‘You smell like a perfume counter.’
It is not Melissa Brumaster again. He really doesn’t like the smell of perfume! Strange man.
‘What will I change into?’
‘There’s a fresh toweling robe hanging behind the door.’
He turns his thumb in the direction of a door. I march towards it. I hear a chuckle. Bastard. The bathroom is like the rest of the apartment. Sparse, clean and terribly masculine. White on black granite. I strip, leave my neatly folded clothes on a shelf, and enter the shower cubicle. Unlike the leaking showerhead in my home this is the latest in luxury. It is sensationally powerful and I have the best shower I have ever had. In the milky white mist on the glass wall I draw a love heart and an arrow through it. On one side I write Julie and on the other Jack.
I step out, more than a little nervous. I get into the fluffy toweling robe hanging behind the door and feel like a little girl in a large towel. Strangely vulnerable. I look into the mirror. I am not yet used to this new look. And there is something new in my eyes. A glitter that wasn’t there before.
It feels as if I am about to enter a fairy tale. And this is the gate where the heroine pauses before taking the first step of the arduous and dangerous journey in her quest to pick the forbidden fruit. The fruit that will wake the sleeping Jack.
My pulse is racing as I go out into the living room. Soft music is playing. Vann appears to have showered too—his hair is damp and he is sitting in a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt. The cat is curled up on a cushion beside him. He has a really, really flat stomach. Reminds me of Jack’s carved abdomen. Only Jack’s abdomen would be pale, like alabaster, and his is a golden brown.
‘Are you hungry?’
‘I’ve eaten,’ I lie.
‘Then you can watch me eat. I’m starving,’ he says with a grin, and uncoils himself from the sofa. ‘Can I get you something to drink?’
‘I’ll have a green chartreuse please.’
‘A green chartreuse?’
‘Yes, have you never heard of it?’
His eyes are amused. ‘Yes. Blake’s grandmother used to drink it. I didn’t think anyone drank it anymore.’
I only said that because I read somewhere that it had been the Queen Mother’s favorite drink when she was alive. Other than champagne, and it would have been silly to ask for that, green chartreuse was the most fancy name I could think of. I wanted him to think that I was fancy.
‘Here are the choices. Beer or wine, of which I have both white and red.’
‘I’ll have a glass of white wine please.’
Unsuccessfully hiding a smile, he goes towards the kitchen. I follow him and watch as he opens the fridge.
‘I only have dry. Is that OK with you?’
He takes a glass out of a cupboard, fills it half full and, coming over to where I am standing, holds the glass out to me. I take it and he raises his beer bottle to his lips. Swigs it.
‘You sure you don’t want anything to eat?’
‘Positive,’ I say and, settling myself on a high swivel chair, observe him expertly grill a steak. I am glad I no longer eat red meat. Meat is full of fat. Still the smell of it sizzling makes my stomach growl. I take a sip of wine. Wine is fattening too. They say it is a hundred calories, but I don’t believe them. It must be more. I actually don’t like the taste of wine, but I am determined to master my dislike. He cooks fast, efficiently, as if he is used to cooking for himself.
While he cooks we talk. What I do for a living, where he has been—and he appears to have backpacked everywhere. India, Burma, Borneo, Thailand, Africa, South America, Europe. He is only twenty-five, but appears to have done things, some I could never even imagine. In Peking he went to an opium house that had hardly changed from a hundred years ago. He lay on a hard pillow and a beautiful girl rolled out the tiny balls of narcotics and placed them in his pipe. In Burma he stayed in a run-down hotel infested with giant cockroaches. He tells me he lives in a garret in Paris, but he wouldn’t move because he likes his bedroom. It reminds him of the painting of Van Gogh’s room in Arles, the one with the bed and the dresser.
When the food is ready—steak, mashed potato and salad—he plates it and carries it in one hand while the other curls around a fork and knife.
‘Come to the dining table.’
I sit opposite him. He cuts into the piece of meat. Looks juicy. The smell of butter in the mash potatoes fills my nostrils. My mouth waters. This is crazy. He puts the meat into his mouth. I watch his teeth, all straight and white and perfect. An orthodontist’s wet dream.
‘You sure you don’t want some?’
I press my lips together and shake my head. ‘I don’t eat red meat.’
This is going to be pure torture. He puts his fork into the mash and lightly lifts some onto it, and holds it next to my lips. I look into his eyes. They are crinkled in the corners. To refuse would be churlish. I open my mouth. The fork slips in, I close my mouth over it. The mash melts onto my tongue. It is so good I want to close my eyes to savor it fully. I resist the urge. I can taste the butter and some of the juice from the meat. It is so long since I had mash this rich. I let it rest on my tongue and sigh with sheer pleasure.
He pulls the fork out, but his expression has changed. His eyes are no longer crinkled at the corners. They have darkened. He lowers his lids to shutter them. I wonder why. He eats fast and does not offer to feed me any more of his food. The smell and that one mouthful have opened up my appetite. I wish he would offer me another forkful—there can’t be that many calories in a bit of mash—but he doesn’t.
‘Here, let me wash up,’ I say for something to do and slip off the chair.
His hand comes out and catches my wrist. A jolt of electricity goes up my arm. This is the second time this has happened. The first time I thought it was caused by the friction between the layers of organza building up static. Now there is not a slither of organza in sight; we are both in cotton. He lets go of my arm. I fight the urge to rub where he has touched.
‘Leave it,’ he says, rubs his chin and frowns. He pushes his plate away and reaches for his bottle of beer.
‘Aren’t you going to finish your food?’
‘Smith will,’ he says abruptly, and gets up. ‘Come on. Let’s begin.’
I panic. ‘Begin? Don’t we have some theory first?’
‘Sex is all practice, Sugar,’ he drawls.
‘I need to get drunk first.’