There was a text from Suzie on my phone. It said simply, ‘Mike, tell her yes.’ Hmm. OK, well it went against my idea of common sense, but, well, ‘Suzie knows best.’
It was funny how it’d turned out. The three years we were together quickly lost their appeal and alternately rowing and not speaking to each other became the order of the day. Then she’d met Vernon and I’d met Judy, and we’d gone our separate ways.
Judy was an estate agent and ran a busy office, renting and selling rural properties where we lived at the time. She was divorced but very secretive about her past, telling me almost nothing about her ex-husband and their background. She had two children, both at university, Alan and Sarah, but I’d only met them once, at a rather uncomfortable dinner.
“Michael, I’m going out to Reesby, there’s a ruined property someone’s interested in selling. Do you want to come out and take a look with me?”
So, I’d got into Judy’s silver convertible as she donned Ray Bans and drove us through narrow country roads, alternately overhung by green boughs then bordered by wide-open fields full of waving crops. I’d admired her sculpted profile. “You could slow down.” Of course, that was a signal for her to put her foot down even more. Judy was like that.
Then we pulled up at an old church, much to my amazement. The windows had been knocked out and there was just the shell left. Inside were blackened areas on the stone flags where fires had been lit by persons unknown. It was cold and eerie.
“It’s deconsecrated, looked after by the rural church commission, but they want to sell.” Judy’s voice echoed around the stone walls.
“Who would buy a place like this?” I asked.
“They’d be free to demolish it, rebuild whatever they liked, within reason. Planning permission’s not a problem.” She began to take photographs and measurements.
I wandered outside, looking at worn and toppled gravestones sticking out of beds of nettles. The sun came out and I felt its welcome warmth on my cheeks and hands.
I looked up in amazement. There, clad in green coveralls and holding a chainsaw was Suzie. Down the little road behind her I could see a bottle-green van with gold lettering. S. Dalziel, Tree Surgeon. “Well, I have to say I’m impressed.” I laughed. “I never figured you as a tree surgeon!”
Suzie smiled. “It was Vernon’s idea. He thought I’d enjoy the fresh air and exercise. He was right. How are you?”
“I’m OK, I’m still with Judy.”
Suzie gave me her card as Judy emerged from the church. Whether she recognised Suzie or not, I couldn’t say, but she marched past us to her car. “Come on, Michael. I’ve got work to do.”
Suzie raised her eyebrows, winked, then turned towards a nearby tree.
She looked older, I thought, and quite thin too. And maybe that’s why I’d given her a call a couple of weeks later. She told me she was happy with Vernon and her new life, but, “Yes, let’s keep in touch,” and she’d kept her word. We kept in touch as she got pregnant and had a child, a boy named Raymond, and as Judy moved onto Robert, another estate agent. Meanwhile I met Celine, a lady with green eyes, a sweet smile and a great sense of humour. Someone who made me feel good, just to stand in her presence.
Then, a month ago, Celine had gone back to France to spend time with her parents. Today I’d received a postcard. I turned it over in my hands. It showed a statue of a lion on a plinth amongst beds of red and golden flowers, taken at a notable country house in her parent’s district, apparently. I re-read the flowing blue ink for the ninety ninth time. ‘Mike, I love you, but I want to stay in France. Please think about coming to live with me here.’ She’d signed her name followed by a line of x’s. I looked at Suzie’s text once more, then, suddenly feeling excitement, called Celine’s number.
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