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Copyright Š Jendella 2014 The right of Jendella Benson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 First published in Great Britain in 2011 All rights reserved. This e-book is available freely for digital distribution as a whole entity, unedited and unaltered from its original state. Individual extracts of text or images are not permitted to be reproduced or published in any form, digital or otherwise, without the express written consent of the author. All song titles mentioned remain the property of the artists (look them up – good music!) Design by Jendella.


white label love story


November 2003

Dizzee Rascal - ‘I Luv U’ They were clustered in the yellow pool emanating from the street light, nodding their heads to the tinny instrumental straining from Kieran’s phone. Francesca’s own phone was vibrating for the fourth time deep inside the pocket of her puffy winter jacket and she discreetly slipped a hand into its depths and rejected the call. “Kieran, I think I should go home now,” she turned to whisper into her boyfriend’s ear. “OK babe, let me just spit one more sixteen and we’ll dip!” “Erm, I think I should go now, my dad’s called four times already!” she replied with quiet urgency. “Cool.” He turned to the others who were still vibrating to the skippy beat, “I’ll be back in a bit.” Jumping off his perch on the wall, he placed his arm nonchalantly around Francesca’s shoulders and directed her homebound. As they emerged from the final alleyway before her house, Kieran pulled her back sharply and pressed her into the brick wall. “A quickie before you go?” His sharp features were caught in shadow but Francesca could still make out his smirk and a mischievous glint in his grey eyes. He leant forward and kissed her while wrapping his hands around her waist. Francesca momentarily forgot about the four missed calls, her father’s imminent inquisition, her own sketchy responses, and melted into the damp wall under his lips. The movements of his hands under the elasticated hem of her jacket and their confident progression across her stomach brought her back to reality, and she broke away from the kiss.


“I don’t really...I mean, I’m not comfortable...” she trailed off in a mumble. “But babe, you’re just ‘round the corner from your house, and we won’t even be that long!” The mischief in his face was replaced with earnest adolescent pleading that betrayed his teenage years. Francesca wordlessly smoothed out her jacket and began to walk towards her house, but Kieran pulled her back towards the wall. “We’ve been going out now for how long and we haven’t even done anything yet!” The frustrated tone in his voice made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and as he leant back in to continue, she pushed him away and strode off towards her house, counting six strides before turning around ready to apologise. But the entrance to the alleyway was empty.


July 2006

Roll Deep - ‘When I’m ‘Ere’ As she approached the barbershop, the group of guys leaning against the phone box made Francesca instinctively tense up. With her head down and her steps brisk, she called behind for her younger brothers to hurry up as she purposefully approached the barbershop doorway. An anonymous hood moved into her path with a gruff, “what’s happening, sexy?” and his cohorts sniggered in chorus. “Nah, G! You can’t move to this one, she’s different!” Francesca’s ears pricked up at the familiar voice and Kieran emerged from the throng, a glint in his eyes and a deliberate bounce in his step. “Hey stranger!” He playfully brushed forward his blond hair, freshly cut into a nondescript short back and sides. The sun had brought out a sprinkling of freckles across his nose and Francesca’s mind went blank for a second, taken over by how attractive she still found him. “Wait! Man can’t draw her but you can, rudeboy?!” The anonymous hood asked indignantly. “Nah, nah, it’s not even like that, y’know!” Kieran held up his hands in mock surrender. “This one’s my wifey innit, for when I’m done playing around with these grim chicks!” His confident pronouncements made the blood rush to her head and she allowed him to direct her into the barbershop with his hand at the small of her back, while he bumped fists with her younger brothers. “It’s been a long time, Chez,” his nickname for her slid off his tongue with an ease that disorientated her and she felt transported back to her fifteen-year-old


infatuation. They were sitting so close she was sure he could feel the heat rising from her body. She had not even managed to say a word yet. “So, what’s good with you these days?” He leant forward onto his knees, attentive. ”Well, erm, I, er, just finished college, and I’m, erm, going uni in September, innit.” She stammered, embarrassed because even three years after their immature relationship had fizzled out, she could still guess his response. “U-ni, yeah?!” He stressed the first syllable. “So you’re still into them books!” He lightly punched her shoulder and she recoiled. Sensing her embarrassment he quickly backtracked. “Nah, nah, that’s good, man! That’s good! Me?...I couldn’t even hack a year in college, y’know, yeah, I dropped out and I’m just focussed on my music and that, innit.” “You’re still MCing?” she asked, hoping her response did not betray her scepticism. “Yeah, yeah, it’s going good, man, it’s going real good!” He rubbed his hands together. “We’re on radio tonight actually, you should come down to our set at Blaze FM!” “I’m babysitting these two,” she jerked her head towards her brothers bickering over who would go first. “Ah, seen...” A second anonymous hood called him from outside, signalling for his presence. “Look, yeah, I’ve gotta bounce, but make sure you lock in tonight, 10.30 ‘til midnight, yeah?” She nodded as he bounded out of the shop, melted into the tracksuited assembly and moved off.


January 2009

Ghetto - ‘Sing For Me’ “This is a sweatbox, man!” Francesca surveyed the condensation on the walls with disdain and folded her arms across her chest. “If I had known it would be this rammed, I wouldn’t have come!” “Aw, come on! It’ll be like the good old days!” Her friend Bianca laughed and squeezed her shoulders. “Don’t it remind you of fresher’s week? Good times!” Bianca threw her arms in the air and laughed to herself. ”I’ve got deadlines, y’know! We’re not first years anymore–” but Bianca was already moving through the crowd, pulling Francesca with her deeper into the perspiring mass of bodies towards the stage where the PAs were starting. “Now who saw this guy tearing up the clubs in Napa last year?!” The host bellowed into the mic. “Who saw him absolutely smashing up the sets last year?!” The crowd screamed back frantically. “Ladies and gentleman, make some noise, for man like KAAYYY- SLAAAAYYY!” As the audience cheered and hollered, Francesca saw a familiar gait bound onto the small stage. Kieran swaggered about in a tight black t-shirt, showcasing sculpted shoulders, and tucked in at the front to reveal the interlocking Gs of his designer belt. “Oh my days, I grew up with him!” Francesca shouted excitedly into Bianca’s ear. “What?!” she shouted back, pressing a finger into her other ear. “I know him!” Francesca shouted back pointing at the stage. “For real?” Bianca replied, but then the bassline dropped and she was lost to a trance-like state of


gyration, her face creased in concentration, for the rest of the song. A jostling crowd of girls had already formed around Kieran and his entourage when Francesca and Bianca finally found him after his performance. They elbowed their way through, enduring hisses and vicious looks until they were standing next to him as he entertained an excited fan who twirled her hair coyly. “Hey stranger!” Francesca ventured ignoring the existing conversation. There was a second of dead air before recognition flashed onto Kieran’s face. “Yo! What’s good? What you doing here?” Although smiling, he showed none of the eagerness from their previous encounter years ago. “I go uni here, innit, where you staying?” Francesca replied brightly as he posed for a picture with another flirtatious young woman. “Did you see me perform?” he asked distractedly, his hand tightly gripped around the waist of the girl. ”Yeah, you were good, it’s good to see your music taking off - we should catch up while you’re here!” Francesca spoke hurriedly, hoping to hold his attention for a while longer before someone else pressed themselves onto him. “Why don’t you and your friend come back to our hotel tonight?” Kieran’s eyes flicked suggestively over Bianca before turning away to pose for another picture. “Can we come too?!” another girl squealed, her breasts ballooning out of her dress. “Of course darling, you can all come!” Kieran winked at her as he signed the CD in her hand. Perturbed by his arrogance, Francesca backed away. “Maybe some other time, good seeing you...” Bianca followed, cutting her eye at the swathes of enthusiastic women pressing to take their place.


“What a prick!” Francesca muttered under breath. “He musta got you confused with that loose bag of groupies!” Bianca spat out defensively. As they were about to re-enter the main arena, Francesca felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around hopefully to be greeted by a slightly breathless member of Kieran’s entourage. “K-Slay asked me to get your number for him.” His expression was deadpan, slightly unimpressed. “Oh...” Francesca dialled her number into the phone in his outstretched hand. “What’s your name?” “Francesca.” “Jessica?” “Fran-cesca.” “Cool.”


May 2012

Wiley - ‘Miss You’ “Fran, if you’re not busy, do you mind filling in for Dominique - we’re meeting with one of the breakthrough artists for the new campaign.” “Sure, Andrew, when is the meeting?” “It’s literally starting in 15 minutes, and I’m sending you the notes...now!” Francesca’s boss tapped his smartphone screen dramatically and sauntered off. No longer surprised by his scatterbrain antics, she took a sip of coffee as she double-clicked the email now in her inbox. As the attachment loaded on her screen, one name jumped out at her and the hot coffee caught in her throat causing her splutter. She cursed as she scrubbed at the brown stains left on her shirt by the splatter of coffee leaving her mouth, and looked around hoping no one had noticed her little display. Barely five minutes later, Andrew was sailing past her desk again, announcing that the meeting was about to start, so gathering her thoughts, she strode purposefully towards the conference room. Before she had even entered, they had locked eyes as he saw her approach through the glass doors and a familiar smirk began to trace his lips. She cursed her heart pounding emphatically in her chest and surprised by her own confidence, she took the seat directly opposite him and set her expression to what she hoped looked professional and unfazed. Andrew began by introducing Kieran and his management team to the marketing team assembled and as he got to Francesca, Kieran cut in. “We actually know each other already.”


“Oh really? How so?” Andrew asked breezily. “We used to, erm, well we grew up in the same area.” Kieran’s eyes locked once again with Francesca’s and she shifted in her seat with a sheepish smile. Throughout the meeting Francesca fought distraction. She was sure the magnetism between them was almost visible and as he talked and bantered with the team, his eyes kept resting on hers, glittering playfully. Or perhaps it was suggestively? Either way, she was sure she was blushing and as the meeting wrapped up and there were handshakes all around, she wondered if he squeezed everyone’s hands the way he had squeezed hers: lightly stroking the back of her hand briefly with his thumb. Or maybe she had imagined that? “Forgive me, but I’ve got a conference call pending, Fran do you mind walking our guests out?” Without waiting for a response, Andrew floated away and Francesca fell into step beside Kieran, feeling the atmosphere around her crackle with expectation. “So, stranger, fancy seeing you here...” Kieran began. “Yeah, we always seem to cross paths in the most random places,” Francesca replied shyly. “Yeah, we do. So tell me, what’s good? What’s new?” His tone was eager and friendly, the arrogance from the club those years ago absent. “Well, a lot more than what can fit into this short walk to the lift!” she laughed. “Mmm, we should catch up! Let’s go for dinner, let’s reminisce!” Kieran began to bounce as he walked, seeming genuinely enthusiastic about the idea. “You must be quite busy, when do you want to go?” “Tonight! You free?” Taken aback by how quickly he responded, Francesca


hesitated for a moment. But who was she kidding? She had been waiting for this from the moment she sat down across from him. “Erm, yeah, why not?” They had reached the lift and one of Kieran’s team held the door open while they exchanged numbers. “I’ve got an interview now, so I’ll text you – dinner’s on me, OK?” He squeezed her shoulder, and she broke into a wide smile.


May 2012

Skepta - ‘Babe’ Kieran called two days later, apologising profusely for not keeping his word. “The last couple of days have been mad! But are you free tonight?” “How do I know I won’t be forgotten again?” She tried to sound serious and slightly annoyed, but failed at keeping the smile from her voice. She was really glad that he had finally called. “’Cause I’ve booked the table already, 7pm, sound good?” “A bit presumptuous aren’t you?” She was clearly smiling now. “You have never been able to resist me, Chez!” There it was again, that flutter in her chest. “Erm, yeah. Sounds great.” “Perfect, I’ll text you the address.” Francesca ended the call and immediately began to fret over her outfit choice – was this a date, or dinner with an old friend? But when she arrived at seven minutes past the hour, she was glad to see she had chosen the more casual option. “You take this rapper thing seriously!” She motioned towards his tracksuit and trainers and he laughed as she sat down. “Sorry, I finished up late with my personal trainer and I–” “Ooh, you have a PT?” she teased. “Well, the label insisted and they’re paying for him, so I might as well!” “I hope you showered before you came!” The glass of wine she had downed quickly before she left had her feeling relaxed and ready for him.


”Of course, you know me, Chez, fresh to death!” As the waiter finished pouring her wine, she raised her glass aloft. “Firstly, let me just say congratulations, I’m proud of you.” Francesca’s voice involuntarily softened over the last four words and she mentally tried to reconcile the handsomely toned man in front of her with the cheeky teenager who had walked off on that damp winter night so many years earlier. “We’ve come far, eh?” Kieran’s glass clinked against hers and he took a sip. The dinner and conversation flowed as freely as the wine in her glass. They flitted between memories and anecdotes, Kieran’s eyes animated as his sipped his sparkling water, her eyes sleepy and full over her wine. As they laughed she recalled select moments in their story; her hands flicking over the vinyl sleeves in the record store, looking for a limited edition dub Kieran wanted for his sixteenth birthday – he still had it at home; the feel of damp carpet beneath her feet as she stood in his footprints waiting for him to emerge from his room after she interrupted him showering – he was significantly more muscular now; nearly missing her French GCSE exam because they were intertwined in the branches of a tree in the park near her school – she had managed to get an A, regardless. After a while, she excused herself and walked to the bathroom, her face hot and her lips tinged with purple. The flashbacks and the wine were proving a little too stimulating and she needed a moment to collect herself. As she returned to the table she was determined to keep the nostalgia and teenage desires at bay. “So tell me, what’s good these days?” Francesca tried to mimic the timbre of his voice.


He paused, leaning back in his chair, and watched her take a mouthful of cheesecake before replying lightly. “I’ve got two kids, y’know.” Francesca’s head jerked up from her plate and she briefly remembered the dessert in her mouth as she asked from behind a polite hand, “Really?” “Yeah,” Kieran reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone, and flicked through until he came to a picture. He turned the screen towards Francesca and despite the alarm bells ringing in her head, she cupped one hand around his and tilted the screen to see the round faces of two caramel-complexioned children; the girl looked about four while the little boy grinned toothlessly, his chubby fists clenched around a toy. “Gabriella and Riccardo,” a soft smile appeared on Kieran’s face, “she’s named after her mum.” Francesca nodded silently and swallowed the cake with a little difficulty. “They’re so beautiful,” she said after another sip of wine, “are you and their mother still together?” Kieran surveyed her expression for a moment. “Well, yeah, I mean...it’s hard ‘cause I’m working a lot, but yeah...yeah, we are.” After a moment of silence, Francesca raised her nearempty glass again. “Well, you deserve another congratulations on your two beautiful children.” She mustered what she hoped was a genuine smile and for the first time all night, Kieran looked unsure of himself, smiling without a word, his cheeks flushed pink as he played with his napkin. As they left the restaurant, Francesca was grateful for the chill in the air, and she wrapped her arms around herself, finding comfort in her own embrace. “I drove, so I can drop you home if you like?” Kieran lifted his hands to each of her shoulders, rubbing his


palms against the outside of her upper arms in an effort to warm her up. Francesca looked up into his face, and in her wine-soaked confusion she found herself unable to read his expression. “Don’t worry about it,” she finally said, “I’ll get a cab from the main road.” They walked in silence, her mind swimming with a hundred unformed questions as he tried to keep his steps light and carefree. After he had hailed a cab, he drew her in for a hug, her lips dangerously close to his neck and his face buried in her hair. “Was good to catch up, Chez,” he pulled back looking into her face, “so good to see you.” She smiled mutely, got into the cab and he ducked his head under the doorway behind her. “We should do this again, y’know, you should come ‘round for dinner,” he nodded to himself, almost out of reassurance, “Gabby’s a good cook – her mother, I mean, not my daughter!” He laughed a little too easily for her liking. “That’d be nice,” Francesca responded politely. “I’m back on tour in a few days, but when I get back I’ll call you!” She nodded and he shut the door firmly. Francesca sank into her seat and the cab lurched forward into the stream of traffic. After a few minutes, her phone chimed from within her bag. She unlocked the screen and a message flashed up: “ D on ’t be a stra n ger! ;) K .” Sighing, she deleted the message, leaned her head back against the headrest, and allowed tears to slide freely down her face.



White Label Love Story