Alice and John are so early on in their relationship, they are still self-contained and happy to be touching and speaking to each other – every movement a masked desire. If they could, they’d stay at home screwing all day long. Dinner parties are an inconvenience to them.
The dinner party continues and Louise’s friend Alice and her new boyfriend John arrive. He seems nice to Adam in a nondescript kind of way. Not offensive, not particularly interesting but nice enough in an unmemorable way. Alice seems happy though, and that’s lovely to see. Adam thinks she’s been unhappy for a long time, even before her boyfriend left, if he’s honest. She’s one of life’s meek people who tend to get bullied around a bit by everything and everyone – and having a friend like Imogen does nothing for her self-esteem.
Adam is leaning against the living-room wall while Jarvis, in simple jeans and a white t-shirt, sits on the sofa next to Imogen in her black party dress. Alice is sitting in John’s lap on the armchair, which seems odd to Adam, like they’re too old for such things, but as he quietly surveys the room, he tells himself off for such observations. Why shouldn’t they be tactile and in love and happy and comfortable in their togetherness?
Louise is in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to the starters before they all sit down to eat, and Adam isn’t engaging with anybody in particular, he’s comfortably monitoring the room, analysing people’s behaviour and mannerisms. Alice and John are so early on in their relationship, they are still self-contained and happy to be touching and speaking to each other – every movement a masked desire. If they could, they’d stay at home screwing all day long. Dinner parties are an inconvenience to them.
Imogen and Jarvis are fascinating. Or rather, Imogen is. Adam can see from Jarvis’s body language that her wiles aren’t working on him yet, but Imogen clearly hasn’t picked up on this herself. If she’s touched his knee once, she’s touched it twenty times. She’s playing with her hair and laughing a lot, despite the fact that, as far as Adam can tell, Jarvis isn’t saying anything funny at all. And her legs are slightly apart and every now and again, she kind of flaps them and Adam doesn’t know whether to laugh or to be embarrassed for her. He settles on laughing quietly to himself.
For a moment, Adam zones in on the conversation, to see what Imogen is saying, to ascertain how she’s trying to reel him in, apart from the leg flapping and breast thrusting. “And before you knew it,” Imogen is saying earnestly, “Gavin was buying Chinese magazines and People’s Daily. I mean, can you believe it? He’s an investment banker, for Christ’s sake.” Adam turns his attention to Jarvis, to see how he’s coping with it all. He doesn’t seem stressed or anxious like Adam would be in the same situation. In fact, he seems relaxed and he’s taking it all in his stride…
“There was this strange man on the train today, Imogen,” Alice pipes up, wiggling her behind into John’s lap as she speaks, glancing at Adam to include him as she does so. “He was wearing a suit and these enormous headphones – have you noticed, all the teenagers wear massive headphones nowadays – and anyway, he was darning a nasty blue sock. A man, in a suit, darning a sock on a train.” She pauses for effect, so everyone can take in the details of the picture she’s painted.
“Oh, Alice, really,” Imogen says. “I’m telling Jarvis about Gavin and his new politics, do you have to interrupt?” Dutifully, Alice shrinks back into herself a little and looks to the floor.
“It is a bit strange,” Jarvis says to Alice, seeing the change in her demeanour. “A man in a suit, darning a sock in massive headphones.” He smiles at her, trying desperately to undo some of Imogen’s poison, recognising within an hour of meeting them the dynamic between the two.
“Okay, starters are ready,” Louise says breezily, breaking the tension as she comes into the living room. “If you can all move to the dining room, I’ll serve.” They all stand and start filing out.
“Thank God for that,” Jarvis whispers to Adam as they move rooms, grinning from ear to ear. “I thought it was about to turn into a full-on fight.”
Excerpt, Beat The Rain
Beat The Rain was the Bestselling JHP Fiction title of 2016 and a semifinalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2016 for Best Debut Author.
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