Copyright© 2012 Angharad
All Rights Reserved.
No resemblance to anyone living or dead is intended in this work of fiction.
I loved my garden, and was pleased that I’d contributed to the village winning the award for prettiest village in the county. My cottage was one of those real chocolate box types, thatched roof with flint and brick walls, rose arch above the front door and leaded windows. It was also grade two listed, which meant I couldn’t so much as change the colour of the toilet paper without permission from the local council.
It was actually two cottages when we came here, twenty years ago and we had them knocked into one, a second bathroom created and a double garage at the end of the garden. The place now consists of a large lounge, a dining room, a small study, large kitchen and cloakroom, and upstairs four bedrooms and two bathrooms one of which is en suite.
When we first came here—it sounds strange now—I’ve been on my own for the last ten years after Phil died. He was neurosurgeon at the University Hospital, and was killed dashing to work to deal with a serious road casualty who’d sustained terrible head injuries. Phil ran smack into a combine harvester which was being driven without a warning vehicle. He had no chance on the blind bend. As we had words with the farmer before over doing this and how dangerous it was, once he was found guilty of causing death by driving without due care and attention, I sued him and his insurance company. I received enough to be able to stay in my beautiful house, pay off the mortgage and live reasonably comfortably.
I write romantic fiction for a living for a well known publisher of the genre and although it’s a bit formulaic, I like to think I bring a bit of happiness to some unrequited souls who seem to read the books like they’re going out of style.
You might have seen my nom de plume, Harriet Kingston, it’s been attached to about thirty novels so far. I do about four a year, writing from six till eight in the morning—I’m a morning person—and then another hour sometimes two after lunch most days.
It’s a solitary way of life but I keep fairly busy with the writing, the family—I’ve got two kids and three grandchildren, who come and visit quite regularly. Then there’s the garden. I have help there and with keeping the house tidy. Suzie helps me in the house a couple of hours a week and Don her hubby does the hard work in the garden and is also my handyman.
The village is called Newchurch because they had to build a new church after the old one burned down being struck by lightning in the year 1789, five years after this cottage was built. The church is just up the lane a bit and occasionally, when they have a big service, cars get parked in front of my driveway and block it. I used to get very cross about it, but seeing as the local vicar was so nice about asking his parishoners to park elsewhere, I’ve been a bit more sympathetic towards them.
I’m not a god-botherer, having ceased believing in such fantasies after Phil was killed. He was one of the nicest, kindest and Christian men you could wish to meet. He gave his whole life in the service of others and then he was snatched away from me. To say I was angry with the Almighty was an understatement; had I the opportunity to confront God, I’d have torn him to shreds. Instead I took it out on his local representative which might have added to the poor fellow’s troubles because a few days later, after receiving a broadside from me which would have been mostly below the waterline, he had a nervous breakdown and retired to somewhere in Sussex to grow sunflowers or so they told me.
Then we had a woman, who the locals didn’t like and she was given short shrift because she was too high church for them—bells and smells stuff. Here they be a mite traditional, and have no truck with that there popery. So vicar number three arrived. He called by as I was dead heading roses so it must have been late June early July, introduced himself and asked if he could do anything for me. Someone must have told him about my part in his predecessor’s demise.
I stayed polite but aloof. He accepted my loss of faith and after I pointed out the problem with the parking, he said he’d do what he could. It improved unless there’s a big wedding or funeral on, or things like Christmas and Easter when much of the village turn out, except the likes of me and my immediate neighbours, Dolly and Rachel, who eschew religion, me for the reason I mentioned and the two ladies next door—well, as I found out—they were a couple and the bible bashers didn’t seem to enjoy having a couple of lesbians in the congregation. It didn’t and still doesn’t bother me, who am I to judge others and if they seem happy together good luck to them.
Despite the churchy lot rejecting them, they were fairly popular in the village enough for others to stop and chat if they passed in the high street and for them to ask after the absent partner if they were out alone. Being neighbours, we became quite good friends and Rachel, who was a tallish beanpole, fixed my grandson’s bike when he broke the chain.
Rachel rides her bike a lot, one of those racer things drop handlebars and so many gears you lose count of them, and tyres so narrow I’m surprised they don’t cut through the tarmac.
I suppose, she must be about forty something now, though the way she flies through the village on her bike—she has several—she obviously keeps remarkably fit. Dolly, does ride a bit as well, but one of those velocipedes with a basket on the front. Even I have one of those, which is useful for nipping down the village stores and back for a bottle of sherry—we all have our vices, don’t we? Talking of Dolly, she’s the opposite of Rachel, she’s a bit like me, broad in the beam and built for comfort with our childbearing hips, she’s also quite a bit shorter than her partner, but then Rachel must be five foot ten or more.
Although we’ve had each other to dinner several times, we always end up talking about current topics or my grandchildren, rarely anything about them unless it pertains to their house or garden. So, while I’m accepting of their lifestyle, I don’t know that much about them. They do have frequent visitors, Rachel has some sort of business up country although she doesn’t attend it very often, apparently running it via her computer and a very capable and trusted manager.
One morning, it was probably August—yes, it must have been because Sam, my eldest grandson was coming to visit at the weekend for a whole week on his own—I drew open the curtains and saw several cars and couple of vans parked outside my house and the two girls’ one. Something was going on and surely it was too early for a party and besides they always invite me—even though I rarely go.
One or two strangers were milling about in the street and pointing at the girls’ house. I got on with my writing and when I stopped at nine to have my breakfast, I glanced out and suspected the throng had multiplied and it looked like one or two had video cameras—the commercial sort, quite large things with microphones on the front.
I was intrigued rather than concerned until my driveway got blocked and I then became involved. I went out hoping to act calmly but firmly with the offender. I got no help from any of the people in the street and the man whose van it was said there was no white line across my drive so tough.
I called the police. The man was eventually made to move his van but by then the throng was reducing and by evening it had dwindled to one or two. I thought I caught sight of someone in my garden at one point and realised they were in next door’s, but I still shouted at them and they and their camera went off rather sheepishly. What on earth was going on?
I tried calling their number, but it was always engaged—so it was the day before Sam was due before I managed to make contact. I saw Dolly out in her garden watching the dog so she could clean up after her with her pooper scoop. I had washing to hang out so I went out to my line.
“Morning, Dolly,” I called blithely over the fence.
“Oh, Penny, you made me jump, I didn’t see you there.”
“Everything okay with you?” I asked sensing it wasn’t.
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Would a coffee and slice of sponge help?” I called as I finished pegging the sheet.
“You’re a temptress, Penny, d’you know that?”
“I used to be, Dolly, but since everything went south, I suspect the only thing interested in me would be Japanese whalers, for my blubber.”
She laughed and then burst into tears. I insisted she come round and also for Rachel to come as well. “That’s the problem, Penny, she’s gone.” I felt like I’d stepped on a garden rake, tines upward. Minutes later she was seated on a chair in my cavernous kitchen sipping fresh ground coffee and staring at the slice of Victoria sponge I’d placed in front of her.
“Would you like to tell me about it?” I enquired gently and with tears in her reddened eyes she nodded. I let her finish her coffee before plying her with another. I had no experience of lesbian relationships though I’d heard they often didn’t last that long and wondered if Rachel had found someone else. I was wrong, she’d gone for a very different reason and one I’d never have guessed, except with the benefit of hindsight.
“I first met Rachel about fifteen years ago, she was racing professionally then,” started Dolly.
“Goodness, a female Lance Armstrong,” I gasped, he being the only cyclist I could name.
“Um—not then, Penny.” She blushed and I looked as bewildered as I felt.
“But you said she was racing a bike?” It made no sense or had I misunderstood something?
“She was, but not as a she.”
“I’m missing something here,” I confessed.
“No you’re not, Penny. Rachel used to be Richard.”
“Richard’s not a girl’s name—oh, I think the penny has dropped,” I said blushing profusely.
It went silent for a few moments before Dolly cleared her throat. “Richard was a very good cyclist, did the Tour de France a few times.”
“What she actually won it?” I asked showing my ignorance.
“No, not the whole thing, like Bradley Wiggins did, but she did win the spotty jersey for King of the Mountains, the first Brit to do so.” Despite her distress, Dolly spoke with enormous pride about this and she went on for several minutes naming the mountain stages Rachel had won—I mean Richard, but to me she’ll always be Rachel.
“We’d been together for a couple of years and Rich told me he had a secret—he was transsexual—he wanted to be a woman.”
“How did you take it?” I asked unsure of what I’d have done if Phil had said that to me.
“I was shocked but I loved him and said I’d wait and see how we coped. He gave me the biggest hug and kiss he’d ever done.”
I was agog and felt in awe of her courage. I kept quiet and over the next two hours she related how she’d helped him while he was still racing, whenever he could get away for a couple of days, she take a case of clothes with her for Rachel, as his alter ego was named. Then one day, he simply stopped racing—he told her he couldn’t cope with being a man one more day. She helped him find somewhere off the beaten track in France and they rented a cottage for several months while he visited a specialist in London who gave him hormones and a year later referred him for the sex change operation.
I tentatively enquired about the sexual element of their relationship—I’d enjoyed my time in bed with Phil—and I was curious about how she coped if his meat and two veg were removed.
“Richard was never very good in bed, he hated his willie and couldn’t wait to get rid of it. So we did other things, it just took a bit more imagination.”
“But you presumably fell in love with a man, or who you thought was a man?”
“Yes, yes I did.”
“So you’re not lesbian, really?”
“I’ve never said I was, I adapted to help the person I loved and still love.”
“So that rumpus out in the street was all about the press finding out who Rachel was?”
“Yes, but she got a warning—a friend in the know, who heard the rumours of the discovery.”
“A real friend,” I said quietly.
“Yes, one of the few she kept in touch with.”
“You said she’d gone?”
“Yeah, we had this happen once before when a journalist came sniffing round, she disappeared for three months that time. She’ll let me know when she’s found somewhere safe.”
“Thank you for taking me into your confidence if there’s ever anything I can do to help.”
“So you’re not going to ostracise me—us?”
“Good lord, no. I know you both as you are now and I like you both. What went before is only relevant in regard to the courage you’ve both shown and the commitment to each other. I’m actually very proud to know you both, I’m just sorry I can’t tell Sam his bike was mended by the Queen of the Mountains.”
Dolly looked at me with huge tears in her eyes and we hugged.
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