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The Flatshare: Part 7 – Chapter 73

Tiffy

‘OK, how do I look?’

‘Relax,’ Leon says, lying back on the bed, one arm behind his head. ‘Richie already loves you.’

‘I’m meeting a member of your family!’ I protest. ‘I want to look good. I want to look . . . smart and beautiful and witty, and maybe to channel a bit of Sookie in the earlier series of Gilmore Girls?’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

I huff. ‘Fine. Mo!’

‘Yeah?’ Mo calls from the living room.

‘Can you tell me if this outfit makes me look cool and sophisticated or tired and mumsy, please?’

‘If you’re asking the question, lose the outfit,’ Gerty calls.

I roll my eyes. ‘I didn’t ask you! You don’t like any of my clothes anyway!’

‘That’s not true, I like some of them. Just not in the combinations you choose to adopt.’

‘You look perfect,’ Leon says, smiling up at me. His whole face looks different today, like someone flicked a switch back there that I didn’t even know about, and now everything is brighter.

‘No, Gerty’s right,’ I say, shrugging out of the wrap dress and reaching for my favourite green skinny jeans and a loose-knit jumper. ‘I’m trying too hard.’

‘You’re trying just the right amount,’ Leon tells me as I hop on one leg, pulling up the jeans.

‘Is there any statement I could say this evening that you wouldn’t automatically agree with?’

He narrows his eyes. ‘A conundrum,’ he says. ‘The answer is no, but saying that would mean I’d contradict myself.’

‘He agrees with everything I say, and he’s so clever, too!’ I crawl across the bed to straddle him and kiss him, letting my body melt against his. When I pull back to put my top on, he protests, holding me close, and I smile, swatting his hands. ‘This outfit even you must admit is not appropriate,’ I point out.

The buzzer for the building door goes off three times, and Leon jumps up so quickly that I’m almost thrown off the bed.

‘Sorry!’ he calls over his shoulder as he heads to the door. I hear Mo or Gerty lift the receiver to let Richie up into the building.

My stomach flips as I yank on the knitted jumper and run my fingers through my hair. I wait to hear Richie’s voice at our front door, hanging back to give him and Leon the moment they’ve been waiting for.

Instead, I hear Justin.

‘I want to talk to you,’ he says.

‘Oh. Hello, Justin,’ Leon says.

At this point, I notice that I’m already hugging my arms close to myself and tucking my body in against the wardrobe so nobody who leans in to check the flat will see me in the bedroom doorway, and I suddenly feel like screaming. He does not get to come here and do this to me. I want him gone, really gone, not just out of my life, but out of my head as well. I am done with cowering behind doors and feeling frightened.

Well, I’m not, obviously, because you don’t get over shit like this that quickly, but temporarily I am done with it and I’m going to make the most of this current wave of crazy angry confidence. I round the corner.

Justin is squared up in the doorway, broad, muscled and visibly angry.

‘Justin,’ I say, moving to stand beside Leon until I’m only a few feet from Justin. I rest a hand on the door, ready to slam it closed.

‘I’m here to talk to Leon,’ Justin says shortly. He doesn’t even look at me.

I recoil despite myself, my confidence instantly drained.

‘If you’re thinking of proposing to me too, the answer’s no,’ Leon says pleasantly. Justin’s hands bunch into fists at the joke; he starts forward, body coiled, eyes flashing. I flinch.

‘Watch that foot, Justin,’ says Gerty sharply from behind me. ‘If it gets any closer to being inside this flat, your lawyer will have a lot more to talk to me about.’

I watch the thought hit Justin, see him re-evaluate. ‘I don’t remember your friends being this interfering when we were together, Tiffy.’ He snarls the words, and my heart thunders in my chest. I think he’s drunk. That is not good.

‘Oh, we wanted to be,’ Mo says.

I take a deep, shaky breath. ‘Leaving me was the best thing you ever did for me, Justin,’ I say, doing my best to stand as squarely as he is on the other side of the threshold. ‘We’re done. That’s it. Leave me alone.’

‘We’re not done,’ he says impatiently.

‘I’m getting a restraining order,’ I choke out before he can say anything else.

‘No you’re not,’ Justin scoffs. ‘Come on, Tiffy. Stop being such a child.’

I slam the door in his face so hard everyone jumps, including me.

‘Fuck!’ Justin yells from the other side of the door, and then there’s the sound of a fist being rammed into the door and the handle rattles hard.

I let out a little whimper despite myself, backing away. I can’t believe I just slammed the door in Justin’s face.

‘Police,’ Leon mouths at us.

Gerty flicks on her phone and dials the number, reaching with her other hand to clasp my fingers tightly. Mo is at my side in moments, standing at my shoulder as I watch Leon slip the new chain across and lean his weight against the door.

‘This is so fucking crazy,’ I say weakly. ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’

‘Let me in!’ Justin roars from the other side of the door.

‘Police,’ Gerty says into the phone.

Justin hammers with both fists on the door, and I think of how he pressed his finger against the buzzer all those weeks ago, how he wouldn’t let up until Leon opened the door. I swallow. Each bang seems louder than the last, until I feel like they’re right in my ears. My eyes are wet with tears; Gerty and Mo are all but holding me up. So much for being done with feeling frightened. As Justin roars and rages on the other side of the door, I watch Leon, face drawn and serious, as he looks around for other ways to barricade us in. To my left, Gerty answers questions on the phone.

And then, suddenly, all the madness and noise stops. Leon gives us a questioning look, then checks the handle – the door is still locked.

‘Why’s he stopped?’ I ask, gripping Gerty’s hand so tightly I can see my fingers going white.

‘He’s stopped banging on the door,’ Gerty says into the phone. I hear a tinny voice respond. ‘She says he may be trying to find a way to break down the door. We should move into another room. Step away from the door, Leon.’

‘Wait,’ Leon whispers, leaning to listen to what’s going on outside in the corridor.

His face breaks into a grim smile. He gestures for all of us to come closer; tentative, with shaking knees, I let Mo lead me to the door. Gerty stays back, speaking quietly into her phone.

‘You’d love prison, Justin,’ says a warm voice on the other side of the door, with an unmistakable accent. ‘Really. Loads of guys like you there.’

‘Richie!’ I whisper. ‘But – he mustn’t . . .’ We’ve just got Richie out of prison. A fight with Justin will not end well for Richie, even if in the short term it means getting him out of the building.

‘Good point,’ Leon says, eyes widening. He reaches to unlock the door, and I notice his hands are shaking slightly too. From the sounds of their voices Richie seems close to the door, and Justin further away, towards the stairs, but still. I scrub my eyes fiercely. I don’t want Justin to know what he does to me. I don’t want to give him that power.

Justin makes a rush for us as Leon swings the door open, but Richie pushes him nonchalantly, and Justin stumbles into the wall, swearing, as Richie steps inside and Leon pulls the door closed quickly behind him. It’s over in a couple of seconds; I barely have time to process the look on Justin’s face as he lunged towards me, desperate to force his way in through the door. What’s happened to him? He was never like this. Never violent. His anger was always tightly controlled; his punishments were clever and cruel. This is messy and desperate.

‘Nice bloke, your ex,’ Richie says to me with a wink. ‘Serious case of the red mist going on out there. He’s going to regret punching the door so much in the morning, I can tell you that.’ He chucks a spare set of keys down on the sideboard – that must’ve been how he got inside the building without buzzing.

I blink a few times and take a proper look at him. No wonder Justin went quiet when Richie turned up in the corridor. He is enormous. Six foot four at least, and the kind of muscular that only happens when you’ve got nothing to do with your time except exercise. His black hair is buzzed short, and there are strings of tattoos down his forearms and one curling up his neck, peeking up under the collar of his court shirt – along with a cord necklace, which I’d bet matches Leon’s one. He has the same thoughtful, deep-brown eyes as Leon, too, though they’re a little more mischievous-looking.

‘The police will be here in ten minutes,’ Gerty says calmly. ‘Hello, Richie. How are you?’

‘Devastated to discover you have a boyfriend,’ Richie says, clapping Mo on the shoulder with a grin. I could swear Mo sinks an inch or so deeper into the carpet. ‘I owe you a dinner out!’

‘Oh, don’t let me stop you,’ Mo says hastily.

Richie hugs Leon so hard I can hear their bodies colliding. ‘Don’t worry about that prick outside,’ he says to both of us as he pulls back. Through the door, Justin throws something; whatever it is smashes against the wall and I wince bodily. I’m shaking all over – I have been since I first heard his voice – but Richie just gives me a friendly unquestioning smile, and it’s like an echo of Leon’s lopsided grin – a warm smile, the sort that makes you instantly feel more comfortable. ‘Pleasure to meet you in the flesh, Tiffy,’ he says. ‘And thank you for looking after my brother.’

‘I’m not sure this counts,’ I manage, pointing to the door as it shakes in the frame.

Richie waves a hand. ‘Honestly. If he gets in here, he’ll have to deal with me and Leon – and . . . sorry, man, we’ve not been introduced.’

‘Mo,’ Mo says, looking very much like the sort of man who sits in a chair and talks for a living, and has suddenly stumbled upon a scenario where this might put him at a disadvantage.

‘And me and Tiffy,’ Gerty says sharply. ‘What is this, medieval times? I bet I’m better at punching people than Leon.’

‘Let me the fuck in!’ Justin roars through the door.

‘He’s drunk, too,’ Richie says cheerfully, and then he lifts our armchair and shuffles us out of the way so he can dump it in front of the door. ‘There. No use us hanging about in here now, is there? Lee, balcony still where it used to be?’

‘Umm, yeah,’ Leon begins, looking slightly shell-shocked. He’s moved around to take Mo’s place beside me, and I lean into his hand as he strokes my back, letting that sensation pull me together again. Every time Justin yells or thumps the door I flinch, but now that Richie is here weightlifting furniture, and Leon has his arm around me, the flinching is no longer accompanied by totally blinding fear and panic. Which is nice.

Richie ushers us all out on to the balcony and shuts the glass door behind us. We barely fit; Gerty curls into Mo in one corner, and I fit myself in front of Leon in the other, leaving Richie most of the space, which is exactly what he needs. He breathes in and out deeply, beaming at the view from the balcony.

‘London!’ he says, spreading his arms out wide. ‘I’ve missed this. Look at it!’

Behind, back in the flat, the door thuds over and over again. Leon pulls me tightly against him, burying his face in my hair and breathing warm, calming breaths against my neck.

‘And we even get a great vantage point for when the police turn up,’ Richie tells us, turning to wink at me. ‘Didn’t think I’d be seeing them again so soon, I have to say.’

‘Sorry,’ I say, miserable.

‘Don’t be,’ Richie says firmly, in the same moment that Leon shakes his head into my hair, and Mo says, ‘Don’t apologise, Tiffy.’ Even Gerty rolls her eyes in an affectionate sort of way.

I look around at them all, huddled out on the balcony with me. It helps – only a little, but I don’t think anything could help more than a little right now. I close my eyes and lean into Leon, concentrating on my breathing the way Lucie told me to, and try to imagine that the banging noise is just that – a noise and nothing more. It’ll stop eventually. Breathing deeply, Leon’s arms around me, I feel a new sort of certainty settle. Even Justin cannot last for ever.


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