Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

14: Toni

It was only when they were at the storage space that Toni fully realised that she was moving again. Until then, she had been able to avoid it; even when taking her suitcases from Maddie’s room and loading them into her girlfriend’s car she was able to think of it as just another trip. Now, though, with them slowly filling up the battered old Nissan Micra, a chill was settling on her. She was going to live with another set of people that she had never met and could only hope that this time it would be OK, that they would be OK.

They didn’t talk much as they were packing her things into the car; nor did they as they started the drive to Crookes. It was only short, taking not much more than fifteen minutes, but Toni said little, being mired in her ruminations on the future. Maddie kept up a constant cheerful chatter and, this time at least, Toni was glad of it.

Eventually, they turned onto Duncan Road. As they drove up the narrow street, lined on each side with parked cars, Toni realised that this would be the first time that she had seen where she would live. She had looked at photos online, and had talked to the landlord, but hadn’t been able to face viewing the house in person. Soon, she would no longer have that choice: living in a new place was about to be real.

While Toni had been brooding, Maddie had been peering at the various house numbers as they went past.

‘Here we are! And there’s a spot just a couple of doors up.’

It was time.

After they had parked, they sat there for some minutes. For once Maddie did not try to fill the silence, but left Toni to her thoughts. It was eventually Toni that spoke.

‘I don’t want to go in.’

‘I know.’

Though she felt rooted in her seat, Toni also realised that she couldn’t stay any longer at Maddie’s: there wasn’t enough room, and it wasn’t fair on Maddie or the others that lived there. She could only move forward. Could what faced her be any worse than the past?

‘OK. Let’s go in.’

Maddie took Toni’s hand.

‘Why don’t we go in and have a look first? We can move your luggage in once we’ve worked out where everything is.’

Toni nodded, and they got out of the car. As they approached the house, Toni saw that it was as it appeared from the photos she’d seen: a stone-fronted, red-brick terraced house, of the type common to Crookes, part of a block of four with a central passage leading to the rear.

At the door, Maddie smiled.

‘Here we are.’

Toni put the key in the door and, after taking a breath, opened it.

Inside, it was quiet and dark. There were no lights on and, when Toni listened, she couldn’t hear anything to indicate anyone else was home. They were alone.

They went upstairs to Toni’s room, at the front on the first floor. The door was open, they went into a bright, airy room with a large bay window, a bed, a wardrobe and a couple of chests of drawers.

Maddie looked about her.

‘This isn’t so bad! You’ve got a nice big window, and lots of room. Ooh, look: you’ve got a window seat. Maybe you could put some cushions on there so you could sit on it and watch what’s going on outside. It looks a nice street.’

Toni had to admit that it did.

‘It’s bigger than my last room.’

‘Yes, it is.’

After a last admiring survey of the room, Maddie turned to Toni.

‘Shall we start bringing your things in? Maybe when you’ve got them in you’ll start to feel at home.’

‘Yes, let’s.’

Maddie left the room and headed down the stairs. Toni stayed for a moment and, standing there, felt the tension she had carried start, however slowly, to begin to fade. Perhaps Maddie was right, and it wouldn’t be so bad here. Perhaps she could start to put the few months behind her, and do more than just survive each day. As she went down to the car to join Maddie, Toni allowed herself a small amount of hope.


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