Something so close to love – Artemis Callaghan
Contains strong language and sex.
Please feel free to email me at Ceri.Lloyd@bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Paul wasn’t talking to me. To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered. It was a relief not to have to think, to worry about him. At work, the sensitive gossip whiskers were vibrating, I could hear the air humming even after the conversation had abruptly halted at my appearance. It would seem I’d finally shown my true colours and none of them were in the slightest bit surprised; I’d always been a standoffish cow, it had only been a matter of time before I revealed the bitch they knew was in there. Poor Paul, everyone’s darling, sat in his glassed off office wearing the wounded expression of an abused puppy dog, and the girls were eating it up his hurt little boy act with a spoon.
Let them get on with it. If they had nothing better to do with their time than discuss my love life then I certainly did. I could imagine what they were saying and knew they were so far off the truth, it was laughable. None of them had the imagination to ever guess what I got up to. Readers of sensational true life stories in trashy women’s magazines they might’ve been but they didn’t even know where to start when it came to me.
However, it mattered more what Cass thought of me.
“Well, I have to say I didn’t think you’d do it”
“You were always on at me to dump him”
“Yes, darling, but I didn’t think you’d ever actually do it”
We were in the bar I’d gone to with Ella, the one by the castle. That had been Cass’s idea, they do great cocktails, she told me, like I didn’t already know. Luckily, she wanted to sit at a table rather than at the bar. I gazed out of the window at the people walking past, at the buses as they pulled up, disgorged, refilled and pulled off.
“I haven’t dumped him as such. I just said I didn’t want to get married”
“And knowing you, I’m sure you didn’t put it quite as reasonably as that”
I gave her a twisted smile.
“I called him a sanctimonious little prick”
Cass laughed loudly.
“I think it’s safe to say that the wedding’s off then”
“According to the entire staff of Hyperion, I am the biggest cow alive”
“O we all know that, darling. Tell me something I don’t know. Please tell me you are going to enjoy your new freedom with your customary debauchery. You know I live vicariously through you”
I lit a cigarette and said nothing for a couple of seconds. Cass looked at me quizzically. I didn’t want to meet her eye, so looked out of the window again. The sky was that intense blue that is neither, truly, light nor dark; paler at one end of the sky than the other. The street was full of kids intent on their night out; boys and girls split off into couples, single sex gangs, the boys in their loose, bright coloured shirts, the girls in their mini skirts and heels. The atmosphere was heavy with potential sex, too much drink, the dark hint of sudden violence. Their energy crackled. I took a draw on my fag and glanced back at Cass.
“I think I’ve met someone”
Cass’s eyebrows shot up.
“You think you’ve met someone? Darling, you either have or you haven’t”
“I’ve met someone. I think I’ve met someone who might mean something”
I’d said too much. I sat right back in my seat and carried on smoking, reluctant to say any more. Why did I blurt that out? Cass was going to latch onto it and want to talk about it and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I wasn’t sure I was ready to bring Ella out quite yet. I wanted to keep her to myself; a secret unspoiled by anyone else knowing it. If I made it public property, it would get dog-eared and grubby. Even Cass, my usual confidante, might take the shine off it.
“Just leave it, pretend I didn’t say anything”
She was wise to that one, leaning across the table.
“You can’t say something like I think I’ve met someone and then act like it’s nothing when it very evidently isn’t. The give away being the statement someone who might mean something, don’t you think? Darling, I am your oldest and, I like to think, closest friend. If you can’t tell me, who can you tell? At least give me a clue: he or she?”
“Excellent, that’s a good start. She. And where did you meet this fabulous creature?”
“At Katrina’s wedding”
“Katrina’s wedding? That was weeks ago. I can’t believe you haven’t told me this before now”
She paused for effect.
“So tell me, darling, have you done the filthy deed?”
I nodded. Cass whooped so loudly, the people at the next table turned round to stare at her. She put her hands up to indicate her apologies before dropping her voice.
“And was she any good?”
I sighed, and rubbed my fingertips along my hairline.
“O dear, that bad? Well, sex isn’t everything, or so I’m told”
“No, not bad in the slightest. I think it’s probably the best sex I’ve ever had”
“So why are you so unhappy?”
“Who says I’m unhappy?”
“Come on, Jenna, darling, I know what it means when you do that thing with your hairline. It usually means something bad”
I let my hand drop, let it pick up my drink and lift it to my mouth. I’d avoided ordering a cocktail, much like I’d avoided sitting at the bar. Nothing felt right: it was as if the world had shifted very slightly on its axis, not enough to cause massive earthquakes, but enough for everything to be just that bit off kilter. To be just that little bit wrong. It felt wrong to be in here without Ella, without the press at the bar and the press of her leg against mine. It felt wrong to be dressed like this, straight from work in my grey pinstripe suit. It felt wrong to be sitting opposite Cass with a bleached wood table between us, a view of the outside to my left side. I shouldn’t be able to see anything that wasn’t Ella.
You see, Paul wasn’t talking to me and Ella had gone to ground. She wasn’t answering her phone or replying to text messages. We hadn’t spoken since I’d found her in my kitchen, looking at the photo of Paul. I’d taken her back to bed, thinking everything was fine. After all, this was the woman who had opened up to me in the night and cried when she came. I lay in the dark, holding her, feeling the wetness on my chest. Sh, darling, sh. And that afternoon in my bed, she let her knees fall open as I put my tongue to her clit; wrapped her legs around me as I fucked her, her breathing hard, my rhythm obliterating any memory of Paul’s from my mind. The walls of her cunt clutched at the fingers inside her, shock after shock clinging to me as I thrust deeper and deeper, and she was taking it, everything I could give her. I felt her body gather itself up and when she came, she exploded. Panting, we both collapsed on the bed. Ella lay still and quiet, as if she’d gone off somewhere else in her head. I pulled the covers over the both of us and held her in my arms.
Hi, this is Ella. I’m afraid I can’t take your call right now, but if you’d like to leave a message after the tone, you know, that would be fantastic.
Ella, it’s Jenna, are you there? Long pause. It would seem not. Perhaps you could call me back, or maybe send me a text message, just to let me know you’re okay. Long pause. Sigh. I’d just like to hear your voice. Call me.
Nothing. She didn’t call me. She didn’t text me. I didn’t know what I’d done or what to do.
Some how I found my way back to her street and through a process of elimination found her house, the only one in the row that had a pink front door. I didn’t remember a pink front door but I knew it couldn’t be any other house than hers. I picked up the heavy duty lion’s head door knocker and rapped three times. There were footsteps and my heart was pounding in my throat. The pink front door opened but it wasn’t Ella. It was the boy from the wedding, her cousin, the one with the black and white striped waistcoat.
“I wasn’t expecting you” I blurted out.
He filled the door frame. This close to, the resemblance to Ella was startling. His hair was the same floppy, slightly curly, nearly needing a haircut but getting away with it. His eyes were the same greeny hazel. He looked like he’d just got out of bed: his chest bare, a pair of worn jeans pulled on, no underwear. He stretched up to hold on to the lintel with both hands, and the jeans sagged a little, affording me a flash of pubic hair climbing up to his navel. The slight smile on his lips told me that he knew exactly what he was doing.
“No, you were expecting my much hotter cousin, weren’t you? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but she’s not here”
He scratched his chest with his left hand.
“Out buying paint or something like that”
“Would it be alright if I came in?”
“Suit yourself. Don’t know how long she’ll be”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind waiting”
He moved to one side to let me in.
“I’m just spliffing up, d’ya fancy a toke?”
“I’d rather have a cup of tea”
Again he shrugged his suit yourself shrug, saying:
“I’ll have one too if you’re making one. Milk, two sugars, thanks”
As I filled and set the kettle to boil, he sat at the old fashioned scrubbed pine kitchen table building a joint. I watched as he heated the big lump of resin with the same blue lighter Ella had used to light my cigarette. He crumbled the softened hash onto tobacco that was already lying on two Rizlas. Delicately, he lifted the construction up off the table, gently rolling it between his fingers until it became a tube. A flick of tongue along the gummed edge, flipped over and sealed, he twisted the end and gave it a shake. The kettle switched itself off. He looked at me.
“Sure you don’t want a bit of this? It’s good stuff”
I shook my head. He flicked the lighter and set fire to the end of the joint, it flared red for a moment and then settled down. The smell drifted over towards me, tempting me. Instead I got two mugs from the cupboard and made the tea.
“I’m afraid I don’t remember your name”
“It’s Bruno. I have to say I’m hurt that Ella hasn’t talked about me constantly. But I was forgetting. You two don’t do a lot of talking, do you? I bet there are huge chunks of her life you know nothing about. I bet you don’t even ask her”
I handed him his mug, and walked back to stand by the sink, arms folded against my chest, sipping my tea.
“The two of you look very alike”
“Yes we do. Do you know something?”
He got up and walked over to where I was standing, leaning his hands on the sink and looking out of the window at the back garden. This close, I could see the muscles in his arm tautening, the clean lines of his face, the beard that was starting to sprout on his chin.
“We’re like two halves of the same person, me and Ell. Like yin and yang. She’s the girl in me and I’m the boy in her”
“You’re obviously very close”
He laughed. He laughed like there was a joke that he’d got and I, hopelessly, hadn’t.
“You could say that. There are times, you know – and actually you would know, you of all people would know – there are times when I could fuck Ella”
“Then why don’t you?”
He laughed again. Same joke.
“Because that would be beyond incest, man. That would be narcissism. Anyway I don’t need to fuck Ella, I can fuck you”
“You’re very sure of yourself”
“Yes I am, I’m – what’s the word? – cock sure. Because that’s what it comes down to. Cock”
I crossed my arms tighter across my chest. He was grinning at me, a wolf grin. Any resemblance to Ella had vanished. He stood in front of me, arms braced either side, his face inches away from mine
“You see, I remember at Stephan’s wedding, you were checking me out and you can’t deny it. You thought about fucking me. Now that day you chose to go for Ella but I know why you did that”
“And why’s that?”
“Because you wanted the scene, didn’t you? You wanted to be naughty and make everyone look at you. Me, I’d have been a dull choice because I was too obvious”
My face was burning, I could feel it. I refused to meet his eyes; instead, I stared at the laminate floor.
“You see, there is one big difference between me and Ell: she’s a nice girl and sees the best in everyone. Me, I don’t. I can see through to the heart of things and I can see through you. I love Ella more than anyone on this planet and let me tell you this: if you hurt her, I will find you and I will fuck you big time. Is that clear?”
I put my hands on his chest and pushed him away as hard as I could before running for the door. Jerking it open, I could hear him laughing behind me.
“Jenna, you haven’t finished your tea”
Outside I was shaking and couldn’t stop. My teeth were chattering. I didn’t run down the street, but I moved urgently and didn’t look back, quickly moving away from the back streets until I hit the main drag. Once there, the anonymity of busy traffic and small shops calmed me a little. I found a greasy spoon cafe.
I don’t know how long I sat at the red formica table; long enough to smoke the best part of a packet of fags and order coffees that came old style frothy in glass cups and saucers and cooled in front of me. The old man behind the counter came and cleared them away. Maybe you drink the next one, eh? He said. I looked up at him. Okay. He set about scalding the cup and the milk with jets of steam that fogged up the window behind him. At least my hands had stopped trembling, I could put a cigarette in my mouth and light it without the flame wavering.
My mobile went off. Lights flashing, vibrating against the scarred table. I sat and stared at it. The old man brought my coffee over, tilted his head down at the phone, You gonna answer that? I shook my head and let it go through to voice mail.
You have one new message:
Jenna? It’s me, Ella. O god, I think Bruno’s done something stupid, or worse, he won’t say. Just that you were here. But I can tell by looking at him that he’s done something or said something. Sometimes he does that sort of thing when he’s been smoking – he thinks and does crazy things. Jenna – I hope you’re –
End of message.
I couldn’t tell Cass any of that. If I had, she’d have insisted I called the police and I would rather forget about it. As it was, I’d not rung Ella back and had gone nowhere near her house or street, in fact, I completely avoided that part of town. The idea of running into Bruno made a hot, nauseating anxiety grip me. The idea of running into Ella was more complex: I wanted to, more than anything but at the same time, it scared the life out of me.
So I tried my hardest to fob Cass off, telling her that things felt a little emotionally sticky after Paul and how I wasn’t that eager to rush into anything, and if she didn’t believe me, she did at least let it drop. I could tell she was desperate to know more about Ella but I knew if I started to talk about her, there was a very real chance that I would start to cry and once I started, I might not stop. And Cass, dear old Cass, could see that and changed the subject.
“I’ve got an invitation to a private viewing, we should go”
don’t know, Cass”
“Aw, c’mon, darling. It’s at Cath Marshall’s gallery, and she is always good value for money. You’ll love her. I don’t know anything about the artist, probably some girl Cath’s picked up in more ways than one, but I do know there’ll be loads of free booze. We can have a look at the art and feel cultured, and then have a laugh at all the wankers standing around being pretentious. Take my word for it, I’ve been to enough of these things to know they can be surprising fun”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes you do. And wear that red frock of yours”
I didn’t wear the red frock, as Cass called it. Instead I went business like in a charcoal suit, white blouse open at the throat. This was the suit that I wore at meetings when I wanted to give out the message that I would brook no nonsense. It was a suit that kept people at arms’ length, and that was just what I wanted. Nobody come near me. You can look, yes, but you cannot, must not touch. When she saw me, there was barely concealed disappointment on Cass’s face.
thought you said you were going to wear the red frock”
“No, Cass, you said I was going to wear the red frock. I, however, had different ideas”
“You look like you’re wearing iron knickers”
“Mind you, darling, you could wear a bin bag and still look stunning. Have I ever told you how much I hate you?”
“Once or twice“
“And sometimes I’ve meant it too”
The Catherine Marshall Gallery was in a building that had once been a brewery, converted in the late ‘90s into various upmarket units: a boutique where all the silk jumpers were folded as if ready for tissue lined drawers in the bedrooms of very rich women, all the price tags tucked away like they were slightly embarrassed talking about anything as vulgar as money; a wine bar frequented by the same ladies, meeting their friends for Chablis and conversations about their inadequate husbands and voracious lovers. I hated both sorts of establishment with a passion, and had made up my mind to hate the Catherine Marshall Gallery, convinced that it would sell art that was the equivalent of those jumpers, to a glass of so-so New World wine. But I was surprised to find that on the other side of frosted glass I’d be bewitched. The essential layout of the place was standard gallery: white walls, bare wood floors, good and unobtrusive lighting. What took my breath away was what was on the walls, what was free standing in the floor space. It took me a while to notice the other people around me, most of them standing in groups, more interested in their own voices than the work around them. Cass was loudly greeted by a vibrant woman with a shock of unruly red hair who seemed delighted to see her. My suspicions that this was the eponymous Catherine Marshall were confirmed when Cass propelled her towards me and introduced us.
“I’m so pleased to finally meet you, Jenna. Cass has told me so much about you”
“No, all of it good”
She saw me looking around, and grinned.
“They’re great, aren’t they? I really can’t believe that no one has snapped her up before. I mean, where has she been hiding? Someone should’ve been on to her before she ever left art school”
She carried on in a similar vein but I’d drifted away from them both to look at the paintings. I really had seen nothing like them before. I was standing in front of a study of a nude, but to call her a nude was to undervalue the girl in the picture. This was no anonymous model; this was a naked girl, fierce and proud staring out at me with eyes that dared me to look away. I must’ve been lost in the picture for some time as I didn’t notice the woman when she came up alongside me.
“You like this one then, eh?”
“Yes, it’s fantastic”
“What do you like about it?”
“The way she’s saying to me you’re only looking because I’m letting you and when I decide I’ve had enough of you, then I’ll walk away. The way she wears her nakedness like armour”
“Like you in that suit?”
At that, I turned my head to look at her. Unlike most of the people there, she was dressed casually, almost scruffily, in grey green combats and big boots, a t-shirt with words hand written on it; I couldn’t make out what they said. She was very pretty, her hair a little longer than mine, jet black, tucked behind her ears.
“You’d make a great subject”
“Ah, so this is your show then?”
She held out her hand, I shook it.
“Pleased to meet you, Annie; I’m Jenna”
“Jenna, you seem to be drinkless. That will never do at a party. C’mon, Cath has champagne for everyone. I want to hear your insights on my other work, I’m very vain, I like to hear nice things said about me. Your friend won’t mind me monopolising you, will she?”
We both looked over to where Cass and Cath were chatting and giggling like schoolgirls.
“No, I think she’ll be fine about it”
Annie was easy company, entertaining and genuinely interested in what I had to say about her work; I felt myself unwind. She was spending too much time with me, that really she should be working the room, I knew, expending her undisputed charms on critics and potential buyers, not some woman whose only disguise she’d already seen through. But when she was called away to talk to people, I felt her absence keenly and would stand staring, unseeing, at a painting until she was back next to me, making me see again. What do you think of this? And this? What about this? She asked me again and again, me who knows nothing about art. Me. Something was unlocked and I told her how every piece made me feel and she stood and listened, gradually drawing closer and closer to me so that when we stood in front of a piece, our arms brushed, our hips brushed, and neither of us moved away. I could feel the heat rising, a combination of champagne and the proximity of flesh.
Once more she was called away and I felt as if skin had been pulled from skin. I shivered. This time, I didn’t look at her painting; I looked at her. The planes of her face, the curve of her breasts, the thrust of her hips, her trousers riding low. A strand of hair had come loose and as she spoke, she tucked it behind her ear with a movement of compact, unconscious energy. At that moment she turned and gave me a look of such penetrating intensity I felt exposed. But then she smiled, a smile that transfigured her face completely and that all too familiar heat began to build between my legs.
Suddenly she was back at my side, her arm against mine, her low riding hip pressing into mine. The strand of hair had loosened again, brushing her face. Before she could do it automatically, I caught it, holding it between my fingers before looping it round her ear, letting the tips of my fingers momentarily stroke the skin of her cheek. She turned her hot face to me, closing her eyes slightly, staring at my mouth.
“Annie, would you like to – ? ”
I laughed softly.
“You don’t know what I was about to ask”
“Anything you want to do. Whatever it is, I would want to do it too”
Now my cheeks were burning, my heart racing. I looked around us. No one seemed to be paying us the slightest attention. She smiled the smile that lit up her face and that made me giddy, silly.
“Is there somewhere we can go?”
“Yes, Cath’s office. It’s down at the back”
Annie went off first and I followed after what I considered to be a discreet, unobtrusive interval. Opening the door, I found it hard to see and fumbled for the light switch. Annie’s voice came out of the dark:
“No, leave it off. We’ll only attract attention if we turn it on”
“Sensible girl. I get the feeling you’ve done this sort of thing before”
“Once or twice. Come here”
My eyes were adjusting to light that was seeping round the edges of the closed door. I could make out an area of solid dark that was Annie shaped and made towards it, helped the last little way by her hand which gripped my arm and tugged me so that my body made contact with hers. She was sitting on a desk, and held me so that I stood between her legs. Her hands were wrapped around my back, moving up to my shoulders as she drew me down with some force until my mouth met hers. Her fingers were strong: I could feel the tips of them digging into my shoulders through the fabric of my suit jacket; pulling my hair. Her kiss was electric and jolted me; sparks were flying off us, arcing round our heads, only the soles of my shoes grounded us. Annie shifted her body so she was sitting on the very edge of the desk, pushing herself into me as she bit at my bottom lip, flicking her tongue across it to take the sting out.
“Take your jacket off”
“Take your jacket off. You don’t need your suit of armour now, do you?”
As I slipped my jacket off, she suddenly sprang up and forced me back until I banged into the wall. Startled, I let out a cry, but she blocked it with her mouth. Her hands were unbuttoning my blouse as she kissed my mouth, my neck.
“Annie, I – ”
“Shh. You’re so used to being in control, maybe it’s time you gave it up a little”
“What makes – what makes you say that?”
She laughed against my chest, her hands pressing my breasts through the lacy material of my bra.
“Any woman who has a suit like that in her wardrobe likes to be in control, and you can’t deny it”
Her tongue flicked my neck.
“That suit screams control freak. It yells bitch”
“I am a bitch. I’m not a nice person at all”
“Do you think I don’t know that? But you’re not irredeemable. Very few people are”
I shouldn’t have been surprised; even the briefest perusal of her work showed a woman who got to the heart of things, who could cut through the layers to the truth underneath. She would strip away more than an Armani suit and Jaeger blouse. If I let her, she’d peel off layers of skin and leave me exposed.
Her lips on my throat were searing, she nipped at my pulse until it leapt. My knees, ordinarily so trustworthy, so reliable, were buckling under me at the insistence of her mouth on my skin. I couldn’t help myself, I was moaning, whimpering.
“Tell me what it is you want, Jenna”
I shook my head, my neck moving against her mouth. She ran a hand from my breast bone down to the crotch of my suit trousers, sliding her hand between my legs, making me gasp.
“How can I do it if you don’t tell me?”
Fingers worked the button open, eased down the fly. Two hands worked the trousers over my hips, slid around and gripped my arse as Annie pulled me into her and kissed me. I put my hands to either side of her face but she grabbed my hips and pushed me back against the wall. My knickers, the same lace as the bra, joined my trousers, pooling round my ankles.
A sound that was part way between a groan and an intake of breath escaped from my throat when the tip of Annie’s tongue touched my clit. My hands gripped her head as she opened me up, running her tongue from clit to cunt. She kissed, licked and sucked, alternating soft and firm. I was seeing stars, my eyes were so tightly screwed shut; I was seeing stars when I opened them wide. Annie’s whole mouth fixed at the centre of me, driving me up the wall as I tried to move away, move closer, move away. Annie was unrelenting. She could feel the tension building up in me, knew how to work it, play it out until it only had one place to go.
I knew I was going to come, I knew I was going to come, any second now, any second now.
“Jesus fucking Christ”
Annie slipped three fingers of her right hand inside me, her tongue still working a clit that felt hard and hot. The rhythm of her hand pushed me back again against the wall, I could feel the hardness of white painted bricks on my skull.
“O fuck, Annie. You fucking – you fucking bitch. You fucker. Jesus Christ, Annie. O my fucking God”
I slid down the wall. Annie rocked back on the heels of her big boots and gave me one of her looks, one of those looks that could see right into me. She didn’t smile. She was thoughtful, serious. She didn’t attempt to hold me or kiss me or anything like that, she just sat on her heels and viewed me. I tried to cover myself but all I could do was pull the blouse across my chest; I was sitting on a cold wooden floor naked from the waist down. And still Annie looked at me.
I barely recognised my own voice, it was fragile and shaky. Annie’s eyes were huge in the half darkness.
“I wish I could paint you now. You are so stripped back. Ella says that when you have sex with a woman, you can see her true face. Right now I can see yours. It is incredible”
A wave of hot nausea swept over me. I drew my knees up, wrapping my arms around them in a feeble attempt to protect myself.
Annie’s thoughtful expression grew a little sad.
“Yes, Ella. She’s a friend of mine. I should’ve told you before, I guess”
The wave of nausea turned to bile, which I spat out, at Annie.
“So what was this? Some sort of punishment?”
Anger was building in me as surely and steadily as the orgasm minutes earlier. Furious, I snatched at my knickers and trousers, twisting them in my hands; anything to stop me from punching her.
“Did you plan this? Isn’t it enough that that – that Neanderthal of a cousin of hers threatened to find me and fuck me, for fuck’s sake?”
Harsh barking, humourless laughter came out my mouth.
“Well you can go and tell him that you beat him to it. I’m sure he’ll be suitably impressed. Though be careful, he might want to slip you some cock too, he seems to enjoy the idea of fucking lesbians”
Annie reached out and held onto my wrist. I tried to shake it off but her grip was too firm. She held it until I calmed a little. When she spoke, her voice sounded composed but underneath it was an edge of something other. Melancholy, maybe, sadness.
“It’s not like that. I’m not Bruno. In fact, I’m probably worse. He’d do it to teach you a lesson. I did it because I wanted to. Yes, I knew who you were, the second you introduced yourself. There aren’t that many Jenna’s around and you pretty much fit the description she gave me”
She fell silent for a moment of two, still holding onto my wrist.
“You see, I’m more than just a friend of Ella’s. We were together for three years. I hurt her really badly and I’ve only just got her back in my life, the last thing I’d want to do is hurt her again”
“Lucky Ella, I wonder if she knows how many people are protecting her”
“The thing is, I knew who you are but I wanted you. And not to teach you a lesson. I’d always thought if I were to meet you, then I would give you a piece of my mind. I didn’t expect to want you as badly as she does”
The grip had lessened, loosened. The tips of her fingers were stroking the inside of my wrist, the palm of my hand, slid up to link with my fingers until we were sitting holding hands.
“I mean, there you were looking at my stuff like you truly got it. Do you know how special that is? That mob out there, they’re only here because it’s one of the places to be seen; but you, I don’t think you even wanted to be here judging by the expression on your face when you walked through the door. Before I knew who you were, I saw you and I thought look at that woman: she is something special. So fierce in your suit, standing there like the Queen of the World, really looking at my paintings. More than looking, seeing”
I moved forward so that I was kneeling front of her, still holding her hand. With my free hand, I reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She looked up at me.
“Jenna, I wish I’d met you before you met Ella”
I ran my hand under her chin and lifted her face so I could kiss her.
“Annie, please, let me take you home”
She shook her head.
“Please, we don’t have to do anything. I just want to be with you. I don’t – I don’t think I can leave you tonight. I feel like a part of me is open for the whole world to see, and you’ve done that. Your paintings, the way you strip everything down. You did that to me, you know that, you said it yourself”
She smiled. Not quite her radiant smile but enough of a memory of it to make me feel light headed.
When I opened the door of Cath Marshall’s office, the sudden light made both of us wince. Vulnerability still clung to me; no matter how much I swaggered in my go fuck yourself suit, I felt as every pair of eyes in the room was on me and that everyone knew what we’d been up to. Annie stood behind me, holding my hand for a moment before letting it drop.
The chatter, of course, continued as if we’d never been away. Cath waved at Annie.
“O there you were, I was wondering where you’d got to. Come on, I want you to meet Charles Bryant, he’s very interested in the study of the girl”
“I’ve changed my mind about selling that piece, Cath”
“But dear heart, it’s one of your best”
“I know that. That’s why I don’t think it should be sold”
Cath frowned momentarily
“I can’t get you to change your mind?”
Annie shook her head.
“Well come and meet him anyway”
As Cath pulled her away, Annie turned and looked directly at me.
Continued in part 4
Return to the Academy