Find more from this author on:
About the author:
Kate lives in the UK with her husband, her son and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
What inspired you to write your book?
Time spent in Greece and on the beautiful and wild north Norfolk coast in England were the places that inspired the idea behind The Butterfly Storm.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The deep blue of the sea through the plane window made my stomach somersault. My legs tensed when the plane dipped into a descent and I saw the coastline spread out, glistening in the sun’s glare. I was dressed for a Greek summer in a new cream and blue short skirt, thin canvas shoes, a pale blue vest top and no make-up, only a brush of mascara on my eyelashes. I used my sunglasses, wedged on top of my head, to keep my hair out of my eyes.
My Greek phrase book was open in my lap; the words for hello, yes, no, how are you and I don’t understand, tumbled around my head, becoming increasingly muddled the closer we got to land. I pulled my seatbelt tight and tucked my book and magazine away. Resting my head back against the seat I watched Thessaloniki fill the oval window. Hazy mountains were the backdrop, their muted colours blending with the city in the early morning sunshine. We dipped lower, tarmac and parched grass, bright buildings and signs accelerating into view until we screeched onto the runway with a jolt.
Emerging from the plane the heat hit me, like the blast of hot air you get in winter when walking into a shop. Heat steamed off the tarmac. I was grateful to leave the sunshine behind and enter the cool building. Luggage endlessly circled in front of me. I didn’t want to move; I gripped the handle of my trolley tight.
Somewhere in here Alekos was waiting. I had one photo of him tucked inside my purse. His lips weren’t smiling but his eyes were, shaded from the sun by his hand. His hair was damp and short, his chest tanned and beaded with seawater. In his other hand he held an octopus that we had later cooked over coals, before burning our fingers and tongues eating it.
Sandwiched between a striking woman and beaming bronzed man at the arrivals gate was Alekos, exactly as I remembered him. Butterfly wings fluttered against my ribcage. He grinned and dimples punctured his rough cheeks. His hand shot up in a wave and the three of them stepped forward to greet me.
I was in Alekos’ arms, head buried in his neck, my lips tasting the salt on his skin, his lips kissing my forehead, my cheeks. If I was aware of his parents watching, I didn’t care.
Alekos pulled away from me. ‘Sophie, this is my mother, Despina and my father, Takis.’
Takis was a well-worn version of Alekos, as tall as him and lean. Despina was something else, vivid and memorable, her red top as loud as her. She grasped my hands and kissed me on both cheeks.
Takis stepped towards me and planted another two kisses on my cheeks. ‘Ti kanis?’ he asked loudly. ‘Kala?’
I replied with a nod, hoping a nod was the right thing to do.
There was no respite from the heat outside. It was mid July and the air smouldered. Alekos put his arm around my waist and I held onto him all the way to the car. I couldn’t stop looking at him or smiling. His skin was darker in the sunshine and mine was like white chocolate against him. Despina led the way with Takis manoeuvring a trolley with my bags on it through the car park. He turned round and smiled at us at least five times between arrivals and the car, while Despina talked constantly at us. I didn’t understand a word.
I stood with Despina as Takis and Alekos argued good-naturedly over how best to put my luggage in the boot. Despina kept clicking her tongue disapprovingly and commenting. She looked at me and flashed a red lip-sticked smile. She reached forward and touched my hair and nodded. ‘Parre poli oreo,’ she said.
I continued to smile.
‘Kokkino,’ she said, pointing to my hair, and then after realising I still didn’t understand, pointed towards her lips.
‘Red!’ I said, nodding.
The boot slammed shut and Alekos turned to us. ‘Let’s go.’
Expensive clothes shops lined Thessaloniki’s pavements and amongst them I glimpsed the familiar names of Accessorize, Virgin and to my disbelief good old Marks and Spencers as we beeped and swerved through packed streets. Sweat pooled into the small of my back and I felt a trickle slide down the side of my face. The car’s air conditioning was working flat out but that did nothing to combat the summer sun penetrating the back windscreen. Alekos held my hand. His thumb rhythmically rubbed up and down mine. The streets were a patchwork of shade with strips of sunlight fighting their way between the tall apartment blocks that made up the heart of the city.
Alekos leaned towards me as I gazed out of the window. He pointed to cream buildings overlooking a square filled with people with a glimpse of sea beyond. ‘The docks are over there,’ he gestured somewhere in front of us. He wrinkled his nose. ‘We’re not going that way.’ He squeezed my hand. ‘You okay?’
My other hand clutched the back of Takis’ seat. Every time we turned a corner, Alekos and I, belt-less in the back, fell against each other. I nodded.
‘You can shower at home, sleep if you want,’ he said. ‘Before everyone comes over.’
‘To eat. You’ll love it, we have a feast prepared.’
The apartments thinned out the further we got away from the centre. The traffic didn’t though and I gripped Takis’ seat tighter as cars, including ours veered erratically between lanes on the dual carriageway.
‘Thes nero, Sophie?’ Despina turned to me and asked. ‘Want water?’
‘Do you want a drink?’ Alekos said. ‘We can stop here.’
I shrugged. ‘I don’t mind.’
We screeched to a halt at the side of the road, double-parking alongside another car. Takis switched off the engine and the air conditioning stilled. The car rapidly became as effective as a night storage heater.
‘Psomi, kapoozi, nero ke Coca Cola!’ Despina shouted after Takis. He disappeared inside what looked like a grocers and reappeared seconds later beckoning to Alekos. I took my phrase book from my bag as Alekos got out and used it to fan myself.
‘Ehi zeste,’ Despina said, imitating me flapping the pages of my book with her hand.
I felt sweat snaking down the centre of my back. I sat upright away from the seat and stayed very still. Takis appeared from the shadows of the shop with a blue carrier bag, while Alekos carried a watermelon in both arms.
‘Like kapoozi?’ Despina asked.
I took kapoozi to mean watermelon and nodded. ‘Yes. Ne,’ I answered, correcting myself.
She beamed at me as Takis started the engine and Alekos struggled onto the back seat.
For the rest of the journey I sat with my head resting on Alekos’ shoulder, my hand on top of the kapoozi between us and let their rapid words wash over me. Maybe I would soak up the language like a sponge. I wanted to do more than just nod and smile but I was content for the time being to simply head to my new home.
Alekos nudged me awake from where I dozed, rocking against his shoulder, my arm still encircling the cool, green skin of the kapoozi.
‘Home,’ he whispered.
‘I didn’t mean to fall asleep,’ I said, rubbing my eyes. The glare from the sun distorted my view. All I could see of my new home was a silhouette. The car slowed between open gates and we crunched through gravel. Takis parked neatly in the shadow of the restaurant next to two other cars.
‘What you think?’ Alekos asked. I scrambled out of the car after him. I shaded my eyes with my hand and savoured the elegance of the building with its arched windows, red-tiled roof and pale, caramel-stained walls.
‘I had no idea it was this beautiful,’ I said.
Alekos grinned and hooked his arm around my waist, pulling me towards him until I was pressed against his chest. ‘Are you happy?’
‘Happy doesn’t even come close,’ I said. His eyebrows scrunched in confusion. I kissed him. ‘I’m so happy I met you.’
He’d changed me. He’d made me question what I wanted, what life meant. He had dragged me out of the 9-5 rut. There was no normality about this place. Estiatorio o Kipos the sign above the restaurant entrance read. Alekos said it meant The Garden Restaurant. To me it meant a new life.
Takis dragged my luggage from the boot. Despina had disappeared inside and I heard her calling to someone. Alekos smiled and beckoned me towards the garden and sunshine.
Beyond the terrace there was a bar with the same red roof and warm-coloured walls as the restaurant. Olive trees lined the far edge of the garden, their intricately woven branches shading the seating below. I imagined couples getting cosy beneath the trees once darkness descended. The garden’s centrepiece was a fountain encircled by a wooden bench. The place was so quiet I could hear the trickle of water.
I’d swapped housemates for Alekos and his family, a flat above a Bristol off-licence for a bedroom above a first-class restaurant, a kitchen windowsill of ailing spider plants for a garden the size of a football pitch, and noise and traffic for fields that merged with the sky.
‘Aleko, pes tin Sophie gia tin dulia,’ Despina called from the restaurant steps.
‘Ochi tora, Mama.’
I looked at him. ‘What is it?’
‘Go on, tell me.’
He shrugged and pointed. ‘See the bar?’
‘That’s where you going to work.’
‘I’m going to what?’
‘It’s decided. You will not have to find a job. Mama thought it be easy for you.’
‘I don’t know enough Greek – any Greek yet.’ My heart thudded loudly in my ears.
‘Don’t worry, you won’t be alone.’
He caught my hand in his. I stared across the garden, trying to imagine myself behind the wooden bar, taking orders, pouring drinks, talking Greek and looking out on a patio of strange faces.
‘Here is very different to England. We have waiter service, there won’t be no one at the bar,’ he said softly. He turned my face towards his. ‘I said too much. I don’t want to worry you.’
‘I’m not. It’s a lot to take in.’ I pulled away from him. I could feel the nerves I’d been battling against building in my stomach. I took a deep breath. ‘I was going to sort myself out.’
‘I know. I told Mama…’
‘Sophie!’ Despina’s voice pierced the air.
A shorter, darker and younger version of Despina appeared next to her on the steps with a baby clamped to her hip. She clattered towards us, her free hand held open. She planted kisses on my cheeks.
‘I’m Lena, Alekos’s sister,’ she said. ‘This is Yannis, my…’ She turned to Alekos. ‘Pos lene yios?’
‘He’s gorgeous,’ I said.
‘Christo? Eleni?’ Despina shouted into the shadowy restaurant. ‘Ela edho!’
I held Alekos tighter. ‘My aunt and uncle,’ he said. ‘They came early to finish making food. Everyone wants to meet you.’
Takis’ rough hand squeezed my shoulder. ‘Endaksi, Sophia?’ he asked.
I nodded and realised I understood something. I was okay.
I lost count of how many times I was kissed before we got inside, and even then I was bombarded with questions, which were interpreted by Alekos, and made to try all sorts of food before Despina ushered me upstairs for a well-needed shower and a moments quiet to adjust.
I washed away the grime of travel. Wrapped in a towel, I stuck my head out of the bathroom door before nipping across the empty hallway. The air-conditioning was on in our bedroom. Our bedroom. It sounded so strange, yet the thought made me smile. I bounced across the room, my smile breaking into laughter I couldn’t contain. My wet hair slapped against my shoulders and water trickled down my back. I dropped the towel on the floor where I stood and let the cool air caress my bare skin. The balcony windows were wide, the curtains open, but I didn’t care. The sky was hazy and the bright white paintwork of the balcony shimmered. The bedroom door scraped open and then closed with a click. Alekos whistled under his breath. His warm hands on my skin replaced cool air, one hand on my stomach, the other sliding between my breasts. He nuzzled my neck, his stubble rubbing, scratching, his lips tickling, kissing.
‘I like you living here very much,’ he said. His hands smoothed across my skin. He pressed into me. His belt buckle dug into the small of my back.
‘There are no neighbours,’ I said.
‘No. But they fruit pick. They see you.’
We made love on our bed, in our room. It was like the first time again, discovering each other; the weight of his body on top, the tautness of his muscles and the warmth of him inside me as we moved slowly and silently together. He was my second skin and I wanted to know every part of him. He left me sleeping and I woke up alone. I heard him downstairs, confidently talking in Greek, an Alekos I would grow to know. I wasn’t sure how long I’d slept for, but I felt refreshed, lying naked on top of the sheets. The sun had moved across the sky, stretching a block of sunshine further across the wall of the room. Slowly, I pulled myself onto my elbows. The early haziness had dispersed and for the first time I saw Mount Olympus, clear and magnificent.