fiction

Excerpt From My Fourth Novel: Bookends

The first time I met Josh, I thought he was a nice guy but a transient friend. The first time I met Si I fell hopelessly in love and prayed I'd somehow be able to convert him.

But the first time I met Portia I thought I'd found my soul mate.

She was the sister I'd always longed for, the best friends I'd always wished I had, and I truly and honestly thought that, no matter what happened with our lives, we would stay friends forever.

Forever feels like a long time when you're eighteen. When you're away from home for the first time in your life, when you forge instant friendships that are so strong they are destined, surely, to be with you until the bitter end.

I met Josh right in the beginning, just a few weeks after the Freshers' Ball. I'd seen him in the Students' Union, propping up the bar after a rugby game, looking for all the world like the archetypal upper-class rugger bugger twit, away from home with too much money and too much arrogance.He-naturally-started chatting up Portia, alcohol giving him confidence he lacked when sober (although I didn't know that at the time), and despite the rebuffs he kept going until his friends dragged him away to find easier prey.

I'm sure we would all have left it at that, but I bumped into him the next day, in the library, and he recognized me instantly and apologized for embarrassing us; and gradually we started to see him more and more, until he'd firmly established himself as one of the gang.

I'd already met Si by then, had already fallen in love with his cheeky smile and extravagant gestures. I was helping out one of the girls on my course who was auditioning for a production of Cabaret. It was my job to collect names and send them into the rehearsal hall for the audition.

Si was the only person who turned up in full costume. As Sally Bowles. In fishnet stockings, bowler hat, and full makeup, he didn't bat an eyelid as the others slouched down in their hard, wooden chairs, staring, jealous as hell of his initiative. And his legs.

We went in, bold as brass, and proceeded to give the worst possible rendition of "Cabaret" that I've ever heard, but with such brazen confidence you could almost forgive him for being entirely tone-deaf.

Everybody went crazy when he'd finished. They went crazy because he is so obviously loved, loved, being center stage. None of us had ever seen such enthusiasm, but even though Si knew every song, word for word, he had to be content with camping it up as the narrator, as Helen, the director, said she never wanted to hear him sing again.

Eddie was a friend of Josh's. A sweet gentle boy from Leeds who should probably have been overwhelmed by our combined personalities, but somehow wasn't. He was easy company, and always willing to do anything for anybody he cared about, which was mostly us, at the time.

And then of course there was Portia. So close that our names became intertwined: CatherineandPortia. Two for the price of one.

I met Portia my very first day at university. We were sitting in the halls of residence common room, waiting for a talk to begin, all sizing each other up, all wondering whom to befriend, who seemed like our type, when this stunningly elegant girl strode in on long, long legs, crunching an apple and looking like she didn't have a care in the world.

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