Kate flew into the little room, panting with her fringe stuck to her forehead with sweat. Everyone looked up kindly at her entrance and she dropped into the plastic chair next to Polly. Polly patted Kate’s legs with a slightly patronising, slightly dismissive air. Oh well, thought Kate, at least Polly had a reason to feel about herself compared to Kate. She was helping the universe in some way. She blinked her hair out of her eyes. Ewan had dropped her as close as he could, but the campus was sprawling and she’d had to dash across the courtyard and what felt like several miles of buildings and stairs before she found the book club. Sasha smiled warmly at her across the room.
“Ah, Kate! Polly told us you had got held up. Have a seat - catch your breath.”
Polly smiled magnanimously at Kate - clearly thrilled with herself for having saved Kate’s behind from a scolding. Not that Kate felt like a scolding would have happened anyway. Wasn’t this supposed to be for fun? It wasn’t meant to feel like homework. Sasha didn’t seem like the type to get stroppy if someone was later or hadn’t done the reading, but then, she was the host of a book club and no one would run a book club unless they were a little doolally.
“So,” Sasha continued, smiling round at everyone, “Clara was just saying, Kate, that she found the dating of the book very obvious.”
“That’s right,” Clara interrupted, “I can totally feel that it was written quite a long time ago and I think that kills some of the enjoyment for me. I find myself trying to concentrate on the differences between now, then and the time it’s set trying to think of what the author means by things.”
Kate frowned, trying to follow the logic of what Clara was saying as well as trying to stop panting like a stuck pig.
“You’re frowning?” Clara said directly at Kate, and Kate jumped with shock - feeling a cold trickle of her dashing sweat run unpleasantly down her back. The intensity of Calra’s gaze made her feel sure she was about to add some panic sweat to the moving sweat. How glamorous could one woman get? How could someone work out as much as she did and yet still have found that sprint across campus so difficult? Definitely back to the gym in the morning, she thought dismally.
“Oh, no I was just working out what you meant…” Kate smiled, scrabbling to explain her facial expressions. She attempted to smooth the frown off her forehead too - appalled that she’d looked so scrutinising.
“I was much clearer before, it’s just you were late.”
Kate nodded, not enjoying the exchange at all, “No absolutely - I was late. Yes, no - I’m sure you were clearer.” She frowned again, the furrow in her brow helping her brain to make connections.
“You’re frowning again, so you do disagree?”
Good god the woman was like a dog with a bone, Kate thought. She opened her mouth to argue and then decided against it. No, she did disagree so why not say it? No, she couldn’t say it, could she? But, then… what was the point of being in a book club if you didn’t say what you thought about the book?
“Actually, now that you mention it - yeah, I do disagree. No offence - I don’t mean this personally, it’s just literally how I feel about the book. I just… I kind of think the themes and the behaviours are sort of timeless and, especially given what Anne Rice went through, I think I found it pretty easy to switch off from the fact it was written so long ago. That’s all. I um, yes, that’s what I think”
Kate stopped talking and looked around the circle, feeling pleased with herself for saying what she thought but then instantly unsure she believed what she had said. It was a long time since she’d said that much out loud in front of strangers. Usually she just kept her head down and believed that if she didn’t say anything in a meeting then it meant the meeting was over quicker. She felt exhilarated from having said her piece.
“Well, perhaps it’s because I’m older than you and I have a bit more life experience so I am more aware of these differences than you?” Clara said and Kate felt a little stab of annoyance through her chest. Woah, that had got personal quickly?
“Oh, well - maybe, although… I mean, you don’t really know what my life experience is, so…”
To her complete shock, Clara laughed and looked around the room at the others. Kate felt two inches tall. She opened her mouth to respond but before she could say what she thought she heard another voice very similar to her own jumping in.
“Sorry, I’m not being funny but who the hell do you think you are? You have absolutely no idea what her life experience is so don’t go bringing all your assumptions to what’s meant to be a nice book club.” Clara gave an almost imperceptible shake to her head and then opened her mouth but Polly was quicker, “No, I’m not asking you to argue back - you owe my sister an apology.”
The atmosphere was frosty to say the least. No one in the circle seemed to know what to say at all. Kate felt humiliated and also guilty - this was only their second time at the book club and already they were causing issues. Why did trouble seem to follow her around? Sasha jumped in quickly to remedy the situation, “Hey! Listen, disagreements on the book are fine - that’s what we’re here for after all but I think we should try and keep all shots above the waist and firmly on the topic of the book, yes? Clara?”
Clara raised her eyebrows and sniffed. Kate decided she loathed her.
The second they got in the car to drive back down the hill towards their homes Polly exploded. Kate was alarmed at how often her hands were flying off the steering wheel and she was certain a hedge had actually moved out of their way to avoid getting squashed in as post-Clara fury.
“I’m sorry but I will not have her speaking to you like that - no way! What an absolute bitch. If that Sasha wasn’t so nice I’d have torn her a new one - how dare she suggest you don’t have any life experience. She doesn’t know anything about you. Just because you’re a bit of a shambles, that doesn’t give her the right to assume anything about you! You’re doing the best you can considering everything. Yes, yes you could have a better job or a boyfriend or a house or a plan, but just because you don’t have any of those things doesn’t mean any of it is a problem. That bitch.”
Kate started laughing and then found that no matter how hard she tried to get it under control it was impossible. She laughed and laughed. Only her sister could defend her and accidentally be worse to her than the person she was defending her from. Kate laughed until tears poured down her face and her abs ached. Polly looked over at Kate as frequently as the heavy traffic would allow?
“What are you laughing at? Are you laughing at me?” Polly squawke, “Kate! Let me in on the joke - I want to laugh. Katie!” Eventually, Kate’s laughing prompted a waterfall effect from Polly and she started to giggle along with the snorting and chuckling coming from the passenger seat.
They pulled into Polly’s driveway both killing themselves together, eventually Kate pulled herself together enough to look around outside the window and notice where they were. “What are we doing here? I thought you were taking me home?”
“Sod that, I need a glass of wine - I’ll get you a cab later.”
Kate shrugged, she was sure Ewan would have plenty of unpacking and settling in to do so wouldn’t mind that his new housemate had left him all alone for an evening. Perhaps he had one of his girlfriends round? Kate looked at Polly, wondering whether to tell her about the snake or the trio? She decided probably not. Polly was… traditional.
They slumped on the sofa with glasses of wine that technically should have been called two glasses of wine each. Ryan appeared for a quick wave and then immediately disappeared when he saw the glasses of wine.
“Up to his office.” Polly rolled her eyes and took a big gulp.
Choose a household item?
- Mobile phone