One disadvantage of being self-published is that you have no publishing company sending you gifts to celebrate the release of your new paperback. How wonderful then, to receive this in the post from a supporter. Fizz, chocolates and books. What more could you ask for?
Only friends and a safe home- which is the subject of this short story. Part 2 next week.
I was totally lost. It was the middle of winter and the light jacket I was wearing did little to protect me from the torrential rain. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why hadn’t I made sure my mobile was fully charged before I set off? Why hadn’t I topped up with petrol yesterday when I had the opportunity? Even if I had dashed out to escape yet another beating from my abusive boyfriend, I should have been more prepared.
Why hadn’t I thought it out properly, packed my belongings and moved out while he was in the pub, drinking as usual? Time after time I had given him one more chance, accepting his apologies and his assurances that it would never happen again. The bruises and the black eyes would heal, but I knew in my heart he would never change. There was only one friend who knew the true circumstances, but she had recently had a baby and it wasn’t fair to subject her to the trauma of my mistakes. That was how I came to be in this predicament, alone in my car, driving through a part of the country I didn’t know, on a dark, miserable night.
In my panic, it had seemed a logical idea to grab a map, and head off on a hundred-mile journey to the holiday cottage in the wilderness, left to me in her Will by my grandmother. I had never been there before but I had a set of keys, and assumed at this time of the year the agents wouldn’t have let it out. I had seen photos of the property, sparkling in the summer sunlight and surrounded by woodland, the perfect retreat to enjoy two weeks of nature away from the rat-race of London life.
Having been brought up in the suburbs of the metropolis, it had never occurred to me that so far out there wouldn’t be a twenty-four seven petrol station, or late-night corner shop to supply my every need. I was only mildly concerned when the petrol gauge flashed, sure that around the next corner there would be a garage which would stock milk, bread, coffee, DVDs and other necessities. The night darkened, the trees grew denser, and the weather more foul as the light on the dashboard continued to blink aggressively. At the worst possible moment the car decided it had given me enough warning, and I found myself stranded in a winding country lane, surrounded by forest, in the middle of nowhere.
With my smart phone useless, I couldn’t google to see how far I was from my destination, but from the old-fashioned map I thought it couldn’t be more than a couple of miles. I was left with two options; stay in the car and hope someone would come along the deserted back road to help me, or get out and walk. Decisions. Having run several half-marathons I was fairly fit, so after five minutes with no sign of anyone I locked the car and set off to find the cottage. An hour later I wondered if my journey would ever end when I noticed a light, gleaming through the darkness. Taking a side trail, the building I recognised from the photos suddenly appeared before me.
As I walked up the pathway something struck me as odd, but for a moment I couldn’t think what it was. Then I realised. If the place was unoccupied why was there a light shining from one of the downstairs windows?
‘Come in and welcome’ a male voice said as he opened the front door. ‘By what name would you like us to call you?’
It seemed an odd thing to say and for a moment I hesitated, wondering if I was exchanging one form of custody for another.
‘Erm, Mary,’ I said, and even as I gave my Mother’s name I realised it would make it harder for my boyfriend to find me if he ever tried to track me down.
A young girl holding a child in her arms appeared behind the man, which gave me more confidence to actually go inside.
‘Hi Mary, I’m Kirsten, this little monster is Kyle and the big guy is Alex. Kettle’s on. Do you take sugar?’
I was led into a surprisingly large living room, comfortably set out with mismatched sofas. A very thin girl in her early 30s sat on one, and a middle-aged lady with a face that was black and blue sat on another.
‘That’s Jenny and over there is Martha,’ Alex said as he offered me a seat. ‘Ladies, this is Mary, come to join us for a while.’
‘Have you eaten? Martha asked. ‘We were just locking up for the night but I could make you a sandwich, or there’s some of my apple pie left, if you like.’
I hadn’t thought about food but her words made me realise my stomach was rumbling. ‘If it’s not too much trouble either would be fine,’ I said, and then to my horror burst into tears.
Martha came over and put her arm round me. ‘That’s it my dear, you have a good cry, get it out of your system. Don’t worry about us, we’ve all been there.’
‘I’ll go and make that sandwich,’ Jenny smiled. ‘Ham, cheese and tomato OK?’
‘While she’s doing that I’ll show you to your room,’ Alex suggested. ‘There’s only the box room left I’m afraid, but I’m sure you’ll be fine. I’m guessing you haven’t got a bag, or any luggage.’
‘I’ve got a small case in my car, but it broke down, and I had to leave it there while I walked and…’ I felt tears brimming again as I stuttered out an explanation.
‘Never mind that now. The girls can sort you something out for tonight, and we’ll worry about it in the morning,’ Alex soothed as he pushed open a door. Although the room was small it had a bed, already made-up with a duvet and pretty bed cover, a hanging rail and chest of drawers, and even a tiny sink in one corner.
‘Bathrooms opposite, or there’s a larger one on the ground floor. Come down when you’re ready.’
I hung my shoulder bag over the chair and sat on the bed, trying to get my thoughts in order. It was as if they had been expecting me, but this was my property and by rights they shouldn’t have been here. Glancing at my watch I realised it was already gone eleven, so splashing some water on my face I went downstairs to face them.
To be continued.
© Voinks March 2018