I am trying not to stare at Ms Pink’s eyes when she speaks, “Kim Taeyeon. What a surprise.”
That makes two of us. “Ms Pink, how may I help you?” I ask. It is an automated response to any customer who steps in here and I thank it for saving me from looking like an idiot again.
She steps forward and I catch a whiff of her fragrance. It is fragrant. Very fragrant. And seductive. I’ve never smelt anything like it. “I would like to purchase some body paint supplies.”
“Brushes. Body brushes.”
“This way,” I say and turn to head down the aisle. I wonder why a person like her would need to drive an hour to an art supply shop to get some brushes. Can’t she simply purchase them online or have an assistant buy it for her? “Over here. We have filbert brushes, round brushes, flat brushes, liner brushes…”
Ms Pink steps forward and I step back to make room for her to browse. Her eyes wander over the array of brushes and weigh in the appearance of each brush. She stops in front of the flat brushes and something about the way she runs her thumb across the tip of the bristles makes my hairs stand. The hairs on my arms I mean. She runs her thumb across another tip and I almost gasp. It’s almost as though she’s touching them in slow motion, the way her thumb barely brushes the very tip, slowly…deliberately…
I can’t breathe and I can’t stop staring. Help.
“I’ll take two of this,” Ms Pink says, pointing at the ¾” square flat brush with yellow-brown bristles and a black handle. I take two of them and follow her down the aisle to the rack of kabuki brushes. She’s in pants today which means her calves are hidden from me but my eyes find another part of her to admire—her butt. It’s art in motion, the way her hips sway from side to side as she walks. It’s hypnotic, almost.
“Our kabuki brushes have synthetic bristles,” I say as soon as she reaches for one of the short, thick brushes. Ms Pink turns to me and gives me a look that says she knows. Opps. I take a step back for a reason I do not know and she repeats her ritual of brushing her thumb over the bristles.
“You have good brushes. They feel great on bare skin.”
I simply nod, not knowing what I can say in reply. It’s odd and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What have brushes got to do with bare skin?
“I’ll take two of the pink ones. The biggest size.”
I pick them up and look at her expectantly. Where does she want to go next?
“That’s all,” she says, catching me unawares. Four brushes? She came all the way here from Mona Avenue just for four brushes?
“Right, this way, please.” I lead her back to the cash register and ring up her purchases. I am scanning the kabuki brush barcode when someone calls me.
I look up and a familiar face greets me. “Max! You’re back!”
“I’m back and I’m here to stay.”
Long arms stretch around me and hold me tight. I stiffen in the hug. Ms Pink’s eyes are burning into mine and I am consumed by the need to extract myself from Max’s arms. “I’m glad you’re back,” I say while pulling away from Max and put on a smile. I hope it doesn’t look too forced.
“This is Max, my friend from school.”
Ms Pink’s stance doesn’t change and she looks just as intimidating, if not more, than before. “Max.” She extends her hand to him and he grins as he takes it but it soon disappears when they shake hands.
“Max, are you okay?” I ask.
His face is slightly contorted but he nods. “I’m fine. Anyway, I should get going. I’ll see you in school.” He seems relieved to be done with the handshake and unusually eager to leave for some reason but I decide not to ask why. It might have something to do with Ms Pink although I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how or why. Nevertheless, I complete Ms Pink’s purchase and bag the brushes. She takes the bag from me and our fingers brush past like the fleeting wind but that is all it takes to make all my hairs stand again. Why does she have such an effect on me? What kind of magic does she possess?
“Thank you,” says Ms Pink.
“It’s my pleasure to be at your service,” I reply.
And for the second time, Ms Pink’s eyes seem to widen and narrow at the same time. The last time she did that was when I asked her the ‘gay’ question but that doesn’t explain why she’s acting like this again. I mean, all I said was the usual…
Ms Pink interrupts my thoughts. What? Oh, she’s going to leave. Right. But wait! “Uh, Ms Pink, could I ask you for a favour?”
“You can, but there will be a price to pay.”
Ms Pink grins suddenly and I am thrown by the way her face changes into sunshine radiating in big waves. “I was only teasing you. Go ahead and ask but I may not agree.”
I take a deep breath to steady my inner state of mind. A joke? From Ms I-am-so-controlled Pink? She might just agree to this favour. I clear my throat and choose my words carefully. “Sunny—my housemate, the one who was supposed to interview you—well, she’s really bummed about missing out on the chance to meet you. So if you have the time, I wonder if you would mind joining us for dinner or a drink? It’d be a treat to thank you for your time.”
“You’re telling me, your way of thanking me for my time is taking up more of it?”
“Uh…I’m sorry. I don’t mean to take up more of your time. I just thought…well…it’s dinner soon and maybe you might be having dinner and—”
“Stop babbling.” Ms Pink sounds as though she’s growling and that shocks me into shutting up. “It is presumptuous of you to assume that I would let you give me a treat but as it so happens, I’m in the mood for a drink or two at High Society.” I stare mutely at the luminous pink name card that Ms Pink hands to me. “My name card will get you in and they will escort you to my private booth. You and your housemate are free to join me after ten. Send me a text if you decide to come.” I lift my eyes to hers and stare as she almost smiles. “Goodbye, Taeyeon.”
“Goodbye, Tiffany,” I say as my eye rests on Ms Pink’s name in bold, Aristocrat script font.
Ms Pink freezes. I gasp. Did I just call Ms Pink by her first name like a…friend? Strangely enough, Ms Pink doesn’t appear to be offended. In fact, I’m pretty sure she almost smiles as she turns and leaves the store. Yet another mystery I have yet to solve. But I scored Ms Pink’s name card and a chance for Sunny to meet her! That’s a good thing. Right?
Sunny is excited as fuck. Pardon my language but that’s exactly how excited she is.
“You are the man! The woman! You’re the everything!” she cheers when I inform her about Ms Pink’s invite.
“It’s just a drink. I’m not sure if she’ll take anymore questions from you.”
“I know, I know. But I get to meet her. Face to face!” Sunny grabs my hands and skips around in circles, dragging me along with her. Sometimes, I wonder if she’d been fed too much Vitamin X or something as a kid that turned her into the little ball of energy that she is. “We gotta dress up real nice. Time to activate the little black dress!”
“Must we?” I’d much rather be comfortable in t-shirt and jeans.
“It’s at High Society. I don’t think they’ll let you in with a t-shirt on.”
“I’ll put on a fancy top and finish it off with jeans.”
“I guess…” Sunny frowns but not for long. “Oh my God. I’m so excited.”
It’s infectious, the way her energy never seems to be exhausted and a little spark of excitement begins to snowball inside me too. Besides, I have to admit. I’m curious to find out what Ms Pink is like in a place like High Society.
Ms Pink’s name card paves the way to our entry and we are escorted in like royalty. That’s when I find out High Society isn’t named this way for nothing. Decorated in the Victorian theme, the interior of the club is bursting with rich and dark colours. My eyes sweep around and take in the Damask-patterned wallpaper of wine red and gold that lines the walls around us before roving over the ruby red button back couches and chairs surrounding the mahogany tables. And below my classic black stilettoes lie dark chocolate planks of wood, varnished and beautiful.
But that’s not all. Drawing attention away from its darker surroundings, an imposing chandelier hangs over the dancefloor. Its arms spread out in all directions far and wide, with glittering pendalogue prisms dangling from them and I am in awe of it. A secret part of me wonders, in a moment of morbidity, about the number of people it could kill if it ever fell from the ceiling. At least two, I think. I sure hope it stays up there.
Strangely, there aren’t as many people as I would expect to see at a place like that. A low murmur runs alongside the clinking of wine glasses and other sounds produced by cutlery meeting porcelain. A live band is on the stage playing slow ballads and a few couples are on the dance floor, dancing in close embraces. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion and it’s a little surreal to me.
“This is the way to Ms Pink’s private booth,” says our escort, gesturing at the mahogany door. It looks thick and heavy and its handle, intricately sculpted to look like a leaf. How much would a door like that cost? How rich must the owner of this establishment be to afford such exquisite décor? He swipes a pink card through the electronic lock and pushes it open. “I am not allowed to go beyond this point so you will have to walk the rest of the way by yourself.”
“I need to use the bathroom first,” says Sunny, “Where is it?”
“I’ll show you the way to the bathroom,” our escort replies.
Sunny turns to me. “Why don’t you go on ahead. I’ll catch up with you.”
“Okay, see you later.” I walk past the door and head down the narrow corridor. Dungeons belonging to an ancient castle come to mind as I walk past the stone walls. It’s quite creepy to be honest. Muted gasps travel down the corridor and I’m not sure if they’re real or imaginary. Nevertheless, I make it to the end of the corridor and am about to knock when I realise that the door is feather-thin ajar. A light prod of a finger pushes it open a little more and I am treated to the most horrifying sight of my life.
I am not crazy. Those muted gasps were not figments of my imagination. I am lucid and sober and absolutely sure that Ms Pink is holding a girl up against the wall by her neck with just one hand.