Demons Slain, a short story by texrep. Date added: 2011-05-22. Times viewed: 3099.
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- Intro: Greg and Millie don't get off to a good start, Until their mutual problems offer another path.
This is an alternative version of my story Demons to Slay which was posted a few months ago. I received much criticism of the ending of that story so this version takes a happier path.
The West Country was as beautiful as ever. I enjoyed my job, but the times when I came down to Devon and travelled the western counties were special. The views were spectacular with hills and valleys, hedgerows delineating the irregular shapes of meadows and pastures providing a kaleidoscope of shades of greens, dotted with the white of sheep or the dun red of cattle. All this was balm to an unquiet mind. To divert the eye were the fields of yellow rape contrasting with the rich red earth. The complete aspect resembled a hand-made quilt thrown casually over an unmade bed. The peaceful atmosphere here would put all the negative thoughts to the back of my mind. Negative thoughts had been for some time my constant companion, a result of my divorce. The divorce itself was reasonably simple; the prologue to the divorce was a nightmare; as was the aftermath. The prologue was the fighting and arguing; the aftermath was the self-recrimination. Why I should blame myself I do not know as the fault lay with my ex-wife. But I did blame myself for seeing her through rose-coloured spectacles and not as the evil person she really was. Love can blind you and for those early years of my marriage I was blinded.
I turned off the air conditioning and wound down the window to take in deep breaths of that wonderful soup of oxygen rich air, garnished with the scent of abundant hedgerow flora, the sweet smell of new grass and cattle manure. People may turn their noses up but at certain times even the pungent aroma of dung can be pleasant. It was certainly a change from the acrid odours of petrol and diesel fumes that prevailed in the towns and cities. I was heading towards Tavistock and the small hotel I used on these trips. The beds were comfortable, the food delicious and they had a very pleasant garden to wander for an evening stroll and the occasional cigarette I would allow myself. It was an excellent base from which over the next four days I would make my calls and hopefully write some good orders.
The sun was setting low in the west as I turned into the drive. The few remaining clouds were tinged with a blush, a promise for another fine day tomorrow. I parked and pulled my case from the boot. The hotel was a conversion of one of those large country houses that the flourishing Victorian businessman would build to demonstrate his success. The twentieth century with its high taxes and minimum wage demands made running such houses impossible and they were sold off, some to become asylums, others to be turned into corporate headquarters and many as in this case as a hotel. The reception was a large square area with settees around the perimeter and old paintings in ornate frames hung on every wall. The paintings were dull foreboding landscapes so typical of Victorian artists; dust and the patina of age had not improved them at all. Usually the receptionist was Angela but today a different face looked at me from the desk. She was very good-looking, medium height, dark brown hair and a very shapely figure, however the look on her face marred her beauty; no smile just a grim forbidding expression. This was a far cry from the smiling welcoming face that was Angela.
"Good evening. My name is Hammond, I have a room reserved." Without acknowledgment she turned her back to me and spoke to someone in the office.
"Hammond. He says he has a reservation."
A squeal of delight came from the office. "It's Greg!" Angela came out to the desk, a smile lighting up her face. She was a plump busty woman in her late forties and full of life invariably wearing that welcoming smile. "It's so good to see you again, Greg. How long will you be here this time?"
"Four days, Angela. I would like to stay longer, but mammon is a hard taskmaster." She grinned and took a key from the rack.
"Your usual room of course, and are you dining tonight?"
"Where else would I go? I can't get better anywhere else."
"There's a good chippy opened in the town." She joked. I picked up my case.
"John would never forgive me." We laughed and I made my way to the stairs. As I climbed them I looked back to see Angela making a point to the woman on reception.
My usual room was a double charged as a single. I would have been happy to pay the double rate but Angela gave me the preferential rate as I was a regular customer. It was on the side of the hotel, overlooking the superb gardens. Raising the eyes upwards from the garden allowed me the vista of the foothills sloping upwards towards Dartmoor and in the mornings the emergent Sun cast patterns of light and shadow over the rolling moor. I unpacked, settling myself in and made a cup of tea. Then I sat down to write out my orders for the day. I worked for a company that made cushions, very special cushions. If you had a stately home and you wanted the right cushion to go with your silk curtains and antique furniture, you came to us. We made cushions with the finest silks, jacquards, brocades and matelasses. We used trimmings of silken cords often twisted with gold thread, and tassels of silk knotted by hand. Our cushions were seen in Palaces, Castles and Stately Homes and they cost a fortune. It was only those retailers who catered for the very top end of the trade who would stock from us, consequently my calls were few and far between, but each call could take as much as half a day. The orders were complicated as my customers had strict specifications, annoying perhaps but when they were paying as much for one cushion that another would pay for a two seat settee, they have the right to be particular.
Before dinner I took a stroll to see what changes Arthur, the gardener had made this year. The Rhododendrons and Azaleas were blooming well, but they always did well in the acidic soil of the west. I noticed a bed of Geraniums that was new; they would look great when in flower later this year. One feature of the garden was the abundance of roses chosen so that as one display faltered there would be another coming into bloom to keep the plethora of colour. I took a seat on a bench which the staff referred to as Arthur's Throne. It was where he habitually took his lunch every day. Also habitually the fare would be the same; Crusty bread, a wedge of strong Cheddar cheese and a raw onion, which he would slice with his pruning knife. He carried a dark brown bottle with a wired flip top from which he would drink deeply from time to time, it was rumoured to be filled with Rough Cider, a most potent of drinks. If it was he must be inured to its alcoholic effects as no one had ever seen him drunk. I hadn't been borrowing Arthur's Throne for long before I was approached by the woman who had not greeted me at reception. I thought she would be about my age, slim and quite good-looking. She stopped when she arrived at the bench and I looked up. She cleared her throat.
"I have to apologise to you. I was not very polite when you arrived." She said this in a tone that sounded as if the apology was being forced out of her.
"It was not quite the welcome I usually receive, I have to say. But thank you for the apology." I smiled. "I get used to my customers being less than enthusiastic when I call, so it is water off a Duck's back." If I thought that remark would smooth the situation I was mistaken.
"So my apology means little to you?" She retorted with a stony glare. "Well it was very difficult to make, so I would have expected you to accept with it a little more grace than water off a Duck's back." She stalked away leaving me perplexed. I accepted that my reply may have made little of her apology, but then I thought as the apology was not genuine why should I react as if it were?
I went in for dinner and Angela called to me as I walked through to the dining room.
"Greg. I am sorry that Mrs. Winton was less than polite when you arrived. She is new here and has had a bad time."
"It's alright, Angela. She has offered an apology. But I think I owe her an apology now, as I treated her apology lightly."
"Oh dear, She can be prickly at times. You won't see her until tomorrow. So wear your suit of armour when you get come in." She turned to go and on a parting note said. "The lamb is particularly good, if you're interested."
"Thanks, Angela. I'll bear that in mind."
The lamb was good. I had become used to the superb meals at this hotel. The co-owner; John Fitton was an enthusiastic chef, more interested in his culinary delights than the hotel itself. He concentrated on good English style meals with almost all of his provender being sourced locally. That singular interest left Angela, his sister and partner in the hotel in charge of reservations and housekeeping. She did that job very well, so much so that between them and almost by chance they ran a very profitable establishment. After eating I took another stroll around the garden and used Arthur's throne again to enjoy my cigarette. Later I would sit at the bar with a Whisky. John would appear from time to time and would question me closely.
"How was the meal, Greg? Was everything alright? The vegetables not overcooked?" He would ask these questions often, virtually the only conversation he had with anyone. If he wasn't cooking food he was talking food.
I had two appointments the next day in Exeter. Happily the second appointment was with a top end furnisher who had taken on a subcontract with a company restoring a large country home. The owner was a popular TV personality with more money than style. My customer was wearing an almost constant smile from the business he received from this contract, and the order he gave me for some very special cushions put a smile on my face as well. That order alone would pay for my entire trip. The smile remained on my face as I returned to the hotel. Approaching the front door I espied Mrs. Winton coming out as I made to go in. I pulled the door and stood back to allow her through. I was intending to make my peace with her, but before I could utter a word she attacked.
"I can open a door for myself. Women are capable you know, we don't need a man for that." She spat the words at me making the word 'man' sound as if the species were the lowest of the low. All thoughts of making peace vanished from my mind.
"I am sure you could have done, and women are capable I agree, but it would seem your main capability appears to be the aptitude for extreme rudeness." I went through and let the door swing close which cut off any reply she may be making. A man rarely gets the last word, however an alliance with a swinging door allowed me that pleasure on this occasion.
Angela noticed my demeanour as I approached the desk.
"Unfortunately yes again, Angela. I don't know why but I seem to antagonise Mrs. Winton."
"It's not you, Greg. We know you well, after all the times you have been here and what an easy-going man you are. I'm afraid it is Millie, and I shall have to have another word with her."
Uneasily I made my way up to my room. Now I was feeling guilty again, it was the same as my divorce, she throws her toys out of the pram and I feel as if it's my fault! What is this guilt trip that women seem able to lay on men so easily? Thankfully I didn't see Mrs. Winton, who I now knew was Millie for the next two days and it was only as I was leaving on the Thursday that I had another encounter with the virago. She marched determinedly towards me; her feet crunching the gravel like a Jack-booted soldier as I was putting my case into the boot of my car. I watched her warily as she got close.
"Thank you for your complaint. I have had a verbal warning about my attitude." She machine-gunned me with her tongue. "Typical of a male, takes offence and runs to mother." Wearily I closed the boot and opened the driver's door. I really didn't need this shit.
"First of all I made no complaint about you. Secondly your attitude is unwelcoming at the least and downright offensive at the most, and finally! I have no idea if your aggression is aimed specifically at me for some reason or if that is your natural disposition. However, I shall be back in three months, hopefully whatever your problem it will be resolved by then. Goodbye!" I got in and slammed the door. I could see her mouthing words at me but the engine noise drowned her out. I backed out and drove down the drive.
Driving while in a temper is not a good idea, but Millie Winton was bringing back all the angst and hatred my ex-wife had created. Not just for me but for all our mutual friends. I am convinced my wife had some kind of paranoia, she had to be the most important friend that her acquaintances had, and to that purpose she would start a whispering campaign against that friend's other acquaintances to alienate them. Her whispers bordered on slander. She would take the same steps with my friends in order to separate me from them. She did this by suggesting to them that I had made scurrilous comments about them. When I eventually filed for divorce it was of course a rejection which she could not possibly allow. She told her solicitor that I was a paedophile and that I had brought underage girls back to our house for sex. I was seeking a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour; she counter sued citing my unreasonable sexual demands and cruelty. This went on for months until with her inability to produce evidence to back her claims her solicitor declined to act for her anymore. The fact that my solicitor had affidavits from many of her former friends to prove her slander helped enormously. My petition went through unopposed. It cost me a great deal of money and I left the marriage with none of the capital I brought to it. The consolation for me was that I was out of it and if that meant the sacrifice of all I had worked for so be it. It was still a good deal as far as I was concerned. The surrender of all that capital was necessary to prevent her going after my interest in the cushion business. I worked for and was part owner in the business with two others.
By the time I got home my anger had worked its way through and I was calm again. I made a call on the way back and the order from that call helped dissipate the anger.
Three months later I was back in Tavistock.
I turned into the gravelled drive leading to the hotel that Monday evening with a resolute mind. I was determined that I would not change my hotel merely because of an unpleasant woman, she was the fly in an otherwise very pleasant ointment.
The door stood open as I carried my case into reception and there she was, waiting like a Praying Mantis.
"Well! It's Mr. Hammond again." She had over-emphasised the 'Mr.' making certain that she couldn't be accused of rudeness.
"Good afternoon Mrs. Winton. Yes I am back again. I have reserved my usual room."
"I didn't realise that you had a usual room. I have put you in room six. Will that be alright?" That wasn't an enquiry, it came across as a take it or leave it ultimatum. I took a deep breath, controlling my rising anger. Room six was a small single on the back overlooking the kitchens. She had spoken very politely, so politely that it was akin to contempt.
"Is room nine available?"
"Are you sure? Would you check for me?" In all the time I had been coming to this place I had always specified room nine when booking. I didn't travel into the West Country during July and August when most people took their holidays thus avoiding the travel jams that were reported every year. Also out of season the hotels were not quite as busy. She didn't check; nor did she make any pretence of checking.
"Room nine is not available. Please allow me to know what reservations we have." I was about to accept room six when Angela came through from the back office. She sensed the atmosphere immediately.
"Hello Greg. Is there a problem here?" Mrs. Winton answered for me.
"Mr. Hammond is insisting on room nine. I have told him that it is not available." Angela opened the diary and looked at the bookings.
"Mr. and Mrs. Anson are not arriving until Wednesday. Did they specify room nine in their booking?" Mrs. Winton did not like this turn of event.
"Er...No. Not exactly. They didn't want to pay the surcharge for a front room." she answered. Angela smiled.
"No problem then. Give them room eleven on the front, compliments of the hotel no extra charge. Greg can have his usual room." She emphasised for Mrs. Winton's sake the word 'usual'.
I was sitting with a cup of tea contemplating the orders to write when there was a knock on the door. It was Angela. I invited her in and lifted the tea pot invitingly.
"Yes please." She sat down and shook her head. "Millie pisses me off at times. Don't get me wrong, Greg. She is a really hard worker, especially considering the pittance we pay. Why she should get all out of shape with you I don't know. I am sorry."
"Don't worry about it, Angela. I have put up with worse, and if push comes to shove I can shove with the best of them."
"When you say you have put up with worse, Greg. Are you referring to your divorce?" I nodded.
"Yes. I suppose I am. Not the best episode in my life."
"You never talked about it."
"No, Angela. As I said it wasn't the best episode in my life, and for my sanity's sake I am trying not to remember." I could tell that Angela would like to know more but would not push.
"Millie has only recently gone through a divorce. Perhaps that could explain her problem, although why it manifests itself with you, I have no idea."
I grinned cynically. "That's me. I bring out the worst in people."
Angela shook her head vigorously. "No way. Mr. Hammond. If I were not happily married I would have jumped into your bed long ago." She paused then went on. "Perhaps on reflection you do bring out the worst in people. I could have some very naughty thoughts about you." She smiled and I laughed.
"If you were not happily married I would have welcomed you with a big smile."
"Would it be only the smile that was big?" Angela smirked.
"Enough!" I cried. "Or I won't be able to sleep well tonight."
It was very pleasant strolling around the garden later that evening. I was content as I knew that my bête noir had already left for the day, her shift ending at seven p.m. I pondered Angela's words about Millie. If she had just gone through a divorce it would explain her attitude, but could not explain why she was irritable with just me according to Angela. It would only be by talking with Millie that could explain this apparent singularity, but talking to Millie would be something that I doubted I could do without armour plating.
Tuesday went well. I had a further order from my outlet in Exeter; not as large as the one three months ago but significant. I then travelled on to Plymouth from where I had received an enquiry. As I entered the showroom I had a sinking feeling, and was right do so as the proprietor, Mr. Chisholm took on an ashen expression when I explained our pricing.
"What are you making?" He asked. "The cushion for the Crown of England." I opened my sample bag and showed him some examples which he examined with interest. Finally he admitted defeat.
"Mr. Hammond, your cushions are very special, I would love to be able to sell this sort of quality, but around here they would never think of paying this sort of price. I'm sorry to have wasted your time. Where do you sell this stuff?" I mentioned some of our outlets. He was shocked again when I gave him the name of one of them.
"The Palace? You supply the Palace?"
"Yes. It's only an occasional sale when it's the Department of Works paying. Her Majesty is known for her careful attitude towards money, so as we don't actually supply the Royal Family we will not be able to apply for a Royal Warrant." I could see his mind working and anticipated his next question.
"If I were to purchase some of these cushions, I suppose it would be in order to advertise them as sold to Buckingham Palace."
"If that were your intention Mr. Chisholm I would decline your order. The Palace can get very touchy about commercial advertising with their name attached. I could jeopardise my supply position." He nodded.
"Yes. I suppose you are right. Pity though. May I keep your brochure? I may get some customers who would want something so exclusive."
"By all means."
I hated to turn down an order, and I could have pushed him to a very good order. However I had to refuse. In any case I was certain he would mention to potential customers the Buckingham Palace connection.
Mrs. Winton was on reception when I returned to the hotel. She offered no greeting and slammed the room key on the desk without comment. That suited me, the less conversation I had with her, the better. It seemed a shame; Mrs. Winton was quite an attractive woman yet her sour disposition tainted her looks for the worse.
The next day I was in Truro. We had introduced a new line of antimacassars, quilted with silk tassels. They had not sold too well so far, but for some reason my Truro outlet was very taken with them and placed a good order. It was just by chance as I was showing the different styles that a customer in the studio approached and apologised for interrupting.
"They are just what I am looking for. What colours do you do them in?" I showed her the palette of shades we could offer. She chose the Antique Gold and asked for six to be ordered. My customer cleared his throat and told her the price. She didn't bat an eyelid.
"When will they be ready?" I told her six weeks which again didn't worry her one iota. On the strength of that purchase my customer ordered another two dozen on top of his initial order. It's funny how business goes like that some times.
My good mood evaporated as I parked up back in Tavistock getting ready to face Millie Winton. She wasn't there and Angela was on the desk. She gave me my key and asked if I would join her for tea in the lounge. I agreed and I walked through and sat down. Angela joined me, bringing the tray of tea with her. Without preamble she got straight to the subject.
"I think I know why Millie is horrible to you."
"Do tell. I would like to solve the problem."
"You know she had just divorced her husband?"
"Yes. I gathered that." Angela nodded.
"He was a travelling salesman, the same as you."
"We do prefer the term Representative or Sales Executive these days."
"Greg!" Angela said with exasperation.
"Well it appears that he was a randy so and so, and on his travels had many conquests. When Millie challenged him about his adultery he became abusive. He said all salesmen had adventures and it didn't mean anything. Every time she asked him if he was still being unfaithful he would become angry he struck her sometimes telling her to mind her own business. On one occasion he punched her, knocking her out."
I thought about it. "So are you suggesting that Millie believes I am cut from the same cloth?"
"It would seem so."
"That is bloody ridiculous!"
It was ridiculous. Then I thought about it, I have heard the stories and if they were really true then there wouldn't be a married salesman left in this country. That is the problem the stories become the fact and the truth is buried behind the sniggers. I personally knew quite a few travelling Representatives and I am sure that none of them had the kind of life the rumours would suggest, we are all working too damn hard to get up to anything. "If Millie feels that her husband is a model for all reps, then I think that I would be quite justified for hating all women, after the standard my wife set."
"I've never asked before, Greg. But what did happen, can you talk about it?" I nodded slowly and gave her a very short resume of how my wife behaved. As I told my story Angela's face became white with anger. At the end she was vitriolic.
"Your ex-wife, Greg diminishes all women. I'm ashamed to be the same sex as her. Why didn't you ever say anything to us?"
"Possibly because coming here was a haven of peace and I didn't want to taint it with the horrors that waited for me when I got back home." I took a sip of lukewarm tea. "Anyway you know now and it is all in the past." I raised my eyes and grinned. "You didn't tell me all this in order that I should try to counsel Millie? If so I decline. I haven't brought enough plasters and bandages with me to take on that task."
"No Greg." Angela smiled. "It's down to me really. I can't have my most favourite patron being upset when he's here. I mean if I ever leave Tony who's going to warm me at night?"
"Did you know that hotel proprietors have a terrible reputation of being incorrigible flirts?" I was laughing and Angela joined in.
"Well I shall have to do it more often. Can't let the side down you know."
I didn't see Mrs. Winton until Wednesday evening. She hadn't been on reception and Angela gave me my key. After writing the orders for the day I took my usual stroll in the garden. That was when I saw her. Slumped on Arthur's throne and sobbing her heart out. I knew that sob, it was loneliness, despair and the sorrow for a life that was lost.
Cautiously I approached. It would be folly to assume that she would want company under these circumstances, yet if she had seen me, turning around to walk away could be viewed as uncaring or rejection. She had seen me and lifted her tear-stained face, the distress changing to confrontation. I spoke before she could.
"It doesn't get any easier, does it?"
"What does?" She was perplexed.
"The unhappiness, the sorrow, the feeling of failure."
"You know it?"
"Yes." I replied. "I know it all too well." She examined my face, trying to decide if I was telling the truth or not.
"How would you know?" She had obviously decided. "Men cause the problem, they don't feel anything. You are all totally unfeeling."
"If you wish to keep your prejudice that's ok with me. I just thought that another who had gone through the same experience could help, but I see I was mistaken." I turned to go.
"Wait!" I waited. "How do you know about my troubles?"
"Angela told me a little. She was trying to explain your attitude."
"I don't have an attitude."
"Ok. Your apparent dislike of me then."
"Well you're just the same as the others. Getting around, having a good time, screwing all sorts of tarts, not giving a thought to your wives."
"Your perceptions are false. I can't prove to you that you are wrong and what is more can see no reason why I should even try. You had one bad egg. It doesn't follow that all the other eggs in the box are bad as well. Your mind is made up so carry on with your blinkered ideas. It makes no difference to me."
She stared challengingly at me for a moment, then her face crumpled again and tears ran slowly down her cheeks. I was torn. My logic told me to walk away, my emotions wouldn't let me. Compassion won! I took out my handkerchief and offered it to her. At first she ignored the offer then reluctantly took the cloth and wiped her eyes.
"If you let it get to you like this, then he's won again." I offered as a crumb of comfort. "Angela tells me that you are an asset to the hotel. Build on that and make a new life for yourself." She looked up.
"Is that what you did? You did say you know the feeling well. I presume that means you have been divorced."
"Yes. Eighteen months ago. Luckily I had my job and put all my energies into that. It helped."
"What is it you sell?"
"Cushions. You could say I had a cushion to fall back on." A faint smile crossed her face. Even that glimmer of a smile revealed the beauty she had hidden so well.
"Yes, but very special cushions. The very best quality for the very best of furnishings."
"Why did your wife divorce you?" Her blinkered ideas remained as the assumption that I was the guilty party proved.
"Wrong way round. I divorced her."
"I suppose you are going to try and tell me she was unfaithful?"
"No, she wasn't. She was a cruel, manipulative, mendacious woman who not only made my life hell; she made her friends lives hell as well. She lived in a world of lies and fantasy, creating enmity between her friends and those she professed to love. I think the best description of her problem is aggressive paranoia mixed with an overwhelming controlling trait." Mrs. Winton was surprised as I went on. "You see it's not only men who cause the problems and it's not only men who are unfeeling. We don't have the monopoly on that and contrary to popular belief we suffer just as much as women."
Angela interrupted us at that moment calling me from the terrace.
"Greg! John says that if you don't sit down to dinner this moment, your steak will be like shoe leather." Mrs. Winton urged me to go.
"You know what Mr. Fitton is like. Nothing but nothing is more important than his meals." She paused for a second. "Thank you Mr. Hammond for caring and trying to understand. No one has shown me that sort of kindness in a long time." She proffered the handkerchief then thought better of it. "I will wash your handkerchief; it's got mascara all over it now."
The steak was just as John would have wished it to be, tender, full of flavour and grilled to perfection with just a little tinge of pink inside. Angela, desperate to know what was going on in the garden brought me coffee and sat down at my table.
"Ok, Greg. What was all that about?" I shrugged my shoulders.
"I don't know what brought it on, but I found Mrs. Winton in a distressed state. I talked with her and she seemed to calm down." Angela looked worried.
"Oh dear! I think I may have been the cause of that. I spoke quite severely to her about her rudeness. She seemed alright, and I thought she had gone home. I was quite surprised when I saw her in the garden talking with you." She grinned. "I almost sent for an ambulance, certain that one of you would need it."
"I was a little concerned at first but it came to nothing really. She is a very unhappy woman you know."
"Yes, I think you are right. There is no fun in her life; it's almost as if she is denying herself the right to be happy."
"Angela, when you married Tony, did you ever doubt it was forever, and the happiness you felt at that time would never end?"
"Not for a moment."
"Well think about it. Mrs. Winton was once like that. She was part of a couple who loved each other and wanted nothing more than to spend the whole of the lives together. Then one of them decided that the rules didn't suit. They wanted something or someone else. Imagine the innocent party in that situation. The life they wanted and looked forward to is suddenly yanked out like a rug from under their feet. From conviction and security they are thrown into emptiness and cut loose. Mrs. Winton is in that state, rudderless, washed every way by the waves without control and with an overwhelming sense of failure. It's not a good place to be."
"Is that how you felt, Greg?"
"Yes. But I had my job and people depending on me. I had partners who expected that I would go out and bring in the business. I had no option, even though I wanted to hide away from the world, even though I didn't want to get out of bed in the mornings. I was so busy that I had little time to sit alone thinking about it and sinking into depression. Millie suffers just the same but she has time for her mind to keep going over and over the break-up. Time for her to ask herself what did she do wrong? She is probably blaming herself for the break-up, absolving the real culprit of all responsibility. You are right; she is denying herself the right to be happy. She sees it as the punishment she must suffer to expiate her guilt." Angela was nodding in agreement.
"I think you're right, Greg. I have to try and help her, but how?"
"Keep her busy. Get her more involved with the hotel. Give her a project, something like...let's see? How about researching to see if there are ways to get more out of season bookings." Angela caught up in the enthusiasm.
"I like it; we could certainly do with those. I'll talk to her see how she reacts." She finished her tea then looked at me strangely. "Greg. You said partners earlier. Does that mean it's your own business?" It had been a slip of the tongue, but there was little point in trying to disguise things.
"Well, Angela, actually it is, just a third of it though." She thought about it and a mischievous smile came to her face.
"Let's see." She ticked off her points on her fingers. "Good looking, a nice manner, fit, runs his own business. Sod it! I'm dumping Tony, you'll do for me. I've always wondered what a younger man would be like in bed."
It was late September before I got back to Tavistock. The colours had changed now with a predominance of rust and gold in the foliage. The Corn and Barley had been harvested and the soil ploughed and harrowed, revealing the rich red earth of Devon before planting with winter Wheat. Along with the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness I found a mellow Mrs. Winton on my arrival.
"Hello Mr. Hammond. It's good to see you again." She handed me the key to room nine. "Your usual room." She smiled, and it changed her appearance completely. I had thought she was good looking although her unhappiness clouded her face before. Now I had to admit she was beautiful.
"Thank you Mrs. Winton."
"I have reverted to my maiden name now, it's Miss Grainger. It helped dispel...well you know." I nodded.
"Yes. I understand."
"Please call me Millie though."
"And I am Greg. When people use the name Mr. Hammond I look around to see if my father has crept up without me knowing." She laughed at my attempt at humour.
"Will you be dining tonight?"
"If I went elsewhere I think John would come to find me and drag me back. So yes I will be dining tonight."
"I am told he is making a Steak and Kidney Pie. Rumour has it that his pie is one of the best in England."
"I can confirm the rumour. I have no need to look at the menu now, my mind is made up."
The evenings were getting a little chill now, but walking in the garden was just as enjoyable. I was using Arthur's throne to sit and smoke when Millie came by. She was wearing a cardigan against the chill.
"If I'm disturbing you, please say so Greg."
"No, not at all, that is if you don't mind my cigarette.
"I am glad you have at least one vice. According to Angela you are perfect."
"Nowhere near perfect." I shook my head." But I hide my faults well." I moved slightly on the bench, and she accepted the gesture and sat down. She handed me my handkerchief washed and pressed immaculately. I had forgotten that I had given it to her to wipe her tears.
"Thank you for the loan of your handkerchief, I really came to make my apologies for the way I treated you. I'm afraid that you became the target for all the anger I had against my husband. I am very sorry about that. Angela speaks so highly of you, and she explained a little about what happened to you. I agree with her, you have every reason to hate all women."
"I have reason to hate one woman, although my feelings are more pity now than hate. I don't tar all women with the same brush so I couldn't hate all women. But it's in the past now. Millie, are you managing to put it in the past as well?"
"I think so, Greg. It's hard at times, but I'm getting there." She changed the subject abruptly. "Do you smoke a lot?"
"Not now. A year ago I was never without one alight. Now I enjoy just one or two during the evening. Never when working though."
"You don't smoke in your room?"
"No, and never in the car."
"Good." She smiled. "It takes a lot longer to get a smoker's room clean. Angela's made me a sort of housekeeper so I get involved in the upkeep of the rooms now. She hinted that you suggested that." I shook my head.
"No, I am sure that if she did that you earned it. She thinks a lot of you."
That was the first of our civilized conversations. On leaving me to enjoy my idyll if she asked if we could talk again as talking with someone who had been through the same ordeal was helpful. I had no problems with that at all.
I left the hotel at eight o'clock the next morning and by ten I was in hospital. I had literally gone only three hundred yards down the road when another car came straight out of a side road and smashed into me. The force of the impact shunted my car some ten feet sideways. It's weird that you don't feel pain at first, nor understand what has happened. Understanding came very quickly as did the pain. The paramedics who were called to the accident gave me an injection of painkillers and sedative and kept me comfortable as the rescue team cut away the roof of my car so they could lift me out. They got a back-board under me before lifting me out. At the hospital I was subjected to the full gamut of tests and eventually they told me what I had suffered. I had a break in my right leg below the knee; my left wrist was broken as were two ribs and the sternum. Breathing was agony as was any movement. I had more bruises and contusions than I cared to count. With my leg in plaster and my wrist in a back strap I was not walking anywhere for at least three weeks and certainly not driving for a minimum of two months.
Angela was my first visitor, concern written all over her face. She fussed over me more than the nurses, asking every five minutes if I needed anything and was I comfortable. She made and remade my bed at least three times in the space of the two hours she was there. She was there when the doctor came to see me and despite heavy hints from him that she could wait outside refused to budge. One of his comments gave me something to think about.
"Your all sorted, Mr Hammond, but you will be here for a couple of days just so we can keep an eye on you, but then you can go. Do you have anyone to look after you? You will be quite dependant for four or five weeks." Now this is the downside of living alone, the one you don't think of when you choose a solitary life or as in my case it is forced upon you. I saw Angela's eyes light up. Without asking me she quickly told the doctor.
"Greg will come to us. He will be well cared for, and of course he will be close to the hospital should he need to come back for any reason. I opened my mouth to say something but closed it again as Angela glared at me, challenging me to argue.
Three days later I was installed back in Room nine, with a veritable chemist's shop of medication, mainly pain-killers and two amateur nurses called Angela and Millie. For the first two days I was besieged with visitors. The Police came to take a statement, although that was purely precautionary as the guy who hit me was so out of it with what is euphemistically called recreational drugs that he probably thought he could fly. They were charging him with driving under the influence of drugs. Unusually in these circumstances he was insured so his Insurance Company would be picking up the account here at the hotel and a hefty amount for personal injuries. My Partners in the business, Gill and Danny came to see me and we agreed that our solicitors would enter a claim for loss of profits for the time I would be incapacitated.
I was getting frequent visits from Angela who seemed to be happy to have the opportunity to boss me around, yet at the same time was frustrated.
"I have always dreamed of having a man helpless in bed, and here he is, too bloody helpless to do anything!" She complained bitterly. "Tony is wondering why I have turned into a nymphomaniac, not that he's complaining." We both laughed.
"Tell him to lie back and think of England." Angela smirked.
"He's not got the energy to think of anything. He's losing weight and so am I. All this action is doing us both a power of good."
I did have one problem. In hospital it was simple, you asked the nurse for a bottle and she brought it and closed the screens whilst you used it. In the hotel room I had to hobble to the bathroom. The plaster had a stirrup built in with a support just below the knee so that I didn't put pressure on the broken bone. Angela caught me the second time I was making that perilous journey.
"Oh no you don't, Mister!" She was adamant. I was then almost carried to the bathroom where Angela refused to leave. "Don't be so silly, Greg. You need support and it's not as if I haven't seen one before. Now come on let's get this show on the road. I won't look." Of course she looked, she was a woman. After she looked there was silence then she whispered in shock. "Bloody hell, Greg! I've never seen one as nice as that. That could make some woman very happy." I was blushing anyway so my face could not get any redder than it was.
Millie came to see me too, not as often as Angela, but in some ways I enjoyed her visits more than the ebullient Angela. I was sitting in the chair, there was no need to stay in bed all the time; when Millie knocked the door and entered. She came in carrying one of my cushions. I had forgotten all about the samples I carried in the car. She put my mind at rest.
"As soon as we heard about the accident, John went down to make sure if you were alright. He stayed until the breakdown crew came to load your car and before they took it, he and I got all your possessions out of the car. He was concerned that your stuff could disappear once the car was at the pound. We have put them in one of the storerooms." She indicated the cushion, it was a rich red silk with a heraldic badge embroidered onto it and fringed with three inch gold bullion. "I could not get over how beautiful these cushions are. They must be very expensive."
"That one will sell in the shops at about one hundred and fifty." Millie was shocked.
"How much?" I repeated the price. "Golly! If I had known that I would have tried to be more careful. I'm afraid that this one got caught on the boot lid." She held it up so I could see. The bullion had been torn slightly away from the body.
"Don't worry about it. The insurance will cover everything." Millie looked worried even so.
"I could repair it." She offered. "I studied needlework at college. It was about the only thing I was good at."
"You really don't need to do that, Millie. It's only a sample."
"Please let me? I would take care."
"Well if you wish, but you don't have to bother." Mille continued to examine the cushion.
"They are lovely, and if I am right that embroidery is done by hand."
"Yes. There are machines that can do it, but to justify the cost of setting it up we would have to do dozens at a time. Our orders tend to be in multiples of tens, rather than hundreds."
"Do many ask for their own coat of arms?"
"Yes. We have supplied more than one or two Dukes and Earls." I grinned. "Even the Palace."
That stopped Millie and she sat there with her mouth open. "You mean Buckingham Palace?"
"Yes. The one that sits at the end of the Mall."
"Does that mean you have met..?"
"No." I laughed. "I have only been twice and that was to meet the Clerk of Works when they were re-furbishing the State Rooms. I thought she might have popped in to offer me a cup of tea, but she wasn't around." We laughed. Millie got up.
"While you are up I'll change your bed." She left and returned quickly with some bed linen and clean towels. Quickly she stripped the bed and remade it. "Are you happy sitting there or do you want to get into bed?" I bit my tongue as the flippant reply 'only if you get in as well' came to my mind.
"No I'll stay here for a while." She collected the dirty sheets and towels.
"I must get on, what would you like for dinner this evening? John says you can have anything you want as long as it's not foreign." Typical John. But I knew that if I asked for Lasagne he would make the best Lasagne I had ever tasted, but wouldn't he grumble about it?
"I don't get that hungry, but if he would plate up whatever he thinks I would like, please tell him a small portion would be good."
"From what I have heard a small portion is something you don't need to worry about." She blushed and got flustered. "Oh. I shouldn't have said that." I smiled.
"Don't worry. I won't tell Angela." At the door she turned.
"Why do I get on with you so well? I shouldn't after the way I treated you."
"I don't threaten you, and you don't threaten me. It's simple. We can be friends without the ogre in the background." She nodded.
"Yes. That must be it."
Millie brought my meal tray most evenings and would return half an hour later to collect the dirty dishes. At these times she started to linger and we talked. Gradually the whole of her married history was revealed and I grew angry at the way her husband treated her. He was one of those men who believed that a wife was a chattel that he owned along with the furniture. Someone who had no rights except to keep the house clean, cook his meals and become a receptacle for his sperm whenever he chose; nor complain when he took the fancy to deposit his sperm in another woman's body. That Millie worked as well; contributing to the household budget was of no consequence to him, sharing the household work didn't enter into his philosophy. I would sometimes, when she questioned me talk about my wife and describe her actions. We neither realised that these conversations acted as a catharsis, healing our respective wounds. Neither did either of us become aware of the eagerness to be together and just talk.
The day dawned in early November when I was finally allowed to hobble outside with a walking stick. I believed I could have walked much earlier, but Angela, supported by Millie had strongly vetoed any attempt at that. It was a cool clear day with a sharp bite in the air as I made my laborious way into the garden attended by my two nurses. I was wrapped up warmly; even so I would have ignored the cold just for the delight of breathing fresh air once more. We took the long way round to Arthur's throne, the direct path being deemed too steep for me. I sank thankfully onto the bench, not that I would let them know that it had taxed my strength. Millie produced from her pocket a packet of cigarettes and my lighter. I shook my head.
"Thanks for the thought, Millie. But after going without for nearly two months I can't see the point of starting again." Angela and Millie were wreathed in smiles.
"Good for you Greg." Angela remarked. "When you finally kiss Millie, she won't taste your cigarette smoke."
"Pardon?" The shock was plain in my voice.
"Angela! What a thing to say." Millie remonstrated. Angela shrugged her shoulders.
"You two have been dancing around each other like moths to the light bulb. Neither of you know what's good for you, or won't recognise it. I just put into words the thoughts neither of you can utter. I've got to do the accounts now. Give me a call if you want help getting back."
If anything would guarantee an uncomfortable silence then Angela's words were it. The silence went on for what seemed hours to me, but of course was only a few minutes. At last I had to say something.
"I feel like having a cigarette now, just to spite Angela." Millie's little giggle was cut short.
"Why? Don't you want to kiss me?" I had been looking at the ground so I just turned my head a little to watch her face. Whatever reaction she had to my next words would show on her face first.
"It's not a question of whether I would like to kiss you. It's a question of should I?" Her face showed puzzlement.
"Is that a yes or no?"
"It's neither. For the record I think that you are a very lovely lady. Of course I would like to kiss you. My hesitation is all about circumstances. The circumstances are that we are both recently divorced, we are both hurting and all our talking does not take away from the fact that we are vulnerable to ideas that may be attractive at the time, but may not be right for us in the long term. Does that make sense?" Millie thought. She was still puzzled.
"I...I think so. Is that a long way round of saying out of the frying pan and into the fire?" I had to laugh then. Millie had put into a simple aphorism what I had needed a couple of dozen words to say. I explained why I laughed and she could see the humour, thank heavens. I didn't want to go back to the war we had fought when first we met. She smiled as I punished myself.
"At least you recognise your own faults and can admit them. I like that in a man. And thank you for the compliment. I haven't been complimented in years. It's nice." There was a pregnant pause. "It would be nice to be kissed again." I leaned over and used two fingers to gently turn her chin towards me. Gently I pressed my lips to hers. It was a very chaste kiss but her lips were warm and soft. I drew back and she smiled.
"That was nice as well. Thank you."
"I need no thanks, kissing a lovely lady is a pleasure." Her smiled widened.
"I was thanking you for making me feel feminine again. You have a very gentle touch."
The exercise had tired me and after I had returned to my room I relaxed into the armchair that Angela, thoughtfully had moved in. My nurses had suggested that I get into bed, but really I had enough of that. I was eager to have the plaster taken off my leg and hoped that at the appointment next week the Doctor would agree. I was thankful that I no longer needed help in getting to the bathroom. I was enjoying the relaxation and my mind recalled the kiss that Millie and I had shared. Pleasant though it was my head was telling me that I shouldn't have done that. Would she read more into it? Did she think that it was the beginning of some kind of commitment? At least it was more of a cursory peck than a full blown kiss, the sort of kiss that friends would exchange rather than the kiss that betokened intimate feelings. I told myself that it wouldn't happen again. Then my senses asked, "didn't you enjoy it?" The truth was that yes I did enjoy it. I was still debating with myself when Millie brought up my evening meal. It was a Shepherd's Pie and the aroma set my gastric juices to work immediately.
"Where would you like it? On the table or on your lap?"
"I think on the table, and then I can get back to feeling like a normal human being again, rather than an invalid."
An hour later she came to collect the tray. We would usually have a chat at this time and tonight was no different, although the conversation was difficult at first.
"Greg. I need to say something. About the kiss."
I waited, wanting her to say what was on her mind. "Yes."
"I am sorry. I was too forward; I sort of blackmailed you into kissing me. I wouldn't want you to think that there was any ulterior motive. As I said, I haven't been kissed in a long time and I suppose I wanted to see if I could enjoy it."
"And did you?" She nodded shyly.
"Yes." She said quietly.
"Millie. I haven't kissed a woman in more than three years; I didn't feel pressure to kiss you. A very lovely lady invited me to kiss her and I did. In addition, like you it was also a chance to see if I could enjoy it." She looked up with a pleased smile on her face.
"I enjoyed it." She seemed happy with the answer.
"So without making promises and commitments we could kiss again, call it part of a re-learning curve." I laughed.
"You would make a great salesman you know." Millie laughed as well. "But a good salesman should know when he's made the sale and stop selling."
"What does that mean?" I struggled to stand much to her alarm.
"It means may I kiss you." She nodded.
The kiss was less chaste this time and Mille opened her lips and our tongues flirted fleetingly. I had put my arms around her and when our lips parted she made no move to remove herself from the embrace. Instead she tilted her head back slightly so she could see my face.
"Not kissed a woman in three years?" She smiled. "All I can say, Mr. Hammond is that if you are out of practice, then God help the woman when you are in practice."
"And you, Miss Grainger are an absolutely delight to kiss."
"Try again then." She murmured softly. We did.
The plaster was removed from my leg after the appointment at the hospital, the Doctor professing satisfaction that my healing was coming along nicely. They put a support on the lower leg and recommended gentle exercise to build up the wasted muscles. My new car was delivered courtesy of the insurance and I planned to leave within a few days. I hadn't reckoned with my two nurses though, who together and separately vetoed my idea. Angela going as far as stealing the keys and hiding them, slipping them in the cleavage of her generous bosom.
"Now get them if you dare." Her eyes gleamed. She seemed disappointed when I didn't try. She left my room muttering. "If it was Millie you would have been after them in a second."
I had been working again for a few days now, using the telephone to contact my regular customers, keeping in contact and writing some useful orders. Gill and Danny, my partners would send out samples by carrier if any were needed. The ad hoc system worked but it was no substitute for a physical call and I was impatient to get back to work.
Eventually came the day when I was fit to drive. It was with both joy and sadness that I left. Angela and Millie saw me off, consoled with my promise that I would be back soon. Millie's kisses the evening before I left had more passion in them and to tell the truth I was starting to think that we had something together, something more than friendship.
My return to the business was at the most hectic time of year for us. For some reason the run up to Christmas was always busy and filling the orders was a problem. Much of our product was made with specialist handwork, and skilled seamstresses were hard to find, we couldn't just go out into the market place and hire them. Therefore the increased demand was hard to satisfy without longer hours for everyone. I was back at the right time, as whilst I was not competent with a needle and thread, I could use a flatbed sewing machine and the over locker, therefore I could get on joining panels and leave the detailed intricate work to our seamstresses. Gill was our production manager; she had just about done everything in a workroom and knew the job inside out. Danny was an accountant and hated this time of year. He would be in despatch and was the only packer who would not forsake his suit and tie, much to everyone's amusement.
I didn't mind the Christmas rush. It kept me busy at a time when my calling was an interruption to my customers. My sister usually invited me for Christmas, which was not much fun as she would bring our conversation round to what went wrong in my marriage. A subject that I tried to avoid as assiduously as she would try to talk about it. I lived my life and let others get on with theirs. My sister lived with a rigid set of almost Calvinistic rules and criticised volubly those who offended her rules. I, it would seem did that frequently. It was March before my journey plan took me back to the West Country. I had tried to curb my impatience as I came to realise that it was not just the welcome that I received at the hotel, nor the good customers and the orders I could write. Neither was it the scenery that so gladdened my heart. It was Millie who I was eager to see.
The hotel looked the same, the drive remained a desert of stone chippings upon which the car tyres crunched, occasionally flipping one up to bounce off the under-body. The door stood open and the reception unchanged with its tired sofas and indecipherable paintings. Nothing had changed yet everything had changed. Millie was at reception her smile drawing me to her; she looked around as if checking to see if we were observed then ran out and into my arms. I held her close; I could feel her heart beating as quickly as mine. She looked up wordlessly asking for a kiss. Our lips joined. This was not the kiss that we wanted. I was not one for public exhibition, nor, I suspected, was Millie.
"It's so good to see you again, Greg. The place hasn't been the same without the tenant in room nine."
"It's good to see you, Millie. This is a much better reception that I got last year. I could get used to this." She smiled.
"Don't remind me. I was a bitch to you. I don't welcome every guest like this, only one certain one. How long will you stay?"
"I have to leave early Thursday morning." Her face showed a little moue of disappointment. I continued. "But I am taking some time off early April, a couple of weeks. Could you accommodate me then?"
"If we are fully booked, I will kick someone out to make room for you." She laughed. "Can we spend some time together?"
"I was hoping so."
"I would like that." She smiled.
My customers received me well, happy to see me back on my feet again. The news of the accident had of course been passed on to them. Much of the time was spent explaining exactly what had happened. I had got used to this so my tale was told with practice and economy. I returned to the hotel each evening tired but pleased with the day as my customers had held back on their ordering, waiting for me to call again. Taking orders is great, writing them every evening, translating my notes into a format our production could understand was a pain.
Spring comes early in the South West so even though it was March and much of the country was still experiencing winter conditions, here I could enjoy my walk around the gardens with only an anorak to keep out the cool wind. Later I would go to the bar and sit quietly with a whisky. Angela joined me. We chatted happily, laughing at each other's bad jokes. She had become very blunt of late, particularly when the subject of Millie came up, or even when it didn't.
"I'm really angry with Millie." She told me with a smile. "Here I was lining up a replacement for Tony, and she comes along and steals him from right under my nose. So when are you going to take her to bed?" Angela had this habit of voicing outrageous statements. I would normally grin and make a joke out of it. But not this time.
"Angela. I don't think that is on the agenda. We are friends, perhaps good friends but that is it." She sighed.
"Absolute rubbish. Friends you say? Well you can believe that if you wish. I know what my eyes are seeing and it ain't friends I see. I see two good people who are getting closer and closer. You walk through the reception and Millie's eyes are following you all the time. You were in the dining room earlier and did the same thing. Millie walked past the big doors and your eyes were glued to her. Don't tell me you're just friends. Then of course you are taking a break and guess where you're going to stay? I am certain that you wouldn't come here for a holiday unless a lady who takes your fancy happened to work in this hotel. Do me a favour, Greg. When you're here take her out one evening and then take her to bed. All this celibacy is not good for you. She'll be happy. You'll be happy, and I will exhaust Tony when I think about you two together. That's what you need if you ask me."
"Actually Angela, I didn't ask." My romantic counsellor laughed.
"Well you got the answer anyway."
It was a different me who arrived early April. The suits were left in the wardrobe back home, the samples were stored at the warehouse and I was in holiday mood. Angela was on reception. She smiled broadly and I returned the smile.
"Room nine as usual, Greg?"
"I could give you the Honeymoon suite on the front if you like? You know, just in case."
"Angela. Cupid was a little cherub with a bow and arrow."
"I know. I just growed up a bit." She spread her arms indicating her ample proportions and laughed. I signed the register and collected my key. As I started to make my way to the stairs she added an afterword. "Oh! Just in case you are interested, I gave Millie a few days off. Funny that they coincide with your visit." She passed to me a slip of paper. "That's Millie's phone number, just in case you thought of calling her."
"Yes Greg?" She asked sweetly."
"You're an interfering, gorgeous lady."
"I know, Greg. And one day you will be thankful for that."
I settled in the room and unpacked more thoroughly than on my previous visits. My idea was to explore the West Country over the next two weeks. My business trips never allowed me the time to fully appreciate the picturesque beauty of the area, and if chance had given me the companionship of a lovely lady for some of the days, who was I to say no. I phoned Millie. She answered cautiously.
"Millie? It's Greg."
"Oh, Greg. It's good to hear from you. Have you booked in now?"
"Yes. I just wondered if you would like to join me for dinner this evening."
"I...I don't really know about that. I mean I would like to but working at the hotel. It may be difficult."
"I doubt it, Millie. How about we meet in reception, and if eyebrows are raised and sharp intakes of breath are heard we can go somewhere else." She laughed.
"If you put it like that then yes. That would be nice. What time?"
"How about seven."
"I can just about do that. See you then."
I was in reception at six fifty-five. Angela was on the desk so I told her that Millie was joining me for dinner.
"She was a little worried that you won't approve, as she is on the staff so to speak."
"Rubbish. We don't have that kind of stuffy attitude here. You should know that, Greg."
"I do know. But I asked so I can put Millie at her ease." The subject of our conversation came in at that moment. Angela smiled and told Millie to enjoy her meal. She was wearing a shawl against the evening chill and slipped it off her shoulders as she joined us at the desk. I was amazed at the change in Millie. Usually she was working and her rich brown hair was put up into a bun. This evening it fell free to her shoulders and swayed gently as she moved. She wore a pretty frock with thin straps over the shoulders leaving them bare and on her feet were strapped sandals with what I judged to be a three inch heel. As we walked into the Bar I told her she looked very lovely.
"Thank you, Greg. It's so nice to be able to dress up a little after so long and then to be told that my escort approves. I feel quite jittery inside, wondering if I have forgotten how to behave when out on a date." She hesitated. "Although it's not really a date. Is it?" We sat down before I answered.
"I asked you out for a meal, so I think it should be a date. And I am totally in awe at the beauty of the lady with whom I am having that date." Millie blushed.
"Heavens! I am going all girlish and blushing as if I was seventeen again. But I will say that my squire this evening is very handsome."
"Thank you, Millie. Now what would you like to drink?"
The meal was very enjoyable, John seemed to excel that evening, and Millie tucked in happily. I had ordered a bottle of wine, the only thing foreign that John seemed to accept on his menu and with a glass or two of wine we chatted easily. We took coffee in the lounge relaxing into the corners of a soft settee, turned slightly so we could look at each other. About ten Millie said she should be going and I told her I would walk her home.
"No need to do that, Greg. It's only ten minutes walk."
"I insist, Millie. I would feel guilty if I let you walk home alone." She smiled warmly and nodded her acceptance.
"More memories of being a teenager."
I am sure that at a brisk pace we could have got to her flat in ten minutes, but as our conversation was non-stop our pace slowed and it was nearer twenty minutes before we got to her door. The place was an older Edwardian house sub-divided into flats or bed-sits. She turned to me.
"Thank you, Greg. I have enjoyed our evening very much."
"Thank you, Millie for being such an interesting and lovely companion. I was thinking of driving up towards Clovelly tomorrow, would you like to come with me? We could wander around and get a lunch somewhere."
"It's a good job Angela gave me the week off then isn't it? Do you think she had an ulterior motive?"
"Definitely. Would you like to come?"
"Yes please. That sounds a great idea." She got her key out of her hand-bag and went to slot it into the lock. Suddenly she turned and was in my arms, her lips crushing mine with the force of her kiss and her tongue searching my mouth. I tightened my arms around her body and pulled her closer. She moaned as her breasts buffered to my chest and her hips fitted snugly against mine. It was moments later when she drew back, I let her go and stepped back a pace. She looked questioningly at me.
"Sorry, Greg. I got carried away for a moment. You were quite the gentleman."
"I was?" I asked regretfully, she smiled.
"If I had kissed Allan like that he would have had his hands inside my panties by now."
"Yes, my ex."
"I'm not saying that I don't want you to, but..." I put my finger to her lips.
"Millie. Let's not anticipate where we may be going. It's probably too early for either of us. Can I suggest we enjoy some time together and see what feelings we have? If it's no, then neither of us is hurt. If it's yes then I have to tell you, I am in for the long term."
"I thought you would say that. I agree. I thought I would never have feelings for a man again, but you, you sneaky bugger slipped under the Iron Curtain. It's like war and peace. I prefer the peace." She grinned. "Especially if it means I get kissed like that."
"I am delighted to oblige." I pulled her close again. The kiss this time was just as sensuous but softer and with more emotion.
Clovelly was delightful. I hadn't realised that the village was privately owned, and to enter I had to pay a small fee. However the fee was worth it. Millie had brought with her some flat walking shoes and they were certainly needed, as you could not take a car into the village. The main street was a narrow cobbled street descending steeply down to the small harbour. Cottages either side of the street were built in the traditional Devonshire style, painted white and all were festooned with flower boxes the blooms adding a vivid splash of colour to the white walls. With no vehicles access; goods for the lower village were brought down on sledges and for the return journey there were donkeys plodding patiently up the steep hill. We wandered slowly, enjoying the ambience and taking great care with the steep descent. Millie had slipped once on the cobbles and I had grabbed her hand to steady her. After that her hand stayed in mine because we both liked the contact. When we reached the bottom of the hill we took a seat on the harbour wall.
"This is great." I remarked. "Although getting back up that hill is going to be taxing. Perhaps we should take our time and grab some Lunch before we attempt that." Millie nodded enthusiastically.
"Whatever you wish, Greg. I am enjoying this so much; I could just sit here all day."
It was indeed very pleasant. The Sun was warm, the air fresh with a tang of ozone. We could hear the chatter and laughter of other visitors against the background wash and drag as the small waves broke against the harbour wall and then receded over the shingle. The atmosphere was so calming and restful that we could ignore the hard stone on which sat, just sitting, on the dock of the bay, as the song went. I was watching a family a mother and father and two kids. The kids possibly about seven or eight was running around excitedly and safely being that there was no traffic in the village. They were finding new experiences and adventures. I was lost for a moment until Millie spoke.
"Did you want children, Greg?" Obviously she had been watching the same scene.
"Yes. It would have been good, but Elise never mentioned having children and in the end I realised that it was for the best."
"Elise was your wife?"
"Why for the best?"
"Elise wanted to be the centre of attention at all times, and could throw a tantrum if attention was diverted away from her. Children would have done that, so it was best that we didn't have children."
Millie nodded understanding my reasons. "Allan would have been a lousy father. He was too much into what he wanted and to hell with everyone else. Anyway I was too busy going to the special clinic every time he came home and had his way with me." I knew what the special clinic was. The big hospitals had them specifically for those who may be suffering with an STD. I looked at Millie and raised my eyebrows. She nodded. "Yes. He wasn't too careful in his choice of partners." She was silent for a moment. "I was lucky. He never mentioned it but I know he got gonorrhoea and he still tried to have sex with me. There was a fight as I refused him and I left him that same night. Because of his philandering I had been on the pill. When the divorce went through I stopped the pill as I was certain I would never have sex again." I could see she was embarrassed. "Please don't be angry with me Greg. I started on them again two weeks ago. When you said you were coming down for a break. I didn't know, but I did wonder if we may become..." She faltered.
"Why should I be angry?"
"Because I was making an assumption." We had been holding hands all this time and I lifted her hand and kissed the back, then turned her hand over and kissed her palm.
"Don't think it hasn't gone through my mind. We will know when the time is right." She grasped my hand harder for a moment.
"I can't understand how we got to this. I had sworn off men, determined never to get involved again and now I have these thoughts of being with you, being in bed with you."
"Let's go and have an early lunch. If you continue in that vein I will have to sit here for some time." Millie didn't understand at first then a secret smile widened her lips.
"Oh! Have I done that to you?"
"You are so good for me, Greg. You make me feel feminine and desirable. Thank you."
In the following days I remembered what she said, as I had the same thoughts. I had not been looking for a new life companion, although I had not discarded the idea that someday I would meet someone. My thoughts however had not envisaged that someone coming into my life at this point. Millie had come into my life though and I would have to accept the fates that guided us together. As we spent time together I became closer to her; a rather unexpected outcome considering the friction of our first meetings. We spent other days meandering around the area and down into Cornwall. I had always loved the West Country and my pleasure in the places we visited was enhanced one hundredfold by my delightful companion.
We were exploring Plymouth a few days later when I saw a poster advertising a concert on the Hoe. The Band of the Royal Marines would be playing and included would be the Sunset Ceremony. I suggested to Millie that it may be worthwhile going.
"It's running from four until eight. I thought we could grab a bite to eat somewhere afterwards."
"That sounds good, Greg. I have always liked seeing the Sunset Ceremony."
I was able to park not too far from the Hoe. There would probably be a ticket on the car when we returned but I was in company with at least another sixty cars, so we would all get a ticket. The crowd thickened as we walked onto the Hoe and it was easy to see where the band would play, a large area cordoned off with portable steel railings. I had brought a blanket from the car and having found a spot with a good view of where the band would march and play, we settled down. Millie sat close to me so I put my arm around her shoulder. She turned her face and kissed me. The smile told me how happy she was.
The concert was excellent with a good repertoire of traditional British marches and some Souza marches as well. As they played they marched and counter-marched never missing a beat or a step. The finale was Sunset, the brisk tap of the drums, traditionally calling the Skirmishers to break off and return to camp. Then the clear notes of the trumpets and bugles hanging on the evening air as the flag sank slowly from the Jack. Looking over the Sound we could see that the few Naval Vessels in the harbour were lowering their ensigns in concert. I could hear in my head the command over the ships speakers 'Face aft and Salute'. The pride emanating from the audience was tangible as the ceremony came to a conclusion. My eyes were moist and I turning to Millie I saw she had tears slipping slowly down her cheeks. I took out my handkerchief and wiped them away.
Millie smiled saying. "Will I need to wash that handkerchief as well?"
I shook my head. "No They were your tears of happiness. I shall keep that as a memento."
The audience began splitting into couples and small groups, wandering away over the Hoe, the first steps of a journey home.
"What would you like to eat?" I asked Millie. "Chinese, Indian, Italian or good old Fish and Chips." There was no hesitation in her answer.
"Chinese. I love Chinese.".
"Chinese then." I held out my hand to help her up. "Come on. Let's go and find a restaurant."
Millie was very quiet as I drove back from Plymouth, and I didn't feel the urge to fill the silence with inane chatter. We got to Tavistock around ten-thirty and I stopped outside her flat. She sat quietly in her seat and looked towards the front door then turned to me.
"Can we be together tonight?" I leaned over and kissed her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." She whispered. I went to get out of the car. "Not here, Greg. My place is so small with stuff all over the place. I was thinking your room." She went on hurriedly, as if she had been thinking about it and made plans. "I don't want to walk through reception with you. I'll go in through the back." I understood her concern. Angela would not be there now, but Walter, the night porter would be and like most night porters he liked to keep an eye on coming and goings and who was going into whose room.
"It's locked at this time of night isn't it?" She grinned.
"Yes. But I have a key." I started the car. "Let me out, Greg. I need to get some things first. I'll walk up."
"I'll wait for you."
"Are you sure?"
Millie asked me to park well away from the entrance, slipping out of the car as soon as it stopped. I tried to be nonchalant as I went through reception and up the stairs, I think I may have looked calm and collected, but inside I was a bundle of nerves. She was waiting outside room nine and as I appeared groaned a sigh of relief. I opened the door and she scuttled in.
"I was petrified that someone else would come up the stairs and see me." She told me and I in return told her how I had tried to appear normal.
"Except that my stomach was doing somersaults."
"Yours too?" She laughed lightly. "Fine pair we are. Here we are and behaving like teenagers sneaking away behind the bike-sheds, instead of mature adults. I can't believe I could be so nervous, I'm a thirty-four year old woman!" It was my time to laugh.
"And I'm a thirty-two year old man, who is very attracted to this slightly, very slightly older woman."
Millie was shocked a little. "I didn't know you were..." She stopped and grinned. "Toy boy eh?" She moved into my arms. "And I am very attracted to this slightly younger man." We kissed the kiss of promise.
Millie broke our embrace. "I am going to clean my teeth before my courage fails me."
"I'll wait for you then clean mine." Minutes later she emerged from the bathroom wearing a pretty cotton robe.
"Very pretty." I said as I walked to the bathroom.
"Don't worry; I won't be wearing it when you get into bed." She wasn't. She had turned the lights off except for one on the table in the window. I was about to join her in bed when she pointed at my boxers.
"I don't think you need those." I grinned and slipped them off and got into bed. She was in my arms immediately. I could feel her shaking, the bravado that had carried her through now vanished as the actuality hit home. I clasped her to me, just cuddling her tremulous body allowing her time to settle. I don't know how long it took. I could feel when the shaking withered away and she relaxed.
"Thank you, Greg, for understanding. I couldn't give myself to a man less understanding than you. Thank you for your gentleness, for caring and bringing laughter into my life again." She kissed me, her hot breath exhaled into my mouth. "Darling Greg. Will you make love to me?"
Millie was a goddess and I, a mere mortal. I worshipped her lovely form, her breasts wonderful feminine hills topped with hard points of light brown flesh. I sipped nectar from her shrine as she cried out in exultation, and panted over and with her as we joined in rapturous splendour. Time meant nothing, pleasure and the giving of pleasure meant all. Finally satiated with bliss and nerves unable to cope with more excitement we fell into sleep. I spooned against her back with an arm under her neck; she took that hand and placed it on her breast, then searched for my other hand, this she placed at her waist. "I never realised that making love could be so enriching." She whispered.
"That was very special." I replied. I thought about what had passed between us and the conclusion came as a shock to me. "I love you, Millie."
She nodded slowly as if thinking. "That makes me very happy, Greg. Because I love you."
I awoke the next morning to a new world. I had slept deeper than any time in the last three years, and upon waking the first vision I saw was a naked Millie making tea. I rubbed my eyes and looked again; the vision was still there so I wasn't dreaming. I croaked.
"Good morning." Millie looked round and flustered grabbed for her robe. "No! Don't do that. You will rob me of the most beautiful sight I have ever beheld."
"I feel...I feel embarrassed."
"Why? Millie you are so lovely. Artists would kill for a chance to paint you. Poets would curse the English language for not having superlatives fit to describe your beauty." She laughed.
"Greg! You do get garrulous at times. Ok. If I have to let you see me naked perhaps you could return the favour. Come on, off with the bedclothes." I threw back the sheets. "Hmm." She tilted her head to one side as she looked. "Not bad. But are you getting excited again?"
"That's your doing and seeing you it has a mind of its own." Millie walked seductively to the bed.
"Perhaps we could find a way of dealing with that." She went to lie on the bed, but I grabbed her hips and directed her over me.
"You won't mind me being on top?" She asked in surprise.
"Mind?" I reached up and held her breasts. "I can play with these wonderful orbs. Mind? I positively endorse it."
The tea went cold and Millie's plan to be out of the hotel before seven o' clock was dashed to pieces. She shrugged her shoulders and took her time bathing and getting dressed. I helped with the bathing, which did slow the process more than a little.
"I meant it last night, Millie. I do love you." She looked up with a wet and very happy face.
"I can't believe it, Greg. That in the space of a few months I could go from despair to this happiness. I have fallen so deeply in love with you. It's like a miracle." It was a miracle, but now wasn't the time to discuss a future although I was sure there would be a future for us. Millie eventually, with my persuasion, abandoned her ideas of sneaking out and we boldly walked downstairs together to breakfast. Angela to her credit didn't turn a hair, merely calling a cheerful "Good Morning" to us.
After that first night together, Millie was quite happy to spend all her nights with me, not caring if other guests would look askance when the receptionist happily kissed another guest. Angela constantly wore a rather superior expression as if she was the shaker and moulder of this romance. Millie was back at work now and I missed her as I visited places of interest that I had never had the time to appreciate before. She would join me for dinner in the evenings and I would tell her of where I had been, what I had seen and she listened wistfully.
"I wish that I could be with you Darling." was a frequent complaint of hers. I was also mournful as visiting these places without the one who now had more importance in my life than any other halved the joy. I also gave a lot of thought to a future. Millie had stated without quibble that she would be with me wherever I lived, but I knew her heart would be sad to leave Devon. She had been born just a few miles away from Tavistock and was Devon through and through. I was thinking seriously. Most of my work was in the south of England; only rarely did I travel to the North; and the business was located close to Gloucester. It would not be too much of an inconvenience for us to find somewhere to live in Devon, possibly Tavistock or surroundings. I broached the subject with Millie one evening when we were in bed. For a while she was speechless then she found her tongue.
"You would do that, for me?"
"It would be for us, Millie. For us and our children. Where better for them to grow up than in Devon? Clean air, great countryside, you can't beat that."
"Just a little something. You mentioned children?"
"Yes." She smiled.
"Well in that case we had better get started. I would like to have them before I am forty. Oh! Should we get married first?"
"Now that's a good idea."
"Well you haven't proposed yet." I got out of bed and walked round to her side naked as the day I was born, and then went on one knee. She was giggling. I was trying to keep a straight face.
"Millie. I love you, I cannot think of life without you. Will you marry me?" She leaned out of bed, her lovely breasts jiggling, and she kissed me.
"Yes, yes, yes, and again yes. And if you didn't understand my reply it is yes, affirmative. Now get back into bed and let's start on these babies you talked about."
We couldn't actually start on the babies as Millie was still on the pill. She ceremoniously flushed them down the toilet the next morning. I would be leaving the morning after so our last night together was very special. She had got over her inhibition of walking around in the nude and now seemed to positively enjoy it, teasing me and of course arousing me. Once that had happened, the result was a foregone conclusion. She revelled in the freedom to express her sexuality. It would appear that Allan would not allow her to be on top, he believed it eroded his dominant position as the man. I didn't have that problem and Millie once she was confident would happily take charge, often leaning back, her hands lifting her hair and presenting me with her beautiful hard tipped breasts for my pleasure.
The night before I left we lay side by side, perspiration dotting our bodies and panting as we talked. Millie's first question was.
"When will you be back?
"Next weekend. We'll start looking for somewhere to live." She got up on one elbow, her breast caressing my arm.
"You mean it then." I looked at her in surprise.
"Yes. I mean it. Millie, I love you, I want you with me, now, next week, next year for the rest of our lives. You! Only you. Your hand in mine forever." She sank down, clasping me, our bodies, slick with perspiration and our effusions slipping together.
"I'm your woman, Greg. Your very loving woman."
We parted in the morning, Millie to her work in the hotel, and I returned to my work in Gloucester. The following weekend I was back in Tavistock. Millie welcomed me very satisfactorily and on the Saturday we drove up to the village where she had grown up.
"Can I introduce you to my sister?" She asked. It would appear that her parents had been antagonistic when Millie had divorced her husband. Their opinion was that marriage was for life whatever the beatings she endured. Consequently she hadn't spoken to them since that time. Her sister Alison however had supported her throughout.
"Of course, I would love to meet her."
It was obvious they were sisters, the same colouring and features. The main difference apart from age as Alison was three years younger was Alison being built on much sturdier lines. She was delighted. Primarily that Millie had found happiness again.
"I wondered who was putting the smile back on Millie's face, so it's very good to meet you Greg."
"It's good to meet you as well Alison." This being England and more importantly the West Country, tea was produced quickly. Alison efficiently discovered my past and how I earned a living and seemed satisfied with the answers. Then she cried tears of happiness when Millie told her that we would be married.
"Oh Millie, that's the best news I have heard since you divorced that bastard of a husband." Her joy was tempered as she thought further. "I suppose you will be moving away then?"
Millie shook her head. "No. Greg says that we should look for a place possibly around Crediton or Tiverton. His office is in Gloucester so either place would be better for getting to the motorway." Alison turned to me with an enquiry.
"Why would you do that, Greg? It's an awful long drive every day."
"I don't go to the office every day, Alison. I travel all over the south of England. In addition I love this area and I wouldn't want to take Millie away from her roots."
"He doesn't mention the children." Millie remarked dryly. "I'm expected to produce at least two. Not that I am complaining though. The thought of having Greg's babies fills me with pleasure."
Alison was wreathed in smiles. "That's wonderful. My two will like having cousins and at last I can be an aunty." She became serious then. "Places in Crediton and Tiverton are quite expensive, Greg. You do know that, don't you?"
"Yes I do. However I have quite a lot of compensation coming from the accident so I should be able to put down a decent deposit and reduce the mortgage to manageable proportions."
"So when is the wedding?" Asked Alison.
We found our home just outside Tiverton. It was a three bedroom detached house set in about an acre and a half of fairly overgrown land. The house itself was sound but was equally unkempt as the land. It was priced to reflect the dilapidation, which brought it into our budget, although I could see my work being cut out to point and paint the place. We set to with a will and within a month the house was fit for occupation.
Like most men I supposed a wedding was a simply arranged affair. As Millie and I were both divorced a church wedding was out of the picture so the Registry Office was the only choice. That was until Angela got involved. She announced that the hotel was licensed as a suitable place for celebrating civil weddings and that under no circumstances were Millie and I to go anywhere else. The hotel would not accept bookings from anyone bar our guests for the weekend of the ceremony. John then entered the equation by telling us that the wedding breakfast would be his responsibility and he intended to excel. Millie, bullied by Alison was resigned to the large production number that our friends planned, and stopped arguing. Me? I had long become inured to the futility of stopping the distaff side from organising anything, let alone a wedding.
We picked a Saturday in June of course. And with the propensity of the English climate to do anything except what you would wish it was overcast with occasional showers that day. I came down the stairs wearing my wedding suit and Angela immediately pounced.
"Buttonhole!" She declared and proceeded to fix a pale pink rose surrounded by enough small fern to feed a rabbit for the day, onto my lapel.
"Pink!" I asked in shock.
Angela nodded. "Yes, Millie's bouquet is blush Lilies and pink Roses, so it's either this or a blooming great Lily." With that affixed I went into the main lounge which was where the ceremony would take place. Danny was my witness and best man and he was pacing up and down muttering to himself and occasionally referring to the paper in his hand. He was more nervous than me.
"You don't have to give a speech Danny." I mentioned. "This is not a formal wedding you know."
He shook his head. "Not formal? Look around my friend, this place is bedecked with flowers. These people have gone to a lot of trouble. I can't let them down I have to say something. Anyway if I don't Gill will give me grief for months to come." He paused. "Trouble is that I can't come up with any amusing anecdote from your past. To all intents and purposes you seem to have led a very colourless life apart from Elise and I don't think it would be right to mention that."
"Well if you have to make the speech make sure you mention Angela's part in bringing Millie and I together. You can say something to the effect that Cupid is taking a different form these days."
He brightened considerably. I had told him of Angela's matchmaking. "That's it! That's what I can say. Thanks Greg."
The Registrar arrived and took his place behind the table that had been set for him. He busied himself opening the register to the right page and shuffling other papers that bureaucrats deem necessary to their calling. He then looked up and addressed me.
He smiled. "My name is Gilmorton from the registrar's office and I shall be conducting this ceremony. Apart from the legal vows you must make, are there any other vows that you would like to say to your future wife?"
"I haven't really thought of it, but I think yes I would. Just a simple statement no more than a sentence really."
"I will let you know when it is time. It will after the legal vows and just before I declare you man and wife. Do you think that Miss Grainger would like to say anything?"
"I don't know, possibly."
He nodded. "Well after you have spoken I will look at Miss Grainger to see if she wishes to say anything. We don't do things the American way but we like to give the prospective husband and wife the chance to add to their legal vows."
Twenty minutes later the room had filled with our guests and the sudden hush alerted me to the fact that the bride had arrived. I looked back to see Millie standing at the doors to the room. She wore a long fitted dress of gold and cream and instead of a hat she had small flowers woven into a coronet in colours that went with her dark brown hair perfectly. The posy she carried was exactly as Angela had described pink roses with blush lilies. Her parents had not replied to our invitation so she stood alone, anticipating this Millie had decided. "I shall walk alone until we are married, then I will never walk alone again." That statement helped. It also helped our choice of music. We had talked a lot about our choice which was Gerry and the Pacemakers 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. We felt it apt as we had both walked through a storm and after today we would walk together, never alone. The music swelled and Millie, smiling walked to join me. Once the registrar was sure that we were ready he began. It was the usual official announcement and caution and then he began the ceremony. He had just uttered the words about our declaring that there was no legal impediment to our marriage when a loud male voice at the back shouted. "I object!"
The voice went on. "There is an imprediment. The b..bride is my wife." Everyone turned around in shock. The complainant was a thickset, red-faced man in his thirties. He didn't seem to be too steady on his feet. Millie gasped white-faced.
"Allan!" He didn't make any move to move further into the room and I was preparing to go and sort this out when I felt the hand of the registrar on my arm.
"Leave this to me Mr. Hammond, it is my duty to sort this out." He addressed Millie's ex-husband. "Would you come forward and state your name and why you object to this marriage." Mr. Winton took an unsteady step and stopped. He took a deep breath and started again.
"He's drunk." Whispered Millie her words only heard by Mr. Gilmorton and me. I took Millie to one side as he unsteadily approached the registrar.
"She can't marry this tosser. She's my wife."
"We're divorced Allan." An angry Millie shouted at him.
"Paper! Just bits of paper." He dismissed them. "You belong to me. I am your husband and you do what I tell you."
Mr. Gilmorton cleared his throat and addressed Allan. "Mr. Winton. I can assure you that your divorce from this lady is full and absolute. As part of the pre-requisite of this marriage all of this has been checked and found in order. You have no right of objection. If you wish to you may remain for the rest of the ceremony, but quietly. If you do not I have the power to have you ejected."
"Rubbish. I don't give a toss for your bits of paper. She is my wife until I decide that I don't want her anymore."
"Mr. Winton, you give me no alternative but to ask you to leave. If you don't I have powers to call the Police and have you arrested." I could see that the calm words of the registrar were having no affect on Allan Winton. Mr. Gilmorton could see that too so picked up his mobile phone and dialled a number. He whispered out of the side of his mouth. "I am doing that now." I saw John still wearing his Chefs white coat and blue checked trousers coming up behind Winton, so I moved towards him to divert his attention. It might be the time to mention that John was six foot three and fifteen and a half stone of muscle. I was five foot ten and although Allan Winton was bigger than me I was not anxious. In my teens I had gone to a segregated school for boys where battle to be top dog was accepted. I had learned that showing fear was worse than the pain of fighting. I had fought, suffered pain but administered it myself in equal measure.
"Ooh. What are we going to do? Going to fight me, punch the nasty man on the nose. Who and whose army are going to do that, eh?" Allan Winton taunted. John and I reached him at the same time. As John grabbed his left arm I took hold of his right."
"Nobody's going to fight, Winton. We are just going to take you outside whilst the police are called."
"Too scared to fight for the trollop?
"I see no trollop here just a silly drunk making himself look ridiculous. Millie is worth fighting for, but it would be an unfair fight as you are drunk. You may hurt me, but I assure you that I will hurt you as well if not more, and at the end of it, you will still be divorced and I will still marry Millie."
It was at that moment that he looked at the other person holding him. John looked vicious although I knew he wouldn't hurt anyone. It just wasn't in him. The size of him was intimidating however and Winton collapsed. You could literally feel the aggression seep away. We took him out to the car park, now our grasp was one of holding him up rather than forcing him to leave. Mr. Gilmorton had followed us.
"I don't think we need the Police now." I said to him.
He shook his head. "I have called them and they have to respond. We won't press charges though."
The Police came and took Winton away and we recommenced the ceremony. As we were now running late and the registrar needed to be elsewhere our personal vows could be left for another time. Millie and I were pronounced man and wife and the smiles returned to our guests. We took our place at the entrance to the dining room where the reception would be held and our guests formed a line to wish us well. The reception line seemed never ending shaking hands, kissing cheeks and speaking a few words with everyone when all I wanted to do was take my wife into my arms. Eventually the line passed and I grabbed two glasses of Chablis from the table and led Millie to a small alcove. We sat down and held hands. It was then that I made those very personal vows to Millie that I had been denied in the ceremony.
"Millie we have both known the darkness and now we have the light. I love you Millie and I promise you that I will always do everything and anything to keep that light shining on you. Thank you for coming into my life and loving me."
Tears of happiness slipped slowly down her cheeks as she nodded and smiled at the same time. "Greg you are my friend, my lover, my husband and soon, hopefully the father of my children. Now it seems you are my protector as well. Twelve months ago I was horrible to you. I don't deserve you but I am so happy that deserve or not you are my man. I will not fail you and I wish these people would go away as I would like to get out of this dress and show you the lovely underwear Alison and Angela chose for me and then show you how much I love you."
"Oh Millie, I wish you hadn't said that. I shall have to sit here for quite some time now."
She laughed delightedly and then whispered in my ear. "I think about that and get quite damp."
We joined our guests who of course were discussing the little contra temp. Angela grabbed my arm.
"Well Greg you really do know how to organise a memorable wedding. What are you going to do next let Doves fly out of the wedding cake?"
"No. I thought John was organising that." She laughed. then the laughter faded.
"Seriously, Greg. I was sure there would be a fight. I was sure he was going to hit you."
"And if he did I would have hit him back. But violence rarely solves anything satisfying as it may be at the time. Mr. Winton was drunk and as soon as we got him outside he seemed to sober a little. Incident closed."
Gill sidled up and asked. "Ok where are you going on Honeymoon or have you already enjoyed that?"
"Exeter Airport and none of your business." I replied with a smile.
"That means you have."
It was time for food and with alacrity our guests walked through into the dining room, with Angela acting as a traffic cop waving them on. There they descended on the superb buffet that John had laid out. John was a guest but could not forsake his main interest in life. It was no surprise to see him behind the buffet table supervising the filling of plates, encouraging the diners to take a little more of the cold roast beef, to try that sauce, or slipping another chicken leg on their plate when they were not looking. With people balancing plates on their laps and trying to find somewhere to put down their glass of Champagne it wasn't the right time for Danny to decide to say his piece. I tried to catch his attention mouthing the words "not now" but if he did see me he ignored me. He rapped his fork against a glass to little effect so he rapped a little harder. The 'snap' as the glass broke got everybody's attention.
"Bride and Groom, Ladies and Gentlemen. Greg didn't want me to make a speech, even at the last minute he was mouthing to me not to do so. But I couldn't allow this moment to pass without saying something. This was a wedding that very nearly didn't happen, for two reasons. The one you all witnessed today, the other one you may not know about. When they first met Greg and Millie didn't get on at all. To say there was a mutual dislike may be going too far, but sparks flew between them without doubt and they certainly were not sparks of passion. However Cupid stepped in, in the unlikely shape of Angela who in the way of women intuitively recognised that Greg and Millie were right for each other. She encouraged them separately at first and then when the antipathy had died she encouraged them together. She was devious and manipulative, perhaps she may have been a little outrageous in some of her suggestions, but Cupids do have a tough job to do sometimes and this little Cupid set to work with enthusiasm and eventually triumphed. We are all very thankful that Angela did succeed. Else we wouldn't be here witnessing the drama and enjoying this superb food. I have wondered why Greg always stayed here. I can't make up my mind if it was the food or Millie that brought him back so often."
"It was Millie!" Alison shouted.
Danny smiled. "I have known Greg a long time and having met Millie I am certain that the Gods have finally managed to put two people together in perfect harmony. Now as a long term Star Trek fan I will reiterate the words of Captain Spock and say to you Millie and Greg, 'live long and prosper'. I know you will." He lifted his hand and executed a perfect Vulcan peace sign. He then found an unbroken glass and lifting it, he offered the Toast. "Greg and Millie."
Whilst he had been speaking Millie had made her way over to me and when he finished we were standing with our arms around each other's waist as everyone raised their glasses. "Greg and Millie."
Please do not write and tell me I spelt impediment incorrectly. I misspelt the word deliberately as this was a drunken man speaking who was not in total control of his mouth.
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