“You don’t look much like a nerd to me. At least you look less of a nerd than most nerds.”
Adam Prince, Ashes (Ashes and Lavender - 2015)
A trilogy of moderately interconnected short stories, loosely inspired by fairytales, but these are definitely not the sort of fairytales you would tell your children.
These alienated fairytale heroines all know that there’s more to life than fluttering your eyelashes and wearing pretty dresses if you want to get your happily ever after.
Ashes and Lavender is the first book in the Fairytalienation series, a variation on the theme of fairytales in which the characters must overcome hardships in their lives far beyond their children’s book counterparts.
When Eleanor meets the dashing young Adam Prince, he promises her that her world is going to change, but what she never could have dreamed in a million years is just how much it is about to change.
“Eleanor, you lazy little cow, I told you to tidy my room and wash my school uniform. What the hell are you thinking, just lying there doing nothing when I'm going to be late for school?”
“Christ, Charlotte, what’s stopping you from doing it yourself. You have hands don’t you?” Eleanor sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes just in time to see Charlotte’s fist swinging down to connect with her upper arm.
“Your daddy’s not here to protect you now, Little Miss Perfect,” Charlotte sneered. “I'm taking your uniform, since you didn't bother washing mine. And just so you know, there’s a stain on my skirt that you might want to wash off if you don’t want everyone to believe the rumour that you’re giving hand jobs for money.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “I wonder who gave people that idea. It’s funny that the source of that rumour is the actual culprit.”
“I don’t do it for money.” Charlotte leaned in close and whispered in Eleanor’s ear. “I do it because I like it, and I mean I really like it. I don’t need the money like you do, you pathetic little waste of space.”
“Yeah, well we all know what you do need. It’s not exactly brains that keep getting you good grades is it?” Another heavy blow to Eleanor’s shoulder told her that it was time to quit while she was ahead, although to say that she was ahead was probably rather optimistic.
“Char, leave her alone,” Rose told her older sister as she walked into the room. “Ellie, I’m meeting Robbie after first period and I need to look amazing. Could you braid my hair for me?”
“Of course I can, Rose.” Eleanor smiled at her. “You already look amazing though.”
“I'm going to be sick.” Charlotte picked up Eleanor’s uniform and swept from the room, glaring at her younger sisters.
“You know that’s how she stays so thin, right?” Rose said under her breath. “I know she was joking just now, but she makes herself sick to stay in shape.”
“She’s insane,” Eleanor muttered, her hands already working on the tangle of Rose’s hair. “So things are going well with you and Robbie?”
“Oh, Ellie, he’s an absolute dream. I've never felt this way about anybody. I know you think I'm like my sister and just use boys for one thing, but you couldn't be more wrong. I adore Robbie. Thank you so much for introducing me to him.”
“It’s nothing, really.” Eleanor tried to sound sincere, but the truth was that she had been heartbroken when Robbie had started dating her stepsister. He had been her best friend since they were toddlers, but he never made time for Eleanor now, and it was like watching her life falling apart in front of her eyes. With her hair braided and tied back, Rose got to her feet and looked at herself in the mirror. “Ellie, you are an absolute star.” She grinned as headed for the door. “I've got a spare skirt in my room if you want to borrow it.”
Eleanor got to her feet and brushed of the dust from her sleeping bag. With only three bedrooms in the house and her stepmother’s insistence that her precious daughters should each have a room of their own, Eleanor had the unfortunate luck of bedding down in a sleeping bag under the back staircase. She checked the time on her old Swatch watch, which by some miracle was still just about working properly after ten years, and was horrified to see that she had only ten minutes before the school bus was due. Racing up to Rose’s room, she ran smack into her stepmother on the landing, and had to grab the banister to stop herself falling back down the stairs. She steadied herself and glared at her stepmother.
“Eleanor, what do you think you are doing?” Her stepmother fumed, straightening her pant-suit and trying to regain her composure. “You could have caused me to fall down the stairs and then where would this family be? Me in the hospital or worse, and no income, that’s where we would be.”
“I'm the one who almost fell down the stairs,” Eleanor said in disbelief. “I might ask you what you were doing skulking at the top of the stairs in the first place.”
“Eleanor, I am on my way to work, so I will overlook that outburst for now, but I warn you that if you ever speak to me like that in my house again, I will make sure it’s the last thing you say to me under this roof.”
“This is my father’s house, Nora,” Eleanor spat. “You may think you've won by getting him to marry you, but I know this is not what he wanted. I refuse to be spoken to in this way in my father’s house.” She barely had time to notice her stepmother reaching out and pushing her squarely in the chest. There was a sickening moment in which Eleanor fully felt the effects of gravity, and she grasped at thin air for anything to stop her from falling down the stairs. As she sat quivering on the third step down, her stepmother kicked her as she passed, laughing at the sight of Eleanor’s terror.
Gwen is dreading the camping trip her father has arranged for the family, and will do anything to get out of it, a fact that her father knows only too well. When her father goes back on his word, she finds herself running for her life into the woods.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.” Gwen had heard this from her parents before. She knew exactly what it meant, and that was you have to come, we all know that, we’re just pretending to give you the option to look like good parents.
It was not that she did not want to go camping with her parents. It was the fact that she just did not want to go camping. Gwen had always loved going on holidays with her parents, and they usually came up with good destinations, like chateaus in France or a hotel in the old town in Prague, but every fibre of her being was telling her that this particular trip was not going to end happily.
The parental units are forcing me to go on this stupid camping trip. Just kill me now, Ellie, please!
Give my love to Adam. I’ll see you when I get back. Lots we need to discuss.
Hugs, Gwen xxx
She pressed send with a half-hearted hope that somehow Eleanor would be able to talk her parents out of the idea of camping. Ugh, even the idea of being in a tent was enough to make Gwen’s skin crawl. Then there was the risk of ticks and mosquito bites, not to mention the spiders and earwigs and woodlice and all manner of other creepy little monsters that could find their way into an unsuspecting camper’s sleeping bag. Now that she thought about it, who takes their seventeen-year-old daughter camping? Who is that evil to their teenager? Gwen had had a somewhat pampered upbringing, that was true, but to suggest that she was afraid of the outdoors was going too far. She loved the outdoors in fact; she just hated sleeping in it. Sadly, there was no way of getting out of this, so Gwen was packing more than she probably needed.
She cranked up the volume on her iPod, blasting U2 at high volume in an attempt to annoy them into submission. If U2 giving away their album Songs of Innocence unrequested to every iTunes customer was enough to cause outrage and scandal, perhaps playing that very same album on repeat would be enough to bug her parents into listening to her.
“Gwen, keep the noise down would you, some of us are trying to work!” her dad yelled from his study next door to her room. “Or at least put something decent on. What’s wrong with The Beatles?”
“I’m not a million years old, Dad!” Gwen yelled back. “And playing something you like would defeat the purpose of trying to annoy you with loud music.”
“Get your backside in here would you?”
Gwen trudged to his study and knocked on his door. It was never a good thing when he called her to his study. Not that she would ever tell her friends, but that was another reason that she hated the idea of being on a camping holiday with her parents. There was far too much danger of being alone with him in the woods. She pushed open the door and walked in. He was sitting behind his desk with his feet up. He looked nowhere near as busy as he claimed to be.
“Gwen, I know you don’t want to go camping. We both know you aren't the outdoors type.” The half-light of his office gave his face a sinister aura. “So I'm sure we can come to some sort of arrangement where I can tell your mother that you convinced me to let you stay here.”
Gwen cringed. She knew exactly what arrangement he meant. He proposed the same arrangement every time she wanted something he was not prepared to let her have. She closed the door behind her and turned the key in the lock. “Just close your eyes and imagine he’s Bono,” she told herself as she walked towards his desk.
Love No Other
Lena has big news for her parents, and has driven several hours to give it to them in person. She knows her father will take it badly, but she is not expecting just how far he will go to stop his only daughter having the life she dreams of.
It was almost dark when Lena arrived at her parents’ house. She had been driving for several hours and what she wanted more than anything was to have a hot bath and go to bed, but first she had to get past her father. She knew he meant well, but he could be a stubborn old crank when he put his mind to it. She was no better herself, of course. She had inherited his fiery attitude, so it made sense that trying to hold a sensible conversation with him was like butting her head up against a wall.
“Derek, can you believe our little girl’s come home? Lena, I can’t believe how much you’ve changed!” her mother squealed as Lena climbed out of the car. “You have breasts and everything!”
“Yeah thanks, Mum,” Lena laughed, allowing her mother to pull her into a tight bear hug. “Because I really hadn't noticed the small fortune I have to spend on bras these days. I just thought my money was going on shoes.” She wriggled free from her mother’s embrace and held out her hand to her father. “It’s good to see you too, Sir.”
“Yes, well if you’re quite finished making a scene, perhaps we can go inside.” Her father turned away without shaking her hand, which she still held out in front of her. “Ginny, get inside now please.” Lena turned to her mother who simply shrugged and followed her husband.
“What’s up with him?” Lena whispered as she caught up to her mother. “I’d hate to see the size of the bug that crawled up his butt.”
“Stop it, Lena,” her mother chuckled. “You’ll only set him off again.”
“Yes, I wouldn't want to make a scene,” Lena said, making air quotes with her fingers. “Geez, was he always this much of a grouch, or is it just since I was away at boarding school?”
“He was always a grouch.” Her mother’s frank response sent Lena into a fit of giggles, and she had to slip into the next room along the corridor to try to calm down. Her mother joined her after a few minutes and they sat on the couch together trying to keep the sound of their laughter to a minimum. “So tell me who it is who’s caused you to come home in the middle of the school year,” her mother asked.
“What makes you think that it’s a who? Could I not just have decided to come home because I missed my mum, and I wanted to come and see her?”
“Lena, in the seven years you've been at that boarding school, the only other time you came home in the middle of the year was when you had glandular fever. I'm certain that’s not the reason you've come home now. You drove yourself home, for a start.”
“Do you think Dad knows?”
“Your father wouldn’t suspect a piss-up in a brewery, Lena. Now tell me about this man of yours. I assume it is a man?”
“Yes, it’s a man,” Lena blushed. “He works in one of the pubs in town near the school. We’ve been an item for about two years, and he…”
“Go on, it can’t be anything I haven’t heard before.”
“He asked me to marry him, Mum.” Lena whispered. “I love him and I really want to make this work, but I don’t know what Dad’s going to say. I know he’d have wanted to meet him, and have him ask for his blessing and everything, but it’s never been the right time for him to come and visit.”
“You would have been welcome any time Lena, you know that.”
“It’s not that simple, Mum.” Lena leaned back on the couch and found herself looking at her fingernails.
“We’re not in the same social class, and I know what my dad thinks about people in our family getting involved with those he finds less worthy than us.”
“Lena, your father can quite honestly shove his prejudices up his backside. He doesn't seem to think it’s inappropriate for him to be carrying on with Holly from the Red Dragon.”
“Holy Hell, Mum! How long has that been going on? Does he know that you know about it?”
“It’s been going on for about six months, and of course he doesn't know. Why would he know about something that isn't spelled out for him? He probably doesn't know that I've been shagging her husband either.”
“Wow!” Lena was dumbstruck for the first time in her life. “Just wow!”
“Lena, you have to understand that sometimes couples fight, and sometimes they get involved with other people, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.”
“Mum, you do realise that I’m eighteen, not eight, don’t you? You don’t have to do the old we still love each other bit for my expense.”
“We do though.” Her mother put a hand on her arm. “It might sound incredible to you, being so young and not having seen much of the world, but we do still love each other.”
“Fine, just as long as it’s not just so you don’t upset Jamjar.”
“Lena, I do wish you wouldn’t call him that.”
As far as her parents knew, Lena called her younger brother Jamjar because on an uncommonly quiet afternoon two years previously, while their parents had been out for the day, Reggie had managed to get his hand stuck in a preserving jar. What Lena had not told her parents was that while there had still been jam in the jar at the time, he was not trying to get it out with his hand. She could still remember the look on his face when he came to her for help.
“Anyway, you can speak to your father over dinner. I know he’s glad to have you home, no matter how he wants to look to the outside world.”
“I really don’t think the outside world gives a crap that I’m home,” Lena laughed. “Is it ok if I go up and have a bath before dinner? It’s a bloody long drive home from the school.”
“That’s not a problem at all,” her mother answered and smiled at her. “Dinner’s at half past six. Your father’s cooking.”
Lena ran upstairs to her room and leaped onto her bed. It was great to be home, and it felt like she had never been away if she ignored her father’s cold and distant attitude when she arrived. She dragged herself up off the bed and walked through to her bathroom. Turning the taps on full and using far more bubble bath than she really should have done, the room filled with the aroma of cherry blossom and lotus.
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