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Authors: Marcia Willett

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BOOK: The Way We Were
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‘I liked her,' he says – and sees Em smile. He's thankful that Em isn't one of those jealous types who goes all grim and silent each time he looks at a pretty girl. Couldn't have coped with it. No, Em's more likely to say ‘Isn't she pretty?' or ‘Do you like that woman's frock?' or something like that. Not that she's ever had anything to fear; until he met her he'd never liked a woman enough to make any kind of change to his life. Em took him aback all standing: caught him right off guard. He knows he lets her down a bit; he still needs time to himself, to go off on the boat or have a run ashore with his chums at the sailing club. After all, by the time he and Em met he'd got rather set in his ways. Even now that he's retired, Em still spends quite a lot of time on her own. Archie feels a tiny twinge of guilt.

Em smiles and touches him lightly on the arm. ‘I think you made a hit.'

‘Who, me? Nonsense.'

‘Tiggy said that she thought that Julia and Pete were lucky to have you for an uncle and I said you were everybody's uncle. Was that rather bitchy of me?'

Archie chuckles. ‘If you mean I'm a bossy interfering bugger, well, I can't really argue with you.'

‘Tiggy was rather shocked,' says Em ruefully.

‘That's the trouble with the young,' says Archie. ‘They're so easily shocked. I expect she'll get over it.'

‘I liked her too,' says Em. ‘She reminded me of myself at that age.'

‘What, to look at? Can't see that.'

‘No, no. Not physically. There was just something. A kind of wistful eagerness.'

Archie unexpectedly catches a little glimpse of what she means; he's not overly imaginative but he can remember that rather attractive hopefulness in the young Em. Despite her overbearing elderly relations she retained an optimistic view of the future; a readiness to believe that there was more to life than she'd been shown.

As they drive into the village and round the little green, Em wonders whether to tell Archie that she suspects that Tiggy is pregnant – but decides not to; after all, it's pure instinct and Archie can be a bit strait-laced. She gets out so that Archie can park the car in close against the stone wall, still thinking about Tiggy and the odd sense of recognition she experienced, and wondering if Tiggy felt it too.

The next time Aunt Em visits Trescairn she goes alone. Uncle Archie is busy with fund-raising for the RNLI. After lunch, whilst Julia is upstairs putting Charlie down for his sleep and the twins are in their bedroom setting up the hand-painted buildings of the little wooden village that Aunt Em has brought for them, Tiggy tells her that she is expecting Tom's baby. To Tiggy's relief she looks neither disgusted nor shocked; instead, an odd, rather wistful expression passes fleetingly over her face.

‘At least you have something of him,' she says gently. ‘I was so sorry to hear that he had died.'

‘I was dismissed from my job. The headmistress said that I was a bad influence on the morals of the young. I expect everyone will feel like that so I wonder how I shall manage for us both.'

‘Not everyone,' says Aunt Em firmly.

Tiggy smiles gratefully. ‘It's silly to be frightened. Only I rather depended on Tom, you see. He was quite a bit older and he always took charge when there was a crisis.'

‘That sounds like me and Archie.' Aunt Em hangs the damp tea cloth over the Rayburn rail to dry. ‘I think that's often the case in any relationship where the man is quite a bit older. Archie is fifteen years older than I am and I feel that I shall never quite catch up in the experience slakes. It can be frustrating.'

‘Yes, it was rather like that. But in a way it was often a relief too.'

‘Perhaps what we were looking for was some kind of stability. Julia told me that your mother died when you were very young and that your father remarried. I was brought up by elderly relatives, passed round amongst them like an unwanted parcel. It was such a relief to meet someone who really loved me. I felt so grateful. Maybe you felt the same.'

Before Tiggy can answer, the twins appear crying that every-one must come – must come
now
– to see the little wooden village set up, and Tiggy and Aunt Em go upstairs to exclaim and admire.

That night, Tiggy dreams about Tom and the baby. She seems able – as is often the case in dreams – to be both present in the dream but also watching it from the outside. She wakens suddenly, her heart beating fast, putting out her hand to touch the Turk's rough warm coat. It is very early morning and, beside the bed on the little table, she can just make out the figure of the little Merlin, hurrying forward to whatever the future holds.

‘It was so odd,' she says to Julia later. ‘We were all there. You and me and Tom. First of all, I was holding the baby and Tom was beside me and then you were holding her and I was standing beside you. Then there was someone else.' She frowns, trying to remember.

‘Holding
her
?'

Tiggy smiles. ‘I remember saying, “Her name is Claerwen, Clare for short,” and then I woke up. It was all very strange. It seemed so real.'

‘Claerwen,' repeals Julia. ‘It's rather a nice name. Is it Welsh?'

‘It's my grandmother's name,' says Tiggy. ‘It means “clear white”. If I do have a little girl I shall call her Claerwen. Clare for short.'

CHAPTER FOUR

2004

The hall of the small terraced house in Chapel Street was crammed with tea-chests.

‘I'm keeping the sitting-room and our bedroom as clear as I can,' Caroline told Julia, as they unpacked the kitchen boxes. I need somewhere I can go to relax between bouts.' She took the narrow silk scarf from around her neck and tied back her shiny brown hair. ‘It's really kind of you to help. I thought that later on we'd wrestle with all the sheets and towels and things.'

Julia straightened up and put some plates on the working surface. ‘This really takes me back,' she said. ‘How I dreaded moving. All those wretched inventories and the married quarters' officer telling me that I hadn't cleaned the cooker properly. Though I must admit that I gave up on moving round with Pete very early on compared with lots of naval families.'

‘I don't blame you,' said Caroline fervently. ‘This is only my second move and I'm tired of it already.'

‘Well, being pregnant doesn't help. We went to Trescairn when Charlie was about a year old and after that I stayed put except for the posting to Washington. Look, I'll take all this stuff out and put it on the table and then you can tell me where you want it to go.'

Caroline looked round the small kitchen rather despairingly. ‘Just imagine if it were a real house move. We haven't any furniture of our own but we seem to have so much stuff.'

‘We were just the same,' Julia assured her. ‘Even when we were moving between furnished places there was always boxes of books and china and all the things you need to make the place feel like your own. Pictures and cushions and ornaments and lamps. And clothes, of course.'

‘I think it looks as if we've got so much because the house is rather small. What about a sandwich? I bet Pete's getting hungry.'

Julia went out into the hall and into the room that doubled as a study and dining-room. Pete had been hanging some paintings and was now unpacking books and stacking them on to the bookshelves.

‘Zack will have to put these in order when he gets home,' he said. ‘I know he has a pathological passion for having them in alphabetical order but I haven't got the time for that. I'd like to do as much as we can before we go so that Caroline isn't tempted to try anything silly.'

Julia grinned. ‘Nothing changes, does it? Remember all those years ago, Pete? It seemed that every time we moved house the submarine sailed at exactly the same hour that the removal van was due at the door.'

Pete laughed. ‘It was all planned, of course. We weren't stupid, you know.'

‘I believe you. I was remembering the move to Trescairn. All those lovely men eating pasties and drinking tea in the kitchen and playing with Charlie and the twins. They were very kind.'

‘I expect you did your helpless female thing and got them to do all sorts of things they weren't paid for.'

‘Well, of course I did. I wasn't stupid either. Caroline wonders if you'd like a sandwich.'

‘Oh, I think we can do better than that. Why don't we stroll over to Brown's Hotel and have lunch?'

‘Oh, yes.' said Julia at once. ‘Now that's a very good idea. Caroline loves Brown's.' She smiled at him and then on impulse leaned forward and gave him a little kiss.

He raised his eyebrows. ‘Any special reason? Apart from the fact that you're mad about me.'

‘Just remembering,' she said. ‘You know. The way it was all those years ago.'

He looked at her ruefully. ‘It wasn't all jam, was it?'

She shook her head. ‘But there were some very good bits.'

Pete put some more books on to the shelf. ‘I need to wash,' he said. ‘And then I need a pint.'

Caroline came in. ‘Are you starving? I've got some delicious things from Creber's, and I could make a sandwich. Oh, and I remembered to gel some Doom Bar in for you, Pete, in case you get seriously thirsty.'

‘Pete wondered if you'd like to have lunch at Brown's,' suggested Julia. ‘It would be rather good, wouldn't it? A civilized moment amongst all the chaos.'

Caroline beamed with pleasure and relief. ‘Oh, yes. Fantastic. I'll go and tidy myself up a bit.'

She disappeared; Pete looked thoughtful.

‘I approve of our daughter-in-law,' he observed. ‘She gets her priorities right.'

‘I imagine you aren't referring to her desire to be tidy?'

‘Don't be foolish.' he said. ‘I'm talking about the Doom Bar. I like a girl who recognizes a good beer when she sees one.'

*  *  *

‘It's a nice little house, isn't it?' Julia said later, as they drove back to Trescairn. ‘Gosh, my back aches. Still, I think we cracked the worst of it and Caroline can relax. I wish Zack was home to help her.'

‘It's only a couple of weeks to go before he joins
Seraph
but I doubt he'll be around much anyway. This next job as Jimmy is crucial if he wants to be recommended for Perisher and drive his own boat. He won't want to be stuck alongside the wall in the dockyard.'

‘Poor Caroline.' Julia stared out of the car window. ‘I hope he's home when the baby comes. It'll be wonderful to see him again. At least he's got a fortnight's leave when he gets down. I'm glad that Caroline and Liv are such friends, Pete. I wonder what Liv will do when she leaves Penharrow.'

Pete shrugged impatiently. ‘We've had this conversation. None of us ever knows what Liv will do next.'

‘I suppose that being brought up at Trescairn with all of Cornwall on the doorstep makes it hard to settle to a nine-to-five life in the city' said Julia placatingly.

She wished she hadn't brought up the subject. Pete was always touchy about Liv's lack of ambition. Julia pondered on how odd it was that it should be Zack who had followed Pete into the navy whilst neither Andy nor Charlie had any close affinity with the sea; but then Andy had never shown much affinity with any kind of career until just lately Zack and Charlie had always been more focused: Zack on the sea and ships, Charlie on the land and horses. She and Pete had been so pleased when Charlie joined his uncle on the family farm in Hampshire, gradually building up the livery stable that he and Joanna now ran so successfully together. There was a stability about Charlie that provided an area of peaceful relief amidst the turbulence of the twins' activities; though Andy's Internet company seemed at last to be making progress, even if she and Pete couldn't quite understand what it was all about. Neither of the twins placed any great value on status or security, which bothered their father, but at least Charlie was well and truly settled and Zack was happy, first in his naval career and now in marriage with darling Caroline.

‘The trouble is, you spoil her,' Pete was saying; he who'd always adored his only daughter and was putty in her hands. ‘No wonder she won't settle down.'

Julia smiled to herself: Liv always rolled her eyes and made fearful faces behind his back whenever he talked of her getting a sensible job or starting a serious relationship.

‘Why
should I, Dad?' she'd demand. ‘Yes, but
why
should I?' Just as if she were still four years old.

He could never think of any good answer: after all, she was usually solvent, always happy, generally busy.

‘It's about the same size as Andy's flat in Hackney' she'd said, when Pete complained that she could be doing much better for herself than living in a friend's annexe, ‘and without his crippling rent. And just look at my view! A million limes better.'

There was no arguing with this: the wild coastal sweep across Port Quin Bay towards Rumps Point was breathtaking.

‘After all,' Julia said to Pete, ‘it's not as if she's never done anything else. She did that gap year teaching in China before she went to university and she worked her way across Australia. She's perfectly capable. In fact, she's got quite a reputation for setting up projects, and she's got every right to choose where she wants to be.'

BOOK: The Way We Were
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