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I Always Cry At Weddings

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Davida Copperfield had been educated at King’s School in Canterbury in company with a great many children a great deal richer than she herself had been. The oldest school in the world (though this was contested, with Stone Chamber in China purporting to have been founded a thousand years earlier still (with, granted, some interruptions here and there, including a reduction to rubble during the Ming Dynasty)) attracted a fair amount of England’s posher children (or at least it attracted their fee-paying parents). These children, like members of almost any group thereof, had ranged from outright appalling to fairly lovely, really. Yet Davida, shaken by the decidedly less privileged experiences she’d had before arriving at the school, had found herself unable to become truly close to her comparatively innocent classmates.

Oh, except Agnes Wickfield, obviously. Agnes, who Davida had come to consider almost a sister, was the classmate Davida had boarded with from eleven to eighteen. Davida’s strong-minded great-aunt and guardian had set up the arrangement to save on extortionate boarder fees, and because Betsey Trotwood (who might best be described as half Dowager Duchess, half fearsome aged hippy—the battle-scarred survivor of a hundred anti-nuclear demos at least) had simultaneously wanted Davida to have the best possible education and had firmly held the belief that boarding a child outside of a family environment irretrievably warped its young mind. Didn’t that incident with the prime minister and the pig prove as much, hm? You never saw that sort of nonsense from properly brought up boys—not that she had much time for boys, herself. The Wickfields lived in town, and Agnes’ father was both Davida’s aunt’s attorney and an old family friend. (There were some retrospectively-hilarious pictures of Mr Wickfield as a young man with long, voluptuous hair, participating in a protest against the building of a new reactor, standing beside a glaring youthful Betsey while holding a sign that asked ‘what is the motive?’)

Though Davida had formed no other close friendships at King’s per se, she had enjoyed her time there, and had gotten along well enough with her peers that she was now, at thirty-two, beginning to find herself invited to posh weddings in the Home Counties. The trouble with being an increasingly-famous writer was that you couldn’t beg off going to all your old school-friends’ weddings without developing a reputation as an awful snob, and to be considered a snob by the sort of people who’d grown up to vote Tory ‘for a strong economy’ was too much for Davida to bear. Besides, Davida didn’t mind putting on a ridiculous hat all that much, so long as no one present waxed poetic about what an upstanding chap Rupert Murdoch was whilst in his or her cups. The food was unfailingly good and the bars were unfailingly open. She did like several of the people in attendance, and have few opportunities to catch up with them outside of these events. Besides, Agnes was unfailingly in attendance. Normally, Davida only got to see her busy friend, now a partner in her father’s firm, when Agnes came up to town to do some shopping or for a show (largely when Davida pleaded with her to do so).

Of course the third partner in said firm was likewise always in attendance at these weddings. Wickfield the original begged off, citing age and a certain morose cynicism about the motives prompting the marriages in question. But since Wickfield, Wickfield and Heep often handled the estates of the wealthy people who’d gone to school with Agnes or with her father before her, these attorneys were invited to said people’s weddings as a matter of course.That included ‘and Heep’, inch-thick council estate accent and all.

At the first of these blessed events, Uriah had actually had the audacity to lead with ‘of course you won’t remember me’, and to affect fawning surprise when indeed Davida did. The veiled, treacley implication that she was that up herself was so fucking typical of Uriah that Davida could almost have called it ‘Heepian’. ‘Heepish’? No, she doubted he ever was (s)heepish, really, despite his incessant claims to that effect (though it was maddeningly impossible to be certain of that).

“Yes, Uriah,” she’d replied shortly, “obviously I know you.” Davida had turned so fierce a glare on Heep that she suspected costly flower arrangements across the room of wilting under it.

Cringe. Writhe. She could have slapped him.

How was she supposed to have forgotten or failed to recognize Uriah Heep? He was pushing seven foot if he stood up straight (there was, at least, slight chance of that—Uriah only occasionally bestirred himself to unfurl), he (still) had an awful ginger buzz cut that made him look like a rogue Irish neo-Nazi, he made such a nuisance of himself she was surprised that no one called the police out for a disturbance of the peace, and she’d known him since she was eleven. She’d nearly lived with him since she was eleven! ‘Oh, you wouldn’t remember me!Ass.

Uriah’s mother had been Mr. Wickfield’s cleaning lady for several years before Davida had come to live with the family. Uriah had helped her out in that capacity until, just before Davida had arrived, he’d exchanged changing the rubbish bins for a part-time job doing office work for Mr. Wickfield. He’d been young for it, just fifteen (though he’d looked older than he was at that age, even as he looked a shade younger than his present thirty-six), but Davida got the impression that Mrs. Heep had wheedled Mr. Wickfield into the arrangement somehow or other. Knowing Mrs. Heep, Davida could well imagine it.

As it happened, Uriah had proven to be an eminently capable secretary. Shortly after Davida had gone off to Oxford, Uriah had finished his law degree at Kent. He had then, somehow or other, worked his way into a partnership with Wickfield surprisingly quickly—his mother’s son. Agnes said he’d made himself indispensable and then threatened to go, and that there’d been no help for it. She said he was a brilliant lawyer actually, and that they did better for having him there, despite how—she’d frowned slightly.

“Incredibly annoying he can be?” Davida suggested. “Cloying? Two-faced? Utterly exasperating? Shady in the attainment and exercise of his power? Viscerally creepy to the extent that I used to imagine I could see his face outside my window at night in the ends of the beams, like a living gargoyle?”

“Oh Trot,” Agnes employed Davida’s old school nickname and shook her head, “don’t be—” Again the sad twist of her lips, and the leaving off.

“A thoughtlessly classist bitch,” Davida supplied, sighing. “No, I know. I know! He just gets right under my skin, like a splinter. A ‘spike’, as he’d call it.” She turned the old-fashioned regionalism with a fairly good imitation of his accent. “He always has. Something about him. Possibly the incredible hypocrisy and the ten-ton chip on his shoulder. Or ginger prejudice.”

Anyway, it had been a few years since she’d last seen Uriah, actually. But there was still no call for his ‘oh, you probably don’t remember ‘umble little old me!’ variety routine. It wasn’t as if he could have grudged her not having come to Canterbury for a visit. She and Uriah didn’t get along, and never had (though suggesting as much to him would, she suspected, only have elicited a tedious, passive-aggressively poisoned five-minute-long denial of this state of affairs). They’d used to see a great deal of each other, and they’d talked a lot when she’d been younger, but behind Uriah’s laid-on politeness there was some vast, lurking resentment. Davida almost felt it as specifically directed at her—or rather as though Uriah hated the world, but her distinctly, and most.

It had taken her years to understand, actually, that the older boy really didn’t like her, and that he was making fun of her in being so ridiculously solicitous to her. Davida had come to the knowledge slowly, in a round-about way. She’d been hurt by it. Had he thought she was stupid, sitting there in his mother’s kitchen drinking the Heeps’ awful Tetley’s and trying to be polite (bungling it here and there, she knew now with an adult’s greater discretion), whilst all the while he hated her guts? He must have done. He must have thought her such an idiot. And Davida knew she wasn’t, she’d just—missed this, by virtue of being younger than Uriah and not bearing the same resentment towards him, not having been quickened by an equal readiness to take offense. Now that she better understood their shared past, her own buzzing quantum uncertainty regarding Uriah had collapsed into a more comfortable dislike. Now she only heard of him occasionally, via Agnes. They were Facebook friends, obviously (who wasn’t Facebook friends with a great many of one’s worst enemies?), but for a voluble man Uriah was strangely quiet there. Professional. Discreet.

Their lack of communication on that front, however, didn’t stop Uriah from making a point of speaking to Davida at every subsequent wedding they attended. He lured her into strange, slow conversations about nothing that were mysteriously difficult to extract herself from. Comments about the bride and groom (shadowy buried stings, like the ghosts of wasps), gossip that made her feel uncomfortable, her own life and his: ‘what they were up to’ of late, how Mr Wickfield was, whether anything was new in Canterbury. Davida loved a chat, but these were to chats like Soylent was to a good dinner. She wondered what it was Uriah wanted from her, because he was working her around to something, she could tell.

One night, call it four weddings in (this reception was at some vast, hideous, out-of-place conference hotel that looked like it’d landed in Kent rather than been built there, the venue and guest accommodations rolled into one), slightly tipsy and in a better, more generous mood than conversations with Uriah normally put her in, Davida set herself to thinking about what. What did she have that he wanted? And, come to think of it, what was he even doing here? In some respects he might have begged off more easily than she—no one would think Uriah a snob.

“I suppose you’re obliged to come to these for professional reasons,” she said suddenly, dropping it into a pause in the nonversation.

“Oh, one has to show one’s face, of course,” he agreed, “and it’s an honor and a pleasure to be invited, ain’t it? Such grand events!” he enthused with a little shiver. “Why it’s like walking around a Jilly Cooper novel!” (Here Davida choked on her wine. Uriah blithely continued, grinning harder if anything.) “You might not be as impressed as I am, having known the cream of society as long and as intimately as you have. But of course I had an ‘umbler schooling, and really, ain’t I lucky to be here?”

Somehow, it had never struck her before that Uriah Heep must fucking hate all of these people. The conclusion now dawned on her unmistakably. All those slick rhetoricals—faultless and damning, throwing more shade than a total eclipse. That old, palpable resentment, she thought, must boil over in him all the way through such events, and he must feel that he has to express it to someone, even if it had to be her. He despised helping his clients avoid their estate tax. (Though Davida thought it possible that he did love the law itself, as a mechanism or as the subject of his skill. Uriah had always had a talent for playing systems. He had a Stalinish ‘secretaries actually have a lot of power, and I’ve slid my way to the top without you noticing’ sort of quality about him.) In all likelihood, Uriah detested being simply expected to give up his weekends to ‘show his face’, which wasn’t really wanted anyway, at the nuptials he’d written the pre-nuptials for (the divorce settlements of which he’d eventually have a hand in, if—when—it came to it).

He hadn’t gone to school with any of these people. She knew he’d tested into a grammar, which Kent still had despite the Cessation of Grant back in the 70s, where he’d very likely been the poorest (and thus the shabbiest) boy in his class. He’d told her something a little like that once, hadn’t he? They’d been out at the pub with Agnes. Davida had come down from uni, and he’d inveigled his way along. (She’d thought at the time he’d been tilting at her friend, and for her part she’d hinted to him that he and Agnes was never going to happen.) Walking back with her alone, Uriah had said something verging on this. He’d been tipsy and bitter and vague, she hadn’t paid it enough attention. He’d said he’d see her to the train, though she’d insisted it wasn’t necessary. It had been a cold night, and he’d been wearing that awful old mulberry coat. She’d thought ‘couldn’t he wear anything less grotesque?’ and not realized then that no, he probably couldn’t, because he probably didn’t have anything much better—not anything suited to this unusually bad weather, at any rate.

Not having been to school with the people around them, Uriah lacked Davida’s fond memories of Stiffy, now Mrs. Stephany Farthingrope, which, to a degree, enabled her to gloss over how Stiffy laughed like a demented horse, was unbelievably (yet simultaneously oh-so-inevitably) classist on instinct, and occasionally came up with cluelessly racist codswallop Davida had to gently talk her down from with the indulgent eye of nostalgia. Actually, Davida was tipsy at this very moment because tonight she’d given up on the lot of them and decided to either

  1.    become too drunk to notice Stiffy’s thoughts on police brutality, or
  2.    to allow alcohol to unseal her eloquence, enabling her to freely and unselfconsciously deliver a speech that would illuminate, in awful detail, where Stiffy could get off (which would also hopefully see Davida banned from a few of the weddings to come—four so far this year! It was only July 6th!).

It surprised Davida that she’d never quite realized before that Uriah, in the cheapest possible version of the uniform (using that one worn, overflowing blue book-bag he’d relied on the whole time she’d know him, patched and never replaced), had probably had a god-awful time in school with middle-class brats from aspirational families, especially determined to make their status felt in the shadow of King’s. Why hadn’t she, until he’d baldly drawn her attention to it just now? It was the sort of thing she did consider, generally. Somehow Uriah slid around her normal ways of thinking and of interacting with people, for good and ill. She didn’t dislike anyone in the way she disliked him—with vehemence and a childish irrationality she felt helpless to do anything about. As though she’d been spurned, though she knew she hardly had cause for it. With shades of snobbery, as well—he brought out the worst in her, and she disliked him for that, too.

True, Uriah might genuinely have been dazzled by the titles and the caviar-toast bearing attendants scattered throughout the room, but Davida would have bet a thousand pounds that he wasn’t. Not after handling their legal dirty laundry, and not by nature to begin with. Uriah’s clients thought they were condescending to him by inviting him to these—doing him a favor. Making him feel included, showing their broad-mindedness in having someone who talked like he did around on their Special Day (Davida had thought at times that Uriah played up his chav accent, working it like a sore tooth). They’d have thought him ungrateful if he’d failed to take them up on the invitations, and would possibly have considered finding a more subservient retainer if he’d slighted them. This was not the sort of thing Mr Wickfield bothered to think about, so Uriah and Agnes had to do it for him, and thus for the firm. Nor did people judge Mr Wickfield’s behavior as they did Uriah’s. Wickfield was old and rich enough to carry off ‘mildly eccentric’.

No, Davida decided, Uriah was about as ‘dazzled’ as an NHS receptionist was by someone’s attempt to jump the cue because They Were Important. The hard glint in his eye bespoke elaborate sarcasm, almost dared her to call him on it. In fact, when she observed his expression more closely—Davida felt her eyes widening with subdued shock.

“Copperfield?” he asked, calling her what she’d been called in school, when it hadn’t been Trot. His voice broke her fixed attention on his wary features—a book in which men might read strange matters. And so she had. Davida wondered whether she might have been reading this conversation—not wrong, but only partially.

“Sorry, I—” Davida shook her head. Went for it. “Look, Uriah, are you trying to chat me up?”

“Pardon?” and oh my god, he actually held his hand up to his ear, pretending not to understand her. Insufferable jackass.

Possibly she was mistaken, but she thought it more likely that he was just floundering, buying himself time to formulate a response. That he hadn’t expected to be thus surprised. Something about his gaze had been so intent. There had been a curl of anxiety in the tight set of his forehead. He’d been enjoying speaking to her, or at least he’d appeared to be, but in the way you enjoyed jumping off a high diving board, or playing a game that took a lot of concentration, which you might well lose.

She wasn’t wrong. Or if she was, she wanted to know it certainly. “Are you trying,” Davida said with elaborate, patronizing patience, “to get off with me?”

Uriah didn’t register a change of expression. His nostrils flared and compressed, but beyond that, nothing altered: the polite, coaxing set of his mouth remained unmodified. “You must put it into words!” he said after an awkward pause.

Davida frowned at him. “That’s a ‘yes’, then.” Wasn’t it?

“I don’t know that I’d have put it like that, exactly!” He tsked, shaking his head at her and clutching his arms around his torso.

Davida finished her wine and set the glass down on one of the requisite white table cloths. She’d been absolutely right. That nervousness gave him away.

Weddings did breed such expectations—she blamed Richard Curtis films and American romcoms. Everyone thought they were due a shag with their champers (several boorish men had essentially expressed this opinion to Davida at previous weddings she’d attended, seeming to think her a poor sport for disagreeing, for her own part at least), and Uriah had always been willing to try his luck where he could. The idea was obviously ridiculous. Willing to fuck her or not (hell, perhaps he’d decided to try it on her because at least he knew her), Uriah Heep disliked her, probably intensely. For her part, Davida found him repulsive.

Well. In a very—odd way, she did. Because even as she found Uriah an out and out minger of the first degree she didn’t dislike the way he looked or carried himself. Exactly. He—well was it even fair to say he put her off if she always found herself watching him like a good play? He had a certain stage presence, but with life. If there was a flamboyant gesture to be made, Uriah was physically expressing himself in a manner you had not hitherto even considered an option. She’d gone on and on to Agnes often enough about how Uriah was awful and compelling and awful, and more than anything Agnes had just seemed confused, claiming that Uriah wasn’t that bad. Not so grotesque as Davida made him out, at any rate. Granted Agnes was too nice: that was Agnes’ key characteristic, really. But even so, it was possible that other people didn’t find Heep an object of strange wonderment: that they did not know exactly the hedgehoggish way Uriah’s nose wrinkled up when he said ‘Eccles cakes’. Actually, Davida strongly suspected that no other person had tried to lead him down that particular garden path with several discussions of regional baked goods in order to better observe this fascinating effect.

Sleeping with Heep was so obviously a terrible idea that it turned over in Davida’s mind like a record on an automatic player, giving her its b-side and its belly. She did know Uriah, and he was—mesmerising, in his odd way. The admission wriggled in her, like a worm on a fishing line. She hadn’t wanted to make it. Repulsion, or pride? She couldn’t say.

If he wanted to fuck her to lord it over her, that wasn’t going to happen, because she wouldn’t allow it to be read in that light. It would be just as much her decision, her victory over his dislike. If she didn’t feel it as a degradation, then any attempt on Uriah’s part to make it into one would just be sad, and would fall pancake-flat.

Besides, there was something about the very unlikeliness of the proposition that appealed to Davida. Uriah, of all people! Davida was free and drifting since her great break up with Dora, and Tinder didn’t greatly appeal. She got a fair amount of offers at literary parties, but these were usually from the sort of men who wanted to vow (unasked) that they didn’t think of her as a chicklit author, and then to proceed to patronize her about Proust, who she inevitably read better than they did (straight literary men always thought they got Proust: they were always wrong, and Davida hadn’t the heart to tell them they’d do better to stick to something butch and overblown, like Joyce). All told, it had been a while.

Davida wasn’t exactly having the time of her life at the moment either, trying to drink the night away in order to either avoid or confront Stiffy about her frail and uncharitable understanding of the Notting Hill riots. Not, she felt, a conversation much would come of—in her experience people ‘destroyed’ by an ‘epic takedown’ were, by and large, too stupid to know they’d been destroyed, and thus carried on impervious, rising to fuck up another day. Well, more fairly their attitudes were based on deeper currents, and thus not accessible via such avenues as—no, no, she wasn’t going to think about it for another minute, fuck Stiffy and fuck this wedding.

But now that the idea of fucking Uriah had been introduced, Davida began to suspect the thought would nag at her. She had a premonition that if she brushed Uriah off with a laugh now, this thought wouldn’t stop popping up for a long time to come. That would be just as awkward as their having actually done the thing, surely? And somehow the proposition, such as it was (Uriah went ‘round the houses, and then doubled back to pick up milk), tripped her up. She was in the mood, actually. All of a sudden, she found she was intensely so. Davida’s mind was hastily supplying her with a thread of half-formed suggestions, as though, somehow, she’d expected or anticipated this. Wanted it in her own right.

The subject of premeditation (Had she thought about Uriah as a teenager? She must have done, her hormones had been a mess through the whole of her adolescence.) was difficult to consider, and she didn’t exactly understand why. For the most part, Davida’s life and psychology laid themselves out for her perusal fairly politely. There were, however, a few currents she felt she never quite caught: eddies it’d take a psychotherapist and years to plot the course of. In a few respects—and perhaps her inexplicably intense reaction to Uriah was among them—Davida felt she knew herself but slenderly.

Davida bit her lip, and Uriah tilted his head to one side, observing her shrewdly. He opened his mouth to say something—possibly to disclaim the whole idea as some invention of hers.

“All right,” she said suddenly, before he could do it, tilting her chin up. “Why not?” She could think of a host of reasons, but suddenly they didn’t matter, except as things to deal with afterwards as best she could. She was going through with this, and so she’d have to make it work.

Uriah regarded her as though he didn’t quite believe her, blinking his short-lashed eyes slowly (hazel, but changeable—she could at times have sworn to brown, to green, even to red).

“Not too drunk, are you?” he asked abruptly. “How many of those have you ‘ad exactly? Put a number on it, would you?”

Davida rolled her eyes. “Two, for god’s sake Uriah. Don’t talk me out of it.”

“No,” Uriah agreed succinctly, gesturing towards the door with a queer little flourish (very him) and following her as she threaded her way out. God, this sex was either going to be bizarre but fantastic or awful almost beyond description.

Well, experience was supposed to be good for writers, and Davida had never had ‘hate-sex’ before.

Uriah asked a question about Davida’s work as they walked (a substantial recent article she’d had in The New York Times Magazine on the London housing crisis). This question seemed somehow to trick Davida into speaking at length. She wondered if Uriah was trying to distract her from thinking better of this, and thought that it might not be such a bad idea if he was. Keep courage, she told herself wryly.

As they waited for the lift, Uriah bestowed one of his signature silences on her. She knew this to be another trick of his—he managed a conversation with uncanny skill. These lacunae made her feel nervous and, just now, as though she might be displaying some proof of inebriation during the slightly awkward pause. Swaying, or something. She always found herself jamming these gaps up with inappropriate, over-extended blathering.

“I don’t know, I could recite something to prove it if you liked,” Davida muttered, bringing the conversation back around to his questions as to her level of inebriation and thus her fitness to consent. Uriah raised an eyebrow.

“Generally the recitation of songs and such to oneself an’ others in a lift is not considered a great proof of sobriety,” Uriah pointed out as the lift opened and they stepped in. “‘ave you a chemical formula or the like?”

“Certainly not. At least not that I could produce on command. I could do you a sonnet.”

“What, from memory?” Uriah grinned, punching in the floor number when she told him it.

Not your choice of one,” Davida hastened to qualify her claims.

“No,” he conceded, rubbing his hands together as if to warm them up, “that is asking too much of your repertoire. Still, I’m not precisely surprised you’ve a sonnet on hand,” Uriah said. “Your always being so clever with words.”

That was unimpeachable, and probably an insult, somehow. “It’s not going to be a particularly surprising choice,” Davida said cooly, rolling the first lines off with a rote-rattle sing-song.

“Oh no!” Uriah interrupted. “No, if you’re going to recite poetry to me, I’ll have it done properly, if you please. For I’ve never been the object of such a recital, as you might guess, and I’d kick myself in the morning if I didn’t make the most of my opportunity now.”

“Uriah,” Davida huffed, dragging the middle syllable out petulantly.

Something about that made his throat bob visibly. “I’d say don’t pout, but you do it pretty well.” Uriah leaned back against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest, and waited.

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” Davida repeated as the lift stopped, settling in an earnest expression on her face this time. “Coral is far more red than her lips red,” she commented as she fished the hotel key out of her bag, scanning the hall for the sign pointing towards her room. “If snow be white,” she snorted expressively as they walked down the corridor, “why then, her breasts are dun. If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head.” She thought, amused, of Uriah’s fiery hair and skeleton-pale complexion as she covered ‘roses damasked red and white’ (and again of his eyes, which she had mentally compared to two red-blazing suns once or twice—burning brightest when she’d seen him particularly furious at some slight and shoving it under).

She struggled to remember the b line and to work the key card, and triumphantly entered on “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know—mmf!” Uriah shocked her by shoving her against the wall next to the door, latching his mouth onto the crook of her neck, shifting in an instant from a stilted acquaintance to someone she was sleeping with, who would ever after be someone she’d slept with. He crossed this vast distance in a moment, seemingly without hesitation. Davida had assumed the transition would be strained and awkward, but it was shattering-quick. She almost wanted it to last longer: for it to be a threshold she was conscious of crossing, a dance she moved deliberately through the steps of. But possibly Uriah was right—better to execute with a single stroke than with ten.

“That music hath a far more pleasing sound,” Davida breathed, having had the thought in her mind and the words in her mouth as she’d come in.

“Please don’t stop on my account!” Uriah said politely as he pulled her to the bed, almost tossing her down on it (she actually bounced) but mitigating any throwing-off this gesture might have suggested by following her himself, clambering over her quick as consequence. “You read divinely, you know—you were always so charming in your school plays.”

What, when she’d been Viola in Twelfth Night? She couldn’t remember him having been dragged to that, but she supposed he must have been. Or maybe he’d been around when she’d made Agnes (who no one could have paid to try out for a play) stand in for Olivia in order to learn her lines. Had she ever asked him to read Malvolio? That would have been funny, and he’d have carried it off well, but it would also have been a touch cruel. He’d have taken it right to heart, with his settled conviction that everyone thought him beneath them. She hoped she hadn’t done it. Feste could have been all right, perhaps, but—god, who could think at a time like this, with him pawing at her breasts through her dress?

“That music?” he prompted. “Which music, then? I’m very interested, and you do ‘ave yet to prove your sobriety, you know. Though I never found you particularly sober, if I’m honest.”

Was he ever? “Is that an insult, Uriah?” Davida asked, feeling it ill-timed if it was. She knew he lacked his patience and his gravity. She’d been eighteen when they’d last seen one another particularly regularly. He probably thought of her as she had been then, considered her adolescent or unserious: possibly he too had some lectures on Proust to dispense, hidden somewhere or other about his person. Possibly this had all been a stupid idea. No, it definitely was, but possibly it was also a stupid idea she should have put a stop to before it advanced this far.

“Goodness, I hope you’re not so suspicious of all my compliments!” Uriah said, pushing the fabric of her dress up so that it pooled at her waist (she lifted her hips to let him do it), running his fingers over her gartered stockings with evident appreciation.

“They went with the dress,” she muttered, feeling a need to excuse what amounted to lingerie—she must look like an Anne Summers sale, as though she’d come fully intending to fuck someone. They did, though. Rose pink—she’d wanted nothing too dark, under her delicate summer dress of the same shade.

“‘m certainly not complaining,” he assured her, running his fingers down the ribbons before shoving her legs apart with an eagerness bordering on violence. Davida felt a slight protesting creak in her hips and a shiver of anticipation, a specific, piercing interest in the man with his long, shiver-cold hands on her inner thighs, prying her open. She felt a heavy spooling pressure in her cunt, and a sudden insistent desire to be full, fucked. Her eyes bigger than her stomach, wanting it now, with no foreplay and no delay.

Davida bit her lip again and reached for him. He let her stroke him through his trousers, shaking a little as she did it, rocking his hips up into her hand and biting his own lip, as if unconsciously mirroring her. But he slid to the side when her fingers went to the buckle.

He swallowed, shaking his head. “No, I want it slower than that.” He said it while shoving her panties to the side, holding them out of the way. Then, with unanticipated gentleness, he petted her with his fingers.

Davida squirmed, frustrated, and he half-laughed, without sound, almost seeming hysterical. Like he couldn’t quite believe they were doing this either.

“Mind you, I want the rest of my poem as well,” he said cheerfully, looking at her cunt and not her face. (Why did she feel as though he was trying not to look her in the eye?) Uriah dragged her panties off over her stockings with fingers like claws, then ducked his head down and pressed his tongue against her, with no more warning than that.

Davida yelped, surprised, but it would evidently take more than that feeble cry to arrest his progress. His tense shoulders, which had been tight since she’d called him on his chat-up line, relaxed totally. He sighed into her, wrapping his hands around her hips and lunging at her with his mouth, making a thick, glutinous sound of satisfaction in his throat as he did so.

Davida had been with several women, and two of her more important partners (she was a confirmed serial monogamist, for preference) had been female. Rosa Dartle, the first woman she’d actually been with (as opposed to entertaining a passionate crush on) had, Davida now understood, seduced Davida at Oxford because of her own unresolved erotic tension with their classmate James Steerforth. Rosa had acted out of some competitive urge to take his friend off him, or had used Davida as a proxy. Davida now also understood that few people gave head like Rosa—with vicious precision and cunning, certainly, but more than that, for personal satisfaction, with positive zest. Dora had done it for Davida as a favor: gamely enough (playful, delicate little licks—‘is that nice, Doady?’), but frankly and cheerfully getting to her turn. (Fair enough, Davida thought, though personally she liked giving as much as taking.) Unlike Dora, Rosa had wanted it. Motives aside, Rosa had liked sex, had enjoyed eating a woman out.

However it seemed Rosa had been positively apathetic in this regard when compared to Uriah. It took Davida a few minutes to properly accept that she was getting good—no, excellent head from a man. Not to be misandrist, per se, but the old adage about lesbians possessing a certain difficult to duplicate set of skills was not entirely without foundation in Davida’s experience. Uriah made a soft, desperate grunt and almost shoved her back on the bed, the tip and bridge of his nose grinding into the neat-trimmed hair of her mound. He ate as though he were starving, pulling her up to him, pushing himself down to her, speed and pressure and desperation. Rapacious where Rosa had been self-contained. He did it like this was for him, like he needed her, like he lived off her, like there was nothing about him closed to her, nothing she couldn’t touch and have. She moaned and smoothed the velvet buzz of his hair with her hand, and he shook under her palm. She’d never have predicted this of him, even if she had given thought to what he might be like in bed, yet somehow it didn’t surprise her at all.

“Gentle,” she breathed, just to see what he’d do. He stopped on command, breathing hard. Then, grudgingly, he flicked his tongue light as a cat and steady as a metronome. Banked hunger and frustration trembled through his fingers, but he did it for her, glaring up at her (god that was good, she whimpered under it). The twist of his mouth was wry, though, as if he were almost enjoying the torment.

“I’ll get you for that,” he murmured as he drew back and petted her again, ever so lightly, with just the very tips of his fingers. She shivered in response. “Don’t think I won’t,” he promised, giving her thigh a light, deceptively sweet kiss. “You knew how I was enjoying myself, and you didn’t even need it softer. I wouldn’t have minded, if you’d needed it. But no. Just like to watch me jump, don’t you?”

“’m sorry,” Davida muttered, dazed, gazing up at him, knowing her hair a mussed cloud of chestnut on the pillow and her nice frock a mess at her waist. She thought he might like the look of her, like this. Hoped he did.

“Oh no, I don’t think you are. Cruel,” he said decidedly, bringing his thumb hard to bear on her clit, tsking.

She choked (how strong were his fingers?) and shook her head. “I’m not. But you wouldn’t—”

“Fuck you?” Uriah asked, sweetly. She nodded, coloring, embarrassed. “I will, though,” he said, bending to kiss her—somehow he’d gotten this far, and they hadn’t done that yet. It was the sort of engrossing and physical, full-bodied kiss that had her leaning up after him when he pulled away. “‘Course I will,” he added.

Davida fumbled a hand down to her bag where it had dropped beside the bed and fished out a condom from the packed of them she’d hoped she still had in the side-pocket. She dropped it on the bed. But for now— “Do it again,” Davida asked, clenching her legs around him, begging for his tongue back.

“Say please,” he said sarcastically, and she offered him a plump, camp ‘please’ that was mockery and real tribute in one, that made him grin and drop back down on her. He wouldn’t let her come, though—wouldn’t let her have so much as one long, lovely, warming finger in her. He edged her until she whimpered desperately when he pulled back and made childish grabbing motions with her hands.

“Said I’d make you pay,” he crowed, immensely pleased with himself. “What’ll you give me for it then? What’s your side’s offer, eh?” They’d both done law degrees, back when Davida hadn’t known what to do with herself, and Uriah evidently thought he was being cute.

“Anything you want,” she said stupidly, too out of it for cute, sitting up and pushing her head against his shoulder and letting him tangle his long fingers in her hair. He was good—god he was good. “You can have anything you like,” she said, too dazed to quite understanding what she was offering, and that writing Uriah Heep a blank check might turn out to be a really terrible idea.

Yet something about her generosity seemed to piss him off. A sneer passed across his face, naked and visible now. He moved his shoulder and dropped her back to the bed. He fumbled with his buckle and the condom packet beside them on the duvet, and he shoved himself into her, too hard. Her back arched (god at last) and she dragged her fingers across the sheet, shifting back slightly to put a little distance between them, just so she could adjust to the sudden intrusion. But he wasn’t interested in that (even muttered ‘uh-uh’, seemingly to himself) and pulled her right back, repeating the thrust with a sharp jerk. He was long. She didn’t know that she’d ever been with someone so long. Thin, but he rectified that rapidly, shoving several hard-knuckled fingers in her when he dropped his thumb to grind her clit again. This one economic motion sufficed to overload her senses with the multiple sensations and to render her so full she could barely breathe.

“Sorry,” he said insincerely, watching her gulp air, his grin hard. “When you’re as lamentably thin as I am, you have to resort to these little tricks. That all right, Miss Copperfield?”

He knew it was. He must have worked out this method ages ago—a means of fucking the living daylights out of a woman, which he apparently relished doing. Again, she wouldn’t necessarily have pegged him as someone who loved having sex with women. (She’d sometimes even wondered whether he liked women—or indeed anyone.) Some people fucked to get off, using whoever they were with like a breathing rampant rabbit. Uriah, however, fucked with gustatory delight in reactions. Whatever enabled him to control conversations and orchestrate social situations to his benefit, whatever made him an adroit manipulator of manners and people, enabled him to draw her up like a cork under a screw, here. It was clear that every bit of what they were at interested him: the way Davida squeezed around him as he shifted, the ugly faces she made, the breathless noise she emitted when he hit the back of her, too deep. She thought she’d be sore after this, but she couldn’t have told him to stop for the world. He almost didn’t entirely fit—he had to grab her hips and shove himself in, making room.

No cringing now. He looked taller, above her like this, with a rigid expression of concentration on his face. No holding himself in and down and under—even still wearing his courtroom shirt and tie (surely they’d smell of sex after this?), he looked wild, infernal.

Davida,” he almost crooned, repeating himself, “is that all right?

“Yeah—hngh—it’s—fuck,” how was she supposed to talk with him ploughing her like a field?

“Close?” he asked, seemingly straining himself. She nodded. And in response, he removed his thumb from her clit. He kept it up with the twisting fingers and the sliding, deep-pressing thrusts (though he slowed himself down there, letting each stroke well and resonate in her), but he held her at bay.

“What are you doing?” she asked, half in a panic. Wasn’t he letting her come yet?

Carefully, as though in response to her question, Uriah slid his fingers out of her and held them to her mouth.

“Are you serious? I’m not going to do that!” Davida said, shocked.

“Aren’t you?” he asked. “Oh, I think you will, really. Yes,” he sucked a cheek in and then released it, sounding meditative, and rubbed her knee with his clean hand, giving her thigh a little pat. “I think I remember you saying ‘anything’. And this is too small a thing even to count, ain’t it?”

Hesitantly, shuddering and glaring, Davida opened her mouth and let him slide his wet (eugh) fingers in. She sucked herself off them. It was gross, but apparently the edge of being bossed around and the crassness of what he was making her do actually turned her on more. Not that she’d have told him as much.

“There you are,” he sighed with pleasure, rubbing it in offensively. “There’s my good girl.”

That did it for her? Really? That made her throb and suppress an embarrassing noise? She was going to have to have a long talk with herself after this. Davida spat out the long, invasive fingers (it felt like deep-throating, the way he pushed them back and moaned when she sucked) demonstratively, making a show of her disgust.

“Happy?” she asked.

“Immensely,” he said, seeming amused. “Don’t act too precious about it, Copperfield—you liked it a second ago. You’ve very expressive eyes, you know.”

Davida didn’t answer that, though her hot cheeks might have answered for her. Uriah chuckled and brought his now-clean hands to bear on her body, finally disposing of all her clothing. There was nowhere he didn’t want to look at and pet and squeeze and clutch to bruising point while he rested inside her—his fingers went scrabbling at the small of her back, along the backs of her legs, framing her collarbone, draping across her sides, clenching around her shoulders and her elbows and her wrists. Davida had never felt so explored by a partner. It was almost violating. She squirmed under it and Uriah didn’t seem to care, giving her another slow thrust when he felt like it, pinning her and making her wriggle under him as he did what he liked.

To get him back to business she had to writhe on his cock, working to press herself up.

He clucked, even as he watched her with very heavy eyes and moved to aid her proceedings. “You’ve no patience,” he said.

“You’ve exhausted it,” she said shortly. “I won’t be able to come after all this—you’ll lose me.”

“Like hell I will,” he snapped, pulling out, flipping her over, drawing her up on her knees, pushing her shoulders down and shoving himself back in. He moved so fast when he wanted to!

Davida gasped. “That’s too deep!” The position exacerbated the natural disparity between their sizes.

“Is it?” he asked, pretending incredulity and slowly sliding himself out, and then back in. Davida didn’t answer, she just panted. A few more glacially-gradual repetitions of the movement had Davida making whimpering noises she was too distracted to be embarrassed by. “No,” he said, his voice strained, “it isn’t too deep, is it, sweetheart?”

She hardly registered the endearment—he worked and pushed himself in to the hilt, bringing her arse flush with his hips. She felt he was breaking her, making the spot he hit inside her sing with a low, internal ache. He pushed her hips wider, shoving her head into the pillow and fisting one hand in her hair, pulling it, making her gasp. She could feel the grip of his fingers leaving bruises on her hips and arse, his thumb savagely digging into the plump flesh of her cheek.

He loved this—soft noises behind her that he couldn’t stifle, half sound and half air, as he fucked her as thoroughly as he could, shy of brutality only because it wouldn’t accomplish his aims half so well as this gentler breed of viciousness. Subtle because it was more effective. Davida didn’t know that she had ever made anyone so pleased as he sounded. That anyone had ever enjoyed her this much. Her face burned and she got high off the knowledge, slicker, and he slid into her that much more easily, her body giving him encouragement.

He stopped, heaving breath, and she knew what he wanted. What he was waiting for.

“No,” she said. “It isn’t too deep.” She’d have insisted on him stopping, if she hadn’t liked it. He’d asked, she hadn’t answered.

She heard him, after a moment’s pause, suck in breath, in preparation for saying something further. She knew he was going to ask her to say another word, to seek some additional reassurance or gratification, and so she anticipated him, not wanting to make him have to ask for it. “I like this.”

Like?” he spat, nasty and immediate, and she felt embarrassed. Here he was giving her everything, shaking himself into her, and she ‘liked’ it, like a meal she was being polite to a waitress about at a restaurant she’d never go back to.

“I want it,” she corrected herself, letting the word land heavy.

“An’ your mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun. You always were a talented actress—” he began to sneer. God dammit. She was eloquent, people said that, so why could she never find the right phrase to please or even to talk to him?

Davida, who was sentimental and romantic but who as a rule did not speak in intimate moments such as this, strained herself to do better for him. To her surprise she found the embarrassing exposure erotic in its own right. “It’s so good, Uriah. Even your yanking my hair feels good. Even the way I can feel the button of your trousers digging into me.” So single-minded he hadn’t even bothered undressing. A rich, unctuous, full experience she couldn’t quite compare to any other, the sex somehow emotional and loaded even though they didn’t care for one another. Too much—she didn’t know if she could have handled it, every day.

She wasn’t practiced at such compliments, and her efforts apparently weren’t enough for him. He attacked with everything, fingers back in her and on her, deep as ever and suddenly fast, too.

Make you love it,” she heard him mutter. “If it’s the last thing I do, I will.”

She wanted to tell him he didn’t have a damn thing to prove, but he was testing her to destruction, and she felt a bizarre internal pressure building in her. She almost wanted to tell him to stop, but she lacked the necessary control over her own impulses, and so in fact she found herself gasping at him to go even faster, please-please-please-please. For all he could pretend at times not to have understood her, he caught on quickly enough now. As it happened, stopping wasn’t necessary, anyway, because nothing was wrong per se. Davida just found herself—well. She’d heard about ‘squirting’, obviously, but assumed it could only be achieved in pornography, with the use of either special effects or particularly long, hard, specially twisted devices. Though put that way, she could see why Uriah counted in the category.

He was touching her clit, but that wasn’t where the orgasm was, at all. She was noisy. It went on an age, waves pounding into her and dragging her back down like an undertow. She let him flop her over bonelessly onto her back and do it more, still feeling herself coming in this bizarre and unprecedented way as he continued to fuck her. It wasn’t better than a clitoral orgasm exactly, but it was different—she felt she could do it longer still, and that she wanted to. The sensation was amorphous rather than pin-point.

Then Uriah cursed frantically, his face wrenched hideously, and he came like he’d die, collapsing onto her and twisting their hands together like he was pinning her down. It had been overwhelming, Davida felt like crying after. It took her a stupid amount of time to breathe properly again, rather than in heaving, jagged near-sobs. When she was a little calmer, she took note of her surroundings with chagrin. The state of the bed, from both of them just—she blushed to think of housekeeping.

She started almost to excuse herself. “I’ve never—” But then she caught the look on his face, which forestalled apology.

“No?” He looked as dazed as she felt. “Never? Never like that?” She shook her head, and he kissed her hard, holding her face in his long hands. “Just for me, then,” he said quietly, half a crow, and she nodded, giving him that. “Oh,” he murmured, seeming so satisfied by the information, “an’ it was gorgeous, too.”

Davida winced. “Sticky, I think you’ll find.”

He laughed, short and sharp. “Ain’t it though? Positively visceral. Not a bit tidy, nor even a little polite. That’s the element of it I like best, I think.”

Davida squirmed, embarrassed. With seeming reluctance (Davida supposed that even he, with his boundless energy, must feel a little tired after all that) Uriah let her up, pushing himself to the side. He watched her carefully. His complexion was still flushed, a blatant testimony to what they’d done.

After a moment, Davida spoke. “I grant I never saw a goddess go—my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare.” She cleared her throat. “You said you wanted the rest.”

“You’ve such a memory,” Uriah said quietly.

“Sometimes,” she agreed, though she still couldn’t recall whether she’d made him be her Malvolio. Whether she’d been as cruel to him then as his thoughtless employers were now. She wondered whether any part of what they were at now was, for her, about trying to make up for having been a child around him, prone to be mean and stupid in childish ways to someone who’d had a harder time of it, in some respects, than herself. Was that awful, if it was even true?

“Perhaps you remember me saying I’d kick myself in the morning if I didn’t make the most of my opportunity now?” He ran his hand over her hip, and Davida frowned at him.

“Haven’t you done?”

“Not quite. I thought I might go for it all-in-all, complete.”

“How so?”

“Can’t you guess?” He looked amused. “Now that’s surprising. You’re usually so quick, ‘n you’re an Oxford woman and all. Though actually the preceding term of public school might be more to the point. As it were.”

It dawned on her sluggishly, like a wet January morning. “If you want anal,” she said decidedly, “you’re going to have to bring yourself to come out and say it. And even that isn’t any guarantee.”

“Oh, I want everything,” Uriah said, circumnavigating the question eloquently but then stabbing into the heart of it. “As usual. I had the chance to eat you out, and the chance to fuck your cunt, so,” he drubbed his fingers on her hip bone, “why not make it three for three?”

She gave him a nonplussed look, but thought he had a point. In for a penny. She’d already come baroquely for him. What did it matter now, if she let him—well. She did have some reservations, actually.

“I haven’t,” she said bluntly. “Not ever.”

“Not that either, eh?” he shook his head, eyeing her arse as though he thought this quite a waste.

But he’d given her an experience she’d never had before. He’d held himself off to do it, and she wanted to return the favor. She found she liked making him happy.

Davida gave him a lofty look, putting it on a bit. “It’s not as if the sheets can get filthier,” she said dryly, gingerly elevating herself and padding to the bathroom. She had a shower and did something by way of preparation that she’d once edited out of a friend’s overly-frank gay romance novel, feeling awkward and unsexual and once again like this was a stupid, stupid idea.

“Do your worst,” she said in a monotone when she returned, flopping onto the bed face-down.

“My worst, eh?” He stroked her back.

“Well,” Davida amended herself, “I suppose I mean ‘go gingerly, please’.”

“I can’t help doing that,” he said flatly. “It’s my nature.”

She snorted at the awful pun, then wriggled and tried not to make a cliché of herself by responding with shock when he again applied his tongue with what a less adventuresome woman might justifiably have called insufficient warning. She was spent from her orgasm, and hadn’t ever particularly wanted to try this before now. She wasn’t so much interested in coming as, with a strange and aimless hedonism, she wanted to keep experiencing this. And to please him, which seemed both strangely easy and strangely fulfilling. She supposed he probably needed to use his tongue to buy himself time—he couldn’t be ready again yet. Or possibly this was something else he wanted. Or perhaps those were unfair readings of an effort to make this easy for her, because she was inexperienced. Him licking her there was good, but again, it pushed against her comfort zones.

“Have you done this before?” she asked as he put a fresh condom on, wondering if Uriah had ever had a girlfriend who’d liked him enough to indulge him thus, or who’d wanted this herself. Wondering if he’d ever had a girlfriend—surely? And yet it was hard to imagine. But he was quite sexually experienced, he must have been. Possibly he’d shagged his way through university and his training contract, managing to talk people into it despite his slightly foreboding appearance. Somehow the idea of him having slept with people when he’d been in university, when she’d been living with the Wickfields, annoyed her and made her a little bitchy—as though he hadn’t as much right as anyone to go out and do it, if he could spare the time (and he’d never had much of it, hard as he’d worked).

“Yes,” Uriah said after a moment, pulling back, and she felt—a touch alone, or disappointed, or angry with him. She’d half a mind to tell him to stop. “I haven’t done it with you before,” he pointed out. It ought to have been a feeble joke, a bad line. But there was something starker in it, as though he actually considered what they were doing here and now a different act.

Fingers again, and an ample dollop of the cream he’d apparently gone to get while she was in the shower (she certainly hadn’t had any in her room before this—she didn’t want to ask too many questions about his supply lines). Uriah had finally bothered to undress. Davida thought there was something intriguing in his nudity—he still looked armored. It wasn’t a means of baring all for him, as it was for some people. He looked no more vulnerable or less cunning for existing in his natural state.

This time she appreciated his slowness. When it came to his cock, she appreciated the way he poured himself into her an inch at a time. His slenderness was a balm, now. He sank into her with small thrusts, delicate jabs, groaning when he was all the way in.

God that’s good,” he muttered, rolling his hips to feel himself, embedded in her as deeply as he could be.

It was strange and pleasurable, something like her previous orgasm—diffuse, not sharp. Which made her think— “Uriah, I think I could—come, again, if you fingered me.”

Fucking hell,” Uriah said to himself—not in exasperation, but as though her asking him for it was too much. He readily involved his hands in the proceedings, and Davida had a knife-sharp orgasm around those hard, bony fingers, after which Uriah rocked himself to a sighing completion in her, still going after she’d slumped and finished and was only moaning softly as he moved.

Davida had never actually passed out after sex before. She thought of that as something that happened in merrily unrealistic romantic fiction, to buy the writer a scene change, ease the plot along and make the course of true love run smooth. But she fell now as one slain in battle, exhausted, and didn’t awaken until she felt a delicate shake of her shoulder and a voice, Uriah’s, saying ‘Copperfield, didn’t you say you had a train at nine?’

This had her up in an instant with an oath, fully conscious and in a panic, with forty-five minutes to pack, shower, dress, leave the maid a HUGE tip by way of apology for all this, get an Uber because she’d left it too late for anything else, take said Uber while worrying about the morality of this given the company’s poor labour practices, run to the barriers, force-feed her tickets to a machine reluctant to consume them, practically fly to the platform opposite via the connecting bridge, and slump, puffing, into the train, dropping exhausted and sore (why in hell was he or indeed anyone that long?) into her seat, wondering why Southern had to be punctual this one bloody time.

She thought about Uriah, who had both woken her up in time and gamely helped by shoving everything back in her bag while she’d showered. She’d glanced up from her Uber and thought she’d seen, high above, the curtain at the window of the room she’d occupied twitch, and a pale shape that must have been a face turn away. As though he’d watched her go. Davida uncharitably (she knew it) thought that Uriah was probably glad of her swift departure: no awkward morning after chat, no having to offer to buy her a fried breakfast, and no lingering reminder of what they’d done with one another.

It had been amazing sex, as far as that went. You couldn’t rank these things really, and of course you couldn’t discount the emotional component. She’d loved Dora, for all the sex had been less adventurous than this, and that had introduced an element of cherishing, and had made it special. There was familiarity, too—so much of what was good about sex involved a long acquaintance with the way someone’s body worked, their own particular preferences. But that said, it had been a surprising, unforgettable one-off. If it did make things awkward with Uriah, she didn’t have to see him that often. They didn’t exactly have a relationship to sour.

To Davida, what had happened seemed so strange and singular that questions of repetitions or consequences didn’t even present themselves to her. It didn’t cross Davida’s mind that her soft pink panties could have gone missing for any other reason than innocent accident, any more than it occurred to her to call Uriah, or to so much as message him on Facebook.