It’s back, baby!
The plan is to have some small, free, purpose-written short stories for you on Fridays. If you have any ideas, then let me know. But Flash Fiction Friday is also about whetting your appetite for upcoming publications, and that’s what today’s is.
On March 5, The Making of Henri Higgins is released and every Friday until then, I will be sharing with you little bits of the novel, and here’s the first one.
Today, we meet the titular hero, Henri Higgins. For those going “Hang on, I know that name…” Yes – The Making of Henri Higgin’s is a re-write of George Bernard Shaw’s classic play Pygmalion, which was itself adapted into the brilliant musical My Fair Lady. But seriously, if you’re looking for something great to watch, check out the 1938 film of Pygmalion, which Shaw actually wrote the screenplay for.
Anyway, let’s meet Henri – millionaire playboy and publisher.
Henri almost didn’t see Annie Gunn until he bumped into her.
This party just got worse and worse.
“Henri. I’m so glad you’re here. I want to introduce you to my two latest delights.”
Oh, yay. Models.
Annie owned Canberra’s largest modelling agency and when Henri had first started his magazines, he’d used her quite a bit. She was the easiest to book with since she was in town, and the models being local meant they were cheaper to use. But once he became successful enough, he’d started looking elsewhere for his models. Annie had a type: all her models were between 5’10” and 6’ tall, they all weighed roughly the same and their measurements were within a few centimetres of each other. To Ree’s way of thinking, apart from making the photographs boring when they all looked so similar, it also placed Annie’s girls towards the skinnier end of the spectrum. Ree preferred using more voluptuous models.
These two girls matched the type. Sure, one was a brunette with startling green eyes and the other was a blonde with blue eyes, but they were both the same height, had roughly the same proportions, although the blonde’s arms and shoulders clearly showed she desperately needed to put on some weight.
“Ladies, meet Henri Higgins. Impress him – getting booked by him will be a big boost to your career.”
With that reminder that these women had a lot on the line, Ree decided to give them a few minutes.
“What got you into modelling?” he asked. A simple question, but the answer was always fascinating.
“Fashion,” the brunette said. “I love fashion, but I always felt that I was finding out what was happening after it had actually happened. But if I model, particularly if I become a favourite of a designer, I’ll be there when it is all going on. I’ll see what’s growing, what’s changing, what is hip and what isn’t. I want to be there, where it’s all happening.”
Not a bad answer. He turned to the blonde. “And you?”
“I’ve worked hard to become as beautiful as I am now, and I want the whole world to see it.” As she spoke, she cocked her hip and the bone was clear through the thin wool of her dress.
Alarm bells rang in Ree’s mind. One of the reasons he went for more voluptuous models, apart from the fact he personally found them more attractive, was that he wanted to encourage all women to not try to be so skinny. Eating disorders disturbed him, and it sounded a little like this girl might have succumbed to the pressure of thinking she needed to look a certain way to be beautiful.
“What is your favourite type of modelling?”
“Haute couture,” the brunette said. “Cutting edge, and maybe even a bit off putting for people, but something that makes them think about what beauty and fashion are.”
“Lingerie,” said the blonde. “I want everyone to see me.”
That girl was in trouble.
Ree smiled, nodded at them both, then pulled Annie aside. “Send me the card for the brunette. I might have some work for her. The blonde, no way. She’s sick. Get her some help. Get her some bloody food.”
Annie frowned. “She looks fine to me.”
“Then get your eyes checked.” He and Annie had worked together so long he could pull a bit of Henri Higgins Millionaire with her. “If she’s not already bulimic or anorexic, she soon will be. I will not hire someone that skinny for lingerie. She would look terrible. Get it fixed.”
Finally, in front of him was the door to the patio. There wasn’t anyone out there – everybody was too busy socialising to risk not being seen. Ree slipped out and took in a deep breath of fresh air and quiet. The question was, how long could he hide out here for?
Jimmy, Ling and Mac found him less than a minute later.
“A party with models,” Jimmy announced. “Remind me to get a picture with them later. Annabelle will want to know everything.”
“They’re just Canberra models,” Mac said. He sipped his scotch on the rocks and let out a sigh. “Damn, that’s good.”
“Hey, Canberra girls can be just as good looking as girls from anywhere else,” Ling said.
Mac knew how to smooth things over. “True. You two married the two best looking.”
“That’s better.” Ling clinked the glass of his margarita against Mac’s scotch. No matter the weather, no matter the occasion, Ling’s first drink was always a margarita. ‘Start a party right’ was his motto.
“I don’t care if they’re not straight from the Paris catwalks,” Jimmy said. “I’m at a party with beautiful, impossibly thin women. For a while, I can pretend I’m…” Jimmy blinked, then tilted his gin and tonic towards Ree. “Well, I can pretend I’m Ree.”
Ree’s immediate thought was ‘you wouldn’t want to be me’. It was a strange thought that came out of nowhere. He hadn’t known he was dissatisfied with how things were going, but maybe tonight’s crotchetiness was more than just not wanting to be at this party.
“Parties. Beautiful women. International travel.” Jimmy sighed. It wasn’t like he didn’t get to travel internationally – Jimmy was an engineer at Australian National University, currently part of the team working on the fusion reactor being built in France. But hanging with scientists would be a little different to hanging with fashionistas. Probably better. More interesting conversation, at least.
“Working stupid hours, agonising over every detail, the stress of a deadline. You know the old man has earned his models and parties,” Ling said.
Ree snorted. He was the oldest of the group by two weeks and Ling – next eldest – would never let him forget it.
“Well of course I don’t want his workload,” said Jimmy, who’d been known to work even longer hours when science called. “I just want the glamour from time to time. So here I am. Glamming it up and loving it.”
The thing was, even the glamour was work. Ree should be out there now, schmoozing people, ensuring he kept up with all those he had advertising contracts with so they’d keep advertising with him. And there was the danger of women like Heather, trying to catch him into something he would never, ever do.
In fact, there wasn’t an aspect of his life that was relaxing, or chilled. It was all work.
No wonder he was feeling out of sorts. He felt in his pocket for his phone and pulled it out, pretending to look at a message.
“Damn. Have to go back to the office.”
Jimmy and Ling, who both tended to believe in the best before the worst in people, both frowned with disappointment. Mac gave Ree a look that had liar written all over it.
“Have fun. We’ll catch up properly on the weekend.”
Thankfully there was a door from the patio straight into the garden, so Ree could forgo running the gauntlet of the room. He considered going in to get his coat but decided he couldn’t risk it. He’d send one of his staff to fetch it tomorrow. He hurried around to his BMW, locked himself inside and with a sigh of relief, drove away.
He thought it was all a game…until he grew accustomed to her face.
Henri Higgins is bored by everything – his life, his work, even the models he regularly sees socially (and privately). So when a close friend suggests a high-stakes, friendly competition, a ‘fame’ game, Ree leaps at the opportunity for a little shake-up in his daily routine. The rules are simple: the competitors are to take the first person that they meet at a certain time and make them as famous as possible within two weeks.
But Ree doesn’t expect Elizabeta.
Elizabeta Flores del Fuego has a plan. An office manager by day, she moonlights at a number of creative Canberra businesses by night to learn all she can about the fashion industry and put her in the best place possible to help launch her beloved daughter, Angelina’s design career. Cleaning the office of Higgins Publishing is just one of those jobs, but when Henri Higgins offers her a week’s worth of work and a paycheque large enough to get Angelina Designs on its feet, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.
But Elizabeta doesn’t expect Ree, and neither expect the lessons in love they’re both about to learn.