How It Starts
Each day I write a page of a novel called ‘How It Starts’ and publish it here on my website. The novel can be read from the beginning on this page or you can find today’s page here.
Bow Nights, p.1
It was a hot night in July and I was sitting on the balcony sipping an aperol spritz through a paper straw and listening to the radio. I saw Jamie walking along the street below.
“Hey.” We spoke at the same time, I stood up and leant over the railings. It was late, but still light.
“What are you up to?” He called up to me, his bike in his hands.
“I’m just waiting for a friend to come over.” I lied, it wasn’t a friend, more of a romantic encounter, but not exactly a boyfriend. “What about you?”
“I’m just gonna go home and get changed and go out again.” He nodded down the street towards where he lived with his flatmates. The street was all new build and lined with poplar trees.
“You should pop up for a drink sometime.”
“Or come over to ours. See you, Jessica.”
I watched him push his bike into the communal bike shed and lock it up. He was super handsome and he made me nervous. The summer nights always made me restless.
My phone beeped. I picked it up of the table. Fred had text me to say he was going to be late. I knew this was a bad sign. I felt instinctively that he would not turn up. I text him back and went and ran myself a bath.
I lay in the bath drinking an aperol spritz and wondering if I should pursue things with Jamie. I drained the last of my drink and got out of the bath with bubbles still clinging to my skin. I poured another drink and went out on to the balcony in my dressing gown to smoke a cigarette. It was dark now and the flats around me were all starting to have parties. A few years ago, I would have felt sad and left out, but now I was happy just to soak in the ambience.
I watched the summer breeze move through the leaves of the poplar trees and bedded flowers. I looked up at the stars and the crescent moon and I wondered what I would do with all this restlessness that was inside of me. I lit a cigarette; one of the Marlborough Golds Fred had left the last time he came. I had been saving them for him, but I had a feeling it was over now. I felt sad, but more than that, I was just desperate to quell this restlessness inside of me, this gasping for air. It was like I could never get enough oxygen.
I put out the cigarette and put down the drink. It wasn’t helping, if anything it was making it worse. All my life I had a hunger I couldn’t fill. Everything I tried was only a plaster. I knew it could sometimes be soothed by walking, so I went back inside, slipped on a jacket and made my way down to the river.
The River Thames, p.2
The wind came rushing off from the river. I had a text from Fred saying, Jess. Not going to make it, sorry. I felt he was angry at me, for not caring more, not trying to pull him in more, but I couldn’t know what he was feeling if he didn’t tell me.
I looked out at all the houses and warehouses lined up along the river. All the small windows were lit up in the darkness. In the distance, the lights were running up the sides of the shard, pointing straight up at the sky. The city was in full force. Everyone was out, drinking and dancing and looking for adventure. Boats glided down the river carrying partygoers with expensive outfits, and probably expensive champagne. I couldn’t hear much, apart from laughter and the sound of the wind.
I kept walking. I walked along the Thames path to St Katherines. There were lots of people out, wearing smart suits and nice dresses with high heels. I walked amongst them, in my too big jacket, humming Leonard Cohen songs and wondering when I should turn back. I went and stood on Tower Bridge and looked at the city, all lit up and beautiful. There were people sat out on the grass around City Hall, drinking from the pop-up bars, sitting on picnic rugs and deckchairs. A family of tourists walk past and asked me to take a picture, which I happily did. The mum walked away holding the little girls’ hands, and they passed another woman, just like me, smoking and staring at the river.
I took out my phone and text Fred back. It’s ok, don’t worry, I’ll see you soon. I knew he was hurting and I was hurting but I didn’t know why. I wished there was some way I could reach him.
I started walking back home, I was hoping by now my flatmates would be home and there would be someone to talk to. I was starting to get hungry as well and text Lauren to see what she was up to and if she wanted to order a pizza.
Mad night! Yes absolutely. Do you want to order it or shall I?
I realised I had walked further than I thought so I walked up to Tower Hill and jumped on the district line back to Bow. It was full of people, workers coming home from a shift, couples up in town for the weekend to see a band and big groups of hens and stags shouting across the carriages.
The Pizza, p.3
“You will not believe what happened at this party.”
Lauren was already in her pyjamas and sat on the sofa brushing her hair by the time I got in.
“What happened?” I slid the pizza box down on to our modernist style coffee table.
“Amazing!” Lauren leapt up in her onesie, her dark hair falling on her shoulders. “How much do I owe you Jess?”
“Just Monzo me a fiver.” I slipped off my coat.
“This party was out of control.” Lauren grabbed a slice of pizza and sat back down. “The girl whose birthday it was, was so drunk she threw up on this guy from Game of Thrones.”
“Who was it?” I sat down next to Lauren with a slice.
“I don’t know, apparently he was just an extra in the second series. The next thing I knew, they were making out.”
“That’s so gross.”
“How was your evening?”
“Fine. Fred was supposed to come over but he didn’t.” I looked over onto the balcony where I had left my drink and cigarettes before I went out.
“What’s happening with that?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s happening.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Do you want to watch all of Game of Thrones season 2, to see if we can spot this guy?”
“I think I’ll just go to go to bed.”
I went and lay down on my duvet. I’d left the window open and the room was cool. I could hear music coming in from one of the flats down the road. Maybe it was Jamie’s flat.
I picked up my phone. There were no new messages. I stared at the screen. I had to make something happen but I didn’t know what.
I got up and walked over to my bedroom door, as I opened it, I heard Riley crash in through the front door.
“Hey!” She called to me and Lauren. “There’s a party down the street and we’re all invited.”
The Docker’s Cottage. p4
The party was around the corner from our new build flat, near the canal, in an old dockers cottage. I didn’t recognise the song that was playing as we entered into the corridor, it was some kind of electronic beach party music and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. The whole house was decorated in a beach theme, with palm tree bunting strung up through the house.
There was a guy stood at the bottom of the stairs holding a red cup and wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
“Riley! You came back.” He turned away from the girl he was talking too and came over and hugged my flatmate. He was chewing gum very loudly.
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Riley tossed her short hair back and pulled a bottle of rum from the Bag for Life I was holding. “This is Jessica and Lauren.”
“Great!” The guy said without looking at us. “So Riley, what have you been up to tonight?”
Lauren and I walked into the kitchen where a few people were chatting and laughing. It looked like most people were out in the garden. I had a little bit of a headache. I poured myself a ginger beer and leant back against the sleek kitchen counter.
“My mum’s sick.” Lauren poured herself a large measure of vodka from a bottle that had been left out on the side. “I think I might have to go home for a bit.”
“Cancer.” Lauren topped up her red cup with cherryade. I stood up straight.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” The moment I said it, I realised it was a stupid response.
“I was just kind of hoping it wasn’t true, maybe if I ignored it, it would go away.” Lauren took a sip of her drink and looked out into the garden. “You know anyone?”
I glanced outside, there were paper lanterns hanging from the trees in the garden.
“No, do you?”
“No, but I’m sure we can change that.” She took another sip of her drink and forced a smile.
“Maybe we should go home.”
“It won’t change anything.” A couple pushed past us, making their way up to one of the bedrooms.
“That’s it!” Riley burst in. “We’re getting out of here. That guy Alby just tried to kiss me!”
“I thought we came here because you wanted to get with him.” Lauren and I looked at each other in surprise.
“What? No! Did you see his shirt?”
“I think it’s supposed to be fancy dress.” Lauren and Riley gave me a look that said that was not the right response. “Let’s do something nice tomorrow. We could go to the beach or something? It still only Saturday.”
“I bet there’ll be loads of beach parties happening. We can take a picnic.” Riley picked up the Bag for Life I’d left on the side and shoved the bottle of rum in it. “Forget this party, we’re going home.”
The Old Neptune, p.5
On the way to the beach I tried to play my Spotify Road Trip playlist through Lauren’s car speakers. The windows were wound all the way down and the wind was so loud you couldn’t hear anything.
“I just want someone to come up to me,” Riley leant forward to make sure we could both hear her over the wind. “And say, this is where you’re going to meet the person you’re supposed to be with.”
Lauren stared at the road ahead and didn’t say anything. All her possessions, make up brushes, mascara, face wipes, were scattered all over the car. It was an old Peugeot that always smelt slightly musty.
“I’m that person.” I turned around to chat to Riley. “And I know where that place will be, it’s the old Neptune.”
“What’s that?” Riley rested her elbows on the sides of our seats.
“It’s a pub, on the beach, we can go there later.” I looked at Lauren but she still didn’t say anything. I wondered what would happen if she had to go home, and what it would mean.
“Sweet. I can’t wait.” Riley curled up in the back seats and started scrolling through her messages.
“Are you going to tell Riley?” I asked Lauren when we stopped at the service station.
“Tell her what.” Lauren tapped her fingers on the steering wheel.
“About your Mum? It might help to talk about it.”
“Guess what?” Riley pulled open the front door and thrust a tray of coffees at Lauren. “Buy one get one free on Fruit Pastels.”
The pub was empty when we got there. It seemed like it was so hot that everyone had decided to just lie out on the beach. We walked into the warm pub and ordered three lemonades. The heat was stifling and the bar was sticky. I looked around to see if there were any potential love interests for Riley, but there was just one old couple at the back-drinking real ale.
“There’s no guys here.”
“That’s ok.” Riley started to get her towel out of her bag. “I want to go swimming anyway.”
The tide was high and the waves were in full force as we watched Riley shrieking as she ran into the sea. Lauren and I sat on the beach on our towels until her phone beeped.
“It’s from my Dad. He wants me to come home today.”
“What about your job?”
“Come in!” Riley shouted over the waves. “It feels amazing
Lauren yanked off her top and started to take off her jeans.
“Let’s go.” Lauren yanked off her top and started to take off her jeans. “We don’t know when we’ll be here again.”
I kicked off my flip flops, pulled off my dress and ran in after her.
Bow Roundabout, p.6
Lauren drove back to her parents’ house that evening. I stood on the balcony and watched her disappear in her Peugeot. The radio was on and they were talking about Extinction Rebellion. I thought about lighting a cigarette. Fred’s box of Marlborough Lights was still on the table. I wished I was one of those people who started compulsively cleaning when I felt anxious.
Riley was in the kitchen cooking spaghetti and wearing a freshly pressed Kath Kidston apron.
“Do you think one of us should have gone with her?”
“She needs to be alone with her family, Jess.” Riley pulled a few leaves from the basil plant on the windowsill and scattered them into the Bolognese she was making. “It’s just you and me now kid.”
I forced a laugh. Lauren was our mutual friend. Riley and I had never spent time alone together.
“We can clean the flat.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll be back in a few days. Her mum will probably be ill for quite a long time.” Riley said, as though this might reassure me. “Do you want some dinner? There’s enough.”
“I can make a salad.” Riley nodded and returned to stirring her sauce, even she was quiet tonight.
I sat at the kitchen table, chopping up tomatoes and feeling angry at myself that I had been so useless. I should have said something to make Lauren feel better.
“Maybe we could offer to cover some of Lauren’s rent if she has to quit her job?”
“People with cancer are normally sick for a long time.” Riley sat down next to me. She was wearing a blue apron. “I don’t think Lauren will quit her job. Her mum might even get better.”
“What if she doesn’t?”
“Do you want to come to a party with me on Friday?” Riley stood up and went back to the sauce. “It’s at Jamie’s, you know up the road. His flatmates got engaged”
“Sure.” I thought about Lauren, on her own, diving over the Bow roundabout, making her way home. Maybe she would smile as she passed the ‘Bow’ sign that was put up for the Olympics, or maybe she would start crying. I gasped as the knife went into the side of my hand.
“Jessica!” Riley leapt back and knocked a chair over. “What happened?”
“I don’t know my hand slipped.” There was blood pooling on the table, all over the tomatoes.
“Apply pressure.” Riley reeled of a load of kitchen roll and threw it at me. “Hold it above your head.”
I pressed the paper against my hand and decided not to go to any parties until Lauren came back.
“If Lauren’s not back by the weekend I’m going to go and visit her.”
“I think her family live in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’ll find her.”
“I’ll come with you then.” Riley took my hand and raised it above my head. I held it like that and watched the sun set on the poplar trees outside until dinner was ready.
Cuba Libre, p.7
Lauren came home on the Friday and Riley convinced her it was a good idea to go to the party. I stood in the doorway to Lauren’s room as she sat at her desk trying on different shades of lipstick. I wanted to ask her how home was, but I didn’t know how.
“Come on let’s go.” Riley shouted from down the corridor, as she slipped on a pair high-heels.
“We don’t have to go.” I told Lauren. She took a gulp of her glass of wine.
“I want to go.” Lauren kept her eyes fixed on her reflection. “Do you think this shade looks ok?”
“You look amazing!” I wanted to hug her but I didn’t know how.
The three of us walked down the street to the other block of new build flats and chatted about Brexit. I felt really sad, but the other two seemed to be putting a brave face on things and I didn’t want to ruin the evening.
At the party Jamie fixed us all some Cuba Libres and Riley and Lauren walked off to chat to people. The flat was very similar to ours, three bedrooms and a balcony. The bedrooms had been opened up to become lounges and decorated with balloons and paper chains.
“Jessica are you ok?” Jamie took a sip of his drink and looked around. “You seem a bit distracted.”
“Lauren’s mum’s ill. I don’t know if she’ll get better or how to talk to her about it.”
“Oh.” Jamie gulped. “Do you want to sit down?”
The balcony was full of smokers, so we went and sat down in the sitting room. It was almost identical to ours. I thought back to the night Lauren and I had been eating pizza. Just before she told me about her Mum.
“Do you want to hear something funny?”
“What like a joke?”
“Yeah sure, I can tell a joke.”
“Is that what you meant?”
“No, but I can tell a joke if you want me to.”
“Jessica, Lauren’s being sick.” It was Riley. I leapt up and ran into the bathroom. Lauren had her head over the bowl and was clutching at the sides of the toilet. I knelt down by her. A few people walked past and tutted.
“Is it alcohol?” I pulled back her hair and tied it behind her head. Riley stood in the doorway and didn’t say anything.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “I just thought, I just wanted to feel something else.”
“That’s ok.” I started rubbing her back and she was sick again.
“My mum’s really mad at me. She thinks it’s selfish not to give up my job and come home.”
Lauren wiped her mouth with a piece of toilet roll and curled up against the stand of the sink.
Packing Up, p.8
There was a large suitcase laid out on Lauren’s bed and she was shoving it full of clothes and books. I stood in the doorway with my arms folded. Riley was in the kitchen cooking eggs and singing along to the radio at the top of her voice.
“You don’t have to go back today. You could stay another night.”
“It’s better if I go now Jess. I can’t think about anything else anyway.” Lauren pulled a pile of tops out and threw them into her bag. She was still in her pyjamas and looked pale from the night before.
“Can I do anything?”
“Just let me know if you need help finding someone to take the room.”
“We can do that. Are you sure you don’t want to keep the room for a bit, in case you want to come back?”
“I can’t come back.” Lauren tried to open her desk draw but it jammed. She pulled at it a couple of times but it wouldn’t give. She pushed the desk against the wall causing the mirror to wobble and her make-up to fall onto the floor.
“Breakfast is ready.” Riley called from the kitchen. I went to try and pick up Lauren’s things.
“Just leave it.”
Riley sprinkled zaatar and fresh coriander over the eggs and served them to us at the table.
“I was thinking next weekend we could come and visit you, and then we could go out in town.” Riley laid a napkin over her lap. I didn’t even know we owned napkins. She’d put a table cloth out too. The sun was shining in through the kitchen window and Radio 6 was now playing electronic funk.
“There’s literally nowhere to go.” Lauren took a bite of her food while I poured the coffee.
“There must be a pub or something.” Riley picked up her cup.
“There is, but you can’t stay with my family, there’s no space.”
“We’ll stay in an airbnb then.” Riley took a sip of her coffee and it seemed like the decision had been made.
“What did you think of that party last night?” Riley said. I couldn’t believe she was brining it up, given that we had basically had to carry Lauren home after she was sick.
“It was cool. Jamie’s cute.” Lauren looked at me while she cut up her food.
“That guy Alby keeps texting me.” Riley started buttering her toast.
“What how did he even get your number?” Lauren put her knife and fork down.
“I gave it to him, in case, you know, they had any more parties.”
“Riley you’re so bad.” I flicked my napkin at her.
“What. . . we’re just friends?” We all laughed and, for a minute, it felt like everything was normal.
Yellow Bricks, p.9
The tall, nineteenth century house was made of yellow bricks and hidden on the outskirts of the village. The garden was wild and over-run pink and blue flowers. Lauren cut the lemon drizzle cake while her mum hung up on her life insurance company.
“You never think you’ll have to think about these things.” Annie put her mobile phone down on her lap, she was sat on a garden deck chair with a patchwork quilt tucked around her. “Until you do.”
“Do you want milk?” Lauren said.
“Of course, I want milk.” Annie said.
Riley was down the other end of the garden kicking a football about with Lauren’s little brother.
“It’s a beautiful garden.” I said.
“I just let it run wild.” Annie said. “Honestly, you should see how uptight some of the neighbours are about their roses. Never move to Gloucestershire Jessica. You’d hate it.”
“We like it.” Lauren handed me a cup and saucer.
“Yes, it’s fine for us, but not for someone like you.” Annie waved a bee away from her piece of cake.
“I’m going to take Dad his cake up.” Lauren’s dad was up in his study.
“She puts a brave face on, but I know she’s struggling.” Annie said, as soon as Lauren was gone.
I glanced up at the windows on the first and second floor, two were open.
“It’s a difficult time. I’m really sorry. . .”
“Don’t be sorry, what’s the point in that. Life’s too short for it, just make the most of it, you think you have all this time. . . but then, poof it’s gone, and you wonder what you did with your life.”
“You have really great kids.”
“I wanted to be an actress. Do you think it’s too late for it now? I thought I’d have time to do my own thing when the kids grew up. . . I can’t wait any longer. Do look out for Lauren, won’t you?”
“I can’t believe how hot it is.” Riley walked over, trailed by Stephen, holding his football.
“You will get hot if you play football in the mid-day heat.” Annie said.
“Where’s Lauren?” Stephen mumbled.
“She’s upstairs, take your cake and go and find her.” Annie waved him away like she had waved away the bee and brushed the crumbs from her fingers. “Now, where are you girls going tonight?”
“Not sure yet.” Riley sat down where Lauren had been. “Where’s good?”
“I’ll tell you where you absolutely must not go, the Rose and Crown. Someone will probably just try and start a fight with you. The butcher’s Arms is quite nice, but only really if you want food. I know. The Seven Stars. Yes, go there, I think they have live music sometimes.”
“The Seven Stars it is.”
The Rose and Crown, p.10
The pub stood out against the sharp blue of the evening sky. The paint was peeling off the wooden sign swinging above the main door. It was a picture of a red rose threaded through a gold crown.
“Your mum said not to go to the Rose and Crown.” I looked up at the pub from the backseat.
“She doesn’t know anything.” Lauren cut the engine and checked her make up before we got out.
The road reached into the distance in both directions and rolling hills surrounded us. There was no one else around. I felt a drop of sweat slip down the back of my neck.
“It looks a bit crusty,” Riley held up her arm to block the sun from her eyes. “Your mum said The Seven Stars was nice?”
“Yeah sure, if you’re like 80.” Lauren locked the car and walked up the steps leading into the pub.
The pub was dank and dark and sticky. Everything was carpeted and still smelt of cigarettes. Lauren ordered our drinks and then led us out through a small old door into a huge garden. I could see why she wanted to come here now. There were groups of all ages sitting at picnic tables drinking pints and eating crisps. The sun was so bright that it lit up the hills and fields with a beautiful gold light.
Lauren weaved her way through the packed garden to the one empty table.
“Alright Lauren?” Some guy said, as he walked past. “What are you doing back from uni?”
“I’m not at uni anymore.” Lauren laughed. “I live in London.”
“Oh right, what you doing back then?”
“Just showing my friends around.” Lauren pushed her foot against my shin under the table.
“Right then, I’m just going to the bar. Do you girls want another drink?”
“That’s ok.” I said. “We just got a drink.”
“No don’t worry, save you going up again, what are you having, another bottle of Rosé?”
“Thanks Mark.” Lauren said as he walked off into the pub.
“Lauren, what are you doing? We don’t need that guy to buy us drinks, I have money.”
“He’s a friend of mine.”
“He’s so old.”
“He’s not that old.”
“Look, as long as he buys us drinks, who cares.” Riley said. “It’s not like we’re going to get with him.”
“Just be careful. . . remember what happened last weekend?”
“Jessica, relax,” Riley said. “Lauren’s going through a hard time, if she wants a drink let her have one.”
Lauren flicked back her hair and stared off into the distance.
Pink Sunset, p.11
The fields changed from orange to blue as the sun dipped behind the woods. The sky was pink and Lauren, Riley and I ate salt and vinegar crisps and argued about why people voted for Brexit. Lauren seemed so much more confident here, she knew this place, she knew these people.
Riley emptied the last of the Rosé into our glasses and put the bottle upside down in the ice bucket.
“There’s no table service here.” The evening breeze played with the hem of Lauren’s dress as she stood up. “I’ll go and get another bottle.”
“I can go.” I said, but it was too late, she was already gone.
“I’m going to see if I can get a cigarette off those guys.” Riley stood up.
“They look about 15.” There was a group of six lads at the next picnic bench over.
“They must be sixth formers at least. They wouldn’t let them in otherwise.”
Riley slightly swayed as she walked over to the next table. The sixth formers all shuffled up to make room for her. The moment she sat down they all started cracking jokes and laughing.
I noticed Lauren was stood by the pub door, holding a bucket of Rosé and talking to Mark.
I took in a deep breath. The country air smelt sweet, like honeysuckle, and filled my lungs in away the city smog never did. I felt calm, all the troubles of work, bills and trying to post interesting things on social media all just seemed to dissolve into the fresh air.
My phone vibrated on the table and I picked it up to see I had a message from Fred.
Hey Jessica. I’m so sorry I haven’t been in touch. Things have just been really manic at work.
Fred. It’s been two weeks. You’re obviously not that interested. Let’s just leave it. Goodbye.
I saw him typing for a few minutes, but then he went offline without sending a message.
“Mark likes Fleetwood Mac too.” Lauren said as she dumped the bucket of Rosé down on the table.
“Everyone likes Fleetwood Mac.”
“I was just telling Mark how you’re really into music.” Lauren and Mark sat down opposite me.
“Just as much as anyone else.”
“And you play the keyboard.”
“I’m not very good. . .” I was going to have to talk to Mark. “What kind of music are you into?”
“Bit of pop, bit of punk, bit of ska, whatever’s on the radio really.”
Lauren and Mark went home together and the local school rugby team gave Riley and I instructions on how to cut across fields to get to the village our Airbnb was in.
The moon was huge and lit our way as we walked over the blue fields.
“You know, Jess.” Riley said as I helped her over the first gate. “There’s something I never told you.”
Blue Fields, p.12
I looked up at Riley, the light of the moon was shining on her face as she stood on the kissing gate.
“What do you mean?” I could feel her hands trembling in mine.
“I did something bad. I stole something.” The blue fields were silent apart from the sound of one solitary owl. “I was thinking about what you said. About how maybe we could pay some of Lauren’s rent so she could stay with us.”
“I thought you said that was a bad idea.” I let go of her hands and started walking past the rows of wheat. “You said her mum might be sick for a long time, she might not have to give up her job.”
“Yeah, but she has given up her job.” Riley jumped down and hurried after me. “You know I walk dogs sometimes for extra money. This woman always keeps her money in this safe in the wall, and one day she was about to pay me, and the phone rang and she left it open.”
“She trusted you.” The wheat brushed against my bare legs.
“Look I know it was wrong, but I was just looking at all this money and these jewels and it just popped into my head what you said about Lauren.”
“I meant we should pay her rent with our own money.”
“There’s no way we could have covered it ourselves, I can barely cover my rent.”
“That doesn’t make it right.” We reached the top of the hill. I could see the village we were staying in nestled in the wood below.
“I knew it was a mistake,” Riley grabbed my hand. “as soon as I left, but I don’t know what to do. ”
There was wheat surrounding us on every side, clouds drifted across the face of the moon.
“Just take it back.”
“I can’t, what if she calls the police.” Riley pulled a small brooch out of her skirt pocket, she tried to give it to me but I didn’t want to take it. “Blue diamonds can be worth 100s of 1000s of pounds.”
“Are you sure that’s what it is?”
“I don’t know. Please Jessica, you have to help me put it back.”
“Riley, this is the last thing we need, right now. We’re supposed to be looking after Lauren and we’ve just let her go off with some guy.” I heard my voice crack and I started walking down the hill.
“Lauren knows him, they’re friends. She’d drunk too much to drive. Please, Jess, will you help me?”
“First thing tomorrow, we’re getting up and we’re finding Lauren.” The village still looked far away.
“And then?” I heard Riley’s voice rise with excitement.
“And then we’ll put the brooch back.” I turned to look at her and Riley threw her arms around me.
“Thanks Jess, you don’t know how much this means to me.”
The clouds drifted away from the moon as we made our way down to the village.
Chaise lounge, p.13
Lauren opened the door and walked off without saying anything. I stood on the porch for a few minutes looking at the wellington boots, building up the courage to go in. Annie was sitting in the living room watching TV. Even though it was hot outside the room felt cool and almost damp.
“Hello Jessica, do come in, have a seat, Lauren’s just make some tea.” Annie didn’t get up from the chaise lounge, her legs were wrapped in the same blankets as the day before.
I sat down on a small ornate armchair. The blue and yellow wallpaper matched the floral curtains.
“Where’s Riley?” Annie took a sip of juice through the carton of drink she was holding.
“She’s in the car, just having her weekly catch up call with her parents.”
“That’s nice.” Annie slurped the last of the juice and put the carton on a side table, by her phone.
There was a Sunday morning TV show on. It reminded me of being a kid. At the flat we only had Netflix and Amazon prime.
Lauren came in carrying a large tea tray. The spoons and cups clattered as she put it down on the sideboard.
“Careful dear.” Annie called as Lauren walked out.
“Shall I?” I leant forward.
“Oh yes please, if you wouldn’t mind.”
I went over to the side board and started pouring the tea.
“Lauren came home very early this morning.” Annie said. “I know she thinks I didn’t hear her but I did. I can hear everything that happens in this house. What were you girls up to?”
The tea flowed over the top of the cup and onto the saucer.
“Oh nothing.” I put the teapot down. “She stayed at our Airbnb.” Annie was looking out the window. I poured a second cup of tea and took it over to her.
“Soon I won’t know anything she does. Just put it there, next to my phone. Promise me you’ll look out for her, don’t let her do anything stupid? I know what she’s like, I was just like that at her age.”
Annie grabbed my wrist. I could feel there wasn’t much strength in her grip. Next to mine her skin looked thin and pale, like it could easily tear.
Lauren walked back in and finished pouring the tea. I jumped away from Annie. I knew she was still looking at me. I went and sat down. I didn’t know what good I could do. If only she knew Riley and I were deep in a plot to return a stolen brooch before the police got to us. Still, I knew I had no choice.
“Yes, that would be lovely.” I told Annie.
“What are you talking about?” Lauren handed me a cup of tea.
“Just saying we would like some chocolate biscuits.” Annie smiled and Lauren rolled her eyes.
Cut blue gemstone, p.14
The cut blue gemstone brooch was on the kitchen table. The door to the balcony was wide open and a breeze was blowing in. All I could hear was the Bow Sunday evening traffic driving past.
“It was only two weeks ago we were on the beach.” I leant back against the kitchen counter.
“Heady days.” Riley had her hands flat on the table and her chin on top of her hands. It looked like she was having a staring match with the brooch.
“I can’t believe I have to go to work tomorrow.” I rubbed the back of my neck.
“What?” Riley sat up. “I thought you were going to help me put the brooch back.
“Riley, I have to work. One of us has to have a job!” I stood up straight.
“I have a job. I have several jobs!” Riley slammed a hand down on the table.
“When are you walking the dog?” I went and closed the balcony door. It was too loud outside.
“At lunchtime, but I could move it to the evening, maybe. Come and meet me in Victoria Park.”
“Victoria Park is massive. I’ll never find you.” I felt the lock click as I turned the key.
“Meet me at the boating lake and we’ll go to the house. When she opens the safe, I’ll create a distraction. You put the brooch back.”
“I don’t want to put it back. Why can’t I create the distraction?” I put the key on the shelf.
“I know her, it will be easier. It’s already weird enough that you’re there.”
“It was your idea for me to come. What’s the backstory anyway?” I turned around chair round and sat on it backwards so I was facing Riley.
“You’re a friend. You’re really into dogs, but not in a weird way. When she opens the safe. . .”
“What weird way?”
“I’ll say, ‘Look!” Riley stood up pretended to act out the scene, twirling around on the cheap lino. “Is there someone. . . in the back garden? She turns, you put the brooch back.”
“What if she catches me?” I folded my arms across the back of the chair.
“We run.” Riley tucked her hair back. They style of her bob meant her hair was longer on one side. “Let’s just do it today and then it’s done.” Riley sat down. “What happened with Fred by the way?”
“It’s over.” I looked over at the window. It had become dark while we were talking.
“Sorry. Do you think Lauren and Mark. . .?” Riley slipped the brooch into her jumpsuit pocket.
“I don’t want to think about it, he could be her father. . . What about you and that party guy?”
“Oh Alby, yeah, we’ve been texting a bit. He’s nice.”
“Really? Why don’t you get him to help you?” I got up to put a jumper on.
“Jessica, I don’t want him to know I’m a criminal!” Riley got up and followed me.
“The sooner he knows the better if you ask me.”
The wide Victoria street was lined with huge houses and London Planes. The summer’s evening had a calm Monday night feel, but my palms were sweating as I clutched the brooch in my dress pocket. Champion, the small dog we had in tow, kept barking at my bare ankles.
“Come on Champion.” Riley pulled at his pink lead. ““Don’t do anything until I give the signal.”
Riley was wearing a headscarf and large sunglasses, as though to disguise herself.
“What’s the signal?” I walked along the edge of the pavement, as far away from them as I could get.
“Jessica. I text you earlier.” We weaved around a London Plane. Its mottled bark flaked away as Champion stopped to sniff it.
“All you send me is pictures of cute dogs.” I let go of the brooch and took my phone out.
“In between the dogs.”
I scrolled through my old messages.
“Watermelon? Won’t she think that’s weird if you just shout out, watermelon?”
“I’ll say it quietly.” Champion started pissing on the tree.
“We don’t need a code word. It’s not a sex game.”
“Jessica. Hi!” Fred was coming out of a large house a few doors down.
Riley pulled Champion closer too her and he yelped. I pushed my phone back in my bag.
“Hey Champion, how you doing?” Fred walked towards us.
“Fred.” I gave Riley a look before turning back to him. “You know Champion?”
“Yeah, of course.” Fred stopped to pet Champion for a second and then smiled at Riley. “You must be Mum’s dog walker. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Here he is.” Riley thrust the lead into Fred’s hand.
“Don’t you want to come in?” The front door to the four-storey house was still open.
“No, it’s fine, we’re in a rush.” Riley linked her arm through mine and did a 180-degree turn.
“Nice to see you.” Fred called out after us. “And meet you.”
“Why did you do that?” I hissed to Riley, through my teeth.
“I don’t know, I panicked. What is he doing here? Maybe Mary told him about the brooch.”
“No, I don’t think so.” I glanced back as we turned the corner, he was still watching.
“Did you know he was rich? Why did you break up with him?”
“Well, yeah he works in the city, but we never even really went out.”
“You have the cigarettes he left. Text him about that.”
“I’m not going to text him.” Just as I said it, my phone beeped. Riley watched me as I took my phone out my pocket. The message read: Hi Jess . . . Can we talk?
The hands on the clock clicked into the 7.30pm and I had been staring at my phone for 45 minutes.
“Have you done it yet?” Riley called from outside the door.
“No. Can I have some privacy please?” I heard her stomp up and down on the spot to make it sound like she was walking away. I got up from my bed and pulled the door open. Riley leapt back in alarm.
“What are you doing?”
“Have you called him yet. You can’t put it off forever.”
“Let’s just think about it.” I walked into the kitchen. “We need to focus on putting the brooch back.”
“First you need to call Fred to see if Mary’s told him something.”
There was nothing in the fridge but a few spring onions and some cottage cheese. I knew if Lauren was here, she would have ordered a pizza by now.
“We need to eat. Then we can think.”
Riley glanced at the fridge.
“What do you want? Noodles?”
“Do we have noodles?”
“Look your just procrastinating.” Riley grabbed the spring onions and closed the fridge door.
“Let’s just go and put the brooch back tomorrow and then I’ll call him.”
“I don’t walk Champion on Tuesdays.” Riley got out a chopping board out.
“Wednesday then.” I pulled out a cook book, the book mark was a picture of me, Lauren and Riley.
“That’s two days away, they could have called the police by then.”
“They might have called the police already.”
“Jessica don’t say things like that.” Riley slammed the cutlery draw a little too hard.
“Me calling Fred is just going to open up a whole other problem we don’t want.”
“I thought you liked him.” Riley flicked her eyes up at me as she chopped the spring onions.
“I did but. . .” I put the cook book down. “Are you sure we have noodles?”
“And he’s rich. . .”
“I don’t think he’s that rich. . .”
“So just go out with him until we can figure out what he knows.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m just going to text him and ask him what he wants to talk about and then at least we’ll know if it’s about the brooch or. . .”
“The cigarettes he left here.” Riley winked at me as she grabbed a pack of noodles. I looked down at my hands. I was still holding the photo. It was taken in a pop-up photo booth one bank holiday. Lauren’s hair was pink.
Helicopter seeds, p.17
The view from my desk was of building across the street. The words WeWork were written in pink neon across the front. A bus drove past, a helicopter seed twirled to the ground, a man came out for a cigarette and I moved my fingers around the tracking pad of my laptop to make it seem like I was working. The smoking man had his jacket buttoned up. It was a little colder today. He took a drag and I wondered what he was thinking about. All I could hear was the clatter of keys around me. My phone started ringing and I pushed my swivel chair back and opened my draw to see my phone lit up. It was a mobile number I didn’t recognise. A few people were looking at me. I was supposed to have my phone on silent but Riley had told me to keep it on in case the police arrested her and she needed to call me for bail. I grabbed the phone and walked out to the toilets.
“Jessica. It’s me. Annie. Lauren’s mum.”
“Annie. What’s wrong? Are you ok?” I locked the toilet cubicle door behind me.
“Of course, I’m not ok. I have a terminal illness.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry. . .”
“Lauren’s taken off, we had a huge row and she’s gone. I rang around the village, and a few other villages, and it turns out she’s staying at this man Mark’s house. Did she tell you about this?”
“No.” I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t spoken to Lauren since Riley and I left Gloucestershire.
“Jessica, I asked you to look out for her.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Just let me know what I can do to help.”
“You need to persuade her to come home. Poor Stephen is beside himself.”
“I am not!” I heard Stephen, Lauren’s little brother shouting somewhere down the line.
I took my phone out into the street. I was shaking but I didn’t know why. The cigarette smoking man had gone. There was a woman driving a street cleaner up the street, the green brush of the moving wheels was buffering the pavement. I looked down at my sandals and the helicopter seeds scattered on the floor. It was too early for them to be falling, although, it was already nearly the end of July, and then it would be August, and then September.
I called Lauren. It rang a few times and went to voicemail. I started to write her a text when another message came through. It was from Fred.
It read: Hi. I just thought we ended things a little weirdly and wanted to check you were ok?
I was still shaking as the street cleaner hummed past me. I kept seeing this image of Lauren and Mark together outside the pub. It has been a perfect summer’s evening. She was laughing and holding a bucket of chilled Rosé. I was texting Fred to tell him he didn’t seem that interested and it was probably better if we just left it. I could still hear Lauren laughing as I walked back to my desk.
Long t-shirt, p. 17
It was a hot night and I kept moving around on my bed and flipping the pillow over to see if the other side was cooler. I pulled the duvet on top of me and then pushed it off again. I got up and went out on to the kitchen balcony. I took Fred’s cigarettes with me. I turned the box over in my hands while I stared down at the street below. I thought about Jamie. I didn’t have his number. If I wanted to see him again, I’d have to go over to his flat and knock.
I sat on the cold iron chair and tapped Fred’s cigarette box on the table. I felt angry at him for making it seem like I had behaved strangely, even though he had either cancelled, or been dramatically late to, all our meet ups. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something wasn’t right. I shivered. I was only wearing a vest and shorts. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I figured out what to do. I stared at the poplar trees until the kitchen light came on.
“What’s up?” Riley pushed the balcony door open. She was wearing a long t-shirt and fluffy slippers.
“Do you want a cigarette? I offered her the box but she shook her head. “No, me neither.”
“It’s late you’ve got work tomorrow.”
“And you’re walking Champion.”
“Jess, I’m sorry I got you into this mess.”
“It’s ok, it’s not that. I’m just worried about Lauren.”
“I’m sure she’ll call us when she wants to.”
“Maybe we should have talked to her more, about what was happening.”
“With her mum?”
“Yeah, we’ve been so caught up in the brooch thing we didn’t even text her.”
“It’s not your fault. I just don’t know what to do to help.”
“Maybe there’s nothing you can do.”
I went and put the cigarettes back in the kitchen.
“Let’s just walk Champion tomorrow evening, put the brooch back and try and call Lauren again.”
I put my hands on the sides of the counter to steady myself.
“Sounds like a good plan to me.” Riley smiled and clasped her hands together.
I nodded and went back to bed. I didn’t want Riley to see me so tense and restless. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to cry. I didn’t feel sad though. I rolled over onto my back and told myself there was no point in worrying about things I couldn’t control. I fell asleep thinking about the way the moon looked as Riley and I walked home from the Rose and Crown, and crossed over the kissing gate, and if Lauren was out there now, roaming the fields of Gloucestershire.
Cold coffee, p.19
The bird song was loud and the kitchen was hot.
“I rang Mark.”
“What?” Riley spat her cereal out into her Ikea bowl. She was still wearing her long t-shirt and fluffy slippers. I was fully dressed for work in a white shirt and a pair of slacks. I’d even styled my hair.
“I got his number of the woman who runs at the Rose and Crown.”
“Which woman?” Riley looked like she was still half asleep.
“Tanya. The pub’s number was on google.” I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard.
“It’s like 6am, is the pub even open?”
“It’s 8.15.” I enjoyed the noise the cereal made as it fell into the bowl. “Tanya was just at the pub doing the accounts before they opened.”
“Sit down, it puts me on edge when you eat standing up.”
“I don’t have time to sit down.” I poured milk over the cereal. “I’m meeting Fred and lunchtime.”
“Yeah.” I took a few mouthfuls of cereal. “Can I have some of your coffee?”
“Sure.” Riley handed me her cup. The coffee was cold but I took a few sips anyway before finishing my cereal.
“I can make more coffee.” Riley went and put the kettle on.
“No don’t worry.” I started to wash up my bowl in the sink.
“How is Lauren, what did Mark say?”
“He put me on the phone to her. She’s fine. I said we’d go and see her this weekend.”
“Good idea.” Riley started making more coffee. “And. . .”
“I’ll meet you after work and we’ll go and put the brooch back.”
“What about Fred?”
“If he says anything remotely interesting, I’ll let you know.”
“Wow, a productive morning and it’s not even 8.15.”
“It’s gone 8.15 and I’m going to be really late for work.”
“What did Fred say? Did you call him?”
“No, I just text. His office isn’t too far from mine so we just said we’d meet for a chat. Lunch is neutral right? There’s no way it can turn into drinks or anything else.”
“That’s what you would think, but sometimes me and this other dog walker have a drink at lunch. . .”
“Riley, I’ve got to go. I’ll meet you at Victoria Park tonight.”
Cambridge Heath Road, p.20
I met Fred in a house in Hackney, not far from Cambridge Heath Road. It was one of the first really warm days of the year. I strolled up from Bow, through Victoria Park, in my heels and little red dress, thinking it was a party and I would be early, but actually I was late. The platters of flavoured hummus, seeded flatbreads and unusual cheeses laid out were already all half eaten. Most of the guests had babies or were expecting.
I put my bottle of wine in a Tesco’s bag down on the counter top and wondered what I should do. Fred, seeing me on my own, walked over and offered to open the wine for me. I felt over dressed, or under dressed, I was the only one not wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from COS.
Fred chatted to me about his work in the City while he got a corkscrew out for the wine.
“How do you know Marcella?” I tried to look past him, out into the garden.
“Oh, we’re old friends.” He pulled the cork out of the bottle. “So, tell me Jessica, what do you do?”
“What do I do?” I thought maybe I could see Riley, but I wasn’t sure. A lot of people were having barbeques that day, she could be anywhere in the city.
“Yes, what do you do, where do you work?” He said it to me the same way my French teacher used to explain questions to me in my mock exams. Fred poured me a glass of wine.
“Oh, I, work for a law firm.” I swirled the wine around in my glass. It was a huge glass, the kind you only see in restaurants in Borough Market.
“You’re a lawyer?”
“Well, sort of, not exactly.”
“Care to elaborate?” He topped up his own glass.
“Uh, yeah, I mean I’m qualified as a lawyer but I don’t go to court or anything.”
He folded his arms and swirled his glass around as he looked at me. His polo shirt looked brand new.
“Right, so what kind of things would you work on then?”
“Just like, big trade cases, really boring stuff.”
“But you must like it?”
“Yeah, I like it, I’m good at it. It’s just not very interesting to talk about at a party.”
“No, I suppose my job isn’t either.” He smiled and took a sip of his wine.
Lauren burst in then, wearing an even more crazy dress than me, and dropped a bag of wine bottles.
“Jessica there you are.” Lauren grabbed me by the elbow, and managed to pick up my bottle of wine and an empty glass that had just appeared on the side, with her other hand. “You will never guess what happened.”
“See you later.” Fred nodded at me as Lauren dragged me out into the garden.
Flat white, p.21
The café had a glass front and people were rushing in and out, clutching their phones and cups of coffee. Fred was sat on a stool next to one of the distressed woods table tops hanging from the ceiling on metal chains. There were spider plants hanging from the ceiling too, and Ficus stood near the door way in huge dark blue ceramic pots. Fred already had a coffee and was scrolling through his phone. He was wearing an immaculate, tailored blue suit. Everything he owned was smart, sharp, even his penthouse flat with the view of the Shard didn’t have a single cup or book out of place.
I hovered outside for a few minutes, pretending to let people out. I turned around and started to walk back to Holborn, but then I turned around again and walked straight into the café.
“Jessica. Hi.” Fred stood up as a I sat down. The table was in the way so we didn’t have to shake hands or kiss on the cheek. “Flat white? What kind of milk do you want?”
“Uh. . .” I glanced up at the large chalkboard above the baristas’ heads. “Oat?”
“Great choice.” Fred pulled his leather wallet out of his pocket and walked over to the counter. Most of the people around me were on their phones or laptops, it wasn’t actually that different from being in the office. It was artificially cold and all I could hear was the clacking of keys. Now I was sitting on one of the stools I wished my skirt was longer and that my handbag was more expensive.
Fred came back with my coffee and placed it down next to me, a little too close for my liking.
“So, how’s things at the office?” He sat down on the stool opposite me.
“They’re fine. We’re a relatively new firm, so, you know it’s always busy.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me.” He checked the time on his watch. “And how are your flatmates?”
“Yeah, they’re good. . .” Lauren had sounded strange on the phone, distant, far away, small. “How about you? How’s everything going in the finance world?”
“I know you have the brooch.”
“Does Mary know?”
“Forget about her. I know you have it and I’d like it back please. Just tell me what you want for it.”
“We don’t want anything. We were planning to put it back tonight.”
“I’d rather you just gave it to me now.”
“I can’t give it to you now.” I lied. “I don’t have it on me. Riley has it.”
“Fine, tonight then.” Fred finished his coffee and checked his wrist watch again. “I don’t know what you two are up to but you better bring it back tonight.”
The moment he left the café I checked my hand bag to make sure the brooch was still there.
Fish, p. 22
The boating lake was grey. It was the first overcast day for weeks. There was no one around apart from a few runners and cyclists. I stood in my jacket, sipping coffee from my eco cup and watching the fish moving under the surface. Something about my meeting with Fred didn’t feel right. Something in his eyes told me this was about more than just a brooch that belonged to his mother.
Riley and Champion circled round the large trees and tottered towards me. Champion barked when he saw me and tried to run towards me, but Riley pulled him back.
“Hey. What’s up?” Riley was wearing a summer hat and flashed me a grin as Champion dragged her forward.
“Ready to get this over with?”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking . . .” Riley adjusted her hat and Champion sat down and growled at me.
“You said. . . Fred asked what we wanted for the brooch . . .”
“Lauren could really use that money. We won’t have to sublet her room.”
“She can stay with us anytime anyway.”
“Where? Jessica your room is so small you can barely stand up in it. . .”
“I’m not taking money from Fred.”
“Jessica. Sometimes you just don’t see opportunities when they’re staring right at you.”
“This is not an opportunity, and besides I think there is something fishy about this whole thing.”
“What do you mean?” Riley picked Champion up in her arms to try and sooth him.
“Isn’t it strange that Fred noticed the brooch was missing. . . but Mary’s never mentioned it to you?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Riley began stroking Champion as he settled down in her arms.
“How much do we really know about Fred’s job anyway?” I started walking out of the park.
“I don’t know . . . you’re the one going out with him.” Riley followed me, still holding Champion.
“I’m not going out with him.” We weaved round the cyclists coming in through the main gate.
“He works in the City, right?”
“Yeah, I always thought he was a trader, but what if it’s something else. Why would he be hiding jewellery in a safe at his mother’s house.”
“Maybe it was a present for you?” Riley readjusted Champion in her arms as we crossed the road.
“No, the way he seemed the café was really edgy. I think there’s something else going on here and we really don’t want to get involved. Let’s just go and give the brooch back now.”
“Sometimes you’re so boring.”
It started to rain as we turned on to Mary’s street.
Out in the rain, p.23
Mary was pruning the roses outside her large Victorian house and wearing a rain mac and a plastic scarf around her head. Riley and I looked at each other as Champion scurried between us.
Just as we arrived at the house, Fred came and stood in the middle of the path, blocking our entry.
“Hello girls.” Fred put his hands in his trouser pockets and smiled. Champion barked.
“Champion, Riley! You’re back early.” Mary squinted to check her watch. “Oh no, it is about that time already. It seemed the perfect afternoon to do some gardening, even if it is raining. I’m Mary.”
“This is my friend Jessica.” Riley nudged me towards Mary.
“Hello. Lovely, uh, house, dog, uh,” I looked at Fred, he was grinning, “uh, roses.” I wondered how he kept his clothes so immaculate. There wasn’t a crease on his shirt since I’d seen him at lunch.
“Why don’t you come in?” Fred stood aside and opened an arm to gesture us in.
“This is my son, Fred. Yes, you must be awfully wet. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea?”
I hoped Riley she would decline the invitation but she pushed straight past me, dragging a yelping Champion behind her. Mary followed, clutching her gardening tools and then it was just me and Fred left outside, sheltered from the rain by the London Planes.
“After you.” I could see that, as I walked past him, there was a chance that our bodies might touch.
“No, you go first.”
“Please you’re our guest.”
“You don’t actually live here.”
“Do you really want to do this out here in the rain?”
“I’m not wet.”
“No, I suppose you’re right.”
I walked past him, brushing up against the wall to the next-door neighbour’s front garden. Mary and Riley were already in the kitchen. Riley was sitting on a chair, stroking Champion, and Mary was putting tea into a tea pot. I had the brooch in my pocket but I had no idea how much it was worth.
“Oh, he is funny, isn’t he?” Mary said.
“The next thing I knew he was out of the pond and trying to chase a squirrel up a lamppost.” Riley said. They both laughed. Fred stood behind me with his hands in his pockets. I wondered if I should just give him the brooch, or wait until Mary opened the safe, like Riley and I had planned.
Mary put out the cups and saucers for the tea and I thought about Lauren’s mum, and I thought about Lauren, and how many cups of tea you make without ever really thinking about what’s next.
I had googled blue brooches, if it was diamond, it could be worth thousands, or even millions of pounds. Lauren could keep her room at the flat while she looked after her mum.
“Mary, do you own a blue brooch?”
Small stretch of shops, p.24
On the main road there was a small stretch of shops with a few cherry trees planted in the middle of the extended pavement. Alby and Jamie were sat on the bench outside the newsagents eating boxes of PFC. Alby was sat on the back of the bench with his feet on the seat and laughing at something Jamie had just said. The local pigeons were pecking away at the chips scattered around them.
“Hi boys.” Riley walked over to them smiling.
“Riley. Hey!” Alby leapt up. “Do you want some chips?”
“Thanks.” Riley leaned forward and took a chip in a way I’d never seen anyone take a chip before.
“Hi Jessica. Do you want some chips?” Jamie offered me the box he was holding.
“No thanks.” I kept my hands in my jacket pockets. “We need to get home actually.”
“Where were you girls at on Saturday?” Alby and Riley sat down next to each other.
“You know, we’re busy women.” Riley flicked back her short hair and took another one of his chips. Jamie looked up at me, his mouth open like he might say something. I went and sat down next to him, right on the corner of the bench where there wasn’t much room. Everyone moved up so that Riley was basically sitting in Alby’s lap. Jamie offered me the chips again and this time I took one.
“You been up to much this week?” Jamie asked me, while Riley laughed at whatever Alby was saying.
“It’s been an unusual week.” I could feel the damp from the wooden bench, where it had rained earlier, seeping into my skirt. The scene at Mary’s flashed back through my mind. I knew the moment she told me she hadn’t owned a brooch in 50 years, we would get away with it. I knew we would make it out if the house somehow, and that we would run. I knew Fred wouldn’t chase us, it’s not like he would wrestle me to the ground. No, he would find another way to get what he wanted.
“You can tell me.” Jamie handed me his can of coke up from the floor. I was shivering a little but I took a sip. The sugar against the sharp taste of the coke and the cool metal of the can woke me up.
“I love Hasan Minhaj.” Riley said loudly, touching Alby’s arm. Sometimes her personality changed to such a drastic degree that she seemed like a totally different person to me.
My phone started vibrating in my pocket. It was Annie, Lauren’s mum.
“Jessica. Lauren said you’re coming Gloucestershire this Friday, and I was wondering if you could pick up some things for me. I read about these amazing breads at the Lebanese Bakery in Covent garden.”
“Annie, yes absolutely, but I can’t talk right now, I’ll have to call you back.” I could see Fred crossing the road further up the street.
“Quick we need to hide.” I grabbed Jamie by the arm and we all ran into the newsagent.
Cracked lino, p.25
The shop keeper was watching us in the circular mirror nailed to the ceiling. I could see Alby was also using the mirror to adjust his hat in. Jamie was reading the cartoons on the back of a box of Variety Packs. Riley and I were huddled in the corner next to the toilet rolls and the bleach.
“Are you sure it was him?”
“Maybe if we stay here long enough, he’ll leave.” Riley glanced out at the street.
I looked down at the speckled pattern on the cracked lino and realised I had no idea what to do.
“Alby please tell your friends to buy something if you are going to stay.” The shop keeper shouted.
“Sorry uncle.” Alby turned to me and Lauren. “Look, why don’t we go back to mine.”
“Or you can come back to mine.” Jamie said, putting the Variety Pack back on the shelf.
“You live to close too our flat.” Riley said. “But Alby’s might be ok, if we go the back way.”
“Great.” Alby rubbed his hands together. “So, who is this guy and why are we hiding from him?”
Riley looked at me and I pulled the brooch out of my jacket pocket. It glittered under the shop light.
“What about some sweets or crisps?” The shopkeeper shouted at us.
“Just one minute, uncle.” Alby’s eyes fixed on the brooch. “Where did you get that from?”
“We stole it from that guy.”
“Jessica. I told you not to tell anybody.”
“We can’t hide it from them.”
“Why did you steal it?” Jamie asked.
“It’s two-for-one on Galaxy Caramel.”
“Ok uncle, I’m coming.” Alby grabbed the pack of Variety Pack of the shelf and went over to pay.
“I stole it.” Riley said. “It was me.”
“Why don’t you just give it back?”
“Come on, the coast is clear.” Alby was stand in the shop door way holding the Variety Pack with one hand and waving us out with the other.
It was cold on the street and it was starting to get dark. The wind had picked up. I looked up and down the street a few times but I couldn’t see Fred. He must be at the flat by now, ringing on the door bell, looking through the window into the communal hallway, maybe even persuading a neighbour to let him into the building.
“We need to give it back Riley.” I said as we turned down a side street towards Alby’s house.
“I know.” She shoved her hands in her jacket pocket too.
“Do you want to just do it now?”
A high level of discretion, p.26
Fred was waiting outside the flat reading a newspaper. It had been such a long day and it still wasn’t even dark yet. I told Riley to go to go Alby’s and come home in half an hour.
“Hi, can we talk?” Fred folded his newspaper under his arm.
“You can come in.” I unlocked the front door to the building. I knew I had to be brave. I checked the post box, to see if anything had arrived. There were just a few political flyers and a pizza menu.
“Anything good?” Fred tried to look to see what I’d received and I hid the post behind me.
“Let’s just go upstairs.”
Fred looked out at the street from the balcony and lit a cigarette from the pack I had just given back to him. I stood half in the door way, not sure what to do with my hands.
“I really liked you Jessica. I don’t know how things became so confused between us.”
“There’s nothing to be confused about. You treated me badly.” I stepped in and out of the kitchen.
“My job’s very unpredictable. I don’t always know the hours I’ll work.”
“So, what is your job, really?”
“What do you mean? I work in finance.” He tapped his cigarette ash out but I held my mouth until he held his hands up and said: “Fine. You got me. It’s a little more complicated than that. . . I work for a mining company. A lot of the work we do is very sensitive, and requires a high level of discretion.”
“What kind of mining company?”
“We work all over the world.”
“Do you mine under the sea?” I remembered someone at a party telling me this was bad, but I couldn’t remember why.
“Don’t look at me like that, how do you think your phone gets made?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t avoid my questions. Why do you want the brooch so much?”
“Which question do you want me to answer, the one about the mining or the one about the brooch?”
“You’re being purposefully evasive.”
“No, I am not.”
“Just tell me the truth.”
“What you want for the brooch?”
“How much is it worth?”
“I don’t know. . . $65 I think.” He took another drag of his cigarette.
“Why do you want it?” I didn’t want to admit I thought the brooch might be worth millions.
“It’s not the brooch I want.”
Microphone, p. 27
Fred tapped his cigarette ash on the balcony floor.
“It’s a microphone?” I pulled the brooch out of my pocket.
“It has a microphone on the back.” He took another drag of his cigarette.
“Why would you need this?”
Fred reached forward, took the brooch out of my hand and put it in his pocket. I didn’t react. I let him take it. A police siren wailed somewhere in the distance and I could hear two drunk people fighting down on the street.
“You should go.” I said, before he could finish his cigarette.
“You’re not going to ask me any more questions, you don’t want to know what it’s for?”
“Would you tell me the truth even if I asked?”
“It depends what you ask.” He put out his cigarette in the ashtray. “I really thought we could have had something.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.” I went into the kitchen and put on a cardigan. Fred followed me.
“My work is, complicated. . . that’s why it’s difficult for me to make plans sometimes.”
“Why are you keeping a brooch with a microphone on at your mother’s house?”
“I wasn’t sure it was safe at mine. Come on, you have to believe me. You’re the one that stole the it from me.”
“I didn’t steal, it. . .it was. . .”
I heard Riley burst in through the front door and her footsteps hurrying down the corridor.
“What’s going on?” Riley walked into the kitchen and flicked on the overhead light. Fred squinted.
“Fred was just leaving.”
“Is everything ok?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.” I stared at Fred until he nodded.
“You know where I am.” He smiled and walked out, the same smile he had given me the first time we met at the house in Hackney. There was something about him I didn’t trust, that I had never trusted, but I couldn’t explain why. At least now, I had some clues.
“What happened?” Riley said the minute we heard the door close behind him.
“I gave the brooch back to him.” I sat down on a chair. “He said it wasn’t worth anything, anyway.”
“Of course, he would say that.”
“He said there was a microphone on it.”
“Why, for what?”
“We didn’t get into it. Let’s just get to bed. We’ve got to go to Gloucester tomorrow for Lauren.”
Alongside the river, p.28
I put on my white shirt, black mini-skirt and Converse, just like any other day. I slung my bag with my high heels in over my shoulder and walked to Mile End. Instead of going left into the station, I went right, towards the park and undocked a Santander bike. I cycled down the main road, all the way through Stepney and Whitechapel, to Tower Hill and then I rode alongside the traffic going into town. I thought I would cycle up to Holborn, but when I got to Temple, instead of turning right, I could see that, if I kept going, I could cycle along the Embankment, past Waterloo Bridge and the Millennium Wheel and the Houses of Parliament. I kept going. I could feel the morning sun on my skin and the breeze coming in off the river. I could feel the calm radiating out of the trees. I didn’t think about how it was already August, and summer would be over soon. I just kept riding, past Chelsea Bridge and it wasn’t too long before the buildings started to drop away and I cycled alongside the river, past the huge trees and big houses and little blocks of flats until I arrived at Kew.
I stopped on the bridge and realised I wasn’t that far from my parents’ house and also that I was thirsty. I looked on my phone and was surprised to find that it wasn’t even 10am yet, and that no one had tried to call me. I felt like I had been riding for hours. I text work and told them there was a plumbing emergency at my flat. I cycled up to Brentford but I couldn’t find anywhere to dock the bike so I left it in the front garden of my parent’s small Victorian terraced house.
It was shady and cool in the kitchen and my mum was following a recipe from a cookbook.
“Hi Mum.” I was expecting a barrage of questions about why I wasn’t at work.
“Jessica. We weren’t expecting you for lunch. I’m not sure if there’ll be enough.”
“Don’t worry.” I halted my approach. “I just popped in to see Dad. I won’t stay for lunch.”
“Oh, thank goodness. You’re welcome to stay of course, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting you.”
Dad was in the back bedroom. Mum wouldn’t go in there since Danny left.
“Hi Dad.” I knocked on the door and he put down the book about spiders he was reading and pulled his feet off the top of his desk. It was sat in the middle of room, just like it did in his old GP office.
“Jessica. What are you doing here? Is everything alright?”
“I feel lost.” I sat down on the old wingback chair opposite him. The window was behind him I could see all the neighbour’s houses and the birds flying between the different trees in their gardens.
“Hmm, ah, ok, is this not something your mother can help with?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t like my job, Lauren’s mum is terminally ill, and she asked me to look out for Lauren and I just forgot. . .”
“Right, and Lauren is?” Dad put on his spectacles and started making notes on a prescription pad.
“My flatmate, and Riley asked me to help with this plan she had to help Lauren, but I messed it up.”
“Riley’s your other flatmate?” Dad licked his fingers and flicked onto the next page on the pad.
Prescription pad, p.29
Dad put the prescription pad down on his desk.
“Hmm, well it seems to me, that you’re very lucky to have such good friends and seem to be the sort of person people trust and want to ask help from. I haven’t seen my best friend Tony in 15 years. . .”
“Why don’t you just call him?”
“Hmm, yes I suppose I could. . .” Dad picked up the prescription pad and reread what he had written. “I’m concerned about this ‘mining spy’, you’re dating. Deep sea mining is so bad for environment.”
“Yeah Dad, I know, and I was never really dating him anyway. We just hung out a few times.”
“I have a book on microbiology I really think you should read, let me find it for you.”
“Dad. I don’t think that will help.” He stood with his back to me and inspected his bookshelf.
“Hmm, it’s not here.” He bent own and started looking at the spines on the piled-up stacks of books.
“I know enough about microbiology already.” I said. At this he started laughing.
“Why don’t you go and see your mother and I’ll come and get you when I’ve found it.”
“Sure.” I pulled myself up from the red velvet chair, from the piles of books scattered around the room, I knew it could be a while. Dad looked up from the two books he was holding.
“Jessica, you shouldn’t worry so much. You’re doing everything great. I’m really proud of you.”
I nodded and walked out, but what I didn’t say was, was that I didn’t feel like me, and would he feel so proud if he knew who I really was, and who was that anyway.
I sat on the My Little Pony duvet cover on my childhood bed and looked at a picture of me and Danny from the last family holiday we all went on. We were sticking our tongues out and drinking brightly coloured drinks. I had tried to call him and text him many times, but he never picked up. Even when I went to message him on Facebook, I found he had deleted me as a friend. I could see from his profile picture that he was in Thailand or somewhere exciting. I had always looked up to him, even when he was getting expelled from school and thrown out of the house. I put the picture back on my bedside table. I didn’t know why I had come back. Nothing ever changed. Even now Danny had gone, neither of them mentioned him, or acted like anything was different. I knew they thought I was defiant too, and I knew there was no point being angry at them, how could they set us up for a life they knew nothing about. They didn’t see Danny getting beat up at school every day until he started to beat other kids up, or know about all the drugs coming into school via the ice cream van, or see so many kids trapped in a system where they could never win.
My dad knocked on the door before putting the microbiology book on the end of my bed.
Maybe they could see it, but they just didn’t want to.
Morrison’s Car Park, p.30
The Santander bike was gone from under the bay window.
I walked over to Morgan’s. His parents house was exactly the same as mine, same little front garden, same brightly coloured front door, same slight feeling of dilapidation all through the house.
I rang on the door bell and watched the pigeons walking up and down the street.
“Oh, hey.” He didn’t seem surprised to see me. He was holding a cup of coffee and wearing pyjamas.
“I was just walking by, actually, in fact, I was at my parents house and I, well I cycled to my parents house but then I didn’t have anywhere to dock the bike so I left it outside and then I couldn’t find, it so I wasn’t sure what to do so, I was just walking past.”
“Do you want me to help you look for it?”
“Do you think we’ll find it?”
“Yeah. Some kids probably took it.” He put his cup down on the ledge over the radiator and grabbed a jacket. “Unless you want to come in?”
“No, it’s ok. I need to get back to work, I guess.”
I had walked up and down the streets of Brentford so many times that they were a part of me, every E8 bus stop I passed felt like an old friend, but every day I spent here, I always wanted more.
“How are you doing?” I said to Morgan as we walked over the bridge over the railway line.
“I’m ok, good. It’s easier to write when my parents are out.”
I really felt like I wanted to kiss him, right there on the middle of the bridge.
“Let’s go and have a look around the high street.” He started walking back the way we came.
The Santander bike was in the Morrison’s car park being cycled, in turn, by two young boys.
“Hey.” Morgan walked over to them. “My friend really needs the bike back, otherwise they’re going to charge her loads of money.” The boys looked at him like this was something they understood.
“We just found it on the street.” One of them said, dropping the bike down on the floor.
“No worries, that’s cool.” Morgan picked up the bike as the boys ran off. “Thanks for giving it back.”
Morgan looked at me and for a minute I felt like I might burst into tears.
“I feel sad and I don’t know why.” I looked away from him. I could almost smell the river from here.
“That’s how I feel most of the time.”
“I need to get back to work.” I took a deep breath.
Morgan handed me the bike.
“You should get a bike,” he said, grinning. “It suits you.”
The April files, p.31
At the office no one said anything when I came in after lunch. I sat in my air-conditioned office eating at a Pret A Manger sandwich, staring at the trees outside and wishing I hadn’t gone over to Morgan’s house. I would have had to pay TfL for the bike, but that would be better than not being able to stop thinking about him. We weren’t a good match. At least that’s what I believed. That’s what I had always believed. Fred was the kind of person I should be with; he had a job and a flat. He had a view of the Shard. There was just something about him I didn’t trust. Maybe I should have given him more of a chance, I couldn’t compare him to Morgan who I had known since I was 15.
“Do you have the April files?” Madeline, one of the senior partners, was standing over my desk.
“What?” I had just taken a fresh bite out of the second half of my egg cress sandwich.
“I was told you were the paralegal going through the files from April. Do you have them?”
“Oh, yeah, I do.” I put the sandwich back in the box and got the files out of my draw.
“Find anything interesting?” Madeline said as I handed her the folders full of print outs of old emails.
“Uh yeah, actually,” I thumbed open the file where I had left a Post-it in place. “There were some discussions in early April about the contracts post Brexit.”
“And what did the client say?”
“The client didn’t say that much, but the contractor referred to agreements it had made with other energy companies which might give us some ideas for what could be possible.”
“Great work,” she flicked through the pages and then stopped to look at me, “what’s your name?”
“Jessica, Jessica Summers.
“Alright Summers, well done. Let me know if you find anything else.” She snapped the folder shut and walked off with it.
After the office closed everyone went to the pub but I went home to pack for Gloucester. Madeline was still in her office when I left.
Riley was out dog walking when I got home. The flat was quiet. Fred had left his cigarettes out on the balcony again. I went and sat outside and turned them over and over. I didn’t know what it was about him that made me so uneasy. Maybe I just went out with him because I thought he was the kind of person my parents would want me to marry, but still that wouldn’t make him a bad guy. There was something else. There were small things he did, like leaving his cigarettes here so he would always have an excuse to come back, that I found kind of controlling. I wasn’t sure if I should trust my instincts or I was just being paranoid.
I jumped at the sound of my phone beeping. It was a message from my dad: You forgot the book!
I called Morgan.
The book on microbiology, p.32
There were people walking up and down the street swigging from cans of beer and music pumping out from all the flats. The phone rang twice before Morgan answered.
“Hi Jess.” My heart stopped, and then beat a little too fast to catch up with itself.
“Oh, hi. I just wanted to say thanks for today, and helping me out with the bike and everything.”
“Hey, no worries, anytime.”
I paused and looked at the leaves scattered across the floor of the balcony.
“And I . . . really miss you and I really want to see you.”
“I miss you too.”
“It’s just I have all these things I need to do.”
“It’s not you, it’s me, sorry, that’s a bad thing to say, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just there’s my job and this thing with this mining spy I need to figure out, and I really need to help my friend Lauren.”
“I just don’t, I don’t know where to start with anything. Lauren won’t talk to me or admit anything’s wrong. I feel really stuck, and my dad gave me this book of microbiology he wants me to read. . .”
“And it’s. . .”
An hour later we were making out on the sofa, the book on microbiology sat between us and the TV.
“Thanks for coming over.” I said. He was wearing a too big shirt that wasn’t buttoned up properly.
“That’s ok,” he said, stroking my hair. I knew I was clutching on to the shirt too hard.
“I never know what to say to you.” He didn’t say anything for a moment, he just looked at me.
“You don’t need to tell me.” He said and kissed me again.
“No, I do, I feel like I have all these feelings inside me and I need to get them out, but I’m too shy.”
“That doesn’t sound like you.”
“It’s so big and it’s so scary.”
“Remember your law exams, you thought you wouldn’t be able to do it, and then you just aced it?”
“This is different.”
“This can’t be harder than becoming a lawyer?”
“I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a paralegal. . .”
“Hey, hey don’t put yourself down like that, you’ve done amazing.”
“I really need to go to Gloucester. I’ve got to see my friend Lauren. Her mum is really sick.”
I heard the leaves from the balcony scuttle across the kitchen floor as they were blown in from outside. I got up to shut the door. The moment I put the key in the door I felt stuck. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t want anything. It didn’t matter whether I had a job, or a flat, or a view of the shard. It just mattered that Lauren was ok, that her mum was ok, and that her little brother had both his parents. I wanted to ask Morgan to come with me to Gloucester. I missed having someone to talk. I missed it, but I also resented it, I didn’t want to be sad anymore. I knew I had to do it on my own. I locked the door.
“I have to go and see Lauren. I have to show up for her. I have to try.”
“When you come back, maybe everything else won’t seem as scary?” Morgan got up from the sofa.
“Do you want this? Is this what you want?” I picked his jacket up and handed it to him.
“Is this what you want?” He put on his jacket, it was wax jacket, old and faded.
I wanted it, but I didn’t know how long for.
“Sometimes when I can’t see the road ahead, I think, maybe it’s because I don’t want to see.”
“You mean, metaphorically?”
“Yeah sort of.”
“Maybe it’s just misty, or you just can’t see the path because you’re on the path.”
“And there are loads of trees around?”
“You have a way of making me feel really calm about things.”
“That’s because you don’t need to worry about anything, you’re smart and brilliant and totally in control of everything.” The jacket was the kind of jacket you might go fishing in.
“It is what I want, it is what I want, but what if you’re not ready.” I stepped towards him.
“Maybe I’ll never be ready. Maybe you will have to carry me sometimes, that’s not what I want, but that’s the reality.” We didn’t look at each other. We looked at my hands clutching on to his jacket.
“Why do you think Danny never came back?”
“Jessica.” He picked up my hands and gave them back to me. “I can’t do this with you.”
“You’re playing with me. You know I don’t know why Danny never came back. How could I know?”
“Because you. . .”
“Because you think I’m like him, I’m not like him. I wouldn’t do that and it pisses me off that you won’t just get over it. Fuck that guy. If he doesn’t care why should you.”
I knew he was right, but I was shaking with anger at the way he was speaking to me.
The Limehouse Cut, p,34
“Don’t go.” I said, after I had followed him down stairs, out of the building and onto the street.
“Jessica.” He looked over at where he had locked up his bike. “Aren’t you going to Gloustershire?”
“I want to know everything that you’re thinking all the time.”
“I’m thinking you’re crazy and annoying and I shouldn’t be thinking or saying that because maybe you’ll think I’m being sexist or something but I miss you too and also I have no idea where we are.”
“I can give you the tour?”
There were people drinking prosecco and cans of beer all along the Limehouse Cut. I thought Morgan was the coolest and most interesting person I had ever met even though he was just wearing an old wax jacket, the scruffiest pair of trainers I had ever seen and hadn’t shaved in weeks.
“I want to be with you.” I said. He had stopped to look at some wildflowers growing in the cracks.
“You won’t get sick of me?” He smiled.
“I could never get sick of you.”
“You won’t get bored?”
“How could I ever get bored?”
“You won’t wake up one night in the middle of the night and want to move to Bali?”
“You could come with me?”
“I like Brentford.” He picked a purple flower up out of the weeds.
“I don’t want to live in Brentford. Don’t you want to see more of the world?”
“What’s to see?” He twirled the flower around in his fingers. I knew how good it felt when they touched me. I wanted to push him in the Limehouse cut.
“Why is it always like this between us?”
“I don’t know.” He tossed the flower in the water and started walking down towards the river.
“Won’t it get easier?”
“Don’t you care?”
He stopped and looked at the flower floating along the top of the water.
“I don’t know, maybe if I let myself care it would be too much.”
I could see it hurt him. The violence at school, the lack of care, the lack of role models, the neglect, knowing you couldn’t have feelings about it, because to have feelings, to feel anything, to show emotion, was a weakness, and a weakness would be used against you, in the home, in the classroom, in the playground, there was nowhere safe to be vulnerable, not even with each other.
“Do you still speak to Rachel?” I regretted it the moment I said it.
Limehouse Basin, p.35
Morgan was silent for a few minutes. The light was reflecting off the canal. The ducks were quacking.
“Are you sure?” A couple walked past us laughing, like they had just come out of a cider commercial.
“Yeah. Why does that even matter?”
“I don’t know.” I walked on towards the bridge with my arms folded. I felt like our souls were touching all the time, but only in away that unsettled both of us. Sometimes I needed it and sometimes I didn’t have time for it. I resented it. I resented my feelings. I felt so angry and so powerless. I stopped under the bridge. It was dark and shady. I shuddered a couple of times.
“I hate you.” I told him and he didn’t say anything for a minute. The water was dark green here.
“I wanted something different then. I wanted what you want now. I wanted to get away.”
“Why don’t you want that now?” I heard the ring of a bicycle bell and stepped out the way.
“I don’t know. Why do you want this now?” Three women cycled past us on Santander bikes.
“I feel like, I’ve kind of come home, like, to be the better version of myself, I need to be myself, to face myself. I’m afraid of fucking everything up. Not even for myself, I don’t even have anything I could fuck up. I’m afraid of fucking things up for other people.”
“You’re worried you’re like Danny.”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about him.”
“I think you need to talk about him.”
“I don’t get it? How can someone just leave their whole family, their whole life, with no regrets?”
I looked at the surface of the water following through the canal and realised there was a lot I had to do, there was this deep-sea mining story I had to get to the bottom of, and I needed to help Lauren.
“Look Jess, you can’t know what he was going through.” Morgan and I started walked again. “He probably felt just like you, he just needed to get away and have a fresh start. He had a lot of issues, he needed to figure them out.”
We were out the Limehouse Basin now and I could see all the boats floating on the water. I wanted to jump in. I needed to feel something different. I needed a change of pace.
“Maybe it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.” I said, looking at the dirty green water.
“Maybe if we sleep on it, tomorrow we’ll see it?”
“The missing piece.” I looked up at him. “I don’t want to keep going back and forth, but I don’t know what’s below the surface, it’s too deep for me to see it.”
“I think you’re over doing it with the metaphors now. I don’t want to keep going back and forth either. Why don’t you call me next week when you’re back from Gloucestershire and we can talk more then?”
The Drive, p.36
I explained the story of Morgan to Riley in the hire car on the way to Gloucestershire.
“None of that made any sense. If neither of you are with anyone else, what’s the problem?”
“It’s a big commitment.” I had the window wound down and was playing with my hair in the wind.
“Why?” Riley had her sunglasses on and was gripping the wheel as we zoomed along the motorway.
“Because we’ve known each other along time?” The countryside was flashing past us.
“So, why does that matter? I can’t believe why you’ve never told me about Morgan before. It makes so much sense now why you weren’t interested in Fred or Jamie.”
“What do you mean?” The new car smell was making me feel a bit sick.
“I don’t know, you just never really pursued anyone else.”
“Maybe I need closure before I can move on.” I took a sip of the coffee I’d got at the service station.
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Hey, did I tell you I slept with Alby?”
“What?” I turned too quickly and spilt the coffee I was holding all over my lap.
“Oh no, your sunflower dress.”
“Forget about that.” The warm coffee was soaking through the dress. “What happened with Alby?”
“Oh, well I just went over there one-night, last night actually.” Riley smiled.
“This is crazy.” The sky was turning pink as the sun set over the green hills we were flying past.
“He’s really nice actually.”
“Riley this is too much.”
“He’s really funny.”
“I can’t believe it.” I looked around the car for a napkin or some tissue but couldn’t find anything.
“I don’t know . . . you just never seemed interested in him.”
“Yeah well, I’m full of surprises. What’s happening with Fred?”
“He’s text me a few times, but I haven’t replied.” I shoved the paper cup into the shelf in the door.
“He’s persistent. Do you really think it was true about the brooch costing $65 dollars?”
“Yeah, why would he lie. I’m just worried about what he was using that microphone for?”
“He said it was work related right, wait you don’t think he was spying on us, do you?”
The puddle of coffee was going cold in my lap. I closed the car window to stop the air getting in.
“I don’t know.” I felt a shiver run over me. I remembered the cigarettes he left on the table. “ But he’s been in the flat before. He could have bugged us at any time.”
“Why would he? We don’t work in the mining industry.”
“No.” I soaked the coffee up with my cardigan. “But some of the clients I work for do.”
Pasta Sauce at Midnight, p.37
It was dark by the time we got to Gloucestershire. There were no lights on in the house. We pulled into the gravel drive way and the porch light came on. We got out and I went and tapped on the door with the big iron door knocker. Lauren’s Dad, Marvin, let us in but didn’t say much. Annie and Stephen were already in bed, and Lauren was at Mark’s. I was aware of every step creaking as we followed him up the stairs. Marvin switched the light on one of the rooms bedrooms.
“Here you go.” There was a small double bed with a rose covered duvet cover, next to the window.
“Thanks Marvin.” Riley threw her suitcase down on to bed.
“Sorry we’re so late.” I added, dropping my rucksack down on the floor.
“There’s food in the fridge. You can help yourselves.” Marvin said before he wandered off in his pyjamas.
“Come on.” Riley grinned at me. “Let’s go and see what they’ve got.”
I sat at the kitchen table while Riley cooked some pasta on the gas oven. The kitchen was the complete opposite to the one in our new build flat. There everything was compact, smart, functional, here everything was uneven, unordered and unpredictable. Even the shelves and cupboards had started to rise and fall with the natural movement of the house’s walls and none of the lines matched up anymore.
“Is it weird that they keep the pasta sauce with all the baking stuff?” Riley pulled out a jar of passata.
“Are there other sauces in there?”
“No, the other tins and jars are over here.” Riley pointed to a cupboard next to the sink.
“I guess everyone’s system is different. . . Have you talked much to Lauren about what’s going on?”
“A bit.” Riley poured the passata into a saucepan and didn’t look at me.
“Did she seem, upset, or angry or confused?”
“She seemed fine.”
“What should we do, should we try and talk to her?”
“About her mum being ill, and her living with some guy she met at the pub?”
“I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.”
“About her mum then.” It was pitch black outside, I could see nothing through the windows, but the kitchen light reflected back.
“Jessica, I’m sure that’s the last thing she wants to think about. She probably just wants to have a good time while we’re here.”
Chelsea T-Shirt, p.38
Annie was already at the kitchen table when Riley and I came down for breakfast. Stephen was sat next to her slurping away at a bowl of cereal. Annie had a knitted blanket draped over her knees and a shawl around her shoulders. The door to the garden was wide open and the sound of bird song was streaming in with the morning light. There was a white table cloth out on the table and bowls, plates and cutlery had been laid out for Riley and I. There were different boxes of cereal and a metal toast rack filled with toast, burnt to varying degrees. Marvin was flipping pancakes over the gas oven. He didn’t say anything as Riley and I sat down.
“How did you girls sleep? Please have some cereal.” Annie gestured across the table. I could see it strained her to move. She looked paler than she had the last time we had visited and her hair had been cut and cropped that framed her face in a stylish way but made her look gaunt.
“Really good, thanks.” Riley ran her fingers through her dark hair on the side where it was longer.
“Wonderful,” said Annie, readjusting herself in her chair. “I never know how comfortable that spare bed is. So, what are you girls up to today, have you got anything nice planned with Lauren?”
“I think she just wanted to go to the pub.” I looked over at Riley, who was examining her split ends.
“The pub!” Annie said. “You’ve got the whole countryside to explore, you can’t just go to the pub.”
“What else is there to do?” I said.
“There’s castles, and abbeys and stately homes.” Annie looked to Marvin for some ideas but he kept his back to us.
“That stuff’s boring.” Stephen tapped his spoon against the bottom of his empty bowl.
“Or you could watch cartoons all day.” Annie looked at Stephen with an eyebrow raised.
“Can I?” Stephen’s spoon clattered against the bottom of the bowl and he sat upright.
“No of course you can’t, you’ve got chores and homework to do.”
“Not fair.” He put his elbows on the table and sunk his head into his hands.
“Is that a Chelsea t-shirt?” Riley said.
“Yeah.” Stephen didn’t look up.
“Why do you support them?”
“That’s Marvin’s team.” Annie explained. “He grew up in west London.
“Oh, so did I,” I said. “In Brentford?”
“The home of the Mighty Bees.” Marvin slipped another pancake on to the stack he was making.
“Oh yeah, my uh, ex, Morgan supports them. I’ve been to a few matches.”
“He might not be an ex for much longer.” Riley said in an annoying sing-song voice.
“Oh really?” Annie leant forward. “Please do tell?”
At that point we were interrupted by the sound of Lauren’s voice flying down the hallway corridor.
“It’s me. I’m ho-ome.”
“We’re in here.” Annie yelled. She seemed to have perked up at the idea of getting some gossip from me.
Lauren walked in wearing a pair of doc martens and a bomber jacket. Her hair was dyed blue and she had even managed to get her noise pierced. She sat down at the table between Annie and me.
“Darling, the girls said you’re just planning on going to the pub all day?”
“Yeah, so what?” Lauren put her elbows up on the table, mimicking Stephen’s body language.
“You can’t just spend all day in the pub, the girls are guests, you have to take them somewhere.
“Take them to Berkley Castle.” Marvin put the stack of pancakes down on the table.
“That’s alright, thanks Marvin.” Lauren didn’t look at him.
“Oh, yes you must take them to Berkley Castle. It’s an absolute delight.” Annie clapped her hands together.
The three of us looked at each other. I think we all sensed this was the last thing in the world we wanted to do, but one way or another, we would be going there.
Berkley Castle, p.38
Lauren, Jessica and I sat on the banks of the castle watching Marvin pushing Annie around in a wheelchair.
“I want to go to the butterfly house.” I could hear Stephen saying over, and over, even though they were far away from us. I looked further across grounds, and sure enough the path they were on led to a small house.
Riley was laid on the grass, staring up at the clouds. Lauren was hunched into her knees.
“So . . .” I raked my hands through the grass a few times. “How’s it going?”
“How’s what going?” Lauren didn’t look at me, she wasn’t looking at her family in the distance either, I couldn’t tell what she was looking at.
“You know, living at Mark’s?”
“Do you think that cloud looks like a dachshund?” Riley said, point up at the sky.
“Yeah kind of.” Lauren looked up too.
“And look, it’s chasing a tennis ball.” Riley pointed at another cloud further away.
“Oh yeah.” Lauren said, and then was quiet again. Lauren had always been the talker amongst the three of us, the one who made conversation flow and sing. Now she wasn’t saying anything, it was left to me and Riley to make the small talk. I could see Riley wasn’t that interested.
I trailed my fingers through the grass again. I thought about texting Morgan for the 100th time.
“What are you thinking about?” Riley sat up. She was wearing a green halter neck.
“What? Why would I be thinking about anything? I’m not thinking about anything.”
“Oh, it just looked like you zoned out.” Riley adjusted her yellow skirt so it covered her knees.
“We were all just thinking are own thoughts, weren’t we?”
“Yeah. I just wanted to know what you were thinking.” Riley’s head turned as she noticed a group of guys walking towards the butterfly house. “Hey, what’s with the nose ring?”
“What?” Lauren touched the side of her nose. “I thought, I’m not working so, may as well.”
“Did you want to do it?” I said.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I thought, I may as well use this time to experiment with my look.”
“I think we should go to the butterfly house.” Riley stood up.
The Butterfly House, p.39
If it had been hot outside, it was stifling in the butterfly house. I watched a purple butterfly flapping its wings as it landed on a branch in front of me.
“Mum, look,” I heard Stephen shouting from the other end of the butterfly house. “They have the world’s largest moth.”
Marvin pushed Annie over to the plaque Stephen was reading and they started talking about it. Riley and Lauren were stood in amongst the plants, close to the three guys we had followed in here. I stood at the other end of the house, alone, and thinking about Morgan. It seemed like a futile task, but every thought seemed to run back into him. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t even say I wanted to be with him, there was just something pulling me towards him.
“Mum, Dad, look!” Stephen had appeared a few feet away from me, by a small bush. “Jessica, look.” I walked over and knelt down to see what he was looking at. There was something like a small brown leaf hanging down from a branch. Marvin, Annie, Lauren and Riley, crowded in around us.
“It’s coming out of its cocoon.” Stephen said. More families started to gather around us and a quiet enveloped the butterfly house. The air was so humid I felt a little light headed, but I stayed right by Stephen, watching this tiny creature breaking out of its’ shell.
“What do you think it is?” Stephen said to me.
“Shhh.” Annie grabbed Stephen by the shoulder. She didn’t let go. She was holding on to him like the safety bar on a rollercoaster. She slipped her other hand into Marvin’s.
I looked up at Lauren and Riley. The three guys were standing behind them. Riley was intensely focused on the cocoon, but Lauren’s eyes met mine and she smiled and wiped away a single tear as it shed from her eye. I felt my heart racing a little fast. There were too many people in the butterfly house. We were surrounded we couldn’t get out. The cocoon was breaking away from the butterfly, but for a moment I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was so hot I thought I might pass out, or just have to run outside. Stephen passed me the book on butterflies he had got from the gift shop. The solidness steadied me. I knew he wanted me to try and identify what kind of cocoon we were looking at, but I could barely read any of the words in the book. I felt scared. I felt like something was changing inside of me. I was worried I was going to throw up. I looked at the book again. I was worried flicking through the pages might create a breeze that would knock the cocoon to the floor. Everything felt so fragile. The butterfly was still working its way out. One by one, I turned the pages, looking for some clues as to what we were looking at.
“Here,” I said, handing the book back to Stephen. A little surprised he was even interested in butterflies. “It’s the Atlas Moth.”
“The biggest moth in the world he told me.” He didn’t take the book or look at me. He watched the moth climb out of its cocoon and spread its wings. It was absolutely huge. I’d never seen anything like it. It was red with spots of white and a yellow fringe. It looked like something from another world.
“It looks like you Jessica.”
“With your red hair, it looks like you.” Stephen whispered as he took the book from me.
After we had to move out of the flat, I got a job house sitting for this couple who lived in Bournemouth. They were mega rich. Like mega, mega rich. They had this like, minimalist, white, thunderbirds go type house nestled up on the cliffs between the pines. They had a view of the whole fucking ocean. It was breath taking.
I knew I would get on with Jasper the moment I met him. He came bounding up to me, his black, flappy ears waving madly behind his head, and leapt up on to me. I knelt down to hug him and felt instantly safe. He was huge and smelt like wet dog and the salt of the ocean. He paced around me a few times, barking, wanting to be taken for a walk, and then went over and sat by the front door. He looked at me like he knew I had come to rescue him from a life of Sunday afternoons spent lying on a rug while his owners painted, read books and listened to classical music.
“He can be a bit of a handful.” The husband said, winking at me, and handing me the keys to the house.
“His food is all in the kitchen.” The wife said, checking the time on watch. She was wearing a white jacket her sunglasses on her head and her highlights were over-done. “In the cupboard next to his bowl. Well, better get going we don’t want to miss our flight.” She picked up her large handbag. The husband kept smirking at me.
“What time of day does he liked to be walked?” I said.
“What?” The wife was already pulling her wheelie suitcase towards the door. “Oh, any time’s fine. Just keep him out of trouble.” She waved her hand at me.
“Lovely meeting you.” The husband hugged me goodbye. “I’m sure you’ll take good care of Harry.”
“My apologies.” He was still holding me. “Henry was our other dog.” He pulled away and looked at me. He was like, kind of good looking, but totally weathered from too much sun and booze.
“Come along now darling. I want to have a drink in the members lounge before we get on the plane.” The wife was standing in the open door with her sunglasses on and the dazzling sun back lighting her. Under her white jacket she was wearing a black t-shirt, and around her tanned neck she wore a necklace of red wood beads.
“It was so great meeting you Rachel.”
The Surfing School, p.41
“Right, right, right. That’s it! Riley. Well, you have a good time. No boys around ok? I’ve got CCTV on the outside so I’ll know.”
Then they were gone, and it was just me alone in a huge white house, room after room after room, leading into each other. I jumped on all the beds, opened all the cupboards, turned on all the radios, drank the half open bottle of wine they had left in the fridge and sat on the sofa. I flicked through all the hundreds of channels but there was nothing on.
Jasper came and lay his head on my thigh.
“Come on then.” I grabbed the house keys and his lead and we set off down the path towards the beach. It was evening time by now and the tide was out. There was a group of surfers trekking back across the beach. As Jasper pulled me towards them, I realised it was a surfing school, led by two young guys. One of them had longish hair, dyed blonde, and the other one, short brown hair. They waved at me as Jasper pulled me past them, and all the kids waved at me too. I waved back but I had no time to stop. Jasper was dragging me towards the water. The waves had left ripples in the sand and each groove cupped a small pool of silver water, reflecting the light from the low hanging sun. I could even see the moon coming up in the far horizon. I stopped Jasper and let him off his lead. The surfing school were well away from us know, back by the closed café and the kiosk selling buckets and spades. Jasper raced through a cluster of seagulls that were resting on the sand, forcing them to fly up and out in every direction. He circled around and then bounded into the ocean, causing huge splashes and ripples as he leapt up and down through the waves.
“So, I guess you like to swim, hey?” I called to him, realising it was a little chilly and I hadn’t brought a jumper or a jacket. The wind tangled my uneven hair and the beach was empty.
I sat down on the sand and stretched my feet out while I watched Jasper bounding out and over the waves. He was such a beautiful dog. I loved him and I needed him. And that was when my summer really started.
The Big Tip, p.42
There was a cheap looking bar at the foot of the cliffs. A waitress was clipping plastic tablecloths onto the tables and putting out candles. The two guys from the surf school were there sat near the back. I sat at the bar, close enough so they could see me, but not close enough to scare them. There was a guy playing guitar just behind them. It was just like, covers, but he was so fucking handsome, I couldn’t stop looking at him. For a moment he caught my eye and I had to look down at my beer until he finished. I wondered if we had a connection, but no, he’s handsome, right, that’s why they let him play? He has a connection with everyone. When I looked back, he was gone. A woman’s voice started singing through the speakers: Ain’t nobody on the road, ain’t nobody on the beach.
“Hey, do you want a beer?” It was one of the guys from the surf school. “We teach at the surf school and this kid’s dad just gave us a big tip. We’ve got money to burn.”
He brandished some cash at me and I looked over the friend who waved.
“I’d love a beer. My name’s Riley.”
Their names were Tom and Luke. One had short blonde hair and the other long brown hair, but I couldn’t remember which one was which.
“We’re studying at the uni.” The blonde one took a swig of his beer. “Just trying to pick up some extra cash for rent over the summer.” He lent back in his chair.
“What do you do?” The other one asked me.
“Me? I walk dogs. My housemate Jessica is a lawyer, and Lauren. . .”
“They live in Bournemouth?” The other one asked me questions and the blonde one drank his beer.
“No, we had to move out. Lauren’s mum’s sick and the contract was in her name, but I’m sure we’ll get something together again when her mum gets better. I’m just dog sitting for this couple.”
“And what do you want to do? Are you like an artist or something?”
“An artist? No. Lauren works in the music industry, in marketing for this like, music service.”
“Like an app?”
“It could be.” I took another sip of my beer.
“So, you’re here on your own?”
“I have Jasper.”
“Who’s that, your boyfriend?”
“No, he’s my dog.” I tapped the sides of my beet. They laughed. I relaxed a little.
“You should come hang out with us. We can show you all the cool places.”
“So . . . Tom,” I looked over at the bar. “What’s fun to do around here?”
“There’s the beach,” Tom was the one with long brown hair, “the bars, exploring the coast.”
10 Miles, Along the Coast and Back, p,43
I woke up in a like, creaky bed in a room with no curtains. On the bedside table there was a Yorkie mug, a pint glass and a pile of change. I squinted at the bright sunlight and looked for my dress.
Luke and Tom were downstairs in the front room watching TV.
“Hey Riley, did you sleep ok?” Tom said.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” Luke said.
“That would be fab. Do you have a charger? I need to charge my phone.” I took my phone out of my bag and showed it to them. My hair was still matted to the back of my head.
“Yeah sure, over there.” Luke pointed at the mass of wires surrounding the games consoles under the TV, before walking out. I went and plugged my phone in and sat down on the armchair. I tried to follow what was happening on the TV but I had no idea what show we were even watching.
“Here.” Luke came back with a cup of tea for me.
“Thanks.” It was in a Snickers mug.
“What are you up to today?” Luke said, as he sat back down on the sofa next to Tom.
“I need to go home to check on Jasper.” I needed a face wipe. “What about you?”
“We’re teaching this afternoon, but we’ll be at the bar tonight.” Tom said, taking a sip of his tea.
At home I tried to make a coffee but the machine in the kitchen was too fancy to work out how to use it. I got a glass of water, filled it with ice from the machine in the fridge, and went and lay on a sun lounger by the pool. Jasper came and lay down on the floor next to me. I woke up three times, when the gardener came to get something out of the pool house, when the cleaner lifted my drink to clean the side table next to me, and finally when the sprinklers came on in the late afternoon- early evening. Jasper barked, and I knew it was time to go.
“Come on.” I yawned before heading off to find his lead. “We’ve got some serious walking to do.”
The evening was as beautiful as it had been the night before. The surf school were way out at sea this time. Jasper and I walked at least 10 miles, along the coast and back, watching the waves and the pine trees along the cliffs. Nothing seemed to wear him out, he could just run and run.
It was only when I was walking back along the beach, and it was turning dusk, and the blues, greys and silvers were all merging into each other, that I saw a figure walking towards me. My heart felt tight in my chest. I hurried to put Jasper back on his lead. The surf school were miles away down the beach. I could just make out them dragging their boards in.
“Hi Riley.” It was Fred. He was walking towards me in like it was the most normal thing ever.
The Breakfast Bar, p,44
Fred stood by the record player flicking through the old vinyls that were normally concealed in a draw in the wall. He was holding an oversized glass of wine, swirling it around and tapping his foot to the jazz he had just put on. I didn’t know why I had invited him back to the house, with its huge, breath-taking views of the ocean. I stood with my back to the breakfast bar, watching him. Jasper stood next to me. It was misty and hazy outside. There was a, like, light fog over the oceans and the pines. I’d turned the overhead light on and all the white surfaces were glinting with excitement.
“This is a great record.” Fred picked up an album and showed it to me. I didn’t know it.
“How long are you down for?”
“I just drove down for the day.” He put the record back and drank some wine.
“You followed me. Sorry, but I felt I had to say it.”
“My mother said you’d left to take a job in Bournemouth. Great dog, by the way.”
“You’re trying to find Jessica.”
Fred drank some more wine and looked at me. He fit into the house. He had the right kinds of clothes on that made it looked like he belonged here.
“There were a few things I wanted to talk to her about. I went to the flat in Bow but the girls’ living there said you moved out.”
I picked up my wine from the breakfast bar. I hurt to think of someone else living in our flat. Fred walked over to me and put his wine down on the breakfast bar.
“Why don’t you just call her?”
“Don’t you think I’ve tried. You know how cold she can be.”
“You were spying on us.”
“Oh, come on, of course I wasn’t spying on you. You stole a brooch from my mother’s house.”
“That had a microphone on it?”
“Yes, that you stole. You can’t accuse me of spying. I never had any intention of spying on you.”
“Why are you here now?”
That’s when he leant in and kissed me. Jasper started barking.
“Come on boy.” I took Jasper by the collar and led him into the bedroom. When I came back Fred was standing in the middle of the house still holding his wine.
“So, shall I go?”
“Why did you come?”
“I’ll admit I was hoping you might be able to put me in touch with Jessica.”
“I can’t do that, she has a boyfriend now anyway, and I think you should go.”
I sat on the beach and watched the waves breaking against the sand. It was overcast and there weren’t so many people out today. There was a breeze, but it was warm and bright. Jasper wasn’t with me. Dogs weren’t allowed on the main beaches.
“Hey. Were you at the bar down the beach the other day?” I looked up at the person stood in the sand next to me. It was the singer from the bar.
“Yeah, that was me.” I stood up and dusted the sand of my blue skirt. “Do you play there a lot?”
“Sometimes. I just work in construction. My boss owns the bar. He lets me play when it’s quiet.”
“You were really good.”
“No, I’m just your average guy with a guitar.” He was wearing a t-shirt and floral shorts.
“I thought the songs you played were great.”
“Really?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Which one was your favourite?”
“My favourite?” I looked out at the sea. The wind was pushing the waves hard along the beach. “They were all great. Do you want to get an ice cream? I was about to get one.”
“I’m just on a break, I better get back.”
“Maybe I’ll see you at the bar later.”
“Yeah, let’s see. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Riley.” I said, as he started to walk off.
“I’m John.” With that, he was gone. I stood in the sand for a few minutes.
I brought an ice cream with a flake and walked west along the beach. It might have been a bit cold for an ice cream. It was windy and I didn’t have a jumper or a cardigan. I ate the ice cream anyway, pushing my hair out of my face as I walked into the wind.
I re-read the message Jessica had sent me about Fred: What a creep! I’m so sorry, call me or the police if he comes back. How’s Bournemouth? xx
I didn’t tell her I’d invited Fred into the house I was dog sitting at, or that he kissed me. I was confused about why he was bad and why she hated him. Something about a deep mining spy. He seemed kind of ok to me. I flicked through my Instagram as I walked along licking my ice cream. Jessica had posted a picture of her and Morgan rowing a boat and feeding some ducks.
I messaged Lauren again: Hey, how’s home? Want to come to Bournemouth soon?
Lauren had been my best friend at university until I dropped out. I don’t think she ever really forgave me, and then she met Jessica.
I finished my ice cream and messaged the boys from the surf school. There must be something fun to do around here.
Jessica and Morgan were sat at bottom of the concrete steps. Jessica was lying on her front reading.
“Riley!” Jessica leapt up and hugged me. She was wearing a white playsuit with the sides cut out.
“Cool outfit.” I hugged her back noticing the flowers printed across the fabric.
“Thanks. It’s so good to see you. It feels like forever.” She brushed the sand off the playsuit.
“Did Lauren tell you she’s not coming?”
“Yeah she did.” She looked over at Morgan. He was leant against the steps scribbling in a notebook.
“Hi.” He raised his hand up and squinted in the sun.
“What are you working on?” I said.
“Just some ideas for a story.” He held the notebook up as evidence. It looked like it was leather.
Jessica had a thermos of coffee and she poured me a cup as I sat down next to her on the sand.
“Come here.” She said, moving up, to make space for me on the towel.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay? You could help me figure out how to use the coffee machine.”
“You don’t know how to use the coffee machine? What do you drink?” Morgan said.
“Didn’t you used to work at a café?” Jessica added.
“I didn’t have to make the coffee.”
“What have you been up to?” Jessica said. “Tell us everything.”
“I met these guys. . . Luke and Tom.”
“Alby says hi.”
“Oh yeah, he keeps texting me.”
“What’s going on with the guys?” Riley poured herself a cup of coffee. Morgan started writing again.
“We just drove along the coast yesterday, they wanted to catch some waves at this remote beach.”
“Do you like either of them?”
“Actually,” I put my coffee down. “Morgan, you’re a guy?”
“Sure.” He looked up from his notebook.
“I met this guy, John, he’s like, really hot, he works in construction and he plays guitar, but I don’t think he’s that in to me.”
“Ok. . .”
“What should I do?”
“What do you mean, what should you do?”
“I’ve never had a guy not like me before.” I looked out at the sea. It looked a choppier today.
“Riley . . .” Jessica put her coffee cup down. Morgan tapped the top of his pen against this notebook.
Trade Secrets, p.46
Morgan, Jessica and I sat with our backs leant back against the steps and watched the ocean.
“Should I just ask him out?” We had been talking for John for about 45 minutes.
“Why don’t you just, get to know him or something.” Morgan took a sip of Jessica’s coffee. “What happened with the guy who was spying on you?
“Fred, oh yeah. . . He kissed me.”
“Riley, what? He kissed you, why didn’t you tell me?” Jessica said.
“I told him to get lost.”
“Who is this guy?” Morgan took another sip of coffee.
“No one.” Jessica didn’t look at him. “Riley do you want to go and get some snacks?”
“We have snacks.” He put the coffee down.
“We don’t have ice cream.” She stood up. “Don’t worry, you can stay here, we’ll go.”
“Sure.” He put the coffee down and picked up his notebook.
I followed Jessica up the big concrete stairs and we walked along the promenade to the kiosk.
“Morgan seems cool.” I said while Jessica counted the change in her purse. “Don’t worry they take card.”
“I think we’re going to break up.” She took out a crisp £10 note and zipped up her purse.
“What? But you look so happy together on Instagram.”
“Yeah.” She looked back along the promenade. There were tourists and seagulls everywhere now.
“Does he know about you and Fred?”
“No. I just told him he was spying on a company my firm works for. Do you think I should tell him?”
“If you’re going to break up it doesn’t really matter.”
“Maybe we won’t break up. Three, please.” Jessica gestured to the ice cream sign and handed her money to the man behind the kiosk.
“Do you want a flake?” The man handed her the change.
“Yes, please.” She pushed up on her tiptoes to look over the counter. “And the raspberry sauce.” He had already turned away to pour the ice cream. Jessica looked at me. “I’m sorry about Fred following you here.”
“It’s ok, he doesn’t seem that bad.”
“Riley. He’s spying on us to find out international trade secrets. . . about deep sea mining.” Jessica scanned my face for a reaction. The man behind the kiosk handed us our ice creams.
“He’s not doing a very good job.” I took a lick of my ice cream. “I’ll be impressed if he can get any trade secrets out of me.”
Hot Air Balloon, p. 47
Jessica and I stood at the stop of the stairs. Morgan was still on the beach writing. Jessica watched him for a few minutes. He was wearing a stripy navy t-shirt and seemed so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the wind in his hair or the seagulls approaching. I could see why she liked him, he seemed, kind of, like, thoughtful and sensitive. Ice cream started to drip down my hand.
“My firm thinks Fred was dating me to find out information about a client we work for.” Jessica said.
“Really?” I licked the ice cream off my hand.
“I didn’t want to tell Morgan about it, I was worried it would make me look. . .”
“Yeah, thanks Riley.”
Jessica started making her way down the stairs onto the beach.
“I don’t want an ice cream.” Morgan said when Jessica tried to hand it to him.
“I just brought it for you.”
“I’m not hungry.” He sat up and put his notebook down.
“Ice cream’s not the kind of thing you get hungry for. You just have one.” They both looked at me. I took a lick of my ice cream and looked out at the ocean to avoid getting involved.
“I do want it, thanks. That’s great.” He tried to take it from her.
“No, don’t worry. I don’t care if you have it. I should have asked you if you wanted one.” She sat down next to him, holding both ice creams. I continued to pretend I couldn’t hear them.
“No, I do want one, that was really sweet of you.”
“It’s fine you don’t have to eat an ice cream just to make me happy.”
“No, I want it, I want it.” He managed to wrestle the ice cream away from her.
There was silence for a moment. Ice cream was dripping down both of them.
“I’m sorry.” “Jessica said.
“No, I’m sorry.” He leaned over and kissed her, then they started making out. I stood on the sand wondering what to do. I had only been with them for an hour and already I felt exhausted.
“We should go on the hot air balloon.” I announced, to try and distract them.
“Riley, I think it closed down.” Jessica said, pulling away from Morgan.
“What? That’s the whole reason I moved here, to go on the balloon.”
“Yeah I think I read about it in the news, it was too expensive to keep running.” Jessica said.
“You moved here to go on a hot air balloon?” Morgan picked up his notebook again.
“Yeah and walk dogs and meet guys, but I could do that anywhere.”
“I’m sure there’s something else fun we can do.” Jessica said. “If anyone can find it, it’s you.”
Beer Garden, p.48
Morgan and Jessica were sat on the table over from me Luke and Tom. Jasper was asleep under my legs. I could feel his warm fur brushing against me as he breathed. The pub was so loud. All I could hear was Tom and Luke shouting over the noise. The rest of the surf school staff were spread out across the other tables.
“We’ve got to go out tonight.” Luke said.
“Yes, absolutely.” Tom agreed, downing his pint. “Another drink?”
“Yeah sure why not.” I said, taking a sip of my gin and pink fizz as Tom stood up.
“How long are you friends down for?” Luke said, running his hands through his hair.
“Just for the day.” The red and white paper straw was damp. I took it out and put it in the ashtray.
“You should come out with us tonight.” Luke shouted at Jessica and Morgan. “We can show you around Bournemouth, get the last train home.”
“We’ll do all the bars, all the clubs,” Luke said to me.
“Don’t you have to work tomorrow?” I downed the last of my drink.
“Yeah sure, but just one shift. Nothing cures a hangover like a wave.”
Ten minutes later Tom put three drinks and two packets of crisps down on the table.
“Here you go.”
“Thanks buddy.” Luke pushed his glass aside, the dregs still left in in, and grabbed the next pint.
“I need to take Jasper home.” I said.
“Ok we can all go.” Tom took a swig of his pint and ripped open a packet of crisps. “We’ll get a cab.”
“It’s so far out of town.”
“It will be fun. We can see your place.”
“It’s quicker if I go on my own. Jessica and Morgan can stay with you.” I grabbed my new gin pink fizz. “I can meet you all somewhere.”
“Ok, we’ll have to think of somewhere good to go. We want to show your friends a good time.”
“I’m sure they’ll have a great time wherever you take them.”
“No, but it has to be really good.”
“We could play pool.”
“Or go dancing.”
“10 pin bowling?”
I watched the two surfers hit ideas back and forth with each other like it was ping pong, hoping Jessica and Morgan were up for a good time.
The gang were three pubs into their pub crawl. This beer garden was even bigger than the one we’d been at earlier. The tables were covered in sticky cups and the music was blaring out loudly.
“Riley, you’re back!” Jessica stood up and hugged me. “I’ll go and ger another round in, what do you want?” There were chalk boards hung up everywhere with ‘2-4-1 Cocktails’ written all over them.
“This time just get two drinks each.” Tom said, finishing his drink.
“No.” Morgan pulled out his wallet. “Get four each.”
“No.” Luke slapped Morgan on the back like a brother. “Get six each.”
“I can’t carry that many drinks.” Jessica held on to her own purse and refused cash from everyone.
“We’ll help you.” Luke and Tom leapt up and raced inside after Jessica.
“How’s Jasper?” Morgan, said as I sat down opposite him.
“He’s cool, he’s such a good dog. I’ll be so sad when I leave here.”
“What are you planning to do in the autumn?”
“I don’t know. Hopefully Lauren will be back in London by then, we can all get a place together.”
“The three of you?”
“Yeah. Why, what are your plans?”
“I don’t have any plans.” He looked down at his drink. “I work for an environmental newspaper that’s just online, so I get to work from home, which is good.”
“You don’t miss people?” The table was covered in empty chip bowls.
“Yeah sometimes.” The light in the garden suddenly changed. It was getting late or a storm was coming in. “Do you?” He finished his drink.
“Don’t break up with Jessica.” It came out of my mouth from nowhere.
“What? Did she say we were going to break up?”
“Oh man.” He pressed his hand against his head.
“No, no, no, no, no, she didn’t say that at all.” I tried to reassure him. “She just. . .”
“She told you we’d been fighting.”
“No, that’s not even what she said. She didn’t say anything. I was just saying don’t break up, in case you were thinking about it, which you weren’t, because you’re so good together.”
“I really don’t even know what it is that we fight about. . . there’s no problems apart from the fights, they’re not even fights, just these discussions that go on for days.”
“Did she say she thought we were going to break up?”
The Vets, p. 50
I got up and walked along the long curved main road through the pine trees to the veterinary office. I had to be there at 8.00am every day to open up before the vets came in. I made a coffee and stared at the calendar on the desk. It was a few more weeks until my house-sitting job finished and then summer would be over.
Jonathan, one of the vets, came in and grabbed some dog treats one of the shelves.
“Can you stock up the treats in my office when you get time please Riley?” He threw the treats up in his hand and caught them like they were a baseball as he walked towards his office.
“Yeah sure.” I leant forward over my desk. “While you’re here, do you think they’ll be a chance of me picking up any more hours here?”
He stopped as he was about to open the door to his office and looked at me. He was tall and wore glasses. He was one of those people that always seemed busy. He had a wife and three daughters.
“You’ll have to talk to Sally. I don’t think she’s planning to reduce her hours any further. Although, she’ll probably retire in a few years, and then you could go full time.”
The door swung behind him as he went into his office. I leant back on my chair. I sat up and sent a message on the Bow Girls WhatsApp group: Should we start looking for a place for September?
I waited for a few moments. Jessica started typing something but then went offline. Lauren didn’t reply. I went and filled up all the dog treat draws.
Three dogs came in, a cat came in, a parrot came in. I was nearly at the end of my shift when the doorbell rang and a man walked in without a pet.
It was Fred. He put his hands in the pockets of his trousers.
“How did you find me?”
“I saw you worked here on Instagram.” He inspected the toys and treats lined up on the shelves.
I thought back to the picture I had posted on my first day, I was stood outside hugging a Shih Tzu.
“I can’t help you. I don’t know where Jessica is.” This was sort of true, it seemed like she was living half way between her parent’s house and Morgan’s family’s home.
“I really need to get hold of her.”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
“Maybe you can just get a message to her.
Sally bustled in shaking the rain off her umbrella.
“Miserable day out there.” She began chatting as she put her umbrella away and hung up her coat. Fred and I stared at each other for a few moments and then he left.
The Children’s Library, p.51
On the way home I passed a small library. The kind of place you could walk past every day and never notice. I went in through the wide, accessible doors. The reception was warm and felt modern.
“I’d like a book on deep sea mining.”
“Are you a member of the library?” The woman behind the low, wooden desk must have been in her 70s, but she was far more glamorous then anyone I’d ever met.
“Would you like to join?” She handed me a form to fill in and a pen.
I looked down at the piece of paper. I didn’t know that I had ever been in a library before. I knew I had seen them, at school, in Tower Hamlets, and at university, before I dropped out.
I took the piece of paper and a strange feeling came over me. A feeling of possibility and hope.
“Do you have books on dogs as well?”
“Yes, yes,” she waved me away as an old man entered with his grandchildren. “In the dog section at the back.”
I walked over to the back of the library and stared at the shelves of books about dogs. I picked up one about the history of dog breeds and a small thrill ran over me.
I went over to the 90s style computers under the windows. There were hundreds of results for ‘deep sea mining’ but only one book that was actually in the library. It was called Treasures of the Deep.
I found the book in the children’s section and sat down on a miniature bean bag, amongst the kids browsing for holiday reads.
I woke up an hour later with the book splayed out on the floor and the librarian prodding me with a pencil.
“You can’t sleep in the children’s library.”
“You shouldn’t make the bean bags so comfortable.” I said, as I put the book back on the shelf.
The librarian tutted as she strode off in her stilettos. She had the kind of tights that had a line going all the way up the back of her legs to the bottom of her mini skirt. I was impressed.
I rubbed my eyes and yawned. There really was treasure at the bottom of the ocean.
I went home and lay by the pool sipping an iced latte. I had managed to figure out how the coffee machine worked. Jasper lay under my sun lounger and I could hear him panting in the heat.
I googled ‘is deep sea mining bad’ and tried to read a few articles. It seemed like, yes, it was, but then according to the children’s book, deep sea mining helped us get minerals for phones, so I wouldn’t even be able to read the articles if it wasn’t for mining. It was too confusing.
“Come on Jasper.” I finished my latte and walked back to the house. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Outside the bar, p.52
It was kind of a muggy afternoon. I tried to call Lauren but she didn’t answer, she never answered anymore. When I asked her how she was the only replies I got were ‘Great x’ or ‘Good!’ Maybe she didn’t like me anymore, or maybe she was busy, or unhappy.
I went and sat on the plastic chairs outside the bar along the beach and sipped a diet coke from a glass bottle. It was so hot, but it wasn’t at all sunny. Jasper lay on the concrete floor panting.
I saw John walking towards the bar and I stood up.
“Oh hi.” He looked up at me confused. He was a few steps below me, on the main path.
“I’m Riley, we met the other day on the beach.”
“Oh yeah,” he leapt up the steps. “Well, nice to see you.” He tried to walk past me into the bar.
“Wait.” I stepped sideways towards the entrance of the bar.
“What?” He was wearing a red t-shirt and floral shorts.
Jasper sat up and turned his head towards us.
“I wanted to ask you something.” It was a lie. I was stalling just to keep him there. I didn’t know why.
“Uh, yeah ok, sure what is it?” He looked into the bar, it was dark inside, and then back at me.
“Do you know anything about deep sea mining?”
He looked around and then stepped towards me: “Why would you ask me that?”
“I… I’m researching a project, and you work in construction, so I thought maybe you would know something about it.”
“What kind of project?” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“It’s . . . for my nieces, uh school project.” I lied again.
“I don’t think I’m the best person to ask.” He tried to duck into the bar.
“But you do know something about it?” I stepped sideways in time with him.
“Look what is this about? Who asked you to ask me about this?”
“Are your company doing deep sea mining?”
“Look, if they are, it’s nothing to do with me. I don’t make the decisions. I just run the sites. If you want to know about the company’s plans you should call the head office.”
I couldn’t think of anything else to stall him so I let him go. I stood in the hot, muggy summer air feeling frustrated. I followed him into the bar.
John was stood by the stage looking at something on a clipboard with the guy who ran the bar. It must have been the line up for the weekend. John saw me come in but didn’t say anything. I stood by the bar waiting for him to finish his conversation.
Small Dishwasher, p. 53
John tried to avoid me as he exited the bar. Now it was daytime the small dark room seemed even more depressing than usual. The paint was wearing off the floor and there was a hole in the ceiling.
“I need your help.” I blocked his way to the door.
“I really don’t think I can help you.” He squinted at the light streaming in from outside. The door was being held open with the base for a sun umbrella.
“I’m being stalked, by a trade spy. And I was thinking. . .” I shuffled from one foot to the other. My shoes sticking to the floor as I lifted them. “Maybe you could help me understand more about what he does?”
“A trade spy?” He rubbed the back of his neck again. I had never acted this crazy in front of a guy before.
“Yeah, and I thought, know your enemy right?”
“What kind of trade?”
“Deep sea mining?” I could see the bar tender watching us as he unloaded glasses from the small dishwasher behind the bar. He was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt.
“That’s not a trade.”
“Oh yeah, I know, I mean it’s for trade. I think. I don’t really know anything about trades or mining, and I could really use someone to talk to about it.”
He exhaled and looked out at the beach through the door behind me.
“What about your friends, can’t they help you?”
“They all live in London. I’m just working here for the summer.”
“What about the guys you were here with the other night?” He folded his arms.
“The other night. . .” It took me a few minutes to realise who he meant. “Oh, the guys who work at the surf school. I don’t really know them. They were just talking to me. You know how it is.”
I glanced up at him to check his reaction.
“If you don’t know anything about trade or mining?” He kept his arms folded and didn’t look at me. “Why is this person spying on you?”
“Why don’t you let me buy you a beer and I’ll explain the whole story?” I smiled up at him, I hoped sweetly, but probably I just seemed psycho.
John looked around the bar.
“Let’s go and sit on the beach.” He walked past me out into the daylight.
The bar tender looked at me and shrugged.
Small boats coming in, p.54
John and I leant back against a mound of sand he had sculpted for us and looked out over the sea. The sun was setting. It felt like we were in bed together, but we weren’t. I waited a few moments for him to say something but he had his eyes fixed on the small boats coming in on the horizon.
“My best friend Jessica, well, one of my best friend’s, Lauren is my other best friend, but her mum’s sick and she’s moved in with this much older guy.”
“How much older?” He looked up at me.
“I don’t know.” I hugged myself, it was staring to get cold. “What made you want to be a singer?”
“I’m not much of a singer, Riley.” He looked out towards the ocean.
“I thought you were great.” The sky was turning fucking amazing colours.
“I’m good enough to play a few bars.” He didn’t look at me. I leant back down against the sand.
“Anyway, Jessica is being stalked by this trade spy.”
“The older guy?”
“Mm, no he’s not that much older, I don’t think. Lauren’s going out with the older guy.”
“You and all your friends have pretty weird taste in guys, right?” He raised an eyebrow at me.
“No.” I punched him on the arm. “Jessica has a perfectly nice boyfriend called Morgan actually, although, I think maybe he has some mental health problems, but he’s super nice. Or at least he was until I told him Jessica was thinking of breaking up with him.”
John put his hand over his face and snickered. I pushed him with both hands this time.
“What’s happening with this spy then?” He sat up and looked at me.
“Jessica’s a lawyer and she works for some mining firm that he works for, no wait, I think he works for a rival firm, and their trying to find out trade secrets. . .”
“How do you know all this?”
“Because, he had a brooch with a microphone on, for spying, and he followed me down here, even to where I work, to try and find Jessica.”
“Why would he follow you?”
“I don’t know. We had to move out of the flat we all lived in, because Lauren’s mum was ill and she had to move home, but then she ended up moving in this guy, Mark, and I used to dog sit for Fred’s mum and she told him I was here.”
“The spy!” The sun was dipping down behind the ocean. We grinned at each other as the stars started to come out.
“And what do you want from me?” He moved position in the sand so we were facing each other.
Costal road, p.55
John was looking at me, straight in the eyes, as the sun hit the ocean and dropped behind the horizon turning the sky orange and pink.
“I want you to tell me what you know about deep sea mining.” I regretted it the moment it came out. John looked down at the sand between us.
“I really don’t know that much.”
“I know, I just thought, because you work in construction and, mining and construction are linked sometimes.”
“Shall we start walking back up the beach?”
“What? Yeah, oh sure, why not.” I kicked myself in the back of the leg as we stood up.
“I don’t know much about mining.” John said, as we walked back towards town. “But I know we make equipment that we sell to mining companies.”
“What kind of equipment?”
“I don’t know. You need specialist equipment really. You know, machinery that can still work at those depths.”
“Is it bad?” We were nearly back at the road now. “For the sea animals?”
“I don’t know, Riley. Yeah, probably it is, especially with all this climate stuff happening now. I mean the construction industry isn’t that poplar at the moment either.”
“Why don’t you pursue your music?” We were at the top of the steps now, by the car park that lead to the main road. The car park was empty and floor was covered in sand. We stood and looked at each other. The street lights leading into town started to turn themselves on.
“I’m ok. I don’t need career advice. I know what I’m doing.”
Music started playing in my head, the same song that was playing the bar, the night I saw him the first time.
“I’m working hard.” He added, when I didn’t respond. “I’m getting on with things. What are you doing?”
I could still hear the music in my head, I looked around at the sand scattered all around me. My face felt warm, like maybe I’d caught the sun. There was sand caught on the hairs on my legs and wrists.
“I don’t know.”
“Sorry I couldn’t be more help.” He said, as he headed off back towards the lights of Bournemouth.
I watched him go for a few minutes and then I started walking back up the steep costal road, through the pine trees, towards the house.
Little Pink Umbrella, p.56
Jasper was still at the bar when I got back, panting next to an empty metal dog bowl and tied up to the railings where I had left him. He leapt up when he saw me and ran towards me, but his lead pulled him back before he could get too close. I knelt down on the pavement and hugged him.
“Is that your dog?” There was a couple sat at the table that I had been at earlier. The woman had a cocktail with a pink umbrella in. “You shouldn’t just leave a dog unattended you know? It’s dangerous.”
The man sipped his pint and didn’t look at either of us.
“I was only gone for ten minutes.”
“We’ve been here at least half an hour. These are our second drinks.” She lifted up her glass as though to demonstrate her point.
The man put his pint down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“It’s not good for the dog neither. You could see he was distressed and that.”
I hugged Jasper and rubbed his fur.
“I’m sorry.” I could feel I was about to cry. This was the most on my own I had ever been, and I couldn’t even manage to look after a dog.
The couple looked alarmed.
“Don’t worry,” the woman said, before taking a sip of her drink. “It could happen to anyone.”
“He looks, alright don’t he?” The man and Jasper looked at each other. “Dogs are very loyal. I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”
“Thanks.” I untied Jasper’s lead and stood up. “It won’t happen again.”
“I’m sure it won’t.” The woman smiled at me. I nodded and walked off back down the beach toward home. It was pitch dark now and it took everything I had inside me not to cry. When I got back to the main road. I tried to call Lauren. She didn’t answer. I called her, and called her and called her. She still wouldn’t pick up. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t go home on my own. Not right now. I needed to talk to somebody. I rang Jessica.
“I left Jasper at a bar and forgot about him.”
“Really? Are you ok? That doesn’t sound like you.”
“I feel so bad. He didn’t have any choice but just to wait for me. He must have been so worried.”
“Well, he’s a dog. I’m sure he’s been left places before.”
I could hear Morgan saying something in the background, and then I saw a car driving towards me.
“I’ve got to go. I’ll call you later.”
The Car, p.57
John pulled up next to me and wound down the car window.
“What are you still doing here?”
I was stood where the road came down to the beach, where we had said goodbye 40 minutes earlier.
“I had to go and get Jasper.” I held the lead up. “What are you doing?” Jasper, who had been looking out at the sea, turned his head to look at John.
“I was just going for a drive. Do you want a lift?”
“A drive to where?” I looked up and down the beach. It was dark, apart from the stars and the lamplights and the city sprawling along the coast. There was no one else around.
“I just wanted some time to think. Do you want a lift or not?”
I didn’t say anything for a few moments and we just looked at each other. I felt angry at him for just walking off earlier, but I didn’t want to be on my own.
The moment I got in the car John turned and kissed me. Jasper started barking in the back.
“Jasper be quiet.” I turned to try and settle him and my phone started ringing. It was Lauren. “Fuck.”
“What is it?” John rubbed his jaw and looked at me concerned. He was the most handsome person I had ever seen.
“What, what’s wrong?”
“I just really need to take this call.”
“That’s ok, don’t worry, I’ll wait.” He smiled, and as I started to get out, he put one hand on the steering wheel and with the other he leant back and started to stroke Jasper.
I got out of the car and then I regretted it. I shouldn’t leave Jasper on his own. I stood with my hand on the car as though that would somehow stop John from driving off with my dog.
“Riley, are you ok? I had like a hundred missed calls from you.”
“I’m ok, are you ok? I haven’t heard from you since I moved to Bournemouth.”
“Me? Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just looking after Mum and stuff. Are you alright?”
I looked through the car phone. John was scrolling through the news on his phone.
“I think so, but I miss you. It’s been so long since we hung out.”
“I know, but things are really difficult right now. It’s not like I have a choice about being here.”
“I know.” A few cars whizzed past us and I wondered if John was parked in a dangerous place.
“Look, let me call you tomorrow ok?” Lauren said. I could hear Mark in the background.
“I miss you loads.” I told her, before I got back in the car.
A Big Life Changing Scene, p.58
John pulled up on the street outside the place I was house sitting. We could just see the long, white building lit up, through the trees.
“Wow,” he said, rubbing his jaw some more. “Very minimalist. I can’t believe you live here. Do you know who designed it?”
“An architect?” I undid my seatbelt.
“Yeah.” He smiled. “That’s right.”
“What? Oh, do you mean like a person?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He shook his head.
“No, tell me, who was it.” I pushed him gently. “I want to know.”
“I should get going.” He pushed me off playfully.
Whatever you do, I thought, don’t invite him in.
“Do you want to come in?”
He put his hand on his seatbelt, and then stopped and looked at me.
“Are you sure?”
“Just for a coffee. . . I know how to use the machine now.”
“Yeah, of course. Just, won’t the owners mind?”
I thought back to the first day I had arrived at the house. I was sure there was something the owner said to me about having boys in the house, but I couldn’t remember what it was, probably that it was fine.
“It’s just a coffee.”
“OK.” He smirked as he undid his seatbelt.
It was dark on the road, but also super quiet, just like in a movie just before a big life changing scene.
John got Jasper out of the car and started playing with him. I walked over to the gate and then stopped.
John stopped playing with Jasper and looked up at me.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I’m just trying to remember the code for the gate. Do you want to park your car inside?”
“No don’t worry. I won’t stay long.” He took hold of Jasper’s lead and Jasper pulled him towards me. I opened the gate and tried to think of something to say as Jasper lead us up towards the house. I had never felt this nervous before.
Just before we got to the front door John stopped me and kissed me.
A Border Collie stood in the street staring at the house, p.59
The lights had come on in the garden. It was so quiet I could hear the sprinkler whirring outside. I Jasper’s lead down on the side table in the middle of the huge open plan ground floor and Jasper ran off into one of the bedrooms barking. The cleaner had been while I was out and every surface in the house was catching the light from overhead.
John didn’t say anything. I could see the pool lit up outside. I knew if I could be quiet, if I could be still for just long enough. He could kiss me again. He stepped towards me and I broke.
“It’s an amazing house isn’t it?” I picked up the lead and went and put it in a draw.
“Incredible.” He stepped back and rubbed his jaw. “So, do you know who designed it?”
“An architect.” I pushed the draw shut. I felt angry that he was here now, that I had let him in. I didn’t want him in the house.
“Yeah, right.” He grinned. “An architect.”
“No, I don’t know.”
John walked up behind me and put his arms around me.
“Guy Stevenson.” He said and started kissing the back of my neck and my unevenly cut hair. “He developed these complex ways to build on land with difficult terrain. He designed all these world-famous minimalist houses and then died without ever having lived in one.” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t move. John continued to kiss me. I could hear a dog barking outside.
“If you want,” he said, his arms still wrapped around me. “I’ll help you get this deep mining spy.”
I felt like I was shaking with rage.
“I don’t think you should be here.” I pushed away from him.
“I just, I shouldn’t have invited you in.” I couldn’t look at him. “It’s not my house.”
“Did I do something wrong?” He walked towards me.
“No, I just don’t want you here, ok?” I looked him in the eye and this time, he knew I was serious.
I was still shaking as I heard his car drive away. I ran over to the kitchen window to check I had really heard it. Jasper came and stood next to me. I couldn’t see the street for the trees. I locked Jasper in the house and walked very quietly down to the gate. John’s car was gone but there was a Border Collie stood in the street staring at the house. I stood looking at it for a few minutes. I didn’t know why John being in the house had made me feel so weird.
I jumped back in alarm.
Fred was stood on the middle of the pavement.
No Name Tag on the Collar, p. 60
The tall, iron gate stood between me and Fred. The Border Collie sat in the middle of the road and barked once, but more at the moon than at either one of us.
“Fred, what are you doing here? Where’s your car?”
“I’m staying nearby, I just fancied an evening stroll.” He checked the time on his wrist watch, put his hands in his trouser pockets and smiled at me.
“You can’t come in.”
“I wasn’t planning to.” He looked surprised. “I was just walking past. Why are you standing out here?”
It flashed through my mind that maybe I should just kill him.
“If you come near me or my friends again, I will call the police.”
“What? You’re the one that stole from me.”
“You’re stalking me.”
“What? No, I’m not.”
“You followed me down here.”
“I have an office in Bournemouth. I’m here all the time. If anything, you followed me.”
“Fuck off Fred.”
The Border Collie barked at him.
“Alright, I’m sorry, I’ll leave.” He looked a little frightened.
I opened the gate and went and grabbed the Border Collie by the collar. It yelped and barked and then tried to dig its heels into the ground. I pulled on its collar harder and we both started growling at each other. It started barking but I barked louder and then it whimpered and allowed me to drag it over to the neighbour’s house. I could sense Fred was watching me with terror and horror but I didn’t care. I wanted him to be afraid of me.
I buzzed on the intercom on the gate several times before anyone answered.
“There’s a dog out on the street. Is it yours?”
“Our dogs are all inside at this time of night.”
“Are you sure? A Border Collie?”
“We only have Cavapoos.”
I dragged the dog to the next house, and the next house and the next house. I walked backwards and buzzed on all the gates of the neighbours on the other side of the street. Fred had disappeared. No one knew who the dog belonged to. There was no name tag on the collar.
Dog chew toys, p. 61
I got Jasper’s lead out from the draw and put it around the Border Collie. I was still shaking. I couldn’t believe I felt so angry at John. It was like wave after wave. I didn’t care whether it made sense or not, I hated him. I hated him with a rage that kept me shaking all the way to the vets.
The road was quiet. The moon hung above the pine trees. Every now and then a car passed with its lights on. There was no one at the office and so I got the dog some water and some treats and went and sat down in the waiting area. I still felt weird. I felt like I would never be able to sleep.
I stared at the metal shelves lined up with treats and dog chew toys. All these weird memories started coming back to me. I couldn’t really piece them together. Some were of a fun fair and some were of a man in stilts in long white and blue stripy trousers and his face was painted like a clown’s and he had a top hat on and he was handing me candy floss. Maybe my dad was with me but then I reached out for him he wasn’t there. There wasn’t anyone there. I had this memory of walking around this fun fair on my own. I went and watched the bumper cars. The guy running it let me go on for one free round, because I’d been standing there so long. He was sort of handsome but he smelt weird. All the other kids bashed into me because I was alone on the bumper car. When the ride stopped, I felt sick. The guy running the bumpers cars looked me up and down and laughed. Maybe he was painted like a clown too.
I felt like there was something I wasn’t remembering right. Something that happened on the bumper cars, or on the Ferris wheel or underneath the Helter Skelter. Someone took me into a circus tent. Someone did something to me. Now I could just picture John and his face against the lines of the Helter Skelter and the circus tent and how sick I felt. I’d been on the Waltzer too. It slammed me around and around and around. I guess my dad was there too now. He must have paid for me to go on some rides. He was talking to someone. He was always talking to someone. I don’t know if he saw me being led away behind the circus tents, or if he led me there himself. I felt like, it was all John’s fault somehow. I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want to ever be touched.
The Border Collie came over to me and I pushed it away. It went and settled itself over on the floor. I felt like everything was spinning around me. I didn’t know why I had never felt anything like this before. I didn’t know what it was John had done that had unsettled me in such a way but I didn’t like it. Maybe it wasn’t just John. Maybe it was Fred and Jessica and Morgan and everything. All my life I had just followed Lauren and done everything she had done, until I had to drop out of Uni, but I waited for her to finish so we could live together. Even when her and Jessica became friends, and were together every day, we were still the best friends. Now she had gone to a place I couldn’t follow her. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
Vets Code of Practice, p. 62
The first thing I saw when I woke up was the empty metal shelves glinting in the morning light.
“Riley are you ok? What happened?” It was Jonathan. He was wearing his white vets’ jacket. He took a small torch out of his breast pocked and shined it in my eyes.
“What happened?” I sprang up and saw the Border Collie cowering in the corner.
“I was hoping you could tell me that.” Jonathan put the torch back in his pocket.
“I’m sorry.” I said, looking at the shredded packs of dog food scattered all around me.
“How did this dog get in here?” The Border Collie put its paw over its face.
“He was loose on my street, I brought him in so we could see if he had a microchip. I must have fallen asleep.” I bit my lower lip and me and the Border Collie stared at each other.
“This dog has caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage Riley.”
Every single chew toy had been ripped out of its pack and discarded. The cat litter and rabbit bedding had all been ripped open too. There was not one item left on the shelves.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll pay for it with my wages.”
“No, you won’t. You hardly make anything anyway.” Jonathan went and got some bin bags and dustpan and broom out from his office and started sweeping up the mess.
“I don’t have any other money.” I said. The Border Collie came and sat down on the floor next to me.
Jonathan looked up at me from where he was crouched on the floor.
“You were trying to do the right thing.” He sighed. “I just can’t believe you’re such a heavy sleeper.”
“I don’t even remember sleeping . . . It felt like I just closed my eyes for one second.”
“You must have been very tired.” He started sweeping up the cat litter. I picked up a bin bag and started shoving all the chewed-up rubber phones and hot dogs in there.
“I’m really sorry.” I said.
“It’s not your fault.” He said, as he continued to sweep up. “This dog is obviously very traumatised. Where did you find it?” The dog started walking around the office inspecting the chew toys.
“Near where I live, towards Canford Cliffs.” I was aware I hadn’t brushed my hair in a long time.
“Strange for someone just to abandon a dog.” He shrugged.
“Maybe it ran away?” The dress I was wearing from the night before seemed inappropriate now.
“In that case, maybe we shouldn’t return it to its owners.”
“Don’t we have to, isn’t that the law?”
“I don’t know, don’t you have like a Vet’s code of practice?”
“We want to keep animals safe.”
The Waves, p. 63
I sat on the beach, at the bottom of the concrete steps, watching the kid playing in the shallow water. The older kids were jumping over the waves in their swimsuits, while the toddlers shook their buckets and spades at the tiny waves rolling in towards them. John was walking along the beach, he pretended not to see me, but then he turned back, and sat a couple of metres away from me.
He didn’t say anything, he just stared out at the sea. It was a totally clear day.
“Are you mad at me?”
“Are you mad at me?” I had forgotten how handsome he was.
“I’m sorry about the other night.” I looked down at my hand. I was raking my fingers hard through the sand. “I just started to feel anxious about you being in the house.”
“I didn’t have to come in.”
“I wanted you to come in. I just started to feel nervous and you didn’t seem to be picking up on it.”
“You didn’t say anything.”
“I know but it was making me scared that you weren’t picking up on it.”
“Picking up on what?”
“How I was feeling.”
He looked out at the ocean and sighed.
“I wasn’t thinking about how you were feeling. I was just thinking about. . .”
“It scared me.”
He pushed his fist against the sand.
“I like you so much that I don’t feel like I’m in control of it, and when we were at the house. I didn’t feel like you were in control of it either.”
“Maybe I wasn’t.”
I looked away from him. The older kids had moved slightly further down the beach. The waves were pulling them along.
“That’s like, really frightening.”
“I don’t want to do anything you don’t want to do. Maybe I felt overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to do or what you wanted me to do, but I don’t need to come over. We don’t have to do anything.”
“We need to find the deep mining spy.”
“Well yeah, there’s always that.”
The kid’s parents started calling them in, and they all started running back along the beach.
Sunglasses, p. 64
Jessica posted me a book on microbiology that her Dad had given her. It came in a white envelope filled with bubble wrap. I sat waiting for John at one of the tables outside the bar on the beach and flicked through it. I had Jasper and the Border Collie with me now. I hadn’t given it a name yet. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I couldn’t keep it, I didn’t have any money, or even a fixed address.
“Hey, what’s that?” John slid into the metal chair next to mine. He had his sunglasses tucked into the collar of his t-shirt.
“It’s a book on microbiology.”
We looked at each other for a moment and then he tried to hug me.
“You don’t need to do that.” I said.
John nodded and looked out across the ocean and the waves lapping the beach.
“OK. Do you want to talk about it?”
“About what’s going on between us?”
“Nothing’s going on between us.”
“Fine. OK.” He folded his hands in his lap and started to tap his thumbs together.
“I can’t explain it. Just since the other night. I just had this feeling I don’t want to be touched. It’s so weird I never felt like that before.”
“No, but it’s not because of you, well it is, it’s just, like. . .”
“I don’t know, before I never really felt anything. I was just going through it, but with you. I don’t know, I felt something and it was like, I was awake all of a sudden, and I was having all these thoughts and feelings from the past. I don’t know. I need to talk to Lauren about it.”
“Your friend Lauren?”
“Yeah. She remembers stuff better than me.”
“Even stuff that happened to you? Have you tried to call her?”
“She won’t answer her phone. She’s with this guy.”
“Yeah, sure.” He rubbed his jaw and looked out at the beach again.
“You know, I really like you. I just have some stuff going on I need to figure out.”
Orange Sunset, p. 64
The sun set over the beach and John and I sat out on the metal chairs outside bar at the bottom of the cliffs. I flicked through the book on microbiology and John checked the football highlights on his phone. I was drinking a cocktail full of orange juice and grenadine, topped with a pink umbrella. John was drinking a beer. The book on microbiology wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to me. I pulled my phone out of the pocket of my hot pants and called Jessica.
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m ok. Morgan and I just had a fight about. . . Actually, don’t worry.”
“What, what, happened? Tell me.” John glanced up at me from his phone.
“We were talking about maybe moving in together, but he wants to stay in Brentford.”
“You can’t move in together. What about our place?”
“I know it’s just. . .”
“We need to be there for Lauren when she moves back to London.”
“I was just thinking maybe Lauren won’t come back, and Morgan and I were talking. . .”
“Of course, she’ll come back. Why wouldn’t she come back?”
“And you seemed pretty happy in Bournemouth.”
“I’m not staying in Bournemouth!”
At this point John stood up and shoved his phone in his jean pocket.
“I need to get off Riley.”
“What? You can’t go. Wait, hang on. Jessica, I’ve got to go.”
I hung up the phone and chased him down the steps. Jasper and the Border Collie sat up.
“Wait, wait, don’t go.”
“I’ve got stuff to do Riley. I need to get home.”
“No look, I’m sorry. I know I’ve been giving you mixed messaged.”
“It’s not that.”
“I mean obviously, I can’t stay in Bournemouth.”
“Obviously.” He looked away from me, over towards the car park, and rubbed his jaw.
“It’s fine, really. I’ve just got stuff I need to do to.”
“I really like you.”
“You’re not acting that way.” Then he walked off. I watched him go. The sky was turning orange. There were seagulls lined up all along the beach.
I went and sat back down with the dogs. I could still see his silhouette against the skyline. I started to hear that music again, that music I had heard in the bar just before I saw him for the first time. I’ve never felt moved by anything like the way I felt right then. I untied the dogs leads and started running down the beach, towards town. All the lights were twinkling along the promenade.
“John.” I shouted after him. The seagulls scattered away from me. Families and dog walkers looked up in shock. “John, wait.”
The dogs started barking, John stopped and turned around to stroke them. I handed him their leads and pushed my wind-swept hair back out of my face.
“John, you’re the one. I know it sounds crazy, and we only just met, and you don’t even know me, but I know it’s you, you’re the one I want, you’re the only one I’ll ever want.”
And then he stood up, ran a finger along my neck, tilted by head back and kissed me.
‘I Contain Multitudes’, p.65
“You’re crazy.” John said, as he pulled away from me. The sky was blazing red all around us.
“Me?” I kept my hand on his body, still dizzy from the kiss.
“Yeah, you,” he smiled. “I don’t even know if this whole thing about the deep mining spy is true.”
“Of course, it’s true . . . oh no, the book on microbiology.” I thrust the dogs’ leads into his hand and ran back along the beach. There was someone sat at our table outside the bar.
“Hi Riley.” Fred had his legs crossed in front of him and his hands on his lap.
“That’s my book.” I doubled over gasping for air.
The book lay on the metal table between us. Fred picked it up and started twirling it in his hands.
“‘I Contain Multitudes’. You like Ed Yong? I’m impressed.”
“Yeah of course, I like Ed Yong.” I snatched the book, still gasping for breath.
“So, what was your favourite part?”
“The, the. . . bit about microbiology!”
“Hey, what’s going on?” John was behind me with the dogs.
“Nothing.” I pushed him back down the steps away from Fred. “Wait, actually, this is the guy.”
“This is the guy?” John marched up the steps. “You better stay away from her and her friends.”
“Excuse me. You can’t speak to me this way.”
“I can and I will, just back off ok.”
“Me back off? Look it was just a one-night stand, I’m not interested in anything more.”
John looked at me.
“You slept with this guy?”
“Fuck. John look, I can explain.” I chased him down the stairs. “I forgot that even happened.”
“You won’t sleep with me, but you forgot that you slept with him?”
“I didn’t have any feelings for him.”
“Oh, that makes it so much better Riley.”
“It doesn’t mean anything. That’s why I forgot it even happened.” I stood in front of him. He wouldn’t look at me, he rubbed his jaw. “Don’t be mad, let’s just go to yours. Let’s have sex.”
“I don’t want you to have sex with me to please me, especially if that’s what you’ve been doing with all these other guys. I don’t care what happened in the past. I just don’t want any more surprises.”
“I know I’m sorry.” I put my arms around him.
“I can see why you hate that guy though.” He put his hand on my back. “Come on let’s go and read that book on microbiology.”
I lay on the sofa with my feet up against the wall reading the book on microbiology. John sat next to me practicing his guitar and the Border Collie sat by the French Windows watching the rain.
“So, basically.” I looked up at John. “We are all full of microbes.”
“Uh huh.” John started tuning his guitar. I heard one of his housemates come in and go up the stairs.
“And microbes are neither good, or bad, they just are.”
“Right.” John scratched the back of his neck.
“But if we understand them better maybe it can help with like health stuff, and also corals.”
“Corals are good?”
I skimmed through the next few pages of the book.
“It doesn’t say.” I sat up and grabbed my phone off the coffee table. “Let me call Jessica.”
“Hey Jess. It’s me. I just had some questions about this book you sent me.”
“Oh great, let me just get my dad.” I heard her walking through the house.
“Dad . . . it’s my friend Riley she wants to ask you about that book you leant me.”
“Oh hi, Mr, Jessica’s dad.” I could hear Jessica’s Mum saying something in the background.
“Hello.” He said. Jessica and her Mum started talking. John was playing the guitar next to me.
“I’m really enjoying this book you gave us.” I didn’t really know how to talk to Jessica’s dad. It had been so long since I had seen my own.
“The Ed Yong?”
“Yeah, I just wondered how it related to deep sea mining?”
“Everything in this world is connected. Even the smallest changes to the sea floor could have huge consequences for the environment. The ocean stores carbon, releasing it, or damaging the ecosystems that live within it, could have very dangerous consequences for the climate.”
“How do we stop it?”
“I don’t know that we can. The International Seabed Authority are granting licenses for exploration.”
“Why did you give Jessica the book then?”
“Well, I hoped that she’d read it and learn something!”
“Hi it’s me.” It was Jessica. “Sorry that probably wasn’t that useful.”
“Do you think Fred’s company are trying to get licences to explore the ocean floor?” Maybe your law firm working in cases that he might be trying to find out about?”
“That would make sense, yeah, I’ll talk to my boss about it. I better go, I’m meeting Morgan. Call me later.”
Watching the TV, p. 67
I put my phone down on the coffee table. The song John was playing on the guitar sounded familiar.
“What is that?”
“What?” He kept playing the same chords.
“That song, that’s the same song I heard the first night I saw you in the bar.”
“This song?” He kept playing. “Oh, it’s Boys of Summer by Don Henley.”
“You’re sure it’s not by a woman?”
“Someone might have covered it.” John paused for a moment and then looked up at me. “I’m one of the boys of summer, aren’t I?”
“What? No. Of course not.”
“I better get going.” He stood up and checked his phone. “I’ve got band practice.”
“You should just do your own music. You don’t need the band.”
“I like being in the band.” He got up and went to put his trainers on.
“But you’re so good.” The Border Collie jumped up onto the sofa next to me and took his place.
“You’re just saying that because you like me.” He grinned at me from the doorway.
“You know I don’t think you’re one of the boys of summer, don’t you?”
“Yeah, sure.” John walked over and kissed me goodbye. “See you in a bit.”
After he left, I just stared into space for a while. All these weird memories had started to come back to me now. I couldn’t really explain it to John, or anyone else. I wasn’t even sure if they were real or fragments of dreams or movies. I just felt so overwhelmed by them and they just kept coming.
When John came home, I was still sitting on the sofa in the dark.
“Hey.” He switched the light on. “What have you been up to?”
“Just. . .watching TV.”
“Oh, yeah?” He looked at the TV. It was turned off.
“Yeah, but I was just about to try and call Lauren.”
“She’s still not answering?” John kissed me and pushed the dog off the sofa so he could sit down next to me.
“I need to walk the dog.” I stood up and looked out the French Windows. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything.
“I’ll come with you.” John stood up too.
“Thanks.” I kissed him. “How was band practice?”
“It was good, we’ve been offered a gig at a club in town.”
I Might Stop Now, p. 68
It was dark on the beach. John and I could see some lights in the distance. The Border Collie walked alongside us as we headed towards them. There was no one around apart from the man who owned the battery powered lights. As we approached, a giant face carved out of sand arose from the darkness. It was like the face of a Victorian porcelain doll but made of sand. The lights were only shinning on to her face, but I could see she had a much larger body. The man was carving each scale into her tale by hand.
John took hold of my hand. The mermaid’s face was a strange colour, blue, almost green. It looked so peaceful and serene, but also threatening.
“Alright, mate?” John said. The Border Collie sat down and wouldn’t walk any closer.
“Alright.” The man nodded but didn’t stop carving. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I felt afraid. Not because of the man, or even this giant sand creation lying across the beach, but because I just felt lost. I hadn’t even given the Border Collie a name. I didn’t know if I was going to stay in Bournemouth one more day or one more week. I wanted to talk Lauren. I wanted to go home but I didn’t know where home was. I put my arms around John, and he put his hand on my back.
“Let’s keep walking,” I said. I pulled on the Border Collie’s lead and she jumped up and followed me. I let go of John’s hand and rubbed the back of my neck.
“Why don’t you invite your friends down for the gig?” John said.
“Really? That would be fun.”
“Yeah, why not, it’s always good to have more people in the crowd. . . and I think you need to see them.”
“I’m fine.” I turned and started walking back towards Bournemouth.
“I know, I just feel like, maybe you need someone to talk to.”
“I can talk to you.” I walked ahead of him, The Borer Collie hurrying alongside me.
“Why don’t you then?”
We passed the mermaid again. I stopped and took a picture for my Instagram.
I didn’t look up at him.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years.” The sand artist stood up and stretched out.
John didn’t say anything. I could tell he was annoyed.
“What made you start doing it?” I said.
“Just woke up one day and wanted to do it. I was living in Cornwall then. I had a wife. The kids were grown up. I just went down to the beach and started making things in the sand, and I just couldn’t stop. I don’t know why. They always get washed away.”
The man looked out at sea and stroked his small plaited beard. He was wearing a ripped t-shirt, a cap and a pair of khaki shorts.
“What happened to your wife?” John said.
“She left me of course, guess it wasn’t right.”
“I’m sorry.” I looked at John, but he wouldn’t look at me.
“I might stop now.” The man stroked his beard again and then shrugged.
“For the day?” I said.
“No, for good. I think I’ve finally got it out of my system.” He started packing up his tools.
I looked at John again, he was still looking out at stars over the ocean.
“I think a lot of bad things happened to me when I was younger,” I said, “but I can’t remember them.”
He looked at me now.
Inflatable Dolphin, p.69
I’m in the bar on the beach waiting for John. I’m not sure if he’s going to come. I’m worried he’s had enough of me. There’s a kid’s inflatable Dolphin floating out on the ocean. Someone must have let go of it by mistake. The water is choppy, and the Dolphin being tossed about on the waves. I can see it being pulled further and further away from the coast.
The girl working behind the bar brings out my coke and I sip it through a straw. I have both the dogs with me today. They’re asleep under my feet. I flick through ‘I Contain Multitudes’ a few times, but I can’t concentrate on anything to do with microbiology.
The Dolphin is edging closer to the horizon. I text Jessica and ask her if she and Morgan want to come to John’s gig. I try to call Lauren, but she doesn’t answer. I wish I knew myself better, I wish I knew what I wanted.
John appears further down the beach and I feel a huge sense of relief. He strokes the dogs and kisses me on the cheek before going into the bar to order a drink.
When he comes back, we sit and stare at the sea for a few minutes. The girl working behind the bar brings him a drink. I wait for a few moments for her to leave.
“I think I need to, like, think about some stuff.” I say.
He doesn’t say anything.
“Like, whether or not I want to move to Bournemouth. I can’t pin all my happiness on to you.”
“I see.” He sips his drink.
“I’m either staying here to be with you or I’m going back to London to be with Lauren and now I’m thinking maybe that’s not a good idea, maybe I should decide what I want.”
“I don’t feel right in myself, but I don’t know how to fix it.”
“You pursued me Riley.”
“I want you. I just can’t put all this pressure on our relationship. It’s not fair to either of us.”
“All you need to do is make a decision.”
The Border Collie comes and puts its head on my lap. I stroke both the dogs and think about what he’s saying.
“It’s not just one decision though, it’s a whole series of decisions, and like, maybe it doesn’t matter what I decide but I feel like I need to find something inside me to anchor myself with.”
He looks at me now.
I look back out at the sea. The Dolphin is gone.
“I don’t know, like maybe find out more about the oceans and how to protect them.”
Pine Trees, p. 70
It was warm in the library. The air smelt stale and all I could hear was the librarian clacking on her computer, the children playing in the children’s library and the seagulls outside. All I could see through the high windows was the clear blue sky. The weather didn’t change all week and I went back every day until I had finished reading the book on microbiology.
When I read everything else melted away. Sometimes memories would try and come back to me, but I would push them away and focus on the words I was reading. They didn’t always make sense to me, but I just kept reading one word after another, like I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other all those times I couldn’t afford to get home.
The day I finished the book was one of the proudest moments of my life. I walked to my shift at the vets and on my way, I called Jessica.
“Hey, I finally finished the book your dad gave you.”
“Oh, that’s great. I’m just at work, can I call you back later?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you about the deep-sea mining thing. I think it could be, like, really dangerous for the oceans, but there’s a lot of treasure down there, so I think that’s why Fred is spying on you.”
“I think he’s trying to find out if any of the companies I work for are applying for mining licences.”
“I can’t say.”
“It’s really dangerous Jessica.”
“Ok, well I don’t think it’s illegal.”
“Can’t we get Morgan to write something about it? Doesn’t he work for an environmental newspaper?”
“Yeah, I can’t really get involved in this. . .why don’t you talk to him?”
“Yeah ok, you’re coming to John’s gig, right?”
“Yeah, sure of course. I better go. Speak to you soon Riley.”
“Have you spoken to Lauren?”
The line went dead, she was gone.
I breathed in the scent of the pine trees and listened to the insects buzzing between the different plants and flowers, and the cars as they zoomed past. I had no idea what I was going to do.
I reached the vets and went and changed into my uniform and then took over from the other receptionist.
Jonathan came out from his office to see me.
“How’s the Border Collie?” He said, while inspecting the medical record of a hamster on his clipboard.
In the Shallow Part of the Water, p.71
I was sitting in the shallow water on a part of the beach that was miles away from town when John found me. My skirt was floating around me in the water as the waves lapped over me.
“I didn’t want you to see me like this.” I said between gasps, wiping the make-up away.
“I’ve been looking for you for two hours.”
“I’m sorry.” I wrapped my arms around my knees.
“I’m not. . .” I heard him breath out. “. . .mad. I’m just worried about you.” I heard him wade into the water. He took his phone out of his pocked and sat down next to me.
“Fred called the police about the Border Collie.” I said. “Now they want to talk me.”
“Fred, the guy you slept with?”
“I forgot about that.” I said between sharp inhales.
“Fred, the deep-sea mining spy?”
“I left the dog at the vets. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I didn’t know you were that attached to the dog. . . you never even named it.”
I nodded but I couldn’t find the words to speak. My throat felt swollen. My mouth was salty.
“I don’t care if they arrest me. . .”
“. . .I don’t think they’ll arrest you. . .”
“. . . I just don’t want the dog to have to go back home, what if he ran away because he was being abused?” I wasn’t crying but I was making noises like I was sobbing.
“Are we talking about the dog Riley?”
“Of course, we’re talking about the dog, what else would we be talking about?” I hit my hand against the surface of the water so hard that it hurt.
“Ok, ok, it’s just maybe you’re projecting some things onto the dog.” He looked at me and I realised how long I’d been sitting there for.
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Come here.” He pulled me in and hugged me, but I found the smell of his aftershave triggering.
“I’m sorry.” I said, pulling away from him. The water splashing between us.
“My last girlfriend cheated on me.” The statement dived in out of nowhere. “I just thought you should know, that’s why some of things you do make me feel nervous sometimes.”
“Was it someone you knew?”
“Yeah, yeah.” He nodded and looked away. All I could hear was the seagulls.
That’s Me, p. 72
I sat in John’s bed drinking a cup of tea and trying to eat a piece of toast. There were crumbs all over the duvet cover and down my t-shirt and I knew I should try and brush them away. John came back from the shower with a towel around his waist.
“You alight Riley?”
I nodded, still clutching onto the mug of tea.
“Do you want me to put some music on?”
I nodded again and John started playing something from his phone and put it in a cup on the bedside table to amplify the sound. It didn’t make it sound any louder. John started to get dressed in the small gap between the bed and the desk. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I felt like I was holding onto something so tight that if I even moved it would slip out. Maybe I was angry, but I didn’t know what about.
“I’m like the book.” I said.
“What book?” John picked his aftershave up from his desk.
“The book, ‘I contain multitudes.’”
“Did you finish it?”
“No not yet.” I took another sip of tea.
“Is it any good?”
I put down my tea and picked up the book.
“‘Your body is teeming with tens of trillions of microbes.’” I read from the first page. “In other words, you contain multitudes.”
“I see.” He said, putting on his aftershave and looking at himself in the mirror.
“That’s all of us, right?” He pulled on a t-shirt.
“Yes, but…” In that moment, I heard a familiar voice. “Wait a minute.”
“Just be quiet for a minute.”
“Shh.” I grabbed his phone of his bedside table. “Who is this, singing?”
“I don’t know.” He took the phone, unlocked it and gave it back to me. I clicked on to the artists profile on Spotify straight.
“Lauren? Lauren your friend Lauren. I didn’t know she was a singer?”
“She’s not, or at least, I didn’t think she was. . .maybe a bit when she was younger, but I would definitely know if she had a Spotify channel.”
“Anyone can make one. I have one.”
“I need to call Jessica.” I jumped out of bed, handed him back his phone and started looking for my bag.
“Why don’t you just call Lauren?”
“No, I can’t call her, this is too weird. She’s obviously been hiding this from us.” I spotted my bag, half under the bed, and pulled my phone out.
“Why would she hide it from you?”
“I don’t know, maybe she was embarrassed?”
“Why would she be embarrassed? She sounds good.”
I looked at him now.
“Do you think she doesn’t want to be my friend?”
“No, I never said that.” He sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’m sure it’s nothing like that, why don’t you just call her.”
“I’m going to call Jessica first.”
Dropped her Suitcase on the Pavement, p.73
I met Jessica and Morgan at the station. I was waving at them across the barriers as they stepped off the train. Jessica was wearing a long floaty dress and a big summer hat and sunglasses and carrying and old-fashioned suitcase. It was Morgan who saw me first, and waved before tapping Jessica on the shoulder. He wearing the same wax jacket and crumpled white shirt that he always wore. I was jumping up and down with excitement as they came through the barriers. Jessica’s suitcase got stuck but she managed to pull it through.
“I can’t believe you’re here.” I said, throwing my arms around her.
“It hasn’t been that long.” She said, readjusting her hat and taking off her sunglasses.
“I know but it feels life forever.”
Jessica put her suitcase down and hugged me properly. It was the hug I needed.
“You smell nice.” I said.
“Thanks.” She picked up the suitcase.
“Morgan.” I hugged him too.
“Hey Riley, Jessica says you have a good story for me.”
“Yeah, about the deep-sea mining spy.”
“You need to be careful, Riley.” Jessica said, as she started walking.
“I’m just so excited your both here.”
“And you haven’t told Lauren?” Jessica walked into the queues for the taxis.
“No, have you?”
“No, but I think we should… don’t you think it’s weird for us to just turn up at her gig?”
“She could have told us she was playing in Bournemouth.”
“Maybe there’s a reason why she didn’t?” Jessica dropped her suitcase on the pavement.
“We don’t need to get a cab, do we?” Morgan said.
Jessica looked away.
“Where are you staying?”
“Just an Airbnb near the beach.”
“I think there’s a bus you can get.” I said.
“I think we can walk, I looked it up. It’s only a mile.” Morgan took his phone out.
“Sorry you couldn’t stay with me and John, there’s just no room, the sofa doesn’t even pull out.”
“So, you are living with him now?”
“The couple I was dog sitting for came back, so yeah, I guess, for now.”
“You only just met him.”
“It’s 1.3 miles.” Morgan stepped in between us.
“John’s really great.”
“Do you want that taxi?” A small family with large luggage was standing behind us.
“No, it’s fine, you take it.” Jessica waved them past us.
“I think I love him.”
“We can get the bus if you want to.” Morgan said, as the family pushed past him.
“No, it’s fine let’s walk.” Jessica picked up her suitcase, again. “There’s no way you can be in love with him, you started dating him like a week ago.”
“It’s been, at least a few weeks.”
“I don’t think so Riley.”
Lauren, p. 74
Mark ordered our drinks and then he turned round and kissed me. I was expecting to push him away, but something stopped me. I had never kissed someone this much older than me before, and you would expect it to feel weird and gross, but it didn’t. It felt deep, this was the deep stuff people sang about in songs, that I was too afraid to explore.
I shuddered a few times.
“Are you ok?” He put his arms around me. “I wanted to kiss you from the first moment you walked in.”
“That was hours ago.”
“I know, I kept wondering.”
I felt really weird. I knew it was kind of wrong and messed up to kiss him but I was tingling all over my body.
I had been sat in the beer garden talking to him about music all night long in a way I had never talked to anyone about anything.
I could hear Jessica and Riley laughing in the pub garden every time someone opened the door to come in or out of the pub.
I knew it was weird, and yet, it was powerful, and all I wanted to do was go walking with Mark on all these walks he had told me about, and I didn’t even know why, other than there was something about England that I really wanted to explore, something that I really wanted to know. Even though, it seemed to me to be such a painful place, full of so much anger and, racism.
I touched Mark’s face and it reminded me of a painting I had once seen when I was 17, and also, of all the fucked up sexual shit that happened to me at that age, and how I had no self-esteem, and I didn’t know what I wanted or how to say no to things. Kissing mark now was somehow brining that up for me all again, being hungry for love, but not being sure where to turn for it. Inappropriate relationships. Just like this one, but I still wanted him to touch me. I knew there were all these memories inside of me of all these times guys had tried to kiss me or touch me and maybe I couldn’t remember them or maybe I didn’t want to, or maybe they just made me feel overwhelmed.
I didn’t want to be with him, but there was something about the way he made me feel that made me shiver.
It opened up something inside of me.
Why did I do it? Something happened. The winds of my life changed. Everywhere I thought I was going to go, and everything I thought I was going to do, was lifted and shifted with the wind, like sandcastles in a storm.
Around the Side of the Pub, p.75
Mark and I were making out around the side of the pub, by the bins. I could still hear Riley and Jessica’s voices drifting from the pub garden, out, over the rolling hills of Gloucestershire. I wondered if they’d wonder where I was. Riley always had boys chatting her up, and Jessica always seemed to be texting some weird, intense, depressed guy or other. I never really met anyone I was interested in, or who was interested in me. Until now.
I let Mark run his hand down my back. I felt like it was opening up something inside me, a wound or a portal to another dimension. I gave my power over to him. I liked the way he brought me drinks, gave me compliments, took care of me. I told him all about my having to give up my flat and my job and my life to move back home. He told me all about his kids and his divorce and the children’s home he used to work in. He was so supportive, and nothing I asked for was too much trouble, it made me feel nice and safe and good. Even though I knew it was wrong somehow, because he was so much older than me. I just wanted someone to hold me. I wanted the pain to stop.
Until now, I hadn’t even really been thinking of having a boyfriend. I had a few dates with boys in the past but I wasn’t ready for marriage or a commitment. I had a plan. I was going to work my way to the top of my company and maybe one day, set up my own record label.
I sat on the side lines. I watched and went home and ate pizza and snacks and gossiped about what everyone else had done, and that always seemed to suit me just fine. Most boys seemed pretty arrogant to me, and only after one thing anyway.
Now, my mum was sick, and this guy Mark, was running his hands up and down my back, and I didn’t really want to go home, back to the sadness. I wanted to go out. I wanted something to happen. I didn’t want to have to listen to mum wheezing in her sleep. I didn’t want to push her bedroom door open ever so slightly ajar while she slept just to check she was still breathing.
I wanted to be destructive. When Mark pulled me closer to him, I liked it. I was a bad girl, and I was doing bad things. I was doing things my mum wouldn’t approve of. I could do anything I wanted. I was Sinead O’Connor. Maybe I’d even shave off all my hair.
Mark was kissing my neck and breathing heavily into me. I’d always felt self-conscious about my size and my weight, whenever anyone touched me, but now, I just sort of leant into those feelings. It felt uncomfortable, but it was good to feel something different. Mark didn’t seem to care and I liked the way he rubbed his hand up and down my back.
I closed my eyes and wished that I had someone to talk to.
Pret A Manger, p. 76
I was in Pret A Manger when mum text to ask if I could I call her. I was holding the duck hoisin wrap and a bottle of sparkling water. The same thing I always got. I put the water back on the shelf when my phone vibrated and pulled it out of my bag.
I knew it was bad straight away. I knew if she’d been given the all clear, she would have text me straight away, or even left a long rambling voicemail.
I felt like a hard, orange inflatable safety float had been suppressed down inside of me for months, maybe even years and now I couldn’t hold it down anymore and it had just popped up onto the surface. I tried to push it back down but it was already expanding, it was bigger than me, bigger than the business men next to me, bigger than the whole of Pret A Manger, bigger than Wardour Street, bigger than Soho, bigger than the whole world.
“Are you in the queue?” A man said. He was wearing a very sharp pair of glasses.
“No, I’m just thinking.” I stepped aside and he tutted as he passed me. I felt myself shaking. I put the phone back in my jean pocket, picked up the water and went over the counter and ordered a flat white. I picked up a rocky road too.
I went back to the office and talked to some of my colleagues in the staff room. I didn’t tell anyone. We had bean bags and air hockey and cool things like that to try and entice in celebrities. I think I even played a game of Mario kart with someone.
I laughed and joked and didn’t say anything. I text mum and told her I would call her after work.
I called her on the street. She told me. I brought a frappe and drank it on a bench. I went home and ordered pizza. I chatted with Jessica and Riley about boys, they were always dating and I wasn’t. I nodded and laughed, I flicked back my big curly hair. I ate another slice of pizza. I didn’t tell anyone about the orange balloon that had engulfed us all. That nothing felt real anymore.
Mum said I should come home and I agreed. I didn’t know how to tell Jessica and Riley. They seemed so happy, like finally we had this flat and we were all getting on and we all had jobs and it seemed like finally things were looking up.
I couldn’t tell mum no. I couldn’t stay. It meant giving up everything, my job my life. I wanted to go. My life was over anyway. Without mum I was no one. I didn’t want to stay here and talk about boys. I didn’t want to just sit in my pyjamas eating pizza and chatting like all the hundreds of nights before.
“Lauren, are you ok?”
Riley and Jessica were both staring at me. I looked down at the pizza on the coffee table.
“Don’t worry I’m fine.”
“Ok great. So, then Alby text me and he said, ‘That sounds fun.’
Concrete barrier, p, 77
I didn’t tell the other girls about mum. I thought if maybe I just waited, everything would fix itself.
“I’m really annoyed at Morgan.” Jessica said. We were stood on the banks of the river Thames, near all the old warehouses, waiting for Riley and the dog she was walking, Champion.
“Do you have any cigarettes?” It was summer, but it was still overcast.
“I have some back at the flat, they’re Fred’s.” Jessica was wearing a fitted red dress with white flowers on, she looked beautiful.
“Ok, don’t worry.” I pushed my hair off my face, the humidity was making it sticky.
“Are you ok? You hate smoking.” A couple hurried past us and linked their arms.
“Yeah, I just thought, why not break a habit of a life time. So, what happened with Morgan?”
“Nothing happened. We were supposed to meet up and then he just never got in touch.”
“Why don’t you contact him?”
“Yeah, but then he might not reply.”
“Well, at least than you’ll know he’s not interested. You should really watch ‘He’s just not that into you.’
“Yeah I will.” Jessica leant back on the concrete barrier protecting us from the river. “It’s not like that between me and Morgan anymore. We’re just friends.”
“It is like that.”
“I’m seeing Fred.”
“You don’t even like Fred.” I watched a clipper boat zoom past. I could feel there was more stuff inside me trying to get out, but I was doing my best to hold it down.
“I do like him.” Jessica looked out over the river and sighed. “Morgan’s just. . .” Jessica scrunched up her fists, it always made me nervous when she got like this. “He’s just so. . . disorganised.”
“No one’s perfect.” I had spent a lot of time with Morgan when Jessica and I lived together in second year, and again, when they got back together in our third year.
“He just makes me so angry.”
I don’t even know what my real hair colour is anymore, p.78
“Because he didn’t text you?”
Jessica didn’t say anything for a few minutes. I could see her watching the birds floating on the water. She was always thinking about something. I noticed there was an orange safety device on the path, slightly further along. I was starting to get a stomach ache.
“Should I call Riley?” I pushed more off my hair off my face.
“You know she’ll be ages Lauren.”
“Her time keeping has got better.”
Jessica gave me a look. She had always been reluctant to move in with Riley. So, I’d had to hide the fact I’d been topping up Riley’s rent money because she wasn’t making enough from dog walking.
“She’ll be at least 10 minutes.” Jessica said. The thought that I might have to move out soon started to rise up but I pushed it back down. I couldn’t leave her and Riley on their own, they needed more time to bond.
“How do you get your hair so straight?” I said. “The wind’s blowing mine everywhere.”
“There’s a lot of products in it.” Jessica shrugged. “I don’t even know what my real hair colour is anymore.”
“I think you should text Morgan. It’s obviously hurting you.”
“It’s not hurting me. I don’t even care.”
“Maybe he’s thinking about you to.”
“He’s not thinking about me, he’s not thinking about anything, that’s the problem!”
“He’s really smart though, isn’t he?”
“Yeah he’s like, basically a genius.”
“Maybe he is thinking about it he just doesn’t know how to communicate it to you?”
Jessica took in a long, deep breath.
“He doesn’t need to communicate anything to me, he just needs to text me.”
Thames Clipper, p. 79
“Sometimes, when people are going through stuff, you know, it’s easier just to avoid everything than deal with anything.” I said. I could hear the water chopping below.
“That’s stupid, Lauren.” Jessica watched a Thames Clipper boat make its way down the river.
“You’re not texting him.”
“That’s because, he’s the man.” She stayed leant against the wall, examining the palms of her hands.
“Oh Jessica, come on.”
“That’s totally ridiculous. You can’t gender texting.”
“Yeah but, he should lead.”
“If he’s not going to, and if you love him.”
“I don’t love him.” Jessica stood up, and toppled a little in her high heels. “I don’t even like him. I don’t even care about it anymore. I don’t know why we’re even still talking about it.”
“Ok. . .”
“It’s just that we were supposed to meet up, you know, as friends, and then he never got in touch, and it’s just classic you know. It’s just absolutely classic.”
“Maybe you’re hurting him.”
“How could I be hurting him?”
“Maybe you’re being insensitive to his feelings.”
“That you broke up with him. Maybe he doesn’t want to see you.”
Jessica folded her arms and lent back against the concrete wall.
“It was mutual.”
“He knows, he knows I care about him.”
“Does he? You just said you don’t care about him at all.”
Diet Pepsi, p.80
Jessica looked down at the floor. There was a caterpillar eating a leaf in the middle of the path. She stared at it for a moment.
“I don’t want to care about him. It hurts me to care about him, he doesn’t express anything to me, I don’t know how he feels, about anything.”
“He does have depression.” My stomach was hurting so bad I was finding it hard to breathe.
“Yeah, and I can’t fix that, and I can’t change that, you know? What can I do? I can’t do anything. I’ve tried to do what I can. I don’t feel like I can do anymore.”
“Yeah I know.”
I knew the first moment I saw Jessica that I wanted her to be my friend. I met her in the student union bar. She was sat at a table on her own reading a book about the law. Riley and I were playing pool with these guys she had just met. I knew there was something special about her, with her long hair and her blunt fringe and her long, patterned dresses. I had never met anyone before who would even consider going and reading a book in a bar. I didn’t even really know anyone who liked to read. She was just sitting on her own sipping a diet Pepsi and occasionally flicking a page over. She didn’t look up once. I didn’t know how she could concentrate with all the noise and the music.
For a moment, like she sensed me watching, she looked up.
“Lauren, it’s your go.” Riley thrust the pool cue into my hand.
One day in second year I came home to find Morgan sitting on our front door step. He looked like he’d been crying but I couldn’t tell. I let him in and he helped me unpack my shopping.
“We had a fight.” He said, even though, I hadn’t asked him anything.
“Do you want a cup of tea?”
I put the kettle on. I thought about calling Jessica, but I knew she was in a lecture.
“What was it about?” I passed him a packet of chocolate biscuits.
“I don’t know.” He opened the packed of biscuits. “I guess we don’t see each other enough because we’re at different universities, but we only just got back together.” He took a biscuit out.
Second year, p. 81
“What are you studying?”
“Journalism. It’s ok. I don’t really like the course. I should probably just leave.”
“You’re in your second year already though?”
Morgan nodded while chewing a biscuit.
“My best friend Riley dropped out last year.” I looked out the window over the kitchen sink, all I could see was the wall of the house next door. I felt the thought rising up and, I thought about pushing it down, but for once I just let it go. “The worst past is, it’s kind of a relief. I feel like I can just be my own person now. It’s not that I don’t love Riley, I do. It’s just that she always wants to hang around with boys and, I don’t know, I’m just not like that. Boys don’t like me.”
“I don’t think that’s true, Lauren…”
“It doesn’t matter, it’s just that, we’ve been together like almost every day since we were kids and now I have some time on my own I can finally do what I want, and find out who I am.”
“Are you saying you think me and Jessica should break up?”
“What? No. No, not at all. Why would you think I was saying that?”
“I just thought maybe you were telling me that story to illustrate a point.”
“No, no, I was just telling you that, because, actually, I never told anyone that, because I felt so bad about it, and actually it’s kind of a relief to tell someone.”
“Yeah, I know.” He took another biscuit.
“So, what do you think you’ll do?” I put the tea down on the kitchen table and sat down.
“Nothing. I don’t want us to break up. I just don’t know how to make her happy. Your friend, Riley, what’s she doing since she left?”
“I’m not sure exactly. . . I think she ended up moving in with this guy she was seeing. . . and, I think she got a job in a call center. She doesn’t really have a home she can go back to.”
“What about her parents?”
“She never really knew her mum, and now her dad. . . he has a lot of issues, like her brothers. She really doesn’t have anywhere she can go.”
Pressure, p. 82
Jessica had been staring at the Thames, without saying anything, for about five minutes. The wind was still blowing against us. I didn’t know how to say to her, without it seeming like I was dismissing her problems, that it was maybe, kind of, ridiculous to put so much pressure on a relationship. I knew how much Morgan loved her. I knew it because I had seen him turn up, over and over and over again, even when she didn’t want him too. I knew, too, why he loved her.
Riley could get any boy she wanted, but Jessica possessed something that no one else did, this quality that made you feel you wanted to be close to her, and feel close to her, and know everything she was thinking. When she was quiet, that’s when she was the most beautiful of all. I knew Morgan felt lost in her. I knew he didn’t know how to offer her what she wanted. Jessica had this life mapped out for her. She was supposed to be with someone who would go to her work events with her, and pay for things and redesign their kitchen. Maybe Morgan could do all those things, but I think she liked him because he wasn’t like that.
“There she is.” I spotted Riley trotting along the Thames path with Champion on his tiny pink lead.
“Oh, she’s only ten minutes late.” Jessica checked her phone as she stood up.
“See.” I started waving at Riley and she waved back and hurried towards us.
“I’m not going to text him.” Jessica said.
“He can text me.”
“Hey!” Riley threw her arms around me and then hugged Jessica. Champion started yapping at us.
“Let’s go to the Prospect of Whitby.” Riley put her hands in her dress pockets and grinned as us. “And then, Jamie and Alby are having a party later, can we go?”
“Yeah, sure.” Jessica said. They both looked at me. I felt like this was the moment I should tell them, tell them everything about mum, and that I might have to move back home and give up my job and probably not live in the flat anymore, but they both looked so excited, all I could say was: “Sounds great.”
Riley linked her arm through mine and dragged me towards the pub.
The Morgan-Jessica situation, p. 83
The Morgan – Jessica situation was still weighing on me when I went to bed that night. I knew I should be thinking about my mum and my job and what I was going to do with the flat but I just couldn’t think about any of that yet. I needed to fix the Morgan – Jessica situation. Then everything would be ok.
I looked up at the mobile of stars hanging over my bed, that I had bought in a second hand shop on Brick Lane, and wondered what to do. I had a dream catcher on the window too, and it was tinkling in the breeze that was blowing in the music from the party in the flat down the street.
I kept thinking about this other time I came downstairs and Morgan was crying in the kitchen. Maybe he hadn’t been crying, but he looked sad. There were broken eggs everywhere. It was weird. I’d just been listening to music in my room, so I hadn’t heard them.
“Jessica’s gone to a seminar.” He told me. He was sat at the table, with half unpacked shopping surrounding him.
“Ok. . .” I was a bit embarrassed that I was still in my pyjamas and I hadn’t brushed my hair or washed my face, but I figured it was only Morgan, so it didn’t really matter. I put the kettle on and yawned.
“She read my text messages.”
“Oh.” This surprised me. I never thought Jessica was like that.
“Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t be talking to you about this.” He kept his eyes down on the table.
“What was in the messages?”
“Morgan.” I knew I shouldn’t pry, but I also thought this was the kind of thing Jessica might not actually ever tell me and I needed to know.
“Can I have a cup of tea?”
“Fine.” I slammed two mugs down on the kitchen table.
Change courses, move universities, and wait for it all to blow over, p. 84
Morgan exhaled again. He kept his eyes fixed on the kitchen table.
“There’s nothing going on between me and Rachel. She’s just my friend.”
“Oh, Morgan.” I could hear a bird singing outside, but all I could see through the window was the brick wall.
“Nothing’s happened between us. Nothing. We’re just friends.”
“Do you like her?” He didn’t answer. “Morgan?”
“Yeah, SURE, I like her. She’s my friend.”
“It’s not a romantic thing, I just, I just don’t feel stuff that much. It’s just nice to feel something.”
“Maybe you should go.”
“I don’t know about relationships, but I’ve seen a lot of films and, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The moment I said it, I wished I hadn’t, if, for no other reason than it was a total cliché.
“What should I do?”
“Don’t do anything, lay low. Delete this girl’s number. Change courses, move universities, and wait for it all to blow over.”
“You think that’s the best thing to do? Leave my course, and my university?”
“Absolutely.” I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t tell my best friend’s boyfriend anything other than that.
I lay awake in bed thinking about it and wondering what happened to Rachel. I imagined that she was probably really nice and cool and into journalism and the environment, and maybe she was more easy going than Jessica, and had a cute dress sense. In the years since, I had never spoke to Jessica about the whole thing. Now I wondered if I should have and if maybe that’s what she was so angry about, and maybe she was right, and maybe their break up was mutual, or maybe Morgan even broke up with her. I turned onto my side and flipped my pillow over.
It Doesn’t Work for Us to be Together, p. 85
In the morning Jessica was at the table eating her muesli and reading the news on her phone.
“Hey.” I said as I poured myself a bowl of Lidl own brand chocolate cereal.
“Hey.” She didn’t look up from her phone.
I sat down at the table opposite her.
“I’m sorry if I wasn’t more supportive of your relationship with Morgan.”
“What do you mean?” She looked up from her phone.
“At uni. At the time, I don’t know. I didn’t really know what advice to give you. I didn’t have any experience with boys.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter, honestly there’s really nothing between us. I’m seeing Fred.”
“If I knew how important you’d be to each other, maybe I would have given you different advice. Like, stick at it, make it work.”
“It’s fine Lauren.”
“I know you really love him.”
“He’s just my high school boyfriend. I’m over it.”
“He’s not, though is he?”
“Lauren, why are you pushing this all of a sudden?”
“I just want you to work it out.”
I could feel something inside me trying to push up, but I thrust it back down.
“I just think you’re afraid to admit to yourself how much you want to be with him.”
“Look, I miss him, but. . .It just doesn’t work for us to be together. I don’t why. There are just always these issues. Like, we upset each other all the time. It shouldn’t be like that.”
“Maybe you’re both just difficult people.”
Jessica stood up and walked away from her bowl. I heard her slam it down, followed by the gushing of the water from the tap. I glanced over at her but she didn’t look at me. Maybe I had gone too far.
“I’m going to work. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Jessica picked up her bag and walked out. I heard the front door slam. I started eating my coco pops. A few minutes later she walked back in, put her bag on the kitchen table and sat back down.
“The thing is,” she leaned forward and whispered. I looked around the room to try and figure out why. I knew Riley would still be asleep. “I feel like I’m more attracted to him now then, then I ever was. Like, he’s just a little bit more self-assured now, and I find it, I find it . . .”
“What?” I still wasn’t sure why we were whispering.
I can’t think about it now, p. 86
Jessica looked over at the cutlery draw and sighed.
“I don’t know it’s confusing me. I thought it was over. It is over. It’s just then I saw him at this birthday party recently and he looked, he looked really hot.”
“Yeah, I mean I always found him attractive but. . .” She looked away. “I don’t know. I can’t think about it now. It’s over. It has to be over. It is over.”
“I’m going to work.” She stood up again.
“Have a good day.” I called out after as she exited the flat.
I was confused. If I had such intense feelings about anything, I would just go for it.
Mark was running his hands up and down my body and kissing me, but for some reason I was still thinking about the Morgan-Jessica situation. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t just go out. Mark started kissing my neck and I looked over at the bins round the side of the pub and wondered if we should go back and find the others. I put my hands on his shoulders and thought about suggesting it, but I was tired of pretending to be ok. Instead I just raked over the Morgan-Jessica situation one more time in my head. What was blocking them? What was holding them back, and why was I still thinking about it?
“You’re so beautiful.” Mark kept saying over and over again, his hands touching my body in all these ways that felt amazing.
“Thanks. You’re. . . really handsome.” I tried to touch his arms a little bit but I felt awkward.
“I wanted to kiss you the first moment I saw you. I thought I was crazy. Like, would she ever be interested in me?”
“Well, I really like you.” I rested my hands on his chest.
“What are you thinking about?” He stroked my hair. I couldn’t tell him.
“Go on you can tell me anything.”
“No, I . . .”
“Go on, I want to know everything you’re thinking, all the time, Lauren.”
“Well. . .”
“Did you ever know two people who you thought were really perfect for each other, well not perfect, they just had like, a really deep connection, but for some reason they weren’t together?”
Are you talking about a boy you like? p. 87
Mark leant back against the fence. In the distance, beyond the bins, were trees and woods, and path leading through the hills over to the next village. The sun was setting and everything has this intense pink glow to it. I could still hear Riley and Jessica’s voices drifting over from the beer garden.
“Are you talking about a boy you like?”
“What? No, not at all. It’s just my friend Jessica, you just met her, she, she has this thing with her ex-boyfriend, but it’s just really complicated.”
Mark scratched his beard.
“Maybe it’s just not meant to be?”
“No, no, no, it is, it is.”
“I just want something good to happen.”
“Why? Because of your mum being ill?”
“No.” I looked down at the floor. There was a beer mat with an apple and a castle on. Maybe it was an advert for a cider. I picked it up and slipped it into one of the bins.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Mark put his arms around me.
“No, I just want Morgan and Jessica to get back together.”
“That’s not something that’s really in your control.”
“Why did you and your wife break up?” I rested my head against his shoulder, he was wearing something like a puffer jacket or a Gilet.
I heard Mark breathe in and then breathed out again.
“It just wasn’t right, and the second time I got married. . .”
“You’ve been married twice?” I stepped back in surprise.
“It was all for the wrong reasons.” He made a gesture with his hand like he was waving something away.
“How many times have you been married?”
“If I’ve learnt anything. . .”
“It’s that’s you can’t force things. If they’re meant to be their meant to be. You probably can’t see that now, but it all gets clearer. In time, it won’t matter so much.” He stroked my hair.
“Yes, it will.” I lay my head on his shoulder again.
I was just waiting for my life to start, p. 88
I could feel the evening wind coming in through the trees and over the hills. I told myself not to cry.
“How do you live with it?” I took a deep breath in.
“With what?” Mark stroked my hair again.
“With the uncertainty?”
“You know, years go by when nothing changes, and then, suddenly, everything changes at once, and you just get on with it.”
I stood up to see the sun finally disappearing behind the hills, leaving the sky pink.
“That’s where I am now,” I smoothed down my hair. “In that bit, and I don’t like it. I just want to go back to when I was at Uni and I’d spend all watching TV in my pyjamas and listening to Jessica and Morgan talk about their latest fight and whether or not they should break up.”
“Sounds great.” He smirked.
“It wasn’t great. I hated it. I thought, why can’t something be happening to me? And now something is happening to me and I don’t want it.”
“Do you mean you and me?”
“No, I mean my mum.”
“I just want to go to the time before, when everything was ordinary and boring and I was just waiting for my life to start. I know Jessica and Morgan have all these fights, but they’re in the longest relationship I’d ever known anyone to have, even my mum.”
“I’m sorry, I’m ranting.”
“No, it’s good, I like it.”
“You’re just saying that so I’ll sleep with you.”
“Is it working?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“I don’t want to go home.” I added.
“Don’t go home, come stay with me. We don’t have to do anything. I promise, you can just come and chill out and I’ll play you some guitar.”
“You play the guitar?”
“Yeah, of course. I told you I used to be in a band.”
“Can you teach me?”
I wouldn’t even get showered or dressed, p. 89
“You want to learn?” Mark said, leaning back against the fence.
“Yeah, I had lessons when I was at university, but somehow, since I started working, I don’t know, I just haven’t had time for anything like that.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you anything. Come and stay as long as you like.”
I stood next to the bins wondering if I had just agreed to move in with a man who was possibly twice my age. This was the craziest thing I had ever done, but somehow, it seemed like the easiest option.
“I want to sing too.”
“That’s great, Lauren.”
“That’s why I started working in music, I guess, but I’d never have the confidence to perform in front of anyone.”
I kissed him as hard as I could.
I was sitting on Mark’s couch eating spaghetti hoops on toast when I saw on Instagram that Morgan and Jessica had got back together. I felt kind of surprised, and also kind of hurt, and also really removed from their lives, even though, I had spent so much time thinking about them. I couldn’t believe Jessica hadn’t even text me to tell me they were back together. They looked happy and it made me feel sad, even though I didn’t really know why. I wanted to feel happy for them. I picked up the guitar again and thought about it while I practiced my songs.
I just kept playing until Mark came home and made us dinner, chips and nuggets, and then we watched TV. His house was small, there was only one bedroom so I slept on the sofa. I told him I didn’t want to have sex with him, and he seemed to accept it. Over time, we kissed less and less, we didn’t even talk that much. He would go out in the day to see his mates, or whatever, and I would just sit on the sofa practicing the guitar and writing songs. Sometimes days would pass where I wouldn’t even get showered or dressed, Mark didn’t say anything. He didn’t really seem to mind, he just let me get on with doing whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t really want to be there, it was kind of weird and his depressing, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I didn’t feel I had the energy anymore even to cook my own meals or talk to my friends.
I had to go out though, to go home and look after mum, and check on the house and make sure they were all ok. I went as little as I could. I didn’t want to be there anymore; I didn’t want to be anywhere anymore. Maybe I had given up.
Feedback loop, p.90
I still went on Instagram every day, just to see what was happening in the outside world, in the real world. Everyone was doing fun stuff and getting on with their lives and going on holiday. Riley and Jessica were in Bournemouth together in a pub beer garden. I felt like my life had stopped. It wasn’t just mum being ill either, it was everything, all this stuff that happened to me in the past, all this stuff that I couldn’t deal with or talk about, all these memories I had pushed down inside my body until I had started hating myself.
“Mark.” We were eating dinner on the sofa.
“Yes babe.” He kept his eyes fixed on the TV while he ate.
“The stuff I’ve been writing about it my songs, some of it, some of it’s quite dark.”
“That’s the stuff of great art right, Lauren?” He winked at me.
“Yeah but, I don’t know, I feel. . . I have all these memories, but they’re all in pieces and I don’t know how to put them back together again, or even if I want to, instead they’re just stuck in a loop going around in my head, and, and it feels like I can never trust myself because I don’t know what’s real and what’s just stuck in the feedback loop.”
“What’s a feedback loop?” Mark took another bite of his jacket potato.
“It doesn’t matter, it’s just a way of reviewing and processing information, but mine has all these bad memories stuck in them, from when I was a kid.”
He pushed his food around his plate.
“Have you ever talked to anyone about it?”
“Don’t they have therapists or something like that in London?”
“I don’t really want to go and see a therapist.” I ate some more of my dinner and tried to focus on what was on the television. It was some kind of detective show.
“What about your friends?”
I swallowed my food and thought about what to say.
“The thing is. . .” I ate another mouthful and put my knife and fork down on my plate.
“What, what is it?”
“I don’t want to worry them.”
“I don’t think you’d be worrying them. I’m sure they’d want to know.”
“We’re just not that close anymore.”
“Didn’t you ever think that by sharing your story, you might be helping somebody else?”
I Can’t Stay Here, p.91
“Like who?” I said.
“Why don’t you go and see you friends for a weekend?” Mark ate another bite of his dinner.
“Well Riley’s in Bournemouth now, and I think Jessica’s living with Morgan or something.”
“I’m sure they’d still love to see you, Lauren.”
I stared at the TV for a few moments.
“Yeah, ok, but I’m just talking to you about it now. I just want you to give me some advice.”
Mark put his plate on the coffee table and leant back into the sofa.
“What kind of advice?”
I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. I wanted to walk out, but where would I go.
“All the bad stuff that happens, how do you let it go?” I glanced over at the drawn curtains.
“First you need to know what it is.” He picked up his plate and started eating again.
“All the traumatic stuff that you don’t really remember that well.”
“Just feel it, think about it explore it.”
“I don’t want to do that. I don’t have time to do that.” I put my plate down on the coffee table.
“Why? What else are you doing?”
“I’m working on my album . . .and when that’s done, I’ll need to get a job. I can’t be unemployed forever.”
“What kind of job are you talking about?”
“Well, I don’t, I can’t. . .” Something was pushing up really hard inside me, something almost solid. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to London, but obviously, I’ll get another job in music.”
“What if you can’t go back for a while, or you can’t find a job when you go back?”
“Why would you say that?”
“I’m just saying have you thought about what you’re going to do?” He put his dinner down again.
“I’ll go back to London and get another job in music.”
“It’s so competitive though.” He put his arms around me. “Why don’t you just stay here?”
“I can’t stay here.” I pushed him off me and stood up.
“Why not?” He looked up at me and when I didn’t say anything, he tried to pull me back down on to the sofa.
“Stop trying to control me.” I pushed him away from me and he stood up and grabbed me. I kicked him away even harder and I bolted towards the door.
He didn’t move. He just stayed where he was, staring at the spot where I had just been. I could see he was shaking. I stepped into the hall way.
The Kitchen Window, p.92
“Don’t go.” Mark said, running his hands over my hair. “Just don’t go like this. Let’s just calm down and we’ll talk about it.”
I was too frightened to say anything. He turned me towards him.
I nodded, although I wasn’t sure I should stay, but now I was also afraid to leave. I realised then, I had to leave. I couldn’t stay here anymore. I had to go and live my life, even if it meant, even if he tried to kill me, which I didn’t think he would, but even if he did, I had to leave. I had to go to the beach and find Riley. I walked towards the kitchen.
“I’m making a cup of tea. Do you want one?”
“Yeah, thanks.” I watched him sit down on the sofa and put his hands on his knees. He stared at the floor and gripped his hands into fists. I flicked the kettle on, put my foot in the sink, hoisted myself up on the drying board and managed to squeeze myself out through the kitchen window.
I got half way to the train station, and I turned back. I don’t know why. I ran out of confidence. I ran out of steam or self-esteem. I couldn’t go to Bournemouth. I needed to be Gloucestershire so I could look after my Mum. Mark was already out looking for me in his car. I stopped when I saw him.
“What are you doing?” He pulled up next to me.
“I just needed to get out. I needed some air.”
“You climbed out the fucking window, you broke a plant pot, you fat bitch.” He looked away after he said it and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. It wounded me, dented me, but I got back in the car.
“See, Lauren, I told you we’d work it out.” He said as he revved the engine and turned the car around. I had to think of a way I could get out.
The next day Mark went out and I got the bus into town and got my hair dyed purple. I got another piercing in my ear as well. It was the only thing that made me feel better. I knew Mark wouldn’t like it, and that we might have an argument about it, but I didn’t care. I knew my mum would criticise the way I looked too, but she had always done that. I went home and sat in the front room until it got dark, then Mark came home, made a few remarks about my hair and we had dinner. After he went to bed, I started writing songs. I just wrote for hours and hours, I didn’t even know how much time had passed. I just wrote about all the things I could remember, like Riley’s dad’s friends taking us the fairground and all these strange weird memories.
Lightning might pull me out of it, p.93
One day while Mark was out, I found some recording equipment in the cupboard in the bedroom. I figured it must have been from when he was in a band and I started trying to record some of my songs on it. The first few times I listened to them back, they sounded terrible but I worked on them more and more every time Mark went out and, eventually, they started to sound quite good.
I sat on the sofa, opened my laptop and uploaded all my songs to Spotify. I felt a thrill of excitement go through me. This was something I’d dreamt about doing all my life. I wasn’t sure what genre the songs were so I just put ‘alternative’. I waited a few minutes and then checked if anyone had followed me, they hadn’t. I went and made a cup of tea, and then decided to try and make some different social media accounts. I just put up pictures of my hands, writing lyrics and playing the guitar. Then I just started plugging the music everywhere I could. I had three followers within five minutes, and then 15, 43, 105. After a few days I had a thousand followers. It didn’t matter though. I still hadn’t made any money. I lent my head on the coffee table and wept.
I heard Mark come in through the front door. I slammed the laptop shut so he wouldn’t know what I’d been doing.
“Hey babe.” He walked in and threw a newspaper down on the coffee table, on top of the laptop.
“Hey.” I tried to push my hair out of my face.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” He said, he sat down and put his arms around me. “Lauren, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine.” I tried to push him off me.
“Why don’t you call your friends?” He tried to touch my face. “Why don’t you talk to them?”
“They don’t want to hear about it.” I said, rubbing the tears away from my eyes. “No one wants to hear about it.”
He pulled my face towards him and started kissing me.
I went walking in the rain three days in a row that week. It didn’t make me feel better, it only made me feel different. I thought the thunder, rain and lightning might pull me out of it, but it didn’t. I was trapped inside this fog of emotions that I couldn’t get out of, no matter how hard I tried. At one point I didn’t feel I could go on any more. I sat down in the middle of the street near a bus stop, where the bus only came twice a day, and watched the rain cascade of the pavement into the gutter. I felt sick and dizzy and hot and ill. I sat there for some time, and when I looked up, I noticed there was a hedgerow of blackberries running along a wall near a church across the street. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a blackberry. I got up and walked over. I ate one, and then two and then three. They were delicious. The sharp taste somehow brought me back into my body.
The Path, p. 94
I heard my phone go off in my pocket the moment I walked in through the door. It was still raining outside and Mark wasn’t back yet.
It was an Instagram message from a bar in Bournemouth saying did I want to play there at the weekend.
I had a look through all the pictures of the bar, it looked cool, kind of like a fun place, but there was no way I could ever play in front of an audience.
I went upstairs and got in the shower, and when I got out, I had another message from the bar.
Lauren your voice and your storytelling in your songs is really beautiful. I know we’re not a big bar and we can’t pay much but I really think you could help a lot of people here if you shared your music
I read the message over a couple of times and tried to picture what the person sending it looked like. Could it be a young student who worked behind the bar – or maybe it was the person who owned the bar themselves? It was a mystery, but maybe they were right, and after all, if I went to Bournemouth I could go and meet up with Riley.
I thought about it over and over in my mind while I got dressed and dried my hair. I was walking down the stairs reading the message again when Mark came come. I slipped my phone in my jean pocket.
“It’s raining like mad out there.” Mark shook the water off his jacket as as he came in through the front door, and then he kissed me. “I’m going to jump in the shower.”
“Great idea.” I didn’t move. My whole body shut down when he touched me now. I knew I had to go.
The next day I got Mark to drop me and my mum’s house.
“Just call me, when you want me to come and pick you up.” He kissed me before I got out the car.
“Yeah, thanks, I will.” I knew I should tell him I was leaving, but I just couldn’t do it. I knew I would text him from the train. “Thanks for. . .”
He stopped and looked at me.
“Yeah no worries, see you a bit later.” He kissed me again.
I got out of the house and walked up the path to the house, it had become completely overgrown over the summer. I walked up to the front door slowly, I knew Mark was still watching from the car, but inside fireworks were exploring.
Those guitars are really expensive, p. 95
I sat the kitchen table pouring Mum a cup of tea. The sun light coming in through the back door was lighting up everything on the table.
“Those guitars are really expensive Lauren.” Marvin turned over an omelette on the hob.
“I know but you never use them.”
“That’s not the point, they’re in top condition, what if I need to sell one.”
“If you don’t invest in my career now, how will I ever make any money?”
“Just give her one.” Mum said, between heavy breaths.
Marvin looked at her, her knew he couldn’t argue with her, not when she was so ill. I stirred some sugar into her tea and pulled her blankets up over her.
“Annie.” Marvin shook his head and returned to his omelette.
“What about Mark?” Mum said.
“What about Mark?” I tucked her blankets in around her.
“Will he come and meet you in Bournemouth? How long are you going to go for?” Mum took another long, deep breath.
“I don’t know Mum.” I pushed the tea in front of her, although I knew she didn’t really have the strength to lift it.
“I don’t want to see Mark again, so if he comes around, just tell him I’ve moved back to London or something.”
Mum lifted herself up in her chair.
“Yes, it’s over, OK, I’m going to go and find Riley, and then I’ll figure things out from there I guess.”
“Oh Lauren, I’m so pleased.”
“I thought he was alright.” Marvin said as he slipped the omelette onto a plate.
“You would.” Mum rolled her eyes.
“I don’t need a lecture, I just need you to be ok until I come back, ok?” I put my hand on her knee.
“Yes, ok, don’t worry about me, you just go and do what you need to do.” Mum squeezed my hand.
“You better go and get one of those guitars from upstairs then.” Marvin put the omelette down on the kitchen table in front of Mum. I leapt up and hugged him, for the first time, ever.
“Thank you so much. I’ll pay you back I promise.”
“Pay me back for what?” He called after me. “You’re not keeping it. You can buy your own guitar!” I was already half way up the stairs.
The bar was dark, p. 96
The bar was dark and loud and smelt of beer. Riley and Jessica were sitting at the bar having a drink. I watched them for a few minutes while I tried to figure out what to do. I was hoping they would just turn around and see me, stood by the door holding by guitar, but they didn’t. There weren’t many people around, as the night hadn’t officially started yet, the bar was just open for drinks. I took a deep breath and marched across the floor to meet them. With every step, I could feel my feet getting stuck to the floor, glued on by whatever drinks had been spilt there earlier, but I kept going.
“What’s going on with you and Morgan?” I said.
“What? Lauren. How are you?” Jessica twisted round on her bar stool.
“Where did you come from?” Riley let go of the straw she was holding and put her drink down.
“I’m playing here tonight, but that’s not important right now. What I need to know is, what’s going on with you and Morgan?”
“No, you’ve got to tell us what’s going on first.” Jessica got up and hugged me. Riley looked at me for a moment, as though she wasn’t sure what to do, but then she got up and hugged me too. It felt really overwhelming. I couldn’t remember the last time a hug felt so nice.
“I just came all the way here from Gloucestershire. The least you can do is tell me what’s going on.” I hoped they wouldn’t hear the emotion in my voice, or notice that I wanted to cry.
“He’s just over there.” Jessica gestured towards the other end of the bar, where Morgan was sat on his own reading a newspaper.
“Did you work it out?”
“No not really, I mean, he’s here but he’s not talking to me right now.”
“John’s not talking to me either.” Riley picked up her drink and took another sip.
“She moved in with this guy after knowing him for one minute.” Jessica gave me a look.
“Lauren moved in with Mark the day she met him.” Riley said.
“That’s, that’s actually over now.” I looked down at my guitar and then over at the stage.
“What?” Riley and Jessica looked at me wide eyes. I almost couldn’t look at them.
“Yeah, well, don’t get too excited about it, it was just time to move on.”
“I can’t believe you’ve been living with him all this time.” Jessica said.
“I can’t believe you both have boyfriends now, but neither of them are talking to you.” I pulled up a stool between them and sat down, resting my guitar against the bar. I felt awkward and self-conscious, but I knew I just had to push through. “So, what happened?”
“It’s complicated.” They both said at the same time.
Hey Lauren, p.97
“Hey Lauren.” It was Morgan, he was wearing the same jacket he always wore, and he had a newspaper tucked under his arm. “I haven’t seen you for ages.”
I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him. Jessica sat down on her bar stall and looked at him.
“It’s so good to see you.” There were more people starting to fill into the bar now.
“I’m so impressed you’ve written so many songs.” He went and stood next to Jessica.
“Did you listen to them?”
“Yeah, I listened to them all, they were great.”
“Hey.” A tall guy appeared behind Riley, he was wearing a t-shirt and surfer shorts.
“Lauren, this is John.” Riley linked her arm through his. “John, this is Lauren.”
He smiled and nodded.
“I’ve heard a lot about you.” He shook my hand, without looking me in the eyes. I found him hard to read, like he was really nervous or something. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Just then, a third man turned up.
“Fred.” Jessica leapt up from her bar stool. “What are you doing here?”
“I saw you were here on your Instagram.” He smiled as he adjusted the collar of his shirt, he was wearing a navy suit and silver cufflinks.
“I didn’t say I was here on Instagram.” Jessica looked at me.
“I tagged you.” Riley took her phone out of her handbag. “You get a free shot if you tag a friend.”
“Look.” John stepped between Riley and Fred. “You better stay away from these girls, alright?”
“Me stay away from them?”” Fred looked up at John, surprised. “They’re the ones following me.”
John looked at Riley and then back at Fred.
“I don’t care what your story is, but whatever it is, you better clear off.” John said.
The bar was starting to fill up with more people and I could see they were starting to do the sound checks on the stage.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t actually come here to talk to you. I came here to talk to Jessica.” Fred side stepped around him. “Jessica, can we just have a moment alone? I’ve been trying to get. . .”
“Whatever you have to say you can say here.” John folded his arms.
“Maybe, we shouldn’t get involved.” Riley tried to pull John away from Fred and Jessica.
“Now, you don’t want to get involved?” John unfolded his arms.
“What did you want to say?” Morgan put his paper down on the bar.
“Morgan let’s just go.” Jessica tried to walk around Fred, but he stepped out in front of her, got down on one knee and pulled out an engagement ring.
“In this time apart,” Fred was still kneeling on the floor of the bar, a drink someone had split earlier was seeping into his suit. “I’ve been thinking about how great we were together, and how much I miss you, and if commitment is what you want, well, then I’m ready.”
This was incredibly expensive, p.98
Jessica didn’t say anything, I couldn’t read Morgan’s expression at all.
“Don’t accept it.” Riley hit the ring out of Fred’s hand. “It’s a blood diamond. It’s a microphone or a camera. He’s just using this to spy on you.”
“What?” Fred searched around on the floor for the ring. “No, I’m not. This was incredibly expensive.”
“Yes, you are.” Riley said. “You’re spying on all of us to try and steal trade secrets about deep sea mining from the companies Jessica works.”
“Is that why I haven’t been able to get hold of you?” Fred picked up the ring and stood up. The knees of his trousers were wet with floor alcohol. “Why you moved offices. . . why you moved out of your flat? Because you think I’m spying on you?”
“Don’t pretend you’re not, Morgan’s written all about it, and he’s going to publish a big expose in the newspapers next week.
Everyone looked at Morgan now. He rubbed the back of his head.
“I did investigate that company you asked me to look into, and they are doing some illegal things, but I didn’t know, they, he was spying on Jessica.”
“I’m not spying on Jessica. We’ve been seeing each other.”
“Oh so you’re sleeping with both of them.” John said.
“Both of who?” I said. I was super confused.
“Hey guys!” It was Alby and Jamie, the guys who use to live near us in Bow.
“What are you doing here?” Riley said.
“We saw it on your Instagram. Thought we’d come have a weekend in Bournemouth.” Alby tried to put his arm around Riley.
“Get off me.” She pushed him away and put her arm around John. “This is my boyfriend, John.”
“Who’s this guy?” John said.
“Excuse me, are you Lauren? We need to do the soundcheck.” It was a girl from the stage crew.
“Yeah, of course, great.” I picked up my guitar from where it was propped up against the bar.
“I think we should break up.” Morgan said, picking up his newspaper from off the bar.
“What, why?” I swung around to look at Jessica.
“You’ve been seeing this guy?” Morgan was looking at Jessica.
“Don’t break up until I get back.” I said. “Just stay together, at least until the end of the show.”
I don’t want to fight with you anymore, p.99
“I just went out with him for, I don’t know, three weeks.” Jessica explained to Morgan. “It wasn’t even a thing, and then he started spying on me.”
“We really need to go.” The soundcheck girl said to me.
“I was not spying on you.” Fred said, he was still holding the ring in his hand.
“But you are a spy.” Riley butted in, with John behind her.
“I don’t think that’s something we should discuss now.” Fred looked over at the sound check girl.
Morgan started to walk out.
“Morgan, wait.” I jumped in front of him. “I know you and Jessica are really bad at expressing your emotions for some reason, but she does really love you. I know she never tells you, but she does want to be with you, and I really need you guys to stay together right now, so if you could just not break up for tonight, or even just for a few hours, I would really appreciate it.”
I couldn’t read his expression at all. I could see now why Jessica struggled.
“I don’t know, Lauren.” He looked back at Jessica. “I don’t want to fight with you anymore.”
“I don’t want to fight with you either.”
“You need to let me in more.”
“You!” Jessica looked exasperated. “You need to let me in more.”
“You’re going out with this guy?” Fred pointed the engagement ring towards Morgan.
“Fred, look, I don’t want to marry you, and I don’t know who else you slept with . . .”
“Riley, he slept with Riley.” John folded his arms.
“You guys slept together?” Jessica said.
“Why does that matter?” Morgan folded his arms too.
“It’s not important.” Jessica said. “Fred, I just think you should go.”
“Fine, but if you publish anything about me, or my company, I’ll sue you.” Fred pointed the engagement ring box at Morgan.
“Fine.” Morgan waved the box away from him.
Fred shoved the box in his trouser suit pocket and stormed off, across the sticky, poorly lit floor.
“Lauren, we really need to do the sound check.”
“I know we can make it work.” Jessica put her hands on the lapels of Morgan’s jacket.
“We just need to communicate more.”
“Ok, that’s great.” I said. “Just don’t break up until I get back, and you two don’t break up either.”
I pointed my guitar at John and Riley and they rolled their eyes.
‘Now form a band’, p. 100
“It’s so cool, that you’re playing here.” Jamie, the guy from Bow, said as I walked off.
“Oh, thanks.” He was kind of cute.
“It’s just this way.” The sound check girl said, as she took me back stage. There were already some other bands and musicians back stage getting ready.
“It will just be a minute.” The girl said. She kept adjusting her hat and her glasses and her drainpipe jeans. The other sound engineer was with one of the bands.
“I really liked that song you wrote, Stranger at the Funfair.”
“You liked that?”
“Yeah, it was like, so simple but so powerful.”
“That’s because I basically only know three chords.”
“That’s all you need.” She stuck out her arm. She had a tattoo of the ‘This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band’ illustration from the 1970s fanzine Sideburns.
“Wow. That’s cool.” I thought back to the first time I ever tried to play a G, and how difficult it was to change from one chord to another, and how that seemed like such a long time ago now.
“Your stuff’s not the kind of stuff I would normally listen to, but when I heard the lyrics, I knew you had to play here. Your stuff’s so good.”
“You’re the one who messaged me?”
“Yeah.” She stuck out her hand. “My name’s Sasha.”
“Thanks for getting in touch, that was really cool of you.”
“No worries. There’s just so many people out there with so many issues, and the stuff you’re talking about, I don’t know, I just thought, I thought it could help a lot of people. You know, people find it hard to talk about child abuse and stuff like that, so maybe through song. . .”
“It wasn’t about. . .”
“Are you Lauren?” The other sound engineer shouted over at me. “Come here.”
“Good luck.” Sasha grinned at me, but a wave of panic washed over me. What did I think I was doing getting up there in front of a whole load of people, and, to make it worse, my best friends?
“Have you got your set list?” The older sound engineer said, as I walked over to him.
“Oh yeah.” I pulled a piece of paper out of the pocket on my guitar case. My hands were shaking.
“You alright?” He said to me. “What’s wrong?”
“Actually, just wait one minute.” I grabbed a pen out of my bag. “I want to change the first song.”
“You want to play this song first?” He looked at the paper with surprise.
“Yeah.” I said to the sound engineer. My hands were sweating now. It was really hot back stage.
The Boys of Summer, p.101
“It’s a cover.” He put the piece of paper down on a keyboard that someone had left out.
“I just think it will be a good way to start.”
I walked out on to the stage. It was dark but I could see Riley, John, Jessica and Morgan stood at the bar. Riley was taking a sip of a drink. John was looking at something on his phone. Jessica was talking to Morgan about something. The room wasn’t super busy but there were a few groups of people stood around. I coughed and cleared my throat and then they all looked up at me. Some people in the crowd turned back to their conversations, but I could see my friends were all staring at me. I took a deep breath and started to play the first chords of the song.
Riley put down her drink.
I started singing.
“Ain’t nobody on the road. . . ain’t no body on the beach. . .”
Everyone started cheering. I saw Riley race over to Jessica and hug her.
“I can feel it in the air, summer’s out of reach. . .”
Jessica and Riley were holding hands and dancing. Morgan smiled at me and raised his drink.
“Empty lake, streets, sun goes down alone. . .”
Riley had her arms up in the air and was swirling around. Jessica and Morgan were hugging. Even John was dancing a little bit.
“I’m driving by your house, even though I know you’re not home. . .”
I was doing it. I was playing in front of a crowd of people. Something I never would have ever thought possible even just a few months ago. I was just racing through the song and it was coming out of me like I didn’t even have to think about it. It was amazing. All those days I spent alone on the sofa crying seemed like a distant memory, and even though I had no idea what lay ahead or what was going to happen tomorrow, for a moment, I felt connected to every single person in the crowd and it felt amazing.
“I can tell you. . .” Everyone in the audience was singing along with me now and I could hear Riley shouting the lyrics over everybody else. “My love for you will still be strong, after the boys of summer have gone. . .”
Strangers at the funfair, p. 102
I played a few more songs, they just kept flowing out of me and I felt like I was hitting every note almost just right. It felt amazing, and some of the crowd were even singing along to the songs that I had written. Even the mistakes I did make, didn’t really seem to matter. It could only last so long though, I knew sooner or later I would have to play Strangers at the Funfair. I kept putting it off and putting it off. I really didn’t want to, but eventually it got to the point I couldn’t put it off anymore.
“Hello Bournemouth.” I said, looking out across the crowd.
“Hello!” Everyone shouted back at me, people were whooping and cheering.
“This is a song I wrote. . .I won’t explain it. . . I’ll just play it, and maybe if you like it you can buy the album from my website . . . and then I can write some more songs.”
The crowd cheered, everyone was quite drunk, hopefully no one would notice if I started having a panic attack.
“All I wanted, all I wanted was you”
“Am I, am I, am I getting through?” The crowd sang back to me.
“All I wanted, all I wanted was you.” I sang again.
“Am I, am I, am I getting through?” They sang again.
“All I wanted, was just to be like you.”
The words were rushing out of me, and as they did, all these memories started flooding through me.
“I always feel like I’m going down a helter-skelter,
The rug it burns, my arms, my legs, my knees,
I always feel like I’m going down a helter-skelter.
But I never know who’s waiting there for me”
“Am I, am I, am I getting through.” The crowd sang back at me, and then we all sang the next lines.
“Oh, I wish I hid from the strangers at the fun fair,
How I wish I hid from the man with the long hair.”
I could feel all these feelings of shame flooding through me and I knew Riley was looking at me and I knew she was just standing there looking at me, not dancing, but I knew I couldn’t look at her.
“We were only kids, If I ever, ever wanted anything
It was just to be like you.
Now I wish I, wish I hid from those strangers at the fun fair,
Oh oh oh,
All I wanted, all I wanted was just to be like you.”
Everything went a little bit hazy after that, but I think Riley walked out.
A Hen Party Skinny Dipping, p.103
I ran back stage, zipped up Marvin’s guitar it’s protective case, and pushed my way out of through the fire exit. I ran out into the street and round to the front of the bar, where there were just a few people outside smoking. I wasn’t sure which way to go, so I in the direction of the beach.
“Riley!” I shouted as I ran down the streets of Bournemouth, my guitar knocking against my legs as I ran. It was colder than I expected and the streets looked different in the dark. “Riley!”
I saw her the moment I saw the ocean, her figure stood out against the night sky and the dark blue horizon. I slowed down to try and catch my breath as I walked towards her, she was stood against some railings, the wind blowing in her hair. It was amazing how may stars you could see. The crescent moon looked clearer here than it ever did in London. I realised I hadn’t looked at the stars the whole time I was in Gloucestershire. Everything seemed so much clearer and more vivid now, like I could see every wave and ripple on the ocean.
“Riley, wait.” I took in another deep breath. She turned around to look at me.
“Wait, just wait, will you.” I wasn’t sure what I was asking her to wait for.
“It’s my fault isn’t it? Everything that happened, it’s my fault.”
“What, no… Riley, it was just a song.” I leant the guitar against the railings.
“A song based on true events.”
“I don’t know. . .” My chest felt tight.
“You know, I’ve been having all these weird intrusive memories, all summer, and I didn’t know what they meant or what they were, but now I know they were real, because you must remember it too.”
“Maybe. . .” I looked out at the view. There were a few couples walking along the beach holding hands, and a hen party going skinny dipping. “The stars look amazing.”
I really didn’t want to be talking or thinking about anything that had happened in the past.
“It was my dad’s friends, the ones who used to take us out places sometimes at the weekends.”
I heard the women splashing and as they ran into the water naked.
“Yeah, maybe.” I looked at her. “Yeah, it was, but there’s no way that was your fault.”
“If you hadn’t been friends with me, none of that would have ever happened to you.”
“Hey, look my mum was neglectful too, she never knew where we were. She could have found out what was happening. She could have checked what your dad was doing with us.”
“I don’t want to think about it anymore. . . but I don’t know how to let it go.”
“I know. I don’t know, maybe we should tell the police or something.”
“Would they ever find them? Do you even remember their names?”
“No.” The women were shrieking around in the water.
‘There’s so much possibility ahead of us’, p. 104
“I think that’s why I became so obsessed with that guy, Fred, the deep mining spy.” Riley said, leaning against the cold, blue railings as she stared out at the sea. “I guess, I just thought, if I could prove he’d done something, it would make me feel better.”
“Yeah, and it looks like you did prove it, from what everyone was saying at the bar. . . although, I’m really only just catching up with this story now.”
“Yeah, I know, but I just, I wanted him to have done something really bad you know, something I could get him for.”
“Maybe the article will lead to an investigation and they will find things out.”
“Yeah I know, but it doesn’t make it better right, all the bad things that happened.”
“I don’t want to be like this anymore, I just feel so lost and at sea, and directionless.”
“Yeah me, too, but it will get easier, right?”
“I don’t know, I thought I had a good thing going with John, but now I feel like I’m fucking it up all the time, and I don’t even know why, and I don’t know how to fix it.”
“Maybe that’s just part of life, I mean look at Morgan and Jessica, they’re both really messed up and they don’t have any traumatic childhood events. . . as far as we know.”
“Yeah. . . I mean I feel like my brain is like broken from this trauma, but at least it’s sort of healing and I understand why I feel like this now.
“We should do something though, like try to take it to court or something.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
“We can deal with that tomorrow.” I touched her arm. “Let’s go and find the others.”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket, there was a text from Jessica.
“They’re just at a pub.” I said opening google maps. It’s like 5-10 minutes away.
“OK great.” Riley and I walked in silence back into town. I felt like a lot of emotions were leaving my body all at once, like somehow just knowing that it was all real, and that it had happened, even if I didn’t remember everything, was sort of vindicating. Even if I never remembered what happened, at least I knew I wasn’t going crazy and making it up. I could feel angry or frustrated or scared or confused and it wasn’t wrong to feel like that.
“You think it will get better?” Riley said, as we approached the pub.
“Yeah, it has too.” I stopped outside the door to take in another breath of sea air. “There’s so much possibility ahead of us.”
The Neptune, p.105
Jessica ran over the minute she saw us coming through the door.
“Guess, what?” She said, grabbing both our arms.
“What?” I said, looking around the half empty pub. It was mainly just full of old men drinking.
“Do you remember that time we went to Whitstable, and Riley, you said you just wanted someone to tell you where you’re going to meet the person you’re going to be with?”
“Kind of. . .” Riley looked around the room, it was still full of old men, apart from Morgan, who was stood at the bar reading a newspaper.
“And I said, I’m that person, and I know where that place is.”
“I don’t remember you saying that. . .”
I really had no idea what they were talking about.
“I said, I know where that place is, it’s the Old Neptune.”
“Oh yeah, I do.” Riley said.
“But when we went to the Old Neptune, no one was there?” Jessica looked really excited.
“Yeah, I remember.” Riley said.
“This pub is called the Neptune, and,” she looked at me and then back at Riley. “It’s old!”
“Is that why you brough us here?” I said, confused.
“So, who’s the person I’m supposed to be with?” Riley said looking around.
“Don’t you get it, it’s us, we’re the people you’re supposed to be with.” Jessica squeezed our arms.
John walked out of the bathroom, but Jessica didn’t see him, because he was behind her.
“Oh yeah.” Riley said smiling. “That’s what I’ve been saying all along. The three of us need to stick together. You’re the ones who wanted to move out of the flat.”
“Yeah, because my mum is sick.” I said.
“And you never paid any rent.” Jessica added.
“I did pay rent.” Riley said.
I noticed John look over at Morgan for a moment, and then walked over to talk to us.
“Hi. Are you ok?”
“Hi.” Riley said. “Yeah sorry, I just needed some air it was really hot.”
“That’s ok. Jessica said she thought you’d be here. . .” John glanced around the pub. “Not your usual haunt, but it’s cool.”
“Let’s go to the bar on the beach.” Riley said. “They have an open mic night. You can do a duet.”
John and I looked at each other.
“I’m not sure about that,” I said, “but, OK, why not. . .”
The Next Day, p.106
“It will be fun.” Riley grabbed my hand and John’s and started leading us out of the pub.
“We just got a drink,” Jessica said. “We’ll catch you up.”
“You know where it is right?” Riley said as she pulled us out the front door and into the night.
“Um . . .” Jessica said, looking back at Morgan who was still stood at the bar reading a newspaper.
“I’ll drop you a pin.” I called back, as we exited into the night, and the doors swung shut behind us.
The next day Jessica, Riley and I were sat on our towels, wearing our sunglasses and drinking coffee. It was sunny but cold and we were still wearing jumpers and jackets. There were lots of people walking along the beach and flying kites but few swimmers.
“I still can’t believe you wrote all those songs.” Jessica said, before dunking a donut in her coffee.
“So, what’s happening with you and Morgan, are you going to stay together?” I said.
“Lauren, you’re obsessed.” Jessica took a bite of the donut to avoid answering me.
“I just want to know what’s going to happen between you?” I said.
“What about me and John, don’t you know what’s going to happen between us?” Riley said.
“I thought that had all been resolved when you saw him at the Neptune.” I lowered my sunglasses.
“Yeah, but what about when I move back to London and we all get a place together.” Riley took her sunglasses off and looked at me. “What’s going to happen then?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged, taking a donut out of the bag in front of us. “You’ll do long distance for a year and then move in together.”
“It’s just that easy.” Riley grabbed the bag away from me.
“Yeah, why not?” I took a bite of the donut and listened to the seagulls squawking further down the beach, and the sound of the ocean and the children trying to race the waves. I shut my eyes and all I could feel was the cool breeze and the sand between my toes.
“I don’t know . . .” Jessica started to respond to my earlier question, as though she hadn’t heard anything we had just said. “Morgan, you know, he’s just a part of me.”
“Don’t break up with him.” I said, almost spilling my coffee as I tried to take the lid off.
“I’m not going to. I don’t know where you got this idea from.”
“Because you were sleeping with Fred.” I took a sip of the coffee.
“That was ages ago, and it never meant anything anyway. . .”
“You,” I said turning to Riley. “You were sleeping with Fred?
Riley raked her fingers through the sand.
“Maybe, once. . . I’m sorry Jessica.”
Spilt some coffee on my jeans, p. 107
“I don’t care, I just think it’s weird.” Jessica took another sip of her coffee. “Why would you sleep with Fred if you thought he was a commercial spy who was spying on us?”
“I don’t know . . .” Riley continued raking the sand with her fingers. “I didn’t really think he was a spy then, or did I . . . I don’t know. It was something to do. . . I text Jamie and Alby by the way. They’re going to come and meet us here.”
“What? Why did you do that?” I spilt some coffee on my jeans.
“I don’t know, Jamie text me and said he thought your music was really good, and I thought, I don’t know, maybe you’d want to hang out.”
“No, I do not want to hang out.” I put the lid back on my coffee. “I’m not wearing any make up.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Riley said. “You’re wearing sunglasses anyway.”
“I thought we were just having a chilled beach day.” I said.
“We are, we are. . .” Riley leant over and hugged me.
“Where’s John?” Jessica said.
“He’s meeting us too.” Riley let go of me and sat up on her towel.
“Won’t it be weird because you slept with Alby too?” Jessica said.
“I forgot about that. . .” Riley repositioned herself. “He’ll just have to accept it.”
“It might be awkward.” Jessica took her bag out of her phone and checked for messages.
“It won’t be. . .” Riley started raking the sand again. I could see some kids pushing another kid over, into the water, further down the beach.
“Actually Jessica, we need your help with something. . .” I said.
“Are you sure you want to do this now?” Riley said.
“Now’s as good as ever. . . all your . . . guys could turn up at any moment.”
“Ok fine, whatever.” She kept looking at her hand raking the sand.
“What, what’s going on?” Jessica put her phone back in her bag.
I felt a weird sensation tingling inside me.
“We, uh, we think we were abused as children.” I pushed through the feeling. “By some friends of Riley’s dad.”
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry.”
“We don’t know who they are, but we were thinking we should report it to the police anyway. . . you know, I mean, I don’t know how it all works, but we were thinking maybe you could help us.”
“Yeah, of course.” Jessica pushed her coffee cup into the sand. “I mean, I don’t know that much about commercial law, but I’ll do whatever it takes to help.”
A small plastic, orange egg, p.108
The sky was blue and a family of seagulls were floating on the top of the ocean.
“Are you sure?” Riley stopped raking the sand and looked up at Jessica. “You don’t have to?”
“Of course, I want to.” Jessica said. “What’s the point of having a law degree if you can’t use it to help your friends, and this sounds really serious. Are you OK?”
I noticed Morgan walking across the beach towards us, from the direction off the cliffs.
“There’s Morgan.” I said. Jessica turned around to look at him and then back to us.
“Let’s meet when we get back to London,” Jessica said, “and we can talk about it more then.”
“I’m going back to Gloucestershire.” I said. “To live with my mum.”
“Yeah, and I live here now.” Riley ran her fingers across the grooves she had made in the sand.
“Hey.” Morgan said as he approached us.
“Hey, do you want to share my towel?” Jessica moved up towards us.
“Yeah, ok, thanks.” He started to get something out of his pocket as he sat down.
“Let’s meet up next weekend.” Jessica turned back to me and Riley. “And every weekend until we figure out what to do. You can come to London, I’ll come to Gloucestershire and Bournemouth.”
Morgan handed Riley a small plastic, orange egg.
“What’s this?” She looked at it in surprise.
“Where did you get it?” Jessica pulled the egg open and pulled out a gold, plastic engagement ring with a replica diamond.
“I’ll get you a real one when we get home.”
“Morgan.” Jessica searched for words but she didn’t seem to find any.
“Are you being serious?” I leant forward to look at the ‘ring’.
“Why. . .” Jessica held out the ring towards me, but still didn’t seem to be able to find any words.
“I know I can’t offer you the lifestyle of a deep-sea-mining-spy. . .” Morgan began.
“This is huge.” I said.
“Jessica hasn’t even said anything yet.” Riley said.
“. . . I want to spend every day trying to make you happy,” Morgan continued, “and I want to do it every day for the rest of my life.”
“Yes, of course the answers yes.” Jessica threw her arms around him and they fell over into the sand.
“This is huge.” I said again.
“Yeah you just said that.” Riley added.
“I mean, I really did not see this coming.” I added.