But at eighteen, two years seem like a lifetime, and some promises are hard to keep.
When Jonah reappears in her life, Sally finds herself torn between him and Ewan, the young Cornish farmer she has married, divided between loyalty and passion, duty and love.
Over the course of almost two decades, through meetings and partings, secrets and revelations, and two momentous summers, Jonah will have to confront his past and heal old wounds, while Sally will face the consequences of her choices – whether to follow her conscience or her heart.
Jonah lay back on the pillows, relieved and exhausted, and closed his eyes, holding the girl in his arms as she leaned over him, tired out after the climax. His mind filled with the recollection of the day’s events, from when he had left home to the moment the girl had approached him at Penzance station, as he sat on a bench by the platform, confused and numb.
He thought by then he would have been crushed, aching all over, but instead he seemed emptied of any emotion.
He just watched the trains as they entered and exited the station, lost in that world at the crossroads of many things: an old life to forget or to remember, an undiscovered one still to explore; excitement, heartache, apprehension, buzz, laughter and tears; encounters and goodbyes, returns and partings.
The night had fallen and he’d found himself still in the middle of it all, not knowing which path was opening for him.
The girl had caught his gaze and she had stopped pacing up and down the platform to move towards him.
“Are you lonely tonight?” She grinned.
She wasn’t much older than him, maybe in her mid-twenties, heavily made up, with short bleached hair and tatty clothes that tried to be enticing. “Twenty pounds and I’ll give you a blow job.” She spoke around the gum she was chewing. “Fifty for a shag.”
Jonah glanced back uneasy.
His first instinct had been to turn her away, but loneliness had sat by him all day, slowly enveloping him in her cold stare, and he longed for human touch, even the smallest gesture that could drag him away from her snare.
Ending up in a cheap B&B by the station had not been Jonah’s intention, but his journey had stalled, his plans didn’t go any further. From then on he was just following his instincts and they didn’t seem to want to guide him anywhere. The night and that little bit of warmth was all he had.
The girl lifted her head, disentangled her legs from his body and prepared to leave.
“Are you going already?” he asked.
“What did you think I’d do?”
“Can’t you stay?” It was empty and meaningless, but he just wanted to feel some warmth a bit longer. “I hadn’t been with a girl in nearly three years.” He watched her as she moved from the bed to collect her clothes. “Don’t go.”
“I’m working, mate.” She had a well practised inflexion designed to keep her distance. “Can’t stay here all night.”
“I’ll pay you.”
“You can’t afford it.”
Her laugh mocked him. “Have you won the bloody Pools? I thought you were down on your luck.”
“I am. But I don’t want to be alone.”
“Don’t you have a home to go to?”
“Running away?” She sniggered.
“Something like that.”
The girl paused in her underwear and stared at him, her blonde head slightly reclined over her shoulder, before she returned to the bed and slipped under the blankets, resting on the pillow next to him.
“What’s your name?”
“Jonah.” Jonah, the stubborn, disobedient man who tried to run away and ended up in the belly of a sea monster. Had it been some sort of premonition that had made the Reverend choose it? “My father is a vicar.” Somehow he felt compelled to point out the biblical link. He quickly sidetracked. “What’s yours?”
“Which one would you like?” she teased.
“No, for real.”
“A biblical name too.”
“It was my gran’s.” She moved a little closer. “Can I ask you something?”
Ruth lifted her shoulders and propped up her head, leaning on her elbow. “You’ve been inside, haven’t you?” She smiled.
“What makes you say that?”
“You haven’t shagged in three years… what other reason could there be?”
“There could be many reasons.”
“And…” Jonah heaved. “You’re right. I came out yesterday.”
“What were you in for? You sure don’t look like a criminal.”
“I was in a car accident. Someone died. I got done.”
“That sounds like bad luck to me.”
For a few moments the night of the accident flashed into Jonah’s mind, like a series of slides rapidly flicking over: blinding lights coming towards him, the steering wheel loose in his hands, the world turning upside-down and the seatbelt digging into him and holding him to his seat, the frightful sound of smashing glass, the horn locked into a prolonged cry when the car jolted one last time then stopped…
“Seems a bit harsh, three years in jail for an accident.” Ruth shook him out of his memories.
“Two-and-a-half.” Jonah pointed out, as if that would make any difference. “And there were aggravating circumstances.”
Ruth kept silent, apparently waiting for him to elaborate.
“I didn’t have a full licence for a start.”
“That’s naughty.” She smiled, but Jonah remained serious.
“And I stole the bloody car. I was speeding, I was on drugs…”
“Es. It was three years ago, The Second Summer of Love and all that. Everybody was on Es. Or acid. Raves all over the place. We were driving back from one when the accident happened. I even had a small bag of the stuff in my pocket, when they arrested me. In the mayhem, I forgot I was carrying it for a mate until I was searched. That didn’t help.”
“So let me get this: you were driving a stolen car at speed, without a driving licence and class A drugs in your pocket?”
“In a nutshell.”
“Wow. You were a bad boy.”
“Yeah, I was.” Jonah’s voice came from somewhere in the past. I was lost. And angry. And stupid. “They made an example of me.”
“Was Sally in the car accident?”
Jonah startled at Ruth’s casual remark. “What?”
“You called me Sally.”
“Don’t be.” Ruth laughed. “I don’t give a toss what you call me. I can be Sally, if you want me to be.”
Jonah didn’t speak.
Suddenly she was between them, long dark eyelashes, brown eyes, soft pink lips, luminous lightly freckled skin, her natural beauty wrapped in the smell of old sheets and sex, in the dirt of the shabby room.
“I’d rather you didn’t talk about her.” Jonah covered his face with his forearm.
“I don’t want to talk about her.”
“Dumped you while you were inside, did she?”
“Are you listening?” He uncovered his eyes to face her. “I said I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay, sorry.” Ruth lay down again and assumed a pensive look. “I ran away too, you know.” She unexpectedly threw a bout of honesty at him. “My step-dad used to…” She paused.
“He was a pig.”
Jonah passed his arm around her shoulders and she snuggled to him, caressing his chest.
She looked just as lost and lonely as he was, he reflected, and she was pretty, more than her heavy make-up gave her credit for. He held her closer and shut his eyes.
Perhaps they could pretend for one night, pretend they were not two desperate people, adrift in the world, but that they really had something to hold onto.
“What are you running away from?” she murmured, gently caressing him.
“It’s a long story…”
Ruth remained silent, her breath on his skin lulling him into a sleepy daze, perhaps half asleep herself or perhaps waiting for him to continue.
Jonah rested his chin on her hair and took a deep breath.
“The person I killed in the accident…”
“A SUMMER OF LOVE” is released by Crooked Cat Publishing on 25th January 2013