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Housewarming

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It all started when Abigail set the oven on fire. It wasn't her fault; the ready-made meal she'd tried to heat didn't say anything about taking it out of the stupid plastic tray, plus the oven was completely confusing with a million different settings. Why did an oven need more settings than on and off, anyway? She'd been so proud of her tiny little flat that she paid for with her tiny little company salary, but a few weeks into independent living for the first time in her life, she had discovered that she was kind of clueless about things domestic.

The upshot of the whole thing was that she might have clocked thirty-two perfect fouettés this afternoon, but she had no idea what to do when faced with naked flames. She called Ollie, who shouted at her for calling him instead of triple zero, so she hung up on him, and, in desperation, tried Tara instead.

Tara was surprisingly useful. "Well, do you have an extinguisher?" she said. Abigail could hear seagulls on the line; Tara must be at the beach.

The flames were creeping along a nasty grease stain on the oven door, and Abigail's every breath tasted of burned plastic and lite beef stroganoff. "Where?" she said, just as Tara said, "Check under the sink."

The foam put out the fire, but the resulting mess of beef stroganoff, melted plastic, ash and chemical foam was like something out of hell, or worse, a bad modern dance set. Abigail was ready to walk out of the apartment and never return, when Tara offered to come around and help clean up the mess.

Tara knew a lot about domestic things, it turned out.

"Do you have any baking soda?" she said, with Abigail's cute frilled washing-up gloves on, clutching a scouring pad Abigail didn't know she owned.

"Why would I have baking soda? Do you think I have time to bake scones?" Abigail knew she was being defensive, but she hated looking foolish, especially in front of Tara 'Natural Talent' Webster.

Tara put her head right inside the oven, scrubbing furiously. "I doubt you've ever baked a scone in your life, Abigail. When I'm done, we're making a shopping list, and we're going for supplies."

At the supermarket, Tara had a back spasm in the cleaning aisle, and Abigail finally engaged her empathy. Dance injuries, even severe ones like Tara's, she could handle. She bullied the woman behind the deli counter into fetching the first aid officer, and together they helped Tara to a seat while Abigail raided the local pharmacy for instant heat packs and jelly-beans for shock.

"Okay, show me that 'I'm plucky and brave' face," she said to Tara, and pushed a jelly-bean into Tara's unprotesting mouth.

Tara gagged and ungracefully spat out the partially chewed jelly-bean into her hand. "Not the green ones," she said. "They're gross." Then she just held the half-eaten lump of glucose in her hand in confusion.

"Cool is a whole other planet for you, isn't it?" said Abigail, snatching the horrible mess with a tissue and throwing it in the bin. "Now, if I get a cab to pull up to the door, can you make it that far?"

Tara nodded, still wan, her legs trembling. Abigail pulled out her phone, called a taxi, and went to collect her groceries.

"That's a lot of stuff; aren't you living on a budget now?" Tara eyed the over-full trolley in suspicion.

Abigail preened. "I told them you were the star student at the National Academy of Dance, and that the law suits would probably be astronomical, so they offered to cover the bill," she said.

Tara nodded slowly, looking over the expensive body wash, replacement make-up sponges and a large electric fan. "Feel free to take advantage of my possibly career-ending injury, Abigail."

"Thanks," said Abigail, as the taxi pulled up. "I'll do that."

At the apartment, she made Tara lie flat on the concrete balcony, which sizzled with heat in the afternoon sun. "It's basically a hot stone massage," she said. "Only free, and you don't need to talk to anyone."

Tara sighed as she settled on the hot concrete, and stretched her limbs out long. "That's actually awesome."

Abigail sat cross-legged by her head. "How is it going with your back?"

"Rehab," said Tara. "Endless rehab, it's so boring." She pointed her toes as if she was in mid-air. "I'm a star patient, they keep telling me."

Abigail rolled her eyes. Of course, Tara was always the star. It just came naturally to her.

"Thing is, their expectations aren't very high," Tara went on. "It kind of scares me, you know? They gave me a gold sticker the day I made it to the end of the bars, like it was this big thing, and all I could think was that if walking was a big deal, a grand jeté must be off the scale completely."

"But you're walking fine now." Abigail didn't have space for all this self-pity. "Christian said you were starting barre work. You'll get there. I can't believe you even doubt it."

Tara rolled her head backwards until she was looking at Abigail upside down. It should have been ridiculous – it was ridiculous, she told herself – but Tara's face was wide-eyed, pale and thin and hopelessly dramatic. "Abigail, what if I get up there, on stage, and something happens? It's scary not trusting my body to do what I tell it."

She looked so pensive and stricken, facing for the first time the monster that Abigail stared down every day: would she be good enough? Could she push herself harder?

"You're really bad at this, Tara Webster," she said, with less rancor than she would have expected. "I'll make a deal with you: come and clean my oven again, and I'll help you get over your fear."

Tara rolled onto her stomach and gently arched her back, stretching the muscles. "No, I don't want to be your cleaner, Abigail. But I will teach you how to use the oven without setting the place on fire. Actually, I'll do that anyway. It's the right thing to do. For you and the environment."

Abigail weighed up her budget versus her pride, and took the deal. Tara said that scones were a good place to start, and she perched on the barstool while Abigail did all the messy work.

"When did you learn how to do all of this stuff?" Abigail asked, stirring milk into the mixture dubiously. It was lumpy and runny at the same time. It had to be wrong.

"Mum taught me," Tara said. "You all have to pitch in on the farm. If they were out all night managing lambing, it helped if I could put on dinner or do the laundry or whatever." Abigail wondered what that was like, having the kind of family that honestly needed your help. She wondered if she would have liked it.

The scones came out okay, actually: tall and fluffy, if a little lop-sided. Abigail was amazed, and arranged them carefully on a cute plate. "Totally insta-worthy," she said, clicking away with her phone. As a dancer with the company, she had a public profile to maintain, after all.

Tara picked one to pieces and ate it. "Not bad," she said. "It's not going to win the blue ribbon at the Easter Show, but definitely on the way." Somehow, despite not being involved in the cooking process, Tara had got flour in her hair, and not in a cute, instagram-able way.

Abigail dusted her off with a corner of the adorable patchwork apron she'd never needed to wear until today. "Okay, you've got a deal. I'll help you beat down that fear of failure. You help me catch up on stuff I missed."

Tara bit into her scone happily. "I missed you, Abigail."

"Yeah," said Abigail. "Me too. Do not tell anyone."