She stayed with Ed the night after, and went home reluctantly. She was living with her brother in Fulham in the week, and at weekends in Bristol with her parents. That first week she emailed daily and rang him three times. He didn’t tell Ronan. He instant-messaged her from his bed, his laptop a glowing ocean in the middle of his vast duvet, and tried not to think about her. They were just mucking around, he told himself. It was nothing serious. It wasn’t as if Ronan was ever likely to bump into her.
Besides, he and Deanna were both just out of bad break-ups. They had discussed how cynical they were about relationships, how it was good to find your feet alone. And then one night he’d had a few drinks. He’d been feeling a bit melancholy. He’d paused for about thirty seconds, then typed: ‘Come out with me this weekend.’
‘I can’t,’ came the reply.
Ed thought of the way her long dark hair felt entwined in his fingers. He thought about how nice it had been just to have someone in his head who wasn’t Lara. And he wrote: ‘I’ll pay. Come.’
She arrived on Friday night. They walked round the local bars, took a trip down the river, had a pub lunch. She linked her arm in his and he found himself staring at her fingers and exclaiming silently, Deanna Lewis! I’m sleeping with Deanna Lewis! She was funny and sparky. She had this way of smiling that made you smile right back. And it was just so good to have guilt-free sex with someone whom you weren’t afraid might steal your wallet while you were asleep.
On Sunday night they had a good meal, drank a lot of champagne, and then headed back to his place, and she had worn these crazy black silk knickers with ribbons at the sides that you could just pull undone so that they slid slowly down her thighs like a ripple of water. She rolled a joint afterwards, and he didn’t normally smoke but he had felt his head spin pleasurably, had rested his fingers in her dark silky hair and felt like life was actually pretty good.
And then she said, ‘I told my parents about us.’
He was having trouble focusing. ‘Your parents?’
‘You don’t mind, do you? It’s just been so good … feeling like … I belong in something again, you know?’
Ed found himself staring at a point on the ceiling. It’s okay, he told himself. Lots of people tell their parents stuff. Even after two weeks.
‘I’ve been so depressed. And now I just feel …’ she beamed at him ‘… happy. Like madly happy. Like I wake up and I’m thinking about you. Like everything’s going to be okay.’
His mouth felt oddly dry. He wasn’t sure if it was the joint. ‘Depressed?’ he said.
‘I’m okay now. I mean, my folks were really good. After the last episode they took me to the doctor and got me pills. And they definitely helped. They do apparently lower your inhibitions, but I can’t say that anyone’s complained! HA-HA-HA-HA!’
He handed her the joint.
‘I just feel things very intensely, you know? My psychiatrist says I’m exceptionally sensitive. Some people bounce through life. I’m not one of those people. Sometimes I can read about an animal dying or a child being murdered somewhere in another country, and I will literally cry all day. Literally. I was like it at college too. Don’t you remember?’
She rested her hand on his cock. Suddenly Ed felt fairly certain it was not going to spring to life.
She looked up at him. Her hair was half over her face and she blew at it. ‘It’s such a bummer losing your job and your home. You have no idea what it’s like to be really broke.’ She gazed at him as if weighing up how much to tell him. ‘I mean properly broke.’
‘What – what do you mean?’
‘Well … like I owe my ex a load of money but I’ve told him I can’t pay him. I have too much on my credit card right now. And he still keeps ringing me, going on and on about it. It’s very stressful. He doesn’t understand how stressed I get.’
‘How much are you talking about?’
‘Oh. A fair bit.’
‘How much?’ He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
She told him. As his jaw dropped, she said, ‘And don’t offer to lend it to me. I wouldn’t take money from my boyfriend. Makes things too complicated. But it’s a nightmare.’
Ed tried not to think about the significance of her use of the word ‘boyfriend’.
He glanced down at her and saw her lower lip tremble. He swallowed. ‘Um … are you okay?’
Her smile was too swift, too wide. ‘I’m good! Thanks to you, I’m really fine now.’ She ran a finger along his chest. ‘Anyway. It’s been lovely not having to think about it. It’s been heaven going out for nice dinners without wondering how I can afford it.’ She kissed one of his ni**les.
That night she slept with one leg slung over him. Ed lay wide awake, wishing he could ring Ronan.
She came back the following Friday, and the Friday after that. She didn’t pick up on his hints about things he had said he had to do at the weekend. Her father had given her the money for them to have a meal. ‘He says it’s such a relief to see me happy again.’
He had a cold, he told her, as she came skipping across the road from the Tube station. Probably best not to kiss him.
‘I don’t mind. What’s yours is mine,’ she said, and attached herself to his face for a full thirty seconds.