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Authors: Alexandra Potter

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BOOK: Be Careful What You Wish For
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‘I’ll take it.’
His voice zones me back in. ‘Oh . . .’ I’m not prepared for this. I’d expected lots of questions, rehearsed lots of answers, but now, faced with a
fait accompli
I’m suddenly unsure. Do I really want this stranger living in my flat? I mean, I hardly know you, pipes up a little voice inside me.
‘OK, so what do you want to know about me?’
As Gabe turns I realise I spoke aloud. I blush hotly. ‘Erm, well, I think we should get to know each other a bit first, you know, talk about hobbies or something . . .’
Hobbies?
As soon as the word pops out of my mouth the flush on my cheeks deepens. I sound like a twelve-year-old.
It amuses Gabe, who smiles mischievously. ‘As if we’re on a date?’
‘No, I . . .’ I falter. I know I’m being ridiculous so I try to relax. ‘Sorry, I’m not used to this,’ I confess. ‘I’ve never let a room before and it just feels weird.’
‘Sure, I understand.’ He sits on the windowsill, pushes his hair out of his face and fixes me with a steady gaze. ‘Fire away. Ask me anything you like.’
‘Really?’
‘Really.’
Well, in that case . . .
I disappear out of the room for a few moments and when I return with a notebook Gabe’s still on the windowsill. Only he’s got company in the shape of a large ginger tomcat curled up on his knee like a croissant, head tucked in one end, tail the other, purring loudly.
‘Oh, you’ve met Billy Smith,’ I say, surprised to see my cat snuggled up in his crotch. The same cat that hisses and digs his claws into anyone he doesn’t know who tries so much as to stroke him. ‘He normally doesn’t like strangers.’ Billy Smith gazes at me languidly without any sign of recognition, then closes his eyes. Traitor, I hiss silently. Who buys you Fancy Feast? Who lets you sleep in my bed in winter?
‘Animals usually like me.’ Gabe tickles Billy Smith between the ears. He’s rewarded by an even louder purr.
I can’t believe it! Even my bloody cat’s cheating on me.
‘It’s people I have a bit of a problem with.’ His face is serious, but this time I recognise the joke and smile. Despite my reservations I am warming to him. Not that that lets you off, moggy, I muse, glaring at Billy Smith who gives me a fish-breath yawn and, using his tail to wrap himself up like a parcel, turns his back on me.
Plopping down on the bed, I turn over the first page of my spiral notebook and look up at Gabe, like a secretary about to do a spot of shorthand. ‘I jotted down a few things I wanted to ask you, in case I forgot,’ I begin. Actually that’s a lie, I didn’t
jot
. ‘Jot’ gives the impression that I casually scribbled down a few reminders, when in fact I made one of my lists. It’s three pages long and took nearly a week of countless revisions and a wastepaper bin full of scrunched-up bits of paper before it was finished. I even typed it up on the computer at work and was going to print it out and give it to prospective flatmates as a questionnaire, but Jess had advised me that that might be a bit much.
‘Fire away,’ he says again.
I clear my throat. ‘Erm . . . do you smoke?’
‘I’m trying to take it up.’ He grins.
I’m not sure if he’s making fun of me, but I make a note anyway. ‘Well, there’s no smoking indoors. By all means smoke in the garden but not using crockery, plant pots or my flowerbeds as an ashtray.’
‘Sure.’
‘Drugs?’
‘Only prescription,’ he answers solemnly.
I make a scribble and move on to the next rule. ‘No leaving teabags in the sink.’
‘I drink coffee.’
‘Oh, OK . . . Great.’ I smile.
Tightly.
This isn’t going to plan. If I’m honest I’d been secretly hoping my rules would deter him from wanting the room. Under my eyelashes I watch him stroke Billy Smith. He seems very pleasant and everything – if you’d bumped into him in a bar. But outside my bathroom? At seven in the morning? In his underpants?
Panic grabs me. This is never going to work. I’ve only ever shared this flat with one man and that was Daniel. I can’t have a stranger parading around my home in his Y-fronts. I need to put him off.
‘Moving on to the kitchen.’ I stand up hastily. ‘No leaving the dishes. I don’t have a dishwasher so you’ll have to wash up after every meal. And no filling a dirty pan with water and leaving it in the sink for days. Soaking is not washing-up,’ I bark bossily.
Gabe gives me a mock-salute.
‘As for the fridge, you can have the top shelf and if you want to put meat in there make sure it’s covered. I’m a vegetarian – well, I eat fish . . .’
‘So you’re a pescetarian?’
I throw him a frosty look and march into the bathroom. ‘I only have one bathroom so we’ll have to share.’ I push open the door and, as he peers inside, I start rattling through Daniel’s habits which drove me mad. That should do the trick. American or British, men are men, and one thing I’ve learned is that they hate nothing more than a nag. So I nag: ‘No taking your socks off and leaving them in little balls on the floor, no shaving and leaving your bristles all over the basin, no using all my shampoo and conditioner . . .’ I pause only to draw breath – now I’m in full swing there’s no stopping me. ‘Oh, and no leaving the loo seat up.’
‘The loo?’
‘You know – the bog.’
No recognition.
‘The lav?’
Not even a flicker.
‘The toilet?’ I try.
‘Oh . . . right, yeah, of course.’ He nods solemnly and rubs the end of his nose. It’s a large nose and has a lump in the middle. It looks as if it’s been broken. I wonder how he did it, I think, looking at him standing in my bathroom, holding my cat in his arms and gazing at me with those big blue eyes.
‘Rule number ten?’
‘Ten?’
‘I’ve been counting.’
‘Oh, right . . . yes.’ My eyes dart back to the jotter on my lap and try to lasso my thoughts round another house rule to prevent them drifting off again. ‘The TV.’ I stride past him into the living room. ‘I have satellite but no hogging the sports channel and watching football every night.’
‘In America we call it soccer.’
‘I call it boring,’ I reply tartly.
‘Not a big sports fan, huh?’ Gabe raises his eyebrows.
‘Nope.’ I shake my head firmly.
Right. That must have done it. I’ve called football boring. He’ll be out of that door in less than five seconds.
‘Don’t worry. I’m not a fan of watching sports either.’ He runs his fingers along Billy Smith’s spine. ‘I prefer doing them.’
Hang on a minute. He’s not moving.
‘Back home I’m a big surfer,’ he continues, ‘but I guess I won’t be doing much of that in England.’
‘Actually, they have great surfing in Cornwall where I grew up,’ I hear myself say eagerly. ‘Every year they have this big competition in Newquay and surfers come from all over the world.’ I sit down on the arm of the sofa.
‘Wow, that sounds awesome. I’d love to take a trip down there some time.’
‘It’s really beautiful, you’d love it,’ I say enthusiastically. Abruptly I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia. It’s ages since I’ve been back – I should take a trip there, visit some of my old haunts. It would probably do me the world of good. ‘You should definitely go.’ I’m talking to myself as much as to him. Perhaps we can go together, share the petrol money. I watch him tickle Billy Smith’s ears, like a pro. Perhaps having a flatmate won’t be as bad as I’ve imagined. Even if it does mean sharing the Le Creuset pans. Talking of which—
‘My pans are off limits.’
‘Your pans?’
‘My Le Creuset pans. They were a housewarming present. You use them for stews and casseroles and stuff . . .’
I can see from Gabe’s dumbfounded expression that he thinks I’m some kind of loony, but he doesn’t mention it. Instead he laughs and says, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m more of a stir-fry kind of guy. One man and his wok and all that.’
There’s a pause, which Gabe breaks first. ‘So, do I pass?’
I consult my notebook. Admittedly he’s ticked most of the boxes. But . . . I hesitate. I’m still not sure. He seems nice but maybe I should wait. Interview more applicants. Not that there actually
are
any more applicants, but there might be if I give it a few more weeks. Wait for a non-smoking, female, tidy Japanese student who will always put the loo seat down.
‘You’ve dropped something.’ Gabe picks it up from the carpet and holds it out to me. ‘Looks like some kind of buttonhole.’
I look down at the ribbon-tied sprig between his fingers. It’s the lucky heather. Suddenly I have the strangest feeling. Funny how it keeps turning up. Maybe it really is lucky.
I take it from him. ‘So, when do you want to move in?’
Chapter Nine
 
R
emember the Boomtown Rats?
I don’t, really, I was too young, but I remember Ed, my brother, playing their seven-inch single. He would crank up his old record-player and trampoline up and down on his bed singing along at the top of his voice to his favourite song.
‘I Don’t Like Mondays.’
Over and over again.
Until the divan springs broke. He spent the rest of his teenage years sleeping on a mattress on the floor. To this day he holds Bob Geldof responsible for his bad back. Suffice to say he never played the record again.
But the song’s stuck with me ever since and I must say, now I’m older, I have to agree with Sir Bob on that one: I don’t like Mondays much either. But this Monday morning is different. This Monday I’m in an extraordinarily good mood and the reason I’ve got a great big smile on my face is because . . .
‘You’ve been shagging.’
As I push open the frosted-glass door that leads into the small office upstairs I’m accosted by a familiar East End accent.
‘What?’ I scoop up the pile of mail from the mat.
Brian is sitting with his feet up on the desk, munching a croissant and eyeing me. ‘That smile. I’d know it anywhere. It’s a shag smile.’
Rolling my eyes, I tug off my denim jacket and walk over to the old mahogany coat-stand. Every day for the past six years it’s stood in the corner of the office like some kind of scarecrow, overflowing with old coats and jackets belonging to me and Brian that neither of us wants to claim. And every day for the past six years I have gone through the routine of wishing half-heartedly that there was somewhere to hang my jacket, giving up, then flinging it on top. Today’s no different.
‘So, come on, who’s the lucky devil?’
Damn! I wish there was a free peg to hang my coat on.
‘There is no lucky devil,’ I retort, then fall silent. Because today, by some fluke, is different. There’s an empty peg. I stare at it in disbelief. How weird. Before slipping my jacket on to it I turn back to Brian.
‘You have the whole weekend off and you waltz in here with a grin the size of a ventriloquist’s dummy.’ He puts down his half-eaten croissant and presses his hand to his chest. ‘Put your hand on your heart and tell me you haven’t met a bloke.’
Honestly, Brian can be so dramatic sometimes.
‘OK, so I met a man . . .’ I confess. ‘But before you get the wrong idea it’s not like that. He’s my new flatmate.’
Brian is crestfallen. ‘You mean there’s no gossip?’
‘Nope. I’m single, remember.’
‘I used to watch
Sex and the City
.’ He raises his eyebrows knowledgeably.
‘Oh, Brian, that was a TV show.’ I laugh. ‘I spend most of my evenings eating TV dinners, doing my handwashing and getting into bed with a good book.’
‘You and me both.’ He shrugs gloomily. ‘You’re looking at a man who hasn’t had a whiff of action since the last millennium. No, I’m serious,’ he protests, before I’ve had a chance to disagree.
Not that I’m going to. Ever since I’ve known Brian he’s only ever had three topics of conversation. Sex (lack of). West End musicals/Michael Crawford (a genius). And the fact he hasn’t been in a relationship for seven years. Three things I can’t help feeling are directly related.
‘The last time I got lucky Abba were at number one with “Waterloo”.’ He picks up his croissant again.
‘Brian, do you ever think of anything other than sex?’ I tut good-naturedly, swatting his feet off the desk and plonking the mail in front of him.
‘What else is there to think about?’ Pastry flakes fall off the croissant and stick to his freshly shaven chin like Velcro. He dabs it with his paper napkin.
‘Politics? Religion?’ sniffs Maureen, appearing from the kitchen with a mop and bucket. Maureen’s our cleaner. A thin, wiry woman with hair dyed the colour of pickled beetroot, she dealt with the loss of her husband last year by enrolling on a philosophy course at the local community centre.
‘Oooh, thrilling,’ says Brian, sarcastically.
‘Actually, it can be extremely invigorating,’ replies Maureen, stiffly. She throws me one of her toothy smiles, which contrasts sharply with the glower she’s just bestowed on Brian. ‘Morning, Heather. How was your weekend?’
‘Haven’t you heard? She’s been shagging.’ Brian winks, partly because he hates being left out of the conversation, and partly because he loves winding up Maureen.
‘Brian, will you stop it? I have not been . . .’ I grope for a polite verb ‘. . . doing anything.’ I give in to my hunger pangs by leaning across to take a bite out of his croissant, then remember my heavy thighs and lean back again.
‘So, why are you looking so happy?’
‘Haven’t you read
The Road Less Travelled
?’ asks Maureen, grabbing a can of Pledge furniture polish and squirting it at Brian as if it’s insect repellent and he’s the mosquito. ‘Happiness comes from within.’
‘Don’t give me all that Dalai Lama claptrap.’
‘It’s Deepak Chopra, actually.’
‘Actually, it’s neither,’ I interrupt their bickering. ‘If you really want to know why I’m so happy it’s because this morning I got a seat on the tube.’
BOOK: Be Careful What You Wish For
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