Olivia wakes on the grass. A single daisy in front of her eyes as she lies on her side. She has spent the night outside a tiny guest house, which stands at the side of the lake house, underneath a canopy of trees. Olivia didn’t even know it was there until Nick told her that’s where Emily would have gotten to. It used to be a barn and had been converted a few years ago. It stands as a stark contrast to the rest of the house. The guest house is more like a small log cabin, with one floor. It has a chimney on the side, so Olivia knows there is a fireplace of some kind inside, but beyond that she has no idea of the interior design. Emily slept in there last night, with the doors locked and the lights off. Nick had tried speaking to her and when he had pulled out the spare key to let himself in, Emily had barricaded the door with a sofa. After a few hours of banging on the door and offering empty threats of breaking through the window, Nick had come back into the house and Olivia had traded places. She had spent a great deal of time trying to coax her out. She tried everything, apologising, complimenting, bribing and eventually she tried explaining how her feelings couldn’t be helped. All of which had no effect on Emily. Olivia had doubted that she was in there at all and considered the idea that Emily had hopped out of the back window and was away into the fields; that was until she heard her rummaging around and bottles clanging. Olivia shed many tears nevertheless her pleas could not be heard. Eventually, Olivia had worn herself out and passed out on the floor by the front door, still wet through from her near-death experience.
This morning she is near enough dry, thanks to the heat of this current British summer. She sits up and rubs her eyes, squinting slightly at the brightness of her surroundings. She turns and taps on the door. “Em. Emily?” She calls. “Are you still there?” There’s no reply. The only sound it the swishing of the lake. “Em.” She whispers, knowing that she can’t hear her but instead, saying a silent prayer as her name. A prayer that asks, not for her forgiveness, but for her happiness. Knowing that it’s best to give her space now, she stands and heads back to the house.
When she walks into the kitchen, Nick is stood by the counter. He is pouring out two cups of coffee and trickles some coconut milk in both. Olivia feels a fondness that he is still supporting her attempt at going dairy free, despite the terrible situation they’re in. “Thank you.” She says as he hands her the cup. She takes a sip and he watches her, then reaches out a hand and pulls a leaf from her hair. They stand quiet for a moment. A clock is ticking somewhere in the room. Olivia can smell the heat, already building outside, despite the early hour. She turns and looks out the window, across the lake. A roll of, what looks like steam, is lifting from the water. A tiny bird lands on the ledge outside for a brief moment of rest before fliting off again. The silence is deafening. Olivia wants to say that she is sorry for causing the upset, but she doesn’t want Nick to feel that it was a mistake. He probably does. He squashes the idea by breaking the stillness. “I don’t regret it.” He says. Olivia looks to him and sees his face is trying to communicate how serious he is about his statement. The silence falls again. She notices he is still in the same clothes as yesterday, as well. He probably hasn’t slept all night. Olivia searches for the words. They finally come. “It’s not what I came here for.” Nick nods by way of response. Olivia steps a little closer to him, the way one might approach a wounded animal. “It’s not. I came…not just because my face is messed up and I needed to hide from my mother but…I needed this escape, to clear my head…I’m lost.” He frowns in contemplation.
“Lost?” He asks. She nods.
“Lost.” She leans against the counter to the right of him so she can gaze out the window while she searches for a more eloquent way to explain herself. She thinks she can see a boat in the distance. Not unusual. It’s the visual aid she needed. “Like I’m lost at sea, really.” She laughs to herself a little. “Sounds corny, I know. It’s the best way I can describe it. I feel like I’m floating in the middle of the sea and I’m surrounded by islands. All, very good islands. It’s just that, none of them are where I want to be forever. I can’t find a place to call home. Even when I think I see a piece of land that looks safe enough and warm enough, I don’t know how to steer the ship in the right direction…to put it simply, I have no idea what I’m doing. With anything. I’m floating.” He smiles at her.
“I get it.” He whispers. She stands in front of him, sets her coffee down and takes his cup from his hands, setting it next to hers. She holds his hands. “I don’t regret it. I don’t want it to be the last time it happens. The way I feel when I’m around you…” She laughs. “You’re the ship.”
“Interesting analogy.” He teases. She hands him back his coffee and then takes another sip of hers. “It’s true. I might not have a clue what I’m doing or where I’m heading, but at least for the moment I feel safe. Safe is enough.”
“Yeah. For now. I mean eventually I’d like a job. Preferably one with lots of creativity and sacks and sacks of money.” They laugh at the idea. Nick contemplates something.
“Look, I know it was said as a joke, but if you were serious about being in this film…I mean…I can always ask Isabelle? I can’t promise as much as an audition but maybe there’s a job she could get you on the set? I don’t know where they’re filming; I’m sure there will be some form of travel involved.” He is clearly excited by the prospect of providing Olivia with her idea of a dream job. Olivia feels a pang of guilt that she hasn’t told him she knows the truth. She walks away without a word, pottering up the stairs. He watches her go. She is gone only a moment and then returns carrying the book. She waves him over to join her in the sitting room. “This feels serious.” He says.
“Well it could be. I suppose it depends on your reaction to what I have to tell you.” He sits down on the armchair across from her. Olivia plonks herself on the coffee table in front of him. She turns the front cover of the book to face him. “I know you wrote this.” Nick smiles like he can’t help it, then rubs the back of his neck. He appears uncomfortable. “Well that’s awkward.” He jokes. Olivia is actually relieved by his reaction. She’s not certain what she expected but that wasn’t it. “Why awkward?” She asks. Nick shakes his head. “Nick, why is it awkward?”
“Not awkward…more…a little embarrassing. I haven’t told anyone about the book. No body besides Pierre and everyone else involved in the purchase of the film rights.” Olivia is aghast.
“Why on earth not? Nick, this book is…well it’s fantastic! Clearly other people think so too, otherwise why would they be making it into a film?”
“I don’t know. Writing was always something I’d put on the back burner, professionally speaking. I guess, I just thought that if I published it under my name, no one would see it as anything more than a publisher trying to use his position to get ahead.” Just as Olivia had thought. “And now?” She asks.
“And now I’m really excited to share the news with my family. I just can’t seem to rip off that bandage. What if they hate it?” He looks shy. A new look on him.
“They won’t hate it. I know they won’t hate it.” There’s one more thing playing on Olivia’s mind. “Do you maybe think that you’re attracted to me because I look like Lucinda?”
“Liv…look like? You don’t just look like her, you’re exactly like her. The fierceness, the capabilities, the way she’s one with nature and how kind she is. You’re all the good things about her. And whilst, yes, your appearance took me by surprise, and it is what drew me in…you’re a stand-alone experience of a human being. You’re funny and smart, you’re strong and loving, and you consider life in a way most people supress. You’re not afraid to be afraid. That’s why I like you.” She grins. He returns the smile. “How’d I do?”
“Annoyingly well…So I really could play this part?” She laughs.
“They’d be lucky to have you bring this character to life. I couldn’t think of anyone more fitting.” They toy around with the idea for a little making jokes about premiers and award shows.
Olivia picks up an olive oil bottle from the side and pretends it’s an Academy Award. “I’d like to thank Nick, for taking a chance on the new kid on the block. I’d like to thank my Mum…who I still haven’t emailed! Crap.” Nick waves her on.
“Carry on, it’s a good speech!” He calls. She composes herself.
“I’d like to thank, Emily, my best friend…” She halts and drops the bottle to her side. Nick stands and takes the bottle from her, setting it to the side. “Do you think she’s okay?” Olivia whispers.
“She will be. She just needs more time. You know her, Emily is tough and in love with the idea of romance. When she comes around, she’ll be happy for us…I think…I hope she will be happy for us.” Olivia leans in and he holds her. She rests her head against his chest and can hear the steady beat of his heart. “Not to kill the mood,” he grunts, “but I’m leaving for Paris first thing in the morning…are you going to be okay?” Olivia pulls back from him.
“You’re leaving me in my hour of need?!” She cries dramatically. “Fine, but if you come back and I’m tied to the dock with a dagger in my chest and Emily has ran for the hills, you’ll only have yourself to blame.” He laughs.
“I’ll bare that in mind.” An idea comes to Olivia.
“In fact! Why don’t you just bring her back an amazing present? Like chocolates or a Chanel bag? Ooh! I know! You could bring her back a letter from Loui!” Nick laughs loudly at this. “Liv, do you know they’ve been emailing?” Olivia did not know that.
“But she made it sound like she wasn’t in contact with him.” She is hurt by the fact that Emily didn’t share this news with her. Why had she hidden the truth? “Don’t be hurt by it. Like I said, Emily is in love with the idea of romance. Her and Loui have been planning to run away together after the summer. She was going to meet him in Italy, they’re to meet in Rome and travel by train to Venice. She plans to make a living by painting portraits on the sidewalks for tourists.”
“What?!” Olivia exclaims. “She was running away? How could she not tell me that?”
“You can’t tell her you know; I’m not even supposed to know.”
“How do you know?” She asks. He rubs his temple and paces a little.
“Okay…I may be a really chilled out uncle, but Pierre is not a really chilled out Dad, and whilst I’m absolutely respectful of Emily having her own privacy and free will to do whatever she wants to do with her life, Pierre doesn’t feel the same way about Loui. He frequently reads his sons emails and texts and checks his call logs. When he found out the plans they had to run off, Pierre called me in a rage. He expected me out there to fix the issue weeks ago, but I told him I absolutely had to stay here and settle Emily in at the Lake house before I could fly out. It was going to be my way of taking her away from her Mum and my brother long enough to have a real conversation about her future.” Olivia’s head is spinning. She can understand now, why he had spent so long in his office. He must have been arranging the finer details of the intervention. Olivia’s stomach drops. “This is the last thing she needs right now. I’m sorry but I think everyone who isn’t Emily and Loui, needs to stay out of it. They’re adults. Who are we to get in the way of that? I’m sure Pierre is a very respectable person in the publishing world but in reality, he sounds like a bit of a dick. He needs to butt out of his son’s life and let him choose his own path.” She is breathing rather heavily. Nick takes a step back and leans against the wall. He crosses his arms over his chest and smiles sideways. “Are you finished?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“Good…because I’m taking care of it.”
“You are?” He nods. “Oh…how?” She asks. He taps the side of his nose and heads up stairs. “Where are you going?” She calls up. Nick looks down over the banister.
“I’m taking a shower, then heading into town, then I’m going to bed because I haven’t slept all night and I have an early flight tomorrow, and on top of that, I’m going to be playing cupid for the next few days.” She grins up at him.
“I can’t picture you in a toga.” He winks.
“I’m going to fix this, I promise. It’ll all be okay. Just give me some time.” He walks away. She trusts him. She does. He will fix everything. She just has no idea how.
Emily doesn’t leave the guest house for the rest of the day. Olivia stays in her room so that, if Emily wanted to come back in for food, she could, without having to see her with Nick. She spends her time taking a shower, to wash off the lake water and after dressing in dry clothes, she sets back on her bed to finish the rest of Nicks book. As she turns the last page, a tear rolls down her cheek. “Wow.” She gasps. The ending shook her to her core.
It just so happens that Philip didn’t really exist. None of those people did. The house in the distance, the dog, the father who hugged her and everyone she had met after that. None of them were real. They were all in her head. She had grown so tired of being lonely that her mind had made her think she was seeing people she had known from her past. When she was drowning, she had saved herself by using a broken tree to haul herself out. She had bandaged her own leg and had built her own fire. When she awoke after days unconscious, her mind had finally snapped, and she filled her days with fictional people. Her memories return painfully to reveal that the virus had been around for a century when she was born. Her mother had died giving birth to her and her father had raised her in the cottage, alone. They knew nothing of the outside world and foraged for themselves. Her father had taught her everything. Everything turned for the worse when her father had fallen from a great height and hit his head, she found him unconscious and he never woke up. For days she had tried to nurse a corpse back to health, until finally she laid his body on a self-made raft, set it alight and pushed it out onto the lake. At the very end of the book, the girl has used her imaginary guides to lead her back into what turned out to be a fully functioning society who help her regain her memories and regrettably inform her that the virus had been wiped out fifty years ago. Her father and mother had been too afraid to leave their safe cottage and Lucinda had unknowingly followed in their footsteps. She finds herself in a whole new world, surrounded by strangers and unprepared for their way of life. The last page reads:
“Lucinda stands on the balcony of the hospital, staring out onto a foreign land below. It is the start of the end. The beginning of her life and the closing of a wild chapter. Though she is, for the first time in her life, surrounded by people, Lucinda has never felt more alone. She leans over the edge, clings onto the rail and looks to the drop below. She considers how easy it would be to just let herself fall. To run away for ever into the darkness of eternity. She closes her eyes, the howling wind blowing her raven hair around her face and she pictures her home. The cottage by the lake. She imagines she is there again on the edge of tranquillity. A lost soul on the verge of heaven. She takes a deep breath and Lucinda Gerald lets go of the rail.”
That’s the ending. Olivia can’t stand it. She jumps out of her bed and runs into Nick’s room. He is sleeping, but she doesn’t care. The room is dark, save for the light pouring in from the open door. She grabs hold of his shoulders and shakes him awake. He wakes with a start. “What’s going on? What’s wrong? Is Emily okay?” He sits up.
“Is she dead?”
“Lucinda, is she dead?” She asks frantically. “She let go of the rail, but it doesn’t say if she falls or not. Did she fall? Is she dead? Did she really kill herself?” Nick sits up. Tears are running down her face. He wipes them away. “It’s open to interpretation. Whatever you want to have happened is right.” Olivia shakes her head.
“That doesn’t work for me. In your mind, Nick; in your mind, did she fall?” He purses his lips then answers. “In my mind? No. She doesn’t fall. She carries on, because that’s who she is. She’s strong. That’s how I wrote her, and I left it open to interpretation because people discuss those things. I wanted the readers to discuss her strength and if I’d written her properly, everyone would argue that she wouldn’t have let herself fall. She wouldn’t have given in.” Olivia looks into his eyes, trying to gauge whether or not he was lying for her benefit. No. He’s being truthful. “What do you think she does?” He asks, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“She didn’t fall. She wouldn’t if you paid her.” She smiles warmly. Nick leans up and kisses her. She returns the kiss and leans forward. It would be so easy for her to keep kissing him, to stay with him all night until he had to leave in the morning, but as one, as though sharing the same thought, they part. “Maybe that’s not a good idea.” He murmurs.
“No. Maybe not the best time.” He nods in agreement. She stands off the bed and exits his room, closing the door behind her. She has her answer. Olivia heads back to her room for the night with optimistic thoughts for tomorrow. She’ll find a way to make Emily happy again. She has to.