It’s August 1st. Coniston shows it. The sun, as per, is glaring down on the earth below. Everything is so much more vibrant here. The sky is so blue, it makes you want to lick it, the way one wants to drink the water in the Caribbean. Everything seems so pure. Olivia and Emily have left the lake house to venture into the village of Coniston, which is a mere ten-minute walk down the road. Olivia, whose hair has not stayed in one place over night, and is now a lion’s mane, is piled on top of her head in what she hopes is an intentionally messy bun, like the kind from the magazines, not just an actual messy bun. She wears a long white dress, with small pink flowers scattered over the fabric and a slit up the side. Her sandals flip flop along the road as they walk. Emily’s heeled boots click alongside her in unison. They walk past a few small shops, a cleaner with a sunflower on the sign, St Andrews church and graveyard, a tourist centre, a barber shop, a fire station, smaller than Olivia’s house, a hardware store and several pubs doubling as B&B’s. It takes them no more than ten minutes to get from one side of the village to the other. It doesn’t have much substance to call its own, except for the Old Man mountain which looks like something straight out of a country western film. The mountain looks over the village, an earth god, keeping a watchful eye over its flock. It is hard not to look at it. It’s strange here. Olivia is used to cities and large towns. She is from a town called Heywood, nobody ever goes there, they only pass through. People are stuck there. They are either trying to get away or they plant their roots and build a family there. In Heywood, you are born there, and you die there. That’s just the way it works. Olivia prays every day that she will be able to escape. Even Emily, with her wild ways and money leaking from every surface of her life, she travels and still returns back home. Olivia hopes they both get away. Emily can go to France and be with Loui and Olivia can…truth be told, she doesn’t know what she can do. It’s all quite confusing. She looks around at the people walking by. No. Not walking. Strolling. That’s another thing about Coniston. Nobody has anywhere to be. No one is running or racing to get somewhere, they’re all living right in the moment. It’s a village for reflection, a place for artists and writers, for the elderly and for meditation. She confesses, it’s a little dull for her tastes. There’s no way she could spend more than a month out here, but it would be the most peaceful month of her life.
The girls stop at The Black Bull Hotel. Another pub that doubles as a B&B. The building is white and in an L shape. A picture of a large black bull is erected on the side. It’s intimidating to say the least. Olivia takes a seat at one of the many black tables outside and Emily heads inside to buy them drinks and a plate of chips. They have been spending the morning pottering around the local shops, picking up bits to make tea for Nick, who despite being on a break from work, hasn’t left his office and has been taking video calls with Isabelle and various businessmen from the states. She sets the heavy bags down on a chair beside her and puts her feet on another chair. Her feet are sore from the straps on her shoes and she toys with the idea of kicking them off. There are a small group of elderly men, heavy and drunk in the midday heat, they sip at pints of lager and stare over at Olivia. Their eyes are a little to ogling for her and she scowls at them. They turn back into their group and start chattering away, there’s something in the way they shake their heads and mutter quietly that makes Olivia think they are moaning about the youth of today. She considers the shop owners they had dealt with; there had been a couple who owned the grocery store and had been whispering together before coming from behind the counter to follow Emily and Olivia around, probably assuming they were planning some kind of robbery or grand heist. Actually, they were looking for some ice pops, but had decided against it, as they would surely melt in the heat before they got back to the lake house. A few people nodded their heads at Emily and will be recognizing her from past visits. It is apparent that the locals know their own and whilst they are used to tourists, they are still wary of them. Olivia chuckles internally, as a thought crosses her mind. The village reminds her of the kind you would read about in American horror stories. The tiny places where no one ever comes to and the locals are part of a cult. This little village could easily cover up a series of satanic ritualistic murders, where they had sacrificed the tourists to the Old Man mountain in a bid to live peacefully under its reign. Maybe that’s a little too heavy for the current climate and lovely nature currently surrounding her. The heat makes her a little loopy and this is where her brain can’t help but go.
Emily returns carrying a two diet cokes and Malibu. “They’ll bring the chips out when they’re done.” They sip at their cool drinks. The coconut from the Malibu is lush and goes hand in hand with the sunshine. Olivia could close her eyes, with the taste in her mouth and imagine she is sat at an open bar on a beach in Hawaii. The sun over her lids shines bright pink. Then it is gone. A shadow hovers over her. She opens her eyes to find a young boy and girl standing in front of her and Emily. They are maybe the same age as them, perhaps Emily and Olivia are slightly older. The girl has dark golden skin, like a dark roasted coffee with a splash of milk. Her eyes are deep brown and her hair is as black and long as Olivia’s, though with caramel highlights. She is wearing a pale pink summer dress and brown ankle boots. The boy that stands next to her has the same features, though his hair is much shorter and styled with gel to spike around at the top of his head. They’re evidently brother and sister, maybe even twins. They are a beautiful pair. “You good?” Emily asks. The girl speaks.
“Hi, sorry to disturb you. My brother and I live in the house at the top of the hill and saw you and Mr Odis arrive yesterday. We don’t usually find people a similar age to us staying so close by and we thought we’d introduce ourselves.” Olivia smiles warmly.
“Oh, hi there! I’m Olivia Monroe and this is Emily Odis, she’s Nick’s niece.” Emily holds out her hand and shakes the hands of the boy and girl. “I’m Lily and this is my brother Thierry…we’re twins.”
“No kidding.” Olivia jokes. “You can tell.” The twins laugh. Thierry holds out a hand and shakes Olivia’s. “May we join you?” He asks. Olivia notes how he looks her up and down, taking in her full form. Emily notices too and gives her the look that one receives from a friend when their crush comes into the room. Olivia smiles warmly. “Sure!”
“We’re just grabbing some drinks; do you want anything?” Lily asks. They wave their hands.
“No, no. We’re all good.” Emily says. “We’ve ordered some chips though; I don’t know if you want some too?” Lily nods enthusiastically.
“That’s a shout.” The twins head into the pub. Emily leans forward and pokes at Olivia’s arm. “He likes you! I saw him look you up and down!” Olivia laughs.
“No, no. He was just taking in the view.” Emily rolls her eyes and sips her Malibu and Coke.
“Why admire the view if you’re not planning on visiting?” She asks. Olivia didn’t really feel like having this conversation but was equally flattered by the idea that someone liked the way she looked, given the bruises on her face, she wasn’t that thrilled about leaving the comforts of the lake house. “What gives?” Emily questions her. “If you don’t want to be all over that, then I will. I mean come on, he’s hot.”
“Yeah, he’s definitely hot.” Olivia says, a little unsure if she can be bothered with the pursuit. “So…you’re into someone else maybe?” Now Olivia understands where this is going. She knows that Emily has seen some playful flirting going on between herself and Nick but the last thing she wants to do is make Emily angry, so she says, “Nope. No one comes to mind.” Emily seems unsure and sits back. The twins return with their drink and two portions of chips. “The bar said a batch was ready, so we brought yours out too.” Lily sits down next to Emily and Thierry sits down besides Olivia. They all dig in, pinching with their fingers at the chips. They squirt some ketchup on the side of the plates and dip away. It really does feel like a day at the beach. “So, what brings you to Coniston?” Thierry asks.
“Erm…just looking for somewhere to relax for a few weeks. Nick invited us along and we couldn’t resist.” Olivia explains.
“How did you do that?” Thierry asks, pointing at her face. Olivia blushes.
“Rude!” Lily scolds. Olivia waves her off.
“Not at all, I fell down a flight of stairs. Drunk! Stupid really.” Emily nods by way of approval for her quick lie. There’s no point in getting into silly home life gossip that these twins wouldn’t understand, nor would they care to hear. “You’re still beautiful.” Thierry says. Lily rolls her eyes, Emily winks at Olivia and Olivia just drinks her booze uncomfortably. “Thanks.” There is a slight silence.
“We should hang out more. Maybe have you up to our house for an evening? We could all cook together?” Lily suggests. Emily looks at Olivia a little alarmed, then she comes up with a better idea. “Or,” Emily says, “You could come down to Nicks, we could have pizza and cocktails, lounge by the lake maybe?” Olivia nods.
“Yeah there’s loads of room.” Lily and Thierry look to each other. They’re sharing some kind of twin telepathy as they converse as to whether or not this is something they’d enjoy. The ballots are in. “Sounds great.” Thierry agrees. “But would your uncle not mind?” He asks Emily. She shakes her head. “Not at all. He’s heading to Paris the day after tomorrow for a couple of days, so you could come down then if you wanted?” Olivia’s stomach drops a little. “Wait, the day after tomorrow?” She asks.
“Yeah. It’s okay we’ll be fine; this area is really safe.” Emily assures her of the wrong thing. Olivia nods and smiles to hide her disappointment. “He seems really nice. What’s he like?” Lily asks. “He’s a pain in the arse,” Emily says, “but he’s the best uncle you could ever have imagined. I’d never tell him to his face, but he’s really cool. If I’m ever in need of someone to take care of me, anywhere anytime, he’s the one I’d call…it’s quite funny, he likes to act very down to earth but his heads always away with the fairies.”
“How do you mean?” Olivia asks, suddenly very interested in the conversation. Emily turns to her. “Before he got into publishing, he used to want to be a writer.” Lily gasps and Thierry sets his hand on her shoulder to calm her, comically. “A writer! How exciting.” She gushes.
“Not really.” Emily replies. “He didn’t really do much with it. Which is fine, because look where he is now. He’s not even thirty and already he’s earning a steal.” Olivia feels a little bad for him. “Why did he never do anything with it?” Olivia asks.
“Well he did, I guess. He’s written books, he’s just never done anything with them. I don’t think he likes the idea of being a self-published author. He’s got the contacts but if something actually took off, then all people would think is that he only sells so much because he co-owns a publishing company. It’ll seem like he bought his way in.” Olivia can see how that would be the case nonetheless still feels a sense of responsibility and plans to encourage him to publish some of his work. If it’s good, then the world deserves to read it! She chomps away at another chip. As she chews, Emily goes on. “He’d kill me for saying this, but my dad told me, that when they were younger and still living at home, he had found a manuscript. Something Nick had written; it was about a prince and a princess who ran away together and travelled the world. Nick must have been no more than thirteen at the time. My dad expected it to be pornography or something, which would have been quite normal for someone of his age…nope. It was romantic and descriptive and written like pure poetry. So, they had this massive fight, that had come to blows apparently. My dad called him up on it, teasing him as brothers do…”
“Don’t I know it.” Lily interjects, followed by a jab in the arm from Thierry. “Do go on.”
“So, he was teasing him, and Nick was absolutely determined to pass all blame, he said that he was editing it for a friend and that the author was someone from school called, N. Alex Dickison…” Olivia freezes and leans in as Emily goes on. “Which is the worst name he could have given!”
“Why?” Olivia asks.
“Because, Mr. Dickison was his childhood invisible friend – we’ve all had one, no shame – and Dickison is an anagram of Nick Odis…and on top of that, Alex is his middle name! It’s quite funny really.” Oh my God. A surge of excitement fills Olivia. Emily is going on about how the story was emailed to the school by Ian as a prank and poor Nick had been picked on for weeks until some other boy had tried climbing over a fence, caught his underpants and had been left suspended in mid-air for half an hour before the teachers could get him down. The news cycle changed, and Nick was off the hook. More important things are going on in Olivia’s mind. She stands up. N. Alex Dickison. He is the author of “At the top of the hill.” No! Nick is the author. It’s Nick’s book that is being turned into a film and he hasn’t told a soul. She had left the red bound story on her bedside table, with the intent of finding some quiet time to read it after tea, but Olivia now, cannot possibly wait that long. She stands up from the table. Emily looks up in surprise. “Can we go?” Everyone stands.
“Are you okay?” Emily asks her. “Does your head hurt? I knew I shouldn’t have gotten triples. I should have gotten you an orange juice!” Olivia shakes her head.
“That explains why the world is spinning right now, yes, but no. I just remembered, I haven’t emailed my mum since we left your house and if I know her, she’ll be driving down here to make sure I’ve not been murdered.” Emily nods and starts grabbing the bags.
“Yeah, signal sucks around here. You’ll have to use a landline connection on a PC or laptop to get through to anyone.” Thierry advises. Olivia suddenly realises they’re coming off as rude. “I’m sorry, guys. It’s been absolutely lovely meeting you both.” Olivia says. Emily hugs them both in the fond way she does with everyone she meets and likes. “I’ll walk up and give you the time and date, we’ll have you over and make a night of it, maybe?”
“We’d love that!” Lily yells. Olivia smiles warmly and hugs her goodbye. She reflects on how lonely these two must get if they really don’t have that many friends in the area. She hugs Thierry goodbye and as he pulls away, he winks at her. Okay. She thinks. It would appear he does have a thing for her. She takes her ego boost and pops it in her pocket for a rainy day. For now, she is ready to head back to the house and engorge herself in the words of Nick’s book so that she can appreciate every internal thought and double meaning behind the dialogue of the story. She is overcome with excitement and pride for him.
Olivia races off up the road as if time were chasing her and with an irrational fear that if she doesn’t get back to the lake house in good time, then the book will be gone, and she’ll never get the chance to read it again. She can hear Emily running to catch up with her. “Where’s the fire?” She calls. Olivia laughs her off.
“Nowhere. You know my Mum.” Olivia does, in fact, have to email her mother, but the book is at the forefront of her mind. She had heard of people using different names to sell their books. Louisa May Alcott had done it, though her books had been published in a time that didn’t give women the time of day, she had to publish her works under a male name just for them to sell. That, she could understand, however tragic that may be. This, she can’t seem to wrap her head round. She will ask him. She will ask him why he felt the need to hide behind a childhood alias. Perhaps it was an act of nostalgia? No. First things first, she needs to get to the house and read the book. Then, armed with his own words she will confront Nick. Mr N. Alex Dickison. Emily pants to keep up and the road feels like fire beneath Olivia’s feet. She is practically running. Running to the words with expectations of greatness.