Orla did not blush. ‘Blushing’ is a reddening of the cheeks. No: when she was embarrassed or uncomfortable, her face caught fire, her ears burned, and her throat tightened. “Oh. Well, yeah, that’s me.”
“Are you… Scottish?”
Orla let out a sigh. This was going to be a long hour.
Will licked his fingertip and scrubbed furiously at an ink stain on his hand, begging it to come off. He had only ever met Robert Waterford on a few, very brief occasions, when he had picked Orla up from his house. Now that he was meeting him properly, the last thing he wanted was to look scruffy. As he frequently joked with Orla, the man may have been small, but he looked like he knew how fight dirty.
He stood as Robert approached him, and offered a slightly trembling hand. “Hi, Mr Waterford. I’ve already ordered a coffee, but can I get you anything?”
Robert’s grip was bone-crushing. “No, thank you, William. Let’s sit down, shall we?”
Will hoped that Robert could not hear how rapidly he was breathing. “Thank you so much for helping me out with this.”
“Well, I think it’s a sweet idea. Orla loves A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and God knows she could use something to take her mind off everything. But about this hotel room…” Robert paused as a waitress placed Will’s coffee on the table; and eyed the cup carefully.
Will gulped. This was it. His life was about to be over. This tiny Irishman was about to pick up that coffee and blind him with it; before stabbing him with some concealed blade and running away. He would never be caught, and no one even knew that they were meeting here.
“Erin tells me you booked a hotel, and you want us to make sure Orla doesn’t do the same.”
“Yes, I, uh…” Why was his collar suddenly so tight? “In retrospect, I should have asked your permission first.”
“But it’s separate beds, sir. I can’t afford to book two separate rooms, otherwise I would have done, I swear. Honest, I would have.”
Robert cracked his knuckles, and Will’s eyes widened as he slowly raised a fist; his face an image of fury. Oh God, I’m dead. He closed his eyes. Just go for my nose. Please only break my nose.
Robert brushed something off of Will’s shoulder, and laughed. Will opened his eyes again, confused.
“You should have seen the look on your face.”
The look on- Was this guy mad? “Oh… Ha… Ha… I bet it was… I bet it was a good one, sir.”
“Don’t call me ‘sir’, it’s Robert. No, don’t worry; Erin already told me all about it. We’ve had a little chat with Orla. She thinks we’re booking a hotel so that she can take you shopping up in London. Now, you might have to suffer through some handbag shopping, or whatever women do, but she won’t have a clue why you’re really there.”
“Thank you, sir. Um, Robert.”
Robert started flicking through his wallet. “Now, what do I owe you for the room?”
“Oh, please, that really isn’t necessary. This is my treat to Orla, I’d like to pay for it myself.”
“I mean the second room.”
“Oh,” Will blushed.
The next week passed by slowly, each day crawling by like a fog; leaving trails of misery. Erin spent most of her time crying. She would cry over her pans as she cooked; she would cry over the remote as she watched television; she would cry over Ilah as the dog lay in her lap for a cuddle; and she would cry into the spare room pillow. The night that it happened, Erin had dressed ready for bed, and turned back the duvet, ready to climb in among the sheets and stay there until the pain went away. On his pillow was a single hair; on the fitted sheet there was an outline of his shape; and, when she went to his side of the bed and reached out to brush away the hair with shaking hands, the duvet still smelled of him. She had removed her clothes from the wardrobe, breaking down at the sight of his shirts neatly lined one thumb space apart. “How am I supposed to find a shirt every morning when it’s chaos in here?” he used to joke, and meticulously moved each shirt a fraction so that they were easier to access. On the very rare occasions that they fought; or sometimes just to mess with him; Erin used to go into the wardrobe and compress all of his shirts together in a big cluster, knowing that it would drive him insane. She fingered the cuff of one of his shirts, and, with tears in her eyes, added it to the pile of her clothes destined for the spare room wardrobe. It was with great pain that she made sure she picked out her old, black ‘funeral dress’, for the ceremony next week . She used Kate’s bathroom (which was really the main bathroom), rather than the en-suite in the master bedroom. So their bedroom remained untouched; the bed like a shrine to her late husband; a pile of receipts and dirty coins still left in front of the television from where he had emptied his pockets before lying beside his wife for the last time.