He was in bed with Miss Wilson.
She fell back against the pillow and sighed happily. Her eyes were half-closed and she was regarding him with a beatific smile.
“Beautiful, darling. It suits you.”
He could find no words to respond to this unexpected compliment. He stared hollowly at the woman, the top hat wobbling as it perched on his head. This was impossible! Not only was Miss Wilson in his bed, quite possibly completely naked, but she was acting like she was supposed to be there!
She raised a hand and waved unsteadily at him.
“Come here, Bella, darling.”
He gaped, his mind blank but for one salient fact.
“But…I am not Bella!”
“Not Bella?” Miss Wilson sat up, the blanket dropping away from her bare torso, and he shut his eyes rather than look at her. “But why are you wearing her hat?”
He opened his eyes slightly, willing himself to look only at her face. She leaned in closer, then her eyes widened in unspoken horror.
“Oh, my God!”
Miss Wilson snatched up the blanket and pulled away from him, scrabbling backwards, clutching the covers against her naked breasts and tugging the blanket away from him. In doing so, she exposed his bare legs and his underpants, and he made a wild grab for the tail end of the blanket and sought frantically to cover himself once again. Unfortunately, Miss Wilson appeared to think that he was trying to remove the blanket from her and pulled harder, squeaking in a way that pierced his very skull; he battled against her, desperate to retain some dignity.
They tussled for a moment until suddenly Miss Wilson stopped, arms wrapped tightly across the blanket that was clutched to her chest, and stared into his eyes, grim sobriety descending upon her features. There was a brief moment of silence, during which the hat toppled from Tristan’s head, rolled across the rumpled blanket, and landed on the bedroom floor.
“This actually can’t get any worse,” said Miss Wilson.
Tearing her gaze from his, and with her right hand still clutching the bedclothes to her, she reached out with her left hand and groped about to find some item of clothing with which to cover herself.
“This is what happens when I trust Susie!” she was muttering. “‘It’s alright, Nell,’ she says. ‘I’ll look after you and make sure you don’t drink too much. You don’t have to worry!’ And then she lets me do this! Where are we, anyway?”
Tristan tried to speak but his voice shriveled in his throat. He cleared it and tried again.
“Matty’s flat. His…” He squeaked. “Bedroom.”
“God, he isn’t here, is he?” Nell glanced about the room, as if expecting to see Matty Smith rising from the floorboards with a cheery grin and a wave.
“No. I believe he is playing the…the jazz.”
Tristan waved a hand towards the wall, through which the jaunty strains of a jolly piano rag were defying his abject horror. Nell snorted and resumed her search for clothing.
“You might look away!” she snapped.
Tristan had been watching her rather blankly, but he tore his gaze from her at this curt remark. Then immediately he looked back again, for his attention had been caught by something gold that glinted in the vicinity of her left hand.
She jerked her head up to look at him.
“What?” she said sharply, and he pointed with quivering finger at her hand. She stared at him, uncomprehending, then lowered her gaze to her left ring finger.
Her eyes widened, and for the second time that morning the blanket dropped from her grasp as her right arm fell weakly onto the bedclothes. Her shoulders sagged with the shock.
“Oh God, no,” she gasped.
But there was no denying it. Upon her left ring finger there was a slender band of gold, where yesterday there had been none.
They stared at it, horror swimming in their very hearts, then in curious synchrony they raised their heads until they were looking once more into each other’s eyes.
“What have we done?”