The evening meal was a feast. There was so much to celebrate. Amy and Katie prepared three different dips with trays of crudités, Mr Phipps and Stew did nut roast with roast potatoes, herbed roasted vegetables, mange tout beans and a spicy tomato sauce, and Erica and Fred made Pavlova with Hassan’s soft fruit, served with the ice cream returned by Zac.
By the end of the meal, workers and diners alike were in such high spirits that Mr Robertson was able to lead them in a sing-song. It takes very special circumstances to persuade the English to let their hair down in this way – such as a football match or the Last Night of the Proms – but these circumstances definitely qualified. The songs were mostly Christian but nobody minded, and they sang with all the gusto of the Music-Hall.
Erica and Fred got back to the house late – tired but jubilant – looking forward to turning on the telly and catching up with Disclosure, only to find Lily slumped in front of a movie, eating peanuts and chocolate and drinking coke.
Erica’s spirits plummeted.
‘Hi Erica,’ said Lily absently, without looking, and took a swig of coke.
‘You made it back, then.’
‘Yeah. Carey’s Mum gave me a lift.’
‘We ended up staying with them. They’ve got three freezers and enough food for a siege.’
Yeah, thought Erica, and I bet she gave you a lift across town in order to get rid of you.
‘We could always go round to my place to watch the news,’ offered Fred.
At the sound of a male voice Lily’s head whipped round, and her whole demeanour changed.
Hey, Fred! Hiiiii!’ she cooed, sitting up, arching her back and tilting her head fetchingly to one side.
‘How are you doing? Pull up a pew and sit down. Have some chocolate. Have some diet coke.’
Erica’s spirits dropped even further. Lily knew Fred! How well did she know him? This was awful.
‘Thanks Lily, but I’ve gotta go,’ said Fred, and turning to Erica he added, ‘So why don’t you pop round a bit later? I’ll get the fire going.’
And he left, while Erica’s spirits cautiously began to rise again.
‘Well!’ said Lily, rolling her eyes. ‘Fred Wenderby. Aren’t we going up in the world?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, he’s just about the biggest catch on the block. How on earth did you get to know him?’
‘Oh, he’s been helping with the Food Club, that’s all.’
‘Oh yes, the Food Club. I saw it on the telly. How do I join?’
Was she after the food or Fred? thought Erica. Either way, she couldn’t exclude her, much as she wanted to.
‘Just take all your food down to St Peter’s Hall tomorrow morning, and they’ll give you a membership card.’
‘Your tinned stuff and cereal in the pantry, the fruit in that bowl, the chocolate, the peanuts.’
‘The chocolate! They’re not having the chocolate. And anyway, you haven’t given them all your food.’
‘No, because I’m a first-waver. All my stuff is listed on a spreadsheet to be called on as required. You’d be a second-waver, so you’d have to make your contribution up front.’
She went off to the kitchen to look in the fridge. And it was full – of salad leaves, tomatoes, cheese, eggs, broccoli, chops and bacon. In the freezer compartment there was ice cream and several packs of frozen berries.
‘And you can bring all that stuff in the fridge, too,’ she called.
‘You must be joking!’ Lily called back. ‘They’re not having that. Carey’s Mum gave it to me.’
Erica poked her head round the door. ‘Please yourself, Lily – you don’t have to join, you know. It’s not compulsory.’
‘That’s ridiculous! I bet nobody else brought their best stuff.’
‘You’d be surprised. Not everyone is like you, Lily.’
‘And what exactly do you mean by that?’
‘I mean that some people think about other people as well as themselves.’
‘Rubbish. Everybody’s out for themselves in this world, and if they aren’t, they’re idiots. Law of the jungle.’
‘And is that the sort of world you want to live in, Lily? Because I don’t. I want to live in a world where we all look out for each other.’
‘Well, you’re living in cloud-cuckoo land, then. And you’ll get chewed up and spat out.’
‘Lily, have you been watching the Disclosure programs? Do you realise what’s happening in the world? Everything’s changing. We’re moving into a new reality. And you can be part of it too, if you want to be.’
‘Look, are you going to let me watch this movie or what?’
‘Fine. See you later.’
‘See you tomorrow. At the Food Club.’
‘Only if you bring all the food, Lily. Otherwise, no.’
‘What do you mean, “no”?’
‘Otherwise you can’t join.’
‘And who’s going to stop me?’
‘Right. That just about does it. I’m sick of you throwing your weight around, you fat cow. In fact, I’m out of here. I’m giving notice as of this minute. I’ll ring my parents.’
‘Fine. But you owe four weeks’ rent plus thirty pounds for last Friday plus half the electricity bill.’
As Lily flounced off to her room, Erica could feel her guides smiling. She’d stood firm with Lily. For the first time ever!
She went back to her own room and caught up with emails, while registering Lily’s indignant voice on the phone, followed by the crashing and bashing as she packed her bags and dragged them to the front door, deliberately knocking them into doorways and furniture en route.
Bear it, bear it, Erica told herself. If this is the price of getting rid of her, it’s worth it. I know I’ll never see any of that money, but the debt will ensure that I never see her again, either. And I call that a result.
It was an hour and a half later – after Lily’s parents had picked her up – when Erica finally texted Fred to ask if it was too late to come round. Not at all, he replied. Come on over.
The rowdy house turned out to be clean and tidy inside, with a log fire burning in the grate – not at all what Erica had expected. Disclosure programs were running back to back on the wide-screen telly, and were scheduled to run all night. She sat down on the sofa beside Fred to watch.
The current program was all about the advanced technologies that the Cabal had developed with humanity’s funds and kept for themselves. A boffin with a pony tail and a manic gleam in his eye was explaining how free energy machines worked. A woman who looked fresh from the W.I. discussed the science behind replicators, and demonstrated one by feeding hemp in at one end and extracting a roast dinner from the other. And a young man who looked about twelve talked about anti-gravity propulsion systems.
But none of it made any sense to Erica.
It wasn’t that she didn’t get the importance of the new technologies. It wasn’t that she found science hard to follow, as a rule. It wasn’t even that she’d been awake for twenty hours and her brain had had enough.
The problem was a total lack of concentration, due to the fact that her mind and all her senses were currently focussed entirely on Fred, and she was too aware of him to be aware of anything else. His broad shoulders, the way the curly hairs on the back of his hands caught the light, the way he sat, the way he held his head, the smell of his shampoo.
And the stupid thing was, it was Lily’s interest in him that had finally made her aware of her own feelings! How ironical was that?
So why hadn’t she noticed them before? And why hadn’t she realised how attractive he was? You blanked it out, another part of her replied. Because you assumed he wouldn’t be interested in you.
But what if I was wrong? she asked herself. He certainly likes me. I’ve known him less than a week, and already we’re friends. Good friends. In fact, I feel as if I’ve known him for years. And I know that I can trust him. That he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met.
‘Is Lily going to join the Food Club?’ he murmured, and her heart sank. It was Lily he was thinking of, not her.
‘No. We had a row, and she gave notice and went home to her parents.’
‘Leaving you to pay the rent and everything, I expect.’
And her heart started to lift again. Up and down, up and down. You’d think she was a teenager.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised.’
‘Will that leave you in the poo?’
‘A bit, yes.’
‘Could your parents help you out?’
‘I’m an orphan too, Fred.’
The program ended and a news bulletin began. According to the presenter, the new global financial system would be tested over the weekend and started up on Monday. The supermarkets, petrol stations and banks would re-open on the same day, and public transport would start operating again, too.
Meanwhile, and rather belatedly, the supermarkets that had closed their doors on their customers six days ago would tomorrow deliver free food to community centres all over the country. (Probably past its sell-by date, thought Erica.)
Within a few years, the presenter continued, replicators would replace supermarkets and farming, free energy technology would replace petrol, and a money-less society would make the new financial system obsolete.
But to jump-start the transition phase, immense prosperity funds would flow through the new system to provide food, water, healthcare and housing to everyone who needed them, manufacture the new technologies, clean up the planet, and free humanity from the treadmill of debt slavery, so people could start living the lives they wanted to live.
‘You’ll be looking for a new housemate, then?’ asked Fred.
‘I will be, yes.’
‘Would you consider a bloke?’
‘That depends on the bloke.’
‘Would you consider me?’
‘Yeah, I’d consider you… Definitely.’
And she turned her head to look at him. He was still watching the screen. In the dimly-lit room, the firelight flickered along his cheek bones and highlighted the curve of his lower lip.
It was now or never. She had to ask.
‘So you know Lily, do you?’ she asked.
‘Yeah. I know her,’ he nodded.
‘Well enough to know what she’s like.’
‘Did you go out with her?’
‘Nah. Not my type. Too skinny, apart from anything else.’
And he turned his head to look at her, meeting her gaze and holding it.
‘So what is your type, Fred?’ said Erica, feeling the heat rise to her face, but determined not to look away.
‘You are, Erica.’
‘Course you are. You’re gorgeous, aren’t you?’
‘Am I?’ she repeated rather stupidly, as the blush intensified.
‘Yes, you are,’ he said, smiling, and what a beautiful smile he had.
‘In that case, would you mind kissing me, please?’
And as he did so (and it has to be said, very nicely indeed), a small but insistent part of her mind couldn’t help registering the astonishing fact that her mother had been right after all.
At St Peter’s the mood of celebration continued all weekend. There was no longer any need to hoard the food, because it had to be used up by Sunday evening. An unusually jovial Mr Phipps didn’t let the absence of meat dampen his enthusiasm, and gave free rein to his imagination. The results were delicious and memorable. There was also more singing and other jollifications, and a marvellous time was had by all.
‘Do you know,’ said Mrs Bindle to Erica, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a week more…’
‘… than this last one,’ continued Miss Pluck. ‘It’s been such fun. At first it seemed as if everything was falling apart, but in fact…’
‘… it was all falling together.’
That Sunday evening, Erica took a look at herself in the mirror again, and for the first time in her life, saw that she was beautiful. Whether this was because she’d been eating much better than usual over the last nine days, with no junk food or alcohol, or because she was seeing herself through Fred’s eyes, or because she was in love, she couldn’t tell. What was certain was that she was beginning to love herself at last, and the grumpiness was dissipating like mist in the sunshine.
Everything was continuing to change at break-neck speed, in the world and in her own life, too. She was being head-hunted to go to Africa with one of the new projects. This one was to help re-vitalise food production in areas affected by GMO crops or drought or war, and in the interim, supply food to those in need. She was seriously considering the offer, and Fred was too. They were both tired of their jobs and wanted to continue doing stuff that made a difference. And if they could do it together, so much the better.
Who’d have thought it? she grinned to herself. Today Sneed, tomorrow the world…
© Sue J Davis 2015
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