The Spark - Jules Wake

Chapter One

When my phone binged at ten to twelve, five minutes before I was due to leave, I could have predicted that the text message would be from my cousin Shelley. What I couldn’t have predicted was that her absence that day would change my life.

Sorry babe, I’m not going to make it.

Why was I even surprised? Spontaneous was her middle name, which made her possibly the most unreliable creature this side of the M25 but also possibly the most fun, which, when you had a childhood like mine, was a blessing of the mightiest order.

I could have been miffed. After all, she’d insisted I come with her because we’d be the only youngsters at her parents’ annual barbecue bash. I glanced at my watch. Nope. Couldn’t do it. She might be able to let Aunty Lynn down with no qualms – she was her daughter – but I had a few more scruples. Plus, it was a glorious sunny Sunday and I had no other plans, no garden, and no food in the fridge. Aunty Lynn was a bloody fabulous cook and believed in the feeding of the five thousand, which meant there’d be enough leftovers not only to see me through the week but also to take into work, where her interesting salads, incredible pavlova and chocolate cake would all be hugely appreciated, especially by the children. Lynn was nothing if not generous – well, apart from the fact that it seemed she’d hogged all of the giving and sharing genes and left none for my mum.

Giving myself a quick once-over in the mirror, I decided that my navy shorts and pale-pink vest top, both of which had seen better days, weren’t going to offend Aunty Lynn or Uncle Richard. Where hospitality was concerned, they were of the laid-back, the more the merrier persuasion. Anything went, as long as you brought a bottle. Pulling on my tennis shoes, because I planned on having a few drinks and the short walk across town was rather pleasant, I grabbed a four-pack of Budweiser I’d bought especially for the occasion and set off.

It was the sort of sunny day that makes you think that the weather might actually last and that the rest of the summer will be like this. There were a few wispy, cotton-wool-ball puffs of white in the sky, and the sky itself was that vibrant blue that feels as if it has depth to it, and as you stare at it you can almost see that it stretches right to the edge of the universe, which I think it probably did. Or maybe it didn’t. This set me off thinking about the sky and the sun, wishing perhaps I’d paid a bit more attention in physics… No, I didn’t. I bloody hated physics at school. Was glad to give it up. But I felt good that I’d sort of been pondering important things as I’d walked along. My job had been busy over the week, demanding on an emotional level which I was always careful to pack away in a metaphorical box. It’s the sort of job that can consume you and take over your headspace, which is why pseudo-physics and the contemplation of bigger things were especially good for my mental wellbeing. It’s the sort of job which, if you let it, could really drag you under.

And all this pondering had taken me through town, along the High Street, across the park with its fenced-in playground of busy swings and slides, teeming with small people who looked like plastic Fisher Price toys in their brightly coloured clothing, and now up the slight incline of Pettyfeather Lane to my aunt and uncle’s modest-looking semi. Modest-looking as in Tardis-like because the front is deceptive: once through a narrow, dark hall, it opens out into an enormous open-plan kitchen-diner-living-area with a whole wall of bi-fold doors leading onto a spacious, perfect-for-parties patio.

The front door was ajar, which immediately made me smile. It meant everyone was in the garden and as I walked up the short drive, I could hear that happy cacophony of a party in full swing. I stepped inside, skirting round a few discarded pairs of shoes, dumped handbags and jackets in the hallway. In this small market town, a forty-minute commute from London, people were pretty trusting and my aunt and uncle’s contemporaries and neighbours, having reached suburban, reasonably well-heeled mid-life, took the local low crime-rate and all-round decency of people for granted. It was a world Copyright 2016 - 2024