The day had been so hot and the flat was so airless that she showered in a vain attempt to get cool, pulling over her naked body an old cotton shirt which had once belonged to Alex, too drained and lethargic even to think of getting properly dressed. Half an hour later Wayne arrived, carrying a bottle of wine which he insisted on opening even though she told him that she didn’t want anything to drink. In the end it was easier to give in than to argue, but she stood her ground over the drug he offered her, firmly shaking her head.
‘Please yourself,’ he told her easily, but Sylvie noticed that he didn’t have one himself either.
‘Any chance of letting me have that money?’ he asked her a few minutes later as he lounged on her small sofa, watching her as she tried to work. There was a look in his eyes that made her feel uncomfortable, and not just because she couldn’t give him the loan he wanted; no, it was more than that, and suddenly she was acutely conscious of her nudity beneath Alex’s shirt.
‘I’m sorry, I can’t...not at the moment,’ she apologised. ‘I...I’m waiting for Alex to send me a cheque. Wayne, I don’t want to be a bad host, but really I have to work...’
‘You want me to leave...’
‘If you don’t mind,’ Sylvie agreed, waving her hand in the direction of the books she had spread out on the small table in front of her.
For a moment she thought he was going to argue with her, but to her relief he didn’t, walking instead towards the door. Eager to see him leave, Sylvie went with him. As she opened the door for him she saw the Land Rover pulling to a halt a little further down the road and her heart started to race with frantic excitement. As though aware of her loss of attention, and angered by it, to her shock Wayne suddenly reached for her, grabbing hold of her and forcing her back against the open door, his mouth hot and wet on hers as he kissed her roughly.
Immediately Sylvie pulled away, but not in time to stop Ran, who was stepping out of the Land Rover and walking towards her, from seeing what had happened, nor from witnessing how she was dressed, she saw uncomfortably as she felt his glance scorch her shirt-clad body.
To her relief Wayne’s mobile phone had started to ring and he was already heading for his car, his back towards her as he talked in a low voice into the telephone.
As Ran’s long-legged, determined stride brought him closer to her door, Sylvie could only stand and watch.
‘Ran!’ she exclaimed weakly when he reached her. ‘What a surprise. I didn’t know... I didn’t expect...’
‘Obviously not,’ was Ran’s terse response as he stepped past her and into her small hallway, firmly closing the door behind him as he told her sardonically, ‘I’m sorry if my arrival is inopportune, although something tells me that it would have been a lot less opportune had I arrived, say, half an hour ago.’
Sylvie’s face flamed as she saw the way he was looking at her and realised what he meant. Ran thought that she and Wayne were lovers.
‘It’s not...we weren’t... Wayne is just a friend...’ she finally managed to tell him defensively.
Ran’s eyebrows immediately shot up.
‘A friend! Tell me, Sylvie, do you normally receive your friends wearing just one of their shirts...?’
‘This isn’t Wayne’s shirt; it’s one of Alex’s old ones,’ she protested, hot-faced.
What was Ran doing here? Why had he come to see her? Her heart started to thump frantically.
‘Alex’s shirt?’ Ran was frowning at her as he studied her.
‘Yes... I...I like to wear it... It makes me think of home...of Alex and you. I miss you both,’ she told him daringly, holding her breath as she waited for his response.
There had to be some reason for his being here and his reaction to Wayne’s presence... Was she daring to hope too much in thinking that beneath his anger he might just be a little jealous? She was a woman now, she reminded herself, not a child, and— ‘Home...?’ Ran cut across her increasingly buoyant thoughts. ‘I doubt your mother would enjoy hearing you describe Otel Place as your home.’
Sylvie bit her lip. It was true that her mother did not approve of her attachment to Otel Place and would have preferred it if, like her, Sylvie had been a city person.
‘I’m an adult now,’ she told Ran bravely. ‘I make my own decisions, my own choices...’
‘I see... And entertaining your friends wearing nothing but one of Alex’s shirts is one of those choices, is it, Sylvie?’
Her face burned. There was no hint of jealousy in his voice now, only a familiar older-brother note of censure.
‘I...I wasn’t expecting Wayne to come round. It was so hot. I had a shower and...’