The Audition

A couple of years after Calamity Jena.


Jena smiled as she surveyed the crowd who’d come out to watch them audition for Scotland’s new reality DIY show. It seemed like the whole of Invertary was present, and it warmed her heart to see the support.

“Aren’t they sweet?” she asked her stony-faced husband as she waved at the crowd.

“Aye, really sweet. So sweet they’re running a betting pool on how long it takes you to injure one of the production crew.” He raised his voice. “Dougal, put the board away. There’ll be no betting today.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Officer Donaldson.” A board smoothly disappeared behind the pub owner slash town mayor.

“You can do this,” her best friend, Abby, shouted before giving her a double thumbs- up. “You were made to be a TV star!”

Jena wasn’t sure about that. All she wanted was publicity for her new renovation business.

Abby’s husband, Flynn, draped his arm around his wife’s shoulders and looked down at her. “You weren’t this enthusiastic when I was doing reality TV,” he said, loud enough for the people nearest to hear.

“That’s because your show was about a self-indulgent, washed-up football star who was living in an RV and partying with bimbos in an inflatable pool.”

He sighed. “Good times…”

She elbowed him in the gut as the crowd around them laughed.

Jena was grinning at her friend when the show’s producer hurried over.

“Are you ready?” Millie Johnson asked, her eyes scanning Jena from head to toe. “Is that what you normally wear to do DIY?”

Jena glanced down at her attire—tartan shirt, tied tight under her breasts, Daisy Duke shorts, tool belt with assorted tools (all pink, some with glitter), and sparkling pink platform sandals. “Um, yeah. You said to dress for work.” She tossed the ponytail that held her long honey brown hair out of her face.

The producer blinked several times. It was the only clue that Jena had bewildered her; the rest of her expression showed nothing at all.

“Okay,” Millie said. “Let’s get this audition taped. We’ll start with an interview, and then you’ll be asked to do some simple home improvements on our set. Any questions?”

Jena eyed the set, which was a vast flatbed truck designed as an open-air studio. The platform area was split in two. A small section at the end made up an interview area, and the rest of the space was taken up by a fake room. A shabby living room, complete with tatty carpet and a broken window. The room had no fourth wall and no ceiling, but apart from that, it looked exactly like a living area in desperate need of renovation. Where they’d got that ugly brown patterned carpet, Jena would never know.

“Nope.” She beamed at the producer. “No questions.”

The woman turned to Matt and raised an eyebrow.

“How long is this going tae take?” he rumbled.

“It’s a whole day of filming,” she answered.

“Fan-bloody-tastic,” he muttered.

Jena slapped a hand on his chest. “Ignore him. He’s grumpy in the morning. This is going to be awesome!”

“Right.” The woman didn’t look convinced. “Let’s get you started with the interview. Follow me.”

She led the way to the end of the truck and the three stool interview area. The crowd cheered. Jena thought she saw money change hands in Dougal’s vicinity but didn’t mention it to Matt. Being the only cop in town, he could take these things a little too seriously.

With one last wave at the crowd, she clambered onto a stool as Matt perched on the one beside her. Oh, to have his height and not have to climb stools like a mountain. There was a roar from the crowd as the show’s host appeared and went up the steps to the stage area.

Carol Jollie was a staple in home improvement TV. With her rolling Highland accent and wide, understanding smile, she was a hit with the audience and show participants alike. Since moving to Scotland from the US, Jena had watched everything Carol had presented. It was one of the reasons she’d wanted to audition for Scotland’s Top DIY Talent. That, and she really was pretty good at DIY… now.

While a crew member fitted mics to Jena and Matt, Carol addressed the crowd: “What a wonderful wee town this is!” There was a roar of approval as she turned and pointed at the loch behind them. “Look at that sparkling water. And we even have a beautiful blue sky for today’s taping. It couldn’t be more perfect. Thank you all for coming out to watch us today. I’m sure that Jena and Matt really appreciate your support. Let’s give them a hearty round of applause.”

As Carol gracefully sat on the last stool, the townsfolk clapped their hearts out. At the edge of the crowd, Morag McKay had set up a stand to sell her famous pies. A couple of teenagers had brought along a popcorn machine and were filling buckets for pocket money. And Dougal had his bar staff manning a table loaded with drinks and snacks. It looked like a town party.

“So, nearly time to get started,” Carol said as a cameraman appeared on a lift behind them while another popped up in front. “Just take a wee breath and pretend the cameras aren’t there. After a while, you won’t see them at all. All you need to do is relax and be yourselves. I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Thanks.” Jena almost sighed at her reassurance. Carol was Scottish TV royalty and a calming presence in the midst of a storm.

Matt just grunted. Jena took that as a sign he was spending way too much time with his brother-in-law—a man nicknamed Grunt because he barely spoke.

Large white disks with lights behind them moved into place at the edge of the platform.

“Why do we need lights?” Jena asked. “The sun’s out.”

“Auch, it’s just to fill in the shadows.” Carol smiled with reassurance as she glanced at the producer. “Ready?”

Millie gave a thumbs up, Jena nodded, and Matt just stared.

Carol took a deep breath, straightened her back, and looked into the camera in front of them. She flashed her winning smile. “Welcome to Scotland’s Top DIY Talent. As you know, we’re traveling around our beautiful country in search of those folk who know how to fix things themselves. Today, we’ve come to Invertary, a beautiful small town not far from Fort William. As you can see, they’ve put on the weather for us. Now, let’s meet this week’s DIYing couple.”

She turned toward them, and so did the camera.

“Meet Matt and Jena Donaldson,” Carol said.

Jena waved to the camera. “Hi, everyone.”

Matt said nothing.

Carol leaned in toward them. “That’s not a Scottish accent, Jena,” she said with humor. “Tell us a wee bit about how you ended up in Scotland.”

“Well.” Jena took a shaky breath and tried to tune out the cameras. “Basically, while I was at work—as a go-go dancer in Atlantic City—my boyfriend was sleeping his way through the strippers in his club. When I came home early one night, I found him going at it with a stripper called Candy.” She rolled her eyes. “Such an original name. Anyway, I dumped him, then decided to drown my sorrows in tequila. And you know how that can hit your system.”

“Aye, we certainly do.” Carol raised her eyebrows at the camera. “And um, we might edit that we a wee bit before it goes on air, right Millie?”

Millie nodded. “Definitely.”

“What’s wrong?” Jena asked.

“Nothing.” Carol smiled in that comforting way of hers. “Carry on with your story.”

“Well, I got a bit drunk,” Jena continued. “And bought a house off the internet. A house right here in Invertary. And that’s how I ended up in Scotland.”

“So, you drunk-bought a house half a world away. That must have been a shock when you sobered.” Carol grinned into the camera.

“No kidding. It was an even bigger shock when I saw the state it was in when I got here, but thankfully, it turned out I have a knack for fixing things up. And now, Invertary is my home.” She beamed at the crowd while gesturing to include all of them.

Her arm went wide, hitting one of the white disks. It toppled. So did the light. And the whole thing fell off the platform and smashed on the road below.

Jena looked on in horror. “I’m so sorry!”

“Was anybody hurt?” Dougal bellowed.

“Everybody’s fine,” Carol assured the crowd and looked confused when they all groaned with disappointment. “No harm done,” she said to Jena. “We have more lights, and we can edit that bit out.” She turned to Matt. “Now, I hear you’re the town’s police force.”

“Aye.” He wasn’t exactly frowning, but he sure as hell wasn’t thrilled to be answering questions on TV.

“Would you like to tell us a wee bit about your job?” Carol said. “I’m sure you must see some interesting things as Invertary’s only cop.”

“No,” Matt said.

Jena elbowed him in his side. “Don’t mind my husband. He’s only here because my original partner, Gordon, pulled out.”

“Oh, and why would that be?” Carol genuinely seemed to want to know.

Jena waved a hand. “He said something about protesting nuclear weapons in the eighties and not wanting his face on national TV in case they find him.”

Carol leaned closer. “In case who finds him?”

Jena shrugged. “Maybe the missiles?”

Laughter rippled through the crowd.

Jena glanced at Matt before speaking to Carol. “I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Gordon’s name. Can we edit that bit out too?” At this rate, they’d have to chop out half the episode. Not a good sign that the audition was going well.

“Sure,” Carol said. “Now, let’s get going with the challenge.” She turned to the people of Invertary. “Are you ready?”

There was a resounding cheer.


The task was simple. They had a day to get the room into a state ready for decorating. Easy. Jena had done this so many times in the mess of a house she’d bought that she could do it again with her eyes shut. Trying to pretend the cameras weren’t there watching their every move, Jena faced her husband.

“The floor needs sanding, the paint on the woodwork needs to be stripped, the holes in the wall need fixing, and that cracked pane of glass has to be replaced.” She cast her experienced eye over the fake room. “I’d also sand and refinish the walls before they’re painted or papered, but I’m not sure we have time to do it all.”

“You think?”

Jena put her hands on her hips and glared up at her too-hot-for-his-own-good husband. “Are you going to be in a mood all day? Because I’ll do this on my own if you’re going to ruin it.”

“You can’t do it on your own, remember? Only duos are allowed to audition.” He glared at the cameraman. “Want to back off a bit, mate?”

The guy stepped back in a rush.

“This is no fun if you’re going to be grumpy all day,” Jena complained before quickly changing tack. She closed the distance between them, placed her palms on his chest, and batted her eyelashes. “I really want to enjoy this experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And, if I get on the show, it will be wonderful for my new renovation business. You can help me do this, can’t you?”

“Yer bein’ played!” somebody in the crowd shouted.

Damn microphones. Jena pressed into Matt. “Please?”

He sighed and wrapped his arms around her. “What do you want me to do?”

She beamed up at him. “You change out the glass while I patch the wall, then I’ll sand the floor while you strip the paintwork. How does that sound?”

“Like a regular weekend with my wife,” he drawled before frowning at the cameraman. “Only this time, it’s on tape.”

“Yay!” She ignored the sarcasm, went on tiptoe, and kissed him hard. Glory, but he tasted like heaven.

“Ahem,” someone said.

Reluctantly, Jena broke their kiss and turned to find Carol smiling at them. “Let’s not forget this is a PG-rated show.”

“Got it.” Jena stepped back and pointed at the window. Matt nodded and headed in that direction while she headed to the holey wall.

“Now then”—Carol came up beside her—“talk me through what you’re doing here.”


As the sun began to set over the loch, the TV crew upped the artificial lighting to the point where Jena almost felt like she was back on stage, dancing. Sweat ran down her spine, and her muscles were beginning to ache. It’d been a long day, but a successful one.

The walls were smooth and hole free. The broken pane had been replaced in the window, and the glass gleamed. Most of the woodwork had been stripped of its ugly beige paint. And she was about three-quarters of the way through sanding the floor after ripping up that awful carpet. She hoped that carpet wasn’t salvaged for a future show. It deserved to stay in the garbage.

Jena couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride. If they kept up this pace, they’d be done before the eight o’clock deadline. At last, people could see that she wasn’t just a calamity. She had skills, and she was good at this DIY thing. She glanced down at the thinning crowd. Folk had been coming and going throughout the day. The only constants had been her friend Abby, Morag’s pie stand, and Dougal’s betting board.

“Don’t forget to grab a drink if you need one,” the producer, Millie, told her. “We don’t want anyone collapsing on set.”

“Thanks. I’m good for now.” Jena looked up from where she was changing the sanding pad on the heavy-duty machine. “Just between you and me, how do you think we’re doing?”

Millie glanced around before crouching beside her. “It’s looking good. The fact you’re American adds a novelty factor to your entry. And the bit we taped earlier, where you taught Carol some dance moves, was really cool. Your husband could lighten up a little, but at least he’s stopped answering everything with one-word replies.” She nodded. “I think you’ve got a great chance of making it onto the show.”

Jena gave a strangled little scream of glee. “That’s awesome news. I’d better get back to it then.” With a grin, she cleared away her tools.

“Good luck,” Millie said as she left the flatbed platform.

Who needs luck when you have ability? Jena thought as she turned on the machine. Just a quarter of the floor to go. She glanced to where Matt was stripping the doorframe. He was nearly done too. The place looked good, even if she did say so herself. You couldn’t even guess where the holes in the walls had been; the mending had been that smooth.

Matt smiled at her. “How about I take over the sanding for a bit? Controlling that machine can knacker your muscles.”

Jena bit her bottom lip before replying. “Are you sure you won’t gouge the wood the way you did last time?”

“I’m sure.” He rolled his eyes at the camera.

Typical. The ornery man had no problem playing it up for the audience when it suited him. “Okay then. But be careful.” Her arms did feel like noodles after hours of using the sander. A break would be good.

They swapped places and she watched as Matt started to sand. Once she was satisfied he wasn’t going to screw it up, she carried on removing the paint on the frame.

For a few minutes, the hum of the machine, and the repetition of her task, let her mind drift away. She was in her happy place. Making things pretty. Bringing the old and abused back to life.

Then it went quiet.

She turned to see what Matt was doing. He was frowning at the sander, then he glanced over his shoulder to the socket where it was plugged in.

“It’s all good,” he said as he jogged to the socket. “Its just come loose.”

“Wait!” Jena shouted as he bent down to shove the plug back in the wall.

She was too late.

It all happened in slow motion. Matt had forgotten to turn the machine off before he connected the power again. Jena lunged for the handle. But she wasn’t fast enough. The power came on and the industrial sized sander roared to life. Slipping out of her grasp and heading straight for the door Jena had been working on. She made another attempt to grab the handle.

And missed. All she’d managed to do was spin it in the other direction—right at her newly fixed wall. She gasped as it barreled straight through the plasterboard and into the interview area.

“What the hell?” someone shouted.

Jena got to the opening just as a cameraman dove out of the way. The sander rolled over his equipment, making loud cracking noises that promised there would be a hefty bill in the Donaldson’s future.

Carol Jollie, who was perched on a stool, scrolling on her phone, screamed as the machine headed toward her. She turned and jumped off the flatbed, landing on the road beneath them with a cry of pain.

“Carol!” Jena was torn between going after the sander or the presenter.

The machine toppled over the edge, and there was a loud bang before silence ensued. Jena was breathing hard, her heart beating so furiously it felt in danger of bursting. There was a creak, then a crack, and she spun in time to see the rest of the house set crumple.

As the dust cleared, she spotted Matt standing with the sander plug in his hand and an apologetic look on his face. “I forgot to turn it off,” he said sheepishly.

“No kidding.” Jena glanced at the carnage.

The whole set was destroyed. All her hard work gone. Tears prickled her eyes, and she blinked them back.

“Holy crap,” Millie shouted. “Did we get that on tape?”

“You betcha, boss,” came the reply.

“I think I broke my leg,” Carol called. “Can we get an ambulance?”

Jena gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “I broke Carol Jollie,” she whispered.

“Over here,” a cameraman shouted. “I’m bleeding.”

As someone rushed for the man, Jena felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She looked up to find Matt’s sympathetic face. “It’s going to be okay. Nobody died, and the producer’s excited about the footage she got.”

“It’s not going to be okay.” Jena’s lip trembled. “No one will hire me after they see this.”

Matt wrapped his arm around her. “Of course they will. It was an accident. Could have happened to anyone. People will only remember the hot chick who did a great job before her dumb husband let a sander loose.”

She glanced over the side of the truck, where the local doctor was checking out Carol’s leg.

“Carol’s a Scottish icon,” she said with a wince. “And we broke her.”

Pushing away from Matt’s hold, she carefully climbed down from the truck and walked to the TV presenter’s side.

“I am sooooooo sorry, Carol,” she said.

Carol looked up at her and smiled, even though pain made the lines around her eyes tighten somewhat. “Don’t worry about it. These things happen. Plus, with this footage, the show will be a massive hit.” She raised her voice. “Millie? We’re booking Jena and Matt for the series, right?”

Millie bounced over to them, looking particularly thrilled. “Definitely.” She turned to the doctor. “Will Carol be in plaster?”

The doc shook his head. “I’m pretty sure it’s only a sprain.”

“Pity,” Carol and Millie said at the same time.

Jena blinked in disbelief at their reaction before wincing at the damage they’d caused.

Matt put his arm around her shoulders. “See? It all worked out. You’re on the show.”

Jena shook her head. They only wanted them on the show because they thought there’d be more chaos and the ratings would go up. That might be good for their TV show, but it wouldn’t be good for her business.

“I’m sorry, Millie and Carol. I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think I’m cut out for TV.” She preferred her—scratch that—their calamities to remain on a local rather than national level.

The two women shared a look before both grinned at her. There was calculation in Millie’s eyes. “Why don’t we talk about this tomorrow?”

“It’s up to you, baby,” Matt said softly. “If you want this, we’ll do it. I promise to be less of a grumpy arse next time—and to be more careful.”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.” She leaned into Matt’s side, soaking in the comfort he always provided.

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Millie repeated, a whole lot more firmly than before.

A voice rang out from the crowd: “Did anyone bet on Matt injuring the TV people?”

“Who wins if there’s no bet on Matt?” somebody replied.

“Jena does,” Matt called out as he stepped away from Jena. “Excuse me, I have some illegal winnings to confiscate.” He winked back at her. “Consider it a town donation in support of your new business.”

Jena sighed as she watched him go.

“You okay?” Abby asked as she approached.

“I think I’m a bad influence on Matt. Looks like we’re both calamities now.”

Abby smiled with sympathy, but her eyes danced with amusement. “Tequila?”

“Tequila.” Jena nodded.

And they headed for the pub.


If you haven’t read Calamity Jena, you can find out more about it here.