Thursday, December 20, 2007

Losing Control

Taxiing my way into the office (my car was still rather inconveniently parked outside my office), I tried to doze, but it proved impossible, due to the squawking emanating from the cab radio, which magnified my hangover a hundred fold.

“Can you please turn off that screeching,” I yelled at the cabbie through the partition. “It sounds like a bunch of parakeets.”

“Mackaw actually.”

“Mackaws, parakeets, whatever. Turn it off.”

“I mean, it’s The Curly Mackaw Show.” Of course it was. If I really strained my ears I could make out a few words here and there. Each snippet: “What dykes need is a good shagging” … ”She gives me a raging hard on”, even “Sponsored by Villorex,” were like jagged bits of glass being inserted into my skull.

“It’s just that my head’s very sensitive this morning,” I said, pressing my hands over my ears. Hearing the word Villorex made me yearn, with a sudden abrupt longing, for Connor, but even that thought was drowned out by the roar of pain in my head.

I was never drinking again. It was official. I simply wasn’t up to it after so many years of clean living.

“All right, love,” said the cabbie, clicking off Curly. “What’s eating you? Time of the month is it?”

I sank back into the seat and closed my eyes, hoping for a bit of peace, but instead images from last night popped into my head. Dancing with Sachiko, listening to her pour her heart out, Malc and Chad making eyes at each other, flashing lights. What was the significance of those lights, I wondered? Probably strobe lights on the dance floor, I figured.

Once I was sitting down behind my desk, my head began to feel heavy, like I was trying to balance a rock on a pipe cleaner. It wouldn’t matter if I just laid it down for a second, would it?

My head had just crashed down onto my outstretched palms, when I heard a peppy voice say, “Scarlett? What on earth’s the matter?”

“What?” I jerked upright. My PA, Nicki, gradually came into focus, short hair framing an elfin face. She was holding a newspaper against her chest.

“Well, this is a turn up for the books. You’re hungover aren’t you?”

“No, not at all. I’ve just got a bit of a migraine, that’s all,” I fibbed. Nicki had never seen me in such a state and I felt pretty embarrassed.

“Well, well, you have been a busy girl,” she said. “Your friend Sachiko’s in all the papers.”

I’d told her I was going to yesterday’s taping with Sachiko. The excitement of me knowing a celebrity had obviously gone to her head.

“Some friend. She practically forced me to go to this club with her last night.”

“Whatever you say.” She thrust the newspaper under my nose. “This is page thirteen of the Star. It’s in the Sun too, and a few others.”

“Look Nicki, no offence, but my head’s killing me.” I squinted at the picture of Sachiko leaning out of a car window, kissing some blonde chick.

“So Sachiko has a new girlfriend? So what?” I said brusquely.

“Well, look, I don’t have a problem with it. But I think you should know you’ve got the gossipmongers at Zanorax in quite a flurry.”

“Why?” I asked, perplexed. My brain was groaning with the effort of making sense of what she was saying. I guess she’d told everyone I was meeting Sachiko last night. “Because I hang out with gay people?”

Nicki was staring at me like I had boogers hanging out of both nostrils.

“Is there anything else?” I said. “Because I’d really like to get started on some work.”

“So, this is no big deal to you?” she said eventually. “This is who you are now?”

I thought that my colleagues might be overreacting just a tad. It was the power of celebrity, it had to be. Just because I’d shared a bottle or three of Cristal with Sachiko, I was evidently famous by proxy.

“Of course that’s who I am. Look, could you do me a huge favour and run out and get me a mocha?”

“I can’t. The phones have been ringing all morning. All the papers are anxious to talk to you.”

This was all I needed. The day I had a stonking hangover, was the day the press suddenly decreed incontinence pants a hot topic. “I’m really not in the mood. Just tell them I’m out.”

“What? Out as in out? You’re absolutely sure?”

What on earth was she blathering on about? “Well of course I am. You’re either in or you’re out, and I am absolutely, one hundred per cent out.”

“Gotcha,” said Nicki, plopping the newspaper on my desk, before making a hasty exit.

Next, I locked the door behind her, went over to my armchair, and promptly fell asleep.

When I awoke, it was nearly two, my headache had faded to a dull buzz and I felt remarkably refreshed. As I looked down, I was shocked to see that my suit was badly creased, but short of going out and buying a new one, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I smoothed it out as best I could, got up and walked back to my desk, where the Star still lay open on my desk.

As I was about to flip it closed, I hesitated. That was funny, I thought, peering at the woman kissing Sachiko. Her nose looked awfully familiar. And hadn’t I seen that fawn coloured Jil Sander suit somewhere before? Ditto her high heeled Manolos with the pointy toes?

Recognition ripped through me. The suit and shoes: mine. The nose: also mine. The mouth pressed against Sachiko’s: mine. A fleeting memory of her tongue in my mouth caused me to sink down in my chair and put my head in my hands. Oh yes, that. My brain must have blanked the kiss out, because it had been too bizarre to process.

It would have all been forgotten, if some pesky photographer hadn’t been on the scene. Nevertheless, I told myself, it had just been a kiss. I saw that I was indeed named, as Sachiko’s new friend, PR girl, Scarlett Staines, in the brief blurb beneath the picture. So that’s what had got my colleagues in a lather.

But maybe, just maybe, my colleagues were the least of my problems. I grabbed the paper and rushed next door to Nicki’s office, where she was eating a packet of cheese and onion crisps. Gosh, they looked yummy. And wow, was I was starving.

“Nicki, earlier on, when you said the press were keen to talk to me, did you mean they wanted to talk about this,” I put the paper down in front of her, “or about Flowerette?”

Nicki went pale. She had obviously choked on a crisp. Since she couldn’t talk, she jabbed her finger at the picture of Sachiko and me.

I went round behind her and started thumping her on the back.

“Oh, right. This is so silly, isn’t it? The worst part of it is that you were right, I was hungover. Would you believe I didn’t even realize this was me until just now?” I gave a short, hysterical laugh as I continued to thump her back.

“You can stop that now. I think I’m all right.”

“Okay then.” I headed towards the door, desperate to fill my grumbling stomach. If I stayed here a moment longer, I’d rip her crisp bag right out of her hands.

Hovering in the doorway, I said, “I’m going to go out and get some lunch now, but look, about this Sachiko business. I know I don’t need to tell you that it was just a drunken kiss and didn’t mean a thing, right?”

“Scarlett. I need to tell you something.”

“Well, get on with it.”

Nicki stared at her desk. “This morning, when you said you were out, I thought you meant you were out of the closet.”

I started to giggle. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

Nicki threw down her bag of crisps. “You did. You said it was no big deal that Sachiko had a new girlfriend. How was I to know you couldn’t recognize your own face? I’ve been telling every journo who’s rung up that you and Sachiko are a couple.”

“You what?” I said, hurrying back into the room. I was about to have a go at her, but now, looking at the evidence, it was clear that I was the one who hadn’t been thinking straight.

“Look, this doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just call them back and tell them there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. That I’m ramrod straight and Sachiko’s just a pal, okay?”

“I’ll try, but you know how it is. Most of them switch to voice-mail in the afternoons while they’re writing up their copy.”

“I have absolute faith in you,” I said, slipping out before this ridiculous conversation could go any further.

Once I’d returned from a hurried prawn sandwich lunch, I picked up my pen, and was about to commence a productive afternoon’s work, when someone started knocking at my door. On opening it, I found Stan from accounts grinning at me, a well thumbed newspaper in his hands.

“So, wow, you and Sachiko eh? How long have you two been going out?”

“We haven’t. We aren’t. And now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do,” I said, closing the door in his eager little face. Minutes later, there was another knock. Another curious face, with a slightly different, albeit idiotic query. And so it continued, for the rest of the afternoon.

Since the questions were all pretty similar, I finally stuck a notice on my door which said:

I am not going out with Sachiko

It was just a goodbye kiss

I am not gay

Then I locked my door, ignored the laughter outside and concentrated on phoning Gillian, a journalist I know at the Sunday Express, in order to drum up some publicity for a thirteen mile Fun Run sponsored by Flowerette that was taking place in October.

“Scarlett, so good to hear from you,” said Gillian. “I am so glad you called, darling. You don’t know how long I’ve been expecting this.”

“Expecting what?”

“That you’d finally come out, of course.” Gillian had left her husband for another woman last year and never stopped going on about how happy she was without men. “I’ve always thought you might be, and when I saw that pic of you and Sachiko, well, I was thrilled. I hear on the grapevine you’ve left Alistair? Is that right?”

“Yes, we’re separated.”

Gillian rattled on, “Well, that’s marvellous. Of course you remember when I first discovered I was gay, how my husband wouldn’t believe me. But when I moved in with Isabelle, the penny dropped all right. How is Alistair taking it by the way?”

“Look Gillian, if you must know, I’m not seeing Sachiko. And I’m not the remotest bit gay.”

“Oh darling,” said Gillian. “Denial is a river in Egypt. You can’t keep these desires locked up inside, they’re liable to burst free, like waves crashing over a sea wall, flooding you with—“

“Okay, okay, enough with the water metaphors. I’m not gay, cross my heart and hope to die. Now listen, I’m calling to see whether you could do a feature on this Fun Run I’m organizing in aid of breast cancer. I just faxed you the info. I’ve got a bunch of celebrities involved.” That was a bit of a lie, I only had two so far. But lies were what greased the PR wheel. If you could pretend to a paper you had celebrities on board for an event, they might promise to cover it, and then, hey presto, you used the lure of press coverage to reel in some prize celebrity fish.

“I might be able to do something. Depends who the celebs are, of course.”

“Well, Janey Powell from Eastenders has confirmed.” I couldn’t bear to tell her that the other celeb was an aging rock star who practically had to use a zimmerframe when he performed on stage.

As it happens, I didn’t have to, because Gillian was off on her pet topic again. “Look, you can talk to me about this, you know. I won’t blab a word. Have you had other female lovers, or was Sachiko your first? I suppose I’ve always known, deep down, that I was attracted to women, but kept hoping the feelings would go away. Was that how it was for you?”

What should I do? Issue another denial? No, it was pointless. Best to wind it up before I lost my rag. “Look Gillian, I’d really love to chat, but I’m going to have to dash. Do think about what kind of piece you’re going to do on the Fun Run, “I said sweetly, before putting down the phone.

What a disaster. Gillian clearly wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the Fun Run. The only thing she’d wanted to talk about, the only thing anyone wanted to talk about, was my ‘affair’ with Sachiko. Why had I kissed Sachiko? Why, why, why?

Desperate for caffeine, I rushed into the kitchen, anxious to make a very quick cup before anyone came in and started showering me with questions. In the process, I knocked the jar of coffee granules to the floor, and was just sweeping up the mess when Jimbo, a married guy who‘d been having an affair with Nicki for months, came in and smiled down at me.

I was so relieved that he hadn’t asked me about Sachiko that I said, “Tell me, why is no one the remotest bit surprised that the papers are making out I’m gay? Which I’m not, by the way.”

He shrugged. “I expect there are still a lot of people who actually believe what they read in the papers.”

“But that’s crazy. We’re PR people. We make up stories, day after day,” I said, getting up off the floor, grabbing my coffee and rushing out.

Back at my desk, I couldn’t concentrate. I took a call from Sachiko, in which she told me that Natasha had seen the photo and had gone off the deep end.

“What the heck happened? Did you come on to me?”

“I don’t really remember exactly,” I said, although I was pretty sure she’d instigated the kiss. “I think we were both a bit pissed.”

“What am I going to do?” she whined.

“Be happy. You wanted her back. Looks like she still has feelings for you.”

Once I’d got rid of Sachiko I took a few deep breaths at my desk. The day had been unnerving, perplexing, confusing and downright weird. Right now I needed escapism, I needed to feel wanted, but most of all I needed to forget.

So I called Gavin.

“Hi there, it’s Scarlett. I take it you’ve seen the photo?”

“Who hasn’t?” he said, chuckling. “I take it you’re not too pleased.”

“Pleased everyone thinks I’m gay?”

“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m gay, and I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of.”

I giggled despite myself. “Oh shut up. The difference is, you got yourself into that mess and I didn’t.”

“Fair enough. You sound like you need to unwind. Shall we say my place, seven thirty?”

“Sure,” I said, biting my lip, relieved that he hadn’t made me beg.


After he buzzed me up, I found him waiting for me, standing in the doorway, wearing just a pair of beaten up combats. He was watching me take the last flight of stairs two at a time.

“In a hurry are we?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

I flushed, as I realized he’d caught me out in my act of raw desperation. “Yeah, well, I’ve had one heck of a day.”

“Come here.”

I went up to him and he pulled me into his embrace. I pressed my face into his naked chest, breathing in his musky scent, wanting him. His mouth pressed down on my forehead, finding its way down the bridge of my nose, and finally melding with mine in a rather steamy kiss.

“So, is Sachiko as good a kisser as me?” he said, once he’d pulled away.

A dart of anger rose up inside me. “Hmm, I wonder if you’d be quite so interested if I’d been snapped kissing another man.”

“You’re right of course, but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“I’m not going to answer it, because you’re a hypocrite.”

“I don’t care if I am,” he said, stroking my breast through my shirt. “The thought of the two of you together is just so sexy.”

I ran the backs of my nails along his chest, slowly, enjoying the sense that he was evidently quite excited by the whole thing. I wanted to pretend I was cool, in control, but while he grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the bedroom, while he pulled off my trousers and fucked me beneath the flashing lights of the PEEPSHOW sign, I realized I wasn’t in control at all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Guilty, Moi?

Just two days without Gavin had left me like a drug addict craving a fix. He hadn’t phoned since our night together, but since he hadn’t promised he would, I couldn’t exactly chastise him for breaking his promise. All he’d left me with was the vague suggestion that maybe we’d catch up with each other tonight, after the show taped. Since it wasn’t much to hold on to, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.

Since that night, the days had passed in a haze of lovely long sexual fantasies about Gavin. The only time I’d been pulled back down to earth was when I’d made lots of lovely long phone calls to Connor, to assuage the sense of guilt that had started to plague me.

This morning, as usual, I had The Curly Mackaw Show on while I drove to work.

“So Curly, I hear Sachiko Fiorelli’s in town,” said Billy Bonzo, Curly’s side kick. “You’ve been telling me for years you reckon you could turn her straight. Do you think you’re up to the challenge?”

“Easy peasy,” bragged Curly. “I’m going to bet you five hundred quid, right now, that I can land a date with Sachiko. Are you on?”

“I’d have to see it to believe it.”

“Put your money where your mouth is.”

“All right. I don’t mind taking five hundred smackers off you. I know you’ve got this thing about her, but I can’t see it myself. For one thing, her tits are too small.”

“You know me, Billy, I’m not fussy. Big, small, silicone or saline. I love ‘em all. ” I chuckled to myself. Curly really was a Grade A asshole.

“All right Curly, steady on. We’ve got to go to a break now, but when we get back we’ll be meeting Fiona French, the new starlet who’s currently setting the adult film world alight.”

“Ooh,” groaned Curly. “I can hardly wait.”

The familiar tune of the Villorex jingle pinged into life: “To zap haemorrhoids fast, just say ‘Villorex please.’ In a flash sitting down will be comfort and ease.”

Every time I heard that jingle, Connor popped into my head. I really should call him, I thought. Anxious to hear whether his Dad had reappeared from his drunken binge yet, I reached for my phone.

“Hi Connor,” I said. “How are you?”

“About the same as I was when you called me yesterday afternoon.”

Okay, so maybe I was overdoing it just a tad, phoning him three times a day. If I didn’t ease off a bit, he’d start thinking I was psycho.

“Is your Dad back yet?”

“Oh yeah, crawled home with his tail between his legs early this morning, looking like a tom cat that had been in a fight. I had a right go at him, and he started crying. Said Mum having the accident had been too much for him to cope with. He’s just now gone off to the hospital to see her.”

“And how are the Evil Twins? Behaving themselves?”

“Hardly. Sean was caught shoplifting at Ann Summers the other day. You know, the sex shop.”

“Oh no.”

“Oh yes. Burst into tears when they nabbed him. Said he was short on cash and had wanted to get a present for his sick Mum. He might have got away with it too, only the pants were crotch-less and the bra wouldn’t have covered two cherries.”

I chuckled. “Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, but you’ve got to admit, that is funny.”

“I know. What an idiot, eh?”

“What about you? Have you had a chance to relax at all?”

“Well, I did manage to fit in a drink with some old pals last night. They’re a great bunch of lads and I know I’ll really miss them when I have to come back to London. Not as much as I’ll miss the Guinness though, which is way superior than the stuff they serve in England.”

“I think you might have mentioned that before.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, only about four hundred times,” I said, and he gave a hearty laugh.

This was the weirdest relationship, for want of a better word, I’d ever had. We’d gone straight from nothing to the sort of easy intimacy that takes years to develop. That counted for something, didn’t it? I kept telling myself that this thing with Gavin, it was crazy, it was nonsense, that it was nothing compared to the bond I had with Connor.

Unfortunately my subconscious didn’t give a fig about the altogether more wholesome Connor. Later that morning, as I sat in a meeting with a couple of Flowerette’s marketing people, tantalizing bits of Gavin’s body kept flashing behind my eyes like a slide show. Their presentation about projected sales figures and profit margins might as well have been held in Norwegian for all the impact it made. As the meeting concluded I looked down at my notepad to see what l’d written, but all it contained was a big G surrounded by dozens of tiny hearts. I told myself to get a grip, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything for the rest of the day, until Tanya called, which was something of a surprise, since she hadn’t said two words to me since our spat on Saturday night.

“Hi,” she said, breezily. “I just remembered, isn’t that taping of Genderblast


“Is it?” I said, pretending I’d forgotten. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Look, I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of a cow recently, but I just had to know whether you’d managed to get Sachiko tickets?”

“Well, I did phone Gavin in the end. I also asked for a ticket for myself, since I’ve sod all else to do tonight, and mine’s arrived,” (no need to mention he’d delivered it personally before ravishing me on the sofa), ”so my guess is that hers probably have too.”

“And during this phone conversation, I suppose he asked if you were interested in coming round to his for some rumpy pumpy on his polyester sheets, to which you replied that it was quite impossible, because you couldn’t climax on anything less than six-hundred-thread-count Egyptian cotton?” She started to laugh hysterically.

I hesitated. Part of me was absolutely dying to tell her everything. About my night with Gavin. About how I hadn’t even noticed how damn uncomfortable her sofa was because the sex had been so amazing. But I couldn’t. Talking about it would mean I couldn’t pretend to myself, as I had been doing up until now, that he’d just been a Robolover and that all those screaming orgasms had just been, if not a mistake, then of no real consequence. No, until I had worked out what, if anything, I did feel for him, apart from a throbbing ache between my legs, I wasn’t going to blab.

“We didn’t talk at all, I just left a message on his voice-mail.” I knew exactly what she was up to. Any moment now she’d ask me to get her a ticket. “Now look, sorry to be rude, but I’m really going to have to get back to work.”

“Actually, I was wondering if you could wangle me a ticket for tonight. I’d be awfully grateful. I don’t know how you put up with me, really I don’t. With my moods and my slobby ways. If you get me a ticket, I promise to scrub the shower every day, and I’ll even do the washing up for a week. Please?”

I enjoyed feeling her squirm. She was obviously desperate.

“Look, of course I can get you a ticket.”

“Ooh, goody. Thanks so much for this Scarlett.”

“But I’m not going to. It’s for your own good. This Sachiko obsession has got way out of hand. If you turn up in the audience, she’ll just think you’re stalking her.”

“No she won’t.”

“Goodbye Tanya.”

As I walked across Soho after work, my thoughts veered towards Gavin. The weather had hotted up again, and the streets smelt of rotting vegetation. I began to feel light-headed, partly from the smell, but partly too, because of the mix of anticipation and anxiety churning about in my stomach.

Sitting in the studio audience waiting for the seats to fill up, I felt antsy. I told myself to stay put, to wait until after the taping, but suddenly I knew I had to see him.

I was just about to go backstage, when Sachiko and Chad sat down beside me. And then pretty soon there was no chance to slip away because Helenka had walked onto the studio floor in a tight white pantsuit, and had started to interview the famous transsexual lawyer, Carla Kraus.

Sachiko was utterly transfixed, her eyes wide. She was equally mesmerized by a flame haired lesbian actress who had a lisp, whose name I forget, and a gay porn star called Dorian Dong, who’s tale of rising to the porn firmament from a trailer trash childhood seemed a little too melodramatic to be believed. By now, all I was thinking about was Gavin and how soon we could have sex.

When the show was done, Sachiko jumped up, pulled her tiny orange dress down over her thighs and said, “Look, can you do me a favour? Do you think we could go backstage and you could introduce me to Helenka?”

“Sure, why not?” I said, smiling to myself. This would give me the perfect excuse to seek out Gavin, I thought, leading Chad and Sachiko round to the back of the studio floor. There was a badly shaven guy guarding the door, who shrugged when I said I was a friend of Helenka’s.

“Look love, I’ve let through her quota of girlies for today. You’ll both have to come back tomorrow. And you, mate, have got no chance,” he said, pointing at Chad, who looked relieved. “Strictly no one with balls. Them’s my orders.”

“Hey Sachiko, maybe we should split,” Chad ventured.

“Look honey,” Sachiko said softly, stepping up to the guard, and placing her hands on his shoulders. “We really need to go see Helenka, okay?”

He looked up at her, his expression a mixture of lust and fear. “’Ere, aren’t you that Japanese model bird?”

“I am. And if you don’t let us through this instant, I’ll see that you’re fired.”

Which did the trick. He ushered us in. Soon we were walking down the crowded corridor. I was frantically looking round for Gavin’s blond crop, without success.

“This is such a bummer,” said Sachiko. “Wait. Maybe you could call her, tell her we’ll meet her after the show next week? See if you can organize it.”

“Sure,” I said, scanning the corridor for Gavin as we headed towards the exit. Not catching sight of him made me feel utterly depressed. Once we got outside, I told them I was going to head off.

“Hey, don’t go just yet,” said Chad, as he pulled open the door of the glossy black car that had been waiting for them. ”Is there any chance you might be able to hook me up with Malc tonight? I really liked the look of him, from what I saw on the show.”

So, Chad fancied old horse face. It just went to prove there really was someone for everyone. “Let me think. He usually goes to this club called Fred’s on Wednesdays. You could try him there.”

“Great. I really fancy a club,” said Sachiko. “You’ll come along too, won’t you?”

“Actually, no, I’m really bushed.” I gave a big fake yawn. “But you two have fun.”

“Don’t be such a party pooper,” Sachiko said, playfully pushing me into the car. As she pulled the door closed, I realized I was trapped. Trapped between a supermodel and her PA, whose eyes were all lit up expectantly at the prospect of seeing Malc, like a kid who’d been told Father Christmas would be popping in on his way back to the North Pole. The sad bastard.

Fred’s is in South Kensington, an infamous, low-key gay venue where lots of media types hang out. Although the queue to get in was a mile long, Sachiko sashayed her way to the front, and after a brief chat with the bouncer, was waved through.

Every eye in the house swivelled in her direction as she made her entrance. The walls were mirrored, and I watched as dozens of Sachiko’s did their haughty catwalk strut across the dance floor towards the tables at the back of the club. Shaking back her bob, she lowered herself onto a chair, propped her face up on her elbows, and gave her public a tiny smile of acknowledgment.

“I wish someone would look at me the way those guys look at you,” said Chad huffily, as we sat down beside Sachiko.

“If you like, I can hire you a male escort,” said Sachiko, grinning.

“I don’t need an escort. The guy I want is right here. Somewhere.”

“While you’re waiting for lover boy to show up, go get me some Cristal,” said Sachiko, and Chad hurried off to do her bidding. Cristal champagne? I’d thought these LA types only drank wheatgrass. Maybe the night wouldn’t turn out to be a total disaster after all.

Glancing around, it was clear that there was a definite lack of breasts.

“Sorry there aren’t any girls here tonight.”

“That’s okay, I don’t actually pick up women at clubs.”

“So where do you pick them up?”

“You know, if two people are meant to be together, they just find each other. They’re drawn together like powerful cosmic magnets. That’s what usually happens to me. You know what I mean?”

“Actually, I do. The first time I first met Alistair at a party, it was pretty magnetic. We were both dating other people at the time, but as soon as we grazed fingers while reaching into a bowl of peanuts, the drone of the party faded. As we gazed into each other’s eyes, I knew I’d found my soul mate. A few months later we were married.”

“Oh? I didn’t know you were married. I actually thought you were …” She stopped in mid-sentence and shook her head.


“It doesn’t matter. So, are you happily married?”

“Not exactly.” I ended up telling her everything. About the trial separation, about leaving Ivy behind to move in with Tanya, and about how I didn’t know how I was going to resolve this great big mess I’d created.

“Sounds like a real downer. Still, you’re lucky to have a daughter. I’d love to have a kid some day with Natasha. Not that I ever will. She never wanted us to be out as a couple. Wanted to keep it a big secret. Said it would damage her career if her fans knew she was gay. You know how it is.”

Well, no, actually, I didn’t have a clue.

“Oh absolutely,” I said, not knowing what else to say. By now I was beginning to feel genuinely tired. Chad too was beginning to wilt, because his dream man appeared to have given Fred’s a miss tonight. Minutes later, however, I bumped into old horse face himself outside the Ladies.

“My God, how the heck did you become friends with Sachiko Fiorellli?” he gushed.

“Nice to see you too Malc.”

“No really, how did you?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know? Actually, I know you’re massive ego’s probably going to explode, but her PA Chad has the hots for you. He’s with her now. Why not come meet him?”

“Some Californian air head. No thanks.”

After much persuasion, I brought him over to Sachiko’s table.

As soon as Malc laid his eyes on Chad, and took in his well-muscled arms and tight white t-shirt, he beamed. Evidently, the fact that he might be an air head was no longer an issue.

Once Malc had sat down and poured himself a glass, Chad leaned in towards him and said, “Hey, did anyone ever tell you have a really cute fanny?”

“What?” Malc spluttered into his drink.

“I think he means bum,” I said.

“Yeah, I mean bum.”

“Well, thanks,” said Malc, and he and Chad exchanged soulful glances.

The atmosphere was getting a little too throbbing with sexual tension for me, so I suggested to Sachiko that we hit the dance floor. She really went for it, closing her eyes and shimmying her shoulders to a James Brown number, totally unaware that every guy in the house was staring at her. That was the awesome power she had. The power to turn the most committed gay man straight, at least for one night.

Once we’d got back to our table, where Malc and Chad were whispering to each other, I took a good look at Sachiko, and wondered if she was actually human. Her skin didn’t seem to have any pores and she wasn’t sweating at all, which, after all that dancing, was pretty amazing. I wiped my own sweaty forehead with the back of my hand and took a deep swig of Cristal. Feeling energized, I decided I’d soften her up for a few more minutes, and then tentatively slip in the idea of her being the face of Fondantdew.

“So how’ve you been dealing with your break up with Natasha? Are you over her?”

“I’m getting there,” she said, forcing a smile. “There’s a part of me that still hates her, of course. Hates her for denying that I existed in public, for so long. I mean, I tried. I really tried. But there’s only so long you can tolerate a situation where someone loves you in private and not in public. It’s just crazy.” I nodded sympathetically. This probably wasn’t the best time to mention that Natasha had actually finished with her, not the other way around. “I’m over her, of course I am, only, I just wish things had been different between us. The real trouble with the relationship was …”

Well, without going into too much boring detail, I pretty much found out everything you’d ever want to know about Natasha Jones, like that she’s allergic to dairy, hates wearing socks and is scared of lifts. Oh yeah, and that she’s the most wonderful woman on the planet, as well as the world’s biggest bitch. I chipped in with the occasional sympathetic comment, but it was pretty much the Sachiko show.

“Oh Scarlett,” Sachiko said, leaning her head against my shoulder. “Where did I go wrong? I mean, you tell me. I couldn’t go on living a lie, could I?”

“Of course you couldn’t,” I said, helping her to her feet. “Maybe we ought to get you home. Where are you staying? The Park Lane Sheraton, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “When I gave that interview to People magazine without consulting her first, I thought she’d be delighted, but boy was I wrong. You should have seen her, she was so mad and, hey, where the heck is Chad?”

I scanned the dance floor, which was now almost empty. Chad, as well as Malc, were nowhere to be seen.

“They must have hooked up,” I said, as I escorted her to the exit. Her car was waiting for her outside, and I eased her into her seat.

As she rolled down the car window, I bent down so I was face to face with her. I was wearing high heels and was finding it hard to balance, and must have tumbled forward, because suddenly my face was squished against hers. I pulled away an inch, placing my palms against the car, trying to regain my balance.

I was staring at Sachiko, at her gorgeous eyes, watching them roll back in her head, when she kissed me.

She reached out of the window and, wrapping her hand around the back of my head, pressed my lips hard against hers. I wanted to ask her what the heck she thought she was doing, when she probed her Cristal-tasting tongue into my mouth. At that point, I surrendered. I opened my mouth a little more and leaned into her, and mmm, the way she was teasing my tongue with hers was, well, as a matter of fact, it was hot. I mean, God, who wouldn’t want to kiss Sachiko? She’s just so … perfect.

And then there was the click of a camera, the flash of lights. Flash, flash, flash. I jerked away. Glancing over my right shoulder, I saw a figure hurrying off down the street. As I straightened up, I watched Sachiko give a final wave, before sinking back in her seat.

As I clambered into a cab and headed home, I kept telling myself it was no big deal to kiss a girl. But this was a big deal. This wasn’t just any girl. This was Sachiko Fiorelli, and someone had taken pictures.

By the time I got back to the apartment, I was bursting to tell Tanya all about it, so it was quite disheartening to find her zonked out on the sofa, with the TV still running. As I switched it off, she stirred and said sleepily, “Oh hello. Is it morning?”

I glanced at my watch. “No, wow, only two o’clock. I thought it was later. I am so out of it.” Plonking myself beside her I said, “You won’t believe what just happened to me.”

She sat up and pulled her pink dressing gown around her. “Won’t I? Actually, I think it’s pretty obvious.”

“Is it?”

“Course it is. Your lipstick’s all smudged. And its pretty damn obvious who you’ve been kissing. It’s Gavin, isn’t it?”

“Gavin? Why on earth would I—“

“Oh, give me a break. You can stop pretending. I do know the effect he has on you. What’s happened to you Scarlett? It seems like these days, one slice of pizza, and you’re anybody’s.”

“What? I didn’t even talk to Gavin tonight, and what does pizza have to do with anything?”

“You can stop fibbing. I know.”

“Know what?”

“The other night, I could smell pepperoni in the air, so I followed my nose and ended up in the living room. I was going to ask if I could have a slice, but you two looked kind of busy, so I helped myself.”

I felt sick. “Oh God Tanya, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was waiting for you to tell me. To tell you the truth, I’m pretty hurt you didn’t confide in me.“

“There’s really nothing to tell. It just sort of happened. Call it a temporary loss of sanity.” That wasn’t really the truth, but the way I felt about Gavin was confusing, and I was very tired and drunk and really didn’t feel like going there. “In any case, I’ve told you, me and Connor are practically dating. I know its only phone calls for now, but it kind of feels like we’re getting serious.”

She gave a sharp blast of laughter. “Since you two haven’t even kissed yet, you can hardly call it dating! Whereas Gavin and you have exchanged more than just saliva. I’d say if you’re dating anyone, it’s Gavin.”

“So you reckon you can only be going out with someone if you’ve kissed them?”

“Well yes, I mean, some kissing has to take place before one can officially declare oneself an item.”

“So,” I said, trying to act cool. “If Sachiko kissed me this evening, does that mean we’re an item?”

Tanya’s eyes flew open. “You’re having me on!”

“I’m not. We went to Fred’s, and at the end of the night she gave me a goodbye kiss, which turned into something a bit more.”

Tanya leaned over, grabbed my face and plonked a kiss on my cheek. “You know what this means don’t you? It means Sachiko likes you. No, better than that, she lurrves you.”

“Steady on. I don’t think—”

“And that you’ll be able ask her about Fondantdew any day now.”

“You have such a one track mind,” I said, yawning and heading for the door.

“I guess you’ll be dreaming about Sachiko tonight,” Tanya called after me.

As it happens, I didn’t dream of anyone that night, I was in such a deep stupor.

I groaned when my alarm woke me at seven. My mouth tasted like a rat had died in there, and my head was filled with a searing, high pitched pain.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Learning How Not To Fake It

When I awoke, the vivid images of the dream danced behind my eyes. I felt perturbed, certainly, but also angry. What on earth did Gavin think he was doing, popping into my dreams like that? I hadn’t exactly invited him in. Despite myself, I couldn’t help wondering if the real Gavin would be as good in bed as Robolover. But before I could give the matter too much thought, my bedside phone started to ring. I was relieved to find it was Connor.

As I lost myself in Connor’s disastrous life, the memory of the dream began to dissolve.

He told me he’d spent yesterday evening at the hospital, sitting at his Mum’s bedside, phoning around his Dad’s mates to ask if they knew where he was. There’d been some sightings of him in various boozers around town, but when he’d phoned the pubs in question, he was always told the same thing: that his Dad had been in, but had pushed off some time ago.

Then, to top it all, an emotionally drained Connor had gone back to his parents’ house at midnight to get some sleep, only to find the place bursting with teenagers and throbbing with drum 'n bass. The Evil Twins had seized the opportunity for a party, and even though it had only been going for a couple of hours, and Connor threw everyone out, the damage was already been done. There were fag burns in the carpet and smashed bottles of beer all over the place.

Imagining what the place must look like, must smell like, made my heart go out to him.

“Oh God Connor, I wish I could just come over with a bucket of soapy water and fix the place up.”

“Don’t worry. The lads have tidied up most of it up already. Anyway, how was The Attic?”

I told him all about the horrid food and inviting Tanya and meeting Sachiko, and then, when I couldn’t keep my big news inside any longer, I just burst out with it.

“Look, I really need to tell you something. Alistair and I had a talk, and it turns out he wants a trial separation.”

“Oh? What did you say?”

“Well, I told him it was a great idea. In fact, it’s already happened, would you believe? I’ve moved in with Tanya.”

“Well, I can’t say that isn’t a relief. At least I won’t have to worry about creeping around behind your husband’s back if we start dating.”

“Don’t you mean when we start dating?”

“Yes,” he said softly. And suddenly I really missed him and wished he was here.

Later at brunch at a café in Camden Town with Mia and Imogen, Mia was all excited.

“Oh Scarlett, I am so happy. We’ve had tons of calls since the show. You are such a doll for pulling this off.”

“Is Malc over the moon too?”

“Well, you know Malc, he grumbles. He’s been so bogged down with work, what with the phone ringing off the hook, that it’s really getting to him. He’s been a bit snappy with some of the new clients.”

“You know Mia, you really should fire him. He’s just no good with people.”

“Fire Malc! No way. I’ve known him since we were at Kindergarten. If you only took the time to get to know him, you’d see that deep down he’s a lovely person.”

“That must be very deep down.”

“You’ve got to admit, he can be a bit caustic,” said Imogen.

“I’m not sacking Malc, okay?” said Mia.

They scoffed their fried breakfasts while I sipped my tea. The news that Alistair and I had decided to give each other a bit of space, apparently wasn’t any big deal to Mia who’s only reaction was, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re taking some time for yourself, time to figure out who you really are.”

“Actually, that’s exactly not what I’m going to be doing. If you must know, I had this night of red hot sex all planned out.” Mia looked a little shocked. “But it’s just my luck that as soon as I’m free, the guy I fancy has raced off to Ireland.”

“What’s Gavin doing in Ireland?” said Mia.

God this was annoying. Why did everyone keep going on about Gavin? “Not Gavin, I’m talking about this Irish guy I work with, Connor. I must have mentioned him?”

“I don’t think so,” said Imogen.

“Well, maybe I didn’t. He was kind of a secret between Tanya and me for, well, for months. Then suddenly he asks me out on a date, and while I’m waiting for him in the restaurant, he calls from Heathrow and tells me he won’t be able to make it because his Mum’s had an accident and is in a coma. And it’s not that I’m not sympathetic and all that, but it could take her weeks to come out of it. At this rate, it looks like we’re never even going to have a first date, let alone get to first base.”

“You’ll get to first base,” said Imogen. “You’re just going to have to be patient for a while.”

When I got home, I stood in the hallway, feeling sorry for myself. God, I missed Connor. Or something. Maybe I just didn’t know how to be alone.

Tanya came out of her bedroom, looking pale and bedraggled.

I said, ”Look, can we talk?” I don’t think I’d ever needed to talk to anyone so badly. Mia and Imogen were all very well, but for God’s sake, Tanya was my best friend, and I hated that we’d fallen out. And quite frankly, even though I’m not a huggy person, right then I really needed a hug. But she just walked right past me and slammed the door of the bathroom, leaving me feeling sorrier for myself than ever.

Needing to keep myself busy, I ran into the living room and started vacuuming the carpet and polishing her barbed wire sideboard, as I tried to get things into perspective. I knew Tanya was being a prat, sulking about the fact I wasn’t willing to get her tickets. But maybe I was equally to blame. I would call Helenka, that would be best, I told myself. But then I remembered her prediction: A girl is about to walk out of your life. She wasn’t a fake, as Gavin had said. Her prediction had come true. So I had walked away from the girl, but it all added up to the same thing, didn’t it? If I called her, there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t start foretelling my future again. In my fragile state, I wasn’t quite up to dealing with any more ominous predictions.

So, if not Helenka, that only left Gavin. So, I’d had a kinky dream about him. So what? Sachiko needed tickets and Gavin was the best person to supply them. Surely I could manage a simple transaction without letting him rub me up the wrong way? Of course I could.

Since it was all I had, I tried his office number, and reached his voice-mail. While I rambled on about how I needed him to ring Sachiko’s people and sort out tickets for her, I chewed over whether I should ask for a ticket for Tanya too, before swiftly vetoing the idea. But hang on, what if I talked to Sachiko after the show, got a feel for how Tanya might best make her pitch? Yes, that would definitely be a smart move. So, after requesting that he send a ticket to Tanya’s apartment, I gave out her address and phone number, saying I was staying there temporarily and that he should get in touch if there were any problems.

Then, utterly exhausted, I went to my room and took a cat nap on the bed. The phone kept ringing in my dreams, and I knew I should answer it, but right now sleep was more important.

When I eventually woke, the room was shrouded in a rosy dusk, and some asshole was ringing the doorbell. I staggered sleepily to the door, ready to strangle whoever it was.


“All right,” I said, opening the door and rubbing my eyes. “You can stop ringing the bloody bell now.”

There was a man standing there, carrying a pizza. He was wearing baggy combats and a t-shirt, and he looked kind of serious. I knew him. Of course I did, I was just half asleep and couldn’t place him. Yes I could. It was Gavin. And he was staring at me.

And out of nowhere this odd sentence came to me: You are the puzzle piece that fits exactly into the empty space inside of me.

He stared at me. And I stared at him. And that was it. We both knew what was going to happen next.

“Sorry to just barge round like this, but you weren’t answering the phone, so I thought I’d just walk over and bring you your ticket.”

He was saying the words, but the words meant nothing. They were just filling time before we could tear eachother’s clothes off. We both knew it.

The waiting would be fun. It would also be unbearable.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, taking the ticket from his outstretched hand. “You should have posted it and saved yourself the bother.”

“No bother. It’s just a short walk from Muswell Hill.”

“Thanks,” I said again, leaning against the doorframe and running my hands over my bare arms.

“So what’s the deal?”

“About what?”

“About how you know Sachiko and why exactly you’re staying at Tanya’s. Do you want to tell me all about it over pizza?” he said, slipping past me.

Once we’d sat down on the sofa, he ate two slices of pizza and I ate nothing. I tried to, but the crust tasted like ashes and proved impossible to swallow, so I spat the mouthful into a napkin.

He kept asking questions. I was bored of talking and I was certainly bored of questions, but he was insistent, so I told him about how I’d met Sachiko and explained that I was living at Tanya’s because I’d just separated from my husband.

I scurried off to get some beers, and while I drank greedily from my bottle, he asked if I was allowed to see other people, and something about the question shocked me and made me lose my grip on the cold slippery bottle I held in my palm. It would have crashed to the floor, if his hand hadn’t darted out and caught it.

“Well, yes,” I stuttered.

We were leaning in towards each other. We were so close that I could see each separate eye lash around his eyes, could feel his breath on my cheek, coming hard and fast. I was sure he was going to kiss me, but instead he just handed me the beer, leaned back and started telling me the story of his life.

It was your standard riches to rags tale. As a child the family had lived in a great big mansion in St John’s Wood, and his dad had run a property development business. Everything was dandy, until, when Gavin was fourteen, the business took a nose dive and his dad declared bankruptcy. The family was forced to move into a cramped apartment, and he was transferred from a private school to the local comprehensive, where the kids took the piss out of his plummy accent. Hurt by their taunts, he started imitating his classmate’s downmarket cockney tones, and was soon accepted as one of them.

“So, you’ve always been good at acting,” I said, thinking that we weren’t all that dissimilar. No one hearing my upper crust voice today, would guess that I’d been born in Peckham or that I’d gone to a run down comprehensive. Back then my accent had been perfectly ordinary. But as soon as I’d got to Cambridge, in order to fit in with the rich kids and their posh tones, I’d quickly evolved an accent that made them think I was one of them. Then, later, once I’d married upper-class Alistair, by accent had become snootier still.

“But isn’t it a bit of a drag,” I said, “putting on the gay bit at work all the time?”

“Yeah, it certainly can be a pain. Especially when I’m down the pub with my work mates, and I’m dying to go over to some fit looking bird and start chatting her up, but have to stop myself, because they all think I’m gay.”

“Yeah, it must be.” I started to laugh, and my laugh was high and tinkly. I sounded like a crazy person.

Gavin didn’t seem to have noticed my crazy laugh, because he was looking at me rather intently. “Still, it looks like I can chat up any girl I like tonight, because they aren’t here, now are they?”

“How do you know?” I said in a misguided stab at humour. “Maybe they’re hiding behind the sofa.”

He reached out and rested his hand on my jean-clad thigh. While maintaining eye contact, he slowly started to stroke it. It was lucky I wasn’t standing up, because my legs would have given way beneath me.

Once he started to kiss me, I felt myself lose control. My insides were like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. I was full of flames and smoke and tiny explosions.

Now his hands were roaming under my t-shirt and playing with my breasts. I was bra-less, and soon I was melting, slowly melting into a great pool of liquid jelly. I had no bones. I was just limp, helpless, crazed with desire. Meanwhile, he was pulling off my t-shirt.

Before I knew it, my clothes and underwear were off and Gavin was licking my inner thighs in tiny circles. It was heaven, but it was also disconcerting. I began to feel distanced, less and less connected to the sensations. I wanted to relax, really I did, but suddenly I was gripped by a desperate impatience and told him I wanted him inside me. Now.

He put on a condom and we started doing it, and suddenly I couldn’t feel anything. It was terribly disappointing. I was thinking of Alistair and what he’d think if he could see me, and oh God, this was a disaster. In the end I did what I always did when I got like this. I faked it.

Gavin rolled off me and lay back on the hard sofa. “Okay, what was that?”


He shook his head. “That was a really badly faked orgasm.”

“But I did come, really,” I said, annoyed.

I sat up and crossed my hands in front of my breasts. I was a total amateur at this sleeping around lark. I was crazy to think I could even manage it. Getting up, I started to pick up my clothes.

He drew me gently back towards the sofa and pulled me across his chest. “Hey, listen, I’ve got an idea. I reckon that if you imagined you were this helium balloon, floating up to the sky, you might be able to unwind a tad.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Oh, go on.”

Since he was being so sweet, I decided to try. I closed my eyes and began to visualize myself as air inside a pink balloon, drifting upwards into a piercing blue sky.

“I’m going to make you come,” he whispered into my ear as he kissed me all the way down my neck, dragging his stubbly chin across my sensitive skin. It was almost painful, but not quite.

“But I did come. Really, I’m fine,” I murmured.

I was a balloon, being blown about on a breeze. I was rising and rising. I opened my eyes and stared into his, a flash of green that snapped me out of my dream-like state.

“Hey, don’t look so scared. I’m not going to stick it in and start jack-hammering away until you fake it again. I do know a thing or too about how to tackle this, and if you don’t come, I’m going to take it personally.”

He got down on his knees in front of me and gently parted my thighs.

“You’re very arrogant, if you don’t mind me saying so. All right. Fine. So I have trouble orgasming, a lot of women do, and I …” I stopped in mid-sentence, because I could no longer talk. He was kissing his way up my inner thigh, and the balloon was drifting up, up, getting lost in the clouds.

He was wonderful at kissing, phenomenal at stroking my skin, and I just knew, instinctively, that he’d be a master at oral sex. And frankly, now that he was on his knees before me, I just wanted him to get on with it. But he seemed to be in no hurry at all.

The little circles he was making on my inner thighs with his tongue were driving me to the edge of madness. Every time he went a little higher, I would I hold my breath, would say to myself, yes, yes, he’s finally going for gold. And every time he’d dash my hopes, changing direction, and working his way back down, like his tongue was taking a leisurely stroll.

“You’re going the wrong way!” I wanted to shout, like some on edge driving instructor, but I didn’t of course, just lay back, digging my fingernails into the sofa while he kept this up for what felt like hours. And even when he finally did give me a little of what I fancied, the way he was licking my clit was like he was testing out a flavour of ice cream he wasn’t particularly fond of.

And finally, finally, when I was squirming around like a crazed thing, he took pity on me and started really paying my clit some good, focused attention, like it had suddenly transformed into a whopping great sundae, hot fudge and all. Just when I was teetering on the edge, he pulled away, all relaxed. Now what? It appeared that his tongue was stopping for a tea break and would get back to the job in its own sweet time.

“Jesus, Gavin,” I mumbled. “I can’t take much more than this.”

Through half closed eyes, I watched him stand up and pull on a condom.

This time I was ready for him.

But even once he was inside me, he wasn’t done with teasing me yet. Every time I was almost there, he would pull out and rub my clit with his finger, until the pressure was unbearable and splinters of pleasure started to shoot through me. The game was pretty much torture by now.

Finally the torturer relented, thrusting into me deeply until I was thrashing about and screaming, my orgasm as intense as the one I’d had in my dream.

“Now that,” Gavin said, while I was lying there, my mouth slack against his shoulder. “That was a real orgasm.”

“All right, you got me,” I said, smiling.


That evening, sitting on Ivy’s bedroom floor, watching her dress and undress her Barbies, I remembered that morning. How he’d run his fingers down the length of my arm, while we’d joked about with the self-consciousness of two people who have slept together for the first time and are wondering if the other person will ever be persuaded to repeat the performance.

As his glance lingered on a photo of Ivy on my bedside table, his fingers stopped in their tracks.

“I can’t really see you as a mother,” he said, before swiftly adding, “although I’m sure you’re terrific.”

“Not really. I lack the self-sacrificing gene most mothers seem to be born with. I mean, for God’s sake, I only breastfed Ivy for two weeks! Sure it was painful, but the pain would have gone away once my nipples toughened up a bit, but I couldn’t be bothered. Sad, isn’t it?”

“I’m sure you did your best,” he said, smoothing my hair away from my face.

“If only that were true. I mean, how can dashing off to live at Tanya’s possibly be the best thing for Ivy?”

Now, as I picked up a Barbie and began to comb the knots out of her matted hair, I tried to ponder the question, but didn’t get very far. After my night with Gavin, my guilt reflex, in fact, my whole brain, had ceased to function.

Later, after I’d put Ivy to bed and was about to leave, I almost collided with Alistair, as he was coming in through the front door. We stood there looking at each other awkwardly, until I sliced into the silence with, “How are you?”

“Look,” he said rapidly, his eyes seeking out mine. “I think I might have made a dreadful mistake.”


He raked his hand through his hair and took a step closer, bumping his briefcase against my leg. “About that row we had the other night. Look, I hadn’t slept properly in days and I wasn’t thinking straight. I didn’t mean what I said.”

“About separating? It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?”

“What can I say? It was a stupid decision.”

“I’m afraid I don’t agree. This break is just what I need.”

“Don’t you see? We’re not going to solve our problems while we’re living under separate roofs. Once you’ve moved back in, I’ll come home early one evening this week, and we’ll sit down and talk, really talk.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I appreciated the gesture, but the chance of Alistair cutting back on his work hours to have a heart to heart didn’t strike me as entirely believable. “I’m going to stay at Tanya’s, until …” My voice quavered. I realized I couldn’t finish the sentence. Until what? That was the real question.

Seems like I’ve been faking it for too long. Have you ever faked it and do you think it’s worth it to pander to the guy’s ego?