A Story I Wrote About #Cyberbullying for #AntibullyingWeek

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My stepson Joe is like my husband Warrick in so many ways, both in looks, mannerisms and personality. Joe’s a little taller, but otherwise, I sometimes scare myself when I almost fling my arms around Joe instead of Rick. I feel like I know my stepson as well as I know Rick so there’s a definite possibility something is wrong.

One of the things Joe and Rick share is the uncanny ability to seem unthreatening and it’s something which makes them both popular guys. Don’t get me wrong – my husband, a former police detective, could no doubt kill a man with his bare hands if pushed – but he wouldn’t, and he doesn’t appear capable of that, either. They’re my boys – well, just two of my boys actually, because I have twin boys as well – and yes, I know my boys. So, yes, my life is pretty much a big whole lot of boydom.

God!

Anyway, it’s the shared floppy hair, you see. Since Joe shelved his football career he grew out the crew cut and now he wears his curls even longer than his dad’s. People see Joe coming a mile off. Six-two. Wide shoulders. Big, brown eyes. The widest smile you’ve ever seen. Dimples. God, those dimples. Some girl is going to fall flat on her face right in front of him one of these days.

I have to sigh.

Unfortunately the twins are looking more and more like me every day. They’ll be fairer, probably moodier (like me) and I think Charlie might be a dancer, like me, too. He prances. I never thought a toddler would prance. But he does. He bounces over any obstacle you put in front of him. So… maybe he’s meant for hurdling, not dancing. I don’t know.

Anyway. I am obviously rattling around my own head here because I am worried about Joe, my popular six-foot, sixteen year old who recently started acting different. I can’t put my finger on it. But he’s different.

I don’t like different.

Different usually means not good… or something big’s going on. I know Joe all too well, like I know Warrick, remember?

We’re all sat around the dinner table and I don’t even give a monkeys that Charlie and Harry have most of their food in their eyes. I’m watching Joe.

“Dinner okay?” I ask generally.

Rick, with his curls tied back in a low ponytail, looks up at me from beneath tired eyes. He’s still wearing his football shorts and shirt, having just played five-a-side after a day at the community centre he runs.

“It’s great, Jules,” he says, his eyes going side to side, like he’s picked up on something about my tone – and recognises I’m acting sketchy. “Your sausage and mash is the best. I’ll shower as soon as I’m done. Sorry if I stink.”

His nose wrinkles and he knows too. He bloody knows. Why won’t he address this? What the fuck is going on under my roof?

Rage simmers beneath my skin and I have to remember, my rage is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing. Get a grip Jules.

Joe is shovelling his food with his head down which he never does. He at least sometimes tries to muck about with his brothers or he might tell us about his day. He’d normally come out with some joke or recant a daft tale of teenage love gone wrong. A little bit of goss about one of my colleagues, perhaps… (I teach at the same school Joe’s at, you see.)

“Everything alright, Joe?”

He looks up and I think I almost see him shaking. He stares past me and flushes slightly. All I get is a slight nod of the head, then he looks down into his food.

The shovelling recommences and within seconds, he’s eaten a couple of sausages in just a few bites. I look at Rick who tells me with his eyes that his son will have indigestion later on.

Joe jumps up from his seat and lightning-fast, puts his empty plate in the dishwasher, grabs a yoghurt from the fridge and chases upstairs away from us – or rather me, the questioning stepmother.

Charlie and Harry are oblivious, trying to drop bits of broccoli on the floor so they won’t have to eat it. The gravy, they suck from their spoons, and the mash appears to have been used as a hairstyling product.

“Something has got into that kid, Rick.”

He sits, fork paused over his food, waiting for me to say something more. He pulls a bit of sausage skin from between his teeth and gives me the ‘it’s probably a man thing’ look.

“I won’t leave it,” I warn.

“I trust him. He’ll sort it out himself.”

“I trust him, too. It’s everyone else I don’t trust.”

“Jules, you can’t just…” He pauses, sighing, delivering me those soft, pleading eyes of his I cannot resist. “…he’s a lad and he’s almost a man. Shit’s gonna happen. Sometimes you have got to let him get on with it.”

I almost throw down my cutlery but think better of it. Charlie and Harry are finally putting sausage in their mouths and if they only have sausage, at least they’re having something. I will not distract them from eating solid foods. So I turn myself away from the twins who are sitting either side of me, alongside one another in their highchairs, and put my hand up against my face to shield them from my fury.

“There is something fucking wrong,” I mutter, or rather, try to mutter.

Rick gives me a soothing smile, one side of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.

“Jules, he’ll tell us when he’s ready.”

“Yeah, like he was gonna tell us about having underage sex. Until I caught him!”

Shaking his head, he puts his fork down, his appetite diminished now too. “Jules, please.”

“I know we are through with all that and he knows better about all that now, you know? But as you well know Rick, my instincts have proven very powerful in the past.”

“Let’s just give him a bit of time to fess up and if he doesn’t, okay… we’ll start probing him. Right now, he might just need some time before he tells us what’s wrong. It could be something as simple as heartbreak or a bad test. It’s not been easy for him this year. Going from GCSEs to A levels is a massive jump.”

I scowl. “He got seven A stars and four A’s at GCSE, are you fucking kidding me?” I just mouthed the fucking.

Rick goes silent, which he knows I hate. Help me vent the rage – or go silent and enrage it. He just doesn’t want me to go off on one about this.

“Rick,” I say between almost clenched teeth, “he’s one of the most popular boys in school and he’s not himself. This isn’t him. He’s normally full of life. He’s normally the one waking me up in the morning. He’s been late for his paper round almost every day for the past two weeks. I’ve had to answer the madwoman at the paper shop when she calls every morning.”

“Hey Jules, people have bad times in life,” he says, reaching across the table to use the twins’ bibs to mop their chops slightly.

“Don’t divert, Rick. You know something’s wrong.”

He turns his deep brown, almost black, eyes onto mine and gives me a deadly serious look. “I acknowledge that. The thing is, we still need to give him time.”

Fuming, I toss what’s left of my half-eaten dinner in the bin and leave the room, heading upstairs for the study. I have a ton of books to mark and they might be the only thing that will take my mind off this.

 

Rick crawls into bed with me at about eleven, freshly showered, his hair slightly damp. After bathing and reading the twins their bedtime story, he got called out to an incident at the community centre, where a real fight broke out during one of the evening’s mixed martial arts classes. Something about a man and his girlfriend’s ex having fisticuffs. He’s only just had chance for that shower and looks exhausted.

Out of the corner of my eye, I sense him look across at me. I’m reading a book by the light of my bedside lamp.

“Have you calmed down a bit?”

“Yes.”

“But you won’t let it go?”

“No.”

“Well, I never expected you would. That’s not you.”

I look across at him, beyond weary, his eyes full of love. I toss my book onto the nightstand and switch off the lamp. Shifting across to his side, I roll into him, resting my cheek on his chest. All my worries and fears fade away the moment I’m in his arms.

“I love you, baby,” he whispers.

“I love you, so much.”

Sleep finds us too easily.

 

***

 

“So he finally acknowledged something is wrong, but he didn’t suggest you should do anything about it?” My colleague Ruby is stood with me in the English office the morning after, scanning me for telltale signs of rage.

“He flat out said we should leave it until Joe is ready to tell us what’s going on.”

“Oh dear.” She reads my exasperation. “Listen… Jules. Joe is his son.”

I flash her my eyes. Has she forgotten about the things Joe and me have been through together? He’s as much my son as my twins are. I care about Joe just the same.

“Ruby.” I turn myself fully towards her, putting my cup of tea on the worktop, my hands free to make sweeping movements to enforce my passion on this. “It’s something in my gut, telling me there’s something wrong. I don’t know, but when it comes to kids, I just–”

She steps forward and holds my hand. “I know. You’re right back there, to the day you got battered and left all alone, in the dark. I know you want to protect him from the same things that happened to you.”

I focus on her eyes, which are watering. She feels my pain, even though she’s never had to deal with the same pain herself.

“Jules,” she whispers, softly stroking the back of my hand, “Joe is different. He’s Warrick’s son for a start and he’s definitely tougher than you imagine. I think Warrick’s right. I think he’ll tell you when the time’s right. He knows you’re there for him.”

“This is the thing,” I say fast, “he knows we’re here for him, and he’s still not telling us. He knows we’re not judgy, he knows that.”

“Give it another week, maybe?”

I throw my head back, groaning. “Torture.”

“One week.”

I smile wryly. “Rubes, you know how many cheesecakes I can eat in a week, right?”

“Unfortunately I do, and I also know that while you’ll maybe put on a pound, I’d put on a couple of stone comfort eating in the same manner as you.”

I pick my teacup off the counter, anticipating the bell for the first lesson, which I’m taking today.

“You and Rick had better have cheesecake for me at every fucking stop this week,” I grumble, and walk away.

As I take the corridor, I try to wriggle the anxiety out of my heavy shoulders and neck, but it’s not working.

Deep, deep, deep breaths, I remind myself, sucking in vital oxygen, trying to remember my breathing exercises of old.

Walking into a classroom full of kids, there’s suddenly nothing else to think about other than controlling thirty teenagers for the next two hours.

 

Dinnertime is no different today. Joe’s being quiet over his pasta and salad. Warrick’s knackered. The twins are lobbing pasta shells at one another and I’m focusing on the baked, New York-style cheesecake waiting for me in the fridge.

“Frrrr–” A sort of grumble erupts from me and the boys all look at me. I was going to say something mad like flipping tell me what is wrong Joe! but I guess, I stopped myself.

“Jules?”

“Something stuck in my throat,” I excuse myself, reaching for a glass of water.

Joe finishes his meal and excuses himself from the table before I can even think of another way to broach this. Once his son’s locked himself away upstairs, Warrick gives me a look and I say nothing. What is there to say?

I promised Ruby I would give this a week…

 

It’s the next day – my day off – and I’m twiddling my thumbs. The house is empty. Warrick’s dad came round half an hour ago to collect the twins so he and Wendy can take them to the park for an hour. They do this for me every week which is kind of them. Usually when I’ve got this time free, I go get my hair done or my nails or I sit and eat a full cheesecake while I watch Dancing with the Stars on ITV2.

Today, I can’t concentrate on anything. It took balls for me to tell Warrick that I think something is wrong – but he shot me down. I feel like I’m coping with the weight of this all alone. How can he be so cool about everything?

“Fuck it,” I mutter to myself, heading upstairs.

I stand on the threshold of Joe’s bedroom, knowing full well I am about to invade his private territory, but I do so anyway. I’m desperate for answers.

His room, like a habitat of its own, seems like a growth on our otherwise spotless house. He keeps the blackout blinds shut at all times, maybe fearing the neighbours will see how filthy he keeps the place and start to judge him – which is silly, because our neighbours haven’t got any windows facing this side of our property. A detached house, we’re very private here. Maybe he’s a nocturnal creature then, someone who needs the submergence of this dank pit whenever he gets home, absorbing the dark so he can re-mutate or something.

(I’ve definitely been watching far too many of Rick’s sci-fi movies lately.)

“What’s going on with you Joe?”

I step gingerly through the mess on the floor. Shirts and trousers, shorts and socks, splattered everywhere. It’s not like he’s ever been clean, but…

I decide to do the usual checks. I look under the pillow, mattress, bed; back of the wardrobe; sock drawer, pants drawer… nothing.

Checking his desk drawers… nothing. No drugs, no vast amounts of drug-dealing cash. No contraband anything. Not even a jammy can of Carling, saved for a later date.

Looking at his desktop, I spot his laptop, left slightly open – the lid like he closed it in a hurry and didn’t press it all the way down.

Opening the laptop, an artful Windows screensaver lights up the gloomy room and the screen asks for a password.

Password!

We should have banned passwords altogether when we let him move in with us.

“Oh god,” I mutter, seating myself behind his desk. “Think Jules, think.”

I try a few things, like his ex-girlfriend’s name, his brothers’, his mum’s name… his granddad. His favourite football team.

It could be anything!

He wouldn’t write it down, I don’t think. So, what would he do? He’s a teenager – brain like a sieve when it comes to small details – he would definitely pick something simple. A band name. I don’t know.

I try a few more hits before the computer asks me if I need help.

Scared, I now don’t know if Joe’s going to realise I’ve been trying to break into his computer.

Sweating, and feeling guilty as sin, I know I have the house to myself for the next hour or two but I still can’t help feeling SO GUILTY. He would be mortified if he found out about me doing this. I’m already mortified.

Taking some deep breaths, I tell the computer I don’t need any help and I shut it all down, closing the lid – leaving it slightly ajar, the same as he had it.

Hopefully the room looks exactly as it did before I entered, and I leave it all behind, knowing the only way I’m going to find out what’s wrong is if I can gain access to that computer.

Downstairs I open my Chromebook on the kitchen counter and with a cup of tea brewing by my side, I go to Facebook, which I don’t use. Rick uses it for the community centre but we don’t have personal accounts on there because, well, basically… we’re grown-ups.

It tells me I need a username and password. Going to Google, I type in: “Joe Jones” and “Hull” and “Facebook” and it doesn’t take many looks through the search results for me to find our Joe Jones.

“God, this world ain’t safe,” I say to no-one.

I click on his profile but because I’m not logged in, I can only see a few images and a small amount of information.

Clicking through some of the images shown, I see a girl called Reema has been tagged in a couple of the more recent images. She’s a stunning Asian girl with eyes bigger than my head, flawless skin and a bone structure to die for. I wonder…

He hasn’t said anything to Rick lately, but maybe he has got a new girlfriend…

Reema, eh… my thoughts trail off.

I take the bag out of my brewed cup of tea and dash back upstairs.

Screen lit up again, I type in:

Reema.

Reemaisgorgeous.

Reemaissexy.

IloveReema…

Jackpot! Ding. Ding. Ding.

I’m in.

Firstly, I check Facebook.

I go through his messages and find nothing except a couple of exchanges between him and Reema, discussing their crap psychology teacher.

“Come on, Joe.”

I check his search history and roll my eyes. Just like his dad. There’s nothing much more there than websites about healthy shakes, building muscle density, the odd Tumblr search for pages with loads of boobs and a couple of hits on websites about psychology. He wants to be a psychologist to help people like his mother, who’s a manic depressive.

I’m about to give up hope that there’s nothing much more than a painful teenage crush going on here when I notice he has a number of unread messages in Outlook.

Should I? Should I?

God, this is bad. I am bad. I am really bad.

My imagination has been running wild… when this could be just a matter of Joe having the hots for a super-hot girl called Reema.

IloveReema.

Maybe they’ve been exchanging hot emails… email sex. But why? He has a phone. He could sext if he wanted to. God… sext. Is that even a word? Bloody hell. I have twin boys. What will I be like when they’re Joe’s age? Probably worse…

“Fuck it.”

I double click on the Outlook icon and his emails open. Scanning the unread emails, I am surprised by both the sender details and the subject headings. I’m even more surprised by my reaction when I open the emails and read them…

 

***

 

“What have you done?” Ruby peers at me, suspicious.

I stir my tea, avoiding her eyes. I decide I haven’t done anything wrong and therefore, I muster all my might to reply innocently, “Nothing. I am doing what you said. I’m giving it a week. Two cheesecakes suffered fatal collisions with my fork in the process, but we’re good, as the kids say. I’m giving Joe time to come clean.”

“I can read you a mile off. You’ve been up to something.”

“I honestly haven’t.” I turn and act my arse off, keeping eye contact without a blip of guilt or shame or admission in my eyes.

Yeah right…

“As long as you know what you’re doing,” she mumbles, leaving the room.

I watch her back as she walks away and give myself a moment or two to think about that. Do I know what I’m doing?

Hell, no.

Since sneaking a look at his emails, I haven’t figured out how to cut off the cyber bully Joe’s been on the receiving end of ­– without Joe realising that I hacked into his emails.

I also don’t want the cyber bully to know that I know. Because if they know that I know – they know that I know what they think of me.

Yes – the content of the emails was all about me.

I am apparently Joe’s fit stepmother, a MILF, and apparently I’m going to get raped on my way home one night. Kids think they’re being cute, don’t they? They don’t realise they could actually face jail for this shit.

So… no, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do.

 

Teatime again. Joe’s already dashed off to his room.

“I need to contact my aunt, Kim.”

Warrick turns from loading the dishwasher to stare at me as I mop the twins’ heads and try to feign innocence.

“Why?”

“Family thing.”

“Family thing?” He briefly shakes his head in confusion.

“Yep.”

“You know, people don’t contact Kim. She contacts them.”

Kim is my late mother’s sister, a detective of detectives turned rogue, on the run for taking matters into her own hands. She would know exactly how to deal with a cyber bully.

“How do I make her contact me, then?”

He thinks for a moment, lips pursed, eyes crossed. God, I love him.

“You can’t. Although… maybe I know something.”

“What? What?”

He folds his arms. “What am I gonna get for this something?”

Looking cocky, he needn’t even ask, I’m already planning on jumping him later.

“That thing you like with the thing, if you want?”

He raises his eyebrows, smirking. “That thing I like with the thing, eh?”

“God, are you two talking code for sex, again?” Joe walks in, stroppy. “Bleugh. Cold bucket of water! Yuck! Off to Rupert’s house. Back before curfew.”

The whirlwind he is, he leaves without giving us chance to say a word. We hear his bike rattling outside the backdoor and the side gate shut as he leaves. I suppose he has his mobile if anything happens.

God, I hope he isn’t planning on confronting the bully… not that he could. They used weird email addresses without real names. I checked Joe’s list of blocked accounts and it was already 30+ long meaning he keeps blocking that twerp and they keep sending with different accounts. Maybe he’s asked around, but…

“So, are we talking the thing where you do the thing and I do the thing, and then we get thingy?” Warrick guffaws.

“We’re pretty much gonna do all the things, yeah. If you slip me a bit of info, darling. Or maybe that’ll be later.”

He sets the dishwasher running and kisses the boys’ heads before kissing mine. His eyes sparkling, he says, “She visits your mother’s grave, every year, on the anniversary. She said if I ever needed to… that’s how I’d find her.”

I frown. I never visit the grave. It’s too hard.

The funeral was a day of pain, deeper than six-feet under, deeper than the sea. The skies crowded me with their darkness, their heavy cumulonimbus sitting heavier on my shoulders than seemed possible. A walking brick viewed her coffin that day, a child carrying the weight of the world. I can never go back to that day.

The thought of it all already giving me palpitations, I reach for my water and stroke at the back of my neck, taking deep breaths. Warrick’s by my side instantly, holding my hand, caressing my face.

Through scratchy breaths, I manage, “I hacked his laptop and he’s receiving horrible emails and I want Kim to find out who sent the mails. There. I’m a bad person. I’m horrible! I hate myself!”

Tears fall. My togetherness ruptures. I’m hardly held by a thread most days, but Warrick stitches me up constantly. He’s my utter, utter rock – my solace.

“I know what’s going on… he told me weeks ago.”

I glare. “What?”

“We’re just trying to protect you.”

“But–but–”

He nods slowly, holding my hand. “We were afraid you would see through us. We’re crap at lying to you, evidently.”

I take some more water and a few more deep breaths.

Looking down at my lap, I manage to say through a throat full of frogs, “It’s next month, the anniversary. Will you go find her for me? Please.”

“There’s really no need. We could just go to the police with this. The threats are of an aggressive nature. If you want, that’s what we could do. We just didn’t want you to see the content.”

I smile. “It’s just some absolute ne’er-do-well who can’t get to me any other way, so they’re using Joe to get to me.”

“It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s wrong. It could be anyone sending him those emails. He’s changed his address a dozen times. The idiot always finds out about his change of address.”

“It must be someone from the school, yeah? Some friend of friend who knows his email address? He probably gives out his address to people he works on projects and presentations with or whatever.” I shake my head. “I can’t believe you’ve both been sitting on this without me.”

“Jules, this is a hate crime. Everything about it is hateful. It’s just plain nasty. We didn’t know what to do–”

Warrick scratches the back of his head, which is usually code for, I’m sorry or I just don’t want to get into this.

I take a deep breath, feeling like it’s my fault, and it’s not fair… and we shouldn’t be going through this.

Reluctantly, I mumble, “Call the police.”

 

***

 

Detective Wainwright sits in front of us a week later, a cup of tea in front of him. He’s sat in his own armchair while Warrick and I share the sofa and Joe stands by the door lintel behind us, arms folded, a demeanour of ‘get me out of here’ written all over his face.

“First off,” the cop says, taking a sip and putting his cup back down again, “we’re really grateful you came forward. Often the culprit gives up and moves onto someone else and the process repeats, so in telling us what’s been happening,” the copper looks at Joe, “you’re not only helping your family, but your community too. You have no idea how many people come to us with petty quibbles about bad words said on Facebook… wasting our time. This was obviously of the malicious variety. Given that some of the emails contained porn and made sexually aggressive threats… we acted as quickly as we could.”

“So, what have you found out anyway?” Warrick asks, tense alongside me, his hands held tight together.

“One of the email providers the wrongdoer was using told us where the offender had logged in from.” The copper opens his notepad. “It’s an address in Hull. We have the suspect in custody and a statement is being taken. They will be shown some of the evidence we’ve gathered. In my experience, once someone like this gets found out so to speak, the reality sets in and they usually confess. It’s really a brave thing you did in coming forward, Joe. This sort of thing carries on otherwise. They will be released but I expect a court date.”

“Who was it?” I say, in a sort of outburst, my nerves frayed by all this.

Who the hell thinks they can hurt our Joe?

Who?

“I can’t say just yet.” The copper gives Rick the eye, as if he thinks I’m not coping with all of this. I just want to know who’s been trying to hurt our family.

“It’s her life that got threatened,” Warrick gently tells Detective Wainwright.

“Okay. The household we’re investigating does happen to be the home of a pupil in Joe’s year.”

“We guessed that,” Joe mumbles, “I mean, who else could get my email address? I changed it bloody fifty times.”

I roll my shoulders, trying to sound brave. “I really don’t know who I upset this badly.”

Sure, I’ve dealt with aggravated parents in the past. Kids name-calling, as kids do. I’ve dealt with a few nastier things, like Hetty ­– a former star pupil of mine – confessing she’d been abused by her mother. I’ve dealt with a parent asking for a retest when their kid didn’t get an A in a course paper – but a second examiner from another school gave the kid the exact same grade. It’s difficult when parents want their kid to do well, but they can’t face the fact that nobody’s perfect. My mind’s wandering because I do teach a lot of the gifted set… and…

“Boy or girl?” I ask the man.

“Girl.”

“Oh.”

It could really be anyone. I couldn’t guess.

“I’ll be in touch. Thanks once again.” Warrick shows Wainwright out, a few words exchanged about the state of the Force at the moment – and then the man’s gone.

Warrick returns to the room. “I wonder who the bloody hell it is.”

“Couldn’t give a fuck.” I smile, leaving the room to head upstairs and check on the twins.

 

As I watch the twins sleeping, their chubby arms outstretched, their little nostrils flaring with heavy breaths, tummies fluttering up and down, I think about the bullies who hurt me when I was young. I’d just lost my mother and I was vulnerable and people knew it. Nasty people knew it. Ever since, I’ve protected myself from harm by being untouchable. Even now in my thirties, after all I’ve been through in life, and even with Warrick’s resounding love – I still try to keep myself from harm by not really putting myself out there. I don’t need to be popular, I don’t need to tell everyone my sob story, I don’t need to roll into work everyday with a hangover to be liked or for people to find me funny. I just turn up, do my job well, love my kids and my husband. I don’t want pity. I’m happy, but the person messaging Joe obviously doesn’t like it that beneath my stern demeanour, I’m obviously happy. I like to dress nicely. I fancy I’m attractive. I wear big statement pieces of jewellery because they’re colourful and life needs a bit of colour. I fancy I’m tall and have a body my husband likes. I fancy I don’t care what other people think – and certain people don’t like that. Immature people. Silly people. Lonely people. Unhappy people.

“You okay?” Warrick asks in a whisper, tiptoeing over to me. He joins me on the thick cream carpet of the nursery, sitting beside me.

“It’s about control,” I murmur, resting my head on his shoulder. “When you can’t control an immovable object, this is sometimes what happens, unfortunately.”

“There’s no point in putting any logic to this. Whichever little bitch did this, she’s going to get what’s coming to her.”

I turn to look into the fiery eyes of my possessive, protective husband. “Wanna do some stuff tonight?”

“Hell yeah.”

He helps me up and we stand, facing each other.

I can’t help but wonder about my childhood bullies, occasionally. Did karma get them eventually? Who knows? I expect they never had to pay for what they did to me.

I also expect they’ve never known what it’s like to look into the eyes of another person and know – absolutely and completely – that you were their true beginning and you will be theirs until the end. Bullies probably don’t have the capacity to really give themselves to one person; to let their guard down with just one person, who’s as sensitive as you are, beneath.

“I love your mind,” I tell him, “and I love your thingy.”

We laugh, heading out of the room.

“Joe’s just gone out,” he mutters, and we’re running to our bedroom together in no time.

*END*

**The story of how Jules and Warrick met can be read in Angel AvenueJules isn’t always a likeable character but her story is one I see all too often. BULLYING AFFECTS PEOPLE FOR YEARS AFTERWARDS.**

The short story you’ve just read features in an anthology of anti-bullying themed short stories called BREAK THE CYCLE which is available to purchase on AMAZON US and AMAZON UK and is a non-profit book.

#TeaserTuesday and Some New Reviews…

A series about real issues, with a little bit of mystery, intrigue, shock and delight all thrown into the mix…

Some recent reviews of Angel Avenue:

 

Compelling read:

I found this book compelling, I wanted to read more about the intricacies of the main characters lives. The detail to attention is amazing and I really could picture the area and characters.

Jules and Warrick are both complex people with troubled pasts, a chance meeting could be the saviour of them both or it could spell disaster.

This story is about heartbreak and loss, the need for human connection and physical closeness. It’s a beautiful story.

Jules has not had an easy life but she is surviving and getting on with her life, the love and loss of a man leaves her broken and she finds herself spending her Saturdays searching and craving for some physical contact, just a hug will do. Warrick spots Jules and watches her every Saturday and finally decides to see if she is ok? A friendship develops that has the potential to go further but both of their pasts and secrets hold these two back. The story takes twists that you wouldn’t expect but it flows so well.

I’m looking forward to reading Beyond Angel Avenue and where the author will take the story of Jules and Warrick.

I Loved This Book:

I loved this book. A love story that took a slow meandering path with a few unexpected twists and turns that left me wanting to shout at the author. I enjoyed the way the characters got to know each other’s flaws…..Warts and all.

I Was Personally Touched:

Lets see where exactly to begin. It would be easier to tell you what I will not say…like tell you about the characters and what happens. Hey! That takes all the fun out of you reading the book right? Right!

I will suggest you have a box of tissues near by, you may find you need them. Just sayin’.

I really want to thank Book Bub for letting me know about bargains available from Amazon. The choices certainly have allowed me to learn about authors I would not have known. Kinda reminds me of the days of going through the bargain books at different stores. Just to see and always walking away with at least four books. Sorry got a little side tracked here but it was because of this that I learned of this book.

Yes it is a romance novel but no where near what you would think one would be like. This was more like the slice of two people’s lives that come together that are really great for each other but they have so many wounds and ghosts some of them causes a lot of pain and time to work through.

We all have some of these skeletons in our closets some we have buried so deep we think that we have dealt with them but in actuality we have not. For me the story struck close to home, sometimes too close. But there is also a cleansing that can happen as well.

I feel the Sarah has taken some very tough issues and worked them through her characters that not only brought them to life but made them a part of me In my humble opinion, it would be difficult for one to walk away from this book and not be changed from it.

Released one week from today, Beyond Angel Avenue:

View the early reviews…

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27477733-beyond-angel-avenue

I was lucky enough to read this book straight after Angel Avenue, I’m so glad the author decided to conclude the story. There was so much more depth to these characters than I first thought. I loved the first book but this just blew me away.
The story follows on directly from Angel Avenue and we see how Jules and Warrick deal with the next chapter of their life. However the ghosts from their pasts are still haunting them and in order to find closure they have to take some risks that might make or break them. They are dragged into situations that puts their life in danger and have no idea who they can trust.
The continuing story of Warrick and Jules is beautifully told. I was gripped and compelled by the story and the characters. A truly amazing series that will stay with me forever.

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Buy Angel Avenue:

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Romance with a touch of grit – Free to download until Friday

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Synopsis:

A heart-warming contemporary romance…

Jules waits on a street corner every Saturday hoping something or someone will take the pain away. Nothing ever does.

She once loved the area she inhabits but a heartbreaking event marred its former meaning. She fell out of love and decided to focus on her career as an English teacher.

What she does not realise is that Warrick has been watching her and wants to know why she is always there, stood on that corner. She convinces herself it is the social worker in him that thinks he can save her from the loneliness and despair so evident about her person. Little does she know just what kind of life he has led.

When true love blossoms, neither of them appreciate just how their union is not only going to change their lives, but also shake up a problem at the very heart of their community.

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE: CLICK HERE

REVIEW OF ANGEL AVENUE:

This was a wonderful read & my first time reading a novel written by Sarah Michelle Lynch. I was very impressed. When I started reading I didn’t really know much about the book but it certainly isn’t your average love story. It had me on the verge of tears, holding my breath & cursing! I adored the characters & the twists & turns of the plot. At times it seemed like there were 3 or 4 stories, not just one. Extremely well written, easy to read & lose yourself in. I love how it addresses important issues such as bullying, abuse & addiction. I loved the light versus dark elements. If you like romance with a touch of grit, fast-paced with an erotic twist then you should definitely read Angel Avenue. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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Synopsis:

Sarah Michelle Lynch’s follow-up novel to the heart-warming Angel Avenue asks: are there ghosts that chase us or are we chasing ghosts? How does the human mind overcome trauma? Even if you think you’re cured, is there any backlash?

At first, the next chapter in Warrick and Jules’ story seems picture-perfect. Marriage. Children. New home. Fresh start. If only there wasn’t a ghost still lurking from the past, a ghost so tangible they can almost touch it.

The ghost haunting Jules and Warrick throws up so many questions, including what made Warrick the man he is? Why did Jules’ father not tell her he was dying? Why did Jules ignore her compulsion to dance for so many years and why do some people end up all alone, without anyone to care for them?

This seasonal morality tale will do more than make you think and feel – it will leave you breathless.

Pre-order for 99cents/pence/equivalent: CLICK HERE

19 days to go…

With 19 days to go until this book’s release… here’s a little snippet of BEYOND ANGEL AVENUE, an emotive, devastating tale. A sequel to Angel Avenue, this book delves into the archives, revealing why a hug meant so much to Jules when she first met Warrick Jones all those years ago…

Prologue

 

fac841f0ca653d0da35a9f773eb1bb8cJulianne, aged five, danced for her mother, some TV show blaring in the background. It was the Christmas holidays and they’d cleared a big space in the living room. Julianne’s father slept upstairs. Recently sacked from his job, he was constantly moody and irritable. Lorraine, the little girl’s mother, didn’t want her husband to know she was teaching Julianne to dance. She didn’t think he would understand. She also knew he might get jealous. Julianne’s one Christmas present was her first set of ballet slippers. While all the other boys and girls had piles of presents under the tree, this mother and daughter shared a gift beyond most people’s wildest dreams.

“Julie, no telling Daddy,” Lorraine would often say, and Jules would tap her index finger against her nose.

In her second year of school, Julianne would turn six in February but they didn’t have money for dance lessons so Lorraine taught her daughter at home.

“Extend, my pretty, oh that’s beautiful, that’s wonderful,” Lorraine exclaimed as Julianne – still so young – already demonstrated natural-born ability. “Have fun, move as you wish.”

Julianne pranced and giggled, swishing and swooping, her mother such a good teacher that she encouraged freedom of expression as well as discipline.

“First position Julianne, good.” The little girl raised her arm and held the back of the sofa to steady herself. “Plie, my darling, oh yes, keep your back… oh perfect, you don’t even need me to say.”

It was clear how much strength the little girl already had in her core. She had muscle definition, even for one so young. Lorraine had been teaching Julianne since she was three and a half.

They heard creaking upstairs, signifying Julianne’s father was getting up.

“Quick baby, let’s put the room back.”

They returned the sofa against the wall and put the coffee table back in the middle of the main floor space. They sat on the sofa and Lorraine grabbed some Value crisps for them to sit and eat, making it look like they’d been doing nothing but veging out in front of the TV.

“Where’s my tea?” Julian Simonovich asked gruffly, falling heavily into his armchair.

Without a word, Lorraine stood up and went to the kitchen.

Julianne stared at the TV, not looking at her father.

When Lorraine returned to the room with tea and toast for Julian, she told him, “We’re going out for the groceries, alright?” Her voice carried little affection.

“Get me some more of them pop tarts,” he grumbled, “fucking hate scabby toast.”

For your munchies, more like, thought Lorraine.

“We can hardly afford bread let alone overpriced junk,” Lorraine countered.

“So get another job. It’s not my fault I got sacked.”

Lorraine bit her tongue. It was his fault, but he was looking for anyone else to blame it on.

“I can’t. What about Julie? Who will get her to school and pick her up?”

He grunted. He was barely out of bed before ten everyday and he would no doubt forget to pick his daughter up. Besides, Lorraine didn’t trust him to look after Julianne. Lorraine would do anything to keep her daughter safe. Anything. Working as a receptionist for six hours a day was all she could manage and she didn’t want to put upon Julie’s grandmother, who was a bitter woman with a bias for her son. A pub job in the evening would mean leaving her child with Julian and Lorraine didn’t trust him not to go out and leave her all alone. She wouldn’t have put it past him. In the last year everything had changed for the worse and Lorraine was worried about the future.

“Let’s go, Julie,” Lorraine ordered, helping the girl on with her coat and boots.

They left the house, trundling down the hill towards the centre of town and the shops. In Frozen Foods, they picked up all the bargains on the £1 shelves and Lorraine submitted to Julian’s demand for pop tarts.

“Why are you sad, Mummy?”

“I’m not sad.”

“You are. Why don’t you dance with me? Why don’t you want Daddy to know I dance?”

Avoiding Julianne’s eyes, Lorraine explained, “A demon lives in Daddy. It makes him say and do and want bad things. Dancing is a good thing, yes?”

“Yes,” Julianne nodded, happily.

“He might try to take away anything good from us. We must keep all our good locked away, so he can’t steal it. That’s why I put your dance fund under the floor, honey.”

“Oh.”

Lorraine was saving up a few pounds each week so that Jules could go to dance school when she was older. For now, most of her hopes and dreams seemed so far off – but she had great ambition for Julianne, her second chance.

“Can we go to the park?” asked Julianne.

“Okay, but it’ll be very snowy!!”

“That’s okay, I want to build a snowman.”

“Okay.”

Lorraine sat on a bench with the shopping at her feet, chilling it on the ground. Julianne pranced and rolled in the snow, giggling her head off.

“Show me how to dance the snow angel dance, Mummy! Show me, show me!”

“No, darling, no.”

“Pleeeeassse!”

Lorraine stood and wobbled on her feet. “No, Julianne. No. Let’s go home.”

The child held her mother’s hand on the way home but she was shaking and trembling, in fear of her mother suddenly.

“I’m sorry, Julie, but I had my love of dance stolen from me. I never fulfilled my promise darling.” Bitter tears gathered but didn’t fall from Lorraine’s eyes.

They arrived home to an empty house and Lorraine grumbled to herself. Julian had no doubt gone out for his fix. While he was gone, Julianne suggested, “I’ll dance again to cheer you up?”

“No, no, darling, it’s okay. I don’t want you straining your little legs. We’ve tired you enough today. Why don’t we just do each other’s hair, hmm?”

“I like doing your hair, Mummy.”

Julianne brushed out her mother’s hair, which fell to her waist. The little girl tried to plait it but wasn’t quite skilled enough yet and by the end, she was making more knots than anything. Then Lorraine skilfully plaited Julianne’s hair into a French braid.

“You’re my beautiful mummy,” Julianne exclaimed out of the blue, and Lorraine squeezed her daughter tight, feeling richer for having a daughter’s love.

Lorraine would never leave her daughter to that foul man.

But for some reason, she did…

**END**

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A heart-warming new adult romance, FREE to download

Angel_AvenueAngel Avenue has a new paperback cover which I love, love, love! I found this image and knew it represented the book. Jules and Warrick meet while she’s waiting in the rain for . . . love? Saviour? Friendship? Rescue from loneliness? I’m not sure even Jules knows what she’s waiting for but Warrick turns up in her life and turns everything upside down.

Their romance is a rocky ride, full of self doubt on both sides, and a few secrets threaten to ruin Jules and Warrick’s perfect love.

(CLICK COVER TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE)

Angel Avenue has a sequel due for release on DECEMBER 22nd. Beyond Angel Avenue explores, what happens next?

In the same vein as Angel Avenue, which explores issues of bullying, abandonment and loneliness – Beyond Angel Avenue explores the circumstances in which carers are asked to intervene in a person’s care.

Jules and Warrick are my favourite characters. EVER. I found this such a refreshing series to write because it is friends to lovers and I got to explore two people in more depth and with more heart than lust. I hope if you enjoy/enjoyed Angel Avenue, you will read Beyond Angel Avenue too because it is a novel carved with loads and loads and loads of love. Beyond Angel Avenue is healing, restorative, shocking, uplifting, and will certainly put you in the mood for Christmas.

To learn more about the locations of Angel Avenue and Beyond Angel Avenue, visit my Pinterest board which is loaded with location images and my inspirations for the series: https://www.pinterest.com/sarahmichellely/angel-avenue-a-romance-series-set-in-hull/

ec6b6386e81415b4404780d45163c8e5BLURB:-

A heart-warming contemporary romance…

Jules waits on a street corner every Saturday hoping something or someone will take the pain away. Nothing ever does.

She once loved the area she inhabits but a heartbreaking event marred its former meaning. She fell out of love and decided to focus on her career as an English teacher.

What she does not realise is that Warrick has been watching her and wants to know why she is always there, stood on that corner. She convinces herself it is the social worker in him that thinks he can save her from the loneliness and despair so evident about her person. Little does she know just what kind of life he has led.

When true love blossoms, neither of them appreciate just how their union is not only going to change their lives, but also shake up a problem at the very heart of their community.

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Revealing my 11th novel, Beyond Angel Avenue . . .

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Last week, I finished my edits on this book, Beyond Angel Avenue. I have been very secretive about it and only my husband has known I’ve been writing this book. He told me not to write this book but I went against him because I HAD TO WRITE THIS BOOK. I held off on this book until it was impossible to ignore and for the best part of this year, I have been writing it in the back of my head.

For readers already familiar with Angel Avenue – yes, you’d be right – this book is a sequel. In fact, I never thought I would write this book. To explain more, here is a note I’ve inserted at the beginning of the book which explains everything…

Dear Reader,

I wrote Angel Avenue two years ago and never, ever intended on writing this sequel. The first book was such a hard novel to get over and I suppose, in a way, that might have been because there was still more to tell. For the past year, I’ve had Warrick whispering in my ear, telling me a brand, new story – which also clears up some of the mysteries of Angel Avenue. I wrestled with whether I should tell this story because Angel Avenue is so special to me and I didn’t want to ruin that with a sequel that just didn’t measure up.

I have loved every, single second of writing these books. I’ve written many books but these ones mean so much to me and I can’t even tell you why. The story is based where I live and is imbued with the love I feel for the city I met and married my husband in. I’ve tried not to waste too many words on location because I like to think this story could happen in any town or city, in any country.

What I can honestly say is that this is “The End”. I knew it for a certainty the day I typed those words at the very end of this book. That day, a very red-eyed mother went to pick up her daughter from school, knowing Beyond Angel Avenue is the underscore of this particular chapter in my writing life. When I wrote Angel Avenue, it was one of the happiest writing experiences of my life. It was a lot of fun to write. However, Beyond Angel Avenue is a different beast and delves one layer deeper. I cried absolute buckets writing this second book.

****

What I want to add to this is that Beyond Angel Avenue delves into some issues very personal to people in my life. In due course, I will be uploading the book to Amazon for pre-order complete with full synopsis.

N.B. Angel Avenue and Beyond Angel Avenue will retain these covers for the eBooks but the paperbacks will now have artistic wraparound covers instead and I’ll be revealing these in the coming weeks too.

All that is left for me to stay is stay tuned. Beyond Angel Avenue tells the story of Jules and Warrick as they navigate married, family life together. But as with many of my books, nothing is what it seems, and life throws them a curveball I never saw coming either.

COMING DECEMBER 22ND…

BAA draft 2

VISIT AMAZON TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ANGEL AVENUE…

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ANGEL AVENUE

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Catching Up with the Joneses – for fans of Angel Avenue

Recently I re-read one of my own novels (oh the vanity!!!). It was quite nice actually, and because of the distance I’ve put between myself and this novel now, I was reading it as if from a new reader’s perspective (almost).

Angel Avenue was a novel I wrote in a rush of affection and nostalgia for young love and the city I went to university in and still live nearby. In the novel, Angel Avenue, I never state the setting is Hull. I guess I wanted you, the reader, to envisage the world of this novel as any place – anywhere. I never state the main, bustling avenue Jules and Warrick live on and around is Angel Avenue, because there is no such thing as Angel Avenue. There’s Newland Avenue in Hull – and many of the other sites I’ve described in the novel are real, too. You can go visit them! How glamorous, eh? The title Angel Avenue was suggested to me by my husband Andrew. The original title was Losing Laurie and the book originally was centred around the idea of this woman, Jules, transferring the loss of her mother to a man who did the dirty on her. Like a mourner who goes to their loved one’s grave on a specific day of the week, maybe every day, Jules returns to the spot she met Laurie. I think it is difficult to understand Jules’ psychology but the moral of this book, Angel Avenue, is hidden very carefully within the pages. I focused on etching the characters and the build-up of real love (not teenage or lust-fuelled love) but actual, long-lasting love.

angel avenue collageWarrick is a man given a second chance at life and since he washed himself clean of all his vices, he’s not taken them up again. There’s a splice between innocence and experience in this book – and it’s experience which redeems Warrick – because he saves Jules. A teacher, she in turn gets a new reputation for herself at school for being a cool, ballerina/dancer chick, and when the kids find out Jules and Warrick are together – they trust him too. And thus, a paedophile ring and a traumatic case of bullying are uncovered in this novel. Therefore, ANGEL AVENUE this is, because wouldn’t we love such difficult problems to be solved so easily in real life, eh? Jules’ life was fucked up by her parent’s addictions and she triumphs professionally, yet falls down personally.

I read recently that it takes a hard heart to write a tender novel and this is so true of me and this novel, Angel Avenue. This novel was a terrific salve for me after finishing the gruelling and brain-taxing novels A Fine Profession and A Fine Pursuit. Perhaps I recently re-read Angel Avenue because I needed some salve again!

Anyway, after doing my re-read, a scene came to me which I wrote a few weeks ago now. In the actual novel, which I will never add to or subtract from because it’s exactly how Jules and Warrick told their tale to me at the time, we have an epilogue from Warrick’s POV. But not one from Jules.

What follows now is an epilogue from Jules’ POV. You’re now catching up with the Joneses a few years after they met, as they navigate married and family life. If you haven’t read the novel, you might not want to read this extra/extended epilogue. However, I don’t think this will spoil your enjoyment of Angel Avenue too much if you do decide to go back and read the main novel. After all, it’s the way they fall in love that counts.

When we first had the twins, I was frightened to death of dropping one of them. I was terrified of all sorts and I relied on Warrick for everything. I only know how to be a parent because of him, because I never really had a parent of my own, not one I remember well enough anyway. Everything before my eighth birthday, I’ve blocked out, because that was when Mum was alive and I don’t allow myself to remember how happy I was before she was stolen from me.

To read the full epilogue, click the link below…

Put the kettle on, kick your feet up, and revisit my favourite fictional couple. Well, no I can’t say that, because they stand alongside Cai and Chloe, Lottie and Noah, Seraph and Ryken (and a few others I can’t tell you about yet…)

Just…. enjoy! 😉

DOWLOAD: Jules’ epilogue

Purchase Angel Avenue in paperback or eBook:

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