"Wouldn’t it be less drastic just to buy a light therapy lamp, Robbie?” Claire asked the second he opened the front door. Pushing past him, she stepped inside.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that in the garden,” she added, pointing a jabbing thumb over her shoulder.
Robbie closed the door, sighing at the fact his older sister had chosen today to drive over 100 miles to pay him a surprise visit.
If only she had come yesterday instead, then he would not have been faced with explaining anything yet.
“I guessed there was something you weren’t telling me when you came to see us on Saturday,” Claire continued, frowning. “I can’t understand why you didn’t mention it instead of just going ahead.”
“Probably because I knew what your reaction would be. But I don’t need a light therapy lamp, Claire. I’m not suffering from winter blues. If anything was drastic it was me moving here after the divorce.”
No, leaving Whitwell hadn’t been a mistake. He couldn’t have stayed in the village with the chance of seeing his ex-wife with her new man. The mistake had been moving so far away from family and friends.
He had been here long enough now to know he could not settle. That was why he had put the house up for sale even though it was not just any house.
“But you came back to our childhood home!” Claire protested.
“It’s been over 20 years since we lived here. Adult experiences don’t match up to teenage memories.”
“We weren’t teenagers when we came for that wedding Maria James, wasn’t it?” When the couple living here let us come in and look around, we both said no other house had ever matched up to it for atmosphere and homeliness.”
“Yours is cosy and homely, Claire.”
“I hope so. Somehow, though, this one beats it.” Claire shook her head. “I don’t know how a 70s mid-terraced townhouse can do that, but it does.”
“You are right. The house hasn’t changed. The area has, though, Claire. Most of the things we remembered aren’t here now. Apart from Mrs. James next door, there isn’t one family on Cottington Close who lived here when we did.”
That was not surprising. The houses on Cottington Close had not long been built when his parents had come to live here as newly-weds. All the neighbours had been around the same age as them, and all had subsequently moved on.
“The house is still here, though, and if it doesn’t seem quite as it did when we lived here, it’s because it’s too masculine,” Claire decided. “But you can still feel the atmosphere, and it’s still full of happy memories.”
That, Robbie thought, watching as his sister stared out of the window at the ‘For Sale’ board in the garden, was probably why she did not want him to sell it.
“I think memories must mean more to women than to men,” Claire said.
“I think they get more emotional about them,” Robbie smiled.
His sister had 18 years’ worth of memories here. After they had moved away, she had only stayed at home for a couple of years. Even though they had both ended up just a few miles away from their parents, Robbie guessed that some of Claire’s happiest times with them had been here in this house.
“I really cherish my memories,” Claire went on, smiling back at him. “Mrs. James said that was obvious when she saw us at the funerals.”
Mrs. James and their mother had kept in touch over the years. It was at their father’s funeral that Mrs. James had mentioned the house being for sale.
A few months later, after his mother, too, had passed away, Robbie was newly divorced and needing to move, so he had looked online to see if No. 8 Cottington Close was still on the market.
He could see the area around it had changed. The hospital where his mother had worked was no longer there, mills had been demolished or converted into apartments and there was a supermarket where the cinema had been. But he hadn’t thought that mattered. It seemed like he was meant to buy it.
Turning from the window now, Claire reminded him of that.
“You said it would be your haven.”
“It was an emotional decision made when I was at low ebb. My divorce had cut me up. I was in no fit state to think things through properly.”
“I suppose it were selfish reasons that made me agree it would be a good move for you,” Claire admitted. “I thought it would be great for me to be able to revisit my memories. Sorry.”
“I forgive you,” Robbie said.
Claire gave him a quick hug.
“But before I agree that you moving back to Whitwell could be good, I want you to be sure you’ve thought things through,” she said. “I doubt you’ll get much more than what you paid for the house. With all the fees and removal costs, you could be out of pocket.”
Robbie knew that. But he would be willing to take a small loss if it meant living back where he had friends and family.
“In one way, it’s a shame you work from home,” Claire said. “It makes moving too easy.”
“Working from home is the reason I feel I need to retrace my steps and move back, Claire. Not seeing anyone during the day didn’t matter before. I had you, Paul and the kids to pop in on, friends I could meet up with in the evening, or I’d run into someone I knew in the pub.” Though, at the time, that had been a problem since he kept running into his ex-wife.
“You could go to a pub here, Robbie. You’d soon get to know folk.”
“If I go anywhere, I don’t seem to fit in. When I see the neighbours, we talk about the weather. But that’s all. Perhaps it’s because they’re all couples and families. Whatever the reason, I feel like an alien and I can’t see that changing.”
“It would if you had someone new in your life.”
“It isn’t through lack of trying. I’ve had dates, but none of them came to anything. That’s another reason for wanting to go back to where I know people: friends who’d like to play matchmaker. One of them might
“What about your main reason for leaving the village? Rowan is still around, you know. And she’s still with Doug,” Claire reminded him.
“Rowan’s ancient history now. I’m over her, Claire.”
“I can see you’ve thought it through. I suppose it would be nice having you living close by again. Paul and I would never be stuck for a baby sister, either. So let’s make a list of what you need to do to make the house look its best.”
The next day, following his sister’s advice, Robbie went out and bought new scatter cushions in a warm red colour for his sofa and armchairs. He got herbs in pots for the kitchen window ledge, a new toaster and matching kettle to stand on the worktop. He’d drawn the line at buying a plug in thing that supposedly gave off an aroma of fresh bread backing, but he put vases of lavender in the living room, the spare bedroom and the bathroom. The third bedroom he used for his office and, as he had told Claire, was off limits.
That afternoon, as Robbie wandered around the house checking the new additions, his phone rang. It was the estate agency asking if one of their sales negotiators could bring a Miss Craig to view the house at three o’clock. It was only 20 minutes’ notice, but Robbie willingly agreed.
He sent Claire a text.
‘Estate agent bringing Miss Craig to view at 3 p.m. Keep your fingers crossed.’
It was not long before Robbie saw two cars pull up outside.
He had to hide a smile as he wondered what the neighbours would think of him letting in two very attractive women. As neither of them was the one who would come to do the valuation, Robbie did not know who was who until the sales negotiator introduced herself as Nicola, and the brunette as Miss Craig.
Miss Craig, who insisted he call her Lizzie, was lively, bubbly and chatty, and suited the brightly coloured slouch beanie hat she wore over her dark, curly hair. Brown eyes sparkling, she admired the pewter duck on the hall table, rubbing a red gloved finger over its beak.
“As I told Miss Edwards,” she began, “my sister and I have a special cheese stall on Ashwick market. I live with her at the moment. But now we’re opening another stall on the market here. I’ll be running it and I want a house within easy travelling distance.”
“I live just over the hill,” Miss Edwards told her. “I go to the flea market on my Sundays off and it takes me 20 minutes to drive there. It would probably take around 10 from here.”
“I’m sure a specialist cheese stall will be successful, Miss Craig…er, Lizzie.”
“You like cheese?” Lizzie asked, dimpling. “You’ll have come to my opening day,” she continued. “I’ll make sure you get some nice samples.”
“I’ll also be running my catering business from home,” she added, turning to the business in hand. “So I need to have a good look at the kitchen, Mr. Howard, before seeing any other rooms.”
Robbie led the way. It only took a few minutes for Lizzie to turn an apologetic face to him.
“I knew it wasn’t huge from the measurements given on the sales brochure,” she said. “There could have been the possibility of switching things around so the ‘powers that be’ would have approved the design and layout. But I think switching anything around here would give me less room, not more. I’m sorry for wasting your time,” she added, glancing from Robbie to Miss Edwards.
Robbie accepted the apology gracefully and wished her good luck in finding somewhere suitable. He even found himself promising he would visit the cheese stall in Ashwick soon.
“And I’m sure you’ll see plenty of me when your new stall here is up and running,” Miss Edward said.
“I’ve a better idea,” Lizzie replied. “My sister and I are having a cheese party a week on Sunday at a pub near Ashwick. I’ve got invitation cards with me.” She rooted in her huge handbag, pulled out two cards and handed them one each. “Please come, to show I’m forgiven for wasting your time.”
“I accept. Thank you.” Robbie smiled.
“It’s my Sunday off,” Miss Edwards told her. “So, thank you, and I accept, too.” She turned to look at Robbie.
“Hopefully I’ll see you before then, Mr. Howard, with someone else wanting a viewing.”
Robbie watched them walk down the path, Lizzie turned to give him a wave. As he closed the door, Robbie thought a week on Sunday seemed an age away.
When he went into the kitchen he saw one red woolen glove lying on the work surface. Lizzie would be upset to think she had lost a 100% cashmere glove.
He glanced at the time. He called Claire first for she would be anxious to hear how the viewing had gone.
Then he would drive to the estate agent’s and ask for Lizzie’s home address.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t give you her home address,” Nicola told him. “I’ll post the glove to her and tell her how concerned you were that she shouldn’t think she’d lost it.”
“Returning the glove wasn’t the reason I was hoping you’d be here,” Robbie said. “I was wondering if… if…”
He shook his head. He was so out of practice.
“If what?” she prompted.
“The invitation to the cheese party is for a plus one, and I wondered if you’d be taking anybody? Anybody special, I mean.”
“There’s nobody special in my life right now, Robbie,” she said, smiling.
It was the first time she had used his name. Even though both she and Lizzie had mentioned their names at his house, he had not mentioned his which meant she must have looked it up on their records. It sounded good on her lips.
“In that case, maybe we could go together?” Robbie suggested shyly.
“I’d like that,” she replied.
When the Sunday of the cheese party arrived, Robbie and Nicola had already spent any spare time they had together. They both knew they would keep on doing so.
A few weeks later they were on their way to Whitwell to spend the weekend with Claire and her family.
“I’m going to enjoy the expression on Claire’s face when I tell her I’m not selling up after all,” Robbie said, smiling. “It’ll be an ‘I told you so’ look. She likes you a lot, but I think she likes the house we grew up in even more.”
“I love the house, too. And its owner. Besides, I need somewhere to live after Lizzie persuaded me to sell her my place once she saw my kitchen!”
Lizzie had become a good friend, calling in on one or the other of them whenever she would be in the area.
“I think she only decided to buy your house to give us a push in the right direction.” Robbie laughed. “I’m sure she likes a love story with a cheesy ending.”
Source: The People’s Friend
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