The Gates to James Dean – One


“What’s wrong with what I texted back?” I ask Erin, as she looks at me with a bewildered expression.

“Tilly, it’s a paragraph!”

“It is NOT a paragraph.” I reply. “It’s a couple of sentences – you know – like a conversation. How am I supposed to respond to a text that only says ‘Hey?’

“I would have just said ‘hi’ back, or sent a heart.” says Erin.

I turn my phone off and drop it onto the sofa, sighing as I deflate. Seriously? SERIOULSY, that’s what I’m meant to say, ‘hi’, that’s it? Don’t guys send proper messages or invitations? Where is the character in ‘hey’ and in soulless conversations I muse, as my long awaited chance of a date with Joules disappears. My conversational reply has probably sent him running into the hills, according to Erin.

“I think I was born in the wrong era.” I declare, rising up from the sofa to answer the buzz from the internal intercom. “That, we can agree on.” Erin says, picking up a book from the latest ‘must read’ pile and scrutinising it.

The intercom is in the main hallway and the old carpet from when the building was a hotel had been replaced with a new one some years ago. I like how the carpet’s softness hugs my feet and squishes between my toes.

“It’s most likely Victoria.” I yell back to Erin. “She’s staying with me until Monday when mum and dad get back.”

“Come in Vic.” I buzz Victoria in and smooth my hand over my long mousey waves, while I glance into the big swirly mirror at the end of the hallway, I then adjust the angle of my charcoal grey hat to the left.

I’ve known Victoria forever, she’s been the manager of my family’s bookstore, Harbours, since I was little. The once dark haired, now silver lady is pushing 55 and to be fair, she’s aged well. Victoria is prim and proper, her incessant attention to detail drives the staff at Harbours nutty, but to me, she has always been a female role figure of the wise oracle kind, who knows just what to say or do.

Vic stays with me while my parents are out of town which – lets face it – is PANTS, because what adult doesn’t cramp the space of any soon to be 18 year old? Although, I would never stay at home on my own either, so I don’t put up too much of a struggle. I mean come on, have you SEEN the size of our bookstore? It’s massive.

…Harbours, London’s finest and trendiest bookstore and is an experience one should have on their ’things to do in London’ lists. It’s an experience I’m proud to live through every day, being part of an icon appeals to me, just as much as Joules does.

It’s a strange and enchanting place to live, not that I live among the romance and fantasy sections, although some days I think I belong there. Nope, I live on the fourth floor, which is the top floor in a grand suite all to myself, it’s next to mum and dad’s even grander suite. My brother’s suite, on the other side of the hallway next to the sitting room, is now empty, since Ryan decided the bookstore life was not for him, He took off travelling and is currently romping around Bali.

Victoria swoops in through the door, hugging a collection of files in one arm and pulling along a small case with her other hand. “Gosh, we had a mad hour down there… I… am shattered.” Vic warbles, her voice trailing off as she sweeps down the hallway to Ryan’s bedroom, where she will be staying for the next five days.

“Well…” I call after Victoria’s vanishing voice. “I keep saying we should open late on Thursdays, we could do all sorts of events too… Starting with my vintage idea.”

Victoria pops herself back out of the bedroom suite and complains she is at  Harbours enough, but moi is welcome to it if I can persuade mum and dad.

My plan, along with a few others, is to bring a renewed glamour, an ‘old school made cool’ feel to Harbours. I will be able to implement my genius (no less) ideas and plans in a week’s time, when I turn 18, officially become an adult and inherit my share of the business.

Victoria bids good evening to Erin and asks her if she is joining us for dinner, but Erin is meeting her boyfriend Dylan, so she declines. “Can I borrow this one?” Erin asks, waving one of the latest book releases in the air.

“Surprised you asked. You normally just take them.” I reply, widening my eyes to punctuate my joking, but at the same time not joking comment. “That’s what best friends do.” Erin returns with an equally joking, but at the same time not joking look from behind her glasses. Erin’s signature perfect bob and round glasses afford her the cute, swotty look and since meeting her at college two years ago, she has become a staple at Harbours, either wandering in awe around the store, or wandering in awe around my… apartment? I’m never sure what to call it. Its all just home to me.

Rather than spending the next hour helping Vic prepare dinner and talking about the plans for the new Harbours in central Paris, I reach for the dog lead from the coat cupboard and clip it to Dotty’s collar. “Come on Erin, I’ll walk out with you, I need to walk Dotty anyway.” We take the lift down to the ground floor and leave through the back door onto a stuffy street. I hug Erin farewell as she goes one way, while me and my French Bulldog young friend go the other.

Pigeons flap around people scuttling about the streets, the traffic crawls, which is nothing new and the early evening June sun prompts me to tunnel through the streets of London by tube, to a less claustrophobic area where woodland and a river exist for real.

In its serenity this area seems to be‘understand’ me in a way, which is more than Joules does, more than most if I’m totally honest. I pull my phone out of my pocket with a dash of hope that Joules might have replied when there was no service on the underground, but he hadn’t and I can’t decide if I am mad at his lack of being a true gentlemen, or if I’m a fool for hoping he was a gentleman in the first place.

I let Dotty off the lead and she bounces along the track running parallel with the river. She yaps at two Labradors bounding towards us from the opposite direction. Word travels fast on the ‘dog vine’ and it isn’t long before a small canine posse forms and they all play on the pebble incline that leads into the river, where the brave will swim, but Dotty isn’t brave so she just barks at those that are in the water and stops when they come out.

I grab a handful of pebbles, which are still warm from the heat of the day and throw them into the water one by one. I play around with the idea of asking mum and dad to let me run the new Paris store. I’m convinced Paris is the place for me, I’ll fit in far better there than I do in London and I can’t resist the thought of a fine Parisian gentleman wooing me with coffee at a French Boulangerie.

“Miss. MISS.” A middle-aged woman calls out. “Your dog! She ran off into the woods.” The woman is pointing to a small opening between the trees from the main dirt track, the other dogs are circling and charging about, not at all bothered they are a friend down all of a sudden.

Oh, no way. ‘I’ll ring her neck’, I think silently while thanking the woman. Losing the dog panics me, so it’s rare I ever let Dotty off the lead and I don’t usually walk in isolated places like woodlands on my own, but Dotty never goes very far without being spooked by something.

“Dotty. Dottyyyyyyy.” I call, dodging the low, blooming branches. I hesitantly step through a growth of grass and white flowers, or maybe they are weeds, and I discover a narrow dirt path leading straight ahead causing instant relief to swoop over my body, and my feet to feel stable on the ground once more.

“DOTTY. COME HERE NOW.” I yell with rising rage as I spot the tips of Dotty’s ears in between the tall grasses. I peer around trying to memorise the way I had come in and where the opening in the trees was to get back out. “Geeze it’s like the streets of Paris, it all looks the same.” I mutter aloud. “Oh hell, I’ve lost her again. Dotty Look! I have treats.” I rustle my pocket and walk speedily along the path, which splits the wood into two halves, I occasionally turn back to keep an eye on my route. Dotty runs out in front of me, just as I swing back round, but she carries on running to the other side of the woods and I miss grabbing her by an inch. The cat and mouse game continues until I find we have zigzagged all the way to the end of the path.

Dotty sneaks up and jumps onto a cut down tree trunk, she is panting and looking at me like she is proud of her antics and happy with the fun – I on the other hand – am scowling, distracted momentarily from Joules maybe, but swearing I’m not letting her off the lead again. It was then I notice the sight, smack in front of me and I cut off my rant mid sentence and my annoyance diffuses.

The tall, arched black iron gates are pristine, standing boldly in the middle of the chunky trees that mark the woodland’s far edge, with not a flakey bit of paint anywhere. An elaborate gold pattern crowns the gates and I wonder if it’s a family coat of arms, I look closer to examine the detail further. Intrigued, I look through the bars of the gates at the cushy lawn and the two rows of high individual hedges, pruned into oval shapes, as though they are guards standing to salute as lords and ladies walk the space between them. A slither of a white building, presumably a house in the far distance is visible, but nothing else. “What is this place? I didn’t even know it was here.” I whisper in amazement at my random find, which is silly if I think about it… How can a pair of gates and a few pruned leaves be interesting? I run my finger down the bars of the gate and register the view one last time.

“Come on then, you.” I say clipping the lead to Dotty’s collar. “The entrance out of here should be right over there, or it better be.” I add, not so sure as I glance over my shoulder, tipping my head back slightly to see from under the brim of my hat, before turning back to lift Dotty off the tree stump.

“Good evening.” A young man says, appearing from the right on the other side of the gates.

I shriek as Dotty jumps down from the tree trunk, she barks and circles around my feet, which causes me to stumble as I instantly back away. It’s only when I look up from my fumbling seated position on the ground, that I clock the dark haired guy smiling at me through the gates.

“I’m so sorry.” He says pulling at the clearly locked gates. “I honestly didn’t mean to scare you. I saw you and came across to ask if you were okay? You looked lost.”

I adjust my hat back to a straight position, place my hands by my side and shuffle my feet up. “What did you think would happen?” I snarl, pushing myself up.

“I would offer to help you up, but I can’t get out and the key is all the way back in the house.” He points annoyingly at the gates. “Well, that issomethingI suppose.” I reply, brushing soil and bits of leaves off my clothes and immediately snatching Dotty’s lead before she runs off again.

The guy didn’t look much older than me, maybe a couple of years and he’s standing their – smoldering – wearing blue Jeans, straight-legged ones not skinny, this is refreshing I think to myself. A white T-shirt and a chunky black leather jacket renders me silent for a second as I stare, perhaps a second too long.

“That’s quite alright. I appreciate the thought.” I finally say, weighing up whether to continue my intrigue, or run like hell.

“I am truly sorry though to have scared you.“ He says, turning to look at Dotty who gives him a mini growl in return. The young man tells me he often sees nosey people passing by the gates at the wood entrance and peering in, but he can tell the difference between the genuine and the nosey ones, hence why he promptly came over to offer his assistance, which, in the days of one word texts, this, is admirable.

“Lets start again.” He says. Placing his arm through the gap in the bars, he reaches out to shake my hand. “Hi, good to meet you. I’m Drew Scott.” Quite impressed with his style and Dotty’s now non-growling curiosity, I accept his firm handshake.

“Tilly, Tilly Harbour. Nice to meet you too.”


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