Twenty minutes later they skulked through the walkway on the twenty-sixth floor of the Trellick Tower. They didn't touch, didn't speak, didn't even look at each other, as if they were afraid that any sound, any intimacy would set off alarms and wake all inhabitants.
At Iris' door they stood still. Billy carefully collected his keyring from his pocket, searched for the right key, looked at Caithlin.
“Are we really gonna do this?” he asked.
With his free hand, Billy knocked on the door tree times.
“What are you doing?” Caithlin grabbed his arm to make him stop, and looked at him with large, anxious eyes. “Are you mad?”
“Well, if she's in, we'd better find out here, innit?”
“But what are you gonna say?”
“I don't think she's in,” he said. “It's Saturday evening; she's probably clubbing.”
Caithlin stared at the door. “I suppose you're right. If she were in, she would've opened it by now, right?”
“Right,” Billy replied, and he put the key in the lock. He turned it round once. “She's out,” he whispered. Quietly he pushed open the door and walked in. Caithlin followed him and shut the door behind them.
“Well well,” Billy said when he got to the living room. “She's hardly changed anything since I moved out.”
Caithlin headed straight for the window. “This is awesome,” she sighed.
“I know.” His eye fell on a letter that was left open on the table. He picked it up and read the first alinea. “Seems like she's an agent these days, a literary agent.”
“Big surprise,” Caithlin answered. “Those who can, do; those who can't, promote.”
Billy looked around the room and scratched his chin. “Perhaps I should get back in touch with her.”
“Why, are you still planning on writing that novel?” Caithlin turned around and giggled.
“Why is that so funny? I'm only twenty-eight, it's perfectly normal not to have written anything important yet. Kant only started writing when he was over fifty.”
“Kant was a philosopher, not a novelist. Look at this!” Caithlin walked towards a huge pile of paper next to the telly. “These must be the manuscripts!”
“And those too,” Billy pointed at cupboard that was loaded with big envelopes. “I reckon that's the slush pile; she hasn't even opened them yet.”
“The Ill Bird's Nest,” Caithlin read the title of the manuscript on top of the pile. “That doesn't sound too bad. Our feathered friends often foretell great novels: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, To Kill a Mocking Bird... I'm gonna read this in bed.”
“Gosh,” Billy said to himself when she had left the room, “this is depressing.” He turned his back to the slush pile and faced the window. “But hello London!”
He was just about to open the window, when he heard someone speaking in the corridor.
“Caithlin!” he whispered on the top of his voice. He rushed into the bedroom and dragged her out of bed. “She's here!”
Caithlin's eyes almost popped out of her blushing face. She put both of her hands over her mouth very tightly and dropped the manuscript. The leafs fluttered all over the bedroom floor.
“We've got one chance,” Billy said. He started collecting the manuscript and pushed her to the door at the same time. “The bathroom. If she's drunk, she won't brush her teeth. Otherwise, we're fucked.” The key clicked in the lock, Billy shoved the last sheets under the bed and hurried after Caithlin into the bathroom.
“He's taking after dad,” he heard Iris say. “But he knows how to deal with his feelings. He seemed so mature.”
There was no reply. Billy wondered to whom she was talking.
“He's an interior decorator now. Just the job for him: he can use his creativity and he loves to work with people. Yeah, I'm glad things are finally working out for him.” She stood still next to the bathroom door and made a rustling sound, perhaps by taking off clothing. Billy held his breath, put his finger over his lips and gave Caithlin a warning glance. She sat with her back against the heater and looked as if she had been holding her breath since she left the bedroom. Please, Billy thought, don't break down now.
“I can't believe I've been avoiding him for almost two years.” Her bare feet made a soft sucking sound on the wooden floor when she walked into the living room. Billy signalled Caithlin to softly breath out. “After all, he's still my little brother. And you know what?” Iris paused and waited for a reply.
“What?” A dark male voice came from the direction of the entrance.
“I think I shouldn't have been so hard on er, what's her name.”
“You mean Caithlin.” Caithlin swallowed with her eyes closed when the dark voice passed the bathroom door. When she opened them again, Billy gave her an inquiring look. She shrugged. “That's what I always thought. Of course I don't know her, but from what I've heard, she didn't steal your boyfriends, but went for your leftovers.”
“That's a very kind way way to put it.” Iris laughed a tired laugh.
“And if she did steal them, I'm glad she did.”
“I suppose I should say the same thing now, shouldn't I? Anyway, I figure, if Ian loves her, she can't be that bad.”
The bathroom floor was hard and cold, and Billy felt his buttocks go numb. When he imagined the embrace in the living room he shifted carefully.
“What was that?” Iris broke the silence.
Billy could have slept his own face, if only that wouldn't have made more noise. Caithlin's accusing eyes were almost worse than his fear to be discovered. To prevent himself from going mad, he counted how many times he blinked. He was very nervous and got to seven.
“Let's go to the bedroom.” Billy had never thought it could feel so good to hear these words in a seductive male voice. Iris gave in and shut the door behind them.
In the bathroom, Billy and Caithlin looked each other in the eye. Billy focussed on his breathing, trying not to make a sound. Iris and her lover had ceased their conversation but were not completely quiet yet. When Billy inhaled for the sixty-sixth time, Iris started cooing like a mourning dove. He remembered the intense look she had on her face when she made this sound, and knew that the coming minute, she wouldn't notice if a Boeing would fly into the service tower. He gestured at the door. Caithlin put her index finger on her lips, like he had done earlier, but nodded. It took them eight more breaths before they were in the walkway again.
“I need to wee,” Caithlin said when he softly closed the front door behind them. He laughed and decided to take her home for the second time that night.
The next morning Iris woke up to the Crazy Frog. She had a sour taste in her mouth and rubbed her face.
“Baby, have you changed your ringtone again?” she asked. Then she heard the shower running; Gareth was out of bed already. All right, she thought, I'll get it. She crawled to his side of the bed and grabbed his Nokia. With her sleepy eyes she gazed at the display for a second, until she realised it was not the source of the ring-ding-ding. She sat up straight and listened. The sound came from her side of the room. She got out and checked the bedside table, the floor and even the chair in the corner. Finally the Frog shut up, but Iris was wide awake now and she wanted to find the unknown phone. She got to her knees and peered under the bed. At first she didn't see anything, but when she moved some shoe-boxes, a flickering light under the headboard caught her eye. It was a metallic pink Motorola. A very girlish phone. When she reached for it, it started to vibrate. She read her brother's name on the display and picked up before the ringtone started again.
“Ian?” she said.
“Oh, Iris. I'm sorry, I must have dialled the wrong number.”
“I don't think so. Who are you trying to reach?”
“Goddamnit.” Iris punched her pillow as hard as she could. In the bathroom she could still hear the shower running.
“It took her a while, but apparently your chick got to Gareth too.”
Ian's breath trembled in the microphone. He didn't say a word.
“Why else would her phone be under my bed?”
“If her mobile is under your bed,” Ian started, “then where is Caithlin? She didn't come home last night.”
“Ian, I can't stay here. Before I find her bra too...” Her voice sounded flat, defeated.
“No worries.” In Camden Ian grabbed his car keys and wallet. “Where can I pick you up?”
“I'll have breakfast at The Ladbroke Arms.”
“I'm on my way.”
“Thanks. And er, Ian...” Iris hesitated.
“I would appreciate it if you could stay in Bath with me for a while.”
“Thanks.” Ian coughed. “I wouldn't know where else to go.”