The Apartment - Part 6

THE APARTMENT - PART 6A Confession. I'd only been in an hour when the phone rang. “Oh, so you're back.” It was Caroline.

“How's Paris?”

“I'm not in Paris. I'm at my parents' place.”

I started to answer but she interrupted me. “I'm coming home.”

Once again, I started to say something but I was cut off. “I'll be back in about an hour or two.” And she put down the phone.

I looked at the receiver as if there were more words inside waiting to spill out, then carefully replaced it and went over to the window. Now what's wrong?

'I'm not in Paris.' Okay, that's just a statement of fact, but of course it wasn't. She said it like some sort of accusation. So what's gone wrong in Paris? Has she screwed up a photo shoot? No, Caroline wouldn't do that. Has she lost a contract? Surely not. Someone's obviously annoyed her. And why ring me to tell me she's coming home? Why not just walk in?

I did a double-take. That was a warning. I need to be ready. That's why she phoned. But ready for what? Support? Her attempt to set up a home and run her own life in Paris has hit a rock in the road. She needs lots of TLC.

I must see the apartment is in tip-top condition. There must be flowers on the table in the gallery, and more flowers in her bedroom. I need to phone for some. Who the heck shall I phone? What would Caroline do? I know. Ring down to the front desk. The concierge always manages to sort things.

I'm staring out of the kitchen window. This is ridiculous. Am I inventing problems which don't exist? Suppose there is nothing wrong at all.

No. Something is wrong. I know my Caroline. She is in a bit of a state.

And another thing, she didn't ask how I was. No small talk. Not even a darling thrown in.

I need to cook us a nice evening meal. I wish I could cook. I glance down at the park, then turn back to the kitchen, and retrieve four cook books from the rack. What is tasty, easy to cook, and special?

I spend half an hour pouring over the books until I realise I'm going about things in totally the wrong fashion. I cant start with the food, I have to start with the girl. I think she's in a mood, but what sort of mood? I don't think I should cook anything dainty. After all, she might want to throw the dinner at the wall.

The trouble is no-one has written a series of recipes for various moods. What is a suitable meal for stroppy-girl-comes-back-with-oodles-of-attitude?

How about a paella? It's substantial. The food sits comfortably in one bowl. It can be scraped out with gusto, and slopped onto a plate, and you can eat it with a shovel if you are so inclined, and it's great for throwing at the wall. Paella it is.

Apparently paella is one of those dishes the workmen cook out in the fields. So the recipe can contain pretty well anything you like. I need rabbit, maybe chicken, beans, and of course, loads of rice.

And of course we need some Spanish wine, and I'm sure that means Rioja. I hunt about in our makeshift cellar.

Caroline, you're a star. She has half a dozen bottles. I make a mental note to tell her I simply cant live without her. Perhaps that ought to be the first thing I say when she gushes through the door. That is, if she doesn't knock me over first.

Ten minutes later I've sunk a couple of glasses of Rioja and I can face anything. I've laid the table, polished the glasses, retrieved a spare bottle of wine, and even bunged a bottle of champagne in the fridge just in case she wants to celebrate something.

I have a list with everything numbered. Light the gas. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the paella pan. Swirl it around. Wait till oil gets hot, then chuck in the chicken chunks. Hey, this is easy. Things are looking good.

Put the lid on the pan, and have another sip of wine.

Just listen to that meat sizzling away. Great! Wait a minute. Should it be that loud? It's certainly.... Yikes! I need to turn the gas down. Wow, that was close.

Now I've got started, things are going well. I'm supposed to make sure some rice is on top and some at the bottom of the pan. Apparently this is essential, as the rice at the bottom has to form a crust. I don't think anything can go wrong now... unless I burn the rice. But the meal looks good.

It's at this point that the door opens. There is a clatter at the other end of the apartment and a high-pitched voice shouts “I'm back.”

She gushes, holds one arm round my shoulder, gives me a kiss on the cheek, drops me like a hot potato, and is off to her bedroom.

“Hello Caroline. Welcome home,” I say to the now empty corridor.

She briefly re-appears. “What did you say?”

I simply giggle, and wave.

She shakes her head. “Silly boy.” And she disappears again.

There are five suitcases just inside the front door, a coat on the settee, and a scarf on the back of a chair. Caroline is home.

I lug two of the cases down to her bedroom. “What the hell have you got inside these damn things?”

“Oh, just clothes.” She is rushing between bedroom and bathroom.

“Clothes? What are they made of for god's sake?”

I go back for the next load.

On my way back with two more I bump into her at the bedroom door. “Slow down. You're wearing me out.”

“What's that I can smell?”

“Oh no. The paella. I need to sniff it.” I rush into the kitchen, lift the lid, and sniff the contents.

Caroline follows me in. “What are you doing? Why do you need to sniff the pot? What is it anyway?”

“Paella for a special girl who has come home.”

“Oh goodie, just the thing. Wine?”

I pick up a glass and slosh in some Rioja.

“Gosh, you are getting domesticated. How weird and wonderful.”

I put my hands on her shoulders and watch as she sips her wine.

“Darling.” She is looking at me quite seriously over the top of her glass. “Do you love me? I mean, do you really love me?”

“I cant live without my little Caroline. What would I do if you weren't here?”

“That isn't what I asked. You can get a cook and a servant anywhere. I said, do you love me?” She puts her glass on the kitchen table.

“I've missed you. I do love you little girl. In fact I absolutely adore you. I get nervous when you go away.”

“Like hell you do. The minute my back's turned you shack up with Isabel.”

“Wait a minute. Didn't you ring her up and tell her you were going to Paris?”

“Yes, aren't I good to you? You don't deserve me. You're a louse.”

“Yes darling and you're wonderful.”

“And you're facetious. And you don't really love me. If I went away you'd shout for Isabel within minutes and forget me within a week.”

“What's brought all this on?”

She gives me a hug, and peers over my shoulder. “Do you really love me?” She is speaking in a very quiet earnest voice.

“I love my little Caroline. Always will. Doesn't matter where you go, what you do. I will always love you, and I'll always bat for you.”

“Will you really always bat for me?”

I sigh. “Caroline, what have you done?”

“Can you keep a secret?”

'Come on, spit it out.”

She moves back a pace and stares at me. “I cant help it. I fancied him.”

“So?”

“Do you mind awfully?”

“You've come back.”

“Are you cross with me?”

“I'll be cross with you if you make me burn the dinner.”

“Never mind the dinner. Do you still love me?”

“The sad thing is, I shall still love you even if you don't come back. I'll always love you. Promise me you'll always come back.”

She moves closer again and starts squeezing me. “Baby boy. I actually feel sick without you. I'm so sorry.” And she bursts into tears.

I try to edge her back towards the cooker, reach over and turn off the gas. Then let go of her. “Bloody cow. Swanning off to Paris to tart it up.” I smack her bottom.

I smile into her hair. “I hope you enjoyed yourself.” She feels so good. How can I be cross with my lovely Caroline? It must be awkward with me having two girls and she's only got one man.

“I know you wont understand, but I had to do it.”

“Had to?”

“I had this... this sort of crisis. I was doing a shoot. And you know. You dress up, and everybody smiles, and they shoot the camera, and the shots go to the advertising agency, and the pictures end up on the walls of the shops and in the glossies, and ladies all over the place want to look like me to make themselves attractive. And the men want to go to bed with the women because they look like me, but...” She was sucking her lips. “But I wanted to know. I... you don't understand.” She turns and walks down to the other end of the kitchen. “I needed to know someone from that world wanted me. It isn't just the clothes. It's me. There's a girl inside. There's a person. It's me. I wanted someone from … I don't know, from that world to want the girl under the clothes.”

She picks up a cookery book, turns it over, and puts it down again. “The clothes are what I'm showing off, but I wanted someone to know that I was for once showing off myself, and...” She looks up at me. “Do you know what I mean?”

“It's alright Caroline. Go and change. Wear something comfortable. And while you're powdering your nose, I'll dish up the meal, and we can have a cosy night in.”

We are staring at each other. “And I love you. Always will.” I pat her bottom. “Go on, get yourself sorted for supper.”

 

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