The pulse of activity in the pub skipped a beat when Eve and Pete walked in. Graham’s hand grazed his belt then skipped back to his pint, Nora’s face puckered like she’d bit into a lemon, Brian’s lips pursed. The moment passed and George waved them over from behind the bar, handing Tara another glass of wine, as everyone carried on enjoying themselves.
George pulled Pete’s pint then turned to Eve.
‘Just a coke, please,’ she said softly, tracing her fingers along the bar’s wood grain.
George and Pete glanced at each other. ‘I’m sure your dad wouldn’t turn me in… given the occasion,’ George said, leaning forward with a conspiratorial tone.
‘That’s okay.’ She looked up, smiled. ‘Thanks.’
‘Only a few months ‘til it’s legal anyway, Evie,’ Pete said. ‘When I was your age I’d already pushed my limits plenty of times.’
‘Ain’t that right,’ Richard said, nudging him in the ribs. Tara leaned into Richard’s shoulder, grinning at Eve.
They shifted through the crowd to stand along a wall, as far as possible from Graham’s group, resting drinks on the mantelpiece. The exposed beam opposite them had used to have an Oscar Wilde quote about drinking painted on it. That had been roughly painted over to say, Never split up. Be vigilant. Eve turned to face away from it.
Tara snapped her fingers in front of Eve’s face. ‘Eve?’
‘Huh?’ Eve said.
‘You sure that’s just coke? You seem pretty out of it,’ Tara said, flicking Eve’s drink. ‘I was asking if you’d made a resolution.’
‘Well,’ Richard said, checking his watch, ‘Best think of one soonish. Not long to midnight.’
‘Honestly, this last year can piss off,’ Pete said.
‘Amen to that,’ Richard said, glancing through the milling crowd at Graham on the other side of the pub, staring at Eve with a rigidly set scowl.
‘God, what’s she done to herself?’ Tara said, pointing out a girl at the bar with an array of piercings and bright purple hair.
‘Lisa,’ Eve said.
‘What?’ Pete said. He angled his head. ‘Blimey. It is. Go say hi then, unless you’d rather hang around with us old folk.’
Eve called out to Lisa as she hid away the hip flask and drank her lemonade, pulling a face at how strong she’d mixed it.
‘Bloody hell,’ Lisa said, slamming the glass down in her haste to hug Eve.
‘You got it all done, then,’ Eve said, breaking contact eventually.
‘Yeah. With everything going on I decided to just go for it, y’know?’
‘Fair enough. So why am I only just seeing you now?’
‘Well. We were in France on holiday when it all kicked off so we stayed out there… then we were actually considering just not coming back. But here I am!’
‘I’m glad you’re okay. And you came back.’
‘And you’re okay, then? I heard – y’know. And your mum. So sorry.’
‘Yeah. I’m alright,’ Eve said, looking at her feet, rubbing her left sleeve.
‘Dan and Elliot are in the garden,’ Lisa said, taking Eve’s hand and leading her out the back door.
Pete, Tara, and Richard watched them.
‘More like her mother every day,’ Pete said.
‘And more like herself,’ Tara suggested.
‘It’s gonna take a long time to fix everything. Not just meaning her,’ Richard said.
Pete sighed. ‘That first day in the treatment centre. God. When I saw her then I thought…’ he took a long draught, wiped the head from his top lip.
‘It’s tough,’ Tara said, patting his arm.
‘The Grahams, Noras, Brians of the world aren’t going to help going forwards,’ Richard said.
‘They’ll get over it,’ Tara said. ‘It’s been rough for all of us.’
‘Hmm,’ Pete said, as Nora shuffled towards the garden.
Eve let Lisa tip a little from the flask into her coke. They sat on the wall next to Dan and Elliot, in the warmth and orange light of the heaters overhead, breath steaming in the air. The beer garden was just as packed as the inside, benches all taken up and with even more villagers jostling around. Dan fidgeted with a piece of brick, Lisa leaning backwards to watch the moths.
Nora shuffled down the steps beside the wall, rolling a cigarette one-handed.
‘How’d she make it?’ Lisa whispered, setting Elliot into a fit of laughter.
She reached the grass and lit her cigarette, turning to glare at them. Elliot set his face into an innocent look but Nora glared at Eve instead, tutting. Eve felt a weight pull downwards in her chest.
‘You shouldn’t be here,’ Nora said.
Dan snorted. ‘Where else should she be?’
Nora shook her head, turning away.
‘Ignore her,’ Lisa said.
‘Damn,’ Elliot said. ‘She hates you even more than me.’
‘Maybe she’s right,’ Eve muttered, watching Nora smoke by the pond.
‘Nah,’ Dan said, standing up. ‘Nora, Brian, Graham. Not worth your time. They haven’t moved on.’ He rolled his shoulders, stretching, then downed his drink. ‘C’mon, let’s get out of here for a bit. Yuppie camp?’
They finished their drinks and followed him out of The Nag’s Head, telling Pete they’d be back ‘later this year,’ chuckling at the joke. As they went uphill along the high street the sound of the pub gradually faded. The front gardens all had vegetable patches and the village green still had a cow and sheep there, with some crops fenced off.
Before long they were out of the village, crossing the planks across the trench. Lisa bent down to touch the tips of one of the spikes in its base, a fire-hardened stick.
‘Someone should really get rid of those,’ Elliot said, as they crossed a second trench surrounding the empty ramshackle camp bordering the village.
‘Yuppie camp?’ Lisa asked.
‘Yeah,’ Dan said, reaching over to heft the heavy bar locking an abandoned hut’s door. ‘Some of the people escaping London wound up here, built this place. They’ve pissed off back to Brick Lane now, but -’ he retrieved some bottles – ‘good hiding place.’
‘I knew there was a reason I came back to this dump,’ Lisa said, opening a bottle.
Dan held one out. ‘Eve?’
‘Better not,’ Eve said. ‘Thanks. They don’t know how drinking over a few units might interact with…’
‘No worries,’ Dan said, handing a drink to Elliot and opening one himself.
‘This must be super weird for you,’ Elliot said to Eve.
Lisa coughed. ‘D’you remember any of it?’
‘Bits and pieces. Fragments come back, here and there.’
‘Jesus,’ Dan muttered.
‘It wasn’t quite so bad in France,’ Lisa said. ‘Not to the point of spiked trenches or shanty towns. Hell.’
Eve rubbed her left sleeve.
‘Enough of that,’ Dan said. ‘New year soon. Putting all that in the past. Moving forwards. Have we all got resolutions?’
They got back to the pub at half eleven. The village’s grumpier figures had succumbed to the joviality of the coming year and George’s liquor, attempting moves from their earlier years. Eve was getting a lemonade when the bustling activity nudged her into Graham, spilling his pint over his shirt.
‘You -’ he said, turning a beetroot shade. There was a hush around them.
‘Sorry,’ she said, rubbing her left forearm. ‘I’ll get you anoth-’
He glanced at her arm and suddenly grabbed it, pulling the sleeve down. He grunted, inspecting the crescent bite mark left by her infected mother, as she tried to pull away and Pete rushed over. She felt giddy, pushing away the unwelcome memory of someone’s flesh in her mouth, a deserted supermarket, distant screams.
She focused on Graham and felt a jolt of pity wash away her rage and fear. He was scared. Fingering the dagger at his belt like a lucky amulet, the only one still carrying a weapon for protection from shambling hordes.
Pete wrenched him off her. ‘Unhand my daughter, you twat. Do that again and we’ll find somewhere else to sheath your dagger.’
‘Holy crap, Dad,’ Eve breathed, holding him back.
Nora and Brian looked chastened. Graham sat back with them, drumming his fingers on the table, defeated. George put on ‘Come on Eileen’ and got people singing along, the incident swiftly forgotten.
‘Sure you’re alright?’ Pete said; Richard, Tara, Lisa, Dan, and Elliot crowding round.
‘Yeah. He’s nothing,’ she said, feeling something long-lost inflate within her. Moving forwards. She glanced at Graham, silent in the corner, and decided on a resolution.
As the clock approached midnight, Eve wandered towards Graham, Nora, and Brian. When the church bells rang in the new year and everyone in The Nag’s Head crossed arms for ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ Eve got a thawing Graham on one side and a thoroughly drunk Lisa on the other.