“You’re here!” Bree said from where she was seated against my door, as if me showing up at my own apartment was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. “Hi!”
My heart was still going. “What the hell are you doing at my home?” I paused, remembering the coffee. “Again!”
She stood up a little awkwardly from the floor. “My legs went to sleep,” she told me, because obviously that was the most appropriate answer. “You took ages. It’s nearly seven-thirty.”
I didn’t even know where to start. Where did you, with this girl? I tried to think of what Henry would do. “Bree. You promised you wouldn’t do this again if I went to dinner with you. I had dinner with you. What are you doing here?”
“Technically, I promised I wouldn’t wait for you outside work,” she casually pointed out. “And I didn’t want to break my promise, especially after I kind of put my foot in it with the whole…” she gestured at my work clothes with her free hand. She still didn’t look very impressed by them.
I just stared at her. Before I could even figure out what I should do or say, I lost my train of thought because she held up the bouquet. It dwarfed her. “Anyway, I had some money left from the taxi and since it’s your money I figured I should spend it on you, you know? So I bought you some flowers to thank you for forgiving me for being completely hopeless and to apologise to you for–”
“Bree, wait just one–” I said, but it wasn’t any use, because she had already taken a step towards me and dumped the whole thing in my arms, “—second.”
I had been about to tell her that it was absolutely unacceptable for her to show up at my house like this, but then I saw the flowers and double-took. I had been expecting lilies, or roses, or some other generic pretty flowers, but that wasn’t what was wrapped up in the colourful tissue paper at all. Instead of a nice delicate arrangement, it was a native Australian bouquet and all the flowers were huge, twisted and really, really ugly. So ugly they were actually monstrous. I couldn’t look away. Who in their right fucking mind buys flowers that look like they want to eat you in order to apologise to someone? Stupid question, I supposed: this girl.
While I was staring in horror at them, she kept talking. “They reminded me of you.”
“These reminded you of me?” I said looking down at their furry leaves. They were fucking hideous. These were the sort of flowers you buy your much-hatred mother-in-law to deliver a very clear message.
“Not because they’re really hairy,” she said. “I mean, you’re Asian, so obviously not. But, you know, they were really different from all of the other flowers.”
Wow, and there it was. My stomach knotted at that. Now I had a bunch of ugly flowers to remind me that I didn’t fit in. And after my fantastic day at work, as well.
God, it was so awful, they were so awful, and yet the absurdity of the whole situation almost made me want to laugh. I was torn between feeling hurt by what she’d said, uncomfortable about her being here, angry that she’d shown up again and just, well, entertained by how spectacularly she was able to fuck up something as simple as giving someone flowers. I didn’t even know what to think.
Bree looked alarmed at my reaction, and put her hands on my arms. “Oh, no!” she said. “No! I didn’t mean it like that, obviously you are, like, surprisingly tall and then you wear heels for some reason on top of that, but I meant it more—”
God, she was still going? “Bree, really, I think you’ve said enough!”
“—special-different! I meant special-different, not anything else, no matter what it sounds like!” she finished. She looked actually upset, like she was about to launch into a really tragic story. “I just walked into the shop because I wanted to do something nice for you, and there were all these flowers and then these strange native ones here, and like, I thought to myself, ‘I could buy her all of those ones that look the same or I could buy these’ and then I picked them up and like, see?” She reached up and stroked the top of one of them gently with her fingertips. “It’s really soft but I bet everyone just ignores them because they’re not traditional. I bet they just sit there for days and days watching all the other pretty flowers get bought as they slowly wilt and die. Can you imagine what that would be like? It’s so sad. I had to buy them for you, I couldn’t just leave them there to rot.”
I… did not have the slightest idea how to respond to that. At all. Had this girl formed an emotional attachment to a bunch of flowers? I wasn’t sure if that was tragic or terrifying, and I couldn’t stand here gaping at her while I tried to figure that out. She was still affectionately stroking the monstrous furry flower.
“Bree, the flowers are a… nice gesture, but they don’t make up for the fact you showed up at my home,” I told her as calmly as I could.
And there were those big blue eyes again. “You don’t like them?”
There wasn’t enough air in my lungs for how much I wanted to sigh at that moment. “They’re…” Ugly, hideous, probably evil, and definitely a waste of my money, “interesting. What I don’t like is people just coming over uninvited. I don’t even like it when people I know really well do that.” She was still giving me those eyes, and for some reason I felt like I needed to keep justifying my feelings about her being here. “Look, Bree, I’ve had a really great day at work and I’d really like to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.”
She stopped touching the scary flower and nodded somewhat forlornly. “I just thought it would be a really nice surprise to bring you some flowers…”
Why did I feel guilty about that? She shouldn’t even be here! “Don’t you see how this looks, though? You Google me and then show up at my house and work to give me things? If you want to meet people, you ask them and let them decide if they want to, as well.”
She was still looking at me. “Yeah, but what would happen if I asked?”
I opened my mouth to tell her the honest truth, but then couldn’t. The truth was that never in a million years would I have given anyone who asked on Deviant Art my home address or information about my work. And I wouldn’t have agreed to meet them, either, no matter how long we’d been talking. Actually, that reminded me that I needed to change my username to something less obvious.
I couldn’t think of a tactful way to answer her, either. I didn’t want to be cruel. She was just trying to be nice.
She knew what I was going to say, anyway, and swallowed. “See? That’s why I’m here.”
In a creepy, intrusive way – she kind of had a point. There weren’t many options for her because she’d idolised completely the wrong artist. God, I was being a grump again, wasn’t I?
She gave the flower one more cursory pat like she was saying goodbye to a kitten. “Make sure you put them in water. They’ve been out of it for hours now and they’re probably thirsty.”
“I will,” I said, with growing guilt about how dismissive of her I was being. She just looked so disappointed. Was I being unfair? Clearly she meant well, and she was right, if she’d just asked to meet me, I’d have said ‘no’. Seriously, I’d known Sarah for… three years? Four years? And I’d never met up outside work with her, regardless of how often she tried to insist I did.
Ugh, was I being anti-social and unreasonable about all of this? She did just buy me flowers. Weird, creepy flowers, but she could easily have taken off with my money and spent it on something for herself. Henry had found that coffee-thing charming, too, and he tended to be pretty level-headed. I doubted he would’ve been as angry as I was with her.
While I was second-guessing myself, Bree slung her schoolbag over her shoulder, looking like Christmas had been cancelled. “Well, I hope you like them anyway.”
“Thanks, they’re pretty.” I was actually just being polite because obviously they were hideous and not pretty at all, but she didn’t interpret it like that. She just looked up at me and smiled. It was the kind of expression a puppy might have as it realised someone had just decided to adopt it from the pound and it wasn’t going to die cold and alone after all.
The hope on her face was completely disarming. “Min, I’m sorry I made you angry,” she said, and she did actually sound sorry. “It’s just that while I was buying them I was imagining how you’d react, and I wanted to be here to see your face when I gave them to you. I waited because I didn’t want to miss it.”
She’d waited here for three hours, in fact, and this was how I was reacting. Probably not what she’d hoped for, after all; my chest clenched.
While I was standing there feeling terrible, she winced. “Um, so,” she began, “This is kind of embarrassing, but I’ve been here for three hours and it’s another hour home. Would you mind if I used your toilet? The guys on the reception desk said I can’t use the hotel ones unless I’m a guest, and I was worried if I left to look for some that I’d miss you.”
I wasn’t too keen on letting her in, but I was feeling bad already and, really, who would say no to that?
I exhaled, awkwardly trying to fish out my keycard with the games in one hand and the flowers clutched against me with the other. In the end Bree needed to take the bouquet back off me so I could open the door.
She dropped her bag at the door and I nearly fell over it as I was taking off my heels. I’d pushed it against the wall with an ankle, and when I looked up, Bree was already distracted on the way to the bathroom by one of my big paintings that I’d had printed and framed.
I liked that one, actually. Henry and I had gone up to Queensland a couple of years ago and had visited Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef and I’d only been in the water for about five minutes before I’d needed to go straight back to the hotel room and paint the reef. The colours and the light were so beautiful, it was like a different planet down there. The painting had turned out really well, and it was the first one I’d had framed when I moved up to Sydney. I put it on the wall that got the most sunlight so the colours were really bright.
“You don’t have this one on Deviant Art,” Bree said as she considered it.
It was the first time I really married up this crazy girl with the person online who I’d been discussing my art with. Multiple exclamation marks aside, we had talked a lot about it. I suddenly felt like a giant prick for completely dismissing her, even if she was way too full on.
I realised that her comment was also kind of a question. “I don’t put everything on there. People steal things from it and I don’t want this one stolen.”
She leaned right up close to it, really admiring the detail. That actually made me feel good; I’d put a serious amount of work into the picture and it was always nice to have her appreciate it. “It’s incredible,” she said eventually, standing back. “Like, this is better than most of the stuff in galleries. What do you do again?” She looked back at me. “At Frost?”
“Marketing.” My heart fluttered as I remembered my promotion. “Well, project management, now.”
Bree made a face, looking back at the painting. “I don’t really know what that is,” she said, and pointed at the painting. “But you should do this for a living.”
I laughed shortly. If only; I’d lost that fight with myself years ago. “Wouldn’t be much of a living. There’s no money in art. I’d be on the street instead of in here.” Now I sounded like my mother. “Painting is just a hobby. I enjoy it.”
Bree turned a little to cast her eyes around the apartment. “This place is nice,” she conceded. There was an unspoken ‘but’ as she looked back at the painting.
I suddenly realised who I was talking to. “Wait, weren’t you on your way to my bathroom?”
She looked at me for a moment, a little disoriented, and then back at the flowers in her hand. “Oh, yeah,” she said, and then made a face and put the flowers on the kitchen bench before disappearing through my bedroom.
I had to go past the painting to put the flowers in water, and I stopped to have another look at it, too. In the glass of the frame, I saw myself smiling at it. Yeah, I liked this one. The original file was so huge I’d even put individual scales on some of the fish, but this print wasn’t quite big enough to see that level of detail. I would have needed to get a wall-to-floor for that, and I wasn’t sure spending thousands on a quality printout was a wise investment. Looking at it all again made me feel like painting, though. Maybe I’d give the games a miss tonight and get the tablet out.
I’d put the evil flowers in a vase and was standing in the middle of the room trying to figure out where I could put them when Bree returned. “You have a lot of make-up,” she told me; which meant she’d opened the cupboards in my bathroom. “It’s weird. Not even my mum has that much.”
I wanted to comment on how inappropriate it was to snoop in people’s cupboards, but I had pads and stuff in there, too. I didn’t want to embarrass her in case that’s why she was looking.
Bree had already moved on from that thought, anyway, and was pointing to the kitchen bench. “You should put the flowers there,” she said, reminding me I was holding the monstrous flowers. “The leaves kind of match the stainless steel.”
She was right, and the flowers also would also be much closer to the stainless steel knives in the event that I’d need to defend myself against them. I was following her advice when she said behind me, “Oh! Should I have taken off my shoes?”
I set the flowers on the bench and was turning the vase to a good angle. “It’s up to you,” I told her, too distracted to realise what I was inadvertently saying. “It’s just a habit. I’m not really fussed if people do or don’t.” There were slippers somewhere, too, but I think I’d kicked them under the hall-stand.
It was only when Bree went to take off her shoes by the door that I realised I’d just given her tacit permission to remain in my apartment. While I was trying to figure out how I’d managed to do something so absent-minded, she bounced back into the living area in her knee-high school socks and I just didn’t have the heart to tell her to put her shoes back on again and leave. She didn’t give me the opportunity to comment on it, either, because she was already at another one of my paintings.
That one was Federation Square in Melbourne, and I’d done it at night. It had started off as practice with lighting and had ended up turning into a completed print. “That’s in Melbourne, yeah?” she asked, glancing back towards me to see me nod. “So you go to places and paint them? That’s actually a really cool idea. Way better than buying souvenirs.”
I thought so. “Well, yes. But I’m actually from Melbourne.”
She gave me a cheeky grin, and I knew she was going to drag out the old rivalry between Sydneysiders and Melbournites. “That explains a lot.”
“Whatever you’re going to say, I’ve heard it before,” I said, rolling my eyes as she moved on to the next one. It was actually not a location shot; I’d had this dream where I was a character in a computer game and it was set in this beautiful phosphorescent forest teaming with tiny little glowing dragons. The print was darker than I’d have liked, but it still looked great.
Bree spent a few minutes looking at it, and then turned back to me. “You are actually my hero,” she said. “I can’t believe you did this all out of your head. It’s like a superpower.”
I tried to keep a perfectly straight face. “What are you talking about?” I asked her. “That’s where I went the last time I took annual leave.” She spun around to take another look as I kept talking, obviously thinking she must have seen it wrong. “I’m pretty happy with how the glowing ferns turned out, but I’m not sure I captured the essence of those baby dragons.”
She turned to blink at me for a second, and then laughed. When she stopped laughing, she was gazing at me with what I could only describe as total adoration. I didn’t know what to do with it, but it was really confronting. Fortunately, I didn’t have to figure it out, because she toured the rest of my paintings and proceeded to give them a really gratifying level of appreciation. I was really proud of some of them, and I didn’t think anyone had ever paid so much attention to them before.
I’d been standing near the small glass dining table where I’d left my tablet, and since I’d been thinking of painting anyway, I’d picked it up. Unfortunately, when Bree was done admiring my walls, the first thing she did was spot it in my hand.
She looked really excited. “Oh, my god, are you going to do something now?” she asked, already knowing the answer. She rushed over to me. “Can I watch? Please say I can watch! I’ve always wondered how you do it and you never stream, so it would be kind of interesting to watch how you go about it–”
“It’s coming up to eight on a school night,” I pointed out, interrupting her because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get a word in otherwise. “You really need to go home. Your parents are probably wondering where the hell their daughter is every night.”
She made a face. “I told them I was at a friend’s house,” she said, and then looked hopefully up at me. “It’s kind of true, isn’t it?”
I closed my eyes for a second, remembering who I was dealing with again. She was relentless. “Bree, I don’t know how to answer that,” I told her, hoping honesty was the best call. “How would they feel if they knew you were at a twenty-five year old’s house? It’s probably inappropriate for you to hang around for much longer. I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
She scoffed. “Well, it’s not like you’re up here getting me pregnant,” she said. She didn’t give me a chance to respond to that before moving right along again. “What I want you to say is that you’ll be friends with me, so let’s just be friends? You let me in, so obviously you don’t hate me. There’s no rule that says you can only be friends with people your own age, and if we’re friends, it’s not weird that I’m in here.”
The way she put it, ‘let’s be friends’, made it seem like she was suggesting I click a button on Facebook or change my status to ‘friends with Bree’. I didn’t actually know what she thought about the way actual friendship worked, but I doubted it generally started with a marriage-like friendship proposal. Then again, Bree’s idea of things clearly differed a lot from other people’s. Those flowers, I thought.
“Is there actually any way for me to say ‘no’ to that?”
From how much her brow was wavering, I think there actually might have been. “I guess so,” she said, and then spoke with so much animation that her curls bounced. “But you can ask Courtney, I’m actually really nice. I always try and do nice things for people, and I’ll try really hard not to accidentally insult you or do anything that you really, really don’t want me to do. And if you’re really tired from work and you want to relax I won’t make you leave the house, we can just hang out up here. It could be awesome and I just really think you should try it first instead of just saying ‘no’ outright.”
I listened to her deliver her pitch with total and complete conviction, heart on sleeve. God, I could really hurt her right now, I thought, watching her. I could say ‘nope’ and crush that little heart of hers. Fuck, I thought, I think I’m giving in to those curls. Shit.
“You should work in sales,” I told her, and I was sure my resignation was audible. Before she could get too excited, though, I jabbed the air toward her with my stylus. “This is conditional on you never showing up or leaving anything anywhere again, okay?” She nodded mutely. “I’m serious about that. And I’m holding you to the ‘I won’t do things you don’t want me to’ clause, too.”
“Whatever you want!” she said in the top register of her voice. “Oh, my god!” She looked like she was about to throw her arms around my middle. Before she managed to, I ducked into the bedroom to grab the laptop, came back with it and began setting up.
Bree shuffled one of the kitchen chairs around beside me and she still looked really excited. “This is so awesome, you have no idea,” she said as I was trying to get comfortable. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long!”
I listened to her, trying to figure out how to position myself. It was a bit awkward, because normally I’d put a leg up and lean the tablet across my thigh. I was still wearing my work skirt, so that wasn’t going to happen. I did bend my leg up experimentally, though, but the skirt was too tight and the fabric wasn’t stretchy. Also, my stockings were slipping off the chair.
Bree noticed. “You need one like this,” she said, smoothing the pleated skirt of her school uniform. It might have been passable when she was standing up, but as soon as she sat down it was scandalously short. I would never in a million years show that much skin. I did not need a skirt like that; even ten times that amount of fabric wouldn’t be enough to make me comfortable. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter, just put trackies on or something. It’s not like you need to dress up so much to sit in your living room.”
I thought about that for a second; I supposed my black tracksuit pants wouldn’t look so out of place with my work blouse, and I did still have all my make-up on. I went into my bedroom, shut the door and put them on. Without the hoodie, they didn’t look too boyish and the colour of them was such that they looked a bit like work-pants anyway. My white socks didn’t match so well, but whatever. Fuck, this was way more comfortable. I did give my big hoodie a bit of a sad glance as I left the bedroom, though.
The trackies made everything so much easier, and I put the tablet across my knee and thought about what to draw. Bree was actually quiet for once, and I had been gazing forward trying to decide what do to when I noticed I was looking directly at those horrifying flowers. Bree sat straight up. “Yes!” she said. “It would be so poetic. I rescued them and then they went on to become famous!”
Hah, famous? “I don’t have that many followers,” I told her. “But okay.”
I decided not to bother with a background – that would have taken ages and Bree did actually need to get home at some sort of reasonable hour – and just started drawing shapes. She obviously did actually know a thing or two about art, as well, because a couple of times while she was commenting on what I was doing, she used the correct terminology for the tools and asked me questions about my brushes.
“You know a lot. Do you draw?” I asked, working on giving one of the flowers a deep, open mouth with many layers of shark-teeth. I didn’t remember seeing any pictures in her gallery on Deviant Art.
Bree laughed at what I was doing with the flower. “You want the truth?” I nodded as I kept painting. “Actually you kind of taught me all that stuff.”
I stopped for a second and looked at her. I did? I didn’t remember those conversations at all, they must have happened ages ago. “Really?”
She relaxed back in the chair again. “Yeah. And no, I can’t draw. I’ll just hang around and be kind of in awe of you and a bit depressed.” I shot her a strange look, she explained, “Well, it’s like you have this totally amazing gift and you’re not even using it.”
I clicked through the palette. “It’s not a gift,” I said, fixing a colour, “it’s six years of locking myself up in a graphics lab every recess and lunchtime.”
“Bit late for me, then, I guess,” Bree said. “Plus at Cloverfield we only get half an hour for lunch and that’s barely even enough to eat food. I think they just want to make sure we don’t have time to cross the road to the boys’ school. Are you this good at your job?”
There was that familiar whiplash again. “I think so,” I said, and the corrected myself. “I mean, yes. I just got promoted.”
Her face lit up again. “Oh, that’s great! Is that what you were happy about earlier?”
I was actually surprised she’d been listening. She certainly hadn’t acted like she was listening. I stopped for a second and looked at her again, and then went back to the tablet. I decided not to ask about it. “Yup.”
“Well, if you’re half as good at… project managing or whatever you call it as you are at art, I bet you’re awesome.”
There’s something to be said for being heavily praised. I got it all the time online, but it’s one thing to have disembodied text saying your art is amazing and another to have someone sitting next to you saying it. And Bree was just so damn genuine, I found it difficult to hang on to my reservations about having let her stay. This was actually okay. It wasn’t exactly video games with Henry, but it wasn’t ruining my evening. And she probably wouldn’t be here for that long, anyway, because I was nearly done with the picture.
I didn’t remember the last time I’d done anything grotesque, but the flowers definitely belonged in that category by the time I was finished. I’d really only suggested the vase and painted these exaggerated, monstrous flowers full of teeth and tentacles pouring out of it like something from a horror movie. It was different from what I normally did, but I was happy with how all the textures turned out. I sat back from the tablet and examined it.
Bree loved it. “That’s incredible. You did that in half an hour,” she gushed, leaning over the picture. Then, she reached out and tentatively touched the tablet where the furry flower was.
I just stared at her for a second. What was she expecting? It was a screen. She saw my expression and giggled. “Sorry, it just kind of looked really furry and I guess I just needed to remind myself that it’s a picture.”
“You can touch the real thing if you want,” I told her, and gestured at the actual flowers. “Just make sure you don’t go anywhere near them without a sharp sword.”
She laughed again. “It was actually really funny, because the florist asked me if I knew what to feed it, and I was like, ‘um, you need to feed bouquets?’ And I just had this weird image of, like, chopping up raw meat for it or something.”
“Raw meat?” I snorted. “Please. Those flowers clearly hunger for the souls of unborn children.”
Bree looked from my neutral expression to the flowers and then burst out laughing. I hadn’t thought it was that funny, but she kept laughing for a good several minutes, to the point at which she couldn’t breathe and her eyes were watering. She calmed down a little, and then she saw the flowers and started all over again. I watched her at first because it was entertaining, but after her skirt rode a bit high I spent the rest of her giggle fit uploading the picture to Deviant Art. I didn’t really think twice about the comment I put on the submission, but when Bree finally sobered up and bent forward to read it, she liked it.
“‘For Bree‘,” she read aloud, and then from how she looked at me you’d have thought I’d done a hell of a lot more than dedicate a thirty-minute speed-paint to her. “You don’t know what this means,” she said, basically articulating what I was thinking. Fortunately, she spelt it out for me. “Like, I’ve been a huge fan of yours for ages and now I’m here and you’re painting for me and you’re hilarious and just so nice.”
She was actually going to make me blush if I let her go on, so I didn’t. “Will you finally go home and leave me alone now?” I asked her, but I might have been smiling a little.
She grinned. “Yeah, okay,” she said. “I kind of got what I came for earlier anyway.”
“You mean I didn’t need to do all this?” I gestured at the screen.
Instead of answering, she sat forward tensely for a couple of seconds, looking like she wanted to say something. Then, she lifted the tablet off my knee, flipped to Photoshop and scribbled down an ’04’ number on one of the layers. When she finished it, though, she leaned back, made and noise and then Control-Zedded the last three digits and tried again.
I smirked. “That would have been a lot cooler if you knew your own phone number.”
“Well, it’s not like I call it all the time,” she said, and then jumped up and rushed off to her schoolbag. “You should just give me yours!”
Yeah, no. My work number was the same as my home number, and she definitely wasn’t getting it until I was sure I could trust her to not text me all day.
After she’d given me the right number, I shut the lid of my laptop. “Come on,” I said, bustling her towards the door. “Let’s get you home before your parents call the cops on me. Where do you live? If it’s not too far, I’ll come for the ride.”
She looked alarmed. “No, that’s okay, it’s actually really far,” she said. “I’ll just take the train.”
I looked pointedly towards the windows; it was getting dark outside. Bree was the last person in the world who should be allowed near strangers after dark. Especially in that skirt. “It’s fine, I need to buy something to eat, anyway. They haven’t changed the menus in this place for at least two years.”
“I can go by myself,” she said quickly. “I do it all the time, there’s still always people around in stations until much later. I’ll probably just go to Courtney’s anyway.”
I went to get my purse and take out another fifty. I didn’t feel fantastic about giving away more of my money to her, but I also didn’t relish the prospect of another night spent lying awake and wondering if she’d been kidnapped or murdered. “Okay, I won’t come with you, but no trains,” I said, making sure she took it.
When I’d put my skirt back on and Bree was on her way out the door, I cleared my throat and she stopped. I nodded towards the evil flowers. “You’re just going to leave without saying goodbye to them?”
She giggled and bounced over to the vase, pretending to tickle one them under its chin. “Wow, I really love these things. Don’t forget to feed them!” she told me, pretending to sound stern.
“Stockpiling human corpses as we speak.”
She was still laughing when we’d made it down to the bottom of the building. Being a hotel in central Sydney, there were already taxis waiting to collect people. It was merely a matter of walking up to the one at the head of the rank.
She stopped in front of me. I’d just slipped on some ballet flats because my feet were still hurting from yesterday, but even without heels on I was just so much taller than her. The combination of me being very tall and her being very short made her seem almost child-like, but from this angle I could see pretty deep into her unbuttoned school-shirt. She definitely wasn’t a child, that was for sure. I wished she’d do up that damn button, though. Being able to see inside made me uncomfortable and it was going to give people the wrong idea about her.
I didn’t say anything about it because Bree already looked like she was about to explode with something. It made me even more uncomfortable. “What?”
“I’m one of those people who always hugs everyone,” she said, sounding urgently worried about it.
I squinted at her. I was the opposite of one of those. “Please don’t.”
“I know I promised I wouldn’t do anything you didn’t like, but it’s hard because you’re really funny and I want to!”
“Then you’ll have to be really strong,” I told her, taking her shoulders, spinning her around and pushing her gently towards the taxi before she inevitably lost the fight with herself and pounced on me in front of everyone.
She let me usher her over to the taxi, hopping into it and winding down the window. I didn’t miss the taxi driver’s eyes dipping to that skirt and I made sure he saw me glaring at him.
“I had a great time!” she said out the window, oblivious to my exchange with the taxi driver. “And I’m sorry I just kind of showed up before,” she reconsidered, looking torn, “but also kind of not really because it worked.”
I just nodded and waved at her, watching the taxi drive up the street and then trudging back inside.
I had been wondering what I was going to do about dinner and waiting for the lift when a guy who was walking past the hotel ducked inside the lobby. I wasn’t really paying much attention to him until I saw him disappear into the toilets beside reception. No one on the desk batted an eyelid, they just went about their business as he finished and went out the door again.
I missed the lift, because I was just gaping: Bree had said the reception staff wouldn’t let her use the toilets, and that’s why she’d asked to use mine, and that’s why I’d let her in.
She wouldn’t just say that. Would she…?
I couldn’t leave it, I had to walk up and ask. “Excuse me,” I said to one of them, “if people ask to use the toilets in the lobby here, do you let them?”
They all looked at each other. “Strictly speaking they’re not public toilets,” one of the staff answered me. “But we generally let people, anyway.”
I sighed heavily; she hadn’t told me the truth. Bree, I thought, scrunching up my face. It wasn’t that not being allowed to use the toilets was a particularly serious lie, but I felt so stupid for not even picking up on it. I’d lived here for four years. Fucking hell, I was angry with her, but also really angry with myself because part of me was actually glad that I’d let her in.
I went back upstairs and spent a minute or two staring down at those monstrous flowers while I tried to figure out what I should do. Even without the lying, that girl had gone from stalking me to my apartment to somehow keeping me company in it. That had to be some sort of magic trick. Maybe she did have that creepy shrine in her bedroom after all. I groaned aloud and put my head in my hands. Goddamnit, what the hell was I going to do with her? How did this even happen?
I decided to consult Henry about it, and when I picked up my phone there was already a text from him. “I could use some of those semi-automatics you keep recommending right about now. I know I generally advocate peaceful resolutions to conflict but I’m halfway up the clocktower right now with Sean Frost.”
You’re halfway up a clocktower, I thought dryly. Speaking of clocks, I looked at the one on my wall, it read eight-fifteen. Plenty of time for a few rounds of the new expansion. Maybe Henry could bring up some food and we could eat, shoot each other and just pretend everything was great and that no one was driving us crazy. I texted him back and then went to have a quick shower before he rocked up.
I was running the water and trying to decide if I could be bothered washing my hair or not when I caught sight of something on the glass as I opened the door to the shower cubicle.
The door was all fogged up, except for where someone had drawn a big lopsided smiley face on the surface with their finger and written ‘made u look!!!!!‘.