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Archive for the 'Season 2' Category

Season 2: Episode 14

May 31, 2011

Ana turned slowly towards the voice, heart beating a mile a minute and her mouth suddenly dry.

“You look great,” the voice said, She felt eyes running over the length of her body and shivered involuntarily.

She should have guessed whom this event was for; everything about it had his stamp on it.

“Hello Marc,” she said, finally meeting his eyes.

He looked well, but Ana felt only pure revulsion seeing him now. She couldn’t believe this man had consumed her thoughts and her heart for so long. He walked over and gave her a kiss on the cheek, running his hand down her back, lingering a few seconds too long. Ana wanted to brush him off, but she was frozen, numb.

“You’ve done a great job,” he said. “It’s a wonderful party. Fortuitous you could do it at such short notice.”

She nodded, her thoughts only on how to extract herself from the situation before it got out of hand. She didn’t trust Marc. Hell, he’d probably orchestrated the whole thing to get back at her! Things had been going so wonderfully with Tom and she didn’t want this – whatever this was – to ruin it. She wondered if Tom had noticed who the client was and, if not, how she could prevent him from finding out.

She didn’t have to think about it too long.

“Ana, can we grab some more of the…” Tom stopped mid sentence as he noticed Marc upon entering the room. “What is he doing here?”

Marc strode over and held out his hand. “Good to see you. Tim, wasn’t it?”

He shook Marc’s hand, not bothering to correct the mistake, but Ana could see the muscles in Tom’s jaw tighten.

The door opened again and Marc’s wife, Cynthia, walked in. “Darling, the guests are waiting.” She looked at Ana quizzically, trying to place her. “We’ve met, haven’t we?”

That was the last straw for Tom. He ripped off his waiter’s apron and threw it on the floor. “She worked for your husband. Ask him about their affair sometime.”

He stormed through the door and left the three of them standing there, speechless. Cynthia visibly paled and walked over to Marc. She slapped him across the face, hard. Ana could see her hands shaking ever so slightly. She took a deep breath and smoothed an imaginary stray hair back into place.

“Like I said. The guests are waiting.”

She turned to Ana and looked at her coolly. “I think we’ll be able to manage from here. My husband’s assistant will arrange payment.”

And with that she took Marc’s hand, plastered a smile on her face and walked back into the party. Ana sank to the floor, tears welling in her eyes. The door opened again, this time Mia, wondering where Tom and the extra Champagne had got to.

She gasped when she saw Ana and rushed over to her. “What happened?”

Ana looked up, her eyes wide. “I have to find Tom.”

***

Tom strode out into the road, flagging down a cab.

“Where to?” the driver asked, wearily. It was another slow night.

Tom thought. He didn’t want to go home, Ana would likely go straight there and he didn’t want to see her at the moment. He needed some time to think. He pulled out his phone and dialled a number. The person on the other end was surprised to hear from him.

“Are you at home,” he said. “Can I come over?”

He directed the taxi driver and sank back in his seat, mind reeling. He thought he was over the fact that Ana had an affair with her boss. He’d dealt with it and he’d forgiven her. At least, he thought he had. The rage that overtook him when he saw them together tonight indicated otherwise.

His mobile phone rang shrill.

Ana.

He declined the call and punched out a short message.

Need some time. Will call tomorrow.

Was he doing the right thing, marrying Ana when, obviously, he hadn’t forgiven her? Could he ever truly forgive her?

The taxi arrived at his destination and he paid the driver, mumbling thanks as he got out of the car. It was cold and he pulled his jacket closer around him, pushing open the front gate and knocking on the door. It swung open and the familiar face broke into a wide grin.

“Hello, stranger,” she said, pulling him into a hug.

Tom gave in to her warm embrace and was gratified that it was as comforting as he’d remembered. She still smelled the same, he thought, feeling her soft hair against his cheek. She held him at arm’s length and looked at him with a bemused expression.

“Come on. I suspect you need a drink.”

***

A bottle of red wine later and he’d filled her in on the whole story. She hadn’t yet said a word as she stood up to get a new bottle from the wine rack. In the haze of the alcohol he couldn’t help noticing the contour of her jeans and the way her casual jumper clung to the curves of her body. Lilly. His high school sweetheart. They’d thought they were going to be together forever, but they’d been so young then. And times change. The break-up had been painful but amicable. She moved to London for university and he resolved he’d never find anyone like her again. They’d seen each other a few times since she’d moved back two years ago, and she’d hinted they could be something more than just friends. But then he’d met Ana, who was just about as different from Lilly as could be, but had the same effect on his heart. Tom never told Ana the full details about Lilly. He didn’t think it was really necessary – what was in the past was, well, in the past.

Lilly turned and caught him staring, giving him the same bemused look she had at the door. She opened the bottle of red and topped up his glass, disappearing into the kitchen briefly before returning with homemade salsa and corn chips. Tom gratefully tucked in, not realising how hungry he was. The salsa was delectable – spicy, tangy – bursting with flavour. Way better than any shop-bought stuff he’d tried.

“What are you going to do?” asked Lilly, pulling her feet up on the couch and sipping her wine thoughtfully.

Tom shrugged, licking his fingers, enjoying the way the chilli made his lips sing. Suddenly he didn’t want to think about Ana. He just wanted to be in the company of someone with whom he could be himself. Where it was just… easy.

“Can I stay tonight?”

Lilly looked at him for a long time before slowly shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” his voice trailed off as her hand rested lightly on his arm.

“It’s not that I don’t miss you, Tom. I’ve wanted you to call for such a long time and tell me it was a mistake.  But…” she removed her hand and ran it through her hair. “You’re upset. And you love Ana. You would regret this.”

Tom felt like a fool. When he’d said he wanted to stay, he hadn’t meant it in that way. Or had he? He just didn’t know any more.

He wearily lifted himself off the couch. “I should go.”

Lilly walked him to the door and kissed him softly on the cheek.

“’Bye Tom.”

He smiled at her ruefully and hunched his shoulders against the cold, turning up his collar as he walked back out into the night to find a cab to take him home.

 

Season 2: Episode 13

May 24, 2011

Ana opened her eyes, excitement coursing through her veins. This is how she used to feel on Christmas morning, filled with anticipation for the day ahead. She could hear Tom’s even breathing next to her and nudged him with her knee to wake him up. He rolled over and sleepily wrapped his arms around her, snuggling them both further under the covers.

“You have to wake up,” Ana whispered in his ear, extracting herself from his muscular arms.

“Whatimeisit?” Tom mumbled, sleepily.

Ana checked the clock next to the bed. “Six thirty.”

Tom groaned and rolled over again, trying to pull his fiancé with him. “You don’t even get the keys until nine. Let’s snooze for a bit longer.”

But Ana couldn’t sleep any more. In precisely two and a half hours her very own events and public relations company would begin its first day of business. In reality, she was just moving into the office space, and wasn’t expecting to actually do any work so soon. But, it was very exciting nonetheless. She had enlisted the help of Tom, Mia and Willow (or rather, they had all insisted on helping) to move some furniture into the space and set up.

Ana had become aware of the office about a year ago when working with some clients who had rented it for a photo shoot. The beautiful loft room – with its wooden floorboards and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city – had resonated with her immediately and she had imagined that, one day, she would be able to run her own business from there. It had been a pipe dream at the time, of course, because Ana had been very happy in her job.

But that was then. Ana shuddered, remembering how horribly things had ended with Marc and how much she’d hurt Tom in the process.

She’d contacted the building’s agents soon after quitting her job and – by some small miracle – they’d told her the space would be up for rent in a couple of months. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. It gave Ana some time off to focus on her relationship with Tom and to fully plan how she wanted her business to run. When it came to PR and events management, Ana knew she was the best and she wanted this reflected in every aspect of her new company.

Ana looked at Tom, who had resumed snoring very gently, and smiled. More than just being a gorgeous office, the new space meant she could finally shut the door on a period of her life she wanted to forget. Today was both a physical and emotional new start and one that she intended to make the most of. Ana gave Tom a light kiss on the cheek, inhaling his scent before springing out of bed and padding downstairs.

***

“Wow.”

Willow looked around the office in amazement. Large beams of solid timber cut through the high ceiling space creating geometric shapes in the air, which changed depending on where you were standing. The walls were white and the floor was a beautiful, glossy dark wood that had obviously been well cared for. The large window offered a panoramic view of the Melbourne city skyline; the yellows and reds of autumn accentuated by a clear blue sky. It was up just high enough to see above the closest roofs, but not so high as to feel disconnected from the neighbourhood. Overall, the effect was breathtaking.

Mia backed into the room carrying half of a large desk. Tom had the other end.

“Wow,” she said, nearly dropping her end.

Ana laughed. This was the effect she had hoped for. She could just imagine how impressed clients would be when they came to her office for meetings.

***

A few hours later, they were all exhausted, but delighted with the outcome. The office looked incredible. As a thank you, Ana offered to take them all out for a well-deserved lunch.

“No need,” said Willow, slyly, producing a picnic basket. She opened it and presented Champagne, smoked salmon pinwheels, bread, cheese and dips. She popped the bottle ceremoniously – the cork travelling in an alarming arc towards the window but thankfully changing trajectory at the last minute – and poured it into plastic tea cups.

“To Ana,” she said, raising her glass.

***

They sat quietly, sleepy and full from the Champagne and delicious lunch, admiring their interior decoration skills. The unexpected ringing of the phone on Ana’s desk shattered the silence. Ana leapt up, nearly tripping over her cup.

She cleared her throat and answered. “Good afternoon…”

A young woman’s voice interrupted her. “Oh thank goodness you’re there. I have an emergency. My boss is throwing his anniversary party, but the event person we’ve been using has been admitted to hospital with pneumonia and now I don’t know what to do because…”

Ana cut her off. “That’s fine. I can help you.”

The woman on the other end of the phone took a deep breath. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have just saved my job.”

Ana grabbed a pen and a notebook from her desk. “When is the event? How many people? Do you need food, wine, entertainment?”

“It’s tomorrow, only twenty people, we need food and drink. The entertainment is arranged separately.”

“Tomorrow?” Ana nearly dropped the phone.

“Yes,” the woman said, sheepishly. “I told you it was an emergency.”

Ana composed herself. She could do this. “Absolutely no problem at all.”

She gave her email address and told the caller to send through a list of exactly what she needed while Ana prepared the contract. She could almost hear tears of gratitude in her first client’s voice.

“How did you hear about me… I mean, us?” asked Ana, curious. She’d put out a couple of press releases last week, but hadn’t expected anything so soon.

The woman paused. “I think my boss mentioned your company. Maybe you’ve worked with him before?”

“Perhaps.” Although unlikely, thought Ana, seeing as this was her first client! It must have been the press releases.

She hung up the phone and looked at her friends.

“I’m going to need your help. Again,” she said to them, a grin spreading across her face.

***

The function was going incredibly well. People had complimented Ana on the food (Willow saved the day by doing all the catering), the choice of wine (a call to Johnny had solved that problem), and the professional nature of the bar tenders (thank goodness Tom and Mia had both worked bar to put themselves through university). It was a surprise anniversary party for the client’s wife, and a call from his PA let Ana know that they were en route, ETA ten minutes. Ana made sure that each guest had a full glass of Champagne and made herself scarce. The last thing the client wanted was to see the event manager instead of all their friends. In the whirlwind preparations, and because she’d been dealing exclusively with his PA, Ana realised she hadn’t even discovered the name of the client.

Not to matter, she thought, retreating to the kitchen. I’ll meet him soon enough.

She smiled to herself as she heard the front door open and the guests yell “Surprise!”, imagining her and Tom in 20 years’ time doing the very same thing.

A sudden pang of hunger made her realise she’d barely eaten anything all day, so she wandered over to the spare platters of food. Willow had made some smoked salmon pinwheels that looked even more delightful than the ones she had made yesterday for the carpet picnic. Ana popped one in her mouth and was amazed that they tasted even better than they looked.

Savouring the salmon, lemon and dill, she was surprised to feel a rush of wind as the door behind her opened.

“Hello Ana.” A male voice softly caressed her name.

The familiar intonation sent shivers down her spine. Ana turned around slowly, willing it to be anyone other than who she knew it was.

Season 2: Episode 12

May 17, 2011

Willow cupped her gloved hands and blew on them to keep warm as she waited for her breakfast. It wasn’t even winter yet but Melbourne was already experiencing what felt like arctic temperatures. It had been the wettest summer on record and now it was the coldest start to autumn the city had ever seen. Of course, Willow was no climate change specialist, but surely that meant something? She peered in through the small window of her favourite hole-in-the-wall café, looking expectantly for her coffee.

It was the end of another long week and Willow was excited about the prospect of a relaxing weekend of doing not much at all: cooking, eating and curling up on the sofa with a good book. Bliss! Her job as a music teacher at an exclusive private school in Melbourne’s inner south was rewarding, but did take a lot out of her. The last couple of weeks had been particularly difficult as she started to prepare the final year students for their exams. It was only May, but before they knew it the end of the school year would be upon them. She had learned the hard way that the more she pushed them now the fewer irritated teenagers and nagging parents she’d have to deal with later. This was, of course, on top of the ‘Carlo Incident’, as it was now referred to, and the weird fight that Mia and Johnny seemed to be having that neither of them would admit to, but was affecting everyone.

Yep, she definitely needed a low-key weekend.

Willow rubbed her hands together again and stamped her feet, dreaming of the steaming hot caffè latte that would soon be coming her way. The café owner waved to her as he hauled a crate of milk to the side entrance, his breath forming thick clouds in the bitter morning air.

“Cold enough for you?” He called out, grinning.

Willow laughed and nodded. She came here every morning before work to grab a quick breakfast that she ate on her walk to school. The tiny café produced sensational coffee and it was not unusual to see a queue, sometimes fifteen people deep, waiting anxiously for their caffeine fix. They also served wonderful food, which was a lovely blend of Japanese and Australian culinary traditions, the owner having lived in Japan for many years when he was younger. This morning, Willow had succumbed to the delicious-looking okonomiyaki to accompany her usual, strong caffè latte. Her mouth watered as she watched the sweet miso and mayonnaise being drizzled over the savoury pancake.

***

She walked briskly towards the school, nibbling on the corner of her breakfast, conscious that she had a meeting in a few minutes with the principal. She was about to cross the small side street behind the secondary school when a dark green Aston Martin screamed around the corner, nearly hitting her. She fell backwards onto the nature strip as the car’s horn blared and tyres screeched. Shaking from the near-miss, she staggered to her feet and noticed the car reversing. It drew level with her and the window silently opened a couple of inches.

“You’re OK?” a voice enquired. Whoever it was, they didn’t sound particularly concerned.

“You should watch where you’re going,” Willow said irritably. She could feel a bruise forming on her elbow as she tenderly rubbed her arm.

“Well, you should learn to look both ways before you cross the road,” the driver responded, his voice retaining the same casual nonchalance.

Fuming, Willow peered inside, but couldn’t see the driver’s face. “You shouldn’t be driving like a maniac. There is a school around here. What if you hit one of the kids?”

This silenced him momentarily. “Point taken.  I’ll drive more carefully and you can head over to that school and perhaps get some lessons in how to cross the road. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late.”

Before she could reply, he had screeched off again. Willow shook her head in frustration.

It really just confirms what I already know, she thought to herself. All men are complete and utter idiots!

She surveyed the carnage around her. Coffee was dripping down the front of her coat and the okonomiyaki – that she had been so looking forward to finishing – had sailed gracefully though the air, landing face-down on the footpath. Her bag had upended and sheet music was fluttering gently along the street. Brushing the grass off her tailored trousers, Willow glanced at her watch.

“Shit!”

She was already late. She scooped up her bag and started chasing runaway papers down the road.

* * *

Willow burst into the principal’s office, still trying to rub the coffee stain off the front of her winter coat. “Gail, I’m so sorry that I’m late but…” She stopped mid-sentence when she saw they had company.

“Willow. This is Mr Fortescue.”

Willow took in the gentleman before her. He was tall, well-dressed and certainly not unattractive. Not her type, of course. He had a sharp, arrogant look about him. Even though she’d never met him before, the name was well known to her. Around the school, some spoke of him with hallowed reverence because he’d donated a lot of money for various buildings over the years. Most recently his philanthropy extended to the new music conservatory. Other teachers had told Willow to be wary of him. Apparently he was over-protective of his son, Samuel, and liked to contribute more than his two cents’ worth when it came to his offspring’s education.

Mr Fortescue held out his hand, a bemused expression on his face. “Call me Robert.”

Willow started. She’d recognise that voice anywhere.

Green Aston Martin!

“Mr Fortescue would like to speak to you about his son’s performance last term,” said Gail warily, fully aware that keeping the peace between these two might not be the easiest task.

Robert Fortescue cleared his throat. “Samuel didn’t do particularly well in your subject.”

Willow regarded him cautiously. Samuel was a good kid but, unfortunately, tone deaf and far more interested in science and maths than music.

“Sam doesn’t seem to be particularly keen…”

He interrupted her. “He’ll be taking music as an elective next year and I’m expecting him to do a lot better.”

Here we go, thought Willow, puffing her chest out angrily. The bullying begins.

Gail, who had got far in life with her ability to nip tension in the bud before it erupted, stepped between the pair. “Perhaps, Robert, if that is the case then you might consider a tutor for Samuel. I have some excellent recommendations.”

Robert held up his hand, a twinkle in his eye. “That won’t be necessary, Gail. I’m sure that Willow would be happy to tutor him a few afternoons a week. For an additional fee, of course.”

First, he’d ruined her breakfast and now he was demanding she give up her spare time for his son? Willow exploded. “I absolutely would not be happy to do that, you arrogant bastard!”

There was a tense silence in the room. Willow cursed herself inwardly, not so much for the yelling but for potentially causing Gail any trouble. She suspected that no one ever spoke that way to Robert Fortescue.

You couldn’t just have said ‘no thank-you’? she chided herself silently.

Suddenly, he laughed. “I certainly didn’t expect to elicit that response! Gail, you’ve got a fiery one here.” He glanced at his limited edition Breitling wristwatch. “I have to go. I won’t forget this though, Willow.”

He shook hands with Gail and let his gaze fall on Willow momentarily, savouring her like one would a fine work of art, before letting himself out of the room.

Willow turned to face Gail, apologetic.  “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that. But you can’t expect me to…”

Gail shook her head. “I know, Willow, I know. But his wife was a musician before she died. I suspect he wants to keep that alive through Sam.” She sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him and sort it out.”

* * *

Willow carefully checked the road for oncoming Aston Martins before crossing. She noticed a miso-coloured stain on the pavement where her breakfast had come to its unfortunate end. She had been annoyed – and hungry – all day thinking about her interaction with Robert Fortescue. Just the mention of his name made her blood boil!

“Willow.”

She turned and was horrified to see the green Aston Martin again. It stopped and Robert got out. She was once again astonished by his commanding presence. She stood up straight and put her hands in her pockets so he wouldn’t see them shaking.

“Mr Fortescue…”

“Call me Robert.” He smiled, engagingly.

She glared at him. “Mr Fortescue. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss this further, then please do so through the school. Although, I can tell you now there is no way that…”

He interrupted her. “Have dinner with me.”

Willow was startled – certainly not what she had expected him to say. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, trying to get words of protest out, but none came. She looked like a goldfish gasping for air.

“I’m heading out of town for a while. When I get back, I’ll call you.”

Before she could even respond he was back in his car and had driven off. Willow clenched her fists inside her jacket. What unbelievable… arrogance! Muttering aloud in the direction of the retreating vehicle she said, “I can promise you this, Robert Fortescue. I will never, ever go on a date with you.”

Season 2: Episode 11

May 10, 2011

Mia leaned against the letterbox, out of breath, but feeling great for the first time in days. Going for a long run always had that effect on her. There was something so calming about the rhythmic pattern her body fell into that she would forget about all the things that were worrying her. Well, there was just one thing that concerned her at the moment, but it had been playing on her mind the entire week. Tonight, the gang was meeting up for dinner again, and she was going to have to spend the whole evening in the same room as Johnny. That, in itself, wasn’t such a bad thing. Mia quite liked being in close proximity to Johnny. In fact, she liked it a lot. However, the disastrous date that Nick had taken her on – to Johnny’s restaurant, no less – still lingered in her mind. It was the night that insidious girl had draped herself over Johnny like a cheap accessory, refusing to budge. Not that Johnny had seemed to mind and, based on the stories she’d heard, it was an all-too-common occurrence.

Mia untied the key from her shoelace and let herself into the house quietly so as not to wake the others. She needn’t have worried, though. The smell of coffee wafting through the house told her they were already up and about.

“I can’t believe you’ve already been for a run,” groaned Willow sleepily. “You put us all to shame.” She gestured to the coffee pot on the stove. “Want one?”

“Please,” said Mia gratefully.

“How far did you get?” Ana looked much more awake than Willow and was dressed in her yoga clothes, ready for her Saturday morning class.

“About 15 kilometres,” said Mia, helping herself to a glass of water.

Ana and Willow looked at each other. They had known that something was up for a while now, but they didn’t know that it was that bad. All the girls had a release – an activity that they defaulted to when things got a bit much. For Ana it was Champagne (not technically an activity, but somehow Ana managed to turn it into one), for Willow: baking, and for Mia: excessive exercise. At least with baking and Champagne everyone could benefit, but the exercising just made the others feel guilty about their own vices. For this reason, as much as to support their friend, her housemates tried extra hard to snap Mia out of it when she was down.

“So, what’s up?” Ana asked, her tone light.

“Nothing” said Mia, looking surprised. “Why?”

“You’re just… exercising. A lot.”

Mia laughed. “Oh that. Umm, I’ve got an assessment coming up at work and need to train for it.” The absolute last thing she wanted was for Ana and Willow to know the truth.

Ana was sceptical, but if Mia didn’t want to talk about it there wasn’t much they could do.

“What are we cooking for dinner tonight?” asked Mia, changing the subject.

Willow was suddenly awake. “I was thinking apple pie for dessert. I found this great recipe the other day.” She paused. “But there’s a catch.”

Ana and Mia looked at her. How could there be a downside to delicious, homemade apple pie?

“I can’t go to the market and I need lots of apples,” Willow said, sheepishly.

Although Willow had put on a very brave face, she still wasn’t quite ready to confront Carlo on his territory just yet. She was happy going to the market during the week, but on Saturday there was a high probability that she would run into him and she really, really wanted to avoid that.

“I’ll go,” said Mia.

Willow gave her friend a huge hug, letting go quickly. “Gross. You’re all sweaty,” she said playfully.

***

Mia was pulling wine glasses down from the kitchen cupboard when Johnny arrived. The positive feeling that she had managed to maintain for the majority of the day dissipated. He walked into the kitchen and deposited a couple of bottles of wine on the bench, opening a red straight away to let it breathe.

“Hi Mia.” His voice gave no hint of anything.

“Hi Johnny.”

They looked at each other for a moment before Johnny turned on his heel and left the room, mumbling something about helping to set the table.

Well, thought Mia, bitterly, that went well.

When they sat down to dinner, Johnny and Mia positioned themselves as from each other as they could. The others barely noticed them going drink for drink, hardly touching their food and scowling like a couple of teenage boys forbidden from playing Xbox.

When Johnny eventually spoke, his voice dripped with disdain. “So, how was the rest of your date?”

“Oh yeah,” exclaimed Tom, oblivious. “The mystery date. Where did he end up taking you?”

Before Mia could answer, Johnny jumped in. “You didn’t hear?” He picked up a bottle of red and emptied the contents into his glass, not even tasting it as he took a swig. “We had the pleasure of waiting on the two lovebirds at Medina.”

“Well maybe you can fill us in on the date,” teased Willow, “Because Mia won’t tell us anything.”

Mia grabbed another bottle of wine and opened it, filling her own glass to the brim. “Why don’t you tell them about your friend instead, Johnny?” Mia glared at him, fire in her eyes.

“Hey, save some of the wine for the rest of us.” Willow proffered her glass for a refill.

Mia obliged, speaking to the table as she poured. “Johnny wouldn’t have noticed how my date went,” she said. “He was too busy babysitting.”

“I was not,” Johnny snorted, incredulous.

“She was young enough to be your daughter,” Mia shot back.

“I would have thought you were too busy making googly eyes to notice anything else.”

“It was impossible not to notice. You were all over each other.”

“What do you care, anyway? You seemed pretty happy with Mr Boring.” Johnny put his wine glass to his lips and frowned when he realised there was nothing left in it; he could have sworn he had just filled it.

Mia walked around the table and snatched the bottle from him, slopping wine on the tablecloth as she topped herself up, she too having finished her glass in record time. “He’s not boring. At least he can have a conversation about something other than… Barbie dolls.”

As the verbal barbs continued, Willow, Ana and Tom looked on, bemused. From a spectator point of view, it was like watching a tennis match. Johnny and Mia didn’t even notice the table being cleared around them, or the arrival of Willow’s amazing dessert, which was cut and placed in front of them.

Mia stabbed her spoon into the flaky pastry, a spiral of steam escaping from the pie. She gave Johnny a withering look. “You wouldn’t even be capable of having a proper relationship, anyway.”

Johnny ignored the pie in front of him, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “You wanna bet?”

“Yes.”

“You’re on.”

They glared at each other for another second before Willow interrupted their thoughts.

“How are you going to prove it?” she said, her mouth full of dessert.

“What?” Mia turned to her, as if only just aware that there were other people in the room.

“The bet. How are you going to prove that Johnny is or isn’t capable of having a proper relationship?”

Mia and Johnny looked at each other. They could both think of one way, but neither of them was going to suggest that.

Season 2: Episode 10

May 3, 2011

Ana checked her watch. She was running so far behind time. She understood the concept of being fashionably late, but this was beyond a joke. The traffic was barely moving. She drummed her fingers impatiently on the seat next to her.

“Is there another route we can take?” she asked the driver, conscious that she was over an hour late. Her mobile phone battery had died while she was at the hairdresser’s and she didn’t want anyone to think she was leaving them stranded at the altar, so to speak. The driver shrugged apologetically and Ana was left staring out the window, cursing Stefan for taking forever to finish her hair. She had tried to hurry him along. He knew how important it was for her to be on time, tonight of all nights!

“But darling,” he had cooed. “You cannot celebrate such an occasion of love and commitment without perfect hair!”

Finally, the car arrived at its destination and she leapt out. Ana pushed open the heavy door and ran down the long corridor, noticing the beautiful fresh flowers that had been set out for the occasion. She took a sharp left into the room where she could hear the murmur of hushed voices.

“…we can see Catherine just emerging from the hotel as we speak…”

“Have I missed it?” Ana asked breathlessly, bursting through the door. “The hairdresser took forever!”

She was met by a chorus of “Ssshhhhhh!” from housemates Willow and Mia.

“She’s just getting into the car to go to the Abbey,” explained Mia, her eyes glued to the television.

Ana breathed a sigh of relief. Not that she normally got into these sorts of things, but all three of them seemed to have caught wedding fever – it had been going around, apparently – and Ana didn’t want to miss the moment when Wills and Kate tied the knot.

“I’m not sure about that lace,” said Willow, sceptically. “But maybe it’ll work when we get to see the whole outfit.”

There were murmurs of agreement from the other two. A break in the commentary enabled Mia to rush into the kitchen and grab some Champagne flutes.

“Ana, I thought you were never going to get here. We are dying for some bubbles. We thought you were going to leave us high and dry,” she said, adding, “hair looks great, by the way.”

Because she was going out to the hairdresser anyway, Ana had been charged with the very important job of buying the booze on her way home. Had she known that Stefan was such a fan of the British Royal Family she wouldn’t have mentioned her plans tonight to watch the wedding with her girlfriends, because as soon as she had, he had insisted on spending extra time making sure every strand sat perfectly. She handed over the bag of sparkling, laughing when she saw the girls had brought an Esky into the living room.

“It’s going to be a long night,” explained Willow.

In the spirit of the occasion, Willow produced a platter of cucumber sandwiches that she had prepared earlier. Mia bit into the delicate canapé and smiled, hardly surprised that Willow had gone to this much trouble. She’d rolled paper-thin bread and even cut the crusts off. They half-watched the wedding ceremony; more interested in the crowd and what everyone was wearing than the actual nuptials.

“Looks as though she’s planning on broadcasting to greater London,” said Ana, pointing to one of the Royals, who had a particularly ridiculous satellite dish of a hat on her head.

Willow took another swig of Champagne and picked up a sandwich. “Is your wedding going to be like this, Ana?”

Ana snorted, nearly spraying a mouthful of her drink across the room. “Yeah, I’ve got Sarah Burton on speed dial already. I’ve told her to spare no expense!”

“Maybe you could just borrow Kate’s dress. It’s not like she’s going to be needing it again.”

“We hope!” chorused Ana and Mia.

“Don’t do anything like this,” pleaded Mia. “I don’t think I can sit through another five-hour wedding extravaganza.” She shifted uncomfortably. “My bottom has gone numb.”

“Any plans for nuptials on the horizon for you then, Mia?” Willow teased.

Mia looked decidedly uncomfortable but tried to make light of the comment. “I’d need to find someone I wanted to marry first.”

“Not Nick, then?”

Willow and Ana made kissy-kissy faces and Mia laughed half-heartedly, barrelling them with cushions from the couch. She decided it was time to change to subject.

“How about you, Willow?”

Willow sighed. “Well Prince Harry did call the other day…” She broke off, grinning. “Nope. I’ve sworn off men altogether. They’re all lying, cheating, conniving bastards.” She said it with jest, but the others could tell she was still hurting after the Carlo debacle.

“Not all of them,” said Ana softly, patting her friend’s hand.

“I suppose Tom’s all right. And Nick too,” Willow added. “But the rest of them are bloody awful!”

Ana and Mia had been surprised at the relative calmness with which Willow had told them about Carlo. Given the strength of her feelings for him, they had been expecting weeks of ice cream, tissues and baked goods. But she had surprised them all by shedding only a few tears, rejecting ice cream all together and only baking one thing: a large sour cherry cake (they tried not to read too much into that). She had taken a sudden and severe disliking to Italian food, though. Willow was adamant that she had given up on men completely, and was perfectly satisfied in the knowledge that she would probably be alone for the rest of her life. Maybe with a cat. She reached into the Esky to grab another bottle of the delicious French bubbly, topping up everyone’s glasses.

“I am so glad that you are getting married, though, Ana,” she said. ‘I haven’t been to a wedding in ages. And certainly not of someone I love.”

“I don’t even really know what’s going on with it,” said Ana. “Tom’s been doing most of the planning. It’s like he doesn’t trust me to organise it or something.”

Mia and Willow suppressed smiles. Ana was fantastic at organising other people. She could manage an event at a day’s notice and it would be perfect, but when it came to planning anything for herself she was useless. Willow and Mia fondly remembered the time she tried to organise her own 30th birthday, realising four days beforehand that she’d ordered cases of Champagne, ample catering and decorations for the house, but forgotten to send out a single invite.

“I can’t think of anyone else who is even close to getting married at the moment,” mused Willow, thoughtful. They sat in silence for a while, each mentally ticking off the people they knew in their heads.

“Oh my God. Can you imagine Johnny getting married?” exclaimed Ana.

She and Willow broke into peals of laughter.

“He’ll get married when he’s 60,” chuckled Willow, “to a 21- year-old model named Bambi.”

“Who’ll fall in love with him because he is so mysterious and knows so much about wine,” continued Ana, between giggles.

They rolled around on the floor, the joke all the more hilarious because of the Champagne they had consumed. Mia tried to join in, but their conversation had made her heart sink. Although she knew that this was probably true, she still secretly hoped Johnny would miraculously turn up on the front door step and sweep her off her feet. Besides, what kind of stupid name was Bambi, anyway?

“I’ve got to go to bed,” she said, too brightly. “Early client tomorrow.”

The other two looked at each other. Why was Mia being weird all of a sudden?

“But you’ll miss the balcony kiss,” said Willow, indicating the television set. Kate and Wills had emerged from the Abbey and William was doing everything he could to avoid stepping on the hem of his new wife’s dress.

Mia shrugged. “It’ll be all over the papers tomorrow. ’Night.”

They heard her footsteps disappear upstairs.

“What was that all about?” asked Willow, baffled.

Ana shrugged, a mischievous grin spreading across her face. “Maybe she fancies Johnny.”

“As if!” snorted Willow.

Ana and Willow rolled around on the floor again, laughing uncontrollably at the ridiculousness of the prospect. Mia and Johnny. Now there was an unlikely couple!

Season 2: Episode 9

April 26, 2011

The house was rich with smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and dried fruit as Willow pulled a tray of hot cross buns out of the oven. She loved Easter – not because of the religious significance it held for so many – but for the very fact that, guilt-free, you could eat freshly baked hot cross buns with mountains of butter.

As with most of Willow’s baking, today’s offering served a higher purpose. She’d grown tired of waiting for Carlo to call, so she’d decided that it was time to take things into her own hands. It was the 21st century, for crying out loud. Since when did a girl have to wait for a guy to call her? There was one small problem, of course. In her haze of lust the other week, she hadn’t remembered to get his phone number.

“Doesn’t matter,” Willow said, as she inhaled the warm aroma from the tray in front of her. “I know where he lives!”

Why it had taken her this long to figure out she could go visit him was held in sharp relief to the fact that she now realised she should go and visit him. She pushed to the back of her mind the niggling doubt that, had he wanted to see her again, he probably would have called. He was just a guy who obviously didn’t know what he was missing out on. And, besides, who could resist a gorgeous woman bearing baked goods?

She carefully wrapped some of the buns in a clean tea towel, put them in an attractive wicker basket with some butter and homemade cherry jam, and grabbed her car keys. She whistled as she walked towards her car, excitement bubbling through her.

Willow’s bravado began to waver as she approached the Art Deco apartment building. Again, she wondered how he could afford such an amazing place. She hadn’t realised that being a chef in Italy was so lucrative. She also had no idea how long he was planning to stay in Australia, but the fact he had an apartment here was probably an indication (she hoped) that it was going to be a while.

“Details, details,” she muttered to herself.

Willow buzzed the intercom for Carlo’s penthouse apartment but there was no answer. Not willing to admit defeat so easily, she loitered outside the security door in the hope that someone would either come in or out. She could leave the hot cross buns with a note outside his apartment.

It’s not stalking, she reasoned with herself. It’s demonstrating admiration without reciprocity.

She didn’t need to wait long. An elderly gentleman, dressed head-to-toe in what appeared to be Ralph Lauren, emerged from inside the building as Willow pretended to search her handbag for keys.

“They smell good,” he said, indicating to the basket of hot cross buns she held in her hand. “Any spares?” he winked at her as he held the door open.

Willow laughed. She unwrapped a corner of the tea towel. “Go on.” He had let her in, after all.

“Don’t tell my wife,” he whispered conspiratorially and took a bite. “Delicious!” he said as he walked outside, leaving her alone in the foyer of the building.

Willow entered the lift and hit the button for the penthouse. She used the mirror in the lift to check her hair, obsessively smoothing a few stray strands near her ears. She was nervous again.

He’s not even there, she told herself, so why are you freaking out?

When she reached Carlo’s front door, Willow placed the basket on the ground. The buns had cooled almost completely, but their spicy, warm smell still lingered in the air.  She pulled out a pen and some paper to write a note but hesitated, giving a tentative knock on his door instead, just in case.

To her surprise, the door flung open, and she was confronted with Carlo, wrapped in a crisp white towel, his hair damp from the shower. He smelled of shampoo and soap. She instantly felt herself distracted by the warmth emanating from his body. His face went through a range of emotions, but ended up on something resembling delight, which Willow took to be an OK sign.

“Willow!” He pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. “You must think that I am terrible.”

Willow started to speak, but he cut her off.

“I’ve been wanting to call. I’ve been waiting for you to come to the market so I could see you. I lost your phone number, I didn’t know where you lived…” He took her hand and kissed it, muttering apologies the whole time. “Willow, I have been in agony, desperate to see you again.”

Of course! He had lost her phone number! It all made perfect sense now.

Willow’s face split into a huge smile and all her nervous energy melted away. “Well, it’s lucky I came to you then, isn’t it.” She quickly bent to retrieve the basket. “And I brought breakfast.”

“My darling Willow,” Carlo said as he swooped her inside and closed the door.

***

They didn’t get to breakfast straight away. But they sated their appetites in other ways, exploring each other’s bodies until exhausted and they could do nothing but lie, limbs entwined, their breaths heavy and even.

Carlo languidly rolled over and looked up at the living room clock (they hadn’t even made it into the bedroom). “Oh no,” he breathed, his eyes apologetic. “I have to go.”

Willow smiled at him and tried to quell her unhappiness at the prospect that he would leave. But, she had arrived unannounced. She couldn’t just expect him to put all his plans on hold.

Carlo leapt up and then leaned down to give her a kiss. “I’m just going to use the shower. Wait for me and we can walk out together.”

She nodded and continued to lie on the floor for a few seconds after he left the room. Stretching, she looked around for her clothes, which had been flung across every nearby piece of furniture, and saw the hot cross buns sitting on the counter. Willow suddenly remembered how hungry she was.

Pulling on her dress, she padded over to the kitchen to grab a bun. She heard the shower turn on and the sound of Carlo stepping in. Taking a bite at one of her creations, Willow marvelled at how light and fluffy they were. Could these be the best batch yet?

As she was giving herself an imaginary pat on the back for her baking prowess, the telephone in the apartment rang. She waited to see if Carlo would get out of the shower to answer it, but he didn’t so she shrugged and let the answering machine pick up, taking another bite of her late breakfast. A woman’s voice disrupted her reverie. Willow paused mid-bite.

“Carlo? Are you there?” There was a pause and then a sigh. “My meeting has been delayed and I’m not going to be back until Monday. I hope you’re enjoying the apartment and have made yourself at home.”

Cousin? Willow thought, feeling unsettled. Old friend, perhaps?

The woman’s voice dropped to a softer, huskier tone. “I can’t wait for another night like the one we had before I left. And don’t forget you promised to make me the baked tomatoes, seeing as we didn’t get to them last time.” She uttered a throaty laugh. “Ciao,” she said, then hung up.

Willow was stunned. Her mouth, full of hot cross bun, had dropped open in disbelief. That lying, cheating son of a bitch! He hadn’t lost her number! He was shacked up in some other woman’s apartment and was using it as his own personal… brothel! She didn’t even want to think of how many other women he’d had since her.

The shower had turned off. Willow grabbed her bag and flung it over her shoulder, heading for the exit. She didn’t feel like making a scene and, besides, Carlo didn’t even deserve the chance to try to explain his way out of this. She yanked open the front door, paused, ran back inside to pick up the basket of hot cross buns, and ran out of the apartment.

As she reached the main entrance she nearly bowled over the same elderly gentleman who had ushered her in earlier, the weekend newspapers and a carton of milk now in his hand.

“Here.” Willow thrust the baked goods into his hands as he propped the door open with his foot. “Enjoy.”

He watched, bemused, as the charming young girl fled across the road to her car. He was still standing there as she drove off, holding his hand up in a wave.

“Thank you!” he called out to the retreating car. The man looked down at the unexpected basket of buns in his hands, eager to try another. The sample he’d had earlier was like none other he’d eaten before, with the perfect balance of cinnamon and – what was it? Orange peel? He was struck by how much those buns seemed to be like their maker.

Spicy, sweet and a little… unusual.

 

Season 2: Episode 8

April 19, 2011

At exactly 6:30pm the doorbell rang.

Regardless of the fact everyone else had gone out for the evening – Ana to Tom’s and Willow with some work friends – Mia knew the door was for her. He said he’d pick her up at 6:30 and here he was, right on time. Mia usually appreciated punctuality. She thought it was a forgotten courtesy, lost thanks to mobile phones. But tonight, the promptness of the doorbell frustrated her.

Tonight, Nick was taking her out on a ‘surprise’ date.

Mia wasn’t sure she liked surprises. A surprise was something you couldn’t plan for, couldn’t control. And if there was one thing Mia couldn’t tolerate, it was feeling out of control. This was compounded by the fact that she would rather have been going out with Johnny and resented the fact that Nick had got in first. She wondered, if Johnny had planned the surprise, whether she would be as grumpy. She suspected not.

I’m a bitch, Mia thought as she took a deep breath, plastered a fake smile on her face and opened the door.

“You look beautiful,” Nick exclaimed, sounding as though he really meant it.

Yep. Total bitch, Mia thought to herself guiltily. Heartless and cold.

***

Mia pulled her lightweight trench coat around her tightly. The evening air was crisp and perfectly autumnal and she could smell a wood fire burning somewhere in the vicinity.

“You won’t tell me where we’re going?” she asked again.

Nick laughed. “The point of it being a surprise, Mia, is precisely that I don’t tell you where we are going.”

She smiled thinly. They walked together, at first in silence but then Nick started chatting about the weather, work, and life in general. Mia started to relax. She’d been so caught up in the whole Johnny thing that she’d forgotten what good company Nick actually was. Sure, he didn’t send her heart racing every time she looked at him any more, but he was funny and smart and could carry a conversation.

They were locked in an animated discussion about whether couscous or quinoa was the more delicious grain (Mia was on the side of quinoa and Nick was rallying support for – in Mia’s opinion – its inferior cousin. “It’s so good they named it twice!” was the basis of his argument) when Nick announced:

“We’re here!”

Mia looked up to see where ‘here’ was. She panicked. It could have been anywhere in Melbourne, but Nick had chosen the last place on Earth she wanted to be.

Medina.

Johnny’s restaurant.

Nick talked excitedly. “…I was so lucky they had a cancellation, it’s impossible to get a reservation…”

He held the door open for her. Mia glanced around cautiously as she stepped into the beautifully lit and atmospheric bar. No sign of Johnny. Then she remembered – Johnny had asked her out tonight as well, which meant he probably wasn’t working. But the relief was short-lived when she saw him appear from behind the bar. He faltered for only a second.

“This is where you chose to come for your date?”

“It was a surprise,” Mia said quickly. “I didn’t know.”

Poor Nick looked puzzled. “You two know each other?”

“Yes,” they said in unison. Neither of them elaborated.

***

They had to wait for their table, so Nick pulled up a stool at the bar for Mia to sit on. Johnny took their drink orders silently and then wandered to the other end of the bar to clean glasses. Mia could see the muscles in his jaw working overtime. He looked up and they locked eyes. Mia’s pulse raced and she quickly dropped her gaze, taking a large sip of her wine, hoping that Nick didn’t notice her flushed cheeks.

“Johnny!”

Both Mia and Johnny looked towards the voice.

Johnny recognised the girl, but couldn’t place her. Where did he know her from? Or, worse, where didn’t he remember her from? She was young – much younger than he generally allowed himself to get involved with – but she had that twinkle in her eye, as though they shared a naughty secret…

We couldn’t have, Johnny thought to himself. Could we?

Mia’s eyes travelled over the shapely body of the girl who had just walked in and she couldn’t suppress the pang of envy. This girl was young and beautiful. She didn’t need to worry yet about that extra glass of wine or piece of chocolate, or getting up early to make sure she had time to go for a run to work off said wine and chocolate. Surely she was way too young for Johnny? It would be practically illegal!

They can’t have, Mia thought to herself. Could they?

The girl laughed, tossing her chestnut brown hair around as though she were the star of a Pantene commercial. “Cecelia,” she said, leaning across the bar to Johnny. “Remember? From Flinders.”

Johnny’s smile was a little forced. Of course, Claude’s niece. Or, as he remembered her, the mango girl. He’d done his best to avoid giving her his number but, now, here she was in his restaurant. With Mia sitting just a few metres away.

Cecelia had turned to her companion and was explaining – loudly enough for the whole restaurant to hear – about the “special connection” that she and Johnny had.

She turned to Johnny and clasped her hands together in delight, a final toss of the hair for good measure. “…and now I know where you work, we’ll get to see each other all the time!”

At the other end of the bar, Mia nearly choked on her wine.

***

The night just went from bad to worse. Even though she and Nick were now seated towards the back of the restaurant, Mia still had a front-row view of the “Cecelia show”. The girl was flirting like a pro – much more advanced than someone of her tender years. As a result, Mia found it difficult to concentrate on a word Nick was saying. Instead, she was focused on not leaping from her seat and killing the ridiculous child who was fawning all over Johnny with her inane giggling and hair tossing.

On the other side of the room, Johnny was doing his best not to stare towards their table. From here, he had a perfect view of their intimate conversation, of Nick feeding Mia morsels of food and looking like a love-sick puppy. Johnny noticed the guy couldn’t take his eyes off Mia; that he was oblivious to anything and everything else.

It’s disgusting, Johnny thought furiously, that a grown man would behave like that in public.

Nick and Cecelia – unwitting bit players in the unfolding drama – were completely oblivious to any of the tensions that were brewing across the dining room.

And the food? As always, it was excellent.

***

Mia declined dessert, saying that she had to get up early tomorrow morning for work. Nick had insisted on walking her home. At her front door, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and closed the door behind her, leaving him standing there, puzzled.

Officially the biggest bitch in the world, she thought to herself, as she walked upstairs to bed.

Mia tossed and turned all night , thinking of nothing but Johnny.

***

As it turned out, Johnny’s night ended much later. Cecelia had stayed until closing, refusing to take Johnny’s hints that he wanted to be alone. Johnny sighed. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want it at all. But he was tired, lonely and depressed. Mia wasn’t interested – she’d made that abundantly clear. He couldn’t be bothered having an altercation with Cecelia, and suspected it would be easier just to go with the flow in this situation. So he did, thinking of nothing but Mia the whole time.

Season 2: Episode 7

April 12, 2011

“Why hasn’t he called?” Willow demanded, for about the 700th time that day. She threw down the tea towel she’d been using to dry the dishes and stomped her foot on the ground. “He said he would call!”

Ana and Mia looked at each other. Whose turn was it to placate her? They’d never seen Willow so upset by a man before – she usually just brushed these things off with a laugh and some baked goods. After her “amazing” 24-hour date last weekend, Willow had been floating on cloud nine. But it had gradually downgraded to cloud eight by Tuesday, four by Thursday and today, Saturday, she had moved into negatives. Cloud minus-three. Carlo had said he would call, but he hadn’t.

“He’s probably been busy with, ahhh… work,” Ana was clutching at straws. It was hard when neither she nor Mia had met the man Willow had fallen for so hard, so fast. He sounded great, they couldn’t deny it, but perhaps a bit too good to be true?

Willow sighed. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”

Neither of them wanted to be the one to break it to her that, perhaps, Carlo was not good news.

For the first time in ages, the girls were all home together. They had invited Tom and Johnny over for dinner – or, rather, Ana had invited Tom and Johnny over – so they were preparing an easy meal. Although, Ana was beginning to regret the impromptu dinner party invitation. Neither of her co-hosts seemed to be in particularly good sprits, both of them undertaking preparation tasks with about as much enthusiasm as if readying for a trip to the dentist. Mia was doing her best impression of a mime, having barely said three words since she had got home from work. Willow – who had refused to go to the market for fear of seeing Carlo – was making a salad with the ingredients she had made Ana fetch, while she verbally dissected – again – every interaction she had ever had with Carlo.

“So Mia, are you going to see Nick again soon?” Ana said, trying to both move the topic away from Carlo and elicit some kind of conversation from her silent housemate.

“Dunno,” Mia mumbled before turning her attention back to shelling the prawns.

She can’t get hers to stop calling, and mine won’t call at all,” snapped Willow, uncharacteristically.

“Well, maybe you should swap!” Ana bit back, exasperated.

There was silence for a second before Willow gave a sheepish smile. “I sound like a broken record, don’t I?”

She went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of chilled wine, opening it and pouring three glasses. She raised her glass. “I promise that I won’t mention the C word again. For tonight, at least.”

At that moment, Tom jogged into the kitchen. “Has he called?” he asked Willow, breathlessly.

***

“I’ll get dessert ready,” Mia said, after they had all had their fill of prawns and fresh salad.

She wandered into the kitchen, grateful to be away from the table. She’d felt Johnny’s eyes on her the whole night and was trying her best to be cool, calm and collected, but felt she was failing. Miserably.

She opened the fridge, closing her eyes and letting the cool air rush out and calm her crimson cheeks.

“Can I help?”

She turned abruptly.

Johnny.

Mia smiled shyly. “Sure. Wash these?”

She passed him punnets of fresh strawberries and raspberries, recoiling quickly as his hands brushed hers. They worked in silence for a little while, Johnny washing and hulling, and Mia chopping the berries into bite-size pieces, adding fresh ricotta, honey and mint.

Mia eventually broke the silence. “Sorry about the other night. I had a… work thing on. Couldn’t get out of it.”

Johnny shrugged with a nonchalance Mia recognised but then was thoughtful for a minute. When he spoke, his voice was tentative. “We could try again tomorrow?”

Mia couldn’t suppress her grin. “Yeah, that’d be…” She trailed off. Shit! She’d already agreed to go out with Nick tomorrow. He had a surprise planned, had phoned earlier to make sure she could still come. She couldn’t cancel on him at this short notice.

“Oh, actually, I’ve got another… work thing on tomorrow night. Next week, maybe?”

Just at that moment Tom and Willow strolled into the kitchen carrying a stack of plates each.

“Hey Mia, I keep forgetting to ask. How was your hot date last weekend?” Tom said.

Mia glanced at Johnny. He was holding a bowl of berries so tightly his knuckles had turned white.

“It was no big deal,” Mia said as casually as she could. “Not a date, really.”

Willow snorted and put down the plates. “No big deal?” She turned to Tom. “She has been in love with this guy for, like, ever! And they’re going out again tomorrow night.”

It was as if the bowl just disintegrated in his hands, because all of a sudden Johnny had dessert all over himself, the red berries staining his white T-shirt and trickling down his hands, landing with soft plops on the tiled floor. He held up the two broken halves of the bowl, looking at them in shock.

Tom laughed. “Obviously don’t know your own strength!”

“I’m so sorry…” Johnny sounded as though he was almost in tears.

The others assured him it was OK – it was just an IKEA bowl, a remnant from their student days when the Swedish homewares seemed the pinnacle of affordable design.

Johnny looked down at his soiled clothes. “Guess I’d better get home and soak these.”

He picked up his jacket, said brief good byes and, before anyone could protest, hurried towards the front door.

“I’ll walk you out,” called Mia, following him down the hall. “Look, Johnny, I can explain…” She placed her hand on his arm when they were out of sight of the others, but he shook it off.

“Have fun at your work thing tomorrow,” he mumbled as he walked out the door.

Season 2: Episode 6

April 5, 2011

Willow’s heart was battering against the inside of her ribs as she stood in front of the mirror surveying her reflection. She couldn’t remember being this nervous before a date… ever! She had selected a simple black silk dress that fell just below her knees. A scoop neck emphasised her elegant collarbones and the cinched waist fell into a full skirt, which swirled around her legs as she walked. From behind, the fabric dipped daringly, exposing the length of her alabaster back in a dramatic ‘V’. She sprayed her favourite perfume into the air and walked though it so that the scent fell lightly over her body.

Not bad, she thought, giving herself one last glance in the mirror.

Mia had left an hour before on her date with Nick. Mia didn’t speak about guys all too often – she was an intensely private person when it came to her love life. She had mentioned Nick a few times in passing, which to Willow and Ana indicated true love. Willow hoped the date would cheer her friend up. She had seemed so down since Ana and Tom’s impromptu engagement party the week before.

As she wandered outside to flag down a taxi, Willow’s thoughts turned to her own night ahead. She couldn’t believe that she was finally going on a date with Carlo, the most gorgeous man she had ever set eyes on. And from the twinkle she’d noticed in his eye, he didn’t seem to think she was too bad, either.

Something about him just made her feel so feminine. Not generally a shrinking violet, Willow suddenly found herself quite happy to let this man take total control and lead her wherever he wanted to go.

***

The taxi came to a halt and Willow peered up at the apartment complex.

“Here?” The taxi driver sounded bored. He probably saw places like this everyday.

She checked the address on the piece of paper. It matched. Taking a deep breath she paid the driver and got out, glad that she had decided on a dressier outfit than she normally would for a first date.

At the crest of a hill overlooking the city, stood an immaculately preserved Art Deco building. In its grounds sat a large swimming pool and, next to that, a tennis court. A floodlit couple dressed in what looked like designer tennis whites were hitting a ball back and forth with skill that suggested professional coaching.

Christ, she thought. How does he afford this place?

She pressed the buzzer.

“Bella.”

Even his voice over the intercom sent her mad with desire.

“Top floor.”

***

He kissed her gently on both cheeks before leading her into the apartment.

“Wow.” Willow had never seen a view quite like it.

Floor-to-ceiling glass panels gave a panoramic view of Melbourne across the Yarra River. City lights twinkled in the distance and the moon shone brightly in the clear sky. She felt as though she had stumbled into a fairy tale.

Willow was snapped out of her reverie by the loud pop of a cork from a bottle of Champagne. She looked towards the open plan kitchen to see Carlo filling two glasses. She had been so taken with the view, Willow had barely noticed how handsome he looked tonight. His hair, still wet from the shower, was pushed back off his face. A light sweater was casually rolled at the sleeves, revealing muscular forearms, and Willow had never seen jeans look so good on anyone. He strode over and handed her a glass of crisp, sparkling wine.

“You look beautiful,” he said, tilting his glass in her direction before taking a sip, his eyes glinting in appreciation.

Willow sipped her Champagne, unable to take her eyes off his. She was sure her heart was beating audibly. He put his glass down, and placed one hand against her smooth cheek. He smelled of soap and spices.

He gently tilted her head and traced her jawline with feather light kisses.

She moaned softly, arching her body towards his. His lips found hers and his tongue expertly probed between her soft lips. She ran her hand down his back, underneath his jumper. His whole body responded and he kissed her with an intensity she had never known. His hands slid over the silk clinging to her curves, under the skirt of the dress then up the entire length of her body before pulling the dress over her head.

“Oh Willow,” he whispered into her ear. “I’ve wanted you for so long.”

Clad only in her black lace underwear, Willow gave him a coy smile before taking his hand and showing him exactly what he had been craving.

***

Willow opened her eyes slowly. She stretched, the Egyptian cotton sheets smooth against her naked body. The clock next the bed said 10 am. Heady aromas of garlic and olive oil emanated from the kitchen and she realised she was starving. They hadn’t actually managed to eat dinner last night, instead enjoying the delights of each other’s bodies for hours and hours. She found a cotton robe draped over the end of the bed, put it on, and padded into the kitchen.

Carlo had his back to her. He wore nothing but light cotton trousers, the muscles in his back rippling as he moved. When he turned and saw Willow, his face broke into a wide smile. He moved to kiss her deeply before leading her towards the counter where an espresso was waiting. She sat, sipping the coffee and watching him work.

After he had placed the tomatoes in the oven to bake he came around and kissed her again, sliding his hand inside her robe and stroking her soft skin.

“The tomatoes are going to take twenty minutes,” he said softly into her ear.

“Twenty minutes?” she exclaimed with mock-disappointment.

“I think I have a way to pass the time.”

***

Hours later Willow sat in a taxi on her way home. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. He had fed her breakfast in bed – well, lunch by the time they had managed to eat it – and then they had made love again, falling asleep in each other’s arms. Eventually she’d managed to tear herself away – she still had classes to prepare for tomorrow! But that didn’t matter. Carlo was going to call her and she would see him again very soon.

 

Season 2: Episode 5

March 29, 2011

The front door slammed and Mia heard footsteps running through the hall, before Willow burst into the kitchen, carrying a large box of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“You…are…never…going…to…believe…what…happened!” She was so breathless she could barely get the words out.

Mia laughed. “Whoa, slow down!” She filled a glass of water for Willow and handed it to her. Willow downed it in three gulps.

“What am I never going to believe?” Mia was still in her pyjamas standing at the kitchen bench, the Saturday papers spread in front of her, a bowl of muesli balanced in one hand. She had been woken early by the smells of biscotti wafting through the house and although Willow hadn’t really spoken about it, she suspected that it had something to do with the mystery man from a few weeks ago.

“He asked me out!” Willow’s eyes were shining, her cheeks flushed.

Mia grinned, happy for her friend. She couldn’t help the small, gnawing feeling in her stomach, though. Jealousy? She glanced at her phone on the bench. She had kept it within reach for the entire week, but he hadn’t called. Not even a text.

Mia smiled brightly at Willow. The last thing she wanted was to rain on her friend’s parade.

Willow clasped her hands together and announced, “I have to bake!”

For Willow, baking was just about the most cathartic experience in the world. She baked to relieve stress, when she was excited, when she was feeling down – as far as Willow was concerned, there was a baked good for every occasion.

After many years of observation, Mia and Ana were able to tell what was going on in Willow’s life just by what she spontaneously baked. Labour-intensive pastries – cannoli or croissant – meant that she was stressed out by something; bread indicated a morose mood; savoury pies signified annoyance; sweet pies, satisfaction; biscuits for anticipation… the list went on.

“What’s it going to be today?” Mia asked, although she suspected she knew the answer already.

Willow looked pensive for a moment. “Cupcakes!”

Cupcakes represented the pinnacle of happiness in Willow’s hierarchy of baking.

That moment, Mia’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and frowned. Withheld number.

It couldn’t be… could it?

Her heart pounded as she pressed answer. “Hello?”

A male responded. “Mia?”

The voice was familiar but she couldn’t place it. “Yes?”

“This is Nick. You used to teach me Pilates….?” His voice trailed off, unsure if she would remember him.

Nick! Mia’s mouth dropped open. She hadn’t seen him for… months! He had been a client of hers for a long time and then one day he changed time-slots and she hadn’t seen him since. Mia had been devastated. Secretly, she had been in love with Nick from the moment she first set eyes on him, but had always been too shy to ask him out. Her inaction had spent a long time at number one on her extensive list of regrets.

Well, maybe not quite so high now, after the events of last weekend, she thought angrily. Mia shook her head, bringing herself back to the present.

“Of course. How are you?” She wondered why he was calling her – and more to the point, how he got her number…?

“You’re probably wondering how I got your number…”

What was he, a mind reader?

“I know it’s late notice, but I was wondering if you wanted to go out tonight?” His voice sounded vulnerable, expectant.

“Go out tonight?” Mia wasn’t sure she heard correctly.

“I’ve been meaning to call for weeks, but I’ve been away for work… it’s a long story. Can I fill you in over dinner?”

“Dinner tonight?” Mia the parrot.

His laughter tinkled down the phone. “Yes. With me.” He added quickly, “Unless you’ve got other plans…?”

Mia slowly shook her head. “No… no, I don’t.”

Her mind was reeling as Nick suggested when and where to meet. She hung up the phone, a bewildered expression on her face. She had dreamt about this happening for so long, so why wasn’t she more excited?

When she finally looked up, Willow was surveying her friend quizzically.

“I have a date tonight.” She spoke slowly. “With Nick.”

Willow’s eyes widened in surprise and she bounded over and gave Mia a quick hug, leaving a trail of self-raising flour in her wake. “What are the chances? Both going out with our dream men tonight!”

Nick. Her dream man. He had been for such a long time. So what had changed?

Her phone rang again. Same thing, number withheld. He probably needs to change the time, she thought. She answered more quickly this time, the butterflies gone. “Hello again.”

“Mia?” A different voice, still male, still familiar.

“Yeah?”

“Johnny.”

Mia knocked her empty bowl, the spoon falling to the floor with a loud clatter.

“You OK?” He sounded amused, like he was aware of the effect he had on her.

She cursed herself and took a breath, steadying her nerves. Be cool. “What’s up?”

“Just wondering if you wanted to grab a drink later. Say 7pm. In town somewhere?”

Her heart pounded. Maybe she could call Nick back, cancel? She groaned inwardly – she didn’t even have his number, it had been withheld and she hadn’t thought to ask for it. “I can’t.”

More than anything she wanted to see Johnny. She couldn’t stop thinking about him, dreaming about him. She wracked her brain, trying to think of another time to suggest. Tomorrow? Or during the week?

But before she could say anything, he spoke.

“Fair enough. Catch you later then.”

He hung up.

Willow was sifting flour into a large mixing bowl. “Nick again?”

Mia shook her head. “Umm… work. Needed a shift covered.”

She couldn’t look up at Willow for fear that she’d see the tears in her eyes.

***

In his kitchen, Johnny swore out loud. He had been trying to pick up the phone and call her all week, but nerves had got the better of him each time. Finally he’d mustered up the courage… to no avail. He thought there had been something between them, something unbelievable. But she obviously didn’t. Probably put it down to the Champagne, the celebratory mood. She clearly wanted to have nothing to do with him. He ran his hands through his hair, frustrated.

He just couldn’t stop thinking about her.