Written in November 2010 during NaNoWriMo, this novel still requires a great deal of work to get it to the standard I now expect of myself. Though it was picked up in January 2012 by Popcorn Press, I took back my rights in June that year when the publisher switched from fiction to purely poetry and literary works.
Once other projects are complete, I intend to return to this novel and give it the full once-over. In the meantime, he’s a snippet of the first rough draft.
Michelle sat down, once more lifting Jumble out of her t-shirt pocket to let him run free. He had to be male, she decided as she watched. Only a male would be able to find such pleasure in chasing a piece of paper up and down the street.
The persistent wind rolled dust, slush and litter along the pavement and Jumble would always find a piece to play with that was much larger than he. Leaping high, he tackled a burger box from above, somehow working his way right into the middle and tearing it to shreds with his paws.
Pieces of managed box sailed up the street but Jumbled followed them only a short way before turning back. He never seemed to go far.
Every time Michelle was concerned he would wander off, he returned and settled himself in her lap, a comforting ball of furry, black warmth against her legs. She stroked him gently, passing the time, occasionally trying her luck and picking up some change.
Suddenly Jumble hissed and dived into the makeshift pocket about Michelle’s waist. She squealed and tried to catch the tiny creature, but the kitten was spry, wriggling around through the gap until he was nestled into the curve of her spine.
“Jumble!” Michelle prepared to stand up, half way to her feet when a great shadow seemed to block the watery light of the winter sun. She looked up, straight into the eyes of a tall, fair haired man in a crisp black suit. A deep purple tie showed through the gap where his shirt lay, which was buttoned right up to the neck. He smiled.
“Hi.” Warily, Michelle sat back down again, trying to ignore the wriggle of the kitten tucked into her back. “Spare any change, Sir?”
“Why, yes.” The man reached into his trouser pockets, pulling out a handful of small change. He picked out four pound coins, putting the rest back and holding them out. “Here.”
Slowly Michelle held out her hand, unfurling her fingers.
The stranger dumped the change into her palm, stepping even closer until he seemed to loom above her like some blond, charitable giant.
The man smiled. “You’re welcome. Anything I can do to help a fellow soul in need, though you don’t look as though you need it.”
Nonplussed, Michelle looked about herself. “What do you mean? Sorry to be rude, but I don’t sit out here in the snow for fun you know.”
That made the stranger laugh. It was a big, deep laugh, perhaps a little too much for a joke that was, in truth, just a hair’s breadth short of rude. “No, I guess not, but you don’t look like you need to be. I can still see the price tag on your boots for instance; are they new?”
Then, in a flash, Michelle understood the reason for the strange looks she had received all through the course of the day. Cursing herself for not realising it sooner, she tucked her hands into her pockets. “The hostel,” she lied easily, thinking fast, “had a new donation come through yesterday. I was one of the lucky ones to get there first.” She shrugged. “I got some new clothes out of it.”
The man nodded as through the explanation made perfect sense. “I thought the hostels were only for those who had been on the streets for a while. You look too fresh to be a veteran.”
“Four years, Sir.” Michelle said softly, shaking her head slightly. “But I try not to count. Its depressing.”
“You must be sick of it by now.”
“Wouldn’t you be?!” With a grimace, Michelle reined herself in. She had no idea why this man so suddenly rattled her, but something about his questions put her on the defensive. She stared up at him, leaning back to get a better look at his face.
The man stepped forward.
She bit her lip. “Well, thank you anyway,” it was a poorly veiled attempt to say goodbye, “this money will find me a meal tonight. I really am grateful.”
A hard, rough chuckle slid out of the man’s mouth and he moved even closer again. “Good. I’m glad. Though, I can get you a meal if you’re hungry. Its no trouble. In fact, I have a little more money here, if you’re interested.”
Alarm bells ran in Michelle’s mind. She stiffened, suddenly frightened as the man reached into another pocket, this one on the inside of his jacket and pulled out an immense wad of fifty pound notes.
He counted them slowly, deliberately, with his hands held low directly in her field of vision. His soft voice counted through the notes one by one from fifty pounds to a hundred pounds. One hundred and fifty. Two hundred. Two hundred and fifty.
As he kept going, Michelle felt her mouth drop open, felt her eyes grow wider and wider as the pile of notes grew bigger and bigger and bigger.
At one thousand pounds, the stranger stopped counting and put the rest back, holding the counted notes before him and waving them like a fan. “There. That should be about enough, right?”
“E-enough for what?” Michelle spoke with effort, flicking her tongue over lips that were sore and dry. Her throat felt filled with sand.
“Enough to convince you to come home with me.”