The little black book was out already when I walked in. That poisonous tome of responsibility he’d started keeping the moment we moved into this place. My mood dropped from an eleven to a four as soon as I saw it. I cursed myself for texting ahead.
‘Tea?’ he shouted from the kitchen. The relish in his tone pinched at my nerves.
‘Ta!’ I yelled back. One syllable, less chance of me sounding petulant. I used the opportunity of the empty room to grab the armchair and put my laptop between my eyes and the papery threat on the coffee table. I tried not to think about all the sensible choices festering in its pages.
‘So,’ he swept into the room with two steaming mugs. I felt him pause for a minute, obviously trying to work out why I’d chosen to annex the armchair rather than share the sofa with him. ‘Good news day!’
I smiled tersely as he handed me the tea then whipped my eyes back to the screen in a futile attempt to end the conversation. He sat on the sofa and I heard the moist pop of his mouth reopening. It felt like a slap.
‘Well, not entirely good,’ I hastened to block. ‘My gran’s still dead.’
He closed his mouth again. I knew he was looking at the book. Part of me dared him to touch it.
Twenty thousand quid. Just stacked up in Gran’s sideboard. Years of pension stashed away like faded old photographs she’d lost interest in. We thought she was penniless, and suddenly I’ve got more unallocated money than I’ve ever known. Me, twenty grand, and an ocean of choice.
He picked up the book but didn’t open it. I allowed my eyes to flick in his direction and saw him gazing around the room purposefully. It was as if he was reading the words clenched between his fingers by osmosis, ticking off the faults they referred to in his head. The crack in the ceiling, the stain on the carpet, the rattle of the single glazing as the number thirty-two rumbled past outside. He shifted his weight forward and we both heard the creak of the worm-infested floorboards. He placed the book back on the table and breathed in.
‘It’s my money,’ I said, surprising us both.
I felt like an eight-year-old on the cusp of a tantrum.
‘I mean...’ I wanted to back-pedal and go for the jugular all at once, a sense of panic overtook me. ‘I don’t…’
I saw his eyes drop and re-lift in a way I knew was him nodding to himself. He picked up the book again and stood with it, then stepped to the bookshelf where he placed it neatly in the gap it had left. He walked over and sat on the arm of my chair. He placed one hand on my far shoulder and another on my near forearm, and looked at the website I had open on the screen.
‘Vegas?’ he suggested.
I leant my head into his chest and typed the word into the search bar so quickly it looked like an anagram.