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  • Pamela Belle

CHAPTER TEN

Jenna parked her red Peugeot by the side of the road and switched off the engine. Without its noise, the roar of the wind outside could be heard, and for good measure the spatter of raindrops against the windscreen. She glanced sideways at Rosie, who was occupying the passenger seat, swathed in an oversized woolly jumper, her hands stuffed up the sleeves. “We’re here,” she announced unnecessarily.

“I don’t want to get out,” said her daughter. “Listen to that wind!”

“That’s a lazy wind,” Jenna told her, unfastening her seatbelt. “That don’t go round you, that go right through you.”

“Then I certainly don’t want to get out.”

“Wait here in the car.” Jenna took a deep breath and opened the door. It was almost snatched out of her hands by the wind. She slammed it shut and ran round the front of the car and up the wet path to Wisteria Cottage, fumbling through her keys as she went. It seemed to take an age before she found the right one, thrust it in and turned it.

Warmth embraced her. Thank God, Ruth had turned the central heating on for them. She reached for the hall light and switched it on. Behind her, she heard the passenger door shut and Rosie came sprinting up the path. She ducked through the front door, head down, and shook the raindrops out of her hair as Jenna shut it, with some effort.

They looked at each other, wild, windswept and dripping, and grinned. “Tea?” Jenna asked.

“Definitely. What about our stuff?”

“It can wait. Priority is to get something hot inside us, and take a breather. God, what a wild night! I thought we were never going to get here.”

“Me neither.” Rosie looked around the tiny hall, with the stairs leading up on the left, and then went into the sitting room beyond. “Oh, you’ve got all the pictures up! And new curtains!”

“Do you like it?” Jenna followed her.

“Oh, yes! You’ve been really busy, Mum.” Rosie looked around the room. “And there are lots of things from St. Albans. The bookcase, and the sofa.”

“Well, I needed somewhere to put all my books, and that sofa is far more comfortable than the one that was here before.” She looked at it critically. “It’s much bigger, though, and it does rather dominate the space.”

“I don’t care.” Rosie flopped down on it theatrically. “Lots of room to stretch out! When did you say Saskia and India were coming?”

“Tomorrow. So we haven’t long to get everything ready. I haven’t even got a tree.”

“Umm ... where would you put it?” Rosie looked round the living room. With the larger sofa, and the extra furniture, there wasn’t much space left.

“I’ll get an extra small, bijou, miniature tree. I had thought in the hearth, but of course it’d be nice to light the stove. If I can remember how.”

“Dad always did it.” Rosie’s face creased briefly and painfully. “But it can’t be that hard,” she went on, with an effort. “I bet you and I could have it going in no time. Shall I go and put the kettle on?”

“Yes, please, and I’ll investigate the stove.”

Rosie went into the kitchen, and Jenna heard the tap being run. She knelt down by the wood-burning stove in the fireplace, and opened the door. Inside, to her delight, was a neat pile of kindling, sitting on top of several scrunched-up pages of The I, while a dozen logs had been stacked in the corner of the hearth. “Ruth, you’re wonderful,” she said aloud. “A case of wine at the very least.”

“Eh?” Rosie put her head round the door. “What did you say?”

“Just blessing Ruth. She’s only gone and laid the fire all ready. Hopefully, I just have to set a match to it.”

“And Robert is your mother’s brother,” said Rosie, quoting a favourite saying of Joe’s. As her daughter disappeared back into the kitchen, Jenna sat back on her heels and looked around her at the cottage which was now, officially, her home.

Once Rick had dropped his bombshell, everything had seemed to happen at breakneck speed. Within two weeks, the St. Albans house had been sold for the asking price, an eye-watering amount of money which was testament to the demand for property in the area. Saskia’s tame solicitor had been invaluable, ensuring that the joint assets of what Jenna had always mentally thought of as ‘The Good Ship Johnson’ were fairly and evenly split. It had helped that Rick, obviously desperate to be off to New York and Madison, and hoping to be remarried before the new baby was born, had made a point of not being difficult. But the value of the casket, as laid out so helpfully by Emma James in her brochure, had had to go into the pot, and as a result Jenna’s settlement had consisted of the Orford cottage, now transferred into her name, and a small amount of money which would tide her over for a few months while she looked for a job. For a long time, she hadn’t had to think much about finances, for Rick had earned more than enough to pay all their bills and fund their comfortable lifestyle. From now on, things would be very different. If she got into trouble, there’d be no-one to blame but herself, and no-one to bail her out.

If Rick had managed not to be difficult, the same could not be said of her mother. Patricia, who had always had a soft spot for her son-in-law, largely based on his earning capacity and his middle-class background, was distraught at the news of the divorce. Initially, she had blamed her daughter, so unfairly that Jenna had lost her temper. “Look, Mum, if you think it’s my fault that he shacked up with a girl half his age and got her pregnant, then just go ahead and shout it from the rooftops.”

“But there must have been a reason why he felt he had to look elsewhere,” Patricia had said plaintively.

“Yes, it’s called being a dickhead.”

“Jennifer, dear, do you have to be so crude?”

At that point she was tempted to bang the phone down, but she took a deep breath instead. “Sorry, Mum. As you can imagine, this has all come as a complete shock. I had no idea. And he admitted it wasn’t the first time, either.”

“Oh, dear,” said Patricia, rather inadequately under the circumstances, Jenna thought. “What a pity. Have you thought about counselling?”

With a supreme effort, she kept a rein on her temper. “I rather think it’s a bit late for that. Rick wants to marry her before the baby arrives, and it’s due in March. I’ve just had to accept, Mum, that there are some things you really can’t mend, however hard you try.”

“I suppose it is his baby, and she hasn’t just foisted it on him? He wouldn’t be the first man to be taken in by a pretty face, you know.”

“Well, whatever you can say about Rick, he’s not a total idiot. Of course it’s his baby.” A little half brother or sister for Joe, Tom and Rosie, and it would probably grow up knowing nothing of its father’s first family. The twins, armoured in anger and resentment in Australia, had been adamant that they weren’t going to speak to Rick – “Ever again!” Joe had announced, with righteous fury – and Rosie, once the awful process of separation had actually commenced, could not bring herself to address her father in anything other than monosyllables during phone conversations, and on her infrequent weekend visits home, did her best to avoid him whenever he was in the house, which was, fortunately for Jenna’s sanity, not often.

Yes, the past two months or so had been extraordinarily painful. Worst of all was packing up personal possessions. Jenna wasn’t too bothered about the furniture from the St. Albans house, none of which had much sentimental value, and which wouldn’t have fitted into the cottage anyway. With Rick temporarily back in New York, she had sold much of it through Ebay and social media, not caring particularly if she got good prices. But she was almost undone by the photographs. Of course now they were all digital, kept on memory sticks or uploaded to web storage sites, but there were still a dozen albums dating back to the early days of their marriage and before. She had made the mistake of starting to flick through them before packing them into their box, and when Saskia called round, an hour later on her way home from the shop, she had found Jenna with a page of photographs on her lap, tears trickling down her face as she looked at the twins, chubby toddlers, playing football in the garden of their first house with Rick, the image of a doting father.

“Darling, he’s not worth any of your tears,” she said, as Jenna wiped her eyes and closed the album.

“Oh, he’s not, but the boys are. They refuse to speak to him, he’s tried to call them and they just don’t answer. He’s hurt them so much, and they can’t forgive him for what he’s done. They think it’s absolutely disgusting.”

“Can you blame them?”

“No, I can’t. I can see Tom coming round eventually, he’s got a soft heart, but not Joe. Not for years, if ever. The words ‘forgive’ and ‘forget’ just aren’t in his vocabulary.”

“Well, I can’t pretend I have much sympathy for Rick. To coin a cliché, he’s made his own bed with a vengeance, and now he’s got to lie on it. Perhaps sharing it with a nubile twenty-something is compensation enough, but I’m not so sure about that.”

Jenna wasn’t either. She suspected that once the first flush of love, or lust, was replaced by wet nappies and broken nights, Rick might begin to regret his precipitate divorce. But would she waste sympathy on him if he did? No, she would not. The damage to his relationship with her had been terminal, and the situation was almost as bad with his children. Perhaps his new wife and baby would make up for all that he’d thrown away in England. She found, examining her feelings honestly, that she didn’t care. All her energies now had to be focused on supporting, loving and reassuring her children, and on transferring herself and her belongings to Orford, and her new solo life.

Rosie had come back for several weekends, helping her to sort through the accumulated possessions of twenty three years, and Saskia, along with Mags and Cathy, two other long-term friends, had proved invaluable. Jenna had made several journeys up to Suffolk with everything she wanted to keep – a motley assortment of cushions, bedding, cooking implements, favourite crockery, books, the microwave, ornaments and photos – stuffed into the back of her long-suffering Peugeot, and a weekend’s van hire, with Greg and a couple of his mates to do the lifting, had taken care of the few items of furniture. Rick, of course, moving to a new life on a new continent, had just a few suitcases’ worth, but had insisted, “Since you’re so keen on a completely fair split,” that the minimal value of the things she sold be put into the joint pot. And he had said to her, shortly before returning to the States a couple of weeks ago, “You haven’t sold that box yet. You’ll need to.”

“Not if I can help it,” Jenna had said, and then, goaded at last into expressing her true feelings, had added fiercely, “What’s so wrong with me keeping it? Why are you so keen for me to sell it? You know what it means to me.”

“You’re just being stupid and sentimental,” Rick had said. The taxi was at the door, he wasn’t planning on returning to the UK until January, and by then the house would be sold: this was the last time they would see each other here, in the place where once Jenna had thought they were so happy. “It’s about time you joined the real world, realised what things matter.”

“Oh, you mean like you? If your world is the real one, then I’d rather not be a part of it. Lust, lies, deceit, betrayal, greed – no thank you, Rick.” Jenna stared at him, seeing the hostility on his face for what it was – his attempt at a defence of the indefensible. “What you’ve done is completely shitty, and you know it. I won’t wish you good luck, you don’t deserve it. I’m not going to try and mend things with the kids, either. That’s up to you, and it might teach you a lesson about the things that really matter – like love, and being honest, and behaving with decency and respect.”

The taxi hooted impatiently. Rick said suddenly, “Look, Jen, I’m sorry, OK? Sorry it all had to end like this.”

The sheer inadequacy of that ‘sorry’ infuriated her. “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? Yes, I’m sorry too, but from now on I’m looking forward, not back. You’d better go, haven’t you got a plane to catch? Goodbye, Rick. And I hope you have the life you deserve.”

She had thought he muttered, “And you,” as he went out of the door, but she couldn’t be sure. Well, if he was already having second thoughts, tough titties, as Saskia would say. The Good Ship Johnson had been wrecked, due to the selfish and wilful actions of its captain, and she was cast adrift on dark and dangerous seas, with only a few stars to guide her, and her children and her friends for love and support, but she knew she would cope. As that song said, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ And the fact that Rick obviously thought that she wouldn’t survive for long on her own made her all the more determined to make a success of what she had been left with after his betrayal and desertion.

Now, much to her satisfaction, she managed to light the stove without too much difficulty, and by the time Rosie returned from the kitchen with two mugs of tea and some biscuits, it was giving out a very satisfying warmth. She had drawn the curtains, and with just the table lamp lit, and the glow from the fire, the room looked snug and comforting. Rose curled up on the sofa, her mug in her hands, and looked around. “It doesn’t feel quite like home yet,” she said at last. “I keep thinking I’m here on holiday.”

“And of course the fact that Christmas is only a couple of days away doesn’t help. I know what you mean. I haven’t got used to it either.”

“I think we ought to throw a house-warming party,” Rosie said. “Then it really will be home.”

“It’d have to be a very small one, there isn’t much room. And we’ve only got three bedrooms, so we can’t have many people staying over, unless we pitch a tent in the garden.”

“Well, we’ve already got Saskia and India coming, so that’s a start. A Christmas house-warming. Or New Year would be better, gives us more time to get sorted. Who else do you know who lives around here? What about Ruth and what’shisname?”

“Gary. Yes, we could invite them, and they might know some people. Perhaps the man whom Sammy showered with river mud, if he’s forgiven me. And Fran, my old uni friend, he lives in Aldeburgh – or he did, he was going to move house, but I haven’t heard anything from him.”

“Oh, I remember you telling me about him – isn’t he the poetry guy? I haven’t come across him at UEA yet, but then the poetry module isn’t until the summer, I think.”

She hadn’t thought about Fran for a while. Guiltily, she remembered that she’d promised to keep in touch, but in the tornado of activity that had followed Rick’s revelations, it had vanished from her mind. She’d never emailed Jon with the casket details either. In fact, apart from her resolve to keep it in her possession no matter what, she had given it precious little thought in the past couple of months. And now it was sitting in her car – which, she remembered, she hadn’t even locked – the most precious thing she possessed, along with the cottage. She’d have to brave the elements in a minute, but with a mug of hot tea in her chilled hands, and the warmth of the fire drying her wet hair, she didn’t feel like leaping back into the pouring dark again. She was tired, no, she was exhausted, physically and emotionally. Right at this moment she wanted nothing more than to curl up on the sofa in the warm and watch something fluffy and completely undemanding on TV, with Rosie snuggled next to her, and perhaps a nice glass of wine. Anything else was just too much effort.

“Mum?”

“Yes?”

“Mum, can I ask you something?”

Which inevitably was shorthand for, “Mum, can I ask you something which you may not like answering?” But Rosie had been so helpful, such a staunch presence, and so positive during all the awful upheaval, despite what she herself must have been feeling, that Jenna said at once, “Yes, of course – fire away.”

“Mum ... are you going to be OK here, once we’ve all gone off and left you on your own?”

“Of course I am.” Jenna put her mug down on the old table next to her, and turned to face her daughter. “I’m a big girl now. Don’t worry about me.”

“But I do.” Rosie’s round, open face was creased with anxiety. “I do worry about you. I mean ...” She paused, obviously struggling for the words to explain. “When I was little, you and Dad ... you always seemed so close, somehow. Like you were a unit. I can’t think of you being without him, all alone.”

“But I am without him. And really, honestly, it’s not so bad as I thought it was going to be.”

“I always thought you got on so well,” said Rosie sadly. “Was it all an act?”

“No. No, sweetheart, it wasn’t. Not on my part, anyway. And not on Dad’s either, until fairly recently, I think.”

“When he met that Madison woman.”

“Or before that.” Jenna paused, thinking carefully about what she would say, and then continued. “I know you and the boys blame him, but, you know, people do change, they start to want different things, they grow apart – and I think Dad had outgrown me. He didn’t want to be a big fish in a little pond any more.” She picked up her mug again and took a long sip of the cooling tea. “Remember, though, whatever happens, he’ll always be your dad. I know you and the boys are furious with him, but I think in the end you’ll be able to forgive him. I think I will.” Which, she thought wryly, is certainly not possible in the immediate future, though I might come round to it in, oh, about twenty years’ time.

Rosie was still looking sad, and her eyes were heavy with unshed tears. “I thought ... I thought you and Dad were special. Lots of other people’s parents got divorced, remarried, had new families, all the time – when I was in the sixth form only about five of my friends still had both their real parents at home – but you always seemed so safe. I even felt smug about it. ‘My mum and dad must really love each other’. And it turns out you didn’t.”

Oh, dear. “I think we did,” Jenna said at last. “Just, not enough. Not enough to make it work properly and stay together.”

“Does anyone make their love last? Really and truly till death do them part? Because it doesn’t seem like it.”

“Oh, there are plenty of people out there who’ve been married for years and years. Golden weddings, diamond weddings, even platinum ones. Don’t think that all relationships are inevitably doomed, because they’re not. Whatever Saskia might say.”

Rosie gave a rather shaky snort of laughter. “And she’s had more than most. Indy and I were totting them up a few months ago. Since we’ve known each other, Saskia has had fourteen boyfriends.”

“Greg being the fourteenth?”

“Yes, and he’s OK, but he’s a bit of a wimp, and Indy thinks she’s getting fed up with him.”

Jenna had received that impression herself from some of the things that Saskia had said to her recently, but she didn’t pass comment. Instead, she said, “Everyone’s different. Every relationship is different, has different – what’s the buzz word? Dynamics.”

“Now you’re starting to sound like an agony aunt.” Rosie sighed. “I still don’t get it. Why did he have to move to New York? Couldn’t he have stayed here?”

“I think he wanted to make a completely fresh start. And Madison’s American, after all. Sometimes,” Jenna said, cautiously, feeling her way, “it’s better for everyone, even if no-one thinks so at the time, to accept that something’s ended, than fight on against the odds and living a life they don’t really want, and making everyone around them miserable in the process. Dad hadn’t been happy for a long, long while, it turns out. And I didn’t realise what was happening until it was too late. I was oblivious in my complacent little bubble. That doesn’t excuse what he did, but it does explain it, sort of.”

“I so wish he’d never done it.”

“I know you do, sweetheart, and so do I, but he has done it, and now I’m going to make the best of it. He’s not the only one with a fresh start, you know – we’ve all done it in the past few months, haven’t we? Tom and Joe in Oz, you at uni, me here in this cottage. Everything’s going to be different, very different, and different can be a scary place, we both know that. But I’m determined to make a go of it. In a funny sort of way, I’m actually looking forward to being totally independent.” She grinned reassuringly at her daughter. “I can slob about in my dressing gown all day if I want, and watch stupid films and reruns of Poldark and Downton Abbey without feeling guilty. I’ve decided I’m going to get a cat for company, perhaps even two cats.”

“It’d be great to have a cat or two. I miss Sooty, he was lovely, even if his breath did smell and he got a bit doolally.”

“He was fifteen, that’s what happens when you’re old and doddery.”

“It didn’t happen to Nanna May.”

“Nanna May was exceptional, in all sorts of ways. So, yes, I’m definitely going to get at least one cat.”

“Did you see that picture on FaceBook? A box full of about a dozen kittens with ‘crazy cat lady starter kit’ written on the side?”

“I don’t think I’d qualify as a crazy cat lady with just one or two.” Jenna grinned. “I even thought about a dog, and then I thought that if I want to go for walks, I can always borrow Sammy. Cats are less of a tie than a dog. And if I’ve got to get a job, it wouldn’t be fair to leave a dog alone in the house all day.”

“Aren’t you going to have any money?”

“Some, but not as much as I thought, because I didn’t want to sell the casket. It’s your inheritance, after all. Plus I haven’t finished researching it yet. That’s the other thing I have planned for the New Year. It’s second to top of my ‘to do’ list. Number one, get a job, number two, find out who MJ was.”

“Number three, bring about world peace, number four, find a cure for cancer.” Rosie was looking more cheerful.

“Yes, the hard ones first. But I’ve got enough in the bank to keep me afloat for a few months while I find something. I’ll ask Ruth, she might know if there’s any work going locally. And don’t worry about your student maintenance, I made sure Dad knows he’s got to keep paying it.”

“Yes, he told me that before he went. And he said he was sorry.” Rosie studied the glowing heart of the stove, and casually brushed a hand over her eyes. “But he wasn’t sorry, not really. If he was really sorry he wouldn’t be with Madison, he’d be with us. What did you always tell us when we were little? Sorry means ‘I wish I hadn’t done it and I won’t do it again.’”

“Which I don’t think is true – not at the moment anyway. The only way he’ll say sorry and really mean it will be if he comes to regret what he’s done, for whatever reason. And I can’t see that happening, somehow.” Deep within her, that wormy voice said nastily, Don’t you hope he’ll come crawling back in a year or so and beg forgiveness? And won’t you enjoy telling him to sod off? But she firmly banished such thoughts. Even if that was how she truly felt, she wouldn’t let it slip to Rosie, or anyone else except, possibly, Saskia.

“I hope he does regret it,” Rosie said, suddenly fierce. “So do Tom and Joe. He just doesn’t realised how much he’s hurt us, does he, Mum? He hasn’t thought about us at all, he’s just thought about himself and what he wants. Joe called him a selfish git last week, when we were Skyping.” She glanced sideways at Jenna. “You don’t have to pretend it’s all OK, Mum, honestly. We know you’ve been bending over backwards not to bad-mouth him. You can slag him off to us, you know, because we’ve been slagging him off to each other.”

Jenna smiled rather weakly. “Has it been that obvious?”

“Course it has.” Rosie leaned over and gave her a hug. “Every time you talk about Dad, it’s through gritted teeth.”

“Granny always says that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” And Patricia was an expert in the snide comment and the criticism dressed up in weasel words. Faced with her daughter’s decision to move to Orford, she had made much of her support, while simultaneously undermining it with piteous looks and statements such as, “It does seem such a very long way away,” and “I shall hardly know what to do with myself once you’re gone, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually.”

“Then let’s not say anything more about him,” Rosie declared. “Let’s talk about nicer things. That fire’s amazing, I’m almost too hot now. It’s lovely, it makes this room feel so cosy and snug.”

“It eats wood, I seem to remember. I shall have to find a good source of supply. There are lots of woods round here – Tunstall, Rendlesham, Butley. There must be someone who sells logs.”

“I should think there’ll be lots of branches just lying around for free after tonight,” Rosie said, as a gust of wind rattled the windows. “Shouldn’t we be getting our stuff out of the car? There’s all the food as well.” They’d stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts of Ipswich after picking Rosie up from the station, and bought enough, Jenna hoped, to see them and their two guests through until after Christmas.

“OK, I’m game if you are.” Jenna got up, and pulled her daughter to her feet. “And it doesn’t really matter how wet we get, we’ll soon dry off in here. Come on!”

Ten minutes later, the hall was crowded with cases, bags and boxes, the shopping was filling the small kitchen, and Jenna had put two ready-made pizzas in the oven. Rosie spent some time looking through the cupboards, exclaiming over favourite items that had survived the purge in St. Albans, and then ran upstairs with her rucksack and case to find her room. Jenna, emptying a bag of salad into a bowl, heard her cry of delight with a smile. She’d brought Rosie’s curtains from the old house, though she’d had to chop about a foot off the bottom since the windows in Wisteria Cottage were so much smaller, and with her bedspread, pictures and ornaments already in place, the tiny room under the eaves was emphatically hers. Since her daughter would be spending at least part of every vacation here, she had thought it was important to make Rosie feel that this was her home now, that she had a place here that she could always return to, no matter what. It wasn’t quite the same with Joe and Tom, hopefully they wouldn’t be back in England until next September, and she would have plenty of time to redecorate the second bedroom and make it theirs first, guest room second.

“Mum!” Rosie came clattering down the stairs again, dodged the obstacles in the hall and rushed through the living room into the kitchen. “It’s lovely, thank you so much!”

“Do you like it? I’m really pleased about that. It does need decorating, but I thought we could maybe make a start on that before you go back to uni, or at least choose the colours. Are the curtains OK?”

“Perfect. I’ve always loved those blue flowers, but they don’t really go with the pink. I think I’d like a sort of misty bluebell-y colour on the walls, maybe a darker colour on one? And cream on the ceiling and the window? But I don’t want the beams painted, I like them just the way they are, that old knotted wood. Do you think they came from a ship originally?”

“They could have. They’ve got holes and slots in them that don’t fit with the house, it does look as if they were used for something else first, and why not a ship? We’re close to the sea, after all.”

“Really close. I opened my window just now and I’m sure I could hear it, roaring away in the darkness. How far is it?”

“A couple of miles, I think. I remember lying in bed in Nanna May’s house in Maldon and listening to the lightship’s foghorn out at sea, and that was much further away. For obvious reasons, the sound carried for miles.”

“Are there any round here?”

“I don’t think there are any lightships, but there’s a lighthouse – on Orford Ness, don’t you remember seeing it when we were here last summer? I think it’s still there, though I don’t think it works any more. I seem to remember there was some talk of it being about to fall into the sea.”

“Which could happen tonight,” said Rosie. She leaned over the sink and pulled down the blind to block out the windy rainy dark, then turned to face her mother. All the sadness had gone from her face, Jenna was pleased to see, and had been replaced by the glowing enthusiasm that she loved best about her daughter. “It’s really lovely here, isn’t it? I’ve always loved it ever since we bought it, and I know you have too. I’m so glad you decided to live here.”

“Are you sure? I thought you’d have wanted us to stay in St. Albans.”

“I did at first,” Rosie said candidly. “But then I thought, well, all my friends have moved away to uni or gone off on gap years. And if I want to visit them in the holidays, I can always stay with Indy. Anyway, when I finish uni I might go off travelling or work somewhere like London, and it wouldn’t be fair to make you stay in a place you didn’t want to be just because of me.” She grinned. “And, like I said, I do love it here, it’s so old! When was the St. Albans house built?”

“1930s, I think. When we bought this one, we were told it dated back to the seventeenth century, if not before. The previous owner dug up a Charles II penny in the garden.”

“Wow, it’d be awesome if we found anything like that!”

“Wouldn’t it just! Well, I haven’t yet, but I live in hope. When the weather improves, I shall have to get digging.”

“And that’s the other thing I like here, the garden. It’s so quiet and peaceful.”

“I suspect it’ll stop being quiet and peaceful around Good Friday, and only start being quiet and peaceful again once September starts,” Jenna told her. “This was a holiday cottage, remember? And Orford does tend to get really busy in the summer.”

“But that’s fun, I remember, there were boat races and music in the pub and trips to the Ness,” Rosie said nostalgically. “Anyway, whatever, I don’t mind. Those pizzas smell as if they’re ready, and I’m starving!”

Jenna got them out of the oven and briskly sliced them up. Then she unscrewed the cap of a cheap bottle of red wine – the good stuff was intended for Christmas Day – and poured out two generous glasses. “And while we eat, you can tell me all about – well, nearly all about – your first term at uni. Here – let’s drink a toast. To Wisteria Cottage – may we be very happy here!”

“Wisteria Cottage,” Rosie repeated obediently, raising her glass. “And I know we’ll be very happy here!”

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