For as long as she could remember, Ava had wanted to be a writer. Well, that’s not strictly true, her first memory actually involved wanting to be someone in possession of the jar of biscuits her mother kept on the kitchen counter, but were she not so pedantic in her usage of clichés, that would be how she’d describe herself. Growing up in a small town in southern England, the most entertainment she could find invariably came from her own imaginary worlds. And, as she’d grown up, the scenarios she’d played out with her best friend Abi began to be transferred onto the page, and she’d found better ways to put words to the stories she spun out in her head as she went along.
Now, at the grand age of sixteen, Ava was for the first time experiencing writer’s block. She was already at an age where her imagination didn’t seem so boundless anymore, and as she began to develop her own literary taste, devouring everything from Jane Austen to Nick Hornby, she was beginning to discover a writing world outside of the fantastical one she’d worked within all her life. And while she wasn’t sure anything would ever surpass His Dark Materials or Harry Potter, the first books that she’d ever sought out for herself and read independently, and the ones that had inspired a lot of her pre-teen writing, she began to see how you could write something just as rich and imaginative that revolved entirely around interpersonal dynamics rather than a magic universe and driving plot. And these new genres, less fantastical than those of YA but still exciting in their promise of something new, afforded her a foothold in the wall she’d come up against as the unlimited imagination of her childhood began to recede.
The only problem is, she had no idea how to write anything in a different genre. What tone and style were you supposed to go for in a science fiction? What kind of characters were typical to a thriller? How the hell were you supposed to write a romance that wasn’t horrendous?
And that was how the idea came about. If she was struggling for inspiration and lack of experience, she would forcibly go out and grab those things. She was going to live each day according to a different genre, and then come back and write about her experiences in the style of that genre. Okay, well, each weekend day, it was going to be hard to impose genre onto the rigorous structure of the school day. As a literary exercise, it would help break her out of her genre rut by forcing her to try out new styles and voices. And, on a more practical level, it would give her an excuse to hang out with her best friend Abi, who had been kind of weird and distant ever since they’d started at different sixth forms, and to get out of her house, which was forever permeated by the type of music people who thought they were better than other people played (also known as her brother’s iTunes library).
And so, on a crisp Saturday morning, Ava retreated back to her room after breakfast, pulled out her laptop and attempted to draw up some ideas for what to go with first.
Of course, no sooner had she sat down on her bed (which had recently undergone the traumatic change from Harry Potter linen to a mature, sophisticated violet duvet cover), than The Smiths began to sound through the wall she shared with Nate, at which point it became hard to focus on her laptop, what with the constant eyerolls the music compelled her to carry out. It wasn’t that she hated The Smiths, it was more that she hated people who were intensely passionate about The Smiths, her brother being number one on that list. And on top of that, she also felt that a pretty, quiet song like Cemetery Gates did not lend itself to being blasted through a wall.
She pulled out her trusty broom, which Abi had dubbed the DeNatinator, and gave the wall several sharp thumps of complaint. The only response she got from the other side was an increase in the volume. Wonderful.
Dropping the broom in frustration, she blindly groped around her bedside table in search of Plan B, namely the noise cancelling headphones that would drown out all reminders that her brother was a living entity. Failing to find them in their usual spot, she pulled out her drawer and rummaged through it, still to no avail. Now, Ava’s room wasn’t a typical teenage girl’s room. Sure, she had posters up, but it was mainly artwork from her favourite books (and one picture of Chace Crawford, because she was still a teenage girl, after all). And it was also kept in very meticulous order; absolutely everything had its own proper place, including her headphones, whose place was on her bedside table, ready to be grabbed whenever the opening notes of a Joy Division song started to drift through the wall.
The fact that they weren’t in their place (or even their backup place, the drawer) could only mean one thing. She’d been robbed.
And while this might have been cause for concern in most cases, Ava’s gut reaction was excitement. She had her first genre, and she hadn’t even had to seek it out.
Grinning, she grabbed the phone (which happened to be shaped like a pink stiletto – again, teenage girl). She dialled her best friend’s cell number, hoping that despite whatever was off with her lately, she’d still pick up and be game for their usual antics.
“You’re seriously calling me from your landline? Have you aged seventy years? Are you now in some care home calling me from the future to tell me not to go through with getting my hair cut on Tuesday?”
Ava grinned in response to her friend’s version of a greeting: Abi was never one to ask one question when five would do. “No, I’m calling you from the future to reassure you that it’s going to look amazing.”
“Thank you, future Ava, but you’re avoiding the question. Why aren’t you calling me from your cell? Or your futuristic communications pod device or whatever?”
“Because I’m currently living in a gritty noir detective novel, and it didn’t feel right to start it out by speaking into an object covered in glittery pineapples.”
“So you thought a pink stiletto would be more appropriate?”
“Hey, that could easily be a murder weapon or a clue or something, you’ve seen Single White Female.”
“Can we circle back to the part where you’re now living in a gritty noir?”
“Ah, yes, of course,” Ava replied, and quickly elaborated the outline of her new authorial project, all the while internally crossing her fingers that Abi would be on board. Thus far, she had very much been the Abi of old over the phone, and she prayed that this would extend to wanting to play detective with her.
“Okay, so standard Ava shenanigans,” Abi replied, after hearing the whole scheme. “And why, may I ask, are we starting with noir?”
Encouraged by the use of the collective pronoun, Ava barrelled on. “Because we already have a case laid out for us: that of my missing headphones. Now we just need to interview the perps, namely my beloved family members, narrow down a suspect and then drag a confession out of them.”
“And why exactly am I needed for this?”
“Because, my dear Abriana, every bad cop needs their good cop.”
“You do know my full name’s Abigail, right?”
“Are you sure? Because Abriana’s so much more you. Abigail’s a farmer’s daughter with pigtails and dimples, Abriana’s a glamorous Italian supermodel who may or may not also fight crime.”
“Yes, because that is so very me,” Abi replied, her usual droll self. “Okay, fine, any reason to get away from Felix and his new girlfriend.” Abi and Ava’s mutual disdain for their older brothers, whose friendship happened to be what had brought the two girls together in the first place, remained an abiding link between them.
“You should really caution her against choking on any fur balls during one of their marathon make out sessions,” Ava replied, reinforcing her longstanding opinion that Felix could not possibly be the name of a human and Abi’s brother was therefore secretly a cat.
“I already gave her some flea repellent for her last birthday.”
“That’s my girl,” Ava replied. “Anyway, there’s no time to lose, we’ve got to strike before the trail goes cold!”
“Aren’t we supposed to be striking while the iron’s hot?”
“Abriana dearest, confused, mixed metaphors are a staple of the noir genre, trust me on this one. And also, get the hell over here.”
“Yes, serge,” Abi replied. “Be there in ten. You can call this perp my new set of bookshelves because he’s about to get nailed to the wall.”
“And unlike my phone, he shouldn’t expect to be jailbroken any time soon.”
“Okay, Aves, I love you, but I’m only agreeing to do this if I get to do the last cop line.”
“Okay, fine, the next one’s all yours, just get over here,” Ava replied, before unceremoniously hanging up and reaching for her noticeboard in order to ready the scene for Abi’s arrival.
As promised, ten minutes later, Ava heard the doorbell ring, followed by some mumbled niceties exchanged between Abi and her mother, and then Abi’s footsteps on the stairs. Ava hadn’t gone down to answer the door herself, as she was still putting the finishing touches on what she had dubbed her Carrie Board. Carrie as in Homeland, not as in gorefest at the prom.
She rolled her eyes when she heard a light knock at the door. “Woman, we’ve been hanging out in here since we were six, you really still feel the need to knock on the door?”
Abi opened the door and shrugged as she came in, before flopping down onto Ava’s bed. “I don’t know, what if you were naked or something?”
“You thought I’d invite you over and then just wait here, naked? And besides, we’ve had baths together. Multiple times. We made up whole backstories for our rubber duckies.”
“Yeah, when we were like six,” Abi replied, sitting up to scrutinise the Carrie Board. “I see you’ve been hard at work in the last ten minutes.”
Ava eyed the board, proudly. She’d quickly managed to scrounge up pictures of her prime suspects (her mother, father and brother), all of which were pinned to the board with a picture of the headphones in the centre. Naturally, a bunch of red strings were pinned on, connecting each picture to each other, to show the familial connection, and to the headphones, to show the possible theft. Given that all the suspects were related to each other, this was fairly redundant, but the board hadn’t looked complete without it. Ava had also scrawled possible motives onto each photo in red marker.
For example, Nate’s read as follows:
Generally an asshole, so would do that type of thing.
Can listen to his wanky sadboy music with no outside interruptions.
These headphones are awesome, anyone would want to steal them.
That last point made up the final possible motive on each suspect picture. Turning proudly to her friend, Ava asked, “Like it?”
“Looks like another classic Avarism to me,” Abi replied, not batting an eyelid – this was really one of the lesser displays of Ava’s obsessive insanity that she’d come up against over the course of their friendship. “So, which of these rabble rousers are we going to rouse the rabble of first, partner?”
“Well, I figure we should leave Nate for last, since I’m ninety-nine per cent sure it was him and he’ll confess immediately, so that would cut the story a bit short.”
“Right. Well, going by that logic, shall we start with the least likely suspect?” She said, putting a blue push pin into the picture of Ava’s mum.
“Abi, I love your enthusiasm, I really do, but I’m the only one who gets to put pins in the Carrie Board.”
“Sorry,” Abi said, retrieving the pin in an overly meticulous way to mark her friend’s ridiculousness. “Better?”
“Much,” Ava replied. “Now let’s get to know our suspect a bit, shall we?”
“You mean the woman who raised you from birth?”
“The very same,” Ava replied, before pressing on. “Rachel Hawkins. Forty-seven years old. Happy suburban mother-slash-accountant. She is a literal cross section of the two groups least likely to turn to a life of crime. No reason in the world she’d steal the headphones, right?”
“Wrong,” Ava said, jabbing at the picture of her mother, with a pointer that Abi wasn’t sure when she’d retrieved. “Mrs Hawkins may look clean, and yes, it’s unlikely that she even knows what headphones are, but beneath the polished veneer that woman has a secret, a deep, dark addiction that informs her every move. She’s a tidier.” There was a brief pause. “You’re supposed to gasp.”
“Oh, right, sorry,” Abi said, before launching into the most exaggerated gasp of all time. Seriously, it could be divided up into five acts. “Say it isn’t so!”
“So it is, Bloom, so it is. That woman can’t see any exposed object without bustling it away into some dark cupboard or attic, never to be seen again. And such are the intensity of her episodes, that she doesn’t even remember doing it, and the poor object is lost forever more.”
“Honestly, partner, I don’t know if this is what I signed up for.”
“Now, Bloom, I know you’re new to the force and all, whereas I’m a hardened detective who’s about to retire next month, but someone’s got to bring a little justice to this dark, hardened city,” Ava said, gesturing at the quaint little Christmas card of a street outside.
“You’re right, Hawkins, no turning back now. Hang on a sec,” Abi said, fumbling around in her pockets, before hastily throwing on a pair of sunglasses. “I hope you’ve been reading up on your ornithology,” she said, pulling her sunglasses back off dramatically, “Because this mother hen’s about to become a jailbird.”
Ava raised her eyebrows, “Really? And with the sunglasses, too?”
“Shut up, I had to think on my feet, and you said I’d get the last line.”
“Fine, fine,” Ava said, throwing up her hands. “I feel like we’re channelling more of a buddy cop thing than noir, but whatever, I can fix it in post. Now let’s get that perp.”
The girls headed down the stairs with perhaps slightly more alacrity than the situation really required, on the hunt for Ava’s mum, who could usually be found on the sofa with whichever thriller her book club had subjected her to that week. Why she continued on at a book club whose taste was so at odds with her own, Ava never knew, but she’d managed to stick it out for the past four years and showed no sign of quitting, no matter how many Gone Girl rip offs they threw at her.
However, to the girls’ horror, the couch was empty and, upon further investigation, the only trace of Ava’s mother they could find was a note on the kitchen table that read: Off to Sainsbury’s, give me a ring if you want anything. She must have slipped out while the girls were still outlining the case.
Now it was Ava’s turn to give the dramatic gasp a whirl. Once she’d got over the brief coughing fit brought on by her over-exuberance, she cried, “It’s too late! She’s already been compromised!”
“She must have seen something she shouldn’t have and now the felon’s got to her!”
“You were a good woman, Rachel,” Ava said, pretending to wipe away a tear. “Troubled, but good. I guess there’s just…no accounting for crime.”
“Hey, what did we agree about the one-liners?”
“Sorry, sorry, that one just came to me. Damn it, I was hoping interviewing Mum would take long enough that Dad would be back from tennis by the end. Guess we’re just going to have to jump straight to Nate,” Ava said, resigned.
“Ugh, do we have to go do it in his room? I didn’t even bring my hand sanitiser.”
“The perp’s more likely to talk if he’s in an environment he feels comfortable in,” Ava said, internally wincing at her dangling preposition but forcing herself to speak with the grammatical carelessness of a hardened cop. “Believe me, Bloom, when you’ve been in the force as long as I have, you get used to these dens of iniquity.”
“Ugh, fine,” Abi said, not even bothering to sink back into her role, such was her displeasure.
“Come on,” Ava said, dragging Abi by the hand in a distinctly un-noir move. Pausing outside the door and waiting until the end of Panic afforded them the brief period of quiet needed for Nate to hear them, Ava gave as quick a knock as she could to allow for minimum physical contact with the door.
They heard an exasperated male groan through the door, then there was sudden peace as the opening to How Soon Is Now was unceremoniously halted, and the door flew open. “Well, if it isn’t the AA,” he said, smirking at the two of them. He and Felix had dubbed them Annoyances Anonymous years ago, using all the genius that it took to recognise that their names both started with A.
“Still as hilarious as it was ten years ago, Nate,” Abi replied, drily.
“Aren’t you guys supposed to develop annoying crushes on your friends’ older brothers instead of being constant pains in their arses?”
“I think the older brothers that happens to look slightly less like the stuff you’d find on the bottom of an uncleaned aquarium.”
“Hey, you’re supposed to be good cop, remember?” Ava scolded, giving Abi a nudge.
“Oh, right sorry,” Abi replied. “Hey, asshole, tell us what you did with Ava’s headphones. Please.”
“Great job,” Ava remarked, before adding the requisite bad cop threat. “Tell us now, or we’ll send photoshopped pictures of you fox hunting to Morrissey or something.”
Nate raised his eyebrows and gestured to his own headphones, which he happened to be wearing around his neck. “Now I realise that those monstrosities,” he gestured to Abi’s sunglasses, which she’d put back on in preparation for the grilling, “may well impede your vision somewhat, but what’s your excuse?” he asked Ava.
Ava faltered, “That doesn’t prove anything, you might just have stolen them for the thrill of it if not the practicality.”
“Okay, I’ve indulged you long enough,” Nate said, retreating back into his lair and shutting the door behind him.
Abi cast a glance over at Ava, “So, what now, chief?”
“Well, one perp’s being uncooperative, another’s been shadily disposed of and, one’s, erm…playing tennis,” she finished lamely. “So…homework until Mum or Dad gets back?”
“I help you with Maths if you help me with English?”
“Deal,” Ava replied as they made her way upstairs. It’d always been like this: Ava was the arty one and Abi the logical, mathematical one, the forces of which, when combined, were an unstoppable homework machine. The only bright side of them ending up in different sixth forms was that the teachers couldn’t recognise the work of the other one and were therefore unable to account for why the girls always turned in such good work in their weakest subjects. But, on the other hand, this split in their schooling meant they never saw each other in the week anymore. And recently, Ava was finding that she had to be the one to make the effort to hang out with Abi outside of school. True, Abi was always immediately her old self whenever they did talk, but it always had to be Ava’s initiative. Not that Ava minded particularly, given she’d always been the natural leader of the friendship, but it just seemed like an abrupt and bizarre change from their childhood, when Abi would seek out her company every day.
They both hopped onto Ava’s bed, which had always been their designated study place, despite there being a perfectly good, if not as comfortable, desk on the other side of the room. “Grab my school bag, would you? It’s got all my books in.”
Abi sat up to tug the bag off the hook on the wall it was hanging on, letting it fall onto the bed, at which point Ava’s headphones immediately fell out. “Oh, right, I took them to school on Friday because the machines in wood shop were driving me insane!” Ava said, triumphantly, returning the headphones to their rightful place. “So, anyway, homework?”
Abi just rolled her eyes, chuckling affectionately at her friend’s antics.
After a couple of hours and a text letting Abi know that the coast was now clear as far as Felix went, she headed off, leaving Ava to work on turning the day’s event into an intriguing noir short story. Or, more accurately, leaving Ava to stare at a blank Word document, toying with which font to put the story title in (despite not yet having a story title in mind).
When she realised that a full half an hour had passed in this way, she decided to pick something simple to start with: the names of the characters – Hawkins and Bloom didn’t strike her as the grizzled detective names needed for the story. She decided to keep them female, despite the conventions of the genre, and just do some convenient gender-swapping of some of the more typical roles – she called it subversive, but in reality, she just found it hard to get into the head of the opposite sex, having spent her formative years in an all-girls secondary school. After a while she settled on names that sounded detective-esque enough to her (that may or may not have come from the random combination of various sharp objects), and the story gradually started to flow from there.
Low Fidelity: The Case of the Missing Headphones
It was a typical day in the city of Haslemere-
Okay, scratch that, she wasn’t going to be able to use her own town, the name alone sounded like it was the setting of a Beatrix Potter book. Ava elected to pick an English city at random instead.
It was a typical day in the city of Birmingham. There was a chill in the air as cold as the Atlantic, and the trees shook with an ever-present bitter wind. The streets were crawling with anonymous city dwellers, everyone keeping their heads down, trying not to attract the attention of the local gangs. Birmingham was, after all, rife with crime and duplicity. In fact, that very day, Detective Sharpthorne and her trusty partner Deputy Nailtooth were about to discover that the dark underbelly of the city extended all the way into their homes and, in Detective Sharpthorne’s case, into their very psyche. Sometimes the last person you suspect is the person staring back at you in the mirror…
It was a typical day at the station-
Wait, that had been the start of the first paragraph.
The station was as it always was. Sunlight filtered through the blinds of Sharpthorne’s office, illuminating the dust that floated throughout, as she scrutinised the file in front of her, shaking her head in disgust.
Suddenly, in walked her partner, Deputy Nailtooth, a blonde bombshell whose legs went all the way up to where legs go up to-
Ava knew Abi wouldn’t be thrilled with this description of her, but she was short a femme fatale and she didn’t have many characters to play around with, so she was having to double up.
“What is it, Sharpthorne, don’t say it’s another murder?”
“Worse. Someone’s stolen my headphones. The last thing my husband gave me before he was hit by that train, which later turned out to be perpetrated by the son of the mob leader I put in jail last year. I know I was supposed to be winding things down before my retirement next month, but damn it if I’m going to let some no-good felon take off with those headphones.”
“Too right, boss!” Nailtooth replied, her enthusiasm betraying her youthful naivete. “We got any suspects?”
“Kid, when you take as many perps as I do off the street, you end up with a list of enemies as long as my ex-husband’s credit card bills-
No, wait, Sharpthorne’s husband had been killed off tragically a couple of sentences ago…
-as long as your ex-husband’s credit card bills.”
“Consider yourself lucky you don’t have a husband to pay child support to.”
“My husband’s dead, Nailtooth.”
“Right you are, ma’am, sorry.”
“Anyway, I’ve narrowed it down to just three: the Higginses, the married crimelords who’ve been on my tail since I broke curfew-
Okay, just a smidge too much reality creeping in there.
-since I got their son put away. And then there’s Nikolaj, the Russian spy whose outdated cultural knowledge leads him to try to blend in by constantly playing bands that haven’t been popular for over twenty years – my greatest nemesis.”
But all the while, as Sharpthorne listed suspects, she didn’t for a second stop to think that the true culprit could be someone even closer to her, who she’d never thought to investigate before. None other than…herself!
And so, on Ava wrote, continuing to weave the events of the day into the most noirish format she could muster.
The following day, Ava paced around her room impatiently, waiting for Abi to arrive so they could embark on their next genre-based adventure. Ava had not been so lucky as to have a genre fall into her lap again, as she had the day before, and so had elected to return to her roots as she eased into this new creative endeavour. She had texted Abi last night, asking if she wanted to go off to the woods they used to hang out in as kids, pretending to be witches, and carry out this tradition one last time so she could use the experience for a fantasy-based story. Abi had yielded under only minimal persuasion, and was due to arrive at Ava’s at any minute so they could head off.
This time with no genre-of-the-day-related corkboard project to fill up her time until Abi got there, Ava was itching to go, especially because it was now getting dangerously close to eleven o’clock, the hour at which Nate generally roused himself and started carrying out his usual annoying pastimes. At five to, when Ava was just about to storm round to Abi’s herself, she heard the familiar sound of Taylor Swift’s Fifteen, which had been her personalised ringtone for Abi ever since she’d heard Abi’s name in the bridge of the song (though the exact context in which she was mentioned meant Abi had never exactly been thrilled with this choice).
Ava snatched her phone off the bedside table, answering it with an abrupt, “Where are you? We should be in the woods attempting to light things on fire with our minds by now!”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry, but there’s been a bit of a change of plans,” Abi said. “Turns out I’m babysitting today.” Ava could tell by her resigned tone that this was a fight that she had already fought and lost with her parents, and it was therefore useless to try pushing her on this.
“Ugh, children are the worst.”
“Yes, you’ve made your feelings on the subject quite clear. You dropped every egg you were presented in health class as soon as they told you to treat it like a baby. Eventually they just stopped giving them to you.”
“Even the symbolic burden of responsibility was just too much. Plus, as soon as I was told to start treating the egg as a baby I just became irrationally annoyed with it.”
“Thank God they only introduced those dolls that actually cry periodically the year after we finished that class.”
“They would still have been trying to retrieve that thing from my garbage disposal. Which babies do you even have to sit? Has Felix undergone a sudden developmental regression?”
“My aunt’s in from out of town, so I’m stuck looking after my cousins while her and mum go and do whatever forty-year-old women do in town.”
“Go to Marks and Spencers, mostly, from what I’ve observed.”
“Anyway, apparently the woods are too dangerous a place to take them, what with all the broken glass, needles and hidden crates of beer around the place.”
“Psh, kids these days are so coddled.”
“Sorry, Aves, feel free to go and bewitch things without me.”
“I’m not going to be a poor covenless loner of a witch.”
“A coven of two?”
“It was a very exclusive coven, but a coven nonetheless.”
“So, what genre are you going to do instead, then?”
“Hmm, allow me to consult my list,” Ava said, craning to look at the neat, colour-coded sheet she’d sellotaped to the wall above her desk. “A lot of these really are two-person dealios. Oh, hey, wait, this unfortunate turn of events could actually work in our favour!”
“Okay, well, mine,” Ava admitted, sheepishly. “I’d planned to try Children’s Lit at some point, and was kind of stuck on where to go for inspiration. Isn’t it all like farm animals talking to each other and shit?”
“And occasionally bloodily slaughtering humans if you’re reading a Roald Dahl, but yes, that is a common theme.”
“Well maybe I could avoid that ennui-inducing narrative strand and get inspiration directly from the source.”
“Joining you for babysitting to seek inspiration from the critters themselves?”
Ava could almost hear Abi’s raised eyebrows over the phone. “You’re going to come here. Where the children are.”
“You’re going to spend a good part of your day with a three- and five-year-old.”
“Ensuring they come to no harm.”
“Well, that seems more within your purview, as officially babysitter and all, I’m more the impartial observer type.”
“Okay, but you’re not going to directly cause any harm, are you? Need I draw your attention back to the egg experience?”
“Don’t you mean eggsperience?” Ava said, and waited a good five seconds for a laugh she knew she wasn’t going to get. “Wow, tough crowd. No, of course I’m not going to harm your cousins, Abigail. I’m simply going to watch them from a safe distance. And possibly take notes. Besides, it’s babies that are the most repellent thing, I’m sure they’ve learned to be slightly less annoying by the time they’re three.”
“I think you’re in for an unpleasant surprise, but sure, some non-child company would actually be very much appreciated.”
“Excellent, I’ll be over in ten,” Ava agreed, hanging up the phone as she went to gather her stuff together. She opted for her standard outside-of-house survival kit: notepad, pen, phone, headphones, keys, purse, book and a bar of white chocolate. She rushed down the stairs and pulled on her shoes, opening the door just as she heard the sleepy thuds that signified Nate’s reunion with the world of the living. With a sigh of relief, she left the house, slamming the door behind her in her excitement to be escaping, and stepped out into the cool, wintry air.
As she walked through the familiar network of streets to Abi’s house, Ava felt the usual fond swell of comfort and security that she got whenever she looked about her small hometown. It was true, Haslemere was hardly the most exciting place for a young person to be; it wasn’t big enough to be interesting and wasn’t small enough to be quaint and fairytale, but she’d lived there all her life and she felt a sense of protectiveness and ownership about the place. Almost every street corner reminded her of some childhood scrape with Abi (usually literally – the girls had gone through a phase of playing elaborate, hazardous games of tag around the streets on their bikes, and so many of these kerbs had been the site of some sort of injury).
As well as the comforting familiarity of the streets, Ava loved being outside in the winter, when the frost gave every blade of grass a sugary glaze, the air somehow smelt fresh and cold, and the bare trees cut jagged lines into the bright, clear sky. Of course, it being England, it was only like this one day in ten, with the rest of the days being dark, grey and sludgy, but these types of days somehow compensated for all the downpours, bitter winds and cloudy skies that made up the rest of the season.
After the usual ten minutes (seven if there was something particularly exciting she had to share with Abi that compelled her onwards), Ava reached the familiar neatly organised front garden of Abi’s house. Being careful to walk along the narrow footpath so as not to disturb Mrs Bloom’s immaculate lawn, Ava approached her best friend’s house. Ava had always been pretty jealous of Abi’s house: for one thing, it was huge and detached, so Abi never had to listen to her neighbours arguing through a shared wall, and had plenty of places to escape her brother if need be (and need was a great deal of the time). For another, it was a beautiful, white, thatched house, such as Ava had dreamed of ever since she’d reached the age at which the sight of red brick had begun to fill her with distaste (approximately eight, she’d been an irritatingly precocious child). But despite her envy, their families’ obvious disparity in wealth had never been cause for her to resent Abi, if anything she’d always relished the opportunity to come over and observe whatever new gadgets the family had acquired. And all things considered, Ava wouldn’t want to swap living situations with her friend: wealthy and glamorous as they were, Abi’s parents had always been a little too far on the strict and controlling side for Ava’s liking, and these traits were brought into sharp relief by the comparative laissez faire attitude of her own family.
Ava walked the final steps to the house’s beautiful, sky blue door and rang the doorbell, humming along to the opening bars of Ode to Joy that the Blooms had chosen to signal all invasions from the outside world. She heard the hurried footsteps of her friend coming down the stairs, before the door swung open and a slightly harried looking Abi appeared.