There is a bus stop a short way down the hill from the bookshop, and Jude joins the gaggle of passengers in the so-called shelter. (When it rains here, it usually rains sideways, and the shelter was clearly designed by someone who was only familiar with rain that falls vertically!) From the bus stop, Jude watches Kate struggling up the hill on her bike before turning off the road and vanishing from sight. She can see her other two friends wending their way towards the car park further down the hill. At the junction, they briefly turn their heads and wave. She waves back. Then they’re out of sight too.
A bus comes into view at the brow of the hill, top deck first, and is soon at the stop, where it disgorges passengers coming into town for lunchtime appointments and assignations of various sorts. Most of those who were waiting at the stop get on. But not Jude. As the bus lumbers on down the street, Jude begins to walk back up the hill towards the bookshop.
Earlier this morning, Jude had a phone call from Mattie. They play oboe in one of the city orchestras, and Jude is immensely proud of them. Mattie’s not that great at keeping in touch with their mum, though, and there’s usually a reason for a phone call, especially first thing in the morning. Mattie said they had a week or so before their rehearsals begin for their next season of concerts, and asked if it would be OK to come and visit.
Jude was thrilled at the prospect of spending some time with her only child, and said she’d make up a bed in the spare room, which used to be Mattie’s room. But Mattie cut her short. No, they couldn’t come to the house. Could they meet mum in town somewhere instead? And could she please avoid telling anyone they were coming?
All this cloak-and-dagger stuff was a little alarming, but of course Jude agreed, and she even picked the bookshop as a place to meet for lunch. It was only when she hung up that she remembered she was meeting her friends in the same place this morning. So she concocted a story about someone coming round to her house later to avoid having to tell any of her friends about Mattie’s visit.
Jude reenters the bookshop and walks through to the back once more. The aroma of coffee is already being supplanted by the smell of freshly made soup, and she looks forward to sharing some with Mattie in a few minutes – with just a hint of trepidation, given the somewhat odd arrangements they insisted on.
She sits at a table and, by force of habit, takes out her phone to occupy herself while she waits. Straight away she notices that there’s a text from Mattie:
Really sorry, mum. Something has come up. Won’t be able to make it for lunch. Hope to see you in the next few days anyway. Love, Mattie 🙂
First Mattie says they’re coming home. Then they say they want to meet secretly in town. Then suddenly they can’t come at all. It’s all very mysterious, and she worries what on earth they could have got themself mixed up in.
Before she has a chance to respond to Mattie’s text, though, her phone begins to ring. It’s Kate.
‘Hi Katie. Is everything OK?’
‘Well, not really, no. I could really do with your help just now. Are you on the bus?’
‘Um, no. The person who was coming round called to say they couldn’t make it, so I decided to stay in town for a bit.’
‘That’s good. I mean … Do you have anything else on? Could you meet me at the station?’
‘If that’s OK.’
‘Yes. Of course.’
‘Thanks, Jude. See you in a bit.’
She had been quite looking forward to her bowl of soup with Mattie. Then she resigned herself to eating alone. Now she leaves the bookshop hungry. Sometimes friends have to come first.
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