Invincible Summer - Alice Adams
Bristol, Summer 1995
OKAY, HERE’S ONE. If you could know the answer to any question, what would it be?’
Eva was lying on her back and looking up at the sky as she spoke. Summer had finally arrived, late that year, and the feeling of sun on skin combined with the wine and Lucien’s shoulder beneath her head was intoxicating. She had sat the last of her first year exams that morning and would be going home for the summer the next day, but in a couple of months she’d be back here in a life that was as far removed from her old world as she’d dared to hope it would be when she’d set off for university the previous autumn.
The four friends were clustered on a blanket close to the top of Brandon Hill. They hadn’t bothered to enter the stone tower perched at the hill’s brow and climb the spiral staircase to the viewing platform, but in any case their vantage point afforded them an impressive view of the city, out across the treacly river and past the derelict warehouses towards the endless sprawl of streets and houses beyond. In the long grass by their feet were two open wine bottles, the first propped upright in one of a pair of battered lace-up boots, the other lying on the ground spilling its last drops onto the earth.
Sylvie rolled over onto her stomach and brushed a few strands of coppery hair from her eyes. ‘Any question at all?’
‘Yes,’ said Eva. ‘Foof.’
‘That was the sound of the genie disappearing after you wasted your question.’
Sylvie glared at her. ‘That’s not fair. I’m having another one. I want to know the meaning of life.’
‘That’s not actually a question.’ Benedict elbowed her gently in the ribs. ‘Anyway, the answer would probably turn out to be forty-two, and then you’d have wasted your question again.’
Sylvie tugged her index finger and thumb sharply along a stalk of sedge grass, strimming the seeds into her hand and then blowing them into his face. ‘Okay, smarty-pants. What would you ask?’
Benedict blinked. ‘I’d have to think about how to phrase it, but basically I would want to know the grand unifying theory for the universe.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Or else what happens when we die.’
‘How about next week’s lottery numbers?’ asked Eva lazily.
‘You’d have to be insane to waste your question on something so banal,’ said Benedict, prompting a scowl from Eva. It was all very well to think there was something trivial about money when you came from a family like Benedict’s, but when you’d grown up in a small Sussex town short on glamour and long on stolid conformism the world was a different place. Benedict would never understand what it felt like to get up every weekend and trudge to work in a mindless supermarket job as Eva had for the four long years before she arrived in Bristol, where the same kids who regularly threw her bag over a hedge on the way to school would come in and pull things off the shelves just to get her into trouble. She couldn’t win: if she ignored them she ran the risk of getting fired, but if she called security they’d make sure her bag landed in a puddle on Monday.
In a place like that almost anything could make you an outcast: wearing the wrong clothes, doing too well in exams, not being able to talk about the ‘in’ TV shows because your father didn’t believe in having a TV. The only real glimpse of daylight had come in the form of Marcus, who was briefly her boyfriend because no matter how unpopular you were, there was always a teenage boy whose libido could propel him past that barrier. Marcus was himself quite popular and had taken a surprising interest in Eva, and for a few short months she had been his girlfriend and basked in a grudging acceptance.
The relationship led to the pleasing if rather undignified loss of her virginity in the woods behind the school after half a bottle of cider on a bench, which apparently constituted both date and foreplay. Marcus had eventually grown resentful and dumped her after a much-anticipated afternoon in bed while his parents were away ended prematurely before he’d even removed his trousers, and Eva had ill-advisedly tried to lighten the mood by cracking a few jokes. She’d read in Cosmopolitan that it was important for couples to be able to laugh together in bed, but then,