For disclaimer see part one.
As the weeks went by, things did eventually begin to settle down and return to normal. Eddie continued to work at the club, despite the committee’s attempts to implicate him in the robbery, which it turns out involved more than £3,000. It was as if the whole incident never happened. Everyone accepted that someone they knew had robbed the club, but they no longer seemed to care whom it was. Things just went on at the Railwaymen’s Club as they had before, with the notable exception of Toni, who no longer worked there. She was yesterday’s news.
Poor Eddie was miserable working in the club without Toni. I had assumed he would become manager in her absence, but in a strange turn of events, that job was given to Henry, despite his lack of experience and, according to Eddie, his inability to perform the most basic of tasks behind the bar, like pouring a decent pint. Cath worked on as normal, but was as frustrated as Eddie at having to pick up the slack which was basically Henry’s work that he was unable to perform adequately, if at all. Meanwhile Henry walked around looking important, with the club keys dangling from a belt loop on his trousers and getting drunk on the free alcohol behind the bar. It all seemed so unfair, but if I had learned anything at all in the past fourteen months, I knew that what was fair and just was seldom the reason behind many decisions made, especially when it came to the Railwaymen’s Club.
Toni seemed to have taken the whole episode in her stride. The only thing she showed genuine concern over was the recovery of Mr. Bain. She had visited him after he was released from hospital having had a pacemaker fitted to his heart. It seemed there were no hard feelings, but a thank you for saving his life would be a long time coming, if indeed he ever chose to do so. Mrs. Bain however, had been a lot more forthcoming. She thanked Toni in one breath then cursed her in the next for knowing first aid. It seems that she was a long-suffering wife and had all but had enough of her husband’s antics and in particular the amount of time he spent in ‘that place’! I’m sure she was joking…
As for work, Toni had fashioned herself into a kind of gun for hire. Anyone in the area who was short staffed behind the bar gave her a call and she did a shift. It seemed more than adequate for Toni, and she had more offers of work than she could handle in a given week. She did her best to fit in as many shifts as she could, saying she was currently happy to be flexible and not tied to a specific job, despite various offers of full-time bar work.
I was studying hard for my end of term exams. Christmas wasn’t far away and I found myself with a huge dilemma. I desperately wanted to see my family, but knew I wasn’t welcome at home. I had that very week received a letter from Isobel asking me to forward her some money for a school project that my father wouldn’t fund. Fifteen pounds seemed an astronomical amount for whatever it was she had plans for, but I trusted her and had sent the money, again to my Gran’s, as my father would confiscate any funds I sent her direct.
Isobel had included in her letter a copy of ‘Am Paipear’, the local newspaper for the island. I so looked forward to all this information. It served to keep me up to date with what was happening back home although, of course, the juicier gossip was provided by Isobel, but at these times I felt a distinct pang in my stomach and a deep longing in my bones for home. I had never mentioned this to Toni. I had also not mentioned a recent event that I found troubling, but I knew it wouldn’t be the last incident of its kind. I recalled the day just a couple of weeks ago when I bumped into Moira, my friend from Oban, who had lived at Mrs. Ramsay’s. We had shared so much in common throughout the academic year we spent together in the boarding house under the ever-watchful eye of the owner, but that Saturday afternoon on Portobello high street something had changed. Moira was distant and I’m sure it wasn’t my imagination, but she seemed anxious to end our conversation and be on her way. I couldn’t help but think that news of my homosexuality had reached her. Why else would she suddenly no longer wish to pass the time of day with me? It was a deeply saddening event. I browsed the latest edition of ‘Am Paipear’ with a heavy heart.
Once again treasure hunters have descended upon the island in the latest attempt to locate the ‘vast store of riches’ believed to be buried somewhere on North Uist. It is said the treasure can only be discovered by “a fool of the family MacC-, at a spot from where he can see at one and the same time three crofts, three duns, and the configuration in the ground of a man ploughing.” The treasure hunters can currently be seen scouring the northern slopes of Crogary Mor with metal detectors. Good luck to them, they will need it!
Indeed they would. This was a periodical happenstance, whereby tourists would read or hear the myths about the treasure and decide to come and find it. Needless to say, no one ever had.
Donald MacCodrum, of Sollas was evacuated last Tuesday by air ambulance after a serious fall. He was treated in a Glasgow hospital where he underwent surgery to pin his badly broken leg. We wish him a speedy recovery.
I snorted as I read this story. Isobel had already provided me with the true version of what actually happened. Donald was jumping out of the window of another mans house after he returned home early. He did not want to be found in a state of undress with the other man’s wife at home!
One story really piqued my interest.
Excavation work on the islet of Eilean Domhnuill in Loch Olabhat has yielded evidence for Neolithic activity from around 3650 BC to around 2600 BC. Work continues on the project.
That piece of information really cheered me up. I was always fascinated with the ongoing historical evidence that my little island was continually revealing. Perhaps one day I would uncover something myself.
I sat on the number 46 bus as it took me almost straight to Susie’s front door. It was already getting dark that Friday afternoon. I was thankful my exams were finished and that I was now on Christmas holidays from university. The double decker bus was full, standing room only. People were either on their way home from work or Christmas shopping. My head was pounding due to my bunged up nasal passages. Most of the week I had spent with a heavy cold. I seemed to be over the worst of it, but it had left me feeling drained. My scarf was wrapped around my neck, despite the warmer temperature inside the bus. My Walkman was on drowning out the sound of the occasional chatter and the constant drone of the rush hour traffic. I was playing the new George Michael ‘Faith’ album, but even his sweet voice failed to lift my spirits on this miserable afternoon. The icy rain began to batter off the bus windows and I felt an involuntary shiver run through my body at the thought of going back out in that weather. Maybe I was becoming soft after too much time spent in the city, getting around easily on public transport and in Toni’s car. Back on North Uist I would be walking the two miles home from school in this weather, trying to shelter both my sisters and my little brother. We would enter the front door of our croft wet and cold to be met by the warm hearth, a plate of hot winter vegetable soup and home made bread. My mother always looked after us, particularly when we were sick. At that moment I really missed home.
At The Fern that evening my headache wasn’t any better. The smoky atmosphere was adding to my sinus problems. I had just over an hour of my shift to go and was looking forward to getting home and having a hot drink, followed by a good nights sleep.
“Pint of heavy, Shona, darlin’”
My hand automatically reached for a pint glass, then without much conscious thought, I was holding the glass at an angle below the tap, watching the dark liquid swirl into it. As the beer began to near the top, I would gently reduce the angle till the glass was upright, the end result being a perfect pint with a neat one-inch head of creamy froth on the top. Too much froth, you got a frown, too little and the patron would often take a sip and ask you to put a decent head on the pint. I prided myself in perfecting this art; even with the faulty tap that poured a little slowly, I had found the knack of getting the right end result. As I put the pint of heavy on to the counter in front of Tam, I noticed a flurry of activity at the front door.
“One pound twenty, Tam, please.”
“There you go, Shona.”
I took the money and turned towards the till to ring up the transaction.
“You have to let me in! I need to see my sister.”
Oh, my goodness, I would have known that voice anywhere. I turned so quickly I almost ran into Marie who was carrying empty glasses. I saw Jimmy already making his way to the front door, he always seemed to pick up on any trouble really quickly, something that Toni was also good at. They both could read the mood of a place and any potential problem areas while going about their job, a particularly good skill for bar managers to have.
The little crowd of mainly male watchers parted as Jimmy moved into it. He then emerged with my seventeen-year old sister and guided her towards the far end of the bar. I walked out to meet them.
“I assume she belongs to you?” He gestured to a decidedly terrified looking Isobel.
I nodded. I was in a bit of shock myself.
“Sit her down at that far table, then get her a lemonade. She looks younger than you and you barely look old enough to be in a bar!” Jimmy shook his head and walked off.
I ushered Isobel to the far table in the corner. It was out the way and near the dartboard, which had a lot to do with it being quiet. I still shuddered when I thought back to the last incident, when Mike Travers started screaming, a dart firmly embedded in his cheek. Jimmy said something about no dart rebounding that far from the board with that kind of force, but the guys playing said it was an unfortunate accident. Mike was fine once he calmed down and got over the shock of it. Apparently he was more traumatised by the event due to a fear of needles, so a dart sticking in his cheek had thrown him into a screaming fit, the poor man.
“What on earth are you doing here, Isobel?”
“I’ve run away.”
I saw tears well in her eyes and gave her a heartfelt hug. “It’s going to be okay. Whatever it is we can sort it.”
She shook her head. Isobel looked so lost here in this pub, I wondered if I had perhaps looked the same when I first stood in front of Toni all those months ago.
“I don’t think we can, Shona,” she said, a distinct note of despair in her voice, and then began to cry.
I could see that the bar staff were falling behind and knew that I needed to get back behind the bar.
“Sit here, I have to finish work, then I can take you to the flat. Will you be okay for a little longer?”
She nodded. I didn’t want to leave her, but I had no choice.
“Oh, and watch out for any stray darts.”
Poor Isobel, her eyes went wide, a mild look of panic on her face. She sat facing the dartboard, ready to duck if anything came her way.
I hardly remembered working the rest of the hour my mind was swirling with thoughts of what could have brought Isobel running to Edinburgh.
As soon as we got back to the flat, I made us a cup of tea.
“Now tell me everything?”
“I’m pregnant!” She burst into tears again.
Oh, Dear Lord…
It turns out that Isobel and Rory used condoms, which were supplied by Rory’s older brother. He worked on Skye and would bring them to Rory when he came home at weekends. Hugh had gone on holiday with his girlfriend for two weeks and forgotten to bring extra. They ran out of their supply and took a chance, just one time, and now my sister was pregnant.
“My life is ruined, Shona. If I return home, father will make me marry Rory and I don’t want to!”
“Maybe we can talk him into allowing you to return home and make him see that you marrying Rory isn’t what you want.”
“No, he won’t go for that. He will see me as a disgrace to him, bringing shame on the family.” She was sobbing now. “What am I going to do, Shona?” she asked despairingly.
What indeed? I would speak to Toni; I had to take Isobel home to at least give it a try.
The buzzer went at precisely 7.30am. I knew it was Toni and pushed the stair intercom button to allow her entry. Before I replaced the handset I could already hear her bounding up the well-worn stone stairway, her long legs eating the steps up three at a time. I opened the front door and Toni was there, looking very excited. A warm red ski jacket, driving gloves, a polo neck, jeans and Nike trainers made up her outfit. I took this all in as she stood impatiently before me, practically bouncing on her toes. I wondered why she was so eager to be driving to North Uist, then the answer hit me straight between the eyes, Toni loved to drive, she especially loved to drive fast and we were going to be using the motorways today.
“Morning.” She grinned and gave me a quick peck on the cheek, before brushing past me to go in search of our luggage.
I rolled my eyes and mumbled, “Morning,” as I followed her into the living room.
Within minutes Toni had our luggage squashed into her car boot, and Isobel and me sitting in the back seat. Toni reached to the passenger seat and picked up a road atlas with a notebook, she handed both to Isobel.
“You are the co-driver.”
This news seemed to perk my sister up a little; she had been looking pensive ever since we got up that morning. I gave Toni a look that was part curious and I have to admit, I was also a little confused. Why couldn’t I be in charge of the maps? I looked at her expecting an explanation. She gave me one of her winning smiles.
“Shona, you are our tour guide for the day, please tell us any interesting facts about the places we pass.”
I’m sure that was supposed to placate me, but it didn’t. I continued to stare.
“You can’t be co-driver with your terrible sense of direction,” Toni said.
Isobel, the rat, agreed with her!
“She was always getting us lost as kids, it was lucky we lived on an island.”
The two of them shared a laugh at my expense.
“We will be stopping for lunch at Spean Bridge,” Toni declared. Then, “Buckle up everyone.”
“Spean Bridge, constructed by Thomas Telford in the early 1800’s – interesting fact – The village of Spean Bridge is not, as you would expect, named after the bridge built by Telford, but in fact an earlier bridge built by General Wade, which crosses the river Spean. Or at least it did until part of it collapsed into the river in 1913.” I couldn’t help myself, if I was going to be tour guide, I might as well get started. And I admit there was a degree of pettiness in the timing of my comments.
Toni made a face and I could see Isobel attempting to hide a smirk.
“She’s pretty good with the history stuff your sister.”
“She sure is,” Isobel replied with a hint of pride.
Toni laughed and started the engine our journey was about to begin.
“Siubhlach.” My sister remarked to me as we sped along the motorway towards Perth.
I nodded and replied, “Neach-cuthaich.”
Isobel giggled and nodded.
I glanced at Toni in her rear view mirror; I could see her eyes had narrowed, a questioning look in them.
“I get the feeling you two are talking about me.”
Isobel and I shared a knowing look.
“I am banning all foreign languages from the car.”
We were both horrified. Toni had referred to the Scots language as foreign. Okay, only 60,000 Scots still spoke it, but still!
“Right that’s it!”
Toni was beginning to lose patience with us. “If you don’t translate I’m going to make you both walk.”
“Shona said you are shameful for referring to Gaelic as a foreign language.”
“Now she has just called me a traitor.”
“You said Toni was speeding!” I protested.
“And you called her a maniac,” Isobel replied.”
“Okay, that’s true.” I attempted to get myself out of this one, “But you have to agree your driving is a little…” I rotated my hand to try to convey what I meant.
“What? My driving is a little what?” Toni demanded to know.
I looked to Isobel for support but I was clearly on my own with this one.
“You are a very skilled driver, Toni. The problem is that you drive everywhere at one hundred miles an hour!”
After that we were silent until we reached Perth, I think Toni and I had just had our first disagreement.
“Can we stop in Perth for a bathroom break, Toni?’
“Of course, Isobel.”
“Thank you. If you take the first left after the ring road there should be a public toilet.”
“Actually, since we are making such good time, I think we can stop for some refreshments, how about a cup of tea?”
No wonder we were making such good time, I think Toni had filled up with aviation fuel! We all agreed on stopping and found a nice café in the centre of Perth.
“Great work co-driver.”
Isobel smiled, completely charmed by Toni. I simply glared at my girlfriend.
“Well, Shona, tell us something about Perth?”
I wasn’t in the mood, but it was Isobel who asked, so I obliged.
“Perth’s origins come from a fort built by the Romans around AD83. The fort acted as a supply base for their occasional occupation of north eastern Scotland. This location was chosen because it was the highest point on the river Tay that the Roman ships could reach. Perth’s history has been intimately tied with its river ever since.”
“What? No interesting fact this time?” This was from Toni and the sarcasm was hard to miss.
“Thank you, Shona, that was very enlightening.”
Toni and I continued to glare at each other and Isobel excused herself and went to the bathroom. This left Toni and me alone at the table.
I decided to be adult about our differences and I handed Toni an olive branch. “I’m sorry I called you a maniac.”
“It’s okay, I know I like to drive fast.” She sounded a little despondent.
“Yes you do, but you have been nothing but generous to me and now you are extending that generosity to my sister. I’m sorry for criticising your driving.”
Toni smiled at me, “And I’m sorry for being petty, I really do enjoy your knowledge of history.”
She took my hand and gave it a squeeze. “Are we better?”
The remainder of our journey to Skye was taken only a little over the speed limit instead of a lot. For which I was truly grateful.
The minute we all got on the ferry for the final leg of our journey you could feel the mood palpably change. After Perth, our journey had become a lot of fun thanks to Toni. She had a way of doing that. Toni was a really upbeat person to be around. Isobel had been laughing at her jokes and antics, her troubles temporarily forgotten, but now as the ferry traversed the last part of our journey across the water to North Uist, reality was setting in as quickly as the dark winter night. A silence had descended over the three of us. Part fatigue and for my sister and me a good dose of anxiety too, as we contemplated what lay ahead.
When the ferry arrived at port in Lochmaddy, it was already dark. Toni had booked us into a bed and breakfast nearby. The plan was to drop off our luggage then go to my parents home with Isobel to try and smooth things over. I knew my mother would be worried sick about her sudden departure, so the sooner we went to the croft the sooner we could put her mind at ease and help Isobel explain her reason for leaving. After Toni and myself dropped off our luggage in the twin room she had booked, we set off in the car on the sixteen mile journey to the west side of the island. It was so dark there was nothing to see beyond the car headlights. The only other lights dotting the landscape came from the various houses scattered over the island.
Isobel was becoming increasingly nervous as the minutes and the miles ticked by. I took her hand in an attempt to reassure her, trying to keep my own butterflies at bay. Isobel’s predicament had all but removed my own fear of returning to the island, but as we neared the croft, I was becoming more and more nervous. I doubted that my father would have had any change of heart, but I was here to support my sister, not attempt to repair my shattered relationship with him.
Toni pulled up behind my father’s tractor and switched the headlights off, before getting out and removing Isobel’s bag from the boot.
“I’m so scared, Shona,” she confessed in a small voice, so unlike her.
“It will be alright, Izzie, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Toni handed Isobel her bag. “I’ll be right here if you need me, okay?”
We both nodded. The wind was very strong over this side of the island, whipping in right off the Atlantic, carrying the salt with it. Toni’s long hair was being blown all over the place.
“You should sit in the car, its cold.”
She nodded, “Go on, I’ll be waiting for you.”
Isobel and I walked to the door, which we knew would be unlocked. There was never any need to use a lock and key in this remote place. We shared a look and with a slight nod from Isobel, I opened the heavy wooden door.
My mother and little sister immediately ran to greet us. They were both crying.
“Oh, thank God you are back, Isobel. I have been so worried.”
My mother hugged Isobel tightly to her, the relief she felt was palpable.
I hugged my little sister, so overwhelmed I was to see her again.
“And you, Shona, oh how I have missed you.” My mother turned to me and kissed my cheek. Somehow the four of us ended up entwined together.
I glanced into the sitting room and saw my young brother, Dougall standing inside the door with his hands in his pockets. His eyes were darting between the four of us and my father, while he scraped the toe of his boot nervously against the slate floor.
“Dougall,” I called gently, welcoming him into the family reunion.
His eyes widened and a smile broke out on his little face as he took a step forward…
“Stay where you are lad.” Came the stern warning from my father, before Dougall could take another step.
I watched my brother retreat until his back touched the stone wall, his eyes full of longing and sorrow. The reality hit me so suddenly that I almost felt it as a blow. While myself, Isobel and Moira had been and would in the future have problems with my father it was poor Dougall who was really going to have the hardest time of all. While the expectation was that we three would be obedient, do as we were told and then go on to become good wives to our future husbands, the expectation on Dougall’s little shoulders was so much greater. He was to follow in my father’s footsteps. We had a chance, a way out, poor Dougall was going to be moulded in my father’s image whether he liked it or not. He was to become a crofter, working the land as the seasons dictated all year round. Would it be what he wanted?
We broke apart and my mother guided us into the sitting room where the fire was roaring in the hearth, heating the main room of the croft. My father sat in his armchair, he had yet to move or utter a word to us since we arrived.
I nodded in greeting to him. He refused to answer instead he stared unnervingly at me for a few seconds before shifting his attention to Isobel.
“So you have returned.”
She nodded. My father seemed to have a way of rendering us almost mute with a look or the tone of his voice. He sounded deceptively calm.
“It’s obvious where you went. The question to be answered is why you left?”
He waited patiently for Isobel’s reply.
“I was scared father.” Isobel could not look at him, her head was bowed, she was terrified.
“I’m pregnant,” she whispered.
“You whore!” His words thundered through the croft, causing us all to jump. He stood and walked towards her.
“Who is the father?” His voice was low and demanding.
Isobel shook her head. “I…it doesn’t matter.”
“Tell me who the father is, then we can set about sorting this sorry mess.”
I looked at my mother; her hand was covering her mouth, her eyes wide. My father’s jaw was set hard as his eyes practically bored holes into my sister’s head. Isobel would still not look at him.
“Is it Rory MacAulay?”
“Yes.” The word came out with a sob.
“Then first thing tomorrow I will go see his father to get things organised.”
“No.” Isobel was pleading with him, begging him with that one word.
“It’s the right thing to do. Mr. MacAulay and I will sort out the details and let that be an end to it.”
“I don’t want to marry Rory.” The tears were streaming down her face.
“It’s too late for that now!” he roared.
Isobel was losing this battle of wills with my father. If he got his way she would be married before Christmas. I couldn’t stand by and let that happen, knowing it wasn’t what she wanted.
“Father, Isobel wants to return home, but she doesn’t want to marry Rory.”
He turned to me with a look of utter disgust on his face.
“You dare speak to me and call me father?” His voice was harsh. “You are an abomination! Committing ungodly acts with that monster out there!”
He came towards me with his hand clenched into a fist. I stumbled backwards trying to get out of his way as my sisters and mother screamed. The door to the croft burst open and Toni ran and stood before my father preventing his advance towards me.
“Don’t you dare strike her or you will be sorry.”
I could see her fists clenched by her sides as she waited my father out.
“Get out of my house!”
Toni stood a good three inches taller than my father and for the first time I saw fear in his eyes. He had stopped in his tracks and I doubted that if he took her on he would win. He seemed to be considering the same thing.
“I am not leaving until you hear Isobel out.” Toni’s voice was calm, but her intention was clear.
She looked to Isobel encouraging her to continue.
“I want to return home and to finish my schooling, but I don’t want to be married.”
“If you wish to remain under my roof, you will leave school and marry Rory. You will become a wife and mother. I will not have you and your bastard living on this island!”
Isobel, Moira and my mother were crying now. It was clear there would be no reasoning with my father. I don’t know why we held onto the hope that there ever could be. I think I had talked Isobel into returning more for my mother’s sake.
“Come back to Edinburgh with me, Isobel. I’ll look after you.”
“But you have your studies, Shona,” she protested.
“We can make it work.” This was from Toni. “If you come back with us, you can finish school and have the baby. If that’s what you want?”
“No!” My father lunged at Toni this time, but she was ready. Side-stepping him she turned to face him, ready for his next move. He came at her again and they ended up against the wall, with Toni pressing my father there, an arm over his chest. He was breathing heavily.
“Don’t do this! Not in front of your family.”
“Let me go!”
“If I do, you will take a seat and calm down?”
He nodded and Toni stood back and allowed him to move. He eyed her cautiously before taking a seat in his armchair.
“Mr. MacLeod, Isobel does not want to get married.”
“She can’t remain here as an unmarried mother.”
Toni turned to Isobel, “What do you want to do?”
Isobel looked to my mother. “I’m so sorry, I want to stay with you, but I cannot.”
“I’ll look after her mother, I promise.”
My mum nodded. We all knew that if Isobel stayed my father would force the marriage.
“It’s for the best, Margaret. Your whore and your abomination can leave with the evil that has brought them here this evening.”
With that, I was dismissed from his life for a second time, but I now had company in Isobel. We were about to leave, but Toni wasn’t finished with my father.
“I will bring Shona and Isobel back tomorrow afternoon to say goodbye. If you don’t want to see them, then I suggest you find somewhere else to be.” She then turned to my mother and asked softly, “Will two o’clock be a suitable time Mrs. MacLeod?”
My mother nodded, she was visibly shocked and upset with what had happened tonight.
“We’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Toni waited patiently as Isobel and myself said a quick goodnight, then the three of us walked in silence to the Nova.
Back at the guesthouse Toni booked a single room for herself and left the twin to Shona and me. I needed to be close to my sister this night, I knew what it felt like to walk away from the croft knowing you were not welcome back to see your family. I assured Isobel that we would be back after the baby was born; we would see them again no matter what. My father could keep us away from the house, but not the island. The last thing Toni had said to me before going to her room, was that she would bring us back anytime we wanted. I knew without a doubt that she would.
The following morning we were all up early. The mood was sombre after the events of the previous evening. Toni seemed to be hovering by the window the entire time. I wondered what had caught her attention so fully. Perhaps she just loved the view, it was a lovely, clear winters day and I thought that it might be a good opportunity to spend a little time showing Toni the island. We had nothing else to do till 2pm; it would be a relaxing way to pass the time.
There was a loud roar as a motorcycle pulled up right outside the guesthouse. I saw Toni’s eyebrows rise in disbelief and I knew exactly who it was. I turned to Isobel.
Toni turned to give us both a questioning look.
“It’s our Gran, she has the nickname ‘Motorcycle May’.”
“Your grandmother rides around on that classic motorcycle?” Toni asked in disbelief as she pointed out the window.
We both nodded. She had been riding around the island for years on her motorcycle. My grandfather had obviously not yet been able to stop her despite his constant requests that she get something a little more suitable.
“She has had it ever since I can remember. I think she developed a love for them during the Second World War.”
Toni looked again. “Well judging by the look of it, I would say that is probably true.”
She was referring to its camouflage paint.
Toni smiled wickedly. “Have you two had a lift from her?”
We both nodded in unison, the memories of whizzing round the island in the sidecar while my Gran delivered various items to the elderly residents who found themselves no longer able to make the journey for supplies, were mostly thrilling, some a little more so than others. Toni wasn’t the first fast driver we had encountered.
“That is incredible,” Toni declared. She was clearly impressed with my Gran and had yet to meet her, but that was about to change. There was a hard rap on the wooden door. I immediately answered it. Before we could even greet her, my Gran was speaking.
“The entire island knows the pair of you are holed up here with a tall dark stranger – now what’s going on? And I want the truth! All of it.” She pointed at Isobel and myself with her motorcycle helmet that was still in her hand, her well-worn leather jacket looking so out of place over her dress tweed trousers.
My gran took the only chair in the room and listened intently to the entire story we had to tell, everything from Isobel’s pregnancy to my relationship with Toni. She sat back in her chair and regarded the two of us thoughtfully, her lips pursed.
“My, my. You two have certainly been busy.”
Then she set about finding out all the details she could.
“So young Rory MacAulay is the father?”
“Does he know about the baby?”
“Yes – he offered to do the right thing, truly he did, but it isn’t what I want.”
“Then that is the most important thing.” She spoke with such strength that I could see Isobel visibly pull herself together right in front of my eyes.
“When do you leave the island?”
She mulled over this information for a few moments. “What do you plan to do until then?”
“Toni is taking us to visit mother today at two o’clock.”
“And your father is aware of this?”
We both nodded. “Yes, Gran.”
She turned her attention to Toni for the first time; she was still standing by the window. “I’m May Ferguson.” She introduced herself properly and shook Toni’s hand.
“Toni Martin, it’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Ferguson.”
She waived off Toni’s formality, “Call me May.”
“So you are going to take these two back to Edinburgh with you and look after them?”
“Whatever they need, May. I’ll make sure they have it.”
“It’s not going to be easy, what with one pregnant and the other at university. I’m concerned that Shona’s studies will suffer as she struggles to find the time to keep up. I know her, she will devote her attention to making sure Isobel is emotionally and financially secure, putting herself last. She is like her mother in that respect.”
“Don’t you worry, May, I’ll make sure Shona has all the study time she needs and they won’t be on their own in Edinburgh. Shona has made good friends, we will all be around to help.”
My Gran smiled at Toni then turned her attention fully on me.
“Shona, lass. I always wondered if you would ever find love. You never seemed particularly interested in the boys. The only time I saw any passion in you was when you were speaking about the past, your love of history. That’s when I saw your eyes light up and you would glow. Now I see that same look for the first time directed at another human being. It warms my heart, as I feared it wouldn’t happen. I thought you would end up with some stuffy older professor, but here you are and might I say what a fine specimen she is! Smart too, I like that.” She looked Toni over as if she were a prize bull at auction and nodded her approval.
I blushed furiously at my Gran’s blatant examination of my girlfriend, but it didn’t seem to bother Toni in the slightest, quite the opposite in fact.
“Thank you, Gran. Your approval means a lot to me.”
“Don’t get carried away, lass, because you won’t find a lot of it around here.”
I nodded, knowing it was true.
“Can I have a word in private with you, Toni?”
Toni nodded and Isobel and I left them alone, popping into Toni’s single room until they were finished.
When we returned to our room, there had been a change of plans. Instead of waiting till two o’clock we were going to the croft now. Our Gran was going to follow us on her motorcycle. Isobel and I were happy to go with the change, I could show Toni the island after we visited. It would still be light enough.
We arrived at the croft less than thirty minutes later. ‘Motorcycle May’ did not follow instead she overtook us not five minutes into the journey. My gran knew these roads like the back of her hand, but I could see Toni itching to return the favour. Fortunately she erred on the side of caution and we all arrived safely.
My mother, brother and youngest sister were inside. My father was, as expected, out working the land. The mood was markedly different from the evening before. I was able to hug my little brother, like we had both wanted to. He was getting taller. I ruffled his short brown hair and gave him the Christmas present I had purchased on Skye, while waiting for the ferry.
I watched as Dougall ripped open the Christmas wrapping paper and stared wide-eyed at the gift. Then the biggest grin ate up his face as he picked up the red kite and mimicked its motion in the air.
He gave me a quick hug of thanks, and then ran outside without even thinking to put his winter coat on, so desperate he was to fly his new kite. We all watched him for a few minutes as he wrestled with the aerodynamics of his new toy. He was having a lot of fun. My Gran headed off a few minutes later, as she had some chores to do and Toni walked her out to her motorcycle.
“That was very kind of you, Shona.” My mother said to me with a fond gaze.
“I have gifts for you and Moira too.”
I reached into the bag to remove the two packages. I watched intently as both my mother and youngest sister opened their gifts.
For Moira I had chosen a silver necklace with a little dolphin pendant. She loved jewellery and she was always on the shore hoping to catch a glimpse of a dolphin, she hadn’t yet, but I admired her tenacity. I hoped the pendant would bring her luck. And for my mother I had purchased a set of watercolours and a sketchpad. She said she wanted to paint and I thought that maybe this would help get her started. Judging by the tears and hugs that followed I knew the gifts were very much appreciated.
“Promise me you will paint?”
“I will now that I have the tools to do so.” I believed her.
Toni returned a few minutes later and I introduced her to my mother, they had yet to meet properly, and to my pleasant surprise they seemed to get along fine. My mother told us that, when Isobel had disappeared my father had gone through her belongings with a fine toothcomb, looking for any clues as to where she had gone and why. In the process he had found my letters and, from reading them, learned of my relationship with Toni.
After a couple of hours catching up it was time to leave. My father always came home for lunch at noon. We thought it best to be gone before he returned. We said our final farewells and Toni once again promised my mother that she would bring Isobel and myself back to the island to visit after the baby was born. Moira hugged us tightly, declaring that as soon as she was old enough she was coming visit us. She looked meaningfully at Toni who agreed. It seemed that no MacLeod girl could go anywhere at the moment without the assistance of Toni, but she seemed to be taking it all in her stride. I wondered if Moira would leave North Uist when she was old enough or if she would stay. I had yet to hear her say anything in regards to this.
We waved to Dougall as he ran towards us, a big grin on his face and the kite blowing high in the wind behind him. Toni took hold of the kite as he gave us each a hug. We watched as she showed him how to keep the kite in the air without having to run all the time, I’m sure his exhausted little legs would be very appreciative.
Finally we left the croft, Isobel and myself hugging in the back seat of the Nova as Toni manoeuvred the car towards the road.
“Is there anywhere you would like to see while it’s still light?” she asked as we reached the main road.
Isobel shrugged, she had no preference, having only been living on the island a matter of days ago, but I was desperate to see the shore, so I asked Toni to turn right instead of left back to Lochmaddy.
It was less than a mile to one of my favourite places, Hosta beach. Toni parked on the long grass at the edge of the beach. Isobel decided to stay in the car. Toni and I walked hand in hand to the shore. I sighed deeply at the view before me. I felt an inner peace settle over me, one that I had missed greatly. I truly believed there was no other place on earth like this. Toni stood silently behind me, her arms hugging me to her.
“Oh my God…it’s incredible.” The awe in her voice was unmistakable.
I nodded my agreement. “It’s special.”
“I have never seen sand so white and pure and the sea looking so vibrant and colourful.” She spoke in a low voice, fearing she would disturb the moment.
“What do you feel?”
Toni took a few moments to consider her answer. “I feel an inner calm. A tranquillity of sorts.”
I smiled and leaned back into her, she kissed the top of my head and gave me an extra squeeze, we stood like that for sometime, just absorbing our surroundings; it was perfect. I had always believed that I would experience moments like this. Moments where my world would fall into place for a small period of time, the physical, spiritual and psychological all synchronising to create a perfect snapshot. This was one such time for me and I hoped it was for Toni too. I turned to share a long lingering kiss with her on this isolated beach on the edge of the Atlantic, to seal the experience. I had a perfect memory, one that would live with me for the rest of my life. We turned and walked back to the Nova hand in hand.
Back in Lochmaddy we went to the bakery to buy lunch, then took it back to the guesthouse. Sitting in the lounge eating and chatting about what we would do with the rest of our day, we all heard the motorcycle pull up and knew that my Gran was back, but we weren’t prepared for what happened next.
“Thoir a-mach ris an tom!”
Isobel and myself immediately started to panic, my Gran had just told us to run to the hills. We were frantic. Toni immediately took off upstairs, leaving my Gran to catch her breath and explain a little more to us.
“Your father is on his way.”
Toni was back within a minute, our bags in her hands, calling for us to follow her to the car and hustling us into the back seat. Before we had time to consider what was happening we were in the car and following my Gran as she tore along on her motorcycle. We were doing well over the speed limit and there were definitely times when the three wheels of the motorcycle and sidecar and the four wheels of the Nova were not on the tarmac.
“Where are we going, Toni?” Isobel asked, the panic evident in her voice.
“I know roughly where we are headed, but basically I can’t lose sight of your Gran,” she answered tersely.
Toni went back to concentrating on the road, and Isobel and myself held hands and prayed in the back seat.
We ended up in a barn on Benbecula, both the motorcycle and the Nova stored inside hidden from view. Toni got out and closed the barn door as Isobel and I sat silently in the darkening building fearing that our father would find us.
Minutes later we were in the sitting room of an old friend of my grandmothers, Mrs. Lamont.
“I knew your father would pull a stunt like this. He just couldn’t let it go. I told Toni this morning that I didn’t trust your father, that’s why we changed your visit time. I followed him today, he spoke firstly with Rory’s father, Angus, and then they went together to visit the Reverend Halliday. When I saw them get Rory and head to the croft I knew for sure that he was planning to marry you and Rory in the croft this afternoon. That’s when I immediately headed to Lochmaddy.”
“What will we do now? Am I going to be trapped here?”
“Don’t you worry about a thing, Isobel. You will be on the boat tomorrow come hell or high water, of that I promise you.”
My Gran always was a smart woman and crafty too. With the vehicles out of sight we were able to spend the night at Mrs. Lamont’s. The next morning, Mrs. Lamont left early with Isobel safely hidden in the back of her Land Rover, while Toni and myself made the journey to Lochmaddy. My Gran had gone home the evening before.
When we got to the port my father was there along with his cohorts, expecting us to turn up with Isobel in the car to board the ferry. When she was nowhere to be seen he insisted on looking in the boot. Toni readily obliged. All the while I tried not to look at the Land Rover waiting to board the ferry several vehicles in front of us.
As the ship left the port with the three of us safely on board, Isobel stayed out of sight while Toni and I brazenly waved to my Gran who had made the trip to wave us off.
“Remind me to never cross your grandmother. That woman could teach the army a thing or two.”
I laughed. “She is certainly something.”
“Oh, she is that, and when we return in the summer she is going to let me ride her motorbike!” Toni’s eyes lit up in anticipation.
Good Lord, I could only imagine the trouble the pair of them would get up too! ‘Motair-rothair, May’ and ‘Toni the Tornado’ eating up the single lane roads of North Uist, it just didn’t bear thinking about.
We made good time getting back to Edinburgh. The mood on the trip home had been subdued. Isobel was especially quiet; I think the shock of having such a close call had been quite unnerving. One thing we all knew for sure, had she not come to Edinburgh, she would have been a married woman by now.
Toni dropped us off at Susie’s flat. Susie had no idea I was returning with my sister in tow. She had been terrific when Isobel turned up on Friday, immediately offering to let her stay at the flat before I even had to ask. Now we were returning and Isobel was back in Edinburgh to stay, I would have to sort out a more permanent arrangement.
When we walked into the flat, Susie immediately greeted us, anxious to find out how we got on. Upon seeing, Isobel she had her answer.
“Oh, it didn’t go as planned then?”
“That would be an understatement.” I replied. “I’ll tell you everything, but right now we are all tired and could really do with a good night’s rest. Will it be okay if Isobel stays here tonight?”
“Absolutely. Stay as long as you need to, Isobel.”
Susie was being very gracious, but it just wouldn’t work having Isobel here permanently. There wasn’t enough room.
‘Thanks, Susie, I promise it will only be for a day or two, till we get something else organised.”
“Honestly, Shona, there is no rush.”
I knew Susie meant that, but it would be unfair to expect her to take on another lodger for any length of time.
I walked Toni to the front door. I wished she didn’t have to head home, but there was no other option.
“I feel like we haven’t been able to have any quality time together in so long. I’m sorry life has been so hectic.” I hoped she understood. We hadn’t been intimate for over three weeks now, what with my exams and Isobel turning up.
Toni smiled, but I could tell she wasn’t happy with the situation.
“Not to worry, I understand, and right now your sister needs you.”
“Thanks for being so understanding and patient too.”
“I miss you.” I really did, I longed to be with her.
“I miss you too.”
We shared a deep lingering kiss, that left us both longing for so much more, but it wasn’t to be this night. It really had been too long. Christmas was in two days and I planned to make it up to Toni. The Fern would be closed that Friday and I was going to cook a special dinner for Toni and her father. Now Isobel would be there too, she could help. The one change would be that I would not be able to spend Christmas night alone with Toni and I couldn’t in good conscience leave Isobel staying in my room with Eddie and Susie next door. I would ask Toni if she could stay the night at her flat.
I went back into the living room and made up a bed on one of the sofas. I gave Isobel my single bed; I think she needed it the most right now.
I tucked her in and kissed her forehead, wishing her sweet dreams.
“Don’t worry, Izzie, it’s going to be okay, I promise you.”
She nodded sadly, I think it was going to take a little more time for everything to sink in, but I would make sure Isobel was safe and well. I had made a promise to my mother and I intended to keep it. We were going to be fine. I recalled Isobel joking when I left North Uist early that summer that we might end up in the same city next year. Little did we know then that we would be together a lot sooner. Little did either of us know then, what lay ahead.
As I put my head down that night I thought back to the events of the past two days. I let my mind wander as I thought of all that had happened, ending with my Gran practically smuggling Isobel off the island to safety. I couldn’t help but think back to Flora MacDonald helping Bonnie Prince Charlie flee to safety on Skye, just as we had. Perhaps it wasn’t so far fetched to think that we really were direct descendants of Flora. If my Gran was anything to go by – it certainly seemed to be in the blood. It was a comforting thought and my last before sleep claimed me that night.
Isobel and I arrived early at Toni’s flat on Christmas morning. We wanted to get the turkey in the oven. Toni had dropped us off and then said something about needing to drop off presents. I’m sure she just wanted to be out of the way while the cooking was being done. I had yet to see her actually cook a meal; I was beginning to suspect she was absolutely useless in a kitchen.
In less than two hours we had everything ready, either cooking or prepared. Toni would be arriving with her father at 2pm. I had yet to be properly introduced to Mr. Martin, and I didn’t exactly have happy memories of our first encounter. Admittedly at the time, I had no idea my bottom was being squeezed by my future girlfriend’s father. I had yet to impart that little gem of information to my sister. Isobel had perked up a little in the last two days. We had chatted a lot about everything that had happened. Toni had told us not to worry about accommodation, as she had everything under control. When I pressed her for more information she simply said all would be revealed in due course. Whatever that meant! Still I trusted Toni; she had a knack of always being one step ahead of the game. It turns out that back on North Uist she was having the exact same thoughts as my Gran, with regards to my father. I thought she was constantly looking out of the window at the scenery, when in actual fact she was keeping an eye out for any sign of trouble. No wonder she and my Gran had hit it off so well.
Toni and Mr. Martin arrived just after two. I forgot what a mountain of a man he was. Mr. Martin must have stood a good four inches taller than Toni and he was built like a lumberjack. Isobel and me just kept looking up and up…
“Shona, Isobel. Meet my dad, Keith. Keith, this is Shona and her sister Isobel.”
Mr. Martin offered his hand to shake first mine, then Isobel’s. His large hand engulfed ours, but his handshake was warm and surprising gentle.
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you both. Toni has told me a lot about you. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Martin,” we chorused.
“Such polite girls, but please, call me Keith.”
We both nodded and an awkward silenced followed. Toni broke the silence and removed the white elephant in the room all in one sentence.
“Don’t worry, Shona. Keith is sober and he knows exactly where to keep his hands.”
Mr. Martin looked very sheepish.
“Ah, yes, about that incident. I am truly sorry for my behaviour, Shona. I was drunk, which is no excuse,” he hastened to add. “But you can be sure it will never happen again.”
“Damn right,” was the comment from Toni. While Isobel looked at me for an explanation.
“Apology accepted, Keith.”
“Thanks, Lass. Now I have some gifts.” He looked to Toni, who produced a couple of neatly wrapped packages.
We politely accepted our presents and I gave Keith a gift from Isobel and myself. I had asked Toni what to get her father, but didn’t go with her suggestion of a kick up the backside. I instead purchased some aftershave, which I hoped he would like. We each got a new album, Isobel’s was ‘U2 The Joshua tree. She seemed very happy with it. I got REM Document. I thanked Keith. When I asked Toni about the choice later, she said this album would save me from a life of bad taste in dodgy pop music. The cheek!
After dinner Keith excused himself, as he had another engagement. Toni rolled her eyes and told him it was okay that he wanted to see his girlfriend on Christmas day. By the look on his face, Keith clearly had no idea that Toni knew about his new romance.
“Ah, I’m sorry, Toni. I would have said something sooner, but…”
He trailed off, not sure what else to say to his daughter, but Toni didn’t seem to mind the idea of her father with another woman.
“Don’t sweat it big guy. Life goes on.”
“Thanks, Toni. It was lovely to meet you both,” he said to Isobel and me.
Keith had been charming and quite funny all afternoon. He wasn’t what I expected at all. After my first impressions of him at the club, I would admit that I was a little concerned about spending time in his company. It seemed that alcohol really did change his personality and not for the better. He was harmless while under the influence, but a lot less inhibited when it came to inappropriate behaviour with the ladies.
“I’ll drop you off, it’s Portobello right?”
“Keith nodded, “Yes, Mary lives down by the bowling green.”
“You could do a lot worse, she is a nice woman.”
“Aye, we’ll see.”
Toni smiled at her father’s reluctance to admit to anything further.
“Isobel, do you mind if I borrow Shona for a little while? We won’t be gone long, an hour at the most.”
I wondered why Toni wanted me to accompany her, but Isobel had no problem with being alone in the flat. She too had discovered the joys of television!
We dropped Keith off at his girlfriend’s then Toni headed along Portobello High Street, stopping just past the main junction. She parked the Nova and I looked at her curiously.
“I have something to show you.”
We were sitting in her car in the dark, Portobello almost devoid of people and traffic, a most unusual occurrence. I couldn’t imagine what Toni could want to show me that I hadn’t already seen many times before on this stretch of road.
It was cold outside, but not too bad for December, more importantly, it was dry. Despite all the Christmas cards saying something to the contrary, a white Christmas really was a rare occurrence. I walked with Toni to the junction, where we crossed the road. Toni stopped on the other side.
“This is a bar.”
I knew that and I wondered why Toni was pointing it out. The place had been closed ever since I moved here; I had no idea when it was last open.
“It’s not just any bar. It is my bar.”
I had no idea. This was definitely news to me, and more importantly why hadn’t Toni told me?
“I signed the deal for it last week.”
“You just bought a bar?”
Toni nodded and smiled. “Yes, I just bought a bar. They don’t come cheap, but I got a loan from Richard Armstrong. It was something we had spoken of in passing when he would visit the Railwaymen’s Club, the idea of me getting my own bar, and he said at the time he could help me with raising the capital. His brewery has loaned me the money to buy this place. Part of that deal involves stocking the bar with their products. I have no problem with that; they make great beers and lager. What do you think?”
I stood blinking for a moment, I was a little stunned, but it made so much sense really. Toni owning her own bar was a lot better than Toni working in someone else’s bar.
“I think it’s great!”
“I thought you would. There is more though. This bar comes with a flat above it. A two bed-roomed flat.”
I let that information sink in, was Toni saying what I thought she was? I bit my lip and just waited her out, hoping.
“I want you and Isobel to come live with me.”
She was, I threw myself at her, something Isobel thought I should have done long before now, but this was different. Toni caught me in her arms and swung me around.
“I’m going to sell my flat in Musselburgh to free up the capital. I’ll be using that money to refurbish the bar and the new flat needs a bit of work too. It’s going to be a busy few months getting this place ready, but it will all be worth it. I’m going to employ Eddie and Cath, well if they want the work, and maybe you would like me as a boss too?”
I was so happy I wanted to cry. In one move Toni was solving the problems of a whole lot of people, including herself. I knew this would be a success; she was made for this kind of challenge.
“I love you so much.”
“And I love you too.”
I glanced up at the bar from over Toni’s shoulder; there was something about it that had always struck me as odd.
“Will you be changing the name of the bar?”
She looked at me and started laughing.
“What?” I demanded, she just laughed harder.
She answered me when she regained her composure.
“The G and the L were removed a long time ago, someone’s idea of a joke. It should read ‘The Glassblower’. I don’t think Portobello is quite ready for a gay bar.”
We returned to the flat and I couldn’t wait to tell Isobel the good news. She was ecstatic at the idea of the three of us living together. In the few days she had known Toni, Isobel had quickly taken to my girlfriend. They got on very well. They seemed to share a similar sense of humour, I was still undecided as to whether that was a good or bad thing, but I did enjoy the teasing being thrown my way, it was more affectionate than anything else.
I helped Toni make up the sofa bed for Isobel and then we retired to Toni’s bedroom. I can honestly say that all I wanted to do was rip her clothes off and ravage her all night long, but the thought of my sister just a few yards away made me hesitant. This was our first night together in so long; I really did want to make the most of it.
Slowly we undressed, both acutely aware of the building sexual tension. Keeping my hands off Toni became a moot point because the minute she was naked, I lost all sense of reason and inhibition.
We fell onto the bed kissing passionately, I was on top of Toni, a position I was becoming most comfortable with. She moved me up so she could use her mouth on my breasts. I wanted desperately to return the favour, but she had other ideas.
Toni encouraged me to sit astride her face, I was tentative to begin with, but she was very persuasive. I could feel her tongue forage amongst my folds, mapping them by touch and taste alone for I could see her eyes were shut, a look of serene pleasure upon her countenance. I felt her hot wet tongue enter me, and my eyes closed at the welcome intrusion into my most intimate places. My palms were pressed flat against the wall, which offered me some stability, whilst my thighs trembled from the abundance of oral pleasure I was receiving.
The strain of keeping myself upright combined with the gratification I was feeling, induced a resulting conflict that was a heady mix of sexual pleasure accompanied by just a hint of frustration. I wanted to orgasm but at the same time I was concentrating on staying upright, not wanting to collapse onto the face of my lover. My lover – Toni…
I rested my overheated body against the cold wall, my forehead seeking out its cooling relief as Toni continued to offer me the sweetest torture. As she concentrated fully on my pleasure, I could almost imagine my juices flowing into her mouth; spilling over her cheeks as she continued to lap at me with her talented tongue. Then, quite suddenly, I was coming and it was glorious. I couldn’t stop my body from pressing down onto Toni’s mouth, seeking out all she could offer.
Somewhere in the back of my brain I feared she would not be able to breathe, but Toni continued to grip firmly onto my hips, pulling me closer to her mouth as I jerked and writhed above her. I had the sudden urge to pull her head towards me and thrust against her. I knew this wanton image would shock me later, but right then, in that moment, it was all I could think of.
The year ended on a real high note. Susie threw a Hogmanay party at her flat and we rang in the bells in full cheer, toasting each other and wishing everyone a happy New Year. We all felt excited and convinced that 1988 would be a very good year for all of us. Cath and Eddie couldn’t wait to start working for Toni and get out of the hellhole that had become the Railwayman’s Club. I had spoken to Jimmy about working for Toni when the bar was ready. He thanked me for giving him more notice than he could ever expect, while in the next breath he cursed my girlfriend for opening a bar not 200 yards from his own. I found that kind of funny, as there were already two others situated between their respective establishments. If there was one thing you could be sure of in Portobello, it was getting a drink between the hours of 11am and 11pm.
We all toasted the new bar and Toni revealed the name of it for the first time, ‘Illicit Still’. I couldn’t help but feel it was very appropriate.
“To the ‘Illicit Still’.”
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