Authors: Sarah Michelle Lynch
He nodded slowly, not caring to show his inward pleasure. He’d been desperate to escape for so long, the smile threatening to break over his face hurt—even though he thought this woman was out of line talking to him that way. Like a child. He’d seen things that made a boy a man.
Jennifer knew he’d had a strange upbringing and she was going to remedy that. The nightmare of the past 14 years was officially over—and she’d saved him from that in some part, when she could have left him with the servants.
Cai would sell the estate as soon as he got chance, or burn it to the ground. If nothing else, he would at least have every rose on site destroyed so that they never grew again.
He’d wait until he could be free of his aunt—who was just another reminder. Hell, he might even consider getting married.
“There is simply the rose;
it is perfect in every moment
of its existence.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
YOU DON’T KNOW you’re alive until you’ve been robbed of everything you felt sure of. Have you ever been skating along, running the gamut of life like you’ve got it all sorted, only to one day have the rug pulled from under you? The comfort blanket of routine taken away—all you’re left with is this irrepressible feeling of uncertainty. One event. One, tiny, event: it can change the course of human history. (So they say.) Who was it that said that cause and effect stretch further than we realise—might a butterfly’s aerial dance in New Zealand for instance really reach the other side of the world? Chaos theory, right? Well, I’d give anything for that butterfly to never have careered off course—for no chaos at all. Sure, every one of our actions has some result, somewhere. And no piece of matter dies, it just becomes something else. Nothing is lost, we only evolve.
I grew up hating conformity, desperate to break the shackles of what I deemed oppression. My parents grew up in neighbouring South Yorkshire villages and never left the county. I felt suffocated and vowed to never be like that myself. Except I’d somehow reached the age of 30 never having boarded an airplane, never having lived anywhere but the county I grew up in. Until now.
In the corners of my living room were boxes piled high, neatly aligned so there were no gaps where the joining walls met. Having room for error was difficult for me to deal with.
I spent a long time packing my suitcases carefully, ensuring the arrangement was tidy. I folded everything first, then calculated which piles would fit with which, before stowing my treasures carefully between layers of tissue paper and bi-folded jeans, which provided steady shelving for the more delicate articles. When I was happy, I fastened my luggage shut.
I was aware of my tendencies but I never realised how they became heightened at times of stress. Like when I was finally moving to another town, the biggest town in fact.
The stacked boxes full of my possessions were going to charity; there was nothing really in them I needed to keep. Old books I could easily get for my Kindle if I wanted, old movies I could download to my tablet.
When I was first told I got the job in London, I decided then and there, this would be a new era. It was a chance, a new beginning, and so I was leaving everything behind. Well, all except my clothes—a collection I’d been fastidious over for many years.
With everything around me packed and ready to go, I made my last cup of tea in the two-bedroom flat I’d lived in for nine years on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield. The flat was fine and dandy. Perfect for me. Cathedral ceilings in a Victorian, detached house converted into flats. I had an en suite and a separate WC for guests staying over. I even had quite a nice built-in kitchen, with an iron balcony railing looking out over a big back garden. I didn’t even care that I lived on a noisy main road because it enabled me to always be able to catch a cab, a bus or grab a takeaway anytime I liked. Within my space, there was linear peace, so it never mattered what went on outside anyway.
I loved that city for so many reasons. Yet I knew I’d hidden out in that flat, and deep down, I knew why.
There was one, last thing to do before I left my corner of the world. So I got in my car and travelled north, to Barnsley, the place of my childhood. It was a comparatively rural neighbour of the steel town, Sheffield. Growing up I had viewed Sheffield as the place to be, where the action happened, the supreme alternative to where I’d grown up. It wasn’t far enough, though. It couldn’t have been—I had achieved little progress in the decade I lived there.
The journey from Sheffield to Barnsley was half an hour on a good day, being early Saturday morning I encountered few delays. A brief portion of the journey was motorway and gave me chance to admire the sprawling, green fields of South Yorkshire, possibly the hilliest inhabited part of God’s own country. Former mining towns still visibly suffered but the success of the city of steel had helped rejuvenate everything in the area. Mum reckoned she knew one of the men who inspired the famous film,
The Full Monty
. I think she knew of him, but Mum was like that, always bragging about whatever she could. Making good of anything, rather.
I pulled up to the semi-detached house my parents had lived in for donkey’s years and killed the engine, sitting for a moment while I got myself psyched up. Before I knew it, my middle sister Anabel came running out of the house, charging at my car. Anabel often stayed with me at Ecclesall Road, but I never let her see me cry when she came over with the latest news about my youngest sibling, Amanda. The youngest of us three was the black sheep—that was the easiest, most unkind way of describing her.
Anabel threw open my car door and almost dragged me out. “I missed you! Come on!”
She yanked on my arms and quickly had me out of the Ford Fiesta I loved but was also ridding myself of before I left for London.
In Anabel’s embrace, I sensed there was something she wasn’t telling me. She felt tense and rigid, so unlike her usual self. I broke from her arms and looked her up and down.
“Why are you nervous?” I asked her genially.
I shut my car door and locked it, then followed her warily. There’d been a period of about five years where I hadn’t spoken to any of my family. From the age of about 19 to 24, they almost didn’t exist to me anymore. Until one day Anabel knocked on my door and poured her heart out, made me see I was breaking our mother’s heart and to visit for her sake, if nobody else’s.
During most of my visits to the homestead, there had always been one person absent, hiding away in her room. Mum always succumbed and took her dinner on a tray.
When I walked in through the front door that day, I noticed the front room had been decorated. There was a cake on the table, bottles of pop, some snacks in Mum’s fancy crystal bowls I remembered from childhood tea parties, plus my sister Amanda, sat awkwardly in one corner.
Mum fussed over me like a nutcase, making a song and dance about what I was wearing and how she liked my hair, my make-up. What perfume was I using? Where was I getting my hair done? It was Mum’s way of trying to say she cared, she did, but she couldn’t be seen to be too interested in what was going on in my life when two people who hated my guts were also in the room.
“Sit, sit, sit!” I was ordered, and a glass of fizz or something was thrust into my hand. Mum then announced, “Cheers, everyone! To Chloe and her new job!”
I noticed everyone else held glasses, but most were already empty. Anabel downed hers most likely out of nerves, Dad and Amanda had already emptied theirs, and Mum was the only one joining me properly in the toast.
Anabel sat in an armchair next to the one I was harnessed in and started with the whole rigmarole of checking I was going to be alright—asking questions she already knew the answers to. I feigned interest and noticed Amanda watching us like a hawk. Vague in my answers, I said I was hoping to keep busy and to spend a bit of time with my friend Kayla, whose couch I’d be using until I got sorted out.
That day it almost seemed like my father had been drugged. His cutting remarks absent, he looked calmly at the floor, and not at anyone else in the room. He sat in the safe confines of his black leather recliner, an odd addition to Mum’s mostly flowery, chintzy furnishings. I couldn’t remember the last civil conversation I had with him. Since losing his job as a factory manager, he’d given up on trying to find something else. He just sat in that chair while the rest of us around him tried to live, tried to escape the suffocation of his influence, that attitude he couldn’t let go of: ‘You’ll end up disappointed. What’s the point?’
I didn’t miss that atmosphere of discontent at all.
“What are you writing about down there?” Amanda chirped up.
I felt my head shaking as I struggled to lift it. My neck seized up almost. It was the first time she’d talked to me in ten years but I managed to look into her eyes and saw she was upset, almost.
I had a decision to make…
Swallowing my hurt, I simply told her, “I’ll be writing whatever they tell me to. It’ll be about celebrities and their weird goings on, no doubt. A bit of a change from the
“I’ll say,” Mum added, aiding the diplomatic effort.
“It’s kind of cool,” she said, looking back down at her lap. She rubbed her hands together and fidgeted, keeping her legs tucked under her body.
My stomach was in tattered knots.
Amanda didn’t look good. She had bags beneath her eyes. Her skin was grey. She’d once been curvy like Anabel and me, but now she wasn’t. That’s what trying to get off heroin got you.
“Just going to get some water,” I tried to convince them as I stood. I had to walk away otherwise I was going to lose my cool.
I went through to the kitchen and looked out of the patio doors which stood before an enormous stretch of back garden bordering a corn field at the bottom. I ran through those corn fields when I was young, playing tag with other girls and boys of the borough. It was fun because the landscape was so extreme, so hilly, sometimes we’d end up rolling down an incline uncontrollably if we weren’t careful. Our back garden itself was downhill and had provided much scope for sledding, water sliding and other childish games. I had a great childhood but when it came to adulthood, there was no advice given. Nobody steering me. I was adrift in a sea of blue-collar workers.
Mum crept up on me and shut the door behind us. “Chloe?”
“How is she, Mum? She doesn’t look well.” I only glanced back at my mother, so neat in her Debenhams dress and her Dune shoes. Always turned out. Always a front.
“No, she’s not well. She’s on methadone… but last week, someone found her in a gutter and… she had to have her stomach pumped up at General.”
I turned quickly, my head dizzy because of how fast I moved. Bitter tears scraped the back of my eyes and throat. Nothing had changed.
“That makes me sad, Mum.” Anguish gripped and squeezed my heart.
She just looked at the floor, her hands twisting in front of her. “I know. Some boy dumped her… she went off the deep end. We didn’t want to tell you, didn’t want to spoil things for you. You need to go to London, it’ll be really good for you.”
“Is she going to get clean?”
“It’s hard to say, Chloe. We’ve been through this, so many times. I don’t begrudge you your life, you know… but we live with this.”
I felt my lip trembling and hated Mum’s matter-of-factness. Why did she have to be like that? Picking up the pieces? Accepting that was her job? Why?
I shook my head and wanted to hit something. “We shouldn’t be drinking. Not in front of an addict. It’s wrong.”
Our defences flaring, I noted the way both of us had our hands on our hips and hated how similar me and my mum were. She even did that thing I did where she spoke out of the corner of her mouth.
“I gave her juice, Chloe.”
“He’s sat in there like… like. I don’t know. Like he’s got no time for us. He never had time for us. You can stand up to him, if only you—” I cut myself off. It was far too late for all that.