For Millie, it all seemed to start on the Thursday morning. She woke up early, hand slapping the snooze button on her alarm, and rolled over as she usually did, relishing in advance the cool welcome of the sheets on that side of the bed –
She came more fully awake when she realised she’d rolled into another patch of warmth. Nobody had come to bed with her, surely? She’d been going through a dry patch since shortly after she moved in to the new flat, when she’d broken up with Leo (or had he broken up with her?) and while there’d been a few prospects, she couldn’t recall anyone she’d warmed enough to, girl or boy, to take them to bed at all, let alone bring them home.
Opening her eyes, she saw nobody in the room, let alone the bed. Whoever had been there had left, but recently enough that their heat remained.
She sniffed the pillow experimentally. There were lingering traces of a cologne, faint, but unmistakably a man’s scent. Certainly nothing Millie would ever wear. So someone had been there, had laid next to her in her bed, recently enough to leave an impression… but she didn’t remember anything of the sort.
She’d been late at work on Wednesday, for one thing. She hadn’t got home until ten o’clock – a twelve-hour shift and a chunk of travel time on the end – and when she did, she’d certainly been in no mood to go back out on the pull.
Zack, her housemate, had been very sympathetic. He’d poured a glass of red wine and handed it to her then offered to run her a bath, though she’d declined, choosing to handle it herself. Still, he’d made sure she got a drink and a chance to vent first, and once she was ready for it, she’d headed upstairs and run the bath.
That was Zack all over, of course; he was a great guy, and only had her best interests at heart.
She and Zack chatted through the door of the bathroom as she let the warm, soapy tub tease the tension away from her body. His voice was pitched low and soft, but carried well, and he did most of the talking.
It was such a wonderful relief and weight off her shoulders to relax and listen. Her responses grew softer and softer until they could not be heard through the door.
The door opened. Millie hadn’t locked it.
She didn’t really remember much past settling in to soak, but she couldn’t imagine that she’d have wanted to go out and collect anyone.
Millie rolled to a sitting position on the side of the bed and reached, eyes still most of the way closed, for her glasses. She no longer felt she could sleep any further; perhaps a run would wake her up.
She pulled on her panties and a pair of tight running shorts, then picked up her sports bra from where she’d discarded it on Wednesday morning and put it on. A loose T-shirt – first out of the drawer – followed. She grabbed up keys, phone, a bundled pair of socks and her trainers and headed downstairs.
In the hallway she pulled on her socks and slipped into her trainers. She had stopped wearing socks in the house a couple of weeks after moving in, finding that being barefoot around the house was somehow better for her peace of mind.
Slipping her phone’s earbuds into place she queued up a Spotify playlist Zack curated that she really liked and set off for a run. The streetlamps still shone orange on the paving stones of her route; dawn was little more than a few pink fingers sneaking into the sky.
Millie loved to run, and always had; there was something about the way you could zone out, could lose yourself, that appealed to her. By the time she fetched up on her doorstep again, the streetlamps had shut off and the streets were bathed in the warm, rosy light of early sun.
She quickly shucked off shoes and socks, collecting both to keep the hallway neat and tidy, and hurried upstairs into the shower.
Washing the sweat of the run from her body completed the process of waking her up and making her feel ready and fit for the day. She stepped out of the shower and moved to the vanity.
She was standing, naked and glistening, at the sink, brushing her teeth and contemplating her emergent reflection as the steam evaporated, when the bathroom door opened.
Zack slipped into the room. She met his eyes via the mirror and smiled around her toothbrush, her fingers opening and closing in sequence as a half-wave.
At some point after she moved in – exactly when was hazy – she had stopped locking doors, and sometime after that, the idea of Zack seeing her body had ceased to feel taboo. He was a great guy and only had her best interests at heart.
He closed the door behind him and reached past her, starting the shower running to warm up for his own stint in there.
She took her brush from her mouth with an audible pop and asked, white foam on her lips, “Did you have a good night after I crashed out?”
He grinned. “Definitely,” he said. She felt a sense of achievement, somehow, one she didn’t fully understand.
“Have you ever noticed how clear your eyes are?” he asked her, pointing at the mirror. She followed his finger and met her own gaze-
“Clear and blank,” she murmured around the toothbrush, her hand slowing to a halt. She was just aware of movement in the mirror beyond her eyes, and knew that Zack would be shrugging off the ratty T-shirt he’d slept in and stepping out of his pyjama bottoms.
Without really knowing it, she moved her feet a pace or so further apart and pushed her rear out toward him, arching her back. He reached around and gave her breasts a quick squeeze, but then told her to turn and kneel.
She did so, letting her mouth open to a ripe O as her hands settled to her thighs, brush still held in one hand.
He presented himself to her, and Millie leaned forward from the waist to do what she knew to be right.
Zack climbed into the shower. She put her toothbrush back in its cup, rinsed, spat, then did the same with her mouthwash before heading back to her room to dress for her day proper.
She was halfway there when she noticed she’d managed to get some toothpaste foam on her thigh, where it had settled and partially dried. It was odd, really, that she hadn’t noticed it.
Millie worked as a PA, and her schedule changed day by day. This morning she was late enough in leaving that she and Zack could enjoy breakfast together, with her spending a little time getting everything going while he dressed and came downstairs.
She was already smartly turned out, if barefoot, and she found herself smiling warmly and feeling wonderful as she set down his plate in front of him and received his nod and smile of approval.
They ate in companionable silence. He left for work first, then she did.
After her run and a breakfast with the man rapidly becoming her closest friend, Millie felt completely ready for her day even on what felt like limited sleep – although, of course, if she’d been in the bath before half ten she should, reasonably, have been curling up in bed by eleven, so she should have got her usual hours at least.
Moving to the new house had been a great idea. She always seemed to have enough energy now, and never needed to spend the first hour at work getting up to speed. Her mood was just better. She’d caught herself laughing more…
…laughing differently. What had been a confident, amused chuckle these days was more often a girlish giggle.
Her boss sometimes looked at her askance for it, but honestly, Millie didn’t mind as much as she probably should. She was just so much happier.
Workdays always seemed to pass fast now, even if they overran heavily. On Thursday, though, things didn’t overrun at all, and not long after five she was walking the aisles of the local supermarket, picking out various ingredients for a big dinner before selecting a very nice wine.
She felt like she should do something to thank Zack, after all. He was a good guy, and he had her best interests at heart.
So a big thank-you dinner had been slowly putting itself together in the back of her mind all day.
She’d have plenty of time; Zack had one of his stage shows that evening after his day job.
As she boarded the bus for home she was humming cheerfully, mind on the meal she’d soon be preparing.
Her tongue caressed him as her head began to bob. Eyes wide, she looked up to watch his reaction. Deep in the warm bubble he could place her in, this had become one of the major elements of her own joy; watching how she could affect him in turn.
Zack began to talk. She found she liked Zack talking best when he was inside her; his voice would sound wonderful, but what he said didn’t matter. It just slipped inside her as wonderfully as he had.
In fact, her attention was much more closely on the sound from the stovetop to her left. She brought up her right hand, caressing him with fingernail-light touch, watching his mouth twitch and hearing the sudden shift in his voice, and was delighted.
But then she slid off him for a moment, lightly kissing his tip, and her hand slid up to stroke and pump while she turned her attention to the simmering wok.
Her left hand gathered up the chopped peppers and passed them into the wok. She rocked forward on her heels, thighs lifting up as she rose to look into the pan, taking her wooden spoon in hand and stirring slightly, eyes testing the browning onions as she judged what to add next.
In all this, her right hand hadn’t lost the rhythm her head liked to bob at…
“This is really good,” Zack mumbled around a mouthful of stir fry. “Really?” Millie asked. “I think I oversalted it.”
Zack shook his head. “You got it just right.”
She preened. Inwardly, she felt absolutely delighted. It was probably more of a reaction than she should have -but on the other hand, Zack was basically her best friend. He was a great guy and only had her best interests at heart.
Finally, she remembered her questions of the morning. “Oh, hey,” she said. “I have a weird question.”
“It might make me seem a bit… weird.”
Zack smiled a half-embarrassed smile. “O…kay?”
“Did I have a guy over last night?”
Zack’s reaction was unreadable for a few moments. Of course, he’d just put another forkful of food into his mouth, so she only had his eyes to go on while he chewed, but she really didn’t know what to make of it.
“You’re right that it’s weird,” he said eventually. “Where did that come from?”
She almost didn’t tell him. She seemed to have been having these weird lapses in memory, and it was embarrassing.
So Millie told him. Sat there, not meeting his eye, and let the story of the morning spill out. All the evidence that added up to a man in her bed, with no memory of the man coming to bed, or of who it might have been.
“It’s not even as if,” she pointed out at the end, “I was out last night. I checked my call log at lunch in case I’d made a booty call, but nothing. Plus I don’t really have anyone I’d do that with,” she continued, aware that her tone was pleading now, close to breaking, with how impossible it all was, “and I didn’t even think I was that drunk, was I?”
“You went to bed before I did,” Zack pointed out. “Sure looked like you were crashing out. But you’d had, like, two drinks. Not even strong ones.”
“And I made them myself, so I know they weren’t spiked.”
She sneaked a glance at Zack, still fearful of his reaction somehow. But there was nothing like judgement in his eyes, or even the strange, unreadable caution she’d seen when she first asked.
Instead, he had that thoughtful, faraway expression he usually did when he was solving a purely abstract problem, whether he was sat on the couch for an hour trying to sort through a work dilemma after hours or sprawled on the living room floor, controller in his hands and game paused, while he sorted through his options in some platformer.
“Just how bad was work yesterday?” he asked after a long moment. Millie frowned. “It was long, but it didn’t seem any worse than usual,” she said. Zack nodded, eyes elsewhere, still sorting through solutions.
Millie felt like she was, at least, being taken seriously. “Thank you for not laughing at this,” she said. Zack blinked, obviously startled. As if he’d been on a completely different train of thought.
“You know I wouldn’t, surely,” he said. His tone seemed to shift slightly, and as he went on, his words fell into a storybook cadence. “I only have your best interests at heart.”
Some of the tension in Millie’s body went away just like that, and she smiled, warm, genuine, and open. Open and receptive, she thought, and then blinked. An odd pairing to associate at a moment like this.
But then, she reflected, open and receptive were two ideas that just naturally go together, so she put that aside.
Zack’s voice was back to normal as he continued, “I’m not sure what happened, Millie, but I believe you. It…” He hesitated. There was something like guilt in his voice as he continued. “It almost seems sinister, somehow?”
“I don’t think so,” she said after a moment. “I don’t feel bad about it, even that uncomfortable. I just… it’s like a photo with something out of place. I don’t understand, and it doesn’t make sense. You know?”
He nodded. “Something out of place, that you’ve just got to keep prodding at.”
Zack muttered something. All she could make out was ‘falls apart’, and honestly she wasn’t completely sure about that, either.
“Oh… sorry. Just thinking. Uh… has anything else stood out as weird lately?”
She sat there for a few moments, thinking. Had anything else changed recently? Well, they’d started leaving the bathroom door open, to speed mornings up, but that made total sense.
And she cooked for him when she could now, too, but that was just that they were friends. He cooked for her sometimes, after all, usually when she’d had one of her rare 14-hour plus days.
So: “No, I don’t think s- oh! Actually, yes. But it’s silly.”
“Well, I know what happened. I just don’t quite see how.” Back on more familiar, more sensible ground, she took another bite of the stir fry before going on to explain. “I got some toothpaste drool on my thigh this morning.”
She stood up for a moment, used her finger to indicate where it had dripped and dried. It occurred to her that, since she brushed her teeth standing (doesn’t everyone?), it would have had to drip horizontally along the inside of her thigh.
“I don’t think about these drips much, but it was dry when I noticed. And, you know… I’m pretty sure I wipe them away on autopilot most times.”
Zack’s expression was unreadable again. Oh no. He must have some serious worries about her memory.
“Have I forgotten stuff before?” she asked. “Only you’re making a weird face…”
“This is new,” he assured her. “And I’m sure it’s only short term.” He swallowed the rest of his wine in one big gulp – not like him at all – and stood, walking past her, with the glass in hand.
Millie nodded thoughtfully as he passed. “I suppose it’s not so bad. I could be imagining it, but it seems so real-”
Her voice cut off completely as Zack’s hand brought his phone into her line of view, displaying a photo of her face, jaw slack, eyes completely empty of all emotion and thought.
Millie stopped thinking in the same heartbeat she stopped speaking.