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Geoffrey wakes with a start, his heart pounding. There's something in the room with him. No. No, no, no. He's dreaming again and he's going to wake up -

except he isn't, is he? The Venetian blind is still banging against the window frame, too violently to be just the wind, and there's something under the bed. Jesus.

He fumbles for the bedside light, and knocks his glass of water off the nightstand. The tumbler hits the carpet with a thud - at least it's not broken - and rolls under the bed. Oh, fuck.

Whatever's under there screams. It can't be human, but it sounds that way for a heart-stopping few seconds. Then it wavers into a feline yowl.

Scared half to death by a fucking cat. Christ. At least there's no one here to see. Breathe, Tennant. Breathe. In for four. Hold for four. Out for eight, shhhhhhhh. Rinse and repeat.

The cat's stopped yowling, which is good. But it's still there, which is - not good.

Geoffrey sighs. He puts the light on and climbs gingerly out of bed, crouches down and peers into the shadows. Two yellow eyes, a dark grey shape with patches of white.

"Come on out," Geoffrey says.

The cat does not move.

"You can't stay there all night."

He reaches under the bed, because he's an idiot. The cat hisses and retreats into the far corner.

"Oh, great."

Maybe if he leaves the room the wretched animal will go away of its own accord? He retrieves the tumbler and goes into the kitchen to get some water. Comes back into the bedroom as quietly as he can. The cat is half way out from under the bed. On seeing Geoffrey, it makes a noise like a vacuum cleaner having a fight with an elevator and retreats to its hiding-place.

"Fine," Geoffrey says wearily. "If that's how you want to play it, I can wait."

There's nothing he has to get out of bed for in the morning, so what does it matter if he's up half the night with a cat too stupid to go back where it came from?

"Where did you come from, anyway?" He's definitely keeping his window closed from now on, once he's got rid of the thing.

Maybe it belongs to the heavy metal band next door, if they're still there. He hasn't heard them practising for several days now. With his luck, it'll be a bunch of screaming kids next.

4 a.m., the worst time of the night, when all the things you ever did wrong cluster around the bed to point and sneer at you. He could use a stiff drink right now. Alcohol doesn't go with the pills, so there isn't any.

When his great-aunt Edie was in the nursing home in Oxford and couldn't sleep, she used to recite all the poetry she knew by heart from her schooldays: A good memory is a blessing, I find, she'd written in her last letter to Geoffrey: Especially in this place, which is more full of noises than Prospero's island.

He misses Edie. He's glad she never had to know about the breakdown. The last time he wrote to her, he was looking forward to Hamlet –

The images batter at him, till he can’t breathe for pain. Ellen in her dressing-room before the show, telling him "I slept with Oliver." Ellen in the wings, watching him fall apart. Ellen in Oliver’s arms.

Think about something else, for Christ’s sake. Something from before New Burbage.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Darren wanted to cast him as Caliban in that shitshow of a Tempest, their final year at U of T. Thank Christ Geoffrey told him to fuck off, given how that turned out. He'd auditioned for Prospero, and been furious when Darren insisted on casting Franz, the blond German exchange student who'd been in Godspell with them. Franz was a pretty boy and a good singer, but he wasn't anywhere near Geoffrey's league when it came to acting. Darren probably only cast Franz because he wanted to get into his pants, or so Geoffrey assumed. Not that Geoffrey cared whose pants Darren did or didn't get into, obviously. So he'd steered clear of anything to do with Darren's Tempest until opening night, when the full horror of the production became clear and Geoffrey stormed the stage to denounce it.

One really, really good thing about being finished with the theatre, Geoffrey thinks just before he falls asleep, is that he never has to deal with Darren Nichols again.

 

When he opens his eyes again it's daylight. The cat is watching him balefully from across the room.

Geoffrey gets up, grumbling, and pulls a sweater over his pyjamas.

"Lucky? Lucky!" A woman's voice, down in the street.

He sticks his head out of the window.

"Hello?"

The young woman looks up from the front step of the house next door. She has a good face for an ingenue, wide-eyed and guileless under her striped woollen cap.

"Oh, hi," she says. "Have you seen a grey cat? She's gone missing."

"Come on up," Geoffrey says.

It’s the first he’s seen of his neighbours, but by the end of ten minutes he knows more than he ever expected or wanted to about them. Once the young woman starts talking it seems she can’t stop. He learns that the cat – now wreathing and twining around his ankles as if they hadn’t spent half the night in a standoff – belongs to her boyfriend, Nathan, who is away for a long time; that Nathan's roommate Curtis keeps renting out Nathan's room but nobody ever stays and some of the tenants are seriously weird; that at least the heavy metal band is definitely gone, hallelujah; and that "away for a long time" is a euphemism for serving a five- to ten-year prison sentence for manslaughter ("they call him the Cat Food Killer, he was on the Rex Reilly show").

"Sorry," she says, "sorry, you didn't need to hear all that. It's just - such a relief to talk to someone. I mean - I do talk to Curtis, obviously, but sometimes it's - I don't even know if he's listening to me, you know?"

"Mm-hmm," Geoffrey says.

She's blushing as if she's given away more than she meant to. That's not how you talk about your boyfriend's roommate. Not if that's all he is to you.

"Anyway," she says, with an obvious effort. "It was nice to meet you. I'm Hope, by the way. Hope Surdjic."

"Geoffrey," he says. "Geoffrey Tennant."

The name obviously doesn't mean anything to her. After weeks and months of feeling imprisoned by his story, there's a relief in not being known. He takes a deep breath and feels the click of tension released between his shoulder blades.

"Come on, Lucky," she says. She picks up the cat, which stares accusingly at Geoffrey and clings to Hope as if seeking protection from an assailant. "Bye, Geoffrey. And thank you."

" You're welcome," Geoffrey says. He doesn't mean it, but it's not completely untrue.

"See you around," Hope says, and beams at him.

Geoffrey shuts the window after she's gone, and gets back under the covers. He's still spaced out from his broken night, and everything feels unreal.

Seriously, he’s living next door to Hope and Lucky? He snorts.

The snort turns into a snore, and Geoffrey falls asleep again.