Becky shakes her head. ''You can't? Imagine how I feel.'
'And your mum really didn't object to your grandparents leaving you their house in their will?'
She shakes her head and pops open the two bottles of beer she's holding, handing me one. 'She's quite happy where she is. And you know she's all property is theft and that sort of thing.'
'True.' I take a swig of beer and look at the framed photographs on the wall. A little girl in Mary-Jane shoes with a serious face looks out at us, disapprovingly. 'She's keeping her eye on you: look.'
Becky shudders. 'Don't. She wanted me to come to Islay for a Christmas of meditation and chanting, but I managed to persuade her that I'd be better off coming when the weather was a bit nicer.'
Becky's mum had been a mythical figure to all of us at university. She'd been a model in her youth, and then eschewed all material things and moved to an ethical living commune on the island of Islay when Becky was sixteen. Becky had stayed behind to finish her exams with a family friend, and horrified her mother by going into not just law, but corporate law of all things. Relations had been slightly strained for quite a while, but she'd spent some time in meditative silence, apparently, and now they got on really well—as long as they had a few hundred miles between them.
I look at the photograph of Becky's mum—she must only be about seven. She looks back at me with an intense stare, and I think that if anyone can save the planet, it's very possibly her. Anyway, I raise my bottle to her in a silent thank you. If she'd contested the will, Becky might not have inherited this place, and she wouldn't have offered me a room at £400 a month, which wouldn't have got me space in a broom closet anywhere else in commutable distance of King's Cross, where my new job was situated. 'Just going to get out of this jacket,' Becky says, looking down at her work clothes; then she disappears for a moment and I'm left looking around. The house is old-fashioned, stuffed full of the sort of mid-century furniture that would sell for vast amounts of money on eBay—there's an Ercol dresser in the sitting room and dining chairs that look like they've come straight out of Heal's. I take a photo of the huge potted plant that looms in the corner like a triffid, and then I wander into the hall. It's huge and airy, with a polished wooden banister that twirls round and up to the third floor where there's a skylight—dark just now, because it's midwinter, but I bet it fills this space with light in the middle of summer. There's a huge wooden coat stand with a mirror by the interior door, and a porch with ceramic tiles worn through years of footsteps passing over them. The place must be 150 years old, at least. And—I push the sitting room door open—there's enough space for everyone to collapse on the sofas in a Sunday-ish sort of way. The paintings on the walls are draped with brightly coloured tinsel and fairy lights, and there's a Christmas tree on the side table, decked with multi-coloured lights and hung with a selection of baubles, which look—
'Hideous, aren't they?' Becky's voice sounds over my shoulder. 'I couldn't resist. They're from the pound shop so I just went to town a bit. If you can't be tacky at Christmas, when can you?'
'I love it,' I say, and I do. Becky disappears back into the kitchen and I can hear the sound of her warbling out of tune to Mariah Carey and the clattering of plates and saucepans. I stand in the hallway and look at this amazing house that I couldn't afford in a million years, and I think back to about two months ago when I saw an advert for my dream job in publishing come up and wondered if I should take the chance and apply. And how Nanna Beth had said, 'Nothing ventured, lovey—you never know what's around the corner...'
An hour later and we're in the kitchen and everything's been laid out so it looks perfect for the housewarming party.
'Stop!' I put a hand up in the air.
Becky stops dead and I leap between her and the massive old oak table in the kitchen. Her face registers alarm as I reach into the back pocket of my jeans and then she rolls her eyes as she realises what I'm doing.
With my free hand, I reach across, straightening a plate and moving a piece of tinsel so it sits jauntily beside the jewel-bright heaps of salsa and guacamole. 'There.' Leaning over, I take a photo from above and step back, letting her put the tray of tequila shots down on the table.
'Since when were you the Instagram queen?' Becky tucks back a strand of hair that's escaped from behind her ear. She's had it cut into a sleek graduated bob, which makes her look like a proper grown-up, especially as she's still dressed in her work clothes of grey slim-fitting trousers and a pale blouse made of silky stuff, which I would definitely have spilled coffee on within an hour. But she's here at 6.30 p.m. looking as if she's just got out of the shower, instead of having battled her way home through London traffic after a long day doing corporate law stuff. I've taken off my pink fluffy coat because it was making me feel like a dislodged tree bauble, or a pom-pom, in comparison to Becky's minimalist chic.