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Starving Artists by peppersweet
Chapter 17 : Everything is Lovely
 
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Chapter Seventeen - Everything is Lovely





It started to rain as the car trundled out onto the M25. Without taking her eyes of the road, Rose calmly tapped the windscreen with her wand and muttered a spell; the rainwater slid straight off it, giving her perfect visibility. Smiling, she pulled out and overtook an ancient campervan, waving graciously to the driver as if she was the Queen, something that was ruined by me gawking at her from the back and Scorpius doing his best impression of a hibernating tortoise in the front seat.


‘This is lovely,’ she said. ‘Isn’t this so lovely?’


If hurtling down a motorway on a rainy morning with two hours’ sleep and a thumping headache was her idea of lovely then, yes, yes it was so lovely.


It was so lovely I felt like punching out the sunroof.


‘Bit chilly, isn’t it?’ she said to the silence. ‘I’ll just turn up the heater.’


It wasn’t chilly at all. The strange arrangement of luggage in the car had forced me to sit in the middle at the back, directly opposite the air vents and the stereo. Rose’s promises of a ‘mild, warm breeze’ were lies; the two air vents were like miniature volcanoes. My nose felt like it was on fire. Still trying to maintain the glacial aura of an ice queen, I clapped a hand over my nose and reflected that it probably wasn’t best to get sunburn from Rose’s car before we’d even got to Devon.


‘So!’ Rose chirped. ‘Shall we have some music?’


Both Scorpius and I engaged in a bit of a shrugging fiesta. Rose looked heartily disappointed.


‘Shall we see what’s on the radio?’


‘Sure,’ I said. ‘But we won’t see it, we’ll hear it.’


‘Hahahaha!’ Rose gave a very forced laugh. ‘Very good, Lucy.’


She flicked the radio on. Perfect timing; the mournful crooning of a mopey Smiths song drifted out of the speakers. Scorpius shifted in his seat and stared out of the window.


‘Good song,’ I said, feeling rather at one with the aforementioned mopey, mournful crooning.


‘Hmm, not very cheerful,’ Rose said, turning the dial to the next station. At once, cheery bubblegum-pop blasted out. She started tapping along to the song with her fingers on the steering wheel, neatly overtaking a sports car.


‘I don’t normally use this,’ she said, ‘but there’s reports of a traffic jam further down the road, so…’


She pressed a purple button on the dashboard. At once, a whole lane seemed to open up in front of us, cars jumping aside. Rose sped up, overtaking about ten cars in a row.


‘Much better!’ she grinned.


Five minutes passed in silence, save for the radio station’s cheerful pop music and the drumming of rain on the windows.


‘You two aren’t very talkative today,’ Rose frowned.


‘Didn’t sleep much,’ I explained, taking my hand away from my face.


‘Me neither,’ Scorpius mumbled, as I noticed the print of black lipstick on my palm a second after noticing the black smudge across my face in the rear view mirror. Desperately, I tried to rub it off, hoping that neither of them would turn around and see me.


‘Well, hopefully we’ll get a lot of rest on this holiday,’ Rose said brightly. ‘Early to bed, early to rise, early bird gets the worm and all that…’


Seething, the tip of my nose aflame and my face all smudged with black lipstick, I wondered just how many of Rose’s generic proverbs I could put up with before I throttled her.


‘…and, of course, too many cooks spoil the broth.’


Bloody hell.


Rose continued to witter on from the driver’s seat, occasionally giving the purple button another jab to make the traffic zoom out of her way. Not for the first time that journey, I wished that cars had an inbuilt kettle and stash of teabags. And also, possibly, a device for shutting Rose up.


We’d just hurtled past a sign that read Welcome to Devon when I decided I should probably ask a very important question.


‘So,’ I lurched forward between the two front seats. ‘Are you two, like…a couple again?’


‘We’re working on it!’ Rose chirruped merrily. Scorpius sunk down further in his seat. By this point in time, he’d tried so hard to make himself invisible that his collar was actually up around his ears. Rose took her hand off the gearstick for a minute to pat his knee in what was supposed to be a loving gesture; I ducked back behind her chair, fighting back the urge to shout and vomit at the same time.


‘Lovely,’ I said, doing my best fake smile. Scorpius, still in hibernating tortoise mode, sunk further in his seat. I sat back again, inspecting my face in the rear view mirror for further signs of smudged black lipstick. It was confined to my lips, at least, but it had gone a funny faded grey colour, and instead of looking badass, I just looked ill. The eyeliner was no better. Cursing inside, I tried to wipe the lipstick off with the back of my hand. Rose noticed and glance around from the front seat, a giant, toothy grin still fixed on her face.


‘You alright there, Lucy?’ she trilled.


‘Lovely,’ I repeated, putting my sunglasses back on again. ‘Sooo lovely.’


I couldn’t have possibly sounded more insincere. Rose seemed to buy it, though, and turned back to the road with her gigantic, scary grin still in place, humming along to the latest sugary pop song on the radio. I sat back in my seat and reflected that I had a bit of a problem.


The joke in the family often went that Rose had inherited the worst parts of her parents. From her father, she’d inherited a complete absence of tact and sensitivity, whereas from her mother she’d inherited a touch of the workaholic, possibly a smidge of the know-it-all. Nobody quite knew where her temper had come from, although the bossiness had definitely come from her mother. This joke was somewhat contradicted, however, by Rose’s appearance. She was by no means a beauty, but, well, she was prettier than me or even Molly by miles. At least she’d got the Weasley red hair. I’d been lumped with dull dirty-blonde. And Rose had curves, the vast majority of which were in the right places. In terms of figure, I was an ironing board. An ironing board with terrible hair.


Rose also had the advantage of being absolutely terrifying. It was very difficult to say no to her. Anyone who stood up to her was likely to end up in St Mungo’s, as Al had proved almost two years previously. So, really, I could hardly blame Scorpius for running off to her like some lost puppy/lamb to the slaughter. If I was him, I probably would.


But, then again, if I was him, I would have noticed that I was obviously the better choice. But that implies that I kind of fancy myself, so I’m going to shut up about that right now.


‘Almost there!’ Rose piped up, indicating a sign at the side of the road. I caught a brief glimpse of-


Mordenton-on-Sea, 10 miles.


- before we sped off down the road again, Rose jabbing at the purple button to overtake a convoy of lorries.


‘Mordenton – Morden?’ I said. ‘I thought we’d left London?’


‘Oh, yes, we got out of London fifteen minutes ago,’ Rose said, patting the purple button affectionately. ‘All thanks to this rather splendid gadget.’


‘I meant – oh, nevermind.’ I settled back in my seat.


Although I have nothing against Morden as a place, I’ve long been of the opinion that place names don’t come much more depressing than Morden. The name just smacks of misery and moping (Scorpius would be right at home there – I actually think his dad lived there at some point). Perhaps I’m just biased – maybe there are some folk out there who are terribly fond of the name Morden for a place. But I’m not.


Going to a place called Mordenton-on-Sea, however, somehow didn’t bode all that well. Especially when you chuck in the stunning flowerbeds, multiple Britain in Bloom awards and popularity with old folk. I just wished I’d dragged Scorpius to Heathrow and ended up sozzled on some hot party-obsessed island instead. That’d be a better summer holiday than flowery pensioner land, even with the promise of pinball.


Perhaps I was making premature assumptions. A little later, however, we rolled into Mordenton-on-Sea in the midst of a torrential downpour, and my worst fears were confirmed. The place was dead. Not a soul stirred on the streets. Bedraggled flowers lay limp in soggy, albeit neat, flowerbeds. Three shops stood on the seafront – a knick-knacks place, a budget supermarket and a fuddy-duddy clothing establishment. All were shut. Further up, a greasy spoon café shot out gloomy electric light onto the slick pavement. The sea was a terrifyingly dull grey, much like the sky and just about everything else apart from the flowerbeds.


Rose was grinning like it was going out of fashion.


‘Right!’ she chirped, parking the car neatly in front of the café. ‘Let’s have a walk around, shall we?’


Rose hopped out of the car, umbrella in hand. Scorpius schlepped out a moment later, fiddling with his fringe. I followed, trying to look as bored and serious as I possibly could with makeup all over my face. Unsurprisingly, Rose only had room under her umbrella for her and Scorpius. So, I moped behind them like the spare wheel that I was, getting soaked and frowning at everything I saw, including my own feet, repeatedly insisting that I didn’t mind the rain and was happy to go without an umbrella.


‘Lovely!’ Rose exclaimed, as we strolled, schlepped and moped along the seafront. I pulled back my sodden hair to gaze out at the expanse of grey sand and grey sea before us.


Lovely wasn’t the first word that sprang to mind.


‘I looked up this town last week,’ Rose produced a glossy tourist brochure from her handbag. ‘This is the new town – further up there’s an ice cream shop that’s supposed to be rather good, a children’s arcade, boat hire places, good walks…’


‘Are they lovely?’ I said. I was duly ignored by the happy couple, although I thought I heard Rose tut.


‘Where are we actually staying?’ Scorpius asked – I say asked, but he was really just mumbling everything into the collar of his shirt.


‘Further up that way,’ Rose gesticulated towards the direction of the good walks, etc. ‘Overlooking the coast…it’ll be lovely.’


‘Yeah…’ Scorpius gazed around the grey scene, and then said, more than a little half-heartedly: ‘…lovely.’


We retreated back to the car after ten minutes of strolling/schlepping/moping. I folded into the back of the car like soggy origami, taking care to kick the back of Rose’s seat as much as possible on my way in. From there it was another ten minutes up to the house, which, thankfully, was quite some distance from the café and the dull shops at the end of a cobbled lane. We disembarked, unloaded luggage and then stared up at the house, which Rose threw several generic ‘lovely’s at before unlocking the front door.


It was a nice house, really. Al had been very wise in befriending posh Healing students. Three storeys tall and made of some pretty sand-coloured stone, I even had to admit in my mopey state that I would rather have liked to live there. I followed Scorpius across the threshold, dragging my suitcase behind me and resisting the urge to kick his skinny ankles.


‘Well, isn’t this nice?’ Rose said, hands on hips, as she surveyed the hallway. ‘I mean, look at that décor! How lovely!’


I gritted my teeth and followed her example, taking in the beige walls, beige ceiling, beige carpet, beige curtains, beige skirting boards and beige lampshade.


I wanted to be sick.


‘I suppose the bedrooms are upstairs,’ Rose said. ‘From memory, there are two on the first floor and just the one up in the attic-’


‘I bagsy the attic!’ I blurted out, lunging for the stairs with my suitcase. ‘Room with a view!’


‘Well,’ Rose said. ‘We’ll just head up to the first floor-’


‘Lovely!’ I cried, already halfway up the stairs. ‘Crikey, how lovely!’


Balderdash and piffle!, my internal foolish voice cried. What if they share a room!


‘Is she…alright?’ I heard Rose mutter to Scorpius as I bounded up to the top of the stairs, dragging my suitcase behind me. It bounced off every step with a nasty thwack, making a nasty rattling sound I had a funny feeling was my camera having a party with my toothbrush. I sprinted along the landing, suitcase rattling and thwacking away, and then leapt up the next flight of stairs. When I finally reached the attic room, I collapsed back onto the skinny single bed and glared up at the ceiling.


Things were beyond the shape of the pear, fruitbowl or orchard. Things were more pear shaped than two pears at a pear party eating pear drops and drinking pear cider. The fact that Rose and Scorpius were now working onbeing a pear made things even more pair-shaped than usual.


Or perhaps that should be the other way around.


I’d left the door open by mistake; I could hear Rose and Scorpius checking out rooms on the floor below. Rose was giggling. In a fit of rage I threw myself up off the bed, lunged for my suitcase, tripped, and then fell flat on my face in the middle of the floor. So not only was I heartbroken, angry and mildly nauseous, but my nose hurt like billy-o and I could feel the tender beginnings of a bruise or two on my thigh.


Downstairs, everything had gone very silent.


Blinking tears of pain out of my eyes, I got to my feet, threw open my suitcase and started unpacking with venomous speed. There was a handy chest of drawers in the room – the only furniture apart from the single bed and the bedside lamp – and I immediately set about transferring the crumpled piles of clothes from my suitcase into even more crumpled piles of clothes in the drawers. I worked for about fifteen minutes solid, happily peeling creased t-shirts apart, until there was a knock at the door and Scorpius appeared, looking incredibly glum even by his standards.


‘Hi,’ he held up a battered green satchel. ‘You left this at the bottom of the stairs.’


I looked at him, then at the fistful of knickers I was holding, then back at him, then back at the knickers.


It’s hard to look sad and angry and be taken seriously when you’re holding your pants.


‘Er, thanks,’ I stuffed the knickers into the top drawer and slammed it shut. The whole chest of drawers wobbled alarmingly; I had to grab onto it for fear it would topple over. Scorpius flinched, staring at his shoes, slowly turning a tortuously embarrassed shade of crimson.


‘Just dump it there,’ I indicated the satchel. ‘It’s okay.’


‘Alright,’ he said, his voice so strangled and small I could barely make it out. ‘And…I’m sorry.’


And with that he dropped the bag, span on his heel and lurched tragically out of the room, almost falling down the stairs as he went.


It seemed that foxy Scorpius had been somewhat short-lived. Tragically awkward Scorpius was here to stay.


Half an hour later there was another knock at the door and Rose hurried in, kitted out in a sunhat, sunglasses, shorts and a flowery top, a large raffia bag slung over her shoulder. She looked ready to hit the beach.


‘Off to the shops!’ she trilled. ‘Need to stock up the kitchen! Coming?’


‘Erm,’ I gazed at the chaos of clothes strewn about the room. Honestly, I swear I have no idea how my favourite top ended up on the lampshade. ‘I still need to unpack. I might give it a miss.’


‘Alright. Well, Scorpius and I are just going to nip down to the supermarket, we should be about an hour. Plenty of time to get tidied up!’


‘Cool,’ I threw a pair of socks into the drawer with as much fury as I could muster. They missed and boinged off the wall, landing at Rose’s feet.


Rose seemed to take that as an adequate send-off and left the room. Five minutes later, I heard the front door slam, and the house was silent.


It took me five more minutes of unpacking before I succumbed and went into ninja mode.


There were four doors on the floor below, all shut – I did a spin before choosing door one, which turned out to be a swanky bathroom. Shutting the door on the fluffy towels and well-polished suite, I burst into the next room, which, judging by the neat suitcase on the floor, was to be the domain of Rose.


This may all seem rather odd. Don’t worry, I’m quite accustomed to snooping around. I’m as nosey as the next person – I mean, I did once spend an afternoon hiding in Scorpius’ wardrobe. I was about to flip Rose’s suitcase open and have a poke about when I noticed the purse lying on the bed and froze.


My first thought was that Rose had forgotten her purse and would apparate into the room at any minute to reclaim it. Then I’d have to come up with some nonsensical explanation for snooping in their room, would fail, and would be exposed as a bitter spurned lover and bad cousin. Then, I’d have to shove all my grimy shirts back into my bag and mope back to London, move out of the flat, and ultimately end up festering in a gutter. Or end up as a neighbourhood drunk, I’m not picky.


I was so caught up in this nightmarish vision of my future self that I failed to notice that the purse was empty. See, Rose is the sort of mega prepared person that actually owns more than one purse so she can make it match her outfit. I know. Organised like nothing else. So this purse, gutted except for a few receipts and business cards, was obviously the rejected one that didn’t go with her flowery shirt, raffia bag or newly acquired pathetic boyfriend.


Still in ninja mode, I picked up the purse and had a bit of a nosey, flicking through receipts for textbooks and posh clothes – the raffia bag was surprisingly pricey, according to one receipt. Business cards for various solicitors and ministry officials were tied together neatly with an elastic band; Rose had obviously been job-hunting.


There was also a photograph tucked in at the back. I pulled it out and took a long, hard look at it; at the three familiar black and white subjects shuffling and smiling blindly up at me, at the mess of the art school common room behind them, at the faint shadow of Scorpius’ handwriting showing through from the back – and then at the long, neat rip along the edge, where Rose had torn me right out of the picture.



a/n: just a wee short chapter for you there! Thank you for everyone's reviews - my word, I love the reactions to those cliffhangers/spanners in the works in previous chapters. You wonderful reviewers, please continue with your campaign of unabashed crackery - it fair cheers me up! ♥
edited 19/06/2012


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