Holly was woken in the early hours of Monday morning by banging and loud voices. She was alarmed, worried it might be another fire, until it dawned on her that she was listening to Aidan and the guy he’d brought home that night—Dennis?—having noisy sex.
She was working in the morning. The shop would be busy—it was the first day of the summer sale—and she couldn’t afford for Elaine to catch her looking tired. With a frustrated sigh, she rolled onto her side. The baby started kicking, a thump-thump that Holly usually found comforting, but now kept her from sleep.
She reached for her phone, though she knew staring at it would make it harder to get back to sleep. She looked, for the hundredth, maybe thousandth, time, at the photo Jemma had posted of her and Fiona.
Only a handful of months earlier, they had lain in this bed together. Now her wife had a new girlfriend, and her baby’s father—who, Holly had noticed, had liked Jemma’s photo—was acting as if nothing was further from his mind than impending fatherhood. She tossed her phone aside, and closed her eyes, biting her lip so as not to cry.
Alistair rang Erin’s doorbell just as she sat down with a cup of tea, a moment’s peace after dropping the twins at nursery. ‘Hello,’ she said, running a hand though her hair. She wished she’d made a little more effort getting dressed that morning.
‘Hello,’ Alistair said. ‘I brought you a present.’ He handed her something wrapped in tissue paper. ‘I found it amongst my father’s things. It was too nice to throw away.’
Erin unwrapped it. It was a photo frame: oval, solid silver, embossed with flowers. Inside was a photo of James as a young man. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘You’re the only person that seemed to know my father in any way,’ Alistair sighed. ‘I thought you might want something to remember him by. Or you could put in a photo of your wee ones…’
‘I’ll keep it like it is,’ Erin said. ‘Thank you.’
‘No, thank you. For helping me sort through things. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, when I…’
‘You didn’t,’ Erin interrupted. ‘You didn’t. It’s just... it’s too soon…’
‘That’s what I thought,’ Alistair said. ‘I mean, that’s what I hoped.’
Katie picked a long, green dress from the rail. She’d seen Tamsin wearing something similar, the last time the restaurant staff had gone for drinks. She’d seen Robbie looking at her wearing it.
She looked for a mirror, and held it against herself. Ugh. Disgusting. She was thinner than she had been, yes, but not thin enough to wear this dress. And her party was in a week.
‘Do you want to try that on?’ Katie turned to see Holly beside her. They smiled when they recognised each other. ‘You’re Angel’s friend, aren’t you? We used to be neighbours.’
‘That’s right,’ Katie nodded. She looked around for the door. She couldn’t afford this shop. You only came in to show Angel how much weight you’d lost, didn’t you? And then you saw how disgusting you are.
‘Angel’s working today,’ Holly said. ‘Do you want me to find her for you?’
‘No,’ Katie said. ‘I don’t want this,’ she added, thrusting the dress at Holly.
Naila lay wrapped in Ibrahim’s arms. After they’d had sex for the first time—gingerly, because of Naila’s still painful rib—it had been as if a dam had burst. Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and now Monday afternoon, and though Ibrahim was due at the hospital, neither of them wanted to get out of bed.
‘Why haven’t we done this before now?’ Naila whispered.
‘I wanted to be respectful,’ Ibrahim whispered back. His breath was hot in her ear. ‘My uncle kept saying what a good girl you were, how obedient. I didn’t want you to be obedient. I wanted you to be willing.’
‘But I have been willing, I thought I…’
‘You made that clear, yes,’ Ibrahim laughed. ‘I wanted to be sure.’ He kissed her neck. ‘I wanted your first time to feel special.’ Naila tensed in his arms. ‘Naila?’
Ibrahim shifted, so he could look at her. Naila couldn’t meet his eye. ‘Naila, it was your first time, wasn’t it?’ She didn’t answer. She knew he could see the truth on her face. He thew back the covers, and got out of bed. ‘I have to get to the hospital.’
Naila tried to get up, but in her haste hurt her rib. ‘Wait,’ she called, the pain catching her breath. Ibrahim rushed out, slamming the door.
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