Each day I write a page of a novel and publish it. Today’s page can be found here.
Bow Nights, p.1
It was a hot night in July and I was sitting on the balcony sipping an aperol spritz through a paper straw and listening to the radio. I saw Jamie walking along the street below.
“Hey.” We spoke at the same time, I stood up and leant over the railings. It was late, but still light.
“What are you up to?” He called up to me, his bike in his hands.
“I’m just waiting for a friend to come over.” I lied, it wasn’t a friend, more of a romantic encounter, but not exactly a boyfriend. “What about you?”
“I’m just gonna go home and get changed and go out again.” He nodded down the street towards where he lived with his flatmates. The street was all new build and lined with poplar trees.
“You should pop up for a drink sometime.”
“Or come over to ours. See you, Jessica.”
I watched him push his bike into the communal bike shed and lock it up. He was super handsome and he made me nervous. The summer nights always made me restless.
My phone beeped. I picked it up of the table. Fred had text me to say he was going to be late. I knew this was a bad sign. I felt instinctively that he would not turn up. I text him back and went and ran myself a bath.
I lay in the bath drinking an aperol spritz and wondering if I should pursue things with Jamie. I drained the last of my drink and got out of the bath with bubbles still clinging to my skin. I poured another drink and went out on to the balcony in my dressing gown to smoke a cigarette. It was dark now and the flats around me were all starting to have parties. A few years ago, I would have felt sad and left out, but now I was happy just to soak in the ambience.
I watched the summer breeze move through the leaves of the poplar trees and bedded flowers. I looked up at the stars and the crescent moon and I wondered what I would do with all this restlessness that was inside of me. I lit a cigarette; one of the Marlborough Golds Fred had left the last time he came. I had been saving them for him, but I had a feeling it was over now. I felt sad, but more than that, I was just desperate to quell this restlessness inside of me, this gasping for air. It was like I could never get enough oxygen.
I put out the cigarette and put down the drink. It wasn’t helping, if anything it was making it worse. All my life I had a hunger I couldn’t fill. Everything I tried was only a plaster. I knew it could sometimes be soothed by walking, so I went back inside, slipped on a jacket and made my way down to the river.
The River Thames, p.2
The wind came rushing off from the river. I had a text from Fred saying, Jess. Not going to make it, sorry. I felt he was angry at me, for not caring more, not trying to pull him in more, but I couldn’t know what he was feeling if he didn’t tell me.
I looked out at all the houses and warehouses lined up along the river. All the small windows were lit up in the darkness. In the distance, the lights were running up the sides of the shard, pointing straight up at the sky. The city was in full force. Everyone was out, drinking and dancing and looking for adventure. Boats glided down the river carrying partygoers with expensive outfits, and probably expensive champagne. I couldn’t hear much, apart from laughter and the sound of the wind.
I kept walking. I walked along the Thames path to St Katherines. There were lots of people out, wearing smart suits and nice dresses with high heels. I walked amongst them, in my too big jacket, humming Leonard Cohen songs and wondering when I should turn back. I went and stood on Tower Bridge and looked at the city, all lit up and beautiful. There were people sat out on the grass around City Hall, drinking from the pop-up bars, sitting on picnic rugs and deckchairs. A family of tourists walk past and asked me to take a picture, which I happily did. The mum walked away holding the little girls’ hands, and they passed another woman, just like me, smoking and staring at the river.
I took out my phone and text Fred back. It’s ok, don’t worry, I’ll see you soon. I knew he was hurting and I was hurting but I didn’t know why. I wished there was some way I could reach him.
I started walking back home, I was hoping by now my flatmates would be home and there would be someone to talk to. I was starting to get hungry as well and text Lauren to see what she was up to and if she wanted to order a pizza.
Mad night! Yes absolutely. Do you want to order it or shall I?
I realised I had walked further than I thought so I walked up to Tower Hill and jumped on the district line back to Bow. It was full of people, workers coming home from a shift, couples up in town for the weekend to see a band and big groups of hens and stags shouting across the carriages.
The Pizza, p.3
“You will not believe what happened at this party.”
Lauren was already in her pyjamas and sat on the sofa brushing her hair by the time I got in.
“What happened?” I slid the pizza box down on to our modernist style coffee table.
“Amazing!” Lauren leapt up in her onesie, her dark hair falling on her shoulders. “How much do I owe you Jess?”
“Just Monzo me a fiver.” I slipped off my coat.
“This party was out of control.” Lauren grabbed a slice of pizza and sat back down. “The girl whose birthday it was, was so drunk she threw up on this guy from Game of Thrones.”
“Who was it?” I sat down next to Lauren with a slice.
“I don’t know, apparently he was just an extra in the second series. The next thing I knew, they were making out.”
“That’s so gross.”
“How was your evening?”
“Fine. Fred was supposed to come over but he didn’t.” I looked over onto the balcony where I had left my drink and cigarettes before I went out.
“What’s happening with that?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s happening.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Do you want to watch all of Game of Thrones season 2, to see if we can spot this guy?”
“I think I’ll just go to go to bed.”
I went and lay down on my duvet. I’d left the window open and the room was cool. I could hear music coming in from one of the flats down the road. Maybe it was Jamie’s flat.
I picked up my phone. There were no new messages. I stared at the screen. I had to make something happen but I didn’t know what.
I got up and walked over to my bedroom door, as I opened it, I heard Riley crash in through the front door.
“Hey!” She called to me and Lauren. “There’s a party down the street and we’re all invited.”
The Docker’s Cottage. p4
The party was around the corner from our new build flat, near the canal, in an old dockers cottage. I didn’t recognise the song that was playing as we entered into the corridor, it was some kind of electronic beach party music and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. The whole house was decorated in a beach theme, with palm tree bunting strung up through the house.
There was a guy stood at the bottom of the stairs holding a red cup and wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
“Riley! You came back.” He turned away from the girl he was talking too and came over and hugged my flatmate. He was chewing gum very loudly.
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Riley tossed her short hair back and pulled a bottle of rum from the Bag for Life I was holding. “This is Jessica and Lauren.”
“Great!” The guy said without looking at us. “So Riley, what have you been up to tonight?”
Lauren and I walked into the kitchen where a few people were chatting and laughing. It looked like most people were out in the garden. I had a little bit of a headache. I poured myself a ginger beer and leant back against the sleek kitchen counter.
“My mum’s sick.” Lauren poured herself a large measure of vodka from a bottle that had been left out on the side. “I think I might have to go home for a bit.”
“Cancer.” Lauren topped up her red cup with cherryade. I stood up straight.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” The moment I said it, I realised it was a stupid response.
“I was just kind of hoping it wasn’t true, maybe if I ignored it, it would go away.” Lauren took a sip of her drink and looked out into the garden. “You know anyone?”
I glanced outside, there were paper lanterns hanging from the trees in the garden.
“No, do you?”
“No, but I’m sure we can change that.” She took another sip of her drink and forced a smile.
“Maybe we should go home.”
“It won’t change anything.” A couple pushed past us, making their way up to one of the bedrooms.
“That’s it!” Riley burst in. “We’re getting out of here. That guy Alby just tried to kiss me!”
“I thought we came here because you wanted to get with him.” Lauren and I looked at each other in surprise.
“What? No! Did you see his shirt?”
“I think it’s supposed to be fancy dress.” Lauren and Riley gave me a look that said that was not the right response. “Let’s do something nice tomorrow. We could go to the beach or something? It still only Saturday.”
“I bet there’ll be loads of beach parties happening. We can take a picnic.” Riley picked up the Bag for Life I’d left on the side and shoved the bottle of rum in it. “Forget this party, we’re going home.”
The Old Neptune, p.5
On the way to the beach I tried to play my Spotify Road Trip playlist through Lauren’s car speakers. The windows were wound all the way down and the wind was so loud you couldn’t hear anything.
“I just want someone to come up to me,” Riley leant forward to make sure we could both hear her over the wind. “And say, this is where you’re going to meet the person you’re supposed to be with.”
Lauren stared at the road ahead and didn’t say anything. All her possessions, make up brushes, mascara, face wipes, were scattered all over the car. It was an old Peugeot that always smelt slightly musty.
“I’m that person.” I turned around to chat to Riley. “And I know where that place will be, it’s the old Neptune.”
“What’s that?” Riley rested her elbows on the sides of our seats.
“It’s a pub, on the beach, we can go there later.” I looked at Lauren but she still didn’t say anything. I wondered what would happen if she had to go home, and what it would mean.
“Sweet. I can’t wait.” Riley curled up in the back seats and started scrolling through her messages.
“Are you going to tell Riley?” I asked Lauren when we stopped at the service station.
“Tell her what.” Lauren tapped her fingers on the steering wheel.
“About your Mum? It might help to talk about it.”
“Guess what?” Riley pulled open the front door and thrust a tray of coffees at Lauren. “Buy one get one free on Fruit Pastels.”
The pub was empty when we got there. It seemed like it was so hot that everyone had decided to just lie out on the beach. We walked into the warm pub and ordered three lemonades. The heat was stifling and the bar was sticky. I looked around to see if there were any potential love interests for Riley, but there was just one old couple at the back-drinking real ale.
“There’s no guys here.”
“That’s ok.” Riley started to get her towel out of her bag. “I want to go swimming anyway.”
The tide was high and the waves were in full force as we watched Riley shrieking as she ran into the sea. Lauren and I sat on the beach on our towels until her phone beeped.
“It’s from my Dad. He wants me to come home today.”
“What about your job?”
“Come in!” Riley shouted over the waves. “It feels amazing
Lauren yanked off her top and started to take off her jeans.
“Let’s go.” Lauren yanked off her top and started to take off her jeans. “We don’t know when we’ll be here again.”
I kicked off my flip flops, pulled off my dress and ran in after her.
Bow Roundabout, p.6
Lauren drove back to her parents’ house that evening. I stood on the balcony and watched her disappear in her Peugeot. The radio was on and they were talking about Extinction Rebellion. I thought about lighting a cigarette. Fred’s box of Marlborough Lights was still on the table. I wished I was one of those people who started compulsively cleaning when I felt anxious.
Riley was in the kitchen cooking spaghetti and wearing a freshly pressed Kath Kidston apron.
“Do you think one of us should have gone with her?”
“She needs to be alone with her family, Jess.” Riley pulled a few leaves from the basil plant on the windowsill and scattered them into the Bolognese she was making. “It’s just you and me now kid.”
I forced a laugh. Lauren was our mutual friend. Riley and I had never spent time alone together.
“We can clean the flat.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll be back in a few days. Her mum will probably be ill for quite a long time.” Riley said, as though this might reassure me. “Do you want some dinner? There’s enough.”
“I can make a salad.” Riley nodded and returned to stirring her sauce, even she was quiet tonight.
I sat at the kitchen table, chopping up tomatoes and feeling angry at myself that I had been so useless. I should have said something to make Lauren feel better.
“Maybe we could offer to cover some of Lauren’s rent if she has to quit her job?”
“People with cancer are normally sick for a long time.” Riley sat down next to me. She was wearing a blue apron. “I don’t think Lauren will quit her job. Her mum might even get better.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Do you want to come to a party with me on Friday?” Riley stood up and went back to the sauce. “It’s at Jamie’s, you know up the road. His flatmates got engaged”
“Sure.” I thought about Lauren, on her own, diving over the Bow roundabout, making her way home. Maybe she would smile as she passed the ‘Bow’ sign that was put up for the Olympics, or maybe she would start crying. I gasped as the knife went into the side of my hand.
“Jessica!” Riley leapt back and knocked a chair over. “What happened?”
“I don’t know my hand slipped.” There was blood pooling on the table, all over the tomatoes.
“Apply pressure.” Riley reeled of a load of kitchen roll and threw it at me. “Hold it above your head.”
I pressed the paper against my hand and decided not to go to any parties until Lauren came back.
“If Lauren’s not back by the weekend I’m going to go and visit her.”
“I think her family live in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’ll find her.”
“I’ll come with you then.” Riley took my hand and raised it above my head. I held it like that and watched the sun set on the poplar trees outside until dinner was ready.
Cuba Libre, p.7
Lauren came home on the Friday and Riley convinced her it was a good idea to go to the party. I stood in the doorway to Lauren’s room as she sat at her desk trying on different shades of lipstick. I wanted to ask her how home was, but I didn’t know how.
“Come on let’s go.” Riley shouted from down the corridor, as she slipped on a pair high-heels.
“We don’t have to go.” I told Lauren. She took a gulp of her glass of wine.
“I want to go.” Lauren kept her eyes fixed on her reflection. “Do you think this shade looks ok?”
“You look amazing!” I wanted to hug her but I didn’t know how.
The three of us walked down the street to the other block of new build flats and chatted about Brexit. I felt really sad, but the other two seemed to be putting a brave face on things and I didn’t want to ruin the evening.
At the party Jamie fixed us all some Cuba Libres and Riley and Lauren walked off to chat to people. The flat was very similar to ours, three bedrooms and a balcony. The bedrooms had been opened up to become lounges and decorated with balloons and paper chains.
“Jessica are you ok?” Jamie took a sip of his drink and looked around. “You seem a bit distracted.”
“Lauren’s mum’s ill. I don’t know if she’ll get better or how to talk to her about it.”
“Oh.” Jamie gulped. “Do you want to sit down?”
The balcony was full of smokers, so we went and sat down in the sitting room. It was almost identical to ours. I thought back to the night Lauren and I had been eating pizza. Just before she told me about her Mum.
“Do you want to hear something funny?”
“What like a joke?”
“Yeah sure, I can tell a joke.”
“Is that what you meant?”
“No, but I can tell a joke if you want me to.”
“Jessica, Lauren’s being sick.” It was Riley. I leapt up and ran into the bathroom. Lauren had her head over the bowl and was clutching at the sides of the toilet. I knelt down by her. A few people walked past and tutted.
“Is it alcohol?” I pulled back her hair and tied it behind her head. Riley stood in the doorway and didn’t say anything.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “I just thought, I just wanted to feel something else.”
“That’s ok.” I started rubbing her back and she was sick again.
“My mum’s really mad at me. She thinks it’s selfish not to give up my job and come home.”
Lauren wiped her mouth with a piece of toilet roll and curled up against the stand of the sink.
Packing Up, p.8
There was a large suitcase laid out on Lauren’s bed and she was shoving it full of clothes and books. I stood in the doorway with my arms folded. Riley was in the kitchen cooking eggs and singing along to the radio at the top of her voice.
“You don’t have to go back today. You could stay another night.”
“It’s better if I go now Jess. I can’t think about anything else anyway.” Lauren pulled a pile of tops out and threw them into her bag. She was still in her pyjamas and looked pale from the night before.
“Can I do anything?”
“Just let me know if you need help finding someone to take the room.”
“We can do that. Are you sure you don’t want to keep the room for a bit, in case you want to come back?”
“I can’t come back.” Lauren tried to open her desk draw but it jammed. She pulled at it a couple of times but it wouldn’t give. She pushed the desk against the wall causing the mirror to wobble and her make-up to fall onto the floor.
“Breakfast is ready.” Riley called from the kitchen. I went to try and pick up Lauren’s things.
“Just leave it.”
Riley sprinkled zaatar and fresh coriander over the eggs and served them to us at the table.
“I was thinking next weekend we could come and visit you, and then we could go out in town.” Riley laid a napkin over her lap. I didn’t even know we owned napkins. She’d put a table cloth out too. The sun was shining in through the kitchen window and Radio 6 was now playing electronic funk.
“There’s literally nowhere to go.” Lauren took a bite of her food while I poured the coffee.
“There must be a pub or something.” Riley picked up her cup.
“There is, but you can’t stay with my family, there’s no space.”
“We’ll stay in an airbnb then.” Riley took a sip of her coffee and it seemed like the decision had been made.
“What did you think of that party last night?” Riley said. I couldn’t believe she was brining it up, given that we had basically had to carry Lauren home after she was sick.
“It was cool. Jamie’s cute.” Lauren looked at me while she cut up her food.
“That guy Alby keeps texting me.” Riley started buttering her toast.
“What how did he even get your number?” Lauren put her knife and fork down.
“I gave it to him, in case, you know, they had any more parties.”
“Riley you’re so bad.” I flicked my napkin at her.
“What. . . we’re just friends?” We all laughed and, for a minute, it felt like everything was normal.
Yellow Bricks, p.9
The tall, nineteenth century house was made of yellow bricks and hidden on the outskirts of the village. The garden was wild and over-run pink and blue flowers. Lauren cut the lemon drizzle cake while her mum hung up on her life insurance company.
“You never think you’ll have to think about these things.” Annie put her mobile phone down on her lap, she was sat on a garden deck chair with a patchwork quilt tucked around her. “Until you do.”
“Do you want milk?” Lauren said.
“Of course, I want milk.” Annie said.
Riley was down the other end of the garden kicking a football about with Lauren’s little brother.
“It’s a beautiful garden.” I said.
“I just let it run wild.” Annie said. “Honestly, you should see how uptight some of the neighbours are about their roses. Never move to Gloucestershire Jessica. You’d hate it.”
“We like it.” Lauren handed me a cup and saucer.
“Yes, it’s fine for us, but not for someone like you.” Annie waved a bee away from her piece of cake.
“I’m going to take Dad his cake up.” Lauren’s dad was up in his study.
“She puts a brave face on, but I know she’s struggling.” Annie said, as soon as Lauren was gone.
I glanced up at the windows on the first and second floor, two were open.
“It’s a difficult time. I’m really sorry. . .”
“Don’t be sorry, what’s the point in that. Life’s too short for it, just make the most of it, you think you have all this time. . . but then, poof it’s gone, and you wonder what you did with your life.”
“You have really great kids.”
“I wanted to be an actress. Do you think it’s too late for it now? I thought I’d have time to do my own thing when the kids grew up. . . I can’t wait any longer. Do look out for Lauren, won’t you?”
“I can’t believe how hot it is.” Riley walked over, trailed by Stephen, holding his football.
“You will get hot if you play football in the mid-day heat.” Annie said.
“Where’s Lauren?” Stephen mumbled.
“She’s upstairs, take your cake and go and find her.” Annie waved him away like she had waved away the bee and brushed the crumbs from her fingers. “Now, where are you girls going tonight?”
“Not sure yet.” Riley sat down where Lauren had been. “Where’s good?”
“I’ll tell you where you absolutely must not go, the Rose and Crown. Someone will probably just try and start a fight with you. The butcher’s Arms is quite nice, but only really if you want food. I know. The Seven Stars. Yes, go there, I think they have live music sometimes.”
“The Seven Stars it is.”
The Rose and Crown, p.10
The pub stood out against the sharp blue of the evening sky. The paint was peeling off the wooden sign swinging above the main door. It was a picture of a red rose threaded through a gold crown.
“Your mum said not to go to the Rose and Crown.” I looked up at the pub from the backseat.
“She doesn’t know anything.” Lauren cut the engine and checked her make up before we got out.
The road reached into the distance in both directions and rolling hills surrounded us. There was no one else around. I felt a drop of sweat slip down the back of my neck.
“It looks a bit crusty,” Riley held up her arm to block the sun from her eyes. “Your mum said The Seven Stars was nice?”
“Yeah sure, if you’re like 80.” Lauren locked the car and walked up the steps leading into the pub.
The pub was dank and dark and sticky. Everything was carpeted and still smelt of cigarettes. Lauren ordered our drinks and then led us out through a small old door into a huge garden. I could see why she wanted to come here now. There were groups of all ages sitting at picnic tables drinking pints and eating crisps. The sun was so bright that it lit up the hills and fields with a beautiful gold light.
Lauren weaved her way through the packed garden to the one empty table.
“Alright Lauren?” Some guy said, as he walked past. “What are you doing back from uni?”
“I’m not at uni anymore.” Lauren laughed. “I live in London.”
“Oh right, what you doing back then?”
“Just showing my friends around.” Lauren pushed her foot against my shin under the table.
“Right then, I’m just going to the bar. Do you girls want another drink?”
“That’s ok.” I said. “We just got a drink.”
“No don’t worry, save you going up again, what are you having, another bottle of Rosé?”
“Thanks Mark.” Lauren said as he walked off into the pub.
“Lauren, what are you doing? We don’t need that guy to buy us drinks, I have money.”
“He’s a friend of mine.”
“He’s so old.”
“He’s not that old.”
“Look, as long as he buys us drinks, who cares.” Riley said. “It’s not like we’re going to get with him.”
“Just be careful. . . remember what happened last weekend?”
“Jessica, relax,” Riley said. “Lauren’s going through a hard time, if she wants a drink let her have one.”
Lauren flicked back her hair and stared off into the distance.
Pink Sunset, p.11
The fields changed from orange to blue as the sun dipped behind the woods. The sky was pink and Lauren, Riley and I ate salt and vinegar crisps and argued about why people voted for Brexit. Lauren seemed so much more confident here, she knew this place, she knew these people.
Riley emptied the last of the Rosé into our glasses and put the bottle upside down in the ice bucket.
“There’s no table service here.” The evening breeze played with the hem of Lauren’s dress as she stood up. “I’ll go and get another bottle.”
“I can go.” I said, but it was too late, she was already gone.
“I’m going to see if I can get a cigarette off those guys.” Riley stood up.
“They look about 15.” There was a group of six lads at the next picnic bench over.
“They must be sixth formers at least. They wouldn’t let them in otherwise.”
Riley slightly swayed as she walked over to the next table. The sixth formers all shuffled up to make room for her. The moment she sat down they all started cracking jokes and laughing.
I noticed Lauren was stood by the pub door, holding a bucket of Rosé and talking to Mark.
I took in a deep breath. The country air smelt sweet, like honeysuckle, and filled my lungs in away the city smog never did. I felt calm, all the troubles of work, bills and trying to post interesting things on social media all just seemed to dissolve into the fresh air.
My phone vibrated on the table and I picked it up to see I had a message from Fred.
Hey Jessica. I’m so sorry I haven’t been in touch. Things have just been really manic at work.
Fred. It’s been two weeks. You’re obviously not that interested. Let’s just leave it. Goodbye.
I saw him typing for a few minutes, but then he went offline without sending a message.
“Mark likes Fleetwood Mac too.” Lauren said as she dumped the bucket of Rosé down on the table.
“Everyone likes Fleetwood Mac.”
“I was just telling Mark how you’re really into music.” Lauren and Mark sat down opposite me.
“Just as much as anyone else.”
“And you play the keyboard.”
“I’m not very good. . .” I was going to have to talk to Mark. “What kind of music are you into?”
“Bit of pop, bit of punk, bit of ska, whatever’s on the radio really.”
Lauren and Mark went home together and the local school rugby team gave Riley and I instructions on how to cut across fields to get to the village our Airbnb was in.
The moon was huge and lit our way as we walked over the blue fields.
“You know, Jess.” Riley said as I helped her over the first gate. “There’s something I never told you.”
Blue Fields, p.12
I looked up at Riley, the light of the moon was shining on her face as she stood on the kissing gate.
“What do you mean?” I could feel her hands trembling in mine.
“I did something bad. I stole something.” The blue fields were silent apart from the sound of one solitary owl. “I was thinking about what you said. About how maybe we could pay some of Lauren’s rent so she could stay with us.”
“I thought you said that was a bad idea.” I let go of her hands and started walking past the rows of wheat. “You said her mum might be sick for a long time, she might not have to give up her job.”
“Yeah, but she has given up her job.” Riley jumped down and hurried after me. “You know I walk dogs sometimes for extra money. This woman always keeps her money in this safe in the wall, and one day she was about to pay me, and the phone rang and she left it open.”
“She trusted you.” The wheat brushed against my bare legs.
“Look I know it was wrong, but I was just looking at all this money and these jewels and it just popped into my head what you said about Lauren.”
“I meant we should pay her rent with our own money.”
“There’s no way we could have covered it ourselves, I can barely cover my rent.”
“That doesn’t make it right.” We reached the top of the hill. I could see the village we were staying in nestled in the wood below.
“I knew it was a mistake,” Riley grabbed my hand. “as soon as I left, but I don’t know what to do. ”
There was wheat surrounding us on every side, clouds drifted across the face of the moon.
“Just take it back.”
“I can’t, what if she calls the police.” Riley pulled a small brooch out of her skirt pocket, she tried to give it to me but I didn’t want to take it. “Blue diamonds can be worth 100s of 1000s of pounds.”
“Are you sure that’s what it is?”
“I don’t know. Please Jessica, you have to help me put it back.”
“Riley, this is the last thing we need, right now. We’re supposed to be looking after Lauren and we’ve just let her go off with some guy.” I heard my voice crack and I started walking down the hill.
“Lauren knows him, they’re friends. She’d drunk too much to drive. Please, Jess, will you help me?”
“First thing tomorrow, we’re getting up and we’re finding Lauren.” The village still looked far away.
“And then?” I heard Riley’s voice rise with excitement.
“And then we’ll put the brooch back.” I turned to look at her and Riley threw her arms around me.
“Thanks Jess, you don’t know how much this means to me.”
The clouds drifted away from the moon as we made our way down to the village.
Chaise lounge, p.13
Lauren opened the door and walked off without saying anything. I stood on the porch for a few minutes looking at the wellington boots, building up the courage to go in. Annie was sitting in the living room watching TV. Even though it was hot outside the room felt cool and almost damp.
“Hello Jessica, do come in, have a seat, Lauren’s just make some tea.” Annie didn’t get up from the chaise lounge, her legs were wrapped in the same blankets as the day before.
I sat down on a small ornate armchair. The blue and yellow wallpaper matched the floral curtains.
“Where’s Riley?” Annie took a sip of juice through the carton of drink she was holding.
“She’s in the car, just having her weekly catch up call with her parents.”
“That’s nice.” Annie slurped the last of the juice and put the carton on a side table, by her phone.
There was a Sunday morning TV show on. It reminded me of being a kid. At the flat we only had Netflix and Amazon prime.
Lauren came in carrying a large tea tray. The spoons and cups clattered as she put it down on the sideboard.
“Careful dear.” Annie called as Lauren walked out.
“Shall I?” I leant forward.
“Oh yes please, if you wouldn’t mind.”
I went over to the side board and started pouring the tea.
“Lauren came home very early this morning.” Annie said. “I know she thinks I didn’t hear her but I did. I can hear everything that happens in this house. What were you girls up to?”
The tea flowed over the top of the cup and onto the saucer.
“Oh nothing.” I put the teapot down. “She stayed at our Airbnb.” Annie was looking out the window. I poured a second cup of tea and took it over to her.
“Soon I won’t know anything she does. Just put it there, next to my phone. Promise me you’ll look out for her, don’t let her do anything stupid? I know what she’s like, I was just like that at her age.”
Annie grabbed my wrist. I could feel there wasn’t much strength in her grip. Next to mine her skin looked thin and pale, like it could easily tear.
Lauren walked back in and finished pouring the tea. I jumped away from Annie. I knew she was still looking at me. I went and sat down. I didn’t know what good I could do. If only she knew Riley and I were deep in a plot to return a stolen brooch before the police got to us. Still, I knew I had no choice.
“Yes, that would be lovely.” I told Annie.
“What are you talking about?” Lauren handed me a cup of tea.
“Just saying we would like some chocolate biscuits.” Annie smiled and Lauren rolled her eyes.
Cut blue gemstone, p.14
The cut blue gemstone brooch was on the kitchen table. The door to the balcony was wide open and a breeze was blowing in. All I could hear was the Bow Sunday evening traffic driving past.
“It was only two weeks ago we were on the beach.” I leant back against the kitchen counter.
“Heady days.” Riley had her hands flat on the table and her chin on top of her hands. It looked like she was having a staring match with the brooch.
“I can’t believe I have to go to work tomorrow.” I rubbed the back of my neck.
“What?” Riley sat up. “I thought you were going to help me put the brooch back.
“Riley, I have to work. One of us has to have a job!” I stood up straight.
“I have a job. I have several jobs!” Riley slammed a hand down on the table.
“When are you walking the dog?” I went and closed the balcony door. It was too loud outside.
“At lunchtime, but I could move it to the evening, maybe. Come and meet me in Victoria Park.”
“Victoria Park is massive. I’ll never find you.” I felt the lock click as I turned the key.
“Meet me at the boating lake and we’ll go to the house. When she opens the safe, I’ll create a distraction. You put the brooch back.”
“I don’t want to put it back. Why can’t I create the distraction?” I put the key on the shelf.
“I know her, it will be easier. It’s already weird enough that you’re there.”
“It was your idea for me to come. What’s the backstory anyway?” I turned around chair round and sat on it backwards so I was facing Riley.
“You’re a friend. You’re really into dogs, but not in a weird way. When she opens the safe. . .”
“What weird way?”
“I’ll say, ‘Look!” Riley stood up pretended to act out the scene, twirling around on the cheap lino. “Is there someone. . . in the back garden? She turns, you put the brooch back.”
“What if she catches me?” I folded my arms across the back of the chair.
“We run.” Riley tucked her hair back. They style of her bob meant her hair was longer on one side. “Let’s just do it today and then it’s done.” Riley sat down. “What happened with Fred by the way?”
“It’s over.” I looked over at the window. It had become dark while we were talking.
“Sorry. Do you think Lauren and Mark. . .?” Riley slipped the brooch into her jumpsuit pocket.
“I don’t want to think about it, he could be her father. . . What about you and that party guy?”
“Oh Alby, yeah, we’ve been texting a bit. He’s nice.”
“Really? Why don’t you get him to help you?” I got up to put a jumper on.
“Jessica, I don’t want him to know I’m a criminal!” Riley got up and followed me.
“The sooner he knows the better if you ask me.”
The wide Victoria street was lined with huge houses and London Planes. The summer’s evening had a calm Monday night feel, but my palms were sweating as I clutched the brooch in my dress pocket. Champion, the small dog we had in tow, kept barking at my bare ankles.
“Come on Champion.” Riley pulled at his pink lead. ““Don’t do anything until I give the signal.”
Riley was wearing a headscarf and large sunglasses, as though to disguise herself.
“What’s the signal?” I walked along the edge of the pavement, as far away from them as I could get.
“Jessica. I text you earlier.” We weaved around a London Plane. Its mottled bark flaked away as Champion stopped to sniff it.
“All you send me is pictures of cute dogs.” I let go of the brooch and took my phone out.
“In between the dogs.”
I scrolled through my old messages.
“Watermelon? Won’t she think that’s weird if you just shout out, watermelon?”
“I’ll say it quietly.” Champion started pissing on the tree.
“We don’t need a code word. It’s not a sex game.”
“Jessica. Hi!” Fred was coming out of a large house a few doors down.
Riley pulled Champion closer too her and he yelped. I pushed my phone back in my bag.
“Hey Champion, how you doing?” Fred walked towards us.
“Fred.” I gave Riley a look before turning back to him. “You know Champion?”
“Yeah, of course.” Fred stopped to pet Champion for a second and then smiled at Riley. “You must be Mum’s dog walker. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Here he is.” Riley thrust the lead into Fred’s hand.
“Don’t you want to come in?” The front door to the four-storey house was still open.
“No, it’s fine, we’re in a rush.” Riley linked her arm through mine and did a 180-degree turn.
“Nice to see you.” Fred called out after us. “And meet you.”
“Why did you do that?” I hissed to Riley, through my teeth.
“I don’t know, I panicked. What is he doing here? Maybe Mary told him about the brooch.”
“No, I don’t think so.” I glanced back as we turned the corner, he was still watching.
“Did you know he was rich? Why did you break up with him?”
“Well, yeah he works in the city, but we never even really went out.”
“You have the cigarettes he left. Text him about that.”
“I’m not going to text him.” Just as I said it, my phone beeped. Riley watched me as I took my phone out my pocket. The message read: Hi Jess . . . Can we talk?
The hands on the clock clicked into the 7.30pm and I had been staring at my phone for 45 minutes.
“Have you done it yet?” Riley called from outside the door.
“No. Can I have some privacy please?” I heard her stomp up and down on the spot to make it sound like she was walking away. I got up from my bed and pulled the door open. Riley leapt back in alarm.
“What are you doing?”
“Have you called him yet. You can’t put it off forever.”
“Let’s just think about it.” I walked into the kitchen. “We need to focus on putting the brooch back.”
“First you need to call Fred to see if Mary’s told him something.”
There was nothing in the fridge but a few spring onions and some cottage cheese. I knew if Lauren was here, she would have ordered a pizza by now.
“We need to eat. Then we can think.”
Riley glanced at the fridge.
“What do you want? Noodles?”
“Do we have noodles?”
“Look your just procrastinating.” Riley grabbed the spring onions and closed the fridge door.
“Let’s just go and put the brooch back tomorrow and then I’ll call him.”
“I don’t walk Champion on Tuesdays.” Riley got out a chopping board out.
“Wednesday then.” I pulled out a cook book, the book mark was a picture of me, Lauren and Riley.
“That’s two days away, they could have called the police by then.”
“They might have called the police already.”
“Jessica don’t say things like that.” Riley slammed the cutlery draw a little too hard.
“Me calling Fred is just going to open up a whole other problem we don’t want.”
“I thought you liked him.” Riley flicked her eyes up at me as she chopped the spring onions.
“I did but. . .” I put the cook book down. “Are you sure we have noodles?”
“And he’s rich. . .”
“I don’t think he’s that rich. . .”
“So just go out with him until we can figure out what he knows.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m just going to text him and ask him what he wants to talk about and then at least we’ll know if it’s about the brooch or. . .”
“The cigarettes he left here.” Riley winked at me as she grabbed a pack of noodles. I looked down at my hands. I was still holding the photo. It was taken in a pop-up photo booth one bank holiday. Lauren’s hair was pink.
Helicopter seeds, p.17
The view from my desk was of building across the street. The words WeWork were written in pink neon across the front. A bus drove past, a helicopter seed twirled to the ground, a man came out for a cigarette and I moved my fingers around the tracking pad of my laptop to make it seem like I was working. The smoking man had his jacket buttoned up. It was a little colder today. He took a drag and I wondered what he was thinking about. All I could hear was the clatter of keys around me. My phone started ringing and I pushed my swivel chair back and opened my draw to see my phone lit up. It was a mobile number I didn’t recognise. A few people were looking at me. I was supposed to have my phone on silent but Riley had told me to keep it on in case the police arrested her and she needed to call me for bail. I grabbed the phone and walked out to the toilets.
“Jessica. It’s me. Annie. Lauren’s mum.”
“Annie. What’s wrong? Are you ok?” I locked the toilet cubicle door behind me.
“Of course, I’m not ok. I have a terminal illness.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry. . .”
“Lauren’s taken off, we had a huge row and she’s gone. I rang around the village, and a few other villages, and it turns out she’s staying at this man Mark’s house. Did she tell you about this?”
“No.” I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t spoken to Lauren since Riley and I left Gloucestershire.
“Jessica, I asked you to look out for her.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Just let me know what I can do to help.”
“You need to persuade her to come home. Poor Stephen is beside himself.”
“I am not!” I heard Stephen, Lauren’s little brother shouting somewhere down the line.
I took my phone out into the street. I was shaking but I didn’t know why. The cigarette smoking man had gone. There was a woman driving a street cleaner up the street, the green brush of the moving wheels was buffering the pavement. I looked down at my sandals and the helicopter seeds scattered on the floor. It was too early for them to be falling, although, it was already nearly the end of July, and then it would be August, and then September.
I called Lauren. It rang a few times and went to voicemail. I started to write her a text when another message came through. It was from Fred.
It read: Hi. I just thought we ended things a little weirdly and wanted to check you were ok?
I was still shaking as the street cleaner hummed past me. I kept seeing this image of Lauren and Mark together outside the pub. It has been a perfect summer’s evening. She was laughing and holding a bucket of chilled Rosé. I was texting Fred to tell him he didn’t seem that interested and it was probably better if we just left it. I could still hear Lauren laughing as I walked back to my desk.
Long t-shirt, p. 17
It was a hot night and I kept moving around on my bed and flipping the pillow over to see if the other side was cooler. I pulled the duvet on top of me and then pushed it off again. I got up and went out on to the kitchen balcony. I took Fred’s cigarettes with me. I turned the box over in my hands while I stared down at the street below. I thought about Jamie. I didn’t have his number. If I wanted to see him again, I’d have to go over to his flat and knock.
I sat on the cold iron chair and tapped Fred’s cigarette box on the table. I felt angry at him for making it seem like I had behaved strangely, even though he had either cancelled, or been dramatically late to, all our meet ups. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something wasn’t right. I shivered. I was only wearing a vest and shorts. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I figured out what to do. I stared at the poplar trees until the kitchen light came on.
“What’s up?” Riley pushed the balcony door open. She was wearing a long t-shirt and fluffy slippers.
“Do you want a cigarette? I offered her the box but she shook her head. “No, me neither.”
“It’s late you’ve got work tomorrow.”
“And you’re walking Champion.”
“Jess, I’m sorry I got you into this mess.”
“It’s ok, it’s not that. I’m just worried about Lauren.”
“I’m sure she’ll call us when she wants to.”
“Maybe we should have talked to her more, about what was happening.”
“With her mum?”
“Yeah, we’ve been so caught up in the brooch thing we didn’t even text her.”
“It’s not your fault. I just don’t know what to do to help.”
“Maybe there’s nothing you can do.”
I went and put the cigarettes back in the kitchen.
“Let’s just walk Champion tomorrow evening, put the brooch back and try and call Lauren again.”
I put my hands on the sides of the counter to steady myself.
“Sounds like a good plan to me.” Riley smiled and clasped her hands together.
I nodded and went back to bed. I didn’t want Riley to see me so tense and restless. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to cry. I didn’t feel sad though. I rolled over onto my back and told myself there was no point in worrying about things I couldn’t control. I fell asleep thinking about the way the moon looked as Riley and I walked home from the Rose and Crown, and crossed over the kissing gate, and if Lauren was out there now, roaming the fields of Gloucestershire.
Cold coffee, p.19
The bird song was loud and the kitchen was hot.
“I rang Mark.”
“What?” Riley spat her cereal out into her Ikea bowl. She was still wearing her long t-shirt and fluffy slippers. I was fully dressed for work in a white shirt and a pair of slacks. I’d even styled my hair.
“I got his number of the woman who runs at the Rose and Crown.”
“Which woman?” Riley looked like she was still half asleep.
“Tanya. The pub’s number was on google.” I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard.
“It’s like 6am, is the pub even open?”
“It’s 8.15.” I enjoyed the noise the cereal made as it fell into the bowl. “Tanya was just at the pub doing the accounts before they opened.”
“Sit down, it puts me on edge when you eat standing up.”
“I don’t have time to sit down.” I poured milk over the cereal. “I’m meeting Fred and lunchtime.”
“Yeah.” I took a few mouthfuls of cereal. “Can I have some of your coffee?”
“Sure.” Riley handed me her cup. The coffee was cold but I took a few sips anyway before finishing my cereal.
“I can make more coffee.” Riley went and put the kettle on.
“No don’t worry.” I started to wash up my bowl in the sink.
“How is Lauren, what did Mark say?”
“He put me on the phone to her. She’s fine. I said we’d go and see her this weekend.”
“Good idea.” Riley started making more coffee. “And. . .”
“I’ll meet you after work and we’ll go and put the brooch back.”
“What about Fred?”
“If he says anything remotely interesting, I’ll let you know.”
“Wow, a productive morning and it’s not even 8.15.”
“It’s gone 8.15 and I’m going to be really late for work.”
“What did Fred say? Did you call him?”
“No, I just text. His office isn’t too far from mine so we just said we’d meet for a chat. Lunch is neutral right? There’s no way it can turn into drinks or anything else.”
“That’s what you would think, but sometimes me and this other dog walker have a drink at lunch. . .”
“Riley, I’ve got to go. I’ll meet you at Victoria Park tonight.”
Cambridge Heath Road, p.20
I met Fred in a house in Hackney, not far from Cambridge Heath Road. It was one of the first really warm days of the year. I strolled up from Bow, through Victoria Park, in my heels and little red dress, thinking it was a party and I would be early, but actually I was late. The platters of flavoured hummus, seeded flatbreads and unusual cheeses laid out were already all half eaten. Most of the guests had babies or were expecting.
I put my bottle of wine in a Tesco’s bag down on the counter top and wondered what I should do. Fred, seeing me on my own, walked over and offered to open the wine for me. I felt over dressed, or under dressed, I was the only one not wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from COS.
Fred chatted to me about his work in the City while he got a corkscrew out for the wine.
“How do you know Marcella?” I tried to look past him, out into the garden.
“Oh, we’re old friends.” He pulled the cork out of the bottle. “So, tell me Jessica, what do you do?”
“What do I do?” I thought maybe I could see Riley, but I wasn’t sure. A lot of people were having barbeques that day, she could be anywhere in the city.
“Yes, what do you do, where do you work?” He said it to me the same way my French teacher used to explain questions to me in my mock exams. Fred poured me a glass of wine.
“Oh, I, work for a law firm.” I swirled the wine around in my glass. It was a huge glass, the kind you only see in restaurants in Borough Market.
“You’re a lawyer?”
“Well, sort of, not exactly.”
“Care to elaborate?” He topped up his own glass.
“Uh, yeah, I mean I’m qualified as a lawyer but I don’t go to court or anything.”
He folded his arms and swirled his glass around as he looked at me. His polo shirt looked brand new.
“Right, so what kind of things would you work on then?”
“Just like, big trade cases, really boring stuff.”
“But you must like it?”
“Yeah, I like it, I’m good at it. It’s just not very interesting to talk about at a party.”
“No, I suppose my job isn’t either.” He smiled and took a sip of his wine.
Lauren burst in then, wearing an even more crazy dress than me, and dropped a bag of wine bottles.
“Jessica there you are.” Lauren grabbed me by the elbow, and managed to pick up my bottle of wine and an empty glass that had just appeared on the side, with her other hand. “You will never guess what happened.”
“See you later.” Fred nodded at me as Lauren dragged me out into the garden.
Flat white, p.21
The café had a glass front and people were rushing in and out, clutching their phones and cups of coffee. Fred was sat on a stool next to one of the distressed woods table tops hanging from the ceiling on metal chains. There were spider plants hanging from the ceiling too, and Ficus stood near the door way in huge dark blue ceramic pots. Fred already had a coffee and was scrolling through his phone. He was wearing an immaculate, tailored blue suit. Everything he owned was smart, sharp, even his penthouse flat with the view of the Shard didn’t have a single cup or book out of place.
I hovered outside for a few minutes, pretending to let people out. I turned around and started to walk back to Holborn, but then I turned around again and walked straight into the café.
“Jessica. Hi.” Fred stood up as a I sat down. The table was in the way so we didn’t have to shake hands or kiss on the cheek. “Flat white? What kind of milk do you want?”
“Uh. . .” I glanced up at the large chalkboard above the baristas’ heads. “Oat?”
“Great choice.” Fred pulled his leather wallet out of his pocket and walked over to the counter. Most of the people around me were on their phones or laptops, it wasn’t actually that different from being in the office. It was artificially cold and all I could hear was the clacking of keys. Now I was sitting on one of the stools I wished my skirt was longer and that my handbag was more expensive.
Fred came back with my coffee and placed it down next to me, a little too close for my liking.
“So, how’s things at the office?” He sat down on the stool opposite me.
“They’re fine. We’re a relatively new firm, so, you know it’s always busy.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me.” He checked the time on his watch. “And how are your flatmates?”
“Yeah, they’re good. . .” Lauren had sounded strange on the phone, distant, far away, small. “How about you? How’s everything going in the finance world?”
“I know you have the brooch.”
“Does Mary know?”
“Forget about her. I know you have it and I’d like it back please. Just tell me what you want for it.”
“We don’t want anything. We were planning to put it back tonight.”
“I’d rather you just gave it to me now.”
“I can’t give it to you now.” I lied. “I don’t have it on me. Riley has it.”
“Fine, tonight then.” Fred finished his coffee and checked his wrist watch again. “I don’t know what you two are up to but you better bring it back tonight.”
The moment he left the café I checked my hand bag to make sure the brooch was still there.
Fish, p. 22
The boating lake was grey. It was the first overcast day for weeks. There was no one around apart from a few runners and cyclists. I stood in my jacket, sipping coffee from my eco cup and watching the fish moving under the surface. Something about my meeting with Fred didn’t feel right. Something in his eyes told me this was about more than just a brooch that belonged to his mother.
Riley and Champion circled round the large trees and tottered towards me. Champion barked when he saw me and tried to run towards me, but Riley pulled him back.
“Hey. What’s up?” Riley was wearing a summer hat and flashed me a grin as Champion dragged her forward.
“Ready to get this over with?”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking . . .” Riley adjusted her hat and Champion sat down and growled at me.
“You said. . . Fred asked what we wanted for the brooch . . .”
“Lauren could really use that money. We won’t have to sublet her room.”
“She can stay with us anytime anyway.”
“Where? Jessica your room is so small you can barely stand up in it. . .”
“I’m not taking money from Fred.”
“Jessica. Sometimes you just don’t see opportunities when they’re staring right at you.”
“This is not an opportunity, and besides I think there is something fishy about this whole thing.”
“What do you mean?” Riley picked Champion up in her arms to try and sooth him.
“Isn’t it strange that Fred noticed the brooch was missing. . . but Mary’s never mentioned it to you?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Riley began stroking Champion as he settled down in her arms.
“How much do we really know about Fred’s job anyway?” I started walking out of the park.
“I don’t know . . . you’re the one going out with him.” Riley followed me, still holding Champion.
“I’m not going out with him.” We weaved round the cyclists coming in through the main gate.
“He works in the City, right?”
“Yeah, I always thought he was a trader, but what if it’s something else. Why would he be hiding jewellery in a safe at his mother’s house.”
“Maybe it was a present for you?” Riley readjusted Champion in her arms as we crossed the road.
“No, the way he seemed the café was really edgy. I think there’s something else going on here and we really don’t want to get involved. Let’s just go and give the brooch back now.”
“Sometimes you’re so boring.”
It started to rain as we turned on to Mary’s street.
Out in the rain, p.23
Mary was pruning the roses outside her large Victorian house and wearing a rain mac and a plastic scarf around her head. Riley and I looked at each other as Champion scurried between us.
Just as we arrived at the house, Fred came and stood in the middle of the path, blocking our entry.
“Hello girls.” Fred put his hands in his trouser pockets and smiled. Champion barked.
“Champion, Riley! You’re back early.” Mary squinted to check her watch. “Oh no, it is about that time already. It seemed the perfect afternoon to do some gardening, even if it is raining. I’m Mary.”
“This is my friend Jessica.” Riley nudged me towards Mary.
“Hello. Lovely, uh, house, dog, uh,” I looked at Fred, he was grinning, “uh, roses.” I wondered how he kept his clothes so immaculate. There wasn’t a crease on his shirt since I’d seen him at lunch.
“Why don’t you come in?” Fred stood aside and opened an arm to gesture us in.
“This is my son, Fred. Yes, you must be awfully wet. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea?”
I hoped Riley she would decline the invitation but she pushed straight past me, dragging a yelping Champion behind her. Mary followed, clutching her gardening tools and then it was just me and Fred left outside, sheltered from the rain by the London Planes.
“After you.” I could see that, as I walked past him, there was a chance that our bodies might touch.
“No, you go first.”
“Please you’re our guest.”
“You don’t actually live here.”
“Do you really want to do this out here in the rain?”
“I’m not wet.”
“No, I suppose you’re right.”
I walked past him, brushing up against the wall to the next-door neighbour’s front garden. Mary and Riley were already in the kitchen. Riley was sitting on a chair, stroking Champion, and Mary was putting tea into a tea pot. I had the brooch in my pocket but I had no idea how much it was worth.
“Oh, he is funny, isn’t he?” Mary said.
“The next thing I knew he was out of the pond and trying to chase a squirrel up a lamppost.” Riley said. They both laughed. Fred stood behind me with his hands in his pockets. I wondered if I should just give him the brooch, or wait until Mary opened the safe, like Riley and I had planned.
Mary put out the cups and saucers for the tea and I thought about Lauren’s mum, and I thought about Lauren, and how many cups of tea you make without ever really thinking about what’s next.
I had googled blue brooches, if it was diamond, it could be worth thousands, or even millions of pounds. Lauren could keep her room at the flat while she looked after her mum.
“Mary, do you own a blue brooch?”
Small stretch of shops, p.24
On the main road there was a small stretch of shops with a few cherry trees planted in the middle of the extended pavement. Alby and Jamie were sat on the bench outside the newsagents eating boxes of PFC. Alby was sat on the back of the bench with his feet on the seat and laughing at something Jamie had just said. The local pigeons were pecking away at the chips scattered around them.
“Hi boys.” Riley walked over to them smiling.
“Riley. Hey!” Alby leapt up. “Do you want some chips?”
“Thanks.” Riley leaned forward and took a chip in a way I’d never seen anyone take a chip before.
“Hi Jessica. Do you want some chips?” Jamie offered me the box he was holding.
“No thanks.” I kept my hands in my jacket pockets. “We need to get home actually.”
“Where were you girls at on Saturday?” Alby and Riley sat down next to each other.
“You know, we’re busy women.” Riley flicked back her short hair and took another one of his chips. Jamie looked up at me, his mouth open like he might say something. I went and sat down next to him, right on the corner of the bench where there wasn’t much room. Everyone moved up so that Riley was basically sitting in Alby’s lap. Jamie offered me the chips again and this time I took one.
“You been up to much this week?” Jamie asked me, while Riley laughed at whatever Alby was saying.
“It’s been an unusual week.” I could feel the damp from the wooden bench, where it had rained earlier, seeping into my skirt. The scene at Mary’s flashed back through my mind. I knew the moment she told me she hadn’t owned a brooch in 50 years, we would get away with it. I knew we would make it out if the house somehow, and that we would run. I knew Fred wouldn’t chase us, it’s not like he would wrestle me to the ground. No, he would find another way to get what he wanted.
“You can tell me.” Jamie handed me his can of coke up from the floor. I was shivering a little but I took a sip. The sugar against the sharp taste of the coke and the cool metal of the can woke me up.
“I love Hasan Minhaj.” Riley said loudly, touching Alby’s arm. Sometimes her personality changed to such a drastic degree that she seemed like a totally different person to me.
My phone started vibrating in my pocket. It was Annie, Lauren’s mum.
“Jessica. Lauren said you’re coming Gloucestershire this Friday, and I was wondering if you could pick up some things for me. I read about these amazing breads at the Lebanese Bakery in Covent garden.”
“Annie, yes absolutely, but I can’t talk right now, I’ll have to call you back.” I could see Fred crossing the road further up the street.
“Quick we need to hide.” I grabbed Jamie by the arm and we all ran into the newsagent.
Cracked lino, p.25
The shop keeper was watching us in the circular mirror nailed to the ceiling. I could see Alby was also using the mirror to adjust his hat in. Jamie was reading the cartoons on the back of a box of Variety Packs. Riley and I were huddled in the corner next to the toilet rolls and the bleach.
“Are you sure it was him?”
“Maybe if we stay here long enough, he’ll leave.” Riley glanced out at the street.
I looked down at the speckled pattern on the cracked lino and realised I had no idea what to do.
“Alby please tell your friends to buy something if you are going to stay.” The shop keeper shouted.
“Sorry uncle.” Alby turned to me and Lauren. “Look, why don’t we go back to mine.”
“Or you can come back to mine.” Jamie said, putting the Variety Pack back on the shelf.
“You live to close too our flat.” Riley said. “But Alby’s might be ok, if we go the back way.”
“Great.” Alby rubbed his hands together. “So, who is this guy and why are we hiding from him?”
Riley looked at me and I pulled the brooch out of my jacket pocket. It glittered under the shop light.
“What about some sweets or crisps?” The shopkeeper shouted at us.
“Just one minute, uncle.” Alby’s eyes fixed on the brooch. “Where did you get that from?”
“We stole it from that guy.”
“Jessica. I told you not to tell anybody.”
“We can’t hide it from them.”
“Why did you steal it?” Jamie asked.
“It’s two-for-one on Galaxy Caramel.”
“Ok uncle, I’m coming.” Alby grabbed the pack of Variety Pack of the shelf and went over to pay.
“I stole it.” Riley said. “It was me.”
“Why don’t you just give it back?”
“Come on, the coast is clear.” Alby was stand in the shop door way holding the Variety Pack with one hand and waving us out with the other.
It was cold on the street and it was starting to get dark. The wind had picked up. I looked up and down the street a few times but I couldn’t see Fred. He must be at the flat by now, ringing on the door bell, looking through the window into the communal hallway, maybe even persuading a neighbour to let him into the building.
“We need to give it back Riley.” I said as we turned down a side street towards Alby’s house.
“I know.” She shoved her hands in her jacket pocket too.
“Do you want to just do it now?”
A high level of discretion, p.26
Fred was waiting outside the flat reading a newspaper. It had been such a long day and it still wasn’t even dark yet. I told Riley to go to go Alby’s and come home in half an hour.
“Hi, can we talk?” Fred folded his newspaper under his arm.
“You can come in.” I unlocked the front door to the building. I knew I had to be brave. I checked the post box, to see if anything had arrived. There were just a few political flyers and a pizza menu.
“Anything good?” Fred tried to look to see what I’d received and I hid the post behind me.
“Let’s just go upstairs.”
Fred looked out at the street from the balcony and lit a cigarette from the pack I had just given back to him. I stood half in the door way, not sure what to do with my hands.
“I really liked you Jessica. I don’t know how things became so confused between us.”
“There’s nothing to be confused about. You treated me badly.” I stepped in and out of the kitchen.
“My job’s very unpredictable. I don’t always know the hours I’ll work.”
“So, what is your job, really?”
“What do you mean? I work in finance.” He tapped his cigarette ash out but I held my mouth until he held his hands up and said: “Fine. You got me. It’s a little more complicated than that. . . I work for a mining company. A lot of the work we do is very sensitive, and requires a high level of discretion.”
“What kind of mining company?”
“We work all over the world.”
“Do you mine under the sea?” I remembered someone at a party telling me this was bad, but I couldn’t remember why.
“Don’t look at me like that, how do you think your phone gets made?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t avoid my questions. Why do you want the brooch so much?”
“Which question do you want me to answer, the one about the mining or the one about the brooch?”
“You’re being purposefully evasive.”
“No, I am not.”
“Just tell me the truth.”
“What you want for the brooch?”
“How much is it worth?”
“I don’t know. . . $65 I think.” He took another drag of his cigarette.
“Why do you want it?” I didn’t want to admit I thought the brooch might be worth millions.
“It’s not the brooch I want.”
Microphone, p. 27
Fred tapped his cigarette ash on the balcony floor.
“It’s a microphone?” I pulled the brooch out of my pocket.
“It has a microphone on the back.” He took another drag of his cigarette.
“Why would you need this?”
Fred reached forward, took the brooch out of my hand and put it in his pocket. I didn’t react. I let him take it. A police siren wailed somewhere in the distance and I could hear two drunk people fighting down on the street.
“You should go.” I said, before he could finish his cigarette.
“You’re not going to ask me any more questions, you don’t want to know what it’s for?”
“Would you tell me the truth even if I asked?”
“It depends what you ask.” He put out his cigarette in the ashtray. “I really thought we could have had something.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.” I went into the kitchen and put on a cardigan. Fred followed me.
“My work is, complicated. . . that’s why it’s difficult for me to make plans sometimes.”
“Why are you keeping a brooch with a microphone on at your mother’s house?”
“I wasn’t sure it was safe at mine. Come on, you have to believe me. You’re the one that stole the it from me.”
“I didn’t steal, it. . .it was. . .”
I heard Riley burst in through the front door and her footsteps hurrying down the corridor.
“What’s going on?” Riley walked into the kitchen and flicked on the overhead light. Fred squinted.
“Fred was just leaving.”
“Is everything ok?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.” I stared at Fred until he nodded.
“You know where I am.” He smiled and walked out, the same smile he had given me the first time we met at the house in Hackney. There was something about him I didn’t trust, that I had never trusted, but I couldn’t explain why. At least now, I had some clues.
“What happened?” Riley said the minute we heard the door close behind him.
“I gave the brooch back to him.” I sat down on a chair. “He said it wasn’t worth anything, anyway.”
“Of course, he would say that.”
“He said there was a microphone on it.”
“Why, for what?”
“We didn’t get into it. Let’s just get to bed. We’ve got to go to Gloucester tomorrow for Lauren.”
Alongside the river, p.28
I put on my white shirt, black mini-skirt and Converse, just like any other day. I slung my bag with my high heels in over my shoulder and walked to Mile End. Instead of going left into the station, I went right, towards the park and undocked a Santander bike. I cycled down the main road, all the way through Stepney and Whitechapel, to Tower Hill and then I rode alongside the traffic going into town. I thought I would cycle up to Holborn, but when I got to Temple, instead of turning right, I could see that, if I kept going, I could cycle along the Embankment, past Waterloo Bridge and the Millennium Wheel and the Houses of Parliament. I kept going. I could feel the morning sun on my skin and the breeze coming in off the river. I could feel the calm radiating out of the trees. I didn’t think about how it was already August, and summer would be over soon. I just kept riding, past Chelsea Bridge and it wasn’t too long before the buildings started to drop away and I cycled alongside the river, past the huge trees and big houses and little blocks of flats until I arrived at Kew.
I stopped on the bridge and realised I wasn’t that far from my parents’ house and also that I was thirsty. I looked on my phone and was surprised to find that it wasn’t even 10am yet, and that no one had tried to call me. I felt like I had been riding for hours. I text work and told them there was a plumbing emergency at my flat. I cycled up to Brentford but I couldn’t find anywhere to dock the bike so I left it in the front garden of my parent’s small Victorian terraced house.
It was shady and cool in the kitchen and my mum was following a recipe from a cookbook.
“Hi Mum.” I was expecting a barrage of questions about why I wasn’t at work.
“Jessica. We weren’t expecting you for lunch. I’m not sure if there’ll be enough.”
“Don’t worry.” I halted my approach. “I just popped in to see Dad. I won’t stay for lunch.”
“Oh, thank goodness. You’re welcome to stay of course, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting you.”
Dad was in the back bedroom. Mum wouldn’t go in there since Danny left.
“Hi Dad.” I knocked on the door and he put down the book about spiders he was reading and pulled his feet off the top of his desk. It was sat in the middle of room, just like it did in his old GP office.
“Jessica. What are you doing here? Is everything alright?”
“I feel lost.” I sat down on the old wingback chair opposite him. The window was behind him I could see all the neighbour’s houses and the birds flying between the different trees in their gardens.
“Hmm, ah, ok, is this not something your mother can help with?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t like my job, Lauren’s mum is terminally ill, and she asked me to look out for Lauren and I just forgot. . .”
“Right, and Lauren is?” Dad put on his spectacles and started making notes on a prescription pad.
“My flatmate, and Riley asked me to help with this plan she had to help Lauren, but I messed it up.”
“Riley’s your other flatmate?” Dad licked his fingers and flicked onto the next page on the pad.
Prescription pad, p.29
Dad put the prescription pad down on his desk.
“Hmm, well it seems to me, that you’re very lucky to have such good friends and seem to be the sort of person people trust and want to ask help from. I haven’t seen my best friend Tony in 15 years. . .”
“Why don’t you just call him?”
“Hmm, yes I suppose I could. . .” Dad picked up the prescription pad and reread what he had written. “I’m concerned about this ‘mining spy’, you’re dating. Deep sea mining is so bad for environment.”
“Yeah Dad, I know, and I was never really dating him anyway. We just hung out a few times.”
“I have a book on microbiology I really think you should read, let me find it for you.”
“Dad. I don’t think that will help.” He stood with his back to me and inspected his bookshelf.
“Hmm, it’s not here.” He bent own and started looking at the spines on the piled-up stacks of books.
“I know enough about microbiology already.” I said. At this he started laughing.
“Why don’t you go and see your mother and I’ll come and get you when I’ve found it.”
“Sure.” I pulled myself up from the red velvet chair, from the piles of books scattered around the room, I knew it could be a while. Dad looked up from the two books he was holding.
“Jessica, you shouldn’t worry so much. You’re doing everything great. I’m really proud of you.”
I nodded and walked out, but what I didn’t say was, was that I didn’t feel like me, and would he feel so proud if he knew who I really was, and who was that anyway.
I sat on the My Little Pony duvet cover on my childhood bed and looked at a picture of me and Danny from the last family holiday we all went on. We were sticking our tongues out and drinking brightly coloured drinks. I had tried to call him and text him many times, but he never picked up. Even when I went to message him on Facebook, I found he had deleted me as a friend. I could see from his profile picture that he was in Thailand or somewhere exciting. I had always looked up to him, even when he was getting expelled from school and thrown out of the house. I put the picture back on my bedside table. I didn’t know why I had come back. Nothing ever changed. Even now Danny had gone, neither of them mentioned him, or acted like anything was different. I knew they thought I was defiant too, and I knew there was no point being angry at them, how could they set us up for a life they knew nothing about. They didn’t see Danny getting beat up at school every day until he started to beat other kids up, or know about all the drugs coming into school via the ice cream van, or see so many kids trapped in a system where they could never win.
My dad knocked on the door before putting the microbiology book on the end of my bed.
Maybe they could see it, but they just didn’t want to.
Morrison’s Car Park, p.30
The Santander bike was gone from under the bay window.
I walked over to Morgan’s. His parents house was exactly the same as mine, same little front garden, same brightly coloured front door, same slight feeling of dilapidation all through the house.
I rang on the door bell and watched the pigeons walking up and down the street.
“Oh, hey.” He didn’t seem surprised to see me. He was holding a cup of coffee and wearing pyjamas.
“I was just walking by, actually, in fact, I was at my parents house and I, well I cycled to my parents house but then I didn’t have anywhere to dock the bike so I left it outside and then I couldn’t find, it so I wasn’t sure what to do so, I was just walking past.”
“Do you want me to help you look for it?”
“Do you think we’ll find it?”
“Yeah. Some kids probably took it.” He put his cup down on the ledge over the radiator and grabbed a jacket. “Unless you want to come in?”
“No, it’s ok. I need to get back to work, I guess.”
I had walked up and down the streets of Brentford so many times that they were a part of me, every E8 bus stop I passed felt like an old friend, but every day I spent here, I always wanted more.
“How are you doing?” I said to Morgan as we walked over the bridge over the railway line.
“I’m ok, good. It’s easier to write when my parents are out.”
I really felt like I wanted to kiss him, right there on the middle of the bridge.
“Let’s go and have a look around the high street.” He started walking back the way we came.
The Santander bike was in the Morrison’s car park being cycled, in turn, by two young boys.
“Hey.” Morgan walked over to them. “My friend really needs the bike back, otherwise they’re going to charge her loads of money.” The boys looked at him like this was something they understood.
“We just found it on the street.” One of them said, dropping the bike down on the floor.
“No worries, that’s cool.” Morgan picked up the bike as the boys ran off. “Thanks for giving it back.”
Morgan looked at me and for a minute I felt like I might burst into tears.
“I feel sad and I don’t know why.” I looked away from him. I could almost smell the river from here.
“That’s how I feel most of the time.”
“I need to get back to work.” I took a deep breath.
Morgan handed me the bike.
“You should get a bike,” he said, grinning. “It suits you.”
The April files, p.31
At the office no one said anything when I came in after lunch. I sat in my air-conditioned office eating at a Pret A Manger sandwich, staring at the trees outside and wishing I hadn’t gone over to Morgan’s house. I would have had to pay TfL for the bike, but that would be better than not being able to stop thinking about him. We weren’t a good match. At least that’s what I believed. That’s what I had always believed. Fred was the kind of person I should be with; he had a job and a flat. He had a view of the Shard. There was just something about him I didn’t trust. Maybe I should have given him more of a chance, I couldn’t compare him to Morgan who I had known since I was 15.
“Do you have the April files?” Madeline, one of the senior partners, was standing over my desk.
“What?” I had just taken a fresh bite out of the second half of my egg cress sandwich.
“I was told you were the paralegal going through the files from April. Do you have them?”
“Oh, yeah, I do.” I put the sandwich back in the box and got the files out of my draw.
“Find anything interesting?” Madeline said as I handed her the folders full of print outs of old emails.
“Uh yeah, actually,” I thumbed open the file where I had left a Post-it in place. “There were some discussions in early April about the contracts post Brexit.”
“And what did the client say?”
“The client didn’t say that much, but the contractor referred to agreements it had made with other energy companies which might give us some ideas for what could be possible.”
“Great work,” she flicked through the pages and then stopped to look at me, “what’s your name?”
“Jessica, Jessica Summers.
“Alright Summers, well done. Let me know if you find anything else.” She snapped the folder shut and walked off with it.
After the office closed everyone went to the pub but I went home to pack for Gloucester. Madeline was still in her office when I left.
Riley was out dog walking when I got home. The flat was quiet. Fred had left his cigarettes out on the balcony again. I went and sat outside and turned them over and over. I didn’t know what it was about him that made me so uneasy. Maybe I just went out with him because I thought he was the kind of person my parents would want me to marry, but still that wouldn’t make him a bad guy. There was something else. There were small things he did, like leaving his cigarettes here so he would always have an excuse to come back, that I found kind of controlling. I wasn’t sure if I should trust my instincts or I was just being paranoid.
I jumped at the sound of my phone beeping. It was a message from my dad: You forgot the book!
I called Morgan.
The book on microbiology, p.32
There were people walking up and down the street swigging from cans of beer and music pumping out from all the flats. The phone rang twice before Morgan answered.
“Hi Jess.” My heart stopped, and then beat a little too fast to catch up with itself.
“Oh, hi. I just wanted to say thanks for today, and helping me out with the bike and everything.”
“Hey, no worries, anytime.”
I paused and looked at the leaves scattered across the floor of the balcony.
“And I . . . really miss you and I really want to see you.”
“I miss you too.”
“It’s just I have all these things I need to do.”
“It’s not you, it’s me, sorry, that’s a bad thing to say, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just there’s my job and this thing with this mining spy I need to figure out, and I really need to help my friend Lauren.”
“I just don’t, I don’t know where to start with anything. Lauren won’t talk to me or admit anything’s wrong. I feel really stuck, and my dad gave me this book of microbiology he wants me to read. . .”
“And it’s. . .”
An hour later we were making out on the sofa, the book on microbiology sat between us and the TV.
“Thanks for coming over.” I said. He was wearing a too big shirt that wasn’t buttoned up properly.
“That’s ok,” he said, stroking my hair. I knew I was clutching on to the shirt too hard.
“I never know what to say to you.” He didn’t say anything for a moment, he just looked at me.
“You don’t need to tell me.” He said and kissed me again.
“No, I do, I feel like I have all these feelings inside me and I need to get them out, but I’m too shy.”
“That doesn’t sound like you.”
“It’s so big and it’s so scary.”
“Remember your law exams, you thought you wouldn’t be able to do it, and then you just aced it?”
“This is different.”
“This can’t be harder than becoming a lawyer?”
“I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a paralegal. . .”
“Hey, hey don’t put yourself down like that, you’ve done amazing.”
“I really need to go to Gloucester. I’ve got to see my friend Lauren. Her mum is really sick.”
I heard the leaves from the balcony scuttle across the kitchen floor as they were blown in from outside. I got up to shut the door. The moment I put the key in the door I felt stuck. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t want anything. It didn’t matter whether I had a job, or a flat, or a view of the shard. It just mattered that Lauren was ok, that her mum was ok, and that her little brother had both his parents. I wanted to ask Morgan to come with me to Gloucester. I missed having someone to talk. I missed it, but I also resented it, I didn’t want to be sad anymore. I knew I had to do it on my own. I locked the door.
“I have to go and see Lauren. I have to show up for her. I have to try.”
“When you come back, maybe everything else won’t seem as scary?” Morgan got up from the sofa.
“Do you want this? Is this what you want?” I picked his jacket up and handed it to him.
“Is this what you want?” He put on his jacket, it was wax jacket, old and faded.
I wanted it, but I didn’t know how long for.
“Sometimes when I can’t see the road ahead, I think, maybe it’s because I don’t want to see.”
“You mean, metaphorically?”
“Yeah sort of.”
“Maybe it’s just misty, or you just can’t see the path because you’re on the path.”
“And there are loads of trees around?”
“You have a way of making me feel really calm about things.”
“That’s because you don’t need to worry about anything, you’re smart and brilliant and totally in control of everything.” The jacket was the kind of jacket you might go fishing in.
“It is what I want, it is what I want, but what if you’re not ready.” I stepped towards him.
“Maybe I’ll never be ready. Maybe you will have to carry me sometimes, that’s not what I want, but that’s the reality.” We didn’t look at each other. We looked at my hands clutching on to his jacket.
“Why do you think Danny never came back?”
“Jessica.” He picked up my hands and gave them back to me. “I can’t do this with you.”
“You’re playing with me. You know I don’t know why Danny never came back. How could I know?”
“Because you. . .”
“Because you think I’m like him, I’m not like him. I wouldn’t do that and it pisses me off that you won’t just get over it. Fuck that guy. If he doesn’t care why should you.”
I knew he was right, but I was shaking with anger at the way he was speaking to me.
The Limehouse Cut, p,34
“Don’t go.” I said, after I had followed him down stairs, out of the building and onto the street.
“Jessica.” He looked over at where he had locked up his bike. “Aren’t you going to Gloustershire?”
“I want to know everything that you’re thinking all the time.”
“I’m thinking you’re crazy and annoying and I shouldn’t be thinking or saying that because maybe you’ll think I’m being sexist or something but I miss you too and also I have no idea where we are.”
“I can give you the tour?”
There were people drinking prosecco and cans of beer all along the Limehouse Cut. I thought Morgan was the coolest and most interesting person I had ever met even though he was just wearing an old wax jacket, the scruffiest pair of trainers I had ever seen and hadn’t shaved in weeks.
“I want to be with you.” I said. He had stopped to look at some wildflowers growing in the cracks.
“You won’t get sick of me?” He smiled.
“I could never get sick of you.”
“You won’t get bored?”
“How could I ever get bored?”
“You won’t wake up one night in the middle of the night and want to move to Bali?”
“You could come with me?”
“I like Brentford.” He picked a purple flower up out of the weeds.
“I don’t want to live in Brentford. Don’t you want to see more of the world?”
“What’s to see?” He twirled the flower around in his fingers. I knew how good it felt when they touched me. I wanted to push him in the Limehouse cut.
“Why is it always like this between us?”
“I don’t know.” He tossed the flower in the water and started walking down towards the river.
“Won’t it get easier?”
“Don’t you care?”
He stopped and looked at the flower floating along the top of the water.
“I don’t know, maybe if I let myself care it would be too much.”
I could see it hurt him. The violence at school, the lack of care, the lack of role models, the neglect, knowing you couldn’t have feelings about it, because to have feelings, to feel anything, to show emotion, was a weakness, and a weakness would be used against you, in the home, in the classroom, in the playground, there was nowhere safe to be vulnerable, not even with each other.
“Do you still speak to Rachel?” I regretted it the moment I said it.
Limehouse Basin, p.35
Morgan was silent for a few minutes. The light was reflecting off the canal. The ducks were quacking.
“Are you sure?” A couple walked past us laughing, like they had just come out of a cider commercial.
“Yeah. Why does that even matter?”
“I don’t know.” I walked on towards the bridge with my arms folded. I felt like our souls were touching all the time, but only in away that unsettled both of us. Sometimes I needed it and sometimes I didn’t have time for it. I resented it. I resented my feelings. I felt so angry and so powerless. I stopped under the bridge. It was dark and shady. I shuddered a couple of times.
“I hate you.” I told him and he didn’t say anything for a minute. The water was dark green here.
“I wanted something different then. I wanted what you want now. I wanted to get away.”
“Why don’t you want that now?” I heard the ring of a bicycle bell and stepped out the way.
“I don’t know. Why do you want this now?” Three women cycled past us on Santander bikes.
“I feel like, I’ve kind of come home, like, to be the better version of myself, I need to be myself, to face myself. I’m afraid of fucking everything up. Not even for myself, I don’t even have anything I could fuck up. I’m afraid of fucking things up for other people.”
“You’re worried you’re like Danny.”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about him.”
“I think you need to talk about him.”
“I don’t get it? How can someone just leave their whole family, their whole life, with no regrets?”
I looked at the surface of the water following through the canal and realised there was a lot I had to do, there was this deep-sea mining story I had to get to the bottom of, and I needed to help Lauren.
“Look Jess, you can’t know what he was going through.” Morgan and I started walked again. “He probably felt just like you, he just needed to get away and have a fresh start. He had a lot of issues, he needed to figure them out.”
We were out the Limehouse Basin now and I could see all the boats floating on the water. I wanted to jump in. I needed to feel something different. I needed a change of pace.
“Maybe it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.” I said, looking at the dirty green water.
“Maybe if we sleep on it, tomorrow we’ll see it?”
“The missing piece.” I looked up at him. “I don’t want to keep going back and forth, but I don’t know what’s below the surface, it’s too deep for me to see it.”
“I think you’re over doing it with the metaphors now. I don’t want to keep going back and forth either. Why don’t you call me next week when you’re back from Gloucestershire and we can talk more then?”
The Drive, p.36
I explained the story of Morgan to Riley in the hire car on the way to Gloucestershire.
“None of that made any sense. If neither of you are with anyone else, what’s the problem?”
“It’s a big commitment.” I had the window wound down and was playing with my hair in the wind.
“Why?” Riley had her sunglasses on and was gripping the wheel as we zoomed along the motorway.
“Because we’ve known each other along time?” The countryside was flashing past us.
“So, why does that matter? I can’t believe why you’ve never told me about Morgan before. It makes so much sense now why you weren’t interested in Fred or Jamie.”
“What do you mean?” The new car smell was making me feel a bit sick.
“I don’t know, you just never really pursued anyone else.”
“Maybe I need closure before I can move on.” I took a sip of the coffee I’d got at the service station.
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Hey, did I tell you I slept with Alby?”
“What?” I turned too quickly and spilt the coffee I was holding all over my lap.
“Oh no, your sunflower dress.”
“Forget about that.” The warm coffee was soaking through the dress. “What happened with Alby?”
“Oh, well I just went over there one-night, last night actually.” Riley smiled.
“This is crazy.” The sky was turning pink as the sun set over the green hills we were flying past.
“He’s really nice actually.”
“Riley this is too much.”
“He’s really funny.”
“I can’t believe it.” I looked around the car for a napkin or some tissue but couldn’t find anything.
“I don’t know . . . you just never seemed interested in him.”
“Yeah well, I’m full of surprises. What’s happening with Fred?”
“He’s text me a few times, but I haven’t replied.” I shoved the paper cup into the shelf in the door.
“He’s persistent. Do you really think it was true about the brooch costing $65 dollars?”
“Yeah, why would he lie. I’m just worried about what he was using that microphone for?”
“He said it was work related right, wait you don’t think he was spying on us, do you?”
The puddle of coffee was going cold in my lap. I closed the car window to stop the air getting in.
“I don’t know.” I felt a shiver run over me. I remembered the cigarettes he left on the table. “ But he’s been in the flat before. He could have bugged us at any time.”
“Why would he? We don’t work in the mining industry.”
“No.” I soaked the coffee up with my cardigan. “But some of the clients I work for do.”
Pasta Sauce at Midnight, p.37
It was dark by the time we got to Gloucestershire. There were no lights on in the house. We pulled into the gravel drive way and the porch light came on. We got out and I went and tapped on the door with the big iron door knocker. Lauren’s Dad, Marvin, let us in but didn’t say much. Annie and Stephen were already in bed, and Lauren was at Mark’s. I was aware of every step creaking as we followed him up the stairs. Marvin switched the light on one of the rooms bedrooms.
“Here you go.” There was a small double bed with a rose covered duvet cover, next to the window.
“Thanks Marvin.” Riley threw her suitcase down on to bed.
“Sorry we’re so late.” I added, dropping my rucksack down on the floor.
“There’s food in the fridge. You can help yourselves.” Marvin said before he wandered off in his pyjamas.
“Come on.” Riley grinned at me. “Let’s go and see what they’ve got.”
I sat at the kitchen table while Riley cooked some pasta on the gas oven. The kitchen was the complete opposite to the one in our new build flat. There everything was compact, smart, functional, here everything was uneven, unordered and unpredictable. Even the shelves and cupboards had started to rise and fall with the natural movement of the house’s walls and none of the lines matched up anymore.
“Is it weird that they keep the pasta sauce with all the baking stuff?” Riley pulled out a jar of passata.
“Are there other sauces in there?”
“No, the other tins and jars are over here.” Riley pointed to a cupboard next to the sink.
“I guess everyone’s system is different. . . Have you talked much to Lauren about what’s going on?”
“A bit.” Riley poured the passata into a saucepan and didn’t look at me.
“Did she seem, upset, or angry or confused?”
“She seemed fine.”
“What should we do, should we try and talk to her?”
“About her mum being ill, and her living with some guy she met at the pub?”
“I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.”
“About her mum then.” It was pitch black outside, I could see nothing through the windows, but the kitchen light reflected back.
“Jessica, I’m sure that’s the last thing she wants to think about. She probably just wants to have a good time while we’re here.”
Chelsea T-Shirt, p.38
Annie was already at the kitchen table when Riley and I came down for breakfast. Stephen was sat next to her slurping away at a bowl of cereal. Annie had a knitted blanket draped over her knees and a shawl around her shoulders. The door to the garden was wide open and the sound of bird song was streaming in with the morning light. There was a white table cloth out on the table and bowls, plates and cutlery had been laid out for Riley and I. There were different boxes of cereal and a metal toast rack filled with toast, burnt to varying degrees. Marvin was flipping pancakes over the gas oven. He didn’t say anything as Riley and I sat down.
“How did you girls sleep? Please have some cereal.” Annie gestured across the table. I could see it strained her to move. She looked paler than she had the last time we had visited and her hair had been cut and cropped that framed her face in a stylish way but made her look gaunt.
“Really good, thanks.” Riley ran her fingers through her dark hair on the side where it was longer.
“Wonderful,” said Annie, readjusting herself in her chair. “I never know how comfortable that spare bed is. So, what are you girls up to today, have you got anything nice planned with Lauren?”
“I think she just wanted to go to the pub.” I looked over at Riley, who was examining her split ends.
“The pub!” Annie said. “You’ve got the whole countryside to explore, you can’t just go to the pub.”
“What else is there to do?” I said.
“There’s castles, and abbeys and stately homes.” Annie looked to Marvin for some ideas but he kept his back to us.
“That stuff’s boring.” Stephen tapped his spoon against the bottom of his empty bowl.
“Or you could watch cartoons all day.” Annie looked at Stephen with an eyebrow raised.
“Can I?” Stephen’s spoon clattered against the bottom of the bowl and he sat upright.
“No of course you can’t, you’ve got chores and homework to do.”
“Not fair.” He put his elbows on the table and sunk his head into his hands.
“Is that a Chelsea t-shirt?” Riley said.
“Yeah.” Stephen didn’t look up.
“Why do you support them?”
“That’s Marvin’s team.” Annie explained. “He grew up in west London.
“Oh, so did I,” I said. “In Brentford?”
“The home of the Mighty Bees.” Marvin slipped another pancake on to the stack he was making.
“Oh yeah, my uh, ex, Morgan supports them. I’ve been to a few matches.”
“He might not be an ex for much longer.” Riley said in an annoying sing-song voice.
“Oh really?” Annie leant forward. “Please do tell?”
At that point we were interrupted by the sound of Lauren’s voice flying down the hallway corridor.
“It’s me. I’m ho-ome.”
“We’re in here.” Annie yelled. She seemed to have perked up at the idea of getting some gossip from me.
Lauren walked in wearing a pair of doc martens and a bomber jacket. Her hair was dyed blue and she had even managed to get her noise pierced. She sat down at the table between Annie and me.
“Darling, the girls said you’re just planning on going to the pub all day?”
“Yeah, so what?” Lauren put her elbows up on the table, mimicking Stephen’s body language.
“You can’t just spend all day in the pub, the girls are guests, you have to take them somewhere.
“Take them to Berkley Castle.” Marvin put the stack of pancakes down on the table.
“That’s alright, thanks Marvin.” Lauren didn’t look at him.
“Oh, yes you must take them to Berkley Castle. It’s an absolute delight.” Annie clapped her hands together.
The three of us looked at each other. I think we all sensed this was the last thing in the world we wanted to do, but one way or another, we would be going there.
Berkley Castle, p.38
Lauren, Jessica and I sat on the banks of the castle watching Marvin pushing Annie around in a wheelchair.
“I want to go to the butterfly house.” I could hear Stephen saying over, and over, even though they were far away from us. I looked further across grounds, and sure enough the path they were on led to a small house.
Riley was laid on the grass, staring up at the clouds. Lauren was hunched into her knees.
“So . . .” I raked my hands through the grass a few times. “How’s it going?”
“How’s what going?” Lauren didn’t look at me, she wasn’t looking at her family in the distance either, I couldn’t tell what she was looking at.
“You know, living at Mark’s?”
“Do you think that cloud looks like a dachshund?” Riley said, point up at the sky.
“Yeah kind of.” Lauren looked up too.
“And look, it’s chasing a tennis ball.” Riley pointed at another cloud further away.
“Oh yeah.” Lauren said, and then was quiet again. Lauren had always been the talker amongst the three of us, the one who made conversation flow and sing. Now she wasn’t saying anything, it was left to me and Riley to make the small talk. I could see Riley wasn’t that interested.
I trailed my fingers through the grass again. I thought about texting Morgan for the 100th time.
“What are you thinking about?” Riley sat up. She was wearing a green halter neck.
“What? Why would I be thinking about anything? I’m not thinking about anything.”
“Oh, it just looked like you zoned out.” Riley adjusted her yellow skirt so it covered her knees.
“We were all just thinking are own thoughts, weren’t we?”
“Yeah. I just wanted to know what you were thinking.” Riley’s head turned as she noticed a group of guys walking towards the butterfly house. “Hey, what’s with the nose ring?”
“What?” Lauren touched the side of her nose. “I thought, I’m not working so, may as well.”
“Did you want to do it?” I said.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I thought, I may as well use this time to experiment with my look.”
“I think we should go to the butterfly house.” Riley stood up.
The Butterfly House, p.39
If it had been hot outside, it was stifling in the butterfly house. I watched a purple butterfly flapping its wings as it landed on a branch in front of me.
“Mum, look,” I heard Stephen shouting from the other end of the butterfly house. “They have the world’s largest moth.”
Marvin pushed Annie over to the plaque Stephen was reading and they started talking about it. Riley and Lauren were stood in amongst the plants, close to the three guys we had followed in here. I stood at the other end of the house, alone, and thinking about Morgan. It seemed like a futile task, but every thought seemed to run back into him. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t even say I wanted to be with him, there was just something pulling me towards him.
“Mum, Dad, look!” Stephen had appeared a few feet away from me, by a small bush. “Jessica, look.” I walked over and knelt down to see what he was looking at. There was something like a small brown leaf hanging down from a branch. Marvin, Annie, Lauren and Riley, crowded in around us.
“It’s coming out of its cocoon.” Stephen said. More families started to gather around us and a quiet enveloped the butterfly house. The air was so humid I felt a little light headed, but I stayed right by Stephen, watching this tiny creature breaking out of its’ shell.
“What do you think it is?” Stephen said to me.
“Shhh.” Annie grabbed Stephen by the shoulder. She didn’t let go. She was holding on to him like the safety bar on a rollercoaster. She slipped her other hand into Marvin’s.
I looked up at Lauren and Riley. The three guys were standing behind them. Riley was intensely focused on the cocoon, but Lauren’s eyes met mine and she smiled and wiped away a single tear as it shed from her eye. I felt my heart racing a little fast. There were too many people in the butterfly house. We were surrounded we couldn’t get out. The cocoon was breaking away from the butterfly, but for a moment I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was so hot I thought I might pass out, or just have to run outside. Stephen passed me the book on butterflies he had got from the gift shop. The solidness steadied me. I knew he wanted me to try and identify what kind of cocoon we were looking at, but I could barely read any of the words in the book. I felt scared. I felt like something was changing inside of me. I was worried I was going to throw up. I looked at the book again. I was worried flicking through the pages might create a breeze that would knock the cocoon to the floor. Everything felt so fragile. The butterfly was still working its way out. One by one, I turned the pages, looking for some clues as to what we were looking at.
“Here,” I said, handing the book back to Stephen. A little surprised he was even interested in butterflies. “It’s the Atlas Moth.”
“The biggest moth in the world he told me.” He didn’t take the book or look at me. He watched the moth climb out of its cocoon and spread its wings. It was absolutely huge. I’d never seen anything like it. It was red with spots of white and a yellow fringe. It looked like something from another world.
“It looks like you Jessica.”
“With your red hair, it looks like you.” Stephen whispered as he took the book from me.
After we had to move out of the flat, I got a job house sitting for this couple who lived in Bournemouth. They were mega rich. Like mega, mega rich. They had this like, minimalist, white, thunderbirds go type house nestled up on the cliffs between the pines. They had a view of the whole fucking ocean. It was breath taking.
I knew I would get on with Jasper the moment I met him. He came bounding up to me, his black, flappy ears waving madly behind his head, and leapt up on to me. I knelt down to hug him and felt instantly safe. He was huge and smelt like wet dog and the salt of the ocean. He paced around me a few times, barking, wanting to be taken for a walk, and then went over and sat by the front door. He looked at me like he knew I had come to rescue him from a life of Sunday afternoons spent lying on a rug while his owners painted, read books and listened to classical music.
“He can be a bit of a handful.” The husband said, winking at me, and handing me the keys to the house.
“His food is all in the kitchen.” The wife said, checking the time on watch. She was wearing a white jacket her sunglasses on her head and her highlights were over-done. “In the cupboard next to his bowl. Well, better get going we don’t want to miss our flight.” She picked up her large handbag. The husband kept smirking at me.
“What time of day does he liked to be walked?” I said.
“What?” The wife was already pulling her wheelie suitcase towards the door. “Oh, any time’s fine. Just keep him out of trouble.” She waved her hand at me.
“Lovely meeting you.” The husband hugged me goodbye. “I’m sure you’ll take good care of Harry.”
“My apologies.” He was still holding me. “Henry was our other dog.” He pulled away and looked at me. He was like, kind of good looking, but totally weathered from too much sun and booze.
“Come along now darling. I want to have a drink in the members lounge before we get on the plane.” The wife was standing in the open door with her sunglasses on and the dazzling sun back lighting her. Under her white jacket she was wearing a black t-shirt, and around her tanned neck she wore a necklace of red wood beads.
“It was so great meeting you Rachel.”
The Surfing School, p.41
“Right, right, right. That’s it! Riley. Well, you have a good time. No boys around ok? I’ve got CCTV on the outside so I’ll know.”
Then they were gone, and it was just me alone in a huge white house, room after room after room, leading into each other. I jumped on all the beds, opened all the cupboards, turned on all the radios, drank the half open bottle of wine they had left in the fridge and sat on the sofa. I flicked through all the hundreds of channels but there was nothing on.
Jasper came and lay his head on my thigh.
“Come on then.” I grabbed the house keys and his lead and we set off down the path towards the beach. It was evening time by now and the tide was out. There was a group of surfers trekking back across the beach. As Jasper pulled me towards them, I realised it was a surfing school, led by two young guys. One of them had longish hair, dyed blonde, and the other one, short brown hair. They waved at me as Jasper pulled me past them, and all the kids waved at me too. I waved back but I had no time to stop. Jasper was dragging me towards the water. The waves had left ripples in the sand and each groove cupped a small pool of silver water, reflecting the light from the low hanging sun. I could even see the moon coming up in the far horizon. I stopped Jasper and let him off his lead. The surfing school were well away from us know, back by the closed café and the kiosk selling buckets and spades. Jasper raced through a cluster of seagulls that were resting on the sand, forcing them to fly up and out in every direction. He circled around and then bounded into the ocean, causing huge splashes and ripples as he leapt up and down through the waves.
“So, I guess you like to swim, hey?” I called to him, realising it was a little chilly and I hadn’t brought a jumper or a jacket. The wind tangled my uneven hair and the beach was empty.
I sat down on the sand and stretched my feet out while I watched Jasper bounding out and over the waves. He was such a beautiful dog. I loved him and I needed him. And that was when my summer really started.
The Big Tip, p.42
There was a cheap looking bar at the foot of the cliffs. A waitress was clipping plastic tablecloths onto the tables and putting out candles. The two guys from the surf school were there sat near the back. I sat at the bar, close enough so they could see me, but not close enough to scare them. There was a guy playing guitar just behind them. It was just like, covers, but he was so fucking handsome, I couldn’t stop looking at him. For a moment he caught my eye and I had to look down at my beer until he finished. I wondered if we had a connection, but no, he’s handsome, right, that’s why they let him play? He has a connection with everyone. When I looked back, he was gone. A woman’s voice started singing through the speakers: Ain’t nobody on the road, ain’t nobody on the beach.
“Hey, do you want a beer?” It was one of the guys from the surf school. “We teach at the surf school and this kid’s dad just gave us a big tip. We’ve got money to burn.”
He brandished some cash at me and I looked over the friend who waved.
“I’d love a beer. My name’s Riley.”
Their names were Tom and Luke. One had short blonde hair and the other long brown hair, but I couldn’t remember which one was which.
“We’re studying at the uni.” The blonde one took a swig of his beer. “Just trying to pick up some extra cash for rent over the summer.” He lent back in his chair.
“What do you do?” The other one asked me.
“Me? I walk dogs. My housemate Jessica is a lawyer, and Lauren. . .”
“They live in Bournemouth?” The other one asked me questions and the blonde one drank his beer.
“No, we had to move out. Lauren’s mum’s sick and the contract was in her name, but I’m sure we’ll get something together again when her mum gets better. I’m just dog sitting for this couple.”
“And what do you want to do? Are you like an artist or something?”
“An artist? No. Lauren works in the music industry, in marketing for this like, music service.”
“Like an app?”
“It could be.” I took another sip of my beer.
“So, you’re here on your own?”
“I have Jasper.”
“Who’s that, your boyfriend?”
“No, he’s my dog.” I tapped the sides of my beet. They laughed. I relaxed a little.
“You should come hang out with us. We can show you all the cool places.”
“So . . . Tom,” I looked over at the bar. “What’s fun to do around here?”
“There’s the beach,” Tom was the one with long brown hair, “the bars, exploring the coast.”
10 Miles, Along the Coast and Back, p,43
I woke up in a like, creaky bed in a room with no curtains. On the bedside table there was a Yorkie mug, a pint glass and a pile of change. I squinted at the bright sunlight and looked for my dress.
Luke and Tom were downstairs in the front room watching TV.
“Hey Riley, did you sleep ok?” Tom said.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” Luke said.
“That would be fab. Do you have a charger? I need to charge my phone.” I took my phone out of my bag and showed it to them. My hair was still matted to the back of my head.
“Yeah sure, over there.” Luke pointed at the mass of wires surrounding the games consoles under the TV, before walking out. I went and plugged my phone in and sat down on the armchair. I tried to follow what was happening on the TV but I had no idea what show we were even watching.
“Here.” Luke came back with a cup of tea for me.
“Thanks.” It was in a Snickers mug.
“What are you up to today?” Luke said, as he sat back down on the sofa next to Tom.
“I need to go home to check on Jasper.” I needed a face wipe. “What about you?”
“We’re teaching this afternoon, but we’ll be at the bar tonight.” Tom said, taking a sip of his tea.
At home I tried to make a coffee but the machine in the kitchen was too fancy to work out how to use it. I got a glass of water, filled it with ice from the machine in the fridge, and went and lay on a sun lounger by the pool. Jasper came and lay down on the floor next to me. I woke up three times, when the gardener came to get something out of the pool house, when the cleaner lifted my drink to clean the side table next to me, and finally when the sprinklers came on in the late afternoon- early evening. Jasper barked, and I knew it was time to go.
“Come on.” I yawned before heading off to find his lead. “We’ve got some serious walking to do.”
The evening was as beautiful as it had been the night before. The surf school were way out at sea this time. Jasper and I walked at least 10 miles, along the coast and back, watching the waves and the pine trees along the cliffs. Nothing seemed to wear him out, he could just run and run.
It was only when I was walking back along the beach, and it was turning dusk, and the blues, greys and silvers were all merging into each other, that I saw a figure walking towards me. My heart felt tight in my chest. I hurried to put Jasper back on his lead. The surf school were miles away down the beach. I could just make out them dragging their boards in.
“Hi Riley.” It was Fred. He was walking towards me in like it was the most normal thing ever.
The Breakfast Bar, p,44
Fred stood by the record player flicking through the old vinyls that were normally concealed in a draw in the wall. He was holding an oversized glass of wine, swirling it around and tapping his foot to the jazz he had just put on. I didn’t know why I had invited him back to the house, with its huge, breath-taking views of the ocean. I stood with my back to the breakfast bar, watching him. Jasper stood next to me. It was misty and hazy outside. There was a, like, light fog over the oceans and the pines. I’d turned the overhead light on and all the white surfaces were glinting with excitement.
“This is a great record.” Fred picked up an album and showed it to me. I didn’t know it.
“How long are you down for?”
“I just drove down for the day.” He put the record back and drank some wine.
“You followed me. Sorry, but I felt I had to say it.”
“My mother said you’d left to take a job in Bournemouth. Great dog, by the way.”
“You’re trying to find Jessica.”
Fred drank some more wine and looked at me. He fit into the house. He had the right kinds of clothes on that made it looked like he belonged here.
“There were a few things I wanted to talk to her about. I went to the flat in Bow but the girls’ living there said you moved out.”
I picked up my wine from the breakfast bar. I hurt to think of someone else living in our flat. Fred walked over to me and put his wine down on the breakfast bar.
“Why don’t you just call her?”
“Don’t you think I’ve tried. You know how cold she can be.”
“You were spying on us.”
“Oh, come on, of course I wasn’t spying on you. You stole a brooch from my mother’s house.”
“That had a microphone on it?”
“Yes, that you stole. You can’t accuse me of spying. I never had any intention of spying on you.”
“Why are you here now?”
That’s when he leant in and kissed me. Jasper started barking.
“Come on boy.” I took Jasper by the collar and led him into the bedroom. When I came back Fred was standing in the middle of the house still holding his wine.
“So, shall I go?”
“Why did you come?”
“I’ll admit I was hoping you might be able to put me in touch with Jessica.”
“I can’t do that, she has a boyfriend now anyway, and I think you should go.”