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‘. . . we can get away really early Wednesday,’ Tina was saying, ‘as long as the kids get their act together, and if we know who’s coming I can give Juanita an answer about the damn turkey and—’
Bette’s pace slowed to a crawl as she stared in the direction of her house. In the dimness Tina could just make out a woman standing on the steps of the next-door house, looking at her phone.
‘Walk slower,’ said Bette.
Tina chuckled. ‘Don’t be silly.’
‘I don’t want to— oh fuck, she’s seen us.’
And she had. The woman waved and called ‘Hi Bette! Hi Tina!’ as Bette and Tina, with awful inevitability, reached their steps and had to say hello to their recently-moved-in neighbour, Stephanie. Stephanie was gay, African American and taught Classics at Princeton. If it were possible to have designed a neighbour for Bette, Stephanie would be it. She was rich, cultured, had a curious mind and impeccable connections. And yet something about her made Bette’s teeth itch.
‘Where have you two been?’ Stephanie asked, with a friendly smile.
‘Playing pickleball,’ Tina told her.
‘Oh my God! I love pickleball!’
‘It was our first time.’
‘Oh, we should play! Do you know Zadie Smith?’
Tina and Bette just stared at the woman.
‘Personally?’ Bette asked.
‘Yes. I thought your paths might’ve crossed?’
‘Not so far,’ Tina said, rubbing her neck.
‘Oh. Well, I play with her sometimes and we’re always looking for new opposition. I’ll ping you some dates, Bette.’
‘Great,’ Bette smiled, leaning casually on the railing and then straightening up again sharpish when that made her sciatica scream.
‘Are you okay?’
‘A touch of sciatica,’ Tina explained, fondling her wife’s shoulder.
‘Oh no. Was it the hole?’
‘The wildlife pond, yes,’ Bette said.
‘It looks impressive. I must’ve stood and watched you dig it for about half an hour the other day.’
Bette just blinked. She’d had no idea she was being watched and remembered losing her temper in a big way with a dead tree root.
‘Anyway,’ she said as smoothly as she could manage, ‘we mustn’t keep you . . .’
She grabbed Tina’s hand with a firmness that was unmistakeable, and they said their goodbyes and went inside their house. Once the door was shut, Tina mouthed ‘Zadie Smith’ and made a screaming-emoji face. Bette rolled her eyes.