‘He wants me to finish the contract.’
Billie closes her eyes in a gesture of extreme exasperation. ‘Oh God! You agreed or we wouldn’t have got the loan, would we?’
‘Yes,’ I say, but before I can tell her more she leans forward, her chin jutting out aggressively.
‘Lana. Are you completely crazy? Have you forgotten what that bloodless troll he is engaged to and those reptilian entities masquerading as his family did to you the last time? They closed ranks and kicked you out of the f**king country. Anyway, didn’t she make you sign in blood never to go near her man again?’
I flush. ‘No, simply that I must never make contact with him again. I didn’t.’
‘Yeah, she’ll appreciate the difference.’
‘As a matter of fact, Blake said that he has told her about me and she is prepared to wait until he is over his infatuation with me.’
‘And you believe that?’
‘Well, it was something like what she told me.’
‘If you believe that then you definitely should stay away from him. You are not equipped to deal with such lethal cunning.’
‘I won’t come into contact with her. It’s only 42 days.’
‘We don’t need the money, you know? We can always start small. We talked about this. In fact, it was unlikely that you were ever going to get the money without collateral or business experience. It was only an off chance. We’ll do without it. In fact, that might be more fun.’
‘I didn’t do it for the money,’ I say very quietly.
There is a moment of shocked silence. Billie looks at me as if I have lost my mind. And in a way she is right. I am risking everything.
‘Fuck me, Lana. Have you forgotten how difficult it was for you to get over him?’
‘I’m not over him.’
‘Exactly. So why walk into the lion’s den again? Look at you. You are already just a shadow of yourself. Why put yourself through it? Besides the spectacular sex, that is.’
I try to smile and don’t succeed. I feel my chin and lower lip begin to tremble. I press my lips together. ‘You don’t understand. I owe him. He was good to Mum and me, but I didn’t keep my word. I should never have taken Victoria’s money. It was wrong. I knew that the moment I saw it sitting all fat and jolly in that Swiss bank account. I’m not a Swiss bank account person. It was only when I gave it all away to that hospice that I felt better. I will only feel right again when I finish what I started. Until then I will never be able to close this door.’
‘And Sorab? Are you going to tell him about him?’
‘Of course not. They would take my son away and turn him into a cold-eyed predator, like Blake’s father and brother.’
‘So what happens to Sorab then?’
I squirm a little. ‘I told Blake Sorab was yours.’
‘Right,’ she says slowly, obviously unable to get her head around such an idea.
‘He thinks you did it to jump the welfare queue and get a flat.’
Billie grins suddenly. ‘So you didn’t tell him that as a child I wanted to have my entire reproductive system removed and replaced with an extra set of lungs so I could smoke more.’
I shook my head.
‘What does all this translate to then?’
‘You keep Sorab here for three days of the week and I keep him at the apartment for the other four days.’
Billie draws a deep breath. ‘What does he imagine I am doing for the other four days?’
‘Spending the night at your girlfriend’s place.’
‘Jesus, I’m a shit mother, aren’t I?’
‘Do you mind terribly?’
‘I don’t give a monkey’s what he thinks of me, but are you OK with being apart from Sorab three days a week?’
My little heart is breaking at the thought but I put on a brave face. ‘Well, it is only for 42 days and I was thinking that three weeks of that time I could say you are on holiday and Sorab is too young to go with you.’
‘And you think he’ll believe that?’
‘Quite frankly, I don’t think he cares enough to ponder the matter too deeply.’
‘I don’t want to take the philosophical upper hand here, but if it’ll all be over in 42 days, isn’t this all a bit…unnecessary?’
I trace my fingernail along the wood grain of our kitchen table. We bought it in a charity shop for twenty pounds. It has two cigarette burn marks on the surface, but I rather like it. It has character, a story to tell.
‘I know you think I am being foolish, but have you never had someone touch you and you go up in flames? Or that odd sensation as if your bones are melting and your ears ring like bells in your head?’
‘No,’ she says flatly. ‘And judging from what it has reduced you to… No thanks. I enjoy my self-control. My ability to say no and walk away from a situation that screams danger or abuse ahead.’
‘Don’t you miss Leticia, Billie?’
‘Yes, I do, but… ’She looks at me meaningfully… ‘Unlike you I have never had to crawl around the floor with missing her.’
I lower my eyes. Once many months ago when I first left the country I was reduced to crawling on the floor, but that intense pain passed. His reappearance, though, has awakened new realms of need and craving.
‘I can say no, but I still miss him, Bill. I miss him like crazy. Even if there is no hope, I still want whatever I can have. I want him on any terms. I actually find it impossible to resist him.’
She sighs elaborately. ‘OK, it is your life. When does this charade start then?’
‘I guess we won’t need a babysitter for Friday night, will we?’
I make an apologetic face. ‘Sorry. Can you babysit tomorrow?’
‘While you bang Banker Boy? Sure, why not. I hope that kid remembers what I have done for him when he grows up.’
I smile gratefully.
She fills two glasses with vodka and pushes one towards me. ‘Here’s to Sorab.’ I don’t want a drink. I am all churned up, but we clink and down. The alcohol burns the back of my throat. This is no celebration. Not for me and not for Billie. When our eyes meet again, hers are unsmiling; they warn me I am making a dreadful mistake.
By nine o’clock the next morning, Sorab is fed and bathed and I am nervously checking my mobile to see if the battery is low, but it is fully charged and the reception is good. Blake’s secretary’s brisk, efficient voice comes through at 9:05.