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the front door slams, rocking our old house on its foundations and rattling the windows. emily and i jerk our heads up from the books we're reading to eye one another over the kitchen table.

'shit, fuck, motherfuck!' claire's voice yells from the hall, getting closer. 'that a-hole i work for has decided not to open sundays any more so i'm losing a shift!'

she arrives in the doorway, scowling.

'that's great,' i say, 'isn't it? you hate working sundays.'

'yeah, but getting an entire day's wages plus tips deducted from my paypacket is going to slay me. i'll have to give up crack cocaine and male escorts.'

that's how claire talks. i'm used to it. she's not a lot worse than i am.

'wanking's still free,' i point out.

'not the way i like it, fairyfingers. but, you know, the knock-on effect of me having less money to throw around is that i won't be able to afford the fucking rent.'

well. claire's employment woes suddenly become emily's and my problem as well.

claire and emily are cousins and i met them when we were all looking for somewhere to live. i'd seen an ad that was promising - victorian terrace, four bedrooms, versatile layout, loads of character. the rent seemed low and when i saw the place i realized why. it was dark and dank and tasteless, with a sitting room too small to sit in and a rental agreement explicitly stating that no refurbishing or alteration could be undertaken. i'd hoped it would be liveable and i could sign a contract and find three other people to share with but everyone who went through emerged gagging from a combination of the smell and the decor.

i'd been house-hunting for weeks by then and was verging on desperate. still optimistic for a miracle, i noticed two girls lagging behind the other viewers and in no apparent hurry to leave.

'what do you reckon?' one said to me.

'it's a dump. unfortunately.'

'it could be fixed up.'

'how? you're not allowed to change anything.'

'we could give this place a facelift in a way that would let us get it back to its original state within a couple of hours if we ever had to. you interested in sharing with us?'

'a bomb would do it more good than cosmetic surgery.'

'oh, it'll get bombed. the emily bomb. this is emily and i'm claire and you know what? the rent's so low we could just have the three of us in the upstairs rooms and we'd keep the front room downstairs as a hanging out space.'

the emily bomb hadn't spoken yet and looked kind of mad but i had nothing other than the prospect of homelessness to lose. we signed the lease and looking back, i've never been gladder of a decision in my life.

emily's madness proved to be spooky and delightful. claire calls a spade a fucking motherfucking spade and she'll dig a hole if that's what's needed, wiping her hands on your clothes, laughing unkindly at your woes then walking on hot coals to help you address them.

when we collected the keys emily turned up with bolts of fabric and rolls of double-sided tape. tall claire climbed the stepladder, securing lengths of pale blue canvas at the top of the gloomy fake wood paneling and feeding it down for emily and me to stick tight to the walls. we progressed through the whole house, transforming the darkness into morning sky. the brown kitchen cabinets got covered in cream adhesive plastic and we spent the rest of the day on the floor with canvas, red and gold paint, and stencils, creating faux vintage wallpaper for the front room. by the next day we'd yanked up all the carpets, rolled them in plastic sheets, and stored them in the crawlspace beneath the house. that had nearly killed us but we toasted ourselves with champagne and then got on our knees and scrubbed the floorboards, swapping life stories.

when we finished, the house was light and airy and inviting and gorgeous - and ours, and we were newly realised but firm best friends.

we've been happy in our beloved home for two years and can't even entertain the thought of any one of us leaving. the solution, if unappealing, is clear. in order to stay we'll have to get a fourth person, renting them our treasured ruby room until claire can find a way to increase her income.

of course our new roomie will have to be a girl. duh.

but after a couple of weeks no suitable candidate presents herself despite signs in cafes, music shops and on the noticeboard at college. there aren't even any unsuitable applicants. claire's language deteriorates impressively.

we redistribute the rent, but it's only a temporary measure since emily and i don't earn enough to cover the extra cost indefinitely.

then one person responds, a guy. at this stage we can't afford to be fussy.

i'm on my own the afternoon he comes by. he's dressed entirely in black, which i eye with mistrust. edward cullen. music student. piano, he tells me.

'music! how - hmm,' i say.

his eyes narrow and he gives me a once-over while i refrain from kicking him in the teeth, although that's my first impulse. this is not a club or a bar or a party, bozo, so don't do that speculating evaluating thing, like you're working out if i'm doable. this is a house where we have to live. i hope to god someone female materializes very soon with an intention to take the room, but in the interim i have to show edward the invader our lovely home and our warm, inviting, decadent, beautiful, private den.

he looks around.

'it's very red. i feel like i'm in utero.'

i'll see your simile and raise you a metaphor.

'oh yeah, because pussies are all lined with gold roses.'

he's startled. i don't care.

'it says in the rental agreement tenants aren't allowed to change the decor, so if you don't like it that's just too bad.'

'i didn't say i don't like it. i like it a lot, actually. when can i move in?'

fuck, calm down. there are rules you have to agree to first.

'just so you know - you can't bring your piano. my bedroom is directly upstairs - you'd disturb me.'

'well - i certainly won't be able to fit the grand in here, but an upright should be fine.'

'did you hear me? no piano.'

'i only practise two or three hours a day.'

'sorry, i've just remembered we've found a tenant.'

'really? when I spoke to emily earlier she said i'd been the only person to answer the ad.'

'yeah well, that was before half a dozen other people enquired about it and we've settled on someone who's ideal. thanks sorry.'

'i use an electronic keyboard with headphones if that makes any difference.'

'oh. well, that might make a little bit of difference.'

'i thought you just said you'd found someone?'

'we can keep you in mind as a reserve.'

'excellent. i'm definitely keen. and by the way, i have a pet rat. will that be okay with everyone?'

i glare at him. 'no pets. condition of the lease.'

'well strictly speaking, she's not a pet. she's an income. i breed from her and sell the offspring to science labs.'

my mouth drops open.

he smirks. 'just kidding.'

'about the science labs?'

'about the rat. i don't have one.'

'any rodents?'

'none.'

'just a humor bypass then.'

i disliked him on sight and even more once i'd spoken to him but we don't really have a choice. us girls don't want to lose our home and we don't want to lose each other.

so edward ratfree cullen moves in and my peace of mind takes a fucking hike.