That night was the most erotic, blissful night of my life. I spent hours exploring Kathy’s body. We made love all night, until dawn. I remember so much white everywhere: white sunlight creeping around the edges of the curtains, white walls, white bedsheets; the whites of her eyes, her teeth, her skin. I’d never known that skin could be so luminous, so translucent: ivory white with occasional blue veins visible just beneath the surface, like threads of color in white marble. She was a statue; a Greek goddess come to life in my hands.
We lay there wrapped in each other’s arms. Kathy was facing me, her eyes so close they were out of focus. I gazed
into a hazy green sea. “Well?” she said.
“What about Marianne?”
A flicker of a smile. “Your girlfriend.”
“Oh, yes. Yes.” I hesitated, unsure. “I don’t know about Marianne. And Daniel?”
Kathy rolled her eyes. “Forget Daniel. I have.”
“Have you really?”
Kathy responded by kissing me.
Before Kathy left, she took a shower. While she was showering, I phoned Marianne. I wanted to arrange to see her, to tell her face-to-face. But she was annoyed about the previous night and insisted we have it out then and there, on the phone. Marianne wasn’t expecting me to break up with her. But that’s what I did, as gently as I could. She started crying and became upset and angry. I hung up on her. Brutal, yes—and unkind. I’m not proud of that phone call. But it seemed like the only honest action to take. I still don’t know what I could have done differently.
* * *
On our first proper date, Kathy and I met at Kew Gardens. It was her idea.
She was astonished I’d never been. “You’re kidding. You’ve never gone to the greenhouses? There’s this big one with all the tropical orchids and they keep it so hot, it’s like an oven. When I was at drama school, I used to go and hang out there just to warm up. How about we meet there, after you finish work?” Then she hesitated, suddenly unsure. “Or is it too far for you to go?”
“I’d go further than Kew Gardens for you, darling.”
“Idiot.” She kissed me.
Kathy was waiting at the entrance when I arrived, in her enormous coat and scarf, waving like an excited child. “Come on, come on, follow me.”
She led me through the frozen mud to the big glass structure that housed the tropical plants and pushed open the door and charged inside. I followed her and was immediately struck by the sudden rise in temperature, an onslaught of heat. I tore off my scarf and coat.
Kathy smiled. “See? I told you, it’s like a sauna. Ain’t it great?”
We walked around along the paths, carrying our coats, holding hands, looking at the exotic flowers.
I felt an unfamiliar happiness just being in her company, as though a secret door had been opened, and Kathy had beckoned me across the threshold—into a magical world of warmth and light and color, and hundreds of orchids in a dazzling confetti of blues and reds and yellows.