It takes him far too long to wake up, and he has to work to surface from under the misty haze of residual tiredness. He has the gritty, dissatisfied feeling that signifies of a bad night’s sleep. He blinks, wondering why everything’s become dark – has he gone blind? – before he finds that he’s staring at his pillow. Oh. He rolls over to eye the ceiling instead. It’s not exactly a more interesting view, but it’s less likely to make him panic and wonder about whether his vision needs correcting. Stifling a yawn, he rubs at his eyes, the gritty remnants of sleep scraping against his eyelids and making him grimace. Time to get up, he thinks.
He checks his alarm clock. 7:30, the display reads, the red, square letters blinking in the half-darkness. He’s got an hour and a half before he has to open up – more than enough time to get ready and sort things out. He sits up with a groan, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He stands and stretches in the same movement, meandering slowly into the corridor and down to the bathroom. In an absentminded reflex, he turns on the light as he walks past it.
Hiss. The sound is quiet, muffled through the wood of the door, and it’s oddly soothing to his ears. It’s too early in the morning for them to be properly working yet – they tend to take a while to warm up. The sound’s gentle, a nice thing to wake up to.
He pauses at the door, still too bleary to think, and presses a hand to the door. It doesn’t give. Locked.
He becomes aware of three things at once: Angela is living with him, Angela is in his shower, he’s standing in only his boxers when she could come out of the bathroom any minute, and Angela is living with him.
He freezes, spending another second too long blinking at the bathroom door. Then he turns and heads back to his bedroom rather more quickly than he came out of it.
Books, he thinks. He’ll read while he waits. He heads to the bookcase, and he happens to walk past his mirror as he does. He didn’t want one in here; he didn’t particularly mind it, but he hadn’t asked for one. Olivia forced him to drag it in here, saying that he’d probably forget to put his trousers on if he didn’t catch his reflection once in a while. He conceded that she might have a point, but he’s starting to regret it.
He forgets, sometimes. He’s never been particularly self-involved, and he often doesn’t think about what he looks like until he’s actually standing in front of a mirror; it can sometimes be a rather unpleasant surprise. He’s all angles and corners: skinny arms with sharp elbows, prominent knees. His clavicles stand out starkly in the yellow light, and the whiteness of his skin makes him look sickly, jaundiced. He has the potential for good shoulders, he supposes, but that’s about it. He perhaps has the sufficient height to be imposing, but without the width, he’s simply a beanpole. It’s not as if he’s underweight or ill – he’s not shuffling his way towards the grave, and he doesn’t he look like he is, either – but he doubts he’ll ever grace the cover of fitness magazines. He’s just… resoundingly average, somehow, awkward and inelegant. He doesn’t look like the sort of person who’s designed for anything – he looks like someone most comfortable sitting on the sidelines, pretending they’re not bothered by the fact that they can’t be useful, and unfortunately, that is indeed who he’s been for most of his life.
He shakes his head. Whether he’s disappointed with himself or with the entire situation, he doesn’t know. Still, he doesn’t linger next to the mirror, and he does his resolute best to ignore the sinking feeling somewhere under his ribcage. It’s rather too familiar by this point.
He’s been rereading Great Expectations for ten minutes when he hears the sound of the bathroom door opening, and then the sound of footsteps along the corridor. He keeps his eyes on the book, even though the letters are blurring before his eyes and he’s only pretending to read. When he hears the click of the spare room door shutting, he sounds the mental all-clear and decides that it’s safe to use the bathroom.
When he makes his way downstairs – clean, dressed and overly cautious – she’s in the kitchen. She’s fetching herself a glass of water. She’s pristine, her hair carefully styled, wearing what he knows is the charcoal suit from the first time they met – he was terrified enough by the meeting that even her attire stuck in his memory. He wonders if she wakes up like that, if she even had any need of the shower or if she was simply curious. He then realises that his mind has drifted perilously close to the danger zone of Angela in the shower. Feeling ill, he quickly diverts his thoughts from that thoroughly unwelcome road. She raises the glass to her mouth and takes a sip of water, only lowering it to say, “Good morning.”
He jumps. She didn’t even turn round, or give any other acknowledgement of his existence. “Morning.” He moves on muscle memory, and he’s halfway to shoving a couple of slices of bread in the toaster when he thinks of it. “Do you – do you eat?”
She deigns to look at him this time. “I’m in a body that’s mostly human. It needs food as a human’s would.”
Oh. That could be a problem. Feeding two people, rather than one? Doable, but not necessarily pleasant or allowing much room for manoeuvre. He tries his best not to let his face fall.
“I’ll pay for my own provisions,” she says.
Inside his head, he exhales in relief. He lifts a slice of bread, suddenly much more chipper than he was, and asks, “Toast good for you?”
She nods. “That’ll be fine.”
It’s one of the fancy four-slot toasters, so he inserts two more slices and sets them to toast.
While he’s making a cup of tea, the bread pops up. He takes the slices, hissing at how hot they are, makes a desperate grab for a couple of plates and then puts butter on them. It’s probably polite to ask if she wants anything on hers, but he’s still a quarter asleep and she seems not to care as long as she doesn’t starve, so he serves the toast as it is.
Which is how he finds himself in the hopelessly strange situation of eating breakfast with an angel, the two of them mowing through the toast. She’s sitting opposite him on the little kitchen table, and he’s oddly gratified by the fact that even she can’t make eating toast quiet and elegant: it crunches, spraying crumbs onto the plate, even though her bites are far from careless.
The silence is broken by the shrill ring of a telephone. It’s the landline, so he dusts the crumbs off his hands and trudges to the phone. “Hello?”
It’s Olivia. “Hi. Is this a bad time? You’re sounding rather bleary.”
“No, it’s… it’s unusually early, is all. Is there any particular reason for you calling?”
“I’m sorry, I thought you’d have been up for a while by now. I didn’t mean to…”
“You didn’t. You’re absolutely fine. Now, you were saying?”
“Apparently I’ve made it to the top three applicants in the job I’m trying out for. It means I’m in with a solid chance.”
He grins. “That’s great.” He means it. She’s spent far too long searching, and though she does her best to appear chipper, he knows full well that she’s slowly beginning to despair.
He hears the sounds of a plate being dumped into the sink, shortly followed by the loud thud of a heavy object – he has a horrible feeling that he knows exactly which heavy object in particular it is – being dumped on the kitchen table. “What are you doing?” he asks, as quietly as he possibly can. When he turns, sure enough, she has the hideous, brick-thick book open and is flicking through its pages. Though he ‘ll freely admit that he’s curious, now really isn’t the time, and he thought from what she said that he wasn’t allowed to see inside it. If so, why has she plonked it in front of him within easy reach?
“Research,” is Angela’s curt reply, and she doesn’t even make a token effort to lower her voice.
He knows Olivia’s heard her. It’s barely there, but he hears it – the smallest intake of breath down the line. His silence quickly makes it obvious that he knows she knows – good God, that sentence is going to get confusing. The silence continues for the space of a few breaths, then Olivia says, “Should I ask?”