Maisie had never felt cheated because she hadn’t married. She had many friends, men and women, and although she hadn’t had her own children, her rewarding career as a very successful teacher had been full of children. Some of them were still in her life as friends.
There were other young folk she had met in various ways. One of her favourites was teenager Jamie, whom she got to know when he and his parents had lived next door to her.
He had said he would call by today, and there he was, coming down the road with his dog beside him. Both of them seemed oblivious to the falling rain.
She opened the door that faced the street.
“You should have brought an umbrella!”
Jamie and his little dog ran the last few yards and dripped their way into Maisie’s hallway. Jamie slid a surprisingly large pack off his back and put it on the floor.
“Wait there. I’ll get some towels.” Maisie disappeared and reappeared in seconds. She tossed one towel to Jamie. “Use that one to mop up, then put it under that pack to catch the drips. I’ll see to Mickey.”
The little terrier heard his name and gave a responsive yap. Maisie bent over to rub his wiry coat.
“Sorry to be a nuisance,” Jamie apologised.
“Nuisance? Nonsense. I’m pleased you made the time to come by before your big shift south tomorrow.”
Maisie smiled, mainly because she loved the feeling of Mickey’s warm body as she towelled him. She did wish, now that her life was less busy, that she had a pet. She and Jamie had sometimes discussed it. Jamie, like most teenagers, loved company. He found it difficult to understand how Maisie could be content with life on her own.
“You should get an animal for company. You’d love it. A little dog like Mickey would be good.”
“A dog has to be properly looked after,” Maisie had told him. “It needs exercise and I can’t guarantee I could walk it every day,” she indicated the walking stick in the corner. “I’m far from helpless, but there are days when I depend on that to help me get around. At times I’d be too slow for a bouncing little dog.”
“A cat, then. You could get a cat.”
“No.” Maisie had said this more than once. “A cat would frighten the birds in my garden. I do enjoy seeing them there. They’re very entertaining. And you’d be surprised at how many different species come into my back garden.”
Maisie turned to Jamie now as he finished drying off.
“I thought you might be held up with jobs to finish at home. I’m going to miss your visits.” The little dog trotted across the room and stopped by Maisie’s well-used armchair.
“He’s waiting for you to sit down so he can jump up on your knee,” Jamie told her.
“He’ll have to wait until I get our tea out.” Maisie headed for the kitchen and her voice floated out over the rattle of teacups and the whistling of the kettle. “Are you all ready for university?”
“Yep,” Jamie called back. “All packed. Wish I could take Mickey.”
“Your mum will be glad to look after him. The house will feel empty when you’re gone.”
Maisie came back into the lounge bearing a tray with a large chocolate cake, two cups and a teapot.
James leaped up to take it.
“Gran Maisie, sit down. I’ll pour the tea and cut the cake.”
Maisie let him take the tray to the table and she settled into her chair. Mickey jumped on to her lap.
“Gran Maisie,” she mused. “You used to call me that all the time when you and your mum lived over the fence.”
“I know.” Jamie grinned. “I used to think you really were my grandma, not just our neighbour.”
Maisie took the cup of tea Jamie offered and put it on the small side table. She wagged a finger at Mickey.
“You sit still now.” She turned back to Jamie. “You were the nearest thing to a grandson I was ever going to have. You were a great joy to me, Jamie. I’m going to miss you. Have you got the accommodation arrangements settled?”
“I have.” Jamie launched into an explanation relating to the confusion that had ensued over applying for more than one residential hall. Maisie listened to his rapid chatter and watched, with pleasure, how he could still manage to make a very large slice of cake disappear.
What a wonderful thing it had been to watch Jamie grow from a baby to a child and then a teenager. He was heading towards manhood now, but he still hadn’t forsaken the enthusiasm and excitement that had always been part of his personality. Maisie hoped that it would always stay with him.
“I had to make sure I called today,” Jamie added after telling her his parents were going to be driving him down to his new home in the city tomorrow.”There will be no time in the morning. Are there any jobs you need me to do?”
“That’s good of you to ask.” Maisie smiled. “But there’s nothing I need done. Why don’t you have some more tea?”
“No, thanks. I’ve been thinking I might try and get more used to coffee. Lots of people drink coffee these days, especially in the city.”
Maisie suppressed a small smile.
“You’ll fit in whether you drink tea or coffee, Jamie. No need to worry about that.”
Jamie flushed a little.
“I’m not worrying,” he protested.
“Of course not,” Maisie agreed hastily.
“Gran Maisie, there’s one job I would like to do for you,” Jamie told her solemnly.
“Would you stay here with Mickey while I do it? It’s a goodbye surprise, you see. It’s in the garden. I want to make it ready before you take a look.”
“In the garden?” Maisie frowned. “A goodbye surprise?”
“It’s stopped raining so I’ll dash out now.” Jamie stood up.
“Yes, of course. A garden surprise! I can’t imagine what it might be.”
Before she had finished her last remark, Jamie was out in the hallway and she heard him moving the bulky pack he had arrived with.
“Stay there, Gran Maisie!” he called.
Whatever was he up to, Maisie wondered. What had he brought in that pack? Was it a new plant? She felt slightly nervous if it was. How would he know where to plant it without disturbing some of other treasured plants?
Mickey turned suddenly in her lap and whined.
“He’ll be back,” Maisie told him. “Then we’ll go outside and see what he’s been up to.”
She tickled the little dog behind his ears. “I’m glad that you’re still going to get to call in and see me,” she told him. Jamie’s voice called suddenly from the hallway.
“Come outside now and see what you think!”
Mickey was down on the floor in a flash and out into the passageway. She heard his little feet patter on the kitchen vinyl as she got up to follow him out to the back garden. Jamie was standing by the door.
“I know that you’d like a pet, but not a cat or a dog…”
“I’d love either one of those,” Maisie protested. “But they don’t suit…”
“I know,” Jamie interrupted. “But I think this will.”
Goodness me, Maisie thought. Surely he hadn’t got her some other sort of animal!
She stood on the pathway that curved across her small lawn. The lawn was bordered by gardens bright with annuals and backed by the shrubs and the two trees that the birds so enjoyed. Maisie, to her relief, saw no animal in sight.
Jamie noted her eyes searching in bewilderment.
“Look over here,” he said, pointing to one of the trees. “Look what I made for you.”
He stepped forward and put a hand lightly on one of the two thin squares of timber threaded one above the other on a chain. The chain was hooked on a tree branch, suspending the two shapes.
“You said you loved the birds in the garden, and I think this will bring even more if you put food out on it every day. It’s a bird table.”
“Jamie!” Maisie’s voice was full of delight. “A two-storey bird table!”
“It’s not as good as a dog. I know, but it’s kind of like having pets of your own. Birds.”
“Jamie, it’s wonderful! I shall so enjoy it!”Jamie’s face glowed.
“I hope you will.”
Maisie turned back to the kitchen door, beckoning behind her with one hand.
“Let’s get some food to put on it right now! I’ll find a container.” Jamie followed her in, his face lit brightly because he knew that his gift had been appreciated.
“You won’t see me much in future. But you won’t forget me, will you? Not with that hanging out there all the time.”Maisie pulled Jamie into a hug.
“Jamie, I wouldn’t forget you even if that wonderful goodbye surprise wasn’t hanging there! And as soon as we’ve put some food out for the birds, I’ll put the rest of that cake in a box so you can take it home to share with the rest of your family.”
“Good plan, Gran Maisie.” Jamie grinned. “Good plan.”
Source: The People’s Friend
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