Something Rebecca has always appreciated about London is that so many of the museums are free. She’s always had the money to pay an entry fee, of course, but she found something liberating in her youth in being able to come and go as she pleased without feeling pressured by fiscal responsibility to make a whole day of it. She’d go to Tate Britain with no other purpose than to ponder the brushstrokes that made up J.M.W. Turner’s skies. She’d visit the V&A just to look at the jewellery collection and then cross the street, walking into the main hall of the National History Museum, greeting Dippy the dinosaur like an old friend before going on her way. She loved that the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery were in the same building too – that she could study the muted calm of Monet’s water lilies, or the careful, fine lines of the Leonardo sketches, and then head right over to see the only known portrait of Shakespeare painted in his lifetime, reflecting on all the knowledge of history captured in oil paintings, and all the things lost to history because no one ever thought to paint them. Since she returned to London after graduating uni, Rebecca’s sure she must have left more money in the museum collection bins than she would have ever been able to spend on entry fees in a lifetime, but she still considers it a small thanks for all the hours in her youth she spent there, and for providing her and so many others with an education of the soul.
Something Rupert always bemoaned about London was that so many of the museums were free. In the early days, back when Rebecca still felt the love for him she doesn’t know what to make of now, she usually asked him to come with her, but he always found something to criticise about the other visitors, who seemed to him to be the most dreadful combination of American tourists, chavs, and loud, middle-income wankers. He always phrased his criticism in the form of jokes, but even before she came to truly despise him, his thinly-veiled malice made her uneasy. When people started recognising them both together, she began to share in his discomfort. She had never done much of anything to deserve recognition, and yet strangers would approach her all the time, making note of her fame, complaining to her about the performance of Rupert’s club. The public sphere, which had once been a comfort to her, became a place to avoid, and she found that it was easier just to stay away, shrinking deeper and deeper inside herself. She didn’t realise the man she’d trapped herself in with was far worse than anything the outside world had to offer until it was too late. Looking back on it now – the wound still so fresh – she prefers to simply forget.
Before she saw Rupert for the decrepit shit bag she now knows he is, she’d excused his behaviour easily. He had tried to redeem himself, she reasoned. Hadn’t he taken her to auction houses and private collectors, buying her all the expensive art that lined their walls? He had called them gifts, but looking back she realises, he never once considered whether she would even like any of them. God, what an arse.
Rebecca stares at the Hockney they “bought together” for their fifth anniversary. Has she ever liked it? She honestly can’t tell anymore. When she’d settled into her work at the club as the new owner of the football team that once belonged to her ex-husband, she couldn’t bring herself to simply get rid of it. It was always her intent to sell, but it’s been two months now, and the crateful of art that belonged to them both still sits in this undecorated room in her new house, waiting to be dealt with. It has occured to her that to sell the art she fought for in the divorce is to admit that she never truly valued it to begin with. It’s already been difficult enough to acknowledge how much of her life completely crumbled under the crushing weight of Rupert's control, but she can't stand to think that the part of her that appreciated art, craft, culture and beauty died along with it.
She texts Sassy an image of the Hockney leaned against the crate that contains the entirety of her art collection. Sassy was never much for art, but she seems to understand, at least, that Rebecca has been having a hard time letting go these past few weeks. It had almost been easier at first. She could let go of Rupert himself, of the house they shared together, of their cars, their maid, their garden. Making that big, first, drastic decision to leave him had almost been a picnic, spurned as she was by vindictive rage mixed with ecstatic relief. But now that the divorce has long-since been finalised, every last reminder of her marriage she let go of feels simply like letting go of a part of her she will never get back.
Sassy was the first person Rebecca called the day she signed the divorce papers. At first she hadn’t intended to say much – just a quick “I know it’s been six years, but I miss you and I’m sorry and if Nora doesn’t despise me, I’d love to give her a visit.” But Sassy knew instantly that something was up, in the way a good friend just knows, and Rebecca found it strangely easy to tell her everything, from the good to the horrid to the things already known to every reader of The Sun. When Rebecca finally divulged her plan to destroy the club, Sassy somehow managed to talk her out of what was, in retrospect, a bit of a mad scheme to begin with. She saw Sassy’s reasoning, but the plan had already been set in motion – the club was hers now. So Rebecca decided to do the one thing she had never dared to even scheme about – she decided to live well.
She’s still working out the finer points of what that looks like, but it’s been more satisfying than she had ever hoped to imagine. The club is flourishing under her leadership, and while the threat of relegation still looms the way it had in each and every one of Rupert’s years as owner, she can’t deny that it feels good to finally have such a clear purpose in her life. The new coach she’s found is frankly a bit of a tosser, but he came highly recommended, and seems to be doing good work. Besides, it turns out that running a football club is a lot easier when you’re not spending 15 hours a week running off in the middle of the workday to shag women young enough to be your grandchildren.
Sassy calls her up after less than a minute.
“Oh, Stinky.” Rebecca hates the hint of pity in her voice, but she can hardly blame her. She feels rather pathetic about this whole ordeal herself. “I thought I told you to sell those?”
Rebecca lets out a small, pained sigh and looks at the crate again. It’s strange that so much value and beauty can fit in such an insignificant-looking wooden box.
“I’m not sure I can.”
“Of course you can.”
“Sass, there must be art for a million pounds in there. It’s not like I can just drop them off at the nearest Red Cross.”
“Then start small. Just pick one of them, go to the nearest posh art gallery and offer them a good price. If you do that every once in a while, they’ll be off your hands just in time for you to have planned out how you’ll decorate that room into a sex dungeon.”
“I told you, I’m not ready for dating.”
“Who said anything about dating? I’m talking about you getting your kinky self some fit boy toy to rock your world, so that I won’t have to suffer knowing it’s been 15 years since you last fucked anyone other than Mr. Wrinklydick Supreme.”
Rebecca laughs, despite herself. She appreciates that Sassy is so completely on her side, after all those years she neglected their friendship out of some false sense of loyalty to Rupert.
“And maybe you should donate what you get for them to the Red Cross. I imagine that might make it easier for you to part with them.”
“Anytime. Except not right now. I actually have to pick up Nora from her taekwondo lessons in a bit. But will you consider it at least?”
Rebecca tries to muster up whatever courage she can find within herself.
“Yes. I’ll try.”
When she hangs up, Rebecca decides that Sassy is right. This can’t go on forever – she really does need to let Rupert go. She googles London galleries, finding a website for a newer place that seems promising. She thinks she might have heard of them before, but the owners are American so it's likely to be a place Rupert would steer clear of. Fuck it. She finds some packing paper, calls her driver, and picks up the Hockney. If she doesn’t bother being too particular about wrapping it up, she can be in Mayfair in half an hour.
She mistakes him for a customer at first – or not even a customer, but a lurker, the kind of commoner who goes to art galleries just to appreciate what’s on view without the intention or finances to follow through with a purchase. Not that Rebecca judges those people. Or at least she tries not to – she knows she wouldn’t have, once upon a time. In any case, she appreciates the display. He’s dressed in a nondescript light grey pullover over a white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal some impressive forearms. His hair is slicked back yet voluminous, like it’s trying to escape the constraints of the copious amount of product he must have used to keep it in place. And there’s the moustache, of course, which seems far too thick and earnest to belong to one of these artsy types, and reminds her of the cowboys in the American movies she loved as a kid – and yes, alright, as a hormonal teenager.
While she waits for a gallerist to appear, she peruses the bright, spacious main gallery and finds her gaze settling on a small-ish art print. It’s really nothing elaborate – just a pink square with a set of darker pink vertical lines. No figures, ornamental twists or intricate details. She reads the plaque beneath it.
Ink Rubber stamp print.
Well, that could mean anything. She finds she misses the easy comfort of museums with plaques and tour guides that tell you what to think about an artwork, and half-decides that there isn’t more on the plaque because there isn’t more to say. Except she can’t help but be compelled by it, and she looks a little deeper, finding something soothing about the ordered pink lines on the pink background. There’s a kind of sweetness to it as well that makes her think of baked goods – she’s always had a sweet tooth, but she hasn’t indulged much these past few years. The more she looks at it, the more she feels like she can taste the homemade shortbread of her childhood.
“See anything you like?” the man asks in an American accent – a thick one that suits the cowboy fantasy she’s been idly spinning. In fact she does – he is rather handsome, but she isn’t about to say that to a perfect stranger. She thinks about what Sassy had been telling her about putting herself out there for rebound sex, and feels her cheeks redden a bit.
“Have you found a piece you like?” he asks, his moustache curling into a winning grin. “If you’re looking for something specific, I’ve got a couple of gems stowed away, but I’ll admit right off the bat that a good chunk of my personal favourites are currently on display for your viewing pleasure.”
“Oh,” she mutters, embarrassed that the thought hasn’t occurred to her yet. “You’re-”
“Ted Lasso,” he says, bringing out his hand in greeting, his grin wide. Not just an employee, but the owner of the Theodore Lasso Gallery, then.
“Rebecca Welton,” she says, extending a hand. He’s got a firm, confident handshake, she’ll give him that.
“Pleased to meet ya,” he tells her, his demeanour exuding folksy charm. “Anything I can help ya with, ma’am?”
She’s not surprised he’s American – it was mentioned on the gallery’s website after all – but she hadn’t expected him to be just quite this American.
“Pleasure’s all mine,” she tells him, only half out of politeness.
She hesitates for a moment, looking down at the package in her hands.
“Why do I gotta feelin’ you’re here to sell me something?” he asks her, following her gaze.
“Am I right to understand that you buy art?” she asks. “I know you do appraisals, and I’ve heard you were one of the best the city has to offer. But owning a gallery, I assume you buy as well?”
“Well, sure, sometimes. Come into my office.”
His office is more of a backroom with a desk, really. Office supplies are scattered everywhere in an ordered mess, while all the art in the room seems to be stowed away in thin, wooden crates. The only visible framed picture is a crude crayon drawing of a stick figure with a moustache holding the hand of a smaller stick figure with the words “me and dad” written underneath. Oh, of course. She should have assumed he had a family. The age-appropriate dating pool has shrunk significantly since the last time she was single.
She hands him the offending piece, watching as he unwraps it carefully. He has great hands, with long, clean fingers and soft-looking skin, and there’s something strangely compelling about watching him slowly remove the packaging from the frame like he’s unwrapping a precious gift. There isn’t a ring, she notices. Perhaps it’s her imagination, but it even seems like there’s a faint hint of paleness around his ring finger – a tan line.
“Aren’t you meant to wear gloves with that?” she asks, noting the white cotton gloves on the table.
“Nah, that’s just if I have to touch it. I know what I’m doing, ma’am, you don’t gotta worry.”
“Alright, I trust you,” she says with a level of sincerity she hadn’t intended.
“Well, I’ll be,” he says, giving it a quick once-over, before looking back up at her. “That’s a Hockney.”
He frowns, looking back at it, the abstracted figure of the football player on the white background. It really is sort of ugly in a way, although she supposes she had found it oddly charming back when its association to Rupert didn’t leave such a poor taste in her mouth.
“Give it to an auction house. They’ll get you more money for it than I can.”
“You’re not even going to make me an offer? This is a million pound opportunity.”
“More like twenty-five thousand. Still, that’s a pretty penny. An auction house is your best bet.”
“What if I want to sell it to you?”
He quirks an eyebrow. “Why?”
She’s frankly not interested in taking it back home, in ever seeing it again.
“Does it matter? Do you not want it?”
“I don’t mean to offend, but I ain’t exactly fond of the sort of folks that this type of piece tends to attract. The kind who care about showin’ off more than enriching their lives. I’ll bet ya, this here’s gonna be bought by some fancy-pants soccer player, who’s gonna hang it up just to prove to people they had the money to burn. I try not to judge, but seeing people have those kind of priorities tends to stick in my craw.”
Rebecca can’t help but grimace. Perhaps not the time to tell him she’s the owner of AFC Richmond, then. Not that he’s wrong, exactly. She’s suddenly certain that’s exactly why Rupert had bought it in the first place.
“That’s why I want to get rid of it, actually. I was married to a man who thought this would make a great gift for our fifth wedding anniversary, and as much as I love football, it never exactly shouted romance to me. Certainly doesn’t now.”
“Let me guess, you divorced him right away?”
“We were married another seven years after that, I’m afraid.”
“Ouch,” he grimaces sympathetically. “Hope he was worth sticking around for even half of the time.”
“He really wasn’t. He uh- stuck in my craw, as you say.”
He rests his hands on his hips and seems to consider that for a moment, as if the way she feels about Rupert has any bearing on his interest in the art deal.
“Okay, I'll tell you what.” He leaves the Hockney in the back room, and brings her back to the main gallery, fiddling around with a stack of papers by the front desk, until he finally grabs a form. He looks it over, and then goes on a separate search in a junk drawer until he finds a pen. “Since you’re clearly itching to part ways with it, I’ll take this off your hands. I could either pay you now, or I could store it here for ya for a bit, until I come across a collector willing to pay something a little closer to what it’s actually worth. You interested?”
“In both these scenarios, I won’t ever have to look at it again?” She can’t help but feel that it sounds a little too good to be true.
“Yeah, that won’t be a problem.”
“Then the second option sounds good, thank you.” He hands her the form and she looks it over. She would have sold it to him for less than the minimum price it specifies. He gets commission if he sells it for more, but it hardly seems like it would be worth the effort for him. As she signs it, it occurs to her that any other gallerist in this city would have caught on to the fact that she was willing to sell for nothing at all, and jump at the chance to exploit her. When she returns the contract to him, Rebecca’s hands almost brush against his and her heart skips a beat. She feels flustered and ridiculous for it, but if he notices he doesn’t seem to react.
“You looking to buy while you’re here?”
“I hadn’t really considered it,” she tells him, honestly.
“You don’t gotta, obviously, but if you’re selling all your art, I’ve got a feeling you’ve got some room up on your walls.”
He does have a point there. Her new house remains somewhat more sparsely decorated than she’d initially intended.
“Did you have anything in mind?”
“Well, see that piece over there?” He points to the print that had caught her eye earlier, and she wonders if he noticed her interest – if he had been watching her. “That’s an Agnes Martin.”
He urges her to step closer to it and does the same, gesturing to the piece, as if all she has to do to really understand it is to look.
“The name seems familiar.”
“Well, good ‘cause she was a big deal, and if ya ask me, she’s not nearly as recognized as she oughta be. Lotta folks confuse her work for minimalism on account of how it’s so simple, but really she thought of herself as more of an abstract expressionist.”
“Isn’t abstract expressionism all about covering the canvas in splodges and colours?” It’s admittedly been a few decades since her last art history class but she feels like she remembers that much at least.
He laughs a little at that, but not maliciously – more like he likes the way she put it.
“Maybe for some, but not for Agnes. She called herself a late, late abstract expressionist. She was very into zen Buddhism, and thought of her art as a way to reach serenity or maybe some sort of sublime beauty.” Rebecca wonders if he’s a Buddhist himself, and can suddenly imagine him being the sort of person who searches for some divine path to peace himself. She finds herself deeply curious about this strange man, but then tries to remind herself that she didn’t come here to flirt with strange American men.
“This piece is called Praise, but it ain’t some big loud Southern Baptist type of ballyhoo she’s talkin’ ‘bout. It’s a compliment, a quiet pat on the back for a job well done. Or not even that. Something less reciprocal. It’s a small yet meaningful act of complete, agendaless worship.”
She thinks of that. Of approval, admiration-
“Veneration” she says, softly, although she hadn’t meant to utter it out loud at all.
He looks at her, a little divot between his brows, like he’s trying to solve a puzzle, and she can’t help but look back at him, meeting his gaze. She’s wearing stilettos, so she has a few inches on him, but he’s still rather tall, and it takes her no strain at all to look him in the eyes.
“That’s a good word for it. You’re exactly right, yeah.”
“Well?” she asks him, realising how close to her he is. She looks at his moustache, that slight hint of a smile that never seems to be completely wiped off his lips, and her gaze lingers a little too long on his mouth until a voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Rupert tells her she’s being ridiculous. For God’s sake, woman. You’re embarrassing yourself. She tries to pull herself together a little.
“Well?” he mirrors, clearly not sure what she meant.
“What else can you tell me?”
“Oh, shoot. Of course- uh-” He stumbles over the words. She considers the possibility that he’d been as distracted by her as she has been by him. “What I was saying was that Agnes Martin didn’t really think of her work as minimalist ‘cause she wasn’t making art to make all these big statement pieces. There’s something kind of aggressive and confrontational about that whole movement that she never really jived with. She was all about searching for that divine beauty, that spiritual connection to the piece she was making.” His face lights up. “Oooh, I just thought of a pun. Wanna hear it?”
She thinks for a moment about telling him no, but then she remembers a version of herself who liked puns once, before Rupert convinced her they were childish and common. She nods faintly.
“When she made a piece, she was making peace with it.”
“Okay, I’ll allow that one,” she says, unable to keep the smile off her face.
He smiles right back at her, something in his eyes, like her approval is a small victory. She can’t tell if it’s infuriating or endearing.
“Not that minimalists can’t make peace as well. The first time I got to see one of them blue Yves Klein paintings up close, I tell ya, it was like I was seeing the sky for the first time.”
She takes note of how he pronounces Yves Klein, perfectly, yet without a put-upon French accent. Something about his dialect had slipped her up, but he clearly knows what he’s talking about. She looks at his mouth as he forms every word, struck by the confidence that comes so naturally to him. There’s something about him she finds even more transfixing than the artwork itself.
“I’m sorry, I’m just blabberin’ on now.”
“I promise, I’ll let you know if I suddenly find you dull,” she tells him, although she doubts that’s within the realm of possibility.
“Well, it ain’t really the artist that matters when it comes down to it. Sure, context shapes an image, but if you’re thinkin’ of having it in your home, you better be able to get something out of it without memorizin’ a bunch of facts about the movement it comes from. Tell me what you see.”
He looks at her, expectantly.
“Uh,” is all she manages. It feels a bit embarrassing, explaining something he can clearly see for himself.
“Aw, you nervous? You don’t gotta be. It ain’t a Rorschach test or anything. I’m not expecting you to see butterflies or bloodbaths. Heck, I’ll start: I see a bunch of pink on pink. Some is darker, but some is real light, soft, like it’s closer to peach. There are some lines – vertical ones – that some might say look like prison bars-”
“They’re not at all like prison bars!” she exclaims, suddenly getting defensive on behalf of the print.
“Go on,” he says, smirking at her once more with that playful grin of his. She feels like she’s been had.
“Well, it’s all fairly neat, but not entirely so. There are smudges visible at the edges where she made the lines a little too long. And there’s something about the background. I guess it’s what you were saying about Yves Klein? It’s like staring into the sky, or perhaps an ocean, except it’s divided up in these sections-”
“Like she’s giving you a little patch of the universe in neat little rows.”
“It’s beautiful,” Rebecca tells him, perfectly serious. “Peaceful, but with something intense underneath the surface.” She has a sudden urge to trace her fingers along the lines, curious about what it would feel like to physically touch it.
“Exactly. Not to talk blue, but there really is something sorta erotic about it.”
Rebecca’s first instinct is to scoff at that – these art types with their insistence that everything is secretly about sex, even this innocuous pink square. But then she sees it too. She notices how the soft pink is the shade of the first shoulder she ever bit into, before the mark had a chance to become a bruise. The varied shades of pink remind her of the only woman she ever slept with, the taste she never truly forgot, somehow unlike her own in a way she never knew how to put into words – except she doesn’t need the words anymore, because here it is, spelled out in light red pigment on a piece of paper and framed on a wall. And then she tastes the sugar again – not as overpowering as putting a sugar cube to her lips, but almost just as sweet. She once again thinks of homemade shortbread, and lets out an involuntary sigh.
He’s still standing close to her, and she feels her cheeks flush at the thought of everything that just went through her mind, mortified by what he must think. Only, he doesn't seem to be judging her at all – just stands there, perfectly calm, patiently awaiting her reply.
“I, uh- I think I would have to agree.”
He lets out a little pleased huff at that.
“I’ll take it,” she says, not realising she’s made the decision until the words are out of her mouth.
He looks at her, a glimmer in his eyes. “It’s yours.”
When she gets out her platinum card to pay, something flashes across his face that she can’t quite place, and for a moment it seems as if he’s about to tell her something. But then the moment passes, and he turns the folksy charm back on, leaving her to wonder about what is being left unsaid. The only words exchanged between them before she walks out the door are their polite, muted goodbyes, but once he’s out of sight, the image of him won’t leave her mind. Rebecca spends the rest of the day thinking about little else than what he’s told her, and that curious, gorgeous look in his eye. She feels a little desperate and pathetic, acting almost besotted with this man she’s barely spoken to, but there’s little she can do about the image of him that appears before her even as she closes her eyes. She simply can’t seem to get him out of her head.
Rebecca hangs the print in her bedroom the very next day, giving it a place of honour on the opposite side of her bed, so that it will be the last thing she sees before she goes to sleep. It’s not just that it is the inverse of what Rupert would have done – he always put their art up in dining rooms, entry halls and offices, as markers of his power and wealth. Rather, it’s that there’s something about the print itself that feels far too intimate for it to hang anywhere else. The idea of a stranger seeing it seems too revealing somehow.
That first night, she looks at it before she goes to bed, and it occurs to her that the pink colour almost matches her silk pyjamas. It’s a colour she chose because it reminded her of the sheets in her old bedroom at her parents’ house, where her hands had first wandered downward, experimentally, disappearing between the pink folds. She tastes that sweetness again, thinks of what the gallerist, Ted Lasso, had said about it, and then she just thinks about him. She thinks of the care he took with unwrapping the art print, how his fingers had moved swiftly yet methodically, and how he’d bit his lips in thought as he assessed the piece. She thinks of the wistful look on his face as he discussed Agnes Martin, the way his brows furrowed in thought whenever she spoke, like he was holding onto every word she said, making an effort to really listen to her. And then she feels a familiar stirring in the pit of her stomach that spreads lower down.
It’s been a while since Rebecca has truly felt the urge to touch herself – somewhere along the way, she lost that spark that made a fiery passion burn within her. She hasn’t been in the mood much since the divorce – since years before it, if she’s honest with herself. But now she feels that same spark igniting, senses it crackling underneath her skin. Not only has it been too long since she’s slept with someone, but it's been too long since she’s done something as simple and indulgent as this – this careful tracing of her hand down her stomach, these tentative fingers travelling under her waistband in search of her clit. There’s something almost shocking about finally feeling the arousal now, bubbling in her as she picks up the pace. She brings her other hand down her blouse to cup her breast, teasing it and then grabbing it more firmly. She usually keeps to her clit when she touches herself – knows how to apply the exact amount of pressure to reach that one perfect moment of release. But this is about more than simply wanting to get off. This is about wanting, needing to be touched. She imagines strong hands pressing into her skin, grazing her neck, her breast and her stomach. She imagines soft kisses that trail all the way up her legs, a moustache teasing her inner thigh until she gets goose pimples and starts bucking up against the touch.
She thinks of the firm grip of a proper handshake, the rough voice of a man deeply moved as he speaks. She thinks about the way the words pink and soft and peach and erotic sound, when spoken with a thick American accent, and then she wonders if he has more thickness to give her, thrusting a finger, then two, inside herself, in and out in ragged movements, bending forward in pleasure, and then, finally, coming with his voice reverberating in her ears.
“Fuck me,” she moans, unsure of what just came over her. She half-wishes he was here to take her up on the offer.
The idea of telling Sassy about her little crush only briefly occurs to her. Rebecca has a feeling she’d immediately suggest jumping on this stranger like a trampoline, and she’s not sure how useful that advice would be to her right now. She misses Higgins. She let him keep his job – knows he has a family to support – but forgiving him has been difficult, and she’s still working her way back up from the pain of his betrayal to salads and girl talk. Still, she knows he would have better advice for her than Sassy would at this moment, seeing as she’s a little too invested in her getting over Rupert by getting under someone else, and while Rebecca isn’t opposed to that idea, there’s something about Ted Lasso that feels more precious than a rebound. She imagines Higgins would have told her to go with her gut, or perhaps that’s just what her own gut is telling her.
In an extremely frustrating and somewhat paradoxical turn of events, her gut is telling her to do something she simply doesn’t have the guts to do. She goes back to the gallery’s website, refreshing the page every so often – in the morning, on her lunch break, when she’s supposed to be working – and then comes home to the print in the evening to be reminded all over again of the phone number listed on the bottom of the page. She could just call him up, ask him if he’s free to talk outside of work sometime, if he has dinner plans, if he wants to come over. Or she could if the thought didn’t terrify her.
It takes her several days to build up the courage to pick up the phone, but when she does he answers on the first ring.
“Theodore Lasso Gallery. How can I help ya?” he says in a calm, professional tone with only a hint of that accented lilt.
“I was hoping it would be you,” she tells him earnestly.
She’s strangely flattered that he recognises her voice, let alone remembers her name.
“Please, call me Rebecca. Miss Welton’s my father.”
“If that’s a joke I love it, if not, I can’t wait to-“
“It’s a joke, Ted.”
“Right, right. So we’re on a first name basis then?” She hopes she isn’t imagining the pleased tone in his voice.
“If that’s alright with you?”
“Of course,” he says, like it’s a given. “Any particular reason you’re calling?”
“I was wondering if there was any news about the sale?”
“Didn’t realize you were in such a hurry.”
“I’m not,” she rushes to say, suddenly embarrassed that she’d made up such a flimsy excuse to call him. “It’s just that, well, all the art dealing I’ve done in the past has been as a buyer. I’m a little unsure of how this part works.”
“It’s a little bit of an unusual situation. I haven’t had the opportunity to move forward with it, but I can assure you that you’re in good hands.” She tries not to get too distracted by the image of him holding her in his arms.
“I don’t doubt it.”
“But, if uh- if you’re looking for updates, I guess there’s no harm in giving you my private cell number. I could text you once I have news.”
“You’d give me your personal mobile number?”
“Sure would,” he says.
“I’d like that. If it’s no trouble, I mean.”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
She scrawls the number on a piece of paper, surprised somehow by how ordinary it looks written out like that. To think of all the potential hidden in such a harmless-looking string of digits.
“And Rebecca?” he says with a newfound uncertainty. “If there’s ever anything you need, or that is, if you’ve got any questions for me, well, I hope you won’t hesitate to ask.”
She does exactly that – hesitates – listens to her gut and then feels how everything twists up inside her, while she tries to form the words to express just a fraction of what has been going through her mind for days now. Only, the more she tries to think of something to say, the more she seems to lose her grip on the English language. She opens her mouth, but no words come out at all.
“Well, if that’s all,” he says slowly, his voice seeming to have lost some of its cheerful lilt. “I guess I better get back to work. Sure was nice talkin’ to you.”
“I-” she begins, but bites her lip, still too unsure of what to say. “You as well, Ted. Thank you.”
She sends a photo of the print, hanging on the wall to the number he told her to write down, and then writes and deletes the same message over and over again.
Thank you so much for bringing this into my life. I don’t think I’ve properly expressed how much it means to me.
She still hasn’t, she thinks, when she finally hits send. How could she ever possibly convey the enormity of the effect he’s had on her, when she can barely even speak to him? His response is almost immediate:
I’m glad it’s found a loving home, he writes back, like he’s sold her a housecat rather than an art print, but she can’t exactly deny that what she feels for the print is a kind of love, as deep and as heartfelt as if it were a living thing.
He texts her again the following morning, while she’s in a scheduling meeting with Higgins.
Didn’t find a buyer for you yet, but I did just find this neat magnet shaped like a double decker bus.
Rebecca just stares at the image incredulously for a moment.
You didn’t actually buy that, did you? She texts him back. Those tourist traps always overcharge.
Don’t know what you’re talking about. This baby is going right on the fridge, where it will immediately fall off if I try to actually pin up a piece of paper.
Rebecca has no doubt that that’s the case. How much did you spend on it?
7 pounds. But in my defense, the guy selling it seemed real nice. He told me he was from Bosnia. Can you imagine coming all the way over from wherever that is and then spending your days just selling stuff dedicated to this new place you’ve found yourself living in? Isn’t that just a lovely thought?
Rebecca can’t help but grin at the image of this man, who makes a living selling art in the 6-7 figure range, falling for the charms of a London street vendor.
It is, she texts back, because every thought he has seems lovely to her, and then finally puts down her phone, trying to actually focus on the task at hand.
Throughout the meeting, she can’t help but glance down at where she put her phone down at intervals, her mind occupied with the thought of him, even as she makes an effort to keep herself busy with work. Higgins seems to notice that something is off with her, but doesn’t say anything, until it’s time for him to head out the door, and he stops in his tracks, turning back toward her, gulping noisily in that way he does, before speaking.
“Miss Welton?” he asks, hesitantly.
“I hope I’m not out of line for saying so, but it’s nice to see you smiling again.”
It’s not until he’s said it that it occurs to Rebecca how long it’s been since she’s been this happy. She doesn’t exactly know how to respond to that.
She finally settles on a curt “Bye, Higgins,” but finds that the bitterness in her tone that has previously accompanied his name is gone.
Hanging the print in her bedroom was a mistake. She can’t sleep, much less think, with it hanging there, reminding her of Ted’s face, Ted’s voice, Ted’s ridiculous text messages. She considers texting him the way she’s been itching to do all day, but knows what it would look like, hears Rupert’s voice again telling her that she’s desperate and randy, writing to a relative stranger in the middle of the night.
So she texts Sassy instead: I think I may be a little bit in love with my gallerist? and isn’t exactly surprised when the response is immediate.
Please tell me you shagged him, she texts back, followed shortly by: Wait, does this mean you sold the artworks?
Just the one so far. And I did no such thing, Rebecca texts back. But I’m strongly considering rectifying that fact.
That’s my girl!!! Sassy texts her, followed by a string of emojis Rebecca would rather not spend too much time analysing. It’s more or less exactly the pep talk she was expecting, but maybe, she thinks, it’s the only one she needs.
When she finds herself wandering the streets of the Mayfair art district the very next Saturday, she knows it isn’t exactly fate that brought her here. If she’s honest with herself, she’s been feeling the pull to come back ever since she left a week ago. Part of her knows she wouldn’t have been able to stay away for much longer. The only trouble is that when she walks in the door, it isn’t Ted, but a stranger, a bearded man in a maroon polo shirt, who greets her. Of course Ted isn’t here – she feels silly for assuming he would be. Owning a gallery may be a full-time job, but this particular gallery is open more than 50 hours a week – she imagines he has a life outside of work he’s attending to.
She decides to have a look around the gallery while she’s here, anyway, if for no other reason than that she’d be too embarrassed to turn on her heel and walk back out, and finds that the artworks have already changed since her last visit. There seems to be some sort of theme around the same painter, with several large abstract paintings on display – wild, intense pieces with a kind of colourful, frantic worry to them. It’s interesting, to be sure, but she doesn’t feel the same intense force drawing her in as she had felt with the piece she bought last week. Just as she’s decided that it was silly of her to return, she hears the front door open, and turns towards the sound. It’s him. The fucker is wearing a suit, and he looks good in it. It’s nothing special – a professional-looking dark grey two-piece that wouldn’t look out of place on any other gallerist in the city, but which does clash a bit with the thick moustache and the folksy charm, not to mention the big, genuine grin on his face.
He doesn’t seem to register her presence, but walks up to the man at the front desk right away.
“That was a hoot and a half. Usually these private collector types seem like they’ve got a stick up their butts, but I tell ya, I haven’t sold that much in a while. Really feel like everything's coming up roses lately.” Ted hands the man a piece of paper and gives him a friendly, familial pat on the back. “Mind registering these for me?”
The man nods, and then gestures wordlessly to her, making it known that they have a customer, before heading for the back room. Ted turns to look at her and his whole face lights up.
“Ted,” she says, suddenly shy, unsure of what more to say now that he’s finally here, in front of her.
“You came back. I wasn’t sure if you would.”
She thinks of her print, tries not to let out the audible sigh that always seems to bubble up in her at the thought.
“Of course. You brought art back into my life.”
“I didn’t know it’d gone missing.”
“I didn’t know how much I’d missed it until it was back. My ex-husband owned all the art in our home, and I have the few pieces we owned together stowed away in a guest room.”
“Bad memories?” he asks, with so much kindness in his voice.
She considers that. She doesn’t associate their art collection with the bad times at all. If anything, she associates them with the times during her marriage when she felt proud to be married to a charming, sophisticated intellectual like Rupert Mannion. No matter that that version of him might never have existed to begin with.
“Insufficient good ones.”
“I get that. I guess a lot of divorced folks would say my marriage was a real picnic, but as much as I miss getting to come home to my kid everyday, I’m glad I’m not the one stuck with all those memories in our old house in Kansas, ya know?”
“Your son still lives in America? That must- I’m sorry, that must be difficult for you.”
His expression grows dark and she supposes she can’t blame him.
“Just for the time being, until we can figure out custody. It’s still all a bit new to me. I used to work at an auction house back home, but I got real tired of it, and when I got this amazing opportunity to open my own gallery, it just seemed too good to pass up. On paper, it really seemed like I was getting the whole package: lovely wife, great kid, dream job. The works.”
“I take it, it wasn’t all roses?”
“Well, part of why I decided to come here was that my wife needed ‘some space’. I guess the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t nearly enough space for her. We divorced pretty soon after I left. I didn’t exactly see it that way at the time, but I think I moved here so that it could finally end.”
Judging from his face, it doesn’t look like “finally” is the right term. Perhaps that had been the case for his ex, but he doesn’t quite seem over whatever transpired. She supposes they have that in common.
“You’re really not at all what I had expected when I went to replace what I had hanging on my walls.”
“If you just wanted somethin’ to hang on your wall, you should’ve gone to someone who could fix you up with a nice wallpaper. Or better yet, a taxidermist. I don’t got anything in my gallery I want people to just put on their wall like it’s some dead thing just hanging there. Art has to be alive.”
“The print I got from you – it certainly does a lot more than that.” She can’t quite help the way her cheeks blush as she says it.
“I’m pleased as punch to hear it.”
“No, I’m serious. It really does mean a lot. I hung it in my bedroom and it seems to be the thing that finally made the space my own. You have no idea how great it feels to walk in there and no longer feel like the room I sleep in belongs to a stranger.”
“Sounds like you’ve got yourself a nice set-up there.”
“You should see it for yourself,” she tells him with sudden determination.
“Excuse me?” His eyes widen a little, and as she wonders what he thought she meant by that, it occurs to her that she had fully intended the flirtation.
“Do you make house calls?” she asks him.
“Not as a general rule, but there are always exceptions.”
“It’s just, I’ve got that whole crate of artworks at home that have just been sitting there since my divorce, and if you would consider taking a look at them, helping me get them off my hands, it would be a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I’d love to know that they’re being sold through someone I respect.”
“Well, sure,” he says, easily, like he hasn’t just told her it’s an unusual request. “I can do that.”
As if summoned, the other gallery employee reemerges from the back room.
“Hey, Beard, would you be able to keep an eye on the place and close up at the end of the day for me? This is the woman I bought that Hockney off of last week and she’s got a whole crateful of goodies at home just waiting for me to peruse through. Besides, she bought Praise and I want to make sure it’s in good hands.”
The man – Beard? – looks at Ted, then at Rebecca and then back at Ted. What follows seems to be an entire conversation between them, enacted out only with facial expressions. He seems to be somewhat sceptical of her, and she feels oddly like she’s the one being assessed, like she’s a teenager meeting the in-laws for the first time. The man finally nods, noncommittally. “Sure.”
“Thanks, I appreciate ya.”
“Don’t know why I’m surprised that you’ve got a driver,” Ted says, shifting a little nervously in the back seat next to her. She resists the wildly inappropriate urge to reach out and grab his shaking knee to steady him. “You brought in a Hockney like it was nothin’. What is it you do, again?”
“I own AFC Richmond.”
“The soccer club?” he asks with a low, impressed whistle. “That’s a heckuva cool job you’ve got there, being the boss of a whole team like that. I bet that’s excitin’.”
“The football club, and yes, I suppose it is.” It has taken her a while to get comfortable at the club, but she really is starting to feel like she’s beginning to make a difference in those young men’s lives. It’s been rewarding.
“Sorry. Still getting used to all those funny words y’all got over here. I’ve yet to get the hang of the sport, but I’ve gotten to a point where I enjoy watching it well enough. Feel like, if I’ll be stayin’ put, I better familiarize myself with the culture. Guess I just figured out who I’ll be rooting for in the Premier League.” She doesn’t know why that makes her so flustered. It’s not like he’s making plans to spend time with her in a month. Just to watch her team. And support it, which she supposes is a little like telling her he’s expecting to think fondly of her in the future.
“Do you ever regret moving here?”
“All the time, but there are plenty of things about this place I’ve found make it worth my while to stick around.” She tries not to read anything into the fact that he’s looking at her as he says it. “And I’m starting to realize, I wasn’t ever gonna save my marriage by staying. Especially not in that job I had. I worked for one of them big fancy auction houses, but that place was all messed up on account of the money that went through it. When you’re sellin’ art for a couple million bucks, at some point, it all becomes about the numbers. The sellers are sellin’ to buy another mansion and the buyers are buyin’ to raise their stock option somewhere down the line, or because they figure auction houses are the new gold rush, and a Pollock is worth more than its weight in precious metals.”
“Oh, I’m certain, you would absolutely loathe my profession then. The players are good lads and I’m glad I’ve been able to get them together, but the investors are always trying to convince me that they’re engaging in some noble act of philanthropy. As if they’d be investing a few million pounds, if it weren’t beneficial to their bottom line.”
It feels good to vent a bit about it with someone who seems to understand.
“Oh, I’ve been there. Sure, some people care about the art they’re buying, but with prices like that, it ain’t exactly a big surprise, when even rich folks care just a tad about the amount of zeros on the price tag. It’s a darn shame, though. That sort of investment scheming ain’t why I got into this business.”
“Why did you?” She asks, genuinely curious to know everything there is to know about him. “You don’t seem like much of the salesman type. No offence.”
“None taken.” There’s a warm, almost melodic cadence to the words. She could listen to him talk for hours. “I don’t really think of myself as one. Arthur Miller made that seem like it would getcha glum. I like to think of it more like I appreciate things for a living.” He looks at her, then, and she can't help but wonder, what’s going through his head.
“Y’know there’s this great story ‘bout Agnes Martin that’s been stuck in my mind ever since you bought that piece off me last week. This kid comes to visit Agnes with her grandmother in New Mexico, and she – Agnes that is – shows the little one a beautiful rose in a vase, only to grab it right from the table, hiding it behind her back, and then tells the kid: ‘See? Beauty is in your mind, not in the rose.’” There’s something wistful in his eyes. “Guess I’ve been thinking about that. About how you can experience beauty – if even for a couple of fleeting moments, and yet it sticks in your mind.”
He’s looking at her, and she can’t help but think about how the image of him has stayed in her mind each night since she last saw him, and then well into the day. She thinks that if this is the last time she ever sees him, this will be the moment she remembers perfectly. Only, if the way he’s staring right back at her is any indication, that won’t be an issue. She can keep her eyes off him either – determined as she is to imprint the beauty of that look on his face in her mind’s eye forever.
Ted turns his eyes away, and at first she thinks he must be too embarrassed to hold her gaze, but then she catches his line of vision, realising he’s looking at her legs. She makes a point of uncrossing them, not bothering to readjust her skirt, and shifting just an inch closer to him as if it’s simply part of the movement. When she looks at his face again, she finds herself unable to keep the desire from her own expression, can’t help but wonder if it isn’t desire burning so softly yet fiercely in the eyes looking back at her. She rests her hand on his knee this time, because she wants to, because she thinks he wouldn’t mind, and Ted just looks down at her hand, perplexed, mouth slightly agape, but making no effort to push her away.
“Rebecca-” he says, and even though there’s something a little worried in his voice, she doesn’t think she’ll ever get tired of hearing him say her name. “What’s happening here?”
“We’re going back to mine,” she tells him. “And you’ll look at that dreadfully expensive art collection I can’t even really stand to think about, of course, but perhaps first, I’ll ask you if you want to come join me for a cup of tea?”
“Yuck, uh– I know y’all love it over here, but I’ve gotta admit that I can’t actually stand the stuff. Makes my tongue feel all weird, like I’m chewing on a napkin or somethin’.”
“Ted, that’s not what I –” she sighs, exasperated. She’s terrified to ask him enough as it is. Why does he have to be so fucking American about it?
“It’s a euphemism, Ted. I’m asking you, in as polite a manner as I can manage, if you’d perhaps like to come inside and fuck me?”
“Uh, I- uh. That sure sounds nice, Rebecca.”
His cheeks are all flushed, and as he gulps, she watches his Adam's apple bob slightly up and down. There really isn’t a thing about him she isn't transfixed by. Rebecca inches closer to him, moving her hand up his thigh, and looks him in the eyes, which are dark, wide and wanting, and fuck if she doesn’t want him to just take her right here and now. She has to bite down hard on her lip to stop herself from telling him that as far as she’s concerned, it doesn’t have to be in that order.
She leans closer to him, noticing the way his mouth seems to open up to her, and at that, she simply cannot help herself any longer – places her lips to his, feels the electric thrill as his tongue gently moves against hers.
When the chauffeur pulls into her driveway, she finally pulls back from the embrace, and looks at him, lost in the promise of his gaze.
By the time they stumble inside, they’re already panting, tearing at each other, trying to get their layers off, scarves and coats scattered in the hall. Rebecca can’t keep her hands off him, and he’s more than willing to return the favour, hurrying with her up the stairs and into her bedroom.
“Oh hell, Rebecca,” he says, breath hitching, as she lets him go. “You really hung it in your bedroom.”
She’s so woozy with everything that has happened between them, how quickly she allowed her lizard brain to take over, that it takes her a moment to understand that he’s referring to her print. Now that he’s seeing it, she’s glad she bothered to hang it up properly, especially now that she gets to see that look in his eyes. It feels right that he’s here with her in this room. It feels like he belongs here.
“I wanted it close to me. It felt too private for any other room,” she admits, far past the need to hide from him. “Do you like how it looks there?”
She gestures to the placement on the wall, but he doesn’t take his eyes off her.
She wants to pick up from where they left off, but he’s frowning suddenly, and she takes a step back, unsure of what she did to ruin the moment, terrified that she’s somehow broken what has been building between them before it has even begun.
“Look, Rebecca, is this just sex?”
“Ted-” she says, frustrated with him for asking now, when all she can think about is how she wants his hands on her body, how she wants to undo that stupid fucking tie and kiss that stupid fucking mouth of his. Unfortunately, frustratingly, she knows he’s right to ask, and that he’s right to put the cards on the table.
“Because I need to know if that’s all this is to you – if this is just some rich lady version of getting it on with the plumber, when he comes by to look at your pipes.”
She half-laughs at the idea, like Ted’s the pizza boy in some porno, and not, well him, but then she sees his face, and rushes to deter his doubts.
“It’s not. God, Ted, I don’t think you understand how much I’ve thought of you. And I do want you, but I want all of you, if you’ll have me.”
“You’re all I’ve been able to think about for a week,” he admits, and there’s something about the way he says it that doesn't for a single moment let her doubt that it’s true.
“Tell me what you see,” she tells him.
“I see a beautiful woman wearing far too much clothing.”
“Yeah?” she asks, unzipping her skirt, letting it fall to the floor, and then gently lifting up her blouse. She can’t stop smiling. It’s something he does to her, she can’t quite help it. His eyes are shining, pupils dilated with arousal, as he looks her up and down. She has never wanted and never felt this wanted in her whole life.
“Oh, most definitely,” he says, helping her take off her clothes completely, only to be stunned into silence at the sight of her.
“You’re a breast man, huh, Mr. Lasso?”
“I’m a Welton man through and through. My God, I’d say you’re like a statue, but you’re more than that. I can’t think of a single depiction of a goddess with a body that compares to yours. All those years studying the entire history of art and I can’t think of a thing. It’s like you do something to my head that makes it all gooey.”
He grabs her by the hips then, holding on tight as he guides her to the bed. Once he's laid her down, he slows down a little, putting his mouth to each of her calves, and then tracing soft kisses up her leg to her thigh. His moustache tickles in a way she hadn’t anticipated and she has to resist the urge to close her legs up around his head before he can even get started. The moment she feels his breath against her cunt, she realises how wet she is for him already.
“Fuck me,” she moans.
He doesn’t even bother with a snarky remark, just pulls her closer against himself until his nose is rubbing against her clit, and my god, it’s like he was made for this.
Fuck. it feels so good, but she wants more of him – wants to touch his skin, wants to feel him, close up against her.
“What? Tell me,” he says, barely moving away from her, every shaky word spoken airing small breaths against her sensitive clit.
“You’re wearing too much clothing.”
He chuckles, voice suddenly an octave deeper than before, emitting a hum that reverberates throughout her body.
“Sorry, ma’am’. Forgot my manners there.” He gets up, starts to gently untie his tie, making a show of it, but she’s in no mood for a show. By the time the tie is off, she’s already sat up in bed, moving her hand to his waist and pulling at the fabric, ripping a few of his buttons.
“I hope you didn’t like that shirt too much,” she says, but she’s too far gone to really feel all that sorry.
“I’ll live,” he replies, and she realises that he’s panting too – that he’s just as lost in her body as she is in his.
Rebecca grabs at his belt buckle, but he’s already there with her, frantically doing what he can to unclasp it, and she tugs at his trousers, huffing a little impatiently as he shrugs out of them. She reaches a hand down his pants, and oh. It’s been a while since she’s been with anyone besides Rupert, and she’s not sure she’s ever been with anyone this, well-
“Jesus Christ, you’re hung.”
“Uh,” he laughs a little sheepishly. “Hope that won’t be too much of a problem?”
“I’m sure I’ll manage,” she says, aiming for dry, but her voice trembles a little as she watches him remove his boxers completely.
“Let me at least make sure you’re comfortable before we get carried away,” he tells her, and by the time Rebecca fully registers what he means, he’s already grabbed her by the thighs, moving her to sit back against the headboard, positioning two fingers at her entrance, his other hand deftly working its magic on her clit – real, actual magic it feels like.
He kisses her then – a deep, soft kiss, that would be the source of shivers running down her spine if it weren't for the feeling of his fingers thrusting inside her, and his left hand on her clit, experimenting with the pacing until she lets out a surprised yelp, nearly making her eyes tear up with pleasure. She lowers her head down, resting it on his shoulder, and he lets out a perfect little helpless noise, as he moves his head back, exposing the skin to her, giving her lips more access. Without much thought or preamble, she bites down into his shoulder, and he lets out a rough, surprised groan.
“Too much?” she asks.
“No, no, you’re good. Feel free to do that again whenever you like.”
She rakes her fingers across his back, hears him let out that same noise again, when she digs her nails a little deeper.
“Fuck, do that again,” he says, and she does, feels him tremble under her touch. It makes her feel powerful and real and alive, and then he finds that perfect rhythm again, and it’s her own turn to tremble, every inch of her body reacting to the touch.
“You okay to try?” he asks, pulling his fingers out of her, and gently guiding her to lay down in a more comfortable position beneath him.
“Yes. Fuck, yes, please. Fuck me.” And he does, inserting the tip carefully, and then entering her completely, her mind nearly going blank with the heady filling.
“Think you can come like this?” he asks her, as if it isn’t obvious how desperately close she is already. She just nods, mutters out a soft “Yes, please.”
“I love it when you get all polite,” he tells her and then thrusts into her again.
It’s slow, at first, and then harder and harder, until she finally feels him finishing inside her. Rebecca laughs when she comes, just from the sheer joyful pleasure of it, a deep uncontrollable belly laugh that gets mixed up with the full-body shudder, and continues even after she begins to come down from the shock of the white-hot burning pleasure of it.
“Somethin’ funny?” He asks, as he pulls his spent cock out of her, tracing soft kisse along her neck, as she lets out the last few hints of a giggle.
Unsure of what came over her, she shakes her head just a little in response, and stares at him in astounded wonder, trying to regain the full function of her body.
“Where did you come from?” She finally asks him, genuinely contemplating as she raises the question if this man may in fact be an angel sent from above to fuck her silly.
“Kansas,” he tells her with a smile, and his low, deep voice makes something inside her flutter all over again.
Feeling brave, and most of all, feeling like she wouldn’t know what to make of herself if he left, she asks him: “Will you stay the night?”
“I s’pose there’s no harm in sticking around for a while.”
His moustache tickles her skin a little as she grins into his kiss.
Rebecca wakes with a growling stomach, aching joints, and a warm body pressed against her chest. She blinks sleepily, and smiles with contentment as the events from the night before come back to her. Had it not been for the man lying in bed next to her, she might have thought it all a dream, and she’s suddenly eternally grateful that he spent the night. She sits up a little, and looks down at Ted. There’s something so peaceful about him lying there, splayed out on his stomach, arms reaching in every direction, only half covered by the duvet. His face is turned towards her, and his moustache twitches adorably with each breath.
It takes her a moment to register that here’s something on his back, and another to realise what it is – she reaches down, carefully, her fingers brushing as faintly as possible against it. She wants to make sure that this too isn’t a mere figment of her imagination. Ted winces, roused from sleep, and she retracts her hand guiltily.
“Good morning, Ted,” she tells him, voice soft, looking down at him.
“Mornin’” he grunts out, sleepily, his kind, brown eyes half-open, adjusting to the light.
“I seem to have left a mark.”
“Oh yeah? Tell me what you see.”
“Long lines from where my nails dug into the skin on your back. I must have drawn blood. I didn’t realise.” It’s been so long since she had sex like that – lost so completely in the moment that she hadn’t even taken note of what she was doing.
“That sounds beautiful.”
“You are,” she tells him, because he is, and he lets out a satisfied hum in reply.
She could have never told Rupert that, she realises. He would have found it demeaning. Rebecca admires Ted’s ability to take the compliment for what it is – veneration.
“Hey. So, uh. We’re doing that again sometime, yeah? Or, that’s to say, I’d like it, if maybe you wanted to-”
“Yes. Definitely yes,” she tells him, more certain than anything that she wants to keep this man in her life.
“I’m making coffee,” she says, remembering what he’d said about tea. “You want some?”
“You got milk and sugar?”
“Then I’d love some, yeah.”
He sits up a little in bed, and reaches up to kiss her.
“Got butter and flour too?”
“I think so, yes. Why?”
“Figured I’d bake ya somethin’. To get the day started.”
Oh, she is definitely keeping him around.
Ted seems genuinely delighted at the sight of her stand mixer, which she hopes means she’s won a few points in his book, although she isn’t sure she’s ever actually used it herself. As she brews the coffee, he gets to work on making her biscuits, and when she realises he’s baking shortbread, something in her stirs with strange delight – she wonders if he can read her mind somehow, or if he was simply made just for her. There’s something a little miraculous about him.
“Speaking of dough,” he says. “You want me to have a look at those pieces now, and tell you if you’ve got a secret cash cow stowed away, while we wait for these babies to finish baking?”
Her stomach twists at the thought of the crate, of the empty room she always hates entering – the final reminder of Rupert she hasn’t gotten rid of yet.
Sensing her hesitancy, he reaches out to hold her hand, and she feels a warmth coursing through her at the gesture.
“Just show me the way.”
As it turns out, there are no secret treasures as such. Some of the art is good, sure, but it’s more a collection of famous names than anything. Still, Ted assures her there’s well over a million pounds worth.
“Know what you wanna spend it on yet?” he asks her.
“Red Cross,” she says, remembering Sassy’s suggestion. “The lot of it. I want something good to come out of this mess. Although I suppose something already did.”
She kisses him, because she wants to, because she can, because she’s so unspeakably pleased that of all the possible outcomes, she got so much more than she could have ever hoped for. When their lips part, he’s looking at her like she’s the sun.
“In that case, I’ll refrain from taking commission. I’ll call Beard, and get him to come pick it up. We’ve got enough room to store it in the gallery. Know what you’ll do with this room once the crate is out of the way?”
She thinks of the kid who drew that drawing in his office – wonders if one day, he won’t need a room of his own here, but she doesn’t say so – knows it’s much too early for that kind of talk.
“My friend Florence thinks I should turn it turn it into a sex dungeon, but I’m open to suggestions.”
He doesn’t manage to keep a straight face at that, but she appreciates the effort.
“Well, that’s certainly an idea.”
The biscuits are perfect – thick mouth-watering and delicious despite what appears to be a fairly simple set of ingredients. She once again wonders at how Ted seems to pull little miracles out of thin air.
“I’ve actually got a work thing this afternoon. Think I need to head home and change before I can head into the gallery.”
“Of course,” she says, trying to hide her disappointment. He walks over to her and she swallows down the last bit of his biscuit before she reaches over to kiss him. She can’t stop kissing him, it seems. It’s like all she wants is his mouth and his hands and his kind, soulful eyes that seem to pierce right through her.
“But I was hopin’ that, if it isn’t too soon to ask, you’d like to have dinner with me tomorrow night? I’d sure love to see you again, and sooner rather than later. I gotta admit that you’ve got me smitten, Rebecca.” There’s something about the way he says it that fuels her own hope – that perhaps he sees in her just a fraction of the wonder she sees in him.
“I’d love that too,” she tells him. She doesn’t feel the need to bother with a slow build-up. She wants him all the time and she isn’t afraid to admit it, although part of her is scared to admit just how much.
Before he leaves, she pulls him in for one last kiss, and is relieved to find that she knows in her heart it will only be the first of many.
“Ted, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. About my print.”
“Which one?” he asks innocently.
“You know the one. Praise.”
“That day we met, when I bought it, it was as if-. Were you going to offer to give it to me free of charge?”
“Ted! Were you really about to just hand over an artwork worth thousands of pounds to a perfect stranger, who clearly had the money to pay?”
“Well, see, that's why I held back on making the offer. But you’re right that I was itchin’ to do it.”
“It just felt like it belonged to you. You deserve all the praise in the world.”
“You’re a ridiculous man,” she tells him, but she couldn't have kept the fondness out of her tone if she wanted to.
“But you like me anyway.”
“You’ve got me there.”
“I’ll take you wherever you’ll have me.”
Rebecca is certain she'll be taking him up on that offer.