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Rush hour gives two strangers the chance to get acquainted.
Clive was relieved to be reminded of being a host. 'Here,' he said, 'let me take it.'
Helen turned her back to him, and he slipped the long black coat from her shoulders. He had to stop himself from gasping at what was beneath. She was wearing a dark red skin-tight outfit of a material that glistened like plastic, but clung like lycra, revealing and disguising in all the right places. There was silence for a while as Clive's mouth hung open and his mind scrabbled desperately for something coherent to say.
Helen looked down at herself, embarrassed. 'Silly, isn't it?' she said. 'The woman in the shop said I would look sexy in it. I just feel like a bit of a wally in it, personally.'
Clive tried to demur, but his throat had gone dry. He croaked something hoarsely, threw the coat over the back of a chair, and turned back to the tea making.
Helen leaned back against the wall and surveyed the room. 'Your house isn't like I expected,' she said.
Clive coughed, as quietly and politely as he could, until some of his voice came back. 'What... What makes you say that?'
'I don't really know. I suppose I was expecting something a little more kind of bohemian and intellectual. I just don't feel there's very much of you in this place.'
Clive looked around at the chintz wallpaper, and the pastel-pink fitted cupboards, and down the at the red and white flowered teacup in his hand. No, not very much of him at all. 'Well, I'm not here very much,' he lied.
Helen nodded and smiled. She wiped a wisp of hair from her cheek, and then stared on horror at her hand. 'Shit,' she said, 'I must be a mess. Can I use your bathroom?'
'Sure. Er, straight up the stairs, and it's directly ahead of you,' said Clive. 'You can't miss it, it's the only room with a bath in it,' he added weakly.
Helen giggled politely at his lame joke and departed. As soon as she had left Clive grabbed a cup and ran the tap at the sink. He filled the cup and drank deeply. Then he repeated the process and gasped at the relief. He felt as though steam should be coming out of his ears. He put a hand under the still-running tap, and splashed water onto his face.
As he dried himself off with the tea-towel he thought: Am I being foolish? It had been so long since he had slept with anyone besides Lillian. In fact, come to think of it, it had been a long time since he had slept with Lillian. And Lillian had never had Helen's shape.
Dare he have the temerity to suppose she would be interested in him that way? He looked at his reflection in the china cabinet. A slightly balding, slightly overweight middle-aged man stared mournfully back at him. He shook his head. Ridiculous. He picked up the teapot and began to pour.
He was immediately interrupted by an ear splitting wail from upstairs. He poured tea all over the counter and then crashed the pot down on the worktop. A few scant seconds later he was at the foot of the stairs, looking up at Helen framed by the light from the bathroom door, and staring up at the ceiling.
The smoke alarm squealed and beeped for all it was worth, though there was no evidence of smoke in the air.
'I didn't know what to do,' called Helen above the noise. 'It just started as I came out of the bathroom.'
Clive climbed the stairs to her. 'It's okay,' he said. 'It does this occasionally.' He stared up at the alarm for a moment, relishing being so near to Helen on the tiny landing. With an effort he shook himself from his reverie. 'I'll have to go get the stepladder.' He turned to go.
'Could you lift me?'
'If you could lift me up, I think I could reach it.'
Clive swallowed thickly. 'Okay,' he said. Trying not to tremble he put his hands on Helen's waist and lifted her as high as he could. It required considerable effort to both lift her up and away from himself. He tried not to focus too much on the breasts in front of his face.
'No, it's no good. I just can't reach it. Do you think you could lift me from lower down?'
Clive swallowed and croaked 'Er, I think so.