Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Extract from new novel coming soon



LAST DROP FALLS


Synopsis:


The world is cruel and life is full of bitterness and heartbreak. We will all experience loss and longing. We will all be bought to our knees by desire. Welcome to twenty years in the life of Heathcliff Hart.


CHAPTER ONE


September 1992


Atop the vast, windswept wilds of Exmoor in the heart of the county of Devon stood Westcliff public boys’ boarding school. The edifice loomed over the dramatic scenery, battered by cruel gales in winter, its craggy granite surfaces eroded by sea water.
Through its hallowed portals stepped ten year old Heathcliff Hart, not conscious of all the feted alumni that had passed before him, just wondering why his parents had abandoned him to this.
Although he was too young to understand, Heath’s American parents were hanging on bitterly through the death throes of their relationship as his father had just secured a lucrative engineering position on an oil-rig in the North Sea. 
His mother didn’t work. She was icily beautiful and remote, seeking Heath’s company when it suited her and giving him to a nanny when it didn’t. It had always been that way: starved for hugs and affection. His father was faceless, absent for most of his life, a man Heath had never known and probably never would.
What had he done to warrant this? Why did they want him out of the way? Had he been naughty? Was he so unloved and unwanted?
Despite regular parcels from his mother containing books and games and other treats which Heath would cynically come to see later as bribes to assuage her own conscience, he felt rejected and unloved. He wondered if the other boys looked at him and saw a pariah, someone worthless and undeserving of love.
Southern California to England was a shock. His accent stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone around him sounded like they were reading the news on the BBC or belonged in Buckingham Palace. He struggled sometimes to understand.
His only friend was Mr. Campbell. Stephen seemed like any other grown-up to him: old. Even though his teacher was only twenty-four at the time, to Heath this seemed ancient and the man with the soft voice and the glowing smile towered above the young Hart and awed him. But he didn’t intimidate. Heath formed a bond with him instantly as soon as Stephen opened his mouth and Heath heard that glowing west coast accent here, in England of all places. He couldn’t believe his luck to find someone from home.
Stephen taught English, French and biology. He was laid back to the point of horizontal, but he was so universally liked that no one took advantage of this easy-going nature. Instead, he got more work out of his students than any other teacher at the school, the vast majority of which were stern professors who still wore gowns and slapped hands with rulers.
Stephen was tall and slender with dirty blond hair and pale blue eyes that crinkled at the corners when he smiled. He wore jeans and T-shirts. He had a black dragon tattoo on one arm that Heath stared at in lessons and made up stories of fire-breathing and rescuing damsels in distress later while lying in bed. That dragon seemed to shift on Stephen’s creamy skin, the muscle beneath undulating, giving the beast life, branding its image forever on Heath’s imagination as he became a devoted student for the next eight years.
Heath’s roommate, William, was an oddball. He collected worms and other insects in jars and kept them under his bed, speaking to them in a whisper during the night. Heath thought if he had to room with this boy until he left school, he might go insane. He lay with his back turned, listening to the whispering at night, the hair on his neck prickling, convinced his roommate was going to drop insects into his bed as he slept, or worse, try to murder him.
The other boys seemed out of reach. What did Heath have in common with upper-crust snobs from Southern England? What did they know about being shipped five thousand miles away from home and abandoned? He didn’t make an effort to speak to anyone, irrationally convinced they must all hate him on sight anyway. Even at a young age he had an idea Americans weren’t popular abroad. He made himself cold and aloof to protect his vulnerable core, a strategy that would last the rest of his life.
One day Stephen asked him to stay behind at the end of the lesson.
Heath paused in packing up his books and pencils and regarded his teacher warily as Stephen sat at the front of the class on his desk, legs swinging casually. He wore black skate shoes with flashes of red and yellow flames up the sides. Heath found the rhythmic movement of these shoes a little hypnotic and wondered if he could cajole his mother into buying him a pair so he looked as cool as his teacher.
“Whereabouts in California are you from?” Stephen asked.
“OC.”
“Me too,” Stephen said. “It’s a small world.” This confused Heath because geography had taught him that in fact the world was very big, but he said nothing.
“What part?”
“Laguna Beach.”
“Nice. I’m from Oceanside myself. What do your parents do?”
Heath explained about his father (“he looks for oil in the sea”) and confessed that he wasn’t sure at all what his mother did, which made Mr. Campbell smile for some unknown reason.
“And how do you like it here?”
Heath shrugged and averted his eyes. He was still standing uncomfortably by his desk, one hand gripping his satchel strap, ready to flee.
“Not so much, huh?” Still Heath didn’t reply. “Have you made any friends yet?”
Heath shook his head.
“Do you miss your mom?”
Heath found his lip quite suddenly trembling without warning and he fought hard not to give in to the tears flooding his eyes because he already knew well enough by age ten that big boys didn’t cry.
“How about if I tell you it gets easier?” Stephen said. “Would you believe me?”
Heath lifted his head. He nodded slowly and solemnly because he would have believed the earth was flat if Mr. Campbell said it was so.  “Are you lonely too, Mr. Campbell?”
Stephen looked taken aback. His pale eyes sparked with an odd emotion for a fleeting instant, something Heath couldn’t interpret.
“We all get lonely, Heathcliff. But it’s important to remember that you’re not alone here. I’m your friend as well as your teacher and any time you’re upset or sad, you come to me to talk about it. Okay?”
A shy smile lit Heath’s face. He nodded.
“All right,” Stephen said. “Go for your lunch.”
Heath picked up his bag and moved quickly to the door.
“And one more thing,” said his teacher behind him. “My name’s Stephen.”
Heath turned around to look at him. “And mine is Heath.”
“Got it, dude,” Stephen said with a grin.
“Okay, dude.” Heath scuttled out of the room, shocked at himself for having called Mr. Campbell dude.
At lunch, feeling brave and not so alone, he took his tray and asked Carl Stuart, a small, scrawny geek from Durham if he could sit next to him. Carl nodded and Heath soon found out that not everyone at the school was southern. Durham was in the north-east of England and Carl’s accent wasn’t posh at all. In fact, the two were soon engrossed in a lively debate over who had the silliest accent.

Heath’s mother visited in January, a couple of weeks after Heath had been home for a strained Christmas with his parents. For every second of the miserable, cold atmosphere in the house by the sea he wished he was back at Westcliff with Carl and Stephen. He guessed he couldn’t be pleased. Even his expensive presents failed to stir him. They were no substitute for love.
On her visit, his mother broke the news without preamble. She had left his father.
Heath was confused by this, as he didn’t see how you could leave a person who was away anyway on an oil-rig, but he said nothing as his mother explained to him that mommy and daddy didn’t love each other the way they used to do, but that they still loved him very much and nothing was going to change.
Heath kept his eyes on the parquet floor. If you love me so much, then why I am stuck here out of the way? But he said nothing, he only nodded at everything his mother said and allowed her to kiss and hug him in a cloud of expensive perfume and press money into his hand before she left.
Heath turned to look out of the window at the snow carpeting the vast grounds of the school. He had never seen snow before in his life. There was a time Heath would have begged his mother to go outside with him and build a snowman, but not anymore.  Now he sat and watched the other boys chasing each other with snowballs and thought it was the end of the world.
“Aren’t you going out to play?”
Heath looked up to see Stephen. He looked even more casual on a Sunday, wearing jeans with holes in the knees as though he couldn’t afford any new ones and a well-worn hooded sweatshirt with some sinister looking writing in crimson splashed across the front. Heath suspected Stephen was into heavy metal.
Heath shook his head, biting his lip furiously and staring at his shoes. He clenched the wad of notes in his hand and thought about buying some of those sneakers with flames up the sides with his mother’s bribe.
Stephen sat down on the bench next to him. “What’s happened?”
Heath tried to speak, but all that came from his throat was a sob and even though he wasn’t a clingy boy, he leaned towards Stephen hoping for some comfort, stammering out words about his mother and father before Stephen sighed and put an arm around him, gathering Heath to his chest.
With his small fist clinging onto Stephen’s hoodie and his face buried in the soft material as he wept, his teacher’s chest so much harder than his mother’s breast, Heath felt like this man would be his one and only sanctuary for the rest of his life.

Carl Stuart, who was now firmly his best friend, told him later that week that he didn’t even have a father, but that his mother was very rich and drove a sports car. He was sent more money than he knew what to do with and when the weather was better, he and Heath would go down to the village and buy milkshakes. As a token of the esteem Carl held him in, he gave Heath one of his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures to seal their friendship.
The two of them bribed the boy Carl was sharing a room with to change with Heath, offering him sweets and money and soon Heath and his best friend were ensconced together leaving William and his insects to it.
After that visit, his mother didn’t come so often. She still wrote him letters and sent him presents. Heath ached with some indefinable loss, like his parents losing each other meant they had lost him too and he wondered if he would ever see his father again.
When he went home, at Easter and during the summer holidays, she was distant and withdrawn, not the same woman he remembered, her face pale and her slender frame fragile as though the weight of her would crack her tiny ankles. She slept a lot and left Heath to his own devices, where he chose to spend many hours on the beach alone, making sandcastles, reading, skimming stones across the ocean or simply lying on the sand and day-dreaming. He was too young to realise his fantasies about imaginary friends or imaginary parents who took him places and spent time with him were aspirations of hope for the future. It would take Heath many years to realise that all he wanted from this life was to be loved.

He made more new friends - Kyle Swinton and Oliver Morrissey - and realised not all families were as dysfunctional as his own. Oliver’s parents were still very much together and even kissed each other frequently in front of him, according to Oliver, while Kyle’s were also together but apparently had blazing rows all the time, followed by hours locked in their bedroom, doing Kyle didn’t know what, but something which involved the bed squeaking loudly and his mother crying out like his father was hurting her.
Heath was a good student and he excelled at English and languages, even though he struggled with maths and knew he always would. Stephen gave him extra tuition on a Thursday night after Heath was reluctant to ask his actual maths master for it, a stern man with an intimidating manner. Oliver came too, also poor at maths and Heath looked forward to those quiet nights spent in Stephen’s front room like no other. His teacher always had soft music playing in the background, something good that Heath would go away with a copy of if he expressed an interest. There was always hot chocolate and cake. Stephen had a little book he would scribble algebra and geometry out in as the boys sat at the table with him and he would patiently go over each problem again and again until both boys understood it.
These times were the happiest for Heath. He felt a sense of belonging and he fantasised that Stephen was his father. He imagined him married to his mother and doing all those things his father should have been doing with him - taking him out, playing football with him, helping him with his homework and teaching him how to grow up into a worthwhile man. When it was time to go back to his own room, he would come back down to earth with a bump. He would be reminded that Stephen was not his father and never would be and that his own father would never be interested or concerned about him. He would lie in the dark, listening to Carl’s soft breathing in the next bed and he would stifle bitter tears of lonely desolation at the way he had been abandoned. 

 Time passed and his mother’s visits tailed away to nothing. She explained that she was a little sick but as soon as she was better she would come to see him with a special present. Soon the letters stopped and Heath became anxious. He didn’t know what to do. He was restless, confused and sad. His mother was all he had in the world and she had deserted him.