IRIS folded the ironing board and put it away. Another morning spent on tasks she could have finished in half the time but had eked out because she had nothing else to fill the hours before Angus came home from school.
She had considered Roberta’s idea of selling hot drinks and cakes to ferry travellers, but it wasn’t a practical proposition. It might have been a sound plan with summer’s long queues. But one big stumbling block was the use of the power point for a kettle in the workmen’s hut. While the tall foreman had seemed accommodating, it was his deputy, the man Iris thought of as Fluffy Moustache, who had been there on his own the next time she went down and he’d told her in no uncertain terms that she would be in the way.
The doorbell rang.
It wouldn’t be Roberta she just walked straight in. Too early for the postman. The silhouette on the other side of the frosted glass looked somehow familiar. As she came nearer to the door her heart suddenly felt as fractured as the view in front of her.
She had time to take a deep breath before she opened the door.
Same tousled fair hair, was her first thought. Broader in the shoulders was the second. Her third thought got lost as she found herself enveloped in a brotherly hug.
“Iris. You haven’t changed a bit.”
That wasn’t true, but it was nice of him to say it.
“Did you . . . I wrote . . . your uncle . . .” The words tumbled out, the sentences remaining unfinished.
Sandy was part of that time, that summer six years ago, when Fin’s motorbike roared off the ferry and into her life. She hadn’t seen him since the day she told him that she was getting on that bike and leaving Lorn, leaving him and their blossoming romance. Seeing him brought it all back the whirlwind relationship with Fin, and its ending.
“Are you going to ask me in?” His voice was teasing but kind.
“Of course.” Iris opened the door wider.
“I only got your letter last week,” Sandy said, ducking his head through the living-room door. “I’d left that company and it was a while before it caught up with me. I’ve got another contract but it hasn’t started yet so I’ve come home. Thanks for being concerned about Uncle Charlie. How is he?”
“You haven’t seen him?”
“Flew into Glasgow this morning, hired a car and came straight here.”
“I’m worried about him. I’ve called on him a couple of times since he moved but he’s chatted on the doorstep, never said come in for a coffee or anything. Not like him. I don’t think he’s looking after himself.”
“Do you want to walk up there with me now?” Sandy asked. “Give him a surprise.”
“Surely he’ll ask you in,” she said, going for her jacket.
“How are things with yourself, Iris?” Sandy asked as they went through Lorn and up the hill road to Charlie’s. “I was really sorry to hear about . . . you know. So you and Lizzie are living in your aunt’s cottage. How’s that working out?” He looked at her quizzically.
“You remember Lizzie, then? But no, she’s been great, the proverbial tower of strength. We couldn’t have done without her at the beginning, Angus and I. But now I worry that we’re holding her back.”
“How do you mean?”
“She hates her job in the bank, but I think she feels she can’t make a change because it would affect us as well. She gave up her flat-share in Oban to come, after it happened . . . but what she’s always wanted to do is move to Glasgow and work in a department store. And really Angus and I would be fine now on our own.”
Sandy stopped to look at her as they turned in at Charlie’s gate.
“And what’s it like being a mum? Sounds very grown up.”
“It certainly makes you grow up fast,” Iris said. She bent down to pluck a weed from the gravel path. “Do you want to come and eat with us one night? Then you can meet Angus.”
Sandy rang the bell.
“I’d like to do that. I’m planning to be here for a while, if Charlie will have me.”
“I hear him coming now,” Iris said.
Charlie’s voice sounded quavery as he held out his hand to his nephew.
“Good to see you, Sandy. Good to see you.” He paused uncertainly.
Sandy glanced at Iris and in one smooth movement, giving Charlie no time to prevent them, they stepped one on either side of him into the house.