Community Spirit

Illustration by Martin Baines

Episode 29

JEANNIE and Tasha walked along the ridge of a hill above the village and paused to look down at the houses below, tiny but still picture perfect, even from this distance. Tasha, who had been in front, turned to face Jeannie.

“I know you’re trying to help, but it won’t work,” she said. “Why should you have to stick up for him? It should be him apologising. Not once in that whole message did he say sorry for letting me down, or sorry for not inviting me for the weekend away. Not one single sorry. Nothing you can say can make up for what he’s done. And it shouldn’t have to.”

Jeannie was lost for words. Tasha was right.

“Come on. It’s getting too hot up here and I’m thirsty. Let’s go to the Mucklebury Arms,” Tasha said, marching off down the hill.

Jeannie trotted along behind.

At the pub Tasha went upstairs to find Cally.

“How is she?” Nate asked.

“Not good,” Jeannie replied and burst into tears.

Nate rushed around the bar and pulled her into a hug.

“Hey,” he said. “Come now. She’ll get through this.”

“I know,” Jeannie said, stepping back, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands, “but she shouldn’t have to. Why does he always make her feel rejected and me useless?”

Nate sighed.

“I have no answer for that,” he said. “It’s not right.”

“I can’t compensate for what he does,” Jeannie continued. “I can’t take her to Spain. I can’t even afford to take her to Brighton.”

“You don’t have to,” Nate assured her. “You’re there for her. That means a lot more than fancy holidays.”

“But even I haven’t been there for her lately. I was wrapped up in the business folding and our financial situation, then trying to find a new job. I haven’t given her the time she needs.”

“But you’ve got more time now,” Nate reminded her, “and it’s the holidays. You could spend some real quality time with her.”

“You’re right.” Jeannie began to smile. “I don’t have too many shifts at the Goose, and I can work around those and make her my focus.”

“There you go.” Nate smiled back. “Maybe Cally and I could come out for the day with you? We could arrange it for when I have cover, maybe a picnic?”

Jeannie looked down.

“That sounds lovely, it really does . . .”

“But?”

“There’s nothing I’d like more, believe me . . .”

“Jeannie?”

Jeannie stared hard at her feet, twisting the arms of her sunglasses in her hands. When she looked up, her eyes swam with tears about to fall.

“But I don’t think me becoming involved with another man is the right thing for Tasha at the moment.”

Nate looked out to the green, surprised at the strength of feeling which swept over him.

“Honestly, a day out with you and Cally would be fantastic, but I’d be distracted and Tasha wouldn’t get my full attention,” she said. “I really think I need to focus on her for a while.”

“Of course.” Nate nodded, unable to meet her eyes. “Doesn’t mean I’m not bitterly disappointed, though,” he added, looking at her with a rueful smile.

Jeannie clasped her hands together to stop herself from reaching out to him.

“Me, too,” she said. “But it’s for the best.”

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