Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 01

 A cold wind whipped in from the Sound of Sleat across Mallaig harbour and its pier heads.

Nicola stepped round a young brown herring gull, wandering among travellers’ feet in its search for food, and followed the gangway up into the warmth of the CalMac ferry.

After a day of travelling north by plane and train, then a sleepless night in a B&B, she was exhausted.

Following the other passengers, she came into a lounge area which smelled of yesterday’s fried food. She grimaced.

This trip was a mistake. The odd letter from her aunt had arrived at a bad time in her life, and she had made a snap decision when she could barely think for anger.

Nicola found a seat as the ferry eased away from the pier. She peered through the salt-encrusted window to watch the harbour and town slide past.

She noted there were whitecaps on the waves and felt the boat begin to rise and fall. Why couldn’t the island be reached by plane or helicopter? No-one travelled by boat these days, unless on cruises!

To take her mind off the trip ahead, she tried to recall what she knew of her aunt. It wasn’t much. From what her late father had said, his wild younger sister, Annie, had gone off to support the Flower Power movement and become a hippy.

By a twist of fate she fell in love with a fellow hippy who turned out to be a medical student taking a year out from his studies. He returned to qualify as a doctor; they married and took over a doctor’s practice in the Small Isles.

After that, they dropped off the family radar, never attending celebrations and scarcely sending a card at Christmas. The doctor died in early middle age, his funeral over before anyone heard or could attend.

After that there had been total silence from Annie. Until now, when a letter had arrived for Nicola which was clearly a cry for help.

Why Nicola? Why now?

The ferry was rolling more heavily. A passenger walked past carrying a plate of bacon rolls and Nicola’s stomach lurched. She sprang to her feet and headed for fresh air.

She found a corner niche on deck, half-sheltered from the wind. Even here, stray blasts of wind sent her long dark hair streaming out. No wonder the old Highland women wore shawls.

She wedged herself more deeply into the corner, feeling the pangs of self-pity.

Why was she saddling herself with someone else’s problems, when she had enough of her own?

After years of being someone that bosses in the City had fought to have on their teams for her intuitive insight and brains, there had come a point where promotion after promotion had left those same bosses looking uneasily over their shoulders at her.

Then came the day when she was passed over for a male colleague who talked a better game than he ever produced. A safe promotion. Like many bright women before her, Nicola had hit the glass ceiling.

In her fury she wrote out her resignation. Then she paused.

“Don’t get angry, get even.”

There would be other chances, maybe, and until then she could climb through that ceiling and watch that colleague be shown up for what he was!

The ferry began to pitch as well as roll. They were coming out from under what little shelter the Isle of Skye had given them into more open water. She could hear the boom of the waves and feel the shudder as they hit the side of the ship.

In London, as Nicola brooded, the letter had arrived from this aunt she’d never met. On impulse – rare for her – she had agreed to travel north.

She told her boss that she was taking an overdue holiday to visit a sick relative. A fib: the letter was only an escape route she could use to take time out while she considered what to do next in her career.

But first she had to survive this trip!

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!