‘What’s your star sign, Robbie?’ Tamsin was one of the new waitresses Mateo had hired for the summer. She was a foot taller than Katie, blonde and beautiful.
‘I don’t know and I don’t care,’ Robbie growled. He was plating up main courses while Katie and Tamsin waited.
‘When’s your birthday?’
‘Sixth of December.’
‘Sagittarius,’ Tamsin cooed. ‘You and I are very compatible.’ She turned to Katie. ‘I bet you’re a Libra.’
‘No,’ Katie said. ‘Virgo.’
‘Steer clear of Robbie, then.’
‘Why?’ Katie felt her cheeks turn pink. She didn’t dare look at Robbie.
‘Sagittarius and Virgo is one of the worst possible combinations,’ Tamsin laughed. ‘So it’s your birthday soon?’ Katie nodded. ‘What are you going to do?’
Katie would be twenty-one on the twenty-third of August. ‘That’s Carnival weekend,’ Angel had said, months before, when they’d discussed how Katie should mark the milestone. ‘The Monday of the Notting Hill Carnival. It’s, like, London’s biggest party. I go every year.’
‘Isn’t it dangerous? I read that there’s lots of stabbings.’
‘Yes,’ Angel had nodded, ‘if you get your news from right-wing newspapers, it’s dangerous.’ She’d rolled her eyes. ‘I’ve been going to Carnival since I was fourteen. Haven’t been stabbed yet.’ She’d leaned close to Katie, a twinkle in her eye. ‘You should have a carnival-themed party.’
Katie had liked the idea, and Angel had promised to help her organise. But that was before. I bet she thinks I won’t do it without her, Katie thought.
‘I’m going to have a party,’ she told Tamsin. ‘A carnival-themed party.’
Alistair was painting the door of James’s flat when Erin climbed the stairs, leading Archie and Annie by the hand. ‘Hello,’ he said, smiling at the twins.
‘Is that man painting?’ Annie asked.
‘Yes,’ Erin said. ‘Don’t touch,’ she added, steering Archie away from the open tin of paint.
‘I’ve been painting inside too,’ Alistair told Annie. ‘Would you like to see?’ He looked at Erin. ‘Would you like to see?’ He stood up, wiping his hands on his thighs. ‘I could use a woman’s opinion.’ Erin nodded, and Alistair led them inside. The hall had been painted a fresh white, and seemed huge without James’s clutter. In the kitchen, there were new cabinets, and freshly laid floorboards. The wall was striped with different shades of blue paint. ‘What do you think of these colours?’
‘I like that one,’ Erin said, pointing.
‘That one,’ Archie shouted. Erin had to stop him from planting a grimy hand on the wall.
‘Sorry, wee man,’ Alistair said. ‘I like the one your mum’s picked.’ Archie groaned his disappointment.
‘The place is unrecognisable,’ Erin said.
‘Not all of it.’ Alistair lead her to the flat’s front room. Erin gasped as he opened the door. It was as if James was still there: mess and grime, stuff piled high. ‘He was sleeping in here,’ Alistair said.
It was a sad space, sad and dirty and dark. Erin thought she might cry.
‘The builders said to toss everything in the skip,’ Alistair shrugged. ‘But I…’
‘I could help you go through it,’ Erin said. ‘See if there’s anything worth keeping.’
Alistair looked at her. ‘I’d appreciate that.’
‘Where are you staying?’
‘With my sister.’ Jemma hadn’t taken a seat, though Holly had asked her to. She looked, Holly realised, like she no longer belonged in their flat. ‘I know I owe you money for bills,’ she said.
‘Oh, no, don’t worry about it.’
‘No, I want to. I don’t want to… owe you anything.’ Holly flinched. ‘I’m sorry, I just mean…’
‘No, it’s fine, I…’
‘If you let me know what I owe you, I’ll put money in your account.’
Holly wasn’t sure any more why she’d sent the DM asking Jemma to come and collect her things. She’d wanted to talk. She hadn’t thought it would be so uncomfortable.
She tried to smile. ‘So are you and your sister tearing each other’s hair out?’
‘Yeah,’ Jemma said. ‘But I might be getting a flat with Fiona.’ Fiona was one of Jemma’s ‘online’ friends. She spoke marketing jargon and monetised every detail of her life, and she was Holly’s least favourite of Jemma’s friends. The idea of Jemma spending more time with her—becoming more like her—bothered Holly.
‘I’ve got something I wanted to tell you,’ she blurted out. ‘About the baby. About the birth certificate.’ Jemma looked confused. ‘You’re not going to be on the birth certificate,’ Holly said. ‘Because you’re not the legal parent. Because the night I got pregnant, Aidan and I had sex.’
Jemma stared at her, brows knitted. Could she tell Holly was lying? ‘OK,’ she said.
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