Out to lunch
Mrs Patterson was still sleeping in the other bedroom when Laura trotted happily into the kitchen. Today she was going outside, and she felt like a bird about to be released from a cage. She told herself not to get over-excited, it had been less than a fortnight and a fancy show flat was hardly Strangeways, but nevertheless she was delighted.
Looking forward to lunch with Rani meant she’d stopped worrying about what might lay ahead, for a few hours at least. She’d had the best night’s sleep since she’d arrived in the flat, apart from the first night that is, and she certainly wasn’t going to spoil her day by thinking about that.
Laura left it until after half past nine to knock on Mrs Patterson’s door. It was unusual for her to stay in bed after eight, and Laura wondered if she might be ill. Perhaps she too was feeling the effects of being cooped up, but she stirred when the door was pushed open and sat herself up with some effort.
Laura noticed how small and frail she seemed in the big double bed. It was the first time she had really thought of Mrs Patterson as old, when of course she was in her eighties.
“It’s almost ten. Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Ten? It can’t be – you should have wakened me sooner Laura, I’m so embarrassed to have slept so late. Tea would be lovely, thank you.”
By the time Laura returned with the steaming mug Mrs Patterson looked much more her usual self, propped up contentedly on the pillows with her glasses on and a magazine in her lap, although the room was still in semi-darkness.
“Thank you my dear.”
She took the tea and put it on the floating glass shelf which stuck out of the wall beside the bed. “I’m afraid I can’t seem to make the light come on.”
A small panel of electronics was embedded in the wall above the shelf, and Laura prodded at it hopefully. The television on the opposite wall came to life briefly, some coloured mood lighting flashed on and off, and then finally the blinds whirred upwards letting in the sunlight.
“Now you can see why I always come into the kitchen for morning tea,” Mrs Patterson said.
Laura laughed. “It’s the latest thing don’t you know, probably cost thousands.”
“I much prefer curtains and a bedside lamp.”
By eleven Laura was showered and dressed and itching to be off. Mrs Patterson almost had to restrain her.
“Harry will ring the bell at eleven thirty and he will accompany you.”
“Does he have to? I’ll look a bit ridiculous with a body guard in Hyde Park in the middle of the day.”
“Yes he does have to. He can walk a few paces behind you if you insist, and sit at a different table, but he’ll be there, the whole time, and he’ll bring you home too. We are not taking any chances.”
“Alright, I give in.” Laura wasn’t going to let anything spoil her outing.
In the end it wasn’t too bad walking from the block of flats to the park with Harry. At least she could be thankful that he wasn’t wearing his hi-vis jacket and hard hat, but instead looked suitably anonymous in jeans and a polo shirt.
Laura took the opportunity to quiz him about Joseph, finding out a little more about the scaffolding business but not much else. Mr Singer was apparently a very private person, and when Harry in turn asked her how well she knew Joseph, she stammered and quickly changed the subject.
As they neared the café Harry dropped back and, as promised, found himself a close, but separate table. As Laura settled herself outside in the sun, grateful for the sunhat she’d found in amongst Jeannie’s supplies, he sat down just inside from where he could watch her without looking too suspicious. He pulled out a newspaper and made himself comfortable.
Rani blew onto the terrace like a tropical breeze, her white jeans dazzling and her flowing peacock blue top fluttering against all the other diners she passed as she pushed her way through to Laura. Her hair was hidden beneath a dramatic black straw hat with a huge brim, and every eye was on her as she sat down. Laura saw Harry staring open mouthed, and when she caught his eye he grinned and shook his head.
As soon as Rani reached the table a young waiter bustled over to take their order. Funny how he’d been nowhere to be seen when Laura was sitting alone.
“Black Americano, Perrier, Caesar salad, chips please,” said Rani.
If the waiter thought this was an odd combination he didn’t show it as he turned to Laura, pen poised.
“I’ll have the tuna melt and a Diet Coke please.”
“And I suppose you’d like chips as well?” So he didn’t think much of their choices after all.
“Yes, thank you I would.”
He span on his heels and stalked off.
“What’s with the attitude?” asked Rani, “if you think chips are beneath you don’t put them on the menu.”
Laura smiled, happy to be with her friend again. “How’s work?” she enquired, “anything interesting happening?”
“Not much. Olga got her hair cut, looks worse than ever. They’ve decided not to go ahead with the reshelving project in 24A until next financial year. Oh, and I’ve met Tom.”
“Your friend from Boston Spa.”
“He’s not really my friend.”
“Whatever. He was down for a course and came in to see you. He was disappointed that you weren’t around I think, said something about doing some more reading you might be interested in.”
Laura nodded in what she hoped was a non-committal way.
“But that’s quite enough about work missy. I want to know what’s wrong with you and why you’ve not been there.” Rani sized Laura up, “you don’t look very ill, a bit pale perhaps but that’s pretty normal for you. Look me in the eye.”
Laura met her friend’s questioning gaze, and the stress of the last couple of weeks almost spilled out as tears pricked and she had to look away.
Rani’s expression turned instantly from gentle teasing to genuine concern, “Oh Laura, whatever is it? What’s happened to you?”
Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book