As much as Blake liked seeing his friend Becca, being at her house, her stomach swollen with baby number two, whilst baby number one was still in nappies was not his idea of dinner party bliss. He’d escaped as soon as he could, not missing the look of mischief on his dear friend's face.
He and Becca went way back, she was the only female friend he hadn’t slept with. They’d been at boarding school together in France, or was it Italy? He couldn’t remember, but they’d been friends. He was Godfather to baby number one, Dominick and he did all his Godfatherly duties like be there at the Christening, buying bonds in the little boys name and generally asking how he was once a month. Yes he was a good Godfather.
Too early to go home, well to the flat he used whilst in Nottingham, Blake decided to walk around. It was barely nine o’clock, all the shoppers had gone as Nottingham still operated by the antiquated five o’clock shop closure system that was a pain for busy people like his PA when he needed him to get him something. He always grumbled about the early closing times.
People were heading out to restaurants, no doubt filling up before dancing off the excess of calories he thought, as he walked through Hockley. He could see his building in the distance and knew he only needed to walk for another fifteen minutes and he'd be there.
A group of women dressed in a haze of fluorescent pink and white surged out of a pub and surrounded him like a swarm of angry bees.
"Oi, here’s a nice one," one of them said.
Smiling tightly Blake tried to extricate himself, but two looped their arms through his stopping him.
"She’s getting married next week," one with spiky black hair explained. "See?" She pointed to a blonde wearing a pink tutu and white sash and a gleaming plastic crown.
"Congratulations." Blake murmured, trying to hustle the women along up the narrow lane.
"Would you like to come for a drink? Her last hurrah and all that?" another one asked hopefully, batting her overly long false eyelashes at him.
"Aww please," spiky black-haired woman pouted up at him. "You're a nice looking bloke, tall and handsome. What colour are your eyes?" she moved in closer to look into his eyes. "Blue or green?"
Blake gritted his teeth. What was it with these northerners and harassment? Sexual harassment worked both ways.
Peeling himself away as firmly as he could he quickly walked around them and into the nearest shop. Then stopped.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
There were cats everywhere. He blinked just to see if the curry he’d had for dinner wasn’t playing with his brain cells.
Yes, there were cats of all different sizes all different colours on the other side of the glass wall.
He turned to go, but a girl with a red rose in her hair caught and held his attention.
She’d changed. It was criminal to hide what she’d been hiding in that boxy suit she’d worn earlier at the bank.
Now, as she was bent over a cat, he could see her cute derrière and slender legs in a pair of blue faded jeans. The fabric was worn and faded where it cupped her bottom.
The door opened behind him.
"Go on in please mate, before that hen party change their minds and find me." A man, not much younger than Blake said taking off his shoes.
"Take your shoes off or Trinity will eat you alive," the man advised. "You don’t bring outside dirt near the cats."
"What is this place?" Blake asked, puzzled.
The man grinned.
"The Cat Café, I come here every chance I get," the man explained. "My girlfriend is allergic to cats but I like to come here and chill out and watch some football if I can wrangle the remote off Trinity."
"Yes mate," the man stuck his hand out. "I’m Travis,"
They shook hands.
"Take your shoes off and stick 'em in there," Travis advised, pointing to a row of wooden lockers with keys, watching as Blake followed his instruction with obvious reluctance. "Use this."
After placing his shoes in the locker he palmed the key the young man gave him, then following his example Blake put on a pair of disposable socks. Travis then pumped hand sanitiser on his hands and indicated for Blake to follow his example
"Are you ready?" Travis asked, practically bursting with excitement.
"What for exactly?"
Travis grinned, wriggling his pale eyebrow. "To fall in love of course." He pushed open the glass door.
Blake looked at the girl with the red rose in her hair and perfect golden brown skin, he exhaled and went in.
The Cat Cafe'
Call Me Lucky
She ran passed the strapping black bouncer at the entrance, around the side of the building and past a bunch of wheelie bins before stopping and throwing up against the building. Oh God it was horrible. They didn’t like her. Her body crumpled against the wall and she pressed her forehead into it, feeling the rough brick bite into her skin. Any pain was better than the feeling of her dreams shattering.
“Fliss!” It was Mackenzie. She didn’t want to talk to him. Not like this, not when she had failed. It was his fault anyway. She would never have put herself through this if he hadn’t dared her.
“I’m here,” She called out quickly, wiping away the water from her eyes. They were not tears she told herself.
“Why did you run you nit?” He admonished softly, pulling her into his arms and hugging her tight. “They loved you.”
“Yeah right,” she said pulling free and sniffing loudly. “Loved me enough they couldn’t bring themselves to even clap Mac.”
“They didn’t get a—” he didn’t finish what he was about to say as a man in dark jeans, white shirt and dark leather jacket walked towards them.
“If I didn’t see it with my own eyes I’d have never believed chavvy Felicity Pecora could render my customers speechless.”
Fliss gaped into the darkness knowing that voice, but refusing to believe it.
“What? Got nothing to say? This is a first,” he chuckled and, stepping closer, held out his hand to Mackenzie. “Theodore Nicholson. But everyone calls me Teddy,” he explained. “Felicity and I grew up together.”
Mackenzie shook his hand. “Mackenzie. Nice to meet you. Are you coming back in Fliss? They want more.”
Fliss shook her head in horror. There was no way she was going back inside. She’d done what she said she would do, gave it a go and took a bite of her apple. They didn’t like her and she wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.
“Can you give us a minute Mackenzie?” Teddy asked.
“Yeah, course mate.” Mackenzie stepped away. “You were amazing Fliss. See ya in a bit.”
Could this night get any worse. Teddy Nicholson was stood right in front of her, once again, at the lowest point of her life. World open up and suck me right in, she begged silently.
He’d used that same word with that same menacing tone that night all those years ago, she remembered with shame.
“Well what?” She questioned defensively, stalling.
“Well what are you doing in my pub for one thing?” Teddy asked, leaning against the wall and fishing into his jacket pocket for the one cigarette he allowed himself each week. It wasn’t there.
She turned to look at him but he was in profile and she could barely see him in the darkness. “I’m in London,” she mumbled.
She was fifteen again. Spotty, ugly and fat. Reduced to the bumbling teenager who’d been crying in the jitty at the back of the house as he’d shouted at her mother for having sex with his brother Marty. He’d threatened to call the police and social services on them. He’d been so angry and had left through the back gate, finding her huddled against the fence.
He’d reduced her to even more tears by the time he’d finished with her and when she’d just about crumbled at his feet, he’d taken a huge breath, shoved his hands through his hair and then given her a long pep talk that basically said, if he could get out then so could she.
“We won a trip,” she admitted quietly. “From work.”
He moved then, turning to stand in front of her, his head cocked to one side as he looked her over. He looked at her feet in sparkly ballet shoes, her legs in dark skinny jeans and a sparkly silvery top with tiny straps over her shoulders. Her hair was in a tight bun, set high on top of her head. It looked like she had a silky doughnut on her head.
“You look really nice Felicity.”
“What?” She snapped defensively, folding her arms over her chest. “You thought I’d still be wearing my charity labels Teddy?”
He frowned down at her. He’d always felt guilty for laying into her the way he had done that night behind her house. She couldn’t help the way her mother was or the environment she lived in. He’d just been so mad that her mother had got money out of his baby brother for sex. Stealing his innocence.
“Maybe,” Teddy shrugged. “Why deny it?”
Her eyes flashed and she poked him in the chest. “I’m not a kid any more Teddy.” She lifted her chin and stared straight at him.
“Really?” He sounded sceptical. “You’ve changed?” He was remembering the scrawny kid with the foul mouth.
She took a shuddering breath knowing he didn’t really believe her. Not that she cared what he thought.
“Yes really,” she snapped. “Look, can you go and get my friends please. I’m not going back in there,” she admitted tightly.
“You were sensational Felicity.” He smiled down at her. “My crowd loved you.”
“Yeah right,” she scoffed. “They loved me so much my ears are still ringing from all the appreciation they showed!” She finished on a wobble. She was not going to get emotional, especially in front of him! “And why do you keep saying your crowd?”
“I own the place,” he admitted. “And they were struck dumb by how good you sounded and not expecting it. Jesus Christ Fliss! Where does that voice come from? It’s amazing.”
“Stop lying Teddy.”
“I’m not lying. They want more!” He grabbed her hand. “Come on let’s go.”
“Are you fucking crazy?” She yanked violently out of his grasp and stepped away from him. It was beginning to drizzle. It had drizzled that infamous night too.
He grinned at her. “Ah, now, here is the Felicity I know,” he laughed. “I could always depend on your, dare I say, vocabulary to lower the tone of any conversation.”
“You can say what the fu-hell you like.” Why was she letting herself down like this, she thought, fighting the tears. “Please Teddy, go and get my friends. I’m getting wet.”
“Only if you promise to come back tomorrow night and do a whole set. When are you going back up to Notts?”
“We’ve got another night,” she said without thinking. “And I’m never going on stage again.”
“Come back tomorrow and have dinner with me then.”
“No. Why? So you can laugh at me. No thanks,” she questioned and answered all at once.
He chuckled deep in his throat. “I want to know what’s been going on with you, I’m curious that’s all.”
“You can take you’re curiosity and sh—”
“How old are you?” He cut in and watched with amusement as a shade of red touched her cheeks. She’d always been fiery. She’d always fascinated him.
Fliss felt like an idiot. She didn’t know why she was behaving like this in front of him.
“Hmm. Come, I’ll buy you a drink before you go.” He took her hand.
“I don’t drink.” She grumbled.
He stopped walking and turned to look at her in that intent way of his, with his head to one side. He nodded silently and then did what he’d done all those years ago. With one hand he cupped her face and used his thumb to stroke her cheek. A tender moment from him. He shook his head as though getting rid of unwanted thoughts and dragged her inside.