ROMANCE TEST || CHAPTER 14. LOTS OF MAYBE’S

Emilia sits with his number and the question of dialling it – she’s not even talking about what she’d say if she did! – for two days, and then she decides to do the most logical thing. She rings up a female friend to vent to and to have an endlessly unhelpful discussion over some nauseatingly sweet pudding and Merlot.

“So, I get it right, yes?” Elena draws out, sending another piece of white chocolate cheesecake into her mouth. “He wants to see you. It’s good. Why are you not calling him?”

“Because he kicked me out of his bed!” Emilia exclaims and takes a sip of her wine.

“But he didn’t actually kick you,” Elena says, pointing her fork at Emilia. “I mean, he didn’t kick you out. You just explained it to me. You said this is normal for men these days. You say you are done having sex, and they don’t insist.” Elena shakes her head. “You’re lucky he isn’t a Russian man. If he was Russian, he would be very angry that you asked him to stop.”

“I didn’t actually ask him to stop,” Emilia says and drops her head on the back of her sofa. “He asked if I wanted to continue, and I said I didn’t know. But that’s not the point! Anyone can change their mind in the middle of shagging, Elena!”

“I know, I know.” The Russian waves her hand at Emilia. “I’m just saying that a Russian man would be angry. I didn’t say that it is OK to insist. A good Russian man would probably just invite you to another dinner and hope for a bit more of sex next time.”

“Well, I reckon that’s why he wants me to ring him up.”

Emilia’s glass is empty, and she pours the rest of their wine in it. Elena brought three bottles, but Emilia thinks she’s probably had enough. Drunk dialling a bloke is just too much of a cliché, isn’t it?

“And why is it so bad that he kicked you out?” Elena asks. “Is it because it isn’t like in American movies? Or in your books?”

“No!” Emilia pouts.

“No? Because I think it is,” Elena says. “But you didn’t even go to a restaurant. He didn’t pick you up with flowers to eat something expensive. You know, something small on a big plate, with a zigzag of sauce on it, and no taste.” Elena gives her a pointed look, raising her eyebrow, and Emilia giggles. “You told him you wanted sex, and he fed you dessert from a big bowl, right?” the Russian asks.

“It was more like a glass dish, but yes.” Emilia laughs. “Where are you going with that?”

“Anton and I eat like this.” Elena pops the tip of her slice into her mouth. When she eats cake or pie, she always starts from the outside edge, from the crust, ‘because the centre is the best part.’ “You and I eat like that,” Elena continues and points at the box with the cheesecake on the sofa between them. “It wasn’t a date. A date is official. No, that’s a wrong word. What is it called when it’s a big deal? Like when you wear your best dress and men wear ties?”

“Formal?” Emilia offers.

“Yes, formal. A date is formal. There are rules of how to behave. Maybe, they are different rules here than in Russia.” Elena shrugs. “But there are rules, I’m sure. But you can’t be angry that he doesn’t follow them, because it wasn’t a date.”

“I didn’t expect him to follow any sort of rules,” Emilia grumbles defensively. “It just wasn’t very nice, innit? And what does it even mean, ‘I can’t have anyone in my flat?’”

“Maybe he’s married,” Elena deadpans, and Emilia chokes on a piece of cheesecake crust she’s just put into her mouth.

“No, he isn’t!”

“Well, maybe not formally.” Elena looks very proud of herself for expanding her vocabulary. “He has a girlfriend. She’s coming. She can’t see you in his flat. Does this sound right?”

“If he was expecting his girlfriend,” Emilia starts and frowns. She doesn’t want to think about a potential girlfriend of Daniel Oates. If she exists, she probably looks like Monica Bellucci. He doesn’t fancy skinny women – and he’s amazing enough to be worthy Monica. “Why would he invite me over then?”

“Maybe, he forgot,” Elena once again dismisses Emilia’s argument with a shrug. “Men have problem to manage time. Maybe she’s a hooker.”

Emilia is only grateful she wasn’t drinking at the moment. Otherwise, she’d have fan-spat Merlot all over her friend.

“You think his girlfriend is a sex worker,” she repeats in disbelief.

“No, I mean he was expecting a hooker, then he forgot, because he met you, and then he kicked you out. That explains why he didn’t finish,” Elena points out.

Emilia knows this is absurd – but nonetheless, she decisively opens the second bottle of wine. She needs a bit of ‘liquid support.’

“Alright,” Emilia says after each of them has one more glass. “Even if he has a girlfriend or he was waiting for his escort to come over, it has nothing to do with me. I need to focus on my relationship with him. And I just don’t understand what it is! We ran into each other, I asked him out for lunch. Then I offered to go to his place to have sex. And then he asked me to leave. So I assumed that was the end of it. He tried, and he didn’t enjoy it. I reckon, I just didn’t fit his kink criteria. Maybe I’m not fat enough for him, or something,” she finishes and pours another full glass.

Emilia met Elena five years ago in a gym – in a snack bar in a gym, to be precise. They were both skiving off their weight lifting class. That was Emilia’s fifth – and last – attempt to ‘take her weight under control,’ following the insistent suggestions of her GP. Since then, Emilia has actually figured out a way out of this aggro. She found a new GP, who doesn’t consider her weight a symptom. Problem solved!

“Can I see his picture again?” Elena says and plates each of them a new slice of cheesecake.

Emilia turns her laptop so that Elena can look at the photo of Oates from some toff foodie blog again.

“This–” Elena almost pokes the screen with her fork. “This is the proof that Mother Nature is a woman. She has a big, generous heart, yes? She takes care of us.” Elena presses her left hand to her chest ardently and then scoops more cake with her right one. “She made a man who looks like that to like women like us. Well done, mamochka!”

Emilia snorts.

“It’s called a kink, Elena. It’s not normal,” she says and slides lower on the sofa.

Her head is buzzing pleasantly, and she still has half a slice of cheesecake on the plate she’s carefully settled on her bust. And there’s a man out there who allegedly fancied her arse. Life’s good.

The Russian makes her usual derisive ‘pfft’ noise.

“Normal or not, it’s good,” she points out. “Anton liked me when I was skinny. Before we had Tanya and Sasha.” She sighs. “He likes skinny women more. I can see when he looks at actresses. But he still has sex with me now, and he never says anything about diets or doing exercises. Because he loves me, and he says that he doesn’t care what I look like. Because it’s ‘me inside.'” She gestures quotation marks with one hand, unoccupied with her glass. “So, if your Oates likes you inside and outside, you should be happy!”

“He did say I was funny,” Emilia remembers through the haze of Merlot and her quickly developing sugar coma. “I think he also said ‘sexy,’ and there were some other compliments there… I don’t remember. But he definitely said I was funny.”

“Is funny good?” Elena asks. “Is it like ‘your jokes are funny,’ or like ‘funny in the head?’ You know, a bit crazy?”

She twirls her finger near her temple with a surprisingly loud whistle. Elena Kolodets is a woman of many talents.

“I don’t actually know,” Emilia draws out pensively. “I suppose, both? I did say a few daft things to him, and I don’t remember joking that much, to be honest. Yeah, you’re right. He thinks I’m mental.”

“You always do this, yes?” Elena sits up and gives Emilia a glare. “You always change things, something someone said, or some news you get, and you always turn them into bad things. He said you were funny, and then he wanted to have sex with you. Clearly, he liked you, at least a little bit. Just enjoy!” She throws another look at the screen. “Look! You meet him again. Maybe it’s not a date again, but you meet, and you kiss and have sex. Isn’t it good? Look at his shoulders and arms! You will touch his biceps and hug him. I bet his hug feels like snuggling a bear. And no, before you ask, I don’t know how it feels to hug a bear. I grew up in a city with ten million people, and with underground trains, and McDonalds on every corner! I only saw bears in children books!”

Emilia bursts into laughter and wraps her arms around the Russian’s neck. The plate slides off Emilia’s cleavage, but it’s empty now and it lands on the soft carpet, so no harm done.

“You’re so funny, Elena,” she says lovingly.

The Russian gives her a pout but then smiles and kisses her cheek. “And you’re a bit silly, Emilia. Call the man and arrange another meeting. I bet he will have more nice things to say. Maybe he likes your insides like he likes your outside.”

Emilia decides she won’t correct the Russian. She gets the meaning, and that’s all that matters.

“Or you will just get to put your hands on his chest again.” Elena draws circles in the air with her open hands. “I can just close my eyes and imagine it. Even if after that he kicks you again– kicks you out again, don’t you want to have a little bit of this pleasure?”

Emilia does. First, she should sober up and plan what she’s going to say – but not too much, otherwise she’ll overthink, lose her bottle, and never, ever, ever call him. And then she will ring him up – even just for the sake of touching his chest again.

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