‘The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world’ – Edgar Allan Poe
Rachael was in love with the wrong woman. The first time Rachael had met Susanna, she had taken her breath away. They became close, but Rachael knew that they could be so much more. Sue was just oblivious. She was never one to pick up on social cues. It hadn’t deterred her. Rachael always did love a challenge. How naïve to think that Susanna could be saved from descending into obscurity, and that she was the person to save her. You can’t help who you fall in love with, people would say. Truer words had never been spoken. Last night was supposed to be about coming clean, coming out. Susanna had fucked that up. Rachael was still seething at the thought of the debacle Susanna had caused at her going away drinks. To be fair, Susanna had been drunk, but she was always drunk. Kissing that paralegal Chloe, even if it was a fake pash just for a laugh, was the last straw. Rachael had hit her. It seemed so surreal now, but she knew that it was true. Thank Christ it had been after everyone important had gone home. If it had of been earlier, Rachael could have lost her new job before she even had a chance to start it. Luckily, it had just been her, Susanna, and that piss-ant Chloe Morell. Poor Susanna, Rachael thought. The bouncers had been rough with her. A typically unfair assessment by security, Susanna gets punched and it is assumed that she was the one causing trouble and needed to be removed. Handling Chloe had been easy; Rachael had slipped into damage control mode with aplomb. All that Rachael had to do was to hint at the prospect of lodging a sexual harassment complaint, and Chloe shit herself. She was still savouring the image of Chloe’s petrified face. Chloe had begged her not to take it any further, she was drunk, and didn’t mean anything by it. Maybe so, but Rachael would have her revenge eventually. Silencing that little bitch was only the beginning, there would be further retribution when Rachael was able to devise an appropriate punishment to fit the crime. She looked down at her hand to assess the damage. I must have hit her a good one, Rachael thought. Two of her knuckles were grazed, the skin now angry with infection and sore. Rachael was overcome with emotion at the sight, and began to weep. She wiped her tears away with the back of her hands and tried to calm herself. This was not her fault. Last night was her night, a celebration of her achievements, and Susanna couldn’t even keep it together for a few hours without writing herself off. It made her furious. The moment had finally arrived to be open about her feelings, and Susanna had pissed all over it. Even after all that, Rachael’s biggest concern was for Susanna’s wellbeing. Well what about her wellbeing? Enough was enough. She was not going to put herself through that shit any longer. ‘Piss or get off the pot,’ that was what her mother used to say. Rachael exited the stall; her arse had fallen asleep from sitting on the hard, plastic toilet seat for over half an hour. She approached the bathroom mirror, removed some red lipstick from her clasp and fixed her lips. She dabbed at the corner of her eyes with her fingers, removing some lingering tears. It was obvious that she had been crying, her bloodshot eyes would not withdraw for some time. She envied woman that could cry and then simply shake it off as though it had never happened. For her, crying was a face altering event; it had stamina. Composed or not though, they were going to have this out. Susanna would be too hungover to notice anyway and it was not as though Rachael cared about what the rest of the office thought about her. She was on to bigger and better things. Rachael made her way out into the office, and casually walked past Susanna’s desk. Susanna sat flicking through files on her computer, seemingly engrossed. She was immaculately dressed in a two-piece lavender suit, wearing a silk purple scarf tied in a bow around her neck. Interesting colour palette baring in mind she was clearly concealing a magnificent shiner, Rachael considered. Rachael continued to walk past as if she hadn’t noticed her ‘Good morning, beautiful. How did you sleep?’ Susanna said after clearing her throat. ‘Are you fucking serious? You’re cracking jokes? Honestly Susanna you are incorrigible,’ Rachael turned and spat in her lowest venomous whisper. Susanna looked a bit puzzled, then said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know what I did was wrong, I just feel terrible about it all. Can you ever find it in your heart to forgive me?’ Rachael noticed that Susanna’s voice sounded strange, almost modular. ‘Do you even know what it was that you did, Sue?’ Rachael asked. Susanna started at her blankly for a few seconds. ‘Well of course you don’t! You were off your fucking head, again!’ Rachael raised her voice a bit louder now. She was feeling better about herself, if Susanna had not remembered what had happened then perhaps the consequences of hitting her weren’t as damning as she had predicted. This disaster could be salvaged, but only after a thorough and stern lecture on how horrendous Susanna’s behaviour had been. Rachael was able to get a closer look at Susanna’s eye, and it made her heart ache. Poor Susanna, she may be a mess but she did not deserve that. ‘We need to talk. Alone. Now,’ Rachael demanded, and stormed off into the private client meeting room. Susanna did not hesitate, she got up and followed Rachael. Rachael had her back turned to the door, and on hearing the frosted glass slide shut after Susanna entered, she twirled around, ready to tear into Susanna with the ferocity befitting of the level of fuck up from the previous evening. Rachael turned directly into Susanna’s warm kiss. For a moment, she felt like she was floating, breathing in Susanna’s intoxicating aroma of citrus and coffee as she basked in the sweet embrace that she had yearned for with all of her heart, for so long. She was enraptured, and it was divine. How long they had kissed, Racheal wouldn’t have known, but eventually, Susanna broke free, Rachel still standing there with yearning for a few seconds longer with her eyes closed. She opened her eyes, to find Susanna now pressed up against the wall with her hands behind her back, wearing a cheeky, lascivious grin and burning through her with eyes full of intent. ‘Now, I know I was a bad girl, but what if I were to make it up to you?’ Susanna asked, pouting her lips with a sexiness that Rachael didn’t know she possessed. ‘I don’t know Sue. You fucked up pretty bad last night, just because, well, because of this, doesn’t mean you are completely off the hook you know. We are going to need to talk about how we move forward.’ Who was Rachael kidding? Susanna had her. ‘Yes, I know, of course. For today though, why don’t we just go and have some fun? Let’s ditch and go out to lunch, your choice. I’ll pay…’ Susanna said convincingly. Rachael was undeniably attracted to this new found assertion. ‘Well, I only came in to grab a few things anyway. Technically you would be the only one ditching.’ ‘Excellent. Let’s get the fuck out of here, shall we?’ Susanna extended a hooked arm to Rachael. ‘Get out of here dickhead!’ Rachael said, laughing. She was unable to hide the fact that Susanna had melted her now. ‘I’ll come to lunch, but we are not walking out of here like that and you know it!’ ‘Very well, after you madame.’ Rachael opened the frosted sliding door, feeling the flush in her cheeks and felt a surge of adrenalin pumping through her. She hadn’t felt like this since she was thirteen. ◆◆◆ Rachael sipped on her third Mezcal Margherita as she sunk into the lavish chestnut armchair at Juju’s bar and stage. The dulcet notes of slow, jazzy saxophone sluiced through the low chatter of the crowd, and she watched as an older couple got up and started to slow dance. The fiasco at The Alchemist was a distant memory now, and certainly did not hold the weight that it had held for her this morning. After coffee and nibbles at The Botanist they had dined at La Chapelle on Red Mullet and Dorset Crab whilst drinking champagne. It was all so posh, but Susanna said to pick anywhere that Rachael liked, so she did. A sufficient amount of grovelling was required in order to level the playing field between them, at least ostensibly anyway. Susanna was definitely making it up to her. ‘Let me get this straight. I kiss some paralegal bird and then, you just punch me?’ Susanna said in a playful tone. They both burst out laughing, Rachael was feeling more than a little drunk now. Susanna had surprised her though. She was taking it easy, not jumping up to grab the next drink as soon as they finished a round. She was being so good she made Rachael feel like she might be the one with the drinking problem. ‘Oh, shut up Sue. I’ll give you another one if you carry on like that,’ Rachael said, rolling up her denim jacket sleeve in jest. ‘Tell me something about yourself you have never told anyone,’ Susanna said. She was so inquisitive today, such a good listener. ‘You know everything about me Sue. Well, almost everything. Up until today I wasn’t entirely sure that, well, you were like me. You know, that you liked girls. It was quite a surprise when we kissed. A pleasant one, but still I was never really quite sure which way you swung,’ Rachael said. ‘Babes, you are honestly the only thing in my life that’s worth anything. I’m so glad that you have found it in your heart to forgive me, I’ve been a bit of a dick, haven’t I?’ Susanna asked. ‘A bit!’ Rachael scoffed, ‘and you haven’t been completely forgiven yet, missy.’ ‘Well I’m not done yet!’ Susanna said with a giggle. Susanna got up and cruised to the bar. Rachael could see her handing over some cash, she was settling the bill. ‘Okay I have a suggestion,’ Susanna said on her return from the bar. ‘Let’s take the long way back to mine. We can stroll along Primrose and get some of that Japanese cheesecake that is absolutely to die for on the way, what do you think?’ Rachael could have happily sat where she was in the warm armchair and drifted off to sleep. ‘Sounds good,’ Rachael said, stifling a yawn. ‘After that though, I will probably have to call it. Big day tomorrow, want to be bright eyed and bushy tailed.’ ‘It’s just cheesecake, babe. Get me home safe and I’ll call you a cab. My treat,’ Susanna said with a wink. Rachael couldn’t argue with that. She was wrecked. She went to get up, and staggered a little. Susanna quickly grabbed her arm. ‘Easy there. Not hard to lose your legs after sitting down too long drinking Mezcal.’ ‘Thanks, Sue.’ Rachael said, steadying herself. ‘Some fresh air doesn’t sound like such a bad idea,’ Rachael added. They pushed passed the growing crowd of revellers and made their way out onto the street. It was early evening, the pale light of the day dimming, and a hint of crispness in the air that told the transition to night was imminent. Rachael pulled at her three-quarter length tan overcoat to keep in the warmth, and as she did, Susanna embraced her with a hug as they walked, rubbing her back in an effort to warm her up. She was being so sweet. They arrived at a small, unassuming Japanese restaurant, and after waiting a few minutes in a short takeaway queue, Susanna had ordered them a miniature baked cheese cake each and some honey madeleines. They meandered down Appold and on to Sun Street, zig zagging their way to Roman house, scoffing the best baked cheesecake Rachael had ever had. ‘How did you find out about that place? I wouldn’t have even known it was there,’ Rachael said with a mouth full of honey madeleine. She wasn’t the daintiest eater, particular when tipsy. ‘I have my secret little pleasures,’ Susanna said with a mischievous smile. ‘Tell me, what is involved in this big day tomorrow.’ ‘Not much, I would imagine. Probably just fapping about meeting people. It’s not the point Sue, I don’t want to be dusty on my first day.’ Rachael knew exactly where Susanna was headed with this line of questioning, she wanted to continue the party. ‘And you won’t be. Just a nightcap while we wait for your cab. Come on, you can’t tell me you are going to wait out here,’ Susanna argued. Rachael hadn’t realised that they had arrived at Roman House apartment complex. Waiting out in the cold didn’t bother her, she might even sober up a bit, but she was suddenly tingling at the prospect that something might happen between them if she was to head up to Susanna’s apartment. ‘One drink,’ Rachael announced. ‘One drink,’ Susanna agreed. ‘Come on then.’ They took the lift up to the sixth floor. Rachael followed Susanna as she exited the lift and strode down the hallway, passing a stoner looking guy that had popped his head out of his apartment. ‘All right, Sue? Who is your friend? Raincheck on that movie marathon then?’ the man asked. ‘Sure,’ Susanna said over her shoulder without breaking stride. Rachael smiled a thin smile and closely followed behind Susanna. They stopped at room 622, Susanna fumbled around with her keys for a bit and opened the door. The apartment was exactly as Rachael had imagined it. Modern and stylish, with all the accoutrements that you would expect to see in serviced apartments this side of London, but with the air of neglect of a bachelor pad. The second Rachael crossed the threshold, she was hit by the thick smell of stale piss. There were columns of take-out containers stacked on the kitchen bench, which still had a significant amount of spoiled food in them. Squashed cans of ale fought for space on her coffee table, covered with ash and cigarette butts. Empty bottles of gin were everywhere, and so varied in brand and size that Rachael could be forgiven for thinking that Susanna might be collecting them. The couch that was set up in front of the television adorning one of the walls seemed relatively clean and safe in comparison to the rest of the apartment, so Rachael decided to sit there. ‘I’m sorry about the state of the place, it is a fucking bomb sight at the moment,’ Susanna sung out. She was rifling through the freezer, presumedly looking for something to drink. ‘Nah, that’s okay. You should see my place at the moment,’ Rachael said. It was immaculate, as always. ‘Ah here we are!’ Susanna exclaimed, producing a pink bottle of gin from the freezer. ‘Tom Collins?’ ‘Yeh, why not,’ Rachael said, craning her neck. Susanna pottered around for a little while longer, then produced two glasses, pouring two generous helping of pink Gin. She swanned over to where Rachael was sitting and handed her a glass as she sat down beside her. ‘Diet Tom Collins, without the sugar. Or the lemon. Or the soda water,’ Susanna said, sniggering. There was a slight pause while they revered each other. ‘To us!’ ‘To us,’ Rachael said sheepishly. Apart from sitting in this shithole of an apartment, the entire day had been absolutely perfect, Rachael reflected. ‘Wait here a sec, I have a surprise for you,’ Susanna said. ‘I’m not going anywhere yet. I promised you a drink, and this gin is so stiff it might take me a while,’ Rachael said. Susanna disappeared into the bedroom. She seemed to be taking a while, Rachael wondered what she was up to. There really was no need to try and top her effort of arse kissing today, Rachael had forgiven her the instant that they had kissed. She stared at the television screen that was set in the wall. Through its blank, muted reflection she could make out the outline of the apartment. Rachael caught a flicker of movement in the reflection of the screen, and as she turned her view was replaced with the inside of a thick plastic bag. Terror. She clawed at her neck, struggling to remove it, but her hands were smacked away and she was pulled backwards with such a force that she felt as though her neck would snap. Rachael arched backward over the top of the couch, giving her an upside-down view of the apartment, and her assailant. It was Susanna. Rachael was losing energy now. Her whole body was tingling, and her face was numb. Her mind slowed down, and the terror slipped away. She felt sleepy. She looked up through the translucent plastic, the room a blur of colours and shapes. She tried to focus on Susanna, the fuzzy image of her profile looked furious, and yet delighted at the same time. Rachael managed a muffled, ‘Sue…why?’ ‘The name,’ Susanna said with a muted aggression that chilled Rachael to the bone, ‘is Suzette.’ Rachael was able to discern the words, but didn’t understand. A tear rolled down her cheek and collected inside the plastic bag, she heaved her last laboured breath, and Rachael was no more.