Short story: When Robins Turn Blue
Dylan was perfect husband material – so why was she playing for time?
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?’
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’