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Just a clock ticking incessantly and the grainy Dulux on the ceiling. Robbie scratched his jagged face, stretching his arms. A Primark purple that felt lovely and soft against his bruised limbs – then extra weight from a wooden Indian statue his mother had bought to put a lucky slant on his driving test. And he had passed. Robbie remembered this as he wiped dirt from his eyes and the bedroom slowly came into view. Remnants of posters. Dirty clothes. Racks of yellowing paperbacks: Amis to Austen, Noon to Nabokov, Poe to Pynchon. Robbie followed the rows to see if he could remember all the classics and jog his memory. Was there anything he hadn’t read yet? Most seemed to be in place. No empty spaces. He loved the way diamonds of sunlight drizzled beyond his dim curtains and landed on bright books. It made him feel safe, proud.

This perfectionist trawl along the manuscripts gradually fazed out as wafts of Marmite sprang in. He could hear Andrea’s footsteps thudding on pine towards his closed door. And then open. “Your favourite,” the gentle companion toned, smiling to calm Robbie’s anxiety. “Why now?” he said.

“Look outside, look inside your head. A bit of toast and it all goes away.”

“Thanks, I like the way you know.” Then silence returned, Robbie dropped his (heavy) wooden carving to the floor. Peace had sort of flickered near his head since the driving news and it was made better by the presence of this confusing woman and her surprise weekend morning snack. He knew it was time to take a little risk. “So, the concert on Wednesday, I know you said, maybe, but…”

“I’ll try Robbie. You know what I’ve said before, I’ll tell you.” He swiftly drew his eyes back to the bookshelf, which he knew would yield some kind of uneasy satisfaction. Then he noticed Andrea smiling a really weird smile that meant a lot more than a smile yet he couldn’t gather what. The nuances of it gouged his insides, a tiny alarm with no real clarity. Something was being hidden – it annoyed him but he was aware a fraction of him wanted it hidden.

As she gave the smile, a mixture of tension and deviousness leaked (at least in Robbie’s view) and the angle of light doused her in a sinister tone more harsh than true. Quickly Robbie readied his mind and focused in on the good things: his bracelets, the taste of chips after the pub, tennis, drying his hair after a summer downpour, warm humid buses full of tipsy shoppers at Christmastime, re-heated fish pie, momentary glances with strangers, his new lucky bear.

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