Little Boxes by Celia J Anderson
Suddenly bereaved, Molly White realises that she has never really known her feisty husband Jake when random boxes begin to appear through the post, each one containing a tantalising clue to the secrets of Jake and Molly’s past. Someone who knows them both well, for reasons of their own, has planned a trail of discovery. The clues seem to be designed to change Molly’s life completely, leading her around Britain and then onwards to rural France and deepest Bavaria.
Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Tom, a charismatic artist who runs a gallery in the same town. Strong, independent and wheelchair-bound from the age of fifteen, he leads a solitary life and has no idea how devastatingly attractive he is to women. When Tom meets curvy, beautiful and funny Molly, he knows that she is his dream woman, but she seems way out of his orbit until the boxes start to weave their spell and the two of them are thrown right out of their comfort zones.
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Tom sat on the beach in the spring sunshine, eating cockles out of a tub and gazing rather grimly at the incoming tide. If it came much closer he’d have to abandon his painting for the day – it took a good twenty minutes to pack up and get back to his car on the promenade.
As he licked his fingers and screwed up the seafood carton, there was a scrunch of pebbles and a whoosh of air as a small boy thundered past, whooping at the top of his voice. He was followed at speed by the most desirable woman that Tom could ever remember seeing in this small seaside town. It was his Lady in Red; the one who had been cropping up in his dreams far too often since he’d first seen her on the beach. Her hair was an explosion of dark curls, and she wore tight orange jeans with a wildly clashing crimson sweater that came almost to her knees. Tom took a deep breath to say hello but he was too late.
‘Max… MAX… don’t go near the sea. I mean it!’ she bellowed, skidding straight into Tom as she chased the boy across the pebbles. ‘Sorry, sorry… have I hurt you? Is your painting wrecked? Oh – wow; it’s good, isn’t it? You can tell it’s meant to be the pier. I’m really, really sorry…’
Tom picked himself up and put his painting chair the right way up again. ‘Hey, it’s okay – you can fall over me any time,’ he said, grinning into her startlingly green eyes.
She blinked and looked away, her lovely face matching the colour of her sweater. Shielding her eyes with a hand, she scanned the beach for the boy.
‘Where’s he gone, the little toad? Ah, there he is, he’s making something out of a heap of stones – at least he’s not paddling fully dressed like last time. Oh hell, you don’t even know me and I’ve already wrecked your work. I’m Molly. I think I’ve seen you here before, haven’t I? Let me fix your painting.’
She bent down to see if she could repair the damage and Tom held out a hand to stop her trying to brush bits of stone off his picture. ‘No, honestly, it’s fine, I’ll sort it out. I’m Tom, and I’ve seen you, too. You’re easy to remember.’
‘Am I? Why?’
‘Lots of reasons – you often seem to be in a hurry, you always wear something red, you’ve got lots of kids, you’re gorgeous…’ Tom stopped in confusion.
‘Gorgeous? Me? Do you need your eyes testing or something?’ Molly blushed again and looked at him properly for the first time. ‘I’m sorry, that was really rude,’ she said. ‘My mum’s always telling me I don’t know how to take a compliment.’
‘Don’t worry, maybe you just need a bit more practice.’ Tom bent to carry on sorting his painting kit out. He couldn’t help noticing how her eyes rested on his forearms as he finished tidying up and, clearly aware of his scrutiny, she reddened even more.
‘You’re very strong, aren’t you?’ she blurted out.
Tom laughed. ‘I guess I have to be, don’t I? If you’ve seen me before, you’ll know why.’
‘I don’t want you to think I’ve been staring at you, Tom. It’s just that you’re…um… different to most of the men round here.’
‘Tell me about it.’ Tom slung his bag over one shoulder and heaved himself out of his folding chair.
‘Can I help you at all?’ Molly asked, standing on tiptoes to get a better view of the shoreline. ‘Oh look, here are the other two Musketeers. They can carry something for you, if you like.’
‘I don’t need any help, thanks.’ Tom bit back the familiar feeling of irritation and smiled up at a pair of girls, dressed entirely in black, who had stopped next to him. The taller one had multiple piercings. Both girls were scowling.
‘Mum, what are you like?’ said the pierced one. ‘We saw you knock the paints all over the place. You’re so clumsy. Have you seen what Max is doing now?’
Molly looked again. The small boy had been jumping off his pile of stones and had landed awkwardly the last time. He began to wail. ‘Max! I told you last time not to do that. Hang on, I’m coming,’ Molly shouted.
The girls sighed and rolled their eyes at Tom as they watched their mum slither off over the stones to the sandy stretch by the sea, where Max was now hurling the biggest rocks he could find into the waves. The pierced girl turned to the smaller one.
‘Bloody hell, why doesn’t she just leave him alone for a bit? The only place he can go is into the sea.’
‘But he’s only little – he can’t swim.’
‘Exactly.’ The older girl smirked as they wandered off down the beach.
Tom sighed. Another opportunity lost; still no nearer to finding out more about his dream woman. Oh well, at least he knew her name now. On the other hand, it didn’t take a genius to work out that she was already taken. The wedding ring gave it away, even if the children didn’t.
Celia J Anderson spends most of her spare time writing in as many different genres as possible, including children’s fiction. In her other life, she’s Assistant Headteacher at a small Catholic primary school in the Midlands and loves teaching literature (now comfortingly called English again but still the best subject in the world.)
She tried a variety of random jobs before discovering that the careers advisor at secondary school was right, including running crèches, childminding, teaching children to ride bikes (having omitted to mention she couldn’t do it herself) and a stint in mental health care. All these were ideal preparation for the classroom and provided huge amounts of copy for the books that were to come.
Celia enjoys cooking and eating in equal measures, and thinks life without wine would be a sad thing indeed. She is married, with two grown up daughters who have defected to the seaside. One day she plans to scoop up husband and cats and join them there.
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