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Authors: Janette Paul

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BOOK: Just Breathe
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As long as she could see him outside, Dee felt safe to venture further into the room with her tray, instead of clinging close to the exit points as she had for the past hour. Keeping her platter low, she roamed from group to group offering sushi. Halfway across the large living area, she saw Ethan detach himself from the blonde and step back inside.

Shit. He was heading in her direction. He spotted her, smiled and made a bee-line for her. Dee pushed the platter into someone’s hands, swapped it for an empty champagne glass. With any luck, Jo would think she was collecting and Ethan would think she was drinking. As he approached, she gave what she hoped was a guest-like smile, as opposed to her wait-staff, it’s-no-trouble smile.

‘Hey, Dee. Enjoying the party?’

‘Oh, yes and, ah … and it’s such a lovely night for it.’

He nodded, though he seemed a little amused. ‘Who are you here with?’

‘Oh, um …’ She waved her glass around non-committally and tipped it in the direction of the sushi crowd. ‘With, ah, some friends.’

‘You know Jonathon Beasley?’

Shit. ‘Oh, yeah. Loves sushi. Did you find Lucy?’ She worked hard on a smile, ignoring his bemusement.

‘She’s not here but I found Leonard Frost and his wife.’

‘Who?’

‘The client. Leonard’s chairman of Health Life.’

‘Oh, right.’

‘I’ve told him you’re here and he’d really like to meet you.’

‘Oh, right.’

‘He’s out on the balcony.’ Ethan nodded in that direction, encouraging her to follow him.

Dee tightened her grip on the champagne glass. ‘Actually, I was just looking for a refill.’

‘Oka-ay.’ He tweaked his brow. ‘But don’t leave without finding me first. I’d like you to meet Leonard.’

‘Sure, sure. I’ll see you later.’ She backed away to the bar, made sure Ethan was gone before crossing to the kitchen.

‘Dee, start on the dishes,’ Jo said as she walked in.

‘Yes please.’ She’d never been so relieved to wash up. This was ridiculous, she thought as she stacked glasses in the drainer. The crowd was starting to thin and there was only so long she could keep serving and hiding.

Right, she had three options.

One: she could hide in the kitchen, leave without being introduced to Leonard the Client and risk incurring the wrath of one or both Roxburghs.

Two: she could continue serving and avoiding Ethan (getting more and more difficult), leave without being introduced and risk incurring the wrath of one or both Roxburghs.

Three: fail to avoid, get introduced, be coerced into drinking the client’s booze and risk being found out as a scullery maid with a bankrupt yoga business.

Where was the up side?

‘Dee, take these,’ Jo said from behind her.

She turned, her eyes widening in gastronomic delight. ‘Oh, yum!’ Jo had laid out three huge trays of little desserts – mini lemon meringues and cheesecakes and tiramisu and citrus tarts topped with cream.

‘But there are still a lot of dishes to be washed.’ Dee pointed at the sink.

Jo wasn’t quite so angry as before but still had her catering-night harried face. ‘The dishes can wait.’

There goes Option One, she thought.

‘I want them out on the balcony.’

At last inspection, Ethan was on the balcony.


Now
, Dee,’ Jo said impatiently.

Dee winced. Option Two was not looking good.

Dee pushed her way through the heavy glass door that opened onto the deck and anchored it open in case of an emergency exit. Ethan was at the far end and as there was still quite a crowd, she figured if she kept to one end, she might go unnoticed.

It was wishful thinking. She was on her second pass around the safe section, platter held low, when Ethan saw her. He spoke to the man beside him and now both were heading her way.

She was stranded mid-balcony with a half-full platter. Retreat was the best option. She turned, went for the door and saw it was shut.

She tried to reposition the platter at her hip but it was so big and heavy and awkwardly
shaped she couldn’t hold it with one hand and haul the weighted door open with the other. She put both arms under the tray, pulled at the handle, slid a foot round the edge and tried inserting herself into the space without losing her desserts. As she pressed against the framed glass, it flew open and she stumbled backwards.

The tarts and cakes slid about like dodgem cars. She manoeuvred the tray around like a miner panning for gold, coaxing them to stay on board. When they finally came to a standstill, she looked up to see Ethan, and Option Three was at hand.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked, both puzzled and amused.

‘Well, I, um, just thought I’d, ah …’

‘They’ve got caterers to do that, you know.’

‘Really? Well, it’s just they look so nice and …’ She was pressed against the glass wondering which way to go – inside or out, truth or lie, big idiot or bigger idiot?

The elegant blonde joined them, along with an older woman, who helped herself to a citrus tart from her platter.

‘Mmm. Delicious. Honey, have you tried one?’ she said to Ethan’s companion, who Dee now presumed was Leonard the Client.

He took a mini lemon meringue. ‘You’re doing a good job there, dear. The food’s very tasty. I’ll have to get one of your cards before we leave.’

Would that be my wait-staff card or my yoga card or my Big Desperate Loser card? Dee thought, smiling lamely.

Ethan narrowed his eyes, less amused. ‘Leonard, this is Dee, the yoga teacher. Not the caterer. She’s the one I’ve been trying to introduce you to all night.’ He glanced at her tray. ‘I guess she likes the dessert, too.’

The elegant blonde draped herself over his shoulder again. ‘She might teach yoga, Ethan, but she’s just a waitress. She’s been serving food all night. I’ll have another glass of champagne, thanks.’ Aiming condescending eyes at Dee, she put an empty flute on the platter between the desserts.

Ethan frowned, not amused or puzzled now – more like ticked off. ‘Dee?’

‘Well, actually, sorry, yes, I am one of the wait-staff tonight. Sorry about that. I really am a yoga teacher too, but I’m doing food tonight.’ Geez. ‘And so, if nobody wants anything more to eat, I’ll just get these back to the kitchen.’

She stepped forward, unaware the chunky knob on the big glass door had become hooked on the belt loop of her trousers. As she thrust forward with the force of her immense desire to get the hell out of there, she was hauled in reverse with an equal and opposite force. In one deft move, she was jerked backwards, arms thrown skyward – and the tray and its contents hurled at her face.

Chapter Five

Dee stood for a moment with the platter pressed to her face. Cream squelched on her cheek, something was oozing down her chin, but it felt like the perfect place to hide her mortification. That was an option she hadn’t considered – confessing her pretence, smacking herself in the head with a tray and smearing herself in whipped cream.

Slowly she let the platter slide, bending forward a little so globules of lemon meringue and cheesecake wouldn’t fall onto the balcony alongside the elegant woman’s champagne glass that had smashed on the tiles.

‘Dee.’ Ethan tried to relieve her of the tray.

She put a hand up like a stop sign. ‘No, I’ve got it,’ she said, not wanting to share the embarrassment. She pulled a mini citrus tart from her cheek. ‘Could you please unhook me from the door?’

While she tried not to think about his hands fumbling with her trousers, she cast a glance around. Leonard and his wife were frozen to the spot while the elegant woman had a hand over her mouth, failing to conceal a bloody great guffaw. Fuck. Nothing like staying to enjoy your moment in the limelight – or lime tart. She smiled stupidly, felt a dollop of dessert hanging off her top lip.

‘There,’ Ethan said as the door swung free.

Dee licked at the liqueur-flavoured cream. ‘Mmm, the tiramisu is really nice. Make sure you try a piece. If you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to kill myself in the kitchen.’

Surprisingly enough, the evening improved after that. On a scale of embarrassing moments, with
a faceful of cream cakes the low score of zero, things picked up to a creditable three or four – although not until she’d burst into tears, begged Jo for forgiveness and used a knife to scrape the desserts from her shirt. Jo, on the downhill run for the night, actually laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes then relegated her to the sink. For the next hour and a half Dee washed and dried, stacked crockery and endured with good humour the nicknames the rest of the wait-staff invented for her. She liked Sweet Chops the best but Tart Face and Tear-I-Missed-You were pretty good too. Best of all, she got to avoid Ethan, Leonard the Client, his wife and the awful elegant woman while she thought about how she was going to get her shit together when they decided she was just too stupid to do the ad.

‘Mrs Weston wants a quick chat before I leave,’ Jo said. ‘Take a break and I’ll help you with the last stuff when I get back.’

Dee dried her hands and wandered onto the balcony. There were only a couple of guests left now and they were inside so Dee slipped off her clogs and slouched exhaustedly over the handrailing. The view from the penthouse was stunning, the city sparkling with a million lights. She closed her eyes, felt the balmy night close comfortingly around her, the sounds of the city drifting up from the street below.

‘Dee?’

She jumped at the sound of Ethan’s voice. Damn, she thought he’d left.

He strolled along the deck to her side, resting an arm on the railing. His irises were black in the dim light. ‘Are you okay?’ He sounded concerned. She supposed it was only natural after seeing someone smack themselves in the face with a loaded tray.

‘Yeah, fine. Just bruised my ego.’

One side of his mouth turned up. ‘Have you still got a job?’

‘Well, she didn’t send me home so I suppose so. Not that this is my
job
job – just
a
job.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

Dee heaved a great sigh. It was a good question. She’d told herself a thousand times she should have done that in the first place. ‘Well …’ she ran a hand through her hair and noticed the way his eyes followed her fingers all the way to her waist. ‘You told me the board wanted a really professional yoga type person for the ad, which I am, but I thought if you knew I was one of the wait-staff, you’d think I needed the money, which I do, but I thought you’d think it was because I didn’t have a good business, which I do, and wasn’t very good at yoga, which I am, and then you wouldn’t want me for the ad.’

She took a breath. He said nothing so she went on. ‘So I pretended to be a guest, which I thought was working pretty well right up until I served cakes to your client then threw them all over myself. Sorry about that.’

Ethan didn’t speak for a long moment.

Why hadn’t she just said sorry and shut the hell up?

‘Oka-ay,’ he said slowly. He took a breath as though about to say something more, then faltered.

Dee cringed inside, waiting for the blow.

‘You’ve got a bit of cream just there.’ He waggled a finger at the side of her face. ‘On your earlobe.’

Oh. She reached up, wiped the splodge of cream from her ear and smeared it on her shirt. ‘What’s a bit more cream when you’ve already rolled in it?’

He chuckled a bit, which Dee thought was really sweet – and so much better than crushing her. ‘See you later, Dee the Yoga Teacher. And good luck with the ad.’

She watched him walk back inside, feeling a little bemused herself.

Dee swapped her phone to the other hand and closed the door of the yoga studio as she answered it. ‘Hi, Mum.’

‘I saw Claudia Warburton this morning, Trudy.’

It’d be lovely if Val could start with hello every now and then. ‘Who?’

‘From tennis. She asked me how long you’d been a kitchen hand.’ It was both a question and an accusation, like she wanted Dee to deny it before she slapped her wrist.

Dee started down the stairs to the street, trying to decide how best to handle this. It was the ultimate let down for her mother. Her daughter, with a degree and lots of potential, reduced to hired help. It had to be money trouble, she’d think. She must be desperate, she’d think. A perfect opportunity to rescue her, set her on the right track, make her buy that apartment and get a better job.

‘Well, you see, I was doing a favour for a friend with a –’

‘She said someone threw food at you.’

‘It wasn’t like –’

‘I just don’t understand, Trudy. You don’t need to do that kind of work. If it’s money you need, I can help you. But you’ve got to get yourself into a better job. A proper job. You’ll need one to pay off your apartment.’

Dee slammed the front door, gritting her teeth. Was it any wonder she preferred scraping by than asking Val for help? ‘Mum, it’s not like that. It was a bit of extra cash, you know, after Christmas, and I was really just helping out Jo, you know, doing her a favour.’ She winced at the lie and threw her yoga mat in the back of the car. ‘And actually, I’ve just got a really well-paid job. Heading off right now for two days’ work.’

Dee had laughed out loud when Lucy phoned the morning after the catering job to say Leonard the Client had approved her for the ad. If she’d known a pie in the face would clinch the deal, she wouldn’t have waited until the end of the night to do it. Best of all, they were putting her up in a posh hotel for two nights so they could get an early start each day. She was getting a holiday, too.

‘You’re working in someone’s kitchen for two days?’ Val was shrill.

‘No, I’m doing yoga in a TV ad.’ She said it like an announcement, waited for the applause.

‘There’s no future in that. You may as well be working in someone’s kitchen.’

Sitting in the driver’s seat now, Dee bent forward and slowly, repeatedly, butted her head on the steering wheel. Patience, Dee. Calm centre. Deep breathing. ‘The ad is for Health Life Insurance. You’ve got insurance with them, haven’t you?’

A slight pause. ‘Yes.’

‘It pays heaps for just two days’ work and Lucy Roxburgh says it’ll start a virtual landslide of opportunities for me.’ Not that she intended to get caught in it. One ad would pay enough to get her shit together then she could get back to her normal life.


The
Lucy Roxburgh? As in Ethan Roxburgh’s sister?’

‘Yes. She’s one of my students.’

‘Oh.’ She sounded marginally impressed.

Encouraged, Dee went with it. ‘She asked me specially to do the ad, practically begged me to do it. I’ll be the face of Health Life Insurance.’

There was an extended silence from Val’s end of the phone.

Come on, Mum. You’ve got to be impressed with that. Dee would’ve been impressed too,
if she wasn’t so damned nervous.

‘Well, I suppose it will look good on your résumé,’ Val said.

BOOK: Just Breathe
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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