‘It is so cute, I almost wish Sorab was a girl.’
Billie smiles. ‘You got time for a pot of tea?’
‘I do,’ I say. She puts the kettle on and we sit and talk. We never mention Blake. Until four thirty when I kiss Sorab and walk out of our front door. Tom gets out of the car and opens the back door when he sees me come down the stairs. I look up and Billie is standing at the balcony looking down at me. She shifts the baby to one hand and waves. I wave back, a feeling of dread in my stomach.
I do not let Tom carry my bags for me or take me upstairs. I know the way. Besides, I am dying to be alone with just my chaotic thoughts. I go through the glass door and Mr. Nair leaps to his feet from his position behind the reception counter like a startled meerkat. He comes towards me beaming.
‘Miss Bloom, Miss Bloom,’ he cries. ‘You are back in the penthouse. I saw all the cleaners and bags and new furniture going upstairs and I wondered who it would be.’
‘How nice to see you again, Mr. Nair.’
He holds out his hands. ‘Here, let me help you with your bags.’
I pull the bags out of his reach. ‘It’s OK, Mr. Nair. They are very light. I can manage. Why don’t you come up tomorrow morning for a coffee instead, and we can have a nice chat, then.’
‘Oh yes, Miss Bloom. That will be wonderful. It hasn’t been the same ever since you left.’
I smile. In truth I too have missed him and his fantastic stories of an India gone by. ‘I’ll call down tomorrow.’
‘Goodnight, Miss Bloom. It really is good to have you back.’
I bid him goodnight, enter the lift and slip my key card into its slot. The doors swish close and I am borne up. Strange, I never thought I would be coming back here again and yet here I am. The doors open and it is all the same. Nothing, but nothing has changed.
I unlock the front door and open it. The same faint fragrance of lilies that I always associate with this apartment wafts out. Such a feeling of nostalgia rushes over me that I feel my knees go weak. I close the door, put my packages on the side table, and walk down that long enameled corridor. I run my fingers along the cool smooth wall the way I had done more than a year ago.
I don’t go into the living room, but turn off and go into the bedroom. A sob rises in my throat. Nothing has changed even here. It is as if I was here yesterday and not more than a year ago. I go into the room next to it and, as Laura promised, it has been set up to function as a nursery. There is a beautiful white and blue cot, all kinds of toys, a very swanky-looking pram and tins of baby formula. I go to them. I recognize them. I have seen them advertised, all natural and made of goat’s milk, but I could not afford them. I pick one up and look at it and experience a shaft of guilt.
I have denied Sorab all this. Am I really doing the right thing by him? Will he thank me one day for depriving him of a life that 99.99 percent of people can only dream of? The answer is confusing and I don’t want to go there. I know I will go there, it is too important not to, but not yet. Not today. It is already six o’clock.
I close the door and go into the bathroom and switch on the lights. In the immaculate space I am a stranger with a beautiful hairdo. I stare at myself. The night stretches out in front of me. I am excited and fearful of what it will bring. I sit on the toilet seat for a moment to compose myself.
I take my dress out of the exclusive-looking bag Rêgine packed it in and hang it up in the bedroom. Then I run a bath, add lavender oil, step into it, and, lying back, close my eyes, but I am too nervous and excited to relax and after a few minutes I get out and, wrapping myself in a fluffy bathrobe that smells of squashed berries, I go into the kitchen.
In the fridge there I find two bottles of champagne lying on their sides. I remember the last time when I stood in the balcony and drank to my mother’s health. This time champagne doesn’t seem appropriate. I close the door restlessly and go to the liquor cabinet. There I pour myself a very large shot of vodka. Standing by the bar I knock it back. It runs like fire into my empty stomach, but it has the desired effect of almost immediately settling my nerves. I look at my hands. They have stopped shaking.
I go back into the bathroom and carefully apply my make-up. Two layers of mascara, a touch of blusher, and nude lip gloss. I move away from the mirror.
‘Not bad, Bloom. Good job.’
I go back to the alcohol counter and pour myself another large vodka, down it and, feeling decidedly light-headed and, devil may care, go to the bedroom. I take my beautiful white dress off the hanger and change into it. As I gently ease it over my head a hook catches on my hair and pulls a lock out of place. I stare in horror at the dangling lock. Cursing, I try to twist it and push it back into place. My efforts are somewhat successful and I sigh with relief. I zip up and step into my shoes and look at myself in the mirror.
A sophisticated woman with glittering eyes and high color stares back. Too much blusher. With cotton wool I remove it all. The heat and the alcohol have tinged my cheeks pink. No need for blusher. I dab my finger with perfume and touch it behind my ears.
There I am, ready for the great Barrington.
I kill ten minutes pacing the balcony tiles in my Cinderella shoes. At 8:05 exactly Tom rings the bell. His eyes widen when I open the door.
‘That’s a beautiful outfit, Miss Bloom,’ he says, with an embarrassed cough. He is holding a long cardboard box, which he awkwardly slips onto the side-table. I look at it and feel the color rush up my neck. Oh my God! Blake really means for this to be a re-creation of our first night together.
As the lift descends I already know where Tom is taking me.
Madame Yula is filled with the same sort of people that had populated it the last time I was there. If this is a re-creation of our first night together then I know exactly where I will find Blake. Waiting at the bar. I turn towards it and even though I know what I will see, my heart stops. He is wearing a charcoal suit, black shirt and a white tie, and he is the most beautiful man in the place…but that is not it… I am being eaten alive by his eyes. For a long moment I stand frozen, simply caught and staring back at the hunger in his stormy blue eyes. It is so naked and raw it shocks me.
‘Mademoiselle,’ someone says, close to my ear. I turn in the direction of the voice, my expression blank, distracted, perhaps even confused. ‘Can I help you?’ the waiter queries.
Before I can answer, Blake is there.
‘She’s with me,’ he says smoothly, and the waiter slips away, the way waiters in movies do. I turn my head and look up into Blake’s face. In the glow of candles and soft lighting he seems dark and impossibly mysterious. For a moment neither of us speaks. We never broke up. It’s all there crackling between us. The sex-rumpled sheets, the slim hips wrapped only in a towel, the hungry mouth, and the hours upon hours of f**king. I shiver with the memories. My lips part. An invitation that cannot be missed.