“You want my opinion?”
“My honest opinion?”
“Yes,” Ollie repeated. “Please.”
“Brutal honest opinion?”
“Even if you don’t like it?”
“Even if I never want to talk to you again.” Ollie took a sharp slurp through the straw of his smoothie and winced, his glasses tipping to the end of his nose. “Until tonight, anyway.”
“Then leave well alone.”
Ollie sighed. He sucked up another mouthful of his daily fruit and veg intake, flicked back his blond hair that had lost its vigor after a twelve-hour night shift and glanced away from Taya’s wide brown eyes. The eyes that signified she meant every damn word. Bitch.
Taya freed her dark, waist-length hair from its curled bun and stroked it over one shoulder. She wrapped the band around her slender dark-skinned wrist then sipped her dainty cup of pink hot chocolate. The blue edges of her lips, caused by the freezing weather, were subsiding back to their usual reddish tinge with each guzzle of the pink cream and rainbow of chocolate candies scattered over her ridiculous sickly concoction. She hadn’t even offered a spoonful to him. Twelve hours straight on night shift clearly meant she needed the sugar all to herself.
“He’s not worth your time, your worry or your respect.” She clanged the cup down onto the glass surface of the table, pulled her winter trench coat over the scrubs she hadn’t bothered to change out of and reached for her packet of menthol slims.
“Neither are they.” Ollie pointed to the cigarettes.
Taya glared across the table. She unhooked the top of the packet, took one of the white sticks between her teeth and lit it with her pink lighter. Blowing the smoke into the freezing cold air, she waved her hand.
“We all have our vices, Oliver.”
Ollie stuck his middle finger up. He slapped it back down and shoved it into his jacket pocket. It was freezing, and Taya had to bloody sit outside the corner coffee shop in order to smoke her way out of the trying night shift. She was right. Everyone needed their vices, especially with what he and Taya did for a living. He sighed.
“I think he needs patience.”
“He’s got plenty of those.” Taya pointed her two fingers clutching the death stick at Ollie.
“Har fricking har. Patience with a c.”
“He’s a c all right.” Taya took another drag. At Ollie’s glare, she sighed and rested her elbow on the tabletop. “What? He is.”
“I think you may be the only female in the entire hospital who doesn’t like him.” Ollie slurped the dregs of his raspberry-ripple smoothie and shivered. He should have gone for a hot drink, but it was hard enough to sleep during the day as it was. Caffeine would only make it infinitely more difficult.
“That’s because I know him,” Taya replied.
“Urgh. Not you, too?”
“Ew.” Taya grimaced around her cigarette. “No, thank you.”
Ollie leaned back in the chair. He waved a hand to waft away the smoke drifting into his face. To give her some credit, Taya was trying to blow it out of the side of her mouth to avoid him, but the icy-cold January breeze from the earlier sleet downpour blew it straight back. Ollie zipped up his puffer jacket, folded his arms and jiggled on the cold metal chair.
“You nearly done?” He nodded to the half-full cup of violently pink chocolate.
Taya blew another puff of smoke into the air, stubbed out the remains of her cigarette and downed the rest of her drink, leaving a foam mustache on her top lip. She licked it away. “Yeah. Home to bed, miss the snowfall, back at eight. You?”
They scraped back their chairs and Ollie tucked a five-pound note under the ashtray for the servers. Anyone willing to come outside and serve drinks in this weather should most definitely get tips, even if his wages would no doubt be far less than those of the coffee baristas working this part of London.
“I should go see my dad,” he replied.
Taya linked her arm in with his, curling her slender fingers around his quilted sleeve. Checking both ways along the crossroads lined by independent boutiques, high-class restaurants, unconventional cafés and health-food shops, she steered him across, narrowly missing a black cab speeding over the mini-roundabout. The glass-enclosed bus stop’s bench overflowed with waiting passengers, so he stood, his freezing toes within his inappropriate-for-the-weather slip-on loafers numbing with each passing second, and checked the time on the electric board for when the next bus was due.
“How’s he doing?” Taya asked.
“Good days and bad days.” Ollie sighed. “Keeps calling me Tilly.”
Taya tried to hold in the chuckle but failed miserably. Ollie didn’t mind so much. A good sense of humor was always best in these situations, not to mention their line of work. He pulled Taya in closer. It was fricking freezing and snowflakes fell from the overcast sky. How would he get back to work later that night? London came to a standstill if even one flake hit any mode of public transport. Him living in the other end of the city—the cheap end—would make it all the more difficult to travel across town. On occasions when there wasn’t a downfall, he would have cycled in. But that was out of the question with the ice on the roads. And the fact that he hadn’t woken up in his own bed last night. Ollie shuddered at the memory.
“Right.” Ollie bounced to keep warm while awaiting the number 252. “It’s January. So that means New Year’s resolutions. What’s yours?”
“Good luck.” Ollie meant it.
Taya stuck out her tongue.
“Well, we both know mine—”
“Which you broke last night.” Taya was a bitch like that.
“I don’t believe New Year’s resolutions should start until the second week of January.” Ollie rubbed his hands together, digging Taya’s arm into his side, and wondered why he hadn’t thought to bring gloves. Ah, yes, he hadn’t had any where he’d been before his shift started. He wasn’t allowed to leave any trace of his existence there.
“Riiight,” Taya said. “So that means from today, you’ll be steering clear of arsehole men?”
“Sadly, no. Unfortunately, I will no doubt encounter many of them in my time without realizing until it’s too late.”
“Amen.” Taya saluted.
Ollie wasn’t sure what the salute was about. But he wasn’t particularly religious, so maybe that was how it was done in church these days? Or temples, considering Taya’s family were Hindu.
“So, what is your resolution, then?”
“No baggage,” Ollie replied.
“Yep,” Ollie confirmed.
The gleaming new red Routemaster bus edged along the narrow High Street, bumping over the speed mounds meant to slow the traffic down, which Ollie thought ridiculous as the morning rush-hour pileup tended to last all day in central London. The streets were filled with scuttling people carrying takeout coffee cups, cyclists braving the ice, and the occasional honking of a taxi horn. This time of the morning, most people were trying to get to work and not home from it like Ollie and Taya. He was never quite sure who was keener to reach their destinations.
“I don’t mind a complete arsehole—”
“Obviously.” Taya cut Ollie off with a raise of her smoothed-out eyebrows. That new rainbow hot chocolate had clearly contained one too many e-numbers and sent her loopy. That and the long night shift. Not that she hadn’t been a little bit loopy to begin with.
“Ha ha.” Ollie pushed her forehead. “Like, I can handle a dickhead—”
“We all know.”
“Jesus Christ,” Ollie muttered. “No more white hot chocolate with pink dye for you, okay?”
“Sorry.” Taya pressed her lips together. She rose up on her tiptoes to check on the bus’s progress but needn’t have worried, as it had traveled all of a millimeter since the start of their conversation. At this rate, Ollie might get home in time to have a shower and come straight back.
“What I mean is—”
“You don’t want a man who can’t commit because of circumstance,” Taya finished for him.
Ollie was capable of finishing his own sentences, but Taya was getting warm from flapping her lips, so he allowed it. “Exactly. I’m married to my job. I love my job. Therefore, I should have the occasional fling and become the arsehole myself.” He pointed a finger at Taya. “Don’t fricking say it.”
Taya shrugged and mimed zipping her lips up.
“What do we nurses say daily?”
“‘No, you can’t have McDonald’s’?”
“Not that one.”
“‘You’re going to feel a little prick’?”
Ollie sniggered. “Not that one either.”
“Oh, I know. It’s ‘Of course I’ll change your TV channel for you—it’s not like I have anything better to do with my time.’”
“No! I mean the big one—‘You won’t feel a thing.’”
Taya nodded. “So?”
“So, my resolution is to no longer feel a thing.”
“Good luck.” Taya smiled. Bitch.
The bus pulled up and Ollie jogged on the spot, waiting for the doors to open. They hissed to the side, and even though he and Taya were standing correctly at the hop-on part of the Routemaster with the exit farther along the double decker, a tall man with floppy dark hair jumped straight off and bashed Ollie’s arm as he rushed up the high street, heading toward the gleaming glass frontage of St. Cross Children’s Hospital.
“Ouch.” Ollie pouted and rubbed his arm.
“Ha!” Taya jumped the step onto the bus.
Amusement shimmered across Taya’s face as she bleeped her Oyster card onto the yellow reader. “You just felt something.”
“Oh, bog off.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Brought up in a relatively small town in Hertfordshire, C F White managed to do what most other residents try to do and fail—leave.
Studying at a West London university, she realised there was a whole city out there waiting to be discovered, so, much like Dick Whittington before her, she never made it back home and still endlessly searches for the streets paved with gold, slowly coming to the realisation they’re mostly paved with chewing gum. And the odd bit of graffiti. And those little circles of yellow spray paint where the council point out the pot holes to someone who is supposedly meant to fix them instead of staring at them vacantly whilst holding a polystyrene cup of watered-down coffee.
She eventually moved West to East along that vast District Line and settled for pie and mash, cockles and winkles and a bit of Knees Up Mother Brown to live in the East End of London; securing a job and creating a life, a home and a family.
Having worked in Higher Education for most of her career, a life-altering experience brought pen back to paper after she’d written stories as a child but never had the confidence to show them to the world. Having embarked on this writing malarkey, C F White cannot stop. So strap in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride...