They ate at the local pizza place. He had started to feel a vague, reflexive panic at the sight of her. She had ‘feelings’ about things all the time. The sight of a red bus made her happy, the sight of a wilted pot plant in a café window made her vaguely weepy. She was too much of everything. She smiled at too many people. She was sometimes so busy talking that she forgot to eat with her mouth closed. At his apartment she peed with the bathroom door open. It sounded like a visiting horse was relieving itself.
He wasn’t ready for this. She was just too needy. Too erratic. Too everything. Ed wanted to be on his own in the apartment. He wanted the silence, the order of his normal routine. He couldn’t believe he had ever been lonely.
That night he had told her he didn’t want to have sex. ‘I’m really tired.’
‘I’m sure I could wake you up …’ She had begun to burrow her way down the duvet and he actually had to haul her upwards. There followed a tussle that might have been funny in other circumstances: her mouth poised to plug onto his genitals, him desperately hauling her up by the armpits.
‘Really. Deanna. Not … not now.’
‘We can snuggle then. Now I know you don’t just want me for my body!’ She pulled his arm around her and emitted a little whimper of pleasure, like a small animal.
Ed Nicholls lay there, wide-eyed, in the dark. He had forgotten, in the four years that he had been dating and married Lara, how swiftly someone could pivot 180 degrees in your imagination from the most desirable person you had ever seen to someone you would gnaw your own limb off if it meant escaping. He took a breath.
‘So … Deanna … um … next weekend I have to go away for business.’
‘Anywhere nice?’ She ran her finger speculatively along his thigh.
‘Um … Geneva.’
‘Ooh, nice! Shall I stow away in your case?’
‘I could be there waiting for you in your hotel room. When you come back from your meetings, I could soothe your troubled brow.’ She reached out a finger and stroked his forehead. It was all he could do not to flinch.
‘Really? That’s nice. But it’s not that kind of trip.’
‘You’re so lucky. I love travelling. If I wasn’t so broke I’d be back on a plane in an instant.’
‘It’s my passion. I loved being a free spirit, going where the whim takes me.’ She leant over, extracted a cigarette from the packet on the bedside table and lit it.
‘So you’d like to travel again?’
‘I’d be off like a shot.’
He had lain there for a bit, thinking. ‘Do you own any stocks and shares?’
She rolled off him and lay back against her pillow. ‘A few. I think my grandma left them to me. A hundred shares in some building society and another two hundred in Woolworths. Hah.’ She half laughed. ‘And don’t suggest I bet on the stock market, Ed. I haven’t got enough left to gamble with.’
It was out before he really knew what he was saying. ‘It’s not a gamble.’
‘We’ve got a thing coming out. In a couple of weeks. It’s going to be a game changer.’
‘I can’t really tell you too much. But we’ve been working on it for a while. It’s going to push our stock way up. Our business guys are all over it.’
She was silent beside him.
‘I mean, I know we haven’t talked a lot about work but this is going to make a serious amount of money.’
She didn’t sound convinced. ‘You’re asking me to bet my last few pounds on something I don’t even know the name of?’
‘You don’t need to know the name of it. You just need to buy some shares in my company.’ He shifted onto his side. ‘Look, you raise a few thousand pounds, and I guarantee you’ll have enough to pay off your ex-boyfriend within two weeks. And then you’ll be free! And you can do whatever you want! Go wherever you like!’
There was a long silence.
‘Is this how you make money, Ed Nicholls? You take women to bed and then get them to buy thousands of pounds’ worth of your shares?’
‘No, it’s –’
She turned over and he saw she was joking. She traced the side of his face. ‘You’re so sweet to me. And it’s a lovely thought. But I don’t have thousands of pounds lying around right now.’
The words came out of his mouth even before he knew what he was saying. ‘I’ll lend it to you. If it makes you money, you pay me back. If it doesn’t, then it’s my own fault for giving you dud advice.’
She started laughing and stopped when she realized he wasn’t joking.
‘You’d do that for me?’
Ed shrugged. ‘Honestly? Five grand doesn’t really make a big difference to me right now.’ And I’d pay ten times that if it meant you would leave.
Her eyes widened. ‘Whoa. That is the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me.’
‘Oh … I doubt that.’
Before she left the next morning he wrote her a cheque. She had been tying her hair up in a clip, making faces at herself in his hall mirror. She smelt vaguely of apples. ‘Leave it blank,’ she said, when she realized what he was doing. ‘I’ll get my brother to do it for me. He’s good at all this stocks and shares stuff. What am I buying again?’