"She's not coming for another half an hour." James said.
Emma turned from the window and frowned. "She's got a habit of turning up early. And you're supposed to be keeping an eye on the dinner!"
"It's a casserole. I checked and it's still in the oven."
Emma had turned back to the window. She sighed. "This is important. I need her to be impressed."
"You need to relax, otherwise she won't be. It'll just be an awkward time."
She was frowning now. "I need your support!"
"And you have it." James said, placing his hand gently on her shoulder. "But this is not work. You invited her for dinner in our home. She's not your boss here. And she wouldn't want to be. She's expecting a nice evening, that's all."
"But, if things don't go perfectly then it might affect my chances of..."
"Perfect is boring. So we definitely do not want perfect."
"I want perfect."
James changed the subject. "I wonder what car she drives? You can tell a lot about a person from the car they drive."
"No you can't! Most people just drive something reasonable, practical. What does that say?"
"They can't afford what they want yet. Your boss makes at least three times as much as most people. She can drive what she wants."
A car pulled into the drive, the deep throb of its engine rumbled through the floor, it's headlights dazzled briefly.
"She's here! See! Early!"
James squinted. "Wow. It's a Dodge Challenger!"
"It doesn't matter!"
"Hmm… She would have had to import that, I think…"
"Okay… So what does that say about her then? I can see you're dying to tell me!"
"She's… different. Unpredictable, even unstable. She's could well be quite dangerous. You'd better not let her near the knife drawer."
Emma punched James hard on his shoulder.
He feigned injury. "Seriously, though, I think..."
The doorbell chimed.
James followed Emma as she rushed to the door. "Deep breath." he said, "and then wait a few seconds before opening the door. You don't want to seem overeager, or antagonise her."
Emma nodded, breathing as instructed. She counted, whispering one to five, and then reached for the latch, opening the door.
An icy rush of air entered the hallway. A woman, her hair black and straight and long, stood under the harsh white porch light. Her face was angular and pale, and her eyes were sunken, dark and bruised-looking.
The woman spoke, her voice firm and level. "Emma. You kept me waiting."
"Oh. Sorry, Jennifer. It was only..."
Jennifer stepped into the house, pushing Emma to one side.
James smiled and offered his hand. "Hello. I'm..."
She waved his hand away and kept walking. Her stride was smooth, her movement lithe beneath her slim-fitting dark suit. It was almost ethereal.
"Pleasant lady." James whispered.
Emma frowned and headed after her. "Jennifer, the dining room's this way. Why don't you..."
Jennifer raised her hand and kept walking, entering the kitchen. Emma followed with James a few steps behind. Jennifer seemed to be heading for the breakfast bar, but then she turned suddenly and opened a drawer. She reached in with both hands and turned. She was brandishing two steak knives. With no sign of emotion on her pallid face she approached. Her eyes were now completely hidden in blackened pits.
In contrast James' eyes were as wide and visible as they had ever been. "Holy shit!" He grabbed Emma and pulled her back into the hallway. "I told you to keep her away from the knife drawer!"
Emma looked back. Jennifer was following, each of her steps smooth and slow, and terrifyingly confident. "I thought you were joking!"
"She drives a Dodge Challenger, for God's sake! Why would you think I was joking?!"