Words have been flowing…although sadly not into any sort of blog post. Instead, I came back from holiday with a new story idea and it was like it blocked my brain from thinking about anything else until I knocked it out of my head and on to the page.
If bad luck came in threes surely losing your job, spending all your meagre savings while hunting for another and then, just to top it all off, finding yourself homeless, should be the end of it?
Slamming the warped front door of the shared house for the final time, Alex Saunders turned, picked up the cardboard box she’d left on the path…and the bottom promptly fell out.
While looking down at her possessions, many of which were now smashed to pieces on the cracked concrete, she felt the first spots of rain and glanced up at the cloudy grey sky.
“Hah!” She said aloud. “Well played, world, well played.”
Others in her situation might be more downbeat but she had learned early on to roll with the punches.
When one door closes… and all that jazz – although when that door happened to be your home and there was no backup option it was a little tougher.
“Who are you talking to?” A clipped voice demanded, snapping her attention to the end of the overgrown garden path where a man now stood.
“Oh, just the world,” She grinned. “I think I must have done something to anger it as it seems to have it in for me at the moment.”
Although, now she had a closer look, if it had sent her this handsome stranger as some sort of recompense she might just be willing to forgive and forget, she thought, her grin turning into a genuine smile.
“Let me guess…” he tilted his head to one side, his face blank. “First you were let go at work, despite being highly regarded, then, strangely, you haven’t been able to find other employment, almost as if you’re blacklisted. Now you find yourself homeless after your landlord sold up and the new owner evicted you in favour of developing this ruin of a house to sell on for a profit.”
Her smile had gradually faded with each word he had spoken and now she narrowed her eyes.
“How did I do, Miss Saunders?” He questioned.
“You forgot the part where I spent all my savings,” she said, belligerently, all hint of happy-go-lucky Alex disappearing. “Who are you?”
She wasn’t easily intimidated – with her background she couldn’t afford to be – but now she noticed the coolness of his blue eyes he made her uneasy.
Looking left and right, she felt slightly better when she saw people within shouting distance – although, in this neighbourhood, whether they would come to help was another matter.
Dressed head to toe in black, she initially thought he might be a bailiff – albeit one who looked like he was a model in his spare time – but after his little speech he seemed more like some sort of avenging angel – not that she had much to fear, unlike other members of her family.
“My name is Kit Ashcroft.”
Not even a flicker of recognition. “Well, Kit,” she emphasized the use of his first name. “Clearly you know who I am. How about you tell me what I’ve done to make you go to the time and trouble of destroying my life – assuming you’re claiming credit for having me fired and making me homeless?”
He looked at her for a long moment and she willed herself not to squirm under his scrutiny.
She wondered if he’d expected her to burst into tears or at least be a little more cowed but Alex was tougher than that. Rule number one of the Saunders Family Code was never let anyone see a weakness.
“You haven’t done a thing. Your brother on the other hand…”
A light dawned in her eyes and she sighed, her shoulders sagging with the weight of it. “Of course. Duncan.” It always came back to Duncan.
She knelt down and began clearing up the mess of her things on the path.
“Don’t you want to know what he’s done?” Kit walked towards her and stood a few feet away.
Alex paused, looking up.
“I’m sure he owes you money, just like all the others. But, as we’ve already established, I don’t have any left thanks to you, so it seems like you might have shot yourself in your…” she looked at his shiny shoes. “Expensively clad foot.”
She grabbed a cloth bag from the side of her large backpack and began putting anything salvageable inside. It was probably best she had lost a few things, it wasn’t as if she would need them where she was going. And wasn’t minimalism supposed to be all the rage anyway?
“I need you to tell me where he is.” He said quietly, watching as she stood and dumped broken bits of pots and plates in a nearby bin.
“If only it were that simple.”
“Why isn’t he here helping you? What sort of brother is he?” He asked, signs of frustration appearing in his voice.
“Is that why you did this to me? You thought he would come to my rescue and you could confront him?” Her eyes flashed in anger. Not waiting for him to answer she continued: “I haven’t seen my so-called brother since the day of our mother’s funeral seven years ago. He turned up to see if she’d left him any money and when it was clear that only debt remained he was gone without a backward glance.”
If only that had been the end of it but Duncan Saunders seemed determined to keep dragging her into his messes, although this was the first one for a while.
“How old were you?” Kit asked, unexpectedly. None of the others – the drug dealers, loan sharks and all manner of lowlifes Duncan had sent her way – had cared but Kit didn’t seem the usual type at all.
“I was 16. Look, I’m sorry for whatever he has done,” she said, hoisting her heavy pack on to her shoulders. “But you’d have been better off coming and threatening me like the rest rather than going to the trouble of getting me fired and buying this place – at least I’d have money to give you then.”
He took a step towards her and she automatically flinched, stopping him in his tracks.
“Did they hurt you?”
Bewildered at his concern and cross that it made her want to confide in him, she pulled herself up to her full height but he still towered over her.
“It hurt far less than losing my job and home,” She shot back and he had the good grace to look uncomfortable.
“Please, call off your dogs and leave me alone. I can’t help you.”
She wasn’t sure what made her more depressed, the fact that this man had ruined her life or that even if her brother knew about it he wouldn’t care.
Alex moved past him down the garden path and walked a short distance to the nearby bus stop where she shimmied her bag off and put it on the bench, sitting herself despondently beside it.
It started to rain in earnest and she couldn’t help the little shake of her head.
“Can I at least offer you a lift?”
She hadn’t noticed him follow her but now looked beyond him to see a limo, which looked entirely out of place parked a little way down the busy street.
“Thanks but I’m not sure it gives the right impression to turn up at a shelter in a car like that.”
“You’re going to a shelter?”
“Someone made me homeless, remember? I’ve been lucky enough to get a bed for a few nights…unless you’re about to pull a few strings and get that revoked too.”
He sat down beside her and she edged away slightly, unnerved that she felt strangely safe with him despite the fact that her current situation was his fault.
“My sister is pregnant. Your brother is the father.” He said it without emotion but a rush of elation swept through Alex.
“I’m going to be an auntie?” She said, the wonder apparent in her voice. “If you get me my job back, I can work. I’ll help your sister with costs… or whatever.” She ended somewhat lamely thinking that a man with expensive shoes and a limo probably didn’t need her limited wages.
He frowned. “I need your brother.”
While she felt something of a traitor, she was compelled to say: “The thing is, Kit, even if you do find him, he’s not exactly father of the year material.”
It wasn’t as if they had a great role model in Eric Saunders.
“You misunderstand, I’m not trying to bring him back, I’m trying to keep him away. To do that I need to find what it will take for him to disappear from their lives. Permanently.”
Her brother had done some terrible things but she had never been more ashamed of him than in that moment.
“I suppose I’m included in the ban too?” She said, miserably.
“Help me find him and we’ll see.”
“Bargaining with a baby. Nice move,” She said sarcastically.
He seemed to take her comment on the chin.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my sister and this child.”
Alex sighed. What must it be like to have someone watch your back like that? It wasn’t something she had ever experienced. Rule number two of the family code: the only person you can count on is yourself.
“You’re a good brother,” she said.
“Listen, Alex, for some reason I’m inclined to believe you are telling the truth which means I need to put right the damage I’ve done. I have a proposition for you.”
She turned and looked at him then. Just what was his game? Some sort of bad cop, good cop routine? Was he hoping now he was playing nice that’d she’d suddenly cough up her brother’s whereabouts?
“I understand you worked in facilities?”
“If you mean I was a cleaner then yes,” She laughed. Other people always seemed slightly embarrassed to mention what she did but Alex thought it was a good, honest – not to mention entirely legal – job.
She got a sense of satisfaction in putting things in order and what’s more she was good with all sorts of people – from the chief executive down – and her boss, or former boss now, seemed to appreciate that and was giving her more and more responsibility.
“It just so happens that I need a cleaner/housekeeper and it comes with bed and board.”
A job and a home in one fell swoop. Surely too good to be true?
“And in return?” She asked.
“Help me find your brother.”
There was no love lost between her and Duncan but could she really find him and then turn him over to this man who was intent on keeping him away from his child? What about rule three? Family first.
It seemed like Kit would find him anyway, with or without her help, but perhaps she could get in before him and at least hear Duncan’s side. Maybe he was a changed man? Maybe becoming a father would finally make him grow up?
There was also there was the small matter of her having no home, no job and no money to contend with.
“Deal,” she said, hoping she hadn’t just sold her soul to the devil.
As I said, it’s a first draft, knocked out in an hour or so during nap time. My questions, if you’re willing to be in my writing group, are:
Is it a believable plot (remember I’m writing romantic fiction)?
Is it too depressing?
Do I need more description of the characters in the first chapter or can it wait?
Do you think Alex is realistic? Should she be more upset?
I have three stories I’m working on but I can really only take one forward so I thought I’d see what you thought of this one. I can take constructive criticism, honest!
Now I’ve put my heart on the page, I’m going to run away for a little while 🙂