“No, it’s not happening.” Rose Forkin was on the phone to her mother, standing in the middle of the lounge room of the flat she shared with Taylor, the man with no given name, and talking into her mobile. “Mum, it’s a two bedroom flat – there’s no room for Hayley to stay here. No, she can’t stay in my room because there’s only one bed and that’s a single. Mum, I, for one, don’t believe that would work. Mum, I’m just the flat mate. Taylor is the only one whose name is on the lease, so I’ll have to talk to him about it. Yes, Mum, I will.” She turned around as Taylor wandered out of his room, wearing a batik dressing gown, carrying a coffee mug and heading for the kitchen. “When Mum? Oh soon, very soon. Bye Mum, I have to go.”
Taylor asked, “What was that about? I heard my name.”
“Oh,” Rose, pushed her loose brown hair back behind her ear with one hand, “that was my mother on the phone. She’s got some idea that now I’ve a proper place to live, I should let my sister Hayley come and stay here while she finds a job in Harbour City and a place of her own. She wouldn’t get off the phone till I agreed to ask you about it.” She sighed in exasperation. “Mum always does this – she waits till I’m tired or in the middle of something and then she won’t stop until I say yes.”
“Sounds like a technique Watkins would be proud of,” commented Taylor as he put the mug in the sink.
“He’s the one who kept asking questions the other night when you had people over for cards, isn’t he?” Rose put her phone away and started taking off her summer weight coat.
“With hair that used to be red,” agreed Taylor. “Getting answers is sort of his stock in trade. Are you just getting home? I thought you said you were off work at eleven last night.” A slight crease appeared between his eyes.
“I wound up working a double shift,” explained Rose. “A couple of people from the shift after mine called in sick, so Arvid and I had to stay back and help with the payment run. This sort of thing is one of the reasons I couldn’t keep commuting from Steel City.”
“I can understand that,” Taylor nodded easily, “it’s what, three hours each way by train?”
“If nothing goes wrong,” agreed Rose. “And now I’m going to nuke a frozen dinner before I eat, shower and flake out on my bed for at least six hours before I have to get up and do it again.”
“So, when are you going to ask me about your sister staying here?” Taylor had a faint quizzical smile as he asked the question.
“I’m not,” said Rose as she walked past him to the freezer, her 160 centimetre height overshadowed by his 195 centimetres – not that he loomed or anything. “I’m going to lie and tell her that you said no.” She pulled a single serve lasagne out of the freezer, opened it, pierced the film on top with a fork from the drawer, and put it in the microwave on high for five minutes.
“Is there any reason we shouldn’t help your little sister out?” Taylor wasn’t smiling and the crease between his eyes was back.
“Hayley isn’t my little sister, she’s my older sister and I shared a bedroom with her my entire life, until I moved down here.” Rose took her handbag off her shoulder. “Getting out of that bedroom was one of the reasons I moved out.”
“Hayley feels entitled to through my stuff to find out what I’m not telling her.” Rose sniffed. “She used to move my things around and put me down when I complained but she’d go off her head if I touched anything of hers, even if it was in what was supposed to be my space. Taylor, I really don’t want her staying here, even just for one night.”
“That wasn’t the dynamic I was expecting,” Taylor admitted. “If she snoops and has other boundary issues, then I don’t want her here either. I need a flatmate to make sure the landlord doesn’t sublease this place while I’m away on extended trips for work. I don’t need an extra flatmate who makes life harder for both of us.”
“Oh thank you, Taylor,” she made a gesture with both hands, almost as if she was going to grab him. “I’d kiss you but-.”
“We don’t have that sort of relationship,” he finished for her.
“Now that’s sorted, I’ll eat and then I’ll call Mum back.” Rose didn’t quite dance her way into her room, but it was close.
Ten minutes later Rose was sitting at the dining table eating her lasagne off a plate, a glass of water on the coaster beside her place mat, when the doorbell rang. Rose looked up from her meal, surprised, and Taylor walked out of his room, doing something with cuff links as he came.
Taylor asked, “Who’s that?”
“I have no idea,” answered Rose, standing up as she did so.
“If you didn’t buzz anyone up, then it should be one of the neighbours,” said Taylor carefully. “Let me see who it is.” He walked over to the door and checked through the peephole. “Brunette with curly hair, sort of about your age and a bit taller than you.”
“Can I have a look?” Rose’s voice had a disbelieving tone which spread to her face once she’d looked through the peephole. She turned and hissed at Taylor, “It’s Hayley!”
“We have to open the door,” Taylor said, “and we’ll have to let her in, but that doesn’t mean that we’re letting her stay here.”
“Right, of course it doesn’t.” Rose put on a fixed smile, took off the safety chain then unlocked and opened the door. “Hayley! Mum was just on the phone about you.”
“Oh good, she said she’d call you.” Hayley was holding a suitcase in one hand. “I spent the longest time finding someone who’d let me into the building. I can’t wait to see our room.”
“This is a security building – I’m surprised anyone let you in because visitors are supposed to be buzzed in by the people they’re seeing. And Mum rang to see if you could stay here; we never agreed that you could.” Rose was still standing stock still in the middle of the doorway.
“Of course, I’m staying here,” Hayley disagreed as if Rose was being simple. “I’m here with my bag aren’t I?”
“I’m only allowed one flatmate under my lease,” said Taylor firmly, “and we’re not set up for overnight guests, so you can’t stay.”
“But I’m Rose’s sister,” protested Hayley, “And where am I supposed to stay while I find a job and a place of my own?”
“Try the YWCA,” suggested Rose crisply. “It’s where I stayed for three months. Or you could stay at home and commute. I did that for six months before the YWCA.”
“I’m a barista,” Hayley pouted. “Who makes coffee and can afford to commute? I had to leave my old job because the boss was getting all grabby and as for staying with the parents. I swear they’ve upped the personal displays of affection since you left.” She shuddered artistically. “It seemed a good time to make the move.”
“It’s still not up to us to provide you with a bed,” said Taylor firmly. “I suggest you try the YWCA.”
Hayley put a restraining hand on the front door, “Can I at least come in and use the bathroom? I haven’t been since I left home; the railway toilets are disgusting.”
“All right,” Taylor motioned Rose to one side to let her sister into the flat.
Hayley asked brightly, “Where will I put my suitcase?”
“Right beside the door,” Taylor told her grimly.
When Hayley disappeared into the bathroom, Taylor locked the front door of the flat and pulled Rose over to the kitchen. “I’m beginning to think,” he told Rose quietly and quickly, “that your parents have kicked her out. You’re twenty-six and she’s twenty-eight so it’s possible that they wanted both of you to move out but only you took the hint. Has she always been hypersensitive to or hypercritical of displays of affection?”
“She’s never liked ‘mushy’ stuff,” Rose confirmed.
“I have an idea,” Taylor said. “I apologise in advance but please play along.” As they heard the toilet flush, he suddenly put his hands on Rose’s waist and lifted her into a sitting position on the kitchen bench. A tap in the bathroom was running as he stepped closer in towards Rose, moved one hand under her chin to tilt her face up, leaned down and kissed her. Just before the bathroom door opened one of Rose’ arms reached up around his neck and her other hand grabbed the front of his shirt.
Hayley coughed and they stopped kissing to turn and look at her, their hands remaining in place. “I’ll just grab my bag and be going.” She had her mobile phone out before she left the room and they could hear her from the hall way outside. Hi, Mum! Just to let you know I won’t be staying with Rose. Oh, he’s almost as old as Dad but the two of them are all over each other.”
Taylor glided, there was no other word for it, across the space to the door so he could close and lock it.
“That was interesting,” commented Rose quietly.
“It certainly wasn’t a chore,” admitted Taylor as he went back to help her down off the kitchen bench, “and – we should never do it again,” he finished in a rush.
“You’re probably right,” agreed Rose as she straightened her clothes. “If we’re going to talk about it, it should be after I’ve had some sleep.”
Taylor reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a phone. “Any talking’ll have to wait till I get back. Looks like I have to go to work.”
“I thought you were on your way to work?” Rose indicated his clothes, business shirt and suit trousers.
“Looks like I’m taking one of those work trips I told you about,” he corrected. “I’ll be at least a couple of days.”
“Ah, one of those ones where I collect the mail and make sure no subletting happens,” replied Rose.
“Exactly,” he flashed her a smile. “I’ll leave as soon as I get some shoes on and see you when I get back.”
Rose smiled back, “Right then, and I’ll get some sleep.”
Several days later Rose, while she was on her way to the railway station, bumped into Hayley. She almost didn’t see her but turned around when she was hailed, “Hey, Sis!”
Her older sister was carrying a tote bag and was wearing black trousers and tee shirt with a coffee logo on it. “Hayley, what are you doing here?”
“I’m on my way home from my morning gig.” Hayley smiled. “I got a job as the morning barista at the House of Beans down by the station, they were short a body unexpectedly, gave me a trial shift when I walked in and here I am. I’m doing evenings at a dessert bar on Cambridge Street, they have a caramel fudge to die for.”
“But where are you staying?” Rose thought of her own problems getting a place reasonably close to work.
“There was a place for let in the block opposite yours. The real estate agent had a number in the window, I called it, they gave me the tour and I was in that night. I don’t know why people say it’s so hard to get somewhere to stay in Harbour City.” Hayley’s smile sharpened. “I must say, it’s got a nicer bathroom than your place.”
“The block opposite ours?” Something clicked in Rose’s mind. “On the sixth floor? The one where three people were found locked in and brutally murdered with no sign of how the killer got in or out?”
“It’s been cleaned and redecorated,” Hayley said defensively. “You’d never know anything happened there.”
“And you’re not worried at all?” Rose presses carefully.
“Why would I be?” Hayley shrugged. “I can’t see why whoever killed them would be interested in me.”
“Okay,” Rose said slowly. “I suppose you got a good deal on the rent though.” Hayley nodded, pleased with herself. “You know that if you go six months without anything gruesome happening to you, they’re going to shove the rent right up, don’t you?”
“I’ll deal with that when it happens,” Hayley shrugged. “Anyway, I gotta go. See you around little sis!” She walked off with a wave, leaving Rose behind her looking slightly bemused.
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