Seven

Deptford Bridge looked surprisingly exotic in the fierce sunlight. People were wearing t-shirts and sunglasses in the unusual heat, lounging lethargically against the concrete station walls as they waited for buses.

I stopped off at the corner shop on the way, looking for peace-offerings.

Sophie was sprawled out by the window in a small oblong of sun wearing a skimpy lime-green bikini. It exposed how tightly her skin clung to the bone, ribs protruding alarmingly, her body all lines and angles.

“The wanderer returns!” she greeted me cheerfully. “Are those the spoils of war?”

“I come bearing Jaffa cakes,” I said, pulling a box from the bag.

“I’d prefer some rent money, really,” Soph admitted.

“I have that too,” I said quickly. “And gin and tonics.”

“Now you’re talking!”

She stretched her insect limbs luxuriously, watching as I washed two glasses and tentatively explored the freezer for ice. I surreptitiously checked the state of the fridge and found it almost bare apart from a near-empty bottle of white wine and some condiments. Had she bought no food at all during my absence?

“Lime or cucumber?”

“Hmm,” she mulled. “Today’s a lime day.”

As I cut lime I was pleased to see from the corner of my eye that she was opening the packet and nibbling cautiously on a Jaffa cake.

I brought the drinks over and sat cross-legged beside her on the carpet.

“Cheers,” I proposed, holding out my glass.

“Cheers,” she agreed, clinking hers against mine. “Now, Kit darling, where the fuck have you been?”

“Working,” I said simply.

“Whoring yourself all over London?”

I didn’t credit that with a reply.

I noted the flash of gold amidst her pale expanse – a new heart-shaped necklace.

“You’ve seen Roger again,” I said meaningfully.

Touché.

She gave me a smouldering look of reproach; it drifted away as she sipped eagerly at her drink.

“Well, I’m glad that you’re home now, anyway. You can come with me to Pete’s gig.”

“I’m not sure I’m up for it,” I said quickly.

“You’re coming,” Soph stated. “It’s only round the corner. You haven’t been to one for ages, and he always asks after you…”

“I don’t know why.”

Yes you do. Don’t be so mean.”

“I’m not. But I hardly know the guy…”

“You’re coming. I’m not going alone. You owe me.”

I tried my best imploring face, but Soph was immune. She held my gaze savagely until I backed down.

“Ok.”

“Good.”

“Oh, your mother’s been calling for you on the landline quite a lot. We really should get an answer-machine.”

“You spoke to her?” I asked tensely. “What did you say?”

“That you’re being highly secretive, disappearing for days on end and returning with suspiciously large amounts in cash, covered in love-bites, of course…” Soph grinned very widely, batting her eye-lashes innocently. “I told her you’ve lost your mobile; you’re working random shifts at a twenty-four-hour supermarket, and for good measure that you’re taking evening classes – French and pottery.”

“Thanks,” I said, relieved. “Pottery?”

“Oui. You can pick up a tatty hand-made vase in Greenwich market for her birthday. You see, I really do think of everything.”

“Great,” I said, downing the remainder of the gin and tonic. The intense way in which Soph was staring at me was making me rather uncomfortable. She looked hungry. She wanted something. I wasn’t going ask what. “I’m going to have a soak.”

The bathroom was in a state; Soph had clearly been performing beautifying rituals in there. I gave the bath a good scrub before filling it with hot water and bubbles.

I sighed like someone in a Radox advert as I sank into the water. It felt glorious to be submerged.

A moment later the door opened. The lock had broken long ago and we hadn’t got around to replacing it.

Soph smiled as she stipped off the bikini, flinging it carelessly onto the grimy floor.

“I missed you,” she cooed, lowering herself into the bath.

Even with her tiny frame, it was too full for the extra load; bubbles cascaded as water flooded over the edge.

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