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MORE
HACWRITERS FICTION

Seeing Myself
by Joerg Lisgard

LOVE
by Joerg Lisgard

Southern Comfort
by David jester


Life in a Northern Town
by Jayne Sharratt

Living in Penury
Jon Cole

 

LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN
Jayne Sharratt


Chapter One

In a town in the north of England there lived a girl. The town was built of towering stacks and the unrelenting brick of mills and terraces, the ghosts of prouder days when cotton was King. It was situated in a steep sided valley, ringed around by grim moorland hills, so that wherever you went in the town you were forced to climb a street which was practically perpendicular. It seemed that it was always raining in Blackrook, though of course it wasn’t, and sometimes it was known for the sun to shine. The girl had many dreams, the greatest of these was simply escape, and no return.
She was sixteen years old. “I’m bored, I’m so bored. I wish, I want for something to happen.”
She was warned that these were dangerous words. If you wish, it might happen, they said.
“I’m not afraid,” she declared loudly, deciding there to write her own temptation to fate, invite life to kick-in, crash start.
“I will live and love and laugh,” she promised herself. “I will ride the whirlwind (not the number three bus). I shall be brave and bold and good. No one shall dare call me ordinary or naive.”
She wrote a plan for life, in which she had achieved fame and fabulous fortune by the age of twenty-one, and placed an advertisement in her local newspaper, The Blackrook Bugle.
Lily K. Randall
Writer, Historian, Philosopher
Adventurer and Investigator

Having issued her declaration to the world, or at least to the world she knew, the girl awaited the world’s response.
That was me. Lily Kate Randall, Adventuress Extroadinaire.
I don’t know what happened to her.

******************

Lily Kate Randall at twenty-two: In my grandmother’s bathroom, the mirrored tiles reflected my image, distorted. I closed my eyes, rather than look. I rested my palms on the edge of the sink, and my forehead on the cool tiles.
“Rachel. Rachel. Rachel.” I repeated, not outloud.
My stomach was bloated,, my head nauseous, spinning. “I shouldn’t eat the chocolate,” I thought. “Not in summer. I’ll stop eating.”
I drew a breath, drew myself upright, walked back down the steep stairs, thinking gran should sell up and move into a bungalow. Thinking I would mention it to my father. In the living room my grandmother sat in her arm chair by the gas fire. She had been talking about the past, before I had gone upstairs.
“Would you like another cup of tea?” She asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t feel too well.”
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” I said quickly. Gran looked concerned, and I regretted saying anything. It was nothing. “I shouldn’t have eaten the chocolate.”
Gran still bought us chocolate and coca-cola, on the off chance we would call in on our way somewhere. Of her grown up grandchildren, I was her most regular visitor. She still looked concerned as I gathered my things together.
“Have you got everything? What are you doing now? Maybe you won’t be well enough for Tara’s party tonight?”
“I’m fine, gran really,” I said. “I just have to go and get Bethy from nursery. I’ll see you later.”
“It’s going to be very posh.” There was a tremor in her voice.
I smiled and hugged her. “You’ll be the guest of honour.”“Why don’t you tell me about her?”
I was on the street outside gran’s terraced house. It was a hot day, early afternoon. The kids in the houses next door were not yet back from school. Next week they would begin their summer holiday, circling their pavement territory on bicycles, skateboards and roller blades.
Today was my mother’s birthday. It would have been my mother’s birthday. My cousin Tara hadn’t thought of that when she arranged her engagement party. Nobody thought of that as far as I could tell. Rachel Karen Randall, formerly Eastwood, wife of Charles Randall, and mother of four, had died aged thirty two, when I was two years old. I was asleep when my brother returned to the house, in my habitual chair in the shuttered living room. He woke me by shaking my arm insistently.
“Dad back yet?”
“I was dreaming,” I protested.
“Dad?” David repeated.
“He called, he said he’d be late at a meeting at the town hall,” I said, focusing, squinting in the filtered sunlight.
“What did you dream?” My brothers friend Jack looked slightly embarrassed by his question as I noticed him for the first time. I didn’t consider him worthy of any especial greeting, any more than David. Jack very often was in our house. He was a trainee Solicitor at a firm in Manchester. We tended to believe he came around purposefully to be a living example of How His Children Should Have Been in my fathers frequent lectures. Presumably, though, Jack did live it up occasionally, and could be bad, and even a lad, or he would not have been such a good friend of David’s all these years.
I didn’t say what my dream was. David of course, didn’t wait for an answer.
“Jack’s coming with us to the party tonight.”
I nodded, struggling to get up, prevented by the dead weight asleep across my legs with a book over her head. I had forgotten about my three year old niece Beth. When I fell asleep while reading her story, she must have given up on me awaking and gone to sleep herself. The child was unnaturally well behaved for a member of the Randall family. Pushing my curled and fizzing legs out from under me, I did not disturb Elizabeth. She slept soundly on, one whole hand in her mouth, and I was able to lift her gently and put her down again on the sofa without waking her. We tiptoed from the front room.
“Have you been shopping today, Lil?” David can sound fairly plaintive for a twenty-three year old. He began before we arrived in the kitchen. There we found our oldest brother Mac had already arrived home from work. He was drinking beer from the fridge, and David pulled out cans for himself and Jack.
While the fridge door was open, the distinct lack of food was noted.
“Lil?”
I just glared. Everyone knows I hate to be called Lil.
“Lily! You’ve had the car all day. And it’s your turn! Look at the rota.”
It was probably true. Irritatingly, I had devised the rota myself in the hope of inflicting some kind of domesticity on my feckless brothers and father. It still seemed to be perpetually my turn.
“There’s a sit down dinner at the party tonight. Probably five courses, if we know our cous at all,” I defended myself.
“Not for hours. And there isn’t a single edible thing in the house. It’s embarrassing when, look! We have company.”
“Where? Oh, Jack. Hey, Jack.” Mac said, grinning. “How’s it going?”
I got out a beer for myself. I didn’t think it could make me feel worse.
“Cool,” Jack was loosening his tie. “Ready to party tonight?”
Mac shook his head. “I haven’t got a babysitter.”
Mac was pretty hopeless, even I had to admit, but difficult to dislike, although in the last year he had become distinctly unsociable and miserable. It was one year since Steph had left Mac and their daughter, clearing their bank accounts and forcing him to move back into the attic of our fathers house and rebuild his window cleaning business from scratch. She even took Mac’s truck - he had to give up his flat to buy a new one. By the time we had all realised she wasn’t going to come back, we had grown too weary of the subject to blame her.

All of us were a disappointment to our father. With four children, he had hoped to have a fleet of doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs making their way in the world. Instead, he had us. Summer reminded me it was one year since I had graduated, and I really should have done something by now. I was still living at home, and for a year I had worked two very part time jobs - one as a waitress, and the other in a book shop - and filled in the in between times with doing things that didn’t help me much. I had felt stalled so long, I was afraid of moving.
“I’ll order takeaway Pizza later,” Mac said, getting up from the kitchen table. “Where’s Beth?’
I told him she was asleep in the living room, and he shambled away to bring things in from his truck.
David had seated himself on the kitchen counter, and begun to look around himself.
“You know, there’s something different here. Something different since yesterday.”
I waited while he went into his familiar routine. He thinks he’s a comedian, a wide boy. Since he dropped out of a degree in Social Sciences at Liverpool University, his profession has been undefined, but he has established himself as the person to see in Blackrook if you want something, anything at all at a lesser price than it would be through conventional outlets, and you aren’t too particular where it came from. He knows everyone, he has a mobile phone which constantly rings the theme from Star Wars, he can be very endearing when he wants to be. He got my red Capri for £300, and it doesn’t break down too often.
“You’ve been cleaning, haven’t you Lily?’ Dave accused. “So what’s the crisis?”
“The rota...” I began.
“No. You only clean like this when there’s a crisis, something else you should be thinking about. Shouldn’t you have been at work today?”
I shrugged.
“You do lunch at Alf’s on Friday’s don’t you?”
I considered the dramatic statement, “I quit,” but dismissed it as too American.
“I decided not to work there anymore last night,” I said.
“Really? You weren’t sacked?” Dave asked.
He was impressed. I may have been the worst waitress in Blackrook, but I had got away with it for the last five years. It was the new manager accosting me in the dry store room which had brought me to breaking point, but I wasn’t going to tell them about that.
“I’ve decided it’s time I searched for that graduate job,” I told them.
“Dad will be pleased,” Dave warned.
“Well, don’t tell him that. I wouldn’t want to raise his expectations too high.”
Jack changed the subject. “What are your plans for the night, Lily? You’ll be going to Tara and Ollie’s party, won’t you?”
“The social event of the year?” I grin at him. “Oh, I think so. Although...There is a house party on the Sharne Road, and it will be difficult for Zoe, Jess and me to abandon the Cav and the Revidge run on a Friday night...Oh, but I can wear the sweetest dress I bought in Kendall’s sale which is really too good for the Cav...and how can we resist the lure of all that free champagne?” I stopped and sighed, feeling a little breathless.
“Oh, I just don’t know which ball to go to, and look, I’ve lost my magic slipper too, whatever is a girl to do?” Jack impersonated me with a camp and unlikely Scottish accent. “You’re such a princess, Lily.”
I spent my days scrubbing floors, de-fleaing the cat, looking after my motherless niece and being nice to horribly rude customers. I did not feel like a Princess.
“I’m going to have a shower,” I said, and left them to scavenge for pre-dinner snacks.

In my bedroom, I called Zoe on my mobile.
“Girlfriend,” I said, when she answered. We had been overly influenced by the film ‘Clueless’ a few years before, and hadn’t abandoned the joke yet.
“Hey, Lily. What’s happening?”
“You still want to come to Tara’s party?”
“Yeah. Is that OK?”
“Oh yeah, of course. Tara knows not to expect the Randall’s without entourage. Besides, Mac’s not coming, and Ben probably isn’t.”
“Great. I’ll call Jess.”
“Cool. Come round here when you’re ready - I’ve only just had a shower - but I think we’ll be leaving around eight.”
“What are you wearing?” Zoe always asked this.
I always answered in the same way, with a wail. Jack knocked on my bedroom door. I opened it, in my dressing gown, hair wet still.
“Do you want some Pizza?” he asked, holding out the greasy box.
I shook my head, “I’m not hungry.”
He smiled. “Are you OK, Lily?”
“Yes.” I said. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m tired. I fell asleep a minute.”
I could hear Beth crying below.
“She’s hungry,” Jack explained. “She doesn’t like Pizza.”
“Oh,” I felt guilty. It really was my turn to go shopping. The only thing that was always in plentiful supply in our house was alcohol and weed. Not the best for a three year old girl. “I’ll come down and find something for her.”
“I think I saw Mac doing something with frozen fish fingers.”
I looked hopeful.
“He dropped them in the cat litter tray.”
“Oh” I repeated, sighing, moving out the door. “I’ll make her some Readybreak.”
“Is that good for a growing girl?” Jack asked.
I shook my head. “I’ve stopped growing.”
Jack laughed politely at my joke.
“She had it for lunch and liked it.” I added.
Jack still thought I was joking, and I suddenly wanted to cry.
“It’s OK,” he said. “I think Mac’s going to take her with him in the truck, and do some shopping. Your Dad’s home, he wants to see you.”
“Oh god.”
“He’s got taxi’s booked for eight, so you’d better get ready.”
“What time is it?” I suddenly panicked.
“Quarter to,” he had time to say before I shut the door on him.

Getting ready to go out was a girl ritual, indispensable. The processes of makeup, creams, face masks, and clothes, and the numerous orders in which they could be tackled, always had a calming effect on me. I had to have straight vodka by my side to be sipped slowly. At its optimum my lifestyle consisted of recovering from the last party and getting ready for the next one, although since I left University the necessity of earning some money had begun to get in the way. But getting ready was a thing to be savoured - I did not like to do it fast. I finished my makeup and pulled on the dress, fast-blasting my hair with the Babyliss in an attempt to dry it, but it was a short jagged cut which was meant to be slightly scruffy and school-girl cute, so it didn’t matter too much. Slipping my feet into my favourite heels and downing my vodka, I had time for a last look in the mirror, in which I decided the overall effect wasn’t too bad. “Lily, a word please.”
My dad got me as soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs, and ushered me into his study. He is an accountant, always wears a suit,always looks displeased. The study was dark, the one place in the house which never had any light. The walls were lined by reports and files and history books I was never allowed to touch as a child. The only photograph was a large black and white portrait which had belonged to my mother. Mac told me once how much she hated to be photographed herself. This portrait had the name of a Liverpool studio at a corner by it’s wooden frame. It was of my mothers grandmother, Katherine Jane Ellis, as a girl, with her family. She was beautiful, with beautiful eyes, and she stared relentlessly at me then, over my father’s shoulder. He was wearing his dinner jacket, ready for the evening.
“Your brother tells me you have stopped working at that restaurant?” He demanded.
I nodded.
“May I ask what you intend to do now?”
“I’ve still got the book shop.” I resented the way he spoke to me, as if I were a child. I always tried to stay out of his way as much as possible. I added, “I’ll find something else. Someone has to look after Beth, remember.”
“I do remember. But that is hardly your responsibility.”
I felt frustrated and angry. Whose responsibility was she, if not her family’s? He took little notice of her, and Mac had to work.
He seemed to read my mind, and continued. “I realise Mac has to earn a living, but so, Lily, do you. Could you afford rent on what you earn?”
I knew I didn’t have to reply to any of his questions, because my father was not the kind of person who bothered to wait and listen to anyone’s reply when he was intent on making a speech.
“It’s not that I want you to leave home, Lily. I just feel it’s too easy for you to be lazy here.” He put his hand on my shoulder, and tugged slightly at my hair, as if he were fond of me. It was always a shock when he touched me. He had been a distant father.
“Lily, you’ve always been my brightest hope,” he said. It was true, too. I was the only one of his children who had finished school and college in one straight run, without dropping out once. Until then, that was, after all that expensive education. I couldn’t help it, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I couldn’t make myself get excited about jobs I didn’t want to do. Ben was the only vaguely career minded of us by that point. In a couple of years time he could be managing a Safeway store.
I repeated the standard reply I always made to these inquisitions and implorings. I hadn’t yet decided what direction I wanted to take my career in, and until I felt clearer, I didn’t want to commit myself. Dad looked sorrowful.
“Well think about it,” he said, and stopped tugging at my hair. He stepped back, and examined me. “This is a formal occasion, you know, Lily.” He sighed. I knew that while he would have liked to have been able to impress the Eastwood-Tempest connection, he was hoping mainly to get through the night without feeling entirely humiliated by his family. I think he thought my look was more trashy than elegant, although it actually wasn’t so bad. He probably felt grateful that the boys could be simply given the money to hire Tuxes.
“I’ll go and wait outside for the taxi’s,” I said, making an escape. “Zoe and Jess should be here soon.”
My father sighed deeply when he heard my partners in crime would also be joining us.We lived in Wilpshire, in between the town and the Valley. It was just inside the town boundaries, but only just, far enough away. It had once been the place where mill owners built their mansions, away from the masses, and the middle classes had followed to build leafy avenues out of former farm tracks. The house our father bought just over two decades ago when the property prices were low for big, drafty old houses, was called Warren Holt, for reasons unknown. I sat on the steps, beneath the porch in the warm evening air with the cat. It was one of a clutch of big, Victorian detached Villa’s on Knowles Lane. Originally, the intention had been to renovate, but instead it had simply been maintained in a habitable state. It had been my mother, I suppose, who had had the vision and flair for design. My father, always aspirational and making ample profits in his accountancy firm, would have liked to have had an elegant home to add to his other status symbols - Mercedes, Golf Club membership, Rotary Club and town counsellor - but he had given way in the face of the young people who had swarmed under his roof and showed no sign of ever leaving, and hidden in his study. He had never known what his children were really doing when we were growing up, emerging only occasionally to bawl about homework, and now seemed perpetually puzzled at his lack of influence over our destinies. When I sat waiting to go to Tara’s engagement party, the house was painted a garish and peeling shade of salmon pink, while the woodwork was an equally peeling contrasting emerald green. The drive was filled mainly by dilapidated cars which Mac and Dave bought at knock down prices, did up slightly and sold on. It was another source of income.Zoe and Jess arrived in Zoe’s Beatle, which she squeezed into the drive too, at the same time as the first taxi. I waved and yelled to my family, before running to hug them. I hadn’t seen them since the weekend before. Zoe, Jess and I had been friends forever, and while other school friends had dropped along the way, we three remained a steady triumvirate, kept in contact mainly through the mobile phone. Zoe, too pretty and attractive and sweet natured for her own good, wore transparent lengths of blue, held together somehow by a web of thin straps. Jess, the loudest of us, had outdone herself by wearing pink. Together, I felt confident, we could always be impressive, invincible. I led them
towards the taxi.
“There’s another on the way, isn’t there?” I asked the driver. “We’ll leave Dave and Jack to go with Dad, then.”
“Is Jack coming too?” Jess asked.
I nodded. “How was work?”
They both pulled faces about their nine to five office slavery. Zoe had an assistant marketing position at the Head Quarters of a national removal company, which was bizarrely located in Blackrook. She was saving to travel the world, and after that she wanted to go into PR. Jess was commuting into Manchester, temping for an agency, and wasn’t saving any money.
“How about you?”

I told them I had quit the waitressing part of my employment, and for the rest of the journey I was pressed for the details I wouldn’t tell my family.Tara Eastwood was the daughter of my mother’s brother, Robert Eastwood. A lawyer, he was a big friend of my fathers, and always has been. Tara was eighteen months older than me, and all our lives it had been assumed we would be good friends. We both maintained this lie, although we had little in common, and Tara blatantly looked down on me. She had the unfailing ability to make me feel defensive and on edge. She was a trainee accountant for a very big firm in Manchester. Her ice blonde beauty would attract men, but her personality repelled them as fast. She irritated and frightened in about equal measures. My father wished I would be more like her. Organised, tidy minded, focused. She was about to marry Oliver Tempest, the only son of the Tempest family who owned the Blackrook brewery of the same name, and half the pubs in East Lancashire. They were millionaires. I wouldn’t suggest my cousin Tara was cold hearted, she certainly thought she was in love, but she did have a habit of falling in love in a way which was advantageous to her status and finances. She had been insistent that her engagement party be held at an impressive venue.
Kistowe Hall was a castle. There was no point in attempting to describe it in any other way. The taxi turned into its straight drive which climbed the distant hill on which the turrets perched. We were dropped inside the first, outer courtyard, and as we passed through the second inner gatehouse, we saw dead grouse lying on the stone bench, and all along the cobbles. I smirked for Tara’s much mentioned vegetarianism. There had been a castle there for over a thousand years, and the Kistowe family had been there almost as long. Their’s was older money than the Tempests, or any of their guests, could muster. They hired their great hall out for parties’ but made few concessions - it was faded, old worlde charm they sold to the gullible.
Inside we were offered punch, warm and cindery. I had been many times before. On one visit with school, Sir Bernard de Kistowe had nearly been in tears when he showed us the room in which his ancestor had lost most of Merseyside in a game of cards, a year or so before the Industrial Revolution kicked off. The family fortunes had declined to consist of just the hall and some of the farms which surrounded it, and a recently lost seat in the house of lords. I was fond of the way the walls creaked and the roof leaked.
Tara surged forward to greet us. She was clearly in magnanimous mood.
“Hia! Brilliant. Is that a new dress? Very nice. You’ve brought Zoe and Jess, I thought you would. Just a minute, Ollie! Where’s he gone?”
We let Tara totter away. Zoe and Jess had in fact had invitations in their own right. Tara had been only a year ahead of us in school, and she liked to pretend she had more friends than she did.
“What, no feather boas?” Oliver Tempest put an arm around me, and another on Zoe. “I was relying on you girls to put some life in this party.” He was very good looking, a perfect match for Tara in so many ways. He always struck me as aloof, but tonight he was in his charming mode, and about as genuine as a viper. “I’ll get you three something stronger,” he said, spying our empty glasses, and disappearing.
We were left to stand and talk, while people took photographs before gothic fire places, coats of arms and the heads of things which had been shot. I saw my gran was sat down, being talked at by Oliver Tempest’s mother and looking anxious, so I went to rescue her.
“Have you seen Tara?” Gran asked.
“Yeah, she said hello. She’s a lot of people to speak to, though.”
“I think there’ s something she wants to ask you.”
I could hear my father had arrived. “Of course, she’ll be honoured,” he was saying to Uncle Robert and Tara. The group came towards us, Dave hugging gran, who exclaimed she thought he had grown since the last time she saw him.
“I want you to be my bridesmaid,” Tara said to me. I clearly wasn’t being asked if I would like to be or not. I struggled for words, as Ollie passed me a glass of wine. I gulped gratefully.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” My father beamed.
“It’s so nice, when you’re cousins and such good friends too.” I almost suspected my Aunt Barbara of sniffing back tears.
I could see that Tara’s younger sister Caren was sniggering at me, delighted that she would not be suffering alone. There was no means of escape.
“Thank you!” Tara gushed, throwing her arms around my neck. She squealed, “I’m so excited, you’ll have to come round for a dress fitting and shopping soon, we’ll make whole days of it, I’ll get time off work.”

Tara was at her most dangerous when she was friendly, sugary sweet. I knew from experience there was usually poison in the pill somewhere. Someone had asked her what she had in mind for the dresses. “Well, I want something quite modern...” she began.
Jess pulled me forcibly back from the group by the straps of my dress. “What if she puts you all in one of her ‘tweak’ dresses?” She hissed in my ear. I maintained a fixed smile, and tried to edge further from the group. Tara was famous for wearing tiny strapless tube dresses which she simply couldn’t carry off, physically or stylistically. By the end of the night when she was drunk, her initial lady-like tweaks to make sure it stayed up, had turned into energetic wrenching at the top, causing the hem line to shoot higher, and the strapless bra to become a visible line around her waist. I grinned at the memory.
I was pulled back into the group by Tara. “Lily! You’ve brought Jack!” She exclaimed. I noticed at that point that Jack was infact, stood quite close to me.
“Well, he came with us,” I said.
Tara smiled. “Don’t you think she looks nice?” she demanded. “Don’t you think she’ll look nice in pink? She’s going to be my bridesmaid.” There was another squeal.
“You’re not looking bad yourself Tar,” he said. “So when’s this wedding of yours?”
“September fifteenth, at one pm, at Saint Saviour’s,” Tara replied, with sudden precision. “Are you coming?”
“If you invite me. You don’t believe in long engagements do you?”
“Oh, you know,” Tara said, giggling falsely and turning back to Oliver.
“I won’t miss the chance of seeing Lily in pink,” Jack said to me. “Wasn’t there a song about that?”
“It was about a pig,” I said.
I overheard Aunt Barbara talking loudly to Mrs Tempest. “Well, it’ll be so good to have someone so dark, in contrast to Tara. Lily’s skin is quite...dour, so it’ll off set Tara to advantage, she’ll be golden and glowing and radiant...” There were more audible sniffs.
“She means you have olive skin,” Jack said, leading me away. “She’s jealous.”
“No, she’s not at all like her mother, is she?” Aunt Barbara’s voice boomed.
“I want a drink,” I said. “Where’s Zoe and Jess? I need a drink, another drink.”
There was a gong for dinner.“Welcome to my ancestral home!”
At the top table, Uncle Robert began his speech with an expansive sweep of his arms. Laughter roared from the half of the hall which was Eastwood connected, while the snootier Tempests looked dubious. Many of them liked to claim ancestors themselves, and did not see the joke. When our father stood up, as Tara’s godfather, to tell some ‘endearing’ childhood anecdotes, Dave and I decided to make a trip to the bar to get more wine.
“Was Tara ever endearing?” I asked.
“When she wanted something,” Dave said, who disliked her intensely. “Do you think Dad would be able to remember any anecdotes about our childhood?”
When we returned Uncle Robert was up again, clearly drunk, and seemingly getting sentimental.
“And may I say, how lovely her mother looks tonight?” Cue, Ahhh, sounds from the audience. “In blue and gold, like the credit card it was bought on...” More raucous laughter from half the guests.

Mr Tempest stood up, deciding it was time his side of the family asserted some decorum on events. He said the right things about how well suited the couple were, how proud of his son he was, and how happy he was to welcome Tara into the family. He looked anything but happy. The waiters who Zoe, Jess and I had spent much of the meal rating out of ten purely on the basis of cuteness (not a bad night, a definite average of around eight), had brought around glasses of champagne, and the toasts passed off creditably.
“Ollie and Tara...As superficial and self obsessed as each other,” was the gist of what was said on our table.Acquiring more drinks in the room where the bar was, I was waylaid by Laura Kegan.
“I hear you’re to be a bridesmaid, Lily,” she began.
“Yeah, I think so. I’ve never been a bridesmaid before so it could be fun,” I said.
Laura didn’t listen to my attempt at a conversation, and I thought I would be able to get away. I wasn’t so lucky. She clearly had something more particular she wanted to say. Laura was a Blackrook town counsellor, had once been mayor, and chaired various charities. She was the kind of woman who remained thin at all costs, and wore two piece outfits in colours like Coral and Aqua. She wasn’t a person it was easy to say no to, certainly her husband Ron had never tried. She had taken time out of her campaign to bully and charm slightly tipsy local business men into sponsoring her latest pet charity, to talk to me.
“So what are you up to now, Lily?” she asked.
It was a question I dreaded, even from people I liked. I was immediately on my guard, because I knew she would have my father’s version of what I was doing already. They had been having an affair for years, and they thought nobody knew.
“I work at Cherub’s book shop,” I said. “I’ve had to look after Beth a lot, too.”
“You know,” Laura continued, as if she had only just thought of it. “You know, if you wanted some office experience, if that would help, I’m sure I could find an opening for you. The town hall’s difficult, as it’s all equal opportunities, but...”
“Oh no, I can’t type, not at all, really,” I said, flustered and angry. I thought I hated my father. “Thanks,” I added ungraciously, before really making good my escape, bolting towards my gran, who felt tired and was about to leave.Later, while Zoe seduced one of the waiters, Jess and I watched Oliver around Tara’s parents. Being just too charming. He didn’t try as hard as Tara did, he just had natural self assurance that the world should be his orbit by right. There was no doubt he was the star of this show, the golden boy eclipsing Tara easily, who was dancing with her only long suffering girl friend to the band’s cover version of Wham’s ‘Club Tropicana’.
“He’s attractive - in a dangerous sort of way.” Jess observed.
I nodded, distractedly.
“You can tell just by looking at him he has a big, fast, expensive car outside.”
I pulled a face. “You really fancy him?”
“Yeah...I bet he’d be really dominant in bed.”
“Ugh,” Jess had a habit of suggesting images I didn’t want to think about.
“You’re such a little puritan on the sly, Lily,” accused Jessica. I just laughed. Jess got more curious. “For all your random pulling, you always seem to hold out for England, don’t you?”
I just smiled enigmatically - I hoped.
“I mean do you ever have sex?” Jess asked.
“Let’s have another drink. Champagne darling?” We moved towards the bar.
“You’re not going to answer me, are you?”
“No,”
“You never do get confessional, do you?”
“No.”
“However drunk I get you?”
“No.”
“Damn it, Lily, what sort of friend are you?”
“One who’s going to introduce you to Mr. Sleaze 2001, because however misguided you are, I’ll always help you make your own mistakes, and then let you cry all over me when it goes wrong.”
“Ha! It’s you who always end up crying.”
“Not anymore. You’re looking at the all new, strong of character, Lily Kate Randall. I’m going to grow up and be brave from now on.”
“You are brave. You’ll still cry. You’ll just never tell us why.”
I laughed. It was becoming a habit. “Come on,” I said. I found that I was staring at Ollie.
“Lily...”
“What? Oh, come on,” I repeated, leading the way to the dance floor. I figured if you couldn’t beat
Tara, you may as well join her, and Ollie could wait.

“I could never trust a man who inherits a brewery of perfect bitter and chooses to drink fizzy American lager.”
It was Jack who sidled next to where I sat, on a bar stool, towards the end of the night. He was buying Budweiser. The party, judging by the sounds from the hall, was still kicking. “I’m buying the doomed man a drink. Do you want one?”
I shook my head and nodded to the bottle my left hand was resting protectively on. “I have champagne.”
Jack grinned, and in a moment he was back again.
“OK, Lily?”
I nodded, and wordlessly and with great concentration slid my champagne bottle along the bar and proffered it towards him.
“No thanks, I have my Tempest’s”
I poured more champagne into my own glass.
“So where did you get your supply from?” Jack asked. “It seems to have flowed more freely for you than it did for me.”
I laughed. “Jess and I saw the waiters putting the spare boxes of Champagne down at the back of the hall, so we started stealing them. We had a system. I hoiked out the bottle, and passed it on. Jess can pull out corks with her teeth.”
“She’s an impressive girl,” Jack said. “Speaking of whom, where has the rest of your trio gone?”
“Zoe...found the waiter...Mr nine and a half...and Jess...is...somewhere with a guest. He might be related to me. I don’t know. He might be my brother...”
Jack laughed. “Really, that’s funny. He likes her you know.”
“Jess fancies Ollie,” I declared.
“Really. What do you think of him?”
“He’s evil. And slimy, and sleazy, and con...condescending and vain...but...but...”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me he has a kind of dangerous attraction.”
“Don’t worry, Jack,” I patted his arm. “That’s not a thing you’ll ever suffer from.”
“You don’t think I’d cut it as mad, bad, and dangerous to know?”
“No. You’ve never struck me as dangerous. You don’t scare me.”
“No? I might surprise you.”
“Ruin my illusions about the nice boy next door?” My laugh was shaky. I was feeling hot and faint and flying way too high. “Lets get some fresh air.”
We went outside into the courtyard and made our way to the parapet, to look away down the valley, hung over by the starry sky. There were the first spots of rain. He kissed me first, almost too gently, stooping to touch my neck. We both moved so that our lips brushed, and held, and moved in closer for the kiss. I wondered how long I could hold it for, before I would have to speak, before I would have to breathe. Because what do you say to your life long friend and sparring partner who you’ve just kissed? Who has just been kissing you back extraordinarily well?
“Is this supposed to be surprising? Because you kiss just like a nice boy.”
He ran a hand through my hair, stroked my cheek. “Do you want me to stop?”
I took a breath and shook my head. “I feel sick.”
“How romantic,” he said.
Why do boys always pretend it’s about romance?
“Lets walk,” he said as footsteps and voices approached from the door, and the rain got heavier. We found ourselves beneath a gatehouse bridge, and the rain was like a curtain, shielding us from view. I realised it was easier not to talk, to lean back against the curving stone arch and let him kiss me, let it last longer, not break the spell, so for longer I would have strong arms around me and his whole attention mine, and for so much longer I would be safe without any realness to spoil it. Later, many more people approached, and the taxis were arriving. Jack and I got in a car with my brother and father, and conversation was all wedding.
“Tara says she’s planning to have you dressed in orange polka-dot tulle,” David laughed, and so did Jack.
“You do realise this plan to have you as her bridesmaid is just a way of getting revenge on you for burning her Barbie at the stake when you were seven?” My brother continued. “I don’t know why you’re going along with it.”
“Tara and Lily have always been very good friends,” our father said. “It’s a great honour to be asked.”
I didn’t say a thing, and didn’t look at anyone either. I pressed my cheek against the steamed up window and concentrated on the passing tarmac. When we dropped Jack off at his house I said goodbye and the taxi went on. I was too tired and only wanted to sleep.

© Jayne Sharratt 2001

This work is the sole copyright of Jayne Sharratt and forms the first chapter of her soon to be completed novel
Life in a Northern Town. If you like it and are a legimate agent or publisher, contact us at Hackwriters to read more of the manuscript Contact : The Editor


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