Despite every effort the tears came. Alone in her rubbish tip of a back garden, Pippa collapsed to her knees on the scratchy patch of green that tried valiantly to pass for a lawn. Once the storm had subsided, Pippa became aware of another presence. Lifting her head slightly, her eyes alighted on a pair of smart sandals.
“Are you all right, my dear?” a melodious voice enquired, then tutted. “Silly question, you are obviously not all right. I am Felicity Reynolds; I live next door. I just called round to welcome you to the neighbourhood, which has been unsuccessful in making you feel welcomed so far.”
Scrambling to her feet, Pippa took in the rest of her visitor. Alert eyes sparkled from a smiling middle-aged face, beautiful and full of character.
“I am sorry to intrude,” Felicity said. “I will go.”
“No, please do not. Pippa shrivelled at the thought of being alone again.
“Pippa Marriot. If you will excuse the mess, I can locate the kettle and will make us a drink.”
Felicity eyed Pippa over her mug of tea.
“Why were you crying, Pippa? Is it anything I can help you with?” she enquired so matter of factly, it made Pippa, usually ill at ease with strangers, relax.
It all came out – her husband Lenny’s redundancy, his inability to find another job, and him feeling like a total failure.
“Then he went out one day with his best friend and came home eager to join the Army! Good money and fantastic training, he told me.” Pippa ran her fingers through her hair.
“He was so passionate about it.” She looked around for a tissue as the tears started again.
“We got this house for a song as so much needs to be done to it, but it was something we were going to do once we had both found other jobs. By the time everything was sorted with him, all the dates clashed. I have had to organise it all myself.” She blew her nose hard. “Goodness, do I not sound like a whiner? I am usually a lot more positive than this.”
Then she gave a faint smile.
“I do not think I have ever opened up like that to a stranger before; you are incredibly easy to talk to.”
Felicity squeezed her hand.
“It will have done you good to talk, my dear,” she said. “I suspect you have been bottling things up for a while.”
“I put a brave face on for my parents, too,” Pippa admitted. “They were worried enough with Lenny joining up like that, never mind me starting a new life on my own in a strange place.”
Pippa picked at the tissue in her hand and gave Felicity a watery smile.
“I am so sorry you found me like that. I suddenly felt I needed some air. I guess everything just got on top of me.” She blew her nose again. “I miss Lenny so much.”
“Well, of course you do, my dear.” Felicity patted her hand.
“There are so many trouble spots he could be sent to. It is such a worry.”
“It is,” Felicity said. “It is always hard on the wives.”
Pippa stared at her.
“Both my husband and son were in the forces, Pippa,” Felicity explained.
“They came through fine, but my husband had not been home very long before I lost him. He was quite a bit older than me. My son met an American girl and he lives there now, so I do not get to see them, or my grandchildren, very often. We Skype each other, of course, but it is not the same. Especially when all I long to do is hug them all.”
Clearing her throat, Felicity stood up.
“But I count my blessings,” she said. “I have wonderful friends and a full life. Well, my dear, I must go. It is lovely to have met you. Pop your phone number down for me, and I will be in touch.”
Pippa tried to “count her blessings” after her neighbour had gone, but failed dismally.
All she could see was life in a strange town where she did not bother looking at what was around her, now that she had been in so much misery. Her family was miles away and her husband was at the other side of the world.
Unearthing sheets and a duvet, she trudged upstairs to make up her bed. Perhaps she would feel better after a good night’s sleep.
She quickly fell into a dreamless sleep and awoke to the sound of her phone ringing.
“Pippa? It is Felicity. How are you this lovely Saturday morning?”
“Loads better, thank you.”
To her surprise, Pippa found it was true. She did feel more positive this morning – maybe because the sun was streaming into her bedroom.
“Well, I have a few people coming for coffee this morning, and if you would like to join us, you would be more than welcome.”
Pippa’s heart sank. A roomful of strangers was her worst nightmare. Her natural shyness always meant it took her ages to make friends.
“It is very kind of you, Felicity,” she found herself saying, “but really, I have so much to do. Thank you for thinking of me.”
Hanging up, Pippa felt the tears start again.
How could she make a new life for herself like this?
A few minutes later the doorbell rang. Shrugging on her dressing gown, wondering who on earth it could be, Pippa ran down the stairs.
“I would have thought it was more important to meet your new neighbours than do jobs all by yourself,” her new neighbour said mildly. “If you really want to be alone then say so and I will go away.”
“Come in.” Pippa waved Felicity into the kitchen and reached for the kettle.
“I am not very good with new people,” she admitted.
“You seem perfectly at ease with me,” Felicity said.
“Well, we sort of got thrown in the deep end,” Pippa said, then chortled despite herself. “I did just about drown us in my tears.”
“True,” Felicity acknowledged with a grin. “Anyway, trust me. They are a lovely crowd. We all go to the local leisure club, do various classes there. And they are all very curious, in the nicest possible way, to meet my new neighbour.”
“I do not think I can.” Pippa could feel the familiar fear welling up in her at the thought.
“I used to be very shy,” Felicity began. “Then, because of the high rank to which Frank rose in the Air Force, we had to do quite a lot of entertaining. I had no choice but to get over it. To help me, I used what I called the ‘Stage of Life’.”
“What is that?”
“I pretended I was acting a part. My cue was the arrival of a guest, and I had to play my part. Do not get me wrong, it was the hardest thing I have ever done, and it obviously would not work for everyone. But it worked for me.” She gave Pippa’s hand a squeeze. “Give it a go, my dear. After all, what have you got to lose?”
What had she to lose? She could always come home again.
Pippa drew a deep breath.
“Good. Come over about half past 10 and I will show you around. The others will not be arriving until around 11 o’clock and I promise I will introduce you one by one.”
Felicity’s home was furnished with exquisite taste.
“It is gorgeous, Felicity!” Pippa breathed. “I know who to come to for advice on doing up our house, at least.”
“Thank you. It would be a pleasure,” Felicity said.
At that moment the doorbell rang.
Pippa’s heart started to thud.
“Now, Pippa, stand by the fireplace and take deep breaths. When I introduce you your lines are something like, ‘Hello, it is great to meet you.’ I will be back in a moment.”
Felicity ushered in the first arrival. A round vision in scarlet bounded into the room.
“Hi, you must be Pippa! How lovely to meet you. I am Lorraine.”
“Hello. Great to meet you, too.” Pippa also managed a smile along with her words, despite her pounding heart.
“Nothing wrong with that performance,” Felicity whispered as she handed Pippa her coffee.
A tall, angular lady, who looked on the fierce side until she smiled, turned out to be Angela. Chloe was a tiny person, with a gorgeous raspy voice.
Pippa was in turn introduced to Pauline, Sue, Diane, Judy and Maureen, and was welcomed with such genuine kindness that her anxiety soon faded away. By the time they had coffee, Pippa, much to her amazement, felt almost one of the crowd.
As they said goodbye, they all told her she should come along to the classes at the leisure club.
Well, perhaps she could, Pippa thought, her spirits rising slightly.
“Would you like to come to the local WI meeting with me, Pippa?” Felicity asked over coffee on a beautiful summer’s day a few weeks later.
They were sitting in Pippa’s garden on a rather larger patch of green, which could definitely be described as a lawn.
Pippa had worked hard to transform the garden, which was now a riot of colour. Felicity had been as good as her word and Pippa was thrilled with the décor and soft furnishings of her new home.
At least with what they had put by, and with Lenny now earning good money, she had been able to enjoy concentrating on the house and garden, before she looked around for another job.
Now Pippa nearly dropped one of her gorgeous new china mugs.
“Despite all you have assumed about the WI, our branch is more ‘Calendar Girls’ than ‘Jam And Jerusalem’, I can tell you,” she said. “In fact, most branches are. And we have all age groups.”
She fished in her bag, pulling out a card. “The speaker this time is Julia Monroe who used to work as a make-up artist for the BBC. Should be interesting.”
And it surely was! A compelling speaker, Julia regaled them with hilarious anecdotes and happenings behind the scenes at the BBC.
“You know, Felicity, I can never thank you enough,”Pippa expressed.
It was the day before Christmas Eve and Pippa gave her dearest friend a hug. “You gave me confidence just when I needed it the most, and what more could have I asked for than you being in the audience; it is just an icing on the cake.
“Oh, my!” she exhaled, clutching Felicity in terror. “I am so nervous. What if I forget what I am doing?”
“Natural fears, my dear. We all have them before we have an appearance. Now, deep breaths. Lenny will be so proud of you, and so am I,” Felicity said, giving Pippa a hug. “Knock’ em dead!”
Well-attired in her maid’s uniform, Pippa waited, heart thumping, in the wings for her cue, then strode on to the stage clutching a laden tray.
“Your afternoon tea, madam,” she said in ringing tones, placing the tray carefully on the table.
“Will there be anything else?”
“No, thank you, Carter, that will be all.”
Pippa exited the stage from the left, with her heart singing.
It was just one line in a WI play. But to Pippa it was another massive step forward in her ‘Stage of Life’.
Source: My Weekly
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