‘Uh… I see.’
‘I will make the necessary arrangements for you and contact you tomorrow.’
‘Oh, and when you go to meet the solicitor please take some form of identification with you. Do you have any questions?’
‘Er… No. I don’t think so.’
‘If you do come up with any question or requests call me on this number. I will be happy to assist.’
‘OK. Thanks, Miss Arnold.’
‘It’s Mrs. Arnold, actually. Have a nice day, Miss Bloom.’
I let myself fall backwards and feel a surge of wild surge of joy inside me. I begin to grin. He has not changed his mind. It seems almost impossible to imagine but I have pulled it off. Raised the money.
Mother will go to America.
Still, I never expected such competence or thoroughness. This is more like a business takeover than the simple transaction I had envisaged. Naively, I had thought up the oldest scheme in the book, imagining visits to seedy hotels or an odd-smelling flat somewhere in London, probably Soho, but with brutal efficiency he was drawing up my reality to mirror his unemotional world where everything is black and white, and every effort must be made to stop any sort of gray in the form of confusion or disorder creeping in.
I glance at my alarm clock. I must have been more tired than I had realized. It is already nine thirty even though it is another gray day outside. I hold my tender head in my hands. A couple more paracetamols should do the trick.
I sit up, swallow them down and lying back on the bed close my eyes and remember last night. The details are fuzzy. Only the kiss remains crystal clear. I remember his eyes—how unaffected he was. If not for that pulse drumming madly in his throat I would have thought he had felt nothing. Eventually, I can no longer put off meeting my mother so I drag myself out of bed and pad to our shared bathroom. The tiles are sickly green and one or two are cracked, but everything is sparkling clean.
The orange dress is badly crumpled. I take it off and carefully hand wash it in the sink. After wringing it out, I hang it inside the bath, and get in it myself. I turn on the shower head, and hold the warm stream over my body.
When I come out, I feel like a new person. Quickly, I slip into clean underwear and dress in jeans and a white shirt. Then I comb my hair, tie it into a ponytail high on my head and with a last look in the mirror I brave the kitchen.
‘Morning, Mum. How are you feeling today?’ My voice is bright.
My mother smiles at me. ‘Today is a good day.’
I smile back. Both of us look forward to the good days. The good days are what keep us going.
‘Didn’t you have to go to work today?’
‘Nope. Got fired yesterday.’
My mother shoots me a surprised, worried glance. ‘Sit down. I want a word with you.’
I sit and she puts a bowl in front of me. ‘Is this man really giving us the money?’
‘Unless he backs out,’ I say and pour some cereal into the bowl.
‘What’s his name?’
‘Blake,’ I reply pouring milk.
My mother sighs. ‘Are you purposely making this hard?’
‘All right. His name is Blake Barrington.’ Casually I sprinkle two spoons of sugar on my cereal.
‘Barrington?’ My mother’s forehead creases into a frown. ‘Why is that name familiar?’
I finish chewing before I answer. ‘Because it’s that famous banking family,’ I mumble, and quickly spoon more cereal into my mouth.
My mother gasps and sits on the chair opposite me. There is something in her eyes I have never seen before. ‘How long have you been seeing him?’
‘I met him yesterday.’ More cereal gets immediately shoved into my mouth. I want to end this conversation as soon as possible.
‘You met him yesterday and he agreed to give you fifty thousand pounds.’
‘Mmnnn.’ I make a production of munching.
‘Guess it must have been love at first sight.’
My mother’s eyes narrow dangerously. ‘Is there something you are not telling me, young lady?’
‘Nope. The rest are all gory details,’ I dismiss cheerfully.
But mother is not put off. She is like a hound that has scented blood. ‘How old is he?’
‘I didn’t ask, but he didn’t look a day over thirty.’
‘So he’s not an old man?’
‘When do I get to meet him?’
I slip out of my chair with my empty bowl and go to the sink. ‘Soon, Mum. Very soon,’ I say, quickly rinsing the bowl and spoon.
My mother sits at the table as still as a statue. ‘Does Jack know?’
‘Jack?’ I turn to face her. ‘We’re not boyfriend and girlfriend, you know.’
‘I know, I know but…’
‘Well, I always assumed you’d end up with him.’
‘We don’t feel that way about each other.’
She sighed. ‘You just seem so right for each other. I always dreamed that he’d be my son-in-law.’
‘You could do a lot worse than him, Lana. He’s tall and handsome and he’ll be a doctor soon.’
‘I’m not marrying Jack, Mum. He’s like my brother.’
‘The path of true love is not always smooth,’ she insists stubbornly.
I go into my bedroom, put the orange coat on a hanger, pick up the orange shoes off the floor, and go out of the front door, saying, ‘Popping over to Bill’s.’
The door next to our home is open and I enter it without knocking or calling out. The air is full of the smell of bacon cooking. A big woman wearing a faded apron in the kitchen shouts out to me.
‘Morning, Jane,’ I greet and take the blue stairs two at a time. Billie has been my best friend since we were in primary school, and I have been taking these stairs all my life. I don’t knock on Billie’s bedroom door, but enter and shut it behind me.
Billie’s room has exactly the same view and dimensions as mine but it has been done up in myriad colors and is perpetually messy. When it is clean, it reminds me of a piece of modern art. I hang the orange coat on a hook behind the door, open a cupboard, put the shoes inside and close it. Then, I carefully sidestep over a mess of clothes and a pizza takeaway box to sit at the edge of the single bed.
Billie has her head buried under a pillow. She was born nondescript with pale eyes and mousy brown hair and given the equally nondescript name Jane, but when she was eleven years old she reinvented herself. She turned up in school one day, her hair bleached white and turned into an Afro.