The Wooden Heart – Episode 43

“Just be ready,” Stephen had told her on the phone. “It’s a surprise, so don’t ask.”

Rather than sounding abrupt, he seemed excited, and when he turned up next morning, Gabrielle saw that instead of his usual casual wear, he was smartly dressed in a suit and white shirt.

Silently she blessed her earlier decision to wear a dress for the occasion.

“How are you?” she asked, sliding into the car seat.

“Never better.” He smiled. “You look great.”

In late summer sunshine, they drove into Galashiels then turned on to the road for Peebles. It was probably her favourite local trip, following the Tweed as it wound through its valley beneath towering hills.

She settled back to enjoy the scenery and his company, but the neat suit kept nagging at her mind.

“Ash tells me you’ve been offered your old job back,” she said, deciding to raise the subject because it worried her, and thinking also that his unusually smart dress code might be in some way be related.

“It was,” he said. “But I turned it down.”

Relief flooded her heart.

“Can I ask why?”

“A mixture of things,” he replied. “Most of my life has been spent working away from home. I missed too much of the limited time Shiri and myself had together, watching Ash growing up. I vowed that I would never again waste so much time away from home and my family.”

He flicked a glance at her.

“Faced with the same choice again, the decision made itself. Although what I’m going to do for work now . . .”

“Something will crop up,” Gabrielle said. “It always does.”

They drove in silence alongside the river towards Walkerburn.

Finally she could contain her curiosity no longer.

“Why the nice suit?” she asked.

He turned, his eyes sparkling.

“It was necessary for the surprise.”

“I hate surprises,” Gabrielle said. “I’m always scared that I react wrongly and disappoint people.”

As they entered Walkerburn, Stephen slowed down.

“How about stopping for a coffee?” he asked. “I’ll tell you where we’re going and why.”

His eyes were sparkling again and it was clear that he couldn’t keep his secret any longer.

Gabrielle smiled.

“Instead of having to shout your news in a noisy tearoom, turn left at the crossroads down to Traquair. Park towards the end of the houses and there’s a lovely walk across the river bridge into the countryside. I often come here.”

“Sounds good.” He smiled.

Minutes later, they were strolling in the sunshine out towards the bridge across the river. She leaned on its side rail, watching the river flow smoothly and powerfully down through its broad valley south.

“This is my favourite place,” she said. “Fitting for any surprise.”

Turning from the rail beside her, he gently took her hands.

“I’ve sold my old Austin 7,” he said. “I got more for it than I expected.”

“That’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Is that the surprise? Are we having a day out on the proceeds?”

A slow grin spread.

“Close,” he said. “But not quite like you think.”

He took a deep breath.


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.