The Dressing Room – 2017
Sophia dries herself in the bathroom of her Sydney penthouse apartment. Her cheeks are flushed from the hot shower and her long auburn hair shines in the overhead light. It’s tied up in a knot on top of her head where tendrils of damp hair escape, falling to her shoulders as she leans forward to dry her legs. She flicks on the extractor fan and walks briskly into the adjoining master bedroom.
She carefully selects each piece of evening wear with Willem’s preferences in mind. First a French lace and silk pair of knickers, with a matching bra clutching her young breasts to the best advantage. Sophia catches her reflection in the full-length, mirror elegantly positioned beside the 16th-century dresser with its beautifully turned legs. The smooth curves of the antique, has matching pearl handles. Handcrafted before the industrial revolution when mass production swamped the world, this magnificent dresser has small imperfections which only an expert would notice. Like Sophia, none of its flaws are immediately evident. The exquisite design with everything perfectly aligned across the six highly polished drawers reinforces her sense of order and organisation, which she relies on to ensure the perfect functioning of her private and professional life.
She smiles at herself, knowing Willem will find her irresistible. Sophia walks through a connecting archway into her dressing room where racks of designer clothes and imported shoes, hand-made from the finest calf leather, crocodile and snakeskin, await their next outing. But first, she cautiously pulls a silk slip over her head before selecting an indigo dress from the second set of mirrored wardrobes.
Each cupboard is fitted with handcrafted teak compartments, stacked with personally inscribed books, expensive gifts, artefacts and souvenirs from her travels around the world. Some drawers contain jewellery and silver-framed photographs in careful order, positioned above a series of glass-fronted drawers which hold specific pieces of imported lingerie, a wide selection of designer sunglasses and memorable items from shared holidays. The other side of the double wardrobe contains a collection of imported garments tailored to Sophia’s exacting requirements.
Mirrors line the walls on two sides of the dressing room, allowing her to make specific refinements to her attire. She turns, critically assessing her reflection before leaving her private enclave. The hem of her organza cocktail dress hangs demurely, softly hugging Sophia’s knees.
Opening an ornate jewellery box, she retrieves a diamond bracelet. Draping it over her wrist, she turns her hand as the light plays on the exotic setting. She clips the clasp, hooking the small security chain to its opposite link and lets her arm fall at her side. Glancing down, the sleeves of her dress linger at her wrist, partially obscuring the sparkle on her arm.
She casts her mind back to Willem Van Howan and the evening when he presented her with the gift over dinner. The box was wrapped in black velvet with two black tulips from the Netherlands, intertwined with a satin ribbon securing the offering. It was unexpected, and more so, when Willem let slip its extravagant value, and insisted on covering the insurance cost. Not bad for a gift and, so far, it beat all others.
Smiling at the memory, glimpsing the shimmering diamonds on her wrist, Sophia looks forward to seeing him again. She runs her fingers across the gold bracelet. Each fingernail finely coated in three layers of soft peach, matching her expensive lipstick and strappy heels.
Sophia at 29-years old swivels herself one last time, pleased with her appearance. She knows Willem, with his Dutch conservative upbringing, can easily be provoked into a jealous outburst. Unacceptable as it is, in a fully-grown man, she’s reassured he is unlikely to ever stray. She easily manages him with calm compliance, enjoying his conversation and charm.
An hour later, Sophia has almost completed her subtle make-up. She dusts a powder blush to her cheeks and the arches of her outer eyelids, completing the demure look she wishes to convey. Her long dark eyelashes and full lips maintain an understated pout, enhancing her arresting almond-shaped eyes. She knows, from experience, her flawless, angelic appearance will be near impossible for any man to resist. She deliberately cultivates an innocent look, her guileless eyes wide with non-comprehension. In public, most men stare at her fixated by lust only to be crushed seconds later as she smiles and walks on by. She is meticulous in her choice of lovers.
Reaching towards the wardrobe shelf, Sophia selects an imported perfume before squeezing a fine spray into the room and walking into the fresh flower-scented mist which settles over her body. Again, she smiles at herself in the full-length mirrors and concentrates on her personal rating system. Running through her list of professional objectives, Sophia allocates herself a resounding nine.
With her head held high, she grabs a small leather handbag and walks through the Carrera tiled entryway. Sophia grabs the Audi’s key-fob from the hallstand and sashays to the elevator. She presses the lift-button taking her down to the basement parking area. The driver’s door of her imported German two-seater R8 sports car automatically opens as she draws near. She slips into the driver’s seat, resting one hand on the soft leather steering wheel before pushing her index finger onto the starter button. The turbocharged Lamborghini V10 engine roars into life.
Sophia glances down at her wristwatch, a beautiful piece of swiss-made jewellery, only outmatched by Willem’s bracelet on her opposite wrist. With a rippling shockwave, she hears her dead mother’s unbidden voice ringing in her head. ‘Better get a wriggle on.’ Sophia’s momentarily disturbed by her deceased mother’s influence over her conscious thoughts, particularly after being secured in her grave for more than five years. She presses her foot to the accelerator and races out into the tree-lined street, past the Point Piper Yacht Club and heads towards Sydney Airport.
Dutch language had been one of Sophia’s core subjects at university 12 years earlier, along with German, French and Japanese. Like a chameleon, her ability to seamlessly adapt and compromise, tailoring her behaviour and attitude, enables her to become whoever her lover wants her to be. To Sophia, it’s not merely a job. It isn’t work. Her career path is driven by her passion for pleasure, indulgence and, of course, money. She executes her professional approach to the level of an art form. It’s a gift, a skill unknown to many and Sophia plies her natural talent to perfection.
Even though Willem seems possessive at times, in a strange way, she likes the fact that he’s in control and often takes charge, ordering her food and wine in restaurants without any consideration for what she may prefer. As she speeds towards the airport, she tries to analyse what it is about him that she finds attractive. He’s an alpha male, confident, in control and can also be loving and gentle. Other times he’s demanding, questioning what she wears or where she’s been.
She thinks about how outwardly self-possessed and assertive Willem is and yet if she scratches the surface, he’s a young boy, desperately clinging to her apron strings, craving attention. But aren’t most people like that? Is it a mother thing? Surely not. Not Willem, he’s way too secure and confident.
Sophia is happy to handle him again. How long has it been? Close to four weeks. Willem always makes love to her with enthusiasm, sometimes taunting her, teasing her to climax. He’s the playful cat to her cute furry mouse. She laughs out loud. In bed his nick-name Wim comes easily to her lips. Willem. Always engaging and intellectually challenging. Sophia loves that about him. All these qualities make it easier for her to appear devoted to him during the moments they share together.
She knows Willem imagines he’s the only one. Sophia’s lover is none the wiser, utterly oblivious. She believes some men hold a willing suspension of disbelief, desperate to convince themselves Sophia loves only them. She explicitly cultivates everything her lover needs or wants, reinforcing each man’s belief in her absolute devotion. Each man with no inkling of anything other than what he believes is plainly visible. A gorgeous, intelligent young woman with eyes and thoughts solely for him – the ultimate flattery.
LIVING DOLL – 1993
In the summer of 1993, fair haired Sophia enjoys pushing her doll’s pram across the terracotta pavers on the extensive outdoor veranda. Her favourite doll is tucked inside, snuggled under a pale blue blanket. Talking to her baby doll is one of the six-year old’s happiest moments.
‘Look, Mummy, look at me. My baby likes the pram,’ Sophia begs. Her soft curly hair glistens in the early morning sunlight as she gazes across at her mother and father eating breakfast. They sit in comfortable white wicker armchairs positioned at a linen covered table.
‘Yes darling. Have you had enough to eat?’ Sophia’s mother asks, barely turning to cast her languid gaze at her eldest daughter.
Sophia nods, disappointed at her mother’s lack of interest in her baby doll. Abigail Huston glances up at her husband seated opposite. She casually pushes a strand of blonde hair behind her perfect ear. This small innocuous movement seems to be a coy act of shyness, but in reality, is a pretence masking her abject disinterest in both husband and child.
Sophia gazes across the long driveway as it swings past a double-line of neatly trimmed Cyprus trees which frame the Tuscan-designed stone mansion. Established trees stand like bold sentries, guarding the driveway to one of Sydney’s most luxurious Point Piper homes. The triple-storey residence straddles the manicured gardens surrounded by ivy-covered stone walls securing the Huston family in their palatial enclave. Tall French doors swing open onto a wide veranda enclosed by concrete balustrades where breakfast is served every morning.
‘Mum,’ Sophia repeats but knows her mother is more interested in her cell phone. It’s no use. They’re talking now and ignoring her again. There’s no point in shouting or demanding as they will call Nanny and remove her from the terrace. Crestfallen, she walks back to the doll’s pram and picks up her baby, cuddling it against her body.
She holds her mouth against baby Bella’s moulded ear. ‘It’s all right,’ she whispers. ‘I love you. OK. You’re OK.’ She gently strokes the fine blonde hair on the doll’s plastic head, letting her parent’s conversation wash over her. They’re always talking or arguing, sometimes shouting. Maybe they don’t like me? Sophia’s brow furrows. I’m not good enough to talk to. They never listen. She glances up hoping to catch her mother’s attention.
‘Do you think we should go back to Antibes this summer?’ Sophia’s father asks, his gaze still fixated on the newspaper he’s reading. ‘We can extend our holiday for ten more days. I can push back meetings into August. Isn’t that a better idea?’
With straight hair pulled tightly into a chignon at the nape of her neck, Sophia’s mother, Abigail Huston, peers up from her eggs benedict and thin slice of gluten-free toast, smiling at her handsome dark-haired husband. ‘Sure, why not? It won’t matter if Soph misses out on school.’
‘What about my friends?’ Sophia interrupts still cradling the doll on her shoulder. ‘I don’t want to go on holiday.’ Her mother briefly peers at Sophia, uncomprehending, and returns to the conversation with her husband.
He nods at his wife. ‘What about the baby?’ he asks.
‘Teressa can remain with Nanny or shall we take them both?’
It’s up to you,’ responds Michael Huston, not too fussed about whether the children come with them or not. He glances down at the newspaper spread-eagled across his lap and frowns at economic predictions of interest rate hikes. Michael presses his linen napkin against his thin, determined lips, pushes his chair back and stands up to leave.
Without any parental response, Sophia returns her doll to the pram, carefully tucking the small wool blanket around her baby, before kissing both of Bella’s cheeks. The doll is her best friend. They talk together, enjoying afternoon teas in the nursery or out in the garden. At night she often takes Bella to bed, resting her small arm over the doll as they sleep. Sometimes she dreams of having a baby just like Bella, with a smiling face, loving eyes and curly blonde hair. Her father’s irritated tone interrupts her thoughts.
Well?’ Michael asks, only marginally interested in his distracted wife’s response.
We might as well take them both,’ Abigail says glancing up at Michael. Sophia plays quietly with her doll in the background, looking up in shock at the gruffness of her father’s voice. Her father bends forward, briefly kissing her mother on the forehead.
‘I’ll be back at four,’ he says retreating from the table. Michael pulls out his cell phone and calls the chauffeur. ‘Bring the car around Myles. I’m leaving in five.’
As he walks through the French doors into the great hall, his wife swallows her last mouthful and reaches for her cell phone. Sophia has left her pram and is standing behind her mother, listening.
‘He’ll be gone in 20,’ Abigail breathes into her phone. ‘Sure. OK. I’ll meet you there.’
As she clicks off the device Sophia’s voice intrudes. ‘Where are you going, Mum?’
Abigail carefully places her phone on the white damask tablecloth beside her half-eaten breakfast and takes a sip of fresh orange juice.
‘Can I come?’ Sophia begs. ‘Can I?’
‘I won’t be long,’ she lies to her anxious daughter, ‘and besides, Nanny says she’ll take you to the park. As long as you’re good.’
Sometime later Sophia recalls dozing on her bed during a warm afternoon worrying about her parents. She’s no longer sure which day it was, and it no longer matters, but she remembers her father being overseas on business. Her mother is home alone with her two daughters. Maybe it’s a Sunday as Nanny is nowhere to be seen. As Sophia drifts in and out of sleep, exhausted from swimming and playing with her younger sister in the garden, she hears her father’s muffled voice. She sits up, listening.
He sounds close. Are Mum and Dad in the guest room? Why are they there? Sophia swings her body from the bed, her bare feet touch the carpet as she slowly tip-toes towards her closed bedroom door. It wasn’t shut when she climbed into her bed for an afternoon nap. Mummy knows she hates the door being closed. Clasping it with both hands Sophia struggles to turn the large metal doorknob, eventually opening the door. The voices are clearer now and they aren’t coming from the guest wing but from the spare room two doors along the corridor.
Daddy must be home. She smiles with excitement. He’s got my present. I hope he remembered. He’s forgotten a couple of times, but last week he promised. Elated, she runs down the hallway towards the spare room. She stops a few meters from the closed door. Dad hates it when she runs through the house.
Standing at the spare room door, Sophia presses her right ear against the painted finish, listening to muffled voices. Is that Daddy’s voice? But there’s also the distinct tone of her mother, giggling. They’re having fun and chatting. Maybe Daddy bought Mummy a present too? Sophia uses both hands to turn the doorknob, easily opening the door this time.
To her surprise it’s Daddy’s friend Giles naked in bed with Mummy. She stands inside the bedroom frozen in horror and disbelief. Giles Hamilton’s head swings around and both adults scramble for the bedcovers.
‘Uncle Giles! Are you mating with my Mummy?’
Reviews. Recommendations from early Beta readers of the new book:
“Webber shows intelligence and empathy, dealing with this topic. Taking a real story and bringing it to life with action, dialogue and intrigue. Recommended.” Sue Armstrong.
“High risk and desire with heart-stopping tension. Really pulled me into Sophia’s life.” Heather Fisk.
“I had low expectations but once I read the first page, I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant insight into a socially unacceptable life.” Brian Stanton.
“Totally absorbing. Taut with emotional tension and intrigue. I got totally absorbed in the character’s lives.” Rob Eden.
“Well written with unexpected twists and insights into an intriguing life. I was hooked from the start.” Jayne Farrier.
“A cleverly delivered story where Sophia miraculously gained my empathy. Great read!” Mary Harrison.
“Gripping from start to finish.” Lyn Fields.