Cleo’s long slender fingers tore at the toast in front of her. The dexterity she’d gained from three years of piano-playing allowed her to break off bite size pieces with one hand, securing her baby with the other. The tips of her fingers had been painted somewhere between two and three weeks ago, since worn down to a red smudge in the centre of each nail. Her brown eyes remained focused on Lucy as she spoke, while the 8-month-old anchored in her right elbow stretched his chubby hands towards a salt shaker strategically placed just out of reach. Occasionally her fingers dropped the piece of bread they were toying with, jumping from the plate to her lips to remove the crumbs before running through her short dark hair, unstyled and swept absent-mindedly from side to side, and all the while her eyes remained locked with Lucy’s. She’d never worn much make-up, a single piercing in her left nostril serving as all the decoration she needed. At 27, it was still unclear how much of her beauty was simply the glow of youth; a fact she could rely on her genes to ensure wouldn’t be revealed for at least another decade.
Lucy’s blue eyes looked raw and naked now they’d been stripped of the signature cat-eye flicks she could expertly apply on top of a moving bus. They were tracing a triangle on the scene in front of her, as her brain juggled prioritising the first adult conversation she’d had for weeks, her newborn anxiety and the sugar-boost she craved from the pile of pancakes in front of her. She knew Alice was safe, tucked up sleeping in the pram, but her desperate eyes wouldn’t listen to logic or reason, attracted to her perfect little face like clockwork every few seconds. Where once there were long acrylic tips adorned with complex designs, her nails were now plain and cut down as far as was comfortable, wrapped around her coffee mug in an effort to warm her poorly-circulated hands. There wasn’t much she recognised about herself anymore; these new hands pulled at the sleeves of the oversized jumper hiding the button of the jeans that no longer fit, and habitually reached for the blonde locks that still reached all the way to her navel. This was her silent rebellion against all the new; her ‘mum’ friends (also new) took great pleasure in telling her that she’d have to cut it off by the time Alice started grabbing, but Lucy knew she wouldn’t. She couldn’t.