Af­ter­noon Tea

A de­ci­sion is made in this charm­ing com­plete story by Pauline Brad­bury.

The People's Friend Special - - OUT AND ABOUT -

WELL, why not?” Vicky asked her­self, strug­gling with the wind which was buf­fet­ing her brolly. “I need a cuppa and there’s one wait­ing for me right there.” Right there be­ing a rather im­pos­ing ho­tel, out­side of which was a no­tice telling told Vicky it was open to non­res­i­dents.

If it hadn’t been such a wet day, and the wind so bois­ter­ous, and if she hadn’t re­ceived that text ear­lier on, she would have trudged back into the town cen­tre to f ind a tea shop. As it was, buoyed up with feel­ings of ex­cite­ment and an­tic­i­pa­tion, she took a last look at the churn­ing surf and de­serted beach, and marched up its short drive.

In­side it was quiet and warm, and a pleas­ant girl wel­comed her and sug­gested where she might leave her wet things be­fore go­ing into the lounge.

“Such a fright­ful day.” She smiled, point­ing out the way. “I’m sure you’re look­ing for tea.”

Vicky de­posited her wet gar­ments and went through the arch­way to the large room over­look­ing the sea. It was full of comfy-look­ing so­fas and chairs, where peo­ple were chat­ting qui­etly.

She spied an empty chair and ta­ble in the cor­ner.

“I’ll be with you in a mo­ment, madam,” a waiter told her as he passed.

Madam! Vicky nod­ded gra­ciously. She used to be good at ama­teur dra­mat­ics, she thought with amuse­ment, and this was just the sort of real-life stage where she could prac­tise it.

She sat up straighter, pushed back her dark hair and checked that her pink sweater was smoothed down over her most re­spectable pair of jeans.

In no time at all she found tea and scones in front of her. The china was del­i­cate, and the golden scones were ac­com­pa­nied by dishes of jam and clot­ted cream. Lovely.

She was just about to get stuck in when she re­mem­bered her role, so in­stead she spread the jam and cream leisurely and dain­tily, with ges­tures she imag­ined more suited to a lady hav­ing tea at an ex­pen­sive ho­tel.

“I won­dered which you would spread f irst.”

Vicky al­most dropped her scone, and looked up to f ind it was a friendly look­ing man at an adjacent ta­ble who had spo­ken to her.

“If you put the cream on f irst it means you come from Devon, but jam first means you’re Cor­nish. Or is it the other way round?” He smiled dis­arm­ingly.

“I don’t know,” she replied, rather at a loss. “I don’t know this part of the coun­try at all.” “Have you just ar­rived?” he asked. Vicky was puz­zled. If he’d been watch­ing her that closely he must have seen her come in. She tried one of her gra­cious nods, half hop­ing that would f in­ish his over­tures.

Not that he was un­pleas­ant. In fact, he looked nice, with a sprin­kling of grey hair and a cheer­ful smile. She liked his blue polo-neck sweater, too. He got up. “Well, I hope to see you around, then,” he told her.

She nod­ded again. This gra­cious nod was com­ing in use­ful.

****

It was only as she was leav­ing that the penny dropped. He had asked if she had just ar­rived at the ho­tel, and she had nod­ded. So, in ef­fect, she had let him think she was a guest here.

She felt em­bar­rassed and slightly guilty, though it wasn’t even a white lie.

“Just crossed wires,” she told her­self, but all the same, be­fore ven­tur­ing out into the wilds of the gale again, clad in her boots and a ro­bust quilted coat, she peered all round to make sure he was nowhere in sight.

Head down, brolly up, she hur­ried back along the es­planade to­wards the town, and then, amaz­ingly, there he was on the other side of the road, peer­ing into a café win­dow.

She knew the café quite well now, be­cause she had tried a couple of meals there.

Prob­a­bly check­ing how the other half lives, she de­cided, be­fore re­turn­ing to his f ive­course din­ner.

With her brolly shield­ing her, she car­ried on through the main shop­ping area to the lit­tle guest-house – one of many up this quiet side road, each of them dec­o­rated nicely and most of them dis­play­ing No Va­can­cies signs, even this late in the sea­son.

Later, she sat in her room in front of the TV. In front of it, but not watch­ing it, be­cause she had a lot to think about.

She was about to em­bark on a huge en­ter­prise.

“Well, prob­a­bly,” she cau­tioned her­self.

“More than likely,” her more im­petu­ous in­ner self as­serted.

Vicky sighed. Ever since her mother had died and left her the house and all of her sav­ings, she had been in a quandary. It seemed like a good time to take a step into the un­known and do some­thing she had al­ways wanted to, but at the back of her mind she could hear her mother telling her to be sen­si­ble and care­ful.

That was the trou­ble. All of her life she had been sen­si­ble and care­ful, and where had it got her? No fur­ther than a ca­ter­ing course and a job at the small restau­rant in her home town where she’d been ever since. Of course, she shouldn’t forget her ro­mance with Jeff, the love of her life, who had of­fered ex­cite­ment and ad­ven­ture.

But af­ter much heart-search­ing and sor­row, she had backed away from him be­cause be­ing sen­si­ble and care­ful weren’t words he was fa­mil­iar with. Ac­cord­ing to her mother.

“At twenty-f ive, why should they have been?” Vicky mused. “At twenty-f ive, life is full of prom­ise and pos­si­bil­i­ties.

So what about f ifty-one, then? That was what loomed just round the cor­ner for her.

Was this her sec­ond chance?

****

Vicky was no nearer making the f inal de­ci­sion when she woke the next morn­ing,

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