Head Over Heels by Alyson Hil­bourne

I was proud of not need­ing a man in my life. But don’t they say pride comes be­fore a fall?

The People's Friend - - News -

THE stone cot­tage lay at the end of the vil­lage. Wallflow­ers and busy lizzies were planted in the beds along the front path and bas­kets of gera­ni­ums and lo­belia hung over the door.

It was very beau­ti­ful, and peo­ple pass­ing by of­ten stopped to look at or pho­to­graph it.

A lit­tle old lady with white hair and a charm­ing smile, like a fairy god­mother in a child’s fa­ble, was of­ten seen work­ing in the front gar­den, com­plet­ing the serene pic­ture.

But the old lady wasn’t quite as snowy white as she ap­peared. She could be quite con­niv­ing – and I can say this be­cause she’s my grand­mother and I love her to bits.

When I was grow­ing up my par­ents worked over­seas and I lived with them un­til I was eigh­teen. I only saw Gran in the sum­mer for a cou­ple of weeks when Dad had leave, but when I moved back to Eng­land I got a job in the city not far from where she lived.

At first I had to catch the bus over to see her, but af­ter a few months I passed my driv­ing test and bought a car.

Gran was de­lighted to see me and en­cour­aged me to come as of­ten as I could.

She pam­pered me as if try­ing to make up for my par­ents be­ing away. She could al­ways tell how I was feel­ing when I ar­rived.

“What’s wrong? Is it Sam?” She knew when some­thing was up and could whee­dle in­for­ma­tion out of me.

I took a deep breath. “We split up. He was two-tim­ing me.”

She nod­ded and went to make some tea and get out some fruit­cake.

Her an­swer to my man-free sta­tus was to try to fix me up with some­one.

If Gran could have whizzed me up a pump­kin car­riage and a ball to go to I’m sure she would have done, but as it was she had to rely on peo­ple she knew.

“The tree sur­geon is here, Chloe,” she said the next week­end. “Can you take him out a cup of tea? My back isn’t so good to­day.”

I knew what she was do­ing. The tree man could have come any day; she only wanted a cou­ple of branches lopped off and had prob­a­bly had to pay ex­tra to get him to come on a Satur­day.

And since when had her back been bad? When I’d phoned her dur­ing the week she’d been turn­ing the com­post heap.

As I say, she was con­niv­ing.

I du­ti­fully took the tea out. The tree man was about my age, and bronzed from work­ing out­side. He took the tea and swept off his hard hat.

“Thanks,” he said, tak­ing a great swig. “I needed that. Where’s Mrs Foster?”

“It seems her back is bad,” I said, thin­ning my lips.

I waited un­til he had fin­ished the tea and then col­lected the mug and took it back in­side.

“Didn’t you want to stay out there and talk to him?” Gran asked.

“Gran! Stop try­ing to fix me up,” I said.

Later that af­ter­noon she was back in the gar­den, fork­ing over the veg­etable patch, bad back ap­par­ently for­got­ten.

The fol­low­ing week­end she’d ar­ranged for the neigh­bours to come round for a drink in the evening. It just hap­pened that their son was vis­it­ing as well.

We spent a painful few hours ask­ing each other ques­tions and try­ing to find some­thing we might have in com­mon while Gran talked to his par­ents and gave me sur­rep­ti­tious looks.

“Well, what did you think?” she asked when they’d gone.

“I think you should let me find my own boyfriend,” I said.

“I don’t know what you’re talk­ing about.” She shook her head, then gath­ered up the glasses and marched them out to the kitchen.

“We had noth­ing in com­mon ex­cept that his par­ents and you live in the vil­lage,” I said, fol­low­ing her. “He likes foot­ball and real ale. I like old cot­tages and mulled wine. See? Noth­ing in com­mon.” Gran sniffed.

“You didn’t try hard enough,” she said.

“I’m fine, Gran. You don’t need to find me any­one,” I said.

“The hap­pi­est days of my life were with your grand­fa­ther,” she said with an­other sniff. “I just want to see you set­tled be­fore I move on.”

“Gran! You’re not go­ing any­where. Not for a good num­ber of years yet,” I said.

It didn’t stop her, though. Al­most ev­ery week­end that I vis­ited she ar­ranged for me to meet some­one.

I vaguely thought about stay­ing away, but I couldn’t do that. I knew she would miss my vis­its, even though she knew ev­ery­one in the vil­lage and had friends on ev­ery cor­ner.

I would have missed her, too, if I didn’t come. I would miss her and the lovely cot­tage where she lived.

So each week­end I tried to avoid the se­ries of young men Gran aimed to set me up with.

“I’ll go to the shop, Gran. Have you got your shopping list?” I said to her one morn­ing when she was try­ing to get me to go and talk to the man she’d got in to mow the lawns.

She rolled her eyes at me, but went and fetched the list. If I did the heavy shopping for her each week she could man­age with the vil­lage shop for the rest of the time.

I drove slowly into the nearby town and wan­dered round the su­per­mar­ket, look­ing more care­fully at the of­fers than I usu­ally did.

I filled up with petrol, too, on the way out and treated my­self to a cof­fee in the café, so it was a good two hours later when I drove back to Gran’s. I fig­ured the lawn man should have left by then.

“I’m back!” I shouted as I parked in the drive and opened the boot.

I took out the two bags of shopping, slammed the car door shut and strug­gled into the cot­tage.

The doors and win­dows were open but there was an un­usual still­ness. “Gran?”

Si­lence.

I put the bags on the kitchen counter and glanced through the win­dow to the gar­den. There was no sign of her. Two cof­fee mugs were on the side by the sink.

“Gran!” I shouted louder and walked along the hall to the liv­ing-room. The room was quiet and heavy.

I frowned. Gran wouldn’t have gone out while I was vis­it­ing, and she wouldn’t have left the cot­tage open like this.

I bounded up the stairs and quickly checked the bed­rooms. Gran’s room was neat, the coun­ter­pane pulled up and the net cur­tains bil­low­ing in the breeze. Gingerly I pushed open the bath­room door. She wasn’t any­where up­stairs.

I clomped back down

“Doc­tor,” I said, the words a strain. “Just . . . doc­tor.”

I didn’t want Gran to be wor­ry­ing. It would be too much trou­ble for her.

Gran dis­ap­peared for what seemed like ages. My head was clear­ing but there was a sharp pain in my leg that made me grit my teeth, and a throb­bing in my an­kle.

I opened my eyes and stared at the sky. How stupid I felt. I’d fallen down two steps and done some hor­ri­ble dam­age to my leg.

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