Erin McGregor crossed Bruntsfield Links, shoulders hunched at her ears, dragging a twin in each hand. They were returning from a trip to the library. Erin had hoped the outing would occupy most of the afternoon, but Archie had ripped a book to shreds, Annie had pulled a shelf of books onto the floor, both twins had cried, and Erin had decided they should go home before she cried too.
Home was 8 Pechey Terrace, which stood on the east side of the Links, its back to Arthur’s Seat. Erin thought of the building as huddling from the wind which seemed to roar up Leamington Walk no matter the season. Erin had moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh for university, twenty years ago, and she was still not used to that wind. ‘It’s wetter in the west,’ people here said. Yes, Erin thought, but at least it doesn’t howl a gale three hundred and fifty days a year. She shouldered open the door, ushered the twins in out of the cold, and began the trudge to their top-floor flat.
Holly Chan saw Erin and the twins walking across the Links when she got off the bus. She watched her neighbour urge her dawdling toddlers on, and smiled. The twins were very cute, just learning to talk. Sometimes they said hello to her, if Holly said it first. Holly had taken, recently, to smiling at children, and talking to them, and picking up toys dropped from passing buggies, and holding shop doors open for mothers with their hands full. She worried sometimes that her attention was unwelcome, but she couldn’t help herself. Thoughts of babies and pregnancy and motherhood consumed her, and had started to drift from thoughts to actions.
Holly was home early, having worked until ten o’clock the night before. They’d had a delivery of new season merchandise, and Holly’s boss had wanted it in the windows immediately. It was ridiculous to dress mannequins in swimwear in February, in Edinburgh of all places, but it wasn’t Holly’s place to argue. She felt weary as she reached Pechey Terrace, but as she climbed to her flat on the first-floor, the sight of a light under the door gladdened her. Jemma was home.
‘Here,’ Katie said, passing Angel the joint they were sharing. They stood in the living room of the other first-floor flat at 8 Pechey Terrace, smoking out of the open window. They had a regular appointment. Every Monday at this time, the Italian restaurant downstairs took its weekly delivery of wine. Every week at this time, Sergio, the owner’s son, came out of the restaurant, rolled up his sleeves, and helped the delivery driver take the wine inside. And every week at this time, Katie pressed her nose against the bay window’s glass and sighed at the sight of him.
Below them, Sergio hoisted a couple of crates of wine into his arms, the muscles in his forearms straining. A low noise of pleasure escaped Katie’s lips, and Angel laughed. Katie knew her flatmate thought her feelings for Sergio were silly, or rather that she was silly for not acting on them. It was easy for Angel, with that face and those curls and that loud, laughing personality. Katie didn't have Angel's bulletproof confidence. She barely had any confidence at all.
Angel rapped on the window with her knuckles, and Sergio glanced up, confused by the noise.
‘Oh my god, Angel,’ Katie hissed. Angel gave Sergio a little wave, which seemed to confuse him more. Katie felt her cheeks turn red and hid her face.
Angel left Katie in the living room. There was only so much staring at Sergio she could take. He was OK-looking, but she didn’t share Katie’s drooling desire for him. She lay down on her bed, pleasantly stoned, and stared at the ceiling. Her mind wandered to Ryan. What was he doing, right now? Was he in his flat in Marchmont, just a couple of streets away? She told herself she didn’t care. It was no concern of hers what Ryan Taylor was doing, in his flat in Marchmont, in his room with the blue- and white-striped curtains. Angel’s only concern was her meeting with Dr. Tavish the next day.
‘Ms. Ugwu,’ he’d said, ‘we need to talk.’
Angel’s heart had started to race. She’d known her absences, her falling grades and her failure to complete projects wouldn’t go unnoticed indefinitely. But she hadn’t known, still didn’t know, what could be done about it.
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