Nine

Sophie was making sandwiches, humming happily along with the radio. She smiled as she spread the finest possible film of warmed butter over the bread, then carefully placed translucent slices of cucumber. She pressed down firmly on the top layer of bread, neatly chopped away the crusts, and divided the sandwiches into tiny triangles.

It was Kit’s idea. He had been full of puppyish energy that morning, as inspirational sunlight flooded the flat.

“Let’s go out! Let’s do something! Let’s go somewhere!”

“Ok,” she’d agreed, watching how the back-lighting illuminated his wild morning-hair into a tangled halo.

“Where would you like to go?” he’d prompted

“Nunhead Cemetry?” she suggested uncertainly, worried he might think it a morbid prospect. “It supposted to be really quite beautiful… like a lesser-known, smaller scale Highgate…”

“Sounds great!” Kit had enthused, jumping up to turn the radio on, fiddling with the tuning until he found a song he liked. “We could take a pic-nic!”

He was out now getting the ingredients for Pimms.

Sophie absent-mindedly sucked on a discarded crust as she wrapped the sandwiches carefully in cling-film. She could just taste the faint trace of butter on it.

“I’m going to ma-ake you love me!” the radio sang confidently. She twirled jubilantly in the sunshine. “Yes I am!” she agreed, “yes I a-am!”

Kit’s expression as he opened the door a few moments later deflated her like a released balloon.

“I’m really sorry,” he said earnestly, putting his bags of shopping down in a heap. “Marina just called…”

“Right,” Sophie said neutrally.

“She’s got a job for me…”

“Good.”

“And I have to go now…”

Of course he did. Why would Marina do such a thing as give him some notice? No, it was much more fun to have Kit run to her beck and call like an obedient dog.

“I’m really sorry,” he was saying again, watching her nervously with one eye, his other on the still-open door.

“It’s fine,” Sophie said airily, smiling hard to show how fine it was. “You go off and do your important things.” She turned away from him casually, suddenly very busy with state of the cutlery drawer. How had all these spoons and forks got themselves so mixed up? Had someone literally thrown them in the drawer?

“Ok…” Kit said anxiously. She could feel him watching her. “Well, I really do have to go…”

“Bye!” Sophie said brightly, still focussed determinedly on the drawer. “Have fun!”

“Bye,” he said dejectedly. There was a hesitant pause, and then he left at last.

Sophie pressed her finger gently against one of the prongs of a fork, concentrating on the sensation of it on her skin. Then she pressed gradually harder and harder, until it broke through, and a prick of intense pain ran up her spine.

“Ow,” she said mildly, slamming the drawer closed and lifting the finger to her mouth to suck away the well of blood.

She turned off the radio.

She considered the neat pack of sandwiches sitting accusingly on the sideboard. With her free hand she lifted then smartly, opened the bin with the foot-pedal, and tossed them coolly inside. She released the pedal, enjoying the metallic clang of the lid closing.

She could always go to Nunhead Cemetry on her own, of course. There was nothing to stop her. But she wasn’t going to. She sat limply on the sofa, wondering what she would do instead. Should she call someone?

But she didn’t want to. She didn’t trust her own voice. They’d ask what was wrong. And then she’d have to explain, and she’d sound so pathetic…

The doorbell rang, making her jump.

No one ever just called around without any warning… it must be Jahovah’s Witnesses or something like that…

She opened the door just crack, stoppering it with her foot in case they tried to barge in, and peered suspiciously over the edge.

“Pete!” she exclaimed, delighted, throwing it fully open. “What have you done to yourself!”

He’d cut off the dreads – his signature look since sixth form. Sophie gasped, laughter bubbling up in her at the pure surprise of how different he looked. She ushered him inside, turning frequently to look back at him and take it in.

“I thought it was time,” he explained. “It’s a fresh start, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” Sophie said uncertainly. She scrutinied him for several moments as he stood uncomfortably. “Actually, you look fantastic.”

It was true. Pete has salvaged a couple of inches of coffee coloured-curls; his face looked softer, and his whole being lighter somehow.

He grinned, the same old Pete.

“I wanted to see you properly before I go,” he said. “Sorry for not ringing. I lost my phone on Friday. That was a bit of a wild night…”

“Indeed it was,” Sophie smiled.

“What’s all this?” Pete asked, indicating the bags Kit had left on the floor.

“Oh. Kit and I were going to have Pimms, but he’s abandoned me. He’s been summond. Shame to let it go to waste…”

*

They sat at the top of Greenwich park, elevated by the lush green hill to enjoy the familiar vista below them, London spread out, quivering in a heat haze, the Thames snaking through it a glittering blue-brown. Sophie scooped a squashy strawberry from her glass; it tasted muzzy, slightly fermented by the alcohol. Pete breathed a sad sigh.

“I’ll miss this view,” he said.

“You’re coming back,” Sophie asserted. “You’ll see it again.”

“It won’t be the same, though,” Pete said. “There’ll be new buildings. And I’ll be different too.”

“Don’t get maudlin on me,” Sophie commanded, refilling his glass. “You’re going to have a lovely time. It will all be very exciting. But you’re bloody well coming back home to me sooner or later.”

Pete smiled, and didn’t contraidct her. He put an arm around her, and she rested her head onto his shoulder.

“Do you think…” Pete started hesitantly. He tried again, glad that she wasn’t looking directly at him with her knowing eyes; “Do you think it meant anything to him? Do you think I did, I mean?”

He felt Sophie heave a sigh.

“You’d have to ask him yourself, I’m afraid,” she said. “Kit’s a law unto himself.”

“I know,” Pete said quickly.

“He’s a bit mysterious these days.”

“Yeah,” Pete conceded. “Who is this woman he’s gone running off after?”

“Marina something-or-other,” Sophie said grimly. “She’s dodgy as fuck.”

“And what is it that he does for her exactly? I couldn’t work it from our conversation the other day.”

“It is hard to understand what someone’s saying when you’ve got your tongue in their mouth,” Sophie agreed drily. “I don’t know, Pete. I wish that I did.”

Sophie sat in a thoughtful since for a few moments, listening to Pete’s heart thudding in his chest.

“Actually, no,” she reconsidered. “It’s probably better that I don’t.”

 

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