Hmm… Billie didn’t mention anything about rules. ‘It’s quite a simple game really. We take turns to make each other come. We time ourselves with an egg timer. The one who lasts the longest at the hands of the other wins.’

‘What’s the prize for winning?’

‘The winner gets to ask the loser for anything they want?’

‘What if the loser is unable to provide that thing?’

‘Within reason and nothing dangerous, obviously.’

‘OK, do you want to go first? Or shall I?’

‘I will. You can do me first.’ I stand up and swipe the egg timer off the counter. He stares at me as if he is unable to understand me. We go into the bedroom and it is easy for him to make me come. Then it is my turn.

‘Why did you let me win?’ I whisper.

‘How do you know I did?’

‘Because you’ve never come before me.’

‘So why did you want to play this game then?’

‘Because I had something special up my sleeve, but I didn’t even get a chance to use it.’

He laughs. ‘Something special? Is it another technique from Billie?’

‘As a matter of fact, yes, but you haven’t answered the original question.’

‘Because I wanted to know what you would ask for.’

‘Why?’

He shrugs. ‘Well, what do you want?’

‘I want you to cook for me.’

He lies on his side and props his head on his palm. ‘Why?’

‘When I was fourteen, I read a book where the hero sent the heroine to have a long soak in the bath while he cooked for her. He grilled two steaks and tossed a salad. It was really romantic. He wore a black shirt and washed out blue jeans. I remember he had just had a shower and his hair was still wet. Oh, and he was barefoot.’

‘And what did the heroine wear?’

‘Er… I can’t remember.’

‘Dinner tomorrow?’

I smile. ‘Dinner tomorrow. You won’t burn it, will you?’

‘Maybe just the salad.’

Twenty one

The next day drags slowly. Mr. Nair stops by at ten a.m. with his mug. We have a little chat and he tells me about his family in India. Before he worked in the coffee shop, he was a Hindu priest in a temple in India. He is interesting, but his break time is quickly over and he leaves.

I am required to idle away my days, but idling alone in a sumptuous flat, I am quickly realizing, is no easy thing. There is not much activity in the part of the park that my balcony faces, and daytime television has always bored me. How many times can one watch reruns of Wonder Woman?

I am also terribly lonely. Without my mother, Billie or Jack I feel quite lost. I wander around the large flat alone and bored. Idling¸ I finally decide, requires thoughtful planning and effort—diligent effort. I begin by ordering some books from Amazon.

It is nearly five o’clock when I am able to Skype Billie. I sit cross-legged on the bed and look at Billie’s dear, excited face come alive on the screen.

‘Guess what?’ Billie shouts enthusiastically. ‘We flew first class.’

‘What?’

‘Yep, we arrived at economy check-in and we were bumped up to first class. Both your mum and me!’

‘How can that be?’

‘Must be banker boy. They said it was all arranged and paid for.’

I am speechless. Could it really have been Blake who paid the difference? But he didn’t even know which flight they were on.

‘Anyway,’ Billie says, ‘it was bloody brilliant. They called us by name and acted like we were celebrities or something. I drank nearly two bottles of champagne, and your mum got to sleep most of the way.’

‘How is mum?’

‘She’s here. I’ll put her on.’

‘Hello, Lana,’ my mother says shakily. She looks so white and fragile that I almost burst into tears. When the call is over I lie on the bed and wonder why Blake did that. He is a strange man. So cold and distant sometimes and so incredibly kind and generous at other times.

At seven o’clock, Blake arrives. I run out to meet him at the front door.

‘Did you pay for my mum and Billie to fly first class?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

He shrugs casually. ‘I like your mother,’ he says shortly, and sends me into the Jacuzzi bath.

‘Dinner is at seven thirty sharp,’ he says. ‘Don’t come out before.’

I climb into it and close my eyes. It is heaven. Blake comes in with a glass of red wine.

‘To get you in the mood,’ he says.

‘This is not in the scene, but impressive improvisation,’ I say as I accept it.

I take a sip and open Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Fifteen minutes later, I smell it. Burning. Before I can wrap myself in the toweling robe, the fire alarms go off. I rush to the kitchen dripping soapsuds.

Blake has opened all the windows, and is standing on a chair desperately waving a magazine at the smoke detector in the corridor. His hair is slightly wet, he is wearing a black shirt with two buttons undone, and a pair of stone washed jeans. He is also barefoot.

I begin to laugh. ‘Did you burn the salad?’ I shout above the racket.

He scowls down at me.

I go into the kitchen and bin the blackened pieces of meat. Shaking my head, I pop a piece of tomato from the salad into my mouth, and immediately spit it out. Mega salty. The salad goes the way of the steaks. The alarm finally stops blaring. I look up and he is standing at the doorway.

‘You’ve never cooked, have you?’

‘No,’ he confesses. ‘Do you want to go out?’

‘Why don’t we just have some chip butties instead?’

‘Chip butties?’

‘Oh. My. God. You’ve never had a chip butty? You don’t know what you’re missing. You have to have one.’

‘OK.’

‘Let me get ready and I’ll pop over to the shop and get the ingredients.’

‘I’ll come with you,’ he offers.

We walk together to the local fish and chip shop where I order a big bag of chips.

‘No fish?’

‘No fish. Now we need to go into the corner shop for some bread.’

‘Don’t we have some back at the flat?’

‘Nah. We’ve got the good stuff back there. This is poor people’s food. For this we need a loaf of cheap, white bread.’

I pick out a loaf of sliced white bread and Blake pays for it.

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