Love. Lust. Lost. Ch. 01byknownobounds©
This story takes place in September 2004
I hit the fire door with the palm of my hand so hard, it slammed the wall and the boom echoed back up the stairwell. I stepped out into afternoon sunshine, it was a bright but cool early autumn day, but beads of sweat shone on my forehead and my shirt clung to my skin. My cheeks burned like embers and I panted as I tried by drag myself under control.
I leant against the bare brick wall, running my hands through my hair and drew in a deep lung-full of cold air. I held it until my heart began to slow, then blew it out through pursed lips.
I rubbed my eyes with my fingertips before staring across the street, suddenly conscious that I was drawing the attention of passers-by. I tried to smile at a middle-aged woman who fired me a nervous glance, but it even felt more like a grimace. She turned away and scurried off.
I turned to step out onto the pavement, but instead swivelled around and kicked the door with the toes of my black boots. The pain that flashed up my leg brought a moment of clarity that focussed my mind.
I pulled the door back open and looked up the stairwell to the first floor that led through reception to my office and immediately felt my anger rise again.
"Fuck it." I murmured, turning again into the street. They can fucking well do without me for the rest of the day, I thought and headed up the hill towards my apartment. My mind replayed the meeting on a loop, and I watched myself storm out before I said something that jeopardised my job, if, I reminded myself, I hadn't done that anyway by leaving - not even pausing long enough to retrieve my coat, I realised as the wind bit through my suit jacket.
I stuffed my hands into my trouser pockets and hunched my shoulders against the cold. Almost subconsciously, I stepped through the doors of a pub suddenly in need of a drink to cleanse the day away.
I helped the door shut with the sole of my foot and blinked heavily, again rubbing my eyes with my fingertips, finally feeling in control of my anger.
The bar was all but deserted, it was only about 4 o'clock after all, but I realised after a moment of staring unashamedly that I recognised the girl at the bar. In fact, I had a ticket to her gig the following night and I dimly recalled that tonight was a free night in her schedule.
Just as well. I thought as I approached the polished wooden bar. I could see from her posture and an empty shot glass that she was hitting it hard, already drunk and showing no signs of stopping.
She signalled to the barman with a dismissive wave and he re-filled her shot glass with ice-cold Absolut straight from the freezer, took her money without a word and then turned his attention to me.
"Hiya. Bateman's please mate."
"Pint?" I nodded as I rested my elbows on the bar and saw the girl drain her glass in one and wipe her lips dry with the back of her hand.
The barman placed my pint on the brass drip tray as a tablespoon of creamy head slid down the side of the glass. I slipped onto the high stool and saw him glance cautiously at the girl, probably wondering if she was going to be trouble.
"Anything else, mate?" he asked in a broad south Australian accent. I nodded.
"And another one of those." I said pointing at the empty shot glass. He shrugged, his body language said simply, Your funeral, and he refilled her glass before taking the note I offered him between the polished wooden beer pumps.
Our eyes connected via the Guinness branded mirror that hung behind the bar. I raised my glass in a toast before taking a few large mouthfuls. The girl returned the gesture, this time restraining herself to just half the shot.
"Thanks." She murmured, eye contact still only established via the mirror.
"Mind if I join you?" I asked standing, ready to pull my stool across the couple of feet of scratched oak floor that separated us. She shrugged and looked at the space between us, swaying slightly as her legs dangled in free-air, not long enough to reach the footrest that circled the stool's legs.
"Free country I guess." She slurred, still staring into the mirror.
I dragged my stool beside hers, the metal feet scratching bright new scars in the wood.
We sat in silence, just two afternoon drinkers in need of a hit. She finished hers and I polished off most of my pint, the alcohol buzz beginning to relax me and she smiled weakly at me via the mirror.
I turned to face her.
"So," I said, breaking the silence, "what's this all about?" I asked, gesturing to the dry shot glass.
"Shit day." Her tone was gruff, suggesting any conversation would be one-sided.
"Now that I can drink to." I said and poured the rest of my beer down my throat, in three swift gulps, "Vodka?" I asked as the barman made his way over. She just nodded.
"Maybe just one more." She said, the veneer finally cracking and a smile breaking over her pale pink lips. The barman poured the vodka into fresh shots with a flourish, the thick glasses frosting with contact with the ice-cold spirit.
I loosened my tie and picked up my glass, holding it out towards her. Our glasses met with a dull clink.
"Shit days and cold cures." I toasted.
"Cold cures." She replied in a North American drawl and we both drank. The freezing spirit slipped smoothly down my throat, hit my stomach and spread through me like a fire-storm.
"Well," I started as the burn manifested into a warm glow, "my name's Philip and I know why my day was shit, but" I hesitated, "what's fucked yours up so badly? A multi-million selling album. A sold out tour. You're life must be a nightmare!" Having made it clear that I knew who she was, I extended my hand towards her and she shook it weakly. Her hands were small and cold and disappeared completely within my long fingers.
"Hi Philip," she said, her words like treacle, "my day's just been a pack of crap. I don't even know if there'll be a fucking show tomorrow." She shook her head, closed her eyes and drained her vodka, tipping her head back so far I thought she would topple off the stool.
Instinctively, I reached across and placed my hand between her shoulder blades, my fingers easily spanning the distance between them. She flinched and spun to face me, a dark look shrouding her gentle face, the corners of her soft mouth turned down.
"Hey." I said, holding my hands up in surrender. "Hey. I thought you were gonna fall off the damn stool. I'm sorry." I hoped my smile was disarming. "I just didn't want you to crack your head on the floor." She relaxed a little, smiled naturally and the ice-maiden seemed to melt a little.
"I'm sorry." I repeated. "Look, do you fancy grabbing a coffee?" If you have any more of that stuff, I'll have to carry you back to your hotel. How 'bout, I shout you some caffeine and you can tell me about your shitty day?"
She was silent, and the moment stretched. I figured she'd just make her excuses, crawl back to her hotel and sleep it off. I was about to say something just to break the silence, when she slipped off the stool and stood unsteadily, resting her hands on my knees as she fought for balance.
I looked down into her grey-blue eyes for the first time and realised just how beautiful she was in real life, despite her glazed stare. The faintest touch of black mascara contrasted against the perfect whiteness of her eyes, making them sparkle.
"Come on then Philip," she slurred, "let me buy you a coffee."
We sat in the corner of Starbucks in purple wing-backed armchairs, unnoticed by the smattering of customers and she worked the day out of her system. This morning's rehearsal. This afternoon's fight with the band. Then her manager. Then her publicist, and finally, her afternoon in the bar.
"The only consolation is that no one knows who the hell I am, so I can get pissed in peace." She was sat cross-legged, her feet tucked under her and her hands snuggling a second cappuccino, as staff tidied up around us. "I'd have made the 'papers back home. The barman even asked me for I.D. and still didn't know who I was." She said and I realised that she'd enjoyed the anonymity.
Despite the second caffeine injection, the alcohol was still winning the battle of her bloodstream and the hot coffee seemed only to relax her, rather than sober her up. As she paused, she yawned, hiding her mouth behind her mug.
"Well look where my tantrum got me. Pissed, shattered, stranded God knows where with God knows who." It was a rare moment of clarity and despite her tender smile, I realised how vulnerable she looked.
"Well," I said, as I placed my empty mug on the tabletop, where it was immediately whisked away by a hovering staff member, "you've got no worries there. I'm just a full-time desk jockey, part-time guitarist and only occasional psycho. I only kidnap women on a Friday, so you're in luck" I said feeling strangely at home in her company. "I've lived here most of my life and have a pretty good idea where you'll be staying, so you're not lost."
She looked at me warily, her eyes betraying a life-experience that far exceeded her nineteen years.
"Look, if you want me to go, just say. I'll point you in the right direction and be off, but I wouldn't be happy leaving anyone in your state alone." I said, wondering why I was always on the defensive. Around us, seats were being stacked on freshly scrubbed tables, and a boiling mop polished the ceramic floor tiles.
"Do you fancy me?" She blurted, totally out of the blue, her eyes suddenly focussed with a pinpoint sharpness, boring into mine as if searching my soul. I laughed nervously.
"Well I think you're very beautiful." I replied and felt my cheeks flush. Her laugh sounded unnatural, almost cynical, but her eyes never left mine.
"That's not what I asked," she said, "I asked if you fancied me."
"Yes." I said simply, but alone the word seemed to hang between us and the silence stretched uncomfortably. "I love your music. You look like you would be fun and I already enjoy your company. I think you're beautiful and yes, I do fancy you." I snapped my mouth shut as my head replayed what I'd said. It was true, but it felt wrong. "But I'm not a stalker, if that's what you think." I said, but that sounded wrong as well, so I rattled relentlessly on. "Look, we need to get out of here before they chase us out with mops. Can I walk you back? I'd feel happier knowing you were safe." I finished, relieved that I had finally stopped babbling. Avril nodded back almost imperceptibly, blinked and her gaze finally fell from mine.
"Yes please." She murmured.
She swayed as she stood but maintained her balance without support and I realised that despite the forty-five minute sabbatical, she was even more drunk than when we had left the pub. I guided her out into the evening; it was still bustling as people made their way home from work.
"So where's your hotel?" She paused and looked around, her gaze drifting from shop to shop, her arms folded across her chest. She shook her head.
"I have no fucking idea." She said and I realised as she spoke that she was shivering. The sun had also finished work and the evening was chilly, too cold for just a long-sleeved t-shirt.
I shrugged off my jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders, swamping her petite frame. I immediately felt the wind bite through my shirt.
"Do you know what it's called?" She shook her head.
"God you must think I'm a fucking idiot." I ignored her.
"Is it the Royal?" Again she just shrugged.
"Jesus, I feel so irresponsible." She muttered continuing her own conversation.
"Is it across from Rock City?" Finally recognition flickered across her face.
"I think so."
"Massive place. All sweeping staircases, marble and top hats?" This time she nodded more confidently, a feint smile teasing her lips. "Come on then." I said "It's not too far." As I set off, she caught my arm, just below the elbow and I stopped.
"Thank you," she said more sincerely. "I mean that. I'm pissed, lost and too damn proud to do anything but wise-crack you when you're just trying to help. Thank you."
"Come on, let's get you back," I said smiling, "before I freeze to death." And this time as I set off, she slipped her hand through my arm and pulled herself close. With her tiny body pressed against mine, her perfumed scent drifted up into my senses, taking my breath away, and as I caught our reflection in a shop window, I blinked hard and tried to work out if my mind was playing games.
Her room at the four-star Royal Hotel was spacious and plush without being extravagant. Most importantly, it was warm. The ten-minute walk in shirt-sleeves had been just beyond my comfort limit and as I closed the door, the heat began to seep back into my bones, and my chattering teeth slowed.
No longer afforded the comfort of my support, Avril meandered towards the double bed, caught her foot on something invisible in the thick carpet and fell face first onto the soft mattress.
I tried to stifle a laugh, but as she lay face down on the bed, her legs dangling out into space, I walked towards her giggling like a teenager.
I wrestled my jacket off her shoulders and laid it flat across the pillows. Rock star or not, it was a £400 Ted Baker suit not a night dress and I could ill afford to buy a new one right now, but as I did it, I cursed the evil demon of common sense that chirped inside my head, and wondered when exactly I had grown up.
I watched her and after a few minutes she rolled over onto her back and opened her big, glistening eyes.
"God, I'm wasted." She said, stating the obvious. As if to prove a point, she sat up, lifted her foot and reached out for her trainers, but as her centre of gravity shifted, she toppled backwards, bursting out laughing as she lay sprawled on her back across the foot of the bed.
I sat beside her and watched as she chuckled drunkenly, her chest heaving with each breath. It was a beautifully infectious sound and I laughed along with her, or more honestly at her as she lay helplessly on her back.
"Look, I'd better go." I said, when the giggles subsided, although it was the last thing I wanted.
"Don't." She said softly. She opened her mouth to say something else, but stopped short and whatever it would have been never came out.
"Don't go." She repeated, as if she too felt something else needed to be said. She paused again, then sat up and took my hand in both of hers. My heart leapt at the touch of her soft skin against mine, her hands still cold from the walk.
"I've got nothing on tonight." She said, looking first down at her hands, holding mine, then back up into my eyes. "I just need a shower, a coffee, to track down the guys, eat some humble pie and then perhaps you could show me the sights. No more vodka, I promise." She said, those eyes boring into me again, in the bright light of the room, now more sapphire than steel.
"Don't you have rehearsals or sound checks or something?" I asked, giving her every opportunity to back out. She shook her head.
"Not tonight. I just need to catch up with the guys. I was a real bitch this morning."
I looked down at the diminutive girl holding my hand.
"Let me see," I said in mock contemplation, "an evening with a beautiful lady, perhaps a drink, then dinner." I let the sentence trail off, my attempt at nonchalance failing miserably. "You may have to pinch me, but that would be great." I said, thinking I sounded like a prick as soon as I heard my own voice. She pinched the back of my hand. I flinched and she grinned wickedly at my reaction.
"You're sweet." She said with an angelic smile, and I instantly fell in love with someone who until a few hours ago had been just a face on MTV.
"Brew me up a cup of something hot," she said as she stood. "I'm gonna grab a shower, then we'll get some dinner." Her voice was much clearer, but she was still unsteady on her feet.
As she headed for the bathroom, I flicked the kettle on and primed a couple of instant coffees. Three hundred quid a night and instant Nescafé, I thought as the small kettle began to rattle and splutter. You wouldn't get away with that in any other country.
There was a crash from the bathroom, a cry of pain and a loud, unladylike "Fuck!" Clearly audible through the thick, wooden door.
"You okay?" I called, concerned that she may have slipped and cracked her head. I could hear water running and didn't want to find her slumped in the shower.
"Smacked my fucking leg on the bath." She called.
"But you're okay?"
"Yeah, but I could do with a hand." She said and I heard the lock turn and the door opened an inch.
I stepped into the growing mist, the full length mirror already beginning to cloud over.
"I bet you were a boy scout," she said as I stepped in, "I've made a right fucking mess of these laces."
She was perched on the edge of the clinically white bath and as I came in she sat up, unashamedly topless, her breasts, perky and small, her dark pink nipples erect.
Instinctively, I turned away and muttered an apology.
"Don't be so fucking soft." She teased. "Just give me a hand with these damn shoes and if my body still repulses you, you can wait outside."
With my cheeks burning, I didn't even register that there was an option not to wait outside and I knelt on the hard tiled floor and began to pick at the knots. As the steam gathered and the temperature rose, I could smell her skin and as I worked I was conscious of her pale breasts just inches from my face. My imagination rioted and I pictured squeezing them, sucking them, feeling their hardness grow, hearing her moan with pleasure and immediately I felt my body respond.
She was right, I had been a boy scout and always crap at making knots, so consequently, an expert at undoing botched ones. All too soon, her trainers lay untied and discarded on the floor and I stood to leave, hoping my excitement was not obvious.
"I'll leave you too it." I gibbered, my face a beetroot.
"I thought you fancied me?" She teased as she sat up and braced her hands on the edge of the bath, pushing her breasts out towards me. I could only smile weakly back, trying desperately not to stare at her perfect milk-white flesh, but unable to rip my eyes away.
I stepped forward an inch, my head screamed for me to kiss her, just to see her reaction, but as she stood and undid her jeans, I panicked, "I'll be, err," I stammered, and with that I scuttled out, closed the door behind me, and scuppered the only chance I was likely to get to taste those candy lips.
Inside, a million miles away, I heard her start to sing softly as she stepped into the shower.
Jesus. My mind screamed. Did you just leave the room so you wouldn't see her naked? I stood with my back against the bathroom door, bumping my head against the hard wood rhythmically, trying to believe that it was all real. She had been happy to undress in front of me and she mocked me when I reacted. What would she do if I just strode back in there now? Was she waiting for me to do just that? She had not re-locked the door. I shook my head. The moment was history, speeding off into an irretrievable past, like every other decision we make. I made my coffee and re-boiled the water in readiness to make hers when she re-appeared.
There was an acoustic guitar leaning against the desk on the far side of the room, so whilst Avril showered and my mind still howled in protest, I sat on her bed and played absent-mindedly, whilst my horridly bitter black coffee steamed on the table beside me.
"Wow. That's better." She said with renewed energy as she emerged in a cloud of steam, wrapped in a thick white towel. I spun around, almost dropping her guitar.