I was a couple of glasses into the meal and beginning to feel like a gooseberry. This was the first time I’d met Gaby but I wasn’t surprised at how seamlessly her silver and cobalt bandage dress clung to her – the bodice consisting of two giant silver bandages, crossing from each shoulder to the back of her waist – or at how impressively her butter-blonde hair gleamed. I’d seen enough of her in celebrity magazines to know what to expect.
What I hadn’t anticipated was her accent. Maybe that explained why Jay, who hated pretension, was hanging on her every word.
My opening shot had been unimaginative.
‘So you’re from Liverpool?’
‘Yeah, a Scouser through and through.’
That was the cue for Gaby and Jay to perform a Scouser joke for my benefit.
Gaby: ‘Why wasn’t Jesus born in Merseyside?’
Jay: ‘Because God couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.’
On a roll, they delivered a few more, which was my cue to put on a they’re funny but I shouldn’t be laughing face, all the time inwardly fretting at how relaxed they were together.
When they finally ran out of steam, I said, ‘So that’s what you’ve been up to all week – practising your comedy routine.’
‘Among other things,’ said Jay, cryptically, and I felt a tiny jab of fear.
They followed their gag routine with an inventory of the songs they’d been developing, from a mixture of Gaby’s half-finished scores and some ideas of Jay’s. They glanced at me every so often, their gazes returning to each other.
‘Honestly,’ Gaby said, twinkling at Jay, ‘The time’s just flown by. I’ve just loved it. Your place is so peaceful.’
Jay was twinkling right back at her and I suffered a deeper stab of anxiety.
‘And the evenings? You haven’t been bored here on your own?’
‘No way,’ she said, directing her answer at me for five seconds before switching to Jay. ‘I had dinner in my room, then I got comfy in my PJs, went over the lyrics...watched a bit of telly. It’s been great. This is the first time I’ve eaten in the restaurant.’
It was plain why. There were a number of necks craning in our direction and I didn’t think James Jay, singer/songwriter, or Pandora Armstrong, novelist manquée, were the ones turning heads.
‘So you didn’t miss home?’ I said, hoping she wouldn’t see through my attempt to discover if she had a ‘significant other’.
Gaby blinked slightly. I sensed she’d detected a certain wifely unease and I kicked myself for being too obvious.
‘Just the cats,’ she chirped, ‘but I talk to them on the phone every evening.’
I had a vision of a troupe of performing cats answering the phone and miaowing into it.
‘Sounds like something off You’ve Been Framed,’ said Jay.
She laughed. ‘My ex moved in to look after them. He holds the phone and I talk to them. Daft, isn’t it?’
I bared my teeth in a smile, my disappointment at her boyfriend being an ‘ex’ rather than a gorgeous hunk she loved with all her heart and soul, rendering me temporarily speechless.
‘What’ll happen to them if you go on tour?’ said Jay, with more concern than I thought necessary.
‘Well,’ she said, looking dejected, ‘If Rog can’t be there, I suppose I’d have to board them. But I’d be worried sick. They’re Burmese and they need to be round people...’
There was a pause and Jay finally dragged his eyes away from Gaby, towards my direction.
‘We’d have them, wouldn’t we, Andy?’
Since when were we a cattery, I thought. And what if Oscar and Fritz object? But good manners got the better of me and I smiled as sincerely as I could.
‘If you think they’d be all right with the dogs...’
They exchanged a glance and the gooseberry effect intensified to the extent that I almost felt myself turning green and hairy. Gaby leaned forward and let the silver bandages take the weight of her voluptuous breasts.
Neither Jay nor I could take our eyes off them. For me, it was admiration for the designer’s feat of engineering. For him, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’d say involuntary desire, which I couldn’t really blame him for. She knew what she was doing all right.
Gaby’s smile blasted me between the eyes.
‘We’ve been sending demos of the songs to my record label and they love them. With the ones I’ve already written, there’s enough for an album.’
‘Fantastic,’ I said, thinking of how much this must mean to Jay. ‘I can’t wait to hear them.’
There was a pause, which can only be described as pregnant, and I regarded them expectantly.
‘We’ll both need to go to the studio next week,’ said Jay, speaking faster than normal. ‘They want Gaby to get a shift on.’
I was puzzling out why Jay needed to be present at Gaby’s recording, when she answered my question.
‘Two of the numbers are duets. And he’s playing on most of the other tracks.’
She sounded apologetic, which made me suspicious.