‘Paul!’ She has to yell twice to be heard over the sound of the traffic. ‘Paul!’
He turns. She can see the points of his irises even from here.
‘I know.’ He stands very still for a minute, a tall man, a little broken, in a good suit. ‘I know. Thank you … for trying.’
Sometimes life is a series of obstacles, a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, she realizes suddenly, it is simply a matter of blind faith. ‘Would you … would you like to go for that drink some time?’ She swallows. ‘Now, even?’
He glances at his shoes, thinking, then up at her again. ‘Would you give me one minute?’
He walks back up the steps of the court. She sees Janey Dickinson deep in conversation with her lawyer. Paul touches her elbow, and there is a brief exchange of words. She feels anxious – a little voice nagging: What is he telling her now? – and she turns away, climbing into the taxi, trying to quell it. When she looks up again through the window, he is walking briskly back down the steps, winding a scarf around his neck. Janey Dickinson is staring at the taxi, her files limp in her arms.
He opens the door, and climbs in, slamming it shut. ‘I quit,’ he says. He lets out a breath, reaches over for her hand. ‘Right. Where are we going?’
Greg’s face betrays nothing as he answers the door. ‘Hello again, Miss Liv,’ he says, as if her appearance on the doorstep is entirely to be expected. He steps back into the hallway as Paul peels her coat from her shoulders, shushing the dogs, which rush to greet her. ‘I’ve ruined the risotto, but Jake says it doesn’t matter as he doesn’t like mushrooms anyway. So we’re thinking maybe pizza.’
‘Pizza sounds great. And my treat,’ says Paul. ‘It may be our last for a while.’
They had held hands in stunned silence halfway down Fleet Street. ‘I lost you your job,’ she’d said finally. ‘And your big bonus. And your chance to buy a bigger flat for your son.’
He had gazed straight ahead of him. ‘You didn’t lose me any of it. I walked.’
Greg raises an eyebrow. ‘A bottle of red has been open in the kitchen since around half past four. This has nothing whatsoever to do with me looking after my nephew for the day. Does it, Jake?’
‘Greg says it’s always wine o’clock in this house,’ a boy’s voice calls from the other room.
‘Tattle-tale,’ Greg calls back. And then he says to Liv, ‘Oh, no. I can’t let you drink. Look what happened last time you got drunk in our company. You turned my sensible big brother into a tragic, mooning adolescent.’
‘And this is where I remind you yet again that mooning means something quite different in this country,’ Paul says, steering her towards the kitchen. ‘Liv, you’d better acclimatize for a minute. Greg’s idea of interior decorating is basically Too Much Is Not Enough. He doesn’t do minimalist.’
‘I stamp my personality on my little house, and, no, it is not a tabula rasa.’
‘It’s beautiful,’ she says, of the colourful walls, the bold prints and tiny photographs that surround her. She feels oddly at ease in this little railwayman’s cottage, with its blaring music, incalculable numbers of loved things on every shelf and crammed into every wall-space, and a child who lies on a rug in front of the television.
‘Hey,’ says Paul, going into the living room, where the boy flips on to his back like a puppy.
‘Dad.’ He glances at her and she fights the urge to drop Paul’s hand when he sees him registering it. ‘Are you the girl from this morning?’ he says, after a minute.
‘I hope so. Unless there was another one.’
‘I don’t think so,’ says Jake. ‘I thought they were going to squash you.’
‘Yes, I sort of did too.’
He studies her for a minute. ‘My dad put on perfume the last time he saw you.’
‘Aftershave,’ says Paul, and stoops to kiss him. ‘Tattle-tale.’
So this is Mini Paul, she thinks, and the idea is pleasing.
‘This is Liv. Liv, this is Jake.’
She lifts a hand. ‘I don’t know many people your age, so I’ll probably say horribly uncool things, but it’s very good to meet you.’
‘That’s okay. I’m used to it.’
Greg appears and hands her a glass of red wine. His eyes dart between them. ‘So what does this mean? Is there an entente cordiale between our warring factions? Are you two now … secret collaborators?’
Liv blinks at his choice of words. She turns to look at Paul.
‘I don’t care about the job,’ he had said quietly, his hand closing around hers. ‘I only know that when I’m not with you I’m mean and mad at everything.’
‘No,’ she says, and she finds she’s grinning. ‘He just realized he was on the wrong side all along.’
When Andy, Greg’s boyfriend, arrives at Elwin Street there are five of them squashed into the little house, but it never feels crowded. Liv, seated around a small tower of pizza slices, thinks of the cold Glass House on top of the warehouse and it seems suddenly so linked to the court case, to her own unhappiness, that she does not want to go home.
She does not want to look at Sophie’s face, knowing what is about to happen. She sits in the midst of these near-strangers, playing games or laughing at their family jokes, and grasps that her sense of constant surprise comes from the discovery that, despite it all, she is happy; happy in a way that she cannot remember being for years.
And there is Paul. Paul, who looks physically battered by the day’s events, as if he, not her, has lost everything. Whenever he turns to look at her something realigns itself, as if her body has to attune itself to the possibility of being happy again.
You okay? his look asks.
Yes, hers says, and she means it.
‘So what happens on Monday?’ Greg says, as they sit around the table. He has been showing them swatches of fabric for a new colour scheme in the bar. The table is strewn with crumbs and half-empty glasses of wine. ‘You have to hand over the painting? Are you definitely going to lose?’
Liv looks at Paul. ‘I guess so,’ she says. ‘I just have to get my head around the idea of … letting her go.’ An unexpected lump rises to her throat, and she smiles, willing it to go away.
Greg reaches out a hand to her. ‘Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you.’
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