The house is silent. The sun is setting. There’s a gentle breeze outside. It can’t be heard, only seen in the casual sway of the trees. Outside Olivia’s living room window, there is a young yellow blossom tree, tickling the porch roof. There are still children playing outside, laughing and joking. The sound of music, unrecognizable to Olivia, is playing from someone’s phone. The sky is bright orange and pink near the horizon, but when you look up, it’s a cerulean blue. There’s a tranquillity to the world at this moment, with almost no evidence to suggest something sinister had that morning, come to pass. The only tell-tale sign is a very bruised up Olivia, who is slowly making her way around her house, gathering clothes, shoes, accessories and toiletries to take away with her for the next two weeks. She has already spoken with her mother on the phone and explained that she’s planning on staying with Emily and her family tonight, so that they could travel to Coniston early in the morning. Claudia had been a little upset that she couldn’t come and say goodbye before her daughter leaves for a fortnight, but she’s actually excited for her. “What a wonderful trip, I hear it’s beautiful this time of the year, in the Lake District. What’s his name?” She had asked. “Nick, that’s right. Well tell him thank you very much for allowing you to stay with them. And Emily is going to be there? No one else? Nick as chaperone, yes?” Olivia had to remind her Mother that she is in fact twenty-one and will be absolutely safe. What she doesn’t know, can’t hurt her, after all. The questions went on and on until eventually, they had exchanged “I love you” several times and the call had come to a loving end.
“Do you want me to throw in your sexy underwear?” Emily calls from her room. Olivia is in the bathroom, popping some panty liners in a toiletries bag, along with her toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and some shower gel. She leaves the bathroom and puts her head through her bedroom door, Emily is holding up a lace, black thong and is smiling with her mouth open. “What would the point be? Comfort is life, put them back and grab my granny knickers.” Emily laughs at this and grabs a hand full of the basics from her drawer. “Oh,” she lifts up a few bikinis, “you’ll need a few of these, actually.”
“Really? Are we going to take a trip out to a lake for a swim, at any point?”
“Oh, honey. I can’t wait for you to see Uncle Nick’s home. It’s right next to the lake, the yard leads right out onto it. There’s a dock, and we can hang our feet off the edge. It’s going to be so great. Just what the doctor ordered.” She throws the swim wear into an already stuffed duffle bag. Olivia crams in the toiletries bag and they’re just about ready to go. Emily throws the strap over her shoulder and Olivia grabs her laptop bag and phone charger. Can’t forget the essentials. “Right, we’re good. Can you think of anything else you need?” Olivia shakes her head and the girls head back downstairs. Olivia takes out the fifty pounds that Emily’s Dad had given her back. She rights out a brief note to her mother:
Treat yourself to some takeout. The greasiest pizza you can think of.
Invite some friends over from work, drink too much, have a nice relaxing
evening, and when I get back, there’s going to plenty more where this
She pops the money on top of the note and leaves her house, Emily leading the way to her uncle’s car, which he had reluctantly allowed Emily to borrow. The girls wind down the windows, crank up the radio and drive away with butterflies in their stomachs for the next two weeks ahead.
This evening, the girls are sat in Emily’s room. A wide-open space, with lilac sheets on a king-sized bed. The windows are large and decorated with long white drapes, from the ceiling to the floor. A glossy white makeup desk sits against the far wall, with a lighted mirror sat atop and a wonderful range of eye shadow pallets decorated in stacks. Lipsticks from Mac and Chanel are standing like a tiny army in the centre. On the other side of the room, a large flat screen TV is attached to the wall and candles are lit on the shelf beneath it, throwing out a distinct vanilla smell, into the room. Olivia sits on the edge of the bed, with an icepack to her lip. “In hindsight, curry for tea might not have been the best move.” Emily says, with a little too much humour in her voice. Olivia had chowed down, having skipped both breakfast and lunch today, and is now in quite a bit of pain. Her tongue is still numb. “Dad likes it spicy.” She chuckles. Olivia smiles, gently as not to rip her, already knitted lip. There’s a knock at the door. “Can I come in?” Ian calls through.
“Yeah, we’re both decent.” Emily calls back. He walks in, carrying a food tray. On top sits two glass cups, with silver handles, which twist and turn to make dragons. They look like something from a winter fairy tale. They’re filled with hot chocolate and have a mountain of squirted cream on top, with a dark chocolate flake poking out at the side.
“Yum!” Olivia can’t help but yell with delight. He sets the tray down on a bedside table.
“I know it seems silly in this heat, but I read somewhere that to acclimatise better in heat, you should drink something hot, and in the cold, you should drink something cold…sounds like rubbish I know, but I’ll believe any excuse to drink hot chocolates with this much whipped cream.” Olivia sees a bowl of strawberries covered in chocolate on the side, as well.
“You’re spoiling us.” She says. He chuckles.
“Not at all. I like hosting. Cooking and getting creative in the kitchen are what I live for, besides my family and law of course.” He kisses his daughter on the head, she smiles fondly up to him. “So,” he continues, “the cheque has been deposited for you and you can expect for it to clear within about five working days. Give it till Wednesday next week, it should be in your account by then.”
“I don’t even know how to begin to thank you.” He waves his hand at her.
“It was fun! Pro bono work keeps me honest. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”
Ian has been in Olivia’s life as long as she has been in Emily’s. He has always been the Dad who would bring Olivia home after gymnastics classes with Emily when she was little and would look after her in the evenings when her mother would work night shifts, cooking her tea’s (which were always incredible,) and hosting mini sleep overs with Emily. Mrs. Odis, with her clients mostly being from London, would spend a lot of time away from home and in a way, Olivia had loaned out her own Mother as a part time replacement. It’s possible that, whilst Olivia missed her father terribly, she hadn’t ever felt like she had this gap missing that she couldn’t fill, because Ian Odis was such a fantastic stand-in when Olivia needed that Fatherly guidance. No one could ever replace her own dad, but Ian certainly played the part.
She reaches up and hugs him. He pats her back and chuckles, low. He almost sounds like Santa Clause. They part and he smiles, showing those teeth, which are far too big for his mouth. He’s the Cheshire cat in human form. Ian exits and leaves the girls to their cocoa.
They pop the TV on and watch “Gossip Girl,” as they gain moustaches from the whipped cream and cavities from the chocolate. They exchange favourite summer fashions and hairstyles. Olivia confesses her desire to bleach her hair so she can dye it rose gold, and Emily talks her out of it, advising her of the shortfalls and damage that bleach can cause to one’s hair. They search for pictures of dainty tattoos online and make a pact to have matching bird tattoos before the end of summer. Emily decides that she is going to make it a theme to only have tattoos that are also inked onto to bodies of people she cares a great deal about. Chatter and laughter take the friends into the witching hour. Eventually, sleepy and with bellies full of chocolate strawberries, they lie down and allow themselves to be pulled under by the heaviness of sleep. It doesn’t last long.
Olivia wakes with a start. There was a hand on her throat, or a hand grabbing her hair? Maybe seven hands holding her arms and throwing her about like a rag doll. It takes her a minute to realise she is still partly stuck in her nightmare. The room comes into focus and she shakes off her subconscious. No. She’s safe. It was all a nightmare. She’s not back in the carpark and demons aren’t coming to get her. Netflix is a black screen, showing only the words: “Are you still watching “Gossip Girl.” With the option to continue watching or go back. Olivia searches the bed for the remote. She turns and sees Emily has fallen asleep, holding it. The remote is her pillow. She climbs out of bed, careful not to disturb her friend, and flicks off the TV by the plug. The room is pitch black, save a light shining through the window. Olivia walks over, and is about to pull the drape, she looks down into the garden and sees the back light is on. Nick is sat on the garden furniture with a glass of brandy and a stack of papers. Hmm. Olivia stares a moment, before she realises, she is staring, then decides to go say hello. She could do with a bit of fresh air before trying to go back to sleep anyway. She creeps out of the room, shutting the door to as she goes.
The back doors are wide open, the curtains that sit on either side are billowing mystically alike a distant dream. Olivia, bare footed, dressed in cotton shorts and an ACDC t-shirt, steps out onto the patio. It’s hard to make out the distant end of the garden, save for a few silhouettes of trees. The garden light is glowing on Nick. He looks up as she approaches, and he sets down his pen. He’s about to stand up, but Olivia waves him back down. “It’s alright, no need to get up…I just, couldn’t sleep.” She whispers. He moves a stack of papers from the chair across from him and she sits down.
“Are you in pain?” He whispers back.
“No. I just had a bad dream…ironically it was probably caused by the pain meds…or the copious amount of chocolate before bed.” Nick chuckles.
“My brother really does enjoy sugar, he kind of, projects it onto you so he doesn’t feel so guilty about eating it all himself.” Olivia thinks this is actually quite a smart way of eating guilt-free and pockets the method for later use.
“Yeah, he’s always done it, for as long as I can remember.” Nick sips his drink.
“You and Emily have been friends for a long time then?” He asks.
“Since we were five years old, yeah. I’m the silence before the storm and she’s the storm.”
“I like that.” Olivia shifts forward a little and wraps her hands around her arms. It’s a little nippy tonight with the breeze. Nick shifts off his light jacket and stands. He drapes it over Olivia’s shoulders and sits back down. She puts it on and closes it over her shirt.
“No problem.” There’s a silence, he looks down at his glass.
“It’s a wonder we haven’t crossed paths before, isn’t it?” He rubs his chin with his hand and nods. “It is.” He agrees. “But I guess understandable. I work so much in Paris and France in general, the only time I ever leave is to go to my home in the Lake District over the summer. These lot tend to come up there to visit me. It’s a nice break for everyone.” Olivia nods back. Makes sense.
“Why Paris? I mean…what made you set up shop there, instead of here in England? We’ve got many amazing publishing companies in Manchester and London.” He smiles to himself, like he has an inside joke.
“It’s Paris…who wouldn’t want to live and work there if they had the chance? I do publish the works of many writers from England and one or two from Ireland, and we’re absolutely thrilled to publish great stories, no matter where they come from. Paris only became an option because I had a friend out there, who’s native to France and he was starting up this company…I kind of jumped on the bandwagon. Emily’s dad, my brother, he loaned me some money to help get things started and the rest is history.”
“Oh, so you and your friend both share the company?” He nods.
“We do. His name is Pierre. Father or Loui.” Olivia stares. “That’s right. The one and only, Loui of Loui and Emily…that’s how I knew. Pierre had a few things to say about that tattoo.” They laugh quietly. Olivia looks down at the papers, strewn over the table. “What are you doing?” Nick lifts the paper and shuffles them together so they’re in a flush pile. He holds onto them dearly. “Isabelle emailed these over today. My, non-girlfriend.” He chuckles and Olivia blushes.
“What are they?” He considers a moment, deciding whether or not to divulge the information. Then, “They’re something very exciting. Isabelle is a producer from LA. She and a few members of a team out there want to turn one of our books into a film. There are literary agents involved and it’s all been very much in the air, but the first bout of contracts came through and it looks like it’s all going ahead. I’m just reading the fine print.” Olivia’s eyes widen.
“That’s amazing news!”
“It is,” he laughs, “the first ever of our books to be optioned. There’s a lot to do yet, but the author is incredibly excited and me and Pierre are over the moon.” Olivia sits forward and rubs her hands together. “So, what’s the book, what’s it about.”
“Ha, erm. It’s all rather confidential at the moment, I can’t really discuss it…except…can you keep a secret?” She nods. “Then I may or may not leave a book lying around at the lake house and you may or may not wish to read it. Then you might be enlightened on the film to be.” Olivia grins widely at the fact that Nick is entrusting her with his delightfully big and secretive news. “Ouch.” She touches her lip and a little blood is wet on her finger.
“Ooh.” Nick walks back into the kitchen and returns with a piece of kitchen roll. “Here.”
She takes it and dabs away, it’s not too bad, but it sure does sting. “That’s your fault for making me so happy for you.” Nick snorts a little as he laughs.
“Liv, with a smile like yours, I don’t think I’ll stop trying to make you happy.” She looks up at him in time to see him falter. He coughs uncomfortably at expressing those words.
“You know,” she says carefully trying to change the topic for his comfort, “I’ve always fancied myself an actress. Who knows, maybe I’ll star in the film. My last name certainly fits the bill.” She puts on a funny voice, like the presenter of a wrestling match, “Here she is ladies and gentlemen, the one the only, Olivia Monroe!” She pretends to applaud for herself. Nick joins in, clapping lightly. She stands, laughing to herself. “Anyway, I should go to bed. Early start, right?”
“Right. I’d like to be on the road before seven…I should get to bed too.” He scoops up the papers and picks up his glass. Olivia takes off the jacket and folds it over his bent arm.
“Thanks for sharing your secret with me.”
“Anytime.” He murmurs. Nick stands where he is as Olivia sanders back into the house. She is certain to put a little extra swing in her hips as she does and flips her hair over her shoulder, certain that he is watching as she leaves. When she is gone, Nick looks up at the night sky. The lights are concealing most of its wonder, however, there’s no moon in the sky tonight so a great deal of stars still stare back. He takes in a deep breath and exhales, sure that this girl, with the magic she exuberates, is the muse most writers could only dream of being near. He knows, in this moment, that if he had any control over the process, he’d absolutely have her star in this film. He’d give her the bright lights of Hollywood and premiers at Piccadilly Circus. It’s a wonder to him how one person, whom he had never met before last week, could have such a profound effect on another being. To Nick, if sirens existed, it was in the form of Olivia Monroe.
Upstairs, at the same moment Nick is expressing his feelings to the night sky, Olivia is creeping back into Emily’s room. She closes the door behind her and climbs back into bed, smelling like a cool summer breeze. With the most painful smile on her face she lets herself fall back to sleep, with no fear of night terrors or Caroline, or anything of the sort. The bed feels cosier. The sheets feel softer and the room doesn’t seem quite as dark as it did. In her mind, everything is so far away. Plans for the future, her mother’s peace, work and the hope that Nick Odis may one day see her the same way she sees him. A mysterious stranger who she feels she’s known forever. Little can she know that at that exact moment, Nick Odis stands in his brother’s garden, wishing on shooting stars for the very same thing. Tonight, Olivia dreams of a spotlight and a red carpet, of books and Paris, of a light jacket and a half empty glass of brandy.