At that moment I am filled with an unspeakable loathing for him. My brain scrambles for escape. ‘Don’t you care,’ I whisper back, ‘what these people will think of us? Of you? I thought you were pleased to be in the company of the crème de la crème of society.’
His laugh is harsh and sudden. ‘Did you see anybody come to greet me or talk to me? I am as invisible as you are, probably more so. Nobody is looking at us, because nobody cares about us. We are the outsiders.’
Desperately, I push the palms of my hands against his chest. The nausea is already almost in my throat. I must be sick. ‘I need the toilet,’ I gasp.
He hesitates for a second and then he smiles. It is the smile of a man who is too pleased with himself. ‘It’s not very posh to say toilet. This lot call it the loo. Go on, then,’ he says, and steps aside.
The first thing my shocked, ashamed eyes meet is Blake. There is a blonde in a long red dress wrapped around him, but he is staring at me with an expression on his face I cannot fathom. His eyes are blazing.
For a moment I stare back. Then I snap my mouth shut, tear my eyes from his, and pushing myself away from the wall take a step forward. My knees feel shaky and I am terrified I will fall, but I do not. I just need to get away. Away from the scene of my humiliation. I sense heads turning to watch me, disgusted expressions and haughty whispers. I stumble away towards the doors hardly able to control the rising nausea.
I don’t dare open my mouth to ask anyone where the loos are, but I spot two young women disappearing down a corridor and I stagger after them. They lead me to a cloakroom and I rudely push past them, ignoring their offended cries of ‘Hey’. I run into one of two cubicles and falling to my knees violently throw up the bits of vegetables I have eaten and almost all the champagne. One of the girls asks if I am all right and I choke out, ‘Fine’.
I hear them go into the other cubicle and lock the door.
I sit back on my heels and the hot tears come. I cover my mouth to muffle any stray sounds. I have made a complete fool of myself. What do I do now? What can I do? Numbly I hear the girls in the next cubicle giggling about what all girls giggle and chat about—men. Then my ears pick up the sounds of them snorting lines of cocaine. When they leave I flush the toilet and open the door.
Miserably, I walk towards the very large ornate, gilded mirror stretched across the wall. The other toilet seems to be in use and a thin woman with immaculate hair is perched on one of the gold and cream chairs waiting her turn. There is an air of superior calm about her. Her eyes meet mine briefly but curiously, before she enters the cubicle that I have vacated.
I stare at myself in the mirror. My face is deathly pale and the cheap mascara I purchased from the market is smudged and running; my lips look as if I have smacked my mouth on a wall, and my eyes are red and puffy from crying. This is what Blake Barrington saw. I look like I feel. Soiled.
The woman in the other cubicle comes out. She looks identical to the woman who had perched on the chair before. With a quick, surprised glance at me, she goes to stand at the other end of the mirror. She pats her immaculate hair, brushes away imaginary specks of dust from her soft pink dress suit and leaves.
I turn on the tap and rinse my mouth with plenty of water. Scooping water in my palms I wash my face with hand soap and scrub it dry with a paper towel. Without my make-up I feel defenseless and naked. But I’m not going to try and put lipstick on these swollen lips.
I hunker down and weigh my situation.
There is a sick pervert out there who wants to rape me and leave me torn and bleeding in alleyways. Five times. I could walk away. Say f**k you. Actually, no I can’t. It is so much money. And he knows it. I need that money. I consider taking the money and not delivering. What could he do? It’s not like he could go to the police or I would be running a refund desk. Then I remember his eyes. How cold and dangerous. No. Anyway, I have always said, I’d rather be the one who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the one who sold it.
Again my thoughts turn to the Barrington man. Why is he still in my mind? Probably the way he looks at me. No one. Absolutely no one has looked at me like that.
I indulge in a moment of fantasy. Perhaps he really wants me. He is filthy rich so he will simply give me the money I need. Gallantly, he will then fall in love with me and we will marry. As I am standing inside my dreams another woman opens the door and enters. It is the blonde in the red dress. She is tall and severely beautiful with an aristocratic nose and bottle-green eyes. She has the same superior air of all the people at this party. The same air that Blake Barrington has claimed for himself.
I cannot help but watch her through the mirror. Our eyes meet for a second, then hers slide away, but in that second there is pure speculation. Everybody knows I do not belong.
I look at my reflection. Who am I kidding? Blake Barrington is the biggest cheese on the board. Simply the way Rupert behaved in his presence told me that. He was probably looking at me because I am dressed like a hooker and he thinks I am one. The only real thing I have is my mother. And there is nothing I will not do for her. I think of my father. How easily he had walked away when we had needed him most. How weak his love for us had been. Mine is different. I will not walk away even if I have to walk upon a path of thorns. Bleed in alleyways I will. And that will be the test of my love.
I will not let myself be distracted by anything. I will survive any sexual humiliation Rupert can dish out. Five encounters? My champagne-addled brain scoffs, that’s f**king nothing. The beautiful blonde has turned away from the mirror and entered one of the cubicles.
Blake Barrington is welcome to her.
I straighten my spine. I can do this, I tell my reflection. I love you, Mum, better than Dad did, much, much better. I practice the smile I will bestow on Rupert in the mirror, and despite the revulsion in my belly I tell myself that when I am old and wrinkled I will be glad I made this sacrifice. The price will always be worth it. Then there is nothing left to do in that opulent loo, but to walk out of it, and face my decision, and the lengths I will go to for my mother.
I open the door and my heart drops.
Blake Barrington is lounging casually against the wall of the corridor.
He straightens when he sees me. He looks annoyed. Perhaps, he is pissed off that he invited Rupert and me to his mate’s fine party, and we’ve showed him up and behaved in a disgusting manner. But, quite frankly, I didn’t ask to be invited. The very last thing I need is another confrontation. I have quite enough on my plate. I consider ignoring him and walking right past but he raises a detaining finger. I look defiantly up at him. Thank God, for my shoes. They lift my eyes to the level of his straight, stern mouth.