Holly had been just drifting off for a nap when her mother bumped into the couch. Opening her eyes, she saw Mingmei pushing the coffee table up against the window.
‘What are you doing?’
Mingmei hopped onto the coffee table. ‘I’m taking the curtains down. I’m going to wash them.’
‘Why?’ Holly sat up, feeling tired and bad-tempered.
‘They still smell of smoke. It’s bad luck.’
‘How is it bad luck?’
‘A man died, Holly, is that the kind of luck you want?’
‘I don’t think washing the curtains is going to make a difference to the kind of luck I have.’
‘That’s how much you know.’
‘I’m tired, Mum. I want to nap. Can you do something else?’
Mingmei sighed. ‘I suppose my room could use a clear out.’
It’s not your room, it’s my spare room, Holly thought. And it was still full of Jemma’s stuff: ring lights and lenses and other accoutrements of life online. Holly didn’t know when, if, Jemma was coming to get them. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It couldn’t.’
Mingmei looked irritated. ‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I’ll clean out the fridge.’
Victoria was the fifth person who’d responded to Angel’s post looking for a new flatmate. She was Spanish, studying in Edinburgh for the summer, and she seemed normal. Or, at least, more normal than the girl who had three pet rabbits or the guy who played guitar and wanted to know if Angel would mind weekly ‘jam sessions’.
Finding someone to rent Katie’s room was a matter both of necessity—Angel couldn’t pay the rent on the entire flat—and pride. She had tried to get in touch, had been willing to talk about whatever Katie was upset about, even if it meant admitting having had sex with Sergio. But Katie had made it clear she didn’t want to speak to Angel, and Angel had no intention of spending the summer alone, pining for a friend who was ignoring her.
She looked at the girl sitting at her kitchen table. Victoria had long, dark hair, and a smile that hinted at mischief. We could be friends, Angel thought. She smiled. ‘When could you move in?’
‘I don’t know why you can’t go to one of these free support groups,’ Andy complained. ‘That woman charges ninety pounds an hour.’
‘I’m paying for it with my own money,’ Erin countered. She’d woken in hospital, the day after the fire, with James’s words echoing in her ears: it’s not too late for you, dear. She hadn’t had a drop to drink in five weeks, and she’d applied for a job from her hospital bed. Much to Andy’s chagrin, she’d been offered it before she was discharged.
‘It’s not just the money I’m concerned about,’ he said. ‘The twins are in nursery four days a week while you’re working, and on top of that you’re taking time out to talk about your feelings. It’s self-indulgent, Erin. It’s selfish.’
‘I’m seeing a psychologist for the twins. So I can be a better mother to them. And they love nursery.’ Andy made a scoffing noise. ‘If you’re so concerned,’ Erin snapped, ‘Why don’t you work less?’
‘I’ve just paid to have the entire flat repainted and a new front door fitted,’ he said. ‘I’m not in a position to work less. Thanks to your friend.’
‘Do you think James started a fire to inconvenience you, Andy? Do you think he died alone, probably frightened and in pain, to inconvenience you?’
‘Calm down,’ Andy said, rolling his eyes.
Erin breathed out. It’s not too late for you, dear, she heard again.
Katie tied on her apron for the first time in more than five weeks. Abramo’s had just re-opened. Two thousand pounds on painting and decorating, Mateo had grumbled, and you could still see where water had saturated the ceiling.
After she’d read Angel’s messages, Katie had wanted to quit. She couldn’t imagine working side-by-side with Sergio, knowing he’d only had sex with her to make Angel jealous. But she didn’t want him to know he’d hurt her. When Mateo had called to tell her they were ready to open, offering her a Wednesday night shift, she’d taken it.
Sergio was behind the bar, emptying crates of beer into the fridges, when Katie came out of the cupboard where the staff kept their coats.
‘Hello, you,’ he said when he saw her. They hadn’t spoken since he’d left her flat after they’d had sex.
‘Hello, you,’ Katie replied. She could see Sergio was confused by the coldness of her tone.
‘Are you alright?’
Katie smiled. ‘Why wouldn’t I be alright?’
Love Drama? Subscribe! And tell your friends—drama loves company!
If you’re a Substack writer, please consider recommending The Links:
Thanks so much for reading!