'You know how to make coffee?' Ed asks me. He's got a hard glint in his eyes, and a fixed jaw. His arms are crossed over his jumper, and he stares at me almost menacingly.
'Of course!' I say, brightly. It's only half a lie.
'Fine,' Ed says suddenly. 'The room will be free by tomorrow. You start Monday.'
My stomach leaps. I'm so surprised by this job offer that I can't even think what to say. Only a few hours ago I was sitting on a train to London, feeling like a complete mess, with no idea what I was doing, and now I'm here, being offered a job. How did this happen?
But Ed doesn't even wait for me to respond. He pushes past Kitty and me and snatches a waterproof coat from the hook in the hallway. 'I'm going for a walk,' he calls out. The door slams as he leaves.
I turn to stare at Kitty, but Kitty looks on the verge of tears again. I'm speechless, trying to figure out the dynamic of this group. I thought they were all the best of friends, but at the moment it seems like they all hate each other.
And then I look past her, and the other guy, Will, into the bedroom. Matt's bedroom. My new bedroom. As soon as I step inside, I'm hit with a wave of cold air, which must come from the open window at the back. There are cardboard boxes and black bin bags, and clothes strewn across the bed.
'What happened?' I say. 'Why didn't Matt take all of his stuff with him?'
Kitty steps past me and sits on Matt's bed. 'He left really suddenly,' is all she says.
I find myself drawn to the photos blu-tacked above Matt's bed. I pick my way past the boxes and bin bags, and kneel on the bare mattress. I've seen a few of these photos before - a handful of them have made their way onto Kitty's Instagram.
The photos share a pattern - the same group of seven, grinning at the camera or too absorbed in each other to even know a photo is being taken. There are photos of them over Christmas, wearing ski gear and standing in front of a chalet, the roof covered in snow. I recognise Kitty in each of them, most often standing beside a guy an inch shorter than her. In some of them she has her arm wrapped around him.
'That's Matt, right?' I say. He's a stocky guy, with stubble across his jaw. He's holding a brightly coloured snowboard in the photo I'm referring to.
'Yeah,' Will says, joining Kitty and me on the bed. 'Ed and Matt are brothers,' he explains, pointing to a photo of the two of them.
They're wearing golf clothes and standing on a green, in front of a Scottish flag. Ed has brilliant ginger hair. In this photo he looks a lot happier than the Ed I just witnessed storming out of the flat. Beside him, Matt is shorter and stockier, with dark curls and a beard. He's pulling a face with his tongue out, like he doesn't believe in smiling nicely for photos.
Will has spotted a photo of all the boys - Ed, Matt, Will, Harper. 'I look so fat in this. Was I seriously that fat?' he rips the photo from the wall.
'They'll all have to come down,' Kitty says, kneeling beside me. She methodically pulls down the photos and puts them in a neat pile. I help her, until the wall is blank except for a few stray pieces of blu-tac. Kitty is staring at the pile of photos, looking nothing short of heartbroken, until Will grabs them and throws them into a box.
'So you're going to take this job, then?' Will asks me.
I glance at him. Will doesn't seem quite as threatening as Ed, but I still want to make a good impression.
'I guess so,' I say.
He narrows his eyes. 'Our shop is known for two things. Good books, and good coffee. And you can get good books anywhere.'
'Will,' Kitty warns.
'We're not a Starbucks,' Will continues.
I swallow, remembering the Starbucks cup that I brought with me.
'Okay, Will,' Kitty says. 'I'm going to show her the rest of the flat.'
Kitty leads me down the hall, past Ed's and Will's bedrooms, a staircase leading upstairs, and into the living room and kitchen. The living room has a bay window overlooking the street. The windowsill is covered in potted plants, each terracotta pot dipped in silver or gold paint. There's a thick, bobbling rug over the scratched wood floors, and a sofa covered in cushions and throws. The tiny TV is almost swallowed by the books lining the media unit and shelves above it.
'Who's the green thumb?' I ask Kitty, when I spot the cheese plant in the corner.
'Sylvie,' Kitty says. 'She's got the attic room upstairs.' She collapses onto the sofa, kicks her shoes off, and hugs a cushion to her chest.
I sit beside her, crossing my legs and adjusting my watch so that it's sitting straight on my wrist.
'Kitty, is everything okay with you?' I ask. 'Are you upset about Matt leaving?'
Kitty just nods. 'I don't want to talk about it,' she says after a moment. She stares at me for a while. 'I didn't know how much I missed you,' she tells me. 'I didn't know how much I needed to see you today.'
I feel immense relief at the idea that Kitty missed me. I always let myself believe she stopped caring about me in secondary school.
'Kitty,' I say. 'Thank you. Everything's been so shit lately, and I don't know. You've seriously saved my life, offering me a job here.'
'Doll, you need it,' Kitty says. 'You know I'm always here for you. Even after... everything.'
She seems really sincere, and she's smiling that smile of hers I know so well. Sometimes when I look at Kitty - past the messy hair and the rings and bangles and the flowy skirts - it's like looking into a mirror. I guess when you're that close to someone in childhood, you know their face almost more than your own.
'But can I ask... why did Matt leave?'
Kitty stiffens. She looks at me for a long time, and I see pain in her eyes. 'Jane, honestly, I want you to move here. I think moving to London will be the fresh start you need, after everything. And you know I always look out for you, and I want the best for you. But I just need you to agree not to ask about Matt.'
Kitty sighs. 'Matt left under... complicated circumstances. I really don't want to get into it. So please, can you just promise me that you won't ask about him?'
I bite my lip. 'I promise I won't ask you,' I say. But that doesn't mean I won't ask anyone else, I think to myself.
Kitty's shoulders relax. 'Okay. Thank you, Jane, for understanding.'
'No,' I say. 'Thank you. For offering me this, and everything. You're right. It's what I need. I can't thank you enough.'
Kitty shrugs, with a sad sort of smile on her face. 'We're kind of family, Jane. That's what you do for family.'
• Author's Note •
Thank you so much for reading. Don't forget to tap that vote button before you go onto the next chapter!
Now, you know of course I have a question for you, so you can join the conversation in the comments and get to know your fellow readers!
Do you decorate your bedroom with printed photos, or posters, or bookish merch, or nothing at all?
YOU ARE READING
19-year-old Jane, newly-single, moves to London to work for her friend, Kitty. But Kitty is hiding something about the café - and about Jane and Kitty's past. ***** If you looked...