Important: Please note that these chapters are all between 3000 to 5000 words, so please make sure you are sitting comfortably with a good cup of tea or coffee and enjoy! Please leave
[ unedited ]
There were two things in this world Robyn Reece despised — cucumber and rain.
At this moment, she felt she was the unluckiest girl to be alive. Not only had her mum snuck cucumber into her vegetarian pasta dish for her lunch, but it was raining.
Maybe ‘rain’ was a bit of an understatement . . . Hailstones and the sleet hammering down and the rain . . . As Robyn walked home, all were present that Monday afternoon. A wonderful reason to why she disliked early spring.
Robyn violently shivered, dressed incorrectly for the weather. She wore tights, a dress and thin cardigan. Not the greatest decision she’d ever made.
If that wasn’t bad enough, her short, once curly brown hair stuck to her pale, blotchy face — bedraggled and tangled as if never brushed. Robyn had to rely on glasses but they were useless with water droplets blinding her as she stumbled forward. Her boots went squelch, squelch, squelch as they rubbed painfully against the heels of her damp feet.
It couldn’t seem to get much worse for Robyn. In her defence, though, all of Britain had enjoyed cloudless skies for the past week even though it was mid-January. She had become so blase about the lovely weather she decided not to check the forecast. And unless Robyn was like her grandmother — who got aching bones whenever rain was due — she would be clueless.
However, that was a topic for another time when Robyn wasn’t barging past students, enviously eyeing the bright-coloured umbrellas bobbing up and down. It wasn’t just the few students she rushed passed who seemed to laugh as Robyn rushed passed like a wet rag, but also the umbrellas themselves as the water sprayed off them and hit Robyn in the face like a cold slap.
Robyn hiked her non-waterproof school bag further up her shoulders and huffed, shuddering at the vision of the mess her schoolwork had likely become. Damp paper probably ripped, ink running and smearing down the pages and — oh no! Her book!
Robyn’s face fell at the thought of her book being ruined. The image of the blue cover to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, warped and torn, flashed across her mind. That book was her baby! Her world! It may be an exaggeration, but Robyn truly loved that book — even if it made her feel extremely, terribly, undeniably single. She had read it so many times; the spine had broken in several places and the pages looked exhausted, but Robyn didn’t care.
With feet squelching as lakes grew in her boots and cold numb fingers tucked under her armpits, she continued on her way with determination in each stride. Sniffing, she scanned the road for her father’s old, battered, red vintage car, but to no avail.
The secondhand veichle, which had seen many, many better days, was nowhere in sight. Her father was probably waiting out the rain so the slightly rusted car could stand a better chance at survival — especially since the previous owner somehow jammed the front passenger window open, leaving a four inch gap. That meant wind, rain, snow all came into the car, sometimes creating an icy or blistering environment, both inhospitable.
The car didn’t have air conditioning either, being such an old model. In the summer, the family would wind the remaining three working windows down so air could flow in to cool them down, but on sweltering days, warm heat wafted in in sticky waves. No wonder the previous Owners wanted to get rid of it for just over a thousand pounds. Why they didn’t sell it to a collector baffled Robyn, but she guessed they were just glad to get it off the driveway. Robyn couldn’t help but feel grateful towards the car though for its cheap price as her family had been struggling financially for the past few years.
Her father, a stay at home father, did all the cleaning and gardening at their semi-detached two story home and her mother owned an interior design business which struggled because of rising competition. Robyn always had faith that her mother would prevail, though. Robyn dreamed of carrying on the business and she would help it grow so the online business called Allison’s Design — named after her mother — would become one or two shops spread across England, maybe one even in London!
Robyn smiled and caught up in the thought, she almost missed the bright red telephone box jutting out from the path in the dreary surroundings. Her eyes gazed up at it as she lifted her wet glasses to get a better look. She halted.
Heart leaping for joy and a smile larger than the Jokers’, Robyn yanked the cold red door open and leaped into the small rectangular space, closing it behind her to block out the terrible weather. Wiping her glasses on the inside hem of her damp dress, she slipped them back on and took one sniff before scrunching her nose up at the foul stench of urine.
Compromising with the weather, she opened the door a crack to relieve the cramped space of its stench, but the thought of the door being ripped off its hinges by the wind made her shut it once more.
It was no Tardis, but it was better than nothing. She looked with a scowl at the yellow, pink and black graffiti covering the left side of the telephone box, then to the cobwebs covered in dust and other unidentifiable things which claimed their spots in all areas of the telephone box. She was the outsider and unwanted one.
Robyn ran her fingers through her mangled hair, droplets of water splashing onto the green ivy carpet on the concrete ground, some droplets slithering down her neck.
A shiver flew up her spine, and she ran her hands up and down her arms, jumping up and down on the balls of her feet, the water sloshing around in her boots. Robyn shuddered at the thought of how wrinkly her toes would look when she took them off. She knew the skin between her toes would split. Pain seemed inevitable.
She focused her attention to the interior of the telephone box, banishing the thought which made her hair stand up and toes curl in on themselves.
Her eyes landed on the stainless steel telephone with the coin slot and broken dial pad next to it, all covered in thick, dusty, grey cobwebs after years of disuse and abandonment. Maybe if she were to insert some change, it would take her down to the Ministry of Magic like the scene in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, Robyn spotted a miracle: books!
A stack of neatly placed books sat in a Clarks shoe box. A smile worked its way onto her face as her heart skipped in her chest. Her eyes soaked in the bright colours of the spines until they landed on a white folded up piece of lined paper perched on top. She reached and picked it up to see two words: Book swap. Inching closer, feet crunching against the greenery, she let her stiff index finger run over each spine and read the title of each book.
Atonement . . . The Davichi Code . . . Looking for Alaska . . . The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe — Wait!
Robyn’s eyes moved back to a previous book and her fingers reached out, pulling it away from the pile of books. Reading the front cover, her heart sang with joy. In her hands lay Looking for Alaska by John Green.
Her eyes greedily read the title once again before she turned the used book over to read the blurb.
Robyn, unsuccessful in finding it in local charity shops, longed to read the book. She had spotted it plenty of times in bookshops, brand new and shining at her, yet the price on the back would always make her cringe and she would leave the shop with a meagre amount of hope she would find it in a charity shop for a third of the price. Robyn gripped it with a smile.
Robyn flicked through, landing on pages with folds once used to mark the place the previous owner had got to. She couldn’t help but wonder who the previous owner was. Could it be a twenty-year-old girl clearing out her stuff before heading off to college? Or could it be a seventeen-year-old girl — like herself — who read all her books and now wanted more?
Her fingers were itching to turn to the first page to read. However, she calmed herself and her excitement before placing the book back down on top of the other books. The sign specifically said Book swap, not take anything you like. Robyn would feel too guilty if she took one and not traded for one of her own. For all she knew, the person who did the book swap could be waiting impatiently to get their hands on a new book.
But . . . sucking in a breath, Robyn swung her bag onto one shoulder and unzipped the damp fabric. How bad was her book going to be? Biting her lip as her eyebrows drew together, she brought out The Fault in Our Stars, and relief flooded through her. The aggressive weather hadn’t affected her book, nor the rest of her work! Cheering inwardly, she picked up the other book and held them both in her hands, eyes flicking between the two.
After what felt like a painful ten minutes, Robyn hesitantly put The Fault in Our Stars down into the gap in the pile of books and put Looking for Alaska into her bag, zipping it closed. Happy with her decision, Robyn fished her phone out of the front pocket of her bag. Relieved to see it wasn’t waterlogged, she phoned her father.
The gentle purr of the phone ringing sounded in her ear, drowning out the raging storm as she tapped her foot against the dirty and wet floor, waiting for her father to pick up.
“Hello Birdy,” her father’s voice was loud and crackly, but still the loving voice she recognised.
“Dad!” Robyn huffed. “Where are you? School was let out fifteen minutes ago. You’re usually here by now.”
“All right, all right!” Her father said with a chuckle and Robyn held back an eye roll, shifting her torso to look at the shoe box. “I’m coming. I wanted to see if the rain would hold off, but I’m about a minute away. Whereabouts are you?”
“I’m in a red telephone box shivering to death in a dress. Please hurry before I die!” Robyn whined, peering out to the road, looking out for the red car. “Oh, and one more thing, mum put cucumber in my pasta!” She heard her father’s deep laugh. “Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want, but just be glad you’re not the one starving and shivering to death!”
“Sorry, you’re right — ah! I see the telephone box! I’ll see you in a bit, Birdy.”
“Bye, dad,” Robyn couldn’t help but smile at her father’s use of nickname towards her. He had always called her “Birdy” for as long as she could remember and she loved it. Robyn peered outside and watched as the recognisable red car pulled up outside of the telephone box.
Robyn turned and took one last look at the pile of books before opening the door and rushing out.
Robyn smiled as she jumped into the car, the door slamming shut with a groan when the wind caught it.
“Please be careful!” Her father said, his light brown and graying eyebrows knitting together, wincing at the unhealthy noise.
“Dad, the thing’s practically falling apart. I’m still in shock it passed its MOT this year!”
“Yes, but as the mechanic said—” her father cleared his throat to imitate the deeper, Yorkshire accented voice of the mechanic — “‘Workin’ like a charm! ‘Ave never seen a finer engine in all me life!’”
Robyn laughed and playfully pushed his arm as her father chuckled. “That was terrible!”
Robyn smiled and looked out the window and noticed at once the supermarket white and green plastic bag covered the gap with sticky tape haphazardly sticking it to the roof and lower window. “Smart idea,” she said, nodding her head towards it. It wasn’t enough to stop the wheezing of air through slight gaps, nor the sigh as it inhaled and exhaled, swelling up like a balloon.
“Why thank you. Fixing windows is one of my many talents.”
They both jumped suddenly when a beep came from the car behind. Her father looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes. “Tsk, people are so impatient these days.”
“Well, to be fair you have been sitting here for over a minute.” Robyn pointed out as her father put the car in gear and pressed down on the accelerator, setting off down the road with the other car behind.
“All right, Missy.” Her father sent her an eye roll as he changed the gear, speeding up, the plastic bag making a vvvvv sound as it flapped wildly, threatening to rip off. “You have the same sass as your mother.” Robyn couldn’t help but smile at him. “So anyway, how was your day?”
“Well, apart from the starvation and death by rain, the typical Monday.” Robyn shrugged as she looked outside at the last remaining students rushing to get home. Then gazing straight ahead, she grinned as the grey clouds seemed to end and streaks of blue sky covered the horizon.
“So, apart from the near death experience and Mum putting cucumber in your pasta, because you were too lazy to get up this morning--”
“--How was your day?”
Robyn shrugged, looking at the dashboard in front of her and picking at one sticker of many that littered the surface. Dozens stuck permanently on there, images of landmarks from across the world with text below naming the country. Things like The Eiffel Tower from Paris and The Grand Canyon from the USA. The sticker began peeling, so Robyn stopped. It was one of Niagara Falls.
“Nothing much happened. Just got on with school work as usual.” The stickers were most likely collected by the previous owner, and Robyn couldn’t help but fantasize over their lifestyle. It seemed they loved to travel. She had only gone to one country other than Britain: Paris, because family lived there.
Robyn’s father smiled at her. “Not too bad then?”
She looked at him, raising an eyebrow before gesturing to outside and herself. “Really?”
The journey home only took ten minutes and before Robyn knew it, they were pulling up in the garage after her father opened it with a small, white remote. He cut off the engine and shut the garage door with another click of a button. Smiling at Robyn as he got out, Robyn followed, making sure not to forget her bag.
The garage was small because the builders converted half of it into an office area where Robyn’s mother worked, conjuring up interior design after interior design. Robyn felt most inspired in the office.
“Mum’s in Aladdin’s Cave if you want to go see her. I will get started on dinner and then we all need to have a talk.” Her father said, locking the car and opening the door leading from the garage into the hallway of the house.
Robyn nodded. Her mother’s office had adopted the name ‘Aladdin’s Cave’, because her mother piled it high with ‘treasure’-- fabric, buttons, beads, mood boards, wallpaper strips . . . Her father, on the contrary, didn’t believe the collected items were the equivalent of ‘treasure’, for he did not possess the creative gene his wife and daughter had. Robyn knew he was more of an intellect who had a love for maths and engineering. She almost laughed at the thought of him one day being on the same wavelength as her and her mother.
Walking through the hall and through another door, a cramped cosy room welcomed her exploding with a fabulous array of colour, fabric, mood boards and other bits and bobs. In the middle of the chaos, her mother sat typing away on her computer. Robyn and walked up to her mother, wrapping her arms around her.
“Hi, mum,” She said, taking a deep breath of her mother’s floral scent. Jasmine and Rose — the perfume her father bought her mother on their twenty-fifth anniversary. Her mother didn’t go anywhere without a spritz.
Her mother turned in her seat so she was facing Robyn. A smile stretched across her thin red lips, stressing the wrinkles on her cheeks and around her eyes as they crinkled in the corners, the brown irises sparkling. Robyn had got her wild, tight curled hair from her mother and whilst hers ended just above her shoulders, her mother’s was much longer, resulting in it being tied up most of the time — like it was now. The ringlets too short to be in the messy bun, framed her aging face instead, and even though curly hair was a pain, Robyn was proud to have inherited it from her mother. Her father had a much lighter colouring of brown in his short, straight hair.
“Hello honey, how are you?” Her mother, being born and brought up by her parents in France until she was fifteen, had a slight Parisian accent. She could speak fluently in both languages and Robyn, being half French and English, wanted to be bilingual in the two languages as well. The other reason was the fact her mother’s parents both could only speak broken English, so it would be a great opportunity to talk to them both a lot more.
“I’m all right, Just glad to be home.” Robyn tilted her head and smiled, stepping back.
“I’m sure! Look at you! You’re soaked to the bone!” Robyn’s mother stood up, shaking her head with an amused smile. “I told you to take an umbrella.”
“I did! Only . . . it sorta broke in the wind . . .”
Her mother laughed. “Oh well, just take a shower. You can put your boots on the radiator by the door and put the clothes straight into the washing machine. Oh, and dry your bag out or your books will get wet!”
Robyn saluted her mother, walking over to the door. “Yes, ma’am!”
“Oh, and one more thing, your father and I--”
“Want to have a word with me? Don’t worry, dad told me,” Robyn smiled as she opened the door. “I’ll see you in a bit!”
She heard her mother laugh as she headed to the front door, yanking off her boots and placing them on the radiator. She then took her bag up to her room and quickly dumped its contents onto the bed, smiling as Looking for Alaska fell onto the white duvet.
Making her way into the bathroom after grabbing a spare change of clothes, she stripped down and hopped into the warm stream of water, sighing immediately as she felt the blood rush back into her hands and feet.