21 July 2019

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Crystal Clear

Date Published: 21 January 2010

ISBN Number: 0755354354

Publisher: Little Black Dress

Link to purchase book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crystal-Clear-Nell-Dixon/dp/0755354354/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1249294325&sr=1-3

Full Excerpt:

Chapter One

“It’s your mother.”
Three simple words that chilled me to the core as I accepted the phone from Joyce, the school receptionist. Point one, my mother never ever called me at work, and point two, she’d never say she was my mother. She was always Marla – even as a child I had never been allowed to call her Mum.
“Hello, this is Zee.” That was something else that was annoying – my name. My given name is Azure Dawn Millichip, but everyone calls me Zee. Who in their right mind would call their child Azure Dawn? Marla, that’s who – and no, I’m not sure she’s ever been in her right mind.
“Darling, your mobile was switched off.”
“I was teaching in class. I always check my mobile for messages at lunchtime.” Marla has always struggled with the concept of time. As a child I’d frequently been either too early or too late for everything until I was old enough to request my own watch. Then I’d taken over the task of getting us to wherever we were supposed to be at the right time.
“Oh, is it lunchtime now? I hate bothering you, sweetie, I know you have a very important job, but I really need you to pop home this weekend. If you catch the traffic at the right time you could be here for supper.”
I ignored the implied criticism in her tone, since something was definitely very wrong. Marla never asked me to visit. She knew I would come down to stay anyway in a couple of week’s time during the school holidays. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m sure Simon would run you here if you asked him. It might be good for both of you, a weekend at the seaside,” she chirped on, ignoring my question. Now I knew for certain that something was wrong. Marla disliked my fiancé, Simon, even more than she disapproved of my choice of career.
“Mum – I mean, Marla, what’s going on?” I dropped my voice when Joyce gave me a curious look. “It’s the last day of term and I’ve tons of things to get done. Can’t I come after that, once we’ve broken up for summer?”
“Zee?” A male voice came on the line. Rich and sexy with a low throaty growl to his tone.
The speaker sounded familiar. “Who’s this?”
“It’s Drew.”
A weird prickly feeling ran down my spine. “Drew?”
It couldn’t be. Not my Drew – not that he was mine – or ever really had been mine now I came to think of it.
“Yeah, um… listen, Zee, Marla really needs you to come home.” His voice was deep and serious, and I heard my mother protesting in the background. “I made her call you. She wanted to wait it out but I thought you should be here.”
Okay, this was beyond weird; I hadn’t seen or spoken to Drew since he’d broken my heart in my final year of teacher training. He’d gone away to travel the world and I’d gone back to university. The last thing I’d heard was that he’d gone to live in Australia. Now it seemed he was home and ringing me about my mother – it didn’t make sense.
“Please can you just tell me what’s wrong?” It had to be something serious for Drew to feel he had to get her to call me.
Marla came back on the line. “I told Drew I didn’t want to worry you.”
“Mother?” A tension headache started to niggle over my left eye.
“I went to the hospital today.”
Oh dear God, Marla never went to the doctor, let alone a hospital. She didn’t believe in conventional medicine. “What? A hospital?”
“I have to have surgery. I’m being admitted on Sunday.” Her voice wobbled. “I need you here, darling. There’s the shop and the allotment and the cat. Drew’s been an absolute angel but…”
I sank down on the spare chair with the wonky back that stood in the corner of the office. My knees had liquefied and there was a whooshing noise in my ears. “What kind of surgery?”
“Really, Azure, this isn’t the way I wanted to tell you about this. I’ll explain everything tonight.”
There was no point arguing. I could tell by her tone that I wouldn’t get anything else out of her right now.
“Okay, I’ll ring Simon and see if he’s happy to drive me over.”
Simon wouldn’t be happy, I knew that already. He and Marla didn’t see eye-to-eye on anything.
“Darling, Drew will come and get you if Simon is busy.” Again there was a faint inflection on the word “busy”, implying that she knew full well Simon would hate to drive me to her house in Devon.
“Don’t be silly, Marla. Simon and I will be down as soon as he can get away from the office.” Anxiety made my voice waspish.
“Then I’ll see you tonight.” She rang off.
“Is everything all right?” Joyce took the phone back from me and slotted it neatly back in its cradle.
“No, it’s not, unfortunately. My mother has to have surgery.” The words slid out of my mouth and that was when it hit me. Marla needed urgent surgery. “I have to call Simon.”
Joyce pursed her lips and passed the phone back to me. “Ring him from here, dear. You look like you’ve had a bit of a shock.”
Under normal circumstances I would have gone back to the staff-room to ring him on my mobile but I didn’t think my legs would support me on the short walk along the corridor. I dialled his number and waited for him to answer. A bee buzzed lazily against the windowpane outside while Joyce tapped away on her keyboard and pretended she wasn’t going to listen to my conversation.
“Simon Farrington.”
I pictured him sitting at his desk, crisp white shirtsleeves rolled back as he frowned at his laptop and waited to find out who was calling him.
“It’s me, Zee. Marla called me a minute ago. I need to go home tonight to stay for a few days.”
There was a pause. “Can’t it wait till tomorrow? The traffic will be hell.” He sounded distant and I knew he was simultaneously reading his email.
“She’s not well. She’s going into hospital, she needs an operation.” My throat felt all thick and choky.
I heard Simon sigh. “I don’t know what time I’ll be able to get away from the office.”
“I have to go tonight, Simon.”
Mentally, I counted to three. Marla always said Simon was selfish. If I’d rung to say we’d an invitation out to supper tonight he wouldn’t be making excuses about finishing late, but a visit to my mother was a rather different proposal.
“Okay, I’ll get home as soon as I can.” I could hear another phone ringing in the background as he spoke.
“Thanks, love you.” The sunlight flashed off the diamond in my engagement ring as I passed the phone back to Joyce again. I knew the journey to my mother’s home in Brixham would be filled with sulky silence.
“Are you all right to finish off this afternoon?” She peered at me over the top of her glasses.
“It’s fine. My mother is a bit of a drama queen, I’m sure everything will be okay. I’ll probably get to her house and find it’s nothing.” I forced a smile to reassure Joyce. It was a fib of course, my mother might be eccentric but she was rarely perturbed by anything. I wasn’t sure if my lie was intended to sooth Joyce’s concerns or my own.
There was a tap on the office door and a small worried face peeped in.
“Please, Miss, Daniel Sugden keeps going into the girls’ toilets and I can’t find Mrs Mount.”
“I’ll be right there, Lucy.” I forced myself up from the office chair and followed the girl out into the corridor. Outside in the playground the children were laughing as they played. Only faint screams coming from the toilets confirmed that Daniel was indeed teasing the girls.
I despatched Daniel back to the football field and resumed playtime supervision. The conversation with Marla still niggled in my head along with long-repressed memories of that last summer with Drew. I’d thought I’d forgotten, forgiven and filed all thoughts of Drew away in my mind. Yet if I closed my eyes, I could see him as he had looked the day we’d said goodbye. I could remember the smell of his skin and the taste of his lips on mine. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about with Marla’s operation, it sounded as if I would have to face the ghost of my romantic past when I returned home.
Lucy reappeared at my side. “Shall I ring the bell, Miss?”
I nodded and she scampered away, eager to please. The large brass hand-bell clanged and the children began to line up, jostling for position in readiness for the end-of-term party. I stuffed my memories back in their box and focused on being efficient Miss Millichip for the remainder of the school day.
* * * *
The flat I shared with Simon was a short bus ride across the city. By the time I slid my key in the lock it was after five. I stepped over the post that lay on the hall floor and went to dump my bags on the granite breakfast bar in the kitchen. The room felt hot from being closed up all day and there was no sign of Simon.
I collected the post and placed it in its appointed spot for Simon to read when he got home, then unpacked my bags from school. Several boxes of chocolates, two mugs bearing the legend ‘World’s Best Teacher’ and a bedraggled bunch of flowers later, I’d cleared everything away. The sounds of the city filtered through the double glazing and the air was stuffy and oppressive. From my third-floor vantage point the traffic trickled below like streamers of multi-coloured ribbons on the tail of a kite.
I poured myself a glass of juice from the fridge and carried it through to the bedroom. Thirty minutes later I’d changed out of my work clothes into a cooler cotton summer dress and packed our bags ready for Devon. I stacked the matched Louis Vuitton cases on the dark red satin throw that covered the bottom half of the bed and looked around the room.
Simon and I had been together for two years. He’d proposed at Christmas, hiding my ring inside a fake Christmas bauble that he’d hung on the tree. I’d moved into his flat on Valentine’s Day, so the choice of décor was predominantly Simon’s. He didn’t like what he called ‘clutter’, so pictures, soft furnishings like cushions, and ornaments were virtually non-existent. Everything was orderly, modern and streamlined arranged to ‘show home’ perfection. It was the kind of apartment I’d dreamed about when I was younger.
I perched on the edge of the bed and finished my juice. Marla’s home was anything but orderly and streamlined. Knick-knacks and doodads filled every surface. Crystals were placed in strategic positions around the house to ensure good health, prosperity, happiness and luck. Feng Shui principles were considered wherever possible while wind-chimes and sparkly glass objects dangled from every window.
The hi-tech alarm clock on the bedside cabinet caught my eye. Simon was late. I walked back through to the open-plan living area and stashed my dirty glass inside the dishwasher. Restless now, with my immediate tasks completed, I paced up and down the polished wooden laminate floor of the lounge and waited for Simon.
I tried to hope that Marla was over-dramatising the whole situation and that I’d arrive to discover she was booked in for nothing more sinister than bunion removal. Somehow, though, I didn’t think that would be the case. She never went to the doctor, preferring to use her homeopathic remedies or crystal therapy to treat whatever was wrong.
Plus, there was Drew. I hadn’t even known he was back in England, let alone that he was in touch with Marla. My flesh goose-bumped on my arms and heat tugged at my stomach when I pictured his green eyes. I was going to see Drew again.
I wondered if he’d changed, if he’d married or had a girlfriend. I tried to repress those thoughts, yet the logical, sensible, school-teacher part of my brain told me that all of those things were perfectly possible. After all, I was engaged to be married and living with someone, so why wouldn’t Drew have similar commitments?
Except the Drew I’d known didn’t do commitment – that was why we’d broken up. He’d wanted to travel around the world, see new sights, try new things. I’d wanted stability, order, roots… all the things I’d never had while I’d been growing up. So Drew had left with a back pack and his guitar. I’d gone back to college and lesson plans. There had been the odd postcard from various parts of the globe, to be pored over and treasured. Then nothing.
Simon’s key rattled in the front door and I snapped back to the present.
“The traffic is hell. I suppose you still want to go to your mother’s?” He dropped his leather briefcase on the kitchen floor and picked up his mail from the worktop.
“Everything’s packed.” I waited for him to finish reading and look at me.
“Okay, give me ten minutes to change.” His voice was resigned.
He dropped his post down and came over to give me a hug, holding me close to him for a second before placing a kiss on top of my head. I savoured his solid safeness and the smell of his expensive cologne. Simon was everything Drew wasn’t. Simon was security.

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