The staircase was not quite as bad as the rest of the house, but it was bad, nevertheless. Cigarette stubs floated in the dregs of some cheap and nasty red; beer cans were littered up the steps in varied states of flattenedness; and a semi-crushed watermelon was lodged precariously between two of the upright rails supporting the sticky bannister.
Bella and Mischa sat on the top step surveying the wreckage. Bella, somewhat of a veteran, betrayed just a touch of distaste with the slight scrunch of her elegant nose. She had, some forty minutes ago, nudged open an Asda magazine to a spread on tropical fruit deals, set this down on the floor, and deliberately settled herself on top of it so as to avoid the damp carpet. Mischa, meanwhile, as the house’s newest resident, could barely contain her excitement at this new and decadent experience, at being party to such extreme post-bacchanalic squalor. Cocking her head to one side and listening intently for any sound behind them, she nudged Bella’s shoulder with hers: “It doesn’t sound like he’s getting up.”
Bella gave a ladylike yawn as she leant back in a leisurely stretch. “No,” she drawled. “He has a girl in there.”
“A girl! One of our girls?” Mischa’s eyes opened wide, and she continued in a breathless rush, “I saw Lucy being sick in the umbrella stand earlier, and then she went to lie down in the garden. Right on the grass, I saw her. She said…” and Mischa crumpled her face in concentration, “…the dew would ‘wake her up and serve her right and she wasn’t ever doing it again’…”
“She always says that after a party,” scoffed Bella. “No, it’s not one of our girls in there. It’s one of their friends, one of that lot that were giggling and screeching away last night. He always has a girl there after a party, and Lucy and Hannah are always livid when they find out, because ‘how are they going to explain to their friends that he’s a total utter wanker, and he promised he wouldn’t this time, not if he was going to sweet talk some poor gullible thing into bed then ignore all her texts afterwards, and it’s embarrassing to have to warn every female with a pulse that you live with a complete. lech.’”
“Well then,” said Mischa, eager to show off some worldly wisdom, “he’s in for it now, isn’t he? Someone is going to be cross when they find out he’s done it again.” She hesitated before trying out a more woman of the world-esque tone: “Rather a bore.”
“As a matter of fact, someone is already cross, Mischa, because I am cross.” Bella drew herself up self-importantly. “He dropped his horrid beer on my bed last night, and now it’s damp and smells like the canal. It’s foul. I had to go and sleep with Hannah, who-” she shuddered, “cuddled me then cried on me then had to run to the loo.”
“Oh,” said Mischa in a small voice.
“Oh,” said Bella, in a superior one.
They sat, again, in companionable silence.
Some time later, the nearby bedroom door creaked open and a pair of naked legs walked out, attached, as Bella has foretold, to one of last night’s giggling girls. She was wrapped in a rather threadbare towel, and almost tripped over Mischa before stopping short in surprise.
“The kitties!” she squealed, “Oh my goodness! Pete, do your lovely cats always wait here to say good morning?”
A grunt, and Pete called grumpily back. “Not mine. Wasn’t my idea to get bloody cats. That slinky one’s a right bitch as well. She doesn’t like me, I know it.”
The girl ignored him as she fussed over them both, Mischa cavorting with kittenish excitement, and Bella preening, allowing herself to be stroked, and butting her head gently at the girl in an extremely uncharacteristic show of affection.
“Oh, aren’t you two beautiful? Who’s a gorgeous cat, who’s a gorgeous cat?” After an appropriate period of homage, the girl reluctantly pulled away from them and looked around absently. “Oh I must leave you two alone now, I was going to jump in the shower while it’s free…” Directing a final beaming smile at them, she adjusted the towel around herself and crossed the landing to the bathroom, just as Hannah emerged, dishevelled, from her bedroom, took in the situation at a glance, and groaned.
Several things then happened at once. The sound of the shower running started up. Bella took several unexpected leaps across the furniture to the nearby high shelf that was her habitual hiding place, then leapt back down again via Hannah’s shoulder. Poor hungover Hannah was so startled by this that she jumped out her skin with a stifled scream, and the chaos outside his bedroom moved Pete to drag himself up and stomp downstairs, all the while muttering and swearing to himself about hysterical females and nuisance felines.
In the relative calm that followed Pete’s departure, Hannah sighed with relief and rubbed her eyes wearily, then something caught her eye and she stooped down over the cats, puzzled. “Bella, what’s that you’re playing with? Where did you get that bottle, it had better not be something expensive…”
Mischa, who had been happily distracted by the humans’ drama, now also looked over at Bella, who was indeed batting a small bottle between her two front paws, looking the picture of inscrutable innocence. Hannah picked up the bottle to a hiss of displeasure, and frowned. “Lotion, men’s, oh Bella. Why do you always take Pete’s things when you’re making mischief? It’s like you know it annoys him.”
She tossed the bottle into Pete’s room, where it landed softly on the bed, then looked at the cats with exasperated fondness. “Come on then, trouble and trouble, let’s see about some breakfast, shall we?”
As she made for the stairs with Mischa at her heels, Bella determinedly turned her back and stalked in the opposite direction, tail swishing with offence. “Oh suit yourself then,” called Hannah over her shoulder, “but don’t come meowing to me when you realise you’re hungry!”
There was, however, a little more to this apparent fit of pique than either Hannah or Mischa realised. Within seconds of them disappearing out of sight, Bella had turned tail again and padded surreptitiously into Pete’s room.
When he returned moments later and saw the lotion spilled over the bedclothes and Bella lounging across the pillow contentedly,, a bellow of frustration burst out of him. “For the love of -” he picked her up roughly and dropped her to the floor before grabbing a box of Kleenex and beginning to mop up the mess.
As Bella scurried out of the room he followed her and started to call downstairs, “Hannah, that bloody cat is….what the hell is it doing now!”
Bella was attacking the trapped watermelon, launching herself at it repeatedly with claws out, spraying liquid and pulp everywhere. Pete yanked the watermelon out from the rails and clutched it under one arm, grabbing a yowling Bella in the other and stamping back up the stairs.
She broke free as he reached the landing and pelted to his room. Pete, with a curse, bent to pick up the magazine from the top of the stairs, and rolled it up to give Bella a frustrated slap. She ran through his legs in a figure of eight and streaked away as he tumbled to the floor. Pete flung away the magazine and dropped the watermelon as he flailingly tried to save himself, but gravity was still gravity and he landed heavily with a moist squelch.
It was at this moment that the girl returned, humming happily to herself. She seemed not to have heard any of the commotion, but when she reached Pete’s doorway she stopped dead.
On his bed lay an open bottle of lotion and a box of Kleenex, next to the Asda magazine which had fallen open at the page with the tropical fruit. Pete himself was struggling up from the floor, where he’d landed crotch-first in the soggy watermelon.
There was a silence as the girl looked at Pete, at the bed, and back at Pete, then she snatched up her clothes and started angrily to get dressed. “Jesus, Pete, I was just in the shower, weren’t you worried I was going to walk in on you…you….”
The realisation had gradually dawned on Pete that he was centre-stage in a tableau with less than savoury implications. “It’s not what it looks like! I wasn’t… That bloody cat!”
“What the hell are you talking about? No, wait, I don’t care. I should have listened to Hannah, you are…I don’t even know what you are! I’m going home!” And she stormed out, slamming the door noisily behind her.
Downstairs, Hannah winced at the bang, then raised her eyebrows in amusement.”Well that didn’t take long!” she remarked to the cats as she set down two bowls before them.
Bella smirked, and started on breakfast.