Christmas at the Vicarage(8)By: Rebecca Boxall
‘He didn’t ever love anyone else, did he, even when the lady died?’ asked Rosamunde, as she always did.
‘Only their beautiful children,’ came the expected reply. ‘He couldn’t ever love another woman because a man can only hope to experience love like that once in a lifetime,’ Bernie finished. ‘Now, my darling girl,’ he said, ruffling Rosamunde’s hair. ‘It’s time you were off.’
‘I love that story,’ sighed Rosamunde.
‘I know you do.’
Safely ensconced in a cosy sleeping bag in the tent she was sharing with Kizzie and Rachel, Rosamunde awoke the next day to the delicious scents of dew-drenched canvas and cooking sausages. It was the annual weekend camp laid on for local children by Kizzie’s parents in one of the fields on their farm and without a doubt the highlight of Rosamunde’s year. There was something so pleasingly simple about camping and it always gave her the giggles, especially late at night when they were meant to be going to sleep. Rachel had resorted to stuffing tissues in her mouth last night, which had only prolonged her hysteria.
After pulling on wellies over her pink pyjamas, Rosamunde unzipped her way out of the tent and headed straight to the campfire, guided by her hungry belly. Rachel and Kizzie were reluctant to emerge from their sleeping bags and she was keen to find Stephen and make sure she was included in whatever plans he had for the day. She had now known Stephen for two years and had begun to develop something of a crush. She wasn’t the only one. Stephen had a sort of magnetism – partly due to his character and perhaps also to his transience, as he only came to Potter’s Cove for the summer holidays, to stay with his grandmother. He was always included in local events and was incredibly popular. Even Rachel failed to be disdainful about him. He was taller than most children his age and had cropped blond hair, amused turquoise eyes and a confident way about him that made him seem older than his peers.
‘Morning, trouble.’ He grinned his dimpled smile at Rosamunde as she perched down next to him on one of the logs arranged by Kizzie’s mother around the campfire. She quietly relished the prospect of a few moments alone with him, knowing that at any moment his other disciples would appear sleepily from the tents scattered around the dewy field.
‘What’s the plan today?’ Rosamunde asked, trying to sound nonchalant but suspecting she sounded too eager, as usual.
‘There’s activities on this afternoon. Swimming races and stuff down at the beach. But this morning we’re free to do whatever we want. Let’s have breakfast then head up to the cliffs,’ he announced.
‘Okay,’ Rosamunde agreed, helping herself to a deliciously burnt sausage and a mug of strong tea. After scoffing breakfast she told Stephen she’d get dressed and rally Kizzie and Rachel.
‘I thought we might head off just us two,’ he suggested, shrugging. Rosamunde couldn’t believe her luck, but was a little unsure.
‘But I’ll need to get dressed and then they’ll want to come.’
‘So come in your pyjamas. They look like a tracksuit anyway. Come on,’ he said, standing up. Stephen was already dressed in drainpipe jeans, plimsolls and a tight black t-shirt that made him look like John Travolta in Grease. Rosamunde only wished she looked more like Olivia Newton-John. She was still uncertain but then she spotted Benedict poking his head out of a nearby tent and the last thing she wanted was for him to join them, so she shrugged too in agreement. After quickly promising Kizzie’s mother to stick together and return by lunchtime, they left their comrades behind and began the steep climb to the cliffs.
It was a beautiful day: sunny but not too hot. There was a whispery breeze that lifted Rosamunde’s thick hair off her back as she trudged up the steps that led from Potter’s Cove to the cliffs, and the smell of coconut oozed from the bright yellow gorse bushes. Stephen walked quickly and seemed barely out of breath when they reached the top, whilst Rosamunde was fairly sure her face had turned an unattractive shade of beetroot. She was unsure why she had suddenly become so aware of her appearance, having barely given it a second thought until recently. Perhaps Rachel’s obsession with her looks (and, frankly, herself in general) was rubbing off on her. She hoped not.
At the top Stephen turned around and waited patiently for Rosamunde to catch up.
‘Can I ask you a question?’ Stephen asked as she approached. He didn’t wait for Rosamunde to answer one way or another. ‘How come you and your sister both have red hair and sort of yellow eyes but your sister has really pale skin and yours is suntanned?’