Not too long ago we all went by word of mouth when it came to judging if a company was going to be any good or not. In a sense we still do, but nowadays the internet is the word of mouth we rely on. When we listen to a friend talk about their experience in a restaurant or at a store, we can mix their words with our previous experience of this person; do we like the same sort of food? Do we think their fashion sense is similar to ours? Do we, in essence, trust their judgment in this matter?

With internet reviews it is different, we don’t know who is reviewing the business, or if there is a hidden agenda, either in favor of or against the company. Even if there is no “agenda,” there is a natural negative bias in review writing. Those that had a particularly bad experience are more likely to review something that those that had an entirely pleasant experience; that is just human nature. Over time, however, this tends to balance itself out, as more and more people leave honest reviews.

This musing was brought about by my recent experience when I wanted to look for a local business. I did a Google map search and found one firm just a couple of miles away, so I looked at the reviews. There were interesting, to say the least. Most recently, they had nothing but 5-star reviews, although if you went back just a couple of months, the reports were all 1 or 2 stars. Looking closer, it was notable that all the reviewers giving the maximum mark had only ever done that one review. The less favorable comments were left by people who had a long list of reviews, and when you looked at them, they were a mixture of good and not so good.

Digging deeper into this, it seemed that all the negative comments were turned aside by the owner, who consistently said things like “you should have done this instead” or “that is not true.” In one comment, the owner said that they assumed the bad reviews were done by competitors!

Now, I’m not saying that the positive reviewers were lying, but it did make me question their authenticity. Not that negative review would always put me off. If I am not concerned about the things complained of, or if it seems worthwhile anyway, then I’d happily try something despite them. Indeed, a lot of negative comments are seemingly irrelevant and complain about things that are outside of the control of the company. I remember reading a review of a product that I was about to buy, that said it was hard to identify the top part of the product from the bottom, but if you put them in incorrectly, they were hard to remove. I bought the product anyway just thinking that I’d be careful, but when it arrived I noticed the word “upper” on one part, and “lower” on the other, and I never had any problem with working out which was which.

But in this case, the negative reviews all had a consistent theme, and the positives from new reviewers did not give me enough confidence to try this company. Another company got consistently 3 and 4-star reviews, which seemed to me to be much more realistic.

Nowadays, it seems, you not only have to read reviews but review them.


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I have a character, Leo, who interacts with a lot of the other characters in my Work In Progress “White Oaks”, but, so far, we really don’t know much about him. *I* didn’t know much about him, just that he was one of the pivotal players in the piece.

Earlier this week I was unwell, and laying in bed I started to think about Leo; what did I know about him, and what would help me know more about him? Then I started writing. I wasn’t sure where in the structure of the book this would fit, just that it was important that it be written. As I started, more and more of the back history of Leo came into focus, and it became clearer to me what his motivations and desires were.

This part of writing is so exciting! I get to find out about the people and learn about them. I also get to do the technical bit of working out how to integrate this into the plot line that I’d already developed, but hey-ho, I’m just the writer, it’s the characters who are in charge!!

I guess that is why I liked this meme I shared earlier in the week:


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White Oaks: Jackie

The last chapter saw Jackie left alone in the cottage. Now the story continues and connects with the lives of others.


Leo looked up as Jackie came into the office. He smiled “I hope you had a great stay with us” he said. He tried hard to keep on top of all the comings and goings in the grounds, and had noticed that one of the cars next to cabin 22 had not been there this morning.
“I just,“ Jackie started, then paused as she tried to retain her composure. “I know I’m due to leave today, but I wondered if I could stay on for a few days or so.”
Leo smiled again, and started checking the bookings list.
“Well, we do have a booking for Cabin 22 from tonight,” he checked through the other available cabins, “but I could probably move a few people around, how long would you like to extend your stay?”
“Well actually,” she realized that not going home had been the only thing she was sure about, “I don’t know really, maybe another week?”
Leo actually relished events like this, they brought out his creative side and he looked at it as if he were doing a puzzle, moving one person here, another there. “Well I can fit you in for the next five days,” he said after just a few minutes. “After that I’m afraid we are fully booked. Of course if we get any cancellations I’ll let you know, but would that be OK? And I can certainly keep you in Cabin 22 until then.”
Jackie agreed, turned, and slowly walked away. Getting back to the cabin she just sat, unsure what was going to happen next.

Maggie was feeling surprisingly optimistic as she came in to White Oaks that morning. The flat was working out well, and she was content with the way her life was going. She was surprised, but not worried, when she saw a note on the signing-in sheet asking her to see Leo before she started work.
She went to the front desk, and Leo invited her into the inner office and offered her a seat.
Leo seemed unusually jumpy as he spoke, and didn’t himself sit down. “Maggie, I had a phone call last week, asking for your address. I took it upon myself to say that I would not give it out, but I did offer to accept a letter here for you, and I’d pass it on. Well, it arrived today, and I wanted to give you some space to yourself – here is the letter.” He handed over the letter to a puzzled Maggie, but as soon as she saw the handwriting and the return address her heart sank. “It’s from Hamish” Leo went on, “and he said it was an amends, so…” His voice trailed off, and there was silence for a moment.
“Anyway, I’ll leave you alone, take as long as you need.” He left the office, shutting the door behind himself, and Maggie continued to stare at the envelope in her hand. Slowly, she turned it over, opened it and took out the letter. Shaking slightly, she unfolded the page and started to read.
“Dear Maggie” the letter started “I needed to write to you to try to make amends for all the hurt I caused with my drinking. I was not sure how to contact you, but I phoned the Oaks place, and the manager there said he could get this letter to you.
“How I treated you was wrong, and I want to take full responsibility for all the bad things that I did. I did steal money from your shop, and I will repay all that money. I am not sure how much it all comes to, but I will send you what I can on a weekly basis from the job I now have. Please let me know if I should send it to you at the Oaks address or a different one. You will find my first payment enclosed with this letter.”
Maggie checked the envelop, and saw a smaller envelope inside. Opening this she counted out £25 in £5 notes. She turned back to the letter.
“I know that money along cannot make up for what happened between us, and for my bad actions, I sincerely apologize. If you wish to press any charges against me, I will not challenge them. I have told my solicitor to wait to hear from yours on the divorce papers. I would hope we could try to make a go of it again, but I will completely accept your decision on what happens next. You should also know that I have not found it necessary to have a drink for the last 41 days, and, one day at a time, I am not drinking today.
Maggie turned the paper over, but there was no more. She reread the letter. If she had not recognized the handwriting, she would have thought that it was a forgery, the tone was so different from the last message she had received from Hamish. Something about the tone of the letter was off, somehow, it sounded both real and fake the same time.
There was a tap at the door, and Leo came in, holding a cup in his hand. “Here, I brought some tea for you,” he said. “Not to hurry you or anything, just wanted to make sure you were OK.”
“Leo, you are the most considerate man I’ve ever known.” She smiled at him. It was sometimes hard for her to remember that it had been just a few months since she’d turned up in this tiny corner of the world, sometimes it seemed like she had been here forever, and Leo and Dorothy were the mainstays of her world. “You are so kind, and I don’t want to impose on your kindness. Thank you so much for taking the letter in, and giving me space to read it. Now,” she gulped down the tea, put the letter in her purse, and stood up. “Now I’ll get to work and let you have your office back!”


Maggie picked up her schedule for the morning’s work, and briefly scanned it. Cabin 22 was supposed to be empty today, so she decided to start there. As was her habit with cabins she expected to be unoccupied, she knocked, called out “housekeeping,” but unlocked the door and went in without waiting for an answer. She was halfway through the door before she noticed the women sitting on the bed. “Oh my apologies!” she said, “I thought this cabin was empty.”
“Yes I was due to be leaving, but there was a change of plan, and,” Jackie started, but before she could say any more the tears came again.
Maggie forgot about her busy schedule, sat down next to the sobbing woman, and put her arm around her.
“I’m so sorry,” Jackie sobbed, “It’s my husband, it was our anniversary, and he, he… “ She couldn’t finish, but Maggie had heard enough
“We’re better off without those bastards.” Maggie said it in a matter-of-fact way, thinking about the letter and the money in it. “Did he hurt you?”
Jackie was taken aback by the question. “He, he told me he was, he said he was gay.” She blurted out. “He told me he had fallen in love with a man at his office, and – oh, I just can’t think of it without feeling sick inside.”
Jackie wiped her eyes. “I couldn’t face going back home. I don’t even know if it is home anymore, it all seems like a sham somehow. I keep wondering what I did wrong, how I missed the signs, what I could have done to stop it before it was too late.” She trailed off, unsure why she had even said as much as she had. But somehow, it seemed better to have been able to talk about it to someone.
They sat in silence for a long moment, Maggie re-living her flight from Hamish. “It is tough, going it along,” she at last said. “But we are strong women, we can survive. More than that, we can thrive. Do you have money? Has he taken that as well?”
“What?” Again Jackie was confused by the question. “No I’m OK I have my own business and,” she paused, suddenly realizing that her office would be expecting her back the next day. “Actually, I need to call in, you have been so kind to listen to me, I can’t thank you enough.”
“You are very welcome!” Maggie replied, “and I should be getting on too, I’m behind as it is. But here,” she scribbled down her phone number and handed it over to Jackie. “Call me if you want to talk or anything, either now, or when you get back home.”
Jackie took the number, thanked Maggie, folded the paper carefully and put it in her purse. She doubted she would use it, but was touched by the thought.

A couple of hours later Jackie had called her assistant and all her appointments for the next week were being rearranged. She then called her lawyer, and outlined the situation. She didn’t want a divorce, and hoped more than anything that they could be reconciled, but at the same time, the businesswoman part of her makeup wanted to make sure that all her bases were covered.
With all the practical matters dealt with for the moment, Jackie decided on getting some fresh air, and so she set off for the beach. It was a perfect day, the sun high and bright, and just the occasional white cloud to bring the blue of the sky into perfect focus. As she reached the beach there was a slight breeze coming off of the sea, just enough to cool her skin. She walked, trying to enjoy the sea and sand, but her thoughts kept coming back to David, the future, and what would happen next.
There were a lot of people on the beach, family groups mainly, with the occasional couple walking hand in hand. Each time she saw a happy couple she grieved a little more. That should be her and David, it ought to be them walking along the beach together, not her alone and him off doing whatever it was he was doing.
Suddenly her train of thought was interrupted, as the smell of freshly cooked bacon wafted past. Looking for where the aroma had come from, she saw Fisherman’s Cafe and realized that she’d not eaten since the evening before. Just the thought of that meal, the drive and the aftermath made her feel sick inside, and she almost walked on, but then decided that eating was the appropriate thing to do, so she headed into the cafe.
“Good Morning m’dear! Sit anywhere, I’ll be with you in just a second.”
Jackie found herself smiling from the welcome, and she sat at a table looking out over the dunes. As she looked a seagull flying against the wind hovered for a moment, appearing to be stationary in the blue sly, before swooping down out of sight behind the dunes.
“Now m’dear, here’s our menu, we’re still serving breakfast if you want something hot, or we have a nice selection of pastries and pies. I used to make my own pastries here in the cafe, but there’s a new place in town that opened a couple of months ago, and I’m getting them fresh from there every day. I said I’d try them out, and my customers seem to like them, so I’m all for saving my old bones from work.”
Jackie ordered a hot breakfast, accepted a pot of tea while she waited for it to be cooked, and once more stared out of the window. What was she to do, she asked herself for the thousandth time that morning. She wanted David back so much it was a like a physical hurt. She thought about their home, their possessions, their dreams and plans. Nothing, she thought, nothing was hers, everything was theirs.


Maggie mulled over what the letter had said as she worked. When her shift was done at White Oaks, she drove out to the sand-dunes and reread the letter over and over. She realized she was only a mile or so from Fisherman’s Cafe, so she went there, even though she knew that Dorothy would soon be closing up.
Dorothy greeted her warmly, and gave her tea and toast without being asked, and they sat and talked for a while, before Maggie brought up the subject she had been thinking about.
“Dorothy,” she started, “I was wondering if you could tell me more about that amends thing you talk about some times.”
If Dorothy was taken aback by the question she didn’t show it. “Of course m’dear” She said. “Well, first we make a list of people we have harmed, then become willing to make amends to them, and then make direct amends to them, unless it would hurt them or other people.” She looked quizzically at Maggie. “Why do you ask?”
Instead of replying, she gave the letter from Hamish to Dorothy.
Dorothy took the letter, read it and sighed. “Ah yes, I see.” She said, handing the letter back. “Yes, that could have been a step 9 amends, and he’s certainly using some AA speak there, how do you feel about it m’dear?”
“I’m not sure.” Maggie hesitated, and then continued. “Until I read this I was just angry at Hamish, at my Mother, at the whole situation. But since reading that letter I’m starting to wonder. I mean, if Hamish was an alcoholic, maybe I could have helped him get over it. Maybe I should have been more supportive of him. I mean I always let him have booze in the house, maybe if I’d stopped him earlier…”
“Oh no, m’dear, don’t start down that road.” Dorothy interrupted, “you didn’t cause it, you couldn’t have controlled it, and you couldn’t have cured it. All that is his responsibility, not yours. If that Hamish is an alcoholic, and it certainly sounds like he might be, then there would be nothing you could have done, he had to want to get better before he could do so. Do you want some free advice?”
“Of course” Maggie replied quickly.
“Put the money in a safe place, but don’t rely on any more. If more comes, put it that in your piggy-bank too. If you feel up to it, drop him a line just thanking him for the money, and acknowledging his apology. You don’t have to accept his apology if you don’t want to, and you certainly don’t need to take any responsibility for his actions.
“When you’re ready, maybe you can talk to people who have been through what you have; maybe you’re ready now, maybe later, maybe never, it’s up to you. But for right now,” Dorothy held out her arms, “What about a hug?”


Later that night Maggie sat in her room for a long time staring at a blank sheet of paper. Eventually she picked up her pen and started writing
“I have received the letter and money you sent.
“The White Oaks address is a good one for me.”
Maggie stared at the two sentences she had written. There was so much she wanted to express, so much hurt and disappointment, but somehow, none of it would form into words. She just didn’t have any way of expressing the feelings inside her, or any way to let out the tension she felt.
Suddenly her phone rang. It was not a number she recognized, and she was about to ignore the call, when something made her answer it.
“Hello, who is it?”
A womans voice spoke
“Oh God I’m so sorry, I didn’t think what the time was, this is a mistake, I’m sorry, I just,” with that the woman started sobbing, and it jogged Maggie’s memory from earlier in the day.
“Are you the lady from Cabin 22? I sorry, I don’t think I remember your name.”
“Yes, it is, it’s Jackie” She replied. “I’ve been wondering around all day not knowing what to do, and then I found your number, and remembered how kind you’d been, and, I don’t know, I just wanted someone friendly to talk to.”
Maggie started to cry too, and although the two women said very little, somehow both of them felt the closeness of the other, and a feeling of having a common bond.
Eventually, tiredness overcame Maggie, and she suggested that they both try to sleep.
“And I’m working at White Oaks tomorrow again, maybe I can call for you and we could go out to lunch or something?” She said. Jackie agreed and the call ended with both women feeling somehow better.


Dorothy had a set routine each evening. She would get into bed with her notebook and pencil and write about her day. She thought back to her conversation with Maggie. She had talked to many drunks about making amends to their spouses, but this was the first time that she recalled hearing the “other side of the story” so to speak, and she hoped she had done well. She thought about her customers, and the young woman who seemed so distracted. Dorothy had noticed an expensive looking ring on her wedding finger, and a look of deep sadness in her eyes.
Then she picked up her prayer list, added the distracted lady at the bottom, and then, as an afterthought, Hamish as well, and started to go through the list, praying for each one in turn. Her list always started with Misty, that she was happy and well, and that she was following her hearts desire. In recent years she had added Misty’s father to the list too, because it seemed a good thing to remember the person who had given her such a wonderful gift. The list was long, and she sometimes fell asleep before the last name, but tonight she got to the end without trouble.
With a sigh, Dorothy turned off the light and laid down. Something was troubling her, but she didn’t know quite what. Sleep came slowly to her, and when it came it was full of dreams of her child, now a grown woman, reaching out to Dorothy. But somehow, try as she might, Dorothy could not move her hands and could not grab hold of her child. It was a dream that had come often in recent months.


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White Oaks: – David and Jackie

This chapter has been re-written with a different ending; I’m re-posting it because then it leads to the next chapter…

It was David and Jackie’s 24th wedding anniversary, and they had decided to celebrate it at White Oaks Cabins this year. They always did something different to mark their anniversary, and as she parked and stretched her legs, Jackie tried to remember all of them. There was the honeymoon, of course, when they went to Lanzarote. She remembered the first anniversary was in Paris, and then Rome – or was that the 3rd? That’s right, she thought, on their second anniversary she was pregnant with Julian, and they’d gone to a place in Wales where she was sick every morning! Then the 4th anniversary was that trip to the hotel in the Highlands of Scotland, were David had tried golf for the first time. She smiled when she remembered that for year 5 they had gone to Wales again, but she was sick each morning, and it turned out she was pregnant with Jessica, and they had laughed that they would have to stop going to Wales if that kept happening!
After that there was Dublin, Cyprus, a cruise on the Mediterranean and, well, it became a bit of a blur after that, so many celebrations, and so many places. She was already wondering about next year, and the big quarter century of marriage; they would have to mark that with something special, surely? Maybe they would go on a Caribbean cruise, they had never done that. Or, instead of a vacation, they might have a big party at the house, and invite all their family and friends.
Her thoughts were interrupted by David driving into the parking spot next to hers. He had suggested they both drive their own vehicles to the cabin, so that they would have both his big Land Rover, and her smaller hybrid. That way, he said, they could be flexible about which car to take out when they went sightseeing. It seemed like an unnecessary expense to Jackie, especially as she had thought they would walk in the woods and sit on the beach most of the time, but she went along with it. In any case, money wasn’t really a problem with David’s new job, and her own little design business ticking over nicely.
Jackie noticed that David was finishing up with a phone call as he parked, and she wondered inwardly if these calls from his office would continue while they were here. She knew he was super busy and really successful, but sometimes she wished for the old care-free David, the one who took vacations without bringing any work with him.
“OK Jason, I’ll talk to you soon.” David looked up from the call to his assistant at the office and saw Jackie standing by her car, waiting for him. She really was an exceptional wife, he told himself for the thousandth time. Talented, witty, charming, a good hostess, a pleasant companion. And she had kept her looks over the years too, a little bit plumper, maybe, and her hair was tending to gray a bit, but really, not too bad for a women her age. Our age, he corrected himself.
If only…
He left the thought uncompleted, smiled at Jackie and climbed out of his car. They kissed briefly and then they busied themselves unpacking and settling in the cabin, which they agreed was charming, romantic and quaint. Jackie noticed the Journal, and flicked through its pages while David finished unpacking. She would have to write something really nice in there, she decided.
Then they drove to a restaurant that David had heard about in a village a few miles away, where they had a well-respected chef who only used locally produced food. David’s phone vibrated twice, but he valiantly ignored it, and Jackie gave him an extra encouraging smile for being so thoughtful.
The meal was excellent, the service attentive, the bill huge, and they both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As they got back in the car, Jackie suggested they drive along the coast road north to Cromer. David hesitated at first, but then agreed that it sounded fun, so he sat back while Jackie maneuvered the narrow lanes and byways.
The drive was splendid, and the sun was setting as they made their way back to their temporary home in the woods. David took over driving on the way back, and it was Jackie’s turn to relax and admire the scenery. She thought it was a really romantic setting, and the idea crossed her mind that maybe they would make love that evening. They both lived such busy lives that there was hardly any time for intimacy nowadays. Jackie tried to remember the last time, and realized with a shock that it must have been before David got this new job, so probably 8 or 9 months ago.
She had an idea, and decided to put it into action as soon as they got back to the cabin. Looking through her suitcase, she quickly hid her nightdress, and then told David that she had forgotten to pack one. As David poured them both a whiskey, Jackie took off her clothes and laid on the bed in just her panties.
This action seemed totally lost on David, who appeared preoccupied in checking his phone, but he did look up and ask if she was warm enough, or did she need another blanket or anything?
Ah well, thought Jackie, at least I tried.
David was feeling conflicted. He was aware that they had not had sex for quite some time, but there were a lot of reasons for that. They had been married for a long time, after all, and then there was the stress of his job, and Jessica’s business took a lot of effort too. And then of course there was…
No, David told himself. No, this vacation is all about Jackie and I, nothing more. Not that there was anything ‘more’, really. Nothing.
Even so, he somehow couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge Jackie’s clear intention. He had seen her pack her night clothes, just like she always did. In a moment of insight he wondered if she missed the physical side of their marriage. It had been OK to start with, but he thought that really they should be over all that sort of adolescent stuff by now. There were really good friends, and liked each other’s company. They were content, wasn’t that enough?
Just then an email from Jason floated up on his phone, and he found himself opening it without really thinking.

The rest of the week were filled with trips to the coast, walks in the woods, and a seemingly endless array of different restaurants to eat in. It was fun, lighthearted and, Jessica thought, romantic in an easy, low-key way.
Their actually anniversary was on the last full day of the vacation, and they decided to celebrate with a nice lunch at the restaurant they had been to the first night they were there. Rather than have to drive, which meant one of them had to be careful of what they drank, they got a cab there. The meal was splendid, with a different wine accompanying each course, and brandy with the coffee after the meal.
Neither of them were really drinkers, so they were both somewhat light headed as they were driven back to the cabin, and Jackie flirted outrageously with David in the back seat of the cab. Rather than go into the cabin, David suggested that they go for a last walk in the woods. Jackie pouted; what she really wanted was for David to grab her and carry her off to bed, but, she reluctantly realized, that was not going to happen. So she took his arm and let him lead her into the woods.
It was cool and calming in the woods, and they strolled along, sometimes commenting on a view or a bird song, but mostly just walking arm in arm. Jackie was slowly getting less drunk, but at the same time her bladder was starting to scream that it needed release. She was enjoying the walk, and the alone time with David, so she didn’t say anything for the longest time. Eventually, however, it became too urgent not to do something about.
“David, I need to pee” She said.
“OK, we can head back to the cabin, it’s probably only a mile or so.”
“No,” Jackie replied. “I need to pee right now or I’ll wet myself. I’ll go behind this tree, you stand guard and make sure no one is coming!”
Without waiting for a reply she rushed to the other side of the tree, shifted her clothes as best she could, and squatted to urinate. As she did so a thought crossed her mind.
“Sorry about that,” she said as she returned to find David staunchly guarding the path. “I’d wet my panties a bit, so I left them off.” So saying she flicked her skirt so that David could see that had nothing on underneath. David blushed slightly, and they carried on along the path. Coming to a bridge over a stream Jackie stopped and lent against the railings, looking out over the water. “Stand behind me.” She said to David, and as he did she guided his arm around her waist, then moved his hands up to cup her breasts.
She sighed. “Doesn’t this feel nice?” She said. She let go of David’s arms, and bent slightly over the railing, pushing back ever so gently into David. She started to slowly move up and down, in a way she was sure was irresistible.
David spluttered. He knew what was expected of him, and he was willing himself to just do what Jackie wanted. But somehow he could not bring himself, either physically or emotionally, to do it.
Jackie straighten up, and turned on him.
“What the fuck David! I’ve given you all the signals I could, and I can’t be any more obvious that I want us to have sex, so what’s the problem? And don’t give me that ‘I’m tired’ crap, we’ve been here a whole week and nothing. Don’t you find me attractive anymore? Or,” Suddenly a fear that had been in the back of her mind surfaced, “Oh shit David is that it? You’re having an affair? Some young bitch at the office has her hooks in you, is that it?”
David felt like he had been backed into a corner, that there was nothing that he could do anymore to hide from reality. He didn’t want to admit it, and he’d hid the truth even from himself. But Jackie was right, there was something wrong, and it was time he acknowledged it.
“It’s not that, really, it’s not anything I planned or wanted. It’s just that…”
David took a deep breath and started again.
“You know you were my first real girlfriend.” David started. “Growing up I always thought that I’d never find someone special to love, and then you came along and we were happy.”
“We are happy!” Jackie said, even though she was starting to cry tears of fear, and her stomach was trying itself in knots. She felt something bad was coming, it must be an affair, she told herself, sex with a younger woman, but that was OK she could forgive him and win him back, she knew it.
“The thing is,” David found it hard to put into words, but as his jumble of emotions forced themselves out, he knew he had to admit what had to be said.
“Jackie, I do love you,” he said at last. “You have been the best wife that a man could ever want, never think that any of this is about you.”
“Any of what?” Jackie said through her tears.
“The thing is, when I started in my new job, I got a personal assistant, Jason. Well, you’ve met him, he’s openly gay, and well, I find I’m attracted to him. Actually, I think I’ve fallen in love. I couldn’t stop myself and I’ve tried to ignore it, or suppress it, but…” Once again he stopped, unsure of the words he needed to express himself. With a growing dread, Jackie slowly started to comprehend what David was trying to say.
“Are you saying that this Jason is your,” She struggled with the word that had to be spoken, “your boyfriend?” The thought was ridiculous, but at the same time, it was the only thing that made any sense.
“I don’t think boyfriend, is right really” David stammered. “But yes, I think I’m gay and I think I want to be with Jason.”
“What the fuck does that mean, you think you’re gay? We’ve had 2 children together, was all that a lie? Just you joking along and laughing at me behind my back while you screwed rent boys?”
Her fear was slowly being replaced by anger; an anger at all the years that suddenly seemed to be worth nothing.
“No Jackie, I have never been with anyone, I promise you, not to this day.” It was important to David that Jackie understand the struggle he had been going through. “All through school I kept having feelings for boys, but I was taught over and over that it was wrong. So I smothered those feelings for years, and we were a happy couple and I thought that was enough.
“But then I met Jason and all my resolve came crashing down. I’ve never said anything to him about it, but I’m pretty sure he knows anyway. I’ve never done anything with him, and I don’t even know if he would have me, but I can’t deny it any longer. I thought, no, I hoped that being here with you this week would make it all go away, but being away from him is just making me more sure.
“I’m sorry, Jackie, I really am” He trailed off, unsure if he had said enough or too much.
Jackie, meanwhile, was trying to make sense of it all. “So what happens now? Are you going to throw me aside like a used rag? Are you going to make a mockery of our 24 years together? What about our children? What about all our plans for the future, are you going to give that up just to try being gay for a while? You turn down sex with me, but want it with some little…” if it had been another woman she would have called her a slut, a bitch, a whore, but she didn’t have any words in this situation.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, all I know is that I can’t go on living a lie anymore. I just have to take this chance to be true to myself, to the real me.” He looked pleadingly at her. He didn’t want this to end badly, but at the same time, he knew deep inside that it was going to.
“I can’t stand to talk to you, go get your things and get the fuck out of my life you worthless fagot.” She spat out the words through tears of pure rage.
Without a word, David turned and headed back to the cabin, packed a few things and got in the Land Rover. As he drove he put in a call. “Hi Jason it’s David. No, nothing to do with the office, I just wondered if you were free tonight? Maybe we could have a drink and a talk? I should be back in London in a couple of hours.”

Jackie stood on the bridge for a long time, reliving over and over the conversation that had just turned her world upside down. Soon the evening turned to night and she made her way to the cabin. She had a fleeting hope that David’s car might still be there, and that he would plead with her to forgive him, which she would have done without a seconds thought. But his car was gone, as was his bag. She fell on the bed wept herself to sleep.

Jackie woke to a gray dawn outside. She had the momentary hope that it had all been a bad dream, but the empty space next to her in the bed told her that it was all too real. She felt nothing but anger for David. How could he ruin all her dreams and let her world crumble around her ears. Why couldn’t he just have had an affair and got it out of his system. He wasn’t gay, how could he be? It must be an excuse, she concluded, there must be something else behind it, some reason David wanted to hurt her so.
She was supposed to go home today, but where was home anymore? She just couldn’t face the thought of that drive, and walking into an empty house; or worse, walking into David. She packed up her things slowly, unsure what to do next.


Cabin 22 Journal.
July 30


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A moment of consciousness

Feeling connected can happen anywhere, if we are in the right state of mind, and are willing to accept it.

Most workday mornings around 7am will find me dropping my wife off at the office compound in which she works. There are 6 or 7 long low rise office buildings in the complex, and one would hardly call them architecturally outstanding. They are surrounded by parking lots, with some trees around the borders, at this time of year leafless and lifeless, and a few areas of grass, which right now are gray and uninteresting. The office workers start arriving around 6am, so by 7 the parking areas are getting to be well used, and there are always cars driving and people walking.

This morning the sun rose as we were driving into work, and it was quite light by the time we stopped, and I wished my wife a good day, and we shared a goodbye kiss. Then I turned the car around and went to head out of the compound.

I turned a corner and headed west towards the exit, and at that moment the sun appeared over the buildings behind me. My view was the normal uninspiring one of the concrete parking lot and an office block in the distance, but the sun’s rays turned it into a moment of wonder. The building was transformed from a utilitarian construction into a shining wall of red and gold, with the occasional glint of silver from the reflected light. The dead trees were held bright and motionless, their shadows long and striking, as they fled the coming of the sun. A few clumps of ornamental grass that I had hardly noticed before were stunning with each blade shining a rich golden glow.

For an instant, I thought of stopping to take a picture to post on social media, but then I knew that all the image would show would be just pixels of light, what I was experiencing was more significant than that. Because at that moment I was connected to the Greater. I was transported from a routine morning activity to a moment of connection. Rather than an ordinary working day, I was suddenly aware of Now.

We are reminded that now is all we have, but in that instant, now was enough. It was only a few seconds before I came to the stop sign and had to bring my full consciousness back to the road and to the business of the day. But that instant of connection reminds me throughout the day that there is always something more.


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Cabin 22 – Jill

Silver Oaks is a magical place…

Jill shut the door of cabin 22 behind her, and squealed with excitement! At 14 she was grown up enough to have a cabin to herself, and not have to share with Mum and Dad anymore. Her younger brothers, Ben and Don, had moaned that they had to share a cabin, and said they should have one each too, but Jill didn’t think they meant it, they just liked to argue.
She quickly unpacked and hung her clothes in the dresser, then looked around to see where she could hide her drawing paper and pencils. Her brother had seen one of her drawings once, and had laughed at her; she pretended not to mind, but it hurt her, and she didn’t want to run the risk of them hurting her again. As the eldest of the children she took her responsibilities seriously, but she often felt sad and that no one understood her.
Mum and Dad worked hard, made sure that everything was perfect at home, and took them on wonderful vacations like this one. She loved her parents, but as she slowly grew into her teenage years, she felt that they didn’t understand her need for artistic expressions. She worked hard at her academic studies, was a reasonably good student, and when she had taken her report card home last year, she was praised for her B in math and B+ in English. No mention was made of Art, for which she got an outstanding. For her the conclusion was clear; art was not something that had any value, and she should ignore her feelings and work harder on her other studies.
Jill tried to convince herself time after time that all this art stuff was a waste of time and energy. But every time she put away her drawings, the yearning inside her grew, and in the quiet moments of the night, she dreamed of drawing and art and longed for the time when she could steal a few minutes with her paper and pencils. She hoped to be able to get some drawing done in secret during this time away, and that this would help her “get over” the strange obsession she had.
She picked up the journal on the table next to the bed and flicked through to read what others had said. A couple of entries mentioned a bridge over a stream, and that interested her; maybe that would be a good spot for drawing.
Without further thought, she gathered up her paper and pencils and headed out. Only when she had been walking for 10 minutes did it occur to her that maybe she should have told someone where she was going. Then she realized she’d left her phone back in the cabin, but, she decided, it was too late to go back now. In any case, she was sure she’d return before anyone noticed her absence.

It was about that time that Ben and Don were getting ready to go to the beach. The sea was a 15-minute walk away, 10 if you ran, and the boys were keen to get there as soon as possible. Just as they were ready to leave Mum told them to knock on their sister’s door, and see if she wanted to go as well. They grumbled a bit; Jill was OK, but she was a girl, and always wanted to stop and look at things along the way. So when they knocked and got no answer, they weren’t too upset.
“Should we go and tell Mum?” Ben asked his brother.
“No, we were told to knock, and we did,” Don answered. “Now let’s see who can get in the water first!”
With that, he was off at a fast run, and Ben had to scramble to catch up. By the time they had arrived at the beach, breathless and excited, they had forgotten all about Jill and just concentrated on having fun.

About an hour later, Joan tapped on her daughter’s door too. She didn’t get an answer, so she peeked around the door, and saw that Jill had unpacked but was not in the room. Mum smiled, thinking that Jill had gone off with the boys to the beach. She did worry about Jill sometimes, just recently she seemed to be preoccupied, and always having her nose in a book, or staring off into the distance. Jill was a sensible, hardworking girl and was doing well at school, but Mum felt that something was troubling her daughter. She was hoping that this time away from the regular day-to-day routine would bring her out of it, whatever the “it” was.
She went back to her cabin and found her husband busily cleaning the barbecue grill, ready for tonight’s supper. Bill was another one who could not stop working, she thought, not for the first time. She was proud of him, of course, and amazed at the hours he put in at the factory. Still, it would be nice if he would relax a bit sometimes, not everything had to be about work.

Meanwhile, although Jill had started down a path that she thought led to the stream, somehow she came out to the sand dunes. She tried to re-trace her steps, but everything looked the same, and she was sure she had been going around in circles. She seemed to have been walking for hours, and had to admit she had not the faintest idea where she was or which way to go. She was trying not to panic, and fighting back tears, when she spotted someone sitting on top of a sand dune, with a scrapbook on her knee. The woman looked preoccupied with what she was doing, but Jill was desperate, so she approached the stranger.
“Excuse me,” Jill said as she got closer.
“Oh! Sorry, you startled me! I was concentrating so much I didn’t notice you!” The woman got over her shock, and smiled at the young girl, nervously standing in front of her. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I think I’m lost and,” Jill’s voice trailed off, as she realized that the woman had been sketching the sea scape in front of her. “Wow, that’s really good. I like to draw too, in fact, I was going to look for somewhere to sketch when I got lost.”
“Oh, I’ve been lost a lot in my life, and I’ve found allowing yourself to be rescued is the best part. I’m June by the way, what’s your name?”
“Jill,” she replied, taking an immediate liking to June, even though she didn’t really understand what she had just said.
“Well, Jill. I’m fairly new in these parts, but if you are lost I know just the person to help. There’s a cafe over that rise there, and Dorothy will know what to do, plus we can get some pop and a cake if you’d like that?”
So saying June got her papers together, offered her hand to Jill, and together they set off. As they walked they talked about drawing and art, and somehow Jill found herself expressing for the first time to an adult her secret desire to be an artist. She showed Jill the drawings she had with her, and in no time they were at the cafe. Dorothy quickly took charge, gave Jill a drink and a large slice of homemade chocolate cake, before calling Leo at Silver Oaks to let him know she’d found one of his guest.

Just about that time, Dad had the barbecue hot and was ready to start cooking.
“Where are the kids?” he asked.
“They all went down to the beach; I’m sure they will be back soon,” Mum reassured him. Just then Don came running along the pathway, closely followed by Ben, who was eager to show off the dead fish he had found on the shore.
“Where’s Jill?” Mum asked, looking back along the path.
“Oh, she wasn’t with us,” Ben said.
“What do you mean?” Mum said, suddenly concerned.
“Well we knocked as you said, but she didn’t answer, so we went without her.”
“Oh, I expect she’s back in her cabin enjoying the quite,” Mum said, “I’ll just go check on her.”
Within a few moments, she was back. “She’s not there, and her phone is on the counter. Dad, where is she? Where’s my Jill?” Mum was trying desperately to keep calm, despite thoughts of her baby girl being abducted and murdered, or worse, while she had just been enjoying the sun.
“Now, let’s get this straight,” Dad took over, “exactly who saw Jill last and where?” He quickly found out that the last anyone had seen his daughter was when she had taken her bags to her cabin, several hours ago.
“OK, there is no need for anyone to panic” Dad tried to reassure his increasingly tearful wife and overexcited sons. “Mum, you go to the office and let them know what’s happened, and then came back here in case she turns up. I’ll go and search the woods. Don, Ben, you go back along the beach road, maybe she followed you, and you missed her. Call me if you find her, but come straight back here if you don’t, is that clear?”
The boys said they understood and set off, calling Jill’s name every few minutes, Mum ran to the office, and told Leo that her daughter was missing. Leo was just trying to reassure her, and at the same time suggesting that they inform the police, when the office phone started ringing.
Leo answered it, and then smiling said “Did you say your daughter was Jill? Not to worry she’s been found safe and well, she’s at the Fisherman’s cafe, and if I know the owner there, she’s been treated to home made cake.”

Dad had ventured into the woods, not sure exactly what to do, but determined to do something, anything. He loved all his family more than life itself, but Jill had a special place in his heart as his first born child and only daughter. They had been close when she was younger, his “little princess”, but as the years went on he felt her drifting away. It was inevitable, of course, he told himself, kids grow and move on, but still it felt like he was getting too old as she grew more independent.
He met a few people coming the other way, but none of them had seen a young girl, and his grip on the composure he had tried to show the family was slowly ebbing away. He had reached a bridge over a stream and was unsure what to do next. He was not a religious man, but as he stood there, he suddenly found himself praying with all his heart that his little girl was safe. He called Jill’s name for the hundredth time, and was about to start along the path again when his phone rang. When he heard the news he started sprinting towards the cafe; he was going to save his little princess.

“Oh Jill, thank God you’re safe. We were so worried!”
Bill gathered up his daughter and held her in an embrace filled with love and concern.
“Are you OK? What happened? How did you get here?”
As the story came out, he thanked Dorothy and Mary over and over, and offered to pay for the food that Jill had eaten.
“Oh no, that’s OK m’dear!” Dorothy said, “Seeing this little lady safe and well is all the payment I need”
“And your daughter was showing me some of her drawings,” Mary added, “she’s very talented, you must be very proud of her.”
It was Bill’s turn to be confused, he looked at Jill, who was blushing and trying to hide her scape book.
“I am very proud of Jill” he said, “although she hasn’t shared many of her drawings with me lately.” He gently took the papers from Jill and looked through them. “These are good, aren’t they? But then I remember your art teacher giving you great marks on your last report. I just thought you were more interested in Maths and Science; at least, that’s all you talked about.”
“Oh, it’s nothing” Jill was embarrassed and just wanted Dad to stop looking at her work, but at the same time, she glowed from his words of encouragement “I know it’s silly; I need to study and get qualifications so I can get a proper job, just like you and Mum. It’s just that, well, this is what I love to do. I love sketching, drawing, all that art stuff. But it’s stupid, I know.” She blushed and looked away, as her father sighed and got serious.
“Stupid?” he said. “These aren’t stupid; these are excellent. I tell you what would be stupid, and that would be not pursuing your talent and your passion.”
“But Dad, how can I make money doing this? If you’ve taught me one thing, it’s the importance of hard work and diligence.”
“And you think being an artist isn’t hard work?” Dad looked at his young daughter, no longer the baby he had once held in his arms, not quite a woman yet, but always his princess. A thousand memories came to mind all in an instant, and he smiled at Jill.
“Let me tell you a story.” He started, “when I was a young kid, maybe a year or two younger than you are now, I dreamed of being an actor. I just loved the whole thing about being on stage, I was in all the drama at school, and nagged my Mum and Dad to take me to all the plays that were on anywhere in town. When I was in my last year before leaving school, my English teacher said I had talent, and suggested I consider going to drama school.
“It wasn’t anything I’d ever thought about, but once the idea was in my head it grew, and soon I wanted that with all my heart and soul. It was the only thing I dreamed about as the school year came to a close, and I was busy looking at all the options of where I could go.
“It was early June, just as the school year was coming to an end time that my Dad, your Grandpa that you never knew, passed away. It was sudden, he had a heart attack, one day he was there, and the next gone. My world turned upside down, and your Grandma, well she was struggling to bring us kids up and keep us fed. As the eldest of the boys, I decided that I needed to get a job and earn some money. Ma tried to talk me out of it, but I was determined, and she was grateful for the help I could give, and I told her that I’d go to drama school when I could.”
Jill looked with new eyes at her Dad. She had always thought of him as someone so down-to-earth and practical, and now it seemed that he had dreams too.
“And then I met your Mum and we got wed, and you kiddos came along.” He smiled gently at his daughter. “Not that I would have changed any of it, but still, sometimes in the middle of the night, I wonder what would have happened if I’d gone to drama school.”
“But the point is” Dad took a deep breath, got to his feet, and held out his free hand to Jill, the other one still holding tight to her drawings, “I’m not going to let you throw away the chance of using this talent of yours. Stop double guessing yourself, and be proud of yourself, I am!”
Just then a car drew up outside, and Joan and the boys tumbled out and started to run to the cafe. Jill was hagged and held and felt so loved and protected. But even better than all that, she knew that she could talk to her Dad about anything now. The future seemed to be broadening out from the narrow confines she had seen it in.

For the rest of the week she spent many happy hours with her pencils and paper, and when it was almost time to pack up and go home, Dad drove into town and brought her a portfolio case to carry her pictures. As she scanned the cabin one last time before leaving, she saw the journal, and just had enough time to scribble an entry.

Cabin 22 Journal.
May 19.
This is the first time I get to stay in a cabin by myself, and that means I get to write in the journal too! I am 15, well, almost, I will be later this year, and I am Jillian Mary Robertson, I have two older brothers, who are a pain, but I love them anyway. Mum and Dad are here too in one of the other cabins, and Ben and Don have one to themselves. Oh! Ben and Don are my brothers, and I’m called Jill, not Jillian, that is just my given name.
Oh! I want to say so much, but this is all I have time to write. This is a magical place, and something about the magic has rubbed off on me this week! I have discovered that I am not a misfit, that I have Talent, and that it is OK to dream. My Dad is a fantastic man, who gave up so much for us and I love him more than anyone in the whole world.


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Waifs and Strays

I’m in love with this chapter!

Is it bad that I love my own work? Maybe, but this is one chapter that wrote itself as I went along, I had no idea what was going to happen until it did.



Dorothy stood at the door of the Fisherman’s Cafe, smelling the sea air and feeling the sun on her face. On her drive this morning, the mist slowly cleared as the sun came up, and the bluebells in the woods seemed to be singing the hope of a new beginning. She really loved the spring, and the promise it held of new beginnings, and new hopes. Maybe people wondered why she bothered to open so early in the morning, and it was correct that she often did not get many customers until later in the day. She did it because she loved the coast and the sea and the woods, and this was her time. And it helped her remember.

Fifty years ago she had been a rebellious teenager, who knew everything. No one would tell her what to do, where to go, or how to spend her life. She started smoking when she was 12, and it wasn’t long before she was drinking too. Her Mum shouted at her, telling her not to be so stupid, and that she was throwing her life away. Maggie just laughed it off; she was young and invincible, and it was fun.
After one enormous row, she had packed a bag and started to live rough around the beaches and resorts in the area. It was a long summer of hazy memory, composed of booze, drugs, and sex, fun at first, then just normal, but eventually she discovered that she didn’t actually like the person she had turned into. She decided to settle down and get a job, so she came home, made peace with her Mum and started looking around for work.
The first job she found was in a pub. The Feathers was just a couple of miles from her home, and it offered the sort of hours she liked to work. As an added bonus, it seemed, all the older men in the bar liked her and kept buying her drinks. The even offered to drive her home after work, and if sometimes they had wondering hands, well Dorothy could look after herself, and it was a small price to pay for not having to walk.
The first time the landlord took her aside to talk about her drinking, Dorothy was outraged. How dare he, she thought, how dear he suggest that I have a problem! She decided to prove him wrong and only accepted soft drinks from the regulars. That lasted about a week, and then she found herself taking “just one drink,” and soon she was getting as high as she’d ever been.
The next time the landlord said something to her she was more worried than angry. She remembered her resolve, and how it had come to nothing. Also, it was made clear to her that if she got drunk on the job again, she would be out of work, and so she decided to go on the wagon for good. Two days later she was drunk at the bar, and the landlord made good his threat: she was out of a job.
Over the next 5 or more years the pattern was repeated. She would get sober, find a job, but then lose it because of her drinking. Dorothy just didn’t understand it; she was a smart kid, and yet she could not stop herself from repeating the same mistake over and over. Her health deteriorated as her drinking got worse, and when her periods stopped, she refused to acknowledge what it meant. Then one morning she got out of bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was haggard, the skin fell from her bones, but there was an unmistakable bulge around her middle. For the first time in years, she started to think of someone other than herself, as she realized that she had an unborn baby that was dependent on her.
In her purse she had been carrying the number of her local AA meeting for a while, so she rang it, and went to a meeting that night, and every night for the next month. One of the ladies at the meeting persuaded Dorothy to go to the health clinic, and she was soon under the supervision of a doctor. As her time approached, she was desperate. She had been sober these last few months but had no job, no money, and no prospects. How was she to bring up a child? She made the only decision that seemed to make sense and put the child up for adoption.
Her sweet baby daughter was born in the first week of April. She still remembered the ride into the hospital, and the bluebells in the woods as she passed. She remembered as if it were that very morning holding her daughter in her arms and gently singing to her, as the baby made soft cooing sounds back to her. Then they came and took her away, and Dorothy cried for a month. The only things that got her through were her AA meetings and the fellowship she found there, and eventually, the hurt was covered by scar tissue. It still hurt, every day of the year it hurt, but it was bearable. Except on days like this one, days where the mist cleared and the bluebells sang welcome to a new beginning.
Within a year she got married to Tom, who she met at a meeting, and they had two sons. When Tom went back to drinking and left her, Dorothy brought up the boys on her own. She carried the memory of her first born with her everywhere she went but spoke about it to no one, and few even knew she had been blessed with a daughter all those years ago.

Her thoughts were interrupted by her phone ringing. She didn’t recognize the number that came up and answered cautiously: she had got a lot of sales calls recently, and it annoyed her. “Hello, this is Dorothy, who’s calling?” She said into the phone.
There was a long pause, and Dorothy was about to hang up when she heard someone take a deep breath on the other end of the line, as if they wanted to speak, but couldn’t. Using a gentler voice this time, she said “Are you OK m’dear? Can you tell me your first name? Do you have a problem with drink?”
This time there was a definite sigh, and then a young woman’s voice came on the line. “Oh God, I can’t do this, I‘m sorry, I just thought, I don’t know what I thought, I’m just so fucked up, and I don’t know where to turn.”
Dorothy had taken many AA calls in her time; they were never routine, but she knew the drill. She also knew from experience what it took to get to the stage where you were so desperate, you were ready to try anything, even AA. She talked and listened, and before long had calmed the girl enough that she had agreed to come to the cafe later, and Dorothy was hoping she could get the newcomer to go with her to that night’s meeting.
She started to get on with the day at the cafe, always on the lookout for the newcomer, who had given her name as Mary. Soon she spotted a young girl, maybe in her mid-twenties, in an old and tattered overcoat standing in the drive outside the cafe. She had that defeated air that Dorothy had come to know over the years, and from her dirty looks, it appeared that she had been sleeping rough for at least a few days. Dorothy poured tea into a take-out cup, added milk and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, and took it out to the woman.
“Mary? Here, this is for you.” Dorothy said, handing her the hot drink.
The girl took the cup, wrapped her hands around it, and seemed to relax as she sipped the drink. They talked about nothing much until Dorothy brought up a subject that had been worrying her since she had seen Mary’s appearance. “So,” she said, “Where have you been sleeping?” She saw Mary’s defenses come up again, so she went on, ”only I have a spare bed if you need one for a couple of days m’dear.”
As Dorothy suspected, Mary had been living rough, and she jumped at the chance of a warm room and agreed to go to a meeting that evening with Dorothy too. As customers started to arrive for lunch, Dorothy became busy, but she said that Mary could hang around the cafe until later if she wanted. While she worked, she was thinking about how to tell Maggie about the new house-mate she was going to have. Maggie knew that Dorothy went out to meetings a couple of times a week, but they had never really talked about why. The fact that Dorothy occasionally helped other alcoholics get back on their feet had not been something they discussed and had not come up in the last three months.
Over the years Dorothy had acquired a good sense of people, and she felt that Mary would not be one to take advantage of her. Even if her instinct was wrong, and it sometimes was, for herself she felt the risk was worth taking. There were enough success stories for her to continue with this outreach. In any case she made it clear that any of her guests were welcome on two conditions; first that absolutely no alcohol was allowed in the house, nor were they allowed to turn up drunk; and second that it was temporary while they rebuilt bridges. It wasn’t ‘tough love,’ as such, Dorothy was too kind-hearted for that, but she also knew that it was important these girls took responsibility for their lives and moved on.
Maggie was different, and Dorothy had at first been concerned about taking in a different type of guest. She was not an alcoholic, for one thing, although she had certainly been affected by alcohol in her life. Dorothy had even turned a blind eye when Maggie came home after having a few drinks, but now that she was helping another alcoholic again, and things needed to be discussed.
Lunchtime was a busy one, and Mary helped with the cleaning up of the tables and stacking the used dishes in the washer. As the lunch crowd left, Mary said she would go for a walk and meet Dorothy at her home later before going to the meeting, and the afternoon went on in its regular routine.

Dorothy had just closed up the cafe and took out her phone to call Maggie when to her surprise the phone started ringing, and she saw that it was Maggie calling her. What a coincidence, she thought, but was shocked when the first words Maggie said were: “Dorothy, do you know someone called Mary?”
“Oh, well, yes m’dear, actually I was about to call you and talk about that…”
Before she could continue, Maggie went on “Well, she’s at The Feathers, and they were about to call the Police, when she mentioned your name and the cafe, and something about staying with you? She’s been getting drinks off some of the men here, apparently. Anyway, she’s horribly drunk and… “
There was suddenly a lot of shouting in the background.
“Oh God” Maggie’s voice was quivering as she spoke. “She’s just thrown up all over the counter, sorry Dorothy, I have to go.” The phone went dead, and Dorothy, shaking with anger at the stupidity of it all, jumped in her car and headed off to The Feathers.
When she got there, an ambulance drove away, and Dorothy noted that one of the local police cars was parked outside the door. She went in and saw Mary sitting at one of the tables, with Police Office Davy to one side. He looked up as Dorothy came in.
“This one of your lot?” He said.
“I had hoped so,” Dorothy replied, “but maybe she’s not ready yet.”
“Well, I’ve run her information, and there aren’t any warrants for her. I could lock her up for Drunk and Disorderly, but I’m willing to let it go this one time if you can make her go to AA.”
It was a conversation they had gone over before, and Dorothy did not bother to explain that no one was made to go to a meeting, they had to want to. Instead, she sat the other side of Mary and spoke to her as gently as she could.
“Hi Mary, do you remember our conversation this morning? How you wanted to get better from all this? Well, the meeting is in a couple of hours, and if you want, I can take you in my car. And the offer of a place to stay still stands, but only when you’re sober, understand? I will not have this sort of thing in my house, not anymore.”
Mary mumbled a few words of agreement, and then Officer Davy read her a formal warning and put his notebook away.
“OK,” he said, standing up. “You are free to go this time, but next time I’m called to you being drunk in a public place it won’t be so easy. Understand?”
Mary nodded. Officer Davy turned to leave, then turned back to Dorothy and said “Good luck with this one,” before heading out the door.
The landlord, who had been hovering in the background until the police had gone, came up to the pair. “You going to be OK Dorothy? She made a right mess of the carpet over there, I’ll need to call in my cleaners before I open up again.”
Dorothy wanted to tell him it was his own damn fault. Why hadn’t he noticed Mary’s state before it got that bad? He must have seen her getting drinks from the locals, why had he let it get that far? But she knew that voicing that feeling was pointless. Instead, she said, “It’s OK Sid, I’ll take it from here. Only do me a favor, call me if she ever turns up here again?”
“Don’t worry,” Sid said. “She’s barred from now on.”

The rest of the evening was full for Dorothy; she took Mary back to the cottage and helped her clean up a bit, took her to the AA meeting, then home and a late supper for the three of them. She was just sitting down with a mug of cocoa when she realized that Maggie had been unusually quiet all evening.
“You OK m’dear?” she asked.
Maggie looked at the older woman, not sure exactly what the question was that was bothering her.
“When Mary started being load and obviously out of control, a couple of people mentioned your name, and when you turned up you were marvelous, and that policeman obviously trusted you, but,” Maggie paused, unsure of what to say. “It’s great of you, but I don’t really understand how you can work with those drunks.”
Dorothy smiled gently. “It’s because I am one of those drunks m’dear.” She said simply.
Quietly, as if she was talking about everyday events that had happened that morning, she told Maggie about her drinking career, her wanting to stop but being unable to, about finding AA and how she got sober, and about her firstborn child. As she talked she gently started to cry; not in a dramatic way, just that the memories came out that way.
“Don’t you wonder what happened to your child?” Maggie asked her.
“M’dear, these not one moment of one day when I don’t wonder about Misty,” Dorothy replied. “Oh the day she was born there were Bluebells in the woods, and the mist was coming up from the ground in the early morning, just like today. Her birthday is April 10th, so in 2 days she will be 42, probably married and with kids of her own, maybe grandkids too. I’ll go to the church and light a birthday candle for her, like I do every year, and pray that she is surrounded by family and friends, and having the time of her life.
“In AA we are told we need to help newcomers to keep our sobriety. Well, that’s true, but I also help them because someone once helped me. I can’t help Misty, but I can help those who come along. I hope that if my Misty ever needed help, someone would be there for her too. I don’t know if Mary will stay sober, I sure hope so, but it’s not my journey. All I’m responsible for is my actions, and I’ll keep helping these girls as long as I’m able.”
They sat in silence for a while, Maggie trying to integrate this new knowledge about Dorothy with the grandmotherly figure she had always seen her as. She was coming to realize that people were not always what they seemed.
“Now m’dear,” Dorothy got up from her chair, came over to Maggie and rested her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “It’s late, and I need my beauty sleep before getting to the cafe tomorrow. It will all be OK in the end, you’ll see. And if it’s not OK, well, it’s not the end yet.” She lent down and gave Maggie a kiss on the cheek.
“G’night m’dear, sleep tight, and rise refreshed.”

Dorothy woke and checked the time; 4:30, and her alarm didn’t go off until 5:00, so what had woken her? Then she heard it again, the sound of someone in her kitchen. She pulled her robe around her and headed downstairs.
“Good morning m’dear!” She greeted Mary, who looked shocked and guilty.
“I couldn’t sleep anymore, and I thought I’d make some tea, you did say I could.” She had on one of Dorothy’s old nightdresses, much too big for her small frame, and making her seem even tinier.
“That’s fine m’dear,” Dorothy wanted to wrap the young girl in her arms and tell her that everything would be OK, but she knew she had to respect boundaries, so she contented herself with a smile and a gentle hug. “But you sit down, and I’ll get the kettle on, and what about some breakfast? We have eggs, bacon, sausages, and what about some toast and marmalade to be going on with?”
The voices had roused Maggie, and she joined the others in the kitchen, and soon all three were enjoying tea as the smell of cooking bacon filled the house.
“Now Mary,” Dorothy said as they sat down to eat breakfast. “There’s a noon meeting over in Bishopstown, you can get a bus from the village, it leaves at 11, so you’ll have plenty of time to get there. Do you have money for the bus fare?”
Mary checked and said that she had enough to get there, but not back, so Dorothy got out her purse and handed over some money. “You’ve enough there for the bus, and to put a couple of pounds in the collection at the meeting. You’ll get tea and a snack there, so that should tide you over. Then get a bus back into the village and come see me at the cafe and I’ll get you a late lunch.”
With Mary’s day planned out, Dorothy went to her bathroom to get ready, leaving the younger women sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea.
Mary’s recollections of the day before were muddled. She knew she had seen Dorothy at the cafe, and that she had been so happy that there seemed a way out of her problem. Then on her walk into the village, she was cold, saw the pub, and thought that maybe she could just rest for a bit, get warm, maybe have just one drink, nothing more. Then there were men and offers of drinks, and somehow it all escalated. She knew she had seen Maggie there, and then suddenly it clicked.
“You were serving at the pub, is that right?” She asked.
“Yes,” Maggie replied. “I have a couple of part-time jobs, and I work in The Feathers 3 lunchtimes a week. I hope to do more as the summer comes along.”
“Are you a relative of Dorothy’s?” Mary asked.
“No, I’m,” Maggie paused, not sure exactly what to say. Then she remembered something that Leo had said once, something that had sounded strange at the time but was making more sense now. “I’m just one of the waifs and strays that Dorothy looks after, just like you.”

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