And then he pulls back. It takes her a second to realize. She pulls back too, just a few inches, her breath stalled in her chest. Who are you?
He looks straight into her eyes. Blinks. ‘You know … I think you’re absolutely lovely. But I have rules about this sort of thing.’
Her lips feel swollen. ‘Are you … with someone?’
‘No. I just …’ He runs a hand over his hair. Clenches his jaw. ‘Liv, you don’t seem …’
‘Yes, yes, you are.’
She sighs. ‘I used to have great drunk sex.’
‘You need to stop talking now. I’m trying to be really, really good here.’
She throws herself back against the sofa cushions. ‘Really. Some women are rubbish when they’re drunk. I wasn’t.’
‘And you are … delicious.’
His chin is stubbled, as if already alerting them to the fact that morning is approaching. She wants to run her fingers along those tiny bristles, to feel them rough against her skin. She reaches out a hand and he shifts away from her.
‘Aaand I’m gone. Okay, yup, I’m gone.’ He stands, takes a breath. He does not look at her. ‘Uh, that’s my son’s bedroom there. If you need a drink of water or anything, there’s a tap. It, uh, it does water.’
He picks up a magazine and puts it down again. And then does the same with a second. ‘And there are magazines. If you want something to read. Lots of …’
It cannot stop here. She wants him so badly it’s as if her whole body radiates it. She could actually beg, right now. She can still feel the heat of his hand on her waist, the taste of his lips. They stare at each other for a moment. Can’t you feel this? Don’t walk away, she wills him silently. Please don’t walk away from me.
‘Good night, Liv,’ he says.
He gazes at her for a moment longer, then pads down the corridor and closes his bedroom door silently behind him.
Four hours later Liv wakes in a box room with an Arsenal duvet cover and a head that thumps so hard she has to reach up a hand to check she isn’t being assaulted. She blinks, stares blearily at the little Japanese cartoon creatures on the wall opposite and lets her mind slowly bring together the pieces of information from the previous night.
Stolen bag. She closes her eyes. Oh, no.
Strange bed. She has no keys. Oh, God, she has no keys. And no money. She attempts to move, and pain slices through her head so that she almost yelps.
And then she remembers the man. Pete? Paul? She sees herself walking through deserted streets in the early hours. And then she sees herself lurching forward to kiss him, his own polite retreat. You are … delicious. ‘Oh, no,’ she says softly, then puts her hands over her eyes. ‘Oh, I didn’t …’
She sits up and moves to the side of the bed, noticing a small yellow plastic car near her right foot. Then, when she hears the sound of a door opening, the shower starting up next door, Liv grabs her shoes and her jacket and lets herself out of the flat into the cacophonous daylight.
‘It feels a little like we’ve been invaded.’ The CEO stands back, his shirt-sleeved arms across his chest, and laughs nervously. ‘Does … everyone feel like that?’
‘Oh, yes.’ she says. It is not an unusual response.
Around her, fifteen or so teenagers move swiftly through the vast foyer of Conaghy Securities. Two – Edun and Cam – are vaulting over the rails that run alongside the glass wall, backwards and forwards, their broad hands expertly propelling their weight, their glowing white trainers squeaking as they lift from the limestone floor. A handful of others have already shot through into the central atrium, teetering and shrieking with laughter on the edge of the perfectly aligned walkways, pointing down as they see the huge koi carp that swim placidly among the angular pools.
‘Are they always … this noisy?’ the CEO asks.
Abiola, the youth worker, stands beside Liv. ‘Yup. We usually give them ten minutes just to adapt to the space. Then you find they settle surprisingly quickly.’
‘And … nothing ever gets damaged?’
‘Not once.’ Liv watches Cam run lightly along a raised wooden rail, jumping on to his toes at the end of it. ‘Of the list of previous companies I gave you, we’ve not had so much as a dislodged carpet tile.’ She sees his disbelieving expression. ‘You have to remember that the average British child lives in a home with floor space less than seventy-six square metres.’ She nods. ‘And these will probably have grown up in far less than that. It’s inevitable that when they’re let loose in a new place they get itchy feet for a bit. But you watch. The space will work around them.’
Once a month the David Halston Foundation, part of Solberg Halston Architects, organizes a trip for underprivileged kids to visit a building of special architectural interest. David had believed that young people should not just be taught about their built environment but let loose in it, to utilize the space in their own way, to understand what it did. He had wanted them to enjoy it. She still remembers the first time she had watched him talking it through with a group of Bengali kids from Whitechapel. ‘What does this doorway say when you walk in?’ he had asked, pointing up at the huge frame.
‘Money,’ says one, and they had all laughed.
‘That,’ David had said, smiling, ‘is exactly what it’s supposed to say. This is a stockbroking firm. This doorway, with its huge marble pillars and its gold lettering, is saying to you, “Give us your money. And we will make you MORE MONEY.” It says, in the most blatant way possible, “We Know About Money.”’
‘That’s why, Nikhil, your doorway is three foot tall, man.’ One of the boys had shoved another and both had fallen about laughing.
But it worked. She had seen even then that it worked. David had made them think about the space around them, whether it made them feel free or angry or sad. He had shown them how light and space moved, almost as if it were alive, around the oddest buildings. ‘They’ve got to see that there is an alternative to the little boxes they live in,’ he said. ‘They’ve got to understand that their environment affects how they feel.’
Since he had died, she had, with Sven’s blessing, taken over David’s role, meeting company directors, persuading them of the benefits of the scheme and to let them in. It had helped get her through the early months, when she had felt that there was little point in her existence. Now it was the one thing she did each month that she actively looked forward to.
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