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Sitting in a side-street
café, sipping cold tea,
smiling as our eyes meet
glancing from the door;
you are coolly guessing
that I’m bored and lonely,
and I’m soon forgetting
whom I’m waiting for.
The teeming March rain washed against the windows of the little Italian café nestling in the backstreets behind Tower Hill tube station. As I restlessly stirred my tea for the umpteenth time, my mobile began to ring ominously.
I had been awaiting my friend’s arrival for more than half an hour. But if she was ringing me, this could only be bad news.
‘Hi, Beth. Look, I’m really sorry. I’m running so late and I’ve just been called into another meeting. What do you want to do?’
I swore silently and thought through the options. I had come up from Oxford especially to see her. I’d pleaded with Daniel, my boss, to have the day off and was looking forward to an afternoon at the Tate Modern with my oldest friend before sharing a few drinks and supper, and taking the last train home.
‘Well, do you think you’ll be free later?’
‘I’m not sure. It’s gone crazy here. Yeah. I hope so. Sorry, babe.’
‘I can see you there, if you like. You know, if you make it, great. If you don’t, no big deal. We’ll catch it another time.’ I swore silently again. This was typical Jools.
‘OK. Look, I’m so sorry. If I don’t get there, next time lunch is my treat.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘These things happen. Anyway, maybe I’ll see you later.’
‘OK. Must dash. Love you. Bye.’
The call went dead. I folded away my mobile and sipped at the tepid, watery tea.
This was the first time we were due to meet since Robert and I had split up the month before. We had talked on the phone, of course — or, at least Jools had endured my drunken, tearful rambling late into the night — but this was a chance to show her that I had put all that behind me. The first day of the rest of my life. But now the new life didn’t look so different from the old life — me the passive, uncomplaining victim.
Disconsolately I pushed away the chipped teacup and looked around at Luigi’s other patrons. Business was hardly brisk. Near the door an old couple were bickering over a crossword. That would have been Robert and I in thirty years’ time, I thought, and immediately felt a little better. Just behind them a City-type was talking frantically and furtively into his phone — lots of ‘Yahs’ and ‘Absolutelys’. Another reminder of Robert. My God, they were everywhere.
The guy in the corner was more interesting. He was studious-looking, bespectacled, but not nerdish. Slim and dark. Maybe thirty or so, two or three years older than me. He looked up from the papers spread out before him and I hurriedly turned away. When I glanced over again, he had resumed his reading. Not really my type. A bit skinny. But nice in a quiet way.
No, Beth, I said to myself, don’t even think of it. Men are a complication you don’t need. Forget them, and think about higher things. I could still go to the Tate. I’d just wait for the rain to stop. I rummaged through my bag and retrieved my copy of Anna Karenin. I’ve always meant to read it, and I re-start it whenever I’m unhappy. But I never finish it. Where was I? Oh yes, Chapter 2.
Who is there who hasn’t —
for one sweet split-second —
craved some brief fulfilment
of her widowed needs?
Who’s to say I shouldn’t,
now fate and you have beckoned,
gamble on this moment
and follow where it leads?
During the last six months of my life with Robert, I might as well have been a widow. If we made love a dozen times, it was certainly no more than that. And as a cactus will flourish in a desert, so fantasies grew and prospered in the wilderness that was my love life. There was one fantasy in particular that haunted me for an age and was only truly exorcised on that rain-swept afternoon that began in the café.
In my imagining it is late one Saturday morning. It’s hardly a common occasion because Robert and I have made love: hurried, frantic love, and — rarer still — he has managed to bring me to an orgasm that, though somewhat perfunctory, has renewed all those tender feelings I once harboured for him.
Without showering and barely brushing my hair, I pull on a summer dress — no bra nor panties — and we stumble along to the coffee house around the corner from our flat. We cuddle up on the settee and devour steaming cups of scolding coffee with almond croissants. It is as though we have just met and are in the first heady weeks of mutual discovery.
I am spoon-feeding Robert the milky froth from my cappuccino when a man walks into the coffee house. At first I don’t really notice him but his presence seems to change the atmosphere almost palpably. I look up and he is standing in the centre of the room, still and silent but demanding our attention. He is tallish and older than us, maybe forty or so, and vaguely familiar. He is wearing a grey linen suit and a deep blue shirt. He isn’t handsome but he is attractive. He strides over to Robert and me.
‘Come on,’ he says. He is talking to me. His voice çankaya escort is quiet, but commanding. ‘Let’s go.’ He holds out his hand, beckoning me.
I release myself from Robert’s embrace and get up from the settee, moved as if by a force of nature. Robert looks astounded by what is happening. I shrug resignedly, like a doctor on call, summoned to an emergency. The man opens the door and I follow. In the street he holds me by the wrist and marches me down the road. I have to half-run, half-shuffle to keep pace — a naughty little girl being dragged home by her strict guardian. Puzzled shoppers watch as we pass by but, as I catch their eyes, each looks away shamefacedly, pretending not to notice us.
A hundred yards down the road, we turn a corner and leave the hustle and bustle behind. A few entrances along, he stops and unlocks a blue door in a shabby building I haven’t noticed before. As he does so, I catch my breath and study him in profile. His face is tanned in a weather-beaten way, his hair fair but greying at the temples. He is muscular but not burly. About him there is an air of proprietoral confidence. Once the door is open, he pulls me up a flight of rickety, uncarpeted stairs. I stumble but he doesn’t stop for me, merely pulls me to my feet, and strides onwards. At the top of the stairs there is another door. He slots a key into the lock. Despite all apprehension, I can sense myself becoming aroused by his stern aloofness, by the thought of my lovemaking with Richard only an hour ago, and by my utter helplessness. My back is against the wall, I hear myself panting and smell the musky stink of sex rising from my pores.
Beyond the door is a small flat. From the hallway I can see into two or three rooms. Each is only scantily furnished. My mystery man still doesn’t speak but stoops to pick up some mail and, climbing to his feet, steadies himself by gripping the back of my bare thigh. He pulls against me and his fingers dig into my skin. As he rises, his hand feels its way up under my dress, over my hip to my belly. For a moment I stand passively as his fingers explore between my legs which part obediently for him. My breath is catching in my throat but nevertheless I give out a little yelp. He removes his hand and strokes my face with his damp fingers.
My heart is in my mouth as he motions me into the bedroom. The room is dominated by a big metal-framed bed. Apart from that, there are only a couple of old chairs, two bedside tables and a large rug hanging on the whitewashed wall. The wooden floor has been stripped and is carpetless. I doubt that he lives here. Perhaps he just keeps the flat for fucking women like me.
‘What do you want?’ I say, although I am already certain of the answer.
‘You, of course,’ is all he replies.
‘Because I can see what he can’t see, what even you haven’t seen — until now.’ His eyes are dark and blazing. They seem to penetrate my very soul.
He pulls me to him and we kiss. He tastes of tobacco and money. I suppose that I should offer resistance, but I realise that I forfeited that privilege when I left the coffee house.
When we break off our embrace, he says, ‘You can go if you want.’ But I stay where I am. And we kiss again, this time more deeply. I wind my leg around his thigh and he grabs it with his hand and lifts it to his hip.
‘You smell of his sweat,’ he says.
‘I’m sorry,’ I mumble.
‘I like it,’ he answers and smiles for the first time. His teeth are white and not quite even. I want to feel them biting into my flesh.
He puts me down and, in one movement, lifts my frock above my head. It seems to flutter, like a flag, before it falls at my feet. Now I am utterly naked. Instinctively my hands cover my breasts. Yet I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed, but I do feel frightened — thrillingly so, as if I am standing at the edge of a precipice, about to leap. He peels away my hands and squeezes my breasts, like a farmer prodding a chicken to check whether it’s ready for the pot. My breasts are small but firm, the nipples now hard and pink. He seems to like what he sees. He gestures to the bed and I clamber onto it, lie on my side and wait for him. He removes his jacket, kicks off his shoes and starts to unbutton his trousers. His cock springs from his pants, and, yes, I like what I see too.
When I have sucked his cock, he mounts me, holding me down by the wrists, and fucks me hard — a desperate, rutting beast — until I cum and cum again with grunting gasps of shuddering relief. Then he pulls out of me, releases my hands and straddles my waist. I masturbate him with each hand in turn until my wrists are hurting. Then he cums over me, streaking my face and breasts in thick plumes of his juice. I lean forwards and my tongue catches the last bead of cum that drips from his cock. I smile up at him, seeking his approval, and he seems pleased with me. He gently wipes my face and offers his fingers to me and I feast on them hungrily. The rest of his juice he rubs into my breasts and then I lick his palms clean.
‘That was good,’ he says eventually. ‘Good for you too?’
I don’t want to ankara rus escort answer but I do nonetheless. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Thank you.’
‘Will I see you again?’ I ask.
‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘I’ll come for you if I want you.’
A minute later he is dressing with the same brisk efficiency with which he had removed his and my clothes. I’m still sprawled across the bed, sore and aching, as though every part of me has been violated by him.
‘You can stay as long as you like,’ he says, barely looking at me. ‘There’s tea and coffee in the kitchen. Just slam the door behind you.’
He walks back to the bed and leans over me. He brushes a wave of hair from my face and kisses my forehead. His lips are warm and moist. He sniffs at my skin.
‘There’s a shower too if you want.’
Then he leaves. He doesn’t look back.
I pull the duvet around me and realise that I don’t know his name. That is when the weeping starts. It isn’t because I am guilty, or that I feel sorrow for what I have done to Robert, or even that I am already missing my anonymous lover. It is because in that moment I realise that what he has seen in me is true. And now I know what I am, what I want — and what I have always wanted.
When I told Jools about my fantasy, she said that it meant that I wanted a man who would control me, who wouldn’t always need me to nag him into action, and who would be spontaneous. I supposed that she was right. Then, she told me her own fantasy — we had been drinking again — and, because I’m a friend and because I do like to be spontaneous and because it seemed right, I helped her to fulfil it (but that’s another story).
Blithely swapping small talk,
we make a swift decision,
rise and take a short walk
to the Thistle Tower,
where on its gilded covers
we manage the transition
from strangers to lovers
in barely half an hour.
Of course, it wasn’t that quick or simple. For quite a while I sipped at the remains of my tea and read — or pretended to read — my book, sneaking little looks at the man in the corner. Looking to see whether he was looking at me. Quite often he was.
When I went to the Ladies, I had to pass his table. He smiled up at me as I walked by but I didn’t respond. In the Ladies I touched up my lipstick, sprayed a little perfume and brushed out my hair. I convinced myself that it wasn’t for him, but when I returned, he was sitting at my table. With some uncertainty I sat down too. Between us were two fresh cups of tea.
‘What’s this?’ I said, trying to deny to myself the pleasure I felt at his initiative. Close up, he looked quite handsome, clean and boyish in an unkempt, casual sort of way.
‘Hi,’ he said, smiling widely. ‘I thought yours was getting cold.’ His voice was quiet and rhythmical, almost hypnotic.
‘Thank you,’ I said, unzipping my purse. ‘How much do I owe you?’
‘That’s alright,’ he answered. ‘You can pay me later.’
My God, I hope he’s not a Moonie, I thought. I hope he’s not going to try to lure me into some religious sect.
I reached for the milk jug but as I did, he did so too and our hands fumbled against each other’s. For a second or two his held mine. Quickly I withdrew my hand but a brief moment of hesitation told him all he needed to know.
I didn’t really have any designs upon him, my mystery admirer. I might have flirted with him for a while, until the rain stopped, and then finished my tea and left. As simple as that. But then he removed his glasses and I saw his eyes properly. And though he didn’t look at all like my phantom lover — he was darker, thinner, younger — his eyes were just as I remembered them from my imaginings. Dark brown whirlpools that lured me in until I was falling, falling, falling.
He looked deeply into my eyes and when he did, he seemed to read all the thoughts inhabiting my mind and the thousand secrets harboured there. I couldn’t hold his gaze. His eyes knew too much about me. I looked down at my teacup.
‘I really like your …..’ He paused.
My what? I thought. My blouse, my eyes, my hair? I looked up at him again.
‘Your ass,’ he said at last. I felt myself blushing. Well, at least he’s not a religious nut, I thought.
‘I really like the way you moved when you went to the Ladies. It was very sexy.’
I fought to regain my composure. ‘Is that what you say to all the women you pick up in cafes?’
‘You know it’s not like that. I’m Thomas, by the way. What’s your name?’
‘Beth,’ I said, despite myself.
At what point does interest become desire, and at what point desire become need? I don’t know, but I feared that I had already passed it. I feared too where this conversation was leading me. Was I so starved of sex, so desperate for a shag, that I would drop my knickers for the first man who showed me some affection?
He poured milk into his tea and said, ‘You haven’t got a boyfriend, then?’
‘How do you know? It’s none of your business.’ I could feel myself blushing again.
‘Well, have you?’
‘No…. Yes…. I mean, not really.’
He looked at me inquisitively.
‘I’ve ankara yabancı escort just split up from someone,’ I explained.
‘Why?’ he said matter-of-factly. His eyes dared me to defy his question.
‘I don’t know. I suppose it wasn’t working.’
‘Why?’ he repeated.
‘I guess he wasn’t what I wanted.’
‘I know what you want,’ he said. I could feel the perspiration on my upper lip. I looked up at him. His eyes seemed even darker and larger.
‘What you want is, I think, what I want.’ His hand reached for mine. His thumb brushed the inside of my wrist. The hairs on my forearm bristled with anticipation. As he leaned forwards, I caught the scent of him. Sandalwood and vanilla. And, perhaps, fulfilment too.
‘I want to kiss and lick every inch of you. And I think you want that too.’ He raised my hand to his mouth and kissed the inside of my wrist.
‘Stop it. You don’t know anything about me,’ I protested.
‘I know that there are two Beths. There’s the one the world sees — put upon, hard-working, do-the-right-thing Beth. Then, there’s the other one, isn’t there? The Beth that you want to be. I looked down at the table, unable to speak.
‘Which will you be today, Beth?’ I shrugged.
‘Look,’ he continued. ‘I was supposed to have a meeting this afternoon but it’s cancelled. You were supposed to see your friend. We can write off the day and creep back to our little lives. Or we can enjoy the circumstance that has brought us together. One afternoon. You and I. An afternoon we will never forget.’
In the pit of my stomach I could feel the same sensations as when I thought about my fantasy lover: the fear, the curiosity, the shame, but more than all of them, the wanting. There was no way that I could say yes to him. But nor could I say no. If this is to happen, I thought to myself, he will simply take me — he won’t seek my consent.
He opened his wallet, placed a ten pound note on the table and helped me to my feet.
each half-hearted offer,
deceived and deceiving,
may choose to forego
their losses for living
by barter, and proffer
a getting and giving
in Love’s quid pro quo.
Thomas held my hand tightly and swept me across the road between the stationary taxis and the kamikaze cyclists. We hurried through the drizzle down towards Tower Bridge and then took the slip road to St Katharine’s Dock. A hotel rose imperiously next to the tower of the bridge. Only as we entered did I begin to sense pangs of nervousness. Until then I had felt like an automaton under his control.
While Thomas registered at the reception desk, I sat on a sofa in the vast foyer and wondered what on earth I was doing. I had never had a one night stand in my life, and now here I was about to go to bed with a man I had met less than an hour ago.
In fact, as I sat there pondering, I realised that I had enjoyed a one night stand before. Wasn’t that what I had intended with Robert? On that first evening I had thought him cute when I spotted him through the haze of a drunken party. And, high on drink and adventure, I had wanted him so badly. But it was just going to be one of those things — ships that pass in the night, sex with no strings, instant gratification …. All the usual clichés. And the sex that night had been good, wonderful even. He had proved a generous, patient lover, bringing me to the edge of orgasm with tongue and fingers before finishing me off with his slow, rhythmic fucking.
And that’s where it should have ended. A pleasant experience, an evening’s aberration. We could have left it there and when we met again, squirmed with embarrassment at the memory — our guilty little secret. Wouldn’t that have been better than the misery we had heaped upon each other as we sleepwalked from one day to the next, from one year to the next?
Nor had that been the only one night stand. There had, of course, been Jools too. But that was just a gift shared between girlfriends. A little foolishness, and no harm done.
This time it would be different. This was almost a transaction between strangers: giving and taking, a mere lending of our bodies for mutual pleasure, and then we would part. No looking back.
Thomas strolled over, a smile on his face.
‘All done,’ he said and flourished the key card. ‘Room 924.’
Waiting for the lift, ahead of us, was a little old lady. She turned to us as we approached, smile indulgently up at Thomas as though he were her favourite grandson and then, for some reason, scowled at me.
‘Second floor,’ she said to Thomas. He pressed the buttons and stood beside me. Sneakily he slipped his hand into the back pocket of my jeans and squeezed my bottom.
‘Here we are,’ he announced as the lift stopped. She smiled again at Thomas as she left, but ignored me. No sooner had the lift door closed than Thomas pushed me up against the door of the lift. One hand was in my hair, sweeping it from my face, the other under my chin, raising my face to his. His lips were smooth and full. My own opened with reluctant eagerness and his tongue found mine. Too soon the bell rang and the doors sprang open again. I pulled apart from him and stumbled out of the lift, almost falling into the arms of a startled Japanese couple. I burbled some apology and covered my face with embarrassment but Thomas was laughing uproariously.
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