Chapter Twenty-One

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By the time Oliver felt ready to leave the island, confident that he had achieved a better understanding of the night Cassidy had spent stranded on the rocks like flotsam in a tumultuous sea it was dark, and the crossing had flooded over yet again. Fortunately, they weren't the only two men left behind. One family had hired a boat so that they could watch the sun set from the isolated patch and offered to give them a ride back to the mainland rather than leaving them to brave the night in the ruins alone. As a means of repaying their kindness, Oliver and Finn offered to undertake the task of rowing. When they moored at the dock and tied the dinghy securely they found that their hands were blistered from the task and riddled with splinters from the old oars.

They had no idea of finding the café open at such a time, nor of Cassidy being in any mood to talk to Oliver when she was probably safely tucked into bed at home with her cat warming her toes. Together, Finn and Oliver walked slowly through the sleepy town and returned to Bill's terraced house with its narrow walled rear garden and ancient sash windows which were so warped with age that they never sat flush or closed properly. It was in this house that Finn and Abigail had been raised under their grandfather's care. Photographs in silver frames sat upon the white wooden shelves which had been fitted at either side of the board chimneybreast in the cramped sitting room. The wingback chairs and two-seaters sofa were upholstered in white fabric covered with large repeated patterns of garish pink and orange florals which matched the handmade curtains hanging in the small window. Bill's wife had seen to upholstering everything herself in her younger days and, since her death, Bill hadn't found the courage or heart to replace them. Upon the walls were higgledy-piggledy frames of all shapes and sizes containing black and white photographs of their long-dead ancestors, watercolours of manor houses, boarding schools and businesses where they'd worked, and cross-stitches depicting homely sentiments. Inside the deep fireplace was an electric heater made up to look like an old log burning stove. The chimney above it had been sealed up to keep the cold air out and the warm air in, but antique brass utensils were still prominently displayed around the fire, along with an empty coal scuttle and shovel. Overhead, the ceiling had been painted white and the beams were black. Oliver had never thought to ask if they served some structural purpose or if they were simply there for aesthetic reasons and to render anyone over six-feet tall unconscious.

The men entered through the white washed cottage door and dropped onto the reclaimed mahogany church pew in the hall to take off their shoes. Bill was very particular about them tracking mud and sand through the house and onto the old rugs in each room. The staircase sat in the middle of the house as a divider between the living room and dining room which was a cluttered display of crockery that was never to be used – except, perhaps, if the Queen appeared – reproduced silverware with fake ivory handles, a mahogany writing desk with splintered drawers and smart gold handles, and an old black rotary phone with a brass dial. The only modern item to be found was a small television on a table behind the door so Bill could watch the news while he took a late dinner before bed.

The kitchen had been refurbished some twenty-years ago and despite the ever-changing interior trends, it had stood the test of time. Despite Finn and Oliver's offer of paying for a refurbishment of the space, Bill had assured them that it would serve him well enough. The men couldn't help but think that he was against the idea of removing anything his wife had a hand in selecting or creating, which was why a man with such simple tastes found himself surrounded by antiques and knick-knacks.

'You're back late,' he observed as he drummed his fingers against the counter and waited for the juddering white plastic kettle to boil. 'Did you have dinner?'

'No,' Finn replied. 'Got any leftovers?'

'In the fridge.'

Finn crouched to rummage through the under-counter refrigerator, moving cling-film covered plates and lifting the lids on Tupperware containers to check their contents. Rather than offer any of his spoils to Oliver, he tipped the few things he wanted into one plastic tub, snatched up a fork from beside the sink, and bade the pair goodnight. Oliver guessed that he'd be upstairs checking on his finances before he went to sleep and had a mind to do the same if he could summon the patience for it. So at home was Oliver in the quaint house that he wasn't shy about grabbing a can of soda and some bread which he dropped into the toaster. Although he didn't have much of an appetite, he knew Bill would worry if he didn't try to eat something before he went to bed.

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