Dear all, thank you for voting. This is what you voted for:
Oh, you! Lyra so wanted to go home and talk to Tori! But you wanted something different. I had to rewrite quite a bit. I’m loving the challenge!
Enjoy this chapter, and don’t forget to vote!
I run back to Priya’s bedroom and replace the book in her drawer. I didn’t get to read half of it, but I don’t want her to come back home and catch me reading it. Still, I read enough to know that it’s a lesbian story with a happy ending. But Priya said the girls were just friends and that feelings don’t matter. Why did she lie to me about it? Also, why did she mention it in the first place? I walk in circles around the flat and start chewing on my fingernail. Flipping! I haven’t chewed my fingernails for ages. Not again!
I decide to go home. There’s only one possible explanation I can think of right now, but it’s rather far-fetched. Maybe I should think about this before I see Priya again.
The front door of her flat opens just as I’m about to leave. In walks Priya, looking dishevelled. Well, not dishevelled; but she doesn’t look good. Her eyes are puffy and red, and her hair is a mess. She’s been crying.
“Lyra, you still here? That’s a surprise,” she babbles. She hugs me with little force, as if holding on to me before her knees give up. “Nice of you to wait for me. Now go home if you want.”
“Were have you been?” I ask. She reeks of alcohol and cigarette smoke. “Come with me. You need a shower.” I free myself from her hug and take her hand.
“No! I’m fine,” she protests, pulling back her hand and staggering to the fridge. She opens the door and winces when the bright fridge light hits her eyes. “Where’s my beer, Lyra? I swear there was a bottle left. I need a beer.”
“You don’t need a beer! You’ve had enough.” I slam the fridge door shut, grab her hand and drag her towards the bathroom. “Now come with me. You need a shower! You stink.”
“You ain’t my mother!” she bawls, pulling her hand away from me again. “And since when do you care so much about me?” She stumbles into the bathroom and sits down onto the edge of the bath.
“Do you want me to stay and help you?” I ask, but she doesn’t answer. She closes her eyes and lets her chin fall onto her chest. “Priya!” I call out, putting my hand on her shoulder. “Do you want me to stay or to go home?”
“Do what you want,” she hisses. “Now get off!”
I get out of the bathroom and close the door. I head straight to the front door and am about to leave again when I hear the sound of the toiled lid going up, followed by Priya’s desperate vomiting. Shite! What has she done? This is my fault! I shouldn’t have told her about Tori and me. Who knows where she’s been the past six hours and how much she’s drunk! And how much she has smoked! Perhaps she still had hope that I could be normal, but telling her I had sex with Tori made it final — it made me a consummate lesbian. She can clearly not cope with it. I go back to the sofa and sit down. I need to make sure that she’s fine before I leave.
After a while I hear the toilet flush and the rattle of the shower curtain’s metal rings sliding around the tube. I skitter towards the bathroom door to eavesdrop. Despite the roar of the shower water I can clearly hear she’s crying again. Damn!
I go to her bedroom and fetch clean underwear and one of the oversized t-shirts she likes to sleep in. I open the bathroom door. “Pree, here’s some clean clothes for you. Are you OK?”
“I’m not. But it’s just beer. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“Where have you been?” I ask. “I was worried about you.”
“No, you weren’t,” she answers drily. “You’re worried now, but I bet that you didn’t think about me while I was gone. Or did you wonder were I was?”
“Of course I did!”
No, I didn’t. I slept (and dreamt about Tori), and then I read that mysterious book.
The water stops flowing, and I gaze at Priya’s silhouette through the curtain as she wrings out her long hair.
“If you want to stay overnight, go to bed now. I need to sleep right away. I’m feeling horrible!” she says. Her hand crawls between the curtain and the wall, and I give her a towel.
I get my toothbrush from my rucksack and go back to the bathroom to brush my teeth while she dries her body behind the curtain. “You know you can talk to me, don’t you?” I say while I wash the toothpaste off my brush. “Why did you go like that?”
She doesn’t answer. I wait for her answer, but she continues to ignore me. Does she want to make me feel guilty? It’s not my fault that she can’t cope with my homosexuality, is it? Am I not allowed to tell her about my love life? After all, she’s my best friend.
I finally give up and leave her alone. I turn off all lights in the flat and go to bed. A minute later she walks into the bedroom and closes the door. The small lamp on her bedside table gives off a faint soft light that makes her look spookily menacing as she stands arms akimbo at the foot of the bed, looking at me silently.
“What?” I ask.
“You…” She takes a deep breath and shakes her head. “Oh, nothing. We’ll talk tomorrow.” She lets herself fall onto the bed. “What’s with these gloves?” she asks, pointing at the gloves I left earlier on her pillow.
The bloody gloves! I should have stashed them away, but now they are going to remind her about Tori. I’m so stupid!
“What’s with the gloves, Lyra?” she asks again.
“I… You liked them so much, I thought you’d want to have them.” I take the gloves and get out of the bed. “Sorry, I’ll put them away.”
“No. Come back,” she orders. “You mean as a gift?”
“Yes,” I murmur.
“Give them to me.” She extends her hand. I put both pairs into her hand and climb back into the bed while she puts the pink gloves on. She strokes her forearm with her satin-covered hand and sighs. “I love how this feels. Thank you!” She gets into the bed and thrusts the other pair of gloves into my hands. “Now put these on.”
“I don’t think so,” I say. I climb over her and leave the gloves on her bedside table, but she takes them as soon as I’m back on my side of the bed and lets them fall over my face.
“I said put the fucking gloves on!” she screams, and the smell of booze coming out of her mouth scares me.
“And I said I don’t think so,” I retort.
“You put them on now, Lyra, or I swear I’ll never talk to you again.”
“Why would you want that? You’re not a glove fetishist.”
“No, I’m not. But SHE is, right? And when SHE tells you to wear gloves, you do it. But if I ask you to wear gloves, you don’t. That’s the way things are, right? You always do what Mummy Vicky wants. Because you love her more than me!”
“I love you, too. Just differently.”
“Yes, differently all right. You do everything she wants and nothing I want. Now put the gloves on, or fuck bloody off and don’t talk to me ever again!”
Hell, why not! It can’t be worse than this, can it? I hate my life. Everybody’s telling me what to do all the time. “Fine, I’ll wear them.” I put the gloves on carelessly. “Happy now?”
Priya looks at my hands and pouts. “No. Too many wrinkles.” She seizes the cuff of my right glove and pulls it forcefully up towards my shoulder making my fingernails ache. “Give me your other hand,” she says. I do, and she repeats the same procedure with my left glove. “Now I’m happy.” She rolls away from me and lies on her side, with her right arm under her pillow and her left hand under her cheek, demonstratively ignoring me. She turns off the light after a while.
“How much did you drink?” I ask into the darkness.
“Don’t know. Five pints? Seven? Why do you care?”
“Did you smoke?”
“Shut up now! I need to sleep.”
I roll into a foetal position facing my edge of the bed. She moves away as my bottom accidentally touches hers. Now it’s my turn to cry. This morning there was one woman in my life who forced me to wear gloves by means of emotional blackmail. Now it’s two. Why do I allow them to treat me like crap just because I don’t like gloves?
I decide I will take my gloves off as soon as Priya has fallen asleep, but I end up falling asleep before she does; and when bright sunshine hits me in the face and wakes me up the next morning I’m still wearing gloves.
A pair of strong but soft legs is intertwined with mine, and two satin-covered arms hug me strongly from behind. A pink-gloved hand has crawled under my t-shirt and rests high on my abdomen with the thumb between my bra-less breasts.
I’m about to say, “Good morning, Tori, my love,” when I realise that this is not my bedroom. Nor is it Tori’s. The warm, rhythmic breathing that tickles the nape of my neck is Priya’s!
How did this happen? It’s not the first time we’ve shared a bed, but we always wake up butt-to-butt, she facing the wall and I facing the window. But today I’m lying cosily in her gloved arms. This is the way I would have wanted to wake up next to Tori yesterday. Why the hell is it happening today? With Priya!
“Pree,” I call softly. “Are you awake?”
She kisses the back of my neck and hugs me more tightly, her gloved hand now fully cupping my left tit.
“Pree,” I call again a minute later. “Why is your hand on my boob?”
She keeps snoring lightly behind me and I wonder whether she’s aware of what her hand is doing. I close my eyes and relax. This whole situation is eerily strange, but oddly comforting. I wouldn’t mind if we could remain like this the rest of the day.
But a minute later she jumps up like struck by lightning.
“Oh, God, Lyra!” she screams, getting onto her feet and running around the bed like a headless chicken. “I’m so sorry! I was dreaming that… Oh, Lyra, please tell me we didn’t! Oh God, oh God!”
“We didn’t what?” I laugh, first nervously, but then heartily when her pink-gloved hands go up and cup her face in an impression of Munch’s Scream.
“Oh, Lyra, please tell me we didn’t shag each other! I was so wasted yesterday, I don’t remember anything!” She runs out of the bedroom and continues running around the flat crying “No, no, no!” while I laugh like crazy.
“Stop screaming ‘no, no, no’,” I say, getting off the bed. “You make it sound like shagging me would be a catastrophe.” I go to the living room, grab her by the shoulders and slap her playfully on the cheek. “Stop that!”
“Oh, Lyra! I’m so sorry, Dear! I don’t remember anything.”
“Come here.” I take her hand and pull her towards me. We hug and I whisper into her ear: “I swear nothing happened. You were totally wasted and I was super tired any way. We couldn’t have even if we wanted to.”
“I’m so embarrassed,” she says, hugging me tightly. “I can’t look you in the eyes right now… Wait. Why are we wearing gloves?”
“What? Oh, we are!” I look at my hands covered in black satin and can’t believe I could forget about the gloves, even with this commotion. I know I was aware for a second when I first woke up, but then I simply forgot about them. “You wanted us to. In fact, I didn’t want to wear them but you forced me.”
“Really?” she laughs nervously. “Oh, this is so awkward! So we spent the whole night in opera gloves? I don’t remember anything.”
“How do you know such gloves are called opera gloves?” I ask.
“I read about gloves on Wikipedia.”
“I was curious. After all, gloves are a part of your life, and you’re a part of my life.”
“Can you release me now, please? I need the loo,” I say. She’s a lot stronger than me, and she’s still hugging me like a big bear.
“You know?” she says. “Those gloves make you look gorgeous.”
“Yours make you divine! I would fancy you if you weren’t straight.”
A blush of discomfort immediately invades her face, and she runs back to the bedroom trying to conceal it. “You should keep your gloves on for the rest of the day,” she says.
“Oh, Priya! You bloody wish!”
Going to the loo gives me the perfect pretext to get rid of my gloves. Priya looks a bit disappointed when she sees me without gloves later, but she doesn’t say anything. She takes hers off as well.
“You’re right. Let’s have a short glove break,” she says while she folds both pairs of gloves delicately and puts them into the drawer of her bedside table. “How about we go for breakfast at Coco’s? I’m starving and I don’t want to cook.”
“But we’ll wear gloves all day when we come back. Just so you know.”
“Actually, Pree, I need to go home and talk to Tori.”
A hint of the fury she displayed yesterday before she left me alone appears on her face for a second, but she manages to hold herself back.
“Come on! We’ve spent a lot of time together,” I say quickly. “And breakfast gives us one more hour. I need to talk to you as well. It’s time for us to discuss some serious things.”
After that, we get dressed in silence. It’s an awkward silence. I don’t know what’s going on in her head, but mine is full of mixed feelings and chaotic ideas. After what happened this morning, the book I read yesterday gets a whole new meaning. That’s why I’m going to have breakfast with her. Because I want to know the truth.
Coco’s is one of the numerous cafés on Cowley Road, this glorious stretch of street life in Oxford. This half mile of road has more shops, restaurants and cafés than all of Saltcoats, my boring home town, and it’s full of life even on Sundays. The decoration of the café is simple, but I like it — small round Formica tables with marble patterning, simple wire-framed garden chairs with fat comfy cushions, and large windows that let in a lot of natural light. I choose one of the tables next to the window so that we can have some privacy.
“We need to talk,” I say earnestly as soon as we sit down.
“We need to talk? Oh please, don’t scare me. Don’t leave me!”
“Don’t be melodramatic!”
Priya gives me a Cheshire Cat smile.
“I’m serious, Pree! Up to yesterday, I thought our friendship was pure and perfect. We’ve known each other for six months, and during this time I’ve told you everything about me. I’ve confided all my secrets to you, and I thought you told me all your secrets. But yesterday I found out that you have secrets that you don’t share with me. And that hurts. But most of all, I think one of those secrets is affecting our relationship. Yesterday I wanted to be with you because I needed you, but you left me alone when I needed you the most, and I still don’t know why.”
“I’m sorry, Dear, I’m so very sorry!” she says softly. “I know I’ve been a total bitch since you told me about your feelings for Tori. I thought I would eventually cope, but I can’t. I can’t!” She cups my hands in hers and stares in my direction, but her gaze is distant. She fights back the tears that start making her big honey-coloured eyes glisten.
I catch myself wishing we hadn’t left our gloves at home. It would be nice if she was wearing those soft pink gloves while we’re holding hands like this.
“Leave her,” she says finally.
“Leave her, Lyra! Leave Tori and come live with me.”
“I can’t do that. I love her!”
“If you love her, why are you here now? You left her right after she shagged you and have been with me all the time. Why didn’t you go home when I left you alone? I was gone for… how long, five hours, six hours? But you waited for me —”
“Shouldn’t we order breakfast first?” I stand up and go to the counter. This is not going the way I was planning. I wanted to confront her with what I read in that book, with her secrets; but now she’s leading the intervention.
“You didn’t ask me what I wanted to order,” Priya says when I go back to the table.
“Full English and chai masala. Am I right?”
“You know me that well?” she asks with a smile.
“That’s what I thought. But yesterday I found two things in the drawer of your bedside table,” I say, seizing the opportunity to take the lead.
“You were rummaging in my drawer?”
“Don’t make that face. I wanted to put the gloves in the drawer and surprise you. I didn’t mean to go through your private stuff —”
“But you did.”
“Yes, I did. But I’m sorry, all right? I found a packet of cigarettes.”
“So you smoke regularly, but yesterday you said you didn’t. Hell, I didn’t even know you were a smoker until yesterday! That’s a big secret that you didn’t share with me. That hurts.”
“I quit three years ago. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.”
“So that packet’s been in your drawer for three years?”
“Yes.” She looks out of the window. “If you want to know the truth, no. I bought it recently. It’s been a stressful time, and I thought maybe I’ll want to smoke to relax. Divya’s engagement party will be soon, and my family’s so getting on my nerves about that. And I’ve had a lot to do at the office.” After a moment of hesitation, she adds: “And then there’s you.”
“Me? What about me?”
“But I didn’t touch those cigarettes. I bought them but I didn’t smoke them, so no big deal, OK?”
The waitress serves our food and we eat in silence for a while. As usual, she gives me her black pudding and steals my tomatoes, and I don’t complain even though I, too, like tomatoes. Our relationship sometimes feels like an old marriage.
“You want chai?” She holds her mug over my plate.
“Thank you.” I put my hands around the mug — well, around her hands that are still holding the mug — and take a few sips.
“Are you disappointed in me?” she asks. “Smoking doesn’t make me a bad person, you know?”
“Remember the girl with the bowler hat? A couple of weeks ago, at the kebab shop?” she adds between scrambled egg mouthfuls. “I noticed how you eyed her when she lit up. I thought you liked it,” she says, waving around her fork.
“She was damn gorgeous! That’s why I EYED her, and not because she smoked. Listen, if you want to smoke, do it. I’m not your mother. But I’d rather you didn’t. You do sports, you try to eat healthy. Smoking’s bad for you.”
“Tell me to never do it again, and I never will.”
“That’s not the point. The point is that you didn’t share your secret with me. I thought we were friends.”
“We are friends, Lyra. That’s why I’m asking you to leave Tori. She’s bad for you. She doesn’t respect you. And to be frank, I don’t feel you really love her. You deserve better. I don’t like what she’s making of you.”
“What do you mean, making of me? Turning me into a lesbian? That’s what you mean? Well, just so you know: I’ve probably always been a lesbian and it only took the right woman to pop into my life for me to find out. This is not working, Priya, you and me.” I point alternately at her and at my own chest. “I thought we were friends and that’s why I decided to tell you about my feelings for Tori. And I thought you would understand. But everything has changed between us since then. You’ve been so bitchy! By the way, don’t think I’ve forgotten what you said a minute ago — that I’m a stress factor in your life. Was it because I’m a lesbian? Are you that homophobic?”
“Shh, calm down!” she shushes me, looking around nervously. “I’m not homophobic. I’m not! Otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you at all. I just don’t like what she’s doing to you. I used to think you were strong-minded and self-confident, but now you’re her puppet.”
“I’m sorry, Dear, but you are. Anyway, what I wanted to say is I know I’ve been a total bitch since you told me about your feelings. I thought I would cope, but I can’t. Do you want to know why? Because I’m jealous! Now that she’s your girlfriend, will you need a best female friend at all? Will we have our Saturday evenings? Or are you going to get yourself a male best friend, a real gay sissy and you’re gonna get manicures together and talk about girly stuff and you’ll forget I exist?”
“Now, now, don’t mix up the clichés,” I laugh. “It’s straight girls who get themselves such friends.”
She smiles bitterly and drinks the rest of her chai. Then she takes my hand and kisses it, pressing her lips hard and long against my knuckles.
“Nothing’s going to change between you and me,” I say tenderly. “Tori and I are a couple already, and nothing has changed between you and me. And also, sooner or later, you will get yourself a good boyfriend and then I will be the one who will not get enough time with my Indian Princess. Remember what I told you about Marco? He’s a nice bloke; and good-looking, too.”
“But he’s a kid. Only thing he can talk about is bloody football.”
I drink the remainder of my coffee slowly so that I can change the topic. “Where were you yesterday?” I ask.
“I called Marco and we went to the pub. I first wanted to go alone and think about your situation. But then I thought I’d rather not be alone. He asks no questions. He comes and drinks a pint with me, talks about football, and I don’t even need to listen. I was angry. I’ve been meaning to ask you to move in with me for weeks, but when you told me you had sex with that bitch —”
“Don’t call her that! I love her.”
“You don’t. But anyway, when you told me she shagged you, I knew you wouldn’t want to move in with me. I’m sorry I left you alone, but I was so angry.”
I caress her hand and notice a young lad, the sort of popped-collar-wearing bloke who thinks he’s the cool one of the gang (only he isn’t), gawping at us intently. I look at him and stick my tongue out and mimic clit licking. Just for a second, but that’s enough to make him blush and turn away with a sharp jerk and tip over his coffee mug.
“What was that?” asks Priya who was looking out of the window and didn’t notice what I just did.
“Nothing,” I say. And then, without further warning: “I found the book.”
“Annie and Liza.”
Priya blushes on command.
“You said they are only friends, and you said that feelings don’t matter. But they are lovers, and they end up together. Happily ever after and all that shite. Why did you lie to me?”
“I didn’t want to talk about the book in the first place.” She’s clearly uncomfortable. “But then you asked what I was thinking about, and I mentioned the book. And when I realised that I can’t tell you the truth it was too late —”
“Why can’t you tell me the truth?” I ask sternly.
“Because I still had hope that you were normal, and I didn’t want to tell you a story about two lesbians who get together. It’s not real!”
“What about me and Tori? Are we not together? Are we not real?”
“Real yes, but are you really together? You’ve been more time with me than with her since you two became a couple. Because you weren’t before the shag on Friday, were you?”
“But we love each other!” I protest.
“Of course you do!” she snorts. “Do you want more coffee? I’m ordering another chai for myself.”
“Yes, please,” I say. When she returns to the table I ask what I really want to know: “Why have you got that book in the first place?”
“When you told me you’re a lesbian, I wanted to understand what you’re feeling so that I can support you. Or talk you out of it. That’s why I bought the book.”
“Don’t insult my intelligence, Priya! That’s a lame excuse. And to be honest — you sounded like rehearsed. We can’t be friends if you have secrets with me. You want to hear my version of the story?” I come close to her and whisper: “You’re a closeted lesbian, too afraid of how your family would react to the news, and your homophobia is just a mask — smoke and mirrors.”
The waitress serves our beverages like on cue. It’s the perfect interruption to make my words linger on Priya.
“All right!” she says, clearly irritated. She looks around nervously, as if to make sure that nobody’s listening. “I’m going to tell you a secret, Lyra. But you have to promise you won’t tell anybody, and we won’t talk about it again after today.”
“No. Promise first.”
“Good. I promise. Now tell me.”
“The first time I fell in love… Or rather, the first time I THOUGHT I had fallen in love… it was a girl.”
“So you are?” I knew it! That explanation seemed far-fetched when it crossed my mind yesterday, but what happened this morning in bed made me think I might be right. I knew it!
“I’m not,” she says drily.
“Oh!” I exclaim, feigning disappointment. And out of nowhere, I decide to joke with her. I get closer and wink. “And there I thought, for a second, that you fancy ME. Remember that kiss you gave me on the neck this morning?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Lyra! I told you I was still asleep and dreaming,” she says. “Of a MAN,” she adds, elongating the word “man” exaggeratedly.
“But your first love was a girl,” I say.
“I THOUGHT she was. I told my parents. They are quite liberal and supporting so I thought they would help me understand what was going on in my head. My father didn’t care at all. He said all girls have such infatuations, and it will pass, and when he’s found a good husband for me, I’ll forget quickly and everything will be fine. But my mother cried for weeks. When she finally pulled herself together, she said nothing’s more important than family, and THOSE people have no families, so I better forget those stupid ideas.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I take her hand and caress it softly. Damn, I really wish she would be wearing her pink satin gloves now! “If you are a lesbian, you are a lesbian. Don’t let your parents tell you what you’re supposed to be. I’ll support you.”
“Shut up, Lyra!” she says angrily. “I’m not a bloody lesbian! My father was right. The infatuation passed when I met a nice boy. And I’ve had plenty of boyfriends since then —”
“Plenty of bad boyfriends,” I interject.
She ignores me. “I was fourteen when that happened. Until then I hadn’t any opinion about gay people at all. I just didn’t care. But my mother’s pain changed everything. It made me feel being gay is really bad, but I also wanted to understand gay people. And that’s why I read that book you found yesterday. It’s a good book. It made me understand that being gay is not bad. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m straight. End of story.”
“No, wait. If you had already understood that being gay is not bad before you had met me, why did you react that way when I told you I might be gay? I thought you condemned me for loving another woman.”
“I never thought bad of you,” she says. “I still love you, really. But I reacted that way because I felt so sorry for you. It reminded me of my mother’s pain, and I don’t want your mother to feel the same.”
My mobile rings before I can think of an answer to that. I take it, decided to reject the call if it’s Tori. I don’t know why, but the idea of rejecting Tori’s call is strangely satisfying. I throw a quick glance at the screen, but it’s not Tori. It’s a mobile number I don’t know.
“Who is it?” asks Priya.
“I don’t know,” I say while my finger slides over the green phone icon on the screen. “Hiya?”
“Lyra Walker?” asks a confident voice on the other side of the line. I don’t recognise it.
“Yes. Who —”
“Hello, Lyra! This is Pip Simmons, Tori’s sister.”
“I’m in Oxford now,” she says. “I would like to talk to you. It’s very important. Where can we meet?” Her loud voice and fast speech remind me of Marie, the wild footballer girl.
“Sorry, I’m not at home —”
“I know that. I just was in Tori’s house and you were not there,” she interrupts again. “Where and when can we meet?”
“I’m having breakfast on Cowley Road,” I say, and Priya frowns. “It’s probably going to be half an hour —”
“Where on Cowley Road?”
“I know the place. I’ll be there in five minutes. See you there.” She hangs up.
“Was that your mistress?” asks Priya.
“She has a sister? What did she want?”
“I don’t know. She wants to talk to me, but she didn’t tell me about what.” A stream of cold sweat runs down my spine as I suddenly imagine that maybe something happened to Tori. What if she did something stupid after our argument yesterday?
“And now you’re meeting her sister!” Priya snorts.
I ignore her and call Tori but she doesn’t take the call. “She’s not taking it. What if something happened to Tori?”
We both startle as a red sports car with a chrome running horse on the grill suddenly gets half onto the pavement and comes to a screeching halt right in front of the café (despite the yellow double line). A young woman steps out of the car and, although I’ve never met her before, I know that must be Tori’s sister. She’s wearing knee-high cowboy-like boots over a pair of skinny jeans, a lightly oversized t-shirt, and tight elbow-length leather gloves. She pushes open the door of the café, and the click-clack of her heels on the tiled floor mixes with the chiming of the hanging bells that are hit by the door every time it opens. She takes off her sunglasses and looks in all directions. Her eyes sparkle up as soon as she sees me, and she walks towards our table sporting an open bright smile.
“Lyra!” she calls out loud and clearly.
“How do you know?” I ask.
“Tori’s shown me pictures of you.” She puts her black-gloved hand on my shoulder and bends down to plant a pair of loud kisses on my cheeks. “Nice to finally meet you, Lyra. You’re a lot more gorgeous in real life.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, blushing. It’s a huge compliment coming from someone as good-looking as Pip. Her face is a vivid copy of Tori’s, but she has wild red curly hair, green vivacious eyes and a lip piercing with a small glittery ornament that sticks out right through the flesh of her underlip (which I find strangely compelling although the first thing that crosses my mind is how badly it must have hurt when she had it done).
“And you are?” Pip says to Priya, offering her her gloved hand.
“An acquaintance of Lyra’s.” Priya shakes Pip’s hand. “Just ignore me.”
“Pree, this is Philippa, Tori’s sister,” I say.
“Pip!” says Pip.
“Pip, then. Pip, this is my friend Priya.” I say. “Now tell me, what’s wrong with Tori? I was so worried after you called.”
“Nothing’s wrong with Tori.”
“Then why did you want to see me with such urgency?”
“Because I need to talk to you about something important. But don’t worry about Tori. She’s fine. In fact, more than fine. Mum always pampers her when she visits us.”
“So she’s at your parents’ now?”
“Yep. She surprised us yesterday and stayed overnight.”
“So, if Tori’s fine…” says Priya, rubbing her chin almost theatrically, “Why did she send you here? Couldn’t she look for Lyra herself?”
“She doesn’t know I’m here. I came on my own initiative.”
“Then how did you know my phone number?” I ask.
“Ah!” Pip smiles, showing off two rows of perfect white teeth. “My sis thinks she’s so smart, but then she goes and sets six-seven-one-nine-eight-six as her phone’s password! So I took the liberty to look you up while she was sleeping.”
“Six-seven-what?” I ask.
“Her birthday, Dear. Her own birthday!” Pip gets a chair, places it between Priya and me with the back rest facing forward, and sits down heavily with her gloved arms casually resting on the table.
“Hey, Cowgirl! I think you forgot your spurs and hat in your Mustang,” says Priya.
“You like my style? Thank you!” says Pip to Priya. “Lyra didn’t tell me she was not alone. I didn’t mean to interrupt you girls, but now that I’m here, could you give Lyra and me a minute?”
Priya stands up and shoots a stern glance at me. “Lyra, come with me for a second, will you? I’m sorry, Philippa. Why don’t YOU give us a minute?”
“Pip!” says Pip.
I stand up and follow Priya to the other side of the room.
“I’m so sorry, Pree. I didn’t know she would come here when I told her where I was,” I say. “But we were nearly finished, weren’t we? Let’s talk tomorrow at the office. If she came all the way from… Oh! I just realised I don’t know where Tori’s parents live. Anyway, if she came all the way from wherever just to talk to me, it must be important. She doesn’t live in Oxford.”
“But we were talking about us!”
“Us?” I ask, distracted by Pip fishing a lipstick out of her jeans’ pocket and retouching her lips. Like her sister, she behaves as naturally as if she wasn’t wearing gloves at all. Those tight leather gloves are a part of her.
“Yes, us!” says Priya. “You leaving Tori and moving in with me. But once again, your posh girls are more important than me!”
“They are not! But I’m very curious about what she wants to tell me,” I plead. “You and I can discuss whatever you want any other day.”
“Listen to me, Lyra Walker!” she says slowly, her voice turning louder. “If you leave me here and go with her, don’t bother talking to me again. Ever!”
“But you’re my best friend, Pree!”
“I’m sick of being second-choice! Or rather third,” she hisses, glancing at Pip with obvious anger. “Make your final choice — the glove sisters or me. But be warned: You choose Miss Cowboy over there and I’ll never talk to you again!”
Time to vote! (If you don’t have a tumblr account, go here: http://www.easypolls.net/poll.html?p=541f6429e4b09149347e05fd )
Simple question: who will Lyra spend the rest of the day with — Pip or Priya?