The Shambles

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After being catapulted into the heart of a storm that shattered her short-term memory, will Lola Cash be able to retrace her steps to reveal who was the catalyst behind her devastating car accident?
First 10 Pages


A thunderous hailstorm was rolling in off the Yorkshire Moors, the erupting weather front causing swirling balls of ice to fire like darts in all directions, a squally wind making it look like the vulnerable city was trapped inside a shaken snow globe. The usual bustling streets soon became deserted as people dived for shelter, leaving behind only those seeking temporary refuge in shop doorways and hidden crevices. On the busiest night of the year so far, the piercing sound of sirens echoed through the main arterial passageways as the emergency services attempted to keep alive the city’s pumping heartbeat.

While brushing off the ice that had lodged in his hair on his way to work, Matron Matty Smith lingered outside the cumbersome double doors that led through to the intensive care unit at St Jude’s Hospital, York. He took a moment to compose his emotions, bracing himself to face his last ever month of working the graveyard shifts before officially retiring. With his head lowered, he closed his eyes and prayed that all the drunks would stay away from the treacherous, wintery roads, and that the hospital would be able to avoid declaring a critical incident, a situation that would see the capacity of the ICU pushed to its limits. With a weakness to his posture, Matty drew in a deep breath before lunging out his arms and pushing open the doors, revealing the solemn, internal workings of the specialised care unit.

In the exact same way that he had always done upon first entering, Matty looked up and scanned the room, digesting the initial state of the fragile unit. The very second that his eyes landed upon what had previously been an occupied bed, his heart sank. He noted how pieces of lifesaving equipment lay strewn and discarded on the floor around bed number two, and he could tell, without even having to touch them, that a slight warmth would still be clinging to the unoccupied, crumpled bedsheets. Matty didn’t need to seek any formal confirmation about what had happened in his absence, his instincts and experience told him that the loveable, long-standing patient in bed number two, Ivy Hope, had sadly passed away.

Remaining in the doorway, Matty’s lungs deflated and his frame collapsed like a puppet with severed strings. The familiar sound of medical alarms and bleeps failed to overshadow the fond memories of Ivy that swirled through his mind, a name he would never forget. His thoughts turned to Ivy’s husband, Melvyn, who he had come to know well over the course of the past few months, and Matty wondered if someone had already made the telephone call to update the next of kin about the death of his loved one, a grim task that no member of staff ever wanted to make.

With his ID badge secured onto his scrubs, Matty finally made his way across the ward. For each bed that he walked past, he took a mental register of all the familiar faces who were still receiving care. Due to the open windows, he was unable to block out the sound of an approaching ambulance siren, a sound that over the years he had come to dread. He became swamped by a nauseating feeling of apprehension, knowing deep down that it was only a matter of time before the empty bed on his ward would become occupied, and he questioned how many more people’s lives he could save before he needed to start fighting for his own. Pushing away his personal struggles, Matty hid his pained expression behind his face mask and dug deep to produce his professional façade.

‘Hi, everyone,’ he announced to his night-shift team, who had all congregated at the nursing station, awaiting the shift handover. ‘Without reading the notes, we can all see that bed number two has just become vacant,’ he began.

In unison, the team looked over to what was considered to be the jinxed bed, the bed that had earned itself a grim reputation.

Matty drew in another deep breath and forced out his mounting feelings of apprehension. ‘Forget about the superstition, and once it has been prepared for a new patient, let’s view that as a brand-new bed, a bed with no history, a bed with no tally,’ he declared, pointing towards bay number two. He glanced out of the window and observed the blizzard, which showed no signs of easing as thick flakes of snow came cascading from the sky. ‘With a bit of luck, we won’t get any major incoming traumas this close to Christmas,’ he added, taking another moment to watch the weather, knowing that the snow was settling on dangerous, frozen surfaces. ‘But there’s no better time to start believing in miracles.’ Matty read the shift handover, the letters RIP scribbled next to the name Ivy Hope along with her time of death. ‘I can see that Ivy’s husband, Melvyn, hasn’t been informed yet,’ he announced. ‘Can we make sure that her things are ready for collection, and I’ll make the call to her husband now?’

Once the team dispersed to commence their duties, only Matty and his fellow Matron remained at the nursing station.

‘Can I get you a brew before we start?’ asked Marie. ‘This might be our only chance tonight,’ she added. ‘The conditions out there tell me it’s going to be a busy shift,’ she concluded, indicating towards the window.

Without looking at her, Matty replied. ‘I’m fine, thanks, Marie, but you go and get one. I need to call Melvyn Hope before I do anything,’ he said, running his hands through his hair and arching himself back on his chair. ‘I was hoping to reach retirement without having to make another of these awful calls.’

‘Let me do it, I don’t mind,’ offered Marie.

Matty shook his head. ‘No, I feel like I need to make the call, but thanks for the offer.’

Marie admired the dotting of festive lights scattered across the bank of computers. ‘I can’t believe this will be my last Christmas working with you. How many have we done together over the years?’ she asked, placing a tender hand on his shoulder.

‘Too many to count,’ he replied, attempting to produce a smile.

‘It’s not going to be the same without you here,’ concluded Marie, before walking away.

Looking up to check that he was alone, Matty removed his ID badge and pulled free the card, exposing a small, personal photo that was hidden behind it. Cradling the sentimental picture in his hands and with an aching heart, he lowered his head and prayed for his very own Christmas miracle.


Wrapped up in a matching hat, coat and scarf set, Carrie Hobbs weaved her way through the bustling York crowds while the sound of Christmas bells echoed from the festive cathedral in the distance. The moment she became engulfed in the epicentre of outdoor, artisan market stalls, the warming aromas of indulgent treats made her stomach rumble.

With her hand resting on the bar, Carrie made eye contact. ‘Two large glasses of mulled wine, please,’ she placed her order the moment the waiter looked her way. Whilst soaking in the jovial atmosphere resonating through the market square, Carrie spotted a familiar face heading towards her, a hand waving with excitement in the distance.

‘You’re still glowing, you do know that, don’t you?’ smirked Carrie as Lola made her way through the crowd, the friends sharing a prolonged embrace before taking their drinks and sitting down at a vacant table. With the festoon lighting shining on her friend’s blushing face, Carrie came to a premature conclusion before the conversation had even gotten going.

‘I don’t even need to ask how the honeymoon went,’ she giggled, her eyebrows raised enough to crinkle her forehead.

‘My smile might give it away, but you can still go ahead and ask me,’ Lola began, placing her bag on the floor.

‘So, how was the honeymoon, my lovely Lola?’

Her eyes glistened. ‘Oh, thanks for asking, Bali was amazing,’ she grinned, brushing her copper-gold hair over her shoulder.

Carrie smirked. ‘Tell me everything,’ she requested, picking up her glass. ‘But before you do, can I just make a teeny-weeny toast?’

The ladies raised their steaming glasses.

‘To my beautiful best friend - here’s to the next chapter in your life as the wonderful Mrs Cash,’ she began, a depth of sincerity dripping from her words. ‘May your life always be filled with this kind of joy,’ she concluded, indicating towards Lola’s radiant smile. The friends clinked glasses and Carrie took a sip of her drink, failing to notice that Lola never raised her glass to her lips. ‘Although you’re going to have to bear with me on the whole change-of-name thing, because I’ve known you forever as Lola Jukes, so Lola Cash is going to take some getting used to.’

Lola reached out and grabbed Carrie’s hand. ‘I missed you while I was away.’

Carrie sniggered. ‘Behave. You were on your honeymoon, I really hope you didn’t miss me!’

‘I did, honestly! I must have talked about you every day, wondering if you were coping without me at work. I couldn’t actually remember the last time we spent such a long period of time apart.’

‘Probably primary school. Do you remember my dad insisted on taking me to the Isle of Man for a week, despite me saying I’d rather skip the holiday altogether and stay at yours instead?’ Carrie recalled with fondness.

‘I bought you this,’ said Lola, reaching for her bag and taking out a little pink matchbox-size gift. ‘For you.’

Carrie placed her hand over her mouth, trying to contain her emotions while taking hold of the present. ‘Ah, thanks,’ she replied, opening the package to reveal a keyring with the words Work Wife embossed in rose gold.

‘I may have married Parker, but you’ve been like the family I never had, and I just want you to know that, no matter what happens in life, I’ll always be here for you.’

Carrie stood up and leaned across the table, indicating for Lola to stand too so that she could give her another hug. ‘Thank you, my lovely Lola.’

The ladies sat back down.

‘Anyway, we’re not talking work tonight, that can wait until Monday morning. Tonight, it’s all about the honeymoon of yesterday, and the hangover that shall come tomorrow.’ Carrie took another extended sip of wine. ‘So, tell me everything.’

Lola leaned back on her chair and smiled with a sense of contentment. ‘It really was amazing. The place we stayed in was right on the beachfront, the resort itself hugged the coastline,’ she explained, gesturing with her hand the curvature of the bay, ‘but the views… Oh, the views!’ Lola beamed. ‘If I just close my eyes, I’m right back there. I can still feel the glow of the sun on my face and the way the ocean felt against my skin, warm and comforting.’

‘Okay, enough,’ mocked Carrie, holding up her hands. ‘I mean, how perfect is your life right now?’

For a moment, whilst there was a pause in conversation, the sound of the cathedral bells became more prominent, ringing out the sounds of Christmas.

‘My life hasn’t always been perfect,’ Lola sighed, recalling the time that Parker had cheated on her. ‘It hasn’t always been easy, you and your sofa know that more than anyone,’ she laughed, remembering the many months that she had spent staying at Carrie’s place across town. ‘He hurt me so much, and if you’d asked me back then, I would never have dreamt that we could have moved past it and gone on to get married.’

‘After everything that you and Parker have been through in the past ten-plus years, I think it’s only made your relationship stronger. He knows how lucky he is to have you after coming so close to losing everything. It’s just a shame that it took him acting like such an idiot to realise it,’ Carrie replied. ‘But look where you are now,’ she concluded, admiring the wedding band on Lola’s finger. ‘You’re now Mrs Cash, and happier than I’ve ever seen you before.’

Lola produced a grin that originated in the corner of her mouth but soon expanded, illuminating her entire face. ‘I have a little secret.’

Carrie immediately put her glass down and leaned in. ‘What is it? Tell me,’ she requested the moment Lola fell silent.

‘I’m pregnant,’ she announced.

‘Ah!’ Carrie screamed so loudly that everyone around her peered over. Lola pressed her finger to her lips.

‘Shush!’ she requested, a sense of embarrassment making her body sink down in the chair.

‘Does this mean I’m going to be an aunty?’

'Of course!’ replied Lola. ‘But it’s still really early, so please wait before you go out and start buying goodness-knows-what.’

‘And here’s me ordering us glasses of mulled wine when I should have been looking at the mocktail menu. I thought it was unusual that you weren’t keeping up with me.’

Lola laughed. ‘I would be pregnant at this time of year,’ she sighed, peering around at all the festive pop-up bars. ‘It seems busier than ever this year, don’t you think?’ she added, taking stock of the evening market crowds, queues two or three deep at every stall despite the wintery weather conditions. ‘I don’t know why we’ve never capitalised on the evening trade.’

‘Erm, there’ll be no work talk until Monday, remember?’ Carrie declared, waving her finger and tutting. ‘So, what did Parker say when you told him the big news?’

Lola hid her face behind her hands. ‘He doesn’t actually know yet,’ she revealed.

‘What? Why?’ Carrie looked puzzled.

‘We’ve just had an amazing honeymoon,’ Lola began to explain, casting her gaze to the floor. ‘And although I know that Parker wants to be a dad, I’m not sure it was his immediate intention.’ Lola’s initial glow at revealing the news subsided. ‘He’s been talking a lot lately about this next year and what he’d like to do, and children weren’t part of his plan. It’s a surprise pregnancy, not a planned one. I think the amount of Sangria that I drank in Bali made any form of contraception null and void.’

‘Listen,’ Carrie began, taking hold of Lola’s hand and pressing it with a firm touch. ‘Although Parker might be shocked at first, you know that he wants a family at some point, he’s told you that, and when he finds out the news, I’m sure he’s going to be thrilled.’ Carrie dipped her head to try and maintain eye contact with her best friend.

Lola wrapped her coat tightly around her body and an upturned expression appeared on her face, the chilly evening snap penetrating her warm, winter layers.

‘I know, you’re right. I’m just waiting for the right time to tell him. Maybe I’ll wrap Christmas paper around my stomach and present myself on Christmas morning,’ she mocked, running her hands through her wavy hair.

‘So,’ began Carrie, picking up her glass and indicating for Lola to do the same once again. ‘I want to make another toast. Here’s to special Christmas presents, and friendships that last a lifetime.’

Carrie downed her wine as Lola put her full glass back on the table.

‘Let’s go and celebrate with something we both love,’ Carrie suggested. ‘I’ve spotted a stall over there that has a chocolate fountain,’ she added, before getting up and reaching for her bag.

‘Thanks for always being there for me,’ Lola said as the pair began to navigate the crowds, linking arms. ‘Would you be a Godparent?’

Carrie paused, forcing the flow of the crowd to ebb around them. ‘I would love to!’ she replied, pulling Lola into a hug. ‘We may not be actual sisters, but you’ve always felt like family to me,’ she whispered into Lola’s ear before pulling herself away. ‘Now, let’s go and eat our own body weight in chocolate. I’ve felt hungry ever since I arrived.’