Today's Reading

"Edward and Lorna aren't here either," I say, now knowing the name of my elderly neighbor, and his wife. "I went over to introduce myself, and to make sure they'd seen the invitation, and they said they weren't sure they'd be able to come."

"I'm not sure parties are their kind of thing," Eve says doubtfully. "I honestly don't think anyone else will come now, but why don't you leave the door ajar?" Eve hugs the bottle to her chest like she's scared someone will steal it. "Then if Tim or Maria come along, they can let themselves in."

I hesitate a moment. Back in Harlestone, I wouldn't have a problem leaving the door open, but living in a city is different. Sensing my unease, Leo kisses the top of my head.

"It's fine," he says. "We're in a gated street, no one can get in unless they're let in."

I give him a smile. He's right, and anyway, I need to shake off my preconceptions about living in London. I go through to the hall, but before I can unlatch the door, there's a ring on the bell. "I'll be out in a minute!" I call over my shoulder to Leo. "I'll just get this."

I open the door to a tall, good-looking man dressed in smart chinos and a beautiful linen jacket. He's standing a few steps back, looking down at me from slightly hooded, deep-set gray eyes.

"You must be Tim," I say, smiling. "I'm Alice—come in."

"Hi, Alice, lovely to meet you."

He steps into the hall, ducking his head below the glass pendant lightshade. For a moment, neither of us speaks.

"Did you know the house before?" I ask, breaking the silence.

"No, not really. I know you've had some work done, though."

"Only upstairs. We created a bigger bedroom by knocking down a wall."

"Sounds fascinating. I'm trying to imagine it." He looks toward the stairs. "At the front or the back?"

"The back. I can show you if you like," I add with a smile, because it isn't the first time I've traipsed up the stairs this evening. All twelve houses in The Circle were originally identical, although some have been extended since. People are interested to see how we've used the same space.

"Great, I'd love to see it," he says, following me up.

"So, Maria drew the short straw," I say, when we reach the landing.

"Sorry?"

"She got to stay home and look after the boys. She said you were having trouble finding a babysitter."

He nods. "That's right, we couldn't. Beginning of the school year, so I guess they prefer to catch up with friends."

I open the only door on the right-hand side of the landing. As he follows me in, the sound of people chatting and laughing in the garden floats in through the open windows.

"Amazing," Tim says, looking around. "I don't think I've ever seen such a big bedroom."

"It was Leo's idea," I say. "We didn't need three bedrooms, so he had two of them knocked into one."

"I hope this doesn't give Mary ideas."

"Mary?" I can hear Eve's infectious laugh and suddenly, I'm desperate to get out there and be part of it. "I'm sorry, I thought your wife was called Maria."

He smiles. "She is, but I call her Mary. It started off as a joke because she went to a convent school, and it kind of stuck." He looks at the wardrobe, which runs half the length of the wall opposite the windows. It's extra deep and has beautiful wooden-slatted doors. "I wouldn't mind a wardrobe that size."

I laugh and he moves out of the room, letting me go past him down the stairs.

"Thank you," he says gravely when we get to the hall. "For the grand tour."

I point toward the garden. "Everyone is outside, so grab a glass and help yourself to anything you like. I'm just going to close the door." I take a moment to breathe in the quiet air at the front of the house before going to the garden. As I pass the kitchen, I see Tim at the sink, filling a glass of water from the tap. I want to tell him that there's chilled, bottled water in the ice-bin outside but I can see Leo waving at me, so I start to weave my way through the throng of people. He's standing with Will, who is gesticulating theatrically with his hands as he explains something to Leo. Will is an actor, a rising star and, with his thick dark hair, roman nose, and chiseled lips, on his way to becoming a rising heartthrob. Eve complains that they can't go out without him being recognized, but I can tell she's secretly thrilled.
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