One

And so it starts with a whisper and a sigh.

Something in the dark is stirring.

I can feel it waking.

*

 I open my eyes and find that he is staring at me.

“Fuck off,” I say automatically.

“Fuck yourself,” he replies placidly. “I brought you some tea.”

“Oh. Thanks. Why are you staring at me? It’s rude.”

“You were grunting,” he says mildly. “It was interesting. I’ve never heard anyone grunt like that before. No one human.”

It’s quite a challenge to pull myself up in the bed and take the mug from him. A sip reveals that he’s put too much sugar in, making my tongue wince, but I stop myself from complaining. I’ve already had a go; he’s been nice, and soon I have to make a sharp exit and hopefully never see him again.

“What are you up to today?” he asks hopefully.

“Oh, you know… stuff.”

“What sort of stuff?”

And then I realise – fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Work!”

I down the remainder of the orange-syrup-tea in three big gulps, discard the mug and throw back the covers.

“Have you got a shower I can use? And a shirt I can borrow? A nice one?”

She is distinctly unimpressed.

“You’re ten minutes late,” she says crisply. “I was only five minutes late, and I’m your fucking boss.”

“Sorry, sorry,” I say quickly.

“Late night?” she says sarcastically. “Darling, you look like shit. Don’t you own a pair of sunglasses for such occasions? And what the fuck’s going on with that shirt? He better have been a good lay.”

“I have no idea,” I admit musingly. “Somehow I ended up in Balham…”

She wrinkles her nose in distaste.

Seriously, when I think back, actually the whole evening is a complete blur. I hadn’t noticed until this moment; I have no idea how I came to wake up in bed with that man. I can’t remember his name.

“That’s pathetic,” she says, rattling her hard red nails on the coffee cup. “If you’re going to be late you could at least have an interesting story to tell. Order yourself some breakfast. I’m having the eggs benedict, but if you’re hung-over you should probably avoid dairy.”

“I’m not,” I say, surprised.

“Whatever. We’ve got a long day ahead of us. Have some food, then we’ll buy you some sunglasses at John Lewis and get you spritzed with some sample aftershave; then we’ll hook up with Mason and Briar and hope that they don’t take us for complete amateurs.”

“Yes,” I agree, scanning the menu hastily, not wanting to rile her further.

She sighs.

“I suppose that you young people think it’s very important,” she says philosophically. “All these exciting, random encounters. Proving to yourselves how young and beautiful you are…”

“Marina, you’re hardly old,” I say quickly. “And you’re very beautiful.”

She gives the tinkling little laugh that always makes me oddly nervous.

“Oh Kit,” she sighs. “If it weren’t so unprofessional, I would just eat you up.”

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