Instalment 16: pages 66-69 [Elliot speaks to Eva and Danielle at the end of the houseparty]
The party drifted on into the later hours. Everyone there I’d known at uni was either still studying, or had just returned from travel or was settling into post-uni employment. I felt I was the only one without a legitimate excuse for being only semi-employed. Little turns in conversation showed me a depressing edge, people steering the subject away from my bad luck, to avoid discomforting me – or in case it was contagious. Danielle spent a good deal of time talking to a knot of people I didn’t recognise and felt no urge to meet. I refilled my wine more often than was strictly necessary, but a man needs something to do.
Finally, Eva materialised with cigarettes. She must have done a run down to the service station to buy them while I my attention was elsewhere. She tapped Jenny on the shoulder who squealed with mock glee. The four women scurried out into the back yard, Eva leading, Jenny’s arm scooped though Danielle’s, Sarah not far behind (the impoverished student, gasping once more for someone else’s ciggy). I watched Jenny leading Danielle out in a way I didn’t care to admit to myself. It meant nothing. I bid my time, caught in small talk with a crowd of Ted’s friends, leaving Eva to her digging. By the time my little knot of conversation dispersed, Eva was at my elbow.
“So?” I asked.
“Well, she was never going to spill her guts. Too close to Marina. But it sounds like Marina was deliberately vague about where she was going, and Jenny isn’t convinced about the family illness story.”
“No-one who knows much about Marina’s family would be. So, did she shed any more light on my theory?”
“They’re definitely not sleeping together,” said Eva firmly.
“She told you that?”
“She dropped a few hints about seeing someone outside work. We didn’t get much further than that, Sarah got in with how there’s no-one at her work worth dating either. Not a topic Danielle chose to join in on, though she agreed dating within the office is the pits.”
“Are you sure Jenny wasn’t smoke-screening?” I asked.
“Won’t let it die, will you?” Eva asked. “She had a tone: she is seeing someone, and they don’t work at Parliament House. I’m certain. Now, let’s get back to what’s important here. What’s happening with you and Danielle?”
“We’re flirting, I guess.”
“That, Elliot, was obvious from across the room – or from across a pretty dark front yard. You’re lit up like Christmas around her. I want details, damn you.”
“I don’t think there are any. Besides, this isn’t something I want to pressure … it’s going too well. Frighteningly smoothly.”
“You generally say that before you stuff things right up. Still, I don’t get the impression you’re in charge of the timing. Although I don’t think you should leave her alone much longer,” she advised.
“You think I have competition?” I retorted.
“No, you moron, you just need to finish the evening on the right note.”
She gave me a half playful shove towards the door, setting off herself towards one of the shaggy-haired young men who’d been in the kitchen earlier. When I got outside, a small piece of me was happy to see Danielle and Jenny sitting some little distance apart on the back yard bench. Sarah had plonked down on Jenny’s far side, which left me nowhere to sit but between Jenny and Danielle. Danielle shuffled up a little to make room for me. It wasn’t really a four-person bench, cosy though.
Danielle included me with a nod, but leaned across me to continue a discussion with the other women about the declining quality of the albums of a band I knew nothing about. I listened, letting their conversation eddy about me.
“Not like you to be lost for something to say, Elliot,” said Sarah eventually.
“Ah, but he’s a jazz man,” said Danielle. “Much happier with Oscar Peterson.”
“She’s right,” I answered. “I’m not listening to much recorded after 1960 at the moment.”
“If I was going to listen to one Oscar Peterson album, what should it be?” asked Danielle.
“Night Train,” I answered. “I loved it from the opening bars. They just roll out over you. A bass player put me onto it, said it’s the album where you can really hear a piano player swinging.”
“Play it to me some time?”
Soon the smokers left and Danielle and I sat, sides still touching, holding a tranquil silence.
“It’s been a while since I’ve felt this comfortable with someone,” I said eventually.
“I like you Elliot, I’ve always liked your company,” she replied, leaning back into me.
“Thanks,” I said, pausing at her opaque reply.
“I’m cold,” she said, turning her back into my side.
“Do you want to go in?”
“No, I want to be warmer.”
I turned, very awkwardly and without rising, to straddle the bench and draw her back against my chest.
“A little better,” she said, smiling in the half-light, pulling my arms about her. I rested my hands lightly on her stomach.
“This is a turn-up,” I said.
“Me, cradling you.”
“Was that OK? You seemed to be having a really bad dream ... ”
“Yes, it was fine. You holding me, I mean. I was grateful.”
I bent my head very slightly to kiss at the space between the back of her ear and her hairline. A small, light thank-you kiss.
Her hand came to the back of my head, and she craned around a little to plant a small answer of my cheek. Timidly, small kiss followed upon small kiss. One face slid gently against another, until, finally, our lips met. When she kissed, it was with a great pressing of her lips, but only the slightest flickering of her tongue. I trembled.
She began to shiver too, but with cold. “Time to go in,” she said, rising and taking my hand.
I resisted a moment, letting my weight hold her slight tugging.
“When can I see you?” I asked.
“Saturday,” she answered calmly, “but you’re calling me before then, remember?”
I smiled and followed her up the steps. She stopped at the door and turned back to me, her head silhouetted against the small window by the door, wisps of her blonde hair teasing the yellow light.
“Elliot? You have that dream often, don’t you?”
I stood mute.
“I thought so,” she said. She lingered at the threshold, not opening the door just yet: “You know, Elliot you speak really easily about music.”