"I know it does, and I appreciate your concern for my well-being," said Brains, keeping his eyes on the road. "But there's really no need. It's been a year. I'm so over him."
"Seeing anyone else?"
"Wouldn't prove anything if I did."
"What's she like anyway?"
"Young, blonde. Very pretty. Smart. I like her."
"I hate her already," I said.
"Don't wind youself up."
"I just like to be prepared," I said.
At length we found the place, a horrible squat brick church. Sydney Anglicans keep their aesthetics under their hat, if not actually up their arse. We were early enough that our Fearless Leader was still standing beneath the jacaranda on the lawn, meeting the people.
This sort of thing was his forte. He looked impossibly handsome, just like his jacket photo on Chief Inspector CEO. Out of everyone in my B.Comms year, only Fearless had really done well for himself, and that was in linking crime novel semiotics with management theory which, frankly, I don't rate.
I'm in the minority there. "Are those professional photographers?" I asked.
"Women's Weekly," said Brains, squinting.
"Our Fearless, right up there with Olympic medallists and game show hosts," I said. "Chokes me up. Don't it just restore your faith in the system?"
"Cheer up," said Brains. "Maybe it's for 'Where Are They Now?'"
"David, Kate, I'm so glad you could make it," said our Fearless Leader warmly. "You remember my mother."
"Do I what," I said as I took the cool hand offered me. As if Fearless himself weren't bad enough, his mother Frances was a lawyer, and wrote a cogently witty column on legal matters for a national paper. She was in her late forties and, in designer frock with glossy hair knotted at the back of her neck, looked ten years younger. The guests were mostly her friends from the cruising yacht club; journalists, TV producers, QCs and politicians.
I liked to call her Aunt Fanny, especially after she asked me please to stop.
"Ah, Kate, a nose ring," she said. "How very counter-culture."
"Written much lately?" asked Fearless hastily. Since he'd been published he had become very sensitive to the feelings of those who hadn't.
"I'm working on a book about passive aggression as martial art," I said. "Guy comes at me with a knife, I say 'Why does this all have to be about YOU?'"
Brains laughed out loud. Fanny gave a tight smile. Our Fearless Leader said: "That's really very funny, you should work on it..."
"Feh," I said. "It'll never be up there with Audit Whodunnit."
"Eric's publishers are here," said Fanny. "Remind me to introduce you."
Brains steered me away.
"Fifteen-all," I said.
"Are you okay?"
"Thriving," he said. "Never been better."
"Really? You look like shit."
We found a pew, not too close, not too far away. "I think it just hit me what we're here for," said Brains wearily. "I'll be all right. Amuse me. Some handbag you're turning out to be."
"D'you reckon his mother's a dyke?"
"I think she'd keep floods out of Holland, yes."
"One thing is for sure," I said. "I'm not sticking any finger in that."
He grinned, but he still looked ill. Brains has a millennium clock on his Web page, which predicts the date of his demise based on his T-cell count. God bless combination therapies, which had wound back Judgement Day about sixteen years over the last six months. I'd nearly forgotten to be frightened for him.
"We've never been to a wedding together before, only funerals," I said.
"Melodrama queen," said Brains, winding his fingers in my hand.
The first horrible chords of the wedding march rang out. I twisted in my pew to get a look at this Irene chick.
So your life changes. Between one heartbeat and the next.
She was wearing an utterly plain white dress and a scrap of veil, and she carried some apricot roses in the crook of her arm. Her other arm was linked with her Papa's, and she was grinning up at him, all sunshine and mischief, peaches. Impossibly, her hair was cropped close to her head and a tattooed Celtic knot circled her upper arm.
She caught sight of me, did a double take at my tomboy getup, then, slowly but deliberately, winked. I thought I'd faint.
What on earth did Aunt Fanny make of this? And where in the world had our Fearless Leader found such a Princess?
"Earth to planet Kate," said Brains.
"Save me," I said. By the time we got to the reception in a whitewashed colonial mansion, my sole intention was to drink myself silly. I started in on the Brandy Alexanders.
"Great," said Brains. "My boyfriend gets married and my on-line moral support gets tanked. This is MY tragedy, goddammit."
"Don't be greedy," I said. "There's more than enough to go around."
Brains helped himself to a passing cocktail. "Say, if I were to pick up one of the catering staff," he said, looking thoughtfully after the waiter, "might that be considered rude?"
"At least wait till after the speeches," I said.
My Princess appeared at my elbow. "You must be David and Kate. Eric's told me what great friends you were at uni. I hope you'll be my friends too," she said simply.
I looked askance. I knew this tactic well; hit hard and early. In my heyday I'd used the same line to reel in any number of sweet young things. What was she doing trying it out on a dowdy old feminazi like me? I suspected a Plot.
But my Princess was dauntless. "You've got to tell me -- what have you been up to since you graduated? I've just finished myself and I need clues," she said.
Brains and I exchanged glances. "As role models go, you might find us just a teensy bit disappointing," I said.
"Perfect," said the Princess stoutly. "Much better than Eric's mother. She's impossible to live up to. Help prepare me for the worst."
Brains grinned. "Ho-kay, why don't I start? I simulate orgasm for a 0055 number."
"No! What's it like?"
"Pays all right. Can be very funny," he said. "I had this one guy? He wanted to be a baby. I had to give him his bottle and change his nappy and spank him when he was bad."
"My GOD," said the Princess, laughing. "I had no idea the recession was so grim. Don't tell me you can top that," she said, smiling up at me.
"Umm," I said distractedly. "I work in marketing."
"Keep going," said Brains, with malice.
"Who for?" asked the Princess.
"Maker of adult sanitary products. I handle feminine hygiene. You wouldn't believe," I said acidly, "the bad press pads get."
She was breathless with laughter. "Do tell."
"Trouble is, menstrual blood oxidises on contact with air. Hence the smell."
"Fish fingers," said the Princess faintly.
"Exactly. Plus there's your mother telling you tampons will break your hymen. So all these schoolgirls walk around with a slice of sandwich loaf in their undies till they learn better. Creates bad associations that last a lifetime."
"Oh," said the Princess, dabbing her eyes, "I know, I know."
"It's my job to make pads hip and groovy again. So I stress the technology angle. Special, super-absorbant layers of sphagnum moss. Wings! Contoured for a woman's form..."
"Admit it," said Brains. "You love every minute of it."
"Not to the point of actually using the product," I said. "Ooze-a-RAM-a."
The weeping Princess had covered her mouth with her hands and was staring wildly over my shoulder. I turned too quickly and spilt Aunt Fanny's Black Russian all the way down her sleek frock.
"Jesus, Kate," she said. "My last ever Morrissey-Edmiston."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I said frantically, trying to mop up with a napkin.
"Just leave it," she snapped. "I wanted you to meet Peter Warnock. He's Eric's publisher."
"Charmed," said the publisher flatly.
As soon as Brains and I had gotten away I said: "My work on your planet is done."
"Not till after the speeches," said Brains grimly.
"Tell me that's not Robbie Quinn coming over to say hello."
Brains glanced over. "I don't think it would help if I did."
Robbie's one of Eric's management consultant colleagues -- reason enough to despise him, even without his other attributes.
"Kate, dear, I've been meaning to ask you something," he said. "I have this friend, a girl, and she's always wanted to try sex with a woman, and I wondered whether you'd be interested?"
"What, for a small fee or something?"
"Honey, if I did it for the money, I'd be working in management consulting."
"KATE," snapped Brains.
"Oh, don't mind her, we go on like this all the time," said Robbie genially. "Always tearing strips off each other, just like Tracy and Hepburn. How else would I know she cares? Actually, David, you can help me with another project of mine. A survey."
"Shoot," said Brains.
"This theory where all men have had same-sex experiences, or seventy per cent or something? I don't believe it! So tell me--"
"Yes, Robbie. I'm gay."
"Why don't you ask Eric?" I said sweetly, just as the First Couple joined us. Brains kicked me under the table, hard. He'd have done better kicking Robbie.
"Eric, have you ever had a homosexual experience?" asked Robbie. "Only they say seven out of every ten..."
"I've always wanted to," said the Princess.
"Well, obviously," said Robbie. "You're a girl."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Hot girl-on-girl action. It's a universal fantasy, isn't it?"
"Maybe for straight men," I growled.
"But it's different with men, isn't it? asked Robbie. "I just couldn't IMAGINE kissing another man, let alone anal. I mean, I don't mean to denigrate your orientation in any way David, it's just that I am, like, two HUNDRED per cent straight. So I'm not buying those stats."
I opened my mouth but Brains interrupted me: "You can help me with a survey of my own, Rob," he said. "Have you ever seen a UFO?"
"A UFO? Sure," he said.
"The Royal National Park," said Robbie. "I was camping with this mate of mine, right? Nothing sexual, just a bushwalking weekend. Anyway, so we saw these weird lights in the sky, like a plane but silent and way too fast."
"That's weird," said the Princess. "I saw lights in the sky one time, from my parent's house in Cronulla. They have this deck on the back which looks south towards Maianbar, and these things were just flying around over that."
"Figures," said Brains. "Ask any five Sydney people and two will have seen them. Always over the Southern suburbs."
"Seen what?" asked the Princess. "Why always there?"
"Fighter planes flying out of Holsworthy," he said. "I went through this very Mulder phase till I figured it out."
"I dunno," said Robbie. "I know what I saw. It was just like in Close Encounters."
"But how do you know it wasn't seeing Close Encounters that made you think that?" asked the Princess. "Maybe you just saw what you wanted to see."
"I told you, I know what I saw," said Robbie.
Under his breath, Fearless said to Brains "How are you?"
"Great," said Brains.
"I'm sorry," said Fearless.
"Why?" asked Brains.
"I just am," said Fearless. "I still --"
They both suddenly noticed I was listening. Fearless blushed. I should explain that Fearless left Brains not long after Brains went into hospital the first time. Fearless told us that sickness made him "feel funny inside." So much for our Executive Detective. In retrospect, my nickname for him is a bit ironic.
"How are you, Kate?" he asked.
"Underemployed. Bitter," I said.
"You never give an inch," he said. "Why won't you just give a little?"
"Yeah," I said. "Compromise or BE compromised. Right?"
"Christ," said Brains. "Both of you, just give it a rest."
"Come on Irene, we must mingle," said Fearless to his bride.
"Enjoy my wedding," she said, and leaned over to kiss me on the cheek. Her breath was warm and her skin soft as a kitten's fur, but it was the smell of sweat trickling from her armpits that stopped my heart.
"Aren't they great together?" said Robbie fondly. Neither of us spoke. "Oh, look! It's Stuart Littlemore! I must go and tell him how much I admire his work," he said, and moved off.
"If I were a real Warrior Princess, I'd cut all their heads off with my sword," I said musingly.
"I honour you for the thought," said Brains. "If I were really Brains I'd build a Nemesis Bomb and destroy them all."
"That would be so cool."
We indulged our fantasies for a while.
"Just how catastrophic do you think they'll be?" I asked idly. "On a scale of one to ten. A billion?"
"Maybe they'll be happy," said Brains.
My heart contracted. I didn't want my Princess to be happy with anyone but me. Let alone a man. Let alone our Fearless Leader. I felt like I was sickening for the flu.
"Dance with me," I said to Brains.
"Oh, no," said Brains, but I hauled him out onto the floor. We were very clearly the understudies for the First Couple: cute enough, but a little shabbier and kind of funny-looking. I led. I hugged David tight. He held himself stiff.
"Can I cut in?" asked the Princess. David sighed and turned to her but she ducked under his arm and grabbed me. I just died. The heads we turned ruled Sydney. She danced me away.
"Don't you like Eric?" she asked.
"Used to," I said. "He's changed a lot."
"What did he used to be like?"
I thought about it. "Like a mafia don," I said. "We'd go out to dinner, this huge group of us, and he'd sit at the head of the table and bestow blessings on his familia. Smiling in the candlelight. We all adored him back then."
"I'm not in love with him, you know," she said.
"So why get married?"
"He's my best friend," she said seriously. "He needs someone like me to look after him. And he's kind. Plus, there's the money."
"Tell me another story," she begged. Under the baby powder and soap I could smell her arousal, yeasty and wet. My nipples ached.
"What do you want to hear?" I croaked. "'Biker Nurses on Crack'? 'Lesbian Psychokillers Go Amsterdam'?"
"You're the first lesbian I've ever met that I really liked," she whispered.
"Gee, I wonder where this is heading?"
"Please?" said the Princess forlornly, standing still in the middle of the dance floor. My heart melted. I touched her cheek.
"All right," I said. "All right."
To David, as we passed, I said: "Cover for me." He gave me a look of pure despair, but mounted guard outside the bathroom door. I quite saw his point: what'd he ever done to deserve a handbag like me?
But hey. If I've learned one thing in my life it's this. When you grow up in the leafy suburbs of Sydney you have to take your adventures where you find them.
And so it came to pass that my Princess leaned against the sink with her wedding dress up and her panties around her slender ankles, while I held her labia apart and touched her clitoris lightly, so lightly with my tongue.
"Please," she said, "oh, please." So I kissed her softly and then harder, and then I used my fingers, and then, gently, my teeth. My Princess tasted like seawater. She groaned and rocked.
Through the door we heard voices. "Have you seen Irene?" asked Fearless.
"Irene? Gosh! Yes! They were just here a minute ago..." said Brains loudly.
"They?" asked Fanny, ominously.
"She was chatting to Kate about something..."
Aunt Fanny raised her voice: "Well where are they now?" At which point my Princess cried out my name and came and came and came, and the sea ran into my mouth and spilled out over my chin.