Chapter Three

The wrought iron gate swung open without protest and granted Anne-Marie passage to the black front door flanked by colonial pillars and a porch roof. The four-storey house, rendered in white, displayed proudly its multi-paned windows with a symmetry characteristic of Georgian architecture. This elegant home was built in the 18th century and was located in the affluent Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Anne-Marie rang the video doorbell.

After a brief moment, an eloquent female voice carried across the doorbell speaker, ‘Is that you Anne Marie?’

Anne-Marie positioned her face in front of the camera so she could be fully recognisable. ‘Yes, Laura, it is,’ she replied.

‘Come in, come in.’

A buzzer sounded and a magnetic lock unlatched. Anne-Marie pushed the door open and entered the hallway where she waited until Laura appeared from one of the many rooms of the house.

Laura wore a pinny that covered her floral dress and on top of her head was a straw Panama hat. She clutched rose secateurs in one hand and gardening gloves in the other. She laid these down on the side table before offering both hands to Anne-Maria.

‘My goodness me,’ Laura exclaimed, ‘it’s been such a while’.

‘Yes, it has,’ Anne-Marie sounded apologetic and took Laura’s hands in her own. ‘I’m sorry I haven’t visited earlier; University has been keeping me so busy lately with our finals coming up.’

‘No need to apologise, it’s just good to see you again. Let’s go and sit in the kitchen where I can make us both a nice cup of tea.’ Laura picked up her gardening tools and led them down the hall.

Anne-Marie followed behind, noticing that Laura seemed frailer than the last time they had met. Laura had always been tall and slim and kept herself fit with yoga and pilates, but she seemed to have lost body mass, her wrists and fingers were bonier, and her cheeks gaunter. She wondered if age or family stresses were taking their toll.

Laura indicated for Anne-Marie to sit on one of the bar stools at the kitchen island. Anne-Marie always loved this kitchen, the chimney breast façade over the six-ring burner gas stove and oven. The cool granite countertops, the shaker-style doors cupboards, the integrated fridge and freezer, and the breakfast dresser that hid the toaster and kettle. Most of all, she loved it for the many happy childhood memories she had playing games, cooking, talking, and laughing with her best friend Mercy, her mother Laura, and Laura’s late husband David.

‘How have you been?’ asked Laura as she made them tea.

‘Very well, thank you,’ replied Anne-Marie, ‘but with the exams coming up I feel I’ve done nothing but revise for the last few months. This is my last visit home before I take them.’

‘I can just about remember sitting my finals,’ said Laura as she set a teapot and two China cups down on the kitchen island. ‘I’m sure you will do well; you were always the studious one.’ As she said that a flicker of remorse crossed her face.

‘What have you been up to?’ questioned Anne-Marie while stirring the tea in the teapot.

‘Oh, I’ve been busy with the upkeep of the house,’ answered Laura, ‘since David’s passing and you and Mercy leaving for Uni, there’s just me rolling around in this big house.’

A wave of sadness filled Anne-Marie hearing these words, knowing how much love and warmth there had been in this home. She quickly changed the subject to avoid becoming over-sentimental.

‘Do you have any holiday plans this summer?’ she enquired.

‘Yes,’ Laura declared with a broad smile, ‘I’m going on a cruise to the Caribbean. Did you know there are cruises that specialise in singles and over 40s?’

‘That’s wonderful, and no I didn’t know there were such cruises,’ acknowledged Anne-Marie as she was about to pour the tea into Laura’s cup.

‘Uh-uh,’ scolded Laura. ‘Remember, you must first put the milk in a teacup when using a teapot. That’s the only time you put milk in first before the tea, otherwise, that is just uncouth.’

Anne-Marie apologised and let Laura add her desired quantity of milk before pouring her tea. Laura was a stickler for tradition, and one of the reasons Mercy rebelled.

‘Have you heard from Mercy,’ asked Laura as if picking up on Anne Marie’s thoughts. The broad smile that was there moments ago washed away and was replaced with perceptible angst.

‘No,’ Anne-Marie replied knowing this was the real reason she had paid this visit. ‘I was wondering if she came home or had made contact with you.’

Laura stood up, took her tea, and gaze out of the Crittall doors that led to the garden.

‘We haven’t spoken since Christmas,’ she confirmed. ‘I was, well I was hoping you had news of her whereabouts and what she is doing.’

Anne-Marie paused to carefully choose her words. ‘I’m afraid she isn’t returning my calls or texts either. I call in on where she’s living, but she’s never there. Her neighbours say they do see her but infrequently, often coming and leaving late at night. I also keep in touch with her personal tutor, and he says her attendance is sporadic and worries she will fail her degree.’

Laura turned to face Anne-Marie; sorrow now clearly etched on her face. ‘Her condition was manageable when she was at home, but since leaving for Uni and her father’s passing at the same time, I fear something has snapped. Her ‘blackouts’ and periods of forgetfulness seemed to increase in length. Her doctors and psychologist did warn us this might happen, but the drugs were having some effect.’

‘I know,’ said Anne-Marie, ‘I also kick myself for letting her join that socialist group at the fresher’s fair, but she was going through so much at the time, I just wanted to be a friend and support her decisions.’

‘Don’t blame yourself,’ countered Laura, ‘it’s her condition and there’s not a lot you could have done. You are a good friend to her, and I want you to concentrate on your exams and not worry about Mercy. When she’s ready she will come home.’

‘Thank you,’ whispered Anne-Marie, she felt she had just been to the confessional and had received her absolution. After an uncomfortable period of silence, Anne-Marie finished her tea and announced, ‘I should be going, and let you get on. It’s been really good to see you again, I’ll visit after my exams and before you go on your cruise.’

Laura smiled weakly and walked over to Anne-Marie and gave her a crushing hug. Anne-Marie returned the hug, silently communicating her sympathy and support.

‘I’ll see myself out,’ Anne-Marie said.

Laura nodded, picked up her gardening tools, and returned to her garden in quiet contemplation.

The darkness was replaced by light dancing off car windows and bouncing on the unfamiliar ceiling. She began to perceive the chirping of birds and screams of delight from children coming from a nearby playground. As her eyes began to adjust and focus on her surroundings, she noticed the bare brick walls, and a threadbare couch placed directly in front of a large flat-screen television. Her gaze fell to the floor where she spotted her underwear and jeans. Cotton sheets covered her naked body, and her head rested on a lumpy pillow. She felt the mattress oscillate up and then down, someone next to her jostled before settling down again. She turned her head in the direction of the movement and felt hot morning breath envelope her face. She recoiled as the one thing she couldn’t stand was someone breathing in her face. Her involuntary movement shook the bed, her bed partner stirred and opened a bleary eye.

‘Good morning, beautiful,’ he said. The voice belonged to a young man she had never seen before.

She sat bolt upright and clutched the sheets tightly against her chest. ‘Who are you, and where am I?’

‘Mercy, it’s me Fabian. Don’t you remember last night we met in the club? I mean I would have never guessed you were such a freak when I first met you. You look so wholesome and all.’

‘Did you drug me, slip me a roofie?’ she accused him.

His smug look turned into horror at the suggestion. ‘No, no I would never do that!’ he exclaimed holding his hands together in a pleading manner. ‘Don’t you remember, you were at the bar, I asked you if you were waiting for someone, you said ‘maybe’ and I said, ‘let’s find out’. Then we hit it off, well I thought we did anyway…’

Mercy could tell from his sincerity that he wasn’t lying. It’s just that she had no recollection of last night’s evening events. She couldn’t even remember sitting at the bar, as he claimed she did. She tried to access her memories, but it felt like ribbons of light wafting through emptiness. There was nothing tangible she could grasp and hold on to.

Anxious about the lack of response from Mercy, he pitched. ‘Listen, maybe you were really drunk last night, and you can’t remember everything just yet. Shall I make us some coffee and breakfast that might help?’

Mercy turned and looked him straight in the eyes. ‘No,’ she said defiantly, ‘I’m leaving. Please turn your head the other way while I get dressed.’

Fabian complied with the request, he intuitively knew this was a lost cause and better let this catch return to the sea. He felt her climb out of the bed, and then collect her belongings. He heard the fabric from her jeans slide over her long slim legs, and the buttons of her blouse fasten.

Without a further word or thought, Mercy crossed the bedroom and into the hallway. She opened the front door and slammed it behind her.

Fabian let out a sigh of relief, she was one of the most attractive girls he had ever been with, but she was trouble. In hindsight, he should have seen the signs when he first approached her. She was the typical hot girl next door who wasn’t aware of her natural beauty. Cascading brown locks, a petite nose, large green emerald eyes, high cheekbones, and full lips. She at first appeared demure, but as she became more comfortable with their interaction, the level of flirtation escalated until the point that even a dating novice couldn’t misinterpret the signals.

They made out in the back of the taxi on the way to his flat. The sexual tension between them was unlike anything he had felt before. They literally fell through the threshold of his flat. As he broke to remove his coat, she scanned her surroundings. Suddenly she became doubtful, remorseful even, whispering to him that she should leave.

Bemused by this sudden change of heart, Fabian was taken aback, the flat while modest, was clean and tidy. Perhaps she was a gold digger and expecting something more luxurious and representative of his financial prowess. Nevertheless, he promised to order a taxi for her after staying for just one drink. This was his final ‘hail Mary’ shot at getting her to reconsider. She acquiesced to this arrangement but still had her reservations, muttering all the while under her breath that she shouldn’t be here and that this wasn’t right.

He fixed them both a Jack Daniels and coke, which had the effect of seemingly calming her down a little. Although for the next ten excruciating minutes, they hardly said a word to each other. After they had finished their drinks, Fabian was resigned to ending this night as many of his other nights; alone and despondent.

He moved to the hallway that led towards his bedroom where the mobile phone signal was strongest and rang the local taxi firm.

‘Can I order a taxi for a pickup at 22 Stanmore Street,’ he requested.

‘Yes, no problem,’ came the reply, ‘where is it you are going?’

Damn, he forgot to ask her where she wanted to go. It was when he turned back towards the kitchen, he saw a body hurl itself at him, knocking the phone clean out of his hands.

‘Hello, sir’ came the voice from the phone, ‘where is it you are wanting to go?’ When no response came, the man cussed about having his time wasted and hung up.

Her body was light and lean, he could feel her musculature beneath her clothes. She leaped at him with both legs wrapping around his waist and her arms fastened tightly around his neck. Fabian staggered from the force but gyroscopically managed to maintain his equilibrium. Lips engulfed each other, her hair and scent filled his nostrils. His eyes, first wide open with alarm, then closed as passion overtook his body. He impulsively carried her to his bedroom where he pivoted and lay her down on the bed.

As she lay there, he stared at her wondering what had caused this change of heart. Still, he didn’t want to procrastinate in case she changed her mind again. He began fumbling with his own shirt buttons when she stood up, groaning that he was taking too long, and grabbed the shirt near the collars and ripped it open, sending the remaining buttons flying around the room.

Adroitly she manoeuvred him so that the backs of his knees touched the edge of the bed, making him fall onto it as she shoved him hard in the chest laughing as she did so. Fabian, now paralysed with bewilderment, stared at the ceiling as he felt each leg separately being lifted and his shoes and socks unceremoniously removed. He undid his trouser button and zip while she, with apparent ease, lifted up his lower half, clutched at the belt loops, and yanked off his trousers together with his boxers. He lay there stark bollocks naked, and she fully clothed towered above him. She smirked at him, her eyes shining wildly, as she began to undress revealing her milky skin and athletic frame.

She leaned over him, bringing her mouth close to his right ear, tendrils of hair brushing his face, and whispered, ‘who does this belong to?’ while simultaneously clutching his balls in her hands and squeezing. The shock of her cold hands made him groan aloud and stiffen.

‘Er, yours?’ he said with uncertainty.

She chortled at his response and placed one toned thigh across his hips, straddling him while pinning his shoulders to the bed. The heat from her body provided additional stimulation, as she lowered herself onto his manhood. Instinctively, he began to thrust, but she moved her hands to the side of his pelvis and restricted his movement. She began to grind her pubic mound, slowly at first, horizontally up and down on his pubis. Taking deep breaths with each pass. She placed an open palmed hand on his face, making it difficult for him to see and generally uncomfortable. However, he remained static, while she increased the intensity of her rhythm. Shallow quick breaths were accompanied by low audible moans as the friction between them started to burn his groin. As she became lost in the sensation, her hand moved to the base of his neck, leaning on it so she could apply more leverage. Her head flipped back, exposing gritted teeth, as she brought herself closer to climax.

He contracted his lower abdomen, tilting his hips forward and she reacted with a loud groan. She drove harder, her head snapped forward tossing hair into his face, one hand now fully on his throat. He could feel her contractions as she came, her hand squeezing his windpipe choking the air from his lungs.

Finally, the squeezing relented, and the motion stilled. Soft panting filled the silence. In the dimly lit room, her silhouette dismounted him and lay on the farthest side of the bed.

Fabian ran both his hands through his hair and thought to himself, ‘what the hell just happened there.’ Once he regained his composure he rolled over onto his side and whispered, ‘Mercy…’ There was no response except the sound of deep breathing as she was unmistakably asleep. Well at least tonight he wasn’t alone, but he was despondent.

As the sun rose and claimed her silhouette, Fabian awoke and lowered the blind so as not to rouse Mercy. He returned to bed and lifted the covers to place them over her. He noticed dark yellow marks from healing bruises on her skin around her triceps and long thin scabs from scratches along her shoulder blades. Neither of these could have resulted from their tryst.

He lay his befuddled head down on the pillow and fell asleep until he felt her stir, and the incongruity of her actions began all over again.

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