The high seas are calling!
As if it weren’t enough to be cheated on by her husband of ten years, Yorkshire lass Hannah Davis is losing her beauty salon business too. Luckily, her big sister is there to pick up the pieces, but Hannah is desperate to find some independence.
Impulsively, Hannah applies for a spa job…on a cruise ship! Christmas in the Caribbean, springtime in the Mediterranean, what’s not to like? But, despite being in her thirties, Hannah has never done anything on her own before, and she’s terrified.
As the ship sets sail, Hannah has never been further from home…or closer to discovering who she is and who she wants to be.
Nausea churned slowly in my stomach as I stared at the grey metallic shutter for the first time in a while. With trembling fingers, I unlocked it, using my shoulder to force it up. It was stiffer than I remembered and screeched painfully as I pushed it up above my head, as if it hadn’t been opened for a while.
My breath caught in my chest and I considered just turning round and going back home. Back to safety. Come on, Hannah. You need to do this. It’s already been too long. From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of an older couple I recognized walking past on the other side of the road, staring at me sympathetically. Ashamed, I turned away and entered my beauty salon, the business I’d run for the past ten years.
A musty smell hit me as I crossed the threshold. Stepping over the pile of letters on the doormat, I flicked the light switch but nothing happened. I reached into my bag for my phone, turned on the torch, and glanced around; everything looked in order. It was clean and tidy but my staff members, Jess and Amy, who should have been there, were not.
My head spun. I’d neglected the business for the past six weeks – I knew that. I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t even given it a moment’s consideration, but I suppose I’d just assumed that Jess and Amy would be okay holding the fort. As my eyes scanned the room, I spotted a note on the counter, written in Jess’s tell-tale bubbly writing.
We’ve tried to call you a million times – we’ve been to your house and left a note there too. I know you’re going through a tough time, and we’ve tried to hold the fort here, but we can’t afford to continue working at Hollywood Hut. Amy and I took £50 each from the cash takings to cover some of our pay, but most customers paid by card so we couldn’t take our full wages. Hopefully, when you get this, you’ll be able to sort out what we’re owed.
We’re really sorry to leave you and do hope you’re coping.
Hope you understand.
Jess & Amy
PS: We’ve posted our keys through your letterbox.
I slumped against the counter, clutching the note in a shaky hand, taking in the business I’d worked so hard to build. Even through the gloom, I could clearly see the comfy chairs where clients waited and the nail bar where Jess and Amy had laughed and joked with customers. I could see the hours I’d spent decorating and planning and dreaming. I could see the life I’d had.
Moments passed as I stared into space, trying to make sense of everything and put a plan together. I couldn’t lose my business too. I shook my head and, forcing myself into action, I dialled Jess’s number.
‘Hannah?’ she answered cautiously.
‘Oh, thank God, Jess, yes, it’s me. I’m in the salon and I’ve just found your note. I completely understand why you left, but I’m okay now and I’m ready to reopen. I just need you and Amy to come back – the three musketeers together once more.’ I forced cheer into my tone.
‘Oh, Hannah.’ She paused, and my stomach sank. I knew what was coming.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I whispered, holding back tears. I knew I’d been selfish, locking myself away from the world without giving a thought to those who I might have affected. Poor Amy must’ve been sick with worry wondering how she was going to make ends meet. A wave of guilt mingled with the nausea in my stomach.
‘I didn’t want to leave. I just really needed to make sure I had a wage coming in and I didn’t know when you’d be back. I’d already borrowed money from my parents to cover the shortfall and I couldn’t ask them again. You were totally AWOL.’ She sighed heavily. ‘Cherry at Glam Shack offered me a job a few weeks ago and I had to take it. I’m sorry, I tried my best to get hold of you, H, I really did.’
I could tell from her voice she was devastated; we’d had a great thing going on at Hollywood Hut. Glam Shack was the only other salon in our small village of Tinbury in North Yorkshire and Cherry had invented herself as somewhat of a rival. She’d be loving this. I sighed and fell back against the wall.
‘I had the electricity turned off so you wouldn’t get billed for it,’ she added. She was a sweetheart, which made losing her all the more difficult.
‘And what about Amy?’ I asked, already knowing what the answer would be.
‘She’s here too, at Glam Shack. She was already late with her rent. H, there’s something else…’ She pulled in a long breath. ‘A lot of your clients have been coming to Glam Shack too. Cherry’s got them all on block bookings and packages – she really went to town on cornering the market at your expense.’
My chest tightened. Losing my staff was a devastating blow; but losing my customers? That would ruin me. It was a moment before I could speak.
‘Thanks for letting me know,’ I muttered before hanging up the phone. My chest heaved and sobs burst out uncontrollably. How had it come to this? I’d lost everything, whilst he – Daniel – still had his thriving electrical supply shop and a happy new life with whatsherface. Suddenly unable to stop myself, I screamed, swiping everything from the counter. The tip bowl crashed against the wall, smashing into a million tiny fragments. It was a perfect symbolic representation of my life. I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve any of it.
After a good five minutes, I calmed myself down and began to sweep up the shards and arrange the other items neatly back on the desk. I was too proud of the business I’d built to see it a mess, but it’d served its purpose in those few moments of despair. I dried my eyes and wiped away the smudged mascara from underneath my eyes. Dark circles remained and it was hard to tell if they were etched in from the sleepless nights or just stubborn stains from the mascara. When I looked vaguely human again, I stood in the middle of the salon, trying to get my thoughts into some kind of order. I was going to need coffee.
The outside air was calm and still, contrasting with my earlier outburst. A cold snap had brought some autumnal frost to the village, which had decorated the high street beautifully. The cobbles were glistening silver, bringing an air of magic to the place, which normally would have excited me, serving to foreshadow Christmas perfectly. I’d have enjoyed snuggling up by the window in the café, gazing out down the pretty village high street with a hot chocolate warming my hands. Now, it felt so wrong: a juxtaposition of heartbreak amidst beauty. Smashed windows, graffiti, and litter would have served as a more appropriate backdrop. It was still a way off but the thought of spending Christmas alone made me shudder.
I popped into Jean’s coffee shop and ordered a large cappuccino to take away. ‘How are you coping, love?’ she asked solemnly as she handed me my five pence change, which I chucked in the tip jar. The whole village must know about me and Daniel. I plastered on a smile.
‘I’m holding up, thanks, Jean,’ I replied before scuttling off and heading back home to try and work out how to save my business.
I spent a quarter of an hour enjoying my coffee in silence, plucking up the courage to win back my customers. If they returned, Amy and Jess could return, and I could at least salvage something from the dire situation I was in. I booted up my laptop whilst my plan was forming. Manager’s specials, welcome-back discounts, bring-a-friend Fridays – Cherry at Glam Shack wouldn’t know what had hit her. As the adrenaline pumped around my body, the ideas kept coming. Balloons. Balloons outside would really draw the eye. Free product demos would help with upselling. It wouldn’t be so hard, and once I was back working again, I’d be too busy to think about him.
I looked at the screen, and my heart stopped. The wallpaper had loaded, and I was hit with the painful image of a happy couple. It was taken on holiday in Cancun back in April. Daniel and I were cuddled up on the beach, sipping cocktails at sunset. My usually straight, chin-length dark hair had caught natural highlights in the sun, and the saltwater had worked its magic, creating loose waves. I had on a simple yellow sleeveless shirtdress that set my tan off perfectly.
Daniel was tanned and wore a Hawaiian-style shirt that we’d giggled about. His arm was thrown lazily around my shoulder and I could still feel the warmth of it. We’d gone to celebrate Daniel’s fortieth birthday and it was the perfect setting – such a romantic place. We’d been so happy that now, thinking back, it was hard believe he’d already met her. Nobody would’ve guessed.
The image threw me back six weeks to that awful day: ‘Hannah, I’m leaving you,’ he’d said, so matter-of-fact.
I was confused – leaving me what? His Twix? His car keys? ‘You’re going to work?’ I’d asked, without thinking. It was evening but it wasn’t unheard of for him to have to go back at night.
He moved around to face me. ‘No, Hannah, I’m leaving you for…’ Her name hadn’t even registered, but I remember it sounding cheap, the name of a woman only a weak man would choose over his dedicated and loving wife.
The rest of that day was a blur. I recalled clinging to him, begging him not to go, and the physical pain I felt when he shrugged me off. When my efforts failed, I’d walked around the house in a daze, silently following him in shock as he packed his things into the large holdall we’d shared just a few weeks before when we’d had a weekend away in The Lake District. He’d stalked around the house, gathering his things with occasional mutterings of ‘I’ll leave that for you’ or ‘I can’t find my charger; I’ll pick it up another time’ but he didn’t offer me any reason for leaving other than he’d fallen in love.
After he’d left, I’d spent the first few weeks wandering vacantly around a black hole, occasionally bursting into emotion, whether it was anger or floods of tears. I’d ignored everything and everyone, surviving on whatever foods required the minimum effort to prepare and eat: a yoghurt here, a bag of crisps there, or confectionary I was too sad to taste. All washed down with wine, and when that ran out I’d raided the old Christmas stock. Mulled wine I didn’t bother to heat, out-of-date Baileys, and whatever else I could lay my hands on.
I’d spent hours dissecting our relationship, looking for clues, but there weren’t any. We were financially secure, living in a lovely modern, four-bed detached house, which was complemented by a pair of nice cars on the driveway. We didn’t argue about anything of consequence. It wasn’t always easy, juggling the businesses, and the late nights were stressful from time to time, but we helped each other out. We were a team, or so I’d thought.
At some point during those dark weeks, he’d moved out the rest of his belongings. I don’t even remember it happening. I’d simply noticed his old running machine had gone from the spare room one day, leaving only an imprint in the carpet just like the one he’d left on my chest.
I imagine I’d been sitting, drunk, in a dark corner when he came, and he’d ignored me as he collected his things. Shirts I’d laundered, the fancy watch I’d bought him, and other possessions that I wished I’d broken out of my haze and vandalized in some way to try and inflict just an ounce of my pain upon him.
So it should have come as no surprise that, after six weeks of wallowing in self-pity, my life lay in tatters around me. But I needed to try and pick myself up, and that’s what I was doing. I slapped my coffee cup on the table and stretched out my fingers. Loading up my client database, I struck ‘A’ to filter the clients by surname, excited to have some focus again. There were fifteen clients whose surnames started with A. That’s a great start.
I went to dial the first client: Samantha Ackbury. Just before it connected, I hit the red button and slammed the phone down. I didn’t know what to say. What if she was angry because the business had just closed? I’d left her in the lurch. I bashed the phone against my forehead. I hated phoning people at the best of times, never mind when it was to beg for business. But I needed to do this. Pulling myself together, I straightened my face, raised my eyebrows, and pursed my lips, creating what in my mind, seemed like a confident face. Taking a deep breath, I dialled again.
It rang and rang before going to voicemail. I left a polite message, apologizing for any inconvenience caused by my family emergency and explaining the salon offers I’d decided upon. That wasn’t so bad. I forced myself to carry on but the rest of the As had similar results, so I moved on to the Bs and then the Cs.
I was beginning to despair, until, finally, a customer answered the phone. A wave of relief washed over me. Kate Davidson was a regular – she came in for microdermabrasion every six weeks without fail. Her account showed she had been in and to have the treatment with Amy just over five weeks ago. Perfect.
‘Mrs Davidson, it’s Hannah calling from The Hollywood Hut. I want to apologize for any inconvenience you may have encountered during our recent temporary closure. It was a one-off family emergency and won’t happen again. Anyway, I’ve noticed you’re due your usual in the coming week and wondered if you’d like me to get that booked in for you?’ I was surprised and glad at how natural it felt to slip back into ‘salon Hannah’ mode.
‘Oh hi, Hannah. Thank you for the reminder but I’ve already made a booking elsewhere. I’m sorry, I wasn’t sure if or when you’d be reopening, and my skin was looking so dull,’ she replied. I tried a last-ditch attempt to reel her back.
‘That’s not a problem. I understand. Just in case you change your mind, I wanted to let you know that microdermabrasion is half price.’ I blurted out the last part. It wasn’t my planned offer, nor was it a feasible price in the long run, but it was a bloody good deal for a customer at thirty quid. If she declined an offer like that, I had no hope.
‘Thanks for letting me know, but I’ve booked a course of four at Glam Shack – it was only a hundred pounds. Your offer is a great one too, though. I’ll definitely consider The Hollywood Hut again in the future.’ It was official – I had no hope. I closed the call politely before banging the phone against my forehead once again. It had confirmed what Amy had said: she’d be at Glam Shack a good six months before she’d even consider returning. I couldn’t afford to lose my customers for half a year. Jess was right: they’d all gone.
I was alone.
By the end of the week I’d managed to recoup three of my old clients, and the small amount of optimism that generated gave me the courage to let my older sister, Jen, come over. I had an underlying niggle of guilt because after Daniel left, I’d shut her out and I knew she’d be desperate to get in. Jen had been like a parent to me, ever since our real parents were killed in a car accident back when I was eighteen. I still lived at home at the time and Jen, who was only twenty-four herself, did everything she could to make sure I was okay.
Even after I got married, she didn’t let go. I was like the child she’d never had. Sometimes she could be suffocating, and the emotion I was feeling had already left me little room to breathe.
She looked nervous when I opened the door, and I forced a small smile of reassurance.
‘Hi,’ I said. Seeing her familiar face made we want to burst into tears.
She must have noticed my tears start to well. ‘Oh, Hannah. Come here.’ She gathered me into a hug and I sobbed with relief, comforted by the smell of her familiar Jo Malone perfume.
‘Why didn’t you let me help you? I’ve been sick with worry,’ she said.
‘I just couldn’t,’ I whispered through sobs. ‘I needed time.’
‘We can fix this,’ she whispered back. ‘Whatever you want to do.’
I calmed myself down. It was just so overwhelming, seeing her there. ‘Right now, I just want a drink.’ I wiped my tears on my sleeve.
Jen rubbed my arm and went into the kitchen. I followed her in and sat on a bar-stool at the island.
‘Look at you. You look tired. Are you sleeping properly?’ she asked whilst pouring us each a glass of wine.
‘Not well,’ I admitted.
‘And what are you eating?’ she said, putting the wine back in the fridge. ‘There’s nothing in here.’
‘I’m managing, Jen. Please, don’t fuss.’
She let out a deep sigh and something told me that dropping the subject would be a temporary arrangement. ‘So what’ve you done with yourself this week? I heard you’ve been out and about.’ She pushed my wine towards me.
Oh the good old village gossip. ‘Well, trying to rescue my floundering business has taken up most of my time.’ Jen opened her mouth to speak so I continued quickly before she could tell me patronizingly that everything would be okay. ‘Amy and Jess left to work at Glam Shack, taking all my customers with them – not on purpose.’ I added the last part to prevent the tirade of abuse they’d otherwise receive in their absence.
‘Oh, Han, that’s the last thing you need. Fancy them ditching you in your hour of need. How long was the shop shut?’ She knew full well since she’d have passed it practically every day and I didn’t doubt for a second that was the motive behind her daily calls. I was glad I’d ignored her. In my fragile state there was a high chance she’d have reverted to ‘mother mode’ and I couldn’t have coped with that smothering feeling.
‘I’m not sure. Three, maybe four weeks. It wasn’t their fault. I didn’t pay them, and they needed money to live. They have responsibilities. All my regulars needed appointments that I wasn’t providing, and that bloody Cherry at Glam Shack used it to her advantage, offering them all deals for multiple treatments. Most of them have paid in advance for treatments that take them right up to the end of spring next year. I don’t know what to do. I’ve lost my share in the market, and the town isn’t big enough for two large salons.’ I took a long, much-needed drink of wine.
‘That’s terrible! What a scheming cow Cherry is.’ She shook her head for effect.
‘If something doesn’t drastically change, I’ll have to close.’ Saying the words out loud shocked me. I wasn’t sure what I’d do without the salon.
‘Don’t say that. We’ll think of something.’ She drummed her fingers on the table, a look of concentration on her face. Jen couldn’t help being a ‘fixer’. She was always trying to fix things, to fix me.
‘I know!’ she said suddenly. ‘Tom’s.’
‘What about Tom’s?’ I said, puzzled. Tom owned a fairly large B&B in the village, which often got quite busy with tourists who came to shop on the picturesque cobbled high street or take a stroll down by the river.
‘He’ll be starting to get busy with Christmas stay-over shoppers soon. You could offer treatments to his guests.’
I thought about it. It wasn’t a bad idea. ‘Well, I suppose it’s worth a try.’
We made it to ten-thirty before I called it a night. The warm fuzzy feeling from the alcohol was walking the fine line between tipsy and drunk, and I didn’t want to tip over to the other side. Besides, if Jen felt drunk too, she’d feel brave enough to start on about Daniel and I wasn’t ready to hear her say what an arse he is, was, or whatever. I already knew.
The next morning, I wrapped up in warm clothing and dragged myself down to the B&B at the bottom end of town, to see Tom. Tom was in his early fifties, a tall, skinny fellow with greying black hair. He was a little eccentric but harmless enough.
‘Hello?’ He wagged his finger at me and his eyebrow twitched as if it were connected. ‘Hannah, isn’t it?’
‘It is. Well remembered.’ I took a breath and tried to organize my words. ‘I just popped down because I’ve a business proposition for you, if you’re interested.’
He raised his left eyebrow quickly before narrowing his eyes at me. ‘A business proposition? I’m listening.’
‘I was wondering if it might be mutually beneficial to offer a spa service to your guests. You know, massages, nails, and things like that, at my salon: The Hollywood Hut. I thought it might be a nice option for them and something for you to advertise to attract them.’ I rambled uncomfortably whilst Tom stared at me, holding his chin between his thumb and forefinger. The pause was uncomfortable, and I had to force myself not to carry on talking.
‘It sounds like it could be interesting. Would there be any cost to me?’ I felt a flutter of hope in my chest. He definitely looked as though he was considering it.’
‘Not at all. I’ve already got some leaflets printed – just generic ones I had anyway – and the guests will pay for their own treatments. If you just sign or stamp them, I’ll offer a ten per cent discount to anyone staying in the B&B.’
He pursed his lips in consideration. ‘Okay, we can trial it. Guests always get a bit fed up by day two here. People may well extend their stay for a spa thingy.’ He wagged his finger at the bag of leaflets. ‘We’ll trial it through to spring and assess it from there.’
‘Excellent.’ I bent down to take the leaflets out of my shopping bag. ‘Here you go,’ I said, handing them over. ‘You could put them in your guest rooms, even send them out with booking confirmation letters.’
‘Will do. Thanks for stopping by … Hannah?’
‘Yes. Hannah. Goodbye, Tom.’ With that he gave a polite smile and closed the door. My body sagged in relief. I doubted the plan would bring much custom, but it was something.
I turned to leave Tom’s, feeling hopeful, when a sight stopped me dead in my tracks. I scurried around the corner, only daring to look when I was safely out of sight.
He wasn’t alone. There was a woman on his arm – her. I couldn’t bring myself to look past the flash of long, blonde hair, the complete opposite to my own, which fell shapelessly around my shoulders. I couldn’t bring myself to look any closer at the woman he’d traded me in for. Nausea spread through my body at the thought. I felt humiliated at the memory of happy Hannah, in-love Hannah, gullible Hannah. Carrying on in her own bubble whilst the two of them carried on behind her back Hannah. Everyone pitied me.
He was brazenly parading her around for all to see. How did he have the nerve? The whole village knew what they’d done, and there they were without a care in the world. To the oblivious, they looked
like any other couple, wrapped warmly in new woollen scarves and smart coats, smiling and chatting away.
‘I still can’t get used to the sight of them.’ A woman’s voice cut into my thoughts. I turned round to see who it was.
‘Jean. I was …’
‘Don’t explain yourself to me, love.’ She patted me on the back. ‘It’s been what, just four or five weeks since it happened, and he’s already flaunting that woman about?’
‘Six,’ I replied sullenly.
‘Six weeks.’ She tutted. ‘Come and have a cuppa in the café. They won’t dare come in there. I’ve already said my piece.’ She patted my shoulder.
‘Thanks, Jean. I have a few errands to run but maybe later.’ I forced a smile and watched her walk off in the direction of the café. When I was alone again, I allowed myself to slump against the wall, forcing back the tears from my eyes.
When I was sure Daniel had gone, I geared myself up for the walk home, but as I did, my phone shrilled in my pocket. It was a local number, but not one I recognized. I answered it anyway.
‘Yes?’ I asked warily.
‘It’s Wilfred.’ Wilfred worked at the village bank but also served as mine and Daniel’s financial adviser. My heart beat a little faster. Why was he calling me? ‘It’s about your mortgage. Now it’s probably just an oversight but I wanted to make you aware that you’ve missed two payments.’ Thoughts jumbled around in my head as my cheeks flushed. We’d never missed a mortgage payment before.
‘I … I’m sorry Wilfred, I didn’t know. We’ve had a lot on recently. I can assure you it is just an oversight. We’ll get it sorted soon.’
‘No problem, Mrs Davis, that’s what I thought. You take care now. Goodbye.’ He hung up and I slumped against the wall again, my fingers keying frantically at the phone to log in to our joint account. Sure enough, no mortgage payments had gone out because no money had gone in, not since August. It was now October. Daniel had stopped paying in.
I stared at the screen in shock. How could he do this? He must have known I couldn’t afford to pay for the house on my own. I jabbed my trembling finger at the screen of my phone, attempting to ring Daniel. When it finally rang, my hand shook as I clenched the phone. For what felt like an eternity, I held my breath. I hadn’t picked up the phone to Daniel since he’d left.
After three rings it went to voicemail and I let out a sigh of relief, allowing my whole body to relax. I was able to compose myself enough to leave a message.
‘Daniel, it’s Hannah. I have some urgent things to go through with you regarding the house. Can you call me back as soon as you can, please.’ I hung up and let out a long breath.
I set off for home, keeping my head down as I walked; one sympathetic glance from a well-meaning villager would have been enough to set me back weeks. I dared not think about what a full-on encounter
with Daniel and his blonde might do. I scurried across the stone bridge to the other side of the river. The frost had disappeared, leaving the once-crisp autumn leaves at the roadside soggy and limp.
When I neared home my breath caught in my throat. Daniel’s car was on the driveway parked next to mine. That was quick.
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