Suzanne would have imagined that she would scream. Anyone in this exact situation would surely scream, shout the house down. She had no voice. Fear had stolen her ability to function.

She heard a whimper, and someone whispered, “Please.”

It was herself of course but she didn’t know what she was pleading for.

The figure moved nearer just one step but into the dim light, sneaking through the curtains. Suzanne shuffled backwards on the settee. “Please, just go away. Please.”

The figure reached a hand to the switch and flooded the room with light.

“Lucy, what the hell? Luce.” Suzanne jumped from her seat and crossed the room in a couple of steps. “Lucy, what’s happened? What the bejesus are you doing? Where have you been? What happened to your face?”

“Let me sit down. Just give me a minute will you.”

Suzanne pushed the duvet aside to make room and Lucy sat on the sofa. She wrapped her arms around herself except for one moment when she touched the fading bruise on her cheekbone and the discolouration under her eye.

“Right,” she began. “I suppose you rang our Steve, did you?”

Suzanne nodded.

“I expect he told you I’d gone off in a mood. Huh. Okay, cards on the table here. You know he’s always been a bit handy with his fists?”

“Suzanne nodded again and reach out to touch her friend’s hand.

“He’s been worse lately. I know why. I know full well why. He’s got a bit of fluff up in Newcastle.” Tears leaked from her eyes. “It’s such a bloody cliché, isn’t it? Commercial traveller has a wife at home and his bit on the side. I’d suspected it for a bit now and this time when he came home, I called him on it. I think I was feeling a bit hyper, with all the worry about Ginny, and I was thinking ‘what if she’s dead?’ and it made me feel old. Anyway, we had a big row and this…” She pointed at her ruined face. “I left straight away, and I’ve been in one of those Airbnb things in Speke. It’s all right, I’ve got a kitchen and so on but–it’s not home, is it? Then I had your message and saw that you’d be out at the hospital, and I thought I’d just go to the house, see if he’d gone and take it from there. I didn’t want to involve you. That was the last thing you needed. Course he’d gone and there was nothing to eat and no milk or anything, so I came round here. I was just going to make a coffee and maybe leave you a note and see what was best. But I was starving. I haven’t eaten anything properly since I left and your chilli smelled so good I couldn’t resist it. I’m sorry.”

“Bloody hell don’t apologise. You know you can have anything.”

“I didn’t think you’d mind. But then I heard you coming home and to be honest, I couldn’t face you. I thought you’d have been later. Anyway, I ran for it. I put your key back under the plant pot and I was going to ring you. I went to my house for a bit and then when I came back to talk to you, the police were here, and I panicked. I didn’t know what was going on. Since he hit me, I’ve been at sixes and sevens. I’m sorry, this is all really confusing. Anyway, Steve came back tonight, and I had to run for it and didn’t know where to go. I couldn’t face the BnB place on my own. I was going to sit in here and wait for you to get up, but then you were in here sleeping on the couch. Why are you doing that?”

“Because you scared the shit out of me, that’s why. I get about the food, I don’t mind that at all. But, Luce, why the bathroom?”

“The bathroom?”

“Yeah. Why did you do that? Rip my curtain. Was it an accident? It’s okay, it was only a crappy curtain from B&M–I can get another. But it scared me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What curtain?”

“The shower curtain.”

“I never touched your curtain, never even went into your bathroom. I heard you were coming home and made a dash for it. You were quick. I thought you would have been later. Did you see Ginny?”

“What time was it, when you heard me come back?”

“It was about half three. It was a surprise. I heard you out in the drive and heard the side gate and I scarpered.”

“I didn’t get back until well after five. You didn’t go in the bathroom? You didn’t rip the shower curtain?”

“Why the hell would I do that? I used your downstairs loo, but I never went upstairs. I never went to your bathroom.”

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