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The Invitation: The perfect laugh-out-loud romantic comedy by Keris Stainton (1)

Chapter One

Piper held her phone at arms’ length and about a foot above her head to get the best angle and include as much of her outfit as possible. She was wearing a red and white striped long-sleeved T-shirt and black dungarees with gold glitter ankle boots and she was totally feeling herself. Apart from one thing.

Sweaty with nerves/excitement she typed. Catch me on Hey, UK! at 9.30 talking about body positivity

She posted the photo to her Instagram, waited a second for a couple of likes and then shut her phone down before shoving it in the internal pocket of her satchel. She glanced around the room. The TV chef who’d been on earlier demonstrating from his new book of pies ‘for real men’ was still sitting in the corner, talking quietly on his phone. Piper had wanted to try the bacon and black pudding pie he’d made, but a) she was too nervous to eat, and b) she wasn’t a real man.

She sipped at her water and glanced at the large flat-screen TV. 9.10. Only twenty minutes until she was going to be on national TV. She hoped her friends were watching. She knew her friends would be watching. And quite a lot of her IG followers – she’d been getting messages steadily since she’d first mentioned it a couple of days earlier. She doubted any family would be tuning in since a) her parents were dead, b) her aunt didn’t tend to get up before ten and c) her sister hadn’t seemed at all interested when she’d told her about it.

She took her phone out and switched it on again, chewing her mouth a little before remembering the bold lip the make-up artist had given her earlier. Once her phone had powered up, she checked her face in the front camera. All good. Well, she looked nervous – eyes wide and too bright – but her lippie looked great. She opened Twitter and typed On in fifteen. Want to do the Power Pose, but I think it would freak out Pie Guy.

Pie Guy glanced up briefly – his bright blue eyes meeting Piper’s. He was quite hot, she thought. She’d noticed he had really nice hands when she’d watched him baking on the big screen. But she couldn’t go out with anyone who thought pies were just for men. And she’d seen his girlfriend on the sidebar of shame and she was about the size of one of Piper’s thighs. She shut her phone down again – she was absolutely going to leave it this time – and anxiously wiped her sweaty hands on her dungarees.

‘Don’t be nervous,’ the man said.

Piper laughed. ‘Easy for you to say. This is my first time.’

He looked up then, one eyebrow curving. ‘Virgin, eh?’

‘Ugh,’ Piper said, before she could stop herself.

He laughed. ‘Sorry. But seriously. You’ll be fine. Susannah’s lovely. I’ve done this show loads.’

Piper nodded. She’d been briefly introduced to Susannah when she’d arrived and she was definitely lovely. Warm, friendly, with glossy chocolate brown hair flowing over her narrow shoulders and a pair of black-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her nose. It wasn’t Susannah Piper was worried about: it was the woman she’d been invited on to debate with. Naomi Jones. Piper had seen her byline photo – a short blonde bob, bright pink lipstick, over-plucked eyebrows. She looked friendly with a hint of intimidating, like a primary school head teacher. The researcher Piper had spoken to on the phone had insisted Naomi was lovely and not interested in an argument, but Piper wasn’t sure, mostly because a) Naomi hadn’t sounded at all lovely in the article she’d written, and b) Piper had watched this show before and they always seemed to be interested in an argument.

She shuffled forward on the squashy sofa and poured herself another glass of water from the jug on the coffee table. Her mouth was so dry that when she’d tried to introduce herself to the researcher, she’d actually blown a spit bubble. So that had been an excellent start. The researcher had either not noticed or pretended not to notice to be kind. Piper gulped the water down and then took a few what she hoped were relaxing breaths. In, two, three. Out, two, three. She couldn’t believe she’d actually agreed to do this.

‘All okay in here?’ the researcher – Piper thought her name was Julia? Or Julianne? –said, popping her head round the door. ‘Need anything?’

‘Thanks,’ Piper said. ‘I’m good.’ She needed the loo, but she knew she probably didn’t really. It was just nervous wee. And she was wearing dungarees so she wasn’t going to chance it anyway.

The door closed and opened again and Naomi Jones walked in. She was dressed a lot more smartly than Piper in a navy blue shirt dress with a string of red beads around her neck and bright red ballerina flats. She looked a bit like a Tory wife. Or the presenter of a homes show on Channel 5.

‘Hello!’ she said, crossing the room directly towards Piper, her hand already outstretched. ‘I’m Naomi.’

Piper stood up and clasped Naomi’s hand, making sure to make eye contact and keep smiling. ‘I’m Piper,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you.’

‘You too!’ Naomi said, sitting on the edge of the other sofa. ‘Thanks so much for doing this.’

‘No problem,’ Piper said, as if Naomi had arranged the whole thing and Piper was her reluctant guest. ‘I’m looking forward to it.’

‘Me too,’ Naomi replied. She poured herself a glass of water, but then held the glass on her knee without drinking any. ‘Have you been on before?’

Piper shook her head. ‘I haven’t done any TV before.’

Naomi’s eyes widened. ‘Wow. In at the deep end then!’

Piper nodded. ‘Feels that way, yeah.’

‘I think this is my…’ Naomi scrunched up her nose in thought. ‘Fifth time? Maybe? I sometimes get it confused with This Morning.’

Piper smiled. She refused to be intimidated. This Morning. Big whoop. She sipped more water and looked over Naomi’s head at the TV screen. They were due on in fifteen minutes. Her stomach swooped with nerves.

‘I’m just going to pop to the loo.’

She peed, even though she didn’t need to pee, and washed her hands while staring at herself in the mirror. She looked good. Her hair was behaving today – her fringe not doing that flicky-up thing that drove her mad. Her lipstick was really working for her. She grinned at herself, checking her teeth. And then she put her hands on her hips, pushed her chest out, and did the Power Pose she’d seen online. She looked good. She felt good. She was going to rock the shit out of this debate.

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