I arranged to meet the man just for sex.* I told him to be at my hotel at 9pm, not a moment before. He didn’t prevaricate when I texted, ‘Do you want to come to my room? Not a relationship, no talking, no arguments.’
He replied with a simple, ‘Yes.’ You see, this is the way forward. You tell them what you want.
But before all the sex, I was meeting an old friend for dinner. Her name is Alex, and we worked together on Company magazine from 1981 to 1984, when I left to work in Fleet Street (I would type out my copy – a shopping basket about the cheapest apples, etc – and place the paper in a plastic tube, which was whizzed to the basement to be made into hot metal). We lost touch. She got married, had two children. I became a workaholic. She got back in touch during lockdown, sending photos from the holiday we took together to Portugal in 1983.
We meet in Kettner’s, now a Soho House and location for my planned ‘love nest’. She looks exactly the same; I remember her laugh straight away. She says we always used to come here for editorial meetings when it was still a Pizza Express. She brings up names of people we worked with: Amanda Grieve, later Lady Harlech and Karl Lagerfeld’s muse. I remind her a young Mario Testino would hang out, touting for work. She recalls coming to my rented flat share in Brixton, when my sister would make vegetable curry. ‘I still serve curry with pineapple, banana and coconut,’ she says, ‘as Sue did. My children think I’m mad.’
She remembers vividly the boys next door including, of course, David, whom I was madly in love with. ‘On that holiday, all you did was pine,’ she says. ‘And perform endless sit-ups by your bed and sunbathe topless on the roof.’
She’s still in touch with a few people from the magazine. All they remember of me is that I’d come to the office straight from a workout at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden. And, while at my desk (no computers, just cow gum, a typewriter and Tipp-ex), I would get out a mirror and check my face every few seconds. Even though I was in my 20s, on a fashion glossy, I had lied to David and said I worked on Harpers & Queen – on the same floor, but light years away in terms of status. So, when he came to the office to visit me and said my name, they’d never heard of me.
Alex reminds me we went to see Adam and the Ants. I was obsessed. I arranged to interview him and he showed me his wardrobe of costumes: Vivienne Westwood, BodyMap. But my writing was so rubbish it never made it into print. I think he’s still angry. I ask Alex if she came with me to Wham!’s first concert, but she says no. I’d been invited: the first in a lifetime of freebies. I got to know George Michael quite well. I took him to a restaurant in Hampstead where he’d said, ‘Liz, since I became famous, you’re the first person to offer to pay for dinner.’
‘Bet that’s happened to you,’ Alex says. I nod. She says she was nervous coming to meet me, ‘now that you are famous’, but that I, too, am exactly the same. She says the boys next door to me were ‘so glamorous and exciting. David was so handsome. I always hoped you’d end up together’.
She knows the story of how we re-met. How chaotic I must seem. I don’t get up each day thinking, what huge mistake shall I make today? I can blame people for derailing me, taking advantage, but the problem lies in my lack of self-belief.
The day before, in the clinic with the doctor, as he told me there is nothing sinister in my brain, he asked, ‘Why are you panting?’ I told him I always pant. I’m always afraid. ‘But you have nothing to be afraid of,’ he said. Which is why, on the way back to my hotel, I sent that sex text. No beating about the bush (ha ha). No wondering, what if he says no?
It’s now 9pm and I’m worried he’ll turn up. He texts to say he’s in the bar, and as Alex leaves, I wonder if she sees him, or feels a ghost from the past brush her elbow, breathe on her neck.