‘And you don’t have any milk.’
‘What’s the time?’
‘Quarter to seven.’
‘Ugh.’ Greg burrows down under the duvet. ‘Even the dogs don’t get up this early. Ask your dad to do it.’
‘He’s not here.’
Greg’s eyes open slowly, fix on the curtains. ‘What do you mean he’s not here?’
‘He’s gone. The sleeping-bag’s still rolled up so I don’t think he slept on the sofa. Can we get croissants from that place down the road? The chocolate ones?’
‘I’m getting up. I’m getting up. I’m up.’ He hauls himself into an upright position, rubs his head.
‘And Pirate has weed on the floor.’
‘Oh. Good. Saturday’s off to a flying start.’
Paul is indeed not there but he has left a note on the kitchen table: it is scribbled on the back of a list of court evidence, and placed on top of a scattered pile of papers.
Had to go. Pls can you hang on to Jake. Will call.
‘Is everything okay?’ Jake says, studying his face.
The mug on the table is ringed with black coffee. The remaining papers look as if they have suffered a small explosion.
‘It’s all fine, Small Fry,’ Greg says, ruffling his hair. He folds the note, puts it into his pocket, and begins dragging the files and papers into some sort of order. ‘I tell you what, I vote we make pancakes for breakfast. What do you say we pull our coats on over these pyjamas and head down to the corner shop for some eggs?’
When Jake leaves the room, he grabs his mobile phone and stabs out a text.
If you are over there getting laid right this minute,
you owe me BIG TIME.
He waits a few minutes before stuffing it into his pocket, but there is no reply.
Saturday is, thankfully, busy. Liv waits in for the buyers to come and measure up, then for their builders and architect to examine the apparently endless work that needs doing. She moves around these strangers in her home, trying to strike the right balance between accommodating and friendly, as befits the seller of the house, and not reflecting her true feelings, which would involve shouting, ‘GO AWAY,’ and making childish hand gestures at them. She distracts herself by packing and cleaning, deploys the consolations of small domestic tasks. She throws out two bin-bags of old clothes. She rings several rental agents, and when she tells them the amount she can afford there is a lengthy, scornful silence.
‘Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’ says the architect, as she places the phone back in its cradle.
‘No,’ she says hurriedly. ‘I don’t think so.’
Paul does not call.
That afternoon she heads over to her father’s. ‘Caroline has thrown you the most spectacular pot for Christmas,’ he announces. ‘You’re going to love it.’
‘Oh, good,’ she says.
They eat salad and a Mexican dish for lunch. Caroline hums to herself while eating. Liv’s father is up for a car-insurance advert. ‘Apparently I have to imitate a chicken. A chicken with a no-claims bonus.’
She tries to focus on what he is saying, but she keeps thinking about Paul, replaying the previous day in her head. She is secretly surprised that he hasn’t rung. Oh, God. I’m turning into one of those clingy girlfriends. And we’ve not even been officially together for twenty-four hours. She has to laugh at ‘officially’.
Reluctant to go back to the Glass House, she stays at her father’s for much longer than usual. He seems delighted, drinks too much, pulls out black-and-white pictures of her that he found while sorting through a drawer. There is something oddly grounding about going through them: the reminder that there was a whole life before this case, before Sophie Lefèvre and a house she cannot afford and an awful, final day looming in court.
‘Such a beautiful child.’
The open, smiling face in the picture makes her want to cry. Her father puts his arm around her. ‘Don’t be too upset on Monday. I know it’s been tough. But we’re terribly proud of you, you know.’
‘For what?’ she says, blowing her nose. ‘I failed, Dad. Most people think I shouldn’t have even tried.’
Her father pulls her to him. He smells of red wine and a part of her life that seems a million years ago. ‘Just for carrying on, really. Sometimes, my darling girl, that’s heroic in itself.’
It’s almost four thirty when she calls him. It’s been almost twenty-four hours, she rationalizes. And surely the normal rules for dating don’t apply if someone has just given up half their life for you. Her heart quickens a little as she dials: she’s already anticipating the sound of his voice. She pictures them, later that evening, curled up on his sofa in the crowded little flat, maybe playing cards with Jake on the rug. But the answer-phone cuts in after three rings. Liv hangs up quickly, oddly unsettled, then curses herself for being childish.
She goes for a run, showers, makes tea for Fran (‘The last one only had two sugars’), sits by the phone and finally dials his number again at six thirty. Again it goes straight to the answer-phone. She doesn’t have a landline number for his flat. Should she just go there? He could be at Greg’s. But, she realizes, she doesn’t have a number for Greg’s either. She had been so disoriented by Friday’s events when they had arrived there that she’s not even sure of the exact address.
This is ridiculous, she tells herself. He’ll call.
At eight thirty, knowing she can’t face spending the rest of the evening in the house, she gets up, pulls on her coat and grabs her keys.
It’s a short walk to Greg’s bar, even shorter if you half run in your trainers. She pushes open the door and is hit by a wall of noise. On the small stage to the left a man dressed as a woman is singing raucously to a disco beat, accompanied by loud catcalls from a rapt crowd. At the other end, the tables are packed, the spaces between them thick with taut, tightly clad bodies.
It takes her a few minutes to spot him, moving swiftly along the bar, a tea-towel slung over his shoulder. She squeezes through to the front, half wedged under somebody’s armpit, and shouts his name.
It takes several goes for him to hear her. Then he turns. Her smile freezes: his expression is oddly unwelcoming.
‘Well, this is a fine time to turn up.’
She blinks. ‘I’m sorry?’
‘Nearly nine o’clock? Are you guys kidding me?’
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