"You look amazing." Liam said as I gripped his arm nervously. "I don't know why you're freaking out."
"You're not the one who's going to be the subject of everyone's looks tonight." I took a deep breath and shook my head. "But you're right. I should be pleased about it."
"Yes, you should be." He smiled. "Come on, it's freezing out here."
"You think?" I muttered, glad that I'd worn a coat instead of the blazer. We stepped up to the door and went inside. A man in a waistcoat appeared and checked our invitation, then took our coats and offered us champagne.
"Oh my god." Liam muttered.
"What?" I turned to him, champagne in hand.
"Look Cara. You're everywhere." I looked around and saw the pictures for the first time. They were everywhere. Some in colour, some in black and white; all of them... "Beautiful. You look beautiful Cara."
"She's photoshopped them." I murmured, unable to stop staring.
"Not so much." Myra's voice sounded from our left. I turned to see her and she was smiling. "I'm glad you came."
"Thank you for the invitation." I smiled.
"You had to see how they turned out. And I have to say, although photo shopping is common I didn't have to use much. Just a little to rectify the landscaping and occasional problems."
"Well... they're amazing." I said.
"Look around." She smiled. "I'm sure you'll find plenty of people who agree. And I'm not saying that because I'm the artist. I'm saying that because everyone has been saying how utterly beautiful you are."
I blushed and shook my head.
"Wow. It's been a while since I've seen her this embarrassed. Thanks Myra." Liam winked.
"No problem." Myra raised her glass slightly. "Excuse me, I have other guests to attend to."
She disappeared leaving Liam and I to our own devices. I tapped my fingers against the glass, hearing the occasional tinkle as my midi rings caught the clear surface.
"Come on then. I want to find the paintings as well." Liam said, offering his arm.
"Sure." I smiled, waving away his arm with a laugh and making my way towards one side of the room to begin. A few people began to notice me, and realise I was the subject. They started to compliment me, congratulate me, as if I had a hand in Myra's talent. I waved them away, reminding them that it was all her doing. We had reached the middle of the room before I noticed the dots next to the pictures.
"What do those mean?" Liam asked.
"It means they've sold."
"That many of them? The same photo, that many times?"
"Yes." I murmured.
"Jesus Cara, you're a photo whore." He muttered so no one else could hear. I gave him an elbow in the stomach.
"You're an ass hat."
"You want more champagne to get you through?"
"God yes." I handed him my empty glass and he disappeared. I wandered, looking at the photographs. I loved the one of me in the window, in the large jumper. It seemed to capture everything about what I'd been feeling. The next one was with the strawberry and I almost laughed at the memory of Lexi's face when I'd gotten the strawberries she had wanted.
"Miss Kensington!" A man's voice cried out from somewhere on the other side of the display. I froze. No. "I have to thank you for allowing Myra to show her work here. I thought you and here were exclusive in your dealings." It was the voice of the man who had met Myra at the restaurant, and so, the owner of this gallery. I took a deep breath, waiting for the response. When it came, I flinched.
"We usually are, and will be again, Mr Grant." Her voice sounded strained, as though it was costing her a lot to be here.
"So what was it about this collection that couldn't be shown in your own establishment?"
"A miscommunication Mr Grant. A double booking."
"Shame, shame. I think it will do very well. I met the young lady who modelled you know?"
There was a pause in which I hardly dared breathe.
"Did you." It wasn't a question. She phrased it as though she didn't want to hear more, but her politeness would prevent her from leaving. I stepped a little closer to the gap between the displays, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
"Yes! Works in a restaurant, can you believe it? Nuovo Inizio, it's called."
"Cara, there you are!" Liam called and I immediately shrank away from the display in case she heard us. "What's up?"
"I want to leave."
"We only just got here." He frowned. "Is something the matter?" I was about to reply when he glanced over my shoulder and his mouth fell open. "Oh. Sam."
I turned quickly and saw her appearing through the crowd, her eyes latched on to me.
I tell you now, I can't remember how long it took her to walk those few steps. All I remember is the dark eye liner around her eyes, making her pupils larger; her iris' seemed darker and all consuming. I remember the angles of her cheek bones, and the white dress shirt with top buttons undone, that lay under her jacket and was tucked in to fitted black trousers. An open bow tie fell from around her neck. I think she was wearing heels.
"Fuck." I whispered. I didn't know whether to run or to stay as I was, frozen.
"Cara, it'll be okay." Liam murmured.
Something in Sam's eyes faltered and she stopped. She looked down at the glass she carried at hip level as though it might give her an answer. Her confusion or hesitation or whatever it was gave me enough reason to make up my mind.
"I can't... I have to..." She looked up, having heard my voice but I turned and hurried towards the front. I couldn't see the man who had taken my coat so I went out of the door without it. The cold hit me and I shivered rubbing my hands along my arms as I leant against the bricks of the building. I bit my lip and looked up at the night sky.
She looked good. So good. So good that I couldn't believe I'd ever thought, even for a second, however unconvincingly, that I could cope without her. Seeing her for the first time in months felt like everything was better again, but knowing that it wasn't made my stomach roll and my heart clench.
"Fuck!" I cried, my arms crossed. I wished I could kick something but I knew that hobbling back inside to get my coat would be more embarrassing than striding. I looked down the street. Maybe I should just get a taxi back. Liam would understand...
I felt a jacket or coat being placed around my shoulders and, glancing down, realised it was mine.
"Thanks." I shivered, pulling it tightly round me. Thank god for Liam. "I have to get out of her Liam. I don't deserve another chance at apologising and-" I turned around and was met with Sam. I felt my mouth drop open, despite the chattering of my teeth from before. She was looking warily at me, but there was still some warmth in her eyes. Maybe it was wishful thinking... "Sam." I breathed.
"Cara. I... I don't think you've ever moved that quickly." She shoved her hands in to her pockets. "I didn't want you to get cold."
"Thank you." I murmured. She dipped her head. We stood there for a minute and then I couldn't hold it any more. "Sam I'm so sorry. I am. For being such a catastrophe. I don't deserve your time or the chance that you might listen but I just need you to know I regret how I... handled everything."
She glanced up at me, frowning and with sad eyes.
"I didn't come out here for your apology Cara. I... I got your letter."
"Oh. Yes. I got your reply."
"What reply?" She frowned.
"The one from... the one saying I should get my mail and my... my necklace?"
She frowned and shook her head.
"That wasn't my reply. That was supposed to be when I was away."
There was an awkward silence.
"How are you?" I asked gently. She glanced at me and let out a dry chuckle.
"I don't know Cara. How are you?"
"Better... from the surgery I mean. Otherwise I... I don't really know either."
"You got a job."
"It's hard. Good though." She nodded. "How's Pieces?"
"And your trip... was it... good?"
"Trips. And yes. My sister took charge for the most part."
"Oh. Good." I shivered again. "Sam, I just... I know I ruined it. Everything we had. But I just... I wanted to know if... if we could talk? Be... friends or something?"
She took a deep intake of breath and stared at me.
"I don't know Cara. It still hurts."
I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Look what I'd done to the woman I loved.
"Okay. My... my number is still the same if you... if you ever want to give friendship a go. I don't deserve anything more... I probably don't even deserve friendship but... I miss you and I would do anything to have you back in my life, no matter what the role."
"Cara shut up." She bit her lip and her eyes were tearing up. I stepped forward to give her a hug but she put up a warning hand. "I... I don't know if I can but... I'll think about it."
"Okay." I nodded, stepping back to give her space. "Thank you."
"We should go back inside. You'll freeze to death."
I nodded and followed her to the door. Before she opened it I spoke.
"Thank you for coming tonight. I know... You didn't have to and even if you came just to, I don't know, throw paint at the pictures or something, it still means a lot."
"I did bring my marker pen. I thought I could draw you a moustache."
I stared at her and then saw the small tilt of her lips in to a smile.
"Oh." I chuckled.
"I couldn't ruin Myra's work Cara." She chuckled. "And besides... you look good."
"So do you." I replied and then blushed. "That's not what you meant."
"No it's not... but" She let her eyes wander for a second and then seemed to discipline herself. "We should go in."
She opened the door and gestured for me to walk in first.