The footsteps were hard and fast, and Erin, who’d been tickling the twins on the living room rug, suddenly felt a pounding in her ears. The noise was coming from the stair—shouts, as well as footsteps—and Erin felt the same terror she’d felt the night of the fire, when the firefighters had burst, shouting, through the front door, rousing her from sleep. On shaky legs, she grabbed the twins, ready to run from the building if they needed to. She threw open the front door to find workmen on the landing, shouting and swearing, attempting to prise the boards off James’s door.
‘Sorry, love,’ one of them said, when he saw her, white-faced and trembling. ‘Did we disturb you?’
Erin held the twins tight in her arms. ‘I thought…’ she started to say. Her mouth felt dry. ‘What… what are you doing?’
‘We’re here to do this place up,’ the man said. He wiped sweat from his brow. ‘If we can get these bloody boards off.’
‘What if Jemma tries to get custody?’
‘But what if she does?’
‘Mammy, will you stop?’ Aidan’s mother had been staying with him and John for three days. Aidan had hoped this afternoon tea, in a hotel Colette had declared ‘so fancy’, would be a respite from her incessant questions. He’d already told her everything he knew about Holly and Jemma splitting up, but the questions kept coming.
He glanced across the table. He could see that John was bored—and annoyed—as he was by any mention of Aidan’s impending fatherhood.
‘I just think you should…’ Colette began.
‘More tea, Mrs. Carr?’ John interrupted.
‘Please, call me Colette,’ she said, holding out her cup.
Aidan changed the subject. ‘What shall we do after this?’
‘We could go for a stroll around Saint Cuthbert’s,’ John suggested.
Aidan had been about to suggest cocktails in the hotel bar. That John would rather stroll around a crumbling cemetery—an idea Colette was delighted by—bothered him. He’d noticed, more than once since his mother came to stay, that she had more in common with John than he did.
Angel smiled at the Womenswear Manager—a tiny, sharp-faced, blonde woman—and said, ‘Retail is my passion.’
‘And yet,’ the woman replied, ‘this would be your first job in retail.’
‘I wanted to wait until I had the opportunity to work here,’ Angel said. ‘This is the best shop in Edinburgh.’
The woman raised an eyebrow. She looked at her notes. ‘You’re able to work full-time?’
‘Until September, yes.’
‘Do you have any plans for the summer? Apart from working?’
This was one question Angel didn’t have a practised answer for. An image of Katie’s angry face flashed into her mind. Then an image of Dr. Tavish. Then Ryan. I’m going to spend the summer putting my mistakes behind me, she thought. I’m going to spend the summer enjoying myself. She imagined a summer of parties and drinking and smoking and taking drugs and kissing strangers and dancing until the sun came up. She imagined a summer of freedom from complicated feelings and uncomfortable encounters. That was the summer she wanted. But she couldn’t tell this woman that. Instead, she smiled, as keenly as she could, and said, ‘No. I’d like to concentrate on working.’
Katie’s new flat, which she was sharing with a friend from school, was on a north-facing street, and saw very little daylight. Her room was small, and shadowy, and the yellow glow of her bedside lamp made her body look lumpy and grey.
She’d been staring at herself in the mirror for ten minutes, though she had a shift at the restaurant, and needed to shower. She was worried she’d put on weight. She grabbed her stomach. What if Sergio’s working tonight and he sees me looking like this? What if he compares my body to Angel’s? What if he already has?
Thoughts of Sergio and Angel tormented Katie. She couldn’t help feeling that if she were prettier, if she were beautiful like Angel, things would be different. Maybe if my jawline was sharper, she thought, or if my wrist bones were more defined, like Angel’s. Maybe then I could show Sergio he means nothing to me, like Mateo said I should.
Katie had, since her early teens, kept a close, disciplined, eye on her body. Maybe I’ll just eat a little less for a little while, she thought. Just a little less. She wouldn’t let it go too far, like she had once before, when her parents had been worried and doctors had been called. Just a little less, for a little while.
More To Read:
What does it feel like to kiss, to want to go to bed with a man? Novelist Elizabeth Marro invites small talk, big talk, beautiful questions in Spark, where writers and readers share ideas, stories, and experiences that lead to what Virginia Woolf called ‘...little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.’
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!