This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
The seventh entry of our Top 20 Undiscovered Shortlist is With Every Heartbeat by Colleen Downham.
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Over to Colleen Downham…
WITH EVERY HEARTBEAT (BLURB)
‘People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
Once you figure out which one it is, you‘ll know what you need to do….. '
Lily Lamb believes she's grown up. She no longer buys her clothes in supermarkets, she owns a flat in the right part of South London and she has just started her teaching (ahem..)career.
Not that she’ll have to suffer the hell of the classroom much longer. As the new fiancé of the well bred and well hung Daniel Sachs, she is expecting to be kept very comfortably indeed.
But her stylish outward appearance hides a deep insecurity. When her dad dies, it feels like Lily has lost her grounding. The world is a different place to her now and her place in it is becoming harder to understand.
Lily needs Daniel more than ever but he’s finding her grief a real turn-off so starts looking elsewhere for light hearted 'distractions.' When Lily finds out, there are plenty of reasons to sweep the truth under the carpet so she can save their home, their wedding plans and hang on to the only man left in her life. After all, she hasn’t been quite herself lately…..
But there may be even more important reasons to go it alone.
Teenage tearaway Robyn Taylor knows all about going it alone. In her experience, people are overrated.
However, there is someone they both have yet to meet. Someone who may not be able to tell them the meaning of life…but may give life some meaning.
READ THE FIRST 3000 WORDS OF WITH EVERY HEARTBEAT OVER THE CUT
With Every Heartbeat by Colleen Downham
A Complete Pluck Up
She’d gone way too far. Long skinny lines- no shape, no curve. Ten seconds ago she was squealing with excitement. She’d spent ten ill-afforded minutes searching through her handbags one by one, leaving a trail of receipts, tampons, sweet wrappers and sunglasses thrown about her bedroom. With a last ditch attempt, she opened the sleeve of the turquoise clutch to find her tweezers beaming at her like a rescued child.
It was then that Lily felt her heart sink. That big brown paper bag was still there, brooding in the dark recesses of her wardrobe. It held the contents of her dad’s pocket from the first of August, 2.15pm, Victoria station taxi rank. The day that his heart stopped and hers had started to break. She expected his keys, phone, notebook, Fishermans friends and other random all sorts were in there. But she couldn’t be certain because she couldn’t bear to look. Not yet. Perhaps, not ever.
Lily hated having less than perfect eyebrows. It was clear now that she was not sound enough of mind to handle sharp, face-disfiguring objects. Each little stray hair had been driving her crazy every time she caught sight of her reflection, in the mirror, in a shop window, on the side of the toaster.
People think it matters what you wear, how you speak,things like your weight or your car. But truly, none of it matters if you have lousy eyebrows. Bad breath, dirty fingernails, food on your teeth: all crushing but reversible. Eyebrows, however, made a statement. There was a simple code.
TYPE 1. Classic Monobrow i.e. single caterpillar–like growth bridging one side of face to the other as one imagines the love child of Frida Kahlo and Bert from Sesame Street:
A. Evident in documentaries featuring people raised by or partially related to wolves.
B. Socialists and Crimewatch most wanted.
TYPE 2. Bushbrow i.e. primitive, never been done ever:
A. very religious
B. on anti-depressants.
TYPE 3.Decadent Brow i.e. hint of former grooming, fuzzy around the edges.
A. This person is drinking a lot, not getting enough sleep and having no sex. They are going off the rails but trying to keep it under wraps. Best not approach them directly as they will cry easily and you will have to listen to the whole miserable saga. You may even have to help.
B. This person is drinking a lot, not getting enough sleep because they are having way too much sex. Best not approach them directly as they will make you sick with jealousy. You will have to listen to the whole perverse love story which has numbed their rationale and buggered their judgement. You may have to assassinate them. A pre-emptive strike for the greater good, before they spread their toxic ideas of self-contentment and happy endings.
TYPE 4 Skinny Brow i.e. forced curve, crass resemblance to Mc Donald’s arch.
A. Chav, Scally, Ned, Knacker or Dres (actual Polish for tracksuit- wearer that doesn’t do any sports)
B. Aging woman with crazed belief that being heavy handed with the hot wax is the same as a DIY facelift, just cheaper and less bloody (like my mother).
C. Extremely anally retentive, literally ‘can’t have a hair out of place’ (like my mother when sober).
See, its science.
She checked them in the mirror again. Any more plucking would just make it worse. This was always the problem, Lily thought- being on the wrong side of knowing when to stop. She made an informed judgement that she was now a 3 A with a wing in 4 B, the shittiest combination imaginable. Brushing her platinum bob forward to camouflage the entire top half of her face, she decided that it would have to do; Lily needed to be on the Northern Line by 7.10 am. It was now 7.10 am.
She swung her oversized cinnamon Chloe tote over her shoulder, remembering not to slam the stained-glass door pane on the way out for fear of Brenda (the Ear Bender) upstairs. Slight thwack: should not elicit a neighbourly post-it note with wartime profanities when she returned home.
The first fall of rusting autumn leaves scraped across the old riven path that lead from her small ground floor flat. Squirrels were dashing from the milk bottles, the birdsong barely audible against the distant traffic. Rows of toasty redbrick terraces breathed hot coffee, buttered crumpets and breakfast radio onto the deserted South London Street. Refreshed by the bite of the crisp September air, she turned the corner to find her bus pulling up alongside the curb. The driver winked at her as she took the free seat at the front and checked her phone.
‘So sorry- forgive me? Will make it up to you tonite. Love you Dan xx’
Lily smiled, today may be salvageable after all, a rare exception to the BED (Bad- Eyebrow Day) rule.
Thursday was her worst day. Thursdays meant no free lessons at all so no retail escapism on the internet, no skiving in the staffroom, no fake flirting with Gorgeous Gareth the PE teacher. Teaching English to six different classes in a row had to be some bad karma coming home to roost. She cringed at the thought of how she’d acted as a student herself in school. At 24, she cringed again– it wasn’t that long ago, was it?
First up, Year 11 aka the ‘window lickers’ by the more brow-beaten teachers. Such as Mr. Dean. The one with the nose like a fungal strawberry who shushed her in the staffroom and blanked her in the corridor. On her very first morning, she stood beside Mr. Dean at the Welcome to Hangham High assembly. Even though he smelled of egg fart and industrial bleach, she smiled at him while trying to breath through her mouth. As the assembly finished, he snatched her lesson plan from her hand and wheezed all over it.
“Look at you; all shiny and new. If you want to get through this year sweetheart, I’d advise you to invest in some good DVD’s and a shed load of colouring books.”
He waved over to the gurning man in overalls who looked like a shaved polar bear. White Spirits in his holster, he was on the prowl for graffiti.
“Isn’t that right Hillman? This lot don’t need to read Romeo and Juliet to learn how to bang out a sprog for every pisshead that buys them a bag of crisps.”
Hillman saluted with a hand like a bald paw.
Anticipating Lily’s protest, Mr.Dean placed an oily finger on her lips. “The sooner you realise that these kids are animals the better it will be. For all of us.”
The morning bell rang. Lily unlocked the door of her tiny classroom and took a deep breath. As the youngest and newest teacher, her room was nestled between the student toilets and the staff smoking area. She’d spent the last week of the summer holidays hooking furry blue sandwiches from behind the radiators and scraping snot flakes from under the desks. Now the desks were scrubbed and set in clusters: ‘to encourage friendship and support’ like it suggested in a teaching article she’d read.
John Lennon, Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King all hung from the dado rail like a girth of inspiration, urging her in comic sans to ‘Imagine’ and ‘Have a Dream’.
The blistering walls were re-painted with the bedroom lavender she had chosen with Daniel. That had seemed like such a big row at the time, ripping up the colour charts and throwing them at him like confetti in the middle of Homebase. Spoilt brat, daddy’s little princess. Now she’d give anything to fight over something as trivial as shades of purple.
Year 11 were making their way. At the front of the pack were the pale, spindly ones volleying each other off walls, into lockers, through doors. Their blue blazers stuffed with breakfasts of Red bull and Doritos. The middle cluster bundled into the room ,wafting a sour bouquet of unwashed pillow, cigarette smoke and Lynx.
“Good morning Tanya… Robyn … Cheanelle.”
At the back of the pack, the fat ones; still squinting at the late morning sunshine and muttering that it’s not fair, they’re sick, everyone’s a wanker.
“Hi Tanya, can you hurry along please?”
Lily took another deep breath and kissed the St. Christopher’s medal that hung low around her neck.
“Let’s begin. Give me a reason why a person might want to live on a desert island. Group A?”
‘So they can do what they want and can be safe.”
Lily nodded. Cheanelle scrunched her nose with delight.
“So they can swim and sunbathe all day and not have to work”
“Excellent you lot, we can all vouch for that one. Group D?” Lily asked.
Robyn stood to answer. Her charm bracelets clattered as she swept back a mass of hair back from her eyes. It was the first time Lily had even the teensiest peek at what lay beneath that thick black fringe.
“So they don’t have to sit beside disgusting, fat, nasty mingers like Tanya.” Robyn spat the words out slowly.
On the other side of the desk, Tanya held a tight smile.
“If it’s such a tiny island, you might be able to find out who you’re dad is because your mum’s a whore.”
Before Lily knew it, Robyn’s hand had gripped Tanya’s neck, forcing her backwards on to the floor. Tanya’s knuckles curled around the edge of the desk in resistance, her face twisted with anger and injury. With the sleight of a wrestler, she slackened to unseat Robyn and then lunged at her with the full force of her weight. They spiralled to the ground, a fistful of hair in each hand. The boys were already up off their feet chanting ‘FIGHT! FIGHT!’
In situations like this, the school manual says that teachers are supposed to call for help. Lily looked to the mob of students as they circled the two girls to create a boxing ring in the midst of her classroom. But there’s no time. Little Cheanelle stood by Lily’s elbow, gripping the winged sleeve of her blouse, her head turned in to the whiteboard. Lily could faintly make out that she was humming a tune, eyes shut tight with her chin bobbing to an imagined beat. Guilt swelled in Lily’s chest. I’ve got to do something. A scream from the tussle silenced the crowd. It’s now or never. Lily dragged Robyn’s shirt collar off from the trashing body underneath. Her face was smeared with blood; her hair mussed like black candy floss. Robyn pumped her shoulders up and down, sucking in short breaths through pouted lips. Lily reached out to steady her.
“Get out of my way”
Robyn held a chunky gold-ringed knuckle up to her face.
“Did you hear me?”
Lily couldn’t take the intensity of the girl’s gaze.
Drilling through her eyes, Robyn was stripping all layers away, demanding that Lily showed her mettle right here, right now. Lily’s instinct was simple: not now. Perhaps, not ever. She shuffled aside, a limp, defeated moveaway from the door. Later, what would convince Lily that she was completely out of her depth was the fact that Robyn had no eyebrows at all.
Oh no, no, please God no!
It was the Head teacher, Ms. Debbie Digby. The abbreviated name was just a trap, a devious strategy of disorientation to make you think she was casual, even friendly. Ms Digby’s office was across the hall from Lily’s classroom; she must have hidden in there the whole time, remotely listening to the girl on girl bloodbath.
Cheers for the back up.
“Here I am Ms. Digby. Just looking for the staple gun.” Lily answered.
“Quite. We really need to speak about the state in which this classroom is being left after your lessons.”
Lily squinted to survey the room. Crisp packets and crushed cans were strewn under every desk. The worksheets that she had been preparing till midnight were balled up or transformed into paper airplanes. Chairs lay broken on the floor. Lily parted her lips to speak but nothing came out. She clenched her fists and tried again. Too late. For the second time that morning, a hand was held up to silence her.
Until now, she’d been practising her 'watch it’ face, her 'how dare you' face, her 'I mean it this time' face, but the only one she used was the pleading ‘just give me a friggin break' face. This time, the face wasn’t working. It was the time to actually say something, have the final word, reclaim some charge but she couldn’t trust the tremor in her voice to betray her further. C’mon bell, is it over yet? Lily glanced at her watch. Two minutes to go, how I am going to shuffle around this bloody drawer for another two minutes?
Ms. Digby turned to the whiteboard then shielded her eyes as if attacked with pepper spray.
“This vulgarity does not belong in a place of learning.”
The 'vulgarity' was a drawing of Lily on all fours riding a sheep whilst giving Gorgeous Gareth the PE teacher a blow job. Underneath it read “Ms.Lamb sucks cock” in redmarker. permanent marker.
Mrs Digby snorted, smoothed her hair and skirt (both the same colour and texture as a witches’ broom) with one swift motion and she was gone.
Sebastian charged in from next door. “Feel me quick’ he said snatching Lily’s hand and pressing it against his forehead.
“I just passed Debbie ‘Doesn’t do Dallas’ and I fear I’ll be turned to stone! What’s got her chastity belt a–clanging?” Sebastian looked at the red marker mess on the whiteboard. “You can’t pin that on any of my students. I only teach them how to draw glorious towering masterpieces when it comes to cock. Look, the dimensions are all wrong!”
He picked up Lily’s timetable from her desk. “I’ve got a plan. Year 11’s are in the exam hall for the rest of today. That means you’re off the hook for the next few lessons. I’m hung-over as hell and desperately need a big busty bowl of minestrone. So grab your coat but remember no lectures about getting shitfaced on a school night because MY GOD was he worth it.”
Lily raised a smile at the idea of lecturing Sebastian on anything. He had been Lily’s saviour since day one. Often he was on hand to haul students out when things got out of control. Sebastian was fabulous with them; every time Lily passed his room they were either hanging on hisevery word or laughing and singing along to the radio while they painted. A far cry to what went on in the jungle of her classroom.
“I can’t go,” Lily said. ‘I need to clean up this farmyard porn before Digby gets back’
“I’ll take care of it, you just leave it with me,” said Sebastian. She could feel the tears rising in her throat again. It was a stingy feeling in her nose like she’d just inhaled chlorine that happened when kindness caught her off guard. Lily, love, let your old dad take care of it for you. She hadn’t felt that for a while.
Inspecting the graffiti, Sebastian gave her a nudge. “I honestly don’t know what you’re so upset about. Sheep or no sheep, I’d love to be in that position with Gorgeous Gareth.”
Lily tried to keep upbeat. These days it was getting harder and harder. She’d 'survived' the morning. But itwas still only Thursday. It was still only September.
“Tell me all about last night, with suitable detail!” Lily said as they walked to the café.
“He was divine- Moroccan, not a word of English- we got on a storm! We danced till two and then back to mine for a couscous and a cuddle. An Arabian prince with a bod like Peter Andre. And how is your Prince Charming?”
“Daniel? He wasn’t so charming last night when I cancelled dinner to finish my planning. Then perfectly charmless when he got back tipsy and I sent him to bed alone.”
‘Not again. You’re neglecting that poor boy.”
“It’ll get better soon.” Lily shrugged.
“Soon? Earth to Lily. You need to offer up some proper loving. If he’s left hungry, he’ll grab a takeaway’
“Maybe in the highly sexed den of iniquity that you call reality but not the rest of us. Daniel’s not like that. Straight men are lazy.”
“All men are like that. Don't you take your foot off the pedal. Get your hair done- I spot a few wiley greys here at the temples.”
He leaned back for a fuller profile. “Go sexy skirt, sky-high shoes, overdo the eyes and lips- you need to be ultra- slutty after your grandma wolf performance. There’s something very Scarlett Johannsen about you and that’s great for glam but it’s high maintenance. Just so that's not ‘Lost in Translation' that means you need to work at it. Otherwise, it can go the other way.”
“What do you mean the 'other way'?” Lily asked.
“I suppose a touch plain, boring, a little dull, drained, soggy, sack-of-potatoes-y.”
She let Sebastian prattle on knowing he was right. She should put in the effort with her beautiful, supportive and lately underappreciated fiancé. Was it that she was too busy with her social life? Definitely not. Was she a single-minded career woman, ruthless in her pursuit of Executive Head teacher status by the weekend? Maybe once, but now she just tried toget through the day without giving or receiving black eyes. Was it that she was harbouring latent lesbian fantasies and toying with the idea of running away to become a burlesque Sapphic sexpot? Nope. There was only one answer and Lily was ashamed to admit it.
She just couldn’t be arsed.