So much time has passed since my latest blog post, mainly because I have been working so hard tweaking Star Shower. At times when I’ve felt like progress was slow, my mum (also manager, editor and publisher!) has given me some motivational talks, which have spurred me on to work even harder than usual to get the book complete and ready for the Christmas markets.
It was last weekend that I managed to pass a massive milestone: the halfway mark of the process, meaning I now have half a book that’s entirely complete, ready for publication at the end of November—crazy!
In recent weeks, I have prioritised the completion of Star Shower over pretty much everything else, spending my mornings weaving Charlie’s story and working late into the night to complete this book—burning the midnight oil! Although I couldn’t be happier with how The Friendship Flame turned out, Star Shower is a different story altogether (no pun intended!): I am even more determined to get it out by the end of 2015—one of my resolutions from the beginning of the year—and to allow my reading audience to get to know Charlie.
To celebrate the progress made, I see it is as only fitting to share a preview of the book so far. Below is Chapter 1, which is also featured at the end of The Friendship Flame as bonus material. It is my hope you will find yourself drawn into the beauty of Charlie and her world…
I look forward to feedback from my readers—your support means more than I can ever communicate!
Star Shower: Chapter 1
The air is cool and welcoming as it brushes its autumn fingers against my warm cheek, causing me and the surrounding branches to shudder. The atmosphere is calm, peaceful and tranquil. The only sounds are the birds’ song, which echoes and hums across the early morning sky, my gentle, steadied breathing, and the scraping sound of my pencil against the once-plain surface. I breathe in deeply, consciously surrounding myself with harmony.
Slowly but surely, the drawing is coming together. The night sky is clear and sprinkled with stars, all glistening a blinding white against the shadowy surface. Guiding my hand across the sheet of paper, the pencil shades in the skies; the areas around the glimmering gems in the sky a light, silvery grey shade, a stark contrast to the almost black edges.
Naturally, when drawing the stars, I think of my mother. The thought of her causes a pull at my chest, a tug at my heart string. The starlight makes me imagine her; twirling around the living room, laughing as she embraces me, pulling me into her spiral—her dance of happiness. She used to come up here, too, to the red maple. She grew it herself, from being just a seedling—her and the tree both—and tended to it with the mothering nature I remember too well. Resting between the treetops now, almost eight years since I last saw her, I can almost feel her soul, sitting next to me and staring upwards as dawn creeps over the horizon, the sunrise bleeding into the sky in pink, orange and scarlet.
My sheet of paper is exactly how I wanted it to be. It portrays last night’s sky, one of those clear nights where the world is there for the taking; spread out before your eyes, with endless possibilities. It holds mystery and perfection.
I feel connected to the stars in a strange, other-worldly way, like they’re a part of me, a part of her, almost as much as the drawing.
Drawing is therapy to me, a security and way of achieving contentment. If I hadn’t had that during those difficult times, I can hardly imagine where I’d be now.
Torn away from my peaceful state of mind, I can hear Indie calling me inside, telling me it’s time to help with breakfast. My big sister is one of the most disciplined people I know: always working hard at being the perfect sister, granddaughter and role model, and always distracted with one job or another. She currently works part-time at a café, Saturday nights as a babysitter, and otherwise has adopted a full-time housewife-/parent-like role. Now that Mum isn’t here and Gran is getting older and weaker, Indie feels like it is her place to take care of the family.
Although I hate it, I realise that Indie needs the most support she can get, which includes me helping with chores. But when you’re a daydreamer and all you can think about is drawing or doing something else equally creative, this can be one of the worst things imaginable. I yearn to be free to explore and to run and to be free, not tied to a house or its kitchen sink.
Reluctant, I swing down from my maple, pencil and paper in hand, following my sister up the pebbled path. Indie eyes the sheet as I approach.
‘What have you been drawing, Charlie?’ she asks, walking towards me up the pebbled driveway.
For years now, Indie has tried to get me to act like the average sixteen year old; up until recently, she has been dead-set on sparking an interest in makeup and clothes and boys, but I couldn’t be less interested in any of those things. Thankfully, now, she seems to be more accepting of art as my chosen career path, and has even been trying to pay an interest.
‘Last night’s sky,’ I shrug, kicking my boots off and leaving them by the back door as I follow Indie into the warmth of the kitchen. ‘It was beautiful last night. Really clear. You could see all the stars.’
Indie rolls her eyes, much to my annoyance.
‘You and those stars,’ she mutters, loud enough for me to hear. ‘Honestly, I really don’t understand what you find so interesting about them.’
‘I don’t know either,’ I admit, trying not to feel offended by my sister’s usual critique. She doesn’t mean to hurt me; she’s just used to speaking her mind, offering her opinion—and most of the time does not in not so subtle ways. ‘I just think they’re really pretty.’
‘Right,’ Indie says slowly. ‘Anyway, do you fancy popping some crumpets under the grill?’
I nod, and start rummaging through the breadbin. Whilst they’re warming, I lean against the surface, waiting for them to turn a crisp golden-brown on top, and reflect on the sky from last night; so cloudless and tranquil, filled with wonder. My mind replays the countless nights my mother and I would just sit at my window seat, staring out of the thin pane of glass to the sky beyond, filled with gleaming, radiant stars. She would point out the constellations, the pictures in the sky, which would fill me with an excitement and sense of wonder that, from the moment it was sparked, never seemed to dissipate.
‘Charlie! You’re a disaster! Get the crumpets out!’
Snapped out of my trance by my sister’s yelps, I hastily yank open the oven door, to be greeted by black smoke and the smell of burning. I pull the now-black crumpets out from under the grill, slamming the door and switching it off at the wall. I chuck them into the bin whilst Indie, hassled and stressed, pushes the back door open, wafting the smoke outside with a tea towel.
‘Honestly, Charlie!’ she frets. ‘Crumpets! How can anyone burn crumpets?’ She coughs into her sleeve and shoots me an annoyed look, but I know my sister, and I can see the hint of an amused smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, a sign she isn’t too mad. She sighs dramatically, throwing the tea towel back onto the surface and slamming the back door shut. ‘Right, I’ll warm the crumpets. You do the drinks—if you think you can manage that without burning the house down!’
Indie rolls her eyes again, something she’s been doing a lot lately, and takes the last of the crumpets out of the packet, turns the grill back on and carefully places them under the heat. I turn on the coffee machine for Indie, and pour some fruit juice into a cup for me, doing the same for Gran and Fern.
Indie inspects a nail while she waits for the crumpets to cook. Although she’s wearing a dirty apron, her hair is pulled back into a messy bun and she’s wearing no makeup, my sister is still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Her hair is silky smooth, dark, and naturally wavy. Her eyes a deep, seductive brown, framed by long black eyelashes and strong, arched eyebrows. She has big, pouty lips and a dark, sun-kissed complexion, no matter the time of year. Like our mother, she has the build of a bird; tall and thin, with a long, swan-like neck. She is stunning, and anyone we have ever met agrees. Fern is similar, her hair dark and wavy, her eyes deep brown, and her complexion the same golden bronze. Just by looking at them, it’s evident they’re siblings. They are both, without thought or intention, very elegant, and they glide across the room, whilst also being very quick and witty. Understandably, they are showered with compliments wherever they go, and are always the first ones everyone notices.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. My hair long and blonde, my eyes blue, and my complexion ivory. I don’t care much for my appearance, preferring to stay comfortable than impress others with makeup, clothes or accessories. In contrast to my sisters’ elegant walk, I have an awkward half-run, half-walk stumble, something I absolutely hate but that cannot be changed. Compared to my dark, striking siblings, I am the black sheep.
I take the teacup from under the coffee machine, now filled with freshly brewed coffee. I’ve never understood people’s obsession with caffeine; how it makes your heart race, upsets your stomach, shocks you into waking up. I place the cups of juice and Indie’s coffee on the table, four in total for the family, and then I head upstairs to wake Fern and Gran. Pleased to escape from the heat of the kitchen, even just for a few minutes, I race upstairs and go into my little sister’s room first.
In sleep, my sister looks like a dark angel or an exquisite mermaid. Her hair, dark and silky, is spread across her mint green pillow, fanned across the fabric like it was deliberately set like that. The sun is beginning to leak through her closed curtains, illuminating her face, making her golden skin glow. I begin to tickle her cheek, tracing swirls and patterns in and around her freckles, kissing her forehead.
Somehow, I feel closer to my little sister than to anyone else I have in my life—even Gran. Fern is my little rock, my little starlight, and is incredibly intelligent and mature for a seven year old. We have had long conversations on so many different things, enjoyed challenging debates and discussions… But we haven’t told her the secret.
I hate to feel like I’m keeping something from her—it feels like a betrayal when she pours her soul out for me to see, wears her heart on her sleeve—but she wouldn’t understand.
Fern begins to stir, her breathing quickening at the touch of my kisses.
‘Wakey wakey, sleeping beauty,’ I murmur into her hair, breathing her in. She still has that little hint of baby smell, which takes me back to when her hand was half the size of my own, when she looked up at me with those huge brown eyes as I fed her. She’s grown so fast, grown into a beautiful little lady. I couldn’t be prouder to be her sister.
Slowly, her eyes flutter open, and when she sees me standing there, she smiles wide and brightly, her face lighting up.
‘Morning, beautiful lady,’ I say, kissing her forehead again.
She smiles. ‘Morning.’ She sits up in bed, stretching her arms and wiping the sleep from her eyes. She looks up at me with so much love, I could burst. I may not have a particularly mothering nature, but I adore children. I just love their innocence, their optimism, how everything is magical and filled with wonder and love. They don’t understand suffering—they’ve never seen it and don’t know what it is—and where Fern is concerned, I’m so glad that’s the case. I want to keep her from ever knowing.
Fern comes over to me and plonks herself in my lap, leaning her head against my chest, staring out of her window. I begin twisting my fingers through her hair, running my hands through the curls. Her hair is like exotic vines, twisting in complicated patterns down her back, winding and snaking all the way down to her bottom. It’s beautiful and silk perfection. Unquestionably, it is one of Fern’s most striking features. With a bobble on my wrist, I messily tie her hair into a ponytail, creating a gap above the bobble and flipping it through. This is our morning ritual; our routine. I kiss her on the cheek, and she jumps down from my lap, scurrying downstairs, wanting to explore what’s for breakfast.
Watching her pad out of the room and downstairs, I feel my heart erupt with what I would assume is the kind of love a mother would feel for her child. I feel so protective of her, like she is mine, my responsibility, mine to love and keep safe and happy. I wonder if this is how Indie feels about all of us; she must care for us as if we are her own, even though there’s only a three-year age gap between Indie and I.
With these thoughts in mind, I tread into Gran’s room, gently knocking on the door and letting myself in. She is facing me, fast asleep in her bed.
My grandmother fancies herself invincible, assuring us all that she’s a tough cookie, despite the tell-tale lines on her face that portray her seventy-one years and the endless suffering she has endured. Her inability to get out of bed only stresses this further, and it makes my chest ache when I have to see the frowns of embarrassment marking her forehead as she attempts something physical but, to her dismay, fails. She has, and always will be, a fiercely independent woman, promising everyone that she’s perfectly fine on her own. I wonder whether she honestly believes that now, whether it’s still true or whether she just tries to convince us. Maybe for her own sake she doesn’t want to face up to the realisation that, yes, once upon a time she was perfectly fine alone, but now, and for the last seven years, her broken heart has weighed her down and made life unbearable.
I reflect on the days when I was younger, when I still had a mother, when every other day we would go to Gran’s. She would bake pastries and cakes, every type and flavour you could imagine, and Indie and I would dance around the kitchen as the oven worked it magic, baking whatever we were making that time. We would spin around until the room was a confusing mix of colours, comparable to my colourful canvases; decorated with the help of a fan brush and a blend of colours, arranged in an eclectic array of rainbow boldness.
Cautiously, I tiptoe towards my sleeping grandmother. I take her hand in mine, and gently kiss it, realising quite how thin and frail she is and immediately waking her up. Gran is a light sleeper, just like me, so it doesn’t take much to rouse her in the morning.
Her grey eyes are water-filled and glazed, still filled with sleep. She lifts her arm and wipes them, smiling at me. ‘Good morning, flower,’ she says warmly, smiling up at me.
My grandmother has called me ‘flower’ for as long as I can remember. She tells me that, when my mother gave birth to me, I reminded her of a flower with my bud-like lips and rose complexion. She says Mum should have given me a flower name, perhaps Fleur or Lily. I, on the other hand, think those names are far too delicate for someone so clumsy and lacking in grace. For me, Charlie, an abbreviation of the ever-so-feminine Charlotte, works just fine.
‘Morning, Gran,’ I respond, placing my hand at her back, the other holding her stomach, giving her all the support I can as I help lift her into a sitting position.
‘It must be such a burden to you,’ Gran comments, as she does each morning, ‘to have to do this every day. You do know that I could do such simple things myself.’
I smile sadly, looking anywhere but in my grandmother’s grey eyes. Sometimes, I wish she wouldn’t put on such a brave face. Does she know she doesn’t always have to be so strong? I want to tell her it’s okay to need a little help. ‘You’re not a spring chicken anymore, Gran, remember?’ I joke, holding her ankles as she tries to swing them over the side of the bed.
Gran laughs. ‘All too well, my dear. All too well. But don’t underestimate me, young lady. I’m still as capable as when I was your age, you understand!’
‘Well, even so, I’m still going to help you down the stairs.’
Gran is now stood up, gripping onto my shoulder for support. Slowly and carefully, we shuffle along the floor and begin making our way down the stairs, Gran nearly slipping on the wooden floorboard every now and then, clutching onto me until her knuckles go whiter than I thought possible. Eventually, we make it to the kitchen, where Indie and Fern are seated, delicious-looking golden-brown crumpets on plates in front of each chair. I lower Gran into a chair and, within a few minutes, we’re all seated and eating.
Breakfast is, strangely, one of my favourite times of day: it’s something we only get to have together on Saturdays as, on weekdays, we all get up at different times, and on Sunday morning Indie gets back late from babysitting. On these rare occasions, though, the kitchen is filled with laughter, sarcasm and chatter. And as clichéd as it sounds, everyone shares their plans and ambitions for the day, a motivation to spur us all on for the day ahead. It’s encouraging—stimulating, even—to have such conversations first thing in the morning.
When every crumpet has been eaten and the conversation has died away, leaving in its place a satisfied, content silence, Indie rises from her chair and begins stacking the dishes in the sink and running some hot, soapy water. It’s then that we go our separate ways in the house: Gran wanders through to the living room, energised from the crumpets and less stiff now she is up and about, and proceeds to read the morning newspaper; Fern runs upstairs, telling us she is going to read her Harry Potter book, her current favourite series; and I help Indie by wiping the surfaces with a soaked sponge, my thoughts still side-tracked.
My sky drawing still rests on the surface, and I long to be adding to it, creating more depth and definition.
Indie, as if reading my thoughts, follows my gaze, resting her chocolate eyes on the drawing. ‘Go on then,’ she nods, ‘you can go.’
I whoop, throwing the sponge back into the sink and grabbing my drawing and pencil, racing upstairs and into my room. It’s here I begin to add the last few finishing touches; a thin slice of moon, a few more crystal gems, twinkling high up in the sky. I get lost in the drawing, the night sky so simple yet so meaningful, so special. Satisfied, I continue to shade until the image feels three-dimensional, like it could be touched if only I’d reach out.
A gentle knock at the door pulls me out of my spell. I slip off my platform bed and pad to the door, twisting the knob and pulling it open. There, standing in the doorway, is Fern, her Harry Potter book tucked under her arm.
‘I was lonely in my room,’ she tells me, walking through without needing to be asked. ‘I wanted to sit with you.’
‘Go ahead,’ I smile, sitting back on the bed to finish the drawing.
Fern sits herself down on my fluffy blue rug, her back to the wall. The bookmark peeking out of the paperback tells me she’s already past halfway, despite the fact she only started reading it yesterday. She never fails to amaze me. Fern is a vivid reader and gifted writer, leaving most of her teachers and friends in awe of her poems, descriptive writing and her ability to weave a story. This is something Indie has never understood. Indie has a mathematical brain, and prefers to challenge herself with figures and statistics, algebraic equations and chemical reactions, rather than with haiku poems and Shakespeare.
Fern glances up at me, her dark eyes melting me at the core. ‘Are you drawing something to go in your art gallery?’ she inquires, pointing a long, piano-finger at the paper on my lap.
My ‘art gallery’ is actually the spare room, which acts as a storage room for my endless creations. I nod, holding it up and viewing it from a distance. I turn it so Fern can see, and she tells me it’s beautiful. I can’t help smiling.
‘I can’t believe how quick you’re reading through that,’ I tell her, nodding to the closed book, now lay on the floor. ‘You whizz through these books like they’re short stories!’
Fern smiles. ‘I just love the magic!’ She picks up the book, looking up again a few moments later. ‘I’ve got all the books except the next…’ she tells me with a grin. ‘I would really like the next one for my birthday. But only if I’m a good girl.’ She giggles.
My throat closes up, and I feel like a stone has just become lodged in my chest. I have worked so hard at trying to hide my emotions from Fern whenever she mentions her birthday, but I find I can’t rid myself of the throbbing feeling I get in my chest whenever she raises the topic, despite my ability to control my facial expression.
Fixing a fake, bright smile on my face, I tell her I think I should see if she’s a good enough girl to have it. Excitement fills her little face and, oblivious, she looks back down at her book, gently turning the pages. Her eyebrows are furrowed and one corner of her lips is slightly downturned. I smile at seeing her so focused, concentration pulling her out of our reality. With dark chocolate curls falling across her face, and her flushed cheeks, I wonder how I could have ever blamed, never mind hated, the little angel sitting on my rug.
Leaving my drawing on the bed, I climb down and sit at my window seat, gazing outside at the early November morning. The trees are now bare, standing like grey skeletons, reaching out towards the sky, like they’re begging for warmth. Their leaves decorate the ground, covering the streets in orange and brown. It will soon be December, and it’s at this time of year that the temperature noticeably drops, the air growing chillier. Not for much longer will I be able to spend my mornings high up in the red maple tree, basking in the rays of the sun. Soon, the ground will be covered in frost, the air foggy, pain set to descend.
It will soon be the anniversary, and then, during the worst day of the year, I’ll have to paint on a fake smile and push aside the heart wrenching pain that will flood my soul. For those twenty-four hours, if I find myself wavering and wanting to cry, I will look to Fern and tell myself that, for her sake, the tears must not burst their banks and the show must go on.