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 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?”
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.