Home > The Idea of You(5)

The Idea of You(5)
Author: Robinne Lee

“Why don’t we just do this the next time you’re in town, Hayes?”

“Because I want to see you now.”

“Well, we can’t always get what we want, can we? Or do the usual rules not apply to you?”

He laughed at that. “Are you going to make me beg?”

“Only if it’s something you feel you need to do.”

I did not know why I was leading him on. It was absurd. Perhaps if I’d been a bolder person, if I hadn’t cared what people thought of me, I could have entertained the idea of a fling with a twenty-year-old boybander. But I wasn’t, and I did, and so maybe the thrill was in just knowing that I could. We would have lunch and be done with it.

The line was quiet, but something told me I still had him.

“All right,” he said. “I’m begging. Lunch. Tomorrow. Please.”

I glanced at my watch again. I was going to be late for Isabelle. It would not be the first time. She’d be waiting for me in the gym, amidst the clinking of metal and the whir of the fans and the high-pitched hum of the scoring machine. The coaches yelling in Russian. My little bird in that foreign space. She was surprisingly okay with it. And to me, she never looked more graceful than when she was competing. Controlled, powerful, elegant.

“Fine. Lunch tomorrow,” I agreed. “I’ll move around my schedule.”

Canceling a client lunch was irresponsible, but I attempted to rationalize it. The client was an old friend of Daniel’s from Princeton. He wasn’t going anywhere. Plus I had the satisfaction of having just sold out a show. So what if I played hooky for an afternoon?

“Yes!” Hayes made some little cheering sound, and I imagined his smile at the other end of the line, dimples and all. “Let’s do the Hotel Bel-Air, shall we? Twelve-thirty. I’ll handle the reservation.”

Of course he would pick someplace fancy and terribly romantic. Grab a bite, indeed.

“Hayes,” I said before he hung up the phone, “this is just lunch.”

He paused for a moment, and I wondered if he’d heard me. “Solène … what else would it be?”

* * *

He was there when I arrived. Tucked away in one of those recessed alcoves against the far side of the restaurant’s terrace, backed by a wall of glass and a view of the gardens. I expected him to be late, strolling in—all bewitching smile and rock star swagger. But he was punctual, early even. And the sight of him sitting there, in a gray-and-white-print button-down (was that a Liberty floral?) and tidy hair, told me he’d made an effort. He was poring over the menu and spinning his Ray-Ban Wayfarers between his thumb and forefinger when we approached. The maître d’ had taken one look at me and—with “Ms. Marchand, I presume”—escorted me to my unlikely date.

Oh, to have captured the expression on Hayes’s face when he glanced up to find me. Like Christmas morning. Joy, surprise, promise, and disbelief rolled into a singular moment. His blue-green eyes brightening and wide mouth giving way to a dazzling smile.

“You came,” he said, standing to greet me. He seemed even taller in the daylight. Six foot two, I guessed … maybe three.

“Did you think I wouldn’t show?”

“I thought there was a chance.”

I laughed, leaning in to graze his cheek. An art world air-kiss. Relatively low on the intimacy level.

“I don’t imagine you’re the kind of guy who gets stood up often.”

“I’m not the kind of guy who begs for dates either. There’s a first for everything.” He smiled, stepping aside and allowing me access to the booth.

“This is okay, I hope? It wasn’t until after I made the call that I realized I had no idea where Culver City was and whether I was asking you to trek from the other side of the world to meet me. Turns out nothing is close in L.A.…”

“That’s true. But no, it’s fine.”

“Okay, good. Because it’s a beautiful space. Feels like being on holiday,” he said, looking out over the terrace bathed in its perfect California light. Potted fruit trees and palms, white tablecloths adorned with purple Dendrobium orchids, boughs of fuchsia bougainvillea spilling in through the slats in the roof.

“Yes, it’s enchanting. It’s the Rockwell Group.”

“Pardon?”

“Rockwell Group. They did the redesign of Wolfgang’s restaurant. Lovely flow of indoor and outdoor spaces. Won a bunch of awards. And there’s a great Gary Lang in the dining room. Painted concentric circles. Aggressive. Unexpected.”

Hayes turned his attention back to me, the left side of his mouth curling into a smile. “Aggressive circles? That sounds sexy.”

I laughed. “I suppose. If you’re into that…”

He was quiet for a second, watching me. “I love that you know so much about art.”

Oh, little boy, I wanted to say, if I could show you the things I know.

“Tell me what you told the maître d’,” I said instead. “How was he able to identify me?”

Hayes opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before shaking his head in laughter. “You’re tough.”

“Tell me.”

“I told him…” He spoke softly, slowly, leaning into me. “I told him I was meeting a friend, and that she had dark hair and haunting eyes and would probably be dressed very well. That she looked like a classic movie star. And that she had a great mouth.”

I sat there, still. “Is that figurative or literal?”

“The mouth?”

“Yeah.”

“Both.”

He was so close to me then I could smell the scent on his skin. Some sort of sandalwood or cedar. And lime. It threw me. The way he looked at me threw me. This was not the plan. Not that I had one, really. But it certainly wasn’t to be turned inside out by this boy five minutes into our date. We hadn’t even ordered drinks.

“What are you thinking?” He smiled that disarming smile.

“I want to know what your intentions are, Hayes Campbell.”

“What are your intentions? Did you come here to sell me art?”

“Maybe.”

“Hmm…” he said, without breaking eye contact. “Well … I came to buy whatever you’re selling.”

In that moment, it didn’t matter how old he was or how many fans he’d amassed. In that moment, he had me. And I realized that just knowing that I could have a fling was not going to be enough.

He nodded then, as if sealing some unspoken pact, and turned his attention back toward the dining room, waving his hand in the air. “Shall we order?”

* * *

“How’s Isabelle?” he asked once the waiter had departed.

“She’s fine. Thank you.”

“What’d she say when you told her we were having lunch?”

“I didn’t.”

Hayes raised an eyebrow in my direction. “You didn’t?” He smiled.

I was not proud of this. Keeping secrets.

“Well, that’s telling.”

That morning, for Isabelle’s breakfast I had prepared a bowl of hot chocolate. Like I’d done when she was little, like my mother had for me, like her mother for her. And with it came a flood of memories: summers in the South of France, on the terrace beneath the pines, the hot chocolate accompanied by baguette et confiture, the smell of orange blossoms and the sea. And always most comforting on the mornings when I’d been kept up half the night by the mistral winds rattling the shutters, monsters breaking in.

“Chocolat.” Isabelle’s eyes had lit up on entering the kitchen. “Is it a special occasion?”

I’d frozen before the stove. Was it that obvious, my guilt?

She’d wrapped her thin arms around me and squeezed. “You never make it anymore. Thank you.”

* * *

“Are you laughing at me?” I asked Hayes now.

“Nawww… I would never do such a thing.” He had interlaced both hands behind his bonny head and was reclining on the banquette. There was something lovely about how comfortable he was in his skin. How at ease he was with his body. He owned it. He was happy with it. Boys were so different from girls.

“How’s your mum? What’d she say when you told her we were having lunch?”

“Ha!” Hayes threw back his head and let out a deep belly laugh. “You’re good.”

“You have no idea.” I had not meant to say it out loud, but there it was.

“Did you…? You’re flirting with me.”

“I’m sparring. I’m not flirting.”

“Am I to know the difference when I see it?”

“Don’t know. Depends how bright you are.”

He sat up then, erect. And then, without a hint of guile, he said: “I like you.”

“I know you do.”

“Hayes!” Some guy in a suit was approaching the table. Suits were a rarity in Los Angeles. Nine times out of ten, a guy in a suit was an agent. Five times out of ten, he could not be trusted. So said Daniel.

I noted a quick look of annoyance wash over Hayes’s features before he turned to see who was summoning him. And then like that, he turned on the charm.

“Heeeyyy.”

“Max Steinberg. WME.”

“Of course, I know exactly who you are. How are you, Max?”

“How are you? Tour’s going amazing, isn’t it? We’re all really stoked. I’m coming by Staples tomorrow night. Bringing a couple of my nieces. They couldn’t be more excited. And I caught you guys on Jimmy Kimmel last night. They’re just eating you up…”

Jimmy Kimmel? Was that before or after our phone call? Hayes had not mentioned it. I opened my mouth to say something and then stopped.

“It went well, yeah.”

“They loved you. Everyone loves you. That new ballad, ‘Seven Minutes.’ Great. And great banter. Hi, I’m Max Steinberg.” The suit leaned over to shake my hand, having finally acknowledged my presence at the table.

   
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