9. Lucy

“Lucy looked at Steve and Steve looked at Lucy. Though they were in a drunken haze it was as if they were seeing each other for the first time. Each of them knew at that moment, in their heart of hearts that this was the person who they were truly meant to be with for all of eternity. Theirs was a deep love, buried beneath denial and only just being allowed to surface now, when- OW!”
         “Thank you, Lucy.”
         “Joey, can you pass me my shoe back please?”
         “Who throws a shoe? That was totally unnecessary, such an overreaction. You’re both in denial. All I was doing was describing the moment you two were just having. You desperately need to acknowledge your hidden love for one another.”
         “I still have another shoe,” pointed out Lucy, “This time I’ll aim better.”
         “I thought it was a pretty good shot.”
         “Steven, your input is not necessary here,” said Joe.
         “Neither was yours, that’s why you got a shoe aimed at you,” countered Steve. Joe feigned outrage and dramatically put his hand to his heart.
         “I was narrating your moment!”
         “We were not having a moment!” cried Lucy.
         “Yeah, she’s right. Just like you always are, my little shnookie-poo. You’re so clever and adorable my pookie-pie.” Steve cooed.
         “Oh honeybunch, you’re so sweet to me,” cooed Lucy in response, “What would my life be without my little googly-woo?” They continued to coo in this manner until Joe realised they were just mocking him and got up. As he walked to the kitchen he muttered, “Get a room. Finally.” He thought he had done so in a voice low enough to not be heard but getting a second shoe in the back of the head, followed by malevolent laughter, told him otherwise. In the kitchen he spun around and leaned over the breakfast bar, looking into the living room.
         “Just be aware that I can still see you from here. So no secret smooches.”
         “Don’t you have a lecture tomorrow morning? Like, at 9am?” Lucy reminded him. Steve groaned, he had one too. Lucy smiled, “Well you boys had better be getting off to bed then, no?”
         “Yeah, yeah. Mum.” Joe said sullenly. He walked over to Lucy and gave her a kiss on the cheek and a cuddle (or as much of a cuddle as he could, with Steve’s legs in the way. He didn’t understood why they felt the need to top-and-tail all over the sofa like that every time as if it were the most comfortable position in the world, or how Lucy could put up with Steve’s feet in her face) and trotted up the stairs like a good boy to an early bedtime. Steve groaned again and stretched out, accidentally-on-purpose putting his feet on Lucy’s face.
         “Ew, Steve! You’re so disgusting! Go to bed!” she laughed, shoving his pongy socks along with the rest of him off the sofa.
         “You love it,” he said, “Almost as much as you love Ca- OW!”
         “I threw both my shoes at Joe but I can still kick you.”
         “Clearly. Ow.”
         “And a very good night to you too, Mr. Steven Lewis,” Lucy said in her poshest voice, attempting to bow even though she was lying on the sofa.
         “Night, Luce,” said Steve. He paused. Then, “Luce?”
         “Yeah?” she sat up.
         “I’m sorry. About… well about last night for a start. And then about you and Carter. He was an idiot and I didn't like him at all but your sadness is my sadness and all that bull.” Lucy looked at him for and smiled sweetly.
         “Thanks. You can be a bit of a moron sometimes but I do still love you.” They stayed still for a second, Steve standing and Lucy sitting, then Steve knelt down and gave her a hug. He hated that anything could make her sad, he wanted to protect her. In a brotherly way, of course. He pulled back from the hug slightly and the two of them stayed still again, keeping their arms locked together. Then, suddenly, as if from nowhere, came a voice both of them thought had gone to bed:
         “Now that’s a moment!”
         “Joe!” yelled Lucy.
         “What? I needed some chamomile to send me to sleep and I just happened to walk in on your little love fest. So what is this? Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” he asked, turning on the kettle and chuckling at his own witticism.
         “You are so camp.” Steve said.
         “Er, yeah. Duh.” came the response from Joe. Lucy sighed and got up, walking over to the kitchen.
         “Firstly, I can’t be bothered to give you a French lesson right now, so I’m going to do the next best thing: assure you that Steve and I did not just have a moment and are not going to elope to Wales or do any of your other ridiculous suggestions. So you can save your narration this time, or I’m going to have to find another shoe.”
         “What is it with shoes and hurting me today? Fine, no moment. But what was secondly?”
         “I beg your pardon?”
         “You said firstly and then no secondly,” Steve explained, “Is there actually a secondly at all?”
       “Oh. Right. Well how about this: secondly, I’m going to bed. Goodnight.” With that, she kissed them both on their cheeks and raced up the stairs to the bathroom, five minutes later, she came out and went into her room. She could still hear the boys talking downstairs but she turned on her radio and got out a book to read until they went to sleep. It was so nice of Steve to say that, he really is a sweetie deep down. I do love him, he’s like my knight in shining armour. In a sisterly way, obviously.

8. Georgia

Georgia parked outside the train station and the back door opened. First Tricia’s bags, then Tricia herself, were flung into the back seat. She slammed the door behind her and started rooting around the biggest of her bags, shivering. After pulling out a towel and wrapping it round her drenched self, she finally sat back in her seat and clutched her legs to her chest, trying to stay warm and get dry.
         “I am going to abso-bloody-lutely murder Clive,” was the first thing she said out loud.
         “And hello to you too, babe,” Georgia resisted the urge to chuckle.
         “Hey, Tricia!” came a chorus of voices from the car’s dashboard. It was then that Tricia realised that the speakerphone was on and she had just expressed her anger to people in three different counties.
         “We should probably hop off now,” said Joe’s voice, “Our pizza and should be here in a couple of minutes anyway.”
         “And cheesecake!” Lucy added almost gleefully.
         “Yeah, exactly,” said Joe, “It’s pizza and cake time down here. Who knows, if we’re feeling adventurous we might even have something healthy.” Everybody laughed and the voices of Lucy, Joe and Steve all said goodbye, with a lot of emotional thanking on Lucy’s part and more than the usual amount of “I love you”s from everyone. Then there was a swift, “Gotta go too, love you, bye!” from Claire’s voice when the sound of the door to her flat opening and Jill’s voice crowing “We’re baa-aack” came through the phone. Georgia hung up the phone, checked if Neil was still okay and then turned to the soggy girl in the back seat.
         “So what exactly happened?” she asked the scowling-slightly-less-than-before Tricia.
         “Clive promised he would pick me up and he never did. He rang me after I had already left the station to say that something had come up and he couldn’t make it but he would pay for my taxi. So, I couldn’t get back into the station, there are no taxis because it’s Sunday evening, my bags are super heavy and it started to rain after about two minutes.”
         “Is that when you rang me?”
         “No, I rang you just before the heavens opened. When I was still slightly happy and had a little dignity left. Did you know that people in cities just drive past and stare at you when you’re drenched outside a train station?”
         “In London, they drive past and laugh. Or ignore you altogether.”
         “I miss my village.”
         The two girls and Neil spent the drive back to the house comparing country folk, city folk and London folk, whom Georgia maintained were altogether an entirely different species. Every time he laughed Neil groaned in pain, which only made the girls laugh harder. They passed their favourite cafĂ© on the way and Tricia said, “Wow, do you know what I really fancy? A sandwich. Neil, do you have any suggestions? I think prawn and taramasalata sounds pretty good right about now.” This caused Georgia to laugh so much she had to pull over to the side of the road to avoid having an accident. Neil, on the other hand, did not find it so amusing. Then, Georgia stopped laughing abruptly and gasped. She pointed out of the car to an umbrella sheltering two figures with their arms wrapped around each other.
         “What?” asked Tricia confusedly, looking in the direction Georgia was showing but only seeing the umbrella, “Gee, do you need a new umbrella or something?”
         “No, look!” Georgia nearly yelled. Tricia looked. She saw the umbrella adjust slightly, just enough so that she could see the faces of the people beneath it. Georgia didn’t even have enough time to cry, “Trish, wait!” before Tricia had flung open the car door, thrown herself out onto the street and planted her feet firmly on the pavement in front of the couple under the umbrella. It was still pouring.
         For Clive, time stood still. Or at least, it slowed down so much that it seemed as if it as standing still for a moment. He looked up from under his umbrella and saw Tricia, face like thunder, tongue like lightning, drenched with rain. A storm of a girl he did not want to face. Then, within the same millisecond he became acutely aware of the fact that he was strolling leisurely down the street with his arm wrapped tenderly around the waist of someone he should not be seen in that position with, especially not by Tricia and especially not by Tricia when she was in this condition. Then, time started up again but still felt like it was going all too slowly as he tried to disentangle his arm from his companion’s body and put a respectable amount of distance between them. By the time he had finished doing this, Storm-Tricia was being joined by Confused-Yet-Sympathetic-Georgia, who had acquired an umbrella from the back seat of her car, which he now realised was parked right next to them. Georgia sheltered her already-soaking friend. Time sped right back up to normal when Tricia started shouting at him.
         “So this is what you leave me stranded for? So that you can go and hang out with Thomas, who broke my heart? I was cold, soaked, tired, miserable, unhappy and alone and you were just about town with my ex, like you were the best of friends?” she screamed at him. Clive was lost for words. He wasn’t sure whether it was that he couldn’t respond, that he didn’t know how, or that he didn’t want to. As the silence grew, though, so did the anger inside Tricia, who continued to scream, “Do you seriously have nothing to say for yourself? Nothing? Seriously?” while Georgia attempted to calm her down. Finally, Georgia gave up trying to be the calming influence and chose to shout over her instead.
         “Tricia for goodness’ sake we understand that you’re angry but isn’t there something else about this situation that seems like an important thing to ask about?” she yelled, grabbing Tricia by the shoulders (as well as she could whilst holding an umbrella) and turning her so that they were facing each other, before turning her back towards Clive and Thomas. Tricia looked confused, she had been too blinded by her own fury to notice what Georgia had, and what Clive had been the most afraid of her noticing.
       “Clive, Thomas. Are you two on a date?”

8. Claire

The girls flopped down on their plush sofa and Margaret pulled out the remote from under a cushion. They had just begun flicking through the channels and discussing what they could be bothered to do for dinner when Claire’s phone rang. Picking it up, she saw it was Steve so she muted it. She didn’t want to talk to him. They had narrowed down the choices to pizza, Chinese, Indian, Thai or a different pizza place when Claire’s phone rang again, Steve’s number on the screen once more. Pressing ‘ignore’ this time, the girls managed to narrow down their viewing options to between 2 films, a documentary, a reality show, 2 dramas or a comedy before Claire’s phone rang, yet again. But this time it was Joe’s number on the screen. Claire sighed and picked it up.
         “Hi Joe, how’s it going?” she asked lightly.
         “Claire, it’s Steve. Don’t hang up.”
         “Oh.” She had been about to.
         “Why wouldn’t you answer your phone when I called?” Claire heard a faint, “Not important!” from Joe in the background, followed by, “Fine! I’m doing it!” in response from Steve.
         “What’s going on, Steve?” she asked, apathetically. Steve sighed and explained as much as he knew. Claire gasped, “Holy moly!” and there was a muffled silence as she covered the phone in order to explain what had happened to Margaret and Jill. As she took her hand away, Steve overheard Jill saying “…yet again. Literally, it’s like she can’t, like, hang on to a man, you know?” Claire put the phone back to her face.
         “Not the time Jill, shut up.” Surprisingly, Jill did so. “Steve, I want to talk to Lucy.”
         “Yeah of course hang on; I need to add in Georgia and Neil.” She heard a door opening and buttons on Joe’s phone being pressed, then Georgia’s voice, then Joe’s.
         “Everybody present?” asked Joe.
         “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re all here. Now tell us what happened!” Georgia nearly shouted. Steve cleared his throat and pointed out that he had already told them all what happened.
         “Yeah but we want the actual sequence of events from the actual person they happened to,” said Claire, trying not to sound too contemptuous of Steve, “Luce, what happened? This is so out of the blue! Or is another one of those times where everybody knew except me?” asked Claire.
         “No worries, babe, nobody had any idea. Not even Neil. At least I don’t think he did,” Georgia assured her, “he’s asleep – he got sick from eating stupid food. Prawns and taramasalata.” Lucy, Joe and Steve laughed at this.
         “Ooh pink vomit. He’s made that exact mistake before.” They heard a groan from Neil. Claire laughed now, and diverted the conversation back to the original topic. Unfortunately, Jill could hear everything that was going on as Claire and Margaret had the phone on speaker and this meant she kept feeling the need to input derisive comments and snotty remarks. Claire got fed up with this after about two minutes and tried to send Jill to go and get the food. Even more unfortunately, Jill decided she was ‘too tired’ and therefore either someone had to go with her or they would just have to order in. Margaret volunteered to go with her, not wanting to force Claire to leave a crucial conversation. Claire paused the conversation until they had left and then returned, finding renewed appreciation for her friends, both old and new, and the support they had always given to each other, and would continue to give for as long as they could.

8. Lucy

Lucy and Steve exchanged looks. Steve knew from Lucy’s look what she was about to do and she knew from his that he was going to get out of her way. Just as he went to get up and leave, though, Joe quite literally came tumbling down the stairs and landed at the bottom with a great thud.
         “Oh my goodness gracious!” cried Lucy, nearly spilling her tea as she jerked upwards in shock. She set it down quickly and clambered over Carter the human barrier to Joe, “What happened? Are you okay? Holy blooming wow!” Joe rolled over and groaned slightly.
         “I’m fine, pretty much. Someone left a pair of shoes at the top of the stairs and I didn’t see them until it was too late,” he explained.
         “Whose shoes were they?” asked Steve.
         “I don’t know,” Joe told him, “but they were brown, ugly and apparently evil as well.”
         “Those might be mine,” piped up Carter, “I was about to put them in Lucy’s room when I… forgot and went to make tea.” Everyone stared at him. You were so eager to interrupt any contact I had with Steve that you left them at the top of the stairs, you mean, thought Lucy. Steve got up and helped Lucy move Joe to the other sofa. Carter stayed where he was, watching them. Lucy looked over, saw this and sighed inwardly.
         “I’ll go and move your shoes then,” she said to Carter.
         “I’ll help you,” he volunteered, prompting scoffs from Steve and Joe who were trying to check for any injuries Joe might have sustained. Carter jumped up and went upstairs in front of Lucy, who looked back at Steve to let him know what she was about to do. Now? He mouthed, trying to convey how unsure he was about the timing. Or never, Lucy mouthed back. She had a determined look on her face that Steve had only seen a few times, and only for situations like this.
         Upstairs, the shoes were gone and Carter had turned the light on in Lucy’s room even though it was still mostly light outside. He clearly thought they were going to be in there for a while. Lucy walked in and saw him sitting on the bed, totally at home. He beamed at her like a child being given a new toy as she sat next to his outstretched body.
         “You know I like your friends, my sweetheart, but sometimes they just get a bit much. I’d much rather it be just us alone, the two of us, forever, with nothing to distract us but our l-“
         “Yes, my sweet?”
         “We need to talk.”
         “Is there something you need to get off your chest?” he asked, seemingly oblivious to the shift in mood that Lucy had thought was obvious.
         She looked at him seriously and sighed in a manner that she hoped would show him this was a grave situation. He clearly thought that she was going to say something that he had been waiting to hear for weeks. As the true nature of what she was saying hit him, though, his buoyant expression fell gradually. He sat up and paid attention. As she spoke she watched his face move through several emotions. The first was confusion as he tried to understand why this was happening. Then, all too briefly, there was sadness, though not any hurt. The last emotion took her by surprise, though. Anger. He stood up from the bed and looked down at her. She stopped talking but she was shocked by what he said to her. All the time she had spent thinking that he was sweet and kind, the time she had spent worrying about hurting him seemed wasted. His words were shocking, a mixture of nonsensical, pathetic and just downright cruel. She stood up. He walked towards the door, picking up his shoes in silence and avoiding her eyes. He went straight through the door and down the stairs, pausing slightly at the bottom but continuing straight on and out, never once turning back or looking up.
         Lucy considered going downstairs but she decided against it, instead choosing to curl up on her bed and try not to cry. After about a minute, Joe and Steve came in. Lucy looked up and, seeing their concerned expressions, tears filled her eyes. Joe seized control of the situation, going into G-mode.
         “Steven, go and call for pizza, cheesecake, Claire and Georgia.” Steve went to object but Joe cut him off, “Is now the time, Steven? Call her.”
         Steve was grateful to be able to leave. Emotion was not his strong point, especially when it was Lucy being upset. It made him want to get very angry and do stupid things. He was protective, he thought of her like his little sister after everything they had helped each other through. He listened at the door while Joe was talking to Lucy.
         “I can’t believe he would say those things to me!” she was crying, curled up in a ball with Joe’s arms around her.
         “Oh my poor little chipmunk, if he was secretly that spiteful then he really isn’t the sort of person you want to be with.” Lucy looked up at Joe’s comforting face.
         “Do you remember when we were five and the big boys wouldn’t let you on the trampoline so I pulled you up to sit with me and threatened to stand on their private parts?” she asked.
         “You told me that you’d look after me now and I’d have to make it up to you by being your best friend.”
         “I think you’ve made it up to me about a thousand times by now,” Lucy said, “Thank you, Joey.” But Joe didn’t reply, he just hugged her harder and they sat listening to Steve on the phone. The only time they spoke was when they heard Steve pause for a while after ordering cheesecake.
         “Do it, for Pete’s sake!” Joe yelled. And Steve did it.

7. Georgia

Georgia and Neil were making slow progress. Every time he saw a service station he stopped to get more food. Georgia got out every so often to stretch her long legs and empty the car of wrappers and bottles. She liked to think that she ate a normal amount. In fact, some people thought she ate quite a lot. Either way, Neil put her to shame. It was a mystery to her how he managed to eat that much, but he insisted that it was necessary because of how much he rowed. As they got back into the car at the sixth rest stop, Neil stopped with his legs still out of the side of the car and bent forward.
         “Babe, you okay?” Georgia asked, concerned.
         “Totally fine, I'm just taking a moment,” came the response, slightly strained and worryingly quiet to her ears. Before she had time to express this worry, though, Neil jolted and then bolted from the car into the bushes. Georgia called after him and got out of the car to try and find him but he had disappeared. She tried calling his name again but to no avail. Then, suddenly, he appeared behind her and patted her on the shoulder, making her jump quite a lot.
         “Neil!” she cried, throwing her arms around him, “that was so scary, don’t you ever bloody do that to me again! I thought you’d just run off and left me here! Actually, no, I didn’t think that but I didn’t know what to think, I had no idea what was happening!” she pulled away slightly, “What smells like sick?”
         “I maybe shouldn’t have had that prawn and taramasalata sandwich last time we stopped, I just vommed pink in the bushes.”
         Georgia slowly took her arms away from around Neil’s neck and moved back a step. Then, she took a deep breath and did what her friends referred to as ‘going into G-mode’. This was used to describe Georgia’s talent at organising problematic or otherwise potentially sticky situations by going into overdrive and coming up with – as well as implementing – solutions at speed. First, she sat Neil down in the passenger seat with his legs sticking out again so that he was closer to the bushes. She opened all the doors of the car and took out all the remaining food wrappers (starting with the pink ones) to alleviate any smells that might make Neil sick again. Finally, she went back into the service station and bought water and a change of clothes for Neil (just in case) from the M&S there.
         When she got back to the car, Neil was hunched over his legs, looking pretty sorry for himself. As she walked towards him, a woman stopped her and pointed towards the sorry sight.
         “Is he okay?” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
         “Yes, he’s fine,” Georgia told her, “It’s nothing bad, just a bit of food poisoning I think. I've bought him some water and things and I'm going to take him home to rest for a while,”
         “Oh, that’s alright then,” the woman sounded relieved, “I hope he gets better. How lovely you are – he’s lucky to have someone like you. These men just overdo it sometimes don’t they, leaving their wives to clear up behind them. Good thing we love them!” she laughed. Georgia turned from Neil to tell the woman that she wasn’t his wife and that they’d only been together for three months, hardly enough time to fall in love. But the woman had gone.
       Georgia returned to the car, put the clothes in the backseat and checked on Neil. She helped to ease him fully into the car and strapped him in, closing the door when she was done. Then, she went round to the driver’s side and got in herself. She gave Neil water and told him to drink plenty, and then she set off at an easy pace to be sure the car didn’t jolt. Oh my gosh, she suddenly thought to herself, I am being his wife. But for some reason, the prospect didn’t scare her or make her at all uneasy, as it would have before with any other boyfriend she’d had. That fact, though, did unease her slightly.

7. Claire

Claire grimaced for what had to be the hundredth time that minute and the thousandth time since Jill had started speaking. As was her custom, she was insisting on telling Claire and Margaret everything about her night, right down to the details of her conquest. At some point about 4pm, she had swept into the house in Cambridge, gushing about her ‘amazing’ night and ‘fantastic’ day, not even slightly aware of the extent to which she was not welcome there. She had helped herself to tea and biscuits and then had begun badgering Claire and Margaret about the time it was going to take them to get back to Leeds. Georgia sighed.
         “I’ve got to go as well, I have to get a ticket back to Nottingham.”
         “Don’t bother, I’ll drive you,” said Neil, “I don’t have any lectures tomorrow anyway and I’d feel bad making you go alone. Plus this way Clive won’t have to go back to the station to get you once he’s dropped Tricia off.”
         “You’ve thought this through,” Georgia laughed. Now it was Claire’s turn to sigh. She hated having to leave everyone. It had been the same way since she was young, goodbyes made her so sad. Part of it was probably some deep psychological reason but she was pretty sure that most of the reason she had for hating leaving was that she knew she was about to end up in this very situation: trying to concentrate on the road while Jill went on and on about the gory details of her night. After the thousand-and-first grimace, Margaret cut in. Claire could see a change in Margaret; she was becoming a lot more confident and less afraid of Jill.
         “So I’m hungry. Claire, how about you?”
         “Guys, you totally interrupted the best part of the whole thing I was just getting to it and you cut me off!” whined Jill. The other two girls ignored her as Claire pointed out a sign for a service station two miles away. As they pulled in, Jill started to make a beeline for the McDonalds, while Margaret and Claire had turned towards Boots in search of sandwiches.
         “What are you guys doing?” demanded Jill on seeing that they weren’t following her, with quite blatant scorn in her voice, “McDonalds is so much cheaper and so much nicer, I always get it!” Claire and Margaret nudged each other and stifled their laughter and any snide comments they wanted to make.
         “It’s actually cheaper and easier to just get a sandwich or something,” Claire pointed out, “but if you want to go there then we’ll just meet you back in the car in half an hour, okay?” Jill was now torn between her overwhelming desire to binge and her other overwhelming desire to never be alone and especially never leave Claire and Margaret alone. She did not like people having bonds that she wasn’t involved in – if people were alone together, they would end up with their own inside jokes and stories that Jill wasn’t a part of and that was so not ideal. But when Jill looked in her purse she saw that she had just enough left over for a burger and chips and her mind was made up. She left Claire and Margaret and said she’d try to come and find them in the seating area in a minute.
         “Don’t worry about it,” Claire reassured her, “We’ll just see you at the car in thirty! Have fun!” she called out before quietly adding, “Enjoy your McHeart Attack” in a voice low enough so that only Margaret would hear.
         “Is it really going to take us half an hour to eat sandwiches?” Margaret asked. Claire was a notoriously slow eater but even that seemed like a push.
         “No way, but it was the longest I thought I could get away with telling Jill. I need to mentally prepare myself for the last hour of the journey.”
         “I would laugh but that’s actually just such a painful concept,” agreed Margaret, “I really hope she’s at least finished with her story about… What’s this one’s name?”
         “Will? Or maybe Bill. Or maybe I'm thinking of Jill and I have literally no idea what his name is.”
       “That seems like the most likely option,” laughed Margaret. Her laughter was cut short by a rumbling overhead, which was soon followed by the heavens opening. The girls squealed and ran inside protecting their hair. They bought their sandwiches and took seats as far away from McDonalds as they could, finding the best ones before the station got overcrowded with people sheltering from the rain.