Thursday, December 05, 2013

She knew she was pretty. Well, beautiful would be more accurate. She couldn't help it. She'd always been the prettiest child. The one strangers stopped in the streets to coo over. The one who always got given far too many presents at birthdays and Christmas just because people couldn't help themselves. The one who was always conveniently placed front centre in photos to elevate domestic scenarios to something rarefied and important.

And the one who was always surrounded by people. Because the beautiful obviously attract not just the beautiful but those who wish they were beautiful too. They weren't to know - and she was a kind girl so she didn't ever mention it - that just hanging around with someone attractive wouldn't automatically make you attractive. No. Good looks came from within. From having a beautiful soul. And that radiated out through cheekbones placed just so, eyes with an inbuilt mischievous twinkle, hair as lustrous as a chestnut thoroughbred (probably more lustrous as a thoroughbred's hair is probably quite coarse in actuality) and a body. Well, let's just say a body that wouldn't be disgraced if it were sculpted from marble. Which had been promised to her, incidentally, by numerous busy-fingered boys over the years.

It was pretty inevitable that she'd end up with MA. The smartest recruit to officer training college that year. Impeccable academic credentials (not that she was interested in any of that but she was told that it was important), a born leader, charming as the day was long. Their eyes met across the ballroom, flooded with gold braid after the passing out parade. (This wasn't chance, incidentally. She'd spent the night until that point shrugging off approaches and prowling around the dance floor like a cat, waiting for an appropriate opportunity for this catching of eyes. She'd instantly figured out that he was the alpha male in the room. People swirled around him in exactly the same way that they swirled around her when she was out of an evening.) He made a beeline for her. "I don't think I know you." His eyes guzzled up her perfectly toned physique, encased in royal blue silk (chosen tactically to denote royalty, even though her parentage couldn't remotely be described as anything so illustrious). "You don't know me," she replied, modestly casting her eyes down to the floor. She'd waited her whole life for this moment. "Yet."

The photographers were circling the Senate building when they left - and one smart arse managed to snap his hand loitering on her posterior. Front page of Salve magazine the next day. But that suited her down to the ground. If he'd had more than a second of doubt after a carefully calculatedly torrid night of passion, he'd have talked himself out of it when confronted with the collective euphoria of the press.

Being the golden couple - the Antony and Cleopatra of their day - was all she ever wanted. For several years. She lunched. She got her nails done. She had full body wraps of exquisite Arabian seaweed to try and preserve the svelteness of youth. She drank carrot juice. And gin and tonic - only 33 calories a portion. She sporadically clutched onto his arm when he needed to appear 2.4 children socially acceptable in public. Which was increasingly less often as time went on. And she waited for him to come home.

"You're with him again, aren't you?" she found herself shrieking with disappointing frequency. She hadn't known until this point that she was capable of shrieking. Beautiful people shouldn't need to shriek. She'd thought.

"He might come in useful," he'd reply, with a steely finality. "He's the heir to the throne if anything - untoward - happens to Caesar. We'll both benefit if we keep on the right side of him." He was pretty, young Octavius. She had to concede that. But a little empty headed, she thought. And she knew that for her to notice that, was quite something.

She was waiting in the foyer for him one night. She'd been downgraded to "official accompanier home" rather than actual companion for the evening. Which, let's be honest, she found depressing. But she still got her lunches and her manicures and her seaweed wraps. And the designers still badgered her - let me design this for you - just wear these for me. So she thought she should probably take the minor personal emotional inconvenience on the chin. So she'd arrived at the back entrance, in just enough time to catch his arm when he strode out of the busy fray and exit through the front door to a strategically placed taxi.

When she heard a "I'm sorry, you know. He's a bit of a"

"No, I shouldn't say that."

She turned. A man dressed in black lurking at the back of the foyer, fiddling with a cigarette, black eyes, black hair. Looked like he had never quite fit anywhere but he didn't wholly care.


We've not met."

He chuckled. "A hundred times. We've met a hundred times. But you've never noticed me."

"I'm sorry, I don't"

"It's alright. I prefer it that way. The people who need to know who I am."

"A man of mystery."

"Not that. I just. Can't be a

Can't be bothered with small talk. That's all."

"I hate it too." She allowed herself a half smile, even though that risked showing off her gums. But it was 2am. She'd not left the house for the whole day previously as she didn't want the natural pollution in the air to tarnish her glowing skin. And she thought she might allow herself a moment to kick back and be herself with this mysterious stranger in black.

"You must be fed up of this."

"No. I."

"I've watched you, you know. You're very faithful. Very obliging. Eager to please, I suppose. But he's really taking the p


"I'd do anything for someone I loved. Really loved." She held his gaze. Brazen. The more gins and fewer tonics suddenly made her feel a little bit dizzy.

"I don't believe in love."

"You don't believe in love??" She was aware of herself opening her eyes very widely and - maybe accidentally - fluttering her eyelashes, like the cartoon princess in Enchanted when she's trying to make all the woodland creatures come to her window.

"It's a lot of romantic bollocks. Invented by Salve to sell more copies. It's not real. True love is loving but not telling someone because you think you'd scare them off. None of this posing for the papers flashy showy off nonsense. True love is what you feel here." He thumped his fist into his stomach.

And she felt something in her stomach flutter in sympathy.

"I'd do anything. Really anything. For someone I loved. Really loved." Conscious again of the gin. "I'd shout it from the rooftops. I'd get it tattooed on me. Their name. Here, on my chest, for always. I'd "

She paused.

"What? What would you do, fair lady?" said the man in black.

She faltered.

Beautiful, yes. Once commended, at any rate. But no-one had ever called her a lady.

She tried to speak. Her voice caught in her throat.

"Tell me." And now he looked frightened. Or rather, frightened at how much he was interested in what she would say next.

"I'd - I think I'd - (watch the gin) I'd (oh bugger it) I'd give myself a voluntary wound in the thigh."

His eyes met hers. Where previously, she'd only seen reserve - apprehension - now she saw. What? A little 'trust me'. A little 'let me in'. A little 'I'd like to really like to would I? yes. really like to get to know you a little bit better' lurking somewhere way back there in his dark dark diffident shy eyes.

Her hands shook as she fumbled in her purse for the once so quickly depleted and now rarely touched stocks of her contact details card.

"Call me." And she turned on her heel, stalked out of the foyer alone, into the waiting taxi and was driven off into the night.


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