‘Let’s have lunch when I get back,’ she says.
I am too choked to speak. I simply nod.
‘I actually came to give you this.’ She hands me her bouquet.
I take it from her with both hands. The frog in my throat croaks out a thanks.
‘Got to go. I’ll call you when I get back.’
I know she is flying off to a surprise, secret location first, and Billie will be staying at Lana’s apartment with Sorab, but after a week Billie and Sorab will fly out to Thailand to meet the couple for a week-long holiday.
‘Yes, please do.’
She grins. ‘Good, I’ll bore you then with all my photographs.’
I smile weakly, and she turns away from me and goes to Blake. They link hands. I watch him. His entire attention is on Lana. Without another glance at me, he takes her hand and guides her away from me, the super bitch. At the door Lana turns around.
‘He’s not who you think he is,’ she says, and then they go down the lantern-lit path. I watch them walk under the fairy lights and the oversized pom-poms until they are swallowed by the topiary garden. But even from here I can already see the guests have lighted their sparklers. Hundreds are waving around. There is clapping and cheering and wedding bubbles start rising up. A beautiful end to a superb day. I wish I had not come here alone. I should have stayed with everyone else.
Suddenly music, music that I recognize booms out of the loudspeakers, and John Newman’s strong, raw voice: ‘Know I’ve done wrong, left your heart torn.’ I smile. It is one of my favorite songs. He is screaming in that totally cool way: ‘IIIIIIIII need to know now, know now, will you love me again?’ I look down at the bouquet in my hand. Bring it to my nose and inhale the faint scent deeply.
‘Congratulations, Lana,’ I whisper sadly.
No joy shall be equal…
The Yellow Emperor asked: ‘How can I know if a woman is close to having an orgasm?’
The simple Girl answered: ‘A woman presents five signs and five desires. These are the five signs: First she blushes, now the man can come close to her.’
—Notes from the Bedchamber
I push the button beside the nameplate that reads twenty-five.
‘Yes,’ a man’s voice crackles through.
‘It’s Julie Sugar. We have an…er…appointment.’
For a few moments there is silence. I interpret it as surprise. We did say Monday? Have I got the date wrong? Is it Monday next? Has he forgotten?
‘Take the lift to the top floor.’
The buzzer sounds and I push the heavy door open, into a reception with tall mirrors and flowers. I take the lift to the fifth floor and walk along a blue carpet. I knock on his door and he opens it almost immediately. He is wearing a faded, paint-splattered T-shirt and an extremely old, torn pair of black jeans that hugs his lean hips and strong thighs in a way that makes my eyes want to linger. He is not wearing shoes and his hair is messy in the way David Garrett’s gets messy while he is in concert. Silky strands have escaped their tie and hang about his throat.
This man is actually very hot! I feel my throat drying up. Now: if Fat Mary is right about his sexual prowess… My traveling eyes return to his face. In the dim of that heavily curtained room I had not noticed, but, God, what eyes! Fringed with thick lashes and a truly astonishing color. I had thought they were blue. They’re not. They are uniquely greenish blue. Like the ocean on a hot day in places like Barbados. They are also totally expressionless. Reserved. Almost cold. Strange. Whatever happened to that man with the laughing eyes?
‘I was working. I thought you weren’t coming,’ he says.
‘Why did you think I wouldn’t come?’
He shrugs. ‘People say things, make…er…appointments…’ He lets his voice trail off.
I look around the open plan, large, spacious apartment. It is decorated in a modern, non-individualistic but typically masculine way. A sleek sandstone fireplace, black leather sofas, glass coffee table, expensive built-in sound system and oversized plasma screen. Not a plant in sight. There is nothing personal in the flat either. No photographs or scatter cushions that don’t match, no collection of anything in glass showcases. But it is situated in the city’s prime real estate and must cost a bomb.
‘This is a nice place you have.’
‘It’s not mine. It belongs to Blake. I’m just using it temporarily. The only things that belong to me are my clothes, my CDs, my paints and canvasses, and Smith.’
‘Well, it’s nice anyway.’ I walk to the plate glass wall that stretches from ceiling to floor and look down on London. The view is pleasant. ‘Who is Smith?’
‘Smith,’ he calls and a huge cat, one of those haughty, long-haired, terribly expensive Chinchillas, saunters into the room and goes to rub itself against his legs. He bends down and strokes him. I watch his golden brown hand moving sensuously against the soft fur and I am reminded of Fat Mary’s words. He has a slow hand. I walk up to the cat.
‘He has the same color eyes as you,’ I exclaim.
And he blushes like a girl! It is the first time in my life that I have seen a man go red at something I have said. It makes him appear sweet. To hide, he bends down to pick the cat up.
‘In color he is me; in shape he is all you,’ he says, finally meeting my eyes. It is my turn to flush. There is something about this man that I respond to on a rather basic level. The cat and I are now at eye level. In his arms it looks like a gray cloud, all soft and fluffy. Smith stares at me with incredibly beautiful, but curiously expressionless eyes.
‘Have you had him long?’
‘He actually belonged to an ex who decided not to take him back with her when she left for America. She didn’t want any reminders of me.’
I look away from the cat towards the stairs that end on a closed door. Vann follows the direction of my eyes.
‘That’s my work studio. Don’t ever go in there.’
My eyes widen. ‘Don’t go in? Or Bluebeard don’t go in?’
‘Bluebeard don’t go in.’ His face is grim. He is serious about this.
‘Right. So how do we do this?’
‘First you have a shower.’
What? Suddenly I am sitting beside Melissa Brumaster and she is looking at me disdainfully. Melissa Brumaster is a f**king twenty-four carat, first class bitch. ‘You smell,’ she denounces loudly. Around me girls start giggling. ‘Do you never wash?’ Her nose is crinkled with disgust. I put my head down and say nothing, filled with the knowledge that she is right. I am fat. I sweat a lot and, like the rest of my family, I don’t wash too often. So I stink. That childish taunt has remained in my consciousness. It still hurts like hell today.