For disclaimer see part one.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Firstly, to Jan, my beta reader, who freely gives her time and never grumbles, despite my constant dodgy grammar and punctuation. Thanks, Jan, your assistance is invaluable to me.
To my best pal, wolfie, who supports me like a supportive thing. You’re the best.
A special mention to Jay and Elaine, who read the first few chapters of what shaped up to be this story, many moons ago.
To McJohn, who has provided me with a lot of constructive advice, to help me improve my writing technique. Thanks for your endeavours.
Finally, to all the people who have taken the time to offer feedback and recommendations. All are very much appreciated. Thank you.
With the bar beginning to run smoothly, Toni suggested that we go to North Uist with the new baby. She had made a promise to my mother that we would return in the summer, which was now all but over, and she intended to keep her promise. It was almost September and the move into autumn was being reflected in the change in the weather, the leaves on the trees were still green, but the wind was rustling them with more frequency, it wouldn’t be long until they were falling.
Jack was now a little over two months old and growing like a weed. It would be wonderful to go home and see my family; my mother and gran would be thrilled to see Jack for the first time. Isobel was very keen on the idea, she really missed home, just as I had when I first came to the city, but she had been able to settle a little better than I had, since I was already here and Toni was around for her too. But Edinburgh was not North Uist. The island would always be home to me, even if I never actually lived there ever again.
Since the weekend was always the busiest time in the bar, Toni decided we should leave on the last Monday of August and return on the Thursday, the first day of September. With the arrangements made, all that was left for us to do was pack. We would be staying again at the guesthouse in Lochmaddy. I knew my father would find out soon enough where we were and that we were returning with the baby, and there would be talk no doubt, but we wanted to see our mother and she wanted to see her new grandson and us. My father would just have to get over the perceived shame brought on him by his two eldest daughters, Isobel and myself were living with our life choices to the best of our ability and we were happy. They were after all, ours to make, we had our freedom and the price we had paid was not the loss of our father’s love, it was the loss of his presence in our lives. Isobel had been right, all those months ago, when she said he didn’t love us. He had never shown us any love and had dismissed us from his life so callously that we were left in no doubt that we would never be able to be a part of it again unless we repented and changed our ways. Even then, I doubt we would be forgiven for our alleged sins.
The four of us left early Monday morning for the long trip that would see us arrive in North Uist in the late evening. Eddie was left in charge of the bar and Toni had no qualms about that whatsoever, she trusted him implicitly and knew she would return on Thursday with no problems to sort out. Eddie knew how to run a bar as well as she did and that made all the difference. I wondered if he would some day want one of his own, just like Toni, but for now he seemed happy to be working for her, it was early days yet.
Toni had purchased a baby seat for Jack. She had checked up on the best one and found out that Jack should be facing the rear of the car, so he got to sit up front with Toni in his own special seat. Toni drove so cautiously with her precious cargo on board; it was nice to know something could get her to calm her urge to drive very fast.
We made good time to Skye, catching the late afternoon ferry crossing to North Uist. It was a relatively calm crossing, sea wise, but Jack had bawled his little lungs out all the way across. I had hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come. We eventually got settled in the guesthouse in Lochmaddy, where Isobel fed Jack, which instantly quietened him down. His feed was a little late due to Isobel’s reluctance to feed him on the ferry. I can’t say that I blamed her; there were certain things the islanders would vociferously object to. A screaming baby wouldn’t be one of them, but the sight of a baby suckling at his mother’s breast most certainly would be cause for strongly voiced objections.
The following morning we were all up early and had eaten breakfast before the first of our visitors arrived, the loud roar of a motorcycle engine easily identifying my Gran even before we saw her.
“That will be May.”
Toni walked over to look out of the window.
“She has a teenage boy with her.”
I immediately joined her at the window and saw Rory MacAulay walking behind the purposeful strides of my Gran. I wondered what on earth my Gran was thinking of, bringing him here.
“Poor guy looks scared to death.”
Toni was right, Rory did look frightened, but then he was probably about to see his son for the first time, at least I assumed that was his reason for being here.
We stepped out of the room to meet my Gran; she was making her way up the stairs alone.
“Where is Isobel?”
That was typical of my Gran, no formalities, just straight to the point.
“I think she is feeding Jack, I’ll just go check on her.”
I was about to politely knock on the door to Isobel’s room when my Gran brushed past me and opened it.
“No point in hiding, it’s the most natural thing in the world. I don’t understand why women need to hide themselves away while feeding a child, while we all quite happily accept the animals doing the exact same thing out in the fields.”
I did love her attitude towards breast-feeding; unfortunately she was one of only a handful on the island strong enough to voice them.
Isobel had obviously just finishing feeding the baby and my Gran immediately took him from her arms, allowing her to get her first look at her new great grandson, and a startled Isobel to rearrange her clothing.
“Oh, isn’t he a handsome little devil?”
She smiled and made a fuss over Jack for a couple of minutes before turning her focus back to my sister.
“Young Rory is downstairs, Isobel. Now don’t panic. He wants to see you and the baby, if you are agreeable.”
“Gran. You didn’t make him come here did you?” Isobel asked suspiciously. Mind you, I wouldn’t have put it past my Gran.
“Of course not! I simply had a word with the boy when I heard you were coming for a visit.” Her indignation gave way to warmth and kindness. “Just spend a little time with him, that’s all he is asking.”
Isobel nodded, “Alright.”
“Good, now go downstairs to the lounge, he is waiting for you both there.”
Isobel took Jack from my Gran and left the room. My Gran now took the time to turn her attention to Toni and me.
“How are you doing, May?”
“Oh, same as always, not much changes around here. Well except the arrival of my new great grandson.”
“You don’t look nearly old enough to be a great granny, May.”
Toni could turn on the charm like a water tap, I was certain she was making sure she got her promised shot on the motorbike.
My Gran beamed with joy at the compliment
“Why thank you, Toni. The men on this island could learn a lot from you.”
“You’re welcome, May, but I only speak the truth.”
“The girls are looking well,” My Gran looked closely at Toni’s face. “You look like you’ve been in the wars a bit yourself though?”
“Just a little misunderstanding, May.”
I frowned at Toni’s reply, a little misunderstanding? That was an understatement; I had still been enduring the occasional nightmare about the events of that horrible evening. My Gran was now scrutinising me closely.
“I don’t think my granddaughter agrees with your assessment, Toni.”
She hadn’t missed the looks that passed between Toni and me as memories of that night resurfaced. Our body language spoke volumes.
“It’s all in the past now, May. Someone didn’t take kindly to the idea of me opening a bar close to theirs.”
My Gran nodded then glanced back to me. “A bit frightening for you?”
“Yes, and it’s not something I care to experience again any time soon.”
“So you realise it’s a possibility then?”
I nodded, “I’ve come to terms with the fact that Toni’s line of business comes with certain risks. While I don’t like it, I understand that to move forward it’s something we have to learn to live with.”
My Gran smiled at me, “You’ve grown a lot since you left two years ago, Shona,” she gestured towards Toni, “And this one has played a big part in that. I’m seeing a change in both of you, it’s a good thing, more of a balance.”
I understood what my Gran was saying. Though frightening at the time and certainly not something I would ever want to have to go through again, that night back in June had laid a new foundation on which Toni and I had rebuilt our relationship. We had moved forward on a more even keel, with me more able and ready to accept what being with Toni was about, and Toni ready to be more open with me instead of constantly protecting and sheltering me from certain realities. I had felt the difference and now my Gran had seen something too. It had given me real hope for our future together.
We both smiled fondly at my Gran, then we shared a look of understanding, gazing lovingly at each other.
“I’m going to see how Isobel and Rory are getting along.”
My Gran made her excuses, deliberately leaving Toni and me alone. I immediately stepped into her welcoming arms.
“She’s a wise, intuitive woman, your Gran.”
I nodded, “She is constantly surprising me.”
“I’ll never forget meeting her for the first time, riding up on her motorbike full of spit and vinegar.”
We laughed at the memory; my Gran certainly knew how to make a lasting impression.
A few minutes later, Isobel returned upstairs with Jack, the strangest look on her face.
“Is everything alright, Izzie?”
She smiled, “I think so.” Settling Jack back onto the bed, she let him kick his little arms and legs out till his heart was content.
“Rory has accepted a place to study teacher training at Moray House College in Edinburgh.”
Now that was interesting news, it meant that Rory would be near to Isobel and Jack and I wondered what that meant for all of them.
“Are you happy with that?”
Isobel nodded, “Yes, I think I am. He could have studied in Glasgow or Aberdeen, but decided on Edinburgh, specifically because Jack and I are there. He wants to be a part of Jack’s life and I would really like that too. I think it’s important that Jack builds a relationship with Rory.”
“That’s wonderful, Isobel.”
She smiled fully, “I think so too.”
That afternoon we went to the croft to visit with my mother, Moira and Dougall. My father, as expected, was out working. It was a truly happy reunion. My mother was completely overwhelmed at the sight of her new grandson; there were a lot of tears. She held him for over an hour, lavishing him with all the love a doting grandmother had to give. Moira held Jack for a few minutes, but my little brother, Dougall was more content to observe his new nephew from a slight distance. Well he was only twelve years old, not quite ready for babies.
We left that afternoon with plans to return the following morning. Isobel had made arrangements to see Rory that evening at the guesthouse, so Toni and I had the rest of the afternoon and evening free. There were a couple of places I wanted to take her and a memory or two I wanted to take back with me to Edinburgh.
We dropped Isobel at the guesthouse, Jack needed a nap and I think Isobel did too. We had all eaten a hearty lunch at the croft, so wouldn’t be hungry till later in the evening. The timing would be perfect for what I had in mind and with the good weather holding up, I didn’t want to chance waiting until tomorrow when it could be a lot cooler.
“Did you pack your swimming costume?”
Toni nodded while frowning, “Yes, but I’m not much of a swimmer. It’s definitely more a leisure pursuit for me, not like your fitness swimming.”
“I know, and I promise there won’t be much swimming involved.”
She looked sceptical, but fetched her costume and towel, and then we headed to a place that was one of the island’s best-kept secrets.
“I’m not sure about this, Shona.”
Toni was standing, looking at the rowing boat I was coaxing her into.
“Don’t worry, I’ve used the boat lots of times, I’m a strong rower, I promise.”
“Isn’t the water too cold?”
I rolled my eyes. Honestly, I was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea after all.
“The water will be cold, but you quickly get used to it. We won’t be in it for long.”
I attempted to reassure Toni and she finally nodded, wading through the water to join me in the boat. I watched as the cold water hit her feet. She didn’t look too happy, but put her long legs to good use, making long quick strides, then she gingerly got into the boat. I believed Toni was actually nervous.
Finally, I let out a giggle; this was becoming funny. I had never known Toni to genuinely fear anything, but water obviously got to her.
“What’s so funny?” she fumed.
“I didn’t know you had a fear of water.”
I raised my eyebrows in question.
“Okay, but it’s not a fear, it’s more of a concern. I’m just not as comfortable in the water as you so obviously are.”
“Toni, can you swim?” I was beginning to think she couldn’t.
“Yes, but I’m not great.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“It means,” she said at length. “I can swim, but I’m not a strong swimmer.”
“Can you swim a hundred yards?”
“Of course I can!” she replied indignantly.
“Then you will be fine, so stop worrying.”
I started to row us towards the rocky outcrop, all the while keeping a close eye on Toni, she looked…pensive. When I got us to the right spot I removed my sweatshirt and grabbed the rope that was attached to the front of the boat. I jumped into the cold water and swam towards the rocks. There I knew I would find the piece of rock I could moor the small boat to. I tied the rope around it and swam back to Toni.
I stayed in the water and called to her, “Take off your sweatshirt and jump in.”
“Have you lost your mind? We are in the middle of the ocean!”
I smiled; this was a side of Toni I had never witnessed before.
“Toni, do you trust me?”
“You know I do.”
“Then do you think I would let you drown in the middle of the ocean?”
“I suppose not.”
I pointed to where the boat was tied to the rock. “Follow the rope to the rock, it’s only twenty feet away. When you get there we only have a very short swim, about thirty yards. I promise, I will be with you all the way.”
Toni nodded, albeit reluctantly. She removed her sweatshirt and not so much jumped as slid into the cold water.
Then she protested loudly.
“Jesus Christ! It’s freezing!”
“Come on, keep moving.”
She muttered under her breath as we made our way slowly to the rocks. The tide was almost full in and I knew we could make it to our destination now.
I swam into the opening in the rock with Toni right by my side. All around us the rock soared to just a small opening some fifty feet above, but that wasn’t of interest to me. I was headed to the small cave recessed into this cavernous opening. It could only be reached at high tide.
Sure enough, we were within two feet of it. I could reach the edge and pull myself up.
“Come on - pull up on the ledge.” Toni did as instructed muttering about the cold as she pulled her long, lean frame out of the water. I quickly got to work.
Inside the cave were several large thick plastic bags, some held kindling, some towels and others, blankets. I searched the bags and found matches, then threw Toni a towel to dry herself off, and a blanket to keep warm until I could get a fire going.
This cave was a rite of passage for the children on the island. Hard to find unless you knew exactly what you were looking for, the teenagers over the years passed down this secret amongst themselves. I’m sure this place was keeping many secrets that were centuries old. I had never had reason to come here for any secret rendezvous, but had visited many times simply for the solitude. I had also shown Isobel the cave, a year after it had been shown to me by Mhairi MacIntosh, or as Isobel used to call her Mahairy. I’m surprised Mhairi tolerated the little scamp, but she just laughed or sometimes tickled Isobel till she screamed her apology. Mhairi was two years older than me and we had been good friends until she left school and headed off to Inverness for a job in an insurance company. I hadn’t seen or heard from her since.
I quickly got a small fire going and it lit up the cave in the process. I watched as Toni’s eyes darted all around, taking in our ancient surroundings. This place was like a treasure trove. Many older items of interest that kids had found often made their way here, along with some junk. Ancient pieces of driftwood mixed with old bottles that had washed up on the shore. There were old coins which I’m sure would be of interest to a museum, but these were ours, the islanders had created their very own collection. I’m sure it had been found and raided many times, but new items kept appearing.
“This is amazing.” Toni remarked, her voice full of wonder.
I smiled; I always loved seeing the reaction of another person laying eyes on this place for the first time.
Toni nodded, as she continued to look around. “I bet a lot has happened in this small space over the years.”
She looked at me for confirmation.
I cleared my throat, “I wouldn’t know personally, but I agree, many things have happened in this cave.”
The air around us suddenly grew thick and I know the heat that infused my body wasn’t all coming from the small fire I had going. I should have known Toni would catch on really quick. If I didn’t act swiftly, I was going to lose control of this situation.
The art of seduction was something I wasn’t well practised in. I always knew that Toni would guide and assist me, helping us to get to where we wanted to go, but in my fantasy, my reason for bringing her here, I would be making all the moves, guiding us; leading.
I looked at Toni who sat, absolutely still, waiting on me. I was going to get my fantasy. I pulled two blankets from a heavy plastic bag and laid them on the ground, I then took Toni’s hand and invited her to join me. I spent the next hour exploring every inch of her beautiful body, revelling in the taste and textures. The way her body would shiver when I got to a particularly sensitive area and especially the sounds she made. I loved that Toni was so vocal; she always let me know what she was feeling. And I always knew when she was ready to orgasm, as she would utter the words ‘It’s so good.’ I heard them many times that late afternoon. When we were both sated and hunger was pulling at us, forcing us to leave our ‘cave of cavernous delights’ as Toni had dubbed it, she threw her swimming costume amongst the gathered artefacts and encouraged me to do the same. I giggled at the image of who would next see the two costumes and what thoughts might race through their head. We then dropped back down into the water, naked, and made our way back to the rowing boat, where we had towels and sweatshirts. I would never forget that afternoon, there was something extra special about it, and I had to admit, considering the island’s religious beliefs, there was something decadent and subversive about our actions, which only served to enhance my overall experience.
The following morning Toni got her motorbike wish. She had driven Isobel, Jack and me to the croft and my Gran was there, waiting. We all stood outside and watched as she handed Toni the spare motorcycle helmet and instructed her to get into the sidecar – the look on her face was priceless, which made all of us laugh. Toni protested, saying her legs would never fit. My Gran’s reply was simply. ‘Do you want to have fun or not?’ To that question Toni quickly crammed her long, slender frame into the sidecar, then hastily popped the crash helmet on to her head.
We laughed again as my Gran gunned the engine, revving it up for effect, then took off very suddenly causing Toni’s head to jerk back. They were quickly on the road and picking up speed. I knew that Toni wouldn’t soon forget this trip.
She later told me that they had stopped off somewhere and May had let her ride the bike solo, but it didn’t compare to the thrill of my Gran riding flat out on the single lane roads that took them round the island. Only an intimate knowledge of the area, and any other vehicle on the road letting you pass, allowed for that. Toni stated that the cramped muscles in her legs and pain in her back had been worth every second of their high-speed adventure.
The way her face became so animated and her eyes lit up with the retelling of the morning with my Gran I was left in no doubt as to how much fun the pair of them had enjoyed. I knew then that Toni would be taking to these roads in the future at every opportunity. They appealed to the daredevil in her and it helped that there were no police cars around to check your speed. I would be sitting my driving test shortly after we returned, but I doubted I would ever be like my Gran and Toni. Their need for speed and danger was a little disconcerting. The two of them together, egging each other on, I dreaded to think of the risk-taking maniacs they became.
Thursday morning arrived all too soon. We had made a quick trip over to the croft to say goodbye to the family and Rory and my Gran turned up at the ferry to wave the four of us off. We would be back soon enough to the island, with Christmas being mentioned. We were surprised to see my grandfather turn up in his Land Rover. I wasn’t sure how he felt about all the goings on and changes that had occurred in the lives of Isobel and myself; he never said a word about it. I had just assumed that, if he wanted to see his great grandson, he would have turned up before to do so. I looked to Isobel who was equally as surprised as I was at his arrival. He went straight to Jack and Isobel and motioned for the baby. Izzie smiled as she handed over her precious bundle to him.
My grandfather looked closely at Jack before remarking, “He looks like a MacAulay.”
I couldn’t disagree, he had the same hair colour as Rory. Where Isobel was auburn, Rory was dark haired.
Everyone knew that my grandfather and Rory’s grandfather never got along, some old family feud from years back.
He handed Jack back to Isobel then gave her an envelope.
“It’s just a little something for you and the baby. I know Shona and, er, Toni, have been helping you out, but this means you and the wee one can get yourself some extras. Maybe this will encourage that auld codger Hugh MacAulay to dip his hands into his pockets…”
“Charles Ferguson! Don’t you dare make this personal!” my grandmother chastised.
He cleared his throat, “ I’m just saying, May. Anyway, you treat yourself and the wee one.”
He gave Isobel a quick hug, then turned to me.
“Make me proud.”
That’s all he said before hugging me. He then shook Toni’s hand and thanked her for looking after his girls.
“It’s about time, ya daft old goat.”
That was from my Gran; she could be merciless when she wanted to. I knew it wasn’t easy for my grandfather, but he loved us and had obviously decided to show us he did, despite all that had happened in the last year.
We didn’t know until we returned to Edinburgh that my grandfather had given Isobel a cheque for £500. It was an extremely generous gesture. He wasn’t a poor man, but not wealthy either. Isobel had burst into tears when she opened the envelope that night. An amount like that would make a world of difference to her and Jack.
Back in Edinburgh things quickly returned to normal. The bar was exactly as Toni had left it. Despite her absolute trust in Eddie, I still knew she had been reluctant to leave it. Isobel started back at her cleaning job, and I readied myself for the new academic year. I was half way there and the time had flown by. I couldn’t believe so much had happened in the last two years. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined the twists and turns my life would take, from an accidental meeting with Toni, to Isobel turning up, literally at my door, pregnant. The most important thing was, we were all happy. Isobel was a contented mother to a lovely, healthy baby boy. Toni had her bar, a dream she had held dear for a very long time and I was surrounded by people I loved and doing what I loved best, studying history. I felt we were all in a settled place and I hoped that feeling would continue for at least the next two years.
I was very much looking forward to the future, however it was the immediate future that held my attention at the moment. I had my driving test the following morning and I would freely admit, I was very nervous. Toni had been telling me all day not to worry, I would be fine, and failing wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, less than half passed first time. I was taking little comfort in that, I didn’t want to fail, and I had been taking lessons as planned with the local driving school. My instructor was a nice older gentleman, who was very patient and encouraging. He told me I was ready, but on my lesson the morning of the test, I was driving like I had never been in his car before. He simply said it wasn’t unusual and it was good to get all the mistakes out of the way before my test. Towards the end of the lesson, we drove to the test centre and I awaited the test examiner with sweaty palms and my damp shirt clinging to my back. I wasn’t confident and decided if I didn’t crash the car or knock down a pedestrian it would be a good day.
I walked into the bar almost two hours later. Toni looked at me expectantly.
“Well? How did you get on?”
“I passed.” I said this quietly, almost a whisper, as I could scarcely believe it myself.
“Oh well, never mi…wait, what did you say?”
I smiled and repeated the sentence, louder this time. “I passed.”
Toni whooped and ran around to the other side of the bar to give me a hug, she lifted me off the ground and whirled me around.
“I knew you could do it!”
I left her to serve the afternoon customers and went upstairs to share my good news with Isobel who was equally excited. I really was on cloud nine.
It was later that night when I climbed into bed with Toni that I remembered what she said about telling me how many times she sat her test before passing. I knew it would be once, but I thought I would ask anyway.
“Yessss?” came the slightly muffled reply from her side of the bed. She turned to face me.
“I passed my test today.”
“You said when I passed, you would tell me how many times it took you to pass.”
She was quiet for a few moments then said quickly, “Three,” before turning away from me.
I lay there shocked. Toni Martin, the speed freak, who loved to drive, took three goes at passing her driving test? I must have heard her wrong; I decided to investigate further.
“Did you say three?”
There was no reply from the lump next to me.
I heard her sigh. “Yes, I took three attempts at passing my test.”
“How?” That was all I could think to ask.
She turned to face me again, “Okay, first time I failed for speeding, the second time I failed for not using my mirrors often enough. Basically I was cocky and over confident, that’s why I was failed…twice. The third time I drove like an old woman and passed!”
I started to laugh.
“It’s not funny.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“You think so?”
I nodded, “I do.”
That’s when she attacked me and tickled me till I almost wet myself and had to beg her to stop. Still, it was worth the teasing. I wondered if Eddie knew…
I heard her key turn in the lock and I opened my eyes and glanced at the clock, 4.30am. Toni had been at the opening of her new club, so I expected her home late. I had been at a fundraiser to raise funds to allow excavation work to be carried out in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. I did offer to go to the nightclub when the fundraiser was finished, but Toni said, not to worry and keep the bed warm for her.
I listened as she headed straight for the kitchen, hearing the fridge door open and close. I knew she would have a cup of tea and relax for a few minutes before coming into the bedroom. It was a way of unwinding that I had witnessed Toni indulge in after a night behind the bar since that first night, all those years ago, that I had spent at her flat. A pot of tea and a biscuit or two; she still did it. The difference now was that Toni rarely, if ever, worked behind the bar and, when she did, she did it more for fun than necessity. After opening the Illicit Still she had never looked back. Richard Armstrong, the man who had given her the loan to open her first bar, saw her potential early on and became a silent partner in all her later ventures. To date she owned five bars and tonight had been the opening of her second nightclub.
We had moved out of the flat above the Illicit Still almost ten years ago. We now lived in a Georgian town house in Edinburgh’s exclusive New Town. I know these buildings changed hands for millions, but I tried not to think about that side of our life. Toni had said it would be a nice place to live and it did make sense for both of us to be based in the city centre. I could walk to work at the university and Toni could walk around town when she wanted since, due to traffic congestion, driving around the city centre nowadays was a nightmare.
Fortunately, when it came to the interior of our home, Toni was happy for it to resemble the academic’s flat that it partly was. Sharing space with her had always been easy, even when it was at a premium, now we had more rooms than we knew what to do with. I stared up at the ceiling, which was almost twenty feet above me, with its ornate cornice and ceiling rose, the décor was truly beautiful, without being overly lavish; I liked the combination.
I listened as Toni cleaned out her mug in the kitchen sink then made her way towards our bedroom.
“Hey beautiful, how did it go?” I asked.
“Very well, thanks for asking.”
I could just make out her silhouette in the dim lighting and watched as she made her way towards me.
“I’m going to grab a quick shower, then I’ll join you.”
She kissed me on the lips before heading to the en-suite bathroom. Despite a smoking ban being introduced to Scotland earlier this year, she still took a quick shower before joining me, but it was a bonus that her clothing no longer held the stench of cigarette smoke. I especially loved the fact it wasn’t in her hair, still dark, but then she was having it dyed professionally at a top hairdressers to keep it natural looking. I remember the day she noticed her first grey hair, I already knew it was there along with some others, but hadn’t told her. It wasn’t long after that she began getting it ‘touched up’. I was greying a little myself, but being blonde it seemed a much more gradual process. Toni said it was a naturally sophisticated, distinguished look. I assumed that was a good thing.
I heard the shower being turned off and then Toni padded naked into the bedroom to join me, she hadn’t washed her hair no longer needing to after a night in the smokeless bar. I relished the fresh smell of her skin and immediately sought it out.
“Mmm, I missed you.”
I kissed her deeply, tasting the mint toothpaste she had just used. After all these years I still couldn’t get enough of her, she excited me as much now as she did twenty years ago.
We made love for over an hour before we both fell into slumber. I awoke to the ringing of the telephone.
“Hello?” I answered in a sleep filled voice as Toni stirred beside me. It was just after seven in the morning.
“Shona, it’s Moira.”
I wondered what my youngest sister was doing ringing me at this time on a Saturday morning; I was still trying to fully open my left eye as I replied.
“Is everything alright?”
“No, I’m afraid not. Father died last night, from a heart attack.”
“I’m just about to call Isobel and then I will ring Dougall, I should be able to catch him before he heads to bed.”
“Is there anything you want me to do, Moira?” My brain was kicking into gear now. My father was dead. How was my mother taking this news?
“She’s obviously upset, I mean it was very unexpected. She got up early this morning thinking he was already awake and there he was on the chair, he had never made it to bed.”
“I’m going to call Isobel and Dougall. I’ll call you later when I know more. And don’t worry, I will make the funeral arrangements and make sure mum is okay.”
“Thanks, Moira. I will be up as soon as possible. I’ll let you know when I’m arriving.”
“I’ll talk to you soon, Shona. Safe journey.”
“I’ll see you soon and I’ll call mum a little later.”
We said our goodbyes and I remained sat up in bed, not sure what to think or how to react. The man who had turned me out of his life all those years ago was dead, but he was my father and that had to mean something, right? I should be feeling something.
Toni was beginning to fully waken beside me, “Is everything okay, Shona?”
I looked at her wondering before answering simply, “My father is dead.”
I remembered the floods of tears I burst into when my grandfather passed away. The same when Keith, Toni’s father, passed away, but I had tried to keep them more private as I wanted to be strong for Toni. In the end she had told me not to keep it in, to grieve naturally and just let it out. It had been good advice. Now I watched as Toni scrutinised my face, trying to discern what I was feeling and the answer was plain and simple. I was feeling nothing, and that scared me a little.
The weekend passed by in a haze of phone calls and travel arrangements. Rearranging work schedules and meetings, we were going to drive up first thing Monday morning and catch the afternoon ferry as we had done many, many times before.
I watched as Toni neatly packed the boot of her BMW, saloon. It was a lovely car and one she thoroughly enjoyed driving, an extravagance for sure, but who could deny her it? She had worked very hard for everything she had. I fondly recalled the first car she owned when I met her, the red Nova. I had loved that car so much that when Toni decided to get a new car, I wanted the Nova. She agreed to keep it as a little run around for Isobel and me, but then voiced her regret when it took her years to get me to part with it. I would still have it today if it had been possible. Unfortunately, the repair bills became too high to justify its upkeep. I glanced over at my green VW Beetle, parked on the wide cobbled street. Toni had shaken her head when I purchased the second-hand vehicle. She warned me the cost of up keeping it would be high, and it was, but I loved it. It looked so out of place on this street lined with top of the range cars, but it was perfectly in keeping with who I am and my love for anything with a past. The car was just another facet of my passion.
We were soon on our way, making the journey that, over the intervening years, had become so familiar to us. I was happy to let Toni do the driving; she enjoyed the pursuit much more than I did. I only used my car when it was absolutely necessary; otherwise, I was more than happy to walk around the centre of town, between the university and home. I never imagined, all those years ago, that I would end up as a lecturer at the very university where I began my studies. A lifetime in academia isn’t a surprise though. I love passing on the knowledge that I have gained over the many years of study, and I haven’t stopped yet. After years of reading about St Kilda, the birthplace of my father, and several visits to the archipelago, now a world heritage site, new information about its inhabitants is still emerging. By all accounts, my father was lucky to have survived being born on the island at all. Its infant mortality rate was extraordinarily high with 80% of babies dying within seven days of being born. The reason for this remained a mystery until just recently. There had been much speculation over the years about the cause, including hereditary factors, but the killer was tetanus, caused by the tradition of smearing the navel in a mixture of dung and oil extracted from the crops of Fulmars. The very bird that had sustained the island’s inhabitants for almost 5,000 years was eventually a major contributing factor to its decline in population, leading to its evacuation.
After finishing my degree in Scottish history, I entered into the field of research, completing a thesis on the Highland Clearances, a period of Scottish history that has become of enormous interest to me. Taking me to places I could only image visiting all those years ago when I first left North Uist. Places such as Cape Breton, in Canada, where I visited back in 1994. Many Scots emigrated there and the area contains many monuments and monikers indicating this. I followed the trail of Flora MacDonald, taking me to North Carolina where she visited her sister in the winter of 1774 to1775. Many Scots settled in North Carolina. I have been to Australia many times, but not just for the purpose of research and history, my brother Dougall now lives there, much to my surprise and pleasure. I honestly always imagined him remaining on North Uist.
“Oh, Shona, do we have to listen to this again?”
Toni has pulled me from my reflective mood; we still can’t find much common ground when it comes to music. She is driving and can’t change the choices I have selected on her iPod. You would think that, since the album is actually on her iPod, she wouldn’t have any cause for complaint, but I sneak on a few of my choices for when we undertake these longer journeys together. Taking pity on her I select her latest favourite album, Kasabian’s Empire. If she started driving in time to the music, I was changing to something more sedate.
We made good time, arriving at our croft just after 8.30pm. As soon as Toni was able to afford it, she had purchased this little plot of land. The actual house had been in dire need of a drastic makeover but, slowly and surely, over time, Toni got it into a liveable condition. That was back in 1995, and since then the croft has been brought right up into the 21st century. Initially we had no electricity, using oil lamps for lighting and peat to burn in the hearth for heating. Now we have electricity, central heating, all mod cons, even broadband. The interior of the croft is completely modern, a little sacrilegious perhaps, but sometimes you just have to move with the times. We did have a lot of fun in those early days though; it truly was like going back in time. I was used to the conditions, and Toni quickly acclimatised to them, but when we brought friends up with us, they would be horrified. But even they soon began to enjoy the sparseness of their surroundings. It really did make for some fantastic times; with no television and just the radio for entertainment, we made the most of entertaining ourselves. Eddie and Susie came to really love the island over the years and, to this day, make good use of the croft whenever they can. Usually leaving their kids with Eddie or Susie’s parents, so they can have a romantic getaway on their own.
We dropped of our luggage and headed straight off again to see my mum. I couldn’t wait to hold her. Moira was at the croft looking after her; she had been there since Saturday morning, when she first heard the news.
“Hi, Moira,” I greeted and hugged my youngest sister fiercely as soon as she answered the door.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you, Shona,” she said, as we continued to hold each other close.
“How are you?” I knew Moira had been co-ordinating everything from here on the island and I hoped, now that I was here, I could help in some way.
“I’m fine, Shona, things are coming together although I can’t finalise all the funeral arrangements until Dougall actually gets on his plane.”
I understood; we were hoping to make the funeral date Thursday, but it all hinged on Dougall actually getting here on time from Australia. Fortunately, since North Uist had such a small population, we could be flexible with the arrangements.
“How is mum?”
“She’s holding up not too badly, she will be glad to see you. It’s really just been the two of us since Saturday, she has been looking forward to the rest of you arriving, and keeps asking me when you are all getting here.”
“Isobel tomorrow and Dougall sometime on Wednesday?”
“Yes, that’s how it’s looking.”
Moira looked behind me to see Toni standing patiently just outside the door.
“How are you, Toni?”
“I’m good, Moira, sorry to hear about your father.”
We all knew that Toni had no time for my father, but she did care for us, and her support mattered a great deal.
“Come on in, mum is taking a nap, I’ll go waken her.”
“It’s okay, Moira, I’ll go through and see her.”
We made our way into the sitting room, Moira went to put the kettle on and I made the short trip down the hall to my mother’s bedroom.
I looked inside the dark room; the curtains were drawn, keeping out the last of the daylight. I hadn’t set foot in this room in years. I saw my mother stir, she always was a very light sleeper.
“Shona? Is that you?” Her voice was sounding hoarse, from sleep and I’m sure, a lot of crying over the last three days.
“Oh, Shona, it’s so good to see you.”
She sat up in bed, her hair in disarray, a very rare sight indeed. She looked older, drawn.
“No need to get up, Mum, you just stay there.”
I sat down on the bed beside her and took her hand. “I’m sorry.” That was all I could think of to say.
She took me in her arms and held me to her, the sobs racking her slight frame. I pulled her close, rubbing her back soothingly until the tears subsided. I don’t know how long that was, a few minutes, an hour? It was hard to tell.
“I know he was a difficult man to love.” It came out on a half sob.
“Shhh, now. You loved him, that’s all that matters. You never have to make any apologies for that.”
“I’m sure you find that hard to understand, especially after the way he treated you all.”
Well that was certainly true, but I knew she did love him, had always loved him, and now he was gone.
“That’s not important. You are. And you have just lost the man you love. I’m here for you.”
“Thank you, Shona.”
I sat with her till she fell back asleep, obviously exhausted. I wondered what lay in store for my mother now. She was sixty-one years old and a widow. Her entire adult life had revolved around my father, cooking and cleaning for him and raising us. Right up until his death sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning, my father was still out working every day of the week, but never a Sunday, all his life he kept the Sabbath holy. We were grown up and he was gone, my mother no longer had a role as a wife, I wondered how she would cope living life for herself. It would be very different and completely new to her.
The following day Isobel and her family arrived at Toni and my place. They were booked into the guesthouse. Usually if they visited when we weren’t here, they would stay in the croft.
“Hi Prof, is that breakfast I smell?”
I was in the kitchen cooking breakfast when they arrived; Isobel was always claiming she was hungry. She had taken to calling me ‘The Professor’ or ‘Prof’ a name Eddie had eventually settled on, when I got my second degree. He said that’s where I was headed.
“Haven’t you eaten yet?”
“We just got off the ferry,” she protested.
I started to add more sausages and bacon to the grill, while Isobel went to the fridge to get eggs. I had prepared for this eventuality.
“I went to see her last night. She’s very upset as you can imagine, she looks tired, Isobel.”
“Well, she did just lose her husband.”
I noticed that Isobel was distancing herself from my father. From the reality that not only had my mother lost her husband, but we had lost our father. I didn’t blame her I was having a hard time marrying the two together myself. We all wanted to be here for my mother, she had lost her husband, but it didn’t feel like we had suffered the loss of a parent, but we had.
“She really loved him you know?”
“I can’t imagine why, but I know that she did. He was a very fortunate man in that respect.”
I couldn’t disagree with that sentiment; he had been a very fortunate man to have a woman like my mother by his side all those years.
Jack, along with a very hungry looking Toni soon joined us in the kitchen. The pair of them started picking at the food, stealing sausages from the oven where they were warming.
“Hi, Auntie Shona.”
He dropped a kiss on my cheek. It was difficult to get used to Jack becoming a man. His voice was deep and he had a five o’clock shadow, a look he favoured over being clean-shaven. Jack had turned nineteen earlier this year, he was a strapping 6 foot and about to start his second year at medical school. I knew this was a choice that made my sister immensely proud and happy. Only once did she ever discuss with me what her plans would have been had she not fallen pregnant with Jack. She had made her mind up to try for a place to study medicine. Her grades were good enough, but we will never know if she would have been accepted. Ever the pragmatist, Isobel never dwelled on it or even discussed it again. It didn’t happen that way and she accepted it and moved on. She started a nursing course when Jack was two years old. It had been a practical choice back then when she was a young mother, as nursing was one of the few careers that offered a training wage, that meant she could study and not have to get a job at the same time. She managed to juggle her studies with bringing up her son. It wasn’t easy, but she achieved it.
Isobel and Jack had stayed in the flat above the Illicit Still with Toni and me right up until she married Rory, back here on North Uist. After that the three of them got a flat together in Edinburgh, where Rory had gotten his first job and Isobel was still training to be a nurse. Since then, they had moved a couple of times, with Rory currently an assistant headmaster at a school in Aberdeen. There have also been two more additions to the clan MacAulay, with firstly, Rory junior coming along, followed by little Isla three years later. She is almost nine now and the spitting image of her mother, with that full head of auburn hair and hazel eyes.
Soon the table was set and we were all sitting enjoying a full breakfast, Rory was looking well. I still remember him getting his first teaching post and practically having to beg Isobel to marry him, she was a tough sell, but they have never looked back after that difficult start.
I was closest to Jack out of all my nieces and nephews. I had been around him since his inception and he currently attended the university I worked at.
“You looking forward to your second year?”
I’m not sure how he felt about occasionally bumping into his boring historian auntie, but he really didn’t seem to mind. It was a very big campus and he had no qualms dropping in on Toni and me for dinner once or twice a week. When he asked Toni for a job, she didn’t hesitate to employ him, it’s not like she wasn’t looking for staff. The turnover in bar work was very high and jobs easy to come by.
“Yeah, I am, I’m going to opt for the additional year. So I will be choosing a speciality area of study for next year.”
“Good for you, Jack. It takes longer, but then I’m the last person to say anything about additional degrees and study.”
We shared a laugh at that, in a lot of ways I had never stopped, but I officially spent eight years studying before taking my first paying job in my chosen field. I have continued to study throughout my working life; I have a Masters degree and a PhD. I just love to learn.
Shona helped me clear up all the breakfast dishes. We waved off all the other offers of help; sometimes it was more productive that way.
“I’m heading off to see mum now, but we will see you for dinner?”
“Sure, everyone is invited here for dinner, I’m not having mum cooking for all of us, but if she insists on trying let me know and I will just take the food over to hers and we can all get stuck into the cooking in her kitchen.”
“Well you never know, the routine might be good for her. And if she struggles to cope we can soon pick up the pieces.”
“True.” Isobel was right; it might be good for my mum to continue with her routine if that was what she wanted to do.
The day of the funeral was soon upon us. Dougall and his family had arrived late Wednesday afternoon, allowing everything to go ahead as initially planned. Toni and I dressed in our black clothing, packed specifically for today, and then she drove us the few miles to the small church where the service was being held.
I looked around the church at all the people who had gathered to mourn my father’s passing. Everyone dressed respectfully in black. We had all gathered at the church that my father had dutifully attended every Sunday since he came to the island all those years ago with his mother and father. I don’t think he ever missed a Sunday service in all those years. Seventy-nine years old he was. I had no idea of his age, it’s strange the things you find out after someone’s death. The things you find. My father’s father had committed suicide and it was my thirteen-year-old father, just a boy, who had found him; hanging inside the storage shed where they kept their tools.
Sorting through my father’s things we found letters, lots of them, including three from Mhairi MacIntosh, my school friend who had left the island to go work in Inverness. The third letter had said that if she didn’t hear from me, she would assume I didn’t want to stay in touch. How could someone do that? Keep letters that were sent to their children and never pass them on? I assume it was because Mhairi had left the island and my father didn’t want me to get any ideas.
I looked at the coffin that held the lifeless body of my father, emblazoned with the flowers that we had ordered. A display that said ‘Dad’ made out of white roses. Another that said ‘Granddad’ this one made up of assorted carnations. They seemed fake, hollow sentiments. Yes, he was our father and he was a granddad to his grandchildren, but in name only. One by one, he disowned all of us. I was first, followed by Isobel, then Dougall. My brother had been the biggest surprise of all, when after marrying Emily Morrison, his childhood sweetheart; they promptly emigrated to Perth, Australia. I guess Dougall had a plan all along to get off the island. It was one way to avoid the trap that had been laid for him by my father. I looked at my brother standing to my right, his wife and two children by his side. The kids, Christopher and Margaret, were the picture of health, with nicely tanned skin. I loved the way they called me Auntie Shona, with their Australian accents. Dougall and Emily returned with the children occasionally, but it was a long and expensive trip to take with any regularity. Perhaps now my mother could actually visit them if she chose to. My father would have never allowed it while he was alive; he never forgave Dougall for leaving.
After Dougall left, the only child of his that he accepted in his life was Moira, and her divorce ended that. He told her she should have stuck with her marriage regardless of the problems they had. It didn’t matter to him that Moira’s husband mistreated her. I glanced to my left where Moira stood at my mother’s side. She had initially left North Uist to study fine art at The Glasgow School of Art. After completing her four-year course, she continued to live and work in Glasgow where she met her husband, a sculptor. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, largely contributed to by Sandy’s drinking habit. After her divorce, Moira returned to live on North Uist, where she set up a studio and made a living selling oil paintings of the surrounding areas. She seems content with her single life back on the island. I think the sedate pace of life on North Uist always appealed to the dreamer in Moira and the surroundings certainly feed her creative imagination and talent. I have several of her paintings hanging at home in Edinburgh. I love her work; it’s so vibrant.
With the mass finished, we funnelled out of the church behind my father’s coffin, taking the short walk to the adjacent graveyard, which would be his final resting-place. I felt oddly detached from the proceedings; a feeling that hadn’t left me since Moira called on Saturday morning informing me of his passing. I kept reminding myself that we were burying my father; he was gone. Still I felt little beyond the reassuring squeeze of Toni’s hand as she held mine. If there were any disapproving looks cast our way neither of us noticed or cared. After all these years, their small mindedness no longer mattered. We have been frequent visitors to this island over the intervening years. Buying a croft, integrating into the community and generally being accepted, but there are some who will never accept my lifestyle, as there were some who have never let up on poor Isobel for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She endured a lot on her first few visits back to the island, the name-calling, and the looks of disgust sent her way.
After the funeral, there was tea and sandwiches provided in the church hall. We all stood around for an hour or so chatting and accepting the condolences of the mourners. I was listening to Mr. Fergus tell me what a sad loss my father’s passing was.
“He was a fine, God fearing man. Never missed a day’s work, nor a Sunday service. We will not see his like again.”
What did I say to that? All I could do was nod along. I just wanted to get out of this place; I had all but had my fill of the Mr. Fergus’ and the Mrs. McKean’s of this island. They all knew my father spoke to not one of his children at the time of his passing, hadn’t done so for years. He shunned his grandchildren, wanted no part in their lives either. A fine God fearing man indeed. If all it took to pass into the kingdom of heaven was attending work every day and church every Sunday then we were truly in a sorry mess. What of forgiveness? Kindness? Acceptance? Did none of that matter? I felt sick to my stomach, it was suffocating in this hall, and I had to get out of there.
Toni was hovering by my side and she read my mood easily. She took my hand and, with a smile towards Mr. Fergus, she led me away.
“Let’s get you out of here,” she whispered to me.
I was so happy to hear those words I thought I might cry with relief.
After saying our goodbyes, we were soon making the short journey back to our croft. As soon as we were through the door, I removed my jacket and took a seat on the sofa, kicking off my shoes and resting my head back against the soft material.
“I’ll put the kettle on.”
I could barely sum up the energy to reply. I rubbed my temples, trying to displace the throbbing headache that had set in.
Toni returned a few minutes later with two cups of tea, I didn’t touch mine and we sat in silence for a while.
“Why couldn’t he love us?”
I burst into tears; I had no control over them. Toni held me, offering comfort.
“Why didn’t he want us? He drove us all away!” Still the tears continued.
“Are we all so bad, that we deserved to be treated like unwanted clothing, that he could just discard when it no longer fitted the way he expected?”
Toni continued to hold me, rubbing my back.
“Come on, let it all out,” she encouraged.
“I don’t understand, Toni. I just don’t understand.”
“And I wish I had the answers for you, but I don’t. I don’t understand it either, Shona, it seems incomprehensible to me that he turned his back on four great kids. Anyone else would have been proud of you all.”
Toni was right; there were no answers for me, and any chance I ever had of gaining any died with him on Saturday morning. My father took a lot of secrets to the grave. There was no deathbed confession, I always wondered and I suppose secretly hoped that in his older years he might mellow and decide he wanted to reconcile with all of us. Make peace, but there was to be none of that and, if he ever had harboured any thoughts about it, he certainly left it too late. He remained bitter till the very end. My father never loved me. He never showed me any affection, even as a child. He was a cold-hearted remote individual who remained estranged from his children right up until his death. Those were the facts and I had to deal with them. There would be no fairly tale ending, but I would always wonder why. I don’t even really know who my father was, he was a presence in my life till I was eighteen years old, but I really never knew the man. Or maybe I did, and that’s all there had been to him? Who knows?
I decided to have all the family over on Saturday evening. We were very rarely all in the one place at the same time and I wanted to make the most of it. I also hoped it would be good for my mother, being surrounded by everyone that she loved.
Isobel and my mother arrived early to help me with the food preparations, I appreciated the extra assistance and, of course, being occupied was a good thing for my mother. We chatted as we readied the food, and waited for the rest of the family to arrive. Toni had gone to collect my Gran, as she was not allowed to drive at the moment having had a knee replacement, just three weeks ago.
I heard them bickering as they came through the front door of the croft.
“For goodness sake, Toni, I’m fine!”
“You have just had a knee replacement, woman!”
I walked out to meet them, only to be greeted by the sight of my Gran brandishing her walking stick at Toni, who deftly avoided a rap across the shins. The new knee was keeping my Gran out of her beloved motorcycle, not the same one as she had when Toni first met her, but the exact same model and paint job, a Russian Ural with the sidecar. Old age was catching up on my Gran and she was no longer able to whiz around the island on her bike at the speeds she used to enjoy. She had tried talking Toni into putting her into the sidecar and whizzing her around the island, so she could still enjoy the thrill of it. Toni had refused to do it on this trip fearing my Gran would do damage to her knee trying to manoeuvre herself in and out of the sidecar; my Gran still hadn’t forgiven her.
I fondly recalled our visit earlier this summer when Toni took her for a spin. I had looked on aghast as I saw the pair of them speeding back towards my Gran’s house and I decided to have a serious word with Toni about the speed. My Gran was approaching her ninetieth year!
“What?” she protested at the look I gave her when they stopped.
“You were going too fast!” She was helping my Gran out of the sidecar.
“I was going slower than May wanted me to go.”
My Gran got to her feet looking displeased.
“Gealtaire,” she said to Toni.
“I know you just called me a coward,” whose Gaelic was rusty, but not too bad. She had been picking it up over the years.
“Gran!” I protested.
“Okay, what was that? What did the old bugger call me?”
“Nothing,” I answered.
My Gran was now walking down her path towards her front door and I knew she was getting a kick out of this. I now had to explain to my partner that my Gran had just called her an arsehole. The pair of them together were incorrigible.
I smiled at the memory, the two of them together really did have a lot of fun and, despite outward appearances and the way they spoke to each other, they had built up a really strong bond with each other over the years. I laughed a little as I recalled Toni’s reply when I told her what my Gran had said.
“An arsehole! I’m the only arsehole who will take her out on that rust bucket!”
“What are you smiling at?”
My Gran’s words brought me back to the present.
“Nothing, just you two, bickering.”
She waved her hand, “Keeps me young.”
I believed that.
The evening was very enjoyable and my mum did seem to be managing to find some enjoyment in it, despite the loss of my father. The grandchildren had a big part to play in that. They were a lot of fun, keeping us all entertained. I had noticed that Jack was a little subdued and wondered what was on his mind. I picked up some empty plates and asked him to help me take them through to the kitchen.
“Is everything alright, Jack?”
He looked pensive and agitated as he considered his reply. I laid a hand over his.
“Whatever is troubling you, don’t be afraid to tell us. That way we can help if it’s possible.”
He nodded, but looked terrified. “There is a girl back in Edinburgh – she’s pregnant.”
Oh, Lord, here we go again. It was like Isobel all over.
“Tell me a little more.” I encouraged.
“She says I’m the father. I don’t know what to do, Auntie Isobel, it was just the once.” He was pleading now, the poor boy. What a position to be in at his age.
“Stay right there, I’ll get Toni.”
We returned to the kitchen to find Jack looking out the window and nervously wringing his hands together. He looked very pale.
“Is he alright?”
“Well yes, and no – he thinks he may have gotten a girl pregnant.”
“Oh.” Toni addressed Jack now; he was looking very sheepish, “Is she your girlfriend?”
“No, Toni, it’s Andrea from the bar. We got chatting and drinking one night after hours and well she…”
“It’s okay, Jack, I can guess the rest. I wouldn’t be too concerned, I reckon if she is indeed pregnant, there is a good chance the baby isn’t yours.”
“I’m just speaking the truth, Shona. She does have a bit of a reputation. If she has gotten herself pregnant she will have looked around and picked the guy with the best prospects.” She turned to Jack again. “Here is what we will do, I’ll have a word with her, tell her you will be more than happy to fulfil any financial obligations to the child, pending a paternity test.”
That sounded so callous, I wasn’t sure I liked it. Toni could tell by the look on my face that I wasn’t happy.
“Look, Shona, if Jack is the father, then Andrea will be properly compensated for the child’s needs. Any contact would be between Jack and Andrea, but I won’t see him not only paying for a child that isn’t his, but also believing he has a child when he doesn’t. That would be a terrible scenario.”
I saw her point, regardless of financial support, it was important Jack knew for sure if he was the father.
“Alright, I agree, that is the best plan.”
Jack was looking more relieved by the second, so he obviously was happy with Toni’s idea.
“Thanks, Toni, I really appreciate your help.”
Isobel picked that moment to enter the kitchen with an empty plate; I knew she would arrive at some point, not able to keep her nose out of whatever was happening in the kitchen.
“Oh, what are you three gossiping about?”
“The next generation,” I answered casually.
I watched as her fingers went limp and the plate she was carrying smashed onto the tiled floor. Okay, I could have delivered that news a little better, but I just couldn’t resist. Toni gave me a chastising look, but I couldn’t hide the little smile that displayed the satisfaction I got from shocking my sister, it made a nice change.
Isobel turned to Jack, “I’m going to be a grandmother? I’m only thirty six years old!”
Toni took pity on her. “Relax, Isobel, I don’t think Jack is going to be a daddy just yet.”
I’ll never forget the look on Isobel’s face. It was priceless.
When the time came, a few days later, I was reluctant to leave the island, but I needed to get back to work and fulfil my commitments. Toni was fine, constantly phoning Eddie and knowing he would carry out her instructions, as she would do herself. They were still working together after all these years. He was like her right hand man overseeing any of her bars that were posing a problem. Getting everything back in order with a hands on approach. He really was like the brother she had lost all those years ago. Ross never did manage to straighten himself out, he is still inside, and I still haven’t met him.
We said our goodbyes, not sure exactly when some of us might see each other again. I promised my mum that I would be back up on the next long weekend. In April this year, North Uist saw its first Ferry crossing on a Sunday and that means I can now visit and be able to get home on a Sunday evening. It’s progress.
Moira reassured me that she would be looking after mum and would keep me updated as to how she was really doing. My mum would never say she wasn’t coping, or ask any of us to come to her aid, it just wasn’t in her nature, but she would accept our assistance when we offered it. I hoped she would perhaps make the journey down to Edinburgh in the not too distant future. It would be nice to have her around for a little while. We could go shopping; I could take her to the cinema, and maybe a restaurant. We could go to the theatre or visit the zoo. We now had a chance to catch up on all the things we had missed out on when I was a little girl and, if my mum was willing, I intended to help her take full advantage of her independence. My father was gone, and my mother still had her life to live. I wanted to help her to do just that.
I sat in my office at home, preparing a lecture I would deliver in April. I had received an invite last month asking me to be a guest speaker in the United States as part of National Tartan Day. I was tremendously honoured and wanted to prepare something special. Tartan Day was created so Americans of Scottish descent could celebrate their ancestry and the influence the Scots had had on shaping the United States. I had already written a book on this subject, now I was faced with the task of condensing this information into a one-hour presentation.
I found my mind drifting from the task at hand, back to recent events, the death of my father, how my mother is handling it. She is starting to find her feet and tentatively making plans, which include a visit to Edinburgh.
I then thought about Toni, the woman who has been by my side for almost twenty years. She has been a rock throughout it all. I could never overstate the important role she has played in my life, and how much richer my life is because of her presence in it. I felt an infusion of warmth and peace settle over me, just thinking about her.
I felt her presence and turned to see her leaning in the doorframe looking at me, a smile on her face. She is barefoot, wearing jeans and a tee shirt, looking very relaxed – just like the girl I met all those years ago.
“You were miles away,” she remarked.
I smiled, “Just thinking about you.”
“Good thoughts I hope.”
“Very good thoughts.”
Toni held out her hand to me.
“Come to bed?”
How could I refuse this woman anything, especially a request like that? I took her hand and we walked to our bedroom.
We entered the bedroom where Toni took me in her arms and held me close. She placed a loving kiss on the top of my head, a gesture I had come to cherish over the years. She then leaned back and looked intently at me.
“Shona, if it were possible, I would have married you years ago.”
I felt my heart rate pick up on hearing those words. Just recently, same sex couples in the United Kingdom had been given the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. The civil partnership act had come into effect in December 2005. I had assumed it was something Toni wasn’t interested in, as she had never mentioned it.
She swallowed before continuing, “I’m now able to make that commitment to you. Shona, will you marry me?”
I didn’t hesitate, I nodded rapidly before finding my voice, “Yes, yes I will.”
She hugged me tightly to her, “Thank you, you have made me a very happy woman.”
I kissed her, trying to put all the love and joy I felt in that moment into the kiss. We broke apart some minutes later.
“I love you, Toni and I can’t wait to marry you.”
She beamed that beautiful full smile at me.
“I love you too.”
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