Memories of a Murder – Chapter 7

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

Hardcastle Family Home, Wiltshire

October, 2002

 

“You’re going on a date?” Elizabeth asked, a surprised tone in her voice.

“Not if you don’t leave me alone to get ready, I’m not.” Frederick pushed his mother out of the bathroom and shut the door behind her.

“Well, who’s it with? Do we know her?” She shouted through the door.

“Yes, you’ve met! Now go away!” Frederick heard his mother turn and quickly move down the stairs.

“Vicky!” She shouted.

He sighed as he spread shaving foam around the lower half of his face. He had hoped to sneak out of the house and then tell them he had been on a date, after the date. He was feeling nervous enough as it was, he didn’t need his mother fussing over him, and he certainly didn’t need his father telling him to ‘give her one for me, son’.

It had been six months since he had split up with Rebecca, but only one since he had told her why. Despite the fact that he had dumped her after being together for more than a year, they had remained good friends, and he’d found he’d been able to confide in her and she was one of the first people he’d told that he had feelings for other men.

To say she had been surprised would be something of an understatement. She had shouted, and gasped, and screamed, and even threw a plate at the wall, complete with half a serving of Spaghetti Bolognese. In retrospect, telling her in the restaurant hadn’t been one of his better ideas. Once she had calmed down, they’d had a long talk, one that had lasted into the small hours of the following morning.

Eventually, they had curled up on the sofa back at hers chatting and gossiping about all the different actors they fancied. It was when Rebecca innocently asked him if there were any real men that he fancied that Frederick made his mistake.

When he told her, she didn’t scream, she didn’t shout and she didn’t throw things. She simply pulled away from him and sat up straight on the couch and muttered that she should have seen it coming. Frederick tried to make a joke about it, tried to make it seem like nothing, but he faltered when he realised just how upset she was. She’d told him to leave and he had, and he’d left her alone for three weeks. Then, three days before, she’d picked him up from his home, and had insisted on taking him shopping. He tried to bring up the subject, but she was ignoring it, and perhaps, he considered, that was for the best.

So, they’d gone shopping, and she’d helped him pick out a new outfit for the date that she had set up for him. They had spent two hours wandering around the shops, trying on several different shirts and trousers. It was only when he suggested that the black shirt would look better on him than the purple one she had picked out, that Rebecca’s smile had faded. Misreading her for a moment, Frederick had explained that not only did the black match the shoes he’d bought, as well as bringing out his eyes, but it would also contrast quite nicely with the décor of the restaurant he was going to. Rebecca had laughed and asked him if perhaps, maybe, he was one hundred percent gay, rather than bisexual.

Frederick sighed and wiped the shaving foam from his face, perhaps a little stubble would be good tonight, he wouldn’t look quite so… innocent. He sprinkled a little water into his hair to help quickly restyle the gel already there and made his way downstairs to the kitchen.

“Wow, looking good!” Victoria whistled. “Was that the shirt Becky picked?”

Frederick checked himself again. “Err, thanks, and no, I picked it. Do you think he’ll like it?”

“I’m not a gay man,” Victoria reminded him, “I don’t know what exactly they look for.”

“Is it tight?”

“Yes.”

“Good. What about my bum, does it look big?”

“Is big good or bad?” She began slicing a carrot as they spoke.

“Too big is bad. Too small is bad.”

“Well then, Baby Bear, yours is just right.”

“Thanks.” Frederick grinned.

“When’s he due to pick you up?”

“Another five minutes.” Frederick checked his watch as Elizabeth came into the kitchen.

“How’s the dinner coming, Vicky?” She asked.

“Twenty minutes, mum, don’t worry, it’ll be ready by the time Dad comes home.”

Elizabeth smiled nervously. “Oh, I’m not worried, dear, it’s just that your father doesn’t like to wait. So, err, do you know who your brother’s going out with tonight?”

“Mum, give it a rest.”

“Yeah,” Victoria said, placing the chopping knife into the sink, along with a used saucepan, “give it a rest, you’re going to find out in a few minutes anyway. She is going to find out, isn’t she?”

Frederick hesitated. “Is dad home yet?”

“No.”

“Then, yeah, you’ll find out.”

“Well, then, I’m just going to… sit in the front room, read the newspaper.” Elizabeth left the kitchen and Frederick knew full well she’d be peering out of the front window looking for signs of his date rather than reading the newspaper. He turned to Victoria.

“So, why are you cooking dinner instead of mum? It’s not like she’s been doing anything else all day.”

Victoria’s face fell and she sighed as she faced her brother. “I think Dad’s hitting her again.”

“What?” Frederick gave a small laugh of disbelief. “No, he can’t be, he stopped, remember, he doesn’t drink anymore.”

“You don’t need to be drunk to be violent, Freddie. I came home the other night, and she was crying. I can’t be sure, but I think he’d hit her.”

“Why would he hit her?”

Victoria shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ve been cooking every night this week, and when he says how good it tastes, she keeps telling him that she’s been trying out new recipes.”

“He’s hitting her because she’s taking the credit for your cooking?”

“No, that’s the point, he’s stopped hitting her since I’ve been cooking.” Victoria stressed as they heard the doorbell.

“He hit her because he didn’t like the way she fried her bacon, is that what you’re telling me?” Frederick asked. “No, I don’t believe that. Dad only ever hit her when he was drunk, and he doesn’t drink any more.”

“Vicky! It’s for you!” They heard their mother shout from the other room.

Victoria exchanged a small look with Frederick and shouted back, “Who is it?”

“It’s Graham, darling.”

Victoria squeezed Frederick’s hand. “Good luck.” She whispered, before dragging him into the front room.

“Graham!” Victoria hugged him. “How’s everything going at that new place you’re at?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s all good.” Graham smiled gingerly “Everyone there is really friendly, really helped me settle in, you know.”

“You know, Graham,” Elizabeth said, glancing out of the window again, “I don’t want to be rude or anything, but we’re about to sit down for dinner, and you know how Edward can be if he has to wait. Were you planning on staying long?”

Graham paused and looked at Frederick. “Err… well, no. I’ve got a date.”

“A date!” Elizabeth exclaimed, with a wide smile. “What a coincidence, Freddie’s going out on a date tonight as well.”

“Yeah, it’s, err… it’s funny that, mum, I – ” Frederick mumbled, but his mother interrupted him.

“Of course, he’s being all secretive about it, you can hardly blame him of course, it’s his first date since he and Rebecca split up.”

“Mum.” Frederick protested.

“Although, I don’t see why he couldn’t tell me, I am his mother after all.” Elizabeth laughed a little. “Well, I’ll guess I’ll just have to adopt you as a son instead, Graham, I bet you wouldn’t hide anything from your mother. The gays tell their mothers everything, don’t you?”

“Well, not quite everything,” Graham smiled, “there are always some boundaries.”

“Of course, of course.” Elizabeth patted his arm. “So, if you’ve got a date, why are you here? Does he live nearby?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, who’s the lucky guy?”

There was a long silence as both Graham and Victoria looked at Frederick. Frederick looked down to the floor, and then back up at Elizabeth, who was frowning, confused by the sudden silence.

“I am.”

“Sorry, honey?” Elizabeth asked, as if she’d forgotten what question she had asked.

“Graham’s date. That’s me.”

“Graham’s date.” Elizabeth repeated. “Oh. Oh! You’re his – he’s you’re – the two of you – you’re –?”

“Err, yes I am, yes he is, yes we are, and… yes. I am.”

“Right. Well…”

Another long silence filled the room.

“Listen, Mrs Hardcastle,” Graham broke the tension, “I know this is a bombshell, but we’ve got a reservation, we should really get going.”

“Going, right.” She slowly sank into the armchair behind her, trying to digest what she was hearing.

“We can talk tomorrow, mum, I promise.” Frederick kissed her on the side of the cheek and walked out of the front door, just as Edward was coming up the drive.

“Hey, boys,” he said, “you not stopping for dinner tonight, Freddie? Your mother’s trying one of her new recipes again.”

“Err no…” Frederick said, feeling slightly awkward. “Me and Graham, we’re… we’re going out.”

Frederick studied his father intently to see what effect this would have, but there seemed to be none.

“Right then,” he smiled, “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Frederick gave him a weak smile and climbed into the passenger seat of Graham’s sleek orange Tigra as Edward went inside the house. He picked up the post from the small table by the door and smiled at Elizabeth and Victoria.

“What are the boys up to, then?”

Elizabeth and Victoria both looked at each other, a small hint of panic in their eyes.

 

*                *                *

 

Elizabeth sat nervously on the edge of the couch, as Victoria came down the stairs and slipped quietly into the front room.

“How is he?” Elizabeth asked her daughter.

“He’s not happy. I talked to him, tried to get him to calm down, but… he just wanted to be held. You know what he can be like.”

“Yeah. Your brother was the same at that age.” Elizabeth nodded absently. “He’s asleep now, though?”

“Yeah. How is he?” Victoria motioned to her father who was sat in an armchair, staring into space, his barely touched dinner, sat on a tray in his lap.

“No change, he still hasn’t said anything.”

“Dad?” Victoria edged towards Edward. He hadn’t spoken since Elizabeth and Victoria had told him just what the boys were up to, a few hours before. “Dad, perhaps – if you’re finished – I should take that.”

As Victoria reached for the plate, Edward mumbled incoherently. “What?”

“I said, sit down.” He didn’t make eye contact with her, he just kept them staring straight ahead into the blackness of the television set.

“But, Dad, it’s been a couple of hours, I really think I should do the washing up. Come on, just give – ”

“Sit down!” Victoria jumped out of the way, and Elizabeth squealed as Edward threw his plate at the wall above the television.

Victoria backed off and sat on the opposite end to the couch of her mother, not able to tear her eyes from the mashed potato sliding slowly down the wallpaper.

“When your brother gets home,” Edward said calmly, “we are going to have a family meeting. Until then, no one does anything without my permission.”

“Edward, perhaps…” Elizabeth trailed off when he turned and glared at her.

A silence filled the room, as Edward, Elizabeth and Victoria all sat on the edge of their chairs and several tense minutes passed until the three of them heard the slow crunch of car tyres on the driveway outside. Elizabeth and Victoria watched nervously as Edward calmly stood up and walked out of the front door.

He moved over to the passenger side of Graham’s car, tapped on the window and waited as Frederick opened the window.

“Hey, Dad, you all right?”

Edward glanced past his son to Graham in the driver’s seat, before looking down at the ground. “Five minutes, family meeting, dining room.”

 

*                *                *

 

Frederick watched with a frown as Edward moved back into the house.

“What was that all about?”

“They told him.” Frederick said, bowing his head.

“They wouldn’t do that, would they?”

“You don’t know my dad, he’s probably beat it out of them.”

“Is that what he’s going to do to you? Try and beat it out of you?”

“I guess.”

“You don’t seem too bothered,” Graham said, “if I was in your position, I think I’d be pretty angry at him right now.”

“I’m used to it.” Frederick turned back to Graham and smiled. “I really enjoyed tonight it was fun.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I thought that maybe you would be a little nervous.”

“I was nervous, believe me.”

“Yeah,” Graham nodded, “me too.”

Frederick gave a small laugh. “You were nervous? The famous Graham Granger, nervous about going on date with little old me?”

“I wasn’t nervous over that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was excited, but there was other stuff making me nervous.”

“What kind of other stuff.”

“Your sister. Becky.” Frederick looked away from Graham. “They haven’t really spoken to me since you told them. I don’t want to lose them, but I don’t want to lose anything that I might have with you either.”

“Vicky doesn’t seem all that bothered by it. When I told her it was like she already knew. I kind of figured that you’d told her about… you know… before.”

“I wouldn’t have told her that. I still haven’t, I probably never will.”

“I didn’t think you’d be able to resist. You are a public information service, after all.”

Graham gained a look of mock surprise. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, come on, I didn’t even go to the same college as you three and I still feel like I know everything there was to know about everyone who went there.”

“I never told you everything.”

“Such as?”

Graham smiled and then pursed his lips, scrutinising the younger man sat next to him. “Joshua’s father. I never told you about him, Vicky asked me not to.”

“Very true,” Frederick nodded, “of course, Becky already told me, it was your psych teacher.”

“The girl is worse than me, I swear.”

A comfortable silence filled the car as the two men collected their thoughts.

“I really enjoyed tonight, you know.” Graham said. “I hope we can do it again some time.”

A wide smile spread across Frederick’s face. “I’m so glad you said that, I didn’t want to be the only one who felt that way.”

“Freddie, you’re a really special guy, I’ve had a really great time. I’ve never felt this way about another guy.”

“I know it’s a little early,” Frederick mused, “but does that mean I can officially call you my boyfriend?”

Graham paused to think. “Yeah,” he said eventually, “I think I’d like that.”

“Come here.” Frederick leant into Graham and slowly started to kiss him, after a few moments Graham pulled back.

“What about your dad? Didn’t he say he wanted to see you?”

“Whatever it is, it’ll keep.”

Graham smirked again and continued to kiss his boyfriend. Boyfriend. He said the word over in his head again. He’d never had a proper boyfriend, just a string of crushes and one night stands, and had always believed he would never make a commitment to just one man. But still, now that he’d said the words, now that he was here with Frederick, he couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Something inside told him that everything would be just right, that things were going to work out ok.

Just as this thought passed through his mind, he felt Frederick pull away. He opened his eyes to find Frederick being pulled violently from the car.

 

*                *                *

 

“I told you five minutes.” Edward said locking the front door, as Graham banged on the glass on the other side.

“Well, I’m late,” Frederick shrugged, “sorry to disappoint you.”

“Disappointed? This goes far beyond disappointed, my boy. Dining room, now.”

Edward shoved his son in the back, causing him to stumble as they entered the dining room where Elizabeth and Victoria were sat on opposite sides of the table.

“So, what’s this all about?” Frederick asked slumping into one of the chairs.

“What’s this all about?” Edward repeated incredulously. “I’ve just found my only son sticking his tongue down another man’s throat! What the hell do you think this is all about?”

“Oh, that.” Frederick thought for a moment as the banging at the front door stopped. “Did you have a problem with that?”

“A problem? A problem, he asks! Of course, I’ve got a problem with it! The problem is my son is a fucking queer!”

“Dad,” Victoria stood up, “as long as Freddie’s happy, surely it doesn’t matter who he loves.”

“And if he loved little children?” Edward asked. “If he loved dogs, or corpses and was going around sleeping with them, would you still expect me to stand back and do nothing.”

“No, but it’s hardly the same.” The knocking returned, but was now coming from the back door in the kitchen.

“It is the same! It’s disgusting, it’s not natural! Why am I the only one who can see this?”

“Because you’re the only one who’s a prejudiced old fool!” Frederick shouted over the loud knocking.

“Somebody stop that frigging queen from knocking my house down!”

Victoria moved into the kitchen and Frederick stood up again to face his father. “I thought you liked Graham? You always seemed to get on with him, what’s changed?”

“He wasn’t exploiting my son before.”

“But you knew he was gay, you never had a problem with him.”

“I didn’t know he was fucking my son then! I don’t want anything like that in my family!”

The room went quiet as Graham stepped into room from the kitchen, Victoria wasn’t with him. Fredrick smiled and put an arm around Graham. “Don’t say things like that, Dad, Graham might be family one day.”

Edward narrowed his eyes and curled his hand into a fist. Before anyone could stop him, he launched it into Frederick’s face. Frederick crumpled to the floor and a smile of triumph flashed across Edward’s face, but it was only for a moment before he too received a smack in the face and joined his son on the floor.

Edward was in shock as he looked at Graham standing over him. “Frederick is going to spend the night at my house. If you try and stop either of us, I’ll hit you again.”

Edward remained silent as a small trickle of blood ran down from his nose. Elizabeth moved over to him, but he pushed her away and pulled himself up to face Graham. Elizabeth moved to her son and pulled him up.

“Come on, Graham, let’s go.” Frederick took hold of Graham’s hand and pulled him towards the kitchen.

“Honey,” Elizabeth said, “think about this for a moment – ”

“Mum, I’m going. I will think about it, but not here, not under the same roof as him.”

“At least let me pack you some of your things, some clothes.”

Frederick turned and looked at his father. “I don’t think we’re going to need any clothes.”

As Edward’s face started to turn a deep red, Graham dragged Frederick into the kitchen and shut the door between the two rooms.

“You wound him up on purpose.” Victoria glared at her younger brother.

Frederick shrugged. “I can’t help it, it just seems to happen.”

“Well, perhaps you ought to try thinking before you speak.” Victoria said as she poured some water into the sink.

“Vicky,” Frederick smiled, “come with us. You and Joshua shouldn’t have to be in the same house as that man. You don’t need to stay with him.”

“I’m not staying with him,” she sighed, “I’m staying with her, you know she’ll never leave him, and I’m not leaving her alone with him, especially not now.”

“But you understand that I have to leave, right?”

“Of course,” Victoria nodded, “you go. I’ll ring you tomorrow.”

“You ring me if there’s any trouble, I’ll come over straight away.” Frederick hugged her and Victoria looked over to Graham at the back door.

“You look after him.”

Graham nodded. “I will.”

Frederick broke from their hug and he and Graham turned and walked out of the back door. Victoria closed her eyes for a moment, before moving through the door into the dining room to find her parents had moved into the front room. Edward was sat in his armchair again, saying nothing, Elizabeth was sat nervously on the edge of the couch.

“Mum?”

“It’s all right, darling, I’ll take care of this.”

“You’re sure?” Victoria doubted her mother was able to take care of anything.

“It’s fine. Besides, didn’t you say there was washing up to be done? Perhaps you should do that.”

“Right.” Victoria nodded, looking at her father with a worried look on her face. “I’ll just be in the kitchen if you need me.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded and Victoria moved out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her. Elizabeth stood up and walked over to her husband, standing beside him, a comforting hand rubbing his shoulder. For the longest time there was silence between them.

“It’s your fault, you know.”

Elizabeth frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Frederick. This… thing of his, it’s your fault.”

“It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not a fault.”

“What exactly is that supposed to mean? Of course it’s a fault! He likes to screw with other men! And it’s because of you that he’s like that!”

“How? How is it because of me?” Elizabeth frowned.

“Well, it’s certainly nothing to do with me, there’s never been any of that sort of thing in my family.”

“And we’ve never had it in mine! Anyway, it’s nothing to do with that!”

“Well, you’ve probably mothered him so much! You and that daughter of ours, always sleeping around with different men, all those magazines and posters, it’s enough to warp any young man’s mind!”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have had to mother him so much if his father had spent a little more time with him. That’s probably what turned him gay, he’s just after some male attention.”

“Shut up!” Edward stood up and hit Elizabeth hard around the face. Her small scream shot through the air and out the open window where it was heard and ignored by a neighbour outside walking his dog. It was heard upstairs by Joshua who woke up and started to cry. It wasn’t heard, however, by Victoria who was sobbing into the washing up bowl in the kitchen. The volume on the radio turned up high so that she couldn’t hear her parents arguing.

The more she washed, the more she slowed down in order to prolong the time before having to step out into the arena formed by her parents. It was as she was moving onto the cutlery that Gloria Gaynor finally stopped surviving and Victoria heard something she wasn’t expecting. There was no shouting, no fighting, no smashing or crashing. She frowned as she opened the door, stepped into the dining room and heard that there wasn’t a silence, just a small, gasping noise.

She moved through to the front room and dropped the knife she was holding in shock as she saw her father stood over her mother, grasping and squeezing on her neck.

“Dad!” She screamed as she grabbed hold of him, and tried to pull off of him. “Stop!”

She grabbed hold of his arm and he jerked it away, elbowing Victoria in the face, causing her to fall to the floor. From her point on the carpet, Victoria made eye contact with her mother, her face turning redder and redder by the second. Victoria grasped at the carpet to pull herself up, and as she did, her fingers connected with the large chopping knife she’d dropped on the floor moments ago. She stood up holding the knife, and without thinking plunged the knife between her father’s shoulder blades.

She pulled the knife from his back straight away, her eyes filled with tears of shock. His fingers released themselves from his grip around Elizabeth’s throat, and Edward turned on his knees to face his daughter.

“Vicky…” he gasped, and fell face down onto the carpet.

Elizabeth pulled herself to her feet and stood next to Victoria, both of them staring down at Edward, their faces stretched in surprise.

Victoria sank to her knees and listened to her father’s slow, stilted breathing. She looked from his bloodied shirt, to her mother’s bruised face and marked neck, and then down at the dripping knife in her hands. She started to remember every time he had made fun of her brother, every remark he had made about Joshua’s parentage and every time she had walked into the bathroom to find her mother concealing her bruises with foundation. Her insides started to boil with rage and she looked up at her mother again.

“Don’t.” Elizabeth whispered.

Victoria thought for less than a second before plunging the knife into Edward’s back once again.

 

 

 

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Memories of a Murder – Chapter 6

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

A small lump formed in Harry’s throat as Ernest held a gold handled carving knife right in front of his face, the sharp end pointing towards Robert. “Would you like to carve, or should I?”

“You sit at the head of the table, Ernest.” Robert smiled back.

“Quite right.” Ernest said, settling back into his chair at the end of the table. “I just wanted to show off the new carving set I bought last week. The gold inlay cost me an awful lot and I’d hate for it to go unappreciated.”

A small wave of laughter went around the room, although Harry didn’t laugh, too concerned with the thought of what Ernest might do if he found out what he suspected. He glanced from Victoria to Robert, both avoiding each other’s gaze. Were they two ex-lovers trying to keep their past a secret, or was it just the awkward ambivalence shared between two strangers?

“Move your new toys out of the way and let me put this damn goose down, will you?” Pat placed the hot silver platter down on the table in front of Ernest.

“One would think it was you who employed me, Pat, not the other way round.”

Pat mumbled under her breath, but Harry didn’t quite catch what she said.

“I’m bloody hungry,” Harry heard Reece grumble at the other end of the table as Ernest start to carve, “I wish the old git would hurry it up.”

“How many potatoes do you want, Reece?” Ella asked, approaching him with a dish.

“Just keep piling them on, darling, I’ll let you know when I’ve got enough.”

“Reece,” Fiona frowned at the lascivious look he was giving Ella as she stood close by to him, “how’s university?”

“What?” Reece snapped out of his daze. “Oh, yeah, it’s fine. Everything’s great.”

“What is it you’re studying?” Harry asked, reaching for a tray of vegetables.

“Business Studies.”

“That’s the course you wanted me to do, wasn’t it Grandpa?” Frederick asked.

“Oh, Freddie, you should have taken the old man up on his offer,” Reece smiled, “it’s wall to wall girls and parties.”

“So, you’re still pissing my bloody money up the wall, then?” Ernest said, as he moved the platter of goose meat down to the middle of the table, setting it in front of Robert.

“He’s not pissing anyone’s money up the wall,” Nicola started to defend Reece, “he’s doing his degree in business studies. Something which you know is only going to benefit you once he comes to work with you.”

“Rubbish. I didn’t need to take any course to get where I am today, if you haven’t got it in you, you haven’t got it in you.”

“Well, we can’t all be as talented as you, Grandpa.” Reece said leaning over to take some of the meat.

“Well, I suppose that’s true.” Ernest agreed with him as he moved back to his own seat.

Reece passed two slices of meat onto Fiona’s plate. “Thanks,” she smiled at him. Harry noticed she could barely keep her eyes off her cousin. “Have you made any new friends in Bristol?”

“Well, yeah, of course I have, I’m not a hermit, and I’m certainly not one of those freaks who goes out on his own to drink.” He looked at his father and a sly smile crept across his face.

“What about girlfriends?” The girl was fishing, but trying to appear casual. Apparently, Harry thought, I’m the only one who notices she’s hot for him. “Have you met anyone up there?”

Reece gave a small, dirty laugh. “I’ve, err, I’ve had one or two girls, no one serious though.”

Harry reached down to the end of the table for a small plate of stuffing and as he did, he heard Jennifer whisper to her daughter. “Do you see what I mean? He’s nothing short of a whore.”

“Mum! Just leave it.” Fiona hissed back. “Maybe I want a whore.”

Fiona turned away from her mother and Jennifer saw that Harry had heard and smiled gently at him. “I don’t know where she gets this behaviour from. I think her father’s death hit her harder than I thought it would.” Harry sat back down in his seat, raising his eyebrows slightly, and as he did he saw Gary staring across the table at Jennifer. Jennifer clearly saw him too. “What?”

“I’m just trying to figure out what exactly my brother saw in you.” He said this loudly so that the whole table could hear, as he downed the last of his drink.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well, he wasn’t stupid,” Gary reasoned, “he must have known that you’re a gold-digging bitch, but he stayed with you. I’m just trying to figure out why.”

“I loved him Gary, and he loved me, that’s why we stayed together. And, In case you hadn’t noticed, I also happen to be the mother of his child.”

“If she is his child.”

“Gary.” Ernest gave him a steely, warning look.

“Yeah, whatever.” Gary lowered his eyes down to his dinner and everyone returned to their own conversations. Harry couldn’t help but feel it wasn’t over and he watched Gary for a moment. As the buzz of conversation filled the room again, he looked back up at Jennifer and spoke in a low whisper. “You’re a whore and he knew it.”

“Why don’t we get down to what’s really going on here, Gary?” Jennifer lowered her own voice to match Gary’s. Harry, his curiosity piqued, turned his head slightly so he could hear better without appearing too obvious. “When Michael became too ill to work, your father needed to replace him with someone he trusted. You can’t handle the fact, that rather than promote a worthless piece of alcohol soaked filth like you, he hired Robert and asked me to take over Michael’s seat on the board.”

“My father does trust me. He does.”

“That’s right, he trusts you to make an arse of yourself, to cock things up time and time again.”

“What do you know?”

“I know he’s just changed his will,” Jennifer smirked triumphantly at her brother-in-law, “he’s leaving everything to just one person, I heard him talking about it with Lloyd.”

Gary looked up in alarm. “Who?”

“I don’t know. But I’ve made damn sure that me and Fiona are in the running.”

“Mum!” Matthew exclaimed causing not only Harry, but Jennifer and Gary as well, to jump. He followed Matthew’s gaze past Gary towards Reece, sat at the end of the table. “Would you look at him?”

“What is it now, honey?” Nicola sighed, not really paying any attention to either of her two sons, rather more interested in picking out some roast parsnips from the dish in front of her. “What’s he doing wrong?”

“Can’t you hear him? He’s talking about all the girls he’s been screwing and all the wild parties he’s been going to.”

“So? He is nineteen years old, he’s just been having fun, like he’s supposed to.”

“But he’s bragging about it – to Fiona! She’s only fourteen! It’s like he’s got no morals at all!”

“Your brother has morals,” Nicola said, pushing a forkful of potato into her mouth and shrugging, “they’re just not as conservative as yours.”

“I am not conservative! I just… I just think there are some things you talk about at the dinner table and there are some things you don’t. And what he’s talking about shouldn’t be talked about. By anyone to anyone at anytime.”

Nicola rolled her eyes. “You’re just jealous, Matthew.”

“Jealous? Jealous of what?”

“Oh, come on, he’s intelligent, handsome – ”

“And I’m not?” Matthew frowned.

“Of course you are! It’s just, he has fun with it, he goes out, meets people, he has girlfriends. When was the last time you had some friends over? When was the last time you went out with a girl?”

“Mum, I’m… I’m not jealous. I’m just worried that he’s wasting his life, that’s all.”

“Matthew, you should be worrying about spots, and having sex for the first time, not your brother having too much fun. Don’t you agree, Harry?”

Nicola looked over at him to support her claim and Matthew’s face flushed red as he realised that people had been listening in. Harry, feeling embarrassed looked away from the pair of them. “I don’t think I’m really the person to ask, Nicola. I often think that I should have worried about my brother more than I did.”

Matthew nodded to him in recognition of the support, just as Joshua laughed loudly next to him.

“Show me another one!”

“Are you all right, Joshy?” Matthew asked him.

“Robert’s been showing him some magic tricks.” Elizabeth smiled at them all.

“Magic tricks?” Nicola asked dubiously. “Let us see one then. And a real one, no card tricks.”

“All of my magic is real, no tricks about them.” Robert winked at Joshua. “I can make something disappear for you, if you like.”

“Joshua’s father did that once.” Victoria said quietly and Robert seemed thrown for a moment.

“Make something disappear!” Joshua demanded.

“Err, ok.” Robert looked around, and then picked up his fork, a piece of meat still on the end. “Now, watch closely, I can only do this if everyone’s concentrating. On the count of three, without touching the meat with my hands, I will make it disappear. One… two… three!” Robert quickly wrapped his mouth around the end of the fork and swallowed the goose. Matthew, Victoria and Nicola all rolled their eyes while Elizabeth and Harry both laughed a little. Joshua just frowned.

“That’s cheating! Do it properly! Make the fork disappear!”

“This little thing?” Robert asked holding the fork up. “Easy. Give me something harder.” Harry heard Frederick laugh a little next to him and they both shared a smile, picking up on the unintended innuendo.

“How about the knife?” Victoria asked pointing to the large carving knife still lying on the goose platter in front of Robert. “I’d like to see you swallow that.”

“I’m sure you would.” Robert said, but picked up the carving knife anyway, covering it with a cloth napkin. “Ok, I’ll need a magic word. Anyone know any?”

“Please?” Joshua suggested and Robert laughed.

“No, no, a different kind of magic word, something like alakazam or – ”

“Abracadabra!”

“That’s it, exactly!” Robert tugged on the side of his jacket, holding up the napkin in front of him. “Now, if you shout abracadabra on the count of three, we’ll be able to make the knife disappear. One… two… three!”

“Abracadabra!” Joshua shouted at the top of his voice, causing everyone at the table to turn and look. Robert let go of the napkin, and it floated down onto the table, the knife gone. Everyone politely applauded Robert as Joshua stared in disbelief.

Frederick rolled his eyes and turned to Ernest and Harry. “Can you believe this guy?” He asked as the various conversations around the table resumed.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked.

“He’s just an idiot, but all you lot seem so infatuated with him.”

“Freddie,” Harry said and Ernest frowned at the familiarity of it as he did, “I think you’re just a little jealous that a new man has come into your mother’s life. And that Joshua prefers him to you.”

“Jealous? I’m not jealous. But, you’ve hit the nail on the head, there. What does he have, that I don’t? I mean, Joshua’s never met this guy before today and all of a sudden they’re best friends. What’s that about?”

“Well, he’s a charmer, isn’t he?” Ernest shrugged. “He could talk the skin off a donkey.”

“Hind legs.” Frederick corrected him.

“What?”

“It’s talk the hind legs off a donkey.”

“Does it matter?”

“No, I guess not.”

“So, are you saying that Joshua shouldn’t like him, simply because he’s never met him before?” Harry asked. “By that theory, he shouldn’t like me either.”

“I’m not saying he shouldn’t like Robert, or you, just that he should be more excited about seeing me, I’m his favourite uncle.”

“You’re his only uncle, Freddie.” Ernest pointed out. “And he hasn’t seen you for nearly a year.”

“Well, I never had the chance to come back, did I?.”

“What about your Uncle’s funeral? Why didn’t you come back for that?”

“I was busy working, I couldn’t get out of it.”

“You’re a writer! You can write anywhere!” Ernest shoved half a yorkshire pudding in his mouth.

“I’d finally found someone who would fund my movie, they were shooting it and they needed me on the set to do some rewrites. If I had left, they would have scrapped the whole idea and used the same cast on someone else’s script!”

“Hmm. Well.” Ernest stumbled for something to say in return. “Just hurry up and eat, will you? I’ve got an announcement to make.”

“What sort of announcement?”

“The kind you’ll hear when you’ve finished your bloody dinner!”

 

*                *                *

 

“So, what’s this big news then?” Frederick asked as Ella and Pat cleared away the last of the plates.

Ernest stood up. “Yes, I wanted to speak to you all, tell you all while we were all together, my family.” He looked down at Harry and smiled weakly as both Ella and Pat left the room. “I’ve decided to retire.”

“Who do you think he’s going to leave in charge then?” Jennifer whispered across the table to Gary.

“As a result,” Ernest continued, “I find myself in need of a successor. An heir, someone in whom I can place my entire trust, my entire faith. I look around this table, at you all, and I see not the one person who should be here. Michael, my eldest son, the one who I would have had take over, is dead, so I look to the others in my family for a replacement.”

“Does he always talk like this?” Harry whispered across to Frederick

“Sounds like he’s been practicing.” He shrugged.

“I look around this table today, and find myself, perhaps with my kin, the ones I love dearly, but also with what can only be described as the very dregs of society. Three of them, perhaps too young to deserve the label, but the rest are drunks, gold-diggers, murderers, faggots and whores.”

“Now, wait just one minute!” Gary stood up, enraged. “I hope none of those were aimed at my family!”

“Look around you, Gary,” Jennifer snorted, “there are eight empty bottles of wine on the table, three of them drunk between you and your son.”

Joshua tugged on his mother’s sleeve. “Mummy, what’s a faggot?”

“I believe that would be me, Joshy, Uncle Faggot.” Frederick said, sipping on his own glass of wine in an extremely camp way. Whether it was intentional or not, Harry couldn’t deduce.

“I think perhaps its time that Joshua went to bed.” Victoria said quietly.

“That’s right,” Ernest said, “can’t let him hear the truth, he’s far too precious for that. Can’t let him live in the real world. Can’t let him hear the truth about his mother, about her father.”

“Don’t you dare!” Victoria glared at her grandfather. “Joshua, please go to your room.”

“No. I want to stay.”

“Come on, Josh,” Matthew stood up and picked Joshua up, “let’s go read you a story, huh? I know a real good one about a lion and a mouse.”

Matthew quickly carried Joshua out as Victoria approached her grandfather. As soon as the boys had gone, Victoria pulled back her hand and gave Ernest a hard slap across the face.

“You little bitch!” He snarled and grabbed hold of her arm.

“I don’t think you want to get me angry, do you?”

For a moment, Ernest held her wrist and her gaze in a steely deadlock. He let go of her and she moved away from him.

“Harry, Fiona,” Robert said standing up, “I don’t think any of this really involves us. Perhaps we should leave.”

“Actually, this has got everything to do with you.” Ernest said.

“What?” Robert asked.

“What?” Gary looked at his father incredulously. “What has any of this got to do with him?”

“I met this man, nine months ago,” Ernest said, “I was ready to let him go, walk out the door, when somebody persuaded me to change my mind. I gave him a job and the very next day… The very next day, Michael took to his bed. Since then, the man has been a rock, he is the only person who has kept this company going.”

“I’m sorry,” Jennifer frowned, “am I hearing this right? Are you actually telling me that… that you choose this stranger over me? I could run that company single handed, and you know it. You always said I would do a much better job than most!”

“And suppose I did give it to you?” Ernest suggested. “What exactly would you do with it, hmm? Build up a tidy business, and then sell it off, bit by bit to the highest bidder? No! This business is a family business, it always has been and will always remain so!”

“What about me?” Gary asked. “I am family, I’m your son! Do I not deserve the chance to prove myself?”

“Prove yourself as what? You’d drink us dry within a month! I said I want it in the family, but that doesn’t mean running it into the ground!”

“Family? I suppose he is family, is he?” Nicola asked pointing to Robert. “You’re a fool, by giving it to him, you’re taking it away from the very family you’ve tried so hard to keep it in!”

“He is my daughter’s partner, that makes him family in my book.”

“You haven’t even known him a year!” Nicola scoffed. “How can you know that you can trust him?”

“He has been more family to me in nine months, than you have been in twenty years!”

“That’s because you’re a curse! You’re a curse on this whole family! You’re not content on ruining our lives, but you take the future away from my two boys!”

“Your boys?” Ernest laughed loudly. “One of them is a hermit, spending nearly all his time alone in his bedroom getting up to god knows what and the other –“

“And the other, Grandfather? Just what exactly is the other?” Reece asked. “No, let me guess, the other is a good for nothing lager lout who is pissing your money up the wall, by learning how to follow in your footsteps.”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself!” Ernest cried. “You are a good for nothing lager lout, all you seem to do is drink and go out having ‘fun’!”

“I’m nineteen years old! What do you expect me to be doing?”

“I’ll tell you, lad, when I was nineteen – ”

“Oh, here we go,” Gary rolled his eyes, “the famous, ‘when I was your age’ speech! Tell me, o wise one did you ever have any fun? From the sounds of it, you were always so busy running the shops and being so bloody sensible all the time, it’s a wonder you and mother had any children at all, let alone four!”

Ernest’s eyes widened and Gary grinned at him, revelling in his big revelation.

“Four?” Elizabeth asked.

“You heard me, Lizzy. We’ve got an older brother out there somewhere, Michael told me, just before he died!”

“Daddy?” Elizabeth looked up at her father. Ernest didn’t tear his gaze from Gary.

“No. All this is the second hand ramblings of a dying man, relayed to you by a raging alcoholic. I have no son!”

“You’ve had three!” Gary shouted. “Have you never wondered Lizzie why mum and dad got married so quickly? Why as soon as it was legal they were marched down to the nearest church? Have you never wondered who that little boy is that Granddad’s holding? He gestured over to a collection of photos on the sideboard. In one of them, a wedding photo, Harry could see an older man standing next to a much younger Ernest. The older man was holding a fat pudgy toddler.

“Raymond.” Harry muttered to himself and both Ernest and Frederick looked at him curiously.

“I’d be quiet if I were you, boy, keep your nose out of things you know nothing about!” Ernest spat at him, before turning back to his son. “Do you want to hear something about your own precious son, Gary?”

Ernest walked around the table and clapped a hand down on to Reece’s shoulder.

“When I was first thinking of all this, I thought about Reece, I needed to know whether he was up to the job. God help me, I even considered training him up myself! That is, until I rang his tutor, a little more than a month ago.”

“Grandpa, don’t.”

“Now, apparently, our young Reece, at the time hadn’t been seen much in class. A temporary blip, we’d both agreed due to the death of his uncle. Now, this tutor of yours, she expected to see you back in class the next day, in fact you’d scheduled a meeting with her, hadn’t you, Reece?”

“Grandpa,” Fiona interjected, “I’m sure Reece has done nothing – ”

“Why don’t you just shut up? Meddling in things that don’t concern you, I can see you turning into as big a whore as your mother!”

“Dad!” Elizabeth gasped, putting down her parent’s wedding picture, not quite believing what she’d heard Ernest accuse her fourteen year old niece of being.

“Now, as I was saying,” Ernest continued, ignoring the shocked looks on the faces of all those around him, “young Reece had a meeting with his tutor the following day, one that he actually turned up for. Now, as I’d requested from her, she rang me once it was over. Turns out our boy here had returned all his text books to her, and told her that he would not be attending her course anymore.”

“Grandpa, I – ”

“I waited for the phone call, Reece, I waited for your father to come and tell me, but when I noticed that that same day, you had cashed a cheque I’d sent you to fund you through the next month of college, I had you followed. Imagine my surprise, when just one short week later, my private detective returns to me with video evidence of you blind drunk and literally pissing my money up a wall!”

“And you’re taking everything away from him on the basis of a few mad months?” Nicola started. “Michael’s death was hard on him, he and Reece were very close and, he was always round there during his illness – ”

“Mum! I don’t need you sticking up for me.”

“At least your mother does stick up for you.” Frederick muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Elizabeth asked.

“Exactly as it sounded, mother. Uncle Gary, Nicola, Jennifer, Vicky, all sticking up for their children, but where do you stand? Next to your new boyfriend! You couldn’t give a crap about me!” Frederick accused her.

“I love you, Frederick, but clearly, your grandfather’s judgement in this is right. Robert really is the best man for the job.”

“Yeah, ask him why he gave Robert a job, ask him why he didn’t let him walk out of the door.”

“Dad?” Elizabeth asked, turning to her father.

“I already told you, somebody persuaded me to change my mind. Robert and I were due to go out for a dinner, one that I only granted Robert out of courtesy, I was never going to change my mind, but then – ”

“Then I told you,” Frederick interrupted, “I convinced you that he had some good ideas, ideas that were worth listening to. Go on, tell us why you listened to me, tell them all what we have both known for a long time.”

Ernest smiled a little. “The boy here, has got the greatest, most innovative business mind, I have ever known, many of our greatest strategies, our biggest profits achieved from passing comments made by him. He’s probably better than me.”

“You’ve hardly shouted it from the rooftops.”

Elizabeth frowned with confusion. “I don’t understand, why are you… why are you making Robert your heir? Why not Freddie?”

Ernest remained quiet for a moment and Harry could feel an anger rising in front of him. Frederick glanced at him and then looked back over at his grandfather.

“If I was to tell you,” Frederick mused, “that I was to be married, married to the most beautiful woman in the world, a gloriously intelligent and gorgeous woman, one who cared for me and carried my child. If I were to tell you that – ”

“If you were to tell me that,” Ernest repeated, “then there would be no question about who would be by my side at this time. Even if Michael were still alive, it would be you.”

“And if – ” Frederick began, but Harry stepped forward and interrupted him.

“If he were to tell you,” he said, slipping his hand into Frederick’s, “that he was in a loving committed relationship with a beautiful, gloriously intelligent film star, who just happened to be a man?”

Ernest stared at them both, his jaw clenched, breathing deeply through the small gaps in his teeth as Victoria stepped up behind Harry, and gently, reassuringly squeezed his shoulder. A silence filled the room again.

“At least my son’s no faggot.” Nicola said, sitting herself down on a chair and crossing her fat, stumpy legs at the ankles.

“And if he were?” A voice came from the side of the room, and the whole group turned to see Matthew standing in the open doorway.

“Matthew, how’s Josh?”

“He’s fine, he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. I think he’s tired.

“I know how he feels,” Harry said as Frederick squeezed his hand, “it’s been an eventful evening.”

“So, are you going to answer my question, or what?” Matthew turned back to his mum.

“What question was that?”

“If your son was a faggot?”

Reece frowned. “It doesn’t matter, Matthew, I’m not gay. It’s neither here nor there, is it?”

“You’re not her only son, Reece!” Matthew’s voice suddenly overflowed with a hateful venom, one that spilled out with every syllable.

“What are you saying, boy?” Ernest asked.

“I’m gay.” Matthew shrugged as he stepped up to face his grandfather. “I. Am. Gay. Gay, gay, gay. Just one more gay grandson to add to your collection!”

Ernest raised his arm high in the air, as if to hit Matthew, but Frederick grabbed hold of it. “No.”

“And just who exactly is going to stop me?”

“You don’t think I’ll fight you, old man?” Matthew asked. “You think I would stand here and take a beating simply because you cannot accept me for who I am?”

“You will do as you’re told.”

“No, I don’t think he will.” Frederick said. “And if it’s a fight you want, I’ll be more than willing to join in. On Matthew’s side, you understand.”

Harry circled around Ernest to stand in front of him, on the opposite side to Frederick. “And they won’t be alone.”

The old man looked from Harry on his left, to Frederick on his right and then to Matthew, stood directly in front of him.

“I… I’m surrounded.” He pushed past the three of them and stalked towards the door.

“Grandpa,” Victoria asked, “where are you going?”

Ernest paused and turned to look at them all. “Mr Lloyd is on his way here now, to finalise all the legal technicalities. And to change my will.”

“Now?” Jennifer asked. “It’s Christmas Eve!”

“Let’s just say, I’m not feeling all that festive.”

“Ernest,” Robert approached him as he headed out, “perhaps we should talk about this, maybe you want to think about it a little more before you make a decision.”

“I most certainly do not want to talk about it.” He strode towards the door, just as Pat entered carrying a small silver tray.

“Did anyone want some coffees?”

“Not now, Pat!” Ernest pushed his way past her, knocking her to the floor, causing her to drop the tray, spilling the hot liquid down Robert’s front.

As Victoria went over to help her up, Ernest slammed the door to the dining room behind him.

“Robert! Come here, let’s get that jacket off you quickly.” Elizabeth started fussing over her boyfriend and the large dark stain on his dinner jacket.

Harry smiled at Matthew and Frederick squeezed his shoulder.

“That didn’t go too badly.” Matthew muttered. “I hear that coming out to your family can be quite distressing at times.”

“I only came in to give some coffees.” Pat muttered, taking a seat on a stool in front of the fireplace and rubbing her ankle.

“I can think of ones that went worse.” Frederick said, looking over at Victoria and Elizabeth.

Pat moaned in pain as she removed her shoe. “He can be such an old bastard at times.”

Fiona, Jennifer, Gary, Nicola, Reece, Robert, Elizabeth, Victoria, Frederick and Harry all looked at Matthew as he stepped forward toward the door.

“And so say all of us.”

 

 

Read the next chapter here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

 

“War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.”

 

That’s a wonderful first line of a book and helps the book set out it’s stall simply in one sentence, so that it can get on with the story.

 

Written by Chris Cleave, the genius behind Gold – a book about Olympic cycling that somehow made me cry – this is the kind of book that you’ll want a pen with you as you read so you can underline all the great lines.

 

Mary is part of the upper class of London, and the dialogue and inner monologue of the book is written in a clipped form that instantly makes you feel part of Mary’s world.

 

Gradually as the realities of war start to kick in Mary begins to mature, and while she never quite loses her ideological edge, she does become more aware of her place in the world.

 

As a rule, I don’t like books set during the war. It’s part of my whole historical fiction is just an excuse for the author to show off how much they’ve been able to research, and that often takes me out of the narrative.

 

(And yes, I appreciate the irony considering the fact that at least one of the chapters in my novel is set during an air raid in the Second World War)

 

But I am always willing to forgive authors that I like and give them a go, and boy am I glad that I did with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.

 

While it didn’t have the same dramatic and emotional ending that Gold did, it is beautifully written all the way through with a range of characters that you care about, and a sense of real jeopardy.

 

It may be unfair to compare Everyone Brave is Forgiven to Gold, they are after all very different stories and comparing them is a bit like comparing strawberry ice cream with garlic bread. They both have wonderful qualities, both are completely different and you want them to be different. Garlic ice cream, anyone? A slice of strawberry bread?

 

But, what stands out in Gold all these years later is the story, I can’t honestly say I l look back on it and remember the writing – though surely it was great. If in five years time you ask me my thoughts on Everyone Brave is Forgiven I’ll tell you about the writing.

 

Very early on I captured a picture of a line of the text because I thought it was a lovely line, however looking back at it now, it ties in with what I was saying earlier on about the development of Mary as a character.

 

Mary is sent to work in a school when she signs up at the War Office, and when asked by the headmistress why she did sign up, Mary replies:

 

“I hoped it might be less exhausting than the constant rest.”

 

I do think that if the same question was asked of Mary the last time we meet her, she might have a very different answer.

 

Not that it’s all about Mary of course, there are several other characters, equally well drawn, equally compelling and Cleave weaves through their viewpoints in such a way that you can never be too sure who will survive and who won’t.

 

Even to the last chapter, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. That, coupled with the lasting image of two characters walking along the side of the Thames, both battered by the war, together, but still forced apart at the same time makes for a very memorable book indeed.

 

Scoring 4.4 out of 5, it climbs to the top of my 2016 leaderboard, and I suspect will stay there for some time

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is released in Hardback in April 2016

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 5

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

St George’s College, Wiltshire

February, 2001

 

“…and these comfortable expectations that we have when we approach a situation, examples of which are stereotypes or even clichés, fit neatly into predetermined models of said situation. These schemas, as these models are known, vary from person to person, from place to place, but they’re usually fairly similar. For example, when we say ‘going to a restaurant’ our ears hear the words, but our mind jumps straight into a schema; making a reservation, being seated at the table, ordering a drink, looking at the menu, etcetera, etcetera, right the way up to tipping the waiter and taking all the after dinner mints.”

Robert flashed a warm smile across the class. “Now, you’ve heard me drone on for the last hour and a bit, so for the next three quarters of an hour, I want you split up into groups of three or four, take a piece of A3 paper and draw a diagram of a schema for a common event. If you need me, I will be marking your coursework. You have forty five minutes, go.”

He sat down and the buzz of activity filled the room. Victoria immediately turned to her two friends, Rebecca and Graham who were sat either side of her. “So, what happened after you told him that you thought he was cute?”

Rebecca looked over at Graham. “Aren’t we going to need a piece of paper for this?”

“Oh, fine,” he sighed, “see if I care, I never get to hear the good gossip.”

Graham moved off and Victoria and Rebecca moved in closer to each other. “So?”

“Ok,” Rebecca smiled, “so by this time, I’ve finally managed to get rid of all of his friends that were hanging around him. And so I say to him that I think he’s cute, he just smiles and blushes a little before saying that he’s ‘not anything special, not like you.’”

Victoria rolled her eyes, but Rebecca continued, seeming not to notice. “So, then I got this, like, dizzy feeling in my stomach, and it just felt like everything was going right, you know? Well, we talked a little more, and then we kissed even more than that, and we’re going out together on Saturday night.”

“So, why wasn’t I allowed to hear that?” Graham returned, unceremoniously dumping down the large sheet of paper and marker pens onto the table. “From what I did manage to hear, there was nothing too raunchy.”

“Sometimes, a girl just likes to keep things secret.” Victoria said, pulling off the lid from a marker and starting to draw on the paper.

“You two don’t have to keep secrets from me. You can tell me anything, I won’t be shocked or offended, I promise.”

“No, but the trouble is,” Rebecca countered wearily, “is that you tell everyone everything. Now that you’ve heard, the whole college will know by tomorrow morning that I’m dating Freddie.”

“Before you even say it, I’m not a gossip, I’m more of a – ”

“Public information service.” Victoria and Rebecca said in unison causing Graham to frown a little.

“So,” he said eventually, distractedly colouring the corner of the paper in green, “where are you two going?”

“Only to the cinema, I think we’re going to start out kind of slow.”

“Slow?” Graham put down his pen. “You were making out with him before you even went on a date, if that’s slow, I’d hate to see what you’re like when you’re fast.”

“Hey, it wasn’t me that started it, I told him he was cute and then he was all over me like a rash.”

“Are you calling my brother a slut?” Victoria smirked.

“Uh-oh.” Graham grinned at his two friends.

“Well, I mean… you know, all l I mean is, that, you know, he’s passionate.”

“Ooh, nice save by the rookie.” Victoria returned to the project in front of her.

“Well, I for one, don’t believe it.” Graham said capping the lid onto his pen.

“You can’t stop there, if you’re going to graffiti in the corner, you’ll have to do it in them all, at least make it look neat.” Victoria said, moving the paper round to give him another corner.

“What don’t you believe?” Rebecca asked with a frown, as she pulled a small compact mirror from her bag, showing no intention to help.

“That Frederick kissed you.” Graham shrugged. “He’s clearly gay.”

“You think every cute guy is gay.”

“That’s because they all are.”

“Steve wasn’t.” Victoria reminded him.

“Yeah, well, I’m over him.”

“Whatever.” Rebecca said.

“No, really, I have since decided that Steve isn’t cute. That was the day I tried those new contact lenses and I was having trouble focusing.”

“Nothing to do with the fact that he turned you down in the middle of the classroom, then?” Rebecca asked.

“No. So, last night, with Frederick,” Graham changed the subject, “just how far did you get?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, after the kiss, what happened when he took you home? I mean did he go any further?”

“No, he didn’t.” Rebecca smiled at the memory. “He was a perfect gentlemen.”

“Told you he was gay.”

“You’re obsessed.”

“I bet he’s really good in bed. “

“Ok, guys,” Victoria spoke up, “it’s getting a little weird for me, now. I’m just about coping with Becky going out with him, I don’t need to see the two of you fighting over him. Besides, I’m not sure, I could ever get used to you going out with him, Graham.”

“Why? Because I’m another man?” Graham accused her.

“No, because you’re a freak. I love you, but you’re a freak.”

“Whatever. Becky, you can keep him, I’ve got my eye on someone else.” He looked up at Robert at the front of the class.

“Robert?” Rebecca frowned, following his gaze. “He’s a bit old, isn’t he?”

“More experienced.”

“I doubt anyone’s got more experience than you, Graham.”

“He’s not that old.” Victoria said quietly.

“See, Vic’s on my side. For once.”

“That doesn’t mean that she fancies him though, does it?”

“Oh come on, look at him.” Graham gestured towards the front of the class. “That rugged chin, dark brown eyes, he’s gorgeous.”

“He’s not bad looking, I’ll give you that,” Rebecca conceded, “but he’s a bit of an idiot, I mean he doesn’t have much of a personality, does he?”

“Honey, for what I want to do to him, he doesn’t need one.”

“You’re a real slut.”

“He’s not that bad.” Victoria protested.

“No, Becky’s right, I am a slut.” Graham confessed.

“What? No, you’re right, you are a slut, I was talking about Robert. He’s quite nice when you get to know him.”

Graham gasped loudly, causing two girls in front of them to turn around. He leant in to Victoria and Rebecca and whispered. “Victoria fancies Robert!”

“What?” Rebecca frowned as she shut her compact. “No, she doesn’t. Does she?”

Victoria continued to write on the paper in front of her, avoiding the gaze of both Rebecca and Graham. “I have nothing to say on the matter.”

This time it was Rebecca’s loud gasp that caused the two girls in front to turn around. “She does!”

“Since Becky seems to have decided that it’s time for an impromptu display of her amateur dramatic skills,” Robert stood up at the front of the class causing Rebecca to blush brightly, “I think it’s about time we took a quick break. I want you all back in ten minutes.”

Everyone started gathering up their bags and Graham and Rebecca joined them, talking in hushed whispers over Victoria’s head.

“I can’t believe she fancies him.”

“Oh, I can,” Graham replied, “but it’s no use, he’s clearly gay.”

“Not everyone’s gay, you know.”

“He is. I’d bet money on it.”

“Did you know that you’ve got green pen on your lip?” Rebecca asked.

“What? No.”

“Oh, I thought it was a new fashion statement. Did you want to borrow my compact?” Rebecca started to rummage around in her bag.

“No, it’s ok,” Graham said, reaching into his own bag, “I’ve got my own one in – I mean, sure, that’d be great.”

They had already stepped through the door, when they realised that Victoria was still sitting at the back of the room.

“Vicky?”

“You two go ahead, I’m not that hungry, besides I want to finish this.”

“Are you sure?” Rebecca asked.

“Err, yeah,” Victoria glanced up at Robert sat at the front of the desk, “I’ll be fine.”

Graham looked around the otherwise empty room and laughed. “Come on, let’s leave her to it. You can tell me all about her brother.” He started to drag Rebecca off towards the stairs.

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“Oh, come on, you can at least tell me how big – ” The door to the classroom shut, and Victoria found herself sitting alone in a room with Robert, a silence filling the space between them. She quietly continued to fill in the steps on her model schema until Robert suddenly stood up and came over towards her.

“I’ve just finished marking your coursework.” He said sitting down next to her in Graham’s unoccupied chair. “It’s very good.”

“Thanks.” Victoria smiled.

“So, what’s your schema on then?”

“Asking someone out on a date.” Victoria turned the paper so he could see it.

“I could certainly do with that,” Robert joked, “I might have to put that up on my wall at home, when you’re finished.”

“I don’t know, Graham might want to use it first.”

Robert laughed at her joke and read the captions underneath the pictures on the paper. “Arrange to be alone together, compliment your partner, appear interested in what they’re doing, make a self deprecating joke, laugh at their jokes. So, what’s next?”

“You tell me.” Victoria said slyly.

“Well, if it was me, I guess I would probably throw another compliment their way.”

“What sort of compliment? You can’t use the same type that you did before.”

“What kind of types are there?”

“There’s only really two types.” Victoria said. “The first is complimenting their work, something they’ve said or done, that’s a mind-compliment. The second type is a body-compliment, something like ‘your hair looks nice’ or – ”

“Your eyes are the most gorgeous, deep blue I have ever seen.”

Victoria smiled. “Exactly.”

“So, what would be next?”

“Well, if you’ve got this far, you just need to bat one last compliment to them, it doesn’t really matter what type, three compliments in a short space will make anyone putty in your hands.”

Robert gave a big smile. “You know, I can’t believe someone as beautiful as you knows so much about asking people out. I’ll bet you’ve never had to do it, the men must be queuing around the block to ask you out.”

“That’ll do it.” Victoria said quietly. For a moment they both stared at each other, before Robert suddenly cleared his throat.

“So, I guess then comes the actual asking out. How would that go exactly?”

“Well, how would you normally do it?”

“I suppose that I would, suggest a dinner, or maybe a movie.”

“That’s good, both very good.” She smiled at Robert as he returned to his desk. “Of course, if you were actually asking me out, you’d have to pick one, I wouldn’t do both.”

Robert stared for a minute. “Dinner?”

“When?”

“Saturday night.”

“Where?”

“The Italian on the corner down from the college.”

“That’s good. Very classy.”

“I’ll pick you up at half past eight.”

Victoria paused slightly. “I’ll meet you there at eight.”

They smiled at each other for a moment before the door opened and Graham sprinted in.

“Guess what,” he said, “Becky was just telling me that when – ”

“Graham!” Rebecca sprinted into the room behind him. “I told you not to tell anyone!”

“I wasn’t telling her!” Graham protested as the rest of the class filed back into the room and into their seats. Robert had already moved away, back to the front of the class, seemingly unnoticed by Graham and Rebecca.

“No, of course you weren’t.” Rebecca sat back in her seat and looked at the poster that Victoria was still working on. “Hey, we’ve done pretty well.”

“Thanks.” Victoria smiled. “We try.”

“So,” Graham slipped back into his seat. “What did you and the Incredible Hunk get up to while we were gone?”

Victoria smirked slightly. “We’re going out for dinner on Saturday night.”

“No!” Rebecca shouted loudly.

“Hey, Lily!” Graham shouted to the girl sat in front of him. “You’ll never guess –

“Graham!” Victoria glared at him.

“Never mind.” Graham slumped back in his chair. “You two always bag all the cute guys, and you never even let me tell anyone. I mean, who do I get?”

“Well, Steve’s been looking at you all lesson, maybe he really is gay.” Rebecca said, gesturing to the front of the class. “In fact, he’s looking right now.”

“He is?” Graham turned his head quickly just in time to see Steve, sat at the front of the class, flirting very obviously with the girl sat on his right. He back turned to Rebecca and frowned. “You’re such a bitch.”

 

Victoria & Rebecca’s Flat, Wiltshire

May, 2001

 

Victoria stepped out of the bathroom and gently shut the door behind her. She walked through to her kitchen and was surprised to find Robert sitting at the table.

“Robert, what are you doing here?”

“We, err, we need to talk.” He said quietly.

Victoria checked her watch. “Could it wait… two minutes?”

“No. No, it can’t. Could you, err – can you sit down, please?”

“Ok.” Victoria sat down opposite him at the table. “What is it?”

“I think that you’re a lovely girl, you already know that, and these last couple of months have been amazing. Especially that time in Aspen – ”

“Robert. Whatever it is you’ve come to say, I think you should say it. Becky will be back soon.”

“I don’t want to see you anymore.”

For a few moments, Victoria said nothing.

“I take my last exam in two weeks time, Robert, I won’t be at college anymore, we can finally be together, we can let people know. We’ll be allowed to go out to real places, I can meet your friends, you can meet my family. We’ll be a real couple.”

“Yeah,” Robert smiled weakly, “I know.”

“So, why dump me?”

“Look, I’m not dumping you, I’m – ”

“You’re what? Letting me go? Setting me free?”

“Yeah, that’s it, you don’t want to be tied down with an old guy like me.”

“You’re thirty five, Robert,” Victoria said, “you’re hardly an old man.”

“I’m hardly a young one, either.” Robert sighed. “Look, Vicky, you’re seventeen, I’m more than twice your age, all I’m going to do is hold you back. You should be out in the clubs, dancing to unnecessarily loud music, drinking, having fun with your friends, not coming with me to Principal Robinson’s dinner parties.”

“Rubbish.”

“Excuse me?” Robert asked.

“It’s rubbish. Whatever the reason is for you splitting up with me, it’s not because of the age difference. What’s the real reason?”

“I already told you, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, if you stay with me, you’ll be tied down, playing the role of a boring middle aged housewife. We both know, that’s not you, you should be out there having fun, living life.”

“You don’t know me at all, do you? If you did, you’d know that I don’t want to be out there sleeping around, getting blind drunk and staggering around throwing up in an alleyway. I want to settle down, I want to get married, I want to be a grown up.”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t what?”

“I don’t want to settle down, I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to be a grown up.” Robert stood up. “Here’s the deal, when I said it was the age difference, I wasn’t lying, but it’s you that’s the problem, you’re too old for me.”

Victoria’s eyes widened in surprise, “My god, how young do you want?”

“Don’t get me wrong, the body of a seventeen year old, fantastic, you’re gorgeous, but you’ve got the mind of a forty year old. You want to be at home, baking me cakes, raising my children, but that’s not what I want from my mistress.”

“Mistress?” Victoria frowned.

“That’s right. Can you imagine what my girlfriend would say if I introduced you to my friends, I can’t think that she’d be very happy, do you?”

“Girlfriend?” Victoria asked, trying not to, but starting to cry.

“Ok, this is exactly what I was trying to avoid. Believe it or not, Vicky, I do like you, I never wanted to hurt your feelings, but you had to push and push, didn’t you? I never said that you were the only woman in my life.”

“You didn’t exactly tell me you had a girlfriend, though, did you? What did it just slip your mind?”

“Of course not, but I’m sure there’s plenty that you never told me.”

“I’ve not hidden away any secret boyfriends!” Victoria shrieked, finally allowing her emotions to bubble to the surface.

“Look, I’ve had enough of this, we’re over. I’m going.”

“Don’t go. Please don’t go. Please… stay.”

Robert looked at her for a moment before picking up his jacket and walking out the front door. Victoria stood shakily to her feet and walked slowly back to the bathroom. Through the window, she could see him walking towards his car.

She looked from Robert to the pregnancy test that she’d left on the side a few minutes before. Positive.

She quickly ran out of the bathroom, out the front door, waving the small stick in the air. “Robert! Robert, wait!”

He paused, his key in the lock and looked up at her. “What?”

“I’m pregnant.” She said breathlessly.

He stared at her for a moment. “Just another reason for me to leave.”

 

Hardcastle Family Home, Wiltshire

August, 2001

 

Victoria pushed open the door to her parent’s house and stepped into the front room. “Dad?”

She heard a pair of heavy footsteps coming down the stairs and her father entered the room.

“Dad, have you got a minute? I need to talk to you.”

“Can it wait, Vicky? I need to go and see your grandfather about something.”

“I promise I won’t take up too much time.”

“Well, go on then.”

“Where’s mum?”

“Victoria.” Edward pointed to his watch

“Don’t be so impatient, we have to wait for mummy, where is she?”

“I think she’s watching the television in the bedroom.”

“Well, could you go and get her for me?” Victoria smiled sweetly. “Tell her I’ve got some news.”

“Good news?” Edward asked.

“That depends on how you take it.”

Edward smiled at her, with a confused frown on his forehead and then made his way upstairs. Victoria sat down on the couch and placed a hand on her stomach.

Frederick already knew, he was the one who had finally persuaded her to tell her parents. He’d cleared out of the house for an evening and forced her to go around. He’d been telling her that eventually they would realise she was pregnant, but it was only when she’d failed to fit into her favourite pair of jeans the week before that he had finally convinced her to tell them. Before her rapidly expanding stomach did the job for her.

“What is it then?”

“Sorry?” Victoria looked up to see her father standing in front of her, her mother behind him.

“You said you had some news. What is it?”

“Oh, I… could you – Mum! What happened to your face?”

Elizabeth tugged on her hair, attempting to cover the dark bruise that covered the side of her face next to her left eye. “Nothing, darling, I just slipped and hit my eye on the door handle. Nothing to worry about.”

“Yes, let us forget about your mother’s clumsiness,” Edward said as he sat down, “what is it you want to tell us? I’ve got work to do, so if you could please hurry it up.”

“Right. Mum, could you sit down, please? I’ve got some news for you.”

Elizabeth sat down next to Edward on the couch opposite Victoria.

“Well?” Edward asked.

“I, err, I’m… this is hard to say.”

“Take your time, darling.” Elizabeth smiled weakly.

“But don’t take mine.” Edward frowned pointing to his watch. As he did, Victoria noticed a small bruise on the little finger of his right hand.

“I’m pregnant.”

There was a silence in the room that seemed to take an age to pass.

“You’re seventeen.” Edward was staring at her as if she’d suddenly grown an extra head.

“I know how old I am.”

“But you’re seventeen.”

“Don’t listen to him.” Elizabeth smiled. “I think it’s fantastic news. It’s rather wonderful, another young child in the family. Though, I didn’t know you were seeing anyone.”

Victoria lowered her head.

“Who’s the father, Vicky?” Edward snapped back into action, as if suddenly realising that someone was responsible. “Tell me!”

“You don’t know him. He’s…”

“He is still around isn’t he?”

“Err, no. No. He’s not. I told him I was pregnant and he… he left me.”

“What’s his name?” Edward asked, his face growing red. “Whoever he is, I’ll kill the bastard!”

“No, you won’t.” Victoria said, “he’s a good man, he’s just… he’s not ready to be a dad yet. That’s all.”

“I don’t care! You’ll tell me his name and I’ll bloody well kill him! And if I don’t kill him, your grandfather will!” Edward shouted jumping to his feet.

“Oh, yeah, I’m really going to tell you who it is so that you can go out and commit murder.”

Edward towered over Victoria. “Tell me!”

Victoria said nothing, pursing her lips and staring at her father with a hard decided look on her face. Elizabeth stood up and put her hands on Edward’s shoulder. “Why don’t you just give me and Vicky a minute alone. I’ll talk to her.”

“Very well.” Edward said not tearing his gaze from Victoria. “You two stay here, I’ve got a meeting with your grandfather. I’m going to tell him what you’ve gone and done and the two of us are going to decide what we’re going to do about it.”

Edward stalked out of the room leaving Elizabeth and Victoria alone.

Elizabeth sat down on the couch next to her daughter and hugged her. “Darling, this is wonderful news!”

“Thanks.” Victoria said. “I think it is.”

“But, perhaps your father is right,” Elizabeth said breaking the hug, “perhaps you’re too young for such a burden.”

“It’s not a burden, mother. I would love this baby whether I was seventeen or seventy, whether I had the father around or not. I will love him and I will raise him, and he will grow up to make me the proudest mother ever.”

“Perhaps. All I meant was that, your apartment with Rebecca, though nice, it’s not very big. A baby is very small, yet somehow it can take up an awful lot of room. And your first child as well, it can be difficult just knowing quite what to do. Why don’t you live back here with us, hmm? That way, we can help you, I can answer any of your questions, you won’t be alone. I promise.”

“Mum, I’ll have Rebecca to help me, you forget, she practically raised her brother after her mother died. And it’s not like I’ll never see you, anytime I have a question, you’ll be the first the person I go to. I’ll be fine where I am.”

“Right. Yes. Of course.” Elizabeth smiled slowly, subconsciously tugging on her hair.

“Mum. That bruise. How did it happen?”

“I already told you, darling, I walked into a door.”

“You walked into a door?” Victoria asked. “You said earlier that you slipped and hit the door handle.”

“Well, yes, darling, I was walking when I slipped.”

“Mum… if he was hitting you again, you’d tell me right?”

Elizabeth took hold of her daughter’s hand. “Please, darling, come back here to live with us. With me.”

Victoria hugged her mother. “Of course, I’ll come back. Where else could I be?”

 

 

 Read the next chapter here

 

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

The Mountain Can Wait.

 

In fact, it’s had to wait, because I’ve been a little busy and it’s been some time between finishing the book and writing this review, so in the words of Miranda, bear with.

 

The mountain in question is in Canada, which was a lovely start, following 2015’s A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which was also set in Canada, although more than a hundred years previously.

 

It felt at the beginning that I was returning to a previous home, which is a credit to the writing (both Leipciger’s and Gale’s) – because either they’ve both managed to get Canada spot on, or they’ve both made up the same version.

 

Tom Berry is responsible for replanting trees on the mountain, reporting into a large corporation that is cutting them down elsewhere. He has raised his children alone, after his wife abandoned them when the children were young.

 

One day, on the cusp of adulthood, Tom’s son Curtis is driving home from a party when he hits a girl with his truck. A split second decision, one moment of poor judgement leads to Curtis speeding away from the scene of the crime.

 

Books like this make me stop and think about the name of the book. Why is it called that? What does the mountain represent? What is it waiting for?

 

The mountain in this book is the mountain on which Tom works. The phrase is used to describe Tom’s younger self, shrugging away his family life, wanting to get back to work, to get back to the mountain.

 

“He hadn’t learned yet that the mountain could wait.”

 

The mountain which literally lurks in the background of the entire novel will always be there. Tom can go away, do what he needs to do for his family, and then return to the mountain waiting for him.

 

But the mountain is more than that. It is the inevitability of inescapable events. The moment Curtis drove away from that girl on the mountain road, it was waiting to catch up with him. It is not something that he can escape from.

 

Both Tom and Curtis must come to terms with what has happened, and as they do we get to witness sweeping vistas of Canada that are so beautifully written, you almost wish the book will never end.

 

The scene where Tom lies in a canoe and floats out on a lake is a particular highlight, along with all the scenes involving Bobbie on the remote island where Curtis’s mother grew up.

 

Bobbie is easily the best character in this book – if this were a film, she’d be on screen for all of ten minutes, would be played by Meryl Streep and win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – and I wish we had more of her.

 

I’d also have loved for more exploration of the relationship between Tom and Curtis and how the absence of Curtis’ mother dominated their lives together but what we do have is a beautifully vivid setting and a very melancholic ending.

 

I’ve given The Mountain Can Wait 3.3 out of 5.

 

Next week, I’ll be reviewing Everyone Brave is Forgotten by Chris Cleave

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 4

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

Frederick jumped back in surprise as he noticed Harry behind them. “Jesus Christ! You scared the shit out of me, Harry!”

“Sorry, I was just exploring.” He looked over at Robert and held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Harry. I don’t think I’ve seen you in any of the photos Freddie’s shown me?”

“No, you probably wouldn’t have.” He said, flashing a set of perfectly straight, white teeth. Harry felt his legs quiver slightly, there was no doubt about it – this man was very attractive, and he knew it.

“Harry, this is Robert, mum’s new boyfriend.”

“Oh, right. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands before Harry turned back to Frederick. “So?”

“So what, Harry?” Harry noted Frederick’s repeated use of his name, a trait that he’d soon learnt in their short time together meant that he was either lying, or about to lie.

“You were just saying to Robert that you needed to talk to him. What’s it about?”

“Oh, nothing, Harry,” he smiled, “just the usual, don’t hurt my mother speech. I thought you were going to go have a shower?”

“Yeah, I was, but I realised you’ve still got my mobile.”

“Right.” Frederick fumbled around in his pocket, pulled out a small mobile phone and handed it over.

“Thanks.”

For a moment there was an uncomfortable silence, Robert and Frederick were both watching Harry, not even glancing at each other. “Oh, look, Harry,” Frederick said stiffly, pointing to the screen of the phone, “you’ve got a voicemail. It’s probably important.”

“Yeah, probably. I’m going to go take that shower.” He started to move back up the stairs. “I’ll let you two get on with your talk.”

“It was nice meeting you, Harry.” Robert smiled again and Harry nodded to him.

“You too.”

Harry left them downstairs – reluctantly – and made his way back upstairs to the bedroom he would be sharing with Frederick, to find Ella had gone. Frederick’s cases were completely unpacked while Harry’s remained untouched at the side of the bed. He made his way into the en suite, slowly dialling in some numbers on his mobile. There was a magnificent white bath in the centre of the room, large enough for perhaps three or four people. Harry quietly wondered if Frederick had had any say in the decoration of the bathroom when he noticed the ornate bidet on the right hand side of the toilet.

Frederick had always had an unusual – almost unhealthy – obsession with cleanliness and he also claimed to enjoy the sensation of using a bidet. One of his many contradictions, because if anything ever went near his rear end in the bedroom he would bolt from the room.

Harry held his mobile to his ear as he turned the shower on and held his other hand under the stream of water to test the temperature.

“Harry? Harry, it’s me, you really need to start turning your phone on.” Tricia’s sharp voice spat out of the phone, causing Harry to move it away from his ear a little. She had always spoken too loudly on the phone, as if it wasn’t a phone at all, but rather two tin cans connected by a string. “Anyway, I’ve been on the line to Terry, Jack’s dropped out of his newest movie at the last minute, he wants you to replace him. I’ve told him you’ll do it, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to cut short your holiday. I’ve moved your return flight to the day after tomorrow at noon. I’ll have a car waiting for you at the airport.”

Harry dropped the phone on the side and started to undress. “Not even a ‘Merry Christmas’.”

 

*                *                *

 

Harry finished drying himself, pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and was just sitting down on the end of the bed to put on his jeans when a woman’s head appeared around the door.

“Josh? Oh god, I’m so sorry!” The woman clamped her hands to her eyes turning her head, but didn’t leave the room.

“It’s ok, it’s my fault,” Harry admitted, pulling up the jeans and doing up the fly, “I should have closed the door.”

“And I should have knocked.” She smiled.

From what Harry could tell, she was slightly older than him, perhaps around the same age as Frederick, although she held herself as if life had worn her down and she was now just very, very tired. She wore a shiny blue blouse, and a long black skirt, looking like a middle-aged school teacher, and, as if to compliment that, her hair was done up in a tight bun on the top of her head.

Her smile was broad, and it revealed large white teeth. Small wrinkles formed in the corner of her eyes, and large, deep dimples appeared in her cheeks. Harry knew only one other person who had a smile like that.

“Victoria, right? Freddie’s sister?”

“Umm, yes,” she frowned a little, “who are you?”

Harry stepped forward and shook her hand, “I’m Harry. Harry Hicks.”

“Oh, wow! You are! You’re from the films!” Her face lit up and she started to gush. “Wow, you know, I just loved that last one you did, you know where you played the detective and Sammy Jones was your secretary. Were those rumours about you and her true? Has she really got a tattoo of a lion on her thigh?”

“I, err, I…” Harry stuttered nervously, something he usually did when he met a fan, especially one who seemed to have subscriptions to an awful lot of glossies. “I never got close enough to find out.”

He watched her smile fade as her eyes travelled from him to his luggage sat at the end of the double bed, next to Frederick’s empty suitcases. She looked back at him and a smile quickly returned to her face, though it didn’t appear as genuine as the one it had replaced.

“So you’re… I should have known, my brother has all the luck.”

“We’re just friends,” Harry smiled, cursing himself a little for letting the lie come so easily, “he didn’t tell you I was coming?”

“He probably did.” Victoria admitted, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to Harry. “I tend to forget things quiet easily.”

“And Joshua’s your son?”

“Yes, he’s – oh, God!” Victoria jumped up from the bed. “Do you see what I mean? I totally forgot I was trying to find him. You haven’t seen him have you?”

Harry shook his head.

“Oh, I don’t know where he could be, I’ve searched the whole place,” she clamped her hand to her forehead, “I shouldn’t have shouted at him.”

Harry stood up and put a hand on her arm. He feared that she was about to start crying, and if there was anything Harry could do to avoid a woman crying in his arms, he would do his best to do it.

“Hey, I’m sure he’s all right, come on, sit down.” He pulled her over to a chair by the desk and sat her in it, while he crouched on the balls of his feet in front of her. “He won’t have got far, I mean, he wouldn’t have gone outside, would he?”

“No, of course not. I’m being silly, he’s probably just hiding. I shouldn’t have got so angry.”

“What did he do?”

“He, err… he ate a biscuit.

“A biscuit?”

“A chocolate one.”

“Heavy stuff.” Harry smirked at her, and she let out a small laugh, before starting to wipe the corners of her eyes. He took a tissue from a box on the desk. “Here, take this.”

“Thanks.” She blew her nose, looked at him, and laughed again. “I wasn’t really angry at him, I was just… stressed.”

“Stressed?” Harry settled himself back down on the edge of the bed, his feet starting to go numb from crouching on them so long.

“It’s Christmas, you know, and I’m a single mum. It’s hard.”

“You’re lonely.” Harry thought for a moment about his own mother, and how lonely she seemed at times. She had sacrificed her own life to raise Harry and his brother.

“It’s silly,” Victoria nodded, “I know it is, and I don’t need a man to be complete, but it would just be nice not to have to do everything by myself, to have someone to help me, someone to well… Now mum’s got another new boyfriend, it just feels that sometimes she’s got my life, like she’s forgotten…”

She abruptly stopped and began to concentrate on folding the tissue up. Harry looked at her for a moment, so upset and vulnerable, and he found it hard to believe what Frederick had told him about her history.

“You don’t look like…” Harry started, “well, you know, you don’t look as if you could…”

“You know about that?” She looked up at him suspiciously and he nodded. “He doesn’t talk about that to anyone, he never even talks to us about it. You two must have something pretty special.”

“Not really,” He broke eye contact with her, “Frederick and I… we’re just friends.”

Good friends?

“I’m not gay.”

Victoria nodded, but didn’t seem convinced. For a moment they sat in silence, and when Harry dared to glance back at her, he found her staring at him.

“I’d hate for my brother to be as lonely as I am,” she said, “he deserves to be happy. I want to see him happy. Do you know what it’s like to have a brother, Harry?”

Harry paused for a moment. There’s no way she can know who I am and not know my story, he thought, and as he did, she covered her mouth with her hand, a look of regret appearing her eyes.

“Three years ago, my mum died,” Harry began, “it was cancer, ate her up from the inside out. Vincent, that’s my brother, he came back from Los Angeles for the funeral. It was the first time I’d seen him in six months and the way he looked, it… it scared me. I should have known then, perhaps I did, but I ignored it. Nine months later he was dead and I was sat in a bar in Hollywood talking to the bastard that killed him. From that night, I became my brother. I left my life behind, moved to America, finished the film he was working on and started to live the life he’d always wanted. I owed it to him. I still do. I let him down.

“So, yeah, I do know what it’s like to have a brother, and I know what it’s like to want to protect them.”

Victoria lowered her eyes to the floor but said nothing.

“Frederick’s a very good friend of mine,” Harry said, “I never want to see him hurt.”

Victoria nodded.

“If I were gay,” he said slowly, “if I were, then I would ask that I was left to come out in my own way. Of all people, I’d expect you to understand that… after what happened with Frederick, I mean.”

“You’re saying – “

“I’m saying I’m not gay.” Yet. She nodded, it was clear they’d reached some sort of understanding. Harry pulled a shirt out of his suitcase, shook the wrinkles out and pulled it on.

“I’ll leave you to it,” she smiled again, “unless you need help to find the dining room?”

“I’ll find it. It might not be until next week, but I’ll find it.”

“It was nice to meet you, Harry Hicks.”

“You too, Victoria Cromwell.”

“Hardcastle. I kept dad’s name.” She smiled weakly. “It’s just a name. Besides, Edward Hardcastle, Ernest Cromwell, two very similar men.”

Victoria left the room and Harry moved over to the dresser to check his appearance. He considered himself for a moment, and then slipped on the blazer he’d been wearing when he’d arrived. The look was complete.

He left the room, shutting the door behind him, and as he did he spotted a sudden movement at the end of the corridor out of the corner of his eye. He moved toward the main staircase.

“Hello?”

A noise from above made him look up just in time to see a figure move quickly away from the railing. Someone was watching him.

“Joshua?” Harry asked. There was no answer and he tried to crane his neck in order to look upstairs. He could see nothing. But what if it is Joshua? He asked himself. Finding him and getting him back to his mother would probably get me back in her good books.

Even if it it’s not Joshua, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look around and get to know the house. Harry had developed an unfortunate habit of sleepwalking in his teenage years and occasionally, when particularly stressed or nervous, it reappeared. If he did wake up in some far-flung room of the mansion, he’d need to be able to find his way back.

He moved up to the top floor of the house and looked down the long corridor to the left. “Joshua?”

Harry tried the door closest to him, but it was locked. Voices downstairs suddenly made him think that it might not be appreciated if he was caught nosing around where he wasn’t wanted. He’d just put a foot on the top stair when he saw a familiar face staring at him through the small crack of an open door at the end of the hall.

He moved towards it and gently pushed the door open and suddenly came face to face with himself.

Memories of the photo shoot quickly returned to Harry, it was the first one he had ever done. The movie was due for release and the cogs of publicity were rapidly whirring into overtime. He’d been prodded and poked all day, his hair had been gelled, then washed, then re-styled, his clothes were changed more times in that one day than they had been in a whole month before.

After almost two hours of flashbulbs going off and assistants applying foundation and blusher to his face, Harry had stormed out. He’d pushed his way through the nearest fire exit and into an alleyway. In one of the first moments since Vincent’s death that he’d had to himself, the photographer had followed him out and taken several photographs in quick succession.

The first of those images had become almost instantly famous and had since become synonymous with the name Harry Hicks. It had appeared in almost every article about him from that point on and he had soon grown to resent its very existence.

The other photos in the series had never been released, but they showed Harry moving toward the photographer, wearing an angry expression on his face and wielding a raised fist. Tricia was only able to stop him pressing charges by allowing him full distribution rights to the picture he and then subsequently the rest of the media had dubbed ‘The Weeping Adonis’. Since then he’d earned almost as much money from it as Harry had from any of his films – perhaps more.

And now, over two years later, in an old man’s mansion in the middle of the English countryside, it was back. An almost life sized glossy poster of himself, back in that alleyway. Harry had been leaning against the wall of the studio, supported by his shoulders, one foot flat against the brick, the other on the ground. The flash of the photographer’s bulb had illuminated his face revealing one hand brushing the hair back from my face, and a single tear rolling down a flushed cheek.

Harry turned to leave, almost tripping on a pile of dirty laundry, t-shirts, socks and a pair of boxer shorts. As he steadied himself, a boy came into the room.

He had cropped brown hair and was about half a foot shorter than Harry. From the small amount of stubble on his lower jaw Harry guessed that he was in his late teens. He didn’t look happy.

“I… I… I’m sorry, is this your room?” The boy’s sudden appearance and angry expression had surprised Harry, and he couldn’t help but stammer.

The boy stared blankly as if Harry had insulted not just him, but his mother and his mother’s mother as well. “No. It’s Fiona’s room.”

“Fiona’s?” Harry glanced down at the boxer shorts on the floor.

“My cousin, she must have forgotten to lock the door.”

“Right.”

“I’m Matthew.”

“I’m… well, I’m him.” Harry pointed at a cluster of the posters.

“Fiona doesn’t like people being up in her room.”

“Won’t she be upset that you’re up here?”

“I’m allowed.” Matthew replied, a small smile on his face. “My room’s at the other end of the corridor.”

“I was just… I thought Joshua had come up here, I was trying to help Victoria find him and then I saw the pictures.”

Matthew looked at the carefully arranged posters. “She thinks you’re really attractive, you know.”

“Right, well, I’ll have to make sure I thank her for the compliment, then.”

Matthew moved back to the doorway. “I don’t think you should mention it, she’d probably get really mad if she found out you’d been up here.”

“Right.” Harry moved toward him to leave, expecting him to move out of the way, but he didn’t. Harry turned sideways to brush past him and he had to put a hand on the young man’s shoulder to steady himself.

“If you really want to get to know the place, I could give you a tour.”

“Right, thanks,” Harry smiled weakly, “I think maybe I’ll just head down to dinner.”

He started to walk downstairs, feeling the young boy’s eyes boring into him as he went. Harry hastened his pace, practically flying down two flights of stairs and almost careening into an old woman at the bottom.

“Watch it, will you?” She growled at him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”

“Who are you anyway?”

“I’m Harry, a friend of Frederick’s.”

“Ah! The movie star! Yes, he’s told me about you.” She glanced up at him with astonishingly blue eyes, eyes that seemed to outshine the white hair that framed her crinkled grey face. Probably cataracts, Tricia’s barbed wire tongue whispered inside his head.

“It seems Frederick’s been ringing home and telling everyone about me.”

“Ringing? Ha!” She started to move down a corridor that led off to the east wing of the house. She carried on talking and so Harry assumed he was meant to follow her through. “That boy never rings home. No, he was telling me earlier, when he was helping me set the table.”

She pushed open a door and led Harry in to a large room, immediately facing an elaborately set dining table.

“He was with you?”

“Until about five minutes ago, went upstairs to get changed.”

Harry smiled a little, if he’d been in here with this woman, he hadn’t been with Robert. Perhaps I was just imagining that there was something going on. Just then, Robert stood up, holding a stuffed elephant. He’d been sat on the floor, behind the table.

“Hey, Harry, you found your way around then?”

“I, err… yeah, I did.”

“Don’t worry, Pat had to help me too.”

“Pat.” Harry smiled down at the old lady. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Where were you four hours ago? No, forget about it.”

“We’ll have to stick together, Harry,” Robert smiled, again causing his legs to go a little weak, though thankfully Harry noted, the effect was weakening, “we’re the outsiders after all.”

“Where’d the elephant go?” A small voice came from the floor on the other side of the table, distracting Robert from the blush that had spread uncontrollably across Harry’s face.

“Oh, sorry!” Robert laughed a little and sat back down again.

Harry made his way around the table as Pat left the room, carrying an empty silver platter and found Robert sitting on the floor, with a small boy, a whole host of stuffed animals on the floor around them.

“You must be Joshua.”

“Who the hell are you?”

Robert smiled at him. “This kid’s got quite a mouth on him. Somebody ought to have words with his parents.”

“Yeah, right.” Harry smiled back. “I’m Harry, I’m a friend of Uncle Frederick’s.”

Joshua looked up at Harry blankly for a moment and then turned to Robert. “Where’s the elephant?”

“I kind of got lumbered with the babysitting.” Robert shrugged by way of an explanation.

“Yeah, I see.”

“It’s not too bad, he’s a cute kid.”

“Harry!” Harry turned around to see Elizabeth swan into the room, now wearing an emerald green ball-gown, the make-up on her face seemed to have doubled in depth since he’d last seen her. “Harry, come and sit down over here.”

She pulled him over to a comfortable set of chairs to the side of the room. “Elizabeth, hi, I like your dress.”

“You noticed?” Her eyes almost seemed to bulge with pleasure. “Fantastic! I mean, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s…” He looked down at her ample cleavage almost spilling out of her top. “It’s green.”

“Hi, darling.” Robert got up and kissed Elizabeth on the side of the cheek and Harry found himself feeling a pang of entirely inappropriate jealousy. “Harry’s right, the dress is gorgeous.”

“Oh, bless you!” Elizabeth batted him away as he ran a finger down the side of her dress, and then turned to Harry. “Don’t you just love him?”

“Well, I, err…” Harry began to bluster and Robert smirked. Did he know? Could he tell I was attracted? Thankfully, Elizabeth didn’t seem to notice Harry’s hesitation.

“So, tell me about Frederick.”

“You… want me to tell you about your own son?”

“I want you to tell me about his life in Hollywood. He barely rings home at all these days.”

Harry smiled at her softly. “Well, I’m afraid I wouldn’t know too much about that. We don’t usually spend too much time together, you know, outside of work.”

“Harry, dear,” Elizabeth glanced over at Robert, who had returned to playing with Joshua, and lowered her voice, “Frederick may not say much when he rings home, but… when he is home, he tells me things. Things, that perhaps, he shouldn’t. I know, Harry.”

“You know?” Elizabeth nodded and Harry felt his throat tighten, his pulse quicken. “About me and Frederick? When did he tell you?”

She laughed a little. “He didn’t, darling – you just did.”

“I…” Harry’s mouth wouldn’t work, his brain was too busy kicking itself.

“Oh, don’t worry, your secret’s more than safe with me. Look, I’m very much on your side, it must be hard for you, with your job and all.”

“Yeah, I guess. My agent thinks it might ruin my career, Hollywood is making me into a kind of matinee idol.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement. “And women won’t want to watch a matinee idol whisking women off their feet in his films, knowing all the while, that in real life his own feet are somewhere over his head.”

“Maybe not how I’d put it, but that’s pretty much it.”

“And,” Elizabeth shrugged as if surprised at how simple the logic was, “why risk such a lucrative career as a matinee idol over a casual fling.”

Harry lowered his voice. “Frederick’s not a casual fling, Mrs Cromwell, I love him.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth frowned. “Well, then… I’m not sure I understand at all.”

The door to the dining room opened and Matthew entered, with an older man and woman. Harry assumed they were Gary and Nicola, Frederick’s aunt and uncle and Matthew’s parents, although neither of them looked anything like him. Matthew, while attractive in his own right, was not exactly drop-dead gorgeous, but compared to his parents, he was a true Adonis. Gary seemed to be a much younger version of his father, only perhaps slightly taller, while Nicola slightly resembled a toad. She was ever so slightly overweight, but it was the offending purple dress that made it all the worse, accentuating each roll of fat just that little bit more.

“Look,” Harry whispered to Elizabeth, “can we talk about this some other time?”

“Ah!” Gary shouted loudly. “This must be Freddie’s latest boyfriend!”

Harry looked across to Elizabeth for help but she shrugged. “I’m afraid I don’t know quite what he is, Gary, we were just having a little chat about that.”

“I’m… we’re…” Harry bit his tongue to try and stop his stutter. “Frederick’s just a friend.”

“Just a friend?” Nicola raised her eyebrow as she led her family to the end of the table. “I’ve met a few of Frederick’s friends before. They’re usually in a bathrobe at the breakfast table, though.”

“I’m not gay.” Harry smiled politely

“No, of course you’re not.” Robert looked up at him. “I can’t imagine why anyone would think you are. After all, you’re just a young actor, living in Hollywood, living the bachelor lifestyle, spending Christmas with the family of a well-known poofter.” Suddenly, Harry started to feel the attraction to him fade.

“Robert.” Elizabeth chastised him gently.

All the eyes in the room were on Harry and he could feel the tension pouring from them, cutting through him.

Before Harry could stop himself, the words blurted from his mouth. “It’s hardly as if I have a family of my own to visit. They’re all dead.”

The mood in the room shifted immediately and everyone but Robert bowed their heads. While Harry felt guilty for playing the dead family card, it had at least worked. He would worry about karma later.

Elizabeth was the first to break the silence, just as Frederick entered the room with Ella, who was carrying a tray of wine bottles. “So, Harry, have you got a girlfriend?”

Frederick visibly winced as he heard his mother’s question. “Mum, leave him alone.”

Elizabeth stood up, kissed her son on the cheek and whispered so that only Harry and Frederick could hear her. “I’m just teasing, honey.”

“She knows.” Harry whispered just as quietly, and Frederick looked at him questioningly.

“We’re telling people now?”

“Not on purpose.”

“I played a nasty trick on him.” Elizabeth giggled as she reached out and took a glass of wine from Ella.

“Freddie,” Harry stood up, giving him a nervous smile, “you going to introduce me to the rest of your family or what?”

Frederick looked around the room, and quickly pointed at them all in turn.

“Err, well, yeah, there’s Robert, mum’s boyfriend you met earlier, Joshua, my nephew, and of course, you already know Ella as well. This is Uncle Gary, his wife Nicola and their son Matthew.”

Matthew gave a small wave. “Yeah, we’ve met.”

“I went exploring, he found me lost in, err – Fiona’s room?” Matthew nodded with confirmation as Harry quickly explained, suddenly feeling a sense of guilt, although he wasn’t sure what for.

“Funny,” Nicola frowned, “she normally keeps her room locked.”

“She probably forgot,” Frederick said, a slight smirk on his face, “these are exciting times. She’s out in the hall… waiting for Reece.”

“Reece?” Nicola asked. “He’s still not here?”

“He’s probably drunk in a gutter somewhere.” Matthew said, not exactly quietly, but Harry seemed to be the only one who heard it, as at that moment, the door opened again, and Ernest marched into the room, almost growling at the tall blonde woman following him.

“We’ll talk about it later, Jennifer.” He said, barely restraining the annoyance in his voice. “Is it time to eat yet, Ella?”

“You’re still missing three grandchildren, Ernest.” Jennifer muttered and Ernest looked around doing a quick head count.

“Well, I shouldn’t imagine they’ll be much longer. Go and tell Pat to start bringing it through.”

“Right away, Mr Cromwell.” Ella went to leave the room as the door opened and a young man, who appeared to be quite drunk, stumbled in, falling to the floor.

“Oh, hello, Ella,” He pulled himself up but continued to address Ella’s legs, “you’re looking very fine today.”

“Thanks Reece.” She smiled and skirted out of the room around the young girl who had followed him in.

Harry quickly calculated that the girl was Jennifer’s daughter, Fiona, on the very basis that she was an almost exact replica of her mother, and that he had met everyone else. Both of them were very attractive, with natural blonde hair. The only real difference between them were signs of age, the less developed body of the young Fiona and the small wrinkles starting to appear on Jennifer’s face.

Reece, despite the fact that he was struggling to stand, was just as attractive as his brother. He moved towards his grandfather and father, hooking one arm around each of their shoulders to support himself. This had the effect of dragging the two older men closer into each other, something both of them looked uncomfortable with. Given the opportunity to see Reece next to his father, Harry started to wonder if perhaps Nicola hadn’t always remained faithful to Gary.

“Bloody drunk again are you, I suppose?” Ernest grumbled.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, Granddaddy,” Reece protested, “this isn’t drink, it’s, err… it’s – well, it’s Christmas spirit!” He gave a big grin, as his arms flew around his head, gesturing wildly.

“More than one spirit, I’d imagine.” Ernest rolled his eyes.

“Can’t you just give the boy a break?” Gary asked, downing his own drink. “He’s just trying to have a bit of a laugh.”

Reece took one of the glasses of wine from the table and winked at his grandfather.

“Come and meet, Joshua,” Frederick whispered in Harry’s ear, dragging him over to where Robert was still sat with the small boy, “you’ll love him.”

“Yeah, he’s a charming little guy.” Frederick didn’t notice the sarcasm in Harry’s voice, as he crouched down beside his nephew.

“Are you all right, Joshy?”

“Yeah.” Josh didn’t look up at Frederick as he continued to play with the toy animals that Robert had set up for him.

“Hey, how about you come over here and play with me. I’ve got a football.” Frederick suggested.

“No, I like playing with Robert.” Josh said, laughing as Robert made a horse jump over a fence.

“Right.” Frederick turned away and caught Harry’s eye. Forgetting their earlier arguments and Harry’s own suspicions, he gave him a comforting smile in return.

“Where’s his mother, anyway?” Nicola drawled pointing to Joshua. “Why are we all looking after him?”

“I don’t see you doing much looking after.” Gary muttered.

“All I’m saying is, she’s just dumped him on whoever’s around. Just what is so important that she isn’t looking after her son?”

“I’m looking after your son.” Victoria said as she entered, tucking her purse into a small handbag hanging off her arm. “Someone had to pay his taxi fare.”

“Victoria, darling!” Elizabeth squealed. “You’ve hidden yourself upstairs all day!”

“I have to make myself look attractive, mother. We can’t all just fall out of bed and look like you.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Elizabeth smiled, kissing her daughter on the cheek, “you’re too kind to me. Robert, Harry, this is my daughter, Victoria. Vicky, this is Harry he’s Frederick’s – ”

“Friend.” Both Frederick and Harry said at the same time and Ernest looked at them suspiciously as they both suppressed a smile. The fact that Frederick was beginning to smile about it, suggested to Harry that they might just make it through the holidays.

“Yeah, I’ve already met Freddie’s friend.” Victoria smiled, taking her own glass of wine as Harry sipped from his.

“And this is my new boyfriend,” Elizabeth widely and proudly. Robert – ”

“Robert Forrester.” Victoria said breathlessly. “Yeah, I remember.”

Harry turned to look at Robert, realising for the first time that he’d stood up and was just staring across the room at Victoria.

“Why does everyone always interrupt me when I say that?” Elizabeth asked, clearly annoyed at having her thunder stolen by her children.

Harry’s suspicions returned as Frederick laughed nervously and answered his mother. “Well, you, err, you don’t stop talking about him, do you?”

Robert stepped forward and gently kissed the back of her outstretched hand, both Robert and Victoria had a look of genuine shock on their faces.

“I see you’ve already met my son.” Victoria smiled a plastic-looking smile, not breaking eye contact with Robert.

“Josh is your… he’s your son?”

“He is. He’ll be seven next month.”

Robert paused for a moment. “I think I need a drink.”

“Oh, fantastic,” Reece gargled through the last dregs of his wine, “I’ll join you, I’m absolutely gasping.”

Gary looked up. “Pour me one while you’re there, son.”

“Son.” Harry heard Robert repeat with a nervous laugh as he passed him on the way to the drinks cabinet.

 

 

Read the next chapter here

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

It’s hard to know what to say about The Loney, partly because I’m not entirely sure what happened, and partly because the feeling it gives is somewhat indescribable.

 

But I’ll try.

 

First what is the Loney?

 

It’s a stretch of beach in a place called Coldbarrow along the North English coast, to which a small church group from London makes a regular pilgrimage to every Easter.

 

The reason for going? The Smiths have two sons, one of them – Hanny – is mute and child-like, and they hope that by praying in a shrine along the Loney will help cure him.

 

Their younger son is essential Hanny’s carer and seems to be the only one who really understands him.

 

It’s no spoiler to say that eventually something changes and Hanny aka Andrew is able to speak. We know this, because the story is told to us through the eyes of his brother some years later.

 

What we don’t know, is how it happened.

 

The group’s trip is led by Father Bernard, a new priest to the parish after Father Wilfred’s death. He and the younger son – he nicknames Tonto – provide much of the heart of the book, perhaps the most relatable characters of the book.

 

That doesn’t mean the other characters aren’t well drawn, but there is something off about them, about ‘Mummer’ and ‘Farther’, the elderly Belderboss’ and the villagers of Coldbarrow.

 

On top of it all, there’s the Moorings, the house they’re staying in, the home of a taxidermist, no longer there, but his presence still felt with his belongings, and his work still surrounding the home. At one point a secret room is found, despite the fact they’ve all been going there for years, but this doesn’t at all seem odd in this house.

 

Lastly, there is Hanny himself. He’s had to find a way to communicate without words, and only his brother really understands him. A toy dinosaurs means I’m sorry. A jar of nails indicates he has a headache. And a gorilla mask means he’s frightened.

 

There’s a chilling moment late on in the book, when Hanny says nothing, but moves to the corner of the room, putting his gorilla mask on. That conjured up an image in my head that will sit, uncomfortably with me for a long time.

 

We’re seeing all of them through the eyes of Hanny’s brother – I don’t think we learn his name, though I’m sure someone refers to him as James at one point – who is clearly unsettled throughout the visit to the Loney.

 

Of course, all of this IS told through his own words many years later, so it’s possible, considering the events that take place, that he has mythologised it in his own head, and that things weren’t quite as weird as he makes them out to be.

 

But however he’s reached this version of the story, the whole thing is gloomy. There is a pervading sense of greyness, and I think I was cold on the inside throughout reading it, as if I was there. The word that most people will probably use for this book is ‘gothic’ but I’m not sure if that is the right word.

 

Gloomy works for me. There is a gloomy, tense atmosphere throughout, and the writing really makes you believe that the village of Coldbarrow has probably never seen a ray of sunshine throughout it’s history.

 

The boy – James, whatever his name is – theorises at one point that there are parts of England that nobody has stepped foot on in hundreds of years, and you can well believe it having read this book.

 

A really atmospheric book with an ending that doesn’t quite give you all the answers, I can see how this won the Costa First Novel award.

 

This is the sort of book you should read in one sitting on a wet Sunday afternoon with a large bucket of tea. I’m giving it 3.8 out of 5.