Bill’s mouth is hanging open with shock. She looks at me as if she has never known me. ‘Are you going into some kind of sick sado-masochistic relationship?’
This time it is easy to meet her eyes. ‘Blake doesn’t know how to hurt me. Even if I asked him to, he couldn’t. He believes he can, but he can’t. I know that. You’ve met him. What do you think?’
Bill sighs. ‘I liked him,’ she admits finally.
I smile, but inside I am incredibly sad. I feel as if I can never touch real or lasting happiness. Everything gets taken away. ‘Yes, I got the impression he likes you too.’
Bill turns red.
‘Are you blushing, Bill?’
‘If he ever tries anything funny, you’re out of that sick contract in a flash,’ she says gruffly.
I nod. She has just ensured that I will never tell her the whole story.
The appointment with the nurse is quick and painless.
Next stop: the solicitor’s offices. I get shown into Mr. Jay Benby’s room by his secretary. He stands in greeting. I look around. Everything is exactly the same.
‘How are you, Miss Bloom?’ he says, half-rising from his chair, the same trust-me-I know-what’s-best-for-you smile slowly slithering into his face like he is showing off his pet snake.
I drop my eyes to his turquoise ring and ask, ‘Where do I sign?’
He draws himself to his full height. ‘I must remind you, Miss Bloom, about the importance and the serious implications of what you are about to sign,’ he begins with sanctimonious arrogance, but I cut him off. Last time I was the young thing that came into his office all big-eyed and intimidated by his legal jargon. Not this time.
‘Mr. Benby, we are both being paid to be here. We can pretend you are better than me, but why waste our time?’
His eyes narrow dangerously.
Ah, I have offended him. Good.
His movements are sharp and jerky as he opens the contract on his desk to the required page, puts a black and gold fountain pen on top of that page, and pushes the whole shebang towards my end of the desk. Truth is we both know that I don’t have to be here. The contract I have already signed is for life. Of course, he can’t figure out why I am here, I see that in his speculative eyes, but I know exactly why I am here.
This is part of my humiliation.
I take the pen. It is cool and smooth in my fingers. I unscrew the cap, sign and date the document, then push it back towards him.
‘Are we done here?’
He nods stiffly, his anger very firmly held in check. I am Blake Law Barrington’s woman, at least for the next 42 days. Untouchable. I turn around and leave.
A small Boots paper bag is sitting in the back seat of the Bentley. I thank Tom , stuff the contraceptives into my rucksack and turn my head to look out of the window. London has a different air from Kilburn. Less desperation, more bustle. The people are different too. They haven’t given up. They still believe in their pursuit. It makes their eyes hard. The way all city people’s eyes are. I press my hand to my stomach. I am nervous. I don’t know what tonight will be like. So far it seems as if Blake has recreated the day of our first night together. Our first night together still burns in my memory. I replay it in my mind and it causes my thighs to clench together with a mixture of excitement and anticipation.
This time, I think, I will hold my own.
Fleur is waiting in the reception area for me. She walks towards me, smiling, polished and elegant, exactly as I remember her. She embraces me warmly. Then she holds me away from her and says, ‘It is wonderful to see you again, but you have become so thin. Have you been all right?’
Suddenly I want to cry. I couldn’t cry at all for weeks, but since yesterday the smallest acts of kindness make me want to bawl my eyes out. I bite my lip and blink back the tears.
For a moment Fleur registers an expression of surprise, but she is not a PR executive for nothing. She smiles brightly and making a crook out of her left arm invites me to slip mine through hers. We walk together out of the glass doors. ‘Shall we start with some cosmetics?’
‘I don’t need new cosmetics, Fleur. I’ve hardly used the stuff you got me the last time. Not much call for it in Iran.’
She turns her face towards me. ‘It is bad enough that women have to put chemicals on their faces, at least let it not be old and toxic. Six months is the maximum that you should keep your cosmetics once opened,’ she says firmly, as we exit into the weak sunlight.
We get my cosmetics on the ground floor of Harvey Nichols. Besides the nudes and soft pinks Fleur picks out a scarlet lipstick. ‘I am informed that you will be going to the opera. This will be perfect for the black dress I have in mind.’ She passes a credit card over to the sales assistant and turns to me. ‘Have you been to the opera before?’
I shake my head.
Fleur smiles. ‘Well, then it will be a new and wonderful experience for you.’
We get into the lift.
‘There is a dress here which you absolutely must try on. It is a dream.’
We are passing a glass showcase when Fleur stops so suddenly I slam into her. Grabbing my hand she yanks me down into a crouched position with her. I stare at her without comprehension as we hunker down behind the showcase. She puts her finger to her lips, smiles weakly and to her credit manages an insouciant shrug.
My first thought is that she has spotted someone she wants to avoid, but the next moment I hear a snooty accent ask, ‘Don’t you have it in cerise?’ An icy claw of horror clutches my stomach. I must have paled or looked scared because Fleur’s fingers tighten on my hand and her eyes shoot out a silent, but clear warning to make no sound.
I swallow hard.
The voice is saying something else I do not catch, but it is moving away. Fleur tugs at my hand and starts crawling away. If I was not so shaken it would have been funny. Both of us on our hands and knees in Harvey Nichols! Once when Billie had come barefoot here in the height of summer security had her forcibly ejected. But Fleur is not just anyone. Fleur represents big business, repeat business.
A matronly woman looks at us with widened, disapproving eyes, but then she recognizes Fleur who gives her a small wave. She nods almost imperceptibly and stares ahead. As soon as we reach the end of the long showcase Fleur stands and, pulling me with her, walks quickly out of the department. We go down the stairs and exit the store. Outside Fleur doesn’t wait for Tom, but hails a black cab. We get into it and she tells the driver to take us to Kings Road.
Then she sends a text message to Tom to meet us there and turns to me.