One. Two. Three. Breathe in. Four. . . . Five. . . . Fi . . .
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I must have. One minute I was looking at the clock with bleary, headachy eyes, waiting for it to click over onto 4:44, the next minute I was blinking into Delilah’s furry face as she butted her whiskery nose against mine and tried to tell me it was time for breakfast. I groaned. My head ached worse than yesterday—although I wasn’t sure if it was my cheek or another hangover. The last gin and tonic was half full on my bedside table, beside the clock. I sniffed it and almost choked. It must have been two-thirds gin. What had I been thinking?
The clock said 6:04 and I calculated that meant I’d had less than an hour and a half’s sleep, but I was awake now, no point in trying to fight it. Instead, I got up, pulled back the curtain, and peered into the gray dawn and the thin fingers of sun that trickled into my basement window. The day felt cold and sour, and I shoved my feet into my slippers and shivered as I made my way down the hall to the thermostat, ready to override the automatic timer and start the heating for the day.
It was Saturday, so I didn’t have to work, but somehow the work involved in getting my mobile number assigned to a new phone and my bank cards reissued took up most of the day, and by the evening I was drunk with tiredness.
It felt as bad as the time I’d flown back from Thailand via LA—a series of red-eyes that left me wild with sleep deprivation and hopelessly disoriented. Somewhere over the Atlantic, I realized that I had gone beyond sleep, that I might as well give up. Back home, I fell into bed like falling into a well, plunging headlong into oblivion, and I slept for twenty-two hours, coming up groggy and stiff-limbed to find Judah banging at my door with the Sunday papers. But this time, my bed was no longer a refuge.
I had to get myself together before I left for this trip. It was an unmissable, unrepeatable opportunity to prove myself after ten years at the coalface of boring cut-and-paste journalism. This was my chance to show I could hack it—that I, like Rowan, could network and schmooze and get Velocity’s name in there with the high fliers. And Lord Bullmer, the owner of the Aurora Borealis, was a very high flier indeed, from what I’d gathered. Even 1 percent of his advertising budget could keep Velocity afloat for months, not to mention all the well-known names in travel and photography who would doubtless have been invited along on this maiden voyage, and whose bylines on our cover would look very nice indeed.
I wasn’t about to start hard selling Bullmer over dinner—nothing as crude and commercial as that. But if I could get his number on my contacts list and ensure that when I phoned him up, he took my call . . . well, it would go a long way to finally getting me that promotion.
As I ate supper, mechanically forking frozen pizza into my face until I felt too full to continue, I picked up where I’d left off with the press pack, but the words and pictures swam in front of my eyes, the adjectives blurring into one another: boutique . . . glittering . . . luxury . . . handcrafted . . . artisan . . .
I let the page drop with a yawn, then looked at my watch and realized it was past nine. I could go to bed, thank God. As I checked and rechecked the doors and locks, I reflected that the one silver lining to being so shattered was that it couldn’t possibly be a repeat of last night.
I was so tired that even if a burglar did come, I’d probably sleep right through it.
At 10:47, I realized I was wrong.
At 11:23, I started to cry, weakly and stupidly.
Was this it, then? Was I never going to sleep again?
I had to sleep. I had to. I’d had . . . I counted on my fingers, unable to do the maths in my head. What . . . less than four hours of sleep in the last three days.
I could taste sleep. I could feel it, just out of my reach. I had to sleep. I had to. I was going to go crazy if I didn’t sleep.
The tears were coming again—I didn’t even know what they were. Tears of frustration? Rage, at myself, at the burglar? Or just exhaustion?
I only knew that I couldn’t sleep—that it was dangling like an unkept promise just inches away from me. I felt like I was running towards a mirage that kept receding, slipping away faster and faster the more desperately I ran. Or that it was like a fish in water, something I had to catch and hold, that kept slipping through my fingers.
Oh God, I want to sleep. . . .
Delilah turned her head towards me, startled. Had I really said it aloud? I couldn’t even tell anymore. Christ, I was losing it.
A flash of a face—gleaming liquid eyes in the darkness.
I sat up, my heart pounding so hard that I could feel it in the back of my skull.
I had to get away from here.
I got up, stumbling, trancelike with exhaustion, and pushed my feet into my shoes, and my sleeves into my coat, over the top of my pajamas. Then I picked up my bag. If I couldn’t sleep, I’d walk. Somewhere. Anywhere. I’d try to exhaust myself into sleeping.
If sleep wouldn’t come to me, then I’d damn well hunt it down myself.
- CHAPTER 3 -
The streets at midnight weren’t empty, but they weren’t the same ones I trod every day on my way to work, either.
Between the sulfur-yellow pools of streetlight, they were gray and shadowed, and a cold wind blew discarded papers against my legs, leaves and rubbish gusting in the gutters. I should have felt afraid—a thirty-two-year-old woman, clearly wearing pajamas, wandering the streets in the small hours. But I felt safer out here than I did in my flat. Out here, someone would hear you cry.
I had no plan, no route beyond walking the streets until I was too tired to stand. Somewhere around Highbury and Islington I realized that it had begun to rain, that it must have started some time back because I was wet through. I stood in my soggy shoes, my exhausted punch-drunk brain trying to formulate a plan, and almost by themselves my feet began to walk again, not homewards, but south, towards Angel.
I didn’t realize where I was going until I was there. Until I was standing beneath the porch of his building, frowning dazedly at the bell panel, where his name was written in his own small, neat handwriting. LEWIS.
He wasn’t here. He was away in Ukraine, not due back until tomorrow. But I had his spare keys in my coat pocket, and I couldn’t face the walk back to my flat. You could get a cab, carped the small, snide voice in the back of my head. It’s not the walk you can’t face. Coward.
I shook my head, sending raindrops spattering across the stainless-steel bell panel, and I sorted through the bunch of keys until I found the one for the outside door and slipped inside, into the oppressive warmth of the communal hallway.