Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 21

Nicola had to climb on to the shoulder of the hill to get a usable signal for her mobile phone. Frowning, she glanced at the texts and e-mails pouring in. All work-related, she saw. Those could wait.

Then she blinked: for a career girl, that represented a major shift in values!

She pulled out the folded sheet of paper which held all the phone numbers she needed – the bank in Mallaig, the mainland suppliers, the Highland Council offices in Inverness and the HMRC tax centre for dealing with tax enquiries in the Highlands.

She dialled the first number. One by one, she went through the list, speaking, making appointments. An hour passed, until her mobile phone was down to its last squeak of power.

Dazed from sustained concentration, Nicola stumbled down the hillside. She saw a familiar figure waiting with a sheepdog at his heels.

“I saw you climbing the hill earlier,” Donald said. “I was starting to get concerned. What have you been doing up there?”

“Setting up my plan of attack,” she replied.

“You look exhausted. What plan of attack?”

“Going back to the mainland to meet everyone to whom Annie owes money. To let them know what I’m planning, and ask them to cut her and the centre a little slack.”

She stumbled on the heathery grass, and he caught her. His shoulder made a comfortable resting place for her head.

“I’m scared, Donald,” she said. “There are so many people here depending on me, and I’m still trying to find a course through the minefield.”

“If anyone can do it, you can,” he told her quietly.

His arms settled gently round her, and she drew on his strength.

“I didn’t really fall,” she confessed into his jersey. “I pretended to stumble.”

“That saved me from doing the same.” There was laughter in his voice. “I was just wondering how to make it look convincing.”

He eased her away a little and leaned down to kiss her face, then her lips.

“It’s normal to be scared before a battle,” he said. “Another ancient gene.”

She looked up into his smiling blue eyes and found herself smiling back.

“Donald,” she said.

“Call me Donnie. Everybody else does.”

“Fine. Donnie, shut up.”

“My thoughts exactly.” He leaned down to kiss her again.

A little later, she eased away.

“You’ll be there to see me off tomorrow?”

“I’ll come with you, if it would help.”

Nicola shook her head.

“Not this time,” she said.  “For this one, fighting for Annie, I’m on my own.”


*  *  *  *

It was years since she had last done this, Annie thought. It was like going back into childhood, almost. In the dusk of the gloaming and the quiet of her kitchen she struggled out of the deep armchair.

Drat those legs: they had gone to sleep on her. Steadying herself against the arm of the chair, she got down on her knees, wincing, because her right knee hadn’t yet healed completely.

No pain, no gain, she told herself.

The kitchen door opened and Sandy ambled in. He took one look at her crouched on the floor and rushed over to help.

“What’s happened now?” he demanded. “What are you doing down there?”

“Praying,” she said.

He frowned, puzzled.

“For what?”

“Praying that Nicola can put right all the things that I let go wrong,” she said, and the tears came.

His hands closed gently on her arms as he lifted her into the chair again.

“What about all the things you did right?” he asked, wiping away her tears with his hand. “What about all those women who right now are living and enjoying the lives you gave back to them?”

His hand was rough and callused, but its touch was gentle on her face.

She caught his hand and laid her face silently against it.

“Don’t you worry,” he told her. “That Nicola is just like you were when you came here – she’s a fighter. She doesn’t need anybody’s help.”

“We all need help at times,” Annie whispered.

Sandy stroked her hair with his free hand. Once again Annie’s sense of the ridiculous surfaced.

“You’re treating me like the dog!” she complained. “Just don’t scratch me behind the ears.”

Slowly, he drew his hand away.

“How long will she be gone?” he asked.

“Three days, Sandy. She’s catching the weekend ferry back.”

“Do you know what she’s going to do over there?”

“Not even a little bit,” Annie replied.

“Yet you trust her?”

“Implicitly. She’s our only hope.”

In the quiet of the kitchen, the ticking of the clock seemed loud.

Sandy cleared his throat.

“Maybe I’ll try a wee bit of praying myself tonight,” he said gruffly.

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!