Isle Of Second Chances – Episode 07

She saw the tall figure waiting quietly for her, dressed in a rough tweed jacket thrown over ancient jeans. Donald Macleod’s working gear, she guessed, whatever work he did.

How much had he taken from her aunt in wages – both he and Sandy? Even when the piggy-bank was empty they, like the piper, had to be paid, leaving Nicola alone to rescue an aunt she barely knew but already liked.

The thought surprised her, but it was true. It was impossible not to like Annie, to sense the goodness, compassion and willingness to help others which surrounded her like a cloud. All heart, with no business sense, but lovable.

“Good morning,” Nicola said as she approached him.

There was a collie dog at his heels. It made to dart towards her, but the islander flicked a finger and thumb and it subsided, bright eyes fixed on her as if she was the latest sheep it had to round up at its master’s command.

The thought annoyed Nicola and she frowned.

“A lovely morning.” She forced herself to be pleasant.

“Indeed,” Donald said. “I saw you pass earlier. Came out to meet you. I see you have your trainers on today.”

That same suspicious crinkle appeared at the corner of his eyes. He was laughing at her, she thought.

Silently, she brought up her guard, the defences she used daily in the battle to survive in business as a woman.

He must have seen her face tighten.

“Can I walk with you a little, Ms Stephenson?”

“Why so formal? Nicola, please.”

He nodded and began to walk ahead. Nicola shook her head and jogged upside. He glanced down.

“You are crucial to the future of this place, to Annie’s peace of mind. Forgive me, but I have been studying you, assessing.”

The cheek of the man!

“And what conclusion did you arrive at?” Nicola asked coldly.

“As yet, none. You appear to me to be a driven woman. That begs the question: what is driving you – and why? And why so defensive, so quick to strike back?

“Against this, the good news is that the island has spoken to you. I watched that in your body language this morning. There is more than one personality in this woman, I thought to myself. But then, there is more than one personality in anyone.”

“Thanks for the free psychiatry session.”

Why did he annoy her so much without even trying?

                                 * * * * 

“Session? That barely scratched the surface,” he said. “But let’s get down to the important issue. You’ve seen the books and have grilled Annie like the Spanish Inquisition. What’s your conclusion? Can you help her?”

It was none of his business, Nicola thought.

“Maybe,” she said.

He stopped.

“Maybe? So, like a trained swimmer might stop someone from drowning – if she could be bothered to get her own hair wet?”

They both stopped.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he said tightly. “But Annie is under my care, and I don’t want anyone offering her half-hearted assist assistance, then letting her down.”

Nicola’s temper flared.

“Is that what you think? What I choose to do, or not to do, Mr Macleod, is none of your business.”

“Yes, it is,” he snapped back.

“As a paid employee, you mean? Like Sandy? When my aunt is absolutely broke?”

He stared down at her, anger accentuating the strong planes of his face.

“As a friend,” he said, voice clipped. “Someone who cares deeply for her, as Sandy does.

“Neither of us has been paid a penny over the last eighteen months. We help her because we want to, not for money. Or is that concept foreign to the way you live?”

Their mutual anger and dislike was tangible.

Nicola fought to rein herself back and they continued their walk.

“I spent hours looking at the figures last night,” she said, “trying to make sense out of the mess. I will do what I have to do to help.”

“Which is?”

Nicola took a deep breath.

“From what I can see there is only one option left. The centre must be closed and its patients sent home. Then I will go back to the mainland and fight for the best deal I can get to rescue Annie.”

Their eyes locked: cold blue against colder green.

“At least you called her Annie,” he said. “Even better, you will fight for her.”

Nicola’s face softened.

“Yes,” she said. “But the centre will still have to be closed down.”

“Then do it gently. You are dealing with damaged people here; not just counting beans, like a good accountant.”

“At least I know what I’m doing,” Nicola snapped. “I happen to be an investment analyst – that’s why Annie sent for me.”

Incongruous, but the wry smile appeared again.

“I know,” he said. “And I’m a qualified behavioural psychologist – that’s why Annie needs me to help her, too.” The smile grew. “So, we’ve swapped qualifications. But where does that leave us? More important, where does it leave the centre?”

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!