After Claire and Rick had made love once more Claire got up because she heard a cat mewing. She went downstairs to open the back door and let it in and stared out into the night. There was only a rather thin layer of snow; the snow dunes she had hoped for had not materialized and the night was cold and clear again. She shook her head. There would be no way the bus wouldn’t come now, and so she could not keep Rick around for some more days. Maybe if she just asked…
When she came back in the bedroom she heard Rick snore a little irregularly. Oh well, she thought, he must be tired from the day.
She went back to the ground floor again and transferred his newly washed clothes from the washing machine top the tumble dryer. Then she rubbed her eyes. She found she, too, felt frightfully tired, and after switching on the dryer she went upstairs and lay down next to Rick.
That night Rick ran a temperature. He started mumbling things and Claire, who woke up because of it, didn’t like it one bit. As soon as it was morning she took his temperature and found it was almost 42°. Bloody hell, she thought. She called her GP, who told her he would be around within thirty minutes. Then she hurried to the village centre and bought some underpants and a pair of pyjamas, and went back to find Rick even worse than before.
With some difficulty she transferred him to the spare bedroom, and put him to bed again there. She quite liked her GP but she knew he had a propensity to talk, if only to his wife; but she… She liked her well enough, but she could never keep anything to herself. Then she sat down with him, waiting for the doctor to arrive.
When Dr Jamison arrived she first put him wise to yesterday’s business. He listened attentively and then decided he’d better visit old Mr O’Brien next.
“His daughter-in-law didn’t ring you?” Claire asked. He shook his head.
Then she ushered him into the spare room. He took out his stethoscope, listened and decided he wanted Rick to go to hospital. He suggested the one he usually dealt with but since Claire knew where he lived they decided the one in his own town would do just as well; it was no farther than the other one. Dr Jamison made arrangements and left; she saw him tramp down the garden path on his way to the O’Briens.
Claire put Rick’s things and his coat and jacket into an old travel bag that had belonged to her late husband. The ambulance was none too long, and she said goodbye to Rick rather sadly; yesterday’s elation had entirely evaporated. She didn’t even dare kiss him with the medics hovering near, so she shook his hand and wished him well.
She stood in the door as the ambulance drove down the snowy lane and disappeared round the corner. Then she closed the door. She went upstairs, collected the things she’d lent Rick and put them into the washing machine. So much for your fantasies, girl, she thought. You’ll never see him again. She shook her head and went into the living room, and although she usually did not drink during the day she poured herself a generous dram.
Rick was delivered at the hospital and wheeled to the X-ray unit. The X-ray was clear enough; he’d contracted pneumonia in the pond, and had to stay. When he was getting a little better again he realised that he was wearing stuff he didn’t recognise, and that the travel bag was not familiar, either. So Claire must have arranged things for him. He went through the bag in the hope he would find a note or anything, but there was nothing there, not even a receipt from the shop. Hmph. He would have to go back there. But what if she wouldn’t have anything to do with him? And he couldn’t write to her; he didn’t even know her full name – Claire was all there was. He sank back into the pillows and tried to think clearly but he didn’t really feel a way out of this dilemma. Oh well, he thought, I’d better try and get well first.
Claire had spent the day thinking about Rick. She blushed when she thought of the way she’d seduced him; what if he felt taken in by her? And then, he did wear a ring. Suppose his wife had been out of the country for some time? People could say anything. But he had been nice, and she had loved the physical contact they’d had. Oh dear. If he were genuine, and if he had liked it as much as she had, then maybe –
She went to the pub but she didn’t feel too happy there. All the old faces were friendly enough, but as she didn’t really know what she was trying to find it was no wonder she did not find anything much. She went home well before eleven, and made a firm resolution to put Rick White off her mind.
Dr Jamison had not found too enthusiastic a welcome. It appeared David, old Mr O’Brien’s son, had no idea his father had experienced anything untoward at all, and there was a strong feeling of tension about the place while he went and examined the old man. He didn’t appear any the worse for wear, though; his lungs sounded alright and he didn’t have a temperature; he was just as vague as he usually was.
On his way out he was waylaid by David, who wanted to know what exactly had happened, and Jamison told him what he knew. He didn’t refrain from mentioning that the rescuer had been treated without due courtesy by David’s wife. David, who certainly believed in doing the right thing, wasn’t too pleased about this at all, and when the doctor had gone on his way he went in and asked Janet to tell him her side of the story. She simply said that that silly old fool had tried to get himself drowned again and that some idiot she didn’t know had delivered him back to their doorstep. She was totally fed up with him anyway. It was time he was put into an old peoples’ home, and David had better choose between him and her. David did. There must certainly have been a lot of neighbours who heard the altercation; but the long and the short of it was that Janet packed her clothes, slammed the door to and went back to her folks up north, and he could go and drown himself for all she cared. Idiot!
David called Dr Jamison and asked him if he knew a nurse he could recommend to look after his father.
“Janet upped and went?” the doctor asked. “Can’t say it surprises me much.”
He went through some of his files and told David that there was a woman called Rose Williams he could definitely recommend; would he like him to send her so he could meet her and see if she would do?
“Yes, please,” David said. “That will be wonderful.”
“Will you be at home today?” Jamison asked.
“Yes I will.”
“Alright then. I’ll send her along.”
That afternoon at half past one Rose Williams rang the bell, and David opened the door on a smallish woman with a brilliant smile and a practical demeanour that immediately felt good to David. He bade her come in and they introduced themselves. Then they sat down to arrange things.
Rick spent a little under two weeks in hospital. When he was eventually released his home felt somewhat strange and unfamiliar. Most of the contents of the fridge had gone bad; the vegetables were a complete mess and the milk had changed colour considerably. He went shopping and bought himself a bottle of single malt and some strengthening food. He used his old winter’s coat and took the other one and his jacket to the dry cleaners’. He really made an effort to feel at home again. He smiled at the picture of Irene that hung in the hall, made himself some coffee and put a CD into the player. Dory Previn’s voice filled the room. “I have flown to star-stained heights / On bent and battered wings…”
His place had never really felt like home; when Irene died the old house had been far too big for him, and he had sold it and bought a much smaller one. It was a well-proportioned house, but it lacked memories and atmosphere, and in general he more or less felt like a stranger still. He had had friends over a couple of times, but he much preferred going to them; their places were well known and friendly and somehow felt much more like home than his own.
He wondered whether it had been a good idea to visit his grandparents’ village and then scolded himself. It had, and he had liked the contact with Claire, and he was a silly old fool to think differently. There must be an album somewhere. He quickly found it and sat down to look at his grandparents’ photographs. The village obviously was essentially unchanged; there were pictures of the pond and their old house, and the pub – and then he came across a group of photographs showing his grandparents at a village fair or fête or something. In two of them was a young woman – he didn’t really know how young – who seemed the split image of Claire, and he suddenly realised that of course it must be her. One was very small, but the other was large enough to see her features quite well. He grinned. It felt good to have at least a visible memory of her.
It didn’t take too long before he had settled back into his world and the memory of Claire did not plague his daytime hours too much any more, although the album lay on a little table next to his reading chair. But at night he often lay thinking of the way she had taken possession of him that night in February; it was a wonderful memory, and it made him invariably fall asleep with a smile on his face.
Rose Williams had taken over at the O’Briens. She was very efficient and very friendly and the atmosphere of constraint that had hung over the house had vanished entirely. She had gone through the medicine chest and the medical papers that were there and she found to her surprise that there was a huge amount of sedatives she could not find any mention of. She called Dr Jamison, but he, too, didn’t know anything about them, so she put them into a bag and delivered the lot at the surgery on her way home.
To most people’s surprise old Mr O’Brien became a lot less vague within a very short time. Rose didn’t notice, but then she hadn’t known him very well before she took over. David was delighted with the change; he told Rose about it and asked her what it was she’d done. She looked at him in surprise and said she’d not done anything special. Then she suddenly connected the two, and said that she’d taken a load of sedatives to the surgery. It took a little time to sink in, but then David almost exploded.
“So that’s what happened,” he said through clenched teeth. “Janet simply kept him drugged. I wouldn’t wonder if she pushed him off hill to the pond, too.” He shook with rage. Rose had never seen him angry before; but she wasn’t too impressed and smiled a little at him.
“Don’t you think you’d better let her be?” she said. “Let’s be happy he’s better again. Won’t we?”
Somehow her down-to-earthiness and her smile did the trick for him, and he smiled at her. “Yes,” he said. “You’re right. I’m happy he’s ok and I’m happy she’s gone. Thank God someone saw father crash into the pond.”
It was obvious Rose had no idea, so he explained things to her.
“Gosh,” she said when he’d finished. “Who was he, then?”
“I don’t know,” David said. “Jamison said he was a stranger. He had been to visit him and sent him to hospital before he came here.”
“So Dr Jamison must know who he is,” she said. “I think you should ask him so you can call him and say thanks.”
“Yes,” he said. “You’re right.”
A few days later Rick received a telephone call. The caller identified himself as David O’Brien. Rick had no idea who he could be, so he cautiously gave his own name.
“You will not know me,” David said, “but I would like to thank you for rescuing my father from the village pond last winter, and to apologise for my ex-wife’s behaviour.”
“Oh dear,” Rick said. “I’d forgotten about that. How’s your father? Did he survive his dip?”
David told him he had, and how his father had improved since his wife had left him. Then he asked Rick how he’d been. Rick said he’d been in hospital for a short while but that he was quite well again. Then David asked him if he was related to the Whites that used to live in the village. Jamison had said he thought he recognised a family likeness.
“Yes,” Rick said. “I’m Maynard White’s grandson.”
“I see,” David said. “Look, if ever you come to the village again, drop by and say hello, will you?”
“Gladly,” Rick said. “Oh, by the way, could you say hello to Claire if you see her?”
“Claire? Which one? There’s two of them, I think.”
“Well,” David said, “She’s five foot three, I think, and she has a sense of humour, and she’s been a widow for twelve years, and she lives -”
“Oh, that’s Claire Symonds. She sings in the choir, so I’ll certainly see her soon. Yes, I sure will. How do you know her?”
“She put me up after my experiment in village life,” Rick said.
“I see. Well, thanks once again, and I hope to see you around.”
“Oh,” Rick said, “there’s one more thing. Could you help me to her address? I’d like to thank her for what she did for me.”
“One moment,” David said. “I’ll have to consult my list of choir members.”
He wasn’t long and Rick took down the address. Then they said their goodbyes and he rang off.
Claire, Claire, Claire, he thought, and he took the album and found her picture. He looked at her smiling face and decided to give it a try – you never knew. There would a be a concert in town by a Russian a cappella choir in a fortnight’s time, and he immediately went out to buy two tickets. He was in luck, for it was almost sold out. If she would deign to come he’d take her there, and if she wouldn’t, oh well, then he had at least tried. Then he booked a table at his favourite restaurant.
He sat down to write her a letter in which he explained about the concert. He would come to the village and wait at the village pond for her for twenty minutes from three thirty onwards. If she preferred not to see him again he would understand.
Then he sighed deeply and looked at the calendar. It would be a bloody long couple of weeks. He went into the hall and looked at Irene’s picture. “You do understand, don’t you?” he said.
Rick waited for a couple of days and then he put the letter to the post. “There you go,” he whispered. “Have a safe journey – please!” One more week to go, he thought.
Claire, who had been at the village hall for the initial preparations for the village fête, which would take place in six weeks’ time, came home to find the usual bills on the mat and a leaflet telling her how to get a much brighter smile and attract hordes of men. She shook her head. Silly fools, she thought. Then she saw the letter. She didn’t recognise the handwriting, and she slit it open to find out who it was from. Rick! Heavens, she thought, here go my good resolutions. With all the willpower she could muster she had driven his image from her mind; but the letter undid all that in half a sec’. Her ambivalent feelings crowded back straight away. Was or wasn’t he someone she’d wanted for a long time? Anyway, the concert sounded nice, and he promised to drive her back afterwards. She certainly couldn’t envisage him being unpleasant to her, so she would come and go to the concert with him.
It was a long six days for Claire, too. She kept telling herself she shouldn’t expect too much, but in her heart of hearts she knew she’d much prefer to skip the concert and take him home. Yet she was level-headed enough not to let those feelings prevail. Better be safe than sorry, she thought.
The next morning David chanced upon Claire in the village shop. “Hello Claire,” he said, “I was asked to say hello to you by Rick White.”
Claire almost gasped. That was twice within twenty-four hours.
“How do you know him?” she asked.
“Well,’ David said, “It’s Rose, actually – er, she told me to go and say thank you to him. Jamison knew his telephone number, and so I called him.”
“Ok. So you told him my address?”
“Yes. Er – was I wrong to tell him?”
“No,” Claire said. “I’m glad you did. How did he sound?”
“I don’t know. He’s got a nice voice and he didn’t sound ill, if that’s what you mean?”
“Er – well, I’m not really sure what I mean. He was a nice guy.”
“I asked him to come over and say hello, if ever he comes to the village again. I’d like to meet him.”
“Yes,” Claire said. “How’s Rose doing? Are you getting on a bit?”
“That bad?” Claire said teasingly. “You do like her?”
“Yes I do,” David admitted. “And er – the feeling is mutual.”
“Well,” Claire said as she took his hand. “I’m very happy for you. You really deserve a better fate than Janet.”
David smiled and nodded. “I don’t know about deserving anything,” he said, “but I’m happy no end!”
When the day of the concert had come Rick was up before daylight. He’d lain awake since four and was glad to be up and going. He dressed his best and then took his clothes off again for fear of messing them up. It wouldn’t do to look a mess again, he thought. So he put on his everyday clothes and went about his business until twelve when he donned his Sunday best again and drove off. He was at the village pond half an hour early, so he left the car and walked the short distance to the O’Briens. David was out, but Rose answered the door. David introduced himself. “You’re the man who rescued David’s father!” she said and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m Rose. David hired me to look after his dad, but since we discontinued his pills he’s been much better. Er – we’re going to get married by the end of August. Would you care to come?”
Rick blushed. “Yes I would,” he said. “Congratulations. You seem to be a good deal different, er -”
“Than Janet?” Rose said with a smile. “I hope so.”
“I promised I would look in on David. Please tell him I will come and see him later,” Rick said, “I actually came here to pick someone up for a concert in town.”
Rose smiled. “I think I know who,” she said. “David told me all about your conversation. She’s really nice.”
Rick nodded. “Well, I’ll be of again,” he said. “I don’t want to keep her waiting.”
Rose looked at him. He didn’t seem too certain of himself, she thought. But he seemed a likeable fellow, and she wished him a good time. “I’ll tell Dave you were here,” she said. “Please say hello to Claire.”
Rick went back to his car. It was another ten minutes by his watch – but he hadn’t waited for more than two minutes when he saw Claire walk down the road. She wore a red dress and a short black coat, and his heart skipped a beat for joy when he saw her. He told himself to wait where he was and not to make a spectacle of himself or to scare her away.
Claire greeted him with a broad smile, and they shook hands.
“Well,” Rick said, “How’s life?”
“Quiet. I’m busy with the village fête, and with choir practice, and apart from that there’s some gardening and stuff. You’re completely well again?”
“Oh yes. Resumed my life after the hospital. I’d like to thank you for all the trouble I gave you in February.”
“Oh, come on – you’d have done the same.”
Rick reflected on that. He thought he probably would and nodded.
“Ok,” he said. “But I’d like to pay for the things you bought me. But first we’ll go and see how well these Russians can sing. Oh, and by the way, Rose told me to say hello.”
In the car they talked about the intervening months. They carefully refrained from mentioning their escapades at Claire’s place and kept to safe topics. When Rick told her he’d found a picture of her among his grandparents’ photographs she asked him about the setting, and he said it was at some village do.
“Really?” she said. “Oh, that’s nice. Do you think I could see them?”
“Of course. I can drive past my place on the way back; it’s almost en route.”
“Good. I wonder…”
She smiled at the idea of seeing a piece of her younger years. There had been one fête when her parents had been there, and if these were from the same year they might be in the picture, too.
“Are there more pictures of that event?” she asked.
“I think it’s an entire film, actually,” Rick said. “Maybe you can tell me something about it.”
They went to the restaurant first. Rick really enjoyed taking Claire out. He thought she looked wonderful, which wasn’t strange, since she felt radiant, too. She’d decided to go slowly, though – she wasn’t going to risk losing him twice.
The concert proved beautiful beyond expectation. The choir started with a series of Russian orthodox chants. Then they sang a long set of Italian, English and Flemish renaissance composers to end up with some modern things. Claire knew some of the renaissance material form her own choir, and she sat entranced.
When the final applause had died down they walked to Rick’s car.
“Are you still up to those photographs?” he asked.
“Oh, yes please,” Claire said. “I had completely forgotten about them – what a fantastic choir. I loved every minute of it.”
She sat back in her seat and thought about the last few hours. She decided Rick was even nicer than she’d thought. She wondered what his place would be like. Some single men made such a mess of their things…
After only five minutes Rick parked his car. He got out and opened her door for her, and they went up his front door. The first thing she noticed was the picture in the hall. “Irene?” she said.
“You remember? Yes,” he said, “that’s how she looked before she got ill.” He nodded and showed her into the living-room.
“Please sit down,” he said. He took the album and found the page with her photograph.
She looked at it and her heart jumped.
“Wow,” she said. “Look.” She pointed at other faces in the picture. “This is my daughter, Laura, and this my son Bob, and these people behind us are my parents.” She went back to where the series started. “Oh,” she said, “oh dear. This is Laura again, in the sack-race. And here are my parents again, and my husband…” She fell silent, transported to those sunny days back then.
Rick waited until she looked up at him again. “Look,” he said, “just take them out of the album and I’ll go and scan them for you.”
“Can you? Oh, that would be wonderful!”
She extracted the photographs with trembling fingers and handed them to him. He took them. “I won’t be a minute,” he said.
When he was gone she looked about the room. It was a little too tidy, she thought. She looked at his music, and found it was a rather eclectic collection – quite like her own. There were a couple of beautiful things about the room, too. Still, she thought, it doesn’t have a soul somehow.
After some time Rick returned. He handed her an envelope. “They came out quite nicely,” he said. “I enlarged the one with the five of you and your daughter in the race, and there are normal copies of them, too. Shall we go?”
She got up and followed him to the front door. He locked up and they drove off in a companionable silence, both of them lost in their own thoughts. After a couple of miles she said, “Do you like your place?”
“Not very much,” Rick said. “Is it that noticeable?”
“I think so,” she said. “It looks as if you’re in transit or something.”
He nodded. “I couldn’t have said so, but that’s exactly how it feels. When Irene died I moved over here – I think it wasn’t a good idea after all. This place has no soul. I do keep myself occupied – oh well.”
She looked at him, a little shocked he had so exactly echoed her thoughts. She had not noticed it before, but there seemed to be a tinge of sadness in his smile. She tried to remember how he’d looked in February. She was certain it hadn’t been there then.
When they arrived at Claire’s place it was quite late. She got out and thanked him for a wonderful evening. He smiled at her and said he’d immensely enjoyed taking her out. She kissed his cheek, they said goodbye and he drove off with a wave of his hand.
Claire went indoors and switched on the lights in the living-room. She felt she’d be quite unable to sleep if she went to bed now, so she poured herself a drink and took out the photographs. First there were the enlargements, which she put up on the mantelpiece. Then she took out the others. They were great copies indeed, she though. Then one of them fell from her hand. It landed, upside down, on her lap. On the back she saw the printer’s code and the date, some decades ago. They were the originals. He must have given me the wrong ones, she thought. Oh dear.
The next morning Rick got a call.
“Hello?” he said.
It was Claire. “You’ve given me the wrong set,” she said. “They’re the originals.”
” I know. But it’s the right set. I won’t leave anyone who will want them later on. My sister had no children, and we didn’t have any children either. Maybe your son or daughter will like them.”
Claire remained silent for some time. She really didn’t know what to say to that. Then she said, “Laura will love them. Thank you very, very much.”
“Not at all,” he said. “Er – I immensely enjoyed our time together yesterday. Would you care to do something together again some time or other?”
“Yes, I would. Maybe you’ll like to visit our village fête first? It’s the first Saturday in August. I will be taking care of the jar of coins.”
“Certainly. I’ll be there first thing in the morning!”
I’ll believe that when I see it, Claire thought, but she said, “We’ll open at nine.”
“Right oh,” Rick said. They talked a little longer and then Claire said she had to go to a committee meeting and she rang off.
Oh, Claire thought, I do hope he does as he said – and she realised that up to that moment he had. He had been on her mind since his letter had crushed her resolve to forget about him. I’ll see what he’s like at the fête, she thought. Who knows? Fortunately the preparations kept her very busy, and she had no time to think a lot about Rick.
Rick spent the intervening weeks doing more of the things he’d promised himself to do. He visited a lot of the other places that were important in his own family history, and most of those that figured in Irene’s. If Claire does want me I’ll have finished that chapter correctly, he thought. He found that none of the other villages held the same attraction as Claire’s, and the few towns were alright as far as towns went, but he didn’t like them half as much either.
He tried to decide if it was just because of Claire’s presence or if the village as such was so nice, but he couldn’t really put into words what it was that held such an appeal. Claire, certainly. But what else, if anything? Then he suddenly realised that if it weren’t for Claire he would have gone and lived there months ago. Now, though, that was out of the question. She certainly belonged there and if she didn’t want him he couldn’t possibly but in. Life’s funny, he thought. Oh dear.
The Thursday before the great day Claire was working in the garden when she heard a motorbike screech to a halt in front of her house, and moments later Laura bounded into the garden, taking off her helmet in the process.
“Hi, mum,” she said, and she positively beamed at her mother.
“Hello Laura,” Claire said. “What’s the matter? Did you win the pools?”
“We’re going to get married. Isn’t that lovely? Eileen will be our bridesmaid.”
“Yes – that’s really lovely! When is the day?”
“In September, mumsy. Oh, I’m so excited! We’ll have to finish the planning, but then you’ll get the details straight away.”
She sat down on the garden bench and Claire took off her gloves.
“I’ll get us some drinks,” she said.
They sat in the garden together and discussed the plans. Eileen, Claire’s granddaughter, was six, and the couple had been together for almost ten years. Claire had often wondered if they would marry at all, but she’d always refrained from asking, and Laura had appreciated that very much.
They fell silent after some time, and Claire smiled at her daughter. “I’m really happy for you,” she said.
Laura looked at her mother pensively. Then she said, “Mumsy, why don’t you find yourself someone again? It’s much nicer and you are only fifty-two. You’re always alone.”
To her dismay Claire almost started to cry. She controlled herself with an effort. Then she nodded and said, “You’re right. Actually, I have found someone. But at the beginning he fell ill and then I became uncertain whether I really wanted him or not, and then I told myself he had to be perfect – and then I became all prim and proper. But you’re right. He is really nice – and I’m sick and tired of going it alone.”
“Who is he? Do I know him?
“No, he is not from the village. He’s called Rick White. I er, I happened to be there when he saved old Mr O’Brien from drowning, and then one thing led to another.” She realised with a start that Laura in her radiant mood looked exactly the way she’d felt the day of Rick’s dip in the pond.
“Did you sleep with him?”
“Laura! I – oh well, yes I did. And I’d like to do so again.”
Laura smiled at her mother. “I’d like to meet him,” she said.
“Well, he will be here on Saturday. Oh, and I’ve got a couple of lovely photographs. I’ll show you.”
Claire went inside. First she blew her nose, and then she took the envelope and the enlargements and went back into the garden. She handed the lot to Laura.
“Oh, look! There’s dad and you, and gramp, and granny. And this is me! Oh, how nice! How on earth did you get these?”
“Rick gave them to me. He has an album with old photographs. His grandparents used to live in the village; he actually came here to visit their graves and to find out what the village was like.”
“But these are the originals. Don’t you think he should keep them?”
“I asked him, but he has no relatives, and he hoped you or Bob might like them.”
“They’re not Bob’s pigeon, I think. But I really like them. Can I borrow them to show them to Mike?”
They finished their drinks, and Laura took the photographs. They walked to the front of the house and she put them into the locker at the rear of her bike. Then she kissed her mother and told her she’d be there on Saturday. She put on her helmet, kick-started her machine and roared off down the road.
The first Friday in August arrived much sooner than Rick had thought. He bought a bunch of flowers and then he packed a couple of things in the bag Claire had sent him to hospital with. He went to bed early, and slept like a log this time. The alarm woke him up at half past five. He showered, dressed, had a quick breakfast and went on his way.
It was cold and bright, and there was a slight mist a few feet over the road. But when he left the outskirts and drove through the hills the sun grew strong and the wisps of mist evaporated. He was in the village well before eight o’clock. He first went back to the church and put the flowers on his grandparents’ grave. He looked around, and decided it really felt like home there.
Then he drove to the village centre and put his car in the local car park. The fête was signposted, and he walked down the road with the sun on his back. It felt really good to be walking there with nothing to do but enjoy himself that day. He’d collected all the coins he got and he hoped he could spend some; maybe he could find something for Claire.
He got to the field and he looked at his watch. It was almost nine. There were a man and a woman standing at the gate, and when he got nearer he recognised Rose. She’d recognised him even sooner and waved at him. He walked up to her, and greeted her.
“Hello,” she said, “welcome to our fête. David, this is Rick.”
“Hello Rick,” the man said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Rick said. “How are you, and how are you, Rose?”
They smiled at each other and Rose said, “Couldn’t be better. You’re still coming to our wedding?”
“I’ll be delighted,” Rick said, and it was obvious to the couple that he meant it.
“You know,” David said, “I can really recognise you as one of the Whites. Oh dear, I’m afraid you may hear that again today. Well, we mustn’t keep you; you’ll be wanting to say hello to Claire. She’s in the tent already. But please do come back to talk some more.”
“Promise,” Rick said. “You’re collecting the entrance fees?”
“Three pounds, please,” Rose said.
Rick paid and hurried to the tent. Claire was immersed in some papers and didn’t notice him come in. He walked round her on tiptoe and put his hands over her eyes. “Guess who,” he said softly.
“Rick!” Claire said as she got up. She turned around an looked into Rick’s eyes; he stood smiling at her and she saw the sadness she’d sensed in town was entirely absent now. “We haven’t even started yet! You’re really early!”
“Yes, I’m afraid I couldn’t wait. I’ve already visited the churchyard. I wanted to put some flowers on my grandparent’s grave to say thank you to them – I’d never have met you otherwise. David and Rose allowed me in. I did pay, don’t you worry.”
“So you’ve finally met David?”
“Yes, I promised to go back and talk to him. How have you been?”
“Busy, and I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve been an idiot. I didn’t dare to allow myself to feel what I feel for you. It took my daughter to make me realise. Rick, I do want you. You don’t have to go back tonight?”
“Not necessarily. I did bring my toothbrush this time.” He smiled at her and she finally decided it was alright, and she clasped her arms around him and kissed him.
They heard a lot of voices, and Rick saw it was nine o’clock. “Hey girl,” he said, “it’s time for business. I’ll go and bother Rose and David.”
He went out into the sunshine and walked down to the field to the gate. David greeted him warmly. “Just a moment,” he said. “Rose, can you manage?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
David led Rick away from the throng. “I’d like to introduce you to my father,” he said.
Old Mr O’Brien sat in his wheelchair looking at the people.
“Hello, young man,” he said. “David told me you’re Maynard’s grandson? You’ve got his eyes.” He nodded at Rick. “Thank you for extracting me from the pool.”
“In a sense I’m glad you went in,” Rick said smiling. “I would never have met Claire otherwise.”
Old Mr O’Brien nodded again. “Still,” he said. He gave Rick a wave of his hand and looked around him again.
The two men walked back to Rose and Rick asked how their wedding plans were getting on. David said he’d get an invitation soon; they weren’t going to tell anyone anything earlier.
Rick took his leave and went around the field. He found a couple of second-hand books, and in a cardboard box that held two dozen CDs or so he came across Bruch’s violin concerto played by a Japanese woman; the others were a sorry collection, he thought.
A little further down the field there was an old lady selling simple jewellery. “Hello love,” she said. “Anything you fancy for your young lady?”
He looked at the display critically. “Well,” he said, “Maybe. How much are these?”
“Five pounds, dearie,” she said.
Rick took the trinkets from her and put them in his pocket.
Then he went back to the tent and paid a pound to Claire. He guessed wildly beside the mark on purpose, and Claire entered his guess with a broad grin.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked.
“No thank you, I have no time yet. Later, when everything is a little less busy maybe. How do you like this?” She gave a wave of her arm that encompassed the whole field.
Rick grinned. “I’m really having a good time,” he said. “I never thought this would be so nice. I’ll find myself a cup of tea and some scones. Breakfast seems hours ago.”
He went off and sat down to a couple of somewhat dull scones and a cup of good, strong tea. Then he saw a young woman walking his way. She wore a leather jacket and had a motor helmet round her arm, and there was a little girl skipping round her feet.
“Hello,” she said. “Mind if I sit here with you?”
“Be welcome,” Rick said.
“I’m Laura,” she said. “And this is my daughter Eileen.”
“You’re Claire’s daughter?”
“Yes. And you’re Rick. When I was a little girl I met your father, I think. You look like him. I love the photographs you gave my mum.”
“I’m happy someone likes them,” Rick said. “Do you live near here?”
“Some twenty miles. And you?”
Rick explained, and they started talking. He recognised a much younger Claire in this young woman, and he felt happy to talk to her. Laura looked at him critically and decided he would do. Then the MC announced the sack-races would be on for the under-eights, and Eileen ran to the start. Rick and Laura stood at the sideline and cheered as the children came down the track, hopping, stumbling, laughing an shouting at the top of their voices. Eileen came in fourth, not fast enough for a prize but certainly good enough. “Look,” Rick said, and he took the necklace he’d bought from his pocket. “Here’s your prize.” Laura said thank you, and so did Eileen, and Rick didn’t want to hear..
Due to the high temperature the sides of the tent had been removed and Claire saw them standing there from her place at the jar. She saw that Rick and Laura seemed to get on well, and she broke into a wide smile.
“If you don’t watch out we’ll have only a grin left,” the woman who had come in to make a guess said.
“That’ll be alright, Joanie,” Claire said.
“No it won’t. What’ll your daughter and that gentleman think?”
“They will know me by now, I hope. What’s your guess?”
After the sack-race Eileen lost interest in the fête. Laura asked Rick keep an eye on her for a moment. Then she went into the tent and told Claire she thought Rick was really nice and said goodbye. She collected Eileen and gave Rick a peck on the cheek, which made him blush.
“Take care of Mum, won’t you?” she said.
He smiled and waved at them as they disappeared down the field. Then he bought Claire a cup of tea and walked to one of the sides and just stood watching for some time. He enjoyed the bustle and the uncomplicated fun, and the feeling of companionship the day exuded. He reflected that there must be loads of petty jealousies and rivalries in so small a community; but that day they were not apparent.
Time to see if Claire was ready with her jar, he decided. While he was crossing the field he chanced upon Dr Jamison, who stopped him for a little talk, and introduced him to his wife. He asked Rick how he liked the fête, and the village as a whole, and talked for a little time about Rick’s family. “So you’re here for your past,” he concluded.
“In a way, yes,” Rick said. “But if it weren’t for one powerful magnet I wouldn’t be here now.”
Jamison raised his eyebrows questioningly, but his wife filled in for him. “Claire,” she said. “And quite rightly so.”
Claire had indeed completed her task, and she had seen Rick make his way across the field only to be waylaid by the doctor and his wife, so she went up to them to join him and she just overheard the last few sentences. With a happy smile she put her arm through Rick’s and rested her head on his shoulder.
“Hello, Claire,” the doctor’s wife said. “Your taste in men is certainly good.”
Rick felt a little uncomfortable under her praise but she simply beamed at them. They made some small-talk and then Claire and Rick took their leave.
“Phew,” Claire said. “I’m tired. Let’s go somewhere private.”
“We don’t have to help out tidying things up?”
“No,” she said. “I’ve been honourably dismissed.”
“Lovely. So where shall we go? Can I buy you a meal somewhere? The scones were alright, but -”
“Oh, I know. They’re invariably horrible. But no one ever complains; they’re really lovingly made. There’s a nice pub half way to the next village. We could go there.” She looked at him and added, “and then I want you for myself at home.”
She hooked her arm in his again and they walked to his car.
The wayside pub was good and rather quiet; a lot of its regulars who had gone to the fête had ended up in the village pub instead.