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Anything Could Happen
Author: Lucy Diamond

 


Prologue

   All those years ago

   Even the next morning, when the two of them might both have been self-conscious and hungover, Lara still felt exactly the same as she had the night before – as if she had stepped into a new and better life. With him. Light-headed from happiness and lack of sleep, she made coffee and had just enough bread left for them to have a slice of toast each, and then they sat in bed together, bare legs entwined, sleepy and content, not saying much. Friday morning, and she was due at work before long, despite his attempts to persuade her to skive off.

   ‘But I’m free this evening?’ she suggested shyly. ‘If you are too.’

   ‘Definitely,’ he said. ‘Let me find us somewhere stunning to meet, so that we can celebrate a whole twenty-four hours of knowing each other.’ He reached over to grab her New York guidebook from the bedside table and began flipping through its pages. ‘Hey, how about Grand Central Station?’ he suggested. ‘We can pretend we’re in a movie and run towards each other, like long-lost lovers.’

   ‘I’m up for that,’ she said, trying and failing to hide how pleased his words made her feel. Long-lost lovers! So this was going to be a thing then, the two of them; a proper, wonderful thing, she thought joyfully. It was as if every other event in her life had led up to this precise moment: the pair of them lolling on her crumpled sheets making plans for that evening, a shaft of warm June sunlight falling through the broken blind and leaving a golden splash on his bare shoulder, the smell of slightly scorched toast in the air. Each tiny decision and step and turn she’d ever taken had brought her all the way through the long, winding maze that was her previous twenty-six years to this exact time and place. She’d only just met him and already he felt like everything: a door opening to her future that was suddenly full of bright, shiny colours. Her New York experience was bursting from its tight chrysalis there and then, on the verge of shaking loose its wings into the best summer of her life. ‘Although . . . the station’s presumably massive, right?’ she pointed out. ‘How will we find each other?’

   ‘Good question,’ he said, running a finger down the page. He even had nice fingers, she thought dreamily, wondering if he played the piano or guitar. How could you feel so sure of another person, when in reality there was so much you didn’t know? ‘Okay, there’s a very posh oyster bar downstairs apparently,’ he went on. ‘How about meeting outside that? Six-thirty? Look how fancy it is,’ he added, showing her a picture. ‘I’m not sure I can run to actually going inside it, but we could pretend for a moment that we live that sort of life. Before moving on somewhere more in keeping with our pitiful budgets. What do you think?’

   ‘Wow,’ she said, leaning against his arm to see the page. His skin was honey-coloured and he smelled faintly of soap and coffee. ‘Nice. Six-thirty sounds perfect. I think I can just about make it till then without you.’

   He grinned at her, his cheekbones catching the soft morning light, his dark hair tousled. Had she appreciated quite how good-looking he was last night? How generous his mouth, how beautiful his eyes; how, when he smiled like that, it took her breath away? She could feel herself becoming intoxicated by him all over again from his sheer closeness, the warmth of his body, and the instinct to touch him was so strong, she found herself reaching over to brush a stray toast crumb off his cheek.

   ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘See? Yet another reason why I’m better off with you in my life.’

   She laughed, knowing he was exaggerating, but somehow the words felt right nonetheless. Then she peeled herself reluctantly away. ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work,’ she groaned, sorting through the scant contents of her wardrobe and wondering if her flatmate Toni had any nice tops she could borrow. It felt like a day for wearing something eye-catching, for alerting the rest of the world to the fact that delight was spilling from her like an overflowing fountain.

   He stood up, buttoning his shirt. ‘I too wish you didn’t,’ he said. ‘Last night was seriously one of the best nights of my life. I feel as if everything has changed, don’t you?’ He glanced over at her as if his tender words had left him feeling vulnerable.

   ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I know what you mean.’

   ‘But I’ll see you in . . .’ He screwed up his face, making calculations as he pulled on his jeans. ‘Ten and a half hours? The countdown starts now.’

   They kissed again, even though neither of them had brushed their teeth, and held each other close. She could feel his heart beating through his soft rumpled shirt. She liked him so much, she thought dazedly. She really, really liked him. He hadn’t even left the flat, and already she could feel the ache of his potential absence starting to form; a delicious, tormented pain at the prospect of missing him. Of course, if she’d known then what was to happen later, she wouldn’t have let him out the door at all, she’d have phoned in sick and led him back to bed by his shirt collar. But instead . . .

   ‘See you later, Lara,’ he said, and let himself out.

 

 

Part One

   SPRING

 

 

Chapter One

   Eliza was sitting on the wall, the hedge behind her prickling through her jacket, when a grubby white van slowed to a stop nearby. Right on time. A flurry of nerves whirled up inside her like a shaken snow globe on seeing the van’s logo: Steve Pickering, Painting and Decorating. The lettering was crummy and basic-looking, like something stencilled from a cheap kit. The P of Pickering was even wonky, as if the person applying the letter had coughed in the middle, or lost concentration. She allowed herself a scornful lip curl. If she ever started up her own decorating business – or any business for that matter – you could bet she would at least put some effort into her branding. Eliza Spencer Magnificent Transformations, she could market herself. Or maybe . . . She rummaged through every paint-inspired pun at her disposal. Brush Hour? she considered, wrinkling her nose. Fifty Shades of Great?

   Whatever. Right now, she had other, more pressing items on her agenda. Number one: the puffy-faced man with a sparse thatch of reddish-brown hair and low-slung paunch currently clambering down from the van, as shambling as a bear emerging from a cave, post-hibernation.

   A bold new chapter in your life begins today, Eliza’s horoscope app had encouraged her that morning, and the words came back to her now. Here goes, she thought, jumping off the wall.

   ‘Hi,’ she said coolly, taking in the stain on his faded T-shirt and the ancient trainers flecked with paint. So he was a slob as well as a terrible person, she thought in disapproval. When she was a proper grown-up with a job and everything, there was no way she would ever dream of leaving the house looking so unkempt. She’d been in the Co-op the other day when a woman had walked in wearing a dressing gown, with tangled bed hair. What was wrong with people?

   ‘I’m your two o’clock,’ she said now. And then, because she couldn’t help herself, she blurted out, ‘Remember me?’

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