‘Hello?’ croaked a voice still coated with sleep.
‘Hello Leaves,’ replied the caller, a smile breaking quietly over her lips. She curled her bare feet under her and began picking loose threads on the threadbare brown sofa.
‘Leah? It’s – what?’ There came the sound of fumbling as the sleep-riddled voice reached for their alarm clock. ‘It’s three in the morning over here.’
‘Yeah, I know.’
‘Seriously, it’s three in the morning. It’s still fucking dark.’
‘Not here, though,’ said Leah, looking out of the window into a brilliant blue sky. The voice on the other end grunted irritably. ‘Wouldn’t have called you so late but it’s just – I’ve got something to tell you.’
The bed creaked as the distant occupant sat up. ‘You’re not dying are you?’
‘What? No! Why would you guess that?’ A soft thump as the occupant lay down. ‘Anyway, shouldn’t you be able to tell? Twin intuition and all that shit.’
‘Whatever.’ Whatever – she was becoming americanised. A lighter clicked on the other end of the line. Inhale. ‘Well?’ Exhale. ‘If you’re not dying, what is it? Another failed diet?’
‘They’ve all failed me,’ replied Leah, sighing. She ran a nervous hand through her uncombed hair, momentarily surprised by its short length, briefly forgetting the encounter with the hairdresser only the day before. ‘Dad got a new girlfriend.’
There was a brief pause then another intake of cigarette. ‘That was quick.’ Exhale.
‘Tell me about it. Miss Money Penny only left, like, last month.’
‘Do we like her?’
‘She’s okay. You’d like her, she plays golf.’
‘Wow, a girlfriend I can finally connect with,’ replied Evelyn, a hint of sarcasm riding on her voice. ‘What does she look like?’
‘Very pretty; all legs, blonde hair and blue eyes.’ Leah played with an earring, rotating it as instructed by the piercer. ‘And supermodel thin – doesn’t look like she’s ever eaten cake in her life. You know the type.’
There was an explosion of laughter. ‘Sounds like my type, not Dad’s. Must be serious, though, if Dad’s introducing her to you already.’
Leah’s free hand moved to the phone cord, twisting it tightly around a finger. ‘Something’s not right about her.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s ... different.’
‘Speak for yourself.’ Leah stood, picking up the base of the phone and carrying it with her clutched to her chest. She began circling the cream wallpapered room, tapping her feet on the brown carpet to an unheard beat. ‘I can’t even begin to explain it to you. Her eyes, Leaves, her eyes are so cold.’
‘How can eyes be cold?’ asked Evelyn. The sound of a draw opening echoed down the line. ‘I’ve never understood that expression.’
‘You’d get what I meant if you met her.’ Leah stopped and began to practice the routine taught to her a few days previously, tapping her feet on the flowery threadbare rug between both sofas. ‘Dad really likes her.’
‘Good for him. Someone in this family needs to get some.’
‘Evelyn!’ cried Leah, swinging her leg upwards, her heel brushing the rug. ‘Really don’t need that image of Dad, thanks, or you. Besides, Dad and Penny only broke up last month. They were together for, what, four years? Don’t you think that’s a little fast, even for Dad?’
‘Maybe she’s The One,’ said Evelyn, with particular emphasis on “The One”.
‘Maybe,’ agreed Leah, softly. She stopped dancing, starring at an old picture on the thick wooden mantle above the fireplace. A woman in her early twenties sat cradling two babies with wisps of rusty red-hair, smiling ecstatically through the glass of the frame at Leah. They had inherited her straight nose and hazel eyes. A knot of anxiety tightened in her stomach. ‘He seems... almost enchanted by her.’
‘Wow,’ said Evelyn, laughter hiding in her voice. ‘Like magic? You think she put a spell on him? Or gave him a love potion?’
Leah clicked her tongue. ‘You know what I mean.’
Evelyn yawned. ‘I think you’re worrying too much.’
‘Yes,’ said Evelyn, yawning again, forcing it as though making a point.
‘Leaves, I think you need to come home.’
‘Can’t. I’m still filming. You know that.’
Leah sighed, disappointed. ‘Come back as soon as you’re finished.’
‘Sure,’ said Evelyn, her voice full of false promise. ‘I need to get some more sleep. Call me if anything else develops.’
‘’Kay, I will,’ said Leah. ‘Bye Leaves, love you.’
‘Oh, I saw your new haircut on the internet. It really suits you.’
Leah smiled to herself. ‘Thanks, Leaves.’
‘You’re welcome. Love you, Pea. Bye.’
The line died and Leah replaced the phone in its cradle.