‘I’m sorry to bother you,’ the man said. Erin assumed he had the wrong flat. She thought perhaps he was a friend of the young couple who’d moved into the flat below the McGregors, bringing them a flatwarming gift. But he gestured behind him, to James’s flat. ‘I wanted to apologise for the banging.’ Erin felt her pulse rise. Thinking about James’s flat meant thinking about the fire.
The man looked concerned. ‘Has the noise been bothering you?’
‘No,’ Erin said, shaking her head. ‘No, it’s fine.’
‘Are you sure? Because we’re going to be working in there for a while. Months probably. I thought I’d better try and keep you sweet,’ he smiled. He offered her the bottle of wine. ‘I brought you this.’
Erin looked at the bottle. How easy it would be to take it, to open it, to pour a glass, to pour another.
‘Here,’ the man said. ‘Please, take it.’
‘No,’ Erin said, a little too loudly. ‘No, thank you.’ She shut the door.
‘Shall we just go in?’
‘No, Mum,’ Holly said, as she’d said the previous two times her mother had asked. ‘We’ll wait for Aidan.’
Mingmei tutted and looked at her watch. Holly stifled a sigh. I didn’t even want you to come, she thought.
It was Friday morning, and her ultrasound appointment was at nine o’clock. The clinic on Lauriston Place was only a fifteen minute walk from Pechey Terrace, but Mingmei had insisted they get there in ‘plenty of time’. By quarter to nine, when Aidan came around the corner, they’d been standing outside for more than twenty minutes.
‘Morning!’ Aidan called. He had a small, dark-haired woman with him. ‘This is my mammy, Colette. She insisted on coming.’
‘And why shouldn’t I come? It’s my grandchild, isn’t it?’ Her hand stretched towards Holly’s still-flat stomach.
Holly stepped out of her reach. ‘This is my mum, Mingmei,’ she said. ‘She insisted on coming, too.’
Mingmei offered Colette a hand, but Colette pulled her into a hug. ‘Isn’t it wonderful? I mean, in our situation,’ she said conspiratorially, ‘you don’t imagine you’ll be a grandmother, do you?’
‘Mammy, stop,’ Aidan said.
Mingmei smiled her tightest smile. ‘Shall we go in?’
The date had seemed like a good idea. As part of Angel’s plans for a summer of freedom and fun, she’d been scrolling dating apps, indiscriminately swiping right. Chris was only decent-looking, but he’d passed the low bar of not opening their chat with a dick pic, and his messages had made Angel laugh.
They’d agreed to meet early on Friday afternoon, for a coffee. Angel had dressed as if they were going for drinks, assuming that, if things went well, they would.
Chris was waiting for her when she got to the café, and paid for her oat milk latte. They chatted about their studies, their summer jobs, their shared interest in rap and R&B. Angel talked about anti-racism. He talked about trying to be an ally, and Angel was buying it right up until he said, ‘You’ve got the best curls,’ and reached across the table to grab one. He tugged it and let it go, smiling as it bounced. Suddenly Angel was back in Dr. Tavish’s lab, cheeks burning, hearing the class laugh after he did the same thing.
‘Don’t touch my hair,’ she snapped.
Sergio left Abramo’s shortly after five o’clock, stepping out of the restaurant’s air-conditioned cool into a hot afternoon, the smell of BBQ in the air.
Bruntsfield Links was crowded with people partying in the sun, and Sergio wanted to party too. He wondered which of his friends might be free that night. He wondered where he might source some coke. His debts meant contacting Kanal was out of the question.
The car Mateo had bought Sergio for his twenty-first birthday, three years earlier, was parked on Warrender Park Crescent. When he turned the corner from Pechey Terrace, he saw two men leaning on the bonnet. He knew who they were, and what they wanted, and his legs turned to jelly.
‘Young Mr. Agresta,’ Kanal said, standing up and coming towards him. ‘Fancy meeting you here.’
‘Hi, Kanal,’ Sergio said, ‘Nice to see you.’
‘Uh-huh. I bet it is.’
‘Look, I know I owe you a call.’
‘You owe me a lot more than a call.’ He pointed to the man beside him. ‘This is my friend Sam. Bit of a bruiser, isn’t he?’ Sergio nodded. ‘I want you to think about what me and Sam are going to do to you, Sergio, if you don’t get me my money.’
‘I’ll get you your money.’
‘You’d better,’ Kanal smiled.
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