Authors: Talli Roland
Tags: #Humor & Entertainment, #Humor, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy
ONE HOUR LEFT UNTIL THE LIVE KICK-OFF
show and Fabio’s slut machine was in full gear. Mattie had entered the studio without a stitch of make-up, her hair pulled back to within an inch of its synthetic life. Minutes later and it was teased into a beehive high enough to accommodate half the Earth’s insect population. Her face was slathered with so much oily make-up spots were already forming, and her eyelids struggled to support the sparkly green shadow that would make her ‘eyes pop’, according to her new frienemy – the teeny, tiny Cyndi Lauper lookalike from the other day.
Taking a deep breath, Mattie
rubbed her shaking hands together. She wasn’t nervous; she’d just had too much coffee earlier and not enough to eat. Her stomach shifted uncomfortably. She wished she’d thought more about what this ‘spin’ might be, rather than just brushing it off. What if they made her pole-dance or something equally embarrassing? Thank God Jess would be in the studio audience so there’d be one friendly face.
Here’s your wardrobe, honey.’ The nas
al tone of one of Fabio’s minions pulled her back to the dressing room.
Mattie stared at the low-cut sequined top and
the short skirt on the rack in front of her. ‘What, I can’t wear this?’ she asked, plucking at her best silk Aquascutum top.
The stylist snorted. ‘Maybe if you were going to a make-believe tea party at Kensington Palace. This is a reality show, babe. Time to get real.’
All set?’ Nate burst into the dressing room. He stared at Mattie in horror. ‘What are you wearing? You need to get dressed!’
cheeks were flushed and his hair was standing even more on end than usual, thanks to what looked to be at least half a tube of gel. He’d ditched his usual tee for a starchy green shirt, with a collar straight from the seventies. At least his jeans weren’t bell bottoms. He was twitching so much Mattie almost asked him if he needed the loo.
’ Mattie shook her head and pointed to the clothes. Now was the time to show him just who was boss. ‘I’m not set. Promo shoots are one thing, but I’m not going on national telly looking like I’m about to perform a handjob on a street corner.’
It’s not that bad. D
esigner stuff, check it out.’ Nate held up the skirt, which was about the width of a belt, for her perusal. Mattie caught sight of a Primark tag. Designer, her arse.
It. Is. Not. Happening.’ As the star of a live show – with only minutes to the start – she’d take full advantage of her fierce bargaining power. She cocked her head and waited for Nate’s meltdown to begin.
shook his Afro violently, heavy horn-rimmed spectacles nearly flying off the end of his nose. ‘No, no, no way. My boss would kill me. Please, you have to wear that.’
I don’t give a toss what happens to you, Nate,’ Mattie said. Jesus, what a loser.
Look,’ his voice quivered, ‘if you want that hundred thousand pounds, you have to wear what we tell you.’
Mattie froze. Did he just say
‘What do you mean, hundred thousand?’ she asked, her voice deadly calm.
fleshy lips formed a silent ‘o’. ‘No, no, I meant two hundred thousand. Two hundred!’ He cleared his throat.
Mattie advanced on him. ‘Too right you meant two hundred. I’m not here for a piddly hundred thousand.’ He backed away from her with every step.
Of course. Of course!
Two hundred thousand.’ Nate flashed his fingers in the air as if he was signing out the number. His chest was heaving up and down and he looked like he was about to pass out. ‘Fine, keep your trousers, just wear the top,’ he puffed finally.
Mattie shot him a victorious look.
Paired with her MaxMara tailored black trousers, the sequined rag might not look
trashy. ‘I’m the star here, Nate,’ she said, keen to drill the pecking order into his thick skull. ‘I call the shots. And don’t you forget it.’
His head wobbled back and forth. ‘Sure, sure. So anyway, here are the questions you need to ask the men,’ he said, handing her laminated cards. ‘Follow Seamus Leary’s lead and you’ll be fine.’
Mattie’s eyes bulged
. ‘Seamus Leary’s the host?’ He’d risen to TV stardom after a disastrous cosmetic surgery split his upper lip. Rather than repair it, he used it to springboard him from a D-list TV personality all the way to the host of
He’d harassed a ninety-year-old granny so much last year that she’d battered him with her crutch before collapsing from a heart attack, all to the cheers of the studio audience. The show had been cancelled soon afterwards, but it had secured Seamus’s place in TV history. He’d even made a special appearance on
in America before checking into a detox facility. What the hell was a feral creature like him doing on some stupid dating game show?
Nate nodded. ‘Yeah. Pretty cool, huh? He even cut his detox short to be here for the kick off.’ He looked at his watch. ‘We’re on in ten. Please, just put on the top. Then have a look through the questions and someone will come get you when it’s time.’
Mattie shrugged, trying to keep her face calm. Inside, her heart was picking up pace and she could feel sweat breaking out on her forehead.
Break a leg!’ Nate gave her a dorky thumbs up and disappeared.
Mattie grimaced. She’d rather break his leg, actually. She pulled on the sequined nightmare, then flipped through the question cards.
What’s your fa
vourite colour, Bachelor Number One?
If I was going to cook your favourite dish, what ingredients would I need?
, nothing shocking there. She let out a breath. Could the spin be that they were making the most snore-worthy dating game show ever?
A roar rose from the studio and Mattie glanced at the clo
ck. Eight p.m. – the show was starting. Her hands began to shake again and she glanced down at the silly questions to calm her nerves. She could deal with this with her eyes shut. She could, she told herself for extra emphasis.
This is it
, Mattie thought, breathing deeply. It’s show time.
Jess took her place in the front row of St
udio 1 just as the doors were closing. She’d been late leaving home, unable to decide between good jeans and sparkly top or the H&M jumpsuit she’d purchased last weekend. In the end, she’d settled on the safe combo of jeans and top. She wasn’t used to high heels, though, and had nearly broken her ankle trying to run for the tube.
She jammed her handbag under the chair, heart thumping, unable to believe she was right up front at the live taping of a game show. She studied the set in front of her. The right side was carpeted in a vivid red and a high metallic stool stood beside a gleaming steel podium. To the left, four egg-shaped pods shone under the bright lights – where the men were going to be, obviously, out of sight from both the audience and Mattie. Maybe that was the twist? But wait a minute, hadn’t Cilla Black done something similar on a show once?
Jess peered into the darkness offstage but there was absolutely no movement. God, was Mattie scared? Jess herself would be petrified if she were about to appear live on a dating game show. But when Mattie had rung her a few hours ago, she’d been her usual self: dissing the men and the show; making cruel fun of the whole thing. To be fair though, ever since the whole Kyle episode the only emotion Jess had seen from Mattie had been anger, with a little bit of sarcasm thrown in.
Mattie had never been the biggest propo
nent of the male species – probably because of what had happened with her father – but Kyle’s alleged cheating had pushed her over the edge. Jess couldn’t even remember the last time she’d actually had
with Mattie. Each session out usually turned into a rant against men, with Jess nodding mutely as Mattie went off on one of her diatribes. And it was hard watching Mattie chuck man after man, while Jess was still waiting for just
to notice her.
Still, she and Mattie had been friends ever since Mattie had taken down the three boys
who dared mock Jess’s Scottish accent when she’d first moved to Staines. Mattie had been Jess’s only friend for the first few years of the horrendous transition from sheep farm to suburbs, and the two of them had remained close ever since. Jess was sure Mattie would snap out of her hyper-angry state eventually.
lights onstage suddenly got brighter and a trio of burly men took up positions behind giant cameras. A pudgy bloke with fuzzy hair lumbered onto the set, talking into his headset and squinting into the lights. He motioned off-set and Jess leaned forward. Was Mattie coming on?
Oh my Lord!
Jess’s heart plunged when she saw just who they were bringing on: Seamus Leary, wearing his trademark Hawaiian-print tie and an ill-fitting shiny suit.
Did Mattie know he was the
host? She was in for a tough ride – Jess could only imagine the kind of cracks he’d make at Mattie’s expense. Mattie would pretend she didn’t care, that being labelled a chick with a dick was actually a compliment, but Jess had seen the hurt in her friend’s eyes too many times to believe the jibes wouldn’t sting.
watched the pudgy bloke try to manoeuvre Seamus into position behind the podium. Oh Jesus, Seamus could barely remain upright – he was swaying back and forth, looking completely sloshed.
Maybe it wasn’t too late to warn Mattie. Jess rooted around for her mobile and slumped in her seat as she dialled Mattie’s number. But the phone just rang and rang. Jess snapped her mobile closed as another man with a headset counted down the remaining seconds and the on-air light began to flash above the stage.
swivelled towards a giant camera that was lowered from the ceiling.
Hello! And welcome to
The Hating Game
!’ he slurred. A big screen with the show’s name in purple letters flashed up in the background.
’s mouth dropped open as she scanned the logo.
Game? Mattie hadn’t told her anything about that. What on Earth was
The Hating Game
? Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t look good – the word ‘hating’ seemed even more ominous surrounded by the flashing hearts and curlicues.
The Hating Game
, you ask?’ Seamus said, scanning the audience with a leer. ‘Well, imagine this.’
?’ A girl sporting a natty headset stuck her head around the dressing-room door.
Mattie got to her feet
, flexing her sweaty fingers to stop them shaking for just a minute. The unfamiliar top pricked at her skin, and a trickle of sweat was already snaking down her back. She followed the girl’s very unattractive camouflage trousers through the corridors and over an obstacle course of electrical cords until they came to a flimsy grey swinging door, guarded by a man with a headset and clipboard.
One minute,’ he said, crossing his arms over the clipboard as if it were a matter of national security.
In the silence back
stage, Mattie could just make out the drone of Seamus’s voice on set but she couldn’t identify exactly what he was saying. Given the boring questions, though, most the audience had likely fallen asleep by now.
Thirty seconds,’ the man said.
Jess gulped in air as she waited for
Seamus to explain.
Imagine a woman goes on a dating game show, thinking she’s going to meet anonymous strangers. Strangers who know nothing about her past, nothing about
, at all.’
She let out her breath
. Okay, sounded normal enough. But the way the infamous host was raising his eyebrows and the quivering of his split lip indicated he wasn’t finished.
dropped his chin and lowered his voice. ‘But what if the men weren’t strangers? What if they were the woman’s ex-boyfriends, back for another go at a relationship?’ He tried to spin to another camera and almost tripped. ‘Or
A dramatic sigh went up from the audience. Jess slapped her hands to her burning cheeks. Oh my God. Exes? Would the show really spring that on Mattie? Was
the spin – that Mattie would come face to face with her exes?
Her eyes flew over to the
steel pods on the stage, mind racing as she ran through Mattie’s list of exes. Was Kyle in there? Or Adam? Poor Adam; Mattie would rip him to shreds! Jess stared hard at the four pods, wishing she had x-ray vision.
was now walking unsteadily towards the audience. ‘Their relationship crashed and burned the first time around, and now these boys are back for more. But is it love or hate?
decide!’ He stabbed the air for extra emphasis and nearly fell over. ‘
determine who deserves a second chance for romance.’