As promised, I’d like to share with you a preview of my new novel, due for release at the end of January. The House in Wattle Lane is the second book in the Wattle Lane novels. Although it includes some of the characters from the first book, Scrappy Cupcake Angels, it can be read as a stand-alone story.
So, here it is, the first chapter.
As Neave walked for the last time from the high-rise building where she had spent her weekdays for more than a decade, she felt a surge of apprehension mixed with a strange feeling of anticipation—apprehension for what the future might hold, and anticipation of a new beginning. Still reeling from the rowdy farewell that her co-workers had thrown for her, she walked to the basement of the building, clutching her leaving gifts—a fancy pedometer and an iTunes gift card—and climbed into the old, green Morris Minor that stood in the near-empty parking lot. As she pulled out of the parking space and exited the lot, she broke into a grin.
She was free! For now, at least, she had no responsibilities and nowhere to be. She could do whatever she wanted. But the feeling of elation was quickly followed by a flicker of anxiety as she realised that she actually had no idea what it was she wanted to do.
When the redundancies had been announced four weeks earlier, Neave had been shocked to learn that she was one of them. Although rumours of downsizing had been circulating around the office for some months, she hadn’t thought for one moment that the changes might include her. After all, she was one of the more experienced staff members, having worked for the insurance company since leaving school almost twelve years ago. She knew the job inside out and had assumed that the young ones who had come on board after her would be the first to go. But, apparently it didn’t work like that. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who had been selected to leave. The decision had been made at a higher level, Mr. Baker had told her. If it had been up to him, she would be staying.
Her boss’s words of empathy, however, had offered little comfort to Neave as she joined the ranks of job seekers. Having accrued rejection letter after rejection letter over the past few weeks, she felt as though her time spent working for the company meant less than the paper her reference was printed on.
Now, with her future uncertain, she headed for home.
~ ~ ~
“How did it go?” Leah asked forty-five minutes later, when Neave walked into the house she shared with her two flatmates. “Did you have to make a speech?”
Neave grimaced as she dropped onto the couch. “I’m just glad it’s over. You know how I hate being the centre of attention.” She released a long sigh. “Well, that’s the end of a rather long chapter in my life. Now I just have to wait for the next one to begin.” A twinge of unease stirred inside her as she wondered what her future held.
“I’ll get you a juice. Or would you prefer something stronger, like a wine?” Leah hovered over her as though she were concerned that Neave might break down.
“Sit down. I’ll get a drink in a minute.” Neave straightened as a small, tan and white dog came hurtling into the room and launched itself onto her lap. “At least you still love me,” Neave said, turning her head to escape the frantic, wet licks bestowed upon her. Gathering the squirming dog in her arms, she rose to her feet. “I’m going to get in the shower. Mum’s expecting me for dinner soon. Where’s Adam?”
“Out on a date.” Leah rolled her eyes as though to say, Where else? She fixed her gaze on the dog that Neave was cuddling to her chest. “Mayzie will be happy to have you at home all day. I noticed there are some new holes in the backyard where she’s been digging again.”
“Oh, no! Sorry, Leah. It’s because she’s bored left at home on her own all day.” Neave aimed a look of apology towards her flatmate. It wasn’t the first time she had had to apologize for Mayzie’s misdemeanours. Neave knew that Leah was concerned about their landlord’s reaction when he saw the state of the garden. The trouble was, at seventeen months old, the little dog might not outgrow her digging phase for some time yet. “I’ll get out in the backyard tomorrow and sort it out. Promise.”
“Okay.” Leah’s face relaxed into a grin. “You’ll have plenty of time to garden now that you’re not working. And do the housework. And cook the meals.”
“Don’t remind me,” Neave groaned, as she headed for the door.
~ ~ ~
“Have you checked tonight’s paper?” Monica Hamlin settled on the couch beside her daughter, balancing a plate of tuna pasta on her lap. “There are a couple of jobs in there that might suit you.”
Sighing, Neave stabbed a chunk of creamy pasta with her fork. “Please can I have one night off job hunting?” she pleaded. Turning her attention to the TV, she watched as Valerie Bertinelli began tracing her family roots on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
“I love this show,” Neave said. “It’s fascinating watching the journeys people take to find out about their ancestors and where they came from.” She glanced quickly at her mother. “It makes me realize I’m not the only one who knows so little about their heritage.”
“If you want to learn about your father’s side of the family, don’t let me stop you,” her mother said. “I’ve never stopped you from seeing your father. Don’t forget it was your decision not to visit him anymore during the holidays.”
Neave sighed. “I know. I’m not having a go, Mum. It’s just that, as I get older, I sometimes feel like I’m missing out on something. I mean, I barely remember my grandparents—Dad’s parents. And I have a half-brother and half-sister whom I haven’t seen in years.” She put down her fork and glanced at her mother. “Do you suppose they ever think about me?”
Her mother offered a reassuring smile. “I’m sure they do. But people get wrapped up in their own lives. Dean and Lily barely know you; they’ve only ever seen you a handful of times. You’re virtually a stranger to them. How old would they be now?”
“I guess Dean would be around seventeen or eighteen. And Lily must be a teenager now.” Neave returned her attention to the TV as she continued to eat her pasta. As she watched Valerie Bertinelli trace the path of her ancestors, an idea began to form in her mind. When the show finished, she leaned forward and set her plate down on the coffee table. Scooping up the remote control, she aimed it at the television, lowered the volume, then turned to her mother.
“Mum, how would you feel about looking after Mayzie for a couple of weeks?”
“Why? Has she been getting up to mischief again? Has Leah finally had enough and banned her from the house?”
Neave laughed as she stroked the little terrier that lay between them on the couch. She decided against telling her mother of Mayzie’s latest misdeeds. “No, it’s nothing like that. I was just thinking that, with my being out of work, now might be a good time to visit Kerrigan and reconnect with the other side of my family. I haven’t had a holiday in ages. I thought maybe I could use some of my redundancy to take a couple of weeks off.”
Her mother looked dubious as she reached for her glass of wine. Raising it to her lips, she paused and frowned. “Do you think it’s wise to just turn up out of the blue? I’d hate for you to get your expectations up, just to be disappointed. It might not be the happy family reunion you’re envisaging.”
“Then I wouldn’t have to stay,” Neave stated practically. Suddenly, she reached across Mayzie and grabbed her mother’s arm. “You could come with me! You haven’t been back to Kerrigan in years. It would be a trip down memory lane for you, as well. Come on, it’ll be fun!” She drew back as her mother shook her head emphatically.
“No, thank you very much! I have no desire whatsoever to return to Kerrigan. I left that town behind when you were four years old and I can’t think of any reason why I would want to go back and dredge up old memories. There’s nothing there for me now; I have no reason to return. But if you want to reconnect with your father and your brother and sister, then you should go. All I’m saying is don’t be disappointed if they don’t welcome you with open arms. Your father was a workaholic and had little time for us back then, and I doubt that things will be any different now. People don’t change. Not really.”
Neave detected bitterness in her mother’s tone, and she suspected that even after all these years, the breakup of her marriage still pained her.
“Besides which,” her mother continued, “Kerrigan is a very small town. You won’t find much to do there. It’s not exactly a holiday destination.” She sighed. “Look, if you want to take a break, why don’t you go somewhere nice? Have a proper holiday. Like you said, you haven’t had one in a while, and once you start a new job you might not get the chance to have another one for some time.”
Neave slumped back against the cushions. It was obvious that her mother thought it was a bad idea. Maybe it was. But she couldn’t help thinking that this was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with her estranged family. And if she didn’t do it now, would she regret it in the future? She jumped as she felt a touch on her arm.
“I can see you’ve got your heart set on doing this.”
Neave leaned across and gave her mother a hug. “Thanks, Mum.” They both laughed as Mayzie gave a small yelp and wriggled her way between them, demanding a share of the attention.
“I’ve got a tin of old photos somewhere. If you’re determined to go digging up the past, then you may as well have them.” Neave’s mother rose to her feet and disappeared from the room, returning a few minutes later with an old biscuit tin. Settling back on the couch, she pulled off the lid and took out a pile of black and white photos. “These are mostly from my childhood,” she said. Returning them to the tin, she took out a small photo album with plastic sleeves. “These ones are from my time in Kerrigan.” Opening the album to the first page, she stared down at a photograph of a young couple posing for the camera, their arms around each other’s waists.
“Very eighties,” Neave said, grinning at the young woman’s frizzy hairdo.
“I had a friend who was training to be a hairdresser. I used to let her practise on me.” Her mother groaned. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Neave stared at the young, ginger-haired man in the picture. Her father. He looked so young and carefree. She could see how her mother could have fallen for him. “You both look happy.”
“We were, back then. But it was a long time ago now.”
Taking the small album from her mother’s hands, Neave studied the house in the background of the photo; the house in which she had spent the first few years of her life. The house which, after her parents divorced, she had returned to for three weeks every summer. Although it seemed like a lifetime ago now, the sight of the house and the memories it stirred caused a cascade of emotions to churn within her.
“I always thought the house was magical,” she said. “Like a fairy-tale house. I’d never seen another house quite like it. Two-and-a-half storey’s high, with the staircase and the attic, and the little windows that looked out onto the lane.” She fell silent, surprised that the house should instil such feelings in her after all these years. “I wonder who lives there now.”
“I have no idea. But maybe you’ll find out when you go back.” Neave’s mother passed her the biscuit tin and leaned back against the cushions. “When do you think you’ll go?”
Neave took a deep breath. Shifting Mayzie onto her knee, she buried her face against the dog’s warm fur, then tilted her head to look at her mother. “If you’re sure you don’t mind looking after Mayzie for a few days, I might leave tomorrow.”
Copyright © Christine Price 2015