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Authors: Kelly Lawrence

Unconditional

BOOK: Unconditional
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First published by Lodestone Books, 2014

Lodestone Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station Approach,
Alresford, Hants, SO24 9JH, UK

[email protected]

www.johnhuntpublishing.com

For distributor details and how to order please visit the ‘Ordering’ section on our website.

Text copyright: Kelly Lawrence 2013

ISBN: 978 1 78279 394 6

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publishers.

The rights of Kelly Lawrence as author have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Design: Stuart Davies

Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

We operate a distinctive and ethical publishing philosophy in all areas of our business, from our global network of authors to production and worldwide distribution.

For Alannta, my own Princess, who is still at the age to
appreciate a McDonalds. I love you sweetheart.

Chapter One

I love being in love. I love the wallowing and the dreamy sighing and the sheer wanting that goes with it all. In high school, I was in love with a boy called Roderick for four years. I gazed at him from across the classroom, scribbled our names together on my textbooks and on toilet walls, and listened to love songs over and over, convinced they were telling our story. Not that our relationship ever got past a few mumbled exchanges about homework. I got right through to sixth form without ever having a proper boyfriend, and only one kiss and a fumble, with Bradley Nicks from Chemistry, behind the sports hall. He tasted of ketchup and stolen cigarettes.

The first few months of college, I was in love with my history teacher. I tried to keep the gazing to a minimum, and thought myself a bit too sophisticated to be scribbling in my books like a schoolgirl, but I managed to construct a whole fantasy relationship in my head, with the help of my favourite pop ballads of course. When he left to be replaced by our current teacher Ms Ladgate, who smells of onions and has a squint, I was devastated. My best friend Dannii – she insists on the double vowel – shakes her head at me sadly.

‘You need to get yourself a proper boyfriend, Ash. People are starting to think you’re a secret lesbian.’

Truth is, I’m just not interested in the boys we hang around with; slouchy guys in hoodies or with boy band hair, whose main topics of conversation seem to be playing computer games online and which girl in which pop group they think is the hottest. I had liked Roderick because he was quiet and artistic, different from the usual crowd. Deep down, I’m pretty sure I’m different too. I mean, I
have never been into smoking and trying to get into the latest clubs; what little popularity I have is mainly because of my friendship with Dannii. But it’s not cool to be different, not unless you’ve got a group of friends that are different too, which doesn’t make much sense. So I have to settle for being the nerdy friend of the popular crowd.

‘I am not a secret lesbian.’

‘I know, but people think you are. Even your mum thinks you are.’

‘She does not!’

She probably does, if I’m honest. Mum has been asking me if I have a boyfriend ‘yet’ on a weekly basis since my fourteenth birthday, and her tone is becoming more and more desperate. I think she worries that I’m scarred from her break-up with my dad, who now lives in Australia with his new wife. She’s also totally oblivious to the fact that all my male friends have major crushes on her, and only hang around the house to catch a glimpse of her. Mum was only sixteen when she had me, so she’s not even thirty-five yet, and she’s gorgeous, all copper curls and big blue eyes and petite curves. Dannii says I look like her, but I know I don’t have her sparkle or charisma. Mum’s an artist and scrapes a living illustrating children’s books, just like Susan from Desperate Housewives, which used to be her favourite programme, except that we don’t live in a fantastic house in the suburbs where everyone has perfect teeth. She’s a bit quirky, but my mates think she’s cool. Whereas I’m just a boring history buff. ‘I don’t want you to end up like me,’ she’s always saying. I should be so lucky.

‘It doesn’t matter if you are you know. Nobody cares these days.’

I look at Dannii nonplussed, totally confused.

‘If you’re a lesbian,’ she says patiently. I start to protest again, then sigh as I see the corner of her mouth twist up in
a smirk. She’s just messing with me. Dannii after all knows about my penchant for impossible crushes and has long since given up trying to pair me off with any of our lad friends – most of whom are her cast offs anyway. Dannii goes through boyfriends like I go through books, and I’d probably be jealous of her if it wasn’t the fact she’s completely blasé about her own beauty. Unlike me, she’s not a romantic at all.

Because it’s not that I don’t want a boyfriend; I just want it to be right. Unlike most of the girls we know I don’t want a guy just because everyone else has one, and I’ve never been in a rush to get rid of my virginity. I want a guy who makes my heart race, who will make me feel special, not try to convince me a quick fumble round the back of McDonald’s is a good idea.

‘Right, I’m off. You’re coming round later? Dean is coming, but he’ll behave I promise.’

I roll my eyes but nod and agree to walk round later when I’ve wrestled with my latest essay. Dean is her latest guy. He’s two years older than us but acts about twelve, in my opinion, but he seems harmless enough and is typically smitten with Dannii.

As I’m walking up the path to my house I can hear Mum singing away to herself, which means she’s painting and in a good mood. I pop my head in the front room cum studio and she waves at me. There’s a big blob of red acrylic on her cheek and she has that fevered look she gets when she’s in the middle of a project.

‘How was school?’

‘College, Mum.’ I wish I’d gone to a further away college sometimes instead of staying on round here; it seems so much more grown up, even if I would have been doing the same subjects. I want to go on to study history at university, and although I always tell my teachers I want to
be a research historian, what I really want to do, if I’m honest, is write trashy historical romances. Dannii is the only person who knows that. She’s at college with me only because she didn’t want to move away without me; mainly because I always do her homework. Her secret ambition is to be a footballer’s wife.

I turn my attention back to Mum, who rolls her eyes.

‘Well, how was your day then?’

‘Same as always,’ I shrug. Mum nods and goes back to her canvas, waving a hand at her empty cup on the side. I pick it up and go into the kitchen to make her coffee. She drinks it like it’s going out of fashion when she’s painting.

‘Your dad phoned,’ she calls after me. ‘I told him you’d ring him when you got in’.

That’s unusual. Dad has phoned three times this week already. Since he got married to Anya I’m lucky if he phones three times a month. I’m supposed to be going over for the summer holidays, but can’t help feeling a bit disloyal to Mum. They split when I was twelve, but it’s only been the past eighteen months or so that she’s been smiling again.

‘I’ll ring him later,’ I mutter, even though she can’t hear me. As I put the kettle on, Sabre, our German Shepherd, comes over and nudges my leg with his head, looking at me with that dopey look dogs give you and I let him out into the garden, laughing as he attempts to pounce on a bird and head butts the lawn. For a breed of dog reported to be intelligent Sabre is about as dumb as you can get. Dad bought him for my eleventh birthday.

Thinking of Dad, I sigh and pick up the phone in the hall. May as well get it over and done with, I tell myself.

‘Hey, Princess,’ he says, his usual greeting that always makes me wince, though he never notices. ‘How was school?’

‘It’s college,’ I say wearily, ‘and it’s fine thanks.’

He goes quiet, and for the first time I realise there might be a reason why he’s called me so much this week.

‘Do you fancy doing something this weekend?’

‘You’re not in Australia?’

‘I’m staying at Granma’s for a while. Me and Anya are, ah, having a few problems.’

My heart starts to race for reasons I’m not sure of.

‘You’ve broke up? Does Mum know?’

But of course she would. Granma hates Anya and would have told her straight away. I wonder if that’s why she’s been extra perky this week. I hope not. It’s taken us long enough to get used to the way things are.

‘I believe so. So, about the weekend?’

I shrug, then realise that of course he can’t see me.

‘Yeah, sure.’

‘Okay, Princess, I’ll pick you up Saturday.’

He’s still saying goodbye as I put the phone down and go in to Mum.

‘Dad and Anya have split up.’

Mum just nods absentmindedly, frowning at the canvas in front of her.

‘Did you make the coffee?’ She looks up, sees my face and sighs.

‘I thought he should tell you. It’s not really my business, honey. Are you okay?’

I nod, surprised at her total nonchalance. Does she really not care? Still, four years is a long time, and Mum’s dated since. She went out with a guy called Barry for nearly a year, until she came back from work and caught him smoking weed in front of me. I’ve still never told her about the time he actually offered me some, she’d have a fit.

‘What are you working on?’ I nod towards the canvas.
Mum looks excited, and Dad and his love life – or lack of it – are forgotten as she gushes on about a new commission she’s working on designing covers for a new series of ‘Spy Boy’ books. She’s passionate about her work and really gets engrossed in it, but even so, I thought she would have some opinion on the subject. They were married for like, forever.

‘What are you doing tonight?’ she asks.

‘I’m going round Dannii’s,’ I tell her. ‘To study.’

‘Study what? You don’t even take the same subjects.’ Mum laughs. ‘Just don’t be drinking or smoking, okay? Is her boyfriend going round? Brian, isn’t it? Maybe he’ll have some nice friends.’

Here we go. ‘It’s Dean now,’ I mumble, backing out of the room, ‘and I don’t think he’s got any friends.’ I go up to my room before she can start quizzing me and pull out my history books, ready to lose myself in the Age of Enlightenment for an hour or so.

Half an hour later I’m not feeling very enlightened, having just been staring at the page wondering what’s going on with my dad, and what the knock on effects will be. I feel guilty for not being happier that he’s back in the country, but can’t help having a sense of foreboding about the whole thing. It’s way too early to go to Dannii’s so I pick up the latest romance I’m reading, but can’t get into that either. I fuss around tidying my room, go and make myself and Mum a sandwich – she forgets to feed herself when she’s painting – and then remember the new skinny jeans I brought last week and try them on. In spite of the fact that I’ve always thought my butt was too big for skinnies, I have to admit they look pretty good. Dannii picked them; she’s got a real eye for things that will suit people, and according to her, big booties are in. I’m sure she’s trying to make me feel better about my B cup boobs, her having been a D since we were fifteen, but there’s no denying the jeans make me
look cute. I find myself wishing Mr Bryant the lush history teacher was still around to see them, then decide my mum and Dannii might be right; maybe I do need a proper boyfriend. Before I’m doomed to spend my life living with Mum, who probably has more of a love life than I do, sitting in my room reading crappy romance novels and growing cobwebs.

I wear my skinny jeans with a tight red tee that makes me actually look like I’ve got some breasts and scrunch up my curls. With my leather jacket and new boots, I look pretty cool. Not like a history buff at all. Mum stares at me on my way out of the door, then just smiles and nods.

‘Don’t be late, honey, and phone me if you need anything,’ she chirps. I’m never late; sometimes I think she wishes I would do something rebellious. Nothing crazy like setting fire to the school, just coming home a bit drunk with my hair dyed pink or something. After all at my age she was married with a baby.

BOOK: Unconditional
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