The Blonde Bookworm: First Chapter Friday -- Melody's Key by Dallas Coryell

First Chapter Friday -- Melody's Key by Dallas Coryell

Friday, February 10, 2017

About the Author: 

Dallas Coryell is a musician and author residing deep in the untamed wilds of Michigan, USA, where he desperately attempts to assign meaning to his world through bouts of maniacal creative catharsis and pitifully doomed hopeless romantic fantasies. All of the songs written by the characters in this novel are real and can be viewed on the author’s fledgling YouTube channel: Selfies and other assorted randomness can be found on the author’s Instagram:


“His eyes settled on her…piercing green embers of flame that revealed the ferocity of his pain and passion, yet still shrouded him under veils of ever deepening mystery that made every ounce of her ache to unravel him.” 

Tegan Lockwood’s dreams were dead, sacrificed on the noble altar of duty before they ever had a chance to live. Her entire existence was disappearing into the abyss of apathy as she labored her days away keeping her family’s struggling business alive. There would be no emotion, no color, no beauty in her life. That is, until a mysterious visitor begins to draw her out of the darkness of her past towards something that will challenge the boundaries of her world, and unlock the most deeply held secrets of her heart.


First Chapter: 

     The sound was insufferable; a cacophony of blaring intrusion rudely tearing her out of the rather lovely dream she had been having. Disoriented and groggy as she was, it took Tegan Lockwood a painfully long moment to locate her alarm clock. When feeling around with her head still buried under the pillow only resulted in scattering the contents of her night table onto the floor, she finally relented and let in the sliver of light necessary to find and silence the antiquated torture device. She slammed her hand down on the snooze bar with a bit of extra force to teach it a proper lesson. The sound did not stop. She realized with growing frustration that the noise was not coming from her alarm clock, but from several other sources interspersed about her room.
“Dammit-all Ryleigh!” she yelled, knowing her beloved younger sister was probably laughing herself silly in the next room. Tegan's exit from the softness of her thick blanket was less than graceful, her natural clumsiness augmented by the lingering remnants of delicious sleep and the perpetually cluttered state of her room. Likening herself to a drunken sloth, she moved about the room slowly and meth-odically to avoid a fall that would certainly add to her sister's self-satisfaction. With great effort she silenced each of the craftily hidden alarms, fueled only by quiet rage and mumbled promises of retribution for this latest prank in a long-standing war of loving humiliation with her sibling. Finally, mercifully, the only sound in her room was the chirping of the birds outside her open window.
Tegan collapsed back onto her bed, noticing for the first time the familiar scent of breakfast hanging in the air, coaxing her downstairs. She never ate anything in the morning, but breakfast meant tea, and tea meant sweet salvation from the hazy cloud of fatigue currently obscuring her thoughts. She groaned melodramatically and burrowed her face deep into the blankets. Flopping her arms out to the sides, she felt her right hand strike something solid. Without having to look she already knew it was her guitar; lying beside her like a still sleeping lover amongst scattered pages from her latest 2am songwriting session.
Tegan had always been a night-owl, preferring the stillness of the dark to the chaos of the day. There was something intoxicating and inspiring about the middle of night, when the world was wrapped in slumber. That was when she had always felt the most alive, and naturally, her songwriting had flourished during those murky hours. The downside was her morning alarm always hit like a sledgehammer after only a few hours of sleep.
After several minutes of trying out potential excuses that would convince her mother to let her stay in bed, she finally resolved to get dressed. It was already late May, and with the first wave of summer guests scheduled to arrive tomorrow, she knew her parents needed her to complete the many unfinished preparations for their imminent arrival.
Tegan had worked for her family's business, Lockwood Holiday, for as long as she could remember, but her responsibilities had increased dramatically after her plans to attend university had fallen through. The truth was her parents could not afford to send her, and it devastated them. Tegan could see it in their eyes when she had announced her ‘decision’ to stay home and help out. She had put a brave face on it and seriously downplayed her desire to go, even to the point of criticizing the school to make it seem as if she had truly changed her mind. Tegan knew her parents could not run the business without her, but she would be damned before they felt one ounce of guilt about it. Her mother and father had already sacrificed so much; they had given her everything they had and more. The very least she could do was keep them from feeling like they had let her down. 
Tegan tried her very best not to think about her school situation as she went over the laundry list of tasks she was slated to accomplish that day. There was the endless grounds keeping work that 20 acres of formal gardens produced each week, shopping to stock their massive pantry—which would feed the newest group of eager vacationers during their two week stay, as well as cleaning of the outdoor pool and freshening of the many guest rooms that made up the bulk of Lockwood Estate's main manor house.
Her entire family would work at a frenzied pace during the next three months in order to make enough to survive through the rest of the year. This was a unique situation in the small town where their family's estate was located. Most people in Lymington were either wealthy enough to never have to work again, or were ‘working poor’, forced to scratch out a day to day living in service of the privileged. As it was, Tegan knew her family performed a precarious balancing act each year as they struggled to pay the massive tax bill and mortgage. The property had been passed down through their once affluent family which had fallen on hard times when her grandfather's shipping business went bankrupt in the 1970’s. Her father had taken out a large loan to bring the property up to code in order to start the holiday excursion business. She was just an infant at the time, but her family had borne the crushing weight of that debt ever since.
Still, despite the mountain of work and condescending looks from their snobbish New Forest neighbors, it was not a bad life by any means. She was fortunate enough to be close to her family every day, had time to write her music, and got to be outside all the time. Southern England afforded them more sunshine than the rest of the country, and always brought an early spring, her favorite season. Tegan had grown up exploring the estate's extensive woods, trails and sand dunes, as well as swimming in the huge lake that sat on the north side of the property. The manor house looked out on the deep blue waters of The Solent—a strait dividing the mainland of England from the Isle of Wight—which flowed only a few hundred yards from her back door. The water was great for swimming in late summer once the sun had time to warm it, and if one felt daring enough. She could not imagine ever living in a cramped city.
Finally dragging herself from the gentle embrace of her mattress, Tegan slid into a pair of work jeans and a white tee-shirt that she knew would not be white by the end of the day. Out of habit her hand went to the leather string around her neck and located the tiny silver key that always hung there. She tucked it safely inside her shirt and then took a moment to procure a hair-tie from the chaotic inventory of items on her dresser. After several seconds of struggle, her hair was up in a messy-bun and then she was pulling on her favorite pair of grey high-top sneakers. Not even bothering to look in the mirror—she was already sure she looked like a shaggy wolfbeast—Tegan proceeded out the door and down the hallway to the stairs. Walking past her sister's empty room, she made a mental note to think of a way to reciprocate the morning's cruel awakening. Tegan and her sister had always been inseparable, living as they were in a house full of boys. However, they had developed a taste for pranking one another in the most brutal of ways, despite (or perhaps because of) their deep affection. Tegan loved her sister, but she would pay...oh yes...she would pay dearly indeed.
The second floor east wing was just for Tegan and her siblings, which other than her sister Ryleigh, included her older brother Noah and her younger brother Michael. Her oldest brother Joseph now lived in one of the old servant's quarters, which he had fixed up after marrying his long-time girlfriend the previous autumn. Everyone always called him Joe for short, but Tegan preferred to call him by his full name because he hated it and she loved teasing him. She made a point to use his full name as much as possible in conversation, which usually resulted in his tickling her until she could not breathe.
Tegan did not relish the thought that by this time tomorrow the second floor west wing and the entire third floor would become a revolving door of holiday goers searching for emotional fulfillment; everything from thrills to quiet, rekindling of an old flame to sparking a new one; some looking to escape from themselves and some looking to find themselves. It had made good business sense for her parents to begin booking theme-based holiday excursions for similar people groups, and their meager profits had increased a bit upon implementing this strategy. Lymington was a popular vacation and tourist spot due to its location near the major shipping port of Southampton and its proximity to the New Forest. The amazing weather and world-class yachting clubs only added to its appeal for those looking to get away from the monotony of their daily lives.
Somehow their holiday excursions business had become popular with a match making service which regularly sent them troops of twenty and thirty-somethings looking for love...or just looking to get lucky. They would always come in shy and awkward, but by the end of two weeks they would be drinking and laughing like old mates from primary school. The Singles group was by far Tegan's least favorite. They were loud, messy and always seemed to end up pairing off and staying in one another’s rooms. Their nightly get-togethers around the fire pit reminded her less of a social gathering and more of an alcohol-fueled pagan sex ritual. Inevitably she would be mistaken as one of the group, with some of the men (and occasionally women) being bold enough to make advances. To combat this she always made a point to look as disheveled as possible, keeping her distance as much as she could. The Singles also drank much more heavily than the other groups which meant she would be lugging copious amounts of ale and liquor into the pantry all morning. Tegan had to admit, however, that for all their annoying debauchery, they always had an amazing time. This led them to recommend Lockwood Holiday to other friends, thereby keeping the family endeavor in business. After the Singles left there would be a retired group coming in, then an LGBT group, then an excursion for young families, and on and on until the end of summer bonfire marked the close of the holiday season and September once again brought relative peace and emptiness back to the old manor house.
Autumn was always a sad time as her family disbursed to their various part-time jobs, which meant doing basically anything and everything they could to pay the bills. Her siblings would become bartenders, waiters and DJ’s, her mother did the books for several tiny businesses in town and her father would ramp up his handyman business doing odd jobs around Lymington for whomever would hire him. Tegan would go back to her used bookstore ‘babysitting’ job where she spent countless hours sifting through old magazines and ancient tomes for less than the national minimum wage. Occasionally she might even help a customer, if any actually came in. She didn’t mind. If she couldn’t be outside or with her family, at least she could be involved with the one other thing besides music and art that gave her some sense of connection to the world: reading. With all of their schedules varying so widely during most of the year, her family was barely ever in the house all at the same time, making the summer holiday guest season even more special. Despite their monetary struggles, she would not have traded her life for anything.
When it came to their holiday business, Tegan had learned very early on that a certain distance from the guests was advisable. As a young girl she would make friends with the children of families that came through while on holiday, only to have her heart broken when they would leave within a week or two. She had lost more 'best friends' than she cared to remember. It was truly a bizarre experience to have groups of complete strangers constantly passing through one's home, but Tegan had grown somewhat accustomed to it over the years. On the bright side, she had learned to communicate and interact with a wide range of different people. Each of them brought their own stories and experiences, which allowed Tegan a glimpse into other worlds she would not have otherwise been able to witness. Occasionally her curiosity would get the best of her as the guests shared their lives around a fire or across a glass of wine. Tegan would listen in; experiencing their heartbreak, rejoicing through their successes, rebuilding after failures, and feeling their exhilaration from being in love. These stories often made their way into her music, so overall she was very thankful for the inspiration.
As Tegan descended the last flight of stairs and rounded the corner into the kitchen, she found her whole family chattering as usual about the various tasks that needed to be accomplished in the coming day. 
“Good morning honey,” her father said as she swept into the room. Pausing momentarily to kiss him on the cheek, Tegan took the opportunity to glare at her sister who was looking very smug indeed. Then without further delay she made a bee-line straight for the teapot, thinking only of the caffeine needed to make her body function for the day. She poured a bit of milk into a cup, then filled the rest with the fragrant, steaming liquid perfection. The milk cooled the tea just enough to tolerate and before long she had downed the first cup and was pouring another.
“Come sit down and eat something won't you Tegan dear?” her mother asked, as she did every morning, knowing full well that she wouldn't. Even after living in England most of her adult life, Tegan's mother had not completely lost the distinct Scottish flavor in her speech. “You are so skinny my love, when are you going to let me fatten you up a bit? Back when I was young, women didn’t mind putting on a few pounds, curves were seen as feminine.”
Tegan laughed. “ sound like the witch from Hansel and Gretel, going on about fattening me up like that. Anyway, you know I can't eat anything in the morning, it makes me feel sluggish.”
Her mother smiled, unsurprised, and proceeded to shovel the contents of her frying pan onto her brothers' plates, which they happily began devouring.   
“You'll have to take the Polo into town,” her father informed her without looking up from the morning paper. “The van is on the fritz again. Oh, and the money is on the counter over there.”
“Wonderful,” Tegan grumbled, less than enthusiastic about the impending trip.
The 'Polo' her father was referring to was the red 1985 Volkswagen Polo that he had owned since before she was born. Ancient as it was awkward, the pseudo station-wagon had been resuscitated from certain death on multiple occasions; much to her dismay each time. She suspected that secretly her father enjoyed working on the car in the same way one would care for an ailing pet. She had many good childhood memories of his head buried under the hood while she played under the open hatch-back, but now it was simply a source of embarrassment. Driving it into town was an exercise in humility, smoking as it did from burning oil, and with the clutch sticking constantly in 2nd gear. She had lost count of how many times it stalled out during various errands, causing her immeasurable and irreparable shame. Tegan took a moment to imagine what it would feel like to drive it to the cliffs and watch it roll over the edge into oblivion.     
Gulping down the last of her tea, Tegan snatched the money off the counter and slipped the keys for the Polo off the hook by the kitchen door. Steeling herself, she headed out to the garage to find her nemesis. At least the drive will be short, she thought in a futile attempt to find a silver lining. Lockwood Manor was only a 20 minute walk from downtown Lymington and much faster by bike or car. Normally she preferred to go on foot to do her errands in town, but since she was practically purchasing the entire brewery for the Singles group as well as a substantial amount of food, she needed the car to transport it all.
“Tell you what,” Tegan whispered to the nearly fossilized mechanical beast as she slid into the driver’s seat, “get me there without stalling and I’ll buy you a quart of the good stuff...that’s right, full synthetic high-mileage...good boy.”

Her back and forth treks into town ended up being mercifully uneventful save for a few backfires, but it was already late morning before Tegan had finally transferred the last bag of food into the pantry and filled the stock fridge to capacity. The morning dew had given way to mid-day sun by the time she had loaded the landscaping tools into the golf cart on her way out to the gardens. The entire estate stretched out to well over 1500 acres, but thankfully her responsibilities only included the more common areas frequented by guests. The next few hours were spent primping, trimming and fawning over her designated daily increment of the vast variety of vegetation that spanned the 20 acres of formal gardens. The entire area was actually a patchwork series of adjoining smaller thematic areas segregated by large and sparsely tended yew hedging and topiary. Archaic oak trees with massive bending tangles of branches stood as majestic sentries throughout the grounds. The age, height and unkempt nature of the hedges created a labyrinthine effect that gave an air of mystery, which could sometimes border on foreboding for visitors who were caught in the unfamiliar surroundings after dusk. More than once she had been forced to retrieve intoxicated party-goers who had wandered in and gotten lost. In some sections the hedges and trees actually grew together above the path, creating a tunnel of sorts that carried the scent of wildflowers on a breeze like lifeblood flowing through the veins of some arcane Gaia-like goddess embedded in the earth.
Despite their wild nature, the gardens continued to be a major attraction for visitors and other local tourists, prompting her mother to make their upkeep a major part of her duties. For Tegan, they were nothing less than a welcome shield from the rest of the world. She knew every inch of the acreage, and though it was impossible for her to actually get lost while walking through them, she felt lost...or maybe just hidden, and she liked it. Aside from the freedom she felt inside her music, walking through the garden and along the forest trails was the closest she ever came to contentment.
Originally planted ages ago, each individual garden was supposed its own motif, but time had definitely allowed the hardier plants to cross over into other sections, and Tegan did nothing to prevent it. In general, a few of the themed areas included: tropical, exotic, perfume, apothecary and wildflower. The entire east section was an orchard that regularly yielded apples, pears and plums. Sporadically growing in almost every area, were wild raspberries, blackberries strawberries and even blueberries. Tegan did not usually like to eat anything sweet, but she craved the succulent produce that grew throughout the grounds. Her mother would regularly ask her to bring in ripe fruit so her sister Ryleigh could make pies for the guests, while her father would incorporate the choicest berries into their Sunday night family ritual of making pancakes. She often ate exclusively off the land as she worked, affording her the luxury of remaining out in the gardens rather than going all the way back to the house for lunch.
There was far too much work for only one person so Tegan had long-ago given up any attempt to cut the grass or trim the shrubs and hedges with any regularity. Thankfully, most of the ground was covered by wildflowers anyway; Daffodils, Poppies, Bluebells, Orchids, Honeysuckle, Foxglove and a hundred others had somehow found their way into the garden's soft soil, making it their permanent home. Tegan felt strongly that the unkempt appearance and varied assortment of so many different species of plants gave a more natural and adventurous feel than some of the more sterile and obsessively groomed gardens she had seen elsewhere. Her work consisted of a rotating schedule that kept each garden section somewhat navigable throughout the summer. The difficult part was preventing the weeds and dead branches from choking out the healthy plants, and keeping a clear path from one area to the next. The hedges perpetually grew together as if each year they conspired anew to close off the garden completely, barring any human entry. Tegan often imagined the garden as one collective living entity, whose appearance and mood changed day to day with the weather and passage of time.
Her phone buzzed as a text came in and she realized with surprise that it was almost four o'clock. It was her sister Ryleigh.
Hey rat face! Mum says to get ur butt back here for tea. U missed lunch again so she wants u to have some of the sandwiches we made.

Tegan replied:

If u made them then we'll all be dead by sunset ;)

Ryleigh wrote back a second later:

Sounds great! If ur dead I won't have to worry about returning the jeans I borrowed today.

Tegan's thumbs worked furiously to tap the return message onto her screen:

Stay out of my closet Ry! Ur already going to get it for that stunt this morning...don't make it worse.

Ryleigh's response buzzed back a second later:

Pissing myself in fear  O_O   LMAO!

Tegan dragged the heavy bag of weeds back to the golf cart, and with great effort hoisted it up next to the other bags filled with various dead branches from her pruning work. She was exhausted, so an inner deal was struck to leave the tools and bags on the cart, reasoning that she could easily delay lugging them to the kindling pile until the next morning. After parking the cart back at the shed she used the hose to clean her hands and realized, as per usual, her shirt was completely filthy from the day's work. With her dirty, ragged appearance and sweaty matted hair, Tegan felt she probably looked quite like an insane forest troll at the moment. She didn’t care. Her stomach was demanding to be filled, and the sandwiches Ryleigh mentioned were sounding better and better by the moment. Upon entering the kitchen she saw that her mother and sister had laid out some lovely finger foods and a warm tea pot. Her brothers were not back from repairing the boundary fence, and it seemed her father was not in his usual spot; he’s probably still out tinkering with the van.
Tegan's hand instinctively went to the leather string around her neck that held the tiny key. Her fingertips pressed against the metal through her shirt and she smiled at secrecy of it all. Supper would probably be in about two was as good a time as any. She threw a couple of the sandwiches and finger cakes onto a plate and poured a quick cup of tea. Flying around the corner towards the stairs, Tegan concentrated intensely on not depositing the contents of her plate and teacup (as well as her face) onto the floor, but still managed to catch a glimpse of her mother and father standing in the parlor. The room had two massive wooden doors that were ornately decorated with impossibly intricate carvings. Both doors were pushed wide open to take advantage of the natural light pouring in from the wall of windows that served as the backside of the house. They were never open like that...except when they had company. Her interest slightly more piqued than before, Tegan paused to look more closely into the Victorian-style room where her family did their social hosting.
Her parents were talking to a man and woman she did not recognize. The man was quite short, quite fat and quite bald. Tegan could not hear what he was saying, but all his mannerisms and sentences had a quick and impatient feel to them. A thin hook nose sprouted from his face just above a mouth that somehow seemed to sneer whether he was speaking or not. His full black business suit made him somewhat resembled an angry penguin. The woman seemed much more pleasant, with soft features and a kind, polite smile. She was standing slightly behind the man and was holding a stack of papers in her hands, but not saying anything. In fact, nobody was saying very much except for the grumpy penguin man, even when they all moved to the couches and her parents began signing the papers. Despite her curiosity about this strange meeting, Tegan was resolved to head upstairs to her secret spot. She had already lingered too long and ran the serious risk of being spotted by her mother. If she was discovered, she would be forced to stop and chat. She hated the 'stop and chat' especially with people she didn't know.
     Tegan quickly resumed her stairwell ascent, taking care not to trip over her own clumsy feet. She did not stop on the second floor where her room was, but instead climbed to the third floor where her sister was undoubtedly finishing the room preparations for the Singles group. With as much stealth as one can muster holding a plate of mini-sandwiches and a cup of sloshing tea, she crept down the hallway and found the door to the utility stairs. Balancing her cup of tea between sandwiches, Tegan pushed through the door and climbed the steep stairs to the attic.


Thank you so much to Dallas Coryell for sharing Melody's Key


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