Owner of a Lonely Heart - Part 1

As the dawn chorus broke and with a heavy heart, I wrote my goodbye letter to Liam.

Dear Liam,

I am so sorry to say goodbye like this but I can no longer fulfill the role you want me to do at the expense of all my desires. To carry on like I have for the past few will totally destroy me. If I don’t leave now, I never will. I’ve returned all the gifts you have bought me since I came to live with you. I have managed to gather enough money to get me to wherever, find a place to live and start a new life.

Please don’t come searching for me. I will change both my name and appearance. The past has been fun at times but I have so many dreams of my own that I need to try to achieve and if I fail, then so be it.

Jess

I looked at the text. To sum up the past years of my life in so few words seemed to be… wrong but it had to be done. Even though I was living with a wealthy jet setting businessman, I had no friends. I had no one I could call a friend. My role had been to appear with my boss and pretend to be his wife. I lived a life of luxury but in virtual isolation. I could not take it any longer. To be blunt, I was lonely and needed friends around me. Real friends not faux plastic ones who were only interested in looking good.

With renewed vigour, I folded the single page into three and inserted it into an envelope. Even those simple, everyday items bore the emblem of Palmer Industries. I’d grown to almost despise it in the past few months. It was as if I was becoming just another cog in that conglomerate.

I left the envelope on the hall table and quietly disabled the alarm system and slipped out the side door of Fanum House, all 20 bedrooms and god knows how many baths and receptions the Faux Georgian monstrosity contained.

The side door led to the adjacent churchyard. On the other side, I fervently hoped, my taxi was waiting to get me out of this godforsaken hole once and for all.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I spotted the mini-cab waiting exactly where I’d asked it too.

Without looking at the driver, I got in the back. I was carrying a small bag with a few changes of knickers and some makeup plus a pair of heels and a skirt or two.

“Kidderminster Station please,” I commanded.

The driver turned around and smiled at me.

I let out a gasp.

The driver was Liam’s ‘factotum’, Parker.

“Don’t worry Miss, I just want to make sure you get away safely”, came his calming words.

“How…. How did you know?”

“I've had my suspicions for a few weeks. Don’t worry, the Master does no know. I sensed your frustration and, well it seemed that you switched onto autopilot when you attended functions with the Master. That was not like you. You were the one who made us all laugh and smile when you first came into our lives. That has been missing for the last few months.”

I sank back into the seat as I let out a huge sigh.

“You’d better get going then, if I’m going to get the first train to New Street.”

“No need to worry Miss, I’ll take you to New Street myself.”

“What about Mr. Liam? He’ll go berserk when he finds my letter. The first person he’ll call out for is you.”

“Don’t worry,” said Parker as he put the taxi into gear and began to move off.

“Today is my day off. I told him that I’m going to Chester Races to meet up with some old pals.”

“How… How did you know that I was going to leave today?”

“I didn’t. I just took pot-luck and made sure all the local mini-cab companies had a little incentive to let me know when you made your booking.”

He looked at me via the ‘rear-view’ mirror and smiled.

“It seems that I was lucky."

I sat back as the Worcestershire countryside passed us by. Soon we were entering Birmingham. I never really liked the place and hopefully, this would be my last time there in this life.

"What will he say when he reads my letter?" I asked as we hit the M5.

"He will be angry but he'll get over it and find someone else to play your role."

"Are you sure about that? He's invested a lot in me. God knows how much he spent on surgery for me."

"He can afford it so just relax and think about the pretty good life you have had and the even wonderful one you have ahead of you. He was good to you and you were there to do a job for him. A job that you did perfectly, I might add."

“Thanks Parker.”

He smiled back at me via the rear view mirror.

Parker was true to his word and dropped me off outside the new ‘New St’ station which for some reason bore the name ‘Grand Central’.

“This is for you. Don’t open it until you get on your train to wherever,” he said as he handed me an envelope. At the same time, he tapped the side of his nose a few times. I knew that I should just accept the envelope without question.

“Thanks Parker. You are an angel.”

He laughed and said, “I might be now but before Mr. Liam I was just another corporate lawyer. I was in a dark place because my wife and child had been killed when they went home to Brazil. I was in danger of self-destructing but Mr. Liam offered me a job and has allowed me to recover and become a functioning human being again.”

“Don’t you want to go back to your old job?”

“What? Are you crazy? Working 100 hours a week just to climb the greasy pole? That was what drove my wife away in the first place.”

I knew Liam’s penchant for giving people a second chance. It was his way of giving something back to society when he continually took pretty well everything he could lay his hands on and mostly without sign of regret.

I stuffed the envelope into my bag and almost ran into the station. If I’d delayed my exit any longer I would have burst into tears and that just wouldn’t do.

Once inside the station, I was suddenly faced with a decision. Where should I go? My original plan was to get the first train into Moor St and then after walking the short distance to New St Station, I would take the second long-distance train, no matter where it went.

I looked up at the departure board. My heart sank when I saw that the first three long distance trains were for London Euston. London was not a place I wanted to go. Liam had far too many contacts there for me to remain invisible for any length of time.

I scanned down the board feeling slightly panicky. I felt relieved when I saw a train for Glasgow that departed in twenty minutes. That would do for my first destination.

I quickly purchased a first class single, ‘no I wasn’t coming back and no, I didn’t have a rail card’, to Glasgow Central. I decided to travel in style while I could. My funds wouldn’t last very long so while I could, I would and make the most of it.

The feeling of relief I felt when the Pendolino pulled away from the platform was immense. There had been no sign of Liam or any of his hired help trying to drag me off the train.

As the train sped north, I remembered the envelope that Parker had given me as I got out of the Taxi. I dug into my bag for it just as the complimentary coffee arrived. That diverted my attention for a while. Coffee was just what the doctor ordered at that time of day.

The arrival of a hot bacon sandwich proved to be too tempting. Liam would never let me eat anything with more than a trace of fat on it. While I was with him, I’d lost quite a bit of weight. Not all of it in good places. My first bacon sarni with brown sauce in many years was just pure delight. My taste buds went into overdrive and I almost ordered another one when I felt the train slowing down.

The train stopped at Crewe for what seemed an eternity. I almost chickened out and legged it from the train several times before it started moving once more and I breathed another sigh of relief. I vowed there and then to get off at the second stop wherever that may be.

The second stop turned out to be Preston. This was all strange territory to me. I went into the refreshment shop and the person serving said ‘Are you all right?’. For an instant, I wondered if they meant, am ‘I’ all right. Then I realized that it was a general greeting and not specifically aimed at me.

I purchased another coffee and sat down to plan my next move. Where should I go next?

I looked at the destinations of trains that would depart in the next couple of hours. One name stood out. ‘Nelson’. I knew of Admiral Nelson but I’d never realized that there was somewhere with the same name. That sealed it, I’d go there.

I left the platform and explained to the ticket inspector that I was breaking my journey for a few hours. He let me through the barrier and watched as I exited the station.

I waited a few minutes before returning and heading for the ticket window.

“Single to Nelson please,” I asked.

I handed over a twenty-pound note hoping that it was enough. It was. I grabbed the change and quickly headed for the platform and my train to Nelson.

This train was a big let down after the almost opulent Pendolino first class. This one was more like a bus on rails.

After a few minutes, I relaxed and realized that this is how I would travel for the foreseeable future. Still, I got a bit of a kick about laying all sorts of false trails for anyone who would try to follow me. Would anyone trying to follow me expect to see me on a train like this especially after the private jets and limo’s that I’d been used to for the past few years?

Once we’d left Preston, I opened the envelope that Parker had given me at New St Station.

“Jess,

The enclosed money is just a little something that you can use to get you started in your new life. Don’t worry about where it comes from and if Liam can trace it. He can’t and it is from his ‘special situations fund’. I don’t need to tell you what that is for. Enjoy it and your new life. You deserve better than Liam.

Parker“

I looked at the cheque with an open mouth. It was for a half of a million pounds. Despite my time with Liam, I’d never seen let alone held anything of such value. For a moment or two, my future looked a lot rosier. Then I had second and even third thoughts. Should I just tear it up and forget it ever existed or … should I keep it and use it to get myself setup in whatever it was that I was going to do with my life? Such a quandary? What should I do?

Any decision was going to have to wait because the train had arrived in Nelson. As I stepped down from the carriage, I knew that this was not the place for me. The whole atmosphere fitted my idea of a Northern Industrial Town down to a ‘T’. I wandered out of the station without a clear plan as to what to do next.

There was a bus waiting to depart from the Station forecourt. The destination blind said ‘Skipton’. That sounded a bit more romantic than Nelson so I got on board and purchased by ticket. Skipton sounded perfect for someone who had ‘skipped’ away from their old life.

I found a seat towards the back and sat back waiting for the bus to depart. Slowly it filled up and nearly half an hour later, it set off. As we travelled up and out of the valley, we made fairly frequent stops and most passengers got off. As we descended towards Skipton, we picked up more passengers heading to Skipton. Then I realized that we’d left Lancashire and entered North Yorkshire. A different county and hopefully one that I’d feel more at home in.

The town of Skipton felt totally different to Nelson. The stone buildings whilst grey in colour made feel more at home. My original home was in the Cotswolds, another area famous for its stone buildings.

I wandered through the town and looked at the displays of properties for sale in the various Estate Agents. I could see a good proportion of the money that Parker had given me disappearing just to get a small place. I sighed and carried on.

My rumbling stomach signalled that it was time to eat. I found a pub that seemed to serve half decent food and sat down to plan my next move. That was fairly obvious. Find somewhere to stay the night and see what the morrow brings.

The first place I tried wanted a credit card ‘to guarantee any charges’ so I left feeling deflated. In the end, I was directed to a place on the edge of town that was a chain of no frills motels. They accepted my cash as payment for two-nights room only. My room was simple and clean but frankly basic. It would have to do. It was actually perfect for keeping under the radar.

The next morning, I walked back into town and went into a bank. Opening an account with a cheque for half a million and no fixed abode proved rather difficult. I tried explaining that I needed an account so that I could buy a residence. Talk about catch-22 and immovable objects. I tried a building society. They were a little more welcoming. Yes, I could open an account but I couldn’t touch the money for five working days. My stash of cash would hardly be enough if I were going to do anything but sleep in the motel and have one good meal a day. Now I really regretted the extravagance of my first class rail ticket. I could have done with the money for essentials such as a mobile phone and another change of clothing.

In the end, I signed up for the account on offer from the Building Society. Thankfully, I had my passport to use as a form of Identity. Seeing it made me realise I would have to change my name as soon as I got some funds behind me. They accepted that I would not give my previous address when I explained that my partner was a violent person. The banking rules apparently had a little discretion in this area. I wondered if I gave them my former name and sex if they’d be so accommodating. Society was willing to accept ‘battered wives’ but apparently ‘battered husbands’ didn’t exist or ‘they deserved it’. For once, I was glad that I appeared to be a woman when underneath, I was still a fully functioning male of the species.

With money in the bank and a place to kip for a couple of nights, I renewed my search for a place to live. It didn’t take me long to realize that in the short term, I would be better off renting a place.

That still presented problems as most agencies and landlords needed a hefty deposit as well as references that they could check. Just saying that I’d been out of the country didn’t work with the first three places I tried.

In the fourth, I tried a new tack. This Estate Agency was right across the road from the building society where I was opening an account.

“I have a large sum being deposited at the building society over the road. I am sure that the manager will happily verify that this is true.”

“Would that be James Blake by any chance?” asked the letting agent.

“I’m not sure. Let me see. He gave me his card when I was in there just now,” I replied digging into my handbag.

I produced the card and handed it to the agent. The name on the card was indeed that of James Blake.

The agent smiled as he picked up the phone.

“Hi Jimmy, How’s tricks?”

“Same here. Look, I have a young lady with your card sitting in front of me. She says that she has a sum on money being put of deposit with you. Is this true?”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“She does?”

“Ok thanks,” he said and put the phone down.

The agent smiled.

“James is my brother-in-law. He confirms that a large sum is being cleared into your account.”

I smiled and said,

“To satisfy your curiosity, the amount could buy pretty well any of the properties you have available for rent that you are showing in the window.”

“Why don’t you buy somewhere?”

“I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying here. I need to find a job and get settled. If that does not work out, then I’ll move on and try somewhere else.”

“Ok, I think I understand your requirements. Let me show you some short term rental properties.”

“There is one other problem, I don’t have any furniture.”

I was shown the door within a couple of minutes, as all their properties were unfurnished.

By the end of the day, I’d pretty well exhausted all the agencies in the town. I was feeling rather depressed in the last one when one of the office staff piped up,

“Have you thought about a ‘live-in’ position?”

You could have knocked me for six at that suggestion.

“N… no, I’ve not considered that option.”

The woman who’d asked the question stood up and came over to the desk where I was sitting. Her male colleague looked less than pleased at the thought of losing a sale.

“Don’t look all sulky Dave. Can’t you see that the young lass is getting nowhere with renting. I’m also betting that she’s been to all the other agents in town and got nowhere either?”

I returned her a half smile and a nod of the head.

“I happen to know of someone who is looking for a live-in housekeeper.”

She looked at me earnestly before saying,

“I hope you wouldn’t mind working to a vicar?”

You could have knocked me for six for the second time in less than a minute when I heard that suggestion. I’ve never been very religious and I couldn’t remember the last time I went to church for something other than a wedding or a funeral.

“I… I’ve never given it any thought. I guess that as long as he does not bite, I’ll be fine.”

The woman grinned.

“It’s not a ‘he’ but a ‘she’. She’s my sister.”

Inwardly, I groaned. I was sure that she’d see through me in an instant. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers and all that.

Putting my best face and foot forward, I replied.

“In that case, I’d like to meet her.”

Good replied the woman.

She stuck out a hand in front of me.

“I’m Grace by the way. Sis is called Mary, the Reverend Mary Hammond, vicar to this parish.”

I shook her hand,

“Jess. Jessica Parish. Pleased to meet you.”

She giggled at the similarity of my surname to the vicar’s domain.

I met with Mary at a local Café where over afternoon tea, we discussed the job and my role in her life.

Within five minutes, I’d decided to take the job but the new me was not going to keep secrets after all, my new boss was a Vicar.

“Mary, there is something that I need to tell you but not here.”

Mary looked surprised but didn’t complain. I guess being told bad news is part of the job description for someone in her position.

“Let us take a walk along the river. Then you can tell me what is troubling you. Being able to listen to people’s problems is all part of my job.”

Five minutes later we were strolling along the river bank.

Mary didn’t press me to speak.

“Mary, I’m not who I seem.”

“I have found that we seldom are.”

“I’m a man underneath all this,” I jesturing at myself. I was wearing a dress and matching coat and black heels.

Mary stopped dead in her tracks.

I felt as if my heart had stopped dead.

All she said was,

“So? Does it matter? I don’t think it does.”

She studied me for a few seconds.

“A relationship gone wrong? Someone might come looking for you? Yes or no?”

She put up her hand to stop me answering.

“My guess is yes to both. Then being housekeeper to a vicar is very much under the radar and perfect for you.”

“But…”

“Jess, it does not matter to me. The Church has a long history of giving sanctuary to people in need. You are in need. I can provide a refuge for you until such time you are ready to move on. How about it then?”

“Yes, yes thank you very much.”

“Well come on then, the Vicarage is this way,” said a very happy Vicar.

As we crossed a small bridge I could see the Church ahead of us.

“Where are you staying at the moment?”

“At the motel on the edge of town.”

“Well let me show you your room if you like it we can get your belongings from there this very afternoon.”

Then she turned to me smiling and said,

“Then after dinner you can teach me how to do eyeliner just like yours. I have never mastered it.”

I felt a sudden lift in my heart. It was no longer so heavy. I could see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel that might not be an oncoming train.

[To be continued in part 2 of 3]



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