Inspired by The Pet Shop Boys' song, 'Home and Dry'.
Home And Dry
It was less of a shout and more of a rasped scream. It was followed by several seconds of silence, Bryce listening hard, before footsteps came into earshot.
"I'm not your butler," Hillary said, standing in the doorway to the workshop with a cross expression on his face.
"Stop being an arse, I'm having trouble here. If I let go, this'll all be down. Hold this whilst I get the screws in."
Hillary came forwards, surveying the metal scaffolding that Bryce had been trying to construct alone, before supporting it in the indicated position. Bryce extricated himself and reached for the screwdriver.
"What is it?"
"A rack for the new monitors." The tone of voice implied the answer should have been obvious.
"You're very crotchety when Lara's away. Don't think I haven't noticed."
It was rather obvious that he didn't mean it, since Hillary was still a critical component in the so-modern-it-was-impractical new furniture, but that did just prove Hillary's point. He said as much.
"I'm not 'crotchety'. I'm just pissed off with this fucking stand."
The instruction booklet was open nearby; Hillary used one hand to leaf back through it and found that Bryce had already struggled his way through eight steps that had been proclaimed right on page one as being a two-person job.
"Why didn't you ask me to help earlier?"
"Because you're a git about this sort of thing."
"Shut the fuck up. Dammit, the tolerance on this is all wrong. Six hundred fucking pounds and they can't even drill the holes in the right places."
Hillary quickly, slightly guiltily, re-aligned the parts he'd allowed to slip, the holes slotting right back to where they were meant to be, and Bryce glared at him before swearing again when he dropped a screw.
"I wonder if Lara's noticed. The effect her absence has on you."
"She doesn't call to notice, does she?"
"Come now, Bryce, she phones when she can but she's usually not got any sort of signal when she's off chasing artefacts who-knows-where."
Bryce waggled a Phillips at him. "There are very few places in this world where it's impossible to make any sort of communication. Don't tell me they're the only ones she goes to."
"She gets distracted. Caught up in it."
"Pardon me for worrying."
"She can take care of herself."
"Doesn't mean to say she's going to live forever. Egypt, Hillary."
Hillary thinned his lips, unpleasant memories mixing with the begrudging knowledge that Bryce was absolutely correct.
It had been three days since she'd left for China.
"Why have you pinned this up here?"
"Ah." Hillary came and stood next to Bryce and proudly regarded the print-out of Lara's last email that he'd stuck to the cork board in the kitchen. "You complained she never contacted us."
"Hillary, three quarters of it is a work request and she doesn't use 'the' or 'a'."
"Your point being?"
"It's hardly a postcard, is it?"
"It's longer than a postcard."
"She's not here, you don't have to be the dutiful servant." Bryce turned and stalked off.
Hillary took the pen from his breast pocket and neatly underlined the valediction, 'Miss you'.
It had been seven days since she'd left for China, and two since she had emailed from Hong Kong.
Bryce, nose in a book he wasn't reading and feet up on the coffee table, didn't move his legs for the vacuum until Hillary rammed it into them. "If you're bored, there are eighty-two other rooms that require cleaning."
"Rubbish. Most of them are in dust sheets."
"Did you finish that research Lara wanted?"
"About four hours after she asked for it, and she still hasn't acknowledged it."
"I'm sure she's very busy."
"Or dead." The statement was delivered with something akin to boredom. Hillary shut off the vacuum and snatched away the book.
"Don't you dare say things like that."
"See, you're worried, too."
The book was returned to the shelf and the vacuum turned back on. Bryce just about made out some reply, over the noise, about it not being proper to get all het up about things. He was rather louder with his own retort about Hillary turning into an outdated emotionless machine every time he put on his tie.
It had been eleven days since she had left for China, six since she had emailed from Hong Kong and, to be rather more precise, five since she had read the email containing the research, but not replied to it.
Bryce didn't care whether it was proper to get 'het up', or not. She wasn't there to see him being all tormented, and he wasn't going to ask her to check in more regularly, so what did it matter? The only person who saw the limbo he fell into every time she jetted off was Hillary, and he was far too 'proper' to breathe a word of it to anybody else. His pathetic privacy was assured. Miss Independent would carry on in her one-woman army and never know any better. And she certainly wouldn't, he was sure, feel the distance nearly so much as he did.
Twelve days after she had left for China, she rang from New York.
Thirteen days after she had left for China, her plane from JFK was delayed.
Fourteen days after she had left for China, Bryce was awoken to the sound of rapping on his trailer door. He groaned, feeling for his alarm clock with eyes half closed. Three fifty in the morning with torrential rain outside. What the hell did Hillary want at that time in that weather – Bryce sprang out of bed, never having woken so quickly, and flung open his door, fearing the worst.
A drenched, exhausted Lara stood in a puddle, suitcase at her side and ruck sack on her back.
"Hello," she smiled weakly. "Just got back."
Bryce blinked. "Lara, it's four in the morning and it's chucking it down."
"I know. I'm off to bed. Just wanted to say hello."
They were silent for a moment. Then her features lit up in a cheery flash of a grin, and she turned to go. Bryce watched her as she hurried across to the front door, suitcase rocking wildly as its tiny wheels failed to keep up with the gravel and the speed and awkward angle she was pulling it at with her backpack only on one shoulder and one hand shielding her eyes. He waited until she'd shut the door behind her, and then shut himself back in his trailer, flopped back on top of his bed and got comfortable, a wide smile across his face.