Your_Loyal_FriendMature

Chapter One – In the Beginning

 

Olivia sat down in her room, staring up at the posters that she had systematically pinned up a few minutes before. She saw faces; faces that she knew would only be printed in the pages of magazines for her. She was a million miles away from what they were and what they represented to her. Their lives seemed so exciting and wonderful - and so far removed from what she usually found herself surrounded by. Grey days and long, lonely evenings at home. She had always tried to keep herself busy with various interests, but there was an ache in her heart, something gnawing away at her inside; something she kept hidden away, yet was finding it harder to conceal each day.

 She looked up into the eyes of the one man that she cared about more than anything else in the world. She knew that it was pointless to care about someone she had never met and probably never would. Things like that never happened to her. It was always someone prettier, someone who was more popular, or more talented. Anybody but her, plain and boring Olivia, who was too intelligent to care about someone who had no knowledge of her even existing. Yet he still filled her dreams, and those empty moments during the day when she was sat alone. She wanted to feel his arms around her, telling her that everything was going to be all right and that he would never leave her.

 Her heart would fill with sadness when he put himself down in the media. She just wanted to reach out and hold him, protect him. Deep down inside, she sadly realised that she would not, could not.

 Any ambition she had to do what she really wanted to do had always been quickly suppressed by her parents who “wanted what was best for her.” That meant following their rules and their plans for her future. Olivia never liked to argue with them and she agreed with whatever they suggested. They wanted her to be the model child and perfect citizen, doing things for charity, and still gaining the top grades at school. The people of the town thought that she was wonderful, and secretly envied her parents for having such a thoughtful and mature child. If only that helped her find someone to talk to when she was upset and frustrated. She knew that he would understand.

 Her eyes broke his gaze and travelled down onto the desk. She caught sight of her most treasured possession, a concert ticket allowing her to be able to see him in the flesh. She had fought with her parents to allow her to go, and somehow she had won. She knew at that moment that things were changing. She was winning the battle against a force that longed to control her. The ache was growing stronger and harboured resentment. This concert was a turning point - she knew it.

 That longed for day was still two, too long, months away, and the feelings of expectation and excitement were increasing.

 Suddenly an idea seized her. Grabbing a pen and some paper, Olivia began to write a letter. One page became two, and two became four. All her feelings for him came flooding out onto the pages. Olivia felt as though a huge dam had been opened inside her and all that she had kept within her for so long was released. An enormous sense of relief washed over her as she wrote, and she gave it her heart.

 Poems, jokes, thoughts, feelings, everything. This was not just another pop star, but also another real human being to her. She knew that he must think and feel just like everyone else, and he had a right to be happy. Even if he were just another someone that she met in the street, Olivia knew that the feelings she had would be just as strong. He would always be special to her.

 The face seemed to smile down on her as she wrote, and Olivia would stop and look up at him. She knew at the back of her mind that what she was doing was crazy, and there was always the risk that he might not even read the letter, but for once in her life, she was prepared to take that risk.

 Eight pages later, she ended, put it in an envelope, posted it before she changed her mind, and ripped the whole the whole thing up into pieces. The sensible, rational side of her was telling her how she was wasting her time, but her heart exclaimed that this was the man she cared about, and if she did not take this opportunity to tell him how she felt, then she could spend her whole life regretting it. No one had ever made her feel this way before now, and she knew that she must take this chance.

 Olivia had promised herself not to tell him anything too personal about who she was or where she was from. If by some miracle, he decided to try to write back and people from school found out, she could never live down the embarrassment of having, as other people would see it, a crush on a pop star that would never look twice at her. Just being able to tell him was enough for her, and if he really wanted to contact her, she joked, he would find a way somehow. Therefore, instead of her name, she had signed the letter as “Your Loyal Friend.”

 Each week she wrote to him, signing herself the same way each time. She told him about the normal things - what she had been doing, funny things that she had heard during the week, or things she had heard about him. One week she wrote and told him of how she was looking forward to seeing him for real at their concert in Manchester on the 31st of August. She accidentally mentioned that it was quite a journey from her hometown of Stonecliff, even though she had promised herself not to say anything. She was so excited about seeing him that nothing could upset her. The insults and teasing bounced off her, and her loneliness had all but vanished. Her parents noticed the change, and were not sure whether this blatant disregard for everything was good for her. They lay on the pressure for her to do what they told her, but only succeeded in distancing themselves from her even further, her resentment of their controlling ways growing.

 The day of the concert arrived and Olivia’s mother made sure that she was safely on the bus to Manchester G-Mex, giving her lengthy instructions on everything that she could think of.

 “You will be all right?” Laura Huntley asked her daughter.

 “Yes! I can look after myself,” Olivia replied.

 “No going off with strangers, and I’ll meet you off the bus when you get back.”

 “Okay. I will see you later.”

 “Have a good time.”

 The girls on the bus sneered at Olivia as she got on the bus, but for once Olivia did not care. They all started comparing their experiences of the group - how one had touched one of the group, or how one of them had smiled at them. Olivia envied them, yet at the same time, felt superior to them. She had something that none of them had, and although she did not have a very good seat, she did not care - she would see him. She had completely forgotten mentioning Stonecliff, or that she was coming on that night.

 The familiar sights of Manchester eventually greeted her. She had lived within its suburbs for the first five years of her life, before moving suddenly to Stonecliff, and her personal stagnation beginning.

 They arrived at Manchester G-Mex in plenty of time and they were all given the time and place of the meeting point after the concert, before they were allowed from the bus and out into the thronging crowd. Olivia’s heart was jumping with sheer joy. She felt so free being out on her own and being in control of her destiny for the evening.

 The excitement was gripping. Never had Olivia seen so many fans in one place at the same time. She could not help but grin in happy anticipation, and hum the group’s songs.

 When queuing up, she noticed that everyone was being asked where they came from. She got to the front and was asked the same question.

 “Stonecliff,” Olivia answered. “Why do you want to know?”

 “We’re looking for someone who should be here this evening, and as you’re from Stonecliff, you’ll have to come with me.”

 “I am not in trouble, am I?” Olivia asked, anxiously.

 “Of course not. We just want you to ask you a few questions, and then you’ll be allowed to go into the concert if you’re not the person we’re looking for.”

 “What if I am the person that you are looking for?”

 “Then you will have to wait and see,” the security guard smiled.

 He took her to a small room away from all the crowds, and she found at least a dozen people that she knew from school, all waiting nervously, wondering what it was that they had done wrong and who this person was that there was so much fuss about. Two security guards stood in the corner, whispering to each other rather too loudly.

 “It has to be one of them,” the first security guard said.

 “None of them are his usual type,” the second guard replied.

 “How would you know? Are you his best mate all of a sudden?”

 “No, I’m just saying that they’re all quite young. You would think that he would want someone nearer his age, that’s all.”

 “Maybe he just wants to see who see it is, and then tell her to clear off and leave him alone.”

 “Now, there’s a thought.”

 A female security guard came in and gave the two a disapproving glance. On seeing all the worried faces, she reassured them that they had done nothing wrong and would be able to leave soon. Olivia’s heart was racing. She had heard what the two guards had said and a realisation came to her that they were looking for her! She had never considered that the letters might have bothered him. What if he hated her? Worse, laughed at her feelings? That would destroy her.

 They were all given questionnaires to fill in. Olivia’s hand shook as she took the piece of paper and a pen from the guard.

 

 

 

QUESTIONNAIRE

 

DO YOU PRACTISE BALLET...? 

DO YOU TAKE PART IN GYMNASTICS...?

DO YOU TAKE PART IN AEROBICS...?

DO YOU ENJOY WRITING POETRY...?

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE GROUP MEMBER?

DO YOU WRITE TO THAT MEMBER REGULARLY?

DOES THE DESCRIPTION “YOUR LOYAL FRIEND” MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU...

 

 Olivia tried to remain calm while she filled in the questions. It was obvious now that they were looking for her. She saw her whole world crumbling in front of her. He wanted to stop her writing to him, he saw her as a silly schoolgirl with a crush, an obsession with him. There were a thousand and one scenarios running through her mind, the majority of them being him rejecting her as a person with a mental problem.

 She thought of all the “if onlys”. If only she had not written that letter. If only she had not told him where she lived... Nevertheless, this situation was still happening.

 One by one, the papers were checked and the people left, until only Olivia remained.

 “So we were looking for you,” the first security guard said. Olivia managed a half smile.

 “Am I in trouble?” Olivia asked.

 “I really don’t know. Somehow, I know that you aren’t. If he hated you, why would he talk about you so much?”

 “He talks about me? What does he say?”

 “I don’t know the details, but you must have struck him with what you wrote. Over the past few weeks he’s been different.”

 “Different in a good way?”

 “You’ll have to ask him that yourself.”

 “I am going to meet him in person?” Olivia gasped. “I cannot! I am such a mess. He will think I am some silly schoolgirl. He will laugh at me.”

 “I doubt that very much. Come on; let’s get this over and done with.”

 They went through the arena, which by this time was packed with screaming fans. Then they came to a large, black door, marked “PRIVATE - PASS HOLDERS ONLY” in big red letters. Olivia felt a shiver of trepidation go through her. She felt excited to be meeting him, but at the same time, she was scared out of her wits. What would he say to her? What if she was wrong about him?

 The guard she was with went across to another guard who was checking backstage passes, and started chatting with him. Olivia just wanted to find out what he really thought of her, and this guard was not helping matters any by delaying things. As she stood and waited, Olivia heard the chatter around her: girls excitedly talking about how they would see their idols on stage. Olivia wished for one moment that she were one of them. They were all so happy and excited, and she only felt worried and miserable.

 “Are you all right?” the first security guard asked.

 “Yeah, I am fine.”

 “You’ve gone very white. You don’t want to sit down for a minute, or shall I get you a glass of water?”

 “Please do not fuss. I am perfectly fine. I just want to get this over with.”

 “Okay.”

 He held the door open for her and Olivia now found herself backstage, going through a maze of corridors. The screaming of the crowds on the other side of the door rang in her ears. Door after door confronted her, each turn in the corridor left her feeling more confused. Why was she meeting him? What had he been saying about her? What was going to happen?

 People passed her, turning to look at her. It was though everyone knew who she was, and in his or her silent looks were passing judgement on her. People pushed past her, rushing to get things ready for the concert. Olivia felt lost. Everything was moving too fast. One moment she had been on a bus, ready to enjoy a great evening, then the next, she was being escorted by a security guard to meet him.

 “Are you sure you’re all right?” the security guard asked.

 “Physically yes, mentally no. Can you not appreciate what is going on in my head right now? Can you not imagine how I feel?”

 The guard sighed. “No, I guess I can’t,” he said. “But I reckon I would be feeling pretty stressed out right now too.”

 Olivia smiled. “I wish I knew what would happen,” she said.

 “Whatever happens, you will always have me,” he joked.

 “I may hold you to that.”

The answer to everything would lay behind one of these doors, she told herself, as she walked along, looking around. A door marked “Dressing Room” she supposed.

 Moreover, approaching with gathered speed was such a door, the letters blazing out at her with such radiance that they hurt her eyes.

 “I cannot do this. I just cannot do this. I would rather not know,” Olivia said suddenly, stopping dead in her tracks.

 “Why not? You get in there and find out what he has to say, or you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it. What if he really likes you? He could be your soul mate, and you could throw it all away.”

 “But I am no-one. I have nothing I could offer him. I am just a sixteen year old ugly girl from some backwater in deepest Yorkshire. Why would he be interested in me?”

 “When you put it like that, I don’t know. I don’t know you that well, but I’m sure that you have so much to offer any man, if you just had the chance. You just have to believe that. If you believe that you are beautiful, you will be. If you believe that you are talented, you will be. It all comes from within.”

 “Why are you only a security guard? You should be a counsellor or something.” Olivia’s heart was pounding. She wanted so much to go in there, yet was terrified of being rejected. She did not know how she would react to be turned away by him.

 “You’ll go in there?” he asked, tentatively.

 Olivia took a deep breath. “Yes.”

 “Great.”

 He knocked sharply on the door. A voice called a welcome from within. He punched in some numbers into the electronic lock and opened the door for her to go in.

 “Do not look so worried,” he said. “They won’t bite, you know. They are human too.”

 “Thanks for everything,” Olivia said, and he hugged her.

 “Good luck.”

 All of a sudden, Olivia was in the room and was confronted with five very familiar faces. Faces that had only stared out of posters on her bedroom wall. However, this time those faces were different. They were real and looking just at her.

 She felt very small and shabby as they looked at her. The clothes she had so carefully picked out seemed to turn to rags. Despite her nervousness, Olivia managed to mumble a greeting, and then introduce herself. The faces continued to stare at her and there was an uneasy silence. At the feeling of those famous gazes upon her, Olivia felt herself redden.

Then, in an instant, a crazy idea crept into her head. She smiled, and then began to laugh. She could not believe what she was doing or understand why, but one by one; those famous faces began to crumple into uncontrollable giggles, none of them knowing why they were laughing or how they had started. A sense of acceptance filled Olivia. She felt as though she had finally found where she belonged and whom she belonged with. Even he was laughing. It did not seem as though he wanted her to leave him alone, unless he wanted to let her down gently. She was aware of him looking at her from the other side of the room, as though he was analysing every inch of her. She caught his eye and he smiled. She found it difficult to break the gaze, but a fresh bout of laughter distracted her and when she looked back, he was staring out of the window.

 The others moved so that there was space for her to sit down, but she delayed in taking up the offer, still hoping that he would turn around and look at her again. The others were still laughing, too absorbed to notice her right then. She almost felt lonely again, and the worry of what would happen next came back into her mind. His distance from the group worried her. He did not want to share the warm feelings that she was receiving from the others, or that was how it seemed. He was quiet and reserved, deep in thought by the window.

 One of the group grabbed her by the hand, bringing her back into reality, and he pulled her down into the space beside him. She smiled and he hugged her. She was overwhelmed by the affection that they seemed to have for her. She could not even think of a time when her family had treated her like this. Her mother would hug her occasionally, but her father had never once even touched her, and definitely had never told her that he loved her.

 She sighed in content and was hugged again, but by someone else this time. She looked around at the others and she started to laugh again, with more enthusiasm than before. The sight of their faces made her laugh even more. She laughed until she cried; the tears rolled down her cheeks. She could not remember a happier time.

 After a minute or two, she began to control herself, but the group was still trying in vain to stifle the odd giggle. She smiled broadly as they messed around, telling jokes and teasing each other at their lack of self-control, especially as they were in company.

 One by one they introduced themselves, although Olivia already knew all about them from the hundreds of interviews she had read about them. Then he looked at her.

 “May I speak to you alone?” he asked.

 Olivia felt her heart jump. This was it, the decisive moment. Make or break. She numbly nodded, all the laughter drained from her. He opened the door to an adjoining room and they went in, shutting the door behind them, while the others collapsed back into laughter again, still not knowing why.

 Olivia looked around her. She was in what appeared to be a sitting room, filled with sofas and big armchairs, with the group’s personal belongings strewn about. He picked up a pile of clothes and made a space for her to sit down. Uncomfortably, she did so. He sat in a chair opposite, but she could not bring herself to look him in the eye.

 “Olivia, please look at me,” he said. Unwillingly she looked up and he smiled. “You handled that lot very well. They weren’t sure that me meeting you was such a good idea, but I think they love you already. I’m sorry if I seemed a little off with you, but I wanted to make sure that I knew what I was going to say to you.”

 “I am sorry about the letters. I should have known that they would bother you. You must think I am crazy, but I could not help the way I found myself feeling about you. I know you must get hundreds of letters like mine every week. I just had to tell you.”

 “I do hope you’re not crazy, because that would make what I am about to say sound stupid,” he replied, smiling. “I am so glad that you wrote to me. I’m over the moon. I had to meet you. I had to meet the one woman who sees me for what I am, not for what I appear to be on stage.  I had to meet the one girl whose letters were totally different. That woman is you Olivia. When you let slip where you were from and what night you were coming, I saw my chance. I’m sorry if I worried you, but I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to write back to you, to thank you, but you wouldn’t let me, so I couldn’t.”

 “I never thought that you would want to write back. I am nothing special. You could get advice from any girl you chose,” Olivia mumbled, reeling from what he had said.

 “I chose you, or rather, you chose me. You are the only one there is that is the slightest bit interested in me as a person. Any girl you see throwing herself at me wants me for one thing only, and not with me, but one of the other guys through there. You’re not nothing, you’re something. I can see that, but I have the feeling that not many other people give you a chance. You looked so confused by all the hugging and kissing going on through there, I thought you must be a bit of a stranger to affection and kindness.”

 “My parents do love me; they are just appalling at showing it. They want me to be the best in everything, but they just do not see what I really want. Sometimes I want to scream at them, to make them see what they are doing. I want to do something terrible, just to shock them, but I cannot. I could not take the disappointment they would have in me.”

 “Why? You cannot spend your life doing what they want you to do. You will have to live your life at some point. Why not now?”

 “I do not understand.”

 “Stay with me tonight, at the hotel. I want to get to know you better. Don’t look so shocked! I’m not going to pounce on you. I just want us to spend some time together.”

 “I cannot! My father would kill me. I am on borrowed time as it is. He never wanted me to even come here, and I could not lie to him.”

 “I’m not asking you to. Do it for yourself, if not for my sake. I’ve only just found you and I’m not losing you just yet.”

 Olivia stared at him for a long time, looking deep into his soulful eyes. Slowly he dropped her gaze, and she said quietly, “I would do anything that you wanted me to do.”

 He lifted his head to look at her, and then came across to sit next to her. His hand came up and stroked her cheek lightly. Her skin tingled at his touch. How could she defy her parents?

 “You really are my loyal friend. I would do anything that you wanted me to do,” he said, almost whispering. “Maybe you’re my guardian angel.”

 “Me? An angel?” Olivia laughed. “I do not think so. I am just your average, swotty, sixteen year old. I am not even pretty, and angels should be pretty.”

 “I think you are.”

 “Stop winding me up! Boys only say things like that when they want a laugh at my expense. You would not like me if you knew me. No boy does.”

 “Sixteen year old boys can be cruel. But I think I’m the only one who does know you, and I like you a lot. The real you is the young woman who wrote to me, kept me going and comforted me on long, lonely nights when I’m usually alone. I can see beyond the girl that you think you are. I don’t need to know anything else, except whether you will stay with me tonight. Somehow you managed to change the subject.”

 Olivia thought deeply. In her heart there was no question; she wanted to spend as long as she could with him, but her mind threw up turmoil. Every hurt, every insult, every resentment, and every frustration came to her. Here she had found love and affection. She had hold of her destiny, and she knew she would never get another chance like this. With a heavy heart, she made her decision.

 “Pass me the telephone before I change my mind,” Olivia said. “But I want you to know that I am doing this for me, not because you want me to. This is something I have to do.”

 “I know,” he said, passing her the telephone. Olivia dialled the number and prayed that her mother would answer. Her prayer was granted.

 “Hello?” her mother said.

 “Hi Mum, it is Olivia...No, there is nothing wrong before you ask.”

 “What then?”

“Erm. Er, I am not coming home tonight. I have been asked to stay in Manchester with the group, at their hotel.”

 “Okay. When will you be back?”

“Er. Er. I do not know. Do you not mind that I am not coming home?” Olivia asked in shock. “No arguments?”

 “This is a wonderful opportunity for you, even if it is an extreme one,” Laura said, then sighed. “Love, I know how your father and I have been treating you recently has not been fair at all. I never realised how miserable you were until I saw one of your teachers today. I know it is partly our fault, and I want that to change. Maybe this can make it up to you. Your father cannot understand why you need to be happy, have friends, and have a good time. All he cares about is your school report and your exam grades. By staying out tonight, or however long you stay away, may make him realise that something is wrong. Do not worry, I will deal with him. You just have a good time.”

 “Mum, you are the greatest! I love you. I will call you soon.”

 “Please do. Look after yourself, and behave yourself around all those men!”

 “Mum! Do not worry, I will be fine.”

 “I know you will. I will speak to you soon. Oh, your father has just come in.”

 “Okay Mum. Bye!”

 Olivia hung up in a daze. She could not believe the change in her mother. In a way, she was relieved, but also worried about her father’s reaction, and what he would say when she got home.

 He looked at her and she smiled. “She agreed,” Olivia said, still in shock.

 “Then don’t worry about it. It’s nearly show time,” he replied. “There’s just something I need to say. Some of the stuff that you wrote really hit home to me. That takes someone very special.”

 Another moment of silence. The whole world seemed to have stopped to listen. Nervously, Olivia ruffled her carefully washed hair and looked around the room. He coughed, which brought back her attention to him.

 “Where are you supposed to be sat?” he asked.

 “Somewhere near the back.”

“Come with me.”

 He took her by the hand and led her through some more corridors. After they had gone up some steps, the noise became much increased and Olivia found herself right by the side of the stage. He hugged her tightly, astounding her.

 “Olivia?” he said, almost having to shout.

 “Yes?”

 “Sit here. It’s the best view in the house. Well, maybe not for the Beatles Medley, but I’ll sort that out for you.”

 “Gary?”

 “Yes?”

 “Thank you for all this. You could have laughed at my feelings, written me off as a nutter, or just cast me aside, and yet this is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me. I don’t even deserve any of it.”

 “Believe me, you do.”

 With that, he was gone, disappearing into the maze, leaving Olivia in a state of shock. She only wished that she had brought her camera. Now this night would be gone and no one would ever believe her when she told of what had happened.

 “How did it go?” a familiar voice asked. Olivia turned and saw the first security guard and looked at his name card.

“Well. Richard.... It was great! He really seems to like me. You were right.”

 “I’m glad for you,” Richard replied. “Where does that leave me though? Have I been cast off already?” Olivia laughed.

 “Never! Just because I have all these showbiz pals now, I cannot forget the person who got me there. Thank you so much.”

 “Anytime for you. Are you sticking around for a bit?”

 “Gary has asked me to stay at the hotel tonight, and I got parental permission to do so, so yes, I am sticking around.”

 “Good. Look, I have to go. Have a great night!”

 “I will!” Olivia said, and he went away, she realised that for the first time, she had been flirting with someone, and they had been flirting back. And she enjoyed it immensely.

 Finally, she could not suppress her excitement any longer. She felt like dancing around, doing cartwheels across the stage, or hugging everyone in sight. She had never felt this way before about anything. Her life was about to change, she was certain now, and it could only get better.

 What else lay in store for her that evening, she wondered? Her imagination pictured her dancing the night away with Gary and the others, then talking for hours until it got light, then falling asleep in his arms. She half laughed at herself. He may like her, but not that much. After tonight, she would go back to Stonecliff and huge arguments with her father. Things would return to normal, she thought, but then she considered that maybe things could never return to the way that they were, not after tonight, not after being here with Gary.

 Only minutes before she had been living in a fantasy world, a dreamer of what could be, thinking of only seeing Gary from afar, as a speck on a distant stage - but even so he would be real and in the flesh. That was all she had dreamed about - just seeing him once. Now those dreams had been fulfilled and so much more besides. Tears of joy rolled down her face.

 Within a moment of the first tear falling, Gary was there by her side, putting his arm around her and making her jump.

 “What’s wrong?” he asked. “You’re not ill, are you? If you feel ill I can have someone take you back to the hotel, but then you’ll miss the show and I really want you to see the show. No one has upset you, have they? I’ll have words if someone has been nasty to you.” Olivia smiled inwardly at his concern over her, and the way he was fussing about.

 “There is nothing wrong with me! Do not worry!” Olivia replied. “I am just so happy to be here, that’s all.” She smiled at him. “Go on, go get ready! You will have thousands of really upset people out there if you are not ready when you should be, and I do not want lynching for being responsible!”

 Gary looked at her to see if she was telling him the truth, worried about her. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked. “You look a bit pale.”

 “I am fine! I have already had one of your security staff fussing about me. I am naturally pale, all right?” Olivia said, still smiling. “But if you do not get on with what you are paid a hefty sum to do, I may be forced to beat you up.”

 “I would like to see you try,” he joked.

 “Later! Just you wait Mr Barlow - just you wait!”

 Gary grinned and turned to leave her, his hand lingering on her shoulder a moment longer than strictly necessary for someone whom you had just met, a new friend. She watched him as he was ushered away by a member of the stage crew who was looking very worried about Gary’s apparent lack of concern over getting onto the stage in time. He managed to turn and smile at her before he disappeared completely into the darkness.

 She found that she had become quite a tourist attraction. The news about her presence had travelled fast and many people had somehow found their way past her, slyly turning to glance at the person that Gary had not stopped talking about for weeks. A few would smile at her and say hello, but most would steal a look at her, trying to make up their minds about her and whether she was a suitable person for the attentions of one of the most desired men in the country. Olivia just smiled nicely at them; too happy to be bothered about what anyone thought of her right then. A week ago, or even hours previously she would have worried about what they were saying when they got out of her earshot.

 She wiped her tears away and turned her attention to watching the warm-up acts. Lulu gave Olivia a friendly smile as she came off-stage. Everyone else knew what Gary had been saying about her, but no one was going to tell her.

 She heard a babble of voices behind her and when she turned to see whom it was she noticed a group of boys looking as though they were rehearsing. She presumed that they must be “Ultimate Kaos,” the other warm-up act. One of them, a tall boy of about the same age as her, was looking her way and smiling. She felt a blush rise to her cheeks but managed to smile back. Another of the group nudged him to bring his attention back to what he should be doing.

 “She will still be here when we come off stage, mate,” the second boy said, in a whisper.

 “But someone else may have got in there first,” the tall boy said, whispering back.

 As the group ran on, the first boy kissed her on the cheek. Olivia turned to complain, but she saw how attractive he was. He grinned, then winked and then went on, the name “Jomo” clearly visible on the back of his shirt. She could not help but to smile at his cheekiness, and his attractiveness.

 She was having a wonderful time, dancing and singing along to the music. Jomo smiled at her from the stage and she smiled back. She still had trouble believing that he was interested in her. Before tonight, she had trouble getting boys even to speak to her, let alone take an interest in her. She was still in shock about what was happening to her. After the show she would be spending the night with Gary, possibly even in the same room, and after that she did not know what would happen next. She wanted to spend forever right there, right then. She told herself over and repeatedly until she began to believe it - that Gary Barlow liked her and that was not going to change for a long time. Her fellow Stonecliffites had boasted about how they had been able to afford the best seats in the arena, but now Olivia had the best view of all, and she grinned with pleasure.

 She almost hugged herself at the whole idea of it. She would rather have hugged Gary, but she would have to wait until after the show. After the show. Olivia smiled again. It was all so perfect; everything was perfect. She never wanted the feeling to end. From now on, everything would be perfect for her, she promised herself. Even if Gary were not there to share it with her, she would always have her memory of this night.

 About half an hour later, amid ear splitting screams, Take That appeared. Ultimate Kaos had finished their set and ran off, with Jomo smiling at Olivia as he passed.

 “What, no kiss this time?” Olivia asked, smiling back.

 “I thought you might clock me one if I tried again,” Jomo replied, “and I don’t want too much of a good thing.”

 “Do you really think I am a ‘good thing’?” Olivia asked.

 “Yes. Don’t you?”

 “I did not before tonight, but…”

 “But?”

 “I met Gary and he asked me to stay with him tonight. It is nothing more than talking – do not look so shocked! But if he wants to get to know me, then I must be worth something.”

 “You and Gary?” Jomo asked. “You’re his loyal friend, as he puts it?”

 “Yes.”

 “Oh.” Jomo looked startled then smiled again. “Then I’ll be seeing you later at the hotel?”

 “Oh yes.”

 Jomo said his goodbyes and ran after the others. Olivia turned to the stage to see Gary looking at her and she smiled. He smiled back, and then launched into the next part of the concert. Olivia sang and danced along, and every so often Gary would catch her eye and give her the most heart-melting smile.

 Olivia would just blush and look down. It was though the whole arena was empty and he was singing just to her alone. It was their own private world and the screams, cheers, and whistles of the crowd were just whispers.

 He looked so wonderful, so at ease, out on the stage, and Olivia wished she could be there with him. She thought of the years of dance classes she had endured, the gymnastics she had performed against her will, yet at that moment she knew that she had to be out on the stage somehow. She wanted to dance, she wanted to cartwheel and back flip around. She wanted to use what she knew deep down she was good at doing. All those career lessons had always been a waste of time. Now she knew what she had to be.

 She laughed to Could It Be Magic, she danced to Everything Changes, and she began to cry during A Million Love Songs, the tune stirring something inside her. She searched for a handkerchief and was eventually given one by a young man stood behind her.

 She noticed the large bunch of flowers that the young man was holding, and that he looked rather confused. Olivia smiled at him.

 “Thanks for the hanky. I do not know what came over me. That song does not usually get to me. I guess the events of the evening are catching up on me,” Olivia said. “Oh, I am babbling about nothing again. You look a bit lost. Can I help you at all?”

 “I’m looking for a young lady named Olivia, who comes from Stonecliff. That is all I know. Oh, and that she should be around here somewhere,” he replied, then looked at her and wondered why she was smiling broadly at him. The realisation sank in. “You’re Olivia, aren’t you?”

 “Yes,” Olivia replied.

 “These must be for you then. The most expensive bouquet as well. The card is there.”

 Olivia took the card from him and read it aloud. “To my most loyal friend and my guardian angel, from your indebted friend. May all your dreams come true as you have made mine. G.”

 “Does that ring any bells?” the man asked. “It doesn’t really make much sense to me.”

 “It feels as if St Paul’s’, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey’s bells are all ringing at once. Thank you. I think he really likes me.”

 “I would say he more than likes you. You don’t spend this amount of money on someone you want to be just friends with. And look - red roses. You don’t get more obvious than that.”

 “It is difficult for me to take all this in. I only met him this evening after writing a few letters. I never thought that any of this would happen, and now you are suggesting that there is more to it than friendship,” Olivia said, her heart pounding at the idea.

 “The evidence is there. Trust me - I’m a florist.”

 “Oh and that means you are always right about these things, does it?” Olivia replied.

 “I know that you are in love with him,” he said, looking her in the eye. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

 Olivia blushed. “I never thought about it before. It was always just a dream, some sort of far off fantasy, but now it is frighteningly real, and yes, I think I do love him.”

 “I don’t blame him for wanting to meet you, or spending a fortune on you. I bet he’s asked you to stay. He’s chosen you out of all the thousands of girls that write to him, all the girls out there screaming his name and several celebrity women. He must think the world of you.”

 “I do not know about that. He could have a girl like me in every city, each of us thinking that we were special to him. I want to believe him so much, I really do. I could not bear it if he was leading me on.”

 “He’s not. The way he has looked across at you six times since you started talking to me does suggest certain protectiveness towards you. He cares about you, it’s obvious, but he knows he can’t do anything about it just yet. He wants to know how you feel, I reckon. He doesn’t want to do anything he can’t take back.”

 Olivia looked at the florist. He was deadly serious in what he was saying. Gary really could care about her. Her heart pounded even more and she took a deep breath. A shiver went down her spine and she thought of being with Gary, a reality that could only be an hour away. Something inside her stirred again, more strongly now. Just the mention of his name sent this feeling through her.

 “Thank you,” she said to the young man. “What you have said means a lot to me.”

 “Well, I am smarter than the average florist,” he said and smiled. “Good luck.” Olivia plucked up some courage and kissed him on the cheek. He gave her the flowers and left her.

 She shivered again as she watched Gary out on stage. She did not know what this feeling was, but if it was love, she never wanted it to fade. She smiled at Gary as he looked at her, and he smiled back, almost forgetting his words for a moment. Olivia laughed and looked away, regaining some of her shyness. She sniffed the heady scent of the flowers, the scent filling the air, and then thought about what the florist had said. What would happen if Gary did love her? Where would that leave her? What would it be like to be held in his arms so tightly? What would it be like to kiss him?

 Rapt in these thoughts she was suddenly surprised by a member of the stage crew grabbing her by the hand and dragging her around to the back of the stage to where the keyboard player sat. He gestured to a place where she could sit and not be in the way.

 “It won’t be a brilliant view, but it’s okay. You could always ask for a private rendition later on,” said the crew member, squatting down next to her. “How did you manage to score with Gary?”

 Olivia turned and looked at the crew member with scorn. “We are just friends, but I do not think it is any of your business. Now, if you do not mind, I have paid to watch this.”

 The Beatles Medley was about to begin. Olivia smiled at the keyboard player and sat down. The crew member went away, but he had been right about the view being restricted, but as he said, she could always have a private rendition later on.

 The noise was deafening. From where she was sat, Olivia could see the faces of the front row, intently watching the video screens, smiling and screaming as the camera focused on their favourite group member. She saw how happy they were and she felt enormously proud of what Gary and the others were doing. They brought joy and pleasure to thousands of people every night. She wondered what that would feel like. She wanted a part in it all. She wanted to make people happy, an experience she had not had before. The only people she ultimately had to please were her parents. She now wanted to please herself and make herself happy, and then surely her parents would be happy for her. Somehow, she knew that her father would not see it that way. He would say she was wasting her time, chasing rainbows. He would not recognise singing as a “proper” career. Her mother would. She had her dreams: dreams that had never come true because she had never had the chance she longed for. Now Olivia had a chance. She was in the midst of the very people who could make it happen. Nevertheless, her father would not see any of that. He would say that she was being corrupted and had lost her mind. He would tell her to finish her education, get a degree, and get a good job in a Stonecliff office. He could not see how that would kill her. She was having thoughts that she never had even contemplated before, yet they were making such a difference to who she was and what she believed.

 “Cheer up! You’re meant to be enjoying yourself!” the keyboard player said, jolting her from her thoughts. Olivia smiled.

 “I shall have to give up thinking depressing thoughts. It is not good for my health,” Olivia replied. “Live for the moment and all that.”

 “You’ll have to go and live for the moment elsewhere, I’m afraid, unless you want to miss the rest of the concert,” he said, smiling.

 “I would not miss it for the world.” Olivia got up and sneaked back around to where she had originally been sat, so that she could watch Babe in comparative comfort. She marvelled at the way it was choreographed. They really looked as if they had walked onto a screen. Mark had smiled at her from the stage and she had smiled back. Here she really felt wanted. A warm feeling filled her again and she felt secure. She belonged here. Her broad smile returned to her face, made even broader by the arrival of the group on stage wearing very little for Give Good Feeling. Olivia’s heart started racing. Gary had written this song and now he was singing it to her. The lyrics leapt out at her, hitting her in the face with new meaning and depth. He was singing it to her!

 Olivia could see him staring at her from out of the corner of his eye as he sang and danced raunchily with the others. Olivia blushed but could not manage to suppress the grin she found spreading across her face. She sang the words back to him, a new sparkle in her eyes. She saw him grin as he watched her sing along and copy the dance steps. His face seemed to glow with a new light when he looked at her.

 As she danced, the music seemed to take over her, pulsing through her body. She felt so wonderful, the adrenaline flowing. Her heart sang every word of the song louder than her voice. She was happy, so very happy. She never wanted that moment to end. She saw Gary looking at her again and she saw a change in him. The way he looked at her was different now. He saw her as more of a woman than the sixteen-year-old girl that he had met earlier. There was almost a suggestion of desire in his eyes, an idea that shocked Olivia. She had never thought of anyone in a sexual way before, and had never considered that anyone would think of her in that way either. She looked at herself and dismissed the idea as ridiculous. Her clothes said, “I am a child” rather than the image she found herself craving for. He could not possibly find her attractive when she was dressed like that.

 She became of a woman stood behind her and turned around to find out whom it was. The woman smiled at her.

 “I have never seen Gary perform so well,” she said. “You must have a good influence on him.”

 “I would not know about that,” Olivia said.

 “Are you coming to the party tonight? Everyone from the crew is going, right from the lowest of the low to the guys themselves.”

 “Dressed like this? I would be an embarrassment,” Olivia replied, sighing. “I am supposed to be staying at the hotel tonight, but I have nothing, not even my toothbrush.”

 “Well Cinderella, you shall go to the ball. Let me sort it out. What size are you?”

 “Erm.... Twelve.”

 “Shoe size?”

 “Four.”

 The woman then produced a tape measure and took Olivia’s various measurements, writing them down on a note pad. “Don’t look so worried. I’ll meet you back at the hotel later with everything you need and more besides.”

 “I hope you do not mind me asking, but, who are you?” Olivia asked, confused.

 “Oh, sorry. I should have said. My name is Jane Humphries. I’m from wardrobe. See?” The woman showed Olivia her security pass. “What about you? What’s your name?”

 “Olivia Huntley. I really, really appreciate this. Please make me look great, and I promise I will pay you back for it all at some point.”

 “Don’t worry about the money, I mean it. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, and I’ll see you later.” Jane disappeared in a hurry, pulling out a mobile telephone from her bag as she went. Olivia turned back to the stage to see Take That disappearing in the other direction, saying their goodbyes as they went. Olivia thought that the concert had ended, and reached to put her coat on while the rest of the arena erupted into screams for more, along with ripples of foot stamping.

 The music started up again and the crowd fell into semi-quiet. This was Pray and the group reappeared looking better than Olivia had ever seen them. She put her coat down, smiling to herself, and watched.

 At the end of the song, the Mini Take That appeared and dragged their adult counterparts from the stage. Then a few moments later Olivia had the surprise of her life. She could not believe what she had just seen. She rubbed her eyes. Had that been Howard?

 Olivia was stunned. She was convinced that she had just seen Howard run past her wearing bottomless trousers. She turned and stared in amazement. She had never seen a man’s bottom. It was therefore a shock to have a pop star run past her displaying all. A crew member laughed at her reaction.

 “It’s always a shock the first time you see him wander past like that. It’s worse for the blokes, believe me, but you’ll be used to it after a while,” he said.

 “Used to it?” Olivia asked. “How am I supposed to get used to it? I am only here for tonight.”

 “That’s not what I heard Gary saying. He wants you to stay for longer. He wants you to go to Dublin with the tour tomorrow. You must have made an impression on him. All the fans he’s met before only get a few minutes in “Meet And Greet. Nevertheless, I suppose you are different in a way. You can see that you mean more than he’s ever going to let on.”

 Olivia had so many questions that she wanted to ask the man, but was distracted by the explosion of light, sound, and smoke on stage. After an introduction by Lulu, Take That exploded onto the stage as well. They launched into a new version of Relight My Fire that was better than anything Olivia had seen before. She could not prevent herself dancing and singing fully along, despite her embarrassment at the way she must have looked. It was just so wonderful.

 “You’ve got a good voice, you know,” a man said. “I’m Nigel Martin-Smith, the lads’ manager.”

 “Oh,” Olivia said, shyness creeping over her again. “Do you really think I have got a good voice?”

 “Yes, and you move well too. Ever had an ambition to tread the boards?”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Couldn’t you picture yourself out there?”

 “I would love to be out there, especially if I could work with Take That. I never considered a career in pop music before tonight. Seeing this concert changed my mind. Everyone is so happy, and the music stirs something up inside me that I never knew I had,” Olivia replied. “I have always endured dance and gymnastics, despite people telling me that I was good at them. I had no goals to aim at, but now I know what I could be if I just had the chance to prove myself. I doubt though if a chance did come up I would be allowed to take it. My father would have heart failure if I even mentioned the idea. It does not fit in with the master plan he has for me. He has failed to motivate my brother into doing anything constructive, so he takes it out on me. I wish there were some way of breaking free. All I want to do is be true to me.”

 “Only one parent has to sign a contract. How does your mother feel?”

 “She would sign a contract if that was what I wanted to do. I do not understand where this conversation is leading. Are you offering me a chance?”

 “One week. I’ll give you one week with the lads. You’ll have to learn the show, dance steps, and all. Then if you do well, we’ll talk again. It’s hard work though; long hours and physical torture. But I think you can do it.”

 “But what about school? School restarts in a few days. I am due to study for some A Levels. I sort of used to like school, but now I just want to see what the world has to offer me.”

 “If your A Levels are important to your family, arrangements can be made for you to study and work. Everything can be worked out for you if you want this chance enough.”

 “I do. I want this so much,” Olivia replied, her heart racing with excitement. Her dreams were coming true before her eyes, and it was all because of Gary. She heard Nigel’s words in her head repeatedly, but so many questions remained. She was in a whirl, so many things happening to her at once. She could not understand her luck.

 “I’ll see you at the party tonight,” Nigel said. “It will be a chance to get to know the lads better, but I would prefer it if you didn’t get to know Gary too well, if you get my drift?”

 “I understand,” Olivia said, her heart sinking slightly. “I’ll see you later.” Nigel disappeared into the gloom, leaving Olivia in a state of shock, her heart leaping.

 Gary came racing off the stage and grabbed her and her belongings, and they ran through the corridors towards the exit. Before the final corner, Gary stopped suddenly.

 “What is wrong?” Olivia asked. “Should you not be in a car tearing away from here?”

 “I have to say something. Something important,” Gary replied. “I don’t want you leave me tomorrow.”

 “I know. Someone told me. You cannot keep a good secret quiet for long around here,” Olivia said, smiling.

 “Do you want to stay?”

 “I have never wanted anything more in my life.”

 A security guard rushed around the corner and hustled them into the waiting car.

 “We wondered where you two had got to,” Robbie joked, with meaningful look, “and what you were up to.”

 Olivia smiled, and then squashed down onto the seat next to Gary. He secretly squeezed her hand.

 As they travelled to the hotel Olivia listened as the others talked about that night’s show, and she felt no part of it. It was their world, not hers, at least not yet. They were still worlds apart, despite everything that had been said and done in the previous hours. Howard smiled at her, and then turned to the others.

 “Come on lads, this isn’t fair. We’re leaving our Olivia out of it,” he said cheerfully. “What did you think of the show? We’d like your opinion.”

 Olivia jumped at being spoken to. She had not been sure of the others’ opinion of her, but despite her fears, she found her voice.

 “Erm.... Erm...It was very good, fantastic...Well the parts I saw were. I really like the Beatles Medley anyway, but tonight’s version was brilliant. And you make so many people happy in just one night. That must make you feel great,” Olivia said, then turned to Jason. “Why have you not sung solo before now?”

 “Oh, you know. Gaz here hasn’t written a song suitable for my voice yet,” Jason replied, light-heartedly.

 “More like your voice wasn’t suitable!” Gary retorted.

 Everyone burst into laughter and the mood changed. Everything became more light-hearted, with friendly insults and teasing flying around, of which Olivia gave and received her fair share of in good humour.

 Everyone was getting on very well, and Olivia felt accepted into the group as a friend. There was laughter and jokes, everyone trying to tickle each other and generally messing around. An odd atmosphere had developed between Olivia and Gary though. Even the others noticed it, even through Gary’s mask of having fun and laughing.

 “What’s wrong Gaz?” Robbie asked.

 “Nothing Rob, nothing. Just tired, I guess. I’ve got a lot on my mind at the moment, that’s all,” he replied.

 “Like what? If you tell us, we might be able to help,” Jason said.

 “This is one problem I have to sort out on my own Jay, but it’s nice to know you’re there if I need you. But don’t worry, okay?” Gary replied, giving Olivia a look that she pretended not to notice, a look that said, “You’re my problem.” Olivia looked away but she could feel his eyes burning into her.

 When they arrived at the hotel Olivia was grabbed by Jane and a man from make-up. Olivia wanted to talk to Gary so desperately, but he was bundled upstairs to his room by various security guards. Jane took her to a room, which was full of clothes, the furniture hardly recognisable.

 “Right. This is your room and we are here to make you look fantastic,” Jane said. “This is Paul and he will do your hair and make-up.”

 Olivia was sat down and the transformation began. Half an hour later, Olivia did not recognise herself. She wore the most beautiful blue dress, her make-up was perfect, and her hair looked wonderful. She had to admit she looked good. She barely recognised the girl that stared back at her out of the mirror.

 “Go get them,” Paul said. Olivia smiled and thanked them both profusely before going to find Gary.

 As she left her room, she met Richard, the security guard. He nearly walked past her, not recognising her as the girl he had helped so much.

 “Richard?” Olivia called. He turned and looked at her. He stared at her for a moment.

 “Do I know you?” he asked.

 “Unless you have a very short memory, you should know me. It is you that got me into that dressing room and to Gary, and you are the reason I am here now,” Olivia replied, smiling. His eyes widened and he looked her up and down.

 “Olivia?” he asked. Olivia nodded. “I was just coming to find you. I wondered if you would like escorting down to the party.”

 “I would love to be escorted by you to the party.”

 “You look fantastic. I didn’t recognise you for a moment there,” Richard said, then paused, just looking at her. “You really are beautiful when you’re happy. I would be honoured to be seen with you.” He took her by the arm and they walked down to the party together.

 “You look pretty good too, you know,” Olivia said before they went in.

 “Thanks.”

 He opened the door and they went in. The party was in full swing. People were chatting in groups, dancing, or drinking at the bar. Richard took her to meet some of his friends, and they warmly greeted her. She could not see Gary or the others anywhere, but she was determined to have a good time. Richard took her to the bar.

 “What are you drinking?” he asked.

 “I do not know. I have never drunk alcohol before, except communion wine,” Olivia admitted.

 “You’re joking!” Richard said in disbelief. Olivia shook her head. “Oh well. What about a white wine?”

 “Okay.”

 They sat down together with their drinks. Olivia told him all about her life and he told her about him. They were getting on very well and for a moment, Olivia forgot Gary. Different men asked her to dance, but Olivia was happy where she was.

 There was a cheer as the door opened. Take That came in, but Olivia was reluctant to go straight across to Gary. She did not want to seem too keen.

 “Go on then,” Richard said. “I can see you’re dying to talk to him.”

 “What about you? I should not leave you all on your own,” Olivia said.

 “These are my friends. I can talk to anyone. Don’t worry about me. As long as I get one dance with you, I’ll be happy.”

 “You have been so good to me. I really appreciate what you have done for me. Friends?”

 “Hopefully, best friends,” he replied.

 “Best friends.” Richard hugged her and she smiled. “Now, clear off!” he said.

She got up and made her way across to Gary. He watched her approach, his eyes following her every move, looking her up and down in disbelief. It was only when she was by his side that he smiled.

 “You look great. The change in you is incredible. I’m glad you could stay. I wish I could keep you like this forever,” Gary said, taking her by the hand and leading her to a table.

 “Forever is a long time. Nigel has only given me a week, and he says that I cannot get to know you too well,” Olivia said.

  “I don’t care what Nigel says this time.” He looked her in the eye and a shiver went down her spine. Before Olivia realised what she had done, she flung her arms around him and hugged him. He held her tightly to him. Olivia pulled away suddenly.

 “I am sorry...I should not have done that, should I? I am sorry,” she said, biting her lip in embarrassment, although secretly she was glad she had. She had touched him in a way she never thought she would have the opportunity to.

 “Sorry for what?” Gary asked. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

 “But...But. I hugged you,” Olivia said.

 “So? It’s not against the law. I’m glad you did. I was beginning to think that you didn’t like me. Every time I looked at you, you turned away,” Gary replied.

 “I did not mean to! I do like you, I like you a lot, and you know that. I just did not want you to see me blushing that is all. I am sorry if it seemed that way.”

 “I don’t care whether you blush or not. Your blushes light up your whole face, but I would rather see you smiling.”

 At this statement from Gary, Olivia blushed even more furiously than before, and Gary laughed.

 “Come on, let’s dance,” he said, smiling.

 “Alright.”

 He took her by the hand onto the dance floor. Heads turned to look at her as Gary pulled her close.

 “Why are they staring at me?” Olivia asked, self-consciously.

 “Because you are the most beautiful woman here and they want to know who you are.”

 “Oh,” Olivia replied in shock. “Are you sure?”

 “Yes.”

 “The thing that I do not understand is that you can fill an arena with screaming fans and I am just another one of them, a face in the crowd, nobody, and yet I am here with you. You are a world famous pop singer and award winning songwriter, and you chose to meet me. Why?”

 “I could never write poetry as you do. I could never write words that strike in my heart as you do. I could never feel the way I do now without you. I am just another human being with thoughts and feelings, and you know that. If I am special then you are more so, because you have brought light into my life.”

 “That is the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me.”

 “Get used to hearing nice things. I’ve plenty more where that came from.”

 They left the dance floor and sat together, facing each other. They were apart, yet almost touching. A world’s divide between them had become a few inches. A face on the wall had become a real face. A girl behind mere words had become a real girl. So much was said in that silent look between them. It was too much to express in words. A silent tear of happiness rolled down Olivia’s pale face and Gary’s hand reached out to wipe it away, but instead, he lightly touched her cheek. He leant towards her; not breaking the gaze that held them locked in each other’s soul, searching out the feelings inside.

 “You’re not nobody,” he whispered, “and you never could be. You’re a somebody, a special somebody.”

 His hand reached out for hers, but the touch Olivia longed for never came. Mark came bouncing over to them, smiling.

 “Hiya!” he said. “I’ve come to beg Olivia to dance with me. A girl who looks as nice as you shouldn’t be sat in a corner. She should be where everyone can see her.” Mark grabbed her by the hand and onto the dance floor. Gary smiled, but the moment had passed and the feeling gone.

 The rest of the night was a blur. Olivia danced until she felt fit to drop, met hundreds of people, and enjoyed every minute. It got to a point where people were getting up on a makeshift stage and singing their favourite songs. Nigel was urging Olivia to have a go and prove herself to everyone.

 “You have a great voice, I know it, and you know it. Get up there and knock their socks off. You cannot be worse than some of the others,” he said.

 After much coaxing, Olivia agreed. She nervously made her way to the stage. Gary watched her, unaware of her talent. He prayed that she would not embarrass herself, but as she sang, he was amazed. She sang one of his lesser-known Take That songs, a powerful ballad. He could tell she was nervous, but her voice was indisputably good. He watched her with pride and emotion.

 Olivia knew that she had to prove herself, and now was as good a time as any. She put aside some of her nerves and sang, and for the first time she enjoyed herself. She saw the people singing along and smiling, and a huge burst of confidence surged through her. As she ended, she received the largest cheer of the evening. Nigel gave her the thumbs up from across the room, and she felt happy.

 Richard met her at the foot of the stage, smiling.

 “You were fantastic!” he said. Olivia smiled.

 “Thanks. I was a bit nervous to start with, but I just sang anyway,” Olivia said. “It was my first big chance. If I can keep this up for a week, I will have been signed by Nigel!” Richard stood up and smiled.

 “It’s great to see you so happy. Now can I claim my dance? Gary has been somewhat possessive so far tonight.”

 “Okay.”

 Richard whirled her onto the dance floor and they danced together. Many people came to Olivia and congratulated her. Olivia thanked them all, and her smile became broader. Shortly afterwards, the tour manager called the party to an end, amid groans. There was still much work to be done before the tour could leave for Dublin the next morning. The crew went away to their respective duties, leaving security, management and the group by themselves. Olivia sat with Richard, laughing and joking with him.

 “I should be getting to bed,” Richard said. “I have to get up a lot earlier than you. I need my beauty sleep.”

“You said it,” Olivia replied, laughing.

“I’ll get you for that! I’ll see you tomorrow!” he said. Olivia stood up and they hugged each other. “You were the greatest tonight,” he said.

 “Thanks.”

 Richard slowly let her go and made his way out. Gary crossed over.

 “So it’s him I have to thank for persuading you to meet me,” Gary said.

 “Without Richard, none of this would have happened. It has been the best night of my life, and I get a best friend to go with it,” Olivia replied, happily. The other members of Take That gathered around her, congratulating her on her performance. Robbie took her by the hand and waltzed her out of the room and up the stairs, the others following, laughing. Howard took over, quick stepping her down the corridor to her room.

 “If you need anything, Gary’s next door, Jason is after that, then Rob, then Mark, then me,” Howard said. “Feel free to pop in at any time.”

 “Thanks,” Olivia said.

 “Now, no creeping around in the night Gary!” Robbie joked. “We know what you’re like!” He nudged Olivia sharply in the ribs. “You have to watch these quiet types Olivia. I’d lock your door tonight if I were you,” he said, grinning.

 “What could you be suggesting? I do not understand,” Olivia replied, in mock innocence. Robbie smiled.

 “I shall have to demonstrate one day,” he said, pulling her flirtatiously towards him. Olivia blushed and Robbie laughed.

 “Goodnight Rob!” Gary said firmly.

 “Goodnight Gary, goodnight Olivia,” Robbie replied, kissing her on the cheek. Olivia blushed again.

 They said goodnight and went their separate ways. Olivia accepted Gary’s offer of going into his room.

“Is there something wrong?” Olivia asked as he shut the door behind them.

 “You.”

 “What have I done?”

 “Nothing, that’s the whole point. I can’t believe that you don’t just like me for what I am, not who I am. Most girls would have jumped on me by now.”

 “Do you want me to?” Olivia asked, smiling.

“Yes and no. I find myself so confused. Now Nigel has offered you this chance to be famous, I’m even more confused. I discovered this evening that I cared a lot about you, more than I had thought. When I heard you sing it just confirmed what I knew - that you were something special, and I couldn’t spoil everything for you by going against Nigel’s wishes and starting something with you.”

He sat on the bed and sighed. He patted a place next to him and Olivia sat down.

 “Let’s talk,” he said. “I’m too worked up to sleep.”

 “Okay. What about?” Olivia asked, kicking off her shoes.

 “You. Tell me everything I don’t know. Family, pets, likes, and dislikes, everything. That was the purpose of you staying here, rather than being discovered as the next new thing in pop music.”

 He settled himself against the headboard, his arm lying across the pillows. Olivia lay down next to him, unaware of this. She jumped when she felt his arm close around her shoulders, then she relaxed into his body, and began to tell him everything.

 “Okay then,” she said. “My name is Olivia Louise Huntley. I was born in Manchester on the 28th of April 1978, making me sixteen. I live with my parents, Jack and Laura, and my twenty-one year old brother in Stonecliff, East Yorkshire. Erm...I do not like rave music, heavy metal or certain rap artists. I like pop music, and Take That is my favourite group. What else? I have spent thirteen years learning ballet and gymnastics. At school I just had six A’s, two B’s and an A* at GCSE. Erm. Erm...I can speak French, German, Italian, Spanish and a bit of Russian, as well as English,” Olivia paused. “You must think I am square. I cannot help being clever. Sometimes I wish I was not.”

 “I think it’s great that you’re clever. Languages are especially useful if you want to tour Europe,” Gary replied. “Anything else you want to tell me?”

 “Erm...I’ve got a rabbit called Marius and a tankful of fish. Foodwise, I do not like curry, but love Chinese.”

 “Anything else?”

 “Nope.”

“How about the fact that you are a talented singer and dancer, and you could quite easily make a career of it?” Gary asked, looking down at her.

 “I do not know about that. It may just be a dream.”

 “Dreams come true,” Gary said.

 “Tonight has proved that,” Olivia said, smiling. With his free arm, Gary reached across her body and took her hand in his. She felt his arm touch her and a thrill went through her.

 “I want every dream that you have to come true, and I want to be there when they do.” He kissed her on the cheek. A shiver went down her spine.

 “What is this that we have Gary? Are we friends, or...

 “Or is there something more?” Gary asked.

 “Yes.”

 “I think that there is more than we both realise, yet I have a feeling that it may get more difficult from now on for us,” Gary sighed.

 Olivia turned to look at him, her head inches from his. She wanted to kiss him so much, but something told her that the time was not right. She rested her head on his chest, and she could hear his steady heartbeat. He stroked her hair gently, his other arm wrapped tightly around her, and within minutes they were asleep, together at last.

The End

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