It wasn’t a surprise, really. She certainly looked vulnerable. In leggings and an old jumper on her way home from chambers on a Saturday afternoon, after dropping off papers ready for Monday morning – a few files, the ones still unread, left stacked up on the kitchen table, unopened – no umbrella, in the pouring rain, blonde hair plastered to her cheeks and forehead. Sheltering in a bus stop as she pulled her phone from her pocket to call a cab, preoccupied and shivering, she hardly gave a thought to keeping her bag close to her.
After the rage at it suddenly being gone, disappearing down the street in the hand of some unknown person in a raincoat, she conceded that at least her phone was still in her hand, her keys still in her pocket. She had no money, but she always kept a credit card at home, some cash in a drawer at chambers. Really, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the end of the world. The problem now, however, was getting home. Though not exactly too far to walk, she was cold and wet and tired. It seemed pointless to go back to chambers – it was almost as far as home – but buses or cabs were no longer options.
She scrolled idly through her contacts. Clive would be, undoubtedly, wrapped around some woman – he had often said that weekends were wasted if they weren’t spent in bed. Billy... Billy could be anywhere; it didn’t really bear thinking about what Billy might get up to on his time off. But Caroline, Caroline might be home. She hesitated, her thumb hovering over the call button. She hadn’t mentioned any affairs lately, but that meant nothing when it came to her. Martha knew, at least, that she didn’t live far away. Even a borrowed bus fare, and the embarrassment of having to ask for it, would be better than walking all the way home in this. As long as she was in. She pressed call before she could talk herself out of it.
“Martha?” She sounded surprised, but not displeased or irritated. Martha let out a sigh of relief.
“Caroline, hi.” She sat down heavily on the bus stop bench, realising too late that it was even wetter, and colder, than she already was. She shivered. “Erm. I’ve just had my bag nicked. Are you –”
She got no further before Caroline interrupted. “Darling are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Are you at home? Can I pop in and borrow a bit of cash so I can get a bus home?”
A pause, some clattering noises, a curse and a thud as she dropped the phone. “Where are you? I’m coming to get you.”
“No, no, it’s fine, I can walk. I’m near Aldgate.”
“Well then. I’ll come and get you. Save us both the bus fare, and you won’t be out in this awful weather for so long.” Martha gave in, then, and ducked her head out of the shelter to check which bus stop she was hiding in. “I’ll be seven minutes,” she announced, and the line went dead.
Martha smiled, swept a hand over her eyes, trying to get her hair away from them. It felt disgusting, and she grimaced. She really would rather Caroline didn’t see her like this at all, but it was too late now. She stood up, stamped her feet a couple of times, tried to tug her sleeves down over her hands, then gave up, sinking back down onto the bench with a sigh. But it seemed no time at all before a horn sounded behind her, and a sleek black car – of course she had a car like this – pulled up to the kerb, a door swinging open. She smiled sheepishly at Caroline as she ducked inside. “I’m so sorry,” she began, but was silenced by a hand on hers.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She turned up the heating, and set off, tackling a complex system of traffic lights before glancing across at her. “You look dreadful. What happened?”
Martha stared out the window for a minute or two. “I was just stupid,” she said eventually, turning to her with a wry smile. “Stopped paying attention. I just wanted to get home.”
“We’ve all done it,” Caroline told her gently, though Martha had a feeling she had done nothing of the sort. She turned down a tiny side road and stopped the car. “Let’s get you warm.” Martha frowned. “What? Do you really think I was going to just take you home and leave you? You’re wet through and clearly frozen, your bag’s been stolen, it’s a Saturday. ” Her tone was little short of impatient – the worried kind – and Martha realised that it would be easier just to let herself be looked after.
Martha followed her inside a building, up four flights of stairs, along a corridor, through a set of swing doors and into an apartment. The hallway opened up into a wide space, with a high ceiling and huge windows. Doors led off two of the walls, and beyond the windows was a balcony overlooking the city. Caroline slipped her shoes off and dropped her keys on the kitchen counter, then disappeared through one of the doorways. It wasn’t until she started speaking that Martha realised she was supposed to have followed. She put her head around the door, found that it was her bedroom. Leaning awkwardly against the door frame, she watched as she moved around the room, chatting away in a manner that was so unlike her public self that Martha could see why other women had felt betrayed – if they had seen her behave like this, then been in court with her, it was almost understandable. “This will do,” she announced, tugging a pair of soft pyjamas from the top of a pile and handing it to Martha, along with a jumper and a towel. Martha studied the jumper: it was clearly well-loved, a favourite, full of holes and snags. She imagined Caroline curled up in it, watching telly, and smiled. “What?” she asked, but Martha just shook her head, so she continued, “Have a shower, warm up, I’ll make some tea.”
Martha followed her, then, into the bathroom, listening intently as she explained the complex features of the shower, thanked her profusely until she was told to shut up, then got in the shower. By the time she came out, it was beginning to get dark. She opened the door, expecting to see Caroline right there, but she was nowhere to be seen. Martha ran a hand through her hair, still wet, and crept over towards the windows. The rain had finally stopped, though only just, and all the rooftops were still dripping. Sure enough, Caroline was leaning on the balcony rail, finishing a cigarette. Martha watched her, trying not to seem too obvious, if she were to be caught, but she looked lovely like that, against the backdrop of the city lights. She backed away, retreated to the bathroom to dry her hair.