7 // GHOSTS

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The sunlight reflected off towers of glass and steel, the dazzling shards of light making me blink in the afternoon glare. It was a rare mild day in January, one of those beautiful ones where the skies were a clear blue over London and the sun held the worst of the winter chill at bay.

I raised my hand to shield my eyes as I looked up at the great sparkling monolith where Claire worked, wondering, as I always did whenever I came here, what it must look like inside. I'd always imagined some high-tech state-of-the-art office, regurgitated from a high-budget sci-fi film, where the receptionist was a robot, coffee was beamed directly into your coffee cup and everything had a white, clinical feel like a laboratory.

But I'd never been inside Claire's office. She'd never invited me, always choosing to meet outside in one of the trendy coffee shops or snooty wine bars she liked so much. I had a feeling she thought that my presence would taint her perfect workspace, that if I so much as stepped one foot inside the office, the rot would start to infect the walls, turning clinical white to murky mildew-black within seconds.

I hated Canary Wharf. Hated the sleek, angular lines of the buildings. Hated the businessmen with their designer suits and high-polished shoes. Hated the women with their pencil skirts, expensive bags and collagen lips. I didn't belong here, among the Botox-fixed grins and the bankers. Back at home, I was a face. I was a somebody. I was Casey Brogan, Davey Kelley's girl, grade-A party queen and the girl all the other girls wanted to be. Here, I was just scum. A coke-head. Addict.

Junkie.

I didn't look like these people. I didn't dress like these people and I certainly didn't think like these people. It was like waking up in that high-budget sci-fi film to realise you were the alien, you were the enemy, you were the one that didn't belong.

Checking my watch, I hissed a breath when I saw it was way past one o'clock and simultaneously glanced across to the tables outside Claire's favourite coffee shop to see her already sitting there, back straight in the chair, knees together, thin lips pursed in disapproval. She was always on time. Always punctual like the Mary Poppins of London's financial district.

Practically perfect in every fucking way.

Swallowing back my anxiety, I crossed the square towards her, wishing with every step that I'd worn something a bit smarter and less street, not necessarily because I wanted to look like a Canary Wharf clone, but because I didn't want to look like that girl that was likely to nick your mobile phone and designer purse. I could already see Claire's gaze taking in my worn Converse, skinny jeans and leather jacket as I flashed an apologetic smile at her, which she returned with a tight, small grin of her own.

'Hi,' I said, leaning over to give her a hug when I reached the table, noting how she seemed to shrink with tension, her delicate bones folding inwards as if dreading my touch. 'Sorry, I'm late. Tube was a bloody nightmare.'

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