Cold Water
Author: AnnmarieM

Chapter 1
I'm not the one named after a tree

The first time I wake up, the world around me is dark and hazy. Everything is silent and I am so disorientated that I think I’m in a dream. I can sense the presence of a dark figure above me, but I don’t have the energy to defend myself and all I can do is stare up and blink stupidly. The vague and undefined lines of what looks like a face swim above me. And then I see a pair of bright, chocolate coloured eyes. Before I have time to realise what this means, the darkness consumes me again. After that I have dreams. Cloudy and unclear, but the main focus of them are dark figures that loom menacingly over me with blurry faces that I cannot quite distinguish. Once, I think I see a flash of yellow. The figures never try to move any closer to me; they stay at a short distance away, simply observing. Above me the sky is crimson red, a single stray white balloon drifting away.

The second time I wake up my body feels heavy and my head like it’s full of pebbles. There’s a pounding in my ears and a dry burn in my throat. I force my eyes open, squinting up into bright, white light and closing them again at the sting. After a while I notice that I’m warm and also that I’m lying on something soft, not the hard ground I remember. I wonder if I’m dead as I sift through blurry memories of oak trees and rain. When I finally manage to pry my eyes open again, squinting as my vision swims before focusing, I find myself staring up into the same chocolate brown eyes I remember from what feels like a dream.

I let out a gasp of surprise, the dry air making me choke.  A pang of pain in my right arm. The world pulses around me in bright, vivid colours. I have to squash an urge to cower backwards, away from those innocently startled eyes and the strange face that goes with them.

“Hello...?” I hear the smooth voice coming from the owner of the pretty, brown eyes. I still cannot move but the irrational urge to escape fades and gradually my tensed muscles relax. I close my stinging eyes for a moment but he’s still there when I open them, hovering above me and watching curiously. I open my mouth, ignoring the sting of chapped lips, and try to speak. It comes out as a raspy cough. “Oh, sorry, this might help...” he waves a glass of water in front of me tantalisingly.

I look away as the strange boy with the wild coffee hair helps me sit up, propping up my pillow and closing my clammy fingers around the glass. Once I’ve forced the cool liquid down my throat, I can finally think clearly again and my vision clears. I look around the room in surprise. Then, it finally dawns on me that I am lying in a bed in an unfamiliar room with a complete stranger.

The panic I’m expecting never comes. I survey my surroundings, taking in the beige walls with matching carpets, the unstable bookshelf in the corner, the fluttering red curtains and the alarm clock beside me. It’s eight in the evening.  Then I simply stare at him for a full minute before cracking my lips apart and forcing the words through them. “Where am I?”

“My house,” he provides unhelpfully.  “How are you feeling?”

“Headache...everything hurts,” I rasp, still blinking consistently to keep my eyes open. “Especially my right arm.” I barely notice the apologetic look that flashes across his face as I try to flex my fingers in the damaged arm, being rewarded with shooting pain.

“Sorry,” he says, sounding uncomfortable. “That was probably me. I think I dropped you on the way back.”

 “What do you mean?”

A small, nervous chuckle escapes and he rubs the back of his head sheepishly. “Right, sorry, forgot you were unconscious for most of it. I found you out cold under this old oak tree on my way back home, so I brought you with me, seeing as I didn’t have a mobile to call for help.”

I stare at him, my sluggish mind bemused. “You carried me here?”

 “It wasn’t far, only about ten minutes away. And, you’re pretty light.” I take it as a compliment. Either way, an unbidden part of my mind juggles with the possibly that I might owe my life to this strange boy. And, although a part of me is grateful, another part of me is reluctant to owe something to someone else.

“Thank you,” I murmur.

 “Err...no problem, I guess.”

An uncomfortable silence falls between us. I settle back into my pillow, still tensed, still wary, still trying to figure out how I can fix this.  My eyes flit to the window momentarily; some sort of daring escape? I notice with irritation that the curtain is in the way, blocking out the sunlight. But surely this boy cannot live alone. He looks barely older than sixteen or seventeen. There must be an adult in the house.

“So, where am I exactly?” I ask.

“My house. Number seven Treneor close, Cleadon village, England,” he chuckles awkwardly. “You know? It’s that dreary little island off the coast of Europe that’s always raining.” I frown, ignoring his bad attempt at a joke. Cleadon village is just over a forty minute drive away from my own small city: Sunderland.

“And,” I continue. “Who are you?”

The corner of his mouth twitches upwards. “Ash,” he says.  

 “Ash who?”

“Falkland. Now, it’s only fair you tell me who you are.”

“My name’s Hope.”

“Odd name,” he comments.

“You’re the one named after a tree.”

“Hmm, touché.”

 I sigh. “How long was I asleep for?”

“About fifteen hours.”

 Well, crap. Fifteen hours is a long time. I wonder if my sisters have noticed my disappearance yet. Maybe I should call them, ask them to come and take me home. The idea is unappealing.

“Do you have a phone I could borrow?” I ask, trying to work out how damaged my body is and whether or not I can get out of bed yet. The aching I had felt when I had first awoken has lessened slightly and I try to push myself up, attempting to swing my legs over the side of the bed. He forces me back down.

“You can’t get out of bed yet. Sorry.” He hardly sounds apologetic.

“Why?” I work to fight down the grimace at the sudden bolt of pain in my head from the movement. “I feel fine.”

“You’ve only just woken up,” he points out. “And, you’re sick.”

I peer at him blankly. “Sick?”

“A doctor came when you were asleep.”

“And what did they say?”

He shrugs. “Not sure. Something about dehydration, fatigue. I was downstairs eating pie at the time.”

I refrain from rolling my eyes and try to sit up again. And once again, he forces me back down into a lying position. I glare. “Let me up.”

“The doctor said you have to stay in bed,” he says. “And seeing as I’m the only one here, you have to listen to me.”

I almost consider arguing, but the sledgehammer attacking my head drains my enthusiasm. “Where are your parents?” I ask instead.

“My mum’s out, she’ll be back soon.”

“What’s her name?”

“Jenny.”

He digs around in his pocket and pulls out a packet of tablets. I eye them warily. “What are those?”

“Aspirin,” he replies, seeming amused by my suspicion. He pops one out and then refills my cup with water.  He offers both items to me. “Mum said I should give you these if you woke up. They should help with the headache.”

I nod in agreement mutely, taking the small pill and downing it in one go with the water. “Thanks.”

He watches me for a moment, a look of childlike curiosity and concern clearly displayed on his features, and then asks: “So, why were you out in the rain?”

I stiffen. “It’s...a long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

 My first impression of my so-called ‘saviour’ is that he is much too nosy. I try glaring at him, but he doesn’t falter. I add ‘stubborn’ to that steadily growing list of irritating traits. When he doesn’t back down, I give in with a scowl and explain. “I ran away from home.” I’m not sure why I say it but my own willingness to comply with him bothers me.

“Oh.” Awkward silence. “Well, where were you planning to go?”

Somewhere. Anywhere. “I don’t know,” I settle on.

“Oh,” he says again and I am annoyed to see pity in his expression. “I know it’s a bit sudden but maybe, if you have nowhere else to go, you could stay here with us for a while.”

“Thanks,” I say mechanically, because I know he doesn’t mean it. “I’ll think about it.”

He just nods uncomfortably as I avert my gaze and fidget to fill the empty silence.  His presence makes me irrationally nervous. This ordeal continues for a few more minutes until finally he stands up from his chair and stretches his arms to reveal a tall, lean frame. “Well, I should let you rest now, you’re probably tired,” he explains, an obvious excuse to leave.

“Yeah,” I nod in agreement. He is starting towards the door before I call out quietly: “Could I borrow the phone please?”

He nods and disappears from the room. He returns quickly, handing it to me and flashing me a smile before walking towards the door again. For a second I want to say thank you to him. The words are right there, already formed and ready to be released, but at the last second I hold back and my chance is ruined as he leaves the room, shutting the door softly behind him.

I wait for a little while after that, listening to the sound of his footsteps clattering down the stairs, hearing the occasional clangs of what sounds like plates or cookery pots and then the soft thud of a refrigerator door sliding shut. He’s left the water beside my bed and I see my sodden, red backpack on the floor as well. Outside, I can hear the distant sounds of birds singing.

I’ve always been impulsive. It’s just one of my many flaws. I’ve never been a particularly nice person either in my opinion. My favourite colour is grey, because it is always overlooked, because it is indecisive and because it is tainted. I prefer frowning to smiling by force of habit. I can’t stand summer because it is too hot, people are happy and the sun’s going to burn out one day and destroy us all anyway. I am the complete opposite  to my own name. And yet, out of all these many flaws, I had never thought that one of them might result in a situation like this. I wonder about my current plans for the future. It sounds stupid having to return to the place I had originally run away from.

I raise the phone in my shaky hands, dialling my home number. I cross my fingers and hope they don’t pick up. And, a moment later, it seems my thoughts have been answered as the beeps end and I hear the smooth, mechanical voice of the answer machine. I sigh in relief as the voice tells me to leave a message after the tone.

“Hello,” I start, trying to keep my voice steady. “It’s me. Look, I’m sorry for running off like that. I’m calling just to let you know that I’m safe and I have somewhere to stay, so don’t worry about me and don’t try to look for me. And please don’t reply to this call because I’m phoning from a public phone box.” It’s only one small lie compared to the hundreds I’ve already told. “Anyway, I won’t be coming home for a little while. I just need some time to think things through. Sorry, I’ll call you soon and try to explain.  Bye.”

I relax back into the bed and stare up at the ceiling. I don’t try to think, I don’t try to come up with any daring plans or more escape attempts. I’m just tired: so, so tired. I’m completely and utterly exhausted. I just want to close my eyes and pretend none of this is real, that in my own dreamland everything just magically works itself out. But it doesn’t happen. So instead I shift onto my side, facing the window. For a moment, the fluttering red curtain flares out with the wind and I catch a glimpse of the world.

Outside, the sky is glowing an ominous pink as the birds continue to sing.

 

 

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