She stood leaning on the door frame, holding bags of groceries. Normally, she would have brushed him off, but today, for some reason she chose to keep talking. He seemed charming enough, his gaze inscrutable. Later, she would learn exactly what he meant by his gaze. But now, wholly guileless, she had no clue.
His name was James.
After talking at the door to her apartment for about an hour, she pleaded laundry or study. She was confused, needed space to clear her head. Was he flirting with her?
She had heard much about James before he swanned into her life. He was a friend of a friend, who knew his ex-girlfriend’s brother, or some similar tenuous connection. It was kismet, all her friends had said, that he was leasing an apartment in the same building. Fate was going to bring them together, make them THE power couple. But to her, there was no way that someone like him would be interested in her. She was shy, inexperienced and self-loathing, with no idea of her beauty. She had therefore determined not to have anything to do with him. The day he moved in, she left a card under his door, to welcome him, because it would be impolite otherwise. She kept her distance from then, only speaking to him if there were no way out. Most often she’d lower her head when he came past, pretended to be on the phone, or looked elsewhere.
Now, as she walked into her living room and placed her groceries on the bench, her mind spun like a washing machine’s spin cycle. She sat on the chair and turned on her laptop; it was no use, she had no way of concentrating now. She headed out for a walk. It was a glorious day. There were a plethora of people in the park: some running, families picnicking, couples walking, others sitting by the pond. She strolled around the path that formed the outer boundary of the park. Trams clunked and rambled, cars sped past. Her mind was filled with nothing but James. She gained pace and slowly drifted into a jog, then a run. After five laps of the park, she was done. Sweat pouring down her back, legs burning, but damn she felt good.
As she entered the apartment block, James was coming out the front doors.
‘Hey, fancy meeting you here,’ he joked.
‘Yeah, strange, hey?’ It was meant to be loaded with sarcasm, but instead her words came out sounding infantile.
‘D’ya wanna grab a coffee?’
‘Oh, thanks…’ she mumbled, not knowing how to answer. OK, so I’m not done, after all, she pondered. She did want to spend more time with him, but she needed to shower after her run. ‘…um, I’ve just been for a run, though.’ She finished lamely. As if he hadn’t noticed her tomato-red face.
‘Doesn’t bother me,’ James responded. ‘C’mon, just a quickie.’ This with a wink. Her tummy involuntarily flipped. She found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss him.
‘OK, then,’ she said with betraying excitement. Fuck, what the fuck am I doing? Her hesitancy to have anything to do with him seemed to have become a passenger on one of the trams rocking past them. ‘I just need to grab my—’
‘Nah,’ he interrupted. ‘You don’t need a thing. My shout.’
Three hours later they walked back into the apartment building. The lift sailed past her floor. James led her to his apartment. He opened the door, and, shutting it behind him, kissed her, while guiding her to his bedroom. She wondered how many women he’d led down this hallway, how many had shared his bed.
Lying in her own bed, in the early hours the next morning, it was fair to say she had fallen for James. His charm had lured her in. And kept her on a short leash. For years, she wanted more. She allowed herself to become an instrument in his orchestra; he played her, bringing her in, sexually, sensuously, but pushing her away at any sign of intimacy, or togetherness. Her self-loathing not only authorised this treatment, it was stoked and fuelled each time he dismissed her.
It took her over a decade to syphon James out of her bloodstream. She looks back now over that chat in the doorway to her old apartment, and wonders how she could have been so blind to the meaning behind what she’d thought was inscrutability in his gaze.