‘So you’re the new assistant manager, I hear,’ Robbie said. Katie had come in to the kitchen to find out what the day’s specials were. They were alone but for a commis chef diligently chopping onions.
‘Yes,’ Katie said. ‘But it’s not a big deal.’ She was uncomfortable with her new responsibilities, concerned that the other waitresses resented her. ‘It’s only until Sergio gets back from…’
‘His spa break?’
‘I don’t think it’s a spa break…’ Katie began.
‘You know, I like a woman who takes charge,’ Robbie interrupted. ‘Come here.’ Katie hesitated. ‘Come here,’ he insisted. She walked towards him. ‘Taste this,’ he said, offering a spoonful of the ragú he was stirring. Katie leaned forward, and Robbie raised the spoon to her mouth. He cupped her chin with his other hand. ‘What do you think?’
‘No, it’s incredible,’ Katie said. She hadn’t eaten breakfast, and the taste of the sauce made her stomach cramp with want.
Katie nodded, and Robbie reached for a bowl. He lifted tagliatelle from another pot, and spooned ragú on top. ‘Here. But be careful. You don’t want to put that weight you’ve lost back on.’ He winked, and handed her the bowl.
‘So, Holly,’ the lawyer said, ‘your dad told me you’re not sure how you want to proceed.’
‘She’s sure,’ Mingmei said. ‘We’re here to begin divorce proceedings.’
‘We’re here to discuss divorce proceedings,’ Holly corrected.
The lawyer smiled. ‘Mingmei, perhaps it’d be better if Holly and I spoke alone?’
‘Holly wants me here. Don’t you?’
Not wanting to embarrass her mother, Holly nodded.
‘Of course,’ the lawyer said. ‘Fine. OK. So, divorce can be complicated or it can be straightforward. It depends on the circumstances. Are you and…’
‘Jemma. Are you on speaking terms?’
‘Not at the moment,’ Holly admitted.
‘That does complicate matters. And the other complication is the baby, I’m afraid. Your dad told me you used a sperm donor, which makes your wife the baby’s other legal parent.’
‘I understand that,’ Holly said. She swallowed. ‘It would be a different matter, wouldn’t it,’ she said, ‘if we’d had sex? If the baby was conceived when the biological father and I had sex?’
‘Yes,’ the lawyer said. She looked confused. And confused didn’t begin to describe how Mingmei looked.
Alistair was helping the builders throw rubbish in a skip when Erin got back from work. ‘Hello,’ he called.
Erin stopped by Pechey Terrace’s front door—which the builders had propped open—as Alistair hurried to talk to her. ‘How are you?’
‘Good, thank you,’ Erin replied.
‘Good,’ Alistair said. ‘Good. You know, the other night, I didn’t really need to fill the kettle. I heard the shouting and I was worried.’
‘I gathered that,’ Erin said, remembering the concern on his face when he’d asked if she was alright.
‘Your husband sounded angry.’
‘He was,’ Erin said. ‘We’d just decided to separate.’ Alistair was the first person she’d told.
‘Sorry to hear that.’
‘It’s been a long time coming.’
‘Still. I’ve been through a divorce. It’s never easy.’
‘No. But it’s for the best.’
‘That’s the right attitude,’ Alistair smiled.
‘Do you want this?’ one of the builders shouted, holding up a dusty chair.
‘Bin it,’ Alistair shouted back. ‘Better get back to work,’ he said to Erin. ‘See you later.’
‘See you,’ Erin said. She watched him walk away before she headed inside.
Angel went with her parents to the station, to make sure they got on the train. She left as the whistle blew, hearing the train’s wheels screech on the rails as she headed for the Waverley Steps. She ran up them, rushing past the tourists on the escalators. She turned onto Waverley Bridge, intending to climb the News Steps up to the High Street, and from there walk home, but as she passed a pub on Market Street, someone shouted her name.
It was Fraser Webb, her classmate, the boy who hated her because she was smarter than him. He was beckoning her. He was drunk. ‘Angel! Angel! Are you all alone? Come and have a drink with us!’
Angel knew some of the guys Fraser was with, and they weren’t all terrible. And a drink didn’t seem like a bad idea. So she joined the table outside the pub, and Fraser poured her a beer from a pitcher.
It didn’t seem like a bad idea, in the club they ended up in hours later, to kiss Fraser. And it didn’t seem like a bad idea to take him back to the flat, and have sex with him. It didn’t seem like a bad idea until he held her down with one hand, put the other hand on her throat, and choked her.
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