Kelly Shiring believed in to-do lists like other people believed in gods, or even elemental constructs. A really good to-do list could get you through anything, which was helpful today, because there really was an awful lot to get through. She ticked off Item 134d on her clipboard, looked up at the assembled Aldermen again, and turned the wattage of her smile one up more notch.
‘—and of course poor Miles is still in hospital and will be for some time yet, so if you could all please sign the card outside my office before you leave that would be wonderful, and don’t forget to donate toward the fruit basket too. And I’m sure he’d appreciate a visitor or two if you’re in the area and have a moment to spare!’ She beamed around the open-plan office, ticked off Item 134e and tucked her clipboard under her arm. ‘Thank you!’ Then she turned on her sensible boot-heel and bolted for the corridor and the lifts, hoping like mad that she wouldn’t be kept waiting for one long enough for someone to gather their wits and come after her.
She stood with her feet together and her back straight and kept the smile firmly in place just in case, pretending that she couldn’t hear the voices rising in her wake—
‘Oh thank Christ,' she breathed through her teeth and dove into the lift from a standing start. As the doors slid closed, she sagged briefly against the back wall and ran a hand through her hair.
Her scalp crawled. She shook herself and straightened up, took a deep breath—there was no time to be tired right now—and checked her clipboard for Item 135a.
It read: The Chipping Barnet Ladies’ Book Club and Knitting Circle. ‘Oh dear,’ she sighed. Then the lift landed in the foyer of Harlun and Phelps with another cheery Bing! and Kelly charged for the door, just in case somebody had risked their neck on the stairs in an attempt to head her off at the pass. She still remembered to smile and wave to the receptionists on the desks as she barrelled past, though, because really, there was no excuse for being rude, even today.
Safely out in the street, she slowed down little and fished in her handbag for her Oyster card. Chipping Barnet. Good grief. Though at least the Tube trip would give her time to read up…
Fished for her Oyster card. The pun made her chuckle, just a little. She picked up her pace again, but halfway to Moorgate Station she stopped in her tracks and spent several moments staring at a sky-blue scarf printed with swirls of sunlight yellow and new-leaf green and wrapped around the neck of a mannequin in a shop-window.
Mr Swift had never actually got around to saying she could wear colours at work.
Kelly sighed and moved on. Item 135a was waiting.
The Chipping Barnet Library was a surprisingly modern-looking building for a group like the Ladies’ Book Club and Knitting Circle to meet in—all brown brick and awkward angles—but perhaps there weren’t any other options nearby. By the time Kelly reached it, her hair was a wind-blown mess and she was sweating slightly inside her heavy coat. As she paused to catch her breath and shake her hair back into place, she felt a soft, sly prickle of magic run across her skin.
Witchcraft. Well, she knew how to deal with that. Kelly pushed open the main door, held it for a young mother with a six-year-old and a pram, and nodded to the librarian on the loans desk as she passed it and made her way through the shelves. From behind the closed door of one of the small rooms at the back came a hum of voices, reading—no, reciting—and the faint whisper of yarn against needles. Kelly nodded to herself and tested the door-handle.
It was locked, but only physically. The tumblers clicked obligingly under her hand, and she straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath, and threw the door open. ‘Good morning!’ she carolled as she sailed into the room, taking in the circle of twinsetted ladies, students in jeans and an unexpected lanky Australian with a shock of ginger hair, the frankly impressive crocheted web stretched between them, and the scroll clipped to an embroidery stand at a glance. ‘Because it is still morning, isn’t it, even though it doesn’t feel like it, it’s been a very long night. My, you do meet early, don’t you? Most book clubs are an afternoon or evening thing, I go to a feminist book club once a month with my friend Ms Ngwenya and it meets in the early evening, after school gets out for the teachers’ sake but still with enough time for the office crowd to make it to the end of happy hour afterwards, but then they have to fit around all our work schedules and it’s always more difficult when some of you work nights, isn’t it? Anyway, I apologise for barging in rather and I’m sure you’re all wondering who I am, so please let me introduce myself. My name is Kelly Shiring and I’m the newly appointed Prefect of Aldermen and personal assistant to the Midnight Mayor himself, and as I said, it’s been a long and to be honest quite stressful night and I have already had to invoke a major spell on short notice, run for my life several times down a truly ridiculous number of stairs and battle both the demented members of a secret society and the elemental construct they worshipped, not to mention informing my colleagues of an impending organisational restructure, which I’m sure you understand is never reassuring news, so my temper is not the best at the moment and I really don’t have time for this nonsense, and therefore, ladies and gentleman, this is your one and only warning: stop.’
The room was suddenly silent and very still. Nine pairs of eyes locked on her. Nine crochet hooks hung in mid-air, tugging against the weight of all that yarn.
Kelly blinked. ‘Gosh,’ she said reverently, ‘that really works, doesn’t it? I see why he does it now.’
Then one of the twinsetted ladies—the one closest to the embroidery stand—shook herself briskly and unwound a bit more yarn. ‘I’m very sorry, dear,’ she said, ‘I’m afraid I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. I think you may be in the wrong place?’
Kelly’s smile abruptly vanished. ‘I’m definitely not, Mrs Cavendish.’ The woman gave her a sharp look, and Kelly nodded. ‘You know, as a general principle I’m all for women taking charge and expanding their influence, but in this specific instance, things have been a touch, shall we say, fraught lately? And while your little group is not on the order of the Tower, the Tribe or the Neon Court, if you pursue this petty grudge of yours against the Edgware Books, Bridge and Baking Society much further it could, believe it or not, become something of a tipping-point for the well-being of the city, and that will cause problems for the Midnight Mayor, who doesn’t need any more problems to deal with right now. Which is why I’m here.’
Mrs Cavendish gave up pretending and sniffed lightly. ‘And if the best the Aldermen can spare us is a secretary, dear, I doubt we’re in much difficulty.’ She nodded to the rest of the group, just once, and with varying degrees of uneasiness they picked up their yarn and got ready to crochet.
Kelly sighed and folded her arms around her clipboard. Mrs Cavendish ignored her, flicked her crochet hook and began to work. Her voice rose in that skin-prickling chant, and raggedly, the others fell in to join her.
‘I did warn you,’ Kelly said, and began to recite in a calm clear voice, ‘By completing this form you are acknowledging that you have read and accepted the Room Request Terms and Conditions. Hirers shall not permit any act or any thing that may negatively impact the reputation of the Library to occur during their use of the room. The Library must be informed of the purpose for which the room is to be used when the booking is made. Full payment of room hire fees is required upon booking. Noise levels must be kept to an acceptable level and other people in the Library or nearby must be considered at all times. The Hirer is responsible for any damage to the Library spaces, equipment or collection that may occur while the room is under hire…’
It came looming out of the walls, a tall shape, taller than any human woman, with grey brogues and a grey cardigan and grey hair scraped back into a bun, and narrow spectacles perched before a vague blur of a face, and as it came it leaned forward, across the web, fixed its eyeless gaze on Mrs Cavendish, put one gigantic finger to where its lips should be, and shushed.
The circle froze. Kelly said cheerfully, ‘You should always read what you sign, Mrs Cavendish!’ She nodded her thanks to the Librarian, administrator to temporary anthropomorphic personification, and then, because even this Librarian had to turn her back eventually, she leaned forward and studied the web.
The magic was in the shape, not the yarn itself. As the Librarian straightened and began to turn away, Kelly stretched out her index finger, her nail shining steel-grey in the light and curled into a claw, and just as Mrs Cavendish started to move again, she reached out, inserted the claw precisely into the centre of the web, found the one key stitch, and pulled.
Yarn and the witchcraft knotted into it unravelled in a rapid wave, and when Kelly stood up straight again there was a messy tangle of both dangling from her hand. Her vision was washed with red; she looked at Mrs Cavendish for a long, hot moment and drew in a breath, and then, very deliberately, made herself turn her head toward the yarn before she breathed out a cloud of fire.
The yarn vanished. Flakes of ash drifted on the air. Two seconds later the overhead sprinklers came on and Kelly heard the distant wail of the fire alarm, but she didn’t move. Instead she stood with her hand still upraised and water hissing into steam as it touched her, and said calmly, ‘Do I have your attention, Mrs Cavendish? Good. Now, if you could all agree to restrict your activities to reading, needlecrafts and general magical support-group work from here on in—and if you’d like some ideas as to how to go about that I can put you in touch with a lovely young woman named Sharon Li, she’s doing great work with her group Magicals Anonymous over in…Islington? or is it Hockney, I can never remember, but anyway I’m sure she’d be thrilled to give you some suggestions just as soon as she’s finished sacrificing a walking dead man to the old god of the plague pits—that would be very much appreciated.’
Mrs Cavendish stood up under the spray of water, her hair dripping in her eyes, and glared. After a moment, a damp and shivering student behind her raised a hand and quavered, ‘…what’s the alternative?’
Kelly curled her claw in against her palm. ‘The alternative is that I bind you all under the Charter of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, and yes, before you ask, I really can, and no, I really don’t think you’d like it very much at all.’
Wet and fuming, Mrs Cavendish held out her hand. Kelly flipped to the right page on her clipboard and passed it over, along with her pen because there was always somebody who hadn’t brought their own. Her claw slid over the back of the clipboard with a sharp metallic sound, but Kelly ignored it and summoned a new smile. ‘Signatures, please!’
They all signed remarkably quickly—though she noticed, with qualified approval, that Mrs Cavendish took a second to read through the contract—and even remembered to give her back her pen. She checked the list of signatures briefly, nodded to herself and gave them all one last, bright smile. ‘Thank you!’ she said, completely sincerely, and unlatched the door and led a trail of sodden and subdued witches out through the evacuated library to the assembly point on the lawn.
There were sirens in the distance already. Kelly went looking for the librarian she’d seen on the desk earlier, and handed over her card. ‘If there’s anything your insurance doesn’t cover, please send the bill to me at Harlun and Phelps,’ she said briskly to the startled woman, then ticked off Items 135a and 135b, turned her back on the lot of them and headed for the Waitrose she’d spotted across the street.
Item 136 was shopping.
The thought of kneading something was unexpectedly appealing. Kelly piled a basket full of potatoes and tomatoes, onions, eggs, flour and butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and parmesan and herbs and crusty bread, lingered over what tea to choose—too much caffeine would not be a good idea, she suspected—and finished up with a packet of fancy biscuits, and then another one, and finally, thoughtfully, a packet of custard creams.
The sun was just starting to lower toward the horizon as she emerged into the parking lot; she gave it a reproachful glance, then set her shoulders and hoisted the shopping-bags, and started for the Tube station.
She was running over the recipe in her head when she realised that a large and impressively black car with tinted windows had slid up alongside her and was keeping pace.
Kelly stopped. The car stopped too. Kelly put on an inquiring smile and turned to raise an eyebrow at the machine, and after a few seconds the driver’s door opened. She saw a head of sleek dark hair, light-brown skin and a bland expression, and felt magic run over her skin like a quiet threat…
‘Gosh,’ she said and made sure to sound particularly enthusiastic, ‘you must be Charlie, wow, I’ve heard so much about you, it’s terribly exciting to meet another shapeshifter at last—well, you know what I mean, of course I see other Aldermen every day but that’s not the same as a wereman, is it, even an unstable one? I’d shake hands, only—’ She held up the shopping bags and gave a rueful shrug, and then took one step closer to him and lowered her voice just a little. ‘Tell me, Charlie, when you first turned into a rat, did you feel like you were realising something about yourself that you’d never been able to put into words before?’
Dragon eyes met rat eyes, and the dragon won. Charlie opened the passenger door silently, but Kelly kept smiling patiently and waited until a voice came rolling out of the dark interior of the car, measured and rich and a little amused, and also a little short of breath: ‘May we offer you a lift, Ms Shiring?’
She beamed, hoisted the bags and clambered into the car. ‘Thank you, Mr Sinclair! It’s rather a long walk back to the Tube station and these bags aren’t all that sturdy, and to be honest, I’m a bit worried about whether the eggs will survive the trip, so this is really very kind of you.’
Dudley Sinclair, concerned citizen, large and still in the shadowed depths of the car, sat with his hands folded over his waistcoat and eyed her mildly. ‘So,’ he said after a while, ‘you’re the new Head Girl.’
It was an obvious joke, but Kelly grinned at it anyway. ‘I promise, I’ve got plenty of experience in the role,’ she said, the jolliest hockey stick ever.
Mr Sinclair sank his chin fractionally toward his collar and tapped a finger slightly against his knuckle. ‘Yes, I’m aware.’ Then his eyes grew sharp. ‘Quite a coup on your part,’ he said deliberately.
Kelly’s eyes went wide. ‘Oh, no, Mr Sinclair, quite the opposite!’ Her voice rang with shock. ‘I assure you, the promotion came directly from the Midnight Mayor, and even if he was slightly, well, intoxicated doesn’t seem quite the right word but as I said to Mrs Cavendish it’s been a long night and a rather stressful morning so I can’t really bring the right word to mind right now, but even if he was, well, I have every faith in his judgment on the matter, and I’m quite sure he won’t change his mind once he sobers up!’
Very slightly, Mr Sinclair nodded his heavy head. ‘So Matthew is…restored?’ he said at last, delicately, and Kelly realised belatedly what this ambush was actually about.
She leaned forward and gently patted his elbow. ‘He is, and he’s going to be absolutely fine once he gets the last of the sedatives out of his system and has a good sleep.’ Though it was hard to see how a nap could combat the days of terrifying disembodiment Mr Swift had spent racketing through the telephone wires without even a voice to scream with— ‘I’m sure Dr Seah would have told me if there were going to be any problems.’ At length, in detail and with a little too much ghoulish glee to be entirely comfortable, but that was Dr Seah for you.
Her phone rang. Kelly made an apologetic gesture and dug it out of the bag, but when she saw the number her smile froze and she swiped to answer the call as fast as she could. ‘Speak of the—Hello!’
‘All done!’ sang Dr Seah in her ear. ‘The patient is up, walking, and to tell you the truth currently out roaming the streets of London, which, yeah, I know what you’re going to say but honestly, that man is constitutionally incapable of listening to doctor’s orders, so why would I even bother?’
Kelly swallowed, and gripped the phone harder. ‘Well,’ she said at last, very conscious of Mr Sinclair beside her and Charlie listening from the driver’s seat, ‘thank you for letting me know, but really, wasn’t there anything you could do to keep him indoors for just a little longer? I’m on my way back now.’
Dr Seah snorted. ‘Nope. Sorry,’ she said, not sounding sorry in the least, and hung up.
Kelly chewed the inside of her lip for a moment, then came to a decision and smiled reassuringly at Mr Sinclair. ‘Everything’s fine. Just a slight change of plans. And direction.’ Kelly was a magician. Given the right tools, she could turn the CCTV system into a set of searching eyes if she wanted to, or wrap the network of Oyster cards and toll gates and all the other information London collected about its citizens every second of the day about her finger and make it tell her anything she needed to know. But she didn’t have to do any of that, because she knew Mr Swift. ‘Could we head to the river instead? Temple Pier, I think.’
Temple Pier was just about as far away from the Shard as you could get and still be both within the City of London and on the river. Kelly spotted Mr Swift before the black car had even pulled away behind her—a small shape inside a large coat leaning on the Embankment a little way beyond the pier itself, his head bowed over his hands. Kelly nodded to herself and trotted down the Embankment until she came up beside him, fossicking in her bags as she walked.
He sunk his head further between his shoulders. Kelly put down the bags, opened the packet of custard creams and placed it carefully on the stone between them.
‘I’m not high any more,’ said Mr Swift after a while. ‘I mean, I’m still a bit…fuzzy…but everything’s under control. Dr Seah wouldn’t give us any more painkillers, though, which I suspect was actually pretty sensible of her, but…’
Kelly nudged the custard creams closer to his elbow. ‘I’ve got some paracetamol in my handbag. It’s not much, I know, but once the last of the sedatives are out of your system it might help a bit.’
He turned his head, stiffly, to look at her. ‘Kelly,’ he said in the bemused tone that meant he was temporarily unsure as to whether she was real or a figment of his imagination—and honestly, given that Sharon Li apparently had an American game-show host with a terrible spray-tan for a spirit guide, why shouldn’t he have doubts? Then his shoulders shook briefly, and without apparently thinking about it, he took a custard cream.
‘You really should be in bed,’ she said practically once he’d finished it, and the one that followed it, and then the one after that. ‘There’s a flat nearby, we can walk over to it when you feel up to it and I’ll make dinner.’
The river lapped quietly against the Embankment. Faintly, in the distance, cars rumbled and boats hooted and chugged. After a long moment, the blue electric angels stood up, awkward inside Mr Swift’s shabby and slightly ill-smelling coat—she’d have to give that a sponge-down while he was asleep—and looked around them for the flat, and more importantly the dinner.
Kelly grinned and picked up the bags. ‘Come on.’
It wasn’t a long walk, and the flat at the end of it wasn’t as fancy as such flats had been before the wholesale destruction of Burns and Stoke, but it had a decent kitchen with a gas cooker and some bench space, a separate bedroom with a real bed, and a good shower. Kelly shooed the Midnight Mayor off for a wash and a nap, checked Item 137 off her list, then stood staring at the shopping-bags for a long moment before she shook herself, picked up the soap and turned on the hot tap.
The water was good and hot—not scalding, but close to it—and she scrubbed her hands under the tap until the skin was pink, then cleaned under her nails, then rinsed everything off and doused her hands in antiseptic sanitiser from her handbag.
You couldn’t be too careful when you were working with food, after all.
And it was rather nice, after all the rushing about, just to spend some time boiling things and skinning them, and chopping and grating and kneading, even when the blue electric angels declined a nap and came into the kitchen to investigate the smells with an oversized fluffy teal dressing-gown pulled around their shoulders and stripy pyjama bottoms flapping around their ankles.
‘What is it?’
‘Fresh gnocchi with a classic Napolitana sauce, herbs and crusty bread,’ said Kelly, up to her elbows in flour.
‘Oh.’ Fingers stole toward the simmering sauce. Kelly eyed them sternly, and they retreated.
‘Have you had gnocchi before?’
‘No. But we’ll try anything once,’ they said, watching her out of the corner of their bright blue eyes in case she was going to get distracted and let them steal a bite of dough. ‘Some things several times, just to make sure.’
‘Well, there’ll be plenty over for seconds. Possibly even thirds. Now shoo!’
They shooed, and Kelly pretended that she didn’t notice them kidnapping one of the packets of fancy biscuits on the way out.
It didn’t take that long to finish cooking, ladle sauce and gnocchi out into the dishes that came with the flat, sprinkle on the last herbs, check off Item 138, and carry a tray into the living-room so they could eat in front of the telly. It didn’t take the blue electric angels long to finish, either, but they went back for seconds, and then thirds, and then a good thick piece of bread to mop up the last of the sauce, so it seemed like longer. After a thoughtful chat or two with Dr Seah, Kelly had learnt to be grateful that the blue electric angels craved food the way they did, but it could be difficult keeping up with them sometimes. She’d sat up early into the morning on a regular basis when she’d first started working for Mr Swift, adjusting her recipe collection in case of emergencies. It was a precaution that had paid off.
Eventually Mr Swift came up for air, dabbing at his mouth awkwardly with a napkin. ‘Thanks,’ he said. His eyes were heavy. ‘Um. I think we need a nap?’
‘Go on.’ Kelly waved him toward the bedroom. ‘No, you take the bed. I’ll just load the dishwasher and then have a quick lie-down on the sofa.’
He just nodded at that and shuffled off, which meant he really did need a rest. Kelly finished off her own piece of bread and got up to tidy the kitchen, which was Item 139; she was sponging the collar of Mr Swift’s reprehensible coat (Item 140, because what good was a to-do list that couldn’t be updated?) and humming under her breath to keep awake when a familiar voice announced just outside the door, ‘Just so’s you know, the only reason I’m not blasting this fucking thing down right now is there’s neighbours and that means paperwork.’
Kelly dropped the coat, sponge and soap in a heap on the draining-board and hurried over to pull open the door. ‘Penny,’ she said, and tried to beam at her, but suddenly there were tears prickling behind her eyes and she had to lunge forward and wrap the other woman up in an enormous hug instead.
Wiry dark hair tickled the end of her nose, but she kept on hugging until at last Penny said, ‘Er, I know I’m irresistible and awesome and that, but you’re not usually the hugging type, Kels, so how about you let me go and then, yeah, you tell me what the fuck just happened and why I had nineteen missed calls from my idiot boss on my phone but only static in my voicemails?’
‘Oh, gosh.’ Kelly let go, and backed up enough that Penny and her large pile of luggage could at least get into the flat. ‘It’s quite a long story, I’ll tell you everything in just a minute but goodness, you must be so jetlagged, sit down and I’ll make us a pot of tea—’
‘Nope,’ said Penny flatly and held up her arms, and Kelly finally registered the takeaway coffees in her right hand and the grocery bag dangling from her left wrist, and blushed. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who knew to come prepared when there’d been a disaster involving the Midnight Mayor—but then, Penny had been doing this for even longer than she had. ‘Storytime, Kels, or no doughnuts.’
So they sat down at the tiny kitchen table, and Kelly stared at the styrofoam coffee cup between her hands and tried to decide where to start. Penny’s hand was stealing toward the doughnuts when she gave up and instead just said baldly, ‘I killed someone last night.’
Penny’s hand stopped. She pursed her lips for a moment, and then said cautiously, ‘Yeah, but you’ve done that before, though,’ and took a doughnut anyway.
Kelly shook her head. ‘That was different. That was…justice. Or at least housecleaning,’ she amended at Penny’s sceptical look. ‘But Victoria Huntley hadn’t really done anything wrong, and she didn’t deserve to die just because I—’ But saying anything more would be a lie, because she had thought of at least three better options, and discarded them all in the same instant as too complicated and too likely to fail, and chosen murder instead.
It was true, what she’d said to Charlie. Some part of her had always been a dragon.
She wasn’t sure she liked what that said about her.
Then Penny pushed the doughnuts toward her. ‘I’d say tell Aunty Penny all about it, but have you met my aunt?’ she said, deliberately droll, and Kelly remembered that this was the woman who’d summoned the Death of Cities over a stolen hat and been, if not forgiven precisely, then at least not condemned. So she chuckled a little, as she was supposed to, and drank her coffee and ate two doughnuts with surgical-appliance-pink glazing, and told Penny the story of Arthur Huntley and the Illuminated and their glass god—even the bits of it that an apprentice sorcerer with no real connection to the Aldermen didn’t, strictly speaking, need to know.
‘Fuck,’ said Penny when she’d finished. ‘I mean—fucking fuck, Kels, you have had a shit day.’ Then her face darkened. ‘And he knew this was going to happen, right? And he fucking shipped me off to fucking New York to get me out of the way?’
Kelly folded her hands primly behind the empty coffee cup. ‘I really couldn’t say. You’re Mr Swift’s apprentice and that’s quite separate from his office as the Midnight Mayor, so any decisions he makes as your teacher are entirely up to him and not discussed with me in any way.’
Penny rolled her eyes at that. ‘You mean yes.’
‘Essentially,’ said Kelly and waited for the explosion.
Penny buried her hands in her hair. ‘Fucking idiot,’ she said mildly, and sat up again. ‘Didn’t he realise he’d need backup? He always needs backup. I mean, not to be rude, but the Aldermen aren’t always—’ Kelly propped her chin on her hand and waited expectantly, her eyes dancing, and eventually Penny gave up trying to think of a polite end to the sentence and just went with, ‘you’re fucking hopeless, you lot, sorry Kels but it’s true. I mean, not you personally, but—’
‘We do our best,’ said Kelly. ‘And Ms Li was an enormous help, really, you’ve no idea.’
‘Oh, great. Half-arsed shaman do-gooder, yeah, I’m sure she was all the help in the world.’
Suddenly Kelly’s eyelids felt terribly heavy. She yawned, and covered her mouth with her hand. ‘Well, it’s all worked out well enough, and I believe Ms Li is mopping up the loose ends even as we speak, so in the end there was no need for you to come rushing home after all…’ And then she smiled—not one of her collection of work smiles, but a real one, lopsided and tired, that crinkled the corners of her eyes. ‘But I’m glad you did.’
Penny eyed her warily again and humphed under her breath. ‘You’re just saying that ’cos you want me to finish cleaning that fucking coat, aren’t you?’
‘Oh, Christ!’ Kelly jumped to her feet, and Penny scowled.
‘No. Jesus, just sit, Kels. I do actually know how to do this, just don’t go telling any boys, okay?
Kelly crossed her heart solemnly. ‘I promise, if ever I should meet one of your boyfriends, I will never betray the fact that you know how to make tea, cook dinner, load a dishwasher, or clean clothes.’
‘Good, ‘cos the thing about men is, they fucking take advantage, you know?’ Kelly didn’t, actually, but she nodded obediently anyway. ‘So anyway,’ Penny went on, sponging away at that horrendous coat collar, ‘New York was amazing, yeah? I’m not even talking about the magic, just New York, everything was just more, and I didn’t even get out of Manhattan. And I mean, not that I care or anything, but there’s shops for everything, so um, the thing is, while I was there—’ The soap clattered into its dish. Kelly winced and listened for movement from the bedroom, but there was nothing, and of course if the sound of Penny’s voice hadn’t woken Mr Swift the moment she showed up it was unlikely anything would for a while yet. ‘While I was there I kinda got you a present.’
Kelly blinked. ‘You—oh. Oh, really, Penny, there was no need—’
Penny wrung out the sponge, draped the coat to dry in front of the stove and wiped her hands on the front of her jeans, and dug into her carry-on bag. There was a long and rustling pause before she surfaced with a bundle of tissue paper held closed by a gold-embossed sticker in her hand. ‘Didn’t have time to wrap it properly,’ she muttered. ‘Sorry.’
‘Thank you—’ Kelly prised up the sticker carefully. The tissue paper sprang open, and silk spilled luxuriously over her hands, a bright yellow border around misty blues and greens and lilacs—an impressionist garden on a scarf.
She looked up at Penny with a delighted smile. ‘It’s beautiful,’ she said, and decided that it didn't really matter what Mr Swift had or hadn't said after all. ‘I’ll wear it to work tomorrow.’