Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Confessions in Black & White IX

Chapter IX

      Around eight thirty, Will knocked on the door to Kay’s flat and she opened it wearing a sweater cropped just above the waist, but with a long, thermal shirt of the same oatmeal color underneath it. Her jeans were splashed with white paint, not excessively, like the fashionably made ones, but just enough so that one could tell she enjoyed painting. A crocheted cap embellished by small, translucent beads covered her head, and her hair hung tamely out from under it, straight, but looking a bit unbrushed.
      “Hey, you,” she smiled, her sunglasses moving up a smidge when her cheeks lifted the corners of her lips. She tugged on his button-down shirt as she had done in Paris. “Come on in.”
      The flat was lit everywhere with candles, giving it an intimate, yellow glow. Will smoothed his shirt where Kay had tugged it and, seeing the candlelight, thought that he hadn’t really dressed for a romantic evening. As he continued further inside, however, he found that he was not to be the night’s only guest. A small gathering of people, conspicuously lacking Krystof, were dispersed amongst the furniture, many on the laps of others, but all of them with red wine glasses in their hands. Around a low coffee table in the center of the front room, several people lounged on pillows, and cards and money were on the table between candles and wine bottles. It was here that Kay led Will, her fingers twined in his. From a half-full bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that she lifted off the table, Kay poured Will a fresh glass and handed it to him. Picking up what was presumably her own glass, she slid, practically melted, into the lap of a dark-skinned man sitting on the floor. She picked up a set of five cards from the table and examined them secretively, then demanded of the group around her:
      “Daniel didn’t peek at my cards, did he?”
      The response was laughter and a resounding chorus of no’s so that Will couldn’t tell if they were honest or not. Nonetheless, he found himself grinning and sipping from the wine in his glass, his eyes still locked on Kay.
      “Will, this is Daniel. Daniel, Will,” Kay introduced casually, gesturing from the man upon whom she sat up to Will, who was still standing. “He’s one of my Paris friends, and he leaves tomorrow for Dakar, don’t you?” She pinched his chin between her fingers and wiggled his face back and forth playfully until he slapped her hands away.
      “That’s right. And if you’re not nice, I won’t bring you back anything pretty at all,” he warned, but he was smiling, so the threat fell flat. “Pleasure to meet you,” he offered his hand up to Will, and Will shook it.
      “Dakar, is that where you’re from?” Will asked.
      “No, I’m from Paris, or the Riviera, depending on how you want to look at it.”
      Will perched on the edge of a chair near the table, near Daniel and Kay. “Your family then? Senegalese?”
      “No, my father’s a Frenchman as far back as the family tree goes, but my mum’s from Ghana originally,” Daniel explained.
      “What takes you to Dakar then?”
      “Diamonds. The Vialette family business, you know. And some yachting, of course. Maybe racing fast cars through the mud and dust.” Daniel shrugged and tilted the last of his wine down his throat, setting the glass down on the table, where Kay quickly refilled it.
      “Daniel kept me entertained in Paris before you came,” Kay elaborated, pushing her sunglasses further up her nose. “And he’s so jealous now that he has to leave for a foreign country.”
      They both laughed hysterically and Will felt like he was missing a joke that everyone else knew.
      “He’s gay,” I whispered in Will’s ear from behind.
      He whirled and looked up at me, then smiled. “Thanks,” he said. “Glad that’s all cleared up.”
      “What’s all cleared up?” Kay asked, not even looking at us, but happily smacking down her straight-flush poker hand.
      “Nothing,” Will said, his eyes running over her face as though he owned her.
      I watched as Kaysa looked back, and even though her eyes were hidden, anyone could see that it was really she who owned him, and suddenly it seemed as though the whole night had been planned to prove this point. I looked from her to Will and back again. The man was clearly smitten, but Kaysa…? What could Kaysa possibly feel for him?
      “Beck, play my hand?” Kay suddenly asked.
      I blinked several times to refocus my eyes on her, and she was holding out a hand of cards. The flame from the candles flickered across the black lenses covering her eyes, and she seemed almost sinister, as though she were compelling me, commanding me, as much asking me to take her spot in the card game. She rose from Daniel’s lap and pressed the cool, crisp cards into my palm.
      “You can even have my seat,” she teased, lowering herself into her new seat on Will’s lap. He instinctively wrapped one arm around her, and I went to sit down next to Daniel who, in turn, draped one of his arms around me.
      “What’re you playing at, kid?” he asked. –He always called me “kid.”
      “Two cards,” I said, holding out the two I didn’t want face down.
      Daniel took them from me, but looked me directly in the eyes when he said, “That’s not what I meant.” He cocked his head toward Will and Kay.
      “What am I playing at?” I asked in feigned confusion. “I think the question is what she’s playing at.”
      He handed me two cards and I folded. As I laid the empty hand on the table, Kay took Will by the hand and led him toward the balcony, taking a loose cigarette from one of the end tables and slipping it between her lips.
      On the balcony, Kay lit her cigarette and leaned over the railing, reaching behind her for Will’s glass and taking a sip directly from the spot where his own lips had left a faint mark.
      “I have this dream,” she told him, setting the glass down on the wide railing of the balcony and then boosting herself up to sit on it, taking a long drag on the cigarette, but then setting that down too.
      “What dream is that?” Will asked, moving the wine glass away from her and looking anxiously toward the ground below.
      “It’s always the same dream, or at least it is lately, and it always starts right here.”
      “Right where? On the balcony?”
      Kay nodded and swung her legs around so that they were dangling over the edge instead of hovering mere inches above the floor of the balcony. She wedged her toes in between the balcony posts and thrust her body forward, her arms rigid from the tight grip she still had on the balcony railing. Will dropped the wine glass and it made a faint noise as it shattered, not nearly as loud as he’d expected.
      Kay looked down at the broken glass and then at Will, whose eyes were still wide and whose hand was frozen halfway toward hers on the balcony rail.
      “You broke my wine glass,” she accused, her body stretched taut toward the street below and her face soft and relaxed. Eerily so.
      “Kay, come back over the railing,” Will said, his voice just above a whisper.
      “Why are you whispering?” Kay demanded. “I was telling you about my dream. –You see, it always starts just like this. I’m just hanging on here, looking down, and then I let go…”
      Will’s hands came down over hers the instant the words left her mouth, and she again turned her face to look at him.
      “—I’m not going to let go,” she whispered to his face, which was close to hers. She nuzzled his neck with her cold nose and pressed a kiss to his cheek before continuing to speak. “And then I let go, and I fall, but not really. It’s like flying, and I tumble and twist and the ground never comes up, but I never get any higher.” Her eyes were again on the street below and Will could see her breath materialize in the cold air from her breathing, which was considerably less erratic than his own. He could hear his heart and lungs pounding the blood in his ears. “What do you think it means?” she asked him.
      “I don’t know,” Will said quickly. “But will you come back over now?”
      He wrapped his fingers around her wrists, but she pulled one free so that she was only attached to the balcony by her left hand, making Will gasp and tighten his grip on her other wrist.
      “This isn’t funny, Kay,” he told her.
      “I’m not trying to be funny, I’m trying to talk to you,” she said, sounding almost angry.
      “Talk to me? Talk to me about what? You’re hanging halfway off this balcony, and three stories might not seem like much, but I didn’t come over to see your body smashed on pavement.”
      Kay made an exasperated noise. “As tightly as you’re holding on to me right now, I don’t think I could ever fall,” she informed him, shaking her left wrist for emphasis. “You’ll have to come over to see my body smashed some other day.”
      “Don’t joke, Kay. Just come back inside.”
      For another instant it seemed like she would continue to ignore him, but instead she boosted herself back up on the railing and Will loosened his grip, not completely, but enough to let her spin herself around and plant her feet back firmly on the balcony. It was only then that Will released her wrist, and she stood, chest-to-chest with him for a second before using the tip of her bare foot to push a couple of the larger shards of the broken wine glass over the edge of the balcony.
      “Just leave it,” Will said, tugging her arm toward the door. “You’re going to cut yourself or something.”
      They came back into the flat and everyone looked at them because they’d been on the balcony for a while. Kay seemed resigned. Her shoulders, usually sharp and squared, were not drooping, but seemed softened. Will’s hand was on the small of her back, urging her into the room, and Kay’s sunglasses had slipped down the bridge of her nose so that you could almost see the tops of her eyes. Her hair was windblown and her cheeks were a very bright red from the cold. Since they’d gone out, we’d all rearranged our seats and had a few more glasses of wine. Kay walked toward Daniel, who was seated comfortably in the chair Will had vacated before stepping out on the balcony. She sank down on top of him, folding herself into a small ball and snaking one of her arms around his waist.
      “I’m cold,” she informed him, and he began to idly rub her back.
      “What you need is another glass of wine to warm you up,” Daniel told her, gesturing at me to pour one for her.
      I went to the kitchen for a fresh glass and found Will leaning over the sink there.
      “What happened out there?” I couldn’t resist asking.
      “I don’t know,” he said, exhaling long and hard and shaking his head. I believed that he didn’t know; he wasn’t in a position to know anything. “Maybe she almost killed herself, maybe she was just messing with me, and maybe it was neither.”
      I opened the proper cupboard and took out a glass. “What do you mean almost killed herself?”
      “She was barely hanging onto the balcony, and when she let one hand go, I thought…I don’t even know what I thought.” He turned the water on and drank a handful, rubbing some of it on his face.
      “But she wasn’t actually jumping, was she? She was just playing. Kay likes to play with people like that. She crosses traffic without looking all the time and scares me half to death.” I tried to lighten my tone a little. “I always say it will serve her right one day to be hit by a bus.”
      Will didn’t laugh.
      “What do you even think you’re doing here?” I asked him finally, uncorking one of the wine bottles and pouring Kay’s glass up to the brim.
      “Kay invited me. I didn’t think it would be like…like this.” He waved a hand in an indefinable direction.
      “Wouldn’t be like what? Wouldn’t be a card party? Would just be you and her all cozy?”
      “No,” he said defiantly. “That’s not what I meant.”
      “Well, it better not be what you meant,” I warned him. “Because it’ll never be like that. Kay can never belong to just one person. She’s community property as far as anyone’s concerned. We all own a little piece of her that she can’t stand to take back. The only one who comes closest to owning her whole is Krystof. And even he doesn’t know how little he has.” I walked past Will, but he caught my arm, sloshing some of the wine over unto my hand.
      “What’s that supposed to mean?” Will unknowingly recited the signature phrase from the unwritten script of mine and Kay’s life. Always we were asking, always we were wondering, what is it all supposed to mean…? “And where is Krystof? Why isn’t he here?” Will asked.
      “How the hell am I supposed to know? I told you, Kay’s in one of her moods.”
      I sailed out of the kitchen with Kay’s glass of wine and Will trailed after me with a glass of his own. As I placed the glass in Kay’s hand though, the front door flew open, and Krystof entered, waving two other bottles of wine. He was wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket, cigarette dangling out of the corner of his lip, even as he spoke.
      “Darling sister!” he called. “I have arrived!”
      He closed the door with his foot and it shut with a bang. He set the bottles on the door-side table and took off his coat, tossing it on the floor of the closet before bringing the wine into the front room.
      “Where shall I put these?” he asked, smacking his lips against his sister’s and grinning at her, almost indecently.
      Kay kept her hands on each side of his cold cheeks and kissed his nose before telling him that he could put them in the kitchen. “They’ll be too cold to drink right now anyway.”
      “Yeah, room temp for red, remember?” Daniel teased. “—Where’ve you been, Krys?”
      Krystof laughed and transferred both bottles and his cigarette precariously into one hand so that he could shake Daniel’s. The two men embraced a bit awkwardly, crushing Kay between them as she was still curled in Daniel’s lap.
      “Here and there. You know how it is,” Krystof replied. “I hear you’re off to Dakar tomorrow. That’s bullshit.”
      Krystof walked toward the kitchen as he said this. A moment later, he emerged with a half-empty bottle of wine in one hand, and his cigarette in the other.
      “It’s not bullshit,” Daniel protested. “It’s business.”
      “Right,” Krystof laughed. “Business. Men’s business if I know you at all.”
      Kaysa took the cigarette from Krystof’s hand and tilted the bottle in his other hand to refill the now empty glass that I had just brought.
      “You’re not going to drink that straight from the bottle, are you?” she demanded of her brother.
      In answer, he took a loud drink and melodramatically wiped his sleeve across his lips.
      “Classy,” I observed sarcastically.
      “Beck, Beck, Beck,” Krystof tsked. “Don’t be so harsh.” He slapped my behind playfully, and I moved away, rolling my eyes.
      Kay, on the other hand, moved from Daniel to her brother, wrapping her arm around his neck as she smoked the last of his cigarette. She was no longer relaxed, and sleepy, as she had been in Daniel’s lap, but alert and almost ready to pounce now that Krystof had arrived.
      “I love when you show up uninvited,” she told him, kissing the edge of his chin.
      “You didn’t think I’d miss shoving Daniel off, did you?” Krystof bounced his sister on his knee as though she were a child. “Not a chance, old man.” He winked at Daniel, and Daniel stood to fiddle with Kay’s stereo system.
      “Let’s have a little music, shall we?” he asked.
      “Something slow,” Kay ordered.
      Daniel obliged, choosing an instrumental trumpet that was a bit jazzy, but smoother. He grabbed me by the hand and gave me a short spin, pulling me back in close to him.
      “Let’s dance, Beck,” he said, but I already had no choice.
      I watched as Kay placed a new cigarette between her brother’s lips, but then got up and reached, almost instinctively, for Will. He, of course, was waiting, and took her hand. Krystof propped his feet up on the coffee table, nearly knocking over one of the candles, though he hardly noticed.
      “Watch it,” I warned him over Daniel’s shoulder. “You’ll set this place on fire if you don’t.”
      “Oh I’ll watch it,” he said, letting his sunglasses slide down his noise so I had to meet his eyes. I looked away, and Daniel pulled me slightly closer.
      “Oh, don’t leer at her,” Kay scolded him, but her voice was not nearly as chiding as it usually was. It was far more affectionate than I’d expected it to be.
      “Should I leer at you instead?” he asked, tugging his sunglasses down further and turning his grey-blue eyes on her. She stuck out her tongue and looked at him over the top of her own sunglasses. Will chose that second to give her a spin, and she laughed as she twirled away, releasing his hand and spinning into the kitchen where she ran into some of the other guests, leading to an eruption of laughter from their quarter.
      Will stood alone in the front room turned dance floor, and as the song finished, I found myself abandoned as Daniel went to chat with Krystof. The friendship of the two men puzzled me, but I ignored them in favor of asking Will to dance with me, feeling bad as I saw that Kay had practically forgotten him, sitting on her kitchen counter and regaling the people in there with some tale or another.
      “Well, tonight’s been a night, hasn’t it?” Will said conversationally as we swayed back and forth.
      “Just a night like any other. –For them, anyhow,” I replied.
      “And you, too. You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re always trying to set yourself apart, but you really are just like them, you know.”
      My heart swelled inexplicably at being placed on the same pedestal, as I saw it, as Kay and Krystof and Daniel, but I shook my head.
      “We have things in common, but there’s still a difference,” I insisted. “I’m nothing but their periphery. I’ve never even met Kay’s parents, you know.” He looked at me, surprised, but I nodded my emphasis. “Yeah. And Krystof’s never had anything but disdain for me. Daniel, I think, is always a little condescending, or even suspicious. I can’t imagine why he’d need to be suspicious of me, but it’s all right.” I shrugged.
      “I don’t think anyone could ever be suspicious of you,” Will said, smiling at me. “But you still have their kind of background, their kind of money. You still come from their kind of world.”
      “Maybe, but I don’t fit in that world. –Look at me, Will. I’m just a lump of coal next to Kay’s diamond, and you know it’s true.” He tried to protest, but I cut him off before the words could leave his mouth. “I’m just their charity project. Just another poor little rich girl wasting her life painting and spending her parents’ money. Maybe in that way, yes, we’re the same. But I’m not the fashionable, flashy, drama queen that they are. And I’ll work for a living one day. And I want to have kids one day, and maybe even live in the suburbs. But them…who knows about them.” I felt like I was preaching suddenly, and so I pursed my lips and avoided looking at Will’s face.
      “You’re better than they deserve, maybe,” Will suggested tentatively. “Always taking care of them, cleaning up their messes… Is that you? —Maybe that’s what they need.”
      “Sometimes. Not usually. Their messes usually just lie where they made them, I think. And as for Kay…well, I think you’re more responsible for her messes now than anyone,” I said suggestively, with a little grin at him. “Don’t you think?”
      “Maybe,” he said flatly.
      And we danced.
      Around midnight, everyone except Daniel, Krystof, Will and I had trickled out of Kay’s flat and off to their own homes. The five of us were sprawled across one another on the sofa and chairs, all flushed with wine, limp and tired.
      “Are you staying here?” Kay asked Daniel, flicking his earring with her fingernail.
      Daniel grabbed her hand and planted a kiss on her wrist. “Doubtful, my dear.”
      “You can’t stay at a hotel,” she protested weakly, removing her sunglasses and attempting to lift her head from where it rested in Krystof’s lap.
      “He’s not going to a hotel, babe,” Krystof assured her, pressing her forehead back down with the palm of his hand. “He’ll come sleep in one of my spare bedrooms over in Notting Hill.”
      “Notting Hill…” Kay scoffed.
      “Yeah, that’s right,” Daniel teased her, pinching her nose. “Notting Hill. With all the other snobs.”
      I, who was tucked under Will’s arm, announced that I should probably get going.
      “Do you want me to drive you?” Will asked, as he had not drank nearly as much as the rest of us.
      “That’s all right,” I assured him. “I’ll just catch a night bus home.”
      “Are you sure? I think I’m going to head out myself…”
      Kay’s voice called out “no” faintly. “You don’t have to go,” she said to Will, more clearly.
      “I’ll drive Beck,” Krystof volunteered.
      “No, really,” I insisted, as firmly as I could. “I’m fine on the bus.”
      “Oh, don’t be stubborn,” Daniel said, rising from the sofa. “Why take the bus when you’re right on our way? Get up, Krys. Come on, it’s getting late.”
      “No, don’t go…” Kay continued to protest.
      “I’ve got to leave early, doll. My flight’s already in eight hours. I want to get a little bit of sleep.” Daniel spoke to Kay gently, as though she was a child, and she seemed soothed by this. She allowed him to kiss her briefly on the lips. “And you need some sleep, too.”
      “I’m not tired,” she said, as Krystof lifted her head off his lap and stood up next to Daniel.
      “Get your coat,” Krystof said to me, rubbing his eyes.
      “Are you even sober enough to drive?” I demanded skeptically.
      “He’s fine,” Daniel interrupted, no doubt not wanting to hear us bicker. “And Beck didn’t bring a coat, K, you’re the only one who did. We’re both ready.”
      Krystof fished his leather jacket out of the closet and threw it on. “Good night, sis,” he called from the doorway, leading both me and Daniel out.
      “Good night,” Daniel and I echoed.
      The door closed, and Will and Kay were left alone.
      “Hey, you,” he said, crouching down on the floor beside the sofa so that his face was very close to hers.
      “Hey, you,” she replied, smiling lazily, just as she’d done when he’d arrived hours earlier.
      “I thought I’d never get you alone.”
      “Do you want to get me alone?” Kay teased quietly, trailing her index finger across his cheek and down around his chin until it slipped off and she let it rest across her chest again. “You’re not afraid to be alone with me?”
      “No,” Will smiled, kissing her lips. “I’ve been waiting to have you all to myself.”
      “All to yourself…” she breathed, and he could see that her eyes were closed behind the sunglasses.
      Will took the glasses off, but Kay didn’t open her eyes, her breath remaining calm and steady. He kissed the top of each of her eyelids. “You’re tired,” he accused.
      “No, I’m not,” and she stirred slightly as if to prove it, rubbing her eyes over where he’d just kissed them.
      “Sure you are. It’s been a long day. Lots of painting…” Will began to look around for a blanket or something to throw over her.
      Kaysa opened one eye and watched him close and lock the balcony door. “How do you know I painted a lot today?” she asked.
      “Well, you’ve got paint all over your pants, haven’t you?” he lied. “I just figured it must have been a lot because you don’t usually get it on your clothes.”
      “These jeans are old,” she said, closing the eye she’d been watching him with. “I didn’t paint at all today.”
      “Oh,” he said, wondering at her own lie.
      Finally, he found a blanket in the hall closet, and brought it out to cover her.
      “I’m not cold,” she said, but she didn’t push the blanket away.
      Will sat down in the chair facing the sofa and put his feet up on the coffee table as Krystof had done earlier, slumping down and letting his eyes droop from exhaustion, although he still watched Kay.
      “What are you doing tomorrow?” Kay asked after a few minutes of silent.
      “Sh, sh,” Will told her. “Sleep.”
      “I told you, I’m not tired. I want to know what you’re doing tomorrow.” Kay tucked her hand under her chin and looked at him between the candles on the table, which had mostly melted down. Her eyes looked clear and awake.
      “I’m going to work. What are you doing?”
      She sighed. “I don’t know. –Can’t you stay home from work?”
      “And what? Play with you?” he teased.
      Kay laughed. “Yes.”
      “You know I can’t,” Will said, and Kay sighed again. “Don’t you have to work on the film?”
      “I should. But it’s just a hobby. That means I don’t have to work on it when I should. Only when I want to.”
      “Why don’t you want to work on it?”
      “Because it’s hard.”
      “The things we want are always hard, Kay.” Will stifled a yawn.
      Kay stood up, throwing the blanket off her. She began blowing out all the candles. Will continued to sit as the darkness fell heavier on the room, and by the time she was done, the only light that outlined the shapes of furniture came from the windows and the balcony door, which was hardly any light at all.
      “Come on,” Kay said, holding her hand out to him. She was the most visible thing in the room, wearing such pale colors as she was, and her skin seemed grey in the moonlight.
      “Where are we going?”
      When she didn’t answer, simply stood there, so he put his hand in hers and she pulled him up out of the chair, leading him down the pitch-black hallway. Pushing open a door with a faint creak, Will found himself in what he presumed to be Kay’s bedroom. There was a wall of windows that bathed the whole room in a faint, white light. Everything had a glow about it, mostly because the furnishings tended toward the white. Although the room was sparsely furnished, unlike the cluttered front room and dining room, Will still found the bedroom reflective of some part of Kaysa’s personality. Two paintings hung in the shadows of the wall to his left, but he felt sure she had done them.
      Kay led him further into the room, toward the bed, and she climbed on top, her hand tugging on his to follow. Will found himself engulfed in the down that dominated the bed, and he felt even more exhausted than he had before.
      “Don’t go to work tomorrow,” she whispered in his ear.
      And he was tempted to listen to her in the comfort of that bed. She got up and started moving along the row of windows, closing the shutters over the light until she was at the one closest to the bed and Will said. “No, don’t close that one.”
      “I have to. The light from this one hurts the most in the morning,” she explained, and as she shut it, Will found himself momentarily unable to see anything in the room, even Kay, who was only a few feet away from him. He could feel her though, as she lowered herself back unto the bed next to him.
      “Don’t go to work tomorrow,” she whispered again, pulling his arms around her and breathing in the smell of his cologne as she pressed her head against his chest.
      When the morning finally came, and no sunlight was allowed through the shutters of the bedroom, Will and Kaysa slept, and the time for work came and went without either waking to notice.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Confessions in Black & White VIII

Chapter VIII

      Krystof drove to Kaysa’s flat Monday evening and double parked out front, taking the stairs instead of the lift up to the third floor of her building. There, instead of knocking, he used the liberty of his key to to let himself in, having a feeling that this intrusion would annoy her. When he opened the door to an empty front and dining room, he turned down the hallway and took himself to her bedroom, the door to which was partially shut, but open enough for him to see inside a bit. Nudging the door with the tip of his shoe, it opened easily and Krystof could clearly see the tangled white sheets of his sister’s bed and the occupancy of two bodies.
      Amused, Krystof entered the bedroom and stood over the bedside nearest the window, farthest the door, which is where his sister’s clearly naked body was partially covered by the sheet. Because she was only half asleep, Kaysa’s eyes flew open under his scrutiny.
      “I half expected to find Will here,” he said to her, “but I should have known better. –Was it good for you?”
      He bent down and kissed her flatly on the lips, his proximity finally waking the man in her bed and making him stumble halfway out in confusion.
      “Hello,” Krystof greeted the naked and groggy man. “I’m Kaysa’s brother. Her twin, actually.”
      “Fuck,” the man muttered, bending over to swipe up his clothes and attempting to cover his own nakedness.
      “Oh, no, don’t worry about it,” Krystof protested with a cheerful laugh. “You’re not the first, and you’ll hardly be the last.”
      Kaysa sat up in bed and lit a cigarette for herself while Krystof took the liberty of crawling across her to take the spot in her bed that the man, now dressing, had recently vacated. He rested his head in Kaysa’s lap, indiscreet though it was.
      “Do you want me to walk you out?” she asked the man, as he pulled his shirt over his head.
      “No, I think I can manage,” he said, eyeing the twins in bed distastefully. “Thanks though,” he added as an afterthought, leaving the room, and later the flat, as Kay and Krystof could tell from the distant click of the door opening and shutting.
      “Happy now?” Kaysa asked after a few minutes of silence, pushing her brother’s head out of her lap, but not getting out of bed.
      “I think the question is, are you? Did he get the job done, or no?” Krystof grinned up at her wickedly.
      “You’re a pervert, little brother,” she said to him, bending her head and kissing him on the lips as he’d done to her earlier. Her face still close to his, she whispered, “Now get the fuck out so I can get ready for dinner.”
      “I’m double-parked,” he informed her, glancing at his watch as he sat up. “And we’re already twenty minutes late to meet Mum.”
      “You say that as though Mother’s ever been on time for anything her entire life,” Kay said, walking toward the bathroom door, still completely naked.
      “Every day’s a new possibility for hell to freeze over though,” Krystof pointed out, falling back against the mountain of down pillows and quilts. “—Are you going to wash this before you go back to bed tonight?” he called to her over the running water.
      “Wash what?” she asked back.
      “This sex nest.”
      Kay shrugged, emerging from the bathroom in a form-fitting red dress, cut high and unevently from her left thigh and sweeping down to a point at her right knee. She attempted to zip it while still holding her cigarette.
      “Zip me?” she asked Krystof, turning around in front of the bed where the zipper was caught on a thread from the dress.
      Krystof dipped his fingers into the low back and then zipped it straight up to her mid-back. “No panties, no bra, you’re just asking for it, aren’t you?”
      “Let’s just get tonight over with,” she suggested, picking a clutch purse from her large closet selection.
      “I bet that’s what you tell all the boys.”
      “You’re feeling particularly wicked tonight, I see,” Kay observed. “Just watch your tongue around Mother.”
      Krystof stood and rolled his eyes. “Somehow, I doubt that I’m the one that needs to tread carefully.”
      In the car on the way to the Fifth Floor in Knightsbridge, Krystof again brought up Will.
      “Lose interest already?” he asked.
      “Losing interest would imply interest to begin with,” she replied coolly, staring at her reflection in the black-tinted glass of the car’s windows.
      “Such sweet lies, little sister,” Krystof tsked. “What made you not sleep with him?”
      “Unlike you, I won’t fuck anything that moves, K.”
      “Because that nameless, basically faceless man from ten minutes ago was a real piece of quality,” Krystof pointed out bitingly.
      “Touché. But as you know, sometimes it’s also just about the sex. And as you wouldn’t know, sometimes the sex has nothing to do with it.”
      “And Will is the latter?”
      “I didn’t say that.”
      Krystof threw the car into park and got out, walking around to open his sister’s door. They had arrived, and Kay slid her sunglasses over her face as she stepped unto the curb. Krystof held out his arm for her, but she walked past it, her chin up. The fact that they weren’t linked arm-in-arm didn’t stop people from staring as they entered the restaurant, each fashionable and eye-catching.
      The countess was, surprisingly, already seated, sipping a martini and drawing her own share of attention. She gave them a finger-flutter wave when she spotted them, but didn’t rise when they approached, making Krystof bend over to kiss her cheek as Kaysa slid into one of the empty chairs and picked up a menu.
      “Looking lovely as ever, Mother,” Krystof complimented dutifully.
      “You always had a way with women, Krystof,” the countess laughed, gesturing for him to sit.
      “And Kay always a way with the men,” Krystof said, grinning in his sister’s direction.
      “Oh?” intoned the countess, raising an eyebrow.
      “Krystof means to embarrass me by telling you that he walked into my bedroom tonight and found me in bed with someone,” Kaysa cut in, without looking at either. Her voice was smooth and even, without even a hint of coolness.
      “A mere hour ago,” Krystof added.
      “My, my, my,” their mother tsked. “Such adventurous children.”
      “Such an adventurous mother,” Kaysa said, and silence fell a bit uncomfortably over the table, but only for a minute.
      “Well, I had a lovely time in Paris,” the countess announced. “But I’m sure it would have been better had you stayed, Kaysa. I still cannot fathom what you would ever think was more important than me.”
      “Why, there’s a man in our Kay’s life now, Mum,” Krystof laughed. “I thought for sure you’d have heard by now.”
      “But I thought it wasn’t a man. You said in Paris that there wasn’t a man.” The countess looked at her daughter suspiciously.
      Before Kaysa could respond, Krystof continued. “And none other than the brilliant Will Lawley, of course, a rising star in the Commons and Home Office. You’ll remember the Lawleys, of course, a Dover family.”
      “No. –No, I have no idea who they are.” The countess was bewildered by Krystof’s mind games and couldn’t distinguish from his tone that he was being sarcastic.
      “No? You don’t know them? But Kay had dinner with them just the other day, how can that be?”
      “And he’s in government?” the countess asked, her voice sounding appalled.
      “It’s not as though he’s a trash collector or something.” Kaysa rolled her eyes. “You make it all seem like a crime.”
      Krystof put his hand over his mother’s on the table and said sweetly, “But don’t worry, Mother. Kaysa hasn’t slept with him yet. –It was someone else entirely tonight.”
      The Countess Sandemar burst into sudden laguhter, her free hand flying to her chest as though to contain the mirth. Krystof grinned, and Kaysa purposely refrained from looking at either of them.
      “Well, well, well, Kaysa, my love,” said the countess when her laughter had subsided. “You’ll ruin the boy yet.” And she raised her glass toward the center of the table. “To love,” she proposed.
      “To love,” Krystof said, lifting his glass to his mother’s.
      Kaysa raised her glass more slowly. “To ruin.”
      And laughter again swept through the countess.
      The main course of the meal directed conversation toward the countess’ time in Milan, Italian men, and eventually, disparaging remarks about those around the restaurant.
      “They’ll let anyone in these days,” the countess sniffed. “I mean, look at that woman’s dress. It’s as though she bought it off a rack of some Soho thrift shop.”
      While Krystof enjoyed the contest with his mother, Kaysa said little, slumping elegantly in her chair and swirling her wine before finishing and refilling.
      “Good thing I drove,” Krystof remarked as they prepared to leave and Kaysa was unsteady standing from the table. He caught her arm and helped her into her coat. “Imagine you, wandering home at night in that dress, half your senses melted away by wine.”
      “Not half my senses,” she hissed, pulling her arm away from his touch.
      “Someone’s still feisty,” he muttered.
      Kaysa took a few steps toward the exit of the restaurant and then turned on Krystof again. “You know, Mother was right about them letting anyone in these days,” she whispered angrily, her face close to his, her nose nearly touching his chin. “Even you.
      Kaysa was feeling belligerent after a night of putting up with both her mother and her brother, and the wine, rather than soothing her senses, had made her head ache, a rare occurrence for her. Even her vision went blurry for a moment when she again whirled around and strode toward the exit, Krystof following close behind. He reached out and pushed his fingertips into the small of her back, putting his lips on top of her right ear.
      “This isn’t about fucking Beck again, is it?” he whispered, just as harshly as she had.
      Kaysa pulled away again, asking over her shoulder, “You mean raping?”
      They were outside and the car was coming up the street toward them.
      “Haven’t you thought about this at all, Kay? If I raped her, why didn’t she go to the police? The hospital? Collect a little evidence to put me in jail?” He glared accusingly at his sister, who stood impassive, arms crossed. “But she didn’t go to the police, Kay, because she didn’t have any evidence. Because I didn’t rape her.”
      Krystof opened the car door for Kay to get in.
      “She didn’t go to the police because you’re my brother,” Kay said, again, close to his face before she slid into the passenger seat. “And she knew you’d get away with it either way.”
      “Believe what you want,” Krystof said, slamming the door and then getting in on the driver’s side.
      The car was halfway to Notting Hill in complete silence before Krystof decided to continue the conversation.
      “I don’t know why you’re still obsessing over all of that anyway. Does the little bitch mean so much to you?”
      “Does everyone mean so little to you?” Kay asked.
      “You know that you mean everything to me.”
      “Then why don’t you fucking act like it? Why do you have to destroy everything I love? Everything I work so hard for?”
      “What’s that supposed to mean?” Krystof demanded, trapped somewhere between hurt and fury.
      “Nothing.” Kay leaned back against the seat’s headrest. “Forget it.”
      “You’re drunk,” Krystof rationalized.
      “I’m tired. Tired of it all.”
      They arrived at Krystof’s house and he didn’t carry her, but slipped one arm around his sister’s waist and helped her into the house, up the stairs, and into his bed, where he tucked her in and she promptly fell asleep. Without undressing even himself, Krystof took off Kaysa’s sunglasses and set them on the bedside table. He laid down beside her, so close to her body that he could feel what little warmth radiated off her body. He was startled that it was so little warmth, especially compared to the heat that constantly hugged to his own body, like a tidal wave. Kay’s body, on the other hand, was more a lukewarm breeze: barely there. He kept his eyes open for at least another hour, stroking her hair and watching her sleep, wondering what he’d ever done, good or bad, to have such an other half such as Kaysa. Wondering why they did the things they did, to themselves, to each other, and to the world. –Not knowing which of those three suffered most.

      The following morning, I decided to get what I thought would be an early start in the studio, so when I opened the door around 6 a.m., I was more than a little surprised to find the lights already on and Kaysa, still draped in the red satin dress of the night before, standing before a large, fitted canvas that took up nearly the entire back wall of the studio, covering the door to the makeshift photo lab. The canvas was so tall, in fact, that Kaysa sat perched on top of a rickety ladder, one hand cupping her chin while the other brushed color on what appeared to be a sky.
      The painting was spectacular, and I had to wonder how long she’d been working on it. Though it was far from being done, there was a patchwork of color and grey outlines that foreshadowed what would fill even the uncolored portions of canvas. The entire piece was a swirl of every shade of green ever seen, and even imaginable. From a green so dark it seemed black, forming twisting branches of what I presumed to be trees, to the palest green, with the smallest hint of blue, which made the sky seem almost like a calm sea as much as a peaceful heaven, splashed with rolling green-grey clouds, even more pale. It was this part of the canvas that she was half-heartedly, but somehow passionately dabbing at, making the rough strokes magically melt into one another and into effortlessly smooth curls.
      “That bad?” I asked, setting down my things at my easel, which seemed suddenly dwarfed.
      “I don’t want to talk about it,” Kay said, her back still turned to me.
      “So it was that bad,” I pressed, walking toward the painting as though I were entering the mouth of a dragon.
      “You know the Countess…”
      In actuality, I had never met the countess. The only things I knew about Kay’s mother and father I’d learned indirectly from either her or Krystof, as even the few times I’d been included in Daniel Vialette’s Paris group, Daniel had been tight-lipped and unwilling to give any more details than the twins would. Sometimes I wondered if it was because he knew as little as me, but other times I suspected he knew much, much more, coming as he did from money even older and larger than the money I came from. My family’s money was far more reserved than ostentatious, unlike the Sandemar-Stevens’ or the Vialettes’.
      “So what happened?” I asked, leaning against a foot on the ladder, staring up at Kay’s back.
      Her paintbrush stopped moving and she sighed. “I just get so tired of them sometimes. All the talk, talk, talk, about how we’re better because we have money, about how we’re normal when we’re clearly fucked up, about…about it all. It just makes me sick sometimes.”
      She turned to look down at me, and I drew back because she wasn’t wearing her sunglasses as I’d presumed she would be. There were shadows under her eyes where I’d never seen her skin anything but smooth and perfect. She looked almost unrecognizable. She must have seen my surprise because her face instantly changed, becoming flat and impassive, and she shrugged as casually as ever.
      “It’s just been a long night.” Her paintbrush began to move again, dabbing the palette and then the canvas, again and again, in an even rhythm.
      “And what’s this?” I inquired of the image emerging. “It looks like a landscape.” But, of course, Kaysa never did landscapes: only conceptual, mystical, dream-like paintings.
      “It is a landscape. Italian. In the south, near Corciano. Krystof and I went there sometimes, as children. We had relatives, or family friends, I can’t even remember. There was a boy we used to play with…I don’t even remember his name. And he kissed me once, down by the back wall, but Krystof saw and punched his nose.” She told me this while keeping her eyes fixed on the greens and the paints and the brush. Although she was sharing a memory, it felt more like a tall tale, as though she had not been a part of it at all.
      “Is it a metaphor then? The painting? For you and Krystof?”
      Kaysa laughed. “Hardly, Beck. Hardly.”
      I set up my canvas too, and Kay and I sat, working for hours in silence. I was distracted by her presence, even the silence, and I found myself watching her paint more than I worked on my own piece. She moved up and down the ladder, from step to step, even standing or sitting on the floor to embellish corners. Eventually, her dress became soiled with the paints, and her face and hair, too, as she became more careless. I knew the dress must have cost hundreds of pounds, maybe even thousands, but she didn’t notice the paint, and even if she had, she wouldn’t have worried –not like I worried even looking at it. But I wasn’t Kaysa.
      Around noon, she stopped, though there were considerable holes in the image still, and she walked out of the studio without even saying good-bye, without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if she’d come back, or if I’d see her again that day, or the next, or at all until the next film shoot, if it even went as scheduled. I tried to keep working, but I still watched Kaysa’s canvas more than my own.
      At two, I went to a sandwich shop in Westminister to meet Will for tea, and I told him about Kay’s painting. He asked if I thought it meant something, and I told him I wasn’t sure. I told him that I felt Kay was slipping into one of her moods, as she sometimes did. Concerned, he called her, but of course she didn’t answer, so he left a message.
      “Let me know if anything happens,” he told me as we were finishing the light meal. “I’m worried now.”
      “She’ll be fine,” I tried to assure him, patting his hand. “She just does this sometimes, like I said. Inexplicably gets upset over Krystof or her mother or father. They’re just moods, and if you weren’t looking or listening closely, you wouldn’t even notice.”
      “But you notice,” he pointed out.
      “That’s because I’ve known her so long. We work close. And like I said, the painting was a clue. She never does landscapes –so it threw me off at first. It’s not such a bad symptom of depression to have, after all. It’s not like she’s suicidal.” I felt like I was rambling, when I wished I could just explain to Will concisely.
      “But that she’s depressed at all, they must have done something. Her mother, Krystof, whoever. It doesn’t even matter.”
      I shrugged, sipping my tea though it was nearly cold and tasteless by then.
      “She’ll be fine,” I repeated. “Just leave her be a while.”
      I knew that Will would not be able to let her be though, so I don’t know why I bothered to recommend it. Had he been more impulsive, he might have left straight from the corner café, but as he was far more responsible, he went back to Prosser’s office and fretted so openly that they quickly shipped him off to the Home Office, hoping it would distract his attention. Sitting at his desk there though, he became fixated by the telephone and remembering when she’d called him from Paris. He fiddled with the receiver, patted it, twirled his pencil and mussed his own hair. By the time it was seven in the evening, he’d still not gotten anything done and the office was empty and quiet, on top of being mostly dark. Dreading going home in the late autumn evening, Will stood to put his coat on slowly. As he did, his mobile rang.
      “Hello?” he asked eagerly, when he saw that it was Kaysa’s number.
      “You called,” she observed, not actually encouraging his conversation, but stating a fact.
      “Yes. Yes, I did,” Will said. “I haven’t heard from you in a while.” He took a deep breath and paused. He had been about to confess to his worry, about having tea with Beck and everything that was slipping and sliding through his brain and heart in that moment, but he held back. He suddenly had the feeling, the impression, that those were not the things Kay wanted to hear. Without those things, though, Will felt like he had nothing to say to her.
      “What are you doing tonight?” she asked after the long pause.
      “Tonight? Oh…I don’t know…” he stammered, shrugging his coat on the rest of the way. “I’m just leaving the office now, I haven’t eaten. I haven’t done anything, haven’t even thought about anything yet… Why?”
      “I was just wondering if you’d like to stop by.”
      “Stop by? You mean by your place?”
      “Yeah. Have a drink or something. My broker dropped off a couple of bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.”
      “Drinks, sure,” Will said, taking the stairs down and out of the building. “What time?”
      “Whenever. Eight-ish, I suppose.”
      “Great. I’ll be there then.”
      “Ciao, Will.” Kay hung up.
      Will took the bus instead of the Tube, hoping that it would get him home faster to change.