CAN YOU SEE ME?
He sat staring at the television screen, their memories taunting him from the mantel as he hugged her pillow. It was still drenched in her perfume. Laughter pealed down from the flat above, high and clear, and it sounded just like her. He realised he was watching her favourite film, and turned the television off in disgust.
Enough. He went through the flat shoving everything that reminded him of her into black bags, and tossed them into the boot of the car. Her favourite song was blasting out of the car radio and he took it as a sign. He stood at the dump watching his life with Claire melt into nothing, and he couldn’t even feel the bonfire’s heat.
He remembered something: her sitting naked at the dressing table, brushing her hair. His fingerprints stood out in stark relief on her shoulder. He wanted to kiss them.
“What’s the matter?”
The hairbrush froze, briefly, and her reflection stared at him, wide- eyed. She cleared her throat before answering.
“Nothing. What makes you think there’s something wrong?”
“I don’t know. Your face. There’s something about your face that I don’t quite…”
“Like?” He’d let the sarcasm pass, for once. Scores could be settled later.
“No, I love your face, you know that.” She was staring at her reflection. “There’s something different about it.”
She looked directly at him then, face blank, eyes glittering. “My face is still the same, lover. Nothing’s changed.”
He moved forward and held her by the shoulders, pressed his face close to hers. She looked very white and frail beside him. He stared for a moment, then smiled and kissed her on the cheek, letting his teeth just brush against the skin, grinning when she flinched. “No. It hasn’t.”
He hated that he had to start again. He didn’t want to have to spend time coaxing someone else to go along with some of his wilder appetites. When he had to he paid for it, but he had to be careful. Some of the girls were starting to get a bit wary of him.
In the wine bar the next night he thought he saw her. Just glimpses now and again, a blonde fringe being flicked back just as Claire used to; or her face in profile, a flash of a smile. Once, she looked straight at him and grinned. Then he lost sight of her.
He turned miserably back to the bar and waved his glass at the bartender for another vodka.
“Don’t I get one?” She stood beside him, head tilted on one side, a half smile on her face. He nodded to the barman, and she grinned. He saw that she had a slight gap in between her front teeth. She was cute, rather than icily perfect, and he found he preferred it that way.
He took her back to his flat, both of them impatient. She was too drunk to do much, but he didn’t mind that. He undressed her, and ran his hands along her stomach and breasts. There was a little angel tattooed just below her navel, and he grazed his tongue over it. Her hair fell across her face and he left it like that, enjoying the illusion that this was Claire. He was glad he didn’t have to pretend affection. When he was finished, he got up and left her crying in the bed while he went into the bathroom. He barely even flinched when she slammed the door. Claire’s perfume was all around him.
He woke to darkness, his face damp with tears that weren’t his. In the living room, the lower half of the window was wide open; the white muslin drapes Claire had insisted on were billowing inward. He pulled the window down and fastened the latch, searching in vain for the key to the lock. He looked down into the street and his breath caught in his throat. She was down there, white coat shining in the glow from a streetlight, staring up. She smiled, and faded back into the night. Unnerved, he went back to bed and tried to convince himself he was wrong, and that he didn’t see signs of her everywhere he went.
At work the next morning, he kept his head down. He wasn’t in the mood for chitchat. The new girl seemed fascinated by him. She was pretty enough, he supposed. Little and dark, slightly plump, as opposed to Claire’s blonde legginess. He found himself imagining her pinned beneath him, shining with sweat. The next time he caught her looking at him he flashed a smile, and let it widen as he saw her melt. She was standing next to the coffee machine, so he got up and made his way over. He brushed against her as he reached the machine, made a show of choosing what to drink.
“The tea’s awful.” She stammered as she spoke, and he watched the crimson climb her throat. He grinned, chose coffee and stood back to wait.
“You’re new, aren’t you? I haven’t seen you around here much.”
“I started on Monday. It’s…” Her voice trailed off, and she looked around the office slowly, taking in all the little cubicles filled with bored inmates. He took pity on her.
“It’s intimidating. First week in a new job, and this office isn’t exactly designed for intimate chats.” She blushed again at the word intimate, and he smiled gently. “My name’s Steve. Steve Hammond.”
“Lauren Ryan.” He took her hand and raised it to his lips, gently kissed it. She was speechless, and he took a step back, retrieved his coffee from the machine. Taking a sip from his cup, he grimaced. “The stuff here is dire. Maybe you’ll let me buy you a decent coffee sometime?”
“That would be nice.” He grinned as he walked back to his desk. The ice was broken, at least. An actual invitation could wait for a day or two.
On Friday, he dressed for work carefully, ready to make his move. He waited until he saw her walking towards his desk with some files and stood up just as she drew level with him. The files went everywhere as they collided, and he knelt to help her pick them up.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you...” She was mortified.
“Nonsense. I was the one who didn’t look where he was going. I should be apologising to you.” He let his fingers brush against hers as they picked up the scattered papers, and she didn’t pull away. When he looked up, she was staring at him, clutching some files to her chest. He placed a bundle of papers in her arms and stood, hooking a hand under her elbow. “Let me make it up to you. Dinner?”
“I don’t know. I…”
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Okay, I guess that would…” He smiled then, moved in to seal it before she had a chance to rethink.
“How about tonight? Say eight o’clock? I’ll pick you up and we’ll go to a nice little Italian restaurant near here. How’s that?”
“That sounds nice. I’d love to.”
“I’ll see you tonight, then.” He nodded and smiled, moved aside to let her past, then watched her walk down the corridor. As he sat down at his desk once more, there was a sprinkle of applause from the geeks in the opposite cubicle. He allowed a quick grin, then turned away and got on with his work.
The restaurant was a hit, small and intimate; the waiters unobtrusive. He kept the wine flowing and the conversation light hearted, and she seemed to be having a good time. He was a little surprised to find that he was, too. He’d forgotten what it was like to go on a first date, the glimpses afforded into your partner’s personality, the search for parts that mesh as well as the discovery of areas that, though different, warranted further investigation.
They were on their third bottle of wine when he noticed the waiters were starting to look impatient. Looking around, he saw that most of the other diners were gone, and the work of clearing up for the night had begun. He turned to Lauren, and was surprised to see a look of cold speculation. Then she was smiling at him, looking a little befuddled by the wine, and he relaxed again.
“I suppose we’d better go.”
“Yes,” she was slurring a little, her voice husky. It was sexy. “It’s later than I thought.”
Outside her building, she turned to him and smiled, idly straightened his tie.
“I can’t ask you in, Steve. I’m sorry, my roommate’s home, waiting for me.”
“That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting…” She shushed him with a kiss, and any thoughts of her roommate were gone. She was standing on tiptoe, and he leaned forward to fold his arms around her. She felt tiny in his embrace. He could feel her heart beating, and her breasts were crushed against him. He didn’t want to move. Then she was gone, and he waved the cab away, content to walk home with his thoughts for company.
He woke with a start, certain he had heard something. The night was waning, leaving everything indistinct. He wanted to go back to sleep, but the nagging desire for a drink won out. Sighing, he heaved himself out of bed.
The kitchen window was open and the radio was playing jazz softly. She had always loved jazz. He could smell coffee brewing, and the frying pan had something sizzling away gently in it, the aroma overlaid by perfume.
The door clicked behind him, and he whirled round, angry at how easily she had got past him. She could have killed him, for Christ’s sake, without him knowing anything about it. Yet she’d cooked him breakfast. He shrugged, and began the business of dishing it up on to a plate and pouring his coffee. He transferred everything to the table and pulled his chair out to sit down. The Guardian was folded neatly on his seat.. He wondered what she was playing at, and cut into everything very carefully at first, in case she had anything nasty planned, but couldn’t see anything wrong. One bite and he was hooked.
By the time he got to work he knew what she’d been up to. He felt as if he was dying. His guts were churning, sweat was pouring from him. The bitch had put laxatives in the coffee. He couldn’t even go home and let it run its course; he’d never make it. He just stayed close to his desk, and suffered through it, snarling at anyone who commented or got in his way on one of his runs to the loo. Somehow, he got through the day, though he left the office as soon as the clock hit four.
As he walked through the revolving doors he saw Lauren walking slowly towards him.
“Much, thanks.” They walked along in silence for a few minutes, and Steve tried to think of a way to ask her out again. In the end, she did it for him. “Look, why don’t I come home with you. I’ll make you some dinner, make sure you’re settled, and then let you get some rest. How does that sound?”
He couldn’t believe his luck. “That sounds wonderful, to be honest. But I couldn’t…”
“Nonsense. You didn’t ask me, I volunteered. Do we have to shop for something, or do you have food in?” He muttered something to the effect that the fridge was usually pretty well stocked, and she nodded. “Okay, so I’ll be able to cobble something together. That’s all right.”
Twenty minutes later he was lying on his couch with a glass of ginger ale she had bought on the way home, listening while she cooked dinner. It smelt wonderful, and his stomach was aching. He felt totally empty. He went to take a quick shower before they ate, and pulled on a pair of jeans and a favourite shirt. He felt a slight pang when he remembered that Claire had bought it for him, she said the blue matched his eyes. He heard Lauren humming, and went into the kitchen. He could smell the food, but couldn’t take his eyes off Lauren, standing against the worktop, watching him. She’d poured two glasses of wine and placed them on the counter beside her.
She lifted a glass and emptied it in one long swallow, and he felt himself growing hard as he watched the muscles in her throat work. She arched her back against the counter, playing the cold glass across her skin, and he was transfixed. Her dress pulled tight across her breasts, and a drop of moisture trickled lazily down into her cleavage. He wanted to trace its path with his tongue. She put the glass down, and he darted his tongue into her mouth, savouring the taste. She kissed him back, briefly, then pushed him away, leaving one hand resting on the back of his neck. He lifted her so that she was perched on the edge of the worktop, and stood between her legs, hands resting on her hips. He couldn’t breathe.
He gasped, or tried to, but she breathed him in as he entered her, and the kiss went on. It was the most intense sensation he had ever known, and up until that moment he had believed he was no stranger to most things. They were still kissing, and somehow she had got rid of the dress, and he could feel her skin burning against his. There was no sound, not even of their breathing, and the silence was so profound he wondered if he had been struck deaf
He opened his eyes, and the sound came flooding back. He felt her start to climax and held her tighter, letting her bring him to his own release. Spent, he straightened up and looked her in the face, and for a moment it was Claire grinning back at him. He nearly dropped her.
She grinned, and stroked his face. He could smell fresh wine on her breath. She gazed into his face with Claire’s eyes and said: “See you tomorrow, lover.”
Then she was gone. He leaned over the kitchen sink as he listened to her high heels tapping away into the distance, feeling the vomit rising in his throat, all thoughts of food forgotten. He heard the door slam and concentrated on keeping his stomach under control amid the odours of wine and sex. Claire’s perfume overlaid it all.
He woke in the night to find her straddling him, her thighs clamped around his hips as she leaned forward to grab his wrists. “Hey lover, how’ve you been?” She ground against him so hard it hurt, and he flinched as she bit his neck. “What’s the matter? Don’t you like to play anymore?” She laughed, pressed herself flat against him and hissed into his ear. “Maybe we should get a little rough, what do you say? You always thought you were good at that.”
“Sshh. No excuses, lover. We both know what you did.” He heard a click as something cold and smooth encircled his wrists, and realised she had cuffed him to the bars. She sat back, pulled her shirt down, smoothed her hair. “Now its my turn.”
She didn’t say another word, just set about the business of causing him pain. At some point, he passed out.
Sunlight stabbed him, and he scrunched his eyes shut, groaning. He rubbed his face with his hands, then lifted them and stared. He was free.
He stared at the mirror for a long time, as if by gazing at it for long enough, he would be able to make some sense of what he saw. She’d scrawled her message right across it; in the familiar scarlet lipstick he liked her to wear when she took him in her mouth. He liked to watch himself slide in and out of the redness, his hands tangled in her hair as her head moved and his breath grew short. He wasn’t sure what that had to do with the message, though: ‘CAN YOU SEE ME?’
He cursed as he scrubbed at the lipstick on the mirror, which didn’t seem to want to go without leaving some mark as a reminder. He could think of a few marks he’d like to inflict on her. He had a feeling she’d quite enjoy it. He wondered briefly why she thought he hadn’t been able to see her, but dismissed the idea as more of her attention seeking. She had always been good at that.
He remembered the time he had come home from work to find her shivering in the bathroom. She’d hacked at her wrists with a broken piece of glass, and raised her arms to him, the wounds gaping like mouths under the blood.
The hospital had said that the cuts were superficial, no major nerve or vascular damage. ‘A cry for help,’ they’d called it. He’d tried to understand; to help her find out what was wrong, but all she could say was, “I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d notice.”
She’d been a bit quiet for a while, but he’d carried on looking after her, paying her lots of attention, and gradually she had come back to him, things had returned to normal. He had noticed a certain wildness had crept into her though, as if she was desperate for him not to think she was regressing. She wanted him to be with her all the time, and seemed to begrudge him going to work. “What will I do when you’re gone? Who will I be?” He’d dismissed such comments out of hand.
“Don’t be silly. You’re you. You know that.” He’d gone over to her, kissed her gently. “I have to go to work.”
“I could get a job. I could go back to work.”
“No. Your place is here. We agreed that, remember?” He’d gone to work and left her sitting there, fretting over what had happened. She couldn’t accept that he didn’t define her by her job. It was how she had always defined herself, after all. She had been a teacher, when he met her. English Literature. She taught in a local girls’ comprehensive, and was sick of it.
“They don’t want to be there, they make that painfully obvious. I don’t know why I bother.” So when things had become serious between them she hadn’t been hard to persuade. The idea of not having to deal with restless teenagers for a while had appealed. She had wanted calm, peace.
“I could write,” she’d said one day. “I always wanted to try that.” He’d nodded and smiled, made the appropriate noises. He’d even bought her a computer, so that she could work in peace. She’d been delighted, but nothing much had come of it. She’d written a few short stories, gentle tales of love – whether requited or not - was always trying to get further with ‘the novel’, but he didn’t think that her heart was in it. It was a game to her, like everything else. Something to fill the time she suddenly had on her hands. She grew frustrated when things didn’t go according to plan. Sometimes she’d cut herself. Not too deeply, just enough for him to fuss over.
He supposed they would have broken up a while before they actually did if the sex hadn’t been so amazing. She took her role as his mate seriously, and aimed to please. It was the one place, she said, where she knew she could excel.
He had no qualms about using her in any way he could. She egged him on, to be honest. He remembered the cuffs and the crop, the sex toys that had her begging for more, and the way she could go wild when teased for too long. He still had some of the marks.
The wilder it got the better she liked it, and the hotter things got, until he found he couldn’t come without there being some element of pain to their lovemaking. They experimented, and he was constantly amazed by the look of need in her eyes as he hurt her. He was careful not to go too far, he thought, but it was never enough for her. She always wanted to be whipped that little bit harder, the cuffs and ties to be that little bit tighter, the sex to be a little more extreme. “Harder, Steve,” or “not there, not there, there. Faster, Steve, harder.” Then there would only be the sound of her breathing. Afterwards her eyes would get this faraway look, and she’d stare at him as if he were something other than human, something that was more real than she was, and she’d beg him to do it again.
The rest of the time, though, she wandered around the flat like a lost soul, hovering at the edge of his consciousness. He used to get cross about it, and ask her why she did it.
“I just wanted to see if you’d see me, that’s all.” He worried about her, but put it to the back of his mind. She seemed happy enough most of the time.
Now, as he thought back, he realised he should have seen it coming. She’d come to believe that it was the act rather than her that was the attraction. So she’d pretended to enjoy it. What she enjoyed was his focus on her.
For the next few days, life passed mercifully quietly. There were no more messages, no one got into the flat and caused havoc, and he saw Lauren as often as possible. After the intensity of their first date, they were both content to slow things down, so they settled for lunches together, a trip to the cinema, neither of them suggesting anything more intimate.
Finally, a week after their first attempt, he asked her out to dinner again. This time they went to a trendy restaurant not too far from where he lived, and everything seemed much more relaxed. They chatted, drank a little, ate a lot, and somehow ended up back at his flat.
He opened the front door to carnage. The walls were splashed with dark liquid, and gobs of it were dripping onto the floor. The odour told him it was paint. The fumes caught in the back of his throat, making him cough and his eyes tear. He left Lauren by the door and walked quickly through the flat opening windows, finding more evidence of her presence wherever he looked. The cushions on the sofa had been ripped to shreds, huge gashes spilling their contents onto the floor. ‘CAN YOU SEE ME?’ was daubed in foot high letters across every wall, in bright red paint. All the mirrors were smashed, fragments of glass reflecting a chaotic montage.
“It’s okay, you can come in.” There was no answer. He stepped back into the hall, looked to see what she was doing. Claire had her. She was standing with one arm wrapped conspiratorially around her shoulder. The other hand was holding a knife to her throat. Lauren just stared at him, too scared to make a sound. Her eyes were wide, showing far too much white. She looked as if she was about to pass out. He walked closer, keeping his hands in view. He didn’t want Claire to hurt her.
“Let her go, Claire. She has nothing to do with us.” She said nothing, just watched as he approached. When he was almost in arm’s reach she shook her head, and the knife jabbed up slightly, just enough to prick the skin on Lauren’s neck. Lauren whimpered and started to cry, great silent sobs that made her chest heave. Claire said nothing, just dropped her free hand to her breast and squeezed it hard. She shut up at once.
“You fucked her.” It wasn’t a question.
“It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t planned…”
“Yeah, right. I know you, remember? You plan everything.”
There wasn’t anything he could say to that, they both knew it was true. He decided to try another tack. “You’re the one that left. How long was I supposed to wait for you to come back? You never said a word…”
“Why the hell would I? You’d just have found a way to stop me. And I couldn’t…” She stopped herself, aware that she was losing control. “I couldn’t let you do that.” Claire turned her attention to Lauren. She looked dreadful. She was standing on tiptoe, trying to keep the pressure of the blade off her throat. The flesh there was puckered around the knife’s edge, and a thin trickle of blood was creeping down her neck. She was making a sort of high-pitched wailing sound, and Claire stepped back in disgust. Lauren had wet herself. A dark stain was spreading on the floor, and he could see the wetness shining on her legs. The smell of ammonia rose towards him.
Claire shoved her forward and stepped back, then disappeared. He rushed to catch Lauren. She wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t even look at him. When he tried to ease her into the flat she wailed and curled up on the hall floor in a ball. He gave up, called an ambulance and the police, then threw a blanket over her and sat and waited for help. After she’d been loaded into the ambulance and driven off, the questions started. They seemed to go on forever. He told them all he could, trying to leave out his preferences. They seemed to accept his story, but there was something in the way they looked at him that said they were well aware there was more to this. Finally, they left. It was four in the morning. He went to bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what came next.
Lauren avoided him after that. He tried to see her, tried to explain, but she didn’t want to know. One evening he even went round to her flat, and stood like a twat banging on the door, begging her to come and speak to him, but she wouldn’t listen. He went home and drank himself into a stupor.
Two days later she arrived in front of his desk first thing in the morning. She looked dreadful. Her hair was lank, her skin so pale it was almost translucent, and she looked as if she’d lost about a stone in weight. Her clothes were hanging off her. She didn’t say anything, just stood there looking at him, waiting to hear what he had to say. He sat back in his chair, motioned for her to sit in the spare chair, but she declined the offer.
“How are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“Sorry, I know it must have been….”
“Hard? Yes it was. Bloody hard. I’ve never been attacked with a knife before. I’ve never been so scared I’ve wet myself either. I still can’t believe I did that.” This last was addressed to herself, spoken in a quiet undertone.
“I’m sorry it happened. I’m sorry about all of it.” She looked at him, then, her expression frozen. “I wish it hadn’t happened, but I wish you could get past it and give us another chance.” He smiled, and it hurt. “I can’t help the crazies, Lauren. She had problems. Nothing I said could convince her it was over.” He paused, then told her what he thought she wanted to hear. “I miss you.” He was surprised to find that it was true.
“I miss you too. I don’t know if we should go out any more, though.” She sniffed back tears and stared at a point just over his left shoulder. He couldn’t escape the nagging sensation that Claire was standing there, fingering something sharp and probably very painful. The skin between his shoulder blades started to itch. Finally, she seemed to come to a decision, and her eyes came back into focus. “I’ll try. Okay? I’ll try. We can go for a drink tonight, if you like.” With that she turned and hurried back to her own desk, knocking into a couple of people along the way. Files went flying, people were swearing, but she just stopped, turned to look at them and smiled at him. “I might even let you buy me dinner.”
Now here they were. Eight p.m. on a Friday night, and they were seated in a very comfortable restaurant. He felt as if he were on trial. The food came and they started to eat, but she wouldn’t be drawn into conversation. Whatever he said, she just nodded or looked at him blankly, as if he were someone she couldn’t quite place. Every so often, he’d catch her looking at some point in the distance, a little smile playing on her lips. He wondered whether he should ask what was on her mind, but wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Finally, the meal over, he paid the bill and led her outside. A cab was waiting for them, and he opened the door to usher her in. She still hadn’t spoken a word. As they pulled away, she turned her head to stare out of the window. He couldn’t see what at. He watched as she pressed her face against the glass. When they reached her flat she turned to him, kissed him quickly and fiercely. Then she was gone.
He saw little glimpses of Claire over the next few days. She’d be standing in a doorway as he walked past, or standing in a parallel queue to him at the supermarket. She said nothing, gave no sign that she’d even seen him, but they both knew it couldn’t go on like that for long. Lauren was chatty and friendly, and gave no hint of why she had been so distant. He found himself being cold, not wanting to drag her further into this bizarre chase. She gradually faltered, but kept a watch, and he knew she had an idea what was going on. He couldn’t help her, though.
On Friday, he found salvation. On the way to the pub at lunchtime, he saw Claire watching him from the other side of the road. He ignored her. He hadn’t gone more than ten paces when he heard the screech of brakes and a woman’s scream, cut off quickly. Through the crowd that was gathering, he caught glimpses of what had happened. There was a white van parked in the middle of the road, the driver was standing beside it, his head in his hands. The windscreen was spattered with blood, and he could just see a form on the ground. He couldn’t see it in any detail until an old lady turned away, crossing herself. Blond hair fanned out on the ground.
For a moment, he was completely numb. He was shocked to find that he was actually giddy with relief. He made his way over to a bench and sat down, put his head in his hands. It was over. He took a deep breath and looked up, saw policemen arriving. The wail of an ambulance siren loomed, and he saw it round the corner then screech to a halt beside the scene. Paramedics raced over to the body and for a moment his breath caught as he wondered if she was still alive. Then he saw them shake their heads and stand, talking among themselves. He was free.
He spent the afternoon feeling sick, and when it got to five o’clock he was up and out before most of the others had cleared their desks. He just wanted to get home.
He opened the door and walked into hell. The flat had been trashed. Jazz was playing in the background, and he thought he heard a girl laugh. He walked slowly down the hall, checking the bedroom and bathroom on his way past. There was no one there. A shadow moved across the wall in front of him, and he took a step back. He heard someone clear their throat, and recognised the sound. Lauren. He moved carefully into the living room, and saw her standing by the window, looking out. She turned and saw him, and her face lit up.
“Hi Steve, I thought I’d cook dinner for us.” She walked slowly towards him, and he could hear the red velvet of her dress rustling as it pulled over her thighs. He felt himself growing hard. She guided him to the sofa, and sat him down. She leant over and kissed him, then sat back, stretching. He tried not to watch as her dress rode up.
She grinned suddenly, a lightning flash of teeth in the scarlet gash of her mouth.
“How did you get in?”
She sighed, and sat back, disappointed. “Is that the only question you can think of? I’m disappointed.” She placed a hand on his knee and started stroking it. “I was nice to the caretaker, said I was your girlfriend and I wanted to surprise you. He let me in.”
“Exactly how nice were you?”
“I got in, didn’t I?” Her hand slipped slightly further up, and he tensed, waiting for her to make her move. She just grinned, and turned her attention to his chest. She undid his shirt buttons one by one, lingering to wipe her hand across the sweat on his chest. She leant down and tasted it, then licked his bare skin. He shivered. Her breath tickled him, and he almost didn’t dare to breathe. He felt her hand stealing down his belly, and gasped as she undid his zip and slipped her hand inside. He felt her fingers grip his cock and prise it out, then her head dipped further and he was in her mouth, desperate for it not to stop, amazed at the intensity of the feeling, the wet heat of her.
Something shifted behind him and he froze. What the hell was behind him? He felt himself starting to lose his erection, and she renewed her efforts. There was no further noise, and he began to relax again. A few seconds more and he came, grabbing her head as a reflex. He felt like crying.
“Was it good, lover?” He froze at the familiar voice, and Lauren sat on the floor in front of him. She hawked and spat, then wiped her mouth and grinned at him. No. Not at him. He looked behind him and there she was.
“I thought you were dead.”
“Disappointed? It only took a little push, she didn’t feel anything. She did look amazingly like me, didn’t she? I couldn’t believe my luck.”
Claire was standing in the doorway, a glass of wine in her hand. She was lapping wine from the rim, and he couldn’t stop watching her tongue. She looked stunning. Her hair was even blonder, and fell in a sheet across one eye. The other glittered at him, and he knew he was in trouble. She was wearing one of his favourite dresses, and it clung to every curve. Dark red silk, very long, very straight, with a slit up one side. Her feet were bare, and he could see a glimpse of red on them. Her toenails were bright red, like her fingernails and her mouth.
“Spare me. You were so predictable. Everything we did, you followed. Right to the end.”
Lauren got up and made her way over to Claire. He watched as she snaked an arm around her waist and kissed her. They were tasting each other, and he supposed, him. Unnerving as it was, it turned him on. They broke the kiss, and turned to him, well aware of what he was feeling. They looked at ease with each other, comfortable together, and he realised how neatly they had tricked him.
“Yes, lover. Lauren and I have been together for two years.”
“You can’t have been. You were with me then.”
“Yes, well. I had to get satisfaction somewhere, didn’t I?” He said nothing, just waited for what he was sure was coming. “Let’s face it, Steve. A woman has needs.”
“And I didn’t meet them. Thanks.”
“You did to start with, lover. Don’t feel bad about that. It’s just that when I met Lauren it was different.” She gazed at her partner, stroked her face and held her closer. “She showed me things.”
“I’ll bet she did.”
“Don’t be crude. That’s not what I meant and you know it.” He smiled thinly; glad to have scored at least one point in this farce. “She saw me.”
“You keep saying that. What the fuck does that mean? I saw you every fucking day, and you know it.”
“No.” She shook her head, and moved away from Lauren, walked over to the coffee table. “You never saw me at all. I was just there.” She put her glass down. “I could have been a piece of furniture, for all you saw.”
“Don’t talk crap.” He was sick of all this bullshit. He’d been there. He’d put the money on the table, what more did she want? “I was always here. I was here as soon as work was finished, and we had a good sex life.”
“We had your kind of sex life. We did what you wanted, when you wanted. You never asked what I liked.”
“I didn’t see you complaining. And if you remember, you were responsible for some of those tastes I developed.”
“So what? I liked to try things. Didn’t mean that was the way I always wanted it.”
“You should have said something.”
“What was the point? It wouldn’t have changed anything.”
She was pacing up and down, prowling around the room as if looking for something. Then it dawned on him. She was looking for signs of her. She was looking for proof that she had lived there, with him, and been relatively happy. She wouldn’t find it, and that wasn’t just because he’d thrown them all out. She wouldn’t find it because she’d convinced herself (or had been convinced) that it was all a lie. She hadn’t been happy here, with him. That hadn’t always been the case.
“You got rid of everything.”
“Of course I did. It bloody hurt when you left.”
She pondered that for a moment, then grinned and pulled Lauren closer, squeezed her breast. “Good.”
“Why did you leave, Claire? What did I do to make you go?”
“You don’t know?”
“How the hell would I know? I came home one day and you were gone. Just like that.” He was surprised by how much it still hurt. He’d thought he was over that. She said nothing for a moment, just stood there, lost in thought.
“If I hadn’t done it that way, lover, I’d have killed you.”
“You heard. I hated you. I hated the things we did. Yes, I know I was the one who wanted to try them, but I never expected you to get so hung up on hurting me.”
“I never meant to hurt you.”
“What did you think some of your toys did?” She stopped, and stared blankly into the distance. He didn’t want to look at the pain in her eyes. She came back, slowly, and the pain had been replaced by something flatter. “Maybe you’d like to try.”
“Not particularly.” She bared her teeth at that; he would never have called it a smile. He flinched, and tried not to show it. She left Lauren and walked towards him. She stood in front of him, then leant down to his level. He could see straight down her dress, but had an idea it would be unwise to look. She took his face in her hands, and gently kissed him. He felt her tongue in his mouth, tasting him, and he wanted her as much as he ever had. He tried to probe her mouth, return the kiss, but she wouldn’t let him. The momentum was to be hers, and she wouldn’t be denied. Fine. If that was the way she wanted it, he could go along for now. This was a different Claire, someone mysterious and exciting, and he thought maybe that had been her intention. Maybe what she had wanted all along was to make him sit up and take notice.
She broke the kiss suddenly, and he opened his eyes, puzzled. Red nails were flashing towards his eyes, and he had no time to move.
“Now…Now you see me.”
©2005 Marie O'Regan
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