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Caluna knew it was going to be a difficult night. It wasn’t that she disliked John. He was a really sweet guy and she’d enjoyed a lot of their time together. He just wasn’t quite right for her. It hadn’t been deliberate. She’d tried her best to see past the things she didn’t like so much about him because in so many ways he was really good for her and was undoubtedly really good to her, but in the end she couldn’t control how she felt. She had tried so hard to let him down gently, too, but he simply couldn’t understand that no matter how much she liked him, she would never love him. She tried to explain that while she appreciated his devotion, his affection and his generosity, she had neither the energy nor the will to keep up with his intense, desperate passion, nor was she equipped to satisfy his eternal need for approval and reassurance. She sympathised with him. She had known periods in her own life of that same hollow, grasping neediness too, and she understood that her rejection would hurt him deeply. In the end, though, she had to tell him that she couldn’t fill that gnawing, gaping hole in his life any more. If she was going to be with someone, it would have to be with a strong guy, a self-reliant man, someone who could take care of himself. If that man didn’t come along, then she’d rather be alone than with the wrong man, and John was definitely the wrong man. So she ended it. She had to.

Tonight was a mutual friend’s birthday. Caluna had struggled with the idea of even going, knowing that John would be there too. They hadn’t communicated at all for about a month, since the horrible afternoon they’d met to exchange books and CDs they’d lent one another. She worried he’d still be angry and resentful, and that a night of supposed celebrations would end in tears and recriminations. Finally, though, her loyalty to Anna, who’d been so supportive after the break-up, won out. She could keep it together, she knew that. She just had to hope that John’s essential decency would let him be polite or, at worst, just steer clear of her for the night. They could probably escape with just a little bit of awkwardness and not ruin anyone’s night.

Of course, Anna hadn’t made things any easier. The party had a “pimps and hos” theme, so Caluna knew she would have to dress sexy. She had been fretting that John would become bitterly jealous seeing her dressed like a slut, knowing he wouldn’t be able to take advantage. He had always been so full of compliments about her body, especially when she wrapped it in a sexy outfit. He loved it when she wore sexy underwear, especially stockings or hold-ups, as she often did. But it had been weeks and weeks since they split and she loved dressing up, so he’d just have to deal with it. No doubt in the fit of blame and bitterness he’d entered since they broke up, he had forgotten all his compliments and admiration for her anyway, convincing himself that she was as ugly physically as he had tried to make her feel emotionally.

As she emerged from the shower and began to dry herself off, she looked in the full length mirror in her bedroom and wondered what he ever thought was so incredible about her body anyway. She was fairly pretty, she thought, and it seemed that her big green eyes, his long, thick, glossy black hair and her sallow skin gave her an unusual Mediterranean look amongst the pale, pasty faces of her native Glasgow. Otherwise, though, she saw nothing special at all. Her boobs were unexceptional. They were only a B cup, and though she was grateful that they would probably never suffer too badly from gravity’s cruel, unflattering demands, she did often think that bigger would be better. She seriously envied her more amply endowed friends. They could wear plunging necklines and expose glorious, sexy sweeps of décolletage, highlighting by an alluring crevasse of cleavage. Even with the best bra in the world, Caluna could never dream of that.

She gave her nipples a little tweak. It made no difference. They were small buttons, the colour of really good milk chocolate, with virtually no areolae at all, and they were always stiff and hard. Caluna had always felt that the way they stood out really stood out, and she smiled a little as she rolled them gently between her fingers and thumbs.

Her hands then slid down her chest to her stomach. The skin was soft and she was slim enough, but she resented the fact that no matter how many crunches she forced herself to do, she had never been able to develop the nipped-in waist she so desired. She also now focused on the slightly doughy texture her belly had assumed recently and ruefully recognised that she was now quite definitely into her mid-thirties. Physically, it was all downhill from here.

Her hands slid down still further. Her mother constantly irritated her by referring to her “child-bearing hips,” although she again reflected on her age and realised that that was ever more unlikely to become a reality. She ran her eyes over her stretch marks, a subtle anadolu yakası escort spider web of cream across the pale coffee of her skin. Her hands slipped round and down over the full curve of her arse, her body rotating so she could examine it in the mirror. Looking over her shoulder, she winced a little as she saw herself. It was probably her least favourite feature, such that even John’s endless compliments and kisses, reassuring pats and hungry gropes had never been enough to let her truly accept it. She juggled both fleshy cheeks in her hands, sighed heavily and turned back round.

At least she had her legs, she thought, stretching them out as she sat down on the edge of her bed. She was a keen runner, hitting the road for at least an hour or two every few days, and the dance class she’d recently taken up had further toned her already long, shapely pins. As she fastened her suspender belt round her waist, she smiled as she recalled the first time John had lain next to her on this bed, spending what seemed like hours, caressing and kissing her legs, running his tongue all the way from her ankle to the narrow angle where leg met sex. Slowly rolling up her suspenders – her favourites, fine and sheer with an old-fashioned seam up the back – Caluna thought back to their second date, when she’d worn this same pair. It was an old-school rock and roll night, so she’d dressed up in a 1950s dress, red with a big flared skirt and a petticoat underneath. John had gone wild when he realised what was underneath. When they danced, he kept rubbing her legs through the layers of material, entwining his fingers in her suspenders which forced her to continually smooth the fabric out again to conceal his actions. When they sat, he surreptitiously slipped his hand under the skirt to brush the tips of his fingers against the soft skin where her stockings ended.

Her mind wandered still further, remembering the way he had let his fingers wander still higher, first tentatively brushing against the soft hair that strayed out of her knickers then, as he grew more daring, pressing against the fabric itself, pushing insistently, feeling her wetness seeping through, rubbing her clit forcefully through the delicate lace. Suddenly Caluna glimpsed herself in the mirror and was almost shocked to see two fingers spreading the dark, hairy slit of her pussy open, exposing her glistening pink lips and rubbing gently down the side of her clit. She gasped and snapped her legs together. She looked at the clock and hurried to get ready.

She nimbly clipped her suspenders into place and slid into a tiny black silk thong, noting with some excitement how it clung to the sticky folds of her pussy. Caluna had little need of a bra at the best of times and on this night, in this outfit, she wasn’t going to wear one. She wriggled into the very slinkiest dress in her wardrobe. It was very short, just barely covering her arse, leaving a couple of inches of her suspenders in plain view. It embraced and enhanced her curves, but with its long sleeves and high neckline it teasingly concealed her flesh. The only skin it exposed was in the daring diamond slashed into the back, which started at the base of her neck and ended just about her suspender belt. She adjusted it now, to ensure that her underwear was indeed out of sight. Tonight she was a ho, sure enough, but at least she was a high class one.

She took one last look in the mirror. Her perky nipples were visible, and she smoothed her palms over them, enjoying the feeling of the soft velvety fabric. She adjusted the hem of the skirt, making sure it was even, and called a taxi. She still felt uneasy, and she began to fret again about how she would deal with John. At least she looked OK. She pulled on a ridiculously ostentatious three-quarter length faux fur coat that completed the look and went out to meet the cab.

As she arrived at the club, Caluna’s nerves were starting to get the better of her. John had been unbearable after they split. Bitchy emails and text messages, a few tearful late night phone calls and on the couple of times they’d met in person, a look in his eyes and venom in his words that had made her feel like a monster. She knew she wasn’t. In the months and years to come, she hoped he’d realise that it had been the right decision. She didn’t love him and, no matter how much he loved her, that was never going to change. He seemed to think it could. He thought he could persuade her to change her mind. He thought it was unfair that he’d given so much and she had nothing to give back. In his mind, loving him was a conscious act of will, not an unconscious stirring in the heart. She liked him, she really did, but nothing was going to change how she felt. He was just too much effort. His reaction to the split had only confirmed her decision as the correct one. Would he be the same kind of emotional wreck tonight? He could be so damn self-absorbed. Would he ruin Anna’s night ataşehir escort just to make a point about her supposed cruelty and selfishness? Caluna took a deep breath and walked in.

She tried not to look for him at first. Instead, she kept her head down, her hair covering her face. Anna bounded up to her.

“Caluna!” she cried out. She was already pretty drunk and threw her arms round her friend, seemingly as much for support as out of affection. “I’m so glad you came! Come and get some champagne!” Anna giggled and took Caluna’s arm.

Caluna mustered a wan half-smile as she approached the first of the two tables dedicated to the party. A few vague acquaintances waved in half-recognition but around this table was a group of people she didn’t really know at all. Anna introduced them all as friends and colleagues and relatives, but Caluna wasn’t listening. She slid quietly into one of two empty seats and glanced over at the other table. There she saw John, surrounded by all the people she knew here.

“Champagne!” cried Anna, forcing a glass into Caluna’s trembling hand.

“Oh, thanks,” she replied. She bit her lip as she glanced over at John again. Anna bounced down on to the seat beside her and leaned into her ear.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” she whispered. “He seems fine. And if he starts any of his shit, you know you were my friend first. I’ve got your back.” Caluna felt a pang of guilt. She didn’t want Anna worrying. But then, she wasn’t the one who was liable to start any shit. Oh for fuck’s sake, why did he even come? What was he trying to prove?

Caluna slipped her coat off and slung it over the back of her chair. Across the table, she could see Anna’s brother’s eyes wander from her face to her protruding nipples. She shyly sipped her drink. The thought of pulling him tonight and making it clear where she stood crossed her mind, but she quickly dismissed it. That would be petty – the kind of stunt John might pull – and besides, it was Anna’s baby brother! She gulped down another mouthful of champagne and turned to try and make small talk with…was this Anna’s cousin? Her workmate? Oh, who cares. Just anything to stop her constantly looking over to study John’s behaviour.

As she turned though, she heard a familiar voice behind her. This was going to be a difficult moment.

“Anna, my love! How’s your night going, you sexy little minx?” Anna squealed as John threw his arms round her and hugged her tightly. “Here,” he said. “Have some more fucking champagne! This is meant to be a party, damnit!” He laughed loudly and clinked glasses.

Caluna tensed up. Had he even noticed her coming in? Was he going to try and talk to her? She couldn’t bear this. She started to consider how long she would have to stay before she could slip away without seeming rude. At that, she smelled his hot, smoke-and-champagne breath on her cheek.

“Hey you.”

“Oh…um, hi. Uh, how are you doing?”

She looked up at him. He’d clearly made a bit of an effort with his outfit tonight too. He was clad in an oversized black suit with a very fine pinstripe, a purple shirt with the top couple of buttons undone, showing off his smooth pale skin and the sweep of thick dark hair that appeared like a shadow between his pecs. On his head was a broad-brimmed black fedora with a tuft of purple feathers inserted into the band and, even though the club was very dimly lit, he wore shades. She couldn’t help thinking it. He looked fucking hot.

“I’m fucking fantastic,” he replied, grinning maniacally. “I’ve got champagne, I’m surrounded by a bunch of hot girls in skimpy clothes, I’m with some of my best friends and the music is great in here. How about you?”

“Oh,” she mumbled, slightly taken aback by his overwhelming cheeriness. “I’m OK. I only just got here. I have champagne too!” She realised how ridiculous she sounded as she held up her glass, but she was suddenly lost for words. John clinked his own glass against hers, a little too hard. He’d obviously had quite a bit to drink already.

“Doesn’t Anna look amazing?” he continued. “That girl has legs to die for.” Caluna bristled slightly. What about her legs?

“Yeah, she’s very pretty. She probably ought to slow down on the champagne though. She’s going to end up getting very messy if she carries on at this rate.” Caluna knew John worried terribly about his female friends when they had too much to drink, and was trying to steer the conversation in a direction she could handle more comfortably.

“Ah, she’ll be fine,” John shrugged. “She’s amongst friends.”

“Hmmm…” Caluna was really struggling. She had expected this moment to be awkward, but she hadn’t expected to be the only one to feel it. On the one hand, she was glad there was no malice or bitterness from John, but she felt strangely hurt that he his emotional state had taken such a spectacular turn in just a few weeks. There was a pause.

“Hey,” he said, placing a finger ümraniye escort on her chin and turning her head to face his. His face was inches away from hers and she flinched slightly as she thought he was about to kiss her. “You still have the best fucking legs in this place.”

Caluna smiled slightly then turned her eyes away. That had been exactly what she needed to hear. He really knew how to give a compliment.

“Your nipples look great too. Doing without a bra are you, you little slut?” John grinned, grabbed a bottle of champagne from the table and walked away. Caluna followed him with her eyes. He returned to the other table and began topping up everyone’s glasses. She felt a surge of utterly unexpected jealousy. Why was he leaving her now?

Her eyes were fixed on him now. She recalled the night they had met. That had been Shona’s birthday party, and at first she’d thought him a brute. He had been loud and brash and gesticulating wildly. Caluna had just assumed she was another of Shona’s hyper-masculine friends, another of the silverback beasts that formed a strange kind of harem around her. As the night had progressed though, and she had a chance to talk to him privately, another side had emerged. The garrulous, demonstrative display was just a front, hiding a shy, self-conscious, sensitive soul. He had been sweet and funny and charming, wittily self-deprecating and cheekily flirtatious. She had been totally taken with him and had ended the night kissing him passionately at her front door after he walked her home. All those qualities had continued and she had thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him. But as time went on, she forced herself now to remember, wittily self-deprecating had become drearily self-conscious and cheekily flirtatious had become needy and defensive. The bad qualities had quickly come to outweigh the good and that was why she had to finish things.

Tonight though, his fragile, frightened interior was extremely well hidden. He was back to being the life and soul of the party, flirting outrageously with all the scantily clad women around both tables and delivering enthusiastic high-fives to his fellow pimps. Caluna gritted her teeth. She mentally slapped herself for the ridiculous thoughts crossing her mind, but she couldn’t help feeling like he should still be miserable at losing her and that she should still be the only one getting his compliments, his attention and his affection.

Idle chat with various acquaintances of Anna’s followed, and by the time she started her third glass of fizz Caluna had started to relax and enjoy herself. John had been drifting around talking to everyone, but she’d managed to subtly steer clear of any more difficult conversations. Still, her eyes kept flicking back to him involuntarily. He had his arms draped around two of Anna’s colleagues, a glass of champagne in each hand, and judging by their girlish giggles, Caluna knew he was turning on the charm. She tried to explain to herself that at a “pimps and hos” party, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a guy getting into character and portraying the alpha male player with some of the slutty-looking girls, but it was still painful to watch. She knew what he was like once he got going, and she knew what the reaction of the women he was talking to now meant. He could have his pick – maybe even have both – and she would be going home alone. They weren’t even all that hot! What was he doing? Why didn’t he want her anymore?

Taking a deep breath, Caluna reminded herself that it had been her decision to end things. This jealousy was nothing more than the irrational surfacing of abandoned emotions, brought on by a stressful situation. Her decision had been rational and reasoned. She had liked him. She still did. But she didn’t love him and she never would. That was what mattered. Not how fucking sexy he was tonight.

There was a dance floor upstairs and presently the group progressed towards it. Unsurprisingly, John was the first one moving. He loved to dance, to almost any kind of music. In here, it was mostly pretty cheesy party tunes and he was busting appropriately silly moves. All the girls in Anna’s group had their turn dancing with him and he was grinding up against a few of the other women in the place too. Caluna watched from the edge of the room, concealing her growing torment behind another glass of champagne. She had always loved dancing with him. Even when he was goofing around like tonight, he was a great mover. She hated that cliché about “dancing like nobody’s watching” but that’s exactly what he did. It was incredibly attractive. He had such enthusiasm, great rhythm and hips that moved more like those of a woman. Caluna recalled another cliché about the way someone dances reflecting the way they fuck and it was true with John. She guessed that all the attention he was getting tonight meant the other women here wanted to find that out for themselves.

Finally, she couldn’t take it. Inside, she knew it was crazy. She didn’t want him back but she couldn’t bear to see anyone else with him. It seemed so unfair that he was so happy and confident while she was so self-conscious and shaky. She saw him alone for a second and, seeing her opportunity, she strode on to the dance floor determined to stake her claim to his attention.

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