Olivia steps out of the shower and considers what to do next. It’s four in the afternoon; there isn’t exactly much day to fill. She’s had her run, and and her head is slightly clearer. Something about working out, about getting the blood pumping always makes her feel better, letting her think when her head is too crowded, full to the brim with noise. That seems to be happening more and more these days.
She heads into her room, hunting for clean clothes that she can throw together. After dragging them all on and studiously ignoring the picture on her bedside table, she checks through her phone and sees that she has no new messages. Great.
It’s not exactly a surprise, she admits; her life seems to be growing ever quieter these days, ever since the whole business last year. Once again, her eyes try to drift to the photograph, but she doesn’t allow it. Not today. On good days, it’s still hopeful – it reminds her of what she can do when she’s in the proper place, makes her think of the best time of her life. On bad days, it’s a monument to her failure, a reminder that the best days of her life also became some of the worst.
Today is neither a good day nor a bad day, but that picture is too often the deciding factor. Today she’ll try and make the decision herself.
She sighs. As she’s been fiddling with her phone, she’s somehow wandered into her contacts list. She’s still has Mum’s number saved, and she‘s not entirely sure why. Probably in case an emergency happens with Adrian, but he’s fine. He’s always fine, these days. It’s weird, considering she was the practical one and he always seemed to have his head either in the clouds or somewhere up his own arse, that she seems to be the one having trouble getting on in life. Much as Mum said otherwise after Olivia refused to take over the family business, she always thought the same.
But of course, these days Adrian can do no wrong. Even after he officially became a dropout from Cambridge, the place he’d worked so hard to get into and one of the most expensive universities in Britain, Mum was perfectly understanding. It’s not that he didn’t have good reasons; he did. It’s just that Olivia seems to offend her mother simply by existing.
She contemplates taking another run, or lifting weights, but her head isn’t clearing and right now, much as it usually helps, it feels like occupying her body will only make things worse. It’s Sunday afternoon and the house isn’t holding any sort of entertaining distractions, so she decides. Pub.
The Horn and Sword is a reasonable-sized place, not too big but not pokey either. She and Adrian are regulars, and the bartender knows them both. It seems like a fairly good idea. She puts on her jacket and heads out.
When she goes through the door, Nick greets her with a wide smile. It bothers her. He’s far too cheerful. It isn’t the smile of a man wishing you a nice day, it’s the smile of a man with blackmail material. He’s cleaning glasses, placing them all carefully back under the bar, one by one. It feels almost like watching some kind of ritual. “Your brother’s a lucky man,” he says.
What? She frowns, letting out a puzzled laugh. “Honestly, I could call him a lot of things, but that’s not the first word that comes to mind.”
“Even with a woman like that?” He gives a low whistle. She’s annoyed by that; Nick talks about the woman in question like she’s a prize, something Adrian got through good behaviour, or good luck, or skill. Something to be polished and admired occasionally, maybe boasted about, but with no mind of its own.
Wait, a woman?
“She really was gorgeous, as well. They were in here on Friday. There was a bit of, well, an argument with a bloke insulting Scholars, but other than that it all seemed very cosy.”
She decides to bluff it. “Oh yeah, he mentioned her. The tall one?” At Nick’s nod, she says, “Yeah, it seems to be going well. The usual, please.” She’s not about to pry; she admits, she’s hurt that he didn’t mention it, but it’s none of her business. She’ll wait until he brings it up, if he ever does. Adrian, for all he’s sarky enough most of the time, is very close-mouthed when he wants to be.
“It’s weird,” Nick muses. “I admit, didn’t think ‘e swung that way.”
She frowns. “What gave you that impression?”
She pays for the Guinness, grabs a newspaper off the corner of the bartop and heads to a table, not wanting to try and make awkward small talk with Nick for half an hour. She has nothing against the bloke, but she’s half-asleep and, she admits in the privacy of her own head, maybe a little upset.
She opens the paper and tries her best not to wince. As usual, everything seems to be awful and everyone is miserable. Great. Wonderful.
Fire destroys local industrial unit, a small headline on page five reads. She only knows how tightly she’s gripping the newspaper when it starts to crease up. She scans the column quickly, looking for the details in the excess words. No deaths, thank God. A couple of minor injuries. Firefighters arrived quickly at the scene.
She smiles, but she folds the paper in half and puts it aside. That’s enough for one day. She sips her Guinness and tries not to think too much, watching the sun begin to slip under the horizon.