It’s good to talk…
After taking a moment to collect herself Laura tried to explain, as much as she could anyway. All she really wanted to do was to protect Rani from what might be coming.
“Something has happened, is happening really, but I can’t tell you about it. I know this will sound barmy but you have to just take me at my word. I’m not ill, but everything is not okay either. I can’t stay at home so I’ve gone somewhere with Mrs Patterson.”
“Why can’t you go home? Is someone after you? Did you miss a payment?!” Rani was teasing again but then she saw the look on Laura’s face.
“It’s not about money, but I am hiding, sort of. Oh this must seem so ridiculous, I know.”
“It’s nothing to do with that man who phoned is it? He didn’t hurt you?” Rani sounded angry now, and Laura knew her friend wouldn’t hesitate to ride into battle for her if she thought there was a fight to be had.
“He didn’t hurt me, not like you mean anyway. He was there, but now he’s gone, and he’s not the reason for all this.”
Rani could tell instantly that there was something going on with this man, and that it definitely wasn’t like the little incident with the sleazy map guy, but she knew better than to pry when it was something really sensitive so she let it drop.
“So you’re sort of in hiding but you can’t tell me why. Where are you staying or is that a secret too, and are you coming back to work?”
“I can’t tell you where, no. And I’m not coming back to work, not for now anyway.”
“Are you in danger here, today, then? You’re starting to worry me now Laura, this all sounds too weird, not like you at all.”
Laura glanced through the window of the café where Harry was nursing a large cup of tea and making short work of a very delicate bacon sandwich.
“No, I’m not in danger here.”
Rani spotted Harry, who immediately tried to turn away and knocked over the cup, spilling tea all over the table.
“A body guard? Is this for real? Not that he seems particularly menacing…”
Harry was now frantically mopping up the tea with a paper napkin and looking very flustered.
“He’s not exactly a body guard, but he did come with me, just in case.”
“In case of what?”
Laura didn’t answer Rani, and instead moved on to what she really wanted to talk about, getting her best friend out of the city and away from danger.
“Think of me as being on holiday. Talking of which, Rani you’ve not taken much leave this year have you?”
“Only a few odd days, I was waiting for a big adventure to come along, but it never did. You know I was hoping that Gerrard would whisk me off somewhere but he decided he rather whisk Russell off instead – didn’t see that one coming – and then I’d half been thinking that we might do that big trek in Peru you and I talked about last year…”
“I’m sorry, we will I promise, some day. But now is your chance to get away, it would be a really good time to take some leave, go on a trip somewhere, somewhere abroad.”
“Right now? Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Yes now, or at least by the end of next week.”
The waiter interrupted them, bringing their food and drinks on a large tray he held high in one hand as he squeezed between the tables and chairs. He arranged everything on the table, just about managing to hide his distaste as he put down the two bowls of chips.
They picked up their forks and dug straight in. The chips were perfect: hot, salty, crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Rani could see though, that Laura’s head was elsewhere as she ate, and after a few mouthfuls she asked her another question.
“Is it because of all this?” She nodded her head towards Harry, not really believing what she was seeing and hearing.
“Yes. I can’t tell you why, but please believe me when I say it would be really good if you were far away from here.”
“Bloody hell Laura, you’re serious aren’t you?”
Laura simply nodded.
“Well,” Rani thought for a moment, “I do have my cousins to visit. I reckon I could go there for a couple of weeks, maybe three at a push. Work should be okay – Clive’s back from his honeymoon and now we’re not starting that reshelving project I should be able to take the leave.”
“Where are your cousins?”
“Switzerland. My aunt works for the UN in Geneva.”
“Switzerland would be perfect,” Laura said. It’s landlocked, she thought.
Harry left the two women as long as he dared, but when he could see their plates had been cleared and their glasses were empty he made his way over to their table. There was no need to pretend any more, Laura’s companion had winked at him several times over the course of their meal. She was so striking, everyone on the terrace had noticed her, even before she put up that pink parasol when she’d finished eating. Even though she was so totally different from Laura they were obviously good friends and he was glad to see her relaxing, just for a while.
But now it was time to go. He didn’t know what the deal was exactly but he had his instructions – keep her in your sight, no one to go near her, take her straight back to the flat. If he had any more tea he’d need the loo, and he couldn’t watch her from inside the Gents so it was definitely time to move. He sidled self-consciously up to their table, hoping not to draw too much attention.
“Sorry Miss, time to go I think. I’ll wait over there,” and he made his way across the decking to the exit.
Despite their earlier conversation, Rani could still see the funny side and found this most amusing.
“Okay Miss, we’d better pay the bill then hadn’t we?” she grinned.
Laura was suddenly mortified, “I don’t have enough money!” she exclaimed. She was so excited to be getting out into the real world that she hadn’t even thought about going to the cash point. Her purse was in her bag but all it contained was a couple of pounds in small change and her Oyster card. Her bank cards were at home, or at least she hoped they were still there.
“Don’t worry, it’s my shout,” said Rani, beckoning over the waiter. He brought the card machine with him as well as the bill, and Rani paid, making sure that no tip was automatically added to the total.
“You can leave the tip,” she said to Laura, “if you don’t think he was too snooty. Personally I wouldn’t leave him a bean.”
Laura tipped the coins from her purse onto the little silver tray that the bill had sat on. She was always too kind not to tip, however dodgy the service. Before she stood up to go, Laura grabbed her friend’s hand and looked at her, Rani could see the dark shadows under her eyes and the expression on her face and it chilled her.
“Rani I mean it. I know this all sounds unbelievable but promise me you’ll take that leave, promise?”
“Any excuse for a holiday,” Rani replied, knowing she sounded flippant when really she felt the opposite. “I promise Laura, if it’s what you want, but is there nothing I can do to help? I can’t bear to just leave you like this, when I don’t know what’s going on.”
“Knowing you’re out of the way is enough,” Laura managed a smile, before she pushed back her chair and stood up.
Out of the way of what though? Rani thought, as she watched Laura walk away to the waiting Harry.
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