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When they first move into the house, it feels obvious to Laura that it loves her more than Tim. It wants her to be there and doesn’t mind that Tim is an addition. It’s as if the rooms warm themselves up slightly in the few seconds before she walks into them. The orange light that comes through the big front windows in the afternoon might shine right on her face and miss him entirely. Sometimes the water in the shower warms up straight away for her, but is a bit faulty for Tim.
Here, she thinks, she is the most beloved one. The house loves her more than it loves Tim and Tim loves her more than almost anything. She loves both the house and Tim, and within time she will get them to love each other. But she is, still, the most loved one. It feels like having two best friends, but knowing that she is both of their only best friend.
Before they moved here Laura and Tim lived at the adventure holiday camp where Tim worked. Tim instructs groups of children/families on tree climbing/zipwire courses. They had a flat in a small building where all the instructors lived with quite a lot of their girlfriends and even some children. It was in the Kendal in the Lake District.
But because they were unhappy there, Laura started to act stressed and strange. Tim noticed this. So when Laura inherited some money because somebody died, they decided to buy a barn conversion closer to the town that they both came from. Tim would still work for the same company, but instead, he would commute and travel over the country to assist at different adventure holidays.
This is where they have come to live now.
Laura first sees the prince in a nearby stately home on a Saturday afternoon.
It said on the website that the stately home is an iconic 18th Century house with a notable art collection.
The biggest painting is entitled The Prince and his Retinue Hunt Game in the State Park. The prince is wearing a long ruffled frock coat and and his hand is on the head of one of his pointy-faced hounds. A foxhound. The prince’s hair is brown. Laura does not have to read the plaque at the side of the painting to know that he is the one who is the prince, even with his whole hunting troupe around him. His face is horselike and shimmery, regal.
In the gift shop they sell small fridge magnets with the picture of the prince and his retinue hunting game in the forest. Laura buys one and puts it on the fridge and uses it to hold up a photo of her and Tim from Prague last year.
When they get back from the stately home trip, the wood of the front door has swollen again so they can’t get it open for ages and have to kick it until it opens and then they have to organise for someone to come round and shave the wood down so that it won’t happen again. Tim gets stressed about it and says what if it was a bad idea to move somewhere instead of renting where they have to arrange for everything to be fixed themselves instead of just getting a landlord to do it. His voice goes annoying in that way she hates.
Laura is fairly sure she could have figured out how to do it by herself, but Tim is worried about what will happen when he has to go away with work and she’s there alone. They have an argument in which Tim implies Laura lives in some sort of fantasy/dreamworld and never has to deal with anything real/tangible and Laura implies Tim does not respect her independence and competency because he hates women. Laura sleeps in the spare room that night.
To be honest Laura rarely feels hugely unhappy or frightened or stressed any more. If something bad happens it is like a soft weight that sort of rolls over her. She doesn’t cry unless she is really drunk. She has accepted that for life to be good and exciting sometimes, bad things have to happen too, to have something to compare the better things to so that happy and sad are a contradiction of each other.
When Laura is in the spare room she is reminded of a way that she felt when she was a teenager. She used to imagine sex with men and she used to imagine saying this thing to them in a moment of climax. She used to think it was the most outrageous thing someone could say. She can’t even remember where she got it from now. It might have been from porn or from something someone at her school had heard in porn. She used to think these words almost every night.
Tim has to go away to Ireland with work. He is supervisor for a two week adventure holiday with a group of Scouts.
Laura has to get a taxi to Morrisons to do the food shop because Tim has taken the car.
On the third night that Tim is away the prince from the painting appears to her after she has got out of the bath.
Except if she is honest, she wishes him to. It is not a huge surprise. If she is honest, she gets out of the bath and brushes her hair and puts on her pyjamas and waits for him in the dark. He takes her hand and squeezes it gently and she says ‘I knew that you were going to come eventually’ and she feels his breath on her hair.
When they have sex there is a heaviness to his weightlessness on top of her body.
He is gone in the morning and when she wakes up she goes back into her and Tim’s room and puts on the TV and cries and goes back to sleep until eleven AM.
But Laura knows that the prince will come back the next night and he does. He is just like a real boy/man. She wonders around the kitchen and spends the whole day making loads and loads of tiny biscuits and cakes and tarts. It feels like her heart is in a perpetual state of clicking.
When the lights are out, she imagines him in full shape, she knows if she turns the light on that she might catch a glimpse of him and that he will disappear forever. So she never does.
Sometimes she will find him waiting for her in the hall, where he is slightly more visible when the sun is setting and comes musky through the windows, she can see the bits of dust it reveals settling on his shoulders. But in a way he is less present there. She feels like he is making himself appear for the sake of it, as if he thinks that she wants that. It is the spare room where he is really present.
By the time they have been fucking for a week she has already whispered the words that she used to imagine to him at least three times. Then one night, when they are holding hands in the dark and watching an episode of Masterchef on her laptop, she confesses to him that she has always wanted to say it but that she knew if she said it to Tim he would feel weird about it and other men she had slept with had known her friends, and if Laura’s friends found out she said that then they might think that she wasn’t a feminist anymore.
The prince tells Laura that she can always tell him anything that he wants and he won’t judge her or tell anyone.
In the morning he is always gone. It’s okay. Laura reads in bed then makes herself massive breakfasts in the kitchen, like fry-ups and batches of welshcakes and popovers with a lot of fruit on the side.
Sometimes she puts photos of her breakfast on Instagram and Tim likes them or comments saying he misses her, so Laura feels bad, but sometimes he forgets and then she feels angry again.
In the afternoons she goes out in town or to the cinema or to the garden centre. Sometimes she goes to look at the prince in the stately home, very much there with all of his dogs.
At night she makes big dinners and puts on the new Ed Sheeran album and pours herself a glass of wine. And this is the only time she feels a sense of fear, her heart going click, click, click. Some time around now she knows he has come into the room, feels a warmth and a fullness. Sometimes he will touch her slightly or move the door so she knows that he is there. She always sets two places at the table even though he doesn’t eat.
Then she gets the text from Tim. Tim is like; Back tomorrow I can’t wait to see you I’ve bought you a bracelet and two different types of wine. Laura has to tell the prince that she can’t sleep with him for a while and she promises to talk to him when she can but she just has to figure out what is going on because all of this is fucking with her head. He understands and to say goodbye he plays her a short song he has written on the mandolin.
She sleeps back in her and Tim’s room, cold and too spacious. When she wakes up, Tim is not next to her in the bed like she’d thought he might be.
She wonders if his flight might have been delayed, but when she looks out of the window, Tim’s Nissan is back on the drive. Tim is waiting at the kitchen table.
He says that he saw that guy through the window and at first he kicks off and nearly throws a cup of coffee and he even calls her a slut and a whore and then he says sorry and she says sorry and they both are on the floor on their knees kissing and crying. The day after Tim packs most of his stuff in a suitcase and goes to stay at his mum’s.
When Tim is gone, things between Laura and the prince change. She isn’t sure if it was the limitation of their time together that made her think she was in love with the prince instead of Tim, that its rushedness and forbidden nature made it feel exciting and glamorous and or that these endless days without talk make her feel tired and nervous, or just that now it has got boring and she has started to see him like all other boys.
The sex stops being good. He stops coming every night, and she doesn’t ask him why. If she is honest she feels a bit angry towards the prince that he would appear in physical form for Tim and not her, but she doesn’t bring this up.
One night she realises it has not just been an entire week since she saw the prince, but since she saw literally anyone. She goes to the shop to buy some wine and ready meals and feels surprised when the teenage boy in Morrisons appears to be able to see her.
That night when she is about to fall asleep she starts to hear the noises again.
When the door opens she thinks it might be the prince again. But it is someone else, or something else. His body is heavier. When they have sex he grips her thigh harder and he does not like it when she talks to him. Laura is glad of that.
Now, it is somebody different almost every night. Laura is in full acceptance of the fleeting nature of their visits, has stopped trying to understand them like she used to but is used to their bad timekeeping, how some of them wake her up in her sleep with their elbows, some of them like her to make loud noises, some of them want her to whisper secrets after sex or put the radio on quietly. Often she recognises someone she has slept with before but more in a way that a bird in the garden might be the same bird that comes into the garden every day or, it might be a completely different bird, and how that’s okay.
She always makes them dinner even though sometimes they don’t come until later.
Laura still finds herself saying that thing all the time. She isn’t even really into the stuff it connotes anymore or doesn’t find it novel, she just feels like she owes it to this thirteen year old version of herself who she thinks about quite often, who wouldn’t believe that Laura gets the opportunity to say it so often.
She often says things in other languages (she has started doing French online in the afternoons) or things in made-up languages. Sometimes she’ll experiment by saying someone else has said to her before, often feeling like it would always make them come anyway; it wouldn’t matter if all that she was whispering in their ears was words and more words and more words.
Tim texts her to ask how she is. He asks if and when she is planning on moving out of the house or if she’d consider paying him rent seeing as she is living there for free and he isn’t living there at all. She doesn’t get it for almost a week because the signal is not good and also because she doesn’t charge or turn on her phone that much these days.
That night Laura cooks a huge dinner. She lights candles and sets out all the plates. She summons every ghost and makes them promise they will come with her wherever she goes even if it means having to leave here. Every single one of them says yes, of course, they will stay forever.