Borrowed this picture from Twitter, apparently the high winds blew it in!
Room for a little 'un?
Rachel was to remember Cynthia's words during the next few weeks when Ralph beset her with small attentions and gave her an occasional gift of chocolate. She tussled with it, wanting his friendship yet fearing it. She learned to be aloof, adopting a more professional attitude, always efficient and cordial. Nevertheless, inwardly and very secretly she tested her flattered emotions, tasting the unfamiliar but welcome thrill of being cared about by a handsome man.
She was thinking about him as she prepared the salad to go with the salmon, relishing a quiet moment away from her mother, her lukewarm offer to help having been refused. Essentially Rachel wanted some time to herself, to brood, to analyse, or simply pursue a dream, an impossibility with Gary and her mother heehawing all over the place. She admitted to being illogical in her thinking. After months alone, shouldn't she be feeling more sociable?
Not keen to relinquish her seclusion, Rachel gripped the handle of her knife and severed a tomato. ‘Really, it's okay, Mum. You go and rest.’ She quartered a second tomato and tossed it on top of a bowl of lettuce, just as
Amy dropped the beakers in the sink. ‘I am merely putting on view the saintly side of your nature,’ she said.
Rachel felt murderous. ‘What are you both on about?’
‘Gary, the dear boy, has agreed to help sort out my loft after dinner.’
‘And where,’ Rachel asked, ‘does saintliness come into it?’
‘It's not a job he can do in half an hour. I need stuff moved from your old room, you see, to make space for the baby's crib and the new self-assembly wardrobe. There's so much to do, I think
‘It's okay, Mum. As you say, there's Rex to consider.’
Satisfied, Amy went back into the living room.
Rachel was struck dumb. Without exception, under the new regime,
THE next morning, Rachel woke to find shafts of sunlight streaming through the window and Rex's wet nose nudging her hand, his way of telling her it was time for his breakfast. She ignored him and lay watching the dust particles capering in the beam. Rex closed his mouth on her hand and pulled gently to remind her of her duty towards him. ‘Oh, all right, slave driver,’ she said, throwing off the covers and sliding her legs to the floor. ‘You should know by now the chances of getting fed early on Saturdays are extremely slim.’ Rex panted with expectation, then stopped, and angled his head to listen to a distant sound.
Rachel slid her feet into slippers and trailed behind the dog's reeling backside as he laboured down the stairs. When finally they reached the bottom, she snatched up the receiver.
She weathered the temptation to ask who the hell else it could be.
‘Is there much to do?’ Rachel's voice was carefully controlled.
‘It's not the quantity so much as the awkwardness. I'm having difficulty getting stuff through the small hatch. Your Mum will have to sling half of it.’
Even though she shrank from hearing the answer, Rachel forced herself to ascertain the time he would be home.
‘That's why I'm ringing. I might as well go straight to Terry's.’
Well, it certainly wouldn’t do to be late for Terry!
‘I'll see you when I see you then.’ She replaced the receiver without waiting for a response or saying goodbye. She supposed she should feel honoured that, for once, he'd bothered to ring at all. She felt strangely impassive as she stood staring at the instrument, totally stunned by the absence of tears that ordinarily sprang forth at the merest hint of
The spell was broken by Rex issuing a low moan. Rachel shot to her feet and rushed to feed him. ‘We'll go out when you've eaten this,’ she said, running the can-opener round a tin of dog food. She filled the dog bowl with foul smelling green tripe and added a scoop of meal before plonking it on the floor. Checking the second hand on the clock, she counted the eleven seconds it took him to finish the lot. ‘What kept you?’ she asked, almost light-heartedly as she replaced the empty bowl with one filled with water.
She opened the kitchen curtains and looked out. In the white plastic, urn-shaped tub, the first daffodil bud was forcing its way through the soil. Eager to take a closer look, she unbolted the back door and stepped out into the tiny garden. There was expectancy in the air, an impalpable excitement. She walked to the tub to inspect the bloom. ‘My very first daffodil,’ she cried, as exhilarated as if it was a new baby.
Abruptly returning to the house, she raced up the stairs to the bedroom. Sensing adventure, Rex bounded after her. She tugged on a pair of jeans and drew a sweater over her head, recklessly leaving her breasts free from the restrictions of a bra. An act of rebellion. She glanced round as she dragged a comb through her tousled hair, feeling a certain claustrophobia in the place which had, for so long, been the scene of separation from matrimonial love. With even more haste, she snatched up an extra woolly and left the room.
ONCE outside, she slowed and breathed in the pure air, letting out a long, blissful sigh as she steadily exhaled. Calling Rex to heel, she began to walk. They toured the area, stopping occasionally to allow passers-by to pat Rex on the head or fondle his ears. He enjoyed the attention and every time seized the opportunity to delve into a shopping bag in search of food.
Eventually, they arrived at the field. Rachel had not intended to go there on account of its proximity to her mother's house and not wishing to see
Her deliberations were brought to a swift end by the sight of three yellow earth diggers in front of her. Two were idle, the third was gouging rubble from the crater which was once an air raid shelter. The stench of dank soil was almost overpowering. Rachel watched open-mouthed as the jagged jaws lifted a load high in the air ready to drop in the back of a waiting lorry.
One of the workmen stopped to mop his neck with a rag. He called across, ‘Hey, lady, d'you want something?’
Rachel shook her head and tightened her grip on the lead.
The man came across and hunkered down at Rex's side, discarding his yellow helmet while he stroked the dog's fur. Bulging toecaps made his boots seem two sizes too big. Lumps of clay clung to the hairs on his brawny arms.
Rachel indicated the gaping hole. ‘What are you doing.’
‘Dismantling some old shelters.’
‘They must have been here years. I thought they'd be here for evermore.’
The man blew his nose on the grubby rag. Disregarding the other men's entreaties to ‘Come on, Pat,’ he carried on stroking the dog. ‘I suppose somebody just realised there was enough ground here to build flats.’ He twisted his head to look up at Rachel. ‘Live round here, do you?’
‘Used to. I still come back to walk the dog, though.’ Shyly, she acknowledged the man's smile.
‘I bet it was you who made the bed in there.’
Rachel giggled, remembering how scared she had been the evening she discovered the makeshift sleeping arrangement. ‘You found it then?’
‘We found lots of things. Had a good sort through before we started bulldozing. We appropriated some of it for ourselves. I picked up a trim little Primus.’
‘You didn't by any chance find a rubber torch?’
‘Found several. Did you lose one?’
‘I could do with one, if there's one spare.’ Rachel could not bring herself to admit she had lost one.
‘I think they're all in the wagon.’ Jumping up, the man ran over to the lorry and yanked open the door. He hoisted himself into the cab and after a minute jumped down holding a torch. ‘Them buggers must've had the lot,’ he said as he walked back to Rachel. ‘There's only this one left.’
Gratefully, Rachel accepted the torch. It was not the one she lost, but one torch was as good as another on a dark night.
‘I'd better get back, before that lot get agitated. Nice talking to you.’ Giving Rex a final pat, the man walked away.
POCKETING the torch, Rachel went out the way she came in. She walked towards home, habitually taking the route that took her by way of the Wildacre property. She walked leisurely, enjoying the spring air, musing over her encounter with the man who was wreaking havoc in the playing field. It was impossible to imagine flats being erected there; her father would have been incensed to know that the view from his window was to be ruined by concrete structures.
Five minutes later she stood outside Wildacre eyeing the upstairs windows for signs of life. There were none. The house stood sombrely at the end of the path, a little less woeful with its windows bathed in sunlight. Even the crop of uncultivated vegetation stood on end, as if drawn upwards by the sun. While she watched two hedge sparrows flitting boldly from twig to twig, there came the sound of approaching footsteps. She looked round and was astonished to see an old friend, a girl she shared a desk with at infant school, competed against in the seniors, swapped experiences with as they sailed through their teens. She shouted with delight. ‘Sally Anne, is it really you?’ She let her eyes drift over the trim figure, envying the well-cut navy suit, and elegant navy and grey blanket-style shawl.
‘Of course, it's me.’ Sally flung a friendly arm about Rachel's shoulders. ‘How are you? And how's that divine man you married?’
‘We're fine,’ Rachel said, wishing it were true. ‘And you?’
‘Life's a ball. I've just got engaged to the most fantastic man. Mario. He's Italian. Absolutely dripping with money. Here, look at this.’ Sally held out her ring for inspection. ‘Have you ever seen anything like it?’
The diamond solitaire sparkled like a million stars on Sally's finger. Inevitably, Rachel felt the need to hide her own ring with its tiny sapphire chips.
Sally linked Rachel's arm. ‘Fancy coming to the flat for coffee? I could do with a good feminine chinwag.’
‘What about the dog?’
‘Bring him. He'll be okay.’
‘I will then.’
‘Good. Let's go. That house gives me the creeps.’
Rachel nodded. ‘It does me, but every time I pass I feel compelled to stop and monitor the ghosts.’
‘Is that why
Rachel froze. Why would
Searchingly, Sally regarded her old friend, the slight lifting of her shoulders implying unspoken disagreement. ‘Except for the ghosts,’ was all she said before guiding Rachel away.
SALLY-ANNE'S FLAT was a luxurious blend of bronze and cream. The lounge was incredible. The bronze carpet was set off with cream rugs. A three-piece suite and one reclining chair, all covered in bronze leather, were piled high with cream cushions. Bronze velvet drapes at two massive windows were caught up by cream sashes. A centre light fitting shaped like golden honey pots would, no doubt, cast a bronze hue on the pale cream ceiling. The room gave off an impression of comfortable splendour, and Rachel decided that Mario must indeed be remarkably rich.
Sally came in carrying a tray bearing two gold rimmed cups of black coffee, matching sugar basin and cream jug. ‘Like it?’ she asked as she put the tray on a brass trolley next to the settee.
‘Do I! I'm not exactly jealous, Sal, but if you look closely you might notice a green tinge on my face. How does he do it, this Mario?’
Sally went to the highly polished stereo and picked up a photo frame. ‘This is he,’ she said, handing it over.
Rachel looked into the transfixing brown eyes of a very Italian-looking man who radiated sensuality. An escaping lock of black hair almost touched his slightly crooked, aquiline nose giving him a waggish appearance. Rachel glanced questioningly from the photograph to Sally.
‘Don't ask,’ Sally said, taking back the picture. ‘I look at my reflection and ask the same question. I have no answers, only a ring to prove this marvellous man exists in my life. Actually, if you could stay to tea you'd meet him but I warn you, you'd be hooked by his magnetism if you do.’
‘I don't think I'd better then. I've got enough problems without adding to them.’
Sally draped herself on the three-seater and patted the cushion beside her. ‘Tell me.’
After making sure Rex was not lying on a cream rug, Rachel did as she was told. Between sips of coffee, she told her about
‘Sounds to me as though he holds the key to your happiness,’ observed Sally, standing up. ‘I'll go pour more coffee. You sure you won't stay to tea?’
‘I can't, really. Maybe another time?’
‘That would be nice.’
She even talks differently, mused Rachel, when Sally had left the room. She rose to take another look at the captivating man in the picture frame. ‘You obviously have a knack with women,’ she muttered, unaware that Sally had returned so quickly.
‘He does. I have to admit it.’
Rachel shot round, colouring to her hair roots.
‘Don't fret, Rachel,’ urged Sally, conveying the steaming coffee to the trolley. ‘I understand, especially now I know about
‘I only want
‘But the trouble is, Rachel, and I'm going to be blunt,
That was it, in a nutshell. The problem had been aired and a solution established. Rachel knew that Sally was right.
Sam’s Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson,
written in 1988 and reprinted in 2004.
Sam’s Letters to Jennifer was a refreshing change to James Patterson’s various murder mysteries. The one thing I like about his books is the shortness of chapters and this being only a slim volume it didn’t take me long to read. When I read a book I restrict my time to morning and night, otherwise I would get nothing done in the day. While having breakfast and when I retire to bed, those are my special reading times. However, with the smallness of each chapter in this book I kept adding another, and then another, until the book was almost read.
Sam’s letters to Jennifer were actually different chapters of Sam’s life which she wanted to impart to her granddaughter. In them she reveals a huge secret which helps Jennifer to take charge of her own life. It is a surprising and hitherto unknown love story laced with sadness. I smiled a lot yet often had tears in my eyes whilst reading. It was deeply moving but to say more would spoil the story.
The setting is Lake Geneva which served to give the reader a sense of warmth and freedom. Imagine tumbling out of bed at early dawn and diving into the lake for a swim. What bliss!
As the blurb says ... ‘With a tantalising mystery entwining two deeply moving love stories, Sam’s Letters to Jennifer is an extraordinary and unforgettable novel that will enthral millions of readers worldwide.
Cosmopolitan described the book as ‘Skilfully put together’ whilst Times Metro quoted it as being ‘Compulsively readable’. Both are right but the best review came from The Times ... ‘Compulsively readable, a see-saw of hopes and fears that keeps the reader guessing right up to the last minute and then trumps expectations’.
It was a lovely place to have lunch, a view of the lake, sun shimmering on the water, Canadian geese parading on the bank, swans swimming, mallards preening. What a wonderful time of year.
Inside the restaurant, people ate their Saturday lunch. My friend and I marvelled at the fashions worn by younger women, admired the men they were with, handsome and well dressed in modern trend. It was good.
The place was crowded. We’d been lucky to get a seat by a window overlooking the grounds, where tables would only accommodate two people. Other parties had to sit in the middle. The table adjacent to ours was occupied by a party ... a family birthday celebration. We knew that because of the rousing chorus Happy Birthday. The party consisted of a very elderly lady known as Mummy, her husband, two sons and their wives, one granddaughter (university student) and a younger granddaughter, an obvious cousin, who looked to be about 8 or 9.
Because of their close proximity, my friend and I could hear every bit of their conversation, but one thing that struck me was that nobody spoke to the young girl. The child listened to conversations and smiled when appropriate but mostly she looked bored. Not really surprising with no communication! The rest of the gathering was quite animated yet not one person included the youngster or even looked her way, talking across her most of the time. In the two hours we were there we didn’t see anyone try to draw the girl into the occasion. She might as well not have been there ... or perhaps she was invisible to older folk! If ever there was a case of ‘speak when you’re spoken to’ this was it.
My heart went out to her when I saw her put her arms on the table and lean on them as if to say talk to me ‘cause I’m pretty fed up with being ignored.
Cruelty comes in many forms, it’s not necessary to use violence to maltreat kids. But it’s none of my business, is it?
Rachel and Gary went back to living together, no questions asked, no excuses made.
Over lunch one day at Chaplins, where Rachel met Eric on a weekly basis - further communication being achieved by phone, Rachel declared her worries over her forthcoming big sister role.
‘You could pretend the child is your own,’ he said.
‘That's the trouble. I'm not afraid of handling a baby; it’s just that I might get too attached and fret when it was taken away.’
‘Are you jealous, Rachel?’
‘Oh, Eric. If you only knew. I've tried to fight it. I just hope that by the time mother goes into labour I will have sorted my feelings into some kind of order.’
Eric lifted the bottle of white wine from the cooler to refill Rachel's glass. ‘I wouldn't worry unduly, dear girl. Things have a habit of turning out right. I fancy you will be the child's perfect second mother. I also have a notion that your mother will be happy to allow it.’
‘You think so?’
‘Your own upbringing proves it. Were it not for your dear departed father you would have been the subject of neglect. I am surprised your mother wasn't hauled before the courts for ill-treating you. While you are on hand to protect your new sibling, I believe you will enjoy it.’
Thoughtfully, Rachel speared a piece of broccoli. ‘I'm ever so grateful for all your counselling, Eric. I don't know how I'd have coped without it.’ Seeing his contented smile, she added. ‘Seems to me we'll never have a lunch date that's free of my problems. I wish there was something I could do to lighten them for you.’
‘My dear girl, what rubbish you talk. Do you still not understand what joy you bring to my meagre existence? I am not here solely as adviser, you know. As a matter of fact, I rejoice in your company. I am proud, Rachel, proud to be with you. And grateful.’ Eric picked up his glass and threw the remaining wine down his throat. ‘There,’ he said as he set the glass down. ‘Now you know.’
IN TRUTH, Rachel enjoyed the new setup, with the three of them mucking in. Having the most time available, Amy carried out the shopping; Rachel did the cooking, and
Rachel secretly relished the fact that time spent with his paramour was being docked, albeit by only an hour. She liked seeing him in the mornings, too, to give him breakfast and watch him shave, although why he couldn't do his ablutions at Terry's place was beyond her.
‘How can you joke?’ he asked, wide eyed and incredulous.
‘It's getting easier.’
It was only natural that he should be curious and Rachel wondered if that was why he invited her to lunch. She did hint that Cynthia might be hungry, but Cynthia quickly informed her she had urgent shopping to do.
There was only one sneaky whistle as they walked up the factory, likely on account of Ralph steering her with his hand on her elbow. He kept it there even when they joined the bunch of female personnel waiting for the lift. Rachel could almost feel their envious eyes boring into her back.
‘What will you have,’ Ralph asked, as they stopped to read the menu board.
‘Something with chips, I think.’
‘You'll get fat.’
‘I've been fat all my life.’
Apart from that spell of useless dieting which achieved nothing but a broken heart.
Quite openly, Ralph's eyes left her face and roved over her breasts and down to her legs. ‘You're far from fat,’ he said. ‘You're what I call attractively mouldable.’
Fortunately, the other girls had gone into the canteen and therefore would not see Rachel's crimson cheeks.
Seeing Ralph was paying, Rachel chose steak, egg and chips. He also had steak, but with salad. I'll have salad next time, she thought, as she carried the food to an empty table. Ralph was delayed at the till, waiting for the cashier to get change. He struck up a conversation with the woman behind him: Linda Belton, a motherly soul, herself a divorce‚.
With a pocketful of loose change, Ralph carried his tray to the table and began to unload his food. ‘My neighbour,’ he explained, nodding in Linda's direction. He took up his knife and fork. ‘Now then, I'm all ears and poised to hear your story.’
It took the whole lunch hour to tell him about
Ralph summed up her current situation. ‘So, while he's sleeping with the boy friend, you're alone.’
‘Why not go and stay with your mother?’
‘I would never see
Ralph shook his head, obviously taking her for a fool. ‘You wouldn't consider divorce?’
‘I did once. It got pushed to one side when Dad died.’
A pitying expression took over from Ralph's quizzical one. Tenderly wrapping his fingers round her wrist, he said, ‘If you ever need anything, or want someone to talk to, will you call me.’
‘It's not necessary, really.’
Delving into his inside pocket, Ralph pulled out his wallet. He selected a card on which he wrote his telephone number. ‘Just in case,’ he said, offering it to her. When she did not take it, he repeated, ‘Just in case, Rachel. You never know when you might need a friend.’ He inserted the card between two of her fingers. ‘Take it, just in case.’
Rachel read the number, then reached for her bag, murmuring her thanks as she slid it to a safe spot in the side pocket, with Eric's number and the note he left after staying the night.
CYNTHIA examined her purchases, dangling a charming lemon romper suit for them to see. ‘I couldn't resist this one,’ she said. ‘Do you like it?’
‘Very pretty,’ said Ralph, craning his neck to peer through the window into his office. ‘Ben's not back, I see.’ Pulling out his cigarettes he took up his favourite position on the corner of Rachel's desk. ‘I suppose you know he leaves next week?’
‘Yippee,’ cried Cynthia as she folded the suit and placed it in the polythene bag.
‘I'll be your boss proper then, Mrs Ledbetter. Think you'll be able to cope with me?’ Ralph sucked the smoke through the filter tip.
‘You'll be no problem,’ declared Cynthia, unwrapping a white teething ring and swinging it on its ribbon. ‘We've got you sussed, all right.’
Ralph swivelled his head and contemplated Rachel. His lively blue eyes penetrated hers so deeply that her head swam. ‘What about you, little one? Will you be happy working with me?’
‘I suppose so.’
Ralph nodded, then disposed of his nub and retreated to his office, babbling something about a collection as he went.
Cynthia had by this time reached the last of her packages. ‘This is for you,’ she said, and chucked it on Rachel's desk. It landed on top of the typewriter.
Rachel picked it up and looked inside, expecting to see a bag of toffees or tubes of mints. She was not prepared for what she saw. Slowly, she extracted a pale lilac silk scarf, painted with wild flowers and garden birds. ‘For me?’
‘Do you like it?’
‘It's lovely. But it's not my birthday.’
‘I thought you could use a little cheering up,’ said Cynthia, a mite gruffly.
Rachel rushed over and flung her arms around her friend. ‘It's fantastic. What a lovely surprise.’ Spontaneously, she planted a kiss on Cynthia's cheek. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered.
‘Away, woman. You're making me feel humble.’
DURING the afternoon tea break, after listening to Rachel going on about Ralph and how he insisted on giving her his phone number, Cynthia expressed her approval. She agreed with his sentiment that one never knew when assistance might be needed and added that
‘Aw, come on, Cynth, he's been a lot better lately.’
‘Only because your Mum's keeping him in order. He's still away nights. If my Curtis behaved like that I'd make him lick the muck off the yard before I let him in. You’re too soft, that's your trouble.’ Cynthia leaned back in her chair and rested her clasped hands on top of her belly. ‘Let's change the subject. I get really cross when I think about your
Rachel dunked a biscuit in her tea. It was all very well for Cynthia to preach, everything was going well in her life. Without
‘Are you listening?’
Cynthia's far away voice infiltrated Rachel's private deliberations.
‘Where were you, for goodness sake?’
‘I was miles away,’ Rachel said, brushing her fringe from her face.
‘Sorry. What were you saying?’
‘Nothing much, merely pointing out that I think Ralph is very considerate and how I reckon he fancies you.’
‘You're barmy,’ Rachel said.
But Cynthia was quite serious; it showed in her voice when she answered: ‘Am I? I really don't think so.’