The line died and Leah replaced the phone in its cradle. She stood in the silence for a few moments, watching as a red ford slowed and steered towards the house. Gravel crunched and the engine whined unwillingly as the old car inched its way onto the long driveway.
Leah padded through the living room into the cool flagstone-floored kitchen. She swung open the creaking fridge door and peered inside, the cold air a welcome relief on her hot face warmed by a burning autumn day. Two cans of cola and a block of applewood cheese were the only items gracing their presence on the Smeg shelves. Sighing, she grabbed one of the cans and pushed the door shut with her foot.
The front door opened and a man’s voice called, ‘Hello? Leah, are you in?’
‘Yeah,’ shouted Leah, tapping the top of the can and pulling the ring.
There was a moments silence before the voice shouted, ‘could you come here, love?’
Leah wondered through a second door, pushing the beaded door divider aside, and moved into a narrow hallway. Two black suitcases stood side by side against the wall, taking up much of the already limited room. Leah looked from her panting father, whose face glistened with sweat, to the cases.
‘Did you buy these?’ asked Leah, gesturing to the cases and taking a sip from the can. ‘Are you going away?
‘What?’ Mr Jacobs glanced down, rubbing a stitch in his side. ‘Oh no, Lora’s coming to stay with us while the plumbers deal with the burst pipe. Didn’t you get my message?’
Leah’s grip tightened on the can. ‘No. Lora’s moving in here?’
‘Yes, whilst the plumbers are there,’ replied Mr Jacobs, spotting the mornings post on the sideboard and shifting through it, putting down envelopes that looked as though they might contain bills. ‘Come and help me with the rest of her things would you?’
‘Why doesn’t she stay with friends – or family?’ asked Leah, apprehension washing over her.
‘Her family live up North and her friends – don’t look at me like that.’
Leah raised her eyebrows. ‘Like what?’
Mr Jacobs pointed a teasing finger at her. ‘You and Eve give me that expression when you disapprove of something I’m doing.’
‘Did I say I disapproved?’ asked Leah defensively. ‘I just don’t understand why she’s coming here.’
‘Because her flat is unliveable at the moment, I can’t let her live there. What would you have me do, Leah? Let her live on the street?’ Mr Jacobs ran a hand through his fair hair and wiped the glistening sweat from his forehead.
‘She could go to a hotel.’
‘No, she couldn’t.’
‘What does it matter? This is my house and she’s staying here as my guest.’
‘I thought it was our house?’
‘It is,’ replied Mr Jacobs, ‘when you pay your rent.’
Leah stormed down the hall towards the staircase, jumping the first two steps.
‘Leah, love, I’m sorry. It’ll be all right.’
Leah swung round, almost losing her balance on the stair. ‘It’s not all right. Penny left a month ago and now Lora’s staying with us?’ Leah put her free hand on her hip. ‘You haven’t even told Evelyn about Lora yet.’
Mr Jacobs pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. ‘You’re still angry that I broke up with Penny.’
‘I liked Penny, but I’m not angry you broke up,’ snapped Leah. ‘I want to you be happy.’
‘Well, I am,’ he replied, gazing up a Leah. He narrowed his eyes at her. ‘Is it Lora?’
Leah gave a non-committal grunt and shrugged a shoulder.
Mr Jacobs dropped his hand, letting it swing beside him like a metronome. ‘I want you to be happy too, you know, Leah. You can tell me if you don’t like Lora.’
Anxiety and guilt churned in her stomach, as she gazed down at her father’s prematurely lined face, snaking through her intestines, pressing against her insides as though longing to engulf the rest of her body. A voice in her head screamed, and was followed by the sickening crunch of metal folding upon the bodiless voice as something heavy collided with it. Her fingers found her new earring and began to turn it. She shivered slightly.
‘We need food,’ said Leah, lifting the can and shaking it slightly.
Mr Jacobs’s eyebrows rose slightly. He hesitated slightly before saying, ‘I’m staying in this evening; you can take the car to the shops if you like.’ His voice was soft and even and he continued to gaze up at Leah with a mild expression of surprise.
‘Fine,’ said Leah, turning and ascending the stairs. ‘I’ll take a shower then I’ll head out.’
‘Could you pick up some veg, love? Lora’s a vegan.’
‘Of course she is,’ muttered Leah, waving a hand behind her head in acknowledgment of her father’s request.
Leah opened the first door on the landing and stepped inside, regretting the amount of force used to close the door as it slammed shut behind her. The room was spacious and airy. Two double beds, one at either end of the room, occupied the majority of the space; one was still made, looking cold and uninviting and the other a mess of duvet, throw and scatter cushions.
Light poured in from the single bay window, framed by aubergine silk curtains, highlighting the jumble of shoes, books and paper that had scattered themselves across the cream-coloured carpet.
A confused bee lingered at the base of the window, lifting off occasionally, attempting a fruitless escape and bumping into the glass. Leah heard the crunch of gravel below the window as her father ambled towards the car to continue unloading more of Lora’s belongings. Leah grabbed her mobile from her cluttered desk and punched in a short, hurried text.
She’s moving in. And she’s a vegan.
Less than a minute later her mobile vibrated in her hand. Leah opened the message and glanced down, the corners of her mouth twitching as she read the reply.
Of course she is. Women who don’t eat cake eat veg.
Your paranoia is keeping me from sleeping.
Stop being paranoid! Speak soon, love Leaves. x