The doorbell was being vigorously rung for a second time before I reached it. I was still wondering what Jo had planned as I twisted open the latch. She couldn't be planning on driving anywhere, not in her, well, state. I opened the door. Besides, Karen would hear the car start. Karen was standing in the doorway. Short of a little online shopping, what could Jo do?
"Its me, Karen. Hello!" She waved a hand in front of my face. "Anybody home?"
"What? Yes, sorry, come in. Come in."
"Man, you're really out of it aren't you." I stepped back, and she walked in. Leggy, busty, blond, and sporting her typical short skirt and organza tops she had the predictable effect in the mostly male work environment. But it would be wrong to think of her as lacking in intelligence. I could be sure that my home was being subjected to the kind of observation usually appropriate to a forensic specialist at a crime scene. Her eyes flicked over the shelf next to the front door, the dust around the frame of the mirror, and then up and down me.
"I didn't know you'd got a dog." Immaculately lacquered nails picked a hair from the shoulder of my t-shirt. There was no mistaking it, far too fine to be human hair. I felt intimidated by her touch, the spot on my skin burning against the cloth. I imagined it blushing red.
"My parents have one. A long haired thing. Damn fur gets everywhere. Want some tea? Coffee?"
"Yes please, tea, white, no sugar." She walked down the hall towards the kitchen, stresses folding the plasticised material of her skirt first one way then the other. It occurred to me to wonder if she was expecting some appreciative comment. That pert backside was the subject of nearly as much attention and male banter as her front. Neither did much for me, to my eyes she was stylish, but not desirable. I can see how she would appeal to those with more conventional tastes. Here in my home though, the fact that I didn't find her sexy, while my lecherous colleagues would give their hind teeth be alone with her in private, made me feel more awkward still.
"You're looking great as ever," I offered, "the guys in the office must be missing you already." I topped up the kettle and got out a mug and teabag, taking care to shuffle around the linoleum in my slippers rather than picking my feet up. What a dumb thing to say.
"You're not having one yourself?"
"No. I'm going to do the 24 hours starve thing and get rid of this bug. Just water for me."
"Probably a good idea. What was it, a dodgy curry?"
"I think so. I mean, yes, I had a curry last night, felt too lazy to cook anything, so I got a chicken makhanni delivered. I don't go in for that macho vindaloo or phall nonsense, so it must have been the chicken. Or gastric flu I suppose." I poured the boiling water into the mug, watching the teabag surface.
"You can't smell it now. I must admit that I half expected to find the place covered with old pizza boxes, empties, and grease stained paper bags. You wouldn't believe how some of the other guys from engineering live. Still behave like students some of them."
"I had the windows open most of the morning. The smell was making me want to wretch." I didn't want to know how she found out about my workmates homes. Not, I'll admit, that it surprised me. I fished out the teabag, and fetched milk from the fridge.
"Not much in there." She said.
"No. I should really have gone shopping yesterday". I thought of Jo, eating the turkey and most of the other things that had been in my fridge. Jo, with her soft fur over soft flesh. No, concentrate on the job in hand. "Here's your tea." Karen took it, and then stood briefly by the window, looking out onto the back garden.
"Interesting. You'll need a combine to get that grass cut." She walked around the table. In my mind I could see her with a clipboard, looking for signs that I was somehow an incapable male, unable to keep a house straight. Sock down the side of the dryer: no. Pizza boxes on top of the bin: no. Grass left unmown: yes. Car parts or tools on the drainer: no. Borders left to go to weed: yes. Mug rings on tabletops and work surfaces: no. I might just pass that test yet.
"Are the schematics through here?" she asked, pushing open the door. A blatant excuse, if ever there was, to investigate the lounge. I think if I'd given her time alone she'd have looked through my bookshelves and DVDs, made microfiche copies of my bank statements, and checked any personal correspondence she found for perfume. Perhaps she could develop a second career with MI6.
"No, they're upstairs. I'll get them. I don't want to be rushing to find them later, and you've still got to meet with the courier." I left, and as I went upstairs, I wondered what Karen was doing. It was inconceivable that she was sitting still, sipping her tea, and waiting patiently for my return. The drawings were in the room I used as a study, and I was soon heading back downstairs, rubbing the elastic band up and down the roll of plots.
Karen stood in the lounge, pointing into the extension. "There's a mattress on the floor round the corner."
"Yes, there is." I could tell from the expression on her face that some kind of explanation was also required. Well, the truth wouldn't do. "Its off my bed. I got bored lying upstairs, and fancied a bit of a change." This was clearly unreasonable behaviour. It didn't compute. She drained her tea.
"May I use the loo before I go?"
"Sure, its just up the stairs, on the left." I listened to her go up, and pause, no doubt looking into my bedroom at the mess left from when I'd stripped the sheets off the mattress.
When Karen came back down, she was ready to go. She tucked the drawings under her arm. "I'd better get these back to the office. Take care of yourself, keep warm, and drink plenty of water." She opened the door, and stepped out into the sunlight, briefly glancing back. I watched her get in the car and drive off, then closed the door. I rested my forearm against the door, and let my head fall against the back of my wrist. Thank goodness that was done.