I was obsessed with the woman from the coffee shop.
She always sat at the same table, and her stories were everything.
Each Tuesday at ten-thirty in the morning, she’d meet her friend with some new piece of scandal or adventure to tell. I normally arrived early, ordered my latte and sat down to wait for the latest episode of Elodie’s eventful love life.
On this particular Tuesday, I watched her walk into the Polka Dot Café with a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. She ordered a drink, then took a seat at the table close to mine where her friend was waiting. Elodie was medium height, with long, silky red hair and captivating green eyes. Her makeup was immaculate; red lips, smoky eyeshadow, and her clothes were edgy and sexy. She was also never without a pair of sky-high heels.
Her friend, whose name was Suze, was Asian and wore funky designer clothing from head to toe. Think Moschino with a touch of Vivienne Westwood. Visually, she was more striking than Elodie, but she didn’t have her friend’s adventurous soul, her joie de vivre.
I feigned preoccupation with my phone while they exchanged greetings.
“Gosh, my Kenneth just won’t stop going on about getting me a boob job,” Suze complained. She was also a source of entertaining anecdotes, though she had nothing on Elodie.
Elodie made a face. “Your boobs are fine. What does he want you to end up like? A blow-up doll?”
Suze chuckled. “Probably. Most men prefer silence and submission, right?”
“I’m not so sure about that. The guy I was out with on Saturday definitely enjoyed my vocalisations.”
A cackle from Suze. “Oh, do tell! How did you meet this one?”
Elodie took a sip of her coffee and made a face. I’d adjusted my seat so that I could watch her covertly from the corner of my eye. “On Tinder. He invited me for dinner at the Ivy and then we decided to hell with it and booked a hotel room.”
“I swear you invented the philosophy of YOLO,” Suze said with envy.
“I just want to enjoy myself while I’m young.”
“So, are you going to see him again?”
“Hmmm, maybe. He said he manages a gym. If things go well, I could get a free membership.”
“You’re too much,” Suze tittered.
“Anyway,” Elodie continued, “he had nothing on the guy I went to dinner with last Thursday. He was a pilot, even showed up wearing his uniform. I just about died and went to heaven.”
“Seriously? How do you find all these amazing men?”
Elodie grinned. “I won’t lie, it’s a skill.”
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t married so that we could go out together and paint the town red every night.”
“Hey! It’s more like every second night,” she chided playfully, and I smirked before taking a sip of coffee. She was a woman after my own heart and I loved it.
Suze sighed. “Ugh, I’m so jealous. What happened with the pilot?”
“He was sort of kinky, wanted to tie me up.”
Suze slammed her hand down on the table. “No way!”
“And get this, he brought a pair of handcuffs. Fur lined to avoid chafing, of course.” She raised a saucy brow.
“Of course,” said Suze.
“It was all going great until we started doing the deed and he made these loud, high-pitched sex noises. I was like, okay, this is weird. But you know, he was good in bed, so I gave him a pass on the girly moans.”
Suze laughed so hard she almost spit out her coffee. “Oh, man. That’s too funny. You should write a newspaper column. More people need to hear these stories.”
There was a pause before Elodie replied, “Now where would I find the time for that? I’m too busy going out and enjoying myself.”
“Well, that’s true,” Suze agreed.
I listened to the rest of Elodie’s account of her night with the pilot and wondered if I should introduce myself someday. After all, I felt like I knew them both better than some of my real-life friends at this stage, such was the extent of my eavesdropping. I could be the third member of their group. Just one of the girls. Strangely, I’d always gotten along better with women than with men.
My bestie, Rose, could attest to that.
One of my few male friends, David, says it’s because I’m a lesbian trapped in a straight man’s body. I like to talk to women about their feelings and I also like to have sex with them. I happen to think that simply makes me an evolved modern gentleman rather than a lesbian, but what do I know?
David, aka, David Jonathan, was a pop star in the eighties. He achieved a grand total of three Top Ten singles and a platinum record before fading into obscurity. Now he worked as a wedding photographer. To his annoyance, I often enjoyed reminding him of two things. One, the lyrics of his biggest hit, “Naughty”, and two, the fact I was a mere toddler when it released in 1987.
Speak of the devil, a few minutes after Elodie and Suze departed, in walked David. He wore his usual faded jeans and jumper combo, ever-present black-rimmed spectacles in place. Sometimes he wore a suit and contact lenses, but only if he was going somewhere fancy. David was attractive in that ‘grey at the temples, retired male model’ sort of way. You could tell he was once stunning, but now his looks were more distinguished.
“Thought I’d find you here. Do they put crack in the lattes or something?”
“If you must know, I come for the ambiance.”
“The ambiance or the entertainment?” David asked, glancing around. He was aware of my obsession with Elodie and Suze, but none of Elodie’s stories seemed to shock him. That was probably because he’d experienced so many outrageous hijinks in the eighties. He was too jaded to be shocked.
He pulled out a chair and sat down, calling to the barista that he’d take a cappuccino. “So, what was this week’s escapade? Did she fly to Amsterdam and take in a live sex show? Perhaps hire a stripper to give her a private dance?”
I shook my head. “She had a one-night stand with a kinky pilot who made sex noises like a lady.”
David chuckled. “Oh, really.”
“I think she’s fabulous. If only the rest of the world were so free with their sexuality.”
“Yes, if only. We’d all be walking around with chlamydia. What a wonderful world it would be.”
“Don’t be such a pessimist. It’s quite possible to have an active and varied love life free of STDs so long as you’re careful. I can attest to that.”
“Hmmm,” David mused just as the barista came and set his drink in front of him. “Can you remind me, what does Elodie look like again?”
I shot him a narrow-eyed glance. “You know what she looks like. I’ve told you numerous times.”
“Ah right. Now I remember, scarlet hair, eyes like emeralds. Who does that remind me of?”
“Don’t be smug, David dear, it doesn’t become you.”
“All I’m saying is, she does bear a striking resemblance to a certain Hollywood starlet. One Alicia Davidson, the only woman who ever came close to stealing that closely guarded heart of yours.”
“All right,” I allowed. “I’ll admit she does look a little like Alicia, but that’s where the similarities end.” My tryst with the American actress was brief and intense. I was prepared to give her everything and she cast me aside. It hurt at the time, but that was two years ago. I was over it now.
“She’s also a sexpot. I rest my case,” David continued.
I rolled my eyes. “Your case is far from rested.”
“Why don’t you give her a call? I read in the tabloids just last week that she’s still single.”
Now I pursed my lips. “She made herself very clear she wasn’t interested. A call would be pointless. Besides, I barely think about Alicia these days. I’ve moved on.”
“To a lookalike.”
“One you haven’t even spoken to yet.”
“I’ll introduce myself when the time is right.”
“The time was right weeks ago. You’re practically stalking the poor woman.”
“I’m not stalking her. I’ve never tried to follow her home. I only ever see her here.”
“It’s still a second cousin to stalking. Soon you’ll go all Robert John Bardo on me. I can see it happening. Before we know it, you’ll be slapped with a restraining order. Better to introduce yourself now before things get out of hand,” he chided teasingly.
I folded my arms. “I’ll introduce myself when I’m good and ready. And I do not appreciate being compared with a murderer, thank you very much.”
David grinned. “Thought you might be too young for that reference.”
“I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
He chuckled and shook his head before lifting his cup for a sip. After a moment, his expression grew earnest. He studied me in that close way of his, checking for cracks.
“How have you been?” He clasped his hands together.
Just recently, I’d expressed to him my feelings of weariness. How I was growing tired of my routine, how something deep inside of me yearned for a change. I just didn’t know what it was yet.
“I’ve been fine,” I answered.
“Are you still feeling restless?”
“It comes and goes. I’m just in a bit of a slump. I’ll get out of it eventually. I always do.”
David was quiet a moment, then said, “I wonder if you’ve developed this Elodie fixation to distract yourself.”
I lifted a shoulder. “I don’t think so. Elodie reminds me of myself. That’s why I find her so interesting.”
“That may be the first sign of narcissism,” David arched a speculative eyebrow. “And I think Elodie reminds you of a past version of yourself. A version, as you’ve said, you’re growing weary of. I think your fixation is you refusing to move on.”
I stiffened, not too keen on his assessment, probably because a part of me knew it echoed certain truths. And moving on was not an easy feat. “Somebody’s been watching too much Dr. Phil.”
David smirked. “Well, I do work odd hours. Daytime television and I are in a committed relationship.”
Later that day, I was still pondering my conversation with David as I got ready for work. Tonight, I was meeting with a newly divorced divorce lawyer. The irony was not lost. Her name was Cathy and we’d spoken on the phone several times before I agreed to take her as a client.
My work as an escort spread through word of mouth. I never advertised, never had business cards printed up. If a lady enjoyed my company, she was inclined to recommend me to a friend, and so on.
I first got into the business because I was young, desperate, and needed the money. Now I did it because people fascinated me, women in particular. If I could indulge that fascination while also making a living, then who was I to say no?
Everybody was a little bit of a weirdo once you got to know them, and I relished discovering the weirdness inside each new client. Enjoyed facilitating them to live out their peculiarities with me.
“That’s a nice shirt,” Rose commented when I came out of my bedroom. Both she and her significant other, Damon, were in town for work, and they always stayed with me when they were in the city. Rose was a dance choreographer and Damon an actor. They divided their time between London and Damon’s cottage on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I’d visited them there once or twice. It was a beautiful spot, but far too isolated for my liking.
I needed to be around people or I went insane. My mind required constant stimulation and I preferred to be busy. Rose and Damon were the opposite. They liked the city well enough, but whiling away their days in the peaceful island life was their favourite.
“Thanks,” I replied, noting she had her head buried in a book yet again. Rose was currently obsessed with the popular Sasha Orlando series. It was a set of novels based on the trials and tribulations of Sasha, an investigative newspaper journalist who wrote about love and relationships. There were already seven books in the series and Rose loved to regale me with Sasha’s latest adventures.
I much preferred eavesdropping on Elodie at the Polka Dot Café, but to each their own.
Rose eyed me speculatively. “Are you meeting someone?”
“Work or pleasure?”
I shot her a crooked smile. “Why can’t it be both?”
She shook her head. “Sometimes I think you could be a character in one of these books.”
“Oh? Does Sasha cross paths with a handsome male escort who shows her a night she’ll never forget?” I teased.
Rose placed a finger to her lips. “She actually wrote an expose about escorts in book one. Maybe I should email the author and suggest she revisit the storyline.”
I dropped down onto the couch beside her and plucked the paperback from her hands. Skimming the page, I smirked when I saw she’d gotten to a sexy bit.
“Give me that,” she complained and grabbed for the book, but I held it out of reach.
“Maybe these stories do have something going for them,” I grinned and recited a paragraph. “Sasha’s cheeks suffused with warmth as Sebastian stripped, revealing toned, tanned muscles. He was a sight to make any woman’s underwear melt, and hers was currently ablaze. It was too bad this encounter was to help her write a column about male strippers, because she could’ve gone for a night alone with Seb, just the two of them, a hotel room and several hours to spend as they wished.”
I chuckled as I handed the book back to Rose and she scowled at me in annoyance. “Why Rose, I do believe your cheeks are “suffused with warmth” right now.”
“I just love making you blush.” I stood to put on my tie, straightened it out in the mirror then ran my fingers through my hair. I went to grab my coat when Rose said, “You should read the series yourself. I think you’d find a lot in Sasha that you can relate to.”
“Maybe I’ll save them for when I come to visit you and Damon on the island. I love a good romance novel when I’m on holiday.”
* * *
A week later I was back at the Polka Dot Café, never one to miss an episode of my favourite real-life soap opera. Suze arrived regular as clockwork, followed by Elodie a few minutes later. She swished into the place on a gust of cold London air, ordered her usual, and took a seat across from Suze.
“How’ve you been, hon?” Elodie asked as they exchanged kisses on each cheek.
“I’m having a ‘mare of a week, babes, and it’s only Tuesday. Two of the models for our show this weekend have come down with the flu. I’m in a mad scramble to replace them.”
As far as I’d gathered, Suze was an up-and-coming fashion designer, which explained her distinctive dress sense. Elodie worked in finance, but she didn’t discuss it very often. She was much more inclined to chat about her colourful love life, and I for one was grateful. I mean, it was fantastic that she had a good job and all, but finance interested me about as much as retiring to the countryside.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you think you’ll have enough time to find replacements?”
Suze sighed. “I mean, I hope so, but it’s Fashion Week. Every model worth his salt has been booked out months in advance.”
Usually, I was as subtle and discreet as you could get. I’d been listening to these two for weeks and I was pretty sure neither of them ever noticed me sitting here. Being invisible was a skill one acquired having grown up in a tumultuous household.
Most weeks, I sat one table away from Elodie and Suze, but today I’d daringly opted to sit at the table right next to theirs. I lifted my cup to take a sip, and as I lowered it back down, I missed the mark and brown liquid splattered over my table and halfway across theirs.
Suze let out a gasp as I apologised. “I’m so sorry.”
I grabbed some napkins to wipe up the spilled coffee from their table, inwardly cursing my sudden clumsiness. Awkward was not a word anyone would use to describe me. I didn’t have a clumsy bone in my body. I guess it served me right for paying too much attention on listening and not enough on what I was doing with my hands.
Suze looked me up and down with marked interest. Her pretty eyes went wide as they travelled from my feet all the way up to my face. “Don’t apologise. I can’t believe I didn’t see you sitting there.”
I gave her a charming smile. “Well, I am sorry for splattering coffee all over your table. Please allow me to pay for both of your drinks.” My eyes briefly went to Elodie, but she stared intently at the table. Her shoulders were rigid and her mouth a straight, tense line. That was odd.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you’re simply beautiful. Have you ever modelled before?” Suze asked.
“I haven’t, but thank you very much for the compliment.”
“Are you a fast learner?”
She stuck out her hand. “I’m Suzanna Lee. I have a collection showing at London Fashion Week and I’d be forever in your debt if you agreed to model for me this weekend. Two of my guys have come down with the flu.”
I shook her hand. “Julian Fairchild, and I’m afraid I have to decline.”
Her frown encompassed her entire face. “I’ll pay you handsomely, and I’ll be especially grateful if you happen to have a twin brother.”
I gave a soft laugh. “Unfortunately, I’m an only child.” I glanced at Elodie again and this time managed to catch her eye. Hers got big and fluttery, like she was nervous or frightened, which confused me. I frowned as I returned my attention to Suze, feeling bad for turning her down so quickly. She really did seem desperate, and perhaps this was my chance to ingratiate myself with the two of them, get to know Elodie better by doing a favour for her friend.
“I guess if you really need the help I could throw on some clothes and strut down a catwalk,” I told her, and she smiled wide.
“Oh em gee, thank you so much! And do you have any friends who look like you? Handsome men run in packs, right?” she joked.
“I have one, but he’s older.”
“Fifty-one, I think, but if asked he’ll tell you he’s not a day over forty-five.”
Suze laughed. “Well, it’s a gentleman’s prerogative to shave off a few years. Do you think he’d be up for a bit of modelling?”
“I’ll run it by him,” I replied and pulled out my phone to text David. I still couldn’t believe how quiet Elodie was being, and I was more than a little disappointed that she hadn’t taken the opportunity to flirt. Like Suze said, I was a handsome, well-groomed specimen of a man. She should be all over me.
Or maybe my ego had lost the run of itself. It wasn’t like every woman I met fell at my feet. I’d been rejected my fair share of times just like everyone else. Still, the idea of being rejected by Elodie bothered me. Having listened to all her stories, I felt a kinship towards her.
Didn’t she realise we were soul mates? At the very least two peas in a pod.
I focused on texting David and his reply was prompt.
David: Sure, I’ll do it, so long as there’ll be champagne and models to ogle.
I grinned at his message and typed back.
Julian: Models young enough to be your daughter, yes, there’ll be plenty.
David: Great. Thanks for ruining it for me.
I looked to Suze. “He says he’ll do it.”
“Fantastic! Here, let’s exchange emails and I’ll send you everything you need.”
As Suze was emailing me all the information, I turned to Elodie and held out my hand. “Hello, I’m Julian. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She stared at my hand like it had a venereal disease, then lifted her eyes to mine. Now that I was looking at her up close, there was something strange about her irises that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“Elodie,” she mumbled, not taking my hand.
“Is everything all right?” Suze asked as she slid her phone back into her handbag.
“Yes, perfectly fine. I was just introducing myself to your very beautiful friend here.” Elodie’s cheeks went bright red, suffused with warmth as Rose’s book would describe it, and I couldn’t get my head around why she was being so incredibly awkward.
“Oh, do you hear that, Elodie. This beautiful man thinks you’re beautiful, too. Isn’t that something?” Suze chimed with a wink.
Elodie stood from her seat and gathered her things. “Uh, I’ve just remembered I have a meeting at work. I have to go.”
Quick as a flash she fled the café, leaving Suze and I frowning in her wake.
“I’m sorry. She’s not usually so abrupt,” Suze said.
I waved her away. “No worries. I guess I’ll see you this weekend.”
“Yes, and I look forward to meeting your friend. Please do send me a couple of pictures and his measurements so I can decide what outfits to put him in.”
“Will do. Do you need mine as well?”
She grinned and ran her eyes down my body. “No need. I already sized you up the moment you spilled your coffee.”
I chuckled at that. Quite like Elodie, Suze was my type of lady. At least, I’d thought Elodie was my type. Suze went, and I sat back down, wondering about Elodie’s sudden departure and personality one-eighty. Did I smell bad? Was it something I said? Did I remind her of a cheating ex? Really, it could’ve been anything, but disappointment still filled me. I thought that once we finally met, we’d get along like a house on fire.
Instead, she’d fled the house running and screaming.
Oh, well. Perhaps she’d turn up for Suze’s show this weekend. That would give me a second chance to win her over. I’d be my most charming self, and if all went to plan, she’d be mine before the night was through.