"I don't think that's such a great idea, Nige. I just want tae curl up in bed and never come out again, to be honest."
"That's because you're stressed," Nigella told her, walking in through the front door.
Bracken put the phone down.
"A night on the tiles is just what the doctor ordered."
"But what aboot the bairn?"
"Nicky'll look after him."
"It's poker night."
"Weans are allowed at poker night."
"No anymair," Bracken said, "since that time he was looking after you and me and took us along. He's only just been allowed back after that little incident."
"Pfft," Nigella said dismissively, "it was only one hamster."
"But quite a lot of vodka though eh."
"I didnae ken it would be as flammable as that. How could ah? I skived science classes at scale. It was borin'."
"Anyway," Bracken said, "he's awready left. And the bairn's gone doon fur the night. So."
"Nae worries," Nigella said, "I'll text maw."
Seconds later, Bracken's aunt, Nigella's mother, came in the door.
She was a formidable woman, with peroxide blonde hair and a voice that was husky with years of chain smoking. Today she was dressed in leopard print leggings, a fake fur gilet, and a shiny new pair of reeboks. Her eye makeup was a vibrant, kingfisher blue, right up to the brows, and her nails were fluorescent orange.
"Does naebiddy buzz anymair," Bracken complained, more to herself than anything else.
"It dusnae work," Nigella explained.
"It was a rhetorical question," she mumbled.
"Ooooooh, rhetorical eh. Check oot captain vocabulary ower there," the aunt piped up, lighting a cigarette.
"Shup, mum. It's an achievement that Bracken's such a guid reader."
"We've got hereditary dyslexia," she said, "s'no anybiddy's fault. And ‘shutup’ has a ‘t’, thank you."
"Dyslexia doesn't stop you doing stuff," said Bracken, "you just have to work at it a bit more. You dinnae get suhin' fur nuhin' in this life."
"How d'ye explain the wean then," her aunt cackled.
Bracken flushed, remembering the earlier conversation with the pinstripe woman. How did she explain the wean? She hadn't told her cousin that part and Nige hadn't pried, although she was well curious about the paternity of Bracken's kiddy.
"Well ladies, you cannae go out lookin like that," Bracken's aunt declared, producing a cheap bottle of white wine from her sleeve and pouring them each a glass. "Go and make yourselves beautiful while I catch up on Eastenders."
They shuffled through to the bedroom to examine Bracken's wardrobe.
"No got much in the way of going out stuff, do ye?"
Nigella plucked a little silver number off a hanger.
"This is nice though."
"That was a costume fae a Halloween disco at scale," Bracken said. “I was trying to impress Mr Holly. Think he was a gayer though.”
Nigella pulled the dress on over her head. It clung to her like a second skin.
She looked at herself in the mirror and laughed, "well I canny wear any underwear with this anyway."
She turned her attention to Bracken, who was gazing into the middle distance, apparently lost in thought.
"C'mon ya big tramp," she said gently, "try this one."
She had picked out a blue cat suit with diamanté trim. The v-neck plunged almost to the pelvis.
"Although," Nigella said thoughtfully, you canny wear a bra wi that, and what wi having had a baby..."
She stopped and stared as Bracken donned the outfit without a word.
"Where are your stretch marks," Nigella queried, "from the pregnancy?"
"Don’t have any," said bracken, who didn't.
"Well, lucky old you. And why, may I ask, are you still so pert in the boobal arena?"
"Well I'm only twenty," Bracken laughed, “they don't go south just yet do they? Or are you feelin’ past it, at the ripe old age of 22?"
"Did you not breast feed?"
"Aye," Bracken said, "but only for the first few months. I got ill, remember?"
Nigella did not. Now she came to think of it, she didn't remember anything at all about her cousin's pregnancy. And as Bracken thought about it, neither could she. She had a vague sense she had breast-fed the wean for a bit, but for the life of her couldn't remember when or where she was supposed to have done it, or how it felt.
"How do I look?" she changed the subject, taking a gulp of wine.
"Lovely. Gie's a twirl."
Bracken obeyed. The cat suit clung about her curves, and because it was made of velour like her tracksuit, she didn't feel uncomfortable or overdressed.
"Ooh, classy," Nigella approved. This was at least in part because the word classy was emblazoned upon the seat of the cat suit in more diamanté.
"You think?" Bracken asked anxiously.
"Cab's here girls," called Nigella's mum from the living room.
"But I haven't done my make up," they chorused.
"Take it wi yese, dae it in the bogs when ye get up town."
They exchanged grimaces.
"She's suhin else, your mum."
"She's an embarrassment, that's what," Nigella said, sweeping all of Bracken's makeup from the top of the chest of drawers into her bag. "And what if we get a cute taxi driver? He'll run for the hills."
"It’s a lassie," her mum said, "and she says to hurry up or she's away."
Barely pausing to grab some more scrunchies for their hair, Bracken and Nigella bombed it down the stairs and scrambled into the taxi.
"Where to, ladies?"
"Eh," said Bracken, "dinnae ken. We hadn't really got that far, to be honest."
"Up toon," Nigella said, "and we'll think of something more specific on the way."
The something more specific ended up being a club that Nigella always took them to, which Bracken suspected had been the plan all along. Walking in she had to slow down because her feet were sticking to the floor, and almost instantly she was hit by the unmistakable aroma of sick.
"Oh look," Nigella said casually, "there's Jimmy Bob."
Nigella had had her eye on Jimmy Bob for a number of months now, but had never been sure if he was interested. Then last week he had shared a poke of chips with her, and when they had both put their hands in at the same time he had left his fingers touching hers for slightly longer than you would if you didn't fancy the person. It wasn't an exact science, Nigella admitted, but it was totally romantic.
Bracken was unconvinced by this tale at the time, and there was little about Jimmy Bob's general demeanor now to prove her wrong.
"Isn't that Rachel Henderson?"
"Sitting on Jimmy Bob's knee?"
"Sucking his tonsils?"
"Fucksake Bracken," Nigella said, "you dinnae huv tae rub it in."
"Sorry hen,” she said sincerely, “but he's no good enough fur ye. Ah’ve aiways said it."
"Shut up," Nigella said, annoyed, "if anything he's too good. Ah'm never going to get any better anyway. No livin round here."
"You don't have to live round here forever," Bracken pointed out, surprising herself slightly. She’d never thought about moving away herself.
"Aye, ma glittering career working part time in the coop could take me anywhere hen. Maybe even as far afield as Oxgangs."
"Are you being sarcastic?"
Nige looked blank. "Nah mate. D’you no mind how Jean got moved over that way last year? Two buses there and two back. She wusnae happy likes."
"Nah, I just meant... Are you ok?"
"Fine aye,” Nigella said cheerfully. “It's like you say, plenty mair fish in the sea."
"And your no going to take Rachel's sloppy seconds when she goes hame and Jimmy Bob tries his luck wi you?"
"Nut," she said, slightly too insistently, "as if."
"Sorted. Now… flaming sambuca?"
"I'm no sure that's such a good idea," Bracken started to say, but her cousin was gone.
She leaned against a pillar and looked about her. The place was such a dive, she thought, maybe a couple of shots wasn't such a bad idea. Just to take the edge off.
In the far corner there were a group of lads on a stag do. She made a mental note to avoid them, knowing as she did so that her cousin would make a beeline straight in that direction as soon as she clocked them. They were good for getting free drinks out of, she maintained, and got so drunk so fast that it was easy to lose them later on. Bracken felt this was immoral, but Nigella thought she was just being a prude.
"There's worse things in this life than having a one night stand," she would say on the mornings after she had woken without quite managing to shake whichever one had stayed the course. "Like, some folk have no legs. And not by choice either."
"Here we go," Nigella reappeared with a tray of drinks. "These should get you in the mood for a bit of a fandango in the cowgate."
"Is that a euphemism," Bracken asked, "or do you genuinely want to go clubbing in the cowgate?"
"A little from column A, a little from column B," Nigella said with a wink.
The drinks went down quickly, but although Bracken felt light headed she was still fairly lucid. She even started to relax a bit.
"Who does that Keremy Jyle think he is anyway," she said suddenly, in the middle of one of Nigella's work anecdotes. "Blackmailing young mums to go on his show. I've done nothing wrong, just by having a baby."
"So what if ah'm no wi the dad," she continued, "that's naebiddy's business except for mine and the wee man's, when he's big enough for me to explain."
"What are you going to tell him," Nigella asked interestedly. "Have you planned it all out?"
"Not yet," Bracken said, "but all this has made me think about it. I guess I'll say that his dad loves him just as much as I do, but he had to go away."
"Bracken," Nige said earnestly, looking her cousin directly in the eyes, "who is the wean's dad? Ya ken I wouldnae grass."
"Well the thing is," she started, "the dad is... Well he's..."
"Nae pressure," Nigella said. "I just wonder sometimes if it might help you to tell someone. You act like you've got the weight of the world on your shudders when you hink naebiddy's looking."
"OK. The father of ma bairn is - DUCK!"
"Doug who?" Nigella asked, thus failing to duck as a barstool came hurtling out of nowhere within a working inch of her left ear.
Slowly and deliberately, she turned in the direction from whence the stool had come. The couple responsible (newlyweds) let go of each other's throats and looked sheepish.
"Eh," the woman said, "sorry hen."
"Aye, sorry hen," the man echoed. "We got a bit carried away."
"WE?!" the wife began, but when she saw the look on Nigella's face she stopped sort.
Then a girl with pretty dodgy eyesight who was stood in a completely different area of the bar shrieked, "what are you looking at, ya tramp?!" and took a running jump at Nige.
Nobody moved for a fraction of a second, then the whole place descended into chaos.
"FIIIIIIIGHT," yelled the dude who had just tried to brain his wife.
The random girl pulled out a clump of Nigella's hair.
The stag party started whooping and cheering and taking bets on who would win and how severe the other’s injuries would be.
Nigella sank her teeth into the girl’s cheek.
An older gentleman, who had been the manager of the place till comparatively recently, began to conduct a commentary of the fight in the inimitable style of John Motson.
Bracken could barely make out who was who in the flailing mass of arms and legs and shrieking and stilettos.
One of the bar staff called the police.
The random girl pulled off one of her spike heels and rammed it into Nigella’s side.
Bracken called an ambulance.