Bold As Love
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Three extraordinary people in some most extraordinary times:
It's Dissolution Summer and as the United Kingdom prepares to break up into separate nations, the Counterculturals have gathered for a festival where everything's allowed. Among them is a talented little brat called Fiorinda, rock and roll princess by birth, searching for her father, the legendary Rufus O'Niall.
Instead, she finds Ax Preston, the softly spoken guitarman with bizarre delusions about saving the country from the dark ages. Together with Sage Pender, techno-wizard king of the lads, they join the pop-icon team that's supposed to make the government look cool.
Rock Legends. True Romance. A stunning fantasy about England.
Release date: November 12, 2020
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 384
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Bold As Love
It’s festival season, and business is not as usual. Climate breakdown, a global financial crash, and the unstoppable rise of the ‘CCM’ (Countercultural Movement = a host of different groups, mobilised on a Save the Planet rampage) have plunged the Eurozone into chaos, and the United Kingdom is about to be dismantled. The Royals have cleared off to Monaco, leaving Buckingham Palace derelict. Northern Ireland joins the Republic; Scotland and Wales will become European nation states – Wales not quite so independently viable, but the Welsh don’t care about that. Meanwhile in England – also about to become a standalone European state – even the official Green Party is getting dangerous, and nobody knows what to do about the ‘drop-out hordes’ (like our teeming homeless but more wilful, and thoroughly infiltrated by the CCM’s violent tendency, known as the Hard Greens). Never fear, the Home Secretary (that’s Paul Javert, don’t get too attached to him) has a cunning plan. He’s collecting rockstars, in search of a token funky but biddable ‘Green’ President. The targets have to be home grown, of course, but he’s looking at some really big crowd-pleasers, like Pigsty Liver (Saul Burnet) – popular with the worst element in the weaponised ecological-unrest crowd and famous for his outrageous, disgusting videos. Or maybe Aoxomoxoa (Sage Pender), the Cornish clown-king of techno, beloved for that crazy release of wolves on Bodmin Moor … The mild-mannered, ‘politically aware’ front-man of a little guitar band from Somerset (with the forgettable name) also seems worth acquiring, plus a few other ‘radical’ music-scene people, for general filler; and there’s a red-headed sixteen-year-old girl – plenty of street-cred, she’s been homeless herself – who calls herself Fiorinda. She’s no big name, as yet, but she’s held to be talented enough to make it; her estranged father is huge Rock Royalty, and you have to have a pretty girl in the mix.
So Javert puts together his superstar and his backing group. The radical rockstars go along with it, mocking, intrigued and cynical. No such thing as bad publicity, and it’s fun, in a weird way, to be hired for some kind of lame, government stunt, by this idiot who has no idea what’s really happening—
Ax Preston, virtuoso guitar-man with a secret obsession, isn’t worried by the Pig’s success. His plans for saving England are still in preparation and this way, by a stroke of luck, he’ll be close to the action, but under the radar, until he’s ready to make his move. Would Ax ever have been ready? Maybe not; maybe he was just dreaming. But then comes Massacre Night. A prefab venue in Hyde Park. All the leaders of the official Greens, plus the radical rockstars and a mixed pack of entertainment, media and politico folk, are gathered to launch Paul Javert’s daring rock and roll initiative – and then the guns start blazing. The so-called normal world, surely always bound to survive, however close to collapse it seems, with all its ordinary, inexorable wickedness intact, is suddenly gone. Ax steps up, and a terrible beauty is born.
The Hard Green devastation that follows, in the reign of that tormented soul ‘Pigsty Liver’, will become known as the Deconstruction Tour – ecstatic to some, far more terrifying than beautiful for most of the helpless population. Spoil heaps of trashed metal and rubber fill the vast tracts and multi-storeys of England’s carparks. Cellnets vanish, because Pigsty’s had the masts sawn down. ‘Green concrete’ monster cropfields get strafed with organic napalm, giant supermarkets are torched, airport runways and motorways torn up (Ax lets nobody near anything nuclear). Monstrous numbers of intensively reared farm animals, released from appalling conditions, then have to be destroyed … Ax, whose high-tech, very personal preparation for power has been instrumental in making it all happen, insists that he’s going to turn the awful vengeance machine around. He promises his fellow prisoners in the entourage of King Pig (those radical rockstars) that they will help him build ‘a genuine, humane civilisation for everyone’ out of the wreckage. Without any loss of the futuristic tech they all love, and where even the lesser spotted flycatchers will be satisfied voters. They’re not convinced.
If Ax and his motley crew can contrive to segue from savagely justified violent revolution – in a world, like this world of ours, that’s already on its knees – into a gentle, thrilling and fulfilling future for all the living world, without the whole thing descending into a Terror, here in England’s green and pleasant land or anywhere else, it will be a miracle. Luckily he’s going to get a little help, not only from his friends (and some very useful patrons) but from his two chief allies, the annoying giant Cornishman, chevalier mal fet, with the crippled hands – part übergeek, part clown, part sex-god – and that ice-cool, alarmingly intelligent little red-headed babe whose past is a raw wound and whose future is beyond belief.
When the first episode of the series came out, in 2001, it was described as a ‘dystopia’, and I can understand why. The Deconstruction Tour is only the intro, and not even the most challenging of the calamitous, inevitable cascade of disasters Ax and his friends, ‘the Few’, will face. But Bold As Love is not dystopian, absolutely not. There’s nothing here about the future seen as an iron boot stamping on a human face, forever.1 In dystopia you can’t fight back, and that’s the whole point. My radical rockstars can, and they do. On the other hand, there’s certainly a utopian element, despite all the horrors, the bloody mayhem, and the body count. Or even because of that foundation: I was born in utopia, and I know how much those shining moments tend to cost.2 The series has also been described as a take on Arthurian romance, with legendary guitars in place of legendary swords, and rock festivals for spectacular high-points instead of tournaments. This I can’t deny, not least because Ax Preston ruthlessly employs the trope himself, and the media-folk keep pushing it. But here the love-triad is truly central, which is not the case in the original story, and the people in the crowd, practically absent, as far as I remember, in the legend, play a major part in the action.
Bold As Love (like a lot of science fiction) is structurally a fairytale, in the classic form of trials overcome and the working out of fate, with motifs from popular culture and futuristic science. Plus nods to more or less reliably recorded history – ancient fake-news images long enshrined in legend, and many, many references to the imperishable classics: Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, etc. Set, when it was launched, in the near future, my ‘Year of Dissolution’ can seem unsettling today. All this green rampage and nobody mentions Extinction Rebellion? The UK broken up, okay: an obvious ploy. But why is Europe still ‘the government’ (and to blame for everything, as is government’s natural role)? Why no Twitter, Facebook or Google? And the internet is here but it’s regulated – by a funky, Tim Berners-Lee, Electronic Frontier Foundation-type committee of übergeeks, who don’t tolerate miscreants. When the Eurozone gets itself infected by an unstoppable virus, they just cut the cables, change the passwords, and throw us out of the net … I console myself, since there’s nothing I can do about the uncanny valley issues, with the thought that it would be a lot more uncanny if there were none.
‘Bold As Love’, the short story, ‘heavily based’ (it says here!) ‘on a factual account of a night in Brighton’s clubland in the nineteen eighties’3, featured in Paul McAuley and Kim Newman’s music-themed anthology In Dreams (1992). Bold As Love the novel and series was born a little later, in a bar called the Three Guineas on Reading Station, one dark cold winter’s night, when I was trying to get back to Brighton, after talking to some Oxford undergraduates for Amnesty International UK. Reading Festival (the ‘Carlsberg’), particularly the iterations of 1999 and 2007, played a significant part in the scene-setting. As did WOMAD 1997, also at Rivermead by the Thames; the rebel music of Thatcher’s Britain, especially the still-extant and Brighton-based Levellers, and Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia. Jo Fletcher was my editor, Bryan Talbot provided frontispieces for the first four episodes; the cover images were by Anne Sudworth. Currently, there are six Bold As Love episodes, and a short story (‘Big Cat’). One more episode remains to be written.
Gwyneth Jones, 2020
1 See Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell; also try Animal Farm, Brave New World, practically anything by P. K. Dick, or Alone In Berlin (Hans Fallada) if you really want to upset yourself.
2 Clement Attlee’s Welfare State (I was born in 1952) rose from the ashes of two European-based World Wars, the second so horrifying it gave birth to shining moments of utopian initiatives like the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
3 See http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/boldlove.htm
The sun was setting in a flood of scarlet and gold, as a small white van cruised to a halt on the Caversham Road. Heraldic colour arced majestically over the Thames valley, glowing in the edging windscreens and blanking out the visors of the traffic cops. The van, Anansi’s Jamaica Kitchen, was driven by a calm, amiable Rasta who seemed to have been training himself from birth for trials like this: the impatience of a tailback, the heavy hand of site security, the uncertainties of arrival. ‘Rare pretty sunset,’ he remarked, smiling like a gentle god at the motorcycle cop who had come snarling up beside them. ‘You interested in politics, Fio?’
His passenger was a young white woman – a very young woman, no more than fifteen or sixteen, he guessed – dressed in green, with a stubborn face and a mass of dark red hair knotted back under her scarf. She wore a yellow ribbon tied round one sleeve, indicating that she was not up for sex, and a broken chain – it looked like a few silver links from an identity bracelet – pinned to her breast, saying that she approved of the Dissolution of the Act of Union. She’d slung her bedroll into the back, with the kitchen and cooking supplies; she held an acoustic guitar in a battered case in her arms. She wasn’t talkative. He’d learned very little about her, except for those two signs and the name Fiorinda. He seemed to remember that name on the programme, but he wasn’t going to ask her was she a performer. That’s never a cool question. Maybe she was, maybe she was one of thousands, roadworn rags-and-feathers kind of white girl.
‘Not in the least,’ she said.
He smiled at her cut-glass vowels. ‘Nor me. I’m here to cook my food and sell my food, meet my friends, avoid my enemies.’ The van eased along another car-length, and stopped again. There certainly were a shocking number of private transport hypocrites, turning up for this organic-holistic politically-engaged countercultural rock fest. White Van Man slid a glance at the young woman’s breast. ‘But you’ wearin’ the broken chain?’
‘You can approve of something without being interested in it,’ said Fiorinda. ‘I do that all the time.’ She lifted her chin, roused from the forbidding abstraction into which she’d retreated almost as soon as she climbed into the cab.
‘You may as well drop me off now.’
It had dawned on her that it was ridiculous to stay in the traffic line.
White Van Man reached across and opened the door; which was old and cranky and answered only its master’s touch. The van was moving slower than walking pace, no need to apply the brakes. Fiorinda tumbled out, and he tipped the bedroll after her. ‘Thanks for the lift.’ She joined the moving crowd on the pavement, and walked away quickly.
The main gates to the site appeared: the taste-free Leisure Centre buildings, a green bank covered with hawkers and their litter; smiling but determined stewards in dayglo bibs. Fiorinda slowed and came to a stand, the crowd parting around her as she gazed over their heads, stony-eyed, at the vast beauty of the sky. She eased the bedroll on her back and swerved away.
A short time later she was sitting under a poplar tree beside the river Thames, her back to the water, face towards the fence that separated normal life from the Festival campground. The soundtrack of that other world drifted out to her: a thumping dance beat, the wail of an electric guitar, a didgeridoo, a crying child, a dog barking, a growling engine; all multiplied and sampled down into anonymous aural mulch. She took off her boots and retrieved the backstage pass that had been hidden in the toe of the left one. In her other boot she had money. Her sleeping bag was wrapped in a heavy polythene sheet that served as roof and floor, house and shelter and defensible territory. She had everything she needed … except, it seemed, the mere will to cross the boundary and join that fair field full of folk. She stowed the pass away and sat with her chin on her knees, rubbing at her toes.
Her feet were sore. The silver-sequined filigree of her outer skirts needed mending, and her longest underskirt was sticky with mud. The weather was clear now but it had been filthy earlier, and farther north. She wanted a real bed, a proper bathroom with a flush toilet and a room with walls: none of which she was going to find down by this riverside. The light of that extravagant sunset flowed over her, so low and strong that it confused every outline: but shortly she became aware that there were three people right in front of her, crouching in the trees and bushes that blocked her view. She heard the snap of a struck match.
‘Watch out sisters,’ said a woman’s harsh voice. ‘Think Iran, in the days when the Shah fell. You’ll submit to his charm, slave for his cause, die on his barricades. Then after the revolution you’ll end up chained to the stove in peekaboo panties, all over again.’
‘Barefoot and not even pregnant,’ added someone else. ‘He’s into population control, I heard.’ There was a general chuckle.
‘Is he setting this up himself, or is someone pushing him?’ asked a third.
‘He’s acting innocent,’ said the first voice. ‘You know what a low profile he’s been playing. But it’s all scripted, every bite and shite. Think Julius Caesar. Offer me the crown a few times. I’ll refuse, I’ll deny every rumour, then I’ll reluctantly accept …’ She grunted, and went on. ‘Of course he’s been targeted. Headhunted by the secret rulers. He has backers, groomers, bankrollers, all of that. But it wouldn’t happen if he didn’t want it.’
Fiorinda crept closer, listening intently; trying to see the speakers without being seen. There were three old women, sitting in a row, passing a blackened old pipe between them. One of them had a shock of silver-white hair tied up on top of her head, another had a broad back and was dressed in dark red. More than that she couldn’t tell. A rich, faecal smell arose. She drew back from the impromptu latrine, and walked quickly to the path that gave campers access to the riverside. When the three had finished their pipe and their business, she was waiting for them.
At the end of this year three hundred years of history would be undone. The United Kingdom would be dissolved. Ulster had already joined Federal Ireland: now the three nations of Mainland Britain would finally, officially, become separate states. In London the Westminster parliament was being kept from its summer recess by the law and order crisis, and the struggle to make the dissolution process look organised. Meanwhile the Counterculturals had gathered in Hyde Park, at Glastonbury, at all the traditional sites around the country; and notably here at Reading. It was supposed to be a peaceful two week rock festival. The media folk were hoping for trouble, and doing their best to whip it up. Maybe their efforts were unnecessary. The newstyle Countercultural Movement had exploded in growth in the last few years. The Extreme Greens were out for some real part in the new government of England, and knew that violence didn’t diminish their popular appeal. Grass roots activists (militant travellers, eco-terrorists, animal rights extremists, roadwreckers, aggression-hippies) would surely be eager to use this showcase. But Fiorinda didn’t care about any of that. She had come to Reading following a rumour, on a mission half of longing, half of vengeance. The conversation she’d overheard had convinced her she was on a fresh trail. He was here. She would find him, she would face him. She wasn’t interested in anything else.
The Christmas that she was nine years old, Fiorinda’s gran gave her a strange present. It was a round box of plain, polished birch. It had a snug fitting lid, which opened to show a space about as big as a Turkish coffee cup, lined in darker apple-wood and full of sparkling white grains. Gran handed this over, unwrapped, when Fiorinda brought her breakfast tray to the basement on Christmas morning. Gran was not bedridden, but she liked to spend much of her time under the covers, tucked up like a nesting animal.
‘Is it drugs?’ asked the little girl.
‘No! It’s salt. Taste, go on, try some. And look here.’ Gran turned the box over, and twisted off the base to reveal another cavity, containing a soft mass like yellowish cotton wool, and what looked to the child vaguely like the dismantled workings of a mousetrap. ‘That’s so you can strike a light without matches.’
‘Is it magic?’
The old lady chuckled evasively. ‘Why would I waste magic on you, you little heathen?’
Gran was a witch, a Wiccan. Her damp rooms in the basement of Fiorinda’s mother’s house were hung with magical things: glitter balls, crystals, plastic dolls, sequinned scarves, bunches of herbs. People came to her for spells or to have their fortunes told – discreetly using the garden door, so they didn’t have to meet Fiorinda’s mum. The child viewed her grandmother’s profession with indifference. Already, Fiorinda didn’t believe in anything.
‘Is it old?’
‘No, it’s new. I had someone make it for you, one of my associates. It’s for your future. You must take it with you, when you set out to seek your fortune.’ She closed the child’s hands over the box, covering them with her own. ‘You are the salt of the earth, that’s what you are. I’ve seen it. And the world will love you as meat loves salt. Now put it away, Frances dear, and don’t let your mother know.’
The child was used to being told, by her gran, that she mustn’t let her mother know. Most of Gran’s secrets were pointless: either things Mum knew already (like gin and sherry taken from Mum’s sideboard, like probably-stolen goods accepted in barter for magical services); or things she wouldn’t care about, like spells that didn’t work, or scraps of highly flavoured gossip. The saltbox seemed different. She hid it carefully. In time she would come to see it as a double symbol, a threat and a promise. The promise was that she would escape: that winds of change would blow away the chill, hateful tedium of her childhood. The threat was that she would never free herself from an embarrassing set of old-fashioned values. She would be in the new age but not of it.
When she was eleven her periods began, and she decided to call herself Fiorinda. This was the year in which her mother was operated on for breast cancer. It was while Mum was in hospital that Fiorinda’s aunt Carly turned up. Fiorinda had a step-father, her mother’s ex-husband. She had two grown-up half-sisters and a half-brother, and there was Gran of course. But she’d never known that her mother had a sister until Carly appeared on the doorstep, with a besotted taxi driver carrying her suitcases. She looked young, incredibly much younger than Mum, and she was dressed in the height of fashion. She moved in and switched on the central heating, although it was only November. She brought with her a regime of hot showers, scented foam, music videos and channel hopping, takeaway food and glossy magazines. Gran stayed in the basement. She didn’t seem to like her younger daughter much. Probably she was thinking of how angry Mum would be when she saw the bills for all this. But Fiorinda, who lived for the moment, was thrilled.
Carly explained that there had been a big family quarrel, years ago, and that was why she hadn’t been in touch. She said she’d last visited this house for Fiorinda’s third birthday party. ‘You don’t remember, but I was here. You were a very bossy, precocious little girl, do you remember that? I gave you a pink wooden horse.’
Fiorinda wished she could remember, or that any sign of the pink horse remained. The cancer was defeated, at least temporarily. Mum came home from hospital. Once she came into the kitchen (actually warm, under Carly’s regime) and found Fiorinda resplendent in her aunt’s expensive cosmetics. She stared for a moment, and Fio braced herself for the storm, but all Mum said was, ‘I’m going to turn the heating down.’ She left the room, without a glance at her sister: head lowered, arms wrapped around her changed and vulnerable body.
Carly was blushing, Fiorinda was surprised to see. ‘She thinks I’m a child stealer.’
‘Is that why she hates you?’
‘No … It’s because of things that happened long, long ago. Why don’t you have lodgers, Fio? She can’t maintain this place on her salary.’
Fio’s mum was a university lecturer. ‘We did have. But they either didn’t pay the rent; or they were junkies and trashed their rooms; or they had dogs that shitted everywhere; or they had babies that screamed. I don’t think it would work, whoever they were. My mother hates people, any people.’
‘What was she like? I mean, years ago?’
‘She was a journalist. She was chic and sexy, she was demanding, she had tons of style—’
‘I can’t imagine it. What kind of journalist?’
‘Mainly music … Rock music. Didn’t you know? What does she teach, now?’
‘Contemporary Culture,’ said Fio, with a grimace: contemporary meant something for old people. ‘What happened? Why did she give it all up?’
‘She didn’t, it gave her up. She fell from grace, it happens. Sue took it hard.’
‘I can imagine that. Oh. I suppose that’s why she hates me to play—’
Fiorinda was forced to play the piano. In secret she had taught herself to play acoustic guitar and to sing, a little (the secondhand guitar came from Gran, and the basement black market). She wasn’t ready to tell Carly about this. ‘Oh, you know: she hates any kind of music but Beethoven, that sort of thing.’ Until Carly came, Fiorinda’s only access to non-Classical music had been through her ancient radio alarm, on which she had listened to chart shows, secretly, late at night.
Carly started putting the make-up away. The house had become cheerfully untidy under her rule, but she was careful about her own possessions: she left no hostages. ‘You can play Beethoven, wow. What a talented niece I have. But I’d have to introduce you as just a friend if you came to see me, because you look so grown up. You’d put ten years on my age.’ She surveyed her handiwork. ‘You’re prettier than Sue. You don’t have ginger eyebrows. She made herself beautiful. You won’t have to try.’
Life in the cold house became doubly miserable through that long winter. Mum refused to accept Fiorinda’s new name, which led to pointless friction. Every evening she sat marking papers at one end of the ‘dining table’ that stood in the back of their chill living room, her profile sour in the lamplight. The idea of Fio having a telly of her own that she could use in another room was vetoed, no reason given. She listened to books on tape, at the most muted volume because Mum hated headphone-leak. She never read printed books in Mum’s presence, because it would have pleased her. Every time her mother called her ‘Frances’ it was another flick on the raw.
In the night she devoured her mother’s library, relishing the sensual privacy of the old relationship; and wrote songs, both words and music, which she hid inside the split in her mattress.
When Carly invited Fio to visit her, Mum tried to stop that too. Fio heard them arguing on the phone. (There was one, fixed phone in the cold house. It lived in the front hall, at the foot of the stairs, by the living room door, for maximum inconvenience and minimum privacy.) ‘She’s a child, Caz. She’s a little girl. Leave her alone—’ But Fio pleaded and Carly persisted and in the end Mum gave way. Fiorinda travelled on the Underground by herself (she had to do this anyway, to get to secondary school) into the centre of London. She ate in a restaurant for the first time in her life, she stayed the night at Carly’s tiny flat in Kensington Church Street. Carly took her shopping, gave her clothes, makeup and a mobile phone. (The phone didn’t work after the first day, because Fiorinda didn’t have any money: but it looked great.) True to her word, she introduced Fio to the people in Kensington as ‘the daughter of a friend of mine’.
In the summer Carly invited Fiorinda to stay for a whole week. This brought renewed resistance, but Carly wouldn’t take no for an answer. ‘And when you’re tired of this game,’ said Mum, ‘you’ll dump the poor kid and I’ll be left to pick up the pieces. That’s what pisses me off.’ Fio, eavesdropping from the landing, heard the defeat in her mother’s voice and exulted.
Mum would have been furious if she’d known that Carly let Fio smoke dope. But nothing else remotely shocking happened: no stronger drugs, no vice. People came around and chatted, Fio was mostly ignored. She spent much of her time on her visits to the Kensington flat alone, in the cubbyhole Carly called her study, drinking Diet Coke and playing computer games. She didn’t mind. It was paradise compared to life at home. But this time Carly had been invited to a country house party, and she was taking Fiorinda with her. They were going to stay with Rufus O’Niall, the rock star. Of course this had to be kept secret from Fio’s mother. Rufus O’Niall had been a megastar before Fiorinda was born. He was practically retired. She’d have been more excited if she’d been going to meet Glasswire, or Aoxomoxoa and the Heads.
‘I wasn’t invited,’ she said, uneasily. ‘Won’t that be weird?’
‘Rufus is a billionaire or something, darling. He doesn’t count the spoons. And he’s a very, very private person, but he never goes anywhere without this huge entourage—’ Carly laughed. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be lost in the crowd. But you’ll meet people. You want to be a singer, don’t you?’ Fio had by this time confessed her secret ambition. ‘You’ll need contacts. You can’t start too soon.’
The journey and the arrival passed in a blur. Carly had been right, there was a crowd of people, the kind of people Fio had met in Kensington only more so. She was shown to a room by a servant. The house must be five hundred years old – half timbered, spartan, smelling of beeswax and lavender and dried oranges. The portraits on the walls were not of Rufus O’Niall’s forebears, obviously not, since his skin was chestnut brown, and the pictured faces were as white as Fiorinda’s. But the sense of dynasty was right. Rufus was old money in the world of rock and roll. He and his band The Geese had reached that glorious plateau of truly unassailable fame, and solid wealth. Fiorinda began to feel thrilled. Later, when he took some of his guests on a tour of the manor grounds, she tagged along and tried to get next to the master. What was most incredible was that Carly’s friendship with these celebrities seemed to prove that Fio’s mum had once been on intimate terms with the famous. But she’d been warned not to mention her mother. Whatever Mum had done, apparently it still rankled in the music world.
She was trying to be cool, but feeling very uncomfortable. Used to the modest habits of her North London, mainly Hindu, neighbourhood, she felt terribly exposed in the clothes she was wearing. She was glad Carly had warned her how to dress, but she kept wanting to put her hands over her bum, to fold her arms over the outline of her breasts. And the men were no better. She supposed that if you were rich, walking in your own private grounds was the same as being out at a fancy club.
As they climbed a flight of steps, from the fishponds to a rose terrace, Rufus turned and glanced at Fio: who had managed to reach the centre of the group. He at once resumed his conversation with the fat, florid woman beside him (a movie producer). But a few moments later he turned again, and handed her a sprig of rose leaves. ‘Put that in your pocket, Sweetbriar,’ he said, with a tender smile. ‘Keep it for a souvenir.’
She hadn’t known you could have rosebushes with scented leaves. She didn’t have a pocket. She held the sprig in her hand, awkwardly, all the way back to the house. She was deeply flattered and excited. She started trying to think of the names of some of The Geese’s hit singles, so that she’d have something to say if he noticed her again.
In the evening, after dinner, some guests disappeared. The rest sat arou
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