The space on the bed beside her was clearly unoccupied, though she knew it had been just a few hours earlier. He had a lot of nerve waking her so early, she thought smiling, and stretching lazily.
She considered which it was that she preferred. Waking with him sleeping by her side, or the mornings he woke early, and chose to disturb her rather than slip out quietly.
The days he slipped out quietly, letting her sleep, were nice too.
But, she decided, the mornings he woke her were her favorites. Today it had been soft kisses to the back of her neck and along her shoulder. Her name whispered lovingly in her ear as his warm hands moved slowly over her hips and down her thighs.
He never rushed. Well, not never, but rarely. He moved with deliberation and the same sense of devotion and determination he brought to his work, and to just about every other aspect of his life. Jack Robinson felt that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right, and Phryne Fisher was eternally grateful he still thought her worth doing.
She marveled at how something could be so comfortably familiar and wonderfully satisfying at the same time. And fun. He was always great fun.
She knew that he loved waking her early. It served her right, he used to say. Payback for the nights she’d wake him.
What else was a girl to do? She never was one to delay gratification. Her one exception, of course, being him. For him she’d waited. And waited. Enough for a lifetime. What was the point of waiting anymore?
She’d find herself coming through her front door at some unholy hour. Sometimes she’d even make it to the base of the staircase, but the thought of going up to an empty bed had her turning, and heading quickly out the back door, and down the garden path that connected the residences.
He’d scold her, saying that being a landlord did not allow her to enter a tenant’s premises at any time of the day or night. By rights he should file a complaint, or arrest her for unlawful entry. In the end he always found other ways to make her pay.
His idea of reparations had not discouraged her behavior in the least.
She rose now from bed, and pulled her silk robe around her, tying the sash as she strolled toward the window. It was Saturday, mid-morning, and a day off for him. She knew exactly where she’d find him. How she loved that thought.
This arrangement of theirs had been a stroke of genius for which she often congratulated herself. It had been more successful and satisfying than either of them could have imagined, much like their partnership. And, just like everything else, it hadn’t come easy. There had been issues to overcome. Her independence, and his pride were probably the largest deterrents to his accepting the arrangement.
“What happens when there is another, Phryne? How am I to deal with that?”
“I’ll tie a scarf to the back balcony,” she’d said sarcastically. “Or perhaps we can work out something with the lights? A kind of morse code, warning you to keep your distance.”
“Is that suppose to be funny?” he’d said, bluntly, “It’s not.”
“I didn’t offer a serious response, because it’s a ridiculous premise.”
She’d tried to make a joke of it, because she’d been hurt by his comment. He’d just stubbornly shook his head.
“It’s a concern,” he’d said.
“Not of mine, Jack. How long must it be before you accept that I have no plans to ‘entertain’ anyone else?” she’d said, an unwanted bitterness creeping into her tone.
“That could change,” he’d said, quietly, looking down at his hands. He’d promised her he’d be okay with it when it happened. He was quite sure now that he wouldn’t be, that he’d never be okay again, should it happen.
“It’s not likely. And not without warning, darling,” she’d said, approaching him and placing her palm on the side of his cheek, waiting for him to look at her before continuing. “I told you when we began that there would be no overlap. I would never take another lover before talking with you. And I no longer anticipate ever needing to have that talk. I wouldn’t suggest this if I did.”
She’d long been keeping an eye on the properties, with an idea toward acquiring them. She was aware of their history. The terrace houses adjacent to her home had been built in the late 1800‘s by a successful Melbourne ironmonger. They had been the beginning of his residential real estate holdings, and his family had lived in one for several years before building the place she now called home.
Phryne had begun to think of herself as the custodian of her beautiful house. It was a lovely example of the Italianate architectural style that had experienced a boom in popularity a few decades back. She felt a responsibility to preserve it for history. The idea of bringing the three properties back under common ownership, in order to ensure they were all kept in good repair, appealed to her.
When it began to look like Dot and Hugh would marry, the idea became even more intriguing. She hated the thought of Dot leaving her, but she knew it was only right that Hugh and Dot have a place of their own. Dot was born to run her own household.
In the end, someone else’s misfortune had worked to her advantage. The economic collapse of 1929 had put the current owner in dire straits and, knowing of her interest in the properties, he had approached her about selling. His only requirement was that he be allowed to stay in one of the homes until his move to Sydney to join his brother in business.
She’d paid a fair price, but less than she might have a few years earlier. All in all, she was very pleased with the purchase.
She’d considered offering the larger of the two homes to Dot and Hugh as a belated wedding gift, but knew Hugh would be more receptive if he were paying rent. A lease was signed at a monthly rate that the young couple could comfortably afford, especially with the raise in pay she’d given Dot, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins had taken up residence.
Soon after, the fence between the properties came down, and a garden path was completed. Dot could make the journey between home and work in less than a minute.
Phryne made a point of keeping her distance. When Dot was at home, she was off duty. As the years went by, the lines blurred some, and Phryne could often be found having tea in her friend’s tidy and homey little kitchen.
It wasn’t until the original owner was ready to move that she’d thought of Jack. They’d been together for nearly eight months at that time, and things were going extremely well. It was an interesting idea, but she’d dismissed it as too much, too soon.
The thought never really left her, and she found herself accepting only short term tenants, never signing more than a six month lease with anyone.
She decided to broach the subject when the third of her short term tenants was coming to the end of his lease. She schemed about how to raise it with Jack. She decided it would be best to appeal to his generous nature and frame it as a favor to her, saying he’d be providing her with a stable and reliable tenant.
She imagined the entire conversation in her head, trying to anticipate his objections and prepare a rebuttal for them to have at the ready. She would wait until they had a quiet night, between investigations. She’d invite him to dinner and casually bring up her need to find a new tenant. It was a good plan.
As often happens with even the best laid plans, it fell apart. Her proposal had burst from her in an uncharacteristic fit of frustration. She’d been naive to think it would go smoothly. Nothing with Jack had ever been easy. Never easy, but always worthwhile.