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First pages

Part One
Hereseth
1992 – 2009

Chapter One
Autumn 1992

“Ruth MacRath and Aurelia Parr!” Mrs McAllister’s voice cut through the low hiss of many whispers and her spiteful features were sharp with anger. “How dare you interrupt the whole school with your tittle-tattle!”

Ruth kept her eyes carefully unfocussed. Mrs McAllister was a vicious old witch and it was not possible to get into her good books. She didn’t have any. The best that anyone could hope for was to keep out of her way.

Mrs McAllister stood up, her thin frame tense with malice. “Ruth MacRath and Aurelia Parr!” she spat. “I asked you a question!”

Every eye in the school swivelled in Ruth’s and Aurelia’s direction. Some children gazed at them with sympathy, some with curiosity and some with delight, but Ruth avoided them all and continued to stare ahead. “Yes Miss,” she chorused with Aurelia, who hated her name, and much preferred to be called: Aur.

Mrs McAllister stalked towards them and children scrambled to get out of her way.

Ruth tried to remain calm. She was almost eleven years old and nearly as tall as Mrs McAllister. Hell’s teeth! If push came to shove, what could the hateful old bat do?

Mrs McAllister came to halt right in front of Ruth. “Well?” she demanded.

Ruth quailed. She knew exactly what Mrs McAllister could do. She could wait until they were alone and then slap her face – and deny, afterwards, that she had ever laid a finger on any child.

“Sorry Miss,” Ruth muttered and Aur mumbled an apology too.

Mrs McAllister crossed her arms across her small breasts. “You are very stupid girls, aren’t you?”

“Yes Miss,” chorused Ruth and Aur together.

“And extremely rude?” Mrs McAllister suggested.

“Yes Miss; sorry Miss,” they chorused together.

The door to the school hall creaked open and Mr Fergusson shambled in like a walking stall of leftover table-top-sale clothes.

“Good morning, school,” he sang out cheerfully. His Lowland Scots accent marked him out as a stranger in the Highlands but his jolly character made him a welcome stranger.

“Good morning Mr Fergusson,” the school chorused back, as one.

Mrs McAllister fluttered towards him, all smiles. “Good morning Head Teacher,” she gushed. “I was just introducing everyone to our new friends!” She gestured theatrically towards two boys, who were hopping from foot to foot with embarrassment. She simpered over to the younger but taller of the two, and stood behind him. “This is Kyle; Kyle King – and this other boy is his big brother, Marlon.”

Mr Fergusson formally shook each boy by the hand and welcomed them to Hereseth.

Each boy shook hands awkwardly and then examined his palm; there was a peppermint in it.

Mr Fergusson winked, turned to the school and beamed, “We’re very pleased that Kyle and Marlon have joined us, aren’t we children?”

Every voice replied happily that they were.

Mr Fergusson continued, “And it’s always good to have new, and different, friends?”

The children again, collectively, agreed that it was.

Ruth considered the new boys and agreed wholeheartedly. She’d known almost everyone in the school for as long as she could remember. A new family moving to Hereseth was a rare and exciting event and, currently, the King family were the keen subject of gossip throughout the town. Most families could trace their ancestry through at least eight generations to the founding fathers of Hereseth, who built the community in the early nineteenth century on strictly puritan ideals, and nearly everyone, like Ruth and Aur, had dark hair and blue eyes.

The Kings, however, not only had black hair and brown eyes but black skin that seemed to pulse with a sort of inner light. Ruth had never before seen a person who was not white, except on television, and she stared at Marlon. She didn’t think that she had ever seen such a beautiful boy.

“I’m going to marry him!” she hissed at Aur.

Aur’s eyes grew big and she hissed back, “Which one?”

“Marlon.”

Aur studied the distant figures. “Which one is he?”

“The small one,” Ruth whispered back. “The one on the left.”

Mr Fergusson waved a friendly hand and left the school hall.

Aur considered both boys. “Well; I’m going to marry the big one!”

Ruth said, “I think he’s younger.”

Aur shrugged and whispered out of the corner of her mouth, “I don’t care. He’s bigger.”

Ruth giggled and then froze; Mrs McAllister was glaring at her.

“Ruth MacRath,” the teacher said with quiet menace, the corners of her mouth twitching into a sadistic smile. “Come here!”

Ruth swallowed her feelings and made her way forwards until she stood alone and exposed at the front.

“So tell us,” Mrs McAllister said softly as she gestured to the whole school, “what rubbish of yours is more important than our welcome to these new boys?”

“It isn’t rubbish–” Ruth blurted out before she could stop herself.

“Oh?” Mrs McAllister enquired archly, and then continued, with sarcasm dripping from every word. “Then do share your pearls of wisdom with us all...”

A cautious titter rippled around the assembled children.

Ruth could feel tears of frustration pricking her eyes. How could she tell anyone but Aur that she was going to marry Marlon? The children in the school hall would laugh and Mrs McAllister would not only tease her mercilessly, she would target Marlon too – and relish it...

“Please...” Mrs McAllister wheedled. “It must be so important...”

The school giggled more openly.

“Well?” Mrs McAllister demanded finally, with steel in her tone.

The school waited expectantly and the atmosphere hovered on the border between excitement and panic.

Ruth stared at the floor and tears of impotent rage began to trickle down her cheeks. She mumbled, “It wasn’t anything. It was what you said. It was just rubbish.”

Mrs McAllister leaned forwards and put her hand to her ear, “I’m sorry, did you say something?”

The whole school laughed as one.

“I said it was rubbish,” Ruth said, her voice cracking. “What I said to Aur. It was rubbish.”

Mrs McAllister leaned closer still, feigning deafness. “I’m not sure that the children at the back heard you. Perhaps if you turn around?”

Ruth did as she was told. The whole school was now silent and most of the children avoided looking at her, just grateful that it wasn’t them standing where Ruth was, and hoping beyond hope that Mrs McAllister would not notice them.

Ruth’s voice shook and cracked as shame mingled with her hopeless anger and she shouted as loudly as she could, “I spoke a load of old rubbish!”

“Oh dear!” Mrs McAllister piped gaily.

She turned to the school, “And what do we do with rubbish, children? What do we do with rubbish?”

Every child avoided her gaze, terrified that she would pick on them to her answer her question. What on earth did the spiteful old hag want them to say?

Mrs McAllister answered her own question, “Why! We put it in the bin!”

She stared at Ruth with her eyebrows raised, “Well; go on, then...”

Ruth looked up with fear and loathing; what was she supposed to do?

Mrs McAllister smiled an evil smile and indicated the rubbish bin in the corner. “Go on; get in!”

Ruth moved towards the bin as if in a dream. She glanced back at the hated teacher.

Mrs McAllister stared back with empty eyes and nodded.

Ruth climbed in, squashing down discarded papers and a banana skin with her shoes.

Mrs McAllister drifted over to Kyle and Marlon and quipped, “Good riddance to bad rubbish, wouldn’t you say boys?”

The new boys looked horrified.

Mrs McAllister declared, “Everyone back to class.”

The children stood silently and began to file out.

She turned to Ruth, “Except you. You stay there until I tell you to go. You stay where you belong.”

Tears streamed uncontrollably down Ruth’s cheeks as the children filed past her but, as Marlon passed, she caught his eye. Never before had she experienced such sympathy and friendship in a glance. She knew, from that first, brief contact, that if he could have done anything to help her, he would have. A pulse of strength surged through her and she dried her eyes.

Mrs McAllister waited until the last child had filed out of the hall. She stared at Ruth, pursed her lips, tapped her foot and beckoned with a thin finger, “Come here.”

Ruth climbed out of the bin and crossed the floor.

Mrs McAllister considered her and asked, “So; why were you so interested in those new boys?”

Ruth kept silent and stared at Mrs McAllister’s chin.

“Got a little crush have we?” Mrs McAllister wheedled.

Ruth was shocked by the teacher’s insight but forced herself to make an expression of distaste. She had to throw the old witch off the scent or life would be unbearable.

“Oh, I see!” Mrs McAllister crowed quietly. She nodded to herself. “It’s because they’re black, isn’t it?” She poked her finger towards Ruth’s chest, “You don’t like black people? Is that it?”

Ruth allowed her cheeks to colour. If that was what Mrs McAllister wanted to think, then let her. She risked a glance at her teacher’s eyes and was shocked by what she saw; it looked like approval.

Mrs McAllister nodded to herself again and said, “Go to your class and let’s have no more of this silliness.”

Ruth bit down on her anger and said, “Thank you, Miss.” She turned on her heel, returned to her classroom and slid into her seat next to Aur.

“That was quick,” Aur muttered.

Ruth shrugged, “Once I stopped crying she lost interest.”

Aur nodded, “That figures.”

Ruth pulled out her pencil case and prepared her things for their first lesson.

Aur asked, “Are you really going to marry him? The new boy?”

Ruth stared at Marlon’s back, three rows in front of her. His glance in the school hall had told her everything she needed to know, and she was definitely going to marry him. Hereseth was a small town though, and if what she had seen in Mrs McAllister’s eyes was anything to go by, she would need to keep the truth from everyone – for now. Even from Aur.

Ruth snorted, “No! I was just joking.”

She lined up her pen and pencil on the desk in front of her and glanced at Marlon’s back again. She would just need to find ways of helping their friendship along without arousing any suspicions…

A wave of something very powerful surged inside her and she hid her mouth behind her hand as she whispered to herself, “But I am definitely marrying you. Och forever, certain sure.” It was her most unbreakable promise, and she meant it.

Chapter Two
Spring 1993

Ruth woke with a growing sense of excitement. She jumped out of bed, hauled her heavy bedroom curtains open and whooped for joy. Sunshine! On a Saturday! She ran downstairs and burst into the kitchen.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” he mother said thinly.

Ruth waved at the window, “It’s sunny!”

Mrs MacRath sniffed, “Blowing a gale, though…”

Ruth ignored her and said to her father, “It’s been ages!”

Mr MacRath glanced at her over the top of his newspaper. He smiled and nodded and then returned to the news.

Mrs MacRath put a bowl of porridge in front of Ruth and she wolfed it down. She couldn’t wait to go outside. It had been a dismal autumn and a foul winter and it seemed like she had spent the last six months hiding at home or hunkered down at school.

She pushed her bowl away. Sunshine!

Mrs MacRath stared at Ruth’s bowl and coughed quietly.

Ruth picked it up, took it to the sink, washed it and left it to drain.

Her mother’s voice followed her as she left the kitchen and ran back upstairs, “Make sure you dress up warm. Don’t go catching cold.”

Ruth threw on a pair of jeans and a warm jumper, slid into her anorak and left her house, turning her face towards the sky. She called for Aur and, once her friend was bundled up in her own anorak, they walked down to the harbour, and beyond. The tide was out and the sea was making its gentle music against the rocks lower down the beach. The air was full of the smell of fresh seaweed and they mooched along the shore together discussing their parents, boys, Mrs McAllister, and Shaggy’s new single, O Carolina.

Aur said, predictably, “I think he’s just so cool!” and began growling out the song, grinding her hips in time with the music as she went along.

Ruth agreed but hoped that they wouldn’t spend the rest of the morning talking about pop stars and about how Aur was convinced that she looked like–

Aur stopped, pulled off her hairband and shook out her hair. The wind instantly blew it all over the place but she ignored it, struck a pose and said, “If I was blonde, I’d look just like Kylie, wouldn’t I?”

Ruth’s heart sank. She was peering, yet again, into Aur’s face, when she noticed something over her shoulder. “Oh look! I think the Kings are over there.”

Aur spun around, gathered her unruly hair back into her hairband and set off up the beach. “Come on. Let’s see what they’re doing.”

Ruth caught up with her and they went together.

Up above the high-tide mark of seaweed and piles of debris, Kyle had a garden fork in his hand and Marlon was digging with a trowel into the shore line at the base of the cliffs.

“What are you doing?” Aur asked.

“Digging for fossils,” Kyle replied over his shoulder. “Mr MacCrosain, at the shop, said he’d buy them off us if we found any interesting ones.”

“Look them up first,” Ruth advised, “before you sell him any. There’s a good book in the library with pictures and everything. That way you’ll know if they’re worth anything and whether he’s offering you decent money.”

Marlon straightened up and said. “Thanks.” After a pause he continued, “Where’s the library?”

“In the square,” Ruth answered. “Opposite the Post Office. Hell’s teeth, haven’t you seen the signs?”

Marlon grinned lopsidedly, “Oh yeah...”

Aur looked from Marlon to Kyle and back again. “You’re older than him, aren’t you?”

Marlon nodded.

“But he’s taller than you,” she declared.

He nodded again.

Aur peered at him. “Why are you going that funny colour?”

Kyle, still squatting, glanced up at his brother. “He’s blushing.”

Aur stepped close and studied Marlon with interest, “Is he? We go red when we blush.”

“So do we,” Kyle asserted, digging again.

Ruth looked closely at Marlon’s skin. His brother was right, below the dark, lustrous skin of his neck and cheeks a deeply red flush was visible.

“Is it hot?” Aur asked. She reached out and touched Marlon’s cheek.

He instantly drew away.

“Sor-ry,” she muttered, making her apology sound like an accusation.

Marlon shrugged, wiped his brow with his sleeve and crouched down next to his brother to continue digging.

Ruth bit down on her anger. Since the Kings had moved to Hereseth, she had become aware of the way people made fun of them behind their backs – just because their skin was a different colour! It didn’t seem to be deliberate, it just seemed like everyone did it without thinking. And now Aur was doing it! She peered over Marlon’s shoulder and asked kindly, “Have you found anything?”

“We found these,” Kyle answered. He stood up and showed her a piece of rusted, broken metal that looked like the tip of a fish gaff, and a piece of pottery.

“Just junk,” Aur sniffed. She considered the two boys; “Can we watch?”

Marlon grinned over his shoulder, “You can help, if you like.”

“That’s all right,” Aur said. “We’ll just watch.” She sat down on a log which had washed up during the last big storm and was now bleached white by the wind and the salt and the sun.

Ruth sat down next to her.

Aur shielded her eyes as she squinted at Kyle, “Are you a lot younger than him?”

“Only thirteen months,” he said proudly.

“Gosh!” Aur expostulated. “That was quick! Your poor mother!”

Marlon paused in his digging; “Mum and Dad wanted it that way. It was because of Dad’s work.”

“It’s still quick,” Aur insisted. “I thought women couldn’t have another baby for at least two years after the first one.” She looked at Ruth and then back at the King boys, “But maybe that’s just us?”

Marlon carefully examined a piece of brick he’d unearthed. It had been rounded into an egg shape by the turmoil of the sea. His skin began to deepen in colour again. “It doesn’t have anything to do with colour! It all depends on breastfeeding.” He rolled the piece of brick in his fingers, studied it closely, and then tossed it aside. “If a woman breastfeeds her baby, she won’t be able to start another baby until a couple of months after she stops. If she bottle feeds her baby, it’s different.” He glanced at Aur, “And that’s true for all women.”

“Gosh,” Aur tittered. “You know a lot about breasts!”

Marlon looked surprised; “My Mum told me.”

Ruth felt rather awed. “Do you talk about that sort of thing with your mum?”

“We talk about everything,” he said casually, and resumed digging.

Kyle squatted down and poked around with his fork.

Aur regarded Marlon and said, “And you’re eleven.”

Marlon grunted, “I am.”

Kyle stood up again and puffed out his chest, “And I’m ten!”

Ruth was getting fed up of Aur so she said, “It’s no different to us. I was eleven at the beginning of the school year and you’ll be eleven in the summer term. If you’d been born a couple of months later, we’d be in different school years too. You’d be in the same year as him.”

Aur nodded and said to Kyle, “I like your hair.”

He brushed his fingers through his tight curls.

“And you don’t talk funny anymore. Like you did when you arrived.”

Kyle grinned. Both he and his brother had quickly changed their accents to blend in with the Hereseth children. Ruth thought it was probably so that there was one less thing for them to be teased about.

“Where are you from?” Aur asked.

Kyle said, “Yelmouth.”

Aur frowned, “Is that in Africa?”

Ruth was about to round on Aur but Kyle just hooted with laughter. “It’s in England!”

Marlon looked mildly over his shoulder, “Black people don’t just come from Africa. We live all over the world.”

“Including Hereseth,” Ruth said firmly.

Marlon flashed her a grateful smile.

She continued, “And thank you for Thursday, for diverting Mrs McAllister when she was gunning for me.”

Marlon sat back on his haunches and smiled gently, “I just thought I could help.”

“Well you were brilliant!” she said. “When you dropped your big eraser and it bounced all over the place I thought the old witch was going to have a fit!”

“Me too,” he grinned.

Aur said critically, “You didn’t have to crawl to her, though. I thought you’d never stop saying sorry.”

Marlon pushed some wet sand off his trowel with his finger. “But that’s what you do with her. If you apologise and just keep apologising she doesn’t know how to cope and she backs off.”

Ruth regarded him with new respect. “How did you work that out?”

He shrugged, “I talked about it with Mum and she suggested I try it.”

Ruth could think of nothing to say; his family life was evidently very different to her own. It had never even occurred to her to mention her nemesis to her parents, let alone ask them for advice. “Well, thanks, anyway.”

He grinned back, “Any time.”

Ruth smiled. He meant it.

Kyle considered Ruth and Aur. “You two are always together. Are you, like, sisters?”

Aur linked her arm with Ruth’s. “We are. We are just like sisters. We grew up together.”

Kyle nodded thoughtfully, “But you have different mums and dads?”

Aur nodded, “That’s right. Like sisters but with different mums and dads.”

Kyle shrugged, “We had friends just like that in Yelmouth. Brothers and sisters with different mums and dads.”

Marlon whooped and stood up, holding something that looked like a tube in his hand.

“Found something?” Ruth asked.

He nodded vigorously.

“Go and wash it in the sea,” she suggested.

She went with him as Kyle took her seat next to Aur.

Keeping his shoes out of the surf as best he could, Marlon stooped and shook his find in the water. When it was clean he showed it to Ruth.

“I think that’s a belling-night,” she said. “Or a bellum-knight, or something like that. It’s, like, the fossilised body of a squid thing.” She pointed to the thick end of the four-inch cone, “The tentacles came out here.”

“Is it worth anything?” he asked excitedly.

“I don’t think so,”

His face dropped.

“What I mean is,” she continued hastily, “is that it’s worth a bit but not very much. It’s a big one, though, so I might be wrong.”

He regarded his find proudly. “Should I go to the library and check?”

Ruth nodded, “I’ll come with you, if you like.”

His gaze drifted from the fossil to her face but his expression remained unchanged, “Would you?”

She nodded and they went back up the beach.

Kyle was telling Aur some tale about his school in Yelmouth and she was shrieking with laughter.

“We’re going to the library,” Marlon said.

“Och, aye?” Kyle responded.

Aur shrieked with fresh laughter and spluttered, “We don’t say that! They say that in Glasgow! We say, och yes!” She rocked backwards and forwards and eventually gasped, “You are funny!”

Kyle reverted, briefly, to his southern accent and said to his brother, “You go. I’ll stay. I want to find one too.”

Marlon slipped the fossil into his pocket and set off along the beach with Ruth.

“If it is worth something, I’ll sell it,” he said.

“And if it’s not worth anything?” she asked.

“I’ll keep it. I’ll put it on my chest of drawers. In my bedroom where I keep my special things.”

“And what if it’s worth a little?”

He thought this over and then grinned suddenly, “Then I’ll give it to you – if you want it.”

Ruth grinned back, “I’d like that. Would it be like a certain-sure present?”

Marlon nodded and, relishing the sound of the words in his newly acquired accent replied, “Certain sure.”

#

Ruth’s mother announced her arrival home with a crash of the front door and her habitual war cry: “Gregory!”

Ruth’s father folded his newspaper with a sigh and replied mildly, “In here, Miriam.”

She swept into the parlour, unwinding her scarf without taking off her hat – a sure sign that her news was of the utmost importance.

Greg MacRath surreptitiously folded his newspaper so that he could see the crossword puzzle.

Miriam paused, her scarf half unfurled, and divulged, “You’ll never guess what’s happened!”

“I probably won’t,” Greg agreed, his attention on the crossword.

“It’s about Mrs King,” Miriam confided in the low voice she kept in reserve for particularly dreadful or salacious news.

Ruth pricked up her ears but her father seemed disinterested.

“She’s been telling the children,” Miriam revealed, closing her eyes to add drama, “about breasts!”

Greg scratched his chin, “And which children would those be, then?”

Miriam dismissed this question with a gesture and continued, “And you’ll never guess what else she’s been saying!”

“You’re most probably right,” he sighed.

Miriam paused dramatically, “She’s been saying that we’re all divorced! You, me, the Parrs; everyone!”

Ruth felt like scratching her head. Why did this tale sound, sort of, familiar?

“Is that a fact?” Greg asked. He picked up his pen and calmly filled in a word.

Miriam nodded, her face flushed.

Greg looked up and considered his wife, “So you had a good shop, did you?”

Miriam looked briefly crestfallen and then backed towards the door. “I need to go back,” she muttered. “I’ve forgotten something.”

She left the room and, a moment later, the front door banged shut.

Greg said to his crossword puzzle, “That’ll be the shopping she’s forgotten... Our bags will still be on the floor of the shop like little, lost orphans...”

Ruth felt a growing queasiness in the pit of her stomach. The things her mother had said sounded sort of familiar because they were kind of like the things Marlon and Kyle had talked about… Were they going to get in trouble? Was she? Was this, in some way, her fault? And was it up to her to put things right – or should she just keep quiet and hope it all blew over?

Mr MacRath tapped his pen against the puzzle and looked at the ceiling.

Ruth made a decision. “Dad?”

He filled in another word, “Aye?”

“Me and Aur were talking to Marlon and Kyle this morning...”

“Who?”

“Marlon and Kyle. Mrs King’s sons.”

“Who are they, then?”

“The new family who moved in; at the end of last summer.”

Her father put down his puzzle and considered her. “Oh them. The, um, darkies.”

Ruth felt as if all the breath had been forced out of her. She had never imagined that her own father would think of the Kings as any different to anyone else.

“And is that the Mrs King your Mother was blethering on about?” he asked.

Ruth nodded, unable to think of what she could say.

He looked at her speculatively. “And you’ve made friends with her, um, er, laddies... have you?”

Ruth wrung her hands. What had her father almost called her friends? Something horrible? She had no idea how to ask, and she was suddenly afraid that her mother was talking the kind of rubbish that could really hurt the Kings.

“And your point is…?” he asked.

Ruth pulled herself together. She had to tell him what was on her mind, even if she kept what had arrived in her heart to herself – for now. With an effort she said, “Marlon said that his Mum had told him about breastfeeding.”

Mr MacRath drummed his fingers on his paper.

She ploughed on, “And Kyle asked if we were like sisters, and Aur said we were but with different mums and dads.”

“Och yes?”

Ruth looked at her father and concentrated on her mother’s gossip. She’d think about the other horridness in Hereseth, and in her own home, another time. “Dad – do you think that’s what Mum’s talking about? Do you think that Aur’s said something to her mum and that she’s said something to... well someone; and that someone else has said something to–”

“Probably,” her father sighed. “And now that your mother’s got hold of it heaven knows where it will stop.”

“Dad...”

“Aye?”

“Do you think I ought to say something? To explain?”

Her father considered his crossword. “Probably not. By now this latest piece of gossip will have grown legs and sprinted to Aberdeen and back. If you say anything else, you’ll just fire the starting pistol for some new, misbegotten pish.”

“But what about poor Mrs King?” she asked, close to tears.

Her father waved his pen. “If Mrs King is going to live here, she’ll need to learn how to fight her own battles.” He filled in a word and said, with an air of finality, “Besides, now that I think about it, if you put Mrs King and your mother in the same ring, I know who I’d put my money on...”

He filled in another word with satisfaction and said softly, “And it would’na be your mother...”

Ruth tried to work out if her father had just complimented Mrs King. She wasn’t sure, but if he had, what had he just said about her mother? She had a lot to think about and the sinking feeling in her stomach told her that she might not much like what she discovered.

Mr MacRath paused and looked at Ruth again, “And you say these new... um... laddies are friends of yours?”

There it was again! The pause before he spoke. What was he thinking of saying? What word had he stopped himself using? Her heart broke but her hand crept into her pocket, “I’m more friends with Marlon than with Kyle. He’s older; my age.”

Mr MacRath looked as if he was thinking something over, as if he was about to say something but, in the end, he just went back to his crossword puzzle.

Ruth felt suddenly adrift. For as long as she could remember, she had accepted, as normal, the Hereseth opinions that surrounded her. She had been aware of those who had welcomed the King family and increasingly aware of those who didn’t – but now she realised that her own parents, and that even Aur, could be unpleasantly Hereseth.

She left her father to his newspaper and drifted up to her bedroom where she withdrew the belemnite Marlon had given her from her pocket. It was smooth and solid and dark and beautiful; just like him. Why would anyone treat him differently just because of the colour of his skin? He was lovely! For the first time in her life it dawned on her that sooner or later she would have to choose her friends – and her choice would stop her being friends with others.

She put the belemnite carefully onto her shelf and moved things around so that it was in pride of place. She knew that she was going to marry Marlon, and now she knew that marrying him might involve a choice her parents did not approve of.

She turned away from Marlon’s gift and turned towards her mirror. She could see herself, and the belemnite over her shoulder. What was it the Minister said about marriage? That a man and a woman left their fathers and mothers and became one flesh…

Ruth nodded. Well then. As a child, she had been expected to be obedient to her parents. As an adult, she would make her own choices. And she would choose Marlon.

She stared at her reflection. Today was a significant day; she was thinking about her own choices; she was growing up. She made a face at herself. Being grown up was a long time away. Right now, though, she knew that she and Marlon were friends – no matter what anyone else thought.

She turned away from her mirror and picked up the belemnite again. They were och-forever-certain-sure friends too – and that would, somehow, make everything else all right.

Chapter Three
Summer 1994

“Do I have to go to the Kirk?” Ruth demanded, voicing the sticky, spiky feeling inside her.

Her father pushed away his breakfast plate with the remains of his kippers and said, “I thought you liked going.” He was still in his pyjamas and dressing gown and, as always on a Sunday morning, said that he would get dressed later.

“She does,” her mother said with an air of finality. She pulled her own dressing gown more tightly across her chest and sipped some tea. “She’s just being wilful.”

Ruth felt a surge of resentment and opened her mouth–

“In fact,” her mother interrupted, her mouth a thin line, “this seems to be happening more and more. You used to be such a good girl! What’s happened to you?”

Ruth had no idea what to say. It wasn’t her who had changed, it was her parents! These days all they seemed to do was criticise her and boss her around…

“I don’t understand why you’re making a fuss,” her father said reasonably. “As I said, I thought you liked going.”

Ruth played with the hem of her skirt; it was better than raging or weeping. The sticky, spiky feeling inside her made her want to argue and run away – and it felt like being pulled apart…

“Well, go on,” her mother chided. “Answer your father.”

Ruth stared at her hem and said sullenly, “When do I get to choose?”

“Oh, is that what this is about?” her mother said shortly. “When you’re a teenager; that’s when you get to choose. Now get your coat and off you go.”

Ruth slouched out of the kitchen, grabbed her coat and left the house, banging the door behind her.

Outside her house, the sticky, spiky feeling slid away and she felt free. She breathed deeply, jogged up the street, and knocked on Aur’s door.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I write under the name of Riach Wilson for this genre so that the focus is on the novel, not the author. By day I am a Church of England Vicar, married with a family, and I lead a busy life rooted in reality. By night, though, I flex my fingers, hit the keyboard, and explore the ‘what ifs’ of fiction…

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
The Old Testament Book of Ruth; I’ve re-imagined her story in a twenty-first century setting and followed her through twenty years of turbulent life. The original tale is so wonderful, it’s my hope that this fictional version will also encourage and inspire.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
It allows me to explore intriguing characters and fascinating relationships, and I like to write ‘romance wrapped in reality’. After all, what’s the point of a romantic story if it could never, actually happen – and what’s reality without a little bit of romance?
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
I tell each story from the viewpoint of the main character who is, in some way, ‘boxed in’. Each novel is an independent story and the series can be read in any order, but some characters also appear in other novels, and their lives interconnect through their choices and circumstances.

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