Authors: Susie Martyn
‘Darlings, you’ve surpassed yourselves!’ Angel was wafting around most impressed. The food really was every bit as sumptuous as the tickets had advertised, which was just as well, given the cost of it. Katie had successfully negotiated a deal on some excellent wine, which had gone some way to redressing the shortfall in the budget, and which the guests were clearly enjoying, if the copious bottles they were downing were anything to go by.
-heeled among them were feeling most magnanimously disposed by the time the auction came round, and that part also went with a swing. Antonia was deep in conversation with a man Lizzie didn’t recognise, until he’d winked at her, when she realised with a shock that it was William. In a spotless dinner jacket and striped dickie-bow, a far cry from the scruffy farmer Lizzie was used to. Toby however, was somewhat quieter than usual. In fact the poor man looked like he’d just been sentenced to death. Catching him alone, she sat down in the empty chair beside him.
shrugged his shoulders, looking thoroughly dejected. ‘Told you, did she? Oh...’ Then, ‘damned fond of the old girl,’ he said in a most forlorn voice, making Antonia sound more like a jersey cow than the woman he wanted to share the rest of his life with. ‘Thought she felt the same way,’ he added glumly.
Lizzie’s heart went out to him. ‘
She’s awfully fond of you Toby…But you know, her last marriage wasn’t so great. You can’t really blame her...’
Toby was silent.
When he spoke, he was desolate. ‘Thing is, a chap gets to a point in his life where he needs a wife. Someone to warm his slippers. Darn his socks, keep the home fires burning, know what I mean?’ No wonder Antonia had run a mile.
‘Toby, if it doesn’t work out with Antonia, I’m sure you’ll find someone else. You’d be a catch...’
Toby brightened momentarily. ‘I don’t suppose…’ He looked at Lizzie, then lowered his head. ‘No, course not, sorry old bean. Just thought I’d ask.’
Thank you. I’m flattered, truly,’ said Lizzie, ‘but there is already someone. I think...’
‘Oh jolly good, well done...’ Toby
slumped back in his chair and lapsed into silence. Let’s face it, thought Lizzie, the poor man had just been dumped. He was bound to be a bit down in the mouth.
‘You’ll be ok
, Tobes.’ Lizzie’s eyes gazed earnestly at him, as getting up, she patted his hand. ‘I promise. I’ll see you later.’
She bumped into Antonia almost straight away.
‘What did you say to him? He’s heartbroken,’ Lizzie muttered at her.
‘He’ll be fine, darling. Needs to man up, that’s all. Now come and talk to the Wainrights, darling. They’ve really been exceedingly generous. Be a darling and take them some free champagne...’
In fact, it seemed that the happiest couples among them were the newest. Tim whisked Katie away to the dance floor, where Leo and Ginny were already putting on a surprisingly dazzling display. Finding herself alone, Lizzie was grateful for a moment to catch her breath and think. But not for very long, as Shar came over and collapsed into the chair next to her.
‘Come and have a drink with me and Rich?’ she suggested, a twinkle in her eye.
We’re outside – there’s a bench under one of the cedars. It’s a bit quieter away from this lot! You go on. I’ll just collect another bottle of wine, and I’ll join you.’
wandered outside and looked across the park. Nola and Julia had been right – a huge round moon was rising behind the trees, brightening the dusky sky. It was a beautiful night. As she breathed in the scent of damp grass, she heard a voice behind her.
‘It was on a train.
Actually, the tube. You were annoyed with someone, erm, extremely annoyed I think.’
in a flash Lizzie remembered too. Slowly she turned round. It had been Tom’s coat she’d been staring at, and Tom who’d winked at her when he’d got off the train after she’d stomped on that horrible man’s foot.
‘Oh...’ was all she could say
, completely dumbfounded, as the memory came flooding back to her. Then giggled, adding with feeling, ‘That was a really bad day! One of the worst!’ Then she suddenly thought - that was the day. The day that all of this started…
eeling bolder, she asked him, ‘why didn’t you call? I really thought you were going to...’
Tom sighed. ‘I think I made a mistake. No, I know I made a mistake
Lizzie. A big one. We were together for two years, Lucy and I, until she ended things. I found it very difficult afterwards. When I saw her again, that time with you, I didn’t really think. But later, when I couldn’t stop thinking about you, I realised...’
He looked sheepish. ‘Seems we’ve been set up. My so-called friends I assume... they seem to think I need a kick up the backside
!’ Rich had told him as much earlier. Taking Lizzie’s hand, he led her across the grass.
down on the bench, still not sure where this was leading.
‘I finished with Lucy about two weeks after the wedding.
I did call you then, several times, but you were never home. I didn’t leave a message, because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t even sure you’d want to talk to me.’ He laughed ruefully. ‘I’m really not very good at this. I’ve also been travelling a lot, and back and forth in between of course, but, I don’t know...’ His voice tailed off. He wasn’t very good at selling himself. Anyway, he’d been an arse.
But Lizzie was not going to make this easy for him.
Why should she? And did she even want to start anything with him when she might be moving anyway...
‘You know,’ she said eventually, ‘
I’m still not sure what you’re saying…’
But his face told her the answer.
Her face fell. ‘Oh Tom. You see, I’ve just been offered an amazing opportunity...’
Tom listened as she told him about it.
Then there was a bit of a scuffle, and the sound of voices
as Rich and Shar joined them, looking inordinately pleased.
‘Ok chaps?’ Rich bent down to look at Lizzie, then Tom, before grabbing Shar’s arm and saying, ‘
Shara my dear, would you like some more champagne?’ as he waltzed her back to the marquee.
‘Oh, definitely a set-up!’ Lizzie
looked at him. ‘The question is, where do we go from here?’
Tom leant forward and took her hand. ‘
You know, sometimes decisions are best kept on hold, just for a while, while you mull them over. That’s what I do, or what it’s worth. Things have a funny way of working out.’ He paused, quite pleased with what he’d said, for once. ‘Come on, why don’t we go back and have a dance?’
Rich nudged Shar as there, as in the middle of the dance floor, Lizzie and Tom at last held each other closely. Katie caught Tim’s eye and winked, Darius clutched Angelus’s arm – even Eucalyptus sniffed a tear away as all of them noticed.
Lizzie and Tom
suddenly looked at each other. Both feeling something that they couldn’t identify, before looking away. But that electricity was stronger than ever and just as the thought came into Tom’s mind, so what if she does move to Devon? It’s hardly very far away, Lizzie was thinking exactly the same thing, that even if she did take that job, why shouldn’t she and Tom have a future… Barely perceptibly to anyone who might be watching, their arms tightened around each other, as they found themselves for the first time ever, perfectly and absolutely synchronised.
Just the right time later
‘Tom, we’re going to be
late’ wailed Lizzie from the bathroom. ‘I feel so sick. Everyone will be there before us, and I so wanted to be early...’
‘Lizzie, can we just get going? We can always stop on the way if we need to.’
‘I can’t do my zip up!’ came the plaintive voice from the bathroom. ‘Honestly, last week it fitted fine...’
‘Wear that floaty
thing that Nola sent you then,’ Tom replied, starting to lose patience. ‘It looks gorgeous, now
Inside the tiny church in Littleton, a crowd had gathered for the wedding. It wasn’t as lavishly decorated as it had been for Susie’s about 18 months previously, but it was simply and elegantly done, with white narcissi and candles on every surface, lifting the gloom of a grey February afternoon.
Lizzie and Tom just made it in through the door, only seconds before the organ fired up
with Mrs Hepplewhite’s admirable rendition of Wagner’s Wedding March and Katie, elegantly resplendent in ivory slub silk with a fitted furry bolero to keep the chill out, took her father’s arm and started her walk down the aisle.
good to be back. Like coming home. Lizzie hadn’t realised until now, just how much she had missed everyone. If it hadn’t been Katie and Tim’s wedding, it might have felt like her own welcome home party, she thought. She couldn’t wait to move back here. In the event, she’d had less than six months in Devon before discovering she was having Tom’s baby. Eric Masterson had been sorry that he had to lose her, but had been most understanding, asking her to stay as long as she could to help him chose her replacement. And together they’d drawn up plans for the future of the gardens there, which Eric was determined he’d see through to completion.
‘How are you feeling?’ Tom was concerned.
‘Ok... I think...’
Lizzie sounded doubtful. Truth was, she was feeling a little odd today, but she wasn’t missing this wedding for anything. Not even if...she banished the thought. Just not today...
The reception was being held at
Aubrey’s house. He’d enjoyed hosting the Hethecote fund-raiser so much that he and Antonia had gone into business. Only in a small way, but it was proving rather lucrative, solving Antonia’s financial worries. She and Cassie had moved out of Apple Trees. William had offered her free grazing for the horses, and Miriam had rented half of Hethecote Farmhouse to her, in exchange for some help with the arm. Dave had become a local celebrity with the visitors, being far too old to be eaten.
‘Would only be good for stewing
now darling. He’s too bally old... Be tough as old boots! Such a waste,’ she’d said resignedly, when Lizzie had asked after him.
Awfully glad to hear you’re moving back though Lizzie! It hasn’t been the same at all… I say, have you seen William? Bit of a dish in that suit, isn’t he? Actually, I’ll let you into a little secret, darling… he’s quite a surprise in the kitchen…’ She winked at Lizzie. Not the only surprise by the look of it.
The size of Lizzie’s belly was the cause of much consternation.
Antonia and Cassie couldn’t take their eyes off it.
Good God you’re fat! Are you absolutely sure there’s only one? You’re enormous!’ Antonia told her in her usual tactless fashion.
Cassie was fascinated, especially when the floaty dress rippled as the baby kicked around underneath.
‘Doesn’t that hurt?’ she asked Lizzie incredulously, tentatively touching then whipping her hand away in fright as Lizzie’s belly stirred again.
‘Nothing like as much as when it comes out,’ muttered Antonia
darkly, under her breath. ‘Couldn’t sit down for weeks after you arrived,’ she told her daughter, which wasn’t exactly what Lizzie wanted to hear at that moment.
Cassie had caught
Lizzie earlier, as they arrived at the reception. ‘Is it really true? That you’re moving back? Only I’ve missed you Lizzie...Mummy’s been driving me mad. You will invite her over won’t you, when the baby’s born?’
Lizzie laughed. ‘Of course
! She’d better... I’m counting on it, and you too! I’ve got you down as my chief babysitter...’
Actually Lizzie couldn’t wait. She and Tom were moving into
Owl Cottage, a little further down the lane from where Antonia and Cassie used to live. Her own beloved cottage that she’d moved into right at the very beginning had been re-let, and in any case, would have been on the small side, now that there would soon be three of them.
ed more from home these days, and had started to get involved with his father’s farm. Though he still travelled, it was less and Lizzie went with him when it was possible. She was looking forward to her new garden. The only trouble was, at the moment, with the trouble she had walking even the shortest distance, she certainly couldn’t imagine digging it.
Toby had a new girlfriend in tow
. Cynthia – quite a pretty girl except for her incredibly big teeth and a laugh like a donkey braying. But he was completely smitten and Lizzie was relieved to observe, that this time it appeared to be mutual. Maybe things would work out better for him, and Cynthia would be the lucky one charged with the enviable task of keeping Toby’s home fires burning.
Leo had long gone, banished to the wilds of Ireland, where he’d found a job in a large bloodstock yard.
After his brief fling with Ginny during which she’d kept him relatively out of trouble, he’d gone on to disgrace himself spectacularly by having it off with the wife of one of Tim’s longest standing clients, finally getting caught with his trousers down, quite literally. Lizzie had laughed like a drain when Katie told her. Tim had been livid and fired him, saying he’d rather work twice as hard than put up with any more of Leo’s embarrassing behaviour. In any case, since then he’d found another locum who’d succumbed to the magic of the village and looked as though he’d be staying.
Eucalyptus was there, still, unbelievably, with Jamie. She
came scurrying over to Lizzie as soon as they got to the reception. She seemed a lot less twitchy these days. Less straggly and neurotic – vaguely pretty even. Maybe Jamie had found someone who suited his controlling ways.
pleased to see you Lizzie. Erm, actually we both are...’ Lizzie glanced over at Jamie, who managed an awkward wave in her direction. He was sporting rather a natty tie, thought Lizzie, with amusement. Quite a departure for such a stick in the mud.
‘You never told you had an Einstein,’ he told her disapprovingly
‘But I don’t,’ she’d said, puzzled.
‘That painting in your kitchen, Eliza… didn’t you know? It was an Einstein…’
Slowly the penny dropped. Mrs Einstein, the breeder of the creepy cats, was none other than
Eucalyptus all along! Who’d have thought it?
n unfamiliar tightness spread across her belly.
And the pain
… Lizzie winced.
oh dear, oh you’re not...are you?’ fluffed Eucalyptus, jumping up in alarm.
‘Probably just a false alarm,’ Lizzie
lied, before Eucalyptus added, ‘Oh, my, I rather think maybe you are,’ watching disbelievingly as Lizzie’s waters broke. Dramatically.
– oh - oh deary me.’ Eucalyptus just stood there, gaping, rooted to the spot.
‘Get Tom,’ said Lizzie through gritted teeth, wishing she were anywhere but here. How utterly embarrassing was this.
An ambulance came and rushed them off to the local hospital. Katie had desperately
wanted to go too, but Tim had gently but firmly persuaded his wife of a few hours that as in fact it was actually her own wedding that she was planning to abandon, it might just be better if she stayed behind and let Tom go instead.
The reception went on as planned. If it had been anyone other than Tim and Katie getting mar
ried, it might have been different, but they took it all in their stride, with Tim throwing away the speech he had spent hours preparing.
Lizzie has made quite sure that we’ll never forget our wedding day,’ he began, to the applause of their guests. A radiantly happy Katie giggled at his side, both of them knowing only too well that Lizzie herself would be completely mortified.
Lizzie felt as exhausted as if she’d run one of her marathons. Carrying four extra stone. And just as elated, when a little while later, Tom carefully passed her a small, shrieking bundle with a very red face. Sophie Jane Lavender Woodleigh...curiously it had been Tom who had suggested the Jane, and been quite adamant about it too, as he gently stroked his daughter’s tiny head.
During her first week in Owl Cottage, it was as though she’d never been away. The stream of visitors was never ending – Darren had installed himself under Sophie’s cot, monitoring the flow through one eye.
‘Quite sweet for a baby,’ said Antonia, clutching a small stuffed horse. ‘Cassie was hideous. They do get prettier, thank God.’
‘Oh darling, she’s
…’ The fairy godfathers, as Tom had re-christened Darius and Angel, arrived laden with so many presents you could only tell by the aftershave who was standing at the door. ‘Look at her nose, darling… her fingers are so tiny…
,’ they cooed, smitten.
A week later, Lizzie took Sophie to Sparkie’s. She wanted to introduce her to Nola and Julia, and ask, very tentatively, if the girls had any idea where she might find the cutest baby clothes.
The bell gave its familiar tinkle as Lizzie went in. And stopped. The shop look
ed completely different. Nola’s face lit up as she saw her.
both of them warmly, she explained.
, we’re moving, Lizzie.’ Nola eyes had looked earnestly at her.
‘Sparkie’s will still be here, but someone else will be running it
A familiar pink head popped up from behind the desk.
‘Tilly’s going to look after it while we go and start our next shop. We’re going to Brighton, actually. Julia found the most perfect little shop in the Lanes, and we signed the lease yesterday! It felt like… the right time…’
it was again…
They sat in the office, drinking raspberry and vanilla tea, as in turn, both Nola and Julia held baby Sophie.
They marvelled at her peachy skin and the pale wisps of hair... Were entranced even when she screwed up her face and wailed. But they were quieter than usual. Their mood was different, as if something no longer troubled them.
‘I shall miss you both terribly,’ said Lizzie
‘We won’t be gone forever,’ said Julia. ‘And it’s different now Lizzie. You’ve found your way
. Of course there’s more, there always will be. But you’ll be able to figure it out.’
an you see it now, Lizzie?’ said Nola.
See what?’ asked Lizzie, puzzled.
All of it! How you came to be here, and bumped into Tom, and all the events that happened since that meant you finally ended up together… There was a reason for everything. If just one part of it hadn’t gone before, everything would now be different. Even going away for a while was right! Because it’s all worked out perfectly. Your circle is complete! And you have this little darling one, and so it all begins again...’
But it went back further than that.
It had all started with one of her darkest days ever and the pervert on the train…But actually,
she hadn’t stumbled across Littleton…
Jamie hadn’t been the wrong man…
her mother hadn’t left her that letter…
‘It was always your destiny...’ said Julia
quietly. ‘All you had to do was recognise it...’
And Lizzie didn’t say anything
. There was a certain kind of logic to their words. Destiny, fate, chance – it existed, whatever you called it. Just because you couldn’t see it, it didn’t matter. And anyway, who was she to question the ways of the universe?