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Mount Kiernon has been a safe haven for Sarah Walker since the moment she stepped foot in the small mountain town. It has been her home and the place where she built her business. It’s also where she fell in love with Jamie, the town’s mechanic.But Sarah holds a secret no one in Mount Kiernon knows: she is not Sarah Walker. Sarah is actually Cheryl Prescott, a woman who has been running and hiding from her abusive ex-husband since the day she found the courage to leave him.As her two world’s collide and Sarah is forced to face her ex-husband in court, everything she has worked so hard for could be lost in an instant.With her home and business on the line Sarah finds she needs to lean on Jamie in a way she has never needed to before. Left to consider his possible rejection should she tell him the truth of who she is, Sarah must decide if the price of honesty is worth the cost.But still there is one thing Sarah is yet to discover: someone in Mount Kiernon knows who she is.And they’ve known all along.
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This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
A SECOND WIND
First edition. December 13, 2016.
Copyright © 2016 Suzanne Paschke.
Written by Suzanne Paschke.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two
Chapter Twenty Three
Chapter Twenty Four
Chapter Twenty Five
Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Seven
Chapter Twenty Eight
Chapter Twenty Nine
Chapter Thirty One
Chapter Thirty Two
Chapter Thirty Three
Chapter Thirty Four
Chapter Thirty Five
Chapter Thirty Six
Chapter Thirty Seven
Chapter Thirty Eight
Chapter Thirty Nine
Chapter Forty One
Chapter Forty Two
Chapter Forty Three
Chapter Forty Four
Chapter Forty Five
Chapter Forty Six
Chapter Forty Seven
Also By Suzanne Paschke
About the Author
To she who taught me you can be whatever you want to be and believe you can be.
RIP Norma Nitschke
One of the greatest women who ever lived, and the best grandma any girl could hope for.
“Loud. I need something loud,” Sarah muttered as she slotted her mp3 player into place in the docking station. Scrolling through the music choices she paused as she skimmed past an eighties rock band. Hesitating only a moment she tapped her finger lightly on the device before selecting the group. “Big hair, big drums. Perfect.”
Cranking the volume as the thud of the drums began to filter through the speakers she attempted to drown out the conversation that was on constant replay in her mind.
It was five in the morning and Sarah had been busy at her café, Dawning, for almost three hours. She had given up on getting any sleep at around half past one that morning and had instead headed into the café in an attempt to burn off the nervous energy that was running through her body. Since she had arrived she had been working at a feverish pace, desperation her fuel as she stirred, whisked and baked in an attempt to forget.
It hadn’t worked.
No matter what she did she could not stop thinking about what Senior Sergeant Ben Fletcher had told her the previous evening.
Jeff Prescott, Sarah’s ex-husband, and at whose hands she had endured years of physical pain was suing her for the inheritance left to her by her grandmother. The news had left Sarah reeling and ready to fight. There was no way she was willing to lose what she had worked so hard to build to the man who, once upon a time, nearly ruined her life.
And it all came down to one small, cruel detail.
Her divorce from Jeff had become finalised seventeen hours after her grandmother had passed away.
Which meant that no matter how it was sliced or diced Jeff could legally argue that she hadn’t declared all her assets in the divorce.
The fact that Jeff was in prison serving a three year sentence for the abuse he had forced Sarah to endure didn’t make a difference. Nor did it matter that her Nan’s money was to be hers alone if she and Jeff were divorced. It didn’t even matter that she hadn’t known that her beloved Nan had died until three months after her passing.
It hadn’t been that Sarah didn’t care about her Nan dying, far from it.
It had taken Sarah every scrap of courage that she possessed to first go to the police to report what had been happening. That her husband, who supposedly loved her more than life itself as he’d told her time and time again, had been physically hurting her for years. No matter the fear she felt at the time, Sarah had done it.
But it had only been the beginning.
For the next two years she had been embattled in a very public court case against Jeff that had ended in a way that, to this day, still cut her to the core. As he had walked from the court Jeff had turned to her and spoken the words she knew she could never forget.
No matter where you go, I will find you, little mouse. You hear me, woman? You are mine.
His declaration had made her blood run cold.
No jail cell would be able to stop a man like Jeff Prescott and Sarah knew it.
So she had run.
With a backpack full of belongings and very little money to her name she had managed to disappear. With one eye always looking behind her she had ended her life as she knew it. No one knew where she was.
Or who she was.
For that was Sarah’s biggest secret of all. She wasn’t Sarah Walker, she was Cheryl Prescott.
It was only three months after Sarah Walker had come into existence that Cheryl had reached out to the one friend she had in her former life. It was he who had told Sarah of her Nan’s passing and ultimately led Ben Fletcher to her door.
Now as she stood in the kitchen of Dawning, Sarah cut up the cream cheese she needed for the carrot cake frosting as she sang in her off-key voice. As the song ended and moved on to the next track she threw the cream cheese into the bowl of a mixer and added a dash of vanilla. As the baseline began pounding away the singer started warbling on about tramps and video vamps and Sarah joined in with his plea to the demolition woman in the song. Reaching for a nearby canister of caster sugar Sarah’s singing grew louder as she bellowed along as she began to scoop out the contents.
By the time the song reached the chorus her hips started swaying in time to the music and her heart felt a touch lighter. As the drummer pelted out his solo Sarah dumped sugar on to the scales with each hit of the bass drum. Satisfied she’d weighed out the right amount she tossed the sugar into the bowl before setting the mixer going. As the singer joined back in to the throng Sarah threw her hands in the air with reckless abandon, sending a smattering of sugar flying through the air.
Leaving where she had been standing by the mixer Sarah began dancing around the stainless steel island bench waving her hands about. At that moment in time she couldn’t have cared less who might have seen her from the blackened streets outside as she shimmied her way around the kitchen.
She had done it. For the first time since she had been told the news she had finally put her ex out of her mind.
At six o’clock Sarah heard a key slide into the lock of the front door of Dawning and soon after Gloria, her blonde and bubbly barista stepped through.
Seeing Sarah behind the coffee machine Gloria gave a broad grin, waving cheerfully. “Morning,” she shouted over the din of the music.
“Morning,” Sarah returned loudly.
Crossing the dining area Gloria lowered the music to a conversational level.
“Hey, I was listening to that,” Sarah protested.
“And so was half the neighbourhood with the volume it was at.”
Sarah shrugged. “Oh, please. It’s not like anyone is around this time of morning.”
“Hang on a second, what are you doing here?” Gloria said suddenly realising something was amiss. “Please tell me I haven’t stuffed up reading the roster. I’m sure I was on early shifts this week.”
“So then why are you here?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Figured I was better off coming in and getting some work done instead of lying in bed staring at the ceiling,” Sarah explained her body still moving in time with the beat of the music. “Hey, do you want a coffee? I’m making myself a cappuccino.” Pushing back a stray piece of hair Sarah lowered her head, her tongue poking out slightly as she concentrated on the task.
“Since when do you drink coffee?” Gloria asked, eyeing her boss suspiciously. “You can’t stand the stuff.”
“Haven’t you ever thought how weird that is? I own a café and don’t even drink coffee?” Sarah laughed wryly. “But today everything is different. I have decided that today I am going to try every single coffee we offer on the menu.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Gloria laughed. “We have thirteen different ones listed. Even a diehard caffeine addict wouldn’t do that.”
“Then they are a bunch of lightweights.”
“You’re not really going to try and do it, are you?” Gloria asked moving through the dining room to the swinging door leading into the kitchen.
“Why not?” Sarah shrugged, turning the dial to set the steam wand going and beginning to aerate a stainless steel jug filled with milk. As she lifted and lowered the jug, occasionally spraying milky foam over the top of the jug and on the counter and floor Sarah kept talking to Gloria, oblivious to the mess she was making. “If I want to try every coffee on the menu, why can’t I? Like I said, today everything is different. Today I’m going to do all sorts of things I’ve never done before. I’m going to be braver than I’ve ever been before. And I am sure as hell not going to let my sunsets take over the sunrise I’ve worked so hard for.” As she spoke Sarah became more fervent with each word.
Staring at Sarah, Gloria was perplexed. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course. I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?” Sarah said quickly.
“I don’t know. But you don’t seem quite yourself this morning.”
“Well, I’m still me. I’m still Sarah Walker.”
I’m still Sarah Walker.
Jeff hasn’t taken anything from me yet.
I’m still Sarah Walker, and I’m going to fight this thing.
Over the past hour all the fears and turmoil that had kept her awake during the night had begun to creep back. Thoughts of Jeff were permeating her thoughts again, but Sarah was determined to be who she was. However long that might be.
Knowing she could feel tears only a moment away Sarah offered Gloria the breeziest smile she could muster.
“You should put your things away,” Sarah suggested. “Get ready for the day.”
“Sure,” Gloria agreed, turning and walking into the kitchen.
Pushing away the single tear that had managed to escape Sarah set her shoulders and continued with her task.
“I am still Sarah Walker,” she whispered.
“What the frog?!”
Sarah could hear the yelp of surprise coming from the kitchen. Less than ten seconds later Gloria reappeared through the door tying a work apron about her waist as she moved. “How long have you been here exactly?”
Sarah shrugged as she continued to move the jug under the steam wand. “I forget. A bit after two though, I think.”
“And all of the stuff that’s on the counter, you’ve done all that today?” Gloria was incredulous.
“All of it?”
On the benches in the kitchen sat as much completed work that Sarah and Gloria would usually manage between the two of them in a full day amongst serving customers. Several cakes had been completed and perfectly topped ready to be moved into the display case in the dining area. Another sat cooling on a wire rack, still warm from the oven.
But that wasn’t all. Sarah had also managed to bake four different types of muffins together with three batches of giant chocolate chip cookies.
“How did you manage all that in four hours?” Gloria asked, stunned.
“Unexpected side effects,” Sarah muttered, as another few tears found their way down her cheeks. Swiping them away angrily, Sarah sighed in frustration. Come on, get a grip.
“What do you mean by side effects?” Gloria’s clear voice cut through Sarah’s inner turmoil.
What sort of side effects do you feel when you’re getting sued? “I don’t know. The usual ones, I guess. It’s not like I’ve ever been through this before.”
“So you’re saying this is your first time?” Gloria asked, her eyes brightening.
“Well it’s not like it’s an everyday occurrence, is it?”
“No, but it can be really exciting if you let it.”
Sarah scoffed. How could being sued ever be considered exciting? “Can’t say I’m too thrilled about it. Why people would ever purposely go out of their way to do it, I don’t know.” Sarah failed to check herself as she spoke.
“I’m worried about you, Sarah. Most people would be really pleased when this happens.”
“I don’t know why. But I’ve managed before by myself and I’ll manage again.” Sarah didn’t fail to notice the look of shock that came over Gloria’s face as she spoke. “Now do you want coffee or not? I’ve made enough milk for both of us.”
“Will you forget the damn coffee!” Gloria demanded, slamming her hand down on the counter, the sound of the harsh slap causing Sarah to jump and lift her head. “I need you to focus. You said before that this was the first time you’d ever done anything like this. Now you’re saying you’ve been through it before, and by yourself. Tell me the truth. Has this happened to you before, Sarah?”
Gloria’s words cut through the fog of Sarah’s self-pity. Panic hit her momentarily as she realised she had been failing to check herself as she had been speaking. Angry for dropping her guard so recklessly, she bristled. Willing Gloria to drop the subject she kept her head down as she focussed on finishing off the cappuccino.
“It’s none of your business.”
“Of course it’s my business. If you’re going to start acting like this on a regular basis because of the hormones then it’s only fair that I know. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ll be really excited for you, but I need to know if my boss is going to be an emotional mess for the next nine months.”
Sarah looked up from the coffee machine in surprise. “What the hell are you on about?”
“Are you pregnant, Sarah?”
“You think I’m pregnant?” Sarah was shocked at the question. Snapping a lid on to the takeaway coffee container she’d made the cappuccino in Sarah gave Gloria her full attention.
“Are you saying you’re not?” Gloria challenged. “I mean, if you are you really need to rethink the whole coffee challenge thing you’ve given yourself. Too much caffeine when you’re pregnant isn’t great for the baby.”
“No. I’m not pregnant!” It would be the immaculate conception if I was.
“Then what’s going on with you?”
“There’s nothing going on,” Sarah denied vehemently, wishing Gloria would drop the matter. “Like you said, it’s just the coffee. You know I don’t usually drink it. It must have affected me more than I realised.”
“I don’t believe you. You were dancing when I arrived, and in the five minutes since I’ve arrived you’ve been happy, cried and now you’re cranky. And look at your hands! You’re trembling. If I didn’t know better I’d think you’re coming down from some kind of high.”
“Now you’re accusing me of what? Taking drugs?” Sarah was aghast.
“No, of course not I don’t think you took drugs, but look at you. You’re shaking like a leaf. Here,” Gloria insisted reaching out and holding Sarah’s wrists to hold her hands up in front of her face forcing her to look at them.
Gloria’s right. Sarah’s hands were shaking uncontrollably. Pulling her wrists from Gloria’s grasp and flexing her fingers to gain control over her body, Sarah clenched her hands into fists.
“Talk to me, Sarah,” Gloria encouraged her friend. “What’s going on with you?”
Turning her body away Sarah picked up a cloth and began to mop at the milk on the counter that had spat about earlier when she made the coffee. “I told you, it’s nothing. Like I said, the caffeine must just have gotten to me and set me off.”
“What a load of bull poop. You drink tea all the time; you’re used to the caffeine.”
“Fine. You want the truth? Here’s the truth,” Sarah sighed wearily, suddenly too tired to do anything other than be honest. “I got news last night. Really bad news. Don’t ask me about it because I really don’t want to talk about it,” Sarah gave a stern look at Gloria challenging her to not ask. “Just leave it as I couldn’t sleep because of it. So I came in here to work to take my mind off it.”
Gloria nodded towards the kitchen. “And worked like a demon by the looks of it.”
“Pretty much,” Gloria agreed.
“Did it help?”
“For a while.” Sarah looked at her friend, a small smile on her face. “I’m okay, Gloria. At least I will be. I just need you to leave it.”
Walking with the sodden cloth to the sink to rinse it out, as Sarah turned her back to Gloria she hoped that she would finally take the hint at let the matter go.
“You know if there’s anything I can do to help, all you need to do is ask,” came Gloria’s voice from behind Sarah.
Finishing rinsing the cloth Sarah squeezed it out before turning to face Gloria. Offering her a sad smile Sarah spoke. “I know you’d help if you could, but there’s nothing that you or anyone else can do. This is all on me.”
“Okay.” Gloria nodded before stepping forwards and drawing Sarah into a hug. “Just one thing though –“
“Gloria,” Sarah warned.
“Just how many coffees have you had? Must’ve been a few to make you shake like you are.”
Thankful Gloria wasn’t asking a question too personal Sarah tilted her head considering her answer. “In the last hour? Three, I think.”
“No wonder you’re shaking, that much caffeine would do it to anyone. I’m surprised your heart isn’t racing.”
“It is actually.”
“Right then, I’m cutting you off,” Gloria declared standing with her arms outstretched in front of the coffee machine as if to stop Sarah from going near it.
“Well if you’re going to do that then I’m going to demand that you get on with work,” Sarah said as lightly as she could muster.
“Fine. Slave driver,” Gloria retorted, poking out her tongue.
“Yep. Get on with it or I’ll really start cracking the whip.”
“Geez, yes ma’am,” Gloria retorted, laughing, Sarah joining in with her. As the laughter subsided Gloria became serious. “I meant what I said, you know. If there’s anything I can do to help just say the word and I will.”
“Thank you.” Covering the few steps between them Sarah wrapped her arms around Gloria and gave her a tight squeeze.
“Just one question before I go,” Gloria said. “Is there any chance in all you managed to get done this morning that you miraculously did the morning prep too?”
Laughing, Sarah shook her head.
“You’re not that lucky.”
Hunched over her laptop working on a spreadsheet of figures, Sarah’s shoulders were screaming in protest as she stared at the screen. Her earlier meltdown long since passed she had been focussed and looking at the figures of the business for the past few hours seeing how things would potentially play out while she was out of town in a few weeks’ time.
“What do you say to you, me, a big box of popcorn and a movie at the cinema in Penwick on Friday night?” the husky voice asked from the doorway of the kitchen at Dawning mid-morning the same day.
“Jamie!” Sarah stood up quickly, surprised to see him in town. A sharp pain jolted from her neck reminding her of how long she had sat still. Groaning, she reached to massage it.
“Here, let me,” Jamie offered, walking into the room and, standing behind her began to move his large hands over the sore spot. The feel of his fingers as he slowly worked to soothe the muscle together with his warm breath tickling her neck soon had Sarah sighing in pleasure.
“Aren’t you supposed to be working out on the Schmitke farm today?” she asked as the pain subsided.
For the past three days Jamie had been working on site at a local farm performing the annual service on the tractors and harvesting equipment for the owner.
“There was a problem with one of the tractors. I needed to come into town and grab a few parts. I’m headed back out that way in a bit.”
Tell him that you’re going away, the thought popped in to her mind.
Dismissing it she leant back against his broad chest, as Jamie lowered his hands and snaked his arms around her waist, pulling Sarah closer to him. Feeling his lips on the side of her neck as he began to tease her skin Sarah closed her eyes, giving herself over to the sensations.
Her eyes flew open as the thought came unbidden to her mind once more, a shiver trembling through her body at the thought.
“You cold?” Jamie asked.
“Hmm?” Sarah answered distractedly as she attempted to regain the state of bliss she’d felt only a moment ago.
“I asked if you were cold. You shivered,” he explained.
“No, I’m fine,” Sarah assured him quickly moving out of his arms as Gloria popped her head through the doorway.
“Sorry to interrupt guys, but I could use a hand out here,” Gloria stated before retreating as quickly as she had appeared
“Be there in a second,” Sarah promised.
“No Seth?” Jamie asked, realising for the first time that the short order cook wasn’t in the kitchen where he usually was.
“He’s on a break,” Sarah explained quickly, grabbing a fresh apron from the stockpile. Tying it around her waist she walked into the dining area, Jamie following closely behind. Offering the customers who were waiting by the coffee machine a warm smile she quickly got to work as Gloria informed her that she needed two lattes made to go, one hazelnut, one plain.
“Once they’re done I need a hot chocolate, then it’s a fat cap for your man and a skinny caramel mac for his dad.” Gloria said quickly in between serving customers in the short hand they’d developed, indicating a full cream cappuccino and a skim milk caramel macchiato was required. Picking up a waiting plate that held a generous slice of lemon cake Gloria picked her way through the customers at the waiting tables to deliver the baked good.
Quickly preparing the two lattes Sarah settled the plastic lids into place on the takeaway cups before sliding each into a cardboard sleeve and handing them over to the waiting customers.
“Your dad is having a caramel macchiato? Are you sure? He’s usually a cappuccino man.” Sarah double checked the order as she worked on preparing the hot chocolate as Gloria joined them back at the counter.
“He and mum came in here last week and she had one. I guess he liked it.”
“I must’ve missed them when they were in.”
“I think you were in Penwick doing the banking,” Gloria interjected as she heard the conversation. It was the one annoyance Sarah had with living in a small town that had no banks in it. It meant once a week she needed to make the ninety minute round trip to Penwick in order to bank the takings from the cafe. It wasn’t ideal and she would have preferred to have done it on a daily basis, but she had long resigned herself with using the safe that was well hidden on the premises of Dawning.
“What happened to your hand?” Jamie asked spotting the square bandage on the back of Sarah’s left hand.
“Take a wild guess,” Gloria drawled sarcastically.
“You burnt yourself again?” Jamie didn’t know if he should be shocked or just accept the fact that Sarah was accident prone when it came to the coffee machine.
“Looks nasty, but it’ll be fine,” Sarah assured him, attempting not to think about how she had incurred the burn when Ben had walked into Dawning, her shock at seeing him so great she had become distracted, burning herself on the coffee machine.
Walking with a muffin on a plate in one hand, the hot chocolate in the other Gloria headed through the café once again. As she lowered the items on to the table for the waiting customer Sarah watched as the man she didn’t recognise who sat at the table attempted to flirt with her employee, his body language giving him away.
Not going to happen, Sarah smirked as she watched the interaction between the two as Gloria shut the man down. It wasn’t that the woman wasn’t interested in men, but rather that Gloria didn’t consider the limited pool of men in Mount Kiernon to have anything she was searching for in a partner.
Better to hold out for the right guy than end up with the wrong one, Sarah thought briefly casting her mind back to the horror that had been her marriage.
“So, Friday night?” Jamie prompted, causing Sarah to bring her attention back to him.
“What about it?” Sarah asked, sure she was supposed to remember what it was he was referring to and failing miserably.
He laughed good naturedly at her. “Where’s your mind today? You were completely off in your own world.”
“Sorry, I was just watching that guy with Gloria. Yet another guy who tries with her strikes out.”
Jamie glanced over at Gloria where he could see the man looking disappointed at being shut down. Returning his attention to Sarah he tried again. “I asked if you wanted to go see a movie. Maybe share a box of popcorn with me.”
“I know that offer. That’s code for ‘share popcorn with me, but I’ll eat the lion’s share of it’.” Sarah laughed good naturedly. “It’s a deal as long as I can fall asleep in your truck on the way back from the cinemas.”
“My truck, my couch, my bed. You, my gorgeous girl, can fall asleep wherever you like,” Jamie leaned in and spoke in a low voice to Sarah so no one else would overhear the words meant for her ears only.
“With an offer like that, how can a girl possibly refuse?” Sarah teased.
Handing Jamie a takeaway mug with his name on the side he lifted the drink to his lips before quickly lowering it and making a face. “Ugh, what the hell is this?” His face was screwed up in disgust as he frowned at the drink. “Did you change the order?” he asked Sarah.
“No, it’s your cappuccino. Full milk, two sugars, the way you always take it,” Sarah replied as she quickly served a customer before placing an oversized chocolate chip cookie into a paper bag. Smiling as she handed it over the customer quickly went on their way.
“Sweetheart, I don’t know what you did, but this is no cappuccino.”
“Of course it is. Give it here,” Sarah sighed taking the cup from his hands. Lifting it to her lips she took a quick sip before pulling a face and quickly lowering the cup. “Well, the good news is that it’s a cappuccino.”
“And the bad news?” Jamie prompted.
“It’s soy milk. Sorry honey.”
“Mistakes happen,” Jamie replied, shrugging it off.
“But not usually like this, and not to me. Can you imagine how much money I would lose if I did this all the time?” Sarah pointed out, her mind briefly drifting back to the figures she had been looking at. Smiling cheekily at Jamie, Sarah’s pale blue eyes twinkled with mischievousness. “Still, it’s your own fault really.”
“How do you figure that?” Jamie asked archly.
“You distracted me with the promise of sleep.”
“You tired?” Jamie frowned.
“I didn’t sleep too well last night,” she answered truthfully.
“That would be because I wasn’t there,” he teased lightly. The pair had intended to spend the evening together but Sarah had cancelled when she’d discovered Ben Fletcher was in town. She had needed the time to speak to him alone without Jamie or anyone else hearing what it was he had to say.
“It would have been a different night with you there.” Sarah offered the half-truth.
Squashing the thought down again Sarah smiled at Jamie. “I’ll tell you what, Seth should be back soon and I’ll take my break. I’ll bring you and your dad down a couple of fresh drinks then if you like. Save you standing around and waiting for them. I’ll even throw in an extra large slice of the mud cake,” she added as a sweetener.
“Sounds good,” he agreed. “I’ve got to get a few things before I head out to the Schmitke property, so I’ll only be in town for another twenty minutes at most. But you’ll be at the garage before then, yeah?”
“I’ll be about ten minutes, max.”
“See you soon, gorgeous girl,” Jamie said leaning in to give Sarah a kiss on the lips before he left.
Sarah watched as Jamie headed down the street and in the direction of the garage. She was due in court in twenty days’ time and had no idea what she was going to tell him about where she was going or why.
Pasting on a smile as another customer approached the counter Sarah served the woman while a single thought continuously swirled through her mind.
I have to tell him.
The work week had passed by in a blur as Sarah had worked feverishly to prepare for the upcoming court case. She had called and arranged for the law firm she had used during her domestic violence case to represent her once more in court. She’d spoken to Harvey Feinstein, one of the partners of the firm, and the same lawyer she’d used during her original case. He’d been nearly as indignant as she had been when she told him about the fact that Jeff was suing her.
Unhesitatingly Harvey had agreed to have the firm represent Sarah again. “I didn’t work so hard for two years to have that son of a bitch come back and win now. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that happen,” Harvey had said.
As determined as Harvey was to win and help Sarah out again, he had also been apologetic, explaining that the firm had already assigned all their pro bono hours for the year. He had offered to her a reduced rate on his usual fee, but even still, the amount per hour he was charging made Sarah sweat. It would take her years to pay it off using a payment plan.
It had unsettled her initially, but even so there was no other law firm or lawyer she would consider using. Sarah had learnt through the first case to trust Harvey and his intuition. He knew everything there was about her life as Cheryl Prescott: the good, the bad and the ugly. And during the previous court case some of it had been very, very ugly.
It had been planned so that Sarah would arrive in Burnleigh the day before the case was due to be heard in court. Just long enough to get settled in at the hotel and prepare mentally. She didn’t want to spend one minute longer than she absolutely had to in the city dealing with the court case or being Cheryl. Sarah wasn’t nervous about the fact that it wouldn’t give her and Harvey much face to face time prior to the case commencing simply as they had worked together previously.
But the effort it had taken to keep up appearances over the week while it felt that her world was potentially about to crumble around her had taken its toll. Her moods had spiralled over the past few days from despair, to anger and everything in between. Sarah had tried her hardest to keep it in check and appear to everyone around her as she normally would, but she knew no matter how hard she tried at times she hadn’t been able to keep her emotions caged.
“Get a hold of yourself,” she muttered. “Suck it up, and just get on with things.”
“First sign of madness you know, talking to yourself,” Gloria quipped lightly as she walked into the kitchen and saw her boss mumbling to herself. Cutlery and crockery rattled noisily in the tub Gloria was holding as she walked spritely through the area. Her blonde curls were held back in a ponytail but as she bounced with each step she took it seemed that they had a life of their own and were desperately trying to escape. Gloria’s face bright with happiness as she chatted away. “I wonder why they say it though. I mean, you always hear about what the first sign of madness is, but you never hear what the second one is. Maybe it means that anyone who talks to themselves is already nutty enough to not need a second sign of madness. What do you think Sarah? Are you feeling nutty?” She laughed lightly at the thought.
“What?” Sarah snapped sending a dark look in Gloria’s direction.
As soon as the words left her lips, Sarah knew she had spoken out of turn, but it was too late. The damage was already done. Gloria blanched visibly, her face falling at the sharp remark. Turning her back sharply she quickly moved across the room and rested the tub she had been holding on to the bench. Silently Gloria worked to fill the dishwasher, her slumped shoulders and lowered head speaking more than any words could.
“I’m sorry, Gloria. That wasn’t fair of me.”
“It’s okay,” Gloria replied softly, her body turned away from Sarah as she continued with her task.
“Why don’t you leave those Gloria, I’ll finish them for you,” Seth’s deep voice offered from where he stood at the grill. “I’m sure there’s something out front that probably needs doing anyway.”
Keeping her head down the blonde woman turned and left the room without a word, but not before Sarah noticed the tears on her cheeks.
“Oh God,” Sarah whispered, feeling wretched as Gloria walked through the swinging door between the dining area and the kitchen of the cafe.
Sarah was sure it had not been possible to feel any more stressed than she had been for the past five days, but knowing she had managed to upset the usually upbeat Gloria only served to compound everything further. Sighing heavily she braced her arms against the edge of the oven and closed her eyes.
“You were a bit harsh on her, don’t you think?” Seth’s voice asked calmly from next to her.
Sarah started, jerking her head upwards in surprise. She hadn’t heard Seth move from where he had been working at the grill to where he now stood beside her.
Standing causally beside her, leaning against a nearby bench, his feet crossed at the ankles Seth looked as if he didn’t have a care in the world. At six foot three and a linebacker for the Penwick rugby team his formidable size could seem imposing. Realistically though he was a giant marshmallow. The way he was with his three young children had melted Sarah’s heart on more than one occasion. But Sarah had also learned that while he might be a marshmallow he was also fierce as a lion when poked.
“Did you and Gloria have a falling out?” Seth asked.
“No. We’re fine,” Sarah assured him moving away and beginning to busy herself with the task of checking stock levels.
“Care to tell me what’s going on then?” His tone brokered no argument. He was a man who had clearly had enough.
“What do you mean?”
“All it takes is one word from you lately and the poor girl is in tears.”
“If she has a problem then she needs to come and talk to me.”
“And if the problem is you?” Seth countered.
Sarah paled. She knew her mood swings had meant that she wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around at times, but she had thought she had better control over her moods than what Seth was suggesting. And she certainly had no idea that her moods were affecting Gloria so much.
“You’ve been riding her pretty hard for the past four days. Both of us actually,” Seth stared at Sarah until she began to squirm uncomfortably. “Look, I’ve got broad shoulders, I can take it, but Gloria’s pretty close to breaking point with the way you’ve been treating her this past week. She’s tries her damnedest to act like everything is normal, but you just keep slapping her down.”
The misery that Sarah was already feeling crept up another notch. Seth had never spoken to her this way before and she knew he wouldn’t do so unless it was serious.
“Have I really been that bad?” she asked in a small voice.
“Yeah, you have,” Seth replied, softening.
“I’m sorry. I knew I’d been a bit short lately with people, but I didn’t realise I’d been that bad. I’ll make sure I apologise to Gloria when I’m out front next. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately and it’s just getting on top of me.” At least it’s a semblance of the truth. “I’m probably just coming down with a bit of a bug.”
“That’s because you never take a break from this place. You run Dawning single handed and never take a day off. We’ve been open for nearly a year now and to keep up that kind of pace has got to do something to a person.”
“You haven’t had any time off either,” Sarah countered.
“Yes, I have. I took that week a few months back when Penny and the kids all came down with the flu. Plus I had a long weekend around New Year.”
“It’s hardly a break if you’re off because you need to look after other people,” Sarah scoffed.
“Why don’t you think about taking some time off?”
“I can’t right now. There’s too much going on at the moment for me to be able to do that.”
“Gloria and I can cover for you for a few days. It’d be busy, but we could manage. Why don’t you go up to Penwick or Franklin and go to one of those girly places.”
“Girly places?” Sarah hesitated for a moment trying to work out what Seth meant. Her eyes widened as a thought entered her mind. “Do you mean a strip club?”
Seth guffawed. “I meant one of those places that do hair and nails and all that kind of thing. My wife seems to like them enough and says they relax her.”
“A day spa?” As much as she loved a massage Sarah couldn’t imagine sitting there and spending a whole day being pampered.
Seth shrugged. “If that’s what they call them. When Penny comes by with the kids today you should ask her which one she goes to.”
“Thanks, but I’m not exactly the day spa type. I’d rather take a weekend in the mountains away from everyone than sit in a chair and have someone file my nails and talk about mindless celebrity gossip.”
“Don’t tell my wife that. She loves all that kind of fluff.”
“But why? Celebrities are just people as far as I’m concerned. They might be good at their jobs, but why should a glossy magazine care about them if at the end of the day all they’ve really done is be pretty and pout at cameras? I’ll pass on that sort of nonsense, thanks.” That and I’ve had my lifetime’s fill of cameras in my face and people asking questions and speculating about things they know nothing about.
“See? This is what I’m talking about,” Seth said, interrupting her silent reverie. “You don’t sweat the small stuff, and one mention of some gossip mag has got you all riled up. You need to take some time off.”
“Like I said, I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather. I’ve had this headache for a while.”
“Even more reason to take a day off. Gloria and I’ll be alright, and this place won’t fall apart if you’re not here for one day.”
“I’ll be okay. I’ll just take a couple of painkillers for it and it’ll be fine.” Reaching for the first aid kit Sarah searched for the headache tablets and pressed two into her hand. Filling a glass with water she tossed the tablets into her mouth and drank deeply to chase the tablets down. As she tilted her head backwards she spied the all too light cake on the bench once again. It was all it took for her resistance to begin to waver. The all too familiar tingle in her nose indicated the oncoming tears, and Sarah willed the tears to subside. It was to no avail though as the first tear began to trace its path down her cheek.
Covering the few steps between them Seth drew Sarah into his arms. “It’s more than some bug, isn’t it? You’re completely run down.”
My ex-husband is suing me. I could lose my home, my business and you could and Gloria could be out of a job because of it.
But those words were ones she could never tell Seth.
“It’s just a headache,” she protested weakly as she allowed him to hold her close against the warmth of his solid chest, feeling a moment of respite. “I’ll be fine, Seth.”
“You will be,” he promised, “but not if you try to do this all by yourself. You’re not some super hero. It’s okay to lean on other people you know.”
Releasing his arms from around her Sarah wiped the few stray tears that had found their way down her face.
“When did you get so smart?” she asked with a shaky smile.
“Nah. I’m just a guy who’s been around my wife long enough to know when a woman’s upset about something and trying not to show it.”
“Penny’s a lucky woman,” Sarah said wiping her tears as she referred to Seth’s wife.
“I’m the lucky one. I swear I used up every ounce of luck that was ever coming my way the day she agreed to be mine.”
Sarah felt her heart strings tug at the honesty she saw in Seth’s face as he spoke openly about his wife. Taking a deep breath Sarah set her shoulders. “I better go and apologise to Gloria.”
Seth nodded once as Sarah began heading for the swinging door and the dining area.
As she walked through the door to the other side Sarah spied Gloria working amongst the tables, having a chat to a few customers who were choosing to stay and sit and enjoy a moment away from the daily grind of life. Catching her eye she offered Gloria a smile. Jerking her head softly toward the front counter Gloria nodded, indicating she understood the message. Finishing up the conversation she quickly moved through the café and joined Sarah at the front counter.
“I’m sorry.” Their voices could have almost been in synch as Gloria and Sarah apologised to one another.
“You’re sorry? I’m the one who shouldn’t have spoken to you the way I did. What on Earth are you sorry for?” Sarah asked the question in disbelief.
“You’re dealing with stuff at the moment and I should’ve remembered. Instead I walk in and talk like everything’s normal.”
“No matter what is going on though it doesn’t give me the right to snap at you like I did. I’m sorry, Gloria.”
“It’s all good,” Gloria assured her.
“No, it’s not. Seth said I’ve been pretty hard to work with for the past few days.”
Gloria snorted. “That’s the understatement of the century.” Clapping a hand across her mouth she looked at Sarah with eyes wide. “I’m sorry,” she apologised quickly.
Eyebrows raised, Sarah gave Gloria a wry smile. “That bad, huh?”
Gloria winced as if telling the truth was causing her pain, but nodded slowly all the same. “I’m sorry, but yeah, it has been. You’re really up and down at the moment Sarah. One minute everything is fine and the next you’re ready to bite my head off.”
It had seemed Seth hadn’t exaggerated in the slightest. Sarah had been making life hell for her own employees. “I’m going to take my lunch break,” she declared quickly. Turning, Sarah rushed through the kitchen even as she worked at taking off her work apron. Throwing it on the bench she escaped through the rear entrance of the café and out into the small car park.
She barely made it out the back door of Dawning before the tears began in earnest. Stuffing her sleeve into her mouth so that no one could hear her cry Sarah crouched down behind her car. Hiding from everyone she let the sobs wrack her body as the tears flowed in earnest.
“Good afternoon, Dawning. Gloria speaking.” Sarah was greeted by Gloria’s bright voice as she answered the phone.
“Gloria, it’s Sarah.”
“Where are you? You’ve been gone for over an hour. We’ve been worried.” Sarah could hear the concern in Gloria’s voice. Lunch breaks were set at half an hour in length and she had taken more than double that time.
“Sorry. Look I’m really not feeling well and thinking about heading home. Will you be okay if it’s just you and Seth there for the rest of the afternoon?”
“Sure. We’ll be fine here.” Sarah could hear the hesitation in Gloria’s voice as she spoke.
“If it’s busy I can come in.”
“It’s picking up, but we’ll be alright. Look, Sarah, I’m so sorry about what I said before. That you’ve been hard to work with lately.”
“You were just speaking the truth,” Sarah sighed heavily. “Gloria I’ve got to go.”
“Okay, but Jamie was in and he -”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Cutting the conversation off Sarah pressed end on her phone before Gloria had the chance to say anything else. It was selfish, Sarah knew, but to think about Jamie now was just too much.
Pocketing her phone Sarah looked out across the ocean. Sitting on the wooden bench atop the cliffs on the edge of town, the view was stunning. It had been her place in Mount Kiernon that always brought her peace and had been where she had sat the day that she made the decision to move to the town. The day she had chosen to stop running.
But today the peace and calm that Sarah sought so desperately was nowhere to be found.
I can’t do this.
Closing her eyes she attempted again to let the sound of the waves hitting the rocks below and the salty tang of the sea air work their calming ways.
Him. It always came back to him. It doesn’t matter what I do, it always comes back to him.
Feeling the bile rise in her throat Sarah’s eyes flew open as she hurtled towards the public rubbish bin that sat a few steps from the bench. As the contents of her stomach rose a fresh round of tears hit her. Sobbing as she fought to gain control over her body there was one single thought that permeated her mind.
I just want to forget.
Forget Jeff ever existed. Forget what he had done to her. Forget the upcoming court case. Forget everything, even if just only for a short while.
The hammering on the door could be heard echoing throughout Sarah’s house around six thirty that evening. From where she lay cozied up on the couch Sarah studiously attempted to ignore it.
She knew who it would be, and he was the last person she wanted to see.
She had been lying on the couch all afternoon watching movies, Tristram having claimed the spot behind her knees, purring in his sleep as he snuggled against her. The coffee table in front of the couch was testament to the kind of afternoon she’d been having. Crumpled tissues had been thrown haphazardly in the direction of the table after being used, some reaching their target, others strewn across the floor where they had missed the mark. An empty bottle of red wine sat abandoned on the table, a half empty bottle next to it. In her hand Sarah held a wine glass with a few drops of wine remaining at the bottom. An oversize and mostly empty potato chip packet within arm’s reach.
At the sound of the insistent knocking Tristram sat upright from behind Sarah’s knees. His ears perked, head facing the direction of the door where the noise was coming from. It was clear he didn’t want to leave his mistress but was fighting the urge to investigate.
“Ignore him, Fuzzball,” Sarah muttered to him. Snuggling down further under the blanket she hoped the person she knew was doing the knocking would go away and leave her in peace. The knocking ceased and a minute passed. Sarah nodded with grim satisfaction. “See Tristram,” she muttered as she sat upright to refill her wine glass, “it’s just you and me. We’re all alone.”
Just as she finishing muttering her sentence the knocking came once more front the front door. “Oh, feck off,” she grumbled. Lifting the half empty bottle of wine from the table she unscrewed the cap and silently raised the bottle towards the door. “Cheers to you. Now sod off,” she muttered before sloshing some wine into the glass.
“Sarah?” Jamie’s voice floated towards Sarah from outside the door. “Open the door. I know you’re home. Let me in.”
“Not gonna happen, is it Tristram?” she asked to the cat. “He’s not coming in, is he?” Blinking at her Tristram leapt off of the couch and trotted off in the direction of the front door waiting for it to be opened so he could greet Jamie. “Traitor,” she muttered to his disappearing furry backside.
“Sarah, open the door. I’m not going to go, so you may as well just open it.” Jamie called from outside.
“Go away,” she snapped, finally yelling at him, wincing as the loud volume hurt her already sore head from all the wine she’d had.
“No,” he affirmed, his voice matching her own in volume. “Let me in, Sarah.”
“I don’t want to and you can’t make me,” she bellowed.
“Come on, Sarah. What’s going on? Let me inside. Please,” he pleaded.
“I said no.”
“Sarah, please. I’m not going to go anywhere. If that means I sit out here all night waiting for you to open the door, I will.”
Continuing to hear Jamie pounding on the door and calling her name Sarah attempted to ignore it. Managing all of about thirty seconds before the noise became too much she swore.
“Fine. Just stop the banging.” Draining the wine from the glass she just poured she clanged the glass on to the coffee table. Lifting her body to rise from the couch her foot tangled in the blanket. Tripping, she fell heavily to the floor before standing on unsteady feet and moving towards the front door. Turning the lock she opened the door a sliver before retreating to the living room, not waiting for Jamie to enter her home. Plonking back down on the couch she pulled the blanket back over her lap and before attempting to pour herself another glass of wine.
“You’re inside, what do you want?” she demanded as she heard Jamie enter the living room. In the deep recesses of her mind she knew she was being unreasonable but she couldn’t help it.
“I wanted to check how you were.”
“No you’re not.” Jamie countered.
“Yes, I am,” she insisted stubbornly. Her hand shook as she tried to pour the wine into the glass.
Jamie took the bottle from her and set it down on the coffee table. Sitting down next to her on the couch, he turned Sarah gently by the shoulders to face him.
“I went by Dawning this afternoon and Gloria said you’d gone home saying you were sick.”
“Yep. I’m sick,” she said, swaying slightly.
“Judging by the amount of wine it looks like you’ve had I’m guessing you will be in the morning,” he deadpanned, taking in the bottles on the coffee table.
Sarah shook her head. “Nope. I don’t get drunk. I’m a good girl. I do tipsy, not drunk.”
“Sweetheart, I hate to break it to you, but you’ve made it all the way to properly drunk today.”
“Nope. I’s jusht tipshy,” she slurred. Squinting at the bottles Sarah shrugged. “’Kay. Maybe a teeny bit drunk.” Attempting to put her forefinger and thumb close together without touching to indicate what she meant and failing she frowned. “My fingers aren’t working properly.”
“What’s going on, Sarah? Gloria thinks you’re upset about something, but wouldn’t say what.”
Sarah hiccupped as the tears threatened to flow down her cheeks once again. “Nope,” she stated emphatically. “Nope. I am fine. I am...not....upset...about...anything,” she hiccoughed and started sobbing.
“Come here, you goose,” Jamie reached for her and enveloped her in his arms. “What’s going on, Sarah?” he murmured into her hair.
“You’re never going to love me, and we’re never going to have sex. Like ever. Never, ever, ever,” she howled through her tears.
“What?” Jamie demanded, his arms dropping from around her. “Why would you think that? Of course we will.”
“Because you think you know me, but you don’t. You don’t know the real me, so how can you ever love me?” she wailed. She looked at him in desperation. “I’m all broken, Jamie.”
“No you’re not,” he assured her tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “You just need time and I get that. You’re not broken.”
“Yes I am. Otherwise we would have had sex by now. I’m all broken and you don’t know me at all.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
She nodded. “Yup.”
“I know you just fine, Sarah.”
“Nope. You don’t. You think you do, but you don’t.”
Jamie exhaled loudly and reached for the tissue box. Offering the box to Sarah, he pushed aside the used tissues before moving to sit on the coffee table in front of her. Resting his elbows on his knees and leaning towards her he shook his head.
“I think you’ve had too much to drink. You’re talking a load of bollocks.”
“No I’m not,” she protested mildly. “No bollocks to be found here. I’m a girl.” She set herself off in a fit of giggles over her attempt at a joke.
Jamie grunted and waited for her laughter to subside.
“Hey, you want to know a secret?” she leaned into him and whispered loudly.
“I haven’t had sex in years.”
He smiled a broad grin at her. “You really are drunk aren’t you?”
She waved a hand through the air. “Probably. But that’s not the point. The point is that I haven’t had sex in aaages! Wait! No! Longer than ages. Not since...”
“Not since what?” Jamie wasn’t sure he really wanted to hear the answer to the question.
“Not what – who.” Sarah flapped her arms around. “Him. He’s a who, not a what. Although he’s a what sometimes,” she giggled again, then hiccupped. Sarah paled and for a moment it seemed as if she were about to throw up on Jamie. Steadying herself, she continued. “He’s a great big pile of what. But he’s still a who, no matter how much of a big steaming pile of what he is.”
“Fine. Not since who then?”
“Him. The man who I thought was it. The one. The big love of my life. It was the one time I thought I had it right and he turned out to be the biggest bastard this side of the equator.”
“Ah,” Jamie exhaled, finally understanding. “Your ex.”
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