The surprise

Here’s another instalment from my unfinished story, The Button. Clare Mason  has moved to Easthope where she unexpectedly bumps into someone she was at school with, someone who bullied her mercilessly. The woman, Jenny-Lee recognises her but for some reason mistakes her for another girl called Clare, Clare Cherry, who was Jenny’s best friend. Jenny and her husband Darius are restoring an old watermill. Clare begins to make friends including a woman called Livia who invites her to a group of friends who meet for lunch. Unfortunately, Jenny-Lee is also a member!

The surprise

It was a very pleasant lunch with very pleasant people but it would have been more pleasant if Jenny-Lee had not been there. Fortunately Clare was sitting three places away from her and had avoided being drawn into any conversation with her. Clare’s neighbour on her right was the elderly lady, Pat; her even more elderly mother had recently died and although it wasn’t said, it was clear that Pat was liberated by her bereavement.
On Clare’s left was Dora the jeweller and between these two Clare had a varied and interesting series of conversations. They were interested in her, obviously, but aware of being within earshot of Jenny, even though the woman was in full flow about the watermill.  Clare heard one of the others remind her that talking about husbands/partners was against the rules so she must have been saying something about Darius. What had she been saying? The man was intriguing, so friendly and pleasant until he had thought Clare was Clare Cherry… interesting… but there was no way it would ever be known, Jenny and Darius were not people destined to be friends.
The meal had begun with a tiny coffee cup of chilled mushroom soup, garnished with a sprig of a pea shoot… interesting, different, and rather nice as an amuse bouche. It was followed by duck presented in a Japanese way or fennel, and now their places cleared, they waited for the main, beef or white bean cassoulet…
It was a moment when neither Dora nor Pat was speaking, and the conversation from the other side of the table drifted over… school days…
Clare felt a shiver across her shoulder.
“Chilly, Clare? Should I ask the waiter to close the window?” Dora asked kindly.
Clare assured her she was fine, in fact she was rather warm – unaccustomed to dining and wine at lunch time.
“Goose walked over your grave, I expect,” said Pat with a chuckle. It actually did feel like that, and to shake off the uncomfortable feeling, and distract from the school reminiscence, Clare pondered on the origin of the phrase and the three of them speculated.
The two waiters arrived with their lunch, and a third poured more wine… good heavens, Clare was definitely not used to this! Thank goodness indeed she wasn’t driving. She took a good sip as the waiter now put vegetables on her plate and the tension she’d felt about the conversation evaporated and when Pat and Dora also began to talk about their school days, she felt calm again.
Her mind wandered to the information they had been given about the history of the lighthouse before they began their meal…
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day’ was how Longfellow had apparently described the beacons round the coast. Some dated back to the 1700’s but this one was built in the early 1800’s replacing one which had stood on the next headland until it fell into the sea. It was made from 700 tons of granite and stone and still stands sixty-eight foot tall, a testament to the locally born engineer who created it – Bartholomew Magick.
“Clare, Clare! I was just telling everyone that we were best friends at school!”
Of course, it was inescapable…
“Clare joined us in the fourth year, or was it the third – it’s not called that now, is it… year nine I think, or was it ten… she and I became the closest, the best of friends!”
There was an awkward pause as Clare remained silent, unable to think of a single thing to say.
It had been a surprise when Jenny had burst into the room, now her conversation – even though it was half-expected was a terrible shock.
“So have you kept in touch, all these years?” someone asked.
“Well, that is the amazing thing!” Jenny seemed unaware of the awkward atmosphere – if there hadn’t been some ambient music playing in the background it would have been even worse.
“Well, that is the extraordinary thing… no… we drifted apart… no internet in those days, and then suddenly, a few weeks ago, who should come wandering into the mill with Darius, but Clare!”
Was Jenny-Lee playing some weird game, pretending that she though Clare was Clare Cherry?
At that moment the waiters reappeared and swiftly cleared the table and then instead of dessert a rather exotic birthday cake was brought in – it was Jackie the other jeweller’s birthday today and the women had commissioned a special cake with puffins on which apparently Jackie was mad about.
It seemed everyone sang ‘happy birthday’ very heartily, as if they had picked up on Clare’s embarrassed unease.
The talk relaxed into talking about cake, puffins, and Jackie’s half century, and Prosecco was offered and all was well… yes, Clare decided all was well… ok… all right…sort of…

The women descend the steps in a buzz of happy conversation. They left the two hundred year-old lighthouse, each with a complimentary souvenir model, and hugged and said goodbye.
What a pleasant and convivial lunch, what a pleasant and convivial bunch of people!
Clare gratefully slid into Livia’s car…
“Enjoyed the lunch club?” Livia asked with a grin.
Before Clare could reply there was a tap on the window… and of course it was Jenny-Lee.
“Clare, so lovely to see you again, I’m so thrilled the old one-two are back together!” she gushed as the window lowered.
“I forgot to tell you – or ask if you knew… If you don’t it will be a bit of a surprise – did you hear that Clare Mason had died? She was murdered you know!”




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