Read Staverton Online

Authors: Caidan Trubel

Tags: #Romance, #Gothic, #Fiction

Staverton (10 page)

BOOK: Staverton
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I hadn’t paid much attention to Caroline’s father, sitting some distance from me at the head of the table. Now, I watched him as he drank the dark, red wine and exchanged a look with Gwen that I couldn’t interpret.

“Ah, yes.” Malcolm patted Gwen’s hand. “But I shouldn’t deafen everyone in the process, eh Gwennie?” He looked at his wife with watery blue eyes.

Angela straightened in irritation and glared at Gwen. There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence before Jake pushed his chair back from the table. “Gwen, would you and Malcolm like to come and see the artefact from Egypt? It arrived today.”

“Oh, I’d love to,” Gwen said. She sashayed over to Jake and linked arms with him. Malcolm followed them out of the room like a lost puppy.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Angela glared at her husband. “Honestly, Lawrence, that woman.”

Lawrence picked up his wine glass and twirled the stem in his fingers. “She’s not all that bad. I think Malcolm irritates her.”

“Well, I don’t like her,” Caroline said.

I turned in my seat, surprised to see Caroline leaning forward, elbows on the table, her cheeks pink.

“Don’t talk about our guests like that, Caroline. It’s not polite,” Lawrence said.

Michael put his napkin back on the table and drained his wine glass. “Thank you for dinner.”

“You’re not leaving already, Michael?” Angela said. “Stay and have coffee.” Angela stood up as Michael passed her, and put a hand on his arm.

“Leave the boy alone, Angela,” Lawrence said.

Michael leaned down to kiss his mother’s cheek, then he turned to Caroline and me. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

After Michael left, Caroline turned to her mother and said, “I’m going to bed.” She stuck out her lower lip in a pout.

“But you haven’t played the piano yet, Caroline.”

Lawrence groaned and took another large mouthful of wine. “Let her go. She clearly doesn’t want to play. All that money we’ve spent on lessons, and she hates it.” His words slurred and came out all in one breath, like he’d had too much to drink.

Angela sat back in her chair and pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “Okay fine. Go to bed Caroline. The evening is ruined anyway.”

I wanted to thank Angela for dinner, but decided it was probably best to slip past unnoticed. So I followed Caroline out of the dining room in silence.

We passed the open door to Lawrence’s study. The room, was dark with panelled wood, and rows of books lined one wall. A huge desk stood in front of the bookshelves, and Jake and Gwen leaned over the desk, examining an object that was too small for me to see it from the hallway.

Gwen bent forward and touched Jake’s arm, causing the neckline of her dress to gape open even more than it had at the dinner table. She laughed at Jake’s whispered words, her high-pitched giggle tinkling out into the hall.

Easing herself up, she sat on the edge of the desk, crossed her legs, and her dress rode up, revealing a creamy white thigh.

I looked down at my own legs, pink from the sun, and saw a yellowing, old bruise on my right shin. I should have worn trousers, I thought as I followed Caroline up the stairs.

Caroline didn’t go to her own room. She flopped on my bed, face down, and gave a muffled cry of frustration into the pillow. I sat beside my friend, picked up the other pillow and hugged it to my chest. After a moment, Caroline turned her head and peaked up at me through her red frizzy curls.

“I’m sorry it was so awful tonight,” Caroline said.

I reached out to smooth Caroline’s hair back from her face, “It wasn’t awful.”

Caroline turned over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. “They’re not normally like that. It’s Gwen. She makes everyone so tense. Mother can’t stand her. I’ve no idea why she keeps inviting her.” She turned to look at me. “It must have been horrible for you.”

I shook my head and told Caroline I hadn’t minded at all, that every family argued from time to time. But truthfully, it felt as if the bubble had burst. It reminded me of the theatre I had visited with my parents. In the evening with the lights low, the theatre had been magical. The soft, red velvet seats and blue and gilt decorations on the walls made me feel I was somewhere special. When I’d gone back to the same theatre a few years later with my mother, we had tickets to a lunchtime performance. We walked in to find our seats before the lights dimmed. It was only then I noticed the scratches on the furniture and the crumbling alcoves.

Beside me, Caroline groaned. “Mother doesn’t seem to realise I am eighteen this month. She still treats me like a child.”

I curled up next to Caroline on the bed. “She cares about you.”

“Half a glass of wine? That’s too much caring for me.”

I shivered, feeling a draft, and rubbed the goose bumps that appeared on my arms. I slipped underneath the duvet and held it up for Caroline to join me. Then I rested my head on Caroline’s shoulder and thought about Angela’s reaction tonight. To me, it seemed Caroline’s mother was trying to hold everyone together, and everyone else seemed to be pulling away.

Chapter 14

After Caroline left for her own room, I couldn’t sleep. I lay on my back for ages with my eyes closed. I even tried counting sheep, but it didn’t work. Deciding that reading might help, I got up and rummaged in my bag for the novel I’d packed, then paused when I heard voices coming from the garden.

I moved to the window and looked out but couldn’t see anything but my own reflection in the panelled glass. I switched off the light and tried again. Below me, on the terrace, were Gwen and Jake, sharing a cigarette. Jake kept his voice low, so I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but Gwen’s jarring laugh carried on the night air. I watched Gwen stumble in her high-heeled shoes, no doubt she had carried on drinking after Caroline and I had gone to bed. Gwen reached over to stroke Jake’s shoulder.

My breath fogged the glass. I wiped the window clean so I could still see Gwen and Jake, and my fingers made a faint squeaking noise against the glass.

A moth flew at my face and startled me, its brown wings flapping frantically against the window pane. I let my fingers fall from the glass, climbed back into bed and buried my head under the duvet.

An hour later, a scream woke me with a jolt.

I was downstairs.

I stood barefoot in the hallway, staring into the study. My back, covered with a slick layer of sweat, stuck to my pyjama top, my heart thumped and my arms and legs prickled with goose bumps.

Blinking at the scene in front of me, I wanted to run away, but my legs remained rooted to the floor.

Gwen and Jake were in the study, locked in an embrace. Gwen sat on the desk, facing the doorway, where I stood. Jake knelt in front of Gwen, his face buried against her chest.

With his back to me, Jake couldn’t see me, but Gwen could. Her eyes widened, and her red-painted lips opened. She used one hand to raise the front of her dress to cover herself, and with the other, she reached out and slammed the door, which shut two inches away from my face.

I staggered back. I wanted to run and hide, but I couldn’t move. My heart was beating so fast I thought it would burst from my chest, and I couldn’t breathe. I put a hand against the wall to steady myself and gasped for air.

I was so focused on trying to control my breathing, I didn’t notice the lights come on, or the sound of Angela’s approaching footsteps, until Angela was beside me.

“Lucy, whatever is the matter?”

I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs to speak. I gripped Angela’s hand and let myself be led along the hallway to a chair. When my heart rate slowed, and my breathing became more regular, I noticed my surroundings.

Angela sat beside me on the small love seat in the hall, still holding my hand. Her normally immaculate hair was messed up, and heavy night cream gave her skin a greasy sheen. Lawrence stood opposite us, leaning against the panelled wood wall with his arms crossed, frowning. He was still dressed.

I folded my own arms around myself tightly, trying to stop shaking.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Angela patted my hand. “There’s nothing to be sorry for, darling, but tell me what happened.”

I shook my head. “I think I must have been sleepwalking. I don’t remember getting downstairs. I used to do it when I was younger...”

“Why did you scream?”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, we heard someone screaming.” Angela put a hand to her chest. “I thought someone was being murdered.”

“I don’t think it was me. I think...” I hesitated, I didn’t want to be a snitch and tell tales to Caroline’s parents, and it really wasn’t any of my business if Gwen and Jake were carrying on behind Malcolm’s back.

“It must have been you. Who else could it have been.” Caroline’s father stared at me through narrowed eyes.

“I think it was Gwen,” I said.

Angela looked up at her husband. “Gwen?”

“Impossible. She went home over an hour ago,” Lawrence said.

“They were in there.” I pointed to the closed door of the study.

Angela released my hand and shot a glance at her husband.

“Ridiculous.” Lawrence stalked along the corridor and flung open the door to the study. He looked inside, then turned back to us with a smirk. “Empty.”

I swallowed. “But they were in there. Gwen and Jake.”

I stared into the study. They were there a moment ago. How could they have disappeared? There was a door that opened out onto the garden. Could they have left that way?

“Jake?” Angela said, and the small furrow between her eyebrows disappeared. “It was Gwen and Jake you saw?”

I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. “I don’t know...I...”

Angela took hold of my hand again and patted it. “It must have been a dream, Lucy. That’s all. A bit scary to find yourself down here in an unfamiliar house when you woke up. It’s no wonder you panicked and screamed.”

Angela exhaled and smiled at her husband. “Right, I think we’d better get back to bed. Will you be all right now, Lucy? Or would you like me to sit with you for a while?”

I shook my head. “No, thank you. I’ll be fine.”

I stood up on trembling legs and made my way to the stairs, feeling Lawrence’s dark eyes on my back. They must be right. It was only a dream. I fell asleep after seeing Gwen and Jake outside, so as they were in my thoughts as I drifted off, it wasn’t really a surprise they formed part of my dream.

It had never happened before, though. I never remembered my dreams when I had been sleepwalking. The last time, at Freddie’s, I remembered nothing until Bert woke me in the pouring rain, and it was the same for every other episode. Had this time really been different? Or had Gwen and Jake managed to sneak off without being seen?

Halfway to my room, I decided to go to the kitchen and get some water. I still felt shaky, and my throat was parched. Caroline’s parents hadn’t gone to bed. They sat in the study talking in low voices. I knew I shouldn’t listen. My mother had told me many times that eavesdroppers never hear anything good about themselves, but I couldn’t resist. I paused just outside the door.

I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them.

“I want her gone,” Lawrence said. I knew he was talking about me. Who else could it be? I shifted forward so I could peer into the room. Lawrence stood next to the empty fireplace, his hands behind his back and the tendons in his neck strained against the collar of his shirt. He looked furious.

Angela sat in an elaborate chair, but she perched on the edge of it with her head bowed, looking at the floor. “Now, Lawrence, don’t over react. The poor child’s had an awful time of it recently.”

“It’s creepy. Think about her walking around the house at night. She can’t stay. I want her out of here tomorrow.” As he spoke, he looked across at the doorway.

Despite the darkness in the hall, I knew he could see me. I froze.

His eyes locked with mine, and I couldn’t move. Eventually he turned back to his wife. “I mean it, Angela. Tomorrow.”

Angela started to protest, but I didn’t wait to hear what she said. I ran along the hall and up the stairs, desperately trying to keep my footsteps quiet.

When I reached the safety of my room, I closed the door and leaned back against it. The lock gave a satisfying click as I turned the key. I let out a shaky breath. I stayed in that position for some time, expecting Lawrence to storm up the stairs and order me to start packing.

After a little while, I moved over to the bed, curled up in the duvet and listened out for approaching footsteps. I kept my eyes fixed on the old-fashioned brass doorknob, waiting for it to turn when he tried to get in. After half an hour, my eyelids started to droop. I needed to stay awake, and alert so I tried to fight my sleepiness.

I stared at the door, watching the shadowy patterns, made by the trees outside, move across the surface.

But no one came.

Chapter 15

Eventually, I must have fallen asleep because I woke to bright sunlight streaming in through the window and Caroline knocking on the door.

“Lucy, are you there? Did you lock the door?”

I opened the door. “Sorry. I locked it last night.”

“Why?” Caroline asked.

I sat back on the bed. “Sleepwalking.”

“Sleepwalking here? But I thought it hadn’t happened for ages.”

I hadn’t told Caroline about the time I woke up outside in the middle of a storm at Freddie’s. “Last night, I was sleepwalking, and I went downstairs, and your parents found me. It was so embarrassing.”

“I didn’t hear a thing. Maybe I should sleep in here with you tonight,” Caroline said, pulling me into a hug. “You poor old thing. Perhaps it was because it was your first night in a new place.”

I nodded. “Probably.” I didn’t really know what else to say. It was unlikely I would be staying at Staverton tonight. Lawrence made it quite clear I wasn’t welcome, and I wasn’t particularly enamoured with him either. The house may have lived up to my dreams, but Caroline’s family definitely hadn’t.

***

I hoped to avoid Caroline’s father all day. I thought, by the time I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast, he would have left for work already.

BOOK: Staverton
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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