striations in the white. You have put up a picture on the wall, there, of a snowy lake. It is yours and not Ann’s because it reflects your taste in colours – blues and pale shades.” He thought it best not to mention that he could detect her fingerprints in the glossy paper, having compared them with the ones left on the glass she had been drinking out of. “There are 973 rivets in this room, and eighty-nine strips of steel …”

“Okay, okay, enough already,” broke in Ann. “But what does all that tell you, anyway? It’s just details, really.”

“No, it tells me that the two of you are lovers, that you are not concerned to hide the fact, that you are happier with conditions here than Julie is …”

“Anyone could have guessed that.”

“That you are afraid of losing her, that she is afraid of losing you, that neither of you are aware that it is this fear which is making things difficult for both of you, that both of you would like to talk about it, but are afraid that that might mean the end for you, that you feel you cannot leave and she feels she cannot stay …” He stopped.

The two girls were staring at him as if at a black magician. They turned, then, to one another and laughed.

“He’s right!”

“Me too!”

“Look … George. You are going to keep all this to yourself, aren’t you? I mean, there can’t be many secrets when you’re around.”

“You are my friends. I will never betray my friends.”

“Friends … but, look, we just met.”

“Apologies.” With the scanning apparatus suspended, speech again became difficult. “I know you so well I think of you as friends, and would like to help you anyway – in any way. I have no … reserve? I cannot dissimulate. Since I met you I am interested only in you.”

Breaking the somewhat embarrassed silence, Julie asked, “Where’s he going to sleep?” Then blushed a little at the implications of what she had said.

“I don’t sleep.”

“You don’t? But … what do you …”

“Do instead, were you going to ask, Jules?” broke in the more level-headed Ann. “Is there anything we can do for you, then, George? You know, like I said before, coffee, tea, breakfast.”

“Nothing, thank you, Ann. I am all right. I will be all right.”

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