Wake Up Call (A Porthkennack novel)
South London mechanic Devan Thompson has gone to Porthkennack to track down someone he’s been waiting all his life to know. But Dev’s distracted from his quest by Kyle, a broodingly handsome local of only a few months, who’s already got a reputation as an alcoholic because of his strange behaviour—including a habit of collapsing in the street.
Kyle Anthony fled to Porthkennack to escape from the ruins of his life. Still raging against his diagnosis of narcolepsy—a condition that’s cost him his job as a barrister, his lover, and all chance of normality—the last thing he wants is another relationship that’s doomed to fail. But Dev’s easy-going acceptance and adaptability, not to mention his good looks, have Kyle breaking all his self-imposed rules.
When disaster strikes Dev’s adored little sister, Kyle steps up to the plate, and Dev sees a side of his lover he wasn’t prepared for: competent, professional—and way out of Dev’s league. With one man determined that they don’t have a future, and the other fearing it, life after Porthkennack is starting to look bleak for both of them.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abandonment, adoption, disability / disfigurement, family, financial gap / class disparity, holiday, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, interracial/multicultural, narcolepsy, recovery, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues, vacation romance
“You all right, mate? Mate?”
The bloke didn’t answer, just carried on half-sitting, half-lying there on the bench, eyes glassy behind his Aviator shades.
Dev glanced back at the Square Peg Café. He’d been sitting outside drinking the world’s crappest latte, wondering if he should’ve gone for the cream tea, when he’d noticed the man on the other side of the road. The bloke had slumped down onto the bench all of a sudden, and not like his feet had been killing him and he couldn’t wait to take the weight off. No, this had been jerky, unnatural—more like he hadn’t been able to stand up any longer. After a split second waiting to see if someone else was going to deal with it, Dev had jumped up and jogged over the quiet street.
Now he was here, though, he still wasn’t sure whether to call an ambulance or call the bloke a wanker for pissing him about.
There were only two other people who’d been daft enough to join Dev at the outside tables under the cloudy skies, a middle-aged couple in matching walking gear, and neither of them bothered to look up from their phones. The skinny waitress stopped clearing tables long enough to roll her eyes at Dev and make a scornful drinking-up gesture.
Great. That was well public-spirited, that was. So what if Dev’s Good Samaritan act turned out to be over the local alco? Even alcoholics got ill. Had strokes and stuff, didn’t they? Like his mate Mal’s uncle, who staggered around everywhere these days looking wasted even on the rare occasions he wasn’t on the piss.
This bloke looked way too young for that sort of crap, mind. Midthirties, tops, although the full, dark beard made it harder to tell for sure. Pretty fit too, with a lean build and broad shoulders. Dev reached over to grasp one of them and give it a gentle shake.
Dev wasn’t even certain if that was what had done the trick, but a second or so later the bloke roused and blinked, life coming back into deep-blue eyes. “Sorry,” he said, frowning up at Dev. “Did I . . .? Sorry.”
“’S all right, mate.” Dev realised he was still hanging on to the bloke’s shoulder and let go in a hurry. His hand felt cold, after, and he shoved it in the pocket of his hoodie. “You okay now?”
“Yes. Thank you.” His voice was clipped, like he was angry about something. “Sorry to disturb your . . . Sorry.”
Dev couldn’t help a laugh. “You’re gonna wear that word out, mate.”
For the first time—at least, that was what it felt like—the bloke focussed on Dev properly. He smiled, his lips twisting up in a mocking way that turned him from some random bloke on a bench into a guy it might be interesting to get to know. “Sorry,” he said again, laying on the irony with a shovel.
“Wanker.” Dev grinned, then wondered if he’d gone too far. His foster dad was a drinker, and that bastard’s moods could turn on a sixpence. He took a step back without even thinking about it.
Bench bloke’s smile buggered off like the bloody Cornish sun had done ever since Dev got here, and he stood up.
“Thanks for your concern,” he said frostily. Then he strode off up the road without even a backward glance.
Huh. There was gratitude for you. Dev watched him stalk off for a mo, decided he probably wasn’t going to fall over anytime soon, then shrugged and went back to his table.
“You’re wasting your time with that one,” the girl from the café told Dev as she gave him back the mug she’d just that minute put on her tray. At least, Dev hoped it was his mug she’d given him. “Don’t talk to nobody, he don’t. Some posh bastard from the Home Counties or God knows where, thinks he’s too good for the likes of us. Only come here to drown himself in a bottle.”
Dev glanced up at her sideways. “Yeah? Funny how he didn’t smell of drink, then.” He took a sip of his half-cold coffee and wondered why he’d bothered.
“Give ’im a good sniff, did you?” She straightened, hands on her back like Dev’s foster mum had done when she was pregnant with the twins, although this girl wasn’t carrying any extra weight around the middle. She wasn’t carrying any weight around the middle. A white girl—pale white, like she hadn’t seen any more sun lately than she’d seen square meals—she looked a fair bit younger close up. He could see there weren’t any lines around her eyes, only dark smudges that could’ve been old mascara but Dev reckoned weren’t. She was wearing a name badge on her Square Peg Café T-shirt that said Ceri.
Dev huffed out a laugh at it, and her dark eyes narrowed. “Somethin’ funny?”
“Only that your mum couldn’t spell neither. I’m Devan. With an a instead of an o.”
“Is that Indian? Sounds Indian. And Ceri’s Welsh and so’s my mum, on her mum’s side, so she spelled it just fine, which shows how much you know.”
“Make a lot in tips, do you?” All right, he hadn’t meant to say that out loud.
“Bugger all. It’s all tight English bastards we get here.” She gave him a sharp look. “So is your mum Indian or what?”
“No.” He knew that much.
Dev shrugged. Like he was going to tell someone he’d only known five minutes how his mum had given him up for adoption before he’d drawn his first breath and had never bothered to leave a single bit of info about his dad.
Christ, when was even thinking about it going to stop being like ripping off a scab?
Kerry-spelled-Ceri cocked her head, not fazed by his lack of communication. “Your skin’s not that dark, but your hair’s more black than brown, and it’s not curly like if you were African or Jamaican or summat. And you’ve got those big, dark eyes like a lot of Indian lads do. Nice eyelashes too. Could be. You still gonna be here in half an hour?”
Dev bristled. “Why? Not like you need the table, is it?” The place was three-quarters empty, even inside, and out here there was room for half a coachload more. Even the his ’n’ hers hikers looked like they were about to bugger off.
She rolled her eyes again. “That’s when I finish work. You want to get a drink or something?”
Okay, he had not seen that coming. Dev gave her a sharper look, taking in the tension in the way she held herself, and wondered why he hadn’t noticed how brittle that hard shell of hers was till now. Wasn’t like he hadn’t seen that kind of thing before, was it? “Sorry, love, I don’t do girls.” He tried to say it gently.
Ceri scowled at him like he was something she’d scraped off the bottom of her shoe. It was weirdly reassuring. “Like you were going to be doing me, anyway. I said get a drink, not make a bloody sex tape. Or do you only bother talking to people you’re hoping to shag?”
“All right, then.” Dev gave her a steady look. “But I’ll see you back here. I’m not numbing my arse on this seat drinking cold coffee for half an hour.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll see you at five. Or I won’t.” She swept away and started clearing the tables inside.
Dev gave his coffee a wry smile. Then he stood and left it on the table with relief.
He checked his watch as he made his way along the street, not really heading anywhere in particular. It was more like forty minutes until five o’clock—must’ve been a bit of wishful thinking on Ceri’s part. He wasn’t sure, if he was honest, why he’d agreed to go for a drink with her, seeing as he’d never had a right lot of female friends, and this one had a chip on her shoulder the size of the Severn Bridge . . . Fuck it. He knew exactly why. This way, at least he wouldn’t be drinking on his own, which was all he’d reckoned he had to look forward to after Mal had bailed on him for a better offer, the tosser.
When he knew bloody well how much this trip meant to Dev. Christ. If Dev thought too much about all that crap, he was going to end up like that sad bastard on the bench. Dev wondered how it’d started with him—the drinking and all. If that was what it was. Still, Ceri was the local here. She ought to know if the bloke was a drunk or not.
Shame, though. Him being so fit and all.
Dev grinned at himself. Hoping for a bit of holiday romance, was he? Like that was ever going to happen. He’d checked out the local gay scene online before he came—just for something to do, because that wasn’t what he was here for—and there wasn’t one. Oh, plenty of places that reckoned they were “gay friendly,” but that was it.
Well, that and a listing for a public toilet that was supposed to be “popular with young dudes,” but that had turned out to be in Australia. Porthkennack Street, Melbourne, to be exact. Dev wondered which ex-pat had named that street in fond memory of the old place, and how horrified he’d be to see what it was famous for these days.
If he kept walking this way, Dev realised, he was going to run out of town. His feet had carried him down towards the beach and a short way along the coastal road that bordered it, sometimes closely and sometimes farther away, like it’d been laid out by a bunch of drunk navvies. A sign up ahead told him he was on the right track to get to Booby’s Bay and the Round Hole—where did they even get these place names? Dev amused himself imagining a gang of old Cornish smugglers and pirates, all wearing tricorn hats and eyepatches, not to mention a parrot or two, sitting round a barrel of rum and laughing themselves silly as they marked up a map.
Of course, some of them could have been his ancestors. Dev stopped smiling. Shit. What was he even doing here?
Dev turned on his heel and started walking back the way he’d come. He was walking into the wind now, and it carried the fresh, briny scent of the ocean. It reminded him of Southend, where he’d been taken for day trips when he was little, except it was different, too. The air here smelled cleaner. Wilder. A gull screamed overhead, white boys on surf boards chased the waves in the bay, and an almost overpowering sense of not belonging swept over him. For a moment he was fiercely tempted to run back to the B&B, chuck his stuff in his rucksack, jump on the Hornet, and zoom off home to London.
Then a trio of girls in bright, summery hijabs and jeans walked past, one of them flashing him a smile and the whole lot of them breaking into giggles a minute later, and Dev felt somehow better. Yeah. Why the hell shouldn’t he be here? This place might be a lot whiter than he was used to, but it’d always had new people come in, hadn’t it? Like all those Turkish sailors the tourist bumf had been on about, who’d built Cornwall’s first mosque right in the centre of town.
Speaking of town . . . Dev glanced at his watch. Shit. He needed to get back, or he’d be late to meet Ceri. He quickened his pace into a half jog, dodging round families dawdling on the seafront with their ice creams.
Slowing down at the end so he wouldn’t be out of breath, Dev got back to the café dead on five. It was just as well because Ceri was already waiting outside. She’d changed out of the frumpy black skirt she’d worn for work and pulled on a pair of skinny jeans that were living right up to their name and no mistake. They could’ve been made for a seven-year-old. Dev gave her a look. “Don’t they feed you at this place?”
“Fuck off with the body-shaming. Sexist bastard. I wouldn’t eat that shite we serve to the grocks. And like you’ve got a leg to stand on, anyhow, mister skinny fucking latte and no scones.”
“Yeah, well, I hear they’re shite here. What’s your problem? You’re off work now. Cheer up.”
“I’ll cheer up when you get me to that bloody pub and buy me a drink. And no, not the sodding Slug and Lettuce. That’ll be full of grocks all thinking they know me from somewhere and that it gives ’em the right to grope my bum.”
“You ain’t got no bum to grope. So where are we going, then? And what’s a grock when it’s at home?”
“You are. Bloody tourists.”
Dev laughed. “You’re unbelievable, you know that? It’s bloody tourists like me what pay your wages, remember.”
“Bloody rubbish tippers, the lot of ’em.”
“Maybe you should try smiling once in a while, yeah?” Dev held up his hands to ward off her poisonous look. “Oi, just a suggestion. Done it meself, ain’t I? Waited on tables. Punters like service with a smile. The end of my shift, my face used to ache like I’d been deep-throating King Kong, but I made a packet in tips.”
“Bet you did. Bet you got your bum groped a few times too, you with your dark eyes and all.”
Dev grinned, because yeah, he had. Mostly by girls drunk off their heads at hen parties, but still.
They walked in silence for a bit, because they were going right through town and the pavements were too busy with dawdling tourists to make conversation easy. Ceri dodged round them with tight-lipped impatience, making Dev have to hurry to catch up.
It was a flipping long way to go for a drink for someone who’d been on her feet all day. It wasn’t like they hadn’t passed any other pubs, either. There’d been a tearoom, too, that’d looked way nicer than the Square Peg Café, and Dev thought he’d caught a glimpse of the mosque, but Ceri had dragged him onwards before he could be sure. They were right out the other side of Porthkennack now, and if they went much farther they’d end up in the sea. Maybe that was Ceri’s plan. Maybe she was the local serial killer and was bringing him all this way so she could shove him off a cliff unseen.
She’d be out of luck, then. There were still plenty of tourists swarming the streets like ants at a picnic, even this far away from the main beach, and family cars idled past them as they walked down the road.
“So where are we going?” Dev asked as they rounded a sharp corner and headed down a side street. “You still ain’t said.”
“Here.” Ceri stopped abruptly and pushed open a door.
Here, according to the flaking sign that creaked as it swung in the cooling sea breeze, was the Sea Bell, and first sight of it wasn’t promising. Dev hadn’t visited any of the pubs in Porthkennack yet—he’d only got here this afternoon—and he hadn’t had a clear idea of what he was expecting, but this dingy place, with its threadbare carpet and walls and ceilings still tobacco-stained from before the smoking ban a decade ago was definitely not it. Didn’t they want to catch the tourist trade?
One of his mates, Baz, had been joking last week about how it wasn’t safe to go to these remote places—anything west of Middlesex being remote in his book—because they probably sacrificed newcomers to the sea gods or burned them in wicker men or something. Right now Dev could believe it. A few heads turned towards them as they walked in, then turned away again, clearly unimpressed.
Ceri didn’t even seem to notice. She led the way to a corner table. “Sit down there. What’re you having?”
“I’ll get ’em,” Dev said quickly. “You’ve been on your feet all day.”
She looked surprised and a bit suspicious at that, but she sat down. “Vodka and Coke, then.”
Dev marched up to the bar, a bit of extra swagger in his step for the benefit of those tossers giving him the evil eye. At least he got served quickly, probably because most of the other punters had been scared off by the bad vibes. “Vodka and Coke, please, mate,” he said to the miserable old git behind the bar, who grunted and nodded. “Tell you what, make it two,” Dev added a moment later. He’d planned on having a pint of something local to blend in a bit better, but sod it, he was paying. He didn’t give a monkey’s what they thought of his choice of drink.
And it saved him having to work out how the hell he was supposed to pronounce Chough’s Nest. If it was how he thought . . . Well, he’d never been one for anything that came from that area, ta very much.
The barman plonked the drinks on the bar. He didn’t offer ice or lemon. Dev flashed a smile he’d been told was deeply annoying and said chirpily, “I’ll have ice with ’em, yeah? Cheers, mate.”
Dev might have been imagining it, but he reckoned there was a glimmer of respect in the old bloke’s eye as he lumbered over to get the ice.
Ceri wasn’t on her phone when he got back to the table, which was weird, because that was what you did when you had to sit around on your own for a bit in public, wasn’t it? Get onto social media sharpish. It was like holding up a sign saying Oi, I got mates, they just ain’t here right now.
“Here you go,” he said, putting the cleanest-looking glass in front of her, because he was a proper gent, he was. He sat down. “So, you come here often?”
“No.” She took a sip, then blinked. “You got ’im to put ice in it.”
“Yeah, but no slice. Didn’t wanna push me luck. Cheers, love.” He raised his glass and took a gulp, surprised to find the Coke wasn’t flat and didn’t taste like shite. “So how long you lived around here, then?”
“All my life.”
“What, and you ain’t found nowhere better to drink than this shithole?”
“Fuck off. I like it in here. Food’s good too. They have a folk night, Thursdays. My grandad always used to come down with his violin.”
Her mouth went sort of tight and wobbly, so Dev reckoned he’d better not ask what the old bloke was up to these days.
“Hope they have a few more punters in then. I’ve seen roadkill with more life in it than this place.”
“What d’you expect, half past five in the afternoon? Everyone’s still finishing work, aren’t they?”
“S’pose.” Dev took a thoughtful sip of his drink. “So are all your family from round here? Like, generations back and all that shit?”
She nodded. “Well, on my mum’s dad’s side. She’s an Ede. Well, was. Till she married my dad.”
“And that’s s’posed to mean something, is it?”
“Been Edes fishing here long as anyone can remember. They’re one of the old Porthkennack families.”
Dev’s interest picked up. “Like the Roscarrocks?”
“No. Nothing like those bastards.”
It came out so harsh Dev stared at her in amazement. Her face was flushed.
“Why? What they done?” he asked, a prickle of unease making his drink roll uncomfortably in his stomach.
She looked down. “Nothing you’ll need to worry about.” She said it with a flat kind of certainty that didn’t make Dev feel any better.
He was glad of the interruption when a couple of men in their thirties or so barged into the pub like they owned it, one white and one with skin darker than Dev’s, both of them calling out loud greetings to people already there. The barman and the other miserable tossers who’d given Dev and Ceri the evil eye now broke into smiles and cheerful insults for the newcomers. Dev listened for a mo to their soft, rolled r’s and thick vowels. Ceri sounded a bit like that when she talked, but a bit different too.
“You’ve got a funny accent, you know that?” he said without thinking, and braced himself for the fallout. “I mean, different to that lot.”
For once, Ceri didn’t take offence. Dev half thought she was doing it to mess with his head. “My mum’s half Welsh, like I said. And my dad’s from Brizzle, and I grew up here, so.”
“Bristol. Don’t you know anything?”
“I know you ain’t winning any popularity awards with an attitude like that.” Dev grinned as he said it, meaning no offence meant or taken, but her eyes flashed like warning lights and she put her glass down so hard it must’ve dented the table, not that you’d be able to tell.
“Yeah? What about you, then? Coming on holiday all on your lonesome, Mr. Billy-No-Mates himself?”
“Oi, I got mates.” Dev shrugged. “S’posed to be here with one of ’em, ain’t I? We had it all planned.”
“So what happened to him?”
Dev thought about lying for a brief moment, but sod it, it wasn’t like he had anything to prove to her, was it? “Got a better offer, didn’t he? Fortnight in Portugal with some of the lads from work. They had a place in a villa come up, so he only had to spring for the flights.”
“Wanker.” She still sounded pissed off, but not at Dev any more.
He laughed. “Yeah, that’s what I said. Ah, shit. Can’t blame him, really. Wasn’t like this trip was ever gonna be a barrel of laughs.”
He should have guessed she’d ask. “I just . . . got stuff to do here, that’s all.”
“Stuff, all right?” Dev huffed, exasperated. “Family stuff. Okay?”
She frowned. “You got family round here?”
“You know you ask a fuck-ton of questions, right?”
“Well, ’scuse me for making conversation.” She curled her lip and nodded at his glass. “Same again? Or is that another question you don’t want to answer?”
“Yeah. Ta. Uh, that was to the drink, right?”
Ceri rolled her eyes and stood up.
Dev was ready with a change of subject by the time she got back from the bar carrying their drinks plus a couple of packets of crisps, one of which she chucked at him when she’d got the glasses down safely onto the table. Dev caught it inches from his face and opened it up. “Cheers, love. So what’s the deal with the bloke on the bench? He the town drunk?”
“Told you, didn’t I? He’s new. Moved into one of the old cottages up on the cliffs a couple of months ago. Dad reckons he’s a drinker, and so does Mrs. Hammet, my boss, but I dunno for sure. Could all be talk.” She flushed for some reason, then gave Dev a sharp look. “Why, fancy him, do you?”
“Not if he’s a pisshead, I don’t.” Dev wasn’t going to end up like his foster mum, jumping every time the front door opened on a Saturday night in case it was his foster dad coming home in a drunken rage—and then lying her teeth off about it all to Dev’s case-weary social worker when she came round for a visit.
“I told you, I dunno if that’s true. He’s too good-looking, anyway. Well, you know. For his age. Good-looking men are bastards.”
Dev laughed. “So is this you insulting my looks, or my personality? ’Cos from what you just said it’s gotta be one or the other.”
“You’re gay. It’s different.”
“Trust me, it ain’t that different.” He chucked a handful of crisps in his mouth and crunched noisily.
She shrugged, like she didn’t believe him. “So do you fancy him, or what?”
Dev almost choked on his ready salted. He washed the crisps down with a mouthful of vodka and Coke, buying time, but there didn’t seem any harm in telling her. “Maybe. He’s interesting, you know?”
“What’s that when it’s at home?”
“You know. Different.” Dev shifted in his seat. “Like, not the same as all the blokes I know at home. And I reckon he’s got a sense of humour.”
“You could tell all that from the way he was lying on that bench, could you?”
“Shut up. Maybe I just like a bloke with a beard, all right?”
Ceri half laughed at that. “You ever think about growing a beard? I reckon it’d suit you. Even one of they bushy lumberjack ones.”
“Nah, get real. Dark-skinned bloke with a full beard? All I’d have to do would be to get on the Tube with me rucksack, and someone’d be calling the cops before you could say Daesh.”
“Yeah, there’s been some of that round here and all. Muslim girls getting picked on for wearing headscarves. Not a lot, but still. It’s grocks and old folks, mostly.”
Dev nodded. “Tell me about it. Well, not the grocks ’cos believe it or not, we don’t get a right lot of tourists round my neck of the woods. But yeah. Old folks, defs. My boss, Masood, he reckons it’s a lot better now than when his mum and dad came over from Pakistan in the sixties.”
“S’pose it would be, at that. What do you do, Devan-spelled-with-an-A?”
“Mechanic. Work in a garage. Do a few odd jobs on the side, you know how it is. How about you? Is the caff it for you, or is it just a summer thing?”
“It’s just for the summer. Dunno what I’m gonna do come autumn. Go on benefits, most like. Or move away. Where are you from?”
“Can’t you tell? South London. Got a flat in Balham. Arse end of the Northern Line.”
“On your own?”
“Nah, I share with me mate, Mal.”
“What, the one who’s not here?”
“Yeah, that’s him.” Dev glared halfheartedly at his half-drunk vodka and Coke, then downed it in one. Which wasn’t a good move seeing as the Coke here was well gassy. Dev belched loudly, just glad he hadn’t got bubbles right up his nose.
Ceri looked like she was about to say something, but she turned as the street door opened and a noisy crowd of newcomers lowered the average age in the place by ten years at a stroke.
There was a mob of around half a dozen of them, all in their late teens at Dev’s guess. Fresh out of their first year at uni, maybe—they had that student look about them, the lads in Jack Wills shirts and the girls with minimal makeup and unfussy hair. Not like the girls—and some of the lads—he was used to back home, all done up like pop star wannabes. Plus they had that relaxed, lazy air you got when you had three months of freedom, not the desperate overexuberance Dev was used to from his own mates, who only got two weeks off in the summer and were going to have fun if it bloody well killed them.
The uni mob were all looking right at Dev and Ceri. And not like they were pleased to see them.
“Mates of yours?” Dev asked.
Ceri flushed and turned her head away. “No.” Her voice had an ugly, harsh tone.
“You know, we could head off somewhere else. I ain’t had me tea yet,” he reminded her.
“No. We was here first, and they never come in here.” She sounded furious that they’d dared change their routine, and now she mentioned it, Dev could see a few of the regulars sending the uni mob dark looks too. “You stay where you are. I’ll get another round in.”
Like Dev was going to let her go up to the bar with that lot there. “I’ll get ’em,” Dev said, standing up. “It’s my round anyway.”
“So? I got paid today.”
“Yeah, but I’m on me hols, ain’t I? Got money to burn. Same again, right?” He swept off without waiting for an answer and headed to the opposite end of the bar from Ceri’s not-mates.
The old git had disappeared somewhere, to change a barrel or maybe to drink one, so the bar was now staffed by a middle-aged-to-elderly barmaid who looked like she’d run out of fucks to give a week ago last Tuesday. Dev wondered if she was Mrs. Old Git. It’d certainly explain why she looked so bloody fed up. Standing there trying to keep one eye on Ceri to make sure no one bothered her while simultaneously trying to catch the barmaid’s attention with the other, Dev supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised he didn’t notice the redheaded girl sneaking up on him.
“You’re new,” she said right in his ear and nearly made him drop his wallet. “How long you known Ceri Harper?”
See, that sort of crap got Dev’s back right up. He spun to face her. She was a pretty girl, and he reckoned she knew it, with her carefully natural makeup and her off-the-shoulder top that showcased creamy pale skin. With her red hair falling in waves over her shoulders, she looked a bit like that actress who’d played Demelza in Poldark (shut up, he only watched it for when Aidan Turner got his shirt off), and Dev reckoned she knew that too. Her accent wasn’t right for the part, though—it was local still, but a bit on the posh side for Demelza the kitchen maid. “What’s it to you, love?”
“Just here to give you a friendly warning.” She smiled, and it was good. Almost as good an imitation as her French manicured fingernails and those stencilled-on eyebrows. “You want to be careful with that girl. She’s not right in the head. Imagines things. You’ll end up in trouble if you hang around with her.”
“I can take care of myself, ta very much. And if you ask me, it ain’t Ceri who’s going around causing trouble.” If anyone wasn’t right around here, Dev reckoned it was this girl, with her dire warnings like she’d walked out of some gothic romance.
Demelza-like shrugged her bare shoulders. “Suit yourself. But if you ask me, a good-looking lad like you could do a lot better.” Half-turned away, she glanced at him over her shoulder, and what got Dev then was that her expression seemed real, genuine. Concerned. “I mean it about the trouble. The bad kind. Police trouble. You’d better watch yourself.”
Dev snorted to show her what he thought of that, and turned back to the bar because Christ, he was never going to get served at this rate. Luck was finally in, though, as the barmaid glanced his way almost immediately. Dev ordered and paid for his and Ceri’s drinks, took a gulp of his own because he needed it after that, and started to make for their corner table.
It was now occupied by a trio of spotty lads sipping their pints with furtive looks and an air of triumph that said all too clearly the barmaid hadn’t bothered to ask them for proof they were over eighteen, which it was also pretty clear they wouldn’t have been able to provide. Dev had been there, done that. But where the hell was Ceri?
Maybe she’d nipped off to the ladies’? Except who in their right mind left a table in a quickly filling pub until they had someone to hold it for them? Dev leaned against the wall anyway and drank his vodka and Coke, feeling like a right tool, with the uni mob glancing over his way every now and then.
Ceri didn’t appear. Dev started on her drink, having finished his own.
When Demelza-like put down her glass and looked like she was about to come over, Dev left.
He’d had enough drama for one night. Time to hit the chippy.
Where exactly was the chippy, from here? And how the hell was he going to find his way back to his B&B without Ceri? Dev got out his phone and stared at the pitiful number of bars, trying to will the signal strong enough for him to actually use the GPS.
Like that ever worked. You’d think Cornwall was Outer flippin’ Mongolia as far as his network was concerned. First thing tomorrow he was going down the tourist information place and getting a map.
From his house on the cliff, Kyle gazed out at the darkening sea, its waves at this distance no more than ripples on an endless, featureless pond. The sky’s sunset bloom was muted by the lowering clouds, their silver linings a lie. He waited for the sense of relaxation he usually got from the view to wash over him. Calm him.
It was slow to come tonight.
For God’s sake, just when he thought he’d settled in here. Had got himself enough of a reputation that people would leave him alone.
Of course, he probably shouldn’t have come somewhere with a continual influx of tourists, then, should he?
Like the young man from the café this afternoon.
The attack had come on suddenly—Kyle barely had time to get to the bench before he was out like a light.
He’d come round to the sound of a concerned London accent. When he’d opened his eyes, he’d half thought he was still asleep and dreaming. There’d been a young man bending over him, his brown eyes impossibly large, staring right at Kyle from only inches away. His hand had been on Kyle’s shoulder, his grip firm. Warm.
He was breathtakingly handsome. Light-tan skin—genetic, not from a tanning bed or out of a bottle. Black hair, cropped aggressively short at the sides and gelled up on top. Casual clothes. Here on holiday, of course, although he didn’t seem the sort to be a family man.
His face had looked somehow familiar. Not in itself, but in its lines, its features. Maybe his mixed-race ancestry included some Turkish blood, like a lot of the darker-skinned residents of the town.
Not that it was any of Kyle’s business.
The young man had laughed and joked with him, as if Kyle’s humiliating collapse was nothing to worry about. For a moment, it almost hadn’t been. For a moment, Kyle had almost believed it was something that could be taken in stride. Just another part of him. Something to joke about.
He hadn’t felt so normal, so light since he’d come to Cornwall. No, since he’d been diagnosed and realised he wasn’t ever going to get better.
Then it had all gone wrong somehow. Something Kyle had said, something he’d done, had made the young man take a step back, his face suddenly wary. The weight had settled on Kyle’s shoulders once more.
He’d left as soon as he could marshal his wretched, treacherous limbs to carry him.
The young man had had an interesting face, though. A strong jawline, almost belligerent, that was at total odds with those soft, dark eyes of his.
Kyle reached for his sketchbook and pencils almost before he knew what he was doing. He frowned, very deliberately sat down and, with a soft pencil, sketched out the scene before him, devoid of all human life.
Then he tore out the page, crumpled it, and threw it blindly at the bin behind him.
Once he’d actually managed to find the place again, Dev slept all right that first night in the Spindrift B&B. If he didn’t count the dreams where Bench Bloke somehow turned out to be his long-lost dad and Ceri was his mum, for Christ’s sake, which was rich seeing as she had to be younger than he was. And everything was pink, but that was a direct result of the room. The B&B advertised itself as gay friendly, which was why he and Mal had chosen it, despite them not being actually a couple or even mates with benefits except on nights they got really wasted. Or lonely, or horny, or all three. Which was great, yeah, but for some reason the owners had decided that meant the whole bloody place had to look like an explosion in a Barbie factory. Dev wondered if Mrs. Quick would be offended if he started wearing his Ray-Bans indoors.
She’d dished him up an awesome cooked breakfast, described as “full Cornish” but which seemed pretty identical to a full English to Dev—there was fried egg, bacon, sausage, beans, and grilled tomato. The only difference seemed to be potato cakes instead of fried bread, and something called hog’s pudding where you’d normally get a slice of black pudding nobody in their right mind would touch with a bargepole. Dev ate the lot, including the hog’s pudding, which the lesbian couple from Glasgow he’d got talking to over breakfast told him tasted a lot like haggis. Dev had never had haggis, and he’d always reckoned it was one of those things everyone hated but ate because it was traditional, like Brussels sprouts at Christmas, but this stuff was actually tasty.
Huh. Maybe he’d pick up a haggis next time he saw them on offer at Tesco. Of course, he’d have to find out what neeps and tatties were if he did that, seeing as Val from Glasgow had said they were the only proper things to eat with haggis and then changed the subject before he could say, You what?
“And what will you be up to today?” Carol, the younger and prettier one, asked him. She was small and blond and talked a bit different from Val, like maybe she hadn’t always lived in Glasgow, but Dev didn’t know enough about Scottish accents to tell for sure. “Will you be doing a wee bit of surfing?”
Dev patted his belly with a grimace. “After eating this lot? I’d flippin’ sink. Probably cause a bloody tsunami on me way down and all. Nah, thought I’d take a wander up to Big Guns Cove and have a look around. What about you two?”
Carol glanced at Val and smiled. “We’ll be paying a visit to the Round Hole and the castle up on Caerdu Head. It’s steeped in Arthurian legend there, you know.”
Val snorted into her tea, although she somehow managed to make it sound fond. “Black knights and sea serpents, I ask you. When you know full well that castle was nae built till long after Arthur’s time. You stop your havering, and we’d best be away now, or we’ll not get anywhere. You have a good day, laddie, and we’ll see you tonight.”
Dev watched them go off smiling and hand in hand, and felt a bit melancholy for some reason. Of course, he was disappointed he hadn’t got to hear more about the black knights and sea serpents. Had they meant, like, black knights, meaning Turks or Saracens or whatever the fuck they’d called them in those days, or was it just a saying, like they’d had black hair or black flags or black hearts or something? And sea serpents were well cool, obviously.
Dev had half a mind to run after Val and Carol, say he’d go with them—except what kind of a git barged in on someone else’s couple time? No, he’d stick to his—hah—Big Guns and head off in the opposite direction.
At least he’d feel he was getting somewhere. Sort of.
First, though, Dev decided as he headed down the drive of the B&B, he was hitting the Square Peg Café. Not for another shite cup of coffee. To find out what was going on with Ceri. It’d make the round trip far enough to think about taking the bike—but sod it, it’d only be a couple of miles or so. And he really needed to walk off that breakfast. His jeans were tight enough already.
As he made his way through the town, Dev could hear church bells ringing, although they sounded a fair way off. For some reason, he’d forgotten it was a Sunday. Funny that. Second day of his hols and he’d already lost track of what day it was. That’d be St. Ia’s, then—the tourist info had mentioned that as one of the attractions. Maybe he’d find out where it was and pop in sometime, but not today. Dev wondered how he was supposed to pronounce it. Saint Eye-yah? Saint Ear? Why did they have to have all different saints around here anyhow? Most of the churches he knew back home were called Balham (Insert Denomination of Choice) Church, but even the sainted ones had names you recognised and knew how to say, like St. Mary or St. Anselm. He’d never even heard of a St. Ia, and he wasn’t that unreligious. Okay, so he never went to church except when someone he knew was getting hitched or had popped a sprog and was getting it christened, but he’d done years of RE in school.
Then again, he had failed his GCSE. Mostly due to arsing about during lessons, which had been a bit of a feature of his school career if he was honest. He hadn’t really got his head screwed on straight until he’d left the place and started at college, where they’d actually treated him like an adult, not a really dim, annoying toddler they’d be glad to see the back of.
Ceri was back in her frumpy skirt at the Square Peg Café, dishing out coffees with a surly grunt before moving on to clearing tables.
Dev marched straight up to her. “Oi, what was that all about?”
“What?” Ceri didn’t even look at him. She just carried on stacking plates. Badly.
Dev picked up a knife that’d skittered off a plate and onto the ground, and handed it to her. By the jam-smeared blade, because he was a gent like that. “You. Blowing me off last night.” He licked strawberry-flavoured sticky stuff off his fingers, and tried to ignore the sniggering coming from a couple of twin lads aged about twelve sitting round a table with Mum and Dad.
He briefly thought about explaining he hadn’t meant blowing me off in the sex sense, but decided it’d probably make them snigger even worse. Then he saw what they were eating and did a double take. Seriously? Dev liked a clotted cream tea as much as the next Brit, but not at ten o’clock in the flipping morning.
No wonder Ceri didn’t think much of tourists.
“Didn’t think you’d want me around no more, did I?” Ceri muttered. “After what she said to you.”
“Yeah, well, whoever she is, she can go . . . stuff herself.” Dev glanced guiltily at the kids, which nearly made them piss themselves. Dad carried on stuffing himself with his over-laden scone, oblivious, while Mum heaved a pointed sigh. Dev looked away again quickly. “You off at five again, yeah? I’ll see you then, all right.”
“Want to hear my side of the story, do you?”
“No. Far as I’m concerned, there ain’t no story. Just some ginger bi—bit of fluff stirring up sh—stuff, that’s all. I’ll see you later. And oi, smile a bit, yeah? I want two bags of crisps tonight.”
She did smile at that, so yeah, job done. Dev strolled off to reward himself with a cup of coffee from somewhere decent.
Not that he actually deserved a reward, seeing as he hadn’t done the first bloody thing about the whole reason he’d come here yet. But, well. He had three weeks, didn’t he? Plenty of time. And, yeah, this was his holiday, wasn’t it? Only one he’d be getting all summer. So he deserved a bit of relaxation, right? It’d put him in a better frame of mind for . . . stuff.
Dev found a place near the tourist information office that served him a proper Turkish coffee, thick as used engine oil but way tastier. Trouble was, all that caffeine left him keyed up and jumpy as he walked out of town on what he later realised, looking at the map the lady at the tourist information place had given him, was the wrong path. He’d come down the same way, he reckoned, that Ceri had taken him to the Sea Bell last night, but before he got as far as the pub there was a fork off to the right leading back the way he wanted to go. Dev took it, and a few minutes later found himself looking across a broad, sandy cove.
There was a lifeboat station with a weird, curved roof directly below him, which according to the map made this Mother Ivey’s Bay. The sea stretched out forever in front of him. Under the clear skies—so different from yesterday Dev wouldn’t have believed it—the water was a rich, deep blue it hurt to gaze at. Salt-laden air ruffled his hair, which he hadn’t bothered to gel, and drenched his lungs, so fresh it made his chest catch.
The beach looked better than Dev could ever have imagined for somewhere in Britain. If the weather kept shaping up warm, he was going to be back here later with his trunks on. There was a broad stretch of golden sand on which a few families had already staked their claims, loomed over by dark, craggy cliffs. There wasn’t anyone in the water yet, except a couple of toddlers paddling with their dad at the water’s edge, shrieking and running as the waves broke gently on their little legs.
Dev wandered along the narrow road that hugged the contours of the cliffs, its edges bordered by scraggy little bushes that might have been gorse or heather or something. He wasn’t all that good on plants, all right? The beach ducked in and out of sight with the bends in the road, but the view was never less than seriously awesome.
He’d heard places described as “unspoilt” before, but he’d never really got what it meant until he saw this cove. All right, so up top where he was right now, there was a road and a car park and stuff—a few odd shops and a pottery, it looked like—but down on the beach there was nothing except what nature had bunged down there. No public lavs, no kiosks, not even anyone hiring out pedalos or windsurfers.
Dev was used to a beach being somewhere you went to muck about and have a laugh with your mates, or sleep off your hangover after clubbing all night. This place, though . . . It was about as different from Magaluf as, well, Porthkennack was from Balham.
And maybe this place really was in his blood, because for a moment the thought of going back home to the dirt and the smells and the endless, soulless brick, concrete, and tarmac of London seemed almost unbearable. Even the cries of the gulls overhead seemed less earsplitting today, more just part of the scenery.
Then one of them shat on his bare arm, the droopy-beaked bastard.
Christ, that was gross. And he had sod all to wipe it up with. Fucking marvellous. Dev glanced around—any mums up here with young kiddies? A baby wipe would be magic right now, ta very much.
No such luck. They were all either on the beach already or still in their holiday homes spooning goo into tiny mouths. Dev did see someone up on the cliff with him, though. Was it . . .? He blinked. Yeah, it was him all right.
Bench Bloke. The drunk from yesterday. He was standing on the cliff a hundred yards or so ahead, round past the end of the beach where the cliffs climbed up to the Big Guns place. And he was too bloody close to the edge for Dev’s liking. For Christ’s sake, there was a warning sign and everything.
Of course, if you were planning to jump . . .
Ah, sod it. Dev looked at his arm. The bird shit was already starting to dry in the sun. He crouched down, wiped it off quickly and ineffectively on one of the least scratchy-looking bushes, and jogged on over to Bench Bloke. With all this good karma Dev was storing up, he was going to come back as a bloody billionaire in the next life.
“All right, mate?” he called out.
The sea-blue eyes seemed a lot more alert today as they swung round to focus on him. A frown formed a crease between them. “You’re . . . from yesterday. In town.”
He didn’t look like an alcoholic. He didn’t have the bloodshot eyes, the reddened complexion, and the broken veins Dev remembered from Mal’s uncle. He just looked tired. He’d trimmed his beard since yesterday. Dev was relieved to see it. He couldn’t be that far gone if he’d bothered to get out the trimmers. Anyway, the more groomed vibe suited him, and weirdly, didn’t make him seem any less at home here on the wild, craggy clifftop.
“Uh, yeah. Listen, mate, you wanna step back from the edge a bit? I’m getting vertigo just looking at you.”
“Worried I’ll fall?” He sounded bitter.
“No, I’m worried the sea spray’s gonna mess up your hair.” It came out a bit sharper than Dev meant it to. “Course I’m bloody worried you’re gonna fall,” he added in a softer tone, then ruined it all by adding an automatic, “you tosser,” on the end.
Shit. Then again, maybe not, because the bloke actually smiled at that, the half smile Dev remembered from yesterday.
Then he stepped away from the edge, thank Christ. “Happy now?”
“Over the fucking moon.” Dev had meant it to sound sarcastic, but it came out mostly relieved. “I’m Dev,” he added quickly before the bloke could pick him up on it. “From London. Here for a few weeks. You?”
The bloke blinked, like he hadn’t been expecting conversation. “Kyle,” he said at last. “From Epsom in Surrey, although I live here now.”
Dev nodded, then realised that’d look a bit odd. “Yeah. I heard.”
Aaand there went the smile. Fizzled out like a ciggie in a urinal, and Dev had been the one who’d chucked it there. Bugger it. “Heard a lot about me, have you?” If Dev had thought Kyle sounded bitter earlier, his tone now could curdle clotted cream.
Dev forced a cheeky smile. “Yeah, mate. Didn’t you know? You got your own page on the Tourist Info website.”
Result. The smile was back. Except it was a bit more twisted than Dev would’ve liked. “On display for a limited time only: the incredible collapsing man.”
“Hey, we all got our problems. Listen, do you wanna go for a—” Dev broke off. Shit, had he really been about to offer an alcy a drink? He stared at Kyle, appalled. “Shit, sorry, no, course not—”
Kyle stared back for a mo, eyes wide—then, which was weird as fuck, burst out laughing.
And fell over.