‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 9

“Arthur,” I coaxed, “Look at me.”

I waited, and slowly his gaze came up, his dark eyes meeting mine. “Listen. You have done nothing wrong.” He moved his head from side to side, not exactly agreeing with me, not sure whether to contradict. So I repeated, “You have done nothing wrong. Only what so many others before you have done.”

Arthur bowed his head, and I could see tears dropping into his lap, onto his trousers. He retrieved a freshly laundered handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. Whispering so quietly that I had to strain to hear, he said, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Do you have to do anything?”

“Well, I think perhaps I should.” He answered. There was another long shuddering sigh. “It all seems like such a mess,” he confessed.

“That is what people do. We mess up all the time. And then spend ages feeling guilty.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I am sure you have better things to do.”

”Come with me.” I took his hand, and moved with him out into the hall. It felt strange but wonderful to be assertive for once. Putting on my coat, I waited as Arthur shrugged into his favourite dark waterproof. Together we left the house. My porch light triggered as we went up to the front step and when the front door clicked shut behind us, we embraced in the dark hallway. It felt like the obvious thing to do. I stood into his height, and he leaned into me. Supporting each other we held curves that were growing more familiar, inhaling the scent of wet coat and pullovers washed in scented laundry liquid.

“Come,” I said.

“What, here?” His unexpected humour hit my solar plexus and sudden gusts of laughter exploded from our chests, when there was another scrabble at the front door and we both looked around guiltily, not wanting to break up the joke, not just yet.

“Elaine’s back!” I whispered as we broke apart. On second thoughts, as we watched her familiar shape fix the key in the lock and put her shoulder to the glass panel, we inched closer together and were holding hands when she looked in and up at us, her eyes bright and shining from her bike ride, her dark hair loose and untidy, framing her pretty face.

“Hello Elaine. Come in.”

“I’m okay, Mum, don’t fuss!” I forgot that she was getting older. Each day she was choosing her way with more certainty by herself.

“Fine, love.” I gave her a quick hug and a peck on her smooth, cold cheek. “Meet Arthur.”

“Oh, hello” she answered, politely, nodding. She threw off her coat and boots at the foot of the stair and went up to her room.

“Supper is baked potatoes, okay? A wee bit late today.”

“That’s okay, I had something to eat at Lisa’s,” she called back.

I gestured to Arthur and we headed through to the kitchen. Out of habit, he stooped slightly as we went through the hall to the back sitting room. Our kitchen is an old-fashioned long, thin room at the rear, with a stone floor and kitchen cupboards that have been there since the 1970’s and which seem ageless.

“I’m sorry we only have a few hard chairs and a bench to sit on.”

“That’s all right.” I knew that Arthur really didn’t mind. Somehow it felt comfortable having him here, though I worried that maybe the kitchen was too narrow and small for him. Before I could fret, he seated himself on the bench and pulled me into his lap.

“Better?” He asked.

“Yes, much.” The sudden familiarity filled me with heat. I felt heavy against his legs, but he held on tight, so that I just had to relax and accept him taking most of my weight. Physically, he was much stronger than I realized. “Must get on.” I said self-consciously. “Let’s put some tatties in the oven, at least. The rest is just to be set out.” Miss Prim had come into the kitchen. But we did need to eat, and I gently disengaged from his embrace, resisting the urge to turn and kiss him full on the mouth. My gaze darted away, not from rudeness, but because I suddenly felt we had crossed a line. Help! I swallowed self-consciously and Arthur seemed to know he would have to help. Very gently, he allowed me to stand up and himself stood, all business, like a patient boy at my side.

I flipped open cupboards, flapping more usual. I would rather have worked unobserved, but he was standing beside me, his closeness shaking me just enough to put me off my stride. Laughing suddenly, I took a deep breath and thought, “Come on, get a grip!” as I retrieved tin foil, busily tearing a sheet, wrapping four medium potatoes and putting them in the oven.

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