(excerpt from my novella)

For weeks now Amelia had been tense and anxious. Barking at everyone around her and making them feel uncomfortable and far too nervous to ask what was wrong. She couldn’t tell them even if she wanted to.

She had called her staff in early for a quick meeting, before heading off. “I will only be gone for the day and we have a full staff in today so there shouldn’t be any problems. I do have my phone with me of course, so please call me if it is needed. I do realise I have been immensely short with you all recently and I am offering my sincere apologies. I have had a lot on my mind, but a day away will do wonders I am sure.” From the looks on her staff’s faces, Amelia was pretty sure that her forced enthusiasm was not convincing anyone that a day away was going to do anything to lift her mood. “Okay, Jennifer is in charge while I am gone. It is going to be a gorgeous day so expect to be busy. I have ordered extra of our most popular items, so there should not be a shortage on anything.” She gave Jennifer a quick nod and a smile and headed for the door. “Have a great day everyone and thank you for putting up with me,” this time her smile was genuine.

Amelia looked over her shoulder as she got into her car, an upsetting thought hit her, ‘please don’t take all this away from me, please let everything be ok again.’

The drive felt so much longer than she remembered. The sun coming in the window was lovely and warm. It enveloped her like a heavy blanket and made her feel safe and more relaxed than she had for a long time.

“It is lovely here”, she thought. She began walking up the path. “What an unusual way to plant flowers.” She frowned as she bent down to the garden bed. The garden, like the rest of the place appeared to be thrown together like abstract artwork. Everything seemingly not belonging together, yet strangely working as a finished picture.

The cottage restaurant stood a little off to her left. It was a light shade of blue, with a rusting roof. Ivy all but covered half of the building, dense and fierce looking, claiming more and more ground as it grew. The property was situated on the edge of a small cliff. She could hear the faint sound of waves below. Normally she loved the sound of the ocean, but not today. “I loved this place”, her words barely more than a whisper.

She walked to the edge of the cliff and leant against the railing. She stared out over the ocean, taking in the faint smell of salt. A timber stairway led the way down to the sand and an old and faded pier jutted out from the water’s edge. The water here always seemed to be somewhat shaded from sunlight, a dark murky green. It always made her think of a neglected fish pond, full of suffocating algae floating just beneath the water’s edge, hiding an array of strange, neglected creatures, relying on their own inky environment to keep them hidden from predators. A section of rocks of all shapes and sizes spread out along the side. There always seemed to be a scattering of shells around the base of the rocks, white and delicate, softening this otherwise harsh picture.

She stood for a moment, taking it all in. So many memories, all of them vying for her attention. So many of them she wanted to hold on to, to seek comfort in, yet there was one memory in particular that was so laden with sadness and regret, that it brought her whole being to a standstill. The sound of a dog barking brought her back to the present. A family making their way up the wooden steps from the beach made her smile.

Amelia made her way back up to the cottage. It was busy here today. The dozen or so tables, with odd, mismatched chairs surrounding them, were all full. Everyday people chatting, drinking coffee, eating wickedly large pieces of moist, heavy chocolate cake, all soaking up the morning sun. Her heart was beating so hard, “Surely they can hear it”, she sighed heavily.

She had been here many times before. It had not changed over the years, yet somehow today, it felt completely unfamiliar. The light breeze began to feel like a biting chill, the chatter from customers now sounded harsh and shrill. Even the lovely blue cottage, which always brought a smile to her face, now looked old and decrepit, with its rusted roof and mismatched flowers surrounding it.

“Why does he want to meet me here?” she thought for the hundredth time that morning. “He hates this place”.

She had arrived a good hour before the agreed meeting time and made her way towards the front door. Each step heavy. She was trying to breath normally, in, out, in, out, but each breath was a struggle. “Keep calm”, she told herself with as much conviction as she could muster.

At the counter she waited. Normally the smell of coffee, cakes and slices of every flavour imaginable would ignite her senses, leaving her feeling cheerful and oh so hungry. Today however, it made her nauseous and jumpy, feeling that even a drop of caffeine would cause her to twitch with nervous energy. “One latte and an apple muffin please”, her voice involuntarily seeping out through her pursed lips.

Moving aside, she tried to look relaxed. She began studying all of the delectable treats staring up at her from the display case across the front of the counter. Looking closely at their colour and size, imagining what each one would taste like. If she stopped trying to occupy her mind for even a moment, the dark thoughts would again creep in. “What does he want after all this time? I thought it was over.” A miserable thought forced its way out.

The sound of her name being called out from behind the counter startled her. “Thankyou”, she heard herself say, as she took her coffee and cake. She spotted a small table tucked away in the corner. “How convenient”. She slipped into the seat and stared out the window. She checked her watch, exactly forty seven minutes to go. She began to pick at her muffin, small pieces crumbling onto the plate. The inside was warm and soft, the smell of apple sweet and comforting. She couldn’t eat a thing. “Please let this be over quickly”. That thought giving her a chill down the back of her neck. “He was never supposed to come back!”

“Hello Amelia.” He spoke softly.

“You are right on time. Would you like to order a coffee before sitting down?” She could hear the nerves in her voice. “Or would you rather go for a walk outside?”

“A coffee sounds civilised.” His wry grin made her blood run cold. “Would not want people to think that this is anything other than a pleasant morning catch up between two old friends, now would we.”

As she sat waiting for him to return her mind was racing from thought to thought. And although she came up with several reasons as to why he wanted to meet here, the one reason that she knew was true, was the one she was trying hardest to push aside.

“So, Amelia, you look well, a little tired though. Still working far too hard in that café of yours ?

“Jack, enough of the pleasantries, why are you here?”

“Are you surprised that I asked you to meet me here?”

“Well, you did always dislike the place.”

“Oh, Amelia, I did not dislike the place, so much as dislike what happened here.”

The sound of her cup dropping from her hand onto the saucer brought several pairs of eyes to their table. She could feel the colour leaving her face and her stomach jolt, threatening to force up the small amount of coffee that she had managed to swallow. A waitress very quickly appeared by her side with a cloth and a curious look on her face. “I am so sorry; I don’t know what is wrong with me this morning.” Amelia stammered trying not to make eye contact.

“Please come outside, Jack, please!” Her voice full of urgency. She could not get out the door quick enough, so sure that every whisper, every word floating past was about her.

“Amelia, slow down!” His heavy footsteps behind her.

She was running, away from him, away from this place, away from the life she tried to leave behind. Why was he trying to drag her back to it all?! “Leave me alone! I have paid my dues, I have kept your secret, why are you back?!”

He pulled her roughly into a tight embrace, “Think carefully Amelia.” He pressed his mouth to her ear, his voice a low angry whisper. “You know exactly why I am here. It is time for you to fulfil your promise.”