Julia Smith wondered if at seventy-three she was too old for partying but Arthur Rowlands persuaded her otherwise.
'Never too old for a knees-up' he said as he pinned a corsage of orchids to the bodice of her long lilac gown.
'My knees wouldn't agree,' retorted Julia as she lowered her head to sniff the flowers.
It was quite like old times. Cedric used to treat her like a duchess when they attended those wonderful balls. Arthur was a bit like him in that regard though not nearly as handsome. Julia scanned the row of photographs on the piano, all of Cedric, some with her, some without. He was very personable in his sea officer’s uniform. Her family thought it was the uniform that attracted her. They were wrong.
She had been a raw teenager when Cedric came into her life, a passerby in sailor’s uniform. The gang she was with dared her to touch his collar because it was said to bring good luck. Julia never refused a dare. And she didn’t need asking twice. Without further thought she raced after the very tall, handsome young man and when near enough she leaped up to touch the collar. What she didn’t realise was that because he was actually walking it would be more difficult to touch him. She fell flat on her face at his heels. And he made a joke about falling in love.
If anyone asked she used the same dialogue. Yes, she would say, we fell in love that day. Married five years later. No children. Cedric couldn’t, you see. But it was no problem because they had each other for fifty years.
Julia’s gaze slowly travelled round the room. It was here that he died, peacefully, in his chair. His mother's room, he called it, for he had filled it to capacity with her belongings, Victoriana and other objet d'art. In that matter Julia was not allowed a viewpoint. His mother's stuff was there to stay. Julia had grown up with it, so to speak, and she hadn’t the heart to dispose of it. It would be like defying Cedric and, although he was something of a tyrant, she had loved him totally.
'Penny for them, Julia.'
Majestically, Julia turned away from the piano. It was no good trying to recapture the past. Cedric had been dead for four years and, although she missed him dreadfully, she saw no sense in fading into decline. It wasn't in her to hanker for the unattainable. 'I was merely thinking how like Cedric you are. He was one for presenting me with flowers. Considerate. I like that in a man.' Julia reached out to touch Arthur's arm. 'I am grateful for your friendship, Arthur, and your willingness to befriend an old woman.'
Arthur snorted. 'Old, you say. Dear Julia, you will never be old in my eyes.'
'Well then, shall we venture to the party and witness the incredulity on your daughter’s face.' Picking up a tastefully wrapped parcel, Julia smiled coquettishly at her resplendently attired escort, his dinner jacket smelling only faintly of dry-cleaning fluid. Anticipating a splendid evening, with the requisite amount of gin to loosen her reserve and an occasional cigarette, if any were offered, Julia allowed herself to be guided to the door.
‘You look wonderful,' Arthur said, guiding her through the gate so that her gown and matching coat didn’t touch the grimy wrought iron. Pinned to the front of Julia’s shoulder was Arthur’s unexpected gift. She took his arm and confessed that the orchids made her feel like a real lady.
Arthur’s reaction was swift, telling her firmly that she was a real lady and she was not to let anyone tell her otherwise. Tucking her hand into the crook of his arm, he said sincerely and quietly, 'I am the most fortunate of men. I would be your slave if you would allow it, but I fear I do not come up to scratch.'
Julia cried out in mock indignation. 'Arthur Rowlands, you should be ashamed. I have never indicated such a thing.' She turned sideways to look at him, her eyes glinting with merriment. 'As a matter of fact, I think you would make an ideal man servant.'
She could tell by his face he thought she was joking.