Authors: Samantha Horne
It was around midday when I was pulled from my thoughts by a knock on the door. I called out to whoever it was to come in, and felt oddly lifted when I saw Jasmine walking through with a warm smile on her face and a tray piled high with food. I hadn’t even realised I was hungry until I saw the tray full of food, at which point my belly let out the biggest rumble, making Jasmine giggle as she heard it.
“I thought you might like something to eat,” she said. She popped the tray down on my lap, and sat down on the bed next to me.
“Jackson tells me the guys were a bit hostile towards you yesterday, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Oh, please,” I said, whilst tucking in to the delicious soup Jasmine had bought. “It was a bit weird, but I understand. In close-knit towns like this, any stranger is a novelty, I guess.”
“Well, just don’t take it personally. Do you know where you want to head once you leave?”
“Oh, shit!” I said, and Jasmine moved back slightly startled. “God, I’m sorry. I totally forgot this is a B&B, have I missed the check-out time? Does someone else need the room?”
Jasmine laughed, and relaxed again. “No, no! Honestly, we don’t get many guests this far out of town. I’m just curious as to where you were heading? We’d be really happy for you to stay a couple of days while you decide?”
“Thanks, I’m really not sure where I’m heading to be honest. I was kind of running away from crap at home, so just got in my car and drove. Stupid car gave up on me though, and I ended up here.”
“Jackson called, and your car is ready whenever you are.”
“Wow, that was quick.”
“Yeah, if you ever need anything done quickly, Jackson’s your man. He has a lot of sway around here.”
“Right, well I’ll keep that in mind.” I smiled, and moved on to the fruit that Jasmine had popped on to the tray. She regarded me with a delighted look, as if ecstatic that I was enjoying the food she had prepared and clearly intended to scoff the lot.
“That soup was amazing, thank you so much.” Seriously, the way her eyes lit up, it was like I’d given her the best compliment in the world or something.
“It’s no problem! I understand you want to spend some time alone, but if you do fancy eating with us later we have dinner about 7pm. You are more than welcome to join us.”
As she left, she turned to me and said simply "the behaviour of others does not define our worth, nor is it evidence of it" before softly closing the door and leaving me to disappear back into my world of personal self-torture.
I didn’t end up joining anyone for dinner, which I did feel quite bad about afterwards. Jasmine popped up again with another tray of food, and by the end of the night I was getting bored of my own moping. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much my life had changed in such a short period of time. I thought I had had everything figured out, and that I knew exactly where I would be in five years’ time. Turns out that sometimes when you think everything is going perfectly, that’s when fate decides to kick you really hard in the balls. I had managed to stay pretty positive recently, but it seemed like the events of the previous couple of days had hit me pretty hard, and all I could think about was how shit everything was. By nine o’clock, I was already getting ready to go back to sleep, and just hoped that I felt more like myself in the morning. The parting words from Jasmine floated into my mind, and feeling like I had been hugged by a sister, I switched off the bedside light.
I woke up to the sound of the alarm on my phone at 7am, to find a pair of bright blue eyes staring right at me. Jumping up disorientated and confused, I rubbed my eyes and tried to remember where I was, looking around the room to try and get my bearings. Recent events came crashing back and I laid down and tried to get back in a comfortable position. It’s only then that I remember I wasn’t alone in the room, and I looked toward the foot of the bed where a child sat, just staring at me and smiling. The girl was tiny, looking no older than 5, with curly blonde hair and angelic features.
“Erm, hello.” I said, whilst keeping the sheets held firmly to my body as I remember I was only wearing my underwear, and my clothes were still all the way on the other side of the room.
“What’s your name?” I asked her, when her smile became slightly unnerving.
“My names Annabelle.” She said in a sweet voice, before clamouring up the bed to sit cross-legged next to me. Reaching over, she placed her tiny hand against my cheek and smiled a toothy grin, which I couldn’t help but return.
“You’re a pretty human.”
I laughed and her smile widened. “Not as pretty a human as you, though.”
“I’m not a human!” She shouted, before giggling and running out of the door. I followed slowly, feeling bemused by the child as I grabbed my clothes from the day before and threw them on. I debated with myself whether to have my shower first, but the thought of eating some food took over all other thoughts and my tummy rumbled in response. I had woken feeling a positivity which seemed to be non-existent yesterday, and felt a strength which seemed to go through my whole body. Just because my ex-husband had been a total prick, didn’t mean than my life was ruined. In fact, it was even more reason to get out and do something for myself. I wasn’t going to wallow, because then he had won. No, super-strong and positive Laura began from today! As I turned to leave the room, Jasmine rushed in looking scared and when I smiled at her she slumped as if in relief.
“I’m so sorry about my daughter.” She said, as I looked at her in confusion.
“The young girl, who is far too curious for her own good. My daughter is unfortunately very skilled at vanishing and when she found out we had a visitor staying, she just had to come and see you. I do hope she wasn’t too intrusive?”
I laughed and waved my hand. “Oh no! She’s a very sweet girl, she made me laugh. Did give me a bit of a fright to wake up to her small face hovering over me though.”
Jasmine laughed and it just made her look even more beautiful. “I can imagine. You look brighter today and I’m glad. Breakfast is ready whenever you are.”
Remarking mentally at how much more positive I felt, I replied, “Oh, fab! I’ll just follow you down.”
Jasmine led the way and before I knew it, I was sat down at a large dining table, tucking in to the best cooked breakfast I had ever had. Bacon, eggs, toast, beans and even more bacon!
Seriously, I always said that if I was ever given a choice between giving up sex or food it would be food every time, but after eating this I think I’ve changed my mind
. I wasn’t even embarrassed to grab seconds, and Jasmine looked elated at the way I was enjoying her food so I didn’t feel bad at all about scoffing it all in my face. Noah and Jasmine were also eating breakfast, with Annabelle sat down the end happily munching on some toast and joining in the conversation with random comments every now and then. She really was very sweet and I enjoyed just making small talk with the family, whilst we ate our breakfast.
“So, Laura. Where are you heading to?” Noah asked, tucking in to his bacon like a starving man in a desert.
“I don’t actually know. I don’t have anything tying me down, so I’m looking around for somewhere new to settle, lay down some roots. I must say I like the feel of the area around here, so I’m thinking about hanging around for a bit. I’m a freelance writer as my job, so I can take that with me everywhere I go too, which is useful.”
Jasmine and Noah’s smiles faded slightly and they gave each other a knowing look, before Annabelle piped up from the bottom of the table.
“Please stay pretty lady! I can show you my den in the garden, and we can play hide and seek and have so much fun!” She yells, her little legs swinging on the chair as she bounced up and down in excitement. Jasmine laughed, and the tension from a few moments ago seemed to disappear.
“It seems my daughter has taken a liking to you.”
“Well, somebody had to at some point.” I smiled, and offered to help the couple clear up, but they batted me away with their hands and told me that guests never do any cleaning, under any circumstances. I felt a bit bad leaving them to clear the table, so I walked towards Annabelle and sat down next to her, my heart warming at the excitement in her eyes.
Wow, this kid really does like me
“I’m curious about this new place. Do you fancy taking a walk and you can give me a tour?”
“YAY!” She hollered right in my ear, causing me to jump backwards and she hopped down from the table, running to ask her parent’s permission. After I assured them we would just be in the back garden, Annabelle grabbed her small backpack that was lying beside the back door, and marched out shouting for me to follow, clearly taking her role as tour guide seriously. Smiling, I hurried to do as I was told and followed her through the door.
After about ten minutes of me following Annabelle as she babbled non-stop about the cottage, her family and the woods, she led me to a section of trees, and demanded I crawl and follow her through the bushes. As I followed her, I noticed the way the surrounding trees and the sunshine offered me a sense of peace, and I breathed in the fresh air that only came when leaving the hustle and bustle of the city. She led me to a small area, under a canopy of trees full of everything to make a perfect den. There were pink blankets on the floor, with sweets in a small pink mug and battery operated fairy lights twinkling very faintly in the daylight. I knew that during the night time, they would look pretty special. I smiled as I noticed a distinct theme running through the den, and Annabelle settled on to a blanket before gesturing for me to sit next to her.
“So, you like the colour pink, huh?” I asked her, and she started pulling two juices from her backpack and handed me one, with a wide smile.
“Pink’s my favourite! What’s your favourite colour?”
“Hmm, I’d have to go with pink too.”
“Yay! We can be sisters!” She jumped up and wrapped her arms around me, squeezing me tightly before sitting back down and humming quietly, sipping on her juice as if nothing had happened.
I swallowed, trying to get rid of the lump in my throat as the small gesture from a sweet child left me feeling emotional. I’d always wanted children, and I’d just presumed that after Craig and I had got married, that it would be the next natural step in our relationship. I had no idea why Annabella had taken such a liking to me, but if she wanted me to hang out and be her sister for a short time, then I was more than happy to oblige. Spending time with a child can make you forget all about your problems, as you get immersed in a world of innocence and imagination.
“So, do your parents know about your secret den?”
“Oh, yes! Daddy found me here one day when I was playing hide and seek. I told him I wanted a princess den, and he brought the blankets and the lights that twinkle!”
“I’m so jealous, I would have loved a den like this as a child.”
“It’s okay. You can share mine!” She smiled, and we sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes before I heard movement in the trees around us. Thinking it was probably her parents coming to see her, I didn’t feel particularly worried, until I saw a pair of brown, unfamiliar eyes looking through the trees and staring right at us. I tried not to draw attention to us, but Annabelle noticed the man at the same time, and jumped up running towards him. I jumped up too and followed after her, shouting at her to come back, terrified that she was walking in to danger and I wouldn’t be able to protect her.
“Ethan!” She shouted, before she jumped up in to the outstretched arms of a young man, wearing the biggest smile I had ever seen. He was extremely tall, covered in tattoos and wearing jeans and a t-shirt which showed off his amazing body, which I couldn’t help but stare at. Honestly, they must be putting something in the water here, because all of the men I’d seen so far had been extremely good looking. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I saw that Annabelle knew the man, and slowed my pace as I walked towards them.
“Hey, pickle!” He shouted, before throwing her in the air gently, and catching her as her wonderful giggles carried through the air. The man noticed me, and smiled again whilst holding out his left hand for me to shake, at the same time as carrying Annabelle on his right arm. It was when he held his hand out, that I spotted the tiny paw print tattoo on his hand, and I remembered what Jackson had said the night before. This man was clearly one of his, but I still had no idea what they did. Were they police officers?
“I’m Ethan. It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m Laura. I’m so glad Annabelle knows you, my heart just about stopped back then when I thought a stranger was snooping in the woods.”
“Hmm, it’s good you keep your wits about you, there are some unsavoury characters around here sometimes. I didn’t mean to frighten you though, I’m one of Jackson’s enforcers and was patrolling in the area and heard this little one’s giggles through the trees. I was going to make sure she was safe, and it turns out she is. Are you new to the area?”
I was about to question what he meant by being Jackson’s enforcer and patrolling the area, when Annabelle wriggled until Ethan placed her on the floor, ruffling her hair as he did it. She ran to me, and grabbed my hand, smiling up at me as if I was her new favourite aunt.
“This is my new friend! She’s staying here forever, aren’t you?” She looked up at me, and I felt really bad at the thought of breaking the poor kid’s heart.