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Authors: Pam Weaver

Tags: #General, #War & Military, #Fiction

There’s Always Tomorrow

BOOK: There’s Always Tomorrow
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Pam Weaver
 
There’s Always Tomorrow
 

Acknowledgements
 

To Eve Blizzard, ever there with an encouraging word, my amazing editor, Kate Bradley, and my agent Juliet Burton – Juliet, you’re the best!

This book is dedicated to David, my husband, my lover and
my best friend, who never stopped believing in me.

Contents
 

One

Dottie glanced at the clock and the letter perched beside…

Two

When at last Dottie walked outside into the cool night…

Three

Mary Prior’s niece sighed. ‘Nobody’s coming yet.’

Four

It was cool in the shed. Reg pulled the orange…

Five

Dottie didn’t finish at the house until late. She was…

Six

Reg was in a good mood when he arrived back…

Seven

Saturday August 25 was indeed what the papers called ‘a…

Eight

Billy didn’t have the energy to run all the way…

Nine

It was quarter to ten when Dottie finally got home.

Ten

‘You’re very quiet today, Dottie.’

Eleven

It was a mad rush to get the tea ready…

Twelve

Mrs Fitzgerald was out. She’d left a note on the…

Thirteen

Dottie decided not to argue with Reg about Sylvie’s length…

Fourteen

Late the following Friday afternoon, Dottie was drumming her fingers…

Fifteen

By the time Dottie, Sylvie and Michael’s mum, Edna, arrived…

Sixteen

Sylvie had taken Dottie to a hotel in the centre…

Seventeen

Michael’s wedding day dawned dull and overcast. Dottie slipped out…

Eighteen

The reception finished at around ten and everyone, with the…

Nineteen

Dottie woke with a start. The bright moonlight had waxed…

Twenty

Was her period late?

Twenty-one

‘People will think we’re off to another wedding,’ Dottie joked…

Twenty-two

Patsy was in bed. Dottie poured herself a cup of…

Twenty-three

Janet Cooper climbed into the window of her tobacconist-cum-sweet-shop and…

Twenty-four

When Dottie came downstairs on Thursday, her black eye was…

Twenty-five

Reg hadn’t come home last night.

Twenty-six

It was Sunday, the day Dottie and Patsy were due…

Twenty-seven

When she woke next morning, Dottie was alone once again.

Twenty-eight

There had been a heart-stopping moment when Reg had looked…

Twenty-nine

‘Who’s there?’ The light from the kitchen made the person…

Thirty

It was proving to be difficult trying to contact Sylvie.

Thirty-one

The whistle went, bringing to an end the last playtime…

Thirty-two

The clock on the mantelpiece said 2.20am and Dottie was…

Thirty-three

John Landers couldn’t sleep. He stood at the window of…

Thirty-four

By the time Ann had raced downstairs and grabbed her…

Thirty-five

After a full English breakfast, Reg suggested that Patsy and…

Thirty-six

The whole bungalow smelled musty and damp. The windows were…

Thirty-seven

Mary listened open-mouthed as Ann told her what had happened…

Thirty-eight

When John walked into the Jolly Farmer that night, a…

Thirty-nine

As soon as the man spoke, it was so obvious,…

Forty

‘As a matter of fact, we do have someone fitting…

Forty-one

Kipper got the call just before he was going off…

Forty-two

‘May I remind you that you are here purely as…

Forty-three

‘If you ask me, they’ll do her for attempted murder,’…

Forty-four

‘It’s all gone!’

Forty-five

John opened the car door.

Forty-six

They reached Mary’s house just as the baker’s boy was…

Forty-seven

The first flurry of snow began as they drove out…

One
 

Dottie glanced at the clock and the letter perched beside it. It was addressed to Mr Reg Cox, the stamp on the envelope was Australian and it had been redirected several times: firstly ‘c/o The Black Swan, Lewisham, London’, but then someone had put a line through that and written ‘Myrtle Cottage, Worthing, Sussex’, and finally the GPO had written in pencil underneath, ‘Try the village’.

Australia … who did they know in Australia?

She picked it up again, turned it over in her hands. Holding it up to the light, she peered through the thin airmail paper at the letter inside. Of course, she wouldn’t dream of reading it. It was Reg’s letter – but she couldn’t help being curious.

There was a name on the back of the envelope. Brenda Nichols. Who was she? Someone from Reg’s past perhaps? He never talked about his war experiences, but perhaps he’d done some brave deed and Brenda Nichols was writing to thank him …

There was a sudden sharp rap at the front door and Dottie jumped.

Nervously stuffing the letter into her apron pocket, she opened the door. A boy with a grubby face stared up at her. ‘Billy!’

‘Mrs Fitzgerald wants you, Auntie Dottie.’

Billy Prior wiped the end of his nose with the back of his hand. His face was flushed, a pink glow peeping out from the mass of ginger freckles, and colourless beads of perspiration trickling from the damp edges of his hairline. He was very out of breath.

Dottie smiled down at him but she resisted the temptation to tousle his hair. She knew he wouldn’t like that any more. Billy was growing up fast. He’d take the eleven plus next year and maybe he’d be clever enough to go to grammar school. As he stood there twitching for an answer, she guessed why he’d come. There was obviously some hitch back at the house and he’d run all the way, keen to do an errand regardless of whether he might get a sixpence for his trouble. He was a good boy, Billy Prior. Conscientious. Just the sort of son any mother would be truly proud of.

‘She says it’s a pair of teef that you come,’ Billy ventured again.

Puzzled, Dottie repeated, ‘It’s a pair of … Oh!’ she added with an understanding grin, ‘you mean it’s imperative that I come?’

‘S’right,’ he nodded.

‘You can go back and tell Mrs Fitzgerald I’ll be there directly.’

‘If you please, Auntie Dottie …’ Billy began again, as she turned to go back indoors. ‘Mrs F said it was urgent.’

Dottie’s fingers went to her lips as she did some quick thinking. Should she leave a note on the kitchen table and go back with Billy? Her mind raced over the preparations she’d already made for the wedding party taking place the next day. Everything was under control; she’d left nothing to chance. Whatever Mariah Fitzgerald wanted, it couldn’t be anything serious. Dottie smiled to herself. People like her always needed to feel in charge. To Mariah, any slight hitch seemed like a major disaster. Dottie looked down at Billy’s anxious face and her heart went out to him. ‘Has there been a fire?’

‘No.’

‘Did you see an ambulance at the house?’

Billy frowned. ‘No.’

‘In that case, Billy,’ she said, ‘the message is the same. Tell them I shall be there directly.’

Billy sniffed and wiped the end of his nose with his hand, palm upwards. He seemed rooted to the spot.

‘Off you go then.’

He turned with a reluctant step. ‘It’s urgent,’ he insisted.

‘I know, I understand that. It’ll be all right, Billy. I promise I will come as soon as I can.’

She watched him go back down the path, worried in case he walked too near the old disused well. Even though Reg had put a board over the top, and weighted it down with a stone, she didn’t like anyone walking too close.

Billy’s shoulders slouched, so as he reached the gate she called, ‘Just a minute, Billy.’

He turned eagerly, obviously expecting her to run all the way back with him. Instead, she went back inside and reached up onto the mantelpiece where Reg kept his Fox’s Glacier Mints in a tin. She took it down and looked inside. There were still plenty. She’d filled it up the day before, but he’d been busy last night so most likely he hadn’t had time to count them yet. Should she risk it? He could so easily fly into one of his rages if she touched his things. She could hear Billy kicking the doorstep as he waited anxiously, scared of getting into trouble. Should she? Yes … she’d take a chance. She went back to the door and held the tin out in front of the child. ‘A sweetie for your trouble.’

Billy’s face lit up. By the time he’d reached the gate again, the treat was already in his mouth.

‘And don’t throw the paper on the floor,’ Dottie called after him. She chuckled to herself as she watched him quickly change the position of his hand and slide the paper into his pocket.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck five. She’d better get a move on. Reg would be back home soon, another ten minutes or so. If she had to go back to the doctor’s house, she’d be there half the night. She’d better tidy up her sewing and shut up the chickens right now. Reg would see to the vegetables after he’d had his tea. With all the rain they’d had lately, they might not even need watering. According to the wireless, 1951 had seen the coldest Easter for fourteen years, the coldest Whitsun for nine years and, with the height of summer coming up, things didn’t look so promising for that either. Everybody grumbled and complained – everyone except Reg. He didn’t seem to be too worried.

‘All this rain is good for the celery,’ he said. ‘And it’ll help keep down the blackfly on the runner beans. Save me buying Derris dust this year.’

Dottie folded away the pink sundress she was working on and put it in her sewing box. The potatoes were beginning to boil. As she grabbed a handful of chicken feed from the tin by the back door, she turned down the gas and hurried down the garden.

Dottie had lived in their two-up-two-down cottage on the very edge of the village for eleven years. At sixteen, she’d come to live with her Aunt Bessie and now, nearly two years on from Aunt Bessie’s tragic death, she lived here as Reg’s wife. She smiled as she recalled her wedding day. How handsome he’d been in his uniform. He’d been so nervous, his hands had trembled as he put the ring on her finger. If she had been tempted to practice philosophy, Dottie would say that in life some are the haves and others the have-nots and, despite the sadness of the past, she was still one of the haves. She had come from nothing and now she had a nice little home, good health and – if she was careful – Reg was all right … Apart from the times when his horrible moods got on top of him, and he couldn’t help that, could he? What was it Aunt Bessie always used to say to her? ‘You make your bed and you must lie in it.’

She opened the gate leading to the chicken run and closed it behind her, calling as she went. The chickens clucked contentedly around her ankles, clearly recognising her position as provider.

‘Chick, chick, chick …’

She opened the door of the henhouse and threw in the seed. Most of the hens scrambled inside straightaway. She had only to coax a few stragglers to go in before she closed and locked the door. They were still noisy and agitated, but they’d soon roost on the perches and quieten down. Satisfied that all was well, Dottie turned back to the house. She saw that Reg had arrived and was putting his bicycle into the shed. Her heart beat a little faster. He had lost some weight since his illness but he still had his good looks and his hair was still as black as jet. She paused, waiting to see what kind of mood he was in.

‘Got the tea ready?’ he said cheerfully.

With a quiet sigh, Dottie relaxed. Thank God. He was in a good mood tonight.

‘Of course,’ she smiled.

‘What are you grinning about?’

She punched the top of his arm playfully. ‘Just pleased to see you, that’s all, silly.’

Something flickered in his eyes and she knew she’d gone too far.

‘Oh, silly, am I?’

Her heart sank and she chewed her bottom lip anxiously. ‘I didn’t mean it like that, Reg.’

As she brushed past him, he grabbed her left breast and pushed her roughly against the back door. His other hand was already up her skirt, his fingers pressing into her bare flesh above her stocking top. His breathing became quicker as, with one deft movement, he undid her suspender. She felt her stocking slip. As his urge became more acute, he pressed his body against her and she heard a crinkling paper sound coming from her apron pocket. Her heart almost stopped. She still had his letter! Her mind went into overdrive. He mustn’t know. Please, please don’t let him feel it. Please don’t let him ask, ‘What’s that noise … What have you got in your pocket?’ She could feel it getting all creased up. If he found out, what would she say? How on earth would she explain?

He was kissing her so hard she hardly had time to draw breath. His tongue filled her mouth and she could feel the rough stubble on his chin rasping against her face. She tried to respond to him – he got so angry if she didn’t – but she couldn’t. Her only thought was the letter.

The door latch was digging into her side and it took all her willpower not to push him away. Another thought came into her mind. He wasn’t going to make her do it here, was he? Not here by the back door, out in the open, where anyone could come around the side of the house and see them? What if Ann Pearce looked out of her bedroom window? She’d never be able to look her in the face again.

‘Come on,’ he said hoarsely, pinning her to the door with one hand and fumbling with the buttons on his trousers with the other. ‘Come on.’

‘Reg …’ she pleaded softly. ‘Let’s go inside.’

He pushed her again, banging her head painfully against the door as he lifted his knee to prise her legs apart. All at once, he stopped fumbling with his flies and slid his hands over her buttocks. Her skirt went up at the back.

‘No,’ she pleaded. ‘Not here, not under Aunt Bessie’s window.’

He froze. She looked up and he was staring at her coldly. His lip curled and he punched her arm.

‘Oh bugger you then,’ he snarled as he walked into the house.

Dottie grabbed the window ledge to steady herself. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. She stayed where she was for a couple of seconds, her knees trembling and her hair dishevelled. Lifting the hem of her skirt, she pulled at her suspender to secure her stocking again. The back of her head was tender but thankfully there was no sign of blood. She glanced into her apron pocket. The letter was completely crumpled. She couldn’t give it to him now. He’d go loopy.

Taking a deep breath, Dottie tugged at the front of her dress to pull it straight and held her head high as she walked back inside. She knew what was expected. Business as usual. They never discussed it when it happened. He didn’t like talking. Five minutes later, her apron and the letter hanging on the nail on the back of the door, she placed his plate on the table.

He put down his paper. ‘Got plenty of gravy on that?’

‘Yes, Reg.’

He got up from his chair and sat at the table.

‘I’ve got to go back to the house,’ she said, aware that she was treading on eggshells.

‘Oh?’

‘She sent Billy Prior up with a message.’

‘Won’t it keep until morning?’

‘I doubt it,’ Dottie said, risking a little laugh. ‘You know what she’s like. She’ll be in a right state. Josephine’s wedding is the
wedding of the year.

‘I can’t imagine there’s anything left to do,’ said Reg, pulling up his chair to the table. ‘Not with you in charge.’

She wasn’t sure what to make of that remark. Was there a note of pride in his voice, or was it sarcasm? She decided not to ask and went to fetch her own plate.

‘Well, you’d better get over there right away then, hadn’t you?’

‘We’ll eat our dinner first,’ she said, adding her own note of defiance. ‘She’ll send the doctor with the car before long.’

‘How do you know that?’

She shrugged nonchalantly. ‘You’ll see.’

‘I dare say I’ll look for any sign of mildew in the strawberry beds,’ he said, mashing his potato into the gravy and spilling it onto the tablecloth, ‘and then maybe I’ll take myself off to the Jolly Farmer for a pint.’

‘So it’s all right for me to go then?’ she said.

He looked up sharply. ‘Got any brown sauce?’

 

 

Just as she’d predicted, Dr Fitzgerald, a small man with a shock of frizzy light brown hair, walked up the path about twenty minutes later. Pushing his thick-rimmed glasses further up his nose, he curled his top lip at the same time, something he always did when he was slightly embarrassed.

Dr Fitzgerald had always admired the simplicity of Dottie’s little cottage. Reg kept the garden looking immaculate. The neat rows of carrots, cabbages, beans and peas kept the two of them well fed and healthy. He knew from the various occasions when he’d been called out when Reg was ill that the inside of the cottage was neat and tidy too.

Some would say he was nosy but the doctor made it his business to know all about his patients. Taking umpteen cups of tea by the fireside had enabled him to discover that, born and raised a gentlewoman in the last century, Elizabeth Thornton, known to everyone as Aunt Bessie and the original owner of Myrtle Cottage, had incurred the wrath of her father by marrying beneath her station. Cut off from the rest of the family, she and her beloved Samuel had amassed a tidy fortune in the twenties and thirties by running a string of small hotels, but sadly they remained childless. The frequency of the doctor’s visits had increased slightly in 1940, when her only living relative, orphaned by the Blitz, had come to live in the village. A terrible thing to happen to a young girl, but he couldn’t be sorry: Dottie had brought a very welcome ray of sunshine back into Bessie’s life.

He found the back door open. In the small scullery, Dottie’s pots and pans gleamed and glinted. He wondered vaguely where she found the time. He was well aware that she was in great demand in the village. On Mondays and Tuesdays, she worked for Janet Cooper, owner and proprietor of the general store in the village, and on Thursdays and Fridays she was at his own house. Dottie wasn’t the usual sort of daily help, all frumpy and with wrinkled stockings – she was attractive too. Damned attractive. Her figure was trim and her breasts soft and round. If she had one fault, it was that she wore her copper-coloured hair too tightly pulled back in a rather severe-looking bun, but now and then a tendril of hair would work itself loose and fall over her small forehead. He wasn’t supposed to, but he noticed things like that. And when she laughed, her clear blue eyes shone and she lit up the whole world. He sighed. Oh to have an un complicated life like hers … to have an uncomplicated wife like her … Mariah’s agitated face swam before his eyes.

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