Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 15

“Nicola, can you come in here for a minute? We’d like to speak to you.”
Nicola turned at the sound of her name being called.

Three greying heads peeped round the lounge door, with Pamela beckoning urgently. Ellen and Alice looked more uncertain, almost guilty.

“What’s up?” Nicola asked, slipping into the lounge as the door was closed quickly behind her.

“Shh,” Pamela said. “We don’t want Annie to hear.”

Nicola looked from one to the other.

“Hear what?” she asked.

She saw Ellen nudge Pamela forward.

“It’s a deputation,” the latter said. “We want to ask about your plans for the centre. You mustn’t close it. Annie and Donnie do so much good for people like us.”

Nicola struggled to drag her mind back from the Singing Sands and her day of showers and sunshine. She should have foreseen this and had her defences already marshalled.

Instead, the island had talked to her, and she’d gone walkabout. So the hard-nosed businesswoman was now caught on the back foot, not a position of which she had much experience.

“Let’s sit down,” she said, playing for time. “Exactly what do you want from me? I’ve been out all day at Alice’s Singing Sands.”

“Did you like them?” Alice asked eagerly.

“Absolutely stunning,” Nicola replied. “But what’s all this about?”

“We want to know what’s going to happen here,” Pamela said.

Truth, or bluster? Nicola opted for truth.

“I’m still not sure,” she answered finally.

“Are you going to close us down?” Ellen persisted.

“Can any business stay open if it’s not making enough money to cover its costs?” Nicola countered. “If it does, how does it pay for its supplies? Or meet its electricity bills? Or its council tax?”

Unhappy faces stared at her from across the lounge.

“But Annie seems to be doing all right,” Pamela remarked.

“Using what for money?” Nicola asked quietly. “Have any of you three paid her yet?”

Guilty looks, then heads shaken slowly.

“I can pay something on account,” Ellen said finally. “But I’ve been here on the island for much longer than I meant. I don’t know what the final bill will be. When I asked her, Annie said we’d sort it out when I was fit enough to leave.”

“Same here,” Alice said. “She told me not to worry; the bill wouldn’t be as big as I feared because it was mostly her and Donald’s time, and most of the food we were eating was grown or made on the island.”

“That’s true, in part,” Nicola said. “What she wasn’t telling you, though, is that most of the women who came before you are still paying up months – years – after they left. Meanwhile others took their place, and the bills kept mounting.”

Nicola sighed.

“Annie has been settling her bills against an overdraft secured by the house itself, and she has reached her limit. The bank refuses to honour any new cheques, which means that she can no longer pay her way.

“So there are bills outstanding all over the place – to mainland suppliers, to the local community grid for electricity, to the council for unpaid tax and even to HM Inspector of Taxes. Simply put, Annie’s in deep trouble.”

Alice covered her face.

“We never knew,” she whispered.

Pamela studied her nails.

“OK,” she said. “As of now, each of us will pay what she can. I can’t speak for the other two, but I will stay here and work for nothing until I have paid off the rest of what I owe and Annie is back on her feet again.”

“We all will,” Alice said fiercely. “Pay what we can – and work!”

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!