Authors: Genevieve Gannon
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance
Clementine’s hands trembled as she layered on more makeup. War paint. That’s what her mother used to call it. It’s a funny name for pink waxes and creams that smell like jasmine, she thought, as her fingers worked busily. Who thinks of soldiers going into battle armed with semi-automatic machine guns and a pot of pearlescent eye shadow? She dabbed some powder across her eyelids and watched the angry red colour disappear from her skin. What had been irritated and puffy now looked smooth and carefree. The tracks left by the thousand tissues that had been dragged across her eyes to soak up tears vanished.
That must be where the term comes from, she thought. It’s camouflage.
Her phone trilled, making her jump, and her pulse accelerated at the sound of the electronic bells.
‘You’re not going, are you?’ Melanie said before Clem had a chance to speak.
‘I have to go. I promised Mirabella I would.’
‘Don’t worry about her,’ Melanie urged. ‘She’s a bitch.’
‘It’s not just that,’ Clem’s voice was soft. ‘I can’t stop living my life just because of what happened.’
‘Good. Yes. That’s the right attitude. Have you got a killer revenge dress?’
Clementine slid her hand over the moss-coloured gown. It had cost $400.
‘It took me a month to find. What do you wear to a day of torture? It seems irrelevant. You may as well put on your pyjamas and be comfortable.’
‘Oh, Clem,’ Melanie’s voice became uncharacteristically gentle. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Clem sighed. ‘It’s not your fault.’
‘It’s not your fault either.’
Clementine rubbed her silk skirt between her fingers and bit her lip. Melanie had listened patiently to hours of her relationship autopsy. Clem had already said to Melanie one thousand times: ‘I should have known.’ One thousand and one times Melanie had said back: ‘You couldn’t have.’
‘How could I let this happen?’ she said again.
‘You’re a psychologist. Not a psychic.’
Clementine looked at the mirror. The person staring back was polished and a little judgemental. Her freckles were dulled by a layer of expensive foundation; an attempt at putting on a brave face. Her own wasn’t ready yet, so she was painting on courage with blush and pointed eyeliner pens.
‘Mel, can I call you back? I’m still in phase one of my survival plan.’
‘Sure. I’ll be here.’
Clem hung up and continued applying her disguise. When she had found out she would be seeing Jason at Mirabella’s wedding she had meticulously researched collagen creams, mineral powders and acids until she had selected a batch of products that would make her look young and fresh, and capable of feats of flexibility that would rival a Russian gymnast. She owned a small collection of basic makeup, but today’s event called for heavy-duty artifice.
She added lipstick. Her mouth instantly looked happier. Even though the corners remained downturned, her lips were a cheery colour. Sweaty gym clothes lay beside her in a pile. After the breakup, she had allowed herself exactly seventy-two hours to wallow and poison herself with caramelised oranges and Kahlua before she had started her rehabilitation. Exercise, fresh food, no booze, high-potassium meals and lots of water. It was what she prescribed for the heartbroken women who darkened her office door.
But it hadn’t worked. Perhaps it was guilt.
Her insides contracted as she thought of the night Melanie had discovered the truth. Melanie had ordered Clem to join her for dinner after Clementine had spent months neglecting her friends and her work commitments. She had stopped running her night-time couples counselling sessions, and had struck regular appointments from her calendar to make room for Jason. Once she had even called in sick to her Sunday-night radio show for divorcées, just for a few extra hours in his arms. Melanie had been furious when she’d heard.
‘I’m sorry,’ Clem had said over plates of spaghetti marinara, sounding not even a little bit sorry. Her friend was frowning. Clementine shifted in her chair. ‘Is something wrong?’
Melanie Sissowitz was a high-powered talent agent and steadfast single girl. She went on more dates than anybody Clementine had ever encountered. Including fictional characters. So she wouldn’t have expected Melanie to be bothered by her behaviour. ‘Mel? What is it?’
‘Aside from the fact you shouldn’t be blowing off work for a man, I have something … I have discovered something.’ She looked at her food and started prodding her pasta with her fork.
Clementine’s own fork hovered halfway to her mouth. Her appetite vanished. ‘What? What’s happened?’
Melanie sighed. ‘Do you know who this is?’ She held up a glossy weekend magazine opened to a black-and-white photo of one of their regular writers.
‘The gossip writer for the
. Amanda Lauder, isn’t it? I wonder if she has any connection to the makeup company.’
‘It’s not her real name,’ said Melanie, solemnly. ‘Her real name is Amanda Ceravic. Her husband manages logistics for Brinkley Lin. His name is Jason. Jason Ceravic. I’m really sorry, Clem — she’s married to your boyfriend.’
‘No,’ Clementine said, taking the magazine. ‘No, that’s impossible. My Jason works for a company based out of China. That’s why he’s always out of town on the weekend. That’s why he sometimes has to cancel at the last minute …’
Melanie took a gulp of wine.
‘I can’t believe this,’ Clem shook her head.
‘Apparently they’ve been married six years.’
Clementine pushed her plate away. ‘I feel sick … So this is what it’s like to have a broken heart.’
‘Your heart will mend,’ Melanie pressed her hand. ‘But if this gets out, imagine what it will do to your career.’
‘My practice,’ Clem whispered. She had started out as a family psychologist, but over the years she had developed a reputation as a crack couples counsellor. ‘I could lose everything.’
‘You don’t have to lose everything,’ Melanie said. ‘Just lose him.’
For their first date, Jason had taken Clementine to a tiny Italian place all the way out in Chullora. It was a forty-minute drive from their sibling suburbs of Double Bay and Paddington, but once they arrived her misgivings about the distance disappeared. The snug restaurant’s bluestone walls and attentive staff charmed and distracted her. The dining room held only nine tables, each lit by the waxy, waning light of a single candle, and covered with a brocade table cloth.
‘I’m so glad they mixed up our orders at that restaurant,’ he said, tearing up a breadstick. ‘If they hadn’t given you my medium steak instead of your medium–rare, we never would have met.’
‘See, it pays to be fussy,’ she grinned at him.
Jason was aggressively handsome. He had tiny smile crinkles at the corner of his eyes and thick black lashes. One had slipped loose and was sitting on his cheek. Clementine had the ridiculous urge to reach forward and lift it off with the tip of her finger, and tell him to blow it and make a wish so she could feel his breath on her palm.
Later that night he had torn off her clothes. Nobody had ever treated her like that. Previous partners had patiently removed their ties and shirts while she unlaced her sensible shoes. Then they had folded their trousers over the back of a chair, following her lead as she hung her dress on a padded hanger. Jason had ripped open her shirt without undoing any of the buttons. And when he had yanked off her knickers, his thumbs tore right through the lace.
‘I’ll buy you another pair,’ he breathed in her ear. Goosebumps peppered her skin.
For six months it was the same. Twice a week they would stare into each other’s eyes over dinner at a small, out-of-the-way restaurant. They would finish the night tangled in Clementine’s bed sheets, their skin not only flushed and sweaty, but scratched and bitten and lightly bruised. He would hold her for half an hour, then roll off the mattress and slide on his boxer-shorts. They never went to his place. Never ate in the city or at any well-known restaurant.
‘I want to have dinner with you, not with two hundred wannabes out to be seen,’ he had said the one time Clementine had pressed him on this point.
A smart woman would have emptied her mind of him the moment she found out that he had a wife. A smart woman would have consigned him to the dating scrap-heap with all the liars and lechers, and that man who had called her Kate on the third date. And, of course, she did end it. But that didn’t mean she had stopped loving the bastard.
And now she had to spend an afternoon with him, his wife and two hundred of Sydney’s most odious people at Mirabella’s wedding. She didn’t even have a date. (‘Clem, darling, I did wonder whether I should put “plus-one” on your invitation, but I didn’t want you to be embarrassed about not having anybody to bring.’)
She was dreading it.
For the finishing touch on her ‘I’m over you’ costume, Clementine reached for her fattening mascara. It had an applicator like a chimney-sweep’s brush, and contained a magical ingredient that transformed all women into gummy-lashed sirens. Psychology 101: Makeup is applied so that the eyes appear larger and their owner more vulnerable, or childlike. Which is a little sick if you think of it. But she wanted to look good. She needed to look good. Her hand trembled as she brought the bristles to her face. She had to grip her wrist to steady it. It wasn’t just Jason she had to convince; she had to fool every single person at the wedding into thinking she felt nothing for him. Images of the scandalous article Amanda Ceravic would write about the marriage counsellor who stole her husband filled Clementine’s mind. She grabbed her phone and dialled Melanie.
‘I need you to talk me through my pre-wedding nerves,’ she said.
‘You’re much smarter than she is. She’s vacuous and vain. Another Mirabella.’
‘Remind me how they know each other again?’
‘They both suffer the same debilitating condition: socialitis. Neither of them can get through a week without going to a launch or a benefit.’ Melanie huffed on the other end of the phone. ‘I don’t know what it is those two are supposed to contribute to those events; their most prominent features are their skeletons.’
Clementine squeezed her hands into tight fists until her nails burrowed red crescents into her flesh. The thought of Amanda filled her with a savage jealousy. But mostly she was torn apart by the injustice of the whole situation.
She called a taxi, then went into the bedroom to put on the shoes she had bought in Paris. They still had the lovely smell of fresh leather. Clementine only allowed them out of their tissue-paper cocoon on very special occasions. She had bought them to prove a point to a sales girl who had wrinkled her debutante nose at her as though she didn’t belong in the Saint-Germain boutique. They were far too expensive, but on days like this she was grateful to have them. In these shoes she was invincible and glamorous. Or at least had glamorous feet. As she leaned down to pull the left strap around her ankle, she felt a snap.
The silver buckle had come off in her hand. The cab horn blared. ‘Think positive,’ Clementine murmured as she tried to jam her keys into her tiny handbag. They jingled in her shaking hands.
Clementine took a seat on a church pew between two men, hoping Jason would think one of them was her date. But she couldn’t see him. The church felt overheated. She twisted the ring on her middle finger; a rose-gold filigree band her mother had left her.
By the time she arrived at the reception she was sick with anxiety, and just wanted to eat her plate of salmon and go home. Around her, unfamiliar people were greeting each other; throwing air kisses and calling out names. ‘Bronwyn, how are you?’ ‘Chelsea!’ ‘Laura, it’s been too long!’ ‘Amanda!’
Clem’s head snapped up. Was that—?
Clementine turned slowly. There she was, extending a slender arm to scoop up the skirt of her silver dress. It was backless and clung tightly to her elegant frame. Clementine noted, with an ache, that Amanda Ceravic was far more stunning in person than in the photographs she had scanned during late-night internet-stalking frenzies. Her short, sharp, flaxen hair was all the more intimidating, because anybody can be confident with flowing curls. Clem envied her angular frame. She liked her own figure most of the time, but this confidence evaporated when she saw Amanda.
‘I wouldn’t kick that out of bed,’ said an appreciative voice.
Clementine turned around. ‘Dani? Daniela DeLuca?’
‘Clem.’ Her old friend held her arms out. ‘It’s been months.’
Clementine hugged her. ‘It’s so good to see you,’ she said, meaning it.
‘How are you?’
‘Fighting off crippling self-hatred. You?’
‘Ha! Preparing my stomach lining for lots and lots of wine,’ Daniela held up a dinner roll. Clem laughed.
‘You look wonderful.’
Dani’s eyes dropped to her shoes as she pulled at her dress strap. ‘I had to borrow this from my cousin Concetta. It doesn’t really fit.’
Daniela never wore dresses or anything feminine. She had an intense, natural beauty that would only have been marred by cosmetic pigments. Her features were coloured exclusively from a brown palette: skin like a strong café latte, dark chocolate hair and hazelnut eyes. Her frame was as thin and delicate as a hummingbird.
Despite her appearance, she was one of the toughest women Clem knew. She was an engineer who spent her days on construction sites with men, and was known for her imagination and capacity to preserve beauty in functionality. Clementine had last run into her when Daniela had a contract near her Redfern office. She had been dressed in jeans and denim work-shirts that nearly drowned her, and had been swinging a spirit-level like a mace.
‘Who wouldn’t you kick out of bed? Him or her?’ Clem asked.
As they watched Amanda and Jason glide across the room, Clementine’s insides curdled.
‘Either. I’m as straight as they come, but look at her — she’s exquisite.’
‘You spend too much time on building sites. Next thing I know, you’ll be hollering “Show uz yer tits”.’
‘Well I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s keeping them pointed up like that. Look at that dress: you’d get more coverage from a cleverly folded napkin.’