A Marriage of Inconvenience
Author's Note: The characters and events in this story are purely fictional. Any similarity to real life people and situations are entirely coincidental. The characters are my creation and are not to be used elsewhere without my permission. Thanks.
One: Once Upon a Time…
"Oh, shit," Kate said softly, looking down at the envelope in her hand.
Iris didn't look up from her laptop because her best friend swore on seeing the post arrive on a regular basis, mostly when said post included a bill for one of her many credit cards. However, she did remove the chewed up biro from between her teeth so that she could speak.
"What's up?" she asked. "And how do you spell 'incandescent'? I have a little Microsoft squiggle that I need to get rid of."
"US Immigration decided to drop me a line. And it's i-n-c-a-n-d-e-s-c-e-n-t. You're the one with the English degree." Kate shoved a distracted hand through her tangled black curls and dropped down into the chair next to Iris. The kitchen was her favourite room in the house; painted yellow and cream and with big windows that let in a lot of the early morning sunshine, it always seemed much cozier than the rest of the apartment. That was decorated in Iris's minimalist style, which Kate couldn't really complain about given that it was Iris's place, provided by an employer desperate to keep her rising star with his newspaper.
Kate enjoyed clutter, because she found it helped her to avoid thinking about any problems she might have too much. She could pretend to think about cleaning up instead. Iris, on the other hand, needed polished surfaces and clean lines to help her clear her mind, especially as a deadline approached. Therefore, they had an unspoken agreement that Iris would never enter Kate's bedroom, lest it make her head explode. The small room was practically bursting at the seams with what Kate called 'treasured memories' and what Iris would call 'junk'.
"Well, this morning I'm the one with the English degree and a hangover. Ah, I've missed the second 'c'," Iris said, and then looked up in alarm as Kate's first sentence registered. "Wait, I thought you got all that sorted out?"
"Mm," Kate said, ripping open the envelope and pulling out the folded sheet of paper. "Well, I went down there, I swear I did."
Iris peered at her suspiciously over the top of her square-rimmed spectacles. "And?" she asked in a voice that suggested she already had a fair idea of what was coming.
Kate squirmed uncomfortably. It was at times like this she was glad she'd never have to face Iris in a professional situation; if the girl could make her roommate feel like she was being interrogated while sitting at the breakfast table in pjamas with her legs tucked under her, she didn't like to guess how all those errant politicians felt when facing Iris in a journalistic capacity. No wonder Iris had been responsible for breaking one of the biggest news stories of recent times. Give her a sniff of a story, and she was relentless. That was probably why her Green Card described her as 'a foreign national with extraordinary abilities'.
"And is it my fault the office was next to a half-price shoe sale?" she asked, wondering why she was already on the defensive. And then she realised that it was because she might actually have screwed up pretty badly this time.
Iris waited for her spell-checker to correct her alcohol-induced errors before she answered, evilly giving Kate plenty of time to stew over her reply. "Ah, finished at last! I hope Greg agrees to run with this one; my sources are impeccable. Anyway, you were saying that for the sake of a new pair of sandals you neglected to renew your visa, with the result that…?" she prompted as she clicked on 'save'.
"With the result that I'm going to be kicked out of the country," Kate said with a groan as she finished reading the letter.
"Kicked out? Just like that? But so sudden!" Iris blinked. "Not that you don't deserve it, mind."
"Oh, come on, Iris! Haven't you ever forgotten to do something?" her friend asked in exasperation.
"Well, I've forgotten to pop up the toaster before, but that's hardly in the same league as this," Iris replied dryly. "But are they really going to kick you out?"
"I was exaggerating slightly. Apparently deportation is a possibility, but it'll be fine. I'll just go down there and sort it all out today," Kate said, refolding the paper and popping it back into the envelope. "I'm sure there's no need to worry."
Iris looked unconvinced at that, but wisely held her tongue. While Kate was usually willing to accept some admonishment from her friend, there was only so much she would take. Iris knew from past painful experience where the line was and managed for the most part not to cross it, although the natural intuition that made her so successful in her chosen profession was sometimes her downfall.
"So, what do you have planned for your day?" she asked instead, closing down her computer and snapping it shut. She shoved it into her bag without ceremony then uncurled her legs to stand and stretch.
Kate watched her graceful movements slightly enviously. Iris was proof that three hours of yoga a week worked wonders, while Kate was evidence that sitting at home watching 'Friends' and eating ice-cream out of the tub did nothing to reduce the number of fat cells you had.
It had all been different at the start, of course. When two girls fresh off the plane from Heathrow had first been brought together through an advertisement for a roommate in an expatriate newsletter, both had been feeling distinctly overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of New York City. Kate had left behind her recently widowed mother and her home in a sleepy village in Cornwall to do her postgraduate degree while Iris was crying herself to sleep every night because her fiancé refused to transfer to the US to be with her. They were both slightly overweight and far less glamorous than the majority of their American peers, distressed by their mutual inability to pop out and buy Cadbury's Dairy Milk from the local corner shop, and a little alienated because neither understood the rules of baseball although both could explain the offside rule backwards.
Now though things were very different. Kate had known that it would happen one day, even if she hadn't been prepared for the speed of the transformation. The clues had all been there in their respective backgrounds.
Kate had graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in physics and very little idea of what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, or indeed for the next six months. After all, at least part of the reason for going to university in the first place had been to avoid getting a full-time job for another four years. So she'd gone home and worked in her parents' guesthouse for two years while making up her mind. Not only was it necessary because her father's illness prevented him from working, it gave her some much needed breathing space from so-called 'real life'. Eventually deciding that a postgraduate degree was the way to go and desperate to escape her mother's attempts to set her up with various friends' sons, she'd applied to several colleges in the US and had been lucky enough to be accepted to NYU. Although she wasn't the best with money, tending to spend all she had rather than saving, her grandmother had left her funds in her will four years before and it was because of this that Kate was able to pay her fees and take up her place.
But things hadn't worked out quite as Kate had planned. Used to being able to pass exams and write quality essays with a minimum of study, it had come as a shock to realize that she couldn't pull the same trick any more. It wasn't long before she had fallen seriously behind schedule. And then she'd met Paul. Kate had fallen instantly in love with the handsome waiter from an Irish theme pub and moved in with him in a matter of weeks. She'd even dropped out of school to let them spend more time together; with her out most of the day and Paul working in the bar every evening it was, she had reasoned, the only way they could be together.
Things had been blissful at first, but after six months Kate had grown tired of his late nights, of being alone in the apartment for most of the day while he went out with 'friends', and of their mutual lack of funds. She was twenty-five but felt forty years old, and hated that she spent every day practically begging her boyfriend to show her some affection. The final straw had come when, while grocery shopping one night, she'd noticed Paul in the next aisle. Surprised to see him there when he was supposed to be working, Kate had been on the verge of calling out to him when she saw the girl; it wasn't until Paul kissed the mystery blonde that she was able to move. She'd gone straight home, gathered her few things together and begged space on a friend's floor for a night. The following week she'd answered Iris' advertisement and in the year and a half since had done her best to get her life back on track. She still had very little money and no boyfriend to speak of but she was happy, and that was enough for now.
In complete contrast, by the age of 23 and within two months of her graduation Iris had secured a plum job at 'The Scotsman' newspaper. She'd quickly made a name for herself reporting on the activities of the Scottish Parliament and had been there for just under three years before landing a job as the North American correspondent for one of her former employer's competitors. Now two years into that job and twenty eight years old she'd lost twenty pounds, persuaded herself that sometimes it was all right to spend seventy dollars on a sweater and learned how to apply subtle make-up which emphasised her best features (her eyes) and camouflaged her worst (her cheeks, which had an annoying habit of flushing bright red at the least provocation). Her shoulder-length dark brown hair was carefully highlighted to bring out the red tones that were evidence of her Celtic roots and she went to the gym at least twice a week without fail.
At times Kate was glad she'd met Iris before her stunning makeover; she knew if she'd met her afterwards it was more than likely she'd have hated her on sight. Instantly dismissing Iris as her basic nightmare, she wouldn't have taken the time to get to know the girl underneath. And she was the one worth knowing, Kate thought. She was the one who'd cried so much at 'Moulin Rouge!' her face had been blotchy and her eyes puffy for a whole day afterwards. She was the one who'd been so nervous before an interview with the mayor of New York she'd been in the bathroom all night throwing up. While at work Iris might project an image of unqualified success at all times at home and with her closest friends she was a completely different person, her intelligence tinged with vulnerability and a dry, if occasionally slightly too sarcastic, wit.
"You know, it's very appropriate that I have green eyes," Kate mused.
Iris stopped mid-stretch and wrinkled her brow at her friend. "What on earth are you talking about now?"
Smiling, Kate shook her head. "Never mind. Do you have anything important on today?"
"Not really," Iris replied. "Want to go for a drink after work?"
"Sure," Kate shrugged. "If I'm not at the airport in handcuffs by then, of course."
"Of course," Iris agreed. She yawned. "God, I need a shower. I'm hardly awake. Don't let me drink too much tonight."
"Hey, it's not my fault if you're getting so old you can't handle it anymore," Kate grinned. "Although imagine how Owen must feel right now, if you feel that bad." Iris had taken their mutual guy friend as her 'date' to a works dinner the previous evening, and clearly the champagne had been flowing all night.
Iris made a face. "I'd rather not, thanks. Are you going to invite him along tonight?"
"He'll only get pissed off if I don't. Besides, you never used to mind him coming out with us. Don't forget that I can still remember when you two actually got along. After all, it was you who introduced him to me in the first place. And you guys used to do practically everything together."
Iris looked away. "Well, things change," she said flatly, and Kate thought with some sadness about Iris's reluctance to ask Owen to accompany her to the event. Once the closest of friends, there had been a big bust up a while ago – Kate had never managed to find out what about, though not through a lack of trying – and since then they had barely been on speaking terms. Kate had a sneaking suspicion that Iris had drunk a lot more than usual the night before to avoid the need to make conversation. Still, at least she was paying for it now, and there was always the chance that a good hangover might be enough to make her see how childish they were both being over…well, whatever had caused them to fall out in the first place.
"Anyway, I suppose you'd better call him and invite him." Kate realised with a start that Iris was still talking, and tuned in just in time to see her roommate pick up her bag. "Anyway, I'll see you later. And remember-"
"Go sort it out," she interrupted. "Yes, I know. And I'll remember."
Iris grinned. "Good."
Kate watched her friend wander out of the kitchen towards the bathroom then picked up Iris's mug of coffee and took a swig. She spit it out again immediately; it was stone cold. Picking up her cell phone, she hit speed dial 2 and waited from Owen to pick up. She'd invite him out before getting dressed and going down to the US Immigration office. After all, the sooner she got it all sorted out, the better. Except maybe she'd stop at Starbucks for some proper coffee first, and then there was that new George Clooney movie she wanted to see…after all, what was really the rush?