Dan leant back in his chair. “You’re so full of shit, Cal.”
“I swear it’s true.”
“Nope. Bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.”
“Suit yourself, Dan, but I swear that’s what he said to me.”
After the story Cal had left. Della didn’t blame him. They’d eventually won an award for their story but Cal hadn’t been there to collect it. He sent her a quick email asking her to speak on his behalf, implying that she’d do a better job than he ever would have.
She was the only one he ever emailed.
Now he was back - sitting in the Mason’s Arms with a scotch in one hand. Laughing with Dan and occasionally glancing across the table at her, a small smile playing at his lips.
He looked happier. Lighter. Tanner even. Being away from London had suited him. Perhaps a little too well. He laughed easier too - like it was a sound with actual joy in it rather than the mechanical, bitter-sounding laugh that he had developed over years at The Herald.
The pub was quietening down. It was slowly ticking towards midnight and people had to get their trains home. Helen and Pete had already left - bundled up against the weather outside. She didn’t know why Cal had chosen to come back now, when the bitter cold was still hanging around.
Dan and Cal were still talking.
“Cameron’s retirement party is on Friday.”
“Yeah, I heard something about that. Someone finally shoved the crazy bastard towards the door?” There was a slightly awkward silence as Cal took in the expressions on Dan’s and Della’s faces. “Or not …?”
Dan cleared his throat. “Mum’s not getting any better and I think he …”
Cal leaned over and put a hand on Dan’s arm. “I’m sorry, mate.”
“Yeah, well. It’s been coming for a while. Still complete shit of course, but … thanks.” Cal’s hand was still on his arm. Cal usually got sullen when he’d been drinking - not tactile. Another thing that had changed while he was away? Della wasn’t sure.
Dan looking critically at his whiskey glass before finishing it in one gulp and standing up, grabbing his coat from the back of his chair. “I better get going. Good to see you though, and seriously come on Friday. It’ll be like having the family back together.”
Dan grinned and they hugged.
Cal and Della talked for a while longer as they finished their drinks. Not about much, mostly about travelling, where Cal had been, where Della wanted to go. Della had seen a lot of Europe - but never gone much further afield. It was something she always meant to do - to disappear into Africa or South America for a few months - but she just never took the plunge and booked the tickets.
One of the other lingering patrons left the pub, and a cold breeze blew through. Della shivered a little. “I should get going.”
“I’ll walk you to the tube.”
She thought about arguing - it wasn’t that far and she’d done the walk thousands of times before - but instead she just nodded as she wrapped her scarf around her neck.
The air was definitely chilled outside but it at least it had stopped raining sometime earlier.
They walked in silence for a minute or two before Della finally asked the question that had been hanging between them all evening.
“Do you still think about it? The story?”
Cal paused. She almost thought he wasn’t going to answer at all. “Sometimes. Less than I used to. More than I should.”
There hadn’t been a trial in the end. Stephen Collins had pleaded guilty against legal advice - saving everyone, including Cal and his wife and even Della herself, the job of testifying in open court. Not dragging everyone through a lengthy legal process and the news coverage that would have gone along with it. It was some sort of apology, she guessed.
It had changed Della’s life regardless. She’d been promoted and had job offers from a variety of places - some of them very flattering - but she’d chosen to stay put. She thought she owed something to Cameron and enjoyed working with Dan, Helen and Pete. Dan and her had become a team now - just like her and Cal had been - but it wasn’t quite the same. Dan was more charming and took different risks. They didn’t argue as much - and Della had always enjoyed arguing with Cal. To a point anyway.
The next question was out of her mouth before she had a chance to process it. She was curious. It was an occupational hazard. “You haven’t heard from -?”
Cal looked uncomfortable. “No. I haven’t heard from her.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a cigarette packet and lighter.
Della tried to ignore the feeling in her stomach when he said that. She’d already guessed the answer anyway. Someone had told her that Anne Collins had moved the family overseas to escape everything - she had a sister that lived in New Zealand or something. Della didn’t blame her for wanting to get as far away as possible.
He lit his cigarette. “Did anything happen with you and your copper?” His voice had an odd tone to it- almost as if he was questioning an interviewee - and odd stress on the word ‘your.’
“Didn’t work out.” He’d gone back to his wife - they’d wanted to try again and who was Della to stand in their way? They were still together by all reports.
“Sorry.” He even sounded it. A little bit. Maybe.
It never would have worked out with the cop anyway. There was something unfinished -hanging ever-present in her mind like a cloud, or a spectre. Della knew it was a fucking cliche to develop a crush on your work-mate, especially when he was screw-up like Cal was. (And he still was - despite some evidence to the contrary tonight). But she couldn’t shake it. Not even now when he’d ambled his way back into her life with a quick - ‘I’m going to be back in London in two weeks. I think you owe me a drink.’ He was still condescending and presumptive, but sometimes she caught him looking at her with a little smile, or he’d do something genuinely kind and she’d be back at square one.
She’d missed him.
They reached the entrance to the tube station.
“So. You’re still hanging around for a while?”
“For a while.”
“Come to Cameron’s party on Friday, Cal.”
She almost reached out to grab his hand - she was sorry she’d mentioned the Collins story at all and he still looked a little like he was off in his own little world - but she stopped herself, put her gloved hand into her pocket and descended into the depths of the tube station.
After walking Della to the station, Cal continued down the road, not really having a final destination in mind. He’d already decided to take a cab home.
He finished his cigarette and then immediately lit another.
Della’s question about the story had unsettled him a little. Of course she’d asked - she never could stop herself asking a question - and he’d told the truth. He sometimes still heard himself say, ‘oh, you told her no’ and the echo that had followed. The guilty silence and the realisation of what his friend had done.
Cal remembered before then too, how he’d first gone to Della with his suspicions. How he’d trusted her when he trusted no one else, and how she’d listened and then argued (because she was never shy about expressing her opinions, especially to him) and then that small nod as she’d asked him - softly but insistently - if Stephen had done it. He’d missed that voice of reason, that sounding board - he’d missed her.
He’d thought about not sending an email at all. To tell them he was back. But the more he thought about it the more he wondered and before he knew it the cursor was drifting over the ‘Send’ button.
Cal stubbed out his cigarette and stood out on the road to hail a cab.
“I knew you couldn’t leave.”
“I fucking did leave, Cameron. For two years.”
“And yet here you are. You failed. How surprising.”
Cal glared at him, but Cameron just gave him a look back as if to say, ‘it’s my party, Callum, and I’ll be fucking sarcastic to whomever I please.’ Cal thought he’d probably earned that right.
The party was in full swing. Someone had decided to actually spend a little and rented out a function room at one of the nicer hotels in the West End. There was plenty of champagne and canapes and it wasn’t that much like Cameron at all - who Cal thought probably would have much preferred a dark dingy bar and a large bar tab to spend on good quality Scotch. Maybe that’s where they’d end up later - but first they’d spend the company’s dime.
“Also, I don’t know why, but there seems to be people who missed you while you were away sunning yourself and writing for a litany of inferior publications in the former outposts of the Empire. Go spend some time annoying them for a while.” But he said it with a smile.
“I missed you, Cameron.”
“No, you fucking didn’t. Now piss off over there. I have many other people far more important than you who want to tell me how much they’re going to miss me, and they’ll be a damned sight more convincing about it than you just were”
Cal dodged a waitress with yet another tray of champagne as he walked over to where Dan, Della, Pete and Helen were standing with a couple of other people Cal vaguely remembered from the news room.
He settled into the group between Della and Dan.
“She missed you, you know.”
Helen was a little drunk.
She rolled her eyes. “Della.”
“I doubt that somehow.”
“No.” Helen grabbed his arm. “She did, Cal. I mean, fuck if I know why, sometimes you were a complete jerk to her, but she did miss you.”
“I missed her too.”
Maybe Helen wasn’t the only one who had drank a bit.
‘Yes. I know. Tell her that.” She pointed a finger in his general direction and then she lurched off to find Pete.
They eventually found themselves in the dingy bar with the good Scotch and with a barman with an attitude problem. Dan was holding court in the corner while Cameron looked on doing his best trying not to look proud.
“Glad you came then?” There was a voice beside him. At his elbow. Della. Who else?
“Yeah.” And looking around, he felt that he even meant it.
“I came back to sell the house, you know. I was going to go back to Australia. Maybe write a book.”
The question hung between them.
“Well I can write a book here.”
She grabbed his hand. “You can.”
Cal held on.