The Wooden Heart – Episode 32

Gabrielle turned her car up the side of the cottage. She had agonised for hours after sending Ash and Calum away empty-handed from her doorstep.

The more she thought both about their request and her refusal, the more confused she became. Was she being self-indulgent? Or was the panic which she felt rooted in real emotional damage?

She felt miserable and insecure. At one time she would have had to handle it on her own. Now there was Stephen.

He might not have any answers, but at least he would listen and let her talk herself through the unexpected challenge and the shadows it brought to the forefront of her mind.

There was another car in the yard: a muddy old Volvo estate. Through the workshop door, she could see Stephen talking to a burly man in his fifties.

Stephen waved across.

“Hi, Gabrielle.” He smiled. “I’ve been hoping you would drop in. This is Fred, our local farmer and a classic tractor freak.”

She forced a smile.

“Sounds like a meeting of twin souls,” she said.

“I’ve been repairing a couple of old tractors for him, and he’s come to give me a progress report,” Stephen explained.

“Hello.” Gabrielle’s fingers were engulfed in a huge rough hand, which was surprisingly gentle.

“This man’s a genius with diesels,” the farmer said. “Well, I must be off. See you, Stephen.”

They watched the farmer climb into his Volvo and reverse out of the yard.

“Nice guy.” Stephen looked quizzically at Gabrielle. “I take it you didn’t come out for a second look at my old Austin, and I doubt my tea and biscuits are good enough to bring you back. Is there a problem?”

Gabrielle tried to find the right words, then shook her head.

“Come into the kitchen,” he said gently. “We have the house to ourselves. I’ll put the kettle on while you gather your thoughts.”

Guiding her into the kitchen, he calmly filled the kettle before lifting down mugs and setting biscuits from a biscuit barrel neatly on to a plate.

He knew when to back off and be quiet, she thought.

“Has Ash told you?” she asked as he brought over their mugs.

He shook his head.

“She’s working in the dyeworks at Hawick, as far as I know,” he replied.

Gabrielle cupped her hands round the mug.

“I feel such a fool,” she said.

“Don’t we all from time to time?”

“Ash and Calum came to see me,” she began. “I so wanted to start off on the right foot with Ash, but I panicked.”

From its halting start, the whole wretched story came pouring out.

“I’ve made such a mess of things,” she finished.

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.