Google+ The Bluestocking Firefly: December 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Kissing Fish, part 21

Find the rest of Kissing Fish here.

We're getting toward the end of what I currently have written on Kissing Fish. Also I'm headed home to America for Christmas for a month as of stupidly early tomorrow morning, so this may be the last post for a couple of days at least.


The intent is to devote some of this so-called holiday time to adding to Kissing Fish. Possibly I'll get a bit more written on 365 Days of Rain, too, if I'm feeling lucky. If I'm really in the mood I might even get around to updating the sci-fi story, since I think I've left Amy hanging for a couple of months now.

...we shall see. Stay tuned.

I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache, feeling disoriented. When I opened my eyes I was staring at an unfamiliar window set in a dreary white wall with no decorations, and it took me a minute to remember that I’d moved into my new flat in St Andrews the previous day.

It took me another minute to realise that I wasn’t alone in my bed.

There was an arm draped over my waist and I could feel someone’s breath warm against the back of my neck. I tentatively stretched out my leg and encountered a foot. A foot that was kind of bigger than my own.

I had a fierce internal debate about what to do. I mean, the last thing I remembered was Alex carrying me to bed and Faye asleep on the couch. So where had Alex gone to sleep? Somehow, I had a bad feeling he was lying right behind me.

Taking a deep breath, I carefully turned over so that I was on my back, and sure enough, Alex was asleep next to me. His blond hair curled over his ears, and I was tempted to tuck it back. And then his eyes flickered open.

He smiled slowly. “Good morning,” he said.

“Um,” I said intelligently. “Good morning. You’re in my bed.”

“Yeah,” he said, rolling over onto his back and stretching. He seemed not to have noticed that when he’d woken up he’d kind of been cuddling me. But that was okay with me, actually. The fact that he hadn’t noticed, I mean, not the fact that he’d been cuddling me. Because while that was warm and snuggly and lovely-feeling, it was
wrong. Yes, brain, wrong. “Faye fell asleep on the couch and I didn’t want to move her.”

I sat up, holding the duvet to my chest, and then hooked my hands over my knees. “Oh.”

He frowned at me. “I hope that was okay. It’s not like we haven’t shared a bed before when everyone used to crash at Nate and mine after parties. Also there was that time in San Francisco when that bed and breakfast only gave us one bed.”

“I’d forgotten about that,” I said, keeping my eyes on his face and ignoring the fact that he clearly wasn’t wearing a shirt. For that matter… I was sure I’d been wearing a long-sleeved jumper the night before. And jeans. “Did you take off my clothes last night?” I asked, looking down at my tank top and trying to work out if I was wearing pyjama bottoms under the duvet.

“Oi,” he said. “Thank you, I don’t undress unconscious women. You’d already pulled your clothes off when I came back in. Besides — ” he grinned “ — nothing I haven’t seen before, Fish.”

“Twat,” I said.

He shrugged and threw off the duvet. He was, I was relieved to see, still wearing his jeans.

“I’ll go see if Faye is up and see about making some breakfast,” he said, pulling his t-shirt over his head. “What do you want? Cereal? Eggs? Toast?”

I flopped backwards onto my pillow and draped an arm over my eyes. “Whatever you feel like making,” I said. “Thanks.”

“Lazy git,” he said affectionately as he went out the door. A minute later I heard the murmur of voices in the living room.

What was
wrong with me? I sat up again and stared across the room at the partially open door. Surely I should be able to sort out my life so that a) I didn’t fancy one of my best friends and b) didn’t feel so guilty every time we were together. I mean, this was starting to really make me worried.

“Oi,” Faye said, poking her head around the door frame, “come out and have breakfast. I have a surprise for you.”

I rolled out of bed and followed her out into the living room. Alex was banging pans around in the kitchen. “What’s this surprise, then? Does it involve food?”

“Are you kidding?” Faye said. “You know how bad my cooking is.”

I flopped down on the couch. “Okay, what then?”

She snuggled up next to me and opened her laptop. “I have signed you up for a dating website,” she said.

I choked. “I’m

“St Andrews is titchy,” she said. “How the hell are you ever going to meet anyone here?” She shook her head. “No, you need to sell yourself.”

“What, like a hooker?” I demanded. “That’s just delightful.”

“Shut up and tell me what you think of your profile,” Faye said, logging into the site. She turned the computer towards me. “What do you think?”

She’d picked a picture of me from Nate’s sister’s wedding the previous November. Admittedly that was nothing to complain about — it had been taken early in the evening, before we’d all got shitfaced, so at least I didn’t look like an alkie. I read the description beneath the picture.

“‘Emily, 28’,” I said aloud. “‘Loves to laugh. Tired of being the responsible one. Likes a good time, sensitive men, and football. Just out of a serious relationship so looking to have some fun.’” I looked up at Faye. “Are you
kidding me?”

“It gets better,” Alex called from the kitchen.

I turned back to my profile. “‘Excellent cook, gardener, and equestrian’ —
Equestrian? I’ve never even been on a horse!”

“Keep going,” Faye said, an evil smile lurking at the corners of her mouth.

“‘Enjoys long walks on the beach’ — really, Faye? Could you get any more cliché?”

Alex came out of the kitchen with two plates. “I put that one in,” he said, handing me bacon, eggs, and toast. “It’s true.” He grinned at me.

“Oh, god, you’re in on this too?” I buried my face in my hands.

He sat down on the other side of me and snitched a piece of bacon from my plate. “Come on, Fish,” he said, tousling my messy hair. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”

“Yes, because a completely fabricated profile that I didn’t write myself is such an
excellent place to start.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Faye said. “If you can go out to the pub tonight and meet at least — oh, I don’t know, how many men should it be, Alex?”

“Three,” he said promptly. “If there aren’t at least three eligible people of the opposite sex immediately obvious then you’re in serious trouble.”

“Right,” Faye said. “So if you can meet at least three eligible men at the pub tonight, we’ll leave you alone. If you can’t, then you use the dating site. Deal?”

“I don’t like this deal,” I said. “You’re practically forcing me to start dating again.”

“You’ve been single for a couple of months now and you’re attractive,” Alex said, meeting my eyes and then looking away. “No need to sit alone in your flat every night.”

“I don’t know
how to date!” I wailed. “The last time I went on a date was five years ago!”

Faye and Alex exchanged glances.

“It’s not that hard,” Faye said gently. “You chat with someone. You have something to eat. You decide if you like them or not, or if it’s worth seeing them again, and you tell them so. If things are working out, you go on more dates. If they’re not, you move on to the next candidate.”

I buried my face in my hands. “You guys suck.”

“We know,” Faye said cheerfully. “Does that mean you’ve given in?”

“Fine,” I said grumpily. I didn’t want to go out and date people. I wanted to wallow in self-pity and self-loathing. Wasn’t that what people usually did after breaking up with someone? Although to be fair, it had been a couple of months now, so I supposed my mourning period was probably over by now. “I’ll do it.”

“Yay!” Faye bounced off the couch and did a little happy dance. “Stop looking so depressed, silly. Dating is supposed to be fun!”

“Yes, because you clearly have so much fun with your man friends,” I said sourly.

“Right, okay then,” Alex said. He glanced at his watch. “Glad that’s settled. I’m afraid I must bugger off with the car — Sarah’s expecting me back in time for dinner. You need me for anything else before I go?”

“Nope,” I said. “Thanks for all your help. I hate to think of dragging all my shit up on the train.”

Alex snorted. “Yeah. Because I definitely would have let you do that.”

I wrapped my arms around his waist and squeezed. “Silly git,” I said.

He kissed the top of my head. “You have fun,” he said. “Let us know if you need us.” He pointed a stern finger at Faye. “As for you — don’t keep her out too late, and don’t foist any unpleasant men on her.”

Faye looked offended. “As though I would!” She flicked his cheek. “Get thee gone, scoundrel.”

Laughing, Alex bowed himself out of the flat, and a few minutes later we heard his car rattle off down the street.

“So,” Faye said, “what shall we do today, then?”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kissing Fish, part 20

Find the rest of Kissing Fish here.

Several hours and a lot of booze later, the three of us were sprawled across the couch, ostensibly watching Terminator 2 on my laptop but really trying not to fall asleep. Faye’s feet were pressed uncomfortably against my ribs, and I’d somehow ended up half on top of Alex, my head tucked into his shoulder. He smelled good, but that was nothing new. What was more disturbing was the fact that I was once again in much too close proximity to him and I had no real interest in moving. Bollocks.

“You’re dangerous,” I said into his shirt. I felt his muscles move, and his breath brushed across the top of my head as he spoke.

“How do you mean?”

“Never mind,” I said.

He sighed, ruffling my hair, and draped his arm around me. “Come here, you,” he said, pressing a kiss against my temple. “You okay?”

No, not really, I thought. I’m single for the first time in five years and apparently I’m still attracted to you, which is bad for lots of reasons. But I’m not going to tell you that. I haven’t even told Faye that. “Yeah,” I said at last. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Liar,” he said affectionately, kissing me again. “It’ll be fine, Fish. You’ll be great. And you can always come down whenever you want, and if you want Faye and I to come up we can do that as often as we can.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“I’m not.” I yawned into his chest and added, “I still feel like I’m about eighteen and waltzing off to uni for the first time knowing absolutely nothing.”

“That’s normal,” he said.

“You smell good,” I said sleepily.

He laughed. “You need to go to bed.”

“I’m comfy here,” I said.

“Well, if I fall asleep like this I’ll wake up with a seriously painful neck, so how about I carry you to bed?”

“Okay,” I mumbled.

Alex slid out from beneath me and leaned down to pick me up. I wrapped my arms around his neck and settled my head on his shoulder. Faye yawned and snuggled deeper into the couch, her legs stretching out along the length.

“I think my bed’s just been swiped,” Alex said as he manoeuvred me through the doorway into my bedroom.

“Mhmm,” I said as he set me down on the bed and offered me a pillow. I curled up and looked up at him sleepily.

“You look like a cat,” he said.

“Mrow,” I said.

He shook his head and pulled the duvet up over me. “Sleep well, Fish.”

Kissing Fish, part 19

The rest of Kissing Fish may be found here.

“Wow,” Faye said three weeks later, standing in the doorway to my new flat in St Andrews. “This is…special.”

I heaved my suitcase into the air and plunked it down on the sofa. “It has a yard for Gatsby,” I said. “That was kind of the main criteria. Also it’s near the beach so I can take her for walks. And it’s near the School of English.”

“Babe, it’s St Andrews,” Faye said, crossing to the window and twitching aside the curtains. “Everything is, like, within a ten minute walk.”

“Shut up,” I said.

“Seriously,” she said, “it looks like this was decorated in the seventies and hasn’t been touched since.”

I groaned. “You are not
helping. I’m depressed enough about living in this crap flat for the next nine months — can’t you be lovely and lie to me about how crap it is?”

“The decor is unique,” she said, adopting the tone of a realtor, “and you’re just going to
love what they’ve done with the kitchen — oh.” She was peering through the door into said kitchen.

“How bad is it?” Alex asked from the hall, sounding slightly out of breath from hauling my heavier suitcase up the stairs.

“Well, let’s put it this way,” Faye said, coming out of the kitchen. “If Fish puts up pictures of someone and newspaper clippings, it’d be a dead ringer for a serial killer’s hideout.”

Alex dragged my suitcase into the living room. “Well, it could be worse,” he said. “At least there’s no visible damp.”

Thank you,” I said. “I’m sure if I buy some extra lamps and some bright pillows, it’ll look great. Or at least I can pretend I’m not back to living in crap accommodation.” I frowned. “Where’s Gatsby?”

“I locked her in the car with the window down,” Alex said.

I sighed. “Okay. I’ll go get her in a minute. So how bad is the kitchen?” I asked Faye.

Alex poked his head in and said, his voice slightly muffled, “It’s not that bad. Although you might have trouble getting more than one person in here.”

I ducked under his arm and cringed. “Christ, that is a terrible colour of green.”

“It’s going to clash beautifully with your yellow dishes,” Faye called cheerfully.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, going back out into the living room.

“So,” Alex said, leaning against the wall, “do you want to get Gatsby settled and I’ll go stock up on booze?”

“Oh, god yes,” I said. “You’re both staying here tonight, yeah?”

“I call the bed,” Faye said.

“You’re sharing with me,” I said.

“Makes more sense than the other way,” Alex said. Faye and I stared at him for a moment, and then she laughed and I blushed. “I’ll take the couch.”

“Right,” I said. “I need to go sort out Gatsby.” I closed my eyes briefly. “What the hell am I going to do with a dog for nine months?”

“Use her to pick up men?” Faye offered, following me out into the hall and out onto the street.

“Really, Faye?”

“Yup,” she said. “Aw, who’s a good puppy?”

Gatsby exploded from the car in a flurry of fur and ears, excited to be let out at last. She scampered about, overwhelmed by a whole new world of Scottish smells, and finally plunked herself down before the front steps. Alex tossed me the keys to the flat and hopped in the car.

“Really?” Faye asked. “You’re driving to Tesco’s?”

He shrugged. “It’s faster?” He grinned, shut the door, and rocketed off down the street.

“Come on, girl,” I said, attaching Gatsby’s leash to her collar and leading her around the side of the house and through the alley to the back garden. “This is your new home.”

I let her off the lead. She stood waiting, tail wagging slightly, as she looked around at what was admittedly a pretty bleak back garden. There was a bedraggled tree in the right-hand corner, its leaves just starting to turn red, and what might have been the remnants of a vegetable patch took up the left-hand side of the garden. The rest of the space was paved over.

“Cheery,” Faye said from behind me as Gatsby flopped down on the paving stones. “Glad to see she’s taking so well to her new digs.”

“Like she has a choice,” I muttered. “‘You have to take her, Em!’ ‘She’ll be so miserable in America, Em!’ God, why am I such a sucker?”

Faye sat down on the ground beside Gatsby and scratched her ears. “She’s a lovable mutt,” she said. “I’m sure she’ll grow on you.”

“Probably,” I said, sighing and sitting down next to them. “I guess she’ll keep me from getting too lonely. Also she might discourage scary people who might want to rob me.”

“Yes, because you have
so much to steal,” Faye said.

“Are you two planning on taking up residence in the back garden,” Alex asked from the alley, “or do you want booze?”

“Booze, please,” Faye and I said in unison.

I let Alex in and we went into the house. Alex set down several bags on the floor and pulled out three bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka, and a litre of lemonade.

“Jeez,” Faye said.

“Thought someone might like to drown her sorrows,” he said.

Ice cream,” I gasped, digging through the bags. Then I looked up. “You bought veg and cereal and stuff.”

“What were
you planning on having for dinner and breakfast?” he inquired. “I thought perhaps it would be best to be prepared. I’ll cook.”

“Brill,” Faye said, twisting the top off the first bottle of wine. “Where the hell have you put your wine glasses?”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kissing Fish, part 18

The rest of Kissing Fish can be found here.

Alex tipped over sideways until his head was in my lap. “So your brother’s buggered off to France to chase tail.”

“That’s a delightful way to put it,” I said, running my fingers through his hair. “God, your hair is soft.”

“I condition,” he said, laughing.

I stroked his beard. “Do you condition your beard as well?”

“Nope, that’s just naturally silky. Bit selfish of Mark, though, isn’t it? To fly off without so much as a word?”

I sighed. “That’s just how Mark is,” I said. “He can be the most thoughtful person on the planet. I remember I was sick once and Mum and Dad were on holiday and he made me soup — from a tin, but he was well chuffed that he’d managed it since at the time I think he was about sixteen and he wasn’t exactly a hand in the kitchen — and ran out and bought me tissues and cough syrup and more cold meds than I knew what to do with. He can be an absolute sweetheart — and then he can be such a nightmare and just go off without telling anyone where he’s gone or what he’s doing. I reckon he’s just sort of normally selfish and it’s just really occasionally that he’s actually a lovely generous person.”

“Any idea who it is he’s shagging, then?”

I whacked him across the side of his head. “I don’t ask. I’m sure I don’t even want to
think about how many girls he’s slept with.”

“What, do you reckon it’s more than you’ve shagged?”

“Girls?” I grinned down at him. “Oh, most definitely. As far as guys I’ve shagged…meh. Definitely fewer than him!”

“That would have been my assumption,” he said, looking up at me sleepily and closing his eyes. “On both counts. Since I’m guessing your brother’s been shagging anything with tits that moves for the last four or five years, while you’ve been tied up with Nate.” He cracked one eye and squinted at me. “Unless you were shagging other people and neglected to tell me.”

“Nope,” I said. Kissed, on the other hand… “Just Nate.”

He closed his eye again. “Thought as much.”

We sat in companionable silence for several minutes before Alex’s wriggling jammed my hip into a rock.

“Ow,” I said. “Shit.”

He lifted his head off my leg. “Should I get up?”

“Yes, please.”

He hauled himself to his feet and offered a hand to help me up. “Guess we should go crash,” he said.

“Yep,” I said. “At least I’m not sixteen and trying to sneak in without Mum or Dad noticing.”

“You used to sneak in when you were sixteen? I’m shocked.”

I rolled my eyes and teetered on the edge of the curb. “I was such a wild child, you have no idea.”

Alex laughed. “Liar.”

“Yep. Bet you were a nightmare.”

He belatedly covered a yawn and said, “I can’t say I didn’t cause Mum all kinds of trouble, but never anything serious. Compared to Cat, I was an angel.”

“How is your sister?” I asked as we turned onto Walton Street.

His expression turned more serious. “She’s okay. She’s been having some problems, but she’s okay. She’s living with my brother at the moment, at least until she finds a job. I offered her our spare room a couple months ago, but she doesn’t like Faye so she said no, she’d rather stay with Patrick.”

I dug my keys out of my pocket and fumbled around until I found the right one. “I guess at least she’s somewhere safe?”

“Yeah,” he said, taking the key from me and fitting it into the lock. “Better than when she was living with the bloke in his fifties with no job and serious problems with drugs.”

“Well, goodnight,” I said. “You know where Mark’s room is.”

“Yep. See you tomorrow morning.” He leaned down and gave me a kiss on the cheek, which sent a shock of warmth down to my stomach, where it fizzed pleasantly as I dragged myself up to the loft bedroom and got ready for bed.

“No, no, no,” I told myself firmly under my breath. “It’s a bad idea for so many reasons. Starting with the fact that he’s still good friends with Nate and ending with the fact that he’s dating Sarah. Plus about a million other things.”

I flopped back on my bed and dragged the duvet up to my ears. “Don’t you dare dream about him,” I told my brain sleepily, and then fell asleep.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kissing Fish, part 17

The rest of Kissing Fish may be found here.

“Fat lot of good you were then,” I said, jabbing Alex in the side as we walked down the street.

“Oi,” he said. “I tried.”

“She likes you better than me now!”

He poked me. “Overreaction much? You’re just easier to criticise because you have to love her regardless.”

I sighed. “Yeah. Right. It’s not fair.”

He shrugged. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be. So,” he continued as we turned onto St Giles’, “what’s your plan of attack when you get to St Andrews?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s tiny,” he said. “How are you planning on meeting people?”

“I wasn’t,” I said dryly. “I thought I’d become a hermit.”

“Funny. Seriously, though.”

“Oh, seriously,” I said mockingly. “I don’t know. Most of the people in the department are middle-aged or old, so although I’m sure they’re all lovely people I’m not quite sure they’re the kind of people who will want to have a late-night drinking session.”

“You never know. They could be the absolutely mad professor types who do embarrassing things like stay up all night drinking like first years.”

“One can hope,” I said. “Right, Sainsbury’s. White wine?”

“Do you think your mum would be horribly upset if I picked up some ciders?”

“Dad will love you, so go right ahead.”

Dinner was, at best, strained. Mark had rung Mum while Alex and I were out, and although she said everything was fine, it was clearly not. Mum had a habit of banging things down when she was upset and her mouth got tight at the corners, and when she banged the gravy down on the table so hard it actually sloshed over the sides of the jug and spilled onto the tablecloth, that was a pretty good sign that something was wrong.

“Remind me to ring my brother later,” I said under my breath to Alex.

“I thought you were the problem child,” he whispered back as he handed me the bowl of roasties.

“Shut up and give me the potatoes,” I replied, smacking the back of his hand with my spoon. “I’m too afraid to ask Mum what he’s done this time.”

“I thought I’d nip round to the pub this evening for a pint,” Dad said, “if you or Alex would care to join?”

I glanced at Alex; he shrugged. “Sure, Daddy,” I said. “If that’s okay, Mum?”

“I don’t mind,” she said. “Eat before it gets cold.”

Walking back from the pub, slightly the worse for wear, I suddenly remembered I’d meant to call Mark.

“Bollocks,” I said, digging around in my jacket pocket for my mobile. “Wait up, Alex, I have to make a call…”

“Your dad’s already outstripped us,” he said, pausing halfway down Little Clarendon Street and waiting for me to catch up.

“’S fine,” I said, finding my phone at last. “He’ll just collapse on the couch when he gets in, so no worries. Right, Mark…Mark…” I scrolled through my contacts until I found him, accidentally rang Max from my undergrad who I hadn’t spoken to in about eight years, and finally hit the right button.

“What do you want?” Mark demanded.

“Oh, hello to you too, little brother,” I said. “What the hell did you say to Mum to upset her so badly?”

“Oh, is that why you’re calling? For fuck’s sake, Em, I didn’t say anything.”

I leaned on a bollard and tucked the phone between my shoulder and my cheek, motioning for Alex to go on ahead. He shook his head and sat down on the cobblestones, looking up at me with a cheeky smile on his face.

“Mum spilled gravy on the tablecloth,” I said irritably. “And she didn’t even
notice. What the fuck did you say to her?”

He groaned and I heard him shout to someone to turn the music down. “I’m not coming home for Christmas,” he said, annoyed.

I blinked. “That’s, like, months away. Why’d you bring it up now? And why’d you
tell Mum now?”

“For Christ’s sake, Em, I don’t need you to read me a lecture!”

“I’m not!” I exclaimed. “I asked a question, Mark!”

He huffed and said, “Okay. I told Mum because the thing is that I’m kind of not going to be home for Christmas because I’m not going to be in the country.”

“What? Where are you going?”

“France,” he said, and added defensively, “I did French A-levels, so I’m totally cool here. I’m getting along fine.”

I frowned. “You mean you
will be getting along fine, right?” Surely I wasn’t just being stupid. Surely… “Mark, don’t tell me you’re already in France.”


“What the hell are you doing in France?” I shouted. “You’re supposed to be in Liverpool for the start of term!”

“Yeah…I’m taking a year out,” he said.

“Are you kidding me right now? Is
that what you told Mum that’s put her off so badly? Why the hell are you taking a year out?”

He groaned again. “Dammit, Em, will you stop being so damned critical? You sound just like Mum!”

“I do not!”

“Yeah, you do.” He was silent for a moment, and I could just see him running his hands through his hair until the gel clumped and made his hair stick up at odd angles. “There’s this girl.”

“Mark.” I took a deep breath. “
Please don’t tell me you’re slagging off your degree to go chasing a girl.”

“She’s not just any girl,” he said defensively. “And I took leave of absence. I can go back whenever I want.”

I slid down to the ground and rested my back against the bollard. “Who’s this girl, then?”

“She’s super fit,” he said eagerly. “And she’s totally into me. But she’s, like, your age, so she’s got this job and shit, so she’s always off travelling. So I told her I’d come with her.”


“Well, she said that would maybe not be so great,” he said, sounding somewhat sheepish. “But she did say she’s in France a lot so if I were there it would be easy to see me and we could go around the Continent together.”

“You’re an idiot,” I said bluntly. “Really, Mark? She’s probably just using you as a booty call.”

“You think I give a shit?”

I sighed. “Okay. Fair point. So you were stupid enough to tell Mum this?”

“Well, I had to tell her
something — she was talking about her and Dad coming up in a couple weeks to see me on their way to Nan and Granddad’s, and obviously I wasn’t going to be there, so I fobbed her off with a lie about having too much work, but then she was on about Christmas and at first I tried to tell her I was going to my mate’s for the holidays but she wasn’t happy about that and she knew something was up, so…” He stopped. “Well, you know how Mum is!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I know.” I dropped my head to my knees and sighed. “Okay, well, let me know if you need anything. I’m off to Scotland for a year but I guess that’s as near to France as Notts would have been, so I guess it doesn’t make a difference. Just, if you need something…”

“Thanks, sis.” He laughed a little. “Sorry I’m such a screw-up.”

“You may be a screw-up but Mum loves you more,” I teased.

“Bullshit. Now get off the phone and go get laid.”


“Well, you need
something to relax you!”

“Fuck off,” I said, with less irritation than affection.

“Yeah, you too,” he said, and hung up.

Kissing Fish, part 16

The rest of Kissing Fish can be found here.

“Has she told you about the St Andrews job?” Alex inquired, choosing the moment of silence to introduce a new topic.

Mum’s attention redirected back to me. “What St Andrews job?”

I bit my lip and then said, more caustically than I intended, “Just another temporary job to add to my lackadaisical list, Mum.”

“Tell us, Em,” Dad said, sitting down at the table and leaning back in the chair.

“Martin, chair,” Mum said. Dad guiltily plunked the two airborne legs of the chair back down on the wood floor and took a swig of his beer.

“I’m moving to Scotland,” I said. “In September. For a year. To teach. Covering maternity leave. I’ll be down some weekends.” I offered them a tight smile. “Maybe I’ll find a rich Scottish bloke to marry who doesn’t want kids and who has a mansion to install me in.”

“Don’t be rude, Emily,” Mum said. Her expression softened. “Must you move all the way to Scotland?”

I let out a huff of air. “Mother, you were quite happy a moment ago for me to move all the way to
California in the hopes of finding some ambition. That’s kind of a lot further than St Andrews. Like, thousands of miles further. Stop being so inconsistent.”

“It’s Scotland,” Mum said. “The Scots are…different.”

“More so than Americans?” I said in disbelief. “For god’s sake. We lived there for two years when I was little.”

“Yes, which I think gives me the authority to pass judgment on them!” Mum’s cheeks were flushed and she refused to meet my eyes.

“Mum, you’re being horrible.” I shook my head. “I am
going to Scotland. I might even go up to Aberdeen and hunt up old friends. I am not going to California. I am not marrying Nate. And I am, as of a week ago, most definitely single, with no interest in changing that status. And unless an accident occurs, that means no grandbabies for you in the near future.” I took a deep breath. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish this conversation and peel these damn potatoes.”

I picked up a potato and began to hack at it, fuming.

“Let it go, Ellie,” Dad said. “She’s a grown woman. You can’t force her to do something that won’t make her happy.” He looked at me. “As for you, Em…”

“Yeah, okay,” I muttered. Mum didn’t say anything as she began to slather butter on the chicken.

“Dr Plaice,” Alex said, “Fish is always going on about how excellent your roast is, but in all the years I’ve known her she’s never once done a roast herself.”

“Really, Alex?” I said.

He flicked a carrot peel at me and continued, “I expected this is because she doesn’t have your recipe and doesn’t want to ask you for it.” He gave Mum a winning smile. “I, however, have no such compunction, and if you wouldn’t mind sharing, I’d love your recipe so we could make it for Sunday roast in the house.”

“Eleanor,” Mum said. “Please.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and then said, “Of course. Forgive the domestics, Alex. We’re not usually this squabbly.”

“Lies,” I whispered. Alex hid a smile.

“But of course you can have the recipe,” Mum said. “I’ll have to write it down. It was my grandmother’s, you know.”

“I had no idea,” Alex said, sounding far more interested than I’d have ever imagined a man could be when discussing recipes.

“Now, what have you been occupying yourself with lately, Alex?” Mum asked. “We haven’t seen you in months. How’s that pretty girlfriend of yours?”

“Sarah’s great,” he replied. “She’s in Paris at the moment, but I spent the last week with her.”

“See how well Alex is doing?” Mum asked, stuffing onion into the cavity of the chicken.

“Mum, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to tell me to follow Alex’s example,” I said, glaring at him pointedly. He was trying not to laugh.

“And why not? It seems to me he’s been with this girlfriend of his even longer than you’ve been with Nate and it’s going so well.” She smiled up at Alex. “When are you going to propose?”

Alex snorted. “Beg your pardon, Eleanor, but Fish is right. Sarah and I have a pretty loose relationship — ”

“ — by which he means they’re apart more than they’re together, and meanwhile Sarah’s off shagging every bloke she meets,” I said under my breath.

Shrugging, Alex said, “Like I said. Loose relationship. But yeah, not much chance of marriage in our future.”

“Well, perhaps you just haven’t met the right girl then,” Mum said.

“How come he gets to have a pretty unspectacular relationship that fails repeatedly and he’s just not met the right girl, while I just fail at life?” I demanded.

“Because I’m not you,” Alex said, and grinned. “Also you just fail at life.”

“If you’re going to squabble, get out of my kitchen,” Mum said as she opened the oven door. “Dinner’s in an hour and a half. If you want to be useful you could nip off and get some wine.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kissing Fish, part 15

The rest of Kissing Fish may be found here.

Mark’s room was on the first floor, opposite my parents’ bedroom. When I opened the door it was clear he hadn’t been home in awhile; the bed was made and the shelves were dust-free, clear signs that Mum had been in recently. When Mark was home Mum stayed out of his room for a legitimate fear of getting lost in the junk he tended to accumulate.

I stepped aside as Alex came in. “I’ll check that the sheets are clean, but knowing Mum, she probably washed them as soon as Mark was out the door. Sorry about the onslaught.”

“Sorry I didn’t protect you from said onslaught,” Alex said, dropping his bag on the bed and sitting down next to it. “I don’t remember your mother being quite that…er…keen.”

I sighed and flopped down on the bed, dropping my head on Alex’s leg. “You mean intense,” I corrected, staring up at the ceiling, which were still plastered with plastic glow-in-the-dark stars from when Mark was ten. “It’s only really when she thinks about the possibility that she could get grandbabies. Or, in the present case, that I might never get married and have kids for her to coddle. yeah.”

Alex brushed a strand of hair off my forehead. “Why’s she so gung-ho about it? I’d’ve thought that she wouldn’t really care. She’s an academic — surely she of all people would understand the interest in another female academic wanting to pursue a career before starting a family?”

“Hah,” I said, glancing up at him and then looking away. “There’s a couple of problems with that. First of all, Mum’s family is
massive. I mean, she’s the second youngest of seven. She grew up surrounded by kids and has spent, I don’t know, the last decade watching her nieces and nephews start to have kids. I think it annoys her, if that’s the right word, that Mark and I have yet to give her small children to spoil.” I folded my hands over my stomach and closed my eyes. “The other problem is that is that she’s always been both an academic and a mother. She married Dad while she was still working on her PhD, and she was still in the middle of it when I was born. And then she got successive research fellowships after she finished her PhD, through the time Mark was born. And then she got the first post at Oxford when I was seven and Mark was only two. So I’m not sure she quite understands the whole ‘career first, kids second’ concept. After all, she did both at once and was wildly successful, so why shouldn’t her academic wannabe child be able to follow the same path?”

Alex opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by Mum shouting up the stairs, “What are you
doing up there, Emily? Introducing the poor boy to Mark’s rock collection?”

I giggled and whispered, “Remind me to show you. They all have

“Let Alex out of Mark’s room and come help with dinner already!”

“Please, God,” Dad added, “before your mother makes us all deaf with her shouting!”

As the sound of muted bickering drifted up the stairs, I rolled my eyes towards the ceiling and pulled myself into a sitting position. “Time to face the dragon,” I said, and then shouted, “We’re coming!”

Mum handed me a flowery apron and a peeler when I walked into the kitchen and pointed at a small mountain of carrots and potatoes sitting on the counter.

“Peel and slice, please,” she said. She thrust another apron and peeler at Alex. “You too.”

“Mum,” I protested, “he’s company.”

“Well, he may as well be useful,” she replied, turning her attention back to the naked bird sprawled in the sink.

Sorry, I mouthed as Alex joined me at the counter.

“I don’t mind,” he said, tying on the flower apron before picking up a carrot and attacking it with gusto.

“I see we’re having chicken,” I said. “Dad thought it was lamb.”

“There’s lamb in the freezer but it wouldn’t thaw so we’re having a chicken roast instead,” Mum said absently, wrestling with it. Ew. “Now, Emily,” she said, and I cringed, narrowly missing catching my thumb in the peeler. I recognised that tone. It was the ‘Young lady, I’ve just received a call from your headmaster/the neighbour/Aunt Elizabeth and you are in
serious trouble’ tone that had invariable resulted in me getting grounded when I was younger.

“Yes?” I said meekly, setting aside one potato and picking up another.

“Your father has endeavoured to convince me that your relationship with Nate is finished,” she said, adopting the no-nonsense voice she usually used for lecturing first years, “but I assured him he must have misunderstood. One does not simply — ”

“Walk into Mordor?” Alex supplied helpfully. I choked and stared at the pile of peelings building up between us.

“ — walk away from a relationship of five years without a fight,” Mum continued, ignoring Alex’s interjection as though it hadn’t happened. To be fair, she probably had no idea what it meant. The chicken squelched in the sink, and I imagined it was silently screaming its protest as Mum vigorously rubbed butter into its skin.

“Mum, there was no point,” I said. “It’s kind of hard to fight for a relationship when one half of the relationship is buggering off across the world. Nate got a permanent job in America. In California.”


I put down the peeler and turned to face her. “Mother. I am not going halfway across the world for a man. And assuming we wanted to try to do long distance, which seems a bit pointless because I have no interest in ever moving to America and now that Nate’s got the permanent job he’s not likely to be back here for awhile — that’s, like, a ten hour flight from Heathrow. And an eight hour time difference. Like I said: what’s the point?”

“Emily, I love you dearly,” Mum said, lifting the chicken up and plunking it into a roasting tin, “but even you must admit your life the last few years has been a bit lackadaisical.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve drifted from one temporary or part-time job to another without even a research fellowship in sight. It’s such a shame, Emily — you’re such a bright girl, you know, but you’ve hardly displayed any real drive or passion for your subject. That’s something that certainly cannot be said about your boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend anymore,” I said through gritted teeth. “And I have
not drifted. At least I’ve kept continually employed. It’s not exactly easy finding a job at the moment, Mum, much less a permanent job, much less research fellowships. Also,” I said as the thought occurred to me, “Nate is two years older than me. Two years ago he was doing the exact same thing, but I didn’t hear you complaining then that he showed a lack of drive or passion for his subject!”

“He has one now, doesn’t he? And in any case, I’m certain that if I managed in the eighties, when it was an uphill battle for women in academia,” Mum said briskly, “that you should certainly be able to manage now.”

I stifled a groan. Mum always dragged out the ‘I managed in the eighties’ argument whenever she thought I was slacking. Which was often. That and the ‘I had two jobs — full-time academic and full-time mother, and I didn’t compromise on either’ argument. It was only a matter of time before that one got pulled out. Which wasn’t fair. For one thing, she refused to acknowledge that there just weren’t any
jobs at the moment. And for another…well, let’s just say that she refused to accept that not everyone was quite as Superwoman as she was. I mean, I was really proud of my mum. That would never change, but it did get wearing being told that I just generally failed by comparison…

Mum continued, “Nate has clearly worked very hard to receive this position, and the least you could do is support him.”

“What, and give up my own options? Why do you have to side with Nate over your own daughter?”

She laughed. “Don’t be silly, dear. I’m just looking out for you. A move to a new place might be exactly what you need to jumpstart your ambition. And a wedding is always such a positive thing.”

“Who said anything about a wedding?” I asked grumpily. I looked sideways at Alex; he was watching the verbal tennis with interest and smiled sympathetically at me, but he was wisely keeping silent for the moment.

Looking surprised, Mum said, “Well, darling, I would assume that it would be an ideal time to celebrate a union, with Nate about to embark on a new position. What could be more promising? And I imagine it would permit you to go with Nate to America when he leaves.”

“Oh, my god,” I said under my breath. “Mother. You are
missing the point.” My voice rose as I spoke. “I do not want to go to America. I do not want to marry Nate, especially to follow him to America. Also, since I imagine it’s your next comment, I also do not want children, at least not anytime in the near future!”

She looked hurt. “Why, darling, I haven’t said a thing about children.”

“Eleanor, stop badgering the girl or she’ll never come home again,” Dad said. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer, offering one to Alex.

“I am not
badgering Emily,” Mum said. “If she doesn’t want to be with Nate and she doesn’t want to go to America, then that’s her decision and she simply needs to say so.”

“Oh, for god’s sake,” I said, throwing up my hands and accidentally sending a piece of potato peel sailing across the kitchen to land on Alex’s arm. He picked it off and neatly dropped it in the pile. “Sorry.”

“And I haven’t said a thing about children,” Mum continued. “Although — ”

“Eleanor, you bring up Emily’s prospective children every time the poor girl comes to visit,” Dad said. “If she doesn’t want them, she doesn’t want them. Let it alone.”

Frustrated, Mum snapped, “Fine. I just don’t understand why she’s being so difficult. After all,
I was a full-time academic and a mother, and — ”

“Yes, Ellie, we all know how wonderful you are,” Dad said, with just enough levity injected into his voice that it was clear he was teasing. “I married you, after all.” He kissed her forehead, avoiding her chicken-y fingers. “But not everyone can be extraordinary as you, and quite frankly I think our daughter is pretty special without following in your footsteps. And I think she’s old enough to make her own decisions regardless of the consequences.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said, wishing the praise made me feel better.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kissing Fish, part 14

The rest of Kissing Fish may be found here.

I’d grown up in a three-bedroom house on Hart Street, just the other side of the Oxford University Press and only a few minutes’ walk from the hairdresser’s, a movie hire shop, several restaurants of various ethnic cuisines, and probably half a dozen pubs and wine bars. You know, the important things. Also, it only took Mum ten to twenty minutes to walk (or cycle, if she was feeling particularly Oxfordian) to wherever it was she was meant to be teaching on a particular day. She’d started at Oxford as a junior lecturer about twenty years ago, when I was still in primary school (before that we were in Leeds and before that Aberdeen, neither of which I remember very well at all and both of which Mum hated), and had worked her way up in the following two decades until, at fifty-four, she was a professor of semiotics and one of the leading researchers in her field. No pressure on me, then, as the child following in her academic footsteps — lucky Mark, he still had no idea what he wanted to do and was perfectly happy faffing about from job to job and acquiring useless skills. Dad, unlike Mum, was still working the same job he’d been doing for the last twenty years; longer, actually, since he and Mum had first met when Mum had gone on his show back when they were both at uni.

I always missed home, and driving up in front of the house always made me nostalgic for when I was about twelve and Mum was in her ‘let’s make ethnic food from every country in the world’ phase, meaning you’d never know what was for dinner, and I fancied Tommy Harris from across the street, who at fifteen was one of the
big boys and who would stop and chat with me when we both got home at the same time, making me feel really special because of course when you were fifteen you didn’t have to talk to the twelve-year-old neighbour girl. Tommy Harris had probably been my first major crush, one that lasted until I was fifteen and he was eighteen and he started riding a motorcycle, and I could brag to my friends that I’d actually been on his motorcycle, making everyone jealous of me for about two seconds before Annie Baker revealed she’d lost her virginity to a university boy, which totally trumped anything to do with motorcycles. And then Tommy Harris went away to Sunderland to do International Relations, moved to Malaysia, and I never saw him again. For probably a year every boy I met was compared with dismal results to Tommy Harris, and then Pete Carpenter moved to our school from America and it all started all over again.

Dad parked the car in front of the house and opened the door. “Your mum will be pleased to see you,” he said, taking my bag as I passed it to him. I clambered out of the back and stood next to Alex. “She doesn’t like it when you and Mark stay away for so long. You ever want to make her happy, you’ll move right back to Oxford for good.”

I snorted. “Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen.”

Dad put on a long-suffering face and added, “And I have no one to chat with about the footy. Your mother never tells me to turn it down when you’re here.”

“Oh, I see,” I said, starting up the steps. “You just want me as a barrier between you and Mum. Hmph.” Laughing, I added, “Stop trying to make me feel guilty, Dad. I shall just ignore you.”

“Cruel, that one is,” Dad said mournfully as he followed me. Alex just smiled.

Mum had never been one to hover by the door awaiting the arrival of family in possession of a key, regardless of how much she purportedly missed us. Instead, she calmly came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel, once she heard the door close and the chatter of voices filled the front hall. Classic Mum behaviour. It was like clockwork.

“There you are, then,” she said, holding out her arms and hugging me tightly. She smelled like lavender and onions — the latter, I assumed, from the roast. She gave me a once-over and tutted. “You’re much too thin, darling.”

“Thanks, Dad’s already mentioned.”

“You’re not still on that ridiculous diet?”

“Actually — ” I started to say, but she’d already moved on and had spotted Alex.

“Why, Alex,” she said, surprised but putting a delighted smile on her face anyway. “What are you doing here, dear?”

“He’s visiting,” I said, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. I loved my mother. I really, really did. But sometimes…

Mum looked at me, and then glanced behind us at the door, as though expecting someone else to come sailing through. “But where’s Nate?”

I sighed. “Nate and I broke up a week ago. I’m going to take my bag up to my room, if that’s okay.”

“What?” Mum didn’t quite shriek, but the decibel level was considerably higher than normal. Rats. So much for simple acceptance. I briefly wondered what the odds were of getting biscuits and ice cream and wine out of my mother in commiseration, and decided I’d be better off escaping the initial upset as quickly as possible.

“Alex,” I said, turning to him, “if you want to come upstairs I’ll show you Mark’s room.”

“Emily Rose,” Mum said, her voice rising dangerously as I mounted the stairs with Alex a step behind me, “please explain.”

“I thought I should get Alex settled before we launch into family disputes,” I said. “Do you need help in the kitchen?”

She hesitated, clearly torn between getting the truth out of me at once or taking advantage of my offer of help. “Yes,” she said after a moment. “The carrots and potatoes need peeling.”

“I’ll explain over peeling, then,” I said, and went up the rest of the stairs as quickly as I could, my bag knocking against my knees.

Kissing Fish - Emily and Alex, part 13

The rest of Kissing Fish can be found here.

Dad offered to bring the car to the train station to pick us up, and although it was only a ten minute walk and neither had heavy or awkward bags, I said yes. I admit it — I wanted to see my daddy. I loved my mother, but Dad and I had always got on rather better. Probably because he didn’t try to interfere in my life and usually had something nice to say when life looked like shit. And, consequently, unlike my mother who was probably going to throw a conniption fit, Daddy was unlikely to be distressed by my newly single status. I imagined he’d probably be more upset over the fact that if I moved to Scotland I’d no longer be able to pop home on the weekend to watch the footy with him. Bless.

When Alex and I walked out of the Oxford station, Dad was standing next to the car with his hand shielding his eyes, chatting with the cabbie parked in front of him. When he spotted us, he broke off the conversation and waved. If Mum had been with him, she’d have smacked his arm down and whispered, embarrassed, that people would
see. Mum had spent the better part of three decades working out the best way to get ahead without ever having to resort to being common. She’d perfected her accent until no one would ever have known she was from a small village in the north, which was stupid because no one cared. But you couldn’t tell her that. She’d just fuss and go off on a lecture about how the way one presented oneself was everything… And then there was Dad. Dad didn’t care much about what other people thought. He’d have gone for coffee in his dressing gown if he thought he could get away with it.

“Hi, Daddy,” I said, hugging him.

“Hello, muffin,” he said. “Let me look at you.” He studied my face for a moment, and then said, “You wouldn’t tip a scale. You getting enough to eat?”

“That’s what I keep asking,” Alex said. “Maybe you can convince her that she doesn’t need to lose weight.” Dad looked up and Alex offered his hand. “Nice to see you again, Mr Plaice.”

“Told you last time,” Dad said, shaking the proffered hand, “it’s Martin. Mr Plaice was my old man and I don’t like thinking I’ve got as old as him.” He frowned. “What are you doing here then, Alex? Not that you’re not welcome, of course.” He glanced at me. “Thought your mum invited you and Nate down. Nate busy again?”

“No, not exactly,” I said, and decided I’d rather Dad knew so at least he might be able to help protect me from Mum’s onslaught when we reached the house. He’d always been pretty useless when it came to relationships but the one thing he did have going for him was that I was always right and the boy, whoever he was, was wrong. Because I was his daughter. I loved my Dad. “We split up.”

Immediately Dad looked worried. “Do I need to threaten him?” he asked anxiously. “I’ve got a bit out of practice the last few years — Mark’s exes don’t need threatening. Are you hurt? Here…” He patted his pockets and pulled a half-eaten bar of Galaxy chocolate from the inner pocket of his jacket and handed it to me. “To make you feel better.”

I laughed and took the chocolate. “Thanks for the offer, but I think it was for the best. I’m not sure Nate would know what to do if you tried to threaten him. Does Mum know you’ve been eating chocolate?”

“No, and you’re not to tell her,” he said sternly. “She’ll tut and walk around for a week giving me disapproving looks and disturbing the football. I can do without.” He turned serious and said, “Muffin, are you okay? You look a bit peaky. Your mum said something about a few weeks ago about a diet — ”

“Nate’s been telling her she’s fat,” Alex said, sounding annoyed. “She’s been dieting.”

I glared at him. “Thanks,” I said. “Because my dad really needs to know that.”

He shrugged. “You don’t need to lose weight. Nate, on the other hand, could stand to drop about a stone.”

Dad took my bag from my shoulder and chucked it in the boot, saying, “That man didn’t know a good thing standing in front of him. I might be biased, but I reckon he’s pretty daft to let you go.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” I said.

“Now,” he continued, “your mum will feed you while you’re here, and I’ll sneak you contraband from my super-secret chocolate stash, and we’ll soon have you looking right as rain, yeah?”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said, sliding into the back seat and letting Alex have the front; only fair, considering his legs were that much longer than mine. “What’s for dinner?”

“Lamb, I think,” he said, rocketing out of the station and turning left up the Botley Road. Progress rapidly slowed, to the extent I reckoned we probably could have walked it faster. Finally he turned left up towards Walton Street and Jericho.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Kissing Fish - Emily and Alex, part 12

The rest of Kissing Fish may be found here.

Good evening, Emily, darling,” the recording said in my mother’s cheerful voice, “I’m just calling to remind you about dinner tomorrow night. I do hope you’re still coming, as you haven’t given me any confirmation and it would be a shame to waste a good roast. Your father and I are very much looking forward to seeing you and Nate. Hugs and kisses and we’ll see you tomorrow!

Shit. I deleted the message and walked slowly back into the living room, the mobile hanging loosely from my hand. Something must have shown in my face, because Faye said,

“Fish? What is it?”

I stared at her blankly for a moment. “I forgot to tell my mother.”

Alex snorted with laughter and then quieted as Faye hit him with the pillow again. “Sorry,” he said. “You forgot to tell your mother? Really? What have you been doing all week?”

“Shut up, Alex,” Faye said. “What was she calling about? Oh, shit, she didn’t hear from someone else, did she? Like Nate’s mum?”

I collapsed back on the sofa between them and rested my head on the back cushion. “No. She’s expecting us for dinner tomorrow night. Both of us. I have to call and tell her Nate won’t be coming seeing as we’re no longer together.” I groaned and sat up. “She’s going to
kill me.”

“Your mother is a reasonable person,” Alex said. “Right? She’ll probably offer you litres of tea and biscuits and chocolate and reassure you that there are plenty more fish in the sea. No pun intended.”

“My mother is a reasonable person about most things,” I said, plucking the ice cream container from his hand and scooping a large spoonful into my mouth. “The problem is,” I said around the mouthful, “is that when it comes to me and my future offspring, she is the most unreasonable person I have ever met.”

Alex laughed again. “You’re not serious.”

“You’ve met my mother. Tell me I’m joking.”

“The topic of kids has never come up.”

I dug my spoon deep into the ice cream. “My mother wants grandbabies. Lots of them. She reckons that if she could get married, have kids, and be a full-time academic at the same time there’s no reason I can’t do the same. And I can’t shove off some of the responsibility onto Mark, since he’s decided he doesn’t want kids and instantly vetoes dating any girl who wants babies. So Mum turns all of those rampaging grandmother hormones on me.” I frowned. “Admittedly I don’t think this is very fair.” I waved my spoon. “I don’t want kids any more than Mark does. I think Mum just likes to pick on me because I’m older. I think she thinks my biological clock should be ticking. It’s really not.”

By this point both Faye and Alex were laughing.

“Poor thing,” Faye managed at last. “I would offer to go with you for moral support but I’m busy tomorrow night. Sorry!”

“I could go,” Alex offered. “Sarah’s gone to Paris for the weekend with some friends, and anyway I just spent a week with her. If it would make telling your parents easier…”

“Jeez, you’re making it sound like she’s coming out,” Faye said.

“Shut up,” I said, throwing a pillow at Faye’s head and missing by about a foot. I looked at Alex. “Seriously? You’d come? My mother makes amazing food but I’m not sure that’ll make up for the implosion that’s bound to occur when I tell her.” I groaned. “I’m really,
really not looking forward to telling Mum that there’s not going to be a wedding for her to hyperplan in the next year.”

Faye snorted again but I ignored her and kept my eyes on Alex.

“I mean, really,” I said. “You don’t need to come.”

He shrugged. “It’s not a problem. I didn’t have any plans this weekend anyway. What train do you want to catch?”

I squinched my eyes shut, ignoring Faye’s giggling, and tried to remember the schedule. “There’s one at 11:43 that will put us into Oxford a bit before three,” I said at last. “Oh. I should warn you — I’m staying the night. Dad will be gutted if I only stop in for a couple hours. If you want to stay over you can probably stay in Mark’s room, but don’t feel like you need to — ”

“I’ll stay,” he said cheerfully, adding, “After all, they might jump you the moment I leave, and that would hardly be fair, would it?”

“Fab,” Faye said and yawned. “And on that note, I’m going up to bed, my darlings. Enjoy your trip tomorrow and I shall see you when I get back.” She bounced off the bed with far more energy than I could even think of and disappeared up the stairs.

Alex gestured at the telly with his spoon. Did you want to finish watching this drivel or did you want to collapse?” He eyed me dubiously. “Your eyes are drifting closed.”

“Bed for me, I suppose.”

“Am I going to have to carry you upstairs and unceremoniously dump you into bed?”

“No,” I said, dragging myself up and looking vaguely in the direction of the ice cream containers.

“I’ll put away,” Alex said. “Go to bed already. You look shattered. And I don’t actually
want to carry you up to bed.”

“Cheers,” I said. “’Night.”

“Good night.”

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kissing Fish - Emily and Alex, part 11

The rest of Kissing Fish can be found here.

As I followed her up the stairs, I said, “So where is it that Alex’s gone then?”

“No clue. Had a cryptic text that just said he was going away but would be back Friday.” She frowned at the bed in the spare room and said, “I think someone’s slept in here since it was last made up. Help me strip it.”

“I hope it’s not work related,” I said, dragging the cover off the duvet and dumping it on the floor. “It seems like every time I come by he’s working.”

“Yeah, well, he’s trying to get that new children’s theatre up and running,” Faye replied, tossing de-cased pillows back on the bed. “Hang on a second.” She pulled extra linens from the wardrobe and plunked them down the desk. “Here,” she said, tossing one end of a sheet towards me. “Tuck in that end. If you can get more out of him than that you’ll be doing better than me. He’s been a right grump the last couple of days. I assume it has to do with Sarah. She was calling him constantly in the run-up to her party. Can’t say I blame Alex for having somewhere else to be last night. Have you told him about Nate yet?”

“No,” I said, smoothing out the sheet and catching the duvet as Faye threw it at me. “I literally packed a bag, put a leash on Gatsby, walked out the door, and called you. Do you think he’ll take Nate’s side or mine?”

“Hmm,” Faye said, plumping pillows and eyeing them critically. “Hard to say. He’s known Nate longer, but I’d guess he’ll take your side since he hasn’t been very happy about how Nate’s been treating you lately. Oh, I don’t know. His friendship with Nate isn’t nearly as good as it used to be.”

I sighed. “My friendship with Alex has been making Nate more and more cranky over the last couple of years. I don’t know why. I mean, nothing’s changed in the last couple years. Nate just kept getting grumpy if I wanted to hang out with Alex.” And since it had only been in the last couple of years, it couldn’t have anything to do with the night five years ago.

“Men are idiots,” Faye pronounced. “And on that note, I say we find a really girly movie and drink a bottle or two of wine and eat ice cream.”

“That sounds amazing,” I said. “Sainsbury’s run?”

“Yep. All beware, single women on the loose!”

When Alex arrived home Friday night, he found us in the same state as the night I first rocked up at their house. The movie of choice that night was
Bend It Like Beckham and we were through the first bottle of wine and into the second. Two tubs of ice cream sat melting on the coffee table, creating little rings on the wood beneath them.

Alex walked in the door, tossed his keys on the radiator shelf and his coat on the coat rack, and flopped down on the couch next to me. “Hear you had an interesting week,” he said, nicking Faye’s wine glass and downing the inch or so of liquid left in the bottom. Faye whapped him with a pillow, narrowly missing my nose, and then bounced off the sofa and went to the kitchen.

“Well, you know,” I said, made cheerful by the wine. “At least it was interesting.”

He slung his arm around my shoulder and hugged me. “Sorry things didn’t end well,” he said. I buried my face in his shoulder. “I’d offer to kick his arse but I think it’s a conflict of interest. Also I’m not really good with the whole beating people up thing.”

“That’s okay, Faye already offered,” I said against his shirt. “And I’d put more money on her than you.”

Alex looked wounded, but only for a moment, and then he turned his attention to the telly. “What are we watching? I spy suspicious-looking girly football.”

When I told him he groaned. “I have to stay and watch it now, don’t I.”

Faye handed him one of the pints of ice cream and a spoon. “Yep,” she said, pouring wine into the glass she’d brought from the kitchen. “Someone has to help us finish this.”

“Okay,” he said, picking up the container of mint chocolate chip and stabbing it with the spoon. “You win.”

“So where have you been this week anyway?” Faye demanded. “You haven’t been answering your texts. ‘Sod off and mind your own business’ really doesn’t count.”

“You didn’t even answer the one I sent you about Nate,” I said sorrowfully.

He ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to disappear on you. Sarah called early Saturday morning — ”

“Oh, goody, what made this any different from Sarah calling constantly the three days previously?” Faye interjected. “Geez.”

Alex shot her a dirty look. “Sarah called,” he repeated, “and wanted me to meet her for breakfast before she had to go back down to London.”

“Let me guess,” Faye said acidly. “You and Sarah are back together. What does this make, the sixth time in the last year you’ve broken up and got back together again?”

Alex had the grace to look sheepish. “Fifth,” he said. “Yeah. We got back together over breakfast Saturday morning.”

I glanced up at him. “Must have been about the same time that Nate and I fell apart,” I said.

He tousled my hair. “Sorry, Fish.”

“Thanks,” I said, burrowing deeper into his shirt. “You smell good.”

He laughed and said, “That’s because I’ve been using Sarah’s rose-scented soap.”

“No, you smell like you,” I said.

Faye looked up. “There’s a phone ringing.”

I lifted my head. “Shit, that’s mine,” I said, hauling myself off the couch with some effort and nearly falling over in the process.

By the time I got to the kitchen, the caller had disconnected, but had left a voicemail. I leant against the counter and listened to the message. It was my mother.

Kissing Fish - Emily and Alex, part 10

The rest of Kissing Fish can be found here.

Seven minutes later, Faye’s trusty little Fiat pulled up next to me. “Taxi for the lady?” she said, leaning across and opening the door for me. The passenger side door couldn’t be opened from the outside. Then she spotted Gatsby, sitting with her tongue hanging out. “Oh, is the mutt coming too?”

“Yep, I got landed with the dog.”

“The one you didn’t want in the first place,” Faye said disbelievingly. I nodded. “Well, never mind, she’ll have to get in the back.”

With Gatsby and my bags safely stowed in the back seat and me strapped into the front, Faye rocketed off down the street and listened quietly — well, with the occasional interjection — as I told her what had happened. When I finished, she said indignantly,

“Well, what did he expect? This isn’t the 1950s. You’re entitled to live your own life. It’s not like you’re required to abandon everything to follow your man. Blimey.”

I sighed. “So how was your night? I guess it went well? You were pretty entwined when I left.”

She shrugged. “He’s a bit intense. In a fun way, but I think it would get pretty wearing long-term. Definitely not boyfriend material.”

“Did you get a name?”

Faye laughed. “The masks never came off. No idea who he is, he’s got no idea who I am.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Well, I guess that’s one way to go about it.”

“Who were you talking to last night after I abandoned you on the couch?” She pulled over in front of the house she shared with Alex and parked. “I glanced over once and saw you chatting with a bloke but then you disappeared.”

“No idea,” I said. “It was the weirdest thing. He knew exactly who I was — knew who Nate was, too — but he wouldn’t tell me who he was. That’s not all, either.” I hesitated, looking at Faye standing on the pavement with my bag slung over her shoulder, and then clicked for Gatsby to get out of the car. As I shut the door, I said, “He kissed me.”

“Ooh,” Faye said, unlocking the front door. “A mystery man who knows all about you kissed you at a masquerade party. I smell shenanigans. Did you kiss him back?”

I blushed and headed for the back of the house, leaving my bag in the hallway. “Maybe. I didn’t mean to, but you know how it is.”

“Was it any good?” Faye asked, following me.

“I plead the fifth?”

“This isn’t America and you’re not American, so that’s invalid,” she said, laughing.

I let Gatsby into the fenced garden and turned to look at Faye. “He accused me of not being happy with Nate, or not getting what I needed with Nate, or something — I can’t remember.” I sighed. “Guess he was right.”

“Darling, I love you, but anyone could see that you’ve been going through the motions with Nate for months now rather than actually feeling it. If you’d actually married him you would have been miserable. Tea?”

“Yes, please. Do you really think so?”

“Dead obvious.” She perched on the counter and swung her legs. “Nate’s a sweetheart a lot of the time, but I think you guys got used to dating each other and never quite realised that you could, you know, date other people. That just because you liked being with someone it didn’t mean you
had to be with them.” She shrugged. “Alex agrees with me, by the way. We both think you haven’t been actually happy for months.”

My mouth twisted. “It just makes me feel so guilty. I mean, maybe if I’d just tried harder to make things work — ”

Faye shook her head and slid down from the counter. “That never helps,” she said sagely, handing me a cup of tea. “Tell me, how do you feel now that it’s over?”

“Truthfully?” I took a cautious sip of tea and considered. I kind of felt like crying, but to be perfectly honest I wasn’t sure if that was because I’d lost Nate or if it was because it had taken me this long to realise that it wasn’t going to work. But mostly… “Relieved,” I said at last. “I feel relieved. Which makes me feel even more guilty. I mean, surely you shouldn’t feel relieved about ending a five year relationship when really everyone was expecting that you were going to marry the guy and have two kids, especially when the guy in question is a nice bloke.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not surprised you’re not more cut up about it,” Faye said. “I’m only surprised it didn’t happen sooner. So what are you going to do now?”

I turned the mug of tea in my hands. “Um. Nate is leaving next month when the lease on the house expires, but I don’t head up to St Andrews until the end of the summer. So…”

Faye laughed. “Yeah, you and Gatsby can live here. Come on, we’ll go make up the spare room for you.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kissing Fish - Emily and Alex, part 9

The rest of Kissing Fish may be found here.

He stared at me. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything? And what were you doing, accepting before we discussed it?”

“It’s only for a year, Nate,” I said, really and truly annoyed now. “I thought I’d get a place up there and come down whenever I could, help you move into a new house whenever you got your new job, and then move back down when the year was up. And you have no room to talk — you applied to an American university behind my back after we agreed only British institutions!”

“So what, now you’re just going to up and move to Scotland?” he demanded.

“See, I knew this would happen,” I said. “You hate Scotland. You were never going to be happy about this job.”

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s only for a year, so what’s the point?”

“More ridiculous than abandoning everything, including the job I’ve just got that’s
in my field, to follow you to America, where I wouldn’t have a job or could be a receptionist? I might as well just become a housewife while you pursue your career!” I laughed. “Don’t get me wrong, Nate, I’m ecstatic that you’ve found a permanent job in your field that you’re excited about, but I’m not about to give up my own dreams to pursue yours.”

Silence fell in the kitchen. After a moment Nate said,

“I thought you would come with me.”

“I guess we weren’t on the same page, then,” I replied. “Because there’s no way.”

Silence again, and then I ventured,

“So…when do you leave for America?”

He blinked, and then said, “Um. Term starts mid-August. I was going to go over in a couple of weeks to meet the people in my department and find a place to live. And then I thought — well. I guess I’ll move over in June. When do you go up to St Andrews?”

“September, I guess,” I said. “I hadn’t really thought about it yet.” I looked around the kitchen, the fact we were splitting up after five years really beginning to hit me. “We’ll have to start sorting out the flat.” A flash of movement by the door caught my eye, and I said, “Are you taking Gatsby with you?”

He bit the inside of his cheek, looking guilty. “She’d have to be quarantined for months. And if you’re not coming with me…” He stopped, looked at the floor, the ceiling, everywhere except at me. “The truth is, she’s more bonded to you than to me,” he said at last, “and if she could stay here it would be a lot less traumatic for her and I think she’d be happier.”

“You want
me to keep your dog?” I exclaimed. “You have to be kidding me! I didn’t even want her in the first place!”

“Come on, Em,” he said. “She likes you.”

“Yeah, because I’m the one who walks her and feeds her and sits with her in the evenings watching the telly,” I said. “She’ll like you just as much if you’re the one doing those things.”

“You’ll be in America. You’ll probably have a great big house in the suburbs with a giant yard and stupid amounts of room for her to run around. I’ll probably be lucky if I can even
find somewhere that I can have a dog.”


“Nate — ”

“She’ll be happier with you, and you know it.”

“I don’t know anything of the sort,” I grumbled, wishing I could just say no and be done with it, but knowing that this was an argument I wouldn’t win. “What will you do if I don’t take her?”

“I can’t take her with me,” he said, staring steadily at the floor.

“So you’d take her back to the shelter?” He didn’t answer. I sighed. “Fine. She can stay with me.”

Awkwardly, then, he said, “Um. So about the flat.”

“Contract is up in June, which will coincide with your departure,” I said. “I’ll go live with Alex and Faye until I leave for St Andrews. They’ve got a spare room.”

“You don’t have to go,” he said quickly. “I mean, I can sleep on the couch.”

“For two months?” I raised my eyebrows at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. Alex and Faye won’t mind. I’ll just do my share of the cooking and cleaning and throw rent money at them and they’ll be thrilled to have me even with the unexpected pleasure of Gatsby as well.”

Nate looked guilty. “Gatsby can stay here until I go if you want.”

I shook my head. “If I’m taking her I may as well start now. No point in her getting confused.”

“Right. Right.” He looked relieved, which was irritating. I mean, really? I was the one leaving the house and I was the one taking his dog — surely the least he could have done was pretended he wasn’t relieved to see us go.

I let out a long breath. “So. Um. I’m going to go, you know, throw some stuff in a bag, and head over with Gatsby. I’ll come by later and pick up some more of my stuff, and we can start working out dividing up the stuff in the flat before you leave for America. Okay?”

He’d started nodding before I’d even finished talking. “Yeah, that sounds good. Just let me know — weekends are better — well, you know that, of course…”


Twenty minutes later, I walked out the front door with a bag slung over my shoulder and dragging a suitcase. Gatsby pranced cheerfully ahead of me at the end of her leash, eagerly sniffing at everything in her path. I waited until I’d turned the corner before sinking down onto someone’s garden wall and pulling out my phone.

“Hello?” Faye said.

“Hi,” I said. “Are you home?”

I must have sounded worse than I thought, because she immediately said,

“What’s wrong?”

“Um. Nate and I may have just broken up.” I kicked absently at a plastic bottle cap and watched as Gatsby investigated a flower and then promptly ate it.

“Shit,” Faye said. “No, I’m not home.” I heard a male voice say something in the background, and Faye said, her voice muffled, “I have to go. I’ll call you later.” I heard the sound of a door shutting and then Faye said, “I’ll be right there. Where are you?”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I can tell you’re busy. Really, it’s not important — is Alex home? If he is I can just walk over and he can let me in.”

“No, he texted me this morning to say he was going away for the week but he’d be back Friday. Where are you?”

“Corner by the house.”

“Be there in less than ten.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kissing Fish - Emily and Alex, part 8

The rest of Kissing Fish can be found here.

Nate was asleep when I staggered into the house forty minutes later, sprawled across most of the bed with wadded up tissues scattered across the duvet and piled on the floor. Eww. I left my shoes and dress in the bedroom, moved most of the tissues to the bin, and curled up on the couch in a quilt so I wouldn’t disturb him.

I woke up the next morning to the smell of frying bacon, nursing a mild hangover and steadfastly ignoring the events of the previous night. Nate, clearly feeling better, was already up and making breakfast. I nipped upstairs and pulled on trackie bottoms and an old t-shirt of Nate’s, and then went back down to the kitchen, hoping for a piece or two of bacon. I was disappointed to discover that the bacon had all been piled on Nate’s plate, beside several sausages and two fried eggs.

“None for me?” I said plaintively as I set the kettle to boil.

“Thought you were watching your weight,” he said, stabbing a piece of sausage and forking it into his mouth.

I wilted. “Oh. Right. Um…”

He looked up. “Not going well?”

The kettle clicked off and I busied myself with making a cup of tea. “Why do you say that?” I asked eventually.

“You’re wearing trackies and my top again.” He shrugged. “Figured you were hiding a roll or something.”

“They’re comfortable,” I said, startled. “And I wear them all the time. I didn’t think you minded.”

“They’re not the most attractive, but whatever you like, babe.”

Annoyed, I pinched a piece of bacon off his plate and sat down across from him, ignoring the look he gave me, and drew one leg up to my chest as I nibbled on the strip. If he got to wear trackies and eat bacon and laze around the house, then it was only fair if I got to too. “I take it you’re feeling better.”

“Yeah, loads.” He grinned at me, and for a minute I could see the Nate I’d fallen in love with. “Thanks for taking care of me. I must have been a right pain.”

“You’re not the easiest patient,” I admitted. “You get a bit grumpy. Kind of like Spock going through pon farr, except without the surge of sexual appetite and throwing of plomeek soup.”

“Geek,” he said, going back to his breakfast. He was ploughing through it like a starving man when he abruptly stopped mid-bite and looked across the table at me. “So we need to talk.”

I stared at him. Those words never bode well in a relationship. “About what?”

“I got a job.”

Immediately I sat up straight, my foot dropping to the ground. “Oh, Nate, that’s fantastic! When did you find out?”

“Earlier this week. Had an email and then the official letter in the post.”

“Oh, that’s great! It’s a permanent job?”

He fidgeted with his fork, pushing the egg whites around in the spilt yolk. “Yeah, it’s permanent. Full-time, permanent, teaching early 20th century American literature to undergrads with the potential to teach fiction classes, depending on how it goes.”

I scrambled out of my chair and ran to him, flinging my arms around his shoulders. “I’m so excited for you! That’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it? Where is it? Will you be able to stay in this house and commute, or will we need to relocate?”

He poked at the eggs some more and avoided my gaze. “Um. It’s at UC Berkley.”

What?” I stumbled back and stared at him. “You got a job in California?”

Now that he’d got it off his chest, he finally looked me square in the face, and he seemed more animated as he said, “Well, it’s a position exactly in my field, and they were after someone specialising in my area, so it’s really perfect all around. And it’s a great opportunity. I did some reading about Berkley and the area is great.”

I’d backed up without realising it, and found myself pressed up against the kitchen cabinets, my hands gripping the counters behind me so tightly that I was sure my knuckles must be white. “Nate,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm, “we agreed when we talked about looking for jobs that we’d only look in the UK. You know that. I mean, I remember that conversation very distinctly.”

“Yeah, I know, but — ” He stopped, his mouth twisting. “But Em, it’s such a perfect fit for me, and I hadn’t been having any luck finding anything here, and I’ve been looking into the housing market and I think we could find a house within easy driving distance of the university, and it would be so much better than what we’re doing here.”

I opened and closed my mouth like a fish for a minute, and then managed, “Did you just say

He looked surprised. “Well yeah, I guess I figured you’d be going with me. We've been together five years.”

“How could you assume something like that?” I demanded. “That’s a
huge decision. You can’t assume that I’ll just uproot and move all the way to California!”

Looking shocked, he said, “But I thought, you know, that it was kind of agreed… You know, that we’d buy a house together. I thought we could do that in Berkley.”

“Nate, how would I get a visa?”

He hesitated. “Well, I kind of thought that maybe we could get married…”

I gaped at him. “If that was a proposal, then that was the most asinine marriage proposal I have ever heard.”

His jaw worked. “I’d kind of intended on doing something better, but you’re kind of forcing the issue, Em!”

“I think I’ve got good reason!” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Nate, I don’t want to get married just so I can move to America with you. That’s not what I want to do. I don’t
want to go to America. Besides, what about my job?”

“Em, you’ve only got the part-time job at Trent — it’s not like that’s going anywhere.” The condescending tone in his voice, from someone who’d just got his first permanent job to someone who was only working a part-time teaching position, grated. “I figured you could get work as a receptionist or something at the university until you were able to find a more permanent teaching position either at Berkley or somewhere else nearby.

“You wanted me to work as a
receptionist?” The words were shrill, and as they came out I winced. I hated sound like a harpy. But — really?? I hadn’t gone through all of those years of grad school and teaching fellowships to drag my arse back down to working in secretarial work. “I don’t think so, Nate!”

“It was just a thought, Em,” he said, looking annoyed. “Just until you found a better job.”

I took a deep breath. “Nate, I
have a better job.”

He laughed a little. “What, than Trent?”

I huffed, annoyed. “
Yes. I hadn’t got around to telling you yet, but I found out two weeks ago that I got a year-long post as a lecturer at St Andrews, covering maternity leave.” Quickly, before he could say anything, I added, “And I’ve already accepted.”

365 Days of Rain, part 7

The rest of 365 Days of Rain can be found here.

“What about what you were doing before? In England? Teaching writing courses? You were doing really well with that.” The toaster beeped again.

“That sounds like an alien spacecraft,” I said. “And it’s so

“Yes, well, your father is going deaf so it has to be loud if he’s going to hear it from his office. Can’t you do that kind of thing here?” She handed me a plate of buttered toast and leaned against the counter.

I picked at the toast. “I can try, I guess. Oly’s both a great place and a crap place to try to teach writing. It’s the kind of community that’s bound to be super supportive because of all the arts and creative kinds of things that already exist here — but for the same reasons it’s going to be crap because I imagine that there’s a dozen other people already in the area who are already teaching writing and who are more qualified than me to boot.” I took a bite of toast and sighed. “God, this is good. I can never get bread this good anywhere else.”

“You never know until you try,” Mum pointed out. “If you want to sit around moping about Erik then that’s your prerogative, but at least you know you are perfectly capable of teaching, and you do have five years of teaching writing on your resume. And you can always temp until you find something else. Or you might see if the State will hire you back.”

“Mum, it’s been
years since I last worked for the State,” I said, tearing off a corner of toast and turning it around in my fingers. Tempting to imagine it was Erik. Rip, rip, tear, tear. Mutilaaaaaate… Om nom nom. “And I refuse to temp. It’s always an absolute nightmare.” I groaned. “No, what I really need to do is get that damn book published.”

“Sweetheart, not that I don’t want to seem supportive, but what you need is a

“At least you didn’t say what I need is a husband,” I muttered. “Emily’s mother’s been after her for the last three years about getting herself a husband. ‘Get a husband, Emily! Then you won’t need to
worry about a job, darling!’ Hah.”

Mum’s phone beeped from the table. “You’d be bored to tears as a housewife, Katy,” she said as she walked over to the table and picked up her phone. “But you’ve been trying to get that book published for a year now and it just hasn’t happened. I’m not saying it won’t, and I know you love your writing, but if you can’t make any money off it then don’t you think you should be doing something else?”

was doing something else, Mum,” I said irritably. “I was teaching writing, remember? For five whole years. Woohoo. That’s why it took so damn long to get the thing written in the first place, because oh, let’s see, things with Erik were spectacularly unfair. And even with that I had more time to write than I would if I had a ‘regular’ job—and I refuse to give up doing what I love just because I don’t make buckets of money.” I slid down from the counter and folded my arms.

“I’m not going to have an argument with you on your first morning back,” Mum said, picking up her phone and reading a text. “Oh, dammit, I have to go deal with your grandmother.” She made a face. “Not that your father is ever around to deal with her. That would be nice, you know, seeing as she’s his mother after all…”


Mum looked guilty. “I’m sorry. The woman is always texting! We never should have given her a phone. She’s a menace…” Sighing, she set down the phone and began gathering up her purse. “I’ll probably take her to Farmer’s Market, if you want to come along. But I’m going now, so…”

I considered. “Let me throw some clothes on and I’ll come with.”

I dashed upstairs and threw on a pair of leggings and an oversized shirt, and tied a bright yellow scarf over my hair. Grabbing my trainers out of the closet, I dashed back downstairs and sat on the bottom step to put on my shoes. “Where’s Dad today?”

“He’s meeting clients in Portland,” Mum said, peering into the closet with a frown on her face. “He’ll be back in time for dinner. Have you seen — no, of course you haven’t seen my purple scarf. I must have left it at your grandmother’s. Oh, well, I’ll look while we’re over there. Are you ready yet?”

I stood up and stretched. “Is my bike still in the garage, or did you sell it?”

Mum looked at me as she opened the door. “Your bike’s still in there, your punching bag’s still in there, your softball glove’s still in there…”

“Okay, I get the picture! It’s just that I really should try to get some exercise — I feel like a blimp.”

The worry lines reappeared between Mum’s eyes. “You certainly don’t look like a blimp. You’re too thin. Do you want to drive?” She held out the keys.

“Licence is expired, remember?”

“Oh right.” Mum slid into the car and fiddled with the settings. “Clearly your father was the last to drive this,” she muttered, her feet waving in the air as she moved the seat forward. “I can never reach…” She started the car and started to back out of the garage, saying, “Why don’t you see if that young man who drove you home last night will give you a job? He owns a bookstore, doesn’t he?”

I felt myself blushing. “Mom, he was just being nice. I’m sure he doesn’t want to hire me.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll drop it.”

It had been three years since I’d last seen Grandma, and I was shocked at how frail she looked. She’d never been a particularly robust woman, but she looked like a leaf fluttering by in the wind might knock her over. Never mind about the wind—it would probably lift her up and carry her off to Oz. As in the Wizard of, not Australia. Although if it were a particularly
strong wind…

I dragged my wandering mind back to the present and slid out of the car so that Grandma could have the front seat. She leaned on her cane and eyed me suspiciously.

“You’re too thin, Kathryn,” she barked at last. “Don’t you ever eat?”

“Nice to see you too, Grandma,” I said, hugging her carefully. “I love to eat.”

“Well, you don’t have to hug me like I’m made of glass,” she said huffily. “I won’t break, you know.”

“Of course you won’t,” I replied, holding the car door open for her. “Because you also love to eat and you always eat all of your veggies.”

She narrowed her eyes at me and I smiled cheerfully. “Ellen, where did this girl get her mouth from?”

“I wouldn’t dare answer that,” Mum said under her breath. “Are we ready to go, then?”

I shut the door, more than a little scared I might accidentally crush Grandma’s fingers without realising, and slid into the back seat. “Onward, James,” I said.

“We need to get your licence renewed,” Mum said. “If you’re home I want a break from driving.”

“Sure,” I said. “I don’t mind.”

“I can drive,” Grandma said. “Still have my licence and everything.”

“No!” Mum almost shouted. “I mean, that’s very nice of you to offer, Ruth, but it would be good for Katy to drive since she hasn’t driven much lately.”

“I haven’t driven much in twenty-five years but you don’t let me behind the wheel.”

“Your licence expired ten
years ago, Ruth,” Mum said.

“It didn’t matter in the fifties,” Grandma objected. “I used to drive without a licence all the time.”

“Yes, and that was illegal,” Mum said. “For a reason. I’ve been in a car when you’ve been driving and I’m surprised you never killed anyone.”

Grandma looked mutinous. “I don’t see why it should matter, in any case. It’s not like your driving is particularly good.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

365 Days of Rain, part 6

The rest of 365 Days of Rain may be found here.

It was always strange waking up the first morning at home. My old room had changed over the years, but it remained more or less the same. My books still lined the walls; the dollhouse still lurked in the corner, covered with plastic to keep out the dust; the bulletin board still hung on the wall, sun-faded mementos pinned to the cork.

I slid out of bed and put on my glasses. It was raining outside — surprise, surprise. I drifted over to the bulletin board and ran my fingers across the old photos and cards. Most were from high school, from friends I hadn’t heard from in years or pieces of memories that had seemed important at the time and that I could barely remember now. There was a picture of me and my best friend Sarah downtown in the rose garden at the Capitol during Lakefair, from senior year. I hadn’t spoken to her in — oh, five years. My lips thinned. Five years. There were a lot of people I hadn’t spoken to in five years. A lot of things I hadn’t done in five years. I pulled the picture off the board and stared down at it. I should email Sarah and see what had happened to her. We’d been close. Surely it wasn’t too late for me to find people to be close to again.

I pulled on socks and went downstairs. Mum was sitting at the kitchen table reading emails, a mug of tea at her right elbow.

“Good morning!” she said. “Did you sleep well?”

“Like a log,” I said. Really, I don’t think I’d moved all night. If a tribe of toadstools (colony? group? murder? no, that’s crows) had moved in and decided to colonise me during the night, I don’t think I would have noticed. “I was exhausted.”

Mum cupped her hands around her mug. “I expect you’ve been exhausted for months.”

“Probably,” I said, making myself a cup of tea and picking an apple out of the fruit bowl. One of the best bits of coming home: fresh fruit.
All the time. Amazing.

“So what are your plans for the day?”

“Don’t have any, really,” I said with a sigh. “Possibly I should start looking for a job…”

Mum closed the lid of her laptop and regarded me with a faint frown on her face. “You know you’re welcome to live with us as long as you need,” she said. “Or want. I don’t want you to feel you need to leave.”

I perched on the edge of the counter and took a bite of my apple. “I know,” I said around the mouthful. “It’s just…” I frowned. “I don’t regret deciding not to continue in academia, Mum, at least not really — ”

Mum snorted with disgust. “You and I both know you would have if it weren’t for Erik.”

“Mum, I really don’t want to get into a discussion about Erik right now.”

“Why not?” she demanded.

“Because there’s no point to it,” I said. “I can’t change the last five years. I can’t change the fact that I decided not to be an academic because of Erik, and that in all reality I’ve screwed myself over by doing so.” I stared down at the bite marks in my apple and then slurped up juice threatening to dribble onto my hand. “Trying to get a job just at present is a nightmare, and when you’ve only got a master’s degree you’re overqualified for most jobs and underqualified for anything actually
in academia. But there’s no point in blaming Erik.”

“I find it makes me feel a lot better,” Mum said, getting up. “Do you want toast?”

“Yes, please.” I watched as she pulled bread out of the soup pot and cut two slices.

“I only met him once, Katy, but I could have told you that that was never going to work out.” She dropped the slices in the toaster and set it; it beeped loudly, sounding like something out of
Star Trek, and lowered the bread. “He felt threatened by how smart you were and clearly wasn’t happy about the fact you even finished your master’s. You never should have let him talk you out of accepting that offer to do a PhD.”

I sighed. “Mum, that’s five years’ water under the bridge. Can we not talk about it?”

“I’m still pissed,” Mum said, folding her arms. “I’d like to strangle the man. He’d have turned you into a housewife in time.”

“Doubtful,” I muttered.

“No, he didn’t succeed, and that’s why he dumped you.”

I flinched. “Yeah, can we not talk about that?”

“Oh, Katy.” Mum came over and gave me a hug. “I’m sorry. We were talking about jobs.”

“Yes. Right. Jobs.”