Meet Elliot from Lovers, a widower and single father who runs a music shop in West London. He still holds on to the memory of his wife and is finding it so hard to move on with his life.
Elliot didn’t tell Katey, but he liked it when she popped into the shop after school. There was a time when she would go straight home and get down to her homework without even being asked. But that was when Val was there. Right after Val died, Elliot collected Katey from school for weeks until she complained that at fourteen she should be coming home herself, the way she had since she was eleven. Elliot remembered the way her friends giggled behind their hands when they saw him. They said, ‘Oh, hello Mr Smith. You’re here.’ But he hadn’t heard the sarcasm behind the words or realised that his daughter was embarrassed to have him, the only parent, standing outside the gate of a high school, coming to pick her up.
‘You want people to think you’re some kind of saddo?’
At the time, Elliot wanted to ask Katey not to be so disrespectful, to watch her tone. His Trinidadian mother would have clipped him round the ear if he’d been so sullen. But her Nan forgave Katey the short, cool way she spoke to her dad. She had just lost her mum. And when time went on, Nan didn’t reprimand her granddaughter for not meeting her father’s eye when he spoke to her or not wanting to eat with him. A few months later, Katey was all but ignoring Elliot and still Nan didn’t tell Katey, She better mine sheself.
Katey had started coming to the shop after school before the summer break. This autumn, the first year of her A levels, she came to the shop after her first day. In all honesty, Elliot expected to see less and less of her, but he’d had the sense to not comment on it. One wrong word and Katey would stop coming, and he didn’t want that.
‘Everything all right?’ he asked after seeing Marta out. He’d found Katey pouring out the dregs of Marta’s coffee mug down the tiny sink and rinsing it out. The kettle boiled, and Katey made herself a coffee.
‘Who was that?’ she asked her father.
Elliot turned back towards the shop, hooking a thumb towards the small corridor.
‘Yes, her,’ Katey said. ‘The weird woman that was just here.’
‘She’s not weird. She’s really nice, actually.’
‘Is she your girlfriend?’
‘You’re allowed to date you know, Dad? It’s been three years now.’ Katey scooted up onto the workshop table and began swinging her legs, hands under her thighs. Elliot thought again about how alike Katey was to her mum. She and Val had the same skin tone, faces the colour of light agave, framed by a mane of black curls. She even smiled like Val, but she hadn’t acquired Val’s light, easy-going nature. Val laughed every day. Saw the funny side of everything. She sang, she danced in the kitchen. She had been the glue of that family.
While his daughter was the image of her mother, Elliot wished she hadn’t inherited his mood swings, his need to stay quiet and separate from people, to demand a lot and give very little. Did he teach her that? He wished he could have been more like Val when it all happened, when they lost her, but his heart was shattered. How could he laugh and keep Katey as happy as Val could? That sort of thing came so easily to her. Not to him.
‘There isn’t a ‘time’s up, you must have a girlfriend now’ date for these things,’ Elliot said as he began working on the broken guitar next to Katey. ‘I don’t want a girlfriend.’
Katey jumped off the table and picked up her coffee.
‘Dad, you’re so miserable sometimes.’
‘So are you.’ He didn’t look up. Elliot had bent over the table and was looking along the fret board of the guitar, one eye closed, fine lines appearing at the side of his face. ‘Haven’t you got any homework?’
‘For crying out loud.’ She poured the contents of the mug into the sink, grabbed her bag and jacket and stormed out of the store room.
‘What?’ he said straightening up and swinging around.
The shop door closed and Katey was gone. Elliot folded his hands in front of him and looked down at the broken guitar. It wasn’t the first time Katey had stormed off when he’d thought they were in the middle of a good conversation.
He left the store room, went into the shop, hoping to catch a glimpse of Katey before she disappeared up the Uxbridge Road to their four bedroom house around the corner. All he saw was an image of the shop, the way it looked ten years ago: a shell of a place, dim, in need of love and repair.
‘We can do this,’ Val had said, spinning around on the dirty wooden floor in a long floral skirt.
Her skirt lifted the dust from the floorboards making it spiral helplessly upwards. Why was she always spinning? Like a child who couldn’t sit still, she was. He loved that about her, the innocence and the passion that came from her ideas. She had great ideas, but he hadn’t been sure about this one.
Find out more about all the colourful characters in Lovers! The book is out 5th October. Join my Mailing List to be notified about publication day!