House of Dreams Chapts 1-3

House of Dreams

Chapter 1

Tyler smiled at the straggling crowd of over-excited children gazing up at him in awe. He peered out beyond them into the darker edges of the television studio, at the cameramen, sound technicians and production crew, certain that they were all looking up at him with admiration and perhaps a little envy. He knew, without having to be told, exactly how long he had to fill until the cameras cut away from him to run the music video. He skipped through his link effortlessly, oozing enthusiasm and charm. He even managed a mischievous wink at the new researcher watching him attentively from the studio floor below. When Tyler had finished speaking, the floor manager gave him a firm nod to signal he was clear and the voice in his earpiece told him they were no longer live. That was the moment when he turned calmly to the make-up girl beside him and pushed her off the balcony.

She plummeted toward the Salvador Dali sofa in the shape of a giant pair of red lips where the show’s star guests were interviewed. The startled shriek that trailed after her through the air ended suddenly as she thudded onto the upholstery; she teetered on the edge for a second then flopped the last few inches onto the studio floor. After a moment’s hollow silence her cry was replaced by a series of disturbing, guttural moans as she tried to raise her crumpled body up on her shattered ankle. Str eet Corna, a three-piece teenage girl band in sequined bikini tops and pink combat trousers, watched the scene unfold from the other sofa alongside. They laughed nervously, their eyes darting around the studio looking for help, unsure if this was part of the show. The girl closest to the flailing body leaned over uneasily and offered the make-up girl her bottle of Evian.

The floor manager was first to reach the scene of the accident, grabbing the girl’s trembling hand whilst looking back over her shoulder to the gallery and yelling into her radio-mike for someone to call an ambulance. Within moments a dozen crew and guests had gathered round trying to be helpful and straining to see what had happened. Most sloped away again as soon as they realised it was only the make-up girl. Some of the children started crying.

Upstairs in the gallery there was panic as they quickly ran the extended video for Street Corna’s new single, hoping that it would give them enough time to clear the body from the set. Kerry, Tyler’s co-presenter, was briefed on presenting the next segment of the show. Whilst she listened intently to the producer, the assistant make-up girl leapt into action without even being asked, fluttering about Kerry’s face with a brush.

No one was quite sure what to do about Tyler.

‘Back in 10 seconds…’ shouted the floor manager as she hurried Kerry around to another part of the studio away from the scene of the accident, ‘…keep the noise down please, and someone move her off the set before we’re back.’

Kerry stood in front of the camera, her face flicking through a sequence of expressions: shock, confusion, concern, before a gleam slowly began to twinkle in her eyes. Her expression settled on a smile.

The disembodied voice from the gallery began counting down.

‘Back in five, four, three…’ and then stopped, the final numbers silently filled in by everyone else in the studio.

The red light on top of the camera lit up and instantly Kerry burst into applause and whoops of appreciation. Street Corna smiled uncertainly, still unnerved by the incident they’d just seen but trying hard to be professional and to recall the answers they’d spent all morning preparing.

‘Wow, girls, that was fantastic, that’s gonna be number one for sure!’ Kerry began, not giving even the slightest hint that she’d just seen one of her colleagues hurled fifteen feet through the air and who was now shivering with shock in her eye line on the other side of the camera. ‘But seriously, you must have had a mad few weeks, winning The Next Big Thing, recording the single, making that amazing video, and now here on Live and Direct with me! Tell us what it’s been like?’

Tyler looked down onto the drama unfolding in the studio below him. He watched the girl he’d attacked being nursed by the studio’s appointed first-aider who was trying to get her to drink coffee, fumbling through a box of plasters and looking around every few seconds for someone else to take charge. He watched Olivia, the floor manager, controlling the chaos with typical efficiency by ensuring that the TV audience only saw what she wanted them to see. He watched Kerry greedily sucking up all the attention now that she was on her own in front of the camera. As he looked on Tyler heard his producer Serena shouting in his earpiece asking him what exactly he thought he was doing assaulting the crew, but the words failed to cohere fully in his mind and came through only as rising and falling waves of sound, distorted and hazy. He took in all the information but somehow he knew he wasn’t processing it through the usual channels. He felt disconnected from the chaos around him. Even the sound of Serena’s voice still desperately trying to elicit a response from him just drifted effortlessly through his mind leaving no residue of concern. What seemed strangest of all to Tyler though was the noise that suddenly popped into his head as if from nowhere. For the past few days he’d been aware of a strange sound in the background everywhere he went. It was a low, whining sound, a noise like the barely perceptible hum of a fridge. He’d intermittently tried to look for its cause before concluding that there must be something wrong with his hearing. He’d mostly ignored it. Suddenly, just moments ago it had stopped and been replaced by another sound altogether. Despite the glare of the lights, the cameras gliding back and forth and the frantic voices in his earpiece, the noise that was suddenly clearest in his mind were the words of a song he guessed he couldn’t have heard since he was a child. He began to hum:

You can choose a ready guide

In some celestial voice.

If you choose not to decide

You still have made a choice.”

When Serena reached him having run from the control gallery to the balcony of the studio where he was still standing, Tyler was singing softly to himself. Serena stood in front of him, eyes open wide in a what-the-fuck? expression. He began to speak but she silenced him with an outstretched hand brought up swiftly in front of his face and a curt shake of her head. She pressed two fingers to her earpiece, half closing her eyes, nodding and then slowly bringing her hand down. Tyler smiled at Serena enthusiastically. He realised, as she stood expectantly in front of him, that he should probably try to explain what had happened. He thought it through for a moment, wanting to ensure before he spoke that he was going to be able to give a good account of himself. It quickly became clear to him however that he wasn’t exactly sure now why he had pushed the girl off the balcony at all. He continued to think carefully, willing the answer to appear, like an image gradually downloading onto a computer screen. There was a reason, he felt sure, but it was fighting to get through. He decided that he didn’t really want to disclose the brief relationship he’d had with the girl which had ended a little awkwardly a few months ago, partly because he felt sure that it had nothing to do with his motivation for pushing her off the balcony and partly because he didn’t want Serena to think badly of him. He didn’t want to explain that the little line of cocaine he’d had this morning before they went on air hadn’t had the intended effect of settling him but had just made him extremely edgy (although strangely he noticed that he now felt surprisingly calm – calm in a way he couldn’t remember feeling for a very long time). He also realised that he was still singing and could see that this was causing Serena to look increasingly alarmed. He stopped singing and began to speak.

‘Serena… hi. The show’s going well today, huh?’ Serena’s eyes widened in disbelief, ‘oh well I mean apart from the thing with um… with her,’ he quickly corrected himself, gesturing to the part of the studio where the make-up girl was being helped on to a stretcher.

‘What happened?’ Serena asked softly, the tremor in her voice barely audible.

Tyler thought for a moment longer, hoping that a simple answer would come to him now that the question had actually been asked, something that would both explain and justify his behaviour. The downloaded image was still struggling to emerge, but nothing came. Five minutes ago, pushing the make-up girl over the flimsy guardrail that ran around the upper level of the studio set and down to the floor below had been a simple and obvious decision. Now he wasn’t at all sure why he’d done it. He decided he’d try to be honest with Serena and hope that at least would count in his favour.

‘I’m not really sure,’ he realised as he spoke that it didn’t sound too good.

‘You could have fucking killed her!’

The words echoed inside his head, bouncing around with the clamour of voices from the gallery still streaming through his earpiece. He tried again to process them, to sort them from all the white noise surrounding him. It was the sort of thing people said all the time as an exaggeration, like “you could have someone’s eye out”, but in this case it was probably true. Had he intended to kill her? Definitely not. How did he feel about what he’d done? He had to really concentrate to block out all the distractions. How did he feel? He breathed in and out slowly, letting the noises in his head fade away until there was just a gentle, ambient hiss. He tried to tune into the sensations he was experiencing. He felt the background note of adrenalin that he always got doing the live show; there was that little bubble of sexual chemistry he had when talking to Serena; he could still detect the faint chemical sting of the cocaine in the back of his throat. How did he feel about what he’d just done to the girl? Suddenly there it was, clear and precise and absolutely certain – he felt totally unconcerned. Unconcerned about the make-up girl, uninterested in the show, indifferent to what people might think. He wanted to say something to Serena, to let her know that he felt fine about it all, but he wasn’t sure it would be a good idea to sound too happy. So he decided to change the subject.

‘I’ve been thinking of moving. Moving house…out of Notting Hill. It’s just been getting too crowded; too many virtual celebrities. I even saw that hideous woman from X-Factor the other day, the one that just cried all the time. Do you remember that? She just cried and cried; she never sang a single note…just cried. She was moving in to the next street to mine. Can you believe it? Where would she get the money from to live round there? Who would pay her to do anything?’ Serena didn’t seem to be following his line of thought so he tried changing the subject again. ‘Did those new chairs we ordered for the green room arrive? It’s just that I didn’t see them this morning and I hoped they’d be here today. I hate those crappy plastic ones, they mess with the line of my trousers when I sit down,’ Serena still didn’t seem to be engaging with him. What was up with her today?

Serena’s fierce glare slowly disappeared as Tyler continued to talk. At first she’d appeared quite angry, but gradually the tension fell away from her shoulders and her expression changed; she shut her eyes momentarily and when she opened them again she was smiling sympathetically.

When he’d finished talking she touched him on the shoulder and then took hold of his arm, squeezing it comfortingly. She turned her head to one side and spoke quickly into her radio-mike. Then she put her arm around Tyler’s shoulder and began to walk with him. He moved without resistance.

When Serena at last spoke it was as if to a child. ‘Okay, honey, let’s go and get you a nice big latté and see if we can’t sort all this out.’

*

Up in the gallery there was still mayhem, although with the director’s guiding hand it had settled down to an operational level of mayhem. Everyone was speaking a little faster and a fraction louder and whirling from place to place with a little more urgency than usual.

Everyone except one man.

He sat alone in a dark recess of the gallery, away from the banks of controls and the rows of monitors. He watched the scene that Tyler had created unfold with a vigilant yet detached interest. He said nothing to anyone. Slowly he took his phone from the top pocket of his dark, immaculate suit and slid one finger across the screen, bringing it to life. He paused for a moment, then tapped the keypad and put the phone to his ear.

‘Lazlo, it’s Charles,’ he spoke quietly so as not to be overheard, although the chaos in the gallery around him ensured nobody was really listening, ‘I hope this isn’t an inconvenient time to call, but you did say I should update you as soon as I had some progress to report on our little problem. I may have found a solution. It’s a little early to be sure but I think I’ve found the perfect man for the job. His name’s Tyler Thoreau. I’ve had my eye on him for a few weeks now as I think you were aware but the most extraordinary thing has just occurred here at the television studio. For reasons currently unclear to me, Mr Thoreau has just pushed one of his colleagues off a balcony on the set. My guess is that this will make him a little less employable for mainstream television work and a little more amenable to the offer of a job with us,’ Charles breathed out slowly now he’d finished delivering the news. ‘So I think, Lazlo, that I can give you a cautious green light for the project to commence.’

 

Chapter 2

The sun shone down benignly, gently warming the crowds who’d found their way down to Brighton seafront, strolling the promenade, splayed out on the pebbles, even paddling and splashing in the cool, frothy sea. In Moons café, set back a little from the beach, Yves Miller sat in the shadows.

He’d taken his favourite table next to the door (the one that nobody else ever seemed to want), tucked in behind one of the vast concrete arches that supported the cavernous ceiling. It was a spot that managed to escape the heat, absorbing the chill from the Victorian stonework and at the same time gave him a good view without leaving him on display. It had taken Yves two macchiatos to select the boy sitting outside on the beach from amongst the sunbathing masses. The boy was hunched over what looked like a year’s worth of notes scrawled onto dog-eared pages of lined paper, a look of placid bewilderment on his pale face. If Yves was going to get punched in the face today, then this seemed like a suitable candidate for the job.

Yves threw back the last of his coffee and idled over to the boy on the beach, noticing the revision guides and exam papers scattered about him on the warm stones as he approached. Yves asked the boy for a light, flipping a cigarette out for himself and offering the pack at the same time. Yves nodded at the books and told the boy, who introduced himself as Danny, that he was doing the same subject at college (which was true, although he hadn’t yet decided if he was actually going to attend the following week’s exam). They chatted for a while about exams and revision and who they knew at each other’s schools. After a while Yves suggested that they head to one of the bars along the arches lining the seafront. Danny had welcomed the chance for a break and couldn’t see any reason to say no.

They sat at a table outside The Shark Bar in the bright June sun, drinking bottles of Mexican lager and smoking Marlboro lights. They watched the roller-bladers glide up and down and the raucous packs of aimless kids in fat-tongued, skater sneakers and baggy jeans that rode low on their pale, bony hips. The skater-kids moved as one like a wary, feral animal, congregating for a moment, shouting or scuffling, then drifting on again. As the afternoon stretched on and the bar began to fill, Yves suggested they move on again, telling Danny that he knew a nice pub just outside Brighton, a few miles along the coast.

Ten minutes later the boys stood on Marine Parade in front of The Escape Club, their thumbs extended hopefully. Yves watched as a small group of seagulls flew down and landed on the pale blue railings that ran along the edge of the promenade on the far side of the road. They shuffled unsteadily along the flaky, rust-mottled ironwork, almost overbalancing, then drawing their huge wings in and coming to rest. Yves turned his attention back to the road to see that Danny was staring at him; he got that sometimes.

They’d been waiting for about five minutes when Yves noticed four boys on mopeds watching them from the other side of the road. The conversation between the two new friends had slowed a little and their concentration, already hazy with the drink and the afternoon heat had been directed to attracting the attention of the passing cars whipping off the roundabout in front of the pier and accelerating up along the road out of town. The boys on the mopeds looked about the same age as Yves and Danny, maybe even a little younger, perhaps sixteen. They were certainly only just old enough to ride mopeds if at all. They all wore tracksuit bottoms and two of them wore hooded tops, the hoods pulled tight around their faces. The other two were bare-chested, displaying hard wiry frames. They were all laughing aggressively and gesturing across toward Yves and Danny as they stood with their thumbs out to the passing cars. Danny began to look concerned. Yves smiled.

‘Have you seen that lot over there?’ Danny asked, pointing subtly in the direction of the group.

Yves looked over and nodded. ‘Yeah, I see them.’

The lads on the mopeds were clearly discussing what they were going to do next. One of the boys had already grabbed the helmet from his handlebars and was shuffling impatiently from one foot to the other. Then, as though a signal had been given the lads suddenly all scrambled on to their mopeds in a frenzy of activity. The bikes sputtered into life, the grating noise of the engines cutting through the warm air causing the seagulls on the railings behind to leap startled into the sky. The birds hauled their heavy bodies upward with their huge, arching wings, and flew slowly back out to sea.

‘You know them, right?’ Danny asked Yves hopefully.

‘Nope,’ replied Yves.

‘Oh shit.’

The lads raced up the road to where the two boys stood. They approached at speed, only pulling tight on their brakes at the last instant. There was an odd hiatus as they all dismounted, set the foot stands and hung their helmets over the handlebars. Then it began.

‘What the fuck were you staring at, pikey?’ snarled one of the bare-chested boys walking right up to Danny, stopping just inches away from him, virtually spitting the words in his face.

‘I wasn’t staring at anything,’ Danny replied, an audible tremor in his voice.

‘Yes you fucking were. I was standing over there and you was staring at me. You like cock do you, pikey,’ the boy grabbed at his own crotch through his tracksuit bottoms and laughed. ‘You a batty-boy or something?’ he pronounced the phrase in an exaggerated Jamaican drawl turning the word “boy” into “bwoi”, his hands clenching and unclenching by his sides as he spoke.

‘Look, mate, I wasn’t staring at you. Just leave it, yeah?’

‘I ain’t your mate, bruv. I ain’t got no pikey mates,’ he spat on the ground by Danny’s foot. That was the moment when Yves decided to step in.

‘Come here.’ Yves spoke quietly but all four of the boys had clearly heard him. No-one replied. He repeated his command. ‘Come here. I want to speak to you,’ he was addressing one of the other boys, not the one squaring up to Danny, and his tone was relaxed and unthreatening yet oddly compelling. The other three looked round, waiting for a response. The boy in front of Danny moved back to let his friend through. Yves stood perfectly still. His eyes were fixed on the boy he was speaking to, locked into his stare. The boy Yves had addressed threw his can of Stella into the gutter, the last trickles of lager spewing out across the tarmac and foaming up like the sea over the pebbles on the beach below. He pushed passed his friends until he was inches away from Yves’ face. All the other boys were suddenly relegated to extras, watching intently, waiting for the scene to unfold. As the two came face-to-face Yves nodded once, then turned and walked away. He walked slowly and purposefully, just a few yards away down the side street behind the main road. The other boy followed.

After no more than three minutes Yves and the boy re-joined the group. The bare-chested boy came back first, his face lost in thought, his brow curled with an intensity that looked like he might be thinking for the very first time in his life. His bare torso now seemed to sag; the aggressive posturing had vanished, replaced by an awkward timidity. Yves, still the same assured look in his eyes, emerged just behind. As the boy reached his friends he seemed to snap out of his trance but when he spoke, his voice had been drained of all its menace.

‘Fuck’s sake, what you standing about for? Wasting our fucking time with these mugs,’ he looked back at Yves and his voice trailed away. The three boys looked to each other for some sign or explanation but not one of them spoke. Moments later they mounted up in silence and left, the whining noise of their engines gradually drifting out to sea as they rode back the way that they’d come. The mopeds sped along the seafront road until they were out of sight behind the tall, whitewashed hotels that lined the promenade. Yves stuck out his thumb once again to the passing cars.

‘What… how…what just happened?’ Danny stuttered.

‘I just had a word,’ Yves replied, not taking his eyes from the road.

‘You don’t just have a word with kids like that and they go away. You have a word with kids like that and they smack you in the face.’

‘Not if you know the right word to have they don’t,’ Yves replied cryptically.

‘Seriously, what did you say? Did you know him? Did you threaten him? Did you do some Jedi mind-fuck thing on him?’ Danny laughed.

Yves placed his hand on Danny’s shoulder and looked him in the eye, ‘I’ll tell you what. You buy the next round and I’ll give you the four one one.’

At that moment a gleaming, cherry red, convertible Porsche pulled up fifty yards past where they stood. They waited for a moment, staring first at the car purring seductively by the roadside and then at each other, before running toward it. The driver, a young Japanese woman in a short black dress and Gucci sunglasses, looked the boys up and down and smiled. Danny turned to Yves with a grin of childish gratitude and whispered, ‘this sort of thing happens to you a lot doesn’t it?’

 

Chapter 3

Serena ushered Tyler over to an empty table in the TV studio’s coffee bar then stood in line to be served. He sat and waited for her, playing with the tubes of sugar in the bowl in front of him; taking them out, squeezing the sugar from one end to the other and then putting each one back in again the other way round. The coffee bar was packed yet Tyler didn’t notice any of the four separate people who smiled or said hello to him as they passed his table.

Serena returned and placed a huge mug of milky coffee and a plate with a chocolate muffin in front of him. He reached out and wrapped both his hands around the mug, but made no attempt to pick it up or take a drink. He looked up at her and smiled weakly.

‘So what happened?’ Serena began, not quite sure what to say but thinking it best just to try and get Tyler talking. He looked on the point of slipping into one of his moody silences. She’d been subjected to them on several occasions and they could go on for hours, sometimes days. ‘I know you’ve been under a lot of pressure recently and I’m fairly sure you haven’t been getting those early nights like I suggested last time we had a little chat, but you really could have got yourself into a lot of trouble this time.’ Tyler was looking down at his coffee and had taken one of the sugar tubes out again, slowly turning it over. He didn’t reply.

‘Luckily it sounds like she isn’t too badly hurt. Olivia said they were taking her to casualty to check her out, but the paramedics seemed to think she maybe just had a minor fracture and was suffering from shock.’

‘I’m not surprised, someone just threw her off a balcony,’ Tyler looked up at Serena as he spoke, smiling guiltily.

Serena’s eyes widened, ‘Tyler, I’m not sure you realise what kind of a mess you’ve got yourself into. It’s going to take a lot of persuading not to get her to sue us, or more specifically to sue you. The only thing on our side is that I know how much she loves her job and probably won’t want to lose it. Talking of which, we are going to have to do some serious damage limitation if we’re going to keep you on the show. We might have to forget that even and just concentrate on not letting them sack your sorry arse altogether. I’ll do whatever I can, you know that, but it’s not going to be easy.’

Just then a tall, striking man in a pin-striped suit approached their table. The man thrust his hand out to Tyler.

‘Tyler Thoreau, good to see you, young man. We’re obviously not working you hard enough if you’ve got time to sit here and chat up your colleagues. Saturday your busiest day I’d have thought?’ The suited man’s well-spoken, self-assured voice faltered momentarily whilst he waited for a response, but when none came and his hand was not grasped and shaken, he recovered and carried on undeterred. ‘I’ve been hearing some very good things about your work lately. I know children’s TV is a great place to be but for a talented man like yourself I’m quite sure it won’t be long before you find yourself somewhere with a little more, what shall we say …gravitas?’

With still no response from Tyler or even an acknowledgement he was being spoken to, Serena felt compelled to intervene.

‘That’s very kind of you to say Mike. I’m Serena Miller, by the way, producer for Live and Direct. Tyler’s been really pleased with how well the show’s been received, we all have; good audience figures and a really positive response from everyone. It’s nice to hear people upstairs are recognising it too,’ she was looking across to Tyler desperate for him to say something. Tyler continued to fiddle distractedly with the tubes of sugar as Serena squirmed in her seat.

‘Well, I can see you’re busy, Tyler, so I’ll leave you to it. Nice to meet you, Serena,’ and the man in the suit swept on through the coffee bar nodding and smiling to people on all sides.

‘Do you know who that was?’ whispered Serena, as soon as she felt she could. Tyler nodded. ‘That was the controller of the channel. He is your boss, he is my boss, Christ, he’s pretty much everybody’s boss. Why didn’t you say anything?’

Serena had seen Tyler operate in situations like this before; he would become the most charming and charismatic person in the room. He would be friendly, self-deprecating but at the same time supremely confident, funny and flirtatious and he’d have whoever he was talking to laughing within seconds. People loved him and he had an unerring sense of which people he needed to impress. Mike Dixon was definitely one of those people. Instead Tyler had completely blanked him. This was not the behaviour of the enigmatic and ambitious Tyler she knew.

‘…and I suppose you realise that we had that guy from some government regulatory body in the gallery today. God knows what he thought about your little hissy fit. It was Mike Dixon who told us we had to have him in checking up on whatever the fuck he was checking up on. I can’t see him going back to wherever he came from with a favourable report,’ she paused for breath.

Tyler had been nodding as Serena spoke, but she got the unnerving feeling that he wasn’t nodding in quite the right places – just nodding. She stopped, hoping this would force him to speak.

‘Did you have skimmed milk in your coffee?’ he said, as though the previous part of the conversation had never taken place. Serena tilted her head slightly and looked at him quizzically.

‘Yeah. What the fuck?’ she replied.

‘I never do. I always have normal milk. But sometimes I think I should probably have the skimmed stuff. They call it “skinny” in these places, don’t they? I hate that. Even if I wanted it I’d never call it that.’

‘Why are we talking about this?’

‘Up until a few months ago I’d never have thought about the milk in my coffee. Just lately I’ve started to think about that sort of thing quite a bit. Not just the milk either.’

Serena bit her lip; although it seemed like he might be being purposefully obtuse she began to suspect that Tyler might actually be starting to talk about what exactly was going on after all. She took a deep breath and asked him to carry on.

‘I went out with this girl a while back, Su Lin. She was in The Groove Puppies, you remember them, right?’ Tyler looked up from his coffee at Serena, who nodded. ‘She didn’t have a sense of smell, which as I always said to her is probably the best sense not to have, you know, if you’re going to miss one, that’s the easiest to do without, right? Anyway, she used to get paranoid that everybody else could smell things that she couldn’t. We’d be out in bar or a restaurant or somewhere and she’d suddenly start freaking out, asking me what the smell was and as much as I’d tell her there wasn’t anything, she’d just think I was lying to her. Weird, huh?’

‘A little.’

‘Then this one time in Starbucks she did it again, only this time she started asking all the other customers what the smell was. They’re just sipping their lattes, minding their own business and she’s suddenly all up in their faces asking what the mystery smell is. And I just got up and walked out. I never saw her again…’ his voice trailed away and he picked up a tube of sugar and twisted it between his fingers.

‘Things don’t always work out, honey.’

‘Recently, I think I’ve started to get the same thing. Not about smelling stuff though. Just this feeling that everybody knows something that I don’t. But I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what everybody else knows…’

‘It’s probably just the pressure of the work at the moment, you probably don’t realise.’

‘…and I keep thinking about Su Lin. I don’t know why but I keep thinking about her… the last few weeks… I wonder what she’s doing now?’

‘I often think about old boyfriends, Tyler,’ Serena reassured him, then before she could add anything else he’d switched back his previous topic.

‘I’ve thought about giving up smoking, about cutting down the drinking and about easing back on the coke. I almost said “no” to a line the other night, I didn’t, but almost. That was quite a big step… and then there are people… I’ve started to think I should be nicer to people.’

‘It couldn’t hurt. I’m sure Sheenie would have appreciated it.’

‘Who’s Sheenie?’ Tyler looked up.

‘Oh my god, you don’t even know her name. The make-up girl! She’s been doing your make up for six months and you don’t even know her name. Tyler, that’s awful.’

‘Yeah, you see that’s what I’m talking about. Actually I did know her name, you just threw me for a moment,’ he paused. ‘I slept with her.’

Serena shook her head slowly. ‘That’s even worse. You slept with her and you don’t know her name. How does that even happen? That stuff only happens in films, surely?’

‘I did know her name, I told you. I just forgot it for a moment. It’s been quite a tough morning,’ Tyler picked up his coffee, sinking down behind it as he took a sip.

‘So that’s what all this is about? I might have known.’

‘It’s nothing to do with that,’ he absorbed Serena’s stare, ‘well okay it’s probably something to do with that, but that’s not the reason I pushed her.’

‘Well?’

‘I slept with her friend too. That was more recent. Since she found out about that I think she’s been upset with me. I’m not sure if it’s because her friend is upset that I haven’t been back in touch, or if she’s just jealous. Either way she has been giving me all sorts of grief and I guess this morning I just snapped. You do have skimmed milk don’t you? And that muffin you bought for me , you probably want some but you probably won’t have any. Do you see what I’m talking about?’ Tyler had switched back to his earlier train of thought and although addressing Serena he didn’t look like he was particularly interested in her answers. She felt she’d better try to keep the conversation going however, even if she wasn’t sure where it was heading.

‘I do have skimmed milk, mostly because it’s less fattening, and yes I wouldn’t mind a bite of your muffin but it’s not a big issue. I could have a bite if I wanted and I wouldn’t feel too bad about it. They’re just choices, honey, we have to make them all the time, no point getting hung up about them.’

Tyler stared at the spongy chunks of chocolate muffin on the plate in front of him that he’d been gently pulling apart as Serena had spoken. With one finger he pushed the largest piece slowly up toward the rim of his plate and let it tremble on the edge for a moment before allowing it to drop off the lip on to the table.

‘Will you take me home?’ he asked Serena.

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