She was losing him.
He was slipping away as surely as the seasons, and there was nothing she could do. In the cold October wind Molly Lovell shivered and shrugged her coat closer. In its day it had been a good coat, excellent quality, and she could still remember clearly her mothers glowing face the day she had discovered it in the charity shop.
“Now let them crow,” Zillah Lovell had said triumphantly. “Let them say my daughter ain’t dressed as well as them.” She had not the slightest understanding that clothes were the least of Molly’s problems where school was concerned.
Sighing heavily she dug her hands deeper into its capacious pockets and walked a little closer to the promenade rail. Out of season Tegfa’s small bay looked naked. There were no children squealing as they dodged waves and wasps; no umbrellas or striped deck chairs: No ice cream or kites or candy floss, no noise at all save the seductive whisper of the waves as they kissed the sand. It was a sound Molly had come to despise.
Leaning against rail she scanned the shoreline out towards the rocks that bathed in shallow water even when the tides were out. He was there. Hunched like a crow on Lookout Point. Molly felt her heart leap into her throat as it always did when her mind pictured Lucas Finch. He had befriended her in junior school back when the local girls had made her days unendingly miserable. Their initial fragile connection had blossomed to become a friendship and, in time, what Molly believed to be love. Despite their very different backgrounds she and Lucas had become sweethearts sharing stolen kisses in the shade of the standing stone, Terfel Rock, up on the surrounding hills of Cerridwen Vale. Molly had believed their love would last forever; in fact she had planned to give herself to Lucas completely before the end of the year. But now she was losing him. He was slipping away and there was nothing she could do.
Swallowing back the tears she stepped carefully down the concrete slip and began to pick her way across the sand. Her feet sank slightly with each step until she came to the damp firmness of the tide line, at which point she slipped off her shoes and began to run lightly, ignoring the icy coldness of the shallow water.
As she drew closer Molly could see clearly the wild tangle of dark curls pulling free of Lucas’s collar in the wind. No coat of his ever came from a charity shop; his mother would have had a fit at the thought. As the only son of the only accountant in the Vale of Cerridwen Deidre Finch felt that her son had a certain obligation to live up to his father’s profession even though Marcus Finch earned only marginally more than the farmers who still struggled to carve out a living in the small valley.
Lucas turned and for a moment the grey glaciers of his eyes did not soften but then he grinned and offered up their usual private greeting.
“Hey Molly May, what’s up?”
“Not much,” she answered in kind.
Too late Molly realised she should have said something else; anything else. The scowl that had come to stay on his formerly happy features settled in and glared at her.
“Can I come up?” she asked timidly.
“Since when do you need my permission?” His voice was moody now, petulant in a way she had come to recognise all to well. Her self conscious shrug however brought back the softness to his eyes and he held out a hand to her which she grasped as she scrambled up to sit beside him.
“What are doing out here?” Molly asked cautiously after a while.
“Thinking,” was the terse reply.
“I just thought you might be up at Terfel Rock.” The great stone had become their secret rendezvous, their haven in the days when his mother had had the power to try and keep them apart. Lucas shrugged.
“I prefer to think down here, it’s quieter. Gentler.”
“You never used to think that.”
“Christ, I never used to know how to wipe my own arse either Molly but things change!”
She looked away quickly before he could see the tears threatening to spill over from her pale eyes and allowed the shock of unruly red hair which refused to be tamed to blow across her face. Over the shushing of the waves she heard Lucas sigh heavily.
“I’m sorry Molly, really I am.” She could hardly stop herself from crying at the tenderness in his voice. “This is just a really strange time for me right now.” She nodded mutely, her traitorous eyes downcast as she picked at the loose thread trailing from the hem of her coat. “Christ, don’t do that,” he covered her cold hand with the warmth of his own, “your mum will kill you.”
Molly laughed then. A muffled gulp somewhere between a guffaw and a sob; Lucas was the only other person in the world who knew the significance of her quality coat. She leaned into him batting him playfully on the shoulder and allowing him to put his arm around her and pull her close.
“Don’t cry Moll please,” he whispered into her hair. “I can’t bear it when you cry.”
Her reply was to sniff back the mucous dribbling from her nose and wipe the cuff of her coat over her face. For a long while the two sat silently on the rock sharing their warmth until Molly felt brave enough to speak again.
“Did you hear about The Oyster Shell? John Keane has applied for a licence so he can put on live music.”
“Doubt he’ll get permission for that.”
“He might. He knows all the right people and he gave that idiot Sally Winslow a job in the bar, her father’s on the council.”
“Sally isn’t an idiot,” Lucas said mildly. “You just don’t like her because she likes me.”
“You are so full of yourself Finch!” Molly’s cheeks lit up with a neon red glow as the remark hit home then, remembering quickly that she did not wish to upset Lucas again, she said,” anyway, it means there would be somewhere to go on a Friday and Saturday. He might even get someone good like Show of Hands to come and play there.”
“Fat chance!” Lucas snorted loosening his hold on her and sitting up straighter. “No-one that good would waste their time coming to a shithole like this. I know I wouldn’t!”
“They might,” panic made Molly careless. “They came to Cardiff and played St. Davis’s Hall.”
“That’s the problem with you Molly. Your idea of the big world is a trip up the motorway to fucking Cardiff to look at the big shops!”
“And what’s so wrong with that?” she demanded, her voice rising to meet his.
“If you don’t know,” he began then stopped himself as he caught sight of her stricken face. “Look Moll,” he said gently, “I just need a bit of time to myself OK? I’ll see you later.”
“No wait,” she began but he was already walking across the sand, his footsteps being washed away almost as soon as they formed.
Alone, she allowed her tears to finally come pressing her eyes hard against the bony angles of her knees and when she finally looked up her face was bruised and angry as she screamed at the water,” I hate you, you bitch! I fucking hate you!”
The sea lapped placidly at the base of the rock now that the wind had dropped and was seemingly unmoved by the hatred of the girl perched mermaid like in its waters.
Two summers ago she and Lucas had been inseparable. They had run like hares across the hills cupping Tegfa and they had kissed in the moon shadow of Terfel Rock. Their only interest in the beach had been reserved for the rare occasions when Ally Smart had allowed them a blood quickening gallop on his ponies across the sand in the warm summer evenings when the crowds had cleared and the no riding ban was relaxed. They had spent their days and long into the night in the dark quiet fragrance of the hills listening to the sounds of the owls and rabbits and foxes and their own ever quickening heartbeats.
And then Deidre had intervened. Lucas’s mother did not approve of their friendship and had reasoned that a job would be the perfect way to curtail their time together. But it could not be just any job; as the son of the town’s only accountant Lucas could not be seen behind the counter of any of the small stuffy tourist shops or sweating in the beery summer heat of The Oyster Shell pub. So she had pulled strings and, despite his tender years, Lucas had found himself accompanying Davey Pierce as he ferried tourists around Pedol Bay in his small asthmatic boat so that they could dive and explore the wrecks which lurked beneath the silken surface of the sea.
To begin with Lucas had not changed. He still hurried to meet Molly on the green hills when his working day was done but then, at Deidre’s urging, Davey had begun to hint that he might be willing to allow Lucas to dive himself if he, in his turn, was willing to put in the work and study necessary to learn.
Intrigued by his employer’s description of the bay beneath the waves Lucas had begun to read and become absorbed by the thought of spending time underwater. His conversations with Molly gradually changed from where they would live and what they would do when they were old enough and free enough, to those of cylinder capacities and the relative merits of wetsuits until, at last, Davey had fulfilled his promise and Lucas had lowered himself into the dark mysterious depths of the bay.
From that time on Molly had seen less and less of him during the summer months. She had spent her days alone in the shadow of Terfel Rock with only the sheep and buzzards for company while Lucas lost himself in the wet enveloping embrace of his new love.
When they did meet he seemed changed. His joy in the peaceful unspoiled beauty of the countryside had been replaced by an angry dissatisfaction at the lack of opportunity or entertainment living in Tegfa entailed. He began to talk about leaving; of visiting places like Australia and Africa where the dives were exciting and undertaken in water the colour of turquoise and glass. He spoke about the ocean as if it was a woman; Molly could feel him slipping away and there was nothing she could do.
Then he began to mention the Navy. Molly’s heart had trembled as he spoke of travelling whilst receiving the kind of training that would one day enable him to find a job diving anywhere in the world that he wanted. She had felt her blood freeze in her veins as he talked excitedly of the interview which his mother had managed to set up with one of the local landowners who had once served on the navy selection board and was still very well in with most of his old chums who were still in service on the selection committee.
“I could even go in on a commission,” he had whooped one day then, seeing her face he had stopped and said uncertainly,” what’s wrong Moll? I thought you would be happy for me.”
He had been genuinely puzzled. “Well I would, if it were you in my place.”
“But its not is it? And it never will be. I’m just some dirty little gyppo who was good enough to be with ‘til something better came along.”
“Don’t say that.” He looked stung.
“Why not, it’s true isn’t it?”
“No it’s not.”
“Well I didn’t hear you offering to take me with you.”
Lucas’s face had flushed crimson. “I can’t, not while I’m training anyway.” His voice had faltered and Molly had turned her back on him as he said quietly, if we both feel the same way after I graduate…”
“If?” She had screamed angrily. “IF?”
The argument had driven a wedge between them which many of the local girls had tried to exploit and Molly’s only cold comfort was that Lucas remained faithful entirely to his new love. Free to do so now, he had spent almost every day out on the waters of Pedol Bay in the boat given to him by his parents as a gift for good exam results and they had not really spoken properly together until today.
Shivering Molly realised that the daylight was almost gone. The sea looked sullen now, dark and oily beneath the lowering leaden sky. She was going to get a great deal wetter making her way back to the sand than she had coming out to Lookout Point. As she trudged soggily back up the hill towards the lights of the council estate, where her mother was no doubt preparing tea, Molly brooded on the change in Lucas. How could he not see the glorious beauty of the hills that stretched up all around the town? How could he forget so easily the promises they had made in the hollow at the foot of Terfel Rock?
For the first time in a long time Molly wished her mother had not chosen to leave their own people and make her home here amongst the small minded town dwellers. She wished she could still lean into the smoky warmth of the woman she barely remembered as her grandmother. Queenie Lovell would have known what to do. She would have given Molly a spell or a potion to bind Lucas to her and then Molly would have been happy for the rest of her days.
At the fork in the road she hesitated. To the right lay the warmth and familiarity of home. To the left lay the winding road leading up to the hills and Terfel Rock. A shudder of cold raced through her as the wind returned pushed lazily through Molly instead of going around. Above her the stars were disappearing behind scudding grey clouds and rain was lying heavy in her nostrils. Her mother would be waiting but she would not worry unduly if Molly did not come home. She did not approve of her daughter giving in to the wild Romany blood of her long dead father but she did understand. It might grieve her but she would not reprimand Molly; there were plenty of others willing to run them down without them doing it to each other. With a defiant shake of her wild red hair Molly chose the left hand road and began the long steady climb up into the hills.
By the time the shadow of the ancient menhir loomed above her she was panting and a sheen of sweat made her face glisten in the rare shafts of moonlight that pierced the gathering clouds. The local people told all sorts of tales about Terfel Rock and most of them avoided it which was mainly why Molly and Lucas had claimed it for their own. According to the tales, the rock had powers and sometimes tingled to the touch. It had never been Terfel Rock’s touch that had made Molly tingle but tonight she was desperate and more than ready to believe.
She dredged her memories for any shred of lore which might help her but she had been so young when her Granny had tried to pass on her wisdom and Zillah had worked so hard over the years to eradicate all traces of their Rom blood. A hammering pain began to pulse behind Molly’s eyes telling her that thunder was on its way. The biting edge of the wind turned abruptly to ominous warmth and as she squinted up the first distant flashes of lightening began to cut across the horizon.
Molly remembered being cuddled, held close whilst her Granny’s soft toothless mouth had mumbled into her ear. But what had she mumbled? Molly screwed her eyes tight in an effort to recall but all that came was a word whispered and broken as the gathering wind tried to snatch it away.
Believe. Believe little one and the world will be yours for the asking. Startled she opened her eyes fully expecting to see the old woman standing there before her but all she saw was the outline of Terfel Rock against the slightly lighter sky, its edges smudging now in the falling rain.
Was belief really all it took? She shook her hair, sodden now and dark, and leaned her head back to catch the raindrops in her mouth. The storm was established, its force building with each passing minute and as if whipped by its fury Molly let forth a shriek of agonised pain and screamed her anguish to the hills.
“I love him! I love Lucas Finch and I want him to stay here with me forever.” Then, suddenly mindful of the old warnings in fairy tales she added,” I don’t want him to die. I want him here with me, alive, in Tegfa.”
A fork of lightening erupted from the ground directly in front of Terfel Rock making Molly stumble and fall back. In the afterburn her eyes were dazzled but through the yellow haze she saw a figure appear at the side of the towering stone. Tall and lean it stood swathed only in some kind of cloak leaving most of the torso bare. The banded muscles of his chest flexed and shone as the strikes lit up the sky. The figures manhood was erect, pulsing and surging with the rage of the elements around him but it was his face that made Molly whimper with fear as she stared with mixed hope and disbelief. Harsh and angular, his features seemed to move and change as the sky roiled and swirled. Above his head rose a rack of antlers magnificent and full, the branching tines a flashing blur as he threw back his head and roared a defiant answer to the storm.
Her tongue was so frozen Molly could not even cry out as the figure moved towards her. Catching her foot she fell back her breath leaving her body in a clout and as she lay there the figure stood over her his rank feral scent washing over her and filling her nose as she struggled to breathe. Slowly the figure raised one arm and Molly realised he was waiting.
“Are you the price?” She whispered her voice quivering.
A lowering of the chiselled chin was her reply, the antlers dripping like branches as forest dark eyes bored into her. Trembling she lifted her own arm in acceptance and as the long hard body covered her she felt her coat tear and give on the rocky ground beneath her back.
She woke the following morning shivering in the new minted brightness of the autumn morning. The turf of the hills glowed sated and soft from the night’s rain and, not two feet from where she huddled in the lee of Terfel Rock, sat a hare its nose questing and finding as it paused, then bolted when Molly tried to move her aching limbs. There were wheals and scratches on every part of her body and an aching heaviness down below her stomach. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her fine quality coat finally done for and defeated. As she rose to limp down towards the town Molly saw her shoes scattered on the path. She pulled them on as best she could. She saw no-one, the earliness of the hour working in her favour and finally crept soundlessly up to her room as her mother snored gently in her own bed.
Molly did not tell anyone about her encounter on the hills; who would have believed it anyway? She simply waited with growing impatience as the days slipped by and Lucas’s interview drew nearer. She could perceive no change in his attitude and ached anew each time they talked and argued and parted in pain, only to seek each other out again and again in a futile effort to find some compromise which might spare both their hearts.
She was watching the day his parents drove him away to decide his future. Perched on the bank beside the road Molly saw their car make its way along the road that led out of the town. A treacherous sun made the sea glisten and shine with a beauty too great to ignore and she bit her lip hard as the scarlet BMW drew level. Lucas was in the back his face pale with the gravity of the day and for a moment Molly thought her heart would break, she loved him so much. At the very last moment he turned and in the second their eyes met, despite his mother’s stiff backed disapproval, he puckered his lips and blew her a kiss. Blinded by tears Molly caught it and pressed it to her trembling lips.
When the car was completely gone she made her way down to the town and picked her way across the empty beach. She ignored the strutting gulls that marched up and down its golden width scavenging for scraps and did not stop until the tiny waves of the tide line were lapping at her feet. Pulling off her shoes she strode to Lookout Point and scrambled up its craggy surface. Standing up straight she stared out into the bay and raised her fists in front of her.
“You won’t beat me you bitch; I’ll have him from you yet!” An insolent swell of water lapped up over the rock to soak Molly’s foot. She stared down her lip curling with contempt. “You think you’re a match for the Dark Lord?” she muttered. “Huh, we’ll beat you. We’ll have him back and there’s nothing you can do.” The wave rose again splashing harder this time, curling and twisting up Molly’s leg like a cat. She shivered suddenly in the empty sun. Slipping back down into the water she waded back to the sand.
With shredded nerves she waited for Lucas to call her. She would not let her mother use the telephone and refused to have the television above a whisper in case she missed the doorbell but it was the morning of the next day before she saw or heard from him. He was down on the beach getting the boat ready to go out on the bay. With a jumping heart Molly ran across the sand calling his name and could not believe her eyes as he turned to her his face filled with joy. Her footsteps slowed.
“You got in,” she said numbly.
“Yes!” Even for her Lucas could not keep the elation from his voice. “I leave at the end of the month.”
“That’s only two weeks away, when were you going to tell me?”
Lucas’s face coloured. “I’m sorry, my mum…she arranged a small surprise party.”
“You never said.”
“I didn’t know,” he said awkwardly. “I told you, it was a surprise.”
“I suppose Sally Winslow and all that lot were there though.” It was a statement rather than a question but the way Lucas turned away angrily was confirmation enough to dispel any doubt.
“Don’t ruin this for me Moll please. For Christ’s sake could you try, just for once, not to be such a selfish cow?”
She did not move as he began to push the little craft down the slip to the water. Beneath the material of his wetsuit Molly could see his muscles coiled with tension and she felt something break inside her.
“Congratulations,” she said hollowly as she walked away. She did not look left or right and she did not change her pace when Lucas called her back. Not until she reached the road did Molly start to run. She ran until her lungs screamed and she thought they might burst and then she ran some more.
Eventually, panting, she crashed against Terfel Rock pounding it with her fists until they bled leaving rusty streaks on the grey blue surface and staining the delicate pale lichen maps etched there.
“Why?” She sobbed, “Why did you let him go? Didn’t I pay you enough, what more did you want?” A great weariness filled her body and she sank to the ground shaking and sobbing as she repeated Lucas’s name over and over. He was going. She was losing him and there was nothing she could do.
Hours later she pulled herself to her feet and stumbled down the path. Unheeding of anything around her she stared grimly at her scuffed shoes as they scarped over the road surface. All she could hear was the pounding of her own pulse in her ears swishing and scudding until she glanced up and realised that what she could hear was, in fact, the blades of the great yellow helicopter cutting through the bright hard sky above.
The choppers were only scrambled from RAF Chivenor in emergencies, when an accident occurred either at sea or on the sometimes treacherous coastal path. Sudden panic gripped her heart as the ungainly craft began to lower itself gently onto The Green behind the pub. Molly began to run. As she approached the beach she saw Ally Smart who turned, at her shout, and ran to her. The truth of the moment began to sink in.
“No!” She could not breathe. She had been careful; she had explicitly asked that Lucas not die. From somewhere she found the strength to pull free of Ally and run but she was in time only to see the chopper lift away in a swooping rush of air; the crowd huddling beneath it like rabbits in a storm.
“He’s alive Moll, they got him out.” Ally had caught up with her, his weathered face creased with concern as he struggled to raise his voice above the noise of the blades. “You can see for yourself, maid, they don’t do this for goners.”
Molly looked into his sharp grey eyes and hoped with all her heart he was right. “What happened?” She could hardly force out the words.
Ally shrugged. “No-one is sure. Davey Pierce found him by sheer luck. He’d got caught up in the old trawler wreck and somehow his air pipes got snagged.” Ally hesitated his face full of pity. “He was down too long then tried to come up too fast. We can’t be sure yet what the damage will be. What we don’t understand, is why he went down alone. He knew he was supposed to wait for Davey.”
Lucas was in a coma. They would not let her see him but after a month Deirdre Finch appeared on the doorstep of the small council house Molly and her mother shared throwing Zillah Lovell into such a spin that she actually pulled out the good china so that Mrs Finch could have a cup of tea.
Deidre looked old Molly thought; even her expensive cosmetic veneer could not cover the anguished lines of heartbreak on her face.
“I was wondering if you might wish to visit Lucas.” Her voice was as brittle as glass and Molly felt a spiteful satisfaction wash through her bones.
“I did try to see him,” she replied. “All the way down to Plymouth on the train I went, to that place with the compression chamber and they wouldn’t let me see him.”
Deidre Finch coloured slightly. “The doctors felt…”
“It wasn’t the doctors, it was you.”
The woman’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish but no sound came out. “Try to understand,” she whispered brokenly but there was no pity in Molly’s eyes and Deirdre Finch shuddered.
“I’ll go tomorrow,” Molly said abruptly. “Now, get out before my mother makes an even bigger fool of herself on your account.”
Without another word the woman rose and walked to the door where she turned and said quietly,” perhaps I was wrong to keep you and Lucas apart but I wanted what was best for him. Perhaps one day you will realise that if you love somebody you will do anything to make sure they are happy.”
Molly did not reply, she closed the door in Deirdre Finch’s face and went back inside to tell her mother not to bother with the tea.
At the hospital the following afternoon she found Lucas pale and fragile in a private room. Needles and tubes protruded from his body and a machine pumped noisily in the corner. Just audible on the bedside cabinet was a CD player. Stepping closer Molly turned up the volume and a lilting song filled the room. One of the nurses came in.
“Hello, you must be Molly.” The girl nodded wordlessly. “Mrs Finch told us to expect you.” The nurse nodded towards the CD player. “That’s lovely,” she said, “What is it?”
“It’s our song,” Molly replied.
The nurse bustled about checking various charts and pieces of equipment then just before she was about to leave them alone she said, “It’s a really beautiful song. It sounds as if he’s singing about the sea.”
“No,” Molly replied stiffly. “It’s not about the sea, it’s about us.”
Leaning down she breathed gently against Lucas’s ear and echoed the songs final lyric, “Now I’m caught in the nets, you’re in the tide and the lines entwined because I’m yours and you’re mine.”
Amongst the thick dark lashes of Lucas’s closed eyes a single drop of brine welled up to spill over and roll down the pale waxiness of his cheek; by the time it touched Molly’s lips it was as cold and as bitter as the sea itself.