‘Oh, God. He definitely has it? Do you think he’ll want a reward?’ She casts around in her pockets. She has four pounds in coins and some coppers, which she holds out in front of her.
‘It doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?’
‘Short of sexual favours, it’s pretty much all you have.’
‘Four pounds it is.’
They head into the lift, Liv clutching the money. Mo is smirking.
‘I was just thinking. It would be funny if we stole his bag. You know, mugged him. Girl muggers.’ She sniggers. ‘I once stole some chalk from a post office. I have form.’
Liv is scandalized.
‘What?’ Mo’s face is sombre. ‘I was seven.’
They stand in silence as the lift reaches the bottom. As the doors open, Mo says, ‘We could make a clean getaway. He doesn’t actually know your address.’
‘Mo –’ Liv begins, but as she steps out of the main doorway she sees the man on the corner, the colour of his hair, the way he runs his hand over the top of his head, and whips round, her cheeks burning.
‘What? Where are you going?’
‘I can’t go out there.’
‘Why? I can see your bag. He looks okay. I don’t think he’s a mugger. He’s wearing shoes. No mugger wears shoes.’
‘Will you get it for me? Really – I can’t talk to him.’
‘Why?’ Mo scrutinizes her. ‘Why have you gone so pink?’
‘Look, I stayed at his house. And it’s just embarrassing.’
‘Oh, my God. You did the nasty with that man.’
‘No, I did not.’
‘You did.’ Mo squints at her. ‘Or you wanted to. YOU WANTED TO. You are so busted.’
‘Mo – can you just get my bag for me, please? Just tell him I’m not in. Please?’ Before Mo can say anything else, she is back in the lift and jabbing at the button to take her to the top floor, her thoughts spinning. When she reaches the Glass House she rests her forehead against the door and listens to her heart beating in her ears.
I am thirty years old, she says to herself.
Behind her the lift door opens.
‘Oh, God, thanks, Mo, I –’
Paul McCafferty is in front of her.
‘Where’s Mo?’ she says, stupidly.
‘Is that your flatmate? She’s … interesting.’
She cannot speak. Her tongue has swollen to fill her mouth. Her hand reaches up to her hair – she’s conscious that she hasn’t washed it.
‘Anyway,’ he says. ‘Hey.’
He holds out a hand. ‘Your bag. It is your bag, right?’
‘I can’t believe you found it.’
‘I’m good at finding stuff. It’s my job.’
‘Oh. Yes. The ex-cop thing. Well, thanks. Really.’
‘It was in a bin, if you’re interested. With two others. Outside University College Library. The caretaker found them and handed them all in. I’m afraid your cards and your phone are gone … The good news is that the cash was still there.’
‘Yeah. Amazing. Two hundred pounds. I checked it.’
Relief floods her, like a warm bath. ‘Really? They left the cash? I don’t understand.’
‘Nor me. I can only think it fell out of your purse as they opened it.’
She takes her bag and rummages through it. Two hundred pounds is floating around in the bottom, along with her hairbrush, the paperback she’d been reading that morning and a stray lipstick.
‘Never heard of that happening before. Still, it’ll help, eh? One less thing to worry about.’
He is smiling. Not a sympathetic oh-you-poor-drunken-woman-who-made-a-pass-at-me kind of smile, but the smile of someone who is just really pleased about something.
She finds she is smiling back. ‘This is just … amazing.’
‘So do I get my four-pound reward?’ She blinks at him. ‘Mo told me. Joke. Really.’ He laughs. ‘But …’ He studies his feet for a moment. ‘Liv – would you like to go out some time?’ When she doesn’t respond immediately, he adds, ‘It doesn’t have to be a big deal. We could not get drunk. And not go to a g*y bar. We could even just walk around holding our own door-keys and not letting our bags get stolen.’
‘Okay,’ she says slowly, and finds she is smiling again. ‘I’d like that.’
Paul McCafferty whistles to himself the whole way down in the noisy, juddering lift. When he gets to the bottom he takes the cashpoint receipt from his pocket, crumples it into a little ball, and throws it into the nearest bin.
They go out four times. The first time they have a pizza and she sticks to mineral water until she’s sure he doesn’t really think she’s a soak, at which point she allows herself one gin and tonic. It’s the most delicious gin and tonic she has ever had. He walks her back to her house and looks like he’s about to leave, then after a slightly awkward moment he kisses her cheek and they both laugh as if they know this is all a bit embarrassing. Without thinking, she leans forward and kisses him properly, a short one, but with intent. One that suggests something of herself. It leaves her a bit breathless. He walks into the lift backwards and is still grinning as the doors close on him.
She likes him.
The second time they go to see a live band his brother recommended and it’s awful. After twenty minutes, she realizes, with some relief, that he thinks it’s awful too, and when he says does she want to leave, they find themselves holding hands so they don’t lose each other as they fight their way out through the crowded bar. Somehow they don’t let go until they reach his flat. There they talk about their childhoods and bands they like and types of dog and the horror of courgettes, then kiss on the sofa until her legs go a bit weak. Her chin stays bright pink for two whole days afterwards.
A couple of days after this he rings her at lunchtime to say he happens to be passing a nearby café and does she fancy a quick coffee? ‘Were you really passing by?’ she says, after they have stretched their coffee and cake as far as his lunch hour can reasonably allow.
‘Sure,’ he says, and then, to her delight, his ears go pink. He sees her looking and reaches a hand up to his left lobe. ‘Ah. Man. I’m a really bad liar.’
The fourth time they go to a restaurant. Her father calls just before pudding arrives to say that Caroline has left him again. He wails so loudly down the telephone that Paul actually jumps at the other side of the table. ‘I have to go,’ she says, and declines his offer of help. She is not ready for the two men to meet, especially where the possibility exists that her father may not be wearing trousers.
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