‘I couldn’t say for sure. But perhaps 4:30 pm.’
‘Oh.’ That was just after Victoria’s mother approached me in the park. Can it be a coincidence that I am suddenly being whisked off to Venice? Her words, ‘trust no one,’ still reverberate in my head. Perhaps it is naïve of me, but I am unafraid. I believed him when he asked me to trust him to do what is in my best interest. And I still do.
With his hands spanning my waist just above the bruises and his eyes never leaving mine, Blake gently lowers me onto his throbbing hardness. The muscles in his jaw twitch and betray his lack of detachment. I know he is worried about hurting me, but I am so slick and wet and ready that the first inch slips in easily, filling and opening me beautifully. It feels so good I drive myself down and suddenly he has pierced me too deeply, stretched the swollen hole too much. I cry out involuntarily and I feel his hands bodily lift me off the shaft I am impaled on.
‘Jesus, Lana. Take it easy,’ he bites out.
But now that the first flash of pain is gone I am afire with need. I want to forget about Cronus and Victoria and all the confusing things I have not yet figured out and I know no better way. I place my hands on either side of him and slowly push my trembling, clinging sex down until the bruises on my rear touch his thighs. I stop and move upwards. This exquisite pain-pleasure is what I have been craving all day. This time I go down that bit faster. My soaked sex hovers an instant at the tip of his shaft and then comes down too hard. I cry out. He tries to hold me up.
I shake my head and say, ‘No, this is fine. I can take it.’
He tightens his grip around my waist.
‘No. No more pain for you,’ he says firmly, and gently rolls me onto my back. He covers my entire body with daddy-long-legs kisses until I feel as if I am floating. And when I do come, I feel as if I am a pond on a day when the sunlight is so white it is impossible to look at it. And someone goes and throws a stone into the pond of my very core, the shimmering ripples spreading out and out and out.
I stand on the prow of the black boat that traverses the Grand Canal to catch the full opulence and majesty of the white domes of the church in the bright sunlight. Such decoration, such grandeur. A funereal gondola passes us. I shiver and touch the blue ribbon that Blake has put in my hair. Here even decay and death are beautiful. Rotting houses stand next to glorious palaces.
Blake extends a strong arm down to me at the Piazza San Marco stop. He is dressed in a black denim shirt rolled up at the sleeves, blue jeans and lumberjack boots, and is head and shoulders taller than most of the locals. Devilishly sexy dark sunglasses do not allow me to see his eyes. I look up at him with that same sense of awe that he is with me. He helps me off the boat and keeps my hand as we walk up to the piazza.
I immediately fall in love with the regiments of arches that surround the impossibly splendid square. The great flocks of pigeons that roost in the stupendous roofs fly down to interact amiably with the tourists clutching guidebooks and cameras. They flutter around us and make me smile.
We stop for coffee. The waiter brings biscotti with our coffee. Blake pushes his sunglasses over his head, stretches his long legs out in front of him, and closing his eyes turns his face up to the sun. I dip a biscotti into my cappuccino. The dunked biscotti reminds me of the tide marks on the stained, crumbling walls.
‘The lagoon is eating the city alive,’ I say.
Blake looks at me. ‘It submits with pleasure to the tide. It’s a willing consummation. The way I have been crumbling into you from the first night I laid eyes on you.’
For a moment we are both lost in each other’s gaze. And then I simply can’t leave it; I whisper, ‘But what happens after the 42 days are up?’
A strange emotion crosses his eyes. Pain? Sorrow? ‘I don’t ever want to lie to you. The truth is I don’t know. There are powerful forces at play, predictable only in their ruthless ability to accumulate and re-create the world in their image. And I am part of that image.’
I frown. These riddles. What does he mean? ‘What forces?’
‘Forces that are unaccountable, unprincipled, and extremely dangerous. The less you know the safer you will be. I may never tell you about them. I take them on willingly for you, but I might lose. The only way you can help me is to keep your promise. No matter what you hear, see or whatever anyone tells you, do not forget your promise.’ Then his mouth stretches into a brilliant smile. And that smile takes my breath away. ‘Will you trust me that even if I lose, I will ensure that you will be taken care of for life?’
Money! I don’t want his money. I want to know what he knows. I want to have him, forever.
I let my gaze drop and he reaches forward and covers my hand with his. His hand radiates warmth. I turn my palm upwards and entwine my fingers with his. I realize that this is a moment of great import. I look up. I am looking into the eyes of a man who almost appears to be drowning and I am the straw that he has found to clutch onto. For the first time I realize that beneath the cold, aloof exterior there is so much, so much more depth. I smile suddenly.
‘All right,’ I say. ‘Let’s live as if all we have left are thirty-seven days. Let’s not waste a second.’
‘That’s my girl,’ he says, and standing up tugs my hand. ‘Come on,’ he urges. ‘To know Venice one must wander its narrow bridges and bewildering alleys on foot.’
We leave the winding alleys to stop for lunch in an old ostaira that apparently has been around since the nineteenth century. Blake and I both order the pasta in squid ink to start, followed by baked swordfish and polenta, which the waiter tells us are the house specialty. Pasta in squid ink is something I have never tried before, and I enjoy it very much, but the portions are very large and I leave nearly half of my main course behind.
Blake frowns. ‘Your appetite was better before. You have lost so much weight. Why?’
I shrug. ‘I’m sorry. The food is delicious, but I really can’t have any more.
‘He looks at me, his fork neatly laid at the four o’clock position on his plate, waiting for an explanation.
I glance down at my hands. They are clenched tight. ‘For weeks after what happened to Mum, I couldn’t eat at all. Every time I thought about food I saw that breakfast table again. It is almost as if my stomach has shrunk and I can only eat small amounts.’
‘What breakfast table?’
I unclench my hands and flex my fingers. I haven’t spoken to anyone, not even Billie, about that day when I opened the front door and even the walls were silently screaming for my mother. I look up.