He stands back. ‘Big black pullover. Black jeans. No makeup. It’s not exactly a siren call.’
‘You wear whatever you’re comfortable in, Liv. Take no notice of him.’
‘You think I look masculine?’
‘Mind you, you said you met him in a g*y bar. Perhaps he likes women who look a bit … boyish.’
‘You are such an old fool,’ says Caroline, and departs the room bearing her mug of tea aloft.
‘So I look like a butch lesbian.’
‘I’m just saying I think you could play up your best features a little more. A wave in your hair, perhaps. A belt to show off your waist …’
Caroline puts her head back around the door. ‘It doesn’t matter what you wear, darling. Just make sure the underwear is good. Lingerie is ultimately all that matters.’
Her father watches Caroline disappear and blows a mute kiss. ‘Lingerie!’ he says reverently.
Liv looks down at her clothes. ‘Well, thanks, Dad. I feel great now. Just … great.’
‘Pleasure. Any time.’ He bangs the flat of his hand down on the pine table. ‘And let me know how it goes! A date! Exciting!’
Liv stares at herself in the mirror. It is three years since a man saw her body, and four since a man saw her body while she was sober enough to care. She has done what Mo suggested: depilated all but the neatest amounts of body hair, scrubbed her face, put a conditioning treatment on her hair. She has sorted through her underwear drawer until she found something that might qualify as vaguely seductive and not greyed with old age. She has painted her toenails and filed her fingernails rather than just attacking them with clippers.
David never cared about this stuff. But David isn’t here any more.
She has gone through her wardrobe, sorting through rails of black and grey, of unobtrusive black trousers and jumpers. It is, she has to admit, utilitarian. She finally settles on a black pencil skirt and a V-necked jumper. She teams these with a pair of red high heels with butterflies on the toes that she bought and wore once to a wedding but has never thrown out. They may not be exactly on trend, but they could not be mistaken for the footwear of a butch lesbian.
‘Whoa! Look at you!’ Mo stands in the doorway, her jacket on, a rucksack over her shoulder, ready to head off for her shift.
‘Is it too much?’ She holds out an ankle doubtfully.
‘You look great. You’re not wearing granny knickers, right?’
Liv takes a breath. ‘No, I am not wearing granny knickers. Not that I really feel obliged to keep everyone in the postcode up to speed with my underwear choices.’
‘Then go forth and try not to multiply. I’ve left you the chicken thing I promised, and there’s a salad bowl in the fridge. Just add the dressing. I’ll be staying at Ranic’s tonight, so I’m not under your feet. It’s all yours.’ She grins meaningfully at Liv, then heads down the stairs.
Liv turns back to the mirror. An over made-up woman in a skirt stares back at her. She walks around the room, a little unsteady in the unfamiliar shoes, trying to work out what is making her feel so unbalanced. The skirt fits perfectly. Running has given her legs an attractive, sculpted outline. The shoes are a good dash of colour against the rest of the outfit. The underwear is pretty without being tarty. She crosses her arms and sits on the side of the bed. He is due here in an hour.
She looks up at The Girl You Left Behind. I want to look how you look, she tells her silently.
For once, that smile offers her nothing. It seems almost to mock her.
It says, Not a chance.
Liv shuts her eyes for some time. Then she reaches for her phone and texts Paul.
Change of plan. Would you mind if we met
somewhere for a drink instead?
‘So … sick of cooking? Because I would have brought a takeaway.’
Paul leans back in his chair, his eyes darting to a group of shrieking office workers, who seem to have been there all afternoon, judging by the general air of drunken flirtatiousness. He has been quietly amused by them, by the lurching women, the dozing accountant in the corner.
‘I … just needed to get out of the house.’
‘Ah, yeah. The working-from-home thing. I forget how that can drive you crazy. When my brother first moved over here he spent weeks at mine writing job applications, and when I used to get in from work he would literally talk at me non-stop for an hour.’
‘You came over from America together?’
‘He came to support me when I got divorced. I was a bit of a mess. And then he just never left.’ Paul had come to England ten years ago. His English wife had been miserable, had missed home, especially when Jake was a baby, and he had left the NYPD to keep her happy.
‘When we got here we found it was us, not the location, that was all wrong. Hey, look. Blue Suit Man is going to make a move on the girl with the great hair.’
Liv sips her drink. ‘That’s not real hair.’
He squints. ‘What? You’re kidding me. It’s a wig?’
‘Extensions. You can tell.’
‘I can’t. You’re going to tell me the chest is fake too now, right?’
‘No, they’re real. She has quadroboob.’
‘Bra’s too small. It makes her look like she’s got four.’
Paul laughs so hard he starts to choke. He can’t remember the last time he kept laughing like this. She smiles back at him, almost reluctantly. She has been a little strange tonight, as if all her responses are slowed by some separate internal conversation.
He manages to control himself. ‘So what do we think?’ he says, trying to make her relax. ‘Is Quadroboob Girl going to go for it?’
‘Maybe with one more drink inside her. I’m not convinced she really likes him.’
‘Yeah. She keeps looking over his shoulder as she talks to him. I think she likes grey shoes.’
‘No woman likes grey shoes. Trust me.’
He lifts an eyebrow, puts down his drink. ‘Now this, you see, is why men find it easier to split molecules and invade countries than to work out what goes on in women’s heads.’
‘Pfft. If you’re lucky one day I’ll sneak you a look at the rule book.’ He looks at her and she blushes, as if she’s said too much. There is a sudden inexplicably awkward silence. She stares at her drink. ‘Do you miss New York?’
‘I like visiting. When I go home now they all make fun of my accent.’
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