Today I am delighted to be spreading a little love and sharing an extract from I am Winter by Denise Brown. We are currently awaiting a copy and will be sharing a review on completion as Daisy is looking forward to this one as she loves a murder mystery. The cover is gorgeous and catches your eye straight away and I can’t wait to find out more about Cee and how they go from sitting in the park in the prologue to Cee dying from a cardiac arrest.
When Summer’s best friend Cee dies from cardiac arrest after both girls have taken pills, the accusations on social media begin, but as the bullying intensifies, Summer grows closer to revealing the secret both families are harbouring. A must read YA murder mystery.
Cee was nine months older than me. We were in the same year at primary school—there were only twenty-three of us so our hands couldn’t help touching when we did the hokey-cokey— but we weren’t friends.
She was loud and embarrassing and bossy. If there was any performing to be done, Cee was at the front of the class with a hand up in the air, the words to ‘It’s a Hard-Knock Life’ already tumbling out of her mouth. At Christmas nativity in the village church, she played Mary or an angel or both. It didn’t matter to her so long as she was seen and heard. Sports Day she took part in everything. When parents were invited in to ‘Show and Tell’ or Mother’s Day tea parties, Cee invented an invisible family to make up for the lack of real family in attendance and gave them weird names like Archibald and Elizabetta and Geraldine, poured them tea in plastic cups, and kept up a steady stream of conversation about visiting her grandmother in London, where Great-Uncle Jimmy slipped and broke his neck one winter when the weather was Baltic.
She lived in a fantasy world and no one else was allowed in. Apart from her big brother Ritchie. Cee and Ritchie were like shoes and socks or Jedward, weird when they weren’t together or close to each other. I’d have been her friend sooner if it would’ve made Ritchie see past my ankle socks and pleated skirts and look at me the way he and his mates looked at my mum. I loved Ritchie more than I loved Harry Styles. He had brown skin and curly hair and there was something about the way he walked around with his hood always up that made me feel like the ground was trembling under my feet.
The summer I turned eleven, it seemed Cee lived outside on the walkway linking our houses, with Ritchie circling on his bike or huddled on the grass with his mates pretending they weren’t sharing a smoke or pictures of tits.
“That girl’s always outside,” Gran said whenever her leather trousers squeaked through the front door. “Her mother’s obviously got no time for her.”
I asked if could go out to play. My best friend was on holiday on an island, the name of which I’d forgotten as soon as she told me, and although she promised to bring me back a seashell or a dolphin to put in my ballerina box, her absence left my chest wide open and infected with a sense of abandonment.
“Course you can, sweetheart,” Gran said. “It’ll do you good to get out.”
Mum checked the mileage on her exercise bike odometer. Sweat dripped from the end of her nose and she brushed it with the back of her hand. Her legs kept moving.
I sat on the step outside our house and smiled at Cee. She came straight over.
“Do you want to go to the park?” she asked.
I shrugged. It was the first time I’d been anywhere without telling my mum, which meant that “Any Tom, Dick, or Harry could pounce on you and no one would know where to look”; that’s something Gran would say.
We walked. Cee talked. She told me Ritchie was going to move away, live with his dad in a shiny apartment in Glasgow. When he was settled, he’d come back and get her and she’d get a proper education, go to college, and become a policewoman.
“You can see me with a gun, can’t you?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to say because I thought her arms were too skinny to hold a gun, and her hair was so long it might get caught in the trigger and rip bald patches in her scalp, and then she’d look like she had alopecia which was Gran’s nightmare because her sister had it. So, I didn’t say anything.
My silence made her roll her eyes.
“Well, I’m not staying here.”
“What about your mum?”
“She’ll only miss me when the baby cries.”
We passed the woods. We kept right on going until we
reached the park at the bottom of the hill, sat on the very top of the climbing frame, our legs dangling and my heart rushing too fast with the fear of falling and breaking my neck and ending up with a wonky head. Cee told me she’d seen her mum having sex with a man.
“They were on the living room floor. She still had her shoes on, and her knees jiggled when his bum slapped on top of her and after, she had carpet burns on her back. She showed Sam and Sam called them battle scars.”
“Who’s Sam?” I asked. I didn’t really care who Sam was, I was just buying time, incubating the shared secret until it became a tangible thing, a rope binding us together. It didn’t occur to me she might have told this story to anyone else. This was our special moment, the spark that would ignite our friendship and from then on, we would be inseparable.
Or so I thought.
“Sam’s her mate. She’s a lesbian.”
To me, wobbling in the breeze, my knuckles white around the climbing frame, Cee was a warrior princess, fearless, strong, honest. My brain was humming with panic, sifting through the fragments of my life trying to choose one secret that might live up to Cee’s, one special moment that would seal the deal, unite us forever.
And of all the things I could’ve possibly mentioned, I told her about my bear-wolf. I blurted it out, confident in my newfound friendship and my closeness to the clouds. I told her about all the trinkets the creature kept safe for me, about the ball stuffed with beads from my mum’s necklace, and The Hunger Games book my friend gave me, and how one day I’d live in the woods and eat nuts and wild mushrooms—although I didn’t like mushrooms yet, but I would do when I was older. I’d never trusted anyone enough to tell before now. But there on the climbing frame, the backs of our legs metal-chilled, I believed Cee was the same as me. I believed I’d discovered a kindred spirit.
“You actually think you found a bear-wolf?” she asked. “What even is that?” Her eyebrows arched and I felt silly because I could’ve told her I’d seen my mum having sex too.
“It lives in the woods. I thought it was a dog, but she’s furry like a bear.”
Cee blinked slowly and I felt like I was losing her, my euphoria being replaced by twisting cramps in my stomach.
“She’s real,” I said.
Thunderclouds rolled in, purple grey, booming like elephants.
“My brother Ritchie loves storms,” she said jumping down onto bark chips, her hair flying behind her.
I climbed down the steps with the rusty paint, holding onto the rails like a child.
“Run!” she yelled, giggling as fat drops of rain dotted our clothes and our hair. We were drenched before we reached the main road; I could see her bra through her white T-shirt, and I wished I’d worn one of the white lacy bras Mum had bought me from Primark.
It was still chucking it down when I stopped at the door to our house and waited for Cee to say goodbye, but she kept on running till she reached her own front door where she fumbled for a key in her pocket and let herself in without glancing behind her.
That summer I didn’t go back to the park with Cee. The next day, on the walkway outside our houses, someone had drawn chalk pictures of a flat-haired stick-girl holding hands with a long-tailed bear.
Available to purchase here
Meet the Author
Denise Brown is a writer, housekeeper, and single parent of five children. Her debut novella Devil on Your Back was published by Salt in 2014, and her short stories have featured in various online publications. In 2019 she was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award. Born in East London, Denise has now settled in Scotland where she feels certain she must have lived in a previous life. She loves dogs and snow globes and has a teensy obsession with Jack Skellington.
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Daisy, Jacks & Kel x