Category Archives: Novel Excerpt

New Start to Flicker!!!

So I promised to return to ‘Flicker’ … and that’s exactly what I’ve done 🙂  Those of you who regularly read the blog will know the original first few chapters can be found HERE, but after a year away from the story, I’ve decided to edit it again.  Here’s the ‘new’ opening scenes!! 

As ever, it’s great to hear what you think!

Cheers, C-C xx

Flash Forward

Jets of hot white steam plumed violently into the air, and the open wounds in the landscape belched thick black mud. The island hissed and fizzed, a volatile volcanic wasteland. At the flick of the old man’s hand a wall of flames appeared above the acid-filled lake. Flic stared up at him, no longer able to fight the instinct that somehow he was answering questions she hadn’t even realised she was asking.

‘Tell me you haven’t looked into the heart of a fire and felt its very soul?’ he asked. ‘I know you Felicity Firestone, in the same way I knew your mother, and this is your destiny! It’s in your blood!’

1. Fugitive

December 2009

Flic frowned up at the departures board, struggling under the weight of her backpack. All around her Heathrow Airport buzzed with excitement, happy holidaymakers eagerly anticipating life on the other side of the departure lounge. She shifted her gaze at the itinerary in her hand – an open return trip to Australia of all places! And yet Flic was feeling anything but excited. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to go home! Not that she even knew where that was any more …

The house she’d grown up in was still there of course, but it was no longer hers. And even if it had been, all it would have been was a shell. Just one more thing back in Bath to remind her of everything she had lost. All the people who mattered were gone.

Flic gripped the page tightly. She was making the right decision. In fact, Mum had made the right decision for her … without even knowing the half of it! She stared around the airport one last time, immediately chiding herself for looking. Ally wasn’t going to come. No matter how much she wanted it, no matter how many times she prayed, he wasn’t going to magically appear at the check-in desk and beg her to stay. He wasn’t going to tell her what she wanted to hear. That this had all just been a big mistake. He wasn’t going to do any of those things, because he’d already had three months to run back to her side, and he hadn’t come.

Hugging her day-sack close to her chest, Flic stepped reluctantly in the direction of the check-in desks, and tried to push her doubts to one side. She wanted to go home … but maybe that was actually where she was going. After all, her mother had been born in Australia, and had always promised to take Flic there one day. Flic had just never expected that when she did visit her mother’s homeland, Amelia would only be with her in spirit.

An unruly tear escaped her eye all of a sudden, and Flic brushed it aside, angrily gritting her teeth. This wasn’t how all this was meant to begin. This was her gap year, an adventure. Her time to see the world, experience new things, meet new people. Her opportunity to make a new life for herself … one to replace the life that she had so suddenly lost. And she wasn’t going to be able to do any of those things if she stood around crying and moping.

With a newfound sense of purpose, she marched determinedly towards the Qantas check-in counter, but her determination was short-lived, as she took a step too far and slammed right into the last person in the line. Flic flushed red and mumbled an apology. The man shrugged easily and caught her eye, his gaze lingering ever so slightly. Flic looked hurriedly down at her hands, embarrassed by the foreign attention. If it really was attention? She frowned at herself, all too aware that she’d never been in this situation before.

Flic glanced awkwardly up at the man again. He was classically good-looking – his jaw chiselled, and hair jet-black. As he turned back to face the front of the queue, she could make out the well-defined muscles of his wide shoulders and back beneath his thin t-shirt, broad arms held casually at his sides. It seemed to take her a moment to realise exactly how attractive he was. It had just been so long since she was last single! With Ally at her side she’d never had any reason to look at other guys. But Ally wasn’t at her side any more. Times had changed. And it was time for Flic to change along with them.

This was the right thing to do. Going to Australia. This was where Amelia had wanted her to be, just three months on from her death. The will had spelled that out in no uncertain terms. Tickets had been booked, research secretly carried out, and a place on a two-month tour reserved in her name. Her mother’s last actions. Her very final wish. It seemed Australia was where Flic was meant to be. Thousands of miles away from the funeral, the ex-boyfriend, and her stale university dreams.

Flic shifted the weight of her rucksack on her shoulders, grudgingly acknowledging the realities of the past that she would soon be leaving behind. She’d been carrying so much for so long. Not just since her mother’s death, but long before it, watching, futile, as breast-cancer wrecked and ravaged her vibrant young mother. Seeing Amelia suffer had been quite literally soul-destroying. And yet she had packed it all away, memories to face at a later date, and instead busied herself nursing her mother, and trying to savour the painful last days with the woman who had been her entire family. She knew she ought to begin to deal with it all. It had been three months. Perhaps now, as she embarked on a new adventure, away from the stresses of university, and everyday life, this was her opportunity to begin to come to terms with everything?

She frowned, and looked resolutely over at the check-in counter. One step at a time.

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‘Good Evening Miss Firestone!’ The air hostess beamed as Flic finally stepped aboard her flight and handed over her boarding pass. Flic nodded grudgingly. The past three hours had been an uncomfortable waiting game, wedged between impatient businessmen and excitable children in the security cattle queues. Finally past the scanners, the departure gate had changed three times, each one located at a different end of the airport. Flic had been left beyond flustered – out of breath, sweating from every pore, and utterly amazed that she’d actually found the plane on time!

Still breathing heavily, Flic followed the air hostess’s directions and made her way despondently towards the seat which would be her prison-cell for the next night and day. As her eyes skimmed the crowds of other passengers settling down in their own seats, something inside her flipped unexpectedly, and she found herself wondering where the man from the queue might be. For a second she wavered with the idea that perhaps she should have put on some make-up in the airport toilets, but immediately chided herself for the thought, looking down at the baggy tracksuit and greying t-shirt which she’d thrown on without so much of a thought that morning. It was going to take more than make-up to cover up the realities of the past three months. No, Flic was best off burrowing herself into her seat, and hiding beneath the airline sleep mask for the duration of the flight. At least that way, if the handsome stranger was anywhere nearby, on this crowded flight of hundreds, she wouldn’t embarrass herself any more than she already had.

Carefully she took her gaze away from her fellow passengers and instead concentrated on the seat numbers, searching out her vacant seat. ‘Twenty One, Twenty Two, Twenty Three …’ She mentally ticked off the rows, and finding her place, reached straight for the overhead locker, untangling Ally’s water-polo hoodie from around herself with one hand. It had been the only item of his clothing that she hadn’t been able to part with. With a frown at all it symbolised, she shoved the jumper into the locker, and slammed it shut with a rather unnecessary bang.

As promised, she sank defeatedly down into the aeroplane seat, and began fishing around in her daysack for her sleeping mask.

‘Woah girl … what did it ever do to you?’ came the voice beside her. Flic turned confused, ‘I’m sorry what …?’ She asked, stopping short at the sight of her next-door neighbour. It was the same man she had crashed into in the check-in queue. The same gorgeous man who Flic had crashed straight into just a few hours beforehand. ‘The overhead locker!’ He continued. ‘Hang on …’ he smiled, a flicker of recognition in his eye. ‘You were the one in the queue earlier!’ He grinned, an easy grin, which revealed teeth so perfect they could only have been achieved with the help of serious metal work. ‘Bad day?’ he asked simply, raising a cheeky eyebrow.

She took a deep breath, registering her sweaty, thoughtless appearance. Bad day was beyond an understatement! Even if she hadn’t just run circles around Heathrow, this situation would have been a nightmare. Since the funeral Flic had barely eaten, let alone brushed her hair or opened a make-up bag, and yet suddenly she was waking up to concerns that hadn’t entered her consciousness for months. She was a shadow of herself. And for the first time since Amelia’s death, she cared enough not to want to be.

She shot the guy a sideways glance, carefully noting the absence of any girlfriend beside him. Tucked in the window seat, a grumpy-looking old man fiddled with his seatbelt. Flic focussed her attention on the friendly stranger, gritting her teeth nervously and wondering how she’d been able to look at him so impassively before. Neat black locks framed a pair of cool grey eyes that had a definite sparkle. His angular jaw was speckled with dark stubble, cropped to a designer length. And his clothes were casual, and yet perfectly selected. He could have stepped right off the page of a magazine. She frowned inwardly. What was she doing? He was being polite! Nothing more! She ought to be happy that her head and heart seemed to finally be waking up after lying dormant for so long. It was a start. She shouldn’t ruin it by over-thinking anything. Sensing the natural end of the polite conversation, Flic leaned forward, deciding to give him an easy out. She leafed through the contents of the seat-back pocket, settling on the in-flight movie schedule, and then settled back to pretend to read, her heart still racing from the novelty of it all.

‘I’m Daniel’ the man continued, ignoring her attempts at silence, and extending a firm hand across her magazine. A proper introduction. His voice was a neat mix of South African and English boarding school. Flic flinched, startled. ‘Felicity … Flic’ she stumbled, awkwardly grasping his fingers.

Her unease seemed to amuse him. He raised a confident eyebrow, ‘So, ‘Felicity-Flic’ what takes you to Australia?’ He had introduced himself to her! He had initiated conversation! She had given him an out, and yet he had initiated a conversation. All to aware of the flip of unexpected lust in her chest, Flic tried to still her excitement, but allowed herself to turn properly to face him. Daniel. Distracted immediately by the intensity of his cool eyes, Flic looked quickly down and tried to focus on what he was asking. What a question! She opted for the simplest answer. ‘I’m on my Gap Year. I’ve got a two-month adventure tour booked, starting in Cairns.’

‘An adventure tour?’ his eyes sparkled with interest. At least she hoped it was interest, and he wasn’t just humouring her. Something about his manner put her ever-so-slightly on guard, as if she were the butt of an unknown joke. He was just so slick. Flic couldn’t help wondering, why someone so attractive would make this much effort to speak to her? Or was it just her imagination? Just another facet of her insecurity? Why did he have any reason to be anything other than polite and friendly? They would be sharing neighbouring seats for the best part of twenty-four hours.

‘An adventure tour?’ he continued, showing a genuine interest in her words. ‘ So you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie then?’ Flic decided to ignore the nagging suspicion that he was mocking her, and trust his apparent sincerity.

‘I guess you could say that! Though I’m into endurance sports too,’ she heard herself babble. Flirt-mode! She registered in utter surprise. This was her flirt-mode! Flic had been so young when she’d first begun dating Ally, she couldn’t even remember ever having had to flirt! It had just been so easy – they’d been school friends, and their friendship had taken what felt like its natural course, gradually developing into a relationship. Looking back she couldn’t remember even attempting to flirt before. She waited nervously for his response, wondering if she sounded too cheesy.

His eyes flashed appreciatively down at her t-shirt, ‘Yeah I can see that … the London Marathon … wow!’ She shrugged off his praise, ‘It’s not really that hard. I think the only reason I finished was because I’m so stubborn! Trust me, it had nothing to do with sporting ability!’ ‘Impressive, nonetheless.’ Flic really wasn’t sure how to take him. He was just so self-assured. Ally was a confident guy, but Daniel practically smouldered charm. It was definitely disconcerting, though perhaps being out of her comfort zone was exactly what she needed?

‘So, Daniel’, she grinned, feigning confidence, and stumbling at what could potentially be flirtation. ‘What’s your sport of choice? Or can I guess?’ She grinned cheekily, realising the comment permitted a quick glance at his body. He was muscular, yet streamlined. Daniel lacked the shoulders of a rower … shoulders Ally had … and his thighs were heavy-looking, but not rugby-esque.

‘Go on …’ he nodded encouragingly.

‘Hmm … horse-riding?’ Daniel raised an eyebrow, and she groaned inwardly at her behaviour. He was a twenty year-old guy, not an eight year-old girl! Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t had to flirt for three years, she was appalling! ‘Sorry, I meant polo,’ she corrected herself, wincing slightly as she waited for his response.

Daniel simply smiled. ‘I guess you could draw some similarities… I ride bikes.’ Flic stared at him out of the corner of her eye. ‘There’s no way you’re a cyclist! Sorry, but you’re way too … stacked!’ She blurted, a hot blush colouring her as she realised what she’d said. ‘Why thank you!’ Daniel laughed easily, and ran a steel tongue-bar between his lips. ‘No you’re right, I ride motorbikes not mountain bikes. I guess I’ve always been into my gadgets, and bikes are the most fun gadget of them all!’

Felicity stared awkwardly down at the magazine in her lap, not really knowing what to say. She was still embarrassed about the horse-riding comment, and the conversation had led to something she knew absolutely nothing about. Her vague bloom of confidence was disappearing almost as quickly as it had appeared.

Daniel filled the silence. ‘So Felicity-Flic, how about you tell me about this adventure tour?’ Flic smiled, glad for the change of subject. ‘Well to be honest, I don’t know a great deal about it! My Mum booked it, and she wanted it to be a surprise. All I really know is that I start in Cairns, and I’m not heading home until at least next February.’

When Daniel didn’t interrupt, Flic carried on, suddenly aware of how nice it was to talk about Amelia with someone who didn’t cry at the mention of her name. At the funeral she’d felt like the responsible adult, consoling each of her mother’s friends in turn.

‘Mum really loved the outdoors. She grew up in Australia, so I guess it was in her blood! Had me camping before I could walk!’ Flic smiled, distracted for a second, and then remembered what they were talking about. ‘Anyway, I’m guessing the tour’ll be pretty basic. No ‘flash-packing’ for me, that’s for sure!’

‘Flash-packing!’ Daniel grinned. ‘I like the sound of that – not heard that before! Your mum sounds pretty special!’ he added kindly.

Flic nodded slowly, ‘Yeah she is … was, I mean …, she stumbled, still not used to the past tense. She took a deep breath. The more often she said this out loud, the easier it would be to come to terms with. ‘Um, actually she died a couple of months ago. I only found out about the trip in her will.’

Something flickered in Daniel’s eyes, an emotion she found hard to read. Maybe it was just awkwardness, a reaction she’d met an awful lot recently. ‘I’m really sorry’, he said quietly. Flic frowned inwardly. Why did everyone do that? Apologise. It wasn’t their fault. No one was to blame. That was the problem.

‘Sorry,’ Daniel said again, and she turned her attention back to him. ‘That was a stupid thing to say. I’m sure you’re already fed up with people apologising for no reason.’ He stumbled, and Flic frowned at him in disbelief. She shook her head, wondering if she had heard him right. ‘How did you ….’

He smiled awkwardly, the strain of the expression showing at the sides of his eyes. ‘I lost my mother too … but she died a very long time ago. I never really knew her … and I’ve spent a lifetime having people apologise the moment they hear she’s gone. And it’s not their fault, they didn’t even know her! It’s not their fault …’ His voice faltered and Flic frowned again, not certain she understood the full meaning of what he was saying. She waited to see if he would continue.

Finally he spoke, his tone changed. ‘So how’s your Dad holding up?’ Flic shrugged, ‘I never knew him. It’s always just been me and Mum. I guess she was more like a friend than a mum in a lot of ways. How about you, are you close to your Dad?’ she asked politely.

The question didn’t produce the reaction she had hoped. He seemed even more uneasy! Finally, more quietly than before, he replied ‘You’d think I ought to be, wouldn’t you? But I guess I reminded him too much of her, Mum …’ Daniel paused, then went to say something and stopped. He looked down the iPod in his hand, idly spinning his index finger around the dial.

He had said nothing, and yet Flic understood that he had said far too much. A few simple sentences had shattered his picture-perfect armour, revealing a lost soul that she understood far too well. Acting before she even had a chance to think, Flic reached across the arm rest and grasped the stranger’s hand.

Daniel’s hand was so cold it was as if Flic’s body heat drained straight into it. She snatched her hand back, motivated by the shock and by the embarrassment of her actions. He hadn’t even said anything poignant. She had simply read between the lines of his words, clearly reading too much into a few throwaway comments. So his mother had died too, and he didn’t get on with his Dad. There was no cause to think anything more of the situation than what he had said. She focussed upon the attractive man in front of her and reminded herself just how out of her league he was.

But Daniel looked back at her with an expression that was anything but awkward. An expression which seemed to suggest he had different ideas about the league systems. He reached gently back across the divide of the airplane seats, and pulled her hand back down on top of his, placing his other hand over it. He stared down into her eyes. ‘Thank you.’ He said softly. His grey eyes moved like mercury – a rainbow of colours, and yet they were all shades of silver. ‘You know, I think you may just have become my favourite next-door neighbour!’ he winked, his cool exterior returning as he nodded over at the pensioner sat on his other side, who had just begun to snore.

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Filed under C-C Lester, Flicker, Novel Excerpt

About the Author – My Crazy Unorthodox Life!

Continuing my trio of blog posts this afternoon (see The Author Package, and My Writer Package!) I’ve decided to answer the Apprentice Candidate question, and hopefully also add to my personal ‘Author Package’, by telling you about my crazy, somewhat unorthodox life.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile at sunrise

 I think the key thing about my life is that I’ve never seen boundaries in the same way other people do.  Running a marathon in another country isn’t a life-long pursuit for me, it’s something I’ll sign up to four weeks beforehand.  I spend my life writing emails, searching out opportunities, taking chances, and generally trying to fill my life with as much excitement as possible.

On the inside of my left wrist I have a tattoo of two words – Carpe Diem.  As a child ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ was my favourite film, and it’s a motto that I’ve tried to apply to my life every single day.  ‘Seize the Day’ insists the Latin translation, and to be honest, I’m one of those people who when I don’t seize it, and look back on what I consider a ‘wasted’ day, I get rather frustrated!

My ACTUAL real wrist! How’s that for sharing? 😉 

I was orphaned at nineteen, which definitely had a profound effect on my attitude to life, however I maintain that deep down I’ve always been this person, the situation with my parents simply amplified this attitude of mine. At primary school I was an over-achiever.  Too young to really understand it, I constantly demanded my teachers attention, resulting in a host of awards and prizes, but rather unflattering school reports like ‘Charlotte needs to learn she’s not the only pebble on the beach!’

Hmm … well, I’m pretty sure I’ve learnt that now, though I’d probably suggest my pebble looks rather different to the norm!

At secondary school I was an all-rounder.  I was still academic, scoring straight As and A*s throughout school, but for me life wasn’t just about studying.  I played various sports, for the school and for the county, won a coveted role as a DJ on a children-run radio station, presenting the Breakfast show, and was sent to Japan to represent Great Britain in an International Schools Forum.  I was chief prosecutor in the county Mock Trial competition, Prime Minister in Youth Parliament and a Millennium Volunteer.  Outside of school I volunteered as a helper with Beaver Scouts, Brownies, Cubs and Guides (organisations I still volunteer with, 15 years on).

I did my Gold Duke of Edinburgh climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, my Queen’s Scout in the Swiss Alps, and saved up for two years to do a World Challenge across Venezuela.  My parents weren’t wealthy at all, and my Dad was often out of work caring for my Mum, who was ill throughout my time at secondary school, so I did a series of part-time jobs, from as young as 13.  I always had an expedition or a trip to be saving for, and so I worked working as a waitress, bowling alley lane host, a children’s entertainer, and then a lifeguard.

Looking back, I was the kind of child who would probably annoy even me now!  I know one close friend of mine, who if they saw 16 year old me, would describe me as ‘that kind of girl!’ with a disparaging roll of the eye!  But all those things were character building, and the more I did, the more I wanted to do.

At nineteen, on my gap year, I took a job teaching English in the middle of nowhere in China.  At a time when the internet was a lot more dubious, I received a random email asking if I was still looking for a teaching job in China, having been turned down by a number of major schools and universities for being too young and inexperienced.  Huaihua College simply asked if I could speak English!  And so, with that requirement fulfilled, I set off for China with my best friend at the time.  We literally weren’t even sure anyone would meet us at Beijing Airport, and had agreed that if that was the case, we’d do two weeks in the capital and then just fly back home.  Someone did meet us, and we took a 27 hour journey to the middle of nowhere.  Huaihua had a population of hundreds of thousands, and yet together with a Canadian girl who was teaching in a local middle school, myself and my friend were two of only three white people in the entire city!  We were literally treated like film stars every time we walked down the street!  I taught in China for six months, before returning to England to take up my studies at Cambridge.

Receiving my Cosmopolitan ‘Fun Fearless Female’ Ultimate Family Girl Award in 2008 from Matt Di Angelo and Gethin Jones

(I didn’t realise I’d won so literally got ready 5 minutes beforehand!)

It was at the end of my first term at Cambridge when I became orphaned.  I lost both of my parents to cancer in 2003, literally starting the year with two ‘healthy’ parents, and ending it with neither of them.  As the oldest sibling, with very little extended family, responsibility fell on me to make funeral arrangements, sell our family home, and see that my younger sister was looked after properly.  Once all the admin had been done, I fell apart.  For about a term I was unrecognisable.  Lazy and uninspired, I had hit rock bottom.  And that was when I remember thinking, ‘are you honestly going to let this take you too?’.  My sister had lost a mother and a father.  It wasn’t right to throw away her sister too.  I ought to be the person my parents had brought me up to be.  The daughter they had known.  And so I guess I got myself back, but in overdrive.

As a child I had become interested in cricket.  At the time it was a sport very few women played, let alone girls, and when the local women’s team was ill-equipped to take on a nine year-old beginner, my Dad became heavily involved in the sport, so as to facilitate me playing.  He took coaching, umpiring and scoring courses, and set up clubs and even county teams simply so that girls my age could play the sport.  I had actually given up cricket at 15, discovering boys and part-time jobs, and other teenage distractions, but Dad’s death kick-started something in me, and I returned to the sport.  I trialed for the Cambridge team in my first year, becoming the only Fresher to play at the Varsity Match at Lord’s that year.  In my second year I became Vice-Captain, and in my third year, I retired from the sport after captaining Cambridge against Oxford at Lord’s, and changing the status of the women’s sport to Full Blue – a huge achievement at the time.

During my time at Cambridge I also became heavily involved in a number of other extra-curricular activities (often to the displeasure of my Director of Studies!).  I ski-raced for the University on dry slopes and snow, edited both my College Magazine, and the Cambridge University Law Review, ran the Paris Marathon, and after two years on the Ospreys Committee for University Sportswomen, held the coveted position of Ospreys President.  I was heavily involved in the Cambridge ‘Drinking Society’ scene (something similar to sororities and fraternities), despite ironically only ever drinking Diet Coke on nights out, and I was President of my College May Ball Committee – a two year position which saw me in charge of a £140,000 budget. I literally crammed my university experience with as much as I possibly could.

My aim was to have the most all-rounded experience I could, something probably best demonstrated in my first year when I took on the role of mascot for the college rugby team, and happily danced around the rugby pitch perimeter in a fluffy cat suit.  For me, university wasn’t just about grades, it was about seizing life and making the most of experiences, and in my four years at Cambridge, my time definitely wasn’t without those things.

Despite my extra-curricular distractions, and probably much to the surprise of my Director of Studies!, I graduated Cambridge with a good degree in Law.  At the time, Oxbridge graduates were being snapped up by Magic Circle Solicitor firms, however behind a desk was not how I saw myself.  The only thing that had every really appealed about the firms was their international offices, and the opportunity to travel, however this was something I now understood I could achieve without a legal job. Inspired by the Children’s TV Show Blue Peter, I decided to pursue a Masters in Broadcast Journalism at University of Westminster.

If I’m honest, the step away from the stringent requirements and administration at Cambridge made me rather carefree, and I found myself literally doing enough to get by in my course, whilst taking every opportunity to travel.  I designed projects for myself which took me to South Africa to report on AIDS orphans, and then to the Philippines to make a documentary about the recent murders of journalists on the island of Mindanao.

I also started my own YouTube Channel, called ‘Challenge Charly’, where I filmed myself doing a series of endurance and extreme sport challenges in Britain and around the world. During my Masters, I climbed to Everest Base Camp, ran the Rome Marathon, did a 42 mile hike in a day, a 100 mile cycle ride in a Day, the London to Brighton cycle ride, visited the jungles of Borneo, learnt to wake board, ice-climb, sail a yacht and fly a plane.  I did air acrobatics, a bushcraft course, several adventure races in the British Isles, and my Advanced Open Water scuba dive course.  I did the Three Peaks Challenge as part of my Queen’s Guide Award, cycled across Cambodia, and ran around London in a gorilla suit for charity.

Basically I spent the inheritance I received from selling our family home to have as many exciting experiences as I possibly could, and documented them all on video.

Inspired by the things I achieved during my Masters, I then decided to carry on traveling after my second graduation.  I fulfilled a life-long dream and booked a ‘Round The World’ plane ticket, to take me to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and South and Central America.

My first sky dive – Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia

On my own, I spent two months in Australia, doing everything from volunteering on a Scout Camp, to scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and doing my first sky dive.  In New Zealand I hiked glaciers, faced my fear of heights doing a bungee jump, and read the Twilight series in four days.  It was actually getting so excited by a series of books which inspired me to put pen to paper and begin to write some of the stories I’d had in my head for years.

I spent eight months traveling from Patagonia up to Canada all by my self, and in that time I did some weird and wonderful stuff.  I worked for a month for board and lodging as a groom on a polo farm in Argentina, with about ten words of Spanish to my name!  I climbed Mt Aconcagua (the highest mountain in South America) all by myself – a foolish, foolish move! – and lived with people I met at bustops!  I took 28 hour after 28 hour-long overnight bus journeys and met some incredible people.  I did the Inca Trail, and the Lost City jungle trek, sailed from Colombia to Panama, and did every adventurous activity I had the chance to try along the way.  In Honduras I stopped on Utila, in the Bay Islands, and completed my PADI Rescue Diver.

And then, when I finally came home, a year later, I decided I needed to go away again, and just two weeks later headed to the ski resort of Whistler, Canada, to find a job to begin repaying all the debt I’d wracked up travelling!

Whistler ended up being my base for a year and a half.

I did two ski seasons there, qualifying as both a ski and snowboard instructor during that time, and I used the shoulder seasons (Spring and Autumn) to travel, completing my Dive Master and First Aid Instructor courses back on the island of Utila in Honduras. I came home two months ago, which I guess brings you up to where I am now. I guess the thing about me, is I’ve never seen the world in quite the same way other people do.  I see it as a playing field.  A place for adventures – ours for the taking.  And nothing will stand in my way to have those adventures (whether it’s my bank balance – hence the heaps of debt I then had to pay off!!!! or people’s assumptions of the ‘right career path.’)

Ok, so I have a Law Degree from Cambridge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be a lawyer.  I know it’s often frowned upon to jump off the bandwagon (trust me I’ve had some interesting comments from peers along the way!) but I just think your life is WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT! And the more I’ve achieved, the more I’ve done … the more I’ve wanted to do.

Anyone regularly reading this blog will know the past two months have been my idea of Hell.  I’ve been sitting around with nothing to do, waiting for a start date on a job.  I live my life for adventures and my list gets ever longer. I think that’s why I originally wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter.  They seemed to have the ideal job – trying every activity and going to every place imaginable – but then I realised those were things I could do alone.  Whilst obviously being a TV presenter is a career where you could do all those things and still be ‘working’, I realised that writing is also a job you can do ‘on the go’.   And that actually, all of this life experience – all of my strange and wacky work experience, and all the people I’ve met along the way, can actually be of use to me in my future career.

Because writing is about understanding.  Understanding people and understanding experiences.  Not everyone is going to run a marathon in their life, or hike up to the top of Mt.  Kilimanjaro, but as an author who HAS done those things, I can relive them for people.  I can help people have those experiences in their minds, and possibly even inspire them to go out and try some of the weird and wonderful things I’ve done – the initial reason for creating Challenge Charly.

I’m sorry this has turned out to be such a long blog post.  It’s not meant to be a CV, or a ‘wow aren’t I amazing’ piece, I’m just trying to explain why I maybe think slightly differently to your average writer, and why I’m so passionate about writing and travelling, and inspiring others.  It’s one of the reasons I most enjoy writing for a teenage audience, because they, in particular, are the ones deciding exactly what they want from life.

Your life is what you make of it!  And I really hope my life story is reams and reams longer than these couple of thousand words.  I hope I have many adventures left ahead of me, and I really hope that I’m writing along the way, and that one day I have the opportunity to share those adventures with thousands of people and hopefully inspire them to try something they currently see as outside the barriers of their own life.

Test the barriers.  Push them.  You’re the only one who put them there!

C-C xxx

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Filed under C-C Lester, Novel Excerpt, The Dream Navigator, Unsigned Author Commentary

My Ten Future Lives – Life Three

As requested by Nina 🙂 If you haven’t yet read any of MTFL, it’s psychological women’s fiction, so rather different to my normal young adult stuff. Click on the following links for earlier chapters –

Introduction

Life One

Life Two

 

Life Three – 2013

‘Good Morning London, you’re listening to Hear Say, and I’m Amy March, here with all of today’s top gossip!  First up, Olympic champion Matty McAllister isn’t looking quite so golden these days!  Whilst his long-term girlfriend India Masters is on location, filming in LA, McAllister has been spotted romancing a mysterious brunette, near his home in Holburn.’

Bugger!

My name is Ashleigh Vaughan and I’m 26.  Not only am I the ‘mysterious brunette’ in question … but I’ve also fucked up big-style!

Before you judge me, there are a couple of things I should explain.  First off, India Masters is my best friend.  And Matty McAllister isn’t dating her.  He’s dating me.  It’s just that we’re pretty much the only people who know any of that …

I probably ought to start at the beginning.  Matty is arguably the most famous rower in Britain at the moment.  His honey-blond locks and chocolate brown eyes, combined with a Gold medal on home turf last year, were the perfect recipe for the British media.  They descended on him … and descended on him hard. These days Matty can’t walk down the street without being recognised.  His every move is documented in photograph-form, from arriving at an airport, to popping to the local corner shop for milk.  He has a sponsor for his clothes, his hair gel and his trainers.  In fact, if he’s seen drinking the wrong sports drink, the press, and his sponsors, will have kittens.  So just think what will happen now he’s been caught kissing the wrong girl …

But the thing is I’m not the wrong girl!

The media weren’t the first to notice how special Matty McAllister is.  I was … seven whole years ago!  I was the girl who stood at the side of the Cam in the wind and the rain, willing Matty to ‘bump’ other boats in the name of St. John’s.  I was the girl who painted her face Cambridge blue, and dressed in rowing team stash five-times too big for me, to show my true colours in the Boat Race, whilst all around me those bloody Oxford supporters yelled some nonsense about ‘shoe’-ing ‘the Tabs’!  I sat next to him in lectures, and stood by him through Finals and interviews for consultancy firms.  I pulled all-nighters with him in Exam Term, and fought off impending sleep with him at the annual May Balls.  And I have watched him win every level of university, national and international rowing competition in the last five years.

I just happened to do it from the shadows …

I’ve never been one for the limelight.  Even when we were back at university, I found myself referred to more often as ‘her friend’, or ‘his girlfriend’, than by my actual name.  It’s not something I ever had a problem with.  Reputation means nothing to me.  Or rather, fame means nothing to me.  As long as the people I care about know who I really am, why should I worry too much about what the rest of the world thinks?

I’m a lawyer.

At university, it was an over-used classification.  We were automatically drawn into groups, and clustered under stereotypes, according to our major.  I studied in the Law Faculty … therefore I was a ‘lawyer’.

At university that kind of classification annoyed me.  And yet nowadays … nowadays I don’t want to be known as India Masters’ best friend, or Matty McAllister’s girlfriend.

I just want to be a lawyer!

I’m a barrister… finally!  For two long years, I battled through my pupillage, barely enough time to myself to be classified as anything other than a pupil anyway … but finally I’m free.  Free from the shackles of servant-hood … because that was essentially what being a pupil was.  I wasn’t a lawyer, I was someone else’s bitch.  But I gritted my teeth, and did my time, and finally I am a barrister.  In July last year, ironically the same month Matty became an Olympic Gold medallist, I was called to the London Bar, to practice Media Law.

I’m a lawyer.  I just happen to also be dating the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, and best friends with one of Britain’s newest additions to Hollywood …

And I know, that if I were to play all of those three cards, then the law would be the last thing people would see.

The thing with the Bar, is it’s a community based on reputation.  Your face has to fit.  And even in this day and age, having a female face, and may I say, a rather pretty one at that, often works to my detriment.  I worked hard … beyond hard … for two years, proving to the top Wigs at my Chambers that I was serious about my job.  That I was serious about my career.  That being called to the Bar wasn’t simply an item on a long check-list of life achievements … That being called to the Bar was my life.

And even though we all know it’s possible to have a job, and a boyfriend, and friendships, I just doubted that the powers-that-be would see things that way, if my relationships and friendships were quite literally front-page news.

And so I made a decision.

And now, as I stare up at the TV screen declaring my boyfriend to be a lying, cheating scumbag … I’m beginning to wonder if the decision I made was the right one.

Almost exactly two years ago, I put my career first.  And in doing so, I thought I was doing my best friend a favour.  India was a struggling actress at the time.  She needed contacts, and she needed to be noticed.  Matty had just been selected for the GB squad, and his calendar was quickly filling up with social events I knew I couldn’t commit to.  He needed a ‘plus one’.  And if I couldn’t be at his side, there was no one I trusted more than my best friend.

We had definitely under-estimated the press interest.  Originally Ind and I had just assumed that she’d be able to rub shoulders with a couple of influential people, and have her face noticed in the right places.  And she had done.  Within months she was offered a part on the cult independent movie Vipers. The problem was, that Matty and India’s faces fit too well.  They were beautiful.  They are beautiful.  And the British press honed in on that, and ran with it.

The sports star and the actress.  It was like the Beckhams, Mark Two.  Britain needed new icons, and Matty McAllister and India Masters were the perfect fit.  A gorgeous, successful rower, and his glamorous, educated actress girlfriend.

The only problem was that she wasn’t really his girlfriend.

At first I just sat back and enjoyed life out of the heat of the spotlight.  I would push anonymously through the crowds of photographers in hotel lobbies, giggling to myself at the irony of the situation.  There they were, waiting for a single snap of Matty’s ‘famous girlfriend’ sneakily doing the walk of shame, and yet his real girlfriend was brazenly pushing through the crowd, completely unnoticed!

I would grin to myself, when the wives of my colleagues asked me if I had studied at St. John’s at the same time as ‘that gorgeous Matthew McAllister’?  And breathe a sigh of relief when I saw yet another magazine picture criticising India for not wearing makeup, or for eating McDonalds, or God forbid … for wearing tracksuit bottoms!

But then I began to realise how cold life outside the spotlight can be, when the man you love is in it the entire time.  Last year, when Matty was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year, I was obviously seated at his family table, however, when his name was read out, it was India’s face that the camera automatically switched to, and Indi who Matty was dutifully expected to kiss on the cheek.

Because of my ‘bright idea’ I could no longer kiss my boyfriend in public, or so much as hold his hand.  I couldn’t go to the cinema alone with him, or go out to a restaurant with him, without an entourage of friends in tow.

I already spend my life behind closed doors … the office and the court-room.  And those few sparing hours that I get to myself these days … well they are spent behind closed doors too.  Because they have to be!  Because the world believes that my Matty is one half of a couple, of which I am not a part.

I’m beginning to understand now why my parents told me not to lie as a child …

A lie grows.  It spawns, like a plant … and each seed brings new challenges, new issues.  On a daily basis I feel like my world is being overgrown … like this weed that I have unwittingly created is growing and spawning, and strangling my life as I know it.  I feel under attack.  And the one person I’ve always turned to, to shelter me from my problems, can’t help. Because he is right at the heart of them!

I almost cracked during the Olympics.  Matty was busy training, and it was getting harder and harder for me to see him, because the press had got wind of the squad’s conjugal visits, and were camped outside the athlete’s village, waiting for India to make an appearance.

Meanwhile my work-colleagues couldn’t understand why I was so adamant about getting time off over the Olympics.  Here I was, newly qualified, and completely unyielding, that I was taking two weeks holiday slap bang in the middle of the year’s biggest libel case.

Thankfully it turned out I wasn’t the only one struggling under the weight of our lie.  India excused herself from the hype for a month, disappearing off to America ‘on location’, and only returning on the day of the Final, when she figured she couldn’t not be seen at Matty’s side.

Meanwhile Matty had found a confidante in his crew member and roommate Hugo.  The adorable old Etonian was single, and more than happy to try and help his stroke out by pretending I was his girlfriend.  With the media attention all comfortably on the front of their boat, I managed to sneak in and out of the British compound in the contrastingly anonymous role of Hugo Redmond’s girlfriend.  That role gave me a seat on the VIP balcony, and a reason to run down to the boats the minute the boys crossed the finish line … though it still wasn’t a passport to celebrate my boyfriend’s Olympic Gold Medal the way I ought to have done …

I remember the minute they crossed the line.

I was sitting beside India, one hand clamped in hers.  My other hand was at my neck, tightly holding onto the locket that Matty had given me on our first anniversary.  My link to him.  The thing that in the whole madness of this lie, reminded me of who I really was.

I had seen the boys finish in slow motion, just inches ahead of the American crew.  I leapt to my feet, and was already running, pushing my way off the balcony, and down the steep aluminium stairs towards the water’s edge.  As I landed on the muddy bank, I kicked off my £600 Louboutins without a second thought … something I later regretted when I spent a good thirty minutes hunting down an errant gold high-heel.

I pushed my way towards the boat, ready to fling my arms around my victorious boyfriend, only for India to race in front of me and shoot me a warning look.  I watched on, pained, as India threw her arms around Matty, suddenly all too aware of the hundreds of cameras pointing in his direction.  Blinking back tears, I felt a hand on my back.  I turned, and tried to smile at Hugo.  ‘Congratulations!’ I muttered, knowing all the joy had left my voice.  He tugged me into his chest, to hide my tears from the world, and whispered in my ear, ‘It’s all ok, it’s just a few moments.’

I shook my head, angry at myself.  Those few moments were Hugo’s as much as they were Matty’s.  And I was stealing them from him.  I pulled away, and gave him a grateful kiss on the cheek.  ‘You need to celebrate with your parents!’  I tried to grin, and then ostentatiously congratulated the other two members of the crew, before waiting patiently in line to celebrate my boyfriend’s once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

That was ten months ago.  After the Olympics, India’s fame sky-rocketed.  She was signed onto bigger and better movies, and I guess the fame became addictive.  I tried a couple of times to suggest that maybe it was time that she and Matty ‘broke up’, but India’s agency had other ideas.  Apparently India’s real worth came from her role as half of a product.  Split that product up, and she no longer had any value.  And so the celebrity couple continued.

And I buried myself in work.  After all, a lawyer was what I wanted to be.  It was what I had always wanted to be.

I had actually thought myself incredibly lucky all those years ago.  I have friends still searching for the ‘One’, and yet mine had practically landed in my lap in my first week at university.  I guess I had taken it for granted.  I’d always assumed that that box had been comfortably ticked, and thought it time to work on one of my other goals in life … a career.  But I’d taken that first ticked box for granted … and now I was paying the price.

Matty and I had been dating for seven years.  We’d told each other ‘I love you’ every single night for the last seven years, and talked of marriage and children and the future …

And yet we still lived in separate apartments.  We couldn’t so much as food shop in public together, let along hold hands.  We no longer took holidays together, for fear that Matty would be recognised, and all my work-colleagues thought of me as some sad singleton because I couldn’t bring my real boyfriend to social events.

And whilst two years ago, the last thing I needed was everyone knowing I was Matty McAllister’s boyfriend, right now it’s all I want.

I want to walk down a beach holding hands with my boyfriend.  I want an engagement ring and then a wedding ring.  I want to be Mrs. Matty McAllister, rather than that girl who people just assume is dating his crewmate.  I want to run down to the boats at the end of a race, and fling my arms around his neck without having to worry who is watching.  I want to parade him at Chambers dinners, and cuddle up to him in a cinema.  I want to take him to Tesco!

I want a normal life.

And so yesterday afternoon, I threw a hissy fit.  More than a hissy fit … I had a Class A tantrum.  We were at his flat in Holburn, and it was my turn to cook dinner.  Staring at the well-stocked pantry, I suddenly decided there was nothing to cook.  I dunno … it had been a long day, and I’d seen one too many magazine covers with my boyfriend and another woman on them.  I just wanted to spend time with him.  I wanted a normal life.  I didn’t want to sneak around anymore.  And so, for no reason whatsoever, I demanded Matty come to Tesco with me!

It was silly, I know.  And the stupid thing was that I was really my own enemy.  This wasn’t Matty’s fault.  Nor was it India’s fault.  It had been my idea.  But in that moment I had blamed Matty and India, and anyone but myself.  And I had marched my boyfriend through the streets, hand in hand.  I had made him push the trolley around Tescos as I flung food angrily into it, and then as we left the supermarket, I had all but mauled him in the street for the whole world to see.

God, what have I done?

My mobile phone is ringing.  I know who it’ll be.  It won’t be India.  It’ll be her bitch of a publicist, reprimanding me like a schoolgirl for actually living my own life.  I fling my Blackberry across the room angrily.

Fuck!  What have I done?  How can I even begin to fix this?

I’m so stupid.  Not only have I ruined my adoring boyfriend’s reputation, but I had made myself look like a heartless whore in the process.  Who knows?  Maybe I am a heartless whore…  Though deep down I know I just love him way too much.

I pace backwards and forwards across the room, wondering what I’m going to say to Ind.  Wondering what I’m going to say to my boyfriend!  There’s a knock at the door.

I peer through the peephole, suddenly worried the media have tracked me down already.  A familiar pair of chocolate brown eyes greet me on the other side.  I bite my lip like a naughty child, and open the door.

‘Just wondered if you fancied coming to Tesco with me?’ Matty asks with a cheeky grin.

I punch his arm in mock anger.  ‘Don’t joke … oh God Matty, what have I done?’

Matty shakes his head, ‘Don’t be silly, it’s fine.  We can fix this.  Come on, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. No one’s been hurt, no one’s died.  Ash, it’s honestly nothing!  To be honest, we’ve been lying for too long – it hasn’t been fair on you.  It hasn’t been fair on us.’

My eyes fill with tears, as my gorgeous, adoring boyfriend pulls me tightly into his muscular chest.  ‘We can sort this out …’ he mumbles into my ear.  ‘It’s just time to tell the truth.  It’s that simple.’

I shake my head against his arms, warm tears rolling down my face.  ‘We can’t do that Matty!  You’ll be branded a liar!  That’s not fair on you.  It’s your reputation at stake.  This was my idea … I should pay the consequences.  I’ll say I accosted you!  I’ll say I stalked you!  I dunno … I should be the one to suffer!’

‘Ssssh,’ Matty breathes into my hair.  ‘No one needs to suffer Ash.  It’s all gonna be fine.’ He strokes my back.

‘But Matty it’s everywhere ….’

‘It’ll be yesterday’s news soon enough,’ he replies gently, leaning away from me briefly to switch off the television.

He pushes a strand of hair away from my face, and uses the pad of his thumb, probably the only soft part of his calloused hand, the brush the tears from my cheek.

‘Now, can we talk about something more important?’  he asks.

I shrug.  ‘Like what?’ I feel as if I’d pulled away a brick, which has led to my whole world falling down around me.

‘Like why we’ve been putting our life on hold for India’s movie career!’

I frown, fresh tears forming in my eyes.  I know Matty has never wanted any of this.  He’s just a rower after all.  The spotlight means as little to him as it did to me ….

‘Hey!  No more tears!’ Matty smiles, though I can read the concern in his face.

When I don’t smile back, he gives me a look that tells me he’s serious.

‘Ash, come on … please?  I’m trying to do something serious!’

I can’t help but smile.

‘Ok, ok, do something serious!’ I mutter, still distracted.

Matty takes a deep breath, and then reaching into his pocket, hands me a small pink Post-It Note.

‘Ashleigh I love you with all my heart … would you do me the honour of being my wife?’ it reads.

I run my finger over the words of the note, and look up at him in disbelief.  Now he’s the one with tears in his eyes.

‘Why have we been delaying this Ash?  Why have we been living our lives to please other people?  When you are genuinely the only one I care about pleasing?  I love you Ashleigh.  Always have done.  Always will do.  And I want to start living the rest of our lives … together, and now’.  He gestures to the Post-It Note.  ‘This can’t wait.  We can’t wait! ….’

I grip his waist to steady myself.

‘I love you too.  And of course I’ll marry you.  You’re right, this can’t wait.  We’ve waited way too long.’  I stare down at the Post-It again.  ‘I can’t believe you remembered …’ I smile.

‘Of course I remember.’  He grins.  ‘It’s our history remember?  Our history.  And this is about us!’

Matty had asked me out on our first ever date by Post-It Note.  He had passed it to me in the back of the lecture hall, one bored afternoon of Criminal Law.  It had quite simply said ‘I rather fancy you, Miss Vaughan!’ To which I had simply replied, ‘Ditto!’.

I chuckle to myself at the memory.  ‘You know, I should really have replied with a Post-It Note … in keeping with tradition!’

Matty shrugs.  ‘I’ll accept an ‘I owe you’’ He grins, his face wide with excitement … ‘as long as the Post-It says Yes!’

‘Does the ‘I owe you’ need to be on a Post-It note too?’  I ask teasingly.

‘Ssssh you!’ he laughs, hugging me tightly to himself, and then lifting me up off my feet.

He carefully backs out of the room, my feet still lifted up off the floor.  He steps into my bedroom, and lays me gently down upon my bed.

As he begins to undress me, kissing my neck delicately whilst tugging my jumper up from the waist. I smile to myself, wondering how I could have been so unhappy and so happy in the space of just a few minutes.  I reason that this is just what love does to you.

That when you hand over your heart, you’re accepting that risk that someone can hurt you at a minute’s notice.  But you’re also allowing for possibility.  Allowing for the possibility that someone can knock on your door, and change your life within a matter of seconds.  I clutch Matty’s broad shoulders tightly, just to check that all this is real.  To check that his picture-perfect imperfect proposal is for real.  That I’m not just dreaming.

Because this is us.  This is Matty and me.  We don’t need grand gestures.  He doesn’t need to propose to me in front of the world.  Fuck it – he doesn’t even need to kiss me in front of the world!  As long as this is us behind closed doors.

And that wedding proposal … well that was about as ‘us’ as he could get!

© C-C Lester 2010

 

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Filed under C-C Lester, My Ten Future Lives, Novel Excerpt, Writing

Flicker – Chapter Two

Click below for earlier sections of the novel –

Prologue & First Part of Chapter One

Second Part of Chapter One

 

Chapter Two

Foundations

Flic hadn’t been able to sleep once they’d returned to the hotel late that night.  She knew that this was what Daniel had warned her about.  Her body clock was completely off-kilter, but sleep had just been too tempting that afternoon.

After a few sleepless hours, she padded quietly out into the hotel corridor, not wanting to wake her roommates.   She turned her mobile phone over and over in her hand, unsure who exactly she was planning on ringing.  She needed to talk to someone.  To tell somebody about the tour, and her new team-mates.  But then reality hit.  There was no one.  Ally had stopped taking her calls weeks ago, and she couldn’t even ring Amelia’s answer-phone, just for the brief sound of her mother’s voice, because the phone company had cut the phone-line off before she’d left England.

She sighed, and walked back into the quiet bedroom without even switching the phone back on.  She slipped it back into her rucksack.  Her first reflections of the tour were going to have to wait.

*                                  *                                  *

Flic looked down at the orange t-shirt in her hands and smiled tiredly.  ‘Flicker?’ she read, raising an eyebrow.

‘I thought it had a nice ring to it!’ Damo replied with an enthusiasm that defied their early wake-up.  The group was standing on Cairns pier, about to embark on their first challenge of the tour, five nights on a live-aboard boat, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

The tour guide stared around at the quiet travellers. ‘You know, you guys are rather green! Haven’t you Discover Australia’s official colour is orange?  It’s a good thing you’ve got those shirts, heh?’ He motioned towards the boat, ‘Now, if you could just find your sea legs …’ he frowned at the unresponsive teenagers, ‘or maybe just your legs, and jump aboard, it’s time to set sail for the good ship Discovery! And yes, she is actually called that!’

No one moved.  Flic couldn’t help thinking that the others looked more scared than hung-over.  The idea of being scared of the sea really surprised Flic.  She’d never had a problem with water.  Still, she wasn’t prepared to draw attention to herself and be the first to jump on board.

Instead, Mark was the one to eventually make the first move.  As he walked determinedly down the jetty and threw his day-sack onto the boat, Flic couldn’t help grinning.  It was obvious who would become the ‘daddy’ of the group.  Mark was a natural leader, but with the compassion and approachability of a parent.  As a silent show of support, Flic followed Jules, who had trudged after her boyfriend, onto the boat.

As Flic waited for the rest of the group to leave the jetty, she felt a warm hand at the base of her spine.  She spun around to find Toby standing awkwardly behind him.  Despite the overly friendly hand holding, she barely remembered speaking to him the night before.  ‘Hi … um, I just wanted to say … uh … Morning!’

She eyed him curiously.  ‘Morning…?’ She replied.

Toby shrugged at his own awkwardness, and then laughed self-consciously.

‘You know, I was wondering what Flic was short for!’  He commented eventually, gesturing down at the t-shirt in her hands. ‘Flicker’ he grinned playfully, a smile, which lit his entire face.

‘Um, it’s not …’ she stumbled, realising too late that he was joking.  He casually batted the awkwardness from the air with the back of his hand.

‘So, you’ve got your Open Water too, eh?’

Damo had explained that while most of the group would be learning to scuba dive, Flic, Toby and Daniel, who had all completed the basic course before, would be using the week to gain their advanced qualification.

Flic relaxed a little bit, glad for something concrete to talk about. ‘Yeah, for some reason my Mum insisted I learn when I was at school.  She was definitely into alternative hobbies!’

Toby grinned.  ‘Sounds pretty familiar – it was my Dad who insisted I learn.  I think he had some madcap plan about diving with me and my brother in English quarries, but thankfully we never had to get that cold! The farthest we ever got was the local pool!’

Their conversation was interrupted by Isabella’s shrill voice.  She and Ant were the only members of the group still on the jetty.  ‘I really don’t see what the big problem is!  If it scares you that much, then don’t do it!’

Ant clearly didn’t want the rest of the group involved in their argument, and muttered through clamped lips ‘You don’t understand … this is the first challenge.  I can’t back out now, I’d never get it back!’

Isabella either didn’t register his tone of voice, or chose not to. ‘Anthony, not everything in life is a competition.  If you’re that scared, don’t dive! I’m not exactly enthralled by the idea of breathing under water either, but we can get out any time.’

Anthony didn’t reply.  He stomped onto the dive boat, leaving his cousin floundering behind him with all her luggage.

‘Maybe it’s a good thing my brother isn’t here,’ smiled Toby. ‘It seems we’re gonna have our fair share of domestics already!’

‘Do you not get on?’ asked Flic, as the engine whirred into action.

‘Not really.’ Toby shrugged.  ‘I guess we’re just too similar.  As long as I can remember, life has always been a competition …’

Flic nodded over at Ant, ‘Sounds familiar!  But, why do you think he left the tour?  I mean, if life’s a competition, then surely he’d need to prove he can do the extreme sports too?’

Toby shrugged. ‘I dunno, maybe sometimes not trying is better than the prospect of losing …’

Flic bit her lip, still uncomfortable for some reason.  It just seemed such a waste of an opportunity.  ‘How can you win or lose at scuba diving?’

Toby smiled wryly.  ‘He’d probably find a way.  The reason he’s not here is that he met this girl.  We stopped over in Thailand for Full Moon Party on our way out here, and he met her on the beach.  When she showed an interest in him rather than me, you should’ve seen his face.  It was like he’d won some game!  After that I barely saw him.  Within three days he’d booked a flight to South Africa, and I was left to explain it all to Dad… Family, huh?’ he shrugged.

Flic tried not to wince at the mention of ‘F’ word.  She wasn’t going to spoil this moment by thinking about Amelia … not now.  She stared over at Toby shyly, and concentrated on the unfamiliar summersaults her stomach seemed to do every time he focussed his attention on her.  They’d been talking about nothing of real importance, and yet she felt an overwhelming sense that she was making progress with him.  Progress towards what?

‘Hey buddies!’ Daniel interrupted.  “Geddit? … BUDDYs!’

Flic raised an eyebrow at his lame diving joke, not sure whether she was glad for the intrusion.  She shook herself, trying to reconcile the thoughts and feelings, which had begun to race around her stagnant heart and mind all of a sudden.  She was still such a mess of emotion.  She knew it.  One minute she felt empty, void of all feeling, as if Amelia’s death and Ally’s departure had exhausted all her possible stores.  And the next she was lusting over not one, but two guys.  She was clearly just desperate to feel wanted again.

Daniel launched into a conversation with Toby about cars, to which she was clearly meant to be playing the role of audience.  Flic tuned out and simply observed the boys, realising, as she looked from one to the other, that no matter how messed up her emotions were, it was nice to not be comparing someone to Ally!

Toby was undoubtedly attractive.  Something about his shaggy brown hair and relaxed gait felt so familiar, but perhaps she was just confusing familiarity with approachability. His good looks were rawer than Daniel’s.  He was rugged rather than chiselled, his masculinity in his rough hands and carefree stubble. In total contrast to Daniel’s cool grey eyes, Toby’s eyes were so frenzied and warm they could have been dancing, deep chocolate brown infused with a lively orange-red that had an energy of its own.

Staring at Toby, Flic tried to picture what his younger brother Max might look like.  She wondered if they were really as similar as Toby made out.  Was Max’s resentment linked to his older brother’s good looks and easy nature?

It wasn’t the only time that first day that Flic’s thoughts strayed to Toby’s absent brother.  Shortly after Daniel interrupted her conversation with Toby, Jake joined them.  His approach couldn’t have contrasted any more starkly with Daniel’s confident introduction.  Jake held himself awkwardly, like an animal ready to bolt at any time, and his face strained nervously as if he were forcing himself to socialise.

Standing beside Daniel and Toby, Jake looked no more than twelve, though Flic remembered the twins saying they were twenty.  The most interesting part of their interaction was the way Toby put Jake so clearly at ease.  She wondered how Max could have fled from such an agreeable older brother.

For some reason, it really bothered Flic that Max wasn’t there.  Maybe it was that she’d never enjoyed the companionship of a sibling, and was angered that Max had abandoned his brother so easily … Or perhaps that he’d defied his father’s intentions?  Flic couldn’t imagine ever going against Amelia’s wishes, no matter how out of place she felt on the trip.  Whatever her reasons for feeling it, Max was missing, and no matter how happy she was to be joined by Daniel on the tour, a weird sense of incompletion hung in the air.

The launch pulled up alongside a large live-aboard ship, and Damo assigned their cabins.  Mark with Jules, Isabella with Anthony, Daniel with Toby, Jake with Luke, and Flic with Camilla.

Flic grabbed her day-sack, and stared quizzically at the suitcase Camilla was attempting to carry onto the live-aboard.  Or rather, the suitcase she clearly hoped someone else would carry for her!  Flic sighed.  She had a distinct feeling she wasn’t going to get on with Camilla.  And it didn’t help that Camilla was basically a perfect version of Flic!  Her brown hair was longer and straighter, her waist smaller, and her smile wider.  The list of comparatives was endless.

As if those differences weren’t enough, the fact that Daniel hung off Camilla’s every word, didn’t help endear her to Flic.  It wasn’t that she was jealous!  She wasn’t even sure what she wanted to happen with Daniel…  It was just that she at least saw him as an option, and she didn’t like prissy spoilt brats limiting those options before she’d even had a chance to think about them! God, she sounded jealous!  She frowned to herself.  Whatever the reasons for her annoyance, she needed to get over them, and quickly! Because, for at least the next four nights, that prissy spoilt brat was going to be her prissy spoilt roommate!

Flic watched Camilla struggle for a few moments, and then resigned herself to faking a smile and helping with the suitcase. Just as she went to help, an everyday knight in shining armour appeared.  Flic watched on jealously as Daniel helped Camilla, and felt familiar insecurities surfacing.  How could she have seriously believed someone like Daniel would have any interest in her?  Her mind rushed back to the twenty-four hours they’d spent together travelling to Cairns. Had she misinterpreted everything? Had she just been making a fool of herself?  Her cheeks burnt as she remembered curling up in his lap in Bangkok airport.  She cringed, charred by the memories of her ridiculous attempts to flirt whilst wearing clothes that she wouldn’t even normally have worn to the gym.  What had she been thinking?

She’d been lucky to have a guy like Ally so much as look at her, let alone waste three years of his life with her!  After monopolising so much of his perfect life, how could she ever expect to find someone again?  Flukes like that don’t happen everyday!

‘And here I was thinking the first challenge was scuba diving, not carrying your own luggage!’  Flic whipped around to find Jules at her shoulder, her eyes gleaming with sarcasm as she watched Camilla handing over her luggage to Daniel. Flic remembered why she’d liked this girl immediately!

‘I think my challenge is gonna be the living arrangements for the next five days’, Flic muttered under her breath.

‘Yeah I heard about that.  I don’t envy you! I was suddenly very glad to be travelling with Mark!’

Jules checked over her shoulder suddenly. ‘Can I ask you something?’ she asked quietly  ‘Is it true you met Daniel on the plane over?’

Flic flushed various shades of red, wondering exactly what Daniel had told the others after she’d left the pub the night before.

Jules didn’t seem to notice her embarrassment.  ‘What a hottie! Why do I never get to sit next to anyone that fit on a flight?! … Apart from Mark, obviously’ she winked as an afterthought.  ‘So … what’s happening?!’ she pressed.

Flic just shrugged in response, but Jules was unrelenting.

‘Ok, ok, nothing, well, almost nothing happened … nothing can happen!’ she finally resolved,  ‘It’s too soon …’

Jules raised her eyebrows, a silent request for the rest of the story.

‘We need to go to our rooms!’ Flic said, nodding over to the live-aboard where Damo was waiting impatiently.

‘Ok, ok, but I expect to hear the full story soon! Very soon! And I warn you, I have a very good memory!’

Flic smiled in reply, surprised that the idea of chatting about it was actually almost appealing.

They barely had time to unpack before class began.  Those who hadn’t dived before would have two full days of theory and practice before they were allowed into the open water. Meanwhile, Dan, Toby and Flic met up on the deck to discuss their adventure dive options, and kit up for a refresher dive.

Flic grinned as the boys pulled on stinger suits, a necessity during jellyfish season.  They looked like the heroes of a space-age science-fiction movie! She took in every muscle that the blue lycra clung to, and grinned to herself until she realised how unflattering the suit was going to be on her less-than-perfect figure. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she hurriedly clipped on her BCD, a large inflatable jacket, hoping it would cover some of her flaws.

‘Ready guys?’ their instructor Dillon asked. ‘Flic and Daniel, you two buddy up.  Toby, I’ll go with you.  Now, does everyone remember the signs?’   He ran through the various underwater dive signs, reminded them how to equalise, and ran through emergency procedures.  ‘So, if you lose your buddy, what do you need to do?’ he asked.

Daniel smiled confidently, ‘Swim around for a minute, and then if you still can’t find him, do a safety stop, and find each other on the surface.’

‘Perfect!’ grinned the dive instructor.  ‘Let’s go check out the reef!’

After a few tentative breaths through the regulator, Flic was confident enough to step over the edge of the boat and into the warm water.  As she and Daniel submerged together, her excited breathing gradually slowed, and she took in her surroundings, awed by the clarity of the water.  The reach of the bright sunshine seemed endless, though the deeper she got, the more bleached the colours became. Beneath them coral of all shapes and colours carpeted the seabed, a whole new world.  Bright yellow boulders of coral were nestled between rubbery green and blue showerheads.  Delicate deer antlers crept out from shaggy purple wigs swaying in the current. Creatures of all different sizes flitted around the colourful adventure playground beneath her.  Cleaning fish played tag with their hosts, clown fish played hide and seek in the anemones, and nudibranchs played colourful games of musical statues.  If she hadn’t been concentrating so much on her breathing then the beauty of it all would have left her breathless.

And then there was her buddy.  The light had changed his olive skin, draining the tanned colour from his chiselled features so that he seemed carved from silver, or maybe stone.  A living, breathing statue!  What was that Greek god of the sea called? Neptune? Poseidon? Though Daniel’s movements could hardly be deemed divine!  He seemed almost too heavy for the water.  However, his lack of agility didn’t seem to faze him. He was almost accustomed to it, strange for someone so definite in his moves on the surface.

Flic turned her head to watch Toby, who was hovering above an anemone a few metres away from her, transfixed by a family of clown fish. He knew what he was doing, but appeared unbelievably awkward.  It was almost as if the water burnt him, he moved so gingerly.  And yet, surrounded by the warm water, Flic found nothing but ease.  Air burbled around her ears, a hypnotic rhythm.  She twisted onto her back, water rushing through her hair and whipping it like dark flames around her face.  Playfully she blew through the regulator, watching bubbles of her breath rise up towards the chilled sun.

Daniel tugged at her fin, his arm across his chest, his fist clenched. ‘I’m low on air, 50 bar.’  Flic caught Dillon and Toby’s attention, and then together they swam to the shallower water, resting at five metres beneath the boat for the requisite three minutes.  Safety stop complete, they surfaced, inflating their BCDs around their chests.  Flic pulled the mask from her face, beaming at her companions.  Their faces showed only relief, though weirdly Daniel’s skin had yet to return to its olive complexion.  She had assumed the silver grey tone was a trick of the light.  Toby still looked uncomfortable, obviously one refresher dive wasn’t enough to restore his confidence.  There was a lot to take in, and over the next few days they’d be diving in darkness, swimming through the narrow corridors of a wreck, and diving down to thirty metres below sea level – maybe Flic was the one wearing the wrong facial expression! But, even considering the challenges she would soon be facing, all she could do was grin.  For the first time in months, she truly felt truly herself, and she was buzzing!

Flic swam over to the boat, gracefully slipping off her weight belt and passing it up to the deckhand with the rest of her gear. ‘Would you mind if I hang onto this for a sec?’ she asked, motioning to her mask.  She pulled herself lithely from the water, and then, no longer caring how she looked in the unflattering lycra, dived straight back into the water, right over the heads of the two waiting boys.  Grinning, she pulled herself through the water, feeling more awake with every stroke.  She took a deep breath and dived down again, driving herself deeper and deeper into the turquoise ocean.  She didn’t know what she was aiming for until she reached it, and then suddenly it was as if everything made sense.  Calm and satisfaction flooded through her as she watched the turtle flap casually around her, his slow precise movements silently stating his age and knowledge. Flic hovered timelessly at his side, calmed by his ancient grace.  Eventually the air in her lungs burned, urging her upwards. She spun silently; turning on an invisible axis, and with three strong kicks was back at the surface.  The boys stared down curiously at her from the deck, yet she chose not to explain what she’d been up to.  Something about that moment had been too private, only meant for her.

As she climbed up the ladder and back onto the boat, she eyed the boys curiously.  They no longer looked like untouchable superheroes.  In fact, they actually reminded her of a circus act!  The comparison was far from comical.  All of a sudden, they just looked disconcertingly vulnerable.

Back in her room, Flic unzipped her make-up bag for the first time in weeks, realising the significance of what she was doing.

When Ally had first broken up with her, everything had burned.  It was as if there was permanently bile in her throat, preventing her from thinking about anything beyond her pain.  Like her spurned heart had spontaneously combusted within her chest the minute he had removed his love. She had barely functioned, still reeling from the loss of Amelia. Ally was meant to be her rock; and then he too had been washed away.

And yet, suddenly, two months on, it was as if something had changed.  It was more than her eyes that were suddenly registering the objects of beauty around her.  For the first time in weeks it was as if her heart was actually beating again.  Perhaps duller than it once had, shrouded in the scar tissue of heartbreak, but definitely beating.  Blood rushed to her cheeks, a healthy glow to compliment the bronzer she now swept over them.  But it wasn’t just lust that was thawing her heart, it was comfort.  For the first time in weeks, she felt happy.  Here on the water, in this arid desert of a country, as far away from Britain as she could get, she felt at home.

She heard voices in the corridor outside her cabin.  The others had finished their day of theory lessons, which meant it would soon be time for dinner with her new ‘family’. Camilla swept into the room, a haze of perfume and silk, and not wanting anything to spoil her unexpectedly buoyant mood, Flic dashed out through the cabin door before it had even closed.

The cold of the night shocked her, and she touched the back of her hand to her cheek, wondering why she was so warm.  She felt almost feverish, burning with this unfamiliar sense of purpose and hope.  She shivered, maybe she was just getting overemotional, or coming down with something.  She was yet to sleep through an entire Australian night, waking at frequent intervals, overheated and with a sense that her dreams had jolted her awake, but unable to remember anything about them.  She assumed this was jet-lag, but whatever it was, she didn’t feel quite right.  She hugged her arms around herself.

‘Cold?’ came a musical voice behind her.

‘I thought Australia was meant to be hot!’ she smiled, turning to face Daniel, his dark hair still wet from a shower.

‘Here’, he shrugged off the navy sweatshirt he was wearing. ‘Wear this, I’m not really that cold anyway.’

Flic smiled in thanks, and engulfed herself in the huge jumper, breathing in the metallic fragrance of Daniel’s aftershave.

‘So, someone played down their dive experience this morning!’ Daniel exclaimed, his dark brows raised in amusement.

‘What do you mean?’

‘There’s no way you’ve only done four dives before! You were like a fish! Well, a fish carrying an aluminium tank!’

‘I dunno, I just felt so comfortable!  I can’t get over how warm the water was!  But I don’t think I was any better than you or Toby.  Maybe it’s just because I’m smaller, it probably helps with the buoyancy.’  She shrugged awkwardly.

Daniel grinned, ‘Accept the compliment Felicity-Flic!  Whatever you say, I felt like I was holding you back this afternoon, and I reckon Toby’s a lot closer to my ability. Tomorrow you should buddy up with Dillon. That way when we come to do the wreck and stuff you can really enjoy it.’

Despite the light tone of his voice, Flic could sense he was unmoving on the subject.  Perhaps she ought to just be flattered and accept.

The discussion was put to an end by the call to dinner.  As the others arrived, Flic noticed how stressed and tired they all seemed, and Jules shot Flic a look to suggest she had some stories to tell.  While the thought of adventure diving really excited Flic, she couldn’t help feeling sad that she wasn’t spending her first few days with the rest of the group.  A glance at Camilla, however, suggested that she wasn’t the only one who felt she was missing out on company.  The tanned Australian was staring longingly over at Daniel.  Flic wondered how Camilla was dealing with the fact that Flic was not only spending the next three days with the two most eligible guys on the trip, but also blatantly wearing Daniel’s jumper!

Flic snuggled smugly into the brushed cotton.  Out of the corner of her eye she caught a weird look from Toby that left her cold.  He looked … in pain?  Hurriedly, she pulled the hood of the jumper up around her face, and busied herself scooping strands of wayward spaghetti onto her plate.

© C-C Lester 2009


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The Dream Navigator – Chapter Four

Please click the links below to read earlier sections –

Chapter One – Ewah the Great

Chapter Two – My Secret Audience

Chapter Three – Make a Change


Chapter Four – Escape from the Noise

(Depressed Urban Grey)

Adults dream.

They dream of sex and money and murder.  They dream of power and influence and evil.  But most of all, they dream of themselves.  Over the years my ability has changed; strengthened.  I can tune into dreams farther and farther away, but no matter how far I roam, the dreams are always the same.

Day and night, wherever I am, I’m chased by greed and lust and jealousy.  Children don’t tend to daydream, so unless I’m near napping children, my daytimes are monopolised by adults.  At school it’s the selfish dreams of my peers – teenagers whose foreign dreams make me feel too young and too old all at once.

Then there’s the bus trip to and from school.  Public transport is like a zoo full of daydreams, a bubble of people wrapped up in their own bubbles.  A busload of commuters escaping the reality of being sandwiched up against peoples’ armpits, by replacing it with their own selfish fantasies.  Finally there’s the gym, where people disappear into dreams of vanity and success in a quest to forget the physical pain they’re putting themselves through.

I’m surrounded.

I can’t escape.  Everywhere I go I hear the transmission.  And the more my powers develop, the more insistent the noises become.

I used to try and fight it.

I’d refuse to sit patiently at the edge of their selfish dreams, soaking up their narcissism and arrogance.  I would use my skills, and tweak; more to save myself than save any of them.  I mean after all, if my ability is a vocation, it’s to add confidence and happiness, not take it away, right?  But sometimes it would all just get too much.  I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to be more selective – why I couldn’t chose when to step in and out of dreams, and why I wasn’t only drawn to people who needed me, instead of being thrust into people’s heads twenty-four/seven.  At first it was fun, removing the red carpet from beneath their arrogant feet, or smudging the magic mirror into which they constantly stared.   Spoiling their dreams. But that soon grew tiresome … almost as tiresome as the dreams themselves.  And besides, karma seemed to always get me back for my meddling.  I’d be so distracted playing that I would miss my own bus stop, or fall off the back of the running machine!

There had to be some way to escape the constant noise…

I went through a phase of experiments, trying to avoid other peoples’ dreams.  I became nocturnal, sleeping during the day, so that when my brain was most susceptible, there were less transmissions around me.  I would still drift into the odd daydream while asleep, and at night the strongest dreams still caught me, no matter how awake I was, but for the most part my navigating calmed down.

Unfortunately life itself didn’t.

Being nocturnal might work for bats, but when you’re an eighteen year-old girl, struggling to pass your A-Levels, sleeping at day, and living by night isn’t really the answer!  Dad let me get away with it for three days, when I claimed I was having migraines, and then forced me back to school, on one hour’s sleep.  Needless to say, over-tired and extremely susceptible, the day I returned to the daylight hours was one of the ‘noisiest’ I’ve ever experienced.

Looking for an alternative escape from the dreams … and the people dreaming them, I began to travel up to the Lake District at weekends.  I would trek into quite literally the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest village or townhouse, and revel in the physical, and mental, silence.  My roaming brain might tune occasionally into the musings of a passing hiker, or the odd group of Duke of Edinburgh students, but after eighteen years in the centre of England’s most vibrant city, the desolate wilderness was like a sprawling soundproof box.

I had found my escape.

Even if it was only two days a week, and costing me a fortune in train fares. But when I discovered it, I also discovered something about myself.

I had finally managed to rid myself of the dreams, only to suddenly realise how much I needed them.  The quiet was too quiet. Without the noise, my life felt suddenly empty.  Who was I if I wasn’t a Dream Navigator?  For six years Dream Navigating had dominated my life.  It had become my life … and it was addictive.

I knew I couldn’t do without it completely, but I also needed to be able to choose the dreams into which I navigated.  I either needed more power, or I needed to find a way of surrounding myself with less selfish dreams.  If this thing really was to be my future as well as my childhood, then I wanted to help people, not dedicate my life to watching people’s greedy whims.

I needed to truly make Dream Navigating my vocation.

At times when I was feeling particularly low, I would entertain myself with the idea that my mother had passed this ability down to me.  That she too had been a Dream Navigator, and that it wasn’t really depression that had driven her to suicide, but actually the constant voices, and the inability to choose between them.

I guess I just didn’t want to be alone in this.  An irony, I know, because my mind is always so full of other peoples’ thoughts and fears.  But the Navigation was lonely.  There’s a big difference between knowing what someone is dreaming about, and having them actively tell you their dreams and worries.

The two people who knew my secret couldn’t help.  Dad would never talk to me about Navigation, and Dom was away at university.  Somehow assuming Mum might have shared my ability comforted me.  I didn’t want to be alone any more.  I needed there to have been other Dream Navigators.  I needed there to be other Dream Navigators.

I needed to find others.  But the more I trawled the dreams of Londoners, the more convinced I was that I was simply an anomaly.

A freak.

I had been navigating for years.  I had seen inside the minds of hundreds of other people, but not once had I noticed so much of a suggestion that someone even knew about the things I could do, let alone could actually do them himself.

When I was sixteen, I went through a phase where I fantasised about bumping into another Navigator inside someone’s dream.  I would either enter a dream shouting at the top of my lungs, and hoping to hear an actual response, or I’d sneak into it like a sleuth, sniffing out the corners of the dreamer’s mind in the hope of finding a person there who could actually see me.  A twisted game of Hide and Seek.  But no matter my method, I was always alone.

Even if I couldn’t find others, I needed to at least find some form of validation. I was barely scraping by at school, all hopes of following Dom to university were out of the question, and I had no friends and a non-existent home life.  Dream Navigating had quite literally become my life, and I needed someone to confirm that what I could do really existed.

I needed help.

Finally I decided that maybe my search wasn’t wide enough.  If my ability was as rare as I imagined, then perhaps the reason I hadn’t found any others, wasn’t because there weren’t any, but because there weren’t any near where I lived.  And so I turned to the worldwide web.

I can remember sitting there, staring at the computer screen, trying to find the right combination of words to Google. In the end I settled for ‘people who can see other people’s dreams’.  The results were endless.  Thousands of pages vaguely linked to the seven words I had entered.  And then I found a place called the ‘Rumbellow Foundation.’

I knew I was on the right track when their website described ‘Dream Moulding’.

Only someone who had experienced it could know that the workings of a dream can be physically moulded.  I poured over the contents of the site, reading about the phenomenon of Dream Moulding.  Apparently it was believed that the brain emits radio waves of a certain frequency when a person dreams, and that those capable of dream moulding are not only aware of this frequency, but possess the ability to alter it.

The Rumbellow Foundation was a private neurological clinic, which was conducting research into the phenomenon.  I dwelled briefly on the contacts page, wondering if the clinic could really hold the answers to my complicated life.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realised how much at stake.  It was one thing to find out others shared my gift, or even that it had a real, recognised name.  But it was a very different thing to walk into a neurological laboratory and admit that my brain is wired differently to everyone else’s!

I was about to close the webpage when a random advert flashed up at the bottom of the screen, obviously selected because of the prominence of the word ‘dream’.  ‘Live the Dream!’ it suggested brightly.  ‘If only you knew! I thought ironically, but then the caption changed to something I hadn’t expected …

‘Work at the Vancouver Winter Olympics!’

Looking back on that moment I guess the advert was the ticket I needed out of my life as I knew it.  I wasn’t a normal teenager.  I was bitter and twisted and jaded. I needed an escape, and that simple suggestion was offering one.  A gap year.  A socially acceptable means of running away.  An escape from all the noise, that didn’t involve camping in a desolate field for the rest of my life!  And the Olympics seemed like the perfect retreat.  It was an event, which I associated with hope and unity, and positive dreams.  An international forum of good intent.  A haven away from the selfish dreams of the real world.  The Olympics wouldn’t be silent, but hopefully the noise would be of a far more promising calibre than the dreams of central London!

I looked into moving to Vancouver, but the Olympic host city seemed too sprawling, and too much like home.  Too many people with too many selfish problems.

If anything was going to change I needed a complete change of scenery.

That was when I considered Whistler, the host mountain resort for the Games.   A small mountain village with a population of just fifteen thousand, Whistler would host the alpine, cross-country and bobsleigh events.  It would still be home to aspiring athletes and to the Games, but was two hours away from the bustling metropolis.

The perfect escape.

© C-C Lester 2011

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My Ten Future Lives – Life Two

Following on from –
Introduction & Life One

Life Two – 2016

‘Good morning, Vipers VIP Concierge Service, Ashleigh Vaughan speaking ….’

There’s a familiar snort of laughter at the end of the phone.

‘Do you seriously not have me on your caller ID?’ India laughs.  ‘I only ring you five times a day!’

‘It’s a work phone!’ I grin into the receiver, glad to hear my best friend’s voice.

‘So I gathered … seeing as you actually answered it!  Do you ever leave the office?’

I roll my eyes, even though I know she can’t see me.

‘There’s heaps to do if I’m taking a fortnight off to come home ….’

India laughs again.  ‘Fine, fine, play the wedding card, just this once!  Though we both know you’d be working just as hard, even if you weren’t coming home!  So anyway, how’s the new business going.’

I smile, a rush of warm pride flooding to my cheeks.  ‘Business is good … better than good! You know Ind, I really think I might have hit the jackpot with this one!’

‘That’s what we like to hear!  Though I still don’t get why you couldn’t have set up the company on this side of the pond.’ She adds, a little sullenly.

‘There isn’t the same market for concierge services in England.  You know that just as well as I do.  Just let me make things happen over here first … you never know, Vipers could be going global in no time!’

‘I bloomin’ well hope so!  It’s one thing having my maid of honour on the other side of the world! But it’ll be quite another when you’re also a godmother!’

‘What?  India … you’re not pregnant are you?!’

‘Of course not!’  India tuts, and I smile, remembering how proper her parents are.  Sir Harry would have kittens at the thought of his only daughter getting pregnant outside of wedlock!  ‘I’m just saying … that you oughtn’t stay out there too long … you have duties over here!’

I laugh.  ‘Duties?’

‘Yes … duties.  Speaking of which, have you found yourself a date for the wedding?’

‘Since when has finding a date for the wedding been an official duty for the maid of honour?’

‘Since now … come on, it’s hardly inspirational to all those single bridesmaids, if the maid of honour herself can’t even find a man!’

‘Aren’t two of your bridesmaids married?’

‘Well yes … and one’s pregnant … but that’s beside the point!!’

‘India, where am I going to find a man to fly back to England with me?  And at two week’s notice?  It’s hardly your average first date scenario!’

‘Exactly … so that was why I … we … were thinking, perhaps we could find you a date who’s already over here?’

‘We?’

‘You know how much Matty loves you Ash … he thinks of you like a sister … we just want the best for you!’

Who exactly, do you consider to be the best for me?’

I hear India breathe a sigh of relief, she’d clearly expected this to be harder.

‘His name’s Hugo March.  I’m not sure if you’d remember him from uni?  But he rowed in Blue Boat with Matty in first year?’

I shrugged. ‘Name rings a bell …’

‘Well anyway … he’s divine!! And he’s just started work at Matty’s firm, and so Matt decided to take him under his wing …’

‘And arrange a date for him with me to your wedding??!!’

‘Hmm … well, yeah … in a nutshell!’

‘When are you guys going to realise I don’t need looking after?  I manage perfectly well all by myself …’

‘Sorry, who was it you said you were planning on bringing to the wedding?’ India replies breezily.

‘Ok!  Ok! You’ve got me!  Hugo the Rower it is!!!’

‘Hmm, well I don’t know how much he rows these days …’

‘Ha ha … ok, Hugo the Lawyer then… but only on one condition!’

‘Name it!’

‘You let me borrow your gold Louboutins!’

‘Hmm ….’

‘Oh come on Ind … it’s not like you were planning on wearing them!’

India giggles.  ‘That’s true!  Actually, do you reckon I could get away with flip-flops under the wedding dress?’

‘Not a chance!’

‘Love you too!’  She rings off, her intercontinental mission clearly accomplished.

In case you haven’t realised, my name is Ashleigh Vaughan, I’m twenty-nine years old, and I’m the CEO of a rather new VIP concierge service!  At the moment I’m based in New York, though I’m originally from glamorous old Essex!

And India … well India is my best friend by association.

We met at university, when she began dating my then best friend, Matty McAllister.  The very same Matty who she will, in just a few weeks, be marrying!

If I’m honest I’m not really sure how particularly similar we are, deep down, but I guess our friendship blossomed out of necessity.  She was in love with Matty, and I was his best friend, so she had to get on with me.  And as with all awkward threesomes, eventually something has to give … and with us, it was my connection with Matty.  Not that he’s no longer my friend.  It’s just that the battle of the sexes won out, and I ended up growing closer to India, for simplicity’s sake.  I wasn’t about to become the third wheel in someone else’s relationship, and so I assumed the sociably acceptable role in things … her best friend instead.

And so, in two short weeks I will be maid of honour, at a wedding I could have very plausibly have been ‘best-man’ at … or perhaps even played a more pivotal role in … not that I ever choose to think about those could-have-maybes ….

*                                  *                                  *

Those two weeks running up to the wedding were indeed short.  In what feels like no time, I’m back on English soil.  And rather famous English soil at that!  St. John’s College – one of the oldest, and most famous, Cambridge colleges, and Matty’s, India’s, and my alma mater.

The happy couple have decided to wed in the rather grand college chapel, and for novelty value … according to India’s wedding planner at least … all the guests are sleeping in student accommodation.

I’m not quite sure how long I stand outside the 16th century set before I finally go in.  It had been India’s and my home in third year, a gorgeously simple flat – two bedrooms and a spacious living room.  I bite my lip nervously, unable to pinpoint why I feel so apprehensive.  Perhaps it’s just that in my head this room is frozen in time, and seeing it covered in someone else’s posters and clutter might tarnish my memories?  Or maybe it’s just that I will be staying here alone for the first time.

In third year there had always been three of us.  Matty had lived on the outskirts of town and so always stayed here rather than India sleeping over at his.  And yet today marks a difference.  Today India and Matty are sleeping in the honeymoon suite at the Hyatt … leaving me to enjoy the current occupant’s scented candles and predictably rebellious decor, alone.

‘The worker bee returns! I never thought I’d see you dawdling outside the Hive!’ comes a warm voice from behind me.

‘Matty!’ I squeal, wrapping my arms around his neck.  ‘You know, I’d forgotten you called it that!’

Matty raises an eyebrow.  ‘You girls loved it!  Why this set was the centre of college … home of the two Queen Bees!’

I laugh.  ‘Hardly!! As you pointed out, I was always way too busy to be any form of royalty!  No, I definitely left all that to Ind!  How is she, by the way?  I haven’t been able to get hold of her since I landed.’

Matty smiles.  ‘She’s all good, just stressing, as expected!  The morning sickness isn’t helping either … poor girl, she was throwing up for hours today.’

‘Morning sickness?’

Matty’s face goes pale.  ‘Oh god, she hasn’t told you?  But I thought … you of all people would know …’

I shake my head slowly.  ‘No, though come to think of it, she did make a funny comment the other day …’ I frown, unwittingly.  ‘Lord, how on earth is Sir Harry coping with the news?’

‘He isn’t!  No one knows … no one, it seems, apart from you and me!’

‘Ah well, not to worry … Mum’s the word … apparently!’ I laugh, a little awkwardly.  ‘Though surely he’ll work it out in a few months time?’

Matty shrugs.  ‘She’s gonna kill me for being the one who tells you this, but I guess I’m in big enough trouble as it is … it’s twins!  So they’d be a bit early anyway … Ind’s just hoping they’re not too early, so that she can pass them off as ‘legitimate!’’

‘Congratulations hun!’  I smile, and squeeze Matty’s calloused hand.

‘Still getting enough time to row?’ I remark, nodding down at his leathery palm.

He shrugs sadly.  ‘Not really, just the erg in the company gym.’

He gestures around himself at the expansive college.  ‘All this seems a lifetime ago!’

‘Doesn’t it just!’

‘Now come on, Miss Vaughan … why are we still standing outside?  I do believe it was customary that you made me at least three cups of tea whenever I came to visit!’

Matty bends down and scoops me onto his back, in a very unladylike piggyback, before carrying me unconventionally over the threshold of my old room.

I’d forgotten quite how much I missed him.

*                      *                      *

‘Now are you sure you’re not going to be lonely in here?’  Matty asks, exactly three cups of tea later.  ‘I mean, you only have … Kermit the Frog, and, whoever they are …’ he asks gesturing at the inevitable poster-covered wall of the living room.

‘Don’t tell me you don’t recognise the Choir Boys?  They’re practically vintage!’ I interject, a little defensively.

‘Um yes, Kermit and The Choir Boys, to keep you company … ?  It does seem rather empty in here!’

‘Matthew McAllister … it’s your wedding! There’s no way you could convince India to spend your wedding night in the same cramped single bed you spent most of university in!’

‘Well technically it wasn’t a single bed, once we’d used Tesco delivery crates and pillows to add an extra metre or so …’

I roll my eyes at my old friend.

‘Anyway … I wasn’t suggesting us!’ Matty grinned.  ‘Fun as it would be to re-enact the old days!  I was thinking more of your wedding date!’

‘Oh Jesus Christ, Matty!  Could you try any harder to set me up?  Is it not enough that I’m going to the wedding with him?  We’re sitting next to each other at dinner!  We don’t need to be roomies too!’

Matty looks a little hurt.  ‘I was just thinking … I figured if you shared the set, then you might get to know one another a little better, and actually have something to talk about at dinner?’

I study his face for a moment.  ‘Hang on a minute … you’re not just suggesting this, are you?  You’ve already gone and arranged it!’

Matty frowns, and then looks over my shoulder distractedly.  ‘Right on time!’ he exclaims.  ‘Um Ash … meet Hugo March.  Hugo, this is my best friend Ashleigh Vaughan.’

I glared pointedly at Matty, but shift my frown into a forced smile as I spin around to greet Hugo.

Hugo March is pushing six foot two, his hair falling in messy honey-blond curls around his eyes.  His full lips look bee-stung, his eyes deep chocolatey pools.  In a word … Hugo March is hot! Not that I’m about to admit that to either Matty or India!

I roll my eyes.  ‘If I were really your best friend, I’d be the Best Man, not Maid of Honour!’  I banter back immediately, though I felt a definite twinge of something I couldn’t define on hearing him call me his best friend.

‘I wish my best friend was this attractive!’ Hugo smiles, and extends his hand.  ‘It’s great to finally meet you Ashleigh.’

‘Ditto!’ I smile.

‘I hear we’re going to be roommates?’ I add, giving Matt a sideways glance to let him know he hasn’t gotten away with that particular decision.

‘Only if that’s alright?  According to Matty this is one of the best rooms in college?’

I chuckle in spite of myself.  ‘He would say that, he was desperate to live here!’  I wink.

Hugo had been in his third year at Cambridge when we were in first year.  He’d studied History at St. Catharine’s, a college famous for its sport and drinking societies, and had rowed in the Boat Race alongside Matty.  His accent is surprisingly Scottish – a point of great banter between him and Matty, who he refers to as the ‘fake Scot.’  For despite Matthew McAllister’s grand Scottish name, the farthest North Matty has ever been is York!

As I watch him joking easily with Matty, I wonder why I don’t remember him.  Not only is he gorgeous, but it is really difficult not to like him.  And trust me … I’m trying!  He’s warm, and funny, and yet seems almost a little nervous around me, which in such a towering, attractive guy, is really rather cute!

Finally Matty excuses himself, and disappears off back to the Hyatt, with a cautionary glance in my direction.  I roll my eyes at him, just as he closes the door to the set, and then yawn loudly.

‘How silly of me, you must be exhausted!  How are you still awake?’ Hugo asks, checking his watch.  ‘It normally takes me days to recover from jet lag!’

I laugh.  ‘Dare I even ask what time it is?’  It isn’t even dark outside.

‘A monumental eight pm!’ Hugo grins.

I groan.  ‘I think there were some days in third year where I’d barely even woken up by this time!’

‘Ah, the good old Cambridge all-nighters!  Have to admit, that’s not a part of university life I miss all too much!’

‘Depends what you were doing to keep you up all night!’  I reply cheekily, before checking myself.  Am I actually flirting with him?

Hurriedly, I excuse myself to my bedroom, still determined to prove Matty and India wrong.  I know they mean well, but this all just feels too contrived … too set-up.  I don’t want to meet my Mr. Right like this … I dunno, I just always imagined catching his eye in the gym, and knowing it was him, or bumping into a tall handsome stranger in a hostel in a far-flung hostel and feeling my heart leap appropriately.  I need adventure, excitement, spontaneity …  Argh, sometimes I just wish they would stop molly-coddling me …  I find myself doubting their intentions.

Quickly I shrug on a baggy pair of granddad-style pyjama bottoms, and an old sweatshirt.  No matter how gorgeous and perfect he is, I can still make myself totally unapproachable … thus scuppering their little plan!  I pause for a second, wondering who I’m really fighting with, and as I do so, I take a glance around the bedroom.  My old bedroom.  God, the things I and India got up to in this set.  I grin to myself.  I’d been half tempted to switch rooms today.  To insist that Hugo have my old room, and take India’s bedroom instead … just for a change.  To mark a new era maybe?  But old habits die hard … and I have so many lovely memories of this room…

‘Have you fallen asleep already?’ Hugo asks nervously from outside the door.

I stifle a giggle.  ‘Nope, just coming!’

As I step back out into the living room, Hugo holds up two mugs.  ‘Coffee or hot chocolate?’

I frown, wondering how much I want to stay awake right now.

‘I’ll do coffee!’  I grin.

‘I was hoping you’d say that!’ he smiles back, before adding hurriedly … ‘I’ve always had a sweet tooth!’

I settle myself back down on the decrepit sofa, wondering to myself how often they change the furniture in the college rooms, and Hugo gives me a peculiar look.

I check myself again, suddenly nervous.  Have I gone too far with the pyjamas?

‘Where did you get that sweater from?’ he asks eventually.

I look down at the faded blue rowing shirt, and tug pensively at the hem.  I shrug ‘I guess it must have once belonged to Matty?’

Hugo frowns.  ‘Sorry, would you mind if I just have a quick look at it?’

I bite my lip nervously, and then finally shrug off the sweatshirt.  As I pass it over to him, he chuckles.

‘This is my jumper!’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘This jumper – it’s mine!  I knew I recognised you from somewhere!  I gave this to you … years ago!’  He chuckles and smiles down at the sweater.

I stare at the Cambridge Rowing team jumper, still confused.  Surely I’d just borrowed it from Matty?

‘But we’ve never met before!  Are you sure it’s yours?  Wouldn’t you and Matty have had similar kit?’

He points at the collar of the shirt, to a red paint stain I’ve never been able to remove.  ‘I got this on the collar helping out the May Ball committee.  It’s definitely mine … and now I think about it, I can actually remember giving it to you!’

I frown.

‘It was the Cuppers rugby final – Johns vs Catz, and you were standing shivering next to me on the sideline …’

‘Oh my God!  You had a broken arm!’

‘Collar bone …’ Hugo corrects.

I laugh nervously.  ‘I stole your jumper!’

Hugo laughs.  ‘How about we just say that you never gave it back?!’

I grab the sweater back teasingly.  ‘Well I hope you realise you’re never getting it back!  It’s my favourite jumper!’

Hugo shrugs.  ‘I’ll try not to hold it against you!’  He retorts, grinning widely.

*                                  *                                  *

‘So you’re telling me, you not only met him ten years ago … but you also stole his jumper … and never even realised?!’  India’s face is a picture of comic surprise.  She’s quite literally gawping, but what makes it more amusing, is that she’s currently trussed up in her customised designer wedding dress, on top of a pedestal, with the seamstress fussing around her feet, fixing the hem.

‘You know, I think the part of this story which bemuses me the most, is that fact you were wearing the sweatshirt in front of him in the first place!  Have you no shame?  Are you honestly not attracted to him?!’

I shrug, knowing whatever I say, India knows me too well.  ‘I was jet-lagged.  It was comfy.’

‘Well luckily, I didn’t choose you this,because it was comfy!’’ She motions over to my bridesmaid dress, a gorgeous turquoise halter-neck.

Before I can say anything, she pipes up again.  ‘I did all the initial fittings for you, seeing as we’re the same size.  But obviously you’ll need to try it on, and have Miranda give it the once over …’

I bite my lip.  I hate how India always refers to us as ‘the same size’.  I mean, granted, we’re not too dissimilar in shape, but she’s always been at least a half size smaller than me in all the places that matter … and a full cup size larger up top.  I shrug off the comment, I’m sure she just meant to be nice.  Besides, by the sounds of things, her body will be changing rather dramatically in the near future … not that she’s felt the need to share that particularly bombshell with me yet!

‘Are you two sisters?’  Miranda, the tailor asks, rising up from her stooped position at the hem.

‘Practically!’  India beams, before I can deny it.

*                                  *                                  *

‘If anyone present should know of any reason why this man and woman shouldn’t be joined in holy matrimony, speak now, or forever hold your peace.’

I can feel the awkward shuffle in the chapel.  I never know why they still include this part in wedding vows.  It just makes people unnecessarily suspicious.  Suddenly everyone in the chapel’s mind has been turned to infidelity and lies, just seconds before India and Matty are joined in supposedly beautiful marriage.

I look down at the two bouquets in my hand.  India’s grand arrangement of roses and other spiky things, and my own diminutive clutch of posies, suddenly all too aware that either bunch of flowers could have at one time been mine.  I chide myself for even thinking as much, and stare over at Hugo in order to distract my wandering mind.

Hugo is standing on the other side of Matty’s brother Toby, the Best Man.  It’s only now that I realise he’s wearing a kilt made out of the McAllister tartan.  The touching little gesture brings a smile to my face.  And besides, I’m yet to see a man look bad in a kilt!  I manage to catch his eye, and he smiles warmly back at me, his expression a little bashful.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

The little wedding rhyme pops randomly into my head, and my thoughts turn to the stolen sweater.  It is something old, borrowed, and blue … could Hugo March possibly turn out to be my something new?

I tune back into the ceremony.  This is the only time my two closest friends will ever be tying the knot.  The main event. I really ought to be paying attention!

And within seconds it is all over, and the crowds are rushing towards the newly-weds, clamouring to bestow their congratulations and embraces.  A wry smile plays over my lips as it reminds me randomly of Matty’s first Boat Race.  As the boys had passed over the finish line at Chiswick, a full eight-lengths ahead of the Dark Blue boat, I had run down meet the boats.  I could almost feel the mud underneath my heels now.  At the time I had lost all sense of propriety and waded across the slippery bank in my delicate formal wear, my only concern to wish my best friend ‘Congratulations’.  It’s funny to think, that at that moment, India Masters wasn’t a part of either my life, or Matty’s.  And bizarrely, it turns out that Hugo March was! Because he was sat in that boat, just behind Matty!  And I hadn’t so much as noticed him …

*                      *                      *

I stumble back across the familiar courtyard in the dark, a little light-headed from all the Dom Perignon India’s father had had shipped in.  I slip off India’s golden heels, and with a cheeky glance around, decide the make a run for it, and dance across the forbidden Cambridge lawn.  When we were students, running across the grass was punishable with a Deaning.  Who knows what the punishments are like these days?

As I creak open the set door, a skill I used to be so well practiced at, I find myself wondering if Hugo is back already.  The evening just got away with me, and I feel like I spent half the reception talking to India and Matty’s families.  I guess that’s the problem when you don’t know which side of the church you’re meant to be sitting on!  It seems like forever since I last saw Hugo, let alone talked to him … and if I’m honest, I’m a little disappointed.

I tiptoe across the living room to my bedroom, and a bright Post-It note on my door catches my attention.

‘You looked beautiful tonight …’ The note reads.  ‘EVEN more beautiful than you did in MY sweatshirt!  Sweet dreams, H xx’

I grin, in spite of myself, wondering when the last time I received an actual hand-written note from a boy was!  I peel the Post-It from the door, and hold it against my chest absent-mindedly as I consider my options.

He likes me!  He really, genuinely likes me!  And despite my best attempts otherwise, I really rather like him too.  I drop India’s heels on the living room carpet, reminding myself that life is about taking risks … What is it she sometimes says?  Something about at least trying a closed door?  Just because something appears shut, doesn’t mean it’s locked closed.  I sneak a glance at India’s old bedroom door.  It definitely appears shut … but surely it’s worth a knock?

I take a deep breath, and knock quietly on Hugo’s bedroom door.  ‘Come in!’ comes a dozy-sounding voice.

‘Sorry, did I wake you?’ I ask quietly, as I step gingerly into the dark room.

Hugo clicks on the bedside lamp and shakes his head, ‘Not at all, I only got back a few minutes ago myself.’  He sits up in bed, and pats the spot beside him with a smile.  ‘Fancy a seat?’

I grin nervously, and perch beside him.  ‘I wondered where you went.’

Hugo shrugs, ‘Every time I looked your way you were busy talking to someone else … and seeing as you were the only person I really wanted to be talking to, I figured I’d call it a night.’

‘Oh,’ I reply shyly.

He grins back, equally shy.  ‘Oh yes? Or, oh no?’

‘Um …. Oh sorry? India’s aunts love to corner me and quiz me on why I haven’t found a man yet!’  I laugh a little awkwardly, before realising what I’ve said.

‘And why haven’t you found yourself a man yet, Miss Vaughan?’

‘What is this, Truth or Dare?’  I ask sarcastically.

‘I guess it could be,’ Hugo grins back cheekily.

‘Ok, well if I’m honest, I’ve just never met the right person …’

Hugo raises an eyebrow.

‘What’s the supposed to mean?’ I ask defensively.

‘Is that your question?’ Hugo asks cheekily.

I shrug, curious.  ‘Sure.’

‘I dunno, I just always assumed there was something between you and Matty.  Even that day I first met you … the rugby match.  The reason you were there was to watch him play, right?’

This time I raise my eyebrow.  ‘So is that your next question?’

Hugo shakes his head.  ‘My next question is … how long have you been in love with Matty McAllister?’

I bite my lip, a weird feeling in the back of my throat, like I’ve been caught doing something naughty.  I frown, and then decide to answer properly.

‘If I’m honest, from the day I first met him … until just a few hours ago!’

I can’t read Hugo’s expression.

‘And the reason for that … is it because he married your best-friend?’ Hugo asks. ‘Or because you met me?’ Hugo adds quietly, his nervous expression defying the presumption of his question.

I slip my hand into his large, callused palm.

‘I’m afraid that was two questions in one go!’  I reply cheekily.  ‘It’s my turn to ask a question, and you know what, next time I think I’ll pick Dare, so maybe you’ll just have to work out the answer to that one by yourself.’

Hugo grins.  ‘In that case, I’d like a Dare too.’

I smile back at him, amazed at how comfortable I felt around this virtual stranger.

‘Ok … I dare you to kiss me!’

© C-C Lester 2010

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Filed under C-C Lester, My Ten Future Lives, Novel Excerpt, Writing

The Dream Navigator – Chapter Three

Please click the links below to read earlier sections –

Chapter One – Ewah the Great

Chapter Two – My Secret Audience


Chapter Three Make a Change

(Inquisitive Cadbury’s Purple)

 

Dream Navigator is a bit of a misleading term.

It suggests I just walk from dream to dream, and as I’ve already explained, physically jumping from one stage to another is actually a very hard process.

But it’s also misleading, because it undersells what I can do.  You see, I not only see what people dream, I can also change it.  I chose the name Dream Navigator because it made me sound noble, as if I were fulfilling some higher duty – overseeing people’s nocturnal musings.  But what I really do is far more invasive.  Dream Meddling … if you were.  Though in my defence, I like to think of what I can do as far more noble than simply watching on while people dream.

People’s dreams affect their lives.

Whether he wakes up with only vague recollections, or remember every detail, a dream colours a person’s day.  It taints his feelings about the topic at issue, and can fill him with courage or drain him of confidence.  It can poison an idea, or lay fertiliser for ingenuity.  And so, in my role as a Dream Navigator, I like to try and make sure that a person’s day is coloured an appropriate shade for ideas and happiness to flourish.

‘What real difference can I make?’ you ask.

The answer is an immense one.  People are riddled with fears.  Negative energy, doubts and insecurities threaten their everyday lives, it just sometimes takes the night to bring them out.  Because it is at night that they are most susceptible to these fears.  In a dream, a tiny niggle can hold an entire court, and in the morning, that niggle will have firmly planted its seed.

So what?  What happens if these fears are allowed to spawn?  If doubts are allowed to colour people’s creativity?  So the world might be devoid of a few ideas?  A few inventors are stopped in their tracks, or a couple of Romeos don’t fight for their Juliets? But that’s not it.  Or it is, but it isn’t.

When I was four, my mother committed suicide.

She had depression, in an age when the disease wasn’t so quickly diagnosed, and when medication was either too strong, or not strong enough.  My mother committed suicide.  She left my life just a handful of months after I had entered hers.  She robbed me of the chance to know her.  To ask her advice about boys, and haircuts and A-Level options.  To hear her wisdom on periods and sex and all the other awkward things my poor Dad ended up lumbered with.  To see me graduate, go shopping for my wedding dress, and name my unborn children.  But she didn’t rob me of those things.  Her depression did.

Depression; something which coloured her days.

A feeling she couldn’t put a finger on, but knew was there.  A sense. An emotion.  A shadow of something.  Ring any bells?

So there you have it.  My motive.  My raison d’etre.  Or at least my reason to be inside people’s heads.  You see, I never had any chance in my calling.  The radio is always on, blaring in the background, and there’s only so long I can ignore it.  But I can control what I do when I’m being called, and so for that reason I tweak.

Tweaking is the name I’ve given to dream alteration.  It took some time before I realised what I was capable of.  For months I just sat there awkwardly in the background.  Sometimes I was fascinated by what was happening inside people’s dreams, sometimes I was scared, but for the most part I was just bored.  I know I’ve used television as a metaphor, but people’s dreams really aren’t like TV shows.  They are incomplete.  The reality kind of hangs there, reliant on what the dreamer, or the Forecaster as I like to call him, is focussing on.  So a person might only have a face, or a world might have a sky but no ground.  I only see what the Forecaster sees, so I see the world in frames, neat slivers of reality.  And that was the problem.  In the early days I was searching for the realities.  I was looking for things I recognised, expecting the dreamer to entertain me like a movie director.  But the forecasters don’t know I’m there, and to be honest even if they did, they would be too busy trying to make head or tail of what they are dreaming about to worry about me.

I got bored.

I would sit uncomfortably in the corner of the dream, waiting impatiently for the Forecaster to wake up and free me from the show.  I would drift off … daydream.  Oh the irony! The only time I ever daydreamed was in other people’s dreams!  And that was when I felt it.  Not a harsh broadcast like the dreams themselves, but a general undercurrent.  A vibe.  The same vibe the dreamer would wake up to.  And suddenly I knew what colour the dream was creating – what effect it would have on that person’s day.

You’d think it would be obvious.  That a person dreams of sunshine, and puppies and sunflowers, and wakes up glowing with happiness as a result!  But for the most part dreams don’t happen like that.  They are the careful downloading of your brain – your daily thoughts and experiences being filed and processed by a computer, and so sometimes a dream may start negatively but end positively, and vice versa.  By watching the fragments of reality, I might get a certain impression about the dream, but it is the undercurrent that tells me what is actually going on.

An internal ‘happy-o-meter’.

‘Warning, someone is about to drown in this cheerful beautiful waterfall!’  That kind of thing.  At first I just accepted the colours.  Saw them as a warning for myself.  Like a certification on a film.  Rate 15 – this show may contain swearing and content of a sexual nature.  Rate Red – the dream will end unsatisfactorily and the Forecaster will wake up feeling angry.  And then I began to wonder if the colours were fixed, or if I could do anything to alter them.

It was actually Dom who helped me discover tweaking.  I had been telling him about the colours.  About how as I had stood at the periphery of this particular dream, I had known  it was going to be a bad one.  ‘But you interrupted my dream!’ Dom had remarked. ‘I stopped what I was doing, and came to you.  And now we’re just chatting, so how can that be so bad?’ he asked.

And so I concentrated again, searching for the sombre grey colour that had flashed at me as I had entered his dream.  Instead I found yellow.  Mellow, level yellow.

‘It’s changed!’ I gasped.  Dom nodded intuitively.  ‘I always feel different when you appear in my dream.  Your counting helps me find you, but the minute you enter my dreams, it’s as if I feel lighter … I know you’ve arrived just from that feeling.’

Buoyed by his words, I decided to see if I could change anything in other Forecasters’ dreams.  After all, Dom could see me when I navigated, so I very directly affected his dream experience.  Surely in dreams where I’m invisible, it was a different matter?

The next night I returned to Quincy’s dreams.

For some time I had avoided the little girl’s company, shunning offers of work, because I was still shaken by the vivid reality of Quincy’s monster.  But that next night I accepted a babysitting job, and like before I wrapped my arms tightly around the sleeping toddler as she drifted off to sleep.

That night Quincy dreamt about her parents.  Matthew and Rachel Graham stood prominently in the centre of her dream, the only clear objects in amongst the confusion of light and taste and pillows.  I sensed the danger of the dream before it appeared.  The dream was jet black in colour – the type people wake up from crying.  And just as I felt the danger, Matthew and Rachel began to disappear.

‘Mummy!  Daddy!’  Quincy shrieked, screaming at the disappearing figures.

‘Mummy!! Don’t leave me!  Where are you going?’ I watched on helplessly as her parents quite literally evaporated, dissolving into the warm nothing around them.

I gritted my teeth as Quincy’s sobs boomed all around me.

‘Make a change!’

I commanded myself, and lunged forwards at Matthew and Rachel, or rather the space from which they were disappearing.  Somehow I caught hold of Matthew’s leg.  I was literally just holding a limb – the rest of his body had already disappeared, and there I was, face down in the pillows, arms outstretched like a fallen rugby player lunging for a ball, but with my hands gripped around a disembodied leg instead!  And if that wasn’t weird enough, the leg felt like Playdough!  I’d never tried to touch anything in a dream before.  I’d touched the dreamers, tried to get their attention, but everything else had just seemed too private.  Forbidden.  I hadn’t wanted to intervene.  But that day I realised that perhaps that was actually what I was supposed to be doing.

I gripped hold of Matthew’s leg, fighting the urge to let go, caused by the revulsion at his leg’s putty-like texture.  As I squeezed the putty more tightly, it seemed to elongate, shooting upwards and downwards.  But the section of leg didn’t change shape like a normal ball of putty.

Somehow the leg began to grow back!

I concentrated on the limb, imagining Matthew’s leg back into existence, and then just like that the putty sprouted.  The leg grew a foot, and then a body, then another leg.  And very soon Matthew was back standing in front of me.  I focussed on the space beside him.  I’d been able to conjure Matthew from what had been left behind … could I really create Rachel out of nothing?  I thought hard about my next door neighbour, the friendly young mum who had taken me under her wing like a little sister just a few days after she and Matthew moved in next door.  I thought about her smile, the way her mouth crinkled at the sides, and her carefree blonde curls.  I focussed on her laugh and how at home she always made me feel, and just like that, my hand filled with putty.  Or rather, more precisely, with Rachel’s calf.  My other next-door neighbour literally sprouted to life before my eyes.

‘Mummy!  Daddy!’ came Quincy’s narrator voice. ‘You came!’

‘Of course we came,’ I mouthed, but the words came from the putty parents’ lips.  ‘We love you!’  The colour of the dream changed into a warm, comforting purple, and I woke up with a jolt.

I’ve been tweaking now for four years, and over that time my skills have definitely come along. Using my own memories I conjure things, people and places – anything I can think of to change the scene and lighten the mood, and the colour, of the dream.  I can make people speak, or do things, and I can make other things disappear.  Basically the only person I can’t affect in a dream is the Forecaster himself.  But hopefully my changes will affect his real life instead.

I’ve used tweaking to do everything from making a mother feel more comfortable around her newborn baby, to removing the clothes off a dream audience so that a little boy felt more confident giving a speech at school.  I’ve vanquished monsters and demons and muggers and thieves, and given children wings, A-grades in tests, and football skills.

And while I do see it as a duty, you can also see how it might be a lot of fun at the same time!  How I might withdraw into a world I can control, rather than live in one I don’t particularly understand…

But the problem is it isn’t just children who dream.

And not all dreams are as easily solved as erasing a monster.

© C-C Lester 2011

CARRY ON TO CHAPTER FOUR HERE

 

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Filed under C-C Lester, Novel Excerpt, The Dream Navigator, Writing