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I loved reading this book! Funny and warm. :)
14 February 2021 (19:54)
yes, this is an amazing book
27 July 2021 (14:45)
A fun and delightful read.
31 July 2021 (03:28)
Waste of time, don't start it!
21 August 2021 (21:53)
Where do i start. The writing style is soo boring. 400 pages, 200 of which with stupid details that removed ur focus from the main plot or just stupid story building. The main characters weren't that bad but they could have been so much better. The only parts that i enjoyed were few interactions between the main characters, everything else bored me in maximum. If there were at least spice i would have given this book a 2.5 stars but it was inexistent. Bearly finished it by skipping stupid paragraphs bc i hate leaving things unfinished. Waste of time.
21 August 2021 (22:11)
It was fun at the beginning, but it is boring. The characters have no chemistry and their interaction it's stupid. I couldn't finish it.
03 September 2021 (09:28)
Great book, I can't wait to read it again. For those who want to read it on Kindle with the MOBI version, use the Calibre app to convert from MOBI to MOBI, that way the cover will be visible on the thumbnail.
13 October 2021 (23:36)
there is a reason for it being a slow burn.....because it is literally a slow romance takes quite a while and is like most romances, where they:-
1.)pursue each other or the other.
2.)they begin to get suss whether or not the other has feelings
3.)tragedy strikes they are no longer together
4.)they realise they were fated for each other and want nothing but to be with their soulmate(a.k.a.the other MC)
5.)..........and they live Happily Ever After
I realise most of what I said was unnecessary, but hey not so bad ,huh?
(P.S.I soooo fucking hat Justin such a motherfucking asshole UGH!)
(P.S.S.the writing style is definitely different more suited for an audiobook but well look for the light at the end of the tunnel or in this case the book)
1.)pursue each other or the other.
2.)they begin to get suss whether or not the other has feelings
3.)tragedy strikes they are no longer together
4.)they realise they were fated for each other and want nothing but to be with their soulmate(a.k.a.the other MC)
5.)..........and they live Happily Ever After
I realise most of what I said was unnecessary, but hey not so bad ,huh?
(P.S.I soooo fucking hat Justin such a motherfucking asshole UGH!)
(P.S.S.the writing style is definitely different more suited for an audiobook but well look for the light at the end of the tunnel or in this case the book)
02 November 2021 (14:28)
I forgot it was a romance novel, most of the book just seemed to be a book about the lives of 2 pple sharing a flat.
20 February 2022 (16:39)
I have never liked a book this much in my life. Both characters are extremely lovable. They are mature and adaptable and I love them. 5 stars
18 April 2022 (04:42)
cute as heck!!! loved this one
10 May 2022 (02:26)
I know a lot of people like this book but i couldnt even finish it. i also couldnt stand the way it was written
25 May 2022 (04:20)
The Flatshare Title Copyright First published in Great Britain in 2019 by Quercus Editions Ltd Carmelite House 50 Victoria Embankment London EC4Y 0DZ An Hachette UK company Copyright © 2019 Beth O’Leary Ltd The moral right of Beth O’Leary Ltd to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library HB ISBN 978 1 78747 440 6 TPB ISBN 978 1 78747 442 0 EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78747 439 0 This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. Ebook by CC Book Production Cover design © 2019 Ghost www.quercusbooks.co.uk Dedication For Sam Contents February 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 April 13 14 May 15 16 July 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 August 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 September 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 October 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 September Epilogue Acknowledgements Interview February 1 Tiffy You’ve got to say this for desperation: it m; akes you much more open-minded. I really can see some positives in this flat. The technicolour mould on the kitchen wall will scrub off, at least in the short term. The filthy mattress can be replaced fairly cheaply. And you could definitely make the argument that the mushrooms growing behind the toilet are introducing a fresh, outdoorsy feel to the place. Gerty and Mo, however, are not desperate, and they are not trying to be positive. I would describe their expressions as ‘aghast’. ‘You can’t live here.’ That’s Gerty. She’s standing with her heeled boots together and her elbows tucked in tightly, as though occupying as little space as possible in protest at being here at all. Her hair is pulled back in a low bun, already pinned so she can easily slip on the barrister’s wig she wears for court. Her expression would be comical if it weren’t my actual life we are discussing here. ‘There must be somewhere else within budget, Tiff,’ Mo says worriedly, bobbing up from where he was examining the boiler cupboard. He looks even more dishevelled than usual, helped by the cobweb now hanging from his beard. ‘This is even worse than the one we viewed last night.’ I look around for the estate agent; he’s thankfully well out of earshot, smoking on the ‘balcony’ (the sagging roof of the neighbour’s garage, definitely not designed for walking on). ‘I’m not looking around another one of these hellholes,’ Gerty says, glancing at her watch. It’s 8 a.m. – she’ll need to be at Southwark Crown Court for nine. ‘There must be another option.’ ‘Surely we can fit her in at ours?’ Mo suggests, for about the fifth time since Saturday. ‘Honestly, would you stop with that?’ Gerty snaps. ‘That is not a long-term solution. And she’d have to sleep standing up to even fit anywhere.’ She gives me an exasperated look. ‘Couldn’t you have been shorter? We could have put you under the dining table if you were less than five nine.’ I make an apologetic face, but really I’d prefer to stay here than on the floor of the tiny, eye-wateringly expensive flat Mo and Gerty jointly invested in last month. They’ve never lived together before, even when we were at university. I’m concerned that it may well be the death of their friendship. Mo is messy, absent-minded and has this uncanny ability to take up an enormous amount of room despite being relatively small. Gerty, on the other hand, has spent the last three years living in a preternaturally clean flat, so perfect that it looked computer-generated. I’m not sure how the two lifestyles will overlay without West London imploding. The main problem, though, is if I’m crashing on someone’s floor I can just as easily go back to Justin’s place. And, as of 11 p.m. Thursday, I have officially decided that I cannot be allowed that option any longer. I need to move forward, and I need to commit to somewhere so I can’t go back. Mo rubs his forehead, sinking down into the grimy leather sofa. ‘Tiff, I could lend you some . . .’ ‘I don’t want you to lend me any money,’ I say, more sharply than I mean to. ‘Look, I really need to get this sorted this week. It’s this place or the flatshare.’ ‘The bedshare, you mean,’ Gerty says. ‘Can I ask why it has to be now? Not that I’m not delighted. Just that last I checked you were sitting tight in that flat waiting for the next time he-who-must-not-be-named deigned to drop by.’ I wince, surprised. Not at the sentiment – Mo and Gerty never liked Justin, and I know they hate that I’m still living at his place, even though he’s hardly ever there. It’s just unusual to hear Gerty bring him up directly. After the final peace-making dinner with the four of us ended in a furious row, I gave up on trying to make everyone get along and just stopped talking to Gerty and Mo about him altogether. Old habits die hard – even post break-up we’ve all dodged around discussing him. ‘And why does it have to be so cheap?’ Gerty goes on, ignoring the warning look from Mo. ‘I know you’re paid a pittance, but, really, Tiffy, four hundred a month is impossible in London. Have you actually thought about all this? Properly?’ I swallow. I can feel Mo watching me carefully. That’s the trouble with having a counsellor as a friend: Mo is basically an accredited mind-reader, and he never seems to switch his superpowers off. ‘Tiff?’ he says gently. Oh, bloody hell, I’ll just have to show them. There’s nothing else for it. Quickly and all at once, that’s the best way – like pulling off a plaster, or getting into cold water, or telling my mother I broke something ornamental from the living-room dresser. I reach for my phone and pull up the Facebook message. Tiffy, I’m really disappointed in how you acted last night. You were completely out of line. It’s my flat, Tiffy – I can come by whenever I like, with whoever I like. I would have expected you to be more grateful for me letting you stay. I know us breaking up has been hard on you – I know you’re not ready to leave. But if you think that means you can start trying to ‘lay down some rules’ then it’s time you paid me for the past three months of rent. And you’re going to need to pay full rent going forwards too. Patricia says you’re taking advantage of me, living in my place pretty much for free, and even though I’ve always stood up for you with her, after yesterday’s performance I can’t help thinking she might be right. Justin xx My stomach twists when I reread that line, you’re taking advantage of me, because I never intended to do that. I just didn’t know that when he left he really meant it this time. Mo finishes reading first. ‘He “popped in” again on Thursday? With Patricia?’ I look away. ‘He has a point. He’s been really good to let me stay there this long.’ ‘Funny,’ Gerty says darkly, ‘I’ve always had the distinct impression he likes keeping you there.’ She makes it sound weird, but I sort of feel the same way. When I’m still in Justin’s flat, it isn’t really over. I mean, all the other times, he’s come back eventually. But . . . then I met Patricia on Thursday. The real-life, extremely attractive, actually quite lovely woman Justin has left me for. There’s never been another woman before. Mo reaches for my hand; Gerty takes the other. We stay like this, ignoring the estate agent smoking outside the window, and I let myself cry for a moment, just one fat tear down each cheek. ‘So, anyway,’ I say brightly, withdrawing my hands to wipe my eyes, ‘I need to move out. Now. Even if I wanted to stay and risk him bringing Patricia back again, I can’t afford the rent, and I owe Justin a ton of money, and I really don’t want to borrow from anyone, I’m kind of sick of not paying for things myself, to be honest, so . . . yes. It’s this or the flatshare.’ Mo and Gerty exchange a look. Gerty closes her eyes in pained resignation. ‘Well, you clearly cannot live here.’ She opens her eyes and holds out a hand. ‘Show me that advert again.’ I hand her my phone, flicking from Justin’s message to the Gumtree ad for the flatshare. Double bedroom in sunny one-bed Stockwell flat, rent £350 per month including bills. Available immediately, for six months minimum. Flat (and room/bed) is to share with twenty-seven-year-old palliative care nurse who works nights and is away weekends. Only ever in the flat 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. All yours the rest of the time! Perfect for someone with 9 to 5 job. To view, contact L. Twomey – details below. It’s not just sharing a flat, Tiff, it’s sharing a bed. Sharing a bed is odd,’ Mo says worriedly. ‘What if this L. Twomey is a man?’ Gerty asks. I’m prepared for this one. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ I say calmly. ‘It’s not like we’d ever be in the bed at the same time – or the flat, even.’ This is uncomfortably close to what I said when justifying staying at Justin’s place last month, but never mind. ‘You’d be sleeping with him, Tiffany!’ Gerty says. ‘Everyone knows the first rule of flatsharing is don’t sleep with your flatmate.’ ‘I don’t think this sort of arrangement is what people are referring to,’ I tell her wryly. ‘You see, Gerty, sometimes when people say “sleeping together”, what they really mean is—’ Gerty gives me a long, level look. ‘Yes, thank you, Tiffany.’ Mo’s sniggering stops abruptly when Gerty turns her glare on him. ‘I’d say the first rule of flatsharing is to make sure you get on with the person before you move in,’ he says, cannily redirecting the glare to me again. ‘Especially in these circumstances.’ ‘Obviously I’ll meet this L. Twomey person first. If we don’t get on, I won’t take it.’ After a moment Mo gives me a nod and squeezes my shoulder. We all descend into the kind of silence that comes after you’ve talked about something difficult – half grateful for it being over, half relieved to have managed it at all. ‘Fine,’ Gerty says. ‘Fine. Do what you need to do. It’s got to be better than living in this kind of squalor.’ She marches out of the flat, turning at the last moment to address the estate agent as he steps through from the balcony. ‘And you,’ she tells him loudly, ‘are a curse upon society.’ He blinks as she slams the front door. There is a long, awkward pause. He stubs out his cigarette. ‘You interested, then?’ he asks me. * I get to work early and sink down in my chair. My desk is the closest thing to home at the moment. It’s a haven of half-crafted objects, things that have proven too heavy to take back on the bus, and pot plants arranged in such a way that I can see people approaching before they can tell whether I’m at my desk. My pot-plant wall is widely regarded among the other junior staff as an inspiring example of interior design. (Really it’s just about choosing plants the same colour as your hair – in my case, red – and ducking/running away when you catch sight of anyone moving purposefully.) My first job of the day is to meet Katherin, one of my favourite authors. Katherin writes books about knitting and crochet. It’s a niche audience that buys them, but that’s the story of Butterfingers Press – we love a niche audience. We specialise in crafting and DIY books. Tie-dye bedsheets, design your own dresses, crochet yourself a lampshade, make all your furniture out of ladders . . . That sort of thing. I love working here. This is the only possible explanation for the fact that I have been Assistant Editor for three and a half years, earning below the London living wage, and have made no attempt to rectify the situation by, say, applying for a job at a publishing house that actually makes money. Gerty likes to tell me that I lack ambition, but it really isn’t that. I just love this stuff. As a child, I spent my days reading, or tinkering with my toys until they suited me better: dip-dying Barbie’s hair, pimping up my JCB truck. And now I read and craft for a living. Well, not really a living, as such. But a bit of money. Just about enough to pay tax. ‘I’m telling you, Tiffy, crochet is the next colouring books,’ Katherin tells me, once she’s settled herself down in our best meeting room and talked me through the plan for her next book. I examine the finger she’s waggling in my direction. She has about fifty rings on each hand, but I’ve yet to discern whether any of them are wedding or engagement rings (I imagine that if Katherin has any, she’ll have more than one). Katherin is just on the acceptable side of eccentric: she has a straw-blonde plait, one of those tans that somehow ages well, and endless stories of breaking into places in the 1960s and peeing on things. She was a real rebel once. She refuses to wear a bra even to this day, when bras have become quite comfortable and women have mostly given up on fighting the power because Beyoncé is doing it for us. ‘That’d be good,’ I say. ‘Maybe we could add a strapline with the word “mindful” in it. It is quite mindful, isn’t it? Or mindless?’ Katherin laughs, tipping her head back. ‘Ah, Tiffy. Your job’s ridiculous.’ She pats my hand affectionately and then reaches for her handbag. ‘You see that Martin boy,’ she says, ‘you tell him I’ll only do that cruise day class if I have a glamorous young assistant.’ I groan. I know where this is going. Katherin likes to drag me along to these things – for any class she needs a live model to show how to measure as you go when you’re designing an outfit, apparently, and I once made the fatal error of offering myself up for the job when she couldn’t find anyone. Now I am her go-to choice. PR is so desperate to get Katherin into these sorts of events that they’ve started begging me too. ‘This is too far, Katherin. I’m not going on a cruise with you.’ ‘But it’s free! People pay thousands for those, Tiffy!’ ‘You’re only joining them for the Isle of Wight loop,’ I remind her. Martin has already briefed me on this one. ‘And it’s on a weekend. I don’t work weekends.’ ‘It’s not work,’ Katherin insists, gathering her notes and packing them into her handbag in an entirely random order. ‘It’s a lovely Saturday sailing trip with one of your friends.’ She pauses. ‘Me,’ she clarifies. ‘We’re friends, aren’t we?’ ‘I am your editor!’ I say, bundling her out of the meeting room. ‘Think about it, Tiffy!’ she calls over her shoulder, unperturbed. She catches sight of Martin, who is already making a beeline for her from over by the printers. ‘I’m not doing it unless she is, Martin, my boy! She’s the one you need to talk to!’ And then she’s gone, the grubby glass doors of our office swinging behind her. Martin turns on me. ‘I like your shoes,’ he says, with a charming smile. I shudder. I can’t stand Martin from PR. He says things like ‘let’s action that’ in meetings, and clicks his fingers at Ruby, who is a Marketing Exec, but who Martin seems to think is his personal assistant. He’s only twenty-three, but has decided it will further his merciless pursuit of seniority if he can seem older than he is, so he always puts on this awful jocular voice and tries to talk to our MD about golf. The shoes are excellent, though. They’re purple Doc Marten-style boots, with white lilies painted on them, and they took me most of Saturday. My crafting and customising has really upped since Justin left me. ‘Thanks, Martin,’ I say, already attempting to sidle back to the security of my desk. ‘Leela mentioned that you’re looking for somewhere to live,’ Martin says. I hesitate. I’m not sure where this is going. I sense nowhere good. ‘Me and Hana’ – a woman in Marketing who always sneers at my fashion sense – ‘have a spare room. You might have seen on Facebook, but I thought maybe I should bring it up, you know, IRL. It’s a single bed, but, well, I guess that won’t be a problem for you these days. As we’re friends, Hana and I decided we could offer it for five hundred a month, plus bills.’ ‘That’s so kind of you!’ I say. ‘But I’ve actually just found somewhere.’ Well, I sort of have. Nearly. Oh, God, if L. Twomey won’t have me, will I have to live with Martin and Hana? I mean, I already spend every working day with them, and frankly that is plenty of Martin-and-Hana time for me. I’m not sure my (already shaky) resolve to leave Justin’s place can withstand the idea of Martin chasing me for rent payments and Hana seeing me in my porridge-stained Adventure Time pyjamas every morning. ‘Oh. Right, well. We’ll have to find someone else, then.’ Martin’s expression turns cunning. He has smelled guilt. ‘You could make it up to me by going with Katherin to that—’ ‘No.’ He gives an exaggerated sigh. ‘God, Tiffy. It’s a free cruise! Don’t you go on cruises all the time?’ I used to go on cruises all the time, when my wonderful and now ex-boyfriend used to take me on them. We’d sail from Caribbean island to Caribbean island in a sunny haze of romantic bliss. We’d explore European cities and then head back to the boat for incredible sex in our tiny little bunk. We’d stuff ourselves at the all-you-can-eat buffet and then lie out on the deck watching the gulls circle above us as we talked idly of our future children. ‘Gone off them,’ I say, reaching for the phone. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to make a call.’ 2 Leon Phone rings as Doctor Patel is prescribing meds for Holly (little girl with leukaemia). Bad timing. Very bad timing. Doctor Patel not happy at interruption, and makes her feelings clear. Seems to have forgotten that I, too, as night nurse, should have gone home at 8 a.m., and yet am still here dealing with ill people and grouchy consultants like Doctor Patel. Hang up when it rings, obviously. Make mental note to listen to voicemail and change ringtone to something less embarrassing (this one is called ‘Jive’ and is far too funky for hospice setting. Not that funk does not have role in place of sickness, just that is not always appropriate). Holly: Why didn’t you answer? Isn’t that rude? What if it was your girlfriend with the short hair? Dr Patel: What’s rude is leaving your mobile on loud during a ward round. Though I’m surprised whoever-it-was even tried ringing him at this hour. A glance at me, half irritable, half amused. Dr Patel: You may have noticed that Leon is not a big talker, Holly. Leans in, conspiratorial. Dr Patel: One of the registrars has a theory. He says that Leon has a limited number of words to use each shift, and when it gets to this time of day, he’s entirely run out. Don’t grace this with a response. Speaking of girlfriend with short hair: haven’t told Kay about the room thing yet. Not had time. Also, am avoiding inevitable conflict. But really must call her later this morning. Tonight was good. Mr Prior’s pain lessened enough that he could start telling me about the man he fell in love with in the trenches: a dark-haired charmer called Johnny White, with the chiselled jaw of a Hollywood star and a twinkle in his eye. They had one fraught, romantic, war-torn summer, then were split up. Johnny White was taken to hospital for shellshock. They never saw each other again. Mr Prior could’ve got in lots of trouble (homosexuality vexing to military sorts). I was tired, coffee buzz dying, but stayed with Mr Prior after handover. The man never gets visitors and loves to talk when he can. Failed to escape conversation without a scarf (my fourteenth from Mr Prior). Can only say no a certain number of times, and Mr Prior knits so fast I wonder why anyone bothered with the Industrial Revolution. Pretty sure he’s faster than a machine. * Listen to voicemail after eating dangerously reheated chicken stir-fry in front of last week’s Masterchef. Voicemail: Hi, is that L. Twomey? Oh, shite, you can’t answer – I always do this on voicemails. OK, I’m just going to proceed on the assumption that you’re L. Twomey. My name’s Tiffy Moore and I’m ringing about the Gumtree ad, about a room? Look, my friends think it’s weird that we’d be sharing a bed, even though it’d be at different times, but it doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you, and to be honest I’d do pretty much anything for a central London flat I can move into right away at that price. [Pause] Oh, God, not anything. There’s loads of things I wouldn’t do. I’m not like . . . No, Martin, not now, can’t you see I’m on the phone? Who is Martin? A child? Does this rambly woman with Essex accent want to bring a child into my flat? Voicemail continues: Sorry, that’s my colleague, he wants me to go on a cruise with a middle-aged lady to talk to pensioners about crochet. Not the explanation I was expecting. Better, definitely, but begs many questions. Voicemail continues: Look, just call me back or text me if the room’s still available? I’m super tidy, I’ll keep right out of your way and I’m still in the habit of cooking double quantities of my dinner so if you like home-cooked food I can leave leftovers. She reads out her number. Just in time, I remember to jot it down. Woman is annoying, definitely. And is female, which may vex Kay. But only two other people have called: one asked if I had a problem with pet hedgehogs (answer: not unless they are living in my flat) and other was definitely a drug dealer (not being judgemental – was offered drugs during call). I need £350 extra a month if I’m going to keep paying Sal without Kay’s help. This is the only available plan. Plus, will never actually see annoying woman. Will only ever be in when annoying woman is out. I text her. Hi there, Tiffy. Thanks for your voicemail. Would be great to meet you and talk about the arrangement for my flat. How is Saturday morning? Cheers, Leon Twomey. Nice, normal-person message. Resist all urges to ask about Martin’s cruise-ship plan, though find myself curious. She replies almost instantly. Hi! Sounds great. 10 a.m. at the flat itself, then? x Let’s make it 9 a.m., or I’ll fall asleep! See you then. Address is on the ad. Cheers, Leon. There. Done. Easy: £350 a month, almost in the bag already. Now to tell Kay. 3 Tiffy So, naturally I get curious and google him. Leon Twomey is a pretty unusual name, and I find him on Facebook without having to employ the creepy stalker techniques I reserve for new writers I’m trying to poach from other publishing houses. It’s a relief to see that he’s not my type at all, which will definitely simplify things – if Justin did ever meet Leon, for instance, I don’t think he’d see him as a threat. He’s got light-brown skin and thick, curly hair long enough to be pushed back behind his ears, and he’s way too gangly for me. All elbows and neck, you know the type. He looks like a nice guy, though – in every photo he’s doing this sweet lopsided smile that doesn’t seem at all creepy or murderous, though actually if you look at a picture with that idea in mind everyone starts to look like an axe-wielding killer, so I try to put the thought out of my head. He looks friendly and unthreatening. These are good things. However, I do now know unequivocally that he is a man. Am I actually willing to share a bed with a man? Even sharing a bed with Justin was a bit horrible sometimes, and we were in a relationship. His side of the mattress sagged in the middle and he didn’t always shower in between getting home from the gym and going to bed, so there was a sort of . . . sweaty smell to his bit of the duvet. I always had to make extra sure it was the same way up so I didn’t get the sweaty side. But still. £350 per month. And he would never actually be there. ‘Tiffany!’ My head shoots up. Crap, that’s Rachel, and I know what she wants. She wants the manuscript for this bloody Make a Stir Bake and Make book that I’ve been ignoring all day. ‘Don’t try sneaking off to the kitchen or pretending to be on the phone,’ she says, from over my wall of pot plants. This is the trouble with having friends at work: you drunkenly tell them your tricks when the two of you go to the pub, and then you’re defenceless. ‘You’ve had your hair done!’ I say. It’s a desperate ploy to redirect the conversation early, but her hair is especially cool today. It’s in braids, as always, but this time the tiny plaits have bright turquoise ribbon laced between them like corset strings. ‘How do you braid it like that?’ ‘Don’t try to distract me with my Mastermind specialist subject, Tiffany Moore,’ Rachel says, tapping her perfectly polka-dotted nails. ‘When am I getting that manuscript?’ ‘I just need . . . a little longer . . .’ I put my hand over the papers in front of me so she can’t see the page numbers, which are in the single digits. She narrows her eyes. ‘Thursday?’ I nod eagerly. Yeah, why not? I mean, that’s totally unachievable at this point, but Friday sounds a lot better when you’re saying it on Thursday, so I’ll just tell her then. ‘And go for a drink with me tomorrow night?’ I pause. I was meant to be good and not spend any money this week, on account of the looming debt, but nights out with Rachel are always brilliant, and frankly I could really do with having some fun. Besides, she won’t be able to argue with me about this manuscript on Thursday if she’s hungover. ‘Done.’ * Drunk Man No. 1 is the expressive kind. The sort of drunk who likes to throw his arms out wide regardless of what might be directly to his left or right (so far, that’s included one large fake palm tree, one tray of sambuca shots, and one relatively famous Ukrainian model). Every movement is exaggerated, even the basic walking steps – you know, left foot out in front, right foot out, repeat. Drunk Man No. 1 makes walking look like the hokey-cokey. Drunk Man No. 2 is the deceitful sort. He keeps his face very still when he’s listening to you, as though the absence of expression will make it clear how very sober he is. He nods occasionally, and fairly convincingly, but doesn’t quite blink enough. His attempts to stare at your boobs are much less subtle than he thinks they are. I wonder what they think of me and Rachel. They headed straight for us, but that’s not conclusively positive. Back when I was with Justin, if I was going out clubbing with Rachel he would always remind me that lots of men see ‘quirky girl’ and think ‘desperate and easy’. He’s right, as per usual. I actually wonder if it’s easier to get laid as a quirky girl than a perky cheerleader type: you’re more approachable, and nobody assumes you’ve already got a boyfriend. Which is probably another reason Justin wasn’t a fan of my nights out with Rachel, on reflection. ‘So, like, books about how to make cakes?’ says Drunk Man No. 2, thus proving his listening skills and aforementioned sobriety. (Honestly. What’s the point in having sambuca shots if you’re just going to pretend you haven’t been drinking all night?) ‘Yeah!’ Rachel says. ‘Or build shelves or make clothes or . . . or . . . what do you like to do?’ She is drunk enough to find Drunk Man No. 2 attractive, but I suspect she’s just trying to keep him busy to open the floor for me to jump Drunk Man No. 1. Of the two, Drunk Man No. 1 is clearly preferable – he is tall enough, for starters. This is the first challenge. I’m six foot, and though I have no problem with dating shorter men, it often seems to bother guys if I’m more than an inch or two taller than them. That’s fine by me – I’ve no interest in the ones who care about that sort of thing. It’s a useful filter. ‘What do I like to do?’ repeats Drunk Man No. 2. ‘I like to dance with beautiful women at bars with bad names and overpriced drinks.’ He flashes a sudden grin, which, though a little more sluggish and wonky than it’s probably intended to be, is actually quite attractive. I can see Rachel is thinking the same. She shoots me a calculating look – not so drunk as all that, then – and I can see her evaluating the situation between me and Drunk Man No. 1. I look at Drunk Man No. 1 too, and do some evaluating of my own. He’s tall, with nice broad shoulders and hair that’s greying at the temples in a way that’s actually quite sexy. He’s probably mid-thirties – he could be a little 1990s Clooney-ish if you squinted a bit or dimmed the lights. Do I fancy him? If I do, I could sleep with him. You can do that when you’re single. Weird. I’ve not thought about sleeping with anyone since Justin. You get tons of time back when you’re single and not having sex – not just the actual time doing it, but the time shaving legs, buying nice underwear, wondering whether all other women get bikini waxes, etc. It’s a real plus. Of course, there’s the overwhelming absence of one of the greatest aspects of your adult life, but you do get much more admin done. Obviously I know that we broke up three months ago. I know that in theory I can have sex with other people. But . . . I can’t help thinking about what Justin would say. How angry he’d be. I may be technically allowed, but I’m not . . . you know. Allowed allowed. Not in my head, not yet. Rachel gets it. ‘Sorry, mate,’ she says, patting Drunk Man No. 2 on the arm. ‘I like to dance with my friend.’ She scribbles her number on a napkin – God knows where she got that pen from, the woman’s a magician – and then my hand is in hers and we’re winding our way into the centre of the dance floor where the music hits my skull from both sides, sending my eardrums shivering. ‘What kind of drunk are you?’ Rachel asks, as we grind inappropriately to classic Destiny’s Child. ‘I’m a bit . . . thoughtful,’ I shout at her. ‘Too analytical to sleep with that nice man.’ She reaches for a drink from the tray of one of those shot ladies who wanders around asking you to overpay for things, and hands the woman some cash. ‘“Not enough” sort of drunk, then,’ she says, giving me the drink. ‘You may be an editor, but no drunk girl trots out the word “analytical”.’ ‘Assistant editor,’ I remind her, and knock back the drink. Jägerbomb. It’s strange how something so fundamentally disgusting, whose very aftertaste makes you want to vomit the next day, can taste delicious on a dance floor. Rachel plies me with drink all night and flirts with every wingman in sight, chucking all attractive men in my direction. Whatever she says, I am plenty tipsy enough, so I don’t think much of it – she’s just being an excellent friend. The night spins by in a mass of dancers and brightly coloured drinks. It is only when Mo and Gerty arrive that I start to wonder what this night out is all about. Mo has the look of a man who was summoned on short notice. His beard is a little skewwhiff, like he slept on it funny, and he’s in a worn-out T-shirt I think I remember from uni – though it’s a little tighter on him now. Gerty looks haughtily beautiful, as usual, with no make-up on, and her hair yanked up in a ballerina topknot; it’s hard to tell if she was planning to come because she never wears make-up, and dresses impeccably all the time anyway. She could well have just pulled on a slightly higher pair of heels to go with her skinny jeans last minute. They’re making their way across the dance floor. My suspicion that Mo was not planning to be here is confirmed – he’s not dancing. Take Mo to a club and there will always be dancing. So why have they turned up on my random Wednesday night out with Rachel? They don’t even know her that well – only through the odd birthday drinks or housewarming parties. In fact, Gerty and Rachel have a low-level alpha-wolf feud going on, and when we do all get together they usually end up bickering. Is it my birthday? I drunkenly wonder. Do I have exciting surprise news? I turn to Rachel. ‘Wha—?’ ‘Table,’ she says, pointing at the booths at the back of the club. Gerty does a relatively good job of hiding her irritation at being redirected just when she’s battled her way through to the centre of the dance floor. I’m getting bad vibes. I’m just at the happiest point of drunk, though, so I’m willing to suspend worried thoughts in the hope that they’re coming to tell me that I’ve won a four-week holiday to New Zealand or something. But no. ‘Tiffy, I didn’t know how to tell you this,’ Rachel is saying, ‘so this was the best plan I could come up with. Get you happy drunk, remind you what flirting feels like, then call your support team.’ She reaches to take both my hands. ‘Tiffy. Justin is engaged.’ 4 Leon Conversation re flat not at all as predicted. Kay was unusually angry. Seemed upset at idea of someone else sleeping in my bed besides her? But she never comes round. Hates the dark-green walls and elderly neighbours – is part of her ‘you spend too much time with old people’ thing. We’re always at hers (light-grey walls, cool young neighbours). Argument ends at weary impasse. She wants me to pull down ad and cancel Essex woman; I’m not changing my mind. It’s the best idea for getting easy cash every month that I’ve thought of, bar lottery winning, which cannot be factored in to financial planning. Do not want to go back to borrowing that £350. Kay was the one who said it: it wasn’t good for our relationship. She’s come that far, so. She’ll come around. * Slow night. Holly couldn’t sleep; we played checkers. She lifts her fingers and dances them over the board like she’s weaving a magic spell before she touches a counter. Apparently it’s a mind game – makes the other player watch where you’re going instead of planning their next move. Where did a seven-year-old learn mind games? Ask the question. Holly: You’re quite naïve, Leon, aren’t you? Pronounces it ‘knave’. Probably never said it out loud before, just read it in one of her books. Me: I’m very worldly wise, thank you, Holly! Gives me patronising look. Holly: It’s OK, Leon. You’re just too nice. I bet people walk all over you like a doormat. She picked that up from somewhere, definitely. Probably her father, who visits every other week in a sharp grey suit, bringing poorly chosen sweets and the sour smell of cigarette smoke. Me: Being nice is a good thing. You can be strong and nice. You don’t have to be one or the other. The patronising look again. Holly: Look. It’s like how . . . Kay’s strong, you’re nice. She spreads her hands, like, it’s the way of the world. Am startled. Didn’t know she knew Kay’s name. * Richie rings just as I get in. Have to sprint to get to the landline – I know it’ll be him, it only ever is – and hit head on low-hanging pendant light in kitchen. Least favourite thing about excellent flat. Rub head. Close eyes. Listen closely to Richie’s voice for tremors and clues to how he really is, and just for hearing a real, living, breathing, still-OK Richie. Richie: Tell me a good story. Close eyes tighter. It’s not been a good weekend for him, then. Weekends are bad – they’re banged up for longer. I can tell he’s down from that accent, so peculiar to the two of us. Always part London, part County Cork, it’s more Irish when he’s sad. I tell him about Holly. Her checkers skills. Her accusations of knavety. Richie listens, and then: Richie: Is she going to die? It’s difficult. People struggle to see it’s not about whether she’s going to die – palliative care isn’t just a place you go to slowly slip away. More people live and leave than die on our wards. Is about being comfortable for the duration of something necessary and painful. Making bad times easier. Holly, though . . . she might die. She is very sick. Lovely, precocious, and very sick. Me: Leukaemia statistics are pretty good for kids her age. Richie: I don’t want statistics, man. I want a good story. I smile, reminded of when we were kids, acting out the plot of Neighbours in the month when the TV broke. Richie’s always liked a good story. Me: She’ll be fine. She’ll grow up to be a . . . coder. Professional coder. Using all her checkers skills to develop new digitally generated food that’ll stop anyone going hungry and put Bono out of work around Christmas times. Richie laughs. Not much of one, but enough to ease the worried knot in my stomach. Silence for a while. Companionable, maybe, or just an absence of suitably expressive words. Richie: It’s hell in here, man. The words hit like a punch in the gut. Too often this last year I’ve felt that connection in my stomach like a bunched fist. Always at times like this, when reality hits afresh after days of blocking it out. Me: Appeal’s not far off. We’re getting there. Sal says— Richie: Ey, Sal says he wants paying. I know the score, Lee. It can’t be done. Voice heavy, slow, almost slurred. Me: What is this? What, have you lost faith in your big brother? You used to tell me I’d be a billionaire! I hear a reluctant smile. Richie: You’ve given enough. Never. That’s impossible. I will never give enough, not for this, though I’ve wished enough times that I could have swapped places to save him from it. Me: I’ve got a scheme. A money-making scheme. You’re going to love it. Scuffle. Richie: Hey, man, ah, give me one sec— Muffled voices. My heart beats faster. When on the phone to him it’s easy to think he is somewhere safe and quiet, with only his voice and mine. But there he is, in the yard, with a queue behind him, having made the choice between using this half hour out of his prison cell to make a phone call or to have his only shot at a shower. Richie: Got to go, Lee. Love you. Dial tone. * Half eight on Saturday. Even leaving now, I’ll be late. And am not leaving now, evidently. Am changing dirty sheets on Dorsal Ward, according to Doctor Patel; according to the ward nurse on Coral Ward, I am taking blood from Mr Prior; according to Socha the junior doctor, I am helping her with the patient dying on Kelp Ward. Socha wins. Call Kay as I run. Kay, on picking up: You’re stuck at work, aren’t you? Too out of breath for proper explanation. Wards too far apart for emergency situations. Hospice board of trustees should invest in shorter corridors. Kay: It’s OK. I’ll meet that girl for you. Stumble. Surprised. I’d planned to ask, obviously – that’s why I called Kay and not Essex woman herself, to cancel. But . . . was very easy. Kay: Look, I don’t like this flatsharing plan, but I know you need the money, and I get it. However. If I’m going to feel OK about this, I think everything should go through me. I’ll meet this Tiffy person, I’ll handle the arrangements, and that way the random woman sleeping in your bed isn’t someone that you actually interact with. Then I don’t feel quite as weird about it, and you don’t have to deal with it, which, let’s be honest, you do not have time to do. Pang of love. Could be stitch, of course, hard to be sure at this stage of relationship, but still. Me: You . . . you sure? Kay, firmly: Yes. This is the plan. And no working weekends. OK? Weekends are for me. Seems fair. Me: Thanks. Thank you. And – would you mind – tell her . . . Kay: Yep, yep, tell her about the weird guy in Flat 5 and warn her about the foxes. Definite love-pang. Kay: I know you think I don’t listen, but I actually do. Still a good minute’s running before I reach Kelp Ward. Have not paced self adequately. Rookie mistake. I’m thrown by the horrible nowness of this shift, with all its dying people and bed sores and tricksy dementia patients, and am forgetting basic rules of surviving in hospice setting. Jog, don’t run. Always know the time. Never lose your pen. Kay: Leon? Forgot about talking out loud. Was just heavy breathing. Probably quite sinister. Me: Thanks. Love you. 5 Tiffy I consider wearing sunglasses, but decide that would make me look like a bit of a diva, given that it’s February. Nobody wants a diva as a flatmate. The question, of course, is whether they want a diva more or less than they want an emotional wreck of a woman who has clearly spent the last two days weeping. I remind myself that this is not a flatmate situation. Leon and I don’t need to get on – we’re not going to be living together, not really, we’re just going to be occupying the same space at different times. It’s no bother to him if I happen to spend all my free time weeping, is it? ‘Jacket,’ Rachel commands, handing it over. I have not yet reached the depths of needing someone else to dress me, but Rachel stayed over last night, and if Rachel’s here she’s probably going to take charge of the situation. Even if ‘the situation’ is me getting my clothes on in the morning. Too broken to protest, I take the jacket and slip it on. I do love this jacket. I made it out of a giant ball dress I found in a charity shop – I just picked the whole thing apart and used the fabric from scratch, but left the beading wherever it fell, so now there’s purple sequins and embroidery across the right shoulder, down the back and under my boobs. It looks a bit like a circus master’s jacket, but fits perfectly, and oddly the under-boob beading is really flattering to the waistline. ‘Didn’t I give this to you?’ I say, frowning. ‘Last year sometime?’ ‘You, part with that jacket?’ Rachel makes a face. ‘I know you love me, but I’m pretty sure you don’t love anyone that much.’ Right, of course. I’m such a mess I can hardly think straight. At least I actually care about what I’m wearing this morning, though. You know things are bad when I’ll throw on whatever’s top in the drawer. And it’s not like other people won’t notice it – my wardrobe is such that an insufficiently planned outfit will really show. Thursday’s mustard yellow cords, cream frilled blouse and long green cardigan caused a bit of a stir at work – Hana in Marketing had a full-blown coughing fit when I walked into the kitchen as she was mid gulp of coffee. On top of that, nobody gets why I’m suddenly so upset. I can see them all thinking, What’s she crying about now? Didn’t Justin leave months ago? They’re right. I have no idea why this particular stage of Justin’s new relationship bothers me so much. I’d already decided I was going to move out properly this time. And it’s not like I wanted him to marry me or anything. I just thought . . . he’d come back. That’s what’s always happened before – he goes off, doors slam, he freezes me out, ignores my calls, but then he realises his mistake, and just when I think I’m ready to start getting over him, there he is again, holding out his hand and telling me to come with him on some kind of amazing adventure. But this is it, isn’t it? He’s getting married. This is . . . This is . . . Rachel wordlessly passes me the tissues. ‘I’ll have to redo my make-up again,’ I say, once the worst of it is over. ‘Reaaally not got time,’ Rachel says, flashing me her phone screen. Shit. Half past eight. I need to leave now or I’m going to be late, and that will look bad – if we’re going to observe strict who’s-in-the-flat-when rules, Leon’s going to want me to be able to tell the time. ‘Sunglasses?’ I ask. ‘Sunglasses.’ Rachel hands them over. I grab my bag and head for the door. As the train rattles its way through the tunnels of the Northern Line I catch sight of my reflection in the window and straighten up a little. I look good. The blurry, scratched glass helps – sort of like an Instagram filter. But this is one of my favourite outfits, my hair is newly washed and coppery red, and though I may have cried away all my eyeliner, my lipstick is still intact. Here I am. I can do this. I can manage just fine on my own. It sticks for about as long as it takes to get to the entrance to Stockwell station. Then a guy in a car screams ‘get your fanny out!’ at me, and the shock is enough to set me spiralling back into shit-at-life post-break-up Tiffy again. I’m too upset even to point out the anatomical issues I’d have if I tried to comply with his request. I reach the right block of flats in five minutes or so – it’s a good distance to the station. At the prospect of actually finding my future home, I wipe my cheeks dry and take a proper look at the place. It’s one of those squat, brick blocks, and out the front there’s a small courtyard with a bit of sad-looking London-style grass that’s more like well-mown hay. There are parking spaces for each flat’s tenants, one of whom seems to be using their space to store a bewildering number of empty banana crates. As I buzz for Flat 3, a movement catches my eye – it’s a fox, strolling out from around where the bins seem to live. It gives me an insolent stare, pausing with one paw in the air. I’ve never actually been this close to a fox before – it’s a lot mangier than they look in picture books. Foxes are nice, though, aren’t they? They’re so nice you’re not allowed to shoot them for fun any more, even if you’re an aristocrat with a horse. The door buzzes and clicks out of the lock; I make my way inside. It’s very . . . brown. Brown carpet, biscuit-coloured walls. But that doesn’t really matter – it’s inside the flat that matters. When I knock on the door of Flat 3 I find myself feeling genuinely nervous. No – borderline panicked. I’m really doing this, aren’t I? Considering sleeping in some random stranger’s bed? Actually leaving Justin’s flat? Oh, God. Maybe Gerty was right and this is all just a bit too much. For a vertiginous moment I imagine going back to Justin’s, back to the comfort of that chrome-and-white flat, to the possibility of having him back. But the thought doesn’t feel quite as good as I imagined it would. Somehow – perhaps around 11 p.m. the Thursday before last – that flat started to look a little different, and so did I. I know, in a vague, don’t-look-straight-at-it sort of way, that this is a good thing. I’ve got this far – I can’t let myself go back now. I need to like this place. It’s my only option. So when someone answers the door who clearly isn’t Leon, I’m so in the mood to be accommodating that I just go with it. I don’t even act surprised. ‘Hi!’ ‘Hello,’ says the woman at the door. She’s petite, with olive skin and one of those pixie haircuts that makes you look French if you’ve got a small enough head. I immediately feel enormous. She does nothing to dispel this feeling. As I step into the flat, I can feel her looking me up and down. I try to take in the décor – ooh, dark-green wallpaper, looks genuine 1970s – but after a while the feel of her eyes on me starts to nag. I turn to meet her gaze head-on. Oh. It’s the girlfriend. And her expression could not be more obvious: it says, I was worried you might be hot and try to steal my boyfriend from me while you make yourself at home in his bed, but now I’ve seen you and he’d never be attracted to you so yes! Come in! She’s all smiles now. Fine, whatever – if this is what it takes to get this flat, no problem. She’s not going to belittle me out of this one. She has no idea how desperate I am. ‘I’m Kay,’ she says, holding out a hand. Her grip is firm. ‘Leon’s girlfriend.’ ‘I figured.’ I smile to take the edge off it. ‘So nice to meet you. Is Leon in the . . .’ I lean my head into the bedroom. It’s that or the living room, which has the kitchen in the corner – there’s not really much more to the flat than this. ‘. . . bathroom?’ I try, on seeing the empty bedroom. ‘Leon’s stuck at work,’ says Kay, ushering me through to the living area. It’s pretty minimalist and a little worn around the edges, but it’s clean, and I do love that 1970s wallpaper everywhere. I bet someone would pay £80 a roll for that if Farrow & Ball started selling it. There’s a low-hanging pendant light in the kitchen area that doesn’t quite match the décor but is sort of fabulous; the sofa is battered leather, the TV isn’t actually plugged in but looks relatively decent, and the carpet has been recently hoovered. This all looks promising. Maybe this is going to be good. Maybe it’s going to be great. I flip through a quick montage of myself here, lazing about on the sofa, rustling something up in the kitchen, and suddenly the idea of having all this space to myself makes me want to bounce on the spot. I rein myself in just in time. Kay does not strike me as the spontaneous dancing sort. ‘So will I not . . . meet Leon?’ I ask, remembering Mo’s first rule of flatsharing with a wince. ‘Well, I suppose you might do eventually,’ Kay says. ‘But it’ll be me you speak to. I’m handling renting the place out for him. You’ll never be in at the same time – the flat will be yours from six in the evening until eight in the morning in the week, and over the whole weekend. It’s a six-month agreement for now. Is that OK with you?’ ‘Yeah, that’s just what I need.’ I pause. ‘And . . . Leon won’t ever pop in unexpectedly? Out of his hours, or anything?’ ‘Absolutely not,’ Kay says, with the air of a woman who plans to make sure of it. ‘From six p.m. until eight a.m., the flat is yours and yours alone.’ ‘Great.’ I breathe out slowly, quieting the flutter of excitement in my stomach, and check the bathroom – you can always tell a place by its bathroom. All the appliances are a clean, bright white; there’s a dark-blue shower curtain, a few tidy bottles of mysterious manly-looking creams and liquids, and a scuffed but serviceable mirror. Excellent. ‘I’ll take it. If you’ll have me.’ I feel certain that she’ll say yes, if it really is her decision to make. I knew it as soon as she gave me that look in the hallway: whatever Leon’s criteria for a flatmate, Kay just has the one, and I’ve clearly ticked the ‘suitably unattractive’ box. ‘Wonderful,’ says Kay. ‘I’ll call Leon and let him know.’ 6 Leon Kay: She’s ideal. Am doing some slow blinking on the bus. Delicious slow blinks which are really just short naps. Me: Really? Not annoying? Kay, sounding irritated: Does that matter? She’ll be clean and tidy and she can move in immediately. If you’re really determined to do this then you can’t expect much better than that. Me: She wasn’t bothered by the weird man living in Flat 5? Or the fox family? Slight pause. Kay: She didn’t mention either being a problem. Delicious slow blink. Really long one. Got to be careful – can’t face waking up at the end of the bus route and having to come all the way back in again. Always a danger after a long week. Me: What’s she like, then? Kay: She’s . . . quirky. Larger than life. She was wearing these big horn-rimmed sunglasses even though it’s basically still winter, and had painted flowers all over her boots. But the point is that she’s skint and happy to find a room this cheap! ‘Larger than life’ is Kay-speak for overweight. Wish she wouldn’t say things like that. Kay: Look, you’re on your way, aren’t you? We can talk about it when you get here. My plan for arrival was to greet Kay with customary kiss, remove work clothes, drink water, fall into Kay’s bed, sleep for all eternity. Me: Maybe tonight? When I’ve slept? Silence. Deeply irritated silence. (I’m an expert at Kay silences.) Kay: So you’re just going straight to bed when you get in. Bite tongue. Resist urge to give blow-by-blow account of my week. Me: I can stay up if you want to talk. Kay: No, no, you need your sleep. I’m clearly staying up. Best make the most of these blink-naps until bus gets to Islington. * Frosty welcome from Kay. Make mistake of mentioning Richie, which turns temperature dial down even further. My fault, probably. Just can’t talk to her about him without hearing The Argument, like she hits replay every time she says Richie’s name. As she busies herself cooking brinner (combination of breakfast and dinner, suitable for both night and day dwellers), tell myself on repeat that I should remember how The Argument ended. That she said sorry. Kay: So, are you going to ask me about weekends? Stare at her, slow to answer. Sometimes find it hard to talk after a long night. Just opening my mouth to form comprehensible thoughts is like lifting a very heavy thing, or like one of those dreams where you need to run but your legs are moving through treacle. Me: Ask you what? Kay pauses, omelette pan in hand. She is very pretty against wintery sunlight through kitchen window. Kay: The weekends. Where were you planning to stay, with Tiffy in your flat? Oh. I see. Me: Hoped I would stay here. As I’m here every weekend I’m not working anyway? Kay smiles. Get that satisfying feeling of having said the right thing, followed quickly by a squeeze of anxiety. Kay: I know you were planning on staying here, you know. I just wanted to hear you say it. She sees my bemused expression. Kay: Normally you’re just here on weekends by coincidence, not because you’ve planned for it. Not because it’s our life plan. Word ‘plan’ is much less pleasant with ‘life’ in front of it. Suddenly very busy eating omelette. Kay squeezes my shoulder, runs her fingers up and down the back of my neck, tugs my hair. Kay: Thank you. I feel guilty, though I haven’t exactly misled her – I did assume I’d be here every weekend, did factor that into plan with renting out room. Just didn’t . . . think about it that way. The life-plan way. * Two in the morning. When I first joined the hospice nights team, nights coming off shift seemed useless – would sit awake, wishing for sunlight. But now this is my time, the muffled quiet, the rest of London sleeping or getting very drunk. I’m taking every locum night shift the hospice rota coordinator will give me – they’re the highest paid, excluding weekend nights, which I’ve told Kay I won’t take. Plus, it’s the only way this flatshare plan will work. Not sure it’ll even be worth recalibrating for weekends, now – will work five in seven nights. Might just stay nocturnal. Generally use this 2 a.m. time to write to Richie. His phone calls are limited, but he can receive as many letters as I can send him. It’s been three months as of last Tuesday since he was sentenced. Hard to know how to mark an anniversary like that – raising a glass? Striking another tally on the wall? Richie took it well, considering, but when he went in Sal had told him he’d have him out of there by February, so this one was especially bad. Sal. He’s trying his best, presumably, but Richie is innocent and in prison, so can’t help but feel a little resentful towards his lawyer. Sal isn’t bad. Uses big words, carries a briefcase, never doubts himself – all seem classic reassuring lawyer things? But mistakes keep happening. Like unexpected guilty verdicts. What are our options, though? No other lawyers sufficiently interested to take Richie on for reduced fee. No other lawyers familiar with his case, no other lawyers already all set up to speak to Richie in prison . . . no time to find someone new. Every day that goes by, Richie sinks further away. Has to be me that deals with Sal all the time, too, never Mam, which means endless exhausting phone calls chasing him. But Mam is shouty and blamey. Sal is sensitive, easily put off from actually working on Richie’s case, and completely indispensable. This is doing me no good. Two a.m. is terrible time for dwelling on legal issues. Worst of all the times. If midnight is witching hour, 2 a.m. is dwelling hour. Idly reaching for distraction, I find myself googling Johnny White. Mr Prior’s Hollywood-jawed, long-lost love. There are many Johnny Whites. One is a leading figure in Canadian dance music. Another is an American footballer. Both were definitely not around during World War Two, falling in love with charming English gentlemen. Still. Internet was made for situations like this, no? Try Johnny White war casualties, then hate myself a bit. Feels like betraying Mr Prior to assume Johnny’s dead. But it’s worth trying to eliminate those options first. Find a website called Find War Dead. Am initially slightly horrified, but decide actually it’s amazing – everyone’s remembered here. Like digital, searchable tombstones. I can search by name, regiment, which war, dates of birth . . . I type in Johnny White, and specify World War Two, but don’t have any more to give them. Seventy-eight Johnny Whites died in armed forces in World War Two. Sit back. Stare at the list of names. John K. White. James Dudley Jonathan White. John White. John George White. Jon R. L. White. Jonathan Reginald White. John— All right. Feel suddenly overwhelmingly sure that Mr Prior’s lovely Johnny White is dead, and wish there was a similar database for those who fought but did not die in the war. That would be nice. A survivors list. Struck, as one is at 2 a.m., by the horror of humanity and its inclination to terrible acts of mass murder. Kay: Leon! Your bleep is going! In my ear! Leave laptop on sofa after hitting print, and then open bedroom door to find Kay lying on side, duvet over head, one arm up in the air holding my bleep. Grab bleep. Grab phone. I’m not working, of course, but the team wouldn’t bleep me if it wasn’t important. Socha, Junior Doctor: Leon, it’s Holly. Am pulling on shoes. Me: How bad? Keys! Keys! Where are keys? Socha: She’s got an infection – obs are not looking good. She’s asking for you. I don’t know what to do, Leon, and Dr Patel isn’t answering her bleep, and the reg is skiing and June couldn’t get cover organised so there’s nobody else to call . . . Located keys in bottom of washing basket. Inspired place to keep them. Heading for the door, Socha talking white blood cell counts in my ear, shoelaces flapping— Kay: Leon! You’re still wearing your pyjamas! Damn. Thought I’d managed to get to the door faster than usual. 7 Tiffy OK, so the new flat’s quite . . . full. Cosy. ‘Cluttered,’ Gerty confirms, standing in about the only unoccupied space in the bedroom. ‘It’s cluttered.’ ‘You know my style is eclectic!’ I protest, straightening up the adorable tie-dyed bed throw I found at Brixton market last summer. I’m trying very hard to keep my positive face on. Packing up and leaving Justin’s flat was awful, and the drive here took four times as long as Google said it would, and carrying everything up the stairs was torture. Then I had to hold a long conversation with Kay as she gave me the keys, when all I wanted to do was sit down somewhere and gently dab at my hairline until I stopped panting. It has not been a fun day. ‘Did you discuss this with Leon?’ Mo asks, perching on the edge of the bed. ‘I mean, bringing all your stuff?’ I frown. Of course I would be bringing all my stuff! Did that need discussing? I’m moving in – that means my stuff has to live here with me. Where else would it live? This is my permanent abode. However, I am now very aware that my bedroom is shared with another person, and that that person has their own stuff, which was, up until this weekend, occupying most of this room. It’s been a bit of a squeeze getting everything in. I’ve solved a few problems by moving things into other parts of the house – lots of my candle holders are living on the edge of the bath now, for instance, and my amazing lava lamp has a great spot in the living area – but all the same, I could do with Leon having a bit of a clear-out. He should probably have done that beforehand, really – it was the decent thing, given that I was moving in. Perhaps I should have taken some of my things to my parents’ house. But most of this stuff lived in storage at Justin’s and it had felt so good to dig it all out last night. Rachel joked that when I found the lava lamp it was like Andy being reunited with Woody in Toy Story, but to be honest it had been surprisingly emotional. I’d sat for a while in the hall, staring at the multi-coloured mess of my favourite things spilling out from the cupboard under the stairs, and felt for a weird moment that if the cushions could breathe again, so could I. My phone rings; it’s Katherin. She’s the only writer I’d pick up the phone to on a Saturday, mainly because she’s probably ringing me about something hilarious she’s done, like tweeting a wildly inappropriate picture of herself from the 80s with a now-very-important politician, or dip-dying her elderly mother’s hair. ‘How’s my favourite editor?’ she asks when I pick up. ‘All moved in to my new home!’ I tell her, gesturing for Mo to put the kettle on. He looks mildly peeved but does so all the same. ‘Perfect! Brilliant! What are you doing Wednesday?’ Katherin asks. ‘Just work,’ I tell her, mentally scanning my diary. Actually, I have a tedious meeting on Wednesday with our Director of International Book Rights to talk about the new book I commissioned last summer from a debut bricklayer-turned-trendy-designer. It’s her job to sell it abroad. When I acquired it I talked a lot (but really quite vaguely) about his international social media presence, which as it happens is rather a lot smaller than I made it out to be. She’s always emailing me for ‘more detail’ and ‘specific breakdowns of reach by territory’. It’s getting to the point where I can’t avoid her any longer, even with my wall of stealthy pot plants. ‘Great!’ says Katherin, who is being suspiciously enthusiastic. ‘I have some really good news for you.’ ‘Oh yes?’ I’m hoping for early manuscript delivery, or a sudden change of heart about the chapter on hats and scarves. She’s been threatening to remove it, which would be disastrous, as that’s the only part that makes the book remotely sellable. ‘The Sea Breeze Away people rescheduled my live How to Crochet Your Own Clothes Fast show to their Wednesday cruise last minute. So you can help me with the cruise after all.’ Hmm. This time it would be in work hours – and would put off that conversation with the rights director for at least another week. What would I prefer: getting dressed in homemade crochet waistcoats on a cruise ship with Katherin, or getting bollocked by the rights director in a meeting room with no windows? ‘All right. I’ll do it.’ ‘Honestly?’ ‘Honestly,’ I say, accepting Mo’s tea. ‘I’m not doing any talking though. And you’re not allowed to manhandle me as much as you did last time. I had bruises for days.’ ‘The trials and tribulations of life as a model, eh, Tiffy,’ Katherin says, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she’s laughing at me. * Everyone’s gone. It’s just me, in my flat. Obviously I’ve been super chirpy all day and have made sure to give Mo, Gerty and Kay no indication that moving into Leon’s flat is at all weird or emotional. But it is a bit weird. And I feel like crying again. I look at my lovely tie-dyed blanket lying across the foot of the bed, and all I can think is that it really clashes with Leon’s duvet cover, which has manly black and grey stripes, and that there’s nothing I can do about that because this is as much Leon’s bed as mine, whoever this Leon man is, and that his semi-naked or possibly fully naked body sleeps underneath that duvet. I hadn’t really confronted the logistics of the bed situation until this moment, and now that I’m doing it, I am not enjoying the experience. My phone buzzes. It’s Kay. I hope moving in all went smoothly. Help yourself to any food from the fridge (until you get fully settled and do your own shop). Leon has asked that you please sleep on the left side of the bed. Kay xx That’s it. I’m crying. This is really bloody weird. Who even is this Leon guy? Why have I not met him yet? I think about ringing him – I have his number from the advert – but it’s pretty clear Kay wants to be the one handling things. I sniff, wipe my eyes hard, and wander over to the fridge. It’s actually surprisingly full for someone who works long hours. I help myself to raspberry jam and margarine, and locate the bread above the toaster. OK. Hi Kay. I’m all moved in, thanks – the flat is feeling really cosy! Thanks for confirming re side of the bed. It’s a bit overly formal for discussing who sleeps on the left or right, but I sense Kay would prefer that we don’t all get too friendly. I type out a few queries about the flat – where’s the light switch for the outside hall, can I plug in the TV, that sort of thing. Then, jam on toast in hand, I head back to the bedroom and contemplate whether it will look too passive-aggressive to remake the bed with my own sheets. Surely Leon would have put freshly laundered ones on in the circumstances. But . . . what if he hasn’t? Oh, God, now the thought is there – I’m going to have to change them. I yank up his mattress cover with my eyes screwed shut like I’m afraid of seeing something I don’t want to. Right. The probably-already-clean sheets are in the washing machine, my lovely definitely-clean ones are on the bed, and I’m slightly breathless with all the activity. On second look, the room does feel more me than it did when I got here. Yes, the duvet cover is still wrong (I felt changing that would look a little bit pointed) and there are weird books on the shelves (none about making your own clothes! I’ll soon fix that), but with my bits and bobs around the place, and my dresses in the wardrobe, and . . . yes, I’ll just pull the blanket all the way up to cover the duvet, just for now. Much better. As I’m rearranging the blanket I notice a black plastic sack sticking out from under the bed, with something woollen flopping out of it on to the floor. I must have left one bin bag unpacked; I drag it out to check the contents. It’s full of scarves. Amazing woollen scarves. They’re not mine, but the craftsmanship is beautiful – it takes real talent to knit and crochet like this. They should be mine. I’d pay money that I do not have for these scarves. Belatedly I realise I’m rummaging through what must be Leon’s stuff – and something he’s keeping under the bed, too, so probably doesn’t want everyone looking at. I let myself linger over the weave for a second or two longer before I push the bag back to where it came from, careful to leave it how it was. I wonder what the significance of all those scarves is. You don’t keep that many handmade scarves for no reason. It occurs to me that Leon could actually be any kind of weird. Keeping scarves isn’t in itself weird, but it could be the tip of the iceberg. Plus there was quite a large number of scarves in there – at least ten. What if he stole them? Shit. What if they are trophies of the women he murdered? Maybe he’s a serial killer. A winter-based killer who only strikes in scarf weather. I need to call someone. Being alone with the scarves is making me feel genuinely a bit scared, and, as a consequence, a bit mad. ‘What’s up?’ Rachel says when she answers. ‘I am worried Leon might be a serial killer,’ I announce. ‘Why? Has he tried to kill you or something?’ Rachel sounds a bit distracted. I am concerned that she’s not taking this seriously enough. ‘No, no, I’ve not met him yet.’ ‘You’ve met his girlfriend, though, right?’ ‘Yeah, why?’ ‘Well, do you think she knows?’ ‘What?’ ‘About the murdering.’ ‘Umm. No? I suppose not?’ Kay does seem very normal. ‘She’s a pretty unobservant sort of woman, then. You managed to spot the signs in just one evening alone in his flat. Think how much time she must have spent there, and seen the very same signs, and not followed them through to their only logical conclusion!’ There is a pause. Rachel’s point is deceptively simple but very well made. ‘You are an excellent friend,’ I tell her eventually. ‘I know. You’re welcome. I should go, though, I’m on a date.’ ‘Oh, God, sorry!’ ‘Nah, no worries, he doesn’t mind, do you, Reggie? He says he doesn’t mind.’ There is a muffled noise at the other end. I suddenly can’t help wondering if Rachel currently has Reggie tied to something. ‘I’ll leave you to it,’ I say. ‘Love you.’ ‘Love you too, babe. No, not you, Reggie, pipe down.’ 8 Leon Hollow-cheeked, tired-eyed Holly looks up at me from bed. Seems littler. In all dimensions, too – wrists, tufty growing-back hair . . . everything but the eyes. She grins at me weakly. Holly: You were here last weekend. Me: In and out. They needed my help. Short-staffed. Holly: Is it because I asked for you? Me: Absolutely not. You know you’re my least favourite patient. Bigger grin. Holly: Were you having a nice weekend with your girlfriend with the short hair? Me: Yes, actually. Looks decidedly mischievous. Don’t want to get hopes up but she is visibly better – that smile was nowhere to be seen last weekend. Holly: And you had to leave her behind because of me! Me: Short-staffing, Holly. Had to leave h— come in to work because of short-staffing. Holly: I bet she was annoyed that you like me better than her. Socha, the junior doctor, leans in past the curtain to get my attention. Socha: Leon. Me, to Holly: Back in a sec, homewrecker. Me, to Socha: And? She breaks into a big, tired smile. Socha: Bloods just in. The antibiotics are finally having an effect. Just got off the phone with the GOSH med reg, he said as she’s improving she doesn’t need to go back into hospital. Social services are on board with that as well. Me: Antibiotics are working? Socha: Yep. CRP and white cell count both falling, no more fevers, lactate normal. Obs all stable. The relief is instant. Nothing quite like that feeling of someone getting better. Good-mood glow resulting from Holly’s bloods buoys me all the way home. Teens smoking joint on street corner seem positively cherubic. Smelly man on bus removing socks to scratch his feet evokes only genuine sympathy. Even a Londoner’s true enemy, the slow-moving tourist, just makes me smile indulgently. Already planning excellent 9 a.m. dinner as I let myself into the flat. The first thing I notice is the smell. It smells . . . womanly. Like spicy incense and flower stalls. The next thing I notice is the sheer quantity of crap in my living room. Enormous heap of books up against breakfast bar. Cow-shaped cushion on sofa. Lava lamp – lava lamp! – on coffee table. What is this? Is Essex woman holding a jumble sale in our flat? In a slight daze, I go to drop my keys in their usual spot (when not opting for bottom of laundry basket) and find it has been occupied by a moneybox shaped like Spot the Dog. This is unbelievable. It’s like a terrible episode of Changing Rooms. Flat has been redecorated to look immeasurably worse. Can only conclude that she was doing it on purpose – nobody could be this tasteless accidentally. Wrack brains to remember what Kay actually told me about this woman. She’s a . . . book editor? Sounds like profession of reasonable person with taste? Feel fairly certain that Kay made no mention of Essex woman being a bizarre-object collector. And yet. I sink into a nearby beanbag and sit for a while. Think of the three hundred and fifty pounds I would otherwise not have been able to give to Sal this month. Decide this is not so bad – beanbag is excellent, for instance: it’s patterned with paisley and remarkably comfortable. And lava lamp has comedic value. Who has a lava lamp these days? Notice my sheets hanging off the clothes horse in the corner of the room – she’s washed them. Irritating, as I went to great lengths to wash those and was late for shift as a result. But must remember that annoying Essex woman does not actually know me. Would not know that I would obviously clean sheets before inviting stranger to sleep in them. Eh. What’s the bedroom going to look like? Venture in, intrepid. Let out a strangled wail. It looks like someone vomited rainbows and calico in here, covering every surface in colours that do not belong together in nature. Horrific, moth-eaten blanket over bed. Enormous beige sewing machine taking up most of desk. And clothes . . . clothes everywhere. This woman owns more clothes than a respectably sized shop would stock. Has clearly not been able to manage with the half of wardrobe I freed up for her, so has hung up dresses on back of door, all along wall – from old picture rail, actually quite resourceful – and over back of now-almost-invisible chair under window. Consider ringing her and Putting Foot Down for approximately three seconds before reaching inevitable conclusion that that would be awkward, and, in a few days, I will have stopped caring. Probably stopped noticing, actually. Still. Right now, opinion of Essex woman has reached new low. I’m about to head back to spot on very inviting beanbag when I notice the bin bag of the scarves Mr Prior knitted me, poking out from under bed. Forgot about those. Essex woman may think I’m odd if she finds bag of fourteen hand-knitted scarves stashed under bed. Have been meaning to take them to the charity shop for ever, but of course Essex woman won’t know that. Haven’t actually met her; don’t want her to think I’m, you know. A scarf collector or something. Grab pen and paper and scrawl FOR CHARITY SHOP on a Post-it, then stick it to bag. There. Just to remind myself, in case I forget. Now to the beanbag for dinner, and bed. So tired that even the horrible tie-dyed bed blanket is beginning to look attractive. 9 Tiffy So, here I am. On the freezing cold dock. In ‘neutral clothing I can work with’ according to Katherin, who is beaming cheekily at me, the wind whipping her straw-blonde hair against her cheeks as we wait for the cruise ship to batten down the hatch, or turn three sails to the wind, or whatever it is these ships do in order to let people on board. ‘You have the perfect proportions for this sort of thing,’ Katherin is telling me. ‘You’re my favourite model, Tiffy. Really. This is going to be an absolute scream.’ I raise an eyebrow, looking out to sea. I don’t see a vast selection of other models for Katherin to choose from. I have also, over the years, got a bit tired of people lauding my ‘proportions’. The thing is, I’m like Gerty and Mo’s flat in reverse – just about twenty per cent bigger than the average woman, in all directions. My mother likes to declare that I am ‘big-boned’ because my father was a lumberjack in his youth (was he? I know he’s old, but didn’t lumberjacks only exist in fairy tales?). I can barely walk into a room without someone helpfully informing me that I am very tall for a woman. Sometimes it annoys people, like I’m purposefully taking up more room than I’m allowed, and sometimes it intimidates them, especially when they’re used to looking down at women they’re talking to, but mostly it just makes them compliment me on my ‘proportions’ a lot. I think what they’re really saying is, ‘Gosh, you’re big, but without being particularly fat!’ or, ‘Well done on being tall but not lanky!’ Or perhaps, ‘You are confusing my gender norms by being very woman-shaped despite the fact that you are the height and width of an average male!’ ‘You’re the sort of woman the Soviets liked,’ Katherin goes on, oblivious to my raised eyebrow. ‘You know, on their posters about women working the land while the men were out fighting, that sort of thing.’ ‘Wear a lot of crochet, did they, the Soviet women?’ I ask rather tetchily. It’s drizzling, and the sea looks very different from a busy dock like this – it’s a lot less glamorous than when you’re on the beach. It’s basically just a big cold salty bath, really. I wonder how warm the rights director is now, in her meeting about the international reach of our spring season titles. ‘Possibly, possibly,’ Katherin muses. ‘Good idea, Tiffy! What do you think – a chapter on the history of crochet in the next book?’ ‘No,’ I tell her firmly. ‘That won’t be popular with your readers.’ You have to nip ideas in the bud fast with Katherin. And I’m definitely right on this one. Nobody wants history – they just want an idea for a new crochet item they can give their grandson to drool on. ‘But—’ ‘I’m just conveying the brutality of the market to you, Katherin,’ I say. That’s one of my favourite lines. Good old market, always there to be blamed. ‘The people don’t want history in their crochet books. They want cute pictures and easy instructions.’ Once all our documents have been checked, we file on board. You can’t really tell where the dock ends and the boat begins – it’s just like walking into a building and developing very slight light-headedness, as though the floor is shifting a little beneath you. I thought we might get a different, more exciting welcome for being special guests who’ve been invited here, but we’re just traipsing on with the rest of the riff-raff. All of whom are at least twenty times richer than me, obviously, and much better dressed. It’s actually pretty small for a cruise ship – so only the size of, say, Portsmouth, rather than London. We’re shuffled politely into a corner of the ‘entertainment area’ to wait for our cue. We’re to set up after the guests have had lunch. Nobody brings us lunch. Katherin, of course, has brought her own sandwiches. They’re sardine. She cheerfully offers me half, which is actually very sweet of her, and eventually my stomach-rumbling gets so bad that I concede defeat and accept one. I’m twitchy. The last time I was on a cruise it was through the Greek islands with Justin, and I was positively glowing with love and post-sex hormones. Now, huddled in a corner with three Aldi bags of knitting needles, crochet hooks and wool, accompanied by an ex-hippy and a sardine sandwich, I can no longer deny the fact that my life has taken a turn for the worse. ‘So what’s the plan, then?’ I ask Katherin, nibbling the crusts off the sandwich. The fishiness isn’t so bad at the edges. ‘What do I need to do?’ ‘I’ll demonstrate how to take measurements from you first,’ Katherin says. ‘Then I’ll talk through the basic stitches for any beginners, then I’ll use my pre-prepared bits to show them the tricks of compiling yourself a perfectly fitted outfit! And of course, I’ll show them my five top tips for measuring as you go.’ ‘Measuring as you go’ is one of Katherin’s catchphrases. It has yet to catch on. In the end, when it’s finally time for us to kick off, we gather quite a crowd. Katherin knows how to do that – she probably practised at rallies and things, back in days of yore. It’s largely a crowd of old ladies and their husbands, but there are a few younger women in their twenties and thirties, and even a couple of guys. I’m quite encouraged. Maybe Katherin’s right that crochet is on the up. ‘A big hand for my glamorous assistant!’ Katherin is saying, as though we’re putting on a magic show. Actually, the magician in the other corner of the entertainment area is looking pretty miffed. Everyone claps me dutifully. I try to look cheerful and crochet-ish, but I’m still chilly, and I feel drab in my neutral clothing – white jeans, pale grey T-shirt, and a lovely warm pink cardigan that I thought I’d sold sometime last year but rediscovered in my wardrobe this morning. It’s the only colourful element to this outfit, and I can tell Katherin is about to . . . ‘Cardigan off!’ she says, already undressing me. This is so undignified. And cold. ‘Are you all paying close attention? Phones away, please! We managed without checking Facebook every five minutes in the Cold War, didn’t we? Hmm? That’s right, a bit of perspective for you all! Phones away, that’s it!’ I try not to laugh. That’s trademark Katherin – she always says bringing up the Cold War startles people into submission. She starts measuring me – neck, shoulders, bust, waist, hips – and it occurs to me that my measurements are now being read out to a really quite large group of people, which makes my urge to laugh even more powerful. It’s the classic, isn’t it – you’re not allowed to laugh, and suddenly that’s what you want to do more than anything. Katherin shoots me a warning look as she measures my hips, chatting away about pleating to create sufficient ‘room for the buttocks’, and no doubt feeling how my body is beginning to shake with supressed laughter. I know I need to be professional. I know I can’t just burst out laughing right now – it’ll totally undermine her. But . . . Look at me. That old lady over there just wrote down my inner thigh measurement in her notebook. And that guy at the back looks— That guy at the back . . . That . . . That’s Justin. He moves away when I clock it’s him, slipping off into the crowd. But first, before he goes, he holds my gaze. It sends a shock right through me, because it’s not your ordinary eye contact. It’s a very distinct sort of eye contact. The sort you get locked into in the moment just before you toss a twenty on the table and scramble out of the pub to make out in a cab home, or in the moment when you put down the wine glass and head upstairs to bed. It’s sex eye contact. His eyes say, I’m undressing you in my head. The man who left me months ago, who hasn’t picked up one of my calls since, whose fiancée is probably on this very cruise with him . . . He’s giving me that look. And in that moment I am more exposed than any number of elderly ladies with notebooks could make me feel. I feel completely naked. 10 Leon Me: You could have found each other again. Love finds a way, Mr Prior! Love finds a way! Mr Prior is unconvinced. Mr Prior: No offence, lad, but you weren’t there – that’s not how it worked. Of course, there were lovely stories, girls who thought their lads were long dead, then came home to find them traipsing up the path in their uniform, fresh as a daisy . . . but for every one, there were hundreds of stories of lovers who never came back. Johnny’s probably dead, and if he’s not, he’s long since married to some gentleman or lady somewhere, and I’m forgotten. Me: But you said he wasn’t on that list. I’m waving a hand at the list of war dead I printed, unsure why I’m pushing this point so hard. Mr Prior hasn’t asked to find Johnny; he was just pining. Reminiscing. But I see a lot of elderly people here. I’m used to reminiscing; I’m used to pining. Felt this was different. I felt Mr Prior had unfinished business. Mr Prior: I don’t think so, no. But then, I’m a forgetful old man, and your computer system is a new-fangled thing, so either of us could be wrong, couldn’t we? He gives me a gentle smile, like I’m doing this for me, not him. Look closer at him. Think of all the nights when I’ve arrived to chatter about visitors from other patients, and have seen Mr Prior sitting quietly in the corner, hands in his lap, face folded in neat wrinkles like he’s trying hard not to look sad. Me: Humour me. Tell me the facts. Regiment? Birthplace? Distinctive features? Family members? Mr Prior’s little, beady eyes look up at me. He shrugs. Smiles. It folds his papery, age-spotted face, shifting the tan lines like ink on his neck, left there from decades of shirt collars of precisely the same width. He gives a slight shake of the head, like he’ll tell someone later how barmy these modern nurses are, but starts talking all the same. * Thursday morning. Ring Mam for short, difficult conversation on bus. Mam, bleary: Is there news? This has been customary greeting for months. Leon: Sorry, Mam. Mam: Shall I call Sal? Leon: No, no. I’m dealing with it. Long, miserable silence. We wallow in it. Then, Mam, with effort: Sorry, sweetheart, how are you? Return home afterwards to find pleasant surprise: home-baked flapjack on sideboard. It’s filled with colourful dried fruit and seeds, like Essex woman cannot resist clashing colours even in food, but this seems less objectionable when I see the note beside the tray. Help yourself! Hope you had a good day night. Tiffy x An excellent development. Will definitely endure high levels of clutter and novelty lamps for three hundred and fifty pounds per month and free food. Help myself to large slice and settle down with it to write to Richie, filling him in on Holly’s condition. She’s ‘Knave Girl’ in my letters to him, and a bit of a caricature of herself – sharper, snarkier, cuter. I reach for more flapjack without looking, filling page two with descriptions of the stranger Essex-woman items, some of which are so ridiculous I think Richie won’t believe me. An iron in the shape of Iron Man. Actual clown shoes, hung on the wall like a work of art. Cowboy boots with spurs, which I can only conclude she wears regularly, looking at how worn they are. Notice absently, as I fiddle with the stamp, that I have eaten four slices of flapjack. Hope she really meant ‘help yourself’. While biro is in hand, scribble on back of her note. Thanks. So delicious I accidentally ate most of it. Pause before finishing the note. Feel I need to repay her in something. There is really hardly any flapjack remaining in tray. Thanks. So delicious I accidentally ate most of it. Leftover mushroom stroganoff in fridge if you need dinner (on account of having hardly any flapjack left). Leon Better make mushroom stroganoff now. * That was not the only note left for me this morning. There’s this one on the bathroom door. Hi Leon, Would you mind putting the toilet seat down please? I’m afraid I was unable to write this note in a way that didn’t sound passive-aggressive – seriously, it’s something about the note form, you pick up a pen and a Post-it and you immediately become a bitch – so I’m just styling it out. I might put some smiley faces to really hammer the thing home. Tiffy x There are smiley faces all along the bottom of the note. I snort with laughter. One of the smiley faces has a body and is pissing towards the corner of the Post-it. Wasn’t expecting that. Not sure why – I don’t know this woman – but hadn’t imagined she had much of a sense of humour. Maybe because all her books are about DIY. 11 Tiffy ‘That is ridiculous.’ ‘I know,’ I say. ‘That was it?’ Rachel yells. I flinch. Last night I drank a bottle of wine, panic-baked flapjack, and barely slept; I’m a little fragile for shouting. We’re sitting in the ‘creative space’ at work – it’s like the other two Butterfingers Press meeting rooms, except annoyingly it doesn’t have a proper door (to convey a sense of openness), and there are whiteboards on the walls. Somebody used them once; now the notes from their creative session are ingrained in dried-out whiteboard marker, totally incomprehensible. Rachel has printed out the layouts we’re meeting to discuss, and they’re spread out across the table between us. It’s the bloody Make a Stir baking book, and you can really tell I was hungover and in a rush when I edited this the first-time around. ‘You’re telling me that you see Justin on a cruise ship and then he gives you an I want to fuck you stare and then you go on about your business and don’t see him again?’ ‘I know,’ I say again, positively miserable. ‘Ridiculous! Why didn’t you go looking for him?’ ‘I was busy with Katherin! Who, by the way, gave me an actual injury,’ I tell her, yanking my poncho out of the way to show her the angry red mark where Katherin pretty much stabbed my arm mid-demonstration. Rachel gives it a cursory look. ‘I hope you brought her manuscript delivery date forward for that,’ she says. ‘Are you sure it was Justin? Not some other white guy with brown hair? I mean, I imagine a cruise ship is—’ ‘Rachel, I know what Justin looks like.’ ‘Right, well,’ she says, throwing her arms out wide and sending layouts sliding across the table. ‘I can’t believe this. It’s such an anticlimax. I really thought your story was going to end with sex in a cabin bunk! Or on the deck! Or, or, or in the middle of the ocean, on a dinghy!’ What actually happened was that I spent the rest of the session in paralysed, panicky suspense, desperately trying to look like I was listening to Katherin’s instructions – ‘Arms up, Tiffy!’ ‘Watch your hair, Tiffy!’ – and simultaneously keep my eyes on the back of the crowd. I did start to wonder if I’d imagined it. What the hell were the chances? I mean, I know the man likes a cruise, but this is a very large country. There are many cruise ships floating around the edge of it. ‘Tell me again,’ Rachel says, ‘about the look.’ ‘Ughh, I can’t explain it,’ I tell her, laying my forehead down on the pages in front of me. ‘I just . . . I know that look from when we were together.’ My stomach twists. ‘It was so inappropriate. I mean – God – his girlfriend – I mean, his fiancée . . .’ ‘He saw you across a crowded room, semi-unclothed, being gloriously you-like and pissing about with a middle-aged eccentric author . . . and he remembered why he used to fancy the pants off you,’ Rachel concludes. ‘That’s what happened.’ ‘That’s not . . .’ But what did happen? Something, definitely. That look wasn’t nothing. I feel a little flutter of anxiety at the base of my ribs. Even after a whole night of thinking about this, I still can’t work out how I feel. One minute Justin appearing on a cruise ship and catching my eye seems like the most romantic, fateful moment, and then the next I find myself feeling a bit shivery and sick. I was all jittery on the journey home from the docks, too – it’s been a while since I’ve travelled outside London on my own to anywhere other than my parents’. Justin had a real thing about how I always ended up on the wrong train, and he was sweet about taking journeys with me just in case; as I waited alone in the darkness of Southampton station I felt categorically certain I’d end up taking a train to the Outer Hebrides or something. I reach to check my phone – this ‘meeting’ with Rachel is only in the diary for half an hour, and then I really do need to edit Katherin’s first three chapters. I have one new message. So good to see you yesterday. I was there for work, and when I saw ‘Katherin Rosen and assistant’ on the programme, I thought, hey, that’s got to be Tiffy. Only you could laugh your way through someone reading out your measurements – most girls would hate that. But I guess that’s what makes you special. J xx Hands shaking, I stretch the phone out to show Rachel. She gasps, hands to mouth. ‘He loves you! That man is still in love with you!’ ‘Calm down, Rachel,’ I tell her, though my heart is currently making an attempt at a getaway via my throat. I feel as if I’m choking and breathing too much all at the same time. ‘Can you text back and tell him that comments like that are the reason womankind cares so much about their measurements? And that by declaring that “most girls would hate that”, he is perpetuating the female body image problem, and setting women up against one another, which is one of the greatest problems feminism faces to this day?’ I narrow my eyes at her, and she flashes me a big grin. ‘Or you could just say, “Thanks, come over and show me how special I am all night long”?’ ‘Ugh. I don’t know why I talk to you.’ ‘It’s me or Martin,’ she points out, gathering up the layouts. ‘I’ll take in these changes. You go get your man back, all right?’ * ‘No,’ Gerty says immediately. ‘Do not text him that. He is scum of the earth who treated you like shit, tried to isolate you from your friends, and almost certainly cheated on you. He does not deserve a text of this niceness.’ There is a pause. ‘What made you want to reply with that message, Tiffy?’ Mo asks, as if he’s translating for Gerty. ‘I just . . . wanted to talk to him.’ My voice is very small. The tiredness is starting to eat away at me; I’m curled up on my beanbag with a hot chocolate, and Mo and Gerty are staring down at me from the sofa, their faces a picture of concern (actually, Gerty’s isn’t – she just looks angry). Gerty reads my draft message out again. ‘Hi Justin. So good to hear from you. I’m just sorry we didn’t get to catch up properly, despite being on the same cruise ship! And then two kisses.’ ‘He did two kisses,’ I say a little defensively. ‘The kisses are last on my list of things to change about that message,’ Gerty says. ‘Are you sure you want to start up contact with Justin again at all, Tiffy? You seem a lot better in yourself since you’ve moved out of his flat,’ Mo says. ‘I wonder if that might not be a coincidence.’ He sighs when I don’t say anything. ‘I know you find it hard to think badly of him, Tiffy, but whatever excuses you can give him for everything else, even you can’t ignore the fact that he left you for another woman.’ I flinch. ‘Sorry. But he did, and even if he’s left her, which we don’t have any evidence he has, he still went off with her. You can’t reason that away or convince yourself you’ve imagined it, because you’ve met Patricia. Look back at that Facebook message. Remember how it felt when he turned up with her at the flat.’ Ugh. Why do people keep saying things I don’t want to hear? I miss Rachel. ‘What do you think he’s doing, Tiffy?’ Mo asks. He’s pushing so hard all of a sudden – it’s making me squirm. ‘Being friendly. Trying to get in touch again.’ ‘He’s not asked to meet up,’ Mo points out. ‘And the look he gave you was more than friendly, by the sounds of it,’ Gerty says. ‘I . . .’ It’s true. It wasn’t a hey, I’ve missed you so much, I wish we could talk again look. But it was . . . something. It’s true I can’t ignore the fiancée, but I can’t ignore that look either. What did it mean? If he wanted to – if he wanted to get back together . . . ‘Would you?’ Gerty asks. ‘Would I what?’ I ask, buying myself time. She doesn’t answer. She knows my game. I think about how miserable I’ve been these last few months, how bleak it was to say goodbye to his flat. How many times I’ve looked Patricia up on Facebook and cried on to my laptop keyboard until I got a bit worried about electrocution. I was so lucky to have him. Justin was always so . . . fun. Everything was a whirlwind; we’d be flying from country to country, trying everything, staying up until four in the morning and climbing on to the roof to watch the sunrise. Yes, we fought a lot and I made a lot of mistakes in that relationship, but mostly I’d just felt so lucky to be with him. Without him I feel . . . lost. ‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘But a big part of me wants to.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ Gerty says, standing up smartly and patting me on the head, ‘we won’t let you.’ 12 Leon Hi Leon, All right, fine – the truth is, I panic-bake. When I’m sad or things are difficult, baking is my go-to. And what of it? I turn my negativity into delicious, calorific goodness. As long as you can’t taste traces of my misery in the cake mix, I don’t think you should be questioning why I have been baking every night this week. Which, as it happens, is because my ex-boyfriend turned up on my cruise ship* and gave me the eye and then buggered off. So now I’m all muddled. He sent me this sweet text about how special I was, but I didn’t text back. I wanted to, but my friends talked me out of it. They’re annoying, and usually right about stuff. Anyway, that’s why you’ve had so much cake. Tiffy x *Not my cruise ship. No offence, but I wouldn’t be sharing a bedroom with you if I was the sort of person who owned a cruise ship. I’d be living in a Scottish castle with technicolour turrets. * Hi Tiffy, Sorry to hear about your ex. Guessing from your friends’ reactions that they don’t think he’s good for you – is that what you think? I’m Team Ex if it means cake. Leon Hi Leon, I don’t know – I’ve not really thought about it like that, actually. My kneejerk reaction is yeah, he’s good for me. But then, I don’t know. We were very up and down, one of those couples everyone’s always talking about (we’ve broken up and got back together a few times before). It’s easy to remember the happy times – and there were tons of them, and they were awesome – but I guess since we broke up I’ve only remembered those. So I know that being with him was fun. But was it good for me? Ugh. I don’t know. Hence the Victoria sandwich with homemade jam. Tiffy x * On a large ring-bound printout of a book, titled Built: My Amazing Journey from Bricklayer to High-End Interior Designer: Be honest – picked this up off table as thought it sounded hilariously rubbish. Couldn’t put it down. Didn’t get to sleep until noon. Is this man your ex? If not, can I marry him? Leon * Hey Leon, I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! My beautiful bricklayer-turned-designer is not in fact my ex, and yes, he is much more likely to want to marry you than me. I imagine Kay would have opinions on the subject, though. Tiffy x * Kay says am not allowed to marry beautiful bricklayer-turned-designer. Shame. She says hi. * Good to catch her yesterday! She says I’m making you fat with all the cake. She made me promise to channel my emotional turmoil into healthier options from now on, so I made us carob and date brownies. Sorry, they’re totally disgusting. I’m moving this Post-it on to Wuthering Heights now as I need to take Built back to the office! x * On cupboard above kitchen bin: When is our bin day again? Leon * Is this a joke? I’ve lived here for five weeks! You’ve lived here for years! How can you be asking me when bin day is?! . . . but yes, it was yesterday, and we forgot. x * Oh, thought so . . . Can never remember if it’s Tuesday or Thursday. It’s a days-beginning-with-T thing. Difficult. Any news from the ex? You’ve stopped baking. It’s OK, freezer stockpile will get me through for a while, but am keen for you to have another crisis in, say, mid-May. Leon * Hey, Total radio silence. He’s not even been updating his Twitter or Facebook so I can’t stalk him – so he is probably still with his fiancée (I mean, why wouldn’t he be, all he did was look at me a bit funny), and I probably completely misread the cruise-ship moment, and he’s probably a despicable human being like my friend Gerty says he is. Anyway, I’ve paid him back all the money I owe him. I now owe the bank a terrifying amount instead. Thanks for the risotto, it was delicious – you’re a really good cook for someone who only ever eats meals at the wrong times of the day! Tiffy x * Beside baking tray: Jesus. Didn’t know about the fiancée. Or the money. Does millionaire shortbread mean you got news? * Beside baking tray, now full of crumbs: Nothing. He’s not even sent a message to say he received the payment. This is totally tragic but I found myself wishing yesterday that I’d just kept paying a few hundred a month – then in a way we’d still be in touch. And I wouldn’t be quite so deep into my overdraft. Basically, in summary, he hasn’t said a word to me since the cruise-ship text. I’m officially an idiot x * Eh. Love makes us all idiots – first time I met Kay I told her I was a jazz musician (saxophone). Thought she’d like it. Chilli on hob for you. Leon x April 13 Tiffy ‘I think I’m having palpitations.’ ‘Nobody has had palpitations since the olden days finished,’ Rachel informs me, taking an unacceptably large sip of the latte the head of Editorial bought me (every so often he feels guilty for Butterfingers not paying me enough, and splashes out £2.20 on a coffee to assuage his conscience). ‘This book. Is. Killing me,’ I say. ‘The saturated fat in your lunch is killing you.’ Rachel prods the banana bread I’m currently munching my way through. ‘Your baking is getting worse. By which I mean better, obviously. Why aren’t you getting fatter?’ ‘I am, but I’m just bigger than you, so you don’t notice the difference as much. I stash my new cake weight in bits you won’t spot. Like the upper arm, for instance. Or the cheek. I’m getting rounder cheeks, don’t you think?’ ‘Edit, woman!’ Rachel says, slapping a hand on the layouts between us. Our weekly catch-ups about Katherin’s book soon became daily catch-ups as March slipped by; now, faced with the terrifying realisation that it is April and our print date is only a couple of months away, they have become daily catch-ups and daily lunches. ‘And when are you getting me the photos of the hats and scarves?’ Rachel adds. Oh, God. The hats and scarves. I wake up in the middle of the night thin