January the first. I unwrap the plastic from a new calendar, the theme this year is masks. This month's picture shows the carved faces of a two-headed god, hair waving like snakes, Roman noses pointing in opposite directions. The message is don't look back because if the wind changes your face will be stuck that way. I have an event to write down, the twenty-fifth, Katya's party. I write it with a blunt stub of pencil I find in the kitchen. I shall wear my new red top to Katya's, it's really cool and will look great with my best jeans, the ones that are a really good fit. Not that her friends know much about fashion anyway.
I don't have to work today. I've just spent Christmas at Mum's and I don't feel the need to see her at New Year as well so I go to the New Mall which feels colourful and clean after a childhood in drab Acton. Since moving here I have begun to enjoy, well, not shopping exactly, but walking around the shopping streets, the malls and markets, looking at the bored or busy people as much as at the goods on show in the crammed festive shop windows. Sometimes I stop for coffee at one of the small Italian cafes that can be found by glancing down side streets for bright awnings and pavement tables; I hate the big American coffeebar chains.
When I first see Gerard I think he is a waiter at one of these cafes, he has what I think of as Italian good looks, slightly too long black hair and olive skin. Also the most beautiful big dark eyes with amazing long eyelashes, but I don't notice this right away, in fact I hardly look at him because I think he's the waiter. I'm sitting outside the cafe and he comes up to my table, luckily before I can order an espresso he asks if the seat beside me is taken. From his accent I can tell he is not Italian but French. He really is very cute. I do speak a little French and Gerard speaks English well enough that we have no problem understanding each other.
Before we finish our coffee we agree to meet for a drink, tomorrow night at eight in All Bar One. As he gets up to leave he says if I am hungry tomorrow he will take me to a little restaurant which does very good French food. He bends over the table towards me, dark hair falling into his eyes. For a moment I think he is about to kiss me, then he pulls on his jacket and is gone. I realise I know very little about him, I don't know where he lives or where he works, I don't even know what his job is. I don't know his last name.
There is no way I'm going to miss our date. I take ages getting ready, pushing my hair different ways and trying on clothes I haven't worn for months. I settle on a dress which is an old one, when I first bought it I wore it all the time but then I got bored with it and it's just been sitting in the wardrobe. It's a satin print, dark blue with white flowers, kind of Chinese style with a row of little buttons down one side. I got it at Portobello market. I put on black boots with high heels and my sheepskin jacket which is really warm. It's ten to eight when I leave and I think I'm going to be late, but I'm lucky and I see a bus just as I get to the stop. I get there a few minutes after eight and he is already there waiting for me.
Of course I'm starving because I haven't eaten since a sandwich at lunchtime, but he seems to have forgotten about the restaurant. We share a bottle of wine and I forget to feel hungry. He doesn't drink much and I assume he's driving so I end up drinking most of the bottle myself. He invites me back to his flat where he has a bottle of champagne in the fridge. Why hesitate? He seems to really like me and I don't think he wants to hurt me.
He says his flat is just round the corner but in the end it's at least ten minutes walk. His place is really just a bedsit with a shared kitchen and bath. There's only one chair in his room which has a pile of stuff on it so I sit on the bed. He gets the champagne from the kitchen and gets two wine glasses out of a cupboard. Moving the things off the chair he sits down, putting the glasses on the floor, and opens the champagne. He keeps topping up my glass, I'm sure I drink more than he does, but it's delicious and I'm not complaining. He pours the last drops into my glass then moves to sit beside me on the bed and we start kissing.
Touching him and kissing him feels so good I can't stop and he seems to feel the same way about me. We start to undress each other and he makes a big thing of undoing all the little white buttons on my dress. There is a zip at the back but I don't like to tell him. Luckily he is cool about using a condom. After sex we both sleep for a while. When I wake up I feel great, all warm and happy like you do when sex has been really good. I think I should go home because I've got to go to work early in the morning. He says I can stay the night but not as if he thinks it's really important. He says he dreamed about me just now when we were asleep.
For the next few weeks we see each other maybe two or three times a week, I always go to his place and we always have sex. Sometimes we go out for a drink first but more often we share a bottle of wine in his room. Mostly he gets the bottle of wine but sometimes when he phones he asks me to bring it. The first time he insisted on paying for the bottle. It's always him who decides which nights we meet, and he never seems to know what he's doing in advance, as if he hates to plan ahead. Sex is always really good and he's easy to be with. We talk about interesting things like art and poetry and cinema. We don't talk about work or gossip about mutual friends, he doesn't tell me the story of his life or ask questions about mine as most men do, he doesn't demand that instant intimacy.
One day at work someone suggests going out for a drink and a crowd of us end up in a bar that I've never been to before. It's a big place but it's split into lots of little rooms and booths and alcoves connected by arches, there's an upstairs and a basement and a spiral staircase which I wouldn't want to go down in high heels after a few drinks. We sit on the ground floor by the big window where there are two enormous leather sofas. Suddenly I see Gerard at the top of the stairs from the basement. He is wearing a grey fleece jacket instead of his usual black leather one; it looks new. It suits him, he looks better than any of the other guys in the place. He doesn't see me, he is taking his mobile out of his pocket and before I can call out to him he has gone out of the door. I can see him through the window, he is walking up and down outside talking into his phone, he seems to be getting very annoyed with whoever is on the other end. He is frowning and emphasising his argument with hand gestures as if the other person could see him. At last he finishes with what looks like angry words and as he puts his phone away in his pocket he looks back towards the bar. I am sure he will see me through the window and for a moment I want to run out to him and say let's leave our friends and go back to your place. But he doesn't seem to see me and maybe he wasn't with any friends because he turns round and quickly walks away.
Next time I see him I ask him if he saw me in the bar but he doesn't seem to know what I'm talking about. He says he's never been there. I ask him if he's bought a new grey fleece jacket and he says no, I must have seen someone else. I know I saw him, I can't believe there's someone who looks so much like him. Then he tells me who he thinks it is. His twin brother, Edouard. Why didn't he tell me he had a twin brother? It's a good thing I didn't run out of the bar and ask to go home with him. Though he's so good-looking, they both are, that he probably wouldn't be very surprised. What would it be like to have an affair with two twin brothers? I tell him I would very much like to meet Edouard.
Edouard would love to meet me, Edouard would like to take us out for a meal next weekend, Edouard is very busy next weekend, Edouard is thinking of going back to France, Edouard took the Eurostar yesterday. So I never get to meet Edouard.
Then one night after sex I fall asleep and Gerard doesn't wake me up. I don't usually stay the night because he only has a single bed and there's nothing like enough space to sleep comfortably. But this night I have a really good sleep and I don't wake up until seven next morning. Gerard makes me a coffee and some toast. He has some strange French jam which I'm not sure about because I think it's made out of prunes, but it turns out prunes is French for plums. In the end it tastes ok and I forgive Gerard for laughing at me. I have to wear the same clothes I wore to work yesterday, but everything's basic black so probably no-one will notice. When it's time to leave for work he kisses me and it's so hard to leave I'm tempted to phone in sick and take the day off. But I expect Gerard will have plans for the day, so I pull myself away and go down the stairs to the hallway, just as the morning's letters are pushed through the front door. I pick them up and put them on the little table by the door and I notice one of them has a French stamp. I expect to see Gerard's name but instead it says, "M. Edouard Gascogne".
One evening I am on my way to see Gerard. I am supposed to get there at eight, but because of a crisis at work it's after seven before I leave the office. There's no time to go home first, even if I go straight to Gerard's I will not get there until half past seven. Luckily I get a bus right away; he usually complains when I'm late so I expect he'll be pleased that I'm early for once. When I get there I ring his bell but he doesn't come down to let me in right away and at first I think he isn't there. Then I see him looking out of the window. He waves and calls that he will be down in a moment but I still have to wait a couple of minutes before he comes to the door. We go upstairs to his room and I take off my coat and sit down on the chair. Balanced on the arm of the chair is a pair of men's gloves in tan leather, not new. Gerard sees them at the same time as I do. They belong to a friend of his who is just leaving, he has gone to the bathroom, Gerard might just catch him. A whisper of French outside the door, I can't make out the words, then footsteps down the stairs and the sound of the front door closing. For some reason I have a crazy idea that the mysterious friend is Edouard and I go to the window to see if I can get a good look at him, but Gerard quickly follows me to the window and puts his arms round me, turning me away from the street. By the time we finish kissing the man has vanished.
Soon after this evening Gerard tells me that he's going back to France and we won't be able to see each other again. I ask him if it's because he misses Edouard and he looks puzzled, but all he will say is that he has to be in Paris for business reasons. They don't seem to be very close for twins. We will see each other again one last time and the next day he will leave for Paris.
For a few weeks I'm upset about Gerard going away but then I notice a cute new guy in the accounts department at work. Maybe if I get him to talk about himself and I do my good listener act he might ask me out. Then one Saturday I'm on the tube when just as the doors are starting to close, someone runs onto the platform. He just misses the train and I see it is Gerard. Or could it be Edouard?