She stopped next to Vince, sneaking a sidelong glance. Vince continued to appraise the photographers at the foot of the steps. His jaw was set but not clenched, and the harsh light etched out his features. A small crowd had gathered around them. Security staff peppered the melee. Several others had cleared a path towards a large black limo ahead. Reflections rebounded from its mirror-like bodywork as the flashes pulsed. Leon coughed. She glanced back and saw him raise an eyebrow. He nodded meaningfully and then she remembered. She carefully brought her hand towards Vince’s and sought out his little finger. She entwined hers with his. She detected no reciprocation from him. His finger felt cool and lax. The tabloids may interpret this holding of fingers as something significant. Her doubtless star-struck expression may reinforce the notion a chemical reaction had been unleashed between them. In reality there was nothing, only a cool, lax finger.
The small congregation was now enclosing them. She caught eyes with strangers – curious, quizzical, sneering and envious. Never had she experienced such fierce attention. She tried to comprehend how some might feel violated, love, hate or become addicted to being scrutinized in this way. Nancy wasn’t sure what she felt at this moment. Most of her life had been ascribed by being invisible and therefore this experience did not fit in to anything she had known. Her hand undertook a gentle tug as Vince stepped out onto the portico steps. The light pulses exploded into blinding white. Nancy’s eyes had little time to react. A green afterimage of the limo fluxed ahead of her. It looked like a coffin; the paparazzi shimmered beneath, like pallbearers. She blinked, confounded.
Her heels clopped onto the lower step. His finger slipped from her upper joint and latched onto the lower nodule. She sensed their finger-link could easily break unless she held on.
Her finger quivered with effort but no one suspected. Nancy and Vince made their way slowly down the steps. Body heat eddied into the cool, damp air. Wet parkas and ciggie smoke permeated her nostrils.
‘Over here, Vince!’ someone hollered. ‘Who’s the fluzey?’ someone else gibed. Catcalls, demands and taunts gathered momentum like a snowball. ‘Giz a smile, nice ass, I’d do her, where are you taking her? Hey, chick, you’ve tucked your knickers into your skirt! Jonas! Jone-ass! Bend over! Want a spare condom? Say cheese! Love the dress! Sharp suit, She’s hot!’ and then, ‘Ain’t she the one who snogged that stripper?’
Nancy’s heel landed on what felt like a pustule of gum. Her ankle canted to the right. Frantic, Nancy engaged muscles deep within her abdomen she didn’t know existed. She must not tilt, she must not tilt. The flashes didn’t relent. The catcalls kept coming. The limo neared ahead. A raindrop flecked her cheek. And the gum compressed into an oily slick.
Barbells seemed to have attached themselves to each corner of her mouth. Her finger ached and her shoulder blades knotted up. Did anyone notice? Would any shot betray a skewed look? Would Bex mock her and say she looked like she needed a shit the next day? Because that’s the sort of thing they did in Glebe Hollow, shove you off the podium with brute force. And then laugh at you. The wise thing to do was to laugh with them, even if you felt like dying inside.
Leon had taken up the front and was opening the passenger door of the limo. The gum had unstuck itself from Nancy’s heel and she found her balance. She licked her lips and smiled anew.
Her heels clopped rhythmically against the pavement as she approached the limo’s maw. Leon waited at the flank, the immaculate usher. Coffee-toned leather seats within the rear passenger compartment emerged from the darkness. A small computer screen, the gleam of glass trinkets and a Satnav glowed within. She suspected a button could be found to satisfy every whim. A salvo of harsh catcalls failed to unlatch her gaze from the gloom within the limo. Gooseflesh tracked a slow ripple from her nape right down to her spine.
What’s the matter with her? Did the maw represent a one way ticket into a world of the unknown? Had she found a way out of one trap only to walk into another? Nancy could picture herself entering the limo, of Vince following her in and of Leon closing the door behind her, but she couldn’t picture herself getting out again. What awaited her on the other side? A suffocating imperative to dart out into the crowd overwhelmed her. She would prefer the drizzle to the closed compartment within that limo. She maintained her pendulum pace despite every hair on her body standing on end.