The weirdest thing about the aftermath of Lynne’s funeral was how normal it was. Other than Peter not being around much, everything went on as normal. It didn’t feel right, but there didn’t seem much point in doing anything else. It wasn’t like we could change anything, and if there was any looking after Peter to be done, we assumed Laura would be doing it.
There was stuff to be getting on with, anyway. We all had exams coming up, and about two weeks after Lynne’s funeral there was a ceremony at the House.
The Bastet costume hadn’t fit me, and on inspection the mask needed some repair work, so Laura had put off my debut until it could be done properly. Joining the others on the stage was oddly like being an initiate again. Not just because of the whole new and nervous thing, either.
At my second ceremony I’d come in with the other members, through the door under the stairs in the House, and sat on the ground on the other side of the ditch. That time everything was backwards from how I’d first seen it. There was no sharpness of ephedra, just the strange spinny warmth of the opium.
The first time I took the role of Bastet, I came in with Laura, through the garden and the back entrance, down the same hall I’d come down as an initiate. There was a big room in which we all dressed, helped each other with masks and make-up and getting into the terrifyingly tight robes. While there was a sense of camaraderie, it was quieter and more orderly than any other dressing room I was ever in. The high-spirited yelling and scraps and practical jokes of the theatre just seemed completely out of place.
I watched Laura transformed into Isis, something more than the dress and the make-up and the elaborately knotted girdle. I helped Peter into his Osiris costume, including the weird strapping and padding he wore to stop package bulge in the skin-tight robe. It would have been inappropriate, after all: the only bit of her husband Isis hadn’t been able to find after Set was through was his penis. I was pretty sure Laura would have just kept looking.
That night, that ceremony, was the first time I’d seen Peter since Lynne’s funeral. He hadn’t been to uni yet, or to the Carnarvon, but he turned up that night like nothing had happened. We all went along with the pretence of normality; even Richard, who could normally be relied upon to say what nobody else was brave, dumb or rude enough to. We all got dressed, got into character – because you couldn’t not, honestly, it was automatic – went out, and inducted the girl Peter had driven into town that time, Rachel.
At the after-bacchanal I saw them laughing, Laura perched on Peter’s lap. She turned and kissed his forehead. They were still in costume, and yet I thought, we’re getting there. Having these roles is helping them be normal with each other. He’s Osiris. He’s not grieving for some upper-middle-class daddy’s girl who couldn’t cope with not getting what she wanted. It’ll all be okay.
We were all stressed and busy with exams after that, and I’ll admit I didn’t spend enough time with Chris. Things were good there, so I could afford to give my attention where it was needed. We did have a couple of rows, though. Not blazing ones, that wasn’t Chris’s style. He did get pretty heated, accusing me of being Laura’s pet, that I would drop everything and come running whenever she whistled. I tried to explain that she needed me, but I couldn’t tell him I wasn’t always with her when he thought I was, or at least that I was at ceremonies, that I was needed and important.
Eventually I realised it just wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t have any kind of serious relationship outside of the Club. It was too difficult. I think it was a relief to both of us when it was finally over. I missed him, of course, quite a lot. I missed talking to him about the things I only talked about with him. I didn’t miss lying to him.
Breaking up with him saved me awkward decisions about Christmas, too. Laura asked: she was worried I was going to be alone after the bust-up with my family, but I’d already arranged to go up and spend it with my sister and my brand-new niece. I was surprised to hear that Laura was going home to spend Christmas with her mother. She’d never shown any sign of having family, but Glen said she went every year.
The weekend before we all took off to our families, we had a picnic in the gardens. It was a tradition even then, and it kept going for years after that, long after I’d left. We even had this little competition where everyone brought the weirdest least-appetising ‘seasonal’ foodstuff they could find, and then we saw how many of them we ran across when we went home.
After we’d stuffed ourselves, and drunk rather a lot of cheap sweet bubbles, Laura did something unprecedented. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been a bit of a pillock.”
We were lying on a rug in the sun, nicely relaxed, with Richard and Marianne feeding each other morsels on another rug nearby. Peter, Darren and Glen were off on the bridge, playing some elaborate combat version of Pooh Sticks.
“Laura, no,” I protested. “It’s fine. You’ve been going through a rough patch. It’ll be okay.”
“Hera,” Richard said, “shut up and let her finish. I really want to hear this. Also I think we should take refuge from the flying pig regiments that should be along any minute.”
“Fuck off, Richard,” Laura said amiably. “I’m trying to have a thingy. Revelation thing. Where you work something out.”
“You’ve been drinking,” I told her benevolently.
“Epiphany. Not enough, apparently. Anyway, I feel kind of guilty about you and Chris. I hope that wasn’t my fault.”
“Course not. We fucked that up all by ourselves. He couldn’t deal with me needing to be somewhere else. And I didn’t want to be nannied.” Actually, it had been kind of nice having someone care about me that much, feeling that needed, but Laura didn’t need to hear that. And she cared about me too. It almost certainly wasn’t her fault that we’d broken up.
“Good. Well, not good, obviously, but… Anyway. I’ve been sorting some stuff out in my head. I got lost for a bit there, but I’ve… put away childish things. Bitten the bullet. Sucked it up. I’ve been a shitty friend and that’s going to stop.”
“Um,” I said insightfully. “Good.”
Laura laughed, kissed my head and then climbed somewhat laboriously to her feet. I watched her wander off and realised the guys were coming back from the bridge. She cut Peter out of the group effortlessly, and after a short conversation the two of them walked off down the path, heads together.
Glen dropped onto the grass next to me, waggling the nearest bottle in an optimistic fashion. “What was all that about?”
“Laura told me all about it,” I said, “so I’ve got absolutely no idea. She’s made up her mind about something. Could be Peter. Could be a puppy.”
He discarded the empty bottle, lay back in the grass and sighed. “A puppy would be way easier to clean up after.”
A few weeks after we all came back, as the start of term loomed again, it became clear that in a way it was Peter she’d made her mind up about. It just wasn’t in the way I was expecting. She was talking to him again, laughing with him, touching him all the time just like they used to. But she wasn’t fucking him. Whatever she’d told him, it had let him relax around her again.
A couple of weeks into the new term I ran into Peter in the cafe. We’d both had late classes and it wasn’t a Happy Hour night, so everyone else had gone home. He sat opposite me drinking appalling coffee and stealing chips off my plate. “How was your sister? Get through Christmas okay?”
I shrugged, pulling apart the surprisingly edible crumbed fish they did. “Yeah, it was okay. Easy. Mum phoned on Christmas Day, must have been after Dad fell asleep. It’s just… it’s kind of weird. We never talk about things. Everyone just pretends everything is normal. I kind of wish there’d just be a row, but no. We pretend it didn’t happen and carry on.”
He dumped some salt on the table and started drawing patterns in it, his eyes on his work. “Families do that. It was like that after Lynne died, too. After a couple of days… nobody mentioned it. Mum took care of getting my stuff, and getting Laura to find me another flat so I didn’t have to go back, but she didn’t talk to me about it. We had Christmas, and nobody mentioned Lynne’s name. After her funeral, it was like she’d never existed.”
I stared at the top of his down-turned head, tears welling in my eyes. He’d spoken without a flicker of emotion, but he was hurting. “Peter, gods, we didn’t know. I’m so sorry. I guess… we just thought they’d take care of you. Your family. We didn’t know what to say. And Laura…” Now I’d mentioned her name, I had no idea what came after it. Laura should have taken care of him. She hadn’t.
He looked up, his expression wry. Deep blue eyes under thick black lashes: ridiculously beautiful. “It’s alright, Hera. I wasn’t really… I don’t think it would have mattered what anyone did or said for a while afterwards. I couldn’t hear it, couldn’t feel… anything. But it’s like you said. Families don’t talk about things. That’s why we have friends. Laura…” He leaned back in his chair, leaving the salt. Even upside-down I recognised what he’d ended up drawing in it: the tyet, the Isis knot, like an ankh with broken arms. “I missed her. It’s good to have her back. And you know, I think she has plans. We have First Party coming up. She seems to think you could do with a first year.”
“Oh, gods, no.” I rubbed a hand over my forehead, successfully distracted. “I only just broke up with Chris. Why can’t she just leave things alone?”
“Oh go on,” Peter said, his voice warming with teasing, “she does a good filtering process. Last time she got you Charles, don’t tell me that didn’t work out for you. She has much higher standards for you than she does for herself, anyway.”
I frowned, trying to work out if there was an edge to that last statement or not. “I don’t need… I can find my own boyfriends. And anyway, Laura’s still with Brian. What, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, the fuck is going on there?”
“Maybe she loves him.”
I just stared at him, until he had to look away. Quite the achievement. Not so much staring him down as looking at him for that long and not losing my train of thought.
“Alright,” he said, “I don’t understand it either. Maybe he’s hung like a donkey and superb in the sack.”
I blushed bright red, remembering what I’d seen. “Surely, that wouldn’t be… she’d still get bored. We love her, we can say it. She’s not famed for her attention span.” I smiled, toothy. “Except with you.”
His eyes narrowed in a brief burst of anger, and for a moment he looked so much like her… “Stop trying to distract me, Hera. Consider yourself forewarned. Laura is looking to find you some cock.”