top I haven’t even found uses for yet! All mine too.’
‘Don’t you three share?’ Abby asked.
‘Nah, the guys are just human furniture. Get us some drinks, will you, Bri?’
Brian went out of the door grumbling and returned with a pack of beer cans and a bottle of vodka. Gabe opened the vodka and gave it to Claudia, who acted as though he’d given her the most amazing present. When the bottle got to Abby, she looked at it doubtfully, but took a long swig, probably not wanting to look a kid. I tried a sip, grimacing at the strong burning taste, and quickly passed it on.
‘A bit more relaxed now, girls?’ asked Gabe, rolling a cigarette. ‘Having a good time?’
‘Um, yeah. Thanks.’ Abby gave a little giggle. ‘It’s really cool here.’
‘The kid doesn’t look happy.’ I realized he was looking at me. ‘What’s wrong with her? Doesn’t like strange men?’
‘She doesn’t like anything,’ said Claudia. I glared at them both.
Gabe started chuckling. ‘God, if looks could kill! Kid gives me the creeps.’
‘The feeling’s mutual,’ I snapped.
His chuckle turned to laughter. ‘Here, this’ll lighten her up; take this, darling. Want me to show you how it’s done?’
He passed the joint in my direction.
‘I don’t smoke,’ I said.
Ah, but this isn’t a cigarette. It’s something special -good stuff.’
‘I know what it is and I don’t want it,’ I said, hunching my shoulders and wishing I wasn’t there. Luckily Hugh chose that moment to flip on a CD of eighties hits. Gabe forgot about me and offered the joint to Claudia, and Abby started chatting to Brian. Hugh picked up a beer can.
‘You don’t want to be here, do you?’ he said.
‘Someone noticed,’ I muttered.
‘Look, Ros, you may as well try to enjoy yourself rather than sit there sulking. Your mate said you were into art; want to have a look at our photos?’
Couldn’t hurt, I supposed. ‘Sure.’
I followed Hugh into the next room. He perched on a table and took out an A3 file, opening it at a shot of a sunset-bathed beach. I flicked through the pages, taking in a busy Spanish street, beauty spots from across the world and shoots with models. My favourite showed a colourful houseboat docked at the side of a river. Its nameplate, which read Annabel , had two mermaids painted either side of it. A white greyhound was lying on the roof, sunbathing.
‘These are good,’ I said. ‘Did you take them?’
‘Yup. The boat’s my dad’s; it’s moored at Little Venice.’ Seeing my blank expression, Hugh said, ‘The canal near Maida Vale – he’s been living there for years.’
‘Oh. Did you grow up on a boat then?’
He laughed. ‘Hell, no! I only go there for the odd weekend; his mind’s off with the fairies, my dad. Here, let me show you some of Graham’s.’
There was another folder on the table. I opened it. These photos were dull by comparison, and looked very amateurish.
I saw that Hugh was grinning. ‘Crap, aren’t they?’
I nodded. ‘I thought this was supposed to be a studio.’
‘Fat chance; Graham’s mental. He’s just a poser who thinks he can play at being in business. Got ideas after his aunt popped her clogs and left him this place.’
‘So you’re not mates then?’
‘Graham’s a pain in the arse.’ He lit a cigarette. ‘I’d move out tomorrow if I had any cash, but he doesn’t charge rent and that’s too good to pass up. Your friend’s making a big mistake with him.’
‘Claudia’s not my friend,’ I said, ‘but he’s far too old for her.’
‘It’s not just that. Want me to tell you a story?’ Without waiting for my reply, Hugh carried on, ‘I met Brian at college when I was finishing off my photography MA. Both of us had itchy feet; he was cut up about his long-term girlfriend dumping him, and I didn’t fancy getting a job straight after graduation – so we decided to go backpacking round Europe.’
‘What’s an MA?’
‘Master of Arts – extra