Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Addled Kat part IV

Addled Kat
by Nicola Abnett

“What do you like?” asked Joel.
“Oh the cheese,” said Kat, as she picked up the thick, dark wax to read the label. “Godminster Cheddar. It’s very good, and a little more of the duck paté, if I may.”
Joel laughed.
“What?” asked Kat. “Since when was cheese funny?”
Joel put his knife down on his empty plate, and picked up the bottle of red wine, which had maybe a glass and a half left in the bottom of it. He poured a couple of inches into his glass and topped up Kat’s, too.
It was getting late by the time they’d arrived at the castle, but he’d brought very good supper things with him, so they’d unpacked the food first, filled the fridge, and organised supper at one end of the long, oak table, which could seat ten people.
“By all means eat,” said Joel, “but I thought we should talk about the sex.”
“Oh!” said Kat. She coughed, slightly, avoiding choking on the cheese. “Why?”
“I like you, Kathryn,” said Joel. “I liked you from the outset, but I didn’t plan to sleep with you. I’m not really in the market for a relationship. I don’t really sleep with women.”
“You keep saying that,” said Kat, “and it seems odd to me. It’s not as if you don’t like it.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Joel, “but it’s complicated.”
“You’ve said that before, too,” said Kat, “but I don’t see why it should be.”
“Because it is,” said Joel. He sighed and took a sip from his glass.
“What do you like?” Joel asked again.
“Ask me something more specific,” said Kat, sipping from her glass.
“The first time I saw you naked you had pubic hair, but not the second; the second time, you had a Brazilian. Why?” asked Joel.
Kat almost choked on the wine, this time.
“That’s really the question you want to ask?” asked Kat.
“It’s important to know what you like,” said Joel.
“I suppose so,” said Kat.
“So do you like to keep your pubic hair, or do you like to get rid of it?” asked Joel.
“Is it a question of liking?” asked Kat. “Isn’t it a question of convention, of expectation?”
“Whose?” asked Joel.
“I don’t know,” said Kat, “society’s?”
Joel laughed.
“Why’s that funny?” asked Kat.
“For one thing, society isn’t living in your skin, and for another, it isn’t having sex with you,” said Joel. “How old are you, Kathryn?”
“I’m twenty-nine, Mr Gerber,” said Kat.
“Don’t you think that a woman of twenty-nine is old enough to decide for herself how she treats her body hair?”
“Is that what the World told Julia Roberts when she forgot to shave her armpits?” asked Kat.
“That was years ago,” said Joel.
“1999,” said Kat, “but the World has a very long memory!”
“That doesn’t explain your pubic hair,” said Joel.
“So,” said Kat, “that really is the question you want to ask?”
“It really is,” said Joel.
“Mostly, I’m just lazy,” said Kat. “I had a wax when we went to the V and A... Stupid really, I don’t know what I expected. Then, I didn’t for the White Cube, and what happened... you know... happened. Then there was the last time.”
“That doesn’t explain it though, does it?” asked Joel.
“Doesn’t it?” asked Kat. “So, what’s the question?”
“Do you prefer to have pubic hair, or not?” asked Joel.
“Well, if you put it like that,” said Kat, and she laughed, but didn’t answer him. She took another sip of her wine, and he followed suit.
“You still didn’t answer my question,” said Joel.
Kat put her elbows on the table between them, her glass in her hand in front of her chest, and leaned a little towards him.
“We all groom,” she said. “It’s just what we do. I suppose it started as a fashion thing, and it’s certainly cultural. I like to be nicely turned out.”
“Who’s going to know?” asked Joel. “Besides, you still haven’t told me which you prefer.”
“Well you clearly noticed,” said Kat, leaning back in her seat and sipping at her wine. She wasn’t sure where the conversation was going. She wasn’t uncomfortable, exactly, just a little cautious. She wasn’t even sure how she felt, now that she thought about it.
“I shave my legs and armpits every day in the shower, and I don’t think twice about it,” she said. “If I do ever grow a little stubble, there, I don’t like the way it feels, and I get rid of it.”
“But you do it for the clothes to look good?” asked Joel. “I get that.”
“I suppose I do,” said Kat. “There are things that I don’t do. I don’t tan, for instance, and I generally don’t wear a lot of make-up. So there are conventions that some girls can’t seem to live without that I have no problems ignoring.”
“So, what about the Brazilian?” asked Joel.
“What about it?” asked Kat. “It makes life easier in the summer, with a bikini, I suppose.
“But do you like it? Do you prefer it? Is it sexy to you?” asked Joel.
“I’d have to think about it,” said Kat.
“Go on, then,” said Joel.
“What, now?” asked Kat.
“Why not?” asked Joel.
“Out loud?” asked Kat.
“Not if you don’t want to,” said Joel. 
“Have you finished eating?” asked Joel.
“Yes, thank you,” said Kat. “It was all delicious. I especially liked the cheese.”
Joel started to gather the food together, rewrapping and covering things, putting lids back on pots and generally clearing the table.
“I’ll cook something tomorrow night; it’ll be simple, of course,” he said.
“Lovely,” said Kat. “My grandmother always said to be a good cook you really only needed to be a good shopper, and you’re obviously a great shopper.”
“Good,” said Joel.
Kat looked down into her glass of wine and took another small sip. She thought about her pubic hair, about how it felt when the skin of her labia was soft and silky and naked, and about how it felt when the hair grew back spiky and irritating. She thought about the hair when it was ten days old, spread in a triangle over her pubic bone, elegant somehow, and then when it was a month old, dark and dense and curling. She thought about the hard line of the Brazilian, and the ridiculous heart shape that the over-zealous new girl at the salon had talked her into last year that had almost made her cry, and that she’d ended up shaving off two days later when Bobby had made a joke about it.
It was her pubic hair, for fuck sake, and, actually, when she thought about it, she did have feelings about it; she had genuine feelings about it, and strong, abiding memories. She remembered noticing her first pubic hairs growing when she was in her last year of primary school, and the excited conversation she’d had with her big sister about them. She remembered the first time she’d shaved the crease at the top of her leg so that all her pubes stayed inside her knicker elastic when she was fourteen. She remembered the first time she’d shaved everything off, and the first time she’d had a wax; she remembered the pain and the embarrassment. 
She thought about it, and she wondered why she’d become immune to those feelings, why she’d forgotten them and stopped having them. Maybe there was a reason why she was so lazy about going for a wax regularly. She had friends who couldn’t wait for  their next wax, who booked in their next appointment when they went for their last, or who had a standing appointment. Why didn’t she do that? She had friends who shaved every day in the shower the same way she shaved her legs and armpits.
How did she feel about her pubic hair?
Kat looked up at Joel as he took the empty wine bottle off the table and put it in the bin. He stood looking down at her, a tea towel over one shoulder.
“A penny for them,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.
“They might be worth more to you than that,” said Kat. “I’ve been thinking about the fate of my pubes, and you raise an interesting question.”
“What do you like?” asked Joel, pulling the tea towel off his shoulder and dropping it on the counter before sitting back in his chair at the table.
“I like two contradictory things,” said Kat, “or possibly three.”
“Good,” said Joel, “that sounds like a start.”
“Can I ask, though,” said Kat, “why you asked?”
“Because it’s important,” said Joel. “It’s important to know what you like, and to be true to yourself, and it’s important for two people to be honest and true to each other, especially if they’re going to have any sort of relationship.”
“Especially if that relationship is going to be sexual,” said Kat, “and especially if that sex is going to be...”
“Going to be what?” asked Joel.
“I don’t know,” said Kat. “Special, different, new... I don’t know...”
“We need to begin at the beginning,” said Joel, “don’t we Kathryn?”
“Yes,” said Kat, “I think we probably do, but you’ve got to understand that I only just worked out how I want my pubic hair, and I’m not even sure that it’s possible to have what I want.”
Joel smiled at her.
“Oh,” he said, “I bet it is, and what’s more, I bet I know a woman who can fix it right up for you.”
“What do you like, though?” asked Kat.
“I like a woman who knows what she likes,” said Joel.
“You don’t mean that,” said Kat. “It’s nice that you said it, and everything, but I know that you don’t actually mean it.”
“Mostly I do,” said Joel. “Mostly, what’s attractive about a woman is her confidence. You have that. I don’t think you were ever sexier than when you were walking away from me out of the White Cube. The way you let go of that glass...”
Joel smiled, and Kat couldn’t help smiling back.
“What was I supposed to do?” she asked.
“Exactly,” said Joel. “That’s exactly it. You were affronted, and you bloody well acted on that feeling. You didn’t care that a room full of the great and good were watching you.”
“Why should I?” asked Kat.
“Plenty of people would,” said Joel. “Plenty of people wouldn’t want to risk embarrassing themselves. Plenty of people wouldn’t want to risk embarrassing me.”
“What about the fact that you were embarrassing yourself by being an arse?”
“You see?” said Joel. “You only make my point for me.”
“So, suppose I believe that you like a woman who knows what she likes, what about you? What do you like?” asked Kat.
“That’s where it gets interesting,” said Joel, “because the other thing is that I’ve actually got a pretty good idea what I like, and I think it’s fairly important that the woman I’m with shares some of those preferences.”
Kat looked at Joel for a minute.
“Your body hair,” she said. “You do that to your body hair because you like it?”
“Yes,” said Joel.
“It doesn’t just grow like that?” asked Kat.
“Nobody’s body hair just grows like that,” said Joel, laughing.
“You’ve never thought of waxing, like some of the models and sports stars do?” asked Kat.
“I have waxed,” said Joel. “I’ve waxed various areas, and I’ve had an all-over body wax. I’ve tried everything at various times. As I said, I know a woman who can do pretty much anything with body hair.”
“So, you don’t just groom that way because you did it once for an old girlfriend, and it became a habit?” asked Kat.
“No, although the first time I groomed was, in a way, accidental. I did it as a favour to someone who was learning to be a beautician. In fact, it was the same woman I keep recommending as a great proponent of the art of body-hair-dressing.”
“And you settled on this?” asked Kat.
“And I settled on this,” said Joel.
“I like it,” said Kat.
“Well that’s a start,” said Joel. “What else do you like?”
“What else do you like?” asked Kat. “Do you like me with or without pubes?”
“I’m not sure I have a preference,” said Joel. “I was surprised to find them gone. I was surprised to find the Brazilian. It seemed a little contrived for someone so feisty.”
“Waxing’s stupid when you think about it,” said Kat. “It’s only good for one week in four, and you have to wait to grow it out before you can go back to being naked again.”
“Which suggests, at least that you like naked?” asked Joel.
“I like it underneath,” said Kat. “I like silky skin underneath, but it’s gruesome when it starts to grow back, and I don’t like being naked at the front, which, I suppose is why I leave the strip, except I don’t much like that, either.”
“What do you like?” asked Joel.
“I think I’d like a nice, neat, short triangle,” said Kat, “with nothing underneath. I just don’t like the idea of all that maintenance.”
“Sounds simple enough to me,” said Joel, “elegant too. I’ll give you Sarah’s number, and she can sort you out.”
“It’s nice that you care,” said Kat.
“It’s nicer that you care,” said Joel. “What else do you like?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” said Kat. “That’s why I wanted to have sex with you again. I like you. I like your intent. I like how serious you are, and how sensual, but there’s something I don’t like too. There’s something... Something’s been bothering me.”
“I thought you were over that,” said Joel, sighing. “I did stop. I did apologise. I did try to make it better. I thought... I thought I’d made it up to you. I thought I had made it better. I thought it was lovely the last time.”
“You misunderstand me,” said Kat. “I wonder why you misunderstand me? You call me feisty and then treat me like... You treat me like...”
“How do I treat you, Kathryn?” asked Joel. “I thought I treated you with the courtesy, with the respect, with the gentleness that you deserve. How could I possibly treat you any better?”
“You could treat me like an equal,” said Kat. “You could treat me with some honesty. You could meet me on your own terms.”
“What do you mean?” asked Joel. “Be clear, Kathryn, because I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say to me.”
“I’m trying to tell you that I’m not sure what I like,” said Kat. “I’m trying to tell you that I’ve had relationships with men before, and that I’ve tried hard to make them work, but that there’s always been something missing. I’ve been with men that I’ve liked, that I’ve had lots in common with. I’ve been with clever, funny, lovely men, who have loved me, but, when all’s been said and done, I’ve never been with a man who’s been able to truly excite me.”
Kat stopped. She didn’t know what she’d said or what she wanted to say, but she knew that she couldn’t stop there, even if she wasn’t entirely sure how to keep going.
“OK,” said Joel when the pause went on a little longer than seemed natural. He was trying to encourage her, but wasn’t sure what to say, wasn’t sure that what he wanted to say might not put her off.
“I don’t know what happened at the wedding, but there was a thing,” said Kat. “You made me want to snap at you. You made me want to bat your words back at you. I don’t know what it was, but it started then. It was like combat, but I liked it. Then at the V and A, I was just confused. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going, and I liked that feeling, too...”
There was another long pause.
Kat got up and walked around the kitchen island. She filled the kettle and messed about with mugs. Joel stayed where he was, turning his chair so that he could watch her, and keep some contact going between them. Eventually he said, “Go on.”
When the kettle had boiled, and she’d poured them mugs of tea, she started again.
“It was after the White Cube. It was the first time at the Sofitel. It was in that room. I suppose it was in the bathroom, really, afterwards. It was what I felt afterwards.
Joel stared down into his tea, stirring the teabag around and around. Kat willed him to look up at her, but he didn’t, so she stopped talking again until he did. At last, he lifted his mug to his mouth, and his eyes flickered up to meet hers. She held his gaze.
“I went into the bathroom to put my dress back on, and I looked in the mirror, and it was weird to look at my face. My hair was wild and curly, but it had never looked so good, and my skin glowed and my eyes gleamed, and I thought that I had never looked so beautiful. I thought that I had never looked so happy.
“Then I wondered whether I had ever felt so alive, and I wondered whether I had ever felt so happy. If I looked as good as I had ever looked didn’t it stand to reason that it was because I felt as good as I had ever felt? Didn’t it?
“I smiled at myself in the mirror, because it was true. Right at that moment, I felt as good as I had ever felt. I felt like I had felt as a child on Christmas morning, opening the one present that I desperately wanted, but never believed that I could possibly ever get. It was like that only it was better, because I’m an adult, and I never expected to feel what I was feeling. I had hoped, since I was a girl, that I might feel something like that one day, about a man, but I never had.
“I’m twenty-nine and I’d never felt the way I felt in that room in the Sofitel that night.”
Kat stopped talking. 
Joel was looking right at her.
Kat blushed. She didn’t say anything for several long seconds. She didn’t know whether to feel brave or foolish. She felt both and neither. 
“OK,” said Joel, finally.
Kat laughed.
“OK!” said Kat. “Is that what you’re saying to me?”
Joel smiled at Kat.
“It’s fine,” said Kat, taking a sip of her tea. “I’m not sure what I’d say, if someone made that sort of declaration to me, but hear me out.”
“Yes,” said Joel, “OK.”
“It’s not half as scary as it sounds,” said Kat.
“OK,” said Joel, again.
“It’s not as if I’m declaring my undying love for you or anything,” said Kat.
“OK,” said Joel.
“What?” asked Kat.
“It’s getting quite the build-up, isn’t it? Whatever it is,” said Joel.
“I suppose it is,” said Kat.
“It does feel like a big deal to you, doesn’t it?” asked Joel.
“It really does,” said Kat. “Only, I feel a bit stupid, now.”
“No,” said Joel, “don’t feel stupid. I didn’t mean for you to feel stupid. I was just going to say you should relax. I was just going to say that it’s fine, that you needn’t worry, that I’m a pretty decent bloke, and I’ll try not to let you down. That’s all.”
Kat smiled.
“Oh, how sweet,” she said. “I really am making a big deal of it, aren’t I? Or are you just being a bit patronising?”
Joel’s face dropped, just a touch, just enough for Kat to smile.
“Gotcha!” she said.
“Bloody hell, woman,” said Joel.
“What?” asked Kat, smiling some more, “aren’t you liking my exclamation marks?”
They laughed.
“You know, you’re going to have to tell me what it is, right now, don’t you?” asked Joel, when they’d settled down again.
“The thing is, it isn’t funny,” said Kat, “not at all.” 
“Trust me,” said Joel, “as funny and feisty as you are, Kathryn Adler, I take you completely seriously.”
Kat waited for a moment while she composed herself and waited for Joel to do the same. Then she began again.
“When I stepped into my dress in the bathroom in that room, the first night in the Sofitel,” she said, “I caught sight of my thigh. I caught sight of my right thigh, and there was a mark there. There was a pink hand print. You’d left your hand print on me. It was as plain as the nose on my face. I just saw it, in the mirror. It was right there.”
“Oh,” said Joel.
“Oh, indeed,” said Kat.
“And that’s a problem,” said Joel, “still?”
“It is,” said Kat.
“I don’t get it,” said Joel.
“That’s why I have to explain it,” said Kat, “but I’m not sure I even know how to explain it to myself.”

<Shit! Crap! And Shit again! I think I’ve ruined everything!> typed Kat and hit send.
There was no reply for ages.
Kat didn’t really expect one... not really, except that her sister always replied. 
It was nearly two-thirty in the morning, and she was sitting in bed in the lovely little double in the castle. She’d just taken off her jeans, and unhooked her bra and pulled it out through the sleeve of her t-shirt, which she’d left on, along with her knickers and socks. She was too tired and too upset to change properly. She passed a cleansing wipe over her face, but she’d only been wearing some tinted moisturiser, mascara and lipgloss, so she didn’t need to go through the whole, gruelling bathroom routine. She couldn’t stand the thought of bumping into Joel in the lobby, even though he’d promised to stay in his suite, so she’d just have to have a bath in the morning. She hoped she wouldn’t need the loo again in the night, but she doubted it; it was two-thirty, after all, so there wasn’t a whole lot of night left.
Why had she been so stupid?
<???> typed Kat and hit send.
She wouldn’t usually text her sister so late, but it was Friday and she knew that it was Ally’s regular girls’ night out, so she couldn’t have been in bed for long, or maybe she hadn’t even got home yet. She was her sister. She wouldn’t mind.
Kat waited five more minutes.
She was about to send another text when her phone finally beeped.
<Oh dear... What have you done now? Are you OK?>
Kat breathed a sigh of relief. She felt a bit more OK just because her sister had texted her.
Then her phone beeped again, before she had a chance to text back.
<I hope you didn’t go to bed on an argument... That’s no way to start a relationship xxx>
<I didn’t... He did!> typed Kat and hit send.
Then she thought about it and realised that she hadn’t been entirely fair.
Kat’s phone beeped again.
<Kiss and make up, quickly, before it’s too late xxx>
<I’ll think about it> typed Kat and hit send.
<Think fast, and don’t waste a romantic opportunity. Didn’t you say you were in a castle for heaven’s sake? xxx>
<I hate it when you’re right! Thanks, Ally. N-night xxx>
<Night Kat xxx>


King of the Castle!

You know when people say they know nothing about a subject, but they know what they like? Well, I feel a bit like one of those people, today.

I’ve heard lots of people say, “I know nothing about books/music/art, but I know I like Thrillers/Rock/Impressionism”... Well, I’ve just joined that club.

I know nothing about architecture, but I bloody love castles. I bloody love millennium old chunks of masonry with Elizabethan mullions and crenellations, and a brand-spanking new house built inside.

I love tiny little bricks  that weave their ways around lumps of ancient walls that used to be bits of a thousand year old castle. I love ancient keystones in centuries old arches, and I love fireplaces so old that someone once spit-roast hogs in them to celebrate the end of the Wars of the Roses.

I’m the King of the Castle today, but I love that I’m standing in the ruins of a castle that was lived in by three Queens of England before me.

I’m a modern girl and I love new things. I love innovation and creativity. I love to see the latest look and the latest hot young thing waltzing down the catwalk in it, but it’s all part of something else, something bigger, something older and more fantastical, and I understand that, now that I’ve been King of this castle for the day...
There was a tap on the door, or, at least, Kat thought she heard a tap on the door. It was faint, hardly audible, and she’d been in her head, thinking about what she’d been typing, and her fingers on the keys of her laptop had made a bit of noise, not much, of course, but a little bit.
Kat held her breath for a moment, waiting. She didn’t hear tapping again.
“Hello?” she said, not too loudly.
Then, Joel did tap lightly on the door again.
Kat put her laptop down and got off the bed. She went over to the door, and, suddenly realising that she was only half-dressed, she opened it just enough for Joel to see a sliver of her face.
“I’m sorry,” said Joel, “but I thought you were still awake. I wanted to apologise. I wonder if I was... Perhaps I was too harsh.”
“Yes,” said Kat. “Perhaps you were.”
“I wanted to encourage you, but it all seemed so contradictory,” said Joel.
“I suppose it did,” said Kat. “Look, Joel, can we talk in the morning?” 
“I don’t know,” said Joel. “You’re still up, and so am I. I know it’s late, but we’ve only got ourselves to please, after all.”
“That’s why I thought we could talk in the morning,” said Kat.
“OK,” said Joel. “Well, I’m going upstairs to have a drink.  I’ve decided that places like this shouldn’t have curfews. Join me, if you’d like. Otherwise... Well, I’ll leave you in peace.”
“All right,” said Kat, but she didn’t close her door straight away. She hesitated. “What were you doing?” she asked.
“Nothing much,” said Joel. “Looking at some notebooks, jotting down some thoughts.”
“You were writing?” asked Kat.
Joel’s head dropped a little, but he didn’t answer.
“And you?” he asked.
“I was writing, too... sort of... I was writing a blog,” said Kat. “I was restless. I texted my sister, but I didn’t want to keep her up late, so I thought I’d put a couple of blogs in the drawer, and this place is pretty inspiring.”
“Bring it up with you... the blog,” said Joel. “If you come up, that is. No pressure, of course. I’d like to read it... I always like to read your blogs.”
“Thanks,” said Kat. “I don’t know.”
“Fine,” said Joel, and he turned to go.
“You’re writing?” said Kat.
Joel turned back to her.
“Why?” he asked.
“How do you mean, why?” asked Kat.
“You seem surprised, perturbed... something... that I’m writing, and I wonder why,” said Joel.
“Maybe we should talk about that, too,” said Kat. “If you’d give me the chance.”
“I...” began Joel, but he tailed off. 
“Come up,” he finally said. “Or I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Yes,” said Kat. “OK.”
Kat looked at her blog post again, and realised that Joel’s knock had been well-timed. She hadn’t noticed that she’d come to the end of the writing, the end of her thought, but, in fact, the blog didn’t need anything more; it was complete.
She pulled her jeans on, grabbed a sweater, and, taking her laptop with her, she went upstairs to find Joel. He was sitting at the table with a notebook, a Moleskine about the size of a school exercise book, and a newly opened bottle of wine, from which only the first half a glass had been poured. He got up as she entered the room, to get her a glass.
Kat sat down at the table, and Joel put the glass down in front of her, sitting back down, before pouring her some wine. Then he tossed his exercise book towards her and said, “Swap?”
Kat looked from Joel to the notebook, and then opened her laptop and called up her latest blog. She turned the computer towards him and slid it across the table. Then she picked up her glass of wine and took a long sip.
She looked at Joel’s notebook again. She flexed the bottom right hand corner with her thumb, and riffled the pages. She couldn’t possibly read anything on the pages, but she could see that some of them were written on in a small, neat hand. She didn’t know whether she could bring herself to actually examine the contents of the notebook. They seemed too private. They seemed too closely to resemble the contents of this man’s mind. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know that much. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know more than he wanted to volunteer.
On the other hand, if he didn’t want her to know what he was thinking, he wouldn’t have offered her his notebook... Would he?
Joel appeared to have no such reservations.
Kat noticed, between toying with the cover of the Moleskine and riffling the corners of its pages, that Joel simply straightened up the laptop screen and began reading, apparently without preamble, or any kind of self-consciousness.
“It’s good,” he said, after a couple of minutes.
“Thanks,” said Kat.
“You don’t want to take a look at mine?” asked Joel.
“It’s... I don’t know,” said Kat.
“Fair enough,” said Joel.
“About before,” said Kat.
“My fault,” said Joel. “I didn’t give you a chance to speak. I wasn’t rational. It’s just that you can be horribly confusing, Kathryn. One minute you’re telling me we’re going to have more sex, and the next you’re making me pay for a mistake that I’m aware of, that I’ve tried to put behind us, that I feel guilty for. That...”
“Oh do shut up,” said Kat.
“What?” asked Joel.
“Shut up,” said Kat. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You hit me. Get over it!”
“Well thanks for that, Kathryn,” said Joel.
“You’re welcome,” said Kat, “because, let’s be clear about this, Joel Horner, once and for all: I felt more alive in that moment, when you slapped me, more excited than I have ever felt with any man... Ever!”
She didn’t know why she did it, but Kat took another long sip of wine from her glass, and she stood up.
“I’m not saying that I’m violent, I’m not saying that I want to beat you or that I want to be beaten, but there was something about that moment that was more sexually charged than any moment I have ever experienced... and you let it go, Joel.”
There was a long moment’s silence.
Joel looked up at Kat.
“I wasn’t horrified that you hit me, Joel... Or at least I was... But, more than that... More than that, I was glowing and seething, and I caught sight of your hand print on my thigh, on my skin, and I felt my blood pumping, and I felt the tingle and the heat, and I wanted you, and you weren’t there.”
Joel kept looking at Kat.
“You weren’t there Joel, and I just wanted you to be there,” said Kat.
Joel breathed out through his mouth.
“Wow!” he said. “And you said you didn’t know what you liked.”
“I like the tension in my head and neck when you hold my hair tight,” said Kat, “and I like the feeling of the weight of your chest against my back when your arms are wrapped around my torso and I can’t quite fill my lungs and I can’t quite turn my head.”
Joel took a sip from his glass, never taking his eyes off Kat’s face.
“I liked the tingle of the blood close to the surface of my skin when you struck me,” said Kat, “and my mouth full of your probing fingers, and your hand clutching my face, and having to flex my neck hard against your hand to turn my head.”
Joel stood on his side of the table.
“I like the sensation of your legs pressed against mine and of your cock against the inside of my thigh, and I like the soft flesh of the inside of my thigh and the fact that it reminds me of my breast, and I like the fact that my nipples are so hard when you bite them, and I like that I want you to bite them more and harder.”
Joel started walking around the table towards Kat. She turned her head to watch him. He didn’t hurry. He took the long walk around. It was a big table, big enough to seat ten, and they’d been sitting halfway down each long side. 
Kat realised that Joel wasn’t hurrying, because he was hot and heavy and almost fully erect, and it wasn’t comfortable to walk quickly.
“Don’t stop,” said Joel. “Keep talking.”
“I like your breath in my mouth, and I like not knowing where your tongue ends and mine begins. I like the way your fingers spread my lips and work my cunt honey. I like that I can wrap both of my hands around your cock.”
He was behind her.
She hadn’t turned around.
She didn’t want to turn around. She wanted to feel the weight of him behind her. She wanted to feel his chest against her back, his head against her neck, his arms around her torso.
He was right there. His face was in her hair, and his hand too, pulling her head back to expose her neck, which he nuzzled and pushed his face into hard, the weight of his chin putting pressure on the muscles of the side of her neck. 
Kat gasped, her mouth open, and found that she was hardly able to breathe. 
Joel’s left hand came across her chest, his left arm pinning hers to her body and crushing her left breast, as he reached for her right, grasping at her nipple with his outstretched fingers, rubbing and crushing it as it sprang up under her shirt. Kat gasped again.
This was what she wanted to feel. This was the start of it. She felt prickling heat in the skin of her left breast as it was crushed and in her right nipple as it was pinched, and she felt the blood rush to the skin of her neck as Joel pushed his mouth hard against her. She felt the burn in her scalp as every follicle pulsed with the pressure he put on her hair, and she knew that it could only get better.
Kat longed for Joel to expose her skin. She longed for him to run his hands over her. She did not know what she wanted from him, did not know what she liked, but she knew that she could follow where he led. She also knew that he would lead her expertly to places that she had not known existed, and if she had known they existed, had only every laughed at or mocked the people who went to those places, who did those things.
Kat wasn’t a child or a fool, she knew it was out there. She knew that people spanked each other with their hands or with school canes, or with riding crops, but she had always thought the idea farcical or comical. She always thought those practices belonged on the wrong side of English humour. She thought they were the stuff of bad 1970s saucy slapstick that only the Americans laughed at any more. She thought about Benny Hill with his round, wire-framed glasses and his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. She thought of string vests. She thought of school masters in gowns and mortar boards, and of grown women in school girl outfits, like old St. Trinians films.
It had never crossed Kat’s mind that a man’s hands on her, that expectation, that hot, tingling skin, that hand marks, could be... were... sexy.
Kat put her hand on Joel’s thigh. It was firm, hard even, and she could feel that delicious indentation that men have, where women curve outwards. Then she moved her hand around to his backside. It was as hard and square as she remembered it. She pushed the palm of her hand against it. She wondered what it would feel like to slap it, and then realised that she felt no real urge to do it.
Kat thought that there was something faintly ridiculous and not remotely sexy about hitting a man, at least not on his body.
That was it... That was the point... One of them, anyway.
Joel was bigger than she was, stronger; he was a man. It was about the way that it felt. It was about the feeling of blood surging through her skin. It was about sensation and sensuality, but it was also about trust.
Joel could hurt her. If he wanted to, Joel could do Kat real harm, real physical damage, even with his hands.
There was no point Kat hitting Joel, because it wouldn’t have much effect on him, especially not on his flesh, on his muscles.
Then, she remembered swinging for him. She remembered the adrenalin rush as she’d pulled back her hand and swung for his face. He’d caught her hand that time. He’d caught her hand and held onto her, so that she couldn’t hit him, but just the thought of it gave Kat a tiny little rush.
She knew that she’d want to do it again. She knew that she’d want to swing at his face. She knew that, one day, she’d want that swing to connect, that she’d want the hard palm of her hand to meet his cheek. She wondered if it would ever happen. She wondered if he’d be quick enough to catch her hand every time. She wondered whether he’d want to catch her hand every time.
Kat pushed her abdomen hard against the back of her chair, and insinuated her hand between her backside and Joel’s abdomen. She could feel his cock pressing into her; she knew where it was, and she wanted it. He pressed it harder against her left buttock, but he couldn’t put her off. Kat twisted her body a little, feeling the heat of her blood pumping to her scalp as her hair tightened even further in Joel’s grasp.
Finally, her hand was over the bulge in his trousers, working his cock, as she got as much of her hand around it as she could through the fabric, and rubbed the palm and heel of her hand firmly over his shaft and helmet.
She was not gentle with him, just as he was not gentle with her, just as she knew, when the time came, that he would not hold back, not now, not now that he knew she wanted him, wanted all of him, wanted all that he could give her.
Joel let go of Kat’s hair and grabbed for the zip on her jeans, but she was pressed against the high back of her chair, and there was no way for him to reach it.
He turned her instead, so that she was facing him, and, one hand firmly around the nape of her neck, he kissed her, his lips slack and warm, his tongue long and soft, unfolding as it entered her mouth, making it his own.
His other hand opened her fly and began to push at the waistband of her jeans to get them off. Kat tried to help him, but he pushed her hands away, so she went to work on him, instead.
Kat pulled the front of Joel’s t-shirt up and over his head, so that it gathered at the back of his neck, the sleeves still in place. The whole of his chest was exposed, but not his shoulders or arms. She pushed her hands into the hair, there, combing it with her finger tips, towards his nipples, and when she found them, she took them firmly between her thumbs and forefingers, and twisted and pulled on them.
She couldn’t hurt him by slapping or hitting him, but girls knew how to torture, too. Girls could pinch and bite, and pull hair. Girls were good at that stuff. 
There was no time. Joel’s nipples were barely erect, and, suddenly, Kat had her back to him again. He had unzipped her jeans and pulled them down around her hips, her knickers too, and then he turned her back to face the table. 
He was impatient, and he pulled at one of the chairs, sending it crashing to the floor, making Kat jump. Then he was pushing her over, her breasts crushed against the cool, hard surface of the oak table, her arse in the air, her legs tied together by the waistband of her jeans that was wrapped around them at mid-thigh height.
Kat breathed hard and placed her right cheek flat on the table so that Joel could see at least part of her face, part of her expression. She knew that she was flushed and that her eyes were sparkling. She knew that his hard kiss had made her lips plump and pink. She knew that the way he had held her hair had made it bigger and curlier than it had been. She knew that she looked like the heroine in a Rossetti painting, if Rossetti had been a little more twenty-first century and a lot more hardcore.
Suddenly, Kat’s feet were off the ground and her jeans and knickers were off, and her socks too, and Joel leaned over her, grabbed her hips high at the waist, and pulled her back, so that her legs dropped back vertical and her cunt was exposed. Her t-shirt had ridden up and gathered high on her chest. She did to it what she had done to Joel’s, grabbing the front and lifting it over her head so that she could feel the hard, cool wood against her breasts. 
She pushed her hand under her right breast, at first, thinking that she’d cup it, but that wasn’t enough. She kneaded her breast, rubbing hard at the thin skin in the crease against her body, against her ribs that would so easily bruise against the table, as close to the surface as they were. She didn’t care.
Joel pulled at the cloth of Kat’s shirt; it was in the way of her hair and the nape and curve of her neck where he wanted to kiss her and push his face, and put pressure on her and control her head. Kat gasped as her shoulder was wrenched, but she didn’t complain. She had no desire to complain. She wanted only one thing; she wanted only to do Joel’s bidding.
When she was naked, Joel began to touch Kat’s flesh. He ran his hands down her back and then up again, as if giving her a Swedish massage. Then he began at the base of her spine again, tantalisingly close to where her cheeks divided. He gathered her flesh between his thumbs and forefingers in clumps as thick as he could grasp, up either side of her spine, and he pinched and twisted, and then moved on to the next section of flesh.
Kat revelled in the sensations. She wondered what her back must look like, what marks Joel left there, how pink her skin must be. It was a faint bruising sensation, but with a heat similar to the sort of Chinese burns that children gave each other, and she didn’t know for how long he would pinch or where the next pinch might come, or even whether the pinching would be symmetrical.
When he reached her neck, Joel leaned his weight on her back and began to kiss and bite her, nuzzling and pushing his face and chin vigorously into the curve of her shoulder. He bit her earlobe again, hard, and Kat thought she could detect the chip in his tooth, a place where the pressure on the soft flesh of her ear was a little less.
Her cunt was wet, and she was ready for him, waiting. Kat thought he’d penetrate her now, like this, while he was leaning over her. She thought he’d reach down and release his cock from his trousers. She wished she’d done it for him when she’d had the chance, when he’d unzipped her jeans. She wished she’d had his cock in her hands again, cupped his balls, reached beneath them as they tightened to take his seam between her finger and thumb, and pulled and squeezed and pinched it.
Kat was aware of a noise that she was making.
She didn’t think of herself as the sort of woman who moaned or screamed or really made any sound when she was having sex. It was something she’d always thought was vulgar, unnecessary, funny, even. It was the stuff they put in porn films to encourage men to come, wasn’t it? Did women actually moan, gasp, shout, scream, even, when they were fucking? Did she? Could she? Would she? Would she make a sound for Joel? And if she did, would she know about it? 
Kat put her hands flat on the table at arms length from her body, pushed her breasts hard against the table so that she could feel them bulging out under her arms, so that she knew Joel could see them, and then she thrust her arse towards him as he touched it, kneaded it.
If she thought it would encourage him, maybe she would moan.
She loved the feeling of his hands on her. She loved the sensation of him first running his hands over her backside, and then grabbing and kneading the flesh.
She wondered if it would come... When it would come.
She wanted to tell him that it was OK for him to slap her, smack her, hit her even. She wanted him to know that she wanted to feel the strike of his palm on the flesh of her arse, that she wanted to feel the heat in her skin, the tingle in her flesh, that she wanted to feel her flesh move. 
Kat suddenly realised that nothing could make flesh move like an impact, that nothing could make flesh quiver like a hand swinging into it.
She hoped it would come soon. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the sting of Joel’s palm on her right thigh the last time. She tried to remember the way her flesh had moved; her arse would be better, softer, less muscular, her arse would be almost perfect.
She longed for it for a moment or two longer as he continued to knead her cheeks, and then, suddenly Joel’s hands were gone. She felt herself gasping as she felt suddenly very naked, very vulnerable.
Would it come now?
Would he fuck her now?
Or would he slap her?
What would he do to her?
Should she look?
Did she even want to look?
Kat kept her eyes closed, not firmly, not tightly. She didn’t tense against the thought of him, the thought of what he could do to her. She relaxed, sinking her flesh more completely against the unyielding surface of the table, which she was convinced was warming to her body.
Kat heard the sound of Joel’s zip as he opened his fly, and the rustle of fabric as he dropped his trousers and stepped out of them.
She was excited, more excited than she thought she had ever been. She breathed deeply and worked the muscles of her abdomen, anticipating his cock. 
It did not come.
She felt thumbs grazing the soft insides of her thighs, pressing semi-circles into the flesh, the flesh that was the same as the flesh of her breasts.
Kat could not help but gasp as the action of Joel’s thumbs, although not touching them, put enough pressure on her labia to open her lips.
Then there was another new sensation. It felt for all the World as if Joel was breathing on her. His face, although she couldn’t feel it, must be very close to her cunt. He must be looking right at her, his thumbs on either side of his face, on either side of her, as he breathed into her. He was holding the insides of her thighs as he might hold her face, her cheeks, his thumbs in the creases between the soft flesh of her thighs and the softest of all, the swollen flesh of her labia, approaching her cunt as he might approach her mouth, breathing heavily before...
Joel’s lips, his tongue, his mouth, his breath were suddenly all over Kat, kissing and licking, and sucking and teasing. He made a hard point with the tip of his tongue and vibrated it across her hood. Then he found her clit, and flicked it a couple of times before taking the whole between his lips and sucking gently. Then his tongue darted into her cunt, tasting her juice, spreading it up to her clit and then all the way back...
Kat bucked.
Then it came.

Suddenly, Joel’s face was no longer pressed against Kat’s cunt and his hands no longer held her. She was suddenly exposed and vulnerable, and it made her inhale through her mouth, a sharp intake of breath.
Just as her lungs were full, her breath was knocked out of her in a sudden shriek as Joel’s right hand landed, fully, squarely on the perfect mound of her right buttock. She felt the heat and tingle of blood rushing to the surface, of her skin responding to the impact. She felt the weight of her arse swing with the strike, and then the undulations as it rippled back and forth, the fat quivering before coming to rest. She felt the wave effect across her left cheek as the two collided. The cleft came together and, her senses heightened, Kat was convinced she could feel her cunt juice collecting and oozing, being driven out of her cunt and spread by the impact, and by the collision of her arse cheeks.
She felt the flush in her backside, and then in her neck and face, and she felt her cunt flow and her labia swell with excitement.
She looked over her shoulder through hazy eyes, and could see the look on Joel’s face, a look of wonder and of fierce, unadulterated want.
“Do it,” she said. “Do it to me.”
Joel took Kat’s arse squarely in his hands, squeezing her cheeks, and not shying away from the place where he had struck her, not concerned that she might be sore, and that he might be giving her more pain.
She could feel the heat, the sting of the slap beneath the firm pressure of his fingers, and she pushed her arse into his hands, encouraging him.
Joel grasped at her, circling his hands outwards, opening the cleft in her arse, exposing her pucker, which she clenched, and her cunt, which was very pink and very wet.
Kat heard a deep, low noise rumble from Joel’s throat. If it was words, she couldn’t tell what they were, and she didn’t care. Words didn’t matter much. She knew that she’d said something to him, but she didn’t know what, and she didn’t care. She just wanted him to do whatever it was that he needed to do, so long as she was there with him, so long as he didn’t hold back. That noise, whatever it was, sounded real, sounded alive, sounded honest.
His cock came fast and strong and straight into her. He did not insinuate an inch at a time. He did not prepare the way. He did not warn her. He simply pushed his way into her in one long, hard stroke.
Then it came again.
The second slap landed on top of the first, almost exactly on top, and Kat felt a spasm in her cunt, as Joel timed his stroke so that he stopped his cock fully inside her as he smacked her arse. Kat had always had good access to her orgasm, had always enjoyed good control of the muscles of her abdomen, and finally she’d found a man who had some sympathy with that, who knew just when to be deeply inside her, and how to wake up those muscles.
Joel began to fuck Kat slowly, rotating his hips slightly in subtle figures of eight as he rubbed and caressed her backside.
Kat reached her right hand back, first to her waist and then to her backside, to find Joel’s hand on her right cheek. She grabbed at his fingers hooking them with hers, and they clasped hands for a moment. Then she let go and pulled at her backside, opening herself wider for him, showing herself.
Kat watched over her shoulder as Joel looked down at her hands, her arse, her cunt as he slowly fucked her. She watched his face. She watched as his lips rolled into his mouth and then blew out again. She watched as his expression turned almost into a snarl.
Then she reached back with her left hand, and, before she knew what was happening, he had grabbed both of her hands and was holding her crossed wrists firmly in his right hand, pulling on her straightened arms as his rhythm increased. Suddenly, he was fucking her faster, and he was fucking her harder.
Kat tried to adjust her position, but could do nothing but swing her head to the other side and stare at him over her other shoulder, her cheek flushed, her own expression closer to a snarl, her teeth almost bared.
“Do it again,” she said through gritted teeth.
This time, his left hand, which was out of her sight, swung down onto her left cheek, and she felt the smart. He was fucking her harder and faster, and he did not stop, so when the spasm hit her cunt, he was not deep and still within her, and the sensation was more frustrating, making her want to buck and take control.
There was no control for her.
Kat felt the tingle in her skin that she hoped would never become familiar, never ordinary, and she revelled in the heat. She wondered how pink her skin was, and whether he had marked her, whether the palm of his hand was imprinted on her flesh. She wanted it there. She hoped it was there.
Kat began to flex the muscles in her abdomen. She couldn’t control the spasms that Joel elicited from her, that she didn’t know were in her, that she’d never experienced with anyone before. She didn’t know such an involuntary response had resided in her, not until tonight, not until Joel. She could control her cunt muscles, though, she could and she did. She could clench and clutch and work them around his cock, around his rhythm. She could have an effect on her own orgasm and on his.
Could she make him come? Could she make herself come while he was fucking her? She could almost certainly do the first, but the second? It had never happened before, but then there had never been anyone like Joel before.
Just as their rhythms locked, Joel would discomfort Kat by switching, by altering the angle or position, by switching up or down a gear, by changing the length of his stroke, by teasing by tantalising, and then, he thrust into her several times fast and very deeply, and she heard that low, guttural, throaty sound, and then, suddenly, he was gone again. 
He took hold of her right arm and pulled her upright, turning her so that she found herself sitting on the edge of the table, facing him. They were not touching.
Kat put her hands on the edge of the table rather than around Joel’s neck, despite the temptation. 
Had he come?
Surely, she would know if he had come. Surely, he would have let her know. Surely, she would have felt something. She looked down, and his cock looked back at her, fully erect, standing away from his body at an angle, pointing at her belly. 
Kat wanted to reach for it. She wanted to pull and squeeze and pump it.
Joel dipped his head so that he could look into her eyes, and when she would not meet his gaze, but kept looking at his cock, he took her chin roughly in his left hand, and lifted her head, tilting it back so that she could not look at him, not see his body below chest level.
She reached her hand out for his cock, and realised that it was harder and more vertical than it had been when she’d been looking at it. Had her looking at him made him harder? Or was it the fact that he had stopped her, taken control of her head, her field of view?
Kat reached up and took hold of Joel’s left wrist, the knuckles of her hand whitening as she squeezed. She wondered how far her instincts would take her. She wondered at what point she’d ever stop wanting more. She hoped she’d never stop wanting, and yet... And yet she desperately wanted to feel satisfied, to feel spent.
Kat held tightly onto Joel’s cock, high around his helmet, and began to pump as the rest of his long, broad shaft held firm. Then she dug her nails into the soft inside of Joel’s wrist, dug hard.
Her head tilted back, she did not see the swing of Joel’s right hand, but she felt the sting, not against her backside as she sat on the edge of the table, or her thigh, spread and tightened by the edge of the tabletop. She felt the sting on her left breast. She felt the blood surge into her nipple, and she felt the soft flesh swing and throb. Her head tipped even further back as she opened her mouth to gasp, and her eyes glistened.
Then Joel’s hands were in Kat’s hair, and Kat’s arms and legs were around Joel’s body, and he was inside her again. He was inside her, and his mouth was covering hers, his kissing deep and profound, their breath heavy and hot and urgent.
Joel held nothing back as the edge of the table carved a deep groove across Kat’s arse, as he thundered into her over and over again, but it didn’t last long. His last, deep thrust, he looked her hard in the eyes, holding her head an inch or two from his, his mouth a stern line, his lips dark, blood-filled.
She thought, for a moment, that he was the most beautiful, the most ferocious creature she had ever seen.
Then, he pulled out of her, kissed her mouth and her neck, and leaned her back until she was lying on the table. He pulled her legs up as he kissed her belly and ran a tongue over her hips, and she knew that he was going to eat her again, going to fill his mouth with her labia and her clitoris, going to run his tongue over her and into her, and she wondered whether she’d be able to control herself and just let him do what he was going to do.
Kat lay down, as Joel urged her to do, tossing her head back and forth and relaxing her shoulders until she was comfortable, and she ran a hand over her left breast. Soft flesh, delicate skin, girly, fatty, swinging parts of her were a new wonder that she had never thought could give her such a thrill. She gathered both of her breasts in her hands, cupped them and paddled her hands under them so that they swung upwards and outwards, moving over her torso. It wasn’t quite like the tremble and quiver of the slap, but it was a pleasure, nonetheless. 
She tightened as Joel concentrated working his mouth, lips and tongue over and into her. He set up a breathless rhythm, tonguing her clitoris, and then he added a finger in her cunt, and then two, plunging and turning them. He didn’t work her cunt so hard as to distract her from the pleasure of the stimulation to her clit, but just enough for her to exercise her fuck muscle against his fingers.
Then she began to feel pressure against her arsehole. She bucked for a moment, and his tongue stopped and the fingers in her cunt stopped, but the pressure on her arse stayed the same. When she relaxed, Joel went back to stimulating Kat in all the ways she liked, building up the rhythm on her clit again, and working his fingers back into her cunt.
When the pressure on her pucker grew, and she tried to twist away from it, he stopped again, and her pleasure subsided again, and she began to get frustrated.
Kat was close to climaxing. She had always been in charge of her orgasm, had always been able to control it, had always been able to cum, more-or-less at will, and now Joel was taking control, determining what she would feel and when, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it.
She would have cum by now... She should have cum by now.
Kat relaxed, and Joel began again, but this time, he began by putting more pressure on her pucker. Kat willed herself to relax. She relaxed the muscles in her abdomen, she breathed deeply, and she squeezed her breasts hard. Then Joel began to work two fingers into her cunt, scooping her cunt juice in a circular motion, making sure the entrance was moist and forgiving, and then sliding in. When he had worked his fingers in and out, keeping up the pressure on her pucker with his other hand, Joel finally pushed the tip of his tongue under her hood. He began to tickle Kat’s clitoris, and then to build up a rhythm in earnest.
Kat couldn’t believe the intensity of the orgasm building inside her, and she dared not buck or twist away from the pressure in her arsehole, incase Joel denied her his mouth or the fingers in her cunt. She wanted them so badly, now, that she’d do anything... allow him to do anything, touch her anywhere, as long as he kept his mouth on her clitoris as long as he kept his fingers in her cunt. She clenched and relaxed her fuck muscle once more, voluntarily, and then the wave of her orgasm overtook her.
Kat felt the rush of warmth through her head and chest. She felt the magical surge of energy and the great wave of relief, and then she felt a whole host of muscles controlling the core of her go into a cascade of spasms that she hoped would never end, and yet she knew would be an agony if they didn’t end, and end soon.
She did not know how she breathed, or for how long she could not breathe, or think... or live at all. She understood, perhaps for the first time... really understood, why they called it ‘la petite mort’. As much as she had been in control of her orgasm, and for as long as she had been in control of her orgasm she had never known that someone else could take control of it from her and for her, and that, somehow, that could be an amazing, wonderful, life-altering experience. If this wasn’t death, if this wasn’t magic, if this didn’t transcend... everything... then she was not Kat Adler.
Only when she came round after her orgasm, and how long that took, Kat didn’t truly know, only then did she realise that Joel had pulled the condom of his cock and was fucking his fist.
Kat sat up, shook her hair out of her face and looked at him. Joel’s eyes were gleaming, and there was a faint sheen on his forehead. His mouth was full and red and wet, and when she moved close to him, she could smell her cunt on his face. She kissed him once, hard, his head vibrating slightly from his wanking, and then she looked down at his cock, wrapped in his hand. His balls were high and tight, and she took them in her left hand as she reached her right hand beneath them to rub at the hard core behind, and to squeeze and pinch the seam of skin there.
Joel’s mouth opened in a guttural, choked sound that Kat knew was all about sex and lust and taking what he wanted, and she pulled on his balls and squeezed his seam a little harder.
“Show me,” said Joel, and Kat knew what he was talking about, knew what he wanted.
She did not hesitate.
Kat slid back on the table, put her hands under her arse cheeks, lifted her backside off the table, by flexing her legs so that only her toes touched the surface of the table, and pulled her lips apart with her fingers, opening her cunt. She ran her forefinger up between her inner lips and over her hood, and then back down to her cunt before dipping it inside.
Joel’s fist never tired as it pumped his hard, straight cock. Then he reached out with his left hand and slapped the exposed flesh of Kat’s thigh, the soft place that had reminded Kat of her breast, and Kat breathed and sighed and dropped her head back, plunging two of her fingers into her cunt to catch the spasm that Joel had planted there along with the tingle in the delicate skin of her inner thigh.
Then he came.
He came on the pink skin of her thigh where he’d left his hand print, and he came on her hand and on her cunt and on her clitoris that she’d exposed for him, because he’d asked her to.
Milliseconds after she felt the quiver and tingle of the impact of his palm on her flesh, Kat felt the splash of his cum on her skin. It was hot on her hand, but it was the same temperature as the hot skin of her thigh and the same temperature as the heat of her cunt, only liquid and masculine, smelling of Joel and of salt and of that buttery smell that he carried everywhere with him.
Kat sighed and she smiled, and she wished, just for a moment, that she was in bed, because she could sleep now... She could sleep like the dead, knowing that this was as good as it had ever been, knowing that if it never got any better than this, that was OK by her, but suspecting... just suspecting, that if it could be this good now, if she and Joel could find something this amazing, this fast, then there was nothing they couldn’t do, that there was nothing Joel couldn’t make her feel.
Kat also knew that, in the morning, in the clear light of day, when this was just a memory, when the glow of the reality of it had worn off and the sun was able to shine in on them again, she might just find the prospect of a relationship with Joel a little bit scary... Not as scary as the prospect of not having a relationship with Joel, but scary nonetheless.
Why had they done this on the table? Why weren’t they in bed?
Then, Kat was in Joel’s arms. He had lifted her off the table, and crossed the room with her. He turned on a light, and opened the little half door in the corner of the room that Kat hadn’t explored yet, and he pressed a button, and suddenly Kat realised that they were in a lift.
“Full disabled access,” said Joel, by way of an explanation. “Bed for you, miss.”
“Yes,” said Kat, settling against Joel’s shoulder, running her hand across his chest. She took his nipple between her thumb and forefinger and squeezed once, hard.
Joel looked at her and raised an eyebrow. Kat stuck out her tongue.

<O..! M..! G..!> typed Kat and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped.
<Shit Kat! That’s not like you! Where did ‘OMG’ come from? Since when did you need more than a ‘shit’ or a ‘crap’? What on Earth happened? Spill!>
<OMG! You have no idea!> typed Kat and hit send. Then she thought maybe that wasn’t very fair, and, despite the risk of texts crossing in the ether, she texted Ally again.
<OK... I had no idea. I thought it might be good with Joel, that’s why I gave this whole thing another chance, but I had no idea it could be this good!> she typed and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped again a couple of minutes later.
<What exactly do I have no idea about, Kat? Really, you’re going to have to be more explicit!>
Kat didn’t reply, but waited for Ally to catch up, otherwise she’d be answering the text before last until the conversation was over, and it’d only cause confusion. Sometimes, it was funny to do that, especially with Ally, but not this morning; this morning Kat wanted to share.
She wanted to share with Joel, too, but not before she’d talked to Ally, not before she’d got a proper perspective on things, and Ally always managed to point her in the direction of her perspective, even if it was in the opposite direction to where Ally was trying to direct her.
Kat’s phone beeped again within a minute or two, just as Kat was reaching the end of her thought, and turning back to the idea of sharing with Joel... really sharing.
<So you did kiss and make up? Good for you x>
<You can’t really do a lot of kissing in that position,> typed kat, but then backspaced over the message, smiling as she did it. <You could say that, but the kissing led to something pretty good... you know...> She hit send.
<Pretty good, huh? High praise indeed xx Just how good is pretty good?>
Kat smiled at Ally’s reply. It was high praise. Kat had always been disappointed by sex, and Ally had always known it, even if they had laughed about it.
<Breakthrough good. Good enough for me to want to like him, really, really like him... Really! xxx> typed Kat and hit send. Then, after she’d sent the text, she read the exchange again. Who the hell was she kidding?
Her phone beeped, and she laughed out loud at her sister’s message.
<Who the hell are you kidding, Kat? If you didn’t already really like him, you would never have bothered going back after disappointing sex, that really isn’t your style xx>
<You might have a point. Say seeya later Kat xx> She hit send.
<Seeya later Kat xx>
<Seeya later Ally xx>


King of the Castle part ii or Addled Kat Confesses

Since you people take such a keen interest, and since I think of you all as friends, and since I’ve been so mean to you all, and since I started out being so mean to someone else, in particular, in this blog, some time ago, now - even though, let’s not pretend he hasn’t managed to get his own back pretty effectively, more than once in the comments section - I feel it’s time I made amends.

Those amends are going to come in the form of a small thank you and a little confession.

I should like to thank Barista-Bob for making me the King of the Castle. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have known that this place existed, let alone had the opportunity to stay for the weekend under it’s beautiful roof, looking through its amazing windows at its fabulous moat. I think this is the most extraordinarily lovely building it has ever been my privilege to rest my weary head in, and I am extremely grateful for having been given the opportunity to do it. I will come back, often, I hope. So, thank you Barista-Bob.

I should also like to make this confession:

Barista-Bob is, in fact, clever and funny, and kind and sexy, and I did him a disservice in ever suggesting that he lacked any or all of those qualities. And, with any luck, he’ll read this, and his head will swell far enough to keep him out of the comments section... Please, Bob, stay out of the comments section, for my sake.

The other thing I’m going to confess is that I like Barista-Bob. I never thought I would, because, let’s not pretend that we got off to the most agreeable of starts, but, after going on a couple of very dodgy dates with the man, who does, after all, make great coffee and have great access to fabulous events, and, as it happens, knows the most amazing places to stay, I feel that I’m beginning to get the measure of him, and his sense of humour.

Best of all, though, now that he’s lost the bloody awful, straighter-than-straight hair and gone for the proper, full-on, Turkish shave, the nose and the chipped tooth smile are somehow rather attractive, and not in any way that’s likely to set off anyone’s gay-dar.

Far be it from me to discuss any relationship status that might be developing between us, but, if he asked me on another date, you can tell Barista-Bob, just in case he hasn’t already read this, that I might just say yes... again, and this time I might even be tempted to invite him back for coffee, only I’ll be making it, because I’ve got one of those Nespresso machines, and they’re nothing if not reliable. Besides, Barista-Kat really doesn’t have the same ring to it, and nobody messes with my machinery.

“What are you working on?” asked Joel as he wondered into the kitchen, and Kat closed her laptop.
“Nothing much,” said Kat, “just knocking out a few blogs. I can’t get a signal to tether to my phone to pick up e-mails and things, and I didn’t want to just sit here... You’re up now.”
“How do you feel this morning?” asked Joel, pouring water into the kettle, and then opening the fridge door and bending to rummage around inside to see what they’d brought with them the night before.
“Good,” said Kat.
Joel stood up and swung the fridge door closed. He walked over to Kat and stood behind her chair, resting his hands gently on her shoulders and kissing the top of her head. She put one of her hands over one of his and then rested her head on them for a moment before looking up at him.
Joel pulled out the chair next to her and sat, turning his chair to look at her. She turned to sit on her chair sideways so that she was facing him.
“How do you feel this morning, Kat?” he asked.
Kat smiled.
“You called me ‘Kat’,” she said.
“Isn’t that what you prefer?” Joel asked, smiling.
“I’d got rather used to you calling me Kathryn,” said Kat, “and me correcting you. I kinda liked the game, and, you know, there is just the tiniest risk of me feeling patronised if you stop, especially if you go around kissing my head.”
“Very well,” said Joel. “How do you feel this morning, Kathryn?”
“It’s Kat,” said Kat, “and I feel good. I do just have one question, though.”
“OK,” said Joel, “ask whatever you like.”
“When do we get to do that again?” asked Kat.
“When do we get to do what again?” asked Joel. “Precisely that? Or something similar? Or something else? Are you talking about sex in general or that sort of sex in particular?”
“Why?” asked Kat, “Weren’t you happy with it?”
“I’m sure I said something about liking a woman who knows what she likes,” said Joel, “so you tell me what you like, and we’ll take it from there.”
“What about what you like?” asked Kat.
“I know what I like,” said Joel. “I know what I like a good deal better, I think, than you know what you like, and I’m prepared to ask for what I want, or to compromise it in favour of what you like, assuming you know what that is.”
“I like you,” said Kat. “I like you, and I like it when you’re in charge. Besides, if you’d stopped doing the things I thought I didn’t like, because you thought I didn’t like them, last night wouldn’t have ended the way that last night ended... Did that make sense?”
“Yes,” said Joel, “that made sense, and we should definitely talk about that.”
“I’m not actually sure that I can bring myself to talk about it,” said Kat.
“Oh, Kathryn,” said Joel, “and yet you talk so well.”
“I do?” asked Kat.
“When you were cross with me,” said Joel, “when you finally managed to tell me what made you feel alive and how and why, you spoke beautifully, eloquently and with huge sexual power.”
“I did?” asked Kat.
“You saw how turned on I was,” said Joel.
“I was impassioned,” said Kat. “I had no choice but to talk. I needed... I wanted...”
“You needed what, Kathryn?” asked Joel. “You wanted what?”
“You know what I wanted. You know what I needed,” said Kat, “and you knew how to give it to me.”
“Yes,” said Joel, “because you told me. You always have to tell me, Kathryn.”
“Then you always have to get me impassioned,” said Kat.
“Do you want this to become a roller coaster ride?” asked Joel.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit late to worry about that?” asked Kat. “Don’t you think we’ve already bought our tickets, climbed on board, and brought down the safety barrier?”
“Kathryn... If you think there’s a safety barrier, you really are in trouble.” 
“So, I’m in trouble,” said Kat. “It’s about bloody time. Now, do I need to ask you again, or are you going to be a man?”
“What was the question, Kathryn?” asked Joel.
“It’s Kat,” said Kat, “and the question is this, Mr Gerber: When do we get to do that again? By which I mean, when are we going to have sex again, amazing, mind-blowing, boundary-pushing, hard-fucking sex?” asked Kat.
“Well,” said Joel, “I’m not entirely sure, except to suggest that it’ll probably be soon, and I’m extremely thankful that I brought everything we’ll need for a full English breakfast, because, for what I’ve got in mind, neither of us is going to last long on a couple of croissants and a cup of coffee. 
“Pity,” said Kat, smiling “because you do make awfully good coffee.”
“You can still have the coffee,” said Joel, getting up from the table and sorting through pans and utensils in the kitchen.
“Not only can I have it,” said Kat, “but I insist on it. You did tell me you like a girl who knows what she likes, and this girl likes a decent cup of coffee, so I’ll take that first, if you don’t mind.”
“Fair enough,” said Joel. “So, breakfast, Kathryn?”
“Breakfast, Mr Gerber,” said Kat. “There is just one small thing, though.”
“Anything, Kathryn,” said Joel, bowing at her, a frying pan in one hand and a fish slice in the other.
“The full English breakfast, complete with pork products? Really?” asked Kathryn. “Does your mother know about this?”
“I have an extremely adult relationship with my mother,” said Joel. “She doesn’t mess in my life, and I don’t mess in hers. I eat everything she serves, and she never eats in my house, because I always take her to her favourite restaurants.”
“O... K...” said Kat, in a rather drawn out way that suggested to Joel that he wasn’t being as helpful as he thought he was being.
“One of these days you’ll learn to trust me, Kathryn,” said Joel, “even if my mother doesn’t.”
“Oh?” asked Kat.
“Words,” said Joel. “I’m in the business of words. The so-called bacon is actually made of duck, and the sausages are guaranteed one hundred percent beef. So, I’ll ask you again, Kathryn, full English?”
“Thank you, Mr Gerber,” said Kat, “that would be lovely.”

<Home again, home again, jiggedy jig> typed Kat and hit send.
Kat’s phone beeped as she was walking through her front door, dropping her holdall, which really was too cumbersome and too heavy, and which now contained two of Joel’s shirts.
<I want to hear all about it. Lunch?>
Kat had known it was coming, and she really wanted to see Ally for lunch, and she was excited, more excited than she had been about a man, ever. She was more excited than she had been when she’d been kissed for the first time at Freddie Aaronovitch’s Barmitzvah, and more excited than she’d been when she’d lost her virginity, which, with hindsight, had been far too planned and contrived, and not nearly dangerous and spontaneous enough, and poor Harry Brown had been far too safe and polite and winsome, and not nearly dangerous and spontaneous enough, and Ally had known way too much about it, too far in advance, and had given far too much sage, big-sisterly advice.
Kat smiled. It was all ancient history, and none of it mattered, and if J.J. Horner or even Joel Gerber had been the boy she’d kissed at Freddie’s Barmitzvah or even if he’d actually been Harry Brown, it wouldn’t have made any difference, because she still wouldn’t have known what she was doing at fourteen or seventeen, and she would have made the same mistakes, and it would have been some other man, now, because she didn’t believe in fate, and she didn’t believe that there was one man for everything. She didn’t believe that Joel was it, that this was inevitable, that she only got one shot at great sex, or at great love or at great anything.
Kat looked at the text again.
<I want to hear all about it.>
Did Kat want to talk about it? She certainly didn’t want to talk all about it. She’d never been the type to share those sorts of personal details. She’d never said much more than that it was all a bit ordinary, all a bit disappointing. Ally had always been lovely about trying to suggest that Kat might want to be patient, that she might want to try talking to her partners about how to please her: that sort of thing, but Kat had never been much of a sharer. She sighed a long sigh of relief. She was grateful now for her years of silence.
How could she possibly share any of this with Ally? How could she possibly share any of it with anyone? She couldn’t even explain to herself how it had happened in the first place.
If Joel hadn’t crossed the line... If Joel hadn’t transgressed... If Joel hadn’t hit her...
Kat thought about it for a moment. 
Kat could not think of a time when... She couldn’t imagine someone saying to her that she would be struck by a man, and that her reaction to it would be excitement. If anyone had ever asked Kat what her reaction would be if a man ever hit her, even a slap, even a playful smack on a fleshy part of her body: her backside or the back of her legs, she would’ve said that she would’ve been horrified, would’ve fought back, and would probably have had the culprit arrested.
Violence is violence. Domestic violence is abuse. There is no excuse. There is no reasonable explanation. There is no getting away from it. 
Kat looked at her phone again.
<I want to hear all about it.>
Kat wouldn’t be telling Ally what she and Joel had done, and what she and Joel would, she hoped, be doing again. Kat would not be explaining or justifying herself. She would not be defending her actions. What she and Joel did together, what she consented to with her eyes wide open, with glorious expectations, with joy, with her body tingling and her heart beating out of her chest, what she wanted for herself, and what they wanted for each other was nobody else’s business.
It wasn’t even about passivity. She hadn’t once felt passive, only submissive. She hadn’t once felt out of control, only that she’d handed control over to Joel. She hadn’t once felt in any danger, but always safe and secure. There was no fear, only anticipation. Joel was no threat, he was all promise. She did not stumble into anything, but followed confidently where Joel led. There was trust between them.
<Wednesday? Usual place?> typed Kat and hit send.
Two minutes later her phone beeped again.
<Can we do Thursday instead? The girls have got the dentist.>
<See you Thursday xxx> typed Kat and hit send.
There were lots of things she could tell Ally. There was plenty she could say about the way Joel made her feel without telling her how he went about making her feel that way. Besides, Joel wasn’t the only one with strong hands and the will to use them, and Kat had spent a chunk of time on Sunday afternoon at the castle proving that.
She thought about writing about it. She thought about updating the diary that she hadn’t kept for years, now, and she was sorely tempted.
Blogging had taken over. Blogging had become the mainstay of her output for the past three, (or was it four?) years, on top of the fashion journalism that she depended on for her living. Blogging had taken over from the diaries and journals that she’d kept in her teens and while she was doing her degree, and then in her mid-twenties. 
Like most girls, she’d written about boys and about love and sex, but, by the time she’d left home to become an art student she was already disillusioned, already looking for something that sex didn’t seem able to give her. She remembered writing angrily about the men who let her down in bed, she remembered writing about the boredom and frustration. She also remembered the relief of giving up the diaries, which felt more negative than cathartic, in favour of the blogs.
The blogs were fun and funny, and she didn’t have to think too hard about being let down, about giving up on feeling something real, about missing out on what other people seemed to take for granted, somehow.
Was everyone doing this?
Did every woman find a Joel?
Kat knew that couldn’t be true. Kat knew for a fact that at least half of the men she’d slept with were now happily, or at least, more-or-less permanently married, and if those men were doing the same stuff to their wives that they’d done to her, in bed, then Kat had no idea how those women could possibly be fulfilled, unless it was by something other than their husbands... yoga, maybe or shopping or possibly their jobs, or kids. On the other hand, perhaps they were happy and satisfied with their husbands, perhaps it really was Kat who was different, somehow.
As far as Kat was concerned, if everyone was having the sort of sex that every man before Joel had offered her, then everyone was a fool. If everyone was having the sort of sex that was portrayed on tv every day of the week, then everyone was a fool, but then how long had she been a fool? How long had she blundered from one unsatisfying sexual encounter to the next, wondering why it was all so banal, and why hadn’t she done anything about it? Why hadn’t she thought about what was missing? Why had she dismissed the idea of anything out of the ordinary as sordid or vulgar or comical? 
Why? Because that was how it was portrayed. Because she had never seen anything that suggested to her that the impact of a man’s hands on her skin could give her pleasure, could excite her, could make her heart beat and her skin tingle, and could induce her fuck muscle to spasm.
She was a writer, a journalist, a woman, maybe this was a subject that might be worth exploring. Maybe this was the beginning of something. Maybe she could take this seriously, maybe she would start a new journal.

“Is there any chance at all you could do something with these, Bucky?”
Bucky shook out the shirts that Kat handed to her.
“Wow!” she said. “It’s not often I get my hands on, made-to-measure, Jermyn Street shirts, and Hilditch and Key are one of the best.”
“What about the marks?” asked Kat.
“Trouble is,” said Bucky, “I know this laundry label, and I know their methods, and they’re pretty brutal. I’ll have a go, but I can’t promise anything. They might have set the stains by now.”
“But you’ll have a go?” asked Kat.
“You know me,” said Bucky, “I’ll have a go at anything once.”
Bucky was looking intently at the label in one of the shirts.
“J.J. Horner,” she mused. “How do I know that name? No, don’t tell me. It’s on the tip of my brain.”
“You must be about ready to start work on the shop?” asked Kat, changing the subject.
“You missed it,” said Bucky, grinning. She took a couple of long steps back to the full length curtain that had been hanging behind her ever since the shop had been damaged by fire several weeks ago, and drew it back with a flourish. The rear half of the shop had mostly been refitted, with a bank of gleaming new machines, including a very impressive steam press and a rotary hanger. All the plumbing and electrics were brand-spanking new, and only the finishing was left to be done.
“How did all that happen without anyone noticing?” asked Kat, amazed.
“Mostly at night and on the weekends,” said Bucky. “What? You can’t see the bags under my eyes?”
“But you’re almost there!” exclaimed Kat.
“Almost,” said Bucky. “I was planning a grand re-opening, and, since you’re one of my best customers, and it looks like you might be bringing me a brand new, very prestigious client, if I can just shift these stains, maybe you should bring him, too.”
Kat smiled.
“We’ll see,” she said. “No promises.”
She looked at her watch. 
“I’ve got to go, Bucky,” she said. “Busy Day. Lunch with Ally, and I’m off to try out a new beauty salon, if you can believe that?”
“I’m sure I’ll read all about it in the blog,” said Bucky.
“There’s not much doubt about that,” said Kat. “Wish me luck!”
“Luck!” said Bucky. “By the way, you can come back for these any time after tomorrow, but Monday or Tuesday would be better, just in case I have to try more than one... technique on them.”
“Have them for as long as you like,” said Kat, “he was only lounging about in them anyway.”
“They’re far too good for that,” said Bucky, picking up one of the shirts and examining the stitching around the cuff, and checking the button.
“That’s what I said,” said Kat.
It didn’t take Kat long to walk to Clapham North tube station, and the ride to Oxford Circus was only twenty minutes, so there was no time to actually write anything, even though she always carried her laptop, and her head was buzzing with ideas.
She did make a couple of notes on her phone, though. She made a note to write an article on traditional menswear, on how and why it existed in a way that womenswear didn’t. Tailors and shirt-makers like Hilditch and Key did offer a service to women, but what percentage of their business was accounted for by women as opposed to the fashion houses and couture? Kat didn’t know, but thought it was worth finding out, thought it was a fascinating subject. The sort of men who wore Hilditch and Key shirts married the sort of women who wore Prada or Chanel, surely? Or did they?
The fashion editor at Grazia Magazine had liked and used her five hundred words on the Paul Smith show, so maybe she’d be interested in a feature; it had to be worth pitching.
Joel came immediately to mind.
Kat sighed and smiled.
She turned to a new note on her phone, and hesitated.
Could she write about Joel? Could she write about the two of them? Could she write about the sex? Did she want to? And if she did write about them, about their relationship, could she adequately express what it was really about without talking about the sex? And if she couldn’t, could she really, adequately explain the sex? And why should she? Why should she have to justify it? She didn’t want to justify it. She shouldn’t have to justify it to anyone. It wasn’t anyone’s business.
In the end, Kat didn’t make a note at all.
She was a great believer in making notes of ideas. She knew, from bitter experience, that if she didn’t make notes about her ideas, she would forget them, and they would be lost forever. She also knew, for a fact, that she wouldn’t forget this. She wouldn’t forget Joel. She wouldn’t forget how he made her feel, or what he did to her to make her feel that way.
Kat slumped into her seat, dropped her phone into her bag, and enjoyed the ride for the last couple of minutes until the train pulled in at Oxford Circus.
She was meeting Ally at their favourite diner in Ganton Street, which would, no doubt, lead to Kat riffling through the racks and shelves of the shops in Carnaby Street, and then it was back to Oxford Street for TopShop and all things High Street. It was her business and her pleasure, and she stayed in touch with this side of town on a weekly basis, at the very least. Today, lunch was early, and the shopping would have to be brief, because this afternoon she had an appointment with Sarah in Golder’s Green at half-past-three, which was fine.
She had to go.
Once he’d got the bit between his teeth, Joel couldn’t stop talking about the pubic-hair-stylist. Was that what he called her? Whatever it was, it was kinda funny, and she did like funny. He was deadpan when he was funny, and she liked that about Joel too, that and the fact that he didn’t use exclamation marks. he almost never used exclamation marks, and on the single occasion when she did remember him using one, he hadn’t been able to pull it off... at all. She could pull off any number of exclamation marks in any number of configurations. They suited her and her writing style.
Kat smiled to herself as she walked down Carnaby Street, glancing in the shop windows as she went. She turned into Ganton Street, and almost called out as she saw Ally’s back, ten or twenty yards in front of her. As Ally opened the door to the diner, she turned, saw Kat, and smiled and waved at her. She closed the door, took a step back and waited for her sister outside.
They hugged on the doorstep of the diner, making a pair of men in jeans and well cut jackets walk around them, one of them lighting a Marlborough as he did so, twisting his head to avoid blowing smoke into Kat’s hair. She smiled at him over her sister’s shoulder.
She had that effect on men. She’d always had that effect on men. As they broke away from each other, Ally spotted the man, and the smile on Kat’s face, and she raised an eyebrow at her sister.
“What?” asked Kat. “I didn’t say a word.”
“You didn’t need to,” said Ally.
“Seriously, Ally,” said Kat.
“Seriously, Kat,” said Ally.
They walked through the door to the diner, and were seated, immediately, on the right hand side, raised on a platform a couple of steps higher than the rest of the room. They shuffled into bench seated booths, designed for four diners, opposite one another, and picked up their menus, knowing already what they’d eat.
Ally was the first to put down her menu.
“So?” she asked.
“So what?” asked Kat, smiling at her sister over the top of her menu.
“So,” said Ally. “How was your weekend?”
“The castle was amazing,” said Kat.
“Funnily enough, I gathered that,” said Ally. “I do, after all, read your blog, little sister.”
“Oh yes,” said Kat. “You do, don’t you?”
“I thought we could all go there some time and take the kids,” said Ally, brightly. “We could give them a bit of a history lesson.”
Kat lifted her menu in front of her face. She couldn’t help remembering what had happened on the big oak dining table on Friday night, or, at least, in the early hours of Saturday morning, and what had happened in the en-suite double later, after a very good full English breakfast, and then what had happened on the divan that dominated the living area on Sunday afternoon, and what had happened in her little double, twice, in between, and she really couldn’t imagine Ally in those rooms, and she really, really couldn’t imagine sharing her castle with her sister and her family.
“There are lots of other places,” said Kat. “The castle gets booked up months and months in advance.”
“Oh,” said Ally, “well, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, then.”
“Mac and cheese?” asked Kat.
“Of course,” said Ally.
Kat and Ally ordered their food, and they talked about work and their parents and Ally’s family until it arrived, and then Ally asked her question. She only had one, it was the only one that Kat was expecting, and it was the same one that she’d asked five minutes before.
“So?” she asked, again. “How was your weekend?”
“What would you like to know?” asked Kat. “Because you know that I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account. You know that I’ve never given you a blow-by-blow account of any of my relationships, and you know that I’m not about to start now.”
“I do know that,” said Ally, “and you know that isn’t what I’m asking you. I just want to know that you had a good time, and that you’re happy.”
“I know,” said Kat, putting down her fork. “I know.”
“When was the last time you were happy with a man, Kat? When were you ever happy with a man?”
“You know the answer to that,” said Kat, “and you know that I tried. No one wants me to be happy more than I do.”
“What about now?” asked Ally.
“I had a great weekend,” said Kat. “I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun with a man, and that I have never had so much fun packed into three days as I had last weekend... ever.”
“Crikey!” said Ally, putting her fork down as Kat resumed eating her mac and cheese. “Never?”
“Never,” said Kat, matter-of-factly.
“OK,” said Ally. “I’ll buy that, but tell me... What was the difference between this weekend and other weekends? What was the difference between this man and other men? That’s a pretty definitive statement to make.”
“You tell me,” said Kat. “I don’t know.” 
Kat didn’t like to lie. She did know. She knew exactly why this weekend had been different, why this man and this experience were different. She didn’t want to tell Ally why, and she wasn’t going to tell Ally why, but that didn’t mean she didn’t know, even if she didn’t fully understand it herself.
“Maybe you just like him,” said Ally.
“He is very likeable,” said Kat, “despite my first impressions of him.” She felt on safe ground. “He’s smart and switched on, and he’s sympathetic without being pathetic. He’s strong, masculine, but without being a bully or condescending. He’s interested in me, in what I like, in what I’m interested in, in what I think.”
“Well that’s a first,” said Ally.
“That’s what I thought,” said Kat. “I did wonder if it might be too good to be true.”
“It just might be, at that,” said Ally. “Either way, and even if it doesn’t last, which it never does, he obviously likes you.”
“I like him, too,” said Kat.
“Maybe that’s what made the difference,” said Ally, “to the sex, I mean.”
“What?” asked Kat, knowing what Ally meant, and knowing, in a way, that her sister was giving her an out, but not wanting to take it. She didn’t want to suggest that she hadn’t actually liked all the lovely, sweet, funny, clever men that she’d dated. She had liked them, and it’d made her sad, more than once, that she’d felt she’d had to give them up just because they didn’t excite her, just because they didn’t satisfy her.
The thought of it made her feel shallow. She didn’t want to relegate all those men to second-best to second-rate, to something they weren’t. She thought about the ones that had moved on, that had met and settled down with perfectly lovely women, some of whom she knew and adored. It wasn’t all about that. Some of this, maybe most of this... All of it, even, was about her, about her shortcomings, about her needs, about her desire for something else, about her search for the elusive, for the extraordinary. 
Kat could, simply, have agreed with Ally, she could have said that was it exactly; she could have agreed that the reason everything had been so lovely with Joel, including the sex, was that she liked him more than the others. In the end, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it, so she swallowed hard, and she did the other thing.
“I’ve never dated anyone I didn’t like,” said Kat, gently, but firmly. “I adored some of the men I dated; they were funny and charming and clever, and even you couldn’t deny that.”
“I wouldn’t deny it,” said Ally, “and I probably would have found them all of those things, too, if I’d dated them, but I’m talking about liking them, not just liking them. Sex is just sex until you really, thoroughly, properly like someone.”
Kat almost choked on the malted that she knew she shouldn’t have ordered with the mac and cheese, because she knew all that fat would come back to haunt her some time. 
Once she’d coughed and swallowed and taken a sip of the water that she always ordered as a back-up, even though she almost never drank it, Kat said, “You really are the most terrible romantic, Ally.”
“It’s still true,” said Ally.
“You honestly believe that sex has something to do with love?” asked Kat.
“Don’t you?” asked Ally.
“That would explain an awful lot,” said Kat, thinking about all the awful sex she’d had with all those men who now appeared to have perfectly contented wives. “No, I don’t believe that for a moment. Sex is... mechanical. It’s about what you like, and maybe a bit about why you like it. It’s got nothing to do with what you feel about the person you’re doing it with.”
“Really?” asked Ally, sitting back in her half of the booth, her back straight, prim somehow, and reminding Kat very strongly of their mother.
“Really!” said Kat.
“What about love at first sight?” asked Ally.
“What about it?” asked Kat. “How has that got anything to do with sex?”
“You don’t think the sweating palms and the increased heart-rate and the swollen lips and the adrenalin surge and all that stuff have got as much to do with sex as anything else?”
“I’m sure they’ve got everything to do with sex,” said Kat, “but what have they got to do with love?”
“Endorphins,” said Ally.
“Endorphins?” asked Kat. “The same stuff you get from too much exercise or from opiates... let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, from a good laugh. Some people even say you can get endorphins from yoga, and sex, of course, but love?”
“You’ll see,” said Ally. “When you’ve been in love with the same man for as long as I have, and when the sex has always been as happy as it has been for us... Well... You’ll see.”
“I’m happy for you, Ally... The happiest, but I’m not in love with him... I’m not,” said Kat.
“OK,” said Ally. “If you say not, but then, what makes the sex so great, all of a sudden? Tell me that,” said Ally.
“I don’t know,” said Kat. “It’s just... It’s just... We’re compatible. We fit. We like the same things, the same rhythms. We find the same... the same... I can’t explain it, Ally... It just works.”
“Well, in my experience,” said Ally. “Nothing just works, but some things are just meant to be.”
“Well don’t hold your breath, Ally, and don’t go buying a hat,” said Kat.
“Isn’t there supposed to be something terribly auspicious about meeting a partner at a wedding?” asked Ally. “There’s a saying; I wish I could remember how it went.”
“Don’t remember,” said Kat. “Really... Don’t remember.”
“But it was good?” asked Ally, leaning towards Kat, conspiratorially, across the remains of their lunches.
“Really, really good,” said Kat, breaking into a broad smile.
“Honest to God,” said Ally, “I never in a million years thought I’d hear you say that. I hoped I would, but I never thought I would, and the older you got the more hopeless it all seemed.”
“What do you mean, the older I got?” asked Kat. “I’m not even thirty yet!”
“I was married with two kids by the time I was your age,” said Ally.
“You were,” conceded Kat, “but you are very, very special.

“You know it,” said Ally, smiling.

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