It was one of those perfectly cold mornings. The heating had clicked on sometime during the night and the house hummed with the tick-tick-whir of it. From the kitchen window I could see the beginnings of the garden; the ground was frosted over with a wintertime glitter and there was a horror film mist that lingered over the rest of the landscape still. I couldn’t see right down to the end of the lawn yet, and I longed for those slow moments when the chilled duvet would peel back and make way for the day. Burnt offerings popped up from the toaster then, and pulled me out of the moment. But at least my coffee had brewed right; two heaped spoons and one sweetener, no milk – and I thought of Theo as I took the first sips. ‘As black as your soul that is,’ he used to say, and I smiled at the memory. I threw two seeded slices of ashen bread into the bin and gave up on the idea of breakfast. Instead, I went back to the coffee and the garden and the quiet lull of ‘Mr Sandman’; a jazz cover that my streaming service had recommended. I was in the middle of asking Mr Sandman to bring me a dream when–
‘Need a lift?’
Jessica skidded into the room in time to hear the question. ‘Shit, I’m so late, Mum.’
I sighed and smiled at once. ‘Come on, grab a breakfast bar and I’ll drive you in.’ I set my drink down with some resentment; how often does the perfect morning cup of coffee come around? I stole one last look at the garden then turned to catch my daughter slathering marmalade onto a slice of bread. ‘You’re an animal.’
‘Raised by wolves, me,’ she said around a mouthful.
‘Get your bag, you feral thing.’ I grabbed a breakfast bar from the cupboard on my way through the room. ‘And take this, you might want elevenses.’
‘Jess, it’s a bloody breakfast bar. I’m not sending you in with a full English.’
‘Fine, whatever.’ She snatched the bar and wedged it into the front pocket of her bag. There was a smudge of marmalade in the corner of her mouth and I licked my thumb before aiming for the sugar-syrup. She dodged me before I could get there though. ‘Do not put that anywhere near me,’ she rubbed a hand across her lips, ‘that’s disgusting.’
‘You’re disgusting,’ I joked, ‘get out of the house.’
I unlocked the car for her to clamber in while I locked up. Since Theo left us, I took a great measure of care when it came to locking doors, windows, setting alarms. But when we moved here some years back – when Jessica was just a twinkle in my eye, still – part of the appeal had been that somehow this particular neighbourhood had remained a safe one, even with the grit-grime of the world around us. Safe like, suspiciously low crime rates; safe like, people often didn’t even bother locking their front doors, if they weren’t going far. But despite what Jessica thought regarding our strong and independent status – ‘Who would dare even try it? We’re Alphas!’ – it was just us, and you couldn’t be too careful.
Available to order now on Kindle and in paperback.