He woke up around ten the next day and almost jumped out of his skin when a voice asked “Ready for some coffee?”
“Ga, Marcus, where did you come from?”
“Home actually. I brought you some Fortnum’s coffee. You liked that yesterday, didn’t you?”
From the smell coming out of the kitchen, he had already started brewing it too. Paul disentangled himself from the quilt and re-assembled his limbs. When he was reasonably sure he was complete, he got up from the sofa and let down the window-blinds. Some fiend in his head was working a hammer against his brain. His throat felt parched, so he padded to the kitchen with closed eyes to get some water. After gulping down two large glasses, he felt ready to open his eyes again. Two tickets for the Tori Amos concert were fixed to his fridge with a magnet.
“Eggs and bacon with the coffee? From what I heard, salty food is best when one is feeling a bit under the weather.” Marcus’s voice behind his shoulder.
“Don’t creep up on me like that!” Whipping around to face Marcus, who had come into the kitchen after him, had not been a good idea; he quickly sat down and put his head between his knees, vowing that he would never again mix Guinness, cider and Scotch.
“Do you make a habit of breaking into people’s houses?” He didn’t remember letting Marcus in last night. He didn’t remember a whole lot about last night at all. He kept his head down.
“I didn’t want to wake you, but I wanted to make sure we could talk, so, yes, I do.”
After a minute he looked up again at Marcus, who was frying bacon and eggs and cutting from the fancy bread loaf he’d brought along too.
“You don’t look so hot yourself this morning,“ Paul commented. There were dark shadow under his eyes and his skin seemed even paler than usual.
“Yes,“ Marcus answered looking around for spices. “I find that somehow smoking seems to leave some after-effects too, besides dulling the sense of taste and smell.”
“Whoa, stop!” Paul got up and took cinnamon and oregano away from Marcus shaking his head. “Have you never cooked yourself breakfast?” The morning before Marcus had watched Paul get himself a big breakfast ready in that antique kitchen.
“No. How should I know? Don’t you put this stuff with everything you eat?” He pointed at the spices.
Paul firmly put the spices away, trying not to think of fried eggs with cinnamon. He made himself a plate of eggs and bacon and sat down at the miniature kitchen table, which was laid for him already and started eating, suddenly hungry. He shot a questioning glance at Marcus, who answered that he had already had breakfast. When he also declined coffee, Paul shrugged, helped himself to a second cup and pointed to the fridge with his fork. Bits and pieces from last night were coming back. “So you really want me to take her to that concert? Why don’t you go with her?”
“I already told you, didn’t you listen at all?” Marcus sounded so angry that Paul found himself calming him down. “Ok, ok, I’ll go with her. I don’t mind an evening out with a nice girl, even if it means another girl torturing a piano nearby.”
“Good, there is also a vegetarian restaurant in the vicinity where you could have something to eat later.” Marcus said animatedly, much more relaxed now.
Paul frowned at him and speared another bit of bacon pointedly.
“Or you could try one of these Japanese Waggamama places. She likes them, and I think they also serve fish.”
Paul shuddered. “I like my food cooked, not alive and squeaking, thank you very much.”
“All right, then I’ll book you a table at the fancy Italian restaurant in King Street that Lynd took her to once. Before or after?” When Paul signalled ‘before’ with his mouth full, Marcus made a note in a small diary. He seemed satisfied.
“Are you mad all the time or only in sunny spring weather?” Paul enquired casually. Whatever was going on with the man?
“Ah, right, there might be a spot of rain coming in tonight, you should bring an umbrella.”
“Shut up!” Paul screamed, wincing when the noise registered in his head. “I’ve not been set up like that since my sister tried to in my third university year. That didn’t work out either!” It had eventually ended in his marriage and a hurtful divorce some years later. “What’s in it for you? You love the woman yourself, been in love with her the last fifteen years if I heard you right.” Wait, Paul thought, just realising something odd. Marcus and Naomi fifteen years ago made no sense. He shook his head, trying to clear it.
“But I’m not good for her, don’t you understand that? Just do me this one favour,“ Marcus was pleading, “I’ll disappear from your lives and everything will work out, I’m sure this time. You’re a good person, you won’t …hurt her. You’re real, and she really likes you.”
Paul looked at Marcus. “You’re serious?”
“And you’re not telling me why?”
Marcus nodded again, his expression definitely pained now. “I … with you I think I would, but I literally can’t. I’ll just try to find those two false detectives, make sure she’s safe, then I’m gone. Can you please get her to stay out of trouble?” His fists were balled, and Paul noticed that he seemed extraordinarily tense.
“Are you alright?” If he didn’t look that fit, Paul would have suspected him of needing some drug badly.
“I really need to leave.” Almost desperate.
“What will you tell her?”
Marcus closed his eyes, sighing. “Nothing if I can help it. I behaved atrociously last night anyway, so she’ll probably be quite relieved to be rid of me. Now will you make that phone call?”
Paul nodded, still stunned by the turn of events. Marcus went to the door and turned. “It’s been a privilege knowing you. Don’t put yourself down too much, you don’t deserve that. Good bye.” He was gone.