A/N: There's some very annoying italics near the end of this chapter. Blame Anaïs Nin; I know I do.

Chapter VII

They were just words – just small, tiny, insignificant little words – but they hit him with the impact of a blue-whale-carrying truck:

"Hey, you."

Within a four-foot radius of Stephen Verne, chaos reigned supreme.

"Oh!" he squeaked, emerging from under his table when it became clear that the speaker was not going to leave, "Hi, Yvonne."

"Hi," she echoed, her fingers tapping nervously against the scratched wood of his desk.

Despite the happy hubbub of their classmates, silence fell between them like a, like a— like a heavy falling silent thing.

"So," she said, "how was the wedding?"

Steve gaped. "How did you know I went to the wedding?"

Yvonne's gigantic lips pulled back in an uncomfortable smile. "I was sort of… there."

"…You were at the wedding?"

"No, I mean— I meant I was there for the… arrangements."

Never before had Steve's blood been so eager to rush to his face. "Oh. Right. You were there."

"Yes. I was. Right there, to be exact," she said, and pointed.

Steve's groin darted to the other side of the desk, the rest of his body not too far behind. "I didn't really need… reminding."

"Sorry," Yvonne apologised, after which the patron saint of social awkwardness received much in the way of tribute. To break the spell – or was 'curse' more appropriate? – Steve tripped over Lisa Crilly, who up until that moment had been emptying her bag.

"What the fuck!" she yelped as they fell, arms and legs in states varying from tangled to akimbo.

"Sorry, sorry!"

Books, papers, pens— all the trappings of the student's craft exploded from her backpack, prompting an impromptu race of who-can-gather-up-the-most-debris-fastest.

The class found it hilarious.

On the bright side, Yvonne had skedaddled.

"Sorry," Steve parroted, his mouth on autopilot. "Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry—"

"What the hell is wrong with you?" she snarled, pulling her History textbook from out of his hand and stuffing it back into her backpack.

"…Everything?" he smiled, hoping to appease her.

He'd hoped in vain.

"I can see that," she snapped, and flounced to her seat at the table behind his without another word.

Lisa's partner was Angie, and for the briefest of seconds, their eyes met. Then Rhys's curly ginger head homed into view, and by the time he'd taken his place beside Steve, the two girls were already immersed in conversation.

"So you ran away, huh?"

Steve blinked, turning to look at his friend. "Sorry?"

"Saturday," Rhys reminded him. "We had an arrangement, remember? Down the park near Kevin's." As Steve continued to look blank, he elaborated, "Football. Five-a-side. Like we had last Saturday, and the Saturday before that, and the Saturday before that, and the Saturday before that, and the Sa—"

"Oh, yeah. Right. Er, I'm sorry."

"You didn't tell us you weren't coming," Rhys continued to reproach.

"I'm sorry," said Steve, for what felt like the hundredth time that morning— and it was then that he suddenly realised that, though he'd apologised to two people in two minutes, neither of them had been the girl he'd most wronged. Again, he found his eyes seeking out Angie.

She didn't so much as glance his way.

"Good," Rhys said, and began unloading his own bag. Barely thirty seconds later, he looked up again.

"I mean, is it really that hard to pick up a telephone?"

Steve shook his head, smiling thinly. "No, Rhys; it wouldn't have been hard to pick up a telephone."

"I didn't think so," said Rhys, and began burrowing for his pencil case. Steve had just reached fifteen when Rhys smacked his writing utensils on the desk and said,

"I don't want to go on about it—"

"Oh yes you do."

"—but some sort of warning – a perfumed note through the letterbox or sommink – I mean is that really too much to ask?"

"No Rhys; it wouldn't have been too much to ask."

"I didn't think so," Rhys repeated with an air of satisfaction.

Another pause gave him the illusion of hope.

"I'm just saying – look, you know those carrier pigeons, right—"

"For Christ's sake Rhys, why can't you let it go?" But he didn't mind though, not really; privately, Steve liked Rhys's faked whining. It was better than mulling over girl problems.

"It's a long-standing tradition," Rhys pointed out sulkily.

"Yes. And?"

"Well, you don't just cancel a long-standing tradition, do you? It's long-standing. That's important, that is. 'Cause it's more than just tradition, see; in addition to being traditional, it also stands longitudinally."

"…I don't think 'longitudinally' is the correct adjectival form of—"

Rhys flattened Steve's contribution to the conversation without so much as a by-your-leave. "I mean, I'm just terrified when I think of what could be next. What's gonna follow in the footsteps of 'Five-a-Side Saturdays', huh? 'Freelance Sundays'? 'Masturbation Mondays'?"

"…'Masturbation Mondays'?" asked Steve, knocking Rhys off his high horse and into a pile of fresh manure in no less than six syllables.

"Oh, god." He covered his face in embarrassment. "I didn't actually say that out loud, did I?"

"Yeah," Steve deadpanned, "Yeah, you did a bit."

Rhys groaned, and went abruptly quiet; Steve, by contrast, was grinning like a necrophile in a mortuary.

"You're not seriously telling me that you have one day of the week solely dedicated to… tossing off?"

"It's not my fault; I have a very scheduled home life. And besides, Mondays're the only days when the dragon's guaranteed to be out."

"The dragon?"

"I meant my mother," sniffed Rhys, and buried his face into the textbook, leaving Steve to wonder how Rhys could only restrict himself to once a week. It wasn't like he had a girlfriend to distract him.

…And maybe Steve didn't either. At least, not anymore. He wasn't sure; there had been no formal confirmation, but…

But he had cheated. And cheating was a very good reason to break up with someone.

Steve glanced over his shoulder, and caught his breath.

It was as if a veil had been lifted; as if he'd been a blinded man who'd regained his sight and was admiring the miracle of colour for the very first time.

How could he have let himself forget just how beautiful she really was? How could he have lain his skin against hers and lose himself in her warmth without pausing to admire her perfection?

She wasn't doing anything particularly out of the ordinary; the sunlight wasn't shining down on her in such a way that might put him in mind of a halo effect; she was wearing the same school uniform he'd seen her wearing for the last five years and her hair was stilled pulled back in her customary ponytail. But she was talking to Lisa, and Lisa had said something that made her laugh.

Steve had made her laugh, once. Actually, Steve had made her laugh lots of times, but he'd remembered one laugh of hers in particular: the laugh he'd coaxed out of her when she was visiting him in the hospital; the laugh that had her throwing her head back and flicking her hair over her shoulder in a certain way; the laugh that he'd fallen in love with. She'd laughed that laugh, and he'd looked at her laughing and thought: She's so beautiful. She's beautiful and she's smart and she's funny and she's interesting, and I will never, ever be good enough for her.

Not that that mattered, he'd scolded himself later, after she'd left, after she'd told him that she wouldn't be coming back the next day, because Karen – his girlfriend – was coming, and she'd told all their friends that she wanted the visit to be private (but she'd come the day after, if he'd like). It didn't matter that he wasn't good enough for her, because he'd already had a girlfriend. It didn't matter that she'd never see him as more as a friend, because a friend was all he could be. It didn't matter that he wasn't smart or witty, didn't matter that he had no idea what an arabesque looked like, or who Jacques Lacan or Susan Greenfield were, because he was taken.

So, he'd set about preparing himself for his then-girlfriend's visit; as their relationship could best be described as "physical, with a sprinkling of conversation", he had a vague idea of what would be involved, and sponge-bathed accordingly.

The next afternoon, Karen came. Steve didn't; or more accurately, he couldn't. If sex was a mountain, and orgasm was its peak, then (metaphorically speaking) Steve hadn't even pulled on his hiking boots.

"What is up with you?" she'd asked – only she hadn't asked, not really – her words had been more accusatory than curious and, try as he might, he could find no sympathy in her tone.

"Nothing's up with me," he'd lied, even though Angie's laughter still rung in his ears.

"Yes; that's sort of the problem."

And just like that, Karen broke up with him.

But Angie had stuck around.

Would she do so now?

With a slight shake of his head, Steve forced himself back to the present. Karen hadn't been his girlfriend, not really, not in the intense, essential way Angie was. When Karen had left, she'd left superficial cracks on the surface of his heart; if Angie left, she would destroy his soul.

And all for what? A botched blowjob from a girl who wasn't as smart, or as interesting, or even as pretty as the girl he'd exchanged Valentine's cards with less than four months before.

No, he thought to himself, flipping open his exercise book and groping for a pen. No way was he going to just stand aside and let the chips fall where they may. After school, Steve had every intention of ambushing her.


Whilst replacing the cartridge in her fountain pen, calamity Jane accidentally splashed Angie's face and blouse with blue-black ink. That was how Angie came to be walking into the apparently deserted girls' bathroom that marked the end of the maths corridor and the beginning of the art rooms.

The key word being 'apparently'.

Her suspicions were first piqued when, on walking in, an apparently opening door slammed abruptly shut. Angie's eyes shifted towards the cubicle, which remained stoically locked.

And silent; unnaturally silent, for a small square with only one purpose and a bowlful of tinkling water in which to fulfil it. She wouldn't have minded, but as she stood in front of the mirror, scrubbing furiously at her blouse with crumbling wet tissue, the thought that she was alone with this hidden stranger became more and more unsettling.

"Excuse me," she said at last, after five minutes had passed and the cubicle failed to display any signs of life, "Are you alright in there?"

"Uh, yeah," came a throaty reply.

"Just a bit of a stomach ache," another voice volunteered.

"You idiot!"

"What'd I say? Oh…"

"Never mind!" snapped the first voice irritably, "It's only Angie anyway."

Somebody— Angie strongly suspected it was the second speaker— redundantly flushed the toilet. There was a muted curse, and then the lock slid open.

"Angela," the first speaker said brightly, hauling her faded rucksack onto her shoulder and moving towards the sinks, "I wasn't expecting to see you for another five minutes! How was the wedding, angel cake?"

"White," said Angie, watching as the second person – a Jewish girl she vaguely remembered sitting next to in Year Nine geography – sheepishly emerged.

"I-I'm, er, late for German," she managed to stutter out. "Later, Lise."

Lisa clucked her tongue disapprovingly as her… friend darted out of the bathroom with no further attempt at common civility. "She hasn't even washed her hands! Can you believe it? How unhygienic."

Angie bit her lip to stop herself from asking Lisa exactly what she and Anna were doing in the first place that would require cleaning up afterward— because, though she tried to suppress it, there was a part of her that already knew.

…Well, alright, so she didn't know for sure, but the story of Charlie Jefferson, who'd shagged his girlfriend in a boys' cubicle during assembly two weeks ago, was never far from the surface of a Year Eleven's mind.

"Why did you jump back inside when you heard me come in?" she asked, wetting a new wad of tissue and returning her attention to the stained blouse. "You two could've made a run for it and I'd have never seen your face."

"Oh, you know," Lisa shrugged, drying her hands on the towel, "Two girls coming out of the same cubicle… I was worried it'd look—" she hesitated, searching for the right word.



"Oh," said Angie evenly, her eyes never leaving the blue spot on her sleeve.

"What happened there?"


Lisa moved closer, peering at the ink stain. "Looks serious," she murmured gravely. "Chances of recovery?"

"I'd say eighty per cent."

"Pity," said Lisa, "You'll never need to wear a uniform again come Friday. Speaking of which— any plans? I heard Conrad saying he's planning to egg some of the teachers' cars, which is unquestioningly sexy and sophisticated, not depressingly immature." As if her scathing tone wasn't sarcastic enough, she also snorted in contempt. "I don't think that's been socially acceptable since we were eleven."

"And people wonder why you don't have a boyfriend," Angie teased, and instantly regretted it.

It wasn't because Lisa was the type of girl who took offence whenever anybody alluded to her single status – she wasn't – or that Angie was afraid of hurting her. It was just that Angie was wary of drawing Lisa's attention to any aspect of her sexuality— and with the recent cubicle incident barely five minutes old, even a comment as innocent as that was bound to carry a (homo)sexual overtone.

And those sorts of conversations had a nasty habit of turning on Angie whenever she had them with Lisa.

Not that Lisa was actually… gay. At least, Angie wasn't certain, but she probably wasn't; after all, Angie was only really basing her assumptions on the fact that Lisa was the only teenage girl she knew who didn't swoon all over her boyfriend— or maybe Steve was her ex-boyfriend now…? And, well, she'd only transferred to their school the September before last, to study her GCSEs. It was highly possible that Lisa had dated several boys in her old school, and the ones at Kendrick simply didn't measure up to them. But no, Lisa had never fancied Steve.

As a matter of fact, Angie sometimes got the impression she hated him.

There was a distinct possibility that Steve may or may not have drunkenly groped Lisa at a party barely ten minutes after they'd been introduced. There was also the slight possibility that Lisa may or may not have been a self-proclaimed feminist, and the two combined may or may not have led to Lisa dismissing Steve as an arrogant, lecherous, chauvinistic pig whose presence she'd simply have to endure for the sake of her education.

Not that she'd ever put it in so many words, of course; but then again, she didn't need to. It was obvious in the way she abruptly dropped out of the conversation whenever Steve approached; obvious in the way she avoided him at parties, glowering at him all the while; obvious in the way she always chose the furthest seat away from him in the classroom.

Obvious in the way she slammed her bag down on their lunch table, eyes flaming with fury.

Angie looked up from her sandwich, flinching as she met that narrowed, hate-filled gaze. Anxious for her friend's blood-pressure, she sighed in mock-resignation.

"Alright, I admit it," she said, setting her meal aside and reaching cautiously into her own satchel. "I bought a copy of Cosmo, but I swear to you it was just to read in the car at the weekend." She tossed the incriminating publication on top of Lisa's beat-up backpack and looked imploringly up at her, the way acolytes of days gone by might have glanced up at a deity's statue after paying tribute, searching for acknowledgement, acceptance, confirmation – anything at all in that cold, carved face.

Lisa frowned, then softened. "Cute," she said as she sat down beside her, "real cute." Her left hand reached out, covering Angie's protectively; she pulled the bag towards her with the other, glancing reproachfully at the hitchhiking magazine.

"'Oral Sex'," she read, mimicking the overdramatic voiceovers that accompanied roughly eighty per cent of all movie trailers, "'The moves that will'—" She stopped, despair and disgust vying for dominance.

"Say it," Angie encouraged, nudging her playfully. "Go on, say it. Say the cheap and obvious pun out loud. You know you want to."

"No, I can't," said Lisa, averting her gaze from the offending headline and pushing the publication away. "I've too much self-respect."

Angie placed two fingertips firmly on the cover and gently pushed back. Lisa smiled in spite of herself, applying a little more force. The cover girl's pretty face was soon crumpled beyond recognition, but that blurb still remained.

"I win!" Angie announced after pulling the monthly from under Lisa's hand and placing it firmly on the rucksack. "Now you have to read it."

Lisa's black eyebrow (surprisingly well-groomed for a girl who insisted that women should never go out of their way to make themselves more attractive for the aesthetic pleasure of men) quirked. "Why should I? I don't recall agreeing to those terms."

"It'd make me laugh," Angie persisted, "and—" She stopped, hesitating.

"…And you could do with some cheering up right now," Lisa finished when Angie didn't continue.

It wasn't a question. Surprised, she turned back, meeting Lisa's gaze. Knowledge and understanding and acceptance and support and several other beautiful, wonderful, un-patronising things gazed back at her.

Angie flushed, feeling unbelievably stupid, unbelievably self-conscious. "You don't have—" she protested, but Lisa was already picking up the magazine, smoothing it out carefully.

"'Oral Sex,'" she began once more; "'The moves that will blow his mind'." She hadn't emphasised 'blow', not really; just let the O run on for a little longer than necessary— but something about the way she'd said it made Angie shiver, as if an arctic wind really was blowing about and around and inside her.

Lisa tossed the magazine aside in disgust, and abruptly introduced her forehead to the tabletop, groaning all the while. Angie suspected it wasn't from the pain.

"I think my IQ just dropped twelve points," she murmured, sounding almost wistful at the thought of her lost intelligence.

"I'm glad," Angie grinned, patting her back in mock-pity. "You were too smart to begin with; us mere mortals could never keep up."

"Aw, shut up," said Lisa, but she made no attempt at sitting up.

Angie liked that; she liked that she was 'comforting' her, rather than it being the other way round. It was a lot less patronising than the soft voices and sympathetic glances she'd been receiving throughout the day – as though she'd been diagnosed with HIV or brain cancer or rabies or something, when all that really happened was that her boyfriend cheated on her. True, that wasn't wonderful as being paid to breathe – but a little perspective, please.

She was glad that none of their other friends had arrived yet, that she could have this moment where she wasn't the hurt one, the wounded one – the girl who'd lost her grandfather and pet hamster and been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer all in the same day. She should've known she could count on Lisa to understand.

"You're a good friend, Lise."

"Oh, don't get sappy on me now," Lisa harrumphed. Angie grinned in spite of herself; very rarely would she use the word 'harrumph', but with Lisa, it seemed to fit. After a silent debate, she wrapped her arms around Lisa's waist and allowed her head to fall onto her shoulder.

With some difficulty, Lisa hugged back.

"And what are you lovebirds up to?" queried Karen, taking the seat on Angie's left. Lisa's cheek brushed against her hair as she turned to face the not-unwelcome intruder.

"Post-coital snuggling; what does it look like?"

Karen laughed, and Angie followed suit, shrugging off the comment as though it meant nothing. The rest of lunch was devoted to chatting and bantering about everything and anything and nothing; the Charlie Jefferson affair (he and his girlfriend were still enduring detention), Angie's cousin's wedding (of course), possible birthday gifts for one of Lisa's outside-school friends, some boy tripping over a chair in one of Karen's lessons – which wouldn't have been gossip-worthy in the slightest had he not landed face-first in his friend's lap just when the homophobic music teacher was turning around to see what the commotion was all about.

And that was nice. It was nice to sit back and let the tide of brainless normality wash over her; nice to have her place in the universe reaffirmed; nice to just sit back and forget. For the first time since Steve's confession, Angie felt her spirits lift.

For the first time since the circus, Angie felt almost normal.

And she liked that – being normal was so vital to her wellbeing she practically breathed it. She liked it so much that she even invited Yvonne along to the South Bank – which came in pretty handy when Steve awkwardly tried to accost her at the school gates, as Yvonne's presence made him rapidly change his mind.

Now, the four girls stood sipping the non-alcoholic beverages of their choice, watching an art student earn his keep by flawlessly reproducing a chalk Primavera on a large paper canvas taped to the paving stones.

"He's good," was Karen's cool judgement after ten minutes had passed. There were murmurs of agreement from the other three.

Yvonne spoke up, her voice a little loud considering the artist was only four feet away. "Looking good over there!"

The student looked up, afternoon sunlight glinting on his eyebrow piercing, and grinned. "Thanks, sweetheart."

"No problem. You do realise I wasn't talking about the drawing, don't you?"

The artist laughed, shaking his blond head. "Isn't twelve a little young to start talking that kind of talk?"

Yvonne giggled inanely, and Angie turned just in time to catch Lisa rolling her eyes. Their gazes met, and Lisa grinned, nodding towards a small crowd gathered a few yards away.

"Interested?" she asked, her tone indicating that watching Yvonne's clumsy flirting did little to arouse this particular state of being within her.

Angie shrugged. "Why not? Yvonne has her cradle-robbing artist, and the only reason we're here in the first place is to provide support for Kiki's sister's quartet's legalised busking. Why can't we find something to do too?"

"Exactly," Lisa agreed, "something just for us."

"It isn't 'legalised busking'," Karen butted in. "Jest all you want, but obtaining permission to perform outside the South Bank Centre as part of a music festival is a pretty big deal."

"I know, Karen," Angie said, smiling in a way that plainly stated that when it came to her family, the girl really should learn to take a joke.

"There might even be a TV crew," the blondest of them all continued in earnest.

"Really?" queried Yvonne, briefly turning away from her new friend and towards her best. "That big, huh?"

"Maybe," Karen allowed.

"If it's that big a deal, how come we're the only cheerleaders who've bothered showing up?" Lisa challenged.

"My parents are coming straight after work," Karen replied, "and my cousins came down from Hull last night – they'll get here when they've met today's sightseeing quota, don't you worry."

"Well, there is a lot in London that will interest Hullians," Lisa agreed. "Cars, electricity, women in trousers, large bodies of water that aren't used to drown suspected witches—"

"Bitch," said Karen, and flicked a speck of her strawberry milkshake in the offender's general direction. The brunette squealed, flung an arm over her face, grabbed Angie's elbow with her free hand and scampered towards the aforementioned mob, cackling all the while.

"That guy was really good though, wasn't he?" Angie asked once they'd slowed to a stroll, hand in soft warm hand.

"Who, the artist? Oh yeah. Definitely beats all those derivative portraitists-cum-caricaturists you get in every other part of London."

Angie made a sound of agreement, and then added that, actually, she wasn't the best-informed of critics, knowing next to nothing about art; that was very much Steve's area.

She hadn't realised she'd mentioned her boyfriend until Lisa had pulled her fingers out from hers. Surprised, she looked up, her brow furrowing.

Lisa was looking ahead, her expression apparently unchanged. As Angie watched, she ran her fingers through her hair.

"Well," she said at last, her voice deceptively lightly, "if he hadn't cheated on you, perhaps he might be here to dispel his infinite wisdom on the subject."

"But—" said Angie, and stopped. Lisa looked at her, her eyebrow quirking in that condescending way that only she could pull off. "Nothing. Forget it. I don't know what I was going to say."

There was a moment's hesitation, and then Lisa took her hand between hers without a single word. Angie tensed, watching warily as Lisa brushed the very tips of her fingers over the back of her hand with a touch that rivalled a butterfly's wings.

She wanted to pull away – a voice inside her insisted she do so immediately – and yet, she couldn't find the strength. In Lisa's hands, she was powerless.

Lisa leaned close – a little too close for comfort – and said, very, very softly, "Do you want to… talk about it or—"

"No," Angie cut in, hating the breathlessness that coloured her voice a thin, shapeless shade of grey. "It isn't— There isn't really anything to talk about."

"Okay," said Lisa— and just like that, she released her hold and reined in her spell.

When Angie had regained reign over her senses, the other girl had already begun edging her way to the front of the crowd.

Angie lingered behind; not for the first time, Lisa's unexplained – possibly unexplainable – behaviour had thrown her into a web of confusion. And, when combined with the chaos she had been fighting from within since the circus on Saturday, and the sudden instability that had infiltrated her relationship with Steve…

She could recall, with a certain degree of detached clarity, the overwhelming need for some sort of tranquilizer she had experienced when Steve had told her he'd cheated on her—

"Angie!" Lisa had reappeared, her face alight with excitement— but she couldn't see her, not really; the only thing that truly penetrated her rioting conscious was her voice. "Angie, come quick! You'll love this."

—when Steve had told her he'd cheated on her; but something about now – something about this moment—

"Angie!" Lisa's impatience cut through her thoughts like a ship sliced through waves; blindly, she followed it.

—made her feel peculiarly certain that nothing short of a full frontal lobotomy would ease her agony.

There was no deeply-rooted psychological reason for feeling like this, she told herself as Lisa took her hand and gently navigated her through the tightly-packed bodies of men, women and tourists. No, the very obvious cause was the impenetrable enigma that shrouded her best friend of two years; the cloak that made it impossible for Angie to deduce what Lisa felt, or thought, or wanted.

Even simple, straightforward questions with simple, straightforward answers were lost in the muddy swamps of mystery when applied to Lisa. Questions like: Where had she come from? garnered responses like: Born in Singapore, mostly raised in London and Phuket, with a brief spell in Dún Laoghaire. Father in Surrey, mother in Stepney; currently living in Thistlegate Park with aunt and pet cat. Replies that seemed full of information, but on closer inspection yielded no answers.

And that made her a puzzle, a frustrating puzzle: the sort of puzzle where all the pieces were accounted for yet somehow didn't fit. And though Angie didn't like puzzles, she still liked Lisa, although she hadn't reach that conclusion until Lisa had started acting more like a friend and less like a— something else…

"Look," said Lisa after they'd escaped from the thickest of the throng. Numbly, she did as was told— and it was as if a veil had been lifted; as if she'd lost and regained her eyesight and was admiring the miracle of colour for the very first time.

And what colours they were! Fireball red and verdant green danced and battled before her eyes, leaping and twirling, holding poses and breaking out of them without mercy, twisting themselves into inhuman shapes for her viewing pleasure.

Angie's wonder was written across her face. From a distance, she heard her companion chuckle and make a comment about how she knew the performers would be her sort of thing.

"My… thing?" she asked as the man, dressed in brash, arrogant red, made a grab for the spring-clad woman that began with domineering violence and ended with her raised high above his head. "This is… I mean it's…" She couldn't find any words, let alone the right ones; in that moment Angie was truly speechless.

And then the performers – no, gymnasts— acrobats – began a synchronised dance that she instantly recognised.

Lisa cursed loudly as Angie's bag landed flawlessly on her foot, but she paid her no mind; somehow, seeing that dance – knowing that the circus from Saturday was here, in London, today – filled her with a thrill that went far beyond the communicative capacity of ordinary language.

But something was wrong.

Angie's smile faded, the brusque sense of wrongness peeling yet another veil from her suddenly clouded vision.

What was it? The costumes were the same as the ones worn on Saturday's performance; the music swirling from the portable stereo incontestably identical; the steps a faultless replica of the dance that had first captivated her at the weekend.

So what was wrong?

Was it the place? —the atmosphere? Was the light too bright? The Thames too grey? The South Bank too crowded? The day too hot?

No, Angie realised as the scarlet man finally ensnared his nimble prey and she saw the green girl's face for the very first time. It wasn't the clothes or the crowd or the place or any other external influence that could absolve the dancers of blame. It was the girl:

She was wrong.

And forming this conclusion was the last thing Angie did before passing out.

It was an unfortunate side effect of getting clocked round the head by a frozen chicken.