Chapter 2 of ‘Come and Go’
CHAPTER TWO Sunday, 1 May 2011 I met Stella on the first of May at RED. Charlie wanted to introduce me to his new boyfriend, Daniel. When I arrived it was just the three of us, but in usual Hong Kong fashion, as the night progressed, we were joined by friends and friends of friends. Stella was Daniel’s colleague and she had just been on a gruesome date. I was more than pleasantly surprised when she referred to her date as “she.” She bought beers for everyone, including herself. It had been quite busy and we’d been standing all night. When I spotted a table freeing up, I immediately claimed it, and Stella sat down next to me, our fingers twirling sweating bottles around. “You were quiet in the cab. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” Stella asked in the elevator.
“I love this place,” she said. “It’s my favourite bar in Hong Kong.”
“Yeah. At least there’s a breeze here.”
Through a well-practised Q&A of the standard questions I discovered she was from Florida, worked at Goldman Sachs, lived on The Peak and had been in Hong Kong for four and a half years with no immediate plans of leaving.
“So what do you make of Charlie and Daniel?” I asked.
“Charlie’s very handsome and Daniel’s filthy rich. They should make a good pair.”
“Is that why your date was so awful? She wasn’t pretty or rich enough?”
“Neither actually.” Stella laughed. “Did I offend you just now?”
“I’ve been here long enough not to be so easily offended anymore. But, well, Charlie is my friend.”
“And Daniel is mine.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I’m just curious. Lesbians seem so hard to find in this city.”
“I met her on the internet.”
“Why so surprised?”
“You don’t really strike me as the type to look for love on a dating website.”
“As you just said, good women are hard to find in Hong Kong.” She looked me straight in the eyes. “Where do you get yours?”
“I don’t. That’s the problem.”
“Maybe tonight’s your lucky night.”
Stella seduced me in five minutes. I was defenceless against her cool charm, her Miami wit, her effortless elegance and the way her tan skin contrasted with the light beige blouse she wore. Later, we shared a cab to her apartment on The Peak. The ride uphill was silent. I glanced at her from the corner of my eye. She stared out of the window as the cab flung itself up the steep streets. I felt slightly intimidated by this woman, this stranger I met mere hours ago. She had the waistline of a sixteen year old, but the small wrinkles creasing around her eyes when she smiled betrayed her real age. I wanted to spur our driver on to go faster, but he was already racing at an insane speed. At the same time, I wanted to stay in the car forever and live in perpetual anticipation.
“What? Oh no. No no no,” I stammered.
Once inside, without asking, she poured us both a glass of scotch. I don’t drink scotch, but I didn’t say anything. I walked to the window to enjoy the amazing view she had over the city. Towers full of light spreading out below me, puncturing the sky. It was nothing compared to the inside of her apartment. The living room was the size of my entire flat, which, by Hong Kong standards, wasn’t even that small. The walls were filled with expensive-looking modern paintings, and every possible surface, from cabinets to floor corners, was covered with funky statues, oddly-shaped vases and peculiar shiny objects. This place was obviously meant for showing off, and, at least with me, it worked. I nearly had to sip from the scotch to hide my bewilderment.
I faced the window again and in the reflection I saw her approach. She had kicked off her heels upon entering, and I could barely hear her footsteps, even though I must have been in one of the most quiet spots in the city. She put her glass on the window sill in front of me and lay her hands on my shoulders, gently stroking them. Without shoes, she was maybe one inch taller than me, but it felt like at least ten. Her hands travelled from my shoulders to my neck, where she touched my naked skin for the first time. I still had my back to her when she unbuttoned my shirt, the window mirroring our movements. Her hands slowly escorted my shirt off my upper body. I tried to turn around, but she wouldn’t let me, not yet. Her red nails trailed over my skin, downward, where she unzipped my jeans. I felt her lips on my back while her right hand made its way into my pants. That was when I fell in love with Stella Morales, and she hadn’t even kissed me yet.
Sunday, 1 May 2011
I met Stella on the first of May at RED. Charlie wanted to introduce me to his new boyfriend, Daniel. When I arrived it was just the three of us, but in usual Hong Kong fashion, as the night progressed, we were joined by friends and friends of friends. Stella was Daniel’s colleague and she had just been on a gruesome date. I was more than pleasantly surprised when she referred to her date as “she.” She bought beers for everyone, including herself. It had been quite busy and we’d been standing all night. When I spotted a table freeing up, I immediately claimed it, and Stella sat down next to me, our fingers twirling sweating bottles around.
“You were quiet in the cab. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” Stella asked in the elevator.
Come and Go
When I first started this blog I had no idea that, a year and five months later, I’d be sitting down to write a post about a book inspired by it. Lee had quite a journey on this blog, and it isn’t over yet. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever let go of Lee Harlem Robinson, the severely flawed but good-natured, blazer-wearing heroine of both this blog and the novel. But here we are now, today, and it is quite a day for me.
Don’t worry, I won’t go all sappy on you (even though I kind of want to), but writing and self-publishing this book has been such a pleasure – from first sentence, to first chapter to first draft and finally (after many more drafts) the final product. And it would never have happened without this blog. I have enjoyed writing it so much and I will surely miss it, but it’s time for something different now.
Come and Go is out today and is available as e-book and paperback. You can get it here: http://www.comeandgothenovel.com/buy/
Thank you for sticking around and I hope you give the book a try,
“Can’t she send you somewhere closer?” Alex asked, an incredulous look etched on his face. “Like Brussels or Paris. Somewhere the Eurostar goes, for instance.” The next few days I worked outside of the office as much as possible, giving Lucy a chance to catch her breath. When I went in on Friday, rushing inside the building to catch the lift before the doors closed, I found Lucy in it, as if she was waiting for me. Everyone I had spoken to, without exception, had advised me to do it. I had let their enthusiasm carry me and, in the end, determine the outcome. I spent the next months finding storage for the stuff I couldn’t take, answering the same questions with meaningless answers over and over again, acquainting myself with Hong Kong labour laws and attending farewell parties that grew more tearful as the date of my departure approached. A week before I was scheduled to leave, the last week of July, a severe bout of panic hit me straight in the gut. Was I really doing this? Could I do it? Would the loneliness not kill me? I turned to the one person I knew who had given up her homeland, for no less than love, decades ago. “Is there any chance you’ll go with me?” I asked, only half-joking. I was scared out of my mind by then. Fear of the unknown clinging to my every thought and every action. THE END
“We don’t have offices there.” I was still too shocked to display empathy towards him, my best friend I was considering leaving behind.
“Do you know what Hong Kong is, Leesbian? It’s China. They’re bloody communists. Do they even have lesbians there?”
“Less chance of heartbreak then.” I refilled his glass of port, catching a lost drop with my finger. “Anyway, I don’t have to go.”
“Don’t be daft.” He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “A promotion like that? You’d be the boss. You have to do it.”
“It’s the other side of the fucking world, Alex.”
“You’ll be fine, sweetie. They speak English over there, and I’m sure you’ll find some girls to corrupt.”
“I’ll take the next one,” I said.
“Don’t.” She pushed the open-door button so hard the blood almost drained from her finger. I stepped inside, the air heavy with awkwardness. “Have you reached a decision?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said to her reflection in the mirrored door. “I’ll do it. I’ll go to Hong Kong.”
“Good.” The BTG office was on the sixth floor so the ride up didn’t take very long. “I’ll start making the necessary arrangements.” As soon as the doors slid open she hurried out, and, without looking back, walked away.
“I heard you’re skipping town,” Claire said as soon as she had opened the door to her house to me.
“Oh yeah.” I didn’t wait for her to invite me in. I assumed I was welcome. “I can’t hang around here forever.” I stalked past her and waited in the dimly lit hallway.
“It’s so nice of you to say goodbye.” She leaned against the railing of the stairs, tilting her hips toward me in a way that almost made me want to stay. “Do you want a drink or would you rather go straight upstairs?”
I made no pretence of being there for any other reason. It had to happen, if only as an inevitable last goodbye.
“Oh baby,” she said, her hair falling into her eyes as she hunched over me, “we’ve danced that dance a million times. I think it’s time we called it a night.” That’s when I knew I’d made the right choice.
“Can’t she send you somewhere closer?” Alex asked, an incredulous look etched on his face. “Like Brussels or Paris. Somewhere the Eurostar goes, for instance.”
The next few days I worked outside of the office as much as possible, giving Lucy a chance to catch her breath. When I went in on Friday, rushing inside the building to catch the lift before the doors closed, I found Lucy in it, as if she was waiting for me.
Everyone I had spoken to, without exception, had advised me to do it. I had let their enthusiasm carry me and, in the end, determine the outcome. I spent the next months finding storage for the stuff I couldn’t take, answering the same questions with meaningless answers over and over again, acquainting myself with Hong Kong labour laws and attending farewell parties that grew more tearful as the date of my departure approached. A week before I was scheduled to leave, the last week of July, a severe bout of panic hit me straight in the gut. Was I really doing this? Could I do it? Would the loneliness not kill me? I turned to the one person I knew who had given up her homeland, for no less than love, decades ago.
“Is there any chance you’ll go with me?” I asked, only half-joking. I was scared out of my mind by then. Fear of the unknown clinging to my every thought and every action.
What it all comes down to
“We need to talk,” I said, wishing I’d have come up with a more original line. But what did it really matter in the end when hearts got broken and dreams got crushed? To be continued…
“You don’t have to move in next week, darling.” She sipped from a bottle of beer, almost swallowing the top end between her over-sized lips. I’d let her finish her curry first, figuring she wouldn’t be able to eat any more after I’d dropped my bombshell. “It’s just something to think about.”
“It’s not about that.” I played with my bottle, peeling off the label. I wondered what hurt the most, being dumped myself or this nerve-wracking waiting-game for the best moment, for the right words to find their way out of my mouth.
“I know,” she said and her words surprised me so much that my heart started thundering beneath my ribcage. “You’ve been different since you saw Claire at that party. Did something happen?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Not what you think anyway.”
“What then?” she urged, her eyes already getting moist, anticipating the worst.
“I just don’t think this is working out. Us. It’s not, erm, enough, I suppose.”
“Tell me the truth, Lee. Did you fuck her?”
I realised then that if I’d said yes she would have forgiven me. “No. It has nothing to do with Claire. It’s me. You deserve better than me.”
“That’s bullshit.” She remained so calm, so willing to work it out. As if she believed that if she let her emotions come through too much, everything would be instantly lost, as if clinging on to sanity and logic could save her. “Don’t pin this on me. You know how I feel about you.” She looked away for a split second. “Is there someone else?”
“No, it’s not like that.” How did you tell someone that you didn’t love them enough without breaking their spirit for life?
“Then we can work it out. I know we can.” Lucy the negotiator was getting the upper-hand. “I know you love me.”
“I do, but just—” I hesitated for a moment, then stopped thinking and landed the final blow. “—not enough to see this through. Not like I loved Claire, or Lou. It doesn’t feel right anymore.” I might as well have punched her in the face.
“Oh, so you prefer being cheated on, do you? You like to be treated with no respect. Well good luck to you. Darling.” She took a few shallow breaths. “Unbelievable.”
“You’ve given me so much, but it’s time to move on. It doesn’t feel right anymore. I feel as if I’m leading you on.”
“Give me a minute,” she said and got up. “I’ll be right back. Stay. Please.” She took her beer and walked to the kitchen. I heard the sound of glass shattering against the floor, but I didn’t get up. I un-muted the television and watched Eastenders until Lucy came back into the sitting room. She leaned against the couch, the furthest away from me as possible. “I think you should go to Hong Kong.”
“I can’t fire you because you don’t love me enough. I want to, but it wouldn’t be fair.” As if I wasn’t feeling bad enough about beating Lucy’s big heart to a pulp. I wanted her to sack me. I needed to be punished. “But I can’t have you in the office with me every day, and I can’t have you living at auntie Eleanor’s anymore.”
“And I wouldn’t have to see you with anyone else,” she continued, as if sending me away, to the other side of the planet no less, would dissolve all her grief. “With Claire or Lou or anyone else you could love enough.” She looked at me with eyes begging for relief. “It’s your choice, Lee. Think about it.”
“We need to talk,” I said, wishing I’d have come up with a more original line. But what did it really matter in the end when hearts got broken and dreams got crushed?
To be continued…
Coming of age
“You stand to lose a lot,” Alex said. I had met him for lunch the next Monday, the only time we actually managed to get alone these days. When I got back to the office I ignored Annabelle and knocked on Lucy’s door directly. She was munching on an apple behind her computer. To be continued…
“Maybe,” I listlessly took a bite out of my sandwich. “But not as much as staying with her would cost me.”
“What if she fires you?”
“I’m already looking into other opportunities. I won’t be able to stay at BTG. Not this time.” I couldn’t bear to eat anymore. My stomach clenched at the prospect of hurting Lucy.
“You can stay at ours for a while if Eleanor kicks you out.”
“Thanks, homie.” I realised how lucky I had been to get a cheap room at Eleanor’s for so long. Rent prices were still skyrocketing and then there was the dreaded search for roommates. I was about to pull the bottom out from under my life, the only difference was that this time it was intentionally.
“That’s what friends are for.” He eyed my sandwich. “Are you not eating that?”
I shoved it towards him. “I’m more in the mood for a liquid lunch.”
“For what it’s worth, I think you’re very brave,” he said before tucking into the rest of my chicken-avocado sandwich.
“It’s not a matter of courage.” I felt the tears well up behind my eyes a little bit. “It’s not even a matter of choice.”
“Are you finally coming of age, Lee Harlem Robinson?” Over the table, he grabbed my hand. “About ten years too late, but then again, it’s never too late, is it?”
I shook my head. “I guess not.”
“Is that all you’re eating?” I asked.
“Your concern is heart-warming, darling.” She pulled her lips into that wide grin again. I would miss that smile. “But it looks like Hong Kong is happening. Now all I need is the right person for the job.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone. You always do.”
She looked away from her screen and pinned her eyes on me, giving me all of her attention. “What can I do for you?”
“Can we meet at your place tonight? I’ll bring some take-out.” Part of me had wanted to wait until the weekend, so she’d have at least two days to process, but it suddenly seemed so urgent, and wrong to postpone.
“Sure, you have the key. Let yourself in if I’m not home yet.”
“Okay.” I turned to leave.
“You should move in, you know,” she said, out of nowhere.
I had my back to her and took a deep breath before facing her again. “I’ll think about it.” I forced my lips into a smile.
Lucy got up from behind her desk and walked over to me. “I’m sorry, darling. I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that.” She kissed me on my forehead. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” So much wasted kindness, I thought. Cheating would have been much easier. “I have an interview this afternoon, so I’ll see you at home.” I was relieved that I didn’t have to spend the rest of the day looking at her open door, searching for her shadows.
“Bring me a chicken tikka, will you?” she said.
I was thinking of a bottle of brandy instead.
“You stand to lose a lot,” Alex said. I had met him for lunch the next Monday, the only time we actually managed to get alone these days.
When I got back to the office I ignored Annabelle and knocked on Lucy’s door directly. She was munching on an apple behind her computer.
To be continued…
I saw them standing together and I knew. The awkward conversation they engaged in faded to nothing and I just saw their lips move. My past and future in romance collided in that moment and delivered a gut-wrenching blow to my stomach. Two versions of love battled for the upper-hand right in front of my nose. On the one hand, there was Claire, with her tight face and arrogant gaze, who stood for no-holds-barred passion reined in by a slew of impossible rules. Facing her stood Lucy, wide-lipped and freckled and so generous with her affections, so unconditional in her love for me that it verged on the ridiculous. It wasn’t even a battle really, it was more of an aha-moment, a revelation waiting to happen. I was only thirty and I felt as if I’d given up on love. As if it had dragged me down so much that I had no choice but to choose the unadventurous, safe, easy kind. Somehow I had learned to love Lucy and her dependable ways but in no way did it compare to what I had felt, or maybe still did, for Claire. It didn’t even come close. It’s not that I was suddenly overcome by a desire to ditch Lucy and let Claire feel me up in a dark corner of the hotel. It was just a plain and simple realisation that I shouldn’t settle for anything less than the torrent of emotions and the never-ending waves of passion I’d felt for Claire Burns. I had experienced the beginnings of it with Lou, but that had gone to hell before it could even develop. What I knew for certain though, was that I didn’t have it with Lucy. That was more make-belief, convenience, an easy way out. I watched their mouths form words in slow motion and I knew I had to make a choice. Break it to Lucy in a gentle, adult manner or a return to the despicable form of what oddly seemed my past now. Talk or cheat? Either way, I would break her heart. “Shall we go back in, darling?” Lucy asked while wrapping her fingers around mine, and I was snapped out of my daydream. To be continued…
I smiled and squeezed her hand. “Just give me a minute to powder my nose.” I turned to look at Claire one more time. She winked at me as if she knew something. She probably did. I locked myself in for long minutes, blotting out the sounds of women entering and leaving again. Then my phone beeped. My hands were slightly shaky when I dug it out of my pocket. Somehow I knew it would be Claire. She was predictable like that. Meet me in Room 405 in twenty minutes, it said. It was decision time already. I had more respect for Lucy than that, though. She deserved more than to be discarded like that again. And I didn’t want Claire back. She was just the trigger, the intensity of our relationship the measure I wanted to hold myself to. Ten tumultuous years in romance had proved insightful enough not to let myself get burned by Claire again. No, I typed and sent it with a sense of relief bubbling through me. But the hardest part was yet to come.
I walked back into the room and was scooped up by Alex.
“Good news, Leesbian,” he said. “That coward Lou isn’t coming tonight. Apparently she’s not feeling well.” He curled his fingers into air quotes. “That’s one less bitch to worry about.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” I said and stole his champagne glass out of his hand.
I saw them standing together and I knew. The awkward conversation they engaged in faded to nothing and I just saw their lips move. My past and future in romance collided in that moment and delivered a gut-wrenching blow to my stomach. Two versions of love battled for the upper-hand right in front of my nose. On the one hand, there was Claire, with her tight face and arrogant gaze, who stood for no-holds-barred passion reined in by a slew of impossible rules. Facing her stood Lucy, wide-lipped and freckled and so generous with her affections, so unconditional in her love for me that it verged on the ridiculous. It wasn’t even a battle really, it was more of an aha-moment, a revelation waiting to happen. I was only thirty and I felt as if I’d given up on love. As if it had dragged me down so much that I had no choice but to choose the unadventurous, safe, easy kind. Somehow I had learned to love Lucy and her dependable ways but in no way did it compare to what I had felt, or maybe still did, for Claire. It didn’t even come close.
It’s not that I was suddenly overcome by a desire to ditch Lucy and let Claire feel me up in a dark corner of the hotel. It was just a plain and simple realisation that I shouldn’t settle for anything less than the torrent of emotions and the never-ending waves of passion I’d felt for Claire Burns. I had experienced the beginnings of it with Lou, but that had gone to hell before it could even develop. What I knew for certain though, was that I didn’t have it with Lucy. That was more make-belief, convenience, an easy way out. I watched their mouths form words in slow motion and I knew I had to make a choice. Break it to Lucy in a gentle, adult manner or a return to the despicable form of what oddly seemed my past now. Talk or cheat? Either way, I would break her heart.
“Shall we go back in, darling?” Lucy asked while wrapping her fingers around mine, and I was snapped out of my daydream.
To be continued…
Two weeks later the four of us got out of a cab at a posh hotel in Chelsea. Before heading out we’d shared a bottle of wine, out of which I had managed to squeeze three big glasses for myself, but it wasn’t nearly enough to still my nerves. Lucy squeezed my hand as we walked in, her posture rigid and her smile wide, as if nothing could touch her. We greeted Theresa and her husband Geoffrey with pecks on the cheeks and, in Geoffrey’s case, lingering fingers in inappropriate places. Impeccably dressed waiters handed us flutes of champagne, which I gulped down as if it was water after spending a fortnight in the driest desert. Alex went off to work the room, Ben by his side as the most elegant prop. Lucy recognised someone she used to work with and introduced me. I drained more champagne and cautiously looked around for a sign of Claire or Lou, but I didn’t see either of them.
“I’m going to find the washroom,” I whispered in Lucy’s ear. “I’ll be right back.” I meandered through the crowd, everyone dressed up as peacocks as if it were the event of the year. I was sure Theresa got quite the thrill out of that. Then, emerging from the door that led to the toilets, I finally saw Claire. I was startled at first, even though it was hardly a surprise, but the sheer shock of seeing her, of being in the same room with her, was enough to make my heart skip a beat.
“Hey baby,” she said. “How are ya?”
I could have cried. I felt the tears well up behind my eyes but I swallowed them away. It was nostalgia and the remnants of something, possibly the greatest love I’d ever had, and it cut through me without mercy.
“Hello Claire.” The curve of her mouth, that ever-mocking downward twinge, struck me again, and her eyes, in all their un-touched glory, seemed to know something. “I wish I could say I was happy to see you, but I’m still on the fence about it.”
“I know, baby, I know.” She curled her lips into a tight smile. “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
My whole history with Claire flashed before me. Meeting her at Waterloo station, the first drunk night, moving to Paris, the pain and not wanting to give up despite knowing better. Is this it then, I thought? Was this the love of my life and will I never feel the same for anyone else again? It seemed like such a bad deal. We walked into the hallway and leaned against the wall, away from the party chatter.
“So you’re with Lucy now.” There was no sign of sarcasm in her voice, no superiority, just plain niceness and I didn’t really know how to handle it.
“Yes, it’s been a few months. It’s good.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“The way you were happy for Lou and me?” I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t just the anger, it was the nerves and the anxiety that had been building. It was the image of her in Lou’s doorway that was etched in my memory and haunted me like a recurring nightmare.
“I’m sorry, Lee. Looking back, it’s one of my biggest regrets.” She bent her head towards me. “And I won’t ask for your forgiveness.” Her lips were almost at my ear now. “But I’m glad you came tonight.”
“There you are,” Lucy said. “I was wondering where you’d got to.”
Claire abruptly retracted her head and held out her hand. “You must be Lucy. Nice to meet you. I’m Claire.”
To be continued…
“We miss Alex dearly,” Theresa said. “In the hilarity department, he’s as good as irreplaceable.”
“What about the morals department? From what I’ve heard, when you work at Sanders & Burns, it really doesn’t matter who you fuck and what the consequences are.”
“I accept that.” She blew into her cappuccino. “Just this once.”
I had always liked Theresa and I could hardly fault her. She was one of the most honest people I knew and no question fazed her. “Who is your business partner corrupting these days?”
“We try to stay out of each other’s personal lives lately. And sexually, all co-workers are strictly off-limits.”
“Good luck with that.” I couldn’t help laughing because I knew which effect the word off-limits had on Claire Burns.
“I made her sign a document.” She curled her lips into a sneer. “This is a serious business we’re running.”
“How’s Lou?” My heart hammered in my throat. One part of me wanted nothing more than to talk about her, but the other part, the more cautious one, still didn’t feel entirely comfortable.
“Professionally, which is as far as my wide knowledge stretches, she’s doing well. But that’s not really what you want to know, is it?” She slanted her head to the left a bit and pinned her blue eyes on me. “I know they hurt you, Lee. But you’re happy now, right?”
“I am,” I said with more force than necessary.
“Good.” She drained the last of her coffee. “So maybe you and Lucy can do me the honour of attending this fine event.” She handed me a white embossed envelop. “It’s my sixtieth birthday and I won’t take no for an answer.”
“You don’t look a day over fifty, boss.” I slipped the invitation out and studied the few lines of text for a long time. “I don’t think I can make it, though.”
“It’s time to put the past behind you, Lee. I’ve even invited Alex and if he can find it in his heart to celebrate with me, you really have no excuse.” She patted me on the thigh. “See you in two weeks.”
“Are you seriously considering it?” I asked Alex. “You didn’t exactly leave on friendly terms.” We sat in Eleanor’s couch, sipping sherry.
“It’s business, Leesbian. I’m freelance now and every big player in the London advertising scene will be there. It’s an excellent opportunity for me.”
“You’re such a whore.”
“Don’t use that word in my house,” Eleanor, who was setting the table while Pat cooked dinner in the kitchen, said.
“How long has she been living here?” Alex turned towards Eleanor. “It’s been years and you still haven’t managed to instill some manners in this lesbian.”
“Maybe not manners, but she has been behaving rather good lately. I take full credit.” Eleanor walked over to the sofa. “Anyway, I don’t necessarily think it’s such a bad idea.”
“That’s what Lucy said.”
“It’s going to be a massive do. Not as if it’ll just be us awkwardly crammed together in a confined space,” Alex said. “We’ll make it a double date. Ben adores Lucy.”
“Who doesn’t?” Lucy walked into the room. “Where is your gorgeous piece of man flesh tonight?”
“He’s on his way. He should be just in time for dinner.”
Alex and Ben. Eleanor and Pat. Lucy and me. It seemed so perfect, so right. We had many evenings like that, just chatting and nibbling around Eleanor’s dinner table. It always made me feel extremely grown-up. I listened to Alex and Eleanor’s light banter, sprinkled with Lucy’s nasal voice and I wondered if it was the sound of happiness. It was, for a while.
To be continued…
From then on, I started to see Lucy differently. Maybe because I was so desperate for something to hold on to, or just maybe because, in all her brave complexity, she was the right woman for me at that time.
“We both like it messy and that’s all right,” Lucy said one night after we’d decided we didn’t care what our co-workers thought anymore, and walked home together. “Before you know it, it all becomes too romantic and incredibly boring.”
“You really get me, Lucy. I wish I’d seen that when we first met.”
“No.” She shook her head. “Too romantic.”
“What about all those months of pining after me?” I joked. “You have to see the romance in that.”
“But that’s the right kind, the tragic, painful kind.” She turned her head towards me. “And trust me, being with Joan was plenty painful.” She rubbed her behind in memory of more smarting days.
I giggled stupidly. “It looks like we made it in the end.”
“Against all odds,” she said and drew me closer to her. “Let’s enjoy this moment, though.” I could feel her breath in my hair. “Because who knows what will happen next?”
Heartbreak and failure at love had driven me into Lucy’s arms, I never forgot that. Claire and especially Lou still occupied much more of my thoughts than what was strictly necessary. But once Alex had quit working for Sanders & Burns our lives had no reason for colliding anymore. And slowly, with every picture I crumpled and every formerly treasured text message I deleted, I took one more step away from them. Lucy and I carved out our own story, with our own little hang-ups and frustrations, but mostly with a good deal of unmistakably romantic happiness. I breezed into my thirties, leaving my romantically challenged twenties behind once and for all, and it felt like a new beginning. Blogging The Globe began setting up offices around the world and whenever possible, Lucy took me with her. Months went by without a hint of drama. We were simply too busy being content and, in ways, oddly satisfied with each other. I loved Lucy, that was clear, but it wasn’t the all-encompassing devouring I’ll-take-anything passion I’d had for Claire. It was a more stable kind of emotion, more human as well, with a much better chance at survival. Maybe this is it, I thought. Maybe it doesn’t have to be difficult. I’ll just grow old and dull with Lucy Rowe. If only I hadn’t let myself believe that. I should have known better, should have known myself better, but I was blinded by something. Love or foolishness or both, or maybe they were just the same.
It started on a cold damp day in January, my last January in London for a while, but I didn’t know that yet. I’d finished an interview with an up-and-coming digital artist at a Costa Coffee in Covent Garden when Theresa, my former boss and the Sanders in Sanders & Burns, walked in.
“Oh Lee,” she said. “I thought the earth had swallowed you whole.” She hugged me with her typical zeal, nearly crushing my windpipe on her collarbone. “What did I tell you about keeping in touch?”
“It’s not that I didn’t want to. The circumstances haven’t been particularly inviting, that’s all.”
“Excuses, excuses. Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”
And so it all began to unravel, again.
To be continued…
“Aspirin’s not going to help this time,” I said. “I just had an interesting meeting with Mrs Henderson.” I stopped at a bench, to catch my breath and steady my wobbly knees.
“I see.” Lucy’s voice cracked over the phone.
I fully understood why she had never told me — I was hardly the most reliable person in her life — but it still shook me, destabilised me in ways I’d never imagined anything Lucy-related would.
“Come back to the office. We’ll talk,” she said.
“With Annabelle lurking outside your door? I don’t think so.”
“Take the afternoon off. I’ll see you tonight.” She hesitated a few seconds, the silence more nerve-wracking than any words. “This has absolutely nothing to do with you, Lee. It happened a long time ago.”
“I know,” I said and hung up. I pictured Annabelle’s victorious smile, which, for once, wouldn’t have to be entirely fake. She had pulled the wool over my eyes so expertly the night before and I had just accepted it. It had indeed been a mistake to underestimate her. The thought of having to mingle with her at the office every day made my stomach clench. How did Lucy do it? Did they have some secret, twisted boss-secretary thing going on between them? Of all the things I’d envisioned being fatal to my affair with Lucy, I’d never have expected it to be Annabelle Brooks. What amazed me most of all though, was how the tables had turned so quickly between Lucy and me.
“Can I come in?” Lucy asked. She held the door to my room open just wide enough for half of her face to peek through.
“Yes.” I swivelled my desk chair in her direction, my face drawn into a sulk. “But beware, I may be filming this.”
She headed over to where I was sitting and crouched down beside me. “That’s not even remotely funny,” she said, and smiled anyway.
“Now I understand why you wanted me to stay out of it and leave Annabelle alone.”
“I’m sorry you had to find out that way. In fact, I’m sorry you had to find out at all.”
“I shouldn’t have pried. It’s my own fault.”
“Are we all right?” Lucy stretched out her legs and towered over me, ruffling her hands through my hair.
“I’m not the one who slept with he blond bitch from hell. How did you ever recover from that?” I looked up at her and held her gaze. “And why did you lie?”
“I didn’t want to lay this on you, darling. Not at this stage.” She spread her legs and straddled me on the chair. “And as far as that night is concerned, I classified it as a necessary business decision.”
“Waw, you really remind me of someone right now.” I shot her a mocking smile.
“Don’t you dare say it, Lee.” She brought her lips to my ear. “You can accuse me of a lot, but I’m nothing like Claire Burns.”
“How do you face Annabelle’s plastic grin every morning?” I leaned back a bit to see her face. “It must annoy the hell out of you.”
Lucy pushed herself up and sat down on the bed. “I run BTG exactly the way I want to. Lynette and Annabelle may think they have some power, and they do have a little bit, but they’re stuck in their own little sick world of manipulation and games. They pose no real threat. As soon as I figured that out, I knew that if I just played along, everything would be fine.”
“Until I came along.”
“Well.” She held out both her hands, palms upwards, inviting me for a hug. “You are a bit of a loose canon.”
I grabbed hold of her fingers and let her pull me in. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
To be continued…