by Nicola Abnett
“Shit! Shit! Crap! I’ve totally scared him off this time, haven’t I?” asked Kat.
“But you said you didn’t want him anyway,” said Ally.
“I say all sorts of things I’m not entirely sure I mean,” said Kat. “His eyes are a nice colour, and he might have really good legs inside his trousers.”
“Has he commented?” asked Ally.
“Would you have commented if you were him?” asked Kat.
“No,” said Ally. “But I wouldn’t have commented the last time, and, not only did he comment the last time, but he was witty and he got the rest of the commenters on his side... Are you at all sure you want him to comment, Kat?”
“Well obviously I’m not sure now,” said Kat. “You’re no help, are you?”
“You love it,” said Ally.
“What do you mean?” asked Kat.
“This is the bit of every relationship that you actually like,” said Ally. “This is the bit you live for. Honestly, I don’t know why you ever bother after the first three or four dates. I don’t know why you ever bother with the sex.”
“It is always a letdown, isn’t it?”
“Kat!” said Ally.
“What?” asked Kat. “You said it!”
“I said no such thing,” said Ally.
“You said, ‘I don’t know why we ever bother with the sex.’ That’s what you said.”
“No,” said Ally. “I said, ‘I don’t know why you ever both with the sex.’ That’s what I said.”
“Just because you put it in the second person doesn’t make any difference,” said Kat. “You were still basically saying that men are crap at sex.”
“No,” said Ally, “that’s not what I was saying at all. That’s not my experience, and if I honestly thought that was your experience we’d have had this conversation a bloody long time ago.”
“What do you mean?” asked Kat.
“I mean exactly that,” said Ally.
“Like mother always says, ‘If you want a thing doing well, do it yourself’,” said Kat.
“Did you ever hear grandmother say, ‘Eat more things with no legs and one leg, than you eat things with two legs or four legs, and eat nothing with three legs unless it’s your husband’?” asked Ally.
“You had too many jewish mothers in your life,” said Kat.
“Or you had too few jewish boyfriends,” said Ally.
“Now you’re just being gross,” said Kat.
“Seriously, I love you, Kat, but you and I should sit down and talk about this for real some time. A woman in her thirties should have a better life than you have.”
“I’m not in my thirties!” said Kat. “And I have a great life... The best!”
“I’m talking about your sex life,” said Ally.
“My sex life is fine, just so long as I don’t date,” said Kat, laughing.
“My point precisely,” said Ally.
“Say goodnight, Kat,” said Kat.
“Don’t check your comments again tonight, will you?”
“I’ll try not to, but I’m not going to promise. Having said that, you’re enough to put me right off men, so maybe it won’t be so hard to resist Barista-Bob and his witticisms,” said Kat.
Kat hung up the phone and opened her laptop.
“Who am I kidding?” she said to no one in particular.
The girls are delightful whether they’re under your chin or under your jacket. I seem to remember mentioning that you didn’t need the jacket, by the way.
Just for the record, I have no problem with your height, either, and it wouldn’t dawn on me to think that you’re a lesbian because you happened to be wearing men’s shoes in front of her majesty the Queen.
Kat didn’t need to check the signature to know that the comment had been left by Barista-Bob.
“Son of a Bitch,” she said.
Nope. I’m guessing not gay.
That was the next comment.
“Rotten cheek,” said Kat. She thought about not reading any further, but there were twenty-seven comments, and some of them were almost bound to need refuting, gainsaying, arguing with even. Barista-Bob was making her look bad on her own turf... again, and he’d promised he wouldn’t mock her.
The next commenter wrote:
Vigo Mortenson looked hot when he chipped his tooth.
“Oh good grief!” said Kat. “I can’t win! I just can’t win! And how the hell did anyone make that connection. Now everyone’s going to think that Barista-Bob’s as good looking as Vigo bloody Mortenson and I’m going to look like I’m doing the chasing. This isn’t going to end well. This really, really isn’t going to end well.”
“Shit!” she said.
Several heads turned towards her. Several heads swivelled, glasses in hands, held under chins, swivelling with them, so as to keep pace. Eyes belonging to the heads rested on her for a moment and then on Bob, and blinked slowly while the heads they belonged to lost interest and swivelled slowly away again.
“Not quite the reaction I was hoping for,” said Bob.
He took two glasses of something that was probably champagne from a tray that was being carried at or about the shoulder height of an impossibly slender girl in a white shirt, buttoned to the collar with a string tie; shoulder height, which was head height to everyone else. The girl’s outfit was finished off with pencil thin black slacks, flat shoes that were also impossibly long and narrow, and a black apron that sat high on her waist and fell almost to her ankles, and which appeared to be wrapped around her body twice. If Kat hadn’t known for a fact that Erin O’Connor was at least two inches shorter than this girl and two dress sizes larger, she might have thought that Jay Jopling was making some sort of point by employing the World’s most beautiful women to wait on the World’s most discerning art collectors.
Then Kat looked at the girl again, and wasn’t at all sure that she wasn’t, in fact, one of the World’s most beautiful boys.
“Shit,” she said again.
Bob handed her one of the glasses, which wasn’t just glass, but was also very heavy. The glass had to be crystal. Who rented crystal for one of these things? Again... Jay Jopling did, or whoever a man like Jopling employed to put on a private view did; or, whoever a man like Jopling employed to please the artist whose work was being showcased in a private view did.
Kat took a sip from the glass.
“Shit!” she said.
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re saying ‘shit!’ to, or how many exclamation marks I’ll have to endure before I find out what you’re saying ‘shit!’ to,” said Bob. “Would you like me to guess?”
Kat held her glass under her chin so that she didn’t spill the contents, at least not on anyone else, and she swivelled around to see if there was any chance that she might catch a glimpse of anything that was hanging on a wall or standing on a plinth.
There was no chance, none whatsoever.
“Shit!” she said. “I said you never really get to look at the art at these things.”
“That’s OK,” said Bob. “I took a look earlier and bought the piece that I liked.”
“Shit!” said Kat.
“Thank God,” said Bob, “I finally know what you’re saying shit to.”
“Are you sure?” asked Kat, raising her glass to his and clinking them together with a very satisfying, very expensive sound, “are you absolutely sure it’s not just a delayed reaction to your fucking hair?”
“Touché,” said Bob.
Then he said, “What fucking hair?”
“What made you do it?” asked Kat.
“What? asked Bob. “Buy the painting? I told you, I liked it.”
“Well that too, I suppose? But no, I meant cut your hair... Well, shave it, really, I suppose?”
“The woman who cuts my hair has been trying to persuade me to get rid of it for about five years,” said Bob. “I showed her your blog... The first one.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” said Kat.
“On the contrary,” said Bob. “I never lie, and I’ll tell you why, if you like.”
“OK,” said Kat. “Tell me why you never lie.”
“I never lie,” said Bob, “for the simple reason that the truth is, by far, the easiest thing to remember.”
“That sounds remarkably like something my mother would say,” said Kat.
“That’s precisely what my grandmother did used to say,” said Bob.
With that, an older man approached them. He put his left hand lightly, but proprietorially on Kat’s upper arm, almost stroking it, as if he knew her, and he held out his right hand to shake Bob’s hand.
“Excuse me dearheart,” he said to Kat, his eyes lingering on her for a moment too long as he flashed his too-white smile at her.
Then he grasped Bob’s hand in his very tanned, very lean grip and said, “Hello Joel, it’s good to see you.”
Bob couldn’t avoid the sudden sharp, two inch jerk of Kat’s head in his direction or the hard stare she thrust at his eyes. She didn’t blink or miss a beat, she simply held her glass out over Bob and his friend’s joined hands and waited for a moment for their greeting to end. When she felt that she had waited for long enough she let go of the glass, executed a perfectly spotted dancer’s turn, and walked away.
For once, she was grateful to her mother, who had insisted that she take ballet classes as a child, saying the lessons would be invaluable for such a tall girl’s posture. She was also very glad she was wearing the Gestuz gown with the flowing skirt that rippled and kicked out around her legs as she strode out of the room.
That was the wonder of an event like a private view at the White Cube; she was a nobody, so nobody would be looking at her. It didn’t matter what she wore, or that it is was closer to high street than couture; no one was likely to be impressed by a fashion journalist and blogger, so there was no one to impress. Except, now, everyone seemed to be looking at her, and not because of who she was or because of who she was wearing, but because of who she had left standing; and she couldn’t have cared less. She felt more powerful than she had in a very long time. She felt more powerful than she had, possibly, ever.
The crowd parted for her. She stood six feet tall in her kitten heeled, Jimmy Choo, ankle strap sandals, which she’d been wearing for six or seven consecutive summers, but she still had the confidence of her loose, long-legged stride without having to worry about high heels.
Everything swung, from her curls, to her hips, to her skirts.
She’d been fussing and fretting over this man for weeks, to no avail, and now she was free. She was free of him and his green eyes and his long, curved nose; she was free of his chipped tooth and his @BaristaBob handle; she was free of thoughts of his calves and of how he managed not to crease his shirt sleeves when he rolled them up, and she was free of thoughts about how and why he kept his body hair so neatly groomed. She only wondered how long it would take her to get over the fact that he’d shaved his head... Not long, she hoped, although he did look good... He did look really awfully good.
Kat maintained her composure as she stepped over the wide, black threshold of the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, and then turned right, quickly, into Rufus street where she placed her back flat against the cool side-wall of the building and took a long, deep breath, letting her chin drop onto her chest. She was clutching a small, vintage bag in her right hand, but she placed her left hand on her stomach and took another breath, letting her head fall back against the wall, and then blowing the air out again, through a mouth and cheeks made round for the purpose.
Bob and the man who’d been shaking his hand both reached for the glass, but Bob caught it without hesitating, spilling only a few drops of the bubbly, which he licked off the ball of his thumb, after handing the glass to his companion. Then, he simply excused himself and followed Kat out of the gallery. All eyes had been on Kat as she left the building. Everyone, men and women alike admired her poise and the swing of her hips all the way to the exit, including Bob. The women, in particular, admired the fact that she didn’t once look back, that she had the absolute courage of her convictions, whatever they might be. The men, on the other hand, were not remotely surprised to see a man, any man, even a man like Bob, striding after her.
The women didn’t need to know what had upset Kat to feel sympathy for her, and the men didn’t care; they’d have chased her, too, given half a chance. Women that beautiful didn’t need much of an excuse to be difficult.
If Bob had wanted a girlfriend he could have got an introduction to more-or-less any woman he cared to meet. London was a busy place and he knew plenty of people, acquaintances as well as friends. He wasn’t shy or awkward, and he didn’t find it difficult to meet women or, even, to impress them.
He simply wasn’t looking for anyone. He hadn’t been looking for anyone for a while.
Thirty-five wasn’t much of a milestone for most men, and neither was forty for anyone who’d had a bit of success, which Bob clearly had, since the critics had started to like his work. His family, and his mother, in particular, might soon begin to think that he should find someone new, but he had a very adult relationship with her, and he had for a very long time, and she had no influence over his life choices.
It was the wedding: That had been the start of it.
If Bob’s sweet, much younger brother hadn’t married Kat’s pretty, insipid little cousin, this extraordinary, Amazonian, feisty, funny woman wouldn’t have found herself in want of a cup of coffee, wearing that dress, flaunting that bosom, and Bob wouldn’t have put on his ridiculous ‘knight in shining armour’ act, and this whole cat and mouse thing wouldn’t have started up. The World was full of games of cat and mouse, and it wasn’t always clear, between a man and a woman, who was the cat and who the mouse, except that Kat was always the Kat.
Of course she was physically attractive; that was the point, but almost any woman was physically attractive in the right light, in the right dress, at the right age with a following wind or the right lipstick, or under any number of circumstances. This woman, Kathryn Adler, Addled Kat, would be attractive in a sack.
Bob liked Kat, though; everyone who watched him walk through the White Cube after her could see it. He liked her attitude. He liked her playfulness. He’d laughed at her blog for goodness sake. It ought to be possible to like her; it ought to be possible to want to add her to his circle of acquaintances without wanting to date her or sleep with her.
He did want to sleep with her, of course he did; it was written all over his face.
Bob lingered in the doorway of the White Cube, leaning against the heavy, white painted architraves. Kat had stepped around the corner out of sight, but she hadn’t gone far; she just needed a minute.
Bob stepped out onto the street and looked around. He peered down the street, in both directions, to see if he could catch sight of her long, lean naked arms swinging as she walked away, or the large expanse of naked back that her dress exposed, the flesh stretched across the flats of her shoulder blades, dipping into the centre where the ridge of her spine extended down the centre of her back and disappeared into the silk folds of the skirts of her dress.
Kat’s skin wasn’t tanned, despite it being late summer; it was white and flawless, except for a pink mark on her back, perhaps were she’d been leaning against something.
When he couldn’t see her, Bob’s face hardened, and he began to pace a little. When a man began to hurry towards him, he approached.
“Did you pass a girl in a long, flowing dress?” he asked.
“Sorry, mate,” said the bloke, not lifting his head.
“You couldn’t miss her, she’s quite beautiful,” said Bob, shifting across the man’s path, slowing him down.
“I haven’t seen anyone, mate,” said the bloke.
Bob stepped back and raised his hands, apologetically.
Perhaps it was his keen sense of justice; perhaps he didn’t want to read another blog about what an arse he’d been, even if he was confident he could get the better of her in the comments section; perhaps it was the delicious game of cat and mouse... The delicious game of cat and Kat, but there was a look of determination on his face, a look that suggested he was intent on having it out with her, in person... in the flesh.
Kat stepped away from the wall. She looked at her watch and checked her face in the mirror in her bag. It was early and she was dressed up, and she wondered who she could call to meet for a drink at least. She felt like she’d only just got off the tube, and she wasn’t in any hurry to get on another one just yet; perhaps she’d walk for a while.
She turned back to the corner just as he approached it, looking for her.
He stood with one hand in his trouser pocket, his jacket slung over his shoulder. His suit was lightweight, linen. He wasn’t a man who did creases, and yet it had creased beautifully, exactly as it should. She wondered who had made the suit, but it didn’t matter, because it was the perfect shade, two or three tones deeper than his skin colour. Then she wondered who had chosen it for him.
“OK?” he asked. “What did I do?”
“Joel?” she asked.
“What?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “I mean... Joel?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, you’re really going to have to explain the question,” he said.
“You told me you never lie,” said Kat.
“I don’t,” said Joel.
“Right in the middle of an explanation of why you never lie, I found out you were a liar,” said Kat.
“Hold on,” he said. “You what?”
“You told me your name was Bob,” said Kat.
“When on earth did I do that?” he asked.
“At the bar, at the wedding. You introduced yourself as Bob, and asked me what sort of coffee I wanted,” said Kat. “I know you did, because I’d just broken up with a guy called Bobby, and I couldn’t believe my bad luck, meeting you, and you being called Bob, especially as you were wearing a really good suit and your eyes were that colour... What?
“What?” asked Kat, again. “Why are you laughing? This isn’t funny!”
“Yes,” said Bob. “This really is funny.
“My name isn’t Bob, and I never told you my name was Bob. I said something like, ‘I’ll be Bob’, because the missing barista was called Bob, or I might have said, ‘you can call me Bob, while I make your coffee’, or something like that, but I certainly didn’t tell you my name actually was Bob.”
“You did...” said Kat, before tailing off. “Didn’t you? No... Wait... What about @BaristaBob?”
“I’m pretty sure that was your idea,” he said, “and I thought it was cute, so I went along with it; it also had the advantage of maintaining my anonymity, which I thought was generous of you. So you gained several brownie points for not outing me, and you can’t put a price on that.”
“So it’s Joel?” asked Kat.
“Yes,” said Joel.
“Joel Gerber?” asked Kat.
“Well,” said Joel, “not exactly.”
“I thought you were one of Toby’s relations?”
“I am,” said Joel. “I’m Joel Horner.”
“You can’t be,” said Kat. “That’s Toby’s mum’s name, and she lost all her family. There aren’t any Horners.”
“No, but, since I make a habit of telling the truth,” said Joel, “I’m Toby’s brother and I use my mother’s maiden name... professionally.”
There was a long pause.
“Oh my God!” said Kat, taking a step back, and bringing one hand up to cover her chest, as if she were struggling to breathe.
“They said you were there!” she said. “Someone said afterwards that you’d been there! At the wedding! No one bothered to mention that I’d danced with you! How the hell did nobody mention that I’d danced with you?”
“Maybe they assumed you knew.”
“If my sister had known it was you I’d danced with, I never would have heard the end of it! Or my mother! Did you see my mother with the microphone? And the singles dance! Did you see all that?”
“You’re going to have to stop speaking with quite so many exclamation marks, Kat, or my ears are going to start bleeding.”
“That’s what your’e famous for!” said Kat, complete with an exclamation mark. “You’re bloody J. J. Horner and you’re bloody famous for your elegant, understated prose, and your lack of bloody exclamation marks! You’re bloody famous for being the Ian Rankin of bloody something or other!”
“Or the China Mieville of the other something, depending on which critics you read,” said Joel.
“You bloody win bloody awards!” said Kat.
There was another pause, and then she started pointing at him, jabbing her finger.
“That’s how you did it!” she said. “That’s how you turned the bloody commenters against me! Oh good grief! You’ve read my writing! Crap! Crap and Shit! Bloody Fuck!”
“Swearing and exclamation marks; your mother would be so proud,” said Joel.
“Who or what is a China Mieville?” asked Kat.
Then she crossed the couple of yards between them in two long strides, took the back of his naked head in her hand and pressed his face firmly against hers. She kissed his mouth hard and wet, probing with her tongue, her lips tense, the muscles in her cheeks flexing. Her hand worked its way down the back of his head, never loosening its grip until her fingers tightened around the ridges of his neck muscles, the heel of her hand closing around one side and the curve of her fingertips around the other.
Joel put his hands on her naked shoulder blades, pressing his palms into her flesh. Her skin was cool where she had been leaning against the bricks of the gallery wall, but the flesh beneath was not, and the hard muscles of his hands soon brought warm blood to the surface.
They were locked together for several seconds.
Someone shouted, “Get a room,” from across the street, but Kat didn’t let go of Joel’s head.
When they parted, Kat felt the pulse in her swollen lips and the faint, waxy sensation of smudged lipstick against her skin. She did not want to wipe it away.
“J. J. Horner,” said Kat.
“Was that a little something for your blog?” asked Joel.
“Do you think I dare write about it?” asked Kat.
“I’m sure you dare,” said Joel. “I’m just not entirely sure what Barista-Bob might have to say about it.”
Kat licked her thumb and passed it over Joel’s philtrum, distorting the shape of his top lip in order to wipe away a smear of shimmery lipstick.
“Not your colour,” she said. Then she took the little mirror out of her bag and used her middle finger to wipe the smeared lipstick from her own lip-line.
“Do you want to go back in?” asked Joel, gesturing towards the gallery.
“Not if you’ve already bought the best piece,” said Kat. “I won’t be suckered into buying your leftovers.”
“I didn’t think so,” said Joel, smiling. “What about that room?”
“What about it?” asked Kat.
“I thought that bloke made a good point,” said Joel.
“Oh you did, did you?” asked Kat.
“You didn’t?” asked Joel. “I seem to remember that you kissed me.”
“Like you said, a girl needs material for her blog, and kissing a celeb is always worth writing about; who knows, someone might even pay me for it.”
“Nobody pays for a kiss, any more,” said Joel. “This is the twenty-first century. Christ, Kat, a blow-job isn’t even going to cut it; what you need is a proper headline, if you want a real pay-day, something like ‘JOEL SINKS GIANT JOYSTICK INTO KINKY KAT’S CREAMY CUNT’.
“Sorry, Mr Horner, or Mr Gerber, or whoever you are, but you’re not that famous... You’re not a bad kisser, though.”
“You kissed me,” said Joel.
Kat looked Joel up and down. He seemed perfectly relaxed. He’d dropped his jacket when she’d kissed him, but he’d picked it up, since, shaken it, and put it around her shoulders when he’d noticed her shivering. The summer was almost over, and even though it was still early, the evening was already turning cool. He had a hand tucked into his trouser pocket, but he took it out as he stepped towards her.
It felt like a cliché to her, when he put one hand up close to her face, almost touching it. She was slightly taller than him in her kitten heels, but the height difference was nothing if it didn’t bother him. His hand seemed large and solid next to her lean face. He caught a curl between the tips of his first and second fingers, and Kat couldn’t quite stifle a giggle.
He’s going to do what he thinks blokes are supposed to do because he’s seen it in too many bad movies, she thought. He’s going to kiss me like a damned girl.
Then he put his hand on her, so that the fleshy part of his thumb was against her face, close to her mouth, following the contour of her cheek bone, and his fingers curved behind her ear. His grip was firm but not heavy, and not hot or sweaty, and he didn’t trap or catch her hair, and he didn’t smother her ear. Kat wondered for a moment whether maybe, just maybe, Joel knew what he was doing.
He was standing very close to her; their bodies were almost touching, and she could feel his breath on her face. He was looking at her too, not closing his eyes. She didn’t close her eyes, either.
She didn’t touch him. She wasn’t entirely sure whether she wanted to touch him, or where. She liked the sensation of his body so close to hers. She wondered what his weight would feel like against her.
Their faces were an inch apart, maybe less. Their lips almost touched. Then they did touch. He did not pucker his lips or tense them. He made no new shape with them at all; they were just his lips, relaxed, dry, slightly parted.
Then their lips weren’t touching any more, and Kat was acutely aware that she missed the pressure of his mouth against hers.
She realised, then, why his hand was on the side of her head. She tried to lean the inch towards him so that their lips would meet again, but his hand stopped the movement of her head. If they were to kiss again, it would be his choice; it would be in his time.
They were still looking at each other.
Kat felt herself smile, and that’s when he closed the gap between them and touched her lips with his. She felt the soft, relaxed pads of his lips against her tightly stretched smile, and her expression changed in an instant.
Her mouth was suddenly as slack as it had ever been.
Her eyes were closed. She didn’t remember closing them, except that she knew it had happened at the moment the second kiss had come. Only, it wasn’t the second kiss, it was the first. It was the first real kiss.
His hand drew her head half an inch closer so that the insides of their lips met, so that their tongues rolled together, not in a deliberate, grasping, hungry way; not like kids snogging.
Kat breathed through her mouth, the air passing over her tongue and meeting something coming the other way; it might have been his breath or it might have been more of hers, there was no way for her to tell.
Now she wanted to touch him.
“You’re never going to give up the exclamation marks, are you?” asked Joel.
“Not until you stop doing daft shit,” said Kat. “This is swanky. How did you swing it?” she asked as the cab pulled up outside the Sofitel in St James.
“Hotwire,” said Joel.
“Hot-what?” asked Kat.
“And you a girl of the internet age,” said Joel.
“Of the internet age, maybe, but not of the jet-set,” said Kat. “Come to think of it, do they even have the jet-set anymore?”
“No idea,” said Joel. “You’d have to ask someone who cares.”
They strolled into the lobby of the Sofitel and up to the reception desk where Kat suddenly felt remarkably conspicuous for the simple reason that she had no luggage.
“Good evening, Mr Horner,” said the receptionist. “It’s good to see you again.”
Kat turned her back to the reception desk, leaned against it so that she could see Joel’s face and frowned right at him. He smiled past her frown, and signed for his key.
“You’ve done this before,” said Kat in a tone that was tight and accusatory as they walked towards the lift. He walked; she strode, arriving ahead of him and poking the button two or three times while she waited for him to catch up. He didn’t speak until they were safely alone in the lift.
“Checked into the Sofitel?” he asked. “Yes, I have done that before. It’s a good hotel, and conveniently central. I stay here often.”
“What about women?” asked Kat.
“My sex life becomes your business when we start having sex and ceases to be your business when we stop,” said Joel, “and that’s it.”
“You plan to stop?” asked Kat.
“So,” said Joel. “You do still plan to start?”
“Bastard,” said Kat.
She’d been leaning against the wall of the lift, but turned to him, took hold of the lapel of his jacket and kissed him again, hard. Her lips didn’t pucker or tense, and the soft insides were the same temperature as his, and tasted the same.
“You’ve really got to stop doing that,” said Joel, when they parted.
“Why?” asked Kat.
“Because it bothers people,” said Joel, stepping out of the lift, past a pair of Asian women, who didn’t seem remotely bothered by the kissing; on the contrary, they were smiling broadly at each other, and one of them even smiled at Kat as she held up an apologetic hand at them. She hadn’t realised the lift doors had opened.
Joel reached back into the lift and took Kat’s hand, leading her down the corridor to their room.
“I hope you fuck like you kiss,” he said.
“You are so not kidding,” said Kat.
She was surprised, then, when Joel didn’t reach for her immediately the door was closed behind them, and they were in the beautifully appointed fourth floor room with its en-suite bathroom and its vast bed. There was an elegant, modern chaise, too, and all the usual facilities.
Kat didn’t need facilities.
Joel opened the wardrobe door, slipped out of his jacket and hung it up. Then he stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
Kat wandered further into the room, running a hand over the bed and checking her face in a gleaming mirror. She looked good; her eyes were bright and her lips were plump. She had clearly just been kissed. She liked the look on her. She rolled her lips into her mouth and bit into them, feeling how tender and swollen they were. The kissing had been good. Then she pouted at the mirror, showing the soft insides of her lips, which were a shocking red, redder than she’d expected.
She thought about taking her shoes off, but didn’t.
By the time she had thought all of those things, Joel was behind her, his hand on her naked back. He looked over her shoulder at her face in the mirror with his green eyes and his newly bald head. He ran the back of his other hand, his fingers really, down her arm. Another cliché thought Kat, but then he brought his hand back up to her collar bone, and, this time, he clasped her shoulder in his hand, and, when he ran it down her arm, he gripped her so firmly that he made her involuntarily tense her muscles, giving him something to grasp against. When he let go, he took an inch of flesh between his thumb and forefinger and pinched hard, at the same time bringing his head down to her neck, and burying his mouth in the cleft her clavicle made with the side of her throat.
Kat was slightly shocked, partly by the uninhibited nature of his approach and partly because it excited her. She scooped up her little bag and ducked away from him, excusing herself to the bathroom.
<Crap!> typed Kat, holding her smartphone sideways and typing with both thumbs. <You’ll never guess which swanky hotel I’ve got a room in, and you’ll never guess who with!> She hit send and waited for Ally’s reply while she lifted the lid on the toilet and hitched up her skirts.
She noted with some satisfaction that Joel had left the lid down on the loo. She peed and wiped, and was washing her hands when her phone beeped.
She wondered whether it would have been better if she’d been wearing some sort of underwear, and she wished more than anything that she’d bothered to go for a wax. She hadn’t been since the V and A, and what a waste of time that had been. She hadn’t even bothered to take a razor to her bikini line, and she was left wondering how she was going to hide the fact.
<There must be dozens of swanky hotels in London, but why didn’t he take you back to his flat?>
Kat hadn’t even thought of that.
She tried not to think about it now.
Her phoned beeped again.
<And what are you doing in the bathroom texting me when you could be in the bedroom... doing you know what...?>
<Don’t spoil it!> texted Kat, and hit send. Then she turned off her phone, and dropped it in her bag. She took a deep breath, and stepped back into the bedroom.
She didn’t know what she’d find. She didn’t know whether Joel would already be naked and up to his trim-haired chest in silk sheets. The image made her giggle, and then frown at the second reminder of her own haphazard approach to body hair, but a glance at the bed told her that it was empty.
Joel turned from a console table under the window with two glasses of champagne in his hands and handed one to her.
“To answer your question,” he said. “I rarely do this.”
“Do what?” asked Kat.
“Sleep with women,” said Joel.
“You’ll forgive me if I find that hard to believe,” said Kat.
“I didn’t plan to sleep with you,” said Joel.
“But you just couldn’t help yourself,” said Kat, smiling and clinking her glass against his.
“Something like that,” said Joel, tipping the lip of his glass towards hers as they connected, the sound of glass ringing. “Of course, I could still change my mind.”
In an odd burst of confidence that might just have had something to do with the quality of Joel’s smile, Kat reached for his glass as he lowered it from his lips and placed them both back on the console table, reaching past him to do so.
She intended to take hold of him, but he turned, leaning his chest against her naked back as she put the glasses down, and he put his hands on her waist.
Kat, a little taller than Joel in her kitten heels leaned back slightly and turned her neck to kiss him. The kiss was more tentative than their first kisses, because of the angles of their heads.
Kat placed the flat of her hand between her backside, naked beneath her dress, and Joel’s right hip, her palm against his abdomen. She felt him tense slightly, and then his left hand pressed into her left thigh, and she felt her own muscle flex in response. She took half a step to the right, so that her thighs parted slightly, and made slow circles with her right hand, moving upwards and inwards, across the flat of his belly.
Joel’s left hand rotated outwards across Kat’s thigh, working towards her hip and up to her waist, despite the obvious invitation implied by her side step.
Kat had expected his hand in the cleft of her groin, wanted it there, but he did not oblige. She expected her hand to find his cock. It didn’t.
Joel took hold of Kat’s left hand and brought it firmly around her waist and, releasing her mouth, he pressed himself hard against her back, trapping her hand between them. His face was in her hair, and his right hand came across her chest, high, above her breasts, clamping her left shoulder.
His mouth full of her hair, he bit into Kat’s earlobe.
She thought about saying something, but she liked the sensation of being held almost too tightly. She liked the sensation of having to concentrate on filling her lungs, of her breasts pressing against the silk of her dress, of the pressure of his hard body against her back.
His body was hard. He was a rugby player type.
Kat tried to flex the fingers of her right hand, tried to grab at something... anything. She couldn’t.
He was pressed hard against her, but she couldn’t feel his cock. Why couldn’t she feel his cock?
His embrace was firm and sexy, and yet he wasn’t touching her. His mouth wasn’t on her mouth. His hands weren’t on her breasts or arse or even on her hip or the curve of her back, or on her thigh. She’d been thoroughly groped by men and found it less sexy than simply being held like this.
Joel had one hand covering one of hers, rather than holding it, and one hand grasping her shoulder, and that was all. Her earlobe was tender and swollen, and she’d bet there was a tooth mark in it. His face was pushed hard against her head, his chin pressing into the base of her skull. There was tension in every muscle.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“Why do you ask?”
She didn’t answer, but she pushed her head back, slightly into his.
Joel slid his right arm across Kat’s throat and down her right arm, until he had her forearm so firmly in his grasp that Kat was convinced she’d have finger marks in her skin when he finally let her go.
She flexed the fingers of her right hand, which were slowly going numb, but she had no control over her hand. She tensed at the shoulder and the elbow, still wanting to take hold of his cock, still wanting to find it, still wanting to know whether he was properly turned on or whether he was merely toying with her.
Joel was stronger than she was.
He stepped a little away so that his chest was no longer pressed against her back, but he kept her left hand wrapped in his. He brought her right arm in front of her body and put his right foot against the inside of her right foot, pushing her feet further apart, so that she lost a little of her height, so that she no longer stood taller than he was.
Then he stepped back against her.
He had judged her height exactly.
Now she could feel him.
She flexed at the hips, pushing her backside against his abdomen. She felt the warm weight of his cock against the inside of her left thigh. It was hot and heavy, straining the fabric of his trouser leg. So, he wasn’t wearing underwear either, or maybe boxers instead of briefs. She could feel his warmth through the silk of her dress, and decided that not wearing knickers hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
Joel began to make Kat gather up her skirts in her right hand, teasing her fingers into the silk, not doing it for her, but not giving her the choice not to do it for him. He slid her left hand a little higher on her waist and made small, firm circles with the heel of her hand.
Kat felt herself tensing the muscles in her stomach. She was aware that he must be able to feel her waist and she wanted it to feel taut, muscular. It was all about strength and tension. It was all about the juxtaposition of pressure and relaxation, of control and abandonment.
That’s what the kiss had been like.
Her leg was exposed up to the knee, and he was still making her gather the silk of her skirts in her right hand.
He was still making small, tight circles with her left hand, kneading the muscles under her ribcage, and then pressing the ball of her thumb against the warm underside of her breast, so that her cleavage began to gather high under her dress.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Why do you ask?”
She didn’t answer.
She held the muscles in her stomach tight as the flesh of the underside of her breast moved under her hand.
She could still feel the warmth and the weight of his cock against her thigh. It didn’t grow any harder, didn’t twitch or flex; it was simply there, like a threat or a promise. He didn’t move against her, he didn’t rub or thrust, he simply kept his hold on her, maintained his position, and continued to move her hand against her breast.
Most men grabbed at breasts, pulled at nipples, but this was her hand, and this was a part of her breast that was rarely touched. The pressure was right, too, enough to remind her that her breast was all flesh in stark contrast to the control that she had over the muscles of her abdomen.
Then all the silk of her skirts had been gathered up and was somehow gone, and her hand had found the soft arc of flesh that curved away from the top of her right thigh on the inside.
Joel curled her fingers around it, and she felt her own warm breath leave her mouth in the rush of a gasp as she made the connection: the flesh of the underside of her breast was the same as the flesh of her inner thigh: the same temperature, the same texture, the same density, the same weight. It was the same.
She wanted to touch her naked breast, run her fingers underneath it. She wanted to lean over so that the weight of her breast swung out from her body, and she wanted to run a finger along that subtle place were her breast met her body, the thin skin and hard rib on one side and the warm, soft flesh on the other.
She wanted Joel to feel the weight of her breast in his cupped hand. She wanted to know what he would do with it when he had it there.
Then he let go of her.
All the accumulated heat of his chest pressed against her back was gone. His hands were no longer pressed against her hands, guiding them over her body. She could no longer feel the warm weight of his cock against her thigh.
Kat felt cool air against her back. It was late and the last of the summer heat had gone out of the room, or maybe the air conditioning was on. She didn’t know. She didn’t care. She didn’t care so much that, although he wasn’t guiding her, she hadn’t taken her hands away from where Joel had left them.
She felt the zip lowered in the back of her dress, and she felt the shoulder straps shrugged off. The dress would have fallen to the floor had it not been for her hands.
Joel walked around Kat.
Her right leg was entirely exposed, along with her left foot, but he could not see her right hand or the very top of her thigh where she was holding the soft flesh as the skirts were folded over her forearm.
The straps had fallen down almost below her elbows, but Kat’s left arm and hand meant that most of her left breast was still covered, although the action of her hand against its underside meant that there was a neat fleshy dome showing above the drooping neckline, and the bulge of an erect nipple showed through the silk at the midpoint. The right breast, like the right leg was entirely exposed, the nipple soft and pink.
Kat looked at Joel’s face, and then down at his shirt, which remained uncreased, and without a smear or a sweat stain anywhere on it. If she had thought anything at all, she would have wondered how he managed to stay so pristine.
Joel looked right at her, and then he looked at where her right hand lay under her skirts. He did not need to say anything; Kat knew what he wanted. She took her hand away, and the skirts dropped, pooling on the floor.
Only Kat’s left hand was holding the dress, barely, in place.
Joel looked back at her face, and then at her left hand.
Kat kneaded the underside of her breast a little through the silk of her dress, making the dome of her cleavage dance as she stared right at Joel, almost defiant.
He took a step towards her, and lifted her left hand firmly away from the dress.
As the dress fell, Joel looked Kat in the eyes, and his gaze did not shift as he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it.
Kat, her eyes locked on Joel’s, stepped out of her dress, and brought her right hand back up to the fleshy part of the inside of her thigh.
Then she lifted Joel’s hand up to her mouth, kissed the knuckle of his middle finger and then ran her tongue along the back of it before putting the tip of the finger between her lips.
Joel watched Kat lick the end of his finger. Then he put the tip of his forefinger in her mouth beside his middle finger. He ran the ends of his fingers along the inside of her lower lip and then pushed them further into her mouth and ran them along the inside of her cheek, all the while looking right at her, never shifting his gaze from her eyes.
Kat sucked on Joel’s fingers, and then he pushed a third finger into her mouth and grabbed her face, wrapping his thumb under her chin, and rotating her head away. She sucked the spreading saliva back over her bulging lower lip and began to bite down, forcing her head back to face him and narrowing her eyes.
Joel’s left hand came out of nowhere, swinging low at the fleshy outside of Kat’s right thigh.
Kat opened her mouth to cry out, and Joel took his right hand out of her mouth.
“Bastard,” she said, almost snarling at him. She wiped her mouth with the back of her right hand, and then swung it, but before she could strike back, Joel had caught both of her hands in both of his and was holding them between their bodies.
Kat was naked, apart from her shoes, and Joel was still fully dressed.
They stood six or eight inches apart, looking right into each others’ eyes. Kat bit her lip in defiance at Joel, her chin up. She was taller than him, able to look down her nose at him slightly. Then he did the oddest thing.
Still holding her hands, and never taking his eyes off her face, Joel got down on one knee. Kat’s eyes widened, and she flexed her arms at the elbows, trying to pull him back up again. He didn’t respond, but lifted his remaining foot and got down on his second knee, so that he was kneeling before her, his face high against her waist, his head raised to meet her gaze as she looked down on him.
She was faintly embarrassed, but that did not stop her looking at him.
“I’m sorry,” said Joel. “I should not have hit you. If I could take it back, I would. You had every right to call me a bastard and to swing at me. You must understand that I am not a bastard, and that I could not help myself. You are an extraordinary woman, Kathryn Adler... A beautiful woman.”
“It’s Kat,” said Kat, reflexively.
Still holding her hands, but without putting any of his weight on her, Joel stood up in one quick, strong, easy movement. He lifted her right hand to his lips and kissed it.
“Tidy yourself up,” he said. “I’ll buy you supper and call you a cab.”
“What?” asked Kat.
Joel let go of Kat’s hands, but neither of them moved.
“We need to talk,” said Joel, “and trust me when I tell you, you’re hungry.”
“Why would I want to eat with you?” asked Kat. “You slapped me.”
“And you bit me,” said Joel, “and yet, here we are, still talking.”
“Just because I’m talking to you doesn’t mean I’ll sit and eat with you,” said Kat.
“And yet you’re still standing in front of me, entirely naked,” said Joel.
Kat flexed at the knees, swept down with her right hand, and, in that one fluid motion, retrieved her dress from the floor beside her. Then she did her second perfectly spotted turn of the evening, and walked off to the bathroom with it.
“I’m wearing shoes,” she said, without turning to look back.
She looked in the bathroom mirror at her gleaming eyes, her pink cheeks and her plump lips. She’d never looked quite so sexy. Her hair was tousled, as if she’d just walked out of the hairdresser’s, and she couldn’t help smiling at her reflection.
When she stepped into her dress, the action of lifting her left leg flashed a pink mark into view in the mirror, and she ran a hand over the slightly raised imprint of Joel’s palm on her thigh.
She thought, for a moment, that she ought to be horrified, but she wasn’t; she was oddly exhilarated.
Kat zipped herself into her dress, and lifted the lid on the loo. She gathered up her skirts, peed, wiped, dropped the lid and flushed.
Then she remembered her phone, and she was glad that she’d turned it off. She was glad that she hadn’t brought her bag back into the bathroom with her. She didn’t want to talk to Ally, now. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. She didn’t want to talk to anyone but Joel.
Kat placed a hand flat on her stomach, took a breath and reached for the bathroom door handle. She felt butterflies in her stomach, and then a great gaping cavity.
Joel was right.
She was suddenly hungry. She was suddenly very, very hungry.
As she came out of the bathroom, Joel handed her bag to her, and opened the door to the suite. He was wearing his jacket, and he looked for all the world as if nothing had passed between them.
He smiled slightly at her without a hint of self-consciousness, and steered her to the lift with a proprietorial hand on her back. She didn’t kiss him in the lift on the way down to the restaurant.
They were seated quickly, and spent a few minutes looking at the menu, from which Joel made a number of recommendations. Kat didn’t know whether he expected her to choose something that he thought was good, but it was simpler than working her way down the entire menu, and, besides, he was familiar with the place. Joel also ordered a half bottle of something.
“You don’t like to drink?” asked Kat.
“I like to be in control,” said Joel.
“Yes,” said Kat.
Joel looked at her.
“We drank at the private view,” he said, “and had another glass in the room. I thought it was enough.”
“Yes,” said Kat, again. She looked at him, and smiled.
“Order what you’d like,” said Joel.
“I will,” said Kat.
“When I say...” said Joel. “When I say I like to be in control...
“What I mean to say,” said Joel, “is that I like to be in control of myself.”
“Yes,” said Kat.
“Good,” said Joel.
“So, you’re sending me home?” asked Kat.
“Is it dignified to eat breakfast in a hotel restaurant, in an evening gown?” asked Joel.
Kat looked down at her dress.
“No,” she said, “I don’t suppose it is. On the other hand, it isn’t necessarily my ambition always to remain dignified.”
“Perhaps not,” said Joel, “but there’s privacy to consider.”
“Your privacy,” said Kat, “not mine.”
“Trust me,” said Joel, “it could very easily become your privacy too... very easily.”
“I’ll consider myself warned, then,” said Kat.
“I’m not sending you home,” said Joel. “I didn’t know what it’d be like. I only know what I’m like.”
The service was fast and unobtrusive, and the waiter quickly arrived with the half bottle of wine that he opened at the table and began to pour for Joel to taste. Joel waived the tasting, and the waiter poured both glasses to just below the waist before retreating.
“You’ve gone off the idea?” asked Kat after taking a long sip of her wine, which was a deep red and rich, and muscular with tannins.
“On the contrary,” said Joel.
“Then what’s the problem?” asked Kat.
“I wanted to make sure that you’ve done this before,” said Joel. “That you understand what it is you’re letting yourself in for... That we have an understanding.”
“I’m not looking for a husband if that’s what you mean,” said Kat, “and I don’t care that you’re famous. Oh, and I’m not a virgin... Haven’t been for a while, as it happens.”
“It was the sex I was talking about, actually,” he said.
“You see,” said Kat, “I can’t work you out. One minute you’re deadly serious, and the next you’re being a total fucktard.” She put her hand over her mouth.
“What?” asked Joel.
“I can’t believe I said fucktard in this place,” said Kat, giggling.
“I can,” said Joel, “I just can’t believe you said it without an exclamation mark.”
“We’re grown-ups, aren’t we?” asked Kat.
“We are,” said Joel.
“So, what are you afraid of?” asked Kat.
“Have you ever had anyone say to you that they’re not like other people?” asked Joel. “Have you ever had anyone say that to you, and you not understand why, and then the realisation that it’s true come as a total shock?”
Kat looked at Joel. Something like goose flesh rose in the small of her back, and a tiny droplet of sweat gathered in her left armpit. She felt exhilarated, just as she had in the bathroom upstairs, but not at all afraid.
“No,” she said. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“It sounds ridiculous,” said Joel.
Something tingled somewhere in the furthest reaches of Kat’s cranium. She wondered if it was that thing with the amygdala; she wondered whether she was finally having what Ally would call an ‘itch’ for a man. If so, it hadn’t come a day too soon.
“On the whole,” said Kat, “given my pitiful experiences with relationships and sex, it’d be rather nice to hear someone say that they’re not like other men. I’m beginning to get the feeling that I’m not like other women.”
“I just can’t help thinking that if you really weren’t like other women, you’d probably know it by now,” said Joel.
“And you don’t think that’s insulting?” asked Kat.
“If that sentence didn’t require a question mark, it would’ve been in serious danger of having an exclamation mark, Kathryn,” said Joel.
“It’s Kat,” said Kat.
“This probably isn’t a good idea,” said Joel.
“The venison steak for the lady?” asked the waiter.
“Thank you,” said Kat, smoothing her napkin on her lap.
“And the beef, rare,” said the waiter, putting Joel’s plate down in front of him. “Bon appetit.”
“So? How was it?”
“Shit, Ally... You can’t ask me that!” said Kat.
“What do you mean? I can’t ask you that?” asked Ally. “I always ask you that, and you always tell me, and we always laugh about it.”
“This is different,” said Kat.
“Good, because it’s usually crap,” said Ally. “How is it different?”
“Shit!” said Kat. “You really can’t ask me that!”
“So, Barista-Bob turned out to be a bit of a beast, did he?” asked Ally.
“I couldn’t possibly comment,” said Kat, “except to say that he didn’t turn out to be a Bob at all.”
“Well thank God for that,” said Ally. “I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for you to date a Bob on the back of Bobby, and all that.”
“Can you keep a secret?” asked Kat.
“If you want to keep a secret...” Ally began.
“Don’t tell a secret,” Kat and Ally said together.
“Go on, then,” said Ally.
“Sure?” asked Kat.
“Sure,” said Ally.
“You remember the wedding?” asked Kat.
“I remember the wedding,” said Ally.
“You remember the rumour about the groom’s brother turning up at the wedding?”
“The groom’s much older brother? The infamous J.J. Horner?” asked Ally. “Yeah, I remember a rumour about that.”
Kat stayed quiet. She let Ally’s last sentence hang in the air between them.
There was a faint gasp down the phone.
“You’re kidding!” said Ally. “Barista-Bob isn’t...”
“You mean to tell me,” said Ally, “That Barista-Bob, the bloke you danced with at the wedding, the man who invited you to the V and A, and then dumped you, and then turned up at the cafe, the bloke who took you to a private view at the White Cube... You mean to tell me that the bloke you ended up with, in a room in a swanky hotel in the city, last night was...”
“Yep,” said Kat. “It was none other than the famous, award winning writer J.J. Horner.”
“Oh my giddy aunt!” said Kat.
“Ally,” said Kat, “you aren’t sixty and this isn’t 1955. You can say crap! you know, or even fuck! if you like!”
“Shitting hell!” said Ally.
“Yep,” said Kat, “you can even say that.”
“Have you googled him yet?” asked Ally.
“No,” said Kat, indignant.
“Have you looked at his website? He must have a website.”
“Of course not,” said Kat. “At least, I suppose he must, but no, I absolutely haven’t looked at it.”
“Or a wiki page,” said Ally. “I bet he’s got a Wikipedia page. You could find out all sorts about him.”
“I know all I need to know about him for now,” said Kat, “and anything else I need to know, I’m sure I can found out as we go along.”
“Oh, so you are going to ‘go along’ then?” asked Ally.
“Who knows?” said Kat, crossing her fingers, despite her breezy tone.
“Shit!” said Ally. “J.J. bloody Horner!”
“I know!” said Kat.
“You won’t just date him because he’s famous, though, will you?” asked Ally. “I mean it.”
“Trust me,” said Kat. “The very last reason for me to date Joel Horner is because he’s famous.”
“Oh,” said Ally, “Joel... Nice name.”
“Say goodbye Kat,” said Kat.
“Bye Kat,” said Ally.
Addled Kat at the White Cube
It’s not every day an ordinary girl like me, or even a fashion journalist, gets an invitation to a private view at the White Cube, so, even though the invitation came from a dubious quarter, and even though I was only a plus one, you can imagine why I didn’t turn down the prospect of yet another disastrous date with Barista-Bob, because even that would have been worth it to be among the great and the good in Hoxton last night.
All human life is there, and with it all style, all substance, all wonder. This is not, let me tell you, banjos at Primark, except that, if it were, there’d be a bloody good reason for it. If Kate Moss turned up in something from TopShop, let’s face it, no one would mind. If David Hockney turned up in Man at C&A (no I have no idea what that is, either, but my mother assures me it’s Littlewoods for the 1980s), we’d still cheer, and we’d be right to. Style might be the great leveller in some quarters, but where art is concerned, where serious art and serious people, and serious intellect is the yardstick, no one gives two hoots what anyone is wearing. Besides, everyone is wearing something fabulous, and looking good in it, even if it was made in the 1980s by Man at C&A.
This is interesting in two ways. It’s interesting because it makes it almost impossible to spot what anyone’s wearing. I did see a few things I recognised, but they were mixed with so many amazing, stylish, witty things that I had never seen before, and will probably never see again, that every outfit was new and exciting and wonderful to behold, and every piece I did recognise was so outwith its usual context that it looked new and different and exciting too. It makes me wonder just what passed me by; it makes me wonder what pieces would have been obvious at fashion week or on the cover of a magazine, that I lost sight of because they were teamed up with things that were so unlikely as to render them unrecognisable.
The second reason it’s interesting is because it was impossible to make any value judgements. It was virtually impossible to tell who had money, even when every single person in the room had class.
Art and class don’t divide people, but money does. The people in that room treated each other with respect and like equals, and the people that spoke to me treated me that way too. They didn’t look at what I was wearing and wonder who I was or what I earned or why I was there. They assumed I was there for the art, and that was good enough for them.
And, do you know what? I bloody was there for the art, because, once you’re in that room, at a private view, with all those people who live and breathe art, you can’t be there for anything else. It didn’t matter, in the end, that I couldn’t see what was hanging on the walls and standing on the plinths. The place was heaving with people, and all I ever got was glimpses of the work, but the entire atmosphere was steeped in the importance of the occasion and the success of the artist. Every syllable uttered in that room, every turn of every head, every smile, every handshake was about making connections, about building up the reputation of the artist, about getting the art noticed... and it will be noticed.
I will go back to see the work, and I know, already, that I will like it. I also know that people are already buying it, people in clothes that don’t matter, however stylish or eclectic they might be, because art does.
I thought I looked good in my high street dress, with my favourite, ancient Jimmy Choos, but it was lovely not to feel under any pressure to be fashion-y, because no one gave two-hoots, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
“Shit, shit, crap! I thought that was a great blog.”
“It was a great blog,” said Ally. “Not quite your usual bouncy nonsense, but not worse for that.”
“I thought I’d be a bit serious for a change. I thought my readers deserved a chance to read something a bit more... you know...”
“So?” asked Ally.
“So,” said Kat. “Did you see the comments?”
“Not yet,” said Ally. “I read the blog this morning. What’s wrong with the comments?”
“Nobody cares!” said Kat.
“What do you mean nobody cares? What’s not to care about? There’s art, there’s fashion... It’s the White Cube for goodness sake!”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” said Kat. “You’d think people would be interested in the White Cube. You’d think my fashion followers would want to talk about art and fashion and all that stuff, but no! Do you know what they want to talk about in the comments?”
“No, Kat,” said Ally. “Like I said, I haven’t got as far as the comments.”
“I’ll read a couple out to you,” said Kat. “Listen to this:”
You went on another date with Barista-Bob? Spill!
“And,” said Kat.
Never mind the White Cube, how did you get on with Bob? Is he as funny and sexy as he sounds?
“And get this!” said Kat.
Kat and Bob sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!
“How bloody childish is that?” asked Kat.
“Childish, but funny,” said Ally, “and people are always nosy; that’s why blogs do so well in the first place. You two have rather set the stage for them, and you can’t blame the readers for wanting to know what happens next.”
“I can blame them, and I do blame them. There are twelve comments about Barista-bloody-Bob, and not one comment about the White Cube or art, or even some snark about how crap the YBA stuff is, or some outdated nonsense about Tracey Emin’s bed. Nothing! All they care about is whether I’m getting it on with Barista-Bob.”
“Joel, Kat. His name is Joel,” said Ally.
“Well... I know that,” said Kat, “but they don’t.”
“Did you get it on with Joel?” asked Ally. “Because, I’m beginning to think the lady doth protest too much.”
“No, Ally, all right?” said Kat. “I did not get it on with J.J. Horner. We did not have sex... Not really... Not much.”
“What the hell does that mean?” gasped Ally.
“Honestly, Ally,” said Kat. “I don’t know, and I can’t pretend that I do. Something’s going on. Something’s definitely going on... and I think I like it, but, honest to God, I have no idea what it is.”
“Kat,” said Ally.
“Yes, Ally,” said Kat.
“Be careful, girly,” said Ally.
“I’ll try,” said Kat.
“Do better than that,” said Ally. “Promise me.”
“Oh, Ally,” said Kat. “I don’t think I can promise.”
Kat’s twitter feed was busier than ever, work-wise, but as far as Barista-Bob’s account was concerned everything went ominously quiet.
As promised, Joel had put her in a cab after their supper, paying the driver before Kat had a chance to refuse. He hadn’t kissed her again, and they hadn’t talked any more about what had happened in the hotel room.
She had the impression that he’d thought better of it. He made her feel small, naive, as if she wasn’t ready for him, as if she hadn’t lived up to expectations.
Honestly, the experience hadn’t been what she’d expected, either, but wasn’t that a good thing? Wasn’t what she expected always to be disappointed? Always to be underwhelmed? Wasn’t this better than that? Wasn’t the only disappointment that he’d called a halt to it all?
It was too late, and she was too busy. London fashion week was right around the corner, and she had twenty-hour days ahead of her with wall-to-wall shows to attend, articles to write and several guest spots on blogs. She also had to monitor her twitter feed, collate information on various hashtags, and network for those all-important tidbits of gossip that she hoped would give her the edge.
There wasn’t time for anything else, not even for something as potentially exciting as another meeting with Joel Horner.
Over the next few days, Kat thought more than once about checking that Joel’s Barista-Bob account was still live. She thought about doing a quick search to see when he’d last tweeted; she even thought about mentioning him, or even sending him a direct message, but she decided against it. She wondered if Joel had another account, an account in his own name.
What if @BaristaBob was the only Twitter account he had, and what if he’d deleted it? What if that was that? What if it was over before it had begun? She didn’t have a phone number for him, or an e-mail address. All she had, everything she had was what he’d set up in Barista-Bob’s name. She had a pretty good idea that J.J. Horner wouldn’t be in the phone book or in the white pages. He probably did have a website, which probably did have a contact sheet, but that probably went to his publisher or his agent, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to try to get in touch with him through that.
Who was she kidding? If he didn’t get in touch with her, there was a good chance she wouldn’t try to get in touch with him at all. There was a good chance the next time she saw or heard anything about Joel Horner it would be at her cousin’s kid’s barmitzvah, and her cousin had only just got home from her honeymoon. For all she knew, or cared, her cousin and her cousin’s new husband hadn’t even had their first, proper married row yet.
Kat walked through that evening in her head, over and over again. She walked through the events outside the White Cube, and in the hotel room. She remembered the kiss and the touch. She remembered his fingers in her mouth, and the slap. She remembered the mark on her thigh and the gleam in her eyes in the bathroom mirror.
She remembered her hunger.
She remembered what he had said about himself, what he had alluded to.
She thought she remembered that he had said he would be in touch. Hadn’t he leaned into the cab for a moment, after he had paid the cabbie? Hadn’t he leaned in and said that he’d be in touch with her, before he’d finally closed the passenger door and stepped back onto the curb?
There hadn’t been a chance to wave. He’d turned his back on the cab before it’d pulled away. Joel wasn’t the sort of man who loitered in the street to wave off women in cabs. He wasn’t the sort of man who was sentimental.
Her twitter feed was moving fast with industry stuff, and mentions were flying about, so, when she didn’t check it for an hour, she missed the first note.
The second mention simply said, <nudge> and it came from @JJ_Horner.
Kat scrolled through her mentions on Tweetdeck and found the first mention from @JJ_Horner; it said, simply, <follow me>. She clicked on his name, and then on ‘tweets’ which totalled only a little over two thousand, and she scrolled down to see the sorts of things he was saying. Most of his tweets were mentions to people, and most of them were only two or three words, and totally incomprehensible to her. They weren’t cryptic, exactly, but clearly, Joel didn’t believe in using up his quota of 140 characters if he didn’t need to. He was what they called ‘a man of few words’. In fact, Kat thought she remembered reading that about him somewhere.
@JJ_Horner had twenty-eight thousand followers, and was following fewer than a couple of hundred people, and, from what Kat could tell, most of them were other writers or people in the publishing industry.
She put her cursor over the follow button on his twitter page, and let her finger hover for a moment. Then her ‘you have mail’ tone sounded, and she switched screens to see what had landed in her in-box.
She’d been hoping for tickets to the Erdem show, which was ridiculously over-subscribed, but she had the inside track on some last minute no-shows, some industry politics that had got one of the bigger websites shut out, and she’d been right there with her hand out, metaphorically speaking; this could be the e-tickets winging there way to her. She certainly hoped so.
All thoughts of Joel disappeared from her mind, and then she was overtaken by disappointment when the e-mail was from her mother, asking whether she’d found another man, yet, and, if not, why not? And could she try to have a boyfriend by the party season so that she wouldn’t feel like a wallflower? Or look like a wallflower in all those FaceBook pictures that her doting mother liked to show her friends. That’s what she called herself, ‘your doting mother’.
When did mothers start using FaceBook for goodness sake? Please God she never found out about Twitter and started following Kat on that.
So far, there had been an unspoken rule between them about the blog. Actually, Kat suspected that Ally had spoken to their mother on her behalf on the matter of the Addled Kat blog, and that was the reason Esther Adler stayed away, or at least never admitted to reading Kat’s blog, and never, ever commented on it... Thank goodness.
No, if her mother knew about @BaristaBob, she’d never be able to keep it to herself, she’d have to ask about him... she’d simply have to.
Shit... @Barista-Bob... Joel... J.J. Horner... Twitter.
Kat dropped her mother a quick line, trying all the while to be nice and not too sarcastic, and then she switched screens back to her twitter feed and @JJ_Horner’s page. She put her cursor over the follow button, but couldn’t bring herself to click.
He wouldn’t ask her to follow him for no good reason, surely? If he wanted her to follow him, it must be so that he could send her a direct message. It must be.
They had open lines of communication. He was @BaristaBob and she was @AddledKat and that was how it was, and that was how it had been from the beginning, so what had changed? And why? And why should she go along with it?
Kat didn’t know, and she couldn’t guess.
Then she remembered how she’d felt when she thought she had no way to contact Joel, when she thought that he might never contact her again, when she thought that she might never see him again, that they might never be together, that she might never know what it could be like.
She really wanted to know what it could be like.
She knew it would be different.
She knew it would be extraordinary.
She knew he believed that he wasn’t like other men, and that most women wanted something else, something ordinary, something safe.
That was it! That was the difference! Kat had known an awful lot of very nice, very safe men, and it had never been enough. It had never been what she wanted. She just hadn’t known it. It had only taken ten minutes with Joel Horner for her to realise that she’d been barking up a series of very sweet, but very wrong trees for a very long time, for her entire adolescence and all of her adult life.
Kat breathed deeply, hit the follow button and waited.
She didn’t have to wait long.
DM from @JJ_Horner <Meet me at the Sofitel for supper. 8-30. Dress: casual.>
Kat tutted, and then typed.
DM from @AddledKat <Fine, but it’s the Sofitel, so I’ll wear whatever the hell I like!>
She looked at the tweet for a moment or two, and thought about that exclamation mark. Then she sent it anyway.
“Shit!” said Kat.
“You look great,” said Joel. “You decided to go with casual then.”
“You don’t think this is dressy?” asked Kat, looking down at her navy blue, cashmere all-in-one with its gold buttons. The kids were calling them onesies. Her mother called them catsuits. On the catwalk they were calling them jumpsuits, unless they were shorts instead of trousers, and then they were deemed to be playsuits. Kat’s was by Michael Kors, and she loved it. She’d ditched the narrow tan belt in favour of a wider more waist-cinching one by DKNY with elastic in the back, which fastened with press studs down the front, and she teamed it all with a pair of little plaid boots from Mandarina: Casual, yes, but classy, too.
“Nobody’s going to look at you disapprovingly over their cornflakes,” said Joel.
“Do they really serve cornflakes here?” asked Kat. “For supper?”
“Only if you really want them, Madam,” said the waiter, handing Kat her menu.
“Thank you,” said Kat, bestowing her best smile on the grey-haired man. “That’s good to know.”
“So,” said Joel, “would you like to explain the ‘shit’, or shall I guess.”
“Oh... Guess,” said Kat.
“Well, it’s not the hotel,” said Joel, “because we’ve been here before. Ditto the restaurant.”
“True,” said Kat.
“It could be the shaved head, I suppose,” said Joel, “but I’m not sure you’d be shocked by that the second time.”
“Right, again,” said Kat, “although I definitely still approve; suits you.”
“Thank you,” said Joel, smiling his chipped tooth smile at her, full beam.
Kat had a sudden, intense recollection of the sensation of a tooth biting down into the flesh of her earlobe, and she felt her cheeks flushing slightly, but Joel appeared not to notice.
“My publicist tells me I either have to grow it back or get new head-shots,” said Joel, running a hand over the dome of his cranium, “and head-shots cost a small fortune.”
“Trust me, they’ll be worth it,” said Kat.
“Getting back to the point,” said Joel. “You are a fashion journalist.”
“I am,” said Kat.
“And Fashion Week is almost here,” said Joel.
“It almost is,” said Kat.
“Which suggests that your job is probably very much on your mind.”
“It is,” said Kat, laughing. “In fact, I’m very nearly too busy to stop for supper.”
“You might have been expecting me to wear a shirt and trousers,” said Joel.
“You do seem like the conventional type to me,” said Kat.
Joel looked right at her.
Kat thought for a moment that he might raise an eyebrow. She thought for a moment that she might laugh. Then, as her mind filled with images of what they had done the last time they were in the hotel, she found that she was a little disconcerted; she found that she was biting the fleshy pad of the inside of her bottom lip.
Joel did not stop looking at her with that serious look on his face.
“Do I?” he finally asked. “Do I really seem conventional to you?”
Kat felt as if it was a trick, a trick that she’d walked straight into it.
She looked down at her menu, and then darted her eyes back up to see if Joel was still looking at her.
She locked eyes with him for a moment. Fine, if that was the way he wanted it.
“Yes,” said Kat, firmly. “You have a certain sartorial elegance that is traditional, English, well-groomed, specific.” She said it as if she was writing for one of the better papers, for one of the more formal websites, for one of the Sunday supplements. She said it and she meant it. “Your jeans, even though they are jeans, are...” she ducked her head a little to get a better look at them. “They’re True Religion, and very nice, too, but most blokes pay less for a suit on the high street than what a pair of those costs.”
“I’m not most blokes.”
“Leather jacket, Alexander McQueen,” said Kat. “No, I’m wrong, it’s bloody Burberry.”
“It is London fashion week,” said Joel.
“The T-shirt’s McQueen, though. It couldn’t be anyone else.” Kat smiled. “Of course, that’s not quite true, either. If you wanted to be a bit high street, and still be a bit hip, you might try Elvis Jesus.”
“I suppose I might,” said Joel. “I was right, though, wasn’t I? The ‘shit’ was for the clothes.”
“The ‘shit’ was for the clothes,” said Kat.
They sat for a moment or two, looking at their menus. Kat half-expected Joel to make supper suggestions for her, again, but he didn’t.
“Are you ordering half a bottle of wine tonight?” she finally asked, smirking at him from behind her menu.
“I thought we might have a bottle of champagne,” said Joel.
“Oh?” asked Kat, dropping her menu, and straightening her face. “Do we have something to celebrate?”
“I don’t know,” said Joel. “I thought I might celebrate the fact that you agreed to meet me for supper, and I thought you might like to celebrate the fact that I was offered two tickets to Paul Smith’s catwalk show.”
“Well that rather depends,” said Kat.
“On what?” asked Joel.
“On whether you thought you’d need the Paul Smith tickets to buy a fuck with me.”
Joel’s face froze for a moment. His head tilted slightly and he looked right at her. Then he squinted, but he didn’t blink. He didn’t blink for a very long time.
Kat turned her lips into her mouth, again, and bit them. She lowered her eyes to her menu, snapped it closed, looked right at Joel, and said, “I know what I want.”
Then she laughed.
She laughed so loudly that she couldn’t help throwing back her head.
“Shit!” she said. “You should see your face!”
“You really have got to learn to curb those exclamation marks,” said Joel.
“I don’t think I will,” said Kat.
“Two tickets?” asked Kat. “Who else is going to the Paul Smith show, besides me, assuming, of course, that you had the good sense to accept them?”
“I did have the good sense to accept them,” said Joel, “and, I thought I’d go with you.”
Kat looked him up and down in his beautiful, oh so casual outfit, and said, “That figures. A word of warning, though, don’t go dressed head to foot in bloody Paul Smith.”
“You don’t know me at all, do you, Kathryn?” asked Joel.
“No, Mr Gerber, I don’t suppose I do, but that can change,” said Kat. “That can very soon change.”
“Can I help you, Madam?” asked the grey-haired waiter.
“A bottle of your finest champagne,” said Kat, “and I’d like the fillet steak, please, very rare.”
“A fine choice,” said the waiter, “and for you, sir?”
“I wouldn’t dream of contradicting Madam,” said Joel.
“Two fillet steak,” said the waiter. “Very good.”