Sophie introduces her latest Shopaholic book, Shopaholic to the Stars...
(Click on the extract tab above to read a sample chapter from the book)
"Where’s the most crazy, extreme, shiny place in the world? Los Angeles! So what better setting for Becky’s latest adventure? I’d been planning to send Becky to Hollywood for years – ever since I had the whole film experience myself. I couldn’t wait to see what she would get up to. Now she’s finally made it and it’s quite a story! I think Hollywood can go to anyone’s head – and it certainly goes to Becky’s.
She arrives full of vim and optimism, determined to enjoy LA, meet film stars and lead a glamorous life. Luke her husband is managing a movie superstar – Sage Seymour – and Becky’s sure they’ll end up being best friends (even though Luke hasn’t even introduced them yet.) But, as ever with Becky, things don’t go according to plan.
From the very first scene - in a shop on Rodeo Drive, of course (!) - things go awry. She hopes to hang out with the A-listers at Minnie’s pre-school… but that doesn’t work out. Then she decides to become a celebrity stylist and sets her heart on the red carpet, but it’s harder than she thought. Best friend Suze comes out to give her moral support – but now there’s just double trouble! The two cause havoc wherever they go, from red carpet galas to movie sets.
But then Becky gets a real chance - and has to face some tough choices. Will she make the right ones?
In Shopaholic To The Stars, Becky goes through quite a journey – both personally and with Luke and Suze. I loved telling it and I hope you love reading it."
Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) has stars in her eyes. She and her daughter, Minnie, have joined husband Luke in LA—city of herbal smoothies and multimillion-dollar yoga retreats and the lure of celebrity. Luke is there to help manage the career of famous actress Sage Seymour—and Becky is convinced she is destined to be Sage’s personal stylist, and go from there to every A-list celebrity in Hollywood! Red carpet here she comes!
But things become complicated when Becky joins the team of Sage’s archrival without telling Luke. Will her ambition to make it in Hollywood cost too much?
W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dear Mrs. Brandon,
Thank you for your letter. I'm glad you enjoyed your recent visit to our store.
Unfortunately, I cannot comment on whether the woman shopping at the Mac counter on Tuesday was "Uma Thurman wearing a long dark wig." I therefore cannot tell you "exactly which lipstick she bought", nor "whether she's just as lovely in real life" nor pass on your note "because she must want a friend to hang out with and I think we'd really get on."
I wish you every best wish for your forthcoming move to Los Angeles. However, in answer to your other query, we do not offer introductory discounts for new residents of LA to "make them feel welcome."
Thank you for your interest.
Customer Services Department
Inner Sanctum Lifestyle Spa
6540 Holloway Dr.
West Hollywood, A 90069
Dear Mrs. Brandon,
Thank you for your letter - I'm glad you enjoyed your recent visit to our spa.
Unfortunately, I cannot comment on whether the woman next to you in yoga class was Gwyneth Paltrow. I'm sorry that it was hard to tell because "she was always upside down."
I therefore cannot pass on your query as to how she achieves 'such a perfect headstand' or whether she has "special weights in her T shirt?" nor can I pass on your invitation to an organic tea with kale cakes.
I'm glad you enjoyed our gift and lifestyle shop. In answer to your further question, should I meet your husband in the street, rest assured I will not tell him about your "tiny splurge on organic underwear."
Thank you for your interest.
Achievement Manager (Eastern Arts)
Beauty on the Boulevard
9500 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90210
Dear Mrs. Brandon,
Thank you for your letter.
Unfortunately, I cannot confirm whether the woman browsing at the La Mer stand was "Julie Andrews in dark glasses and a headscarf."
I therefore cannot pass on your comments, "How hot was Captain von Trapp in real life?" or "I'm sorry I sang The Lonely Goatherd at you, I was just very excited." Nor can I pass on your invitation to "come round for a fun sing along with apple strudel."
In answer to your further inquiry, we do not throw "Welcome to LA" parties, nor offer free gifts to new arrivals; not even teeth-whitening kits to "help them fir in." However, I wish you every success with your imminent move to LA.
Thank you for your interest.
Sally E. SanSanto
Customer Services Consultant
OK. Don't panic. Don't panic.
I'll escape from this. Of course I will. It's not like I'll be trapped here in this hideous confined space, with no hope of release, forever... is it?
As calmly as possible, I assess the situation. My ribs are squashed so that I can hardly breathe, and my left arm is pinned behind me. Whoever constructed this 'restraining fabric' knew what they were doing. My right arm is also pinned, at an awkward angle. If I try to reach my hands forward, the 'restraining fabric' bites into my wrists. I'm stuck. I'm powerless.
My face is reflected, ashen in the mirror. My eyes are wide and desperate. My arms are criss-crossed with black shiny bands. Is one of them supposed to be a shoulder strap? Does that webbing stuff go round the waist?
Oh God. I should never ever have tried on the size 4.
"How are you doing in there?" It's Mindy, the sales assistant, calling from outside the cubicle curtain, and I start in alarm. Mindy is tall and rangy with muscled thighs that start three inches apart. She looks like she probably runs up a mountain every day and doesn't even know what a Kitkat is.
She's asked three times how I'm doing and each time I've just called out shrilly, "Great, thanks!" But I'm getting desperate. I've been struggling with this "Athletic Shaping All-in-one" for ten minutes. I can't keep putting her off forever.
"Amazing fabric, right?" says Mindy enthusiastically from outside the cubicle curtain. "It has three times the restraining power of normal Spandex. You totally lose a size, right?"
Maybe I have, but I've also lost half my lung capacity.
"Are you doing OK with the straps?" comes Mindy's voice. "You want me to come in the fitting room and help you adjust it?"
Come in the fitting room?There's no way I'm letting a tall, tanned, sporty Angeleno come in here and see my cellulite.
"No, it's fine, thanks!" I say shrilly.
"You need some help getting it off?"' She tries again. "Some of our customers find it tricky the first time."
I have a hideous vision of me gripping onto the counter and Mindy trying to haul the All-in-one off me while we both pant and sweat with the effort and Mindy secretly thinks "I knew all British girls were heifers."
No way. Not in a million years. There's only one solution left. I'll have to buy it. Whatever it costs.
I give an almighty wrench and manage to snap two of the straps up onto my shoulders. That's better. I look like a chicken trussed up in black Lycra, but at least I can move my arms. As soon as I get back to the hotel room I'll cut the whole thing off myself with a pair of nail scissors, and dispose of the remains in a public bin so Luke doesn't find them and say What's this? or You mean you bought it even though you knew it didn't fit? or something else really annoying.
Luke is my husband and he's the reason I'm standing in a sports apparel shop in LA. We're moving out to Los Angeles soon because of his work, and we're here on a house-hunting trip. That's our focus this week: real estate. Houses. Gardens. Rental agreements. Very much so. I've only popped to Rodeo Drive very, very quickly between house appointments.
Well, OK. The truth is, I cancelled a house appointment to come to Rodeo Drive. But I had to. I have a genuine reason for needing to buy some emergency running clothes, which is that I'm running in a race this afternoon. A real race! Me!
I reach for my clothes, grab my bag, and walk stiffly out of the cubicle, to see Mindy hovering nearby.
"Wow!" Her voice is bright but her eyes are shocked. "You look..." She coughs. "Awesome. It's not too... tight?"
"No, it's perfect," I say, attempting a carefree smile. "I'll take it."
"Great!" She can barely hide her astonishment. "So, if you want to take it off, I'll scan it and bag it up for you..."
"Actually, I'll wear it." I try to sound casual. "Might as well. Can you put my clothes in a bag?"
"Right," says Mindy. There's quite a long pause. "You're sure you don't want to try the size 6?"
"No!" I say shrilly. "Size 4 is perfect! Really comfy!"
"OK," says Mindy after a silence. "Of course. That'll be eighty three dollars." She scans the barcode from the tag hanging from my neck and I reach for my credit card. "So, you're into athletics?"
"Actually, I'm running in the Ten Miler tomorrow."
"No way!" She looks up, impressed, and I try to appear nonchalant and modest. The Ten Miler isn't just any old running race. It's the race. It's held every year in LA and loads of high profile celebrities run it and they even cover it on E! And I'm in it!
"How did you get a place?" Mindy says enviously. "I've applied for that race like, every year."
"Well." I pause for effect. "I'm on Sage Seymour's team."
"Wow." Her jaw drops, and I feel a spurt of glee. It's true! I, Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) am running in the team of a top movie star! We'll do calf stretches together! We'll wear matching baseball caps! We'll be in US Weekly!
"You're British, right?" Mindy interrupts my thoughts.
"Yes, but I'm moving to LA soon. I'm out here to look at houses with my husband Luke. He has a PR company and he works with Sage Seymour," I can't help adding proudly.
Mindy looks more and more impressed.
"So are you and Sage Seymour, like, friends?"
I fiddle with my purse, delaying my reply. The truth is, despite all my hopes, Sage Seymour and I aren't exactly friends. In fact, the real truth is, I still haven't met her. Which is so unfair. Luke's been working with her for six weeks now, and I've been travelling backwards and forwards to LA to find a house and a pre-school for our daughter Minnie... but have I even glimpsed Sage?
When Luke said he was going to work with Sage Seymour and we were going to move to Hollywood, I thought we'd be seeing her every day. I thought we'd be hanging out by her pink pool in matching sunglasses and going for mani-pedis together. But even Luke hardly ever seems to see her, he just has meetings with managers and agents and producers all day long. He says he's learning the movie business and it's a steep learning curve. Which is fair enough, because previously, he's only advised financial companies and big conglomerates. But does he have to be so resolutely non-starry-eyed? When I got just a tiny bit frustrated the other day, he said "For God's sake, Becky, we're not making this huge move just to meet celebrities." He said celebrities like he was saying earwigs. He understands nothing.
The great thing about Luke and me is that we think alike on nearly everything in life and that's why we're so happily married. But we have just a few, teeny points of disagreement. Such as:
1. Catalogues. (They are not 'clutter'. They're useful. You never know when you might need a personalized kitchen blackboard with a dinky little bucket for the chalk. Plus I like reading them at bedtime.)
2. Shoes. (Keeping all my shoes in their original boxes forever is not ridiculous, it's thrifty. They'll come back into fashion one day and then Minnie can wear them. And meanwhile he should just look where he's stepping.)
3. Elinor, his mother (Long, long story.)
I mean, here we are in LA. The home of celebrities They're the local natural phenomenon. Everyone knows you come to LA to see the celebrities, like you go to Sri Lanka to see the elephants.
But Luke didn't gasp when we saw Tom Hanks in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire. He didn't blink when Halle Berry was sitting three tables away at the Ivy (I think it was Halle Berry). He didn't even get excited when we saw Reese Witherspoon across the road. (I'm sure it was Reese Witherspoon. She had exactly the same hair.)
And he talks about Sage as if she's just another client. Like she's Foreland Investments. He says that this is what she appreciates about him: that he's not part of the circus. And then he says I'm getting over-exicted by all the Hollywood hoopla. Which is totally untrue. I am not over-excited. I'm exactly the right amount excited.
Privately, I'm disappointed in Sage, too. I mean, OK, we don't exactly know each other, but we did speak on the phone when she was helping me with a surprise party for Luke. She even gave me her number. (Although she's got a new one now, and Luke won't give it to me.) I would have thought she might be in touch, or invite me round to her house for a sleepover, or something.
Anyway, never mind. It'll all come good today. I don't want to boast, but it's totally due to my own quick wits that I'm in this Ten Miler race. I just happened to be looking over Luke's shoulder at his laptop yesterday, when a round-robin email came in from Sage's manager, Aran. It was entitled First come first served and read: "Dear friends, there's a last minute place available on the Ten Miler team due to an injury dropout – anyone interested in running and supporting Sage?"
My hands were on the keyboard, pressing Reply and typing "Yes please! I would love to run with Sage! Best wishes, Becky Brandon" before I was even aware I was moving.
OK, so maybe I should have consulted Luke before pressing Send. But it was "first come first served." I had to act fast!
Luke just stared at me and said "Are you nuts?" Then he started going on about how this was a proper race for trained athletes and who was going to sponsor me, and did I even possess any running shoes? Honestly. He could be more supportive.
Although actually, he has a point about the running shoes.
"So, are you in the movie business too?" Mindy asks as she hands me the receipt to sign.
"No, I'm a personal shopper."
"Oh right. Which shop?"
"It's… actually, it's… Dalawear."
"Oh." She looks taken aback. "You mean, the store for…"
"Older women. Yes." I lift my chin. "It's a great store. It's really exciting. I can't wait!"
I'm being super-positive about this job, even though it's not exactly my dream. Dalawear sells "easy-wear clothes" for ladies who rate "comfort over style." (It actually says that on the poster. I might try to persuade them to change it to "comfort as much as style.") When I went to the interview, the woman kept talking about elasticated waistbands and washable fabrics and not once about directional fashion. Or even fashion.
But the truth is, there aren't that many personal shopping jobs popping up in LA at the last minute for a newly arrived Brit. Especially a Brit who may only be in the country for three months. Dalawear was the only store that had an opening, because of a maternity leave. And I rocked the interview, though I say it myself. I enthused about their "all-purpose floral shirtwaister" dresses so much, I almost wanted to buy one for myself.
"Can I please buy some running shoes, too?" I change the subject. "I can't exactly run in these!" I gesutre at my Marc Jacobs kitten heels with a little laugh. (For the record, I did once climb an entire mountain in a pair of shoes just like these. But I mentioned that to Luke yesterday as prood of my athletic ability and he shuddered and said he'd blanked that whole incident from his memory.)
"Right." Mindy nods. "You'll want our technical store, Pump! It's right across the street. They stock all the shoes, equipment, heart-rate moniters... did you get a biomechanical assessment in the UK?"
I look at her blankly. A bio-what?
"Talk to the guys across the street, they'll kit you out." She hands me a carrier bag holding my clothes. "You must be super-fit. I've worked out with Sage Seymour's trainer. She's hardcore. And I've heard about the team regimen. Didn't you like, go to Arizona for training?"
This conversation is unnerving me a tad. Hardcore? Team regimen? Anyway, I mustn't lose confidence. I'm perfectly fit enough to run a race, even if it is in LA.
"I haven't been on the regimen exactly," I admit. "But obviously I have my own... er… cardio... program... thing..."
I'll be fine. It's just running. How hard can it be?
As I head back out to Rodeo Drive, I feel a swoosh of exhilaration as the warm spring air hits me. I'm going to love living in LA, I just know it. Everything people say about it is true. The sun shines and the people have super-white teeth and the houses look like film sets. I've looked at several houses for rent and they all have pools. It's as if a pool is a normal thing, like a fridge.
The street around me simply glistens with glamour. It's lined with expensive, shiny shop fronts and perfect palm trees and rows of expensive-looking cars. Cars are a whole different thing here. People drive by in their colourful convertibles with the roof down, looking all relaxed and friendly, as if you might stroll up to them while they're pausing at the lights and start a conversation. It's the opposite of Britain where everyone's in their own self-contained metal box, swearing at the rain.
Sunlight is glinting off all the shop windows and sunglasses and expensive watches on people's wrists. Outside Dolce and Gabbana, a woman is piling a whole load of bags into a car, and she looks just like Julia Roberts except with blonger hair. And a bit smaller. But apart from that, just like Julia Roberts! On Rodeo Drive!
I'm just trying to edge closer to see what bags she's got, when my phone buzzes, and I pull it out to see Gayle on the screen. Gayle is my new boss at Dalawear, and we're having a meeting tomorrow morning.
"Hi, Rebecca. Yes we're all good this end..." She pauses. "Except for one hitch. We still didn't get your reference from Danny Kovitz."
"Oh, right." Drat. Danny is one of my best friends and is quite a famous fashion designer. He promised to give me a reference for Dalawear, only it's been weeks now and he hasn't done anything about it. I texted him yesterday and he promised he would send an email within the hour. I can't believe he hasn't.
Actually, that's not true. I can totally believe it.
"I'll call him," I promise. "Sorry about that."
The truth is, I never should have asked Danny for a reference. But I thought it sounded so cool, having a top fashion designer on my resume. And I'm sure it helped. They couldn't stop asking me about him in the interview.
"Rebecca..." Gayle pauses delicately. "You do know Mr Kovitz? You have met him?"
She doesn't believe me?
"Of course I know him! Look, leave it with me. I'll get the reference. I'm really sorry for the delay. See you tomorrow."
I end the call and instantly speed-dial Danny, trying to stay calm. There's no point getting cross with Danny; he just wriggles and becomes all plaintive.
"Oh my God, Becky." Danny answers the phone as though we're mid-conversation. "You would not believe what I need for this trek. It's like, who knew you could get freeze-dried lasagne? And I have the cutest little tea kettle, you have to get one."
This is why Danny is even more distracted than usual at the moment. He's about to start training to do some celebrity charity expedition across the Greenland Ice Cap. Every single person who knows Danny has told him he's mad, but he's adamant he's going to do it. He keeps saying he wants to 'put something back' but we all know it's because he fancies Damon, the lead singer from Boyz About, who's also doing it.
Although how you get it together with someone on a Greenland expedition, I have no idea. I mean, can you even kiss? Do your lips stick together in the freezing air? How do Eskimos manage?
"Danny," I say sternly, wrenching my mind away from an image of two Eskimos stuck together on their wedding day, flailing their arms to break free. "Danny what about my reference?"
"Sure," says Danny without missing a beat. "I'm on it. How many pairs of thermal underwear shall I take?"
"You're not on it! You promised you'd send it yesterday! I've got to go and see them tomorrow and they don't believe I even know you!"
"Well, of course you know me," he says, as though I'm an idiot.
"They don't know that! This is my only chance of a job in LA and I have to have a reference. Danny, if you can't do it, just tell me and I'll ask someone else."
"Someone else?" Only Danny can manage to sound mortally offended when he's in the wrong. "Why would you ask someone else?"
"Because they might actually do it!" I sigh, trying to stay patient. "Look, all you need to do is send a little email. I'll dictate it, if you like. 'Dear Gayle, I can recommend Rebecca Brandon as a personal shopper. Signed, Danny Kovitz.'" There's silence down the phone and I wonder if he's taking notes. "Did you get that? Did you write it down?"
"No, I didn't write it down." Danny sounds indignant. "That is the crummiest reference I ever heard. You think that's all I have to say about you?"
"I don't give out personal references unless I mean them. Unless I've crafted them. A reference is an art-form."
"You want a reference, I'll come and give you a reference."
"What do you mean?" I say, confused.
"I'm not writing three crappy lines on an email. I'm coming to LA."
"You can't come to LA just to give me a reference!" I start to giggle. "Where are you, anyway? New York?"
Since Danny hit the big time it's impossible to know where he'll be at any moment. He's opened three new showrooms this year alone, including one in the Beverly Center here in LA. Which you'd think would tie him down, but he's always scouting out yet more new cities or going on "inspirational research trips" (holidays).
"San Francisco. I was coming anyway. I need to buy sunblock. I always get my sunblock in LA. Text me the details. I'll be there."
"It'll be great. You can help me choose a name for my husky dog. We each get to sponsor one, but I may sponsor a whole team. It's going to be like, such a life-changing experience..."
Once Danny starts talking about life-changing experiences, it's hard to cut him off. I'll give him twenty minutes to talk about Greenland, I decide. Maybe twenty-five. And then I must go and buy my trainers.
OK, I officially have the coolest running shoes in the world. They're silver with orange stripes and they have gel bits and mesh bits and I want to wear them all day long.
This sports shop is incredible! You don't just buy a pair of trainers here. You don't just put them on and walk around and say "I'll take them," and then throw six pairs of sports socks into your basket as well, because they're on sale. Oh no. It's all very technical. You do a special running test on a treadmill, and they take a video and tell you all about your "gait" and find the perfect solution for your athletic needs.
Why don't they do this at Jimmy Choo? They should have a little catwalk where you walk along to cool music and maybe strobe lighting, and they take a video. And then the expert would say, "We feel the black and white stiletto perfectly suits your awesome supermodel gait." And then you'd take the video home to show all your friends. I am so suggesting it, next time I'm in there.
"So here's the heart monitor I was telling you about…" The sales assistant, Kai, reappears holding a little metal and rubber bracelet. "Like I say, it's our most discreet model, new to the market. I'm excited to hear your opinion."
"Cool!" I beam at him, and put it on my wrist.
Kai has asked if I'd like to join in a customer study of this new heart monitor, and why not? The only sticky moment was when he asked what heart monitor I was using currently and I didn't like to say "none," so I said "The Curve" and then realized that's Luke's new Blackberry.
"Would you like some more coconut water before you start?"
More coconut water. That's so LA. Everything in this shop is so LA. Kai himself is ripped and tanned and has exactly the optimum amount of stubble and bright turquoise eyes which I'm sure are lenses. He looks so like Jared Leno I wonder whether he went to a surgeon with a picture torn out of US Weekly and said "this one, please."
He's already dropped into conversation that: 1. He's modelled for Sports Illustrated. 2. He's working on a script about a sportswear consultant who becomes a movie star. 3. He won Ohio's Best Pecs three years running and has had his pecs specially insured. He asked me within about 30 seconds when I worked in the film industry and when I said no, but my husband did, he gave me a card and said "I'd love to meet with him to discuss a venture he might be interested in." The idea of Kai and Luke sitting at a table discussing his pecs nearly made me snort out my coconut water.
"So if you'll kindly step up here." Kai ushers me onto the treadmill. "I'll be taking a record of your heart rate, so we'll raise it with some aerobic activity and then lower it with rest periods. Just follow the treadmill and you'll be fine."
"Great!" As I step up, I notice a massive rack of exercise clothes being wheeled onto the shop floor by two sales assistants. Wow. They look amazing – all different shades of purples and greys, with abstract logos and really interesting shapes.
"What's that?" I ask Kai as the treadmill starts to move gently along.
"Oh." He looks at it without interest. "That's from our clearance fashion floor."
Clearance fashion floor? No-one mentioned a clearance fashion floor. Why didn't I know about the clearance fashion floor?
"Weird." He peers at his computer screen. "Your heart rate just spiked and we didn't even start the intense activity yet. Oh well." He shrugs. "Let's get going."
The treadmill starts to move along more briskly, and I up my walking pace to match. But I'm distracted by the rack of clothes, because an assistant is putting sale signs on every garment! I spot a '90 % off' sign and crane my neck to see what it's attached to. Is that a T shirt? Or a mini-dress? Or-
Oh my God, look at that cardigan. I can't help gasping aloud. That is stunning. It's longline, in what seems to be grey cashmere, with an oversized, neon pink zipper, all the way up the front and the back. It's gorgeous.
"So now we'll rest for a moment…" Kai is concentrating on his screen. "You're doing great so far."
The treadmill slows, but I barely notice. I'm feeling sudden stabbings of alarm. A pair of passing girls has seen the rail and fallen on it in delight. I can hear them exclaiming with glee, showing clothes to each other and dumping them in their baskets. They're taking everything! I don't believe it. The sale of the century is going on, ten yards away and I'm stuck on this stupid treadmill. As long as they don't see the cardigan. I will them silently: Don't look at the cardigan…
"OK, this is strange." Kai is frowning at his screen again. "Let's pause the test."
"Actually, I need to leave," I say breathlessly, grabbing my handbag and shopping basket. "Thanks. If I need a heart monitor I'll definitely get this one, but I must go..."
"Rebecca, have you ever been diagnosed with arrhythmia? Heart disorder? Anything like that?"
"No." I'm stopped in my tracks, "Why? Have you picked something up?"
Is he joking? No. His face is serious. He isn't joking. I'm gripped with sudden fright. What have I got? Oh my God, I'll be in the Daily Mail health pages. My one-in-a-million heart condition was picked up in an simple exercise store test. Shopping saved my life, says Rebecca Brandon-
"Your heart response wasn't typical. It spiked, but not at the moments I was expecting. For example, it spiked just now when you were resting."
"Oh," I say anxiously. "Is that bad?"
"Not necessarily. It would depends on a lot of things. Your general heart health, your cardio fitness…"
As he's talking, my eye wanders over to the sale rack again, and to my horror I see that one of the girls has picked up my cardigan. No! Noooo! Put it down!
"It's happened again!" says Kai in sudden animation, and points at the screen. "Do you see? Your heart rate rocketed!"
I look at Kai, and at the screen, and then at the cardigan with the neon pink zip, and it all falls into place. Oh God, is that why my heart rate zoomed up?
This is so embarrassing. Stupid dumb heart. I can feel myself blushing bright red and I hastily look away from Kai.
"Well!" I say in flustered tones. "I have no idea why that happened. None! Just one of those mysteries. Mysteries of the heart. Ha ha!"
"Oh. OK." Kai's face snaps as though in recognition. "Ooo-kay. I think I get it. I've seen this a couple times."
"OK, this is a little awkward…" He flashes me a perfect smile. "It was physical attraction to me, right? You don't need to be uncomfortable. It's normal. It's why I had to give up personal training. The client became… I don't know, would you say 'infatuated'?" He glances complacently at himself in the mirror. "You looked at me and your response was beyond your control. Am I right?"
"Not really," I say, honestly.
"Rebecca." Kai sighs. "I know it's embarrassing to admit, but believe me, you're not the only lady to become attracted to me-"
"But I wasn't looking at you," I explain. "I was looking at a cardigan."
"A cardigan?" Kai plucks at his T shirt, confused. "I'm not wearing one."
"I know. It's over there. It's on sale.? I point it out. "That's what I was looking at, not you. I'll show you." I take the opportunity to dash over and grab the cardigan, which thank God, the girl has put down again on the rack. It's super-soft to the touch and the zip is amazing, and it's reduced by 70%! I'm sure my heart is racing again, just from holding it.
"Isn't it gorgeous?" I enthuse, heading back towards Kai. "Isn't it fab?" Suddenly I realise I'm not being very tactful. "I mean, you're very good-looking too," I add encouragingly. "I'm sure I'd be attracted to you if it weren't for the cardigan."
There's a bit of a pause. Kai looks slightly stunned, to be honest. Even his turquoise contact lenses seem a bit less sparkly.
"You'd be attracted to me 'if it weren't for the cardigan,'" he echoes at last.
"Of course!" I say, reassuringly. "I'd probably get infatuated, just like those clients of yours. Unless there were any other amazing clothes to compete with," I add, for honesty's sake. "I mean, like a Chanel suit on 99 percent sale. I don't think any man could beat that!" I give a little laugh, but Kai's face has gone a bit rigid.
"I never had to compete with clothes before," he says, almost to himself. "Clothes."
I'm noticing that the atmosphere isn't quite as easy and fun as it was before. I think I might just go and pay for my trainers.
"Thanks for the heart test, anyway!" I say brightly, and take off the bracelet. "Good luck with the pecs!"
Honestly. What a bighead that Kai is. I know he has stunning turquoise eyes and a great body, but he doesn't have a neon zip, does he? Lots of men have stunning blue eyes, but only one cardigan has a cool oversized pink neon zip. And if he thinks he's never competed with clothes before, then his girlfriends have been lying to him. Every woman in the world sometimes thinks about shoes in the middle of sex. It's a known fact.
Anyway. Don't think about stupid Kai. On the positive front, I've got the best, most whizzy trainers in the world. And OK, they cost $400 which is a lot, but I'll just have to think of this as an investment in my career. In my life.
"So, I'll box those up for you," says the sales assistant, and I nod absently. I'm imagining standing at the start of the race with Sage, and her glancing down at my feet and saying, "Cool shoes."
I'll give her a friendly smile and reply carelessly, 'Thanks.'
Then she'll say, 'Luke never told me you were such a serious athlete, Becky.'
And I'll say, "Are you kidding? I love running." (Which isn't quite true yet, but I'm sure it will be. Once I start this race, the endorphins will kick in and I'll probably become addicted.)
Then Sage will say, "Hey, we should train together! Let's hook up every morning."
And I'll say, "Sure," very nonchalantly.
Then she'll say, "I train with some friends, but you'll love them, do you know Kate Hudson and Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz and…"
"Will you be paying by credit or cash, Ma'am?"
I blink at the assistant and fumble for my card. "Oh. Right. Credit."
"And did you choose your flask?" the sales assistant adds.
"We're offering a free flask with every shoe purchase." He gestures at a nearby poster.
Well. This $400 seems more and more of a bargain.
"I'll just have a look. Thanks!" I beam at him and head towards the display of flasks. Maybe if I'm carrying a cool flask, Sage will notice that, too! There's a whole wall of them – chrome, matte black, and all sorts of silicon colours. As my eye travels upwards, I spot a label: Limited edition print. I squint upwards, trying to see - but they're on the fifth shelf. Honestly. Why would you put the limited edition print flasks on the fifth shelf?
There's a step ladder nearby, so I drag it over and climb to the top. Now I can see the flasks properly, and they're amazing: all with gorgeous retro prints. I can hardly bear to choose - but in the end I narrow it down to three: one with red stripes, one with amber swirls and one with black and white flowers. I'll pay for the extra ones, I decide, because I can give one each to Minnie and Suze as souvenirs.
I carefully put the flasks down on the top step of the ladder and turn to survey the shop. I have an amazing view up here. I can see all the aisles, and I can see that the woman at the cash register needs her roots touching up, and I can see...
Wait a minute.
I stiffen in disbelief and peer more closely.
In the far corner there's a girl I hadn't noticed before. She's incredibly thin, wearing pale skinny jeans, a grey hoody up over her head and dark glasses which hide her face. And no wonder she's dressed so furtively. Because she's stealing.
I stare in utter shock as I see her putting a pair of socks into her oversized handbag (Balenciaga, this season) and then another. Then a third. Then she looks around, kind of shrinks down into herself and walks swiftly towards the exit.
I've never seen a shoplifter in action before, and for an instant I just feel stunned. But next moment a boiling outrage is rising through me. She took them! She shoplifted! She shouldn't do that! People shouldn't do that!
What if we all did that? I mean, I bet we'd all like to have free socks, but we don't just take them, do we? We pay. Even if we can't really afford it, we pay.
My stomach is churning as I watch her leave. I feel really angry. It's not fair. And suddenly I know I can't just let her go. I have to do something. I'm not sure what – but something.
Leaving the flasks behind, I bound down the ladder and out of the shop door. I can see the shoplifter ahead of me, and increase my pace to a run, dodging pedestrians as I go. As I get near, my heart is thumping with apprehension. What if she threatens me? What if she's got a gun? Oh God, of course she's got a gun. This is LA. Everyone has guns.
Well, too bad. Maybe I will get shot, but I can't wimp out now. I reach out a hand and tap her on her bony shoulder.
The girl whips round and I tense myself in fright, waiting for the gun. But it doesn't come. Her sunglasses are so huge I can barely see her face, but I see a thin, pale chin and a scrawny, almost malnourished neck. I feel a sudden stab of guilt. Maybe she's on the streets. Maybe this is her only source of income. Maybe she's going to sell the socks to buy food for her crack-addict baby
Part of me is thinking, "Just turn away, Becky. Let it go." But the other part won't let me. Because even if there's a crack-addict baby, it's just wrong. It's wrong.
"I saw you, OK?" I say. "I saw you taking those socks."
The girl immediately stiffens, and makes to run away, but I instinctively grab her arm.
"You shouldn't steal stuff!" I say, struggling to keep hold of her. "You just shouldn't! You probably think, 'So what? No-one got hurt.' But you know, shop assistants get in trouble when people shoplift. Sometimes they have to pay for the goods from their wages. Is that fair?"
The girl is wriggling desperately to get away, but I'm gripping onto her arm with both hands. Being the mother of a two-year-old, you learn a lot of immobilization skills.
"And then all the prices go up," I add, panting. "And everyone suffers! I know you might think it's your only option, but it's not. You can turn your life around. There are places you can go for help. Do you have a pimp"' I add, trying to sound sympathetic. "Because I know they can be a real pain. But you could go to a safe house. I saw a documentary about it, and they're brilliant." I'm about to elaborate when the girl's sunglasses slip to one side. And I glimpse the side of her face.
And suddenly I feel faint. I can't breathe. That's-
No. It can't be
It is. It is.
It's Lois Kellerton.
All thoughts of crack addicts and safe houses disappear from my head. This is surreal. It can't be happening. It has to be a dream. I, Becky Brandon, am clutching the arm of top Hollywood actress Lois Kellerton. As I peer at her unmistakable jawline, my legs start to shake. I mean, Lois Kellerton. She's Hollywood royalty. I've seen all her films and I've watched her on the red carpet and I've-
I mean, what on earth-
Lois Kellerton shoplifted three pairs of socks? Is this some kind of prank show?
For what seems like the longest moment, we're both motionless, staring at each other. I'm remembering her as Tess in that brilliant adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. God, she made me cry. And there was that sci-fi one where she got deliberately stranded on Mars at the end, in order to save her half-alien children. I cried buckets, and so did Suze.
I clear my throat, trying to gather my thoughts. "I... I know who you-"
"Please," she cuts me off in that familiar husky voice. "Please." She takes off her dark glasses and I stare at her in fresh shock. She looks terrible. Her eyes are red rimmed and her skin is all flaky. "Please," she says a third time. "I'm... I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. Are you employed by the shop?"
"No. I'm a customer. I was up a ladder."
"Did they see me?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
With a trembling hand she grabs the three pairs of socks from her bag and offers them to me.
"I don't know what I was doing. I haven't slept for two nights. I think I went a little crazy. I never did anything like this before. I never will again. Please," she whispers again, shrinking inside her hoody. "Take the socks. Take them back."
"Please." She sounds desperate. At last, awkwardly, I take the socks from her.
"Here." She's scrabbling in her bag again and produces a fifty dollar note. "Give this to the employees."
"You look quite... um... stressed," I venture. "Are you OK?"
Lois Kellerton raises her head and meets my eyes, and I'm suddenly reminded of a leopard I once saw in a Spanish zoo. That looked desperate, too.
"Are you going to tell the police?" she breathes, so quietly I can barely hear her. "Are you going to tell anyone?"
Oh God. Oh God. What do I do?
I put the socks in my bag, playing for time. I should tell the police. Of course I should. What difference does it make if it's a movie star? She stole the socks and that's a crime and I should perform a citizen's arrest right now and march her off for justice.
But... I can't. I just can't. She looks so fragile. Like a moth or a paper flower. And after all, she's giving the socks back, and she's making a donation, and it sounds like she just had a moment of madness...
Lois Kellerton's head is bowed. Her face is hidden inside the grey hood. She looks as though she's waiting for an execution.
"I won't tell anyone," I say at last. "I promise. I'll give the socks back and I won't tell anyone."
As I release my grip on her, her thin hand squeezes mine. Her dark glasses are already back on her face. She looks like an anonymous skinny girl in a hoody.
"Thank you," she whispers. "Thank you. What's your name?"
"Thank you, Becky Brandon."
And before I can say anything, she's turned and gone.
Frothy, fast-paced fun
Great fun...Kinsella had me laughing from page one
Fanny Blake, Woman & Home