by Janet Howson
Jason woke up with a start. His body was covered in a cold sweat and his breathing was short as his heart raced overtime. He knew he had had the same dream again. The fear, the shame, the same inevitable panic at being in the school playground or after school as he walked home. The same boys, shouting at him, mocking his stutter, goading him about his elderly parents or his camp style. Never being able to defend himself against the constant bullying. Never reporting it or telling his parents. No siblings or friends to confide with. It was a living hell.
Then, he knew he was different to the other boys and he was ashamed of it. Now, he had accepted who he was and his life had improved. This was all to do with joining a local drama group where he met Jess and Patrick who had become his close friends. He worked with them in an IT business, turning down the opportunity of going to a good university to take a degree in science. He had recently got the part of Nick Bottom in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and he was loving the role. It was the dress rehearsal tonight. He must go over his lines, he reminded himself, as he got out of bed and made his way to the bathroom to have a shower.
He let the hot water wash away the memory of the nightmare, soaping himself down with the shower gel. He instantly felt better and rubbing himself dry with a fluffy bath towel he realised how much his life had changed. He hadn’t met a partner yet but he was hopeful that he would one day. He had approached Sean at the drama group but he had politely turned him down, informing him that he was definitely a ‘ladies’ man’ and it hadn’t harmed their friendship.
Wrapping the towel around his waist, as he went into the kitchen to prepare his muesli and green tea for breakfast, he felt a cold draught. The traffic sounded particularly loud as well. Something didn’t feel right. A shiver went down his spine. He left his preparations and ventured into the lounge. There he faced a scene of devastation. The coffee table was on its side, the drawers of his desk were all pulled out and papers were scattered all over the floor. His laptop, mobile phone, Kindle and tablet had all gone. He cursed himself for leaving them all together. He should have locked them away or taken them into the bedroom with him. He realised the cold draught was coming from the patio doors leading to his tiny balcony. He must have left them open last night. He cursed himself. He slammed them shut, shivering in his towel.
He searched around to see if there was anything else missing. He knew his car keys were in his coat pocket and that was in the bedroom. He rushed back to his bedroom, suddenly struck with the awful thought that the burglars might have crept into the bedroom, not waking him to see what they could take. However, the reassuring tinkle of the keys as he picked the coat up banished that thought from his mind. He didn’t have anything else of value. He didn’t wear a watch or jewellery of any kind. He had no expensive works of art. He concluded that the infiltrators had come for his I.T. equipment and Apple iPhone, all of which were the latest models. This was a perk of working in I.T. You were ahead of the game when it came to all the software.
Right, he thought, what should I do now? Having decided he had better ring the police he pulled on his jeans and T shirt. His flat felt dirty and invaded but he didn’t want to clear up as the police would want to see the damage and see if there were any fingerprints or DNA. He didn’t think it was urgent enough to ring 999 so he looked up his local police station in his BT phone book. Thank goodness he hadn’t thrown it away. Normally, he would look everything up on his mobile phone. He hardly used his land line. It was ages until he could get through to the right department but they said they would be round any time today, they couldn’t give an approximate time as they were short staffed.
He had better try and contact Patrick and Jess to tell them what had happened and that he wouldn’t be in for work. He had memorised Patrick’s number number years ago so he could ring him and he could tell him Jess’s number. How he was missing his phone already with all his contact numbers on it, his diary, the time etc. He realised how reliant he was on it. He thought about all the work he had stored on his laptop, the books he had saved on his kindle. What a disaster.
Shock was soon replaced by anger. He couldn’t even suggest to Patrick that he could work from home as he had no equipment to work from. He was naturally restless and a workaholic. He wondered what he would do all day while he waited for the police.
Patrick answered the phone immediately. “Jason where are you, mate? You are usually the first one in. I was going to give you a ring later to make sure you hadn’t emigrated, eloped, collapsed or found a firm that would pay you more than us.” Patrick joked. “Jess still isn’t coming in because of her back so I am battling on single handed here. I am a martyr to the cause.” He then started to sing ‘Keep Right On to the End of the Road’ when Jason interrupted him.
“I’ve been burgled, Patrick, and the sods have taken my laptop, Kindle, tablet and mobile phone. I know my work is backed up on the office computer but even so it means at the moment I can’t work at home and I have lost all my contact numbers. Added to that my flat is trashed and the police cannot give me a time as to when they will be round.” He breathed in deeply, he didn’t want Patrick to know how close to tears he was.
“That is really bad luck, mate. Don’t worry about the work. I can manage. Have you told Jess yet?”
“I couldn’t remember her number. Can you tell me it and I’ll ring her. On second thoughts, though. Should I burden her with my problems when she has got so many of her own with Michael, the flat and her injury?”
“Fair point. The only thing I would say though is that she would be upset if she found out later what had happened to you and you hadn’t told her. Up to you though. What are you going to do until the police arrive?”
“Well I can’t really go anywhere as I haven’t got my iPhone that they could ring or text to say they are on their way so I think I will just stay here and catch up on some Netflix movies.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Hey, try and relax, I know that’s easy for me to say. If you change your mind about Jess, her number is 07334123678. Let me know how you go on.”
With that the conversation ended. Jason quickly made a note of Jess’s number. He might call her later, once he had talked to the police. He worried about her all the time. He had done ever since she married Michael. He had never liked him and he knew he didn’t treat Jess well and never lifted a finger to help her. He had also heard rumours that he wasn’t faithful to her, preferring teenagers’ company to his wife’s.
He went into the bedroom and threw on a pair of Jeans and a sweatshirt as he was feeling quite cold owing to the effects of the doors being open all night and partly the shock. He went back into the scene of the crime. He suddenly had an idea. What about his neighbour? He had been living in the flat for five years and his immediate neighbour had never changed. They shared a balcony divided by a metal partition. They had shared the odd comment on the weather or other expected polite asides like ‘Have a good Christmas,’ or ‘Are you going away this summer?’ but other than that he didn’t really know him. In fact, he suddenly realised, he didn’t even know his name.
Oh well, this could be a good opportunity to get to know him. He assumed he worked from home as he didn’t go out first thing in the morning and whenever he had seen him on then stairs he was obviously going for a run or to the gym. As they passed in the corridor, Jason had been aware of how fit he looked.
He left his flat and rang the neighbour’s doorbell. There was a long pause before the door was answered and Jason was just about to give up. Then the door swung open, revealing a tall good looking man in his forties with intelligent eyes and a five o’clock shadow – a phrase used by his favourite aunt, Aunt Mary. He looked surprised. He was wearing tight skinny jeans ripped at the knees and a sleeveless sports vest. The muscles in his arms were very defined, he must lift weights Jason thought.
“Hi, I’m from the flat next door. We’ve passed each other many a time but I have never introduced myself. I’m Jason.”
“And I am Nathaniel, Nat for short. What can I do for you?”
“I was broken into last night and I lost a lot of expensive equipment, I wondered if you had heard anything or seen anyone suspicious hanging around? They must have been very quiet as I had no idea anyone had entered the flat. I do sleep like the dead though.” Jason was having trouble focusing on the situation as he felt uncomfortably attracted to his neighbour.
“Sorry can’t help you there. I was out until fairly late and I didn’t notice anything when I got back. I had quite a bit to drink though so like you I was out like a light.”
“No problem, thanks anyway,” Jason turned to go, sorry the conversation had to end.
“Hey, listen. Come in, have a cup of coffee. I was just about to have one. We could get to know each other a bit better.”
Jason turned back. “I would love to but I am stuck in waiting for the police and I can’t really invite you in to me as the place is a total wreck and I’ve got to leave it like that until they have looked at it and taken fingerprints etc.”
“Okay, so we leave my door ajar so we can hear when they arrive. It is only a small flat, like yours I expect. You look in need of sustenance.”
Jason could smell the coffee and was aware he had not got as far as having his breakfast. “I must admit that sounds good. I’ll just check my door is shut properly. I am feeling a bit paranoid at the moment. The fact that they managed to burgle the flat whilst I was in bed spooks me out.”
By the time Jason had done this, Nat had disappeared into his flat so Jason followed the smell of the coffee into his kitchen. This was immaculately decorated and neat. He had placed two croissants on a plate and was organising two mugs.
“Hey, this is really good of you, I’m not taking you away from your work am I?”
“No problem,” Nat replied, “I could do with some distraction. Go into the lounge and I’ll bring in the coffee and croissants.”
Jason found himself looking out of the window at the exact same view as from his own lounge window, but the other side of the metal partition. Jason yet again reflected on the fact they were so near to each other but had never got to know each other. He had been aware of someone on the balcony, the odd cough the smell of coffee, a clink of wine glasses. He didn’t use his though. He didn’t feel it was private enough, often wondering why a proper full height partition had not been constructed when the flats were built.
The sound of a cough made Jason turn round. Nat was placing a tray on the coffee table. “Are you admiring our panoramic view of the car park? I always think it is better at night when you can see the lights of the city in the distance. I spend a lot of time out there. It gives me some fresh air and I can think more clearly.” Jason couldn’t help but think of the lost opportunities, the conversations he could have had with this good looking neighbour. Still he could try and make up for lost time.
“What line of work are you in?” Jason asked as he sat down on the settee, aware it was the only seat in the room. He can’t entertain a lot, he thought. “Do you work from home?”
“I am a writer, hence my solitary existence. It isn’t very lucrative but I keep on hoping for that blockbuster to emerge. I also do some editing for a publishing company. It keeps me busy. How about you?” He picked a croissant from the plate and sat next to Jason on the settee.
Jason was aware of his reactions to the close proximity of his neighbour. A churning in his stomach and a slight breathlessness. “I work in an I.T. company with two friends I met at my drama group. Not as romantic as your profession, but it pays the rent, the petrol and the household bills.” He took a gulp of the strong coffee to calm his nerves down. He was suddenly aware he needed the toilet. “Sorry, Nat, could I use your bathroom?”
“Help yourself. You know where it is, the same as yours,” Nat smiled picking up his coffee cup, relaxing back into the settee.
Jason made his way to the corridor where the bathroom, main bedroom, box room and the cupboard housing the boiler were. He opened the door he assumed was the toilet but found himself confronted with an ironing board, brushes and…” he felt sick. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There, piled up neatly and pushed against the wall for support, were his laptop, iPad, tablet, Kindle and mobile phone. He recognised them immediately. There was no room for doubt that they could have been Nat’s. The garish Union Jack cover Jess had bought him for his phone was the first thing he noticed. He checked the rest of the hoard. Yes they were all his. What shall I do Jason panicked, this is a nightmare.
Pulling himself together as best as he could he shut the door quietly and found the right door to the bathroom. He thought about his options. Confront Nat or carry on as if nothing had happened and wait for the police. The second option, although the coward’s way out, sounded the safest. He had never liked confrontation and as he didn’t know Nat he had no idea what he was capable of. How had he managed to get into the flat? Of course, the open door on to his balcony. He must have climbed over the partition. Jason shivered as he thought of being fast asleep while his neighbour was turning his flat over. He put his head in his hands. He felt close to tears again.
Jason flushed the toilet and returned to the sitting room. Nat had turned some music on and was humming to himself. Again Jason was aware of his neighbours good looks and charm. It was such a shame. A relationship could never develop between them now. He felt his smile frozen on his lips, unsure what to say and do. He had to get out of the flat.
“Nat, I think I will go back and wait for the police. I don’t feel too good, probably the shock of it all. Thanks for the coffee though.”
Jason edged towards the front door, aware of Nat’s quizzical looks. “No worries. I hope the police sort it out for you. I assume it was all insured? You’ll get your money back, won’t you?
Was that concern or guilt in his neighbour’s voice? Jason wondered. He must have been fairly shocked to see the victim of his night time foraging standing outside his door asking for his help."Oh, yes, it’s just the inconvenience of it and the wait to get everything sorted out.” Jason was aware his voice sounded anxious and hoped Nat wouldn’t notice. “Well thanks again.” He managed to reach Nat’s door and then his own as calmly as he was able. Once inside he breathed a sigh of relief. Shocked at the discovery, disappointed that a man he had felt immediate strong feelings for would not be an option. He sat down. He realised he was trembling slightly. He would phone Jess and tell her all about it and wait for the police.
He saw his ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Script on the table. He had meant to go through his lines this morning in preparation for the all-important dress rehearsal tonight. He knew he wouldn’t make it. Even if the police came early he wasn’t up to playing Nick Bottom tonight. Too much had happened. He would ask Jess to give his apologies.
He rang her number and waited to hear her reassuring voice. He always felt better after he had talked to her. Then, he thought, I will go through my lines, ready for the opening night.
About the AuthorJanet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last and available on Amazon Books.
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