By lisa h
I didn’t expect Julie to lean over and kiss me. She’d been telling me about her life in Australia; why she’d run away to England, and why my flatmate would never, ever have her. Fred was in the next bedroom, fluffing pillows and hiding his mess, while she sat on my bed beside me, her mouth pressed gently against my own. I should have resisted when Julie tugged at the buttons on my shirt, and slid her hand under the fabric. Her touch electrified me, sending currents over my skin, leaving tingles in the wake of her fingertips. And the whole time, as she cupped one of my breasts, and squeezed the nipple between two fingers, all I could think was, ‘I’m not gay.’
She abandoned me in my room a little while later, when Fred called for her. The scent of her perfume filled the air, and I was left with a feeling of need and desire, and the overbearing sensation that I’d done something very wrong. Julie slept in his bed, a chasm between them as she snuggled at the edge of the mattress, Fred propped up on one arm as he watched her sleep. He reported to me after she went home, as we drank tea and decided which pub we’d go to that evening.
I think she sowed seeds in me that night. They grew, consuming me with the image of her face, the shape of her hips. The green of her irises floated in front of those of everyone I spoke to, the firmness of her body remembered every time my hand passed over my own. She took me that night, and when I sidestepped her in the hall at work on Monday, I could see from the glint in her eyes that she already knew.
We danced around each other in the kitchen, the kettle whining as the element heated the water. I washed cups; she took a pack of cut melon from the fridge. And every time she passed behind me, feelers of her electricity jumped over to me.
“Julie…” I started, then put a mug on the drainer, moved to the door, and peered down the hall. I stepped back into the room, and asked, “What happened on Friday?”
Julie leaned against the counter, her dress flowing over her skin, her lips red and plump. She popped a cube of fruit in her mouth.
I came closer, and whispered, “What did you do to me?”
“Am I filling your thoughts, Lucy?” she asked. “Do you want me? Right now?”
I took the tea towel, and rubbed the cups dry, placing them in a row by the kettle. I wanted to explore her, touch her all over, kiss her soft skin, lay my head on her stomach and take in her scent.
I jumped as she touched me. She ran her fingers down my arm and traced the pattern on my shirt, following the lines around to my front, felt for the edge of my bra beneath the fabric, and brushed her fingertips across the nipple.
“No,” I said, and took a step away. “What if someone came in?”
“We wouldn’t be the first to be caught necking in the tearoom,” she said, and stole a kiss.
“We can’t, I can’t. I don’t like women... not that way.”
“I don’t believe you,” Julie said, and strode from the room, the hem of her long dress flowing out behind her.
I pressed my arms against my chest, trying to soften erect nipples. All these years, seeking the perfect man, the white wedding, the children around my ankles – was this all wrong?
I fixed the teas, and took them on a tray back into the office.
I watched my colleagues as I sipped my drink. I wasn’t the only person to take an interest in Julie. She was one of those people that everyone finds attractive, male or female. That’d never bothered me before. I took an art degree, I was used to studying the human form. I found beauty in the most unobvious places. But Julie radiated. She walked in and her audience squinted, as if the sun was pouring through the open door. Clothes took her shape. She didn’t just wear them, they clung to her curves, accentuated her femininity like they’d been designed only for her. Her hair fell in silky chocolate locks with a slight wave - reminiscent of the style leading ladies used when movies were silent. Everyone stopped to admire to Julie.
She dropped something on the floor, and leaned over to pick it up. Her dress fell open, revealing a rose coloured bra. I wanted to pull at the lace, put her to my mouth, lick and nibble her most sensitive places, make her groan, arch her back. Make love. I wanted her like no one before. With difficulty, I averted my eyes, and concentrated on her face. She returned my stare, calm, a slight smile on her lips. I swivelled in my chair, and bumped the mouse, so the screen saver disappeared and my work reappeared. I sensed her come near, and then pass behind. A sigh escaped me, and I clicked past pages of Google rubbish as I searched for a product I needed for the project, sipping at my tea.
Donna tumbled in through the door, thankfully breaking the atmosphere.
“There’s a rat in the bathroom,” she said breathlessly. She swept her hair away from her face and scrutinized all of us inside the office. “A rat! Did no one hear me?”
Jeff spoke up from next to the photocopier. “So?”
“So? What if it bit someone? Don’t they spread diseases?”
Donna shook her hands, water droplets spraying Dave.
“You wouldn’t like it if you were trying to do a wee, and something started scratching around behind the tiles.”
“So it’s not running about the toilets, it’s crawling about between the walls,” Dave said, brushing at the drops on his arm.
“That’s not the point. Couldn’t even stay in the room long enough to dry my hands.”
“I already noticed.” Dave pushed back in his seat. “Well, I for one want to see what wee beastie’s lurking in the loos.”
Dave walked out the room. Steve looked around, and then followed. Jeff left the lid up on the copier, and jogged out after them.
“It’s behind the left hand side toilet…” Donna called down the hall. She peered back at Julie and me, and then ran after the men.
“Alone again,” Julie said, and came over to my desk. She cupped her hands around my face and tiled my head back. I closed my eyes as she bent over and kissed me. She parted my lips with her tongue, her hands sliding to the back of my head, and drawing me forward with a urgency I matched by grabbing her around the waist, and pulling her to me.
As quickly as she came to me, she was gone. I opened my eyes slowly, stunned by the passion. She was perched on the edge of my desk, her face turned to the window, watching the autumn clouds race by.
“I can’t do this.” I took a tissue, and wiped her lipstick from my mouth. “If this is the way things are going to be, I can’t live with you filling my mind. I can’t concentrate on work, and I can’t risk losing my job.” I pushed my mouse so the screen saver went away. “And I’m not a lesbian. I’ve never thought about women like this before. It’s just you.”
“You’re not going to give us a chance?”
I gazed over at the door, and then to Julie. I inhaled slowly, and said, “No.”
Her eyes grew larger, greener. A shimmer came across them, I stared, amazed. Julie was going to cry.
“Why… what did I do?”
“You’re driving me crazy!”
“Isn’t that what lovers are supposed to do?” she said, and put a hand on my knee.
“You’re wrong.” She moved her hand up my leg towards my crotch.
“I’m not. Not when they work in the same office,” I said, and knocked her hand away. “And certainly not when they’re both women.”
“You’re actually serious.”
“I’ve seen the way you gawk at me,” she said, and tried to put her hand back.
I pushed her away. “I’m a trained artist, I study people. I spent four years in uni, learning how to see it all.
“No, you looked at me differently.”
“But you’re attracted to me.”
Down the hall, a crash sounded, a squeal, and a series of shouts.
“You make me hot and cold, you make me warm, wet, full of desire, but I can’t do it, I can’t be with you.”
Julie glanced over to her shoulder and checked the door.
“But you want me…”
“But I’m not gay.”
“You kissed me.”
“No. You kissed me. The only reason you were over at my house was because Fred wanted to get in your pants.”
The bathroom door banged open, seconds later everyone piled back in.
“Steve’s scared of rats!” Jeff yelled.
“You’re all wimps, the lot of you!” Donna said, and came over to my desk. “Dave found a broken tile, and a hole into the wall. He thought he heard a noise and Steve pushed him out the way to have a look, and squealed like a pig-”
“Like a piglet,” Dave said. “He fell back out of the cubicle, because he’d seen something nosing about on the floor.”
“We heard you all shouting,” I said. “Sounds like you’re all pathetic scaredy cats.”
Jeff put the lid down on the copier. “I didn’t yell.”
“No, he poked the toilet brush in the hole,” Donna said, and laughed.
“Seemed like a sensible thing to do.”
“So it’s safe now?” Julie asked. She didn’t wait for an answer, and walked off without another word.
Donna came up to me. “What’s with her?”
“Boyfriend broke up with her,” I said, and tapped a pen against my leg. “She got a text.”
“What, when we were all in the loo?”
Donna went back to her desk, and plugged the dictating machine into her ears, and started tapping away at the keyboard. Jeff kept copying. Dave stood at his drawing board, and studied a sketch he needed to draft up. Steve picked up the phone and called up an engineer for some information on beam sizes. I went back to converting a planning drawing for a building regulation application. Julie came back about five minutes later, her eyes red. She avoided my gaze, and sat down at her desk to work.
Julie stopped talking to me that day, she moved through the week as if I didn’t exist, her expression hardening every time I came near. The smile lighting up her face would fall; her eyes lose their focus. I felt like a ghost passing by.
On Friday, I came home late from the pub to a quiet house, a fire smouldering in the fireplace. An empty bottle of wine sat on the side table, two tall stemmed glasses nearby. I went up the stairs, heading to my bedroom to change out of my work clothes. Fred’s door stood open a little, wide enough to hear the quite noises of foreplay. I passed by, a smile playing on my face, and changed into sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. On the way back to the stairs, unable to help myself, I stopped to find out whom Fred had managed to coerce back to his bed.
His partner for the night was underneath. His fingers played across the skin of her stomach, and then up higher, presumably to her breast, but his body obscured hers and I couldn’t be sure. He leaned over, kissing, licking, while she groaned and squirmed under his caresses. Then in a tumble of sheets and the remains of clothing still scattered on the bed, they switched places. I jumped back from the door, a guilty flush coming over me, but I returned to the gap, unable to pull myself away.
Her back was to me, her hair long and brown, swaying over her shoulders as she carefully placed her body on top of Fred’s. She was thin, her skin noticeably pale, despite the subdued light of the room, her backbone curved as she settled into her chosen position. Leaning over, she placed a kiss on Fred’s lips, the side of her left breast came into view, then disappeared again as Fred reached up and covered the flesh with his palm. She started to move up and down, her pelvis rotating back and forth. I moved away, my hand remaining on the doorknob so as to close the door on the temptation to keep watching, when she twisted her head slightly. I knew that face.
She caught my eye, Julie, in my flatmates bed, her lips curving at the edges. She turned back to Fred, riding him with an increased enthusiasm, as I remained at the door, my mouth hung open in surprise, my mind prickling with jealousy, my body aching for her touch. And the thought that kept repeating, as I imagined myself in his place, naked, and under Julie, was ‘I’m not gay.’