EPISODE 4: Bree

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bree Crazy to think she wasn’t allowed a history, given the obligation to confront Marcus’s past on an almost daily basis. When Bree spent nights here in Brixton, she’d often overlap with Deni, his ex, who’d arrive for work just as Bree was leaving. Deni’s apologies about intruding sat uneasily because she didn’t come across as a regretful kind of person. She was confident and ambitious. No wonder she and Marcus had got together.

What qualities did he see in Bree? What did Bree see in him?

Marcus was generally chilled, in a hipster kind of way. Bree found it sexy, which was odd since her last boyfriend had been an earnest environmentalist. She’d met Marcus last summer, after five months in London, at a time when she’d wondered if six might be enough. She was only twenty-five, but felt older: maybe she was maturing? In Sydney, she’d been a PE teacher with itchy feet. She’d split amicably from the tree-hugger whom she’d dated since uni. Why not travel? India. Or Colombia. London won out as a stepping stone – a gateway to the Europe, plus she had family here – but sometimes it seemed like a misstep.

Were Bree and Marcus adequately acquainted to be taking the major step of moving in together?

She couldn’t believe she’d just upset him. She’d surprised him at his flat on a Friday night; she’d brought food and would cook. (His Deliveroo app got far too much use.) He sat opposite her on the sofa but hadn’t even taken off his coat, as if he needed to keep an extra boundary between them. Bree felt her heart pound even though her anxiety threshold had risen these past few months – her timid tube travelling days were over, and perhaps she wasn’t wary enough walking home late at night. Now she felt it creep back down.

Marcus asked, prickly, “So who is this Nicolai?”

“Nicolai was one of the first friends I made here. He was in that nightmare flat too.”

She’d told him the story. It was typical of Generation Renters, although it had been a rude shock for Bree to find herself evicted after eight weeks by the real landlord, who didn’t have her deposit to return. Since then, she’d been dossing at her great-aunt’s flat behind Angel tube station. But two was a crowd; it was time for Bree to move on. In fact, her great-aunt was contemplating packing in London. Brexit, last month’s flood, or could it be homesickness? Fifteen years was a fair innings, as Australians say.

Bree continued her explanation, which felt like an unnecessary excuse. “I helped him with his English though he didn’t need it. We more or less lost touch, but he said he owed me a favour and to call it in at any time. He works for one of those man-with-a-van companies, so I messaged him. He says he’ll be able to shift my stuff if he fits it in between jobs. All we have to do is give a rough idea of when I can move in here. So … what do you say?”

“And did you ever … you know, date. Or anything?”

This so wasn’t fair. (It was only work, for Marcus and Deni, these days, Bree was sure of that, although her family in Sydney remained sceptical.) But Bree didn’t want to argue. She didn’t want to mess things up. As well as a home, Marcus was offering her a lifeline. Being with Marcus gave her a reason to stay. With him she could put down roots. Already the flat was adorned with the things she’d picked up from markets – Bree loved them. While it was still cold, she could offer indoor Pilates classes, maybe build a client base. There was no point being in London if you didn’t have to be – loving the place (which Bree did) wasn’t enough, because it was so pricey, sometimes perilous, sometimes impractical.

Not that you were obliged to be grateful. Her great-aunt was disappointed by the city – dreams had come to nothing, led to resentment, even. Nicolai’s loyalty lay with his homeland and why wouldn’t it? He described entrancing locations with beaches and mountains, far from this grey. London provided him with a living, but he worked hard. He didn’t have it easy. He was living miles out sharing a one-bedroom flat with a mate. His allegiance was thin.

“We went for a drink a couple of times,” Bree said. “Mostly he talked about missing his girlfriend, who dumped him as soon as she got here. But they’re back together now. Although that’s not the reason why we lost touch.”

“Cool.” Marcus seemed to brighten up, leaving Bree dismayed. Nicolai wasn’t the only friend she’d strayed from. She’d lost as well as gained, with Marcus. She wondered if he ever thought of that?

He grasped her hands. “Cool! Exciting times. We’re going to live together!” He sounded a little stunned, perhaps more so than Bree had been when he made his game-changing offer. Until recently, she’d been wary of any kind of investment. She’d felt burned by that first landlord, then let down in other ways by other people, who’d failed her, then backed away pretending to be blameless. Surely the surprise of Marcus’s offer of commitment overrode all that, didn’t it? Bree loved reasons to be cheerful. That was her nature!

Was Marcus having second thoughts? Bree made a decision: she wasn’t: it’ll be great! She loved so many things about Marcus and was ready to love very many more. And after all, in London, you make your own luck. Make your own history – theirs: sharing was the thing. She’d found Londoners could be so solitary. Bree would do everything she could to ensure there was enough in her life with Marcus – his life with her – to sustain them for as long as anyone possibly could.

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