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Harley got out of bed and shone the torch into the car park. V sat up straight, switched on her lamp, then waited, like a hospital patient.
‘Can you see anything?’
Harley moved the light over to the trees, seeing the man moving like an animal into the shadows. V edged further up the bed, wincing as the baby kicked. She smoothed out the duvet, asking again if there was anything to see.
‘There’s a man down there,’ he said.
V leaned forward slightly, coaxing the baby off her bladder.
‘I need a wee.’
Harley put on some shorts and struggled with a sweater, his dry hands catching in the cotton.
‘Don’t go out there. You’d just as well stay here.’
Harley thought about his dad and what he would have done. “Give me half a chance, I’d tangle with ‘em, make ‘em wish they’d never been bloody born.” Things all now down to him. A topless bar to antenatal classes, how did that happen?
From under the bed he took his pumps, worn, loose about the ankles. He ran a hand through his hair, checking himself in the mirror.
‘Stay here hon, I’ll lock the door behind me.’
‘Careful,’ she pleaded. ‘Careful.’
From three doors down a woman came out, wearing pink slippers, pulling a fur coat tight around her slim waist.
‘Did you hear that noise?’
Harley wiped a finger at the corners of his mouth.
‘There was a man out here.’
‘What was he doing?’
Harley directed the torch into the trees and the woman took her eyes off him and followed the light.
‘He ran out of there.’
‘What did he look like?’
The porch light of Number 16 came on, a man emerged, wearing only a pair of Bermuda shorts and scratching his armpit, the din of a television behind him.
‘What’s up pal?’
‘Someone’s been playing silly buggers,’ said the woman.
No.16 took no notice of her, nodding instead towards the parked cars.
‘Any of them broken into?’
Braver with another man on scene, Harley crossed the street, swept the light over the cars, then shook his head. The neighbour scratched his other armpit and went back indoors.
The woman was standing under a lamppost. Harley could hear purring from inside it.
‘How’s your wife feeling? Doesn’t look like she’s long to go now.’
‘She’s fine thanks. But she isn’t my wife.’
‘Oh, how old fashioned of me. I only thought…’
Harley was reminded of what embarrassment felt like. V said marriage was a dirty word.
‘I lived with a man once. Moved to a small village. But he went into the army, said he had to figure things out for himself.’
A cigarette butt lay next to his foot like an unearthed worm, Harley kicked it away.
‘I guess I should get back to bed.’
The woman leaned forward on her toes, ‘We don’t really know each other, do we? I’m Lottie.’
They shook hands, she laughed awkwardly. Her palm was cosy from clutching at the fur. He studied her eyelids, like eggshells. She stared past him, beating the heel of her slipper against the pavement. By her glassy look, Harley realised she was intoxicated.
Slowly, she shook her head, then glued her eyes on him, ‘I might make myself a cuppa with a slice of lemon in it.’
He had seen that same look on V’s face.
Framed in the open kitchen window, he saw V watching him. It felt like sitting on the ledge of a tall building, wondering whether to jump.
‘I remember,’ said Lottie. ‘I remember going outside in the middle of the night when I was a little girl. It was Christmas Eve, I thought I’d heard reindeer.’
She shifted her hips and lightly picked at a loose thread on his sweater, then leaned back against the lamppost. Harley swallowed heavily, feeling his Adam’s apple grate, as she tucked the hem of her coat between smooth legs.
‘If you’ve ever believed anything,’ she said, ‘believe this. Your girlfriend is a lucky lady.’
Harley thought about that, as he slid into a warm bath, staying there, until V said, ‘Time to get out my love.’
He dried off, poured himself a beer, and joined her on the sofa, to watch programmes they had seen before. With her arm locked through his, V asked about Lottie.
Harley did not offer any comment. He finished his drink, and took the glass into the kitchen.