'Can I answer your phone, Mummy?'
'It's Uncle Will'.
'Sure darling, go ahead,' Emma Bingley called from her dressing room. She was trying to choose the perfect outfit for lunch with some visiting studio execs. It was April, and not warm enough for a floral dress, but a skirt suit seemed too stuffy.
Freya, her daughter, wandered in a few moments later, chatting on Emma's mobile. Her curls bobbed with excitement as she related her seven-year-old concerns to her favourite honorary Uncle.
'And then James Fraser tripped me up and tried to kiss me, but I told him to stop it 'cause I didn't like it.'
Emma couldn't hear Will's reply, but it made Freya double up giggling.
'You're right Uncle Will, he is a big fat poo head.'
'Freya...' she warned.
'But Uncle Will said it first, Mummy. And James Fraser is a poo head, you know he is'.
Emma rolled her eyes and held out her hand for the phone. Freya pouted but handed it over.
'Hi Will, what's up?' Emma asked, cradling the phone on one shoulder so that she could keep flipping through outfits.
'Why would anything be up? Can't I just call to talk to my best friend?'
Emma sighed. 'You can, but you never do. You hate the telephone. So, what do you need?'
'Well, actually, I was wondering if you'd like to come to the premiere of my new film next Saturday night?' he asked in his most charming voice.
'As your plus one?' she asked suspiciously.
'Well, yes, as my plus one.'
'Of course, red carpet. It is a premiere.' Will could be so condescending sometimes. Emma wondered whether he was even aware of it.
'Will, it's bad enough having to frock up for my own premieres without attending yours as well.'
'It's in Leicester Square, just down the road from your house,' he wheedled.
'That is not just down the road from my house. It's at least twenty minutes from Notting Hill in good traffic. Plus, it would take me hours to get ready. It's okay for you men, you just put on a tuxedo and you're good to go. We women have to do hair, makeup, spanx, Hollywood tape, stick on bras…'
'Okay, okay, spare me the gory details,' Will protested, laughing.
'Why don't you take a co-star?'
'It's a World War Two film, Emma. They're all men.'
'Hang on a sec, Will.'
Emma put the phone down on a shelf and removed her daughter's hand from the sequined evening gown on loan from a major fashion house. 'Why don't you find me some pearl earrings I can wear to lunch, love?'
Freya looked up in delight. 'I'm allowed to open your jewellery case?'
'I know you can be careful when you want to be', Emma told her, smiling down into her excited face.
Freya safely occupied for the next few minutes, Emma returned to her phone call.
'Sorry about that, Will. Look, surely the studio can find you some nice starlet to take, can't they?'
Will groaned. 'I'm sure they could, but then the girl would think we were an item.'
'Not every woman wants to date you, Will,' she replied firmly. One of her self-appointed tasks was to keep his ego within manageable proportions.
'Yes, they do, Emma.'
'Will!' she protested. 'Be careful, your consequence is showing.'
He laughed ruefully. 'Okay, maybe they don't want to date me, but they do want to date my reputation. I'm their best shot at five minutes of fame.'
'Oh Will, one day you'll find a girl who can see past all that.' She wished she could seem him as happily settled as she was. His instinctive distrust of any woman who showed the slightest interest in him made that unlikely, she knew.
'Fat 'effin chance,' he grumbled. 'Look, are you coming or not?'
'Okay, I'll come if you really need me. But you owe me one, Will Darcy.'
'Thanks Emma. You're the best friend a guy could have'.
Bess stood on the platform at Baker Street tube station, waiting for the train. The giant Sherlock Homes profile on the tiled wall opposite made her smile - it was so quintessentially British. She knew that smiling on public transport here was simply not done, but it was hard not to sometimes. She'd been in London for almost a week now, and she adored it. Everything was new, and yet so familiar from countless books, TV shows and films.
Bess was doing her best to blend in and not gape at everything like a country cousin visiting the big city. She'd ditched her fold out map after the first day, not wanting to look like a tourist. She'd learned to stand on the left on the escalators, or walk on the right if she was in a hurry. She knew to move to the end of the platform to avoid the most crowded carriages, but she could also jam her way on to an impossibly full peak hour train if need be. She was learning the art of maintaining personal space even when pressed up against complete strangers: headphones in, book or phone in front of face, absolutely no eye contact.
Of course, as soon as she opened her mouth people knew she wasn't a local, but they didn't seem too interested. Australians were two a penny in London, as well as Kiwis and South Africans, and most Londoners seemed to think they were all interchangeable colonials anyway. That suited Bess just fine. The freedom that came from being completely alone was exhilarating. She could go anywhere, do anything, with no one waiting for her at home. She wondered who she would turn out to be, without the press of other people's needs all around her. This was her year to find out.
The evening rush hour hadn't started yet, and she had the end of the platform to herself, until a little girl in a red coat came along, walking carefully along the yellow line separating the edge of the platform from the tracks. The girl held her arms out wide and pointed her toes, as though on a balance beam. It didn't seem like the safest idea to Bess. She looked around to see who the child belonged to, but no one was paying any attention to her.
Bess had just made her mind up to say something when the girl wobbled, teetered for a second and fell down onto the tracks.
'Help!' yelled Bess, dropping her bag and running forward to kneel on the edge of the platform. 'Somebody help!'
The girl was lying crumpled on her side in between the platform and the near rail of the tracks. Her dark curls had fallen across her pale face, and she wasn't moving. Were the tracks electrified? Bess had no idea.
'Are you okay? Can you reach my hand?' Bess called, leaning down and reaching out as far as she could. The girl stirred, turning her head and blinking up at Bess. 'C'mon, give me your hand and I'll pull you up.'
Bess felt the rush of air from the tunnel on her cheek a second before she heard the rumble of the train. 'Move!' she screamed, straining towards the child. She still couldn't reach. 'You have to move now!'
It was no use. She didn't know if the girl was concussed, electrocuted or what, but she wasn't moving.
'Help us!' Bess screamed again, dropping down from the platform and landing next to the girl. Avoiding the rail, she snatched the child up in her arms. She was heavier than she looked, and frighteningly limp. A small crowd had gathered in response to her screams and people were reaching out to take the girl. The rush of air was growing stronger, and as Bess looked into the tunnel, she saw the train's headlights coming around the bend. They weren't going to make it. If she passed the girl to the people on the platform, she herself would be crushed under the train.
Every nerve ending in her body seemed to be firing at once. With a strength borne of terror, she leapt for the platform, still clutching the girl to her chest. Eager hands reached out to help, and Bess felt her tights tear against the concrete edge as they were dragged upwards. The lights of the train were so dazzlingly close now that she could barely see, but she could hear the squeal of brakes and the blare of the horn. They were going to make it! They were …
The edge of train slammed into Bess's shoulder, knocking all the breath from her lungs. She was flying away from the crowd of people, her body wrapped tightly around the child, and then they were falling back to earth, skidding along the platform with Bess under most. Her back was on fire, the skin tearing as they slid, and someone was screaming, it might be her or the girl or a woman on the platform, she could no longer tell. Her head hit something solid, everything flashed white for an instant, then went dark.