Six days to Friday
It caught him off guard, and he broke his stride as he saw the newspaper spread out over the coffee table. Friday, damn, he’d forgotten it was Friday already. Duffy was sat on the floor, cross legged in the narrow channel between the table and the sofa, chewing the end of an ancient biro. She clearly hadn’t noticed him yet, so intently was she reading the property ads.
For the first few days it’d felt strange to walk into his living room and find her there, flicking through one of her many lifestyle magazines, engrossed in one of the soaps, stood in the corner ironing her uniform, asking if she should do his while she had the board up in exchange for him putting the kettle on and breaking open a new packet of custard creams. She’d seemed to settle into his house so easily, adapted to him considerable faster than he’d adapted to her, but then she was used to sharing and he had barely had to since he left his grubby student digs the best part of thirty years ago. Oh, there was Baz of course, but what with one row or another they’d never actually cohabited for any real amount of time.
Duffy and her boys had been there for three months.
Three months, four days and an odd number of hours to be accurate.
He glanced at his watch; six hours forty three minutes.
Not that he was counting.
She’d pulled her hair back in a hastily tied ponytail, wispy strands escaping catching the late evening sun and practically glowing copper, contrasting against the olive green top and black jeans. She looked beautiful, and he tried desperately to quash that thought. He wanted, no, he needed to be able to help her through all this and making an inappropriate pass at her would just make her uncomfortable. She’d move out, even if it was to somewhere unsuitable and he refused to be responsible for that, and if keeping his mouth shut kept her close, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
It seemed like she was moving in slow motion as she brought the pen from her lips, the nib hovering a centimetre or so over the paper as she deliberated. Then whoosh; the ad was ringed and the pen back in her mouth and he’d barely seen it at all. Her head jerked up, suddenly aware of his presence somehow, and her eyes fixed hold of his as he loitered in his doorway trying very hard to look casual.
"Maybe... Top end of my price range but it sounds perfect."
Well, it had to happen sooner or later didn’t it? Every Friday morning the local paper was delivered and she painstakingly searched through the property supplement. Her mother’s death had left her a little money - not enough for a house but enough for a deposit and luckily (if such a terms applies) it had only been cleared through the legal system after Ryan’s disappearing act. She was just about financially capable of standing on her own again, if only she could find the right house.
And he’d wanted her to. At first. But as every Friday came and passed without her dream home being located he realised how little he wanted her to go. Or how much he wanted her to stay, which was more the point.
"Two bed, two reception; semi detached. Back garden. Off road parking. Central heating. Fully fitted kitchen and bathroom..."
"What’s the catch?"
She sighed. It was a sigh that sliced through him, one of the few things that made him feel guilty about wanting so desperately for her to stay under his roof. It was patently obvious that she wanted to leave almost as much as he wanted her not to. Duffy hoisted herself up onto the sofa, and Charlie came to sit beside her.
"It does say it’s in need of some modernisation."
"Well you know what that means!"
"It’s got central heating and a fitted kitchen, how unmodern can it be?"
"Is that a word?"
"You know what I mean!" She swiped him playfully, catching her knuckles against the top of his arm. Of course it didn’t hurt, it felt nice to feel her if only for a split second. "I think it’s worth a look, don’t you?"
"Yeah," he said, trying to sound enthusiastic for her sake, "Want me to ring the agents?"
"Well, that was okay... maybe the best we’ve seen so far," Charlie said hesitantly as he and Duffy made their way back to where he’d parked the car.
She nodded, hoping to look positive rather than positively glum. The house was okay, no one had done a thing to update it since the mid-seventies but everything was in basic working order, it was a good size, good location and most importantly the right price. The seller was desperate for a quick sale - something about moving abroad that Duffy had pretended to listen too whilst mentally redecorating the master bedroom - and so Charlie had managed to arrange for them to get a viewing almost immediately. He really couldn’t wait to get rid of her, could he?
Realistically, she knew she couldn’t blame him. It was her own stupidity that had left her family homeless after all, and Charlie was going above and beyond the call of friendly duty to have let them stay at all, let alone for three months and counting. And she did want her own home, the only problem was that a part of her, an increasingly large part, already felt she was at home. She did feel guilty using him like that, but the truth was she didn’t really want to leave him. It was too comfortable, too nice staying with him, not that she knew how to wrestle the right words into a sentence to tell him though.
The estate agent had referred offhandedly to Charlie as her husband; more importantly Duffy hadn’t quite got around to correcting her. Instead it’d made her think, imagine, wonder. It was frightening how easy that was to do. There’d always been something between them, but she was only now truly understanding just what it was she felt for him. If only he felt the same.
Sighing loudly, she slipped into the passenger seat and reached for her seatbelt, completely missing the frown that passed over Charlie’s face.
"It’s out there somewhere you know," he said, in what she recognised was his best reassuring voice.
"Your perfect home. It’s out there, I know it is. If you don’t like this one...?" He paused, waiting for her input. She shrugged noncommittally. "Well, we can keep looking. Get the paper again next week."
So that’s it, she thought, he really wants me gone. It was a struggle to keep her voice from betraying her disappointment. "Yeah, I know, Charlie. Thanks for helping."
He reached across and squeezed her hand tenderly. "No problem."
Charlie wasn’t interested in her, never had been, she knew that he was just being friendly, but she wouldn’t make any hasty decisions about moving on in the hope that she would find the words to tell him she loved him. Somehow. And who knew what might happen, there were still another six days to Friday.