The Wooden Heart – Episode 27

Waving goodbye to her fellow volunteers, Gabrielle stepped into the sunlit street outside.

She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the sudden light, then stopped so suddenly that a customer leaving the charity shop behind her almost walked into her. She didn’t notice.

Waiting on the pavement was Stephen, his back to her, bending over his smartphone, shielding its screen from the sun while he texted someone.

Her heart leapt and she walked quietly over.

“I thought only teenagers were welded to their phones,” she said, making him jump.

He turned, smiling.

“I was texting Ash,” Stephen said. “Telling her that I’ve just picked up the new car, and the old car is now officially hers.” He grimaced.

“With me still paying her insurance and just about everything else.”

He took her arm and steered her gently away.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said. “I wanted to show it off, then take you on its maiden trip. I thought we might have lunch somewhere if you’ve nothing planned. Otherwise, its maiden run can be the few miles from here to Melrose.”

Gabrielle had meant to take up his invitation and drive over to the cottage, but her courage had failed her.

From cowardice rather than strategy, she had decided to tread water for a couple of weeks to see if Stephen contacted her again of his own accord.

It mattered that he had.

“There’s only Franz to walk,” she told him. “After that, I’m pretty sure that my bulging social diary is free from any other entry. And it’s my turn to pay.”

“Next time,” he said. “The house money has come through and I feel like celebrating. Taking you to a nice lunch in my new car is as good as it gets.”

Before she could argue, he steered her down an old alleyway to what had once been a grain merchant’s yard.

“It’s parked here,” he said. “What do you think?”

He pointed to the small black car.

To Gabrielle, a car was a car.

“Very nice,” she said casually.

He pressed the remote locking and the car’s lights flashed.

“Doors are open. Please get in and let me run you home,” he said, starting the engine, which purred quietly. “A four-year-old Toyota, very well looked after. It drives like a dream.”

He turned, smiling, as he waited for passing traffic to clear.

“Once we’ve walked Franz, I’d like to take you to a lovely little café in Selkirk. It does home cooking to die for in a nice friendly space.

“You can have whatever soup the chef has made, some freshly baked bread, and any kind of tea or coffee you want. Then I’ll take you to Denholm the back way, along the roads I used to cycle as a boy.”

It felt as if a force of nature had blasted its way into Gabrielle’s quiet life, whisking her up and carrying her away. It wasn’t her usual way of living but, she decided a little breathlessly, she liked it.

“I had a granny who came from Selkirk,” she said.

“Then I bet she knew the very place.” He smiled.

“She would, if it served biscuits.” Gabrielle sighed.

“Oh, they do. Along with every home-made cake you can think of,” he replied.

“Then she would definitely know and approve,” Gabrielle said simply.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.