Billie’s eyes widen. It takes a moment for her to find her voice again. ‘I’ll take the free trip and I’ll take the jam, but I’m not taking the money.’
‘Remember when we were kids and we used to say if we won the lottery we’d share the money. Well… Isn’t this like winning the lottery?’
Billie smiles at me. ‘This isn’t the lottery. Besides, what would I do with money?’
‘You could go get your boobs done.’
‘Very tempting, but…’
‘No buts. Do you want me to turn into one of those people who are generous only when they don’t believe they will ever have the money? Would you give me half if our positions were reversed?’
Billie thinks and grimaces. ‘To be honest I don’t know what I’d do. I think I’m just like everyone else, I want to go out, get wasted out of my mind and have fun, but you’ve always been different. You used to save up to buy violets when you were a child and take the bus to see paintings in the National Gallery. That was probably why I was drawn to you then, even though you wore boring clothes and read the book instead of waiting for the movie version.’
‘While you painted the toenails of your gerbil bright red…’
‘Hamster,’ Billie corrects, and laughs.
‘Whatever. I know you’re on the dole and can’t show that you have too much in the way of savings so I’ve opened an account in my name at the Abbey and here’s the card. Use it as if it is yours.’
I am fastening my hoop earrings when I hear someone at the front door. Stomach churning, I stand away from the dressing table and look at my reflection. I am wearing my Pucci dress. The colors look good with my hair and I know I have never looked so fine, but my heart is in my mouth. I am so nervous my hands are clammy. I wipe them and rub lotion into them. Then I slip into my beautiful new Jimmy Choos and leave the bedroom.
I turn into the paneled corridor and hear him in the sitting room. He is looking down on the lighted view of London and has not heard my footfalls on the soft carpets. It is only when my reflection shows in the glass that he turns.
The crease of his pants leg looks very sharp and his shoes are beautifully polished. My eyes move upwards. He is wearing a navy suit and an open soft blue shirt. My gaze travels to his brown, strong throat towards the deliciously straight mouth and up to his eyes; dark and hooded and so full of secrets. They are watching me intently. My breath catches. The flowers he sent are behind him.
‘Thank you for the flowers. They are beautiful.’
‘Come here,’ he says and half sits on the table behind him. His voice is very soft. There is something in it I do not understand. I am nineteen and he is a man of the world. I go willingly to him. He catches me by my waist and pulls me to him until I am trapped between his thighs. I feel the heat that comes off his body.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know.’
I shake my head, embarrassed. ‘You weren’t to know. It’s my fault. I should have warned you.’
‘You look very beautiful tonight.’
I blush like an idiot.
He watches me blush, making me blush even more, then runs his finger along my lower lip. ‘Are you for real?’ he whispers.
I look at him without comprehension. He wants to tell me something. But what? I don’t understand him at all. We are worlds apart. Maybe I shouldn’t try to understand. This will all end in three months.
Without warning the expression in his eyes changes. His mouth twists. Something cold creeps into his eyes. ‘We’d better go or we’ll be late.’
Feeling the change I step away from him. Now I truly do not understand. Hot and cold. Perhaps it is a game. But he will not beat me. I can survive three months. I think of my mother and say. ‘Yes, we don’t want to be late.’
He offers me the crook of his arm. His voice comes out hostile and clipped. ‘Shall we?’
I bite my lip. Now he is inexplicably angry with me. Nothing makes sense. Why is he angry with me? Confused, I thread my arm through his and we leave the apartment.
The Fat Duck is nestled in the middle of the English countryside, in a place called Bray. The women are all dressed to kill and the men are in dark suits. I have never been anywhere so glamorous, but it is bitter sweet: I have lied to my mother. I am with this man as his whore. And all of this will come to an end in three months’ time. A young man with a French accent settles us into a waiting area and offers us delicate little bites of food and two glasses of champagne. Waiters nod and greet Blake by name as they pass. Apparently he is well known in this establishment.
‘They are called amuse-bouches, mouth amusements,’ Blake explains and watches as I nibble on the tiny offerings of mushroom and hazelnuts with basil oil and salmon mousse.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so delicious in all my life.’
The sommelier comes to help select the wine that will perfectly complement the food we intend to have, but Blake knows exactly what he wants.
‘The 1996 Clos du Mesnil.’
The sommelier seems pleased with Blake’s choice. The wine is brought and presented to Blake. When he nods, it is uncorked and a small amount is poured into a deep glass and given to Blake. He swirls it, sniffs it delicately, and pronounces it acceptable.
A fifth of my glass is filled. I raise it to my lips and taste it. What passed for wine until now seem like abrasive mixtures of grape juice and vinegar. With complicated scents that delicately tease and a distinctively smooth taste that slides down my throat, the wine is truly splendid.
I study the menu with fascination. It is no wonder that this restaurant is so famous. It has a uniquely original menu. There is even something called the mad hatter’s tea party with mock turtle soup, a pocket watch and a toasted sandwich. Then there is snail porridge, crab biscuits and quail jelly, chicken served with vanilla mayonnaise, shaved fennel and red cabbage gazpacho with mustard ice cream, and something else I can’t recognize served with oak moss and truffle oil.
Blake chooses roasted foie gras to start. I sigh inwardly. I am not eating force-fed goose liver.
The waiter looks at me. ‘I won’t bother with a starter, thank you.’
Blake orders the lamb with cucumber.
‘I’ll have the same,’ I murmur.
The waiter moves away, and Blake looks at me strangely. His eyes are pitying. ‘You can’t read, can you?’