Call Me Blair
Unsure if it was the outcome of the Japanese Whisky cocktails I'd inhaled at lunch but my thinking that I could hide on the Piccadilly line at this time of the day was ill-conceived. Judging by the luggage cases packed in among the passengers in the carriages, one could only assume that a huge number of flights had recently descended on Heathrow like a broken dam.
In addition to that, the tube is lurching about that bit more plaguing my discomfort.
Only some two hours before, I'd walked into James' office checking for any news of our bid to design the Emirati hotel planned for nearby Knightsbridge. We'd chatted for a bit as we always did, James being so easy to talk to, level-headed, smart and in control.
Matter of fact in the time I've known him, I cannot recall ever hearing him with a raised voice. Not when I left the engine running with the key in the ignition of the Range Rover he'd just bought, and it got stolen. Not when a partner had walked out with a design he had conceived, which later netted that partner millions. He was the kind of guy that when he spoke, you listened, whether or not you planned on doing so. Even his stride, orchestrated because nothing James did was out of frivolity. And it was James who had suggested I took the rest of the afternoon off, saying that I'd become married to my work.
So when he said to me take the afternoon off, he wasn't just being nice to me but recognised I'd been overdoing myself. Looked like shit and should go off and do something for me.
Right, I'm off to find myself a husband!
Joking as I walked out the door, then immediately felt my stomach sink to its pits, and eyes well.
He looked back up from the design he was looking at just in time to meet me and my eyes turning out the door.
Jess, let me know if you need me to screen any of them for you!
Try to make my heart light of the situation he knew I still battled with. So I smiled.
Ok. Call me as soon as you know.
Ivll text you, so as not to disturb you. Code name?
I smiled in acknowledgement. An inside story between just us two.
Go on. Go take sometime for yourself.
Having spotted Anna's post of her and Charlotte shopping earlier. I messaged.
Shortly, there after, I am gliding over to them now seated at our usual table at one of our regular restaurants. The restaurant pumped full of late afternoon lunch time diners and Kaytranada's Freefall coming out the speakers. Anna spots me. waves.
Look at you.
She says as I near the table.
Darling did your feet even touch the ground? Strutting on over here like Paris' Autumn-Fall fashion week has moved to London.
I smile big at them both, my mini breakdown outside James' office buried. Because, today, I promised myself I'd start burying those losses, start looking forward. And looking forward, I put on the foxiest dress. (Err, lest back up here. Foxiest dress from my work wardrobe.) A mini navy skater dress with a pair of four inch block heels. The shade of heels twinning with that of the dress. And when I walk, makes the dress switch behind me. It's turned a few heads in the past. Landed me in hot water with the ex, but since he isn't here anymore, today I wear with confidence.
Anna moved to the middle of the semi-circular sofa leaving Charlotte and I sat either side of her. The unwritten peace treaty between us, seeing how both Charlotte and I can be headstrong. Yet she was married to James and I instead worked with him.
Anna and I met at university. Matter of fact it was Anna who introduced me to my now ex-husband but that is another story. Charlotte and I it seems, were destined to cross paths. That too, is another story.
The drinks are being delivered as I sat down.
I took the liberty of ordering your drink, Jess!
Anna's arms gushing out to greet me as the waiter sit the drinks down. And once she'd released me, I reached over, hugged Charlotte.
So what have you ladies been up to?
I ask, taking the first sip of my glass of Old Passioned, and straightening up from the direct hit of the Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky.
Charlotte daintily presented a red bag she'd just bought, as if it was a new born baby. The designer's latest. Two ladies sat at an opposite table (one of whose lips is a patent of the fishes on the wall) gushed.
And I was on hand to stop her from buying one in all three colours.
Anna declared. But that was Charlotte, the socialite with the double-barrelled surname and postcode to match. If it was worth having - she was going to have it. And that's how she ended up marrying James Adlington. For most parts I've gotten over that. For most parts.
We glance at the menu. I'm often unsure why. Since we always line up the same six dishes. I've always ordered the kimchi fried rice with pork because, I love the way the flavours kick about in my mouth. And I've always ordered the Chilean sea bass because I like sea bass. Charlotte adds white miso soup and tiger prawn tempura and Anna, salmon with avocado maki and chicken wing skewers. Every time.
I look up from the menu order now complete. Look around. The atmosphere is intoxicated. To be fair, no matter the time of day or day of the week, the atmosphere in this restaurant is more Leicester Square than Berkeley Square. (Not at Christmas time of course, because it has no way of competing then). Lunchtime is packed out with office workers from the nearby wealth management and blue-chip companies, ladies catching up with each other and Japanese whisky sipping aficionados. Night time it's the same. Except everyone's clothes gets that bit more sparkly and hemlines get that much more shorter. This place is almost like a lift. You get in on the ground floor and the longer you stay, the higher you get. The ride, smooth, you don't realise your going there. The whisky made by whom it's made by. The Japanese. Stealth.
We also like coming here because the service is quick. That or door security has us clocked and the kitchen, our orders logged. So even before we are seated our meals are being prepared. I wonder what would happen if we switch out our menu. Might the chef come out to check we're okay.
Anyway, in between mouthfuls of salmon and avocado maki, Charlotte is telling us, they are shortly off to the Middle East. They being her and James. Rather she is telling Anna as I already know. Away from the bid we are waiting on, Adlington and Partners had won another Emirati contract to design an exclusive set of residential apartments in Belgravia. And before you ask, no, I am not going.
And Charlotte is now begging Anna to join her, but Anna would never leave her babies for the world and taking them on such a short break, one that was mainly a shopping trip - was definitely a no-no. Anna was a fulltime mother, and she could not see herself doing anything else, matter of fact, she wanted more kids, but her husband had put the restraining belt on that.
And if Anna had a restraining belt in place, Charlotte was suffering from no such inhibitions, because she is once again telling us about her bedtime stories. You didn't need to go bed with James to know what he was like at story time, you only needed some time with Charlotte.
And even after being married as long as they have, James it seems has remained proficient with his storytelling.
James gets a Primetime Emmy for his outstanding lead and excellence in the creative arts.
Is how Charlotte puts it. If my memory serves well, he's won quite a few of those. I think today, I'll add an Academy Honorary Award for 'his legacy of consistent excellence.'
Yes, I've sat through a few of these, poker face on. Downing a large mouthful of my Old Passioned, nearly emptying the glass.
But Charlotte's face dropped.
Hey, do any of you know anyone by the name of Blair?
I am now doing my best to stop myself from spitting the entire mouthful of that Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky across the table.
I think the waiter brought me the wrong drink!
Feigning the splutter I just magicked.
Anna's arm shot up to catch a waiter's attention. Charlotte on the other hand is looking at me but not quite with the same care or concern.