It was eight fifty eight when Laura slid behind her desk the next morning, kicking her bag underneath as she lowered herself into her chair with what she hoped was a casual nonchalance. Her hands danced over the keys and the computer network’s clock was still saying 08.59 as she logged in. She’d made it – by the skin of her teeth, but there would be no late log in to alert Olga’s suspicions.
Rani however was another matter. Her eagle eyes spotted Laura within a millisecond of her sitting down, and the first email to arrive in her inbox was from her friend, subject line “Busted!!!” It read:
“You are wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Have you, Laura Poole, actually just done the walk of shame?”
Laura didn’t reply. How had she ever thought Rani wouldn’t notice her clothes. She had fallen asleep on Joseph’s sofa before he’d even found her a blanket. He must have done so though because she was lying underneath it when he’d shaken her awake seven hours later…
“I’m heading out now. I was going to just leave you sleeping but I thought you might need to be somewhere.”
“What time is it?” She sat up and yawned, pushing her hands through her mass of hair which seemed to have gone completely feral during the night.
“Quarter past eight. I’m running really late but you can stay and have some breakfast if you want.”
Joseph could barely look at Laura, knowing that he’d just spent five minutes watching her sleep.
“No, I mean yes, I do have to be somewhere. At work – now.” She stood up.
“That’s fine. I’ll go and leave you to it. You can have a shower or whatever. Just pull the door behind you when you’re done.”
And he left. It seemed to Laura that he couldn’t get away quick enough. Not that she cared of course, or so she told herself as she folded up the blanket and gathered her things together. No way was she taking a shower in Joseph’s bathroom. Her bag was sitting on a chair by the table, and on top of it was a rather crumpled shirt, her shirt, the one she’d been wearing on the river trip. She paused for a second, not quite sure how it had got there, but she couldn’t spend time wondering, she had to get to work.
When there was no response to her fifth email Rani could bear it no longer and marched over the Laura’s desk.
“Come on, spill,” she demanded.
“Go away, I’m busy.”
Laura did not look up from her computer screen but out of the corner of her eye she could see shiny blue fingernails tapping on the corner of her desk and a spectacular vermillion blur which was presumably Rani’s outfit for Dress Down Friday.
“Not too busy to Stay Out All Night,” Rani raised her voice slightly and Laura capitulated.
“Okay, okay, coffee in half an hour. Now go away, please.”
With a humph Rani stalked back across the office leaving Laura thirty minutes to come up with a good story.
They sat down at their usual table in the canteen, and Rani immediately covered the big slice of coffee and walnut cake with outstretched hands.
“Not one bite until you’ve told me everything. Who is he? What were you doing? Where were you doing it?”
“Don’t ‘Rani’ me. For the last three years I have sat at this table and told you all the gory details of my neverendingly tragic love life. Now it’s your turn madam.”
“Well…” Laura took a sip of her coffee, “I might not have stayed at home last night.”
“I knew it!” Rani exclaimed, “Hallelujah we have lift off!”
“No we don’t,” Laura couldn’t help laughing. “Anyway don’t be so cheeky, there have been guys before, not that there was a guy this time, well there was, but not like that. Oh dear.”
Rani grinned. “Oh yes, how could we forget the map guy.”
“Don’t remind me.”
The map guy had been a visiting cartographic specialist who’d doggedly pursued Laura until she gave in. On their second date disaster had struck when he’d lunged at her across the table and she’d spilled most of her dinner in his lap as she made a run for it.
“But I don’t want to talk about the map guy,” Rani persisted, “I want to talk about what you were doing last night.”
“Honestly, there’s not a lot to tell. I was helping this person with some research, it got late, I slept on the couch, end of story.”
“Research about what?” Rani looked highly suspicious.
“Yes, he’s a conservationist, looking into sea pollution and the effect on dolphins.” This was not sounding nearly as convincing out loud as it had when she’d rehearsed it in her head.
“And does the conservationist have a name?”
“And is he on Facebook?”
“How would I know Rani, I’m not on Facebook.”
“Or Twitter, or Insta, or anything useful, you Luddite. Has he called? Is he going to call? Are you going to see him again?”
“It’s not like that. I was simply helping someone with some research, that’s all.”
Rani could read her friend like a book, and she was definitely being somewhat economical with the truth. She didn’t want to make Laura uncomfortable though, and decided to let it go, for now at least.
“If you say so Laura. We’d better eat the cake and get back before Olga starts making a fuss.”