Jeannie didn’t have to wait long. It was going to be another bright summer’s day, and by six-thirty sunlight was streaming into the bedroom and Laura stirred. It took her a few minutes to fully waken, and in her drowsy state she didn’t at first remember what had happened, or even where she was. But then she stretched, and instead of her feet pushing against the sloping wall at the end of her own narrow bed, there was only space. She was laying beneath a white sheet not her familiar old duvet, and then with a jolt she remembered. First her mind went back to the Fort and the fear she had felt, and then her head filled with images of last night and she blushed at the memory. Had that really been her?
Opening her eyes at last she saw he was gone, but then she heard noises from the kitchen and smiled. He must be making tea, or breakfast even, and she was certainly hungry enough. Hungry and sticky, she thought, and in need of a shower before anything else. She padded over to the bathroom and blushed again, remembering how he had carried her from there the night before. Peering over her shoulder into the mirror she could see that the message was almost gone from her skin. She would be glad when there was not even the faintest mark left, nothing to remind her of them.
The huge square shower head poured a hot waterfall onto her and Laura stood still, enjoying how it felt on her body, slightly regretful that it was washing away all traces of Joseph. She didn’t stay there for long though, and after drying herself and putting on the robe that hung on the back of the door, she found the elastic she had taken from her hair when she’d been in the bath. She rinsed it under the tap and pulled her hair back into a ponytail, then she headed for the kitchen.
“I hope that’s tea,” she said as she opened the door, and then stopped in her tracks as it was not Joseph rattling cups but a stranger, a woman.
“Hello,” the woman said, smiling, “you must be Laura.”
Laura said nothing, but clutched the edges of the robe more closely round herself feeling embarrassed and slightly queasy. Where was Joseph, and who the hell was this?
“I’m Jeannie, we met yesterday.”
Laura managed two words, “Did we?”
“You came to my café.”
Then she remembered. She remembered shovelling the food down in a spectacularly unattractive manner, and she also remembered this woman’s hand on Joseph’s shoulder, they were obviously close. Now she really did feel sick and she leaned against the breakfast bar.
“Please sit down, before you fall down,” said Jeannie kindly, “Joseph asked me to look after you for a bit.”
Laura sat, on one of the stylish but very uncomfortable chairs that were tucked underneath the shiny glass table.
“Where has he gone?”
“I don’t know, he wouldn’t tell me.”
“When will he be back?”
“Oh dear.” Jeannie poured out two cups of tea and sat down opposite Laura. “I don’t know, but I can tell you I’ll be giving him a piece of my mind when he does come back.”
“I don’t understand,” Laura said simply, blinking hard and not meeting Jeannie’s gaze.
Jeannie sighed. Poor girl, this clearly wasn’t a regular occurrence for her, and from what little Joseph had told her, she’d already had quite a time of it over the last couple of days without him doing a runner while she slept.
“I don’t know what exactly is going on, and I don’t want to know. Joseph has always been involved in things I know nothing about, but I trust him and that’s good enough for me. He said that he had to leave straight away, that he had to try and sort something out before it was too late. It sounded serious and he asked me to come here to watch you, so here I am.”
“To watch me?”
“He told me that you’ve had a bad experience and you could still be in some sort of danger, but he didn’t give me any of the details. That’ll be why you’re in hiding here?”
Laura managed to stop herself from pouting but inside she was fuming. How could he just leave her here, as if she were some useless damsel in distress. He’d needed her help before, but now things had got really interesting he’d just abandoned her. And what about last night? Her cheeks grew hot and she studied her cup.
Jeannie felt Laura’s discomfort, and tactfully got up from the table to wash out her own mug. To try and lighten the mood she told Laura a funny story about Joseph’s antics at the school where they had first met, and then picked up one of the bags she’d brought with her.
“He said you’d need some clean clothes. I hope these are okay.”
Laura took the bag and returned to the bedroom. So that was it: she was stuck in this place with Jeannie and a bag of someone else’s clothes to put on. What about work? What about her flat? Mrs P would be worrying. She flopped down onto the bed and wondered how on earth this had all happened, and what exactly she was going to do about it.