Stringless..?

One eye opened first, then the other. She felt groggy. It took a few attempts to fully open her eyes before it finally took, but she kept them squinted. The tiny shed of light coming through the block-out drapes felt more blinding than it really was.

 

She turned over and faced the man lying there, so completely lost in sleep. She scrunched her mouth to one side, trying to figure out how lightly she’d need to carry herself to get out of bed, and the apartment unnoticed. She watched him for a few seconds, studying his breathing. She examined his face; dark eyebrows that matched his messy brown hair – he styled it that way; 30 minutes of scrunching and tugging to achieve the ‘woke up like this’ look. His strong jawline was feathered by dark five o’clock shadow that grew relatively quickly just days after shaving. Her eyes trailed down to his shoulders and upper back and followed the muscle definition contained within his shoulders and back. He wasn’t a bulky guy, but took enough pride in his health and appearance that he liked to keep in shape. He was by all definitions ‘a man’.

 

She slid out of the bed, nearly reluctantly. It was almost unbearably comfortable; firm and cradling mattress and covered by undoubtedly high thread count linens and cushioned by the most embracing pillows she’d ever laid her head on. It was one of the handful of decadent comforts she’d come to enjoy while staying there. She stood up and brushed her messy hair out of her face while she pondered the floor around the room for her clothes. She normally had a spare outfit stowed away, but this was an unplanned visit and all she had were her clothes from the night before – hardly the modest ensemble one would wear in the middle of the day. She picked up her red bra and panties, and quickly put them on, as though she was afraid someone would burst through the door and see her standing there, panda eyed and naked. She glanced at his light blue business shirt sprawled on the floor over on the other side of the room, considered it for a moment before quickly dismissing it. She knew it was some kind of turn on for men; seeing women wearing nothing but their oversized shirts after a night of out of this world sex, but her chest and hips were far too womanly for this man’s shirt, which was tailored for his relatively slender build.

 

They’d met at a stock market themed bar two months earlier. After all, don’t all great romances start with floating drink prices? The bar had since closed down, mid-GFC, which wasn’t uncommon for the city given the economic climate. Dozens of trendy, but niche bars were closing down, unable to carry the weight of the financial world on their shoulders.
She was there with a friend, and friends of friends, celebrating a birthday. The birthday girl had picked this bar, excited at the prospect of scoring typically expensive cocktails at cheap prices when the ‘stock market’ (read: bar) crashed every hour. He was there with work friends, who had, over time, become his core group of friends. They were all in real estate and property development, hoping to make it big and develop the next big casino or lux apartment complex. Many of his friends had long term girlfriends, and those who didn’t would scurry away to the seedy side of town, and hop from strip bar to strip bar after the group went their separate ways.
He saw her approach the bar alone, but had seen her come from a group sitting in a booth towards the back of the venue. She wore her blonde hair straight and it framed her round, yet somewhat angular face well. She looked young, but her presence oozed mental and emotional maturity. She wore a black dress that fitted her bodice and draped out at the waist and just grazed over her hips, very Melbourne, while he donned his normal work suit. Casual Fridays weren’t his style – he always liked to look his absolute best even if it was at after-after work drinks. He slid towards her slowly as she politely ordered a drink from the bartender.
“Beer?” He questioned, mocking bewilderment, “beer is for the masses!”
She looked over at him, a smile hiding in the corners of her mouth. She glanced up at the digital drink price sign, which was rapidly changing, and then back at him.
“Actually, mojitos are for the masses of which you are apparently one,” she said cooly, nodding towards his highball glass. She kept her eyes on him, challenging him. He kept her stare, but quickly broke into a smile, which always made women crazy. She was no exception – she held her stare, but her eyes faltered.
“Let me buy you a drink,” he demanded playfully.
“Well, I just ordered a beer and I’d hate for you to invest in something so common,” she replied, just as cooly as before, seemingly regaining her demeanour.  She was normally much more animated and lively, but enjoyed a silver tongued exchange when she could find someone willing to take her on. A new bartender approached him, raising his eyebrows, which, in packed-bar speak, was asking for an order. He smiled again before turning to the bartender.
“Can I get two of the cheapest most dirty beers you’ve got mate?” He asked, leaving the bartender somewhat confused, but still obliging. He returned shortly with two tall brown bottles dressed with dark red labels.
“Melbourne Bitter? God, I’d love to say this is a new low for me, but sadly it’s just a new middle,” she joked, taking one of the drinks in her free hand while her other held a Corona.  She looked up at him, smiled and tapped her bottle with his before taking a sip. They walked over to a nearby lounge and sat down, talking for what felt like hours about work (real estate), school (politics), favourite cartoons, travel, grossest things they’d done as dares, and anything else that managed to pop into their minds. It wasn’t until last call that they realised their respective group of friends had left without saying goodbye, each group assuming their friend was sorted for the night.
“Well, this leaves me without a ride home,” she mused, grabbing her phone from her gold clutch bag to check for messages from her friends, of which there were many – most of which were teasing texts about ‘banking the suit’ and other mildly amusing double entendres.
“You could crash at mine?” He asked. He wanted to sound much cooler than that, but he wasn’t normally so forward or direct. In work, yes, but never in play. He’d seen too many of his friends strike out using cheesy pick up lines that he always played it safe. She glanced up, shrugged her shoulders and clutched her bag and phone in one hand and his hand in her other before standing up.
“Let’s go then, suit.”
“Oh, by the way, my name is-” he started to say, suddenly realising they’d passed social niceties in favour of innuendo back at the bar.
“It doesn’t really matter, though, does it?” She questioned, not faltering for a second as they walked out of the bar.

 

It had started out so magically – there was no promise of love or long term commitment, but there was still the excitement of romance and wooing and flirting – all the fun stuff that comes with seeing someone new, without the obligation of a long term relationship. They knew perfectly well they weren’t meant to be. He was a 32 year old property developer and she was a 19 year old university student with a sharp mind and mouth. Not only did they not want to meet each other’s networks, but they couldn’t. His group was made up of 30-something like minded guys with 27 year old girlfriends, and her group was made up of 19 year old like-minded students and retail assistants with similarly aged boyfriends or similarly aged one nighters. His friends liked women a certain way – privately educated but not actually learned. Her friends liked guys a certain way – progressively educated hipsters. They knew they saw something in each other that they couldn’t quite define to their friends – or rather, they just didn’t want to have to almost out of fear of losing the good stringless thing they had going.

 

Week after week, she would slink in his apartment. They would go out for extravagant dinners, drink unnecessarily expensive liquor and load up before returning to his opulent half-penthouse apartment that sat right in the heart of the city and overlooked key sites, and tear each other apart with mind blowing sex. The follow morning, they’d wake up, make breakfast and he’d call a private car to make sure she got home safe. She’d have the driver, usually Tom, drop her around the corner from her parent’s place so she could tell them she’d gotten the train after staying at her friend’s place following a night out, which was her go to alibi every weekend. Being 19, no one questioned her either. Her face was young – round, a little babyish when she didn’t have makeup on, and completely trusting. She was able to get away with what so many others couldn’t have without actually needing to say anything or defend herself. Most just assumed she wouldn’t be capable of anything conniving or duplicitous. Sometimes it wasn’t a total lie – she’d go out with her friends and exchange a few sly texts with him and would peel off to get to his apartment, feigning tiredness or illness to break away from the group, but promptly sneaking up to street to meet him for stimulation – sexual and mental. She enjoyed his real world knowledge – so many of her friends at school had such a pretentious and ignorant view on the world, and she appreciated his experience and life smarts that she always felt were more valuable than book smarts. They rarely discussed their personal lives with one another, instead opting for post-sex debates on politics, the economy, Family Guy vs The Simpsons, and music. It was no strings, without the walk of shame the morning after.  It was easy – in every sense of the word.

She furrowed around the bedroom floor and finally found her fitted red dress from the night before. She picked it up and examined it, as though she was trying to figure out if it was suitable to wear, despite not having a choice. It was that or nothing – literally. She squinted and pulled the bottom corner of the dress closer to her and fixated on a faded white patch. She rolled her eyes – she knew it wasn’t that kind of white stain; arriving early was never his issue. She walked quickly, but silently out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her and into the open plan apartment and headed to the kitchen for better lighting. She laid the dress on the white marble bench and started scratching at the stain, which was coming off easily enough. She glanced up and saw the white dried up lines on his shiny glass dining room table with over rolled bank notes not far from them, the early afternoon sun beaming through the floor to ceiling windows and right onto the table; onto the scene. She sighed and rubbed her eyes in the palm of her hands as a thumping in her head set in. Like when a cartoon character runs off a cliff and only actually falls down when they stop and realise there’s no ground beneath them, these kinds of headaches only really hit her one she remembered its source. She fumbled through his cupboards for a glass and promptly filled it with water, completely forgetting her woman of the night red dress laid askew over the kitchen bench. She reached for the cupboard above the fridge and opened it, knowing exactly what she needed. Right in front was a neat box of spices and herbs, mostly untouched – he didn’t cook. She pulled the box down and reached even further back, almost out of reach and felt around for the smaller box she was desperately seeking. She stood on the tips of her toes to give herself the slightest extra bit of height and finally clutched at the tablet box she was after and pulled it down. She pulled out the silver sheet and popped out two of the Endone tablets. He was certainly well connected and easily able to get his hands on anything he wanted – premium liquor, fine suits, top notch blow and hard to reach prescription drugs. And she was certainly observant, learning quickly that he hid his Endone and oxy behind a boring spice collection in his kitchen, rather than in a bathroom cabinet, where most would look first.

She popped the seal for two tablets and laid them next to her water before carefully placing the box at the back of the cupboard and meticulously placing the spice collection in front of it just as she’d found it. She clutched at her glass of water and threw the two tablets in her mouth and took a mouthful of water. She poured the rest of the water down the deep kitchen sink and sought refuge on the cold tiled kitchen floor, laying down to wait for the pounding come-down headache to pass. She sighed, realising herself – hair amess, scantily clad body and tender nose. She closed her eyes and muttered to herself; “well this is exactly where I thought I’d be in my first year out of school.”

 

She’d done this before; this was almost weekly routine now, if not more. They’d get back from dinner, do a quick line or two after sharing a bottle or five of wine and completely un-inhibit themselves. It started about two weeks into their trist when she met he and two of his work friends out at an exclusive men’s parlour – the only time she met any of his friends. She’d been worried at first, not wanting this chance meeting to trigger more of the like and then suddenly being taken to family dinner and talking linens and casserole recipes with his disapproving Mother. Though, once she arrived and found his friends completely high, she was oddly relieved – she knew they wouldn’t remember. They had a private room with a few typically named dancers – Candee and Trinitee, who were tending to the needs of his apparently very needy friends.  He pulled a rolled note from his friend’s hand and offered it to her, not verbally asking – more just raising his eyebrows and nodding at the neat white lines on the small square mirror resting on the table in front of them. She went to shake her head and say no and that she’d never done it before because she was only 19, but she realised how ‘young’ that would have sounded in itself, especially considering the part of town she was from. She looked at the crushed white powder and at him, and quickly grabbed the tightly bound note from his hand and leaned over the table, held one nostril down and sniffed as much as she could in one go. She wasn’t one to make rash decisions like that –always careful and calculated and never reckless, but she just felt compelled to live outside her skin for once. She wasn’t sure what would happen next or how long it would take to kick in, but didn’t want to ask. For the first time, she actually cared what he thought and didn’t want him to uncover any sign of naivety; any reminder of how much younger she was. She just sat back and watched his friends, whose names she already couldn’t remember, or care for, as they poured out their wallets for their dancers, who were more than happy to oblige – until the end of each song of course. By the end of the first song post line, she felt her body completely relax. By the end of the second song, her mind had peaked; she felt ecstatic, excited, accomplished, ambitious, giggly, flirty, sexy, and euphoric all at once – one thought lead directly to another, which lead to another, and then another, and another within seconds. By the end of the third song her mind blanked. It wasn’t until she woke up the next morning, half naked, with her suit, his friend and Trinitee or Candee (who the fuck could remember?) sprawled in bed altogether that she was able to capture the essence of the lost night. She couldn’t for the life of her remember, but it was still completely clear to her.

 

She rubbed her forehead and somehow willed herself up from the comfort of the cold, tiled kitchen floor and stood up, using her arm to shield the sunlight from hitting her face. She dragged herself across to the main bathroom and closed the door behind her and stood in front of the basin, kicking the shag rug out from under her feet so she could feel the cold tiles beneath her. She turned on the cold water and splashed it on her face, rubbing it into her skin, desperate to absorb it. She reached for her toothbrush that he’d bought for her and squeezed toothpaste onto it and shoved it into her mouth. She hated morning breath and morning hungover breath was just something she wouldn’t tolerate – coke comedown or not. She lifted her gaze to the mirror and caught herself. The lighting in this bathroom was completely unforgiving and it was not forgiving her at all. Her normally glowing youthful skin looked tired. Her nose was red and tender. Her eyes, beyond the morning after eye makeup, seemed different – they’d lost their sparkle and life. They seemed glazed over, but not like she was going to cry – just as though she were not present. She continued to stare as she brushed her teeth – she wanted to look away and ignore the truth literally staring at her in the face, but knew it was exactly what she needed. She spat the remaining toothpaste into the sink and rinsed it away. She rubbed the black makeup away from her eyes and washed the remnants from her hands and stepped out of the bathroom and quietly opened the bedroom door. He was still sleeping deeply as she tip-toed over to his bedside table and grabbed his phone. She unlocked it, having seen him enter his password a few weeks earlier and making a mental note of it, almost premeditating this exact moment. She navigated her way through his messages, his call logs, contact list and emails and deleted every trace of her. She was thorough, digitally wiping herself from his life and making sure there was no trace of her to be found. She locked the phone and placed it exactly as she had found it, next to his keys, wallet and empty vile. She scrunched her mouth to one side again, reconsidering momentarily as she looked at him sleep. There was nothing wrong with him – he was warm, attentive, and impeccable in bed. She didn’t even think the issue was with her – she was still certain of who she was and where she was going. But together they were becoming self-destructive – too comfortable in the situation they’d launched themselves into to speak up, but both knowing deep down that they weren’t meant to be making such an impact on each other’s lives. She’d deleted more photos of the two of them from his phone than she’d realised they’d taken and felt uncomfortable being such a presence in his life. She pursed her lips and furrowed her brows, and affirmed to herself she’d made the right choice. She turned around, quickly scanned the room for any tangible trace of her being there and darted out of the room. She made her way to the kitchen and pulled her dress over her head as she walked around the apartment and gathered her own phone, bag and shoes and headed out of the apartment, closing his door behind her.