He parked his car behind hers. He watched her walk up the drive and turn her key in the lock. She pushed the door. Clicked it shut behind her. Nice neighbourhood, he thought. Of course it was fucking nice. He counted to twenty, then got out and followed. He glanced behind at the pavement. Empty. Closed curtains all down the street. He made a fist and knocked on the door.
“Just a minute.”
The door opened less than a foot. He could see the chain glint in the gap. She looked through at him with wide eyes.
“Who are you?”
“Someone who knows what you’ve been doing.”
He pushed his shoulder into the door. The chain pulled and snapped. She stumbled backwards. He stepped into the hall and forced the door shut behind him.
“I’ll call the–”
“And say what?”
He slapped her cheek and the skin stung pink.
“When are you free?”
“I can do later. Maybe half eight.”
“Ok. Shall I make a reservation somewhere?”
“Sure. What d’you fancy?”
“How about Chinese?”
“Chinese sounds great.”
“See you tonight.”
Jennifer put the phone down and breathed out. She opened the study door and walked straight into Mike. She jumped backwards.
“Watch it,” he said.
“What’re you doing?”
He looked up through his mop of hair then back to the floor.
“Nothing,” he said. “So where’re you going later?”
“Just dinner. With a friend.”
He nodded and turned away. The clock in the hallway ticked. Five-thirty. He took a beer from the fridge, sat on the sofa. Jennifer watched him through the doorway for a minute, then sighed and went to the bedroom to pick an outfit.
Charlotte waited outside Oriental Sunrise, looking at her watch. It was eight-twenty. She tapped her foot on the pavement and wished she hadn’t worn high heels; they looked great with the dress but her feet were aching. She pulled her phone out her handbag and checked it again. No messages. She ran her fingers through her hair and leant against the wall.
After five minutes, a taxi pulled up outside. She stood up straight. The woman in the back had short, blonde hair and a blue tailored jacket. Jennifer. She thanked the driver, then opened the door and stepped out. Charlotte walked towards the cab. Jennifer looked at her and smiled.
“You look nice,” said Jennifer.
“Thanks. So do you.” Charlotte kissed her cheek. “Shall we?”
Jennifer nodded. Charlotte held open the door for her.
“Table for two?”
The waitress, a petite woman wearing a traditional, flower-patterned dress, led them across the restaurant.
“I not see you two for a while. Call when you are ready.”
She smiled and tottered away on her tiny black heels. They sat opposite each other, made eye contact for a second, then picked up menus.
Mike was searching for his car keys. Table? No. Sofa? No. Front door? No.
“Fuck’s sake,” he muttered. Maybe Jennifer had hidden them. He glanced at a picture of the two of them on a windowsill. His hands shook, fingers curling into fists. His knuckles crunched into the wall and plaster speckled the carpet. He marched back up the hallway to the kitchen, took another beer out the fridge and sat back on the sofa. There was a pile of empty bottles on the seat next to him now. Something dug into his leg and he put his hand in his pocket. The keys.
“Thank fuck for that.” The clock said eight forty-five. There was only one Chinese place he knew that Jennifer liked. He stood up, downed his beer and put on his coat.
“You are ready to order?”
Charlotte looked at Jennifer and half-smiled. They nodded.
“What drinks would you like?”
“Just two glasses of house wine,” said Charlotte.
“Ok. And to eat?”
“I’ll have prawns in garlic sauce.”
“And I’ll have lemon chicken, please,” said Jennifer.
“Egg fried rice and, uh, d’you want anything else?” said Charlotte. Jennifer shook her head.
“Is that everything?”
“That’s all thank you,” Charlotte said.
“Ok madam. The wait should not be long, I bring your drinks now.”
The waitress scuttled away again. Charlotte looked at Jennifer.
“So how’s Mike?”
“Oh. The same as always.”
“Yeah,” said Jennifer. She looked down at her lap and twisted her fingers around the menu.
“I see.” Charlotte’s eyes flicked around the restaurant. There were wooden trellis screens next to all the tables with vines trailing up them. The couple on the table nearest them were locked in a debate about some news story. Over the other side of the restaurant, a big group of Chinese customers laughed and joked. Charlotte looked back at Jennifer. Music tinkled in the background. She reached her hand across the table and held Jennifer’s.
Mike threw the old car into a parking space and killed the engine. Oriental Sunrise was five minutes round the corner. He got out and thumped the door, realised he’d left the keys in the ignition, opened the damn thing again and slammed the door shut. He walked across the car park and stumbled up the curb to the pavement. His watch said it was only nine. How long did it take to have dinner? A while. He turned on his heel back to the car and took a cigarette out of his pocket. Held it between his lips, flicked the lighter. It burnt his thumb and he swore, then leant on the bonnet. Maybe he’d put the radio on in a minute.
“I’m stuffed,” said Jennifer. “What time is it?”
Charlotte looked at her watch.
“Nearly ten,” she said. “I guess we should–”
Charlotte stood up. Jennifer’s eyes travelled up her dress as she slipped on her jacket. Jennifer wrapped her arm around Charlotte’s waist. Charlotte looked at her, half-smiled.
“Do you want to come back with me?”
“I’d love to but I– I told Mike I was just going for dinner.”
“Why did you tell him?”
“He was kind of listening.”
“Fuck. You really need to–”
“I know. I know.”
Jennifer’s arm slid back to her side. Charlotte looked at her and touched her cheek.
“It’s gonna be ok, y’know,” she said. “We’ll figure out something.”
They nodded to the waitress, who beamed across the tables.
“Come back soon, yes?”
The restaurant door tapped shut behind them. They paused on the corner outside. Two homeless men stood at the end of the street to the right, so they moved further down the pavement. A line of taxis winked under the streetlights. Jennifer turned to face Charlotte.
“I’m sorry I–”
“It’s ok, it’s– it’s fine, Jen.”
Jennifer smiled and took a step forward.
“How about next Friday?” she said. “He’s away for the weekend.”
“That sounds great.”
They stood still. Jennifer lifted her face closer. Charlotte’s lips pressed hers. Then they parted. Jennifer glanced down the street.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she said. Charlotte smiled.
They walked to a cab. Charlotte opened the door for Jennifer and she stepped in.
“See you soon,” Jennifer said. Charlotte held up her hand to wave as the taxi spluttered and pulled away. She turned around and headed back to her car.
Mike saw them from behind the wall where he’d been stood next to a tramp. And he’d thought she was seeing another man. But no. His wife was a fucking dyke. Why hadn’t he seen it coming? His hands shook and he wished he’d brought a beer with him. Jen’s friend? Jen’s fucking friend alright. The woman had kissed her goodbye. Held the cab door. Sauntered down the street like her life was so fucking perfect and she was the best thing in the world. He threw his cigarette down. A thin plume of smoke waved in front of his face. His wedding ring laughed at him. Fuck it, he thought. He stepped away from the wall and followed the woman. Her hips swayed as she walked, the material of her dress creased, un-creased. He sped up.
Charlotte parked the car behind her hedge and walked up the drive. She took out her keys, pushed the door open and locked it behind her. She glanced at the phone on the table in the hall then took off her shoes. Sliding off her jacket, she headed to the kitchen.
Odd time for someone to come round. Maybe it was Jen? But Jen wouldn’t knock like that.
“Just a minute,” she said. Through the gap in the door, she could see a man’s face. Dark hair, unshaven, alcohol-stink on his breath. Her skin flushed. Cold. Hot. Cold.
“Who are you?”
“Someone who knows what you’ve been doing.”
Hannah Godden is a Creative Writing graduate, and currently works as an Editor at Thomson Reuters in legislation. She writes poetry and prose in her spare time, and lives in Yorkshire with her dog, Dora. When she isn’t editing or writing, she enjoys long walks in the hills, eating cake in cafés and playing the guitar.
Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.