Being the center of life.
Dad and Mother would contact me often, and Ben too from time to time, but I was too preoccupied with my own life to connect with family. On the other hand, working at the Jolly Anchor meant I was at the hub of a community of people from around the area. Pubs were more than just a place to go to drink, and having a local was a defining part of who you were. The people behind the bar weren’t just serving drinks, they were like councilors or therapists; people you talked to when no one else would listen.
So I got to know a lot more about the community I lived in. I knew whose marriages were on the rocks, who was sleeping with whom, what petty crime had been committed by which person. I found out about those who were in funds, and those that were at the end of their tether. In short, I was the person everyone talked to over a pint or a whiskey or gin.
On the other hand, George was a good businessman, but not really a people person. It was hard to put my finger on what it was that was missing. He was pleasant enough and chatted easily with the people that came in. But there was a certain aloofness about him, something that made people shy away from sharing too much with him.
Christmas was coming and the holiday season brought with it a lot more customers to the Jolly Anchor, and a few local firms had Christmas parties in the lounge bar. George took on some extra part time staff for the busy times, but even so I was working long hours and seemed to spend most of my time in the pub, either working or drinking. I hardly ever got out to the coast, so one day I decided that I needed to get out if only to give my car a good drive.
I drove along the coast road, stopping here and there for a cup of tea or a sandwich or just to admire the view. I had no particular plan in mind, just wanting to potter around, and at first it was fun, but after a while just driving aimlessly seemed futile. I tried to examine why I felt like that, and it came to me that I was missing being with someone. Oh, I had lots of friends, and quite a few girls I could call for a casual date, but nothing serious for a long time.
Most of the time, I was so busy with life that nothing bothered me, and maybe it was just the sudden relaxing from the constant need to be doing something. Christmas had never been a great time for me, not since the early days with Mother and Dad. Nowadays I was just feeling rootless. Not lonely, no, not that, but without someone special to talk to, I felt that I didn’t have a voice. I spoke all the time at work, and with my mates after work, but I never seemed to say anything.
My thoughts brought me back to Old Hunstanton, and the road behind the cottages. I stopped and looked at the place I’d worked on for that winter, and remembered how that had all ended. I’d heard that it had been sold, but it didn’t look like anyone was living there at the moment. Just as I was thinking of moving on, the lights came on in Maggie’s cottage, and I realized that someone must be home. My heart almost stopped when I saw Maggie open the door and came out carrying a small child. She put the child in the back of the car and drove off, and I was able to breathe again.
I was pretty sure she had not mentioned a child before, so maybe she had gone back to her husband and they had had a baby. I was terrible with guessing kids ages, but this one could not have been more than 4 or 5 so that timescale was possible. I had succeeded in putting the Betty and Maggie era in the back of my mind, but here I had been thinking about it, and I’d seen Maggie back here.
I drove slowly back home and concentrated on what we were doing at the Jolly Anchor for Christmas. It was going to be fun, and I needed fun. I didn’t need commitment or any of the things that came with it. In any case, I was too busy to think anymore.