Sunday, 4 December 2016

So here we are in Scotland. Oh, and have a short story.

*blows cobwebs and dust away*

Oh man, this blog has been so neglected. Painfully neglected. If it were a puppy, it would be staring at me with big puppy-eyes, silently asking why I don't love it anymore.

Sorry, everyone. I've been busy writing lots and lots of words, and have had some real-life stuff going on. Those two books up above are part of the reason for my silence -- you can blame them. But the complete Broken trilogy is now completed (PARDON ME WHILE I PUNCH THE AIR AND DANCE AROUND THE ROOM!), with the last book, Black Moon, soon to come out in March. Look at that cover. I'm in love.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have moved to the Scottish Borders. Yeah, just a tiny little jaunt away from Hampshire, where we were previously. Our cat is just about speaking to us again after the long drive.

We're still unpacking. (There are TOWERS of boxes everywhere; it may take us a while.) And I came across some of my teenage writing, and thought it would be fun to share it. So here's a story I wrote when I was 16 or 17. If I were writing it now, there are a few things I'd do differently, but in general I still like this. The author in me couldn't resist cutting two lines that weren't needed. Apart from that, I haven't changed a word. Hope you enjoy it!
The fair arrived at dusk on a warm summer night, and the men worked for most of one week and part of the next to get the rides in order and the booths set up. Kate Cranshaw watched the proceedings with a mild sense of obligation and a lot of boredom. Once she tried to help Doug set up the Ferris wheel (advertised as the largest in the Western Hemisphere), but he, along with the other men, yelled at her to get out of the way. So she wandered back to Doug's jewellery booth, set up on the outskirts of the fair near the gates, and curled up to sleep in the sleeping bag which was tucked neatly under the counter.
She awoke when Doug came back, tired and dirty.
"Do you want to rest awhile?" she asked, getting up.
"Yeah. Thanks, honey." He lay down on the bag, not bothering to get in it, and went to sleep immediately, which irritated Kate, who often had to lie awake for close to an hour before sleep came.
She sat down cross-legged on the counter and stared at the country road which would soon bring people from all over the county to have a good time. All those people, Kate thought, and every single one had parents, and a family, and friends...each one had had a different childhood and had a different story. Each one had hopes and dreams and fears that marked them as unique. And soon they would all come to pass by Doug's booth, and she'd see a little piece of their lives.
Such thoughts were on par with trying to comprehend the eternity of the universe to Kate, but she enjoyed wondering about things like that. She had fun travelling around with the fair, selling jewellery in Doug's booth and thinking about the people she sold it to. She loved talking to people and getting to know them; Doug was always complaining that she did "more jawin' than sellin'," but he didn't really mind.
"What town are we in, baby? Do you know?"
Kate turned around. "You didn't sleep long."
"I didn't go to sleep. I was just dozin'." He stretched and put his hands beneath his head. "Are we still in Arkansas? No, we left Arkansas last week, didn't we?"
"Thursday. We're in Louisiana."
"What town?"
"I don't know. I don't think we're in one -- just between a whole bunch of small ones."
He shut his eyes and nodded, and they fell into companionable silence. She studied him idly. When she had first met him -- what was it, ten years ago? No, nine -- God, how time flies -- he had been the best-looking man she ever set eyes upon. Big like a football player, he should have been woefully out of place in the little jewellery booth, but it was obviously a well-loved part of him. He had dark brown hair and blue eyes. Warm, deep velvet blue eyes, shining with joy and happiness and pure love of life. She had just run out on a husband who was a "little weasily rat who cheated on me and beat up on me -- that's where I got the black eye -- and anything else you'd care to name. So what else do you want to know?"
And his warm blue eyes had looked at her with concern. "One more thing," he said. "How long ago did you leave him, honey?"
She almost crumpled. Joe had stopped calling her pet names a week after their marriage.
"I left last night," she whispered, leaning against his booth. He looked at her again, this time taking in the circles under her eyes, her slight unsteadiness on her feet, and the old Army duffel bag, stuffed full, clutched in her hand.
"Look," he said. "You've had a rough time, OK? And I want to help. Now this husband of yours, he's
going to be mad, right?"
"He'll kill me." It was a fact, and she stated it with certainty.

 "Well, don't worry. He's got to find you first. You did good, coming to the fair. Whole county's here, I think. Now, look. Here's some money -- no, wait a minute, lemme finish -- here's some money. You go take it to that little restaurant set up over by the fun house, and get you something to eat, OK? Then come back over here. There's a sleeping bag set up under the counter here -- see?" He moved back so she could look. "And you can sleep for a few hours. We're movin' out tonight, and you can come too. Then when we get to the next town, you can do what you want. You can go off and start a new life for yourself, or maybe you'd like to hang around here with me for a while. You know, sell jewellery and stuff. You know? What do you think?" He looked at her hopefully.

Kate started to cry.

"You don't even know me," she said through her tears. "Why are you doing this for me? What's in it for you, anyway?"

He smiled slightly. "I don't like to see pretty ladies cry, that's all," he said. "Now go get something to eat."

Now, nine years later, Kate was still with him, and was quite content. It had never taken much to make her happy, and the life she had now was more than enough.

The sun rose without fanfare, and the day grew hot and dusty. Crowds of people were at the gates, waiting to attack the rides and food and games. Finally everything was ready, and the gates were
opened. The people streamed in.

The day went from hot to hotter, but Kate was enjoying herself hugely -- she had met an aspiring actress from Monroe and a mysterious looking man who, she fancied, was probably a gangster -- at the very least...

"Goodbye! Enjoy the fair!" she called after the nice young couple who had, after much deliberation and help from Kate, purchased two friendship rings.

"S'cuse me, ma'am, how much are these?"

Kate turned around and faced a pretty young blond with grey eyes, clutching the arm of a rather tweedy young man. Kate followed the pointed finger. "Oh, aren't these nice? See, it's two parts of a heart, and each one's on a chain. I print your name on one half and your boyfriend's on the other. Then you wear the half with his name, and he wears yours. Ten dollars for the both of them. They're a set, you know."

"What a sweet idea! What do you think, Harold?" She smiled almost shyly at him.

He looked bored. "I'm not wearing any necklace. Anyway, it's juvenile. You're in college, for God's sake. Grow up."

"But I -- I don't know, I just thought it was a sweet idea...some of the other girls have them..." She bit her lip and looked down, her fingers tightening on his arm.

He shook her off impatiently. "It's infantile. I thought you were more mature than that."

She looked up quickly, her hands scrambling for his arm again. "I am, Harold, really I am. I'm very mature."

Her eyes sought his, but he only grunted and stared pointedly off in the distance. His arm hung limply in her grasp.

Kate carefully began to dust the counter, watching the couple from the corners of her eyes.

The girl was searching Harold's face anxiously. One finger crept to her mouth, and she nibbled at it.
Harold turned suddenly and barked, "What the hell are you doing? Get that finger out of your mouth!"

She jerked it out, and stuttered in confusion, "I'm sorry! -- I didn't -- Please, I wasn't..."  He glared at her until her voice trailed off and tears started to her eyes.

"I can't believe it," he snarled. "You're in college, for God's sake, and you're sucking on your finger like a baby."

Tears crawled down her face, but her voice was fairly composed. "Please, Harold. It's just -- just a nervous habit."

He snorted in disgust. "You're a nervous habit," he said coldly, and he turned and walked away.

The girl caught hold of the counter for support as she began to sob. Kate hurried around the booth and put her arm around her.

"Don't you worry, honey, don't you worry," she said as she guided the girl to a bench and sat her down. The girl stopped crying abruptly, and sat, shaking slightly, her hands clenched in her lap.

"What's your name?" asked Kate gently.

The girl sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Gloria," she said in a low voice.

"Hi, Gloria. I'm Kate."

Gloria managed a smile. "Hi."

"Look," said Kate, "this is none of my business, but don't you think he was being awfully hateful to you for no reason?"

Gloria shook her head vehemently. "It's my fault," she said. "If I wasn't so stupid, he wouldn't get so angry with me." She looked down. "Maybe I do act like a kid sometimes," she said.

She began to trace a pattern on her skirt with a finger. "Besides," she said with sudden conviction, "he's not really like that. He...he loves me a lot. He just..." She shrugged helplessly, and looked at Kate, her luminous grey eyes begging her to understand.

Kate was silent for a moment. "I was married to a boy like that," she said finally. She smiled faintly. "Guess I still am. I never bothered to get a divorce...I just ran without looking back." Gloria made no comment, but her eyes never left Kate's face.

Kate sighed. "My daddy was a weak man," she said. "Or maybe not weak, exactly, but he sure didn't have any backbone when it came to my momma. It was shameful the way he let her bully him. I never could respect him for that, and I swore that I would never marry a man who would let me boss him around." She laughed dryly. "Well, I sure didn't. I met Joe, and I thought it was just wonderful to be with a man who was strong. I married him a month later.

"But it turned out that he wasn't strong at all -- he was weak, maybe even weaker than my daddy. 'Cause, see, he didn't feel strong unless he was yelling at me or putting me down or hitting me. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that if he was really strong, he wouldn't feel like he had to prove it by picking on me all the time. He didn't love me. He just wanted someone around he could feel superior to. So I packed my bags and got the hell out of there, and I haven't regretted it for a minute."

Neither said anything for a while. Then Gloria said slowly, "Well, I don't think Harold's like that. I mean, he does yell at me a lot, but I don't think...I mean...well, I love him, and I know he loves me too. We'll probably get married..."

"Probably," said Kate.

Gloria sniffed again and smoothed her wrinkled skirt. "I better go find him," she said. She rose.

"Well, thank you," she said to Kate awkwardly. She turned and started off into the crowd.

Kate sat on the bench alone for a few minutes before she walked slowly back to the booth.

Doug looked up from the display he was working on. "What was that all about?" he asked, and then, seeing her face, "Kate, what is it? What's the matter, honey?" He put his arm around her. "Tell me," he said gently.

Kate shook her head. "Nothing," she said. Her voice caught a little, and she buried her face in Doug's chest. Doug started to say something but thought better of it. He held her and stroked her until she pulled away from him.

"Guess I better get back to work," she said. She smiled quickly at him and smoothed her hair. She turned to a customer, and Doug heard her cheery voice:

"May I help you? Oh, aren't these nice rings? Genuine turquoise, too, and for only fourteen dollars...a sweet gift for your wife..."