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The rain was coming down hard as I crossed the street. I ducked into the doorway of Dean’s building and rang the buzzer. The estate looked grim in the rain; scrubby lawns and the red tile roofs. My shoes were soaked. I could feel my toes sticking together inside my wet socks and I scuffed the ground, working them apart. Holding the buzzer down I leaned back, peering up at Dean’s bedroom window. It was dark and the curtains were drawn. The intercom crackled, latch clicked. I shoved the door open with my shoulder and began trudging up the stairs. Dean’s flat was on the third floor and I leaned on the banister, breathing hard and waiting for him to let me in. The glass in the door had been pasted over with newspaper. I heard the jangling of keys from inside and the slow thud of the bolt sliding back. Dean looked down at me through hooded eyes. He was wearing sweatpants and there was stubble on his jaw. I rolled my eyes at him and he lumbered to one side, making space for me. The hallway was dark and smelled like smoke. I peeled off my jacket and hung it over the radiator. Dean went to hug me, but I shrugged him off and strode into the living room. A blast of hot air hit me. I tapped the radiator. It scalded my fingers and I whipped my hand away. The television was playing an afternoon soap and there were several empty beer bottles on the table. I leaned against the wall, balancing on one foot then the other to pull off my shoes. Dean strolled past and flopped back onto the couch.
His sister Evie was sitting in the window seat with her back to the screen. She was drawing with a piece of charcoal, craning over a sketchbook.
Her hand jerked and I heard a soft crunch as the charcoal snapped. She frowned at the stub still between her fingers.
She set the board aside, unfolded her legs, and climbed to her feet. She bent at the waist and pressed her fingers into the dark blue carpet, feeling around for the charcoal.
On the TV, a woman started screaming. Dean let out a laugh around the neck of his beer.
Evie straightened up and turned to the screen. She wiped her hands on her jeans, already covered in smudges. I noticed that she had a dark line running from one side of her nose to her chin and that her t-shirt was ragged at the hem. I sunk onto the couch beside Dean and frowned at the TV, twisting my skirt loose where it clung to my thighs.
“Simon caught Mona sleeping with his girlfriend,” Dean answered, reaching into the box at his feet and offering me a beer.
“How many of those have you had?”
He shrugged. “A few.”
I could feel my face flushing now. The smoke in the room was tickling my throat. I knew I was spoiling for a fight. Evie dropped back into her seat, watching the TV.
“Why are you watching this?” I snapped.
“It’s priceless,” Dean laughed.
I scowled at him. He was giggling to himself. The women in the soap, both glamorously made up, were circling each other. I looked at Evie. Her eyes were fixed on the screen and her bottom lip was caught between her teeth. One of the women seized the other and pressed her against the wall. They began kissing passionately, hands raking through each other’s hair. There was a buzzing in my ears and I felt strangely giddy. Evie’s eyes remained on the TV but I thought I saw her teeth tighten on her lip. A whitish dimple appeared on her chin.
“This is ridiculous,” I scoffed.
One woman was peeling the other’s shirt off. The column of Evie’s throat twitched as she swallowed.
“I mean it’s just so unrealistic,” I cried.
A man barged in on the scene and began shouting, driving the two women apart.
Evie rose abruptly. I almost jumped. She hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her jeans and smirked down at me.
“I’m starving,” she said, “I’m going to order pizza.”
My heart was pounding. I felt as though all the blood had rushed to my face.
“Don’t,” I said, suddenly eager to please. “I’ll cook. I bet Dean’s eaten nothing but pizza for days.”
The kitchen was a disaster. I had to wash a heap of dishes and before I even looked in the fridge. When I did I found nothing but beers and a packet of cheese slices. I dashed out to the shop in the rain, splashing through chilly puddles in my sodden shoes. By the time I started cooking it was dark. The streetlamp outside shone, a ball of rosy light in the window above the sink. The kitchen was hot and full of steam. I wriggled out of my sweater and dragged my hair back into a ponytail to stop it sticking to my face. I’d made a pan of Bolognese and left it bubbling softly as I gathered up the last few dishes. I turned on the hot tap and leaned back against the counter, listening to the water splash into the bowl. The noise had a drowsy effect and I closed my eyes, beginning to feel calm.
All the time I’d been cooking, I had been listening, feverishly, for sounds throughout the flat. Dean had fallen asleep with his head tipped back against the cushions. Evie had slipped off to her room. I heard her moving about but she never came into the kitchen and I heard the low thump of her music when I switched off the tap.
Her room was wall to wall with Dean’s and when I lay in his arms some nights, unable to sleep, I would hear her music pulsing through. When I finally did drift off I always dreamed in black and white. Those were Evie’s colours. She was tall and slim, boyish about the hips and shoulders but with neat, full breasts. I liked the way she painted her eyes, drawing the pencil up in sharp flicks at the corners of each lid.
I loved to watch her draw and to hang around the flat when she was there, but I found myself unable to talk to her without feeling self-conscious. Sometimes, when she was out, I would creep over to the window seat where she left her sketches. I found drawings of Dean and Amy and all their straggler friends who wandered in and out of the flat. There were sketches of cats and birds she’d seen on the lawn, still lives of perfume bottles and jewellery, but there were never any of me. Maybe she thought I was ugly.
I heard her making love once. Some girl she’d brought back from a bar. I heard them giggling through the wall; Evie’s voice, urging the girl to be quiet. I heard the thump of springs and muffled cries. I lay awake, my left hand clutching the sheets, hardly daring to breathe. Dean was sleeping beside me and I could feel the weight of his arm on my stomach, his breath pooling beneath my ear. I wriggled carefully out of his grip and onto the cool side of the bed, closer to the wall. I could distinguish Evie’s moans from the other woman’s because Evie’s voice was deeper. Slowly I slid my hand down, over the soft curve of my belly, and slipped it under the lip of my briefs. I imagined Evie’s fingers linked with mine, the silver rings she wore flashing in the dark. I came silently, almost instantly, twitching through every limb. It felt like slipping down to the ocean floor and being destroyed by the pressure. I resurfaced with sweat cooling on my skin; Dean snuffling in his sleep beside me. I opened my other hand, letting the sheets fall loose onto my chest, and raised my palm before my face. Four little red crescents shone where my nails had bitten the skin.
The girl left afterwards. I’d heard her clattering about, gathering her things. There was a low exchange of words and I heard the rattle of keys and Evie plodding back to her room. I lay in the dark and imagined her dropping back into bed, pulling on a t-shirt and lighting a cigarette. I wondered if she felt tired, or happy, or used. I could almost feel the little aches in her muscles as I pictured her, as if I was trying to creep under her skin. Her music started up again. I wondered if she ever listened when Dean and I had sex.
I turned back to the sink, where the bowl was overflowing, and plunged my hands into the water. It was hot and my fingers lost feeling for a second as I rinsed a cup. There was a heap of cutlery at the bottom of the bowl and I rummaged through it, scrubbing the pieces one by one. The door behind me opened. I whirled around expecting Dean but Evie slouched over the threshold. She had rubbed most of her makeup off and only a slight bluish shadow remained around her puffy eyes. I wondered if she’d been crying. Her hair was tangled and there was a dullness about her movements as though she’d been asleep. She crossed the tiles and yanked open the fridge. I stood to one side, watching as she pulled out a carton of milk and took a long sip.
“Use a glass,” I said, before I could stop myself.
Evie lowered the carton and looked at me. I felt as though I was shrinking. I lowered my eyes, watched my hand turn in lazy circles in the sink, ripples swilling out from my wrist. I heard Evie sigh and the swish of her bare feet on the floor. I leaned back against the counter, hand still in the water, to allow her to get to the cupboard. She stopped in front of me, her body very close to mine. My eyes flicked up to meet hers. My mouth went dry. She was taller than me and my face was level with her collar. She leaned across me, her right arm reaching over my shoulder, only the smallest slice of air separating us. I felt my breath catch in my throat as the scent of her bed-warmed skin reached me. She moved away suddenly, cool air rushing in, and I saw that she had been reaching for a glass that stood upside down on the draining board. I sagged a little and wondered how I could possibly have started so pointless a job as washing Dean’s dishes.
Evie was staring at me. I cringed under the attention.
“What?” I snapped, face burning.
She snorted and shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“I’m not.” She looked up again and her face was sincere. “I just … I worry about you, you know?”
I gaped at her.
She shrugged, frowning as though searching for the right words.
“You seem smart, and you’re pretty. And Dean is…” She shook her head again. “I just wonder what you’re doing here.”
I stared at her but didn’t think I could speak. There was a lump in my throat that was choking me.
“I mean, he’s my brother and he’s cool but, I dunno … you just seem wound up,” she finished with a shrug.
I watched her fill the glass with milk. She put the carton back in the fridge before turning to leave the room.
I scrunched up my eyes as the door banged shut and, when I opened them, I was surprised to feel tears on my cheeks. I swung back to the sink and plunged my hands into the water. Feeling for the surface of the bowl, I grasped the first solid object under my touch and squeezed the fingers of my left hand around it. I jumped back suddenly, sending a shower of droplets through the air, and held my left hand up before my face. On the soft inside of each finger there was a deep clean cut. The pain came singing through and I hissed. I reached carefully with my right hand into the water and pulled out the kitchen knife. I dropped it back at once. Through the wall I heard a thud and the sound of someone moving about and I knew that Dean was awake.