The sky is greying. A cover of overcast has followed them from the Lake District and all thoughts of Coniston are on the back burner. Olivia has used the drive to explain the situation to Nick as he wouldn’t stop asking what it was that made their journey so instantly important. After he had found out, he still felt the need to talk her out of it. The conversation had been short.
They are pulling up to Nicole’s house right now.
She had been here once when they were in high school, for a party. Nicole’s parents had been out of town and she had invited a bunch of people over for a good old piss up. The night had been dispersed by the police as they were all underage drinking. Nicole and Olivia had jumped over her back fence and disappeared into the night. It was one of the best nights she’d had in her life and it is with a heavy heart that she returns with anger for this old friend.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Nick asks. Olivia shakes her head. “No, I don’t want her to feel threatened, I just want to understand the situation.” Olivia climbs out of the car and heads up the garden path. There are Gnomes lining the path and an ornate windmill with a plastic duck on top. Olivia glares at them as though they are the people, she has a problem with. Blood pumping rapidly around her body, she can feel every single pulse, including one in the centre of her brain that she didn’t know was there. She raps on the door. It takes a moment, but Olivia can now hear someone moving around in the house. Light footsteps sound down the stairs and a key is put into the lock. Olivia waits a second and then the door is swung open. Nicole stands before her, in a nighty and dressing gown. Her hair sticks up at odd angles. She is surprised to see Olivia, then takes in some of her facial injuries. “What did you do to your lip?” She asks. Olivia scoffs.
“What? Are you worried this is Caroline’s work? Because of you she knew where I lived…I wasn’t home, Nicole, my Mum was. Caroline attacked my Mum.” Olivia can see the blood leave her face.
“What?” She gasps.
“Why did you tell her where I lived, Nicole? What good did you think could come from that?” Nicole bursts into tears. Olivia turns around and sees Nick watching them from his car, concern written all over his face. She turns back and Nicole is on her knees. “Oh my god. She attacked your Mum?” She wails. Olivia kneels down in front of her.
“Nicole, look at me. I need to know. Did I do something to you? Did I lose you that contract with the school or was Caroline threatening you?” Nicole shakes her head.
“No, no. She didn’t threaten me. I didn’t lose the contract…I…I mean she, she said that she felt bad, for what had happened. She seemed desperate to make amends. Honestly, she seemed a little odd about it. A little frantic and I don’t know…I just thought…” She stops.
“You thought what?” Olivia asks, trying to be gentle about it, despite her irritation.
“I thought she was going to come by and apologise. So, when she kept asking, I eventually said yes. I tried to call you, to give you the heads up, but your phone kept going through to voicemail, so I thought maybe you’d blocked my number.”
“Why would I have blocked you?”
“I don’t know.” She weeps. Olivia rolls her eyes. She’d be more forgiving if it hadn’t been her mum who’d been hurt. “She’s a murderer Nicole. She murdered her husband’s mistress…I mean, she maybe did. She said she did, anyway.” Nicole throws up. “Urgh!” Olivia moves. “Good God.” Nick climbs out the car.
“You good?” He asks.
“Erm…yeah…I think.” Olivia looks down at Nicole. “Are you good? I was just trying to explain why you shouldn’t give out addresses to people without asking first…because they could be murderers.” She’s shocked by this response. “I never knew your stomach was this weak. You always seem so tough!” Nicole waves her hand and shakes her head.
“I’m pregnant…it’s just…morning sickness! I’m okay.” Now Olivia feels bad.
“Oh…well, congratulations.” She says awkwardly. Nicole sits up and looks at the sick on the doorstep. “At least it’s outside.” Olivia nods her head. “Is she okay? Your Mum?”
“She’s okay.” Olivia says. “She’s good.”
“I’m sorry, Olivia. I’m really sorry.” Olivia nods and gives her a thumbs up.
“It’s fine, really…just…don’t do it again. You know, I didn’t even realise you were seeing somebody.” Nicole nods and smiles.
“His name is Henry…he’s upstairs, do you want to meet him?” She offers, wiping sick from her chin and snot on her sleeve. Olivia shakes her head. “Nah, it’s cool. Maybe another time.” Nicole walks back inside and closes the door, leaving Olivia wondering what the hell just happened. She turns and walks back down the drive, where a very confused Nick stands holding her door open. “Don’t ask, because I don’t know.” She says. He nods and closes the car door behind her.
Olivia’s house is somewhat of a mess. There is police tape on the front door. She pulls it away and steps into the house. Nick walks behind her, carrying her bags. Poppy trails behind them. He sets the cases down and looks around. “This is my humble abode.” She announces. Olivia can feel exhaustion catching up with her. She shuffles into the kitchen. “Jesus.” The kitchen is a mess. The window really is smashed apart and there’s a broken chair on the floor. The sun is high over the field and sending golden sparks into the house. “It’s best to leave it. The last thing you want is the police coming by and accusing you of messing with a crime scene.”
“Good point.” She says. She steps over some glass and opens the cupboard; she grabs two beef and tomato pot noodles. Then pauses. “Oh wait…not eating these anymore.” She goes to put them back; Nick takes them from her and flicks the kettle on. “But beef?” She says. He hands her the pot noodle. “Read it.” She scans through the ingredients and is shocked to see there’s no animal product in there whatsoever. The kettle clicks and Nick pours the water over the noodles. Olivia grabs them some forks and leads them up the stairs.
She puts a DVD in the player and jumps back on the bed. Olivia taps the empty space next to her and Nick falls down beside her. “What the?” Nick puts his hand under his back and pulls out a stuffed lion teddy bear. He holds it up to Olivia and wiggles its arms. “Who’s this little guy?” Olivia grabs the lion, her cheeks blush.
“Yeah? And what’s his name?” Olivia sits the teddy on her stomach and elbows him in the ribs. He laughs.
“Aslan.” He nods approvingly.
“Good name.” The film starts and Poppy runs up the stairs. She jumps on Olivia’s bed and curls down by their feet. They chomp away at their noodles. The scene is relaxed. Normal. It’s so standard and laid back. The day could not have been more irregular if they’d tried and yet, when the dust is settled, these humans can still find a way to be…well…human. And humans as they are, are not built with the capacity to stay awake all night and not feel that on an exhausting level. It’s not long before the couple pass out.
Olivia wakes, what seems like a moment later, but is in actual fact, several hours later. The sky outside is still bright, even though the clouds cover the sun in a dense smog. This is more like the summers in England that Olivia is accustomed to. She stretches and looks around. Nick is gone. She rises from her bed and heads downstairs, her body aching from her tiredness. “Hey.” Nick sits in the living room. There’s a cool breeze coming from the hole in the kitchen window – another tell-tale sign that summer is drawing to an early end. Nick leans back on the couch, reading through some papers. “What’re you reading?” He sits up and beckons her over. She approaches and sits on his knee; he wraps a hand around her waist. She can now see what he is reading. It’s the scenes that Isabelle had sent over at the lake house. “Where did you get these?” She asks. He gazes at them fondly.
“When I was packing up my office, before we left, I saw them on the printer…I put two and two together and came up with Isabelle asking you to read these for some reason.” Olivia takes the scenes from him. “She did…she sent them over the day you got back, before everything got so messy. Well, messier. She wants me to record myself performing these scenes and then she’ll show them to some other people, and then…who knows…are you mad?” He pulls his head back to get a better view of her. “Am I mad?” He’s shocked. “Of course, I’m not mad. I want this for you, I just, I want you to know that I have no say in it. If I did, though, hands down you’d be the lead.”
“Really?” He nods.
“If I’d have met you before I wrote this book, I’d have probably based Lucinda on you…and she would still stay exactly as she is now. I’m not sure I’m a big believer in fate, but if I were, then I’d say this part was written for you.” She kisses him, dropping the pages to the floor. They float down like feathers to the ground. Olivia leans over him, kissing him deeply. Nick moans a little, and Olivia takes that as a good sign, so she kisses on, pushing him down into the couch. He mumbles…he’s trying to speak. She leans up, looking at him expectantly. “What?” He sits up.
“We’re doing this now.” Olivia laughs at him.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to make happen.” She says, flirtishly. He shakes his head.
“No, not this.” He picks up the pages. “This.” Olivia stands up. She’s not sure she’s ready. She takes the pages from him. “I’ve not even learned these yet.”
“Get to it then. Do you have a tripod?” She points to a cupboard under the stairs. Nick walks over to it and rummages through some things until he returns with a sleek black tripod. He stands it up in the middle of the room and puts his phone in the vice, turning on the camera. “We’ll do a few takes, just you reading from the script, you can get a feel for it and I’m sure the lines will just sink in.” Olivia nods. She’s never been one to shy away from a challenge and can imagine this will be just like high school and the plays she had performed in when she was little.
Her first performance had been in the local church’s nativity. An experience she will never forget, though not for the best reasons. She had wanted to play an angel, but she’d been one of the more rugged children. The pretty girls got to play the angels and Olivia had gotten stuck playing one of the three shepherds. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she had forgotten her cue on opening night and had to go running down the middle of the pews to the stage after a very cross stage manager had shoved her on. Maybe not her finest performance, nevertheless, she had loved every second. This might be a little different than that.
Nick waits for her. She reads through the pages a few times then hands them to Nick. “Wait, you know them already?” She nods. Her memory is not a let-down. She’s always had a talent for memorizing things, when she cares to pay attention. “You’ll have to read the lines of Philip.”
“Okay.” Nick seems even more keen than Olivia. He reads in the parts and Olivia talks with him. She is a little nervous and feels more than a little silly, however, Nick makes the whole thing feel quite natural. He doesn’t put much drama behind Philips lines, perhaps to help Olivia’s lines stand out. They are performing a part of the book where Lucinda is explaining why she has never ventured beyond the lake before and Philip is trying to convince her to visit the house where she can meet all these new people. Lucinda is afraid, understandably and is wondering whether she can trust Philip or not. Philip is being kind and he offers words of wisdom; Lucinda listens and eventually agrees to go with him on the condition that he takes her back home afterwards and that he keeps her safe. Olivia remember those pages. She remembers how she felt reading them but tries to forget those feelings. Instead she tries to imagine how Lucinda would feel saying them. What that must be like, to wake up in a stranger’s house, with no one in the world who could come and save her if he were to turn out to be a bad man. Yes. She could imagine how terrifying that would be. How scary the world would seem from that tiny cottage by the lake. She reads those lines like she is truly Lucinda and she is really trying to explain to Nick – to Philip – what life has been like alone. She ends with a shudder in her voice as she asks the man, who’d pulled her from the lake, to keep her safe.
Nick leans back against the chair. He inhales. “Was it bad?” Olivia asks, petrified for the answer. Nick shakes his head. He leans forward and gets the camera ready to record. He stands and moves Olivia into a position with a blank background then sits back down again. “Exactly how you just did it. Do that again.” He hits record on his phone. Olivia takes a second to gather her thoughts, then she begins. The words flow through her. For a brief moment, Olivia Monroe is gone, and Lucinda remains. There’s no past, no present, no future that doesn’t belong to her. She says the lines like they are words fresh from her mouth for the first time. She experiences them and pushes as much emotion as she can into them. Where her voice had shuddered during the rehearsal, she now allows a tear. It runs down her cheek and rests in the corner of her mouth. Nick hits stop and applauds. “Any more secret talents I need to know about?” She smiles at him. “A few you’re lucky enough to have access to.” He understands what she means but isn’t biting. He takes the phone from the tripod and taps about on his phone for a moment. There is a whoosh and he sets it back down on the arm of the chair. “Wait, did you just send that?” He nods. “I did.”
“You sent it to Isabelle?”
“Why didn’t you let me see it first?” He wags his finger at her.
“Because, if I’d have shown it to you, you’d have found faults with it that weren’t there. Trust me…it was great. Now all you have to do is wait, maybe you’re someone they want to see for the part, maybe you’re not. Either way, I’ll do whatever I can to get you a job on the film.” She hugs him. “You’re too good.”
“I try.” He says innocently. He pulls her in for a kiss, but she stops just before their lips meet.
“Wait – you never told me what happened with Ian, Emily and Loui. When I came out of the hospital, they were gone.” Nick raises his eyebrows.
“Well,” he rubs his neck, “Ian wasn’t too happy that I’d brought Loui over here without telling him about everything. I’d actually called him on our way back from Paris and told him the situation and my plan.”
“What was your plan, exactly?”
“My plan was to bring Loui over here, so nobody made any rushed decisions, then stick them together for a few weeks and see if they managed to stick it out. What they had in Paris was fuelled by alcohol mostly and they were together during brief intervals of time. I figured that if they could stick it out, being in each other’s company for a solid set of time, then Ian should let Emily head to Italy and spend a year out there with Loui. It’s not like they’re so far away that somebody couldn’t fly out and assist if they needed it. Ian thought the idea was semi decent and he’s humouring me. Loui is staying at Emily’s home with my brother and sister-in-law and we’ll just have to wait and see how the next few weeks plan out. If by the end of summer, all is well, then I’ll deal with Pierre and convince him that his son needs the freedom to make his own choices.” Olivia tries to take in all the information.
“Wow.” Is all she can put together.
“Yep.” Nick nods. “Like I said, he was a little pissed I hadn’t told him sooner, and Emily was even more pissed that I’d told him at all…I stand by it. I think it’s going to work out for everyone.” Olivia believes it will. It feels like the past few months she has been forced into a test. It’s as though some greater being is pushing her to her limits and now she’s on the flat out run to the finish line. Maybe things could work out for the best. A surge of optimism fills Olivia and she suddenly feels an extreme sense of confidence. She kisses Nick deeply and just as he is really getting into it, she pulls away and stands up. “Right,” she declares, “I’m going for a shower.” Nick sits back against the couch, forced out of his seductive mood. “And you’re coming with me.” She says to him. A smile breaks out on his face. Her favourite thing to see right now. Nick Odis’ smile. It gives her the feeling like she can do anything in the world. And she will.