by Natalie Bowers
It’s Evie’s turn to make the drinks, but it’s Jack who’s gathering the mugs and pouring yesterday’s dregs down the prep-room sink. They spatter around the plughole and linger like muddy puddles on a playing field in winter. With a blast from the cold tap, he sluices them down the drain and wishes other things could be washed away so easily.
“That’s my job.”
Jack looks up to see Evie standing in the doorway, her lab coat draped over her arm. He drops the bowl into the sink and turns on the hot tap. “Just trying to be helpful,” he says, plunging the first mug into the water. “I thought you were teaching.”
“I was,” she says. Jack looks at the clock. Period Two isn’t due to finish for another five minutes, but here she is, hanging her lab coat over a chair. She joins him at the sink. “Let me do that.”
“I don’t mind doing it,” he says.
“Fine.” She picks up a tea towel.
One by one, Jack washes the mugs and places them upside-down on the draining board. One by one, Evie dries them and lines them up in front of the kettle where they squat like baby birds waiting to be fed.
Jack examines the last mug. It’s white on the outside but ringed with tea-stains on the inside. “These could do with a good bleaching,” he says, glancing at Evie. “I bet if you count the rings, you can tell how old they are.”
Evie takes the mug and sets it down with the rest. “I think you’ll find that’s trees.” She turns toward the window. Jack bites the inside of his cheek.
“Look,” he says, after a moment. “About last night …”
“It’s all right. You don’t have to explain.”
“No, it’s not all right,” he replies, “and I do have to explain.”
“Jack, please.” She faces him again and holds up a hand. Her cheeks redden. “Last night was embarrassing enough without having the entire staffroom go silent the moment I walked in this morning. I just want to forget about it. Okay?”
“I’m really sorry,” he says.
“I was … I didn’t mean …”
“What?” she snapped. “What didn’t you mean? You didn’t mean to make me feel like last night might have been the night we finally got together, or you didn’t mean to stick your tongue down Angie’s throat? In front of everyone.”
Jack shakes his head. “I know it’s not an excuse, but I was nervous … about us … so I had a couple of drinks, and by the time you arrived …”
“You’d forgotten all about ‘us’.”
Drawing in a long breath, Evie closes her eyes, and when she opens them again, she lifts her chin and says, “I think I’ll give these mugs a bleach now.” With both hands, she tips out the washing-up bowl. Holding in a sigh, Jack leans back against the draining board and listens to the rush of the water as it disappears down the drain.
Natalie Bowers is a story scavenger, perpetual student and professional volunteer who lives in Hampshire with her husband, two children and a growing collection of ukuleles. A gregarious loner and shameless eavesdropper, she can often be found haunting the dark recesses of coffee shops and cafés, her pencil poised above paper.