Moonlight Over Studland Bay- Della Galton (Digital Sample)

Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘Moonlight Over Studland Bay’ by Della Galton.

Moonlight Over Studland Bay

Della Galton

Chapter One

Sam Jones was beginning to feel a great deal more stressed than she had when she had left Beach Cottage, her home overlooking Studland Bay in one of the most beautiful spots in Dorset, fifteen minutes earlier. Her hands felt slippery on the steering wheel. It was hot for June, plus annoyingly a section of her long dark hair had escaped from its butterfly clip and was flicking round her face as she drove. This was because all of the car windows were down. Abby, who was half sitting, half lying on the back seat, had said she needed the air.

‘Can’t you drive any bloody faster, Sam? I’m in agony here.’

She glanced in the rear view mirror and saw that her best friend and housemate – they’d met in year seven and had been inseparable ever since – was thrashing about. Her head was thrown back, her white blonde hair fanned out against the headrest and her flushed face was screwed up in a very good impression of someone in agony. But, as Abby was prone to exaggeration, if not a full-on drama queen, Sam was nowhere near as worried as she might otherwise have been.

Sometimes she thought the only thing she and Abby now had in common was the fact they were both thirty-six. They had been born exactly a month apart – Sam on 10 May and Abby on 10 June. A month had a lot to answer for in astrology terms. Not that Sam put as much faith in astrology as Abby did. This morning, Abby’s Three-Word Fun Horoscope, which she read every day on her app, had said, ‘Don’t go yet’. Abby, as ever, had put her faith in that until she couldn’t hold off any longer, which is why they were racing along in the car now.

‘Honey, half an hour ago you didn’t want to come,’ Sam pointed out gently. ‘You were dead set on having a home birth. And I can’t drive any faster, it won’t do us any good if I crash.’ Also, she was worried about the two mousetraps, both of which contained live mice, which she’d just remembered were on the back seat of the car in a brown paper bag. The traps were shut, but if they tipped off the seat they might open and release their cargo and Abby was terrified of mice. If there was one thing worse than having a pain-ridden Abby in labour in her car, it was having a pain-ridden and panic-stricken Abby in labour in her car.

Sam knew she should have moved the humane mousetraps before they’d set out, but in all the panic of racing around the house gathering up all the stuff that Abby hadn’t bothered packing because ‘no way am I having an unnatural hospital birth,’ it had slipped her mind that they were there. Fortunately they hadn’t been in situ very long; she had planned to release the occupants in the woods on her way back to get Abby, before she’d realised quite how urgent things had become.

‘Anyway,’ Sam added, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt, ‘first babies always take their time, you’ve got hours yet.’ Not that she was any kind of expert, most of her knowledge having been gleaned from One Born Every Minute.

‘I bloody well better not have,’ Abby snapped, pausing from writhing to glare at her. ‘Anyway, you don’t know anything about it. You haven’t had one and don’t start telling me that dogs don’t make all this fuss because I’m not a dog. I’m a woman. And it’s different for women. When we get there, I want an epidural and a caesarean and I want one of them injections that numbs you from the neck down and I want some gas and air too, a bucketload, and – for God’s sake, that was an amber light, why are we stopping?’

‘It was red.’ Sam took the chance to refasten her hair back out of her face. She was well used to Abby’s outbursts. ‘How long is it between contractions?’

‘I don’t know. I haven’t got a stopwatch. I’m going to have it on the back seat if you don’t hurry up.’ She groaned dramatically. ‘It bloody hurts, I know that. Yeooww, fuck, can you please just bloody well hurrreeeeee up.’ Her voice disappeared into a long wail as she thrashed about and Sam thought she heard the thud of something falling off the back seat. Hopefully it was Abby’s bag and not the one with the mousetraps in.

‘Count,’ Sam suggested, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel and wishing the red light would change. ‘Start counting now and see how long it is between contractions, that’s the first thing they’ll ask us.’ At least that’s what she remembered from the antenatal classes Abby had dragged her along to.

‘You could be a bit more sympathetic.’

Sam put the handbrake on and turned in her seat to study her friend’s red sweaty face. ‘I am. I’m very sympathetic, honestly, but there’s absolutely no point in us both getting in a state.’

‘I am NOT in a state. The lights have changed. Try and pay attention. Do you think I should take my knickers off to save time?’

‘No,’ Sam said, putting her foot down and resisting the urge to say there probably wasn’t much point as Abby was also wearing pink super-stretch maternity leggings – unless she intended to streak across the hospital car park naked from the waist down. ‘Are you still counting?’

Perhaps she ought to be counting too, she thought anxiously, but it was difficult to navigate through the seaside traffic, drive safely, be sympathetic and stay calm, as well as to count, when she had a deranged woman flailing about in the back of her car. Abby was hard enough to deal with when she had a headache.

Sam’s mobile blared from somewhere behind her seat. She glanced in her rear view mirror, relieved to see Abby’s face was no longer contorted in pain. ‘Any chance you could get that?’ Perhaps it might help to distract her from what was happening.

This hope was rudely dashed two seconds later when Abby snatched up the phone and yelled, ‘Eff off!’ at the top of her voice.

Sam sighed. ‘Who was it?’

‘Your boss, I think.’

‘Please tell me you’re joking.’

‘It sounded like him. You’ll have to tell him it was extenuating circumstances. Anyway, he shouldn’t be phoning you on your afternoon off.’

Realising she was in the wrong lane, Sam nipped in front of a black 4×4, ignoring the driver’s furious horn blowing.

‘It’s not my afternoon off. I said I had raging toothache and I’d got an emergency appointment with my dentist.’ She hadn’t told Rex Fielding that she was responding to a panic-stricken call from Abby, because when she’d got the call just before lunch she hadn’t been 100 percent sure Abby was actually in labour. There had been several false alarms so far and she’d wanted to save the official mercy dash day off for a time when she really needed it.

Hopefully it hadn’t been Rex.

‘Are we nearly there? I don’t think I can hold on much longer.’

‘We’re very nearly there,’ Sam soothed, indicating to turn into the road that led to the hospital.

‘And you are going to stay with me, aren’t you? You’re not dashing back to work?’ Abby sounded vulnerable for the first time.

‘Of course I’m going to stay with you.’

‘Even if it takes twenty-six hours.’

‘I thought you said it was going to be born any minute,’ Sam said, pulling up in a drop-off bay outside the hospital and wondering if she was still supposed to buy a ticket.

‘Yes, well I might have got that wrong. I’ve never had a baby before. Arghhhh-eeeeeeee.’

Shocked, because the scream was ear-splitting, even by Abby’s standards, Sam leaned into the back. ‘Stay there, I’ll go and get a wheelchair and a doctor.’

But Abby wasn’t listening. She’d snatched her legs up onto the back seat and was pointing at something in the rear footwell. ‘There’s a bloody mouse in your car. I just saw its tail.’ She grabbed Sam’s hand, her eyes wide with horror. ‘I’m not staying in here with a mouse. You wait. I’ll get the wheelchair.’ As she spoke, she shuffled across the seat, the pain of labour obviously totally eclipsed by her terror of mice, and flung open the door.

Sam leapt out of the driver’s seat into the hot tarmac-scented air just in time to see a cute brown field mouse, no bigger than a matchbox, hop down onto the wheel arch and twitch its nose curiously.

Abby screamed again and the mouse, presumably deciding enough was enough, having already endured the forty-minute drive with Abby’s pain-filled monologue, skipped onto the tarmac and then scurried up onto the ramp that led up to the main entrance, causing two paramedics to sidestep rapidly.

‘Ugh, I just saw a rat,’ exclaimed a young mother with a blue-coated toddler. ‘There must be vermin all over the hospital.’ She scooped up her child and started muttering about the falling standards of the NHS.

Sam kept her head down, relieved that at least the woman hadn’t seen it emerging from her car, and prayed to all the gods in heaven that the other mouse was still safely in its trap.

‘Why didn’t you tell me there was a mouse in your car?’ Abby accused. ‘What’s it doing in there anyway?’

‘We’ve had a bit of a mouse problem at work,’ Sam said, relieved that Abby hadn’t asked if there were any more. ‘I’ve been catching them in live mouse traps and you have to release them two miles away or they come back, so I’ve been dropping them off in the woods on my way home.’

‘Why can’t you use poison like normal people? Sometimes I think you rate all creatures higher than humans… What do you mean, THEM?’

‘Because it’s cruel,’ Sam said, avoiding answering the second question. ‘Are you getting out or shall I find a wheelchair?’ She crouched by the open door, her eyes fixed on Abby’s face. Her friend’s damp blonde hair was stuck in tendrils to her forehead as she screwed up her eyes once more and braced against the pain.

‘I’m scared,’ Abby panted when it had passed. ‘I don’t think I want to go to hospital any more. I hate hospitals. What if something goes wrong?’

‘Nothing’s going to go wrong and even if it did, you’re in the right place. The very best place.’ Sam was aware that her voice had taken on a maternal, soothing tone in response to the childlike fear in Abby’s.

‘You promise you won’t leave me. You really, really promise.’

‘I really, really promise,’ She caught hold of Abby’s hand again and squeezed her hot fingers. ‘I’m going to be right beside you for every push and every pain. We’re going to have this baby together, OK?’

Abby smiled for the first time since Sam had arrived home an hour and a half earlier and Sam smiled back reassuringly. She had a feeling it was going to be a very long day.

* * *

Nineteen hours and thirty-six minutes later, at 11.15 a.m. on 24 June, which also happened to be Midsummer’s day, literally the longest day of the year, Abby finally pushed her son into the world and Sam, who couldn’t remember the last time she’d cried, found that her neck was wet with tears of joy and wonder. She felt weak with exhaustion and lack of food. She’d kept her promise and hadn’t left the delivery room, except to go to the loo and to free the second mouse from her car at a reasonable distance from the hospital – she didn’t want to be responsible for a vermin problem. She’d also tried to phone Rex, but her battery had been flat by the time she’d remembered she should call work. Never mind, she was sure he’d understand when she explained. Her throat was hoarse from shouting encouragement and her forearm was covered with finger-mark bruises. But – wow, was it worth it.

Even in her most idealistic, rose-tinted-glasses moments, which she had to admit she was prone to, Sam had never imagined that seeing a baby come into the world could be so amazing. She’d expected it to be bloody and messy and involve a lot of yelling and it had. Abby wasn’t one to do anything quietly and no amount of pain relief was going to stop her letting an opportunity to do a lot of legitimate screaming slip through her fingers. But Sam had watched in awe as the slithering, pink baby had been gently placed in his mother’s arms. Her throat had closed with tears as she’d seen something switch on in Abby’s eyes.

Love, she had realised in wonderment. Abby had looked down into her son’s red, screwed-up face and in that flick of a moment, everything had changed. Peace had ironed out all the lines of pain on Abby’s brow and there had been a huge sense of joy in the room. Such intense joy that it was almost holy. Sam wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see an angel with a halo standing at the foot of the bed playing a harp – and she didn’t even believe in angels.

Life. New life just beginning. Wondrous. Magical. Rapturous. Amazing new life with all the hope and optimism and years of possibilities that it brought with it. The midwife was smiling. Abby was smiling. The delivery room itself was smiling. How many new lives had these walls welcomed? Sam wondered. How much pain too, all that intense emotion swirling about. Heaven and hell meeting. She shook her head and swiped tears from her eyes. Why on earth was she thinking about heaven and hell? She must be more exhausted than she thought.

‘What?’ Abby demanded.

‘I was just thinking that you were right,’ Sam said, blinking. ‘It’s nothing like dogs.’

The midwife shot them a curious glance but didn’t comment on this. She probably already thought they were crazy. During Abby’s early labour, which seemed like a lifetime ago now, rather than a mere eighteen or so hours, she had insisted they sing ‘Ten Green Bottles’ between contractions, followed by ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. Towards the end, she’d spent the time in between screaming that she no longer wanted a baby and swearing – whole chains of swear words strung together so that most of them were indistinguishable. Fortunately. Not that Sam had anything against swearing. Women in labour were entitled to swear, although Abby’s profanities were, perhaps, a little too colourful for a hospital.

But maybe midwives were used to the eccentricities of women in labour. None of them had batted an eyelid. Sam wondered if they ever got bored of this moment: the pinnacle of all that effort when one life miraculously became two separate ones. She couldn’t imagine ever getting bored of it. Perhaps she should change career and become a midwife instead of an audio typist for a group of structural engineers. Not that she planned to stay an audio typist for very much longer. That was just her day job.

Her dreams lay elsewhere. She’d always loved animals, especially dogs, and just over two years ago she had begun a business, Purbeck Pooches, which she hoped would one day become her full-time career. She walked dogs in every spare minute she had, early mornings, summer lunchtimes and after work. She also did weekend boarding. Purbeck Pooches was her passion and she ran it from her home at Studland, on the Isle of Purbeck, where there was a footpath that ran down onto the beach. Her cottage came with a one-acre field and she rented both for a pittance because Ben Campbell, her landlord and also a good friend, needed a tenant who wouldn’t complain about the place’s numerous faults.

She was building up a small but regular clientele, although things had slowed down a bit since Abby had moved in with her on a cold December night six and a half months ago.

Prior to that Abby had shared a flat with her on/off boyfriend, Paul Kent, who was also the father of Abby’s newborn son and conspicuous by his absence today. It wasn’t the first time Abby had turned up on Sam’s doorstep in tears after they’d rowed, vowing never to go back to that ‘waste of space wanker’ again, but this time had lasted longer than the rest.

Sam had expected Paul, who was notoriously flaky and a (mostly) out-of-work musician, to come back into Abby’s life as the birth approached, but he hadn’t. This was a new level of flakiness, even for Paul, and although Abby made light of it, Sam suspected she was heartbroken beneath her bravado. Abby and Paul had been childhood sweethearts. They always got back together eventually.

Much as she loved Abby, it had been harder to concentrate on Purbeck Pooches with her living at Beach Cottage. She’d been sidetracked by accompanying her to antenatal classes, having officially been recruited as Abby’s birthing partner, and long girly chats into the night weren’t conducive to getting up at the crack of dawn to walk dogs. Despite this, Sam had started to get recommendations from happy clients. When she had a few more regular bookings, she planned to tell her boss to get lost herself.

No she wouldn’t. Rex Fielding, owner of Fielding & Son Structural Engineers, was a bit pompous, but he wasn’t a bad boss most of the time. She couldn’t really blame him. He’d been expecting her back yesterday and she should have started at 9 a.m. today – it was now nearly midday. For all Rex knew, she could be lying in a ditch somewhere. And after the rude response he’d got on the phone yesterday afternoon, he had every right to be a bit snotty.

‘Sam…?’ Abby’s voice was as honey-soft sweetness now as it had been raucous, grating agony a little while earlier. ‘You know I said I was going to call him Jack after my grandad? Well, I think I’m going to make his middle name Sam after you. Samuel, not Samantha obviously. What do you think? Jack Samuel Martin.’

‘That sounds like a very fine name.’ Sam surreptitiously wiped another tear from her face.

‘And there’s something else,’ Abby added.

‘What kind of something?’

‘Do you fancy being his godmother?’

Sam looked down into the baby’s squashed little face. He had a lot of dark hair – he must get that from his father – and he was so little, from his tiny curling fingers to his tiny pink toes. A mewling, vulnerable scrap of helplessness. She had never been a fan of babies, but now something twisted in the region of her heart.

‘I’d really, really love that.’


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