Her favourite time of day
Pale streaks of light begin to creep into the sky, snuffing out the stars one by one, until it changes from velvet black to soft, deep navy.
Emma’s breath comes in thick, white clouds as she laces her running shoes. It is her favourite time of day; when the world belongs entirely to her, because no-one else has bothered to wake up and claim it.
Last night’s gin still swims in her head and she tastes it at the back of her throat, but an hour alone with the road and the dawn will set her right.
Her breath comes fast and hard at first, but soon her feet find their rhythm on the tarmac and she slips into that liminal space between thoughts.
Scenes from Henry’s party flash in her head; Sarah crying again, all mascara streaks and scarecrow hair, Alec trying, and failing, to stop her drinking anymore. Henry shepherding his drunken guests from his bedroom back down to the kitchen.
Emma, mainlining gin and fighting Lucy for the Singstar mic.
Feet pounding on the pavement she smiles as her head begins to clear. As last night drains from the sky, Emma lets herself think about Anthony. He had been there of course.
She’d watched him watching her for a while, their familiar dance. She’d be angry, he’d be reasonable; charming, contrite. Armed with excuses and peace offerings and those big sad eyes, he’d begin and she’d let herself be talked around. Again.
And they’d leave together. It was as predictable as Sarah’s hysteria.
But not last night.
Emma’s smile broadens. Something had clicked and suddenly those sheepish glances were not winning, but just a little pathetic, a little desperate. He had begun and she had responded with amused indifference, letting a little disgust play at the corners of her lips.
He hadn’t liked that.
A thin sweat prickles over Emma’s skin as she runs, measured breaths, the metronome beat of her running shoes. The elastic of her sports bra digging into her skin, the slow heat beginning to build.
The creep in the goblin mask assumes she hasn’t seen him, but she clocks him straight away behind the concrete slabs under the bridge, watching.
Emma is used to arseholes and perverts on her runs; that’s why mum gave her the taser. It’s illegal of course, but she feels safer with it. Usually she can just shrug off the catcalls and stares, but this guy is different. He means to frighten.
Her route takes her through the dark underpass by the museum. She could change it, but some of last night’s defiance still clings to her. Maybe a little of the gin too, if she’s honest.
She doubles back on herself and watches him enter the underpass
She enjoys his confusion for a moment; his stained grey sweatshirt, his bin bag, bulging with god knows what and, as she slips the taser out of her running belt, Emma lets a little of that disgust play around her lips again. The expression that made Anthony so furious would enrage this guy, she is sure of it.
Emma moves silently towards him laughing to herself as he tries to figure out where he lost her. He’s come prepared, she sees, electrical tape, hacksaw, plastic wrap.
And there in the halflight, in the death throes of the dawn, Emma goes to work.
It is her favourite time of day.