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Crossed Paths, An Original Story

When the noonday sun is beating down relentlessly on a deeply atypical July day, a country church looks like the ideal place to find some cool respite - or at least that's what Jayne was thinking as she pushed open the ancient wooden door. Not that such a practicality was the uppermost reason for her visit this day, as she was supposedly doing some research for a book that she might or might not get round to writing at some unspecified point in the future.

Although she had not as yet committed a single word to paper or even thought of a working title, the as-yet uncreated book floated cloud-like around her mind in an oddly comforting way ; it gave her a useful excuse in potentially awkward conversations with strangers, where she could deflect the inevitable "and what do you do" question by alleging herself to be a writer, thereby awarding herself immediate and undeserved intellectual superiority over lesser mortals engaged in less worthy pursuits. That it was undeserved insomuch as she had written nothing much as yet bothered Jayne not one bit.

"All writers have to start somewhere" she mused to herself, and stepped inside the golden wedge of sunlight admitted by the door, closing it quietly behind her, or at least as quietly as a six inch thick and five hundred year old slab of oak will allow.

Jayne usually liked to be alone in the country churches she visited, claiming temporary sole ownership of the ancient stones and basking in the sense of history they radiated. Other visitors, with their loud voices and foolish comments, were an irritation which annoyed her intensely, interrupting her reverie, so she secretly hoped that the closed door would, for a little while at least, allow her the solitude she sought.

Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply to savour the unique scent, a heady amalgamation of cold stone, candlewax, furniture polish, altar flowers and incense, possibly with a trace of dampness. It was a small church, set a little way out of an even smaller village with no discernible centre, amidst the less attractive corners of Shropshire. She had dutifully looked up Pevsner's comments on the architectural merits, or lack of, tersely recorded as "originally 13th C, tower rebuilt 15th C, some fragments of medieval stained glass. Interior partially remodelled 1870. Otherwise unremarkable"

This implied criticism she found a little irksome, devoted as she was to the "unremarkable", not only in buildings but in every other facet of her life. All it meant to her was that the writer had not looked hard enough or long enough to discover the remarkable, if only in fragmentary form, instead using the lazy and subjective label she objected to so much. And her book would right those wrongs, pointing out the overlooked, the dismissed, the ignored, in a beautifully written, detailed and yet quirkily humorous account of the churches she visited - of which there were already quite a few - illustrated with the most sumptuous of photography, and blessed with a cover design of original and striking artistic merit. Imagining her as-yet to be written book stacked in hopeful gleaming towers in every bookshop in the land, with herself smiling brightly while signing hundreds of copies for eager and grateful readers lent Jayne a renewed sense of purpose as she approached the arched windows to her right.

Illuminated by the summer sun, the stained glass flooded pools of intense colours onto the stone flags, a brilliant patchwork of sapphire and ruby and gold, so bright against the neutral stones and whitewashed walls. For several moments, she was quite lost in the wonder of it, considering how to describe moments such as this.

She was completely unaware until the moment she heard a man's voice from somewhere behind her, snapping her out of her reverie and back into reality.

"It is so beautiful isn't it, when the sun's round this side.....oh no, did I startle you, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to....I'm doing some work in the church, I saw you come in but I thought you'd seen me"

Jayne turned round sharply, initially alarmed by this intrusion to what she thought was a private moment, to see a tall man approaching her and smiling, his open palms in a gesture of friendliness and welcome. Relieved that she appeared to be in no immediate danger, she smiled back and said hello.

"Have you come to look around the church today? Or if you're here for spiritual reasons, I'll make myself scarce" he grinned.

"I am rather a church lover, well, any old building really, but churches are my special favourite, especially ones not in guide books, or deemed particularly remarkable for historical or architectural reasons, I'm so glad to find this one unlocked, and er....."

Her words tailed off, as she realised with some embarrassment that she was, as she usually did when nervous, talking too much and too fast, and now, horror of horrors, a giveaway flush had coloured her cheeks crimson.

"Aha, a fellow church hugger!" he laughed. "This is one of my favourites, it's been chopped and changed around so much in the last 800 years, with every generation thinking they had the best ideas for it, yet somehow the essence of it still remains the same as the day the first stone was laid. It is an amazing place"

"I'm trying to do some research for a book I'm planning to write. Though thinking about it, maybe that's just an excuse to visit places like this" she replied.

As she spoke Jayne began to feel more relaxed and felt an easy companionship with her new acquaintance. He was a tallish man, in his early 40's, somewhat angular, whose long fair hair and shabby jeans gave him the air of a someone clinging to the modes of his youth, and unconcerned with fashion. Realising that she was in danger of openly appraising his appearance - which it is fair to say she found very far indeed from displeasing - she felt the blush return to her cheeks and prayed inwardly that he had not noticed.

" I'm very interested in the idea of your book. I hope you will be including a photograph of the Morville monument which I'm working on at the moment, with a special mention of the quality restoration carried out by yours truly" he chuckled. "I'm reversing the ravages of three hundred years of dust, damp and neglect, would you like to come and have a look?"

Together they crossed the chancel, him trying hard to look at the pattern on the carpet instead of Jayne's womanly curves bobbing alongside, so distracting to a craftsman whose art depended on concentration of eye and hand and a calm head. The monument in question lay to their left, a square marble tablet some six feet square, garnished with intricately carved heraldry and memento mori of skulls and bones.

"This church will be my workplace until I have restored this to its former glory, the faded gilding, as you can see, needs to be replaced with new gold leaf, the lettering likewise, and the pigments on the escutcheons renewed, and all made good....oh, my name is Clifford by the way, I'm really pleased to meet you"

With that, he took her hand in not so much a shake as a warm grasp, which possibly went on for slightly longer than appropriate for two people of such brief and slender acquaintance. Yet even so, neither wanted to be the first to let go.

"I'm Jayne, with a Y"

"Like Jayne Mansfield?"

"Yes, I think my parents had a bit of a thing about her, or perhaps they thought I'd grow up to be a gorgeous Hollywood filmstar. Which as you can see hasn't actually happened"

Oh no, she thought..."as you can see"? am I actually inviting him to give me the once over? Perhaps he didn't notice..

There followed a rather awkward small space of time in which they both feigned intense and sudden interest in the cold marble before them. Clifford tried desperately to think of a pleasant and non threatening compliment to make in which he would not come over as a leering pervert ; Jane tried equally feverishly to think how to formulate a relaxed and amusing conversational gambit to indicate her continuing interest in Clifford without appearing too eager.

Both failed, and so the silence continued. And an "atmosphere" had developed and occupied a space between them, invisible yet as obvious as if it were reality.

Jayne was shocked and not a little thrilled by this, for goodness sake this is plain, dull, slightly overweight Jayne, with her outdated hairstyle, lack of engagement with current affairs, serial failures of relationships and work, schemes and plans that never somehow materialise and predilection for haunting old buildings...

At her side, Clifford is also engaged in a singular moment of interior self awareness, aware of the bright bubble of possibilities hovering between them, considering his profession (in which he is patchily employed) in an antique world, restoring memorials to people dead and buried and forgotten hundreds of years ago, finicky and painstaking work carried out for the most part in chilled stone boxes visited by no-one.

After some rather awkward conversation, hastily concocted to fill up the silence, during which neither of them could bring themselves to acknowledge a quite definite mutual attraction, Jayne felt it was time to leave.

"I'm interrupting your work, so I'll be on my way. It was lovely to meet you." she said.

"A very welcome interruption, if I may say so, it's been a pleasure talking to you" replied Clifford, politely, and reaching for her hand once more.

Jayne blushed, unwilling to leave, but felt she should go, lest she had misjudged the warm and pleasant sensation that being in her new acquaintance's company had given her. For his part, Clifford felt equally unsure, and hoped he had not overstepped the mark.

"Well, goodbye for  now"

"Goodbye" said Jayne, as she made her way to the door, somewhat regretfully.

Clifford returned to his work with a profound sense of disappointment at such a missed opportunity. It was a long afternoon for both of them.

Two long weeks had passed since Jayne's encounter with the reticent artisan in the church, and for those two weeks she had thought of little else. Every time she opened up her laptop to create what she hoped would be a quirky, original and amusing chapter for her debut book, her impulse to write would be replaced by endless reassessments of what she should have said, or not said, or behaved, or more riskily, not behaved. She berated herself inwardly for failing at least to secure even the vaguest of contact details, a phone number, an email address or even a surname from which she could carry out some surreptitious online sleuthery, because meeting Clifford another time was all she could think about.

Unsurprisingly, her book remained half written, a collection of scribbled post-it notes admonishing her from the fridge door - "Today I will write for two hours at least" "If I manage a chapter today I will buy myself a treat" and more threateningly "No book = no money", but they were all ignored.  She went to her work at the library in a distracted frame of mind. Upon her return, she trawled idly through endless web pages, many of which were not entirely relevant to the furtherment of her book by way of research ; truth be told, much of her searching involved following any avenue, however vague, which might lead to the identity of the man in the church, and even better, once found, plans to engineer another encounter with him.

Sighing wearily, she turned off the computer, any chance of literary inspiration having well and truly departed for the day, and went into the tiny kitchen to put the kettle on. Outside a light rain was falling, silvering the windowpanes. Tea makes everything better, she said to herself and the tortoiseshell cat weaving her way around Jayne's ankles in hope of supper. They both knew it wasn't really true.

About a dozen or so miles away, the same rain was falling on a small untidy workshop, littered with half-finished projects and pots of paint and varnishes, where an equally frustrated and disquieted man looked critically at the carved woodwork on the bench before him. Laying down his chisel and sweeping back his hair, Clifford was less than happy with today's work. It wasn't particularly difficult or taxing, and he knew it was well within his capabilities, which was exactly why it was all the more annoying. He had been having trouble concentrating of late, which he tried to explain to himself as perhaps tiredness,  needing new glasses or perhaps even an unfavourable alignment of planets, none of which were true, and he knew it.  Brushing away the sawdust, he was more than aware of the source of the problem, yet had little idea as to how to resolve it.

Turning off the light, he closed the door behind him and walked the short distance to his small house. The showery weather seemed to him entirely appropriate for the way he felt just now, and had done for the preceding fortnight, a  feeling of chances missed and a resigned faint melancholy which had settled over him like mist in a valley.

The knowledge that he had let another chance slip away so easily, a crossing of paths that could have, if he had had the courage, led to something he wanted so much. That woman in the church, she seemed to like him a great deal, they seemed to gel easily and their conversation was very pleasing . . . he had desperately wanted to ask her more about herself, her book, perhaps, if she was agreeable, even to stay in touch? They had got on well together, much alike and much in common. In the evenings he had often (after a glass or two of wine) mapped out for himself a pleasing if imaginary trajectory of friendly emails leading to cosy phone calls to and from the lovely distant Jayne. And one night he might (after perhaps the third glass of wine) imagine sending her a flirtatious text message, to which she would respond (to his delight, and relief ) in like manner, suggesting meeting up for a coffee, in the daytime? 

Clifford replayed this scenario over and over again in his head, gaining both a comfort from its repetition and a salacious thrill imagining the next steps that might be taken.

But to no-one's surprise, least of all his, a natural reserve and heartfelt desire not to appear in any way threatening or inappropriate had got in the way, and stifled any notion he could have had about  continuing their conversation at some point in the near future. Another chance slipped away, he mused bitterly, and turned on the television to provide some distraction.

After a restless night, with the non-advancement of both her writing career and her personal life laying heavy on her mind, Jayne decided  positivity to be the best course of action, and made plans to return to the small grey church to take some photographs. Perhaps a little visual refreshment might do the trick, she thought, and I'll be able to resume my writing. Staying in had done her no favours, daydreaming about situations that will never happen. Yesterday's rain had cleared away to leave a bright and sunny morning, the world looked new and clean.

Less than an hour later, she pulled up in front of the church opposite the vicarage, and took a moment to study the stonework gleaming damply silver, set amongst a churchyard of rarely visited gravestones and surrounded by a mantle of high trees, the fields behind falling away in a patchwork of green. Secretly of course, she hoped for a repeat chance encounter inside, but held out little if no hope. 

Opening the door, she sighed at the remembrance of things not said and roads not taken, and looked around at the now familiar surroundings. Everything looking so neat and tidy as before, she thought, as she walked over to the Morville monument, gleaming in the sunlight with its precious gold leaf so skillfully restored by Clifford, the marble shining white and clear. She had half hoped that it would still be a work in progress, but it appeared pristine and complete, and a little sadness came over her. Suddenly remembering why she had come here, she looked around for suitable subjects and angles for the photographs she intended to take.

Near the back of the church was an old oak table, where the hymn books had been carefully replaced after yesterday's service, all ready for the faithful few (fewer each passing year) who would return next Sunday. Jayne regarded it quietly, a ready made still life, complete with brass collection plate, a blue pottery vase of  roses spilling petals, and the visitors' book thoughtfully laid out complete with a pen. A hastily-printed parish Newsletter cast there spoilt the composition, so she picked it up and put it to one side, intending to read it later. Pictures taken, she was pleased with her morning's work and left quickly before any return of the momentary sadness could waylay her.

Sitting in her car, Jayne looked briefly at the newsletter ; she loved these little insights into the lives of people she would never know, snippets of parochial news, coffee mornings, meetings, weddings and funerals. Sadly there were more of the latter, as the church was visually overshadowed by a far more picturesque Gothic building a couple of miles away, with soaring arches, wide aisles and immaculate flowers,  a far more appealing backdrop to wedding photographs. Among the notices of services to come, her eye was caught by the following :

"There will be a service of dedication following the restoration of the Morville monument, Thursday 10th August at 2.30. All welcome. The Morville family are indebted to both the Parish Council and Mr. Clifford Thomas for his craftsmanship. All welcome, refreshments after the service"

And her heart skipped a beat.

It would be fair to say that sartorial concerns were not a priority for Clifford, a man somewhat set in his ways in many regards. So much time spent either in his workshop, or cloistered in chilly churches and grand if underheated houses had given him a pragmatic attitude towards matters of dress, and such socialising as he undertook required neither much smartness or modern finery. And so it was that Thursday morning that he surveyed his one good suit ; well that is to say, it had been a good suit, once upon a time, now very much stylistically outmoded and waiting with possibly misplaced hope for the day when the revolution of the wheel of fashion would bring it mysteriously back into vogue once more. But today was not that day, and so with all the enthusiasm of a schoolboy putting on his uniform, he closed the curtains in order to change.


Some miles away, in a different bedroom, the flustered occupant was experiencing a different kind of problem. Laid out on the bed, none too neatly, in a confusion of fabrics, patterns and colours were the possible choices Jayne had considered for attending the afternoon service, so full of possibilities. Or disappointments, she mused briefly. Picking up each garment, she gave it a critical appraisal before discarding it as "too short" or "makes me look fat" or just plain "inappropriate". Even her favourite dress, a vintage Laura Ashley design, which always lifted her spirits with its cheerful chintzy pink roses and country-girl feeling was dismissed on the grounds that people might misinterpret her choice of vintage clothing as either a character flaw causing her to live vicariously in the past, or even worse, just plain eccentric.

Her ever-increasing sense of panic was fuelled by the array of uncertainties that this very afternoon held out before her like some kind of cruel trick or treat, and also by considerable disbelief at her own daring in taking such a bold step. There had been sleepless nights leading up to this day, so many imagined scenarios - in her favourite, Jayne and Clifford would exchange meaningful glances across the pews, regarding each other for just a split second longer than might be considered polite, a delicious frisson of excitement accompanied by an accelerating heartbeat and a rush of adrenaline letting loose a thousand butterflies in her stomach. This, naturally, would be followed up with an attentive and intelligently-worded conversation with just the subtlest hints of flirtation, to which she would respond immediately in like manner, both now  sure that this was a soulmate, even "the" soulmate, who knew? And that this unlikely meeting was but the first step.

Her cosy romantic bubble burst with a loud pop, as she considered an alternative and very much less pleasing prospect - that of his non-appearance, or even worse, his appearance accompanied by a partner, or worst of all, not only partner but adorable family of angelic well behaved picture book children.

 She slammed the bedroom door  and  left, with the clothes abandoned on the bed and the cat darting out from underneath it, where she had been a silent witness to the morning's indecisions.

And so that Thursday morning rolled into the afternoon, a calm overcast summers' day, the skies a pearly grey with clouds and a pleasant warmth in the air, as Jayne parked her car and quickly reassessed  her appearance. After much deliberation, she had chosen a neat and unobtrusive deep purple dress which accentuated her figure in a flattering but discreet way, complemented with a necklace  of handmade glass lampwork beads in shades of iridescent violet and ruby. Pretty as it was, she considered such an item might well provide a useful talking point for someone with an eye for artistic craftsmanship. That and the fact that it nestled in the beginnings of a slight cleavage. Or so she hoped.

And with a quick but heartfelt plea to whichever deity might be listening, she walked quickly up the path before her nerve could fail her, and entered the church.

It had never entered Clifford's head that the afternoon might be anything more than a simple act of parochial obligation, pleasant enough in its' understated English way. There would be a short service to stifle his yawns through, followed by a buffet courtesy of the Mothers' Union and replete with all the motherly home baking he had missed for so long, some polite if rather stilted conversation, possibly laying down hints as to his future availability for work of a similar nature, followed by handshakes all round and a discreet exit. Nothing too nerve-wracking there, he thought.

As he entered the church, his long hair attracted one or two slightly disapproving looks, bothering him not one bit. Middle age had conferred upon him the enviable ability to be unconcerned by the negative opinions of other people, and, greeting the Vicar and churchwardens, he made his way to a pew halfway down the nave. 

The clouds had cleared somewhat, allowing a beam of sunshine to illuminate the grandiose Morville monument as if on cue - the regilded lettering glinted brightly, and he allowed himself a moment of well-deserved pride as he observed the precision and skill with which had applied the difficult flimsy gold leaf to the contours of the lettering, giving it back the original gleaming appearance. His gaze roamed idly over the congregation , the usual great and good, mostly of a certain age he thought, until it came to rest on a silhouette he found oddly familiar. 

Jayne, having arrived early in her nervousness, had made a vow to herself to sit near the back in a topsyturvy attempt at being unnoticed ; perhaps that way she wouldn't feel tempted to turn round and stare each and every time someone passed by her, as if she were desperately keen to see someone in particular arrive. Which of course she was ; and so to appear nonchalant, she picked up a hymnbook and began to leaf through the pages, looking for all the world like the devout and self-contained individual she wished to masquerade as.

The useful thing about appearing so studiously engaged is the fact that one's downcast eyes are well able to secretly look around, and at each and every footfall Jayne would surreptitiously glance towards the sound, just in case. The covertness she found quite thrilling, and she prayed that no-one, in a well-meant attempt at greeting, would speak to her or distract her. 

She saw his footsteps pass by, and her heart raced. She heard him conversing with other people, apparently unaware of her presence, and breathed a sigh of relief as he took his seat. The butterflies of her imaginings returned, only this time with a renewed intensity.

Clifford recognised her at once, and sought to catch her eye, but Jayne kept her eyes lowered and concentrated fiercely on cultivating an air of piety and detatchment, which was far from convincing. An elderly lady approached her, breaking into her thoughts

"Excuse me my dear, may I sit next to you?" she enquired.

"Of course" Jayne replied, somewhat flustered, moving along a little way and looking up at her new neighbour to smile a greeting.

And at that moment, she became aware of someone gazing at her intently from the opposite pews, and realised that this afternoon was going to be, to say the least, interesting.

Jayne felt the blush rising to her cheeks even before their eyes met, hoping fervently that it could be attributed to the heat of the day or even a symptom of middle age, much as she didn't want to admit that particular fact to herself. Hurriedly composing her features into what she hoped was a friendly smile, she returned his gaze, to be met, very much to her relief, by an encouraging grin.

Her new neighbour chose this very moment to engage Jayne in an endless stream of small talk, enquiring after her health as a prelude to a seemingly interminable account of her own recent stay in hospital, in which she was obliged for reasons of politeness to feign an interest. The lady bobbed her head around animatedly as she spoke, clearly delighted to have the opportunity to regale a fresh audience with a story replete with much gruesome surgical minutiae which might have been better left to the imagination. Jayne nodded politely, adding sympathetic noises in what she hoped were appropriate places, all the while wishing for a moment's peace and quiet in which she might formulate some idea as to what to say to the fair-haired man sitting on the opposite side of the church. Her heaven-sent pleas on entering the church had not gone unanswered, it would appear.

Happily for all, the Vicar strode to the front of the church, and with his arms spread wide, announced the commencement of the service. The chatter died away, only to be replaced by the rustling of old ladies searching through their handbags for handkerchiefs, glasses and mint imperials. Someone got up to deliver a long address, no doubt of deep and abiding interest, but for two people in the congregation his words floated in the air before dissolving into silence, completely unheard.

Clifford hardly knew what to think, and was still in a state of some disbelief as the minutes ticked by. He wished the afternoon away, feeling somewhat exasperated when yet another venerable historian approached the lectern with a sheaf of notes in his hand, yet more time to be endured before he was able at last to renew his acquaintance with the lady whose path had led her to this very place a little while ago. Unknown to herself, Jayne had been making a nightly appearance in his imagination in ways which might have surprised her ; some of these had been, well, more or less what one might expect a man on his own to muse on, and to his discomfiture, some of those dreamlike pictures drifted unbidden into his mind as the speaker droned on and on . . . lovely Jayne, lying in his bed quite naked, her soft peachy curves illuminated by flickering candlelight, the feel of her full breasts under his hands and his desire quite apparent . . 

The sound of a round of applause jolted him back from his reverie, putting him firmly back into the discomfort of the pew, and he shook his head in an effort to dispel the inviting images, as if he thought they might be written in the air above his head for all to see.

Outside on the vicarage lawn, Carol, the Vicar's wife, had laid out tables with snowy damask tablecloths unearthed from spinsters' never-needed bottom drawers, lovingly embroidered with hollyhocks and roses, and various helpers had brought out a mismatched assortment of dining chairs. The weather had remained charitably warm and rain-free as people made their way from the church to socialise and enjoy  a quintessentially English summer afternoon in the countryside. A pleasant hum of conversation soon floated over the garden, little knots of people chatting amicably over the rattle of teacups.

However, there were two people missing from this bucolic scene, for they were still deep in conversation in the church. Jayne and Clifford had hardly noticed the exodus of people in search of tea and cake, so engrossed were they in the novelty and pleasure of their renewed meeting.

"How is your book coming along?" asked Clifford.

Jayne was torn between admitting the truth, which was that she had done very little writing of late, being preoccupied with potential matters of the heart, or giving an equally untruthful but more equivocal answer.

"I seem to be afflicted with writers' block, I  don't know why" (a downright lie, and in a church of all places) she replied.

"How very frustrating for you - and for me too, because I'm very much looking forward to owning a signed first edition of it" 

Jayne smiled at his little joke, inwardly wondering whether her writings would ever see the light of day beyond a computer screen.

"Have you ever been to St. Mary's, near Actonford?, it's about twenty miles from here, quite difficult to find or so I'm told - apparently it's a hidden gem if ever there was one, in all senses of the phrase. Sadly the church is no longer in use, but it is still maintained, and has some lovely features, even a holy well."

"I've never been there, though I have read about it. I would love to go there one day"

And before he could reconsider his actions or stop to think, Clifford found himself inviting her to a journey there one day soon.

"That is, if you'd like to go, and your partner would not object, obviously I don't want to put you in an awkward situation. Have I said too much?"

Jayne could hardly frame her reply, such was her surprise.

"I don't have a partner, only my cat and she is sublimely indifferent to my comings and goings. Yes, I would love to go with you, I mean to say I would love to go there....with you..."

Her words trailed away, her nervous excitement at this unexpected turn of events robbing her of any form of communication save a wide beaming smile.

Realising the audacity of his invitation, which had come out of the blue as surprisingly to him as it was to her, he surveyed her features anxiously for any signs of misgivings, but to his relief saw only an expression of delight. Clifford leaned forward and gently patted her hand.

"I hope you don't think this is all too sudden. I must be completely honest with you, I have thought of you often since that day our paths crossed. And I hoped we might meet again, but had no clue as to how that might ever come about."

Jayne nodded, and replied simply and quietly.

"Me too"

And the moment hung in the air between them, just as it had done those weeks back, a bright fragile bubble full of possibilities shining in the shadows of the church. Smiling as only people who have a shared secret know how, they went out into the fresh summer air of the garden.

Carol, the vicar's ever busy wife bustled past them them, carrying another tray of cakes and fancies with which to replenish the tea tables.

"Do help yourselves, good people. And enjoy the afternoon!" she said, smiling broadly as she went by, but not before she had sensed the mutual attraction hovering around them like an aura.

Jayne and Clifford soon found themselves a bench beneath one of the willow trees, and now balancing teacups and plates of cake, resumed their conversation, punctuated with bursts of laughter.

Carol watched them affectionately from across the platters of sandwiches. Cocking her head to one side, she said to no-one in particular,

"What a lovely couple they make."

Much later that same day, it was with an unaccustomed lightness of heart and a buoyant spirit that Clifford unlocked the door to his workshop, humming to himself as he did so. The setting sun illuminated the cluttered scene within, motes of dust floating weightlessly in the air around him, as he gazed out of the window at the gilded streaks of cloud on the horizon, and considered the serendipitous nature of the day's events. It had, he thought been such a long time since female company other than that of a purely platonic and friend-like nature had been part of his existence, and his meeting with Jayne had left him unsettled in the nicest possible way. And furthermore, some bold and unexpected spirit within him had invited her to a day out with him, to which - unless he was imagining it - she had agreed very readily indeed, even before the offer had quite left his lips, and he smiled to himself as he recalled both her eagerness, and his considerable relief at not being rejected.

Taking his phone from his pocket, he flicked through his contacts list, to the newest addition, acquired that very afternoon, and considered the wisdom of sending her a text message, thanking her for her company and perhaps wondering when she might be free......

As he pondered on what words to use, a last late beam of sunlight cast a ray of gold through the dusty window, falling upon a piece of carving that lay upon the bench, highlighting the sinuous contours of entwined pomegranates and roses, carved by an unknown hand upon the surface of the wood in centuries past. Before the light could disappear he quickly snapped the image with his phone, pleased by the juxtaposition of transient light upon ancient surface, and in a moment of unexpected romantic daring, he sent the picture to Jayne, along with the brief if unambiguous message

"Thinking of you x"

And with only the slightest of misgivings as to whether that should have been more than one "x" , or maybe none at all, he walked across the cobbled yard with something of a spring in his step.

Pausing by the overgrown bushes of lavender and rosemary to find his key, a loud and piercing jangle announced the arrival of a text message, and Clifford looked at his phone. A reply, and so quickly.

"Thinking of you also xxx"

And accompanying it, an image of medieval angels in stained glass, with wings feathered in sapphire and emerald.

"Oh my goodness! something might really be happening, at long last!" he thought to himself.  Usually the most cautious of men, and not given to romantic flights of fancy, he felt momentarily overwhelmed by emotion, and somewhat taken aback by it.

Until now, he had not thought of himself as anything other than reasonably content ; his work was fulfilling and gave him great satisfaction, his existence steady and relatively undisturbed by anything other than the usual everyday tribulations.

It was a matter of personal pride that he owned his own small house, forever in a state attributed to ongoing restoration, with an outbuilding he used as a workshop and a ramshackle and unattended garden. Occasionally he harboured a little jealousy towards those of his friends, married or with partners, whose lives seemed more desirable and complete ; but it was a feeling which dissipated quickly when he learnt of the somehow inevitable breakups and divorces.

To Clifford, the idea of a partner in his life had been as unrealistic as wishing for an expensive car, or an extravagant mansion, and just as unlikely to happen. However, that is not to say that he did not want it to happen, some day ; it was just that he relied on fate, rather than his own efforts, to bring it about.

And perhaps the stars and planets had, up till now, failed to fall into that unique alignment which would bring about just such an ocurrence.

Laughing quietly to himself at the foolishness of such an idea, he poured himself a glass of wine and stepped back out into the dusk of the garden, the stillness interrupted only by the distant hooting of an owl, and the fluttering of the wings of moths as they danced around the light from the kitchen window. He looked again at the text message, and wondered how to respond, although he found it hard to concentrate when the day's events kept running through his mind on an endless loop, the surprise of their unexpected meeting, the afternoon in the vicarage garden, and in a contrary way, their goodbye, when Jayne had taken hold of his hand and kissed him on the cheek.

To a casual observer, it looked innocuous enough, polite yet informal, a parting of friends ; but to Clifford it felt as if the earth had tilted slightly on its' axis, yet only he was aware of it. If only she had known the effect that her simple gesture had had on him, the unselfconscious movement of her hand with which she had brushed aside the hair from his cheek in order to kiss him, the softness of her lips, the flowery scent of her perfume. . . 

He looked up at the darkening sky, now deepening to indigo, an almost full moon shining over the night garden. Picking up his phone, he took a picture of the soft moonlight silvering the leaves of an apple tree, and sent it to Jayne, with the message :

"I would love to see you again, soon. When are you free? xx"

And draining his glass, he went back into the house, curiously feeling both emotionally exhilarated and physically weary.

As evening fell, Jayne wandered from room to room in a fruitless endeavour to distract herself from looking at her phone yet again. The house crackled with her restless energy, as she impatiently rearranged bookshelves which were already perfectly tidy, and placed the sofa cushions in neat symmetrical rows yet again. The tortoiseshell cat looked up nervously, whiskers a-twitch, unused to such a flurry of activity, and sensing the tension in the air - surely at this time of day she would have found her way onto Jayne's lap for a comfortable snooze? Ill at ease with the situation, she fled up the stairs to hide beneath the bed, and waited for the storm to pass.

Jayne fussed and fretted the minutes away.

"Well this is very silly of me. Here I am getting all flustered for no good reason, and after such a lovely day", she chided herself " I am behaving like a giddy young girl, even though I am an intelligent adult woman."

The heady rush of adrenaline that had carried her through the day, a day full of excitements and surprises and opportunities, had melted away, leaving her feeling restless and agitated over what might or might not happen next.

Her finger hovered over the Call button on her phone, then hovered away again in momentary indecision. It made her feel foolish, thinking how much easier it was to have a conversation face to face with someone than to have this modern technology currently proving to be such a barrier to communication. 

Sighing crossly, she went upstairs to run herself a deep calming bath, surely half an hour luxuriating in bubbles and scented steam would help her shake off the tension? After all, it had been a tiring day, what with all the anticipation of the morning and the events of the afternoon, it was hardly surprising that she should feel this way.

Drawing the bedroom curtains, Jayne began to undress, carefully hanging up what she now thought of as her "lucky" purple dress, and shaking loose her hair from having been artfully arranged into a style she thought of as carefree and casual, whereas in truth it had taken her the best part of twenty minutes and a good many swear words to make it appear so. She looked at herself in the wardrobe mirror, the bedside lamp casting a rosy radiance onto her body, and as she surveyed her ample curves, she ran her hands lightly over the creamy smoothness of her breasts, imagining them to be Clifford's hands exploring her nakedness. . . for a moment she was tempted to carry on with her fantasy, then remembered her bath, and hurried to turn off the taps.

Downstairs, in the darkness, her phone had received a text message.

A loud metallic jangling from his alarm clock shattered the warm depths of sleep into which Clifford had finally slipped, and the room was bright with morning sunlight as he rubbed his eyes and attempted to adjust to the day. It had been a very late night, and after the evening's final message from Jayne, a picture of the starry night sky and an affectionate goodnight, he had sat up well into the small hours and beyond, unable to stop himself thinking about her. And eventually, as the clock ticked towards four a.m. , he had sent her a message, using the words of a long-dead Romantic poet to say something he found himself unable to put into his own words. The first notes of the dawn chorus had accompanied his footsteps up the steep narrow staircase to his bedroom under the eaves, where he had fallen into an exhausted dreamless sleep.

Still only half awake, he rubbed his eyes and allowed himself the indulgence of a momentary fantasy in which he was not the sole occupant of the bed, imagining the sensation of soft warm flesh next to him, and more . . . before his thoughts could take any physical effect, he threw off the duvet, dressed quickly and went downstairs to put the kettle on. He had an important lunchtime date, for which preparations could not begin too soon.

Meanwhile, Jayne had enjoyed a relatively peaceful night's sleep, tired out by the excitement of the evening, and awoke to the sound of her little cat purring contentedly from the foot of the bed. What an evening, she thought, following such a day, and a warm flush of pleasure spread over her still drowsy body as she remembered the curiously intense excitement of the text messages sent and received. She knew it would have been more practical just to make a phone call - but then where would be the thrill of anticipation, awaiting the arrival of a message? And, should it consist of but few words, the slightly dangerous frisson of reading between the lines, lending it new dimensions of meaning. . .

And the pictures, so carefully chosen, which may or may not say more than the actual message, and open to a multitude of interpretations. Jayne had received several pleasing images, from the very first one of the carving illuminated by the sun, followed by the apple tree shining silver in the moonlight. There had been others, a row of candles n a church window, a cabinet of curiosities displaying seashells and pieces of rock and crystal, and a piece of ancient embroidery with tudor roses outlined in tarnished gold thread. Clifford had selected each one with the greatest of care, knowing now a little of the kind of things she liked, and hoped they would  please her.

Jayne was both charmed and intrigued by the images, and had arranged them in her mind into a kind of imaginary tarot, spreading them out to consider their individual and collective meanings, rearranging them constantly in an attempt to uncover their significance. The messages that accompanied them were brief, if friendly, and she viewed it all as a fanciful and romantic game between them, not wanting it to come to an end.

She replied with pictures of her own for him to puzzle over, a stained glass window full of medieval angels, a bright butterfly with scarlet wings veined in black, a view over a placid sea like a sheet of silver, an orchard frothing with pink and white blossom, and finally the starry night with which she had eventually bid him goodnight.

She laid back on the pillows, and idly picked up her phone to look at the pictures once more. At 3.46, another text had arrived, un-noticed until now. There was no picture, simply what appeared to be a fragment of poetry.

"If you loved only what were worth your love,

Love were clear again, and wholly well for you."

She read and re-read the words with curiosity, turning them over in her mind, but discerning no other meaning than that which was obvious, she turned her thoughts to the day ahead.

They had arranged to meet up at lunchtime, at a small coffee shop in Weirford, a small country town several miles away, to spend a pleasant afternoon in conversation. Much as she was looking forward to it, which was to say, immensely, Jayne felt a little anxious regarding the journey there,  wanting to arrive neither too early or too late, or worst of all, suffering the humiliation of getting lost on the way. And equally importantly, she hoped it was an establishment with the very nicest of cakes on offer.

Such was the importance he attached to the day, that Clifford took particular care over his appearance to the extent of carefully ironing a newish shirt of a small paisley print, in shades of blue and green, and sprinkling himself liberally with the aftershave his mother had given him as a Christmas gift last year, in spite of the fact that at that time he sported a full beard. It was the thought that counted , or possibly it was a less than subtle hint, he mused. But today he was glad of his mother's apparent foresight, and a fragrant cloud of sandalwood replaced the usual clean soapy aroma, boosting his confidence somewhat as he locked the front door behind him.

He momentarily wondered whether it was expected of him to take along a small gift, and thinking it would be an appropriate gesture, looked around the garden for inspiration. Along the far wall there grew a wild tangle of sweet peas, tumbling chaotically from their canes in pinks, blues and lilac, untended yet somehow coming up each year, apparently thriving on neglect. Gathering up the best of the blooms, he arranged them as best he could into an untidy bunch, tying them with garden string and shaking the morning dew from their flimsy petals. Surveying his extempore handiwork with pride, he opened the van door and laid his impromptu bouquet gently on the seat.

Jayne looked out of the window at the clear blue skies, and felt a shiver of excitement. She felt so fortunate to have met Clifford, that she found it easy to forgive herself the deliberate way she had arranged it to happen "just so". He seemed to be someone who believed in fate and things happening because they were meant to, in some mysterious cosmic way, and there was no need for him to know any different. Sometimes even fate needs a little help, she thought to herself, and it is about time I was lucky in love.

Feeling rather pleased with herself, she went into the bedroom to change, followed by the little cat, who leapt into the bay window to soak up the sunshine.

Clifford felt rather like a rock in a fast flowing river, as he stood on the pavement outside the coffee shop trying to avoid the swathes of pedestrians milling past him, looking out anxiously for one familiar face. He was trying his hardest to look inconspicuous, which is not easy when you are clutching a bouquet like some forlorn and misplaced bridesmaid, and hoped his arriving early would indicate eagerness and good manners rather than desperation or bad planning. Glancing at his watch, and looking up and down the street,  a familiar figure caught his eye, waving from the opposite pavement.

Jayne crossed the road, a wide smile lighting up her features, her footsteps gathering pace as she ran up to him and flung her arms around him in a passionate embrace, turning quite a few heads as she did so.

"Hello! it's so lovely to see you!" she exclaimed "I hope you haven't been waiting long?"

Somewhat taken aback (but delighted) by the enthusiasm of her greeting, he hugged her back, feeling the heat of her body pressed against his, and was reluctant to release her.

"No, not at all!" he replied "You look so beautiful! Oh, and by the way, I've brought these for you." He held out the bouquet, pleased both at her exuberance and the fact that he no longer had to carry it.

"Oh my goodness, that's amazing, I love sweet peas! They are one of my special favourites . . thankyou so much!"

Jayne stood on tiptoes to plant a kiss on his cheek - for a split second she toyed with the idea of kissing him on the lips, but that might be going a little too far, considering it was the middle of the day, and in public too. She hoped there might be an opportunity later to redress the situation.

"You are more than welcome, my dear. Shall we go inside?"

And with that, Clifford opened the coffee shop door, and ushered her inside the fussy interior where they quickly found a table. Jayne looked around with a faint smile of amusement hovering at her lips ; no piece of vintage knick knackery, faux or otherwise, had been overlooked in the furnishings, from shabby chic dressers groaning with mismatched china cups and saucers, the reproduction vintage posters on the chintzily papered walls, to the inevitable bunting looped around the window frames. It was a pastiche of a yesteryear English teashop, of a kind that never really existed, created to appear comforting and homely. At least it will give us something to talk about, she mused, though in reality there was precious little chance of them running out of words.

As they chatted, Clifford found it hard to concentrate, especially when Jayne would lean forward and, in order to emphasise a point, would touch him lightly on the arm or hand, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

The day was warm, and she wore a decollete sundress, which he had not failed to notice revealed a modest amount of bosom, and the same violet necklace she had worn to church, the pendant resting just above her cleavage.

"I very much like your necklace, the design is beautiful. Do you mind if I have a closer look?" he said, and, leaning forward, he gently lifted the intricately worked cabochon from where it lay, looking at it closely.

The tiniest of flowers petalled in violet and lavender covered the surface, each one subtly different from its' neighbour, the whole suffused with an iridescent lustre, and exquisitely detailed. He softly tilted it to catch the light, admiring as he did so the skill and delicacy with which it had been made.

The warmth of his fingers touching her skin sent a ripple of sensuality through Jayne's body, and as he studied the jewel, she studied his features with an equal concentration. Brown eyes and fair hair, an uncommon combination, she thought. His long hair fascinated her, falling over his shoulders in defiance of modern styles, and she stifled a sudden urge to run her hand over its' glossy surface.

Clifford looked up.

"How very beautiful. One of a kind, I imagine?"

"Yes I am" she replied

They both laughed, and then, realising he was still holding the pendant, he let it fall back to its' resting place on her breast. Quickly she took hold of his hand, not wanting to lose the physical connection between them, and looking deep into his eyes, said quietly,

"It's very warm in here. Shall we go and get some fresh air?"

"Of course, let's go. We could go and walk by the river, if you like?"

Having paid the waitress, they left behind the slightly claustrophobic world of cream teas and lace curtains, and stepped out onto the pavement, hand in hand.

Slipping down an alleyway between timbered houses leaning so close together that they almost obscured the sky, they made their way to an area of parkland through which the river ran. Small children ran about on the grass as their mothers chatted, while others at the water's edge threw bread for the ducks, older couples looking on indulgently.

Jayne and Clifford followed the path along the riverbank as it meandered its' way out of town and into wider and more open countryside, where willow trees drooped gracefully into the water. The childrens' voices were now hardly audible, and they paused to look over the river to the fields beyond, green meadows and fields of wheat in the distance. A minute passed in silence, until Clifford turned away from the view, and placing his arm around Jayne's shoulders, drew her towards him in a sensual and loving embrace.

Gently lifting up her chin, he bent down to kiss her, hoping she would not consider it untoward ; on the contrary, Jayne turned her face upwards like a flower to the sun, closing her eyes in bliss as their lips met. She curled her hand around his neck to pull him closer, never wanting the kiss to end. . . it was such a perfect moment, so often imagined and so long overdue.

Overhead the sun beat down, and the warm summer air was filled with the sounds of the river rippling by on its long journey to the sea. In the distance, a church bell was chiming, and the light behind her eyes burned a molten gold. She felt as weightless as a butterfly, unsteady on her feet as they eventually broke apart, and they stood blinking in the daylight's glare, surprised and delighted in equal measures.

Neither of them knew what to say, indeed if there was anything that needed to be said at that moment, instead a mutual realisation that their friendship had in those few seconds irrevocably changed into something much more meaningful. The world around them continued on its everyday path, but they felt transformed in some way they felt unable to define in words. It felt as if it had been a long time coming, this new and shimmering feeling, and neither Jayne nor Clifford felt equal to attempting to explain it.

They had both been disappointed in what they had at least believed was love, and maybe it had been, for a short while. But circumstances had proved otherwise, and they felt reluctant to associate their blossoming relationship with the shadows of past failures.

Jayne had, in fact, been married briefly some years before, but the marriage fell apart when it became apparent that it was impossible to live on hearts and flowers, except in fairy tales, and the divorce came as something of a relief to both partners. And there had been other, fleeting liasons since, but little of consequence, and she did not go out of her way to encourage such things to happen. She had worried that she might be too set in her ways, or possibly too selfish, to open herself up to the possibility of a serious relationship, but since she had met Clifford, she felt something of a sea-change in her emotions, and the dawning of a new optimism in her outlook.

To a reserved kind of man such as Clifford, Jayne's lively personality was a delightful novelty, and the fact that they both appeared to share many interests was surely only more proof of the kindly intervention of the hand of fate. Intelligent, and very attractive too, destiny must have held him in special favour to send such a nonpareil into his life ; perhaps the years he had spent in perfecting his craftsmanship had been rewarded in a way that only now seemed to make sense to him.

Had he not been such a skilled artisan, he would not have been given the task of restoring the Morville monument ; ergo he would not have been in the church when Jayne called in, and so it was more than obvious that everything up to this moment had already been written in the stars. As to where the heavenly bodies might next lead him, he could only hopefully imagine. 

As the afternoon wore on, they sat by the riverbank, talking quietly and watching the sunlight send glittering diamonds over the surface of the water.

"You might think this odd, but I feel sort of, well, spellbound. . . does that even make sense? said Jayne, as she took off her sandals and slipped her feet into the shallow water, feeling the slippery caress of water grasses along her toes.

Clifford looked at her, raising his eyebrows in slight bemusement.

"Well, you could call it that, I suppose. Everything does feel rather different than it did before...."

His voiced trailed off, unsure of what to say.

"Before the kiss? Or before we met?"

"Both. I'm not sure how to explain it, but whatever it is, it's a feeling that I want to stay with me. And I want you to stay with me too."

Jayne smiled at him fondly, and squeezed his hand to reassure him that she had no intentions of doing otherwise. Leaning forward, she brushed the curtain of hair from where it had fallen over his brow, and looked deep into his eyes.

"I'm not going anywhere"

It was a somewhat subdued Jayne who sat at her computer the next afternoon, after what had felt like an interminable morning at work, listlessly re-reading the little she had written towards her book, the project that not so long ago had been so enthusiastic about. At this rate, many of the places she had once been so keen to rescue (in print, at least) from oblivion, would have crumbled into dust or been consumed by damp, and she felt a keen disloyalty to the architectural heritage she formerly felt herself to be a champion of.

Somehow, the passion had dwindled, having been replaced by a newer and more compelling focus, which ate up all her concentration and energy.  She might as well admit it to herself, thought Jayne, that she was falling for Clifford with a rapidity that left her at once exhilarated and unsettled, and could no more gather her thoughts to continue her writing than she could gather up a handful of confetti once flung into the air.

It defied sense, after all they had met but three times now, even though she felt she'd known him for much longer. There was a sense of apartness about him, a singularity and quiet disregard for conformity that she found intensely appealing, quite apart from the physical attraction he held for her.

Jayne's previous interactions with the opposite sex had been so far in the past that she had largely forgotten what she thought of as the rules of engagement ; it had been apparent that even now, in the 21st century, the ways by which couples might begin to conduct a relationship were every bit as prescribed as any which might have been encountered by a character of Jane Austen's creation.

It had really all been too much trouble for her, given the assorted misfits she had wasted so much time and effort on, only to be disappointed one way or another., and she was kept busy with her part time position at the local library, and her fledgling book.

She wondered if they might go out for a meal, or, better yet, invite him over for supper? She would feel more confident and relaxed in familiar surroundings, and it would give them an opportunity to get to know each other better, away from public gaze ; it seemed like an excellent idea. With a slight sense of panic she wondered how the evening might progress, once supper was finished - after all, they could hardly gaze lovingly at each other over a table of dirty dishes - and the wine, which might of course be useful in lowering any inhibitions caused by over politeness, or nerves - might prove to be another problem. More than a glass or two, and he would be unable to drive home again - whether this might be by design or accident, who could say - and he would be obliged to spend the night there.

Jayne silently cursed herself for overthinking the possibilities of the evening. It was a singularly frustrating facet of her character, this micro analysis of every conceivable outcome to any given situation, even the most appealing, until sometimes, feeling just too daunted by the whole thing, she would give up, thereby denying her of many potential happinesses and opportunities.

However, there was too much at stake to be too disheartened by the array of  misgivings that were in danger of eating up her self confidence, and, clearing her mind from the mists of doubt, she addressed the situation with a renewed clarity and energy.

Clifford, she knew already, was a gentle and reasonable man, kindly and patient, and if, as was unlikely, something should go awry with their evening, well, it hardly mattered. And the matter of the wine, she realised, was nothing to worry about at all. It was an act of some dishonesty that she had considered it a problem, because the thought of waking up with him in the morning was deeply desirable to her. Feeling much more positive, Jayne glanced at the clock and got ready to go out, but not before messaging Clifford with an invite to supper tomorrow evening. 

Rain was falling steadily the next day as a small green van pulled up outside Jayne's house, an ordinary terraced cottage in an unremarkable street, and Clifford looked up hopefully, to see a lamp shining brightly in every window. Within its walls, Jayne prowled the rooms, checking and re-checking that everything looked exactly right for the special evening ahead. It was an old house, with uneven floors and crooked ceilings, having settled into itself over the years, originally a home to a millworker, his wife and numerous children, but now occupied only by Jayne and her cat. Given the smallness of its rooms, she would often try to imagine how life must have been, imagining the clattering of tiny clog-shod feet across the quarry tiled floor, and pinafores hung up to dry on the rack over the fireplace, which now held bunches of dried lavender and the occasional greeting card. The wide fireplace still held the original blackleaded cooking range, now only for show as central heating rendered the diminutive dwelling more than adequately cosy, and Jayne had placed the sweet peas in a silver vase on the mantelpiece, and their drowsy sugar almond scent filled the room.

She heard a vehicle come to a halt outside, and hurried up the narrow stairs to look down upon Clifford, illuminated in the yellow sodium of the streetlight, as he stepped up to the door.

With a final glance in the mirror, she came down stairs as quickly as she dared, and opened the door wide, smiling as she did so.

"Come in out of the rain! it's so lovely to see you again."

"And you too! You can't imagine how much I have been looking forward to this evening!" 

Stepping into the tiny hallway, he put down the bottle of wine he was carrying, and slipped his arm around her waist, and kissed her.

" Forgive me my lack of manners! But you look so beautiful, I couldn't stop myself. . . you really are amazing"

Jayne blushed at the compliment, secretly pleased that her efforts had not gone unnoticed, and took him by the hand as she led him into the living room. Looking around, he noticed with interest the beamed ceiling and walls slightly bowed with age, and the quaint decorative objects she had collected over the years ; nothing valuable or even rare, and some of them in far from perfect condition, but each with some special personal relevance and story to tell. The ambience of the room spoke volumes about the character of its owner, revealing sensibilities not unlike his own, and he immediately felt at home.

As Jayne went into the kitchen to fetch wineglasses, she pretended not to notice Clifford's lingering glance at her curvaceous figure, having chosen a dress which clung alluringly to her contours. She was already well aware that its plunging neckline, revealing an inviting expanse of creamy white bosom, had given him some pleasurable difficulties in remaining focused, and smiled to herself.

Meanwhile, Clifford found himself rambling on by way of conversation  about 19th century industrial housing and the philanthropy of mill owners, as some sort of ineffective distraction to the thoughts currently running through his mind, exciting images of what he hoped might happen later ; thoughts of Jayne melting into his embrace with a passion equal to his own, and the dress slipping from her shoulders to reveal her breasts, as inviting as ripe fruits, into which he would bury his face...

Reappearing from the kitchen, Jayne brandished a corkscrew.

"Will you do the honours with the wine?" she said, perhaps a little too brightly. 

Relieved at having something to do which would spare both of them  the awkwardness of his meandering monologue, not to mention a distraction from his growing physical response to his thoughts, Clifford opened the bottle of wine and poured them each a glass, the ruby liquid reflecting back the glimmers of candlelight.

"To us, and the evening which lies before us" he said, handing one of the glasses to Jayne.

"To us, and que sera sera" she replied, and took a gulp rather larger than necessary, hoping before long to feel the relaxing warmth of the wine soothing her slight jitteriness, little suspecting that in reality, Clifford found it a most attractive quality. He was a man to whom most things and situations appeared to be made up of apparent opposites making a balanced whole, darkness and light, rough and smooth, one not existing without the other in some measure, and giving an equilibrium to his life and work in which he found stability and purpose. Jayne's nervous energy corresponded well with his slight reserve and stoicism, and it pleased him a great deal to find such a pattern within their relationship, reminding him yet again of the long awaited intervention of fate.

"Supper will be ready in about 15 minutes" she said. "I do hope you are hungry"

A broad grin spread over his face.

"YesI am, very much so. I can't tell you how much I have been looking forward to this."

Smiling, Jayne hoped that everything would turn out alright with the meal she had so carefully planned, with as much worry and preparation as if it had been a dinner party for a dozen critics of fine dining, instead of an apparently simple supper for two.

If he had seen her that afternoon, she thought, as she returned from the library laden down with half a dozen weighty cookery books, with wet hair from the unexpected rain, and a glum expression from an exasperating morning at work, he might have had second thoughts about the evening to come.

Much as she thought of herself, quite correctly, as a sensible and independent modern woman, the preparations for later that day sent her into a tailspin of panic. She flicked through the books, rapidly assessing the recipes, then dismissing them as too elaborate, or conversely, too simple : although she was a perfectly good cook, living alone had not presented her with too many opportunities to practice her skills and imagination in the kitchen, and it took some little while before she came to a decision.

No matter then, that the afternoon's efforts used up most of her modest array of saucepans, or that there had to be a hasty and unplanned outing in search of missing ingredients, for by five o'clock the kitchen was calm once more, with only the ticking of the clock to break the silence.

As she lay in the bath, counting down the minutes and feeling pretty pleased with herself, Jayne ran through the menu yet again : pasta with chicken and porcini, in a sauce of cream, brandy and black pepper, a salad with watercress and pinenuts, and to finish a tart of halved apricots, melting into a base of moist frangipane, which filled the kitchen with the heady scent of almonds. She sighed with satisfaction, and reached for the towel.

Clifford and Jayne sat together on the sofa, watching the rain continue to send silver streams down the window pane.

"I've brought you a present" he said "I'm just going to fetch it from the van. Don't go away!"

"As if! "she laughed

"One minute and all will be revealed"

And with that, he leaned forward to kiss her, before springing up to go outside.

During his brief absence, Jayne remembered the disastrous dinner dates she'd endured in the past, where a bunch of supermarket flowers (sometimes with the price label still attatched, as if to draw attention to the apparent generosity of the gift) had been proffered as some kind of exchange for the possibility of sexual favours later in the evening, and felt a shiver of revulsion at the memory. It had not taken more than a couple such encounters for her to decide that it was hardly worth the effort, for presumably all the decent and goodhearted men had been snapped up by now, leaving only the base opportunists and those beyond all redemption, philandering husbands being the very bottom of the pile.

But she felt different with Clifford, for he had a warmth and an openness to his character, in his company she felt appreciated and even beautiful, and above all, he asked nothing of her which she was not already eager to give him. She felt blessed.

Clifford closed the front door behind him, shutting out the summer evening's rain, and smiled almost shyly as he held out to her a small flattish package, wrapped none too neatly in brown paper.

"Apologies for the less than ideal presentation, but it's something I thought you might like. . . it's not new, not at all, but I thought that might be preferable to you. . open it, please"

Her curiosity piqued, Jayne tore open the wrapping as he watched.

Inside there lay a piece of stained glass, looking dark and unremarkable in the subdued light, so she went into the brightness of the kitchen to examine it more closely, holding it up to the light.

The colours in the glass panel came alive in her hand ; sapphire, gold and azure gleaming as brightly as on the day that they had been so carefully pieced together with lead over 150 years ago, and Jayne was mesmerised, turning the glass this way and that to reveal the depths of light and shadow within the colours.

"It is early Victorian glass from a disused church, the windows were removed for safe keeping, but were sold when the church itself was redeveloped into a dwelling . . . I was able to acquire one of them,  and this was left over from  refitting it elsewhere. I hope you like it." said Clifford.

Jayne was only half listening, intently studying the image before her, the painted glass depicting a butterfly with gold and saffron wings resting on a curled green frond of fern, all surrounded by a jewelled border of mosaic-like fragments like a portrait.

She looked from the glass to Clifford, and feeling tears prickling her eyes, quickly looked away again, feeling a warm flush of emotion reddening her cheeks. She felt momentarily overwhelmed by both the perfect suitability of his small gift, and the kind consideration which lay behind its selection, but before she could even thank him, he wrapped his arms around her in a warm and heartfelt embrace, softly smoothing his hand over her hair, and leaving her to mumble her gratitude into his shoulder.

"Thankyou so much, it's so lovely" she said, eventually, when she had discreetly untangled herself from his hair, now only a little damp with the one or two teardrops she hadn't quite managed to blink back.

"And I have an idea where this could go, it would be just perfect. Perhaps I'll show you later, after we have eaten"

Clifford thought he might have seen a seductive twinkle in her eye as she spoke, and hoped it was more than just wishful thinking on his part.

He tried his best to convince himself that it was simply going to be a pleasant evening with someone he already considered a loved one, whether she was aware of it or otherwise, but deep inside he knew his heart had overruled any misgivings he might have had, and he was not so much falling in love as already well and truly fallen. The rapidity with which Jayne had turned his world upside down both astonished and delighted him, and he had surrendered himself to the unexpected rush of emotion like a skydiver in freefall. 

Supper turned out to be a leisurely affair, seated at the small table under the window , where the rain continued to beat against the panes. Across the room,, the little cat had taken advantage of their mutual absorption to seat herself in the rocking chair, from where she fixed her orange unblinking gaze upon Clifford, sensing a rival for her mistress's affections.

The hours ticked by as they ate, and talked, and drank more wine, until Clifford remembered what she had promised earlier.

"And where is it you are planning to put the glass panel? you said you would tell me after supper . . ."

"Oh yes!" she replied, and, rising from the table, she took his hand and led him to the stairs, carefully picking up the piece of glass along the way.

His heartbeat quickened, and for a moment, Clifford was sure he could hear the very sound of his blood coursing through his veins like a river rushing towards a waterfall. Such an apparently bold development to the evening had left him nonplussed, not to mention unsure of how to react. He glanced at her, and she read the uncertainty in his features.

"Come with me, I want to show you something" she said, motioning upwards with a wave of her hand, towards where an open door shone light upon the steep narrow stairs.

Jayne's bedroom was suffused with a rosy pink glow from the bedside lamp, the walls a plain ivory cream colour. It contained very little by way of furnishings, there being apart from the bed only a wardrobe and a fussy Victorian dressing table, overburdened with mirrored panels and arched shelving and spiky finials, until it resembled more a miniature gothic cathedral than a useable piece of furniture.

Leading him to the far corner of the room, she paused in front of a small, rustically boarded door and lifted the latch with a soft click.

"And now more stairs, so please be careful!"

They  ascended to a small attic room, tucked beneath the eaves of the house, with a steeply pitched roof, and one small dormer window. So small were its dimensions that Clifford could stand fully upright in only the centre of the room, if it could even be called that.

"it was I think, a bedroom for children, or perhaps a maidservant, as it had a seperate staircase to the kitchen, very steep . . the door in the bedroom originally opened onto a kind of landing, the wall of which was taken down to enlarge the room. I love this space, it has an atmosphere all its own, I can't really explain it. . ."

Jayne's voice trailed off as she looked around at the rough plaster walls and the single bare light bulb narrowly missing Clifford's head ; there had been plans to turn it into some kind of study, or even a guest bedroom, even though it could contain very little apart from the smallest of beds, and luckily its inaccessibility had prevented her from using it as a store room.

Clifford's gaze followed the lines of the wooden beams, his craftsman's appraising eye noting the rough contours of the wood where they had been finished with speed rather than care, knowing they would hardly be seen in the attic of the finished dwelling. Running a practiced hand over the walls, he could feel the indents left by the edge of a workman's trowel as he smoothed the plaster into place almost two hundred years ago.

"What an astonishing place, and even better for having been left more or less untouched" he said, looking closely at the small window which still contained its original glazing of uneven crown glass, offering a slightly distorted view of the street beneath.

Jayne took the panel of stained glass, its detailing all but invisible in the weak light, and placed it carefully in the window, leaning it against the glass, switching off the light as she did so. A pale silvery moonlight was now the only illumination, and all was silent for a moment or two.

She turned towards Clifford, looking full into his face now also washed over with the glow of the moon, and to her he resembled a pale and beautiful medieval alabaster carving.

"When the sun rises, this is the first part of the house to receive its light, directly through this window. If we are blessed with a proper sunrise tomorrow, we will be able to see the colours as they were meant to be, lit by the sun."

Clifford noted her use of that particular pronoun, and hoped it was not a wine-induced slip of the tongue.

As if she could read his mind, Jayne slipped her arms around his neck to draw him closer, breathing in the scent of patchouli oil.

"Yes, I do mean "we" . . . will you stay?"

And nodding assent, he replied with three words of his own.

"I love you."

It was still dark when Jayne first began to stir, her slumbers disturbed by the very first notes of birdsong. She reached out an exploratory hand, smoothing it over the covers as she tried to remember the last few hours - but she was alone in the bed, and felt a wave of uncertainty.

Turning on the light, there was no sign of Clifford, and her heart experienced a sinking feeling, wondering what on earth could have happened ; the last thing she could remember was falling asleep, drifting into a deep and dreamless sleep as she lay cocooned in the warmth of his arms. She remembered they had laid down on the bed together, feeling a delicious sense of security and being in a hazy dreamlike state, as if she were enfolded in softest marshmallow - but what of now? 

The tortoiseshell cat bounded up the stairs and leaped onto the bed, purring and loudly demanding attention, and as Jayne absent-mindedly ruffled her fur, she couldn't help feeling rather annoyed with herself.

This is all my doing, she thought crossly ; if I had not had that last glass of wine (which had seemed like a good idea at the time), I would not have fallen asleep, and the evening might have taken a different direction. He must have gone home. And a silent tear of self pity slowly rolled down her cheek.

Just then a noise from downstairs distracted her thoughts, and, slipping on her dressing gown, she hurried down the stairs to investigate, the little cat running swiftly ahead and almost tripping her over. The living room was still in darkness, but from the kitchen came sounds of activity, and she cautiously pushed open the door.

"Good morning, sleepyhead!" said Clifford, as he poured boiling water into two china mugs, and the aroma of coffee permeated the kitchen.

"And if I remember rightly, one sugar and not much milk?"

Jayne nodded weakly as she took the mug from him, feeling a huge sense of relief, and chiding herself for her presumptions. The warmth revived her a little, and she smiled at him, already up and active while she felt like nothing more than returning to bed, only perhaps not by herself.

"You were so very tired last night. . . after you had shown me the attic, we laid on the bed for a little while . . just cuddling. . and you fell asleep. You looked so peaceful lying there that I didn't want to disturb you, so I put the duvet over you and went downstairs."

Jayne blushed with embarrassment as she listened to his words.

"Do you remember what we had planned for this morning?"

"Oh yes! the sunrise!" she replied.

"The sun will rise at five minutes past six, and the forecast is for clear skies" he said.

Glancing at the kitchen clock, now showing 5.45 am, he took hold of her hand, and led her through the living room, indicating the sofa as he did so.

"And it's really not too uncomfortable to serve as a bed, even though I had to share it for part of the night" he chuckled, stroking the little cat's back as she weaved around their legs.

"You slept on the sofa?" asked Jayne, incredulously.

"Of course" he replied, suddenly serious. "I would not be so ill mannered as to presume you wanted me to share your bed. It would have been the worst kind of misconduct on my part. And although we have not been together very long, I'd like to think that it could happen at some point."

"Some point very soon" broke in Jayne, before she could stop herself.

He smiled, and embraced her, feeling the warmth of her body beneath the flimsy silk of her dressing gown, and for the briefest of moments he entertained the thought of taking her at her word there and then. But, ever cautious, he banished the idea before it could take root in his mind.

"I couldn't agree more. As for now, let's go up to the attic and watch the sun rise."

By now the sky had changed from velvety black to a deep midnight blue, as the horizon began to imperceptibly lighten with the first silver and gold streaks of sunrise, and they made their way, hand in hand, to the tiny attic room. To Jayne's surprise, Clifford had already placed a tealight within a glass jar in one corner, and there was laid out on the floor an old fashioned feather-filled eiderdown of the kind she had not seen or used for many years.

"I brought it in from the van, for us to sit on ; don't worry, it is quite clean." he said.

Jayne plumped up the quilt as best she could, and sat down in the faint square of light cast by the window, looking up at the rapidly lightening sky, the last stars now receding, and the moon a pale and ghostly silhouette. Clifford knelt beside her, wrapping his arms around her tightly, kissing her neck as the dressing gown slipped from her shoulders. With a gentle gesture, he lifted her chin and bent down to kiss her, his hair falling down like a soft curtain as he ran his hands over her body, delighting in the soft voluptuousness of her curves and the passion of her response.

And so one thing led to another, and the sun rose entirely unobserved that morning. 

Early September brought a welcome resurgence of summer weather after what seemed like weeks of grey showery days, and however beneficial it may have been for gardens, it had done little to contradict the feeling that Autumn was none too far away. However, this particular morning looked set fair for Jayne and Clifford's somewhat delayed trip to Actonford church. Not that either had forgotten about it, but the addictive attraction of cosy candlelit evenings (and occasionally entire nights) at Jayne's house had somewhat diminished their enthusiasm for outside distractions of late.

Clifford often cast his mind back to that golden morning, when they had first made love beneath the skies of breaking dawn, in the tiny attic room. It had been such a long time since he had felt so overwhelmed with emotion, and even now, a couple of weeks later, the recollection brought a fond and slightly dazed smile to his face. He had always thought of himself as a man of some reserve ; cautious, patient and methodical in his ways, as befitted his occupation, but they were qualities he had had to learn, rather than them being naturally inherent. The long hours spent working on fragile woodwork, brittle with age, had taught him perseverance and careful consideration, only too aware that a hasty and ill-judged slip with saw or chisel could ruin the work of days. Or, worst of all, the work of centuries. Now it seemed that meeting Jayne, and falling in love with her so dramatically and unexpectedly, had unlocked something of his carefree former self, and other people were beginning to notice a difference. He was certainly the same pleasant Clifford but now a new and improved version, quicker to smile and more outgoing. It was the little things which betrayed his new status as part of a loving relationship ; oftentimes, he could be heard singing (though it must be said, with no great melodic finesse) as he applied yet another coat of varnish to an endless number of Edwardian dining chairs in the yard. His usual faded and overwashed t-shirts had been replaced by new shirts, and even the green van, usually begrimed and shabby, returned one day spotless and gleaming with polish. Additionally, the sharper eyed of his neighbours had noticed that it was, on occasion, missing overnight.

Jayne pulled up outside Clifford's house, pretending not to notice the twitching of lace curtains next door, and crossed the cobbled yard to where she could see the workshop door standing open, knocking lightly as she entered.

He looked up at the sound to see her standing there on the threshold, with the sun behind her giving her an angelic golden aura, and his heart overflowed with emotion. Rushing over to her, he embraced her, lifting her feet from the floor in his enthusiasm as he did so, and she laughed out loud in surprise.

"How lovely to see you! Please excuse the mess, I'm just locking up here and we can be on our way" he said.

Jayne looked around the workshop with curiosity, never having been there before, thinking it didn't look too much in a mess at all ; the long workbench held serried ranks of tools, the purpose of most of which were a mystery to her, all  arranged according to size and usage as neatly as a surgeon's instruments, and the floor had recently been swept clean. A pungent smell of linseed oil and turpentine hung in the air.

"You could go over to the house if you prefer, the back door is open" he said.

"No, it's fine" she replied, and Clifford silently breathed a sigh of relief.

There was so much work that needed doing in the house, he'd had so many plans for it, and precious little time to execute any of them. It was serviceable dwelling, and comfortable enough, in a basic kind of way, but stored at the back of the workshop lay a collection of architectural items and furniture in dire need of restoration, some of which he had hoped to incorporate into the house some day. His pride and joy was a grand four poster bed, not genuinely ancient, or he could never have afforded it, but a handsome Victorian attempt at a Tudor sensibility, with carved roses and pomegranates amongst its decoration, but having no-one to appreciate its beauty with, he had left it neglected beneath a dusty tarpaulin.

The house would need a good deal of work to make it just right before - and here Clifford was genuinely surprised by the direction his thoughts had taken - before he could ask Jayne to come and live with him. Dismissing it as a fantasy, he locked both doors behind them, and turning to her, said,

"I hope you don't mind, but we have to make a small detour en route, but it is to somewhere I think you quite like"

"Where might that be?" she replied, raising her eyebrows in amusement.

"Fairley church, if you remember?"

"Where we met? That would be lovely! Why are we going there, except for romantic memories?"

"I have had an enquiry about replacing a door in the church, and I need to make a quick assessment and provide an estimate of the cost later on. It really won't take long."

Jayne nodded happily as she slid into the passenger's seat of the now pristine green van.  The difference had not escaped her notice, and she rather unnecessarily congratulated herself on being such a good influence on her new partner.

The countryside flew past, with the trees still as green as ever, but the fields now brown and bare after harvest, as they drove the twenty or so miles to Fairley. 

"I just have to call at the rectory to pick up the key" said Clifford.

"I thought the church was open during the day?"

"It is, but we are visiting a part not open to visitors ; the door in question is actually at the top of the tower . . er, how are you with heights?"

Jayne smiled brightly. "Absolutely fine" she fibbed, although her heart was beginning to sink.

As they approached Fairley, a large Victorian house came into view, and Jayne recognised the swaying willow trees where they had spent a pleasant afternoon over the teacups in the garden.

"Here we are" said Clifford. "Come with me?"

As they crunched up the gravel path, Jayne looked at the building before her. The rectory was solidly made of red brick, with attractive bay windows either side of the front door, just the kind of house I could live in, if I had a partner to share it with, she thought wistfully to herself. She imagined herself and Clifford in such a home, bought with the proceeds of her very successful and prolific writing career, the rooms artistically and sympathetically furnished, with something to please the eye wherever one looked. She imagined herself in a book-lined study, writing at a beautiful walnut desk, with the little cat in the window, looking out at the apple trees heavy with fruit dotted along the edge of the garden. In her mind's eye, she saw Clifford in his brand new workshop, carefully selecting the finest pieces of limewood ready for carving, and honing his chisel to razor sharpness . . . and then, unbidden and unconsciously, she imagined a bedroom across the landing, where a little girl with fair hair was playing with her dolls' house . .

Her reverie was shattered by a loud creak as the front door opened, to reveal the harrassed-looking face of Carol, the vicar's wife, who she had met so briefly at the garden party.

"Good morning! Excuse the pandemonium, I have the grandchildren here, and they are running riot in my breakfast room!"

She seemed very flustered, and scooped up a large iron key from a small table, hurriedly pressing it into Clifford's outstretched hand.

A large crash echoed from down the hallway, followed by sounds of crying and shouting.

"Oh dear God in heaven, whatever now! I must go! put the key back under yonder flowerpot when you're done! Bye!"

And with that, the door slammed shut in their bemused faces.

With wry smiles and rueful shaking of heads, they walked over to the church, while Jayne thought guiltily of the latter part of her doorstep daydream, and did her best to dismiss it from her mind.

A vague fragrance of incense still hung in the chill air inside the church, the warmth of the day yet to penetrate its thick stone walls. It felt so good to return to this special place, the place where they had so unexpectedly first made their acquaintance, and Jayne looked around at the now-familiar furnishings. There was something different, more flowers than usual ; two large untidy arrangements stood by the altar, with white roses and sugar pink delphiniums amongst a riot of ferns and ivy, and the pew ends had been decorated with greenery and festoons of pink ribbons. A wedding, she thought to herself, not noticing the order of service for a christening laid on the lectern. Given the faint sense of disquiet she already felt about her earlier thoughts, it was probably just as well. She wandered over to where Clifford had already opened a tiny door in a far wall, running her fingers along the carved tracery of the font as she passed.

She looked doubtfully into the shadows beyond the door, where she could see the beginnings of a spiral staircase  winding its way upwards.

"Come on Jayne, it's an adventure!" he said cheerfully.

"Very well, but you must go first!" she replied, her voice sounding much more confident than she actually felt.

With some trepidation, they ascended the twisting stairs, the dust of ancient stonework crunching beneath their feet. Jayne grasped the rope handrail as if her life depended on it as they made their curving way upwards, passing two or three small arched doors as they went. She was not fond of heights, and was for once grateful that the dark shadows hid the steep falling away of the stairs behind her.

Clifford came to an abrupt halt on what she could just make out to be a small landing, from where rose a wooden stepladder to yet another door.

"And here we are, and this is the door in question" said Clifford, shining the flashlight of his phone onto its dusty and weatherbeaten surface, before stepping lightly onto the ladder (which creaked ominously) to lift the latch and fling the door outwards, flooding the tiny chamber with daylight. 

Jayne followed him, stepping carefully on the ancient rungs, and very relieved to be out in the fresh air once more. A crenellated parapet ran at waist height round the edge of the tower, with the door by which they had entered tucked into a miniature lowish tower of its own in one corner, the roof surface laid with lead panels whitened by exposure to the elements. From their elevated viewpoint, they could see a patchwork of green fields almost to the horizon, dotted with trees and striped with hedgerows, and in the slight hollows of the landscape there still lingered ghostly whisps of morning mist, even though the sun was already half way up the sky.

To the left could be seen the village of Fairley, clustered for the most part around a crossroads where the venerable black and white timbered Green Man Inn and the severely plain Methodist chapel faced each other in a perpetual if silent struggle for the attentions of the people of the village.

To the right lay open countryside as far as the eye could see, bisected only by a meandering silver ribbon of a river as it wound its way lazily across meadows. It was, reflected Jayne, the same river that also ran through Weirford, and the one upon whose banks they had shared their first kiss.

She had expected to feel afraid, so high above the ground, but instead felt only a deep sense of peace and happiness as she listened to the birdsong under the wide blue sky. Far below, she watched a man mowing in the churchyard, and the sharp green scent of cut grass filled the air. Even though it was already September, it felt as if it was still summer, although the certainty of change lay just around the corner, and, lost in her thoughts, Jayne was unaware of time passing. Clifford came over to her, and slipped his arm around her waist.

"Sweetheart, forgive me if I've been inattentive ; but you looked so beautiful as you were gazing out over the fields there, I didn't want to break the spell for you. I might be presuming much, but it looked like a private moment for you, some kind of contemplation even . ."

Jayne smiled. He was quite right.

"I've done my assessment of the door" he said "taken the photos, done the measurements and so on, I will email them over later on, so as of now we are free to do as we please." said Clifford.

His practical words gave away nothing of the other, less rational thoughts currently spinning through his mind, and, lost for words, they fell into a companiable silence, sharing a tranquility and feeling no need to speak lest it dispel the magic. It almost felt, in some strange way, as if they were suspended beneath earth and sky, looking down upon a world which now seemed a transformed place, full of promise and possibilities, in which anything might happen.

The old Clifford would never have allowed himself to feel the altered state of being that he now experienced, as he stood so close to Jayne, feeling the softness and weight of her body as she leant back ever so slightly against him. Surely she was the one, he thought, the one I am meant to be with?

As if she could read his mind, she turned away from the view to nestle her head against his chest, feeling his racing heartbeat as he wrapped his arms around her.

He could see now that the independence he had once prized seemed pale and inadequate when compared to this new feeling of belonging, of being wanted. And moreover, wanted for who he was, and not what he could do, or could be got out of him, for once.

The way he had immersed himself in his work, the lights in the workshop often burning until far into the night - it now seemed like a desperate attempt to avoid loneliness. It was true that, for the most part, he enjoyed his work, at which he was skilled and held in high regard for, but he had known all along that there were other dimensions to existence, dimensions whichhad previously seemed to evade him one way or another.

A past girlfriend had once told him, unhelpfully, that she considered him a man whose potential remained  much more unfulfilled than realised, though she gave him no clue as how to address the situation.

The comment had laid heavy on his mind for a long time.

Perhaps the time had come to listen to his heart, and act upon what he read there.

Suddenly there was a fluttering movement in the air, attracting his attention, and he turned his head to see a small amber coloured butterfly alight on the lichen mottled stonework near to them, spreading its wings wide to soak up the sunshine. It rested for the briefest of moments before launching itself into the air and continuing on its erratic flightpath, upwards and away. 

If he had been waiting for the fates to send him a sign, then surely they had not made him wait too long at all. 

"Jayne," he said. "I want to ask you a question."

She half-turned, narrowing her eyes against the glare of the sun, and looked at Clifford enquiringly. He looked serious, like someone preparing themselves to deliver bad news, and in spite of the warmth of the day, she felt a sudden chill.

She smiled encouragingly, hoping that this sudden gravity did not herald the arrival of one of those awful moments such as she had experienced before ; the breakup of a relationship, replete with much handwringing,  faux despair, and the inevitable "it's not you, it's me".  They had been getting on so well, perhaps he was afraid of commitment, or maybe it had all been an elaborate fantasy hiding god knew what awful secret. Fearing the worst, she silently prayed that whatever was coming next would be, if not painless, at least brief.

Clifford cleared his throat nervously, and took a deep breath, as if he were about to dive underwater.

"Jayne, will you marry me?"

For several seconds (although they both later agreed that it had felt like an eternity), Jayne could say nothing, opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish, aware of appearing somewhat foolish, but unable to stop herself.

Eventually he broke the silence, grateful at least that she had not said no immediately.

"You don't have to say anything right now. But please say you'll think about it, or even consider it."

"This is something of a surprise, to say the least" she replied, finding her voice at last.

"Yes, I know, and I'm sorry for the suddenness ; I have been thinking a lot about how things are between us, and last night I decided that it was time I said something. I am glad I have asked you, whatever the outcome.

Even if you say no, I still want to be with you, assuming you'd want that"

It was Jayne's turn to look serious.

"Clifford, now I have a question for you. One to which you might not know the answer ."

He looked puzzled for a moment.

"Which is?"

"How soon can it be? " 

The next day, Clifford went about his work with a renewed purpose and energy, still feeling astonished at his impetuousness, and even more so at her response. The giddy delight at this great leap forward in their relationship would soon be brought down to earth (albeit gently) by the many arrangements needing to be made. There was, after all, a registry office ceremony to book, and after much discussion, they  had decided that his house would be their future home. Much as Jayne felt great affection for her cottage, any sadness she might have felt at giving it up was softened by the thought of bringing her eye for detail to new surroundings ; and creating a proper home for them both, filled with warmth and love, one that reflected the best of both of their personalities. Not forgetting the tortoiseshell cat, of course.

There remained the perennially thorny question of whom, if anybody, to invite to the ceremony, not that there were many candidates they could think of. Clifford's parents were divorced, and he had kept in touch only with his mother, who lived aboard a slightly ramshackle narrowboat on an ever meandering watery circuit on the canals. She was a well-meaning, if slightly eccentric lady, with her menagerie of rescue animals now making up her household.

Conversely, Jayne's parents had, upon retirement, taken themselves off to live in Spain, in an enclave of other English people, where they had seen no need to learn any other language, daily reading the baser tabloid newspapers and congratulating themselves on their good fortune at having left the cold, miserable and utterly gone-to-the-dogs UK. Ever since Jayne's divorce, she had spoken to them infrequently, feeling little affection beyond that of filial duty and the exchange of Christmas cards. Saddened by the thought, she toyed briefly with the idea of inviting them, before dismissing it from her mind as a very foolish idea.

If they had known that their only daughter was getting married - again - to a man she had not known for more than six weeks, they would have had plenty to say, and none of it supportive or encouraging. Their disapproval of Jayne's divorce was still quite obvious even all these years later ; she had failed them in any number of ways, of which this was perhaps the worst.

And so it was that Clifford and Jayne spent a tedious evening wading through endless forms as they made plans to rearrange their presently seperate lives into a new unification, searching with mounting frustration for certificates and contracts that had apparently been misplaced. What had seemed such a simple and carefree idea just a few short days ago now seemed only to be possible via a great quantity of form filling, phone calls and emails, all bound up in much red tape.

Cross and frustrated, Clifford reached over and turned off the computer.

"I think that's quite enough for one day. Glass of wine?"

"Yes please" she replied, sighing and kicking off her shoes.

"But before that, there's something I want to give you. It would seem appropriate" he said, reaching into his pocket. "Close your eyes"

Bemused, Jayne did as she was bid, and held out her hand.

Laid softly in her palm was a ring, whose tiny stones sparkled in the light. She picked it up to look at the rosette of purple amethysts forming a violet-like flower around an iridescent opal centre. It was a beautiful piece, and she looked up at Clifford, waiting expectantly for her response.

"Is this what I think it is?"

"An engagement ring? yes . . . or am I hopelessly old-fashioned?"

No, not at all, it's just perfect" she replied, placing it on her finger, where it fitted surprisingly well, and together they admired the effect, hardly noticing that the clock on the mantlepiece had crept well past midnight. They stayed up late, as amused and excited as children.

Next morning, it was a rather sleepy Jayne who made her way into work, secretly glad that Monday mornings were usually reasonably quiet, with few customers, giving her a chance to have a tidy round, and plenty of opportunities to sparkle her new ring under the lights.

The library at which she worked was small,  situated in a former chapel building, and much loved by the people who used it, even though it was something of a crush to accommodate everything within its plain brick walls. Gone were the days when all it contained were rows of books and stern notices commanding silence ; nowadays it did its best to be all things to all people, from the brightly-carpeted childrens' book area with its box of well-loved toys, to the public access computers squeezed along the wall under the windows. A comfortable if aged sofa and easy chairs formed a pleasant reading area in the midst of the bookshelves, and it was a welcoming place to be, a sort of community hub where friends might meet.

To the right of the entrance there was a meeting room, seldom unoccupied, for the many groups who used the library, from toddlers story times to the knitting club and the family history society, reflecting the lively social life of the area.  At most times of the day, the library would be filled with conversations and queries and pleasant interractions, and it made Jayne happy to work there ; she knew many of the customers by name, and always made sure to enquire politely after their health, and their families, often being rewarded with homespun words of wisdom, a boiled sweet, or best of all, a juicy snippet of local scandal. Photographs of grandchildren would frequently be offered for approval, and Jayne was always careful to coo delightedly over them, from newborn babies to strapping young men and women in university gowns. 

As she busied herself straightening the spines of books along the shelves in a fairly distracted and dreamlike way, a lively voice broke into her reverie. She looked up to see a short figure approach the counter, looking round as she did so.

"Excuse me my dear, I would like you to issue these books for me, if you'd be so kind"

A diminutive elderly lady, clad in an emerald green fleece and matching bobble hat stood by expectantly, holding several romantic novels. There seemed to be a vague familiarity about her face, but Jayne could not place it.

"Of course. Thankyou" she said, walking behind the counter as the lady laid down her books.

"Don't I know you, young lady?" said the customer, peering closely at Jayne through her spectacles.

It amused her to be referred to as "young lady", even though she was in her late thirties, and she smiled in response.

"I do know you! I sat by you at that church in Fairley, don't you remember? when they had that service about that old gravestone or something, and the vicar went blathering on for hours, likes the sound of his own voice that one. . "

Jayne now recalled her erstwhile neighbour, she of the similarly endless medical history, in the details of which she had felt compelled to feign a polite interest, whilst inwardly feeling somewhat queasy.

"Of course I remember you. You are making an excellent recovery from your operation, I am pleased to see" replied Jayne.

"As well as can be expected at my age, dear. My doctor says it's a miracle I am even here to tell the tale. And how is your young man?"

It was Jayne's turn to look surprised.

"The young man you were with afterwards, in the garden? Though I thought it was odd that you didn't sit together in church, a lover's tiff perhaps. I know what young love is like" the lady said, with a conspiratorial and unexpected wink. "Though it looks like you've made it up now" she said, pointedly looking at the ring on Jayne's finger. And before she could stop herself, Jayne blushed and blurted out,

"We're getting married next month"

"Oh that's marvellous! Congratulations!" said the lady, clearly warming to this exciting development in the conversation. "Have you been engaged long?"

"Err, not really . . only a couple of days, in truth."

"My word, that is wasting no time" she said, casting a covert glance at Jayne's waistline to discover any potential cause for such apparent haste.

"Well that is lovely. Bye bye for now"

And placing the books in her shopping bag, the green clad figure made her way to the door.

Jayne returned to her work, amused by the encounter.

Clouds of dust rose into the air as Clifford cautiously removed the worn canvas sheeting from the random collection of items that lay in the far corner of his workshop. He had, with the best will in the world, intended to restore at least some of them, whilst others were simply things that might come in useful one day, although that day had so far failed to materialise. Consequently, the pile slowly grew, taking up useful work space, and with its silent reproachful presence, reminding Clifford daily of the opportunities concealed within, namely the disassembled four poster bed he had yet to restore.

He surveyed what had been revealed ; nothing of much, if any, worth, namely a small table which might have been useful, had it possessed the full complement of legs, and a pre-war sideboard whose original fine mahogany finish had been obliterated with a thick layer of white gloss paint by some 1960's philistine. There was a large ornate baroque style picture frame, its gilded plasterwork battered and chipped through rough handling, and Clifford sighed as he studied the once-lush swags of fruit and flowers, now fractured and broken. It was hardly worth the effort or expense of restoring, he thought, dusting off the plaster dust which fell to the ground like icing sugar. It might once have graced a grand salon, or country house, but had now come to this neglected state, a victim of changes in taste and fashions, and he put it to one side, unable to bring himself to throw it out.

And there were old wooden crates, several of them, full of old hinges, door handles and knobs, misshapen nails and other antiquated ironmongery, which clanked as he picked them up. More stuff that might come in useful, supposedly. A small blackened iron fireplace leant against the wall, its surface pitted with areas of rust in places ; a modest frieze of ivy leaves decorated the frontage, and it was a pleasing and well-designed piece. He picked it up, and inspected the damage, bursting a fragile bubble of oxidisation which crumbled and flaked away, filling the air with a sharp metallic smell. It would take no more than an afternoon to have it looking as good as new, and he carried over to rest against the workbench.

There were more panels of wood, rescued from furniture he couldn't even remember, which he had thought might prove useful in some way, and there at the back lay the substantial beams and boards of the Victorian four poster bed. With a considerable effort, he dragged them out, pleased to see that in spite of his shameful neglect, they looked to be in much the same condition as ever.

It had been his intention to give the old bed a new life, in spite of its poor condition, to make it look every bit as splendid as the day it had left the manufacturer's premises in around 1850. 

He remembered the day he bought it, a cold grey day in January at a draughty barn-like auction house that felt even colder inside than out, with a low turnout of potential buyers. Towards the late afternoon, the first flakes of snow began to fall, and the bidders drifted away in ones and twos, anxious to leave before the weather deteriorated further. Clifford's was the sole bid on the shabby and unstable looking bed, and it was with some jubilation that he loaded it into his van, not even feeling the icy wind and needles of sleety rain.

Sadly, his prize purchase, which held such promise, had lain unregarded beneath its tarpaulin shroud from that day to this, with cobwebs lacing across its carvings, and a family of mice nesting beneath its timbers.

Tracing his fingers lightly along the recessed edge of a panel, the dust which had settled there fell and drifted slowly towards the ground, as Clifford's thoughts turned to the unexpected path his life had taken. He had yet to decide whether his sudden proposal had been an uncharacteristic act of bold romance which had simply been waiting for the right moment to be set free, or one of complete and utter foolishness. And although he had no real regrets, occasionally it gave him pause for thought, being such a spontaneous and uncharacteristic gesture, with the potential for consequences he hardly dared think about. But if anything, he was a man of his word, and whatever misgivings, whether real or imagined, that came to unsettle him had to be dismissed, and so carefully replacing the canvas sheet over the sections of the bed, he turned and made his way to the house, determined to put practicality first.

Over at Jayne's house, her day off was busy with the beginnings of a reluctant packing of the contents of her bookshelves. Tottering columns of books cluttered the floor, together with cardboard boxes from which shredded paper overflowed like snowdrifts, sending the little cat into a frenzy of excitement as she hunted invisible mice and leapt from box to box. In the quietness of the morning, a phone rang somewhere amid the chaos of the room, and Jayne looked curiously at the number displayed, not recognising it.

"Hello?" she said.

"Hello, and good morning, I do hope I am not disturbing you this lovely day? Is that Jayne?"

It was a woman's voice, sounding vaguely familiar.

"Er, yes. . . who is this?" she replied cautiously.

"Aah, my name is Carol, we have met before I think, albeit ever so briefly ; my husband is the vicar at Actonford, your, um, fiance did some work in the church for us. Oh, and congratulations by the way, I knew you both would make a lovely couple"

Jayne was momentarily speechless, rather taken aback by the speed with which news of her engagement had circulated around the village.

"Oh thankyou" she said blushingly, wondering what to say next.

"Now, do forgive me if you think I am being impertinent, but a little bird has told me that you will be putting your house up for sale?"

Before Jayne could formulate a reply, Carol continued in her sing song voice that made it difficult to interrupt.

"Well, I will come straight to the point. If you think I am being too intrusive, please don't be afraid to say so ; I won't be offended, a vicar's wife needs to be not easily offended, it's a requirement of the job . . anyway, we have a new curate arriving in the parish, an absolute Godsend, quite literally, she's a lovely girl but we have nowhere for her to live . . and I was wondering if you had ever thought about renting out your lovely house?"

"Well it had never really occurred to me . . " began Jayne.

"If you would just consider it, think about it for a while and perhaps we could discuss things further? In fact, would you like to come over to the vicarage one afternoon for a chat? and cake of course" she chuckled.

Jayne was still in a state of some shock as she ended the call with a promise to drive over the following Thursday.

Picking up a pile of magazines from the sofa, she sat down to mull over this latest development. Although she had not said as much to Clifford, or at least not directly, the house meant too much to her to be let go lightly, even for the promise of love, marriage and new beginnings, and who knew what else. There had been so much invested in her little house, the first place that she could truly call her own after years of bedsits and student flats, and latterly the ex-marital home, a chilly apartment on the edge of a grim and forlorn town. She had felt it was meant for her the very first time she stepped through the door, and the emotional attachment she felt for it had only grown stronger through the years.

It was, however, impossible to ignore the fact that a commitment as serious as marriage would require sacrifices on both sides, and sense and practicality would seem to indicate that Clifford's house, with its garden and workshop, would be the obvious choice for their home.

Doing her very best to appear bright and positive, Jayne had in fact shed many bitter tears in secret over the loss of her home, even though she was looking forward greatly to all the exciting changes about to occur in the very near future. Clifford had tried his hardest to help her through these painful feelings, holding her hand as she wept as she told him about the shiny-suited estate agent who had come to value the house, barely managing to hide his disdain as he surveyed the bowed walls and uneven floor. He had given her a depressingly low estimate, dismissing it as only suitable for a holiday rental, and even then it would have to be gutted and extended. Jayne had stopped listening long before she slammed the door on his retreating back.

It had been a difficult time for them both, but this morning's serendipitous phone call had, to some extent, caused a small ray of sunlight to pierce through the grey and depressing thoughts. The little cat jumped up onto her lap, and she ruffled her plushy fur.

"Maybe, just maybe, the best is yet to come" she said.

It was with some difficulty that Jayne managed to restrain herself from ringing Clifford straight away to share her good news : she knew he was busy that day with an urgent piece of work which had unexpectedly come his way, requiring much in the way of application. Even a man as even tempered as Clifford found his patience tested by having to handstrip fine old pieces of handsome furniture with caustic and unpleasant chemicals before restoring them to their former glory, and today's work would be sure to use up much of his good humour. Jayne wisely put down the phone, and turned her attention to the scene of disarray she once knew as her living room.

"Come on Puss, let's get cracking!" she said, standing up suddenly, sending the cat jumping away in surprise, and reaching for the nearest empty box, began again her book sorting with renewed vigour. She felt an enthusiasm she had not felt for several days, and considered the possibility that perhaps she might be able to keep her house after all. . . plus of course, the benefits of it being by way of a good deed to a person in need, and the steady if small income from the rent.

As she placed the books one by one into boxes, resisting the temptation to stop and leaf through them, she recalled how sad she had felt the day before, when she had imagined driving past her former home at some point in the future, only to see a skip outside, and workmen shouting as they smashed the old plaster from the walls and hurled it down from the gaps where the old metal window frames used to be. So vivid and shocking was the image that she had wept at the savagery of it, and even now, the memory made her wince inwardly.

Turning her mind to more pleasant thoughts, she recalled the bright late autumn day she moved in, with so few belongings that it had required only a small van to transport them. She possessed very little by way of furniture, so little in fact that her new neighbour mentioned that he had moved his car to create a space for when the "real" removal truck would arrive. Jayne did not have the heart to tell him the truth, but just smiled politely and thanked him for his considerateness.

Much later,  as she drew the curtains for the very first time, noticing the first evening stars twinkling through the old fashioned single-glazed window, she knew that she had found exactly the right place to be. Sparsely furnished and disorganised as it was as yet, she could sense a positivity and feeling of welcome that hovered in the air like the imperceptible prickling of bubbles above a glass of champagne. Its transformation from house to home would be a labour of love that Jayne could hardly wait to commence. And now, a couple of years later, it would seem that it was time for the house begin a new chapter, and she fervently hoped that the potential new occupier might find the same sense of peace and belonging that had made it so special to her.

The pungent tang of caustic soda still hung unpleasantly in the air, and in an effort to dispel its corrosive miasma, Clifford flung open the workshop door, the hinges rattling as it crashed back against the brickwork. A light rain was falling outside, and he breathed in the pure cool air, full of the mossy scent of damp soil, and more than glad to be finished for the day. As he surveyed the leaden skies which promised a wet and dismal few hours, his thoughts turned to Jayne, wondering how her day had been and in what kind of mood he might presently find her.

The prospect of an evening trying his best to soothe her unsettled state of mind filled him with disquiet ; sometimes lately she could be melancholy and tearful, which he found easier to cope with than the unpredictable flashes of anger, accompanied equally by tears. Being a man of insight, he did his best to empathise with kindness and patience,  understanding that her emotional outbursts were not personally directed at him, but at the situation, with the impending loss of her house playing the greatest part by far in her worry and distress.

Even so, it had not prevented he himself from having the occasional moment of introspection, where he wondered briefly whether his impetuous proposal had been less guided by the kindly hand of fate than an act of ill-judged folly with potentially disastrous consequences for both of them. With a shake of his head, he dispelled the unwelcome memory of such thoughts, and closing the workshop door behind him, strode out across the cobbled yard now slick with rain.

A few miles away, the same clouds were sending raindrops pattering against the windows of a small and unremarkable house, but the weather was of no concern to Jayne that evening as she cleared the boxes of books to one side, creating space in a room which had been chaotically cluttered until only a little earlier. A day which had started none too well now felt much more positive, with the possibility of a solution to the problem which had been making her feel so unhappy.  Although she realised deep down it might all come to nothing, she kept firm hold of the little spark of hope that the earlier phone call had brought into being, and threw herself into her work with a renewed sense of optimism. As the room was gradually stripped of pictures and ornaments, with Jayne carefully wrapping each one in layers of bubblewrap, it gained an austerity which it had not seen for several years. 

Pleased with her efforts, Jayne surveyed the room appreciatively one last time, and as she made to close the door, the little cat leaped down from from the windowsill to scurry ahead of her into the other room, her paws pattering on the bare wooden floorboards. Jayne yawned and stretched, her limbs aching from the packing of so many books that day, although it would be also true that she had been mightily distracted by leafing through many of them along the way. As she had turned the dusty pages, she would occasionally find long forgotten items, perhaps an old receipt, or a shopping list used as  a temporary bookmark, and she chuckled inwardly at the random nature of such things.

Between the leaves of one small volume she had found pressed flowers, dry and fragile, and as she carefully picked them up, she wondered who had originally placed them there, perhaps as a memory of some long-forgotten summers day. To her eye, it looked a little like a stem of honeysuckle, with pale trumpet like flowers now faded and scentless, and as she replaced it carefully, she imagined it having been picked by a little girl with plaits in her auburn hair and wearing a green striped frock in the style of the 1930's. Perhaps there had been a picnic that day, and as the sun grew lower in the sky and the air began to cool, the little girl had wandered off , attracted by the evening perfume of the golden honeysuckle that entwined itself over and through the hedgerows. An adult's voice called her back, and as she turned to go, she nipped off a stem of the creamy flowers, putting it in her pocket.

Jayne was a little surprised by the vividness of her imagination, everything had seemed so oddly real, as if it were an actual event she was recalling, rather than a moment's flight of fancy. She looked at the book a little more closely, it was a story of schoolgirl escapades set in a stuffy boarding school, illustrated with line drawings of gymslipped heroines in panama hats and sensible shoes, and very much of its time. On the flyleaf there was pasted a presentation plate, with the owner's name written in immaculate copperplate handwriting.

"Presented to Gwendolyn Jackson, Form IIAlpha. Best Descriptive Story Prize, Summer Term 1945."

Jayne frowned. "I don't recall ever having bought this book" she muttered to herself, puzzled as to its provenance. It seemed in good condition, as if it had hardly been read, but it really wasn't the kind of book she had much interest in, and so she had replaced it in the open box before her without  further consideration.

As she thought about the day's events, Jayne stirred her tea absentmindedly. She hardly knew what to think about the phone call, after all it really did seem almost too good to be true, although she hoped that a member of the clergy would not have raised her hopes in such a way without a very good reason. It was not as if she was a regular churchgoer, although she might go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, when the church was illuminated by dozens of twinkling candles and festooned with branches of holly and ivy, entranced as she was by the romantic setting rather than the actual liturgy. However, as her Thursday rendezvous with Carol was a few days away as yet, she tried not to dwell too much on what might or might not come to pass.

In the living room, her phone was ringing, and she ran to answer it.

"Hello Jayne, how are you? I hope you've had a reasonable day."

"Oh hello Clifford, I'm alright thankyou - it's been quite an interesting day actually, for one reason or another - what about you?"

"Not my favourite day, I've been paint stripping, which is filthy hard work, but at least it's finished and I'll be able to do something more pleasant when the wood is dry. Anyway, hope you don't think me rude, but I really need a bath and an early night."

"That's okay" she replied.

"You finish work at two tomorrow don't you?" said Clifford, sensing a little disappointment in her voice. "I'll come and pick you up, and we can go out for lunch somewhere."

"I'd like that very much. See you tomorrow then."

"Till then, sweet dreams. I'll be thinking of you"

"And you."

Soon enough, the fateful Thursday morning rolled around, after a week Jayne had spent mostly in packing non-essential items and generally fretting about just about everything, from running out of bubble wrap to the wisdom or otherwise of getting married for the second time. There seemed an endless and ever expanding number of chores to be dealt with, and somehow each small completed task seemed to give rise to several more all needing her immediate attention.

Sitting up in bed, Jayne yawned and stretched, trying not to disturb the sleeping cat by her feet, and hoping that the afternoon’s appointment at the vicarage would be a fruitful one. She gazed around the room as her eyes adjusted to the daylight now beginning to pour through the not quite closed curtains, catching its own reflection in the dressing table mirror and refracting into jewelled rainbow flashes over the walls. With a hopeful and somewhat tenuous sense of positivity she was trying her hardest to believe would carry her through the morning, Jayne rose and busied herself with getting ready for work.

It was an equally distracted Clifford who was sitting at his computer that same morning, listlessly clicking through his emails and wishing  a little more work might come his way, and that the pile of neglected paperwork might magically vanish. He had risen early after a disturbed night, his fitful sleep punctuated by a series of troubling dreams, and the sense of unease had stayed with him, sapping his energy and fogging his concentration. Surely it was foolish to be feeling like this, he mused to himself, he should be the happiest man in the world right now, with his wedding only a couple of months away? Swearing softly to himself, he switched off the computer and headed out to the workshop, pulling on his old paint-stained jacket as he strode out into the early morning light.


The coolness of the autumn air cleared his head a little, and the first rays of the newly risen sun promised a fair day ahead, gilding the bare fields as far as the eye could see in a patchwork of muted greens and browns. All was quiet apart from the lilt of birdsong somewhere high in the sky ; birds tended to avoid Clifford’s yard due to the frequent presence of the neighbour’s handsome black cat, whose sleek presence was even now seated on the flagstones, ever vigilant for the occasional unaware avian visitor. On colder days he would charm his way into the workshop, not so much for company or affection so much as the presence of the wood-burning stove, in whose glowing warmth he would doze away many mornings and occasional afternoons.

Clifford already felt rather better, and whistled tunelessly to himself as he unlocked the door and made his way to the far corner, where a shabby tarpaulin covered the skeleton of a four poster bed, which had not so much been disassembled as fallen apart in the several years it had stood there neglected, gathering only cobwebs, dust and the occasional spider. He dragged the headboard out into the open, running his hands along the dark smoothness of the wood, and tracing the sinuous carvings with a thoughtful finger. This will be my project today, he thought, and carried it to the workbench, where the black cat was watching him with interest. With the radio on and the kettle about to boil, the world suddenly seemed the right way round once more, and Clifford set to work with enthusiasm.


It was a busy morning in the library, which Jayne was thankful for ; a steady stream of customers had kept her fully occupied, with no time to worry about the afternoon ahead, and by the time 12.30 approached, the last few visitors had already left. As she approached the door, keys in hand, she became aware of a small figure hurrying as best she could towards her, a look of some dismay on her face. Jayne recognised her immediately as the elderly lady she had met previously, she of the emerald green fleece and bobble hat, and opened the door a fraction.

“I’m sorry, we are just closing” she said, but noticing the disappointment in the lady’s eyes, added, this time rather more gently “but can I help you?”

“O bless you my dear, I only want to return this book, I really didn’t enjoy it at all…absolute nonsense… really wasn’t anything like that back then, and I should know because I was there…” she replied breathlessly.

Before she could continue with what looked as if it might be a lengthy description of the book’s shortcomings, Jayne took it from her outstretched hand as politely as she could manage.

“Thankyou, I will check it in for you. I’m sorry but I really do have to go now. Next time you’re in, we can have an interesting chat about it?”

“Yes of course my dear. I’ll be on my way. Goodbye for now”

“Goodbye” replied Jayne, trying to keep the relief out of her voice, and as she locked the door she watched the little figure make her unsteady way down the street. She glanced at the book’s cover, which depicted a rather glamorous group of girls in the fashions of the 1950’s, and tried to imagine the old lady as one of their number, in a net petticoated skirt and bouffant hairstyle. It seemed an incongruous comparison, and she chuckled inwardly, but as she replaced the book on the shelf, something slipped from between the pages and fell to the floor. It was not a bookmark, but a small black and white photograph, the subject a smiling baby wearing an old-fashioned smocked romper suit and clutching a furry toy rabbit.

Jayne turned it over. On the back, written in a flawless copper plate hand were the words “November 4th 1961 – my boy” , and, realising it might be of sentimental value, she placed it carefully in the lost property box, before finally leaving the library premises.

To be continued......

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