It happens a lot, with women. Girls. They look at me and see a dark, empty canvas, a deep well of mystery, of unspoken passions and unimaginable memories that call to their dull souls. They paint their watercolour fantasies onto me. They dream, and sigh, and gaze at me, and mistake my disinterest for good manners.
I am not suited for marriage. Not suited for --
Poor Lensky. He's looking at me helplessly. He thinks he knows me better than anyone: and yet he does not suspect, would never understand, what is here, still, in my heart as I look back at him.
"It's plain as can be, Niko. It's not Olga that Onegin wants: it's --"
"Why can't you be content with what Tchaikovsky wrote?" Stupid question: I know the answer. He hides it well, but I can tell he's not straight.
"Aha," says Vladimir, smiling. "Poor old Piotr Ilyich! He knew what it was to have those feelings. To desire more than friendship." He's keeping his voice down: the room's crowded, and there's quite enough gossip already. But there's a reckless glimmer in his dark eyes.
"Places for Act Two!" calls the stage manager. Thank God! I can set Niko aside, and become Lensky again.
My poor friend, always on the outside: like a peasant in the snow, looking in through the window at this bright whirl of colour. I wish I could help him. I'd hoped that Tatyana ... but she moves through her own name-day ball like a painted doll, and does not speak to him.
"Have you and Tatyana quarrelled?" I ask, drawing Onegin aside.
He turns and looks at me. For a moment the ball seems to fade away, and the two of us are alone together.
"No," he replies. "But it's not her that I want."
The polonaise ends, and Olga comes towards us, flushed and radiant. Onegin hardly spares a glance for her.
I've made Nikolai uncomfortable, speaking of Onegin and Lensky as lovers. That's twice he's missed his cue. He's speaking to Antonina, who's singing Olga, but his shoulders hitch as though he can feel my gaze. I want to put my hand on his bare skin, there, just above the collar of his shirt. I want to put my mouth against his pulse.
It'd be so easy for him to say no. Or, if he's feeling vindictive, to tell everyone my secret -- it's not much of a secret, but I don't want it all over the Conservatoire -- and ruin my reputation. But he's said nothing to anyone else, and he hasn't said 'no' to me.
Is it Onegin's desire for Lensky I'm feeling, or my own for Niko?
I yearn to break through the ice that surrounds me. I yearn to be warm and alive again. I step closer to Lensky, and whisper in his ear, "Come outside."
"I can't. Olga --"
"Leave her," I murmur. "Come with me. I've a secret to tell you." I let laughter colour my voice, so he'll think it something amusing and witty.
"Tell me now," he says. "No one's listening."
I wanted us to be alone, where he needn't hide his feelings, but his stubbornness provokes me. I lean closer, smelling him all musky and sour under the scent of good soap. The shadow of his beard under his skin makes me think of how it would feel against my own face.
"It is not Olga I want," I say. "It's you, my friend. You"
Vladimir's standing too close. I want to step back, but there's cabling behind me. He's all Onegin now, cool and elegant and proud, though he's still wearing jeans and a shirt. The costume rehearsal isn't until Friday. I think of watching him dress. Oh God, what's happening? Why this surge of lust?
"Just imagine," murmurs Vladimir, "what Onegin was really saying to Lensky at the ball. Perhaps he was telling him what he wanted to do with him. Perhaps he was speaking of hot kisses, of putting his hand there, of --"
"Not here!" I say, grabbing his wrist to stop him.
Oh, that slow incendiary smile. I feel damned.
"You monster!" I have spoken the word to myself, over and over, since Onegin's return. It's good to speak it aloud at last. "You've outdone yourself this time!"
The elegant facade is crumbling. He's flushed, and his lips are parted. He looks so much younger, so much more like he did on that night that I won't think about, that night of youth and foolishness and strong drink, that night of a farewell that twisted into something that I must forget.
His mouth is red. I remember the taste of him.
Onegin, you have made a monster of me too.
"Not here?" I echo, unable to believe that he hasn't simply said no. Unbelieving, and yet emboldened by it. "Then where, eh? And when?"
Niko's still holding my wrist in his big hand. He's holding onto me, and I won't be the one to pull away. I've often thought about his hands. My heart's pounding, waiting for his answer. Will he say he doesn't want it, doesn't want me? Because the way he's looking at me, all heat and shock, makes me want him more.
"Later," says Niko. He's grinning at me. Is it just to keep up appearances? He's grinning, and his strong fingers tighten on my wrist, and I want his hands on every part of me.
Lensky has gone.
I could see every thought, every memory, written on his face. I could see him remembering the drunken golden haze, that white night in St Petersburg when I ... when we kissed. I think of that night often, trying to piece together the broken fragments of memory. His hand on me. His face when he came. The salt sweat of his skin when I pressed my face against his shoulder as the fires overtook me.
He went, I tell myself, because he was afraid to stay. Afraid of that heat and that closeness. Olga is so much more comfortable, easy, safe. He's afraid to lose her.
She stands alone, by the window. Easy prey.
I'm dazed, and I feel drunk. "Later," I told him. Not "never". Not "I don't want you." I left those lies unsaid.
Later, we'll go to my apartment: it's closer to the theatre. Later, we'll kiss in the hallway. We'll kiss until I'm -- we're -- ready for more. We'll lie down together, naked, skin to skin. (I'm getting hard just remembering stolen glimpses of his skin, tanned to the waist and pale below, in the dressing-room.) We'll kiss again. He'll put his hands on me. He'll ...
"Are you ready to leave?" says Vladimir from the doorway. He looks nervous; that makes me smile, because it's I who should be nervous. All so new, so strange, and yet so right.
"How dare you!"
Drawn by my words, my fury, the guests are gathering round. I'm too angry to care. This, at least, is something I'm not ashamed of. This can be spoken of.
"You heartless villain!" Olga's behind me, crying on her sister's shoulder. Tatyana's watching us wide-eyed. Oh, lucky Tatyana, not knowing the fate she has so narrowly escaped. Oh, Olga, my dear silly love, letting him toy with you.
Onegin stands very still. His smile is arrogant, triumphant. I am a gentle soul, but I want to force that expression from his face.
"You have besmirched my fiancee's honour," I fling at him. "I demand satisfaction!"
His smile sharpens.
I'm marvelling at the sure way Niko's pushed me up against the coats on their hooks, kissing me, for all the world as though this was his idea and not mine. God, he's pressed up against me, hard, I can feel him and I thought I wanted him before but it was nothing to the way I feel now. I want whatever he'll give me. I want his weight on me, his mouth on me, his cock in me. Onegin and Lensky can go hang. They never had this: they were too bound by their time. We're free, and Niko's kissing and swearing and oh oh God his hand.
I look at myself in the mirror, ghostly in the grey light before dawn. I can hardly believe that in an hour I will go out to kill my dearest friend. Kill, or be killed. I no longer know what I hope for; there is no hope for me, no hope for us.
I could delope, and fire in the air, and let him live. His life would be mine. Would he accept it? I do not think he will show me such mercy. He cannot live with what is in my heart. I hoped, once, that after that night in St Petersburg we would be more to one another. Something was broken, that night -- I understand that now -- and this morning, it will fall apart for ever.