Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

10: Alice

When she got home from work Alice had gone straight up to her room. She had been there half an hour when she heard the back door, and she knew that meant Dad was back, meaning that tea would be ready soon. It didn’t matter that she never wanted to eat that early, as she usually needed time to decompress after being in that office all day, with those people: her family always ate ten minutes or so after Dad came home, and probably always would. She didn’t hear any sounds of cooking, so she assumed that meant something cold.

As she sat waiting to be called down for whatever discount food Mum had got from the Co-Op, Alice brooded. Today had been a worse day at work than usual: for once, she had been unable to avoid Barry’s spite. He had shouted at her for a mistake she’d made on a letter to a supplier, and she’d had to hold in her tears until he and Tyson had gone so she could cry in the toilet – the filthiest place in the building – in peace. Cathy’s attempts to comfort her had only made it worse. She hated them all, and didn’t know how she was going to get through the two days until the weekend.

Just as she was thinking of getting changed from her work skirt and blouse, she heard a loud knock at the back door followed by someone giving a cheery greeting. This was followed by the twins bursting out of their room and vaulting downstairs. Wait: it was a Wednesday, and the last delivery had been a fortnight ago so that meant a non-crappy tea and… Callum!

After buttoning her blouse back up and taking a quick glance at herself in the mirror, Alice left her room. Pausing at the top of the stairs, she could hear laughter, especially from Mum.

‘Ooh, you are a one, Callum.’

Callum had never seemed to let Dad being his boss stop him from cracking jokes at his expense.

Suppressing a smile, Alice tried to appear as nonchalant as possible when she went downstairs. She went into the kitchen to find Mum and Dad talking to Callum, and the twins rifling through the boxes he had brought. Callum turned to her, beaming that grin that so unsettled her.

‘Alright, Alice. Lookin’ sexy today!’

She blushed. Mum clapping her hand to her mouth, feigned outrage, while her dad ruefully shook his head.

‘You can’t say things like that, Callum, lad. I hope you aren’t like it with the customers.’

Callum was unrepentant.

‘I’m as good as gold! Your fault, though, Paul. Shouldn’t have such a fit daughter. I know where she gets it from, though, and it’s not you.’

He turned to Mum and winked.

‘All your doing, eh, Kelly?’

Mum giggled. Alice should be annoyed, as she normally was when Mum obviously liked some lad – and they were too often lads – but how could she be, given what she thought of Callum? However often she told herself that she should remember how much pain men had caused her, and that she should try her best to be independent, when she saw him she couldn’t see past his eyes, and his easy muscles, and that creamy coffee-coloured skin. Oh, and the smile he was once again flashing at her. When she saw Mum and Dad also looking at her, she realised that she should probably say something.

‘Err… hi, Callum.’

‘There she is!’

The few minutes Callum was with them passed by in a blur. Alice wasn’t really listening to the conversation: she was, once again, marvelling at the difference between Callum and Dad. If only dad had a tiny part of the warehouse worker’s knowing cockiness, he might be able to stand up for himself; he might have been able to stand up for her. It was no use, though: Dad was Dad, and she was stuck with him. She saw that Callum was going and returned to her contemplation of him. Alice was sick of the way men affected her life, but had to admit that she like the effect he had on her. She wanted to find her own path, where she could decide what she wanted, but also wanted to be with him. At that moment, she couldn’t see how these two desires could fit together; perhaps, though, there were others out there who would know. She would have to find them, and find out.

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