The Creative Peak

New inspired writing from an independent publisher

The Elusive Quest

T M Elvey

Contemporary Fiction

The past meant she now had no friends, little money and an ailing father. She feared starting a relationship. The dark days couldn’t be blanked from her mind. She had tried many times, but had never succeeded. All she wanted was to go back to the happy times. Would the long summer days bring the peace of mind and tranquillity that she earnestly desired? Her own boldness frightened her when she decided to meet five strangers. In a rash moment she had decided that a walking holiday in the Peak District would bring her out of her shell, but could she go through with it? The profiles she received gave her anticipation and fear. She only wanted one friend. Was that too much to ask? The businessman is a rich widower. Should she dare to think of him as a potential...... Perhaps it would be the other man in the group, he was a slick salesman, and was very good- looking...... Friendship was more important to her than a relationship so perhaps one of the woman could become her friend. The police officer, now she looked a steady sort. Or the woman in her forties, she was old enough to have views on life, but young enough to understand. But it would be the farm worker who was nearest to her age. She wondered why they all wanted to join her on a holidaypicions that a murder generates. As the secret life of the village is exposed, so she is forced into meeting several of the village men. And men were definitely not on her agenda!

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The Opening

I grant thee life, if thou canst tell me

What thing it is that women most desire.

Beware, and keep thy neck-bone from iron (axe)!

And if thou canst not tell it right now,

Yet I will give thee leave to go

A twelvemonth and a day, to seek to learn

A satisfactory answer in this matter;

The Wife of Bath’s Tale

Canterbury Tales

Chapter One

Prelude

Everyone had told her how pretty she was. With that thought in her mind, she moved silently and elegantly to stand in front of the full length mirror in her bedroom. Her face gradually began to show the signs of pain, as she looked herself up and down. She didn’t like the dark blue trousers that she was wearing. Her attention moved to her blouse. It was slightly brighter, but it was blue. She wondered why she wore a colour she didn’t like. Her deep breathing suppressed a sigh, but when she looked in the mirror, it was very difficult as the despondency gradually took over. Her face was sullen. It couldn’t muster a smile and had not for a long time now. She ran her fingers through her sleek, blond, almost white, hair. It had never been a difficult decision to keep her natural colour, but she could see that it was dull, listless and the ends were split. She let her hair fall away from her hands.

The mirror caught her attention again. She stood upright with a straight back. She needed to practice that way of standing. As she remained in that position, she could see how very thin she was. There was no surprise there, as she hardly ate anything. It was going to be another thing that had to change. But it was so difficult to do. She feared change, but wondered how many hours she had stood looking at herself in this mirror. ‘It’s so difficult to see anything pleasing,’ she said to herself.

A tear ran down her cheek as she turned away from the mirror in disgust. The bedroom was littered with books and clothes, but it was very hard to find something, except the worry, that could occupy and engage her mind.

She was alone in the small terraced house. Many attempts had been made by relatives and friends to help her, and take her back to the real world, but she had rebuffed them all. Her mind was churning over what had happened this morning. It was still so very difficult to leave the house, but every Wednesday for a number of months, she had made the journey into town. In all the time that she had made those journeys, she knew that it would be much quicker to go on the bus. But people might want to talk to her and she wouldn’t be able to cope with that. So she had walked the three miles, each way, in all weathers.

There were no sounds from the house. It was silent as it always was. She grasped her hands together and her whole body began to shake. ‘No! No!’ she said in a loud voice to no one. She was so desperate to throw herself onto the bed and sob. It was such a battle to resist, but she drew in a deep breath and tried to control the shaking. ‘I will win!’ she cried out loud. Tears flowed down her cheeks and the shaking got worse. ‘No, no you are not going to get the better of me.’ How long she stood there transfixed, she wasn’t sure, but her hands and body were now steady. There was a next step that she knew she had to take. She glanced into the mirror again, and wondered why she wasn’t normal. There was never going to be an answer to that.

Very slowly she made her way to the large wardrobe in the corner of the room. She opened the door and bent down to reach inside. Her eyes caught sight of the many pairs of high heeled shoes that had been her favourites. She couldn’t remember the last time she had worn any of them. A sudden shiver covered her, because her memory jolted back to when she had last put one pair on.

As she crouched by the open wardrobe door she looked at the shoes she had worn into town earlier. They were flat-heeled, black and nondescript. They were cheap and they looked it. But she hadn’t bent down to look at her shoes, so she reached into the cupboard and, behind all of the shoes, her hand touched the battered wooden box that she was after. Carefully she lifted it out. It was slightly smaller than a shoe box, but it was made of solid rosewood and had a lock on it. She stood up, walked across the room with the box, and placed it on the dressing table. There was a long hesitation, but finally she moved towards the curtains. She stood on tip-toe and placed her hand on the top of the curtain. Her fingers gently slid along the top surface of the pelmet. The small key was there, and she gently lifted it down. She breathed a little easier now that she had it. She could never allow that key to be stolen.

She sat down very carefully at the dressing table. With a slow and deliberate movement she put the key into the lock of the box. She waited until she heard the click of the lock and then opened back the lid. There was only one item in the box. She stared at it for a while, before she reached in and gently lifted it out. After she had placed it in the middle of the dressing table, she stared at it for a long time, and finally said,‘It’s time to do it.’ She constantly re-read the one word on the outside. Diary. Diary... Everything was recorded in there, it was her only solace.

Her fingers gradually and gently opened the diary. As she flicked through the pages to the right place, she glanced at all the words that were in there. Each day had its own page and every page was full of writing. The first blank page was today’s date. Reluctantly she picked up her pen. The pen hovered over the page, while she composed her thoughts. A single tear ran down her cheek, but she ignored it and began to write in her very neat handwriting:

This will be my last diary entry.

The psychologist has said that there was nothing more she can do for me.

It’s down to me, now.

She said that I knew all the coping strategies and that I am now ready to rejoin the world.

The pen stopped any further movement, until she had managed to dry her eyes and she said to herself, ‘That is not all there is to it.’

She re-read the last line and then added:

from which I was so cruelly torn.

Now that she had decided that it was going to be the last entry, she knew she couldn’t give up. She wrote:

He’s been dead for over a year now, but the hurt will live on forever.

It was love turned sour by obsession.

She stopped writing. The psychologist had told her it was cathartic to write things down. She had never been sure, but this entry was easing her tensions, so there was no reason to stop...

My father is a broken man.

In those few short weeks, he lost the women he so dearly loved to another man and believed that I had been destroyed.

Without him, I would have given up by now.

I would be DEAD.

Her hand and the pen were shaking too much to continue, but she tried to calm herself. She was determined that this entry was going to be completed.

My father’s eyes show such sorrow.

I fear for his future.

It will be a very slow recovery from his heart attack.

BUT does he have the will to live?

I MUST BE SUCH A BURDEN TO HIM.

The tears were now in full flow and were dripping on to the page. She violently pushed the chair back, and moved to stand in the middle of the room. Tension overwhelmed her, but she was determined to stop the shaking before it started. The room was getting cold and dark, but she was not going to stop writing. Finally, as the cold twilight began to cover the room, she returned to the dressing table and her diary.

I’ve been feeling so sorry for myself.

But now I must be positive, there is NO other option.

I must support my poor father, who has been so dedicated to me.

Her mind drifted back to the time earlier today, when she was with the psychologist.

I know she would never say it explicitly, but the message in her words was loud and clear.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get yourself a job. Get out and meet people.

The pen hovered in the gathering gloom, but she wasn’t prepared to break it by turning on the light.

She is right of course. The real dark days have gone.

It’s such a big step, but I’m going to do it for my dad.

She knew there was no turning back now as she had written it in her diary.

I wonder if I shall every have sex again?????

I’m not frightened of men, the therapy convinced me of that.

The psychologist’s face lit up in her mind and she kept hearing the echoing word, “job”.

Jobs are normal.

Be brave mix with people.

My father will never earn again, I need to be the breadwinner.

She shuddered with tension, but she knew that the time had come. She could just see enough to write in the darkness. But the slow methodical writing of before had gone, and now she carried on writing with haste and purpose.

I’m twenty-four years old next week. Life will not be worth living, unless I make things change.

Diary, you contain my innermost thoughts for the last year, but its time to move on.

Wish me luck.

 

Chapter Two

Prologue

The Salesman

The silver grey BMW Cabriolet, with its hood down, screeched to a halt and missed the lined bay in the hotel car park. A tall slim woman driver, with short red hair, flung open the door, and jumped out of the car in her bare feet. She grabbed the 6-inch red stilettos from behind the driver’s seat and threw them on to the ground. The sound resonated as the driver’s door slammed.

‘You’re a total pathetic wimp. You’d never survive in my world!’ screamed the woman at the man, who sat uneasily in the passenger’s seat. He flicked the door handle and jumped out so that he could face the woman across the car.

‘Connie! Connie!’ but he could see from the reddening anger in her face, that she wasn’t listening, and was just drawing breath for the next onslaught.

‘You’ve got no bloody drive or ambition,’ she shouted at him as she struggled to do up the straps on her shoes. Nic Friar was over six feet tall and had an athletic build. His clothes, a casual brown top and matching chinos, were immaculate and they were complemented by very short dark hair. He watched his girlfriend, until she finally stood up from fastening her shoes. He walked around the back of the car and went directly towards hers. She was scrabbling for her handbag, which was on the back seat. He grabbed both her hands to make her look at him, but she snatched them away.

He said, ‘Just because I don’t agree with you, there’s no need for the bloody temper, you’re such a pain-in-the-arse at times. Now calm down, otherwise you will make a fool of yourself again. Why won’t you ever learn?’

Connie pushed him out of the way and opened the boot of the car. She grabbed at the large rucksack in the boot, but struggled to pick it up. Nic went to help, but she wouldn’t move out of the way. Finally, with a pull born of frustration, she lifted it over the ledge and dumped it on the floor at his feet. He kicked it aside, stepped forward, pinned her arms to her side, and pulled her towards him. She struggled, but couldn’t get free. He held her until he felt her body relax, but he still wasn’t going to let go.

‘We’re not going to see each other for a long time, so let’s not part like this,’ he said in a soothing tone. He felt the next stage of her relaxation and knew that her temper was draining. He leaned forward and gently kissed her on the cheek. Connie sighed. Nic could see the tears of frustration in her eyes. It was the usual sign that her outburst was over.

He said, ‘Let’s go and check in and say goodbye properly.’ Connie nodded as he picked up his rucksack and walked towards the reception of the hotel, which was located in the middle of the market town of Leek in Staffordshire. It was built of local stone and had a history dating back centuries, Connie looked around at the part of the town she could see and scowled. Nic smiled gently to himself as he knew that Connie would not like Leek.

The reception desk in the hotel was busy and it took time for Nic to check in, but finally he led the way up the stairs to his room. Since the outburst, Connie hadn’t spoken, and had just stood next to him in the queue. Nic knew that it was strange behaviour for her, because she hated waiting, and as she was a very well known actress, she expected to be treated as a VIP. He wondered whether there was something wrong with her. But within minutes, he dismissed the thought. She often sulked after one of her tantrums and that’s what she was doing now.

Finally, they arrived at the room and went straight in. He could see the distasteful look on Connie’s face. By her standards, it was far too small and dark, but still she didn’t say anything. Nic dumped down his rucksack and turned towards his girlfriend of two years. ‘Calmer now?’ he said with a smile.

She flung her arms around him and said, ‘Sorry Nic, I’m always losing it and you’re so patient with me.’ They kissed. Nic felt the warmth and softness of her body as she moulded into him. It was going to be difficult not seeing her for such a long while. The feel of her through the thin summer dress, and her perfume, made him slide his hand down her back. She broke the kiss and waited for him to release her. Nic knew this was unusual, because she always enjoyed the sex as much as him. He let her go, she walked away and looked out the window.

Nic said, ‘I’m really going to miss you. I know you’ve got a brill opportunity to go to the US for three months, but why can’t I come for at least the first month? I can easily get time off work.’

‘It’s the entertainment industry Nic, there’s no time to spend with you. It will be shows, receptions and filming the whole time. Apart from that we all just sleep. It’s a killer.’ He had been through all this with her before and she wouldn’t compromise. Connie added, ‘Anyway you should be working hard to make sure you get the Sales Manager’s job, when he retires.’

‘We’ve been through that. Let’s not start that row again. I’m happy just being a salesman. There are only three salesman and I’m the best by far. So I’m content. I don’t want a paper pushing job sitting in the office day after day.’

Connie looked around the room with a frown on her face, ‘I don’t see why you wanted to go on a crumby walking holiday, when you could have had a fortnight in the Seychelles or on Bondi Beach.’

Nic wasn’t sure himself, but he had decided he needed something different to do. He didn’t feel like a surfing holiday, he just wanted to relax and this seemed to be the only alternative that he could find quickly. It was different and he thought he might enjoy it.

As Connie looked intently out of the window, she quietly said, ‘Nic?’, but she didn’t turn back to look at him.

‘Yes, lover,’ he replied and then he waited. She seemed to hesitate several times, but finally she spoke. He could hear the tremble in her voice. ‘I... it’s nothing.’ She turned and faced him. ‘Have a good holiday,’ and then she added hurriedly, ‘I’ve got to go now to get to the airport.’

‘You’ve got plenty of time.’

‘No, I need to go,’ it was said abruptly and Nic just shrugged his shoulders. She came across the room to him and gently kissed him on the cheek. He went to grab her, but she skipped out of the way, ‘Bye,’ she said, ‘don’t come out with me.’

‘But...’

‘No, bye,’ and she was gone. Nic stood in the middle of his room shaking his head. He wasn’t happy about her going to the US for three months, but she was so obsessed with becoming an A-list celebrity, that she would let nothing get in her way. He sighed as he knew he would miss her terribly. Despite all her tantrums, he really loved her. But it was now the time to let her go and do her own thing. It wouldn’t do their relationship any good to stand in her way. Now that he was here, it was time to make the best of it. He glanced at his watch. It was only lunch time and the others on the holiday wouldn’t have arrived yet, so he decided to go down to the bar and get some lunch. There were always people in the bar, who would want to chat.

It was an hour and half later and Nic was sitting alone at a table in the garden of the hotel. The sun was streaming down onto the patio, which was surrounded by an extensive rose garden, the fragrance from which wafted over him in the gentle breeze. He was enjoying his third bottle of Bud. Despite what he had hoped, there was no one around to talk to, so he had read through the information about the holiday twice. There was nothing to do, so he aimlessly let his eyes drift over the hotel garden. He was already bored.

Suddenly he caught sight of a bright white dress. The woman had the grace of an angel and, as if by magic, she had suddenly appeared in the garden. He hadn’t seen where she had come from. Her white, thin strapped summer dress, matched her flowing blonde, almost white hair, which she flicked out of her eyes. She was tall, very slim, with large breasts revealed by a dipping neckline. Her face was pale and pretty, but she wore no make-up. Nic took in the full vision and then sprang to his feet as he saw that she was struggling along the path with a large case.

She looked directly at Nic, who immediately smiled at her, ‘Let me help you with that,’ he said going towards her.

He expected her to stop, but she just said, ‘I’m perfectly capable of managing, thank you, I don’t need your help.’

‘OK,’ said Nic as he meekly went back to his seat. By the time he looked around again, she had disappeared into the hotel.

He was distracted from his surprise at her reaction when his mobile rang. He looked at the screen. It was Walter Clerk, one of the other salesmen from work. Should he answer it? He knew what it would be about. Walter was having his long service party later this week and would want Nic to go. But Nic had already thought about how to get out of it. He would commiserate with Walter that he wouldn’t be able to attend as he was now away on holiday. He planned to have a friendly chat for a few minutes and then to send him a bottle of single malt to arrive on the day.

‘Hi, Walter, how’s things? Coping without me?’

‘You know, could be worse.’

Nic knew it was Joe’s standard phrase, but he could tell by the shake in his voice that something had happened.

‘Is anything the matter?’

‘Have you heard?’

‘You’d better start at the beginning,’ said Nic with a sigh, expecting some trivial workplace dispute.

Walter replied, ‘There was a meeting called for ten o’clock this morning. The entire workforce is to be cut by one third, evenly spread. They want volunteers if they can get them, otherwise the redundancies will be compulsory.’

Nic replied immediately, but as he said it, he knew the answer, ‘Surely not the sales department. If they make one of us redundant, how they will get the business?’

‘Evenly spread, one third of every department,’ came the stern reply. It didn’t take long for Nic to come to the same conclusion as the other two salesmen would have done. One of them had to go.

‘I’d just thought you’d better know, but I’m sorry to spoil your holiday. It’s a real blow. It would devastate my life to be made redundant, I couldn’t manage.’ Nic could hear the tension in his voice. There was a short silence and Walter quickly stammered, ‘Talk to you soon. Bye.’ The phone went dead. Nic knew that Walter would be really suffering with the announcement, because every year he had the poorest sales record of the three of them. Nic’s was better that the other two put together.

‘Shit!’ he said in frustration. Neither of the other two would want to go. With his age, skills and background he could get another job, but they would both struggle. Twenty plus years selling lawn mowers wasn’t a good curriculum vitae for either of them. By contrast, he had only been there for three years and had an impressive record before that. He wondered what Connie would say. No, he knew what Connie would say. Fight to be the best, exactly as she had to do in her profession.

Nic had another bottle of lager, while he thought through what he was going to do about his job, but he didn’t come to any conclusions. The country’s economy wasn’t good at the moment and moving jobs could be difficult. He really wanted another year before he moved on. It wasn’t a good start to the holiday, but he was determined to have a good time, so it was opportunity for a shower and change of clothes. He left the garden and went back through reception. Should he give Connie a ring? He glanced at his watch, but there would be no point as she would be in the air over the Atlantic by now.

As he walked through the entrance lobby of the hotel, the receptionist called out his name, ‘Mr Friar, this package is for you.’ Nic looked around and saw a biker courier handing her a package. Nic’s puzzled expression prompted the receptionist to say, ‘Urgent motorbike delivery for Mr Nic Friar.’ She handed him a thick envelope.

Nic took the small package that gave no clues apart from the sticker Tabard’s Bikers Speed Service. Sameday a Speciality. He wondered all the way to his room what was in the package. Once inside, he sat in the chair and opened the brown padded envelope. Inside, there was a smaller personal stationary envelope. He looked at the front, but there was no writing at all. He slipped his finger in the poorly sealed opening and took out a single sheet. It was typical of Connie’s huge scrawl; she never took time to write neatly. He caught a whiff of her perfume, which she always sprayed onto her letters. He began to read.

Nic,

I’m really sorry. I know I’m a bitch. I should have told you, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. It’s not working out. I shan’t come back to you after the US trip. I’ll remember the good times, but you’ve got too serious just recently. I’m sure you were going to ask me again. Sorry, but the answer was always going to be no. I know I bloody chickened out of telling you. I didn’t want to see you hurt, you’re a good guy. It got too heavy. Sorry.

Connie

Nic shivered. His temper rose as his stomach gradually tightened. Nausea overcome him and despite the heat of the day he shivered again. After slumping in his chair, he re-read the letter again and again, hoping it might say something different. His angered thoughts turned to Connie. He drew up the writing pad, but knew he could not write. He threw himself onto the bed. The alcohol and sun streaming through the windows overcame his confused thoughts of appeal and aggression. His sleep was a mixture of nightmares with semi-awake thoughts.