The smooth polished parquet floor of the hall felt cool to her bare feet as she padded silently around her old family home. Curtain rails were bereft of fabric, windowsills empty and there were ovals of darker magnolia on the walls where family photographs had once smiled into the rooms.
She said wordless farewells to each in turn, taking great care to hold tight to the memories. She was about to leave this place which had been familiar for 35 years. She wanted to bottle and seal it in her conscious and unconscious because she would never see it again.
Evie dried her eyes, picked up the Daily Telegraph from the kitchen table, slipped on her black stilettos and shut the windows against the afternoon heat. She would sit under the apple tree for the last time.
Stepping out of the back door into the covered porch, the small garden overhung with undisciplined ash trees seemed steamy. Only diamond chinks of sunlight pierced the canopy to break up the claustrophobic shade.
The opening bars of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard it through the grapevine” filtered through the hedge from next door’s transistor radio. She heard the metallic click of the latch on the side gate, footsteps and a young man stood unannounced in front of her.
“I thought you might like a game of tennis….?
“I’d…er …. arranged a match with a friend but he’s… well, he’s doing something else…”
His voice petered out. He was uncertain whether he should give her the details lest she be bored, so he edited his words but the hesitation made him seem even more inarticulate than he felt.
David was four years older than her, yet of similar stature. His face was too broad to be classically good-looking and he kept his wiry dark hair cropped short. He’d told her he couldn’t grow it fashionably longer because it would be horribly wavy.
He was not one of the sporty popular boys who had dozens of friends. He was an academic, predicted to get spectacular grades at maths and chemistry whose closest mates were speccy types whose clothes smelled of the labs.
Evie and David had known each other as friends for a long time but had never played tennis together nor had he visited her house before. Their only contact was chatting as they walked in the same direction to the school bus. They never seemed to finish their conversation when it was time for him to peel off to his own home two roads away, so he generally walked her to her gate.
If she hadn’t already played a match with her best friend that morning, Evie might have accepted his invitation. The other reason was the heat. She was acutely embarrassed at the possibility of her face turning beetroot with the heat and the effort.
“I’m sorry. Not today. Another time maybe?”
The moment the words were out, she regretted turning him down. With a pang she thought there might not be another time. His expression changed. The hopeful smile disappeared and he regarded her with sombre dark eyes, suddenly sad.
She was just wondering if he was going to say anything else when he leaned towards her and kissed her on the mouth. His lips pressed warmly, dryly against hers for no more than three seconds.
He stepped back and grinned. She was too shocked to imagine how surprised she must look. He took another step away, his grin wider than ever. Pleased with himself.
“Ok. See you tomorrow, then?”
Her response was delayed; her voice, a whisper. He didn’t hear her reply. He’d already gone.
It was her first kiss. Something inside her dissolved like sugar in hot tea – something entirely pleasant and quite thrilling. She was lost in the sensations overwhelming her. She didn’t hear the latch of the gate.
Evie roused herself feeling light-headed and vague. Next-door’s radio was silent. It was a very strange day. Her mind was everywhere and nowhere. She found the newspaper, still folded in her hand, checked her watch and changed her mind about sitting in the garden. No time, now.
She tucked the Telegraph inside her carrier bag in the kitchen along with the pumpkin and plastic fangs she’d bought for Evan’s school halloween party. She locked the house for the last time and hurried to her car.
Evan was at the school gates, waiting with all the irritation a five-year-old could muster.
“Mummy. You’ve been ages. The party’s starting any minute!”
She helped him into his halloween fiend costume and inserted his plastic fangs. He gave shot her a hilarious fangy grin before walking into school bearing his pumpkin with pride.
Evie had spent far too long at the house earlier. Now she was hard-pressed to get home before the supermarket run. She switched the kettle on and noticed a signed-for padded envelope addressed to her on the kitchen worktop. Her husband must have left it.
Inside was a letter from Stretton and Partners, solicitors at law.
“We act as Executors administering the estate of the late David Sanderson, of 112 Dover Avenue, Eastbourne. Among his effects was property which he clearly indicated should be given to yourself. Please find the article enclosed. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at the address above.”
Evie felt her world imploding. She had no idea. She wasn’t in touch with any of her schoolfriends these days and always imagined David must by now be a earning a fortune for one of the big drug companies, maybe living in the States with a wife, a couple of children and a swimming pool.
The truth was that it had never been the same between them after the kiss. They hadn’t seen each other for days afterwards and she felt clottish and embarrassed at the way she reacted or more accurately, failed to react. She thought perhaps she’d missed her chance or that he’d felt it was an inappropriate spur-of-the-moment mistake. Whatever the reason, their friendship was never the same. When he got a moped he drove to school and there was no goodbye before he left for university.
She had difficulty controlling her shaky fingertips as she pulled a small bubble-wrap bag from within the package. Within she felt a fine chain and small medallion.
She turned it over and over in her fingers. It was a silver St Christopher, patron saint of travellers. If only she could thank him. He’d caught her by surprise again. Today was a good day for moving on.