Home > Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #1)(4)

Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #1)(4)
Jenny Colgan

‘There’s nothing,’ said Polly, panicking. She’d had no idea, not really, that their mortgage was so low and rentals were so high. ‘There’s absolutely nothing.’

‘What about an “executive flatshare”?’

‘They’re incredibly expensive, and you have to pay for satellite television and probably share with some weirdo who keeps weights in his room.’

As she scrolled further down, Polly grew more and more worried. She didn’t know quite how low her standards could go, but the more she looked at it, the more she realised she had to be on her own. However much she was trying to keep up appearances with Kerensa and Chris and her mum, something truly awful had happened and it wasn’t going to go away, not for a long time. The thought of herself crying quietly in her bedroom surrounded by partying young things was desperate at best, utterly tragic at worst. She needed to retreat, get her bounce back. She was not instantly going to start dressing ten years younger and talking about boy bands. Or go back to her mum, who loved her and would do anything for her, but who would also undoubtedly sigh, and make sorrowful enquiries about Chris and talk about other people’s grandchildren and… No. Their relationship was all right, but she doubted it was quite up to this.

So then. What?

Chapter Three

The next morning, Kerensa was up and out the door shortly after six, off to do British Military Fitness in a nearby park, even though it was March and rain was bouncing off the windows. She invited Polly, of course, but Polly groaned and turned over. She had a mild hangover and the taste of Pringles in her mouth.

Once Kerensa had gone, Polly made coffee, then tidied up as much as she could in the tiny, immaculate space. It was no good, though: her overnight bag was still cluttering the place up, and she didn’t know how Kerensa got the cushions to sit upright, because she certainly couldn’t. She picked up her coffee and spilt a little on the very expensive rug, and cursed. No. This wouldn’t do.

She fired up the laptop again. The jobs page could wait for a moment; right now, she needed somewhere to live.

More slowly this time, she went through every single place to rent in Plymouth in her price range. They were all either hideous, or in areas she wouldn’t feel safe getting to without a car. Page after page scrolled by until she reached the end. That was it. Nothing else. There was not one place she would even consider going to see, never mind living in.

Many of her friends, not just Kerensa, had offered her a spare room or a sofa to kip on, but she couldn’t bear that either – the ‘Are you okays?’ and the concerned murmuring. And most of them were married now anyway; were hitting the baby stage. A couple of her girlfriends she suspected would quite like her there to help with childcare from time to time, but she absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of that: tiptoeing around trying not to outstay her welcome, like some kind of maiden aunt combined with unpaid help.

Once upon a time, in her twenties, way back, she had thought that she and Chris would be married by now, settled; Chris making lots of money, her with her baby… and here she was.

Ugh, she had to stop thinking like this. She could drown in self-pity, or she could keep pushing on. On a whim, she broadened her search to take in the entire country. Wow. If she could move to Wales, she could live in loads of places. Nice places, too. Or the highlands of Scotland. Or rural Northern Ireland. Or the Peak District. She didn’t strictly know where the Peak District was, but at least there were loads of places she could move with no money and no connections and no Pringle-offering friends and no jobs… Hmm, maybe not.

She narrowed her search back down, asked for all of the south-west, and that was when she saw it.

It was a name she hadn’t even thought of in years. They must have gone there on a school trip; everybody did. Mount Polbearne. She was amazed anyone still lived there.

She studied the little thumbnail. It wasn’t much; it differed from the hundreds of other pictures she had scrolled past in that it had been taken from the outside rather than the inside, and showed a little window in a gabled roof, the paint peeling from the frame, the roof tiles serrated and ancient-looking. ‘Unusual location’, said the blurb, which usually meant ‘unspeakable skip’. She clicked on it nevertheless, taking a big slug of cold coffee.

Mount Polbearne, well well. It was a tidal island, she remembered that. They’d gone by coach, and there was a cobbled causeway that connected the island to the mainland, bristling with terrifying signs warning you of the dangers of driving across it as the tide came in, or sailing over it when it had. They had squealed excitedly when the water had surged up across the cobbles, then thought they would all be drowned. There were the remains of old trees by the side of the causeway that used to be on land and weren’t any more, and a bit of a ruined castle at the top of the island, along with a gift shop where she and Kerensa had bought oversized strawberry-flavoured lollipops. But surely nobody lived there. Half the time you couldn’t even leave. You certainly couldn’t commute.

There was another picture on the website. The building looked practically derelict. It had a wonky roof, and two of the windows she’d seen in the first picture were dirty and opened outwards. Downstairs was the black maw of a deserted shop. Obviously being perched out at sea was hitting it hard. Also Polly wondered if a buried causeway was quite as exciting for tourists as it used to be. These days they all wanted surfing beaches and theme parks and expensive fish restaurants. Cornwall had changed a lot.

There was one thing that did catch her eye, though: the place had two rooms, plus a little bathroom. Not a bedsit, not a flat share: a flat. Within her budget. Not only that, but the first room, the front room, was rather large: twenty feet by twenty-five. The front room in their Plymouth flat certainly wasn’t that big; it was small and narrow, with built-in spotlit mirrors at each end to create an illusion of space. She wondered briefly how high up the flat was, under the eaves like that. And if downstairs was deserted, it meant there would be nobody else in the building – except for the rats. Hmm. Then the last picture caught her eye. It was the view out of the front windows, taken from inside.

Beyond the window was… nothing. Just a straight stretch into outer space, or, as it revealed itself to be on closer examination, the sea. The picture had been taken on a day when the sea and the sky were the same shade of grey and blended into one another. It was a great big expanse on which nothing was written. Polly stared at the picture for a long time, fascinated. It looked exactly how she felt: hollowed out, empty. But also strangely calming. Like it was all right that there was a lot of grey in the world; grey was how it was. When she looked out of the window of their executive apartment, what she saw was lots of other people, just like them, getting into their Audis and BMWs, and cooking things in woks, except their businesses hadn’t failed and they appeared to be still talking to one another. Looking out of the window was stressful in itself. But this… this was something else.

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