Read Staverton Online

Authors: Caidan Trubel

Tags: #Romance, #Gothic, #Fiction

Staverton (2 page)

BOOK: Staverton
12.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I looked up at Miss Richards. “I don’t understand why I didn’t know.”

Miss Richards sighed, misinterpreting my comment. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you sooner, Lucy. Your uncle was informed, and he told us you were a boarder at St. Catherine’s. As soon as I found out where you were, I came straight here.”

I didn’t reply. I stared down at my lap.

“As you have finished your exams for this year, Lucy, I believe it is best you collect your belongings and go with Miss Richards now.”

I looked up, surprised. “Go where?” A fat teardrop hit my skirt, leaving a dark spot on the fabric.

Miss Richards reached into her handbag and pulled out a packet of tissues. She handed one to me. I took it and tried to dry my eyes. Miss Richards probably kept a whole bag full of tissues for moments like this. I imagined her as a harbinger of misfortune, handing out tissues along with bad news wherever she went.

“I think family is vital in times like this. It is important for you to be with family,” Miss Richards said.

I stared at her. Was she serious? My family had been wiped out. How was I supposed to spend time with them?

“I’m going to take you to your uncle, Frederick Carter. He’s looking forward to seeing you. He wanted to come himself, but I thought it would be better if –”

“Uncle Freddie? I haven’t seen him since I was seven years old.”

I tried to picture my uncle. I couldn’t remember much about him at all, except his thick, unruly, blonde hair and the fact he lived in Scotland. There was no way I was going all the way to Scotland. If he wanted to see me, he could come and visit me down here, in England.

I wanted to be at home, in my own bedroom, surrounded by my own things and my parents’ belongings. I would be seventeen in a few days. I didn’t need Uncle Freddie.

“Thank you, Miss Richards, but I don’t want to go to my uncle’s,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.

Miss Richards exchanged a worried glance with the headmistress.

“Now, Lucy,” Mrs. Hawksley said, in a coaxing tone, as if she were talking to a much younger child. “Be sensible. You’ll be a comfort for one another. It makes sense.”

“Not to me. I want to go home, to my parents’ house.”

The two women exchanged glances again. Then Hawksley lowered her voice and said, “I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible, Lucy.”

“Why not?” I looked at Mrs. Hawksley, then Miss Richards. “Didn’t my parents leave me the house? I’ll be seventeen soon, and that is old enough – ”

Mrs. Hawksley raised her hand to my objections. “It’s all rather more complicated than that.”

“But why? I don’t understand.”

Mrs. Hawksley looked down at the paperwork on her desk, avoiding eye contact. “It’s best you talk it all over with your uncle. He can explain things to you.” She shuffled a few sheets of paper. “It’s what your parents wanted. He was to be your guardian if anything happened to your parents before you reached sixteen.”

“But it didn’t. I’m nearly seventeen, and I want to go home...” My voice caught in a sob, and I felt my self-control slipping away. I wanted to go home, crawl into my own bed and pull the duvet over my head. Why couldn’t they understand that?

I clenched my fists and bit down on my lower lip in a desperate attempt to keep control.

Miss Richards reached across and patted my shoulder. “All right, sweetheart, I do understand. It’s a lot to take in at the moment. As I understand it, there were some financial difficulties...” Miss Richards trailed off.

I looked up and tried to blink my tears away. My parents hadn’t mentioned anything about financial problems. “What do you mean?”

“The house will be auctioned off by the bank. I believe it has been repossessed.”

I looked to Mrs. Hawksley for help. Although the headmistress wasn’t exactly known for her compassion, surely she could do something to help, offer some reassurance. Perhaps even permit me to stay on at school for the last week of term. I wished she would raise her head and look me in the eye.

Mrs. Hawksley looked uncomfortable. “I think you should let your uncle explain the details.”

I understood. I didn’t need it spelled out. Mrs. Hawksley wanted nothing to do with this unpleasantness. She found it crass to talk about money in this way.

Mrs. Hawksley smoothed the creases from the front of her skirt and stood up. That was it then. I was an unpleasant issue, which needed to be dealt with. Now, Mrs. Hawksley could send me on my way and never think about me again.

Chapter 2

Miss Richards waited in the school reception while I packed. I didn’t do it properly. I yanked my clothes from their hangers and stuffed them into my suitcase. I emptied the drawers by scooping the contents up in my arms and dumping it on top of the rest of my clothes.

My cheeks burned, and my eyes stung so badly it was hard to see properly. I thought about Caroline and my other friends at St. Catherine’s. They wouldn’t even know what had happened. Briefly, I considered leaving a note, but I couldn’t stop to think about what to write. I needed to keep moving otherwise I would break down.

I dragged my suitcase down the wooden staircase, not caring that it hit the wall and bumped down each step.

I spotted Miss Richards waiting for me in the foyer and started to walk towards her when Caroline rounded the corner with other girls from our maths class. The news had clearly reached them. Caroline’s eyes were wide with sympathy as she walked quickly to me.

I tried to shrink back against the wall. I couldn’t talk to anyone now. I just couldn’t. I shook my head.

“Oh, Lucy,” Caroline said and enveloped me in a tight hug. She didn’t ask any questions. She understood.

I buried my head in my friend’s shoulder, smelling the strawberry scent of her shampoo, and sobbed.

We stood there for a few minutes, the other students kept a tactful distance, but eventually Miss Richards came over and pried us apart. She wrapped an arm around me and picked up my case with her other hand. “We’d better be off now, sweetheart.”

Miss Richards drove to City airport and reassured me she would personally drop me off at my uncle’s house and told me I didn’t have to worry about a thing. I didn’t talk much during the journey. I had stopped crying, but my head ached and my throat hurt. I knew Miss Richards was being kind, but I didn’t have the energy to respond.

The flight to Inverness took an hour, and when we landed at Inverness airport, Miss Richards hired a car to take us the rest of the way.

“Have you been to Scotland before, Lucy?” Miss Richards asked once we were in the hired car.

I kept my eyes fixed on the raindrops on the passenger window. “No.”

“Well, it is a very beautiful country. I’m sure you’ll like it very much.”

I doubted that. Miss Richards made a few more attempts at conversation, but I gave one word answers or didn’t answer at all, so finally she got the message.

I rested my head against the cool glass of the passenger window and closed my eyes, pretending to sleep. I worried about the funeral. Should I be organizing it? Perhaps Uncle Freddie could help, but it would have to be in England, and all my parent’s friends would have to be invited. I felt the panic bubble up in my chest. I didn’t want to let my parents down.

I tried to calm down. There was nothing I could do about it right now. I would have to talk to Uncle Freddie about it. I tried to push it out of my mind.

I shot a sideways glance at Miss Richards, who was leaning forward, squinting at the windscreen as the rain got heavier. It was nice of her to put herself out like this. Truthfully, if I had been left on my own, I would have gone home. I didn’t have a house key, but the spare key would be in the window box as it always was. I would have gone there and had time to think.

I shifted in my seat to get more comfortable, and my breath fogged the passenger window. Beyond it, I could see the countryside flashing past in smudges of green and brown. It might have looked nice if the weather hadn’t been so awful, but the rainy, grey sky seemed apt today.

I hadn’t explained anything to Caroline or my other friends. They would be expecting me to return to St. Catherine’s after the summer break, and now I wouldn’t be able to.

“Oh brilliant. Just brilliant.” Miss Richards hit the horn in the centre of the steering wheel.

I turned to her, surprised, and then noticed the cause of Miss Richards’ frustration. Up ahead a tractor trundled along, preventing us from travelling faster than five miles an hour.

“No consideration,” Miss Richards said, then reached across the dashboard for a boiled sweet. “Sherbet lemon?”

I shook my head. “I was thinking... With these financial difficulties, does it mean there is no money for my tuition fees at St. Catherine’s next term?”

Miss Richards paused, then said, “I wouldn’t worry about that yet.”

I nodded. She was right. There were so many other more important things to think about. My head was all over the place, settling on problems that weren’t really a priority right now. I needed to think about the funeral and informing my parent’s friends. I sank down further in the car seat and tried to rub away the ache in my temples.

Finally, the tractor pulled off into an entrance to a farmyard, which cheered Miss Richards up. She smiled and put her foot down. “At this rate, we should be there before six.”

A blast of wind rocked the small car and drove fierce rain against the windows. Miss Richards reduced her speed again, and with her hands gripping the steering wheel, she hunched over, squinting out at the road. The wipers were no match for this amount of rain. It was awful weather for July.

I glanced at the speedometer. We were travelling at less than twenty miles per hour now. Not that I minded. I was in no hurry to get there. What did you say to an uncle you hadn’t seen for ten years?

I turned my head to look out of the window. Nothing but fields and the odd sheep. I sighed and watched my breath form a small, foggy circle. Miss Richards huffed at me and fiddled with an instrument on the dashboard, which sent out a warm blast of air. I watched the circular cloud get smaller and smaller until it disappeared.

Five minutes later, we passed a road sign for Eversleigh. Miss Richards said, “This is it, Lucy. Not far to go now.”

I didn’t share her enthusiasm. I wished it was further. I was worried about seeing Freddie again. We weren’t exactly close. How could we be when he hadn’t seen me or my parents in ten years? I would have given anything to go home and see my parents one more time, to hear Dad shouting at the nine o’clock news and see Mum tease him about it. I bit down on my lip. At least I had Uncle Freddie to go to. If he hadn’t invited me, where would I have gone? And he would be able to help organise the funeral. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Miss Richards changed down a gear and slowed the car down to twenty miles an hour as we entered the village of Eversleigh. It was tiny. A row of small terraced houses lined the road. There were a few larger detached houses set back from the road. One building stood out as it looked older than the rest. A red sign, with ‘The Anchor’ written in gold letters, identified it as a pub, and as we passed, a couple of old men came out of the front door.

We followed the road to the left and passed a sign for Eversleigh harbour. Seagulls wheeled in the sky, and I caught the tangy smell of seaweed. We drove past a fish and chip shop as a couple came out with wrapped up parcels.

At the end of the row, we turned right, and the houses disappeared. All I could see was endless fields of grass, dotted with a few sheep. Miss Richards shifted down a gear, and the car began to climb a steep and winding hill. As we neared the top, the wind and rain buffeted the side of the car, and I shivered as a cottage came into view.

The muddy, single-track road was the only way to reach the cottage. Miss Richards slowed the car to a crawl, and we inched our way towards it, bouncing in and out of potholes. Despite our slow speed, the tyres splattered mud up the sides of the car. Some even reached the windscreen where it was smeared across the glass by the wipers.

The cottage itself was a squat building that looked as if it were sinking into the earth. The walls were painted white, and the roof was plain, grey slate that matched the colour of the sky today. It didn’t have roses growing around the front door, like some of the houses in the village. In fact, there were no flowers in the garden at all, only grass, like the fields all around it. Everything looked very green, probably because it rained constantly here.

Miss Richards pulled up by the garden gate, and I looked at the muddy path and then down at my pristine, white tennis shoes. After a moment’s pause, I wrapped my raincoat around me, pulled up the hood and opened the door.

I got out and was shocked by the ferocity of the wind. The rain beat down on us as we walked around to the boot of the car, trying to avoid the worst of the muddy puddles.

Freddie must have been waiting for us, watching out of a window. He opened the door. He didn’t quite fit the image in my memory. Not that I remembered much about him, except his bright blonde hair and that had faded. He wore a patterned jumper, which looked as if it had been knitted by someone’s granny. It was a little too small and stretched tight over his wide shoulders.

I pulled my suitcase out of the boot, slammed it shut and walked towards the cottage, following Miss Richards.

Freddie called out to us, and my head shot up. I dropped the case into the mud. His voice, warm and gruff at the same time, was so like my father’s. All at once, tears pricked at my eyes. I bent down to retrieve the case, blinking my tears away.

“Here, let me take that,” Freddie said and lifted the case easily.

He put his other arm around my shoulders and squeezed. “I’m glad to see you again, Lucy,” he said. “I was so sorry to hear about your mum and dad.”

“Thank you. It is very kind of you to let me come and visit.”

A frown passed over Freddie’s face, and he looked over my head at Miss Richards, who shrugged.

“You can stay as long as you like,” Freddie said.

Freddie led the way, ushered us inside and closed the front door behind us. The cottage must have been modernised recently. I expected to see small, poky rooms, but most of the downstairs was open plan. I looked around in surprise. The walls were all painted white so despite the grey skies outside, it looked bright in here. The tidiness was immediately apparent. There were no knick-knacks or ornaments on show at all, and all the surfaces gleamed.

BOOK: Staverton
12.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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