"There you are," Leo says, coming into the kitchen, a stack of dirty glasses in his hands. He puts them down next to the sink, pushes his hair from his forehead. "Are you coming out to the garden? You're missing all the chat." He raises an eyebrow. "I'm currently being warned about our bins being visible on the drive on collection day, not tucked away at the side of the house."
"Wow," I say, smiling. "I wouldn't even know what to say to that." I open a bag of crisps, tip the contents into a bowl, rescue a couple that spill over the edge. The scent of truffle, artificial, catches my nose. "I'll join you as soon as everyone has arrived, I promise. Someone needs to be here to answer the door."
He eyes the bowl doubtfully. "What flavor are those?"
He takes one, crunches it in his mouth and wrinkles his nose. "Dead bodies," he says. "It tastes of dead bodies."
I laugh, because I get what he means. They're pungent, earthy. He takes another bite and grimaces exaggeratedly, and I'm glad he's finally relaxed. He'd been annoyed when I told him I'd gone ahead and invited people for drinks. I'd sprung it on him on Thursday evening, when he came back from his three days in Birmingham. It had been another scorching day and he'd looked hot, and cross.
"I thought we'd agreed to wait," he'd said, tugging at the neck of his shirt.
Guilt had me reaching for a bottle of wine, hoping to pacify him.
"It's only for drinks," I told him, knowing I needed to avoid the word "party."
"Who have you invited?"
I handed him the bottle while I dug in the drawer for the corkscrew. "Just the people from here."
"Yes. But the people from number 3 can't come and only Maria or Tim from number 9 are coming, so that's twenty-one at the most."
"When is it?"
He'd been silent all evening and yesterday, he'd gone to see Eve's partner, Will. I watched from the window as they talked on the doorstep, worried he was telling Will there'd been a mistake and that we had to cancel. But when he came back, he said he was going out to buy beer and champagne, and I'd breathed a sigh of relief.
"How's the champagne going?" I ask now. "Will we have enough?"
"Not at the rate I'm drinking it!"
Recognizing Eve's voice, I look over Leo's shoulder and see her standing in the doorway, an empty glass in her hand, a pink flush staining her cheeks, matching the pink tips she's added to her white pixie cut. "It's delicious! I'm not sure Prosecco is going to cut it for me in the future."
I met Eve properly the day after I overheard her and Tamsin talking outside my window, and I instantly liked her. It wasn't just that—unlike Tamsin—she seemed eager to get to know me and Leo, it was also that she was warm and caring, understanding that it wasn't easy moving into a street where everyone already knew everyone else. She and Will only moved to The Circle eighteen months ago, so things are still relatively new for her too.
Leo turns. "Has everybody arrived, Eve, do you think? Alice is worried she won't hear the bell from the garden."
"Will's just arrived, his rehearsal ran over, so I think everyone is here, except Maria and Tim," she says. "But didn't I see a message on the WhatsApp group saying they have babysitting issues?"
I take three bottles of champagne from the fridge and hand one to her, two to Leo. "Yes, Maria said that one of them would come along if they could."
Eve laughs. "They have three boys, so that could explain their babysitting issues. Lovely, but noisy."