The noises from upstairs had ceased the previous day. Leading Steph to believe that whatever changes they'd been making had been completed. Also to consider the fact she'd paid rent for 2 months while only spending minutes in the tiny flat. Oh shit, she should have put in some kind of claim for social security or something. Would they back date it? She checked online and thought it was worth a try at least. It wasn't a lot of money, but she was eating through her savings at a high rate of speed. Thanks to being unable to write the couple of articles she'd been commissioned to do, her income had been zero. Apart from the little bit she'd had from the blog she and Taz had set up. Which was enough to keep her in toothpaste for the rest of her lunchtime. Try not to dwell on the negatives Steph, she told herself. Even though they are so enormous they could cause a solar eclipse. Instead think of the positives. No one had tried to kill her so far today. Granted it wasn't quite ten in the morning. Damn that red wine. Or was it simply alcohol that made her depressed? That theory took a knock given she'd been near suicidal for the last ten months and more. Then she'd put her depression down to being unable to drink, due to the pharmaceuticals she'd been forced to take. Still an absence of noise from upstairs. John was out with Bella. Taz was off school for a week, but attending a study group. Anthony and Marcus were both out of the place as well. She was alone. There were no witnesses. She could sneak upstairs to take a look. Why that particular verb? It indicated her going to look at her own flat was forbidden. An impression she'd gained from John and Taz? She'd asked about the remedial work several times. Never received an answer beyond refurbishment. No specifics. Her original sex dungeon theory, couldn't be entirely dismissed. In an infinite universe anything that is possible will happen. Meaning that since it wasn't impossible to convert an attic into a sex dungeon she definitely needed to check. The logic was inescapable. Who cared if it wouldn't stand up in a court of law? It took her half an hour to find the bloody keys. They were in the pocket of the coat she'd worn the first day she was here. The secret was to not act suspiciously. To pretend she was completely innocent. That she had every right to be there. The reality was this was true. Unless John was up to something nefarious again. Again? Well he must have at least had a parking ticket. Oh crap, where had she left her car? Where had she left the keys to her car? That would entail another search. She hadn't had time to place all of them on the same keyring. The car should be easy to find. It would be smothered in parking tickets. Unless it had been towed. Notification of which would have been sent to her previous address. She'd really let the paperwork slide. The likelihood was the car was worth less than the tickets and the towing charges. She was a felon as much as John was. Steph took the stairs quietly. Every creak made her pause progress, to check no one was around. Why was she being so furtive, in an every right to be here manner? It was either the red wine or her writer's imagination. Insanity couldn't be ruled out. When her head came level with the upper floor, she could see the door to her abode. It looked different. Or did it look different? She couldn't remember. There'd been boxes and removal men. Hefting the keys in her sweating right pam, Steph took another creaking step upwards. "What are you doing?" A loud peremptory voice demanded. Steph jumped so high she came back with oxygen starvation. Her heart rate had to have hit 400 plus. Taz was standing st the bottom of the flight, laughing uncontrollably. "You spiteful, evil bitch." Steph cursed. "You've just taken ten years off my life. I'm never going to see my grandchildren, because of you. I hope you're happy. And stop laughing. It's not funny. I've been ill you know." Still almost helpless, Taz pulled herself up the steps. "Why are you creeping around?" "Ah... You may well ask. However I would reply, why aren't you at your study group? Or is it a cover for something illegal?" This was only making Taz more incapable. "I had a thing in my head okay. I'm a bit crazy. I wanted to see what all that banging had been about. When I asked, no one would answer. Now, can I take a look at MY flat?" Steph raised her foot to the next step. "No you can't." The laughter had stopped. What was going on here? "Are you going to stop me taking a look?" Steph demanded. "No. I don't have to. The locks have been changed. You haven't got the keys. Only John has them." "That son of a bitch. Why is it so secret?" Taz hugged her. Since she was a few steps lower, it was round Steph's waist. "We wanted it to be a nice surprise. They finished repainting yesterday so it should be dried, apart from the woodwork. If you'd waited half an hour until John came back you wouldn't have had to go full Ninja." "Ninja? I was thinking more world famous jewel thief. Do you fancy a coffee? I put a pot on before I came out. Should be ready by now." Contrary to all outward appearances, Steph considered she was getting back to her old self. A modified version of her old self of course. A new old her. Writing was a solitary profession in most instances. She'd become quite gregarious since moving here. Which was odd given she'd been in her sick bed for much of that time. What was going on with her? That He Man thing, had it changed her personality? It in one way it felt like it, in another it didn't. She'd been ambitious and driven. Then she'd been dumped, sick and depressed. But the transition had been near seamless. Was it possible she'd been sick and depressed before she'd been dumped? Thinking back it looked as if she'd been on the brink at the very least. Her dissatisfaction with her life had been masked by a belief she was living the dream. A belief shared by those she associated with. Her so called friends, who'd pissed off as soon as she was in trouble. The coffee had barely been poured by the time John returned. He'd dropped Bella off at her playgroup then been to the local college to pick up leaflets on the adult education courses they were offering. That was his thing wasn't it? Doing stuff until he got quite accomplished then dropping it for something else. Taz welcomed John home with a big hug. Much to Steph's surprise that produced another stab of jealousy. Now he was here, her best friend would have less time for Steph. That wasn't helped by Steph having one of the most disturbing experiences of her life. When he'd come in she'd been happy to see him. A little light bulb had gone on inside her. Nothing luminescent. A tiny thrill had passed through her body. Then the jealous bit had put an end to that. John was looking at her strangely. Surely that crease on her face had vanished by now. She rubbed at where it had been self consciously. Now that her thoughts had returned to the room, Steph could see Taz was looking at her with a similar expression. "So?" The young woman asked. "So what?" Steph shrugged. "You didn't hear a word we were saying did you." John stated. "I refuse to answer that on the grounds it might incriminate me." That didn't impress them. She'd have to confess. "I drifted off again I'm sorry. What did you say?" John sighed. He was grinning as he sat down though. "There was quite a bit. Taz said you'd like to take a look at the flat. Before that I asked if you'd be interested in any of the courses the college is offering. And apparently you don't know where your car is parked. I'm always putting mine down somewhere and forgetting it. It's always in the last place I look or buried under a pile of magazines and old newspapers. Have you looked? Checked your pockets?" He was getting a bit comical there. Steph refused to laugh. They must have done other stuff as well. There were about twenty leaflets spread out in front of her. She moved a few of them around. Hoping this would cover her mind slide into an internal dialogue. "Why do you do all these courses anyway?" She asked, purely in self defense. That hit a nerve. John was casting around for something to look at. "It's a personal thing. You don't really want to know about it." That was interesting. It made him uncomfortable. "Well at first I didn't, but now I do. Why do you do all these hobbies and pastimes?" Taz looked at John expectantly. "She's got a good point there John. I just thought of it as one of your foibles. Why do you try all these things, then drop most of them?" His face was going red. He couldn't look at Taz. Instead he gave Steph a pleading stare. She wanted to know now. More than anything else in the world. The car and her flat were of no consequence. Steph had a flash of female intuition. "Could you just pop and fetch my laptop please Taz?" The youngsters face clouded then cleared. "Oh right. Sure thing Steph." She made a spectacle of walking to the door. "You can tell me what he says afterwards." She giggled, then disappeared. John didn't lie. Unless it was by omission or for social purposes. "Come on then spill it." He put a finger up to his lips then went over to the state of art baby monitor. It had video as well as audio. John turned it off. Then he paced back and forth a bit. "Right. I've never told anyone this, so I want you to promise to keep it to yourself. Promise me you won't even tell Taz." Steph crossed her heart. As she did, she understood she meant it. That was a first. "I promise not to tell anyone else your dark secret." He flushed again. "Um... The thing is... The thing is... I haven't had sex in over 4 years. So uh... I do it as a kind of displacement thing. It's a bit like a substitute." He stood there, embarrassed and vulnerable. That plea still in his eyes. "Holy shit." She exclaimed. "I've been without for just less than a year and I thought I was on a drought. How come you haven't exploded all over the square?" "It's been hard." "I bet it has." She riposted humorously. John snorted his own mild amusement. "Yeah. Cold showers don't work anywhere near as well as advertised." Steph felt flattered by his honesty. That couldn't have been easy. "I'll keep my word John. I won't tell a soul. Thanks for sharing that though." "What will you say to Taz when she asks?" "I'll just tell her you're a weirdo and she's better off not knowing. Now am I going to be allowed to see my bloody flat or what?" "I'll get the keys."