Undisclosed Desires (High Rise Novella Two) (2 page)

BOOK: Undisclosed Desires (High Rise Novella Two)
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Alex held her hands up in defence. “You have my word, roomie, I swear. If Isabella’s friendship has this effect on you, who am I to question something so powerful?” Alex’s eyes glowed, maybe with hope or compassion, but most probably satisfaction.

“If you will excuse me, Pizza. I have a blind date to arrange.”

ISABELLA

When it came to picking other people’s dates, Nat had impeccable taste. The woman sitting across from Isabella at Le Petit Duc, another brand new French restaurant catering to the ever-growing French population of Hong Kong, was a real stunner. Milk chocolate skin stretching tautly around almond-shaped eyes. An Irish accent to die for, curls for days and not half bad at conversation either.

“This city is not exactly littered with eligible bachelorettes of our persuasion,” Sophie said, before taking another sip of the Bordeaux Isabella had chosen.

“About that.” Isabella cleared her throat before continuing. “I don’t know what Nat has told you about me but I may not be the full-time lesbian you take me for.”

Sophie smoothed the napkin in her lap before speaking. “She told me you were enough of one to risk going on a blind date.” She flashed Isabella a small smile. “And that’s a quote.”

 
A loud laugh escaped Isabella. She wasn’t in the habit of discussing her sexuality at length—like all the youngsters did these days. “All my significant relationships have been with men. I was married to one for fifteen years. But I’ve had my fair share of…” Isabella racked her brain for the least offensive words.

“Experiments?” Sophie asked, a sudden tightness around her mouth.

“Same-sex affairs involving enough feelings to merit the label relationship.”

“But not enough to be significant?” Sophie reached for the bottle, refilling her empty glass.

For all her degrees and years of studying human interaction, Isabella always had trouble explaining, which was why she usually chose not to—and shied away from blind dates.

“My ex-husband and I had an open relationship the last five years of our marriage.” Isabella tried hard to not sound like a professor explaining a math problem. “During that time I started a relationship with a woman that lasted almost three years, but my marriage always came first. After my divorce I made the conscious choice to stay single for a while.”

“Jesus Christ.” Sophie snorted. “And I thought lesbians were champions at complicating things.”

“It’s not complicated anymore. I’m single, available, and into women.” Despite that last statement, Isabella was well aware she was sabotaging the date. She hadn’t set out to do so, not really, but most sane women looking for a relationship—thus going on blind dates—would not go for someone with her complex past.

“Just not significantly,” Sophie shot back. “I’m sorry.” She regrouped, taking a sip of water. “I don’t mean to be rude. I’m old and wise enough to know love is more fluid than girl meets girl.”

“It’s my fault entirely.” Isabella leaned over the table. “I shouldn’t have mentioned my messy marriage before the main course.”

A waiter approached with two plates. Duck breast salad for Sophie and bouillabaisse for Isabella. They halted conversation until he left.
 

“Let’s chalk it up to blind date nerves,” Sophie whispered. “And please excuse me for my über-lesbian reaction.”

“Shall we start afresh over our mains?” Isabella extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Isabella and I’m your complicated date for tonight.”

Sophie chuckled and shook her hand. “Sophie, your judgemental dinner companion.”

“Glad we got off on the right foot.”

“Better than any date I’ve been on this past year.” Sophie speared a piece of duck on her fork. “Let’s see.” She found Isabella’s eyes. “There was a completely self-obsessed French woman who could not stop talking about herself and all her wonderful accomplishments. A very cute Chinese woman with whom I got totally lost in translation. And a Canadian who was really only after a job at my firm, including a work visa.” Sophie nibbled her duck like someone brought up with a lot of emphasis on table manners.

Isabella giggled, amused by Sophie’s candour. Maybe Nat had found her a good match. And perhaps she owed it to herself to give Sophie a fair chance, seeing as Nat clearly had no interest in her. “Can I ask you something personal?”

“That’s what I’m here for, right?” Sophie shot her a smile bordering on flirtatious. Isabella responded by chewing her bottom lip.

“Have you and Nat ever, you know…” Isabella’s pulse picked up speed as she waited for the reply, as if this was the million dollar question and everything depended on its answer.

“God no, you know what she’s like.” Sophie rolled her eyes. “She’d flirt with your grandmother for hours, but would end up taking your impressionable teenage niece home.”

“How long have you known her?” Isabella realised Sophie could be a valuable source of information.

“About four years. She joined our book club after we invited her to read for us. A year before it all went south with Claire.” Sophie put down her cutlery and continued in a conspiring manner. “Dreadful that was. Nearly destroyed her. She didn’t show up for months. Until one day she re-appeared with a twenty-year-old English Lit student on her arm. The ladies were not impressed, but they let it go because she’s Nathalie Orange.” Sophie sought Isabella’s glance. “Have you?”

“Have I what?” Isabella’s brain was too busy processing all the data on Nat to follow Sophie’s train of thought.

“You know, you and Nat? Two single women living in the same building.” Sophie scrunched her eyebrows together twice in quick succession.

Heat flared on Isabella’s cheeks. Just the assumption was enough to awaken long-sleeping butterflies in her stomach. “No, no,” she stuttered, a mere shadow of the confident psychiatrist she believed to be. “Of course not.”

“I see.” Sophie nodded, her lips bunched in a knowing pout. “I do like you, Isabella, but it seems to me that you have some issues to work out.”

Isabella wondered what the right thing to do was. What would she, as an objective sounding board, advise someone else to do next? Full disclosure, of course, but it was much harder to practice than to preach.

“Look, it’s—” She started.

“Complicated?” The smile on Sophie’s face was much friendlier than Isabella had expected. “You don’t have to explain. Just tell me this… if you have a thing for Nat, what are you doing here?”

“We’re going to need another bottle of wine.” Isabella raised her hand and called for the waiter.

NAT

Nat punched the air with more vigour than usual.

“Final round, team,” Alex shouted from the front. “Time to empty that tank.”
 

Nat balled her fists tighter and slammed them into nothing. She focused on Maddie and Isabella’s rhythmically bouncing shoulders in front of her. They boxed against their invisible enemy in perfect sync, as if they had practiced it beforehand.

“Well done, guys.” Alex slapped her hands together. “Give yourself a well-deserved round of applause.” A smile graced her flatmate’s lips, the same smile Nat had been forced to watch for days. Not that she wasn’t happy for Alex, but after years of self-chosen singlehood and loose midnight encounters, their flat seemed to burst with early romance hormones. It was her flat—and Alex was hardly ever there—but somehow Nat felt as if she belonged there less now that a different vibe had taken over.
 

They gathered outside the studio, the four of them, a tangled-up blend of neighbours, friends and lovers. A few months ago they’d barely nodded in recognition and now Alex was sleeping with Maddie and Isabella knew more about Nat than she felt comfortable with.

“A decaf at The Bean before bed?” Maddie asked.

New friends, new habits. On any other Wednesday Nat would have either holed up in her office with a bottle of Scotch or ventured out into the night in search of distraction. Now she spent her evenings in brightly lit coffee shops in the company of self-assured lesbians with well-rounded personalities. “Sure, I have a certain esteemed psychiatrist to grill on a blind date, anyway.”

“There’s really not that much to say.” Isabella’s head was flushed red, sweat dripping from every pore. For a woman her age, she had spectacular arms. “I possibly made a new friend and that’s it.”

“Come on. How can you look at Sophie and not want to ravage her? She’s by far the hottest Hong Kong has to offer in the more mature lesbian department” They made their way to the changing rooms. “And anyway, that’s not what I heard.”

All three of them turned to Nat with an inquisitive look on their face. Isabella was the only one who spoke.

“Oh really? Do share your information.” She brushed a drop of sweat from her forehead, hiding her eyes behind the towel.

“Sophie said that, provided some kinks got worked out, there could be something.” Nat yanked Isabella’s towel from her hands. “I presume the kinks are most persistent on your end?”

“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

Scottish skin is so revealing, Nat thought. She didn’t say it out loud so as not to embarrass Isabella, whose neck and ears had turned a deep shade of crimson, while the blush of their workout should have receded by then.

“Whether you’re expecting it or not, you should prepare for a second date invitation. Apparently you made quite the impression on Sophie. Of course, she’s a sucker for lesbian drama. She can’t help herself.”

Nat wisely left out what else Sophie had told her. That is was clear Isabella had the hots for her. That throughout the date she had displayed a subtle but stubborn interest in details about Nat’s life, quizzing Sophie on her friend’s most obvious psychological shortcomings. “Nevertheless,” Sophie had said to Nat, “she needs as much rescuing from herself as she believes that you do from yourself. I think I’m the right woman at the right time.”

To have it spelled out like that by Sophie had confused Nat. She knew Isabella was interested in her, but she’d thought it to be more in a professional way—the save the poor-little-rich-girl routine.

“Thanks for the heads-up,” Isabella mumbled and clumsily headed for her locker. She was so damn cute when she lost composure.
 

Still, despite the banter between them, and the deeper connection established the previous Sunday night, Nat couldn’t picture them together at all. Isabella was almost fifteen years older than her. She’d been married to a man for a decade and a half and had no proven track record of successful lesbian relationships. They were from a different generation—and world—altogether. Isabella probably didn’t know what dubstep was. She’d probably never set foot in Volt or Fortune or Munchies, Nat’s favourite hang-outs.

Later, in The Bean, Isabella was uncharacteristically quiet, like a child caught stealing cookies, not exactly a gloomy silence, more a guilty one.

“Why don’t you join our book club?” Nat focused her attention on Isabella. Maddie and Alex were wrapped up in their own little loved-up world. “That way you can get to know her better, but from a distance. With less pressure.”

“Which book are you reading?
Fifty Shades of Grey
?” Isabella immediately went on the defence. “I have more classic taste in literature.”

“You’ll fit in perfectly then.” Nat ruffled through her bag and dug up a battered copy of Camus’s
The Stranger
. “I’ve read it a dozen times, so you can have this one if you want. The next meeting is on Tuesday, if you’re a fast reader.”

Despite having her own copy at home, Isabella accepted the book and thumbed through it. “It’s one of my favourites.” Her eyes glistened with recognition, like they do when people find unexpected common ground.

“It’s a deal then?” Nat glanced at Isabella, unable to predict her reply.

“Can we talk in private for a minute?” She held the book close to her chest before rising out of her chair. “My place in half an hour?”

ISABELLA

Innocent flirting was no problem for Isabella, nor was the odd innuendo now and again, but the instant deeper feelings became involved, she got serious. Which is why she paced the length of her flat, nervously waiting for Nat, racking her brain for a good way to say what she had to say.

A few minutes later Nat rang her bell. Isabella opened the door and Nat stood there, leaning against the door frame, a grin on her face, looking ten years younger than her age.

“I hope this is not a booty call because my doctor prescribed abstinence.” She fiddled with one of the two small silver crucifixes dangling from her neck, glowering at Isabella from under long dark lashes, head tilted sideways.

If charming cockiness were a person, I’d be looking at them right now, Isabella thought. “Come in.”

Isabella had prepared two glasses and started pouring from a bottle of Cadenhead.

“Not for me. I’m cleansing my liver as well as my…” Nat paused for effect. “You know what.”

In response, Isabella poured herself a double. She headed to the sofa and gestured for Nat to follow. She cleared her throat before speaking.

“I’m not going to date your friend. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t pressure me about it.” Isabella buried her eyes in the golden liquid of her glass. “Don’t get me wrong, she was perfectly lovely but Sophie is not what I’m looking for. In fact, I’m not looking at all.”

When Isabella dared to look up, Nat leaned back in the couch, her lips drawn into a smirk, her arms spread wide on the backrest. Was everything really a joke to her?

“Give it to me straight, Doc. Quid pro quo, remember?”

Isabella had guessed Nat wouldn’t let her off the hook so easily. “I kept my end of the bargain. I met up with Sophie. It didn’t work out.”

Nat sighed and shook her head. “If that’s your definition of giving it to me straight, I do wonder about the mental health of your clients.”

Refusing to take that kind of bait, Isabella let the insult wash over her. “Are you really going to make me say it?” She locked eyes with Nat briefly before downing a good gulp of Scotch.

“Say what, Doc? Why am I here?” Nat played the innocent. She probably knew what was going on inside Isabella’s head better than Isabella did herself.

BOOK: Undisclosed Desires (High Rise Novella Two)
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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