Thanks to all of you who have checked out the three pages of this blog containing my fiction work –
After a number of your requests, I thought it might be time to post a little more of ‘Flicker’, my first novel, which is currently being considered by publishers.
Thanks again for your time, and as ever, I would LOVE to hear your feedback,
Chapter One – Fugitive (continued)
Flic had never known twenty-four hours go by so quickly. She and Daniel talked about everything and nothing. He told her about his childhood in South Africa, his father’s mining company, and boarding school in England. He explained how he was meant to be in his third year at Oxford University studying Engineering, but that his father had insisted he take a year’s sabbatical to travel and work in Australia. In turn Flic told him about her mother, the little she knew of her Australian background, and her childhood in England.
She knew she oughtn’t, but Flic couldn’t help comparing him to Ally. Whilst Ally was just as intelligent, about to finish his first term at Cambridge, the two boys were markedly different. Ally was arty; his way was with words. He was studying Law, and had this ability to make any idea convincing. He could paint a scene so lyrically from his own perspective that often Flic would forget her own point of view by the end of a debate! Daniel, however, was almost mechanical. His language was simple and unemotional about everything apart from his mother and his relationship with his father. When he talked about his parents it was as if the chink in his armour suddenly appeared. He was logical, his intelligence not in his eloquence, but in his thought processes.
To be honest it was quite refreshing. Flic had always had difficulty rivalling Ally’s ideas. Whilst she could be persuasive when she wanted to, she could also be quite emotional and, with it, irrational. Her passion was a quality, which she treasured. Some of her most successful ideas came from the less rational side of her brain. In fact, she’d originally wanted to study English at university, a subject that she saw as the perfect combination of logic and passion. But ironically Ally had managed to persuade her otherwise, insisting that she apply to study Law alongside him. It wasn’t that she couldn’t study Law. She was perfectly capable. It was just that she knew that she didn’t think in completely the same way Ally did.
Daniel was just so different, so accepting. He understood that she thought differently on certain subjects, and simply seemed interested in those differences, rather than determined to drown out her alternative thoughts.
* * *
In Bangkok airport they sat snuggled together on a bench, Flic resting her head tiredly on Daniel’s knee as he checked his Blackberry. It felt so nice to have simple human contact again, that she didn’t even question the fact she’d known him less than a day. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d even been hugged. All of her closest friends at school had really been Ally’s friends, and so once they’d split up everyone had vanished, leaving her to deal with her grief alone.
One of Daniel’s arms rested gently across her shoulder and chest, and she curled in towards its comfortable weight, succumbing to a sleep she hadn’t known for months.
When Daniel shook her awake an hour later she was burning up, heat flooding from her cheeks, her throat dry and scratchy. Realising where she was, Flic bolted upright, her hands rushing to her tangled hair and roasting cheeks. Daniel jumped up to join her, and coolly tucked back the fronds of russet hair that licked her face.
‘Hey, where’s the fire?! We’ve still got ages.’ he continued, calmly. ‘There’s no need to rush! Sorry, you were getting all hot and bothered, so I thought perhaps I ought to wake you. I hope you don’t mind.’
Flic tried to catch hold of her dreams, the strangely familiar sensations of heat and light, which had stormed through her while she slept, but they evaporated as she stared up at Daniel, confused.
Daniel paused for a second, and then all of a sudden cupped her face in his hands. His eyes searched her for a reaction.
Flic smiled back at him, fully back in the present. She took in his height, the depth of the darkness in his eyes, and the gentle coolness of his palms. ‘Thank you’. She placed her hands around his waist.
It was weird. His waist was wider than Ally’s, his back thicker. Holding him wasn’t uncomfortable, just unknown. Flic looked into his eyes, sensing that somewhere in the silver-grey swirl was the intent to kiss her. And at that moment, she realised she wasn’t ready. While she knew she needed to put emotional miles between her heart and her love for Ally, the geographic miles had to come first. Gently, she took both of Daniel’s hands in her own, and moved them from her face down to her waist. Tucking her head beneath his chin, she slipped her own hands up his back, and whispered ‘I’m sorry, I’m just not ready for anything more than this.’
Daniel responded with a strong, tight hug, clamping her in his arms in a manner that made her feel strangely untouchable.
‘Qantas flight QF 2 now boarding at Gate Seventeen’ came an announcement.
Daniel gave her a reassuring squeeze, and murmured in her ear ‘That’s us’.
* * *
They spent the next eight hours entangled in cramped airplane sleep. The only vaguely comfortable element of it all was Daniel’s arms, which didn’t let go of Flic for the entire flight. It was weird, but somehow, in his arms she definitely felt stronger. More capable of dealing with what was to come. Maybe it was just feeling wanted again, feeling protected and understood, but whatever it was, it felt good.
‘Hey Daniel?’ Flic asked as the plane finally began to land. ‘What are your plans for the next few weeks?’
‘Um … Australia?’ he replied blankly.
‘Fancy joining me on my adventure tour?’
‘I’m sure I can fit it into my hectic schedule!’ he grinned, and tightened his grip around her fingers.
* * *
The lift doors opened with a ping to reveal the tour group ready-assembled. Embarrassment flooded Flic’s cheeks as she realised that she was late, and already drawing unnecessary attention to herself. Daniel had warned her against sleeping. It was six in the evening, and she had only just woken up, but she’d barely been able to function when they finally touched down in Sydney, let alone after the connection to Cairns. Luckily getting Daniel onto the supposedly elite bus tour had turned out to be far easier than they’d expected. Another member of the group had cancelled at the last minute, leaving a spare place that Daniel was happy to fill.
Ten pairs of eyes fell on her and suddenly she was filled with dread. She knew she ought to be more excited about meeting the people she’d be living with for the next two months, but she simply felt drained and inadequate. How was she going to survive in this newly formed group? If Ally, the person who knew her best of all, could reject her so easily, why should a bunch of strangers accept her?
The tour guide took a step towards her. ‘And you must be Felicity’, he announced loudly.
‘Yep, sorry I’m late,’ Flic mumbled, not even bothering to correct him. She stared down at the lobby carpet, suddenly all the more aware of her baggy clothes and lack of make-up. Her new travel buddies were definitely meeting her in her most elementary state. Sensing her discomfort, the guide extended a warn hand, and added more quietly, ‘Not to worry, Daniel here explained you were on your way. I’m Damo by the way.’
He turned to the rest of the group. ‘Right boys and girls, I don’t know about you, but it’s definitely getting close to beer-o’clock for me! Shall we move to the pub?’
The group filed eagerly out of the hostel lobby. Flic looked around for Daniel, but he was engrossed in a conversation with a beautiful brunette. Deflated, she stared down at the red patent stilettos of the redhead in front of her, and felt a jealous ache as the girl slipped her hand into the palm of a tall boy with cropped dark hair, and hugged his arm into her chest. Without even turning, Flic sensed the group pairing off around her, engrossed in introductory conversation. Once again she was alone, and the fears that she’d pushed aside in Heathrow racked through her. Was she really doing the right thing?
Cairns wasn’t particularly big, and within a few minutes they were at the pub. A depressingly smiley hostess greeted Damo with a hug before leading the group upstairs to a large balcony. Flic gripped the back of her chair nervously and tried to find Daniel. He had settled himself comfortably beside the slender brunette. Not wanting to get caught staring at him, Flic flashed her eyes around the table, taking her first proper looks at the group. Her stomach fell. She wasn’t sure if it was just her insecurities talking, but they all looked enviously confident and attractive. She cursed herself for not even bothering to throw on some make-up. So much for a great first impression …
The rest of the group chattered away, oblivious to her silent awkwardness. She slipped discreetly into her seat, and then finally forced herself to raise her head again. Gazing cautiously around the table, she hoped her eyes wouldn’t betray the flood of emotion in which she was drowning. She gulped noiselessly for air, and quelled the flames in her cheeks.
The first pair of eyes to meet hers was kinder than she expected. The petite redhead with the scarlet shoes was sitting directly in front of her. She beamed easily across at Flic. ‘Hi, I’m Jules’. She gestured to the boy at her side, ‘and this is my boyfriend Mark.’
Jules was tiny, and yet there was an intense strength to her features. She stood no taller than five foot two, minute compared to Flic’s Amazonian stature, however Flic felt immediately dwarfed by her personality. The girl had such tangible strength. It was there in both her face and her words, and in a less attractive girl might even be construed as coarse, yet Julia’s delicate beauty seemed to melt the directness of her words.
‘So, I guess we’d better get the standard backpacker questions over and done with!’ Jules sighed, a cheeky sarcasm in her voice. ‘Make a couple more Facebook friends!’ she grinned, and Flic got the impression she cared little what others thought about her.
‘I’m from Camden …’ Jules paused, and then laughed easily as she noticed everyone was suddenly listening to her. She added ‘that’s in London’ as an afterthought, though Flic was sure that Jules’s broad accent was universally recognisable. ‘I just finished university’, she continued, ‘ and Mark and I have been travelling for about four months. Plan is to travel until the money runs out, which could be far sooner than expected at the rate we’re going!’
Without a pause, Mark followed his girlfriend. He was tall, with an athletic build, his brown hair cropped short. ‘Hello everybody! I’m Mark’, he said, raising his pint in greeting. ‘I’m from Reading, England. I also just finished my degree, and, unless I find a better model … Ow!’ he winced playfully as Julia elbowed him in the ribs, ‘then I’ll be travelling as long as Jules is!’ He squeezed his girlfriend’s leg affectionately.
The rest of the group took Mark’s lead, and introductions began circling the table. The guy to Mark’s started to speak. His hair was thick and dark, his skin a dark olive tone. Flic couldn’t help noticing an uncomfortable air of superiority about him. ‘Hi everyone, I’m Ant, and I am most definitely not a POME! Well not unless you count my convict ancestors!’ He chuckled at his own joke, while the girl to his left reeled in horror.
‘Anthony, you know very well our ancestors weren’t convicts!’ she hissed.
Ant ignored her, and carried on, though it was clear her reaction not only amused him, but had been his intention.
‘I’m from Darwin,’ he continued conversationally, ‘though contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean I have webbed feet! There is definitely no chance of inbreeding in our family!’ he guffawed. ‘I mean, who’d want to get on that?!’ he exclaimed crudely, motioning to the girl beside him, whose face was alternating between furious scarlet and putrid green. ‘I just finished school, and my dad, Isabella’s uncle, thought it was time I saw the country.’
Isabella slowly composed herself, though she winced as she spoke, as if the echo of her cousin’s words still stung her. ‘Good evening everyone, I’m Isabella Leiter, Anthony’s cousin.’ Her words were clipped and formal, her voice British and upper class. She wore her long reddish-brown hair in a neat braid, which coupled with her delicate figure, made her look far younger than eighteen.
‘Our fathers were both born over here, however Papa moved to England before I was born … thank God! Papa thought it would be nice for me to spend my gap year with family.’ She ended abruptly, looking back at Anthony. The tone of her voice suggested she didn’t necessarily agree with her father.
Flic felt her nerves rise as the focus of the table moved closer towards her. As she looked at the two people set to speak before her, she groaned. This was going to be even quicker than she’d expected! These two definitely came as a pair.
Jake and Luke were identical twins. Their hair was such a vivid shade of ginger that it seemed to shine. Red hair is something so often ridiculed, an automatic assumption of ugliness, but the only word that sprang to mind as Flic eyed the twins was ‘radiant’. Their skin was the most attractive shade of brown, tanned in a way she’d never thought possible for redheads. In fact, as she looked around the group once more, she realised that everyone was enviably brown. Flic assumed it must just be the Australian weather, though she knew that no matter how much time she spent in the country, her pale complexion would never reach such a gorgeous caramel colour. Luke-warm British summers, with their fleeting snatches of sunlight, had taught Flic at an early age that she wasn’t compatible with the sun. She had envied Amelia so much. Her mother had had an almost permanent tan. While the best Flic could ever hope for was Maybelline summer tone foundation, and even that looked harsh against her pale skin!
The twins were English, but studying at a university in Melbourne. This was their summer break. Like Isabella, their slight statures made them look extremely young for their age. As Flic looked from one to the other, she realised it wasn’t hard to distinguish between them. Jake’s hair was floppy and unkempt, his appearance far less cultivated than his fashionable twin’s, though as Flic reminded herself, fiddling awkwardly with her dowdy combats under the table, tonight’s appearances shouldn’t be read into too deeply!
Finally it was her turn. She breathed in deeply, and flashed her eyes around the circle. Daniel was no longer engaged in conversation. His focus was on her, cool, but encouraging. As her nerves heightened, her cheeks flamed. She stared back down at the table, and began.
‘Hi, I’m, uh, Felicity, but everyone calls me Flic. I, well … to be honest … I’m still pretty jet-lagged and shocked to be here. I just finished my A-Levels, and had planned to go straight to uni until’, … her voice faltered, but she knew she had to say it. It was her life now. ‘Until my Mum died a few months ago. Mum was Australian, but I’ve never been out here before. She, uh, she left instructions in her will for me to come here …’ Flic trailed off, lost for anything more to say, her cheeks and chest burning red with embarrassment. Under the table a warm, unfamiliar hand gripped hers, and she flinched. Before she could react, its owner began to speak, taking the heat of the social spotlight away from her. A cool wave of relief washed over her, and she turned her attention towards her saviour.
Interestingly, her neighbour wasn’t overly confident in the spotlight himself, and yet there he was, taking the heat for her. Affection for this stranger welled in the back of Flic’s throat, and she squeezed his hand before he drew it away.
‘Hi everyone’, he stuttered nervously, ‘I’m Toby.’
Toby’s voice had a rough quality to it, though it wasn’t because of a regional twang like Jules’s. While there was a definite Brummie lilt to his voice, the texture went beyond his accent. His voice was less refined, less polished than anyone else’s. He stumbled on shyly and Flic wondered if his hesitance was linked to insecurities like the ones she felt as she stared round the table. Not that he had any need! And his shy awkwardness only served to make him more attractive.
‘I guess you’ve all heard by now that my brother dropped out. Max, ah, well Max met a girl while we were in Thailand, and decided to fly to South Africa instead of doing the tour. I’m so sorry for all the inconvenience this causes … um, with numbers and stuff …’, he directed this towards Damo, who sat at the head of the table. The tour guide shook his head dismissively, and Toby continued.
‘So, anyway, well, I’m from Bromsgrove, born and bred. This is actually only the second time I’ve been abroad. I’m a sparky,’ he glanced around at the rest of the group, a number of their faces blank, and then corrected himself, ‘an electrician, by trade. I’m over here on a working visa. Plan is to work out here once the tour’s over.’ He shrugged awkwardly, and Daniel slickly carried on from where he left off.
‘Good evening everyone! So, it looks like I’m Max’s replacement! And, can I just say, I think your bro’s made the right decision about holiday destinations!’ he winked at Toby, the South African part of his accent becoming stronger, as if to accentuate his point.
Toby grinned awkwardly. In fact it looked more like a grimace, but Daniel didn’t seem to notice, and continued, telling the others the same tale of his life that he’d told Flic on the plane. Thankfully he skipped out her involvement in him joining the group. She wasn’t sure she wanted the others knowing about … whatever it was that had happened. The day of jet-lagged sleep since their arrival made the plane journey seem a lifetime away, and suddenly, faced with him in this new environment, Flic was no longer sure how she felt about Daniel, or about leaving everything with Ally behind her.
Finally, the beautiful brunette at Daniel’s side introduced herself. Her hair was chestnut brown, but with expensive-looking caramel highlights, which glowed autumnally in the light. Flic sighed. It was the same look she’d always wanted. She sometimes imagined that her hair glowed a reddish shade when the sun caught it, the way Amelia’s had, but deep down Flic knew her hair was nothing more than a dull shade of brown.
Camilla had a fragile heart-shaped face and flawless cheekbones reminiscent of a porcelain doll, something that she accentuated with dark rings of eye-liner. Her complexion, however, was by no means pale.
Like the twins, Camilla lived in Melbourne. It surprised Flic to find Australians on the tour. She’d just assumed the group would comprise of the typical backpacker demographic, a bunch of eighteen year-old English girls, and a sprinkling of pub-crawling Irish lads! Obviously Amelia had selected a slightly more unorthodox trip for her!
Flic wasn’t sure how happy she was about that yet, especially as she gazed at Camilla’s envious curves! In an age when curvy was synonymous with fat, somehow Camilla managed to pull off a frankly massive bust, and miniscule waist. Flic groaned inwardly. She’d always heard that you ‘find yourself’ on your gap year. So far all Flic seemed to be finding out was how plain and inadequate she was!
‘So guys, this is your family!’ Damo interjected ‘… well, for the next two months at least!’ he continued. ‘What develops between you after that, that’s none of my concern! Though from what I hear, previous tours have had a few marriages and births to answer for … but hopefully no deaths!
‘In all seriousness though, welcome to Discover Australia … or the Disco tour as I like to call it! I know a lot of you haven’t been told too much about what the next two months have in store, but let me reassure you, you will be challenged. We like to think of our trip as one of the most extreme and elite that the East Coast has to offer … so fasten your seatbelts … you’re in for one hell of a ride!’
He passed around a tray of shot glasses, and before Flic had even had a chance to sniff at the contents of her glass, Damo had raised a toast. ‘To new family!’
The tequila burnt Flic’s throat, and she thought ironically of the Firestone family, which was no more.
© C-C Lester 2009