Still enjoying this story? I certainly hope so.
I posted Chapter 1 way back on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have appeared here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search for the chapter you want to read.
Missed the start? Find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends to join us.
Sunday 25th April
Netta waltzed into the kitchen scandalously exposed in Leigh’s shirt and with delight all over her face. Leigh looked altogether too pleased with himself.
‘Good morning, Netta, Leigh.’
Mum glanced a quick, unspoken question at Netta and she replied with her open hand. What the significance of five was, I had no idea.
Leigh had witnessed the exchange, which was clearly meant to exclude him. ‘Six, I think, you’ll find.’
Netta laughed. ‘He’s right. And, on a scale of ten, though I shouldn’t say this in front of him, I’d say somewhere between six…teen and seventeen.’
Leigh’s face clouded at the six but brightened into an expression of smugness as Netta increased the score beyond the realms of mathematical possibility. Recent reading, experience of Leigh and a small amount of information from his idiot’s lantern allowed me to deduce that she was commenting on his prowess as a lover. That she rated him so highly was hardly the news I wanted. But I could do nothing about it. I offered them breakfast.
Mum had already had toast with me; she was still yawning after our late night chat. I felt alive, awake and excited by all I’d learned. She’d released a large burden of guilt from me and I no longer felt in any way to blame for what Father…. the B had done to Hope or me. I knew Mum was convinced that I hadn’t known he was raping her. Whether Netta would ever come to the same conclusion, I couldn’t tell.
‘Run me back home after breakfast, will you Mum?’
‘Leaving this stud so quickly?’
‘Only so I can come back and live with him. Think I’m letting a sex god like this get away so easily?’
A cloud passed across Mum’s face and I wondered if anyone noticed how it affected me as well. Leigh and Netta seemed lost in each other’s charms. I found myself wondering just what it would be like to have a man in bed with me and blushed at my fantasy. Mum saw me colour but only smiled.
‘Where’s Ma this morning?’
How to tell Leigh she wasn’t happy with Netta in the house? Why she felt like that, I had no idea, but she’d been at pains to tell me to ‘hang on in there’. What could I say to Leigh? If I told the truth, it was bound to hurt Netta and I wanted to avoid that. I had another lesson in the arts of lying. ‘I don’t think Old Hodge is very well.’
Leigh frowned. ‘I’ve never known either of them take a day off sick. I hope the old man’s not ill. I’d better pop across and see them.’
I was about to try to prevent him but Mum shook her head and I let him go. Netta simply poured herself a coffee from the pot before she tackled the toast I’d put on her plate.
As soon as Leigh had left, Mum turned to Netta. ‘He’s really that good?’
‘Tell the truth, Mum, the best I’ve ever had. Took me there at least twenty times, probably a lot more, I stopped counting. He’s by no means the biggest but the way he uses it...’
‘Haven’t I always said it’s not the size of the hammer but how you knock in the nail? Sure you really want to commit so soon? I mean, don’t you want to wait and see for a bit?’
‘Absolutely not. I’ve told him I’ll stay as long as I want and he’s happy with that. There’s no danger. I know what I want. In any case, if it did come to the point where I couldn’t leave, can you think of a better scene than this?’ She gestured to take in the whole of Longhouse and all it represented.
I closed my eyes against the grief I felt welling inside me. ‘You can’t stay here! I want Leigh. I love him!’ It had escaped me before I’d had the chance to think about it. I felt confused and alarmed at my admission and so grateful that Leigh hadn’t heard me. I dashed from the room and ran to my bedroom to escape the immediate consequences of what I’d said. I was still up there when Mum called to say they were going to collect Netta’s things.
‘See you when you get back, then.’
‘I’m not coming back, love. Leigh’s coming with us and he’ll bring Netta back.’
I dashed downstairs and hugged my mother close. ‘Promise you’ll come and see me again soon.’
‘Try and keep me away.’ She looked at Leigh for permission.
‘You’re welcome whenever you like, Matilda. As long as Faith’s living here, you’re welcome to visit her.’
Mum became thoughtful. ‘What are you doing next Saturday?’
‘I’ve nothing planned, unless Leigh…?’
He shook his head.
‘Put on your glad rags and prepare for some serious shopping. You and I are going to Leeds. I’ll pick you up around ten… No, since Netta won’t be home to slow me down, I’ll be here by nine. Be ready.’ She kissed me and they were gone.
I’d considered my outburst and knew what I’d said was true. I did want Leigh. I did love him. But I’d realised too late what that really meant. I couldn’t compete with Netta. Younger, she might be, but she was years ahead of me in all the ways that mattered, and she was willing to give herself, without reserve, in a way guaranteed to please Leigh even though she had no wish to marry him.
The cars pulled off the drive and I closed the gate and stood watching Netta and Leigh in his big blue Range Rover follow Mum in her little red Hillman Imp down the lane and out onto the main road. I waited by the gate for a long time, just staring into the distance through the fresh green leaves of the sycamore and listening to the distant sheep grumbling on the fells.
Footsteps crunching the gravel brought me out of my lonely dream and I turned to find Old Hodge approaching in his gardening gear, a hoe over his shoulder. ‘Surprised to see the sick old man out of his bed?’
I blushed. He grounded his hoe and enclosed me in the comfort of his clothes that smelt of earth and linseed oil. ‘It’s all right, love. I’m sure you did it for the best, but you stick to your honesty in future.’
‘I didn’t want to hurt Netta’s feelings.’
‘P’raps not; she’ll not be shy of hurtin’ yours, though.’
He took a step back and looked me up and down. ‘My word, but you’re coming on a treat, you are. I know who I’d choose if it were me you loved instead o’ Leigh, and it wouldn’t be yon flighty miss, no matter ‘ow eager she might lie between the sheets.’ He pecked my cheek, doffed his cap at me and wandered off to see to the flowerbeds at the back of the house.
I found Ma in the kitchen. ‘She’s coming back, Ma, to live here.’
‘So Leigh tells me. I can’t stay away forever so I expect I’ll have to get used to her. But she’ll feel the lash of my tongue if she hurts you, Faith. You’re worth ten of that sister of yours anytime.’
‘I love him, Ma; I want him. What am I going to do?’
She hugged me until I was back in control and then sat me at the table as she busied herself with making a pot of tea. ‘Leigh sees only through his eyes and thinks with his cock. Sorry, I know you don’t like that sort of word but it’s what I’ve always called it, love. I mean no harm or disrespect. Trouble is, that young minx’ll give him everything he wants. But she’ll want too much in return. He’ll tire of her, just like all the rest. Bide your time, Faith. He’ll see you for what you are in the end.’
‘What am I, Ma?’
‘A sweet, kind, pretty, caring young lady, is what you are. You’re nice and considerate and honest. He’ll see she’s a selfish bitch soon enough. He’ll soon learn she takes more than she gives. And he knows he can get his sex a lot cheaper than she sells it for.’
‘You make her sound like a prostitute! She is my sister.’
‘You don’t have to sell it for money to be a tart, Faith. She’ll take Leigh for as much as she can. How do you think she and that mother of hers…? I’m sorry, love, I truly am. I was forgettin’ she’s your mother too.’
‘I like her, Ma. I like my mum. She seems kind and she listens.’
‘Happen she does. There are those where she lives who have a different point of view. I’ll say no more against her, love. You’ll learn soon enough for yoursen. I’ll still be here when you need a shoulder to cry on.’
My world had started to be so pleasant since leaving the B. Now everything was disintegrating about me. Ma was against Mum because they both viewed me as their own daughter. Netta was against me because she wanted the man she knew should be mine. And Ma was against Netta because she knew she would hurt both Leigh and me. I could no longer rely on Leigh for support and help; I doubted he’d even notice me whilst Netta was around. I began to think I ought to look for somewhere else to live.
‘You stay put, love. Move out of Longhouse and Leigh’ll stop noticing you altogether. You need to be under his nose. I’ll tell you something, Faith: nothing would make me happier than that you be the one to finally tie Leigh down and get him married.’
I hadn’t thought that far. At that point, I didn’t even know if that was what I wanted. Yet, when I considered my feelings, it was obvious. Marriage to Leigh was the only possible conclusion to my hopes and dreams. I loved him. If I loved him and he could grow to love me, then marriage was the natural and logical outcome.
But when he returned with Netta, I found it hard to think of my hopes as more than a silly, unattainable dream. They were clearly besotted with each other. Leigh barely glanced at me as he whisked her in with her cases and bags. They were so long unpacking in his room that even I realised they must be doing something more.
Their closeness and obsessive need to be together finally persuaded me I had to do something to learn about the real world. The B had kept me locked inside an artificial cage of ignorance and innocence that left me ill suited to survive the world I now inhabited. I must learn something of life, of society, of relationships. I must learn about people, customs and why everyone was so obsessed with sex. My problem was; I had no idea where to start.
‘I wish you could hang on to your innocence, love. There’s plenty of worldly wise already out there. You don’t need to become one of them to understand them.’
‘I wasn’t thinking of shedding my clothes and having sex, Ma. And I don’t mind being innocent so much as remaining naïve. I need to know and understand what it’s all about. Why Leigh and Netta like to have their clothes off and look at each other. Why Leigh likes to take pictures of women in the nude. Why Leigh’s penis is so fascinating … to Netta and why her vagina seems to absorb him. What it is about sex that’s so all consuming and important.’
‘You still surprise me with the way you say things, Faith. Shock me, sometimes. There’s nowt wrong with sex, you know, love. Old Hodge and I still enjoy each other in that way. Old and wrinkled we may be, but we still feel the same needs and desires we felt when we first met.
‘Sex is one of the things that bind love. But sex without love is at best a good time, at worst the most awful experience a woman can have. Love without sex is like lamb without mint sauce, apple pie without custard; it’s nice enough but not complete.
‘But, Faith, I can tell you, sex with love is something else. There’s no way to describe it; it has to be experienced. That’s why no one’s ever successfully described the joy and wonder of it. Those who’ve never experienced it, think it’s just the same as ordinary sex only more so. But it’s something so different, something so far removed, it’s as different as a rhyll is to a mighty raging river.’
It was quite a speech for Ma. It whetted my appetite for learning. I went to the Longhouse library in search of works that might teach me something about these mysteries.
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