Here's the blurb:
Cass is building a new life for herself and her young son after the loss of her soldier husband. But their idyllic new home is not what she expected: the other flats are all empty, there’s sinister graffiti on the walls, and the villagers are a little strange. When a heavy snowstorm maroons the village, things become even harder.
The cold season has begun. . .
Cass was engrossed in her work when she heard knocking, so involved that she wasn’t sure she’d heard anything at all. She raised her head, waiting; then the sound came again and Cass got up, wondering if she was about to meet her mysterious neighbor at last. She went to the door, remembered at the last moment that she was alone in a new place, and looked through the peephole to see a male figure in a dark coat. She only had time to register that his shoulders were flecked with snow when he knocked again, almost as if he knew she was standing there. She reached out automatically and pulled the door open.
It was Mr. Remick. Cass blinked at him. Ben. “Is there a problem?” she blurted. She must have gotten the days mixed up—Sally had meant she’d take Ben tomorrow, not today, and Cass should have picked him up from school after all. But if that was the case, where was he? She peered around Mr. Remick, half expecting to see Ben standing behind him, lost and unhappy because his mother hadn’t come to fetch him.
Instead she saw that Mr. Remick had something under his arm. “No problem,” he said. “I just thought . . . Well, you only just moved in, and Sally mentioned Ben was going to their house after school, so . . .”
Was he blushing? His words tailed away and he held out the thing he had been carrying. Cass blinked at it. It was a loaf of bread. “I thought you might be lonely. I also know what it’s like around here when the snow starts to fall—fresh bread’s the new currency.”
Cass took it. “That’s so thoughtful of you. Thank you.” She led the way into the kitchen. “You must have been quick. I tried the shop this morning; I was beginning to think we’d be living on cans of Spam.”
“It’s a survival situation, all right. Although, truth be told, I wasn’t that quick. Mrs. Bentley at the shop has a soft spot for me, I think. She keeps things back for her special customers.”
“Lucky you.” Cass laughed. It made her feel lighter, just talking and laughing. It was almost like being back at Aldershot, sur- rounded by her friends, friends who weren’t yet afraid of being tainted by her loss.
“I don’t know about that. I’m a bit worried about what she wants in return.” He laughed too, his blue eyes flashing, and Cass had a sudden image of the surly Mrs. Bentley pursing up her tight thin lips and closing her eyes.
She found herself suppressing a grin. “Coffee?” “If it’s not rationed.”
“I think I can manage.”
“I need one after today. Those kids . . . so much energy.”
“I thought that was a nice touch this morning.” Cass remembered the way he’d donated his scarf to Ben’s snowman. He wasn’t wearing it now and she wondered if it was still there, soaked through and freezing in the playing field.
“Purely selfish.” He sipped his coffee. “It’s a good way of getting to know the kids. And for the new ones to settle in, of course.” His smile faded. “Actually, I wonder if I might ask you something.”
“What is it?”
He sighed. “I’m a little concerned. It’s probably nothing, but . . . Well, you noticed we’ve been doing a lot of fun activities with the kids. It’s only fair when half their classmates are out sledding. We had an art session today.” He took something from the inside pocket of his jacket, a piece of paper.
As he unfolded it Cass saw colored scribbles, primary colors: sun- shine yellow, blue, red. Something inside her froze. Was he saying Ben had a problem? The picture looked bright and colorful. She’d heard that unhappy kids, depressed kids, drew everything in black.
Mr. Remick held the picture out. “It’s probably nothing,” he started, but Cass wasn’t listening anymore. The main color was yellow. It was the desert, stretching on and on. In the foreground was a soldier with sandy hair and a sandy uniform. His face was scribbled out. Cass could see where the pencil had punched and ripped its way through the paper. A black pencil.
One of the figure’s limbs was bent backward, a broken, puppet thing. Red spray spouted from his chest. The ground, though, was littered with specks of brilliant blue.
Cass closed her eyes and remembered the stones Pete had held out to her in her dream. The ones that fell to the ground and disappeared. She reached out and touched the edge of the paper, but she didn’t take it from Mr. Remick’s hands. So angry, she thought. She’d never suspected her son was so angry.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I thought you’d have seen similar things before. Obviously not.”
Cass shook her head, sucked in a deep breath. “He lost his father.” It was the first time she’d managed those words without her voice breaking. “He was in Afghanistan.”
Cass’s lips formed the word No, but she didn’t speak.
Blue stones. A yellow sky, the same color as the earth. And red, all that red.
“Well, there’s no wonder in that case. Expressing his feelings in some way is probably good for him under the circumstances.”
Cass nodded, remembering the way Ben had sat in front of his video game the last time he’d tried to play, letting the controller slide from his hands. It had once been his favorite, but really that had been because of Pete.
He might simply have drawn something he’d seen on the screen.
Cass wondered what her son was doing now. He’d gone to play Damon’s video games, hadn’t he? She bit her lip, and felt Mr. Remick’s hand gently resting on her arm.
“He’ll be fine. He’s a great kid, a credit to you. He’s finding his feet already.”
She turned, and found Mr. Remick’s face inches from her own, his eyes full of concern. She drew back. She hadn’t sensed he was so close.
He straightened up and Cass found herself wanting to apologize. She bit her lip instead. She didn’t trust herself to say anything. It was my loss too, she thought.
As if he could read her, Mr. Remick said, “You’ll both be fine. It’ll be like you belong here in no time.”
“Hoarding bread, building a bunker, burying cans . . .”
She flashed him a startled look and they both burst into laughter. Cass’s lasted longer than Mr. Remick’s. She felt that lightness again, something lifting from her shoulders.
“I’d better go,” he said.
“You could stay for something to eat, if you like.” Cass glanced at the clock. How had it gotten so late so quickly? “I could do . . .” She paused.
“Toast?” He smiled, glanced at the loaf of bread.
“I think I can rustle up something better than that.” “Really, I’d better get back. I have essays to mark.”
When Cass walked him out and closed the door behind him, the apartment felt too quiet. She stared around at the hallway. There were still boxes waiting to be unpacked, pushed under the stairs. Her eyes fell on the telephone that was fixed to the wall.
It was an intercom—visitors would call her apartment from the main doorway, and she would press a button to let them in. She frowned. Mr. Remick had come straight to her door—she hadn’t thought anything of it until now, but how had he done that She remembered the door down the hall with the papers pushed underneath. Maybe whoever lived there had let him in. Mr. Remick was new in Darnshaw, wasn’t he? There was no way he could have the code—unless he’d come and looked around the mill himself, considered moving here before finding somewhere else. The code was 1234Z, which wasn’t difficult to remember.
Still, she wished she’d asked him if he knew who was living down the hall. And how long he’d been in Darnshaw, exactly, to be Mrs. Bentley’s special customer, even to know her name. Cass found herself wishing she’d asked him lots of things.
It was a shame he’d had to go so soon. Time had passed more quickly when Mr. Remick was there. Now she was alone, and with no Ben filling the place with noise, it was too quiet in Foxdene Mill. Cass remembered the empty windows in the apartment below hers and shivered. It was a pity more people hadn’t moved in. Mr. Remick might even have been a neighbor. She had a sudden picture of him climbing in through an empty window frame down- stairs and smiled.
Cass went to her own window and saw the snow drifting silently down, smothering everything. The light was failing and the hilltops appeared paler than the sky. She felt anxious about Ben. He would have to walk back later, through the dark and the snow. Still, with a friend he’d enjoy it, kicking a new trail and throwing snowballs all the way.
She unpacked the last of their boxes, crushed them and sat looking at the pile of cardboard. It was good to have that finished—the place felt more like a home—but it also meant that she was staying. Before, she had been half settled in, half ready to walk out of the door again. She thought about the people she’d met: Mrs. Bentley, with her surly glare, slamming Cass’s shopping down on the counter. Loud, brassy Sally—and Mr. Remick. When she thought of him he was smiling, and his blue eyes looked directly into her own. He saw into people, she thought. She imagined reaching out a hand and touching the teacher’s slightly hollowed cheek, the stubble under her fingers. Him wrapping those arms, thin but sure, around her.
She pushed the thought away, remembered Pete. Her husband had been taller, stronger, nothing like Mr. Remick, and yet she thought that she could find the teacher attractive. Mostly it was in the way he looked at her, those clear, appraising eyes.
Cass glanced at the clock. It was past six. Sally hadn’t said how long they’d be, and she hadn’t thought to ask. We’ll call when we’re setting off. Hadn’t she said that? At least Cass knew where she lived. It was lucky they’d picked her up on the moor. She wondered if Ben would come home complaining about her smell again, and tried not to smile.
He’d be enjoying himself; they all would, Sally and Damon and
Cass noticed that Mr. Remick had left Ben’s drawing on the sofa. She picked it up, straightened it out, and ran a finger over the paper where his pencil had punched through. She imagined his face while he was doing it, his head bent over the page, his eyes fixed in a glare while he scribbled, over and over, and then taking the most brilliant blue he could find and adding those stones, if that was what they were, across the yellow sand. She frowned, wondering what had made him think of it.
Cass looked at the clock again, wishing her son would come home. The night grew darker, the snow kept falling, and still Sally didn’t call. Cass sat back on the sofa and closed her eyes, letting the picture fall to her side.