Katie didn’t think Angel would be spending such a warm afternoon inside, but still she held her breath as she turned the key in the lock.
She could smell fresh paint as she crept down the hall to her bedroom. Her things were in the middle of the room, piled there, Katie supposed, by the workmen who’d come to repair the water damage.
Katie found her suitcase in the pile. On the night of the fire, she’d stood with the crowd that had gathered on Bruntsfield Links, and watched water cascade down the building. It had been a relief to realise she wouldn’t be sleeping in her own bed that night. She hadn’t been ready to face Angel then. She still wasn’t ready.
She heard the front door open, and the rustle of shopping bags. ‘Katie?’ Angel’s voice came from the hall. ‘Is that you?’ She appeared at Katie’s bedroom door. ‘It is you.’ Katie stuffed a handful of clothes into her suitcase. ‘Are you… are you moving back in? I’ve been calling you.’
Katie shouldered past Angel, and left.
‘James’s death was not your fault,’ the psychologist said.
‘I know,’ Erin said, ‘But if I hadn’t been drunk I might have heard him, I might have been able to…’
‘You’re ruminating, Erin. That’s not useful.’ The psychologist’s name was Camilla McLeish. She spoke in a soothing, motherly, tone.
‘I know.’ Erin shifted on the soft, scratchy cushions of Camilla’s tweed couch. ‘It’s just… I was so drunk. The twins might have...’
She couldn’t bring herself to say they might have died. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Camilla how often she woke in the night, clutched by a cold, heart-stopping fear. What if the firefighters hadn’t roused her in time? What if Andy hadn’t sealed the twins’ bedroom door months earlier, to stop light from the hall waking them? What if they’d breathed as much smoke as Erin had, her lungs still sore weeks later? It didn’t bear thinking about, and it was all she thought about.
‘You’re here to focus on your future,’ Camilla said. ‘A future free from drinking.’
Erin nodded. Camilla made it sound so simple.
After Katie had barged past her, slamming the door as she left, Angel had gone to the living room window. She’d watched Katie hurry across Bruntsfield Links, dragging her suitcase, putting Pechey Terrace behind her as fast as she could.
Angel had only spent a couple of nights away from the flat after the fire, sleeping on a friend’s couch. In the weeks since she’d returned, she’d rattled around, getting under the workmen’s feet when she was supposed to be studying, wondering why her friend was ignoring her calls. Wondering when she was coming back. Wondering why she’d looked so upset, on the night of the fire, when Angel had called to her from the back door. The dread in Angel’s stomach told her it was something to do with Sergio.
‘Hello,’ Holly called as she opened the door. She was glad to be home. The shop had been stuffy in the summer sun, making her nausea worse.
‘Hello,’ Mingmei shouted from the kitchen. It smelled like she was cooking the same noodles with ginger she’d been foisting on Holly since her morning sickness started.
‘I think there’s new people moving in upstairs,’ Holly said, joining her mother in the kitchen.
‘Yes,’ Mingmei said. ‘They’ve been banging all day. I hope they’ll quiet down once they’re settled.’
Will you be here once they’re settled? Holly wondered. She’d been glad of Mingmei’s company, in the days after the fire, but as days turned to weeks, the novelty had worn off. ‘I don’t want you to be on your own,’ Mingmei had said, when Holly suggested she go home. ‘Not while you’re pregnant.’
‘And you’re sure there wasn’t any structural damage?’ Naila Suleiman said, peering at a crack in the ceiling. Her father shushed her, and her mother glared murderously. Ibrahim, her husband of two weeks, smiled. He was handsome when he smiled.
Ibrahim’s uncle, their new landlord, tutted. ‘The fire was on the other side of the building,’ he said.
‘Yes, but water damage…’
‘Naila,’ her father snapped. The look on his face said don’t embarrass me.
‘It’s time we left these two alone,’ her mother said. She took Naila by the shoulders, kissed her, and whispered: ‘Don’t look for trouble.’ Naila didn’t know whether she was talking about the ceiling or her marriage.
Her parents said goodbye to Ibrahim, and his uncle gave Naila a polite hug. Then the door closed, and they were alone. Naila smiled at Ibrahim. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
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