Figs before lunch
She arches her back under the sheet and smiles at Tom. He grins. Laura admires his perfect whitened teeth and the finesse with which he splits the plump figs over a plate he balances on his now-covered thighs. She follows the moves of his manicured fingers as they feed her the sweet, juicy fruit and reflects on six thrilling months with her new man.
Lying close, she reaches up to stroke his bulging bicep and marvels at his spontaneous idea to leave the office this morning to share it with her in his high-rise apartment, when she knows only too well how busy he is. All she has to do is call.
“It’s my sister’s birthday on Saturday,” she says. Pause. “I’d like you to come.” Still, she only hears fat summer rain drops drum against the panes of glass. She looks on as they spatter.
“Meeting the family? Excellent.” Now they look at each other and Tom flashes a wide-eyed smile. Gently, he guides her face towards his lips. His fingertips on her once-taut belly make her feel self-conscious, but his obvious appetite for her natural beauty lets her surrender to the current of warmth. She knows Tom is different.
She can already hear her mother, again reminding her of the big Four-Oh approaching and waving about several neutral-coloured newborn onesies. Her eyes roll the semicircle path. But then they narrow, her temples wrinkle, and the corners of her mouth curl into an upward crescent. Enveloped in a veil of Dior Eau Sauvage she moulds herself against his firm shape.
She flinches when Tom’s iPhone interrupts her blissful musings. Tom’s eyes dart to the bedside table when the jazzy tune strums. He stares at the lit-up device and his smile dies. It always does when the phone disturbs their quality time.
“Do you have to take that?” Laura moans and pins him against the mattress. Tom frees himself and shrugs. “It could be work.” He clutches the phone, turns back onto his elbow towards Laura, looks at the screen that says no caller ID and swipes the bar.
“Hello?” His breath is still heavy, which makes Laura giggle. Suddenly he swings his legs around to sit up on the edge of the bed.
“Hey … that’s a surprise.” … “Your number didn’t —” … “Trust you to forget your phone. What’s up?” … “Meeting cancelled? Argh, that sucks.” … “Yes, great day. But I’m just in the middle of something—” … “Can’t today. I can’t. I’m with a client.”
He turns back to face Laura and offers a guilty smile, mouthing sorry.
Laura leans on his shoulder, perusing his strained features, when a rush of goose bumps washes across her arms and shoulders. She rides the naughty moment like a winning wave. “Your boss?” she mimes. Tom frowns and pushes his index finger against her lips. He sits up, straightens on his side of the bed. Laura hears him in- and exhale. Perceives a subtle smile lick across his face, then a fleeting glance at her. “Yes … yes … Tomorrow…”
Laura, now staring into blank space, inches across to lean in again. His body freezes. She turns to meet Tom’s rigid face, speechless, as she listens to the purr and the tinny laugh. She slumps off the bed.
Tom rings off quickly and clears his throat, his fingers drumming on the mattress. The phone falls into his lap and he stares at the black piping on the quilt, while Laura wills herself to stand and thread her shaking limbs into the garments that, until moments ago, had lain scattered across the bedroom floor. “She’s only a colleague, Laura,” Tom declares to break the silence.
Laura goes to gather her phone, wallet and car key from the lounge room table.
“You don’t have to go,” Tom says, following her.
“I think I do.”
Laura pulls her sandals on as she rushes out of the apartment. The door shuts with a clunk as she steps into the elevator. At the bottom she runs for the exit. Then she pauses. Leaning against the wall of letter boxes, she squeezes her eyes shut, then fumbles the key out of her wallet and drops it into his slot. To the hum of the second elevator she sticks her head out the door, looks around and, when the walkway is clear, rushes out onto the wet pavers.