Salvage, страница 9
Melanie followed, taking a seat opposite Helena. She felt uneasy, as if she was back on the barge as it hit the swell of the open passage. Her memory of their kiss clouded her mind, sending her pulse racing, electrifying her skin. Helena poured and Melanie took her cup, determined to drink it quickly and make up an excuse to leave. She needed fresh air. She needed space. Helena was fascinating, but unnerving, and she didn’t want to drag this out any longer than she had to. Why had she come? To return the dress. It had seemed like an important thing to do. Now it lay on the floor at her feet and she felt like she had when she’d been dating Richard for the first time, feeling him stripping her with his eyes.
Helena leaned back in her chair. Her eyes shone with a faint green glow in the candlelight.
‘How have you been, Melanie? You seemed … unsettled last night.’
‘I’m fine. Not sleeping so well. Maybe it’s the weather.’ She sipped her tea, too hot to gulp. She leaned back, trying to mirror Helena’s relaxed pose, to convince herself there was no ulterior motive in her being here. Helena was just a lonely foreign woman who was too direct in expressing herself, and Melanie was too insecure to know how to react. A fresh runnel of sweat trickled down her spine and she bent forward to ease the discomfort.
Helena plucked at Melanie’s sleeve. ‘You always wear such baggy clothes, Melanie. Yet you have a wonderful figure, full, like a woman’s. Me, I have a boy’s body, don’t you think?’
‘Not at all.’ She thought of Richard ogling Helena’s cleavage the night before. He’d spit chips if he thought he’d been drooling over a boy. The idea made her grin.
‘No, no, it’s nothing. Just remembering something.’
‘So why, Melanie? Even when you swim, you wear your clothes. I find it strange.’
Melanie shrugged, the humidity bearing down on her, the cabin closing in. She put her cup down, her hand shaking.
‘Here.’ Helena kneeled, pushing the coffee table out of the way. ‘It’s all right, Melanie. I am your friend. Your dearest friend.’
She caressed Melanie’s cheeks, her eyes locked on hers. In the semi-darkness, Helena’s face shone like sunlight through dark honey, her teeth bright against her lips. Lips that moved closer. Melanie’s heart thumped in her chest but her limbs were weighted down. The world was dark except for Helena’s eyes and the glint of light on her parted lips, the tip of her tongue. Her lips met Melanie’s. Quietly, gently, patiently pressing against hers. Melanie breathed out and Helena sucked in her breath.
Indecision made a statue of Melanie as she felt the gentle pressure, heard the distant smack as the contact was broken and then resumed, this time with nibbles of lips and teeth, teasing at her mouth sealed tight. She had to leave. This was not right. But she didn’t move, couldn’t move, just breathed and stared into Helena’s eyes. She blinked, the resistance broke; she opened her lips and sighed. Helena’s hands fell to her throat, her shoulders. She worked Melanie’s lips until Melanie returned the pressure.
Helena stood, drew Melanie to her feet and led her upstairs to the bed. By the time Melanie lay down, she was naked. Helena leaned over her, stripping to reveal her lithe, flawless figure, her budded breasts anointed by nipples with no aureole at all, a thick thatch of pubic hair between her legs.
Good on her for not shaving, Melanie thought, for flying the flag of her maturity. Much to Richard’s chagrin, she hadn’t waxed in months, but that wasn’t defiance: it was camouflage.
And then thoughts of her scar and of Richard fled as Melanie surrendered to Helena’s touch. She saw dark wetness on Helena as she lifted her lips from between Melanie’s quivering legs and straddled her chest. Musk flooded Melanie’s senses. She resisted, momentarily, then fingers found her and she opened again and her tongue moved hungrily of its own volition. Helena clamped Melanie’s face to her groin, grinding into her lapping tongue until she came with a breathless moan.
Melanie lay next to Helena, breathing in the heady scent of dead roses, so strong in the heat of the cabin. She could feel stickiness on her lips and chin, salty when she tasted it. She wanted to wash, but her limbs were limp, and she didn’t want to disturb Helena, lying so restfully beside her, her eyes closed, a faint smile on her lips. A single smear of blood, like smudged lipstick, dotted her chin.
Melanie slowly rolled on to her back, wanting to dissect what had just happened, but wanting also to simply accept and bask in the affection, in the satisfaction. A blowfly, the size of the tip of her finger, buzzed lazily across the ceiling as though eyeing them for a suitable place to land.
She didn’t want to think what Richard would say if he knew—probably something crude about a threesome—or what it meant for them, if it meant anything at all. He was at the pub, sucking down broadband and beer. This had nothing to do with him.
‘What will Paul say?’ Melanie asked.
Helena smiled, teeth white in the corner of Melanie’s vision. The fly buzzed lower.
‘It’s none of his concern.’
‘Really? He won’t be jealous or angry?’
‘It’s none of his concern,’ she repeated sternly. ‘Don’t be afraid. I won’t let him hurt you.’
Melanie tensed. ‘Hurt me?’
The fly spiralled closer, as though sensing her impending death.
‘No one will hurt you.’ Helena’s hand flashed out, a pale blur. There was a crunch as she made a fist in the air, right next to Melanie’s ear. And then she wiped her hand on the sheet, leaving the remains of the blowfly as a smear of guts and wings. ‘Not ever.’
‘I need … I need to pee.’
Melanie hurried downstairs to the bathroom, collecting her discarded clothes on the way, and rinsed her face, relishing the fresh water. She dried off then wrapped the towel around herself while she searched for tampons.
‘What are you looking for, Melanie?’
She started, not having heard Helena’s approach. The woman stood naked, leaning against the jamb.
‘A tampon, a pad … I didn’t think you’d mind.’
‘I don’t use them. I no longer suffer that affliction.’
‘A small benefit of my “illness”. On my home, they expect you will marry and have children, many children, so that they can marry and have children, and on and on. There is no leaving, only breeding. They are like birds or fish that always come back to the one place to have babies. That is the way of it there. But me, I always wanted to see over the ocean, to know what was out there. My … condition … freed me to do that, even if it has restricted me in other ways. I might have been a good mother, but I don’t mind not knowing. I prefer to see this world, even if my own people don’t understand. Even if they hate me for it.’
‘It sounds horrible, though, not to have had the choice.’
‘But I did choose.’
Melanie suspected she’d missed something, but assumed Helena meant she’d chosen to leave rather than stay on her island. She’d eloped, after all. The thought of being childless in a small community with such an abundance of prams… She could understand running away and convincing yourself that you didn’t object, that in fact you had somehow caused it to happen.
‘And Paul doesn’t mind, obviously,’ Melanie offered. ‘That he won’t be a father.’
‘You don’t need to worry about him. I’ll protect you. We will protect each other.’
The comment sparked Melanie’s anxiety once more. She dropped her towel and began to dress, as quickly as she could without appearing scared, and staying side-on to Helena, not wanting to reveal her front nor turn her back. There was an undercurrent here she couldn’t fathom; she was completely out of her depth.
‘Do you really think Paul would hurt me?’
‘He’s possessive. That’s why he brought me here. Somewhere isolated but close to a big city. Somewhere I cannot leave without his help.’
‘Why can’t you leave? Has he hurt you?’
‘But your condition’s not that bad, is it? It’s not as if you can’t walk or talk. Not that that’s … oh, I don’t know what I mean. I don’t understand what he would be worried about. But you and me—Don’t get me wrong, Helena. I really liked sleeping with you. It was … different. Wonderful. Beautiful. But I don’t want any trouble. I don’t want you to get into trouble.’
Helena crossed the distance between them so quickly, Melanie pulled back in surprise. Helena cradled her face. ‘Don’t worry. Nothing will force us apart.’
Melanie took the woman’s hands and stepped free. She eyed Helena’s body that she had enjoyed so intimately. ‘That scratch—did I do that? Did I hurt you?’
A livid mark ran along the inside of Helena’s left thigh. ‘Not at all. It takes a lot to hurt me.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t even realise—’
Helena stepped into her, kissed her lips. ‘I liked giving you my blood. We are one, now, you and I.’
‘Your what?’ Melanie stepped out of the embrace again. ‘Helena, I need to slow this down. I don’t understand what’s happening here—what you think is happening here…’
‘Oh Melanie, isn’t it obvious? We are falling in love.’
‘Too strong? Too much? You don’t believe in love at first sight?’
‘No, I … I don’t know. Maybe for some.’
‘But not for you. Why do you do this—deny your feelings, your hopes?’
‘I don’t, I’m not. It’s just that this is all so sudden.’ She felt as if she was on a carousel, whirling too fast, way too fast.
‘You fascinate me, Melanie. So much to live for, but walking so close with death.’ She lifted Melanie’s locket by its chain and let it drop with a gentle thud. Melanie covered it protectively with her hand as Helena said, ‘You wear it next to your skin. You live in the past.’
‘How can you say that? How can you presume—? Do you think you know me so well? Just because you found me on the beach. Because we’ve fucked?’
She spat the words out, aiming to offend—the best defence—but the attack failed to penetrate Helena’s implacable demeanour. The words bounced and struck her, hard.
‘Don’t apologise.’ Helena clasped Melanie’s hand, pushing the locket into her breastbone. ‘I have taken you into myself. I have given you a part of myself. We are linked now, you and I. I share your loss, and I can offer you this: you don’t need to feel it again. There is more to life than giving it to another.’
‘I don’t understand what you mean. Are you saying that there’s more to life than being a mother? I realise that. There’s more to being a woman, but that’s not why I wear this. This is all I have left of her. Claudia deserved her chance.’
‘I’m saying I can give you—share with you—life without death. No fear. No loss. The whole world to explore and no reason to rush.’
‘Helena, I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, but it’s freaking me out. I really have to go and try to make sense of all this.’
For a minute, she thought Helena was going to argue with her, but then she stepped away to give her access to the door.
‘Of course, I understand it has all happened very quickly. Please.’ She gestured to the door, followed Melanie through and leaned against the sofa, stroking her stomach languidly as she watched Melanie pull on her serape.
Melanie felt the woman’s eyes on her, both sated and hungry.
‘I’ll see you tonight,’ Helena said as Melanie reached the door.
‘Richard will be home.’
Helena shrugged. ‘Tell me one thing, Melanie: can you drive?’
Melanie blinked, the question taking her from left field. ‘Yeah, sure I can.’
‘Good. That is good. I’ve never learned.’
‘Um, okay. I’ll see you later.’
Melanie stumbled from the hut, so confused she could barely see, let alone breathe. What the hell had she got herself into?
Melanie trudged along the narrow road. Scrubby trees pressed close on either side. Their branches cracked together, sounding harsh and disapproving, like rocks being piled up in preparation for a stoning. Since the incident in the bunker, the teasing promise of illicit sex had been niggling at her. But now that she’d had it, her first time with a woman, her first act of adultery, she didn’t know how she should feel about it.
Apparently, it meant a great deal to Helena, and her husband, quite fairly, would be pissed if he found out. And Richard … what would Richard think, really? Would it be the straw that broke the camel’s back, leaving her staring down the barrel at a divorce? A stillbirth and a divorce, and she almost thirty. Still time to start again, but how? With whom? Was she going to shave her head, buy jeans and a wide belt and get an axe tattooed on her upper arm? Join the kd lang fan club?
She laughed at her absurd waterfall of ideas crashing down on her. She liked men, she knew that. But Helena … Helena had been different. Tender and urgent, strong yet yielding. And the warm, wet softness of her cunt under Melanie’s fingers and tongue, the low moans and the explosive thrust of her hips, driving Melanie wild. Giving and taking in equal measure. No buzz cuts, no belts, no tatts. Just a beautiful, sensual woman who’d found Melanie desirable, no membership card required.
Why did Helena have to go sully it with her existential clap trap? Just what was all that weird philosophy about life and death? Maybe she and Paul were on the run from some kind of cult. Maybe this was part of Melanie’s indoctrination. The wild notion made as much sense as anything else.
An engine intruded, grinding louder through the clatter of her jumbled thoughts and feelings. Jack? Or Paul?
Either way, she wasn’t ready to be seen, her thighs and crotch still slick with sex, her guilty pleasure obvious, she felt sure. She ducked into the brush, pushing at the branches, her feet sinking into sand and fallen leaves.
A black shape appeared through the trees: Paul’s SUV, covered in a patina of dust, its windshield dotted with dead insects. She crouched beside a tree, the bark rough under her palms as she willed herself to invisibility. The vehicle slowed as it reached her hiding place and she pushed herself tighter against the tree, taking some comfort in being barely able to see the pale oval of Paul’s face through the window tint. And then the car was past, sand spraying from its wheels, the rental company’s sticker almost invisible under the dirt coating the rear. She remembered Helena’s warning. Would Paul really go ballistic if he found out? Those lips, those eyes: was he capable of such violence? And how would Helena—fragile little Helena—be able to stop him when she clearly wasn’t able to control her own life?
Melanie waited till the engine noise had faded before she broke cover, aware of bird calls resuming around her, not sure when they had stopped. A whipbird signalled the coast was clear, and darting brown shapes sang out their relief. She forced her way through the trees, tensing at the touch of the spiky leaves scoring her skin, and then headed for her cabin, anticipating a shower and maybe a glass of wine—a glass or a bottle—while she tried to decide what to do next.
When she reached her hut, she realised her hopes of a quiet moment to get her shit together wasn’t going to happen. Richard’s Jeep was parked outside.
Richard stood at the kitchen bench, swishing bourbon in a flat, heavy glass.
‘You’re back,’ she said.
‘Thought you might like some lunch.’ He gestured with his glass at half a roast chicken wrapped in plastic, an empty plate with the remains of a meal beside it. ‘Where were you?’
She tried to be nonchalant as she said, ‘Felt like a walk. Is everything okay?’
‘Fucking wireless broadband at the pub is even more annoying than the dial up.’ He swigged, then sai
She pulled the screen door shut.
‘So how was the walk?’ he asked, his attention focused out the window towards the sea. ‘A real scorcher out there today.’ Dark circles of sweat showed under his armpits.
‘Okay, I guess.’ She headed for the bathroom.
‘Hey,’ he said as she hustled past. ‘What’s happened?’
He poked at a sore spot on her neck. ‘You’ve been bleeding again.’
‘Oh. That damn bite. It’s nothing.’
‘Better keep an eye on it, hon. Don’t want it to get infected.’
‘I’m going to go wash. Sweaty, after my walk.’
‘I’ll pour you a drink. I bought you more wine.’
From the bathroom door, she asked, ‘Are you going back to the pub?’
He sounded morose, stressed. Her sympathy flared. ‘I don’t know. This job is driving me crazy. The penny-pinching bastard’s just never satisfied.’
She felt the urge to cross to him, offer him a hug or a kiss. But she wasn’t game, afraid he’d smell Helena on her. Instead she said, ‘You’ll be fine,’ and tried to wash herself clean. It took a long time for her heart rate to settle to normal.
‘You want to go to the pub for dinner?’ he asked when she emerged from the shower, her dress sticking to her, a towel around her hair.
‘Not really up for people tonight.’
‘Jesus, Mel, there’s barely anyone around.’
She concentrated on drying her hair.
‘What if we invited Paul and Helena?’
She forced herself to keep towelling, though her heart thumped in her chest. Part of her was desperate to see Helena again, but another, larger part was petrified at the thought. Surely, both men would know what she and Helena had done. Could she hide it? The flow of heat between her legs suggested not.
‘Would it really be so hard for just the two of us to eat dinner together?’ she asked.
‘I like company, Mel. I like to meet new people. Not just shut myself away in my room with a fucking book about nonsense.’