‘It’s pretty straightforward. Especially for the girl.’
For a moment she regretted the missed opportunities. The sixth-form boyfriend who’d sat on his four-poster bed and presented her with an ultimatum two weeks into their relationship. The beautiful houseguest with a reputation, looking for ‘a bit of fun’; and it would have been fun at the time, but the next day she’d have felt horribly empty and alone.
She didn’t kid herself that he was perfect, or even a very good person, but the attraction was too strong. When she was with him, she forgot the long delays between texts; she forgot everything, lost in his kiss. Should she tell him it was her first time? Probably not; but she might, if only to save on his laundry bill.
The morning of the day they had fixed on, she was the smiling commuter in a sea of blank, humourless faces. The smile that she couldn’t repress gave her confidence. She skipped up escalators, danced to her music, helped a mother carry a pram down steps. At work, nothing was too much trouble. One client sang her praises to the manager: ‘charming and polite’. She glowed. She was torn between savouring the day, not wanting it to come to an end; and wishing it over, wishing herself a tube ride away.
Five o’clock came. She barricaded herself into the loo and stripped down to her bra, studying her reflection. Slowly, she washed and dried herself, reapplied her scent. There was no hurry. Sometime after six, she had said. She pulled on a favourite V-neck and smiled, imagining his hands, first on it, then under it, unhooking her bra, cupping her breasts, caressing her nipples. She felt a wave of pleasure, and leant back against the wall, eyes closed. He was before her, stroking her face, lightly, that strange fluttering motion. The first time he’d done that was two weeks ago. They were crossing a square in the early hours, coming together at intervals, like butterflies. The brush of his fingers had made her moan and they had both laughed at the sound.
On the tube, she tried to read. The same sentence, over and over. Eventually she gave up, gave in to thinking of him, what he would say on opening the door. He would probably take her hand, kiss her, lead her inside. His flatmate, she had met, before she knew that they lived together. She had a feeling he liked her, so it might be a little awkward. But that would pass, and they would laugh and joke. Then he, he would whisper something to her and take her hand again, fingers interlaced. Up the stairs, pausing on the landing to find each other’s lips and tongues, his hands warm against her skin. His room was at the top of the house, he’d told her. Another staircase.
Inside. He would lead her to the bed…. She leant back in her seat, unable to focus.
She emerged onto the pavement half-hoping to see him there, headphones in, slouched against the wall. She dismissed the vague feeling of disappointment and bent her steps in the direction of the house. It was a good thing that she was alone; the walk would give her time to compose herself, to practice what she might say.
Her phone shook: a new message. She’d turned the sound off en route.
‘Hey, sorry, will have to cancel. Something’s come up.’
She stopped. A little way off, she could see where his street branched off the main road. For a moment, she thought about going on; then she turned and retraced her steps.