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Authors: Rachel Ennis

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BOOK: Summer Loving
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‘So what’s the problem?’ Claire asked. ‘They’re both free.’

‘Exactly.’ Viv nodded. ‘Mother’s just jealous. Why, I don’t know. I got no patience with her. Father have always worked hard. They never had much money but she never wanted for nothing and nor did we. He was content with his life.’

‘That’s rare,’ Gill said.

‘What does your father do, Viv?’ Claire asked. ‘His job I mean.’

‘He’s retired now. Well, he says he is, but he go down the garage and help Jimmy a couple of days a week. He used to be a mechanic at Jennings’ in town. It was Father who got Mr Jennings to take Jimmy on as an apprentice. Father and Jimmy always got on well. Between them they built the go-karts Jimmy used to race. It was Father who convinced Jimmy to leave Jennings’ and go on his own. That set Mother off. She had always wanted Father to go self-employed. But he didn’t want the hassle of running his own business.’

‘I don’t blame him,’ Gill said. ‘I see the hours Sandra and Gerry put in. The shop is open eight till eight. Then there’s paperwork, wages, stocktaking, and Lord knows what else.’

Viv nodded. ‘Jimmy had always wanted to be his own boss. Father respected that and made him believe he could do it. He have too. Wayne was still a toddler when Father and Jimmy built him his first go-kart. There was no stopping Wayne after that. All he could talk about was being a mechanic like his dad and grampy.’

‘How does Jimmy feel about his mother seeing someone?’ Jess asked, handing two large plates of strawberry shortcake to Gill who set them on the coffee table.

‘First off he was a bit funny about it. But like I told him, she was a loyal and loving wife all the years they was married.’

Viv caught her eye and Jess saw the hurt. She hoped Tom would manage to talk to Jimmy soon and find out what was wrong.

Viv cleared her throat. ‘I told Jimmy, his father have been gone four years now. It’s lonely for Pauline. She deserve some happiness.’

‘How old is she?’ Gill asked.

‘Sixty-six. That’s not
old
, not these days.’

‘No, it isn’t,’ Gill agreed.

Viv sighed. ‘I know what it is, mind. He don’t like to think of her having sex.’

Claire’s tea went down the wrong way and she started coughing. Jess grabbed a tissue and passed it across.

‘Well, you don’t do you? Not your parents. Tidn just Jimmy who don’t like it. Uncle Gary’s daughters aren’t happy neither. It isn’t the sex with them. Well, it might be for all I know. But they’re saying it’s too soon because he hasn’t had time to grieve.’

‘How would they know?’ Jess asked. ‘They can only speak for themselves, not him.’

‘Grief isn’t measured in years,’ Gill said.

Annie nodded.

‘When Mother passed I didn’t grieve at all,’ Mor blurted. ‘I feel bad about that.’

‘Time you stopped then,’ Annie said. ‘She was a bitter, demanding, miserable woman who never saw a happy day.’

‘Don’t hold back, Annie.’ Claire croaked, wiping her eyes. ‘Say what you really think.’

Annie’s mouth twitched. ‘Always do.’ She turned to Morwenna. ‘You were a wonderful daughter to her, far better than she deserved. But that’s in the past. You should be thinking of the future and marrying Ben.’

‘Annie’s right,’ Jess said as the others nodded their agreement.

‘Do you want to know what else they said?’ Viv demanded. ‘That he’s disrespecting their mother’s memory. The cheek of it! Two years she been gone. And for that first year he looked ill, dear of ’n.’

‘If I wasn’t clinging to restraint,’ Claire said, ‘I might be tempted to say they’ve got a bloody nerve.’

Viv nodded. ‘I already did, and a lot more besides. ’Tisn’t nothing to do with respect. What it is, they’re afraid he might change his will.’

Jess’s gaze met Mor’s. It was only after her mother’s death that Mor had learned the cottage they had been living in was actually hers, left to her by her grandfather.

Annie’s brief laugh held little humour. Claire shook her head.

‘Families,’ Viv said. ‘Can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em off.’

‘And on that cheery note ...’ Claire turned to Morwenna. ‘Mor, I talked to Paul and he would be happy to conduct your wedding to Ben if you would like to have it in the church. He does already have a wedding booked for 11.30 a.m. on Sept 3
rd
. But you could have yours at two.’

Morwenna turned pink with pleasure. ‘Oh, that’s some kind of him. Ben and me wanted to say our vows before God and get married in the village. Nothing against the register office,’ she added quickly.

‘It’s all right, Mor,’ Jess touched her shoulder as she went to refill the kettle. ‘We know what you mean.’

‘Right, ladies,’ Claire drained her mug and set it on the table. ‘The next issue of the magazine.’

Chapter Nine

––––––––

S
aturday morning brought a change in the weather. Jess opened the curtains and saw grey cloud blanketing the sky. By the time she had showered, dressed, and made the bed, rain was falling. It spangled the grass, darkened the dusty earth, and freshened the air.

After a breakfast of fruit, toast, and coffee, she washed up and tidied the kitchen, opened her laptop, and logged into the local history archives.

On June 1
st
1944 the build-up to departure began. Convoys of heavy lorries and tank transporters stretched for miles, all headed for the loading areas on the Fal and Helford rivers. The throb of engines and rumble of tracks and tyres continued day and night.

As Jess read, the words transformed into images and she could picture it like watching a film.

For the final two days of loading only military traffic was allowed on the roads. Men going to work, children to school, and housewives trying to reach shops all had to walk along narrow paths between field hedges and growing crops.

On the night of embarkation one terrified black GI deserted. Caught at a crossroads outside the village he was ordered to return to his unit. Out of his mind with fear he fought his captors, desperate to escape, and was shot. Jess felt sorry for him. He was as much a casualty of war as those who had perished during the disastrous beach-landing rehearsal.

What of the man ordered to shoot a fellow soldier? What had he felt? Pity? Anger? Disgust? Left unchecked, terror would have spread like a virus. Shooting the deserter was both summary justice and a warning to the others.

Ten LSTs crammed with men, tanks, guns, vehicles, and other equipment left from Trebah Beach, another twenty-three from the Fal. By June 7
th
 – after days and nights of constant deafening noise – the south Cornish coast was silent. Harbours and rivers that for many months had been hives of activity now lay empty.

The phone rang, making her jump. She lifted the receiver. ‘Hello?’

‘Mum?’

‘Rob? What a lovely surprise. Is everything all right?’

‘Yes, why?’

‘Nothing –’

‘I know I haven’t phoned for a while. Sorry about that, but –’

‘It’s OK, love. I understand. You work crazy hours and when you get home you either want to sleep or spend time with Fiona and Helen so they remember what you look like.’

‘You’ve got it. How are you?’

About to say busy, Jess hesitated.

‘Only I’ve got a day off,’ he continued. ‘It’s sod’s law that Fiona is away on a weekend course and Shelley’s busy with a family thing this morning. I thought if you were free for an hour I’d bring Helen over.’

Jess looked at her laptop. She was anxious to continue her research, but hadn’t seen her son for weeks. ‘Rob, that would be great. What time will you get here?’

Knowing his appetite, she quickly mixed up a batch of blueberry muffins. They were cooling on a wire tray when she looked out of the window and saw him carrying Helen down the path. She flicked the switch on the kettle and went to open the door.

Greetings over, coffee made, Jess tied a bib over Helen’s pink cotton frock then took the baby on her lap and fed her small pieces of muffin. As Rob watched his daughter with a fond smile, Jess had a chance to study him. Though he was pale and looked tired – hardly surprising considering the demands of A&E – he appeared less stressed than the last time she had seen him. When she said as much he nodded.

‘You can thank Shelley for that. Helen’s having a tough time teething and Fiona has no patience at all. She’ll rub Helen’s gums and give her Calpol. But if those don’t produce immediate results – as in Helen going straight to sleep – Fiona gets irritated, and Helen reacts to her mother’s tension.’

‘Maybe Fiona sees Helen’s crying as criticism.’

‘For heaven’s sake, it’s not about
her
!’

‘Easy, Rob,’ Jess murmured as Helen looked up, visibly uncertain.

‘Sorry, sweetheart.’ He stroked his daughter’s flushed cheek with a gentle forefinger.

Jess smiled at her granddaughter. ‘Ready for some more?’ she asked quietly.

Helen’s mouth opened like a little bird’s and she grabbed Jess’s finger.

‘Sorry, Ma. I wasn’t having a go at you.’

‘I know that.’

‘Fiona leaves as soon as Shelley arrives.’ Rob shoved a hand through his dark hair, and Jess saw threads of silver at his temples. When had that happened? He wasn’t yet thirty. ‘You’d think that being away from Helen all day she’d want to spend time with her, comfort her. But she’s more worried about not getting enough sleep.’

‘I think teething is as difficult for the parents as for the child.’

‘You managed,’ he retorted. ‘There were two of us and Dad was away for weeks at a time.’

‘Yes, but it was only your back teeth that caused trouble. Nan would come and stay for a couple of nights so I could sleep through.’ She laughed. ‘That was the plan. But the moment one of you wailed I woke up anyway. Still, it was a lot easier with two of us.’

‘Fiona can’t even handle one.’ The bitterness in his tone shocked her. ‘Last night I got in at ten. I should have been off at six. But we were already running late when word came in that a car had tried to overtake a lorry on the bypass, crashed through the barrier, and hit two cars on the opposite carriageway.’

‘Oh my God. Was anyone killed?’

He shook his head. ‘No, but it took the fire brigade an hour to free one man. He lost a leg. I’m a doctor, for God’s sake. Overtime is an occupational hazard. In a situation like that you can’t say, “OK it’s the end of my shift, I’m off.”’

He rubbed his face with both hands. ‘If I could have had a shower and something to eat ... But Helen was sobbing and Fiona was marching up and down with a face like thunder. All I said was that her being so uptight was making the baby more upset. She dumped Helen in my arms, told me that as I was the expert, I was the best person to deal with it, and went to bed.’

‘Had Helen been awake long?’

‘A couple of hours. Shelley had bathed and fed her and put her down at half past six. Then she left. Helen woke again at eight.’

Jess knew better than to take sides or offer unsought advice. ‘At least, having Shelley to look after Helen, when you’re off duty you get a break as well.’

Rob had always been the more serious of her twins. He brooded. Sam tackled whatever was bothering him the same way he tackled all the sports he loved – head on.

Letting them know she was always ready to listen if they wanted to talk, she’d never pried. Nan had told her that the most fragile thing about a boy, or a man, was his pride.

‘Tell them the options then leave them get on with it,’ she’d said.

‘What if they get it wrong?’ Jess had asked.

‘Then they’ll know better next time. You pick them up, tell them if they learned from it, it’s not a mistake, and if it breaks your heart to see them hurt, you do your crying in private. They need you strong.’ Jess still missed her wise counsel.

‘Ma, she’s a godsend.’ The warmth in his voice brought her back with a jolt. ‘Nothing fazes her. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to see a smiling face.’

Jess felt a twinge of unease. Meeting Fiona for the first time, she had seen a smart, attractive young woman as serious about her career as Rob was about his. With Helen’s unplanned arrival they had become a family. Yet Fiona was unable or unwilling to alter her career plan.

Jess realised she was assuming it should be Fiona who adapted to the new circumstances. Yet wasn’t that the most logical choice? Rob was an SHO aiming to make registrar and probably earning twice as much as his wife. But though she sympathised with her son, she was aware she had only heard his side.

‘It’s clear Shelley is great at her job. But it’s a lot easier to be patient and sunny when you know that at the end of the day you can hand the baby back and enjoy a free evening and an unbroken night’s sleep. Rob, you know how stressful dealing with the public can be. So for Fiona, coming home to a fretful baby who can’t be comforted must feel like one more demand after a day full of them.’

‘Helen’s our child, Ma. She’s not being deliberately difficult. Yet that’s the way Fiona reacts to her. As for being exhausted, that’s her choice. She could take time out until Helen is old enough to go into the nursery class at school then pick up her career again. Damn it, we could even keep Shelley on part-time.’

‘You’ve suggested this?’

He raked his hair again and gave a brief humourless laugh. ‘For all the good it did. I might as well have saved my breath. She says I’m being selfish and unfair.
I’m
being selfish?’

‘I’m sorry, Rob.’

‘So am I.’ Leaning forward he lifted the bottom of the bib to gently wipe muffin crumbs from around Helen’s mouth. She beamed, revealing several tiny, pearly teeth and stretched out her arms to him. Jess unfastened the bib and Rob picked her up.

‘Apologies for the rant.’ He settled the baby on his hip.

‘You’re welcome anytime.’ Jess kissed his cheek, then the baby’s. ‘What are your plans for the rest of the day?’

‘Take madam home and give her some lunch, which will probably mean a change of clothes for both of us. Then when Shelley gets back we’ll go to the beach.’

‘The sea air should help Helen sleep.’

‘It will be fun anyway. If we’re up during the night, I’ll tell her about the time Sam and I walked into a rock pool with all our clothes on. We must have driven you mad.’

BOOK: Summer Loving
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