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After the Party (Ralph’s Party #2) by Lisa Jewell Read Online (FREE)

After the Party (Ralph's Party #2) by Lisa Jewell

Read After the Party (Ralph’s Party #2) by Lisa Jewell online free here.

Prologue
The twelfth anniversary of Ralph and Jem’s first kiss falls upon a cool, paper-dry Wednesday at the beginning of March. The wisteria outside Jem’s office window has yet to yield its cascades of perfumed lilac blooms and the hydrangea by the front door is stubby and only just turning green – spring feels a long way off although it is just round the corner.

At about three fifteen, Jem leaves her office, heading for an appointment in Battersea. She takes with her a small manila folder, her mobile phone, her handbag and a loaf of brown bread. Before she leaves she turns to her assistant, Mariel, who is making tea in the kitchenette, and says, ‘Off to see the recluse.’

‘Oh,’ says Mariel, ‘God. Good luck.’

‘Thanks,’ says Jem. ‘I’ll need it. I’ll be back in an hour.’

Mariel smiles sympathetically, and Jem closes the door behind her. The sad irony of a trip to Almanac Road on such an auspicious date is not wasted on her. She is painfully aware of it as she walks the fifteen minutes from the office on Wandsworth Bridge Road. When she gets there, she glances down, as she always does, into the basement pit of the house at number thirty-one.

Terracotta tiles gleam, newly laid and freshly mopped. Three small trees carved into pom-pom balls of varying sizes sit in shiny cobalt-blue pots. The front door is thickly painted in a matt shade of mushroom and dressed with nickel-plated knobs and knockers. Through the window she can see more mushroom paint on walls hung with black-and-white photography. Suddenly, two small hands and a baby’s head appear over the top of the sofa. Jem smiles. The baby smiles, then disappears again.

Someone else lives here now. A young family, a house-proud family with enough money to renovate the rundown flat they’d bought a year ago, and enough foresight to have done it when the lady of the house was four months pregnant with their first child, unlike Jem, who had spent the last night of her first pregnancy on a mattress in the dining room of her sister’s flat, her possessions piled around her in gigantic cardboard boxes, like a township, waiting for a woman in Camberwell to sell her flat to a man in Dulwich so that the owner of their new house in Herne Hill could sign the completion forms and hand them their front door keys.

Before the very neat and well-organised family lived here, a scruffy woman with a deadbeat teenage son and three obese cats had lived here. And before the scruffy woman with the fat cats, a young couple with matching bikes and cagoules had lived here. And before the smug, outdoorsy couple with the bikes, a man called Smith had lived here, alone, having an existential crisis that led, eventually, to him retraining as a reiki teacher and relocating to San Francisco. And even longer ago than that, years before the man called Smith had lived here alone having an existential crisis, Smith’s best friend, Ralph, had lived here with him. And so, for a very short while, over twelve years ago, back in 1996 when Oasis were the most famous band in the country and football was, supposedly, coming home, when she was a child of only twenty-seven, had Jem.