There she is. It hits me how much I’ve missed her. My gut twists as my eyes meet hers. Fuck, what the hell is she wearing? I move toward her. Stiffy whispers in her ear, caressing her back. Get your fucking hands off.
Christ, she’s thin. And she’s wearing a dress, made from a scrap of material, that barely covers her at all. It’s not her usual attire.
“I see you’ve branched into pimping,” I say to Stiffy. Fuck. I said it out loud. Max swings for me. His drink splashes on the floor.
“That’s fucking racist,” he slurs.
That’s not how I meant it. Fuck. “I was referring to the outfit Eleanor is wearing. Very classy.” Christ. I’m such a fuckwit. Stop talking.
“Dick twitchingly hot isn’t she.” Stiffy smirks, at me. Fucker.
“I hadn’t noticed. If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk with my ex-girlfriend in private.” She needs to know we are over.
“It’ll cost you. Time is money. She’s my high end of the market.”
Cunt. I move closer to Eleanor and murmur in her ear, “We can do this in public or private. It’s up to you.” I know she won’t want a scene and that’s where it’s heading what with the way Max is eyeing me.
“Use my room.” Stiffy is too familiar with her.
“I’m not sure you should go anywhere with him.”
As if Max could take me on. Back down. I turn away. “Eleanor,” I say hoping she follows.
She catches up with me in the hallway looking very unsteady in her heels. “This way,” she says in her high pitch way. I know she’s nervous. I clench my hands to my side. Do not touch her. I follow her into the bedroom and close the door. If I’m not going to touch her she needs something over that sorry excuse of a dress. I see the dressing room. Row upon row of men’s clothing.
“What are you doing?” she says.
I grab a shirt and join her. I throw it to her. “Put it on. You look like a slag.” Christ, I’ve hurt her. Shut the fuck up, Sturridge. What is wrong with me?
“I don’t judge people by what they wear or the colour of their skin. It’s what’s inside that counts.”
“You know I’m not racist. I was referring to the prostitute dress. You and Max are the ones being racist. There are white pimps too. Put the shirt on.” She does as she’s told. “Good. Now we can concentrate.” It’ll help stop me from wanting to touch her. I sit in the armchair opposite. I wish I could be nicer. But I don’t need the complication. I can’t be in a relationship. I’m not good for her. “What did you not understand about us splitting up?”
Just get on with what you have to say and get out of here. “I don’t appreciate having Max chastise me or your dad leaving messages warning me to stop cheating on you when we’re not even together.”
“You need to tell him.”
“I will, tomorrow.”
“The last message he left was an hour ago. Where’s your phone?”
She glances at her bag on the bed. I grab it and pull out her phone.
I open her contacts and find her dad and hit dial. I hand it to her. “It’s ten o’clock. He’s not a child.”
“Hi, Dad … I’m fine, honest.” She gets up from her chair and turns her back on me. “Dad, I need to tell you something. I … I should’ve told you at the time. Grant and I broke up in September. So please stop phoning him. It’s sweet you’ve been defending me but it’s unnecessary and wrong. I’m so sorry I put you in that position.”
Her voice cracks. I’m a bastard. She should remember that. I’m no catch.
“I am. I’m okay, Dad. It was a while ago. I’m fine, honestly … I’ll be back at Christmas. I’m looking forward to it … I am thanks. Love you Dad.” She sighs. “Hi, Aunty.”
There’s a long pause.
“I’ve lost a bit but not too much. The papers twist things. I expect they shaved off a few inches to justify their story or the photo was taken from a weird angle.”
Ah. Her aunt must be as worried about her weight as I am. Weird angle, my arse. She’s lost too much weight. This, she has nothing to do to with me. Do not cave.
“I’m looking forward to it … Thanks. Bye, love you.”
She hangs up. She keeps her back to me for at least a minute. I hear her inhale. She turns to face me.
“Sit.” I point at the chair and then hold out my hand for her phone. Like a lamb she gives it to me. “I also said we needed a clean break, no calls, no texts. Did you not understand?”
“I was worried about Kyle.”
“He is not your concern.”
“Grant, something’s wrong.”
“It’s none of your business anymore.” Feeling like the bastard I am I scroll through her contacts. Shit. She’s used the photo of us by the Trevi Fountain. It’s like there’s a knife twisting in my gut. My throat dries, it’s like something’s lodged there. “You don’t need to call me so I’m deleting my number.” I pull up the menu and press delete. It’s over. I catch the look of despair on her face. Fuck. I put the phone back in her bag. “Flynn said he’s seeing you this week. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t come to his place.” I can’t see her again. Not so soon.
“Fine. I’ll invite him here.”
“He’s off skiing with Greg and Toby on Thursday.”
“If you cancel you won’t see him for another week.” Why the hell am I telling her this? I need to get out of here.
She looks up. “Did you say Toby?”
“You’ll need to keep an eye on him. Someone called Toby supplied Flynn with the drugs in Rome. He was at the golf tournament.”
Shit. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I found out when you were in the process of freezing me out of your life.”
Because you’re safer without me. I stand up and walk across the room. She doesn’t follow. I open the door slightly and look back, one last time. “Aren’t you re-joining the party?”
She shakes her head.
“I wasn’t enjoying it much and someone said I look like a prostitute.”
I can’t meet her sad eyes. I’m responsible for this. “I apologise. Ignore me. I…You look good, El.” I look at her. She needs to hear this. “You’re too thin though. Please eat something.” I could be feeding her up, caring for her but how long before I’m scaring her again. I turn away. The door swings wide open and Max walks in with fucking pervy Pete.
“Ellie, look who’s here,” Max slurs.
I pull back my shoulders as Pete squares up to me. Just try it.
“You must be Grant.”
The fucker holds out his hand. I ignore it. “Well well well, pervy Pete.”
He laughs. “You’re judging me, fucking rich.” He turns to Max. “How many women did this piece of shit cheat on her with, five wasn’t it?”
I look at El.
“We weren’t going out at the time,” she says clutching her stomach. She doesn’t look at all well. I’ve been a cunt and she’s still defending me. I don’t deserve her. Never have.
“I can’t believe you’re sticking up for him.”
You and me both, Max.
El kicks off her heels. “Excuse me,” she mumbles, kicking off her heels and running across the bedroom to the dressing room.
Pete pushes my shoulder. “Fucking get out of here. You’ve upset her.”
“At least I didn’t sell naked pictures of her.” I draw back my fist.
Max scowls at me. Is that vomiting I hear? Every nerve in my body wants to run to El. All roads lead to her. Fuck. Max follows El. It wakes me up. She’s got him. She doesn’t need me.
The perve speaks, “Go on then, hit me. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to pummel your face.”
I lower my fist. Pete’s not worth it. There’s nothing for me here. I shake my head and slam the door as I leave the room. Looks like I have a date with a whiskey bottle.