Chris has been staying with Robin and Annabelle at the home belonging to Stephen and Fiona Grainger in Berkshire. His sister and her boyfriend are due to arrive from London, so Chris has gone up to meet them at Newbury Train Station and to have lunch with them in town.
Annabelle has been asked to attend a council meeting at the local village hall by Fiona Grainger. Before the meeting she takes Rufus for a quick walk, but rushing on the way back, an act of carelessness has serious consequences.
These are the previous parts of Annabelle’s story:
“How many times have I told you to shut the gate behind you Annabelle?” yelled Robin in frustration.
“I’m sorry Robin. I’m sorry. I was in a hurry because I realized I was going to be late.”
“Do you have any idea how dangerous…? God! Annabelle! Do you realize how serious it is?”
“I do now, Robin, I’m sorry.”
“It could have been so much worse. Somebody could have died. Do you understand that?”
Annabelle couldn’t take any more of her husband’s censure. She turned and ran from him, her face beetroot and soaked with tears. Nick glanced at Robin, who was white with anger. “Anna is still giving her statement to the police. I’ll go and check in with her.”
As Nick was returning to the lane where two police cars were still blockading the road and a flatpress truck was loading the damaged car onto the back, his phone began to ring. “Hi Chris, are you on your way back here?”
“The road is blocked Nick. I couldn’t get through to Rob or Annie. Both of their phones are just ringing until they go to voicemail.”
“There’s been an accident in the lane. Whereabouts are you?”
“We are still in the cab. There is a long queue of cars. It looks as if people are trying to turn around, but the cabbie says the lane is so narrow it’s taking ages for cars to turn around. We’re running up the meter sitting here.”
“I’d get out of the taxi, if I were you. I’m a bit tied up here Chris. But if you just walk the rest of the way and tell the police you are staying here here, I’m sure they’ll let you through. Any problems, give me another call.”
On foot, Chris, with his sister Gina and her boyfriend Jordan, were able to get through to the driveway around fifteen minutes later. They saw the crumpled bonnet of the car being lifted onto the flat press truck. Jordan whistled, “That looks serious.”
Anna greeted them as they arrived. She looked flustered, but she was attentive to welcoming Gina and Jordan to the Grainger’s home. She apologised for the absence of Robin and Annabelle and explained there was a lot happening because of the accident on the lane outside the property. She showed them into the house and took them up to the guestroom they would be sharing. She then offered to fetch some tea for them.
Leaving Jordan and Gina up in the room, Chris raced after Anna, “What happened?”
Anna looked at Chris trying to maintain her composure, “Some of the sheep wandered into the lane. A car was coming around the bend and tried to swerve to avoid them, but ended up…” Anna took a few breaths, “Sorry, it was just a shock. The lady in the passenger seat was covered in blood. The paramedics have taken her to The Great Western Hospital in Swindon. Everyone is upset.”
“Oh God, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
Anna shook her head, “I think it’s just going to take a while for the police to finish off outside. Nick and Robin are dealing with everything. It’s just awful.”
“Is Annie alright?”
Anna was pale with the shock of the events of the previous couple of hours. She closed her eyes and pursed her lips, “I have not seen her since I had to give the police my statement. But I heard the shouting. We could hear the shouting from the lane. I am sure she will be devastated.”
Chris probed further, “Where is she Anna?”
“I don’t know. I looked in her room, and she’s not there. I don’t know where she is. She was with Nick and Robin last time I saw her, but they were in shock. It was a real shock for them to come back and see all the emergency vehicles and that poor couple. I know they were asking Annabelle lots of questions, and they were angry about what had happened. I had to go and give a statement to the police, I don’t know where she went. There’s just so much to do. I haven’t had time to go and look for her. I am sure Robin will find her. Everyone is just so upset.”
Chris thanked Anna and told her to ring him if he could be of any help. He told her his intention to try to find Annabelle. Chris exited the house again and looked over towards the lane. The truck carrying the damaged vehicle was slowly making it’s way along the lane. There was no sign of Robin or Nick. The Grainger’s dog Rufus sat obediently on the drive watching everything happening and letting out the occasional bark.
Chris wandered towards the formal gardens at the side of the house. The day before, Annabelle had sat in the portico telling him about the work involved with the Inkpen estate. He headed towards it, but there was no sign of Annabelle. He strode around the gardens searching for any sign of her. He wondered if she had gone for a walk out in the woods.
He tried to think about how Annabelle might be feeling. Anna had said she would be devastated. But there was something about what Anna had said that made him feel urgent about Annabelle.
In a moment of panic, Chris headed towards the outbuilding he knew was packed with tools. Nick had shown Chris the workshop and tool shed. Chris called out Annabelle’s name, but the only sound he heard was the scuttle of a mouse. There was another outbuilding, which had some old farm equipment stored inside it. There was no sign of Annabelle there. Chris headed for the stable block, and headed into the first shed which housed saddles, tackle and other livery. There was no sign of Annabelle, but Chris paused for a moment as he heard a noise that his ears struggled to identify.
He walked round to the main entrance of the stables. Two of the horses stirred as he entered. He couldn’t resist rubbing his hand on the nose of the beautiful bay horse that he knew Fiona Grainger adored. That noise he had detected next door sounded again immediately followed by what sounded like a gasp.
Chris silently stepped towards the direction the sound was coming from. It was an image he found hard to forget for a long time afterwards. Annabelle was stood with her left arm stretched out. Even from a few metres away, it seemed that ribbons of bloody flesh had formed. Seeing Annabelle lifting the horsewhip in her right hand to strike her arm again, moved Chris to leap forwards and grab her right arm, “Annie! Stop!”
Chris had never seen Annabelle in such a state. Her hair was wild. Her red eyes were bulging. Her face and chest blotchy and puffy. There were bright red scratch marks all over her face, neck and chest as well as her right arm. The worst of her injuries were on her left arm. It took some time before Chris had been able to calm Annabelle enough for her to speak. “It’s all my fault,” she kept on saying, “They could have died.”
Seeing Annabelle so distraught and hearing her self-condemning words made Chris very cautious. He was afraid to say the wrong thing to Annabelle. He tried to make a comment about the icy roads, crazy English drivers and the National Speed limit lanes. “How is it safe to be allowed to drive round those bends at 60 miles per hour?” But Annabelle wouldn’t let him say anything more.
“They’ve told me over and over how important it is to make sure the gate is shut. I am so stupid. It’s all my fault. I could have killed them. If they had died, I would have been responsible.” Annabelle sobbed and sobbed.
Neither Chris nor Annabelle were aware of how much time passed. It had been over half an hour in fact, between Chris grabbing the horsewhip from Annabelle and the moment that he took her blood stained hand into his and began to stroke it gently. She was so overcome with emotion that Annabelle was hardly aware of letting Chris take her hand. As Annabelle’s sobs lessened, she found herself leaning her face against his, breathing in the scent of his aftershave. Carefully avoiding her throbbing left arm, Chris had wrapped his arms around Annabelle. His right hand stroked her hair as he whispered over and over “Hush.” into her ear and kissed her head.
Neither of them were aware of how long they stood like that. Neither of them had heard someone else entering the stable and the neighing of the horses. Neither of them were aware that behind them stood Robin staring at his wife wrapped up in the arms of Chris.
From where he stood, Robin could not see any of the injuries Annabelle had inflicted on herself. He just saw his wife feeling hurt because of his anger towards her and turning to Chris for comfort. He saw Chris as seizing the chance to rekindle the affection between them. It was too much for Robin after the shock he had already been dealt that afternoon. He backed away silently feeling a stab of pain flood into his chest.
Nick received a phone call from Robin almost an hour later. Robin had just pulled over at a service station so he could fill up the petrol tank in his car. But before rejoining the motorway, he called Nick to tell him he was almost in London and wanted to break the news to his parents in person about the serious accident outside their home. Nick told Robin that Chris had been looking for him and trying to call. Aware of eight missed calls from Chris on his phone, Robin replied that he had been driving so had not been able to answer the phone.
“I think he was worried about Annabelle,” explained Nick.
Robin hesitated to reply, but in his hurt he snapped “Well Chris bloody well knows what she needs more than I do. He can take care of her.”
By the time Robin reached his parent’s home in London, they were on their way out to attend an event at a gallery in the city center. As a trustee, and being scheduled to deliver a speech about the charity’s projects during the previous year, it was an obligation that Stephen Grainger needed to keep.
On hearing the news of the accident, Stephen asked a logical series of questions about how the couple involved in the accident were, followed by enquiries as to the preliminary feedback from the police and about damage at the property. He was satisfied that between them Robin and Nick had handled everything properly. He assured Robin that there had been other accidents on the lane before and it wasn’t the first time somebody had forgotten to close the gate and sheep had got into the road. He added, “You must remind Annabelle how important it is to shut that gate, although she bloody well ought to realize now how serious it is”.
Fiona asked Robin how Annabelle was. Robin heaved a sigh and shook his head burying his face into his hands. Stephen looked alarmed, “I need to go Fi.” After a few quiet words together, it was agreed that Stephen would go alone to the charity event. Fiona remained with Robin who became distraught with tears as soon as his father had left.
“Where’s Annabelle? Why didn’t you bring here with you?”
When Robin replied, he couldn’t hide his bitterness, “Oh she wanted to stay, believe me, she is just fine.”
You can read the next part of Annabelle’s story here:
Kim, the creator of Writer Side of Life has given us some great writing prompts. Several of them appealed to me, but I have only chosen one to work on for now, because I am still playing catch up with blogging, after my trip to Australia:
I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?