I got to Jess’s flat a couple of minutes after seven. Judy had bought a box of chocolates and I had those with me. I’d told her about Jess saying I didn’t need to bring anything but Judy said women always said that but they didn’t mean it. She said there was no woman on earth, including Jess’s mom, who wouldn’t be pleased to get a box of chocolates. She seemed to be right about that because you’d have thought I’d brought the crown jewels along judging my Jess’s mom’s reaction.
The flat wasn’t as big as Chris’s and it didn’t have a view of the Thames but it was still a nice place. I got a big welcome from Jess’s dad too. He said I must call him Steven. He said right away that he was sorry my uncle hadn’t been able to come because he admired his work and it would have been good to meet him.
We sat in the lounge for a while. I sat at one end of their big couch and Jess sat at the other. Their big tabby cat sat in between, staring up at me the whole time like I was sitting on its lunch or something. Steven did most of the talking. He asked me lots of questions about where I’d lived in my life, what my mom and step dad were doing in Saudi Arabia and all that sort of stuff. He said he was sorry to hear that my dad had died when I was still so young. I said thanks and there was a bit of a silence. That always happens when someone says that about my dead dad. It’s weird for me because it made no difference in my life. It wasn’t as though I’d had this super duper dad who had fixed my bicycle and taken me to football matches and then suddenly dropped dead. He was less than a total stranger. The little silence is usually followed by something very cheerful, as though to say, hey, we don’t have to think about that gloomy crap anymore because we’re all still alive.
Her mom said Jess had told them that I was a model and how exciting that must be. I said I’d just done one modeling job for a French company that made clothes. Her dad asked me the name of the company and I told him it was Ganymede. He asked me whether I’d met Pierre Gillot. It was such a shock that I couldn’t say anything. I just stared at him. He must have thought I was trying to remember because he carried on and said he’d met Gillot once when the agency he worked for had tried to get the Ganymede advertising account. He said it had been about a year ago and they hadn’t got it. Then he waited for me to answer. I said I didn’t think I had met him. I said there had been lots of different people at the shoot and he could have been there.
“He was a strange bloke, a bit pompous,” Steven said.
He started talking about Ganymede and how he was a beautiful Greek shepherd boy Zeus had kidnapped but Jess’s mom interrupted him and said she was sure I wasn’t interested in a long lecture on Greek mythology. She said supper was ready and we should all move to the dining room table.
The first part of the evening was pretty well crapped out for me. I kept expecting a knock on the front door and Pierre would be standing there holding up a pair of skimpy knickers. It was such a strong feeling I kept looking at the front door waiting for it to happen. I couldn’t believe the coincidence, especially it being Jess’s dad, and it freaked me out. Jess’s mom had cooked fish too. It was fancy stuff and there wasn’t a bottle of tomato sauce on the table. I thought it would be rude to ask for it so I just had to shovel the fish in with my fork and hope that it didn’t go half way down and then come back up again a lot faster. It actually wasn’t bad though, and I finished it, no problem.
Jess had hardly said anything the whole time and I asked her stuff about school, when this or that was happening, just so that she would say something. She seemed really shy about me being there. She told me later that she was uptight because she was waiting for her mom or her dad to say something really stupid or embarrassing. They didn’t though, not really. I actually feel sorry for adults sometimes because they don’t want to seem like old farts when they’re around teenagers but it’s always the ones who try hardest that end up being the biggest farts of all. Jess’s folks weren’t like that; they didn’t pretend to be anything they weren’t and I liked them.
After supper they both disappeared and left Jess and I on our own in the lounge with the cat and the big screen TV. It wasn’t very relaxing because it wasn’t a huge flat and it was obvious they were lurking around somewhere and might pop in again at any moment. Not that I was planning to try anything romantic. I didn’t see Jess as my girlfriend, I hadn’t thought of kissing her, not until then, but it was obvious that her folks thought we had something going on other than just school. It was kind of cute the way they cleared the plates and scrambled to get out of the way after supper.
We talked about school for a while and then Jess asked me what the magazine had actually said about Chris and I repeated all the stuff Judy had told me and I said what a pain Inez had been when I first went to stay there. I said I thought Inez might have moved out because of me and I felt guilty about it. She said she was sure that wasn’t the reason and Inez sounded like an absolute bitch to start with. She asked me the name of the magazine and I felt silly not being able to tell her, so I said I’d forgotten. Then she asked me again whether I’d found out which magazines the adverts of me would be in and I told her I still didn’t know and I hadn’t actually asked anyone that.
I said it was really far out that her dad knew all about Ganymede and that he’d met weirdo Pierre. She asked why I’d told her dad I hadn’t met Pierre because it sounded like I knew him. I kicked myself for being caught out by my own big mouth and I told her I had met him briefly but I didn’t want to get into it all with her dad. She asked me why not and I said because I’d heard Pierre fancied boys and I didn’t want to say that to her dad because it was embarrassing. Jess pulled a face and she picked up the cat from the couch beside her and put it on her lap.
We sat talking on the couch for about half an hour and then her parents came back in. Steven said maybe it was time to call it a night because of school tomorrow. I looked at my watch and it was quarter to ten. He said he’d run me home but he thought it seemed a bit daft to get the car out for such a short trip and that maybe we should just walk. He said he fancied a little night air anyway and that Jess looked as though she needed some exercise. Jess said thanks a lot.
“I’ve just looked at the Ganymede website out of curiosity, Florian, and you look splendid.”
I don’t know what it feels like when your heart stops but I thought mine had. I think he was surprised by the look on my face because he started laughing straightaway and quickly told me he was kidding. He said he had browsed the website but there were no pictures of me yet. He asked me when the shoot had been. I told him it had been over the weekend and he nodded and said it was too soon to expect anything to be up.
I said I was fine to walk home on my own but he said a deal was a deal. He asked Jess’s mom whether she wanted to come but she said she had to do the dishes.
She said goodnight and asked whether I was feeling alright because I looked a little pale.
“I’m sure it’s nothing that a bit of fresh air won’t sort out,” Steven said.
The walk only took about ten minutes. Steven deliberately stayed a few yards ahead of us pretending he was on his own, and he didn’t look back once. I thought that was good of him but it still felt stupid and pathetic to have a bodyguard walking down a street I walked down everyday on my own, especially a tall thin nerdy one like Jess’s dad. When we got to my flats he shook hands, said goodnight and walked off as though Jess didn’t exist. I knew he was just going to wait around the corner for her to catch up and that he meant well but it was all a bit pushy. I said thanks and goodnight to Jess and I gave her a quick kiss on the lips because everyone seemed to be expecting that, everyone except Jess apparently. It was all the wrong way round, all mixed up, not the kiss maybe, but everything else.
Judy was watching TV in her pajamas and she asked me how the evening had gone. I sat down on the couch next to her and I said Jess’s folks were really nice people and that she’d been right about the chocolates. I said I was worried because her dad knew all about Ganymede and he’d met Pierre and he’d looked at their website and I was sure he was going to look again when there were photos of me.
Judy muted the TV and she turned round to look at me. She asked me why that was worrying me. I said I hadn’t thought about it properly until then, how everyone I knew was going to see me with almost nothing on. She put her arm around me and told me I shouldn’t worry; it’s what modeling was all about. She said I looked really beautiful and adorable and she was sure I’d become a pin up for all the girls and get fan mail. I said I was only fourteen; I wasn’t a big bloke with muscles. She chuckled when I said that, which didn’t help.