Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 26

She selected a sheet of forecasts from her business plan.

“You can see even here, where we double the number of women attending and regularise pricing and fees, we still only break even. It doesn’t matter – the centre is about helping people, not making a profit. People are more important than profit.”

He sighed.

“Yes, but it’s highly irregular. If it is not a business, nor a charity, then what is it? A one-person mission helping people in need? Laudable, but this is the real world. What she’s doing simply doesn’t fit into any known tax regulations.”

“My aunt doesn’t fit any standard format. She is all heart and kindness, with no head for business. Her failure to submit tax returns simply reflected the fact that she didn’t know where to start when your office sent her the first Self-Employment tax form.”

On instinct, she chose a button and pressed.

“I can’t blame her! The Self-Employment form is far more complex than any PAYE form – and its explanatory booklet, with respect, makes matters worse. It would take a trained accountant to explain it, and Annie couldn’t afford accountants.

“She was already in denial with her inability to keep accounts. Your Self-Employment tax package pushed her over the edge!”

Coughrin grimaced.

“Customs and Revenue spent a fortune to have that tax guide written in easy-access form.”

Nicola smiled to take the edge off her words.

“They spent it badly.”

There was a fleeting grin, gone so quickly she wondered if she’d imagined it, or if this grey tax inspector had a human side.

“Annie has never done anything without meaning well,” she persisted.

“The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Nicola nodded.

“Indeed. But these were not simply intentions; they were structured forms of help given to others.”

Coughrin stared at her, assessing her.

“Highly irregular,” he repeated. “As is your proposal – that I send an inspector over to the island, and you and he will work your way through such records as exist. Then you will stand guarantor for any tax sums due. You’re prepared to sign for that guarantee?”

“I am,” Nicola said. “Meanwhile, I’ll work to set up a proper accounting system and put the centre on a more formal footing.”

She held his gaze. Eye contact meant everything in business deals.

“Give us a little space, and I promise you that we will get it right in the end.”

A rueful smile spread over Coughrin’s face.

“You are the fourth person to tell me that this morning.”


*  *  *  *

The wind from the island blew Nicola’s hair into an untidy mess. She didn’t care: she was home.

Already over the smell of seaweed and the sea, she could sense the scent of the wildflowers which carpeted the shoreline and lower slopes of the hill.

Up on the quay, they were waiting for her with strained faces. She paused halfway down the gangway, and gave a thumbs-up. She saw Annie cover her face with her hands.

Trailing her travel case, she walked to meet them. Annie’s eyes were peeping through laced fingers and Sandy’s face was carved from stone.

Donnie’s face was guarded. Nicola noticed him relax as he stepped forward to throw his arms around her.

“You’re back,” he said.

“And, like you, I might never leave again,” she whispered into his ear.

She turned to Annie and saw that she was clutching Sandy’s hand.

“It’s OK,” she told them quietly. “We’ve won eighteen months of breathing space. But if we get it wrong . . .”

She saw Annie’s shoulders straighten.

“We won’t,” Annie said. “I am done with all mistakes. It’s time that somebody else took over the centre.”

Nicola pushed herself away from Donnie and hugged her aunt.

“You’re outvoted,” she said. “Even before I ask for a hand count! You are the centre. Without you, there is no centre. Whatever we do, win or lose, it will be built round you.”

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!