Shafts of unforgiving morning light were piercing the slatted blinds as Angelika tossed and thrashed in their big bright white bed. Exasperated, she looked at the clock - it was 7.30 am. and she hadn’t slept at all. If she could just sleep for one measly hour, she knew that she’d feel a lot more human and still be able to get to the airport on time, but right now she felt absolutely fucking wretched.
Angelika growled, “Shit” and then she leaned over to the bedside cupboard where she kept her British Airways sleep mask – the good padded one that she’d been given on the first class flight that they’d taken to New York when JC had played there last summer. She opened the drawer and felt around for the comforting velour and suddenly her rummaging hand alit upon the 12 pack of Durex condoms that they’d bought together early last week. OK, this was it. Was Angelika going to go there? Was she prepared to cross the jagged line into serious mistrust territory? As of now, she wasn’t a psycho girlfriend and she had no desire to become a psycho girlfriend, but she also knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was something that she had to know for sure, and from which there was in all probability, no turning back.
Angelika hesitated briefly, and then with a plummeting heart and skittering fingers, she lifted the box out of the drawer and shook its contents onto the duvet cover. The last time they’d made love had been last Wednesday. They’d hardly even seen each other this week, and when they had, they’d both been too tired to even contemplate a shag. But there were only two condoms left. Two.
Angelika felt a black wave of nauseous shock and grim realization wash over her and then her head started to throb with an insistent intensity. Finally, Angelika lay immobilized on the bed while she stared in wide-eyed, silent desperation at the ceiling above.
The metallic scrape of the front door opening startled Angelika out of her comatose state and her painfully over-worked heart started to thump anew. She could hear several people drunkenly entering the flat and then further clattering sounds of them staggering into the living room. She could make out the mingled and wasted voices of JC, Yao and Bob and then she heard an unnamed female voice simper,
“Great place, JC.”
“Thanks, babe, wicked,” replied JC, obviously flattered, “there's drinks in the fridge, yeah? You've got to hear the new Masters at Work remix, I'll be right back.”
Angelika sat up and lowered her aching head into her shaking hands. The track, “I Can’t Get No Sleep” suddenly blasted brutally from the studio’s speakers which agonizingly managed to deafen her. Angelika silently reflected that that was nothing if not fucking ironic.
“Fuck me, that's incredibly fuckin’ loud!” shouted JC gleefully above the din.
“Intense bass, man,” toadied Bob, “my ears are bleedin’ an’ shit.”
Everyone except Angelika laughed at this Wildean witticism and then JC kindly proceeded to reduce the volume just slightly.
Angelika looked up from where she was sitting on the bed and stared straight ahead of herself to the closed bedroom door. Pulling on JC’s prohibitively expensive but recently discarded silken bathrobe and breathing deeply, Angelika forced herself to get up off the bed, to stand tall and then she walked like the heartsick and sleep-deprived zombie that she was from the bedroom.
Angelika moved slowly down the corridor and then she stopped at the open living room door and looked in. Yao, Bob and the Asian teenager were all seated cross-legged around the sleek, Balinese coffee table and Yao was in the process of chopping out long lines of cocaine on the polished surface of JC’s favourite beveled mirror while Bob was intently rolling a spliff. Angelika watched unobserved for several long moments before she said,
‘Hi...” in a tiny constricted voice that she knew threatened to give away her emotional state. Yao, Bob and the girl all looked up at Angelika and they all appeared unnaturally surprised to see her, considering that she was a permanent fixture at the flat. All three had the black dilated pupils of the MDMA enthusiast and to Angelika’s not entirely untrained eye, the girl looked as if she should have been poring over her algebra homework at this hour on a Sunday morning, and not bending her dewy young head over a coke-smeared mirror, no matter how classy that mirror might be.
Angelika felt herself to be more than a little grossed out by the scene, but she attempted to hide it under a practiced veil of world-weary insouciance. “Hey Bob, Yao, where's JC?” she asked.
Bob did his annoying urban finger clicking thing and then he replied, “He went off tonight...”
Angelika really wished Bob wouldn’t do that, as he was not now, nor would he ever confused with being black. Or cool for that matter. She smiled patiently at them, all the while sensing the presence of the visible twitch of annoyance that was tugging at the side of her tightly drawn mouth.
Yao, who looked like he could pass for the girl’s grandfather in this cold and unforgiving light continued, “When he played that Oakenfold remix, oh man, I nearly lost it...Balearic sound!” And with that, he pathetically pumped the air with his uncoordinated and liver-spotted fists.
Angelika turned maternally to the young girl and said warmly, “Hi, I'm Angelika...”
The girl smiled coyly in return and replied, “I'm Ming - JC in studio, I think.”
Angelika smiled gratefully at the girl as the guys threw Ming ill-concealed dirty looks. Ming glanced down, obviously embarrassed by her faux pas as Angelika turned to leave.
The door to the studio was half open. Angelika could see JC at the mixing desk, grooving to the track and grinning as the club girl gazed at him adoringly. Suddenly, he moved away from the mixer and moved into the girl, pressing her up against the wall of the studio. Angelika could see him grinding his hips into the girl’s and running his hands up her thighs, just stopping at the hem of her cheap, too-short skirt. Angelika could see the streaks evident in the girl’s hastily applied fake tan and she could tell by looking at her overtly sexy and almost cutting edge clothing that this girl was just that little bit too short, that little bit too made-up and a bra size too curvy to be a fashion model and that it just about killed her. Angelika had met these wannabe girls in clubs so many times before and they were all fiercely and pointlessly competitive with her.
Beyond JC’s grinding hips, she distractedly glimpsed a pile of casually discarded fifty pound notes spinning around on one of the unused turntables. The panting girl finally spoke in a thick Liverpudlian accent,
“You're amazin’ JC, even better than Sasha...”
“Really?” replied JC, his voice unnaturally husky with lust. Angelika had to hand it to the girl - Sasha was the only other DJ that JC was remotely threatened by as Sasha was younger than JC, pretty damn sexy, made even more money than JC and was to Angelika’s mind, unequivocally more talented. The girl’s last comment had to be getting JC’s dick really hard.
Angelika pushed the door open and said as brightly as possible, “Yeah, have you fucked Sasha, too?’
JC gave Angelika a cartoon double take and the girl looked both momentarily surprised and supremely pleased with herself. Angelika could feel the girl’s hard glitter-makeup eyes sizing up her skinny bathrobe-clad body and tiredly naked morning face and she exuded an unbridled air of feral female triumph. JC leapt away from the girl as if tasered while smiling uncomfortably and then he said stupidly,
“Babe...what are you doing here?”
Angelika took a step forward and said to JC, “I live here.” Then she put her hand out to the girl and continued, “Nice to meet you, I'm Angelika.” The girl from Liverpool did not respond.
JC tried his best to look innocent, “I thought your plane was at 8.30.”
Angelika shot JC a disgusted glance that could have withered a houseplant. JC after an uncomfortable silence finally gestured towards the girl and said,
“This is Janine.”
Janine finally coldly acknowledged Angelika by saying, “Alright.”
Unbelievable, thought Angelika, as a part of her was on the verge of hysterical laughter, “Wow – that was my mother's name. How Freudian.” spat Angelika, “Could you give us a moment...Janine?” Janine looked questioningly at JC.
“It's okay. Go on, darlin’. Get me a drink.” He encouragingly replied. Janine, after eyeballing Angelika, grudgingly exited.
Angelika then stared hard at JC and said lightly, “You've got her well-trained.”
JC who was fiddling with the levels on the mixing desk, while studiously avoiding eye contact, eventually muttered. “Don't be rude to my fans, Ange.”
Angelika looked incredulously at JC’s bowed profile, “What? That's what this is about? Public fucking relations? Give me a break.”
“Don't start,” replied JC, “you know this is my career.”
The anger was threatening to rise violently within Angelika and she couldn’t help herself from spitting out,
“You play other people's records, Jay. You're not a god, contrary to popular opinion” As soon as the words left her mouth, she knew that she’d hit a nerve, and JC span around and responded angrily,
“You see? You see how you fucking disrespect me?” He turned away and groped blindly for another record. Angelika stepped closer,
“Oh, I'm so fucking sorry. Look, I don't give a shit about all that. I totally embrace your talent and I respect your freedom but I don't want to share you and some irony would be really nice. Why are there only two condoms left in the box?”
JC finally found a record, took it out of its sleeve and then examined it intently as he spoke, “Are you accusing me of something?”
“I'm asking you a question,” said Angelika quietly, while trying without success to control her fury, “Please have the decency to be honest.”
JC couldn’t face her; “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Angelika approached JC and forced him to look at her, “I need more from you, Jay.”
JC squirmed, “What's that supposed to mean? We live together, don't we? I buy you shit, what more do you want?” Angelika saw red, her independence having been so unfairly attacked,
“You buy me shit? I've never asked you for anything.”
“Yeah, well, I look after you.” responded JC with an arrogant head toss, “I give you everything you need.” And suddenly Angelika knew the truth. She felt the long unheeded realization welling up inside of her and she felt the tears start to come,
“I...need...what I really need is..I'd really like to have a family at some point, Jay.” JC was impenetrably silent as Angelika inelegantly wiped her runny nose on the sleeve of his designer bathrobe and then she said softly, “Well...Any thoughts?”
JC looked pained for what felt like an eternity and when he finally spoke, his voice was almost a whisper, “I can't give you that. Not now. Everything's happening for me. I'm blowing up...” Angelika stared at JC, as the tears flowed silent and uncaring down her face. JC abruptly broke eye contact with her and changed the record.
“That's it then, is it?” whispered Angelika, “I really thought we were worth more than that.”
JC’s blue eyes betrayed his conflict. “Angelika, it's my career. I do love you.”
Angelika's heart constricted as she knew in that moment that it was over. She tried to control the powerful sobs that were causing her throat unbearable pain and at last she managed to utter, “Yeah, me too. I hope you get what you want. I really do.” From outside the door came the unmistakable tones of Janine,
“JC, d’ya wanna vodka cranberry?”
Angelika laughed bitterly through her tears. “There you go. It's started already.”
JC nodded, smiled sadly and said, “Well trained.” He held out his arms to Angelika and they embraced for the last time. “I'm sorry, darlin',” he whispered, “it's just really bad timing.”
Angelika’s shoulders shook uncontrollably as she quietly replied, “The worst.”
Angelika exited the cab that was parked outside Samantha and Jon’s elegant Notting Hill townhouse and the driver, expecting a handsome tip, helped her unload her suitcases, her stereo, her boxes of records, cassettes and books from the front of the cab onto the path leading up to her friends’ front door. Angelika hadn’t slept in several nights by now and her puffy eyes were hidden behind huge sunglasses. She’d been on autopilot during the last few days in Germany, but the clients thankfully hadn’t seemed to notice. When Angelika had returned, she’d gone straight from the airport to Jay’s to pick up her stuff and she’d found that he’d gone out, which was a matter about which she’d had very mixed feelings.
Angelika knew that she was supposed to hate JC, but she hadn’t attained that stage of grief quite yet, and the simple act of posting her set of keys through the door to what had so recently been their place, had carried with it an air of finality that had left her feeling simultaneously gutted and nauseous.
Angelika had also started to receive calls from acquaintances that “hadn’t wanted to mention it before, but had heard about Jay’s extensive shagging around.” Thanks a lot, she thought bitterly, nice of you to mention it now. These snippets of information were decidedly not helping, no; on the contrary, they were just causing her to feel even more sick and stupid. Angelika couldn’t even think about eating, and she had started to hit the mini bottles of Smirnoff vodka from the hotel mini-bar first thing in the morning in an attempt to deaden the gnawing pain that she had felt. The vodka did help, but now she was walking around in a lifeless, hollow-eyed semi-drunk state, which was most definitely not a good look. Thankfully, there’d been a supremely talented and sympathetic make-up artist on the set in Hamburg, and she’d managed to patch her up nicely.
Angelika rang the doorbell and it was eventually answered by Sam and tiny Leo, who was Sam and Jon’s two year old, and who smiled sweetly up at her. Angelika took a stab at smiling back, but his sweet, open innocent face just tugged painfully at her heart and the tears started to flow once more.
Angelika’s lips quivered and she tried in vain to be brave, “Sam...” she mumbled, not wanting to upset the baby. Samantha gave Angelika the benefit of one of her motherly, disapproving looks and then she said impatiently,
“Oh, will you please come in already.” Leo laughed at this and joyfully clapped his chubby baby’s hands.
Angelika lay in bed, sleeplessly watching the dawn rise once again through the slatted blinds in Samantha’s spare bedroom. She was listening to “Linger” by The Cranberries playing quietly on her CD player and the lyrics were cutting a little too close to the bone.
“Why were you holding her hand?” trilled Dolores. Good fucking question, thought Angelika. Every night now she lay torturing herself, repeatedly going back over her relationship with Jay and in retrospect, it had become obvious that there had been myriad subtle and not so subtle signs of his unfaithfulness that she’d evidently been far too pig-headed to notice. All those disparate occasions when girls that she hadn’t recognized in nightclubs had looked at her in that smug, knowing way; the countless times when Jay had returned home inexplicably late, which he’d blamed on car trouble or after parties, and then he would immediately rush into the bathroom for a long shower before chastely joining her in bed. God, she was so dumb.
And apparently everyone on the scene had known all about it; and they had all thrived on gossiping behind her back about her deluded situation. Pure shadenfreude. Angelika inwardly promised herself never to gossip about anyone else ever again. It was no barrelful of monkeys being on the receiving end. But how could she have been so clueless? In her quest to be the ultimate cool girlfriend and to not niggle away at every petty little sign, she’d managed to royally fuck herself. Brilliant work, Angelika, she bitterly surmised.
Angelika switched on the bedside lamp, picked up the phone and dialed her sister’s number. A very grumpy and somnambulant Athena eventually answered.
“This had better be an emergency.” grumbled her sister, who didn’t have caller ID, but was beginning to wish that she’d subscribed to that feature.
“I'm sorry to wake you.” snuffled Angelika, who truly was, but who was also in desperate need to hear her sister’s soothing voice. Athena had been awoken like this by Angelika several times in the preceding weeks, and in spite of the inconvenience, she couldn’t bear to hear Angelika in such obvious pain.
“Darling, not again.” she responded. “Are you okay?” she continued while rubbing her sleep-crusty eyes. The protracted silence followed by the subsequent muffled animal noises that emanated from the receiver more than answered that question. “Oh, Angel, he's just an arsehole.” Athena wanted to kill JC for what he’d done to her baby sister. The fucking nerve.
“But he's not.” whimpered Angelika pathetically.
Athena was selfishly hoping that Angelika would swiftly progress to the next stage of the grieving process which was to her mind represented by out and out bloodlust. Maybe then they could all get some sleep, except JC – that wanker deserved a lifetime of insomnia. Then Athena realized with a stifled and inappropriate giggle that had JC been a bit more of a wanker then maybe they wouldn’t all be in this fucked up situation in the first place.
“Well try to pretend he is.” replied Athena patiently, as she reiterated the party line, “Look he doesn't deserve you. Come on, you're fabulous.” Angelika sniffed ironically as Athena obviously hadn’t seen her lately - the scrawny, puffy mess of a virtually alcoholic hermit that she had become. Her stoic and long-suffering model agent was on the verge of totally freaking out.
“I don't feel very fabulous right now. I feel gross.” moaned Angelika.
Athena persisted, “You've got to start dating again. Get back on the horse, as it were.”
“That's illegal.” hiccupped Angelika, permitting herself a lukewarm titter at her stupid joke. That’s a start, thought Athena, at least her sense of humour’s returning, albeit pathetically.
“Just do it,” continued Athena, “it’ll take your mind off him. Now please, can we all get some sleep?”
“I'll try. I promise. Goodnight.” said Angelika, who did by now feel marginally better.
“I love you.” Athena said gently.
“Me too.” said Angelika, replacing the receiver.
Angelika switched off the lamp and turned away from the increasingly lighted window. Dating again? What an alien idea. Angelika had never been any good at “dating” as it was far too formal and nerve-wracking a concept for Angelika, who had always tended to fall into passionately sexual, love-at-first-squinty-sight liaisons, utterly eliminating the bourgeois formality of getting to know the lust object first. Well that approach hadn’t exactly paid off, now had it?
But what about sex? thought Angelika. She had never really experienced much in the way of meaningless sex, so maybe that was something to contemplate. But then the very thought of meaningless sex only caused her to think of JC and all his fucking tarts again and she resumed sobbing in earnest.
Suddenly, the door creaked open and Angelika peered through the dawn light to see Leo, his tiny, perfect pyjama-clad form stood blurred in the doorway. Angelika struggled to compose herself and to wipe her puffy, watery eyes.
“Hey, Leo, are you okay?” She rasped, her voice thick with unshed tears.
Leo padded over to the bed and stared up at her, then he smiled, reached out with his baby fingers and started to gently stroke her matted hair. Angelika looked in awe at his clear, shining eyes as he climbed into the bed and snuggled up next to her concave stomach. Angelika hugged his warm body close, while silent tears rolled freely down her face into the sodden pillow beneath.