Dude woke with a start to the soft sliding of the bedroom window. Startled, he saw a figure silouetted in the dim moonlight.
"Dude?" came a whispered voice. He'd no doubt who it was.
"Amanda?" he whispered back, although there was no need to keep his voice low.
"I'm sorry," the figure continued, "I, I know it's late..."
"Come in, shut the window."
Amanda obeyed, drawing the curtains closed behind her. She tip-toed across the room to the side of the bed. There she stood for an unsettling time as if making up her mind. "Get in?" Dude suggested, throwing back the covers.
She sighed and Dude could hear her shuffling off her clothes. The body that wriggled in beside him was clad only in underwear - faintly cold from the night air. After a moment's hesitation, she accepted his outstretched arm and rolled in for a cuddle.
Dude was accutely aware of her long legs scissored around his - her pantied, puffy mons pressed against his thigh.
"I think we should talk," she told him in that, haughty, ice queen way that both infuriated him, yet turned him on.
"Talk," he shrugged.
"There's something I'd like to know."
Dude wished she'd get to the point. Was she here for a rerun of last night or to blow him off? Her scent brought back into sharp focus the excitement of the best sex he could remember having. If this was just going to be a heart to heart, he'd rather be left alone to get back to sleep.
"Tell me? Why did you have to do it... that way?"
"Use me like that?"
"Use you?" he jerked, turning to face her, "what do you mean use? It was an honest transaction. You could've refused. Nobody forced you."
"I had little choice," she replied, evenly - her voice still haughty and aloof. Dude's anger began to rise as his arousal subsided.
"You had every choice. You could've refused the deal and walked out. I didn't hold a gun to your head. Are you telling me it was rape?"
"I didn't come for an argument. I just want to know why? Why do you feel you have to coerce women to sleep with you?"
"I say again. You had the choice of refusal. If you feel that way, why are you here - half naked and in my bed?"
"I, I, just... Oh shit, I'm so not used to this." Her haughtiness evaporated and Amanda seemed locked in confusion. "I guess I'm not sure," she continued after a pause. "I haven't slept with anyone for, well, for a long time. I'd forgotten so much, I... no, I don't ever remember sex being so, well, intense. You, ah, always do those things with the women you sleep with?
"What things? What women?"
"Girlfriends? And you know what you did."
A flicker of a smile coursed across her features.
"Refresh my memory?" he smiled.
"Well, if you've come to insult me..."
"No," she replied, collecting herself, "I guess I was looking for answers. Why did I whore myself to you?"
"Why did you?"
"I was hoping you'd tell me? I don't know myself. Perhaps I really wanted that to happen, y'know, deep down? Perhaps I was just looking for an excuse?"
"Maybe? What do you want me to say? You're a beautiful woman... no, I'm not trying to flatter you, you really are. But you come across as, well, untouchable. Tell me, If we'd met, say, at a party, would you have left with me? Would you have slept with me?"
"I... don't suppose I would've," she considered, "but I'm usually not that impulsive. I'd need to get to know someone better, before..."
"But how was that going to happen when you treat everyone as if they're beneath you?"
"Do I? Really? You think I'm better..."
"No, I think you think you're better. You're really hard to get to know."
She was quiet for a disturbingly long time. Dude thought they were done and shut his eyes. Eventually, she resumed talking and he reluctantly opened them again.
"I'm from an old farming family in the district. My family own most of the land on the other side of the river. When I was young I went away to a private boarding school. We're Catholics, y'see, and, although we're not that devout, well, you have to be a Catholic to understand."
"Catholic boarding school, huh?" Dude smiled.
"It's not like that cheap porno," she chided, smiling, "that's just some lecher's overactive imagination. It wasn't that bad, actually, but we didn't get to meet many boys except under strict circumstances. There really wasn't that much opportunity to, to..."
"That's not what I heard."
"Again, you think us girls plotted all day to sneak out and meet boys?"
"I was never that pretty," she sighed, "boys weren't that interested. I guess I was a late developer. I met my husband at a school dance. He was from the boy's school. We dated for two years before we slept together. We didn't know what we were doing," she chuckled, "a lot of fumbling about, I recall."
"Yeah, well, I suppose practice makes perfect."
"I don't think I was ever that good for him. If I'd been better, maybe he wouldn't have left."
"And maybe he would've? Maybe your problems weren't in the bedroom? If you had a strong relationship, maybe the physical side of things would've worked out?"
"I suppose. I know we drifted apart. I didn't know what he was doing most of the time. We didn't talk that much."
"I should've asked more questions. I should've been more interested in what he does."
"And he could've been more interested in what you do?"
"Not very much," she chuckled, briefly, "Tennis Club, Women's Farming Institute..."
"You had a farm? Don't farming families work together?"
"We had two farms and managers on each. John was an accountant in town. If he knew one end of a sheep from the other I wasn't aware of it. We never discussed business. I didn't know how much we owed. It came as a shock. That fall in wool prices a few years back drained all our capital."
"So you went broke?"
"John didn't tell me how much we were in debt. If I'd known..."
"So he gave up the battle and split?" Dude suggested.
"It's more than that," Amanda replied, "I couldn't please him, apparently."
"Y'know what I think? I think you're taking all the guilt on yourself. Remember, he left you, not the other way around."
"It's all in the past, anyway. What's done is done. I need to move on."
"So, what about you?" Amanda said so suddenly it startled him. "I heard you were some kind of record producer?"
"Some kind," he replied, ruefully.
"And you sold out? How come?"
"Boredom," he sighed, "it wasn't fun anymore."
"Oh. Still, you must've made some money. You have a nice house, car. You lent me all that money?"
"I made a bit, I guess." Amanda looked at him, urging him to continue. Reluctantly, he explained. "We were all just a bunch of mates at High School. We formed bands, split again, and reformed with other guys. I played a bit of guitar but my real interest was in recording and producing. Soon I found myself taping the other guys - pooling our cash and hiring a studio for the afternoon. I learned to twiddle the knobs on the faders - learned to mike up, arrange, mix. All trial and error," he chuckled, "a lot of errors..."
"Yeah, well. Then it made sense to make a few tapes. We sold them out of the back of the van. Drove all around the country. My friend Al and I then decided to start a label and make it all official. Our first studio was Al's dad's double garage. I've no idea how he talked him into it," he laughed, "we put up styrene baffles and boarded the windows. It had great acoustics for a tin shed. Al's dad parked his car outside for a whole year."
"Ha ha! But you made it a success?"
"Two of our bands had top forties. The Manics then went over to Australia and made it big. Al and I knew enough of the business by then to cut a good deal on the royalties. We were able to set up ourselves properly, with Aussie money."
"And those bands were enough to sustain the label?"
"Not exactly," he sighed, "you're talking outrageously high overheads. 40 grand for a sound desk, a thousand or more for a mike..."
"So, how did you survive?"
"I've heard of her!" Amanda said, "she's big!"
"Yeah, big!" he said. The hint of irony wasn't unnoticed.
"You signed Suzi Raphael?" Amanda exclaimed.
"Yeah, we did. Listen?" he said, disengaging from Amanda's embrace and sitting up, "it's, ah, 3 am. Y'want some coffee? If we're going to spend the night talking..."
"Nice, thanks. I'm enjoying this."
Dude got up and made a couple of fresh brews. When he returned, Amanda was sitting up in her red bra. Dude noticed it was a French, lacey thing that left a great deal of flesh exposed. She was sexy, that's for sure. "Suzi Raphael?" she said, raising her eyebrows, sensing gossip.
"She walked into the office one day," Dude explained, "she'd barely got off the plane. She had this lilting Israeli accent. Although she was barely 16 at the time, she had this maturity and a really great voice - fantastic set of pipes and an armload of these stunning songs. We all went bananas over her. We didn't need to play her tapes, we signed her straight away."
"16?" Amanda said in surprise.
"Yeah, 16 and as cute a girl you'd never hope to see."
"Hmm, sounds like all you dirty old men were infatuated?" Amanda saw a flash of anger darken his face and realised she'd touched a tender spot. "I'm sorry, go on?"
"I don't really want to talk about her," he said, "there was a lot of stuff - a lot of history."
"I see," she said, "she hurt you in some way?"
"Like I said, a lot of history."
"You had an affair..."
"Listen! I really don't want to talk about it. It's all in the past. I've moved on."
"Oh, sure. I see that clearly."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean it's written all over your face. You were in love with her - still are, unless I miss my guess."
"Amanda?" Again, his face flashed angrily, his voice hardening with rage.
"You want to pick over my wounds? When I do the same you clam up."
"You came for confession to my house, remember? I didn't ask for this. You're the one who wanted to talk - figure things out."
"I want to get to know you. What's wrong with that?"
"Why? Our deal is done. You accepted the conditions and performed your obligations. I didn't ask for the chit chat."
"That's a callous way of putting it. I agreed to sleep with you in return for a $30,000 loan with easy conditions. I thought I could do it without, ah, entanglements. You seemed a nice guy. It's not that I didn't have other options..."
"That sleeze?" Dude laughed.
"He offered to prune my roses. A couple of others wanted to 'help out.' As soon as word went round the Tennis Club that John had left me, they all came with offers. I had to put up with Vince Parnell thrusting his pelvis at me one night during drinks after committee meeting. They're all married. I wonder what their wives would say if they knew?"
"Probably paint you as a Jezebel. Then there was me? What made you accept my offer?"
"You were different. You're single and you came straight out with it. I like honesty. Also, well, you're not that bad looking."
"No, you are! You were always nice to me - to everyone. You're a good talker when you're in the mood - you're interesting."
"Thanks. You're very flattering."
"And can I say you're also a surprise in bed? I never thought... ah, someone could make it so nice. I guess I'm not very experienced. I only ever had John, before. Who taught you all those things?" she smiled.
"You want me to spell it out? Those things you did with your tongue, and your fingers... you knew exactly what to do and when. I didn't think a guy could read a woman like that. John, he wasn't that, ah, considerate."
"He doesn't sound like he was much cop in the sack?" Dude suggested.
"At first it was alright. Then, I guess, he lost interest. All he wanted was a quick, ah..."
"Yes... that word. He wanted to do it like it disgusted him. He stopped trying to please me, even. I suppose I lost interest as well. It just seemed too much trouble."
"So was it, like, 'turn over and spread 'em' In and out and what's for dinner?"
"I wouldn't put it that crudely, but, yes. It was exactly like that."
"Seems a waste," he shrugged. "A body like your's deserves better."
"What do you mean, 'a body like mine'?"
"You're sexy. That's what I mean. You've great tits and your legs go right up. You're as tight as a teenager. No-one would guess you're in your forties."
"Thanks. That actually means a lot. You're quite something yourself. No paunch and you're, what, 48, 49 or so?"
"52, actually," he smiled, "but don't spread it around. We never put on any weight in our family. All skinny."
"Skinny's okay. You walk a lot, don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"I see you mornings... from my kitchen. Out for a stroll with your dog. You look good in those old jeans."
"Compliments flying free this early morning? You been spying on me all this time?"
"My kitchen looks on to your front yard. I can't help but see you. You make a great cup of coffee. You got one of those machines?"
"Yes. Sometimes I see you too, as a matter of fact. Those shorts you wear in Summer... whew," he smiled, "that's when I noticed your legs. When you tended the flower garden - bending over and all that? I think you stopped my clock."
"Oh, my, I never thought. Oh my goodness! You were watching me in my garden? I just never thought... I wonder who else..."
"You didn't notice the traffic slowing outside your house?" he chuckled, "and I don't believe you didn't know what you were doing. You're a teaser, admit it?"
"Honestly, I didn't realise. I have to be more careful!"
"Why?" Dude laughed, "you're sitting here in my bed wearing your lacy French underwear and you're saying you ought to be more careful?"
"I wonder how many other men... Maybe that Vince Parnell..."
"Vince Parnell would go after anything in a skirt he can think to get a leg over. He thinks he's God's gift..."
"Ugh! He smells of BO and cheap cologne. His gut hangs over his belt and his suits looks like he bought them from op shops. He's crude and offensive."
"And rich," Dude added.
"His wife's money."
"That right? Huh, it figures... little turd that he is."
"Anyway, Dude," she said, "as much as I'd like to do something for you, I'm tired. Can we just snuggle down and get some sleep. It must be three in the morning."
"Four," he replied, idly. Dude turned off the light and slipped down in the bed. Amanda circled his bare chest with her arm and cuddled into his back, spoon fashion. Even her bra covered breasts, crushed against his skin, ceased to hold any interest as he drifted off to sleep. It had been an evening of surprises, that's for sure.
The morning found Amanda sleeping peacefully beside him. The covers had slipped down and Dude thought about grabbing a quick feel of the smooth flesh bubbling over the top of her bra. He was horny, but his need to pee was greater. Returning from the on-suite toilet he saw she'd rolled onto her front. He required caffeine and wandered out into the kitchen.
Outside the dogs were howling - it being late for their walk. While the coffee brewed, he wandered out in his underpants to slip their leads. His two Weimariners then screamed around the back section before making a beeline for him at a disturbing speed. He managed to dart back inside before they flattened him with their enthusiasm.
Watching from the kitchen window he thought how conscienceless were his pets. Eat, sleep, chase rabbits and mate at whatever opportunity, entirely without leave or, 'getting to know you better.'
Frankly, he had to admit, that woman scared the pants off him. She was insanely attractive, calculating, full of grace and poise, haughty and superior. Last night she betrayed her 'sensitive side' but he wasn't sure whether it was just an act. Maybe she was trying to shake him down for more money? This morning, he thought, he'd put little past her. He wondered just who'd been taken advantage of?
Why did the woman worry him, he wondered?
"Dude?" came her voice from the bedroom. "May I take a shower?"
"Sure!" he shivered back to reality. "Y'know where it is?"
"I'll find it."
He thought briefly of dropping his shorts and chasing her right in there, but the morning mood had left him somewhat.
He was sipping his coffee while idly watching his dogs stare at him accusingly from the backyard. Ordinarily, they'd have been for a walk long before this. Presently he detected movement behind hm and Amanda came in with one towel wrapped around her body and another around her hair.
"Why don't you have one while I make breakfast?" she suggested, sweetly. He'd few better offers at that moment so he made for the shower.
'Shit, ' he thought, 'it feels like she's settling in around here.' The thought both excited and confused him. He'd never asked for a girlfriend. He was quite alright on his own. The woman was getting presumptive if she thought she could just waltz in here at 3 in the morning, jump into his bed, grab herself a shower, then make breakfast afterwards.
"Damn," he said aloud, "on the other hand, you couldn't pray for this to happen." What the Hell was scaring him? He could lay down the ground rules. If she wanted sex, well, damn, he could give her that, that's for sure!
A full breakfast was cooking when he came out of the shower. Amanda had found one of his T-shirts that ended halfway down her shapely thighs. Underneath, he could see she wasn't wearing a bra. He wondered whether she'd also left off her panties.
She sat on one of his high stools at the breakfast bar, the T-shirt tucked modestly between her legs. He'd have to wait to find out about the panties. Before him was a plate with sausages, eggs and a rasher of crispy bacon. He wondered whether there was a bit of English blood in her. He'd normally have a bowl of cereal.
"I like a good breakfast," she told him. He nodded, before tucking in. "Your dogs are making a lot of noise," she said, "I guess they're late for their walk?"
"Yeah. Normally back from the river by now," Dude replied, looking at his watch.
"Can I come with you?" she asked, "I'd like to."
"Sure," he said, "why not?"
Dude found her a top and an old jersey. Braless, still, her boobs bobbed around beneath the loose clothing. He found it hard not to stare. He guided her down the track to the river, the dogs straining impatiently on the leashes. Eventually, he let them go and they pounded down to the water.
The level was low at this time of year and they made their way unsteadily over the exposed boulders on the river bank. The dogs frolicked and molested one another, shaking the water off, before plunging back into the stream.
"Last night," Amanda said, eventually, "you began to tell me about Suzy Raphael?"
"I did? I thought I explained it was a touchy subject?"
"Yes, but, you never know, it might do you good to talk about it? You can trust me not to spread it around. Just between you and me?"
Dude stopped, picked up a stick, and hurled it for the dogs to chase. "It's not that I don't trust you," he explained, "or I give a fuck who knows. It's a long story. Suzy and I... well, we lived together for a long time. Ten years, I think. She was young and I was twice her age. It never would've worked out in the end."
"You loved her?"
"Of course I did," he replied, irritated. "She was beautiful, just beautiful! I really don't want to go over this shit. It's passed."
"Yeah, it has!" he said, emphatically.
"So what happened?"
"What do you think happened? She became famous, got offered a shitload of cash... fame and fortune. How could I compete with that?"
"Her career was more important? That's sad!"
"I made her fucking career, if you want to know?" he spat, "I groomed her songs, produced her records, got her the gigs, hawked her tapes around the radio stations. We wrote all that early stuff together, her and I, in our shitty flat above that takeaway shop. We wrote together with my old battered Yamaha guitar and my fucked Fender Rhodes piano. We'd get stoned together on Al's weed and fuck like bunnies on my old Salvation Army double bed."
"I'm sorry," Amanda said, putting a hand on his shoulder. Dude shrugged it off.
"And you know what, Amanda? Y'know something else?" Amanda could see his eyes moisten. "I put that deal together with the Australians. It was me that talked her into going over. I knew that, sooner or later, she couldn't ignore the offers. She was destined to be huge... I knew that."
"So you sacrificed your own feelings..."
"Oh spare me that, Amanda! Y'think I'm that altruistic? I was supposed to be her manager, see? We were supposed to go to Sidney together. Y'think I ever wanted us to split? Get real!"
"So what happened?"
"What happened? What do you think happened? She was only 26 at the time and I was nearing fifty. She was this babe, sure, but she was also an artist. Her songs... they meant something, they expressed thoughts, feelings... she put them over so well. That was her real art, not the bullshit they have her doing now. The Aussies dressed her up in bondage outfits, tits out here, turned her into a stripper. She's much, much more than a video bimbo."
"You make her sound like a piece of clay to be molded. What did she want to do? You telling me that, at 26, after all she'd been through to get there, this is not what she wanted?"
"You don't understand. Everyone has their price. Promise enough treasure and, sooner or later, you'll do what they want. Abandon your art for an expensive strip show and a date with some Hollywood beefcake."
"So you didn't go along with that?"
"What do you think? She went to Sidney alone. Her record company wanted some professional manager and some hotshot to produce her records."
"What did Suzy want?"
"She wanted what I told her she wanted, if you really want to know? There was so much cash flying around..."
"They bought you off, didn't they?"
"It wasn't that way?" Dude's voice rose in intensity and pitch.
"You sold her? You're taking a percentage? I see now - that's why you've so much money. None of your groups made that much. It's Suzy Raphael who's providing your lifestyle. You can't live with yourself, can you?"
"Y'think I wanted that?"
"Of course you did," she laughed, "'everyone has their price, ' you said so yourself. How much was your's, 2 percent of her earnings?"
"You got me for 30 grand? Is that how you get your women, buy them? You regard me as a tramp, but look at you? You sold the love of your life!"
"So what are you doing here? What the fuck do you want from me? If I'm such an arsehole..."
"Oh, I don't think you're an arsehole, Dude. Arseholes don't beat themselves up all the rest of their lives. They don't give a shit. You give a shit, that's the problem."
"There's no problem."
"Yes there is and you need to sign off on the past."
The walked along the riverbank in silence until they came to the turnstile that led back to the main road. Amanda hooked her pants on a nail and Dude helped her down. Lowering her to the ground, Dude noticed her face was flushed, and not from exertion.
"Hmm, clumsy," she told him.
"You can let me go, now. I'm alright."
"Ah, yeah, sure." He wanted to take her into the scrub and fuck her, but a passing car brought him back to reality. Reluctantly, he let her go.
"Goodness," she panted, "I thought you were about to do something back there."
"It's been a long time since anybody wanted to throw me into the bushes."
"Yeah? I don't believe that - you and your skimpy shorts and tight top."
"Look around you? Y'think this place is flush with talent?"
"Somehow I don't find that flattering."
"Except you. I thought that would've been obvious. Do you still do any producing?" "Huh? Oh, I sometimes help out that guy in town. Mostly commercials, voice overs, that sort of thing. The odd jingle."
"Nah. Finished with all that."
"Pity. What happened to your old partner? Al, wasn't it?"
"Dead... drug overdose."
"Oh, shit, I'm sorry."
"A while ago."
"Still? You must've been very close?"
"Best friends since school. Look, Amanda, you have an unerring habit of picking emotional scabs. What the Hell are you trying to do? Bum me out for the rest of the week or something?"
"I'm sorry. I just want to get to know you better."
"Why? I'm an embittered, selfish prick. What's more to know?"
"Plenty. I actually think you're a nice guy. You just blame yourself for too much - stuff you had no control over. So you're living off Suzy Raphael? It's only fair, considering the work you put in."
"What do you know about it?"
"I was a wife, Honey. I kept house, entertained my husband's friends, swung on his arm when he needed me. I even gave him sex when he wanted, and, in return, I expected him to pay the bills. You tell me what the difference is? Why shouldn't she pay for all those songs you helped her with, those gigs you got her and the deals you arranged. She built a career on your back. It's only fair you get some reward after all those years."
"I suppose that's one way of looking at it."
"Well, then, let's think about lunch? Your place?"
Dude agreed and they made their way back with the dogs. Over lunch there were more questions. Dude was growing tired of it.
On the other hand, he hadn't shared so much with another person as long as he could remember. These last years he'd kept pretty much to himself, only venturing to the Tennis Club for Friday night drinks.
The Tennis Club was the only place in town for the landed and the gentry. It was the place that deals were done, both financial and sexual.
But for Dude he only went there to meet old Slim, an old-style farmer with a quick wit and a disdain for pretention. You could say he was maybe the only friend he had in the World, now - certainly up here in the countryside where he chose to make his home.