I threw another paper chain onto the pile of reds, blues and green rings and walked over to the window. The frost fractured the reflected bright light from the snowy pavement like a kaleidoscope.

Lizzie was my best friend and flatmate, but I dreaded the party we’d planned. An attempt to liven up the dead space between Christmas and New Year, but I wasn’t in the mood.

‘Come on, Flick,’ she pleaded using my childhood nickname compounding my misery. She pulled me from the sofa, wrapped a scarf around my neck, plonked a beret on my head and handed me my snow boots. ‘Let’s waste those beauty vouchers your parents sent you.’

‘Noooo!’ I groaned. As if I needed reminding that my parents deemed me in need of beauty treatments every Christmas and Birthday. Once an ugly duckling, always an ugly duckling.

‘Please, Flick, I’ve invited loads of people we can’t cancel now!’

I tucked my long hair under my beret, cleaned my glasses on a tea towel, and allowed Lizzie to drag me outside.

*

Five hours later and guests were arriving as if cast off an assembly line.

I popped into the bathroom for the umpteenth time, reeling from the shock of my new look. The short bob softened my face and the rich chestnut colour that replaced my dirty natural blonde gave my skin a bronzed sheen. My eyes stared back behind a pair of blue tinted contact lenses. Dressed in Lizzie’s purple hot pants and gold lame scoop top, a pair of stiletto boots gave me the height I dreamed of. I looked good.

I stepped out into the gloomy, smoke-filled corridor, the sounds of old Christmas songs blaring away in the lounge. We’d saved the marmite jars all year, which she scrubbed and placed a tea light in the bottom. The effect was murky if you ignored the faint yeasty aroma.

A powerful arm snaked around my waist, pulling me into a passionate embrace. I resisted—for a second—before returning the gesture. The kiss lingered. A soft stubble brushed my upper lip.

‘Can’t wait until later,’ a deep voice whispered as the same kissy lips nibbled at my ear. It tickled.

‘Later?’ I stammered, reeling from the sensation in my stomach. Like a field of fluttering butterflies. I focused through the dim light and blinked. These contact lenses were good. Those full lips I’d just enjoyed stretched into a wide drunken grin. His eyes shut tight, savouring the moment past.

‘You haven’t forgotten, have you?’ He pinched my bottom, and I suppressed a squeal. ‘We have a date later over at mine. One hundred and twelve Castle St.’

‘We do?’

The corridor filled with light. I flinched as a bejewelled hand flew past my face and struck the chiselled cheek of my suitor.

‘What the…!’ A red weal formed across his cheek, and he looked at his assailant and back at me.

‘But, Marina, honey. I could have sworn…’

Marina stood akimbo, dressed in knee-length boots and a black leather dress. Her piercing stare drilled into him and she flicked the fringe of her bob.

‘Save it, Lance, why don’t you. You really think I look like that?’ She stormed out.

Lance glanced at me, and then at the space Marina occupied.

‘I’m sorry.’ He rubbed his cheek with the heel of his hand.

‘Oh, don’t be.’ I ran a finger around the caress that lingered on my lips.

He grinned, stepped forward and kissed me again before flying off through the door.

Lizzie marched from the kitchen and flicked a switch, draping the corridor once more into shadow.

‘Did I hear Marina?’ Lizzie peered through into the lounge seething with entwined bodies gyrating to sweet tones of George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’.

‘Marina?’

‘Yeah, the soap star from Seven Oaks? She used to live in the flat above, before she was famous. She rang me last week, at a loose end.’ Lizzie handed me a glass of white wine.

I shook my head.

‘Gosh, Flick. You really need to get with the action.’ She smiled. ‘Lance, a guy from work has been desperate for a date and I’ve played Cupid. Mind you, I think he could do better. She’s a bit shallow.’ Lizzie squinted at me. ‘Hey, your lipstick is all smudged. Who have you been kissing?’

I rubbed at my lips. ‘Err, nobody.’ I pretended to examine my fingernails. ‘Is Castle Street far from here?’

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