A bright, warm May afternoon, and 79-year-old Jack Turnby stood on his drive viewing his 2002 Toyota, contemplating whether he might outlive this scarred vehicle. Purchasing a newer model had much appeal. His imminent rebellion against the so-called ‘care’ of his two darling, married daughters stemmed from many things, but each had expressed their doubts about this potential purchase..
“I know you can afford it, Dad,” Melanie, the eldest at 45 years had observed, “but—” And in that unfinished doubt hung the question of his continued longevity.
Her sister, Fran, six years her junior, had agreed, “Seems unnecessary expense.”
They each had high-quality jobs, but the sudden unexpected death of his dear wife, Laura, five years earlier, had led them to heap greater attention on him. Their own grief was deep enough, but, aware of how close he and Laura had been, he was sure they feared his possible suicide. For a few months that was probably close to the truth.
Looking at Fran, was always difficult. She was clearly her mother’s child. But as she matured, and her features had developed year on year, Jack could not look at her without fresh pangs at his loss.
Nose, hazel eyes, tilt of her head, they were all pure elements of Laura. Recently she’d had her tawny hair styled just above shoulder length with the ends curled back. Just like Laura’s hair had been for many years.
Jokingly, dark-haired Melanie would curse at having Jack’s more mundane attributes. A generous nose and elephant ears, which she ensured were hidden beneath a longer hairstyle.
Jack loved his two beautiful daughters, but was it his aging that had brought on his recent resentment of their ‘fussing’ over him? How can people you love most also cause so much irritation?
After Laura’s death, they had made frequent suggestions of him having a smaller house. He quickly and vehemently quashed that notion. “All my memories are here. I’ll only be carried out in a box.”
His heart scare two years earlier, had been, in his opinion, merely a blocked artery. A local anaesthetic and a stent introduced via his arm to replace the blockage and it was job done. In and out of hospital in just one day. Then the daughterly “care” began. Every day that first week, they were there, ordering him to rest, while they did all the shopping and cleaning. They even regulated his diet.
Doctors decreed no driving for four weeks, so they took his car keys away. His beloved whiskey was removed from the house. “Not good for you in your condition.”
Apart from that last infringement of his human rights, Jack was more than appreciative of their concern. But gradually, over the next few months, he noted that being “cared for” was becoming, being “fussed over.” When they suggested he employ a cleaner he told them flatly that hoovering, and dusting presented no problem. But since that time, whenever they visited, either individually or together he could see their eyes inspecting.
Fingers would check shelves for dust, carpets that showed the tiniest spot would be furiously rubbed. Having his Tobermory single malt whiskey returned helped him hide his annoyance, but, even then, he had to promise that downing his Scottish nectar would be controlled.
Now driving had become the new bone of contention. “You’re too old to drive any distances,” Melanie had decreed.
“Supermarket and back, is distance enough,” Fran had agreed.
At his request, Melanie had driven him, to the Care Home to visit Mike Harper, suffering from dementia, and the last living member of his five close friends
Jack left that encounter, pained and wishing he hadn’t bothered. He found Mike, all slack, dribbling mouth, and rheumy eyed, a wasted figure, who looked through and beyond him without recognition. Mike’s dulled expression remained blank even when Jack tried to remind him of their youthful exploits, although many had slipped his own mind.
That recall had triggered a strange longing in Jack to see again the estate where he’d grown up in wartime and into early youth. To relive old times.
He’d expressed his longing to each daughter, “I’ll run you out there sometime.” Not a promise, but a put-off.
He wanted to take his own time, stopping and savouring any important moments.
One weekend when Melanie and Fran were visiting with his four grandchildren who he’d been enjoying watching , he casually remarked that he was prepared to drive there himself. Big mistake.
“What!” Melanie almost exploded. “That’s almost seven miles.”
“Fourteen there and back,” Fran added just as hotly.
This was too much for Jack. He really had to suppress his irritation. “I am not demented. I’m still capable of driving safely.”
“You’re seventy-nine,” Fran argued, as though it was some criminal offence.
“What if we checked his mileage every time we call, Fran?”
Jack couldn’t believe this. “That’s taking things too far.”
Melanie laughed, “Just to stop you driving too far!”
Now it was rebellion time. No more talk. On this bright May afternoon, he was going to have his own way. Once in the Toyota, he was overjoyed when it started first time. Old dependable. Just like him.
Thirty m.p.h. until he reached the Coast Road, then a steady forty, and in just over twenty minutes he was turning onto the slip road that led to Deansbury Estate. A strange feeling of excitement was growing inside him, even though he knew how things might have changed, and memories would be harsh because of lost friends.
But just recalling how it had been would satisfy him.
Under the railway bridge was like a gateway into his past, and it immediately brought a first disappointment. To the left had been the unkempt field where they had casual kickabouts with a football that was falling apart. Mistily, he saw speedy Lenny Carter racing past everyone. God, he was fast. An estate of neat bungalows faced him now.
Traffic lights stopped him at the next junction, and as he waited for the green, he contemplated his next move Straight across would take him past his old junior school. So many memories there. Left and then an immediate right would take him onto Holly Avenue, parallel with the school road.
No, not Holly Avenue. Three of his departed friends had lived along that street, including Lenny Carter. All five of them had played cards in Vic Casey’s house.
Ah, yes, how many times had he taken Julie Weston to her garden gate at the far end of Holly Avenue? Julie. The lights changed to save him from further painful contemplation of that heartbreak, and he was taking the school road. And here was a massive change. He stopped the car.
Deansbury Junior School had been built just after the first world war. He recalled a roughened, red-bricked blot with a front door where tall, rigid, stony-faced Mr Rodney, the headmaster would stand, thick tawse swinging menacingly in his hand.
Unbelievable that the white fronted, elegantly glazed edifice in front of him could be the same place. But, anyway, Jack’s memories of being there were happy ones.
Starting the car, he headed for the next junction. On the left had been Watson’s General Store where the whole gang of them, girls as well as boys would play around, tease and giggle while consuming fruit gums, But now he found, that it was a petrol station with a wide drive-in.
Turning right he passed the house of a girl called Vivien, who had eventually, when she was nineteen became a fashion model and appeared in many up-market magazines. Jack had kissed her once in a party game and had been singularly unimpressed.
Curiosity heightened, as he realised that, without even thinking about it he had turned into the avenue that led to his own street, Linkhurst Terrace. Would there be much change there? To his right, he was pleased to see that the ancient allotments were still in fashion. They were more bedecked with greenhouses and sheds than seventy years ago, but they remained a strong link to the past.
He was approaching the cul-de-sac that was Linkhurst Terrace, and, automatically, he slowed the car. Here, he well remembered his first attempts at riding a bicycle. Ahead of him was the corner hedging where he had been unable to make the turn, had crashed into the privet hedge and had run home with numerous bruises and scratches.
It never struck him as strange when he was young, but his home street had an unusual set-up. Numbers one to four were detached private houses, as were numbers eleven to sixteen. Yet the houses making up the base of the cul-de-sac, numbers five to ten, were council rented flats. And number eight, a downstairs flat had been theirs.
Continuing his slow movement, he turned into the cul-de-sac, smiling at the thought, “Mind that damned privet hedge.”
Ahead of him the street looked little changed from what he remembered. But the lower, widened section of road was full of cars. No garages. He wondered how delivery vans managed.
Accordingly, he parked higher up the terrace, locked the car, and walked down intending to get a better view of number eight. He saw immediately that all the flats had been renovated with new windows and front doors. In fact, number six and number eight had bay windows. It certainly improved things and made him strangely glad.
He allowed his eyes to wander around the houses, testing himself to remember who had lived in each of them. Of course, all would be different now. In the end, he recalled only six out of the sixteen. Including number sixteen itself, and he had an incredibly special reason for remembering that, where widowed Mrs Richardson had lived and where her granddaughter, Julie, visited leading to Jack’s first heartbreak before moving south
A silver-haired lady was kneeling, tending plants in the well-kept front garden as Jack approached the low beech hedge. Obviously, it couldn’t be Mrs Richardson, who would be over a hundred years old by now.
Maybe she saw his feet through the thin hedging because she glanced up, and slowly, deliberately, climbed carefully to her feet. A tall, slender figure, her flowered dress was hardly gardening wear.
But, from the moment she’d glanced up, his heart rate had increased. Those, unlined and clear green, oh, so green eyes. And that wide friendly smile on pale lips. It just couldn’t be, could it?
“J-Julie Weston?” he stammered, feeling like some smitten youth once more.
Seventeen-year-old Jack Turnby first noticed Julie Weston as he cycled home from High school. He only had a fleeting image of this slender girl saying her farewells to Mrs Richardson. She glanced his way as Mrs Richardson returned Jack’s usual wave in passing. Dark hair, green eyes, all too brief. Then he was home, but he had been struck.
A week passed before he saw her again. It was a Saturday, and he was rushing from the local shop where his mother had sent him for extra milk. Mrs Richardson was standing at her gate, and again it looked like a farewell to that girl.
Mrs Richardson, bright as ever, her badly dyed fair hair, blowing in the breeze, called out to him, “Hey, Jack, messenger boy again?”
“Like always,” he laughed, as he came alongside them.
The girl had turned full face, and Jack had to stop cycling. This image, standing there, just stunned him. Black wavy hair framed her lovely face. And those green eyes, so piercing but not in a hard way.
Mrs Richardson, knowingly defining the moment said, “Jack, this is my granddaughter, Ursula. She’s—”
“Grandma, my name is Julie,” the girl scolded with a smile, such a husky sensuous deep tone, yet her eyes held on Jack’s reddening face.
“You can’t just change your name like that, young lady,“ Mrs Richardson said. “You’ll always be Ursula to me.” She turned to Jack, “Football, today?”
Jack could hardly answer. Had he imagined that those eyes conveyed a message? Wish on, boy. “Yes, I’ll have to go, “ he said hastily. Breathing in deeply, he said to Julie or Ursula, “Glad I met you.”
“Me too,” she huskily replied, and taking his eyes off that face was like snapping strong thread.
As soon as he was in the house, he peered around the curtain. The street was empty. This was something different. The melting sensation inside him told him that . He’d never felt this way about any of the girls he’d known. Not even Janice Fairfield, who had been most accommodating. Now what?
He rejected the idea of asking Mrs Richardson about her. . That was too close to home. So, another week was spent in just thinking about the vision she had become in his mind. Then, the following Saturday, fate took a hand.
Jack was cycling back from a pleasing 3-0 win at Hudders Park. As he approached Linkhurst Terrace from the right, one hundred yards from the turn-in, a trim, dark-haired figure emerged, and turned left. No doubt in his mind. It was Julie.
Jack applied greater pressure to the pedals. This just had to be the moment.
She glanced back, and surely, slowed her pace, having seen him. Eyes fixed ahead he pedalled furiously. His blood pounded as he saw her stop.
He was halfway dismounted before he reached her, and the last few yards were on rushing feet as he thrust his bicycle against a fence.
A warm smile, and a delightful giggle, as she asked, “Are you trying for the land speed record?”
Jack hoped his own smile was as genuine, replying, “Are you waiting for a bus?”
Later he would consider if there could have been two more inane first words between two people meeting alone for the first time.
Then came a pause which signalled, to Jack anyway, how important this meeting was They were nearer each other than they had been so far, and it was that her lavender perfume filling his head?
“Why the haversack?” she queried.
“Football kit—” he hesitated on her name. “Do I call you Ursula?”
“You’d better not,” she laughed again, and for Jack, she just looked beautiful.
“So, it’s Julie,” he affirmed. “Why the change?”
“Would you like to be called Ursula Bedelia?”
His turn to laugh, “My mates might be amused.”
She shared his laugh and told him she’d stolen the name from a book. Jack felt it was a promising start, “Why are you going in this direction?” For some reason, he had expected her to be heading for a bus route.
“Because my house is this was. Is that all right?” And the grin told him that she was slightly mocking.
Unabashed Jack asked, “Where do you live?”
“Down near the junior school---”
This was great. She was virtually nearby, as she added, “—Holly Avenue, do you know it?”
His gasp of shocked amazement must have surprised her, as he burst out, “Three of my best friends live on Holly Avenue. I’m always down that way.”
How come they had never mentioned a looker like Julie? Those stunning green eyes, that slender shape. His uncertainties were quickly settled by her next revelation, “We’ve only been there for three months, the second door along.”
Jack nodded, that accounted for it, Tom, Lenny, and Vic all lived at the far end, nearer the railway.
He told her which High School he attended and learned that she was at one of the best-known Catholic Girls’ schools in the city. Jack couldn’t remember what rumours he’d heard about Catholic girls, but it didn’t matter. The feeling he had at the moment, maybe unrealistic, he wanted to keep it forever.
Time now to take the bull by the horns, as they say. “Would you go with me to the Regal, tonight?” The Regal was the local picture house.
He almost collapsed at the speed of her response, “I’d love to.”
She rejected his offer to call for her. “Silly for you to walk all that way just to walk back. I know the Regal, and it’s a leisurely walk for me. Meet you outside.”
Jack had dated many girls before but never had they felt as important as this one with Julie. As the film started he debated about putting his arm around her, as other couples were doing. But she even settled that one by placing her hand on his and accepting the intertwining of fingers, while on-screen, Alan Ladd did his thing, almost unnoticed.
She seemed pleased when he offered to walk her home, and their hands held all the way. At her garden gate, the question of a good night first kiss troubled his mind, in a way that it never had with other girls. Was it too early? A first date, and all?
Again, it was Julie who resolved his difficulty, as she brought her lovely face close to his, and again he caught her heady perfume. “I’ve had a lovely evening.” Her lips were closer, inviting, and could not be ignored. Jack pressed his own to hers, briefly, softly. But so deliciously. Then the door opened and a tall, shirt sleeved figure growled from the shadows, “Ursula. Off the street.”
As she hurried to obey, she called back. “We must do that again.”
Jack walked home way off the ground. His lips still tingled from that first encounter. They would do that again.
And that was the start of a delightful pattern. They met twice a week. He introduced Julie to his friends, who were shocked when he answered their envious queries about where he’d found such a beauty, and he was able to laugh, “At the end of your street.”
Twice a week became three times as they visited more remote cinemas, walked in many parks and country paths, or took the train to the coast at Bursea Bay to stroll the beach or prom.
Before long they were meeting as frequently as possible. Their kisses became so consuming that sometimes they had to stop to catch their breath. Clinging together one night, enveloped in the delirium of their kisses, she sighed, “I want to be so loving with you. But my religion doesn’t allow total until---”
Feeling the strain of frustration, he was still able to reassure her, “I understand. I can wait.”
It was as close as they came to a talk of being married. Just as well, because as their closeness increased, for a year, the axe fell.
On a warm August evening, they walked along a hedged path between two playing fields. Somehow, Jack felt that Julie was unusually subdued but was telling himself that as long as she was here, he could accept her mood.
But when they stopped for a quick hug, she suddenly began weeping. Seeing her green eyes clouded with tears Jack asked her what was wrong.
“We have to move south. My father’s work.”
Julie shrugged plaintively, “Who knows? Training period in London and then, he says, somewhere on the continent. Anywhere.”
“Who does he work for?”
“Couldn’t you stay with your grandmother?” The idea of having her that close was most appealing.
Julie allowed him to brush tears from her face before shaking her head and saying, “My father insists on keeping an eye on my education and, I fear, my socializing,”
For four weeks, everything was as normal except Jack wasn’t sure whether he detected a greater intensity when they embraced and much of that came from him.
Then, one night, after Bette Davis in the Regal, before they reached her gate she admitted that the break would be the following week.
“My parents have already sold the house,” she said tearfully.
Nearer the day she told him that her father was not allowed to divulge their new address but told him she would write as soon as they were settled.
They spent one evening talking about the prospect of running away together and ended up laughing at the impossibility of that.
“God,” she said fervently, “I can’t abide being separated from you in such uncertain circumstances.”
Knowing she felt like that helped ease Jack’s own despair. Their last day together was grim. There were promises. There were declarations of affection. And there was much hugging, in park shelters when the rain came down. Rain, which fit so readily with the mood of that day.
Their final kiss was long and rapturous as a final kiss should be. Jack looked hard into her green eyes as though committing them into his memory.
After Julie had gone, Jack buried himself in schoolwork and considering which university would be most suitable for his scientific needs.
After four days her first letter brought him both pleasure and pain. The pleasure came from the words of devotion she expressed to him. His need to respond was quelled by the disappointing end of the letter, where she wrote that they were in this hotel for only two more days. Any reply would best be delayed until she knew a positive address.
The letter was on hotel notepaper, headed by address and Jack felt he just could not let her avid words go unrecognised, so he wrote an equally fond message, to catch the post that same day. As a precaution, he scribbled his return address on the envelope just so he’d be sure that she’d received it.
That was when he reckoned the fates decreed they remain apart. First, after much waiting his parents heard that their application for a newly built, self-contained, three-bedroomed house on the edge of the city had been successful and would soon be ready for occupation. His parents were overjoyed. Jack was worried sick.
His letter to Julie was returned marked, “No longer at this hotel.” Contact was lost. His mother reassured him that the post office always reassigned letters for a brief time. Sure enough, a letter which Julie had sent to his old address did arrive. Sweetly loving tones as before but he had the dreadful sense that this might be their last contact.
One final sentence read, “After much messing about, we are at a one-night stop-over in (blanked out) before we reach our European destination in (blanked out). “ Her location had been censored. What branch of Government did her father work for?
Jack waited impatiently to be proved wrong, but weeks turned to months without him having any sign of where she could be. He refused to believe that she had deserted him.
The cruel truth of his emotions came after almost a year when he awoke from a dream of holding her in his arms. He wiped tears from his cheeks realising that Julie had really gone. Weeping over a lost love? So, this was heartbreak?
In his mind, as years rolled by, he became used to the dull emptiness of loss. Then, in his last year of university, Laura came into his life, and slowly, gradually Jack found that life could be more obliging than he thought.
“It’s Julie Solomon,” she corrected, proving that he had been right, and that husky voice was undeniable.
Still slightly stunned, Jack stood speechless as she studied his face, and her brow wrinkled as her eyes slowly widened in shock and surprise as recognition of his aging face dawned on her. “Jack--? Jack Turnby--? Is it?”
Jack nodded slowly, but she was already moving towards the garden path, while she gestured towards the gate, “Come in. Come in.”
He opened the gate and walked towards her. The crazy thought in his mind was asking, ‘How do you greet a near-lover after sixty years?’
His concern was resolved by her meeting him on the path and immediately wrapping her arms around him in a brief hug which he overcame his shock by reciprocating. They stood looking at each other.
At last, Jack found his voice, “My God. Such a surprise. You’ve aged well.”
She smiled, oh, that smile, “I’ve had sweeter compliments,” she said. “How are you here?”
“Oh, just catching memories.” But never expecting a host of memories like she was provoking already.
Julie took his arm fondly and led him round the side of the house. “A lovely day for such a wonderful surprise. We’ll have iced lemon on the patio, and you can give me your excuses for your desertion.” And that teasing giggle was still there in her voice.
“My desertion?” he mocked back.
Very soon, they were seated facing each other in the shade of a wide parasol.
“You take care of the garden yourself?” Jack asked, admiring the wealth of colour from bedding plants and shrubs.
“Helps stave off loneliness,” she told him, her eyes looking momentarily sadder.
Jack withheld the urge to cover her hand with his as he asked, “How did we become that old adage, ships that pass---?”
Her head nodded as she cut in, “Tell me your part first. Mine is too mixed.”
Never taking his eyes from her still lovely face, Jack told of both the joy and the confusion over the letters. About his instant reply, which came back from the hotel. He told of his worries of changing address. “But your next letter was passed on,” he told her, “with your destination censored.”
Julie’s face clouded momentarily, “Yes, my father told me that all destinations had to be censored. I never ever discovered what his Government role was. Something to do with the diplomatic service. His insistence to keep me close, meant that after Berlin I was flitted from Cairo to Tel Aviv, until we had a longer spell in Singapore. While there my father got his wish of seeing me university educated. Achieved my degree.”
She paused and Jack asked, “Something to do with literature, I guess?”
“Exactly. But before I could do anything about it I met Jason Solomon, eight years older than me. He was roaming the world for his antiques business. Made quite a living in good times.”
Now she looked at Jack almost guiltily, “He became my rock. So kind, so gentle. It had been four years since---”
Jack nodded his understanding as he said, “Memory is good to hang on to ,” he said, “but love is better. You married him?”
Julie nodded, “In Paris. Removed me from my father’s aim to have me in the diplomatic service.” Her green eyes studied him now, “You found someone?”
He told her of Laura, and the coincidence of it taking four years too. Talked of the despair of losing her five years earlier. Telling her of Melanie and Fran and his antagonism at their caring, had Julie laughing.
“We came to live in London, I worked for a publishing firm, my cup of tea, really.” She paused, collecting her thoughts.
“Twelve years ago, a solicitor managed to trace us. I knew my grandmother had passed away several years earlier, aged eighty- nine, but the solicitor told us that, although other family members could use the house, grandmother’s Will specified that when family use ended the house was mine to dispose of as I wished.”
She took a deep breath, hesitated, and Jack sensed a sadness coming over her. He had sat absorbing the lasting beauty of her face, as she talked. His mind had juggled with thoughts of how important this meeting, less than an hour old, could be.
Julie began talking again, her voice lowered, “It was while we were weighing up what to do about the house that, Jason, had a massive heart attack. It was instant.”
Jack could see the tears well-up in her eyes, and now, he did cover her hand with his. Tearful, she looked into his face, “I adored him, Jack.”
He searched for words to share the moment with her, “It’s agony to lose the one you hold dear.” Could he have said, ‘We’ve both known it twice.”? No, not the right time.
Somehow Julie saw something in his face that prompted her to say, “I’m sorry. My troubles. You must know how it can—”
Involuntarily his finger tightened on hers, and Jack felt a responding tremor as he said, “You want to talk it out. Go ahead. For me, you are today’s treat.”
Too much? Too hasty? Quickly he asked, “So you chose to live here?”
Julie nodded, looking more relaxed, “After the funeral, my son went back to his central heating business in Barbados, and my daughter and her Australian husband returned to their home in Melbourne. I just felt I’d rather be lonely in my hometown than in London. I’m quite comfortable moneywise.”
“So, you’ve lived here how long?”
“Ten years,” she said, and then chuckled shyly as she added, “I couldn’t bear to look at number eight, at first.”
“Embers. Far distant embers.”
“That’s a clever way to put it. But embers can—”
She seemed to check herself from saying too much, but Jack wanted to finish it for her, ‘-be rekindled.’ It echoed his thoughts, but he was also telling himself that it was a ridiculous consideration after this brief meeting.
All he said was “You’re okay here?”
“Neighbours are great. But they’re nearly all in their forties or less. I have the garden and, of course, one or two casual friend. Books will always stave off loneliness.”
All kinds of possibilities were bubbling in Jack’s mind but finding the right words to avoid any embarrassment was difficult. Julie’s next question opened the door for him. Was she thinking on the same plain that he was on?
Her face reddened slightly as she asked, her voice tentative, “Are you likely to drive this way again?”
There was just one answer to that, “Only if you want me to,” he replied, tightening his fingers on her hand.
She gave a little laugh, which sounded like a sigh of relief, as she said, “I insist.”
His laugh released him from the tension, “Sixty-two years. Time enough for us to have become two different people. We’re a long journey from lovesick teenagers.”
Her colour deepened as she asked, “Could we make that journey?” Her accompanying laugh was a delight to him, but could this be real?
Jack’s heart was thumping healthily, “Could we find out?”
There was then a comforting silence between them, as he looked down the garden and then back at her ever-attractive face. Her eyes looked down at where their hands were clasped before their greenness was regarding him once more.
“How old are your daughters?” she asked, as though changing the subject would break the spell. Jack told her, and learned that her son, Daniel, was fifty, and had two sons of his own. Her daughter, Janice, was forty-six and had one daughter.
“Neither look like me,” she said.
“Their loss,” he responded gallantly, and to keep the conversation light added, “I was going to call my daughter, Bedelia, but—”
She saw his smirk and laughed, “But thought better of it.”
For the next hour, they sat and spoke of mundane things, his retirement from management of Burley Drugs, her work as publisher’s assistant. “I’m still asked to review the occasional draft.”
Recalling films and shows they had seen, passed the time before glancing at his watch, Jack realised that his daughters might be worried if they knew he was away.
Standing, he promised he would collect her the next day, “About eleven?”
“Today has been such a wonderful surprise,” she murmured at the very gate where he first met her.
Without any pre-thought, Jack said, “May I give your neighbours something to talk about?” And, gently holding her shoulders he delivered a very chaste kiss to her lips.
Her eyes wide with surprised delight, Julie repeated, “Such a wonderful surprise.”
“Until tomorrow then,” Jack said, reluctant to go.
On the drive home, he resolved not to say anything to his daughters and was relieved to find that they knew nothing of his trip.
As his meetings with Julie increased, and they visited the coast, the local theatre, riverside walks, and various sites of local beauty, he was grateful that his daughters did not follow through on checking his mileage. Now that would have raised a few questions.
He considered telling them. But always backed away. They had to know, but only when he felt the time was right.
Holding hands happened early in their meetings, “Now we are teenagers,” she laughed on one occasion as they walked barefoot on the beach, and she held their clenched fingers out in front of them. He told her of the tears he’d shed when he had that dream.
“Just one night?” Julie challenged, with just a slight smile, “I cried every night for a month.”
On another beach stroll, she said, “Oh, to be today’s youth with their smartphones and emails. Have you ever wondered how different our lives might have been?”
He laughed, “I’d have chased you all over the world,” he said, only half joking.
“We were just kids,” she said, sharing his laughter. But quickly, her face became serious, and she turned her head away.
Not looking back, she said quietly, “Ten years I’ve been back here.” Now she faced Jack. “All the modern technology now, have you never wondered why I didn’t try to trace you.”
It had crossed Jack’s mind briefly, but his exhilaration at discovering her nearness had overridden everything else. He shrugged.
“I did start a search--“ Julie told him. “ —but stopped—Oh, you’ll just laugh.”
“I was in a very low pitch of my life—Jason not long gone—my kids---Kids, huh --but they’d gone.” Jack revelled in the honesty in her green eyes as she went on, “What if, on top of all that, I learned that you were dead.”
Jack couldn’t help a little chortle,
“Oh, big deal, a guy you’d never seen for sixty-odd years.” And he pulled her close and, there on the water’s edge, planted a firm kiss on her mouth.
She pulled her head back, her eyes roaming around them,” People will—”
“People will say, ‘look at that crazy old couple.’ They won’t know that I am trying to control you.”
She smiled and snuggled close against him.
After that, each meeting they became closer. Hugging was regular, and their kissing became a comfortable habit when they were alone. Jack, very aware that their kisses, sometimes sustained, were well beyond the heat of maybe ten years earlier. But, by God, he looked forward to them, to the warm gentility of them, to the joy they raised in his chest.
They each acknowledged that passion was no longer a core need in their relationship.
For Jack, just being near Julie, being able to look at that elegant face, her immaculate carriage, was sufficient. On a couple of occasions, he had offered her the chance to see his house. On both occasions, she had told him that she didn’t want to be intrusive on his memories.
Innocent as it was, he needed her closer than this pick-up, drop-off situation. So, as he had done successfully with Julie on two occasions to date, he determined to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and get her into his home.
One fine June afternoon after a stroll along the beach in Bursea Bay, Jack headed the car as though taking Julie home. Then a quick right, a left, and then a right again and he was pulling up in front of his detached house.
Julie, delectable in a lemon summer dress, looked out of the car window.
“It’s your place, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Jack said, anxious to see her reaction.
“Sneaky, aren’t you?” she said, with a smile.
“A quick visit?”
She nodded, “If that will please you.”
“It will, very much.”
Once inside, Julie commented on how neat and tidy it all was.
She laughed when he told her of how he was compelled to keep it that way because of Melanie and Fran.
They didn’t stay long and, at first, Jack did not push her visiting. But as the year drew on, he enjoyed more and more the feeling of being with her, in the garden or when the sun wasn’t too hot, the conservatory.
Jack could sense that, sooner or later, the mountain of his daughters finding out about Julie, had to be crossed. He dreaded what difficulties were going arise from that disclosure.
Circumstances were set to remove any such concerns. On an afternoon in late August, when rain was clearing to allow intermittent sunshine, Jack and Julie had sat, hand in hand, in the conservatory watching the rain patter, then die on the glass roof. Jack had wondered what neighbours were thinking about their liaison.
Suddenly Julie extracted her hand and stood up. “Coffee? I’ll set the cups out anyway.”
As Jack moved to get up too, she added, “You stay. You’re getting old.” And giggling . she went through to the kitchen.
Jack smiled gratefully to find that she was, in part, still the young lady he’d known so long ago. Better than that, she had become very relaxed around the house. But within seconds he would be recounting more youthful times.
For, the sound of the kettle being filled, coincided with the sound of the side gate being opened. A murmur of surprised voices. His daughters were the only people to enter via the side gate, and past the kitchen window.
It was Thursday, why weren’t they at work? Instantly he was on his feet, gently closing the door to the kitchen. Whatever conversation was to follow might not be kindly for Julie’s ear. He stepped out onto the patio to greet them.
“No work today?” Was all he could blandly say.
Fran’s face was alight with excitement, “Had to tell you—Janet has got three A stars in her exams.” Janet was her older daughter.
Melanie’s face had remained questioning. Now she said, “Glad to see you’ve got yourself a cleaner at last.” And she gestured towards the kitchen.
“Not a cleaner. Sit down inside.”
He led them into the conservatory as he explained, “That lady is called Julie.”
He watched closely to see if the name registered with either of them before adding a reminder. “Remember, Melanie, when you were nineteen and you’d been dumped by some youth or other. You said I didn’t know what heartbreak was like.”
He saw the recollection dawn on Melanie’s face. “You told me about a Julie who broke your heart.”
Fran broke in, “I listened in. Only thirteen, I was, and your story made me cry.”
“But how--?” Melanie began when the kitchen door opened and Julie was there, obviously having overheard some of what had gone on.
Jack, slightly taken aback, made hasty introductions, and the ladies gave tentative handshakes. “I think I may fill this in better than your father can. Men are hopeless at this sort of thing, aren’t they? Maybe you could finish the coffee making, Jack? Four all round?”
His daughters nodded, but Jack could already see how impressed they were by this show of dominance. He was actually relieved by it. He went to make the coffees as Julie told them her version, which was probably more accurate.
Busying himself with the coffees, Jack strained to hear the low-key voice of the ladies. All he caught were the sudden bursts of laughter that came from them. For Jack, it was both unexpected and so pleasing. Maybe reminding them of his long-ago heartbreak had helped.
He carried the coffees on a tray into the conservatory to be met by three smiling faces.
Fran was first to say anything, “Julie’s told us what a wicked seventeen-year-old you were.”
Putting down the tray on a centre table, Jack looked towards Julie, “I don’t recall being wicked.”
“Constrained,” Julie smiled.
“Slow?” Melanie asked, and with a grin toward Julie added, “And she’s told us you were a poor racehorse.”
For just a moment he was puzzled but then Julie stepped in with the reminder, “Along the promenade you and your three friends agree to piggy-back we girlfriends in a race.”
“God, you remember that?” It had slipped Jack’s memory.
“Of course, you dropped me.”
“I tripped,” he laughed defensively. “Tore the knee out of my pants.”
For another half hour, Jack sat back relishing the gentle, friendly repartee of the most precious three ladies in his life. He could not believe that this most dreaded confrontation had turned out so amicable.
When they finally left, with the excuse of husbands to feed, it was good to see his two daughters give Julie a hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek. Jack walked them to their car. Melanie gave him a hug and said, “Dad, if I’d known ahead of today I’d have been worried, but she’s wonderful for you.. ”
“Maybe you’ve got lucky,” Fran added.
Back in the house, Julie was equally enthusiastic, “From the things you said, I was expecting two witches. Your daughters are a delight. You must be enormously proud, “ She sighed, before adding, “And having them so close.”
That statement resolved Jack into making the suggestion that he was certain was essential now.
As they settled on the sofa after the evening meal he commented again on how Melanie and Fran had taken to her, and added, “You’ve settled well in coming here. Would you consider living here with me?”
A quick worried glance from those green eyes, and then she looked away, silent for a moment. When she looked back her eyes had moistened, and her voice quivered as she said, “My visits here have been pleasant, but they are just episodes, Jack.”
“More than that.”
Again, she sighed, “You’ve hidden it well, but you still have, as I have Jason, Laura in your heart.”
“They will always be there,” Jack agreed, finding his hopes crumbling. “But you and I together –”
Their discussion, never an argument, eventually fell into an awkward silence. At nine thirty, earlier than usual, he drove her home. A cooler kiss at her front door and a sad “Goodnight.”
When he got home, he poured himself a small Tobermory malt, and slumped in his chair, sipping it slowly. He wondered how else he could have put it but was slightly hurt and surprised at her response. Yes, they could sell both properties, find somewhere smaller, but that would seem like cutting both ex-spouses away.
Knowing he wouldn’t sleep, he poured a second small whiskey, and slowly sipped it away. At eleven thirty, the ring of the telephone, startled him. Nobody called at this hour.
He picked up the receiver, “Hello.”
Her voice made his heart leap, “Jack, I can’t sleep.”
“Neither can I.”
A pause at the other end, as though she was weighing up what to say, but when it came it was in a wild rush of tearful words, “Jack, I’ve been thinking about what you said, about what we’ve come through, about time---time is important. We should be making the most of it—living, clinging together. You were right, I think too hard sometimes. I only want to be with you.”
Out of the growing gladness inside him, he finally got a word in, “You know what I’d like right now.”
“To kiss you wildly and passionately. But that can wait.”
“It might have to.” she giggled
There were lots of hectic tomorrows ahead of them. Starting the next day when, even before he’d collected her, she had put number sixteen on the market. And that promised kiss, while not quite wildly passionate, was certainly long-lasting and spine-tingling.
He felt it correct for them to have separate rooms at first. That lasted until the third night when Jack awoke to find her snuggled against him. As soon as he stirred she murmured, close to his ear
“Now we’re really together. Everything has been kind so far.”
“Long may it stay that way,” Jack said joyfully
And it did.