Chapter no 52 – Hammersmith

The Midnight Library

During half term, while Molly was off school and on a Tuesday when Ash wasn’t in the hospital, they popped on the train to London to see Nora’s brother and Ewan in their flat in Hammersmith.

Joe looked well, and his husband looked the same as he had when Nora had seen him on her brother’s phone in her Olympic life. Joe and Ewan met at a cross-training class at their local gym. Joe was, in this life, working as a sound engineer, while Ewan – Dr Ewan Langford, to be precise – was a consultant radiologist for the Royal Marsden Hospital, so he and Ash had a lot of hospital-related stuff to moan about together.

Joe and Ewan were lovely with Molly, asking her detailed questions about what Panda was up to. And Joe cooked them all a great garlicky pasta-and-broccoli meal.

‘It’s Puglian, apparently,’ he told Nora. ‘Getting a bit of our heritage in there.’

Nora thought of her Italian grandfather and wondered what he had felt like when he realised the London Brick Company was actually based in Bedford. Had he been truly disappointed? Or had he, actually, just decided to make the most of it? ere was probably a version of their grandfather who went to London and on his first day got run over by a double-decker bus at Piccadilly Circus.

Joe and Ewan had a full wine rack in the kitchen and Nora noticed that one of the bottles was a Californian Syrah from the Buena Vista vineyard. Nora felt her skin prickle as she saw the two printed signatures at the bottom – Alicia and Eduardo Martìnez. She smiled, sensing Eduardo was just as

happy in this life. She wondered, momentarily, who Alicia was and what she was like. At least there were good sunsets there.

‘You okay?’ asked Ash, as Nora gazed absent-mindedly at the label. ‘Yeah, sure. It just, um, looks like a good one.’

at’s my absolute fave,’ said Ewan. ‘Such a bloody good wine. Shall we get it open?’

‘Well,’ said Nora, ‘only if you were going to have a drink anyway.’

‘Well, I’m not,’ said Joe. ‘I’ve been overdoing it a bit recently. I’m in a little teetotal patch.’

‘You know what your bro is like,’ added Ewan, planting a kiss on Joe’s cheek. ‘All or nothing.’

‘Oh yeah. I do.’

Ewan already had the corkscrew in his hands. ‘Had one hell of a day at work. So I’m happy to guzzle the whole lot straight from the bottle if no one will join me.’

‘I’m in,’ said Ash.

‘I’m okay,’ said Nora, remembering that the last time she had seen him, in the business lounge of a hotel, her brother had confessed to being an alcoholic.

ey gave Molly a picture book and Nora read it with her on the sofa.

e evening progressed. ey talked news and music and movies. Joe and Ewan had quite enjoyed Last Chance Saloon.

A little while later, and to everyone’s surprise, Nora took a le turn out of

the safe environs of pop culture and cut to the chase with her brother.

‘Did you ever get pissed off with me? You know, for backing out of the band?’

at was years ago, sis. Lot of water under the bridge since then.’ ‘You wanted to be a rock star, though.’

‘He still is a rock star,’ said Ewan, laughing. ‘But he’s all mine.’ ‘I always feel like I let you down, Joe.’

‘Well, don’t . . . But I feel like I let you down too. Because I was such an idiot . . . I was horrid to you for a little while.’

ese words felt like a tonic she had been waiting years to hear. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ she managed.

‘Before I was with Ewan, I was so dumb about mental health. I thought panic attacks were a big nothing . . . You know, mind over matter. Man up,

sis. But then when Ewan started having them, I understood how real they are.’

‘It wasn’t just the panic attacks. It just felt wrong. I don’t know . . . For what it’s worth, I think you’re happier in this life than the one where you’re’ -she nearly said dead – ‘in the band.’

Her brother smiled and looked at Ewan. She doubted he believed it, but

Nora had to accept that – as she now knew only too well – some truths were just impossible to see.

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