I want to thank everyone for the time they’ve taken to read Chapter 1 and thank them even more for all the kind and encouraging comments. There is still obviously alot of work to be done (like writing the rest of the book) but have interest expressed at this early stage is most encouraging. After all, I’m writing it to be read and if people are wanting to read more that can only be a good thing!
In that vein, here is Chapter 2.
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Lewis came bowling in through the back door a little before ten the next morning. He brought a wash of November air with him that raised the hairs on my neck.
“You’re up, then.”
“Barely.” I blinked at him through sleep-crunched eyes. He was pink-cheeked, black hair a stylish muss from the wind and the smell of winter clung to his long, thick overcoat. “You’re early,” I said stupidly. “I thought the ferry didn’t dock until ten?”
He shrugged. “It made good time today. Bloody hell, coming back here is always so strange. Christ.” He shook his head, staring at nothing. “What a rough few months. Still we’re here now, the beginning of the end. Has that kettle just boiled? Good God, it’s frigid out there. Forget how bloody cold it gets around here.”
I ducked out of his way and he went about mixing himself a drink and I stood watching him, rubbing one eye with the heel of my hand.
“No milk? Black will do for now. So, this is all a bit strange isn’t it?” He turned around, dark eyes scanning the kitchen. Agreeing quietly, I took another gulp of my coffee, hoping it would help anchor my mind. “Strange,” Lewis repeated, leaning back and nodding around the room. “You keep imagining Dad’s going to walk in any second, don’t you?”
I winced, wrapped my fingers tighter around the mug and stared into the coffee.
“So…” He shrugged himself out of the black coat and clapped his hands together, rubbing them. “No reason not to start right away. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem getting rid of all this. Most of it’s not worth keeping. I might take some of the pictures and maybe the piano?”
I stared at him as he bustled around the kitchen, eyes lively, running fingers along the spines of cookery books and fingering pens in a jar on the windowsill. “Well, yes. If you want it.”
He flashed his straight, white grin at me. “Well you were never that keen on the piano, Stef. And I always loved the way that one sounded. I can get it shipped to the mainland somehow, I’m sure. As for the rest of the furniture…auction and bonfire will just about do it.”
I frowned at him. “Well – ”
“We have to be realistic, Stef. I can try and make you money on some of it but most is not the sort that’ll sell. It’s all too bloody old and battered. But anyway, the price we’ll get for whatever furniture’s still in one piece will be pence beside the amount you’ll get for the house itself.”
“I want some of it,” I said, rubbing my eyes, willing myself to wake up. “But the house, Lewis – ”
“Well, of course, some,” he carried on, rolling his eyes. “But we mustn’t get too sentimental. Most of this would never fit in your bedsit, anyway. Don’t worry.” He smiled at the look on my face. “I’ll help you. It’ll be easy, I promise. Like pulling off a plaster: you just need to get it done. Dad would have wanted it that way. Hey up – ”
An echoing banging of the iron doorknocker rattled down the hall.
“Well, go on,” Lewis urged, making a shooing motion. “It’s your house. For now, anyway.” He laughed and started pulling open cupboards.
“Lewis – ”
But the banging came again and Lewis was shoulders-deep in the pan cupboard, clanking about. The caller was knocking a third time by the time I got to the door. The handful of key turned in the lock stiffly. The door swung open with a groan I sympathised with and winter breathed in on me. “Yes?” My teeth were chattering and my eyes fought to focus in the sudden light.
“Hello.” The voice was bright and cheerful. “I’m sorry if this is a bad time…”
I felt myself blushing and folded my arms over my shabby pullover and felt the cold seep through my pyjamas trousers from my feet upwards.
“My name’s Melanie.” The girl held out a hand and I took it briefly. She looked like a sparrow, shining eyes, shining smile, shining hair. I curled my toes inside my patched slippers and pulled my hair out of my face with twitchy fingers. “I’m just doing some research into the island,” she continued, “the history, folklore and traditions. Could ask you some questions?”
“I’m sorry,” I babbled. “I’m not really the right person to talk to. I haven’t lived here for ten years.”
“Oh, ok,” she chirped. “But you have lived here at some point?”
“Well, yes, until I was sixteen. But, really, you’re best off trying in the village if you want to know anything like that.”
“That’s right. Not much further down the road.” I looked back over my shoulder. I could hear Lewis banging about in the kitchen.
“I’m on my way there. I saw your house from the road. It’s the first house for miles, coming from Oldport. Thought I’d try me luck.” Her smile was stitched back into place. “Thank you for your time, I’ll try in the village. Can I just ask your name?”
I eyed her and she smiled wider, pen poised. She wore gloves and jeans and fairly battered-looking trainers. There was a tiny logo of a mainland university stamped onto the corner of her notebook. “Stefan,” I said. “Stefan Bridgeman.”
She gave a clipped nod, made a note in her book. “Bridgeman? That’s an old name on Sinclare, isn’t it?”
I pushed at the flesh of my forehead with my fingertips. “I think so, I don’t know. I’m really not the one to talk to. Sorry…”
“If you do think of anything that might be interesting, no matter what it is…” She fished out a small card from her pocket and handed it to me. I nodded, already starting to shut the door. “Thank you.” And the door was shut. I secured it with numb fingers and scuttled back through to the kitchen. Lewis was filling bin bags. Grendel was sat on the bookshelf, calm and coiled as a shadow, watching him. There were bits and pieces of mismatched crockery gathering on one sideboard and he was sweeping crumbs out of a now empty cupboard onto the floor. “Who was that then?”
I pushed a bin bag out of my way. “Someone doing research.”
“What?” His hands worked quickly, shutting that cupboard, opening the next.
I waved my hand. “Sinclare history or something. Look, Lewis…”
“Jesus…” He paused, looking over my shoulder down the corridor. “Hope you warned him off.”
“It was a her.”
“Well, her, then.” He turned back to the cupboard, pulling out jars. “If she’s asking about Sinclare traditions she’ll have that David Braithwaite character roping her into the Branch Burning and all that.
“I thought you liked all that? You researched it enough when we were kids.”
“Which is exactly why I know it’s best to stay the hell away from it all. Look, Stef, stop gabbing and grab a bin bag. There’s tonnes to be done before the place is fit to sell and I’m only here a week.”
I shook my head frustrated. “Lewis, wait one second. About that whole selling-the-house business…”
“I’ve done a bit of research over the last few weeks.” He had his head back in a cupboard. “It’s pretty impressive. Seems mainlanders have taken to idealising island life. They’ll learn soon enough but long after we’ve got the cheque and left them to it.”
“Lewis, stop.” He stopped and frowned around the cupboard door at me. “Lewis…” I snapped his name, held up my hands, trying to figure out where to start. “Lewis,” calmer, “why do you think I asked you here?”
“Well…to help you sort out the house, like you said.”
“Yes, but…” I felt myself getting hot in the face. “When I said sort out, I meant just…you know…tidy up, make space. For me.”
“For you?” He put down an ancient tin of treacle, so old there was rusting around the rim.
“Yes, for me. For me to live. Here.”
He was looking at me, face crumpled, scratching his temple. “Let me get this straight,” he said, expression darkening. “You’re moving back?”
I nodded, slowly. I could see the thoughts flying around behind his eyes. “It was all a long time ago, Lewis.”
“Dad’s death isn’t,” he snapped. “He died here, Stef. Right here. In this room.”
“Lewis.” I frowned at him.
“It’s true. Completely alone, he was, too. The Witch collected his ale from him once a quarter and that was virtually all the company he had. A week, the doctors said. Seven days he’d been lying here, alone and forgotten. This damn place…”
“It wasn’t the village’s fault, Lewis,” I rubbed my eyes. “Dad had shut himself off from everyone by the end. Hell, he barely even spoke to either of us.”
He leant back against the counter, crossed his arms and stared at me. “It was this damn village that he shut himself off from, Stef. We were lucky enough to get out when we did, make lives somewhere else. Dad couldn’t, he’d been here too long, knew no different.”
“You don’t need to tell me what it was like.” My voice was low. “That last year here convinced me I wanted to be anywhere but here. But we were so young, Lewis. We never really gave it a chance.”
“Dad gave it too many chances, if you ask me.” He continued pointedly shoving food into the bin bag. “Didn’t do him any good in the end.”
“Lewis, that wasn’t Hoodwin that did that to him. That was living without Mum. You’d left by that point, you didn’t see. Those last few years…he just…couldn’t cope. He didn’t even want me around by the end.”
He was looking at me. Dark eyes, so certain. Everything about him was certain, his expensive clothes, his neat haircut. He’d gone to college on the mainland, like most young people from Sinclaire, but had done well, better than most. Like me, he had the passion to not return. He got his degree, job, promotion. His own house, fiancée, his own life. Even Dad had seen what he’d achieved and was proud of it. He was less enthusiastic about the root I took a few years later, but it got me away and that’s all I’d cared about. At least, it was then.
“Lewis, when you come back to Sinclare, can you honestly tell me that it doesn’t…do something to you? Forget the people, forget the Branch Burnings and May and David Braithwaite and all that. Just the place.”
His face softened slightly. “You know I can’t say no. And you’re like Mum with the art and everything. It must mean something more, this weird wildness it has. But it’s not enough to make me forget. Jesus, Stef, I still have nightmares about the things David used to tell me. Theo’s dad died here…” He went pale. “And, well…now our dad.”
I swallowed, glanced quickly around the chilly, dusty kitchen. But then I looked out the window and saw the grass, trees and the hills, all under the skin of glassy frost and not a single person or another house in sight. “I don’t care. There’s a life for me to live here.”
Lewis sighed and shook his head. “It doesn’t make any sense. The further away we are from this place, the better. It’s messed up. People say things, do things. We never fit in with the mechanics of this place.”
“I don’t have to,” I poured myself another coffee with my back to him and all the time felt my mind making itself up. “It’s the land and the sea that’s me, not the people.”
“You’ll end up like Dad.”
I glared at him. That was a low shot, even for him. “Why are you so bothered anyway, Lewis? It’s not like you have to live here with me.”
“I’m just worried about you.” He patted my arm and almost managed to look sincere. “After all that happened to you the year you left school. And the practicalities of it all. How are you going to earn a living?”
“Pictures can be sent through the post, you know.” I now picked up a bin bag and started sorting through what junk was left. “And online, now Angela’s got her website running. I can visit clients if I need to, but this is where I want to be.”
I looked over at him chewing his thumbnail and staring at the floor. “I still think you’re making a big mistake.” He said it slowly and didn’t look at me as he did.
“Well,” I threw my hands up in exasperation. “If I change my mind I’ll give you a ring and you can gloat, ok?”
He stared at the floor, still chewing. His eyes were wide and strange. “Lets go out for an early lunch,” he said, one half of his mouth smiling. “We’ll get some good food down us before we start sorting the house.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’re not going to change my mind, Lewis.”
“I may not try to.”
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