Derek walked through the park and smiled as the daffodils waved to him in the breeze. His step was slow, and much less brisk than it had been the autumn before, but last year he’d had Elsie to walk with.
He took his seat on the bench, it was a place that he and Elsie had sat, chatted and watched the children play, right through the summer before. It was a time they’d finally begun to enjoy retirement.
‘Oh, hello, Agatha Christie,’ he whispered, ‘well, I wasn’t sure I’d get to see you this year.’ He looked down at the grey and white cat who’d jumped up beside him, ‘it’s nice to see you again, old girl.’
Derek smiled. The cat had been a big part of the summer before, and on the days that she came, he remembered how happy Elsie had been and the sharing of a daily tuna sandwich had turned the cat into a friend, a friend they’d nicknamed Agatha Christie.
‘So, I expect you’ve come for some of my tuna sandwich, have you?’ he asked as he began to dig in his shopping bag. ‘I made one specially, I hoped you’d be here.’ Derek opened the Tupperware tub. Took out the sandwich and began to pick out the tuna which had been sparingly spread across the bread. ‘There you go,’ he said as Agatha gently took the food from him.
‘Hey, it look’s like you’ve got a friend,’ Joe, the park warden said as he walked past, barrow and sweeping brush in hand.
Derek nodded. ‘Yes, she’s lovely, isn’t she? I used to come here with my wife, last summer. We like to share our sandwiches with her. But we haven’t been since last autumn, since… my wife, she had a stroke. She’s in a wheelchair, and can’t walk to the park anymore, but she insisted that I come and see Agatha.’ His voice broke and he turned away.
‘Agatha?’ the warden asked, ‘you gave the cat a name?’
Derek turned back towards him and laughed, ‘We did, it was my Elsie’s idea, just a joke. She said that cats were like Agatha Christie, you never knew what or who they might kill off next.’ Derek paused, ‘She didn’t mean it in a bad way, of course. It was just a joke. She loved her cats, and everything about them.’
Derek zipped up his bag. ‘I have to go, my Elsie, I can’t leave her for long. But she insisted, you see.’ Derek turned towards the park gates, ‘See you tomorrow Agatha,’ he shouted before exiting the park.
The rain had poured for almost a week. It was Sunday now, a day when most of the other park goers were either in bed or at church, and Derek left the house looking forward to the fact that the park would be quiet, that he’d get an hour or so with Agatha before the park began to fill.
Derek approached his bench, sat down and looked at his watch, it was eight o’clock and although he was a little earlier than normal, Derek looked around wondering where Agatha could be? He pulled open the tub, and put it down on the bench beside him in the hope that the smell of tuna would entice her, as his eyes searched the bushes and then beyond to the houses that stood in the distance. He sighed. Agatha was probably curled up on someone else’s knee, in someone else’s kitchen, eating someone else’s tuna sandwich. He watched the time slip forward, eight o’clock turned into nine o’clock and finally, he stood up and tossed the sandwich into the bushes. ‘Hopefully, you’ll find that later,’ he whispered as he walked towards the gates, all the time checking around, looking for Agatha.
‘What do… do you mean, you… you didn’t see her,’ Elsie stuttered from the confines of her wheelchair. ‘She’s always there. Al.. always.’
Derek watched as tears filled his wife’s eyes and he picked up a tissue, carefully wiping them away. ‘I’ll go back tomorrow, and the day after,’ he promised, ‘I’ll find her, I promise. I’ll take a photograph for you.’
He watched as Elsie stroked the blanket that covered her knee, ‘I wish… wish I could go… I want to see her again, I.. I want her to sit here.’ Elsie sobbed as she once again stroked her knee and Derek reached out and took her hand.
‘And I wish I could push you that far, let me see what I can do. Maybe I can get someone to help us. Maybe one of the neighbours.’ He thought of the people around him, of who he might ask. But all their friends were elderly too, none fit enough or strong enough to push the chair for over a mile.
The day had turned to the evening and Derek stood up to pull the curtains closed. It was then he noticed Warden Joe, walking up and down the street. He was pushing his barrow and looked confused. Derek pulled on his coat, and walked out to the front gate.
‘Are you lost, Joe?’ Derek asked and immediately saw the look of relief cross the warden’s face.
‘No, not at all. It’s you, I’ve been looking for you.’ Warden Joe turned to his barrow, ‘I have someone here who needs to see you.’
Derek watched as Joe reached into his barrow and lifted out a bedraggled looking Agatha Christie.
‘What happened to her? I went to the park, she wasn’t there,’ Derek said as he took a purring Agatha Christie in his arms.
‘No, and if I hadn’t found her, God knows what would have happened. See here,’ he pointed to a wound. ‘I think someone took an air rifle to her, found her under a bush, she didn’t look too well, I can tell you.’ He leaned forward and stroked the cat.
‘Is she ok, now?’ Derek turned to the front door and indicated to Joe that he should follow.
‘She will be. I took her to the vets, she’s far from better and really needs someone to look after her.’ He looked hopefully at Derek.
‘But, what about her owners, they’ll be looking for her.’
‘Well, that’s the thing you see, everyone says she’s homeless. And with no microchip… they can’t be traced.’ He stepped through the door and followed Derek into the lounge, to where Elsie sat.
Derek passed the cat to his wife, ‘Your wish came true, Elsie. Agatha Christie, she came to see you.’ The cat immediately pawed at Elsie’s knee and with a satisfied purr, she curled up in a ball and closed her eyes, ‘And by the looks of it,’ Derek continued, ‘I think we’re going to need some more tuna.’
A Chance Encounter
Millie walked around her house. Looked in and out of the empty rooms and then walked into the kitchen, where she opened the empty cupboards.
She sighed, walked into the hallway, pulled her long, over washed cardigan tightly around her shoulders and caught a glimpse of her untidy reflection in the mirror that hung by the locked door.
She didn’t like to leave the house, not unless she had to. But the cupboards were empty and there was no one else to do the shopping. Not anymore. Once again, she looked in the mirror. “Well, you can’t go shopping, looking like that,” she whispered to herself as she looked into the lounge and at the picture of Adam where it stood on the mantle. It had been a year since she lost him, a year since the fire and a year since she’d had to find somewhere new to live, bury her husband and try to carry on with life, the only way she knew. Alone.
It was an hour later when Millie sat in her car. She’d been in the shower, washed her hair and had applied a light dusting of face powder and lipstick and she’d been to the shops. She smiled at herself in the rear view mirror, for the first time in a year she felt good, and even though her back seat was full of far too much food, she still felt happy that for once, her cupboards would be full.
She looked up and down the road. It suddenly occurred to her that nothing had changed. Life had carried on without her. It was now July, the middle of summer and all the trees were full of blossom, the garden full of roses, and lilac.
An old man walked down the road. He raised his stick up above his head, waved it around in the air and shouted hello, just as the post man sped past on his bike, smiled and he too lifted his hand and waved. Millie waved back, just as she spotted Patricia from the corner shop. She strolled down the road with her brood of five young boys; all were under six years old and most of them clung to her legs like over excited baboons, making Millie wonder how Patricia ever managed to walk.
But then something caught her attention. She could see a child, a young boy who looked nervously at a car, as it trundled beside him. He walked a few paces, then ran a few paces, with his ice cream in his hand, while the car continued to drive slowly beside him. The window was down and the driver seemed to be leaning towards it, speaking to the child. But then, the child shook his head, licked the ice cream and then ran ahead.
Millie looked from child to man and immediately began to think the worst.
What if the man were trying to kidnap the child, what if he were a murderer or a pervert and what if she watched the whole episode, did nothing about it and then saw the child’s picture on the six o’clock news, with parents crying, searching for him and him being lost to the world? What if all this happened and she did nothing about it?
Without thinking, Millie jumped out of her car and into the middle of the road. She stood in front of the car, which came to an abrupt holt. She stared menacingly at the driver, whose deep, volcanic eyes seemed to sparkled back at her in amusement.
“It’s ok,” she shouted to the child, “He can’t hurt you, now run along home. Go straight there, honey. Go to your parents. You’re safe now.” The young boy stopped in his tracks, once again licked at his ice cream and began to smile and giggle at the man, who still sat in the car.
“Ok, what’s so funny?” she directed the question at the man, who switched off the car’s engine and climbed out. He towered above her, making Millie look up. He was broad, tall, had a perfect smile, along with a pair of biceps that threatened to burst out of his shirt. Millie gasped in admiration. The man was cute. He certainly didn’t look like a murderer, nor was he acting in a menacing or threatening way.
“Ben,” he reached into the car and threw a towel at the child. “Your hands mate, give them a rub or you’ll be walking the rest of the way too.”
The child pushed the last of his ice cream in his mouth. Took the towel and began wiping his hands, making Millie once again look from one to the other.
“Oh my goodness, you’re his… I thought…. Look, never mind what I thought, I’m sorry.” She was embarrassed and turned back to her cottage, walked carefully up the drive and closed her eyes while taking deep inward breaths.
But, then, she heard footsteps behind her and turned to where the man stood with his hand held out towards her, “I think I should introduce myself. I’m Jake, Jake Thomas and this is my son, Ben.”
Millie looked up, caught the amused sparkle in his eyes and the cheeky grin of Ben. “Look, I’m so sorry. I thought you were…. Well, I thought you were trying to kidnap him, you know, get him in the car.”
Jake laughed out loud, “Oh no, far from it. I was actually trying to keep him out of the car, especially seeing as the car is new and he’s eating the runniest ice cream in the world. But he wanted the treat and I told him he’d have to walk until it was gone.”
Millie began to laugh. She could see the funny side, “Look, I really am sorry. Maybe I’ve lived on my own for far too long, I shouldn’t have interfered.”
Jake looked down at Ben and rubbed the top of his head with his hand, ruffling his hair. “Hey, Ben. This lady, she was good enough to try and protect you.” He paused, smiled and once again his hand rested on the child. “Do you think we should say thank you and invite the nice lady to our house for dinner?”
The young boy’s face lit up and he nodded with enthusiasm.
“There you go,” Jake said, “You wouldn’t say no to a six-year-old asking you out to dinner, would you?”
Millie grinned and looked at all the shopping bags in her car, “Well, actually. Yes, I would. I’ve just been shopping, and I bought far too much food.” She smiled at Ben, “But, I’m sure I bought something that you’d like.” Her eyes caught Jake’s, “That’s if you’d let me cook the dinner instead.”
Birthday’s, Beaches & BBQ’s…
‘Sarah, are you sure it’s ok for us to be here. We don’t know anyone.’ Jen climbed out of the car and inched toward the edge of the cliff and stared over its edge. Numerous fire beacons lit up the beach and the sound of laughter and reggae music told her that the party was already in full swing.
‘Sure it’ll be fine. He’s a pompous rich kid who drives round in one of those big sports cars, he won’t have a clue who he has or hasn’t invited. Besides, everyone who is anyone is here. We wouldn’t want to miss it, would we?’ Sarah strutted over the grass in her high heels, wobbled precariously and then purposely stood still while pulling at her mini skirt, as though attempting to alter its length. ‘Right. I’ll not be long. Just need to find Matt, I’ll meet you on the beach.’
Jen spun around on the spot. ‘Sarah, seriously, you can’t just abandon me,’ she shouted as Sarah disappeared into the crowd.
‘Honey. I’m not abandoning you. There are hundreds of people here. Go mingle, I’ll be five minutes. I promise.’
Jen reluctantly made her way to the beach. Avoided the crowd, pulled a picnic rug from her bag and sat quite happily, staring into one of the many fire beacons that stood by the water’s edge. The flames danced, bright orange, blue and gold in the darkness. The smoky odour of barbeque filled the air and Jen smiled as an impromptu verse of ‘happy birthday’ filtered down the beach.
A cluster of fireworks shot upward, fizzing and banging as an array of colour lit up the sky. A whoop went up from the people behind her and Jen once again dared to look around and into the crowd, wishing that Sarah would hurry and come back.
‘Hey. Are you alone?’ A man had appeared from within the crowd and had dropped to his knees on the sand before her. He seemed to think about his options for just a moment, before unrolling a blanket and throwing it along the floor. ‘Do you mind if I sit here? I just hate to see a beautiful woman sat all alone.’ He flashed her a smile and pointed to the space beside her. It was as though he was asking for permission to sit down, which made Jen laugh, especially after he’d already pitched his spot, put his blanket in position and seemed to be making himself quite comfortable.
‘Sure, make yourself at home; it’s as much your beach as it is mine. Are you here for the birthday party?’ Her eyes continued to search the crowds: wondering where Sarah had really gone and what’s more, she’d begun to wonder if she’d ever come back.
‘I sure am,’ he said as he pulled the picnic blanket up behind him and settled himself against the cliff and Jen turned to look in his direction. He was well dressed and tall, or would have been if he’d stood back up. He looked to be well built but not over weight and his symmetrical, angular face took on the amber glow of the beacon, but the way his eyes stared deep into the fire made him look just a little vulnerable. A look that she liked. He rubbed the stubble on his chin with one hand, while his eyebrows moved in and out of a frown and Jen could tell that he was deep within his own thoughts.
He must have sensed that she was watching him. He turned and for a short time a smile lit up his face as he studied hers, ‘I’m Pete,’ he said in a matter of fact way, before turning back to the beacon and once again looking into where the flames reached for the sky.
‘I’m Jen and I’m not really alone. I came with my friend. But she went to find her boyfriend, Matt. She should be back anytime.’ Smiling, she once again began to search the crowd for Sarah.
‘Ah, wouldn’t be a blonde girl would she. Mini skirt on, that comes to here?’ His hand indicated the length of Sarah’s skirt, ‘If it is, she was last seen heading behind the cockle shed with Matt.’
‘Oh my God, why would they do that?’ Jen realised what she’d said the moment the words left her lips.
Pete raised his eyebrows, pulled a face and then looked back out to the sea. ‘Well, by the look of them, I don’t think they were off to make sand castles.’
Jen resigned herself to the fact that Sarah wouldn’t be back anytime soon, pulled her boots off and pushed her toes into the sand. She began to laugh, ‘Go on, give it a go. The sand tickles.’ She watched as Pete joined in the game, his feet were as perfect as the rest of him and suddenly he turned and smiled. His eyes held hers for just a moment too long, searching hers and she felt her breath catch in her chest.
‘So, you’re here for the birthday party?’ She finally asked as she broke his gaze and stared back toward the waves which rolled gently up the beach.
He nodded, ‘I sure am.’ He looked puzzled, ‘Do you know him?’
‘Never met him. He’s apparently some pompous rich kid, who drives a sports car and if I’m honest, we hadn’t been invited.’ Jen cringed apologetically. ‘I just hope no one realises.’
Pete began to laugh, ‘So, what would you do if they did.’
Jen thought for a moment, ‘Well, I guess I’d have to be really nice to him, give him a birthday kiss and hope he didn’t mind that we gate crashed.’
His face lit up with amusement, he smiled and once again, his eyes danced with hers, just as a large group of people walked past. One of the men walked over and held out a hand. ‘Hey, Pete. Great party, mate. Happy birthday.’
The words made Jen spin around on the spot. ‘You…you… but… it’s your party.’
Pete smiled at her with a cheeky grin, ‘It is and if you don’t mind me saying, I really don’t mind at all that you gate crashed my party.’
Hope you enjoyed