Short story: When Robins Turn Blue

Dy­lan was per­fect hus­band ma­te­rial – so why was she play­ing for time?

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Hello! -

That Satur­day morn­ing as she parked her car, Eloise Clark wasn’t look­ing for­ward to the sec­ond half of the day. Spend­ing time with her mum Shona was an ex­er­cise in tread­ing on eg­gshells at the best of times, but now Dy­lan wanted to use the mo­ment to an­nounce their en­gage­ment.

She and Dy­lan had been ‘se­cretly and un­of­fi­cially’ en­gaged for a while. In other words, they hadn’t crowned their in­ten­tions with a ring or men­tioned it to Shona.

That would be ask­ing for trou­ble, re­flected Eloise glumly, swing­ing her brief­case off the back seat. Her mum would be ar­rang­ing a wed­ding be­fore she and Dy­lan could say, ‘We’re think­ing of a long en­gage­ment. Say, a few decades, see how it goes.’

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to marry Dy­lan. He was kind, faith­ful, funny…

All through col­lege, she’d been drawn to the bad guys. She never cared about a bloke’s prospects, whether or not his in­ten­tions were ‘honourable’ or if he and she were a meet­ing of minds.

Her par­ents had prided them­selves on fin­ish­ing each other sen­tences and desserts

– un­til Eloise’s dad had walked out when she was 12, say­ing he felt ‘smoth­ered’.

Still, she knew why Shona was so thrilled about Dy­lan. Her mum had been not-sose­cretly-afraid that Eloise would make a bee­line for bad boys right into old age.

Fo­cus­ing on work, she ap­proached Ai­dan Gillespie’s dimly-lit garage. Right away, she fell over his legs, which were pro­trud­ing from un­der a green sports car.

Ai­dan had opened his own busi­ness, restor­ing vin­tage cars. It was a change from be­ing a quan­tity sur­veyor, he’d told a mutely dis­ap­prov­ing Eloise.

‘Ah, my ac­coun­tant,’ he said breezily, rolling out from un­der the car. ‘A Satur­day visit, no less. I’m hon­oured.’

It was on the tip of her tongue to re­ply, ‘Don’t be. I’ve dropped in partly to dis­tract my­self and partly be­cause these papers can’t wait.’

‘Care for a cuppa?’ he of­fered. ‘I know there’s a pot here some­where that I brewed up ear­lier.’

‘No, thank you.’

Eloise sank onto the edge of a sticky-look­ing chair and clicked open her brief­case. ‘It’s not good news, Mr Gillespie.’ ‘Ai­dan, please.’ ‘You’re on your up­pers,

Mr Gil… Ai­dan. I’m sorry, but

I’ve warned you al­ready. I’d rec­om­mend you close now, be­fore you have to file for bank­ruptcy.’

Ai­dan went pale un­der his tan of grease. Eloise felt sorry for him. She liked to see risk-tak­ers get their re­ward.

She had a sud­den flash­back to rid­ing, bare-headed, be­hind Scott Maple­ton on his Tri­umph Bon­neville, folded into his warm back. Scott had pulled off the road into a meadow (blokes like him al­ways knew where to find the hand­i­est meadow) and they’d sunk into sun­burnt grass, the smell of petrol hang­ing in the air…

Eloise snapped to at­ten­tion, re­al­is­ing that Ai­dan was hold­ing forth on his dream.

‘It’s not just a job, Miss

Clark. It’s a labour of love.’

‘Call me Elly, please. And don’t shoot the mes­sen­ger. I’ve racked my brains try­ing to think of the best so­lu­tion.’

‘But I’m not short of work!’ ‘I re­alise that, but you can’t hire staff, be­cause you can’t af­ford to pay them. It’s a vi­cious cir­cle, Ai­dan.’

She stared at the green car, won­der­ing if it went as fast as a Bon­neville. It wasn’t a soft-top, so you’d never feel the wind in your hair…

‘I see you’ve an eye for a classy mo­tor,’ mur­mured Ai­dan, stroking the body­work. ‘E-type Jag in clas­sic Bri­tish rac­ing green. Ab­so­lute beauty.’

Hear­ing the catch in his voice, she stood up briskly and handed over the papers.

‘If you’d give these close at­ten­tion over the next few days, I’ll call you next week.’

He took them re­luc­tantly.

‘I’d other plans this week­end.’

Eloise was gripped by an­other sud­den vi­sion. She saw Ai­dan Gillespie flash­ing his lop­sided smile, tak­ing her hand af­ter a late-night liqueur and twirling her grace­fully round a pol­ished dance floor.

‘Get a hold of your­self,’ she mut­tered, side-step­ping a cou­ple of mon­key wrenches.

‘Got any non-work plans your­self?’ asked Ai­dan, fol­low­ing her out.

‘Go­ing to my mother’s for lunch. With my fi­ancé.’

‘Ooh, sounds quite for­mal.’ ‘Dy­lan wants to get for­mally en­gaged,’ she blurted, much to their mu­tual sur­prise. ‘We’ve been to­gether for some time, so it was in­evitable.’

‘O…K…,’ he nod­ded, look­ing at her cu­ri­ously.

‘Take a look at those papers, Mr Gil… Ai­dan.’

She drove away in a state of com­plete con­fu­sion. Why had she blurted that out? And why did she sound about as pas­sion­ate about the idea as a civic dig­ni­tary open­ing a new stretch of mo­tor­way!

When she col­lected Dy­lan to drive to her mum’s, he glanced at her. ‘You OK?’ he asked. ‘You look flushed.’

She nod­ded, throat tight with guilt. How could she be­tray Dy­lan men­tally, when he was ev­ery­thing she should ever want?

‘I can see you’ve an eye for a classy mo­tor…’

‘Look, I won’t men­tion the “e” word un­less you give me the nod,’ he went on. ‘But it might be tricky. Ev­ery time we turn up now, your poor mum is on ten­ter­hooks.’

‘I know.’ She paused. ‘I’d like more time to get used to the idea be­fore all hell breaks loose on the wed­ding plan­ning front. Are you… of­fended by my feet of clay, Dy­lan?’

‘I know what par­ents are like,’ he replied smoothly. ‘My pre­ferred op­tion would be do­ing a flit to the Caribbean and re­turn­ing to tell ev­ery­one the deed was done.’

‘Mum would kill us both!’ laughed Eloise shak­ily.

Dy­lan’s par­ents had re­tired to Florida. They’d had him late in life, and took min­i­mal in­ter­est in his per­sonal life.

By late af­ter­noon, Eloise and Dy­lan were en­sconced in Shona’s gar­den, ad­mir­ing the roses, dis­cussing green­fly and sip­ping luke­warm lemon­ade. It was all go­ing to plan, un­til Shona came out of left field with, ‘Well? Are you two ever go­ing to get se­ri­ous? Only, Jessie Abbott said robins will turn blue be­fore that hap­pens.’

Eloise rolled her eyes. ‘Who’s she when she’s at home?’

‘Bridge club,’ replied Shona. ‘I have men­tioned her be­fore.’

‘Well, you know, thing is…’ har­rumphed Dy­lan, reach­ing for Eloise’s hand. ‘Maybe now’s as good a time as any to tell her, sweet­heart, put her out of her mis­ery…’

To Eloise’s hor­ror, he turned to Shona and went on, ‘We’ve been un­of­fi­cially en­gaged for a while, as it hap­pens. I’ve still got to buy the ring.’

‘At last!’ gasped Shona. ‘Af­ter all the com­ments at the bridge club: “Shona, how long is that man go­ing to keep your Elly dan­gling? Isn’t she in her 30s?” And there was me, with no handy put-down. Con­grats!’

‘Mum!’ said Eloise firmly.

‘I’m not about to get mar­ried to give you ver­bal ammo for the bridge club. If Dy­lan and I get en­gaged, we’d still like a long en­gage­ment.’ She looked at Dy­lan for back-up. He stared at the roses.

‘What­ever for?’ cried Shona. ‘You’re hardly teenagers! Now, I was think­ing of spring next year, but we’d have to get our skates on…’

By the time they es­caped in the late af­ter­noon, Shona had ha­rangued her with phone num­bers, menu lists and po­ten­tial guests.

Since Eloise had been lum­bered with smil­ing grimly all day, Dy­lan got the fall­out as they drove away.

‘Thanks very much!’ she ex­ploded. ‘You said you’d wait for me to give you the nod!’

They drove on in si­lence. Sud­denly, Dy­lan asked her to pull over, then turned to face her. ‘Let’s face facts, Elly,’ he said qui­etly. ‘You don’t want to marry me, do you?’

She gaped at him. ‘I… Do you want to marry me?’

‘I want to get mar­ried,’ he said qui­etly. ‘But maybe I’m com­mit­ted to the idea of mar­riage with­out think­ing through the post-wed­ding bit.’ ‘Thanks very much – again!’ But, in spite of his sear­ing hon­esty, Eloise felt a surg­ing wave of re­lief.

‘I’m so sorry, Dyl. But at least we both came to our senses in time.’

‘No re­grets then?’ he asked, with a rue­ful smile.

‘No re­grets. I won­der why we couldn’t make it work?’

‘No spark,’ he said with forced glib­ness. ‘It’s cheesy, but can we be friends?’

‘Of course!’

They were do­ing the right thing, yet af­ter she’d dropped him off and gone back to her flat, she cried her eyes out, know­ing they’d stay friends, but with­out the easy in­ti­macy.

She stayed in her of­fice that week and half the fol­low­ing week, al­though un­able to con­cen­trate on work. She still hadn’t told Shona, but couldn’t put it off much longer.

Well into the sec­ond week, she was mor­ti­fied to re­alise that she hadn’t chased up Ai­dan Gillespie for his re­sponse to her pa­per­work.

She felt a de­sire to see him in per­son. Hav­ing up­set the jig­saw puz­zle of her life, an ar­tis­ti­cally chaotic workspace sud­denly ap­pealed.

But a shock awaited her at the en­trance. The garage was tidy, with a brisk, func­tional air.

Her heart sank, un­til Ai­dan strode out of his of­fice, wip­ing oily hands on his T-shirt.

‘Whad­dya think?’ He swept an arm around the­atri­cally. ‘I had you in mind when I did this. Pic­tured you mak­ing a drill-yard in­spec­tion, yelling, “Clean this lot up, you ’or­ri­ble lit­tle man!’’’

‘Am I that bad?’ she asked, only half-jok­ing. ‘Look, Ai­dan, what about my clo­sure plan? Sadly, straight­en­ing a few chairs won’t help cash flow.’

‘If that’s a ref­er­ence to deckchairs on the Ti­tanic,

I’ve sold my boat and hired a me­chanic to help with back or­ders. He starts next week.’

She re­sisted the urge to ask why this boat hadn’t been listed among his as­sets.

‘My dad’s. A cata­ma­ran he spent his life restor­ing. He’d take me out sail­ing when I was a kid, hop­ing the bug would bite, but…’ He shrugged.

‘With me, it was al­ways cars. Boat’s been in dry-dock since he died last year.’

‘Oh, Ai­dan!’ cried Eloise. ‘That was a fam­ily heir­loom with lots of mem­o­ries. You shouldn’t have had to sell it!’

‘Time to let head rule heart – you made that very clear – and Dad would rather I saved my busi­ness than kept his boat locked up like a fos­sil. Cuppa?’ ‘Um… please.’

‘Not en­gaged yet, then?’ asked Ai­dan, nod­ding at her ring­less fin­ger as he passed her a mug of tea.

Eloise took the mug, star­tled again by his cheek­i­ness. ‘No.’

Her fan­tasy about him had been a symp­tom of her panic, latch­ing onto a bloke who had the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a wild ex-lover, and pro­ject­ing on to him all she was scared of los­ing through mar­riage to Dy­lan – spon­tane­ity, ex­cite­ment, im­pul­siv­ity.

Ai­dan was his own per­son, some­one she didn’t know at all. But he did have a cer­tain way of look­ing at her that made her shiver. She longed to ex­plore the ten­sion be­tween them, find out what it might lead to. And where…

‘I’m keep­ing my op­tions open at the mo­ment,’ she went on cryp­ti­cally, her gaze stray­ing to­wards the E-type Jag. ‘Do you have a car like that with a hood that comes down when you take it for a spin?’

‘At least we both came to our senses in time’

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