He told us his name was Will Bradley. He was the only one who'd so far showed any interest. He sat in our front room and was instantly at ease, his feet planted firmly on the rug and a conciliatory smile on his narrow face. He had been wearing a dark-brown, brimmed hat, which he now took off and held on his knee. He looked around him with cool interest, glanced at the wallpaper without a grimace, though the pattern was one that could make you sea-sick. He took in the tattered rug, the cheap furniture that had come with the let, Emma's large and cumbersome TV that took up too much space in the tiny room but nonetheless had pride of place. He considered the posters Nicky'd pinned up to hide the cracks and the small table with it's interlocking-ring pattern, created by the warm bases of a thousand mugs of tea.
"So Will," Jack said, leaning forward. "Um, it's sixty a week. We decided, you see, that whoever got the smaller room would pay less. Is that alright with you? We all have separate arrangements with the landlord..."
"He's okay," Emma interrupted. "His name's Hodgkinson - he never bothers us. We only ever see him when there's a problem."
"Anyway, that's never," Nicky said and smiled. She'd decided to like him, I could tell. Nicky was often like that, making instant, snap-judgements. When I went shopping with her she'd sometimes buy the first thing she saw and the whole trip would be over in five minutes. Other times you'd tramp for hours on aching feet while she made faces of deep loathing at everything in sight.
"Last time he came out," I said. "When was it? Three months ago when the washing-machine door came off?"
"But it works fine now," Nicky said, flashing him another big grin.
"What kind of music do you like?" Emma asked, asking the first pertinent question.
"All kinds," Will said. "I play bass-guitar in a band. We do covers mostly." He jiggled the hat and looked around the four of us. "I won't practise at three am though, I guarantee it. I can cook too." he added.
"We tend to get our own food," Jack said. "But Sundays we take turns. We pool money for some things - toilet-roll, washing-up liquid and milk. We all pay into a pot, because who knows who uses what, you know?"
"Right," Will said, nodding.
We asked a few more questions and then there came that awkward bit, the silence. The we'll let you knows and thanks for comings. Who are we kidding, I thought, he's the only one. We needed the money. The four of us couldn't afford to keep paying for an empty room. So Emma called him the next day and asked him when he could move in.
So that's how we met. It was calm, friendly, without any indication of anything, any sign or feeling.
But that's often the way at the beginnings of things. You take a turn in the road without knowing where it'll lead. You have no map, no direction, no way of guessing. You're blind to eventualities, and without the benefit of hindsight it's hard to see how we could ever have done anything else.