The introduction

Ruby threw her roll up onto the ground and exhaled. She looked down at the piece of paper in her hand, upon which was scrawled in wiry black writing an address. Having verified that this was indeed the address on the paper she pushed the rusty iron gate open and stepped into the garden, which was more like a jungle with its giant sprays of weeds and knee-high grass. No sunlight penetrated the thick canopy of trees above her head; the garden was in virtual darkness despite it being mid-afternoon.  She reached the front step and looked up at the façade of the house. It was three storeys high and Victorian, or so Ruby guessed. The windows were lined with lead and painted in green, though the paint had long since seen better days, and was splitting and peeling off.

It took several rings of the buzzer to rouse movement from within. A light came on in the hallway, and the stained glass in the front door cast a murky red and blue hue onto the step in front. A figure appeared and spent several moments grappling with the various dead bolts before the heavy door swung open.

“Hiya,” said Ruby, “I’ve come about the room?”

Before her stood a girl about her own age, with thick brown hair which tumbled down in messy curls over her narrow shoulders. She was attractive, in a burlesque-dancer sort of way, her hourglass figure accentuated by the silk dressing gown that clung to her curves. Her full lips bore the stains of last night’s lipstick and red wine and her glassy brown eyes betrayed her tiredness. Her pretty face wrinkled into a frown.

“The room?”

Ruby held up the piece of paper in her hand. “Yeah, the room that’s being rented – this is number sixty five, right?”

The girl gave a nonchalant shrug, yawned and arched her back like a cat. She stepped back from the door to allow Ruby to enter, gesturing vaguely towards the kitchen at the back of the hall. Then, without saying another word, she disappeared back up the stairs.

Ruby stood in the kitchen, surveying the piles of dirty plates and washing and noting the cat bowl in the corner, overflowing with food. Through the double doors at the back of the room she could make out a garden, smaller than the front one but marginally less overgrown. With a bit of love and attention, she thought, this place could scrub up nicely.

A cough alerted her to the presence of another. Turning, she found herself face to face with a half-naked man. She let out an involuntary gasp, feeling suddenly embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just…”

“Max,” the man said simply, extending a hand, which Ruby took. He yawned loudly and ran his fingers through his thick brown hair. Uninhibited by her presence he padded across the kitchen to the kettle and flicked its switch. Ruby watched his every move. He wore grey tracksuit bottoms and nothing else, his muscular shoulders and sculpted chest on proud display. “Coffee?” he said.

Ruby shook her head. “No, thanks…I just…I came about the room.”

“Yeah, I got that you weren’t just standing in my kitchen for no reason.” He turned around to face her. “So,” he said, a half-smile playing on his lips, teasing her, or so she felt. “When can you move in?”

I took this on a recent weekend trip to a village in Hampshire – quite the opposite of the garden described in this story!

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