You’ve come this far, and you’re looking forward to the climax now. Continue to enjoy the ride.
For those who haven’t been following the free read, I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have featured here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number. If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends along. As an author, I want people to read my writing, simple as that.
The drive to the island was hot, long and tiresome. I made a mental note to have a car radio fitted as soon as I returned to Longhouse. Just beyond Glasgow, I stopped at a wayside café for a break and discovered I hadn’t replaced my knickers after that last pleasuring of Leigh. I smiled at the state of mind that had allowed such forgetfulness. For the rest of the journey, I found my mind filled with ideas about the way I’d altered over the months with Leigh and how making love with him had changed me so absolutely with regard to modesty, both false and real.
I arrived at the ferry station just in time and was grateful for the chance to spend a short spell out of the driving seat, letting the sea air blow through my hair and clothes. Though driving on and off the boat was an experience I hadn’t prepared for.
Once at the other side of the narrow straits, I had another twenty or so miles to drive before I reached the meeting place. We’d agreed on the village post office as our rendezvous since there was a small café there where one could wait if the other was delayed. As it turned out, we arrived within minutes of each other. I wondered if she’d been looking out for me.
Mrs McAlastair was a big boned woman with little flesh on her skeleton and she had a most unattractive face for a woman. But she smiled brightly when I introduced myself and offered her cash for the price we’d agreed.
‘Och, best see the bothy first, lassie. You’ll no be wantin’ to pay if you’ll no be wantin’ to stay. Will you be wanting bread and milk from the store afore you go?’
I spent a few minutes adding fresh food to my stockpile in the car.
She drove a Landrover, which looked as though it might have been one of the first made. Great clouds of charcoal smoke billowed from the exhaust as she started it, but it ran cleanly after that.
I followed her for three miles along a tarmac road with a pecked white line down the middle and passed no other vehicle. We turned off at a three-way junction onto a single-track road with occasional passing places, which we never needed to use. Another four miles and we turned onto a stony track that crossed open fields with mountains frowning down at us. I was anxious about my Mini’s suspension but there were few potholes and I managed to miss those there were.
At last, we arrived at a gate and Mrs McAlastair got out and let me through, her own car staying the other side. As I drove past her, I got my first view of the croft and stopped the car at her signal.
‘I’ll not drive down there, lassie, and I’d advise you leave your wee car up here. I’ll help take your things down and show you where everything is.’
It was perfectly situated. The small whitewashed cottage lay at the foot of the steep track, hills on all three landward sides, rising to mountains on two. Beyond the cottage itself, a stretch of grass, dotted with windswept mountain ash, led to a shingle strip and a bar of brilliant white sand that plunged into the deep azure of the ocean. The water stretched to the horizon where a small island broke the line between sea and sky. The next land after that was America. I was impressed.
‘Aye, it’s bonny enough. But see it all afore ye make up your mind.’
‘Is it safe to swim?’
She looked me up and down as we took the case and bags from the car. ‘You’re a wee thing but strong enough I ken. You’ll be up to your navel five yards in and you’ll need to watch the currents further out. Otherwise, it’s just the cold’ll get you.’
As we walked down to the cottage, I noted the small outhouse to one side, at the back. ‘Aye, that’s the privy. There’s no light but there’s running water.’
She unlocked the only door into the cottage, facing the sea, and let me in before her. Small windows let the sunlight in. There was an odd smell I could not identify until she reminded me the lighting came from oil. The cooker used bottled gas and there was a supply already connected. A pile of peat rested by the fireplace, should I need it. Enough was stacked against the back wall, under a wooden lean-to, to last for several weeks so I should be fine for the fortnight.
‘I’ll ask no questions about why you’re here alone, lassie. Good-looking young woman like you no doubt has her reasons for solitude. You’ll not be disturbed here, by anyone. There’s red deer wander the shore for seaweed, otters and seals in the sea and eagles in yon crags. Once or twice, a lad in search of adventure might pass on his way to climb the hills but you’d be unlucky to be caught unawares. The sun’s still warm enough to sit out at this time of year.
‘The water’s from a wee loch up yonder so it’s peaty and sometimes runs brown from the fawcett but it’ll do ye no harm. There’s spare bedding in yon closet and a torch under the sink. New batteries. I’ve a radio if you wish? No?
‘Well, I’ll leave you to it, lassie, you’ll no doubt be anxious to get settled after your long drive. When you leave, put the key on the shelf in the privy. Anything you need you’ll get from the post office; it closes all day Wednesday and, since you’re from the mainland, ye’ll no be aware it’s shut all the Lord’s Day too.’
I handed her the cash and she counted it out carefully before she smiled and gave me a receipt. I walked with her as far as the foot of the track, from which I could make out the roof of my Mini.
‘No need to fret about your wee car, lassie. No one here to steal or damage it. We don’t have much in the way of crime on the island. The men are hard but fair-minded. They get drunk and they fight. But they’ll do nae harm to a lassie. Should you happen on one you teck a fancy to, he’s like to be safe. Willing as any man, if you let him. Talk travels, so I’ll no let it be known you’re here, less ye want me to?’
‘I’d not welcome a horde, Mrs McAlastair, but a clean, handsome young prince might come in handy next week.’
She gave me a knowing look and assessed me as breeding stock. ‘Aye, there’s handsome enough about, lassie, but you’re no likely to find a prince, I fancy; more likely the frog.’ She turned and made her way up the track.
I waited for her to drive away before I dashed to the cottage, pulled a towel from my case, stripped and ran down the shingle to let the ocean wash the travel from my skin.
It was the first and only time I made that mistake. The ocean was cold and there was no fire in the cottage. By the time I had one lit, I was chilled and rather subdued. I vowed the fire would remain alight for the rest of my stay, and it did.
The privy was home not only to gas bottles for the cooker but to a variety of spiders; large, huge and colossal. They generally moved away from the oil lamp I carried if I ventured there after dark but I was always anxious of the possibility of one dropping on me. My visits were brief and to the point.
I discovered that the best way to collect the peat for the fire was to use the shovel provided for the ashes and take as large a pile as I could carry at one time. I stacked it high beside the fireplace and used enough to keep the place warm throughout the cool nights.
I’d been warned about midges but they didn’t trouble me. The land surrounding the cottage was well drained and there was no standing water to attract them, I suppose.
The light from the windows was enough for dreaming but if I wanted to read I had to either go outside or be near an oil lamp. Much of my time I left the front door open to reduce the slightly oppressive feeling engendered by the low smoke-stained ceiling.
The cottage, a proper croft, consisted of a single room, which contained the small kitchen area in the corner facing the door, the bed in the corner furthest from the door and the sitting area near the fire on the same wall as the door. A window faced the ocean on each side of the chimneybreast and a smaller window looked out on the rising hills behind the croft. I found I could open the door wide and sit in the ancient armchair, warmed by the fire when the days were cloudy, and read in comfort with fresh air occasionally disturbing my hair.
I was obliged to bathe in a tin tub that hung on the back of the privy door. It housed three tarantulas when I first took it down but they scuttled away when I dropped it noisily on the stone path. I had to fill it from two kettles, one hung over the fire and the other boiled on the gas stove. My first attempt took me over an hour for a reasonable depth and even then, the water was only warm. I hung it back on the door for the spiders to recolonize and decided to stick to my daily dip in the ocean waves, followed by a strip wash in soft, brown fresh water at the kitchen sink. Washing my hair was the most difficult and I had to make do with the sink for that as well, allowing it to dry by the fire or in the sun.
But these privations didn’t worry me. I’d sought isolation and simplicity and that’s what I’d found. I was used to cold and discomfort from my time with Heacham and the croft on my own was infinitely more comfortable than the cottage had ever been when shared with that perverted excuse for a man.
The isolation, and Mrs McAlastair’s hints that I may sunbathe unwatched, together with the loss of my shyness after sharing my body with Leigh, allowed me to be relaxed about being naked. I spent my time wearing very little or nothing unless I needed clothing for warmth.
Each day I swam as I had on my first day and ran to the cottage to dry off on a towel left by the fire. I saw no one for the first days but had the privilege of watching red deer grazing on the seaweed just along the shore and catching sight of a pair of otters playing in the surf. Seals eyed me curiously when I swam but never approached close enough to touch. Eagles evaded me until the Thursday when two flew overhead, circling quite low until one found and caught a small rabbit in the field near my car. I managed to catch something of all these natural sights with my camera and the telephoto lens Leigh had loaned me for my trip.
The weather varied enormously and there wasn’t a day when I didn’t see both sunshine and rain. Some days a heavy shower would smite the windows with lashing drops so loud they drowned the ocean’s constant surge. Other days a few drops would precede unbroken, glorious sunshine when I could lie outside and laze under the warm rays, reading Watership Down or The Thorn Birds or Lord of the Rings or simply imagining myself alone with Leigh.
For the first three nights, I allowed myself the necessary freedom to weep. My sorrow and grief at Dad’s death, having been finally released by that incident at Longhouse, now swept from me in tears heeded by no one but me. By Tuesday, I could think of his passing without desperate sobbing, though I knew it would be years before I could think of his death and remain completely dry-eyed and I was relieved to have the worst of my grief expressed at last. I felt free to enjoy myself without the guilt that grieving brings so unfairly in its wake.
It was on my first Friday that I met Hamilton. I was trotting up the beach, fresh from the waves, when I became aware of him standing by the door and watching me with evident surprise and delight. He was the prince I’d jokingly requested Mrs McAlastair to provide. He didn’t attempt to look away or hide his enjoyment of the view. On the floor, at his feet, rested a large rucksack and I guessed he expected me to believe he was one of the occasional mountaineers his mother had mentioned.
‘Good morning.’ I walked past him into the cottage and started to dry myself.
‘Hello.’ He remained in the open doorway, with his back turned, just out of sight.
‘You’re welcome to step inside and take a seat. I’ll make a pot of tea once I’m dried’
He entered at once and sat and watched me dry myself, continuing to study me with frank admiration and ill-disguised lust as I made the tea, but he said nothing.
‘Quiet sort, aren’t you?’
He nodded and continued to study me.
‘I haven’t seen a soul all week so you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit chatty.’
‘You’ve a lovely wee body, miss. Aye, and a pretty face.’
I stood and considered. Leigh had told me I was beautiful, but he said that to all the women who had sex with him. Then, of course, since he invariably also took photographs of them with the intention of selling them, they all would have to be beautiful. ‘Thank you.’
‘Thank you. Do you no think it a wee bit risky walking about in that state in front of a stranger?’
‘Your mother said I’d nothing to fear from the men of the island and …’
His face was a picture.
‘Oh, it’s obvious she’s either your mother or your aunt; you’re like peas in a pod. She said I’d be in no danger but that the men were willing enough if invited. I expect you’re hoping for an invitation?’
He blushed wonderfully and I stopped teasing him, knowing how unpleasant a blush can be but happy it wasn’t me who suffered this time.
I suddenly became aware of exactly what I was doing and laughed out loud at my audacity. I felt such relief that I was finally free of that terrible shyness that had been forced on me for so many years. I was confident in my body and myself and felt no shame attached to its voluntary display. I was good to look at and it was up to me whether I was seen.
‘I’m going to ask you a few questions and I want you to know that I’m very good at detecting lies. I want you to answer me truthfully, even if you think I might prefer a different answer. Whether you get to have sex with me depends on you answering my questions truthfully. Do you understand?’
‘I do, but how d’you know I actually want sex with you.’
‘It’s self-evident. But, if you don’t, you might as well go. I’ve no other use for male company at present.’
He grinned at his deception and my discovery of it. ‘Mother said you were a strange wee lassie. She was right and no mistake.’
I smiled at this description. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Well, Hamilton McAlastair, how many women have you had sex with?’
He opened his mouth to speak, gave himself time to think and then looked at me as if seeking a clue.
‘When I talk about the truth, Hamilton, that is exactly what I require.’
He shrugged, a little ashamed. ‘None, then.’
He brightened at my obvious pleasure in his answer. ‘Kissed a few, of course, touched the odd wee titty, but no more than that.’
There was something charming in his use of a word I generally disliked and I found myself smiling again. ‘Just a few rules.’ I handed him a cup of tea. I noticed he was sweating slightly in the heat of the cottage fire. ‘Why not take off your jumper?’
He put the tea on the floor and did as I suggested, revealing a broad chest clad in a sleeveless shirt.
I waited till he sat again before explaining my rules. ‘Nothing you do must hurt me. I do not want to be kissed; kissing is an intimate act between people who love each other. I don’t love you and I don’t expect you love me. What I offer you will be for the period I offer it, no longer. When I’ve had enough of you, you must go, at once and without argument. Will you agree to these terms?’
‘Mother didn’t know the half of it. You’re the most amazing wee lassie I’ve come across. Aye, for the chance of knowing that lovely body and learning a trick or two to help me wi’ a woman, I’ll do as you ask.’
‘Good. Drink your tea and we’ll start to explore a little. Just to set your mind at rest, Hamilton, I’m not a prostitute and I don’t expect payment. I’m not in the habit of inviting strange men to have sex with me and you’ll be only the second man to know my body. I won’t explain why I’m doing this, except that I’m fulfilling a rather odd but important obligation. The sign for you to go, by the way, will be when I put on some clothes, or when I ask you. I’ll be naked whilst I wish you to stay. I take it you’ll not be missed if I need you overnight?’
‘Astounding. I’ll no be missed for a night or two, lassie. May I know your name?’
I told him.
‘Am I to start the … the er, whatever, or do I wait for your lead?’
‘However the mood takes you, Hamilton. I’m adaptable and ready to respond to your advances.’
I was so nervous inside but I couldn’t show him how I really felt. I was doing this to satisfy my need to carry out Dad’s wishes. I had no wish at all to satisfy the lust of another man or to give myself to anyone other than Leigh. But Dad’s wishes had been explicit. This was the only way I could reach a satisfactory compromise and I’d already decided I might as well approach the task enthusiastically. Hamilton’s arrival allowed me to do some good to someone else along the way. I considered myself fortunate to have been given the chance to do some sexual comparison for my education whilst teaching this pleasant young man something of value to him. I had no doubt at all about the outcome of my experiment but I must fulfil Dad’s last request of me. I knew myself well enough to understand that I had no choice in that matter if I was to live with my future self in peace.
The sun was high in the sky on Saturday when I moved off his strong young body for the last time. He lay looking up at me as if I might be an angel or a magical princess and I was sufficiently moved by his obvious adoration that I leant over and kissed his lips softly. ‘Thank you, Hamilton; you’ve been exactly what I needed. I’m going for my swim now. I expect you to be gone when I return.’
‘You canna just leave like that. Surely you don’t expect me to…’
‘I expect you to keep your side of the bargain, Hamilton. I expect you to follow the rules of our agreement. I expect you to show me that your mother was right.’ I draped my towel over the chair before the fire and walked out of the door and down to the sea without a backward glance.
The sea seemed particularly cold that day but I gave him time to make up his mind and to get dressed. I had no wish to confront him or argue with him. He’d done the job and enjoyed himself in the process. I’d given him an opportunity he was unlikely to get again and he would now have a better idea of how to pleasure any woman he cared to form a relationship with in future.
I deliberately avoided looking at the cottage as I swam and tried to lose myself in the waves and the water as it washed me clean of the sex and the smell of him. Although we’d shared some pleasurable sensations, I’d experienced nothing of the passion and desire and indescribable joy I’d felt with Leigh and I now fully understood for myself the real difference between having sex and making love.
Chilled and tired, I left the waves and sauntered up the beach, reluctant to reach the cottage in case he was lurking, waiting for more of me. But the place was empty. I dried myself and cried a few tears of relief. The job was done, my pride and honour saved by the anonymity of my subject, my duty to Dad complete. I could return to Leigh and know that I loved him not from inexperience or ignorance but because I loved him.
As I made myself a pot of tea, I noticed something on the table. The small package was wrapped in sheets of my notepaper and tied with string from the kitchen drawer. Inside was a small wooden box with a thistle carved on the lid. It was a handmade piece and the lid fitted well on its tiny brass hinges; the carving was good but lacked finesse and I guessed he’d brought it with him as an offering should I need inducement. Inside the box were three small sheets of paper. Each bore a charcoal drawing of me; in one I was sleeping on top of the bed, in another I stood at the door looking out to the ocean and in the last I was at the kitchen sink, making tea.
On the back of the one of me sleeping was a short note.
‘Faith, you gave me less than all of yourself but more than I deserved. I will carry you with me in my heart through all of my life, though I know I will never see you again. Thank you for your generous education of a simple man. You said I would not love you. That was the only mistake you made. Goodbye, Hamilton.’
I tucked the pictures back into the box, wondering when he’d found the time and opportunity to draw me, closed the lid and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye with a fingertip.
That night, I started writing my letter to Leigh, intending to drop it into the post office on Monday when I went to the village to replenish my supplies.
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