Early the next morning, Mop texts Firefly from an unfamiliar number: wld cat tamd bt b sur hav no xposd flsh. Firefly laughs. Gathers up Tai and the boyfriend and takes them over the hill to a vineyard lunch in the Wairarapa. Lets them choose the music, but not the volume, while he drives and thinks. By the time they coast into Martinborough he’s singing along to Queen at full blast, while Tai and the boyfriend bicker about who gets to choose what next.
And Jo calls Gracie, invites her for lunch. No, says Gracie.
—I’ve got Lisa.
—No. I want to talk uninterrupted. (Bugger, thinks Jo. I don’t.) I can come over once Lisa’s asleep. I’ll bring some stuff? We could barbie? (Jo cheers up. Loves her barbie-on-the-roof.)
Gracie asks about Vita. Jo’s quiet, then tells her about Tai’s contribution to her conversation with Vita. Gracie’s furious.
—The little SHIT. O fuck, that’s awful.
And then Gracie has a thought. She rings Rebecca and asks if she has a cell phone number for Vita. YES!
On the far side of town where a crisis grows, police interview a man, and he tells all he knows. And then goes home and kills himself.
Vita nearly doesn’t answer. An unknown number. Is it Firefly, tracking her down? Or? Curiosity beats resistance, in a slow afternoon.
Gracie says hello. Is Vita back at work now? (Yes.) Would she like to have dinner? (Silence). Gracie fills the silence.
—I’m a bit bored. And I’d like some company.
—How did you get my number?
—Rebecca, Jo’s mum. She knows I’m harmless. Not a stalker.
Vita thinks quickly. She’s relapsed into Something on Toast since New Year’s Eve. And she likes Gracie.
—OK. Why not?
Gracie’s got a student’s economy with cell phones.
—Awesome. Done. Outside City Radio at 6?
Gracie, wearing a heavily loaded backpack, takes Vita to a Cuba Mall bar. Just for a drink. Loosen her up before the slam dunk. But before they’re halfway through their drinks: brandy again for Vita, a beer for Gracie, Vita surprises her.
—Jo told you?
Gracie’s cautious. Doesn’t say a thing.
—That I live at City Radio?
OK then, this is where she’s going.
—She mentioned it.
Vita goes imperious, oh! Doesn’t she do it WELL. Straight back, closed expression. Seveeere.
—I’d like you to keep it to yourself. Aha, damage control.
—I’m saving up.
(Yeah, right. OK, let’s move on.)
Vita smiles. Charm switch ON. Gracie smiles back. Charm switch on HIGH. Brain whirring.
—Well then, you might like my suggestion. In here (she indicates the loaded backpack, now at her feet) I have some delicious things to barbecue. Straight from Moore Wilsons– You know Moore Wilsons?
Vita nods, smile fading. A barbie? There are no picnic spots in the central city?
—After we talked Jo invited me over for a barbie on her roof, and I thought, ah, we could go there (little bit of fudging here). Whaddya think?
They pause at a bottle store for a bottle, at a dairy for a big bunch of flowers. Two bunches, carefully selected, and combined in a fresh wrapping. Vita’s imperiousness has gone; she wants to acknowledge Jo’s care with that little box and its contents. She doesn’t tell Gracie that she looked Jo up in the white pages. Gracie doesn’t tell Vita that she Googled her.
And Jo isn’t as flummoxed as Gracie feared she might be when Gracie says
—Surprise! I’ve brought a friend–
(Jo listened to her mates, and flagged Vita as a lover and Whew, Gracie’s fudging slips by.)
And Vita hands over a classy bottle and says —Gracie says you like brandy. So do I. Eau de vie. Jo’s delighted:
—Henceforth eau de vita.
And they all grin. And Jo brings out her best glasses, and Gracie opens her beer. And they load up and walk up to the roof.
It’s a beautiful roof. Jo’s the only one who uses it and she gardens here. Herbs (Jo’s loves the labiates of course, with their square stems, aromatic leaves, and two-lipped corollae: mint, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary, and the rest). And tomatoes and beans and salads at this time of year. A couple of wee citrus trees. A couple of miniature olives. A passionfruit on a trellis. A sun umbrella. Directors chairs. A beautiful old table. Sun. A netball hoop on the adjoining building’s brick wall, on the cold southern side (from another quit-smoking marathon, the one before the knitting and embroidery). View through buildings to the harbour, along and across Cuba Street to Hemingway’s neon (not flashing tonight, Hemingway’s still closed). A (probably illegal) freestanding fireplace—a huge ceramic bulb, curving into a chimney stalk. And the barbie.
Between the intermittent street noises (Cuba Street’s quiet-ish tonight) they can hear the evening’s birdsong. How could they not have a lovely time? When they reach the grilled nectarines with caramelised demerara sugar and a dab of Lurpak butter, Vita is relaxed. No trace of imperiousness. On the warmer side of the neutral friendliness they’ve seen to date. Not so reserved.
So Gracie takes a deep breath and tells Vita how she and Jo tracked her home from Hemingway’s. She’s a good storyteller, why else would she do law? And she acts it all out. The watching Vita get into the taxi. The knitting into bags. The speeding through the back yards. The shed. A little anxious, Jo watches Vita listen, watches her face close a little. Then a surprise. Vita LAUGHS. (Gracie’s pleased, she was aiming for laughter.)
—You two are NUTS. Crouching in that filthy shed with your knitting bags!
Relieved, Gracie and Jo laugh, too. And then Gracie holds up her hand, palm out.
—But wait! There’s more! And she tells the Tai and Firefly story. And then Vita throws down the last of her brandy. (No more, thanks Jo. I’ve had enough.)
And tells her story about Tai, the way he raided the food for Rebecca, also playing it for laughs. (I SAW him! says Jo.) Vita says nothing about the rest of it, Tai’s attempts to be friendly, the way she rebuffed him.
And at the end, Gracie says
—Well, that’s one story with a happy ending. And they all sit with that for a moment. And Vita thinks, let it go. But needs to make a tiny gesture.
Gracie takes a deep breath.
—I Googled you, the name you gave Firefly.
And then she takes another deep breath. And holds it. A thrush calls. And again. And, over on the Kelburn hill, a tui.
Ladies & gentlemen, The Persuasions, with their own story, and Up On The Roof!