Jena and Suzy are having a barbecue.
They rent a small house together on the hilly north side of the city. They don't do a lot to their tiny garden; the grass is clipped but that's about it. I can still see the remnants of the carefully tended plot the former tenants created. Rose bushes grow wild in tangles, with overblown pink flowers nodding at the end of long branches. I can see mint, and lavender, and rosemary, all encroaching on each other.
I am sitting in a sun-lounger on the lawn, drinking a Corona. To my left the hill slopes sharply down behind the fence at the end of the garden, giving a view of the city spread out from horizon to horizon, untroubled, dozing in the sun. I stretch my legs out and look at them. They are almost luminously white. I don't like tanning, but I do like to feel the sun on my skin, and I'm dozing too; half-awake, half-asleep, relaxed. I don't really feel like talking, so I watch the others. The food smells good.
The barbecue has been set up on the weedy patio and Suzy's boyfriend Jake is presiding over the hamburgers, chicken wings and sausages. Suzy and Jake have been together for years, since they were at school. Jake is podgy, pale, bespectacled, with a good line in sarcasm. He wears T-shirts with computer jokes on them. He is poking a sausage with a fork and frowning at it as if he suspects it of plotting someting.
Jena is running around in a vest top and shorts. She and Suzy have spent the day making food before we all got here and for a moment I see both of them in the kitchen, cutting up lettuces and carefully buttering bits of French stick. Putting crisps in bowls and debating whether there are enough glasses. It makes me feel affectionate.
There are a lot of people here I don't know. Three men in expensive trainers are drinking beer by the barbecue. A woman with frizzy dark hair sits talking to Michelle. A handsome, dark-haired man is sitting cross-legged on the grass concentrating on playing an acoustic guitar. Two more men and a blonde woman in a faded tie-dye T-shirt are smoking weed by the back fence. Two small red-haired toddlers are tottering round on the grass. I am not entirely sure who they belong to. One comes up to me, stares at me for a while, and then hands me a half-chewed pork scratching. He looks as if he expects a response. I attempt to ignore him, but he doesn't seem to be going away.
" - Thank you," I say. I'm never entirely sure how to deal with young children. No-one I'm close to has any, and I was the youngest in my family, so my experience of them is limited. However, he seems happy with my acknowledgement. He toddles away, looking at me over his shoulder.
Jena comes and sits down on the blanket on the grass beside me. She is wearing heart-shaped pink sunglasses. Her blonde hair is nearly waist-length now.
"That guy you like is here," she says.
It takes me a moment to process what she has said and then my stomach drops sharply. In a moment of weakness, I told Jena I fancied Chris. She didn't appear to register it very much at the time, but I should have known that she would take the opportunity to try and fix me up.
"Chris, right?" she says. "I got talking to him the other day. He's just moved here, he doesn't know many people, so I said come along today. He's just showed up with some veggie burgers and six cans of Fosters."
She grins at me.
"He's single," she says. She somehow manages to make this sound filthy.
At this point, the toddler returns and silently hands me a salt cellar he has got from somewhere.
"Matthew!" Jena squawks, which makes me jump. I always forget this is an entirely innocent and rather common name. "Come here, aren't you cute - aren't you yummy -" She swoops on him with outstretched arms. He looks terrified, as well he might. At that moment Chris walks into the garden holding an open can of beer.
He is wearing blue jeans, and a fitted black t-shirt which strikes me as odd. It takes me a couple of minutes to work out that this is because it is completely plain. I can't remember the last time I saw anyone wearing a t-shirt which didn't have any distinguishing features at all, even if it was just a tiny embroidered logo. In fact, I notice, he is wearing nothing which would give anyone a cue about his personality. Men send out cues less obviously than women, but they still do it; a festival wristband here, a pierced eyebrow there, a floppy fringe, an engraved steel ring...
Nothing. Not a clue. He could be anyone, anywhere, with any intentions.
His hair is longish, not particularly styled. The black roots have grown out even further than I remember from the last time I saw him and only about two inches of blond remains. Soon it's all going to be dark.
He looks slightly self conscious. I imagine he would be.
He sees me, smiles, and begins threading his way towards me through the people sitting down.