Hattie juggled her overflowing shopping basket in one arm as she navigated the aisles of food and answered her phone at the same time. She was still working out the layout of Ash's local supermarket in Bromy.
'I forgot, can you get some coke as well?' Ash's voice came through the line.
'Coke, right. Just make sure you're here to pick me up because I am not carrying all this myself.'
He chuckled, 'I'll be there in ten.'
'You'd better,' Hattie muttered as she ended the call.
It was officially summer and Hattie had decided to try out her culinary skills by making pizza from scratch. The concept was starting to feel less appealing as she hoisted around the ever growing basket and realised she had no idea how to make the dough for the base.
She grabbed a couple of bottles of coke and decided that she would get Ash to pay for the shopping since she was going to be doing the hard work of making it all anyway.
She'd started spending more and more time over at his flat in Bromy since she finished school. It was a nice place, if slightly small and generally untidy. She had taken over the spare room and left several overnight necessities in a drawer there and a second toothbrush and other bits in the bathroom. Ash had also given her a second key to the flat which now hung proudly on her key ring.
Hattie loved the independence of staying with Ash. She could come and go when she pleased, so long as she kept her parents informed of her whereabouts. Ash had jokingly set her a curfew after they'd returned from a party hosted by one of his new friends and she was half tempted to break it just to see what he'd say. She was a sensible girl though and since she didn't really know anyone in Bromy she didn't go out much without Ash.
True to his word, Ash walked into the small supermarket soon after the phone call and eyed her basket with raised brows.
'You got enough there, Rat?'
'There weren't any trolleys left,' she explained.
She picked up the coke bottles, letting him take the rest, and marched over to an empty till. She didn't need to mention who was paying for the food since Ash already had his wallet out and she smiled in thanks.
'So, what's all this in aid of again?' he asked as they filled the car and pulled out of the car park.
'I told you, we need to christen your kitchen, and not just with ready meals and pasta.'
'Yeah, I don't think you had to wait until the flat was going to be full of hungry people to do it.' He gave her a questioning look as he stopped at a red light.
'You just don't think I can do it,' she scoffed.
'Yeah, maybe that's because I haven't seen you make anything beyond pasta and sauce from a jar.'
'True.' She pursed her lips. 'Well if it all goes to pot then I'm sending you to buy the pizzas instead. No one needs to know.'
Ash had invited some of his mates around for the evening and Hattie had persuaded Sadie to come too. Ash had seemed to have no problem in getting to know a whole new crowd in Bromy but had thankfully toned down the parties that he hosted.
It was a Saturday and they'd spent a few hours down by the beach earlier in the day. The drawback of living in a coastal town, Hattie had decided, was that it was bursting with tourists and holidays makers in the summer months. After they'd had enough of the busy crowds that thronged the beach and filled the cafés and small shops, they made a retreat to the flat and Hattie had scoured the internet looking for pizza recipes.
Summer was great, she reflected as she watched the cars go by and Ash turned into his street. Or, she thought, was is their street? She was there every week and felt as much at home in his little flat as she did with her parents. She hadn't mentioned it yet, but she had applied to a few summer jobs around Bromy. She was even considering switching to the local college to do her A Levels when school started again. It was a big decision and she'd have to talk to Ash and her parents about it first. For now though, she was happy to enjoy the sunshine and free time she had on her hands.
When they got back to the flat Hattie shoved the chilled food in the fridge and flopped down onto the sofa beside her friend. She leant against him contentedly as he turned the TV on and flicked through the channels. They sat in cosy silence for while
'Oh, I forgot, I meant to do laundry today.' She groaned at the thought.
She had realised that morning that she had yet to change the spare bedding she'd stolen from her parents to use in Ash's flat and what with all the nights she'd slept there it was probably high time it was done.
Ash gave her a confused look. 'You need to do laundry?'
'I need to wash my bedding,' she nodded.
'Oh. There's a launderette round the corner.' He shrugged.
'Perfect. I'll try and do it first thing tomorrow.' She stretched and thought about whether she'd go back to her parents house the next day or not. 'Hey, what are you doing tomorrow?'
'No plans yet.'
Hattie made a humming noise as she pondered her options. Maybe she'd just decide in the morning, it's not like she had anything pressing that she had to do.
She stood up, 'Okay, pizza. Let's do this.'
Ash laughed at her from his spot on the couch. 'Hey, want to get me a drink while you're up?'
'Get it yourself, I'm busy here.'
She found one of the recipes she'd chosen and looked at the instructions nervously.
It turned out that cooking was not one of Hattie's greater skills. There was flour everywhere and a sad sticky mess sitting on the side which was supposed to be nice, stretchy dough.
'Ash...' she wailed dramatically as she stared down at it.
'Are you losing?' He laughed from where he was still sitting on the couch.
'Completely. I've utterly lost to a lump of flour.'
He laughed again and approached the kitchen. 'Wow. Please don't tell me we are eating that?'
'Yeah, that's what I was thinking. Maybe it's time to move onto Plan B?'
'Go buy some ready made pizza bases. I'll start on the toppings.' She glanced back at the offending lump on the side and shuddered. 'We'll never speak of this again.'
He snorted. 'Okay then. Only, you might want to change your clothes before anyone comes.'
She looked unhappily down at the flour on her. 'Yeah.'
She shoved him towards the door when he laughed at her again and started scraping the sticky mess into the bin. She didn't understand why it was so hard, she was sure they'd done something like this in school. She thought back to her old home economics classes where she made a few messy dishes that she'd proudly brought home to her parents.
She smiled at the thought. In fact, she recalled, that had been where she'd first met Sarah Jones, her biology partner. They'd been paired up for something, she couldn't remember what, and started a very tentative friendship. Hattie had spent more time with her again after Ash had left school but they'd still never really become good friends. They'd shared a hug after the last exam and wished each other a good summer and that had been it. Maybe she should make an effort to meet up with her over the summer, she thought.
Actually, one of the benefits of changing to a new school was the prospect of starting afresh. Maybe she could give things a better shot if she started off with a clean slate. She'd already met a couple of students from the local school at one of the parties she'd attended with Ash.
She sighed. She still had over a month of the summer left to work things out. As long as she didn't leave everything until the last minute it would be okay. Right now, she had food to make.
By the time the first guests arrived she had assembled the pizzas and turned the oven on to heat through. Her phone rang as she dried her hands.
'Hey, Sadie,' she greeted her friend.
'Hey, hun. Mind giving me some directions? I think we took a wrong turn somewhere.'
'Yeah, where are you?'
Hattie gave a few instructions from her growing knowledge of the town and ended the call with a 'see you soon!' She wondered briefly who else Sadie was with when she had said 'we' and decided it was probably her boyfriend.
'Hey, looks good.'
She turned around to see a boy in his late teens eyeing the food appreciatively.
'You must be Hattie – Ash's sister, was it?' He grinned at her.
She smiled, 'Yeah, I'm his friend. How do you know Ash?'
He shrugged, 'Through another friend.'
Ash had indeed found plenty of new friends in Bromy. There were already a dozen or so people filling the small flat by the time Sadie called back to say she was outside and waiting to be let in. Ash's place was only on the second floor so Hattie popped down to open the front door to the building.
'Hey, girl!' The older girl gave her a warm hug before taking her surroundings. 'Now I finally get to see where you've been hiding all this time.'
'Yeah, you do.' Hattie laughed.
She had spoken to Sadie again since the time in the park and found the girl to be full of good advice. Despite the three year age gap, Sadie seemed to enjoy not only taking Hattie under wing, but really getting to know her too.
'Hey, Hattie. How are things going?'
She looked behind Sadie to see Jack coming through the doorway. 'Oh, hi. I didn't know you were coming.'
Jack looked taken aback and turned to Sadie accusingly. 'What? You told me I was invited. You lied to me!'
Sadie just looked amused so Hattie reached out to give him a hug too.
'You're invited now,' she grinned and led them upstairs.
The pizza turned out to be a hit and disappeared soon after it was brought out. Thankfully, the flat wasn't overcrowded and Hattie was able to catch up with her friends as well as greet a few of Ash's new acquaintances, all of whom seemed to be under the impression that she was either his girlfriend or his sister. Although she hurriedly corrected anyone of the impression that they were a couple, she didn't really mind the misunderstandings; it was nice to know that he talked about her, even if she didn't know what he'd been saying.
'So how are you liking the new independent lifestyle you've got going on here?' Jack asked her.
'It's nice,' she smiled. 'I've got the best of both worlds: I can stay here and do what I want, or I can go home and have home cooked meals and stuff.'
Jack laughed and proceeded to tell a story about the troubles he'd got into on his last holiday and how grateful he'd been to go home to his family at the end of it.
'Sounds like a proper adventure.' Hattie smiled.
She suddenly realised that she didn't know much about Jack. She knew he was around the same age as her but not much else. He certainly liked to talk, she mused, but it never seemed to be about anything important.
'What's your family like?' she decided to ask him.
Jack beamed and launched straight into another story about his older brother.
Hattie was so engrossed in his funny tales that she didn't notice the time go by. Sadie joined them a while later and the three of them chatted until late.
By the time the last guests had left Hattie was yawning sleepily. She made up her bed for Sadie to sleep in and brought some blankets for Jack to use on the couch. She only had a single bed in her room while Ash had a double so she wandered over to his room after she'd changed into her pyjamas.
It felt a bit strange to sleep with him while there were other people in the flat but it made the most sense. Sadie knew about their relationship anyway so it wasn't going to cause any misunderstandings.
Ash called from inside as she knocked on his door. He was already in bed but had left the light on for her. She gratefully crawled into the bed and snuggled into the thick duvet.
'Pizza was good,' he mumbled.
'Yeah,' she smiled. 'It was a good evening.'
He grunted in agreement.
'I thought I'd get the afternoon bus home tomorrow. Want to go down to the beach first?'
'Rat, we were at the beach yesterday. And what about your friends?'
'Sadie said they'd probably go as soon as they're up. Jack's got work in the afternoon. And anyway,' she countered, 'it's the summer. You're supposed to spend time at the beach when you live there.'
'I thought you had to do laundry.'
Hattie groaned, she'd forgotten about that. 'Whatever.'
'How about we get a cooked breakfast?' Ash suggested.
'You're such a guy,' she teased, 'you'll only do it if there's food.'
Ash just grunted again and they fell into a sleepy silence.
It had been a good evening, she thought. She'd seen her friends, met new ones and even hosted the event at Ash's flat. It was definitely beginning to feel like it was their flat too.
She smiled to herself. Whatever happened during the rest of the summer and next year at school at least she had friends around her. The thought gave her a warm feeling and she cherished it, appreciating just how lucky she was.
She turned over and sighed contentedly.
There was a pause and then she heard a sleepy murmur in reply.
It's finally finished! I'm so sorry for the huge wait, I was dithering for ages on how to end it.
Thanks so much to all my reviewers, you're the absolute best ;)
No Need To Argue – Thanks for your amazing review, you made me really happy :) I'm just a little disappointed I didn't get to write about Ash's past too – it would have been fun.
lilcarellijohn – So glad you loved the last chapter! Sorry again for the slow update...
SnowflakeSoup – Thanks for the help with the line breaks, you're a star :D I also tweaked the beginning a little to try and get some more time in between Ash and Hattie as you recommended