They start in a bar filled with thick smoke and liquor bottles; a room of slow-moving bodies, detached music and slurred sentences. They begin at the drop of a wine glass and her loud, cool giggle against the backdrop of neon light; he’s distracted, immediately, when she stands to pat at the blossoming red wine patch on her friend’s lap. Distracted by her laughter, a sound that one day he’ll come to yearn for: one day he’ll learn to love that laugh in the same way he’ll learn to love her rich-girl attitude and sickly-sweet musk of perfume. One day, but not this day, because this is only their beginning. They’re just strangers across a space, playing cat-and-mouse glances and gazes: this is their start.
She wears netted stockings and denim shorts: he remembers this clearly at later dates, for the way his fingers fit neatly in the holes dotting her thighs. Breaching the fabric to brush her skin. Yes, she wears denim shorts and drinks red wine and giggles loudly with her friend from across the bar; just a girl with black, braided hair and lovely features, brushing of the odd hopeful suitor with a turn of the shoulder and roll of those dark, flirtacious eyes. Dotted in tattoos, she looks like somebody graffitied the Mona Lisa, except she’s tan, more angular, more enigmatic. He doesn’t expect much from her, only admires her from afar like all humans do with beautiful things, swilling the dregs of whiskey in a glass. She’s a distraction from the men in the booth with him, the ones that laugh boisterously and clink beer glasses together, hollering at the spot unfolding on an overhead TV. And a lovely distraction she is. He looks at her velvet purple lips, and she at his sharp jaw, his stubble, that aloof, blue gaze.
At last, he breaks free and brushes off the friends that grumble and pull at the black hoodie he wears, the friends jostle his shoulder and cheer, triumphant, when he explains he’s merely going up for another round of drinks. He breaks free and leaves behind the grubby booth and the world of testosterone, sport and sticky table-tops for the little thing with fantastic eyes across the bar. And she comes to him, just like he hopes she will, slipping into his orbit with ease and grace and dangerous eyes.
“A large merlot, on his tab.”
“Stray into the wrong side of town?”
“I know the owner, actually.”
She talks like women in films are written, tossing and turning her words on her tongue, each sentence a purr. She’s got this undeniable charm; she knows just which way to turn her chin, exactly how the light will catch her collarbones if she raises that shoulder. She might look torn-up with her braids and ripped netting and faded denim – all torn up and beautiful, an oddity with violet petal lips, olive skin and a chipping manicure – but even now, he knows she’s expensive. Expensive like the gold around her neck or the stones in her ears. Expensive, like diamonds: hard like them too.
“Just here for the free drinks, love? Eighteen carat suggests you can afford something a little nicer than merlot.”
“Drinks taste so much better when you’re not the one buying them.”
It marks the first of many times that he will call her ‘love’. The first of many times that she will push his buttons and spend his money. The first time he realises he likes this girl, in all her glitter and glitz and free liquor. He grumbles and she finds it endearing, cradling her glass with a dainty hand and laughing like music, softly and just for him while he orders neat whiskey and ice.
“All you rich-ladies talk like that. Like your own money isn’t enough.”
“I’m no lady.”
He is quiet, forever like a brewing storm. His words are sparse and well-considered, even if he is of no esteemed-education or class; he is a man of deliberate thought and soft grunts. She talks like a waterfall, non-stop, melodic and relentless. She’ll soon dance between finding his silence fantastic and frustrating, enjoying the way he listens and infuriated by his one-word replies. Only tonight is she wary, teasing him with glimmer mystery, eyes on his over the rim of her glass.
“What do they call you? Your delightful friends over there.”
“Hm. Zara Thurston.”
“Pleasure, Zara Thurston.”
“I’m sure it is.” A pause, and down goes her glass, leafing through the designer clutch she has nestled on her lap. Zara Thurston pulls out a compact and wipes her lipstick with a thumb.
“I’m off to the little-girls room. Have you ever seen the inside of the little-girls room before?”
He won’t remember much of the latter half of the night, nor the moments leading to those in the bathroom exactly: the night is blurred by whiskey and smoke, or so he pretends, months later when she drawls in his ear late at night – her tiny hands trailing his stomach – and asks when he remembers. When she asks him why he followed. What part was best. Why she was the best bathroom shag he’s ever had; he’ll feign ignorance.
Because the bathroom memory is his own little secret; it is the marker of the place, the moment, where it started and never stopped. On this evening, blurred by whiskey, wine and smoke, Zara Thurston and Aleksandr Lawson become entangled in inseparable ways and begin the cycle, the cycle in which they shag, hate and hurt each other on repeat for months to come – all in the name of love.