Marcus Bennett slept through the alarm the next morning. Only when it was ten minutes prior to the time he would usually be standing at the bus stop did he finally open his eyes and stare at his alarm clock in startled disbelief.
He jumped to his feet, ignoring the fact that his head was spinning, threatening to knock him to the floor, and skipped the part of his usual routine where he made his bed, to trip and fall into the shower, banging his head on the glass door as he did so. He groaned, but did not have time to nurse his injury. He jumped unsteadily back to his feet and had a brief shower, which was barely enough to wash away the soapy bubbles of his shampoo and shower gel, and jumped back out again.
He neglected his prickly jaw and ran a comb through his dripping hair before hurriedly brushing his teeth, and running out into his bedroom to pull on some clothes.
Emma entered the room just as he finished buttoning his brown shirt.
‘You’ve done the buttons up wrong.’ She said, stepping over the various bits of clothes and books lying scattered about the floor to throw open the curtains and the window. ‘It stinks in here.’
‘What’re you doing up?’ Marcus asked idly, as he quickly undid his shirt.
‘You wake me up every morning, so I was a little surprised when I heard you stumbling about, like, half an hour late.’ Emma replied, crossing her arms and leaning against the windowsill.
Marcus redid his shirt (which he realized too late had not been ironed) and pulled on his bag, throwing some spare change from his desk into his trouser pocket before dashing out of the room and down the stairs.
‘Unlike you to oversleep!’ Emma called after him from the top of the stairs.
‘Bye, Emma!’ Marcus shouted through the front door just as it slammed shut behind him. He pounded up the street until he was just meters from the bus stop - then he broke into a run. The bus was there … and it was leaving.
He stuck out his arm, signaling the bus to wait, but the bus driver (who was neither bald, nor tattooed) simply glanced at him with a disapproving look on his face and continued to pull out of the bus stop, driving past Marcus who was holding onto the signpost, panting. All the other occupants of the bus stared him down pitilessly, headphones in their ears. He called angrily at the bus as it drove out of sight. ‘Oh, come on!’
Marcus threw himself down onto the bus stop bench and put his face in his hands. His head was still throbbing, even worse than before.
‘Jump in.’ he heard a soft voice call, though it carried over the noise of the traffic. He looked up and met the gaze of a beautiful black haired woman with very pale eyes. His heart stopped for a moment.
‘Oh …’ he began, trying to remember. His head was aching with thought so much; it felt as though he was digging through a pile of boulders with his bare hands to find the memory. However, he did remember that face, and as he peered down at the convertible car she was sitting in, one hand on the wheel, and he made the quick and easy decision to obey her.
‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ she asked as he slammed the door of the silver Porsche behind him and reached for the seatbelt.
Marcus clicked on his belt and turned to look at her again. She glanced back at him before returning her attention to the road. Her hair blew around her face and a purple scarf danced behind her. Marcus didn’t have the energy to wonder why she was wearing a scarf in the middle of July - though he stared at her in awe.
Then, he realized she had asked him a question, so he tried to snap out of his sudden daze and cleared his throat before raising his voice over the wind blowing past their faces and the traffic beeping their horns in their wake. The girl wound her way through the traffic like a professional, avoiding every car but yet still managing to whizz past at the speed limit. However, it seemed to Marcus that the cars were avoiding her rather than the other way round. Tamesis knew she could not use her magic in front of Marcus, but she could still use it slyly to her advantage.
‘I … we met on the bus, didn’t we?’ he said, concentrating on his brief recollection.
‘Yes, we did.’ She smiled, glancing at him again. She was wearing crimson lipstick. ‘I should remind you that my name is Brea – and you still look rather pale. Is that head-ache still bothering you?’
Marcus was a little nonplussed. He didn’t remember talking to her at all – let alone telling her about his headache. Her name didn’t even ring a bell. He closed his eyes and tried to shake his heavy-minded state away but it persisted. Of course it did.
‘Yes … I don’t know why it’s like this … I hardly ever get headaches.’ Marcus muttered.
‘That is odd.’ She replied, though she had a strange smile on her face. ‘Maybe the popularity is going to your head.’
Marcus didn’t know what she was talking about, so he didn’t answer. She hadn’t said it unkindly, so Marcus did not take it as an insult to him. Actually, when she spoke to Marcus she spoke very gently and lovingly, as though she cared very much for him. Marcus presumed that this was how she spoke to all people – she was probably just as kind as she was beautiful, he thought. How wrong he was.
‘Why don’t you take the day off work?’ she suddenly said as they neared town. She slowed down and followed the cars in the lane obediently for the first time.
Marcus, puzzled by her question, said, ‘Sorry, I, er, I can’t.’
‘Why not?’ she replied, looking a little crest-fallen. She turned around to look at him, pouting her beautiful lips.
‘Because I have to work … they’ll fire me.’ Marcus said with a frown. ‘Why do you want me to take the day off?’
‘Well … I just … had nothing to do today and I wanted a bit of company …’ she sighed, looking away from Marcus. He had a feeling she was blushing. Wrong again. She was trying to conceal the grin threatening to spread across her face.
‘Oh … well,’ Marcus began, feeling a little guilty, as the car crept forwards behind the steady line of traffic. ‘Maybe … I could meet you on my lunch?’
‘I have to be somewhere then.’ She replied - her voice noticeably disappointed. She turned to face the windscreen and Marcus thought she looked rather sad.
‘I thought you didn’t have anything to do?’ Marcus asked her, but just then a lorry rumbled past on the adjacent lane and Brea seemed not to have heard him.
They sat for a few moments in an awkward silence before Marcus cleared his throat again and Demonia turned towards him expectantly. Of course she did.
‘Well … how’re you planning on getting me out of work?’ he asked her. She grinned and put her foot down, turning the car quickly and suddenly down a narrow street to their left and abruptly braking behind a parked van. She pulled up her handbrake and turned off her engine.
‘Give me your phone.’ She ordered, holding out her hand.
Marcus watched her for a moment, bewildered, before reaching into his practically empty bag and taking out his phone, handing it over to her reluctantly. ‘Your going to phone my boss?’ he asked anxiously.
But Demonia didn’t reply. Instead she scrolled through Marcus’s contacts until she reached the ‘W’ section right at the very bottom and dialing ‘Work’, the number for Tinning’s bookstore.
Marcus waited patiently, holding his breath, for a voice to answer on the other line. They soon did. It sounded tired and miserable. It sounded a lot like John. He grumbled greeting into Brea’s ear.
‘Hello,’ she spoke in a very business-like tone. ‘This is Doctor Barbara Jones from Whitefield Infirmary, would it be possible to speak to your manager?’
Marcus simply stared in amazement. Brea turned her head in his direction and winked.
‘He isn’t there?’ she continued. ‘Well, could I leave a message concerning a Marcus Bennett? You know him? Ah, yes. Well, no he is not all right, he has contracted the Swine Flu. He was taken in during the early hours of this morning, actually.’
Marcus didn’t have to hear what John’s words were to hear from his disgruntled voice that he was very taken aback.
After Brea ended the call she turned back to Marcus, who continued to sit there, stunned.
‘What if they check? What if they find out …’ he swallowed at the intense look she was giving him.
‘Shh...’ she whispered, smiling playfully. ‘There is another man called Mark Bennett. He’s twenty-two, but it’s close enough. And his doctor is called Doctor. Barbra. Jones. Don’t you worry, my dear.’ She ran a finger down the length of Marcus’s nose.
‘How … how did you …’ he started, but his voice was getting trapped in his throat as Brea leant over him, dropping his phone into the glove compartment. His brain faltered. The street seemed to be deserted; no sounds apart from Marcus’s suddenly loud breath filled the space between them. As she drew closer again, Marcus could smell that beautiful perfume … the most irresistible smell in the world ... his mind suddenly went completely blank. All he could see or feel or think about was Brea. Her hair, her eyes, her lips …
‘Will you do whatever I say?’ she whispered affectionately, stroking his chin.
He stared back at her, entranced. ‘Yes.’ he said.
'Do you love me?' she breathed into his ear, a hand on his knee.
'Yes.' he said.