Arthur had been busy. Two of the chairs had been pulled back from the table and placed against one of the walls. The electric light had been switched off and instead candles were lit in the centre of the table and on small tables at each corner of the room. Seven name cards were on the table - one place lacked one - and Arthur had put eight plates on it, probably having obtained them from the glass cabinet I could see against one of the walls. Currently he was polishing wine glasses and placing them on the table as he finished.
I trod across the soft red carpet and laid a knife and fork on either side of each plate, noting as I did the position of each person attending dinner.
Mr Mesmerising - or Ralph as his card indicated his first name was - was to sit at the head of the table with his wife on his left and Arthur on his right. I was relieved to see that the place with no name card was beside Arthur and somewhat pleased to see Henry's name on its other side. At the foot of the table would sit Michael - I shivered at the thought (both of his presence and proximity to me at the table) - and on his left, Anna.
Once I had finished setting the cutlery down, I went to go and give Arthur a hug. He had finished with the glasses and held me tightly, murmuring "You could wait upstairs for Matt to come back."
"I'd get bored," I replied. "And this was meant to be a final thing we could do together before I go back to school tomorrow; at least, that's how I saw it."
Arthur squeezed me slightly, muttering angrily "I'm so sorry that this happened. My parents have not a hint of a personality trait to counter their horridness. For them to experience the privilege of your company is an outrage. I hate whatever inclined them to come. This is all just so unfair."
"It's okay," I said, trying to sound soothing but terrified myself.
Arthur sighed and let go of me.
"I had better get myself ready." He turned and walked to the steps. I followed him as he ascended them, passed through the kitchen seemingly oblivious to the chef, walked briskly across the hallway, climbed the stairs and headed down the landing to his bedroom.
"Long walk, eh?" Arthur asked once we were inside, seeing the rate at which my chest rose and fell.
"You must be ... really fit," I panted.
Arthur grinned. "Yeah." Suddenly, he pecked me on the cheek.
"Right. Now I've got to get ready. You okay waiting here while I shower and dress?"
"Yeah, sure." I followed him into his room and sat on his bed while he went to his wardrobe and fetched an expensive-looking suit.
He grabbed a book and, to my surprise, an iPod from his desk and handed them to me before leaving the room.
I began to read the book, which was actually the play script of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream', and was quite getting into it when I heard a tentative knock on the door. I looked up to see Henry smiling sheepishly.
"Sorry for disturbing you," he murmured.
"Not a problem," I said cheerfully, suddenly feeling bouncy.
"D'you need company?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I enjoy yours."
Henry smiled but then his expression became sad. I felt a sudden pang of sorrow at the fact that the world had let him down somehow.
"I have too much of an effect on you, Harry," he said, sighing.
The words were almost romantic but the reason I got up and hugged him because he was sad. On the other hand, the almost romantic nature of his sentence did cause me to feel something of a bond between us as we stood there in each other's arms.
Henry let go and pushed me away when I didn't let go too.
"Are you now?" I asked.
"To be honest, Harry, I'm only worried about what I'm doing to you. Otherwise, I'm absolutely fine. But the fact you felt the need to hug me just now shows how right I am to be anxious."
"You're anxious that I hugged you?" I asked, confused.
"And so will you be when Arthur gets back or if I go away."
Henry frowned. "I still haven't worked out what your condition is. Andrew referred to it as fascination but ... you act like you're attracted to me. I'll have to see how people act at school tomorrow."
I nodded. "You'll figure it out, Henry."
Henry smiled wryly. "But I doubt I'll be able to stop it."
I shrugged. "Well maybe that's a good thing. I don't mind being ‘fascinated' by you."
Henry's brow furrowed. "Maybe I'll avoid you tomorrow."
"What?" I cried. "Why?"
"Listen to yourself. What will your friends think?"
I shrugged. "I don't care."
Just then, Arthur appeared at the door, tying a bow tie around his collar.
"What are you doing here, Henry?" he asked, frowning.
Henry turned, surprised. "Oh, I was just talking to Harry."
"Well, I'm sure she appreciates the gesture. Now, could you please leave?"
"Yeah, 'course. Bye." He walked out. I was about to follow but Arthur held my shoulder, causing me to look straight in his eyes. He leant in and kissed me, and I came back to myself.
"That's getting far too repetitive," I said as we broke away.
"Hopefully you'll get used to him. But until then, I'll always be around to remind you who you really are."
"Except at school," I muttered.
"Hey, hey, hey." Arthur rubbed my shoulder. "Don't be negative. I'll come round your house as often as possible and even when I don't, the effects will wear off."
"But that doesn't change the fact that I forget you."
Arthur looked deep into my eyes. "You'll never forget me."
I looked straight back. "I wish I could be as certain as you."
"You can," Arthur said.
"You know you'll never love Henry. And I'd like to think your love is so ingrained in you that you'll always know it's there, even if you're not aware of it."
"I'd like to think so too," I mumbled.
"D'you believe it means nothing when we kiss?"
"Then the feeling in our relationship will hardly just fade. Don't worry, Harriet. Worrying won't help at all."
"Will anything, though?" I murmured disconsolately.
"Yes," Arthur said, with slightly startling conviction. "Not worrying will. And I don't believe either of us wants this depressing discussion to continue, so that's that."
"Fin," I said randomly.
"That's the spirit! Now let's go downstairs and tackle the other problem in our lives."
I couldn't help but smile. Arthur's mock enthusiasm might have failed to be infectious but it sure was funny. My mood lifted and I happily walked down with him holding his hand.
We arrived in the hall just as the doorbell rang. There were hurried footsteps on the stairs and we turned to see Mrs Mesmerising looking glamorous. She passed us and strode to the door.
She flung it wide open and exclaimed "Michael! How good it is to see you!"
And then I heard a voice that chilled me to the core.
"Good evening, ma'am. I brought a bottle of Château Rouge."
"That's very kind of you. And call me Caroline."
Up until this moment, I hadn't really absorbed the fact that Michael was really coming. Something had prevented me from believing that people would actually associate with him.
But now... Now it was as if my worst nightmare had come true.
Michael walked in, smiling at Arthur's mother but still radiating menace.
I didn't realise I had been backing away until the back of my heels hit the bottom step. Arthur caught me as I nearly fell backwards.
He rubbed my back. "It's okay," he murmured.
Arthur's mum was leading Michael to the kitchen. Michael cast a glance in our direction, his gaze lingering on Arthur's protective hold on me, but if he recognised me, he didn't say anything. When he turned back, I let out a breath I hadn't known I'd been holding.
"Harriet, you don't have to do this."
My stomach growled.
Bravely, I looked up at him and replied "I don't want to desert you."
"Okay, darling. Just don't show Michael you're scared."
"I'll try not to," I murmured.
Arthur rubbed my shoulder and together we headed to the basement.