Authors: Sarah Michelle Lynch
Inside the flat, we collapsed in her bed and I held her while she cried herself to sleep. The douche was a bad influence and she knew it—ruining her aspirations, her self-esteem and even threatening a friendship that’d survived worse tests than a cheating scumbag.
THE NEXT MORNING I had to peel myself from her arms, her grip on me in that bed of hers iron-tight. If that didn’t reveal her state of mind, I didn’t know what else might. Maybe my arrival was more fateful than I realised. Clearly, I was needed. Sure there’d been plenty of trips to London to visit her but I’d never gotten a full picture of her relationship woes.
I showered and dressed in our tiny little living space and she groaned as she watched me. Never could take her drink all that well. No time for fancy stuff that day, I yanked on skinnies, ankle boots and a cream jersey.
“Should I dump him?” Her voice was frail, and small.
I celebrated inside. “I think so.”
“Knew you’d not try to convince me to stay with him, but I could do with a voice of reason.”
A voice of reason would demand you shag any guy but him! Let’s go round and round in circles until I tell you what you want to hear
I couldn’t help but bite out, “He came onto me loads of times, Kayla. Even tried to get his hand up my skirt once. He’s a loser and he’s rubbing off on you. Look… you worked so hard and you’ve got a really good job but you’re risking it all for a knob-jockey. You’re living in a bedsit because you’re always buying material shit to try make you feel better. Tell you what, get rid of that prick and you’ll be so much better off!”
As soon as I saw her facial expression in response, I wished I could take it back. I couldn’t.
“You’re just raw cos you ain’t got a fella,” was her painfully emotional retort.
I carried on getting ready, brushing my hair, sliding all my gadgets in my bag. I applied make-up in the mirror above the filled-in fireplace.
All the while, she just stared like I was eventually going to take it back.
“Why didn’t I tell you?” I started in a clear, rhetorical voice. “Well, I knew you’d react like this. I knew you’d get defensive. I hate this more than you, trust me, because all I see when I look at you is a great girl, sucked dry of all hope by a shit bloke intent on taking what he can get from whomever—”
I turned to her, trying to think of something inspiring to say, but just blurted, “You know the real reason you’re like this, Kay. It’s not him. He’s the cover for what’s really going on here.”
“Fuck you. You don’t get to judge me, woman.”
I carried on getting ready and realised the sooner I was out of there, the better. Didn’t she realise he was wrecking everything people loved about her—her spark, vitality, spirit?
I felt my body trembling and tears threatened to rocket out of my eyes. I didn’t like to get like this and she knew it. “Just so you know, I do know what it’s like to want someone Kay. Just because I haven’t gone the distance doesn’t mean I don’t know what it feels like to put myself out there.”
Before we could get further into our spat, I left the building and began my long walk to work. We both needed air to breathe and it’d all blow over, I knew it. Just… deep breaths.
The further I walked, though, the harder it got to tell myself it was just a tiff. I knew what thoughts would be racing around her mind right then and I wasn’t there to tell her any different. She’d have a whole day to stew on it all and I’d be damned if I were ruining my career by spending a whole day texting or emailing my regrets over words said in the heat of the moment. I’d only told her the truth.
I put it down to weakness that I sent this quick text:
Running a little early. Coffee? Need an ear. x
Within minutes Cai replied:
Jump in a cab and meet me at the café near work.x
I smiled all the way there and when I arrived, he was hanging around outside and paid the fare without question even though I tried to. He looked like he’d just come straight from the gym.
He wrapped me in his long arms anyway, and even with his sweatiness, I burrowed into his chest and breathed him in deep. It was so heavenly, I forgot time was even passing us by.
We pulled back and kissed briefly before heading indoors, ordering coffee and muffins as I explained about Kayla. He seemed sympathetic as I waxed on about the guy she was seeing and how much of a shit he was.
“How’d he come onto you? If you don’t mind me asking?”
We sat in a small couch and while in that tiny space, I fought not to be tactile with him. I felt even holding hands might leave me soaking and frustrated for the rest of that day.
I shook myself right and thought back, my lip twisting. “First time he just grabbed my bum and said him and his mate would spit roast me if I wanted—”
“Spit, what?” He guffawed, shaking his head in disbelief.
I muscled onwards with my explanation. “Both ends. Anyway… second time, he tried to kiss me. I kicked him in the groin. Third time, oh,” I coughed on laughter, “it was when I was staying with her once. He came out stark-bollock and laid his desires on the line. Hung he may be, but is he stupid! I wouldn’t mind if it were all in jest but the way he treats her makes me angry.”
“What a fucking ass-hat! She just… has no clue?”
I sighed heavily, my head in my hands. “She does but doesn’t want to admit he’s a total knob. He’s not good for her. There have been too many times when he’s leered or done stuff, like reach for my bum again. I wonder… if he’s done that with her best friend, what’s he done with other women? On shoots? In other places she never sees him in?”
Cai gave me his best understanding face, mixed with just a bit of desire. “Gotta be a bit crazy for him ’cause you’re close to her and all. She probably tattles on stuff… and being you’re hot, you know? Still, he’s dumb to think he can get away with it.”
I laughed. “Thanks, but Kayla is pretty slamming. Not that I know about that, you know… I just know how many other guys would wanna tap that!” He laughed with me. “Granted she’s tattooed and fierce, but she’s got such a big heart beneath it all.”
“It’ll blow over,” he reassured me, wrapping his hand around my shoulder.
I was tactful in hinting at the truth, tentatively explaining, “Rob knows I’m a touch on the promiscuous side, but it’s wrong for him to hit on his girlfriend’s friend, even if I am, right?”
“It’s hella outta line…” he trailed off, then he looked at me with a serious face. “Promiscuous? As in, slutty promiscuous?”
“W-what do you mean? Slutty? Slutty promiscuous?” I repeated innocuously. Was I to be offended, or not? I wasn’t sure.
He bit a nail and elaborated. “Like, do you fuck guys for kicks and drop them? Or do you fuck with pre-approved terms of casual fucking? I just wondered.”
I knew I actually felt offended, but didn’t know why. Also, I didn’t know why I responded defensively. “Don’t you get out much? I mean… people do this all the time. I’ve met guys and it’s been casual… never anything but. I just meet them. Eventually, we go our separate ways. I don’t expect stuff to last.”
Why did I feel it necessary to justify that? We lived in the 21st-century, right? He backed down and didn’t say anything more, just stared at his coffee cup. When minutes had passed uncomfortably, I leaped on the one conversation topic I thought might open him up.
“What’s that on your hands?”
“What?” He cleared his throat, looking down at the black under his fingernails. “Oh, I draw graphic art as a sideline. It keeps me up sometimes if I get the impulse.”
“Oh, right.” I wondered why he felt shy about this. I shrugged it off. “It’s been a bugbear of mine over the years… that everyone I meet in this industry has something outside of it, you know? Kayla has her music… she plays guitar. Other people have their own personal writing or drawing, like you, maybe even amateur dramatics or dance classes. But I… I just have the job.”
He nodded imperceptibly. “Why’d you not do the karate anymore? That must have been something to you? Outside of work and all?”
Veering toward the mental archives that I’d taped shut as ‘biohazard’, I immediately explained in as little detail as possible, “I was actually touted to go to the Olympics. I was an angry teenager and then I grew up, I suppose.”
He raised his eyebrows and looked down at my hands, holding them within his own. “These don’t seem like hands that’d hurt anyone.”
No they don’t
. Yet once upon a time they had.
“They don’t seem like they’d hurt me… but they
.” His eyes narrowed then. “They
“Why—why do you get like this, Cai?”
I hated to say it. “Nasty.”
I wasn’t imagining it. He was, and he could be, nasty. The way he termed my sex life, and now, how he was terming me as a possible threat—it was all a nasty way of treating someone.
He stood and didn’t look at me as he let me know, “I have to shower and get to a shoot. Seeing as though you don’t do relationships and prefer casual, maybe we ought to quit these relationship-type, holding hands and dumping on Cai episodes… and skip to the nasty.”
He stormed away without a care in the fucking world. Without giving me a kiss or a smile.
When I got to my desk a while later, there was another stupid rose. Again, it lay across my keyboard in front of my computer. I dropped my bag to the ground and looked around, but nobody was looking at me. I asked a guy sitting a few desks down, “You see anyone deliver this to my desk?”
He shook his head,
Nobody else was even looking my way and obviously, nobody was interested in what went on around or on my desk. I sat down and looked at the specimen—it was even more beautiful than yesterday’s offering, which I’d dumped in a refuse bin at the edge of Hyde Park, too ashamed to admit I’d killed it by keeping it under my desk all day.
I rang reception after realising they were my best port of call to begin with. “Hi, I’m upstairs… I found a flower delivery on my desk… You don’t think it came through via you this morning… no? Really? You hardly ever get flower deliveries… Huh, you’ll let me know… thanks.”
This second rose was strange because now I knew unequivocally that it wasn’t from Cai. Two reasons: the first, he
an ass. Secondly, he wasn’t in the office because he had been booked last minute for a fashion shoot down in Mayfair at ten a.m. The rose had to have been delivered to me whilst Cai was either showering or speeding through London traffic to make his appointment.
So if it wasn’t Cai, who was it sending me flowers?
I called Kip, not caring if I sounded strange. I think he already thought I was strange.
“Hey Chloe,” he answered, his masculine voice firing down the line.
“Hey, do you happen to like roses?” I began cryptically.
“Um, no. Not particularly.”
“You don’t send girls roses very often?”
“Nope.” He was so short with me, I almost laughed out loud.
“Okay, thanks!” I screeched down the line, and we hung up simultaneously.
I took the damn rose and fed it into my drawer this time. Thankfully, I saw Trevor wandering over to me with his top pocket full of pens and his filthy, stained mug of coffee in one hand, a few papers in the other. We got right on down to work and I tried not to think on that rose again.
TREV WAS EDUCATING me, oh boy, was he educating me. All my bad habits in the writing department were being unfurled. I got it—the new people I was working for were much more global than the
. Well, a whole hell of a lot more global. The house style I learned from Trev was designed to appeal to all manner of clients, customers and readerships. I was learning to trim the fat that added nothing to a sentence’s meaning, lose the clichés, slap myself whenever I vaguely considered a useless adverb. Words and how they could be used—I could kill him for making me feel so puerile for having not realised how shoddy my stylistic skills had been before then. Every bit of practice paper I sent to him came back plastered in his red chicken scrawl. Blimey, I wasn’t happy.
My job wasn’t to create—it was to convey the required meaning in as few words as possible… (yep, I know—an impossibility for me!).
I had a contact sheet that stretched for yards. I’d be mega busy as soon as this undertaking began for real. I’d be learning who’s who and what’s what on the job. How messy and fun that was going to be.
When lunchtime came and Trev left me frazzled, I took out my phone hoping for some text or other from someone who cared, only to find this…
Got a surprise for you when you get home. K
Oh dear, I knew that wasn’t good. She never sent a message without a kiss at the end. NEVER.