Oh, get fucked, said Zoe, smiling. I wouldnt swap for your life.
A cold squall rippled the yellow-brown puddles of the film-studio car park. On the far side, in a blue SUV splashed with mud, the next group of ticket holders for the Star Wars Experience was already looking for a parking space. Kate checked her watch. The Death Star was theirs for another twenty minutes.
Wed better get back in to Sophie, she said.
The two women rushed their teas. Zoe looked at Kate over the rim of her cup.
Be honest with me, she said. Is Sophie dying?
No, Kate said, without hesitation. The chemos going to work. Im one hundred percent sure shes going to get better.
Weve proved it before. When she first got sick, the chemo worked and she went into remission. This is just a little relapse, and now the chemo will work again.
There must have been doubt in Zoes face because Kate began pursing her lips and nodding her head determinedly. Zoe watched the certainty building, going up the dial and into the red. One hundred and five percent. One hundred and ten.
Okay, she said. Okay. But do you really think these day trips help? They dont just exhaust her?
Kate smiled. Let me worry about that.
Let me ask, at least. As your friend.
Kates smile stiffened. Would I put her through all this if it wasnt helping?
Zoe touched her arm. Of course not. But are you sure you dont organize these trips slightly for your own peace of mind? Just so you can be doing everything in your power as a mother, I mean.
What, and youre an expert on motherhood now?
Zoe recoiled as though shed been slapped. Slowly, she collected herself and looked down, twisting her hands together.
Kate faltered, then stepped forward and took her hand. Shit, Zo, Im sorry.
Zoe turned her head aside. No, no, youre right. I was out of order. I know what you go through.
Kate moved to put herself back in Zoes eye line, then held her gaze. I know what you go through too. This must make you think about Adam.
Its fine, said Zoe. And you know what else? Your hairs all fucked up.
Kate laughed. Oh, have I got helmet hair?
You think thats bad? Ive got Stormtroopers tits. I swear to God, these costumes are so tight
Under the relief, Zoes heart was still snagged on the wire of the fence her friend had put up between them. She wished she hadnt brought up the subject. She needed to learn when to keep her mouth shut, which was nearly always.
She looked down into her Styrofoam cup, where an inch of teathe same yellow-brown as the puddleswas reaching the temperature at which the warmth no longer disguised the bitterness. You could get tired of being unattached, of having no partner to undertake patiently the task of winnowing your days from your demons and showing you which was which. You could get to hoping for a companion of your ownand yes, even a childdespite the overwhelming evidence that children too were bottomless, echoing wells of need into which exhausted women like this one, her best friend Kate endlessly dropped brave little pebbles of certainty and anxiously listened for a splash that never came.
We really should get back to the Death Star, Kate said, pulling Zoe back from miles away.
Kate pulled her Stormtrooper helmet back on, and her voice was changed to a metallic rasp by the modulator built into the face guard. The Death Star? Big round naughty spaceship? Promising acting debut, got a bit typecast, never appeared in another film after the Star Wars series?
Excerpted from Gold by Chris Cleave. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Cleave. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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