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by  JudeH

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008
Word Count: 1050
Summary: Slightly revised since I posted it in the chick lit forum - this work in progress is the first chapter of my next novel. Working on characterisation - main concern: is Sophie likeable? Thanks!

Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Chapter 1
Sophie relaxed against the fridge and downed her cocktail. Ah! The happy buzz of Apple Martini. Works every time – and not just on her it would seem. A crowd of merry drinkers were clinking glasses over her kitchen table.
Slinging an arm around her shoulder, Tom pulled her into the fray. ‘And here’s to our hostess with the mostest – the lovely Soph.’ He planted a boozy kiss on her cheek that would have been promising if he wasn’t so damn far out of her league.
‘You’ve done it again, girl! What a night!’
Sophie grinned and held up her glass as Tom sloshed the dregs with another slug of Martini – at least her seventh this evening. Oh well! Her latest fling, Matt, was working out to be a right square – she had to entertain herself somehow!
Glancing round the circle of red-faced drunks, Sophie smiled at the few she didn’t recognise. Who was that bloke helping himself to her vodka? Sod it, the more the merrier! As her mum said, Sophie was one of life’s givers: if her galley kitchen was filled with drunken strangers, it was, she was happy to admit, her own doing. ‘All back to mine!’ was Sophie’s motto these days – ever since she’d crashed back into town and started mixing cocktails at Tom’s Bar six weeks ago. Kick-out time on Friday nights, found her sweeping up the regulars and prizing away their half drunk Cosmopolitans before leading the march back ‘Cheshamsted’s hottest night spot’ – otherwise known as her bed-sit.
Tom, now perched on the Formica sideboard, winked at her over his blonde du jour and stubbed out a Marlboro in her pot plant. The Yucca had been suffering since the house move anyway.
Sophie steadied herself by the fridge again. She loved his part of the evening – the warm fuzz after a few cocktails, before the neighbours started banging on the wall. Filled with people, laughter and drunken banter; her flat felt warm at last –cosy even. Around her, strangers were becoming mates. Relationships – OK, one-night stands in Tom’s case – were starting. It was in these hazy moments before she passed out on the sofa that Sophie almost felt like hanging around, settling down.
A few more parties like this and she might even meet someone special – someone who could keep up with her. She glanced at her reflection in the glass oven door. In this light her orange hair looked strawberry blonde and the zits on her pizza-chin, practically invisible. Straightening up her 5ft 10inch frame, she launched back into the crowd.
Good thing her party wasn’t as stuffy the one her sister was hosting tonight – so boring, with her chilled Pinot-Pricey and couples-only table plan. Pah! She hoped Lucy got Salmonella.
No, this was much better. Her party had a sizzle of possibility about it – a real ‘je ne sais quoi.’ And not knowing everyone had its benefits – she could be anyone she wanted. Even if she hadn’t decided what that was yet.
‘Watch out, love!’ A lumberjack shoulder barged her out of the way, wrenching open the fridge. ‘Where’s all the beer?’ he asked, holding up a bottle of Tanqueray 10 that had cost a week’s worth of tips. ‘These girlie cocktails are doing my head in.’
‘Easy,’ she said, reaching for the heavy glass bottle and flashing him a wet-lipped smile she normally reserved for punters. ‘I’m sure I can mix you something more manly.’ Sophie swapped the Tanqueray for a bottle of Sambucca – always a favourite with the testosterone army – and grabbed a shooter glass from the side. If there was one her single years had taught her – men loved a challenge.
‘Try this,’ she said, floating a fluorescent layer of Green Chartreuse onto the thick black liquid before lighting the cocktail with her Zippo. ‘Then, if you’re still standing, I’m sure we can dig out a Stella from somewhere.’
Squaring his shoulders, the lumberjack raised an eyebrow before taking the flaming glass between finger and thumb and throwing it back in one. A cheer rippled around the kitchen.
Sophie watched his Adam’s apple bob and his rough face contort with what she knew was a Sambucca burn.
‘Whoa there!’ he winced, caving into a kitchen chair. ‘What the fuck d’ you call that?’
Sophie laughed. One down, ten to go. A crowd of drinkers were gathering round her, brandishing empty shot glasses. Her flaming cocktails were becoming famous round here and she had to admit the attention was nice.
Oh no! But just as she was handing out another round, somewhere far away, there was a bang on the door. Not the police complaining again!
‘Shhh,’ she gestured over the chants of ‘down it, down it!’ but her visitors weren’t having any of it. Was it too much to hope this was a friendly visitor? Maybe Matt had decided to come after all! Her heart flipped as she galloped to the door, sneaking a look through peep hole before she opened it.
Gutted. A uniformed policeman squinted back at her. She inched back the door with a sigh.
‘Can I speak to Sophie Knott, please?’ the policeman asked, stepping over a pile of junk mail.
Wishing her visitors would shut the hell up for a moment, Sophie swallowed her disappointment and flashed the policeman her trademark smile. ‘Speaking.’
‘I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,’ he continued, with a stiffness that told her this was wasn’t a routine call, ‘about your family.’
‘What’s happened?’ Please let Lucy be all right. Her sister had been a bit of a bitch since Sophie had got back but she’d be lost without her – no matter what she said last night.
‘Perhaps you’d better to sit down.’
She wheeled around as quickly as seven Martini’s would allow. An unrecognisable couple were writhing on the sofa in the lounge – not that she’d have made it that far. Her knees crumpled onto the grubby lino.
‘St George’s called. The hospital,’ he added, noting her blank expression.
The room span in an apple-scented blur. Oh God! Trying not to think about the Salmonella, a wave of guilt made her feel sick.
‘Your father passed away this morning.’