The Need In Me
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Copyright © 2011 by Sophie Duncan
Cover art by Natasha Duncan-Drake
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Thanks to Tasha.
Rob dropped the last box in the middle of his brand new living room and, with a satisfied grin on his face, looked around him. It wasn't huge, but then struggling, undiscovered artists on fixed incomes couldn't expect the Ritz. However, the place was big enough so the ratty old three and sometimes four-seater sofa he'd brought with him from his college days fitted comfortably against one wall and the kitchenette that looked over the room from behind its breakfast bar was clean and he'd checked it functioned before signing the lease.
He looked up at the light streaming through the two velux windows in the gabled roof and his grin deepened: the place was perfect. He could paint in full natural light and he wasn't so tall that the sloping ceiling made a problem for him in the bathroom and bedroom.
If he was honest with himself, Rob had fallen in love the place as soon as he'd seen the living room, and the other rooms were just living space.
"Oh Darling, it's lovely," the one person he could guarantee would agree with him gushed from the flat's front door and he turned and smiled.
His grandmother, petite, but always elegant in her habitual long, swishy dress and carefully applied bohemian headscarf, was beaming back at him and she swept into the room as he remembered her doing all his life.
"You really do take after me," she observed, giving him a hug, even though it had only been a minute since he'd last seen her.
She had been guarding the van for him downstairs while he carried its contents up to the flat.
"Hardly surprising," Rob laughed. "You taught me how to draw, you gave me my first paint brush ... and my first spliff, come to think of it, and now you know exactly why I rented the place, don't you?"
The woman's dark eyes went heavenward as she stepped back from him and she gave an almost imperceptible nod when she looked back down on him. Then she surprised him, she turned away and her hand went to her face. It took him a moment to realise that the sound that followed was a muffled sob and then he wrapped her in his arms from behind once more.
"Don't cry Nana, it's not as if I haven't moved out before," he comforted, a little wistful himself for the big Edwardian house where he had grown up.
His had been an irregular childhood, but not one he had suffered for. A house full of dozens of artists and musicians who had dropped in on his guardian at all hours of the day and night had been an amazing place to be.
"But this is it, two hundred miles away and no more college holidays, no more coming back," the woman wailed (there was nothing subtle about any of his grandmother's emotions).
"Don't be silly," Rob hugged tighter and kissed the scarf on the crown of her head. "I'll never stop coming home, but London is where I need to be."
His grandmother sighed slowly and heavily, but then she patted his arm, and Rob knew it was safe to release her. There had been real emotion behind the dramatics, but her shows never lasted long and she stepped away again and turned, dabbing the corner of one eye.
"Are you alright, Nana?" Rob checked, looking through the flair that his beloved grandmother applied to everything.
"I will be, Darling, I will be," she smiled back at him and patted his arm. "It's just that it's been you and I against the world for so long that it is going to be strange without you."
"Ask Aunt Emily over for a while, she'll distract you," Rob suggested and then stepped rapidly out of range as a swipe came at him: Emily was not his aunt, she was his grandmother's best friend, but they had a tempestuous relationship at the best of times. The pair went from lovers to enemies and everything in between and they were on an enemies' stage at the moment due to something he hadn't bothered to work out.
"Don't tease me, Boy," he was warned, but not too seriously and Rob was glad he could see a possible thaw in hostilities in his grandmother's eyes.
He returned his best apologetic flash of his grey-blue eyes and he was forgiven. In fact, his grandmother's expression changed completely and, reaching into the voluminous bag she always carried with her, she told him, "I have something for you."
"We said no housewarming gifts, you already helped me with the deposit," Rob said; he wasn't the only one on a fixed income.
"This isn't a housewarming gift," came the reply and his grandmother waved a dismissive hand at him. "This is something your grandfather left me."
At that, Rob took notice: his grandfather was a shadowy figure who was rarely mentioned, a fleeting few months in his grandmother's life, and if this was something of his, this moment was important. When a small parcel of tissue paper was held out to him, Rob took it reverently and, with a murmured thank you, pulled open the crumpled protection.
He blinked as something caught the light and flashed it back right into his eyes and, when he could see again, he was looking down on a small, silver box about four inches by two inches and the depth of a cigarette case. It wasn't for cigarette's though, he didn't smoke (well, not regularly) and so Rob looked to his grandmother for an explanation.
"It's a calling card case, Darling," he was told with a smile. "You may have all this email and Face-whatsit now, but nothing epitomises presence like leaving your calling card with an agent, especially if he's a nice young man. Go on, open it."
Rob ran his fingers over the exquisite little object, feeling the raised pattern of swirls that a silversmith had spent many hours creating. He traced the edge of a monogram, J S H and coat of arms that was on one side before gently flipping open one end that was hinged to the rest. Inside, Rob found a dozen or so crisp white cards, each hand painted, if he judged right, with his name and contact details in flowing calligraphy.
"Thank you, Nana," he said quietly, a little overwhelmed by the gesture.
Closing his hand firmly round the beautiful gift, he wrapped his grandmother in another hug.
Rob blew over his mug of tea, took a sip, decided it was too hot and put it down on the breakfast bar instead. He stretched his aching back and surveyed the mess of half-open boxes. At least he had found the kettle and the teabags and the fridge was now on, but there was a long way to go even after hours of unpacking.
As if to remind him he hadn't eaten since breakfast, his stomach grumbled and he turned to look at the unopened box of 'kitchen essentials' his grandmother had left him with. Reaching into his back pocket for the Stanley knife he had there, he found instead he'd reached into the wrong one, and his fingers closed around the card case he had put there for safe keeping. He couldn't help it, he smiled to himself again and just the touch of it made him feel warm and loved.
His stomach rumbled again and so Rob went for his other pocket and the Stanley knife. However, it wasn't there either and, confused, Rob turned and scanned his immediate vicinity for the tool he had been using all afternoon. What he didn't expect to see was the knife upended in his mug of tea. Somewhat perturbed that he was tired enough to have used his knife as a spoon without realising it, Rob retrieved it, went and ran it under the tap and decided that a shower and his half-built bed was maybe a better option than food.
The shower was hot and wet and the warmth eased Rob's tired muscles as it soaked into them. He rubbed himself with soap and mulled over the mixture of excitement and trepidation he felt about his move. The drive from Boscastle to London had been a long one and not just in miles. He was a well-respected artist in the local area around the Cornish village where he had grown up, pretty well known in the whole of Cornwall in fact, but London was another matter. Here he was a small fish in a big pond and to make his mark, he had about six months' worth of money, the trust fund his mother had set up for him before she had died.
He had finally made the move and London was a daunting place for a country boy.
Rob listened to the traffic rumbling past outside; it was going to take some getting used to after the odd tractor being the loudest thing around for miles, but Rob was determined and he concentrated on the hubbub that was three storeys below his window.
If he hadn't been listening so hard, Rob probably wouldn't have noticed the creak of the bathroom door, nor the shuffle of a footstep that followed it. Alarmed, Rob swept back the shower curtain and raised his fist to whoever thought they could invade his new home. Yet, he came to a stuttering halt halfway through the defensive movement, because the room was empty and the open door that looked out into the dim bedroom showed there wasn't a soul in the immediate vicinity.
Rob's alarm turned into an almighty shiver as an eerie sensation of being watched ran up and down his spine, and, unnerved, he swiftly pulled back the curtain and sunk back under the shower. The warmth didn't really make any impact any more, but Rob stayed there, trembling for reasons only known to his spooked psyche.
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Sophie was born with the writing bug in her blood, boring her primary school teachers with pages of creative writing and killing her first typewriter from over use when she was thirteen. She began publishing her work on line while at university where she discovered the internet and fanfiction. It took another decade for Sophie to realise her long-time dream of releasing her own original fiction.