Thomas changed direction and veered left as he had been instructed in the note that had arrived with a bouquet of pink freesias. Eleanor’s favourite.
He damped down his anger as he headed towards the old copper beech that sank into the ground near the edge of the cow field. The electric fence looked as though it was there to protect the tree not to keep the cows from straying. Maybe it was.
Eleanor. His heart skipped a beat. Twenty-six years since he had seen her but he remembered it vividly: that last evening, sharing the swinging lounger with a fresh gin and tonic in their hands as the sun set. They had both been twenty-four years old, she the elder by two months. Friends since baby school, they had grown up together, played together, learned together. He had thought they’d stay together.
She had carried freesias, holding them in lace-gloved hands as she walked up the aisle to marry someone else. His heart stuttered when he recalled the look she gave him as she passed the pew. He hadn’t understood it then. His eyes closed as the memories assaulted him. He’d never told her he loved her. Never told her that he wanted her by his side during his life and he’d left it too late. He recalled what her note said and heard her voice, ‘I walked up that aisle and waited for you to stop me. I wanted you to stop me and declare your love and tell me that I was yours forever.’
Anger blasted him again. Why had she never said anything? Was she lying and it was some ploy to drag him to this god forsaken place? He sometimes felt like that copper beech. Not part of the cow field but not free of it either. On the edge, his life yet to unfold as it had been on that day but his life was halfway done already.
He had married and been content. A decent woman who gave him two children and whom he’d lost to cancer three years ago. The children were married, too, and he had grandbabies.
His heart stuttered again. Not children with her
, not her
grandbabies. He’d wanted her to have his children. In the secret corners of his heart he had it all planned out. They’d marry, have their own children, and live in that palace of a house by the lake with several dogs and chickens and... they would have been happy.
Had she been happy? Did she have children? When she left for London with her new husband he’d buried himself in the Yorkshire Hills and they had lost touch. There was no-one who knew either of them to pass on stories and salacious tidbits that were the lifeblood of the hamlet they grew up in.
This was the land they’d called their own as children and this was where he’d stayed. A handful of stone cottages clustered around a market square; detached cottages spread thinly around the district; rolling hills that supported sheep and cows always green and welcoming whatever the weather. Their local pub had a roaring fire in winter and sometimes in the cold summers too. His memories of that time and that place now were like something from a TV programme. But his images of Eleanor were strong and vibrant.
Surprise had gutted him when he received the note from Eleanor a week ago saying that she would like to meet him. Anger then because she left no address, no phone number. All she had written was she’d let him know when she was in the area.
When he received the second note, he’d already decided not to go. There would be no point. But he’d read the note again and again. He thought she’d choose an upmarket restaurant at the Wharf not some isolated cottage, miles from the main road where he’d parked his car. She’d lived in London and had become a city girl, hadn’t she?
His breathing was laboured. He was growing old. This uphill part of the path was steeply spiralling, thin shrubs either side of it, autumn leaves fluttering down on to the gravel. He stopped to look at the note again and check he was going the right way but it was an excuse to gain his breath. She should have chosen the Wharf. He knew where that was and it was on flat ground and it had free parking. The air would have been normal, not thin and cold. They would have been polite, civilised, surrounded by other polite and civilised people.
Anger filled him. What game was she playing? Why contact him now after all this time? And why was he making the effort to meet her? To prove to himself that he didn’t need her; that she meant nothing to him; to prove that he wasn’t angry at himself or her for what happened that day?
He’d been shy and not in the least comfortable spouting out his feelings but he thought she knew. He thought she knew that he was waiting until he could find the right work, until he could save enough to buy that pretty house. He wanted to have it all in place before he spread it out before her. She should have known.
Eleanor had been different. She wasn’t shy. She was a light that shined on his dark places; bright and cheerful and friendly with everyone. With her he could be himself, so he couldn’t figure out why she’d never told him how she felt. If she had, their lives would have been different. His anger built again.
When he rounded yet another corner, he spied a pink stucco building in the centre of the rocky plateau. Someone had made a garden of sorts on this hard landscape. There were containers and window baskets and a pot that held pink freesias. They would have to be taken out soon. Smoke billowed from the chimney. Did she live here? His anger propelled him and his pulse spiked when he gripped the brass knob. The door swung open.
His eyes zoomed to her seated on a fancy chaise longue. Her hair was turning white now but still long and floated down her back. She wore a pink cashmere sweater and deeper pink cut-offs on her trim figure. Through her white sandals he saw pink toe nails. He noticed her hands folded in her lap, her long fingers entwined.
She didn’t wear a ring.
His Eleanor smiled that same sweet smile.
His anger deflated like a popped balloon and the heartache of the years evaporated.