Home > Accidentally in Love

Accidentally in Love
Author: Belinda Missen

Chapter 1

‘Urgh. Yuck. Hair in my lip gloss.’

My best friend and colleague, Lainey, pulls globby strands of blonde hair away from her mouth. She puckers and plumps and adjusts her blouse one last time. ‘Okay, all right, I’m good.’

I lift my camera and adjust the zoom, lowering it – and my shoulders – just as quickly.

‘Now what?’ she cries.

‘I’m just waiting for the bus to pass.’ I gesture at the giant red mass beetling along Embankment on the opposite side of the Thames.

‘Really?’ She turns to shout at it, and we fall about laughing, much to the annoyance of passers-by. It’s London’s South Bank in the middle of summer, she’s lucky her background isn’t a sea of tourists. They’ve so far been gracious enough to give us a wide berth.

‘Surely you don’t want it to look like you have a TFL special protruding from your ear in your photo, do you?’ I ask.

She chortles. ‘It would make a great talking point.’

After the bus disappears and a water taxi is out of focus, I snap off a handful of shots and hope they aren’t awful. I’m so out of practice with this photography lark that I’ve got the camera set to ‘automatic’ and all my extremities crossed. I don’t have time to worry about focal length and shutter speed today. I try for a few different angles, forcing Lainey into some uncomfortable-looking poses and, when I’m satisfied I’ve got enough photos, I wave her over to look.

‘Nope, not that one.’ She swipes at the two-inch display as if it’ll make her photo disappear. ‘I look like I’ve just done a double-shift at the London Dungeon.’

‘What?’ I shriek in disbelief. ‘You do not. Don’t be awful about yourself. You look fine.’

Nobody could accuse Lainey of looking like a horror movie villain. Ever. From the moment I met her, in our first year at Sheffield Hallam University, she’s carried herself with ballerina grace and the style of a golden era Hollywood starlet. Her hair, usually held in an impeccable ballet bun, is free-flowing today, with no thanks to the muggy summer breeze. It’s the kind of warmth that feels like breathing tepid water and I’m not a fan.

‘What about this one? How do I zoom?’ She jabs at the + button I point to. ‘That’s better. More professional, less crazy eyes.’

‘What did you want these for again?’ I ask.

Lainey grimaces. ‘LinkedIn.’

‘What? You’re leaving? Really?’

‘Figure it’s time to put myself out there,’ she says quietly. ‘Look for something that pays a bit better. I’d launch my own social media business, but what with the brand-new mortgage—’

‘And a wedding coming up.’

She grumbles. ‘Don’t remind me.’

When she’s not posing for an updated profile photo, Lainey normally occupies a desk on the same floor as me at Webster Fine Art Gallery on the South Bank. While I’m with the curating team, she’s smack-bang in the middle of the social media hub, updating, sharing, engaging the community, and enticing visitors through our doors with fresh and ever-changing content. She’s so amazing at what she does that I have no doubt she could sell ice to Eskimos.

‘Wait, is that why you weren’t in today?’ I look up at her, twinkling brown kohl-rimmed eyes betraying the horrible lurgy she reportedly had on the phone this morning.

‘Shhh.’ She presses a finger to her lips. ‘I got a sick note. It’s legitimate.’

‘In light of that, you need to get out of here before old Mr Webster spots you.’ I throw an arm around her neck and hug her tightly. My phone pings as I pull back; an appointment reminder. ‘I’m apparently on a tea break, and I have a meeting with Rockin’ Roland in twenty.’

‘A meeting?’ she asks. ‘About what?’

I pull a face. ‘I’m hoping it’ll be to tell me I’ve got the senior curator job.’

When the clock struck midnight on the first of January this year, I braved the chill of a London night to raise my thumbprint-smeared martini glass to the sky. Fireworks bloomed in convex perfection through it and, in that moment of inebriated clarity, I promised myself two things would happen this year. I don’t so much call them resolutions as I do revolutions, because that’s what we’re doing: revolving around the sun. Ask Julian Lennon, he’ll tell you.

The first of those revolutions was to level-up at work. After five years slaving away as an assistant then junior curator, cataloguing and keeping records, planning and budgeting, I’d landed on my feet as one of the gallery’s two curators, designing my own programmes and acquiring new art.

Sure that I was destined for bigger things and all that, when Roland announced last month that he was leaving for a stint at an Irish museum, I threw down my application quicker than a winning hand at poker and bailed out of the room with explosions in the background, billowing hair and perfect slow motion.

Well, not exactly, but you get the picture.

‘Good luck with that.’ She almost scoffs. ‘You know, I caught the three of them in the tearoom the other day. Roland, Steve and that brown-nose Charles.’

‘Oh, please call me Charlie,’ we mock in unison before sniggering.

On his first day in the office eighteen months ago, he’d made sure to tell all of us to call him Charlie, as if the affable nickname would make the shitty attitude vaporise.

‘Standing about with their dicks in their hands, no doubt,’ I say. ‘You know, we were supposed to have a strategy meeting, me, Steve and Roland. As it turned out, I got an email about half an hour after they’d finished, telling me they caught up in the hallway and decided we didn’t need a full meeting but here are the Cliff Notes if you need them.’

‘If you need them,’ she mimics Steve’s nasal whine. ‘Yeah, well, conversation fell off a crag the moment I walked in the room, but it was all covert looks and nudge, nudge until I left.’

‘They make me so angry.’ I lift my chin in the direction of the gallery and we begin walking. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if I don’t get this role.’

Lainey gives my camera a nudge. ‘Why don’t you do something with your photography? You’ve always taken amazing photos.’

‘That never really took off though, did it?’ I said. ‘I mean, it was fine as a hobby in university. I didn’t have bills to pay then, but you’ve got to grow up and get an adult job some time.’

‘Adults,’ she scoffs. ‘Are we boring? We are, aren’t we? Mortgage dwellers with a solid nine-to-five and a rosé habit.’

‘That’s a bit grim.’ I wince, stuffing my camera back into my bag. ‘What I’d really love is my own gallery, something small like that place near Embankment.’

‘The one that did the Kennedy exhibition? I love that place,’ she coos at the memory. ‘Let’s go back there soon.’

‘Absolutely,’ I say, pulling to a stop just by the doors of the gallery. They swish open with a wave of air conditioning. ‘Speaking of habits. Dinner tonight?’

‘Hello, yes, always. I’m going to go get us a table right now, in fact.’

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