Authors: Ricki Thomas
Olympia Publishers (2009)
Hope is a woman like no other. She is a pocket dynamo, a bundle of energy, drive and ambition. But underneath the surface Hope is hurting and as her self-esteem sinks ever lower she finally seeks some answers to the questions she cannot even begin to ask. As Hope's counsellor, Dawn is unprepared for the rollercoaster ride that Hope will take her on. For Hope is not a force to be taken on lightly and it will take all of Dawn's professionalism and skill to guide Hope through to recovery and understanding. As Dawn increasingly suspects that there have been dark times in Hope's past that not even she can recall, the relationship between client and counsellor becomes more strained and dangerous. For the more Hope recalls and understands the more dangerous she becomes, not only towards those who wronged her, but to the people she loves and to herself.
About the Author
A single mum to four whirlwinds, and ex-accountant, Ricki s been writing professionally for nine years, and had many articles and short stories published in magazines and on the internet. She divides her time now between property development and writing, in her words, getting the best of both worlds: DIY is a great leveller.
A Wild Wolf Publication
Published by Wild Wolf Publishing in 2011
Copyright © 2011 Ricki Thomas
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine or journal.
All Characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Also from this author
“So why are you here to see me?” Dawn relaxed into the chair, crossing her slender legs, the worn, charcoal jeans tight over her knees.
Opposite her, Hope sat stiff, unsmiling. “You know why, it’s been headlines for months.”
“I don’t read headlines. You came to me, remember, so tell me, in your words, why are you here to see me?”
Hope’s body remained rigid, a sardonic sneer beneath the irritated eyes. She huffed, exaggerated and rude. “I’ve recently been freed from Talavera Bruce prison in Rio, after being set up by my best friend. Having paid for her lavish wedding earlier this year, and having known her for over twenty years, I thought that was a bit of a liberty.”
Dawn said nothing, scanning Hope’s face, her body language, it was already clear that her latest, and most famous, client, was going to be a tough one. With fists clenching from unreleased anger, and her jaw tensely firm, Hope was retaining more in than she was allowing out. Dawn studied the woman before her. Her face was sweet, attractive, but her cheeks were hollow, and her eyes registered a deep inner pain. Dawn knew she was good at her job, and she liked a challenge, so she was looking forward to working through the anguish.
Hope could feel the scrutiny; she crossed her arms, relaxing in the protection of the physical barrier. “Well?”
“You’re paying me, I’m your counsellor. It’s not me who needs to talk, it’s you.” The sequins on her tie-die tunic glistened in the single September ray that streamed through the window, Dawn could feel the fear tinged ambivalence of the petite, smart but casually dressed woman.
The words were light, almost nervous. “Completely confidential?”
Dawn let out her breath in hopeful relief; maybe they’d finally crossed a line. “Yep.”
Timidly grateful, Hope relaxed, her body softening, and the wall between them tumbled gently. “I’ve known Lucy since my last year at junior school, that’s what hurts the most. We’ve been friends for so long. She’s had a rough time, and I tried to make things better because I can afford to now.”
The half smile belied the irony. “I haven’t always been this successful, you know. I’ve had plenty of lean years to draw from. But now I have money, I want to make the people around me happy.”
“And you thought paying for Lucy’s wedding would make her happy?”
“I knew it would. It did.”
From the quiet reticence Dawn could feel Hope retreating again, she was going to have to watch that tendency, keep her talking. “Tell me from the start, tell me how it all happened.”
The prompt worked, Hope was back in the room. She took a few deep breaths to steel herself, and began relating her story. “It all started on New Years Day, just after the bells had rung the year in. A friend of mine, Helen, she’d arranged a surprise party for me to cheer me up.”
“A worthwhile friend!”
Dawn’s aside was met by a satirical snort. “I say friend, and she has turned out to be a good one, but she’s actually my third husband’s ‘other’ wife. Anyway, that’s for another session, I want to deal with Lucy’s betrayal first.”
“That’s fine, you tell me what you want to tell me.”
“It had just gone midnight when Lee proposed to Lucy, it was so romantic, down on bended knee, flowers, the works. Neither of them had been married before, and I guess I wanted to do something to make it extra special for them, so, because I’ve got a big house with massive gardens, I offered to host the reception there.”
Hope scanned Dawn’s face; insecurely seeking approval of her success, her wealth, but the unimpressed, yet friendly, smile didn’t waver. “That’s very generous, she must mean a lot to you.”
Irritated, Hope sneered again. “Meant.” She shuffled in her seat, playing with the explanation carefully before letting it go. “Lucy has been there for me through some very difficult times, and I needed her to know how grateful I was. I guess I even want to forgive her now, even after all of this, but I think I need your help for that.”
“Tell me about the wedding.”
Hope’s face broke into her first smile, genuine and delicate, but also animated and alive. “It was going to be a summer wedding, but Lucy found out she was pregnant in the New Year so they brought the date forward.”
“Lovely, was it her first baby?”
“No, third. She had Callum young, then Christopher in her mid twenties. Neither are Lee’s. Anyway, she didn’t want to be heavily pregnant in the photos, so we decided on the eighth of April. I live in a small village, and the church is just around the corner, it’s really pretty, so they said they wanted to get married there. I was happy about that, and we used my address for the banns. I was Matron of Honour.” Hope’s words trailed and Dawn could feel her retreating again.
“She obviously treasured your friendship, at the time, anyway.”
Taken aback by the challenging stare, the agony in Hope’s eyes was fierce, and Dawn realised she would need to plough through many layers before she got to the core of her client’s pain. Sarcasm rippled across the retort. “If she did, she had a funny way of showing it.”
Dawn hastily backtracked, eager to dispel the grey atmosphere, ensuring her tone remained light and positive. “So, you helped to plan the wedding?”
The air was stagnant and still as the weary explanation followed the sigh. “I arranged the caterers, a local firm, and the DJ we’d used at the New Year’s Eve party. Lucy wanted to use the barn rather than the house, she said it was far enough from the neighbours to avoid any complaints about the music, but close enough to the kitchen for the caterers. It suited me perfectly because it wouldn’t affect our family life.”
“Our? Who lives with you?”
“Come on Dawn, you must read Hello, doesn’t everyone?”
Dawn chuckled, the mass of tumbling curls swaying over the ethnic velvet waistcoat, blonde contrasting with burgundy. “No way, it’s not my thing.”
Hope grinned widely, the crinkling laughter lines softening the harshness, revealing the unexpectedly beautiful woman inside, and Dawn realised she’d just passed one of Hope’s tests. “No, I guess you don’t. I have three kids. I had Penny when I was eighteen, then there’s Olive, and my gorgeous little Bern.”
“Lovely. How old are they?”
“Bern’s seven, he’s a loveable little rogue, Penny’s thirteen now, and Olive’s nine. Have you got any?”
Dawn shook her head. “So you were holding the reception in the barn.”
“I was shocked when I saw the guest list, she’d invited hundreds, but I stuck to my word, and just arranged a marquee as well. I had the best local florist in to adorn everything with fresh flowers, mainly red roses because that was the theme Lucy wanted, and I had the bakery do a five tiered cake, showered with tiny handmade sugar-paste roses.”
“That must have cost a fortune!” Dawn knew her client was wealthy, but the shock was genuine.
Hope nodded, a rueful expression as her eyes dropped to the floor. “She was worth it. At least, I thought she was. She bought the dress herself, had it made by somebody in Reading, where she lives. It was stunning, really unusual, elaborate. Although she was four months pregnant, her bump didn’t show, which was a surprise because the dress was fitted. It was just an excellent design. It followed the theme of the wedding, with tiny red rosebuds tumbling down her back and along the train. She kept the design a secret so when I first saw her on the wedding day, she looked so stunning it brought tears to my eyes.” Hope took a deep breath, the tenseness in her jaw showing she was willing those tears from returning. “I was so proud of her.”
The seconds ticked by as Hope drew calming, deep breaths, gathering her anguish and locking it away. “My Penny and Olive were bridesmaids, along with Lucy’s nieces, Tequila and Sangria.” Her eyes flashed, looking for a smile, but Dawn kept her composure. “Penny and Olive wore scarlet dresses, and the two little girls were in pink. I had the florist sprinkle pink and red petals from the gate to the barn, just a little surprise to take Lucy’s breath away.”
“I can hear the bitterness in your voice, you obviously tried very hard to make this a special day for her.”
“I did.” Frustration replaced the scorned expression. “You know, I was busy too, winter and spring, finishing the book, the publisher kept returning the manuscript, demanding alterations. It was only a week before the wedding when they agreed it was ready to go to print. I was busy at work, and trying to arrange the perfect bloody wedding at the same time. And I did it. The book, the perfect wedding. I did it for her. And that’s how she bloody repaid me.”
“What’s the book about?” Dawn knew all about the bestseller, she’d read it, and had been massively impressed with both the style and content.
“It’s called ‘Are Things What They Seem?’ It’s about bullying, the devastating effects it has on society. Not just bullying at school, but in the workplace, home, even the streets. It sold well.”
Dawn smiled at the understatement. “Was it your first book?” She knew the answer, but she needed to keep Hope talking.
“No, second. My first was… hold on a minute, you’re not going to tell me you haven’t heard of the first one, no-one could miss the scandal that surrounded that one, reader of Hello or not!”
Dawn allowed herself a deep sigh of impatience. “Women and Violence, Is There a Solution? Hope, you need to understand that I want to hear things from you, not third-rate journalists. Yes, I know your books, yes, I’ve read them, both of them, they’re fantastic, you raise so many important issues, but I want to hear how you feel, do you understand that?”
Hope didn’t know whether to feel chastised or delirious. Over the past few years when she’d tried to express her feelings, the deaf ears dismissed her lazily, so the role of unassuming mother, cleaner, worker, the silent one in the background, blending into the wall, seen but not heard, that was the person that arose naturally now, a contrast to her early, determined days. Now someone had given her permission to speak. To express herself. To feel. Dawn was different, they may have only met half an hour ago, but she liked her, her quirkiness, her funkiness. For the first time in years Hope felt ready to let someone in.