Learning to Love

By: Sheryl Browne

Acknowledgements

Those who know me will know that this book was written whilst I was caring for a loved one. THANK YOU readers. I could not have done it without you. Thank you, too, to all the lovely people at Choc Lit and Matt Bates, Fiction Buyer at WH Smith, who loved the book so much he took a quote from it.

A special thanks goes to the Tasting Panel readers who passed the novel and made this all possible: Sandra F., Alexa H., Vanessa O., Siobhan K., Linda Sp., Isabelle, Claire W. and Rosie F.





Chapter One

Catapulted from sleep by what he slowly remembered was the ancient boiler firing up, David Adams checked his alarm and then, ‘Dammit,’ threw back the duvet and shot along the landing. Poised to press down the handle on his son’s bedroom door, he debated, and then knocked and waited. ‘Jake, clock’s ticking,’ he called. ‘Time to get up.’

Shivering in only his boxers, David curbed his impatience and wondered again what had possessed him to rent an Edwardian townhouse in a tiny village, which retained many of its charming period features, including an antiquated plumbing system he’d come to hate over the two days he’d been here. There was the ‘spectacular’ view, of course, which the estate agent had assured him people would die for. Blowing out an icy breath, David glanced through the high sashed landing window to where the distant peaks of the majestic Malvern Hills were eclipsed by a charcoal grey mist, and concluded that if they’d viewed it from where he was standing, they very probably would die – of hypothermia.

Jake was right. The place was a dump. And David was deluded, thinking he might do a better job of parenting here than he had in Oxford. So, why were they here? For his son’s sake, David reminded himself, that’s why he’d made the decision to take the position at Hibberton Health Centre. So he could start afresh. Work locally, while Jake attended the nearby school; and try to rebuild his relationship with his son.

‘Jake,’ he called again, not really expecting an answer. The most Jake had offered by way of communication since he’d picked him up from his aunt’s yesterday was the odd monosyllabic grunt, much as he’d done every time David had visited him there. He couldn’t blame him. If he were Jake, he wouldn’t have much to say to someone who hadn’t been much of a father either.

Swallowing back the bitter taste of regret, David tried again. ‘Jake, come on. Get showered and dressed, please, or we’ll be late.’

No response.

Despairing, David squeaked the door open. ‘Jake?’

Apparently determined to ignore him, Jake remained mute, moodily stuffing his feet into his trainers, his hair tousled from a fitful night’s sleep.

Awake most of the night himself, thanks to rattling pipes and creaking floorboards, David had heard Jake tossing and turning. ‘Come on, small fry, move it. Don’t want to get a black mark on your first day, do you?’ he said, trying to cajole him.

That worked. Eye contact nil, the boy bent to scoop his T-shirt from the floor and then attempted to push past David to the landing. ‘Jake!’

Standing his ground, David tried to inject some authority into his voice, but his ten-year-old son’s reply was an impudent, ‘What?’

Noting Jake’s now openly mutinous scowl, David sighed and stood aside.

‘Go and get washed,’ he said, an argument on the boy’s first day at a new school being the last thing he wanted. Thanks to a mix up with the keys to the house, Jake was already starting partway through the week, also midterm, which wasn’t ideal. With his aunt about to embark on a new career, though, David really didn’t have any choice. She’d already put her life on hold for the best part of a year to look after Jake until he’d sorted himself out, and leaving him home alone while he orientated himself with the surgery before starting next week just wasn’t an option. ‘You’ll need a clean shirt,’ he suggested as Jake shuffled grudgingly onwards.

‘Don’t have none,’ Jake retorted, without a backward glance.

‘Any, Jake. And there are plenty of clean shirts in the dresser. I put them there last night. I’d like you to put one on, please.’