They’d only just entered the cottage when Louise burst out, ‘Well? What did he say?’
Sharon didn’t reply immediately. She was moving around the room switching on the lamps. When she’d finished she went back to the light switch by the front door, turned the overhead light off and started taking off her fleece.
‘Come on, mum. What did he say?’
Louise gazed at her mother beseechingly. Her whole being was animated. Her hazel eyes radiated optimism. Her expression overflowed with the prospect of good news. She looked supremely happy and sure of herself, confident of the anticipated happiness her mother was about to deliver. This visible evidence of her daughter’s blind, innocent trust hurt Sharon more than anything. More than her own weakness; more than her cowardly and cruel betrayal.
‘I didn’t tell him,’ she said.
For Louise this had never been a possibility. For several seconds there was complete silence.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I didn’t tell him we were leaving.’
The significance of what her mother had said began to spread across Louise’s features. ‘You didn’t tell him?’
Sharon flung her fleece on to the sofa. Casually, she said, ‘No. There wasn’t time.’
Louise’s face was a rictus of incredulity. ‘But you promised!’
‘I know. But there wasn’t time. He had to get to his meeting.’
Sharon set off for the kitchen. Louise immediately followed her. She had a strong suspicion she was being lied to. ‘You had loads of time. His meeting wasn’t until eight o’clock.’
Sharon began filling the electric kettle. ‘He had to be there early to talk to Major Roberts.’
Sharon returned the kettle to its stand and switched it on. ‘I don’t know.’
Louise was now sure her mother was lying. ‘You could have told him. It would only have taken a minute. “We’re leaving Leefdale and we’re not coming back”. See! You could have told him. You only needed a couple of seconds.’
‘Don’t be silly, Lou. I couldn’t just say it like that.’
‘Why not? I just showed you. It’s easy.’
‘That’s because you’re a child. You don’t understand. It’s hard to tell people things like that. It takes more than a few seconds. For Christ’s sake, he’s not a stranger. He’s your father. Now, what do you want for your supper?’
Louise was standing stiff and sullen. ‘You’re changing the subject.’
‘No, I’m not. I’m asking you what you want for supper.’
The child’s voice swooped in sudden insight. ‘You were never going to tell him, were you?’
‘Of course I was.’
‘No, you weren’t.’
‘It wasn’t the right time, Lou.’
‘But you promised!’
‘I know. I’m sorry. There wasn’t time. Really, there wasn’t.’ Sharon felt the need to offer Louise some hope. ‘But when there’s time, I’ll tell him.’
‘You’re a liar!’ screamed Louise. She looked around wildly. On one of the kitchen surfaces was a round biscuit tin. She picked it up and hurled it at Sharon.
Sharon was so astonished she had no time to react. The tin caught her on the shoulder and ricocheted. When it hit the floor the lid flew off and several biscuits spilled out.
‘I hate you!’ cried Louise.
She ran past Sharon and up the stairs to her room.
I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.
You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.
So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..
Zoe picked up Parker and Lund’s property details and scanned them to remind herself why she’d previously objected to the rectory. Suddenly, on the back she saw something she’d missed before: Dylan’s sketch of Sharon Makepiece. Zoe held it up for Dylan to see.
The shock of seeing Sharon’s image in such incongruous surroundings made Dylan start.
‘It’s the estate agent who showed me round.’
‘I hope it’s not the reason you prefer The Old Rectory?’
Zoe returned her attention to the property details. ‘Yes, I can see why you like it. In some ways it’s just what we want.’
Dylan leaned forward in anticipation of her qualification. ‘But?’
‘It’s right in the centre of a village!’
‘What’s wrong with that?’
Zoe sat back and folded her arms. ‘Don’t you see it as a potential source of conflict?’
‘No. Why should it be?’
‘Come on! This place Leefdale is an up market village full of smug little Englanders who think they’re the bees’ knees because for years they’ve won some poxy gardening contest. They’re hardly going to be delighted when we fill their exquisite rectory with inner city yobbos.’
Eric grinned and affected shock. ‘They’re not yobbos!’
Zoe sighed patiently. ‘Of course, they’re not. We all agree on that. But that’s how they’d be seen by the inhabitants of Leefdale.’
Toni wrinkled her eyebrows satirically. ‘That’s very defeatist of you. Why should these Leefdale people be insulated from reality?’
‘Ordinarily I’d agree. But by basing ourselves in the rectory I think we’d be giving ourselves and the kids unnecessary grief.’
‘So, to avoid that we have to hide them away. Is that what you’re saying?’ said Charles.
‘No, I’m not!’
‘Yes, you are,’ said Dylan. ‘That’s why you prefer Cold Dale Farm. It’s isolated and off the beaten track. The perfect place to hide them away!’
Zoe sighed and treated him to one of her “I’ve been unjustly misunderstood” looks. ‘I don’t want to hide them away. It’s just that I don’t want them put under any unnecessary pressure. They’ve all had crap experiences one way or another. The time they spend with us should be a period of relative tranquillity.’
‘Tranquillity yes. Isolation no!’ said Dylan. ‘Of course we want to provide them with a secure environment. But security isn’t just about feeling safe. It’s about having the confidence to go out and deal with the world as it is.’
‘I quite agree,’ said Charles, who had to be at Heathrow at 7.30am. ‘If they don’t get involved with a community how are they going to have any sense of social inclusion?’
‘I’m sorry. Did I get something wrong here?’ said Eric. ‘I thought the idea was that through art we were putting them on the path to being healed.’
‘Sure,’ said Dylan, ‘that’s part of what we’re trying to do…’
‘A big part, I hope!’ said Eric. He threw Zoe a look.
‘Yes. A very big part,’ said Dylan. ‘But not the only part. There’s also a social dimension to the work we do. Look, the people I met in Leefdale seemed very reasonable. I don’t think they’ll give us a problem. Anyway, I’m sure we can pre-empt any antagonism by involving the clients in the Magnificent Britain Competition.’
‘Now, that’s an excellent idea,’ said Charles.
‘I think it’s crap,’ said Zoe ‘Why should we let these Leefdale people dictate our agenda?’
‘Because we want the clients to feel included,’ said Dylan.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Zoe, ‘I still think Cold Dale Farm is much more suitable.’
Eric shook his head. ‘It’s very small.’
‘Nonsense. It’s got tons of land,’ said Zoe.
‘It has. But the house itself is tiny. We don’t need lots of land but we do need a good-sized house. And Leefdale’s rectory is huge.’
Zoe gave him a sharp look. ‘You weren’t interested in the rectory until Dylan suggested it.’
Eric looked slightly sheepish.
‘But Eric’s right,’ Dylan said. ‘I’ve seen the accommodation at Cold Dale Farm. There’s not much space for art and drama studios.’
‘But with all that land surely we could build an arts block?’ Zoe persisted.
Dylan shook his head. ‘Not unless we can talk the price right down.’
Eric laughed. ‘Would they come down a hundred thousand?’
‘That’s what they’d have to do,’ said Charles. ‘Otherwise, it’s way beyond our price limit. After all, I have to ensure that the Trust gets value for money. I’m sorry Zoe, but at that price I don’t think we’d be able to afford purpose-built studios. We need to just move in.’
Zoe grimaced. ‘It’s such a shame. The kids would love a big open space like that. They’d experience a real sense of freedom. And we could build a huge sculpture park.’
Dylan and Charles exchanged a knowing look. The creation of a sculpture park was Zoe’s obsession. Unfortunately, none of the units she’d worked in had ever possessed sufficient land to make her dream a reality.
‘Leefdale rectory’s back garden is big enough for one,’ Dylan told Zoe, helpfully.
But Zoe was adamant. ‘There’s not as much as land there as at Cold Dale Farm.’
Persistence was in Zoe’s genes. It had brought her great grandparents out of Poland at the height of the Pogroms when all their neighbours were telling them it was a mistake to leave. Their foresight had saved themselves and their descendants from Auschwitz, and ultimately enabled Zoe to be born. Zoe’s Catholic great grandparents had fled Northern Ireland for America in the 1890s but had pledged to return, and, indeed, had done so when the Irish Free State had been established. Zoe had told Dylan all this when they’d been lovers. He reflected on it now.
‘Cold Dale Farm’s too isolated,’ said Toni, who was impatient for a decision.
‘I agree,’ said Dylan, again surprising himself. Hadn’t he always said he preferred isolation?
‘All right,’ said Zoe. ‘You’re obviously not having Cold Dale Farm. But I do think that before we make a decision on any of these properties we should all be given the opportunity to go and view them.’
‘I don’t think we can do that, Zoe,’ said Charles.
‘You know very well why. We promised all the interested parties we’d be up and running by the summer. By the time we’ve viewed all the properties separately the one we finally decide on might have been sold to someone else. We need to make a decision now.’
‘But how can we make a decision if we haven’t seen the properties?’
‘We agreed to delegate the task to Dylan,’ said Toni. Behind her glasses her light grey eyes regarded Zoe scornfully. ‘I was perfectly OK with that. He is, after all, our team leader and he seems to have gone into everything very thoroughly. We must trust his judgement.’
Zoe was a drama therapist and an expert in assertion techniques. Reasonably but firmly she said, ‘I don’t mistrust Dylan’s judgement, but as we’re the ones who’ll be working there I do think we’re entitled to see what the conditions are like for ourselves.’
‘You could have come up to Yorkshire with me,’ said Dylan. ‘I invited all of you.’
Zoe’s expression became slightly tense. ‘I explained in the clearest terms why I couldn’t possibly do that.’
Dylan said, ‘That’s right. You did.’
But had it really been so impossible for her to renege on her speaking engagement at the drama therapists’ conference? He doubted it. Actually, in the circumstances he couldn’t understand why Zoe was going to be working with them at all. It was several months since he’d engineered the ending of their affair. His handling of the break-up had been clumsy and callous and it had come as a devastating shock to Zoe who, until then, had been completely unaware of his disenchantment with their relationship. In the months afterwards, although they’d continued as colleagues they’d barely spoken; and when Dylan was promoted team leader and assigned to establish the new East Yorkshire Inclusion Unit, he’d assumed they would never work together again. He was therefore staggered when Zoe applied for a place in his new team. What kind of a person after a break-up applies to work alongside their ex? It was so unusual he’d wondered if she’d done it deliberately to provoke him. At Charles’ insistence (and against his own better judgement) he’d agreed to appoint her. Of course, Charles may have taken a different view if he’d known that she and Dylan had once been lovers and of the acrimony with which they’d parted; but it wasn’t even suspected, by him or anyone else within the confines of their professional world. Yet why was Zoe kicking up such a fuss about the properties now, at this late stage? Could it be she was having second thoughts about working with him and was trying to wriggle out of her commitment to the new unit? He hoped so.
Zoe turned to Eric. ‘Don’t you think we should go and see for ourselves what these places are like?’
‘Hey, I’m cool,’ said Eric. ‘I was happy to leave it to Dylan.’ He wiggled his finger archly at Zoe in a faux reprimand. ‘So you can leave me out of this.’
Zoe grinned and tapped him lightly on the thigh.
Zoe and Eric? Dylan thought. Zoe and Eric? Surely not?
‘Look, I’m going to the states tomorrow, remember?’ said Charles. ‘I’m sorry but we’ve got to make a decision tonight.’
Their discussions continued until well after midnight. Eventually, Lord Sandleton, an experienced chairman and committee man, persuaded everyone to reduce the properties to a short list of two, which was then put to the vote. The Old Rectory at Leefdale received Dylan and Toni’s votes. Predictably Zoe voted for Cold Dale Farm. Dylan found it significant that Eric did too. Lord Sandleton exercised his casting vote in favour of The Old Rectory. It was decided to make an offer of £495,000 for the property.
Dylan, Eric, Toni and Zoe left the apartment together. In the street, all four lingered briefly around Dylan’s motorcycle. Toni offered Zoe a lift home.
‘No thanks,’ said Zoe. ‘Eric’s giving me one.’ She said goodbye, turned to go and then turned back to Dylan. ‘Well, you got what you wanted, as ever. I just hope it turns out all right. I’ve got a really bad feeling about it.’
Read on with the free preview below.
The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.
Sharon guards a dark family secret.
Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.
Zoe is trying to sort her life out.
Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .
Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale’s Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.
The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.
Barbara Kellingford’s father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.
Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it’s her own life which needs to change most.
Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!
Dylan Bourne’s new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.
Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband’s political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.
Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.