This book began its life as a short story that I entered into a competition (and did not win, alas, on the other hand, it did get long-listed in a publishing company’s competition) but I was then so taken with the idea and the concept that I decided it needed expansion.
See what you think…
Sunday morning – somewhere in the city
Listen, it isn’t like this is the first time I have ever woken up and not known where I am. I mean, six months ago this happened to me regularly. Even more disconcerting was when I didn’t recognise the guy lying next to me either.
But waking up and being disconcerted by surroundings you don’t immediately recognise happens to all of us from time to time. You need a few seconds to re-orient yourself – “Ah, we’re at my mum’s”, or “Of course, we crashed out at Dixie’s.”
I wait for revelation to spring itself upon me, but nothing happens so I run through what I do know. I am in a large and comfortable bed, with clean sheets which smell strongly of fabric softener. The window is to my left and there is daylight shining through the curtains, and the décor is very modern and very smart from what I can make out.
And, reassuringly, Josh is next to me.
The shout outside the bedroom door startles Josh. His eyes spring open and I watch him working through the same thought process as I did – where am I, I don’t recognise my surroundings – and then arriving at the same mental destination I did, the I don’t where I am one.
The door bursts open and a tall, gangly teenage boy flings himself into the room, coming to a rest at the foot of our bed, hopping in agitation from foot to foot.
“Guys! C’mon, get up! You’ve got to take me to the auditions!”
I have sat up in bed, modestly clutching the duvet to my chest which is inadequately covered by a thin nightie, and exchanged an incredulous glance with Josh. He has returned the glance in full, but his incredulity mingles with intense curiosity, and I scrabble for my glasses (thankfully left, as per usual, on the table next to my bedside).
The boy in front of us undoubtedly looks like both of us. Curly-haired (we both sport frizzy mops), bluey-green eyes (my boyfriend), a wide face (me) and approximately 6ft 2” – me too.
Kidding, of course the height is all Josh.
“Five minutes guys!” The teenager grabs hold of my foot and waggles it, and the unfamiliar touch sends a jolt through me. I have to concentrate very hard on not jerking my foot away.
“Get you downstairs then,” I say. He gives both of us an intense look, a “hurry and get up” look and leaves the bedroom in roughly the same way he entered it.
“What the f–”
“Let’s just deal with the immediate,” I say, “we’ve got to take this… boy somewhere. Oh god, what do you think he’s called?”
Josh shrugs elaborately. “I don’t f–” I cut him off. “Language! There is an impressionable young boy in the house!” and Josh stares at me once more in disbelief. “But this is just so–” he stops abruptly, staring at me.
“You look funny.”
“What, ha ha or just bad?” I ask.
“Shit, to be honest, like, really really–”
I note our rather fancy bedroom has an en suite and I dive into it, cutting him off. The bathroom mirror doesn’t reveal anything, but then I have forgotten my glasses and there’s no sign of any contact lenses. I hastily brush my teeth using the pink toothbrush and I wash my face, all the while shouting instructions through the door. “Can you see any clothes, we’ll need to hurry up if we’re to take…”
… whoever to the auditions.
See, it’s the people pleaser in me and I really, really don’t want to let … whoever down.
When I emerge from the en suite, grabbing my glasses en route, Josh is dressed. He indicates the large built-in wardrobe at the end of the room. A quick glimpse at him reveals he is wearing what looks like very smart cash indeed. Expensive, if a bit old I suppose.
Come to think of it, he looks a bit… shit too. Maybe we need to lay off the party nights for a while.
I fling back the wardrobe door and find the same transformation appears to have happened to my clothing. My style, I think, only brands I don’t usually wear or buy. Usually because I can’t afford anything more than £50 for any one item of clothing, and lot of this looks like smart clothes people in offices wear.
Both dressed, the two of us open the door to the bedroom cautiously. The house has that unfamiliar smell: the smell you get in homes that aren’t yours and the one which takes a few minutes for your olfactory senses to adjust to before you stop noticing it.
“Where do we go?” Josh whispers.
I shrug and indicate generally to the left. “That way?”
Josh looks at me and shrugs back. “Son!” he yells, and the expression he shares with me is still incredulous disbelief, but mixed with something else. Familial pride perhaps? “We’re ready! Where are you?”
He high fives me and I slap his palm back. Excellent demonstration of initiative there.
“Kitchen!” comes the shout back and we turn right towards the sound, feeling our way gingerly along the unfamiliar corridors, which are painted in a very goes-with-everything tasteful colour I believe paint manufacturers and my mother would describe as “honeysuckle”.
“Stairs!” I exclaim and we hurry down them – wooden, natch – following the sound and a smell of toast.
There is a picture on the landing – a wedding picture, taken I’m guessing from the hairstyles and dress, roughly 20 years ago. The bride in the picture appears to be me and the groom is Josh. Something stirs in my head and it feels very disconcerting.
I nudge Josh – “Fuck, I’m wearing a meringue!” but his face has taken on a certain expression, a kind of “I can’t handle any more weirdness” expression, so I look at the picture one more time and decide to park the image somewhere else for the time being.
The kitchen, I note, is exactly the kind of kitchen my mother would swoon over. There is an American style fridge freezer in tasteful black, a range cooker and the kind of washing machine that looks as if it picks the clothes off your bedroom door, washes them, dries them and puts them back hanging neatly in your wardrobe for you.
There is also a kitchen island, a large table and beautiful copper pots and pans hanging in hooks and making the place look like the kind of kitchen a serious foodie would spend time in. Whoever we are in this life, I reflect, we do appear to be very successful, very rich and pretty old.
I note there are two or three childish paintings and pictures on the fridge door. I assume I’ve held on to these examples in tribute to the child prodigy in front of me and I search them for useful clues. A childish signature scrawl, for instance, that might give me teenage boy’s name.
No such luck.
The boy is standing at the kitchen island. “Here,” he says and shoves a flask of coffee into Josh’s hands. He is buttering a slice of toast and he cuts it in two, shoving one piece into my hand and the other piece into Josh’s mouth (once more hanging open).
I note that he has put marmite on my half, and blackberry jam on Josh’s which ties in with what we generally like to put on toast. Josh, I note, is chewing his piece furiously, hoping perhaps that toast and jam will have a restorative effect on blood sugar levels and mean the difference between total confusion and clarity.
Audition boy is dangling a pair of keys in front of his face.
“C’mon! C’mon! Man, I can’t wait to pass my test and then I won’t need to wait on you guys.”
He makes a move towards the door and we follow him in a daze into a spacious garage.
“Do you think the car’s got satnav?” Josh whispers to me. “Bound to,” I say. “We seem to be very middle class.”
The three of us get into the car, which is indeed a RAV4. “So,” Josh’s hands grip the unfamiliar steering wheel, “remind me where these auditions are.”
“Merin Court Arena – d’uh! We’ve only got 20 minutes to get there.” Audition boy rolls his eyes.
The satnav delivers us to Merin Court within 20 minutes as the roads are quiet, thankfully. And totally unfamiliar. Leaning forward from the backseat, I notice… whoever flicking through print-offs and I spot the name Sean Berkley at the top of what looks like instructions for auditioning. As he gets out of the RAV4, I call after him, “Good luck Sean!”
I watch him run off with regret. It looks as if there are lots of other people going to this audition and I kind of feel protective of him.
He turns back at the turnstiles as he hears me and grins, then a look of horror comes over his face.
The warm glow that had started in my belly and spread itself through every inch of my body ever since the boy burst into our room freezes. Josh’s hand has grabbed hold of mine. Has Sean realised that we’re not –
“Guys! What about Tildie?” he shrieks, running back to us and resting his hands on the open window at the driver’s side.
“Tildie..?” says Josh, but I have a nasty feeling I know what is coming next.
“Yeah, like d’uh dad! Tildie, my four-year-old baby sister? The one you guys have just left all alone in the house..?”
He runs off and Josh slowly lowers his head, thumping it a few times off the steering wheel.
“What the f–”
“Language,” I say automatically, even though it doesn’t matter anymore. The maternal instinct seems to have kicked in well and truly with me.
“But… look, I don’t get this,” Josh says. “We went to bed and we were, like ordinary 19-year-olds, yeah? And now, now we’re…” he trails off, staring at me in disbelief. I catch a glimpse of myself in the wing mirror and almost fly through the roof of the car in shock.
It’s me, but. I’M ANCIENT.
And a mum of two, apparently. One of whom we’ve just abandoned in a house half-way across the city.
© Emma Baird 2015. Read the next chapter of the story here.
Pic thanks to Vic on flickr.