One Day 7
Chapter seven Show Business Friday, 15th July 1994
Leytonstone and the Isle of Dogs, East London
Emma Morley got up early on 15th July. Emma now lived in a rented flat in Leytonstone. It was quite near Cromwell Road Comprehensive School, where she taught English and Drama. She had moved to the flat when she started teaching at the school, in the autumn of the year before. Ian Whitehead spent much of his time at the flat too. Emma thought she was probably in love with Ian. 'I am in love with him, aren't I?' she asked herself daily. And every day she told herself that she was in love with him - yes, of course she was in love with him. And her parents liked him very much, especially her mother. That was important to her. 'It's good when people's partners and mothers get on well,' she thought. But Ian did take up a lot of space in the little flat.
But Emma had a bigger problem than the size of her flat. Ian Whitehead and Dexter Mayhew - the two men in her life - still didn't get on well. Dexter didn't like Emma's friendship with Ian even though he had his own girlfriends. The truth was that Dexter needed Emma as an emotional support but Ian didn't really understand this need. And Emma was especially important to Dexter now that his mother had died. Ian was also very jealous of Dexter, because he didn't want Emma to have a best friend who wasn't himself.
All this was a special problem on the 15th, because when the evening came, Emma was really needed in three places at once. Tonight was going to be Dexter's big night. Tonight, a new programme was going to be on television and Dexter was one of the presenters. This programme - Late at Night - was a much more important one than The Bigger Picture and perhaps it was going to make Dexter a big star. Another of the presenters - a glamorous woman called Suki Meadows - was already a star. The programme was going to be live and Dexter wanted Emma to be at the television studio to support him. He no longer saw his other friends from university. He no longer wanted to see them. Callum O'Neill, whose computer business was doing well, often called. He left messages on Dexter's answer phone but Dexter never called him back. Emma was the only one of his old friends that he cared about.
But tonight was going to be Emma's big night too. Emma was in charge of her school's end-of-year drama production, the musical Oliver! And the performance was happening tonight. Of course this wasn't as important as Dexter's programme, but clearly Emma had to be there. She'd spent many weeks preparing the children for the show and she had to be with them. Tonight their parents were coming to watch them. And for their parents, they were all going to be little stars, for one night at least. Emma hoped it was going to make her the headmaster's little star too. Her teaching career - making a difference - was just as important as Dexter's more glamorous TV career, she thought. She knew that Dexter didn't really believe this.
And then there was Ian. Ian was feeling ill today. He didn't really want to go out at all tonight. And he didn't want her to go out. But she understood. She loved him, didn't she? And he was going to come to Oliver! Even if he still felt ill. He'd promised her that.
Before leaving to go to work Emma picked up the phone and called Dexter's number. She got his answerphone. 'Hi! Speak to me! Leave me a message!' Dexter's 'cockney' voice said on the recording. So she left him a message. 'Hi Dex, I'm sorry it's early for you,' she said. 'You're probably not awake yet. But some of us have jobs to go to. I'm sorry I won't be with you at the studio tonight, but I want to wish you luck. I know you understand that it's my big night too. That's show business, Dex! I'll speak to you later. Lots of love to you. Oh - and Dex - you really have to change that answer phone message.'
Dexter Mayhew wasn't feeling good when he arrived at the television studio on the Isle of Dogs. It was his father's fault. His father had left a message on his answer phone earlier in the day.
'I called to wish you luck for tonight,' his father had said. 'I'll be watching the programme. It's so sad that your mother isn't here to see you. She was so... proud of you. Well, good luck Dexter. And don't take any notice of the newspapers.'
When he'd heard the message, Dexter had gone out and bought all the daily newspapers. He'd opened the first one at the television pages and read the headline.
IS DEXTER MAYHEW THE NASTIEST MAN ON TV?
Dexter had drunk some vodka to settle his nerves as he read the story beneath the headline. The story wasn't kind to him. Dexter was a stupid, rich boy who'd been educated at Winchester College but pretended to be a cockney, the author wrote mockingly. Dexter thought that he was popular with young people, the author said, but really young people just laughed at him. They didn't connect with him at all. Dexter had felt sick when he read this. And he had had several more drinks before he arrived at the television studio that evening. In his dressing room at the studio, Dexter sat quietly trying to relax. He had told the producer of the show that he wanted to be alone. He was nervous. He had been a TV presenter for several years now, so he was surprised at how nervous he felt. He didn't know what he was going to say when the show started. When he thought about the whole hour the show was going to last, his mind was suddenly empty. Now, he was very frightened. And the show was going to start in a few minutes. He took a bottle of vodka from his overcoat pocket.
There was a bottle of water on a table in the dressing room. Presenters usually took a bottle of water onto the set with them. The studio lights were always very hot and they often needed to drink some water when they were off-camera. They couldn't speak clearly if their mouths were dry. But Dexter wanted something to clear his mind, not something to wet his mouth. He emptied the water into his washbasin and refilled the bottle with vodka. Then he put it back on the table. It looked the same as before. Nobody would know that he was drinking vodka.
'HEY THERE!' said a loud voice. 'WELL, HOW ABOUT ALL THIS?'
The owner of the loud voice was Suki Meadows. Suki was already a popular presenter of late-night TV shows. Now she stood at the door smiling at Dexter. She was a small, pretty, friendly person and she was always cheerful. Always! It didn't matter what was happening around her. She was cheerful and she was noisy.
'Why does Suki always speak in capital letters?' Dexter had sometimes asked himself. But tonight he was thinking something else. 'The viewers all love her. And she is very sexy,' he was thinking. 'And I'm sure she's crazy about me.' Suki was wearing a very short skirt and a shirt made of very thin cloth. And she was holding her own bottle of water. 'COME HERE, DEX,' she said, entering the dressing room. She put her water bottle on the table next to his and put her arms around him. 'YOU'RE GOING TO BE GREAT TONIGHT! WE'RE GOING TO BE GREAT TOGETHER! DEX AND SUKI, SUKI AND DEX! WHAT A TEAM, DEX!'
And having wished him good luck in her own way, Suki led Dexter out of the dressing room. On the way, they picked up their water bottles. Outside, on the set, they picked up their microphones and inserted their earpieces. They looked around them at the brightly coloured set and the brightly dressed dancers who were standing ready to begin the warm up before the show.
Then the music started, the dancers danced. When they had finished, Suki walked to the front of the set and yelled to the audience.
'ARE YOU READY TO HAVE A GREAT TIME? WELL, MAKE SOME NOISE FOR US!'
At that moment, Dexter realized that he was hopelessly drunk. Now it was his turn to speak and he couldn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. This show was going to be a disaster. Someone in the audience shouted, 'You useless idiot! Can't you speak?'
Dexter had an idea. 'Well, he's clearly been reading the newspapers,' he shouted to the audience. He tried to laugh. A few of the audience laughed too, but not many of them.
Dexter needed another drink to clear his head, he told himself. He took the top off his water bottle and drank. It was water, just water. At once he understood. The bottles had got mixed up. Suki had the vodka. And she was taking the top off her bottle. He wanted to stop her drinking, but it was too late. As she tasted the liquid, Dexter saw the shock in her eyes. And at that moment, the live programme began.
'We're live! Say something Dexter,' the producer's voice said in his earpiece. But Dexter couldn't speak and Suki was coughing. She recovered first, and she came to Dexter's rescue. 'SORRY ABOUT THAT. BUT AT LEAST YOU VIEWERS KNOW THAT THE PROGRAMME IS LIVE!' she said.
Suki went on speaking. Dexter tried hard to think clearly and after a few minutes he was able to perform better with Suki. He wasn't very good, but he wasn't terrible. And Suki was amazing. She always spoke when Dexter didn't know what to say and she tried to make Dexter look normal. The show wasn't a disaster.
When the programme had finished, there was a party for all the people who had appeared in it, and their friends and relations. Dexter stayed for the party, but he was quiet and thoughtful. People congratulated him, but they didn't speak to him for long. He ate lots of food and drank lots of wine, but he wasn't happy. He knew that he hadn't performed well. He knew that Suki Meadows had rescued him. And he knew that she had been the star.
Late in the evening, Suki came to sit next to him.
'That went OK, didn't it?' she said.
For the first time that day, she wasn't speaking in capital letters.
'You saved us, Suki,' he said. 'I was trying to settle my nerves, but I drank too much before the show. I owe you an apology.'
'Yes, you do,' she replied. 'You have a problem with alcohol and we need to talk about it. You must understand this, Dexter - you won't appear on this programme with me again if you aren't sober. And you must never bring alcohol onto the set again.' 'What can I do to make you feel better about me?' Dexter asked her.
'Well, you can take me out for dinner next week,' Suki said. 'Take me somewhere very expensive. On Tuesday.'
Dexter thought for a moment. He had promised to meet Emma on Tuesday evening, but he could change that. Emma was his best friend. She was always there for him.
'All right,' he replied. 'We have a date.'
'Good,' said Suki, kissing him. 'And now, you must come and meet my mother.'
Dexter was feeling a bit unhappy on the Isle of Dogs, but Emma was on top of the world in Leytonstone. Oliver had been a great success. Of course there had been arguments and fights among the children before the show. That always happened. They were excited and some of them were nervous. But Emma had settled their nerves and when the music began, they all worked together and helped each other. So the show had been wonderful. Phil Godaiming, Emma's headteacher, was very pleased. People whose children could act and sing like that were going to be proud, he thought. They were going to speak well of the school - and of its headteacher, of course.
At the party after the show the school staff, and many of the proud parents of the cast, congratulated Emma. She drank her wine and smiled at everyone. And late in the evening, Mr Godaiming came to sit next to her.
'You're a wonderful teacher, Emma,' he said quietly in her ear. 'And you look very beautiful tonight. I have great plans for you next year.'