Under An Island Sun – Episode 08

The main characters from the story

His grandmother opened the solid wooden door as his car crawled up the track to the stone-built house with terracotta roof.

At eighty, she was still stubbornly independent.

The family had been worried about her living alone after Grandpapa died three years ago, but Philippe hadn’t been surprised that she had been made of sterner stuff.

She barely came up to his shoulders now.

Her skin was nut-brown from time spent outdoors, her grey hair was tied back and her blue eyes still had their characteristic spark.

As they embraced, she smelled, as always, of thyme and lavender, which grew in abundance in a small bed beneath the kitchen window.

“You’re more handsome than ever, just like my father when he was young,” she declared.

Inside, the kitchen was as he remembered, from the range with a pot of cassoulet simmering on top to the cupboards his grandfather had built when the couple had moved here many moons ago.

“You said on the phone that you wanted my advice. What’s troubling you?”

She listened as he explained the situation.

“Nicole is a beautiful and intelligent woman,” she said when he had finished.

“She is also hard, but I understand that can be necessary to make one’s way in the world.

“Did she say how much she would miss you if you go away?”

Philippe shook his head.

“No, but she is always so busy and has so much to think about.”

“As have you. Find out a little more before you decide.”

That was how, a few days later, he found himself by the harbour at La Rochelle, having arranged to meet the mother of the tour business’s owner, who coincidentally was taking a holiday in the area.

He spotted the Englishwoman straight away. In blue cotton trousers and white floral blouse, she gave the impression of being composed and organised.

Some sixth sense told him that she was someone who could be trusted.

As he walked towards her, she looked up and stood to greet him.

Mairi gazed out of the window as the plane made its descent at the end of a four-hour flight.

Her window seat granted her a bird’s-eye view towards Fuerteventura as they passed over Lanzarote, just to its north.

The water between the two islands sparkled in the sunshine. Whenever she’d flown here in the past, the sight had always thrilled her.

The quality of light and the rich blue of the ocean lifted her spirits, as did the line of volcanoes stretching down the coast in shades of orange, ochre and brown.

The scene was as different as could be imagined from the night when everyone had searched for her on the fell.

Mairi had hardly known what she was doing after being confronted by Liam and Fiona and their announcement.

Her instinct, foolish as it was, had been to run to her old hiding place on the fell, uncaring of the atrocious conditions that prevailed that night.

She tried not to think what might have happened if her father hadn’t known where to find her before hypothermia set in.

She vaguely remembered the cold and damp, the smell of earth and a feeling that her hiding place, behind a wind-stunted hawthorn, wasn’t such a refuge after all.

What followed came in snatches – the sensation of drifting into a deep sleep, urgent voices and a dog barking in the background, followed by the warmth and safety of her parents’ kitchen, with no idea how she’d got there.

Then the angry rumble of her dad’s voice.

“I’ve a good mind to go out and tell that Liam what I think of him.”

“No, you won’t.” Mum’s reply had been quieter but angry in its own way. “You’ll only make matters worse. Leave it be.”

“How did you know where to look?” Mairi had asked the next morning as they sat round the table.

Her dad smiled.

“I spotted you going there once, by chance, years ago.”

“You never said.”

“Everyone needs a place to themselves once in a while.”

“And a place to recover,” her mum had added.

“Since you haven’t made a decision about the job on Fuerteventura, we’ve made it for you.

“You need to get away, love. You’ll be among friends, so there’s no worry about you being isolated.

“Hilary’s flying out there soon. She’s been in the wars, too, don’t forget.”

To be continued…

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