Rhea's Protege
Chapter 1

"It's bigger than Aylesbury," Paula said. "Much bigger than Aylesbury. And it doesn't feel like home."

"Well we've only been here a week or two. You'll get used to it." Paula hummed and ran her hands through the top of her long blonde hair to move it out of her face. She squinted and glanced at the sunset over the tops of the adjacent houses. "And the New Forest is just a bus ride away. You could go hiking."

Paula grunted. "Yeah, who with?"

"So this is what is making you upset? No Andy," her sister asked, and Paula shrugged.

"Maybe. I just know he would really like it here."

"So why doesn't he come down then? In the holidays?"

Paula let out a deep breath. "'Cause I told him not to. But I wish I hadn't now."

Her companion sighed. "Why d'ya do that?"

"Because, Emily. I know that if we started seeing each other it would be harder when we had to part again. You forget I used to almost live in his bedroom."

Emily scoffed. "Yeah, I know. Rhea used to tease you no end."

Paula laughed. "Don't remind me. But anyway, I got a letter from him today. He's met another girl. He says they aren't going out, but I dunno. There is something there, I can read him like a book."

Emily giggled. "You can read everyone like a book." Paula suspired loudly. "So it is jealousy then? Your ex has moved on and..."

"I'm not jealous. I'm sure he was more of a friend than a boyfriend."

"Easy to say that now when he's porking some floosie..."

"He won't be," Paula asserted. "I know him too well. He had ample opportunity to do 'porking' as you put it, but he never wanted to." Paula looked at Emily's raised eyebrows and shrugged. "It's just so sudden that's all. It almost feels like he isn't missing me."

"Well maybe you need to meet someone yourself instead of moping."

Paula groaned. "I am not moping. What with the new restaurant and granddad and all that, it's ... well I've got other things on my mind."

"Yeah ... like how your ex leaps into bed with some harlot when he wouldn't touch you..."

"Shut up Emily," Paula snapped. "I don't know he's leapt into bed or if she's some harlot. He's moved on, and so have I. And I doubt if he has done anything with another woman, he's too uptight." Emily sneered as she got up from the little bench at the end of their garden, but Paula called her back. "I see that you didn't go to school today," she said airily, and Emily scowled at her.

"Of course I went to school, why wouldn't I?"

"You tell me," Paula replied quickly and Emily sighed.

"Well you were out all day enrolling at your new college and helping Mum get the restaurant ready so you don't know."

Paula rubbed her chin. "Our driveway, massive dip at the end. It's full of water, if you went to school then you would have to walk through it twice, and the canvas shoes you were wearing would still have been damp when we got home at four."

Emily stared at her sister open-mouthed. "How the hell?" Emily looked begrudgingly impressed. "OK. Don't tell Mum."

"I won't. But she could easily work it out herself."

Emily stared at her sister and frowned. "I doubt it. School is just dull and boring here. There's just no-one who isn't a freak or a nerd. I hate it."

Paula raised her eyebrows and stared at her frustrated sibling. "Yeah, ditto. But you have to go eventually."

"After Summer maybe. But they are still muppets. As much as I hated them at times, Rhea and Becky made school interesting. Ya know there's not one piece of obscene graffiti in that school. Even in the girl's toilets."

Paula laughed. "Just don't go adding some!"

"Over there," her mother shouted and Paula carried the table by herself a few yards before depositing it down with a thud. "And can you get the tablecloth? It's drying outside."

Paula looked up and stroked her clothes smooth; she was only wearing old rags while they prepared the restaurant for the following week and the dreaded "Council inspection."

It was tough for her parents as they had a tight deadline to meet with the restaurant, but her grandparents needed some attention as their health was deteriorating rapidly. Paula's mother had been almost overwhelmed when she arrived at their little restaurant, to see that her eldest daughter had arrived much earlier than agreed and proceeded to paint two-thirds of the walls in the cream paint they had bought the day before.

Paula liked being on her own; as much as it pained her to admit it, she was missing Andy and didn't want to spend any time being teased by her sister or having to explain her wistfulness and quietness. She didn't think she would miss her friend quite as much as she did, but his absence had left a hole in her life. She missed his companionship and going to visit him once the restaurant was operational; perhaps, she was a little too hasty in breaking up with him the moment her parents announced they were moving to Bournemouth.

Her mother hugged her as she entered the room. "Emily at the house?" She asked, and Paula nodded.

"Yeah, lazy bones fast asleep when I left." Paula wandered outside and took down the giant white sheet hanging on the clothes line. She had only been outside the restaurant and into the yard a couple of times, and mostly in the twilight, but the little courtyard which also contained a little service road to the main street between a pub and a chemist served a number of properties.

She waved at a tall boy, probably no more than a year older than herself walk into the back of the pub and blush, before Paula darted back inside the restaurant. What was wrong with her?

"You OK?" Her mother looked almost concerned at her daughter and Paula nodded, giggling.

"Yeah," Paula replied and retied her long, golden hair. "Yeah I'm fine." Her mother gave her a meek smile and nodded towards the floor.

"Shall we ... get cracking on these then?"

Paula hummed and took the bucket, filling it up in the sink with warm water and adding a generous amount of soap. While her mother tightened all the screws on the seats, Paula mopped the floor and then refilled the bucket, putting on a chair while she wiped the skirting-board and windowsills.

Paula and her mother chatted amicably about a range of subjects, but Paula was keen to avoid any mention of Andy. Paula's mother turned around to face her, caught the chair and sent the bucket of water flying over Paula who was crouched down by the floor. "Oh shit," her mother cried and immediately reached for a towel to dab at her daughter's top and jeans. "Sorry."

"I'm soaked," Paula moaned, and her mother apologised again.

"I didn't see it," she told her. "I just turned around."

"I'm going to put these under the hand dryer," Paula murmured with an annoyed lilt to her voice.

"No. There's some spare clothes behind the bar," her mother told her and walked across the room. "I brought a change of clothes."


"It's only for a few hours. And we are about the same size." Paula shook her head and retired to the toilets to put the white T-Shirt and denim dungarees on. They were too big for her, but she came out and her mother was standing back admiring the restaurant layout. "What do you think of the plants, love?"

"They look out of place," Paula told her, and the middle-aged lady grunted.

"You sure?"

"Yeah," Paula replied instantly. "They shouldn't go there."

"Take 'em out then." Paula sighed and picked up the largest of the plants – an indoor olive tree – and manoeuvred the tall tree outside through the back door.

Paula walked outside with the plant and set it down. "Hiya," a voice from almost behind her said and made her jump. "Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you."

Paula stroked her hair back behind her ear and grinned at the man from earlier. "S'ok. I scare easily. You work in the pub?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Neil."


"You only just moved in, right. Ya on top?" He nodded towards the first floor flat, and Paula looked up and shook her head.

"Oh no," she cried and licked her lips. "That's empty. We live down the road. Just moved from Aylesbury." He gave her a warm smile and Paula wiped her hands on the denim dungarees. She pushed down on the outfit, and the garment plunged to the left causing her to shriek and grip the denim clothing.

Neil laughed. "Here, let me." He moved towards her and took the buckle from underneath her hands and refastened it.

"They are my Mum's," Paula babbled. "My clothes got wet, and it must have come loose while I was carrying that." She looked towards the plant and looked up at Neil as he smiled at her. "Thanks," she cried as he moved his hands away.

"No problem."

"I so need to get my clothes dry," she moaned, but Neil just smiled.

"They look good on you," he said with an effortless wave and adjusted his chef's apron. "You look real good in 'em. Suits you."

Paula blushed. "You think?"

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