Festive Cheer

How will the day go when Annabelle spends Christmas Day with her family? Does she really have cause to be pessimistic?

These are the previous parts in Annabelle’s story:

annie with holdallAnnabelle clutched the holdall, packed full of gifts for her family, all ready to take to her parents’ home. She sat in her hotel room all morning trying to mentally prepare for a day she knew would be at least uncomfortable at times. “Just one last time,” she thought to herself.

When Annabelle arrived at her parent’s home, the house she had lived in until a couple of months before her nineteenth birthday, her mother opened the door to her and then immediately rushed off back into the kitchen, without saying a word. Annabelle stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind her. She understood that her mother always found it stressful to cook a large meal. She didn’t take it personally. She also knew exactly what would happen if she offered to help. So instead, she walked into the living room where her father and two young men were sat watching television.

She approached her father’s armchair and greeted him, “Hi Dad.”

“Will you make us a cup of tea Annabelle? There’s my mug, just give it a rinse out will you?” Annabelle picked the mug up and turned towards the kitchen, “Half a tea-spoon of sugar, and half of honey, just a dash of milk. Boys, tell Annabelle how you have your tea.”

carol rileyAfter Annabelle had received her orders, she headed to the kitchen. Her mother was crouching down to check the turkey in the oven. Annabelle tried to slip behind her mother towards the kettle, which was located in the corner, near to the sink. “Annabelle, please, not now, you’re in the way. Can’t you see it’s pandemonium in here.”

“But Dad wants a drink. He told me to make some tea for him and the boys.”

“Well tell him he’s have to wait Annabelle. Ugh, please don’t stand there, I need to drain the potatoes.” Annabelle placed her father’s mug down on the counter near to the kettle and turned to leave, “Annabelle, don’t just leave that there, it’s in the way. Take it with you, go on.”

Annabelle returned to the living room and explained to her father that it wasn’t convenient to make tea. Her father glared at her, “I suppose I’ll have to collapse with dehydration before I can get a drink around here.”

hallway.jpgAnnabelle turned out into the hallway where she had noticed a crate of beer had been wedged under the side table, upon which the telephone sat. She took four bottles of beer out and returned. Her nephews looked very pleased. Her father, whose gaze was fixed on the television, just took the bottle from her without saying a word.

Remembering the hold-all she had brought with her, Annabelle went to find the Christmas tree which was in the corner of the dining room. She began to kneel down and unpack the wrapped presents she had brought in the hold-all. She lay them at the base of the Christmas tree with the other gifts that were there. She had almost completed her task when a voice from behind her shrieked, “What are you doing? There isn’t room Annabelle. Put them out of the way. Do you want us all tripping over?” Annabelle’s heart sunk. Without saying a word, she began to put the gifts back into the holdall. She then stashed the bag in the dark recess under the stairs, a part of the house she had often crouched in weeping bitterly after being belittled by her parents in front of the rest of the family.

riley tableShe decided to take one of the dining room chairs into the living room, so that she could sit with her father and nephews and watch television with them. As she picked up a chair, she accidentally caught the table cloth. Tugging the chair didn’t release the table cloth, it just pulled it further causing a glass to clatter onto one of the plates set ready for dinner. Her mother was back in the room in seconds, “What are you doing? Just don’t touch anything Annabelle, I’ve been busy all morning, please don’t ruin everything.”

Annabelle felt a lurch in her stomach. “I’m sorry mom.” Her mother sighed heavily and left the room again. On returning to the living room, Annabelle sat on the floor leaning against the side of the sofa. She realized her eyes were blurry and tried to bat away the tears that were in danger of brimming over. One of her nephews passed her an open bottle of beer and she thanked him. She gulped back about half of the bottle and wiped the dribble that escaped down the side of her mouth.

mildew1The boys were whispering and chuckling while they nudged each other. Annabelle wasn’t listening to what they were saying, so just sat with her eyes glued to the television screen. Jake, who had passed her the beer lent over and asked her if it was true that she was friends with Mildew. Annabelle turned around to look at her nephews. She could see that both of them looked quite eager to hear her reply. She nodded and told them that she used to be fairly close to them. They seemed reasonably impressed. Luke asked her if she was still in touch with the band. Annabelle hesitated to answer. She cast a glance over at her father, but he didn’t seem to be paying any attention to anything other than the television.

“I met up with them last month actually when they were in New York.” she whispered.

“No way, how cool!” Luke’s face lit up.

mildew at msg“Do you like their music?” she asked.

“Yeah. They’re great,” nodded Jake.

Luke started to talk about their concert in New York and how he wished they could have afforded to buy tickets and travel to New York to see them. “I heard their show was awesome. Dean Mathers performed solo, everyone has been raving about it.”

“What did you think of the new song Only One Woman?” Annabelle took delight in hearing warm praise of the song and Dean’s singing voice. Annabelle felt a swell of pride fill her chest. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and typed a text message: CALL ME WHEN YOU ARE AWAKE, and sent it to Dean.

annie beerThe next time Annabelle’s mother entered the room, it was the beer bottles that caught her attention. It didn’t help that Annabelle had just stood up to stretch her legs out and was taking a swig of beer. There erupted an argument about taking the beer without asking permission and giving beer to Jake who was under twenty-one. “Irresponsible”, “presumptuous”, “a bad example for the boys” was the worse of the scalding on that occasion.

The reprimand was interrupted by the arrival of more family members. Annabelle’s older brothers Adam and Andrew with their wives and children poured through the door. Before all of the affectionate greetings towards the younger children were completed, Alicia and her husband arrived. Alicia, the oldest of the four siblings frowned on hearing that Annabelle had given Jake a bottle of beer and muttered “She hasn’t changed – has she?”.

oliver1.jpgAt dinner, Annabelle ended up sitting between her young nephew Oliver and her oldest nephew, Luke. Oliver repeatedly kicked Annabelle’s leg under the table, but she was able to ignore him. She tried to chat with him, but he would just stick his tongue at her. Luke, who was in his final year at college was the center of the conversation around the dinner table. His mother Alicia boasted about his grades and the prizes he had won at college.

Little Oliver started to stab at Annabelle’s thigh with his fork. Annabelle tried to brush his hand away, but it made Oliver more determined. He stabbed harder and harder at her leg. He wasn’t strong enough to cause serious injury to Annabelle, but the repetitive stabs began to hurt her leg. She glared at him and he pulled a face. Annabelle then picked up her fork and dug it into her own leg and opened her mouth wide into a silent laugh. Oliver’s face expressed his shock. Annabelle’s action was noticed by her older brother Andrew, who was Oliver’s father. Andrew immediately blew up at Annabelle, causing everyone around the dinner table to glare at Annabelle as if she was crazy.

smart phoneThere was one more incident that evening which Annabelle would remember for a long time to come. Her phone rang and she noticed it was Dean calling. She excused herself from the dinner table, pretending to not hear her father’s command that there were no phones allowed at the dinner table. She hurried into the hallway and sat on the stairs. Dean sounded cheerful. He laughed contemplating Annabelle being with her family for Christmas. Luke came out into the hallway to use the bathroom and Annabelle beckoned to him and then told Dean that her nephew thought Mildew were great and asked him to wish Luke festive cheer. She handed the phone to Luke and laughed to herself at what she could make sense of the conversation between Luke and Dean.

After a few minutes Luke handed the phone back to Annabelle and rushed off towards the dining room. Moments later he returned with his younger brother Jake. Realizing that both of the boys were keen to speak with Dean, Annabelle continued asking him questions about what was going on in his house and who was with him for Christmas Day while she walked up the stairs, indicating to her nephews to follow her.

luke and jakeJake opened the door to the bedroom that Annabelle had slept in throughout her childhood. The single bed and a blow-up mattress filled most of the room. The boys and Annabelle all perched on the bed and Annabelle put Dean on loud-speaker. Dean carried on chatting away, asking Luke and Jake where they went to college and what  they were studying. He asked them what their plans were for after college. Abruptly another gruffer voice was heard yelling, “Is that Nan? Nan…are you there?”

“Hi Rick, how’s it going?”

“Nan, were you and Dean shagging the night before the gig in New York?”

Seeing the look on her nephew’s faces, Annabelle grabbed her phone, which Luke was holding, and turned loud-speaker off, “Did Dean tell you that Rick?”

rick.jpg“He says you weren’t, none of us believe that! Come on Nan, you were in his bed.” Rick, who played bass guitar in the band, was laughing while he spoke.

“Dean is telling the truth Rick. He was a perfect gentleman.” replied Annabelle.

“Hah! Lauren they were definitely shagging. Lauren says hi Nan. get off Dean…” the deeper voice trailed off, replaced by Dean’s tones, “I’ll kill him later Nan.” Dean started to ask Annabelle if she wanted him to send anything special for her nephews.”

“I’m sure they’d love any freebies you have lying around Dean…hold on my Dad is calling me, let me hand you back over to the boys,” Annabelle passed the phone back to Luke and opened the door to run down the stairs.

“What’s going on Annabelle?” demanded her father.

An apologetic expression appeared on Annabelle’s face, “I had to take that call Dad, sorry.”

alicia.jpgWhile her father began to complain about her manners, Alicia ran up the stairs. Moments later, her angry voice was heard. Alicia had ended the call between Dean and her sons and hurled the phone down at Annabelle venting her fury about her recklessness. For the next half an hour Annabelle’s parents, along with her sister Alicia, were united in a chorus of criticism, admonishing Luke and Jake that Dean, his horrible music and that bunch of losers that called themselves a band, had been a terrible influence on Annabelle and involved her in scandals. They related to the two young men how the band members abused drugs and alcohol, and were uneducated and immoral brutes. Annabelle was scolded for encouraging her nephews to speak to Dean. It was her mother’s last words, “That boy is poison, his name should not even be mentioned. I hate him, he’s a wicked boy. Wicked!” was what caused Annabelle to decide she had stayed long enough.

“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for having me, it’s been a blast,” were her words before she picked up her coat and her small handbag and headed to the front door. The rest of the family were all sat in the dining room looking at each other and muttering. Annabelle peered into the room and noticed her older brothers and their wives turned away, while the younger children all stared at her. Oliver pulled faces at Annabelle, “Sayonara chicos.” were her words and she saluted her family before heading to the front door.

annie snow.jpgBecause it was Christmas Day, and there was a reduced service on the subway trains, it was a whole hour before Annabelle was walking down the road to her hotel. The snow began to fall in hefty clumps. She still felt wired with the adrenaline that had rushed through her body while listening to the tirade from the senior members of her family about Dean. She thought to herself, “They did not even ask about Robin, they didn’t even ask how he is!”

Annabelle opened her mouth and held her head back to let snowflakes land on her tongue. A sense of relief that Christmas with her family was over crept through her. She had done it. She had gone home for one last Christmas with them. No more. She wasn’t going to do that again.


Another part coming soon…

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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matosfrom Pexels 







nycx.jpgYou may remember that Annabelle had called her parents to ask them if she could join them for Christmas. Will there be a happy family reunion ahead for Annabelle Riley? This section joins Annabelle on Christmas Eve. I am sure that she would be very glad of our company this year.

These are the previous parts of Annabelle’s story:

annie in nyc.jpgAnnabelle flew into New York on Christmas Eve. She headed straight to the hotel and checked in. She’d brought a small suitcase, and a holdall full of presents. There was something for each one of her family members. After giving considerable thought to the gifts she had bought for each of her family members, Annabelle had carefully wrapped each gift in her room in Blackwood. The messages she had written in each card were very personal. Annabelle Riley was trying. There was a sense of pessimism in her, but she still wanted to try.

She thought about her parents. Her mother said that they would be busy that evening with the boys, her oldest nephews who were back from college. She knew how proud of the boys everyone was. They had both worked hard at school and left with top grades.

Feeling restless, she flicked through the television channels in her room. Movies with happy families forging stronger bonds in festive scenes. Annabelle was consumed with an urge for fresh air. She grabbed her coat and scarf and decided she would head out for a walk.

nyc2.jpgIt brought Annabelle a great deal of pleasure to see the lights. If there was one thing she had always loved about Christmas, it was the lights. She wished they could stay throughout the winter. They always lifted her spirits. Winters were dark and cold. For someone who does not have a warm family life, winter was especially lonely, Christmas even more so, for there were so many reminders of what Annabelle felt she didn’t have, and what she never had had.

But being out in the open, walking along bustling streets, enjoying the lights, snuggling her face into the folds of her soft scarf, sipping a gingerbread latte, they brought little stabs of pleasure. Robin always said that life is about pleasure, making every moment enjoyable. When she craved comfort and warmth, that made perfect sense, even if it didn’t really ring true at other times.

drink in nyxIt was bitterly cold outside, so Annabelle was glad to find a coffee house where she could sit in a corner watching the snow fall onto the pavement outside, warming her hands around the glass mug of gingery sweet coffee.

Her phone started to jingle. Robin had only just finished work. It was past two o’clock in the morning for him. Annabelle was deeply comforted by hearing his voice. He sounded tired though.

Robin told Annabelle how much he was looking forward to seeing her, “Two weeks Belle! It can’t come soon enough. Everything is arranged for your stay. The room reserved for you has a fantastic view. Even Claudia’s Dad wants to meet you, which might be a bit weird. But he’s not that bad. I have a newfound appreciation for him.”

Robin clearly understood how much Annabelle was dreading the following day with her family. He promised he would be thinking of her all day and would call her as soon as he could.

annie looking at ceilingAnnabelle decided she would head back to the hotel. She lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. If there had been a decent view, like the one in the hotel Dean had paid for her to stay in, she would have stared at out of the window. But the hotel she had booked was more suitable to her budget. She had contemplated drawing money from the account she had recently discovered, but it seemed like such a waste. She didn’t want to spend too much money before she spoke to Robin.

After an hour of lying on the bed staring up at the white ceiling, she reached across for her mobile phone which had buzzed half an hour before. She read the text message from Chris wishing her a Happy Christmas. His greeting was very sweet. Annabelle had no idea how to reply. She sent a reply: xx and hoped that Chris would understand how empty she was feeling at that moment.

therapist session with young woman

She’d felt pretty empty ever since that appointment at Leaston. She felt so angry about what the therapist and the doctor had said to her. Before then she finally seemed to be getting somewhere. She had begun to appreciate the CBT sessions. The therapist had provoked her thinking. His questions had helped her to probe within. That had motivated and galvanised her into doing things she would have never dreamed of before.

madisonFor the past few years, making contact with Dean had always seemed like a hopeless endeavour. But now that she had seen him and together they had resolved so much, peace and comfort were within her reach. Somehow she now had a relationship with Dean again, not the same as before, but the contact was firmly established again. Not just the contact, rather, the pledge to care for each other was there, and it was something she was so grateful for.

She decided to call Dean. He didn’t answer his phone. She didn’t want to leave a voice message, so she just hung up when the answer service began. Dean would be in Los Angeles in his home there. Annabelle had spent Christmas for three consecutive years in that house with Dean. That had been home, whenever they were not travelling with tours and promotions. Not always a happy home. But a place she belonged, next to Dean. Before he bought the house, they’d spent Christmas in other people’s homes, as guests, and once in a hotel in the Caribbean.

annie prayFollowing one of the fiercest exchanges between them, resulting in Dean’s striking her, Annabelle had split up with Dean. The argument had followed the the release of “Claws” their album, which was full of songs with lyrics she knew were about her self-harming. She had realized that the title of the album “Claws” was due the deep scratches she was inflicting on herself. Just less than three months after their relationship had ended, Annabelle had spent Christmas alone in New York, in the apartment Dean had bought for her. Dean had refused to answer his phone and her messages for weeks. It was a terrible time for her. She felt some relief by punishing her arms and legs. Just after New Years, she had been at that party, in that gold dress that hid all of her injuries. It was there that Robin had walked into her life.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe first weekend they spent together, he told her his contract would end in May and he was going back to England to start a job in the city. But as May approached, Annabelle had pleaded with and eventually persuaded Robin to find work that allowed him to stay on with her. What a year they had together. The time with him had healed her in more ways than she could ever have hoped for. Robin left New York to move back to England, He had decided he wanted to be back there to spend Christmas with his family. She had hidden from Robin that she had spent her second Christmas in a row all alone. In some ways she was happy that Robin had never had chance to discover that she hated Christmas and dreaded it because it exposed her loneliness and the lack of meaningful relationships in her life.

But that Christmas, she was still full of the afterglow of a wonderful year with him. Those feelings that welled up causing her to self-harm were not there. Although she was alone, her heart was merry with memories of him. Although, after his departure, she had no idea how long she would be sustained by the memory of his love. Annabelle could never have predicted the dramatic events that would occur over the next twelve months.

awful x.jpgA year later, Christmas for Robin’s family was ruined. The death of a baby brings a heavy cloud on a family. Annabelle had always imagined that nothing could be worse that spending Christmas all alone. But experiencing the grief of their daughter dying had permanently tarnished the holiday season for her. Every December there would be that reminder, that Lucy had died a few days before Christmas. That following twelve months were so dreadful. Annabelle’s emotions tormented her as never before.

Robin’s family were completely alarmed at what they knew of her challenging behaviour. They didn’t know the half of it, but what they did know made them urge Robin to get professional help. His parents were adamant she should be in some kind of hospital or special ward for mental illness. When Robin tried to speak to Annabelle, she was horrified at the suggestion. Moving her to New York to be near her family and all that was familiar to her had seemed like the best thing to do for Annabelle.

Robin just had not counted on Annabelle’s family being so unsupportive. They seemed more concerned with blaming Dean and Robin, and Annabelle herself, for everything that had happened. They seemed slighted by not having had chance to meet their granddaughter and surprising cool in offering their condolences for the loss Robin and Annabelle had faced.

angryRobin had felt trapped. He couldn’t work, Annabelle couldn’t be on her own for long periods. She didn’t want to be with her family, and he started to find it too risky to expose her to the criticism and censure they directed to her whenever she was with them.

He had argued with her parents about the way they spoke to Annabelle. They twisted everything he said and accused him of being responsible for Annabelle’s depression. They started to try to persuade Annabelle she would be better off without him. Annabelle had recoiled from her parents even more. There had been a huge argument between her parents and Robin over Annabelle. Her parents wanted him gone, but it was starkly obvious that they were completely unprepared to support Annabelle. They said she was self-sufficient and that she could afford her own health care costs, but refused to explain to Robin the reason for their claim. Annabelle did not understand what they were saying and why they seemed to want Robin to leave her.

blackwood winterIn desperation he had moved with Annabelle to the first accommodation he found that was immediately available. A small house just outside Blackwood. They didn’t have a Christmas tree or decorations. There were no gifts and cards that year. But they had each other. That seemed to be all that mattered. That was all that mattered to Annabelle. But that was the point when Robin had started to unravel. He needed his family.  A few later he had left to go back to his parents so that he could recover his health, leaving Annabelle to live and work in the home of Ralph Crabbe and his terminally ill wife Barbara.

pearls familyRobin had spent the following Christmas in London where he had been for almost ten months. Annabelle had spent Christmas with Burt and Pearl, who she was now lodging with, and the family of Pearl. She had been fascinated by witnessing the happy scenes amongst their family. They had invited recently bereaved Ralph to join their family too, which Annabelle was delighted about. That had been a real Christmas. That was love she had told herself.

Another eventful year had passed. And now here she was, alone in New York. Alone in a city of millions of people. Alone right then, in a cheap hotel, when half an hour away there was an apartment which had cost Dean millions, the deeds of which were in her name. The next day she would spend Christmas Day with her family for the first time since she was seventeen years of age. And it would be awful. But that’s what people do at Christmas. Annabelle knew she had some friends, friends who would have been happy for her to join them at their dinner table on Christmas Day. But she had chosen to make an effort with those who, biologically, she was closest to.

sad little annie x.jpgIt helped her to know that she was not the only person on the planet who would be finding Christmas a provoking challenge. There would be others who would be feeling just as disillusioned, just as lost and empty, and having to fight a sense of despair that threatened to descend.

But if there was one thing that she always had liked about Christmas, it was the lights. During the coldest, darkest, loneliest times of year, the lights would cheer her up. So she was glad to be in New York, because the Christmas lights were always magnificent.

annie grief.jpgAt least she had the hope of being with Robin soon. She thought about his words to her when he had called on the 21st December, exactly three years after Lucy had died. Annabelle was sure that he felt the loss more than she did. But he had been the one with the beautiful words. She had none. Three years after the loss of her daughter, Annabelle still had no words. It was a situation she could not comprehend, there were emotions buried within that she could not yet face.

Overwhelmed with emotion, she gave in to sleep.


You can read the next part of Annabelle’s story here:

Festive Cheer

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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels 


The last post was about how Annabelle has asked Chris if she can spend the day with him on 21st December. It was only Ralph (and Robin of course) who remembered that it would be three years since Annabelle’s baby daughter had died of meningitis. I split this section up because it was long…so here is the second part of their day together.

These are the previous parts of Annabelle’s story:

nyc x.jpg“Rob told me that you are going back to New York for Christmas.” mentioned Chris.

“Robin told you right.”

“So you’ll be with your family for the holidays. That’s great Annie.”

Annabelle shrugged her shoulders, “Yeah well, I have my eye on a Nobel Peace Prize – but, I’m not getting my hopes up yet.”

“Surely the Nobel Peace Prize would be better than a light saber!”

prize.jpg“Well, I flunked Annabelle-ology it seems. I never made it to Jedi, so, yeah I’ll have to see what else I might qualify for. If World War Three has not been declared by the end of Christmas Day, maybe I’ll be in the running.”

Chris paused before adding, “Rob said it will be pretty much hell for you.”

“Hell hath no fury like a family scorned…or something like that.” grinned Annabelle.

Chris raised his eye-brows, “First Dean, now the family hey?”

Annabelle shook her head, “No not at all, You cannot compare Dean to my family. It would make Dean look like a saint, and that would just be wrong.”

“What’s so bad about your family Annie?”

annie family.jpg“Aaaaagh! “Bad” is not the right word I guess. They are not bad people. I know that. They are decent people. They always made sure there was food on the table and I never went without what I needed physically. But a family reunion is always an opportunity to exalt certain members of the family and to punish the black sheep of the family.”

“The black sheep of the family?” Chris raised a skeptical eye-brow.

Annabelle raised her hand, “That would be me.”

“Why are you the black sheep?”

“I’ve been asking myself that since I was a little girl Chris. I think I was an inconvenience. I’ve heard my parents tell people I was an accident. But I don’t think they got over the surprise of me. They were more excited about my older sister and brothers getting married. Then they were all excited about having grandchildren. Added to the general not being part of their plan, I seemed to have a habit of breaking things, or knocking something over, or injuring one of my nephews and making them cry. I would be sent to my room in shame with no dessert.”

annie tub.jpg“So you have never forgiven them because they didn’t let you have dessert?”

Annabelle looked hurt, “As I got older, well, it was a different kind of punishment. The little ones in the family were praised and made out to be little angels. I was flunking math and science. I wasn’t on any of the sports teams. I couldn’t draw for toffee. I gave up trying to play the tuba, do you know how horrendous it is trying to drag a huge case with a tuba through the Bronx on the subway to and from school? Stupid music teacher should have given me something small to learn, like a flute.”

Chris laughed. “Annie, this is not why you are dreading seeing your family is it?”

“It’s not funny Chris. My parents were always arguing about money. But they would buy all sorts of expensive toys for the little ones at Christmas. They would give me stationary for school.”

“Stationary – very practical gift. More useful than toys.”

Teenage Problems, Social Issues and BullyingAnnabelle flashed her eyes at Chris, “I know you think I am stupid, but it was years Chris, years and years, my entire childhood, of being treated like I was the trouble maker, the runt of the pack, watching my nephews and nieces be spoilt and made a fuss over. Being compared to them, being sent to my room, shouted at in front of everyone, told I was clumsy, stupid, hopeless, selfish, never going to succeed if I didn’t try harder at school and it built up ok…it built up and then, before I knew it, I was googling how to go about killing myself – ok.

“Ok Annie, ok.” Chris reached for Annabelle but she pulled away.

“They are not bad people, my family are not bad people. It’s not their fault. I know I am the one with the problem. At thirteen I was so lonely and so miserable, but found I was too scared to try to kill myself, so I found a different way to deal with the way I felt, I started cutting myself.”

“And they never even knew?”

dean and annie5Annabelle shook her head, “Can you blame me for falling in love with Dean and leaving home to go with him? Does it make me a bad person? Does it explain why I hung around a group of jerks who were abusing alcohol and drugs and wetting themselves or being sick in the back of the tour-bus? Do you think there is anything that I can ever do to redeem myself in my family’s eyes for giving up the chance to go to college, to follow a rock band who made the kind of music my parents hate, and always looked as if they had only just got out of bed?”

“I’m sorry Annie.” Chris took a deep breath and rubbed the back of Anabelle’s back. “I think you are brave to be going back to somewhere you felt so unhappy..”

annabelle and lucy.jpg“What hurts the most is the thought that if our daughter had lived, that they would have compared her to their other grandkids. I can’t bear the thought that she would have felt like I did whenever we had a family get-together. I’m relieved she never had to face that kind of rejection. One last time Chris. One last time, and from now on I want to spend every Christmas with Robin, somewhere other than with my family, who never liked Dean, and never liked Robin, and hardly even acknowledged that they had a beautiful little granddaughter who died before they met her, other than suggesting it was something we had done wrong, or that we didn’t take her to hospital early enough.”

Chris was taken aback. He waited a few moments to let what she had said sink in, “Annabelle Riley – you are a strong woman. The more I get to know you, the more I feel you are quite extraordinary.”

“I’m so tired Chris. I just want to rest and not have all of this going on inside of me. I just want to be able to say goodbye to them and move on. One last effort and then I am just going to think of building a life with Robin.”

annabelle exhausted.jpg“You deserve some happiness.”

“We all deserve happiness. Well, ok not if you are a member of the mafia, or a serial killer. But the vast majority of people deserve happiness.” Annabelle smiled, “Why do I feel as if everytime we talk, I ruin your day up by dragging you through my tangled broken up world?”

“But I can’t get enough of you.”

“I’m afraid that I will drag you down Chris. I have already done it to Dean and Robin. I don’t want to do it to anyone else.”

chris and annie hug.jpg“Annie, I think you are an amazing person. But when I hear what you have been through, I see a broken hearted little girl, I see a teenager injuring herself, I see someone loyal, having to care for her boyfriend when he’s drunk or high, I see a woman whose partner abandoned her for over eighteen months to put himself first, and yet forgave him, I see a mother who lost her little baby. And I feel immensely for you. It just makes me proud of you. I feel proud to know you, proud to be your friend. It makes me sad to think of what you have been through, but it is inspiring. Your strength, it is inspiring. In no way are you someone I get tired of. It’s completely the opposite.”

“When you told me about how you battled depression after your parents divorce, I found that inspiring. It gave me hope that it is possible to get over heartbreak and possible to get better.”

“That feels really good to hear. You are freezing. Let’s warm up in the car.”

“Do you think you could put up with my croaning again?”

chris and annie carChris turned the radio on, “With pleasure Annie. You can sing your heart out!” So Annabelle did. She sang her heart out all the way back to Blackwood.

As they passed Cricklebrook, Annabelle sat up in her seat. A few miles down the road, she pointed to a lane “That’s where Robin and I were living when we first came here. There is a house at the bottom of that track, almost buried in the woods. The trees make it so dark and gloomy. That’s where Robin really fell apart.”

“I think Rob fell apart when he was in London, when he was without you. When he was with you he was holding it together. It was once he was on his own that he lost it.”


Annabelle let out a sigh, “You are very kind, but really he was truly exhausted by the time we got here. It had been a nightmare year. And all he had done was focus on helping me. He sacrificed his career, his home, and himself – all for me. When he came back to Blackwood to tell me what he had done in London, I should not have let myself get so angry with him. I should have remembered all that had gone before.”

“But all is good now though.”

“All is good now.” nodded Annabelle.

“And you can carry on making it up to him. You have a wonderful future ahead of you Annie, I am sure of it.” Chris put his hand over Annabelle’s.

“I intend to make it up to him Chris. I can’t wait to make it up to him. After all he has sacrificed, I am going to give him everything I have.” Annabelle smiled to herself with the knowledge she had not yet shared with anyone in Blackwood.

When Chris pulled up outside The Jennings’ home, Annabelle climbed out of the car and came around to speak to Chris through his window, “I have something for you Chris. Can you wait a moment and I will run in and get it for you?”

chris and annie mistletoe.jpgAnnabelle’s feet skidded in her rush to get to the front door, but she managed to steady herself. Within a couple of minutes she was back at the car window leaning over to Chris. “Thank you for today,” she leaned over while holding a sprig of mistletoe up to the roof of the car, “Merry Christmas Chris,” her lips touched Chris’s who raised his hands around her face. Before drawing away, Annabelle gently nibbled at Chris’ bottom lip. “I’ve been wanting to do that all day, ever since you told me about how what happened to your lip.”

“Annie, I..”

Annabelle shook her head and put her finger against Chris’ lips, “Have a great time with your family. “

Chris grimaced, “I’d love to say the same to you.”

gift for chris.JPG“This is for you Chris. I’m sorry I am not very good at the whole gift thing, but you know, it’s something,” she passed through the window the wrapped gift Chris had seen her carry from the house. “There is a receipt inside, you can exchange it if you don’t like it.” Her face crumpled with awkwardness.

“Thank you Annie. I truly wish you some happiness over Christmas, and even if it’s as awful as you’re expecting, I just really wish you could have happiness every day of your life.”

While Chris drove back home, he could not help remembering the first time he had picked up Annabelle in the came little sports car. She had been embarrassed in case the neighbours saw them sitting in a car together. Chris debated in his mind whether it was a good or bad thing that Annabelle clearly did not care anymore what any prying neighbours thought of her friendship with Chris.


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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels 



I have split the following part of Annabelle’s story into two posts (otherwise you would have been cursing me for a ridiculously long post). It’s not at all long until she goes away for Christmas, and you will see that certain memories are about to come flooding back into Annabelle’s mind.

These are the previous parts of Annabelle’s story:

ralph and annie.pngAnnabelle was faithful in her visits to hospital to see Ralph Crabbe. After the surgery on his hip, he very tired. Ralph found the physiotherapy challenging. Being in hospital for so many weeks was starting to take a toll on his spirits. Friends from the rambling group made sure to visit. Burt and Pearl came regularly. But Annabelle was the most frequent of all his visitors.

“It didn’t escape his notice that Annabelle seemed different. They would chat pleasantly. Annabelle always brought something that Ralph had requested. Sometimes it was a book, and he would ask her to read outloud to save his eyes. They played scrabble or chess. Annabelle found it hard to concentrate so invariably Ralph would end up announcing check mate long before the visiting times were over.

One day Ralph asked Annabelle a question which confused her, “It must be coming up to three years now Annie. Do you know who you are going to spend the day with? I don’t want to to be stuck here at the hospital. Make sure you do something to cheer yourself up with someone real special to you.”

ralphAnnabelle gazed at Ralph who was smiling softly, “You remembered? Thank you Ralph.”

“You kept me company on the anniversary of Barbara’s passing. It meant so much to me you know. You need to make sure that you are with someone who will help you on the anniversary of your wee daughter’s passing away. If I weren’t stuck here, I would volunteer. But as it is, you need to make sure someone is there for you. Someone to lighten your heart.”

Annabelle didn’t talk about her daughter Lucy. Robin had told Ralph and Barbara when he had made arrangements for Annabelle to move in as Barbara’s carer. On that dreadful 21st December, Robin had held her up to prevent her legs from giving way beneath her. She had been staring at the lifeless body of the daughter that she had not understood how to love. It was something that she did not see any point talking about with anyone in Blackwood. Nobody could say anything that would make a difference.

annie5Chris was pleased that Annabelle had called him to ask if he would still be in Blackwood on 21st December. He’d only seen Annabelle once that month, when he had been invited for dinner by Pearl. That night Annabelle had been much more subdued than he had ever known her, although she was clearly making an effort to join in the conversation. It was clear something was weighing on her heart.

Robin called Annabelle on the 21st December at six o’clock in the morning. He was having a lunch break at work. He was anxious to speak to her because he knew it would be a very busy day for him. He had thought about what to say to Annabelle carefully. He was also relieved to hear that she would spend the day with Chris. “Does he know Belle?”

“No Robin. Please don’t say anything.”

lean in for kissChris collected Annabelle at ten o’clock. “What’s the plan Annie? You seemed a bit sketchy on the phone.”

“How about a movie?”

“Sure. At the MegaPix?  Shall I check what is on?” Chris presented Annabelle with his phone with a list of the films showing at the multi-screen cinema situated at the retail park on the other side of Blackwood. She pulled a face at most of them.

“Maybe we could go for a walk instead?”

Chris turned the keys in the ignition of his beloved TVR Tasmin and listened to the engine purr. “Shall we go up to Navarino?”

Annabelle nodded. She stretched forward and turned on the radio. During the forty minute drive, she sang along to every song that was played, frequently crying out “Oh I love this song,” when the first few bars of a track would begin.

mildew1“Your voice is not bad Annie. I’m surprised you didn’t end up singing for Mildew.”

“Because my voice is exactly that Chris, it is “not bad”. But it’s not great either. Nick is an amazing singer when he’s not drunk, so is Liam actually, but you can’t really have a drummer on lead vocals can you. Did you know there first singer was called Greg? He thought he’d have a better chance of a career singing solo – he was oh so wrong!” Annabelle laughed to herself.

“I didn’t know they had another singer.” replied Chris. “I guess you could an encyclopedia about Mildew.”

dean3Annabelle pulled her tongue and laughed. “What I know about those boys Chris – I could blackmail the whole lot of them and live in luxury for the rest of my life!”

“No wonder they were all so sweet with you when we were in New York.”

Annabelle turned to Chris with a serious expression, “I wouldn’t do them any harm, you know I am joking don’t you?” after Chris nodded, she continued, “Rick and Dean are the worse though. They are very bad for each other. Rick used to really scare me. He’s solid. He can do a lot of damage when he’s stoned. Nick and Liam have their heads screwed on just a little bit more. That’s why they argue. Nick and Dean especially. If Dean is playing the wrong chords, it messes things up for Nick. He feels as if he is the one who gets criticised because his vocals are not in sync with the music. But it is Dean who messes up,” Annabelle let out a loud sigh.

band“Well Annie, they didn’t mess up in New York.”

A broad smile appeared on Annabelle’s face, “I do kind of wish I had seen Dean performing solo. I’ve watched him performing those two songs online. The new song is so beautiful. He is singing those words right at my heart. He would be so upset if he realized I wasn’t there on the night. That will have to be our secret Chris pretty much forever.”

“But Annabelle Riley doesn’t have secrets?” laughed Chris.

“Hey, Dean and me are on good terms now, I do not want to have to owe him anything like an apology for the rest of my life. Choose your loyalty Mr. Ward – me or Dean?”

Chris put his hand on Annabelle’s knee and squeezed it. “Ha! I thought so!” she grinned.

annie worryingOn reaching the wildlife area, Chris and Annabelle walked around. The sky was grey and the whole area was pretty dismal. As Annabelle beheld the bleak scenery, she found a profound sadness welling up within her.

“How is Annabelle these days? Holding it together?” asked Chris liking her arm.

Annabelle didn’t reply immediately, but she squeezed Chris arm, “Tell me more about you Chris.”

“What do you want to know Annie?”

“I want to know all about you and your family. What can you tell me from your childhood? Do you have any stories to share with me?”

young chirs.jpgChris pointed to his lip, “When I was kid I wanted to be a pro-baseball player when I grew up. One day I was out fielding and I tried to catch a the ball when a batter from the other team had knocked it in my direction. I ran towards the ball, sure I was going to catch it. But the sun was in my eyes. The baseball hit my face and bust my lip right open. There was so much blood Annie, it was like a scene from a horror movie. It took ages for my lip to heal properly. I kept knocking it and it would burst open again and start bleeding. Mom kept me supplied for a month with Dad’s handkerchiefs to carry around everyday so I could mop up the blood whenever I needed to.”

Annabelle was listening intently to Chris. There was a smile in her eyes. For the next couple of hours she encouraged Chris to go on sharing stories from his childhood. It was after one o’clock when Chris asked Annabelle where she wanted to go for lunch. “Somewhere warm Chris. I’m frozen.”

chris and annie eating.jpgChris pulled over at the first diner they passed. With Annabelle encouraging him, he continued to relate memories of Christmas with his family when he was growing up. “Christmas is never going to be what it was before my parents divorced. We are always split into two camps.”

“But at least you still have a good time with  half of your family.”

After lunch, Chris and Annie decided to head back out into the cold December air and continue their walk.


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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels 


What is it that has upset Annabelle so much. How will she endure the next six weeks until she is with Robin again?

These are the previous parts in Annabelle’s story:

annie phone.pngAnnabelle did keep herself busy. Thanksgiving came and went. She started to think ahead to Christmas. She knew where she wanted to be for Christmas, but she felt extremely anxious about it. It was three weeks before Christmas when she finally plucked up the courage to ring her parents. Annabelle’s father answered the phone with a hello. As soon as she greeted him, he called out, “Annabelle’s on the phone Carol. I’ll pass you onto your mother Annabelle.”

“Hello Annabelle,” uttered her mother with a cool voice, “is something wrong?”

Annabelle maintained an upbeat tone, “No, everything is fine. I just called to see how you are?”

oliver“We’re all fine. Becky has won a prize at school for her artwork. It’s going to be featured in an exhibition. Little Oliver has chicken pox. Your Dad can’t go near him because he never had it as a child, We don’t want him to get shingles. How about you? No more problems since the accident?”

“Everything is fine mom. I was wondering if it would be ok to come and spend Christmas with you and Dad.”

“If you really want to. We can make space for one more around the table. I’m sure nobody will mind. Just try not to upset anyone Annabelle. There won’t be room for you to sleep here though, your nephews are flying in from college and they are going to share your old room.”

“I don’t mind sleeping on the sofa Mom.”

“Oh no, your Dad won’t like that. he likes to watch TV until late.”

hotel“Well then, I can stay in a hotel.” suggested Annabelle.

“That’s a good idea.”

“Ok, well, I’ll look at flights and hotels and book something. Shall I just come down on Christmas Eve, would that be alright?” asked Annabelle.

Her mother’s voice became high pitched, “That’s when we’re picking the boys up from the airport. It will be quite busy then. It might be better to come on Christmas Day. We’re having dinner at 2pm. Because of all the little ones everyone will have to left by around eight o’clock.”

“That sounds great Mom.”

“Ok, well we’ll see you then. Don’t come too early because it will be chaos in the kitchen and your Dad want you getting in his way. “Annabelle heard the phone disconnect before she’s even had chance to say goodbye. A lump of pain sat in her throat. She walked towards a bench nearby and sat down, staring into space for ten minutes feeling a dread at the thought of being back with her family for a whole day.

annabelle1It didn’t take much for her mind to suddenly revert back to it’s state when she had been a teenager at home. The profound loneliness was always lingering. Still she kept on reminding herself not to take it personally. That’s just the way they were, the way they had always been. She had not been with her family for Christmas for ten years. She suddenly realized that nothing would have changed. It was unlikely that there would be much reaction to her addition at the dinner table.

Annabelle scrolled through the contacts on her phone. Her finger hovered over Robin’s name, but she hesitated for a moment. She scrolled back up to another name and pressed call. After a few rings she heard a voice she was longing to hear, “Hey Dean, can you talk?”

After a half hour conversation with Dean who updated her on their plans to tour Europe she felt much better. It felt good to be on good terms with Dean again. She told him she had booked flights to Switzerland in January. Dean worked out they would be in Germany by the 8th of January. He reminded Annabelle of the first time the band had played in Hamburg. Annabelle could remember it, she could not laugh as much as Dean at the memory of the antics after their shows.

dean playShe also told him she was going to be with her family for Christmas. Dean laughed and told her she should ask the doctor for some kind of medication that would get her through the holiday season with them. Annabelle admitted that it might only be Christmas Day alone she would be with them. She asked if he had any plans to be in New York. Dean said that was unlikely until they came back from their European tour. He asked her what she thought of the new song that had just been released. Annabelle asked which one. Dean reminded her he has sung it at Madison Square Gardens. Annabelle realized she was likely to provoke Dean if she admitted she had not even heard it. So instead she told him how touched she was that he had dedicated it to her and how proud she was that he had performed solo.

annie listening2.jpgAfter their conversation, she started to check the internet for the new single from Mildew and finding it she played it on YouTube. It was very much a love song. In the very first verse she realized Dean had written the song about her. The words: “the woman is still a child, who needs to be held and told she’s a good girl” she felt wrap around her heart. As she listened to the words, tears trickled from her eyes. She had really needed that. It felt wonderful to be loved.

Within weeks of their break-up, which was over four years ago, she had abandoned all hope of Dean taking her back. He had made it quite clear he didn’t want to hear from her at the time. Seeing Dean in New York had helped her to recover from the huge sense of failure and rejection that had haunted her. After meeting Robin and sensing his adoration of her, she had become elated and re-energised. She never wanted to go back, long ago she’s accepted there would never be a future with Dean, but it felt wonderful to be loved all the same. He still loved her, but in a different way, maybe he loved the memory of the good times, or the loyal support she had given him, but that trip to New York had confirmed some kind of love.

platonic6She thought of Chris. She knew he cared, she was so grateful to him. But the attraction she had felt to him always made her feel guilty. At times he was extremely handsome, and the look in his eyes, he was hopeless at disguising his feelings for her. There were too many times that they had been so close to each other that something could easily have happened. She’d wanted it to. It was hard to accept his kindness without feeling ashamed of herself.

Still, he had provided a security net for her that she hoped she would be able to fall on if Robin ever let her down. Before he came to Blackwood, Annabelle had started to think Robin had abandoned her. But now, she felt convinced Robin had no intention of ever abandoning her. In telling her the truth, he had won her trust. She could forget all of his errors in London, because she regarded him as her rock.

Her thoughts started to dwell on Robin. How she longed to be with him. She had not told him anything about the money yet. When she came back from New York she had hesitated as to whether she should tell him on the phone or e-mail him. She had wanted to ask Chris first. She was sure Chris would be discreet. He’d been discreet about everything that had happened in New York.

robin and annie at doctorsBut then the appointment at Leaston had ruined everything. She’d walked out of the Doctor’s office feeling devastated. She was determined never to go back down that road again. She felt as if the therapist had completely betrayed her. At first he’s been positive. He’d told the Doctor about Annabelle’s exuberance and joy and described her personality as captivating. He had explained her qualities of loyalty and humility despite some of the challenges in her relationships. He had told the Doctor how much progress Annabelle had made with CBT.

peace1But then his tone had changed and he had used expressions like irritability, sensitivity, tendency to become distracted, impulsiveness, capriciousness, fear of abandonment, recklessness, disassociation, a distorted sense of herself, emotional isolation, intropunitive and emotionally vulnerable. He had repeated things that she had told him thinking they were in total confidence to the Doctor, who was a complete stranger. Annabelle had sat there in disbelief and full of rage. Then the Doctor had said something to Annabelle which had completely infuriated her. Annabelle had walked out insisting there was no way she was going to continue with CBT. She had turned her back on the idea of professional support. It had completely robbed her of all the joy and hope that her discovery in New York had created within her.

Still, it was still there, the money was still there. She couldn’t wait to tell Robin that she had more than enough money to cover all of his debt. Then they could be together. She needed that. It was becoming obvious to her that she couldn’t stay in Blackwood forever.

After she came back from New York, it was clear that the gossip instigated by that photograph Dean had posted was probably more damaging to her life in Blackwood than if she had lived in a busy city. Three of her clients had called that week and said they no longer needed her help with ironing. They were perfectly polite, but for all of them to make their decision at the same time was no coincidence. At first she had been grieved at the realization they were rejecting her because they thought she was a loose woman. Dean’s photograph, presented through the interpretation of the likes of Jenna, had led some townsfolk, who had liked her before, to drop her abruptly.

Annabelle had found it hard to go into town without noticing that some of the younger residents of Blackwood were staring at her. She’d passed Jenna, Amber and Margo and had received their snide comments and questions without batting an eyelid. Annabelle cared about Dean far more than the opinions of those who did not really know her. A sense of gratitude for all that Dean had given her buoyed her up, meaning she was not vulnerable to gossip.

burt and pearl1At times she wondered if Burt and Pearl had heard anything. Right from the start they seemed unsure of why Annabelle had needed to go all the way to New York with Christopher Ward. She had made sure Chris explained they were in different rooms. But it clearly was not something they were entirely comfortable with. And they had both questioned her repeatedly about the state of her arm which seemed to be taking a long time to heal. She no longer felt that Burt and Pearl were a source of unconditional love. She’d broken some of their ideals, she knew it. It felt as if she was tarnished in their eyes. It broke her heart dwelling on the thought that their fondness towards her seemed to have cooled.

Senior Woman Sitting OutsideIf Annabelle had not been so upset by what had happened in the office with her therapist and the doctor, perhaps she would have realized that Burt and Pearl were just very busy preparing for Christmas and winter. There was a lot of work to do.

They had been surprised that Annabelle had made other arrangements for Christmas. It was disappointing to them Annabelle wouldn’t be there. She was such a joyful presence and they had long regarded her as a member of their family. It was Pearl who felt it the most. She had always wanted children. Annabelle had been like the daughter she had always hoped for. But all these trips away that Annabelle was taking. Three trips in as many months. Pearl was starting to realize that Annabelle was going to leave them at some point, probably to be with Robin, and it stirred up a sense of grief at the imminent separation from the young woman who had won such a firm place in Pearl’s heart.

that was todayThings seemed to be falling apart from Annabelle’s perspective. She felt as if everything was spiralling out of control. It was not the first time she had experienced that feeling. She started to prepare herself for what she was convinced to come. She was going to have to leave them all behind. It was time to run away before they rejected her completely.

She already felt guilty because if the feelings she had for Chris at times. Now she found herself pushing him away. She wanted the friendship to cool. She was going to leave Blackwood behind. She was going to leave Chris behind. This was a place that been so good for her, but now the shine had vanished. She was ready to leave Blackwood and those she had been close to. She was going to abandon them. Abandon them before they rejected her completely. She couldn’t face the rejection of people she had grown to love. So it was better to leave before that happened.

robin and annie6She longed to be with Robin again. He would understand everything. And she’d be able to use the money lying dormant in the bank account she’d only just learnt about to pay off his debt. He might never leave her again after she was willing to hand over so much money to him. What was that money worth to her? So long as they could be together. She didn’t care where. Just so long as they were together. She needed his love so much.

The weeks passed slowly. She took her time over writing personal cards to each one of her family to give to them with the gifts she had bought. She sent a few e-mails to people she used to socialize with in New York wondering if any of them would reply. She bought a guide book on Switzerland and read it avidly. She asked Pearl to teach her as much as possible in the kitchen. She visited Ralph every day, her heart prodding her with the guilt at the thought of abandoning him.

The words of that Doctor in Leaston taunted Annabelle. She wished she had never seen that woman.


You can read the next part of Annabelle’s story here:


And here is an extra for you:

The Song That Dean Wrote

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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels 


Still Fighting

Chris has noticed that Annabelle has been different since they returned from New York. Will he be able to find out what is wrong?

These are the previous parts in Annabelle’s story:

Chris was persistent with Annabelle. Eventually she agreed to go for a coffee with him, three whole weeks after they had been in New York together. Despite it being late November, it was a very mild day. The cafe was crowded, so Annabelle pointed to the empty tables outside.


“I heard that you have been getting ahead with your Christmas shopping.” grinned Chris.

“It’s only five weeks away. I wanted to beat the crowds.” replied Annabelle nonchalantly.

“I buy everything online. I hate shopping.”

Annabelle shrugged her shoulders. She seemed cool in her manner. “Will you be in Chicago for Christmas as well as Thanksgiving?”

chris brother.jpg“I’m spending Christmas in Milwaukee. Mum will be staying with my oldest brother and his family. I’ll be crashing on the floor in the conservatory.”

“That’s nice,” replied Annabelle.

“How about you? What are your plans for Christmas?”

“I haven’t decided yet. Pearl’s sister and her family are coming over from Mapleton. And I think Burt’s younger brother is coming too.”

“And then you’re off to Switzerland not long after I belive.”

“I go on the 8th January.” stated Annabelle with the same matter-of-fact tone she seemed determined to maintain.



“That’s great. I am really pleased for you. I bet Rob can’t wait to see you.” Chris was trying communicate warm feelings to Annabelle, but so far she seemed impermeable.

chris and annie coffeeAt last a smile slowly appeared on Annabelle’s face at the mention of Robin, “He still rings you doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, he’s called a few times.”

“I don’t know why. I told him I don’t go to counselling any more so he doesn’t need to keep annoying you.”

“He’s not annoying me. I don’t know why, but I find it easier to get on with him being in a different continent. I don’t get quite so irritated by what he does.” Chris rolled his eyes.

“Still, I have told him he doesn’t need to be checking up on me.” Annabelle said with a stern tone, “Maybe you could tell him that too.”

“It’s hard for him being so far away from you. You know how much he cares. Anyway, there’s not much I can say these days, I haven’t seen you since New York.”

latteAnnabelle stared at her latte. “I’ve been busy.”

“So I believe. Still, I’ve missed you.”

“Well, I’m here now,” was Annabelle’s half-hearted reply.

“I was worried about the way I walked off on you the day we came back. I overreacted to that photo. I’ve been wanting to apologise ever since. You’re not still mad at me are you?”

Annabelle was still reluctant to make eye-contact with Chris, “I’m not mad at you” she muttered.

“You just seem different Annie. Ever since we came back. Are you sure it’s not because of what I said to you in the cab?”

“Chris, the whole world doesn’t revolve around you ok. I have just been busy like I told you.” snapped Annabelle.

chris drinking coffeeChris took a large gulp of his coffee, “Calm down ok. I’m not doubting you have been busy. I’ve heard about what you’ve been up to. It’s great that you are busy. But what is going on between you and me? I thought we were good friends. You seem to be shutting me out at the moment.”

Annabelle’s eyes finally fixed onto Chris’. “Friends trust each other Chris.”

“I’m sorry I doubted you Annie.”

Annabelle’s face was completely emotionless, “It doesn’t matter ok. I haven’t even thought about it. I’ve had so much going on. At least Robin believed me.”

“But that’s why you have been cool with me, because I didn’t believe you?”

Annabelle became frustrated, “Please just drop it. I have had other things keeping me busy. I don’t care about what happened.”

“I think you do.” stated Chris.

annie annoyed.jpgAnnabelle stood up from the table, “What’s your problem? You don’t believe anything I say anymore.”

“I’m worried Annie. Something’s different, I don’t know what it is, but something happened in New York or on the way back and you are not the same. I am worried about you and so is Robin.”

“There’s nothing wrong. I’m telling you the truth. You’re the one with the problem. And Robin can call me if he has anything he needs to ask.”

“Ok, so tell me truthfully, why aren’t you going to counselling anymore? What happened?”

“That’s none of your business.” Annabelle walked away from the table red-faced.

Chris was quickly out of his chair and pursuing her, “Yes it is.”

“No, it’s not. I don’t need to go anymore ok. We all agreed I wasn’t going to continue. The guy I’ve been seeing and the doctor he got me to see in Leaston both know I am not going any more. It’s official we all agreed, I even have a letter to prove it.”

“Leaston? Why did you have to go there?”

at docs.jpg“There was a letter ok, when I came back from New York telling me to attend an appointment with my therapist and some doctor I have never even met. The therapist came out with all sorts of rubbish he has never told me about. It was a complete waste of time. And that doctor was hopeless, she didn’t know what she was talking about. So we decided to end the CBT.”

“What did she say?” asked Chris.

“That’s completely confidential and it really really is none of your business.”

“So does that mean you’re not at risk of self-harming again? They don’t think you need any support any more?”

annie cross“Just stop it. What makes you think you can bully me into telling you things that you have no right to know about?” she was pointing at Chris in accusation and her voice was straining with emotion.

“I’m not bullying you. Annie. I’m just trying to understand why you are isolating yourself with this. All this time you’ve been opening up and sharing yourself and what you’ve been through and now it’s as if you’ve totally shut down. You’re not even being open with Robin about it.”

It was clear that Annabelle was livid at Chris, “That’s between Robin and me. I will talk to Robin when I am ready. There are things I want to talk to him about when I see him in January ok. Things than only concern him and me, and that have nothing to do with you.”

“That’s fine Annie, but something has upset you. You’re acting really strange. You need to trust the people that care about you and who know what you’ve been going through. If you only want to talk to Robin that’s fine. But I care about you and I know there is something you are hiding. I am your friend and I am not going to give up on you, you mean too much to me.”

Annabelle’s whole body slumped. She seemed defeated. “I don’t want to talk about it Chris.” She turned away feeling ashamed.

“But there is something you are struggling with isn’t there?”

chris holding annie.jpgAnnabelle’s face was blank, “I need Robin so much right now.”

“Just over six weeks Annie. Try to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas – hopefully it will fly by.”

Annabelle nodded tearfully, “I hope so.”

Chris put his arms around Annabelle and she instinctively took his hand. “Hey, don’t forget how much I care.”

“You’ve been great. I’m sorry, I just need Robin for this one.” she murmured.

“Alright Annie. Just don’t cut me out. I can’t stop worrying about you when you go silent.”

Annabelle replied, “I’m trying to keep busy. It helps.”

“Good, stay busy.” whispered Chris into her ear, “You seemed so happy in New York.”

“I think I was Chris.” Annabelle was trembling in Chris’ arms.

different“You’ll be happy again. Whatever it is, you can beat it Annie.”

“You don’t understand.” Annabelle croaked.

Chris sighed, “No, I don’t at the moment. But I believe in you. I saw how strong you really are when we were in New York. The way you looked after Dean. You are going to get through whatever it is that is hurting you now. Just tell me one thing truthfully, have you hurt yourself recently?”

Annabelle’s heart was heavy and she felt herself close to sobbing, “It’s still something I have to fight Chris. It’s not gone away completely.”

Chris wrapped his arms even tighter around Annabelle and kissed the back of her head, “I’m here ok, there is no way I am ever going to abandon you.”


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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels 










I don’t know if you read the ending of the last part of Annabelle’s story. I found myself sobbing while I was writing that. The little lady whose story I am telling is still struggling despite all the therapy and support she has had. But her story is about to deal with something Annabelle is going to find very hard to swallow.

These are the previous parts in Annabelle’s story:

chris not impressedChris called round at The Jennings’ home a couple of days after they had been back in Blackwood. He had calmed down. He knew Annabelle must be upset, because she wasn’t answering her phone or responding to his messages. The photograph Dean Mathers had posted on his Instagram account of Annabelle in bed had been removed. Chris guessed she must have called Dean.

Chris had called Jenna and told her to leave Annabelle alone. Jenna had seemed amused on the phone. Robin had called Chris, and had downplayed the photo that Dean had posted. Robin didn’t seem at all provoked by it. Robin was very warm in his thanks to Chris for travelling with Annabelle to New York.

Annabelle was not home when Chris arrived, but Pearl was eager to hear from Chris more about the trip to New York. He told her about the places they had visited and showed her photographs taken from Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, Central Park and The Empire State Building.




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“Annabelle seems very tired. She has been very quiet since she came back.” mentioned Pearl.

“We packed a lot in Mrs J. Lots of rushing around the city from here to there.”

“And of course there was the accident too. She said she fell over?”

“Fell over?” Chris was puzzled.

“Yes, her arm is badly bruised. She seemed a bit evasive when I asked her exactly what had happened,” there was a very concerned tone in Pearl’s voice.

pearl4Realizing he could not tell Pearl the entire story of how a drunkard had stumbled and grabbed Annabelle’s arm to steady himself, Chris simply affirmed, “Oh yes, sorry yes, she did have an accident. We picked up some Arnica cream for her arm from a pharmacy.”

Pearl seemed satisfied, “It’s really good for bruises. Maybe that’s why she is so tired. Anyway she is at the Doctor’s today so she could always mention it at her appointment.”

That evening Annabelle called Chris. He was relieved to hear her voice, “I only called to say I am not going to be going to Tayford anymore. Thank you for taking me up there every week, but I don’t have to go anymore.”

“You are not going to CBT anymore? Ok Annie, well that’s good I guess.” Chris waited for Annabelle to reply, “Are you ok Annie?”

“I’m fine. Anyway, I have to go now.”

“Alright Annie, we’ll have to do something at the weekend. I’ll be in touch.” There was no reply, “Annie?”

“Bye Chris” preceded the call being disconnected by Annabelle.

chris texting.jpgChris didn’t hear from Annabelle again until a couple of days later when he texted her to ask if she wanted to go and see a movie at the cinema. Annabelle replied, stating that she already had plans for the weekend. He responded by asking her to keep some time free the following weekend. It seemed unusual, after they had shared so much together during their eventful trip to New York, that they’d barely spoken all week. Neither had Annabelle hadn’t been out with the rambling group that week.

He sent a couple of texts before the weekend. Annabelle would eventually reply with a smile emoji. Something was wrong. He presumed it was to do with his own reaction to the photograph Dean had posted of her on Instagram. Chris decided to call Annabelle to speak about it. She didn’t answer her phone all weekend, but she did text on the Sunday evening: “SORRY I MISSED YOUR CALLS, IT’S BEEN A BUSY WEEKEND.”

Chris texted back, “SO LONG AS YOU’RE NOT AVOIDING ME.”

nov.jpgThe following Friday Annabelle answered her phone when Chris called asking her if she was free. She told him she had a lot planned again. But she made an effort to chat, asking Chris what he had planned for Thanksgiving. Chris said he would be up in Chicago with Gina and one of their brothers. Their Dad was going to be there too. He asked Annabelle what her plans were. She said she would join Burt and Pearl who were going to go up to Mapleton to spend Thanksgiving with Gloria’s family.

“Well, we’ll have to do something before Thanksgiving Annie.”

“Yeah,” Annabelle paused before offering a suggestion, “Maybe we could go for a coffee or something.”

Around fifteen minutes after the conversation with Annabelle, Chris received a phone call from Robin, “How did she get on with her therapy this week?”

Chris was surprised at the question, “She isn’t going any more, hasn’t she told you?”

“She said that her appointment last week was rearranged. She went to it on Tuesday instead of Thursday. I thought it was all back to normal this week?”

cbt1“Well, I didn’t take her up to Tayford yesterday. She told me last week that she doesn’t need to go anymore.” replied Chris.

There was a pause from Robin, “That’s weird. She hasn’t said anything about it to me. Something’s not right. Does she seem ok to you?”

“I’ve not seen her Rob, we’ve spoken on the phone a couple of times. I was worried something was up, but all I can get out of her is that she’s busy at the moment.”

“I don’t know Chris, I’m getting mixed vibes from Belle. She is so excited about coming over here. She’s booked a flight to come out here in January, did she tell you? She’s been telling me how much she enjoyed her time in New York, she can’t say enough about how great Dean was. She told me she spent all of last weekend shopping for Christmas presents for her family, which is great! She seems quite positive about her parents at the moment and oh, she said Pearl is teaching her how to bake.”

dean's photo of annieChris was surprised at all he was hearing, “She hasn’t mentioned any of that. Although, it was kind of obvious she was pleased with Dean when we were in New York. That photo said it all.”

Robin ignored the comment about the photo, “Did you two get on alright in New York? I asked her about how you enjoyed the trip and she didn’t have much to say, which is odd, because she is raving on about everything else ten to the dozen. She seemed a little evasive.”

Chris hesitated, “I thought we did. She was a bit snappy the first evening after she’d spoken to Dean, but she kept saying she was tired.”

“She does get grumpy when she’s tired. She’s like a kid. She needs a lot of sleep. Staying up all late three nights in a row would have made her it tough for her.”

“Well, she had an early night the first night we were there. She slept for over twelve hours. I thought that must be keeping her going for the rest of the weekend.”

nothing happened“No, she didn’t Chris. She was up until after three o’clock in the morning. She told me the next day she’d been in Dean’s room most of the night talking. She said eventually they had both fallen asleep on his bed. Annabelle reckoned that’s when he must have taken that photo. She’s already given Dean an earful about taking photos of her when she was asleep.”

Chris felt shock at what Robin was telling him, “What!”

“She said it really helped her to have the chance to talk for so long. It turned out that Dean had a lot he needed to get off his chest too. I think they both felt they’ve left things on a better note than they did when they first broke up. She’s told you about that night hasn’t she, when he ended up hitting her?”

“She didn’t tell me she’d been in his room.” Chris was trying to work out in his head how that was even possible.

“At the time, she told me not to mention it, but after Dean posted that photo, I thought you’d figured it out she’d been with him,” Robin said nonchalantly, “You didn’t think she’d actually let something happen did you? Annabelle would never cheat on me, not for my sake, for her own.. She knows she would never be able to get over the guilt of it, it would drive her insane.”

annabelle listening (2)“I honestly thought the night he was in our room that something must have happened. I couldn’t understand it. I asked her about it on the way back here from the airport. She just said it was none of my business.”

“That’s Belle when she’s grumpy. Have you not talked to her about it since? I’m sure she’ll tell you what happened. It’s no big deal. I just don’t understand why she’s not mentioned to me that she’s not going to therapy anymore. Something’s wrong I’m sure. I don’t get it. On the phone it sounds like she’s super happy and excited, but she’s hiding something.”

Chris was very thoughtful, “I wonder if I upset her in the cab when we were came back from the airport. I was tired too. I thought she was lying about what had gone in between her and Dean. It was hard to see how close they were in New York. I don’t know, maybe I was jealous. When she told me to butt out, I was annoyed. I didn’t even bother saying goodbye to her. I just jumped out of the taxi and walked home.”

sadRobin sighed, “Chris, you should know her well enough by now. She’s like a child, or a little puppy. She’s so affectionate and sweet, she get’s all excited about everything and loves having fun. But she’s insecure. Even with people who are close to her. You have to be careful. If she thinks someone is angry with her, she takes it badly. She can’t handle it when she thinks she is being punished or criticised, especially if she doesn’t think it’s fair. If she does realize she has done something wrong, she feels terrible guilt, much more than is normal, literally it would tip her over the edge to do anything seriously wrong. She can’t take any kind of rejection or condemnation. It’s the kind of thing that sets her off harming herself.”

Chris found Robin’s words played on his mind all weekend. He was determined he had to see Annabelle to find out what was going on.

annie blackwood.jpgWhat was going on with Annabelle Riley? That was something she was not prepared to share with anyone yet. She kept herself very busy with tasks that seemed to take on an urgency in her mind. Alone in her room at night, her little child-like heart bled. The cycle that had held her captive since she was thirteen still controlled her. The wave of emotion, leading to her doing what brought her relief, followed by a sense of failure and guilt, which contributed to the next wave of emotion, provoking yet another act of injuring herself. It was a cold and lonely time for her, brutally disappointing after all that had transpired in New York.


You can read the next part of Annabelle’s story here:

Still Fighting

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:

Free Creative Writing Prompts

I chose a prompt under the ROMANCE section: 3. Who is she waiting for?

kim's prompt
Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels