Today's Reading

I look at his message, unsure what to think. Is he suggesting we meet up? Become friends? I look at the message so long that the screen goes black and I have to key in my code to unlock it again. It shows his number and, underneath, that he's still online. What's your name? I ask.

Davey. Yours?

Hannah.

Nice to meet you, Hannah.

I smile again. It is nice to meet him. Albeit, this is the strangest way I've ever "met" anyone.

How old are you? I ask.

Twenty-nine. And then another message. I've been told it's not OK to ask a woman her age, so...

I'm twenty-seven, I reply to his leading prompt. I'm enjoying this and wonder now for the first time what he looks like, this twenty-nine-year-old man from Texas. His WhatsApp profile picture is blank, the circle at the top of the chat displaying the standard gray-and-white icon. Who does that? Mind you, mine is a picture of our family dog wearing sunglasses, so I'm not exactly one to talk.

What time is it there? he asks.

Almost 11 P.M.

It was nice talking to you, Hannah.

Oh. That's a blunt ending to the conversation, and disappointment that he's signing off makes me pause before replying, Likewise.

I'd like to talk again. If you'd like to, that is, he suggests.

I let that message display on the screen for a moment as I think about it. How to reply without sounding eager or utterly disinterested?

I opt for a casual, Sure.

OK, he says.

And then he's gone.


CHAPTER TWO

I wake with sweet relief that it's not a work day. I only get to enjoy that feeling twice a week and I revel in it. I don't hate my job. I work in marketing, and it pays the bills and means I can afford a couple of decent holidays a year. It'll do for now, although I know I should probably have my eye on the next career horizon, but I haven't quite worked out what that might be yet. I get up, slowly, and only after I've had the most amazing lie-in. I toy with the idea of making something creative for brunch. But avocado on toast is about as creative as I ever get. For a reason that I can't pinpoint, today I fancy pancakes and maple syrup, but I'm not going to make them. Not when there's a great brunch spot down the road that will make them better than I can. But that involves getting dressed and heading out. And if I do that, it means I miss one of my favorite weekend mid-morning rituals, talking to my neighbor Joan over the fence. And I couldn't miss that. I couldn't do that to her.

I live in a ground-floor flat, which I've already sworn to myself I will never, ever leave. If I do, it's because I've died and they've had to take me out in a box. Nowhere will I get a ground-floor two-bed flat with a garden at this price ever again. I know this because I have a Rightmove alert set up, which I salivate over whenever it arrives in my inbox. I used to share my flat with Miranda, but when she moved out to live with her boyfriend, Paul, I dug deep and decided to cover the cost of the entire rent myself, instead of looking for a one-bed somewhere else. I can afford it, just. Mainly because Joan next door owns both her building and mine and might not be quite up to date with current rental prices. She shrugs it off, saying that I and the never-there cabin-crew girl from upstairs take such good care of our flats that she wouldn't drive us out with rent increases.

I pull my dressing gown around me and put on my Ugg boots. None of that attire is going to stop the crispness of the winter day penetrating my skin, but it's bright outside, which is something.

Joan and I have a little weekend ritual. I text her when I'm awake, and she cranks up her Nespresso machine. Five minutes later we meet in our back gardens by the fence. She hands me one of her posh coffees and I bring out a plate of supermarket biscuits. It's not really a fair trade, but Joan balked when I suggested that I might buy myself a proper coffee machine. I think she thought I was going to abandon our chats, so I conceded that I wouldn't and she promised to keep me in a vibrant array of colorful coffee capsules every weekend.
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