It was past seven-thirty when she pushed open the big oak door. Sliding her bag onto the bar, she leaned on its shiny surface. “Anybody home?” Colin usually welcomed her with a prepared drink: a long, fresh fruit punch from his own recipe.
Colin came towards her grinning broadly. “You’re looking pleased with yourself.”
“I’ve had a great day”. She playfully thumped the bar. “Where’s my regular elixir”.
Colin began to speak as the sound of a chair scraping over the flagstones interrupted. She twisted about, expecting to find Dave behind her but her glass crashed to the stones and her throat closed up in a way she was coming to recognise. She closed her eyes, trembling, waiting for this latest ‘vision’ to fade. Colin was coming around the bar.
“Colin, I’m sorry … I’m seeing things …too much sun”
“But Sue, you have a visitor …”.
She watched him step out of the shadows.
The last time she had seen him, he had beaten her, warned her: You’ll not escape me. This was no figment of her imagination. He had found her!
“How did you find me …!” anxiety stained her words, colliding with Colin’s explanation. “I didn’t know where you’d be so he waited here for you to return”.
“But how? I mean, how did you know I was here. NOBODY knows I’m here. I didn’t even know myself until I arrived”.
Liam moved up to the bar, easing his tall frame onto a stool beside her. Watching her carefully, he frowned. “You’re very uptight. Take it easy.”
She made herself meet his blue gaze. “Of course I’m uptight. Last time I saw you, you were throwing brass statues at my head “. Then she looked away, shaken. “I don’t understand how you could have possibly known I was here. How did you find me?” Secrets darkened his gaze. “I didn’t realise you were hiding from me”. Liam shook his tawny head. “Why do you persist in this make-believe …”
“What make-believe? You hit me, Meredith, not once but several times and as if that wasn’t enough, you threw a brass statue at my head. You might have killed me; you wanted to kill me. And I was scared….” She stopped. Watching him, she recalled the look on his face as he stood over her, hitting her again and again, and felt the bile in her throat. ‘How did you know I was here!’
“I didn’t do any of those things. Jesus CHrist, in all the years we’ve been together, when did I ever hit you?” He looked away. “I don’t understand you …”
“Liam, the bruises are fading but I shall never forget how I got them.” Then she gave a mirthless laugh. “Surely the dent in the bedroom door is proof enough. The statue almost went straight through”.
She missed the abrupt jerk of his head as he looked up, his eyes alert. “The statue was on the floor. … “
Sue almost snorted. “Well, it would be, wouldn’t it?
Liam turned to her. ” … but I never hit you. That’s your own fantasy, Sue, and I think you should talk to a doctor.” Then he softened, his whole bearing one of compassion. “I’ll come with you”
For one terrible moment, Sue actually considered the possibility that she had dreamt the horrors of the attacks and imagined the visions. Maybe she was sick but then she remembered the bruises. “I do not need a doctor. But I think you do” Sweeping up her bag and camera, she turned to go up to her room, her bare arm brushing his. They stared at each other. “How did you know where to find me?”
When he didn’t answer, Sue turned away. His face was so familiar, so dearly loved. Had he simply walked into her secret hideaway accidentally? It was too incredible. Her eyes met his and she was immediately caught up in their intensity where loving memories swam between them, bonding them. But when he spoke his voice was cold. “We have unfinished business, remember …”.He was playing with his glass. “Can I get a room here?” But she was not listening. She was remembering his insane behaviour that last night in Toronto, when he had almost killed her. He reached out and the colour drained from her face. Confused by her conflicting emotions while his eyes threatened to destroy her resolve, she edged away.
Colin was preparing to lock-up. Stopping beside them at the bar he apologised when Liam enquired after a room “We dont cater much for boarders” then “I could ring a few friends …” The absurdity of the situation triggered Liam’s dormant sense of humour. “I can sleep rough on the beach. Wouldn’t be the first time”. Colin glanced at Sue. Would she really allow him to sleep on the beach when she had that big comfy double-bed?
“Look” Colin suggested “There’s a sofa you can sleep on. I’ve used it myself a few times when Velda has been restless. The room’s a bit of a mess but if you dont mind – and how about joining us for supper. You must be exhausted after travelling half way across the world”. Feeling quietly put in her place, Sue remained silent. Colin didn’t know Liam the way she did. Was she imagining that sinister, dark gleam in his blue eyed passiveness.
Colin and Velda Peverell talked at length about many things finally coming to Sue’s interest in the village and the local history. “She’s becoming a real authority. Even went ghost-hunting up at the ruins”.
“I did not!” she denied hotly “I just happened to be walking up there.’ then ‘”Do you believe in ghosts ?” Colin leaned back in his chair “Probably”, his glass in his hand. “If a spirit is either happy or desperately unhappy on earth, I think its fairly reasonable to surmise that same spirit can leave its mark on that particular place. Emotions are energy. Energy is very powerful stuff. So the spirit returns as energy, either seeking to fulfil or relive some earlier happiness. I dunno what I’m talking about but I think I believe in spirits walking.”
“But why does the Lady Carenza watch from the cliffs on stormy nights?” wondered Sue aloud. Peverell laughed. “How should I know.” muttering into his beard. “P’haps she’s looking for her lover. One legend says he left her high and dry after she betrayed him”.
Sue leaned forward. “Is that so?” But Colin was not convinced. “There’s a new legend each day of the week around these parts. That’s just my favourite one”.
While the Peverells tidied up their ‘junk’ room , Sue and Liam waited in the bar, in silence. When he spoke, she was shaken again by the anger in his voice. “Why did you leave that way, leaving such a bleak note? To scurry away when my back was turned. I deserved better then that!”
“I don’t believe it” she snapped “Is this why you came all the way to Cornwall. To yell at me for leaving you? Am I the first of your legion of lovers to walk out? I suppose you normally do the dumping, do you? Well, tough shit, Mr. Superstar, because this time the little woman has fought back. Miss Panda Eyes, poor unsuspecting idiot, can have you. Use her for a punch bag. This bloody fool has come to her senses”. She made to get up but his hand caught her, fingers curling around her wrist, hurting her. His face was deathly pale, his eyes aflame, his sensual mouth a grim sneer. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that? And I was afraid that you were in trouble; that you might need me.” His laugh was brittle. “You’re not the fool, Sue. I am.”
Throwing down his soft leather holdall, Liam barely glanced around the room. The sofa was adequate. He had slept on worse things in his time but despite his exhaustion, he was unable to sleep. Mainly he was consumed of a fierce anger and finally, unable to shake the mood or settle his confused thoughts, he let himself out of the improvised guest room making his way towards the stairs. A soft sound halted his footsteps. He paused, listening. Had she called him? He went towards the Store Room, his fingers curling around the smooth doorknob. It was locked. The sound came again. A woman’s voice, or was it the sea outside smacking at the harbour walls. Liam moved back to listen outside Sue’s bedroom then turning, went briskly down the stairs.
She listened to the retreating footsteps with relief, releasing her breath. Slipping across to the window she was in time to see his familiar tall shape appear below. He was looking up at the cliffs, sinisterly outlined against the night, trying to picture the ruins Sue had described earlier. This was one crazy place, he reflected, as he began to stroll towards the village.
The silent streets, their damp cobbles shining in the moonlight, stretched ahead. He wandered aimlessly, his thoughts a jumbled mess. The road raised slightly, climbing up, with terraced cottages lining either side, pale and sleepy in the misty pre-dawn light. Cars were parked in a space opposite; modern vehicles in a primitive setting. A few long strides brought him to the corner house. It was a home now but once it had been the Customs House. Liam’s hair tingled against his scalp and his body skin crawled. Then as if watching a movie, he saw a man running away, back down this street – running for his life whilst shots rang out, bullets bouncing off the cobbles around his feet. Perspiration beaded Liam’s brow, his breath rasped his lungs, as if he had been running, and his heart was pumping furiously. “Jesus, I’m so exhausted, I’m hallucinating’.
By the time the fishermen arrived for their morning cups of tea awaiting their calls to duty, the clock above the bar showed ten-thirty. Sue sat alone in her usual seat. At the far end of the room Dave, together with three other fishermen, chose to ignore her and she was glad. She had no desire for light banter this morning and sipped at her coffee, staring down into her cup. Colin gave a chuckle, and slid in opposite her, gesturing towards Liam at the bar. “Did you know he spent the night walking our streets?” Liam had snatched a brief nap but still felt and looked exhausted. Colin was laughing. “Fancy walking around here at night” but Sue was defensive. “This village has a peculiar way of making strangers do weird things” She glanced across at Liam. “Some of us even see things …” .
Colin changed the subject. He was driving to Newquay and invited them along. Liam refused. “I’ve got to get some sleep …” Perversely Sue offered. “You’ll be more comfortable in my room … ” her words trailing away as both men turned to look at her. With burning cheeks she shrugged. But Liam’s hard glare did nothing to pacify her agitation. “I didn’t come looking for a trip into the past.” Sue’s face reddened. ” And I’m not offering one. I still don’t know why the hell you came. And you havent explained how you knew I was here! I’m just amazed you could find the time considering how much in demand your personal services are!” Before Liam could retaliate, Colin leaned forward “Okay!’ then more softly “Now before we say too much we don’t mean and find we cant retract any of it, let’s start again: Liam, are you going up to bed or would you like some breakfast?” “I’m not hungry”. His glinting eyes had finally left Sue’s furious red face and she took a deep breath. “Regardless of your crassness, the offer stands – just be gone by the time I get back ” Swinging away she ran up the stairs to get her things and tidy the bed. About to leave the room, her gaze fell upon the Village History, written by a local man, Richard Lewis. Velda had suggested she read it. Slipping the book into her bag, she went out.
Much later, after a pub lunch, while flicking through the Richard Lewis book, did more to pacify her and by the time she arrived back at Portmerryn, Sue had decided she would behave as if this morning had never happened. She would be polite and refuse to be baited again. With luck Liam would inform her he was leaving immediately.
There was no sign of his presence in her room and she half suspected he had ignored her offer. With a deep sigh, she threw her bag onto the bed and turned to the looking glass. Her heart kicked. Taped to the mirror was a large square of white paper upon which he had scrawled in his familiar hand: THANKS FOR THE BED and taped across the paper was a sprig of lavender with the caption: OLIVE BRANCH?
Reaching out to carefully remove the lavender she unthinkingly lowered her head inhaling its fragrance. It drifted especially strongly. Gently entwining the little sprig into her gold chain necklace, Sue lifted her head to stare back at her own reflection. Not so many minutes earlier she had been desperate for him to disappear from her life and now … Her fingers tenderly touched the lavender, then began to brush her hair, slowly, deliberately. Taking far too long over the task, she dallied further over her make-up.
Please God, don’t let him have booked his flight back to Toronto, she begged silently. What was the matter with her? He had cheated on her and beaten her and here she was wanting him to stay. Had the punch to her head unhinged her ? Still she hesitated before going back down to him. But not from any nervousness; she wanted him to be apprehensive about her reaction to his unexpected gesture.
Pausing on the bottom stair, she indulged in the satisfaction of seeing his eyes dart to where she had secured the lavender into her chain.
“I had a terrific day”, she sparkled ” … did you sleep ?”
“No”. Liam signalled for Colin. There was a smile lurking behind his eyes. “I was too nervous. Was pretty sure you’d creep up the stairs and knife me while I slept”. Colin was pushing the tall glasses towards them. “Had a good day, Sue?” There was a small silence. “It was lousy”. Liam gave a resigned sigh. “Well, I’ll be out of your hair soon”.
Colin was enthusing about Port Becca, a nearby village. “There’s a good restaurant on the harbour”, briskly wiping a washed glass dry he continued, “Tonight, get some sleep, tomorrow start afresh. You’ve come all this way, you don’t want to hang around here all the time.” Sue was suspicious. “Why are you so anxious to get rid of us?” Maybe he had some illegal deliveries due? Was he a modern day smuggler? The Inn would make a good cover for a covert sideline. But he was saying “It’s none of my business but I think you need to spend some time alone, talking. ” He was embarrassed and red faced but a shy grin hovered uneasily on his lips. “I may be speaking out of turn but I am the landlord. I do have some rights. I don’t like the idea of my place being wrecked by a couple of Yanks with bad tempers”. Sue was staring down into her glass ‘I’m English’, she was embarrassed. ‘And he’s Canadian’. Liam Meredith was not one to appreciate being told how to run his private life even by close friends. How was he going to take a stranger’s interference?
Colin went off to take a telephone call and when he returned he told them he would have to drive back to Newquay, leaving after dinner. “My nephew manages the family farm, you see, and there’s been a spot of bother. I have to go and sort it out”. Colin fingered his beard “If you’re not going out tonight, Sue, would you keep an ear on alert for Velda. She took a fall this afternoon. I don’t like to leave her alone. If she needs anything …” Sue was nodding as a welcome idea occurred to her. “I’ll sit with her until you get back”. Colin’s expression was one of relief. “I’d be grateful, Sue. It’ll be a weight off my mind”.
But Liam was irritated by her obvious relief. She was so transparent, he glowered angrily. He could easily have shaken the life out of her.
Colin did not return until after three next morning and by that time Sue was fast asleep on the couch, wrapped around by a cosy duckdown eider, before the cold embers of the fire.