Bella struggled from the quicksand of sleep as the alarm on her phone dragged her protesting mind to consciousness, the memory of a bad dream dissipating like wind-tossed smoke. Groaning, she reached out for the offending instrument of torture and silenced it, falling back against the pillow with a sigh.
She could feel her eyes desperately trying to close and knew that if she didn’t move immediately, she would fall back asleep and not wake until the day was half over, which wouldn’t do at all. She needed to get to the supermarket and stock up, in case the snow hung around or—God forbid—got worse. So, with the force of will which had carried her through art school whilst working at two jobs, she levered herself into a sitting position and threw off the covers.
The first thing she noted was that the heating was still on, which was a relief, because it meant there would be plenty of hot water.
The second thing she noticed was that her face felt like she’d been kicked in the head by a horse.
Easing herself out of bed, she plodded into the adjoining bathroom to examine the damage wrought by Jake. The sight which greeted her in the mirror made her want to cry. Too late, she realised she should have dabbed some witch-hazel on the bruises the night before, but hindsight was a smug bitch. The whole of her cheek, up around her eye, her eyelid and across the bridge of her nose was purple, with some magenta fading to a sulphurous yellow, edging the area where it disappeared into her hair line. The biggest 1960s-style sunglasses wouldn’t hide the fact that she’d been punched hard, and she cringed at the thought of a first meeting with any of her new neighbours in the village with such a mark on her face.
Sighing, she returned to the bedroom and rummaged in her bag for some ibuprofen, hoping that it would help with both the pain and the swelling, before returning to the bathroom to run a hot bath.
An hour later, bathed and dressed, with a judicious amount of foundation covering the worst of the bruise, she went downstairs. As she had hoped, the fire was still alive and giving off heat, so she set about clearing out the grate using a metal shovel and a large iron bucket. Setting the hot ashes aside to be emptied out later, she rebuilt the fire and knelt in front of it for a while as it caught, basking in the warmth.
She then got up to open the curtains and was a little shocked and concerned to see that it was snowing again. She went through to the front of the house and unlocked the front door, pulling it open to reveal a huge pile of snow over the car.
“Dammit to hell!” she muttered, closing the door quickly and running upstairs.
In his room, Edward had woken equally early, despite the unaccustomed warmth and comfort of his bed. Hearing Bella go downstairs, he rummaged in his duffle bag for his toothbrush and the small bar of soap he’d stowed there, and crossed the landing to the bathroom. Knowing he only had dirty clothes to wear, he decided against showering, much as he knew he needed it, but merely used the cheap soap to wash himself as thoroughly as possible, before brushing his teeth with cold water. He realised he would need to spend a little of his precious cash on some cheap toiletries, so he could shower later. By then, he hoped to be able to launder at least some of his clothes, thus providing him with something clean to wear.
He peered at himself in the mirror and rubbed a hand over the gold-flecked, auburn stubble that covered his jaw, his eyes drifting to the stud in his nose. Frowning, he decided it no longer fitted with the impression he wanted to make, and carefully removed it; the piercing would leave a mark, but he knew from experience that the hole wouldn’t take long to close up. Tanya had done it herself, with a sewing needle, when they were both stoned, and he had never particularly liked it, believing that it made him look a bit effeminate. He contemplated also removing the rings that laced his ear, but just then he was distracted by the sound of the front door slamming, and returned to his room to get dressed.
Stopping outside Edward’s room, Bella knocked rapidly on the door and then jumped back with a little shriek as it was immediately pulled open, revealing the man himself, dressed in the clothes he’d been wearing when she’d first seen him in the motorway café.
She had a few seconds to notice that, in the cold light of day, he looked unutterably hot, despite the dark shadows under his eyes and the gaunt hollowness of his features, which only served to accentuate his strong jaw and knife-blade cheekbones.
However, her perusal was short-lived, as his eyes widened and he stepped closer to her.
“Jesus Christ, Bella… your face!” Again, he raised his hand as if to touch her, before once more dropping it to his side without making contact.
Bella waved her hand dismissively, annoyed that her make-up was clearly doing such a poor job. “It’s not that bad, don’t worry about it.”
“Bella, you should probably go to A&E*, your cheekbone could be fractured.”
He looked at her sternly, and Bella got the very definite impression that he might know what he was talking about. But she had no time for that now.
“I doubt I could get to an A&E, as the nearest hospital with emergency facilities is probably in Cheltenham… and if you look out the window you’ll see that we may have trouble even getting out the drive.”
She pointed back into his room, which overlooked the front of the house, and then walked past him to the window. He joined her there, looking out over the seemingly endless swathe of white blanketing the landscape. It had to be said that it was an absolutely stunning view, with the church spire in the distance, but he had to agree with her that getting to the village would be a challenge, let alone driving to the city.
Bella turned, tapping him on the arm. “Come on, we need to try and get down to the village now before it gets any worse—and before the shops get cleaned out.”
She walked quickly out of the room and down the stairs, leaving him to follow in her wake.
Half an hour later, Bella and Edward were trudging across the snow-packed car park of the main supermarket, on the edge of the village. Yet again, Bella had cause to give thanks for the Land Rover. It had been a perilous and slippery ride, taking more than twice as long as it should. Before they had even got in the car, they’d had to dig out the driveway so they could open the gates. She had been terrified all the way here that she would lose control and run off the road or hit a parked car—several of which were barely visible under their snowy tarpaulins.
Before leaving the house, Bella had scoured the utility room, shouting in triumph when she had found several old pairs of wellington boots*. Going to one of her suitcases, she had dug out four pairs of socks and handed two pairs to Edward.
“They’ll be too small, but just put one pair over the other and roll them over at the ankle, then put your own socks over them. That way, at least you’ll have a few layers round your feet inside the boots. There’s a pair here that are a size twelve—will they fit you?”
He took the socks and the proffered boots and did as she suggested. He then pushed his feet into the boots, which were still crusted with mud from God knows when. With a hard yank, he managed to get them on, stamping his feet and then grinning up at Bella.
“They’re a bit tight, but I reckon they’ll be better than my trainers.”
Bella snorted. “Edward, my bloody slippers would be better than your trainers!”
She could have kicked herself when she saw his smile fade, to be replaced with a look of embarrassed acknowledgement.
“Hey, come on, we’ve got a lot of work to do before we can get the car out of the drive.” She patted his arm gently and walked away.
But now they had made it, and, because it was barely gone eight o’clock on a Saturday morning, there were very few cars which had ventured out. Bella surmised that most people, warned ahead of time about the snow, would have done their big shop the evening before, so wouldn’t have quite such an urgent need to come back out in such inhospitable conditions.
They got inside and Bella suggested they get a shopping trolley each, as they would need a lot of stuff.
Edward looked at her askance, frowning. “This weather isn’t going to last that long, surely? And it’s only for one person.”
Bella sighed. “Edward, first of all, we have no idea how bad this snow is going to get—it’s coming down harder all the time. Secondly, there’s no way I can take you to Bristol, and you have no other means of getting there if I don’t take you. So, thirdly, you’re going to be staying with me for a few days, at least, and we need to stock up on everything! Now, stop wasting time. We have to get what we need and get out of here quickly, before it becomes impossible to get home again. Okay?”
Edward nodded slowly. She was right of course, but he couldn’t help but feel he was being an unnecessary burden. Plus, of course, he hardly had any money and had no idea how much she intended to spend—but it sounded like a lot. He would have to give her the whole fifteen quid, which would leave him with nothing, and no prospect of getting any more. He was a little desperate for a smoke, and had wanted to buy some rolling tobacco, but he just couldn’t justify if now. Plus, he didn’t want to smoke inside the house, and he really didn’t fancy the idea of going outside for a ciggie in this weather.
Oh well, I s’pose now’s as good a time as any to give up!
“Edward, come on!” Bella called from ahead of him, and he reluctantly followed her into the store.
He found himself watching with ill-concealed gloom, as Bella piled the two trolleys high with food, drinks, cleaning stuff and all manner of things which it would never occur to him to buy—like firelighters, matches, candles, stacks of batteries… he couldn’t keep track.
However, when she picked up a pair of trainers and asked him what size he took, he had to put his foot down.
“Bella, you are not buying me trainers. Put them back.”
She did as he asked, but then rounded on him, hands on hips, a peculiarly determined look on her face—one he would get to know well in the coming days.
“Now you listen to me, Edward… whatever your name is—at some point you, no doubt, are going to try and get to Bristol. Winter has come early, and this could be it until next spring, and you are woefully unprepared. You may not have any money at the moment, but I’m sure you have every intention of at least trying to get some work and make your own way in life—that’s clear from your determined, if misguided, attempt to leave London when a blizzard was brewing. I’ve been poor and it’s shit. But now I have some money of my own, for the first time in my life, and bugger-all to spend it on. I was given that house down the road, and my bank account grows at such an alarming rate, my accountant has made me appoint financial advisors… financial fucking advisors, Edward!
“So, if I want to spend thirty quid of my own money on a pair of cheap shoes for someone in need, then I’m bloody well going to do it. I’m also going to buy you some jeans that don’t look like they’re going to fall off you, and some t-shirts and underwear, so you can put your clothes in the washing machine without having to walk around naked…”
Bella suddenly stopped talking, blushing furiously, and Edward, who had just been standing there, mouth agape, felt a smirk pull at the corner of his mouth.
“No, Edward, let me finish,” she demanded, although it was clear she was a little flustered.
Oh, God, stop thinking about him naked… dammit!
“Um, yes, so as I was saying, you need clothes, yours are a disgrace. And I know you can’t help it, so there’s nothing to be ashamed about, but won’t you please let me help you… because it’s just a drop in the ocean for me, and it’s… well, it’s obviously a lot for you… and I don’t mean to put you down or anything, because I know you’ll pay me back when you can… but…”
She finally ran out of steam, looking up as Edward stepped closer to her.
“Hey, it’s okay, I get it. And thanks… I… well, yeah, thanks.” He looked at her and then down at his feet, not sure what else to say.
Inhaling deeply, Bella shuffled her feet and clasped her hands together. “Yeah, you’re welcome. So, let’s, uh, get done here and get home. I’m starving. Now, tell me again, what size shoe do you take?”
“Size eleven… and it’s Masen,” he responded quietly.
Bella looked at him, a confused look on her face.
“You said, ‘Edward whatever your name is’… well, it’s Edward Masen.”
Bella nodded and smiled at him. “Pleased to meet you, Edward Masen.”
After that, they finished quite quickly, although Edward tried hard not to think about the amount of clothing she was buying for him, which included a really nice, fleece-lined coat.
At the check-out, he watched, aghast, when the total rang up, but Bella didn’t turn a hair, merely handing over a silver credit card and punching in her PIN number. He dug in his pocket and pulled out his fifteen pounds, holding it out to her.
“What’s this?” she asked, frowning at the money.
“It’s all I’ve got. I’m sorry it’s not much, but it will at least cover some of the food.”
Bella sighed. She knew it would hurt Edward’s pride if she refused, but, at the same time, she didn’t want to leave him with nothing. In reality, it didn’t even come close to paying for any of the food or clothing she’d bought, but she realised it was important to him that she not see him as a beggar or parasite. It was a gesture that only further enhanced her opinion of him. She reached out and plucked the two notes from his hand and tucked them into the front pocket of her jeans. She was rewarded with a grateful smile, which told her she’d done the right thing. However, she fully intended to find a way to not only give him back his money, but get him to accept some kind of additional financial assistance before he left her.
Minutes later, they were carefully pushing the trolleys across the car park, which had been cleared somewhat since they arrived, and loading up the back of the car.
Before heading home, Bella decided to brave the weather to make one last stop, knowing that it would be important, especially if they got snowed in. Half way down the almost empty High Street, she found what she was looking for and pulled in. Telling Edward to stay in the car, she ran into the phone shop and, fifteen minutes later, returned with two new phones in a carrier bag. She needed a phone with a new number, and she wanted Edward to have a phone as well. She was aware he would baulk at the expensive gift, but was determined to persuade him it was a necessity. She justified her extravagance by telling herself that it would allow her to keep in touch with him when he left, thus ensuring he paid her back.
It was now obvious that the snow wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, and despite the early hour, the dark sky cast a pall over the village which made it seem more like early evening. With the clouds thickening and the snow coming down ever harder, they were more than relieved when they finally made it back to the cottage.
Once they had carried their booty inside the house—taking two trips to manhandle all the bags indoors—they pretty much battened down the hatches and got ready to wait out the weather. It seemed that they had made it back just in time, with visibility dropping to little more than a few feet as the white-out enveloped the area and made further travel virtually impossible. Once all the shopping had been stowed away, Bella built up the fire again and turned on the television, where reports of road closures, traffic accidents and other weather-related emergencies dominated the news.
It was clear that neither she nor Edward would be going anywhere, anytime soon.
Bella was somewhat surprised to discover that she was not just relieved, but also… happy that Edward would have to stay put, at least for the time being.
Knowing that they now had sufficient food to keep them going for the next few days, Bella decided to take inventory of their fuel supplies. The central heating was gas-fired, but she knew the area was prone to electricity black-outs, which would knock out the timer and prevent ignition, so they needed to check what other heating, lighting and cooking resources they had. The hob and cooker were electric, and in the event of a power cut there would be no microwave either. However, the fire in the living room had hooks for cooking pots, and she discovered some old-style cast iron pans, that would be ideal for that purpose, in the large walk-in pantry off the kitchen. Indeed, the pantry, which Bella hadn’t particularly noticed on previous visits, proved to be something of a treasure trove in terms of their current situation. Aside from a large stash of candles, to which Bella added those she’d bought that day, there were four hurricane lamps with lamp oil, a couple of heavy-duty torches and several jumbo boxes of matches.
The biggest surprise, though, was the stockpile of jars and tinned food which she found right at the back of the pantry. Dozens of tins of soup, cured meat, fruits and vegetables, plus an array of jars of home-made jams, pickles, chutneys and preserved fruit. It was as if her grandmother had been expecting nuclear Armageddon and had taken steps to ensure that, if nothing else, she wouldn’t starve to death. In addition to the tins and jars, there was dried milk, egg and fruit, as well as flour for baking.
Calling Edward, she frowned when he didn’t respond. Leaving the pantry, she went looking for him, finding him in the basement.
“Over here,” came his disembodied voice, and she walked towards the other end of the basement where the light from the overhead bulb barely reached.
“Look!” he exclaimed, holding open a door at the back of the room.
“Oh my God, it’s coal!” she gasped.
“Yeah, like a ton of it! There must be enough here to keep all the fires in the house going for a year.” Edward grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the coal cellar, going deeper into the basement.
“And look at all this,” he said, directing the torch beam across the end wall, which appeared to be lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves. On the shelves were dozens more cans and jars of food, similar to those she’d found in the pantry. However, unlike in the pantry, there was also a large wine rack, which was full of bottles—Bella guessed there must be at least thirty.
She laughed, drawing a curious look from Edward, and she explained her own findings upstairs. They both grinned at one another when they realised that, even in the unlikely event that it snowed for a month, they would neither starve nor freeze to death.
They headed back upstairs, where Edward retrieved the large coal bucket from beside the fireplace and went back down to the basement to fill it. Bella was hugely relieved about the coal, as she knew that if they’d had to rely on just the logs, they would burn through them really quickly. Now, though, not only would the coal last longer, it would give off a lot more heat, and they could have fires in the bedrooms if the power went out.
Once the fire was built up, she went into the kitchen to prepare a late breakfast, whilst Edward took the bags of clothes she had bought to his room.
Upstairs, he emptied the contents on the bed and stared at Bella’s purchases with something akin to horror. She had obviously been throwing stuff in willy-nilly without him realising. He couldn’t believe the amount she had bought—he was never going to be able to pay her back.
Apart from the trainers, parka and multiple t-shirts, there were two pairs of jeans, in black and indigo, a smart pair of black trousers, a couple of shirts, one white, one black, and a pair of black leather shoes; there were packs of boxer briefs, socks, and two pairs of sweat pants, in black and in navy; there was a pair of leather, fur-lined slippers and a knee-length robe in soft white terry cloth; there were two thick woollen sweaters, one a cream Aran with a shawl collar, and the other a dark green v-neck; and finally, there were two black woollen beanie hats, a black woollen scarf and two pairs of warm, leather gloves. He didn’t think he’d ever owned so many clothes in his entire life.
Edward pushed both hands through his hair as he regarded the fruits of Bella’s extraordinary largesse. Apart from the cost, how the hell was he supposed to take all this stuff with him when he left? Where would he put it all? He couldn’t burden himself with a suitcase, or even a large holdall, because if he ended up back on the streets—which was a very real possibility—it would just weigh him down, and probably end up getting stolen.
He shook his head, knowing that he would have to leave most of it behind, and wondering how he would ever repay her.
But the clothes were here and he couldn’t deny it would be good to wear something decent—and clean—for a change. He was soon enough going to be struggling at the arse-end of society, so he might as well make the most of all the luxuries that were currently at his disposal. Stripping off his shabby clothes, he put on the robe, which was soft and cosy against his skin, and went across to the bathroom. Closing the door behind him, he looked around and then shook his head in disbelief. Filling the shelf over the sink were a razor, shaving foam, toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant. When he opened the shower door, he saw shampoo, conditioner and body wash, together with one of those weird, round netty balls he’d seen in girls’ bathrooms.
He turned the water on and it quickly ran hot, filling the bathroom with steam. Stepping under the powerful stream of water, he revelled in the heat and luxury of just standing in a clean shower stall with plenty of hot water. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to do this, and for a moment he allowed himself the indulgence of simply letting the steaming water cascade down over his skin.
He squeezed some shower gel onto the net ball and watched in amazement as it quickly foamed up. Rubbing it experimentally down his arm, he had to admit it felt good on his skin and he set about scrubbing himself clean, before washing his hair and rinsing off. Stepping out of the shower, he wiped the steam off the mirror and examined himself. The cheap, non-permanent dye in his hair was quickly fading, his own coppery tones showing through, with a couple of inches of auburn at the roots. Sighing, he knew there was little he could do about it right at that moment, and started running hot water into the basin in order to give himself a much needed shave.
Back in his room, he put on the new, dark-wash jeans, along with a white t-shirt and a thick pair of socks. He then pulled the cream Aran sweater over his head and smoothed it down. One of the sliding wardrobe doors was mirrored and he looked at himself critically. He was a little underweight, he knew, and the jeans hung a bit loose on his hips, but the thick jumper fitted well over his broad shoulders, at the same time masking his lack of body mass, and he didn’t feel like such a scarecrow as normal. Digging out a hair tie from the pocket of his leather jacket, he pulled his long hair back and secured it at the nape of his neck. He studied himself for several more minutes and then, satisfied, he left the room and headed downstairs, where he could hear Bella in the kitchen.
Strolling in, he watched her for a moment from just inside the door, until she glanced up and smiled at him. God, she had a beautiful smile, even with her face all fucked-up like it was.
“Hey, you look great—does everything fit? Oh, I just realised… you took out your nose-stud!”
She was amazed at the transformation which a shower and clean clothes had wrought upon the young man before her. In particular, she was taken aback, once again, at just how handsome he was, now that he’d shaved—just as she’d suspected, he had a jaw you could cut glass with, and the sight did strange things to her.
“Yeah, I was bored with it. I’m not even sure why I got it, ‘cause it was always a complete pain to take out and put back in.”
She nodded, but didn’t comment, returning her attention to the pine-topped island, where she was chopping mushrooms. He walked over to her side, reaching out to still her hand, forcing her to look up at him again.
“Bella, it’s too much.”
She frowned. “What’s too much?”
“The clothes, Bella, you shouldn’t have bought all that stuff. I mean, I really appreciate your kindness, but I can’t possibly take all that stuff with me, and it’s going to take me forever to pay you back.”
Bella pulled her hand from where Edward’s still rested on top of it. Straightening, she crossed her arms over her chest and eyed him irritably.
“Take it or don’t take it, it makes no difference to me. But whilst you’re here I would like you to be able to wear something better—not to say, warmer—than the clothes you came in. As for the money, you can take ten years to pay me back, for all I care, I don’t bloody need the money, Edward. It gave me pleasure to buy those things for you, so please don’t take that away from me.”
Edward stepped back, a little surprised at her outburst. And now she was pouting, and he was captivated.
Fuck me, she’s pretty, even with her face all swollen and bruised.
They continued to stare at one another for almost a minute, until it started to get a little awkward. Edward was the first to break the impasse.
“Uh, okay… well, thanks. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
Bella gave him a small smile and shook her head, dropping her arms to her sides.
“No problem. Now, I was just about to do some bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
He grinned at her. “Sounds great—what can I do to help?”
A&E – Accident & Emergency (ER)
Wellington boots – knee-high galoshes