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The Stand Out (In)
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Blackmail is such an dirty word . . .
I need a plus-one for a wedding.
Dear Archer Powell,
But what happens when your stand-in is a stand out?
The Stand Out features a quirky girl and the office heartthrob who are office enemies with (blackmailed) benefits. It’s full of fun, fire, and f—sexytimes!
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When I let go of what I am,
I become what I might be.
When I let go of what I have.
I receive what I need.
~ Tao Te Ching
‘I’ve been dumped. Cast aside like a lunchtime sandwich wrapper. I am alone, destined to become that clichéd spinster before dying, surrounded by my herd of adopted cats.’ Collapsing into the vacant chair between my friends, I drop my purse to the floor and reach for the glass on the table, bringing it to my lips.
‘That’s my drink,’ Daisy complains with a laugh as she takes the glass from my hand and exchanges it for a full one which I bring to my lips again. ‘And you’re destined to be drunk at this rate.’
‘Two indecorous gulps of wine does not a drunk make, no matter how quickly they went down, Dais.’
‘And you can’t be alone, or lonely, not nestled in the bosom of your friends.’ Vivi slides her glass to the right as though it’s at risk.
‘Do you think that’s why I’m single?’ Like a maiden caught undressing, I press my hands to my chest, my head swinging back and forth between my friends. ‘Because I don’t have boobs?’
‘Yes.’ Vivi’s expression is pure deadpan. ‘You’re like a thorn between two roses. I’m going to need something stronger than wine if we’re here for a pity party, especially when I’d prepared for a birthday party,’ she says, void of sympathy. ‘Wine always makes you melodramatic. Or is it birthdays?’
‘Birthdays make you melodramatic,’ Daisy answers, chuckling into her own glass.
‘How many of these have you two had?’
‘First bottle. Teacher’s honour,’ Daisy replies, holding up her fingers in a Girl Guide-style salute. ‘We wouldn’t have started the evening without the birthday girl. Happy Birthday, beautiful!’ Arms envelop me, lipsticked kisses pushed to each of my cheeks. ‘A quarter of a century yet you don’t look a day over twenty-three. Now, tell Vivi and me all about your crappy day.’
‘Present proceedings aside, this has to be the worst birthday ever. Even worse than the year I turned eight and woke up with chicken pox.’
‘Oh no!’ Daisy says, always the softer of my two best friends. ‘What happened, my lovely?’
‘Firstly, there were delays on the Circle Line, then I dropped my cupcakes on the escalator on the way out.’
‘I bet that made you a very unpopular commuter,’ Vivi asserts because, as we all know, when travelling on the London Underground, following the ascribed etiquette is paramount.
‘Extremely unpopular. Especially when the box tumbled onto the right-hand side.’
‘People have been shanked for less than that. And by shanked, I mean had someone stand behind them making huffy noises before gathering the courage to mutter a terse, “Excuse me”.’
‘Imagine.’ I sigh heavily. ‘And on my birthday. But it gets worse because by the time I got to my desk, I’d been dumped. Even worse still, he did it by text!’ My shoulders suddenly slump, and my bottom lip begins to wobble.
‘Oh, no. Emotional alert!’ Vivi hastily tops up my glass. If I can rely on Daisy for tea and sympathy, Vivi’s my girl for alcohol and murder plots. ‘Here, drown that stuff quick. Now, start again from the cupcakes.’
‘Cupcakes, yes!’ This from Daisy with her usual glass-half-full perspective. ‘At least someone ordered cupcakes for your birthday.’
‘God, I wish,’ I grumble. ‘Company policy.’ I put down my glass to make stupid air quotes around the words. ‘Completely unofficial, of course, but whoever’s birthday it is has to bring cake into the office in the spirit of giving.’ I roll my eyes so hard, I almost get a glimpse of the inside of my head. ‘But it was with the spirit of vodka I spent the last evening of my twenty-fourth year baking and decorating cupcakes because there was no way I was paying to feed that lot’s sugar addiction.’ Well, for no more than the cost of a couple of boxes of Betty Crocker red velvet cake mix. ‘It’s just as well I didn’t, given the way they looked by the time I got there.’
They were certainly more fuck off than bake off.
‘Here, drink more,’ Vivi commands, pushing my glass towards me. ‘Feel better?’ she asks after I take another swig.
‘It’s going to take more than a little wine to improve this day.’
‘Give it a minute. And a few more swallows,’ Vivi suggests. ‘You’ll eventually feel better, and then you can tell us what’s gotten into you.’
‘I can tell you what hasn’t gotten into me and now never will. Seth. Did you miss where I said he dumped me? On my birthday?’ The latter I cry a little huffily because, come on, people, get with the program. It’s my birthday, and I was dumped. If there is ever a day for melodrama, today is that day.
‘Seth? Was he the one with the unfortunate underbite?’