‘God, I’ve missed you, Starfish. Come inside and let me do sinful things to you.’
We only get to see each other every few weeks now I’m living back at Mum and Dad’s; it’s been ages since I was last here. Oscar pulls me over the threshold of his flat, taking my weekend bag from me and slinging it aside so he can haul me into his arms. Yes, we’ve become one of those loved-up couples who call each other ridiculous names like ickle-pickle and dinky-toes.
We. At last there is a ‘we’. And it’s amazing. I’ve never felt this wanted or cared for in my life. Oscar makes no secret of how into me he is. He has this intense way of looking at me that makes me feel the need to glance over my shoulder just to check if Jennifer Lawrence is lurking behind me.
‘Let me get my coat off!’ I laugh, and he unbuttons it for me and peels it down my arms.
‘I was rather hoping you were going to be naked underneath.’ He pauses to eye my practical jeans and warm sweater.
‘I thought about it. Didn’t want to shock the cabbie.’
‘This is London, remember?’ he grins. ‘You’re not in the sticks now, Laurie. You could have been naked with four legs and no one would turn a hair.’ His eyes glitter. ‘Except for me, of course. I’d notice if you were naked.’
‘I don’t live in the sticks,’ I bristle, because he always refers to my home back in Birmingham as if it’s some kind of straw-chewing backwater. It’s on the very edges of suburbia, a typical greenbelt village. I get it. He’s London through and through; the open spaces and lack of black cabs came as a shock to him when I took him home to meet my family over Christmas.
It wasn’t the smoothest of ‘meet the parents’ visits, to be honest. He was perfectly lovely and they were super-polite, but common ground was difficult to find. Dad tried with football, but Oscar’s more rugby, and Oscar tried with malt whisky where my dad’s more of an ale man. It’s early days, but I think we were all relieved when it was over.
‘So much green,’ he’d muttered, and it hadn’t sounded like a compliment.
I shake off the memory; this is our big reunion after six weeks apart, I don’t want to feel out of sorts with him for no reason.
‘Can I just use the loo?’ I ask, and he reaches behind me and pushes a door open.
‘Wait right there. I’ll be back in a sec.’
Inside the magazine-perfect bathroom, I throw the lock, strip naked and then belt my coat back on again. The silky lining is slippery against my skin, making me feel suddenly sexy and ready for Oscar to do his worst.
‘Come on, Laurie,’ he wheedles, and I swing the door wide and look at him, my head on one side. Without a word I walk the length of the hall and step back outside the front door, then after pulling it closed I rap my knuckles lightly against it.
‘Who is it?’ His voice is low and amused, laced with bad intentions.
‘It’s me, Laurie,’ I say, attempting husky. ‘Open the door, I want to show you how much I’ve missed you.’
He takes his time, leaning on the door frame with his arms crossed even though his eyes tell me he’s anything but nonchalant. I let my gaze sweep over him, assessing, taking in his dark jeans and expensive shirt, his bare feet somehow still tanned.
‘You’re overdressed,’ I say. ‘Can I come in?’
He doesn’t step aside, just reaches out and tugs my belt open. I don’t move to stop him when he unbuttons the coat with slow deliberation, his tongue snaking over his top lip, an unconscious tell.
‘Promise me you’ll always visit me like this?’
I smile. ‘We don’t make each other promises, remember?’
He tugs me inside by my lapels, then presses me against the back of the door as he slams it and slides his warm, searching hands inside my coat.
‘I remember,’ he whispers, half laughing, half groaning as he palms my breast. ‘Now stop talking and come to bed.’
‘Come on, Sar, we’re going to be late at this rate.’
Sarah always does this. She operates on an elastic timescale, imagining that time will stretch to accommodate however long she feels is necessary to get ready for a night out.
‘How do I look?’
When she appears in the lounge doorway I look up from the newspaper her flatmate must have left on the table and give her my full attention. Any man would; she looks incredible.
I get up and cross the room, running my hands over the soft oxblood leather. It tracks the flow of her body like a second skin, ending mid-thigh. My fingers linger there on her bare leg, slowly rucking her skirt until I skim the silk of her underwear.
A tiny, knowing smile plays over her mouth. ‘I’ll take that as your approval, shall I?’
I kiss her neck. ‘You do that.’ When I slide my hand behind her head and press my mouth into the dip between her collarbones, she sighs and takes a step back from me.
‘Don’t, Jack. We’re late enough already.’
I look into her smoky, perfectly made-up eyes. ‘I could be really fast.’
‘I know you could.’ There’s an edge to her voice.
‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’
She pauses too, glancing down at her black skyscraper heels and then back at me again. ‘Just that – nothing.’ She sighs, shaking her head. ‘Let’s not fight. We’re both really busy. Let’s just go.’
She can say that again. My life is bloody full-on and Sarah’s the same, pulling us three ways at once and usually in the opposite direction. I’ve had to switch stuff around at work this weekend so we can finally catch up with Laurie and the much-talked-of-but-not-yet-met Oscar Farquhar-Percival-McDougall. Or something like that. And where are we meeting them? At his fucking private members’ club, naturally.
‘Are you going like that?’
I look down at my clothes as if I don’t know what she means. My jeans might look battered but that’s purposeful; I paid a lot of money to look this casual. Perhaps it’s my T-shirt with ‘Star Fucker’ emblazoned across the chest that’s got up her nose – my attempt at subtle irony. I’m finally gathering a bit of a rep as an up-and-coming radio DJ, and you have to dress the part, though there’s a fine line between hipster and wankster.
‘Yes, Sarah. I’m going like this.’ I reach for the battered vintage leather jacket she gave me last Christmas and shrug it on, just to reinforce the point that I’m not going to change.
She double-checks her immaculate lipstick in the hallway mirror, then picks up her handbag and coat with a shrug. ‘Okay.’
I follow her down the stairs and, as I watch her skip down confidently in heels no one should be able to look so comfortable in, I roll my shoulders to shake off my dark mood.
‘Hey.’ I catch her hand to slow her down as she reaches the pavement. ‘Let’s not fall out. I’ve missed you this week.’ I trail the back of my hand down the smoothness of her cheek, then hold her delicate jaw. I’d rub my thumb over her full mouth if it wouldn’t ruin her lipstick. ‘You really do look knockout in this dress. I’m already thinking about peeling you out of it later.’
She softens, as I knew she would. ‘Smooth talker.’
‘You know it.’
‘I do.’ She turns her face into my hand and nips my thumb. ‘Now flag us a taxi, fool-boy. I’m freezing.’
Does it sound crazy to say I’m nervous? It’s only Sarah and Jack, for God’s sake, my oldest and best friends. I just want them to love Oscar as much as I do, that’s all. It’s been too long since we saw each other; our pact to meet at New Year fell by the wayside with the advent of Oscar. This is the first date since New Year that we’ve all been able to make; life is pulling everyone in different directions, it seems. They haven’t arrived yet, and he’s deep in conversation across the other side of the room with the barman, because he wants to have the perfect first round of drinks ready for them when they come in. He shoots me a smile when he catches me looking his way. His eyes linger on me for longer than is polite, a look that telegraphs that he’s remembering our afternoon in bed.