The Mermaid

Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
Frankie and Hannah both know how to keep a secret. But secrets are dangerous, especially as they always find a way to reveal themselves. 80 years separate their stories but both women know that some secrets are best left hidden.
First 10 Pages


The young man sat awkwardly on the chair. It was his first time modelling and he felt ridiculous. His sister was the class teacher and her usual model had let her down.

‘Please,’ she’d begged him. ‘It’s only an hour and nobody will see anything.’

‘Nobody will see anything?’ He stared at her, aghast. ‘You’re asking me to pose naked in front of an art room full of strangers and you think no-one will see anything?’

His sister laughed. ‘Alright so they’ll see something. But they won’t be looking at you like that. It’s a life drawing class. They’ll only be looking at you as an object, not a person.’

‘Oh well, that’s alright then. That makes it so much better!’

That had been two weeks ago. He’d never been able to refuse her anything and so there he was, doing his best to keep still while a room full of people attempted to capture his likeness.

It hadn’t been too bad so far. Most of them only glanced up at him, then their eyes fell immediately to their sketches. Except for her. She studied him for long periods at a time, her face thoughtful. She was older than many of the others, but he didn’t think the lines on her face were just age. This was a woman who had known pain. Deep pain.

At the end of the class, she was the last one to pack up. Seeing his sister growing impatient, he told her to go to lunch. He would lock the room as he left. He slipped behind the screen to put his clothes on, expecting the woman to be gone when he emerged. She was still there. Still looking at him. He swallowed nervously.

‘Was there something else you wanted?’

‘I wondered if you did private work?’

‘Private work?’

‘Private modelling.’

He stared at her. She sighed.

‘I’d like you to come to my house and model for me. Just me. Hence, the ‘private’.’

‘For a picture?’

Her laugh was husky. ‘A sculpture. I’d like to capture you in clay. I can pay for your time.’

The price she named was outrageous. It would pay for his college fees many times over.

‘Why me? For that money you could get a professional model.’

She ran an appraising eye over him, her finger tracing a line down his chest.

‘I couldn’t get what I need from a professional. Your inexperience makes you look… apprehensive. It’s an expression I want to capture. The naivety of youth is exactly what I need.’

He held out his hand. ‘It’s a deal.’

July, 2017

Hannah looked out of the café window. At the far end of the Lido, perched on his lifeguard’s chair, sat Clem, seemingly unaware of the effect he was having on the occupants of the pool. There was a chuckle from behind her.

‘Makes quite the picture, doesn’t he?’

Hannah turned to see Frankie Ford grinning at her and laughed at the expression on the older lady’s face. ‘I was just thinking about those poor girls trying so desperately to get his attention.’

‘Can’t say I blame them. I was having a good old gawp myself. If I was fifty years younger, I’d have conveniently forgotten how to swim this morning. You’d have found me flailing around in trouble down at the deep end.’

‘Wouldn’t be the first time you’d employed that tactic either, would it?’ Ken Ford laughed at the indignant expression on his wife’s face.

‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’ Frankie smiled, reaching out for his hand. ‘It worked on you, didn’t it?’

Ken laughed again. ‘He’s not in love with you already though, is he?’

Hannah hurriedly excused herself and returned to the kitchen. She shouldn’t have been embarrassed. The couple came in every day: she swam while he read the newspaper and then they shared a toasted teacake with their coffees. Both were in their nineties, but the affectionate exchanges and loving looks showed they were as much in love as they had ever been and Hannah envied them. No one in her family had ever made it past 10 years of marriage and even at 25, her own love life was already a catalogue of disasters. She slammed the door on the thought. She told people she was happily single. It was better that way. She could never tell them the truth, not if she wanted to keep them as friends. Just her and Monty was the way she liked it and even he had been an accidental acquisition.

A few weeks after Hannah had started working at the Lido, Clem had turned up for work with the dog in tow.

‘Sorry,’ he said sheepishly, as a string of sausages slithered off the counter. ‘This is Monty and apparently he’s usually better behaved than this.’

‘He’s gorgeous.’ Kate, the café manager and Clem’s sister-in-law, bent to stroke the silky head. ‘But I have to ask why he’s here? I know we’re dog-friendly, but the pool isn’t and you’re working today, aren’t you?’

Clem sighed. ‘I am. I was hoping maybe you could have him in here.’

‘And how do you propose we manage that? You know how busy we get at lunchtime.’

‘I know, I know. I wouldn’t ask unless I was desperate.’

‘How come you’ve got him anyway? Who does he belong to?’

‘You know my aunt’s next-door neighbour went into hospital and she agreed to look after Monty for a few days? Well, the neighbour’s family have decided she has to go into care, so they need a more permanent solution for poor Monty. None of them want a dog, so we’re not sure what’s going to happen to him. I agreed to dog-sit today as I was meant to be in the office, but one of the lifeguards called in sick so I’ve got to cover the shift.’

‘Poor boy,’ Hannah said, crouching down and petting him. She knew what it felt like to be unwanted. ‘If you can have him in the office over the lunchtime rush, I’m sure we could manage the rest of the day. Couldn’t we?’ She looked at Kate.

Her boss shook her head with a resigned smile. ‘Oh, alright then.’ She fixed a glare on her brother-in-law. ‘But if he eats any more sausages I’m coming after you for payment.’

Clem grinned and hugged her. ‘Thanks Kate.’

‘Thank Hannah.’

Clem turned his grin on Hannah, who laughed. ‘I’ve always been a sucker for hard luck cases.’

Monty licked her hand and she looked down into the wide brown eyes. He really was a beautiful creature. Before she’d even finished forming the idea in her head, Hannah found herself offering to take him permanently. Clem arranged for her to meet Monty’s owner and the old lady was so relieved he wasn’t going to end up in a rescue centre that she’d agreed immediately and Monty had moved in with Hannah. Had she known what a sociable activity walking him would turn out to be, she wasn’t sure she would have been so quick to offer him a home. She had no desire to get close to anyone again, but Monty gave her no choice. He loved being made a fuss of and everyone in Avonstow seemed to be a dog lover.

One day when he'd been in the café with her, Maisie, the local celebrity cat, had wandered in and curled up next to him. Kate, ever quick to spot a promotional opportunity, took a photo of the pair and put it on the café’s Facebook page. By the end of the week, Hannah found herself being stopped by every other person they met.

‘Oh, what a gorgeous boy. He was in that photo with Maisie, wasn’t he?’ Their words were accompanied by much stroking of Monty’s head and he played up to them every single time, turning adoring eyes on them and licking their hands.

‘He’s an old fraud,’ Hannah assured them, smiling politely before hurrying away.

Since then, Monty had accompanied her to work most days, sitting quietly in his basket beneath the counter, only getting up to say hello to the other dogs who were regular visitors to the café. He was loved by all the staff and even the lifeguards often came in to say hello to him before they started their shifts. Reluctantly, Hannah had found herself being drawn into the social circle of the staff and she had been out for drinks with colleagues after work, but still she held herself back. The rest of them gossiped happily about their lives outside the Lido, but Hannah always found a way to turn their questions back to them. She didn’t want to talk about herself. There was no point: the job was only temporary. She’d taken it as a stop gap while she decided what to do after being made redundant.

Following the trauma of her final year at school, Hannah’s father had allowed her to leave and do her A-levels through the local night school, rather than suffer a further two years of everyone around her knowing what had happened. She’d aced the exams but chose to stay living at home and study for a remote degree in Accountancy, while working part-time at Morgan Peters, a local firm. Nobody there knew about her past and it had felt like a fresh start. Her boss, Andy, had taken an interest in her and encouraged her studies. With his support she’d done her exams and qualified as an accountant, but then the firm had been sold and Richard had happened. It wasn’t long afterwards that the accounts department was told it was being ‘streamlined’ by the new owners. Roughly translated, they’d known that meant redundancies and when they’d asked for volunteers, Hannah had put herself forward immediately. She was keen to get away, to put it all behind her. Besides, she’d reasoned, many of the people she worked with had families and mortgages to pay: she was single and only renting. If the worst came to the worst, she could always ask her dad if she could move back home. They offered her a generous package and thanks to the local Facebook page she had a few private clients, so if she was careful with her money, she could afford to take a few months to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

When she saw the advert for the Lido café, she decided on the spur of the moment to apply. The money wasn’t much but it would give her a bit more time to consider her options. Andy had floated the idea of going into business on her own as a private accountant and it wasn’t wholly unappealing.

‘What happened wasn’t your fault, Hannah. They knew that and that’s why they gave you such a good settlement. You’re an excellent accountant. Don’t let that weasel put you off the job.’

Hannah didn’t believe him. Of course it had been her fault, it always was. But perhaps he had a point about the job. It was Andy who had responded to the Facebook inquiries, tagging her as a potential candidate. Once he’d suggested it though, the idea wouldn’t leave her alone. The thought of being her own boss was appealing and it would mean she didn’t have to go through the rigmarole of office politics and this time all her relationships would be professional, not personal.

‘Hannah? Hannah?’ Kate’s voice cut across her thoughts and she turned to face her manager. ‘The bacon!’

Hannah swore under her breath, raced into the kitchen to pull the smoking pan out from under the grill.

‘Sorry.’ She grimaced as she tipped the burnt pieces into the bin and quickly replaced them with fresh slices.

Kate waved her hand furiously under the smoke detector and grinned. ‘Don’t worry. I saw you watching Clem earlier. He has that effect on a lot of people.’

Hannah blushed. Kate had made it very clear she thought her employee and her brother-in-law would make a good pair and even though Hannah had told her she wasn’t interested in a relationship, Kate enjoyed teasing her about it.

‘Emmy must be mental,’ Kate continued. ‘But then I always knew she was.’

Hannah kept quiet, knowing Kate’s feelings on the subject of Clem’s soon-to-be ex-wife. According to Kate, she’d had an affair with her boss the previous year, but the relationship had ended and she’d spent the past few months begging Clem to stop divorce proceedings and take her back.

Kate sighed. ‘Why would you want someone else if that was waiting for you at home? I probably shouldn’t say it being married to his brother, but he’s a decent bloke and nicely packaged to boot.’

‘You never know what goes on behind closed doors though, do you?’

‘True, but then I’m biased. I love Clem to bits and I never liked her. She reckoned she was better than the rest of us and she’s exactly the sort to have an affair. That one doesn’t care about anyone but herself.’

Hannah shrugged, concentrating on not burning the bacon again. Tears collected in her eyes and she blinked them back furiously.

‘Hannah? What is it?’ Kate turned her away from the grill.

Should have known she’d notice. Kate notices everything. ‘It’s nothing, honestly. I’m fine.’

Kate raised an eyebrow and waited.

Hannah sighed. ‘It’s nothing.’ She gave her boss a weak grin. ‘Promise.’

Kate harrumphed but didn’t push her further. Hannah knew it was only a temporary reprieve though. From the moment she’d arrived for her first shift, Kate had taken her under her wing and decided they were going to be friends. Hannah had been given no choice in the matter. She didn’t mind. Not really. Kate was lovely. It was just…Hannah sighed inwardly. Her past was always there hovering at her shoulder. Kate had definite views and that was why Hannah could never tell her about Ethan and Richard.

Sliding the now cooked bacon into the waiting roll, Hannah added a sachet of ketchup to the side of the plate and hurried out with it, handing it over to the customer who’d been drumming their fingers on the table. That done, she cleared the dirty cups and plates from Ken and Frankie’s table, almost dropping them as Clem suddenly appeared in the doorway from the pool.

‘Any chance of a cuppa?’

Hannah nodded. ‘Sit down, I’ll bring one over.’

As she brought the tea to his table, she passed two giggling teenagers who sashayed past her to order milkshakes. Clem rolled his eyes and she smiled.

‘They been giving you trouble?’

He motioned to the seat and she slid in opposite him; when the café was quiet Kate didn’t mind her taking five minutes.

‘Not trouble so much as inappropriate flirting. I’m almost old enough to be their father but that doesn’t stop them suggesting they need mouth to mouth resuscitation. It’s embarrassing. I don’t think I’d have dared at their age.’

‘I don’t think age has anything to do with confidence,’ Hannah said thoughtfully, remembering Frankie’s earlier remarks. ‘Some people are just born with it.’ She smiled ‘The older members of the community share their appreciation of your lifeguarding skills.’

‘Frankie Ford, by any chance?’

‘Did she ask to be resuscitated as well?’

‘Not today.’

Hannah laughed. It was good that she could relax in his company now. Before Monty she’d been unable to even say good morning, but their shared experience had loosened her tongue enough to have a conversation without worrying he’d think she was interested in him. That Clem himself was so laid back also helped. If she had been looking for a relationship, he would have been perfect. She silenced the thought. Relationships were for people like Frankie and Ken Ford, good people who deserved to be happy together. They weren’t for people like her. All she did was destroy them. That it was unintentional, didn’t matter. The end result was always the same and she would not risk it happening again.


The following Saturday, Hannah spent the day running from till to kitchen to tables and back again until eventually, the queue grew shorter and Kate told her to take five minutes while she could. Frankie Ford was at a table on her own and she beckoned Hannah over.

‘You look cream crackered,’ she said, patting the younger girl’s hand. ‘It been busy today?’

‘Like you wouldn’t believe. We’ve not stopped since about 10 o’clock.’ Hannah frowned. ‘Where’s Ken?’

A cloud shadowed Frankie’s face. ‘He’s not feeling too good. I told him to stay home and rest while I came for a swim.’

Hannah glanced at Frankie’s dry hair.

‘I’ll run some water through it before I go home. I didn’t really come to swim today. I’m meeting the family.’ She swallowed, tears collecting in the corners of her eyes. ‘It’s time they knew.’

‘Oh, Frankie!’ Hannah reached out and took her hand, surprised at the depth of her own emotion. ‘I’m so sorry. Is there anything we can do?’

Frankie shook her head. ‘Just keep me supplied with coffee and friendship.’

Hannah’s surprise must have shown because Frankie continued. ‘You’ll find as you get older that friendship comes in very unlikely forms and this place has always been a huge part of my life, so anyone who works here becomes a friend.’ She hesitated, a slight frown deepening her wrinkles. ‘Well… almost everyone, anyway.’

Hannah squeezed her hand but looked down. ‘Not everyone deserves your friendship,’ she mumbled.

‘That’s true enough,’ Frankie agreed, with a wry grin. ‘But that was a long time ago.’

‘Not necessarily.’ Hannah risked looking up. ‘You know nothing about me, for example. I could be an awful person.’

Frankie laughed gently. ‘I don’t think so, my dear. I like to think I’ve proved a good judge of character over the years and I’ve seen enough to know I like you.’