today we have the pleasure to welcome Claire Sandy on the blog as part of the blog tour for her latest release. ‘A Very Big House in the Country’ was published just few days ago, on 30th July, and if you haven’t already added the book to your TBR pile, you really should. We’ll be reviewing it soon too, but in the mean time, visit the other blogs for more reviews and guest posts from Ms Sandy. Now, off to Claire and her wonderful short story which we’re honored to publish exclusively on our blog.
‘READING HIS MIND’ – Short story by Claire Sandy
‘What are you thinking?’ It was a question Louise often framed in her mind, but never said out loud. The inside of Jamie’s head was a foreign land to her. Uncharted territory. She knew that somewhere on its map she’d find football, DIY programmes, work, computers, Woody Allen, but she had no idea if weddings – theirs to be specific – were there at all.
It was a quiet Monday morning at The Flower Basket, leaving Louise far too much time to brood on the past weekend. If her little (oh, let’s be frank, miniscule) seafront florist’s had been busier Louise wouldn’t have had the leisure to lean on the counter, gazing unseeingly out at the sullen sea, pondering her sister’s words.
“If he won’t play ball, get rid of him!” Jo had said in her usual forthright way, knocking back one of the far too many glasses of red wine she’d sunk at Louise’s flat on Saturday night. This kind of bullish candour was not the response Louise had really wanted to her timid confession that she was starting to have doubts about the level of Jamie’s commitment, that she didn’t really understand what he wanted from her. “I mean,” Jo had bulldozed on, waving the last samosa around recklessly, “why isn’t he here tonight? It’s a Saturday night, he should be snuggled up on the sofa with you, not halfway across the country at some knees-up. You should tell him straight – it’s my way or the highway!”
This had been said with all the confidence of a woman ten years Louise’s junior who possessed a heart neither as tender nor as bruised. Louise had been through enough to recognise a good man when she saw one. Besides, she would hardly describe the Annual Conference of the Association of South Eastern Opthalmic Opticians a ‘knees-up’.
Why hadn’t he suggested she go with him? Was Jamie tired of her company? Or was he so used to her, after two years of happy and argument-free dating that he just didn’t think of her in the carefree context of a hotel? Or was he trying to tell her something? Or was it simply because he took his career very seriously indeed and treated the conference as an excellent opportunity to make contacts and not, as she would have treated it, as an opportunity to use room service and leave the bed unmade for once? ‘What is he thinking?’ She grimaced as she tried unsuccessfully to read his mind for the umpteenth time.
A gentle throat clearing snapped her out of her pointless pondering. Mr Rose stood in the shop doorway. One of her most reliable customers, he turned up every Monday at nine thirty am, resplendent in a tweed three piece suit, his snowy white hair carefully groomed, sporting the most charming of smiles, which managed to be both friendly and discreetly reserved at the same time.
“Oops, I was miles away!” apologised Louise and hastily bent down to retrieve his order from behind the counter. One perfect cream rose, bound into a buttonhole with a touch of gypsophilia. She didn’t know his real name, but to her he was Mr Rose.
“Thank you, but I need rather more than that today.” The voice was dignified and quite low. ‘On this day fifty years ago I married my dear wife, so I rather think a bouquet is in order, don’t you?”
Indeed she did. All disquieting thoughts of Jamie fled as she busied herself selecting the deepest crimson roses, the slenderest irises and the most delicately trembling fern the shop had to offer. Tying them up with a ruby red ribbon she handed them over for rather less than the actual cost. A romantic like Louise couldn’t let silly things like budgets stand in the way of a token of love between two people who’d not only made the commitment she craved but had honoured it for fifty years.
“I hope she likes them,” she said sincerely as Mr Rose left.
It was slightly too cold to be strolling along the seafront but it had become a Sunday afternoon ritual so here they were. Louise, behatted, bescarfed and begloved, leaned in to Jamie, enjoying the warmth of his lean strong arm through his Barbour. They had had another happy, relaxed and, admittedly, fairly uneventful week. Dinner at his place on Tuesday, then the cinema on Wednesday. Halfway through they’d whisperingly agreed that the film was an over-hyped, mishmash of expensive special effects and tiptoed out to watch Brief Encounter for the millionth time on video. Today she’d made Shepherd’s Pie – his favourite. So much togetherness, so much warmth, so much mutual respect and real comfort and joy in each other’s company, but where was the talk of their future? Where was the merest hint of marriage? It was all very well for Jo to shriek “Ask him to marry you, you wimp!”, Louise needed some real encouragement before she’d find the courage to do that.
Her attention was grabbed by the sight of a familiar figure. On one of the newly painted benches that faced out to sea sat Mr Rose, his hand in the hand of a petite, feminine lady of his own age. Mrs Rose! She looked exactly as Louise had imagined. She was exquisitely dressed, thanks more to taste than money, with haughtily regal cheekbones that were belied by the soft lines that had developed around her smiling mouth.
A pang of longing, sharp enough to make her gasp, shot through Louise. How she yearned to be like that, to be secure, stable with comforting decades of love and marriage behind her. That woman looked like a woman with no doubts about what her man thought of her.
As they passed the couple, Louise nodded a greeting to Mr Rose, then looked up at Jamie’s familiar and yet mysterious features. ‘What are you thinking?’ she asked silently.
Louise wasn’t to know that, as they passed the pair on the mint green bench, Mrs Rose was gazing up at her husband’s profile and saying wonderingly to herself “Fifty years and six days we’ve been together and I still don’t know. What are you thinking?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I write. All the time. I write so much that I have more than one nom de plume, so on this site you’ll find novels by Bernadette Strachan, Juliet Ashton and Claire Sandy. As Bernie Gaughan I co-write musicals with my husband, the composer Matthew Strachan, and I’m working on a sitcom with Steve Lee.
I write when I’m happy, I write when I’m morose, I write when I should be doing other things. I’m not much like George Bernard Shaw (except maybe the beard) but I do agree with him on this: “The more I work, the more I live”.