'Okay, tell me what happened,' Kitty says, as we take a seat on the saggy leather Chesterfield in the coffee shop. Behind us, the cherry-haired barista is flitting about the café, her ponytail swinging. I glance over at her, unwilling for her to overhear our conversation.
'Don't worry about Charlotte, she's cool,' Kitty says. 'Now tell me about Drew. Why did you break up?'
I flinch at Kitty's wording.
'Jane.' She covers my hand with her own. I look down at the stacked rings on her fingers. 'What happened?'
'We were together three years,' I say. 'That's pretty crazy, isn't it?'
'It's a long time,' Kitty agrees. 'But couples always struggle when they like finish school and start university. Not to mention everything else that's been going on in your life.'
Past Kitty's head, I watch the barista, Charlotte, cleaning the counters. Behind her, the menu board details types of coffee and pastries available. There are hanging plants in front of white subway tiles, and stacks of multi-coloured mugs in open wooden shelves.
'It was so hard not seeing him every day,' I say, not meeting Kitty's eye. 'I guess it wouldn't have been so bad except that... everything happened, and I wasn't really doing okay at university. And I went to see Drew in Bristol a few times, but he was just doing so well at university, you know? Like he just seemed to fit in straight away, and he made friends, and he was doing all these interesting classes. And Rachel, you know Rachel? She's at Bristol too, but she's made all these new friends too. I think I'm the only one who didn't make any friends at uni.'
'Doll, don't blame yourself for not making any friends. You've had a rough time,' Kitty says. 'It'll get better, I promise.'
I shake my head. 'I pulled out,' I say. 'I just realised I can't do university right now. I might try again next year. I've moved back in with Dad,' I say.
Kitty's eyes widen. 'Really?'
I shrug. 'I have nowhere else to go.'
'You can move here!' Kitty says suddenly, clutching my hand.
'We have an opening!'
Suddenly Charlotte is beside us. 'We don't have an opening,' she says. 'My friend from France is taking the room. Ed said she could.'
'You said yourself she's studying full time and can't work many hours,' Kitty snaps. 'Jane isn't studying. She can work full time.'
I look between Charlotte and Kitty. The two girls couldn't be more different. Kitty is lanky and blonde, with braids in her hair, and a long flowy green skirt with patterns of stars and moons across it. Charlotte is small, with shiny hair dyed the colour of cherries, and a tight black outfit underneath her barista apron.
'My friend is taking the room,' Charlotte says firmly, glaring at Kitty.
'Ed would prefer someone who can work full time,' Kitty says. Then she looks at me. 'I'll talk to Ed, doll. But you can move here. You worked at your dad's restaurant, so you're, like, perfect. Ed can teach you how to make coffee. And you love books!'
'I'd love to,' I say, but then I shoot a nervous glance at Charlotte, who looks venomous. 'But if someone already has the room...'
'We'll talk to Ed,' Kitty says sharply. 'Come on, Jane.'
Charlotte huffs and returns to the coffee machine as Kitty grabs my arm and pulls me out of the bookshop. I barely have time to pull on my coat as we hit the pouring rain outside, but then Kitty steers me straight towards a door in between the bookshop and the florist next door.
Kitty unlocks the door and rams it open with her shoulder. We enter a hallway with the same scratched wood floor as the bookshop. Unopened junk mail lines the stairwell, gathering dust. We're both dripping wet from our brief encounter with the rain. I try to run a hand through my hair, but Kitty is already pulling me up the stairs.
'There are two flats,' Kitty explains. 'I live in this one,' she says, as we approach two identical doors. She taps the one on the right. 'But Matt used to live in this one. His room's free now.'
Kitty opens the door, and as soon as we enter we hear a shout from one of the back rooms. 'Harper, is that you? Can you help me with this?'
'It's me!' Kitty calls, as she hooks her sheepskin coat on the hook. I catch sight of my reflection in the hallway mirror - tousled blonde hair from the wind and the rain, just grazing my chin, a camel coat and blue cashmere scarf. I take my coat off too, carefully hanging it by the tag so it doesn't fall to the floor.
I glance down the hall, where I can see a living room full of greenery. But the voice has come from the back of the flat, so Kitty and I follow it. A head pops out of a bedroom.
'This is my... this is Jane,' Kitty says.
The guy emerges from the room. He's got that haircut every guy seems to have nowadays - short on the sides, long on top, mousy brown. He's wearing a white t-shirt with bold black print that says "Dean, Phoenix, Brando" under a sloppy grey cardigan. There's a little bit of weight sitting around his stomach and under his chin, but I wouldn't call him fat. And he shoots me a nice smile straight away.
'Jane, Will,' Kitty says. Will doesn't extend a hand but instead goes straight in for the continental double kiss.
'We're cleaning out Matt's room,' Will says, mostly to Kitty. 'He left a lot of stuff behind.'
'He did?' I'm surprised.
'Don't ask,' Kitty says, nudging past me, and into the bedroom. 'Where's Ed?'
As she says it, a second guy emerges from another bedroom.
'Don't go in there,' he growls, and Kitty and I both step back, away from Matt's bedroom.
This guy, with ginger hair and an equally red jumper, pushes past us. 'Who is this?' he snaps at Kitty.
'Ed, Jane,' Kitty says. 'Listen, Ed, I know you're upset about Matt, but I've got a solution. This is Jane. She's the girl I grew up with, you know? And she's worked as a waitress and she just quit uni and she needs somewhere to live. Right, Jane?'
I feel Ed's hard stare on me, and I try my best smile. 'Right.'
• Author's Note •
Hey everyone! Elle here! How'd you enjoy this chapter?
Here's a question for you...
Do you call it a "flat" or an "apartment"?
YOU ARE READING
Brew Books 1 ✓ChickLit
London. A café and bookstore, run by 7 young bibliophiles. Until one disappears. Newly single, dropped out of her first year of university, and troubled by her past, Jane goes to London to find her childhood best friend - the one person who might un...