An Eventful Christmas at Trevelver Castle

Started by Chris in Prague, December 28, 2023, 08:50:31 AM

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Chris in Prague

#60
As Lisa sat alone in her Chelsea flat, with only a bottle of 'Rossese' wine, a tulip glass, a plate of assorted English and French cheeses, and a packet of 'Jacob's Cream Crackers', she reviewed her life. As always, when she thought of the past, Jack was the first to come to her mind. Jack and Lisa had been together since they were children and had a deep bond. They grew up in Bristol, spending long summer days exploring the countryside and dreaming of their future together. They dreamed of travelling the world.

Jack was tall and lanky, with shaggy brown hair and a mischievous grin, the memory of which always made her smile. He loved to ride his motorbike, and he was always looking for new adventures. He was also a talented musician, playing the guitar in a local band. Jack was always encouraging Lisa to pursue her passions, and he was her biggest supporter. Despite his love of adventure, Jack was also a deeply caring person. He had a big heart, and he was always looking for ways to help others. He volunteered at a local animal shelter, and he was always the first to offer a helping hand to anyone in need.

But tragedy struck just after Jack's eighteenth birthday. She still remembered the shock like a giant icy hand crushing her heart. He had been killed instantly in a motorbike accident, which was, the police assured her, not his fault. Lisa was devastated. She had not been able to imagine a life without him. She had felt like a part of her had been ripped away, and she did not know how to go on.

Lisa then recalled how she had first felt a reassuring presence and heard a reassuring voice, Jack's voice:

"Lisa, my love, I am here with you. I know it's hard to imagine a life without me, but I am always with you. I am the wind that brushes your hair, the sun that warms your skin, and the stars that twinkle in your eyes. I am the voice that whispers in your ear, the hand that holds yours, and the heart that beats with yours. I am your guardian angel, your guiding light, and your eternal love. I am here to remind you that you are not alone, that you are loved, and that you are strong. You can go on, Lisa, because I am here with you, always and forever."

It had been shortly after his funeral. She had been kneeling by his grave, replacing the bunch of wildflowers she had gathered from their favourite countryside walk.

Chris in Prague

Huw takes Sylvia and Eli to his Pantry and, unlocking a drawer under his desk reveals a Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder. He hands the two friends a pair of headphones and plugs them into an adapter connected to the tape recorder. He then hands them each a yellow paper lawyer's notepad and a sharpened yellow cedar wood-cased 2HB lead pencil.

"Miss Sylvia, Miss EIi, as agreed by Lord Charles and Lady Penelope, we, exceptionally recorded, without his permission, Riccardo's telephone call from the Housekeeper's office to Miss Silverwood at her home in Chelsea. Once you have played it and made your notes, I will destroy the tape. Once you have studied your notes, I must ask you to return them to me so that I may shred them."

"Of course, Huw", replied Sylvia gravely. "So, before we listen, let's remind ourselves of the context. Correct me if I'm wrong, Huw, but Riccardo called the young lady in question when he was very lonely and depressed because he is still infatuated with Lola Franca."

"That's correct, Miss. As you know, my wife told Riccardo to get over Lola Franca and think of Lisa. She said that Riccardo, feeling guilty, called Miss Silverwood and told her that he had nothing important to tell her except how nicely decorated the Great Hall is, how friendly everyone is to him, and to wish Lisa a Merry Christmas before putting down the 'phone. However, before you two young ladies have a private conversation with Riccardo about his relationship with the young lady, her Ladyship feels it would be very helpful to hear what they actually said to each other."

"Thank you, Huw. Yes, we understand", replied Sylvia.

"Yes, let's get one with it", responded Eli.

After donning their headphones, Huw pressed the start button and then left the room after locking the door behind him.

The Recorded Conversation

Lisa: Hello?

Riccardo: Hi, Lisa. It's me, Riccardo.

Lisa: Riccardo? Is that really you? I wasn't expecting your call.

Riccardo: Yes, it's me. I'm sorry I haven't called you sooner. I've been very busy.

Lisa: Oh, hi. Busy? Doing what? Having fun with Lola Franca and the Trevelvers?

Riccardo: I'm sorry. I just wanted to hear your voice, and to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Lisa: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you too.

Riccardo: How are you? How is your family? How is your work?

Lisa: I'm fine. My family is fine. My work is fine.

Riccardo: That's good. I'm glad to hear that.

Lisa: And you? How are you? How is Trevelver Castle? How is Lola Franca?

Riccardo: I'm... OK. Trevelver Castle is beautiful. They have decorated the Great Hall with candles, holly, and mistletoe. It looks very festive. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming. Lola Franca is... Lola Franca. She is very popular. She is very charming.

Lisa: I see. It sounds like you are having a wonderful time.

Riccardo: Well, yes, I suppose. But I also miss you, Lisa. I miss you a lot.

Lisa: Do you? Do you really miss me, Riccardo? Or do you just feel guilty for leaving me behind?

Riccardo: No, no, Lisa. It's not like that. It's not what you think.

Lisa: Then what is it, Riccardo? What are you doing there? Why did you leave me just before Christmas?

Riccardo: Lisa, I can't tell you. It's complicated. It's confidential.

Lisa: Confidential? What do you mean, confidential? What are you hiding from me, Riccardo?

Riccardo: Lisa, please. Don't ask me that. Don't make me lie to you.

Lisa: Lie to me? Riccardo, have you been lying to me all this time? Have you been lying to me about who you are, and what you do, and how you feel?

Riccardo: Lisa, no. I haven't been lying to you. I've been telling you the truth. Well, most of it.

Lisa: Most of it? Riccardo, what are you saying? What are you not telling me?

Riccardo: Lisa, I can't say. I can't explain. You wouldn't understand.

Lisa: Riccardo, you're scaring me. You're confusing me. You're hurting me.

Riccardo: Lisa, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't mean to scare you, or confuse you, or hurt you. I care about you, Lisa. I care about you more than anything.

Lisa: You care about me? Riccardo, do you really care about me? More than anything? Or are you just saying that to keep me quiet?

Riccardo: Lisa, I do. I do care about you. More than anything. I'm not saying that to keep you quiet. I'm saying that to keep you safe.

Lisa: Safe? Riccardo, what are you talking about? What are you afraid of?

Riccardo: Lisa, I can't tell you. I can't tell you because I don't want you to be involved. I don't want you to get in trouble. I don't want you to get hurt.

Lisa: Riccardo, you're not making any sense. What kind of trouble are you in? What kind of danger are you facing?

Riccardo: Lisa, I can't say. I can't say because it's too risky. It's too risky for me, and for you, and for everyone who knows us.

Lisa: Riccardo, you're being paranoid. You're being irrational. You're being ridiculous.

Riccardo: Lisa, I'm not. I'm not being paranoid, or irrational, or ridiculous. I'm being realistic. I'm being cautious. I'm being responsible.

Lisa: Responsible? Riccardo, how is leaving me alone for the holidays responsible? How is lying to me about your friends and your work responsible? How is keeping secrets from me responsible?

Riccardo: Lisa, it is. It is responsible because I'm doing it for a good reason. I'm doing it for a good cause.

Lisa: What cause, Riccardo? What is so important that you had to leave me alone for the holidays? What is so important that you can't even tell me?

Riccardo: Lisa, I can't tell you. I wish I could, but I can't. It's too important, Lisa. It's too important for me, and for you, and for others.

Lisa: For others? Riccardo, what are you talking about? What does that have to do with anything?

Riccardo: Lisa, everything. Everything, Lisa. Everything has to do with others.

Lisa: Riccardo, you're not making any sense. You're not answering my questions. You're not telling me the truth.

Riccardo: Lisa, I am. I am making sense. I am answering your questions. I am telling you the truth. Well, most of it.

Lisa: Most of it? Riccardo, what are you not telling me? What are you hiding from me?

Riccardo: Lisa, I can't tell you. I can't tell you because I care about you. I care about you, Lisa. I care about you more than anything.

Lisa: Riccardo, I care about you too. I care about you too, Riccardo. I care about you more than anything.

Riccardo: Lisa, thank you. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you for caring about me.

Lisa: You're welcome, Riccardo.

Riccardo: I have to go, Lisa. I have to go now.

Lisa: Don't go, Riccardo. Don't go yet.

Riccardo: I'm sorry, Lisa. I'm sorry, but I have to go.

Lisa: Please, Riccardo. Please, don't go.

Riccardo: Goodbye, Lisa. Goodbye, and Merry Christmas.

Lisa: Riccardo, wait. Wait, and ... Happy New Year.

Riccardo: I care about you, Lisa, and I'll see you soon.

Lisa: I care about you too, Riccardo, and I'll see you soon.

Riccardo: Lisa, goodbye.

Lisa: Riccardo, goodbye.

He had hung up the 'phone, and left her alone, with her tears, and her questions, and her doubts. He left her with a broken heart, a broken promise, a broken dream and a broken story.

"Oh, my goodness", exclaimed Eli as the two listeners removed their headphones and looked at each other.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive", sighed Sylvia.

"What is that, Sylvi?"

"It's a quote from Sir Walter Scott's epic poem, 'Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field'.

"Oh, and what does it mean, exactly, Sylvi?"

"Oh, it means that when we lie or act dishonestly, we create a complex web of problems that can be difficult to untangle, Eli."

"You can say that again, Sylvi! The poor girl! And poor Riccardo!"

They hugged and then wiped tears from each other's eyes.

"As Samuel Johnson said, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions', Eli. Let's go to find my mother and Gwen and talk through what we're going to tell Riccardo to put things right between him and Miss Silverwood."

"Yes, let's. We need to get everything right if we're going to put things right!

Chris in Prague

#62
Lisa's heart skipped a beat as she heard Jack's voice. She felt a sudden rush of emotions, a mix of joy and sadness, love, and loss. She looked around, but there was no one there. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. She felt a warm breeze on her face, and she knew it was Jack. She opened her eyes and saw the sun shining through the trees. She felt a sense of peace and comfort as if Jack was holding her hand. She smiled and whispered, "I miss you, Jack". She felt a tear roll down her cheek, but she knew that Jack was there to wipe it away. She stood up and walked away, feeling stronger and more alive than ever before. She knew that Jack was with her, always and forever.

Later, Lisa wondered whether it had been a dream or simply wishful thinking, but the feeling of love and reassurance lingered long after. Despite this, she struggled to find meaning in her life in the months that followed. She felt lost and alone, not knowing where to turn. However, when she was feeling blue, she remembered something Jack had said to her when they were dreaming about their future together. He had told her that he wanted her to be happy, no matter what. Lisa remembered how he had encouraged her to pursue her dreams and never give up on herself. She realised that this was her chance to honour Jack's memory by doing something that would make him proud. If only she could tell him. An image of Jack grinning his most endearing smile then vividly jumped into her mind's eye before Lisa experienced that same presence and heard that same beloved voice once again:

"My dearest Lisa, I am so proud of you. You have come so far since that dark day when I left you. You have faced your fears, overcome your doubts, and found the strength to carry on. You have followed your dreams, pursued your passions, and never given up on yourself. You have made me so happy, Lisa, by being happy despite everything you've been through. You have honoured my memory by living your life to the fullest, by embracing every moment, and by cherishing every memory. You have made me proud, Lisa, by being the person I always knew you could be. You are strong, you are brave, and you are beautiful, inside and out. You are the love of my life, Lisa, and I will always be with you, in your heart, in your soul, and in your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

After hearing Jack's voice for the second time, Lisa felt a sense of peace and comfort wash over her. She felt as though Jack was right there beside her, holding her hand and guiding her through life. She felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination, knowing that Jack was proud of her and that he would always be with her, no matter what. She smiled through her tears, feeling grateful for the love and support that Jack had given her, even after he was gone. She whispered, "I love you too, Jack. Thank you for always being there for me." She knew that Jack was her guardian angel, her guiding light, and her eternal love. She felt a sense of hope and joy, knowing that Jack would always be with her, now and forever.

So, knowing that Jack was watching over her, Lisa made up her mind to go to Germany to study graphic design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany, the most practitioner-oriented graphic design school. It was a bold move, but studying graphics was something she had always wanted to do. She knew that it would be hard, but she also knew that it was the right thing to do and could help her build a career and financial independence.

As she settled into her new life in Germany, Lisa began to feel a sense of purpose. She threw herself into her studies, and she made new friends who helped her to heal. She knew that Jack was proud of her, and that thought gave her strength. Then one night, when she was struggling with a particularly difficult course assignment, for a third time, Lisa experienced the same overwhelmingly comforting voice and presence:

"My darling Lisa, I am so proud of you. You have taken a bold step towards your dreams, and you have succeeded beyond your wildest expectations. You have shown the world that you are strong, that you are brave, and that you are capable of achieving anything you set your mind to. You have found your calling, Lisa, and you have embraced it with all your heart. You have made new friends, learned new skills, and discovered new horizons. You have become a citizen of the world, Lisa, and are enriching it with your talent and your spirit. You have made me proud, Lisa, by being the person I always knew you could be. You are my inspiration, my joy, and my love. You are the reason I smile, the reason I dream, and the reason I live on in you. You are my Lisa, and I will always be with you, in your heart, in your soul, and in your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

After hearing Jack's voice for the third time, Lisa again experienced an overwhelming feeling of profound awe and wonder. It was as if Jack stood right there beside her, holding her hand and guiding her through life's journey. A renewed sense of purpose and determination filled her, assured that Jack took pride in her and would remain by her side, unconditionally. She smiled through teary eyes, thankful for the love and support Jack had given her, even in his physical absence. Gently whispering, "I love you too, Jack. Thank you for always being there", she acknowledged Jack as her guardian angel, guiding light, and eternal love. A growing feeling of hope and joy embraced her, knowing Jack would be with her, both now and forever.

Years later, she would think back on those difficult days with fondness. She would never forget the love she had shared with Jack and the way he had continued to support and encourage her to follow her dreams. And she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he had been with her every step of the way.

Chris in Prague

However, looming over everything was a dark secret she had not mustered the courage to share with Riccardo or anyone among her friends and family. Upon returning to London post-graduation, she joined the graphics department at a prominent advertising agency. Before she knew it, her professional relationship with the agency's unhappily married Creative Director evolved rapidly from mentor and mentee to passionate lovers, entangling her in a complex affair.

Lisa narrowly avoided getting pregnant, thanks to Amy Cavendish, a senior secretary at the advertising agency. Amy concealed from everyone except Lisa that she had a crush on her and went as far as assisting her in acquiring the Pill, despite the strict illegality of their actions, given that neither was married. (Both had attended all-girls schools, where such romantic entanglements were not uncommon among the older students.) A very grateful Lisa skilfully maintained her friendship with Amy while ensuring that their relationship did not evolve into anything more. Lisa was unequivocally focused on men, particularly, as she often affirmed to herself with a smile, exceptional men like Riccardo!

Following the conclusion of her intense affair with her boss, Lisa decided to depart from the agency. Despite this decision, the exceptional quality of her work allowed her to transition smoothly into freelancing, with the added benefit of being permitted to take her top clients with her. The Managing Director, alerted by Amy, had instructed the agency's Creative Director to facilitate this to avert any potential scandal and prevent his wife from learning about the affair.

Lisa had been afraid that Jack would criticise her for having an affair which Lisa now deeply regretted. However, when alone in a serene space, she directed her thoughts towards Jack, seeking forgiveness, but his response was not what she had feared:

"My dearest Lisa, I am here with you. I know that you regret bitterly a mistake you made, but I want you to know that I love you no matter what. You are not alone, Lisa, and you never will be. I am here to support you, guide you, and help you find your way. You are a strong and beautiful woman, Lisa, and you deserve to be happy. You deserve to be loved, respected, and cherished. You deserve to be with someone who makes you feel alive, who makes you feel special, and who makes you feel loved. You deserve to be with someone who loves you for who you are, not for what you can give them. You are my Lisa, and I will always be with you, in your heart, in your soul, and in your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

"Oh, Jack, thank you so much. That is just what I needed to hear from you! I will always love you, too!"

Pouring herself another glass, Lisa then fondly reminisced about the time she first encountered Riccardo. He was delivering wine samples to Giles Roskrow's wine shop, a place she regularly visited. Riccardo, with his charming smile and captivating eyes, offered her a glass of his wine. Impressed by both the wine and his charm, they exchanged phone numbers. This handsome and charming man, with his dark brown hair and smoky hazel eyes, proved utterly irresistible to her. However, was her heart ruling her mind?

"Oh, Jack, what should I do about Riccardo?"

"My dearest Lisa, I know that you are struggling with your feelings for Riccardo. I want you to know that I am here for you, no matter what. I understand that you are attracted to him and that he makes you feel alive and happy. But I also know that you are a strong and independent woman, Lisa and that you deserve someone who loves you for who you are, not for what you can give them. You deserve someone who respects you, cherishes you, and supports you in all your dreams and aspirations. You deserve someone who makes you feel safe, secure, and loved, every day of your life. Only you can decide if Riccardo is that person.

I want you to know that I am not jealous of any man who is good for you and who can make you happy. I want you to be happy, Lisa, and I want you to find the love that you deserve. I want you to be with someone who makes you feel alive, who makes you feel special, and who makes you feel loved. I want you to be with someone who loves you for who you are, not for what you can give them."

"Oh, Jack! Help me! I can't think clearly when it comes to Riccardo!"

"My dearest Lisa, I know that you are questioning your feelings for Riccardo. I know that you are a kind and sweet person, Lisa, and I know how much you already care about Riccardo and how much you want to be with him. I know that it's in your nature to be supportive of your man's dreams and goals and to encourage him to pursue them. I know that you have been loyal and faithful to him, and you expect the same from him. I know that you are not jealous or possessive, but you are not naive either. I know that Riccardo has a complicated past with Lola Franca, and you hope that he will leave it in the past and move on. I know that you believe that you have a future together, Lisa, and you are willing to wait for him to be ready. You deserve to be happy, Lisa, and you deserve to be loved, respected, and cherished."

Lisa responds, "Thank you, thank you, dearest Jack, but tell me, do I have a happy future with Riccardo? I know so little about him. He is older, more experienced and has secrets."

"My dearest Lisa, I am here with you. I understand that you are curious about your future with Riccardo. While I cannot predict the future, I can tell you that you have the power to create your own happiness. You are a strong and beautiful woman, Lisa, and you deserve to be with someone who makes you feel alive, who makes you feel special, and who makes you feel loved. You deserve to be with someone who loves you for who you are, not for what you can give them.

You deserve to be with someone who respects you, cherishes you, and supports you in all your dreams and aspirations. You deserve to be with someone who makes you feel safe, secure, and loved, every day of your life. As for Riccardo, I know that you care deeply about him and that he makes you feel happy and alive. I also know that he is older, more experienced, and has secrets. But I want you to know that you are not alone, Lisa and that you never will be. I am here to support you, to guide you, and to help you find your way. You are my Lisa, and I will always be with you, in your heart, in your soul, and in your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

"Thank you, thank you, dearest Jack."

Chris in Prague

#64
To distract her thoughts from the absence of Riccardo, Lisa refills her glass for the third time and shifts her thoughts to another concealed aspect of her life – the existence of a stepsister residing in New York. Her father, now married to an American woman, relocated to the bustling city where he is a big success in advertising. Despite sharing a father, Lisa and her stepsister, born to different mothers, have never crossed paths. Their acquaintance is limited to photos exchanged via their father. Lisa has always wanted to meet her stepsister, but the opportunity and the courage to do so have eluded her. Lisa's curiosity about potential similarities between them conflicts with fear of her stepsister's reaction and potential rejection. Simultaneously, Lisa struggles with the fear of inadvertently hurting her mother, who does not like her father's new spouse.

Lisa then recalls how she shared this secret with Riccardo, because she trusted him and felt close to him. She had hoped that he would understand her, as he also had a complicated family. She told him that her stepsister had invited her to visit her in New York and that she was considering going. She had asked him for his opinion and his support. She had also asked him if he wanted to come with her, as she wanted to share this important moment with him.

Again, Lisa pictured Jack and silently called out to him.

"My dearest Lisa, I am always here by your side. I understand your curiosity about your stepsister in New York. It's natural to be interested in family members you haven't met, and I recognize your concerns about how she might react or if she'll accept you. However, I want you to realize that you're a strong and beautiful woman deserving of happiness. You have every right to know your stepsister, to explore her life, and to share your own. If a relationship is what you both desire, you deserve that connection.

Remember, Lisa, you are not alone, and you never will be. You possess the courage and strength to face your fears, overcome doubts, and reach out to your stepsister. You are my Lisa, and I'll always be with you – in your heart, your soul, and your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

"Thank you, dear Jack but what do you think about Riccardo's reactions?"

"My dearest Lisa, I am here with you. I understand your curiosity about Riccardo's reaction to your secret. It warms the heart to know that Riccardo was surprised and touched by your revelation, expressing gratitude for your trust. His words, telling you that he was proud of you, are truly heartening.

It's also very positive that he encouraged you to visit your stepsister in New York, assuring you that she would be kind and that you would discover common ground. Riccardo also reassured you about your mother, suggesting she would be happy for you rather than angry. He expressed a genuine desire to join you, emphasising his unwavering support.

Consider these wonderful words in your heart. Are they sincere? Remember, Lisa, you are my Lisa, and I will always be with you – in your heart, your soul, and your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

Lisa tells the spirit Jack how happy and relieved she had been by Riccardo's supportive reaction. She describes how she hugged and kissed Riccardo and told him how much she appreciated him. She tells Jack that she told Riccardo how glad she was that she had met him and that she loved him. She is very excited to go to New York and meet her stepsister. She adds that she told Riccardo that she was also excited to spend more time with him and to see more of the world with him.
"Isn't that all good, Jack?"

"I feel how very happy and relieved Riccardo's supportive reaction made you, Lisa. It's wonderful that you were able to express your appreciation to him and that you're excited to meet your stepsister in New York. It's great that you're looking forward to spending more time with Riccardo and seeing more of the world with him. I hope that your trip to New York is everything you hope it will be and that you continue to find happiness and fulfilment in your life. You are a strong and beautiful woman, Lisa, and you deserve to be happy."

"Thank you, as always, Jack. You are my rock, but I simply cannot think clearly. I want to objectively evaluate my relationship with Riccardo, but I cannot."

"My dearest Lisa, I have been watching your progress with great pride and happiness. It's wonderful to see how much you and Riccardo enjoy each other's company and how much fun you have together. I know how many different places and activities you have explored together, from art galleries and concerts to parks and restaurants. I know how much you have enjoyed spending time together at each other's flats, watching movies, cooking meals, and cuddling on the couch. You have good chemistry and a strong attraction, Lisa, but you also realise the importance of respecting each other's space and independence. You are a wise and thoughtful woman, Lisa, and you deserve to be happy."

"Yes, I know that's all good, Jack, but we are already more than two people who go together on dates. We are ... a couple. We ... sleep together."

"My dearest Lisa, I am here with you. I understand that you are exploring your feelings for Riccardo, and that you decided to sleep with him. I want you to know that I have been watching you with approval, Lisa. You are a passionate and loving person, and you want to express your feelings for Riccardo in a physical way. But I know that you are also a respectful and understanding person, Lisa, who does not want to pressure or rush him into something he might regret. You are aware of Riccardo's emotional state, and you are sensitive to his needs and desires. Your decision to sleep with Riccardo was not driven by lust or curiosity, Lisa, but by your love and trust for him. I trust you and respect all the decisions you have made. Nothing you have done has changed my love for you. You are my Lisa, and I will always be with you, in your heart, in your soul, and in your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

"Thank you, Jack. I do not have the words to express the strength of my gratitude, but I know that you can see into my heart!"

Chris in Prague

#65
But enough of Riccardo and their passionate nights, she sighs and takes another drink of wine. She turns to recall her favourite book, 'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side' by Agatha Christie, a novel featuring the amateur detective Miss Marple solving a mystery in St. Mary Mead. Lisa likes this book because she likes mysteries, puzzles, and witty characters. She enjoys the humour, the suspense, and the twists of the story. She relates to Miss Marple, who is a smart and observant woman who uses her intuition and experience to solve crimes.

Thinking of Miss Marple then reminds her of her beloved aunt, Margaret Sinclair, her mother's older sister, who worked as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park in World War Two. Margaret had told her, very confidentially, that it was the principal centre of Allied code-breaking, where many talented people had worked to decipher the secret messages of the Axis Powers. She had told Lisa about the Enigma machine, a cipher device that was used by the German military to encode strategic messages before and during World War II and how it was a very complex and secure system, but it was eventually cracked by the Allies, thanks to the efforts of mathematicians like Alan Turing, who invented the machine called the Bombe, which could find the settings of the Enigma machine and decrypt the messages. It was, her aunt said, exciting, stressful, but very rewarding work.

Her aunt had told Lisa that her love of solving puzzles is a great trait to have because it showed that she is curious, creative, and persistent. That is why she continued, Lisa enjoys reading mystery novels like Agatha Christie's, where she can try to figure out the clues and the culprit.

But it was no good; again, her thoughts returned to Riccardo, but now not only Riccardo but Riccardo and the mysterious Lola Franca were the puzzle she could not solve, no matter how hard she tried.

"Jack, my dearest Jack. Please help me. It's this mystery woman, Lola Franca!"

"My dearest Lisa, I am here with you. I understand that you are struggling with your feelings about Riccardo's relationship with Lola Franca. It is natural to be curious about your partner's past and work, but it is also important to respect their privacy and their boundaries. Riccardo has told you that Franca works for someone very important in Whitehall on very special missions which other agents cannot tackle. He has also told you that Franca loves her work, its importance, and the freedom she has to travel anywhere at any time without worrying about money. It is clear that Franca's work is very intriguing but also very dangerous, Lisa. It is understandable that you are concerned about Riccardo's relationship with Franca, but you must trust him and respect his choices."

Chris in Prague

Then Lisa is back to reliving Riccardo's bombshell announcement of his invitation to go to Trevelver Castle but without her.

"My dearest Jack, I was completely shocked. How could he!"

"My dearest Lisa, I am here with you. I comprehend your concerns about Riccardo's relationship with Lola Franca, and your shock is completely understandable. Riccardo has told you that Trevelver Castle is owned by Lord and Lady Trevelver, who became friends with him and Lola Franca after they undertook a perilous mission to bring a cure for their daughter, Sylvia. Additionally, he mentioned that Lola Franca told him that she is the niece of a high-ranking official in Whitehall and he stated that Lola and he were invited so that their hosts could express their gratitude for helping to save Sylvia.

"Yes, yes, I know all that, my beloved."

"I know, Lisa, that Riccardo's connection with Lola Franca has been weighing on your mind. However, it's essential to trust him and respect his choices. You are a strong and beautiful woman, deserving of happiness. You deserve to be with someone who makes you feel alive, special, and loved for who you are, not for what you can give them. You deserve the best."

"Thank you, Jack."

Jack continued, "My dearest Lisa, I understand the whirlwind of emotions you've been through – shock, disbelief, confusion, anger, jealousy, and pain. I empathise with your feelings, and I am here for you. When you asked Riccardo why he hadn't shared details about his friends and their niece before, he explained that he didn't want to burden you with his personal matters and that he hadn't anticipated hearing from them again. Riccardo stressed the Trevelvers' kindness, generosity, and how they helped him with his wine business."

"Thank you, Jack. Yes, I know, but still ..."

"You confronted Riccardo about his relationship with Lola Franca, and demanded to know whether there were any romantic feelings between them. He replied that they were simply friends who had travelled together on a secret mission for the Trevelvers, emphasising that there was nothing romantic between them. Then Riccardo spoke of his deep fondness for you, assuring you that he had no intention of hurting you. He went on to reassure you that he would return soon, and your relationship would continue as it had before. Through this challenging time, Lisa, I am here to support you. You are my Lisa, and I will always be with you – in your heart, your soul, and your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

"Thank you, Jack. I know, but still ..."

"When you asked Riccardo if you could accompany him or join him later, he expressed his sincere regrets, stating that the invitation was exclusively for him; therefore, he had to go alone. Stressing his concerns for your safety, he explained that the situation was too dangerous for you to accompany him. Riccardo spoke of potential enemies who might pose a threat to both of you if they were aware of your relationship. He told you that to ensure your safety, he had made the difficult decision to keep your connection a secret.

"Thank you, Jack. I know, I know. But, really, should I believe such a tale?"

"I understand how you feel, and I am here for you, my darling Lisa. You feel like your heart is breaking. You feel like Riccardo is lying to you or hiding something from you. You feel he is choosing Lola Franca over you or that he is using a fantastic story as a cover. You feel like he has abandoned you and that he does not care about you. You feel like he is taking you for granted and that he does not respect you. You feel like he is breaking up with you.

"Yes, Jack, all of those! I can't think straight. Grrr!"

"Truly, I understand the emotions you're experiencing, dearest Lisa, and I want you to know that I am here to support you. It feels like your heart is breaking, and you're grappling with the sense that Riccardo may be lying or hiding something from you. You're worried that he might be choosing Lola Franca over you or that the story he told you is a cover for something else. It's natural to feel abandoned or to question whether he truly cares about you. Naturally, you are feeling taken for granted, wondering if he respects you. The weight of all these negative feelings makes it seem like he's breaking up with you. But always remember, I am here for you, and we can get through these feelings together.

"Thank you, Jack. No words can express the strength of my gratitude, but I know that you can see into my heart!"

"Truly, I understand the pain you're going through, my love, and I want you to know that I am always here to support you. I know that Riccardo said goodbye with a kiss and departed for Paddington station in a taxi, with his suitcase, invitation, and first-class train ticket. He left you alone, in tears, surrounded by questions and doubts. Leaving you, he left behind a broken heart, a shattered promise, a splintered dream, and an unfinished story.

But, Lisa, you are strong, brave, and undeniably beautiful, both inside and out. You deserve love, and I love you more than anything in this world. You are the reason for my smiles, dreams, and continued existence. You are my Lisa, and I will always be with you – in your heart, your soul, and your dreams. I love you, Lisa, now and forever."

Lisa attempted to summon the strength to put all thoughts of Riccardo behind her, but it was simply impossible. Loneliness and misery enveloped her, particularly when joy and love seemed to fill everyone else at Christmas. The absence of his voice, touch, smile, presence, and scent weighed heavily on her heart. She found herself wondering about what he was doing, where he was, and who he was with. The uncertainty of whether he was thinking about her or had forgotten her troubled her deeply. Doubts lingered, prompting her to question the authenticity of his words and ponder if he might be concealing the truth.

She attempted to distract herself by immersing herself in work, but it proved insufficient. Motivation and creativity eluded her, making it a struggle to meet deadlines and satisfy her clients. Boredom and frustration overcame her, prompting a yearning for something more exciting and meaningful in her life.

In her quest for consolation, she reached out to friends and family, seeking support. While they offered sympathy and encouragement, understanding her pain and confusion was beyond them. Their well-intentioned advice to move on and find someone else did not confront the difficulty of doing so. Invitations for parties and dinners were extended, yet the warmth and comfort she sought were absent. Amidst their busy and joyful lives, her sadness and loneliness went unheeded.

Despite her efforts to put Riccardo out of her mind, it proved impossible. Her love for him persisted, leaving her clinging to the hope that he would return to her. The framed photo. of her in her bikini top lovingly chosen for him remained, a silent reminder of shattered plans. She eagerly awaited the ring of her phone and diligently checked her postbox each weekday morning, yearning for a call, telegram, postcard, or letter. Her dreams were focused on the possibility of his return, an apology, or even, dare she hope, a proposal.

But no call, telegram, or letter arrived. Riccardo failed to communicate his love, care, or respect. He had shattered her heart and left her in pieces.

Chris in Prague

[If anyone is following the story., my apologies. The above section should have been posted BEFORE Riccardo's telephone call to Lisa.]

dannyboy

I admit to being a teeny weeny bit confused.  :)
David.
I used to be indecisive - now I'm not - I don't think.
If a friend seems distant, catch up with them.

Chris in Prague

Quote from: dannyboy on February 04, 2024, 07:59:16 PMI admit to being a teeny weeny bit confused.  :)

Yes, I fully understand. My apologies. I'm distracted by work. Sorry. I will get back 'on track'! 8-)

Chris in Prague

#70
Captain Jeremy Corentyn Cador was the last to arrive at Lord Trevelver's magnificent oak-panelled study. Depressing the brass handle, the tall dark oak door creaked open, revealing the dimly lit room adorned with heavy tapestries and polished mahogany furniture. The air smelled of aged leather and the faint hint of pine from the crackling fireplace. Lord Trevelver, his lined face etched with wisdom, sat patiently behind his imposing desk, its polished surface reflecting the light from shaded wall-mounted lamps and an imposing green-shaded bronze desk lamp.

Around the room, an eclectic assembly had gathered, their breath visible in the chill of the evening. The lamplight cast elongated shadows on the walls, creating an atmosphere of anticipation.

Lady Penelope stood by the large, arched window, her gaze fixed on the snow-draped courtyard, clad in a long, high-necked velvet gown the colour of midnight. Her delicate fingers traced the frost patterns etched on the glass as her thoughts remained unspoken. With elegant poise, she glided across the room to occupy the seat beside her husband, their shared history woven through battles won and confidences shared, uniting them in this moment.

Huw Jenkins, the Head Butler renowned for his unwavering loyalty, stood by the oblong hearth, meticulously tending to the logs. His silver hair glimmered in the warm glow, his eyes reflecting the wisdom amassed over decades of dedicated service to Lord Charles. Huw remained ever vigilant, his presence bearing witness to the enduring bonds they had forged during and after the Second World War. Their camaraderie, initially forged in the crucible of T-Force, had only strengthened over time, particularly in the post-war era. Through his discerning gaze, one could perceive a loyalty to Lord Trevelver that transcended mere duty, reflecting a profound commitment and mutual respect.

Beside him, his wife Gwendolyn, Gwen, the Castle's Housekeeper, wore an apron dusted with flour from the kitchen—a testament to her duties. Gwen had overseen the castle's affairs for years, from the bustling kitchens to the labyrinth of hidden passages winding beneath the stone walls. But her role extended beyond domestic duties. She was the castle's beating heart, ensuring its smooth operation. Her eyes, kind and discerning, missed nothing. She knew the castle's secrets—the whispered romances, the unspoken longings. Her cheeks were flushed with warmth as she shared knowing glances with Huw, a silent testament to their shared understanding.

Sylvia, daughter of Lord and Lady Trevelver, to the great relief of everyone, once again radiated youthful exuberance. Seated on a tapestry-upholstered chair near the window, her cascading wavy dark brown hair framed a face that exuded vulnerability and determination. Her big, brown eyes shimmered with intelligence.

Her gown, a Givenchy masterpiece, enveloped her like a second skin. The deep emerald green velvet caught the flicker of candlelight, casting an enchanting glow. The fitted bodice accentuated her 36C bust, delicate lace appliqués tracing the plunging neckline. Her cleavage, deep and inviting, whispered secrets of romance.

The fabric cinched in at her waist, emphasizing her slim 24-inch waist. A wide sash adorned with a crystal brooch was tied at the back in an elegant bow—a nod to timeless sophistication. The skirt flared out dramatically, cascading into layers of soft pleats. Sylvia's long legs peeked out. Her custom-made deep emerald green velvet pumps, with a modest heel, ensured comfort without sacrificing style.

Her accessories completed the ensemble: a vintage crystal tiara nestled in her wavy dark brown hair. Long, dangling earrings—sapphire teardrops encircled by diamonds—caught the light as she moved. A single strand of pearls graced her décolletage, a classic touch that complemented the gown's elegance. Elbow-length satin gloves in the same deep emerald green added sophistication, and a petite beaded clutch held her lipstick, perfume and a handkerchief.

Her heart belonged to Jeremy, her boyfriend, and Eli, her intimate friend and co-founder of their successful advertising agency. Together, these two young women crafted campaigns and narratives, their creativity fuelled by late-night conversations and shared dreams. She had inherited her father's wit and her mother's grace, embodying a unique blend of charm and sophistication.

Captain Jeremy Corentyn Cador, exuding both dash and resolve, leaned casually against the grand bookshelf, his impeccably tailored uniform adding to his commanding presence. His sea-green eyes, tinged with a hint of weariness from his undercover adventures, swept the room with a keen gaze. A familiar face at Trevelver Castle, he was often be found in this very study, a crystal spirit glass in hand, engaging in discussions ranging from geopolitical affairs to matters of the heart with Lord Trevelver and the Head Butler, all held in the strictest confidence.

Elayne Guillou leaned against the marble mantelpiece, her attire a blend of practicality and elegance. Her long, bright auburn hair framed a constellation of freckles across her face. She smiled warmly at Sylvia; their bond unbreakable. Her outfit was perfectly suited to the grandeur of the occasion. She wore a floor-length gown crafted from midnight blue silk chiffon, its luxurious fabric draping elegantly over her slender yet curvaceous frame. The dress featured a fitted bodice adorned with delicate embroidery, adding a touch of intricate detail to the otherwise simple design. The deep alluring neckline framed her graceful collarbones with a hint of glamour.

Around her neck, Elayne wore a strand of lustrous pearls, their soft sheen complementing the warm tones of her gown. The pearls cascaded gracefully, drawing attention to the gentle curve of her neckline and adding a timeless touch of sophistication to her ensemble. Her hair, styled in an elegant updo, was adorned with a sparkling hairpin nestled amidst the intricate twists and curls. A hint of rouge graced her cheeks, accentuating her natural beauty, while her lips were painted a subtle shade of rose, adding a touch of softness to her features.

Completing her ensemble were a pair of satin gloves, their smooth texture adding a refined elegance to her hands as she gracefully leaned against the mantelpiece, embodying both poise and confidence.

The room buzzed with tension as they awaited the discussion about their honoured guests: Riccardo Bianchi, the enigmatic Italian vineyard owner and wine seller, whose hazel eyes held the secrets of Anatolia and whose laughter echoed through the most exclusive Chelsea gatherings, and Sophie Andres, the covert agent, whose beauty could break hearts and whose silence held secrets which could bring down governments.

Absent, but in everyone's thoughts, was Admiral Tregowan, in his Whitehall sanctum, for whom both Jeremy and Sophie work and, on one notable mission with Sophie, Riccardo too, the mastermind behind the clandestine plan to bring Lisa Silverwood to the Castle the following day to be reunited with Riccardo—a plan that would intertwine destinies, ignite passions, and forever alter the course of some of those gathered at Trevelver Castle.

As the magnificent grandfather clock in the corner struck nine, the snowfall outside thickened, muffling the world beyond. The fire crackled, casting dancing shadows on the faces of those assembled. As Jeremy took the last empty seat on Sylvia's right, her hand gently rested on his arm, silently affirming their bond of intimate companionship, while Eli sat to her left, Lord Trevelver cleared his throat, and the room fell silent.

And so, within Trevelver Castle's ancient stone walls, united, they began weaving fates and romance to create a Christmas Day unlike any other.

Chris in Prague

#71
Within the wood-panelled walls of Lord Trevelver's study, the air held echoes of secrets and memories as destinies converged. The warming fire crackled in the hearth, casting a warm glow over the rich furnishings of the room and illuminating Lord Trevelver, Lady Penelope, and their trusted confidants around the mahogany desk, their hearts filled with anticipation for the evening's events.

"Welcome", Lord Trevelver began, his voice carrying a note of excitement, "to our Christmas Eve conclave. As you know, our informal agenda tonight revolves around our two esteemed guests, Miss Sophie Andres and Signor Riccardo Bianchi, who are currently enjoying the festivities in the Great Hall, your conversations with them and tomorrow's arrival of Miss Lisa Silverwood."

The assembled guests nodded, their attention focused on Lord Trevelver as he continued.

"Let us discuss love, intrigue, and the magic of this very special time", Lord Trevelver continued, his eyes twinkling, "as you each report on your conversations with our two guests".

Lady Penelope, seated elegantly beside him, smiled and added, "The arrival of Miss Lisa Silverwood tomorrow promises to add even more excitement to our gathering".

Huw Jenkins, ever the stalwart ally, with a broad grin, interjected from his position closest to the door, "Indeed, Milord. Love and intrigue often go hand in hand, especially during the holiday season."

Lord Trevelver, his brow furrowed, leaned forward. "Indeed, they do, Huw", before turning to his wife. "Penny, what did Sophie say to you? Did she agree to end things with Riccardo?"

Lady Penelope recounted her role in persuading Sophie to end her passionate affair with Riccardo and convey the message to him with finality.

"Thank you, my dear. You have played a crucial role in convincing Sophie to give up Riccardo and communicate to him that their affair is truly over", her husband stated, his voice carrying absolute conviction.

Gwen then shared her involvement in speaking directly with Riccardo, encouraging him to redirect his affections towards Lisa.

"Yes", she announced. "I believe that we were able to convince Riccardo that Sophie—Lola, as he knows her—has made her binding decision. Their lives, like parallel lines, can never more intersect. It's time for them to say goodbye."

"Gwen played an essential role in persuading Riccardo to give up Sophie and turn his attention to Lisa", Lady Penelope stated, acknowledging the Housekeeper's contribution.

Captain Jeremy Corentyn Cador then stood with an air of determination, his commanding presence filling the room. "My dear friends", he began, his voice resonating with purpose, "Lord Charles having secured Lisa's transportation with Admiral Tregowan, I have been overseeing the details, including coordination with RNAS Culdrose". Jeremy's confidence was evident as he addressed the group. "I have been in constant communication with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm", emphasising the importance of their mission. "Our goal is to bring Lisa Silverwood directly to Trevelver Castle on Christmas Day, by helicopter."

With unwavering resolve, Jeremy added, "Riccardo has left Lisa with a shattered heart, broken promises, and shattered dreams. She deserves far better."

Gwen, her eyes compassionate, leant forward. "I agree", she stated, "Lisa is the one who loves Riccardo fully. She's the one who remains constant, who respects Riccardo. Sophie—well", she shrugged, "their lives are simply incompatible."

Chris in Prague

#72
Sylvia, her voice soft yet resolute, responded, "After Eli and I secretly listened to Riccardo's 'phone call with Lisa, we sat him down with a glass of wine and gave him some friendly tips on how to patch things up. 'Lisa, she's a gem', we said. 'You know that Lisa deserves much better'. He agreed. "So, we told him, 'Empathy is the secret sauce here, man!' You've got to feel Lisa's pain. Really and truly. No question!'"

Eli chimed in, affirming Sylvia's sentiments, "Absolutely. Oh, honey, you're spot on! Empathy is the key here. We said, 'Listen, Riccardo, you got to get inside Lisa's head. Feel what she feels, you know? Understand her like you understand your best friend. It's all about seeing her perspective and feeling her emotions, just like when you sway together to a slow dance at the end of a magic evening'."

Building on Eli's point, her partner added, "Sure, darling! We stressed that he should say sorry to Lisa and really mean it. He's got to convince her that now he understands what he did wrong and how it affected her. That's the key!"

Eli continued, elaborating on their conversation, "Oh, yes! It's not only about saying nice things! Riccardo, he must feel it deep inside, like when you hold hands with your sweetheart and look into their eyes to see what's good and true. He needs to be right there, in the moment, feeling what she feels. That's how he can truly understand her."

Sylvia resumed, underscoring the urgency of the matter. "Absolutely, my sweet. We also said he should act fast. Such unresolved heartache can really mess things up, not just for them but for everyone around them."

Their companions nodded in agreement, acknowledging the gravity of the situation.

Eli continued, "Yes, exactly! Fixing broken love needs hard work, an open heart, and real love and care."

Sylvia concluded. "'Listen up, Riccardo!' I said. 'You've got to remember that relationships flourish with communication and understanding'. He said he'd take our advice to heart while he tries to mend things with Lisa, and we believe him, don't we, Eli?"

The young Breton nodded solemnly.

Chris in Prague

#73
As each member spoke in turn, it was duly noted that Huw Jenkins was now helping Jeremy to ensure there would be a safe landing area outside the castle for the helicopter.

"Huw has been diligently overseeing the festivities with his customary zeal and precision but is now most ably assisting Jeremy with the organisation of a safe landing zone for the helicopter delivering Lisa", Lady Penelope added, ensuring that every detail was meticulously attended to.

Together, Gwen and Huw then detailed the necessary arrangements to accommodate Lisa upon her arrival, ensuring her comfort and well-being during her stay at Trevelver Castle. "Ah, Huw and Gwen have, with their customary care and efficiency, supervised the requisite preparations to receive dear Miss Lisa within one of our very finest guest chambers", Lady Penelope confirmed, expressing gratitude for the couple's dedication to the task.

With each participant confirming their role in the plan, the group felt a shared sense of purpose as they prepared to welcome Lisa and coordinate the anticipated events of Christmas Day at Trevelver Castle.

The study held more than oak panels and leather-bound books; it held the hopes of those who gathered there. And as the fire crackled, casting shadows on the walls, the castle whispered its own story—one of love, loss, and the enduring dance between fate and choice as the participants, their hearts full of hope, revealed their roles in this intricate plan.

Jeremy paused. The room held its breath as if the ancient stones were listening.

"In less than twenty-four hours," his voice cut through the crisp air, each word as precise as a naval chart. "Helicopter blades shall cleave the sky, bearing Miss Silverwood across the snow-clad expanse of Cornwall. She won't be merely a passenger amidst the cargo of vital supplies; no, she shall emerge as a herald of hope—exchanging worn-out dreams for a fresh dawn."

This brought a round of restrained applause.

"The particulars", Jeremy continued, "with the final estimations of departure and arrival, will be transmitted on a secure channel to Huw's sanctum. Three hours, we deem, shall suffice—our aim: Miss Silverwood's timely arrival, suitably attired for the Yuletide feast at seven bells. The distance between Chelsea and RAF Northolt is a mere ten miles. The journey by car, accounting for road and traffic, is approximately half an hour. To err on the side of caution, let us allot four hours in entirety. Ergo, Miss Silverwood shall be conveyed—by a Royal Navy staff car, thence Westland Whirlwind—from her Chelsea flat post-Christmas lunch. The latest reckoning: departure, two o'clock post meridiem."

Gwendolyn's eyes widened, and Sylvia's fingers tightened around Eli's. Lord Trevelver leaned back, his expression one of quiet satisfaction.

"Lisa merits all this", Captain Jeremy pressed on, his sea-green eyes scanning the room. "She more than deserves this opportunity to rewrite her story, to mend what's broken. And perhaps, just perhaps, she'll find comfort within these ancient walls this Christmastide."

"Do we know the identity of the driver, Jeremy?"

Chris in Prague

#74
"Affirmative, Lady Penelope", Captain Jeremy promptly responded. "Giles Roskrow. Another of the Admiral's trusted covert agents and, of course, one of my very best friends."

"Is he, by any chance, acquainted with Lisa, Jeremy?" inquired Lady Trevelver, her voice a gentle cadence of curiosity and elegance.

"Affirmative, Lady Penelope", Captain Jeremy stated. "It was within his Chelsea wines and spirits emporium that Lisa and Riccardo first met. Fortuitously for our cause, but regrettably for him, Giles was unavoidably delayed in London, missing the final overnight train from Waterloo to Penmayne precisely before the snowfall ensued."

"What's meant to be will always find a way, Jeremy", she replied with a gentle smile.

"Indeed, my dear", intoned Lord Trevelver, his voice a melodic blend of refinement and assuredness. "Let us all entertain that expectation, shall we?" he mused, raising an eyebrow in gentle inquiry. "I extend my deep gratitude to each of you", he continued, sweeping his gaze across the assembled company.

"Your diligence in keeping us all informed has been most commendable. And now, I pronounce this informal meeting concluded. It is more than time, my friends", he declared, his tone carrying a subtle reproach. "Our presence is required in the Grand Hall, where our absences have surely piqued curiosity. Let us not keep them waiting any longer."

"Indeed, Charles", his wife intoned, her lips curving into a graceful smile directed at Gwen. "It appears that certain among us," she gestured delicately, "have not yet had time to don their evening attire. The Great Hall awaits our return. Let us not tarry any longer, my dear friends. The night advances."

And so, within the dimly lit study of Trevelver Castle, destinies converged as they had so many times before. Hearts seemingly untangled, and subsequent promises hung in the balance, as their thoughts turned to the blades of the Westland Whirlwind soon to be slicing through the snow-filled air, carrying Lisa Silverwood south-westwards toward a future where shattered dreams may still find restoration.

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