This is the opening scene of the novel. I hope you’ll be as fond of Jules as I am!
The best thing about working from home, Jules thought as he danced lightly down towards the front door, was … No, strike that. The best thing about working from home was spending all day in his pyjamas. Jules laughed under his breath, and detoured to scoop up Jem’s pashmina from her armchair. He slung it around his hips and fastened it with a loose knot while he sashayed through to the hall. A quick glance in the hall mirror reassured him that his quiff of thick red hair was looking rakishly mussed, and his pale face was unblemished by the remains of breakfast or random pen marks. Presentable, or enough so.
The second best thing about working from home was – No, that wasn’t true either.
The third best thing, Jules amended as the doorbell rang once more, was that he could accept delivery of whatever little goodies might have found their way into his Amazon shopping cart that week. And completely fluster the delivery guy while he was at it.
“Hellooooo!” Jules sang as he flung the door and his arms open wide.
Sure enough, his bright smile fell on poor old Bart, their regular. “Hello, Mr Madigan,” Bart said with only a hint of long-sufferingness. He handed over a large padded envelope that had DO NOT BEND stamps all over it. “Here we are, then.”
“Oooh, Bart … are you sure you don’t want to bend just a little?”
“You’ll need to sign for this one,” Bart said, his tone as stoic as ever. Meanwhile, he was frowning while jabbing a finger at the keyboard of his electronic device, as if he hadn’t been using it for three years already.
Jules took the thing, and scribbled something resembling his usual signature – remembering that he had to press hard on the device’s screen to make an impression. “You know, darling,” he confided to Bart, “you might enjoy getting in touch with your inner Alan Cumming … “
Bart sighed. “Maybe I would, if it meant I got to wear me jammies all day.”
“You would!” Jules bubbled over with laughter, he just couldn’t help it. “And you know what you get to wear on your birthday, right?”
“Reckon I can guess.”
“Well, do remember to drop by on Friday next week, so I can show you how it’s done.”
Bart let out a heavy breath, before pressing his mouth flat as if either suppressing a smile or making a mental note to take that day off. Probably both. “O’ course, Mr Madigan,” he said in completely unconvincing tones. “See you, then.”
“See you then!” Jules cheerfully replied, and he closed the door as Bart retreated in good order.
The second best thing about working from home was that Jules could make his coffee just the way he liked it. He always went into the office on Wednesdays to catch up, and it was a pretty cool place, and he loved the people there – but even so, they didn’t offer anything better than drip-brewed coffee, which tasted burnt as often as not, and given he was only at the office one day a week they frowned a little on excursions to Jules’ favourite coffee shop. Jules wasn’t in a position to indulge himself in big-ticket items, but a flash espresso machine was one of his few Home Essentials, along with a couple of cafetières for when a whole pot was required. He was just admiring the crema on his black coffee in the glass-and-stainless-steel cup when he remembered. The envelope.
His gaze snapped to it, sitting there on the kitchen table where he’d left it while distracted by the need for coffee. It was only now that he realised what it must be. He could hardly even voice the words to himself or see it in his mind’s eye, but excitement effervesced through him.
Jules carefully put the coffee down on the worktop – he wasn’t going to risk taking it near the envelope and what it contained – and stepped over to the table. After a moment, he stepped back again to fetch a sharp little knife from the kitchen drawers so he could carefully slice open the envelope and deal with any tape that had been used in the packaging. He could already feel that there was a stiff (ooh-er) piece of cardboard inside, keeping everything ship-shape.
Within moments, he was drawing out the contents, which were two bits of card wrapped in plastic. Jules carefully took them apart.
Sandwiched between the cardboard was a piece of A4 paper, quite ordinary except for the fact that it contained the typewritten last paragraphs of Jules’ favourite novel. He hardly dared touch it, but lifted the paper along with the cardboard in order to marvel at it. After a moment, he let reverential fingertips drift across the letters, feeling the light indentations that the typewriter keys had made, the slight change in texture between the black ink and the cream paper. Feeling yet again a surge of the magic and the emotion contained in the words.
Best of all was the annotation in blue ink, where the word ‘perfect’ had been crossed out, and ‘yare’ handwritten in the margin to the right. Jules stared hard at the lettering, and let out a wondering breath. The man Himself, author Ewan Byge must have written that. Jules let a fingertip settle on the word, and gave serious thought to swooning.