The Love Drug (Sample)
I wanted to show that even a casual sexual encounter can have a very complex psychological dynamic. It tells the story of a mature woman, Lydia Chen, who, despite having little experience with men, sets out to seduce the son of one of her colleagues when he comes to visit them in Malaysia. Here is her first meeting with him in a hotel lounge.
She was taking a peppermint tea and thinking that it was time to be going when the young man came towards her across the dark Chinese carpet. He was a slim, handsome man with a slight sag to his posture as though he were carrying an invisible burden. She could hear his leather shoes creak faintly with every step. The noise seemed to embarrass him but when he sat down beside her he looked directly into her eyes with an air of inborn superiority.
He said, “Have you always lived in Malaysia, Dr Chen?”
She caught a sharp tang of aftershave – something he’d brought with him from England probably. It was a scent she didn’t know and didn’t much like. His voice was educated and precise. His chin was close-shaven and appeared smooth to the touch. When he turned his head to observe the others in the room she noticed the striking contour of his profile, the high forehead, the straight fine nose, the determined set of his sensual lips. The expression in his eyes was hard to read. Deference and confidence mingled together beneath the over-arching brow. There was a hint of mockery behind the politeness.
“I am Chinese,” she said. “From Chengdu originally, but I was educated in Europe – London, Paris and Munich.”
“You’ve been better educated than me,” he said.
It was a patronising remark, she thought. “I’m older than you,” she reminded him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to imply – I didn’t intend to ask you about your qualifications or your age.”
“You didn’t,” she said.
“My father said you are doing very great work here in Kuala Lumpur.”
“Like all medical research, it can seem very routine most of the time. Not to say tedious.”
“Do you ever wonder if it’s worth it?”
She studied his face intently. “I know you have no respect for my work,” she said suddenly.
“No, I – that’s not true.” The young man blushed. He looked so innocent then and so young.
Lydia wanted to be kind to him but she was derailed by her emotions. Her response came out harsher than she intended. “You are a pharmaceutical scientist,” she reminded him. “I know the people at the Bray Foundation don’t believe in our work.”
“My father – ,” he began.
“Your father is an old friend, a dear friend and a colleague,” she told him. She tried to inject her words with a certain softness. She wanted to be Tony’s friend, too.
“My father thinks very highly of you,” he said.
“Yes. Your father is a very great herbalist. Our respect is mutual.”
“And I can’t possibly disrespect my father’s life’s work,” he said. He looked directly into her eyes as he said it and she felt a connection with him. There was an earnestness in his manner and at the same time something vulnerable in him, as though he needed someone he could trust, a woman just like her perhaps, a little older and wiser than himself in whom he could confide.
She hesitated, there, in that public place to show the tenderness she felt. Instead she teased him again about the great difference between them. “Nevertheless, you work with artificial compounds. You have gone the commercial route.”
“I prefer to think of it as the scientific route,” he said.
“Your father warned me you might say something like that.”
His eyes flashed with sudden alarm. “Did he?”
She took his hand impulsively, held it tenderly in hers. “I’m sorry. We mustn’t get off on the wrong foot,” she said.
He nodded, placated by the unexpected gesture. “Of course,” he said. “The science of herbal medicine is complex, I know.”
“Tell me more of your work in Middlesex.”
“I’m afraid we might argue if I talked about specifics.”
“Then tell me what you hope to see in Malaysia.”
“My father said he would show me your herb garden tomorrow.”
“You should take the time to visit some of our beauty spots. There are some lovely coastal restaurants where you can eat fresh seafood and watch the sun set.”
“That sounds very romantic but I’m afraid romance is something I’ve come to Malaysia to forget.”
There was a heavy silence between them. She sensed that this was an important moment. He had opened a door. Her instinct had been right. He wanted to confide in her. What she said next would influence the course of their relationship.
She hesitated and decided, in the end, to be kind. “You have left a broken heart back in London?”
“My broken heart is still with me,” he said. “It’s only the woman that I’ve left behind.”
But Lydia had not entirely softened towards him. Her pragmatism couldn’t prevent a faint stab of jealousy. “I wonder what kind of woman she can be to have claimed your heart? A beautiful scientist? Intelligent? Blonde?”
“You seem to have an excellent intuition.”
“Does the colour of her hair really matter? Her name is Heather Bridlington. You may have heard of her. She published a paper on immunology in the April edition of Medicine Now.”
Lydia didn’t read Medicine Now. “Immunology happens to be one of my own specialities,” she told him. “Centred on the use of centella asiatica.”
“Is that one of your herbs?”
“It’s quite popular here, where they call it pegaga and drink it in great quantities to promote health and happiness.”
“I don’t put any faith in panaceas myself.”
“You speak as though faith were necessary.”
“My feeling is that a lot of these things rely on the placebo effect. They only work because people believe they will.”
“Perhaps people believe they work because they do.”
“If you can show me evidence of physical changes in the body caused by your herbal remedies … ”
“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails … ”
“I beg your pardon?”
“St Thomas’s words in the New Testament. Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
“Exactly. Medicine is a science not a religion. It’s all about proofs.”
“Tell me, Tony. Why didn’t it work out between you and your girlfriend? Didn’t you think alike?”
“In matters of science, yes. We agreed completely.”
“Ah. But not in matters of the heart.”
“Are you making a point, Dr. Chen?”
“Call me Lydia, please.”
“Relationships are complex things, Lydia. They don’t always go according to plan.”
“Did you have a plan, with Helen – what was it?”
“Did you have a plan in her case?”
“Yes. I wanted to marry her.”
“I’m sorry if it’s a painful subject for you. Would you rather not talk about it?”
“I came here in part to forget.”
“But you are a very handsome young man. Not only handsome but successful. You are sure to find someone else.”
“I can’t really think of that now. When once your feelings are engaged …”
“Quite. I understand. Love doesn’t adhere to logic.”
“You are right. I don’t really want to talk about it. Not here anyway.”
The hotel lounge was emptying around them and still they sat there. It was the boy’s father, Professor Wayland who put an end to their conversation. He came into the lounge and circled about, keeping his distance but clearly signalling to the boy his unease at the lateness of the hour.
Tony Wayland stood up therefore and held out his hand to say goodnight.
“I hope we can see each other again, Dr. Chen,” he said politely.
Lydia observed once again the slight stoop in his posture, felt the firm pressure of his hand. Perhaps his voice had held a tremor of uncertainty but his deferential blue eyes were calm.
“I’m sure we will,” she said, releasing his hand and giving a slight nod of her head. “I hope we will.”