The thirteenth entry of our Top 20 Undiscovered Shortlist is Lookeylikey by Emma Seaman.
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Over to Emma Seaman…
Ever wished you could be the main attraction?Abandoned at birth and raised in care, Erin has always watched life from the sidelines, never feeling she’s the star, even of her own story. So when a colleague at her dreary call-centre job points out Erin’s uncanny resemblance to upcoming film actress Cara Fitzroy, she embarks on a double life as a lookalike… and soon discovers that her flair for being Cara at London parties and photo-shoots is one thing, but dealing with the men in Cara’s life is quite another.Cara’s manipulative, attractive manager, silver fox Simon, embroils Erin in his ambitious plans for Cara’s career, employing her to impersonate Cara while the actress recovers from a potentially career-wrecking car crash. When the cameras start to roll on Cara’s latest film, Erin finds herself hotly pursued by her co-stars; devastating but devious Alex Rayne and sexy, sunny-tempered Jim Gray. But when a man emerges from the shadows claiming to be Cara’s secret husband, and then Cara’s bad-penny father arrives on the scene, Erin realises there’s much more to her role as Cara’s double than meets the eye.Hiding away at an isolated beach house, Erin is haunted by dreams of a vengeful Cara… then as the deception deepens, people close to Cara start to die. Now desperate to escape the limelight, Erin must swiftly untangle the secrets and heartbreak in her past and Cara’s, breaking her family’s tragic mould to offer her own unborn child a real chance of happiness.
Lookeylikey by Emma Seaman
I can still remember the first time I saw Cara Fitzroy in the flesh, just as if it was yesterday. She was due to appear at an awards ceremony in London, and I felt an overwhelming urge, a desire that I couldn’t resist; to steal a moment of her time and see for myself the face I’d studied so often in magazines and papers. I hid myself behind dark glasses, not wanting my appearance to draw any attention, to create confusion. I waited in that laughing, jostling crowd in Covent Garden, watching the limousines arrive, admiring the beautiful women and powerful men who sashayed and sauntered up the wide swathe of cherry-red carpet, posing and preening for a battery of paparazzi.
Then suddenly she was there, standing alone in the popping, flashing, strobing lights from a thousand cameras. Her dress was a column of shimmering silver, slim and Hollywood-stylish, and she looked tiny, fragile; like the most perfect doll. Her face was pale as a porcelain mask, her hair piled up in glossy folds of jet and her eyes reflected back the camera flashes, gleaming like ice-blue stars. I noted the way she walked, seeming to effortlesslyglide in her skyscraper heels, her hips swaying gently, chin raised rather defiantly as the photographers cat-called her name. Huge rubies nestled round her throat like drops of satiny blood, but though her smile was sweetly serene, her hands were white-knuckle clenched on her tiny beaded handbag. When the photo-call was over, she strode swiftly into the theatre, vanishing from sight as abruptly as she had arrived, and I lingered on amidst the jostle of that bubbling, fizzing crowd, feeling strangely sick and hollow, as though a vital piece of me had been snatched away.
I dream about that night far too often for sanity. Sometimes it is me out there on the red carpet, being Cara; caressed by the limelight, feeling the applause wrap round me like a warm velvet cloak. But far too often, the dream sours, for I break all the rules and linger too long, catch Cara’s eye. She stops dead, stares at me, lifts a hand to her ashen cheek in surprise. Then her face twists, distorted and flushed with rage and she points one scarlet-tipped finger at me in accusation. The roar of the crowd breaks over my head like pounding waves and the maddened swarm turns on me, a thousand clutching hands reaching out to rip me to shreds. And then I wake up, quite alone, and aching with regret.
It was bigmouthed Ali Dennam, the office mean girl, who started it all.
‘Hey, Little Miss Ireland,’ she called over the flimsy grey plastic screen between our desks. ‘Take off your specs for a minute; I wanna proper look at you.’
I pushed my glasses more firmly onto my nose as she swivelled round on her chair, mayonnaise dripping from her prawn sandwich onto the magazine spread open on her lap. She pointed to the glossy photo spread.
‘Look here,’ she said, wiping away a spreading blob of mayo that was threatening to engulf the actress’s face, ‘With a decent makeover you could be a dead-ringer for this Cara Fitzroy.’
I glanced at the picture, aware that the phone lights were flashing up my next call. The actress in Ali’s picture looked slender and elegant in a bustled and tightly corseted black dress, her high-cheekboned face tilted towards the camera, her lavishly lipglossed mouth curled in an enigmatic half-smile.
‘You’d have to get a proper haircut, of course,’ Ali mused, biro-doodling a pair of thick-framed spectacles onto Cara Fitzroy’s face.
‘There’s nothing wrong with my hair,’ I said crossly. Since I’d left St Dymphna’s, I’d done no more than trim my fringe with nail-scissors, and now my dark hair flowed down beyond my shoulders, the longest it had ever been. Ali stroked her streaky blonde curls with a satisfied little smirk; she delighted in discovering sore spots and then prodding them hard.
‘Your hair looks like it’s been cut with a knife and fork,’ she said, flicking her straw-bright locks, so crisply styled I always expected them to rattle when she moved. I pushed my fringe away from my face and retreated into my poky cubicle, pressing buttons to answer a call, blocking out Ali’s mocking voice as she leaned over the top of the partition and waved Cara’s defaced photo at me.
When I finally finished my shift and trudged off to retrieve my bag from the staff locker-room, I caught sight of myself in the full-length mirror and shied away from the ghostly image I saw there. The fluorescent lights drained my natural colour, so even my lips seemed grey and bloodless, and when I took off my black-framed specs to peer closer my eyes looked naked and oddly defenceless. Back at St Dymphna’s my hair had been cropped boy-short for ease and hygiene, and because Sister Annunciata thought long hair was a temptation to vanity and self-regard. The heavy, lifeless curtains framing my pale face in the staffroom mirror would tempt no-one, my faded black jeans and t-shirt couldn’t compare with the flowing satiny billows of Cara Fitzroy’s starlet-sexy gown, and my tiny silver crucifix seemed a poor substitute for her glittering Tiffany jewels. I frowned and turned away from my reflection. I’d thought I looked okay, in my downbeat kind of way, but suddenly felt unbearably shabby and dull.
I pulled on my coat and rummaged in my pockets for some bus fare, envisaging Cara Fitzroy slinking elegantly into a premiere the muscular arm of her latest co-star. I had to scurry back through the suburbs to my tiny bedsit in a crumbling Victorian terrace, where the communal corridors smelled of a thousand microwaved meals, and where I was never quite sure who might be creeping up the stairs after me. The cost of Cara’s dress alone would pay six months of my rent, I thought, belting my coat savagely tight and heading out into the raw October evening.
Once Ali Dennam got a new idea into her over-highlighted head, it was impossible to dislodge. She regularly trawled the West End bars with her posse, hoping to spot an unwary footballer, soap actor or reality star to add to her album of Facebook friends. That Friday, having failed to think up an adequate excuse for staying in, as I usually did, I went along too. As the evening wore on, she produced her phone for the obligatory pictures, and locked her arm tight around my shoulders, pulling me close to her, whipping my specs off with her other hand.
‘Strike a pose,’ she hissed, her face so close to mine that I could see the sweat beading her upper lip. I edged away, disturbed by her sudden, unaccustomed friendliness, disliking the feel of her hot damp skin against mine, and winced as her camera flash dazzled my eyes.
A few weeks later, she strutted into the office with a more than usually aggravating smirk and waved a copy of her favourite gossip magazine under my nose.
‘Look at that,’ she said, ‘What a laugh! I got us into Celebrity Squeezes.’
Splashed across the flimsy magazine page was a picture of the two of us; Ali shiny-faced and grinning like a cat that’s caught the clotted-cream canary while I stared blankly at the camera, looking aloof and icy pale. ‘Lucky London lass Ali Dennam bumped into a dressed-down Cara Fitzroy while out on the town,’ boasted the caption on the photo.
‘But that’s me!’ I protested.
‘They don’t know that, do they? I fooled them good and proper. Besides, that photo won me fifty quid.’ She folded her arms across her chest, squeezing her massive cleavage almost up to her chin, and glared at me.
‘Maybe you should share that money with me then,’ I said.
‘If you haven’t got the sense to cash-in on your looks, that’s your problem,’ Ali said, ‘I was the one who sent the picture off, it was my idea.’
I noticed our Supervisor stalking across the office, attracted by the gravitational pull of Ali’s bosom.
‘Your phone’s ringing,’ I told Ali, and she clamped her headset on before the supervisor could find an excuse to take her into his office.
The following morning Ali placed a copy of the magazine and a very small box of chocolates left on my desk.
‘I knew you’d want to keep the picture,’ she said, ‘To remember your little moment of glory.’
‘How very thoughtful,’ I replied.
‘Not going to offer me a choccie then?’ She rootled around noisily in the weensy little carton, searching for an orange crème and I had to fight the urge to staple her thieving hand to my desk. But even so, I slipped the magazine into my bag, and when I got home I cut out that disturbing little picture and stuck it to my fridge door, where I could see it every day.
Cara Fitzroy seemed to be everywhere that Winter, her perfect pale face gazing down from bus-shelters and hoardings, looking out from every magazine cover; her cool gaze taunting me. On a whim, I took her picture along to a salon and had my hair cut exactly like hers. It felt fabulous, swishing and swinging silkily around my shoulders; a proper style at last. I knew it looked good; even the Supervisor at the Call Centre deigned to notice me.
‘I’m not a big fan of Cara,’ he said, wrinkling his nose, ‘She’s too skinny and snooty, thinks she’s Lady Muck. But you do look like her,’ he added, unaware of any insult. ‘You should send a photo to one of those lookalike places, you know what they say; your face is your fortune.’ He scrubbed at his own cheek, potholed and flushed by acne.
What do you think, Ali?’ He called out.
Ali glared at him over the top of her partition, then looked me up and down. Her eyes narrowed between their spiked rails of bright blue mascara.
‘She wouldn’t dare, she’s such a wimp. Maybe she could walk the walk, but she can’t ever talk the talk. She couldn’t fool anyone for more than a minute, not in the flesh.’
She thumped back down into her chair, shaking the partition between us, and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the afternoon, her disapproval blasting even icier than the call-centre’s air-conditioning. When one of the girls asked me if I was coming with them after work, and I said no, I heard Ali bang her fake Chanel handbag down on her desk with a rattle of chains.
‘Somebody suddenly thinks she’s too grand for the likes of us,’ she said, raising her voice to make sure I heard.
So instead of drinking cocktails with the girls that evening, I flicked through the TV channels in search of a good film and ate great spoonfuls of Nutella straight out of the jar. When I went to the fridge to get a drink, Ali’s face, round and shiny and red as Edam, smirked down at me from the magazine-clipping. I poured a huge glass of white wine, wincing at the acid-drop bite after all that chocolate spread.
I reached for my laptop, Googling for celebrity copycats. There were thousands, but generally I had to read the photo-captions to see who they were supposed to be. I studied the pictures, mentally rating them; this one had Tom Cruise’s smile, another his eyes; a third could have passed for the star only in the dimmest of dimly-lit rooms. It was rare to find a double who matched the original in every respect.
One website actually advertised a Cara Fitzroy among all the Madonnas, Monroes and flocks of Captain Jack Sparrows. I clicked eagerly on her link, but as I scanned the picture I felt my hackles rise. The girl had Cara’s black-and-blue Celtic colouring but was heavyset, with a pronounced jawline that took away all but the most superficial resemblance to the willowy film star.
‘People always tell me how much I look like Cara,’ the girl’s profile gushed. In your dreams, I thought indignantly, and stared up at the picture of me with Ali Dennam, grinning cheesily from my fridge door. I took the photo down and studied my image, that pale little stranger. I glared at the plumply smiling girl on my computer screen and started to type an email to the lookalike agency. My fingers faltered for a moment over the ‘send’ command, but rendered reckless from chocolate and alcohol, and still stinging from Ali’s sneer when she’d called me a wimp, I fired off the message before I could lose my nerve.
When a reply pinged into my Inbox the following day, I had to steel myself to open it, but rather than the flat rejection I’d expected, it was a request for an interview and a snaky little curl of excitement moved through my belly. That night I spent hours staring at my face, studying every feature. I unhooked the mirror and propped it against the wall so that I could practise a gliding model-girl walk, tried to copy that haughty smile Cara did so naturally, her thick lashes half-veiling her startlingly blue eyes, her full mouth curled in an enigmatic curve.
‘Your eyes were put in with a smutty finger,’ Sister Annunciata used to tell me, with a dismissive sniff that gave smutty its sexual connotation. It’s true enough, for although I have blue eyes, my lashes and brows are sooty black. It’s such a very Irish look, so dark and gypsyish, nothing like the corn-fed blonde ripeness of the girls I envied on posters and magazine covers. I was waiflike; translucently pale, with freckles along my nose and jetty hair as straight as a yard of pump water. Cara made these things look beautiful, desirable. I wasn’t so sure about me.
Two days later, my face taut under a mask of make-up and the black patent heels I’d impulse-bought already numbing the balls of my feet, I headed off for my meeting with the agency. On the Tube, I realised the man opposite was staring, his eyes following my every movement from behind his Financial Times. I shifted in my seat, surreptitiously checking my elongated reflection in the curved train window. I’d nervously chewed off all my lipstick, but even so, I could see Cara’s pale face hovering in the glass before me.
The agency I’d emailed was called Voss’s Versions, and it was located on a lively little sidestreet off the Tottenham Court Road. The agency shared a narrow stairwell with a foreign language school and a drycleaners, which didn’t seem terribly glamorous, but they offered the best look-alikes; people who actually resembled the stars they impersonated. The Versions sign directed me to a cramped reception area on the first floor with a low table piled with old Spotlight directories and dog-eared copies of Stage magazine. I carefully stashed my spectacles in my shoulder bag and knocked at the interior door.
‘Come on through,’ called a hoarse voice, and I stepped inside, holding my bag tight across my chest. It was hard to judge the age of the man sprawled in an armchair with his blue-suede booted feet propped on the desk. His face was sun-baked and wrinkled, but he cut a stylishly retro figure in his black leather jacket and indigo jeans, a black and white striped t-shirt hanging loosely over his narrow chest.
‘I’m Larry Voss,’ he said, ‘and you must be Cara Fitzroy.’ He laughed at his own joke and sat up straight, his smile widening every moment. ‘It’s alright babe, I know all about the lookalike game. I used to be an Elvis impersonator in my pomp, and a bloody good one too.’
That explained his Fifties clothes and his carefully pomaded quiff, but he looked far too lean and leathery to play the King. I must have looked dubious, for he grinned at me, and added,
‘I know Babe, that’s why I went into management. It was just my luck to look like the one star you need to be porky to play right; there’s no room in this world for a scrawny old Elvis.’
He sighed gustily and launched into a few croaky, doleful bars of Hound Dog, but even I could tell that he was trying to hide his excitement. His eyes gleamed as he looked me up and down, and got up from behind his desk to get a better view.