“No,” she said flatly.
“Captain Lester, your perspective on the anomalies is unique-“
“So is every other member of my family’s. Why are you calling me?”
Liz sighed, turned off the hob, pasta bubbling slowly to a halt, and leant against the counter in preparation for a serious explanation. “I have not got a unique perspective, all right? At least, nothing that’d interest you. I-”
“But you have! You’ve been through an anomaly actually with Helen Cutter-“
“It was a long time ago. I was seventeen, which is roughly the age you sound.”
Grumpy silence, this time.
Liz sighed again. “I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
“Nothing,” Liz repeated sharply, and ended the call. As an afterthought, she pressed the small orange button beside the blacked-out screen which meant that all calls would be routed to answerphone.
She finished cooking the pasta, and mechanically ate it standing up, staring out at the garden.
The anomalies were really back, then. The journalist calling her was proof, in an obscure sort of way, more proof than Jamie’s excited chatter during a hurried call before his plane took off.
Liz shut her eyes and remembered. Closer to the surface of her mind were recollections of obscure bits of Africa and Asia and South America, blood and guns and explosives and scars, but hidden beneath these lay a thick seam of memories unfaded by time, of her forced trip through time at the age of just-about seventeen. Her hands curled into fists as she remembered the woman responsible.
Helen was supposed to be dead. She had been shot, twice, before she disappeared through an anomaly, and mere hours later all the anomalies were shut down. It was almost inconceivable that she had survived, but what if she had? Connor Temple, apparently, had posited a theory that these anomalies had been functioning on another frequency which for some reason was less efficient at creating anomalies while the other, stronger frequency, 87.6 FM, still worked. With 87.6 FM locked down, these anomalies were able to strengthen, to multiply, feeding off the increased activity on that frequency.
So: assume there were still anomalies when we believed them gone, Liz told herself, and assume that Helen is still alive, or has skipped forward in time to now...
“Not good,” she said aloud, “not at all good,” and then added pensively, “This is going to go to hell so quickly.”
Thoughtfully, she reached into her pocket, feeling for the penknife she kept there, and was relieved to find it still there. Then she went for a hunt on her kitchen table, rifling through the two months’ worth of junk mail, bank statements, catalogues and personal correspondence that she had dumped there that morning, intending to sort it all out after lunch. Two months in obscure corners of Africa training idiots who couldn’t find their backside with both hands and a metal detector had been neither rewarding nor instructive, and it had created an impressive backlog of answerphone calls and post.
At the very bottom, underneath an unexplained copy of Vogue - Liz had tried emailing, calling and even writing old-fashioned letters, but whichever computer gremlin at Vogue had sent a twelve-month subscription to 62 Hemingway Street, Herefordshire as opposed to 62 Hemingway Street, Hertfordshire, they weren’t accepting her corrections – she found her phone. It was a tiny thing, which explained why she’d managed to forget about it to the extent of leaving it under her post.
She moved to the same computer set in the wall that served her as a home phone, and pressed a couple of buttons and navigated the touchscreen until she was flicking through her book of contacts. She had never transferred the number she wanted to her own mobile; the chances that she would call it were low.
The number she was looking for occupied almost the entirety of the J section.
Juliet New York.
Liz hesitated, and chose Juliet mobile, then pressed ‘yes’ when the message came up Call Juliet mobile?. As the phone rang, she felt her heart start to thud, quick and hard in her chest.
“Please pick up,” she whispered, and then stopped dead, shocked. She had thought that Juliet was simply no longer a part of her life any more, even if the other woman did always keep her updated on her contact details, and even if Liz always checked the culture section of newspapers, looking for reviews of the Royal Ballet and watching for Juliet Sayers’ name. There had been an interview, a few years back, and a review of Soldier Girl, the first ballet Juliet had starred in. She had cut them out of the newspapers and kept them, tucked away in a photo album that only her brother Jamie knew about, and he never mentioned them.
Ms Sayers shows remarkable promise, and is a talented dancer... her portrayal of Cleo, the titular ‘soldier girl’, showed both a freshness true to the character and a remarkable realism, conflict and strength, which helped to ground a ballet that could easily have been a catastrophe of cloying idealism... Levy deserves all the praise he has received for this extraordinary production.
Liz had gone to the first night, and Juliet had sent her a programme with the words ‘I danced Cleo for you, but I think you know that’ written inside. That had been their last meaningful contact, except for the contact details that Juliet periodically sent her, and it had been nine years ago. They had left each other behind.
But Juliet, too, had known about the anomalies, and Juliet, too, had been dragged into the vortex when the anomalies were made public. Not at first, but later, when the book Anomalous was published, because the author, an investigative journalist, had devoted an entire chapter to talking about Lester and his home life with an alarming voyeurism, going into Lester’s relationship with Lyle and his daughter’s with Juliet in appalling detail. They’d sued the hell out of the journalist who’d written it, they’d got their money, the book had stopped being sold, but Liz would more happily have taken her price out in blood for the scared and unhappy look on Juliet’s face. They had drifted apart not long after Liz returned from her six months behind the anomalies, unable to tell Juliet what had happened to her, but the instinct to protect Juliet remained strong.
The phone rang for the umpteenth time, and then, suddenly, it beeped and a voice issued from the speakers. “Liz? Liz? Oh my God. Is it you?”
Liz licked her lips and tried to speak. “Yeah.” It came out as a croak. She cleared her throat. “Yeah, it’s me.”
“Oh, my God,” Juliet repeated. “Wait.” There was another beep, and an image fizzled onto the screen.
Juliet was older, but the kittenish face-shape, almond-shaped blue eyes and long blonde hair hadn’t changed, and nor had the beaming smile on her face. Liz was awkwardly aware that Juliet would be seeing someone very different to the girl she’d known; a woman with hair in a short, utilitarian cut, hard eyes and an almost hawk-like look to her face. Liz was thirty, and although it would be hard to say she looked older than her age, she certainly looked as if the years had contained a fair amount of violence, some of which she’d been dealing out.
The split in her eyebrow she’d acquired in her two months away training idiots wouldn’t help, really. Liz consoled herself with the fact that Juliet couldn’t see the broken finger, cocooned in white plaster. Or the stretchy bandage around her knee.
Juliet choked a laugh. “It’s you. God. I can’t believe it. It’s you.”
Liz shrugged awkwardly. “It’s... been a while.”
“Eight years, four months and three weeks!”
Liz stared at her. “You were counting?” You missed me?
Juliet glared. “I was counting, okay? I got into the habit of it. It happened. I missed you.”
Okay, you missed me. “Er...” Liz looked down, eyeing her bare feet. “I... don’t know what to say to that.”
She wasn’t going to tell Juliet about the blondes who’d come onto her, the few who had kissed her, and the fact that she’d never taken any of them home or even started dating them because she looked at them and thought Juliet and that wasn’t fair. She wasn’t going to tell Juliet about the two or three guys she’d dated just to try it, and realised it was a mistake. She wasn’t going to tell Juliet about Tez, who had left her only six months ago after telling her that ‘Liz, babe- you never got over your first girlfriend, you stupid monogamous bitch’. No, she definitely wasn’t going to tell Juliet about Tez.
Juliet stopped smiling, and Liz felt a sharp stab of regret.
“I missed you more,” she blurted, and watched a cautious, intrigued glint shine in Juliet’s blue eyes, her head tilt carefully sideways.
“I thought you left me.”
“It wasn’t working, and we both knew it,” Liz said, more harshly than she meant to. “I couldn’t tell you why I’d changed so much. It wasn’t fair on you. And then, when it all... you know... we were both too shocked by that-“ she bowdlerised hastily- “by everything. Too shocked to do anything, I mean.”
“Like get back together?”
Liz nodded, haplessly.
Juliet chewed her lip, and the familiarity of the gesture pulled at Liz’s heart. “I... Hmm. Maybe.” She paused a moment. “I don’t think you called to tell me that, though.”
“No,” Liz whispered. She took a deep breath. “Juliet, the anomalies are back.”
Juliet went white. “What?”
Liz nodded. “Yes. I- look, I don’t know how much I can tell you over the phone. Where are you?”
“Birmingham,” Juliet said. “On tour. You?”
“Hereford. Off tour,” Liz joked, and saw Juliet smile again with unspeakable relief. “How about I come up and see y- Ju. Juliet, you look like you’re about to faint.”
“Oh, Christ, yes,” Juliet said, and disappeared from the screen.
“Still here. I’m sitting on the floor in case you say anything like that again.”
“Oh?... Uh. Okay.”
“When w- oh. This afternoon?”
“That’s soon,” Juliet commented.
“It’s kind of urgent. Jamie told me only hours after I got back- he hauled me out of bed, literally, I was sleeping off the op –that was just yesterday, and I had a journalist ring me up about an hour ago wanting to talk anomalies.”
“Aargh,” Juliet said succinctly.
“Aargh,” Liz agreed. “Are you free this afternoon?”
“Yes,” Juliet said.
“I’ll be with you as soon as I can, then.”
“Yes.” A pause. “I... God, I missed you so much.”
“Yeah,” Liz said softly, “me too.”
She ended the call, and bit her tongue on the ‘I loveyou’ that threatened to roll off it.
The journey to Birmingham was a mere matter of hours, and Liz tapped her fingers nervously on the wheel all the way. Her thumbs were not prickling, as someone very senior had once asked her if they did, severely startling Liz, then a green second lieutenant, and alarming the company when he explained that any stepdaughter of Jon Lyle’s had probably picked up more than just his cheeky grin; after that, everyone had looked at her like a suspected IED. Still, the lack of prickly thumbs meant nothing.
Once she’d got to Birmingham it was easy to find the theatre Juliet was performing in and park the car, hopping out and wincing when she jarred her knee. She made a concession to her injury by walking sedately up the steps, rather than taking them two at a time, and pushed the door open.
Seeing Juliet again in person was a sucker-punch to the stomach, driving the breath from her. The comfortable grey tracksuit bottoms, the loose jumper over a tight cotton vest- she even dressed the same, damn it! –the blonde hair caught up into a loose knot at the back of her head and the straight carriage, it was all painfully familiar.
It took a moment for even the basics of the uncomfortable conversation Juliet was having with what looked like an usher to filter through, and then Liz found herself glaring viciously at the usher, a perfectly inoffensive bottle-blonde with clumpy mascara and her eyes on Liz’s Juliet as if she wanted her hands to be there instead.
“Uh, Serena, that’s really sweet of you, but-“
“Any time,” Serena assured her, and tucked a slip of paper into her hand. “Here’s my number, if you’d ever like to... meet up...”
Liz crossed the lobby in three strides, seized Juliet by the waist and pulled her into a long and deeply satisfying kiss, feeling the shock of contact as Juliet’s slim, wiry figure pressed against her own and Juliet’s hands laced themselves into her short hair, and reeling with the knowledge that at one time she had actually given this up, this warmth against her body and in her heart.
Also, that Juliet was going to give her hell for this when she wasn’t immediately occupied with kissing back.
“Darling!” Juliet exclaimed enthusiastically when they finally gave in to the need to breathe, and flung her arms around Liz’s neck. “Oh, my God! I thought you were still in Afghanistan!”
Liz derived a certain amount of satisfaction from how miffed Serena looked. “I came back,” she said nonchalantly. “Thought I’d surprise you.”
Juliet laughed. “Well, you managed that one! You were obviously paying attention when they taught you stealth at Sandhurst.”
Liz slid her arm around Juliet’s waist and squeezed. “I always pay attention. Let’s go.”
They walked out of the building, and towards the parking space Liz had found.
“You’re an actress and I never knew it,” Juliet murmured, leaning closer against Liz. Liz tensed, uncertain of what to do, and Juliet immediately picked up on it and moved away again. “We can probably stop now. She’s not going to follow us, silly girl. I...” She paused. “Thank you for getting me out of a hole. She’s been a little... obsessive. But- if you’re not comfortable-”
“I’m comfortable if you’re comfortable,” Liz told her quietly. Juliet stopped.
Liz stopped, a pace away from her, and turned, looking at her. The dancer was smiling at her, a soft, contemplative smile. “What?” Liz demanded uncomfortably after a moment, throwing her hands up in the air. “What are you looking at?”
Juliet grinned and shook her head. “I’m looking at you, Liz Lester. I’m looking at you, and thinking, really you don’t change a bit.”
She stepped forward, and took Liz’s hand. “Let’s go and talk glittery things and toothsome what-nots, soldier girl.”
They found the car, and Liz unlocked it so they could both get in. For a moment, they just sat there.
“Bugger this for a game of soldiers,” Liz said suddenly, violently, switched on the ignition and all but tore the car out of the parking space. Juliet buckled her seatbelt hurriedly.
“I can tell you’ve been driving in a war zone,” she observed. “No consideration for your fellow passengers.”
“Whatever, Twinkletoes,” Liz said, and shot Juliet a sideways grin. “You liking what you’re doing lately?”
“Yeah,” Juliet said, watching with interest as Liz casually overtook a cursing man in an SUV, giving him the finger as she passed. “I’m dancing Lise. La Fille Mal Gardée?”
“Pig. It’s a ballet. La Fille Mal Gardée, The Badly Guarded Girl. Lise is the main character.” She leaned comfortably back into the seat. “I quite like it- I’ve always been very attached to classical ballet –but I prefer the short we’re doing, the new one. Our choreographer got enthusiastic and choreographed about five minutes of all-new, hyper-modern energy and jetés.”
“Like Soldier Girl?” Liz asked.
“Oh, God,” Juliet laughed, “Soldier Girl. Yep. That was the maddest idea in the book, nobody thought it was going to work...”
Liz stopped at a traffic light.
“...I took that part for you.”
“You did what?” Liz yelped.
“Took that part for you,” Juliet repeated. “Because nobody else was dancing it right. Too heroic or too nasty. Caricatured, you know?”
“I know,” Liz said quietly.
“Not real. As far as I was concerned, Cleo was real.” She huffed a laugh. “And now they want me to do a ten-year-anniversary show of it, because it was that successful. I said hell no, get a new dancer, get a good dancer, but get a new dancer- somebody no-one knows about. Like me. Just out of interest, Liz, where are you taking me?”
“Out of the city,” Liz said. “Had enough of cities.”
“Have you been spending much time in them?”
Liz wrinkled her nose. “No. But I like to get out- you know me.”
“I did,” Juliet answered. “Once.”
Liz drove furiously for a few minutes, on the very edge of the speed limit, with her jaw set tight and her eyes glued to the road. After a while, she muttered: “That was uncalled-for.”
“But really, really true. Liz, what do you want?”
“A lot of things,” Liz snapped. “None of which I’m likely to get.”
“I don’t know about that,” Juliet murmured. Liz gaped for a moment, then noticed an impending traffic light and stamped on the brake.
“Warn me before you say stuff like that,” she requested.
“Yes ma’am,” Juliet said cheekily.
Liz rolled her eyes.
Eventually, Liz extricated them from Birmingham, and got herself thoroughly lost in a suitable bit of countryside, before parking tidily in a pub car park. “Out.”
“Are we going for a walk?” Juliet demanded suspiciously. “It’s muddy out there.”
“There are wellies in the back of the car,” Liz informed her.
“Hip, hip, hooray,” Juliet said. “My feet are two sizes smaller than yours.”
“There are hiking socks, too,” Liz said sweetly. “Ah, no, shit- don’t wear those; Chalky had them last and I haven’t washed them since.”
“That explains the smell.”
Liz grinned. “I see trainers on your feet. Scared to get them a little dirty, are we? You can always stick them in the washing machine.”
“Horror,” Juliet said.
“Wuss,” Liz returned. Sixteen years earlier, she would have simply set out and known that Juliet would follow her; now, she waited.
Juliet muttered something grumpy, and folded her arms. “I’m cold.”
“Walking will warm you up.”
“I’m not going to talk unless we get properly out of sight and sound.”
“Can you even do that in this day and age?”
“Bitch,” Juliet sulked, and thumped Liz’s arm. “Fine, then.”
They walked out onto the road, crossed it, climbed a stile and followed the right-of-way along the side of the field by the hedge. It wasn’t as bad as Juliet had predicted, and the day was relatively warm; but when they got to the next field, having crossed another stile in the hedge just over the crest of the hill, she frowned, and leaned down to massage her knee. It was aching quite badly. Belatedly, she remembered the medic’s orders, which had involved no strenuous exercise, and although this wasn’t strenuous exercise in Liz’s book, she had been aware ever since Ditzy first cursed her out for doing something that didn’t meet his standards of common sense that medics applied different rules to life.
Juliet stopped with her. “Are you okay?”
Liz shrugged. “My knee hurts a bit.”
“What have you done to it?” Juliet sighed.
Liz shrugged again, defensively. “I just wrenched it a bit.”
“Stupid woman!” Juliet looked around. “Look. Is this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere enough for you?”
“It’ll do,” Liz conceded.
“Then sit down,” Juliet shoved her down with a hand in the middle of her chest and Liz laughed at her, falling down on a drier patch of grass, “and tell me about the anomalies.”
“There’s not much to tell,” Liz said, picking at the laces on her trainers. “Dad’s working in Washington at the moment; Jon’s with him, of course, and Jamie’s been out there with them on holiday, as it were. Actually, he’s staying with them while he charms the pants off the New York art scene.”
Juliet giggled. “Nice!”
“Anyway,” Liz resumed, “Connor Temple- do you remember Temple? Total geek. Fingerless gloves. Dresses like a Noughties Camden Town indie kid, or used to, before he sort of... grew up and got professorial. He just wears very odd ties and shirts now.”
“I think so,” Juliet said uncertainly.
“Well, he called Dad in the middle of the night to say that Nick Cutter had pitched up in his office at CMU. You definitely won’t remember Cutter. Grumpy Scottish guy. Early forties. Thing is, he went through an anomaly in 2009, a few months after I did, only he never came back...”
“...Yeah. And apparently there’d been reports of something that looked like anomaly activity. The current theory is that there have been anomalies operating on other frequencies all the time- it’s just that they were weaker, because there were more on the original anomaly frequency, 87.6FM, which drowned them out. When 87.6 FM was locked down, the other frequency was free to run, and as more anomalies appeared on that frequency they... sort of snowballed. The more anomaly activity on a frequency, the more anomalies on that frequency appear. We didn’t know what we had when it was just 87.6!”
There was a contemplative silence.
“Personally,” Juliet said thoughtfully, “I would have thought sabotage was a more obvious solution.”
Liz grinned. “That’s what I said. But no, this thing is watched day and night. It’s still a possibility, but it’s a very vague possibility.” She rubbed the muscle behind her knee, trying to stop the ache. “And then this morning I got rung up by a journalist, and you know, me and journalists-“
“You don’t like journalists,” Juliet completed. “They’re not all bad, you know.”
Liz pressed her lips together. “He wanted to talk anomalies. I told him where he got off.”
Juliet smiled. “You would.” She sighed, and tucked her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms around her legs. “Thanks for the warning, Liz.”
They didn’t move for a long time, both staring out over the countryside, wrapped in their own thoughts. Juliet buried her nose in the collar of her jumper, chilled by the breeze. Liz ignored it, focussing unwillingly on the events of the past few hours, on kissing Juliet and getting to hold her for the first time in- what, fifteen years?
Shit, it never seemed that long ago- but of course it had been, quite literally the worst times of her life packed into her teenage years: the illness they had all thought would kill Jamie, the strain and fear of uncounted weeks spent behind anomalies, the break-up with Juliet, the shock of the declassification of the anomalies and its unexpected consequences in terms of public attention on the main players. No wonder Abby and Stringer had emigrated to Australia, where fewer people knew who they were; no wonder Connor had chosen to go to ground at CMU, rather than picking any of the more exalted universities that would have had him like a shot. No wonder Liz, faced with the possibility of telling Juliet everything that had happened to her now it was no longer such restricted information and rebuilding the best relationship she’d ever had, had cracked and held back.
“We were right to break up,” Juliet said abruptly, hauling Liz out of her reverie.
“What?” Liz said. “Didn’t catch that. Thinking.”
“We were right to break up,” Juliet repeated patiently.
“We weren’t doing so well,” Liz agreed, fiddling with the cast on her broken finger.
Juliet grinned. “We were sinking by the day, and you know it.” She reached out for Liz’s hand; Liz looked at Juliet’s outstretched fingers, and into Juliet’s face, and then let Juliet take her hand. “You were all kinds of broken, sweetheart.”
“Still am,” Liz informed her. “I caught someone referring to me as a hardass the other day.”
Juliet laughed. “What did you do to him?”
“Sent him on a six-mile punishment run so he could be just like me.”
Juliet grinned. “Be that as it may, and, okay, it’s pretty funny... Liz, hardass is not the same as broken.”
“Broken is what leads to hardass, unfortunately.”
Juliet elbowed her hard in the ribs. “I don’t care!”
“Oi! All right, all right, you don’t care. Why are you talking about this, Juliet? What do you want?” Her voice rose, hard-edged with almost-anger.
“You,” Juliet said softly. “I always have.”
Liz was silent. She let her hand slide out of Juliet’s and looked away from the other woman, mind reeling.
“I thought you wanted me back,” Juliet continued, still quiet, “I thought that was why you called me. I hoped. Even when you said it was the anomalies, I hoped to hell that you called me, that you drove out to meet me, because you wanted me, and when you kissed me I was nearly sure because you were jealous. You didn’t want me to take Serena’s number. You didn’t want me to go out with her. You wanted me.”
Juliet clambered round to kneel in front of Liz and take her face in both hands, turning it gently, forcing Liz to look at her. Liz stared into her eyes.
“Yes or no, Liz?”
Liz was frozen.
“Yes or no?” Juliet repeated.
Liz shut her eyes. “Yes. Fuck, yes.” She heard Juliet let a breath of relief out, and her eyes snapped open and she grabbed Juliet, pulling her forward with a hand on the back of her neck and an arm around her back, and kissed her hard, lips crashing together messily, hard enough to bruise, opening a split in Liz’s chapped lips. One of Juliet’s hands laced tightly into Liz’s short hair, the other curling into a fist on her shirt; Liz could feel Juliet’s breath on the skin of her neck when the other woman pulled away and rested her head against Liz’s shoulder.
“Sorry,” Liz said, gasping for breath. “That was- a bit... precipitate.” She ran a hand along the line of Juliet’s back. “You still weigh the square root of nothing.”
“You still kiss like you’re fighting a war,” Juliet informed her, muffled against her skin. “Let’s not get carried away, shall we? Or we’ll get arrested for public indecency.”
“It’s not public if there’s no-one to see,” Liz said, but took the point.
Juliet’s stomach rumbled, and they both laughed. “When did you last eat?” Liz demanded, poking her.
“Breakfast,” Juliet said sheepishly. “Admittedly, it was an enormous fry-up...”
Liz shook her head, and pushed Juliet off her, getting to her feet and holding out her hands for Juliet. “Come on, let’s get you some lunch. That pub down the hill looked all right; there was a board talking about lunch specials.”
“Sounds good,” Juliet agreed, taking Liz’s hands and letting herself be hauled upright. “You know what else sounds good?”
“What?” Liz asked, raising her eyebrows.
Juliet looked down at Liz’s hands, which she was still holding, and squeezed them gently, a little sideways smile on her face. “Dating you again. Getting hauled out of bed at six a.m. to go for a run, taking you out for lunch, laughing at you, worrying about you, being worried about, seeing that glint in your eyes when you look at me, being pointed and laughed at by our respective families when we tell ’em we got back together again...” She suddenly seemed to realise what she’d said, and blushed. “Er. If that’s okay by you?”
Liz smiled at her, and kissed her cheek. “That’s okay by me.”