Word count: 1851
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
“This can’t be real,” says Jessica the next day as she gingerly strokes the silk chiffon of my skirt, as if touching a delicate, rare artifact.
“It’s all a bit of a blur,” I admit.
These clothes are the only proof that any of it actually happened. The morning walk, the thunderstorm, the Mandarin Oriental, the restaurant… Back in my room, with the heavy cotton pink curtains, it feels like I was away for a month.
“Are you sure you don’t have to, like, return these?” Jessica shakes her head. “I can’t believe this. I mean, feel how soft this is! I haven’t touched anything this soft since I squeezed Sarah’s little butt!” Sarah, currently six months old, is Jessica’s niece. “This all sounds like a dream. But I do have one objection. Why flat sandals? Why not heels? It’s not like you guy had to walk anywhere. Didn’t you have a personal driver?”
I laugh. “We did end up walking all the way from Westminster to Victoria.”
After the failed London Eye attempt, I suggested to Liang that we walk to the restaurant. The air was so clear and crisp after the weeks’ long heatwave, the sky a deep, cornflower blue, and Liang such a lovely view in his long-sleeved shirt that I didn’t want to hide away in a car. I wanted to show him off to the whole city, and I wanted to show off my city to him.
“Westminster to Victoria is a bit of a trek,” Jessica muses, holding the sandals delicately in her hands. “And these sandals are gorgeous. Can I borrow them?”
Jessica sighs but doesn’t let the sandals go. “What time did you get back?”
Her smile is cheeky. “And what were you two doing up so late? Ho, ho, ho! ”
“Stop, you sound like Father Christmas.”
“Mila Koehler, are you hiding something from me?”
“Oh, stop it, you. I want all the details. Even the ones you don’t want to tell me. Especially the ones you don’t want to tell me. Come on. I’ll go downstairs and make us a cup of tea.”
“I mean it, Jess, nothing happened.”
Jessica’s head flops sideways, like a confused puppy. “Not even some woohoo in the back on the car?”
I shake my head. “Not even a peck on the cheek.”
“That’s not like you, Mila.”
“Not like me how?”
“You slept with Adam on your first date even though you didn’t like him.”
“Okay, one guy.”
“And Mark in first year. And that other guy, the exchange student. What was his name? He was Australian or something.”
“Gabriel. And he wasn’t Australian, he was Colombian.”
“Okay, okay, stop. Fine.” I try to regain some composure. “Nothing wrong with a little bit of fun. But not with Liang. It’s different with him.”
I don’t really know myself. Kissing him was the thing I wanted to do the most last night and also something I actively avoided. There was no apparent reason, all I know is that I was afraid of kissing him.
“Didn’t he try to kiss you?” I shake my head. “Maybe Chinese people don’t like to snog,” says Jessica, as she flips over my sandals and exclaims, “Oh my god, these are actually my size!”
She then proceeds to fall back dramatically on my bed. “Well, at least you almost had the chance to. I’m not snogging anybody in the near future, and my summer is going to be shit. Whichever way I go, whether to my mum’s or my dad’s, it’s going to be shit. And the probability of snogging or fucking someone is close to zero percent.” She groans. “Does Liang know anybody? Maybe we could go on a double date before we leave. Oooh, what about one of his friends, those guys that are always hanging out with him?”
“They’re not his friends.”
“They’re his bodyguards.”
“His what? No. Way.”
Liang told me about it last night at the restaurant, over elegant dishes of barbecued meat, dumplings and steamed fish. The restaurant was amazing, all matte dark wood and textiles, and we were sat in a private booth surrounded by intricately carved wooden walls. I asked him what him and his friends got up to in the UK these past few days aside from work.
At first he looked confused, until he realised who I was talking about. “They’re not my friends, they’re security.”
Before I could dig deeper, the maître arrived carrying lychee and vodka welcome cocktails and, after politely addressing me, briefly spoke Chinese with Liang.
It was the first time I heard him speak his own language.
His voice was deeper, less hesitant. I realised never really listened to the Chinese language before. I heard it spoken here and there, but I never really paid attention. And now the rhythm, the contrast between the soft and harsh consonants, the way it changed in pitch like a melody, had me hooked. Or maybe it was just Liang’s voice.
We laughed when he tried to teach me how to hold chopsticks properly and we grew gradually drunker on champagne and incredibly strong Chinese rice liqueur. After the clothes, after the insistence that I stay for dinner with him, after all the fun we were having and the way we were getting along like a house on fire, I was sure he must like me on some level. Right? Why else would he be doing all of this? I flirted away, waiting for an inevitable kiss or touch that would confirm it.
But it never happened. Not at dinner and not later, when we had more drinks on the rooftop garden of another famous London hotel. And not in the car on the way back, either. Not even when he gallantly walked me to my doorstep and said goodnight. Nothing, not even a little friendly thank you hug.
I snap back to the present, to Jessica. “We haven’t even talked about seeing each other again.” I say this as casually as possible; I’m not ready for Jessica to see that I’m kind of hurt, because that would start a whole conversation that I’m not willing to have right now. But I can’t stop the questions from flooding my own mind.
What if that was really it? I mean, of course I’ve always known it was going to end very, very soon, but he’s here for a couple more days. After the day we had, after everything that happened, is he really happy with never seeing me again?
Until last night, right up to the minute I crawled into bed and fell into a lovey-dovey, drunken slumber, the option of Liang and I never seeing each other again hadn’t even crossed my mind. But now I’m starting to feel uneasy.
Where did that sense of confidence even come from? What was it that had made me so sure I was going to see him again? He did absolutely nothing to suggest it. If I think it over really well, he never mentioned us ever seeing each other again. Not in the next couple of days, and not ever.
Was it because he wanted me to have dinner with him? Stupid, stupid girl. Maybe he just wanted to have some nice food that reminded him of home and just invited me along so he wouldn’t have to eat alone. He probably came to the conclusion I might be better company than Terence, who seems like a very nice and polite man but maybe not very talkative.
There were the clothes, too. But he probably just got them for me out of politeness, it must be one of those cultural things. He wouldn’t have felt right with himself if I had to walk around all day with wet clothes on. Very thoughtful, true, but it means nothing more than what it was: a well-brought up young man being polite to a girl who is obviously not used to it.
Then the realisation hits me. The ultimate proof that it was all in my head. Oh my god. He didn’t even ask for my phone number.
I feel the sting of humiliation reach my cheeks, painting them red. How could I be so stupid to think he liked me? Because Jessica said she saw him looking at me at the club? Ugh, how pathetic of me.
“Mila, your face looks all screwed up. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I snap, suddenly irritated. I just want to be alone for a while. I want to call my mum and tell her about the past few days and ask her for advice, but then I remember I promised myself I wouldn’t bother her when she was with granny.
“Anyway, I just remembered what I came in here for. Two things,” says Jessica. “First, I wanted to tell you I’m going for drinks tonight with some people from my accounting class. Samira’s going to be there, Riley, Ana… that bunch. Want to come?”
“Yeah, why not.” Anything to not spend the night at home moping over how big of a clown I am. I already have the whole afternoon ahead of me to do that. “And the second thing?”
Jessica hesitates. “Adam came round yesterday, he was looking for you.”
“Adam? He came here? What’s up with people just turning up out of the blue?”
“I didn’t even answer the door at first, but he just wouldn’t leave.”
“Did you tell him where I was? That I was with Liang?”
“Of course not!”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“I just told him you weren’t home, and he told me to ask you to call him. He wants to talk with you.” Jessica pauses. “I didn’t even want to tell you at first, but what if he turns up here again today? I’d rather you were ready. Are you angry with me?”
“Of course not, why would I be angry? I’m just angry at him. I was so relieved yesterday when I realised he hadn’t gotten in touch since… the incident. I thought maybe there was some good left in him, very little good, but enough to make him understand not to bother me ever again.”
“Don’t worry. If he comes round again these will get him to leave,” she says, holding up her arm and pointing at her small biceps.
I laugh despite myself. “You’ve done enough already. Don’t worry, I can deal with him.”
“I’m warning you though, if he does show up again and doesn’t leave the second you tell him to, I’m dialling nine nine nine.”
“Let’s just hope he doesn’t show up again at all.”
Jessica nods emphatically. “I’ll leave you to it, then. I’m going to start getting ready soon, so if you need the bathroom just go downstairs.”
“Okay, see you later.” She gives me a little smile and walks out of my room, leaving the usual scent trail of perfume and fake tan.
“Hey, give me my sandals back!” I shout after her.
“Too late, they’re mine now!”
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