The Inn On Bluebell Lane — Episode 04

Gwen knew she was most likely too prickly with her daughter-in-law, just as she recognised Ellie was stiff and stand-offish with her.

With their infrequent meetings and formal visits, they’d never got past their initial reactions, but now Gwen knew they would have to. Or at least try.

“Come into the kitchen,” she urged them. “I’ve made Welsh cakes and I’ll put the kettle on.

“Then I can show you all your rooms . . .”

She glanced at Ellie to gauge her reaction and saw her daughter-in-law force a smile.

“That sounds lovely. Thank you, Gwen,” she said, a response that should have gratified Gwen but didn’t, perhaps because the tone was so dutiful.

“Come through,” she said, firmly now, then led the way into the kitchen.

The children gathered silently around the big oak table: the same table Matthew and his sister Suzanne had eaten so many meals at.

Full breakfasts, hearty soups for lunch, bangers and mash for tea, night after cosy night, when the house had been full and the home happy.

It had been a long, long time since those days.

“It’s lovely to have children in the house again,” Gwen told her grandchildren, who were looking decidedly nonplussed as they took in the room’s shabby comfort.

An ancient Aga, a Welsh dresser crammed with odds and ends of china, a lumbering fridge that wheezed every so often and had been on its last legs for about three years.

Perhaps she could tempt them with food.

“Here are some Welsh cakes I made just this morning.”

With a little flourish, Gwen took the plate of sugar-dusted cakes from the dresser and put them on the centre of the table.

“Mummy,” Ava asked in a loud whisper, “do those have raisins?”

Ellie bit her lip, casting an anxious look at Gwen before glancing back at her daughter.

“I think so, yes.” Another questioning look to Gwen. “They do have raisins?”

“Yes, they’re Welsh cakes,” Gwen said far too stiffly. “Of course they have raisins.”

“They’re a bit like a flat scone,” Matthew explained as he nicked two from the plate and scoffed one of them in a single bite.

“They’re scrummy. Try them, you lot.”

Ellie let out a little laugh.

“You’re already sounding more British,” she teased.

Matthew raised his eyebrows.

“I am British.”

And no-one, Gwen noticed with an inward sigh, said anything to that.

It was the first day and already it felt as if it was going wrong.

“Jess, Craig, Jacob,” Gwen said, her tone a bit too commanding. “Have a cake.”

Silently they all took one.

Gwen watched them in dismay, feeling as if they were all here on sufferance.

She turned to the kettle, as much to hide the hurt she feared was on her face as to make tea.

As far as beginnings went, this was not what she had wanted.

Still, Gwen told herself, things could only
improve . . .

*  *  *  *

Jess woke up in one of the attic rooms at four o’clock, dawn light filtering through the curtains and the birds making a racket.

On another morning, in a different life, she might have been charmed by the sunrise and the dawn chorus.

As it was, she lay in bed, the duvet drawn up to her chin, and felt her stomach clench hard as realisation sank in.

She’d moved to Wales and her life was over.

Blinking back tears, Jess rolled on to her side and tucked her knees up to her chest, the way she used to do when she was little and feeling sad.

Back then she’d had baby problems – someone hadn’t shared a stupid toy or something.

She’d never had problems the way she did now, at thirteen, with everything going wrong.

Yesterday had been awful from start to finish: the endless car journey, the relentless rain, her grandmother looking stiffly at them as Jess had forced herself to choke down one of those wretched Welsh cakes.

She didn’t like raisins, either, but she wasn’t four like Ava, so she’d had to eat it.

Then Granny had shown them their rooms up on the top floor, where it was stifling hot and smelled like dust.

“I hope you’ll be comfortable,” she’d said in her haughty way.

“I thought it best to put you up here since we’ll be renovating the guest rooms.”

Jess hadn’t said anything more than thank you, because the truth was she didn’t trust herself not to cry.

She hated it here already, just as she’d known she would.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.