Belly by Sonia Hope

Vanessa couldn’t believe her luck when Reggie asked her out. I’ll treat you to a Nando’s, he said.

He drove her to the West End in a silver Volkswagen Golf GTi. Vanessa didn’t dare ask where he’d got it. They abandoned the car down a side street off Charing Cross Road and ran laughing towards Trafalgar Square.

Reggie scrambled up the nearest stone plinth, pulling Vanessa up behind him until they were sitting opposite each other on one of the monumental bronze lions. Vanessa watched Reggie pull a spliff out of his pocket. He lit it, took a drag, and passed it to her. She inhaled and then breathed out as slowly and as nonchalantly as she could. She didn’t want to cough in case Reggie laughed at her. The air around them was herby, sickly sweet.

We should get married, Reggie said.
You’d have to ask me first, said Vanessa.
How many kids should we have?
Two. A girl and a boy.

In Nando’s, Reggie told Vanessa all about himself and Vanessa listened, nodded and smiled. The taste of peri-peri chicken, greasy fries, and the fizz of ice-cold coke in her mouth was bliss. Reggie realised he’d forgotten his wallet at home so Vanessa paid.

They caught the N29 bus home, and when they got off at the last stop Reggie said, I’ll call you. And Vanessa thought but did not say, You haven’t got my number.

Two weeks later, Vanessa was out shopping with her mum when she noticed a boy and girl walking down the opposite side of the High Street. Vanessa couldn’t help but notice the way the girl’s belly strained against her t-shirt, protruding so much that she thought it might burst through the fabric, exposing its thin skin and thready veins to the world. The boy held the girl’s hand tightly. He was almost pulling her along.

Vanessa’s mum asked, Who are you staring at? And Vanessa replied, No-one.

Sonia Hope is a Jerwood/Arvon Mentee (Fiction) 2019/20. Her stories have appeared in The Nottingham Review, Flight Journal and Flash Flood. She works as a Librarian at the National Portrait Gallery and University of London Online Library. She lives in London.  Website:  Twitter: @soniamhope