LONDON - Highgate - present day - The blonde woman's fingers tapped from memory on the digital keypad needed to gain entry into the elite housing compound. Any one of the compound's residents would have marveled that only moments ago she had stepped off a city bus, and even now carried a common bag - not Birkin, not Prada, not Stella McCartney or even Coach - of (of all things) groceries.
The woman made quick work of the well-manicured pathways and walking paths between the cluster of luxury homes, arriving at one neither more nor less grand than either of the two others between which it was set.
She opened the elaborate front door to three-story ceilings and a grand foyer - and a five-bath mansion at present almost entirely devoid of furnishing of any kind.
The walls were bare, the closets empty. Only the master bedroom had the requisite bed of its title - and that a mattress and foundation box spring without accompanying rails or bedstead. The contents of the two walk-in closets in that room had dwindled down to but (for her) a handful of shirts and slacks, (for him) t-shirts and jogging pants, and two pair of shoes apiece.
"Have you not paid the rent again?" she called. She made a beeline for, and entered, the sunken, windowless screening room. The film screen was stowed behind the closed velvet curtains. The room lacking anything, any chair or furniture, save an empty Red Vines cellophane package. He was not there.
She called out for him again, following the sound of a television. "Not paying the rent - " she began, "but still paying the satellite company for your programmes?" She sighed heavily. "It cannot go on, you know. We are sorely in arrears!"
She heard him before she saw him, draped (as he had been for weeks) across the sole sofa left in the once-opulent living room, directly across from the 72" flat-screen television set where it occupied the floor, without stand or table visible to place it on.
"Sweet Kate," he crooned like a man who thought he could woo her only by the sound of his voice, "I thought you'd taken care of those things for me." His russet head (mussed, unkempt) popped up from where it had been hidden by the sofa's arm. "You always were so...of the 'little' people."
Kate stalked into the room, plopping down the reuseable enviro-bag of meager groceries she had with her. "I am far past you reminding me of my lesser origins," she half-scowled. "Anyone with your education - your managerial experience - ought to be able to at least set some things to autopay with online bank - "
He shrugged. "There is nothing left, sweet girl."
"Nothing? Not the severance package? Not the settlement? The hush-and-go-away monies?"
He shook his head, his lower lip protruding in his expression of 'c'est la vie'. "Gone."
"I have just been to the green grocer's," she attempted to explain to him. How tired she was of explaining things to him. "I can tell you now, your draw on the dole will not keep us, much less do for the feeding of your," she spied a stack of Red Vines, "more peculiar habits."
"Well, We," he declared royally, loathe to look away from the ongoing TV coverage, "would not be in this mess if your boyfriends..."
"My boyfriends!" Her hands went to her hips. "I think we both know how much you embellished that on your little telly show."
His jaw was clenched. She could see it from the side, where he still had his eyes trained on the flat screen.
"I wish it had been true - " he took her to task without looking away. "They wouldn't leave us to suffer like this, then, you reduced to taking classes at the beauty college. Me, a shadow, a spectre, really, of the greatness that once was."
She walked over to stand next to the TV. "You're speaking about being king?"
He sighed huffily. "I am speaking, of course, about my crucial role in the shaping of my show."
She scoffed, waving one of the seven or so gossip rags at him that littered the floor at the sofa's feet. "I read in a mag that series three's not selling so very well." She meant to devil him. "Particularly in the overseas markets."
That had done it. She had his attention now.
He started like a man wounded, his voice taking on a cry. "Don't speak!"
She continued, "to get people to buy it they've gone and re-packaged it to combine the first two series' with it in a sort of collection." She couldn't help but smile deviously at this, at the reaction it sparked in him.
"You disgust me," he told her petulantly, shifting in his reclined position.
"Me? Disgust you?" Heartlessly, she laughed, a smirk across her face. "I'm not the one who's gained three-quarter stone in the last month."
"You shrew!" he spat out, nearly sitting up in his irritation. "Red Vines do NOT lead to weight gain!"
For the first time she turned to see what he was watching. It was the Royal Wedding, again. Coverage by America's E! channel this time.
"Again?" she questioned, moving to try and join him on the couch, ninety percent of which was occupied by his recumbent body. "Can you not just let it go?"
His response was snide, and rendered instructively. "One does not let go a social snub, my Katie Kitten. Wars have been fought over less," he informed her. Critically he opined, "so few significant jewels, really - a sorry deficit of coronets all 'round. Still, Little-Miss-Nobody's dress is a triumph."
Kate looked at the tempestuous cast of his solemnly serious face. "I daresay you would not have enjoyed it had you gone," she placed a hand meant to soothe at his stressed-out temple. "They would never have let you into the palace, after all." She seated herself, having to not-so-subtly nudge him over to make room for her slender hips on the cushion.
"They invite Beckham," he decried to her, "but not ME. Who is he, anyway? A 'Beckham'? From whence? Out of whom?" He scoffed. "A footballer. A no one. We," he invoked the royal usage, "are left sitting here feeling like the gate-crashing fairy in Sleeping Beauty." His face stormed with his pouting. "What sort of hex ought I spell them with?"
"How about the hex of washing your hands of them? Of stopping watching it...again?"
"Do settle now, Dearest," he gave her an absent-minded pat, half-genuine, half wanting to quiet her for what came next. "I just want to see if they're gonna kiss."
"Highness," she knew he liked it when she called him that, "you know they're gonna kiss. Twice. It's already the wallpaper on your phone."
A cool silence passed between them, the only sound the television presenters' patter.
"That lucky, balding sod," he told her, his eyes momentarily seeking out hers and laying his head down upon her breast, attempting to eke comfort out of her slight, angular frame. "He does not know how good he has it..."
"Shhh," she coaxed him. "Not even a whisper of thinning," she assured him, petting his own, thick shock of hair.
"Kate-of-my-heart," his eyes returned to the television coverage, "how long has it been since you told me you loved me? Hmmm? Really told me?"
Her hand stopped its petting, and she looked to the unadorned finger on it, answering lightly, but ruefully. "Probably the last time you promised to put a ring on it."
He did not allow her assertion to hang long in the air between them. He moved to upright himself and sit independently of her. He did so with seemingly renewed vigor. "What I really need is that boyfriend of yours-"
Her eyes rolled, not even covertly this time. "Which one d'ye mean now?"
"The fast-talker, of course. A-Dale. Perhaps he wants to play both sides yet again - make double the money. If he would agree to be convinced to help me further pursue my wrongful termination suit..."
"...Or you get that call back from your agent?"
"About that last-minute script doctoring for the Lost holiday movie-of-the week?" He loved talking about his potential projects. "Or the reality show?"
They both looked to the plushly carpeted floor, where his inert iPhone lay among old gossip rags, crumpled junk food bags and what was left of last night's Chinese takeaway.
"You know," she spoke for both of them, "just, really, if anybody would call..."