I am in Sally's flat, in the bath. The room is lit by tea-lights and the flickering shadows make it look much bigger and more mysterious. Years ago, before electric lights, this must have been how everything looked at night. If you could afford candles.
Sally has an old-fashioned Victorian-style bath, one of the white ones with brass feet. I watch the steam rising off the hazy water around me. Sally has given me champagne in a tall, long-stemmed glass etched with twining flowers.
The room is like a greenhouse, or a jungle. Spider plants dangle their babies from the windowsill, nearly reaching the water. Sally has trained a passion flower plant on a frame up the back wall and around the window. There are purple and white flowers among the clustered green leaves.
I've spent the last hour tied up in the back room and now I feel relaxed, half asleep, my thoughts drifting lazily in the steam and warm water. Floating on the currents like jellyfish in the Pacific.
I think of jellyfish, how beautiful they are when they are swimming, clear and blue and pulsing with light. Like trembling globes of concentrated water. Take them out into the air, they collapse into lumps of slimy nothing. Put them back in the water, and they expand again. If a human being dived too deep in the water they would get crushed. Navigate your submarine deep enough and the metal will crack and it will explode.
There's a lake on an island in Palau where the jellyfish have no predators and have lost their sting. There are thousands of them. One can swim through the clouds of jellyfish in the lake. I'd like to do that one day.
I think of Sally, and how everything has to be precise. She rarely goes out. She stays here, in her tiny, exotic queendom where everything down to the lotus-shaped tea-light holders has been chosen to fit perfectly. Sometimes her other friends visit. I have never met her other friends. She has never even told me when her birthday is.
I wonder what she is afraid of, why she has so carefully constructed her reality. I wonder what would happen if someone broke in here, smashed things up, but then I wipe that thought. It would be too cruel. I wonder what she does with her BDSM friends. To me, sex is so intensely difficult to navigate that it is hard to imagine it as just one part of a friendship, but I like the idea of feeling that way. I wish I had a good friend like that. Desirable as he is, I know Chris is not my friend.
I wash myself with Sally's shower gel, tipping it out of its fluted glass bottle. It smells like warm cinnamon. Tonight, as she sometimes does, she offered to come in and wash me but the thought makes me uncomfortable. I'm not entirely sure how Sally sees me. She likes to dress me, style my hair, paint my nails. She likes to tie me up. She listens to whatever I have to say and offers considered and thoughtful opinions. I listen to what she says and say what I think. I feel I can be myself around her. This is something I rarely feel.
I think that probably if I wanted we could have sex, but I'm not sure whether we need to. Sex isn't always necessary. I think sometimes sex spoils things, because a relationship exists in the spaces between people and sometimes verbalising (or physicalising) and trying to pin down what it is and isn't and define its boundaries - trying to crowbar it into one of the socially acceptable categories - a friendship, a romance - kills it. Some things only really exist when you aren't looking at them.
If I do get together with Chris, if he becomes my boyfriend, what would he think of Sally? The thought is unwelcome. He might not like my relationship with her, or his thoughts might be shaped by porn - shaving, vibrators, cartoon orgasms - and like it too much. He would not understand her, and she would dislike him.
Do I have to tell him much about Sally? Well, maybe not. Sally is my friend, not his, and I don't know whether I need to explain everything in my life. But then, I've never been in a serious relationship before. What does one do in relationships? What is it necessary to tell the other party? If we do become serious, do I have to tell him about Matthew? God, I hope not. I can't imagine that conversation. But what is the point if I can't talk to him? What is the point of being with him, if I in turn have to be someone else?
So far on our dates he has been flippant and guarded, his eyes flicking away the moment the conversation turns to anything deeper than surface level. Three nights ago he kissed me, his tongue flicking softly between my lips, and it was like a promise. I don't know if he keeps his promises.