Sophie Whitman hastily stuffed her book into her bag and pulled her travel case down from the rack above her head. As the train pulled into the station, she threw on her coat in a rush and checked to make sure she had everything. The train ground to a halt and she pressed the button to open the door, her bag slung over one shoulder and her case dragging awkwardly along the ground behind her. Inwardly, she cringed, and in her hurry to get out of the way of the crowd of passengers, she stumbled and nearly trod on a man's foot.
"Sorry!" she apologised breathlessly, but the man had already moved on. A teenage boy not much older than her pushed past her, laughing as another one followed. Sophie struggled to remain upright, and just as she thought she'd managed it, she took a step backwards and fell over her case, landing on the cold concrete with a thump. Sophie groaned and looked at her hand; two diagonal red grazes cut neatly across the middle of her palm. Great she thought exasperatedly. I manage to get away from my dad and his girlfriend, get a chance to make a fresh start, and immediately make an idiot of myself by falling over the minute I get off the train.
Sophie didn't remember her mum very well. Brief memories of a woman with long, wavy, dark brown hair and a kind face occasionally surfaced, but that was all. She knew her mum had done ordinary things with her like drive her to school, take her shopping, buy her ice creams during the summer, but she couldn't really remember them. It was almost as if every physical trace of her had been wiped from the flat where they lived in central London. The photographs of her from the mantelpiece in the living room had disappeared; the matching china horses that stood proudly on the kitchen windowsill were gone; and the next week, Sophie's dad had gone out and bought new furniture and wallpaper to replace the mahogany table and chairs and the cream-and-chocolate colour scheme her mother had designed for the dining room. The only bits of her mum that still remained in the house were drawings she had done for Sophie when she was younger; mermaids and dolphins and dogs and horses, which had been framed and hung around Sophie's bedroom walls.
All her dad had told Sophie was that her mum had been ill and moved to a healthier place in the countryside to recover, and when Sophie had asked why she hadn't come back, her dad lost it and sent her to bed without dinner. That had been when she was twelve. Sophie hadn't asked again since then. Sometimes at night Sophie still thought of her mother; wondered where she was now, what she was like, and, when her dad was being his most unreasonable, missed her incredibly.
But whether she liked it or not, her life had moved on in the six years since her mother had left, and now her dad had a new girlfriend; one that had immediately taken a dislike to Sophie since they first met a year ago. And now she was moving in with them. Sophie knew that she wouldn't last a minute once her dad's girlfriend- Shirley - moved in, so she told her dad she had decided to move out. Her dad, who'd never been keen on Sophie and openly preferred her younger, spoilt sister Lynsey, had merely sneered and asked her where she planned to go. She still remembered the harsh words he had used as he stood, tall and menacing, next to the clinical metal-and-glass dining table and surrounded by the eye-wateringly bright lemon-coloured walls:
"You're only seventeen," he had said, a cruel smile playing on his lips. "It isn't legal for you to live on your own; that is, unless you want me to ring up the local children's home?"
In the past, Sophie had cowered under his gaze, broken into tears at his lack of sympathy and given up on continuing the discussion any further. But no: she was seventeen now, and she refused to lie down and let her father walk all over her any more. She looked straight into his eyes and, her heart pounding, spoken the most terrifying words she ever had.
"You lost the right to have a say in how I live my life when mum left and you started treating me like a worthless, good-for-nothing daughter who can't do a damn thing right. But I know that I'm more than that and I won't be able to do anything worthwhile with my life while I've got you standing over me like a shadow. So I'm leaving." With that, she had stormed out of the room, tears of anger and waves of triumph spreading through her body with the knowledge that she'd finally been able to tell her dad how she'd felt all those years, and that for once he'd listened.
That night, Sophie had rung her cousin Emily in Cornwall, and told her of the situation. Emily had gone straight to her mum and asked if Sophie could come to live with them. Julia, hearing Sophie explain the problem herself, had immediately agreed to the idea.
A month later, and everything had been sorted. Her travel case was packed full of clothes and essentials, plus her mother's drawings. Sophie would catch a train from Charing Cross to Paddington, where she would change and board a train to St Erth in Cornwall, where Emily and Julia would meet her and they would drive back to their house in St Ives. The train journey would take five and a half hours in total, and Sophie had booked tickets for the eleven thirty-three train from Charing Cross on the 5th April.
"Miss, are you okay?" A porter at the station walked over to Sophie and held out his hand to help her up. Sophie gratefully accepted the help and stood up, brushing dust off her coat.
"I'm fine, thank you," she told him. "I'm meeting my aunt and cousin, they'll be here soon."
"Good," the porter nodded and moved away to assist passengers unloading their luggage further down the train.
A few minutes later, Sophie heard a familiar voice calling her name. She looked up from the bench she had been sitting on to see her cousin Emily running down the steps of the bridge over the railway. The girl had a huge grin on her face, and her blonde plaited hair was bouncing behind her as she ran. Sophie couldn't help but smile. Her cousin hadn't changed a bit. Sophie stood up and Emily skipped the last couple of metres to give her a hug.
"It's good to see you again," she grinned.
"Same here," agreed Emily, standing back to look at her cousin. They hadn't seen each other in over two years because Sophie's dad had suddenly decided his family was to cut all ties with his former wife's family, including her sister, Julia. "You haven't changed a bit. My mu m was betting by now you'd have dyed your hair black and gone all gothic and depressed, having to put up with your dad."
"Not a chance," said Sophie. "Still the same old plain brown for me."
"It suits you though," insisted Emily. "And don't you dare call it plain, it's a lovely colour."
"Your hair is ten times nicer than mine," grinned Sophie, remembering the exact lines of banter they went through every time they saw each other.
"Only because I spend so much time in the sun!" retorted Emily. "We used to say this every time we met up."
"Come on, you two," smiled Julia. "We'd better get Sophie back to our house. You can show her to her room. Oh, and we've moved house since last time you came, I'm sure you'll love it."
"You will!" enthused Emily. "It's amazing! But I won't spoil any of it for you. You'll have to wait until we get there. We're much nearer the beach than we used to be."
Just under fifteen minutes later, Julia's car bumped off the main road and she slowed down to navigate the maze of small, winding side-roads which made up the majority of St Ives. Sophie gazed out of the window curiously, wondering where they could be going. She guessed they were near the sea somewhere- she could hear seagulls shrieking and catcalling to each other in the distance- but apart from that she had no idea where they were in relation to anything. After five minutes of cautious driving, Julia turned left under a small archway into a residential car park and pulled into a space with a large number 14 painted on the paved road. Sophie climbed out of her aunt's car to find herself standing in front of a beautiful, whitewashed stone house that was two floors high with a loft above it, but quite compact and homely. A paved pathway led round the side of the house, Sophie presumed to the back garden. Emily joined her.
"It's pretty, isn't it? Mum was so happy when she found this place. It's a little bit out of the way, but it's wonderful inside, and just down the road there's some steps that lead to a small beach, so it's only a few minutes to reach it, although you do have to be careful as the beach is completely underwater at high tide."
"It looks amazing!" said Sophie. "I love it!"
Emily grinned. "I mean, I know it's a bit different from all those shiny, posh buildings you get in the city, but..."
"No, I really love it," answered Sophie. "The atmosphere here is so much nicer than London." Sophie had always hated the busy lanes of traffic with impatient drivers leaning on their horns, busy commuters rushing around the streets and pushing, shoving crowds of people and shoppers. She had always loved coming back to Cornwall, where both she and her mum had lived until Sophie was ten, as she felt safer there and much more at ease in the relaxing countryside rather than the grey, bustling capital.
"Emily!" called her mum. "Can you come and take Sophie's case and show her to her room?"
"It's okay, Aunt Julia, I'll take it," replied Sophie, lifting her case from the boot of her aunt's car.
"Okay honey," said Julia. "And please, don't call me aunt, it makes me feel old. I'm only thirty-six."
Sophie laughed. She had forgotten how relaxing it was being around Emily and her mum, especially after the strict routine her dad had forced into her since her mum had left. Emily led Sophie through the front door which opened straight onto a kitchen with slate-coloured tiles and cream walls and an adjoining dining room. The mahogany table and chairs and the coffee-coloured walls almost took Sophie's breath away- they reminded her so much of how the flat in London used to look. Sophie followed Emily into the living room, which was decorated in a light, aquamarine blue, accentuated by a darker blue sofa and armchairs and a dark wooden coffee table. A flat-screen television occupied one corner and white floor-to-ceiling net curtains at the end of the room completed the look.
"Wow, it's lovely," said Sophie.
"That's not the best bit," said Emily, crossing the room and hooking back the curtains to reveal sliding glass patio doors. At first glance what was most obvious was the small size of the garden due to the surrounding houses. But what caught Sophie's eye more was what lay at the bottom of the garden. A slate-grey path led from the doors down a gentle slope to a tiny garden shed and a willow tree which hung over a small pond. Sophie was speechless. Even in the upper-class areas of London she'd never seen any houses so pretty as this one. Emily laughed when she saw the look of amazement on Sophie's face.
"Come on, I'll show you our rooms now. They're my favourite part of the house; at least after the garden." Sophie nodded and followed Emily back into the house and up the stairs to a landing which had four doors leading off it. Sophie stopped, wondering which doors were her and Emily's rooms. Emily noticed her pause and stopped too.
"That room is my mum's room," she said, pointing to the first door on their right. "And that room next to hers is her study. The third room is our bathroom, as my mum has her own ensuite."
"What's the fourth door?" asked Sophie curiously. She wondered if she and Emily were sharing a room. Sharing with her cousin would be fun, but she was sure Julia had mentioned separate rooms.
"It leads to our rooms," replied Emily. "Come on, you'll see why it's my favourite part of the house." Emily opened the door, but instead of a room, there was a set of stairs. Intrigued, Sophie lifted her case up the stairs after Emily. At the top was a short hallway with one on door each side.
"That's your room on the right, and mine is on the left," said Emily. "This used to be a loft, but the person who lived here before us converted it into two guest bedrooms, which are now mine and yours. I'll leave you to unpack your stuff, but lunch should be ready soon."
"Sure," smiled Sophie. She opened her door and pulled her case in after her. Turning round nearly took her breath away. The room was so much larger than she had expected; it looked almost impossible for it to fit in such a compact house. She supposed that lofts were usually quite large, and only having a small hallway left a lot of room for two decent-sized bedrooms. Her room had been decorated a light blue and on the wall to the right of the door was a large painting of dolphins. The wall straight ahead of her had a large window framed by slightly darker blue curtains and to the left of the window was her bed with a dolphin duvet cover and matching pillows. To the left of her door was an alcove containing a large wardrobe and bookcase. Between the bookcase and her bed was what appeared to be a floor-to-ceiling rectangular window. However, closer inspection revealed it to be a door that opened out onto a balcony. She opened it and gasped at the view. She was looking over the garden, but if she continued round the balcony to the next face of the house, she could see the beach Emily had mentioned and the sparkling blue seawater beyond it. If she craned her head round even further, she could just about see a concrete breakwater wall and more water beyond that.
"It looks amazing, doesn't it?" said Emily, appearing out of her own doorway and coming to stand next to her. "I'll take you there some time if you like. That beach is usually pretty quiet, but on the other side of that wall is the harbour and more beaches."
"That sounds great," said Sophie.
"Cool. We should be able to go a bit later this week." She smiled and walked back along the balcony and into her room. Sophie went back into her room, and soon she'd put all her clothes away in the wardrobe and filled two shelves of the bookcase up with various books and magazines. The last shelf was full of statues and figurines, mainly of animals, her jewellery box and a small makeup bag. She propped her framed drawings up against the wall to sort out later and had just put her case away in the bottom of her wardrobe when she heard a knock on the door.
"Come in!" she called. Nobody entered. Sophie was about to cross to the door when another loud knock resounded through her room- from right in front of her! Sophie jumped backwards as the back of her wardrobe opened to reveal Emily climbing through into her room! She beamed at the astonished expression on Sophie's face.
"I found it when I opened my wardrobe one day," she explained. "I think the guy who lived here before must have been planning to patch it up, but he had to move out quite quickly in the end, probably something to do with a house he wanted to buy, and he must have forgotten."
"You gave me the fright of my life," laughed Sophie, beginning to calm down and see the funny side after her initial shock.
"Come on," said Emily. "I imagine mum's got lunch ready now, and then she'll probably want us to come shopping with her. School tomorrow and we'll need to get you a few things. You'll need a couple of notebooks and some folders, as well as anything else." She looked at Sophie expectantly.
"I've got all my pens and pencils and stuff from my last school," shrugged Sophie, not really wanting to dwell on the subject too much. She would miss her old friends; she'd never really been popular, but the friends she did have, particularly Charity and Dylan, had been good friends and she'd promised to keep in contact as much as she could. She followed Emily downstairs to the kitchen and they both tucked into cheese and ham sandwiches with a bowl of crisps between them. Emily poured them both glasses of water as the weather was reasonably warm, then Julia breezed hurriedly into the kitchen whilst fixing some clips into her hair to keep a few flyaway strands out of her face.
"Come on, girls," she grinned, seeing Sophie's expression at her haphazard appearance. "The shops will shut in a couple of hours and we'd better get going. I need to get some food shopping so I'll leave you guys to find stuff for Sophie tomorrow. If there's anything extra you need, Sophie, don't hesitate to ask."
"Thanks," said Sophie, feeling a bit shy around her bubbly, disorganized aunt. She got up and rinsed out her glass, placed it on the draining board and followed Emily out to her aunt's car. Julia picked her handbag up off the table and got into the car, casually tossing it onto the passenger seat next to her.
An hour and a half later, Sophie and Emily climbed back out of the car and pulled numerous shopping bags out after them. Julia laughed as she took all her food shopping out of the boot.
"What are we like?" she asked. They had gotten rather carried away, finding completely new notebooks and folders, as well as some new clothes for both Emily and Sophie now that the weather was getting warmer. Sophie felt her shyness begin slipping away as all three of them began giggling as they lugged the bags into the house. I think I'm going to like living here a lot she thought happily. I just hope tomorrow at school goes okay too. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach at the thought, but she pushed them down. She would know Emily so at least she wouldn't be completely on her own. Making it up to her new room, Sophie dumped the bags containing her new clothes and school items in the corner. She pulled out the notebooks and folders and stuffed them into her schoolbag which lay at the foot of her bed along with her pencil case and purse. I'll sort the rest out tomorrow she decided. She switched off her main light and flicked on the lamp beside her bed as the sky was beginning to darken to a midnight blue, selected a book from her shelf and began to read.