Christmas at the Vicarage(9)By: Rebecca Boxall
Rosamunde was taken aback. She’d never noticed the difference in their complexions, although now she thought about it, Rachel did have to be much more careful to stay out of the sun. Rosamunde was quiet for a moment, thinking. Stephen grinned.
‘What?’ Rosamunde asked, noticing his smile.
‘Oh, it’s just I love the way you never rush to answer a question. You really think about things before you answer. It’s unusual.’
Rosamunde was unsure if this was a good thing or not but she continued to consider quietly. They walked along side by side as she did so.
‘I think it’s because my mum was half French,’ she announced finally. ‘She had dark hair and skin that went really brown, like a nut. Rachel and I both inherited Dad’s hair and eyes but I guess I got Mum’s skin and Rachel got Dad’s.’
Stephen seemed satisfied with this answer. ‘What happened to your mum? Gran said she died but she didn’t know how.’
Rosamunde felt her chest begin to feel sore. It always happened when she thought too much about her mother. She hoped she wouldn’t start crying. She bit her lip and answered quickly.
‘She died of a brain tumour five years ago. It all happened really suddenly. She used to say our eyes were a colour called amber, not yellow. It’s hard . . .’ She faltered.
‘I know,’ Stephen said quietly and he seemed all at once less self-assured.
‘You do?’ asked Rosamunde, tentatively. An atmosphere of sadness seemed to crackle between them.
‘I had a sister, only a year older than me. We were as close as twins. She died too. Of meningitis. It happened five years ago, the same as you,’ he explained, his skin reddening with emotion.
‘That’s so awful,’ Rosamunde told him.
‘No worse than what happened to you,’ replied Stephen. ‘And in some strange way it’s made me stronger. I feel older, somehow, and like I’ve got to be brave for my mum and dad. I used to shelter behind Claire a lot, but now I have to be strong. Confident, like Claire always was.’
‘You’re like my sister,’ said Rosamunde. ‘She’s been so amazing since Mum died. I wish I could be like that. I just feel sad and pathetic.’
‘You’re not that. You’re braver than you think. Sometimes, you know, it’s braver to cry,’ he said, noticing suddenly the tears in Rosamunde’s eyes. He said nothing more but slowly, tentatively, he took her hand. As they continued along the cliff path they remained hand in hand until the path began to narrow and it became difficult to walk together any longer. When Stephen let go Rosamunde could still feel a comforting, buzzing warmth in the palm of that hand.
SATURDAY 22ND NOVEMBER 2014
Rosamunde woke with a start, her heart hammering. She checked her watch. It was two o’clock in the morning and yet the house telephone was ringing, shrill and persistent. She clambered out of bed and found her dressing gown, tying the satin belt around her waist whilst poking her feet into her slippers. By the time she reached the downstairs hallway she found her father, bleary-eyed in striped pyjamas, picking up the receiver.
‘Vicarage,’ he said, in automatic fashion. Rosamunde settled on the stairs, inquisitive. She could only hear her father’s side of the conversation but it was clear the news was not good.
‘Oh my dear,’ he said. ‘You did well to ring me. Now, have you called the doctor? Yes. Deep breaths now. Okay, now listen, my dear. I’m coming right round. Make sure the door’s unlocked and I’ll let myself in. I’ll be there in just a tick.’
Having replaced the receiver, Bernie looked up at Rosamunde. He appeared both calm and sad, she thought.
‘What’s happened?’ she asked. By now she was wide awake, adrenalin coursing through her veins.
‘That was poor Alison Thacker. It sounds as though Richard’s had a heart attack. Alison went to bed while he watched the golf but when she woke up to find he hadn’t come to bed she went downstairs and found him slumped in the armchair, dead as a dodo. So terribly, terribly young. He can’t have been a day over forty-five,’ he mused, rubbing his white head. ‘I must get over there now,’ he added, moving swiftly past Rosamunde up the stairs.
‘Can I help at all?’ called Rosamunde after him. She felt rather useless.
‘No, my darling. You go back to bed. Just feed Gladys for me if I’m not back for a while.’
He left a few minutes later, having dressed haphazardly and brushed his teeth. Rosamunde returned to bed but couldn’t sleep. She kept thinking about the couple, who’d been auditioning for the roles of Joseph and Mary in this very house just a few days ago. She tossed and turned until the sky turned from black to dark blue and she decided to give in and head downstairs to put the kettle on.