Christmas at the Vicarage(2)

By: Rebecca Boxall

Rosamunde smiled and took a deep breath of sea air. She opened the back door. And there in the kitchen, studying the dishwasher, was the Reverend Bernie Pemberton.

‘Rosamunde?’ he asked, peering short-sightedly at her. Then, satisfied she wasn’t a figment of his imagination, he yelped with delight.

‘I wasn’t sure what time you’d be home!’ Bernie exclaimed as he pulled his daughter into a bear hug. He smelt utterly comforting. Of washing powder and Polo mints and, most of all, just her dad. Stepping back to appraise him, she felt a lump of sadness rise suddenly to her throat as she realised how much older he looked, with his shock of white hair that had once been so red. Like a physical weight it hit her just how much of his life she’d missed over the last fifteen years. The brief visits she’d made in that time hadn’t been enough.

‘But you’re back, dear girl, you’re back,’ Bernie said, as though reading her mind. ‘Now tell me, have you looked at the crossword yet? It’s a beast today and I need your help.’

A marvellously decadent hour followed. The pair toasted themselves by the crackling log fire as they sipped scalding tea, with their heads in the Telegraph and Gladys the cat at their feet. After a while Rosamunde stretched her arms and surveyed the cosy surroundings of the home she’d escaped from, bursting as it had been with bittersweet memories. After many years away she’d finally begun to wonder if the geography was irrelevant. The memories could never really disappear. The best you could hope for was that they would fade, and lose their power, with time.

The sitting room was exactly as it had always been – a room as bright and sunny in the summer months as it was snug and welcoming in winter. Two squashy gold sofas faced each other on either side of the fireplace and a low coffee table – usually heaving with newspapers and mugs – occupied the space between the two. Directly opposite the fireplace were the French windows, leading to the walled garden at the back of the cottage, which were dressed with pretty crimson curtains.

To the left of the French windows was a corner shelf crammed with books as diverse as the Holy Bible, Delia’s Christmas and the poetry of Byron, and an array of well-thumbed novels. A low, beautifully upholstered chair was placed beside the bookshelf for the convenience of anyone who might wish to perch and scrutinise the blurbs on the back covers, deciding whether to borrow this novel or that.

In another corner, affixed to two walls, was a dark oak corner cupboard containing ancient glasses – sherry, champagne, port and wine – all gifts Rosamunde’s parents had received for their wedding. Beneath the cupboard was a shining chestnut table, lovingly polished over the years, upon which a tray lay invitingly, housing a selection of bottles to suit varying tastes – as long as they were alcoholic.

It was a pleasing room, decided Rosamunde, as she sighed contentedly and sat back against the sofa.

‘But I’m a terrible host, even to my own daughter,’ Bernie piped up suddenly, dismayed. ‘You must be exhausted after your journey. Have a bath – there’s plenty of hot water – and come back down when you’re ready. There’s a bottle of champagne in the fridge with your name on it,’ he added, ruffling Rosamunde’s long red hair just as he’d always done. ‘My dear girl, I’m so glad you’re home.’

‘Me too, Dad,’ Rosamunde replied. ‘I really am,’ she added with a smile. And, as she said it, she realised just how much she meant it. How on earth had she stayed away so long?

Yawning hugely, Rosamunde climbed the rickety stairs to her childhood bedroom, with Gladys following in hot pursuit. She opened the creaky wooden door and was taken aback to find the room had been refreshed.

The curtains had been an old Laura Ashley pair but in their place were fresh white drapes with a discreet pattern of daisies embroidered along the hem. Her single bed had been replaced with a small double and was covered with starched white linen and a pretty coloured blanket for extra warmth. Opposite the bed, on the pine chest of drawers, was a terracotta jug filled with scarlet and purple anemones.

It was warm and homely and had the definite feel of a woman’s touch, but if there was a new woman in her father’s life she was certainly sensitive, for beside the bed stood a freshly polished silver frame encasing a black and white photograph of Rosamunde’s mother. There she sat, gazing serenely with her enormous black eyes at the photographer, her dark hair cut into a gamine crop. It had been taken just before she died and captured Marguerite at the height of her beauty.

Later on, warmed by a bath in the old-fashioned roll-top and emboldened by the delicious champagne, Rosamunde tentatively probed her father on the subject.

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