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Authors: E.R. Murray

Caramel Hearts

BOOK: Caramel Hearts
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Caramel Hearts

Caramel Hearts

E.R. Murray


3 Castle Yard
Surrey TW10 6TF
United Kingdom

Caramel Hearts
first published by Alma Books Ltd in 2016

© Elizabeth Rose Murray, 2016

Cover image © Jem Butcher

Printed in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY

: 978-1-84688-392-7
: 978-1-84688-406-1

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be resold, lent, hired out or otherwise circulated without the express prior consent of the publisher.



Delicately, as though Handling a Bird's Egg

That's OK – Sisters Together?

It's Not Fair to Stress Her Out

Like Magic, It Begins to Mould Together

The Three Amigos

My Cool Stakes Will Fly through the Roof

Don't Air Your Dirty Linen in Public

A Regular Little Goody-Two-Shoes

Some of Us Would Like to Eat Today

Shame Hangs Over Me Like a Cloud

Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain

Through the Ocean, Guiding a Calf

You're a Right Fat Pig

Clues in the Curve of His Shoulders

It's the Least I Can Do after Knocking You Flying

In Full Swing, Marching Up and Down

Screwing Up Her Nose Like I'm Diseased

Trying to Decipher its Special Code

Is This a Trick?

I Didn't Know Pigs Could Cry!

The Monstrosity Staring Back at Me

Something Resembling an Abandoned Nest

Like Jekyll and Hyde on Spirits

Blood Is Thicker than Water

Mint and Chopped Lavender Flowers

An Outcast for Eternity

Attached by an Invisible Thread

Placing It Carefully on the Spring-Loaded Donkey

Did I Say Something Funny?

A Glimpse of How Things Used to Be

The Frosty Air Lifts Like Fog in the Rain

Sharp as a Carving Knife

It's Time to Come Clean

If I'm Already in Trouble, What Do Manners Matter?

The Crust Was Designed for Dirty Hands

Disquiet Spreads over the Room Like Mist

I Have to Tell You Something…

My Words Have Pierced Her Heart

Blue, Isn't It?

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

Pretending Not to See or Be Seen

Trapped in One Spot Isn't Fun

Battered Leather Suitcases and All Sorts of Junk

Fake Candlelight and Long

One of Life's Cruel Games

Stripped Bare, Like Skeletons

There's No Point Crying over

There's Something I Have to Do First

Rules Are Rules

I Refuse to Repeat the Pattern


Caramel Hearts

Before We Begin, I'd Like to Share a Memory…

It's a cold, blustery day and sand whips against my face. But I don't mind. Whitby is almost two hours away from home, and on its beach I'm as free as the howling winds.

I reach into the scrunched newspaper in Mam's hand and take another steaming-hot chip loaded with salt and vinegar. Popping the chip into my mouth, I wait until Mam's distracted, then turn to my sister Hatty and open my jaw wide, showing the contents.

“Yuck! You're disgusting!” cries Hatty, copying in return.

We giggle, one eye on Mam, but she's completely unaware. Her eyes are closed, her lashes fluttering contentedly as she faces the North Sea, as though remembering something special. I take Hatty's hand.

“I told you, Liv,” whispers Hatty. “She's getting better.”

I turn a wobbly cartwheel, and my hair leaves snake trails in the sand.

“Yay!” cries Hatty.

Mam joins in the celebrations. We must have disturbed her. We check she's not cross and touch our left ears – our signal that it's all clear.

“Olivia Bloom, youngest of the Bloom sisters, takes gold!” says Mam in a commentator's voice.

Not to be outdone, Hatty kicks up her right leg and spins her body in a perfect arc.

“Harriet Bloom performs a stellar round also! It's joint gold for the Bloom sisters!”

Mam lifts her arms high into the air and nearly upturns the chips. We scramble through the deep, powdery sand to rescue our lunch. Mam's quick: she turns tail and runs towards the cave. We follow in hot pursuit, laughing and shrieking, but by the time we reach the cave, Mam's mood has changed. She stares blankly at us as we catch up, panting. The air is flat and damp. The wild, free winds are left outside.

“Mam, do you want to rest for a while?” offers Hatty.

“I want Max,” says Mam, bursting into tears.

We sit next to her, close enough for her to know we're there but not close enough to touch. And we wait. To pass the time, I gather Hatty's treacle-coloured locks and plait them into seahorse tails. I think,
Please don't let Mam get angry

Mam stops crying and turns her soggy face towards us. Her fringe sticks to her forehead in swirls.

“If your dad was here, I wouldn't get these moods.”

I stop plaiting, draw my knees up and rest my chin on them.

“If you hadn't driven him away, Liv, everything would be fine.”

“Sorry, Mam,” I say.

They split up when I was two. That's six years ago.

“If only you'd been a better baby. If only you hadn't scribbled on the walls. Thrown your food bowls.”

I squash my chin onto my knees as hard as I can, trying to make a bruise. A bruise helps to take your mind off
things. When you poke it, all you think about is the pain, and you forget the bad stuff you've done – like driving your dad away.

“Hatty never threw her food bowls. Max didn't leave when there was just me and Hatty.”

“I did other naughty stuff though, Mam,” says Hatty in a shaky voice.

It's as though Mam hasn't heard her at all.

“You always were a naughty child, Liv. He couldn't cope with it. He had to leave.”

“Sorry, Mam.”

I feel the soft touch of Harriet's fingers searching out my own, followed by a warm, gentle squeeze. I know it's meant to mean “don't listen”, but I can't help it.

“You'll always be that way, I guess. You've got my blood, Liv, that's the problem. Bad blood.”

She shuffles closer to me, so I turn my eyes to Hatty and wait for the signal. Mam hugs into my back, whispering, “Sorry, love, don't mind me. Don't pay any attention,” and eventually Hatty touches her ear. When Mam pulls away, she's all smiley again.

“Who's for more chips?” she says and, squealing, we all run back into the daylight.

Chapter One

Delicately, as though Handling a Bird's Egg

I drop the crumpled postcard from Whitby back into Mam's knicker drawer and quickly cover it up: staring at a six-year-old memory won't bring those times back, even if my mouth waters at the thought of those salty, tangy chips. The sleeves of my dressing gown catch on the drawer handle as I carry on rummaging, uncertain what I'm looking for but determined to find it anyway. Ever since Mam went into Ashgrove House Recovery Centre for Women, I've been searching for something that reminds me of her before the drink took over. But a postcard of the Whitby whalebones doesn't quite cut it.

The floorboard creaks underfoot, and although I'm hidden in shadow, my heart still pounds. If Hatty finds me going through Mam's things, she'll lose her head – and it wouldn't be fair to wake her when she's trying to catch up on her assignments. My sister's almost twenty-one and should be completing her studies at Edinburgh University, but instead she's looking after me while Mam recovers – if you can call it that. Mam's track record isn't great, and although Hatty swears she'll dry out this time, I can't help being a little sceptical. This is Mam, not

I hold my breath for what feels like eternity, straining my ears for any sign of movement. Certain it's all clear, I rifle through the last few drawers and check under the bed. Reaching out, my hand touches something cool. It's only an empty whiskey bottle.

“Should have known,” I whisper, before returning it.

Disappointed, I lie down on Mam's bed, face towards the ceiling. My hair spills across Mam's pillows as I close my eyes and try to make myself tired, but thoughts race through my brain at lightning speed and there's no way I can sleep. I try the relaxation method my counsellor showed me – slow breaths, counting to three as you inhale and three as you exhale – but it doesn't work. Flipping onto my stomach, I cuddle the pillows instead. My fingers bash against something hidden in the pillowcase; this time, it's not made of glass.

I tease out the object delicately, as though handling a bird's egg, and light the reserve torch Mam keeps in her bedside cabinet for when we can't afford the 'leccy bill. The dim yellow beam reveals a chunky book. Its wrinkled cover is made of rough cream card, decorated with dried leaves and real pink rose petals. As I lift the book closer, I spot a neat, handwritten title:
Recipes to Make Happiness Bloom

It's Mam's handwriting.

Flipping open the cover, I realize I'm holding my breath: it's not like I'm reading her diary, it's just a book of recipes, but my hands are unsteady as I peek inside. On the front page, there's a recipe for “Lovers' Lemon and Choc-Chip Shortbread”
in the same careful hand. She's decorated it with loads of cute drawings of ingredients and a nicely shaded sketch of the finished product. I'd almost forgotten that she could draw. She used to make colouring pictures for us when we were kids – they were always much more pretty and intricate than the ones you got in books – but that feels like a lifetime ago.

“Why would Mam write a cookbook?” I whisper to myself. “She only ever goes to the kitchen to pour another drink or microwave some beans.”

I fling the book aside; I'd been hoping for something better. But then I feel mean for thinking such negative thoughts about Mam. At least she's trying. Snatching the book back up, I flick through the pages to give it a second chance. This time, I notice the inscription on the inside cover.

To the love of my life, Abigail “Happiness” Bloom. May we have many adventures together. Yours always, Max. Christmas 2000

I lift the cookbook higher to inspect it more closely. Max is my dad's name – now we're getting somewhere. When Mam's around, she's the only one that's allowed to mention Dad. Like she's the only one that feels his absence.

Tracing the words with my fingertips – the words my dad wrote – my stomach feels like it's full of eels. Hugging the cookbook to my chest as I drift off to sleep, I swear I can smell baking shortbread, cold sea air and a man's cologne seeping from its pages.

Lovers' Lemon and Choc-Chip Shortbread

Guaranteed to set anyone's taste buds tingling and their dreams soaring, this is the perfect antidote to grey clouds and cold winds…


115 g/4 oz plain flour, plus some extra dabs for dusting

125 g/4½ oz yummy butter

60 g/2 oz caster sugar

1 tsp aromatic cinnamon

Pinch of salt (unless the butter is salted)

Zest of 1 lemon

Big handful of chocolate chips (the more the better!)

Dainty splash of icing sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 220 °C/425 °F/Gas mark 7.

2. Use a wooden spoon to cream the butter and sugar together. Then add the flour, cinnamon and salt, a little at a time, and combine together in a bowl, using your fingertips. Keep going until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs – breathe in those delicious smells!

3. Add the lemon zest and chocolate chips, stirring well to combine the ingredients. When doughy, collect the shortbread mixture and plop it on a lightly floured surface, then knead for 2–3 minutes.

4. Roll that pastry! Make it about 1½ cm/¾ in. thick, depending on how you like it (it won't rise much when cooking). Use a heart-shaped biscuit cutter to get as many biscuits as you can out of the dough. Pop them on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 8–10 minutes, or until golden-brown, like summer hayfields.

5. Cool on a wire rack, dust with icing sugar – and whatever you do, don't forget to
seal with a kiss

BOOK: Caramel Hearts
7.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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