Read Staverton Online

Authors: Caidan Trubel

Tags: #Romance, #Gothic, #Fiction

Staverton (4 page)

BOOK: Staverton
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“I’m so sorry, Lucy.” Caroline pushed a few loose strands of hair back from my face. “Are you staying with your uncle?” Caroline peered over my shoulder at Freddie.

I pulled Caroline back to face me. I didn’t think Freddie would appreciate being gawked at. “Yes. He’s been very nice. He organized all this.”

“You’re still welcome to stay with us for some of the holidays. I know you probably won’t feel up to anything wild, but we can just laze around,” Caroline said. “And if you come down at the end of the holidays we can travel back to school together.”

“I don’t think I’ll be coming back to St. Catherine’s next term.”

“Why? You’ll feel better if you are surrounded by friends and get back to normal. I know you don’t feel like that now, but –”

I cut her off. “It’s not that.” I took a deep breath. “I can’t afford the tuition fees.”

Caroline frowned. “But surely your parents have left everything to you? The house?”

I wrapped my arms around myself and shook my head. “They had financial trouble, apparently. The house...all of it...it’s not mine.”

“I wondered why the wake was held at a hotel. My mother was very surprised.”

“I couldn’t even see the house one last time. All my parents’ stuff is in storage.” My voice caught in a sob.

Caroline tried to comfort me, and my throat ached with the effort it took not to cry. But when I looked at Caroline, I saw tears streaming freely down her face.

“Caroline?”

We both turned at the sound of Caroline’s mother’s voice. “Caroline, we really need to...” She broke off when she saw our tears. “Oh, Darlings.” She put an arm around each of us, enveloping us in the scent of Chanel No.5. “I know it is terribly hard at the moment, Lucy, but things will get better. And you can always come to Staverton to visit us.”

I took a couple of steadying breaths. “Thank you. I’m okay now. It all got a bit much.”

I listened to Caroline and her mother as they tried their best to comfort me, but I was looking at Freddie. He still stood alone by the window, the whisky in his glass untouched, looking so sad. His hair, so carefully smoothed and styled this morning, had returned to its normal ruffled state, and he had loosened his tie.

A pause in the conversation made me realise Caroline and her mother were expecting a response from me.

“It’s such a long journey back to Devon, so we really have to make a move, but you must come down to Staverton, to see us this summer, if you feel up to it,” Angela said.

I nodded. “Thank you. I know you have travelled a long way to get here today, and I really appreciate you both coming. It means a lot.”

“I’ll call you,” Caroline said over her shoulder as she followed her mother to the door.

I watched Caroline leave, then picked up the plate of sandwiches and took them over to Freddie.

“You look like you could do with one of these,” I said, handing him the plate.

He smiled and picked out a ham sandwich. “You’re a good kid, you know that? I reckon your mum and dad must have been really proud of you.”

I shrugged and fiddled with a loose thread from the cuff of my black cardigan. “Thanks for organizing all this, Uncle Freddie. I wouldn’t have known where to start if I’d had to do it on my own.”

“You’re not on your own. I mean it, Lucy,” Freddie said. “You’re welcome to stay with me for as long as you like.”

Chapter 4

I took a deep breath of fresh, salty air. Today, the North Sea could have passed for the Mediterranean. It was cerulean blue and calm as I looked at it from Eversleigh harbour. The sun glinted off the boats, giving even the small boats a hint of glamour.

Bert nudged at my leg, and I bent down to pet him. “I wish it was like this all the time, Bert.”

I nodded at the harbour-master as he scurried past carrying charts. I adjusted my rucksack and then picked up Bert’s lead. I had taken Bert with me to the village to pick up some milk and butter. Two weeks had passed since the funeral, and Freddie and I were slowly settling into a routine and getting to know each other.

I liked the fact I could go for long walks with Bert, when I needed to. The dog seemed to sense when I was upset, and it was a comfort having him around. But I didn’t like the fact Freddie insisted I was up by eight every morning quite as much. He told me there was no point wallowing in bed all day, but sometimes I felt like wallowing.

I strolled back up the hill. When we were far enough from the main road, I removed Bert’s lead, but he didn’t run off. He was content to trot along next to me. Over the past two weeks, I’d tried to make plans, but they hadn’t come to much. I needed to make a decision, I couldn’t spend the rest of my life taking Bert for walks and living off Uncle Freddie.

That evening we sat down to eat dinner, a fish pie, prepared by Freddie. I decided it would be a good idea to talk things over. I poured the drinks, a can of lager for him and glass of water for me, and waited until he served up the giant wedges of steaming pie. Freddie didn’t believe in small portions.

“I’ve been thinking,” I said.

“Uh huh, what about?” Freddie asked, picking up his knife and fork.

“About what I should do next. I mean, I’m pretty sure Mum and Dad would have wanted me to complete my education, so I thought it would be good to finish my A-levels.”

Freddie took a huge bite of pie, then said, “Makes sense.”

I nodded. “Right. Well, I’m halfway through the course right now. Ideally...” I put down my fork and looked up at Freddie. “Ideally, I’d go back to St. Catherine’s for my final year.”

Freddie took a moment, “But it’s expensive, right?”

“Twelve thousand pounds a year.”

Freddie’s eyes widened. “Twelve thousand?”

“Yes,” I said, determined to move on to the good points of my plan. “But it is an excellent school, and I would be practically guaranteed a place at university, and then I should be able to get a good job, and I will be able to pay back...” I broke off because Freddie was shaking his head.

“I’m sure it is a great school, sweetheart. But if you’re thinking I could lend you the money for the tuition, then I have to tell you I don’t have that kind of money lying around.”

“Okay. It was just an idea.”

Freddie looked down at my untouched plate. “Hey, it’s getting cold. Tuck in.”

I picked up my fork and took a bite. The pie tasted good, but I didn’t have any appetite.

Freddie didn’t speak again until he had cleared his plate, then he said, “Why don’t you see if you can finish off your A-levels up here?”

I speared a piece of fish with my fork and looked up at Freddie. “Up here?”

“Sure, there’s a college twenty miles from here that some of the kids from the village go to. You could stay here and get the bus into town. I’ll speak to Bob Underhill about it. His daughter, Maisie, goes to college.”

“I was thinking,” Freddie said as we cleared the table after dinner. “You must find it a bit lonely up here.”

I felt his concern without looking up to see the expression on his face. I didn’t want him to worry about me, but sometimes it was exhausting putting a smile on my face or making small talk. Sometimes all I wanted to do was hide away in my room.

“It’s a bit quiet,” I said. “But Bert’s good company.”

At the mention of his name, Bert wandered over bumping into my legs.

“I was thinking of human company. You need to meet up with some people your own age, not spend your time hidden away with an old bloke like me and his dog.”

“I’m fine Freddie. I like my own company.”

Freddie shook his head, unconvinced, and he turned on the hot taps and added a squirt of washing-up liquid. “It will do you good. There is a dance at the village hall on Saturday night –”

I interrupted. “I don’t want to go to a dance.”

“It might be fun. You might make some friends,” Freddie said and scraped off the dinner plates.

I had friends, and I didn’t want any more. “I wouldn’t know anyone.”

Freddie started washing the dishes. “So you’d meet people at the dance. Bess mentioned it to me. She thought it would be good for you.”

I bristled. I hated the thought of Freddie talking about me to someone I didn’t know, and Bess didn’t even know me. How was she supposed to know whether it would be good for me or not? I picked up a tea-towel. “I can’t go. I don’t have anything to wear. All my smart stuff is still in storage.”

“Oh,” Freddie said, deflated. “Well maybe we could get it all shipped up here. We need to go through your parent’s things at some point and work out what you want to keep.”

“No.” I dropped the plate I was drying. It cracked against the draining board but didn’t break. “I’m not ready to do that yet.”

“All right.” Freddie turned to me. “There’s no hurry. We can wait.”

After dinner, Freddie left to walk down to The Anchor for a drink. He usually went to the pub a few evenings a week. I suspected he might be sweet on The Anchor’s landlady, Bess. He invited me to tag along every time he went, but I didn’t want to go.

Tonight, I was glad he had gone out because I wanted to ring Caroline. I wanted the chance to vent my frustrations, without Freddie overhearing and thinking I was an ungrateful cow. I put my feet up on the sofa and dialled Caroline’s number.

I was looking forward to talking things over with Caroline. She would understand how horrible it would be to have to start over again at a new school, full of students who would stare and laugh at my accent. There could be problems with the curriculum too. I had an idea they studied Scottish Highers here, not A-levels. I decided to ask Caroline to look it up on the internet for me.

How Freddie managed without internet access astonished me. He was so cut-off from everything up here, no internet, no TV.

At least I had a signal on my mobile though, that was something. Freddie told me a new signal mast was erected near Eversleigh six months ago, before that no one could use mobile phones at all.

The phone emitted two sharp beeps and then nothing. No ringing. I pulled it down from my ear and stared at its little screen. Full battery, so what was wrong with it? Then I realised the bill would have gone unpaid this month. Anger flashed up inside me, and I threw the phone as hard as I could at the wall. I had gone from never needing to think about money to this.

The phone split in two, the battery landed on the floor tiles with a crack, and the plastic casing rolled toward me. I took a couple of deep breaths and walked over to pick up my broken phone, glad no one else was around to witness my pathetic little tantrum. I rubbed the mark on the wall, made by the impact of the phone. I hoped it would fade away, and Freddie wouldn’t notice it.

I sat back on the sofa, with the two parts of the phone in my hands. Brilliant, so now I was broke and without a phone.

***

At nine pm, a storm blew into the harbour, with howling winds and torrential rain. I went to bed before Freddie came home and listened to music using my earphones to block out the sound of the storm. I heard Freddie come in at around ten, then I relaxed and despite the noise of the storm I fell asleep.

I woke up outside.

The rain was coming down so hard, it felt like needles hitting my skin. I jumped at the sound of thunder. The wind whipped against my back, sending me stumbling forward. Another huge clap of thunder rang out.

I felt something hit me in the stomach, propelling me backwards, and I hit the ground with a thud. The air was knocked from my lungs, and I struggled to take a breath. Bert was there, barking right in my face. I pushed him back.

I looked around, trying to work out where I was. The driving rain made it hard to see more than a few metres, but a flash of lightening illuminated the landscape, and I saw the cottage was close by.

I sat there for a moment, too disorientated to move. I was soaked. My hair was plastered to my scalp and mud was smeared up my legs and covered my pyjamas.

I had been sleepwalking. Bert must have heard me and followed me outside.

I needed to get out of the rain.

I tried to get to my feet and tensed myself against the biting wind.

Then I saw how close to the cliff’s edge I was.

Below, the black, jagged rocks pointed up to me, and the furious waves battered the base of the cliffs. I recoiled in horror, and crawled away from the edge on my hands and knees, knowing if I stood, I was dizzy enough to stumble and fall.

Bert was still barking, and I shot a glance back towards the cottage. There were no lights on, so Freddie probably couldn’t hear the dog over the storm. I staggered back towards the cottage, with Bert at my heels, my stomach churned, and my mind felt curiously blank.

Inside the cottage, I tried to clean the mud off my legs and rubbed at the mud on Bert’s coat with a towel. He didn’t like that much and squirmed away.

After I removed most of the mud, I left Bert on his favourite rug and went to my bedroom and changed into a pair of fresh pyjamas. As I pulled the top over my damp hair, I suddenly realized what had happened out there.

I felt giddy and sat down heavily on the bed. It was Bert who pushed me backwards, away from the cliff. If he hadn’t done that, if he hadn’t woken me, I could have been at the bottom of the cliffs, impaled on the slick, black rocks.

Chapter 5

The next morning, I woke up stiff and sore. A quick glance at my watch told me it was only six thirty, so I would have a chance to clean up before Freddie woke. As I bundled last night’s muddy pyjamas into the washing machine, Bert wandered over to investigate. I was glad to see he looked pretty clean.

By the time Freddie wandered into the kitchen, yawning, I had already washed the floor.

Freddie looked in surprise at the wet patches. “Spring cleaning?”

I laughed. “I had muddy shoes. I traipsed dirt all over the floor.”

“You’ve been outside already?” He looked at the clock on the kitchen wall. “You’re up early.”

I nodded and pointed to the percolator. “I made coffee.”

Freddie rubbed his eyes, gave another wide yawn and poured himself a huge mug of steaming coffee. “I spoke to Bill last night. The guy I told you about, with the daughter who goes to college.”

BOOK: Staverton
10.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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