Sometimes I Lie Page 2

It’s early, but I’m already late. Madeline will be in the office by now, the newspapers will have been read, raped of any good stories. The producers will have picked through the paper carcasses, before being barked at and bullied into getting her the best interviews for this morning’s show. Taxis will be on their way to pick up and spit out overly excited and under-prepared guests. Every morning is different and yet has become completely routine. It’s been six months since I joined the Coffee Morning team and things are not going according to plan. A lot of people would think I have a dream job, but nightmares are dreams too.

I briefly stop to buy coffee for myself and a colleague in the foyer, then climb the stone steps to the fifth floor. I don’t like lifts. I fix a smile on my face, before stepping into the office, and remind myself that this is what I do best; changing to suit the people around me. I can do ‘Amber the friend’ or ‘Amber the wife’, but right now it’s time for ‘Amber from Coffee Morning’. I can play all the parts life has cast me in, I know all my lines; I’ve been rehearsing for a very long time.

The sun has barely risen but, as predicted, the small, predominately female team has already assembled. Three fresh-faced producers, powered by caffeine and ambition, sit hunched over their desks. Surrounded by piles of books, old scripts and empty mugs, they tap away on their keyboards as though their cats’ lives depend on it. In the far corner, I can see the glow of Madeline’s lamp in her own private office. I sit down at my desk and switch on the computer, returning the warm smiles and greetings from the others. People are not mirrors, they don’t see you how you see yourself.

Madeline has got through three personal assistants this year. Nobody lasts very long before she discards them. I don’t want my own office and I don’t need a PA, I like sitting out here with everyone else. The seat next to mine is empty. It’s unusual for Jo not to be here by now and I worry that something might be wrong. I look down at the spare coffee getting cold, then talk myself into taking it to Madeline’s office. Call it a peace offering.

I stop in the open doorway like a vampire waiting to be invited in. Her office is laughably small, literally a converted store cupboard because she refuses to sit with the rest of the team. There are framed photos of Madeline with celebrities squeezed onto every inch of the fake walls and a small shelf of awards behind her desk. She doesn’t look up. I observe the ugly short hair, grey roots making themselves known beneath the black spikes. Her chins rest on top of each other, while the rest of her rolled flesh is thankfully hidden beneath the baggy, black clothes. The desk lamp shines on the keyboard, over which Madeline’s ring adorned fingers hover. I know she can see me.

‘I thought you might need this,’ I say, disappointed with the simplicity of the words given how long it took me to find them.

‘Put it on the desk,’ she replies, her eyes not leaving the screen.

You’re welcome.

A small fan heater splutters away in the corner and the burnt-scented warmth snakes up around my legs, holding me in place. I find myself staring at the mole on her cheek. My eyes do that sometimes: focus on a person’s imperfections, momentarily forgetting that they can see me seeing the things they’d rather I didn’t.

‘Did you have a nice weekend?’ I venture.

‘I’m not ready to talk to people yet,’ she says. I leave her to it.

Back at my desk, I scan through the pile of post that has gathered since Friday: a couple of ghastly looking novels that I will never read, some fan mail and an invite to a charity gala, which catches my eye. I sip my coffee and daydream about what I might wear and whom I would take along if I went. I should do more charity work really, I just never seem to have the time. Madeline is the face of Crisis Child as well as the voice of Coffee Morning. I’ve always found her close relationship with the country’s biggest children’s charity slightly strange, given that she hates them and never had any of her own. She never even married. She’s completely alone in life but never lonely.

Once I’ve sorted the post, I read through the briefing notes for this morning’s programme, it’s always useful to have a bit of background knowledge before the show. I can’t find my red pen, so I head for the stationery cupboard.

It’s been restocked.

I glance over my shoulder and then back at the neatly piled shelves of supplies. I grab a handful of Post-it notes, then I take a few red pens, pushing them into my pockets. I keep taking them until they are all gone and the box is empty. I leave the other colours behind. Nobody looks up as I walk back to my desk, they don’t see me empty everything into my drawer and lock it.

Just as I’m starting to worry that my only friend here isn’t making an appearance today, Jo walks in and smiles at me. She’s dressed the same as always, in blue-denim jeans and a white top, like she can’t move on from the 90s. The boots she says she hates are worn down at the heel and her blonde hair is damp from the rain. She sits at the desk next to mine, opposite the rest of the producers.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ she whispers. Nobody apart from me notices.

The last to arrive is Matthew, the editor of the programme. This is not unusual. His skinny chinos are straining at the seams, worn low to accommodate the bulge around his middle. They’re slightly too short for his long legs, revealing colourful socks above his brown, shiny shoes. He heads straight to his tidy desk by the window without saying hello. Why a team of women who produce a show for women is managed by a man is beyond my comprehension. But then Matthew took a chance and gave me this job when my predecessor abruptly left, so I suppose I should be grateful.

‘Matthew, can you step into my office now you’re here?’ says Madeline from across the room.

‘And he thought his morning couldn’t get any worse,’ Jo whispers. ‘Are we still on for drinks after work?’

I nod, relieved that she isn’t going to disappear straight after the show again.

We watch Matthew grab his briefing notes and hurry into Madeline’s office, his flamboyant coat still flapping at his sides as though it wishes it could fly. Moments later, he storms back out, looking red-faced and flustered.

‘We better go through to the studio,’ says Jo, interrupting my thoughts. It seems like a good plan, given we’re on in ten minutes.

‘I’ll see if Her Majesty is ready,’ I reply, pleased to see that I’ve made Jo smile. I catch Matthew’s eye as he raises a neatly arched eyebrow in my direction. I should not have said that out loud.

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