The House Guest - Mark Edwards by Mark Edwards

PART ONE





Chapter 1

The woman standing on the front stoop looked like she’d crawled straight out of the Hudson. Water dripped from the hem of her little summer dress and pooled around her boots. Her hair, blonde but darkened by rain, stuck to her forehead.

Seeing me, she did a double take and glanced at the number on the mailbox beside the door.

‘Um . . . are Mona or Jack home?’ she asked. ‘Have I got the right address?’

‘They’re away,’ I replied.

‘Away?’

‘Yeah, afraid so. I’m the house-sitter.’

‘Oh. Damn it.’ Water clung to her eyelashes like teardrops. ‘I knew I should have called ahead.’

Night had not yet fallen, but the sun, which had burned brightly all day, was nowhere to be seen – though the air, and the rain, retained their warmth. It wasn’t like England, where the rain falls cold throughout the year. New York summers are different.

‘Damn,’ the young woman said again. ‘When will they be back?’

‘Next Sunday.’

‘Next Sunday?’ She sighed and pushed her wet hair out of her face, peering past me into the house. Behind her, someone ran along the street, seeking shelter, and a car went past slowly, wipers on maximum, spraying water on to the steps below where the young woman stood. The Bedford Avenue subway was a few minutes away, and I guessed that was where she had come from.

‘Sorry to have disturbed you,’ she said, but she hesitated, looking over her shoulder, past the backpack she was wearing. Then she laughed. ‘Why am I being such a wimp? I can’t get any wetter, can I?’

I laughed too.

‘I don’t suppose I could come in for a moment and write a note for Mona and Jack?’

This wasn’t my house. I didn’t feel comfortable inviting a stranger in. But she knew Jack and Mona’s names, didn’t she? And she looked so pathetic standing there on the stoop while rain pummelled the pavement behind her. What harm could it do?

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Come in.’

She rewarded me with a broad smile. ‘Thank you.’

The woman stepped into the hallway and glanced at herself in the mirror that hung by the front door. She laughed. ‘Whoa. I look even wetter then I feel.’

We both looked down at the puddle that was forming on the floorboards. ‘Wait there, I’ll fetch you a towel.’

I hurried to the downstairs bathroom, which was at the back of the house beside the kitchen. As I approached the door, Ruth came out.

‘What’s going on?’ she asked.

‘There’s a woman, a friend of the Cunninghams. She’s drenched.’

I grabbed a towel from the rail in the bathroom and headed back to the front door, Ruth at my heels. The young woman was crouching, fishing in her backpack for something. As she stood, I handed her the towel and she wiped at her face and arms, rubbing her hair before tying it back in a scrunchie she’d pulled out of her bag. She tugged at the shoulder straps of her dress and pulled herself up to her full height. She was around five-six or five-seven, and I guessed she was about twenty-five. A few years younger than Ruth and me, anyway. She was pretty, with a gently sloped nose and hazel eyes.

‘I’m Eden,’ she said.

‘Adam.’

She turned to Ruth. ‘Please tell me your name is Eve.’

All three of us laughed at that.

‘I’m afraid not. It’s Ruth.’

‘Oh well. I guess that would have been too weird. Adam, Eve, Eden. We’d have to start watching out for serpents and whatnot.’

We all laughed again, a little awkwardly.

‘So Mona and Jack have gone away?’ Eden said.

‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘They’re on a retreat in New Mexico.’

‘You mean like one of those things where people go into the desert and . . . find themselves?’

‘Something like that.’

‘Ha. That sounds like them. I mean, if I want to find myself, I go to a bar, but different strokes, right?’

Ruth rolled her eyes slightly. If she wasn’t committed to being in New York, the retreat would have been the kind of thing she’d have loved to go to.

‘Did you say they get back next Sunday?’

‘That’s right.’

Eden tapped her forehead with her palm, fingers splayed. ‘I’m such a doofus. I thought, Hey, I’ll surprise them. I had this vision of Mona opening the door with this big look of shocked delight on her face, like, “What are you doing here? Come on in!”’