I stopped outside Pieces and took three long, deep breaths. It was going to be fine. I had to calm down. I had to be normal, posh even. I had to fit in. I smoothed the coat I wore over my dress down anxiously, and gripped the handle, pulling open the door and stepping inside.
It was well lit, and the sounds of tinkling glasses and low, murmuring voices met my ears. There were a dozen people on one side, and half a dozen on the other, all mingling and gazing critically at the art work, pointing their heavy hands at pieces they liked and then delving in to heavier pockets. I looked nervously for Sam and finally caught sight of her, back turned, at the other side of the room. I was about to head over when a smartly dressed guy slid in front of me, a tray of champagne in his hand.
"May I offer you some champagne?" He asked, proffering it with steady hands.
"Thank you." I took one and glanced over at Sam again. I saw her shaking an elderly gentleman's hand and then watched her turn. She caught sight of me and a smile lit up her face. She was walking toward me when the guy caught my attention again.
"May I take your coat?"
"Can you do that balancing the champagne?" I laughed lightly, feeling a little overwhelmed.
"Well I can try." He smiled warmly, and I felt a little relief. I was obviously nervous, and he was trying to make me feel more comfortable. He held out his hand and I unbuttoned the coat, slipping it off and handing it to him with thanks. Then I turned to face Sam again. There was a strange look on her face, as though she were gasping for air. I felt concern ripple through me and began walking towards her to check she was alright. Then the look passed and that small and cheeky smile I adored crept on to her lips. As I reached her and went to take her hand she shook her head.
"No. Don't touch me. If you do, I'll go mad."
"What?" I asked, thoroughly confused and a little hurt.
"If you touch me; if you kiss me or I smell you I think I'll forget everyone else and hurry you away. And tonight is supposed to be business. Business." She shook her head and stared me up and down. "You look incredible."
"Thank you." I smiled, and realised that with these heels on I was the same height as her. "You look very business like. It's very sexy." I muttered the last part to her.
"Flirting. That's not allowed either." She narrowed her eyes but widened her smile. "I thought I said you weren't to wear anything that would distract me."
"Which is exactly why I did. You put the thought in my head." I lied slightly. In all honesty, it had been Anna and Ali's insistance that I wore it, and my secret desire to see the look on Sam's face when she saw it, that had made this happen.
"You're a temptress." She whispered back, as we were approached by an older woman. "Hello!" She turned to her in normality. "How are you finding the show?"
"Fantastic as usual Sam. You really do find the best of the best..." She glanced at me. "Who is this?"
"This is Cara. Cara meet Donna, my..." But Donna interrupted her.
"Her favourite customer."
I smiled and shook her hand.
"Nice to meet you. Sam, you have a favourite customer?" I asked, as a way of making conversation.
"Because I always buy something from her." Donna interrupted again.
"Because you're an intelligent and engaging woman." Sam replied.
"Because you get thirty percent commission on most of your pieces and that makes you rich when I purchase." Sam laughed away the banter and Donna smiled at me. I smiled back a little bewildered. "Cara, do you enjoy art?"
"I do, but I'm afraid I don't know much about it."
"Well then let me steal you away and talk to you about it, while Miss Kensington here does what she does best and sells." She turned and began walking away.
I glanced desperately at Sam and she nodded with a smile, so I followed Donna, leaving my incredible girlfriend to the buyers.
"This is a Degas. How she got it I cannot understand. She has friends in high places that one." Donna pointed at an exquisite sketch of a couple of ballerinas. It was beautiful. I searched each pencil stroke hungrily, noting that Degas, who I had heard of before, had really captured the movement of the dancers; even as they were still, they still flowed.
"Yes. So how do you know each other?"
"You and Sam. How do you know each other?"
"Oh, she saw me perform with my band and came up to me afterwards. We've just been getting to know each other."
"So you're together?"
"I'm sorry?" I was stunned by this lady's forwardness. "I don't think that's..."
"... any of my business?" She interrupted me. "Yes well, you may think that, but it is."
"I was going to say an appropriate question for someone who doesn't know me but yes, now you come to mention it. It isn't any of your business."
She looked at me for a long while and I felt a rising trepidation. Had I just pushed one of Sam's best customers away? Then a smile lifted her lips.
"I like you. You're feisty. You two will make a good couple. You do make a good couple."
"I'm sorry, I'm confused." I truly was completely baffled by this woman. "You clearly know Sam better than you would if you were just her customer."
"Well I should think so. I am her mother after all."
If I had been drinking my champagne at that moment I was sure I would have spat it all over her, and the Degas.
"Her... her mother?"
Sam had left me with her mother? Without warning me? Oh god this was so embarrassing!
"Yes dear. Don't leave your mouth open like that." I closed it hurriedly, but continued to gaze wide eyed at her. "Don't be angry with her. I do this to all her girlfriends. I like to meet them properly without them knowing who I am. Then they don't get the chance to put on an act."
"So a high class art evening where I feel completely out of place is the right place to do that?"
"Well, I surprised her this afternoon by coming down, and when she told me she'd invited you tonight... it seemed too perfect to miss."
"She didn't know you were coming?"
"No dear. If she had I think she'd have hidden you away till you felt more comfortable. But I'm glad she didn't have chance. I'm glad to see you take pride in your appearance." She glanced down at my dress. "Which is more than I can say for her."
"I like the way she dresses." I put in boldly.
"But it's not femenine..."
"It suits her. It is her."
"Hmm, well, you are right about that. I forced her in to a dress for her eighteenth birthday... she did not look right at all."
I laughed a little.
"If you have any photos I would be happy to see them." I joked, and she laughed in return.
"Well, perhaps we should meet for dinner tomorrow. Now that I know we get along, I have no trouble in organising that..." She looked around and spotted Sam. "There she is. Come on, let's get you back to her. I want to see my daughter with her girlfriend standing proudly by her."
"So tomorrow then Sam?" Donna said, kissing her cheek.
"Yes mother. Don't worry, I'll be on time."
"I know. Well, lovely to meet you Cara. I look forward to tomorrow's meal."
"So do I Donna, lovely to meet you." She gave me a kiss on the cheek too, and I smiled as she left. Once she was out of sight I rounded on Sam. "You!" This was the first time we'd been alone the entire evening since Donna had surprised me with the news. I intended to fully use this. "You didn't warn me she was your mother? I was ambushed! By a Degas!"
"She ambushed me too." Sam said apologetically but with a chuckle. Something in the way she looked, I guess it was the hint of resignation, made me tame the drama queen inside me.
"Your mother likes me. She likes me right?"
"Yes. She likes you." Sam smiled, and reached for my hand, pulling me in to her arms. "But definitely not as much as I do."
"What happened to no touching?"
"Everyone's gone. I can touch you all I like and no one will witness what follows." I felt that warm melting feeling inside my core again.
"I'm pretty sure," I muttered in reply, barely breathing "that people can see through the windows."
She chuckled and then disappeared, pulling me along with her at a speed I didn't realise I could manage in those heels. She pulled me behind one of the display walls in the centre of the room and pressed me against it, one hand on my hip, the other in my hair.We were hidden from view now, no longer able to be stared at like part of the art show.
"You tormented me all night. I kept trying to make sales and getting distracted by you, and your lips," here she kissed the offending part, " and your neck," and once again she kissed me on the forementioned part of my body," and that dress." She reached behind my head and undid the fastener that held up the halterneck, and then continued to kiss my lips. I fumbled with the buttons of her shirt, and managed to undo them without looking. As I wrapped my fingers in her hair I let out a moaning gasp, and she began kissing a trail down my neck to my chest.
"Unless you want this to happen here, I suggest we go upstairs now." I warned her, already finding it very difficult to keep my fingers from trailing to her trouser zip, from where they clung desperately and passionately to her shirt. She stopped kissing me and grinned, eye level once again.
"Here will do nicely."