TouchStone for ever (The Story of Us Trilogy) (4 page)

BOOK: TouchStone for ever (The Story of Us Trilogy)
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The door opens behind
me and I signal my desire to leave.

“Ready to go back?”
Charlie asks, resting both hands on my shoulders, offering her support and
understanding.

“Yes. I’m tired.” I
have one last look and lean back into the chair. “Let’s go.”

 

***

 

In no fit state to
drive, Elise Richard starts up the engine and heads in the direction of
Cromwell Hospital. She plans on visiting a patient there who may be less than
pleased to see her but, ‘What the fuck,’ she muses. ‘It’s about time we had a
little chat about a couple of things.’

She parks carelessly
in a disabled parking spot and flips down the mirror. Pleased with her
appearance she ruffles her hair to give herself a ravaged look and licks her
lips, hungry for physical contact of the sexual or the painful kind, preferably
both at the same time.

Not bothering to lock
the car or turn off the engine, she staggers in the direction of reception,
steadying herself as she reaches the doorway.

Like a man possessed
Ayden pushes past her, looking once then twice before recognising her. “What
the fuck are you doing here?” He storms off, not waiting for a reply.

Regaining her balance
she trots after him. “Ayden, wait!”

“I’m not in any mood
for your fucking mind games, Elise.” He shakes off her hand as she makes a grab
for him.

“Slow down. Where are
you going?” she calls out, breathlessly.

“That’s none of your
business.” He turns to face her. “I told you we’re through. You won’t be
getting anything more off me so you may as well get on with your life and I’ll
do the same.” He inserts the key in the Shelby Mustang GT 500, Jake’s prized
possession. Before he can start up the engine Elise slides into the passenger
seat and slams the door shut.

“Why are you driving?
Where’s Lester?”

He flips over the key
and the engine begins to purr. “I gave him the day off,” he answers harshly.
“Now, get out of the car.”

She shakes her head.
“Not until I’ve said my peace.”

He inhales deeply and
catches the odour of hard liquor. “You stink of whiskey. You’re pissed!”

“I might have had a
couple of drinks, so what do you care?” She tries to fasten her seat belt but
gives up after a couple of bad-tempered tugs. She reaches for the radio,
instead.

He’s shaking his
head. “Have you driven here in that state? It’s a wonder you weren’t arrested.”
He shifts into reverse, pushing her hand away from the dash. “Leave the fucking
radio. I’m taking you home.”

Feeling suddenly
unsure of herself, she flattens her hair and sits back in her seat. “That’s
kind of you,” she says, sarcasm dripping from her lips. “Aren’t you the
gentleman?”

Ayden gives her a
sideways glance. “Just shut the fuck up, Elise, and enjoy the ride.”

She begins to giggle,
the way a deranged woman might on the verge of something catastrophic. “I
always do, Ayden. You know that. In fact I have the video to prove it!” She
begins to laugh hysterically and runs her hand along his collar.

He shakes his head
free. “For fuck’s sake. Just sit down and behave yourself.”

She turns to face
him. “You’d like that wouldn’t you, for me to bend over and take it like a good
little girl? Like Elizabeth Parker - or should I call her Frances? What name
does she go by these days?”

Shocked by her
outburst, Ayden fights to compose himself, tensing the muscles in his jaw,
containing his rage. “Look, I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, but
forget it and don’t mention Beth, again.”

She’s not intimidated
by the harshness of his tone or even the way his jaw is flexing as he
concentrates on the flow of traffic. Nothing he can say or do can hurt her
now. 

“I stumbled across
some old photographs and there we were the three of us at Bright Hill. We spent
days together when
she
came and then, when she left, it was just the two
of us. We were like two peas in a pod: Saffi and Elise. You fought all my
battles and read to me. You even hid me in your bed until they came for me.” Roughly,
she wipes a tear from her eye, “She was only a visitor Ayden; we were
residents. We only had each other.”

Ayden’s eyes dart
from left to right but he says nothing.

“It just struck me as
odd. How you managed to find her but you never came looking for me.” She feigns
nonchalance but Ayden picks up on the hurt in her voice.

“I did try to find
you. Once I got my shit together and started making some decent money, I paid a
private investigator to look for you, but it was a waste of time. You’d married
and changed your name, moved around and there was no trace of you once they
took you away.”

Her head falls. “They
took me away to another residential care home.”

He speaks quietly. “I
asked everyone, but no one knew - and if they did, they wouldn’t tell me. I
didn’t know what happened to you.”

“How could you?” She
pushes back her hair from her face. “I waited and waited for you but you never
came, and the years just came and went. I did what I had to do to get by.”

“I realise that.”

She raises her head
like a cobra about to strike. “No you don’t realise anything. They still abused
me. Those two bastards from Bright Hill used to come and visit. One would hold
me down and the other would hurt me. Month after month they raped me, Ayden.”

He reaches out a hand
and places it on her arm. “I’m sorry, Elise.” He punches in the button on the
radio, hoping a ballad will sooth her. Buddy Holly sings
True Love Ways.

He’s wrong.

Her bottom lip begins
to quiver. “I loved you, Ayden. I still love you and I found out today you
never loved me. You only loved
her
. She was your princess then and she’s
that now. She has her prince and I have …” She begins to sob.

He’s searching for
the right words. ”Look, I did love you, Elise, but not the same way. I loved
you like a … brother.”

“A brother! But you
fucked me,” she roars, her face contorting into an unrecognisable snarl.

Ayden shakes his
head. “No I didn’t, Elise.”

She will have none of
it. “Yes you did, Ayden!”

He keeps his eyes
fixed on the road ahead. “When you were in the basement, that one time, I
couldn’t do it. That was Jake.” He turns to face her. “I’m sorry.”

Open mouthed she
falls backwards into her seat and begins sobbing and shaking uncontrollably.
“No! You’re lying! It
was
you!”

He can’t find the
words and simply shakes his head.

“Then
everything
has been a lie. My whole fucking, miserable life has been based on a lie.” She
reaches for her bag and takes out the knife. “Turn around and go back to the
hospital.”

Startled by her
irrational behaviour, Ayden swerves the car. “Put the knife down, Elise,” he
whispers showing the upmost restraint.

She takes hold of it
with two trembling hands and puts it against his left side. “I mean it, Ayden.
There’s someone I want you to introduce me to.”

He feels the sharp
edge of the blade against his left side. In response, his eyes flash in her
direction. “I’m not going back to the hospital. I’m not letting you get within
ten feet of Beth. I’m taking you home.” He accelerates and moves into the
outside lane of the motorway.

Elise rocks back into
her seat and yells, “I mean it, Ayden. Turn around.”

“No fucking way!” He
tugs at his seat belt, ensuring it’s securely fastened. “Put your seatbelt on
and put the knife away. You’ll hurt yourself.” He glances over to her as fresh
tears begin to swamp her eyes. “Now stop this craziness and let’s get you
home.”

For some reason that
single word,
home
, seems to strike a discordant note with her; she plays
with the knife, running her finger along the blade, passing it from one hand to
the other, deciding what to do next. She lets the knife fall but, rather than
follow his instructions, she lunges at him with bare hands.

Ayden leans back.
“What the fuck!” Thinking she’s trying to claw at his face he raises his arm
defensively, but she has other ideas.

“I won’t let you go
back to her,” she screams, taking hold of the steering wheel with both hands
and pulling it towards her.

Ayden calls out at
the top of his voice. “What are you doing, you crazy bitch? You’ll kill us
both!”

He holds her off with
one hand and fights to right the car, but the metal fencing on the central
reservation is on his right side and other vehicles on his left. There is
nowhere to go.

Single-handedly he
tries to straighten the wheel but over-compensates. The car hits the barrier and
a crunching sound signals the folding of metal and the shattering of a
headlight. By way of a rebound, the car veers off to the left and spins as if
on polished ice, throwing them both backwards in their seats. He slams on the
brakes and they jolt forward. The screeching sound of burning tyres is
deafening but Elise is too unhinged to hear it. Her screams ring out, not out
of a fear of dying but of living
withou
t him.

“Elise, Elise!” Ayden
shrieks as the car slows to a grinding halt but, before he can regain his
bearings and take control, an enormous four wheel drive vehicle ploughs into
the side of the car on the passenger’s side, sending them careening off the
motorway, flipping over twice before coming to rest in a deep ditch.

Two spinning rear
wheels and one flickering brake light appear out of shroud of dust. All that
can be heard is the sound of screeching brakes coming from passing cars and a
ghostly rendition of
True Love Ways
. Two passengers are motionless: one
slumped in their seat and the other spread eagle out across the bonnet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

Feeling
more like myself than I have for days, I skirt the room with my eyes. It’s more
like a hotel suite really: teak wardrobes and easy chairs, a dressing table and
a view. Who could ask for a better place to rest and recuperate?

Thankfully, the
cannula was removed from my hand last night. I even accepted a sleeping tablet,
knowing I would simply lie here tossing and turning until breakfast; left alone
to torment myself with self-deprecating thoughts and numbing fear. Instead I
slept.

As the November sun
edges its way between the blinds, I’m reminded of the days I have missed, lying
here apart from the world outside my window. So much has happened: most of it
memorable for all the wrong reasons. Ayden and I have to start over; pick up
the pieces and re-shape them like hot dough; then watch them rise and transform
into something wholesome and good.

One day at a time …

When the door opens
and Nurse Lorna enters, I’m relieved to have my
reflections
halted by the prospect of hot food. I’m hungry. I settle for toast and cereal
with a cup of tea, which goes some way towards grounding me. It’s a taste of
home.

No sooner have I
eaten than my first visitor of the day arrives. Charlie appears around the door
carrying a bunch of my favourite flowers. The fragrance from the freesias fills
the room with memories of summer and I’m taken back to happier times. She knows
what I like. Yet, she’s gazing out of the window, onto what I have no idea,
playing with the buckle on her suit skirt, biding her time.

“It’s only 9.30 a.m.,
Char, I expected you later.”

“Yeah, I was going to
come this afternoon but I got a call from Jake and thought I should drop by.”
She’s shrugging her shoulders, intentionally lengthening her sentences,
unwilling to meet my eyes.

“And …”

“He told me what
happened last night.” Now she’s biting her lip. That’s never a good sign.

“What about last
night? Do you mean with Ayden and his accident?”

She’s nodding her
head.

“And are you going to
tell me? Or should I get the nurse to inject you with something; a truth serum,
perhaps.”

She sniggers. “No,
I’ll tell you. You’ll find out soon enough anyway.” She sits down on my bed
with a heavy thump. “First, let me say I’m so sorry Beth, about the baby and,
you know …” Through pursed lips she tries to smile. “Keep your chin up.”

“I will. So, tell me
…”

“About last night …
Ayden was driving, but he wasn’t alone in the car.” She gives me time to take
in the implications of her words.

“He wasn’t?”

“No. Someone called
Elise was in the car with him.”

Elise! I just knew
that bitch would crawl out of the woodwork again.

“And is she in this
hospital too?” I enquire, brusquely.

She’s shaking her
head, slowly.

“Stop with the head
shaking, Charlie and just tell me. Where is she?”

“What do you care?
She’s in the morgue.” She scrutinises my face for a reaction.

Her news hits me like
a shockwave, making me shudder. “What! Are you sure?”

“Yes. Jake said she
was dead at the scene. Ayden was unconscious so they cut him free of the
wreckage and air-ambulanced him to the nearest hospital. When he was stable, he
was brought here. They said it was a miracle he wasn’t killed outright with the
force of the collision.” She takes my hand. “He must have had a guardian angel
watching over him, Beth.”

Instinctively, I wrap
my hands around my cheeks and cover my eyes. “Thank God for that. Did Jake say
what she was doing in the car?”

“Who?”

“Elise!”

“No. Anyone would
think you knew her,” she huffs. “They looked through her bag and got her name
off her bank cards. They asked Jake if he could identify the body, and he said
yes. He must have known her too.”

Oh he knew her all
right …

“I can’t believe it.
It’s just too shocking to get my head around. Thanks for telling me.” I reach
out to her and we hug, allowing any remedial healing to diffuse through our
clothes.

She strokes my hair
and pulls away. “So who was she, anyway?”

“A friend of
Ayden’s,” I lie.

“Friggin’ hell. He’ll
be cut up about her being killed, especially as he was driving.”

I nod silently, lost
in a myriad of thoughts.

She tucks a strand of
red hair behind her ear. “Anyway, that’s all I know. I suppose you’ll be taking
another trip to see Ayden later, so I’ll let you get some rest. I’ve got an 11
o’clock meeting I have to prep.”

“I understand. I’m
going to be up and about. I can’t lie around here all day.” I smile
affectionately. “I’m going to wake him with a kiss.”

She nods and fashions
a sympathetic look that has no need of words. “You know what? Nothing would
surprise me right now. Just don’t push yourself too hard, that’s all.” She
offers a farewell hug and scoots off; bag in one hand, phone in the other.

“I’ll take it easy.
Bye.”

She leaves my scented
room quietly and, once again, I’m left alone to devise some kind of plan,
having been rocked to the core by her news.

Elise is dead!

 I have to get out of
this bed and on my feet. Ayden will need nursing once he’s discharged. I press
the call button and my friendly nurse appears.

“I want to get out of
bed and walk across the room,” I state, throwing back the covers.

“Oh! Slow down there,
Elizabeth, you’ll need to practise standing before you can walk. You’ll feel a
little dizzy at first. Let’s take it very slowly, shall we?”

I swivel around to my
right side and edge my feet off the bed in search of terra firma. Lorna slides
a pair of slippers onto my feet and I gradually lift myself up and off the
mattress, swaying with the after-effects of sedatives and anaesthetics.
Breathing deeply I take a single step, feeling the weight of my own body
pressing down upon me like a sack of rocks. But…gradually, I regain my balance,
my coordination returns and, between deep breaths, I take lengthening strides.
I turn when the door opens and the shock of seeing an apparition causes me to wobble
and tumble into the arms of Nurse Lorna.

Ayden comes to my
rescue and lifts me off my feet. With the broadest of smiles, I rest my head on
his chest and wrap my arms around his neck, in no hurry to be put to bed.

“What were you
thinking …” he chides, finding it difficult to conceal a smile.

I caress his face
with my hand, stopping short when I feel the ragged line of fine sutures an
inch in length across his right cheekbone. “I was thinking of you.”

He’s shaking his head
and lowering me onto my bed. “I might have known. Let’s get you back to bed
before you fall and hurt yourself.” He glances over to Lorna who seems rather
taken with my delectable husband - and so she might. He’s a vision in charcoal
grey. He turns to her and presents one of his hard to resist smiles. “Would you
excuse us?” As she leaves he continues to fuss with my covers.

I try to meet his
elusive gaze. “Ayden! Leave the covers and look at me.” I take hold of his hand
firmly.

Reluctantly he lifts
his head until it’s level with mine. Fixing him with a magnetic stare, I see
how those blue, green hues have mingled into a kind of speckled pallet of
cerulean light. Even with apologetic eyes he’s beautiful.

“I’m sorry for
behaving so irrationally yesterday and causing you to crash.” I feel my lips
beginning to quiver. “I didn’t mean what I said. I need you. I want you here
with me, forever. Nothing will change that.” I rest my cheek in his upturned
palm.

“You didn’t cause me
to crash. Elise was in the car with me. She became incensed and grabbed the
steering wheel. We veered off the road and ended up in a ditch because of her
psychotic sense of injustice.  It had nothing to do with you.”

“But if I hadn’t sent
you away, you wouldn’t have been driving the car. And …”

“… And nothing. I
would simply have driven around for a while and returned, unscathed.”

“You say that but …”

“No. I say that
because it’s true. We both needed time to process what we’d learned. It was
distressing but we’re both stronger for it and we’ll get through this
together.”

Through happy tears I
am nodding. “I can’t believe that Elsie is dead, Ayden. You must feel
terrible.”

He clears his throat
and blows out a gust of air. “I feel for her but I’m not grieving; for the girl
I knew perhaps, but not for the woman she had become. She was damaged, through
no fault of her own. Yet she chose to take the path she did and to behave as
she did of her own free will.”

“She did. But any
loss of life is tragic in its own way. She’s been so badly treated. She didn’t
learn how to love.”

“That’s a very
charitable way of describing her failings.”

“No it’s not, Ayden.
It’s the truth.”

He’s nodding and
swept away, lost in his thoughts.

“Are you thinking
about your childhood, your time at Bright Hill, your marbles?”

He shakes his head
and smiles softly.

“Maybe you should
leave them with her when you attend her funeral.”

He’s startled by my
assumption that he would even consider making an appearance. “Why would I
attend her funeral?”

“Because you loved
her, once.”

“Be that as it may …”

“You have to go.”

He gives me a
reproving look. “I don’t have to do anything of the sort.”

“You’re right, you
don’t. But at least think about it.”

He pats my knees
beneath the blanket. “I will.”

I grasp at his hands.
“I came to visit you last night when you were concussed. I was so worried about
you. Do you feel okay? ”

“I’ll be fine.” He
offers a reassuring smile. “I heard you but I couldn’t respond. I came around
in the early hours and paid you a visit but you were sleeping.”

“You did!”

He nods. “But enough
about me, how are you feeling? Ready to come home?”

I’m nodding my head
and the bed is shaking.

He’s laughing at my
overly animated response. “It feels good to be here, with you.”

“That’s because it’s
where you belong,” I state smartly.

He offers a
tight-lipped smile. “Yes. It is.”

Nurse Lorna makes her
presence felt with a cough. “Excuse me Mr. Stone, but I would like to take
Elizabeth’s blood pressure and temperature now.”

He pulls a
disgruntled face and takes a backwards step. “Go right ahead. She’s all yours
for the next ten minutes.”

I watch him head off
into the bathroom; the door is ajar and I make a point of observing him.  I’m
tracing the line of his broad shoulders and muscular back; the way he fills his
jeans front and rear. No wonder my heart rate is a little high, suddenly. He
winks at me and it skips a beat. Oh, how I’ve missed this husband of mine.

Lorna inflates the
cuff at the top of my left arm and catches me looking. She leans in to whisper.
“He came here last night in the early hours and stayed for half an hour, just
watching you sleep.”

“He told me.” I smile
and continue my visual inspection, a little unsettled by the fact he is looking
at himself in the mirror. There’s nothing strange about that, except for the
intensity of his look and the time elapsing; it smacks of narcissism. Perhaps
it has something to do with the cut to his cheekbone and the likelihood of a
scar. But that wouldn’t have bothered him before. He’s not a vain man; he has
simply been blessed with good looks and a generous helping of charm. Yet, I
look at him now and I wonder …

For a minute longer
he practises his movie star smile and turns this way and that, playing with his
fringe …

“There, all done.
Everything is perfectly normal, Elizabeth but, if you take my advice, you’ll
try and calm yourself down and resist any … urges for the next couple of days.”
She tips her head in Ayden’s direction and smiles shrewdly.

All I can do is smile
innocently in response to her observation. She’s right of course. I still have
to recuperate from my stomach operation. That’s just one of my battle scars I
have yet to inspect.

“All done?” Ayden
asks, returning to my side.

“Yes. All your wife
needs now is rest and lots of attention, Mr. Stone.”

“Oh, I think I can
arrange that,” he states humorously. “I’ll call Lester and have him bring the
car around.”

“Please wait until I
can arrange for a wheelchair.” She turns to me. “Would you like me to help you
get dressed?”

I shake my head. “No
thanks. I think I can manage.” Once again, I slide my legs out of bed and
cautiously place my feet on the floor, mentally counting the number of steps it
will take to reach the bathroom.

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