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Pen Your Pride

Chapter 14

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Cheryl was half dressed in a black linen shift dress, beseeching Kimberley with a motion of her head to zip up the back.

And maybe she was rougher than she intended, and maybe the anger was misdirected at her fleeing lover - whom she would spend the next five days missing to a degree she would never admit to - but Kimberley was still adjusting to the newness of this particular façade. The half openness, the scale of duplicity, lingering hands and touches under watchful eyes that promised discreteness. It made her nervous. It made her wonder whom she could trust, these people whose hands she'd placed her career in for the best part of seven years.

"Ow! Watch me hair!"

"Sorry," she mumbled, fumbling with the zipper and hook at the top of the dress.

Cheryl started a sweep of the room, scooping up the debris into her handbag, adjusting the many bracelets she'd chosen to adorn herself with.

Pat could be heard ushering in the bellboy, instructing which suitcases to take, calling out to Cheryl that they'd need to get a move on now, the traffic would be at it's worst at this hour.

She calmly faced the mirror, sneaking glimpses of Kimberley through its glass, as she applied some shocking shade of pink to her lips.

She smacked them together and smiled in satisfaction.

"Am I good?"

"Mm," came the non-committal response.

"Yeah, don't go too overboard there, babe."

The tension was slowly descending again and Kimberley fought against it, the overwhelming desire to unleash. But it felt like an open wound that Cheryl wouldn't stop picking at, with every little glance and smile needling her further.

Eventually, when she'd finished her manic checklist, touched just about every surface within the massive room, she stopped and acknowledged it. The elephant in the room.

"What's wrong then? 'Cos for someone who doesn't want me to go, you don't look overjoyed to still have me here."

And Kimberley wasn't entirely sure she wanted to wade into the issue now, but felt compelled to say something, anything, to get Cheryl to see what was going on.

"Why do you have to be like that, in front of Pat?"

"What?"

"You know. All that... touching me stuff."

She watched Cheryl's brow crease under the weight of her frown.

"Huh? I've always touched you. I've always been like that. Pat doesn't care."

"Yeah, but, it's different now. It's..." And really, Kimberley was already doubting herself for launching headfirst into this conversation

"I told you, she knows. Everyone knows now."

"Not everyone. Justin doesn't."

Cheryl picked up her keycard and tucked it away into one of her bag's inner pockets, "You wanna bet?"

The casualness continued to grate. No less so at the possibility that this was close to the truth.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Cheryl said nothing, affording instead a raised eyebrow and an infuriatingly knowing look.

And something within Kimberley, the tightly coiled spring that had been slowly ratcheting up turn after turn ever since that day with the PR team and Hilary, just seemed to snap, her thoughts careening out of her mouth before she had time to bite down on them.

"God, this is so easy for you, isn't it? All these people at your beck and call, everyone willing to bend over backwards as long as Cheryl's happy."

"And that's all you know isn't it? You think this life is real."

She couldn't help it. She didn't even entirely mean it. But the unjustness of everything, what they were doing, what was being done to them, had become too much.

"Okay... Kimberley... I don't even, I mean, what do you want me to say, you know?"

Kimberley shook her head, maddened at Cheryl's response. At herself and her rampant hypocrisy.

"Nothing," she muttered bitterly, "Doesn't matter."

They sighed simultaneously, exasperated with one another and the stalemate they had reached.

"Kimberley, I'm about to get on a plane. Do you really want to leave it like this?"

She waited expectantly, but Kimberley held fast, glowering, not trusting herself, not able to stop the rage from spilling out if she dared open her mouth again.

They stood for ten seconds or more, before Cheryl waved her hand dismissively, putting on her sunglasses in one fluid motion.

"Okay fine, whatever," she said flatly, turning and heading towards the door.

And it was too tempting to let that be the end of it. To let Cheryl walk out, taking with her all the guilt and confusion and carefully constructed PR fabrication, leave her to regroup and rebuild.

But a pause and a stumble and she was telling Cheryl to wait.

"You're going away and I'm tired and cranky and didn't get enough sleep and I'm sorry. Okay? I didn't mean to take it out on you."

Cheryl looked at her seriously, a searchingly long gaze that left her feeling raw and exposed. She then took her hand, entwining their fingers as she shrugged her handbag further up her other arm.

"What do you want, Kimberley?"

And how could she possibly answer that, with Cheryl hovering on the precipice, about to jet off into another reality full of synthetic smiles and hungry lenses, how could she possibly articulate how much she detested this calculated deception they'd been forced into?

Cheryl seemed able to drift from one world to another, their little embryo of safety and togetherness that they'd been feeding off amid her endless schedule, but she couldn't do this, couldn't switch off like Cheryl.

It was ironic really, given how nervous and unsatisfied and clinging Cheryl had been throughout her marriage.

She couldn't do it. She didn't have the strength to bring it all down. It was easier to just continue in her state of bottled self-loathing. Easier to just let Cheryl believe that everything would work out in the end, easier to string Justin along than stand up to an entire record label, easier than trying to gauge her own self-worth as a solitary figure in the limelight, one of five, forging her own way.

So she gently kneaded the hand that was clasped in her own, softened her tone and her gaze.

"Have a good flight, okay? Call me when you land."

Cheryl didn't fight the avoidance, accepted that this was a confrontation for another time, when they had the luxury of days and hours stretching before them. Whenever that would be.

"I love you Kimberley," she said softly.

"I love you too."

"Do you?"

And Kimberley could tell from the hitch in her voice, the quirk of her lips, that tiny shimmering tears were escaping underneath Cheryl's dark glasses.

So she held her very close and reassured her that of course she did and kissed both cheeks many many times until Cheryl relaxed her grip.

And when Cheryl finally slipped from the door, with promises and repeated declarations, her mobile already frantically ringing all the way down the corridor, Kimberley breathed out a cool and shuddering sigh.

Left in the thousand pound suite, remnants of Cheryl's hurried departure everywhere, the curtains billowing from where she'd left open the balcony doors, Kimberley felt suddenly weightless. Like she was drifting on the periphery to someone else's life. She felt free. Free and utterly alone.

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