Faintly purple or stone grey, you decide.
The weekend had breezed by; lunch by the river, cocktails on a hotel rooftop, coffee walking passed Whitehall, Sunday afternoon beneath umbrellas in Hyde Park.
Joy stared up at the ceiling of Zac’s bedroom smiling as she thought over the past few days. She let her head drift back, deeper, into the cloudy pillow. The house was silent, the only noises coming from outside. Tuesday morning, 10:34, it was too late for breakfast radio, she’d heard a fraction of a show after seven while Zac was in the shower. He had left for work a little before eight. After fluffing the pillow and smoothing the sheets she jumped into the shower. Then she went to her hold all, a leather effect champagne coloured bag she’d bought in the sales after Christmas, £52 on the high street.
Yesterday hadn’t been great, she’d gone home to get some more clothes, her mother and father weren’t pleased to hear that she was saying in London for a few days. They both thought that she was getting lost, that she would be better off getting a placement rather than living magazine lifestyle in a London that appeared more fiction that fact.
It wasn’t the first time that she had gone to stay at Zac’s, it was just that he hadn’t been mentioned in a while, let alone seen. ‘Best not to dwell on all of that.’ Joy sighed putting on her raindrop blue converse. Work or rather the lack of it since her contract at the university expired, home and all the things that awaited her a short journey north of London. No, not while she was here with Zac and Luca and their very special flavor of London.
It wasn’t as though she hadn’t been looking for work, of course she had. The economy was in crisis obviously things would be difficult. Her tutorial position at the university hadn’t been renewed because of funding cuts, though the department had reassured her that the position would be hers again next October, once they’d been given the go ahead by the higher powers at the university.
‘Don’t bank on that. You can’t expect things to be handed to you. You need to push yourself, get in touch with other people. How many interviews has Megan been to? Her mother said she’d applied for twenty things last month. She’s not sitting around or running off to her rich friends in the city.’
The conversation had been running through Joy’s mind since then. There always had to be the little dig about Zac. As she stared along the tracks waiting for the train at Oakleigh, all she could think of was her destination: London and Zac. Both were escapes for her, she didn’t have to worry about anything while she was there with him. Back in their own little world, that comforting cocoon. She would look during the week to see about work. Perhaps try painting, or see about work in art galleries, she couldn’t be in a better city to try and get a job in the creative arts. She had a double first in art and history of art, of course she would get a job, she just needed to push herself…as she had been told so many times. The arriving train woke her from her reverie then, on this crisp Tuesday morning the popping toast brought her back to reality, or rather her fictional reality.
She looked in the pressers for some jam while her toast was still hot, she found some blackcurrant and elderflower jam in a wonderful glass jar with gingham ribbon and a vintage style label. It was delicious, Joy abandoned her coffee for a cup of Earl Grey the loose leaves looked otherworldly in their packaging.
She went out into the garden area with her breakfast, there were birds singing in one of the neighbour’s trees as the sun shone through the opaque clouds. It was a crisp but bright, another fresh, vivacious London morning. Tuesday breezed by walking around the city, mingling with tourists and locals alike as she wove around Westminster and the National History Museum.
‘Do my pants look purple to you?’ Had been the question that woke Joy on Wednesday morning. Rubbing her eyes she shook her head then focused on Jack standing to her left.
‘I don’t care if they are, I just thought that they were stone when I bought them. Now they look faintly purple.’ He smoothed his hands down along his legs then ruffling his hair he smiled at a very sleepy Joy. ‘ Not that I care really, I just don’t like making mistakes.’ He repeated to emphasize the point, she knew that he didn’t care either way.
‘Or being wrong!’
‘That too.’ He winked, straightening up, he was wearing a navy blazer, corn coloured cardigan half buttoned over a black t-shirt, the neck of which was being pulled down by his sunglasses, already in place even though the sun wasn’t fully up, and of course the controversial jeans.
‘Thank you for your help. Do go back to sleep.’
‘Ring in sick, come back under the covers.’ Joy teased, plumping Zac’s pillow with a slap, followed by a pout and flutter of her eyelashes. They really did flirt a lot; perhaps she had a chance after all.
‘Can’t; I’m being good. I’ll see you at seven. I’m meeting up with Ben and Luca for drinks after work, you’re one of the lads too, come it’ll be good.’ Zac said picking up his phone and reading the message that the silent phone had signaled with a shake.
‘Sounds great, where?’ Joy asked, the last part of Zac’s sentence thoroughly knocking the thought of being more than friends from her head. ‘one of the lads.’ Ouch, it had stung, it was still stinging. She laughed.
‘I was just wondering if you’d sleep with Luca and Ben too.’
‘Numerous times with Luca, so have you!’ That was true, they’d all fallen into bed together after nights out at uni or while on holiday, nothing sordid just friends falling asleep together. ‘But no, not with all of my friends, you’ve always been special Stella.’
And the hope flickered once more. Joy sat up happily kicking her legs over the side of the bed.
‘May as well get up and enjoy the day. Where will I meet you?’
‘Come to the office at half six, we can go to the bar together, I’m not fully sure where we’re meeting yet.’
They had breakfast together, the breakfast show playing on the radio in the kitchen while Zac flicked his way through the emails and news headlines on his iPad mini.
He looked up not sure what Joy was referring to then followed her eyes over the rim of her steaming cup of coffee to the tablet beneath his fingers.
‘Oh, yeah.’ He seemed a little embarrassed, his eyes flashed downwards before recouping. ‘The full size one is mainly for work, lots of editing apps. I keep all my books on this. We were all given the full size one at work, business phone, business iPad.’
‘I’ll have to get myself one so.’ Joy smiled sipping the still too hot coffee; she shouldn’t have put the milk in the microwave.
Noticing the earrings on the island she remembered Minty was at the apartment too. She hadn’t seen her since the night that she had burst down the stairs with Alessia and Izzie.
‘In bed, she should be up later; she was out last night. Her boyfriend was around for the weekend.
‘Oh. Who is he?’
‘I don’t know, she hasn’t said a name. All I know is that he’s forty one and comes to London on business, he’s Italian. Has his own company, a proper business, all very exciting according to Minty. She hasn’t said much else and I don’t pry. She’s happy and safe. Our parents are being hard enough on her without me adding to the attack.’
‘She trusts you.’
‘I’m glad that she does. Our parents are happy that she’s here.’
‘See if you can get Minty out. I’m sure that she’d love a break from her uni work.’
The conversation drifted from Minty to the front pages of the day’s newspapers to a discussion about the morning’s guest on the radio and the energetic presenters’ conversations.
Minty had only been delighted to hang out with Joy for the afternoon.
‘I love that you’re here, my very own sister! It’s great.’ She sang popping back in her earrings having seen them on the islands marble surface.
‘You should come with me for lunch, I’m meeting Alessia and Izzie. Sorry that I didn’t introduce you the other night. They’d love to meet you.’ Minty thrilled as she added blueberries and chopped strawberries to her granola.
‘That sounds great.’
‘Yeah, it’ll be good. Tomorrow lunchtime. Izzie is delighted to be back from New York, she wasn’t too thrilled by the States.’
‘Oh, I’d love to go to New York.’
‘Me too. I haven’t been in over a year. Izzie said it’s fantastic for a holiday just not for living there.’ Minty was now at the fridge getting Greek yoghurt, a swirl of honey and a scoop of pomegranate later she was munching and crunching on the stool beside Joy.
‘Any plans for what’s left of today?’
‘No, just relax. I’m meeting Zac when he finishes; we’re going for drinks with Luca and Ben. You?’
‘I’ve to head to uni as soon as I’ve finished eating. I’ve to meet Etta, copy notes from yesterday’s lectures and then get some books from the library. Just another day in the exciting world of a students with looming deadlines.’
Joy gazed up at the magnificent new dockside building. From he other side of the river it seemed to stretch from beneath the water up through the clouds into space. All silver and clean straight lines, a sword dropped by a knight in some celestial battle. It was like walking through the looking glass when the large doors separated to entry. The commanding foyer opened into the waiting areas and stairs. The large reception desk, shaped like a bow had six arrows behind it: three men and three women all sharply dressed with earpieces and microphones. Behind them large screens gave the floor numbers of the different companies. Above these screens flashed the stocks, a mass of flickering numbers and abbreviations. There were also large clocks, London, Paris, Moscow, Hong Kong, Sydney and New York. A swipe card system must like the turnstiles at tube stations permitted entry to the staff elevators, Joy doubted that her oyster card would work here, although the thought brought a smile to her face.
Joy looked once more at the six faces behind the desk, feeling daunted by their ever professional expressions she decided to wait on one of the black leather and steel seats rather than approach them. Looking at her phone she checked her messages, then looked at the time, Zac should only be another ten or fifteen minutes. She leafed through the magazine that she bought on her way through Victoria Station. Joy thought it best to avoid people watching, it didn’t seem the place to casually watch the comings and goings of people, besides, she doubted the six all seeing, all knowing faces behind the reception desk would miss a trick.
‘Stella, why didn’t you come up?
‘Uhm, the guards put me off.’
‘They would have let you up, no blood or lie detector required. It’s not MI6 Stella.’ He laughed ruffling his hair before biting on his lower lip. With a shake of his head and an outstretched hand the smile swept across his face once more as Joy got to her feet.
‘Where are we going?’
‘The Vintage.’ He looked at his phone, he swiped a finger across the screen. ‘Luca is there now, Ben will be there in about half an hour; he has to finish up something at work.’
‘All done Stella. You ready for lunch?’
‘Most definitely.’ Joy smiled bouncing from the island stool onto her feet. It was quarter past three now and she hadn’t eaten yet, just coffee, lots of coffee. Luca followed Zac into the kitchen, he had already put his coat on and was now buttoning up the miel coloured trench. He smiled at Joy after looking up and down the trench.
‘You’re not subtle Stella, I thought that I’d stained my coat or ripped it!’
‘She eyes me up and down too. I thought I was the only one, thought it was the way you loved me.’ Zac pouted before looking back towards Luca. Joy flushed seven hundred shades of red, then nervously tipped her fingers along her cheeks to cool them.
‘Coat Zachary, you too Stella. I’m starved and might be called to work later so my free time this afternoon is golden.’ Luca said shifting towards the hall, as though in search of jackets for Zac and Joy. Both dutifully followed him out the door and into the hall.
‘Did you give Harry your coat last night?’ Zac asked jokingly as he as he opened the door beneath the stairs.
Luca shook his head and laughed, Joy followed suit. That was one joke that would never get old among the friends, well, it wouldn’t get old for Zac who still cherished the elder wand that he got at the premier of the final Harry Potter film.
‘It’s good! We grew up with Harry don’t you forget that Stella. I remember you had a cape and a lightening scar.’ He threw the last part in Luca’s direction.
Zac put on his coat, an exquisitely tailored jacket, he’d on wine jeans, a light sweater with wine, brown and grey details and brown converse. Joy slipped on her coat and fastened the clasp on the rich black jacket to give her waist some definition. Definitely one of her better buys on the high street.
The boys grabbed their laptops and phones from the table in the front room and Zac carefully put the plans into clear plastic films and brought them along. They walked out into the hall and out the large door. Zac held his car keys in his left hand.
‘I don’t fancy the tube or walking with these.’
‘Central London on a Saturday? You’re braver than me.’ Luca patted him on the back as he pulled closed the regal purple door.
‘Where will you park?’
‘Leave the car, we’ll be fine. You’re not crossing London with files for MI6! I’ll carry the plans if they scare you that much. You never have been one for responsibility.’ Luca chided as Zac smiled and turned from his car.
It was a sunny London afternoon, cold but there was an azure blue sky so the complaints would be few. They walked passed the pearly, terraced three storey homes of Eaton Mews as they strolled towards the tube station at Sloane Square. Joy’s stomach rumbles as they waited the four minutes, nineteen seconds for the train that would bring them to underground station at Manor Square. From there the three friends continued their catch up. It was hard to believe that it had been more than five months since the three of them had had a face to face conversation. They talked about work, play, the day to day and any of the nights that didn’t involve sleep.
Joy stopped and smiled when they got to Saint Paul’s, living that little bit outside the city meant that she had the heart of a tourist in the capital. She would never tire of walking along London’s streets looking at her sites, retracing the footprints of the majestic history of the timeless city. They watched as the tourists posed for photos and turned their cameras skyward toward the summit of the dome. Luca took out his phone and followed their lead.
‘For instagram!’ he smiled as Joy and Zac both did letterbox smiles and said cheese, though nowhere within the range of the phone’s camera.
On the walked, crossing the swirling waters of the Thames at the Millennium Bridge. The bridge moved with the many steps that rippled across it, somehow it had managed to attract the only whisper of wind that there seemed to be in the city that day. Joy thought of the cover of a book that Zac had given her to read a few years ago, it had a woman in a red dress walking across the bridge with St. Paul’s iconic dome in the background. When they reached Bankside they turned right and walked along the river’s edge, reaching their destination in minutes.
‘Can we sit outside?’ Joy asked, she loved nothing more than looking across the water towards St. Paul’s and the city, such a richness of architecture decorating the square mile.
‘Of course.’ Zac put his arm around her waist as they walked up the steps onto the terrace. ‘You don’t have to ask, just tell me where and I’ll follow.’
Luca nodded in smiling agreement. They sat at one of the wooden tables encircled by four chairs. The location was perfect; there was no other table in front of theirs, they had the whole view to themselves.
The Founders Arms had become one of Joy’s favourite places in London after Zac brought her there for coffee one cloudy Thursday afternoon in first year when she was feeling sorry for herself. He had challenged her to come with him and not feel better afterwards. She was feeling better as soon as she sat down beside him and saw the view.
The building had a perfect location on the embankment by the Tate and the Millennium Bridge with Jubilee Gardens a short breath away. An all back glass, or rather front, gazed teasingly across the water at the more business district of the city, calling the suits from the laptops and numbers, offering Pimms, Hendrick’s and Earl Grey in place of their data, excel, red arrows and green. One of the many ideally situated restaurants on the waterfront it was always busy. There was something so very summer in the city about the terrace, even on the days that were blanketed with a chrome grey sky. The whole building resembled a tennis grandstand. A little piece of Wimbledon footsteps from the Tate Modern.
As they reached fro their menus Zac’s phone buzzed, he fought the urge to ignore the call but the tone told him that it was work, his father.
‘Hello.’ His formal, business voice, a lot less jovial and carefree than the voice that had just been discussing the possible midweek line up for Arsenal with Joy and Luca. ‘Perfectly. Of course.’ He breathed a sigh disguised as an agreeing ‘mmhmm’. Luca and Joy exchanged a dip of the head, both knew that Zac wouldn’t be staying to read the menu , let alone long enough to eat.
He hung up, exhaling in a way that ruffled his lips.
‘go.’ Luca and Joy took a word each causing Zac to laugh as he rehoused his phone in his pocket and sorted his laptop case and the carefully stored files. Reaching into his pocket he took out his keys and handed them to Joy.
‘You had best take these Stella. I’d give you the spare set but my debaucherous sister has them. I’ll see you later, give you a ring when I get finished.’ With that he kissed her on both cheeks before turning to Luca, ‘Thanks again, see you later too?’
‘Tomorrow, unless you feel like a store night?’
‘I think I’ll give it a miss. I’d enough fun and other stuff last night. Tomorrow will be perfect, we can all get lunch, the three of us this time.’ Zac then bid them a delaying adieu and retraced his steps across the gleaming footbridge to the city offices near the Gherkin.
‘Well that’s a first.’ Luca offered, disbelief dripping from every letter. Joy’s eyes widened as she drank her orange juice.
‘The keys.’ Luca continued swiping his finger across his phone to read a message. He didn’t type a reply onto the screen. ‘Apart from his mother and sister you’re the only woman he’d give a set of keys too. Well done, one of the most eligible men in the city according to three magazines and numerous blogs!’ He clinked his glass against Joy’s. She would have got up and stormed off had anyone else passed such a heinous remark, she would have been shockingly offended. Luca however, meant nothing bad, neither contempt nor malice. She laughed and winked at him, as though he’d caught her.
‘You know me too well. I thought you weren’t working tonight?’
‘A change of subject.’ Luca exhaled, ‘I said I might be working but the more I thought about it the more likely I’d get called in. I was right too.’ He picked up his phone from the table and reopened the message. ‘Look.’ He handed the phone to Joy. She read the message, just as Luca had said it was someone that he worked with, she assumed, who had asked him to pop into the store night ‘mingle and keep an eye on things, please.’
‘I never doubted you Luca. In all honesty you’re one of the few people I would trust without questioning.’
‘That’s so very nice of you to say.’ He looked genuinely pleased by Joy’s compliment. ‘Thanks Stella. Why has it taken you so long to venture back into the city?’
‘The train tracks lead out of London too!’ she said as she put a forkful of her lunch into her mouth. Luca looked at her considering her statement, then waved it away with a smile, teasing:
‘But the ones into London lead to so much more fun.’
‘That they do.’
‘We best make sure that you have a wonderful time so.’
‘I already am.’
Luca smiled once again satisfied with Joy’s answer. She thought about telling him how she felt, would he laugh at her? Did she know herself how she really felt? She rubbed her finger along her lips, the saffron sauce on her salmon was delicious, she didn’t want to lose a drop. Luca was busily eating his squash and spinach lasagna, one of the many culinary treasures he discovered when he went vegetarian one summer to appease one of his colleagues who had spent the months between January and may berating him for eating animals.
‘Seriously Stella, stay for a while. It’s great seeing you, Zac is delighted you’re around, so am I. I’m organizing a party for the weekend after next, I’ll put you on the list.’
‘That sounds tempting.’
‘Did I mention that the club night is in Ibiza? Thought it more original to bring us to the beach than bring the beach to W1! The cocktail list is mind blowing. Zac and I went to Ibiza last Saturday to do some research.’
“Of course ye did.’ Joy laughed, thinking of Zac and Luca sampling the many cocktails. They’d always been a double act, the Holmes and Watson of the leafy, pillared streets of Belgravia. Joy knew that they’d been through a lot when they were in school together. Joy dreamingly put another forkful of the delicious lunch into her mouth, the vine tomato breaking under her teeth releasing the sweetness and delight of a Roman summer onto her tongue. Luca too was dreamingly staring across the water at one of the building that stood as sentinels along the bank of the Thames.
‘I had wanted to go there to secondary school.’ He noted, Joy follow the bridge his eyes traced across the water to the school. ‘My parents thought it would better for me to go to school outside of the city, see another part of England, they knew my heart was in London but wanted me to have the last years of my childhood in another place.’
‘You loved where you went, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, I did, but at the time I wasn’t too pleased. No, to be fair Zac and I had a great time, we were definitely in the coolest possible school. Especially when you consider how much a part of our lives Harry Potter was.’ He traced a lightening scar along his forehead. Joy wondered why she’d left it so long to come back to them, to London.
They continued their catch up as they ordered coffees after their lunch. The food had always been absolutely delicious here, it more than held it its own with the view. Joy told Luca that she would indeed be staying around for his club night in Ibiza. ‘Provided I haven’t worn out my welcome with Zac.’
‘If anything I’d say he’s glad of some stable company what with Minty and the drama that she brings.’
‘You are sometimes like a British Gossip Girl!’ Joy noted matter of factly taking a sip of her coffee. Luca looked over the rim of his cup at her, of course he watched Gossip Girl, she, Luca and Zac had watched it together at university.
‘Do continue, who would I be?’ he asked, daring Joy to define him. She thought about it and couldn’t quite out her finger on who he was, a bit like Blair with her determined streak, though she didn’t feel that she could compare him to a girl. Oh, what the hell, she could; they were friends, besides he did ask.
‘Blair, in a way. It’d be hard to pin any of you down to a character. Zac reminds me of Nate but,’
‘But he could be Chuck too. Don’t worry he knows it.’
‘Don’t worry he knows it. He and Minty though they look like Nate and Blair can be Chuck and Georgina too. It’s in the family, you have to have the ruthless streak to survive in banking since before there were banks. Not that we’ve had in depth discussions about Gossip Girl’
‘How have we all never had one?’
‘That I don’t know. I suppose we’re having it now.’
‘Who am I?’ Joy asked already guessing the answer, Luca didn’t disappoint.
‘Lonely Boy! Or rather lonely girl…you did ask.’
The conversation stayed light and carefree as they strolled across Westminster Bridge. The London sky had turned the same shade of scarlet that Joy had worn earlier when Zac joked about her loving him. There was more of a breeze as they stood at the feet of Big Ben. It was five to six. They watched the tourists setting up their tri-pods and posing for photos, arching back to get the tip of the tower and take in the cathedral too. Joy and Luca melted into this scene so very typical of the city as they waited to hear the bell chime. The black cabs were as plentiful as ever some wearing Union Jack prints proclaiming London to be calling, she always was calling for Joy, London and the boy she liked. They went down the steps at Westminster and rose from the underground at Sloane Square as the scarlet sky began to be cloaked by and aubergiene silk. Luca walked her to the purple door that held the key to. The light was on in the hall.
‘Minty must be back.’ Joy spoke placing the key in the lock. They walked in to a mist of perfume and powder. ‘Minty must be going out.’ Joy reassessed, Luca nodded concurring with her conclusion. Heels in hand Minty bounced down the stairs, followed by two equally waify, hockey playing, Prada toting girls. The girl with wonderfully think, wealthy chestnut hair eyed Joy up and down, though trying to be discreet she was as inconspicuous as Joy had been earlier that morning with Luca. There was no introduction, merely a ‘Hi Joy, Bye Joy.’ From Minty as the girls stepped out into the night towards their awaiting carriage, a silver Bentley. Both Joy and Luca exchanged glances when they heard ‘that’s Joy!’ ringing a little shocked from the rouge lips of the chestnut haired girl.
‘They would be?’
‘Alessia, Ben’s girlfriend, was the shorter of the two, she has a sun tattooed behind her left ear, the other, that’s Izzie.’
‘She’s a force to be reckoned with. She wasn’t too impressed by me.’
‘She’ll spend the night asking about you, don’t be surprised if she wants to meet you.’
‘What?’ Joy dropped the keys he’d been holding since she walked in the door to the haze of perfume and powder.
‘Don’t worry that’s all that Zac has been seeing of her too. If I were you I’d keep a watch for Izzie, from what I’ve heard she’s after Zac.’
‘Dramatic.’ Joy gasped, she had no intention of fighting off Izzie for Zac, he hasn’t seemed too concerned about her earlier. Besides, she wasn’t here fit Zac, not in that way. She was here to see her friend, to spend time with him, with Luca.
‘Is she coming to Ibiza?’ Joy asked a bit worried, surely there wouldn’t be a row or an attack.
‘No, no, don’t worry. I doubt she’ll get nasty, you’ll be spending most of your time with us anyway not the girls. If she was going to say anything to you she wouldn’t do it while Zac or I were present.’ He said before wrapping an arm around Joy’s shoulder and leading her into the kitchen. ‘So that means I have your delightful company for at least two more weeks.’
’At the very least! It’s so great to be back. Today was exactly what I needed.’
’It’s great to have you back! Now for the fun to really start.’ Luca winked as he reached up into the smoked glass fronted press for two rounded red bowl cups.
‘Coffee? I’ve a busy night being inconspicuous and running things from behind the scenes. Typical spy work!’ He said so very nonchalantly that it was almost believable. A shot of espresso cannoned from the gaggia, Joy nodded, then popped off the stool to the fridge for milk.
‘Foam me some milk please?’
‘Will do Stella.’ Luca bowed taking the carton of skimmed milk from Joy.
They had just sat in the front room with their coffees and flicked on the news when Joy’s phone began to ring. It was Zac.
‘I’m at yours now. He is, okay’ she handed the phone to Luca.
’Tell him it was my pleasure, I’m glad to put my Italiano to use. No, I should be okay tonight. I didn’t, not yet anyway. Thanks. Back to you Stella.’ Joy took the phone from him and said her see you laters to Zac. He would be back in around 20 minutes, or there abouts depending on the traffic, and tubes.
They were still sitting watching the news when Zac knocked on the door. He had two shopping bags in his hands. He called Luca from the living room, ‘You may as well eat something before you go off on your spy mission, not that you both haven’t already eaten something delicious!’ He pouted as he laid the box on the counter and began to take out the ingredients, fresh green tagliatelle, broccoli, mushrooms and smoked salmon. There was also fresh bread, strawberries and raspberries.
‘More like I’d better cook us dinner! Subtle Zachary, very subtle bring home pasta to me.’ Luca laughed taking control of the counter from Zac who went to take off his coat and hang it under the stairs.
‘He’ll be expecting you to cook next Stella!’ Luca said just loud enough for Zac to hear. He began to organise the silver utensils and copper pans to get the dinner ready. Zac came back into the kitchen and was quickly pointed to the stool beside Joy by Luca.
‘That was delicious Luca, it’s been a lifetime since you’ve cooked for me. Final year.’
’A lifetime ago.’ Both Zac and Luca concluded as Luca put on his jacket and checked his phone, once again he swiped a message open but didn’t reply. Another message about the party and his covert, special ops mission to be the feet beneath the surface of the floating swan. In all honesty that was how he liked things, being the force behind the brilliance, out of the limelight, free from the scrutiny beneath the microscope of the spotlight.
It was half eleven on a cold Friday night when Joy finally admitted the truth; she couldn’t live without him in her life, she really did love him or have something in her heart for him that was that little bit more than friendship. She’d been trying to get through to Zac for over an hour but to no avail, his phone was going straight to voicemail and her battery was nearly dead.
She had left her home in leafy Barnet hours before, Joy was to meet up with Megan and Susan at the entrance to tube at Covent Garden, then go for coffee, that was hours ago. She’d text to say she wasn’t up for it after her mind had been preoccupied by Zac, she thought of nothing but him from Oakleigh to Finsbury. Gazing down the platform at the wonderous Emirates Stadium she rang Susan, if nothing else to reassure them in person that she was fine. From Finsbury Park she rode the tube to Piccadilly Circus, stepping back into the day as dusk began to settle over the city. She walked to the Starbuck’s nearby and went through her texts and whatsapps; she and Zac hadn’t spoken in over a month. With the wifi code entered into her phone she went onto his Facebook page, he was still in London. She could meet him, arrange to go for coffee, they were well overdue a catch up. She finished her coffee and stepped out into the London night, walking through the still effervescent city to clear her head. Her only company six percent battery life on her phone. Car lights, shop displays, mumbles and footsteps all around her. Joy continued her stroll, floating passed midnight into the early hours of Saturday morning.
A little after four she found herself on the King’s Road walking towards the house that held her heart. Whether it was being held hostage or there of its own free will she’d yet to find out. There was no light at Zac’s house, she knocked and rang the doorbell, all without response, before settling on the doorstep looking down onto the street. Rubbing her arms to keep warm her thoughts tossed and turned as she waited. Joy received confused and inquisitive looks in equal measure as she switched her glance between her red pumps and the large purple door of the house at her back.
Zac still hadn’t returned at twenty past five when the cold morning rain began to spill from the sky. Joy remained rooted to the step watching the blackness melt to morning.
‘This is crazy!’ Joy mumbled, kicking her heels against the steps. The morning light was sobering to her moon-struck, love-lit thoughts. ‘I’m neither a Felicity nor an Annabella, neither a Victoria nor a Charlotte. This is stupid, he won’t want to see me never mind listen to me in this way.’
She too cold and too wet to stand, the rain had completely covered the street, gaining force as the light in the sky’s face fluffed up with rain filled cheeks. The downpour soaking the city and its night owls and early risers alike.
Joy decided that her sleeplessness had been a waste at twenty to seven. The face of her watch seemed to glare disapprovingly as she looked at him tiredly, perhaps he’d known all along that her quest was doomed. Sighing heavily she roused to her feet shaking the sleep from her head. Looking up she found herself face to face with Zac who was standing two steps below.
‘Joyful, Joyful, why are you standing on my doorstep?’
‘I couldn’t sleep, life and all that…’
‘All that other shit.’ He finished, kissing her on each cheek, as was customary. Nothing else needed to be said as he twisted the key and they both walked into the house, a fabulous townhouse with a postcode that commanded envy and respect in equal measures. It was so simple; they’d been friends for so many years that they could afford the luxury of not being in contact for a few months, perhaps years and still resume their friendship without a thought. Perhaps it was the simpleness and ease of their friendship that made anything else so much more complicated and risky.
They walked straight into the kitchen, Zac made coffee. He’d spent one year of university working in a café and held onto his black “Mr. Barista” apron that he’d been given as a goodbye present from the other staff. He sat down beside Joy after placing the two glass cups of coffee on the black marble topped island.
‘Rough night.’ Putting his head into his hands and sighing, he took deep breathes of the caffeine elixir.
‘Saskia?’ Joy rubbed his back. Saskia was the girl he’d been talking about two months ago, they’d met at one of his Berkeley Square haunts.
‘No, Saskia is back in rehab; she’s after rekindling her friendship with Colombian sugar. Her parents have sent her to the States to keep a lid on things. It wouldn’t look good with her father wanting a seat in the next elections.’ He said matter of factly as though such things were common occurrences, though in Zac’s world that’s exactly what they were. ‘No, last night was Izzie. She was at the launch of Cameron and Nat’s new website. You know how it is, we got talking and after a few drinks we went back to the Dorchester.’
Of course that’s how it was, that’s always how it was for Zac and his friends. Joy wasn’t part of that world; she was never on the glitziest of guest lists at the fanciest of clubs, she had never been whisked back to the Mandarin, never booked into a £12,000 a night suite on a whim when she had a multi-million pound home walking distance away. Then again she doubted Zac’s posse would have the same walking distance as she did. These differences were one of the reasons that she and Zac got along so well, they were just friends. Nobody, especially Zac’s friends, would ever even dream of putting the two of them together. Zac had found Joy a breath of fresh air when they met at university, Joy thought he was exciting and his world very alluring, intoxicating even.
‘Are you going to see her again?’ Joy asked shivering with the cold. She was so wet even Zac’s coffee provided no warmth.
‘Oh God no. Izzie is only here for the weekend; she flies back to New York this evening. It was merely something for the two of us to do.’ Zac put his arm around Joy’s shoulder, ‘Darling you really are freezing, have a shower. You can explain all about your nocturnal wanderings to me in the bedroom.’
Joy finished her coffee and went upstairs to Zac’s bedroom, she always used his shower. The bedroom conversations had become something of a habit for the two friends at university. On numerous occasions Zac would spend Sunday morning sitting in Joy’s bed divulging the happenings of his Friday and Saturday nights. He always came with coffee and pastries; croissants or some other sweet delight, and an exciting story. One of the most memorable conversations had to have been ‘What did you do last night?’ to which Zac replied with a most mischievous of smiles: ‘The cover of this month’s Vogue!’ it was a running joke between the two of them now. Yes, somewhere over the course of their four years studying together they’d become best friends, like family even. The majority of their time together was spent alone. Joy’s friends accused Zac of ‘slumming it’ when he went out with them and Zac’s friends saw Joy as a girl well out of her depth, more ‘wagabee than Sloane Ranger’ as she had once been told. Maybe that was the secret to their idyllic friendship; existing together in their own little world was what made them so close, so comfortable together.
The jets of warm water massaged Joy’s cold body in the shower. There was a large jet on the shower ceiling and six more, two on each wall, in the shower. Closing her eyes she relaxed imagining herself on a tropical island standing beneath a small waterfall, the kind you find hidden after trekking for hours through the jungle. Her daydream was disturbed back Zac; he’d just entered the ensuite transporting Joy back to London.
‘Fresh towels, they’re warm. I’ll leave them here for you, there’s a bathrobe too.’
‘Thanks babes!’ she giggled back. Zac had taken off his shirt, even through the frosted glass she could see his toned arms. Years of sailing and rowing had perfected their tone, as had the many games of polo and tennis.
Joy slipped into the robe after thirty or so minutes in the shower. She was so much more at ease in Zac’s company than she was in anyone else’s. That feeling of safety and comfort was the thing that stopped her telling him how madly in love with him she was. Even though heady, drink infused nights with her friends and waves of loneliness drove her to his doorstep. As dramatic as it sounded losing him as a friend would break her heart into a million more pieces than any failed romance with someone else ever could.
‘In you get.’ He smiled, his brown eyes beaming as he patted the right side of the double bed. It was gleaming white, all Egyptian cotton sheets: thread count one trillion or whatever the offensively wealthy were sleeping on at the moment.
‘So tell me all about it. What caused you to spend the night sitting on my steps? You have to admit, babe, there is something quite tragic about it. I should know, I sat at the entrance to your tube stop for five hours waiting for you once.’
‘I don’t know being honest,’ she lied, ‘I just needed to see you.’ That was the truth. They’d been busy with work and other things that they hadn’t had a face-to-face conversation in three months.
Joy yawned; Zac quickly echoed her. Both were weary after their sleepless night. Zac looked at Joy and gave her a tired smile:
‘How about a sleep?’
With that Zac pushed a button on a small white remote and blinds covered the large window at the end of the room. They fell asleep snuggled together. It was this closeness that caused Joy to believe that they had a future together beyond the realm of friendship, this idea, potential reality, was only shattered when they’d company.
A loud bang woke both of them three hours later. It was the large purple door slamming closed, heeled footsteps could be heard striding up the stairs. Zac didn’t move, he simply frowned:
‘I’ve told her about banging about in Louboutins; my floors will be emaciated!’
‘Her?’ Joy gasped half awake. She hadn’t been expecting Zac to have a girlfriend living with him. She hurried out of the bed. Zac laughed causing her heart to sink.
‘Who do you think it is?’ He tried to mask his amusement at Joy’s dismay but it was to no avail.
‘Your fucking girlfriend!’ Joy snapped from the en-suite pulling on her leggings. Zac sighed sitting on the edge of the bed watching Joy hastily dress and curse him.
‘Do you honestly think we’d be sharing a bed if there was a chance of my girlfriend walking in on us?’
Joy looked at him confused as she fixed her hair. She could still hear the footsteps moving around the upstairs of the townhouse.
‘Babe, you’re my dearest friend, I wouldn’t risk having you bludgeoned to death with a pair of Manolo’s!’ the laughter returned to the scene as he threw a pillow in Joy’s direction before calling out: ‘Show thyself fiend, before thou hast ruined mine floors.’
The large bedroom door swung open and a tall, thin, blonde girl walked in and kicked off her heels at Zac’s feet. They both laughed, joy’s whole body relaxed.
‘Oh, thank god, Minty.’
‘Joy!’ came the shout as Minty and her long limbs hurdled the bed before enveloping Joy in a hug after a flurry of kisses on either cheek.
‘How are you? You couldn’t possibly be any worse than I am. My dream man has turned out to be married, my parents are ashamed, and I of course am still with him, frightful incident! Hence my living here ‘til it all blows over.’ Minty looked down at the floor as though ashamed all the while trying not to laugh. Joy looked at Zac who nodded smilingly.
Minty to friends and family, Araminta to all official channels was what the gossip magazines called an ‘it girl’ and the newspapers of repute a ‘society beauty’. She was beautiful; long ripcurl waved blonde hair, sallow skin and green doe eyes. She could easily be a model and she knew it too. She’d been accused of using her looks to boost one or two grades in her first year at university. Zac had found the whole thing hilarious complaining to Joy that he’d suffered the misfortune of having all male teachers and therefore had no choice but to study.
It wasn’t the first time that Minty had sought refuge at Zac’s having done something that her parents looked on less than favourably.
‘I’ve only come back for my laptop, Etta rang me asking how was I fixed for the presentation tomorrow, said she was worried I’d forgotten. The nerve! I was shocked, ‘Presentation? What presentation?’ I asked’
‘So you had forgotten.’ Zac laughed after Minty’s offended tone when explaining that she was accused of forgetting. Minty threw him a look that would cause glass to shatter before continuing.
‘Turns out our English literature presentation are due the twelfth and not the thirtieth. Tell me they sound alike.’ She pleaded in an exasperated tone hoping to be vindicated. ‘I’m sure we could argue that we misheard the date. Henrietta however, feels that losing the five percent is not necessary as she has her part done and we’re only being judge on our own contribution to the group.’ Minty fell onto the bed as though she’d been shot, wearied by the recounting of her woeful tale.
‘The bitch!’ Joy and Zac chimed, knowing that was the called for response.
‘Exactly!’ Minty sat up then walked out of the room, heels in her hands, to get her laptop. Swishing her hair in a walk that left those who saw her in little doubt that she was on a mission.
‘I love her but she does drain a person at times.’ Zac snuggled back down into the cloudy pillows. Joy laughed, Minty had always had the ability to take over a room with all the gusto of a force nine hurricane.
‘I feel a bit stupid now.’ Joy looked across the marshmallow pillows at Zac; he simply smiled back at her brushing his leg against hers under the covers.
‘Don’t worry about it. Now, tell me what happened.’
Not a lot to be honest. I went for a walk to clear my head and ended up here.’
‘I’m glad. I like having you here.’ He leaned across, kissing Joy on her right cheek, brushing against her lip as he did so. ‘Stay. Luca will be around later, he’d love to see you.’
‘How is Lu? I haven’t seen him in ages.’
‘All the more reason to stay. Luca is helping me with a translation on a plan then we’re getting lunch. The translating shouldn’t take more than two hours, he’ll be here in…’ He looked at his watch, one of those large expensive watches, the type you didn’t need to see the name to recognize that its price contained four zeros. ‘In thirty minutes actually.’ He lay back into the pillow and closed his eyes; Joy smiled watching him then closed her own eyes. Of course she was staying; there’s nowhere she’d rather be.
‘Get up!’ A voice drifted into Joy’s sleep, ‘Now!’ it rang louder. Joy felt Zac jump up beside her. She opened her eyes to see Zac shaking himself awake and Luca giving her his best military salute from the end of the bed.
‘Stella, what brings you to Zac’s bed? Benefits?’
Joy smiled before bursting into the customary ‘Lu, lu, lu, lu, lu, lu, Luca!’ she danced her way to the end of the bed in her underwear, then cuddled Luca in a hug wrapping her legs around his waist.
‘You’re all business like.’ Joy noted as a suit clad Luca spun her around while the blinds swiftly rose allowing in the noon sun. It was an expensive suit, Luca always liked to be in a suit during the week. She’d get a look at the jacket later, see the brand. It always fascinated her to know what they were wearing, Luca always looked as though he’d stepped out of GQ or L’Uomo.
‘I’ve been at work since seven. I thought I was coming over here to do some work, not break up a slumber party. Move Zachary!’ the last part was louder and directed at Zac as he gingerly got to his feet and headed into the bathroom to rinse the sleep from his body. Joy jumped down from Luca, she put on a white shirt from Zac’s wardrobe before she and Luca headed downstairs together.
‘Coffee?’ Luca took three cups from the press above the coffee maker and queued them up as they awaited their fuel. It was like the scene at the petrol station just before a shortage or a severe rise in the price.
‘Yes please, just what I need to sort my head!’ Joy smiled perching on a stool at the black marble island.
‘Tired, worried, bathed in alcohol or the treble?’ Luca questioned as the first shot of espresso rained into a red cup.
‘Just tired, the lesser of the three. Thank you.’ She sipped the coffee.
‘I needn’t ask Zac, I know he’s completed the treble.’
‘He’s not worried.’
‘He will be; Izzie thinks they’re on now.’
‘Oh do fuck off!’ Zac chimed as he walked into the kitchen, his freshly washed hair spiked up drying. ‘Well she knows it was nothing like that. Has it ever led to that?’
Luca tutted walking over to Zac with his coffee, before going back to the counter to make his own. There was silence until Luca joined them at the island. Before anyone could say another word Zac’s phone buzzed, he looked at the name and walked into the hall.
‘He’s here now, we’re just about to get started, shouldn’t take too long, I’ll have it sent to you before five.’ Luca and Joy heard Zac assure his father on the other end of the phone, they both presumed he was speaking to his father.
‘That’s nice isn’t it?’ Luca smiled sipping his coffee, ‘Ringing to see if I’ve arrived when I’m the one who’d to get Zac up!’
They drank their coffee and then Luca and Zac went into the front room that looked out onto the leafy London street lined with minis and black cars, a few Porsches and no less than three Ferraris. the front room and its carpet of blueprints and hand sketched plans were bathed in the golden spring sunshine.
‘This shouldn’t take anymore than two hours at the very most. Wait and we can all go into Southbank for some lunch before I drop these to my father, he wants the originals back today.’ Zac said turning to Joy, his brief sleep and been suddenly woken by Luca must have caused him to forget that he’d already suggested lunch to Joy. She was delighted to be asked, he was just as happy to have her around.
‘Are these from a museum?’
‘Yeah they’re from Milan.’
‘Best not spill any coffee on them so!’ Joy laughed as she stepped away from the door. ‘I’ll wait in the kitchen, lunch sounds great, Southbank sounds even better!’
‘That’s sorted so.’ Luca smiled kneeling over the hand sketched museum plans. Joy was sure that he was trying to avoid breathing on them. Zac was busy on his iPad and the two now had MacBook pros open on the glass coffee table. Joy left them to it walking back to the kitchen she made a milky cappuccino and went out onto the deck in the back garden, Zac had one of the most fabulous homes she’d ever been in. she couldn’t understand why he choose to live in student accommodation when he could have easily bought this townhouse while he was studying. He had just laughed and said he wanted a proper university experience, not a gilded existence, he had that in his secondary school where tops and tails were the uniform and the building more Hogwarts than high school. ‘Besides Stella, I wouldn’t have met you or had nearly as much fun had I been tucked away here.’