Quinn sat in the front room, underneath sun rays highlighting spiralling dust motes. He always knew summer had officially arrived when the fire lay dormant for over a week, and then the thick curtains opened to reveal single glazed windows and the view of undulating hills and trees bowing under the weight of their leaves.
Within his lap sat his new DM notebook where he was plotting the next few sessions. His cooling cup of tea waited patiently for him to come back to the world of the living, but it was his phone that won his attention first. It buzzed on the hard white table, startling Quinn who had been daydreaming about his brother’s beloved character, Dova, and he glanced over to see a text blooming onto his home screen.
Quinn’s phone was a brick, barely capable of getting on the internet without complaining, and half the time it remained lost in his school bag for days on end. It surprised him to see a text from Mia, and surprised him even more to realise she wanted to see if he was free.
“Hey, do you want to go to the arcade place next week? As a date. If you want.”
Quinn had to reread the text a few times to make sure he was right, and then he puzzled over Mia and their friendship. He liked her, but did he like her as more than a friend? Well, wasn’t that what dates were supposed to do?
“Sure.” He replied, and then settled back into his fictional worlds.
In the other room, Echo rinsed cake mix off the spatula, drops of water disking off the rounded surface to fleck her thin top. Her husband drifted in beside her. The scent of baking cake filled the room and had snaked its way upstairs where Lukas had been working on his laptop.
“Smells lovely,” he said.
“Thank you,” Echo smiled. “I’m trying to perfect the recipe for Shanna’s birthday. I have another month – do you think we can get sick of cake before then?”
“Never,” Lukas smiled, stroking his fingertips down Echo’s arm. “I have been thinking.”
“Oh? I’m intrigued.”
“A holiday. When the children break for the October half-term, we should take them to Italy.”
Echo’s eyes lit up. “Oh, that’ll be lovely. I haven’t seen Dad’s family in so long.”
Lukas’ smile became smaller, but brighter. “And I think we should tell them there.”
It took Echo a moment to jump onto his train of thought, but the moment she did, her face lit up. The spatula clattered into the sink as she tossed it aside in favour of wrapping her arms around her husband, pulling him to her. His laughter rumbled through his chest and into hers, which was pressed up against him.
She pulled back to search his eyes, and found nothing but a firm commitment to their path.
“I still think we need to do it carefully to avoid worrying Shanna more. But in the beautiful scenery of Italy, surrounded by family, how could she be scared?”
Echo thought of the beauty of Naples, with the deep blue of the sea cradling houses climbing their way to the foot of hills, colourful houses shining in the sun, salted air fresh and pleasant, and mountains scraping the sky in the distance. Her face warmed at the ball of happiness bursting in her chest as she imagined reintroducing her family to a city they had only visited when young.
“It’ll be wonderful, Lukas.”
Lukas glanced over his wife’s shoulder at the vase and its inhabitant, hoping he had made the right choice in putting this argument to bed. Shanna would be eleven at the end of the school holidays, and already she had grown through most clothes they had bought for her. She would move to high school shortly after, and her excitement of being able to pester Ayr during breaks had dulled her anxiety, and it was hardly like her doting brother would say no to the company.
That his youngest was starting high school after the summer was a fact not kind to his heart, but Lukas still considered himself lucky to feel what it was like to age. He had given up trying to find an exact number for his birthdays, but the growing wrinkles at the corners of his eyes – and complaints of his knees – told him that he was growing old. It was a concept that still managed to humble him, though he was sure that one day it would be nothing but a source of complaint.
For now, the prospect of watching his children grow up was both a source of bittersweet pride. He couldn’t wait to see them start to forge their own path in life.
On the first day of the summer holidays, Isabelle lit up upon seeing the package waiting for her on the breakfast bar. She spun it around right-side-up and ripped open the brown parcel paper. It was granny-wrapped and took her some time to dig her nails in right, but eventually she succeeded and looked down at the second copy of A Quartered Soul Great Aunt Summer had given to the family. Izzy beamed, smoothed her hand over the cover, and slid it into her bag.
She had only seen Kian twice the week before, when steadily making her way through the book. He’d thawed towards her somewhat, craning his neck to check her progress both times, and the last time had even asked why she hadn’t turned up as often as usual.
“Exams,” she’d said with a groan. She’d sacrificed reading for pleasure to reading for the curriculum, and had asked if Kian had any exams. He’d only laughed and returned to his book, giving her no answer at all.
Isabelle beamed as she rounded the corner and saw Kian lying back in the sun, forgoing the tree in order to soak up as much light as possible. His top had ridden up, and a flash of stomach and dark hair could be seen. Isabelle bit her lip and chose not to comment on it.
“Don’t stay comfortable,” she said, in way of greeting. Kian didn’t seem surprised that Isabelle had appeared, instead tilting his head back to look at her upside down. In response to his silent question – a mere quirk of a thin slash of eyebrow – Isabelle pulled the book out of her back and shook it at him.
Kian pushed himself up and spun around on the grass to face her, jumping to his feet with surprising dexterity. She’d always pictured him as lazy, slow to move, just like Ayr. But while Ayr was just a typical teenage boy, Kian had the slothfulness of a cat. And just like them, he could move fast when he wanted to.
He tucked his book into the large pocket of his hoodie and walked out of the square without another word. With a roll of her eyes, Isabelle turned on her heel to follow him.
“Where are we going?” Isabelle asked, after five minutes of walking. She wasn’t overly worried; she knew the town well. There was nowhere that was unknown territory to her.
“My house, obviously.”
“And I have to trust that you’re not just taking me to some dark alley to kill me?” Izzy muttered, looking sideways at Kian. He scoffed and gave her one of the treasured crooked grins, sweeping into a little garden and unlocking the door. Isabelle took the chance to look around, noting that the garden was bare but that the lawn was cut, at least, even if the paving slabs had weeds spiralling up from the cracks. The house was a detached yet squeezed two storey council place (as most houses were, in this town), with freshly painted white windows and harling coated walls. Kian jolted the door open with his hip, grandly gesturing for Isabelle to go first.
She did, slowly. She could smell his usual spearmint gum as she crossed the threshold, glancing at the truly tiny porch which had to be less than two metres squared. She ducked into the house proper and searched around for a light, touching Kian’s hand briefly as he flicked it first. The smell had hit her first – and that was not to say the place smelled bad, but it smelled the same as most other council houses she’d entered. It was a scent she associated with homeliness, with tight little places where every corner had been given a job out of necessity, where the families used the backs of sofas to leave piles of folded clothes for days and laughed whenever they fell. She smiled involuntarily and took more steps in.
The living room was dull, even as the light took its time warming up, with one faded sofa facing a TV which looked dusty and old enough that by some miracle that it worked, it certainly had an eye-watering carbon footprint. It was clean, and filled everywhere she looked with shelves of books, a laundry basket waiting patiently on top of the armchair to be returned to its rightful spot. She could see the tiny kitchen opposite her, made brighter by its shining white linoleum floor, and a second door presumably led to the bathroom. Isabelle thought of her home, about how this house could fit twice – if not three times – within her building, and how Echo had lovingly decorated every inch before Isabelle had even been born. But this house was loved, too; Isabelle saw it in the pictures tacked to the wall, the placements speaking of being put there by someone who paid no attention to symmetry or how their positioning looked within the room; she saw it in the fairy lights wrapped around some of the shelves, held precariously in place by large books sitting on the wires; she saw it in the box of crochet tools and wool tucked behind the TV, the project presumably creating the cheerfully bright blankets and cushions in the room.
She felt an intrusive hand squeeze her waist and squeaked in surprise, twisting around to glare at Kian.
He wasn’t looking at her, apparently not interested in getting a rise out of her. Instead he nodded at the floor.
“Can you take your shoes off?”
“Oh,” Isabelle said, stupidly, and not a little guiltily. “Of course.” She slipped them off and padded further into the house, Kian dogging her heels. A quick look behind gave a sight which surprised Isabelle; Kian wasn’t paying any attention to her, but reaching over to fix the blanket draped over the sofa, something quietly proud about the care he took.
“Are your parents home?”
He cocked his head. For once, it was less to do with his teasing, but more to do with surprise at the question. “I live alone,” he said, and, unbidden, Isabelle’s eyes rediscovered the crochet basket. She tried not to smile, and failed. Kian still looked puzzled. “It’s relaxing,” he said, in a small, defensive voice.
“It’s cute,” she told him, laughing at the disgruntled wrinkling of his nose. “Upstairs? You can say no.”
He shrugged and poked the small of her back to hurry her up, which thankfully gave her the reason she needed to turn away from him. His first answer sunk in. She had thought he was sixteen – seventeen at most – with the sort of shining youth he exuded, but the only person she knew who lived alone at this age was a girl at school who kept to herself, and had been in care until reaching sixteen, when she had to move out. Which meant Kian was parentless, even if the question hadn’t seemingly bothered him.
Isabelle moved cautiously up the narrow staircase, which twisted around on itself to reach the second floor. There were only two rooms; one door was open, inviting Isabelle into a very beige and impersonal bedroom, and before she could ask Kian quirked an eyebrow and threw open his own door.
He didn’t move as she squeezed past him, and Isabelle stared up into his dark eyes as she did just that. The warmth in them made her smile, and she wondered what he saw in hers.
Kian’s room was dark, with the oversized curtains drawn across the small windows. Yet more books littered surfaces, a pile of cushions stacked on his bed in a nest-like way, and it was messy in a way Isabelle expected. She grinned as she thought of Ayr’s side of the bedroom, with clothes tossed around and empty packets of crisps lying dejected near bins. She edged further in and noticed the antique style map of Turkey pinned against the wall.
“Are you from Turkey?”
Kian said what sounded like an affirmative in his mother tongue. He drifted in next to her and looked up at the map. “I left when I was…” He squinted as he tried to remember. “Ten, I think.”
“Six years ago?” Isabelle guessed, but as usual she didn’t receive an answer. Instead she reached over to the book sitting next to Kian’s bedside, stopping herself at the last minute in case that was somehow disrespectful. “I didn’t peg you for the holy type,” she confessed.
“Peg me?” Kian repeated in disbelief.
Isabelle spluttered with laughter. “I meant that I didn’t think you were religious.”
“Oh.” After a moment of quiet contemplation, Kian shrugged, reaching out to run his fingers lovingly over the surface of the Quran. “I think philosophical is a better word. I don’t believe in Allah, or any God, but I think if people stop getting so caught up about that part of it, religion can be beautiful. And it’s part of my heritage, so I like to follow what I agree with.”
Isabelle fought the urge to lean back against Kian; he was so close she could feel his body heat, and the sturdy presence behind her was just as magnetic as always. She shook herself and stepped forward, turning smoothly so that she could face him.
And that was worse, because the light caught him just right; highlighted that thoughtful part of him Izzy hadn’t been aware of before. It was in the depth of his eyes, the peacefulness over his face.
He’d joked that she wouldn’t mind him kissing her at the tree the week before, but now more than ever he was right.
She cleared her throat and tried to distract herself. “You’re talkative today.”
“I’m hoping it earns me a book,” Kian said, playfully, narrowing his eyes at her. Isabelle nodded and reached into her bag, pulling A Quartered Soul out. She handed it over and he took it gently, flicking the pages through his fingers and then opening the front cover to find the blurb. Instead, he found the words that Isabelle had asked Summer to inscribe in the front.
To Kian. I hope your appetite for reading never ends, for in a book, hope can always be found. Summer Williams.
“Oh,” he croaked, his lips parting in surprise. Isabelle swore his eyes misted for a moment, but after a quick blink Kian regained his composure. “Thank you, Isabelle,” he said, meeting her gaze. For a change the jester in him had been locked away, and in its place he was starkly and sincerely grateful.
He placed the book on his table with care, and reached out to cup Isabelle’s cheeks. He dipped his head and Isabelle froze under his hands, realising what was about to happen – but it didn’t. Kian had paused as soon as he felt her stiffen, giving her the chance to break away, but then Isabelle caught herself.
Why was she resisting this so hard? Yes, Kian was an obnoxious, arrogant boy, but who wasn’t? She’d gone further with others that had been harder to put up with than Kian, and wasn’t this exactly what she wanted? She could hardly deny her feelings for Kian, even if part of them were just her wishful thinking that she could have some fairytale romance, so she relaxed under his hands and fisted his hoodie, pulling him closer.
She tasted spearmint gum and relaxed into him, his hands falling from her cheeks to encircle her waist. She realised once they were pressed together that Kian was thinner than she had assumed; his hoodie hid less than she’d thought, and he was lanky rather than toned, and what surprised her further was that he was less experienced than his attitude had suggested. He was good at taking cues, though, and let her lead, making his lack of skill up with patience and experimentation. Isabelle had no idea how long they stood there for, but when they broke off, her mouth was tingling and sore.
“I think I did promise you a kiss,” Kian said, voice rough.
“Less of a promise, and more of a threat,” Isabelle returned, airily, and the clock behind Kian’s shoulder caught her eye. “Oh, shit. I need to get back for dinner.” She frowned, a thought occurring to her. “Do you want to come? It’s good homemade food…”
Kian looked offended. “I have lamb in my slow cooker. I can cook, twig.”
Isabelle wasn’t sure why she had assumed otherwise; Kian lived alone, apparently crocheted like an old grandma, and if it wasn’t him that had painstakingly painted the windows of his house then she would be truly surprised. “Sorry,” she mumbled, curling hair behind her ear. “One last question.” Kian flicked an eyebrow upward, as Isabelle knew he would. “Why twig?” she asked, exasperation blanketing her words.
Slowly, Kian’s smirk grew. “Oh,” he said pleasantly, “wouldn’t you like to know?”
“I would, that’s why I asked.”
“I suppose you’ll have to find something to trade for the answer,” he shrugged, casually walking out of his room backwards, turning at the last second with the sort of fluid grace she had come to expect, and dropping down the stairs. She groaned and followed him down, slipping her shoes back on and taking another sweeping look of his house. She hadn’t pictured him being so domestic but, she thought, as he crossed over to the kitchen to open the lid of his slow cooker, the smell of cinnamon, fennel, and citrus flooding the room, it was ridiculously hot. Her mouth watered – this time just from the smell – and she wished that she wasn’t expected at dinner.
Unfortunately she had to leave, and forced herself to do just that with some difficulty. She heard his goodbye drift out as she closed the door, wondering if he’d ever bothered to say that to her before. She touched her lips tentatively and grinned, just another stupid, lovesick teenager, and hurried home.
The slow, soothing movements of the swing matched Cara’s drifting thoughts. Underneath the glowing sun she sat picking at the holes in her tights and pushing her feet against the sandy ground. The grass had been marked by countless children dragging shoes over the unfortunate patch until it had become mud, baked into a hard surface whereupon it cracked like limestone.
Her thoughts were aimless, like bobbing boats tied loosely to the pier. She rested her cheek against the burning metal of the chains. Her stomach had been in knots since the morning, and it had nothing to do with her hangover from the party three days ago.
At first, she had been blissful. How weird! Cara hadn’t felt so content in years, and it was hard not to know why. All of her energy had been spent picking Adam up, pushing the bleeding pieces of him together. She knew his heart and it had been broken before she’d got it, internal strife resulting in the lashing attitude she’d learnt to weather so well.
But that wasn’t her job! She wanted to help him, yes. And she cared about him – absolutely.
Cara had felt the relief of a weight removed from her as she’d cuddled up to Ayr that morning, and then she’d felt the guilt, and the worry, because what had she done but prove Adam’s insecurities right? His mind would warp reality: he wasn’t wanted; he was impossible to love.
And the worst thing was that it was true.
But then she’d got the text, and her stomach had dropped, and her internal monologue had spiralled into fear.
Ayr turned up whistling tunelessly, and despite her turmoil Cara felt herself smile. She breathed in the warm, flower-heavy air, and stood.
“We need to talk,” Cara said, feeling her throat tighten. Ayr blinked, his face switching seamlessly from happy to suspicious. There was only one thing that could mean, wasn’t it? “It’s complicated,” she whispered.
Ayr’s eyes dulled. “Uh huh.” They’d spoken since, of course, but of inconsequential things. It had been a little awkward even though they were both clearly happy, but there had been a sense to their relationship like time had stopped, and when it started again everything would be different.
“I – Adam’s mum texted me this morning.” She chewed on her bottom lip and struggled to keep her eyes from filling. The guilt was different, now. It had an edge of responsibility to it.
It had sparked Ayr’s interest, she could tell, but only because he couldn’t tell where this was going. “Yeah?”
Cara sucked in air suddenly too warm. “Adam’s missing. He didn’t come back from Glasgow on Friday.”
“Shit,” Ayr said, his eyes widening. “What – I mean, do they know -”
“He was seen at the station.” She wiped at tears with shaking hands. “I don’t – he hated his dad, but he wouldn’t have left without saying anything. And I know – I know what he’s like, and these past two days have been so nice, but I can’t just – what if he comes back and he’s – he might need me.”
“And we can be there for him if he wants, but that doesn’t mean anything between us has to change.”
“It does, though!” Cara wailed, covering her face with one hand and hugging herself with her other. “He’s going through hell, right now, and he can’t just come back and find that I’ve abandoned him.”
“What if they don’t find him?” Ayr asked, hurt and hormones overriding better sense.
Cara shook with a powerful sob. “God, Ayr, I don’t know! The only reason we got together was because he didn’t turn up and he would have if -”
The retort was sharp. “The only reason?”
“So your shitty boyfriend didn’t turn up and you were mad at him so you decided to sleep with me instead? As if this was out of character for him. He’s got a track record of dropping you when it doesn’t suit him to have you hanging onto his arm – and that’s the only reason? Thanks.”
“No – I… I didn’t mean – you can’t just talk about him like that. He’s missing! He might be – be – gone.”
“That doesn’t magically erase how much of an asshole he was!”
“He had good things too!” Cara yelled back. Tears dried and gave way to cheeks flushed with anger. “You were just always so jealous of him that you didn’t want to see that.”
Ayr’s jaw snapped shut, painfully, and then with deliberate slowness he said, “Cara, he took every opportunity to put me down for my dyspraxia. Why the fuck should I look past things like that to try and find the diamonds amongst the shit? You were so blinded by wanting to fix him to realise that to do that you should have been challenging him, not indulging him. You know how much that hurt me. So fuck him, and fuck you, and now I’m going to go home. Don’t text me.”
Ayr turned on his heel to go, snatching his hand back from Cara’s insistent grip as she reached out to stop him.
“Ayr, please,” she sniffed, her voice wobbling, but he ignored her and focused on putting one foot in front of the other. His eyes burned but he blinked tears away as best he could, biting down on his lip to stop it from shaking. He couldn’t even begin to analyse how he felt; he just hurt. Trying to find the source of the pain was impossible; it was a spiderweb of inciting incidents that linked and spiralled in a complex pattern.
He’d never argued with Cara like this, and he’d always swallowed down his hurt whenever she would defend Adam. But to have felt like they finally understood each other and then to realise that they weren’t on the same page – not even the same book – was like his heart had just got ripped out alongside the remains of his dreams.
My poor bb Ayr ;_;
Oh, I’d say that Kian and Isabelle don’t also dominate next chapter, but that would be a total lie 😉