Happy New Year and thank fuck 2016 is finally over!
Millicent Grantham leapt out of bed and danced around the compact attic room to the strains of Green Day, doing her best not to stub her toe on the wrought iron single bed as her eyes briefly fell to the sorry looking calendar hanging on the wall next to her cramped wardrobe.
“And you can fuck right off with 2016 too!” She muttered, wagging her finger at the personalised calendar he’d bought her…
Nope. New Year… New Millie.
Millie ripped the tattered calendar down and attempted to tear through it, wincing as the cheap paper sliced through her thumb.
Fuck! One day in and she’d already injured herself!
It wasn’t a sign… It was not a fucking sign! She muttered to herself as she threw the calendar on the floor and stamped angrily on it as she made her way down the attic stairs to the bathroom, almost tripping over a pile of discarded clothes strewn across the landing.
With a growl and a roll of her eyes Millie kicked irritably at the painfully retro jeans, the miniscule cami top that she could tell just by a mere glance wouldn’t cover her left boob - and Jesus! Was that a training bra?! She wouldn’t even be able to cover her left nipple in that thing – launching them up into the air and across the landing so that they hit the closed door across from the bathroom with a loud thump.
She could feel her heckles beginning to rise and fought back the anger. She was not going there. Not today.
Today was a new day.
Even better, the start of a new year. She’d made a pile of resolutions last night as she’d nursed her mug of hot chocolate in bed while watching the fireworks on telly, the most important one being not to let anything – and more importantly, anyone - get her down this year. This was going to be her year.
After last year she deserved it…
You see, Millicent Grantham was not your average, settled thirty year old.
All of her thirty year old friends had their shit together. They’d all settled down and were living the dream suburban lifestyle she herself had once dreamt of. They all had good jobs. Some, like her best friend Clare, a surgeon, had great jobs.
Millie on the other hand wasn’t quite so well put together.
And she definitely didn't have her shit together. Not even close.
She was, in short, a walking, talking – and boy, did she talk way too much for most people’s liking - disaster area.
The problem was 2016. Last year had not only been traumatic for the world. It had been Millie's annus horribilis.
Leading up to 2016 she’d stupidly thought she might actually be on her way to finally having her shit together. But then 2016 had come along and well and truly kicked that illusion in the cojones.
2016 had marked the year she’d lost her job as a market researcher. It was also the year she’d lost her fiancé. And this time not just down the video game aisle at Sainsbury's.
But worse than either of those things, 2016 was the year Millie had turned thirty. She shuddered even now at the memory.
She’d gotten over losing her job pretty quickly. It wasn’t as if she'd enjoyed it anyway. It had been pretty crap and she’d been even crapper at it.
Mark, her fiancé?
He’d been just as crap.
Not to her sister Sophie though… On the contrary, Mark and Sophie had always got on like a house on fire. The night Millie had found Mark doing that thing he’d always refused to do to her - and yet so enthusiastically - to Sophie, had been the night she’d wished she hadn’t given up smoking for her 2016 resolution. At least then, Millie would have still had her lighter and could have used it to literally set their house on fucking fire…
She might also not still be two stone overweight. Fucking Haribo’s!
And yet, the loss of her job, her long-term boyfriend - and consequently the house they’d shared – along with the weight gain from giving up smoking and sub-par sex, while low blows from 2016, were nothing compared to the pain that had crippled her body that crisp December morning when she'd woken up to the realisation that she was now thirty.
And not in the way she’d have liked to have been fucked on her birthday. No. Millie was totally alone.
Melancholy had well and truly set in that day. You see, Millie had once had a plan, but 2016 had well and truly fucked with that plan.
Thirty years on this God forsaken planet and what exactly did she have to show for it?
A failed nine year relationship. A flat-share with two hipsters who made her feel even older and out of touch, one of which was her younger – and infuriatingly more successful - brother Steven. A junior researcher’s job – yes, you read that right… a junior at thirty years of age – which she’d only got because of her brother, at the independent radio station he co-managed. And the prospect of, well… not much else really.
2016 had been shit.
Millie had made up her mind. This was going to be her year.
No more wallowing about getting older. No more pandering to her parents who wanted her to make up with her sister and Mark, who incidentally were now expecting their first child together.
No more putting up with shit from anybody in fact.
This was her time to finally shine. She could feel it in her bones. Or maybe that was just arthritis setting in.
But either way Millie realised she had to at least try to believe it.
No-one else was going to do it for her.
And so, having wrapped a Shakespearean insult plaster around the paper cut – because of course her brother was far too cool to just buy regular Elastoplast – then taking care of the necessary morning, well… late morning - it was New Year’s Day after all! - ablutions, Millie stepped back out onto the landing.
Clearly the thump on the door had woken her brother and his latest conquest, judging by the noises which were now permeating throughout the quiet flat and torturing her eardrums.
She needed to get out of this place. Hearing her younger brother getting laid was not how she intended to start 2017!
Especially seeing as she couldn’t remember the last time she’d made noises like those herself… If ever.
She shuddered, reminding herself again that it was her brother behind that door and climbed the stairs with her hands over her ears, wishing away the sound of wanton moans.
Slamming her door shut, Millie slumped down on the edge of her bed and stared at her uninspiring wardrobe. There was no need to open the door, quite simply because there was no door to open. Her brother and Niall, the third resident of 36b, had hung a rail in the widest recess of the roof beams, in effect creating her wardrobe when she’d arrived on their doorstep, tearful and homeless.
For all she might grumble about Steven - and for that matter, Niall - Millie loved them both dearly for what they’d done for her in the four months since she’d left Mark. Niall also worked at the radio station and had actually been the one to persuade Steven to take her on. Her brother had been reluctant, not wanting to be seen to show any sign of nepotism towards the staff he employed, but Niall had argued her cause and Steven had finally acquiesced, though he’d been keen to ensure that she wasn’t given any special treatment, hence her junior position.
But, it was a job, Millie reminded herself. And actually, it was a job she had quickly discovered she enjoyed. Moreover, it was a job she was beginning to become good at. So good in fact that Steven had even hinted that if she carried on the way she was going, she might be in line for a pay-rise soon.
And when she got that pay-rise the first thing she was going to do was buy some new clothes. Everything in her wardrobe reminded her of 2016 and her past life. Ninety per cent of it she could no longer fit in anyway.
With a sigh and a shake of her head reminding herself not to go there today, Millie rifled through the cramped hangers and found the only decent day dress that still fit her comfortably, pulled on a pair of thick woollen tights and strapped the girls in, after yet another struggle with her only remaining semi decent bra.
Hmm. Maybe a new bra should be first on that list of new clothes…
Smoothing the moss green jersey dress down over her hips she quickly brushed her dark auburn hair and pulled on her well-worn leather boots before traipsing down the two flights of stairs to the coat stand behind the front door. A quick glance out of the lounge window revealed that the weather forecasters had actually got something right for once as a thin blanket of frozen snow covered the deserted road.
But it didn’t deter Millie.
Her second resolution had been to lose the weight she’d piled on through comfort eating. That meant exercise, because Millie drew the line at giving up cake! So if she was the only idiot traipsing up the high street in the snow on New Year’s Day, so be it. Besides, she’d lived there for close to four months now, it was about time she got to finally know the area.
She grabbed her padded parka, hat and gloves and headed out to face the first day of 2017, praying that there would be somewhere open for her to get a hot drink, and yes, maybe even a slice of cake seeing as it was already well past elevenses.
After a few close calls on some particularly slippery patches, Millie finally got into a rhythm. She was surprised to find herself smiling as she hummed along to tunes only she could hear, and her pace increased.
Before she knew it, she found herself at the furthest end of the high street, her cheeks tinted rosy from the cold air and exertion. She’d never walked this far from the flat before and she looked around in search of somewhere to stop for a hot drink and a rest.
Unsurprisingly everywhere appeared closed. Millie scolded herself as she stared through the shutters of artsy little coffee shops and bakeries, reminding herself again that it was New Year’s Day and that anyone with a life would surely still be sleeping off last night’s revelry.
She was just about to turn back when she noticed a hand chalked sign sitting enticingly on the corner up ahead with an arrow pointing left. The chalk looked undisturbed by the snow, making her wonder if it was freshly written, but from where she stood she couldn’t make out what it said, or even what kind of establishment it might be.
With nothing to lose she trudged further up the street, a strange excitement starting to bubble up in her growling belly as she was finally able to read the three simple words which made her day.
We are open!
Following the sign, Millie made her way along the small pathway, and carefully up the slippery steps of what was a bookstore-cum-coffee shop.
Perfect! She’d grab a coffee and a bite to eat, then have a mooch around the bookstore. Hopefully by the time she returned to the flat Steven would be up and dressed.
Ooh, she might even try to talk to him about that pay-rise… Nothing like taking the bull by the horns herself right? 2017 was going to be her bitch and she was going to own it!
Besides, her squashed boobs needed that pay-rise!
With a chuckle, Millie kicked the snow off her boots on the brickwork before pushing the heavy door open.
The warm air hit her immediately and was swiftly followed by the scent of cinnamon and coffee. She licked her lips and stepped inside, taking in the quirky interior. It was a strangely eclectic mix of antique leather armchairs and sofas juxtaposed with sleek modern shelving lined with thousands of books from floor to ceiling.
Millie immediately fell in love with the place. For maybe a minute or two she simply stood staring, her cheeks flushed and her eyes darting around the long, yet somehow still cosy space, before a woman who looked to be in her late fifties, holding a stack of books, caught her attention.
“Happy New Year! And a warm welcome to ‘Bound To Please’. Feel free to browse, if there’s anything in particular you’re looking for just let me know.”
“What? Oh, erm, yes… Happy New Year” Millie smiled and tried to stop staring, without much success. As her eyes flitted around the room she noticed more and more peculiar things about the place.
On the only wall not filled with books there were hundreds of photographs and paintings of famous couples, old and new, ranging from heads of state to actors and actresses, interspersed with whimsical landscapes from around the globe as well as from fiction.
Immediately Millie sensed that this was a place she would now be frequenting as often as possible. It was also the moment that she realised the woman was still watching her curiously and she turned back to her in apology “Sorry. I was miles away there for a minute… You have a lovely place, I was actually surprised to even find somewhere open today.”
“Oh we open every day. There are so many days in the year now when everything closes up. And there are so many people out there just looking for some company…” The woman paused and looked at Millie for a moment, a knowing smile forming on her lips “Or who just need to get out of the house for a while, y’know?”
Millie raised her eyebrows but nodded, feeling her already warm cheeks starting to burn.
Was she that transparent?
The sad reality was that of course she was! What ‘normal’ woman her age was likely to be wandering the streets of London alone on New Year’s Day?
“There’s a coat rack over in the corner lovie if you want to make yourself more comfortable…I’ve got the heating on high so you won’t be cold, and you’ll feel the benefit more when you go back outside…”
Millie laughed then. This woman sounded just like her mother!
“Okay, thank you. Erm, it said on the sign that you serve coffee?”
“Yes, we have a little coffee shop through the back there, but you’re more than welcome to bring anything through into here if you want to browse the books.”
Millie turned her head and followed the storekeeper’s pointed finger, noticing for the first time a small archway with a beaded curtain.
“Oh excellent! Well. I’ll have a drink first then take a look around if that’s okay?”
“Not a problem, just give me a shout if you need anything love”
Millie hastily unzipped her coat and hung it on the coat rack. She couldn’t believe she’d stumbled across such a lovely little place. Way to go already 2017!
An hour later, she was munching her way through her second slice of apple cake, and sipping on her third cinnamon latte when she heard the faint sound of the doorbell ringing, announcing another customer.
For some reason the sound made her smile, realising that perhaps she wasn’t the only lonely person wandering the streets that day. Returning to her cup, she drained the remaining coffee before swallowing the last forkful of cake with a low moan of pleasure.
It was, without question, the best apple cake she’d ever tasted and Millie decided that after she’d had a good look around the store she would take a few slices home. It couldn’t hurt to soften Steven up with a slice or two before she started negotiating her pay-rise after all…
With that thought she settled her bill and paid a visit to the restroom. Making her way back through the archway into the main bookstore she caught sight of the back of a head leant over a laptop in the corner of the coffee shop.
Hmm. People must come here for free Wi-Fi, she mused.
Millie lost track of how long she perused the bookshelves. She was astounded by the sheer volume of second-hand and special edition books, interspersed with pop culture and new editions of popular mainstream fiction, spanning every conceivable genre.
Somewhat worryingly, she’d also mentally spent any potential pay-rise three times over with a wish-list of rare copies and she quickly realised that if she was going to continue visiting, she would definitely need to exercise a huge amount of willpower.
Finally, Millie decided on a second hand copy of The Drowned World. She had just placed the book on the cash desk in the corner, when a small rack of calendars caught her eye.
“Oh… can I just leave that there a second? I just noticed you have calendars and I need a new one” she smiled at the older woman, who urged her on “Oh but I also wanted to take away two slices of the apple cake… damn it!”
Millie looked between the coffee shop and the calendars, trying to decide which was more important.
“You go look at the calendars, I’ll bag you up two slices of the cake. You can pay for everything together here sweetheart. Its fine” the storekeeper smiled warmly and Millie thanked her as she made her way over to the rack.
She flicked through the small selection, her eyes falling to one in particular.
No. She couldn’t…
She was a grown up for Christ sake! Thirty year olds don’t hang calendars of crushes up on their bedroom walls… do they?
Millie took a deep breath and pushed it aside, continuing to search for something more appropriate, yet that same damn calendar seemed to be everywhere. It kept appearing, teasing her. Tempting her.
Taunting her even…
For a brief second she considered throwing caution to the wind and buying it, but found her cheeks starting to burn just at the thought. What if anyone saw it? She’d be so embarrassed! Would they think she was just some stupid fangirl?
And then a realisation hit her.
One of her New Year’s resolutions had been to not give a flying fuck what anybody else thought!
So what if she had a Tom Hiddleston calendar on her wall?
It was her wall. Well… her temporary wall. Just like it was her life. And it was just a bloody calendar after all… people had them with all sorts of things they enjoyed. Cats, dogs, football teams, movies, TV shows… It wasn’t like she was pinning the real man to her bedroom wall, was it!
Fuck! Now that would be a fantastic way to start 2017…!
Millie bit her lip, trying to push that delicious thought away as her hand trailed back to the calendar and she pulled it out, admiring the image on the front. He – sorry - the calendar was very tempting. Licking her lips she turned the calendar over and her heart began to race.
Oh dear God! It was almost as if the manufacturer of the calendar had tapped into her brain! The twelve smaller photographs signalled what she could look forward to each month if she succumbed and bought it. Inside that cellophane package were eleven images of him in his various roles – each of which were Millie’s particular favourites - and one final image as himself.
She licked her lips again as her fingers tightened around the calendar.
It seemed she’d made her decision.
Millie slowly made her way back over to the cash desk, her cheeks once again blooming with colour as she fought to appear completely nonchalant, like it was the most natural thing in the world to be buying a calendar like this at her age, instead of one of those family planner types all her friends had, with columns full of reminders for their husbands work commitments and each of their perfect children’s daily activities.
Finally reaching the counter, Millie surreptitiously slid it down under the book she’d selected, praying it would somehow disguise it, but of course the well-worn paperback did little to hide the evidence of her crush.
“Ah excellent choice!”
The storekeeper came back behind the counter with her bagged up apple cake, and started to ring her purchases through with a knowing grin on her face. Desperate to avoid any discussion, Millie excused herself to get her coat so she could make as quick a getaway as possible.
If the storekeeper noticed her peculiar behaviour, she was kind enough not to draw any attention to it, and when Millie returned she’d already wrapped and bagged the book along with the cake, and placed a ‘sold’ label on the calendar, covering most of the man’s smiling face.
“I’m so sorry love, we don’t have any bags big enough for the calendar. Will it be okay like this?” the lady offered apologetically and Millie mumbled “yeah, it’s fine. Thank you.”
Inside though, she was already regretting her decision. Now she would have to walk all the way back home with the evidence of her aged fangirling on full show!
Oh fuck it! She finally decided as she paid. The streets were probably still deserted anyway.
Having thanked the lady again, Millie pulled on her hat as she made her way across towards the door, and was just working her gloves on when she heard a deep male voice breaking through the silence behind her.
“Wait… sorry… give me a minute man. The signal’s always terrible in here…”
Millie turned, just in time to watch aghast, as a tall, slim and extremely handsome man – a man whom she instantly recognised - ducked under the low archway, phone in one hand as he looked apologetically across at the lady behind the cash desk, who waved him on with a look of familiarity.
Oh you have got to be fucking kidding!
Millie fought to clamp her gaping mouth shut and hastily backed out of the book shop, one glove still in hand, as she clutched her calendar under the other arm and prayed to the heavens that the same man who adorned its front cover hadn’t just seen it.
While she'd have loved nothing more than to have conversed with the man under different circumstances, her current status screamed crazy stalker fangirl, regardless of her innocence.
Unfortunately for Millie, on stepping backwards she failed to remember the two steps, and her foot slipped in the now melting snow.
She stumbled, feeling herself falling backwards with a heavy thud...
And that was when her world turned pitch black.
To be continued...