Burnt Heart

New writing project to tide over the lack of updates for my other two . . .

None fantasy, modern day Beauty and the Beast style story.

Abigayle Hartley is a university graduate with an MA in art, but is currently unemployed and needs a place to live, since her parents have decided that it's about time she makes her own way in life and stop relying on them. When a advertisement for a room to let in a private stately home comes up on offer, it's instantly hard to resist, and after talking and e-mailing the housekeeper she quickly snaps on the offer.

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2. One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One

 

 

“Watch it!”

    The car horn blasts by my side, jerking me out of my reverie. I have my earphones in, listening loudly to Bastille, and because I had not seen the car had started out onto the road to cross over to the little coffee shop on the other side. Now, however, I scramble across the road, heels clicking manically. When I reach the pavement I swirl to face the car and driver, scowling with my eyes narrow.

    “There such a thing as indicators, maybe you should learn to use them!” I mutter loudly, resisting the urge to grab something out of my satchel and throw it through the open window.

    The driver simply stares at me before swearing a vulgar expletive and takes to driving away. “Asshole!” I shout back before I’m able to stop myself, which ends in me gaining a look from an elderly lady.

    I ignore the woman and turn around, looking at the place in front of me. The coffee shop, which is my final destination, looks a little bare, with only a few people sat at tables. The barista is leaning tiredly against the counter, and at that I let out a short peal of laughter just before entering the place. It was always a quaint and quiet shop, more so now that it is snowing heavily outside and only a few people, like me, have dared to venture out and walk to places, but it’s my favourite coffee shop and I’m meeting up with my best friend. A best friend who, at present, is completely absent.

    I give my usual order to the barista, who seems a little more awake now, and then take residence of a seat in one of the corners of the coffee shop, dropping my satchel down onto the wood-effect lino and lean down to retrieve my sketchpad from inside the leather bag. I don’t need to retrieve a pencil, because I have one keeping my hair up in a bun, so I pluck it out and allow my mundane, dark brown hair to fall into their natural ringlets. But I am warm, so I unloop my scarf and drag off my duffel coat and sling then over the back of my chair before getting down to business.

    Business being my distraction whilst my best friend arrives, and that distraction being a commission of artwork I desperately need to finish for a guy who has deemed me ‘a great, undiscovered artist of this generation’—though I don’t believe a word that he says, I just need to money and if I can get money by doing something that I love them so be it.

    Well . . . that’s a lie. The money part anyway. I mean, I do need the money because my parents keep telling me that I need to get a job and earn my own way in life, like my mother did, but they’re loaded. I need money, and I don’t need money. I need money to attempt to get myself a flat, because my parents say I have the next two months to find a place or they’re shipping me off to my great aunt Madeline who lives in Greece, and though I love Greece I hate my great aunt Madeline (she’s a cow, basically), but I don’t need the money because I’m never too old to put on the puppy dog eyes and commence the whole ‘Mama, papa, buy me this pweeeease!’ trick.

    With my head down to work on my artwork I hardly acknowledge that the barista has set down my cappuccino just in front of me, but I do realise enough to say my thanks and flash him a small smile.

    “I’ve been away travelling the  world on a gap year, and I get back and it’s still frothy cappuccino’s for you,” an overly familiar voice murmured from somewhere close by. “I see nothing ever changes with you.”

    My eyes widen the moment that I completely recognise the voice, though it is one I have not heard for over a year, and I quickly look up. Standing in front of me, leant against the other side of the table, is a willowy young man with his black hair styled in a quiff. He’s wearing a beige jacket over a simple woolly, black turtleneck jumper, and plain black jeans.  

    Before I can stop myself I shout ‘JACK!’, a little too loudly for an almost-empty coffee shop where people want to quietly drink and scroll through the internet on their iPads, and jump up onto my feet. The force and suddenness of my jump causes my chair to go skidded back on the lino and the table to rock, but luckily the latter wasn’t so intense as to knock my cup over onto my sketchpad. Thankfully.

    “I thought you weren’t coming back for another two weeks,” I continue, rounding the table to throw my arms around his neck. “I didn’t realise you were back. Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “Thought it best to come home earlier, rather than chance it with this snow and end up being stranded in another country. I only got back yesterday,” he says, detaching himself from me so he can take off his jacket and fold it over his crossed arms. “What is it with this snow?—it’s March, for crying out loud!”

    “British weather,” I reply, and it all I really need to reply. British weather equals crazy weather. Snow in March. Heat-waves in October. Stupid weather.

     “He kept whining at me, only shut the hell up when I said he could come and meet you with me!” This voice comes from a young woman who glides into my view, holding two cups. This is my best friend (I mean, so is Jack, so really this is my girl best friend)—the curvaceous, plus-sized African-descent beauty that is Di (or Desta, as her full forename is).

    “Did he show up at your house suddenly?” I ask.

    “I slept over,” Jack says with a smile, before he pulls up a chair from an empty table and sits down. Both Di and I follow suit.

    I put my sketchpad away quickly and take to drinking my cappuccino, not speaking but instead listening to Jack and Di speak whilst smiling around my drink.

    “Don’t you think Di looks fabulous?” Jack murmurs, suddenly turning to face me. Before I have time to answer, to compliment my best friend whom I have always been jealous of her because she’s curves and I’m stick, he carries on speaking. “Personally, I would . . . if I swung that way. Never mind. Though . . .”

    “I’m not getting a sex change just to please you,” Di says. I almost spit out my cappuccino. “If I was ever to do that, I would do it for myself.”

    “I was just saying . . . anyway, you look fine as you are.”

    “I know damn well that I do. Those stick-thin models ain’t got nothing on me,” Di laughs, proceeding to do the whole Z-snap finger click formation in the air.

    I feel my eyebrows raise. “Have you two been drinking before you came here?”

    “Noooooooo,” they say at the same time, but the enunciation of the ‘o’ makes me sure that they are lying.

    “I seriously don’t believe you.”

    “Fine,” Jack mutters, crossing his arms over his chest. “We may, or may not have, taken a few shots beforehand. But they were only those cheap blue ones that have hardly any alcohol in them . . . they’re more like liquid alco-pops.”

    “We had two trays of them,” Di admits. “But we’re twenty-two—we’re allowed.”

    “Those types of shots . . . I was downing them at fourteen. Are you two reverting back to your early teenage days?” says I with a short laugh. At parties I was always the one who holds the most alcohol, I always have been—these two, well they’re lightweights when it’s comes to alcohol, give them two pints of lager and they’ll be either drunk or throwing up.

    “Just because you started on the drink at fourteen—” Di starts, but I cut her off.

    “I am not an alcoholic. I haven’t been drunk in . . . um, over six months.”

    “Well then, I’ve decided,” says Jack, slamming his hand down just a little too loud on the table, earning us a look of disgust from a middle-age man trying to read The Guardian. I smile him an apology before turning back to Jack and see him cradle his hurt hand in the other. After a few seconds pass he puts down his hand and picks up from where he’d left off. “As I was saying, I’ve decided that we should definitely go out at some point in the near future and get wasted.”

    I shake my head. “If it hasn’t escaped your notice, it’s snowing and it’s winter. Plus we live in Padstow, which doesn’t seem to have much in the way of nightlife—a couple of pubs, sure, but—”

    “We can always hit Newquay.”

    “Hardly anyone goes out clubbing in winter. Besides, I’m not the biggest fan of club music, you know that.”

    Jack slumps his head down on the table. “Ugh, why can’t it be August already?” He’s referring to The Boardmasters festival which happens at Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay, a festival we’ve been going to for the past few years. A festival I had skipped university for at one point. And the one he’d missed last year when he was off gallivanting around the world.

    “Because it’s March, and patience is a virtue young one,” Di laughs, but I catch the hint of anticipation in her eyes which is now coursing through us all.

    “You shouldn’t have mentioned August, now I’m having withdrawal symptoms,” I mutter, slumping down in my seat. “Last year was so good!”

    “You spent most of the time staring at Tom Odell, if I remember correctly.”

    “She also tried to find him before and after he’d preformed,” Jack sniggers.

    I feel my cheeks burning up. That is not what happened, I swear. “He’s my favourite artist, okay? I’m allowed to have wanted to meet him. And I didn’t just go for him; there were plenty of bands and artists I wanted to see. Like Mallory Knox and We Are the Ocean . . .

    Jack laughs and takes a sip of his own drink. “I dare not think what you’ll be like if Bastille are on the line-up for this year.”

    “They did play at Leopallooza,” I murmur, clearly remembering being part of the front row and seeing my favourite band play a couple of metres in front of me. It had been heaven.

    “I know,” Di says, “you dragged me along and I got lost in the crowd!”

    “We have to go again,” I plea, giving my best friend the good, old puppy dog eyes look. “Are there any tickets left?”

    “I haven’t the foggiest of idea. But hopefully.”

    I have a feeling I will be penny-less for the best part of the year, which I know my parents will not be pleased about. But they cannot ban be from music gigs so long as I pay for them with my own money . . . yeah, I’m not going to end up with a lot money this year. Seems Christmas and birthday presents will have to be cut back.

    “So . . . any look of the house hunting?” Jack murmurs to me after a beat of silence, leaning forward and placing his head in his hands.

    I shake my head. “Not with jobs, either.”

    “Why don’t you ask if there are any jobs going here? I mean, you spend most of your time here anyway.”

    I roll my eyes. “Only because it’s quiet enough for me to work on drawing commissions. Besides, I’d be the worst barista in the history of baristas—I’d be as skilled at it as I am at gardening.”

    Di is taking a sip at her drink, which must be cold by now, but at my words she bursts out laughing. “That would be not skilled at all, then!”

    “I’m sure you’re not that bad,” Jack murmurs, leaning forward to pat his hand over mine sympathetically. “Actually . . . yeah, I’ve seen you attempt to grow flowers in a plant pot . . .”

    I scowl at him. Those flowers had grown . . . they’d just wilted and died a few days later. “I think that’s made my decision, I’m never working in a coffee shop.”

    “How about a bookstore?”

    “I’ve enquired.”

    Jack nods and taps his chin, in the way that he always does when he’s thinking. After knowing him for seven years, I know all his little quirks. “I know! How about I ask Marcus to give you a job?”

    Marcus is Jack’s long-term boyfriend, three years older than him, and owns the local, thriving, hairdressers where I always get discounts because Jack badgered him into letting best friends have discounts. He's also Dee's eldest brother.

    “I doubt Marcus would let me anywhere near his clients hair with scissors.”

    “I meant just sweeping the floor, and maybe washing peoples hair. I didn’t mean actual hairdressing—leave that to the professionals, honey.”

    I repeat the roll of my eyes and lean back against my seat. “I have a spot in the local art gallery, you both know that.”

    “And until you’re famous you can’t rely on your art for a steady income,” Di mutters, cracking her neck as she looks over at me. “It’s like with being an author, you’re writing cannot act as a real job and living until you’re selling enough books to earn a decent income. Just because I did creative writing at uni and now have an MA, it doesn’t mean that the stories I write will ever get published and find their ways on to the bookshelves of Waterstones and WH Smith’s and the like. That’s why I have a job waitressing at Shipwrights—it’s small, but it gives me an income.

    I place my head down on my arms, which are crossed on the table top, and let out a long sigh. “I don’t know . . . I’ll just end up working for my mother’s company, and then take it over like she wishes I will.”

    “You don’t know the first thing about running a business,” Jack says.

    “No, but I know a lot about interior design thanks to her—”

    “I thought your mother was an architect.”

    “Architect and interior designer,” Di says before I do. “Honestly, you’ve known the Mrs Hartley so many years—how could you forget she has two businesses?”

    Jack simply shrugs.

    I glance at my watch and jerk up in my seat with a start. “Speaking of my mother,” I start as I grab my bag and stand up, “she said she wanted by home by four to help her with tea. Plus she thinks I should learn more traditional Chinese cooking, as my grandmother would have liked. I’ve told her countless times that I’m more of a baker, but she won’t listen and . . . and I should just go, shouldn’t I?”

    “Bye,” both Di and Jack say in unison and then start laughing. “I’m coming to yours tomorrow,” I think I just catch Jack call as I open and walk out of the door.

 

+

 

I live in a converted, four-bed bungalow about a five minute away from the main town if I’m walking, but today I’ve taken my Mini so it’s slightly longer because of the roads. I’ve lived in this house for the longest amount of years—five, excluding the time spent in Oxford at university—but I’ve lived in different parts of Cornwall for the greater majority of my life. The house, due to being built on a hill, has front views of the River Camel and its beach, and with my room being on the top floor I have a perfect view of the local attraction.

    “Mother, I’m sorry I’m slightly late home,” I call down the hallway as I pull my boots off, drop my bag down, and hang up my coat and scarf. “I swear the snow is getting worse!”

    My mum sticks her head around the doorway and smiles guiltily at me. Her hair is frizzy and loose out of its usual neat bun. “Abigayle, be a dear and pass me the take out menus?”

    I eye her suspiciously, fully taking in the hair and the creased apron and the lines on her forehead. “. . . What have you done?”

    She fully comes around the door and leans against the frame. “I didn’t do anything.”

    I turn and pull the left drawer of the side-table open to retrieve the sack of takeout menus, and then turn back to her. “What’s happened?” I know my mother only offers to order in food when either something has happened, or it’s a Friday because Friday night is takeout night.

    “The oven has broke.”

    “Nothing serious then.”

    “Nothing serious?” my mother repeats, thrusting her hands through her hair before screaming melodramatically and twirling back into the kitchen. “Nothing serious! I had everything prepared and then I go to turn the oven on and it’s just like ‘nope, not going to work’. I’ve slaved over preparing everything for an hour or two, and all for nothing!”

    I roll my eyes and set off down to the kitchen. “Mother, have you had a glass of wine whilst you were preparing food?”

    “Only two—the Pinot Grigio your father bought me last Christmas.”

    “You must really have been stressed,” I say, throwing the menus down on the dining table. “You usually only have a glass or two of wine on Christmas day.”

    My mother sticks her tongue of at me and sits down at the table. “What would you like for tea?”

    “Pizza,” I say automatically. “You should know by now that my first response to that question will always be pizza.”

    “I was going to suggest—”

    “Pizza.”

    “But—”

    “Pizza. P.I.Z.Z.A. Pizza!”

    My mother sighs and raises her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Fine, fine. Pizza it is. Go and ask your dad which one he wants . . . though I suspect he’ll choose a Meat Feast.”

    “I—”

    “Hawaiian, I know. Now go off and ask your father.”

    “Where is he?” I ask.

    “In the study, overlooking some plans to dig in some field.”

    I roll my eyes. Some field. “Dad was involved in the recovery of Richard the Third’s body, you know.” Richard III, histories most discriminated King—or so I, personally, believe. “And other important discoveries.”

    “I know. But at the end of the day archaeology is simply digging in a field until you find something.”

    “And architecture is drawing pretty houses.”

    My mother scowls at me. “You have your father’s opinion, I see.”

    I laugh and start off down the hall to my parents shared study, which is a converted bedroom. There was two bedrooms on the ground floor (like there is on the first floor—my floor, basically) but now there’s only one.

    “And remember to look for a flat or something when you next go on your laptop,” my mother calls down to me. I sigh and roll my eyes.

    Jeez, that woman really wants me out of this house. Got to love her.

    I’ll look for a flat tomorrow. 

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