Sun, Sea and Spotted Squid by Kristian Parker
General Release Date: 13th July 2021
Word Count: 33,523
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
University graduate Sam is looking forward to a summer internship at Valencia’s world-famous Oceanogràfic Aquarium, but it’s fellow intern and flatmate Wolf who captures his interest.
Tall, handsome redhead Wolfgang is also aloof, and Sam burns to know what makes him tick. Being paired with him on a project has Sam imagining them spending their days out on the ocean in the aquarium’s boat, but Wolfgang only has eyes for the rare spotted squid they’re assigned to study. Charming.
But Sam won’t take second place to a cephalopod mollusc, even one with spots. He sets his sights on cracking Wolfgang’s shell…only to discover the sexy German is so far in the closet that his address could be Narnia House, Narnia Street, Narnia.
Can Sam help Wolfgang find the strength to be true to himself and his desires, or will their relationship be like the squid they’re seeking and plummet to the depths of the seabed when summer’s over?
France lay below like the skin of a huge beast, veins interlocking across it, but if I really squinted, they became roads with little cars and lorries zooming along them. From the first time I’d been on an aeroplane as a kid, I’d loved to stare out of the window at the world below. All those lives being played out beneath me sent my imagination rolling.
“And what is it you’re doing in Spain?” asked Mrs Talkative, my seat neighbour who was oblivious to my turned shoulder.
“I’m going to be working at the Oceanogràfic,” I replied, cursing myself again that I had left my headphones at the bottom of my bag, out of reach.
“Oh yes, I know what that is,” she said, holding up a guidebook as evidence. “That’s the aquarium near the beach.”
I nodded and gave her a weak smile.
“I’m surprised that your mother is letting you come out here for the summer,” she continued.
I had just turned twenty-five, so my mother didn’t really have much of a say in what I did. She had cried buckets at the departure lounge, of course. I had tried to explain to her that I had been away from her longer than eight weeks when I’d lived at uni, but nothing had stopped the waterworks.
“She just wants me to be happy,” I told Mrs Talkative.
“She sounds like a wonderful mother.” She popped her mini bottle of prosecco with a shriek of glee and poured herself a glass. “Bottoms up. Here’s to happy holidays.”
I took a healthy swig of my beer while she sipped her fizz as though she had never done anything so wild in her life.
* * * *
Two hours later and I found myself in the back of a taxi to take me to the rooms in the old town that the aquarium had arranged. I had managed to lose Mrs Talkative at the baggage carousel—otherwise, I think she would have insisted on coming and checking out my room. I half suspected her to be a sleeper agent dispatched by my mother to keep watch.
The view from the taxi seemed like any other European city. Huge furniture shops gave way to bigger supermarkets which gave way to vast warehouses. Even so, I had my nose glued to the window while I took in the city that would be my home for the next eight weeks.
As we came closer to the centre, the modern buildings slowly changed to older, more dusty ones. People on the street replaced the hard shoulder. Young people crowded around a motorcycle. Three women gossiped on the corner. A group of men were making their way into a bar. And I couldn’t wait to dive into it.
I had been to Spain before, but my family preferred an all-inclusive hotel to a city break. I had wanted a new experience…and I’d got one.
“There is a kite festival soon as well,” said the taxi driver, who had taken it upon himself to give me a running commentary.
I’ll be here for the whole summer. I can go to that festival and I’m not even bothered about kites.
The car turned onto a busy road and to my left were treetops on a level with the car.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Ah,” said the driver, puffing up his chest. “That is the Turia Riverbed Park. The jewel in our crown. Down below the road, where the river once flowed, lies a beautiful park.”
I frowned. “What happened to the river?”
“Years ago, they were sick of the flooding, so they simply rerouted the river. They made that park from land. My grandfather worked on it, you know.”
I hadn’t been too great at doing my research into the place—after studying hard for my Master’s, I’d struggled to find motivation to pick up yet another book. But I had read online that the park led to the Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciències which held the aquarium I would be working in.
“Is the aquarium there?” I asked.
“Ah yes, so many buildings down towards the sea.”
I craned my neck behind to see if I could see the huge buildings I’d studied on the internet, but couldn’t see anything.
“You won’t see it like that. You want me to detour?” the driver-turned-tour-guide offered.
As tempting as it was, I declined. I wanted to find my digs and my fellow workmates.
I had never been the type who had wanderlust. I had been happy to wave my school friends off when they went to find themselves in far-flung places. I’d settled on finishing my studies. I’d had plenty of fun on the way too, so I didn’t feel too sorry for myself. But today made up for all that lost excitement, especially now we were on the cobbled streets of the old town. I peered out of the windows, trying to get my bearings. People were on both sides of the narrow street, jumping onto the pavement as we drove past.
Eventually we stopped outside a nondescript bar with a couple of people outside smoking. The sign seemed to be half hanging off and the rusty yellowy-white furniture in front of it had seen better days.
“We’re here,” announced the taxi driver.
“We are?” I echoed, my stomach sinking.
I rustled in my bag to get out my letter from the aquarium and checked the address. We were here. Perhaps it would be better inside. The letter said to use the door to the left of the bar.
Standing in the street once I’d paid the driver, I looked up at the grimy windows. The smokers outside the bar watched me with interest. Putting on the best confident face in my repertoire, I picked up my spectacularly heavy suitcase and made my way through the door and up the filthy staircase that greeted me.
By the time I reached the top, I had to lean against the wall. I regretted packing nearly every item of clothing I owned. I had agonised over the outfit to wear today, but first impressions counted, so I’d settled on jeans and polo shirt, tight to show off my slim waist. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror at the top of the stairs—my dark curls had gone a bit frizzy, but other than that, I didn’t look too bad.
A stunningly beautiful girl appeared out of one of the doors.
“Hola,” she said, staring me up and down.
“Hi. I’m Sam Davis.”
“Ah, typical Brit. Doesn’t know the language and expects us all to know his,” she said with a smirk.
“Hola. Encantado de conocerte. Soy Sam Davis.”
She had the decency to give a little embarrassed laugh. “Silly me. I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, should I? I’m Astrid Ström.”
We stood there staring at each other for a second before she realised she had barred my way.
“Come in,” she said.
I followed her down the corridor. To my horror, my feet were sticking to a carpet which clearly hadn’t seen a decent vacuum cleaner in decades.
A door on my left lay open. Inside, another girl was busying herself hanging up clothes.
“Maria, this is Sam,” Astrid called.
Maria stopped pulling clothes out of her suitcase long enough to give me a wave.
We carried on to the end of the passage, which had three more doors. Before I could ask about the winding staircase next to the third door, which must lead to another floor, Astrid pointed to the door on the left that had a poster of a rock band called Satan’s Flesh peeling off it. “That’s Genevieve and Paul’s room. They are in there doing things that couples do.” She giggled.
The overwhelming smell of old fried food had started to make my eyes water. I couldn’t work out if it came from one of the rooms or from downstairs.
Astrid seemed to be taking charge of everyone. How had they managed to form a tight group already? I hated being the last to turn up anywhere. I would much rather be the first and let things build around me, but I couldn’t do anything about it now.
Astrid pushed open the middle door to reveal the smallest kitchen I had ever seen. A gas cooker covered in stains and a tiny larder fridge told me I would probably be eating out a lot of the summer. The smell doubled in here. I knew I shouldn’t turn my nose up, but this had not been what I had imagined when I’d heard I would be living in Valencia’s famous old town area.
Behind the final door, she showed me a matching tiny bathroom. “I’ve given it a good clean,” she said. I clearly hadn’t hidden my first impressions. My friends always said I would be a useless poker player.
“Thank you,” I said.
That meant my room must be up the steep stairs I had glimpsed.
“We thought we’d go out for something to eat. See you in an hour?”
With that, she set off down the corridor to her room before stopping halfway. “Oh, choose whichever of the two rooms upstairs you like. The final member of our little group doesn’t arrive until later.”
I took a deep breath and half carried, half dragged my case up the stairs. It caught on a piece of the peeling wallpaper and managed to rip it off, sending some plaster scattering onto the threadbare carpet. At the top lay a small landing with three doors.
I peeped through one into the room it led to. It had to have been a storeroom at some point—the proportions were tiny. So much for attics having the biggest rooms. A quick peek through the middle door revealed a shower room. I opted for the final door.
I pushed it open and discovered what would be my home for the next eight weeks.
A lumpy bed sat against one wall with a black lacquer bedside cabinet to the side. A wobbly looking desk and wardrobe completed the furnishings. This is just a place to sleep. You’ll be out most of the time.
I plonked myself down on the bed and took a minute. I had made it to Spain. The view from the window showed the rooftops of the town stretching ahead to the cathedral in the distance. It reminded me of when I’d first arrived at the halls of residence at university. Some people had been nervous, but I couldn’t wait to get going and find out what adventure I had signed up for.
I took a picture of the view and sent it to my Mum.
Greetings from España. It’s lovely here. Can’t wait to get started.
It wouldn’t be a good move to show her my room. She would go mad. My case sat in the corner—I should probably unpack. But I had all the time in the world. Instead, I sat up on the windowsill and watched all the people coming and going. A bit of peace felt great.
An hour later, I ventured down to the kitchen. I hadn’t braved a shower—something told me that would need all my strength. Instead, I’d washed in the sink and changed my clothes, discovering that the bathroom was for my room and the other bedroom, meaning I’d have to remember to lock both doors when I used it.
In the kitchen I found a couple feeding each other pieces of ham.
“Bonjour,” said the girl when she saw me come in.
“Bonjour,” I replied.
“This is our Brit, then,” said the man. “I am Paul and this is Genevieve.”
We put our hands in our pockets and kind of stared at each other awkwardly. “Where shall we eat?” asked Paul, breaking the stalemate, much to my relief.
“Oh, we have to have paella,” said a voice behind me. Astrid beamed away at us. “We are in the birthplace of it, after all.”
“Do you like paella?” Paul asked me.
“I love it. I do eat more than egg and chips, you know,” I said. “In fact, I make a mean paella myself…but probably not in this kitchen.”
They all laughed. Always a good sign.
“Paul has been reading about the best paella place in Valencia,” said Genevieve, staring adoringly at him. “It’s only a few streets away.”
“That’s settled then,” said Astrid.
“Ready,” said Maria over Astrid’s shoulder.
Our merry little band were all together for the first time. “Time for a selfie,” I said. Everyone got in for the picture.
“We will have to do one when the other guy comes,” said Maria.
I’d almost forgotten about the missing member. “What’s his name?”
“Wolfgang,” said Astrid. “I saw it on the email.”
Wolfgang? That sounded butch. What would he be like? I’d find out soon enough.
About the Author
I have written for as long as I could write. In fact, before, when I would dictate to my auntie. I love to read, and I love to create worlds and characters.
I live in the English countryside. When I’m not writing, I like to get out there and think through the next scenario I’m going to throw my characters into.
Inspiration can be found anywhere, on a train, in a restaurant or in an office. I am always in search of the next character to find love in one of my stories. In a world of apps and online dating, it is important to remember love can be found when you least expect it.
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