EPISODE 1: Deni

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Deni2 The day hadn’t started well. Deni’s train got pulled at Peterborough so she’d had to change, which led to delays not long enough to warrant compensation, but still resulting in a late arrival to Kings Cross. Then she’d made off with an unpaid-for Big Issue thinking it was only Time Out. When she realised her error she thrust some coins at a busker on the other side of Euston Road, hoping to restore some good karma.

But the sun came out as she roved through Fitzrovia and she decided today was going to be a good day after all. Her route took her down Lambs Conduit Street – did everyone know about these gorgeous shops? – past hanging baskets striving in the winter sun, before taking a right on to Theobolds Road.

All weekend – which these days stretched from Friday till first thing Tuesday – she’d been looking forward to donning her heels and best coat. Deni’s life was a 60/40 London/Leeds split at the moment, helping her sister with childcare then bussing over to Mum, the regular sitter, who’d been flat-bound, flattened by flu.

Had London missed her? Deni shook her mane of hair and the irrelevance vanished. In Leeds she was needed. No sooner was she in the door than she was deputed to help with maths, or mend a doll, or build a secret hiding place – anything to give her sister space. But as she threaded beads or cut stars from tin foil, Deni was making plans. Like this one.

Walking through the West End, you saw plenty of media peeps, just like Deni, treating a café like an office. Anchored by coffee, chargers plugged in, talking so much that a latte lasted an hour. I’ll fit right in, she decided. Cannily, she’d deposited her case at left luggage because dragging it around belied the image of a woman who slotted in anywhere. (The case was her sister’s: Roma had filled it with the kind of food Mum used to make – saltfish stew and goat curry and jerk salmon. Yum. Just as well Deni wasn’t on a January detox. Oh, there was too much going on for that.)

Breaking up with Marcus hadn’t been horrid, thankfully. But what to do about the business they’d built up over the past four years? “You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” quipped one client. As if she needed a stranger to tell her that! Especially one who didn’t see the full picture – much less had any practical advice to impart. Sure, she’d find somewhere new to live, but what about a space to work? Would she have to fork out for that too?

Then again, why not start over completely? “I had a career before Marcus, and a life,” Deni could have told the client, if he hadn’t already overstepped the mark. But it’d be no good for business if he got wind of the fact that Deni was prepared to bail from the magazine completely if she had to. It was Marcus who’d paraded into print; probably he was a little too fond of paper. Deni could leap back solely online. She had options. (At least his new squeeze Bree wasn’t trying to step into her shoes. Nice girl, bright and cheerful. That was all Deni needed to know!)

She entered Soho sideways to avoid the diversion at the top of Tottenham Court Road. Would Crossrail ever be finished? She weaved her way onto Old Compton Street, past the theatre, past a gay bar. Wardour Street was her destination.

God, she suddenly felt knackered! She’d made up time by walking briskly when most people would have tubed it. (Deni walked wherever she could.) Perhaps she should have travelled in her flats. And dozed on the train like other passengers, instead of doing emails. It had been a full-on weekend; no rest for anyone in her sister’s household.

Almost there. Deni mentally reviewed her itinerary. Pre-lunch meeting with a potential investor. Lunch with some folk from the National Gallery to keep up to speed with their programmes. After that, an hour to watch the cut of a Brit flick that was seeking release – Deni was keen to make some new, well-heeled contacts. Then, before a swanky gallery opening, a treat: a catch-up with an old friend.

Sal was a good friend – had been? No, still was. She was from Leeds too, but marriage and work had taken her even further afield to Bristol. She was up for a couple of days on a course. Deni wished she had more time to spare but an hour would be better than nothing. It was more than she managed with people who lived over the river. Sal had never liked Marcus, for some mysterious reason. She wanted to know about the split, of course, and Deni would fill her in, but they’d talk about other stuff too she hoped.

They’d meet in Little Italy on Frith Street, where they’d been meeting for years. One of these years, they’d have another night out in Soho – the last one had been epic!

At the thought, Deni’s tiredness lifted but instead, curiously, she felt a pang of nerves. She unravelled a little. At the thought of talking about Marcus? They were over each other, of course. Funny how a friend’s concern can be more unsettling than a stranger’s observation … Deni slowed, feeling almost queasy now. Get a grip, she told herself. Best foot forward. Head and heart apart. Easy.

Still, it was a relief to reach the café where the guy she was meeting had just sat down. (Time-keeping was pivotal.) He looked scarier than his Twitter headshot. Deni put on what her sister called her ‘London Face’ which never let her down. She breathed in Soho’s scent of traffic fumes and coffee, and went inside, gratefully, to work.

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