“Fuck,” Will muttered as his mobile rang and he patted the pockets of his jeans looking for it. When he found the right pocket he struggled to get it out.
“What time is it…?” Kay mumbled, rubbing her eyes furiously.
“Ten a.m.,” he told her, answering the ringing with a terse, “Hello?” and then following it quickly with, “What? Bloody hell, what happened?” There was a pause. “But that’s not possible. Everything was fine when I left last night.” Another pause. “No, I didn’t go home last night. –And no, I’m not at work right now. I’m with a…friend.”
Kay smiled to herself and burrowed further into her bed and pillows, muffling Will’s phone conversation and finding that if she pressed her nose deep enough into the pillows, she could smell him a bit on the cotton.
“What was that about?” she asked when he hung up. She could feel him rise quickly from the bed. “Not in trouble at work, are you?”
“No. Not work. My flat. My flat caught fire last night. This morning. Whatever. They don’t know what time it was exactly.”
Kay lifted her head to stare at him. “What?” she asked, dumbfound, wondering if it was just sleep playing with her hearing.
“My flat caught on fire,” Will repeated. “I have to go. Now.” He walked toward the bedroom door.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Kay asked, sitting up and twisting her body around to face him.
Will paused at the door and looked at her, her hair disheveled from where her cap had been pulled off, and then from the night’s tossing and turning. A bit of light made the room feel slightly yellow, like the candlelight from the night before, and she looked beautiful.
“No. It’s all right. I’ll call you later.” And with that, he ducked out of the bedroom and the flat.
Several hours later, Kay strolled into the studio wearing winter boots, her jeans sloppily but still fashionably tucked in them, with a green sweater and a long tweed coat. She was holding a cup of coffee and a canvas bag, similar to those of most distracted art students, was slung over her shoulder.
“I thought you’d be here,” she said. “I rang your mobile twice. –What are you doing tonight?”
I looked up from my easel. “I have class, why?”
“Shit,” she muttered, pulling off her sunglasses. “Will’s moving into my place, and I need someone to come help with boxes. Krystof is the last person in the world I’d ask.”
“Moving in?” I asked, my eyes and mouth wide in shock. “What happened last night?”
“We didn’t have sex, if that’s what you’re asking,” Kay said, cocking her head at a sharp angle and rolling her eyes. “His place burnt down.”
“Well, not exactly ‘burnt down,’ I suppose, but it’s totally unlivable, and most of his stuff was ruined. –Can you imagine? Your life in shambles like that?” She set down her coffee on the counter and peeled off her coat, pushing up the sleeves of her sweater. “And there’s no point in him staying in a hotel, you know. There’s plenty of room at my place.”
I thought about this, and Kaysa really only had one bedroom, despite the size of the flat. What would have been a second bedroom was a converted sitting room/library. Mostly it was full of Kay’s canvases that hadn’t sold. Somehow, I knew that this was not going to be where Will was sleeping, but I felt compelled to ask anyhow.
“But where will he sleep?”
“With me, of course. No point in trying to cram a cot or something in the spare room. I’ve got too much crap in there.” She was pushing her large canvas away from the wall.
“What are you doing with that?” I asked, distracted momentarily from thinking about Will and his flat, and Kay’s flat and Kay’s bed…
“I’m moving it.”
“The dumpster, anywhere.”
“But it’s not even finished!” I protested.
“And I’ll probably never finish it,” Kay insisted. “I started it in a mood.”
“You can’t just throw it away,” I argued. “It’s tremendous!”
Kay stopped shoving and took a step back to look at it. Her eyes squinted critically and I held my breath for her judgment.
“It’s not bad, I suppose,” she allowed grudgingly.
“Not bad? Professor Stimwalt would blow a fuse if she saw that you threw something like this away.”
“It would make a good center for next month’s art show,” she said quietly, indicating that she was talking to herself out loud more than she was talking to me. “Maybe I’ll finish it,” she finally said, clearly to me, and she pushed it back into its position. “Hannah and Jenn and Trist haven’t said anything about it being in the way, have they?”
The three girls she named were the ones who used the studio the most after Kay and I, and I assured her that I hadn’t even seen them in the past week.
“Probably screwing my brother,” Kay observed cruelly. “Well, in that case, it’ll stay. But today I want to work on something else.”
“What?” I asked.
“Something inspired by the fire,” she said elusively.
Kay was still working on her crisscrossed painting of oranges, reds and browns when I left for my class at U of AL. On the walk, I phoned Will and left a message telling him I hoped that he was finding success in working out the flat situation.
“And if you need a place to stay, I know Kay mentioned you’re going to stay with her a while, but I’ve got a spare bed at my place. You’re welcome to it if you ever need it.” I hung up awkwardly and quickened my pace.
Things never seem to happen how they're supposed to.
“I can’t thank you enough for this, really,” Will said for the hundredth time as he brought in the last box from his car.
“I really thought you would have more stuff, but I guess you lost most of it then?” Kay inquired, almost shyly as she leaned against the doorway between the kitchen and dining room.
Will sighed, but it came out half-groan. “Not most of it. I don’t know. Most of the books and…and papers. God, I can’t even remember what papers I had in my desk. Work documents, tax forms, I don’t even know. And the furniture –everything will have to be bought new. Most of it’s charred or warped, and then the bed linens and the artwork… I had this painting, you would have loved it, from a man I met in Budapest a couple years ago…”
“It’s okay,” Kay interrupted. “It’s okay. We’ll go and buy a new one.”
Will forced a smile at her. “—When did you become a saint?”
Kay shrugged, with her lopsided grin. “Last night?”
Will laughed. “I don’t even have any clothes,” he said after his laughter subsided. “I’ll need to go shopping tomorrow. I can’t even think of all the things I’ll need…”
Kay moved toward him and put her hand on his hip. “We’ll make a list. It’ll be all right. I haven’t got anything to do tonight.”
And so began their domesticity. Kay couldn’t find a piece of paper, so she took a scrap of canvas and a calligraphy pen and brought them into the bedroom, making Will sit beside her, propped against her many pillows.
“I feel silly,” Will confessed.
“Don’t feel silly,” Kay scoffed, licking the tip of the pen and drawing a number one on the canvas. “I’ve never made a list in my entire life. I should be the one feeling silly. I just hope I don’t get any ink on this quilt because I’ll never be able to get it out if I do.” She leaned in and said this to him as though it was in great confidence.
“I don’t think ordinary people use a fountain pen and canvas when they make lists,” Will couldn’t resist pointing out, pressing his forehead against hers so that their noses touched. “But it’ll do.”
“Practice makes perfect,” Kay told him, wrinkling her nose. “Now start talking. I’ll be your secretary.”
And the list came out of him. Shirts and pants, socks and underwear, bath towels…
“You can use my bath towels,” Kay interrupted.
“But not forever,” Will said. “Someday I’ll need my own bath towels.”
Kay again wrinkled her nose, but wrote down bath towels anyway. “As long as your insurance is paying for it…”
Will exhaled through his nose and shook his head. “Let’s not say that word again tonight.”
Kay patted his knee and they kept making their list, breaking occasionally into conversation, teasing, and laughter. As the list was finished though, and the night grew later, Will insisted that he should get some sleep if he wanted to be functional at work the next morning.
“You’re going to work?” Kay asked, surprised.
“But your place just burnt down! I think they’d understand…”
“I need to go to work. I’ve got to get things done, Kay. Bad enough I missed it today.”
Both of them thought that if he hadn’t missed it that day though, if he had gone home the night before, he might have been caught in the blaze that swallowed everything he owned, and they both looked away from each other, each afraid the other would know that the thought had come to mind.
“So I’ll just grab a pillow and a blanket for the sofa–“ Will began, but Kay whirled around quickly and looked at him with wide eyes.
“No! You’ll sleep here,” she insisted. “It’s plenty big, and I won’t have you sleeping on the sofa, Will. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I just didn’t want to presume,” Will said, again not looking at her.
“Well, there are some things you can presume,” Kay said carefully. After a pause she asked, “Do you want to shower tonight?”
“I usually shower in the morning, if that’s all right.”
“Of course. You can use any towel you like. I’m going to just jump in now though.” She gave him a quick kiss on the lips before disappearing behind the bathroom door.
It almost felt like Paris, and Will undressed just as carefully, listening to the sounds of Kay’s shower. Just as in Paris, Will was in bed by the time Kay emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in a white robe and drying her hair between the folds of a beige towel.
“You’re wearing glasses,” she observed.
Will took them off self-consciously and set aside his planner. “Just sometimes, when I’m reading. I have such a headache from today, I figured I shouldn’t make it any worse.”
Kay tossed the towel on the bed and crawled toward him, reaching across him to pick up the glasses from the table. She opened them curiously, as if she’d never seen glasses before. She perched them on her nose and looked at him before removing them and putting them on his own face.
“You look good in them,” she decided, letting her hand slide through his hair. “—But I sleep by the windows.”
Kay laughed as Will hurriedly attempted to move over, and she pushed him back down.
“I’m teasing. You’re fine,” she assured him.
She eased off the bed and took the towel back to the bathroom before returning, wearing a camisole and boy-shorts. She slithered under the covers and sighed, spreading her hair out in all directions.
“Should I turn the light out?” Will asked.
“No, stay up if you need to. This is early for me, still.”
Will tentatively put his planner back on his lap, but when he looked at it again, he became so discouraged that he closed it and set it back on the table, resting his glasses on top of it.
“Good night, Kay,” he said, as he turned off the light.
“Sleep sweet,” Kay whispered.
That night they didn’t sleep close, like they had the night before. Each hugged the edge of the bed, but slept dreamlessly after the stress of the day they’d endured, each too anxious to try to consider what would or would not lie ahead in their sudden and new relationship.
As the weeks went on though, and Will went to work every day, and Kaysa worked more on the film, they settled into a comfortable routine. She stopped calling him at the office, and they ate dinner together in the dining room of her flat most evenings. They would stay in after dark and read or talk or watch old movies almost as often as Kay would go out with Krystof or Beck or other friends. Occasionally, Will went with her, but he still tried to avoid Krystof as a rule.
“I don’t think your beau likes me very much,” Krystof observed while visiting the studio one day.
“No one likes you very much,” Kay teased, perched on a middle step of the ladder while adding some final touches to her painting.
“Well, that’s not very nice, little sister,” he scolded. “Beck here likes me plenty, don’t you, Beck?”
Kay laughed harshly and turned her head to stare down at us. I was looking at Krystof askance, and he was pretending not to notice. I could see us reflected in her sunglasses, even as far from her as we were.
“Hardly, Krys,” I told him.
But the truth was that I had gotten used to him by then. He was no longer exotic, and he had faded into a creature no more interesting to me than Kaysa –although even she was still interesting to me. But it was a different kind of interesting. Krystof was no longer a flame, and I liked to think that I had grown out of my moth stage, especially with Kay’s film drawing the press attention it was, and with my own art exhibit nearing.
“Still sleeping around on Will?” Krystof asked suddenly and perversely as ever.
Kay stopped painting, but didn’t turn around like she had before.
“Why do you ask?”
I stopped painting when she said that. The joke was gone from everyone’s voice, and I felt like I was balancing on a tightrope waiting for her answer, shocked that Krystof would even ask it, but more so that Kaysa would not deny it outright.
“Ah, so you are,” Krystof nodded, fiddling with a palette knife.
“I didn’t say that,” Kay argued in a level voice.
“Yes, you did. Because if you weren’t, you would have joked or told me to fuck off. Mm…although, you might have told me to fuck off either way.”
“Is it true then?” I broke in, almost without thinking the words before they left my mouth.
“Of course it’s true,” Kay said.
“But you’re sleeping with Will,” I rationalized. Of course, I should have known that what I considered logic or reasoning never made any sense to Kay or Krystof.
“Of course she’s sleeping with Will, Beck, but is she really sleeping with him?” Krystof raised an eyebrow at me and then look at his sister’s narrow back. “Kay?”
“No,” she answered, dipping her paintbrush slowly into the splashes of paint on her palette.
“But it’s been weeks…months!” I protested. “You mean you haven’t…not even once?”
Kay laughed an ugly sort of laugh: a joyless laugh. “Beck, if I’d screwed him already, don’t you think I’d have mentioned it? At least to you, if not my dear brother?”
“I’m deeply offended,” Krystof pointed out, turning his attention to a bundle of brushes in an old canister.
“But…why?” I again couldn’t stop myself from asking.
“Beck, Beck, Beck,” Krystof tsked from across the room. “Like twin, like twin.”
“Hardly,” Kay scoffed. “It’s just complicated.”
“Complicated?” I was incredulous. “What could possibly be complicated enough to warrant treating Will that way?”
Kay slammed down her paintbrush on the top of the ladder and climbed down in a huff. She swept up her coat on her way to the door.
“Where are you going?” Krystof demanded.
“I don’t feel like talking about this.”
She closed the door hard behind her and it echoed through the studio. Krystof went after her, and I stayed back, chewing on my lower lip and feeling sorry for Will.
“Hey,” Krystof called, chasing his sister down the street. “Don’t just walk away from me like that. You know I was just teasing.”
“Well, don’t tease in front of Beck,” Kay snapped.
“What? Why not? I thought you two were best friends or something.” He was sarcastic and shook his open hands in a mock gesture of excitement.
“But she and Will are friends. And I’d just rather not…discuss it with her. Not like this.”
“You think she’ll tell?” Krystof asked, slipping his hands in his pockets and walking beside Kaysa down the street, not sure where they were headed.
“I don’t know. Probably not.”
“And think of it this way, even if she did, he probably wouldn’t believe it.” He drew out a cigarette and offered one to Kaysa, who accepted it. He lit it for her and then lit one for himself before observing pensively: “They’re both fools.”
“Who?” Kay asked.
“Both of them. Will and Beck. Will for staying with you and Beck…well, Beck for staying with you, too.”
They walked down to the Thames and stood looking over the dirty river water, smoking but not speaking.
“Why do we do it?” Kay asked after a while.
Kay shrugged. “I don’t know. Whatever it is that we do. To other people.”
Krystof also shrugged and put his cigarette out on the wall they were leaning over. “I don’t know why you do it. I do it for the fun. Somehow I don’t think you do it for the same reason.”
“Sometimes I don’t even know if I mean to do it.” Kay blew a cloud of smoke, but it dissolved quickly in the harsh winter breeze.
“Oh, you mean to do it,” Krystof laughed, putting his cold hand on the back of her neck and pulling her toward him for a hug. “You mean to do it all.”
He hugged her for a long moment, and Kay let the cigarette fall to the ground and die out.
When Kay got home that evening, Will was already there.
“Hey,” she smiled. “Didn’t expect to see you home this early.”
“Funny, I didn’t expect to see you home this early either,” he smiled back, but his smile was more tense than hers. “Not filming tonight?”
“No, not tonight. This Saturday though, bright and early. You going to come again?”
Will had been coming to most of the shoots, especially now that all the sets were complete and they were running more smoothly.
“Yeah, probably. Not sure…” He trailed off. “I have some news.”
“Oh?” Kay prompted, throwing her coat over the back of a chair and turning on the kettle in the kitchen.
“Yeah. I found a place.” The words hung in the air for a second, and when Kay said nothing, Will continued. “Beck’s been helping me look, and the place we saw last weekend offered me a good deal. I could sign the papers tomorrow, if I wanted.”
“Why don’t you just stay here?” Kay asked without meeting his eyes, instead fiddling with the tea in the cupboard.
Will watched her move around the kitchen. “Do you want me to stay here?”
“It makes no difference to me,” she shrugged, still not turning to face him. “All your stuff is here now –even the bath towels. Moving is such a pain.” She shrugged again as the kettle began to whistle.
“What if something happens though? What if we have a fight, or break up?”
“Who says we’re together?” She poured the boiling water over a tea ball and it made a small hissing noise as the hot water hit the cool metal and the tea began to seep out. “Besides, if something happens, we both have places to go. I can run off to Beck’s or Krystof’s. You can hide in Dover. “
“I wouldn’t want you to go to Krystof’s.”
Will scuffed his toe on the ceramic tile of the kitchen floor, but Kay didn’t say anything, just stirred her tea and turned around to lean against the counter, watching him and sipping the hot liquid, no doubt burning her lips and tongue in the process.
“I guess I can stay until the film is done, at least. As long as it’s okay with you.” Will said after another pause.
“Whatever,” she smiled, kissing him on the lips. “The film will be done soon though.”
The silence that followed was slightly awkward, and Kay finally informed him that she thought she would go back to the studio to try to get a little more work done.
“Having the gallery opening and the filming at the same time is rough,” she explained. “And Krystof and Beck were distractions in the studio earlier today. Maybe I’ll try to get to the warehouse, too, and set up for the shoot, that way I won’t have to wait for the stage hands.”
“Want me to come with you?” Will asked. But Kay never let him come along to the studio. It was her place even more than the flat.
“No, I’ll be fine. I probably won't be back until late though. Don’t wait up.”
She kissed him again and grabbed her coat and keys, leaving a mere fifteen minutes after she’d arrived. It wasn’t that Will was dense either. He had suspicions, just no way to confront her about them. And although Kay did, eventually, make it to the studio that night, it wasn’t until after ten, and she wasn’t alone, having had a couple drinks at the pub around the corner first. A man named Dean, nearly five years younger, joined her, and they didn’t even bother turning the lights on or pushing the easels out of the way, simply fumbling for a clear spot on the counter. The counter, fairly accustomed to being used for this purpose, made no protest, and Kay parted ways with Dean an hour later without further words or guilt.
When she finally got home, she sat in bed reading as Will brushed his teeth. He crawled in beside her a moment later, having rearranged their sleeping positions so that Kay could have the window-side again. He had showered earlier, and both of them had damp hair and smelt of soap and clean linen. He kissed her shoulder, which was bare except for the thin strap of the satin nightdress she wore. He kissed her collarbone and then her neck over the spot where her pulse was beating. Kay smiled at him, but didn’t set her book down. He nuzzled her ear and put his left hand on the bed on the other side of her body. His intentions were clear, but Kay pushed him away, gently, but still firmly.
“What?” Will asked, stroking her thigh through the quilt.
“I don’t feel like it,” she said.
“You never feel like it,” he pointed out.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Kay said in a flat voice, closing her book and setting it on the table next to her. She moved his hand from her thigh, back to his “side” of the bed. “Do you want me to force it? To fake it? To pretend?”
“No. Of course not.” Will sighed, already resigned.
“Then just leave it alone,” she told him, as she had already told him for weeks worth of nights before then.
In the beginning, Will had been more than patient. Their relationship was far from clear-cut, and he’d never been certain if they were dating each other, let alone exlusively, and it always sounded forced to him, even then, whenever he referred to her in conversation as his girlfriend. She wasn’t precisely his girlfriend…she was just Kay.
“We do share a bed, you know,” Will said, punching the pillows behind him. “Your bed. Your place. It might still be temporary for me, but I’m finding it harder and harder to understand why, despite all this, you can’t seem to–”
“To what?” she demanded, suddenly sounding angry.
“To show a little more physical affection,” Will shouted, louder than he’d intended, and with more intensity than either was prepared for. “You show more affection to your brother sometimes than you do to me, and I wonder sometimes, Kaysa. I just wonder…!”
“What do you wonder?” She crossed her arms over her chest and looked somewhere over his shoulder.
“I wonder what the hell we’re even doing. If I mean anything to you at all.”
“Because I won’t let you fuck me?”
He cut in with a violent no. “I don’t want to fuck you, Kay,” he said in exasperation, clutching his hair at the root with one hand. “It’s not about that.”
“That’s exactly what it’s about,” she insisted, her eyes narrowed and sharp.
“It’s about me wanting to be physical with you, Kay, but not like you make it sound. I don’t just want your body, and I don’t want some perverse fantasy.”
“Oh really?” Kay lifted herself up on her knees and pushed him back on the bed, straddling him gracelessly. She ran her hands up his arms, which were immobile in shock, and lifted them above his head, pinning them into the pillows. “You mean this isn’t what you want?” she asked, her lips against his ear and almost every other part of her body pressed against his own.
Recovering from his shock, Will easily pushed her off him, back to where she’d been sitting in bed, her wrists locked in his hand so that she could not touch him.
“No,” he said with emphasis, through gritted teeth. He flung her wrists away from him. “And if that is what you think I want, then you don’t know me at all.” There was more anger in his voice than she’d ever heard from him, and he added, more quietly. “And I don’t know you nearly as well as I thought either.”
He turned out the light on his side of the bed and rolled over on his side so that his back was to her, even though her light was still on. Silently, she turned it off and fell back against her pillows, breathing more heavily than usual from the force of their words more than the force of their actions.
A few hours later, Will woke to a sensation on his back: the faintest touch along his spin, trailing up and down it, catching on each vertebrae. He realized that it must be Kay. He felt a kiss on his shoulder blade, and then on the back of his neck.
“Kay?” he whispered groggily, craning his neck over his shoulder to see her.
She touched his shoulder and turned him toward her, kissing him softly on the lips. Although sleepy, Will’s body responded and he placed his hand on her cheek, brushing his fingers through her hair, which was still slightly damp. Meanwhile, she tugged at his shirt, lifting it up and eventually over his head.
They’d been through this before, and Will held back his awakening excitement. Her fingers swept through the faint amount of hair on his chest, and he pulled her body closer to his, wrapping his arms all the way around her. This was to be the peak though, and Kay’s kisses became less ardent as she relaxed into his arms, the energetic tension in her muscles slackening.
“I can’t fall asleep when you’re angry with me,” she whispered against his chest, her lips moving faintly against his heartbeat.
“Is that what this was all about?” he asked, smoothing her hair and resting his cheek against the top over head. He could feel her nod.
“And I like to know that you still want me,” she confessed, yawning and running her knuckles down his rib cage, each knuckle catching in the spaces between the bones which could barely be felt on his chest. She let her hand rest at his hip and adjusted her body to fit better against his. “I need to know you want me no matter what.”
No matter what, Will thought.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
“Fuck,” Will muttered as his mobile rang and he patted the pockets of his jeans looking for it. When he found the right pocket he struggled to get it out.