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Authors: Daniela Sacerdoti

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BOOK: Don't Be Afraid
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“Yes. We'll see how it goes. I really want to stay here for a while.”

“I'm sure it will all work out,” Debora said.

The thought was getting stronger and stronger in my mind, but I would discuss it with Margherita before telling Angus or asking Clara herself.

Later on, Margherita and I were sitting in my study at Ramsay Hall. Ramsay Hall was such a big house, that we lived in only a few rooms – five, since Margherita and her children had moved in, compared to the three I used to occupy – and left the rest to the visitors for guided tours.

Lara was at school in Kinnear, and we had an hour before we had to go to collect Leo from nursery, so we had a short time for ourselves. She was nestled in my side, a stolen moment in the middle of our busy lives. But with all that was going on, we were crying out for a bit of time to think and take stock. I needed to offload all the worries I had about Izzy and Angus, and ask Margherita's advice.

“So you're looking for someone to be there when Angus is away?” she asked, and I felt her voice vibrating through my chest as we sat close together. Strands of her hair, silky and soft, were wrapped around my fingers.

“Yes. The problem is, we don't think Isabel will allow a nurse into the house. Angus struggled to convince the doctor not to send someone to check on her every day . . . She barely allows Morag in the house; you can imagine how she would react with a stranger. I mean, she even gets nervous when
I
go to visit them.”

“Oh, I know.
I've
never met her . . .” she said. That was a thorn in my side – my brother's wife had never spoken to my girlfriend, except in writing, when Margherita made cookies or cakes for her and Isabel thanked her with a note. Angus often apologised about it, though it wasn't his fault – and it wasn't Isabel's fault either. Margherita didn't resent it, but it certainly saddened her. And no wonder.

“Yes. That is true,” I replied, full of regret. “The thing is . . . Clara is looking for a job. She used to be a nurse, so she's qualified, but she doesn't have the trappings of a nurse as such: no uniform, no reports to fill, nothing official that is bound to make Izzy feel suffocated. And I have a really good feeling about her . . .”

“What
kind
of feeling?” Margherita asked. To anyone but me, it would have sounded like jealousy. But I knew what she meant.

“Well . . . it's difficult to explain . . .”

“Torcuil, you managed to convince me you see
ghosts
. What is harder to explain than that?”

Margherita was one of the few people who knew my secret, that I could see the dead. The Sight, as we called it, ran in my family, but neither Angus nor Sheila had inherited it. Instead, it had been passed down to my first cousin, Inary. The weird thing was that usually only women inherited the Sight – I was some strange genetic exception.

“Good point. Well . . .” I took a breath. “It's like I've met her before, somewhere. Like I know her already. And there's something else . . .”

Margherita raised her eyebrows in a silent question.

“I saw someone in Angus's house. A woman, at the window. Though, obviously, she wasn't really there. I just
saw
her there.”

“What does it have to do with Clara?”

“Well . . . for a moment I thought it might be her. But no, that's not possible,” I shrugged. “Her face was blurred, I can't be sure, and anyway it makes no sense.”

“What was the woman doing?”

“She was crying.”

“Right. I'm not sure if that's a good omen . . .”

“An omen? You're beginning to talk like a Ramsay!”

“Well, I
have
been living with you for a year . . .” She smiled, and curled up into me even more. I stroked her black hair, smooth under my touch.

“So, what do you think? Should I try to convince Angus to ask Clara? I mean, to ask her if she would help with Izzy.”

“I think you should follow your instincts. She sounds perfect. She's here, she's a nurse, she's looking for a job. And she'll be living with my mum, so we can keep a close eye on proceedings.”

“Mmmm. It would mean asking a perfect stranger to look after Isabel.”

“She
is
a stranger, but Angus would get her CV, her references. You wouldn't go in blind. Also, everybody is a perfect stranger to Isabel. Including me.”

“She doesn't mean it—”

“I know, I know. I don't mind, I promise. Well, I
do
mind, but I don't hold her responsible. What I mean is, you and Angus have a fight on your hands as it is, to get Isabel to accept someone in her home. If you have such a good feeling about Clara . . .”

“I do.”

“Even if you saw her crying at the window?”

“It couldn't have been Clara. And we don't have that much time to make a decision . . . I don't know how understanding they'll be with Angus, if he keeps not turning up at rehearsals. He's only on trial, he's not a fully fledged member, and . . .”

“I can always cancel a couple of jobs, you don't need to worry about that. The problem is, will Isabel let
me
in?”

“Oh, God, it's all so difficult,” I said, suddenly overwhelmed. Margherita placed a soothing hand on my cheek, her face upturned to meet my eyes.

“Follow your instinct,” she repeated.

Yes. I would do that. I would speak to Angus about Clara.

10
The roads that lead to nowhere
It was always you and me
Against the world

 

Angus

My phone rang while I was in the shower, trying to wash away some of the tension from my aching muscles, and I jumped on it with a thumping heart. It could have been news from the hospital.

“It's me.” Torcuil. I paused for a moment, letting my heart go back to normal. “Is this a good time to talk?” I was dripping on the floor, with a towel wrapped hastily around me, but I wanted to hear what Torcuil had to say – I heard urgency in his voice.

“Yes, of course.”

“I might have found someone for Isabel. A former midwife and nurse, who's looking for a job.”

“Right,” I said, guarded.

“Remember the woman in Peggy's shop? Clara?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

“That's her. She's boarding at Debora's now. Like I said, she's fully qualified. She's looking to stay in Glen Avich. And she
is
lovely . . .”

“But there's more to it than that, isn't there?”

“What do you mean?”

“You were practically staring at her in Peggy's shop. You had that weird look in your eyes. The one you get sometimes.”

“You guessed. I had the feeling I'd met her before . . . No, that's not how it was . . .” A short silence. “I had the feeling I knew her
already
.”

I said nothing.

“Also, I met her in the woods near your house.”

“As you do . . .”

“She was out on a walk, and I . . . I don't know, I was on my way home, but I went to your house instead, and there she was . . .”

“So you met her again, and you had that weird feeling again?”

“Sort of.”

“I see.”

“But apart from that, she is
qualified
 . . .”

“You said that already.”

“I think she's worth talking to.”

A pause, while I took a moment to think. I didn't want to be on the phone too long in case the hospital called.

“I have her number . . .” he said again, sheepishly.

“Fine. You convinced me. I'll call Clara, and see what's what.”

11
The way I simply love you
When I call and say
Everything is just too much
When I call and say
Please watch over me

 

Angus

“Clara? It's Angus Ramsay here. I'm sorry to bother you.”

“Oh, hello,” she said in an even, tranquil voice. As if she was not surprised at all.

“My brother gave me your number . . . I was wondering if we could have a chat. About a job.”

“Yes.”

“A sort of nursing job. Home care, I think you'd call it.”

“Sure. That sounds right up my street.”

Again, that calm, that poise. But why wasn't she asking more questions? Maybe she wanted to do it in person.

“Can we meet up today?” I ventured. Bell was coming home from the hospital the next day, so I wanted to sort everything out before then. That was more than I dared hope for.

“Certainly. Where?”

“Ramsay Hall? Around four?” I hadn't asked them yet, but I was sure that Torcuil and Margherita would be fine with it. It just didn't feel right to take people to the house while Bell wasn't here – it would have been like a violation, in a way.

“Perfect. I'll ask Debora for directions. See you later, then. I'll bring my paperwork, so you can see my qualifications and references.”

“Great. Thank you, I know it's short notice . . .”

“That's not a problem.”

Still not curious about what the job was? If it were me, I would have liked to have at least a general idea. But she still wasn't asking any questions, so I took it upon myself to explain more. Just in case she decided then that it wasn't for her.

“It's about my wife, Isabel. She suffers from . . . well, the doctors say she's depressed”

“I understand.”

Did she? Did she really understand the extent of it? Of course not. She might not even have known Bell was in hospital, and the reason for it – unless she'd picked it up on the Glen Avich grapevine. Oh, it was hard to explain. And what if Clara felt it was all too much?

But Torcuil had said he had a
good
feeling
about her.

And Torcuil knew things in strange ways.

“So, see you later,” I said, and I realised my heart was in my throat. It was difficult to talk about Bell, even in a roundabout way. And so much rested on this. So much rested on making sure Bell was safe.

“I'll be there. Thank you.”

“No, thank
you
,” I said, and I meant it.

“Oh, and Angus?”

“Yes?”

“Is Isabel in agreement? I mean, about someone looking after her?”

Good question. That was what was worrying me. One of the million things worrying me, really.

I chose my words carefully. “She is and she isn't. I mean . . . she doesn't know about you. But I think she is ready to try to sort things out. For her, for me. For our family.” My voice was beginning to shake. I needed to stop talking.

That was the thing. I hadn't discussed this with Bell yet.

And it was quite a problem, because I knew for sure she was going to resist with all her might.

12
Weaving
If only I could
Unearth the seeds of destruction
For you I would grow
Sunflowers

 

Angus

I walked along the loch shore, the grass still wet and shiny with dew, white mist rising from the fields – like a dreamscape. The water lapped the shore softly and broke the silence with infinite sweetness – there was never an endless, barren silence around the loch, but a silence that was brimming with life. Its calm seeped inside me, in spite of the chaos in my life. That moment was worlds away from the upset and grief of my home life. And still, one thought kept whirling in the back of my mind – would I be able to keep Bell safe? Safe from her illness, safe from herself? I was waiting for the time she would come home with a mixture of longing and apprehension. Our bed was so empty without her; the house was so empty. I just wanted her back.

I could smell winter on the wind that day. I could see it in the water shining green, rippling softly in the breeze. Autumn was over and the cold days were on their way. My gaze rested on Ailsa, the little island in the middle of the loch. It was covered in larches and pine trees, bent by years and years of wind, and it rose from the water like a mystical vision. When my heart was lighter and my mind clearer, I would come here with my violin and turn the beauty all around me into yet another tune, to add to the many I'd written for this place already.

I came to a stone arch with an iron gate at its centre, just ajar, ready for me. Ramsay Hall sat at the centre of a gravelled space – this was where I grew up, and the ancestral home of my family. It was slowly falling into disrepair, too big for us to look after, and there was no money in the family pot – but Torcuil and Margherita had turned all that around. I couldn't help looking around me in awe of what they'd done. The first thing I saw was the wooden hut, then closed, where tickets were sold, and a National Trust sign just beside it, with a map and opening hours. And then the house, as beautiful as ever, carved in grey sandstone, with a square central building and two wings at its sides. Mighty oak trees, hundreds of years old, surrounded the house like a crown, and deer roamed in fields of grass. From the outbuildings came the low, gentle neighing of a horse.

I walked along the back wall until I reached a small wooden door painted black. It was garlanded by a stunning fuchsia plant, still laden with flowers before winter stripped it with its freezing temperatures. Lined up against the wall were pots of heather – Margherita's touch. In spring and summer, Margherita's pots overflowed with brightly coloured flowers. I remembered how unkempt the gardens looked before she came along. In a way, they looked like Torcuil felt – lonely. But not any more.

“Angus,” my brother greeted me as I knocked softly and let myself in. He still had blue shadows under his eyes. The last few days had taken a lot out of both of us.

“Cup of tea? I made some
torta di mele
. . . apple cake,” said Margherita with a smile. She always had a reason to smile. I didn't think I'd ever seen her grumpy in all the time I'd known her – since that evening when she came to hear me playing and I guessed Torcuil's feelings for her with just one look.

“Thanks. Sorry, I'm a bit early,” I said, taking a seat at their kitchen table, full of Torcuil's papers and books. He must have been working.

“No problem. Clara is due here in ten—”

“Hello?” A pleasant alto voice, coming from outside, interrupted me.

“Hello, come on in!” Margherita got up to open the kitchen door and welcome Clara. She stepped in with a smile that made her eyes crinkle up, her brown hair piled softly on top of her head in an old-fashioned hairdo. I had thought she probably was around my and Torcuil's age, mid-thirties, but that day she seemed ageless. Very old or very young, depending on how you looked at her.

“Sorry, I'm early,” she said, echoing my words.

“Don't worry, we were all ready. Can I get you some mint tea and apple cake?” Margherita offered.

“Oh, you remembered I like mint tea! Thank you, Margherita.”

“Take a seat,” Torcuil said. “Sorry, I'll move some of my stuff . . .”

“He can't help it,” Margherita laughed. “He is naturally messy!”

“All these books . . . What do you do, Torcuil?” asked Clara.

“I'm a lecturer. I teach history in Edinburgh. And Angus is a musician.”

“What do you play?”

“I play the fiddle . . . but tell us about your job. So you were a nurse for years, both in Canada and here?”

“A midwife, actually. Here, I have all the paperwork . . . Thankfully I kept all the important stuff in my hand luggage! The rest of my things are probably in Brazil or something. They lost my luggage,” she explained, handing me a blue folder. We went through her certificates and references while Margherita placed a steaming cup of mint tea in front of her.

“What exactly are you looking for?” Clara asked, wrapping her fingers around the warm cup. I had to say what was in all our minds:
Someone who will watch my
wife so she doesn't try anything stupid again
.

“Someone to keep Isabel company when I'm not around, which, sadly, is often. Someone to see she takes her medicines, who distracts her a little . . .”

Clara was calm. “I find it difficult to accept you would trust me with your wife when you know me so little,” she said, her moss-green eyes clear, open.

Torcuil pushed his glasses up his nose. “Call it skin-deep. We have the feeling you might be the right person.”

“And anyway, the first obstacle is to see if Isabel will let you in the house at all,” I intervened.

“And would you need me to stay over, sometimes? I mean, if you're a musician . . . Are you away overnight often?”

I opened my arms. “Look, it's my job. It's my life. I know I should always be there, but—”

“No, you shouldn't.” Torcuil looked at me, raising his eyebrows. “You do what you do. If you were to give it up for Isabel . . . You would never forgive her. And she would never forgive herself.”

I looked down. I was so lucky to have my brother, always in my corner. Weird, though: we were talking about these family matters in front of Clara and it didn't seem wrong.

“Anyway,” I continued. “This is an especially difficult time for my work. I'm on trial with the Scottish National Orchestra. There are two possibilities here: I stop the trial—”

“Or
I
work out.” Clara finished the sentence for me.

“No pressure, then.” Torcuil attempted a joke.

“It's a lot to take on,” I said.

“But she is the one for us,” my brother intervened, again looking at me. My arms came out in goose bumps.
What does he know?
Like so often with Torcuil, the workings of his mind were a mystery. I could only trust. And I did. I
did
trust him.

“I think I am,” Clara said with a smile. She was still calm, unfazed.

“I haven't told you everything. Bell . . . Isabel is not here at the moment. She's at the hospital. She . . .” I couldn't say it aloud. I couldn't.

She tried
to kill herself.

For a moment, there was silence around the table, and I could almost feel Torcuil and Margherita holding their breath.

“I know,” Clara said in a soft voice.

“I suppose there is no point in asking you
how
you know.” I was trying to keep my voice steady, but I couldn't help my distress creeping in. I cleared my throat.

“It's a small village . . .”

“So you are aware of what we are dealing with?”

“Yes.”

I took a breath. “If you want it, the job is yours. What do you say?”

“I say, yes. If Isabel wants me . . .”

“We'll persuade her,” said Torcuil, but he was tormenting a tea towel in a way that told me he was not
that
confident.

I looked around at everyone. “Well, that's the easy part done.” I felt a lump in my throat.
Please let me persuade her
, I prayed silently.
Please
convince Bell to let Clara into her life.
But I knew it didn't work like that – ultimately, Bell would make her own decision. It would be up to her to accept Clara or not.

To try to walk on the road to recovery, or stand still and suffer.

All the help in the world was there, if she accepted it.

My Bell. My Bell and her battle.

“You wouldn't give me a guided tour of this beautiful place?” Clara asked, and with that, the tension burst like a bubble.

We walked through room after room, each of them spotless, with the most beautiful furniture pieces. Dotted here and there were signs from the National Trust, explaining the history and use of each room. It was strange, to see these spaces we used to live in as children cordoned off and shown to the public. I remembered playing hide-and-seek here with my siblings, reading books on the antique sofas, stepping without thinking on the precious mosaicked floor of the music room, keeping our clothes in the intricately carved wardrobes, sitting for dinner in the light of precious chandeliers. It was all normal, for us. Just the way life was.

“Look, there's even a treasure hunt you can do. For children,” Torcuil said, handing Clara a piece of paper. “Margherita's son – he's four now – must have done it a hundred times!”

“Let me see. Find the beast of the north . . . Oh, up there!” She pointed to the big framed painting of a polar bear. “My children would have loved this too, when they were little.”

“You have children?” asked Margherita. But Clara was not forthcoming.

“This is great. You are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place . . .” she said, gesturing to encompass it all.

“It was Margherita. She turned this place around.” Torcuil gazed at Margherita for a moment, and the love was evident in his eyes. I was reminded of what had been between Isabel and Torcuil, and how it was now truly buried.

“Not true! You did just as much!” Margherita protested, but he shook his head.

Finally, Torcuil opened a set of double wooden doors and led us into the grand hall, its ceiling painted blue and dotted with silver stars and baby angels. Clara couldn't take her eyes off the fresco, and she wandered around for a while, looking up.

“And that, there, is my house.” I pointed to one of the enormous arched windows. Among the greenery, we could see the whitewashed cottage standing alone across the loch.

I imagined Bell there, waiting for me.

We stood outside in the chilly afternoon air. Now that the decision had been made, I was a bit calmer. Clara's serenity seemed to have rubbed off on me, at least to some degree.

“So, tomorrow at ten? I'll text you if there are any problems . . . I mean, if Bell really is adamant that she's not ready to see you we can work around it, and rearrange . . .”

“Tomorrow,” Torcuil repeated, and our eyes met. I could feel we shared the same trepidation, but we also shared the same hope. “She will let Clara in. I
know
it.”

I wasn't so sure, but I knew I would do anything in my power to make this happen.

“We'll be fine,” Clara said, and again I felt like I could breathe.

Margherita broke the short silence. “I was wondering . . . I need to go and get my son at my mum's, but why don't you stay for dinner?”

“You're very kind, but tonight I'd rather be on my own. There is so much to take in, and I'm still a bit jet-lagged.”

Margherita was sympathetic. “You must be. It's a long way from Canada.”

“A long way indeed,” said Torcuil, and once again he looked at Clara in a way I couldn't decipher.

I, too, turned down the invitation to stay at Ramsay Hall. I needed time to think. I spent the evening alone, sitting at the window, listening to music. I watched day turn to night and wished it was time to see Bell already, to have her back here, where she belonged.

And then, after a few hours of tormented sleep and two cups of strong coffee, it was time to go to the hospital and finally, finally take Bell home.

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