THE SEASON OF PERPETUAL HOPE. What a fucking joke!
I truly hate the sodding Yuletide. Hel, I hate the whole damn winter season. Joyful, my arse! Dealing with snow and darkness and people with the blooming winter blues for half the year. Yeah, that’s positively delightful! Oh, and why are we celebrating midwinter now, anyway? It’s not the middle of the fucking winter yet!
Not expecting a response to my rant, I made another cup of coffee and sat down on the sofa by the kitchen window. It was my favourite place in the bog-standard, commonhold flat I called home. On some level, I knew I should be grateful we got to live in a place like that. It was one of many relatively new homes around Sundsvall that people were giving away for a pittance.
In the wake of the latest bank crisis, interest rates had tripled and families were struggling to keep up with their mortgages. Many had no choice but to cut and run. Yes, I was incredibly lucky to have a place to call home, but it was hard to be happy about something that brought such misfortune to someone else. Besides, technically speaking, it wasn’t my home.
The flat, and pretty much everything in it, belonged to a man I’d done my best to avoid for the past two years. Only the kitchen was mine. In there, I had the three things I valued the most: a large Winnie the Pooh mug my kids had given me for my birthday; a heavy oak table, custom made for us by the cabinetmaker back home; and my edda’s old ashwood sofa.
Sitting on her sofa, with my fingers tightly wrapped around a mug of steaming white coffee, I could blank everything else out. For a brief moment in time, I could allow myself to breathe and just exist. It gave me some semblance of peace. A sense of balance. And it made me feel connected to something bigger than myself. Something important. As an added bonus, it also gave me a perfect view of the world outside my window.
A view that was downright depressing right now. It was just after two in the afternoon, and it was already getting dark outside. The street lights cast a spooky glow over the kids’ playground, and the front yard could have been covered in cotton wool. The driveway was knee-deep in snow, but I couldn’t be arsed to go downstairs and grab a shovel. The kids weren’t home, so there was no point anyway. No one would be dragging any snow into the house.
The weather had turned, my bones told me, and we wouldn’t be getting any more snow for quite some time. The weeks ahead would be harsh and unforgiving. Well, isn’t that bloody marvellous? Another vargrvetr—just what we need right now! As if things aren’t bad enough the way they are. It was yet another sign of looming destruction, of that I was sure, and it made me feel utterly useless. What’s the point of knowing shit if you can’t do anything about it? Oh, Hel no! Angel’s coming…
The unmistakable shape of my chosen sister moved like a shadow across the parking lot. Even in my pissy mood, her determined waddle through the snow made me chuckle. I swear, no one can mood walk quite like Angel! There she was, rolling up like a tank to a battlefield, and something told me I was the intended target. Bugger! I really don’t want to see anyone right now. Help? No, of course not.
Downing the last mouthful of coffee, I grabbed the house keys off the windowsill and opened the window. Fuck, it’s cold out there! Of all the misfortunes my miserable existence has dealt me, being born in a subarctic climate is pretty high up there on the list of things I hate. And with the life I’ve had, that’s really saying something. A misty cloud left my mouth as I leaned out and rattled the keys to get my sister’s attention.
“How nice of you to clear the snow off the path,” she yells up at me, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I love you too, sweetiepie.” I rattled the keys at her again. “Here you go! Get your arse up here before I freeze my tits off.”
Dropping the keys from my second-floor window, I must admit a part of me wished they’d be lost in the snow. But of course, Angel caught them like a pro and made her way up the stairs faster than I could get the damn window shut. Yet another charming aspect of winters in the north of Sweden – doors, windows and locks that don’t work properly.
As she reached the landing, Angel threw herself at me and hugging me tightly. It was almost like she’d been afraid of losing me. “Don’t you try to be cute with me, you fucking brat,” she snapped. “I’m still so bloody mad at you I could wring your neck.”
As much as I didn’t want her there, her tight embrace was comforting and I hugged her right back. It felt like we were standing there forever, but eventually, she pulled away and gave me a once over with the no-nonsense supermum look. “Go hop in the shower while I make us something to eat. It’s New Year’s Eve for fuck’s sake! We’re going to the homecoming party at The Palace, and you won’t get laid smelling like a corpse.”
My stomach sank, but I knew better than to get into an argument with Angel in full tank mode. Rolling my eyes at her, I turned towards the bathroom. “Fine! I’ll have a fucking shower, but there’s no way I’m going to work tonight. It’s freezing cold outside, I’m on annual leave, I’ve got nothing to wear, and I right now I need a dick about as much as a fish needs a bike.” She was right, though. I did need a shower, but once that was sorted I’d get into my PJs.
“Just so you know, I’ve got a hot threesome lined up tonight.” I slammed the bathroom door shut behind me and burst into tears. As usual. Years of classical conditioning had turned me into some flipping Pavlovian dog. Unless I was home alone, which rarely happened, I cried in the shower. Now I’d been on my own for eight awful days, crying and raging through most of them. You’d think that I’d run dry at some point, but it was getting worse with each passing day.
I was exhausted, frustrated and hurting, crying silent tears when I really wanted to scream and break things. No, scratch that, I wanted to scream at Him and break his fucking bones. But, of course, I couldn’t. So, here I was, Edda three-year-old, feeling sorry for myself and lashing out at my sisters. Wishing they would leave me the fuck alone, yet being upset with them when they did. And where the Hel have you gone? This would be a great time for you to have my back, you know.
The water was burning hot, and I was sobbing as I scrubbed my skin raw. All my pent up grief, despair and self-hate was weighing me down and, unable to hold myself upright, I slid down into a heap on the floor. Watching my tears disappear down the drain, mixed with wash water and soap suds, I wished I could go with them. But there was no escape hatch for me. I was but a puppet, doomed to suffer through this cursed existence.
Another uncontrollable burst of anger flashed through me at the thought. Seriously? You’re not going to say anything? You’re controlling every fucking aspect of my life, and you can’t even help me deal with Angel? You know what she’s like, and I don’t know what to say to her. It’s not like I can tell her the truth.
Sitting up with my back against the tiles, I tried to think of something that would get Angel out of my hair. The bathroom was slowly turning into a steam sauna and I couldn’t think of anything to say to her. I just sat there with my arms around my legs, and my head against my knees heaving with ugly cries. Gods, my life was such a fucking mess. I had no control over anything and no idea how to make things right. How could I? I shouldn’t even be here!
I’d literally been to Hel and back four times, and that shit makes no sense. It’s impossible! Everybody knows that, and yet here I am. Every time I hit rock bottom I told myself this was it. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse from there. Yet, somehow, they always did. As if I was some bloody toy being tossed around by a toddler throwing temper tantrums.
The people I loved died or straight up abandoned me. Which, in fairness, I could understand. I’d leave myself too, given half the chance. I mean look at me. I’m a massive potty-mouthed failure, with a foul fucking temper and a malfunctioning body. I’m always too tall, too fat, too loud, too much, too… Whatever. Or not quite good enough. The story of my fucking life. I made fabulous kids, though.
That was the one thing I had going for me. My little cubs were everything that was good in my world. They still are. Far too good for someone like me. As much as I hate to admit it, they would probably have been better off staying with his despicable bitch of a mother. The Wicked Witch of the North.
I was snapped out of my misery mode by a loud crash, followed by Angel, who still had her annoying no-nonsense supermum face on. Without a word, she pulled me off the floor and began to towel-dry my unruly hair. Yeah, that’s my angel, alright. The second good thing I had going for me.
Angel and the kids. The kids and Angel. And my niece, Juicy, of course. Angel’s daughter who’s two weeks older than Pixie, my youngest. I love our unconventional family, all eight of them, but gods be damned they can get on my nerves. Especially Angel, when she treats me like a baby.
From my position on the toilet seat, I glared up at her through the wet mop of hair on my head. “Seriously?! You kicked the door in? You could have knocked, you know.” Fuck, now I’m gonna have to tell Him it’s broken.
“I did knock!” Angel said, as sweetly as if she was, indeed, talking to a child. “Come on, Hopalong, your hair’s fine. Put this on so we can eat.”
“Eh, I don’t know where you found that thing, but it’s not mine. I’m not wearing it.”
“Oh, you’re wearing it, alright. It’s yours, which you would’ve known had you opened your Christmas presents instead of leaving them in a pile on your bed. A bed you clearly haven’t slept in for days, by the way. ‘That thing’ is a bathrobe and I made it for you. Merry fucking Christmas, princess!”
“You know I don’t like Christmas. They were staring at me, so I had to chuck them in there. The kids are the only reason I didn’t throw the sodding decorations in there as well. They’ll want a julgransplundring when they come home. But thank you. It’s beautiful and I love it.”
While I was crying in the shower, Angel had created a small miracle in the kitchen. She’d set the table with Mammanita’s fine dining set. The candles smelled of winter apples, cinnamon and vanilla, and dinner was served. There was a bowl of pasta carbonara, a bread basket and a bottle of wine shape like a snowman. Angel switched the lights off and passed me the bowl. “Dig in, my love. We need to eat some stodge so we can hold our drinks tonight. We don’t wanna be hammered before the fireworks.”
“We? Listen to me, you nutter, I’ve already told you I’m not leaving this house. I’ve already got plans, remember?”
“Oh, honey, you’re so cute when you’re grumpy. Here’s the deal. You can come with me, looking like a Queen in the dress I’ve made for you; or I’ll drag you there, kicking and screaming, in your bathrobe. Either way, we’re going. Here, have some wine, it’ll soften you up.”
“Eh, no thanks. How many times do I have to tell you not to buy wine in funny bottles? This isn’t wine – it’s perfumed plonk. And white? With carbonara? I don’t think so!”
“Aha! I knew my favourite snob was still in there somewhere. Welcome to the party, my old friend! Here we have ‘perfumed plonk,’ and fatty foods, and there’s a table reservation at The Palace to boot. Our carriage arrives at eight, so we’ve got plenty of time to get into our mating outfits.”
As much as I hated the idea of a bloody homecoming party, I couldn’t help feeling bad for Angel. She’d pulled all the stops out, and she was clearly looking forward to a night of boys’n’beers. Still, I wasn’t ready to give in just yet. Maybe I could appeal to her more compassionate side with my puppy eyes routine?
“But, hunneeee, what about my date? I can’t blow Benedick and Beatrice off like that. It’s rude and I miss them. Why can’t we just stay here? I promise, I’ll drink your plonk and pretend I like it.” I fluttered my eyelashes at her, trying to look adorable. The look on her face told me she was amused, but she was having none of it.
“There’s no universe in which Much Ado About Nothing counts as a date. This has gone way beyond ridiculous! That damn play has always been your mood scanner. If you’re reading it, I know it’s bad. If you’re watching the Kenneth Branagh version, I know you’re really struggling to hold it together. You’ve been playing it on repeat for two years now, and I can recite the damn thing in my sleep. And don’t even like Shakespeare!”
“Is that a no to staying in then?”
“Consider it an intervention. We’re gonna break this cycle, starting tonight. Tomorrow we’re laying down some ground rules for the new year, starting with this one: Under no circumstances are you ever to spend Christmas on your own again. Not next year. Not in ten years. Not ever. Understood?”
Angel popped the last spoonful of carbonara in her mouth and poured some snowman plonk. “A toast! To my best friend and the love of my life. You’re the kindest, most generous and most frighteningly intelligent woman I’ve ever met. Cheers, my love! May the new year bring you peace and prosperity.”
Feeling my tears well up again, I nodded, raised my glass and downed some of the rank liquid. “Cheers, my Angel! I know I’m a lousy friend who doesn’t deserve you, but I love you to the moon and back and would be completely lost without you. I’m sorry I’m such a rotter. I’ll come with you to the party, but there’ll be no mating. That department is closed.”
I wiggled my eyebrows at her and drank some more snowman wine. It’s like medicine. As long as you gulp it down and remember not to breathe through your nose you’re fine. What did I say about unforgiving times ahead? I guess I should have seen this one coming.
Suddenly, Angel had You Can Leave Your Hat On blasting out of His ridiculously excessive sound system. It’s our party anthem and one of the most requested songs when we’re singing. She topped up our glasses and held a hand out in an invitation she knew I couldn’t resist. We danced around the kitchen together, singing out loud, swaying our hips to the rhythm of the music and downing vast quantities of horrible wine.
When the CD shuffled to Try A Little Tenderness, Angel manoeuvred our dance party into the living room, where her second surprise was waiting for me. She’d set up a makeshift dressing room and make-up studio, but that wasn’t all. Two spectacular ball gowns, one maroon and one black, were hanging on display on the bookcase. A chair wedged in between them held an assortment of jewellery and accessories; and on the floor stood a pair of maroon, thigh-high stilettos, and a pair of black, knee-high Harley Davidson boots. I could scarcely believe my eyes!
Angel was in her element, though. She lit up two cigarettes, passed me one and cranked up the volume some more. I sure hope the neighbours loved The Commitments soundtrack as much as we do. Angel grabbed a bottle of some hair goo and pulled out the swivel chair she’s put by the ironing board turned make-up table. Obediently, I plonked my arse down and gave her free reins. I like doing my hair and make-up, but Angel’s a pro. She always makes me feel like a fearless shield maiden in war paint. Which seemed like a fitting choice for the occasion.
Singing, drinking and dancing our way through the first Commitments CD, and a second snowman, our hairs and faces were soon expertly put together. And that’s when Angel, looking very pleased with herself I might add, handed me a brand new lace-up corset with matching accessories. A bloody garter belt, a pair of stockings and a skimpy pair of lace knickers.
“No way! You’re kidding me?”
“They’re from Him. Came with the boots and bling over there.”
“Fuck! You know I can’t accept any gifts from Him. The Wicked Witch of the North would roast me alive, not to mention feed my charred remains to the kids if she found out. You have to return them.”
“Oh, Hel no! Breaking the cycle, remember? The Witch can go fuck herself – you’re done taking shit from her. Or anyone else, for that matter. Now, turn around and let me lace you up.”
With all the different bits in the right place, I felt like a first-class fool. Standing there, in the living room, in knee-high boots and the sexiest lingerie I’ve ever seen, was all kinds of weird. I mean it’s not who I am. Besides, I had no intention of letting anyone, other than Angel, see me in any state of undress, so all this sexy stuff was redundant to say the least.
Angel, however, returned from the bathroom and wolf-whistled when she saw me. “Why, he may be a wanker, darling, but at least he’s a wanker with great taste and a fat wallet. And he loves you.”
“Yeah, he loves me like he loves his fucking horses. He wants to own me, put babies in me and keep me locked up in this fucking shoe box. And yes, he’s got money and great taste, but these gifts are not for me. They’re just stuff he wants me to have, because it fits his narrative somehow. His idea of who we are and what we have. Gifts don’t feed the kids or pay the bills. He knows this can’t be. It was impossible ten years ago, and after all the shit the Witch has put me through, I’m so angry I can barely look at him anymore.”
“Ok, I’ve never asked you this before, but I’m curious. Did you tell him any of this before, after or while you were making and carrying his kids?”
“Oh, gods, I’ve told him so many times. Before, in between and after the kids, but he’s just like you. He never fucking listens.”
“Well, if you stop sleeping with him you may get his attention.”
“The fuck? You know damn well I’ve been avoiding him for two years, but he still treats me like a broodmare. I think it turns his kinky arse on that Mommy Dearest doesn’t approve.”
Angel snickered and zipped up my ballgown before she handed me a rectangular jewellery box. Fearing the worst, I took a deep breath trying to still my nerves before I opened it. Luckily, it wasn’t a collar, but the symbolism of the two-piece wasn’t lost on me. It was a gorgeous necklace with a pendant featuring a mermaid holding on to an ehwaz rune, and a snake chain bracelet with six small rune charms. The heart clasp on the bracelet seemed to be red gold, and the rest, I presumed, was platinum.
Incredulous, I clasped them in my hands and breathed life into the runes. My fingers brushed slowly over the mermaid pendant, and I placed a gentle kiss on each of the small rune charms. Eihwaz, ehwaz, ansuz, raidhō, ehwaz and sowilō. One rune per child and one to bind the two of us. Bloody Tolkien nerd.
It was a surprisingly thoughtful gift and I was touched. Thinking of how much he must have spent on it, however, made my stomach churn. But returning this gift was not an option. You have to be mindful of your thoughts and actions when you’re dealing with runes. Even when they’re made of platinum.
Walking over to the full-length mirror, I took a deep breath and put my new necklace and bracelet set on. Taking in my reflection, I marvelled at the woman I saw staring back at me. She looked powerful. Confident. Sexy. Everything I’m not. But I would wear that look like my armour.
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Love and Lust,
© 2021 Lïnnéa Lucifer. All rights reserved.
The right of Lïnnéa Lucifer to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publisher.
First published online in 2021 on www.aswewrite.com and on Wattpad.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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