The Stranger Next Door (Pt. 3)
Chapter Three - Investigation
It was the morning after the night before and I felt like death. I could hear the voices of my friends downstairs as I struggled to enter the waking world. How they had the energy to still be giggling like children, I will never know. I could hear the kettle boiling, no doubt somebody was making tea and coffee for the sore heads in my living room. The thought of caffeine helped me lift my heavy head from the pillow and drag myself downstairs.
"Morning campers!" I groaned, attempting to be social. Though all I really wanted was to find Leighton (who always wakes a good hour before myself) get a morning snuggle, and take him back to bed.
I entered the kitchen, and there he was, in the corner on his phone scrolling through social media, being the wonderful host he always is. Not.
It was Em making everyone morning drinks. Her pouch of tobacco was strewn across the coffee table, and there were little nuggets of filter paper, that she had strategically torn and rolled into little balls. This was something she always did, maybe a nervous habit of hers? Whenever she left our house, you could always tell where she had been sitting because there would be thousands of little paper balls scattered around her spot.
"Tea or coffee?" she asked.
"Tea," I replied, "with all of the sugar."
She smiled and continued to make my drink. The lads were rolling joints, ready to start their wake and bake routine, and despite how much I loved these people, I just wanted them to leave now.
I love hosting. There is something really pleasing about giving people a nice time and a safe environment to do the things they enjoy, with people they like. It was the first time in my life I felt like I had a real group of friends. The sort of group you would watch a sitcom about. Before meeting Leighton, I had told myself that that notion was only fictional. As ever, he proved my negativity wrong.
Despite my love for hosting, I still hadn't mastered the art of politely getting people to leave, and so I just accepted the fact that they would all disappear when they were ready, and we would have our home to ourselves again soon. I was keen not to let Leighton know that I wanted them to leave, because he was so less tact than myself, and would quite literally say, "Right then you lot, off you fuck," and within minutes they would be gone. Though I knew they all respected his honesty, this was not how I wanted our get together to end. And so I decided to drink my drink and sit quietly whilst the others chattered away.
The boys decided they were going to spend their hangover by a lake. It was peak summer and Leighton loved to fish. He insisted that there was no greater cure for a hangover than being sat by a lake, with a fishing rod, watching the world go by.
I didn't feel like going out at all, and after some encouragement, to my relief, the boys decided to go without me and Em. We decided that we were going to stay home and lounge about the house. Lounging did not happen. Instead, Em persuaded me that building some of the flat-packed furniture Leighton and I had bought, and not yet assembled, was the best way to spend the day.
Em went to shower and I decided to do some washing up before we started our day as handy-women. Soap suds reached my elbows as I cleaned up after our housewarming party.
I was looking out of the kitchen window as I worked, watching the forest of Frank's garden rustle in the wind, wondering what on earth he may have been up to in the early hours of this morning.
A brash jazzy tune, tore me from my thoughts. It took me a few seconds to remember that it was the sound of our new doorbell. A ridiculous tune that Leighton thought was hilarious. I rolled my eyes, quickly dried my hands and drew my dressing gown tighter around me to make sure I was decent.
When I opened the door, I was so embarrassed to be stood in my pajamas, with last night's makeup on and bed hair. I hadn't realised it was two o'clock in the afternoon, and I was met with two stern faces of police women. Their makeup was natural and precise, entirely different to my panda eyes, modeling last-night's mascara.
"Sorry to bother you, we are asking around the neighborhood to see if anybody recognises this man," she said thrusting a photograph in my face, not at all bothered that I was entirely unprepared for this visit. I looked from her to the photograph, and the world stopped for a moment. The picture was of a middle-aged man, perhaps in his early fifties? With shaggy brown-black hair. Dark eyes and an unkept beard.
Could it be? I thought to myself. I didn't want to put him on police radar, but I also couldn't be sure that the photograph wasn't of Frank. I had barely seen him last night, it was dark, I was drunk, and this photograph could be of anyone.
"I'm not entirely sure," I replied, hesitantly. They must have seen something in my face because she didn't look convinced.
Nevertheless, she said "Okay, no problem," and went to turn away. Her colleague however, hadn't finished.
"Just before we go, I was wondering if you knew if anybody lives next door?" She nodded towards Frank's house. "We can't get an answer and we would like to ask as many local people as possible.
"Somebody does live there..." I said, unsure of where I was going with this. "But he doesn't come out of the house very often, and I think he uses the side entry to gain access to his property."
"I see..." she replied. "Are you able to let us through?"
Shit. I thought to myself. I couldn't say no to a police officer without a valid reason. I struggled to say no to people anyway.
"Of course," I found myself saying. Cursing at myself for being so compliant.
We walked through the house and I was praying they couldn't smell the weed from the night before. Thank fuck I emptied those ash trays before I started the washing up. I led them through the house, into the kitchen and out of the back door, mumbling along the way about how we hadn't lived here long and had some friends over the night before.
I left them to wander through the garden. Then I heard voices.
"Can I help you?" a gruff voice said, sounding entirely pissed off.
"We are just in the area carrying out an investigation regarding a missing person," I heard the police lady reply.
"Oh right, and how did you get into my garden?" he said, not at all bothered by the fact he was talking to two police officers.
"The girl next door let us in."
WHAT?! NOOOOO!!!! FUCK!!! What has she just said? Why did she say that?
I started pacing in small circles in my living room with my head in my hands. What the actual fuck has just happened? Arghh!! My mind was laughing at me squirm and cringe.
I heard their footsteps crunch on the gravel leading back to our door, they looked at me, entirely unaware of the chaos going on in my mind.
"Thank you for your assistance, that's all we need."
"Was it him?" I asked without thinking.
She blinked at me, as though I had just asked if the grass was purple.
"Sorry.. I ugh... I haven't met him properly yet... I have only seen him briefly... I just wondered... if the man in the picture you showed me... umm... might have ... um ... maybe... been him?" WHAT WAS I SAYING?!
"No. It wasn't. Thanks for your time," she said militantly.
I couldn't get them out of the house quick enough, I just wanted this little episode of cringe to be over.
I ushered them to the front door, said goodbye as calmly as I could manage, then slammed and locked the door behind them.
Oh my god. I cannot believe that just happened.
Em wandered out of the bathroom, none the wiser, her long silver-blonde hair tied up in a towel-turban.
"Your shower is fucking awesome!" she exclaimed. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" she joked, catching my expression.
I rolled my eyes in exasperation. "Nothing," I replied. "I'll tell you later," I continued as she cocked an eyebrow as if to say 'Yeah-fucking-right.'
I took her upstairs to lend her some of my clothes. When she was dressed, we set to work building furniture and I began to relay the events of my unexpected visit.