Authors: Carrie Elks
-old Beth Lawrence finally has her life back on track. A job she loves, a wealthy husband and a beautiful home are a far cry from the tragedy that struck when she was nineteen. But now that her past seems firmly behind her, an old flame walks back into her life. Bringing back painful memories of a time she's worked hard to forget, reviving a passion she tried to bury years before.
Niall Joseph is an up
-and-coming artist, recently returned from success in America. Volunteering to teach in an inner-city drug clinic, the last person he expects to see is the girl who broke his heart nine years earlier. Working closely together allows their old wounds to heal, forging a deeper connection between them. One that slowly starts to burn.
As she becomes tangled up with a neglected child and her drug-addict mother, Beth finds herself drawn to Niall. But neither of them can anticipate how hard it is to tread the thin line between friendship and desire.
Coming Down by Carrie Elks
Copyright © 201
4 Carrie Elks
Published by Carrie Elks
All rights reserved
Cover Design: Okay Creations
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are fictitious products of the author’s imagination.
The night air smells of freshly cut grass and rain. I move through it, my hips undulating to the sound of music that stopped playing an hour ago. Blood fills my veins like thick black treacle, making me feel weightless, dizzy. High.
The party is over, t
he rain has seen to that. When the downpour started, everyone ran inside, heading for dorm rooms or calling cabs. I stayed where I was, inclining my face to the sky, letting the rain cool my flesh. It washed away my makeup and the stench of alcohol. It felt so good.
My clothes are stuck to my body. My
hair is plastered to my head, but still I dance. The ecstasy I took earlier hasn’t worn off yet. I feel strong and invincible, as if I’m some kind of goddess.
shoes first—blue Nike Airs sticking out from under a copse of trees. A plume of smoke spirals above the leaves. A few steps closer and I smell it: smoky and sweet. That’s when I see
His eyes are heavy as he stares at me. Dark blue depths I want to dive inside.
He gazes at me without recognition, has no idea who I am. I know him, though. He’s one of the beautiful set; an artist.
You’re wet.” He’s still staring at me.
Unlike the rest of my body, my throat is dry. I swallow hard.
Your observational skills astound me.” There’s an Irish lilt to his voice that thrills. I try to imagine what it would sound like whispered in my ear. The thought makes me shiver.
Are you cold?”
I shake my head and say
“Yes” at the same time. I’m so mixed up by the drugs and his proximity it’s hard to think straight.
Come here.” He opens up his arms. I hesitate for a moment before I step into them, feeling like the fly walking into the spider’s parlour. A moment later, all rational thought disappears as his strong arms wrap around my waist, pulling me against his chest. He presses his face to my wet hair and takes a deep breath. “You smell like rain.”
Silence surrounds us as
I look up at him. His pupils are dull and unfocused. He’s much higher than I am. Soaring.
You smell like weed.”
You want some?”
aking the joint from him, I raise it to my mouth. Though I try to pull away as I inhale, his arms tighten around me. I feel as if I’m made of gas. Melting around him. Into him.
What’s your name?”
Are you a student here?”
His question makes me roll my eyes
. I’ve been following him and his friends around like a devoted puppy for the best part of my first year. Not that he’s ever noticed. He’s always too busy: painting, smoking, looking beautiful. He’s good at all these things. I know, I’ve studied him as if he’s my favourite subject.
Art History,” I say.
One of the thinkers.” He gives me a smile. It’s wicked and dirty and makes me want to lick his lips. “Do you paint?”
Shame. Do you model?”
at this one. “No.”
You should. Come and model for me. I want to paint you.” His words slur but his voice is still seductive and lyrical. Somewhere, far beneath my high, I know he’s spinning me a line.
I bite, nonetheless.
“I’m not pretty enough.”
Yes you are.”
Or interesting enough.”
He pulls me closer
, his erection digging into my hip. “Yes you are.”
My heart starts to
hammer against my chest. This is Niall Joseph holding me. I made Niall Joseph get hard. I don’t think about the drugs or the rain or the fact he’s ignored me all year. I’m too worked up for that.
I want to kiss you.” He murmurs it softly. Then he presses his lips to my forehead. My skin feels hot and fevered. This time, the rain does nothing to cool it down.
Okay.” I’m almost breathless. He drags his mouth down to my jaw, peppering my skin with kisses.
You fucking taste like rain, too.”
By the time his lips reach the corner of my mouth I
’m almost trembling with anticipation. My whole body is buzzing with desire. I have to grab hold of his shoulders to steady myself.
Then he presses his mouth
to mine and everything else disappears.
’s seven in the morning and the sunlight breaking through our bedroom window is tinted a pale pinky-orange. I sit on the edge of our king-sized bed watching my husband pull on his suit, painting on a smile that only pretends to be mine. The ceiling lamp glows yellow, and the light reflects from his grey-blond hair, casting a pale halo around his head.
You only have to glance quickly around
our bedroom to sense his masculine influence—dark wooden floors that look beautiful but freeze my feet off on winter mornings, stark eau-de-nil painted walls. Bleached wooden shutters frame the sash windows he’s had lovingly restored.
’s shuffled things around to fit me in, essentially this is still his room, his house. Not that I brought anything with me that would be worth changing things for. He took me on—penniless and low—as if I was another doer-upper. Polished me until I was shiny and bright.
I’ll try to get home by six.” Simon threads his silver cufflinks through the slits of his blue Oxford shirt. “I promised Elise we would get to the gallery early.”
Elise is his only daughter. I should think of her as my step-daughter, I suppose, but at twenty-
seven she is only two years younger than me. It’s hard to feel anything other than ambivalence to her when she stares at me down a perfectly formed nose whenever I walk through the door. Even then, she’s always polite, always measured, and she hides her dislike of me as much as she can. Simon and his ex-wife brought her up well.
You forgot your tie.” I stand up and chase after him. Wrapping the blue silk around his neck, I knot it neatly, patting it with my extended fingers.
Simon says nothing, s
imply stares at me through his chocolate-brown eyes. Making me wonder if he’s waiting for me to kiss him. I do it anyway, pressing my lips softly against his cheek. It plumps up when I feel him smile against my mouth.
You should wear that dress I bought you last month. The one with the silver straps.”
I nod, not bothering to remind him the straps are actually golden.
I know he doesn’t really care. He simply likes it when I dress up, regardless of what colour I wear. I like it when he’s happy. It makes life easier, both his and mine, and I’m all for that.
When he leaves, carrying a briefcase full of papers he spent all
last evening reading, I run to the shower and let the hot water wash away the final remnants of the night. Then I pull on my old jeans and a well-used t-shirt and head for the Tube. It’s always rammed at this time of day. I squeeze my way through the wall of bodies and onto a train, breathing in when I’m pushed against a young girl dressed in school uniform. I flash her an apologetic smile. She rolls her eyes and looks away.
This is the language of the underground. Humans were never meant to live in such close
proximity. We haven’t learned how to communicate when we are constantly bombarded by sensation and emotion. We fear what we don’t know, and we loathe it when it’s pressed against our bodies.
Or at least I do.
It’s almost nine o’clock when I walk into the clinic and up the stairs. Lara, one of the counsellors, looks up from her desk and gives me a quick wave. She’s holding a phone in her other hand, rapidly talking into the mouthpiece. I smile back at her. Lara is one of my closest friends here. We met when I first started at the clinic. If I ever feel up or down, she’s the first person I want to talk to.
Lara covers the phone and mouths at me,
’t have to say any more. Daisy has been a client on and off for the past two years. She’s relapsed three times since she first walked through the door. Each time is worse than the last.
My stomach drops.
“What about Allegra?” I ask.
Lara shrugs, making me feel worse. Allegra is only eight years old. She
’s been in and out of care since she was a baby. The reason Daisy even came into the clinic in the first place was to try and regain her parental rights—and it worked. She’s an addict, but there’s no doubt she loves her daughter.
I love her daughter, too.
Maybe too much. Allegra has lived such a hard life in her short years, I can’t help but feel protective of her.
Lara finally puts
down the phone. “Have you got space for another kid at after-school club?”
For the past
four years I’ve been running an afternoon club for the children of addicts, while their parents attend group therapy. We have a different theme each day. Music on Mondays, craft on Tuesdays, movies on Wednesdays. Thursdays is art. Allegra loves it. She has an innate ability to draw, and we encourage her to express her feelings on paper.
Sure.” I nod. “It’s just me today, though.” Until now, an art student from St. Martin’s has been teaching the class. Now she’s graduated I’m searching for her replacement. It isn’t easy, though. We can’t afford to pay them anything, and not everybody can work with traumatised, sometimes violent children. It takes a special sort of person.
No luck at the college?” Lara shoots me a sympathetic look.
Nope. I’m going to have to go cap in hand to Elise.” I make a face. Lara reflects it right back at me, making me laugh. She knows Simon and Elise well. Everybody at the clinic does. He’s one of our biggest benefactors. That’s how I met him; at our annual fundraising gala four years ago.
Well, before you grovel, let’s get a cup of tea.”
that afternoon a minibus arrives, bringing children to our after-school club. I’ve set up the classroom with paints and brushes. The tables are covered with large sketchpads. All the equipment has been donated from various sources. I’m the one who goes out begging. Lara calls it my “Oliver” act. I’m always asking for more.
The kids pour into the room, babbling incessantly. They squabble over where they sit, elbowing each other out of the way. It
’s all good-natured. Allegra is the last to walk in. She drags her trainers along the tiled floor, making them squeak. Her jet-black hair is falling out of her messy ponytail. I try to bite down the urge to hug her; she doesn’t like being singled out.
Instead, I smile softly and give her hair a quick tug.
Hello.” Her smile is almost genuine. I tug her hair again, and this time she laughs. It’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. Her eyes dart around the room, making sure nobody is listening. “Is she here?”
“She came in this afternoon.”
n expression of relief passes over her face.
was sent to the clinic as soon as she was released from hospital, having patched up the head wound she’d got when she passed out on the pavement. Now, she’s all ours. One step forward and two steps back. It’s a fateful dance.
lingers by my side. “Am I going home tonight?”
My heart aches at her casual way of asking. She
’s been moved from place to place so often she doesn’t really see how wrong it is—group homes, foster care, us. Even if her mum’s a messed-up addict, Daisy’s the only constant in Allegra’s life.
I think so. I’ll ask Lara once you’re all settled in. This time wasn’t as bad as the last.” I can’t believe I’m discussing her mum’s heroin bender. The poor child has seen things nobody should have to. She’s old before her time.
Okay.” Allegra walks over to a desk and grabs some overalls. A few minutes later, she’s painting. A pretty green landscape is peppered with trees and flowers, below a sky that’s a shade too blue. I wonder if it’s her happy place.
I used to have a happy place when I was going through counselling. A white sand beach with
a deep azure ocean gently lapping at the shore. The colour of
eyes. I haven’t thought of it for a while. Haven’t needed to. I have Simon now.
my happy place. My protector. He loves me, and I’m grateful. I’m aware how bad that sounds. In these days of insta-passion and lust-fuelled desires, our relationship is stubbornly old-fashioned. I’ve had passion, though, and it almost killed me.
At five o
’clock the kids start to leave in dribs and drabs. Eventually, Allegra and I are the only two left. I sit on the corner of her desk and admire her painting. The old art teacher taught her so many techniques while she was with us that it looks advanced for her age. I’m glad I called Elise earlier; Allegra thrives in art class. Hopefully Elise can find us a new artist in residence.
The door clicks and Daisy MacArthur walks in. She looks crap. Her dark hair falls in lank strands across her pasty-white face. The worst thing is her expression of apprehension. I catch her eye and try to smile reassuringly.
Allegra looks up, her eyes wide, her bow lips half open. Then she stands up and runs to her mum, her sobs echoing through the silence of the room. She flings herself against Daisy, almost knocking her over. Daisy catches her and pulls her close, burying her face in Allegra’s hair, murmuring, “I’m sorry, baby,” over and over. It’s like a mantra.
I thought you were dead.” Allegra’s voice is a wail. My eyes glisten as I watch them; it’s heart-breaking. No child should find their mum unconscious outside their flat, covered in blood and barely breathing.
It’s okay. I’m here, I’m here,” Daisy whispers into her hair. “I’m so sorry.”
I feel like a dirty voyeur
; I can hardly bring myself to watch. My throat is constricted, my chest tight, because I know this is never going to get better. Daisy is always going to be an addict and Allegra is always going to be the daughter of an addict. No amount of therapy is going to change that.
When I get home I can
’t stop thinking about them. The addiction, the fear, the never-ending cycle. I came so close to being a Daisy myself. I know from first-hand experience that drugs kill, but it’s the way they maim, breaking minds and hearts, that’s as hard to take.
Simon arrives home
shortly after six. He grabs me around the waist and kisses me hard before heading for the shower, and it shocks me. His grey hair is damp from the rain that’s started to fall and it makes my palms wet when I touch his head, trying to work out what’s got into him.
Not that I
’m complaining. I’ll take affection where I can find it. I’m fickle that way.
While he showers, I put on
some makeup and scoop my hair away from my face. When I pull on my midnight-blue dress, I look like a different Beth to the one who works at the clinic and gets covered in paint. Elegant and polished. Poised, even.
On the outside, at least
’s a disguise I’ve managed to perfect over time, aided by Simon’s patient coaching. The first time we met, I was wearing a cheap black dress from Topshop, feeling way out of place among thousand-pound gowns and evening jackets. Maybe that’s why I spent most of the night hiding. If he hadn’t found me leaning against the back wall while he tried to make a phone call, I dread to think where I’d be now.
Like I was for those five years before we met.
Simon looks up and meets my eyes, the skin around his crinkling as he gives me a quick smile.
I’ve seen him look at Elise in the same way. He’s fond of both of us, proud to take us into smart restaurants and elite dinner parties. Elise is more polished than I am, though. She has a head start on me, an expert to my novice.
’m still a work-in-progress, and I probably let Simon down too often. He doesn’t ask for much in return for everything he gives me. I have a husband who loves me, who takes care of me, who soothes away the nightmares and makes me feel protected. In return, I try to behave the way he wants me to.
’t take drugs, I don’t smoke, I drink occasionally. I have a job he tolerates as a hobby. As long as it doesn’t affect our marriage. I promised him that from the start.
We take care of each other. For the most part it works.