence for a few seconds. She was instantly seething, but she soon gained control of it. “Oh, okay, then. Well, when can you fit me into your tight schedule?” she asked. “You make it sound like a personal insult,” he said. She wasn’t expecting that, but she liked it. He was his own man. “Sorry, Darling, that didn’t come out anywhere near what I was intending. I’m just a giddy girl sometimes, over-excited at meeting a boy I really like,” she said. It worked like a charm, as it always did. He’d be seeing her the following night. “That’s my beautiful man,” she said, as she hung up the phone. Her mood was great, buoyant; beyond ecstatic.
“What was that?” Hayden asked himself, smiling. She was completely gorgeous. But nuts. But gorgeous. She certainly had a personality, that was for sure.
The guest list read like a Who’s Who of the writing, fashion and photography blogging world. Representing millions of like-minded folk the world over, there was:
- Jen Dorkchops,
- Ipsy V,
- Hey Han,
- Drabble, and
These were Mariana’s guests of honour today, and what a day she had planned for them. A thousand bloggers dedicated space and time to her, and she’d met others, but these were the ones she felt a genuine affection for. The thirteen of them were soon christened ‘The Lucky Number’. Mariana began their day with a private cruise of Sydney Harbour and the guests were excited, not only that they were there, but that they had exclusive access and they had the only cameras permitted aboard.
Bob the Wordless had, mysteriously, managed to sneak back into Australia, disguised as a normal person, and had hired scuba gear and an oversexed gay-leaning goat, but he and the goat were intercepted on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Bob was tasered again, and once more for good measure, before being removed from Australia on a very slow ship bound for America via everywhere else, and the goat was later served with couscous and a yoghurt and mint dressing. So it was a good day all around. Except for the goat. And maybe Bob, but he seemed to like his adventures, so who can say?
“Hello, this is Hayden,” he said, and her voice came through his car’s speakers. “Hello, Beautiful Man,” said Mariana. “How was your dinner?” He was a little put out. “Mariana, how did you get my number?” He heard her laugh a little. “I got it from your secretary. Is that okay? I didn’t think you’d mind but …” she left the sentence hanging, offering him a way out but willing him not to take it. “Sure, it’s okay. You just took me by surprise, that’s all,” he said. She chatted along for a while and he found it a little distracting, but help was on its way. “Mariana, I’m just about to head into the Harbour Tunnel, so your call might drop out,” he said. “Call me back when you get home?” she asked.
He was thankful for the relative peace as he drove through the underwater tunnel. A niggling feeling had been bothering him since her first call. With all the available advisors and men in her circle, why him? He felt flattered, but he also felt suspicious and a little frightened. A warning he’d read somewhere about the devastating effects on humans who got too close to the Gods now sounded again. She was gorgeous and she obviously liked him, but she was, you know, so far out of his league ….
He heard the phone while he was in the shower, and then he heard it again. It rang out again while he was drying himself, and just as he was about to make himself tea it rang again. “Hello, this is Hayden,” he said. “Where have you been?” came the strident voice through his phone. “I’ve called you seven times, and it doesn’t take an hour to get through the Tunnel!” she said, obviously annoyed. “Mariana?” he asked, shocked by her outburst. “Well, who else would it be? Got more women calling you seven times an hour?” she fairly screeched.
“Mariana, please calm down, and then please listen,” Hayden said firmly. He let a few seconds slip by, and then a few more. “Okay,” she said in a contrite and small child’s voice. “Good. Don’t you ever, ever speak like that to me again. Do not accuse me of things I haven’t done. I react rather badly when people do that. I barely know you, and I sure as shit don’t answer to you. Don’t call me again. Ever.” And with that, he hung up on the most beautiful girl in the country.
It was a very good thing Mariana was home alone, because she went completely apeshit. She smashed her very expensive phone into an even more expensive coffee table that had survived a century of owners and a trip across the pond from Thailand. Flinging herself down on her sofa, she kicked her shoes off and high into the air before grabbing a cashmere-covered pillow and hurling it at the television, knocking a beautiful lamp over on the rebound. For hours she indulged herself in the kind of tantrum and wallowing that is frustrating in a child and unforgivable in an adult. Finally, spent, she took her tear-stained face to the bathroom and measured the wreckage in the vanity mirror. “What’s wrong with me?” she asked, looking herself in the eyes.
The next morning, early, she called Hayden from her landline. Her number wouldn’t show on his mobile phone’s screen, and so there was a good chance he would answer. “I’m so very sorry, Darling,” she said when he’d picked up. “It’s no excuse, I know, but a lot of things have been frustrating me lately. I’m sorry; please forgive me.” On the other end, Hayden smiled slightly and shook his head. “You’re a mad bugger when your blood’s up,” he said, and the tension broke as they both laughed.
After one of Mariana’s legendary ‘quick chats’ that took up nearly an hour, Hayden had to excuse himself and have, as his boss called it, a ‘work break’; that short time in the day after all the personal emails and net surfing have been done, after the personal calls from the company phone have been made, after a lunch hour that always seems to take seventy minutes, and various and sundry coffee, tea, morning tea, afternoon tea, cigarette and toilet breaks were accounted for, the work break was slotted in there somewhere, if there was time. No wonder people were so exhausted after a hard day’s avoidance of work. ‘A fair weeks’ pay for a fair days’ work’ was the unofficial national anthem of the working classes.
They had a dressed-down dinner that night, which was a relief for both of them. Kicking back in casual clothes, without makeup, and with her hair up in a messy bun, Mariana was still stunning, but the mood lighting in the corner of the quiet local restaurant meant that she was blissfully not the centre of attention. She knew very well how to use disarming honesty, and she used it very effectively on Hayden that night. She was lovely, she was interested and interesting, and she rarely let go of his hand after they’d eaten. “I can’t get you out of my mind,” she said. “Since that night at the Gala, when I first saw you, I just thought … oh … you are so beautiful.” Hayden offered to pay for her eye examination.
They kissed that night, and it was electric. He didn’t go upstairs with her, but another five minutes and he thought he wouldn’t need to. He drove home smiling and he sent her a ‘goodnight’ text message when he arrived home. “Kiss me again, and forever,” was the message that beeped its way into his phone and his heart. He couldn’t comprehend how he had her, but he had her.
Six months flashed by, and they were almost inseparable. It was after their seventh date, when she was just about ready to tie him down and have her way with him, that he gave into it and they made love. “Why did you wait so long? You had me at ‘hello’” she said as they lay sleepily side-by-side. “I’ve made a few mistakes in the past; been a bit too impetuous. I wanted to be sure this time, that’s all,” he said. She thought it was sweet, and thoughtful, if a little old fashioned. “Not really,” he said. “You’ve heard of this ‘Three Date Rule’ thing? You know, that its game on after the third date? I think that’s stupid. It’s arbitrary, it’s nonsense, and I don’t need a nameless, faceless mass to tell me when I’m ready. As long as I have a functional brain in my head I’ll decide when and if I’m ready.”
There was, as expected, a lot of good-natured banter around the office. ‘Hollywood Hayden’ was the butt of many jokes, and he began growing used to having his face splashed all over the media. Hayden had thought that Michael Yee, his boss, might take a very dim view of all the media intrusions and requests for interviews that inevitably came through the office. He was surprised, however, that Michael liked the attention his business was getting and, while not encouraging it, he certainly basked in the reflected glory. “I’m so sorry, Michael,” Mariana cooed at him when they met. “It comes with the territory, but I know this is a real inconvenience to you.” Michael, like almost everyone else, was totally charmed. In his eyes, she could do no wrong.
“That bitch!” Mariana muttered to herself. “That complete and utter bitch!” Two weeks after she and Hayden had begun seeing each other, Mariana took him to a fashion designer who had been not-so-subtlely encouraging her to wear his brand. Personally, she couldn’t stand the man; he was oily, sly, and a rampantly tacky self-promoter. His clothes were good; she just didn’t want to do him any favours. With yet another event coming up and, this time, with Hayden on her arm, she wanted him to look stunning, so she called the designer and then Hayden, both of whom were happy to comply. It was the designer’s seamstress, Olivia, who had emerged as the real problem. She was just a little too friendly with Hayden and a little too eager around his inside leg, it seemed to Mariana. When the second fitting was over she was ready to tear Olivia’s hair out, and she took Brett, the designer, aside and made her displeasure abundantly clear. The fittings continued to their completion, but Olivia was kept out of sight.
Over the months that came and went there were probably no less than twenty such incidents, and Mari – as Hayden had come to call her – had dealt with the offenders in a short, sharp, and sometimes devastating way. It wasn’t that Hayden did anything or provoked those sluts into flirting. It was that he was now, through her, much more exposed to beautiful women and their female, social climbing lackeys and hangers-on.
She often quizzed him on women she perceived as a threat but he seemed genuinely oblivious, the gorgeous man. She was head over heels with him; truly, madly, and deeply. She just couldn’t get enough of him, and she loved that he loved holding her hand, touching, and showing affection publicly.
Six months into their relationship she brought up the idea of permanency, which took him by complete surprise. He loved being with her but he wasn’t sure yet if he loved her, and he was certain he wasn’t anywhere near ready to marry her. She said, with a smile on her face and a purr in her voice, that she wanted him ‘off the market’. Hayden said he thought he already was. It was a slightly tense night after that. She wanted him to stay and he wanted to go home. He went home, promising they’d go for coffee in the morning.
The next morning they went to a cafe they liked, and for the first time he noticed her being really acidic to someone. That poor waitress; he’d come back later and put it right. After they left he was quiet and pensive. Mariana asked him, archly, if that waitress had ‘turned his head’. That was on a Sunday. Within a few weeks, he’d noticed her waspish behaviour much more often, and it had given him pause to recall other times he’d brushed off as a simple misunderstanding on his part. It was like there were two Mariana’s.
Soon after, the excessive calls to his office began. Soon after that, so did the wild accusations.