tilly and the others: part 5

Marcus ducked his head under the door frame and knocked on the open door to get her attention. "My one o'clock meeting cancelled. Do you want to go get lunch together?"

Tilly shot him a look. "I spent half an hour packing lunch for us this morning."

"I know, but..." He shrugged and took two steps towards her desk.

At first she wondered what he was up to, but then she caught the glint in his eye. "They signed the contract."

The smile he'd been holding back broke through. "They did."

"Well," said Tilly, pretending to do something busy and important on her computer, "we shouldn't use up the profits just on signing the deal."

Marcus stuck his hands in his pockets and sauntered a little closer to her desk. "No, but we could go somewhere that wasn't too expensive, and still have a nice sit-down lunch. It is Friday. What do you feel like?"

He was standing right by her desk now, and Tilly had to crane her neck to look up at him. His blue eyes were just starting to get crinkles at the corners. His blonde hair had faded to grey at the front, but it suited him. Even after all these years, it bewildered her how her hippy boyfriend-turned-husband could be so comfortable wearing suits day after day, but there he was, twenty-five years on, and...

"You know what I would really like," she said. "Pizza. A Hawaiian with hot peppers."

Tilly sat up with a start. She was in a darkened bedroom. She was in her darkened bedroom. But it was too small, and the furniture was in the wrong places. Her hand reached for where Marcus's shoulder was supposed to be, but it fell through empty air until it hit the mattress.

"Marcus!" she called out once, craning towards the doorway to see if the bathroom light was on.

Then she remembered that Marcus wasn't there. This wasn't their old student flat in Amsterdam, or their first Canadian apartment in Toronto, or the big suburban house they'd had in Brampton. This was her apartment, and hers alone. Marcus had never lived here.

Marcus was dead.

Tilly half-turned in bed towards the night-table and whacked her alarm clock. The face illuminated, briefly, and told her it was half-past three in the morning.

Wonderful, she thought. There's another night's sleep blown. She just hoped that she remembered not to mention the dreams or the insomnia to Owen or Beth. Especially Beth, although if she told Owen he was sure to say something to Beth anyhow.

She tried to remember her dream. It had seemed so vivid. She'd been able to feel the keys on her computer keyboard, the way that old office chair was just a tad understuffed, the mild but distinctly artificial reek from the air freshener they had to keep in the office because the place got musty if they didn't. Marcus's aftershave, too, from the part of the dream where he was just the other side of the desk from her. It seemed like she could still smell it, a little bit.

And something about pizza. That must have been worked in from the job she was applying for. There weren't any pizza places anywhere near the old office. They'd always gone to the little kebab place when they decided to eat out.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and sighed. She thought about getting up and organising the living room bookshelf, but after whacking the alarm clock discovered that she'd been considering it for a full fifteen minutes without making any attempt to leave the bed. She lay down again.

At first the sound was faint and didn't really stand out against the rest of the noise coming up from the street. Toronto could get very still at this hour, but neighbourhoods like the Annex never stopped moving entirely. There was always someone leaving or coming home, going to or leaving from a job that had odd hours.

The sound got louder, and Tilly turned her head towards the bedroom window. After all the years in the suburbs, it took her a moment to recognise the sound. A helicopter. All right, her window faced towards the hospitals that lined that one part of University Avenue to the west, so that made sense. She frowned a little to think a helicopter would be needed so early in the morning, and hoped it meant good news for someone.

The helicopter was getting closer. It occurred to Tilly that if she hadn't been awake before, she would have been woken by the noise now. Really, it was getting very loud. They were going to wake up this entire side of her building, and all the people in all the flats around the old houses near the Metro supermarket...

She saw movement through the curtains. Without really thinking about it, she got up at last, trying to see the helicopter out the window. The sound of its rotors was uncomfortably loud, and flashing lights were picking out bits of the bedroom in amber and white.

Tilly gasped and jumped back from the window. The helicopter was hovering parallel with her floor, about seventy metres away from the building itself. Surely this was illegal, but there they were. She could even make out the pilot with his helmet and headphones on. He was mostly in silhouette, but she could see that his jumpsuit was pale blue against the flashing lights.

And then, as she watched, he turned his head, gave a thumbs-up signal, and did something with the controls. The helicopter rose into the sky and moved away from her apartment building, heading somewhere to the north and east.

Tilly staggered backward and fell into a sitting position as the back of her knees found the bed. She realised that she was very cold, and forced herself to lie down again under the covers.

She'd have to check the news tomorrow. There had to be some significance.

She fell into a fitful sleep half an hour before the sun came up, hugging the pillow that Marcus used to use.