Prologue (Where Seagulls Dare, book one)
Bryher-Ann (Bry-An to her nearest and dearest) stretched her body out in the morning sun. The unfiltered light burned red through her eyelids and she enjoyed the warmth as it spread across her cheeks and chest.
She could not remember the last time she’d woken up so peacefully this early. Normally the intrusive bleating of her alarm wrenched her out of sleep before she was even remotely ready to start the day. The cries of the ever-present seagulls were a constant soundtrack to her morning routine, her workday routine, her evening routine. A low rhythmic shushing whisper lulled her back and she turned slightly in her bed to find a more comfortable position. Beneath her bed felt lumpy and uneven, as if she lay on tangled sheets, the knots digging into her back in various places. She wriggled a little more against the mounds and they moved easily, giving way to the sides to accommodate her body pushing against them. She moved her hand to under her shoulder, seeking for the sheet to pull across her body against the breeze that skated across her bare skin.
It took a moment for Bry-An to realise that the soft surface under her palm was not the plump pillow she normally slept with. Her fingers raked slowly through the sand as she scrunched her fist and the grains fell through the gaps between her digits displacing the belief that she was still dreaming. She straightened her fingers out into stiff spikes to dislodge the sand as if they were lying before she forced herself to open her eyes.
She peered through sticky, grain-filled eyelashes at the long beach to the side of her. A seagull was eyeing her curiously just a few meters away, spooked into loud squawking and flapping a meter up into the air when she jerked herself up, sand spilling from her tangled hair and sticking to the side of her face in equal measure. She screeched in response, not afraid of seagulls but certainly disturbed by one screaming in her face when waking up as any normal person would be.
Bry-An’s head protested the sudden jolt upright and all her senses rushed alive at once; booming, stinking, tanging and utterly overwhelming. All the sounds from the beach ambushed her ears and made her gasp with the pain of an almighty hangover headache that crashed through her. She ran her tongue over furry teeth and gagged slightly on the taste of salt and bile that filled her mouth that had clearly been marinating over the night. She closed her mouth and attempted to breathe in deeply through her nose, one nostril was blocked almost entirely, and the sharp scent of rust dragged in through the one remaining channel. Bry-An’s skin itched as she raised a shaking hand to her face, brushing away scratchy sand from her lips and cheek. She winced as her fingers touched a bruise across her jaw and pulled her hand back. Blue and green glitter reflected brightly among the white and grey sand grains, all stuck together forming reddish tinged tacky splodges.
Bry-An twisted herself awkwardly before rolling ungainly sideways onto her hands and knees, her head groaned once more with the movement and she heaved into the sand.
When she had finished retching Bry-An rocked back onto her shins and panted. She felt every single day of her thirty-two and a half years in that moment. Every single drink, pill, joint she’d ever enjoyed had come back with a massive vendetta against her. Regret rocketed to her core, she’d been sober for a year. Too many mornings during her twenties waking up in places she had no right being with people she had no right being with and very little memory of arriving there. The walk of shame had become habitual and revolting. Even worse when the walk of shame became a bus or taxi. In her small Cornish community everyone was close and the west Cornwall gossip chain was very much thriving, a taxi ride in the early hours from some nefarious estate in Helston would be around the village shop by the time she’d had a shower at home.
A steady throb of pain set up its own rhythm in her temples as she raised her hands out in front of her before rubbing off as many of the sharp stones from her palms as possible. The glue from long lost false lashes had attracted the tiny grains to fill in every possible crevice in and around her eyes. Delicately she swept the sand away from the rims before attempting to pinch out the sticky masses from between her lashes.
Bry-An scanned the beach, immediately thankful to find it empty. She inhaled and pulled as much air into her lungs, coughing it out again, a sure sign she’d been smoking the night before she acknowledged ruefully. Damnit, another strike against her record.
She pushed herself up into a very shaky downwards facing dog and, with knees bent like a baby deer and negotiating through a very wobbly crouch, staggered to her feet.
Sand sprinkled off her neon pink tutu like glitter from a fairy and she took a moment to shimmy, laughing softly at her sparkly surroundings before promptly bending at the waist and heaving her guts once again into the sand at her feet. After a few painful minutes she stood upright again. Hands on hips and her head high like a statue of some mighty warrior, only her tomato red face and streaming eyes belayed her delicate physical state.
Crouching slightly, she pulled up her one remaining silver leg warmer then tugged down her bunched-up vest. She scooped her handbag up from the sand and looped the strap over her shoulder, relieved that it had made it that far with her.
She nodded to herself, attempting to fortify herself with this small act towards making herself ready for a chance encounter with non-Ballers on the walk home. The shoes she’d worn were long gone and she enjoyed a brief recollection of throwing them one at a time across the packed dance floor of the main marquee in the vague direction of an even vaguer familiar face. Cringing outwardly and dying a little inwardly she began to shuffle her way towards the slipway climbing out of the beach and the clock tower beyond. Once she made it there, she could take a sharp right and scurry up the steep hilled alleyways between the houses, skipping the village centre. This route, although far more exhausting physically, would only expose her to the possible early morning traffic along Peverall Terrace and she should in theory by able to duck into her little Cornish cottage in the top end of Thomas Street with only a minimal risk of being seen.
One car passed her but slowed only slightly to avoid her weaving walking. Unsteadily she stamped and shuffled her way, arms crossed and head down, breathing heavily in the way that only the really intoxicated can.
When she reached the blue door of her little white cottage, she fell through without registering its unlocked state. Once again, she found herself arguing with gravity and attempted to stand up. After swaying side to side on her hands and knees for a good thirty seconds she gave up and inched her way towards the stairs in that position. Finally, after dragging herself upstairs to her bedroom she collapsed on her bed in a sand and glitter covered heap. Too tired to care she tugged the duvet over her from the side and enveloped herself into it. Soon her heavy breaths settled into a steady rhythm and her snores began to vibrate into the mattress.
Bry-An felt better after a few hours of sleep. The hangover from hell still raged but had settled a little into a general feeling of absolute heaviness and vulnerability rather than the outright pain and accompanying nausea she had first woken up to. At least now she could see clearer, although the remaining sandy grit in her lashes still made it uncomfortable to open her eyes completely.
She wandered across the hallway, only bumping once into the wall with her shoulder, and flicked the lights on into her compact bathroom.
Standing in front of the ornately framed mirror Bry-An watched the sand and glitter dust into the sink and rubbed her palms under the flowing cold tap before raising them to her bruised face and tentatively washing the rusted sand and glitter gloop from her nose and mouth. The dirty water turned murky red and swirled around the clumpy grains as she gently rinsed the dirt away. A deep purple watermark of a bruise was already forming across her jaw, her nose looked raw and swollen, and a split in the puffy flesh of her top lip stung as the water touched it.
She inspected her hands, one after the other. The fingers on her left hand felt strained as she splayed them out. Curling them up she found soft rusted tissue filling the small space underneath her closely trimmed fingertips on the her middle and ring fingers. She scraped the dirt out from the middle finger with the nail of her right thumb. It came away congealed, scooped out like a tiny piece of plasticine. She rolled it between her thumb and forefinger, before lifting it to her nose and sniffing the familiar coppery tang of blood.
Her mobile rang from the bedroom, from the grubby depths of her handbag dropped on the floor by the door. She made her way towards it, rubbing her hands on the towel. It stopped ringing just as she pulled it out, the screen indicating fourteen missed calls from Tanya. Bry-An groaned loudly, this wasn’t going to be pretty. She took a deep breath and steeled herself. Best to get the inevitable lecture, leading to screaming argument and gut grilling disappointment over with. She hovered her thumb over the call back button and reluctantly pressed her pad down, she lifted the phone to her ear and listened to it ring once before the whole phone died. She pulled it away and stared at the screen, after mentally preparing for her ears to ring the sudden silence after the short digital noise was jarring. The battery had died, even the sturdy old android had run out of battery after a full night out.
Unable to deny she was slightly relieved that the ear bashing would take a pause until after her head had stopped banging quite so much Bry-An plugged the phone in to charge and left it on the bedside cabinet. She silently acknowledged that she could switch on her laptop and video call Tanya back, but that would only give Tanya more ammunition to berate her for going out all night. Nope, video evidence would not help at all, best to swerve that bullet for as long as possible.
Bry-An dragged herself back to the bathroom and into the shower, where she steamed the dirt from her skin before blasting the cold water on full power as both a self-reprimand for her unclear-but-no doubt-unvirtuous actions the night before, and as a bracing refresher.