AngelOrb

SHORT STORY. 'A MAN ALONE'

A Man Alone is my first short story. 

                      I hope you enjoy the journey ...

A Man Alone-Prologue

‘Michael...Michael...?’

He thought he was dreaming.

‘Michael...I’m cold...’

Getting closer...

‘Michael...?’

He recognised the voice...Sleepily rubbing his eyes he heaved himself up to see her standing half undressed looking down into his face, she looked lost. Quickly he wrapped his robe around her then lifted her into bed, nestling down against her.

‘Hold me...’ His arm slid around her –he held her fast against him...more coughing, then-

‘I shouldn’t be here...you won’t tell them will you?’

‘No...I won’t tell them sweetheart’.

He kissed her forehead, it felt cold and damp.

‘I shouldn’t be here...promise you won’t tell them?’

‘I promise...’

He kissed the top of her head feeling his eyes sting. He could smell the scent of her hair...jasmine...Then he heard it, that dreaded question-

‘Will you take me to the market tomorrow?’

‘Yes...’

‘Will you buy me those ribbons I like...the ones you said match my eyes...?’ He tried to blink back the tears...futile.

‘Yes honey...’

‘I really shouldn’t be here...’ another cough... ‘You won’t tell them will you?’

‘I promise...I won’t tell them’. Another cough. He gave her some water then settled back against the pillows taking her with him. Her breathing becoming laboured.

‘Go to sleep now...’

‘Promise you will take me to the market?’ voice barely a whisper.

‘I promise’.

‘Michael?’

‘Mm?’

‘I love you...’

‘I love you too honey’.

Eventually sleep overtook her but not as quickly for him. He stared into the dark, his arm across her flat stomach, pale delicate skin dusted with freckles. Skin smelling of lavender and jasmine and then the memories came flooding back, relentlessly cascading into his brain. The day he saw her in the market in Covent Garden, his little ‘cockney sparrow’, searching through a box of ribbons, all those years ago. He sidled up and boldly told her she shouldn’t bother with the colours she’d chosen...she ended up buying the ones he suggested...they went for a coffee...within moments he knew he had fallen in love with her.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 2 Pippa

Prudence 'Pippa'Julia Mason. Born July 1978. Raised in Devon A headstrong and moody child, especially when she didn’t get her way. School reports dating as far back as Primary School carried the same message – ‘Prudence is a Dreamer’ Her parents smoked ‘wacky backy’ and loved The Beatles, so thus her given names were that of two songs taken from the group's vast catalogue. She loved school. So much so, that when it came to her last day at her local Secondary Modern, whilst her friends were looking forward to Teaching and Technical College she was clueless as to what she wanted to do with her life. There was a time when she’d entertained going to Art College but was promptly ‘put off’ that idea care of the rarely visiting careers officer and the leery principle of said college. Books were her love, her escape from the real world, that, and writing rambling essays and poems usually written for the delectation of her English master Mr Avery, a short, spritely jolly man, who had the habit of combing his fingers through his unruly auburn beard-something they both had in common, not in the beard field obviously but Pippa’s hair was the same colour, and just as untidy. At the end of every lesson she would wait for the class to leave before coyly sidling up to 'Ed', presenting her latest piece, hanging on to every word he said, regarding what he thought and where she could improve. It went in one ear and out the other of course and when he left the school for good she sunk into a deep depression, causing most of her classmates to give her a wide berth for quite a while until she developed another crush on a younger male pupil who was totally oblivious to her doe eyes and dreamy smile.

Pippa was an only child. Her father was strict but fair and very easy to get round, she was his ‘little angel’. Mum was a willing ear when she needed a heart-to-heart. It was years later when both had passed away, she realised how much she had taken them both for granted and gave them so many worries, appertaining to finding that magical thing-a job. When the local paper started advertising for staff a light bulb moment happened, and so, filled with bravado and plenty of bullshit she eventually joined the staff of the local paper. It was slow going at first. Tea girl, ‘gofer’, then after ages of waiting at last a small column which gave her free reign to comment on the news of the week, a very potted version, as her rough notes went on forever and had to be reduced somewhat which irked her slightly, precis had not been her strong point at school.

Her boss saw something. He noticed that his employee had the tenacity of a dog with a fresh bone and before Pippa knew it she was being head-hunted by other newspapers further afield. Years down the line she landed a job in London’s famous Fleet Street followed by her present job at Global News on the South Bank.

Love and romance were very much bottom of the food chain in her life. Men were animals to give a wide berth to. She had been burned just once in her youth and it had changed her attitude to men entirely. Although there were times when, curled up in her rocking chair in her flat with a mug of cocoa and the latest best seller she would feel there was something missing and she did miss that kind of companionship you get with a man, but without the groping and the French kisses. She had gotten used to her own space and there was a freedom to do whatever she wanted even if that meant playing Led Zep full blast or just losing herself in a crowd at a concert or in the street. Mum and dad  gone, she discovered in a strange way that she had become an orphan and her only family was her job.

She was 40 but in her head she was still 21. Maybe this was going to be her life from now on? Yet deep down in her muddled soul she craved something more. Maybe this time something would come along and sweep all the humdrum away?

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 3 Beginnings

Pippa Mason sat at her dishevelled work station, absent mindedly twiddling a thick rope of her auburn hair between ink stained fingers, staring at an empty screen, willing words to surface, occasionally glancing out the smoky windows which overlooked the Thames.

She was dying for a cigarette. In fact, she had been dying for a cigarette since leaving her flat that morning, trying to convince herself for what seemed like the hundredth time she would not surrender to the ‘Nicotine Demon’.

The latest assignment she had been working on was to put it plainly-uninspiring and simply not working, it was another mind numbing expose of ‘Celebrities and their Pooches’. Pippa had nothing against dogs, any animal really, just certain people who owned them. She had hit a stalemate and felt like vetoing the whole article and was just about to when out from his office stepped her boss Arnold Emmett, yes, that’s right, but you can tell straight away how many times people got it wrong.

Pippa could smell the sweet aroma of pipe tobacco as he came towards her. He always moved his glasses toward the end of his rather large sunburnt nose which always reminded her of the actor Leo McKern when he was going to say something she didn’t want to hear. She was right.

‘Pippa, how’s the story coming on?’

Pippa took her finger away from the delete button and smiled a rather over the top enthusiastic smile.

‘Great...nearly finished it actually...quite a challenge this time but-’

‘Get Harry to finish it off, I have something interesting for you...you like challenges, I thought this would definitely tick all the boxes.’

‘But Harry is a total wally.’

‘Harry is a newbie Pippa and must be encouraged, not only by management, but also by the people he works alongside, any show of the opposite must be treated with total disdain'.

God, he even sounded like Leo McKern sometimes. Pippa gave a sigh but at the same time felt a cloud of relief pass over her, she could handle Harry, no problem. Arnold threw down a folder bearing the name Michael Peter Jaeger in bold italics, Pippa frowned; her auburn brows knit together above her eyes.

‘And who pray is Michael Peter Jaeger?’

Arnold started to walk away.

‘Read and learn Pippa, read and learn’.

She opened the folder, and donned her specs, it made interesting reading. She read aloud to herself still twiddling her hair.

‘Michael Peter Jaeger. Born 1950 (68) Princeton, New Jersey. Film Director. Present home. Loch Lomond, Scottish Highlands. Married- Jennifer Jane Williams (‘JJ’)(Born 1955) M.1980 until death 2010

Two children April (B.1979) Matthew(B.1981)

Jaeger ceased directing after the death of his wife and has lived a reclusive existence in Scotland '.

And so it went on... Pippa, still frowning, rose from her chair and entered Arnold’s office.

‘So er... what do you want me to do with this? There doesn’t seem an awful lot to go on.’

‘Knock, why don’t you?’

‘Sorry...’

‘Sit down.’

For the next hour, Pippa was given the lowdown on Michael Jaeger. He appeared to be somewhat of an enigma to many people and over the years a mysterious aura had developed around him. Arnold had tried many times to gain access to the man but so far had not been successful. Jaeger’s filmography was impressive and many famous actors of the day had been involved in his productions but the reason for retiring from public life always seemed to be a mystery that nobody quite understood.

‘Well, he is nearing 70 and maybe just got tired?’ was Pippa’s flippant theorem. But Arnold pursed his lips thoughtfully and looked over his glasses at the tussled haired 40 year old he had looked upon as more than just an employee over the years.

‘I have actually managed to get an appointment to see him...maybe he is softening, maybe he feels he needs to open up about his life at last, if so, we might get lucky. That’s why I want you to come to Scotland with me.’

‘Why?’

‘I think with an injection of female company we might crack open the egg’.

Pippa was still frowning, she felt that she should have been flattered by that remark but she wasn't.

‘I don’t know about that...’

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained Pippa’.

‘Well, if you think me being present is going to totally change things...’ Arnold smiled and picked up the phone.

‘I shall sort it now...I gather you are not busy this weekend?’

Pippa shrugged, she wasn’t, just like every weekend, including evenings. With a half-hearted smile she slouched out the office back to her work station.

Harry was hovering at his desk and cast her quizzical look, Pippa swallowed and put on her friendly voice.

‘Harry...you know the ‘pooch thing’ I was working on?'

'Mm?'

'The boss feels that you could really make a better job of it than I could...so...over to you’.

She rifled through the malaise on her desk and passed him her research...which wasn’t much. Harry’s eyes lit up like beacons.

‘Great, I’ll get onto it right away’.

Pippa watched him fairly skip to his desk and then turned her attention back to the thin brown folder marked Michael Peter Jaeger.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 4 The Meeting

He saw the car draw up on the slate drive and taking up his binoculars from the window sill he watched silently as two figures emerged, one, short and round with a bald head and glasses, the other slightly taller and younger, a woman. His eyes squinted and he started to bite his lower lip, a trait he used to get scolded for by his mother. He had tried to convince himself he was ready to face them, he needed to get closure, release, now he was having second thoughts. He knew the man, Arnold Emmett, editor of Global News, but the woman was new, maybe a secret weapon to soften him up? He sat down behind his desk and said aloud to himself, ‘Okay, you can do this’.

Housekeeper Shona McVie knocked and entered,

‘There’s a Mr Emmett and a Ms. Mason from Global News to see you, shall I ask them to come up?’

‘Yes Shona...might as well seeing as they’ve bothered to come all this way.’

Emmett entered with Pippa trailing behind wrapped up in a woollen coat and scarf, the air certainly was a lot cooler up here compared to London, but she knew that. Jaeger’s attention travelled over Emmett’s head to her, she looked nervous, but her busy eyes were already taking in her surroundings, her thick auburn hair was scrunched behind her neck and unruly tendrils had already started escaping round her forehead and ears. Her aubergine coat was buttoned to the neck and the bottle green leggings did nothing for her whatsoever. Shona moved toward Pippa, ‘Would you like to be relieved of your coat?’ Noticing there was a lovely fire smouldering in the grate she unbuttoned awkwardly and relinquished it gratefully. The mustard sweater hid much but Jaeger ascertained that somewhere beneath all the layers was a human form.

‘Please sit down, tea, coffee?’

Tea and coffee was said in unison so Pippa feeling flustered said either would do. The look on Shona’s face said it all, this was going to be an interesting meeting for both sides. Pippa suddenly felt very frumpy and eyed her clumpy leather brogues wishing she had put more thought into her wardrobe, practicality over fashion, too late now. Emmett began- ‘Mr. Jaeger, I was wondering whether you had given any more thought to what we were discussing the other day?’

Michael started fidgeting with some papers on his desk, then sat back viewing the two figures over clasped hands, his eyes narrowing.

‘I have...but, let’s be clear on this, if I do consent to you running this article, there has to be certain conditions-’

‘Obviously-’

‘Conditions that must be adhered to-’

‘Of course-’

‘You have to understand that this is my life you are going to be writing about, my life, nothing must be twisted or blown out of proportion. Facts have to be put forward truthfully and there are rules to be mindful of ’.

‘I totally agree Mr. Jaeger, one hundred percent.’

Michael turned his attention to Pippa.

‘What do you think Ms.er... Mason?’

Pippa hadn’t heard her name; she was still too busy taking in the row upon row of books and the lovely smell of logs burning. Emmett gently nudged her back to reality,

‘Pippa, Mr Jaeger was asking about the article.’

Michael tried once more.

‘How are you proposing to approach it?’

Pippa said the first word that came into her head,

‘Objectively, of course.’

Michael smiled and nodded.

‘Right’.

They were interrupted by tea and coffee then the two men got down to discussing contracts and finance. Pippa felt redundant. They were talking but she just sat there. After what seemed like an age they were getting to their feet and shaking hands and a large strong hand was shaking hers.

‘Ms. Mason, let me know when you want to get started...’

Just for an instant their eyes met then the hand suddenly dropped away. Back at the car Emmett was bursting with victory but was trying hard to quell it.

‘Well...we cracked the egg at last. Now we need to get back to the office and get the ball rolling. Then you can get back up here-’

‘What?’

‘You’ll need somewhere to stay-’

‘Boss, I thought I could do this back at the office, I’ve got all the resources I need back there-’

‘Your resources are here Pippa, here. One month and that should be plenty of time for you to gather as much as you can on Michael P Jaeger’.

Pippa was speechless and shook her head in disbelief,

‘Boss I can’t see why I can’t-’

‘Pippa, if this goes well as I know it will do, with your name attached to the article...you want to strengthen your career don’t you-another rung on the ladder?’

‘Yes, but-’

‘Well, consider this another rung of many’.

Pippa let him carry on. She looked out the car window and her breath started to mist it up, she was cold and was already regretting the whole thing wishing she was back in her nice warm safe office. 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

 

Chapter 5 Michael

Michael sat pensively staring out the study window, mist was starting to move across the mountains and the loch had become blurred. He eased back in his captain’s chair and swivelled it back and forth. Hair once thick and dark was now grey with flashes of pure white at the temples, he was still thinking about the offer from Global News, was he ready?

The study was at the end of the landing in an old grey 16th century house which had over the years become his sanctuary, ‘Green Pines’, his ‘escape route to sanity’ he called it. The fire had gone out and there was a distinct chill in the room which seemed dark with just a desk lamp for light. It was a sparsely furnished room, accolades and trophies had been locked away in a vault and half-finished screenplays and scripts waiting approval had been stuffed in a chest under lock and key. Books filled the shelves containing every subject imaginable, but most telling of all was the lack of pictures, family photos...his wife and family.

Shona McVie and her husband Robbie had lived at ‘Green Pines’ ever since Michael and Jennifer moved in, just before they married. The bond was close. They had family in Canada and visited twice a year and visa-versa, but the rest of the time they were on hand to help run the house and keep an eye on unwanted visitors. It was an uneasy quiet, but they had adjusted to the situation over the years.

Jaeger had been at his prime, the top of his field, a world acclaimed director of both documentary and film with a good deal of theatre thrown in. Travelling the globe and immersing himself totally in whatever he was filming at the time whether it was negotiating the rapids or climbing a mountain in search of brown bears or, standing quietly in the shadows bringing out one hundred per cent in his actors who always gave of their best. He never wanted to act; he always knew he wanted to be behind the lens not in front. His own private triumph was directing Romeo and Juliet at Stratford-upon-Avon, the year he met Jennifer.

He loved life, he loved women, but Jennifer changed all that, she was his only love. After her death, little things that used to niggle became unimportant, he hardly travelled far nowadays and declined offers of dinner dates, talks and meetings. His camera sat isolated on a shelf, although there had been moments when he wanted to use it, but something always held him back, and he hated himself for feeling that way.

Despite lack of exercise Jaeger still had a good physique. In his youth he had a strict workout regime and was a meat hater. He loathed seeing roadkill...Stags mowed down by reckless 4x4’s or shot for sport. He loved to see the sheep roaming free in the highlands and birds flying without fear of threat. But his heart wasn’t free, it was in denial and deep inside he craved freedom, he craved release from the past.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 6 Arrival

Pippa arrived at the gatehouse the following Tuesday, she wasn’t relishing it at all. Her mode of transport if she needed to go anywhere other than the house would be her legs or a bike which had been left out for her and resembled something from the dark ages. The building itself was compact, all on one level and there was a note pinned to the door informing her to contact the house when she arrived, so that a key could be handed over, a phone number was scribbled at the bottom. She had bought her battered suitcase and trusty tapestry holdall which went everywhere with her. Resting against the wall she texted the number and waited in the cold air for ‘the keys of the kingdom’ to arrive.

Robbie McVie had seen her. He had been clearing bracken and scaring Pheasants. His gun half-cocked he walked steadily down the long path toward the small solitary figure and doffed his cap. Pippa smiled inwardly...how old fashioned he seemed.

‘So, you got here alright?’

‘I seem to have,’ he was observant too... the stocky bearded man fumbled in his pockets for what seemed like ages. Pippa pursed her lips; she wasn’t one for hanging around in cold places.

‘Ah!’ At last he found the key and she noticed how ornate it was, a fancy Celtic pattern weave at the hilt. Inside, lights were switched on; Robbie lit the fire like a well-trained squaddie. He handed her the key. His beard was thick and course and he had a twinkle in his brown eyes ‘Too much whisky’ thought Pippa.

‘Well I’ll leave you to it. You have the house number by the phone there.’ How quaint...a proper static telephone.

‘What time is best for me to start tomorrow?’

‘Mr Jaeger takes his breakfast at 8am so around 9am should be fine. The fridge-freezer is stocked and milk is delivered twice a week. There is a small local store a mile up the road if you need it on the right before the first bend but I’m sure my wife Shona will help you out in emergencies.’ Pippa nodded ‘how thoughtful’ she mused.

‘Thank you, eh, Mr McVie’.

‘Robbie is fine wi’ me.’ He was gone.

Pippa gave a tired smile and glanced round. Stillness had settled on this small abode which was to become her residence for one month. The fire was a welcome sight with plenty of logs piled in the grate and tucked away in one corner a small round table and chairs. A small television sat on another table by the fireplace. The kitchen was totally basic with a large Butler sink, washer-dryer, gas boiler and true to Robbie’s word the fridge-freezer was stocked with every meal imaginable. With a bit of luck she wouldn’t have to rely on the bike or the local store but maybe she would grow tired of Haggis. She took her bags into the sparsely furnished bedroom which had heavy drapes at the window and a double bed with a hot water bottle placed at the bottom. A large clock radio was on the bedside table and it looked like it was smiling at her...’very Alice in Wonderland’, she half expected a Cheshire cat to leap out at her. She pursed her lips again and decided that it could have been a lot worse. Walking over to the window she watched threatening grey clouds moving toward the big house. ‘Sums it all up really Pippa’ she pondered aloud, ‘Right...let’s get settled in lady’. She was resolved now to stick to the task she had been assigned, see it through whatever. No brooding, moody, defunct yankee film director was going to ruffle her feathers, they had been ruffled enough in the past.

                                                         *****

 

‘She’s here’.

Shona McVie was setting a tray of sandwiches down in front of Michael. He sat chewing the inside of his mouth, bad habits die hard.

‘Fine’.

He got slowly to his feet and ambled to the window watching a distant plume of smoke curl up into the grey sky. An unexpected shiver travelled through his body. Tomorrow Pippa Mason would start peeling away the layers, was she up to the job? He would see. 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 7 Memories

Pippa arrived at Green Pines at 9am sharp the next morning, Shona showed her upstairs to the study.

‘Mr Jaeger will be with you in a moment, he is on the phone, please make yourself comfortable Ms. Mason.’

‘Please, call me Pippa’. (Maybe a bit too forward?) Shona said nothing and left the room leaving Pippa to unbutton her woollen coat and unwrap the extra-long knitted scarf, she always felt like cross between an Egyptian mummy and Tom Baker out of Doctor Who when she wore it. She eyed the heavily laden book shelves and began to flick through one or two leather bound books. Most of them appeared to deal with photography and filming, the rest on travel and places of interest with a bit of history thrown in. She never heard the door open.

‘You interested in photography?’ Pippa’s head jerked up from the book and replaced it quickly.

‘Not really, I was just killing time’. There was a slight pause. He was staring at her and it was unnerving, she felt intimidated.

‘Forgive me for being late...business’.

‘Well, if you’re ready Mr Jaeger, shall we start?’ She placed her phone on the desk and plugged it into the USB port. ‘Would you like to say something to test the sound?’ Michael hesitated then settled behind his desk, clasping his hands together and eyeing the recorder.

‘Prince Charlie’

‘Fine, now shall we start... perhaps with your childhood?’

‘Okay...’ he already looked bored. ‘I was an only child. I had a good education, solid family upbringing.’

‘What did your father do?’

'My father was a professor of science, and before you ask, my mother was just that, they are both dead now.’

‘So, how did you become interested in film directing?’

He pursed his lips.

‘How long you got?’

‘Four weeks?’ Pippa saw a flicker of a smile start on his face. So it went on... Two hours passed and Michael decided to take a break. A pot of tea was brought in and a plate of oaten biscuits. There followed the sound of munching and clinking china, then they resumed.

‘How many films have you actually directed and have you any awards?’ Michael swung back and forth in his chair thoughtfully.

‘Mm...I guess 50 or 60...not including the stuff I did for advertising companies, oh and some videos for the Stones and various artists .’

‘Big ones?’

‘Couple of Oscars, a Tony and two Baftas, nothing that much to write home about.’

‘Have you got them here?’

Michaels face changed. It was as if a curtain had suddenly cast shadows.

‘In storage, I don’t believe in flaunting stuff.’

‘Would it be possible to see them at all?’

‘Not really, no.’ Silence, a barrier had come up. Pippa hadn’t expected that reaction but continued with the interview.

Michael had a good memory, describing the films he had been involved with over the years including much theatre work; Pippa felt they were making some headway. That was until the subject of his late wife came up.

‘Where did you first meet?’ Silence, then...

‘The first time I saw her I was walking through Covent Garden Market, I had my camera with me , been taking shots of the buildings...tourist stuff...I saw her through the lens....she was rifling through a box of ribbons just a few feet away from me. I was over here directing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the time but towards the end of production I took some time out and escaped to London for a few days.

‘What did you do?’

‘I did what any cocky, young, film director does, walked up to her and suggested she buy a colour that really suited her eyes-oh, and where the nearest cafe was...’

‘Did she take your advice?’

A sudden whimsical smile flashed across his face.

‘We had a coffee...we talked...that was when I fell in love with her.’

‘Just like that?’

‘Just like that.’

‘How long before you asked her to marry you?'

‘Oh...much later down the line' he had started to look pensive... strange..'a good few drinks later and I met her folks.  Her father was a local businessman in London...He’d been born and raised in the East End, the kind that work their way up from nothing to something , the business was involved in restoring works of art, Jen worked there along with her uncle after her father passed away, she was also an accomplished portrait painter, her works were often exhibited at the RA.’

‘And her mother?’

Michael’s face changed and his eyelids lowered.

'Jennie’s mother was unstable...she had mental issues...she never went out...’

‘Oh, that must have been difficult.’

‘For whom?’ his voice was defensive. Pippa looked away and then down at her lap...hesitating to continue further. The shutters were closing and the light was starting to fade. Michael glanced down at his watch and got to his feet.

‘If it’s okay with you Ms. Mason, I’d like to call time’.

Pippa switched off the phone and got to her feet also.

‘Of course...we could continue later on...’

‘Tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow...’

Michael paused at the door, nodded abruptly and left. Pippa cleared away her stuff, buttoned her coat and walked to the window. The light was definitely fading and she felt drained. She glanced at Michaels chair and slowly sat down feeling the warmth his body had left and a strong musky manly smell. Curiosity overcame her and against her better judgement, opened one of the drawers...nothing... then the one with the lock, as she thought...not to be opened. She decided to pry no more...it made her feel like a snoop.

Back at the Gatehouse she rekindled the fire and settled down to a hearty meal...Haggis and Chips with plenty of brown sauce. She played back the interview, listening intently and came to the conclusion this was just the start of a long journey and she had a month to finish it.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 8 Cat and mouse

Pippa awoke to a cold room. Reluctantly she slid slowly from the bed and wrenched back the heavy drapes. At once sun flooded the room but it didn’t stop her breath from misting the window, she rubbed her arms and glanced at the clock-

‘Bugger!’

9.45am, she forgot to set it.

‘Bugger, bugger, bugger!’

She tried not to rush. Negative thoughts had started to seep into her mind. Was it really worth it? Was he really worth it? Michael Jaeger was proving to be a tough cookie and she wondered whether she had it in her to continue trying to crack his invincible shell, also the local water was having a disastrous effect on her thick mane of hair, even the scrunchie was losing it’s battle. She decided to ditch the leggings and donned dark green cords; her mustard coloured cowl neck sweater was a hastily bought gift from an aunt who she hardly saw.

The crisp morning air stung her nostrils as she made her way to the house which loomed up through the morning mist. Michael was already sitting at his desk scouring his laptop, he had been trying to find out more information on the staff at Global News and as far as Pippa Mason was concerned there was hardly much to go on at all. It was all there, about her leaving school and generally working her way up the ladder of journalism but nothing else. Maybe she was pinning her hopes on him?

A knock.

‘Come in Ms. Mason.’

Pippa entered trying to look cool and calm, well; she had no worries regarding the former. The fire was welcoming and she removed her coat and set out her equipment on the desk, while Michael eyed her over his laptop, chewing the inside of his cheek again, cross with himself for doing it. Pippa took a deep breath and tried to sweep an escaping lock of hair behind her ear.

‘I must apologise for being late...’

‘The Scottish air has been known to have that effect-‘

‘No, quite the contrary, I forgot to set the alarm’. Was that a smile she saw? ‘Anyway, shall we continue from yesterday?’

‘By all means.’

‘Would you say that directing became the love of your life...akin to a mistress maybe?’

Michael glanced up and smiled wryly, closing his laptop. ‘Should we have done a sound check?’

‘Oh-sorry –yes.’

‘Hot Haggis’. (Where did that come from?)

‘Lovely...’

He cleared his throat.

‘By using the word mistress, I assume you mean I became a slave to my art?’

‘Do you see it as that?’

‘Did... past tense...There were times when my work took precedence ...occasionally...but I never let it dominate. I had two beautiful children and a wife who struggled at times to come to terms with the lifestyle my career created, not easy, but I never let it control my life...that was a separate thing altogether’.

Tea was brought in and for a while there was silence as the fire crackled and spat. Michael looked over his cup at his ‘interrogator’ who was examining again the array of books adorning the shelves. Time to take a dig.

‘How come you’re still in the same job after all this time, have you never aspired to aim higher? Assistant Editor, Editor?’

(Careful Pippa, don’t get defensive...he has obviously been swatting up on you).

‘I guess I could have gone further but Features has always been my niche.’

‘Safe niche.’

‘Not necessarily’. (Watch it Pippa, he’s goading you).

‘Celebrity Pooches, Celebrity Homes, Celebrity Splits’. (Ouch).

‘It pays the bills and doesn’t hurt anyone.’

‘You have got a conscience then?’

Pippa was beginning to feel the roles had switched, she would delete this bit later.

‘Shall we continue?’

He wasn’t letting go.

‘You never married. Was that a case of career becoming your master?’ That did it.

‘Mr Jaeger. I am here to interview you and I believe discussing my career was not in the contract.’

‘Wow, the lady bites’. He feigned a wince and half a smile, his ice blue eyes creased up and he resumed sipping his tea.

Pippa pressed on trying to ignore the angry flush she was feeling that coloured her face. Michael slid back into his chair and decided he was starting to enjoy himself at last. So it continued... Cat and Mouse... 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 9 Regrouping

Hours later Pippa returned to the Gatehouse, her frustrations had come to a head.

‘Arnold?’ Her boss on the other end of the phone sensed all was not well it crackled and popped which didn’t help. ‘Arnold, are you there, can you hear me?’

‘What’s up Pippa?’ (Was that a sigh?) ‘You sound ticked off’.

‘It’s just not working-‘

‘Pippa-‘

‘The bloody cheek of the man, only tried to get into MY head! Interview ME!’

‘Pippa-‘

'What gives him the right to interview me for heaven’s sake?’

‘He’s a director; he’s used to being in control, you have to play him at his own game’.

‘Okay Arnold, and how pray do I do that?’

She was fairly spitting down the phone now.

‘Start digging where it hurts...where you KNOW it will hurt...twist the knife a little?’

‘Really?’ she didn’t sound convinced.

‘Pippa, you really mustn’t let him get to you and at the end of the day-it’s just a job’.

So the conversation continued, resulting in Pippa slamming down the phone in a fit of pique. That evening, sitting by the fire, she played back her day’s work and cringed inwardly. He was playing her alright; well, tomorrow she would be prepared. They would talk about his marriage of 30 years which ended when Jennifer died. It couldn’t have been all sweetness and light, she’d find the chink in his armour and this time HE would be played.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

 

Chapter 10 Dinner Date

 ‘Where did he say he was going?’ Pippa was standing in the kitchen doorway her fingers drumming on the door frame, watching Shona prepare lunch. Michael had decided to go ‘walkabout’ and visit his little side-line... apparently called ‘Jaeger Distilleries’, some project he shared with Robbie. Shona looked up; the expression on Pippa’s face amused her slightly.

‘He needed some air, it’s been a while since he went there...it’s quite a way, if you go and you’ll need decent footwear. Do you have walking boots?’

‘No. I don’t usually take walking boots with me on assignments’, Pippa sniffed. She wanted to scream a very rude four letter word but held herself back. Shona returned to her duties seemingly unfazed by Pippa’s frustration. She waited for a reply, but none came. ‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to wait for his return won’t I?'

‘I’m not too sure when that will be; there is always some problem to discuss...’

‘Bullshit’ Pippa thought, knowing this was probably some clever wind-up,

‘Well maybe you could let me know when he does decide to return...I would be so grateful’. No response. Pippa gave another sniff and marched back outside, the cold air assaulting her face, throwing her head back she swore loudly at the sky, ‘Shit, shit, shit!’

Michael watched the fuming figure marching purposefully back to the Gatehouse. From his vantage point in the heather covered slope he could see all but not be seen, he started to chew his lip, bad habits die hard. After a while he headed back down toward the house, a mischievous smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.

 

Pippa was not pleased, what a total waste of time this was turning out to be. She slammed the kettle on and started to make herself a strong coffee. A sharp knock at the door brought her out of her simmering temper. It was Robbie,cap in hand looking awkward.

‘Hello there, Mr Jaeger said to tell you he’s back but if you wouldn’t mind coming for dinner later. Around 6 o’clock?’

Pippa was tempted to tell Mr Jaeger to go take a flying leap into the nearest Loch but she decided against it...sensibility was kicking in and maybe this was the time to call a truce...or not.

‘Thank you Robbie. I look forward to it’.

 

By the time Pippa arrived at Green Pines an inviting smell hit her nostrils and there was a roaring fire lighting up the room giving a welcome ambience to the place, even though she was still smarting from the morning’s snub, which she was sure, was done on purpose just to wind her up. A small table had been laid in the sitting room; the main dining room was rarely used as Michael preferred to dine in comfort rather than waste time walking from one vast room to another. Pippa gazed into the dancing flames that seemed to hypnotise.

‘I see you found the fire’. Michael hadn’t changed from the morning, still in old faded Levi’s and check shirt. Pippa was glad she hadn’t gone to too much effort either.

‘I hear you were checking in on your Whisky,’ she bit back.

Michael gave a wry smile and moved to the table.

‘I decided to go fishing, they put up quite a fight but I won.’ Was there a message there somewhere?

‘I thought you didn’t eat meat?’

‘Correct, but now and then I get weak and surrender to fish.’

Shona brought in the plates; it was salmon along with bowls of steaming fresh veg’ from the greenhouse. She tried to give a friendly smile...maybe she wanted to offer an olive branch? ‘Please sit yourself down before it gets cold.'

Pippa was starving and looked longingly at the luscious offering before her. She was about to pick up her knife and fork when Michael coughed and bent his head.

‘For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.’

Pippa swallowed and silently whispered the last word. She couldn’t remember the last time she had said grace before meals...maybe it was school? She had to ask,

‘I didn’t know you were religious.’

‘Jen had her faith...I’m trying to rekindle it...but I have to admit I struggle’.

Silence, as both sat enjoying the fish, while the fire crackled and spat. Michael poured some water, there was a carafe of wine on the table but Pippa wasn’t bothered, she wanted to keep a clear head. Her throat was dry despite the flavour of the Salmon. At last Michael broke the silence. ‘No wine?’ Pippa shook her head. ‘I apologise for standing you up this morning Ms. Mason’.

‘No problem’  (why did she say that?)

‘We’ll resume the ‘interrogation’ tomorrow if that’s okay with you, I have no more pressing appointments with fish and whisky.’

‘Is that how you see it? It’s just a job I do Mr Jaeger’.

‘Please, call me Michael’. What was that? Pippa was thrown. She resumed eating. ‘I guess it’s kind of fascinating to some people. Reclusive film director retreats to the wilds of Scotland...maybe a few skeletons in the closet...’

‘Are there any?’

‘Only in the minds of the ill-informed.’

‘Unscrupulous facets of the media do at times get their facts wrong’.

‘Do you ever get it wrong?’

‘You can rest assured whatever gets printed in my column will not be wrong. I have been in this job long enough to know right from wrong and sift the wheat from the chaff- Mr Jaeger’, her voice was clipped. ‘Okay, okay, I put up my hands, I believe you, no dispute.’ He sipped his water eyeing her over the glass. Pippa was trying not to get goaded, but she had to clear the air.

‘If you really want to know, I have been thinking I may be wasting my time here. You haven’t exactly been very co-operative.’

‘I’m sorry if you feel that way, you seem the kind of person who once they have got the bit between their teeth don't let go...’he got to his feet and sauntered over to the fire. He looked pensive then added more logs. ‘Do you always give up so easily?’ his voice sounded tired.

‘If I’m honest, there have been times this week when I have felt like jacking it all in, yes.’

‘So what’s stopping you?’

‘Simple. I need the money.’

‘Ah-ha, mercenary too’.

(Light blue touch paper.)

‘Unlike you, I rely on an income...I can’t afford to lie back on my laurels. So, will you be available for ‘interrogation’ tomorrow, or shall I wait to be summoned?’

‘I guess it will have to be the former now, seeing as you’ve landed me with a huge guilt-trip’.

‘Guilt-trip?’

‘Well, as you so tactfully pointed out, you need the money, and heaven forbid I deprive you of your wages’.

Pippa wiped her mouth and pushed her plate to one side.

‘Thank you for the meal...’ Michael bent to put another log on the fire; he heard the door close and echoing footsteps down the hall. He glanced at the half eaten meal then kicked at a stray log, resting his head against the mantel.

 

                                                       *****

Pippa had a rough night. The bed was fighting her and at one stage she thought she was going down with a fever. Cold...hot...cold... She thumped her pillows like she would a punch bag, but to no avail. She would have another word with Arnold; this just wasn’t going to work.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 11 A Ghost Revealed

‘Pippa, give it time, he will come round, mark my words, these director types are all cut from the same cloth.’

Arnold’s advice fell on deaf ears, Pippa was beginning to feel defeated, out gunned and out manoeuvred. But moments later she was stomping back to the house, no more fencing around.

Michael sat in his study stirring his coffee, thinking and re-thinking how exactly to approach the whole situation which he was also beginning to regret agreeing to. Two consecutive knocks...no response, bugger the man! Pippa walked in; ready for anything he would throw at her.

‘Ms. Mason’.

‘Mr Jaeger’.

Niceties out the way thus began what felt like round five hundred, Pippa had given up counting. Michael was already feeling totally un-cooperative.

‘Please, call me Michael’.

‘Right. Michael...’

‘Eh, don’t you need to do a sound check?’

(One two three four five.............!Stay calm Pippa.)

‘Right, go ahead.’

‘Cold Fish’.

(Was there a message in there?)

‘Right, what do you think drew you to the field of film directing?’ Michael gave a long drawn out sigh and leant across the desk, his clear blue eyes laser beaming into hers.

‘Okay. Let’s cut the crap Pippa...’

‘Ms. Mason’.

‘Why are you so damn defensive?’

‘I am no such thing’.

‘Yes you damn well are!’ His face looked thunderous.

Silence, Michael sat brooding in his chair and now Pippa was starting to lose her patience, although secretly pleased she had rattled his cage. ‘Every time I ask you about your wife you put up a wall’.

‘Not true’.

‘Then what was yesterday all about...the’ fishing trip’?’

‘It wasn’t a trip, it happens to be a hobby of mine, something I enjoy, not all recluses shut themselves away you know’.

‘But-’

‘For your information, it is something I love to do, I enjoy it. Fresh air, communing with Mother Nature, something I very much doubt you experience in your closeted concreted life in London, do you actually have any hobbies at all?’.

Pippa sighed and switched her phone off, this was becoming very tedious.

‘Well, for your information, I am totally unfazed by the environment wherever I happen to be, whether it’s in a city, country, desert, ocean or on top of a bloody mountain, I don’t have time for idle hobbies!’

‘Well bully for you Ms.Mason!’

Tempers had risen. They stared across at each other for a split second. Pippa looked away and up at the ceiling, anything but in the direction of his face. Michael tried to calm down and then opened a drawer in the desk, taking out a framed photo of his and Jennifer’s wedding day. He passed it to Pippa and for one second she felt suddenly remorseful. ‘You both look so happy...she 's beautiful’.

‘We were, and she was...She was all mine...You dream about finding that one special person...well, Jennifer was...a talented artist, bright, clever, beautiful, loving, all those things...We tried for kids straight away... April is involved in stage design and Matt is into architecture... they’ve made their own way in life with no help from either of us, they did good, I’m proud of them both.’

‘You must be...’ Pippa smiled trying to relax but there was an underlying tension in the room, also something felt too pat concerning his story. Michael got up and walked over to the window, his forehead pressed up against the pane and Pippa saw a misted exhale of breath. She felt as if she were holding her breath, waiting for some big revelation.

It came.

‘We had a good run compared to most couples we knew...thirty good years...well... all but the last five ...then it started happening... she began forgetting things...silly things...obvious things we all do now and then, but they kept happening...she began repeating things, talking about the past... she would hang things away in the wrong cupboards and forget where they were...move objects and put them in drawers...’ Pippa replaced the photo on the desk.

‘What did you do?’

‘What anyone would do in that situation, called the family doctor...then got the specialists in... took her for tests...memory tests, stuff like that.’

‘What were their findings?’

The room fell silent and Michael raised his head away from the window and looked up at the overcast sky outside.

‘They diagnosed Frontotemporal Dementia.’

Pippa swallowed, she tried to re-start her phone but her hand froze. Michael was staring out at the scenery below and then glanced back up at the sky. ‘It’s a type of dementia that hits early in life. She went missing one day...we went looking for her...I found her sitting on the hillside amongst the heather; it was the exact place where I had asked her to marry me...all those years ago. When she saw me approach she got to her feet, started backing away, yelling at me, telling me to back off. I didn’t raise my voice, I just calmly spoke to her, reached for her hand, but she pushed it away... and then she asked me...who I was...’ Pippa swallowed, she could see he was going to crack but couldn’t move. ‘She didn’t know who I was...’ He turned round as if preparing a statement then seemed to think better of it, this time his eyes were staring directly at hers. ‘Dementia is like a thief that comes in the night Ms. Mason, it steals away the mind of someone you love, someone you have known most of your life...made a family with...a home...’ He threw up his hands, ‘Gone...just like that.’ His words hung in the air for what seemed like ages. Pippa returned her attention to the photograph.

‘Why do you hide this in your drawer?’

‘What?’

‘Why do you -’

‘I heard what you said.’ His voice sounded defensive again. ‘It’s private...I like to keep things safe...in their place.’

‘But it’s such a beaut-’

‘It’s private...’ he placed the photograph back in the drawer and locked it. ‘I shouldn’t have shown you...’He sat back down and swung round in his chair staring out the window. ‘Forty years ago I met a wonderful, beautiful woman...she was the light of my life...we fell in-love at first sight...over a cup of coffee ...she gave me two beautiful kids...she gave me a reason to believe in this crazy, stupid, greedy, shallow world, we had thirty years together, and then she was dead, fifty-five years old...snuffed out just like that’. Silence... Pippa wanted to turn the phone back on but something stayed her hand. Michael had turned back to face her, his eyes stinging with unshed tears, ‘Do you know what it’s like to wake up one morning and discover the person you have been living with for most of your life suddenly forgets who you are? Backs away...treats you like a total stranger? Won’t let you touch her?’ his eyes held Pippa’s, ‘no, you don’t, and let me tell you...I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even my own worst enemy’.

‘It must have been very hard for you all-‘

‘Hard...? Hard...? You have no idea...It’s like the one solid person you have ever loved has just been replaced by nothing, nothing...an empty shell, with no memory of who they or who you are...nothing!’

Pippa wanted to get up and run, not away, but to him and hold him, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t think of it, he was unreachable, untouchable. It was all still too raw. At last she found the strength to speak.

‘So, you hid away...’

‘This was our home...I decided to stay here...forget...but you can’t forget...’

‘April and Matt’ must have wondered what was happening.’

‘The kids were great...they adjusted, but it’s when you realise who your real friends are...the ones who are there for you and the ones who suddenly stop calling’.

‘But what about all the screenplays...the offers?’

‘Meant diddly squat, lost interest, couldn’t get back into it, suddenly everything became meaningless, pointless’.

‘But surely you must miss it?’

‘Part of me does...but there’s another part of me holding me back...I guess I’ve lost belief in myself, something’s gone that I can never get back.’

Pippa stared at the figure hunched over his desk. He was vulnerable, lost and very much alone. Suddenly a title for the article came into her mind- A Man Alone. She got slowly to her feet collecting her things. ‘Maybe I should leave ...I am so sorry Mr. Jaeger...I didn’t mean to pry’. He slowly looked up and the blue steely eyes narrowed.

‘Pry? Getting cold feet now, too close to the fire? But that’s what you people do best don’t you? That’s what you are paid to do...get into people’s heads, get underneath their skin, mess with their minds and write your stories.’

‘You make it sound very cold and-’

‘Well isn’t it Ms. Mason, isn’t it just that?’ He hadn’t taken his eyes from her, then the phone rang and it was Pippa’s cue to go.

Once outside she exhaled and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She suddenly felt guilty and a fraud then reprimanded herself for feeling that way, that it was just a job she was paid to do, Michael had pointed that out and of course it was true. She needed some air and time to think.

                                                       ***

 

That night Pippa recited all what Michael had told her into her phone, but there was still something that bugged her, something missing. Maybe it was time to do a little investigating. She could try to trace those who were still close to Michael...they might help fit the pieces together.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 12 David and Vanessa

'Have you seen my tie anywhere?’

David Manning stood at the full length mirror in his Manhattan apartment which he shared with his wife Vanessa. He was a tall man in his late sixties but life had not been too kind to him as stunt work in his youth had taken it’s toll.

He and Michael went back a long way, to the first time his friend started out directing shorts and David had his first break...literally when he had to fall from a window ten floors up, landing awkwardly and damaging his back.

Their paths had crossed many times over the years and when at last David got his first chance in an acting role on a TV soap, who should be directing but Michael.

They had always been there for each other and despite the miles between them nowadays, they still kept in touch.

He and his wife had been deeply affected by Jennifer’s death and there was a lot they still held inside, grief and memories, some not good. From the dressing room a small blond haired figure emerged clutching a navy silk tie. Vanessa Manning smiled fondly at her flustered husband who was struggling now with his boots.

‘Calm down now, there’s plenty of time, Merle isn’t stupid, he’s aching for you to accept this role, believe me, he’d be stupid to pass you up.’ Her husband relaxed and slowed down. He had been waiting for this break; it had been a long time coming. He had just finished the fourth and final season playing a hot shot lawyer in a popular TV series set as it turned out conveniently in Manhattan, now he had the chance of something challenging, theatre work.

Vanessa was a dress designer and her clients ranged from close friends to well-known celebrities. She had a chain of shops in New York and LA, and had worked hard to get where she was and at times needed to bluff and bullshit her way through things, but it paid off in the end.

She had known Jennifer the longest, they had grown up together, but eventually they went their separate ways, each searching for that certain something, but now and then they would meet up whenever they could or if there was a crisis. They talked on the phone whenever time allowed and although they found themselves in a continual whirlwind of work they still managed to hook up occasionally to catch up.

It was Michael who played cupid between them but he didn’t have to work too hard...there was instant attraction for both his pal and the very astute pixie haired blond who was starting to now turn slightly silver at her temples as was her husband.

They had decided not to have children as both were career driven and didn’t want the ties that came with them, it was a decision that was respected and never regretted, but there were times when ‘Van’ wondered what it would have been like to experience childbirth and nurturing a little soul that was a part of you.

She knew a lot but never said too much, especially when it came to the subject of her dear departed friend, some memories were meant to be left alone and made to keep close to the heart.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 13 Investigations

Pippa spent the weekend getting in touch with contacts she knew who would be good at rooting around for any links to Michael and Jennifer previous to her death. A mate from the past was soon phoning her back with some numbers and names, two of which were David and Vanessa Manning.

                                                   

                                                ************

 

 

Vanessa was sitting in her office enjoying a cup of tea and a crafty cigarette when her phone rang.

‘Who?’

Then after a lot of garbled chatter Pippa was put through.

‘Am I speaking to Vanessa Manning?’

‘Who is this?’

‘I’m Pippa Mason. I’m writing an article about a friend of yours, Michael Jaeger, I believe you know him?’

‘Pippa Mason? Who do you work for?’

‘Global News in London’.

‘What exactly do you want to know?’

‘Well it’s really about his late wife...Jennifer’.

A pause, Vanessa began to feel the hairs on her neck stand up.

‘Look...I am very busy at the moment...deadlines...you must know about those Ms. Mason.’

‘Yes I do-‘

‘Well...to be quite honest this is not a good time...and it’s all a bit difficult here at the moment’.

‘I see...but I really need to finish this article by the end of the month’. ‘Well I need to get these designs out by the end of this week...you see my problem Ms. Mason.’

‘But-’

‘Call me when I’m less busy, okay?’

The line went dead.

‘Bugger’!

Vanessa stared at the phone, she was shaking and stubbed out her cigarette, an uncomfortable feeling settled in her stomach and the back of her neck prickled, she decided to call it a day and head for home.

 

David was pouring a large whisky when she walked in, looking disapprovingly at her husband she decided that what she had to say was more urgent than a petty scold over booze.

‘I had an interesting phone call this afternoon from-’

‘Ms. Mason?’

‘How did you know?’

David slumped into an easy chair and caressed his glass.

‘Just come off the phone to Michael...seems this Ms. Mason is staying at Green Pines by kind invitation of none other than himself’.

Vanessa was speechless and was about to light a cigarette then thought the better of it; she was trying to kick the habit.

‘What on earth made him do that?’

‘She knows about Jennifer...about her illness...not the other thing...’ Vanessa gave a tired sigh but there was an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.

‘Well that’s something’.

A thoughtful pause. David glanced uneasily up at his wife.

‘We are due a visit’.

‘Are we? It’s not in the book.’

‘I know...but I think we should go...’ he cast Vanessa a knowing look. ‘But what about the play?’

‘The play can wait...this can’t Van’, start packing’.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 14 A Skeleton Unveiled

‘He’s gone where?’

Pippa was once again bracing herself against the kitchen doorway. Shona had just informed her that Michael had left two hours ago to visit a ‘sick friend’. ‘Sick friend my foot’ thought Pippa. This was another wind up; her patience was beginning to wear thin again.

‘Well, did he say when he would be back?’

‘Well he didn’t exactly say...but he shouldn’t be too long, he’ll be back for his lunch I’m sure’.

‘You’re sure?’

‘Would you like a cup of tea and a couple of wee oaties’?

‘No thank you...I might choke on them...’ calm down Pippa, she’s not the enemy. ‘Okay if I go upstairs...I need to catch up on my notes...?’ Shona seemed to have no objection.

The study was warm with the morning sun beaming in, lighting the usually dim room. Pippa flung her coat down and proceeded to sort her stuff out and do a general recon’ of her holdall, it was like Mary Poppins’, a bottomless pit. After a while she turned her attention to the books behind her...this time the Travel section caught her eye, particularly on Italy. This was one place she had always dreamed of seeing, especially Venice...so romantic. ‘One day Pippa, one day’, she mused as she picked ‘The Mysteries of Sicily’ off the shelf, red leather with gold embossed writing on the front, very posh. She made herself comfy and started to turn the pages only to stop when she saw a message written in the most beautiful hand on the title page. ‘My Jennifer, love A ’ Pippa stared at the handwriting and mysterious initial...was this a skeleton she had stumbled on? A lover maybe? She became engrossed in the fascinating stories and histories surrounding the island and of course vast references to the Italian mafia...or Cosa Nostra. Maybe there was link here...

Oblivious to the sound of approaching footsteps she fairly jumped when Michael entered the room then roughly snatched the book from her hands, chucking it on the desk, his face strained and angry.

‘Don’t you EVER stop poking round?’

Pippa’s chest rose and fell, but then so was his, he was definitely not pleased, she pointed to the book.

‘Just out of interest, who is ‘A’?’

No response. He was clenching and unclenching his hands.

‘Michael, who is ‘A’ ?’

His mouth had grown tight, eyes narrowing.

‘Drop it...’

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s none of your damn business...that’s why’.

‘But I can’t.’

‘Well try, damn you, if I can then you can!’

‘No, I’m sorry, I can’t’.

Then he turned on her.

‘Of course you can’t! More meat to grind...time to dig up the dirt, eat at the swill bucket!’

Pippa was unfazed and stood her ground knowing she was pushing him, but there was something to go on here.

‘Who is ‘A’?’

Michael shook his head in amazement.

‘You people...you never cease to amaze me...you just cannot resist getting your pound of flesh can you? Squeezing and squeezing until there’s nothing left!’

‘Who was ‘A’ Michael?’

‘Don’t you listen? It’s none of your-’

‘Who was he?’

‘Nobody...no one you need to know about’.

‘Who was ‘A’?’

Then suddenly with one swipe of his hand across the desk Michael sent everything cascading to the floor, and then slumped into his chair, you could hear a pin drop apart from his laboured breathing. Pippa glanced down at the floor at the array of scattered papers, pens and desk lamp. She bent forward to pick them up.

‘Leave it!’

She started to sit back down, and then his tone was more measured ‘Would you leave me please?’

‘But-’

‘Get out!’

Without further hesitation Pippa gathered her things, ears ringing, head buzzing with the sound of his anger she quickly left. At the bottom of the stairs Shona and Robbie looked at her dumbfounded as she passed and then she saw two more faces...she deduced were his son and daughter, Matthew and April. A car had pulled up and suddenly through the door emerged David and Vanessa. No words were needed. David cast Pippa a look of cold disdain as he passed taking the stairs two at a time before disappearing into the study. Vanessa eyed Pippa with a mixture of concern and vexation, she was shaking. It was against her better judgement what she said next,

‘Come into the sitting room...Shona, bring some tea’.

She nodded to Matt and April and they seemed to read her mind and disappeared into the kitchen although it was the dark haired April who hung back as if she didn’t want to miss what was being said. Vanessa sat down by the fire still eyeing a shaking Pippa, she didn’t like the situation one bit but Jennifer and the whole thing needed to be got out into the open, for too long she had kept it all suppressed, far too long, and anyway, sooner or later the truth would out. She hated being put in this position...it felt like betrayal, but at the same time, a kind of exorcism.

‘So, it looks like we got here just at the right moment Ms. Mason, do you always take the form of a human wrecking ball?’ she looked into the flames and then at Pippa, ‘What do you want to know?’ Pippa remained silent. Well, shall I tell you, you want to know the truth about Jennifer?’ her voice had become quiet. Pippa still didn’t answer but sat down eyeing this rather lovely looking woman, nothing like the brash one on the phone, she looked straight at Pippa. ‘Okay. Where do I start?’ she took a deep breath then exhaled, ‘We were at school together, we became firm friends, Jen was a good friend, a good listener, but a sweet innocent, ruled by a strict father who taught her right from wrong but like most things it didn’t always work out.’

‘Strict?’

‘He loved her very much, she was daddy’s girl, and whenever a guy started to move in on her he came out guns blazing. He vetted every prospective boyfriend, and of course they never came back’. She lit a cigarette and blew the smoke into the fire. ‘Jen was two-sided, wild inside...calm and carefree on the outside, she felt suppressed at times, never allowed to go to pop concerts, clubs, stuff like that, so she would retreat into her bedroom and play her music as loudly as possible, when her father and mother weren’t around . A silent rebel who never really rebelled...yes...she was a true friend...dependable, reliable...but...she was also a hopeless romantic, fearlessly possessive and reckless if placed in the wrong hands...’

‘Whose hands would that be?’

‘Well, I think you are already starting to put two and two together don’t you...?’

‘She had an affair?’

At this Vanessa bristled.

‘Jennifer always loved Michael, all the way and down the line-put that in your bloody article’.

‘But-’

‘She was easily led that’s all.’

‘I know there was someone...’

‘I think it would be a good idea for us to take a rain check Ms Mason, my husband might be a while up there and April and Matt shouldn’t be witnessing this. She walked past Pippa into the kitchen. Pippa was still shaking and decided to take Vanessa’s advice; she needed to get out of the house. She needed air.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 15 April

April watched from the shadows as Pippa walked out into the freezing air, she had heard everything that had been said. Matt’ touched his sister’s arm but she pulled away. He looked very much like his father would have done in his thirties, a dark mass of wavy hair and that crooked smile. He looked on as April followed Pippa down the drive; Pippa turned and gave a half smile.

‘Go on...now tell me what a callous interfering bitch of a journalist I am...I deserve it.’

April came close beside her and brushed a strand of black hair from her  face. She shrugged.

‘What would that gain? Why pick at a scab that refuses to heal anyway?’ ‘Thank you’.

'You hit a nerve Ms. Mason, that’s all...dad took a while getting over mum’s fling with Anthony, the scars still run  deep’.

‘Anthony...the initial in the book...’

‘Anthony Morelli.’

‘What is the link between you and Anthony?’

‘He was my real father’.

Suddenly it started to become clear.

‘I see...I’m sorry...I don’t know what to say’.

‘What is there to say? It all happened before mum and dad married. Mum and Van’ told me when I was old enough to understand...but dad couldn't let go...’

They’d reached the Gatehouse, Pippa wanted some warmth.

‘I’m freezing...do you fancy hot chocolate?’

 

                                                       *****

 

‘Surely he doesn’t blame you?’

They were sitting in the gatehouse kitchen, sipping hot chocolate and munching oaties.

‘Blame? No...that’s not the right word. I wasn't his child...it wasn't resentment or jealousy...the fact of the matter is they both messed up’.

‘Jennifer and Michael?’

‘Yes...’

‘How come?’

Pippa threw another log on the fire, she watched April, her eyes were dark like her skin but there was a very slight tinge of red in her brunette locks, she was now in her late thirties and there was no wedding ring visible.

‘Mum and dad fell head over heels in-love... that simple. He always believed in love at first sight... I remember once seeing them kiss and hold each other when I was little...intense...powerful...’ for a moment her eyes seemed to cloud over, ‘ anyway, before I came along, in fact long before they married, with all the work he had, they went to New York...a big apartment overlooking Central Park. They stayed there for a couple of years during which time mum became disenchanted with the way their life had become...she wanted what he had promised, stability, marriage, children, but they grew apart, became ships that pass in the night...So gradually mum sought escape and started painting again and then exhibitions followed at small local galleries. She was a great portrait artist...she had many commissions and commanded high fees...her whole life changed.’

‘And Michael?’

'Well his life was just as hectic. Busy directing and immersing himself in everything...simple fact was they drifted apart.’

‘Enter Anthony Morelli?’

‘He was an avid collector and had been watching mum’s work evolve plus he had connections and that helped her progress’.

‘So he backed her?’

‘Yes. She became his protégé I guess’.

‘Then what?’

‘They became lovers...things just escalated...’ April sipped silently at her chocolate drink and stared into the flames.

‘Okay. So I gather Michael found out...’

‘Not really...He knew something was going on, I know there were rows.’ ‘She told you?’

‘No...I told her’.

Vanessa was standing in the doorway.

‘Much later...when April was old enough to understand’ she eyed April ‘he wants to see you’.

April got to her feet, smiled down at Pippa and giving Vanessa a hug disappeared out the door.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 16 Anthony and after

‘Jennifer walked out one night, they had this huge row, we were there when it happened she decided she couldn’t carry on the way they were’. ‘So she ran to Anthony’.

‘Yes...she hadn’t been well...’

‘I see’.

‘No, you don’t see. Her lifestyle had changed dramatically, the demand for her work...just got too much...she started popping pills...uppers mainly. Michael found them hidden away in a drawer and it all blew up. That’s when she left’.

Pippa was mentally taking this down and prayed she would remember it all after Vanessa had left.

‘So then she went to live with Anthony?’

‘He helped her get back on track believe it or not, a man connected to the mob. Yes...he looked after her and gradually she started to recover...’

‘Then what made them split up?’

Vanessa drew a long breath and looked into the fire as if for support. ‘Anthony had to go away. He was involved in a lot of dark stuff, it got to the point when he was looking over his shoulder; he started to worry about Jennifer’s safety, so he made the decision to end the affair...’ ‘That couldn’t have been easy for either of them’.

‘No, it wasn’t...Jennifer fell apart, then, on top of that, she discovered she was pregnant with April, but she couldn’t tell him’.

‘What happened?’

‘They separated. Anthony went back to Sicily and Jen went somewhere in Tuscany, some convent...that’s where April was born.’

‘And she never told anyone who April’s father was?’

‘No, never’.

Pippa placed another log on the fire and made more tea, she didn’t want Vanessa to leave.

‘Where was Michael during this time?’

‘Oh...the other side of the world making movies...’ Vanessa was hurting now, she started to rub her arms ‘it hit him hard, he never stopped loving her...it was awful, he’d be out somewhere...he kept mistaking other women for her... it was always someone else... He  had stupid meaningless flings...they didn't last...So now you know...the secret is out Ms. Mason’.

‘What happened to Anthony, did Jennifer ever see him again?’

‘No’.

‘Did Michael ever meet him?’

‘A few times’.

‘Did you hate her for doing it...leaving Michael?’

‘A part of me did, yes, but Jen was a law unto herself at that time...Dave and I knew the relationship with Anthony was fated...she’d always loved Michael...despite the rows and threatened walkouts’.

‘What happened to Anthony?’

Vanessa’s face was showing real pain now.

‘Jen was staying with us...after she got back from Italy...There was a headline in the paper...he had been killed by a car bomb outside his home in Sicily...’

Pippa swallowed and felt the hairs on her neck stand up.

‘I presume the mob were behind it?’

Vanessa nodded slowly.

‘Jen obviously took it badly, went to pieces, she was slow to recover, and bearing in mind she had April to consider’.

‘Of course....’ Pippa watched a trickle of water trail down Vanessa’s cheek and passed her a tissue. ‘You go back a long way...you must have felt helpless...’

‘You see your best friend falling apart and there’s nothing you can do...but time heals, she was a fighter, she got through it-we all did...’ ‘How long before she met up with Michael again?’

‘Not long really. Michael had never really recovered from the split...there was a silly fling with someone...no one important...half his age, but it was never going to come to anything...nobody could replace Jen...she had been the love of his life’.

‘So, what happened?’

'He just turned up one day out of the blue. He often came to visit when he was in the area but he usually let us know first, this one occasion he didn’t’.

‘How did Jennifer react to this sudden visit?’

‘How do you think? Total shock...totally unprepared’.

‘Was April there...did he see her?’

‘She was there...but he didn’t see her, not that day. She was upstairs with the sitter’.

‘How long before he found out?’

Vanessa’s lips curled.

‘My, my, Ms. Mason. You really are like a dog with a bone...you really must be enjoying this’.

‘I’m sorry if that’s how I come over...but it’s my-’

‘Job? I know... Are you really going to print this?’

Pippa began to feel uncomfortable.

‘Ask me when I’m back in London’.

Vanessa gave a wry smile, shaking her head.

‘They started dating not long after that...she was waiting for the right moment...things started to get serious...then one night she plucked up the courage and told him about April. I guess she wanted to test him...see if he still loved her despite everything that had happened’. ‘And he didn’t mind...it didn’t change anything?’

‘No...But it took him a long time to accept April’.

‘Praise to him...not every man would be so forgiving’.

Pippa wondered if she had overstepped the mark here as once more Vanessa cast her withering look.

‘Judge not that ye be not judged’ Ms. Mason. We are talking about a man who had spent his whole life loving one woman and one woman only, despite everything that had happened’.

‘A man alone...’ Pippa whispered into the fire which was starting to die down at last.

Vanessa sighed and gave a long stretch, combing her fingers through her hair.

‘So there you have it...they moved here, got married and soon after Matt’ was born’.

‘Happy ever after...’

Silence.

Vanessa kept gazing into the fire...she gave a swallow.

‘For a while...Matt was a difficult birth and she was terribly sick all the time, she resolved never to have any more children...he is so like her in some ways...obviously he gets his looks from Michael...he has a moody nature at times...’

‘Like his father’.

‘Michael was a good father to both April and Matt...and a devoted husband. He went through a lot of shit with Jennifer but he was always there for them...all of them, April too’.

‘So, when she developed Dementia it couldn’t have been easy’.

‘Easy is not a word I’d use...’ Vanessa got to her feet and looked down at the dying embers, ‘be careful if you go to print Ms. Mason’ her eyes started to glaze over, ‘you could cause a lot of grief to people...’ she took a deep breath, she had gone too far, overstepped the mark but there was no going back now, ‘things started to change...she began forgetting things, Birthdays...appointments...then names...We used to love playing stupid board games like Monopoly and Scrabble...we all made jokes about it but in the end the jokes wore thin and we started to worry about her...things came to a head when she woke up one morning not recognising where she was...and then Michael and the rest of us were added to the list...he put a brave face on everything but inside he was cracking up...’

‘Did Jennifer remain at Pines?’

‘Yes.’ Vanessa felt a lump come into her throat, ‘.she died here...her ashes are scattered up on the hills.’

Things were getting too raw, too painful.

‘It’s okay...you don’t need to go any further’.

Vanessa pushed away from the hearth and walked over to the window.

'She's up there, amongst the heather...'

There was a sudden knock at the door, it was David, and he glanced nervously from one woman to the other.

‘What’s going on?’

Vanessa glanced round to see her husband looking tired and angry but she continued.

‘That last morning it was as if things had been rewound...right back before she became ill...’

David immediately tensed up.

‘Liz...we said we’d never do this.’

‘Oh...but we do...we need to get all this out of our systems, most of all Michael...he needs to move on...we all do’. David looked daggers at Pippa then sat down on the arm of the sofa, staring down at the floor, his wife sat down next to him and he placed a protective arm around her, she gazed ahead, thinking back on the memories. ‘We were staying the weekend. April and Matt were visiting and we were all laughing and joking, just like the old days...Jen was happier than she had ever been...talkative like never before...It was as if someone had wound her up and thrown away the key...her eyes were alive and her face so animated...we started to talk about...us...school...she remembered so much, she didn’t miss a beat. Then when she said goodnight to me, she had this utter calmness about her...she said, ‘I’m alright...don’t worry darling really...everything’s fine...’

David wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, his voice filled with sadness.

‘Michael woke up the next morning to find her gone...The main door hadn’t been locked, Robbie never forgave himself. Michael had an idea where she would be... and found her sitting in the heather in her nightdress. He carried her back and the next few days her health took a downturn, she got a respitory infection, she hardly said anything...it was as if she was punishing us for finding her...then a week later she was dead. Michael said he was woken up by someone calling his name in the night...it was Jenny...she was cold and wanted him to hold her...he put her in beside him and they both went to sleep...the next morning Jen was dead...she died in her sleep...in his arms...’

Silence.

Pippa sat motionless not daring to say anymore...these two had said it all for her. David got slowly to his feet helping his wife up, he turned to face Pippa.

‘My friend’s falling apart right now, he's okay...but he needs to be left alone Ms. Mason, totally alone you understand me?...I’m sure you’ve got more than enough to fill your paper with...or whatever it is you people do’.

Pippa could only nod in agreement. The couple left in silence and Pippa listened until the footsteps on the gravel died away.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 17 Taking Stock

The next few days Pippa kept a low profile. Vanessa and David paid her one final visit before heading off to London. David in particular hadn’t forgiven Pippa, his wife or himself come to that for spilling the beans, he made that very plain when he paid Pippa a solo visit the morning they left. Pippa wasn’t at her best and hadn’t slept very well for days. He seemed to tower over her, all 6ft of him, she felt totally out of her depth in every way.

‘I guess you’ll be heading back to London’.

That sounded like an ultimatum. Pippa tried to smile but it just wasn’t working.

‘I know what you think of me.’

‘Tell me?’

‘Oh...pick a word, any word. Low, underhand, un-feeling’.

‘That doesn’t even cover half of it lady believe me’.

‘I was just-’

‘Doing your job?’ he stabbed his finger at her a deep menacing crease between his brows, ‘because of you  I have a dear, loving, friend back there who is falling apart at the seams, you caused a lot of pain here lady, a lot of pain’, he turned to go then swung round, ‘when we get back from London in two weeks I don’t want to see you here understand?’ With that he was out the door, a screech of tyres, then silence.

Pippa felt like she had been struck physically. Thankfully there were no similar reproaches from either April or Matt. They stayed on a few more days and then, once again the knock at the Gatehouse door. April told Pippa that whatever she decided to do-print or no-would be her decision to make but there was an underlying current of sadness and of course everyone wanted to protect Michael. Matt had kept a low profile up to now, thirty-seven years old and, like his sister, still not married, he looked puzzled and hurt but his voice was calm.

‘This hasn’t been the best of times, for any of us Ms. Mason. I don’t know what to say to you, I just want my father to find peace...you can understand that can’t you?’

Pippa nodded but there was no hand shake from Matt, just a pained smile.

                                                         *****

Later that day Pippa was standing by the fire in the sitting room brooding and mulling over things when Michael entered, his voice seemed detached and unemotional.

‘You’re leaving us Ms. Mason?'

‘Yes, I am... Thank you...’

‘For what?’

‘For your help’.

‘Help?’

‘With the article...’

He threw some magazines down on the table and started to walk away,saying over his shoulder, ‘I am sure it will be a roaring success, who knows they might even make a film, but please don’t ask me to direct it.’

She couldn’t speak,a hard lump had formed in her throat. Michael disappeared into the kitchen to make a fuss of Robbie’s dogs who were whimpering to be let out for their morning walk.

 

                                                      *****

 

Back at the office Pippa sat gazing at her empty screen, she hadn’t got very far with the article, the title stared fearlessly back at her.

‘Michael Jaeger - A Man Alone’.

That was as far as she had got, her fingers had seized up and her eyes didn’t want to focus, she hadn’t even plugged the headphones in. Arnold had been studying her from his office on and off for the last hour. ‘How’s it going?’

‘Mmm?’

‘The article on Michael Jaeger’.

‘Oh...fine...just checking stuff...’

‘Where are your headphones?’

‘Mmm?’

‘If you’re doing that you need headphones’.

‘Yes...I do know that Arnold’.

He noted peevishness in her voice.

'What’s up Pippa, time of the month?’

Wrong thing to say...Pippa exploded.

‘Was that meant to be funny? If it was-it bloody well wasn’t!’ Arnold huffed back at her but she was getting into her stride now,

‘For your information Arnold bloody Emmett I have just had the worst four weeks of my life!'   

‘It's your job Pippa!’

‘Oh how I hate that phrase! ‘It’s your job’ Well, even I have my limits and I do believe this time I have overstepped the boundary!’

‘Well, that’s great, it shows you are doing your job...what you are paid to do, what I pay you to do!’

‘No it doesn’t! It’s shown me just what a cold, calculating, manipulative bitch I can be!’

‘We all have two sides Pippa’.

‘Oh do we...do we really? Well, for your information I didn’t like the ‘other’ side of me...I hated her!’

‘Then maybe you’re in the wrong job?!’

‘Maybe I am!’

Their raised voices were drawing attention. Arnold motioned Pippa into his office, his face reddening either with anger or embarrassment at being called out by an employee. Pippa flung down her pen and followed Arnold like a schoolchild who had been found out. He pointed to a chair.

‘Sit’.

Grudgingly Pippa obeyed. Her eyes had narrowed but they were already stinging with hot tears. Arnold chucked her a box of tissues.

‘Don’t go all soft on me Pippa’.

She gave a defiant sniff and chucked the box back at him, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. Arnold was eyeing her inquisitively.

‘What’s going on Pippa?’

No answer.

‘You’ve always delivered. I’ve known you for years, I remember when you came here, still wet behind the ears, and you knew it all...so eager, so willing...so hungry. But I saw what you had...potential, dedication...tenacity...all those things’.

‘Maybe too much.’

‘Meaning?’

‘My life outside this place... it never stood a chance did it? This place became my second home...I never had a proper home of my own. I never had a chance at my life Arnold, my life!’

‘Where on earth is all this coming from? You never seemed to mind the overtime, the scoops, the deadlines, burning the midnight oil’.

‘Arnold, why do you think there was never any time for anything else?, A husband, kids, you know, those things called relationships, a social life? And then when I got the chance with actually getting things together something would come up and you’d reel me in like the helpless squirming pathetic little fish I was!’

‘So now it’s my fault? That so called relationship you tried to have with that sleazy two faced wretch from The Sun was a waste of time and you know it, I probably saved your bacon there.’

Pippa glared back at her boss then decided not to take the bait.

‘I don’t know! Maybe you were partly to blame, but yes, it takes two to tango and I just gave in every time...oh why are we even having this conversation anyway?!’

‘Because Prudence Julia Mason I get the feeling that you are getting cold feet regarding this article on Michael Jaeger, am I right or am I right?’

Silence.

‘Answer me Pippa, am I right?’

Pippa got abruptly to her feet, kicking back the chair. She needed to get out of there, needed air. Slamming out the office she headed for home taking the memory stick with her.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 18 Robbie

Michael and Robbie walked slowly through the heather, the latter, gun half cocked, eyeing his friend from beneath his cap.

‘You can stop her you know’.

‘What?’

‘It’s your decision...but, if I were you...’

‘But you’re not me Robbie’.

‘I know that...but you can....’

‘Let’s just walk huh?’

‘Okay, you’re the boss...’

There was a sudden rustle in the bracken ahead, Robbie secured his gun and raised it to shoot, but a firm hand pushed it back down toward the ground.

‘Leave it, there have been too many casualties lately...’

Robbie watched the tall lonely figure walk on down the hillside into the mist; it was as if Michael had resigned himself to fate and just given up.

 

                                                    *****

 

‘Is Ms. Mason in?’

The receptionist at Global looked up to see a man with a rough unruly beard and ruddy complexion staring down at her, cap in hand.

‘I’m afraid she’s not here.’

‘Oh, I see. Can you tell me when she will be please?’

‘Sorry. Do you know Ms. Mason?’

‘Not exactly...I met her recently-.’

‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you’.

Robbie was on a mission. He’d made up some excuse to see a Gunsmith in London although Shona knew what he was really up to. He ambled along the streets until he found himself in a market square, the stalls were loaded with tat and bri-a-brac. It was while he was perusing some old hand tools he caught sight of a familiar figure looking through some old books...it was Pippa. He debated whether to approach her or not but something spurred him on, after all, it was her he had come to seek out, he walked over to where she was just about to purchase a selection of garishly coloured scrunchies, he coughed nervously.

‘Still having to tame those unruly locks of yours I see’.

Pippa gave a startled jerk and dropped the scrunchies to the ground, Robbie gallantly picked them up, placing them back into her hands. Pippa said nothing for a moment but replaced the scrunchies back onto the stall, she gave an uncomfortable swallow and started to walk on, he followed.

‘What are you doing here...how did you find me?’

‘By accident...I went to your office,

you weren’t there, so I decided to go for a walk...

here you are, seems I got lucky’.

‘Does Michael know you are here?’

‘Yes...but he thinks I’m at a Gunsmiths’.

‘Clever. You were looking for me?’

‘Well you seem to be elusive at the moment...

they didn’t tell me much’.

‘I’m taking some well-earned leave if you must know...’

‘Oh, I see’.

He didn’t sound convinced.

‘I guess this is the lull before the storm eh?’

‘Sorry, I don’t follow?'

‘It’s right what he says about you,

you always answer everything with a question’.

‘Really?’

It was starting to rain and Robbie was gasping for a drink.

‘Look. Is there somewhere quiet we can go?’

Pippa stopped walking and pondered the proposal. She was feeling tired and needed a caffeine fix, she hadn’t been sleeping well at all and cigarettes had been shown the door ages ago, withdrawal symptoms had kicked in.

‘There’s a place round the corner’.

It was small cafe, intimate and quiet, without intrusive canned music. Pippa had at one time mused that it could have been the kind of place Michael had taken Jennifer after they had first met. Robbie ordered two coffees-unusual for him- and he also decided on two large chocolate cookies. Pippa wanted to resist the latter but gave into temptation much to Robbie’s glee...he was making in-roads, or so he thought.

‘Nice...could do with more oats in though,’ he smiled and a tentative one was returned, ‘ah, she smiles at last’, another small victory...

They sipped in silence except for the intervals of munching, life sped on outside their small confinement. At last Pippa plucked up the nerve to speak.

‘Okay Robbie, spill, why are you really here?’

‘You got me’, he held his hands up, still smiling, then brushing the stray crumbs from his beard, ‘honestly...? I haven’t a clue, I just felt that something needed to be said. Michael’s too stubborn, as far as he’s concerned he couldn’t give a grouse’s gizzard about the article, but it’s all a big bluff, I know it is’.

‘What are you trying to say?’

‘What I’m saying is, he seems to be on a self-destruct mission which even I cannot steer him away from, he puts on this huge front of ‘I’m alright Jack’ but deep down inside he’s hurting. David returned after you’d gone...they were closeted away for ages together and I know there were some tears and arguments...they go back a long way those two. David has been like the brother Michael never had...there is close bond between them, but even his old friend couldn’t help him, and as for Vanessa...’ Pippa pushed her plate away, the cookie was half eaten, and Robbie pushed the plate back toward her. ‘Live dangerously, finish your cookie’. She did, and wished she hadn’t. Robbie watched her for a moment then continued, she definitely looked tired. ‘You exorcized some ghosts up there, maybe it was something that needed to happen...I don’t know. It’s like he’s been bottling this all up for years and has never released his grief properly...all I know is that he is not in a healthy place at the moment...hasn’t been from day one. Remember, I’ve seen him at his peak...he was an incredible director, the best, everybody wanted a piece of him, now he’s just disintegrating, he needs to move on, he needs to get his life back and you Ms. Mason...Pippa, are the only person who can make him do that,’ he sat back in the chair ‘there, I’ve said it’.

Pippa couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

‘Me? Where on earth did that come from?

I’m the last person to ask surely’.

‘No...’

‘Forget it’.

‘Okay. Then answer me one thing’.

‘Okay, ask’.

‘Are you going to print this article?’

A look of realisation swept across Pippa’s face.

‘Ah, now out comes the truth...

the real reason you wanted to see me’.

‘Are you?’

Pippa looked away; she didn’t want to hear this again.

She turned back to face him...

he had this pleading look all over his face.

‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t’.

‘I just have, for goodness sake woman, have you not been listening to me? He’s not right...something like this could tip him over the edge’. Pippa looked through the misted windows and started chewing at her lip. Robbie gave a faint smile.

‘He does that....’

‘What?’

‘Chews his lip and the inside of his cheek

when he’s forced into a corner...’

Pippa turned back to face Robbie, her voice defensive.

‘So, what you are saying is if I don’t run the story,

your boss will take his finger off the self-destruct button?’

‘Hopefully, yes’.

‘You don’t sound too sure’.

‘Okay, I am not sodding clairvoyant. Look, I know him,

this thing could wipe him out...it could finish him’.

‘I thought he was finished already, he hasn’t worked for years...’

Pippa immediately regretted saying that,

the look of disdain on Robbie’s face confirmed it.

‘I can’t believe you just said that, you know full well the reason for that’. ‘Look, he’s been in this self-made rut ever since Jennifer died, he can’t get any deeper’.

Robbie’s face creased into a deep frown.

‘I know deep down inside you don’t really mean that’.

He was right of course, she was being her usual defensive self and it was bringing out her nasty side, her 'other' side.

Robbie gave a sigh.

‘Call off the dogs Pippa’.

‘Or what?’

‘Nothing. I don’t go round making threats to people, especially those I know do have principles but don’t realise it, despite what they are trained to do, however low and despicable’.

‘That’s how you see me, low and despicable?’

‘So prove to me I’m wrong’.

Pippa shuffled her feet beneath the table. Robbie’s piercing gaze was eating into hers, it was all too much.

‘Whatever you may think of me, I am not that low,

it’s a job, my living’. Robbie’s gaze held her,

‘Do you know how hard I’ve had to work to get this far? Single woman going on 40 in a cut throat, stab you in the back business. There are factors in this...I have bills that need to be paid’.

Silence.

Robbie reached into his inside jacket pocket.

‘How much? Name your price’.

‘What?’ The look on Pippa’s face was incredulous.

‘How much?’

‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this’.

‘Believe me, you are. How much?’

A huge lump lodged in Pippa’s throat.

Robbie was getting his cheque book out.

‘Stop it!’

He was sitting there, pen poised.

‘How much?’

Pippa got to her feet. People were starting to mutter and stare,

she leaned into his face.

‘I will not be bought!’

She rushed out into the square with Robbie in hot pursuit,

he caught up with her and grabbed her arm, but not roughly.

‘Pippa, I’m sorry, that was stupid of me’.

‘Yes it bloody well was! Who the hell do you think you are?

Is this what you do, how you operate, buying people off?’

‘No, I’ve never done this before, it will be the first and last time,

I promise, it won’t happen again’.

‘You bet your sweet Scottish life it won’t!’

‘Pippa, listen to me, he’s a good man, he’s alone...he needs...’

‘What?’

‘He needs someone to make things right, to make him believe in himself again, to live again, be free of all the bad memories, the demons’.

Pippa tugged her arm free and leant against the wall, she could feel tears building up and the lump in her throat felt unbearable, she wanted to throw up.

‘So, what do you suggest I do, wave a magic wand?’

‘I’ve already told you, no one can wave a magic wand...not me, not David...nobody’.

A stray tear escaped down Pippa’s cheek and Robbie’s face softened, he dug out a clean hanky, dabbing her face gently, she snatched at the tartan square, finishing the job.

‘So, the devil I do the devil I don’t’.

‘Look. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.

But what I do know is that beneath that so-called tough,

stubborn exterior there is something better, like principles,

integrity and above all, a conscience, hang onto those things Pippa

and don’t let go’.

His deep rich hazel eyes bore into hers just for a few seconds, he gave a short nod and melted into the crowd, that last long look he had given her imprinted on her mind. She tucked the damp tartan hanky in her pocket and turned back towards the office. Her heart was pounding and her head was spinning...what on earth was she going to do now?

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 19 Frustration and Tears

He could hear her dulcet tones as he approached the kitchen, her ‘Domain’ as she quite sternly put it. Everything in its place, clean, tidy and in order just like her. She looked up as he came through the door, a brace of Pheasants in his hand.

‘Don’t let him see them...’

‘They’re not for here as you well know Shona McVie’.

She took them from him, a wry smile on her face and laid them in the sink.

‘Stop your cheek Robbie McVie...I know full well where they’re heading’. Robbie poured them both a tea and watched his wife pottering.

‘They will be glad as always to have those...along with everything else they are given’.

‘Yes, they are always grateful bless them...’ She joined him at the table eyeing him suspiciously above her cup. ‘Well?’

‘Well what?’

‘Robbie McVie, you know full well what I’m asking about. How did the trip to London go...to the eh-Gunsmith?’

Robbie had avoided confrontation with his wife ever since he returned.

‘Oh, that...’

‘Yes, that. Did you see her?’

‘Yes’

Shona’s eyes rolled into her head.

‘And?’

Robbie looked down into his cup and sighed wearily.

‘She wasn’t where I thought she’d be though, seems she’d taken some much needed holiday...’

‘Oh? So, where did you find her?’

‘In some market...looking at dusty old books and scrunchies...’ ‘Scrunchies?...Oh, those things she uses to keep her hair tidy...for all the use they are she may as well leave them off’.

She was shaking her head and it made him laugh, he needed to laugh. ‘Oh Shona sweetheart, you bring such a warm glow of joy to this tired old heart sometimes.’

‘Shut up you daft bannock, was she surprised to see you?’

‘You could say that. We went to a café to talk...’

‘How did you manage that? You must have offered her an incentive’. ‘No, just coffee and chocolate cookies’.

‘You? Drinking coffee and eating cookies? You never touch the stuff unless it’s got a dram in it’.

He sipped at his tea remembering what had passed between him and the fiery female from Globe News. Shona folded her arms and huffed. ‘Well?’

‘Well what?’

‘Oh give me strength God!’

Robbie waved her down.

‘Ssh...he might be near’.

‘No he isn’t, he’s away to the Gatehouse....’

‘Why? What for?’

‘Do I look like I’m clairvoyant?’

Robbie took an oatie from the tin and munched thoughtfully.

‘Robbie!’

‘Alright, alright...we talked about the article and I just made the suggestion that she think twice before going to press...’

‘And I bet that went down like a lead balloon’.

‘Well it did and it didn’t, but things got nasty, especially when I tried to buy her off’.

‘You did what!?’Shona’s face was colouring.

‘I offered to pay her, anything to stop her printing the article...things got heated and ...anyway...it’s not going to happen’.

‘Too right it’s not going to happen, not if I have any say in it! That’s our money you were going to part with, and Mr J-’.

‘I know, I know, but it’s not happening...so...’

‘So what now?’

‘So I left her and...’

‘And?’

‘I don’t really know what she's going to do now’.

‘Great! What a total waste of time that was!’

Shona got wearily to her feet and carried on pottering, now and then glancing in frustration at her husband who was still staring into his cup.

 

 

                                                   *****

 

 

Michael sat on the edge of the bed, staring through the window, his thoughts kept meandering back to the woman who had stayed there a few weeks ago, he also remembered making love with Jennifer in the same bed. They had been trying to re-decorate the place and ended up throwing paint at each other ending up tussled in the dust sheets, he always had the feeling that Matt had been conceived here but he had stopped analysing that long ago. He remembered how in the first few months of her pregnancy his wife had been constantly sick but had this strange craving for rum and raison  truffles and would constantly nag him to buy boxes of them until she was properly sick with them and couldn’t face them anymore. The birth was a nightmare, very long and drawn out, different to April’s and she vowed never to have anymore children.

He had woken from a dream, of the time he and Jennifer used to sit in her studio, she was having one of her ‘bad’ days, staring at the canvas, paintbrush in her hand, trying to start an outline resembling her husband’s face but unable to. Her anger was a difficult thing to witness and control, she had thrown brush after brush into the corner of the room in utter frustration, he’d taken hold of her wrists to calm her and that is when she screamed at him-those three wretched words- ‘Who are you?!’ But he kept hold of her hands, begging her to calm down, pleading with her to paint, and eventually she did...he’d handed her another paint brush which soon joined the others. For hours they would sit, trying to get her to paint...then at last a few strokes were attempted, but no more.

He lay back against the pillows, hugging one to him, tears trickling down his cheek and a deep yearning not to be alone anymore.

 

                                                       *****

 

‘You ready?’

‘Sure boss’.

Michael and Robbie had been walking with the dogs until the light started to fade, he had been in a strange mood and wanted to get going.

‘Got the stuff?’

‘Yes...all wrapped and ready’.

 

Shona stood silently at the kitchen window watching the two men she cared about more than anything walk to the van. She had cried in secret since the talk with her husband, hiding her emotions was not easy, she had been through a lot as a child and was so grateful she met Robbie when she did.

An abusive father and alcoholic mother had driven her onto the streets of Glasgow. It was just by chance during a fracas at her local ‘haunt’ she met Robbie, her knight in shining armour, she had two black eyes and a broken rib, both of which were promptly attended to, care of Robbie, who took her under his protective wing and gradually over time fell deeply in-love with her, though it took  a long time for her to trust him let alone anyone else.

He had found employment at Green Pines and when he introduced her to the soon to be Mrs Jaeger magic happened and life for Shona changed in an instant. She was totally and utterly accepted into the family and the one thing she excelled at was her cooking...it had kept her sane all those dark days of living on the streets and then later watching the mistress of the house crumble away. Now she knew that things had to get better for Michael...she owed him, and he was due some happiness and peace of mind.

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 20 'Springwater'

The lorry pulled up outside a modern block of what looked like to anyone else, flats, but was in fact something totally different. A small round lady with a smiling face and thick grey hair knotted in a bun greeted them at the main door and ushered them in. Robbie went off to sort out the Christmas 'delivery'.

 

‘So good to see you, and how are things at Green Pines?’

Michael smiled and glanced at the lift.

‘Fine Grace, shall we go up?’

They entered the lift and for a moment there was silence as it ascended to the first floor, the door opened and a familiar distinctive smell hit Michael’s nostrils, the smell of urine and hot food. Molly greeted him as usual, ready with hat, coat and bag ready.

‘Hello-I’m going out today...they will be here to pick me up in a minute...all the family are coming.’

Michael smiled a half smile, he had heard this so many times and had never managed a whole smile when he came and it always felt false. Pete was sitting quietly by the window not really watching the TV...just listening, Anna sat by her husband holding his hand and smiling, her face immobile, her eyes watching, surveying all around her, Jim was wandering down the carpeted corridor exclaiming he needed to pee and was just about to on one of the radiators when Michael moved quickly to guide him to the bathroom. Betty was resting her head on the dining room table...supposedly asleep while Mary and Joy drew on large pieces of paper with coloured pencils. There were many others here who Michael didn’t know or had just started to know then some would disappear through failing health or maybe to the top floor where they would be more safe but not seen as much.

He always felt like his heart would break every time he came because he knew that he could never wave a magic wand and make all this go away, all he could do was offer whatever he could, which still never seemed enough.

He went into the main office where Grace sat waiting with a cup of tea.

‘Now Mr Jaeger, how are you really?’

He sat down across from the round bonny face that always had a smile for him although behind the eyes was fatigue and stress.

‘Fine, just fine, more importantly how are you Grace?’

‘Fine, like yourself... rumour has it you had a visitor recently from London?’

Michael tensed, then relaxed.

‘It was just business...boring but not important, over and done with.’

He moved to the filing cabinet, pulling out a couple of folders, ‘Everything okay financially?’

‘Oh yes we are doing very nicely thank you...the donations and what you give us far exceeds anything we could expect, the vegetable plot has been a huge success and the cinema room...well everyone loves a good film’

‘Nothing you need?’

‘Not that I know of...but...’ she hesitated ‘well, I know you always pay Isobel a visit before you go, she has been rather withdrawn lately...’

‘Of course, where is she?’

‘In her room, she has changed so... you know she liked to join in but not this last week’.

‘Well, if there’s nothing else I’ll just see how everyone is, then I'll go and see her before I leave'

Michael checked on the staff and some of the residents, he rarely went up to the top floor as he still found it difficult. He walked down the long corridor, various pictures of movie stars lined the walls and it got quieter as he reached Isobel’s room.

She was sitting, hugging herself, rocking back and forth by the window. A patterned hairbrush and comb sat on the dressing table along with a bottle of baby powder and some tissues, her teddy bear sat on the bed and his brown beady eyes seemed to follow Michael as he moved across the room. He stood silently looking down at the fragile lady who in her youth had once worked in the city, been so bright and clever, talked and laughed, a mind so quick it used to juggle numbers in seconds, then he glanced down at her small feet and saw that she had the wrong slippers on, and they were the wrong size. Her legs looked swollen and her hair, once beautifully styled had become dishevelled, he crouched down  and gently removed the offending footwear then took her hands in his and she immediately stopped her rocking and her eyes moved to his face, she had the bluest eyes, like two small watery pools.

‘Hi Isobel...it’s Michael...you know, Michael?’

She was looking, not at him, but through him.

‘Isobel...why don’t you want to join the others? They miss you...’

The small pallid face stayed motionless but there was a flicker of life there. ‘Hey, Isobel...why don’t you come into the dining room...the tea looks and smells great...it’s making me hungry, aren’t you feeling hungry?’

Her hands tightened on his and a tear escaped down her cheek, he swallowed and tried not to crack, he’d been here before many times...but that was when Jennifer was alive and she was at home with him, not here.

He suddenly realised what it was she wanted him to do.

‘Do you want me to read to you?’

He took a book from the dresser and sat down on the edge of the bed opening up the first page, he leaned toward her and in the softest voice he started to read-

‘Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were...’

 

 

                                                     *****

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 21 Building Bridges Pt.1

The last few weeks leading up to Christmas had been a trial for everyone at Green Pines, Michael became more withdrawn and introverted, going for longer walks and shutting himself away in his study for hours on end. April and Matt’ were due to come up but David and Vanessa were still debating whether or not to stay over the festive period, as both had been extremely busy. David had experienced great success with his return to the stage and Vanessa had orders coming at her left, right and centre, they were being pulled in all directions but they also felt they had obligations to fill and their dear friend would have expected them to come, Christmas had always been a difficult time for everyone.

Snow was starting to fall heavily on the hillsides and Michael had just got back from one of his long walks his greying hair was dusted with small flakes and his long greatcoat  was heavy and damp with brushing through the snow laden heather and bracken. He paused in front of the hall mirror, appraising himself with disdain wondering where all the years had gone and all those things he should, could, have done after Jennifer had died.

Shona and Robbie busied themselves in the kitchen and tried to make light conversation whenever he ventured in, but not really listening to each other, they wanted to be there for him and felt totally useless at times. Michael kicked off his boots and hunkered down in front of the fire, he was tired and was still waiting for signs of the article to appear. Nothing. What was the woman playing at?

He felt restless and moody and eventually decamped to the study where he walked over to the window, something was missing, there was an uncanny quiet. He started to think back to the time Pippa walked in looking totally unprepared and pretending she wasn’t, he missed the goading, the fizz and pop that exploded between them when she was there. He hated the emptiness the house offered and the constant dodging and diving that went on between himself, Shona and Robbie, beneath all this was an uneasy, unexplained guilt.

The snow was starting to thicken and the light was fading fast, it was only 3’o’clock, he threw another log on the fire and walked back to the window, his breath misted the glass and he rubbed it away with his hand, surprised by the sudden cold he felt. At first, he thought it was just a shadow he was seeing, hovering below in the distance, but it was moving closer, until he saw Robbie running towards it, and then the shadows seemed to merge into one and move toward the house.

 

***** 

 

 

‘Mr. J...you have a visitor’ it was Shona, she seemed out of breath and agitated, ‘it’s Ms. Mason’.

Michael closed his eyes and swallowed.

‘What the...? Ask her to come up’.

Michael waited, silently staring into the flames, it seemed like an eternity. Then that voice-

‘Mr. Jaeger’.

'Ms. Mason, this is a surprise, I wasn’t expecting to see you again.’

She was wrapped in her thick woollen coat and long scarf, her leggings looked damp and as for her boots the leather had soaked up a lot of moisture. Her hair was sprinkled with snow flakes and water was starting to drip down her face, she looked a beautiful mess.

'Did you walk here?’

‘The bloody taxi broke down so I decided to walk the rest of the way, seems it was longer than I remembered...’ she was shivering.

All at once Michael sprung into action.

‘Let me take your coat...’

By the time Pippa had divested herself of her coat, scarf and boots-which Michael gallantly removed-she looked half her size. He poured her a brandy; still shivering she cupped the glass in both hands, taking small sips that turned into gulps, soon, instant warmth was coursing through her body and she sat by the fire, not daring to look up or speak, her whole body was throbbing with cold; it’s a wonder she could feel anything at all. He sat down opposite, leaning forward, watching her face as the glow from the fire lit up her cheeks and unruly titian hair, that wild, untidy fountain of unkempt curls and frizz held back by a green velvet scrunchie, which was starting to lose it’s grip on the mound of hair at her neck.

‘Better?’

‘Yes... thank you’.

Michael was scouring his brain for something to say, she looked radiant, and her cheeks were flushed.

‘How have you been, how’s London?’ Why did he ask say that?

‘Not good actually’.

‘Oh, what happened?’

‘I don’t have a job anymore’, she raised her half empty glass for a mock toast,‘I am now a member of the great un-employed’.

‘I don’t understand’.

‘Nor do I...no, hang on, that’s a big fat lie actually, I decided to call it a day’.

‘Just like that, you walked out on your job?’

'Bye, Bye, just like that, I told them to shove it’, she handed him back her empty glass, ‘could I have another one of those please?’

He fetched the decanter over and refilled her glass; he was still trying to take in what she had just said.

‘I don’t understand... you just walked out, they didn’t sack you?’

‘No, no, no...’ she waggled her finger at him ‘wouldn’t give them the satisfaction...I walked; I told them to stuff their bloody job right where the sun never shines, Arnie was well naffed off but I was tired of being a low, despicable, hard-faced bitch’

‘You said that?’

‘Yep’ she knocked back the Brandy then started delving into her tapestry holdall, which seemed to go on forever, finally extracting an envelope.

‘Here’, she thrust it towards Michael, who opened it to find a memory stick.

‘What’s this?’

‘It’s the article...I never ran it...so you have my permission to do with it whatever you wish’, her voice was slurring and she looked more flushed, her face dotted with perspiration.

Michael placed the memory stick behind him on his desk and looked back at Pippa who was still shivering, her eyes were starting to close, then her head flopped forward onto her chest, he ran to the door-

‘Shona!’

When he glanced back, Pippa was slumped in the chair; the glass had dropped to the floor, she had passed out.

 

*****

 

She felt safe and warm, the bed felt huge and a fire was blazing in the hearth, a jolly red faced man was peering down at her and a pudgy hand was holding her wrist, he smiled as her eyes opened.

‘Ah...Hello there young lady’.

‘I’m not young...I’m forty’.

The face creased into a laugh and then he nodded to someone close by. ‘She’s back in the land of the living’.

Pippa turned her head, it was thumping and saw Michael sitting by the side of the bed and then she suddenly began to remember what had happened.

‘Oh bugger!’ was all she could manage.

Michael smiled and got to his feet, pausing for a moment to look down at her and the unruly curls covering the pillow, then he was gone and she sunk back into sleep.

 

*****

 

The next few days were a blur, Pippa only saw Shona, who always insisted on feeding her Scotch broth, oatcakes and tea every five minutes, or so it seemed. Her suitcase had been dropped off and her wet soiled clothes had been washed and ironed while Shona herself had found some spare ones from her own wardrobe, mainly paisley and tartan patterns, she had a secret desire to see Pippa looking more scots.

There had been no sign of Michael, but one afternoon when Pippa had dressed and made it downstairs she was greeted by a beaming April who seemed over the moon to see her. They sat and talked and at times things got emotional but it was all good. Pippa felt a kind of inner cleansing was going on.

‘How’s work?’

‘Oh, busy. I’m designing a set for a play and I have met someone...nothing serious-yet, there never seemed to be time...but how are you Pippa?’

‘Well...things could be better, job-wise that is, but then on the other hand I am being very well looked after, but I swear if I see another oatcake I will throw up!’ She took hold of Aprils hand, ‘make time for you...don’t let work take over too much...’

April squeezed her hand.

‘I won’t’.

 

*****

 

A couple of days later David and Vanessa arrived along with Matt, they had already been told about Pippa and much to her relief seemed less defensive, seeing as how the last time they parted things were not at all friendly, everything seemed too good to be true. Matt, like April was busy, planning the construction of a new theatre in New York and he was over the moon and confided that he had moved in to an apartment with someone.

‘I guess you’re wondering why I never approached you before...it was nothing personal...’

'I know, it was difficult...I caused a lot of grief...you have every right to hate me’.

‘No, I don’t, I don’t believe in holding grudges, neither does April. Things happen to people and sometimes it’s hard to understand stuff, I just want my dad to smile again and get back to being who he was...’

‘A director?’

‘Yes. You know he is so amazing...have you seen his work?’

‘Some...He also hides his awards.’

'Oh, those, he isn’t one to-’

‘Flaunt his success?’

‘He can be fiercely private about all that stuff’.

They talked and talked and gradually a bond began to form between them.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Pt2

Michael was still noticeably absent as was Robbie, curiosity was chipping away at Pippa and it was time to venture into Shona’s ‘domain’, she was preparing a meal and it smelt mouth wateringly good. Pippa leant up against a cupboard pretending to inspect her nails.

‘Shona, where’s Michael and Robbie?’

‘They’re down at the distillery...’

‘No they are not Shona...I made enquiries about the distillery and drew a blank, so where are they really?’

Shona huffed, threw down her cloth and rested up against the table. ‘Pippa...can I call you Pippa?’

‘Feel free.’

‘You’re right of course...and if you had done your investigations properly you would have discovered that-’

‘Shona’ it was Michael, eyebrows raised framing the doorway, ‘how’s the meal coming along?’

Shona smoothed her hair back and straightened her apron giving a nervous cough, returning to her bubbling pots. Pippa followed Michael out into the sitting-room where everyone else had decamped but the quietness between them was electric. He settled in an easy chair by the fire and proceeded to read, he remained distant but ever present in the background, only occasionally looking up then returning to his book.

 

Later after dinner David caught Pippa by herself and he seemed edgy. ‘Ms. Mason...’

‘Pippa’.

'Pippa...I hear that you walked out on your job and that...you pulled the article’.

‘I decided not to go ahead...you must be very pleased’.

‘I’d be lying if I wasn’t...what I do want to know is, are you?’

‘To be honest...I really don’t care’.

David did a half smile,

‘So, what are your plans now?’

‘ I don’t really know...’ she eyed him for a moment and decided to take the plunge. ‘Be honest with me David, there isn’t a distillery is there?’ He swallowed and looked away into the distance, the fire dancing in his fine grey hair, which in his youth had been golden blond.

‘No...You’re right, there isn’t...’

‘So what is this mysterious place Michael and Robbie disappear to every so often?’

David bowed his head and frowned, it was as if he was about to do something extremely difficult. At last his shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh, running long fingers through his hair.

‘It’s a home...a special facility for people with... severe Dementia...it’s called Springwater. Just before Jennifer passed away Michael found this run down heap of a building and put all he had into making it into a place for people suffering from the illness. He started a fund and now people from all walks of life support it and help keep it running.’

David followed Pippa’s gaze, she had stopped sipping her drink and was looking across the room at the man who was now laughing with his daughter and son.

 

*****

 

Later that evening Pippa caught Michael in his study, she’d come to a difficult decision.

‘I thought I’d let you know that I will be heading back to London tomorrow’.

Michael stopped sorting his papers and looked up over his glasses, he was frowning.

‘Oh, I see’.

‘I am very grateful to everyone for being so good to me; I just thought you should know that’s all’.

He dropped the papers onto the desk.

‘Can you stay a minute?’

Automatically Pippa sat down in her usual chair...her mind started to think back to the first time she had sat here, it seemed like years ago. All of a sudden Michael was hunkering down in front of her and it was quite un-expected and unnerving.

‘Is there a reason you want to get back to London?’

For a moment Pippa felt as if she had lost the will to speak.

‘Err... I... er...’

Michael smiled up at her.

‘My, my, my, the lady has lost her voice, now that is a first.’

‘Why do you want to know?’

‘Ah, now a question’ he looked awkward for a moment and chewed his lip, Pippa smiled inwardly, remembering what Robbie had said ‘ I just thought with the weather closing in and the fact that you haven’t got a job to go back to anyway, maybe it would be beneficial to you to enjoy Christmas with us here at Green Pines?’

Pippa could not believe what she was hearing, the last time she had been there she left under a huge black cloud and here was the person she had caused a lot of grief asking her to stay on for Christmas?

‘Why?’

‘Another question’ Michael sighed combing his fingers through his greying wavy hair. ‘Does there always have to be a question from you? Can’t you just for once in your life accept an invitation gracefully?’ Pippa looked into the rugged handsome face and piercing blue eyes; she didn’t have to think twice.

‘I don’t know what to say... Thank you’.

‘Right, it’s settled, that didn’t hurt did it?’

He pulled a chair up and sat down oposite, a strange silence hung between them as they faced each other. It was Pippa who broke it; she had to ask the one question that had been bugging her all evening. ‘David told me... about Springwater, your regular visits with Robbie...’ Michael looked away then his eyes closed as if he was preparing himself to reveal something so emotionally charged it would hurt to say it.

‘It was an idea I had before Jen died. It’s a funded enterprise, I’m a silent partner along with a few other notories...the residents get well looked after...’ he gazed into the fire and gave a swallow, ‘there’s a lady...her name’s Isobel, been there a long time,’ his jaw clenched, ‘her so called relatives dumped her...’Pippa swallowed,keeping silent. ‘Oh, they helped her get settled in and at first they seemed like a loving caring family...regular visits...gifts...Then the visits became less and less until they stopped coming...We found out later they had moved away...no forwarding address... just like that...’

Again Pippa swallowed, but not before she had to ask the inevitable. ‘You see her when you go there?’

Michael looked down for a moment.

‘There was a picture in the corridor, I had loads of film stills put up everywhere, there was a famous one from ‘Gone with the Wind’, Leigh and Gable embracing against the backdrop of Tara. I caught her looking at it one day...she just stood there, staring at it, then her hand went up and started stroking the faces behind the glass...she looked back at me and smiled...I decided to move the picture into her room, I went home and sorted through some old paperbacks of ours...then I found it...’

‘Gone With the Wind...’

‘So when I went to see her I made sure I took it with me. I handed it to her and she smiled the same smile as last time, then she opened it up, pointed to the first page and handed it back...I started reading it to her...every visit I’d read another chapter...’

‘She’s never spoken?’

‘I can’t remember the last time, she was an accountant in her youth...brilliant mind...Anyway, eventually I reached the end of the book and handed it back, I told her it was hers to keep...’Michaels eyes started to glaze over, ‘but she opened it up and pointed to the first chapter, so I started reading it to her all over again...’

Pippa watched a thin trickle of water run slowly down his cheek, there was an ache in her throat and she felt as if she was going to lose it any second, the silence between them was indescribable.

Michael got to his feet and looked down at her and for a split second he felt as though he wanted to grab her up, wrap his arms around her and kiss her fiercely, but he fought the feeling back. Pippa was going through the same emotions but before she had time to get to her feet and actually carry the whole thing through he was walking slowly to the door where he paused, eyes still glistening.

‘I’m glad you’re staying...Goodnight...Pippa.’

‘Goodnight...’ was all Pippa could muster.

 

That evening as she sat at the dressing table combing out her hair there was a knock at the door.

‘Pippa, can I come in?’

It was Vanessa.

‘Yes’

‘I thought you might still be up, Michael was late too, he took the dogs out with Robbie, mad, in this weather...’

A sudden awkward silence hung between them.

‘What is it Vanessa?’

‘It was just something about Michael tonight, he seemed so much more relaxed...happy’

‘That’s good isn’t it?’

‘Yes, yes it is, and... I think it’s because of you, I know this sounds weird but I think he has missed having you here’.

Pippa suddenly felt a strange sensation in her stomach, butterflies, a feeling she hadn’t felt in years.

‘I had planned to return to London...but he asked me to stay on...I really didn’t expect it from him, I hurt him so much...’

Vanessa smiled a knowing smile.

‘I’m glad he did.’

‘Really?’

Vanessa sat on the edge of the bed and looked thoughtfully at Pippa, the paisley pyjamas suited her...a frilly see through nighty wouldn’t have.

‘He’s changed since you returned, I can’t put my finger on it...He hasn’t smiled in ages, not properly, and we’ve all missed that...the old Michael...’

Pippa tried to relax but she couldn’t, Vanessa was being too nice.

‘Why are you all being so nice, so forgiving after what happened?’

‘Like Matt said, no point in bearing grudges, life is too short’.

‘My ex-boss phoned me this evening, he was offering an olive branch...now this’.

‘He wants you back?’

‘Mmm, but I told him I couldn’t stomach the job anymore’

‘Pippa, you are a bright, clever woman, worthy of better things’.

Pippa relaxed and tried to smile.

‘Thank you...and thank David for me, he must have hated me with a vengeance’.

‘He and Michael have a lot of history together...David is the brother he never had, they love each other very much and when one of them gets hurt, the other is affected too’.

‘I never wanted it to happen, it all got out of control...it’s as if I became this other person...I just saw red’.

Vanessa got slowly to her feet then crouched down in front of Pippa taking her hands in hers.

‘I miss Jennifer every day...she was such a big part of all our lives, but I’d like to think we can be good friends. Can we be good friends?'

'Of course'

'Goodnight Pippa’.

‘Goodnight’

She felt soft lips on her forehead and then watched Vanessa disappear out the door. Her heart was thudding and for a moment she stared at her reflection in the mirror, her face was flushed and her trembling hand couldn’t pick up the brush. She decided to call it a night and get some sleep, but a little voice inside her head was telling her it wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

Chapter 22 Epiphany Pt 1

The next morning, because of the heavy snowfall overnight everyone decided to go off and do their own thing. Pippa had not slept much, Vanessa’s words had hung around in her head and she decided a good walk with plenty of fresh air would do her good. She found Michael putting on his boots in the kitchen, he glanced up and immediately his face broke into a smile.

‘Fancy a walk?’

Pippa’s heart leapt at the thought of crunching through the virgin snow, she hadn’t done it since she was a child and Michael was already rummaging in a cupboard.

‘What size are you?’

‘Five...last time I looked’.

‘Here-have Shona’s, she won’t miss ‘em’.

 

The muffled crunching sound of the snow beneath her feet brought a strange comfortable feeling, waking sleeping memories of Devon and the huge snow drifts she used to love falling into when she was a child. Deep in thought she had gained distance on Michael who eventually caught up, his breath hitting the cold morning air, the sun a brilliant ball in the sky making everything bright and sparkly.

‘Penny for them?’

‘Oh... just remembering my childhood, whenever we had heavy snow in Devon I came home soaked through from rolling in it...’

‘Really?’ He eyed her over his scarf, rubbing his hands together, ‘You want to give it a try now?’ They had reached the top of a hill where the heather usually flowered but was now covered in a deep, soft, white blanket. Pippa looked apprehensively down the steep slope. ‘Is it safe do you think?’ Michael gave a shrug, secretly hoping she would. ‘You’ll never know unless you try’.

Just then a voice from out of nowhere echoed in her head, (do it!). Pippa collapsed voluntarily to the ground and started to roll, letting out a scream as she gained momentum, tumbling to the bottom, a few seconds later Michael joined her, they both lay laughing and gasping on their backs, covered in soft ice cold powder, then suddenly strong fingers came to rest on her cheek; snowflakes had caught in her lashes, she blinked to see Michael smiling down at her, it was the most marvellous moment ever and his smile seemed to light up the whole world. His lips brushed her eyelids, then her nose and were just about to settle on her mouth when two inquisitive dogs decided to intervene...

 

 

*****

 

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved 

 

 

Pt. 2

The rest of the day was spent sitting by the fire playing Monopoly and cards, both of which Pippa lost at, due to thoughts of what had happened earlier, she ended up sitting in the window seat, eyes closed, the fire was roaring away and the snow was coming down thick again, then she got a distinct feeling of the seat going down one end and opened her eyes; Michael was sitting facing her holding two glasses of brandy.

‘Here, just promise me you’ll take small sips this time.’

Pippa’s smile was sublime; there was what you would call a pregnant pause as both sat enjoying the warm liquid pulsing through their bodies. At last, after what seemed ages, Michael drained his glass giving a very satisfied smile.

‘Did you enjoy rekindling your childhood memories this morning?’ Pippa’s heart started to thud, was it the steady gaze of those blue eyes? ‘It was exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable’. ‘And afterwards?’ ‘Afterwards?’

‘When I kissed you’.

Now her pulse was racing.

‘But you didn’t’.

Michael glanced up, above their heads hung some mistletoe, his eyes held hers as he leant towards her, their lips gently pressed together, she could smell the brandy but not quite taste it. He relaxed and took her free hand, toying with her fingertips, then gave her the most beautiful smile ever.

‘Now I have...’

They seemed to sit forever, Pippa sipping her brandy and silently watching the falling snow flakes which had probably covered all trace of the morning’s fun and games. Her heart had calmed slightly but she was aware of his eyes on her. At last he got up, tugging gently at her hand.

‘Fancy a walk?’

Pippa frowned.

‘Out there?’ He shook his head.

‘No...c’mon.’

She got slowly to her feet and he led her into the hall then down a set of steps beneath the staircase. There was a dark oak door at the bottom and he flicked on a light. There was a display panel on the wall, he keyed in a pass code and there was a soft click, he pushed the door open and stood to one side to let her through. It was a vast cavernous basement, filled with paintings and memorabilia. Pippa walked slowly round trying to take it all in, she began to realise that most of the paintings must have been executed by Jennifer.

‘Wow...’ Michael smiled and gave a low chuckle.

‘Very American...the lady says ‘wow’.

‘But it’s massive down here...’she sipped her brandy as she felt a slight chill around her, ‘is this the place where you-’

‘Keep my awards?’

‘Is it?’

He led her over to the far corner and threw off a tarpaulin cover, revealing various shaped artefacts, including the famous Oscar’s, Tony’s and Bafta’s. Next to those was a wooden chest, Pippa was itching to open it.

‘Open it...’ Michael urged her; she didn’t need to be asked twice. Slowly she lifted the lid and inside were numerous screenplays and photographs, all mixed up together as if they had just been chucked in there without any thought. One photograph caught her eye; it was of a young dark haired boy sitting on a garden wall, cradling a football.

‘Is this you?’

‘Yep, I was about 10 years old in that one...I was glued to that damn ball’

‘A favourite sport of most boys...and men’.

‘Ever been to a match?’ Pippa screwed her nose up shaking her head. Sport was something she never took to at school-well maybe there were two that she did excel at, Netball and Rounders. Her eyes scoured the area around her, all the different bits and pieces lumped together...it was like some vast jumbled puzzle that had become dislocated over time.

‘Is any of this insured?’

‘Never bothered’ Pippa couldn’t believe what she had just heard.

‘So you wouldn’t care if this was stolen?’

Michael rested up against the wall.

‘It’s just stuff...can’t take it with you...’he was studying her through half closed eyes, ‘there are some things you shouldn’t hang onto...there’s a lot here needs throwing...’ a stack of paintings resting against the wall caught his attention. ‘Jen was a brilliant artist...people came from all over to have their portrait painted...’ he let out a deep sigh and gazed up at a ceiling, decorated with cobwebs. ‘I wasn’t fair to her...we should have married long before I dragged her off to the states. Maybe things would have been different, happier, more stable. We drifted onto unfriendly rocks and I got wrapped up in my work, she met someone who had time for her, she needed to escape...stupid.’

Pippa smiled softly.

‘Well, we all mess up some times; I can vouch for that...don’t blame yourself’

‘But that’s just it, I do. She left me and what did I do? I shacked up with some elfin airhead who meant nothing to me, who only wanted a father figure...boy, did I screw up.’

‘It was your way of getting over it’.

‘You think? Truth is I was never over it...never over Jennifer...Fact is, Morelli came along just at the right time’

Pippa noticed a framed photograph of a middle aged couple sitting in garden chairs underneath beautiful rose arbour.

‘Are these Jennifer’s parents?’

Just for a moment Michaels’s expression changed .

‘Yes...happier times...before Katherine got sick...’

‘What happened to her?’

‘She suffered with depression...another case of being left alone too long...Bill was a workaholic, the business was his life. But when Jennifer was born he directed all his attention and love onto her...Katherine became withdrawn...’

‘Who told you all this?’

‘An uncle of Jen’s...someone from the inner circle.’

‘How terribly sad...poor woman.’

‘Eventually she became a recluse; just like me really...They say she died of a broken heart...’

Pippa put the photo back into the chest and closed the lid.

‘How do you feel now?’

‘Now?’ he pushed away from the wall and walked towards her, ‘now...I feel a page has turned...’

Pippa suddenly felt as if she had intruded into some very private territory.

‘Thank you for letting me see this...I know how you felt about showing me, but I did wonder where you kept it all’

She felt a chill about her shoulders and shivered, Michael put his jacket around her, she sipped her brandy and felt suddenly very warm and safe.

‘Thanks’

‘For what?’

‘For showing me these beautiful things, you should be proud.’

‘Why?’

‘Now who’s answering with a question?’

‘Touché’

They ascended the steps back to the hall then Michael took her hand and pulled her to one side.

‘I’m not proud Pippa, never have been, pleased maybe’.

‘Then I’m pleased for you’.

Again there was that sudden pause between them, a silent interaction, and then Shona’s voice broke the spell.

‘Tea is served, come on now, my cinnamon bannocks are getting cold!’

 

Pippa had to admit that Shona’s bannocks were par above the oaties. Robbie was out the back building a huge bonfire from all the bracken and broken wood from the glen and everyone seemed to be caught up in a magical atmosphere. Some of the local folk and their families had started appearing round the back of the house.

The closeness that had developed between Pippa and Michael had not gone un-noticed and she felt suddenly at peace as she snuggled down on the sofa, Michael’s hand wrapped around hers. She gradually fell asleep, hypnotised by the orange spears of fire dancing in the hearth, only to awaken a short time later to find her head resting against his arm, he had fallen asleep but his hand still held hers. A mix of words entered her head...was this really happening?

April appeared and tapped Pippa on the knee.

‘Robbie’s got a bonfire started...it’s going to be a good one this year’ she eyed her father ‘the locals have started arriving, give dad a nudge will you?’

Pippa obliged, though gently and watched the still dark lashed eyelids flutter open, a smile appeared and he turned to face her.

‘Was that my daughter or you?’

‘She told me to nudge you-apparently there is a huge bonfire going, care of Robbie’.

With that Michael got up, stretched, and grabbed Pippa’s hand.

‘Well, I guess it’s time’.

‘Time?’

‘Come on’

Everyone converged at the back of the house, watching the massive flames spiral towards the sky. Pippa felt sudden warmth next to her and looked up; it was Michael, he placed the memory stick into her gloved hand nodding toward the raging fire, giving a crooked smile.

‘Do you want to do the honours, Ms. Mason?’

She handed it back to him.

‘No. You do it, Mr Jaeger’.

He gave a thoughtful sigh, pursing his lips.

‘I feel like I’m experiencing an epiphany here...’

With one strong flourish of his arm the memory stick left his hand and seemed to spin in slow motion through the air, before heading downwards into the greedy furnace below, a past was now melting and being put to rest.

Pippa felt a strong arm circle her shoulders. Michael was laughing up at the sky, his tears mingling with fine snowflakes, he felt a surge of release, suddenly he didn’t feel alone anymore. Pippa started laughing and crying too as the sparks from the huge fire travelled upward and onward into the deep blue mystic heavens above.    

 

THE END

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved