It was a perfect English summer afternoon. As she followed her elderly hostess across the sunlit green sward, where she had enjoyed many games of clock golf, she could just make out the figure of a man seated at a small table under a shady tree. But as she drew near, she was startled. She must be dreaming – it couldn’t be – it wasn’t possible – after all these years – he couldn’t be here.
But he was!
How strange that they should meet again like this. Inevitably he had changed, but the years had dealt kindly with him. He did not seem at all surprised to see her. Did he know she was coming? Did he recognise her? As their hostess rushed into introductions, neither gave the slightest indication that they had met before, in fact, had known each other rather well. Is this all real, she wondered. But yes, he did recognise her. “You haven’t put on weight,” he remarked. Such a banal remark! But it went quite unnoticed by their hostess, preoccupied with rearranging the plates of cakes and sandwiches on the table.
He was right. She had not really put on weight. But although she was not as slim as she had been in her youth, at least she hadn’t become matronly, she thought with relief, as she settled comfortably into the well-cushioned wicker chair.
She gazed unseeingly at the delicate porcelain china before her, and the years rolled away. How long had it been? He was in the army then, where he had obviously had a successful career. One didn’t get the Military Cross for nothing. But he had always refused to talk about it, whether, through modesty or a disinclination to relive past exploits, she did not know.
She came back to the present.
He seemed to be discussing his work since retiring from the army. The theatre? She was puzzled. It seemed a most unlikely career for him. He had always been quiet, a little tense, reserved and not at all outgoing. Had she heard wrongly? She had better pull herself together and concentrate before she made some appalling gaffe! She looked at him again. This sort of social complication would have really thrown him in the past, but now he appeared quite at ease. Had he changed so much?
She studied him as she absentmindedly took another cucumber sandwich. The sun had moved around and, yes, he did have lines on his face, but he didn’t look as old as she would have expected. Of course, he had not got much hair, but then he never did have. His father, he often said, was “bald as a coot”. Parents, family. No she had never met his family, nor he hers. She had always lived away from home in London, and he, of course, had different postings, mainly overseas.
She sipped her tea and tried to concentrate on what their hostess was saying – some story about the problem with hired help these days. She made an effort to join in the conversation.
He suddenly smiled at her, and at once her mind began to play the ” What If” game.
Yes, she had behaved very badly, she knew. She had just dropped him without a word of explanation when he was overseas. What if the relationship had gone on; what if they had married as she had hoped at one time. Would they have been happy? Had she really been in love with the man, or more with the glamour of the uniform and the prospects of overseas travel? How had he really felt about her? Had they really known each other? They were attracted to each other, but were their times together superficial, unreal? As it seemed it was now. Yes, very unreal!
She watched him accept another cup of tea. Had he always drunk tea, or did he drink coffee mainly? She couldn’t remember. And food. He appeared to enjoy those thin cucumber sandwiches – so odd for a man. What food had he liked; again she couldn’t remember. She didn’t even know what he ate for breakfast – typical English, bacon and eggs, she supposed. Together they had always eaten at different restaurants, and enjoyed a variety of different foods – she remembered paella once! Well, it had all been so long ago.
Their hostess had apparently not noticed her silence and was now waxing eloquent on the follies of the government, and the increased cost of living. As she moved her hands expressively, the diamonds and sapphire of her rings, sparkled in the sunlight. He looked again at her, as he helped himself to a generous slice of fruitcake- much more suitable for a man – and she returned to her own reflections.
Was he married? Had he been married, and was he now on his own as she was? So much must have happened during those years of her own happy marriage. Had he been happy? Did he still sail? She thought of how they had met when he had a small boat. She had sat and talked to him in the boat shed while he worked on it. But she was not a “boat person” and he had never taken her out on it. There was a strong attraction, yes, but were their interests so different? How naive she had been in those days!
How unreal all this seems, she thought again. She hadn’t thought of him for years. She wondered now what his reaction had been when she let him down so badly. For her, it had been better that way. It seemed unlikely that they would have married, She had always feared that someday he would meet that special person, who would produce the spark that she obviously had not. How would she have coped with the situation? But did that matter anymore?
She came back to the present. What would happen now when they got up to go. Would this delightful idyll be over? Would there be just a casual goodbye? She realised she would like to see him again, to reminisce like old friends.
Refusing offers of help, their hostess got up, placed the teapot on a small silver tray, and lumbered off towards the house to make a fresh pot of tea. “So refreshing”, she said. Again he smiled as they sat alone. Then he stood up. “Can we start again”? he asked, as he moved around the table towards her. She went to meet him as if in a dream . . . . . .
Author: Lydia Penn
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Looking forward to legitimate comment for Lost Love by Lydia Penn.