A sudden wind rustles the leaves of the sycamore trees, which line the square opposite the house, and snatches away the rest of her reply. It's very pretty here, like a movie set depicting an enviable life in the capital city. I didn't really believe places like this existed until Leo showed me the photos and even then, it had felt too good to be true. My attention is caught by a delivery van coming through the black gates at the entrance to The Circle, directly opposite our house. It turns down the left side of the horseshoe-shaped road and drives slowly around. Leo has been filling our new home with things I'm not sure we need, so it could be for us. Yesterday, a beautiful but unnecessarily large glass vase arrived, and he spent ages wandering around the sitting room with it in his arms, trying to find a place for it, before finally depositing it by the French windows that open onto the terrace. But the van continues past and comes to a stop at the house on the other side of us, and I move nearer to the window, eager to catch a glimpse of our neighbors at number 7. I'm surprised when an elderly man appears on the driveway. I don't know why—maybe because The Circle is a newish development in the middle of London—but I'd never considered older people living here.
A few moments later, the van drives off and I look back to where Eve and the other woman are standing. I wish I felt confident enough to go and introduce myself. Since we moved in ten days ago, I've only met one person, Maria, who lives at number 9. She'd been loading three little boys with the same thick dark hair as their mother, plus two beautiful golden Labradors, into a red people carrier. She'd called "hello" to me over her shoulder, and we'd had a quick chat. It was Maria who explained that most people were still away on holiday, and would only be back at the end of the month, in time for school starting again in September.
"Have you met them yet?" Eve's voice pulls my attention back, and from the way her head has turned toward the house, I realize she's talking about me and Leo.
"Shall we do it now?"
"No!" The force of the other woman's reply has me stepping back, away from the window. "Why would I ever want to meet them?"
"Don't be silly, Tamsin," Eve soothes. "You're not going to be able to ignore them, not somewhere like this."
I don't wait to hear the rest of what Tamsin says. Instead, my heart pounding, I escape into the shadows of the house. I wish Leo was here; he left for Birmingham this morning and won't be back until Thursday. I feel bad, because a part of me was relieved to see him go. The last two weeks have been a bit intense, maybe because we haven't got used to being with each other yet. Since we met, just over eighteen months ago, we've had a long-distance relationship, only seeing each other at weekends. It was only on our first morning here, when he drank straight from the orange juice carton and put it back in the fridge, that I realized I don't know all his quirks and habits. I know that he loves good champagne, that he sleeps on the left side of the bed, that he loves to rest his chin on the top of my head, that he travels around the United Kingdom so much that he hates going anywhere and doesn't even have a passport. But there's still so much to discover about him and now, as I sit at the top of the stairs in our new home, the soft gray carpet warm under my bare feet, I already miss him.
I shouldn't have been eavesdropping on Eve's conversation, I know, but it doesn't take the sting out of Tamsin's words. What if we never make friends here? It was exactly what I was worried about when Leo first asked me to move to London with him. He promised me it would be fine—except that when I suggested having a house- warming for everyone on the street so that we could meet them, he wasn't keen.
"Let's get to know everyone before we start inviting people over," he'd said.
But what if we don't get to know them? What if we're meant to make the first move?
I take my phone from my pocket and open the WhatsApp icon. During our chat, Maria had offered to add me and Leo to a group for The Circle, so I'd given her both our numbers. We haven't messaged anyone yet and Leo had wanted to delete himself when notifications kept coming in about missed parcels and the upkeep of the small play area in the square.
"Leo, you can't!" I said, mortified that people would think he was rude. So he'd agreed to mute the group instead.
I glance at the screen. Today, there are already twelve new notifications and when I read them, my heart sinks a little more. They are full of messages from the other residents welcoming each other back from holiday, saying they can't wait to catch up, see each other, start yoga, cycling, tennis again.
I think for a moment, then start typing.
Hi everyone, we're your new neighbors at number 6.
We'd love to meet you for drinks on Saturday, from 7 p.m.
Please let us know if you can come. Alice and Leo.
And before I can change my mind, I press send.