We love picking up a book and escaping into another world, and we know many of you loved our last short story from the Sunday Times bestselling author Veronica Henry. Veronica has written another fantastic story for us. Set in 1968, Juliet, Dickon, Octavia, Elspeth, Rory and Harry head to the beach for a birthday outing.
The problem with the twins, thought Juliet, as the Morris Minor bounced up onto the pavement, was they always had to have their own way. They had obviously been dreadfully spoiled, doted on by indulgent parents, and now both Dickon and Octavia expected everyone to do their bidding. Juliet was one of the few people immune to their charms, but even she hadn’t been able to resist the invitation to their family beach hut. It was their birthday, and six of them were heading down from Oxford to Devon, filled with end of term euphoria.
Dickon was waiting to lead the way in his Triumph, the roof down, the boot stuffed with lobster and champagne and cake. Juliet saw his latest conquest looking nervous as she got into the passenger seat. Elspeth wasn’t Dickon’s usual type. She was beautiful but painfully shy, a grammar schoolgirl a little overwhelmed by the glittery social circle she’d found herself in. Juliet thought she was far too nice to be mixed up with Dickon, who was very careless with his girlfriends. She resolved to keep an eye on her, maybe even have a quiet word if the right moment came along.
There were four of them following in the Morris. Juliet and her beau, Rory, who was the most amiable of teddy bears. And Octavia and her boyfriend Harry, stars of the tennis club. Harry was driving and was sensibly checking his tyres before they left, much to Dickon’s annoyance. Juliet bet he hadn’t even checked his oil and water. He left that kind of thing to other people.
Suddenly they were off, leaving still-sleeping Oxford behind them. It took over four hours to get to Devon, but it was worth the journey. The beach was glorious, edged with grassy dunes, and the sea stretched out in front of them, sapphire blue and sparkling. The twins’ beach hut was a glorified shed, but it had everything they needed for a day out. Even Juliet, who was never jealous, felt a twinge of envy at the simple joy of it.
‘Don’t tell anyone,’ whispered Elspeth to Juliet as she tried to pull on her swimming costume without revealing anything. ‘But I’ve never been to the seaside before. Mum never had any money for holidays. I wish I could bring her somewhere like this. Maybe I can one day, when I get a job.’
Bless her, thought Juliet. Elspeth was a poppet. Dickon was going to ruin her if they didn’t watch out.
‘The water’s bloody freezing,’ she said in reply, pulling a book out of her bag. ‘You won’t catch me going in.’
She watched Dickon streaking across the sand without bothering to wait for anyone. She watched Harry watch Elspeth as she finally emerged in her costume, pink-cheeked and self-conscious. Harry was clearly besotted. Octavia didn’t seem to notice. Like her brother, she was careless with her paramours, safe in the knowledge that someone better would always come along.
Juliet put on her sunglasses and watched them all head down the water. She loved observing. It was her favourite thing in the world. She wanted to be a writer, so it was part of the training. She lay back on the picnic rug spread out in front of the hut while everyone else charged into the waves. She wondered how today’s story would end. There would be drama. There always was.
Lunch was a feast and they all ate and drank far too much. The champagne put a sparkle in Elspeth’s eyes that made her even prettier. Harry couldn’t tear his gaze away. Dickon was being a buffoon. He pulled the string of Juliet’s bikini top and doubled up laughing. She just rolled her eyes and Elspeth rushed over and did it up for her, a look of disapproval on her face. Dickon was showing his true colours.
‘Remind me which birthday it is today,’ Juliet said to him. ‘Are you five, or six?’
He threw a champagne cork at her head in reply.
After lunch, they did a human pyramid in front of the beach hut. Dickon, Harry and Rory at the bottom, then Juliet and Octavia, and Elspeth, the lightest and most athletic, on the top. Dickon, the goon, ruined it by rearing up like a circus horse, and the pyramid collapsed. Elspeth fell down, down, down and landed awkwardly on her leg.
‘You’re a complete idiot.’ Juliet laid into Dickon, furious. ‘She might have broken something.’
‘I don’t think it’s broken.’ Harry had rushed to Elspeth’s side and was holding her foot like a piece of Meissen china. Elspeth looked green, a mixture of pain, champagne and too much sun.
‘I think you should take her to the hospital,’ Juliet murmured in Harry’s ear. ‘Dickon’s no use. She needs someone sensible to look after her.’
‘You’re right,’ said Harry, galvanised into taking charge. ‘Dickon, I’ll take Elspeth to the hospital in your car. You lot can go back to Oxford in mine.’
He did a swap of the car keys and lifted up Elspeth in his arms. Juliet watched in admiration as he carried her over the sand. Dickon was busy opening another bottle of champagne, unconcerned by Elspeth’s plight, kicking sand sulkily onto the picnic blanket because he wasn’t the centre of attention.
On the drive home, Dickon flumped onto the seat next to Juliet. He sat as close as he could, and before they’d even got up the steep hill out of Everdene, Juliet felt his hand on her thigh. This always happened. Dickon was well known for his chronic WHT. Wandering Hand Trouble.
‘Get knotted, Dickon,’ she drawled, poking him in the ribs with her elbow. Then she yawned and shut her eyes. She imagined Harry at the hospital with Elspeth, and hoped that the electricity she’d seen between them earlier had worked its magic. In her mind’s eye, she wrote them the perfect ending: a sunset kiss and a night in each other’s arms. Juliet smiled at herself. She’d be writing a bodice-ripper if she wasn’t careful, instead of the satirical social comedy she had her heart set on. There would be an embracing couple silhouetted against the setting sun, and her name emblazoned across the cover. Maybe it would make her a fortune. After all, who didn’t believe in happy ever after, deep down?
The car rumbled up the hill as darkness began to fall, leaving the sea and the beach hut and the rest of the story behind.
Read the other side of the story and find out what happens in A Day at the Beach Hut: eight short stories and fifty mouth-watering seaside recipes, out on 10 June 2021.
If you loved this short story, then you'll also love A Kitchen Summer by Veronica Henry too! Let us know your thought's in the comments below.