“- so I said to Dale that there’s no way we could do that, where would the money come from?”
We all laugh. Christian is not funny. The light is low in the dining room and a Bowie song croons from the radio in the kitchen. We’ve all drunk a bit much more than intended. Or maybe it’s just me.
“You are evil, Chris,” says Sally, taking a sultry bite of the Risotto.
“I thought it was pretty good,” says Kit, catching my eye and smiling.
“Thanks, thanks. Dale is a nutter. You should come to one of our events soon. Probably too cold for one of the barbeques, hey Sally? But if we have a warm-ish day we can probably rustle something up for you all.”
“We –” I begin, but Kit interrupts with “We’d love to, we’d love to.”
I just nod in approval and there is a bout of silence as we all eat.
“So, Ed, what is it you do again?” Christian asks, offering me the bottle of wine. I accept and he pours it whilst watching my face.
“I was, I suppose I still am, technically, a teacher. Although I do some writing now,” which is close enough to the truth to be true and far enough away to keep the questions away.
“A teacher, a teacher. You get paid much for being a teacher?” Christian says as he fills his own glass.
Sally only just holds her tongue, I can see the tension in her eyes, the way she looks at him. She thinks he’s an idiot, too.
“Well, the reward isn’t so much monetary –“ I begin.
Kit interjects, “We make enough, between us.”
“Yes, well, I’ve had to start up a savings account for the new arrival,” Christian says, twitching his head towards Sally.
I look at Kit but her eyes are on Sally. I want to touch Kit’s leg under the table.
“A baby,” Sally says.
“That’s fantastic!” Kit cries, she is beaming. I can tell her potential tears are already falling. My hand is twitching under the table, if only I could –
“That is great, Sally. How far gone are you?” I ask, smiling too.
“A month. I should start showing properly soon. I’m scared and excited all at once.”
“Yep. It’s an exciting time alright. Can’t wait for the little man.”
“Girl,” Sally says.
“Could be a boy,” Christian says, red-cheeked and grinning.
Kit and I watch the discourse silently. I glance at her but when she notices me looking her eyes shift to stare at her food.
“What about you guys? Ever thought about having a baby?” Christian asks, noticing our silence.
“Yes,” Kit says immediately. I admire her. Her voice doesn’t even quiver.
“We have, yes. I think we should –“
“We have been talking about it recently. We both want one. A lot,” Kit interrupts.
“Soon, right, Ed?”
“When the nursery is finished,” I say.
“Yes. When the nursery is finished.”
“Hmm, sounds like a good plan to me.” Christian says, he changes the subject: “I was thinking of a client I had today. Young woman, I’d say twenty-five, maybe younger,” Sally sits slightly more upright in her chair, “she wanted travel insurance.”
“Right,” I say, glad for the diversion. I take a big gulp of the wine. I can’t look at Kit. Chris, taking my attention as a boon, drives on with his story.
“But I said to her she needs a reference. Her rating wasn’t great. Car crash, a claim for fire damage, so on. She says ‘I can’t get you a reference’ and obviously that’s a bit of a shock because you know, everybody has an employer, a parent, guardian or something. She just comes straight out and says ‘No one can know.’”
“Running away! And she comes to get travel insurance first!”
Sally and Kit laugh faintly, I say: “Where was she going?”
Kit looks at me. I see her out of the corner of my eye.
“Somewhere in Asia, I don’t remember. Just the cheek of it. That’s all. Don’t you wish we could just run away like that, hey?” Christian says, as if proposing one big happy family holiday.
“I’d love to,” I say, then continue, half laughing, “Always wanted to. Never had the chance. One day. If stuff permits it. Money. Kit.”
Christian laughs the hardest and Sally laughs gently and I smile at Kit. She’s unsure, I can tell. The alcohol feels suddenly thick in my veins. In my head. Pain behind the eyes.
“I’ve been to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore…South Africa. Cape Town is beautiful,” Christian rattles them off.
“Dubai was the best,” says Sally, “The place emanates relaxation. I don’t know how anything gets done there.”
“It’s all done by slaves,” I snap, and all three turn to look at me, “Sorry, but it’s true.”
Christian steps in. “Maybe, but you can’t just trust every little thing you read on the internet, Ed,” he laughs and the others follow suit.
Kit stands up abruptly, “Dessert?” she asks.
I down the glass and catch Sally watching me out of the corner of her eye. Christian seems oblivious and he says: “Sure, hon, what have you got?”
“Tart, a lemon tart, chocolate slabs. Ice cream. We have ice cream,” she says as she begins to clear the plates.
Christian shrugs, “I’ll eat anything.”
I stand up to help her and the alcohol rushes to my head. My eyes spin slightly. Sally stands up and says: “Sit down, Ed. I’ll do it.”
They both leave the room. Christian looks over to me and shrugs his shoulders, wiggles his eyebrows, pats his stomach. His chin is more drooped and saggy than I remember they were at the start of the night and small sweat pools have formed in his slightly sunken under-eyes.
“I’m sitting right here, Ed. You can call me Chris.”
“You do life insurance at Howel’s?”
“Sure do,” he laughs, “you interested?”
“I have been looking to get some kind of coverage…for, you know, if -”
“This is my business, pal. I’ve heard it all. You’re probably going to want some fire coverage in this wooden place of yours,” he gestures around the room. There isn’t any wood in sight, even the table is fake.
“Sure, sure. That’s a good idea. Can I have your telephone number? I’ll call you, what are your office hours?”
“Office hours? I work when I want. You call me whenever you want, pal. We’re friends now. Or at least, our lady counterparts are. Guess that makes us friends.”
At least it’s an amicable attempt at friendliness, “Thanks, I appreciate it. You’re a handy man to have around.”
He nods enthusiastically. Kit and Sally come back into the room with a tart and plates.
“Ed here was just saying he was interested in some insurance.”
Kit shoots me a quick dark look as she is cutting the tart, I just smile at her.
“That’s nice,” says Sally.
The tart is passed around the table. I take a small sliver.
“So, you’ve been here for two months?” Christian asks.