A British Summer

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Chapter Two

Owd Betts is a quaint pub that sits in the hills of Ashworth Moor. It is a stand-alone building with bricks that have stood their ground since the seventeen-hundreds. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, its views never disappoint, overlooking a reservoir, which in turn, overlooks the city of Manchester and it’s surrounding towns; no matter the weather, it’s a place to go to find peace. Right now, the fires aren’t lit inside to accommodate the heat wave beyond the deep blue, wooden door - instead, the gold ornaments and photo frames, containing images of people from long ago, who once sought respite in the walls of Owd Betts, are glistening only by the shine in the eyes of the merry drunk folk who strut in and out with ice cold pints of lager. The occasional cocktail here and there for the fashionable guests and a couple glasses of Glenfiddich on the rocks, for the sophisticated. Outside, on the lawn beside the pub, stands several wooden tables with attached wooden benches. They’re mossy in places, but they’re dry enough in the current climate. At these tables, sit various groups of people. It’s coming up for Eight-Twenty and the evening has started to quieten as happy drunk men and women call taxis home. The remaining few are chatting and joking amongst themselves, their laughs sit heavy and quiet on the stilling air. Humidity is setting in as the sun makes its leisurely decent towards the horizon. A rigid and broken, bumpy topped brick wall separates the beer garden from the fifty mile an hour road, where runners, dog walkers and hikers pass on by with the safe help of a gritted, path across the way. The path runs next to another rigid and broken, bumpy topped brick wall which protects pedestrians from a great and far drop into the depth of the reservoir waters. There is something about the evening air that stops sound from passing from one ear to the next. A vacuum of heat, sweltering the words, the footsteps on rock and the engines of cars speeding by. The silence is disturbed, somewhat, by George Ezra’s “Shotgun,” as a black Land Rover Range Rover, slows to turn onto the gravel carpark by Owd Betts. A few drinkers and sun worshippers look up in part annoyance, part curiosity.

Olivia opens the back door and slides out, followed by Emily who jumps out the front. The girls are looking around at the scene in front of them. It is just now that Emily looks at Olivia and her bag. “Something tells me you can’t fit a bottle of Jack Daniels in that little satchel.”

“Bollocks.” Olivia curses. “I completely forgot. I’ve not brought any money…or my ID.” Emily looks over at the drinkers at the tables, in deep thought. “I don’t either…Don’t worry about it; the owners wouldn’t have been best impressed by us bringing our own alcohol anyway.” At this Nick steps out of the car and walks around to join the girls.

“It’s rude to bring your own drinks to a pub, especially when you can afford to buy it from them.” He looks down at Emily, who in turn rolls her eyes.

“We weren’t going to sit inside with it.” She snaps back. Nick chuckles and shakes his head. “Anyway,” she sneers, “I can afford it, Olivia can’t.” Nick raises his eyebrows and Olivia feels herself blush. She feels a little hurt by the obnoxious comment and was more than a little surprised that it had come from Emily’s mouth. “Ouch.” Emily instantly realises her error and blushes as well. She steps forward, arm outstretched tentatively as if to stop her words crashing into her friend. “I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant for him to understand we weren’t trying to be rude…just…practical. I know you don’t like me spending money on you.” Olivia appreciates Emily’s meek tone and demeanour. She realises words can sometimes slip out; heaven knows she has been there in the past. Olivia shakes her head smiling, “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t take it like that anyway.” She did. “I guess we can just lounge in the sun for a bit.”

“Hold on.” Nick says, holding out a hand to the girls, ordering them to stay where they are. He walks away, towards to pub and disappears inside.

“Where’s he going?” Olivia asks.

“Got me.” Emily turns to Olivia, smiling widely. “I want to show you something.” She spins around and lifts her shirt up to just beneath her bra. There is lace at the bottom of her lilac silk top and Olivia can just see something dark through it, sitting on the skin over Emily’s ribs. Realising what it is, but needing absolute confirmation, Olivia reaches out, mouth open and shifts the lace up to reveal what is indeed, a heart shaped tattoo, adorned on her best friend. Her eyes widen. “Oh my God!”

“I know!” Emily giggles. “So, there was a really boring afternoon in Paris, Nick was off at some meeting and there was this boy that came over from his office to drop off some paperwork. He was absolutely gorgeous. Olivia, I’d never seen such a beautiful specimen of a human being. Hair gold like an Egyptian tomb, the bluest blue eyes, oh they were so blue you could swim in them. Olivia, truly, he was a masterpiece. Well, you know me. I seduced the poor boy with my wonderful personality and invited him for drinks in the garden. One thing lead to another and we got ourselves totally drunk, decided it’d be a fabulous idea to head into the city to go dancing. Well, we bypassed the dancing entirely and got matching tattoos! I couldn’t tell you who made the decision but neither had any protests from what I remember. All I can tell you, is that somewhere in France, there’s a love-sick, heartbroken God of a man with a heart shaped tattoo on his side.”

Olivia puts her hand over her mouth and stifles a laugh. “Did it hurt?”

“Can’t say I remember too well.”

Olivia sees Nick emerge from the Pub and pulls the side of Emily’s shirt back down. They turn to watch him walk over. “Don’t say anything. My parents are cool, but if he tells my Dad they’ll flip.” Emily whispers through the side of her mouth. Olivia looks at her.

“You’re twenty-one, it’s your body, do what you want.”

Emily snickers, “I don’t think they’ll see it that way given they footed the bill for the whole trip and by default paid for their daughter to mark her body for life.” Olivia can’t disagree with that statement. Nick is in front of them and in one hand, he carries two glasses, in the other a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.

“You legend of a human being.” Emily gushes as she takes the bottle from him. Nick hands the glasses to Olivia. “Now remember that the next time you call me boring.” He points over to a small wall that separates the Owd Betts grounds from an open plain of grass, that leads up to the Moors and is decorated with tall, intimidating wind turbines. “If I were you, I’d jump over there and find a place to sit where they can’t see you. The last thing you want is anyone asking for ID that you don’t have.” Emily grins up at him, “Oh I don’t know, I think I’ve got a somewhat mature face. I’d easily pass for twenty-five.” Nick rolls his eyes, “it’s your behaviour that gives you away.” She punches his arm playfully in response.

Nick takes out his car key. “Where does your Dad think you are tonight?”

“Exactly where I am.”

“Hmm.”

“I’m telling the truth. Daddy doesn’t mind me drinking so much as he minds me being in harms way. I’m with Olivia, Daddy likes Olivia. All is well O’ Protector of thine niece. You needn’t lie for me tonight.” Olivia looks between them both. Their relationship is a good one. She can tell. Emily may call her Uncle boring and whinge at the things she doesn’t like, but there is kindness in the bickering. It’s all one big joke. A pang of jealousy hits Olivia and it surprises her. For so long it’s been just her and her mum. No Aunts, no Uncles, no grandparents, no cousins that she’s aware of. Olivia has always had a flare for making friends fast, maybe this is why. When death brushes your life so frequently, it feels like you’re standing in the middle of a room, suspended in mid-air and something, some higher force, crashes away at the walls, chipping down the only thing keeping you safe. Eventually, all that’s left is you, clinging onto anything that keeps you standing up right. For Olivia, that’s her Mother and her friends. She envies Emily for having someone who watches her back while she explores life on the edge. “Are you not staying?” The words leave her mouth before she realises. The look on Emily’s face is of absolute horror. She obviously does not want her Uncle to stick around. It’s not cool. How can they possibly have an un-filtered catch up with a chaperone? Nick takes in the girls’ faces. From Olivia, to Emily, to Olivia and back to Emily. He isn’t stupid and can see only half the party is warm to the idea of him sticking around. He waves his arm at her. “No, I can’t stay. I’ve got some errands to run.” He considers a moment. “How’re you girls getting home?”

Emily is still looking at Olivia pointedly, clearly concerned for her mental health, so Olivia answers.

“We’ve got bus passes. There’s a stop about a twenty-minute walk down the road.”

“What time do they run till?” Emily looks up at Nick.

“Last bus is half eleven. Plenty of time to drink up, star watch and consider the unique game of chance that is life.” Nick nods and cocks his head in a way that suggests he could relate. Then: “Well if you don’t fancy the bus, I can come grab you both at eleven-thirty?”

“You said you couldn’t because you were “so busy, up to my ears in things to do.”” She puts on a deep voice to mimic him. Olivia has been standing by quietly, not wanting to say anything else stupid, but feels an intervention necessary at this point. “But, if you’re offering, we’d appreciate it. Wouldn’t we, Emily?” Emily nods and smiles sarcastically. “We would, yes.”

Nick walks around and climbs in his car; he starts the engine and spins the car around to leave the same way they came in. He stops just next to them and rolls his window down, “Cool for the Summer,” by Demi Lovato, hums playfully from the stereo. “See you at half eleven.” He sets some shades on his face to block the setting sun from his eyes. The golden rays make his face glow orange, setting his hair a light and its as it does that Olivia notices the multiple shades of brown, tangled together like his hair was made up of the ins and outs of almonds and hazelnuts. It’s hard to tell with his glasses on, but she’s almost certain he’s looking directly at her as he says, “Have fun. Make some memories.” At that he drives away, a cloud of dust and dirt waltzes into the air.

Emily turns to Olivia and beckons her to the wall and the open plain of grass. As they walk, she looks to Olivia and tiresomely asks, “What the hell was that? Please don’t tell me you’re hot for my Uncle. He’s old and it’s gross.”

“He’s not that old.” She responds.

“That was the wrong answer.” They clamber over the wall. Olivia lifts her dress slightly, so she doesn’t catch it on the jagged edges of rock. They stroll into the open, looking down for a flat place to sit. There are birds chirping away in the nearby birch trees and bees buzz busily as they bob from one daisy to the next. Olivia takes a breath, “I’m not hot for your Uncle. He seems really nice, though. What’s he doing back in the UK?” They find a spot and sit down. The grass has no dampness, a tell-tale sign of potential drought. Emily takes the glasses from Olivia and sets them down, she starts pouring the Jack Daniels. Half a glass each. Handing one to Olivia she says, “He always comes back this time of year to spend the summer in England. We hardly see him near here though because his holiday home is in the Lake District. The only reason he’s in Manchester for a week is because he flew back with me to see me home safe. Once he’s finished tying up loose ends with his business, he’ll travel to Coniston and stay there till the end of the Summer.” Olivia nods.

“Then he’ll go back to Paris?” Emily nods. “What’s his business?” Emily scrutinises Olivia, in a bid to understand her curiosity. She finally answers, “He owns a book publishing company. Honestly, we think he’s looking to sell. It’s only the past few years he’s been spending the summers out here, and my Dad says that if he has someone he can trust to run the company back in Paris for a whole season, then there’s someone out there he’s testing to take the reins indefinitely.” Olivia wonders why he would sell. Owning a company that allows you to live in Paris and to work in such a creative, artistic industry. She can’t wrap her head around the idea. “Oh.” She simply replies.

The girls sip at their whiskeys. The smooth liquid gliding down their throats, warming their mouths, their chests, their stomachs and eventually their minds. They talk about nothing and everything. Olivia explains the dreary way her Media Studies course had come to a dreadful end and as the drink takes a hold she delves further into her desire for a wonderful, artistic and tragic life. She gesticulates and exaggerates her ideas for stories and movies and magic. When she is through and exhausted from expressing her dreams, Emily takes over and tells true stories of her time in Paris. She shares how amazing it all was and of the portraits she painted of a busty Spanish woman who came to town to do business with her Uncle and of the moustache she had; then she goes on to gush about the Café De Flore and the Louvre, of the day trip they took to Monet Gardens and how she had eaten far too many pastries for one person to eat. She expresses her only regret for not bedding more of the beautiful Frenchmen she had passed by while out on shopping trips, where she had purchased one or two Chanel bags and a Gucci belt. They burn away the rest of the day with talk and whiskey.

The evening is creeping in and the sun has almost entirely disappeared behind the Manchester City skyline. The last ripple of the reservoir water is tickled with the last taste of daylight. The patience of waiting for the darkness in the British Summer, resembles the patience of waiting for a child to take it’s first step. Gently, wobbly, drunkenly and eventually, completely worth the wait.

The last of the beer garden drinkers have gone home to shower off the stick of the heat and all the lights in the Owd Betts pub have been extinguished, except for the one little window upstairs, where the owners are winding down from a long working day.

Olivia cracks her neck to the side. The whiskey is toying with her thoughts. She’s close to revealing some exciting philosophical revelation, when Emily stands and stretches. Her arm shoots up and a quarter glass of whiskey sloshes out and onto the floor. She dances a little to no music, her hips swaying from side to side, feeling the vibration of total inebriation. She closes her eyes and hums a non-existent tune. Olivia loves her friend dearly and can almost feel the freedom she has, oozing out of her very being. Emily opens her eyes and looks up at the emerging stars in the night sky, “I miss Loui, oh I miss him dearly.”

“Who is Loui?” Enquires Olivia. Emily spins around and around and around, she lets go of the glass all together and Olivia has to duck as it flies over her head, spitting whiskey into her hair. “Loui is the love of my life, of course! We are connected by the moon, right across the channel, I can feel him from so far away. We’re inseparable by ink and alcohol and wonderfully bad decisions.” The tattoo boy from France. Olivia realises this is who Emily misses. She stands and walks a little further into the field. “Emily, you’re absolutely going to see him again! Can you not go back to Paris any time this summer?” Emily plonks down into the grass and starts tugging on the petals of a daisy. “I’m not all that certain I want to. What if I love him too much and he distracts me from fulfilling my dream?” She has started crying, tears streaming down her face. Olivia sits beside her and wipes her tears, shaking her head and tutting. “Tsk, tsk. No, no. Don’t drunk cry. Don’t drunk cry, Em. I have every faith that you’re going to make beautiful art and travel to every corner of the globe and I’m absolutely certain that the love of your life will be nothing but supportive and encouraging. If he’s not…then hunny, he’s not the love of your life. You understand?” Emily nods flopping her head up and down. She wipes her own face and laughs. “I’m so silly.”

“You’re so silly!” Olivia laughs back.

We’re so silly.”

“We are so silly!”

They fall back laughing and find themselves confronted with a trillion questions in the form of stars and constellations. The sun has been in bed for at least a couple of hours now and the night-time is alive with summer fairies, gliding gracefully across the darkened sky. Olivia notes how it is not black, it is dark, dark blue. The darkest blue she has ever seen. As though a blue whale requires a blusher for a party – the night sky in Manchester this evening is that blue whales blush. The stars are just a stand-alone experience. Each one a potential for life. A potential to tell a billion stories of an incomprehensible number of lives. A tear escapes Olivia’s eye and trickles down the side of her face, into her hair. She lies sprawled out on the grass and imagines her Fathers soul is one of those stars. She sniffs and vaguely records the sound of footsteps in the grass, coming closer. She looks down towards her feet and sees the blackened silhouette of a man. “Are you alright?” Nick switches on a light on his phone. Emily squints and covers her eye as she sits up. “I was. Are you trying to blind me?”

“It’s half Eleven, are you girls ready to go?”

To be truthful, Olivia is not ready to go. She is just getting into her feelings and is ready to feel them entirely. The Jack Daniels is a cute companion and she is very close to indulging in some form of meditation. “No.” She slightly slurs out. Nick laughs. A woman’s voice sounds out from beyond the wall. “Is everything okay?”

Nick turns and calls back, “Yeah, just give me a minute.”

He kneels down and lifts both girls up by their inner arm. Emily flops forward like a rag doll. She giggles. “I’m only playing, I’m only a little drunk.” She pulls herself up, quite aware, but evidently not at all sober. She pats Nick on the shoulder in a ‘well done’ kind of way. “Thanks for picking us up, Uncle Nick. You’re super amazing, and you’re alright. And thank you for Paris. Paris was also super amazing and alright. Just like you.” She winks and walks towards the wall. “’Only a little drunk” okay. Sure. And how are you doing young one?” Olivia looks up into the eyes she’s already used to looking up to and frowns. “I’m not that young.”

“Young enough. Come on.” What does that mean? ‘Young enough.’ She wonders. A hand is outstretched. Olivia takes it and Nick pulls her up off the floor. She leans forward and whispers, “You already know about Emily’s tattoo, don’t you?” He grins and nods.

“How do you know that I know?”

Olivia taps the side of her nose and winks in what she thinks is a mysterious way, but in actual fact, she looks a little daft and unsteady on her spine. She tips forward a little. “She’d kill me for telling you, but…”

He finishes her sentence. “But she’s very much in love with Loui and I absolutely have to make sure they see each other again?” Olivia mocks shock and holds her hands up. “You are amazing, aren’t you?”

“I make it my business to know exactly what my niece gets up to when she’s in my care.” They start walking back towards the wall and the gravelled car park, where Olivia can see the head lights of the Land Rover. She also notices that Nick holds the whiskey bottle, it sways by his side. She leans over and takes it from him, taking a swig and grimacing as she gulps a little too much. He stops them walking and takes the bottle off her and she coughs a little as the potion runs past her throat. “I think you’re at your limit, don’t you?” She pushes him away gently.

“I don’t have any limits. I’m a superhero. Did you not know that?”

“No, I didn’t know that. I apologise profusely. I wasn’t to know you possessed superpowers.”

“Oh no…I don’t have superpowers. But I am a superhero. Do you know why?” Nick shakes his head and she continues. “Because, I don’t know if you know this…but I lost my Dad when I was very little, and it’s just me and my Mum now. And even though I still live at home and have no job and, I failed my degree, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do with my life, I still drag my butt out of bed, every day and I carry on…that,” She pokes his chest to emphasise her point, “makes me a superhero.”

Nick contemplates a second, then, “You’re absolutely right. You’re the strongest, most bad arsed superhero there’s ever been…and you need to go home and get some food in your stomach and go to sleep. Then you can get up in the morning and carry on again.” She nods in an over-the-top kind of way to agree with him.

They walk back to the wall and he helps her over, using his knee as a step so she doesn’t trip. He pours her into the back seat, where she is surprised to see Emily sits, instead of in the front. Olivia leans forward and pokes her head through the gap between the two front seats. She is nose to nose with a strange woman she has never met before. The woman leans away a little taken aback. “Hey. You alright?” She has an American twang to her words.

“Yeah, I’m good.” Olivia chats back. She realises her proximity is a little cosy and then sits back. She wonders who the hell this woman is. Nick climbs into the drivers seat and turns to tell the girls to put their belts on. They oblige. Olivia turns to Emily in order to ask her the question of the woman in the front seat, but Emily is already half asleep, her head resting against the window. She examines the back of the woman’s head. Blonde, curly. That’s all she could take from it. She leans forward again, “Who are you?” The woman laughs.

“Isabelle Brown. Who are you?” She is smiling warmly. She’s nice enough at first glance. Olivia pays attention to her face, she’s about Nicks age and has similar coloured eyes. Nicks are lovelier. “I’m Olivia Monroe, nice to meet you.” She ponders, “Oh! Are you brother and sister?” They look at each other sideways and laugh. Olivia doesn’t understand the joke and gets a little irritated. “What’s so funny?” She snaps.

“The only sibling, I have is Emily’s father…and, Liv, she’s American. How do you suppose that works?” Nick chortles.

“Well,” Olivia says, paying little attention to the way her heart fluttered when Nick nicknamed her Liv, “this is the twenty-first century, Nick. Families extend all over the globe…anything is possible.”

“She makes a fair point,” Isabelle chimes in, “but no, I work with Nick.”

“Working late?” Olivia enquires.

“Nosey little drunk, aren’t you?” Nick pointedly asks. Olivia begrudgingly takes the hint and sits back against her seat.

The whole ride home Olivia utters only four words, “thank you,” when Nick drives through a McDonalds to buy fries for the girls and “thank you,” as he is dropping her off back home.

They drive away down the street, and out of sight. Olivia, now a little sobered up, unlocks her door as silently as possible and tiptoes into her house, as to not wake her Mother. The rooms are all dark and Olivia manoeuvres her way upstairs. She washes up for the evening, splashes water on her face to rid her pores of the day, scrubs off her mascara, brushes her teeth and ties her hair back in a bun at the nape of her neck. She throws her clothes onto the floor, sticky and a little sweaty, she climbs bare backed into bed. The cool cotton covers like a spring breeze on her skin. She sighs and closes her eyes, the room spinning in her mind. The aftereffects of the whiskey, rocking her bed, the resemblance of being on a boat. The stars she had seen on the moors float around and pick at images from the day, her ears are trumpets with the sound of magpies and laughter, and music, and Nick and conversations with her best friend. She untangles the jealousy she felt for Isabelle and allows nothing but fair and good thoughts to enter her head. It has been a joyful day. Olivia allows herself to be pulled under the waters of deep sleep, the last thought she remembers hearing before the first silver/ moon of summer break kisses her goodnight, is… “Liv.”

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