Ed Cavanagh drank down the last of the remaining litre of fresh orange juice and dropped the empty carton into the kitchen bin. After turning the bacon over under the grill, he quickly spread several slices of bread, all the time singing along to the music, which was blasting out, from the ipod speakers on the windowsill. Having demolished the large bowl of chilli and rice left for him by his mum nearly two hours ago, bacon sandwiches was the perfect supper. Mum didn't approve, particularly when he slathered the butter on too thick but seeing as she was out, he could indulge himself in his guilty pleasure.
Ed stood dead still for a moment, knife poised in mid-air. Was that the doorbell? He swore softly and turned the music down. This time the low chimes rang out clear enough for him to hear properly. For a second he debated whether or not to leave the bacon cooking but reasoned it was better to be safe than sorry and after quickly grabbing the oven mitts, yanked the grill pan out and deposited it on the hob.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," he mumbled when the doorbell sounded gain.
Jogging across the tiled hallway, he got to the front door and pulled it open.
Ed didn't recognise the visitor; a man probably in his fifties (Ed wasn't too good with ages so he really couldn't be sure) with dark collar length hair, dressed casually in jeans and an open –necked shirt and surprisingly fashionable brown leather shoes.
"Hi," Ed greeted him.
The man appeared momentarily stunned.
"Hi," he replied after some hesitation. "I wonder if you can help me. I'm looking for a lady by the name of Harriet Makepeace."
"Makepeace?" Ed grinned. "She hasn't been Makepeace for donkeys years."
It was only then that he registered the accent. This man was American and suddenly Ed was feeling distinctly uneasy although he wasn't entirely sure why.
Yeah, right – sorry. So she lives here? I've got the right place?" the man asked tentatively.
"Yeah, she's Harriet Cavanagh now. Makepeace was the name of her first husband like twenty-odd years ago."
Ed frowned, trying to latch onto the abstract thoughts flitting through his mind. "Is that when you know her from then?"
"Erm, yeah ... we were friends a long time ago, didn't keep in touch though."
The man looked uncomfortable, moving from one foot to the other, glancing back down the drive like he needed to get away. "So is she in?" He cleared his throat and asked a little more determinedly, "Is Harry home?"
And then something clicked in Ed's brain; he recognised something in this man that was at once familiar and yet intangibly hazardous. It suddenly felt as though this mans' very presence had been inevitable.
"No!" Ed heard his own voice ring out. "She's not here. She won't be back 'til later tonight." He ran a hand through his dark brown hair, leaning more heavily on the edge of the door. "Who shall I say called?" he asked nervously.
"So you're her son, right?" asked the American, ignoring Ed's question.
The broad grin that quickly reached his eyes was reassuringly sincere. "That's real nice."
But it was lost again on the next question. "How about your dad. Is he home?"
Ed felt ridiculously like a child again, not the capable, independent (well, reasonably so) twenty year old man who should have the guts to just ask this person who he was and exactly what it was he wanted with his mother.
"He doesn't live here – they're divorced. Look," he added quickly, "can I take a message, a phone number or something?"
But the American was backing up, preparing to walk away. "I'll come back."
The man turned, anxious to go.
"Tonight?" Ed called out as he reached the driveway gates.
The man raised a hand in farewell, not even turning back again.
Ed remained on the doorstep, watching him climb into a sporty little black BMW and drive away like the devil himself was on his tail. A feeling of deep agitation began to flow through his veins as half forgotten conversations and tiny snippets of information began to fuse like liquid mercury.
Almost without needing to think, he reached down into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his mobile. It rang out three, four, five times and just as he started to panic that it might go onto voicemail, it was answered.
"What's up, muppet boy?" came a giggling female voice and he could hear music and voices in the background. Sounded like she was in a pub.
"This bloke was just at the door ... just now," he said without preamble. He didn't quite know what to say, how to explain himself.
"Yeah?" she asked restlessly, eager to get back into the conversation she was now missing out on. "So did you tell him that you don't talk to strangers?"
"Shut up a minute 'cause you might be interested."
"So go on then," she pushed, not trying to hide her impatience.
"He was after Mum ... called her Harriet Makepeace. 'bout her age ... American."
He could tell from the silence at the other end of the phone that that conglomeration of words was having an effect.
"Shit," she said at last. "Where is Mum?"
"Late night shopping. I think she just wanted to get something to wear to Rosie's party. She'll probably be home soon."
"So what exactly did this man say, Ed?"
"Not much really." He struggled to recall the run of the conversation. "He asked if Harriet Makepeace lived here and I told him she was Cavanagh now. He said they'd been friends a long time ago. He asked if she or Dad was in."
"Dad?" his sister queried.
"And when I said I'd take a message, he cleared off. Said he'd come back."
"Didn't you ask, you prat?"
Ed made a noise down the phone as if he were suffering some sort of retardation. "Course I did. I told you, he just walked off."
There was a pause before she asked, "What did he look like?" She spoke very quietly and Ed struggled to hear the words..
"Look like? S'ppose he was reasonably tall, dark hair, quite well built, you know, for a bloke his age. Had a decent motor too, BMW Coupe, chrome wheel trims and ...
"For god's sake Ed, I don't care what he was frigging driving!" she hissed with exasperation.. "What if he comes back tonight?"
Ed too was showing signs of stress. "I don't know do I, that's why I'm ringing you."
"Shall I come over? I'll come over," she answered her own question. "I'll get a few things together and stop the night."
Ed felt relieved but still anxious. "Shall I say anything to Mum?"
"No, better not, he might not come back at all. No point getting Mum all worked up about nothing."
"How d'you know she'd get worked up?"
"The fact that you're bothering to phone me rather implies you're convinced it was him. That being the case, don't you think Mum might be just a little bit concerned?"
"Alright, don't have a go at me."
Ed found he was back in the kitchen, staring at the congealing bacon on the side. He didn't recall walking back in.
"I'll be over in about forty-five minutes, I'm leaving the pub now, okay?"
He could tell by the little jolts in her voice that she was moving quickly.
"Don't mention to Mum that I'm coming. I haven't been over for more than a week so we'll just be catching up, okay? Okay Ed?" she repeated insistently when he didn't respond immediately.
"Yeah, fine, whatever."
"Eddie!" she whimpered.
He tried to breath deeply a couple of times. "Sorry. I'm sorry. It'll be sweet, yeah."
"God, I'm scared."