Authors: Caidan Trubel
Tags: #Romance, #Gothic, #Fiction
He turned and caught me staring. I flushed and looked back out to sea.
Caroline swam deftly through the water, reached the shore and bounded up to us.
“Michael!” She threw her arms around her brother, soaking his t-shirt.
Michael held her upper arms and pushed her back a step. “What were you playing at, Caro? The current is dangerous when the tide is going out. You know that.”
Caroline shrugged his hands off her arms. “Nice to see you, too.”
Michael stood there in his wet t-shirt, looking as if he’d like to shake some sense into his sister.
“No harm done. She’s okay,” I said, hoping to defuse the tension. I passed Caroline her towel.
Michael shook his head and looked at me as if I were crazy. Then he turned and stalked off towards the cliff path without saying another word.
I looked at Caroline and raised my eyebrows. “I don’t think he’s too happy.”
“Oh, ignore him. It’s his way of showing he cares.”
I said nothing as I rearranged my towel on the sand, but thought I preferred Jake’s way of showing he cared, by collecting his sister from the train station, rather than Michael’s surliness.
We sat for half an hour, in companionable silence, enjoying the sunshine. The sea shimmered and looked almost golden in the late afternoon sun, and I wondered what Michael’s painting looked like.
“Does Michael study art at university?” I asked.
“Hmm?” Caroline turned on her side and propped her head up. “No, economics.”
“Really? I thought you said he wanted to be an artist?”
“That’s what he wants. But not what Daddy wants. He wants Michael to follow him into banking. Michael’s arranged a job at an art gallery for the summer. Dad’s furious, he wanted him to work in the city, to gain some work experience.”
I nodded. It made sense that Caroline’s father had a job in banking, to own a house like Staverton he’d need an extremely well paid career.
“He doesn’t really understand why anyone would be interested in painting rather than making money.” Caroline scooped up some sand and let the grains trickle through her fingers.
“I suppose your father needs to earn a lot of money to keep all this,” I said, nodding towards the house.
“He’s in investments. Works in London all week. I think he’d like at least one of them to follow in his footsteps.”
“So Jake’s not interested in banking, either?”
“He’s in antiques.” Caroline smiled. “But I think Daddy has become resigned to that now. He’s actually quite proud. Jake has done really well for himself in the last few years. He’s got a little antiques shop down in the village, with a flat on the top floor.”
“He doesn’t live at Staverton?” I asked.
“He stays here a lot, but I think he likes his own space.” Caroline pushed herself off the ground. “We better get back. We’ve got to walk back up the cliff path, and it always seems much steeper when you are walking uphill.”
Angela greeted us at the door, and she didn’t look happy. Her blonde hair was now elaborately styled, diamond drops hung from her ears, and her makeup was perfect, but the effect was ruined by her scowl. She ushered us inside.
“Girls, look at the state of you. Caroline your shoulders are pink. Now, what did I tell you about sunscreen?”
I kept my head down as we entered the house through the French doors.
“Quickly, girls. You’re dripping all over the floor.”
I couldn’t see any drips at all. We were practically dry from lying in the sun for the last hour. But I had to agree with Angela on one point: Caroline’s shoulders were very pink.
Angela stepped forward and curled her fingers around a matted lump of Caroline’s hair. “Your hair looks like rat’s tails. We have guests for dinner, what on earth will they think?”
Caroline shook her hair free of her Mother’s grasp. “We have an hour before they arrive. Stop fussing. I’m going to have a bath.”
Angela pursed her lips. She didn’t frown, but I suspected that might be down to Botox.
As we headed toward the hallway, Angela called after us. “Make sure you use some of that intensive conditioner, Caroline, to get rid of the frizz. Although, I very much doubt it can work miracles.”
I turned on the gold taps in my en-suite bathroom and watched the water swirl into the bath. Caroline said I could use any of the bath oils or foams, so I went through the little cabinet and selected one that smelled of honeysuckle. When I poured it into the bath, it produced tons of bubbles.
I eased myself into the bath, relaxing into the warmth and breathing in the fragrant steam. Bliss. Despite Angela’s scolding, I was falling in love with this place, and I liked having someone care about things like making sure I used sunscreen. I’d missed the girly things I used to do with my mother. The mani/pedi outings, the spa days and the shopping trips. Understandably, Freddie wasn’t really into all that.
Freddie would probably be walking down to The Anchor about now, looking forward to a beer and Bess’ company. I’d give him a ring tomorrow and let him know I hadn’t forgotten him.
I heard someone banging on my bedroom door, and I sat up.
It was Caroline. “Lucy? Are you still in the bath? I need your help.”
I stepped out onto the bath matt and wrapped myself in a huge white, fluffy towel. I opened the bathroom door. “What’s wrong?”
Caroline, dressed in a peach silk dressing gown, walked in, sat down on the bed and put her head in her hands. “My Mother. Now, she wants me to play the piano tonight, and I haven’t prepared anything.”
I put a hand on Caroline’s shoulder. “But you know loads of pieces. You’ll be fine.” I didn’t know much about music, but I knew Caroline played the piano brilliantly. She’d played for school concerts and recitals many times before.
“But you know I like time to prepare.” Caroline looked up at me through straggly red curls. “And I look terrible. I can’t do anything with my hair.”
I glanced at my watch. “Give me ten minutes to get dressed and I’ll come to your room and help.”
Caroline sighed, but got to her feet and walked over to the door.
“And don’t worry. You’ll be amazing. You always are,” I said.
After Caroline went back to her own room, I blow dried my hair as fast as I could. I selected my plain black dress from the wardrobe because I had no idea what anyone else would be wearing, and you could never really go wrong with a black dress. Then I carefully applied some makeup: powder to tone down my red cheeks, a little mascara and pink lip gloss.
I stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, and smiled at the excitement shining in my eyes. I looked pretty good tonight, the sun had put colour in my cheeks for the first time in ages. I daydreamed everyone would be enchanted with me when I went downstairs, and they’d insist I stay at Staverton for the rest of the summer, then Michael would apologise for being so abrupt with me earlier and fall head-over-heels in love with me.
I grinned at myself in the mirror and shook my head. Yeah, like
I screwed the lid back on the mascara tube. I knew why I was fantasising like this, and it didn’t really have anything to do with the house, it was the perfect little family that lived in it: that was what I really wanted.
Tears stung my eyes, and I tried to blink them away. Not now, when I’d just brushed on lashings of black mascara. I heard Caroline calling from the hallway. I took a deep breath, straightened the front of my dress and went out to meet her.
We managed to tame the worst of Caroline’s frizzy hair with a leave-in conditioner. Caroline wore a green, silk, Armani dress that complimented her red curls. We both patted on extra face powder to try and hide our shiny, red sunburnt skin.
Downstairs, Angela was in the dining room with her husband, sons and guests. Caroline and I were the last to arrive, and I imagined Angela was irritated although she hid it well.
Angela took me by the hand and led me over to where Caroline’s father stood by the unlit fire place. “Lucy, darling, you remember Lawrence?”
We had met before, at Easter. He looked me up and down, his gaze lingering on my body, rather than my face. I pretended not to notice and looked around the dining room, at the huge mahogany table, elaborately laid for dinner.
“You have a lovely home, Mr. Harrington,” I said.
Before he could reply, Caroline took my hand and pulled me towards the table. “You’re sitting next to me.” Caroline’s cheeks were pink, and the pitch of her voice had risen. She seemed excited, almost manic, like a child who’d been allowed to stay up late, eating sweets.
I sat down next to Caroline as the rest of the guests took their seats. The table was laid for eight: Mr. and Mrs. Harrington, Jake and Michael, Caroline and I, and a married couple I hadn’t met before who were introduced as neighbours. They couldn’t be close neighbours. I hadn’t seen another house nearby.
The woman was striking. As tall as her husband, she had the palest skin I had ever seen. Her rippling auburn hair was a few shades darker than Caroline’s, but the woman’s hair was sleek and smooth.
Before Angela could introduce them properly, Magdalena, the maid appeared at the door speaking rapidly about a calamity in the kitchen. Angela excused herself and hurried off. The auburn-haired woman sat down on the seat beside me and introduced herself.
“I’m Gwen,” she said in a soft American accent. “It’s lovely to meet one of Caroline’s school friends. Caroline and I have known each other for a while. Haven’t we, honey?” Gwen smiled, but Caroline looked bored and fiddled with a fork at her place setting.
Gwen turned her attention back to me. “How are you liking Devon?”
I smiled. “Very much. We spent the day at the beach.” I pointed at my rosy, bare arm. “Got a bit too much sun, though, I’m afraid.” I looked up and saw Michael’s eyes on me. I flushed.
“Oh, dear. We fair-haired ladies have to be careful in the sun, don’t we, Caroline?” Gwen said.
Caroline didn’t answer, and I felt a flash of annoyance. Gwen was only trying to be friendly.
Jake cut in. “Well, I think you both look better with a bit of colour in your cheeks.” He sounded like an actor. He had a rich, cultured voice as smooth as chocolate.
Caroline smiled at her brother. “It’s not that bad anyway,” she said, poking her arm and scowling at her bright pink skin.
Jake laughed. “Perhaps some aftersun lotion after dinner would be a good idea?”
Angela bustled back into the dining room, her cheeks flushed. “Honestly, they can’t do anything without making a big fuss.” She looked around the room and smiled. “Now, where were we? Lucy, have you been introduced to everyone yet? Our neighbours: Gwen and Malcolm?”
Gwen said, “I’ve introduced myself, but not Malcolm.” She tapped Malcolm on the knee. “Sorry, honey.”
He beamed back at his wife. “Not a problem at all.” He leaned forward a little across his wife and offered his hand. “Hello, Lucy. I’m Malcolm. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I shook his hand. He was much older than Gwen, and definitely English. I wondered what had brought them together, they seemed an unlikely couple.
The conversation spread across the table, and I relaxed, happy I wasn’t the centre of attention anymore. Jake discussed his antique store, and Malcolm seemed very interested.
Caroline reached for the wine, and Angela sent her a sharp look. “Only half a glass each, girls.”
Caroline sloshed the wine into our glasses, then set the bottle down on the table with a thud. “Can you believe it?” She whispered to me. “We’re going to be eighteen in a few weeks, and she is still treating us like children.”
I, trying to keep the peace, said nothing.
As Caroline sulked and glared at her mother, I sipped my wine and listened to the conversations going on around me. It felt nice to be amongst company, to feel part of a group like this.
I watched Jake grow animated as he told Malcolm about an antique sale he attended today and a medallion he received from Egypt. He smiled and made comments that had Malcolm roaring with laughter.
Michael was much quieter, as he spoke to his father. I hadn’t made up my mind about Michael. I thought we might have things in common because we liked art, but things were never that simple. He didn’t look as happy or carefree as Jake, perhaps because his father’s hopes now rested squarely on Michael’s shoulders.
Michael shared his father’s colouring, but that was where their similarities ended. Jake inherited more from his father, he shared the same lean features and even had similarly styled hair, although Jake’s was a little longer and Lawrence had some grey at his temples.
Michael took a sip of wine, turned away from his father and caught me staring at him.
I quickly shifted my gaze and reached for my glass, fumbling and coming dangerously close to knocking it over.
“Are you okay, honey?” Gwen asked. Gwen’s dress had slipped forward, revealing most of her pale breasts and a line of black lace from her bra. I opened my mouth to mention it discretely, then noticed how Gwen leaned forward to talk to Jake who sat opposite her. She was clearly aware how much her low-cut dress revealed.
I looked away. “I’m fine, just clumsy. That’s all.”
As the evening wore on, I liked Gwen less and less. She even managed to look sultry laughing at Jake’s stories, her bright red lips curling in a seductive smile. All the men, including her own husband, hung off her every word. Sitting next to her, I felt invisible. I glanced down at my empty wine glass and sighed. Every time Gwen shifted in her seat, her dress seemed to slip further, revealing more and more of her curves. I wrenched my eyes away.
Malcolm let out a sudden bray of laughter, making me jump. Gwen narrowed her eyes in irritation.
“Really, Malcolm. That isn’t the way you’re supposed to laugh in polite society,” Gwen said.
Malcolm’s reaction was instantaneous. The smile slipped from his face, and he blinked rapidly. “Oh,” he said, looking around at everyone. “I am sorry.”
“Not at all, Malcolm. It is nice to be able to relax and enjoy yourself on occasions like this,” Lawrence said and raised his wine glass to his lips.