Authors: Sarah Michelle Lynch
“You’re a photographer, then?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “All my life.”
I leered and decided, “You’re wet behind the ears. How is it you’re here, I mean… aren’t you too young to be a freelancer?”
I wanted to know everything about the man. I was really hoping for an age above 26. Cougar was not a label I wanted for myself.
He laughed lightly. “You’re a journo alright.”
“Sorry, it’s just that… you’re the only one apart from Ash and Trev that I’ve spoken to here.”
“You’ll make more friends, Chloe. This is
your first day,” he said to comfort me. “This place is just fast, and when you get up to speed, you’ll understand it then.”
Though really, I didn’t understand. Didn’t think I ever would, either.
Anyway, I was still wondering about his age…
“Twenty-five?” I guessed, like the forward bint I was.
He snickered, still busying himself in the formulation of hot, caffeine drinks.
“Twenty-five in a few months,” he said, his American accent deepening. His cute smile crinkled the corners of his mouth and the way his cut cheekbones carried that blush made me instantly aroused.
, I repeated inside my head. How had it only taken 24 years to perfect that heavy body, that sarcastic undertone, that magnetism he exhibited in treating me like a lady?
“Shit, 24?” Oh my god. Suddenly the realistic (very small) portion of my brain was so disappointed. He was far too young for me. However, the revelation gave me the edge then. If we were never to be paired outside the workplace, we could be paired within. I could make an ally of him. A friend. “And already a freelancer?”
“I like to keep the job interesting, you know? The image archive here is a big pull, it’s one of the most substantial in the world… I can dip my hand in, shutter time or not. Sure I get work in New York, but I need to escape sometimes, you know? Even if just for a while.”
I knew exactly what he meant but I didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing. Where I came from, this—what I was doing with my life—was entirely alien to those back home. I’d clawed, scratched and scrambled for what I wanted out of life.
“You must have some connections then, Cai?” The minute I said his name, I knew I liked it on my lips. Knew that it suited him and that I’d like to say it in other circumstances, in places other than at work.
I’d dated normal, ordinary guys I suppose. Working-class geezers. Big, lumbering men. Muscles. Sweat. My type. Yet none of them kept my attention, for one reason or another.
Just because I didn’t want marriage, babies, or to live with someone—didn’t mean I hadn’t had my pick. In fact sex was often the one thing that took my mind off the boxes and the lines. I got accustomed to flings and no expectations. It was hard to admit to myself, but the truth was, I didn’t need a man telling me what to do. Men in general posed a risk as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t cope with that—the memories associated with suffocating control could send me into a tailspin of organising all my shelves of books, or notes. It was kind of why I’d thrown all that crap out, knowing there’d be no room in my life in London to get bogged down with alphabetizing DVDs every evening.
Cai seemed embarrassed to admit, “My aunt is kinda big in the media world. It opens doors.”
My half-hour lunch was nearly over and I decided to take a leap of faith. “I’d like to know more about your work. I’d like to see it, if you want?”
He turned and smiled with a sincere expression. “Sure.”
My heart skipped a beat and I knew I wanted him. Also, I knew his answer was ominous and that for him to commit to any kind of promise early on… was a risk for him, too. I gathered from his intense eye stares, he was stricken as much as me.
Once outside the kitchen, people on the other side of the door were going to know what was already happening.
He handed me my coffee and we turned to the door, bumping into one another as we zoomed toward escape from the sexual tension residing in that room. It’d probably ferment inside those walls and spread to everyone else, it was so palpable.
As our shoulders knocked, I looked sideways. His deep-blue eyes were framed by dark lashes and sleek brows. He stopped still and remarked, “I could make a stunning photograph of just your one eye.”
I was stuck to the spot with surprise. “Shut up!”
We laughed it off, Cai blushing as furiously as me. He opened the door for me and we left the room. What I really wanted was to snog him senseless.
He was at my side until we reached my desk and, he was gone again. I thought about discovering what shade of blue his eyes were with a Google search but Trev was there waiting for me.
AFTER Trevor loaded me up with a ton of information, on top of everything else, he abruptly left me to it at three p.m. after he got called to deal with a crisis somewhere. I didn’t know what his exact job title was, perhaps, ‘Sorter of Shit and Breaker of Free Will’, you know, something like that.
So, there I sat refreshing my email inbox every five minutes, hoping for a message from Kincaid. Perhaps even something random from a colleague sat nearby. I fired off a couple of emails to friends back home with my new, professional signature—but none of them replied either. My mind wandered with thoughts such as…
Did they go to spam?
Should I just mail Kincaid? Am I already out the door and they’re just debating how best to break the news?
The day felt so long I was sure time stopped still at certain points, just to spite me. When five p.m. arrived, it was a mass exodus. I overhead lots of people communicating to each other, little convos along the lines of, “Let’s Skype tonight about that.” OR, “We’ll meet at Leicester Square at eight to talk it out.”
Problems. Concerns. Hmm? Possible affairs outside the office more like it! If those little insights into cliques and bonds already formed within the company didn’t make me feel left out in the cold, I didn’t know what else would.
I bumped into Kincaid at the bottom of the stairs as I stopped to adjust my bag before the long walk home. He wore a leather jacket, shoulder bag and light-blue woollen scarf. He dipped his head in acknowledgement and his nostrils flared, yet he stepped right past me and out into the cool, spring air. I watched him standing on the top step outside, like he was waiting for a lift. Then I realised, he was waiting for something else—me to follow him. Either that, or ask him out.
I didn’t have anything to lose so I stood alongside him and murmured, “You… wanna grab a drink?”
“Sure,” was his response. “What’s your neighbourhood? I’m in Chelsea, so…”
“I’m in Notting Hill. I like to walk it so if you just wanna go somewhere close, take the edge off the day… I’ll start walking home after that.”
“Deal,” he agreed, blinking quickly. It seemed a relief that I only wanted a drink and wasn’t suggesting we make a night of it.
We only walked a short while before we found the Duke of York and piled in with what looked like a lot of other company workers. He went to the bar while I found two stools up against a window. When he brought me a G&T, I could have cried.
I didn’t stand on ceremony and got it down my throat as fast as possible, draining the glass so quickly, he gaped. I took a deep breath and apologised, “I really needed that! It’s been a tough day!”
My nerves were shredded and that just wasn’t me, I was usually in charge and confident. The truth of it all was, all day I’d had that niggling fear in the back of my mind:
They’ll say I’ve abandoned them again
Cai supped his pint of Stella and pursed his lips, eyebrows raised. He was quiet, still. I was usually the one doing all the talking, no matter the place, situation or person. I just had a big gob.
He stared so hard it made me nervous.
“You feel sorry for me, don’t you?” I began, my index finger rimming the empty glass.
Living in Chelsea… you must be rich, educated and worldly. Women fall at your feet. I’ve got a faint Barnsley accent
I was so ready to go up to the bar and get myself another.
“I don’t.” He shook his head vehemently.
“Then what?” I felt my brow furrow.
“I have to say it?” His shoulders fell forward, his hands clasped together. He looked at the floor to hide what he was really thinking, though whether I’d be able to judge this closed book regardless was uncertain.
“Yeah, come on. Nobody else is nice to me all day, except you. I don’t get it.” I picked at my nails, trying to ignore how strongly attracted I was to this boy/man. It was ridiculous how beautiful he was.
“Well,” he looked into my eyes briefly, his hands now open, “let’s not sweat semantics this early on. You only started today, yeah? I’m a good guy and I saw you looking helpless. I think you’re funny… so here we are.”
His response didn’t satisfy me at all. “Do they know I got put forward for this job? Is that the reason for all their iciness? I swear I sat within inches of other human beings who didn’t acknowledge me once, not once today.”
He looked up quickly and scanned my face. I saw his shock at my forward approach but I wasn’t going to hide from anything, not least my friendship with Klaus Häuser, a notable figure in the media world.
“Not many people are so honest. Where I come from, few are,” he remarked, his voice strained. “It’s refreshing.”
he didn’t act like he was 24. There was something old about his soul. It all clicked for me—I wasn’t imagining it. We did have a connection, I felt it. The way he looked at me, yet was so restrained—told me there were other things he was worried about. Our age difference was the least of it.
“Your own connections are frowned on… so you empathise? You thought you may have an ally in me?” I reasoned that was his
, or something. Hell, our meeting might have been random but something told me it wasn’t. I’d have loved to hear him say he just thought I was pretty. I’d not had anyone tell me that in a long, long time. I hadn’t let anyone get close… ooh, in about ten years. This guy was making me wonder the hell why.
He coughed lightly, “Yeah! Maybe. Like I said… semantics.”
“Another drink? I’m getting another.” I arched a brow.
He put his hand on top of his glass and shook his head. “No. You go for it, though. Please god, take the edge of your first day if not for yourself, for me!”
I went to the bar half-laughing and asked for my second G&T, feeling stung by the price! Christ! I was wondering more and more why I’d left my native land behind.
Wobbling with my double in hand as I went back to Kincaid, I spotted his hand shaking as he lifted his glass to his lips—and I wondered. Who was this guy?
I’d barely eaten all day so maybe I wasn’t thinking 100 per cent clearly. I’d been a nervous wreck for most of it. Now, I was drunk almost. On one drink. And my second was a double.
I felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding. Like something terrible was going to go wrong for me if I wasn’t wary of Kincaid. Something about him had my senses tingling with suspicion. Trepidation. Wonder. Intrigue, even. Most guys would have asked for my number by now, might have tried to give me a kiss, and most certainly would have arranged a date at a restaurant, not a drink in the office local.
When I got back and plonked myself on the stool once more, I joked, “This is my last otherwise I’ll have to take out another credit card just for booze!”
His smiling eyes hid his strain well, though his fiddling hands didn’t. “You guys all sound Australian to me but I’m guessing you’re not from London?”
I laughed to myself.
“Hmm, no. Where I’m from you can still get a pint for less than two quid. I used to work for a local, regional rag in Sheffield where I spewed essays worthy of doctorates. Maybe nobody ever read any of it… all I know is the pieces filled space. It paid the bills but I don’t remember the last time I took a holiday, or went on a real splurge of a shopping spree, you know? In this country you don’t get dealt a good hand in journalism without a break. It’s the toughest place in the world to be a professional writer… trust me, I know.”
He sipped some beer without his hand shaking, so perhaps my talking had relaxed him. “Some of those guys back at the stead… they kinda have sticks up their asses, don’t they?”