Taking refuge in the small garden, Sophie was sitting in an old fashioned wooden deck chair, but the autumn sun didn’t make her mind think any easier, and when Bill joined her with a ceasefire gesture of a bottle of wine, she couldn’t focus at all.
“Sorry mate, I know Vin has wild ideas. But I still think you should go. Raise your head high and then toss them the ‘V’ when they’re suitably impressed!” He seemed deep in thought after filling two glasses and handed her one, then he dropped to stretch out on the similar chair beside her, “what about my brother?”
She sprayed a mouthful of chardonnay across the small courtyard, “what?! Lord Henry Swift on a ‘date’ with me???”
He sighed, “He’s not a Lord!” Bill was indignant.
“No but he thinks he is! Bill the problem isn’t you! Any woman would be more than glad to have you on their arm...hell they fight over you every night of the week! You’re good looking, funny, and the most charming conversationalist! It’s just the whole going back in time thing. This last year...I don’t know!”
He sipped his wine, kicking out his feet and looking like a country gentleman with his ankles crossed sprawled across the small courtyard they called a garden.
“Is this to do with your folks? I mean they’ve constantly abandoned you for the greater good!” It was a topic they didn’t cover very often, but he was feeling a little buoyed by the great day he’d had. Throwing caution to the wind he studied her, waiting for a response.
“So I should be used to it?” Sophie half laughed. A childhood spent staying with relatives or in boarding school was not an overly happy one. “No it’s not that. I am used to that. But, well my brother’s got it all, lovely home, beautiful wife...”
“She is that!” He nodded enthusiastically, but with Bill it was purely an observation. He was that kind of guy. For Bill this was starting to make more sense. Sophie had taken so many risks, and her brother had shown nothing short of disgust for that. Funny how something quite different makes you reflect on everything.
Sophie raised her eyebrows and his response, then ‘hmphed’, “kids, great job...and he takes every opportunity to remind me of that. I’m just some drop out...he doesn’t get me living here...” She grinned at the sudden drop to Bill’s face, “or me giving up a ‘perfectly good career’. He makes me feel a failure.”
He was smiling, taking it all in the good humour it was meant with, “why do you let him? You know how my brother scorns me! I just laugh at him! And to be honest, what can be better than living here with me and Vin? Really?” And he meant it, he loved living with his two friends, they cared for his home as thought it were their own, they looked out for each other, and they had a symbiosis that many craved.
Sophie sighed, “You’re strong, successful and financially viable. All the things he pulls me up on. Your brother really has no avenue of criticism; after all he sits back and uses your father’s name to slide through life without any effort or work. That’s exactly how my brother sees me. It’s my weakness and he dives on it like a bird of prey every time he sees me. And I suppose my parents wouldn’t care about what I’m doing, they are all for what ‘feels right’, but growing up, Nick was more like a parent than them, it hurts that he judges me.”
Bill leaned forward and patted her shoulder, “you’re doing the right thing following your dreams Beck. You’re not a slave to the money, you never have been. This will work! How are the plans going?”
Her latest challenge was to submit her idea for the illustration of a series of six children’s books about supernatural occurrences. The publishing company would select the best one and Sophie had spent several hours with the author trying to visualise her ideas. But it was still a lottery. Securing the deal would be a huge coup, and would secure her a decent financial income for the next few years. Then she could concentrate on her real love. Art...for art’s sake.
“I have no clue, Bill. I had inspiration today in the bath...but if I don’t get this commission, then I don’t know how I’ll survive.”
“I’m not chucking you out mate, and I’m more than happy with you choring for your rent!” he chuckled at his gag.
She punched his shoulder in play as his chuckles broke into guffaws, for the last few months she’d been cleaning and cooking for the group, running errands, almost being a house keeper, it was a way of reducing her rent to Bill, and made her feel that she was contributing to the house, though at the back of her mind she was felling more and more indebted to her friends.
”Where’s Vin?” Sophie had thrown her feet up onto Bill’s knees, and he was back to reclining the wine glass in his hand.
“Some work thing...though she’s acting a little suspicious. I thought you’d know about that?”
Vincenza was a complicated character. Whilst she was the greatest friend a girl could ask for, patient, caring, there was no problem too great for her to take on, she kept her own cards close to her chest. Increasingly she was bottling up her emotions, and Sophie worried about her periodically. That Bill had picked up on that must mean that she was being particularly evasive.
“Hey! Let’s get some food delivered and open another bottle of wine?”
“Aren’t you going out? It’s Friday, I’ve not known you spend a Friday in the house for years. How will the female population of North London cope?”
He laughed, “Sophie I really am not that bad...am I?”
Her response was a knowing giggle as she headed inside to find some food menus.
Suddenly her inspiration to draw and paint the supernatural was at a high. Maybe her inner torment was awakening her creative juices. She didn’t care; all she was grateful for was the pages of sketches that came to life over the next two days. She barely saw her housemates she was buried away in her bedroom, and they knew better than to disturb her.
Sunday evening was the cathartic moment that Sophie could bundle together more than fifty percent of the images she was aiming for. Emerging from her room still dressed in dirty overalls she favoured for working, she carried two days worth of mugs and pot noodle containers, a sign that she was done.
Passing the hall, she head Vincenza’s lilting voice call after her, “you’ve had success cara?
Sophie beamed a smile as she headed for the kitchen, “inspiration and success! How are you?”
Vin followed her into the kitchen, “good. But I’ve missed you!”
“Everything ok?” Sophie turned to face her friend.
Vin’s head was bowed and it was a few moments before she lifted it, “I’ve met a man Sophie, and he’s really lovely!”
Sophie felt her eyes widen, “really? That’s amazing. When? Where? How? And most of all who?”
Vincenza chuckled, “it’s a man called Edward. He works at a distributor we use. He asked me out a few weeks ago, but you know me, I’m not one for dating!” That was an understatement, Vin never brought a man home, she’d had encounters, met men, but it never went past a first, or at the very most a second date!
“Wow!” Sophie gushed, “It’s no wonder you’ve been quiet! That’s great news, I’m so pleased! Why are you so...reticent?”
Vincenza toyed with her thumbs, avoiding her friend’s eyes, “he doesn’t know...”
Ah, it all made sense to Sophie, Vincenza hated the legacy of her family, her wealth and all the trappings that went with that life. Her father was constantly in society magazines, since her mother had died he was the most eligible middle aged man in Europe, he was a ruthless industrialist first and foremost, but more recently he’d veered into politics, and now he was both a household name and face. Her two siblings, an older brother and sister lived the luxurious life to the hilt. But Vincenza had been free of that for long time, much to her father’s chagrin. She’d even dropped his name, choosing to be known by her mother’s maiden name Dorino, rather than the now infamous Alessandro, making something of her life with her own merits was most important to her. She constantly worried that people would judge her, like or hate her because of her family, not herself. But in situations like this where she’d withheld that information, things rapidly became untenable as it always made it seem that she was lying.
“Tell him Vin, if he likes you it won’t make a scrap of difference. If it does make a difference then he’s not the man for you.” Seeing the indecisiveness in her friend’s eyes, she reached for her hand, “do it now before you really start to care about him. It’ll hurt him, and you, the longer you let it go.”
“I was going to bring him around for dinner one night, so you two can cast your eyes over him, tell me what you think.” She bit her lip nervously as she looked at her friend.
Sophie smiled, this was another first, “look that would be a bit intimidating, I mean we’re so tight the three of us, it’s like being an outsider at a family dinner, why don’t me and Bill bump into you one evening? In the pub maybe...by accident!” She winked elaborately. “Talking of Bill, where is he? It’s so quiet around here.” Normally they couldn’t have a deep and meaningful conversation for this long without him dipping into it. Usually with chaotic results.
“Cycling club of course. Southend-on-Sea and back, a Sunday afternoon jaunt of eighty odd miles!” She rolled her eyes; both Sophie and Vincenza were notoriously un-athletic. Neither could fathom how Bill could spend so many hours pounding the pedals, especially after a day in a high powered job like his. But he seemed to thrive on both the mental stress of the cutthroat banking world, and the physical stress of pushing himself to the limit on the road. The man had discipline that they both ridiculed, but secretly envied.
Sophie shook her head, a Sunday on his bike wasn’t unusual for Bill, but it was still a phenomenal activity, six or seven hours of cycling. “Shall I do us roast beef for supper? Bill will be in his craving five thousand calories when he gets back.”
Vincenza smiled, “with those lovely Yorkshire puddings?” She waggled her eyebrows trying to convince her friend, and no one loved flattery more than Sophie.
By the time a euphoric but exhausted Bill fell through the house at seven o’clock, the food was almost ready. With an exaggerated sniff he craned his neck around the kitchen door, all sweaty and muddy, “Is the artist out of isolation? Something smells di-vine!”
“Are you saying I can’t cook?”
He rolled his eyes at Vin, “I’m not even warranting that question with an answer!”
“It’s beef,” Vincenza purred, unable to hide her laughter at his retort, “with all the trimmings. Half an hour...go shower!”
Grinning he disappeared. If it wasn’t for Sophie the other two would survive on microwave meals, a disgrace given that Vincenza was Italian. And due to the incompetence and the extravagant tastes of her friends, Sophie’s cooking had become more and more legendary as time went on; it seemed now that she was indispensible.
“So have you attacked your project?” Bill asked between shovelling food into his mouth as though he’d not eaten for three months. They were all sat at the table in the dining half of the large kitchen, huge plates of meat and vegetables in front of them, plus some of Bill’s red wine. The man had exquisite taste and kept a supply of expensive wine in the utility room. He was so scathing of the girls who bought wine that was as cheap and cheerful as they could find.
“Made great headway...” Sophie sat back and thought for a moment, “in fact I might contact the author tomorrow, I’ve got a few questions now that I’ve started to brainstorm.” That was true, some of the descriptions she’d been given were difficult to characterise, she wanted to know that she wasn’t deviating too far from the author’s visions as she could put in hours of work only to have travelled off on a tangent where her images bore no resemblance to the original concept. She was having trouble reigning in her artistic streak which had to be a good thing!
Bill smiled, happy to see the old happy Sophie emerging from the ashes, “that’s great news, hey Vin?”
Vincenza nodded, “it is. But I still have that dress upstairs. I think you should go to the wedding, with William Swift!”
Sophie laughed at the rapid change in topic, “nice one Vin! I was just starting to forget!”
Vin grinned, “it’s two weeks away, it you’re going then we have to plan!”
She glanced at Bill who smiled genially then said, “I’m game if you are.” When she nodded he laughed, “I’ll make that man think I’m the luckiest guy alive, and he’s a fool!”