We bought the new pillows, I got half a dozen, and dumped them in the boot of my car. Of course we bumped into Des, who was walking back from the BBC, so we had to have a coffee and a chat. This became a meal, or an invitation to one. I cried off because I felt the other two could enjoy themselves better without me. Des promised to have Stella back before midnight, and I went home to see Spike.
To cut a long story short, he brought Stella back three days later, with a very silly look on her face. I looked at my watch and said, “What time do you call this?”
She smirked at me and said, “We’re engaged.”
“Congratulations, who’s the lucky man?”
“He is, silly,” she pointed at Des.
“Congratulations,” I said to him. Then I gave each of them a hug. “This calls for a celebration, do Simon and your dad know?”
“Not yet, I thought I’d tell my sister first.” Stella blushed.
“Well, I am honoured. I also have some good news, I found dormice in both the Forest of Dean and up at Hartpury, too.”
“Oh that’s brill, you clever girl.” He grabbed me and danced around the room much to Stella’s discomfort. “If I offered to marry you as well, wouldn’t that be big o’ me.”
“No it wouldn’t,” huffed Stella, “it would belittle me.”
“Go on, I’ll tell them I’m a Mormon Muslim and have to be polygamous, or they’ll chuck me out of the Salt Lake-Baghdad boy scouts.”
“You’re a what?”
“No that’s you, Cathy, I’m a Lane.”
“Yes a very twisted one.” Stella quipped.
“Ouch, she’s gonna be divorcing me before we’re even married.”
“Why waste time on the fine details. So where’s the ring then?”
“Here,” Stella held out her hand and displayed a rather nice diamond and emerald cluster.”
“Gosh, it’s amazing what they sell in the pound shop these days,” I said trying to keep a straight face.
“Hush, you’ve spoiled it now,” said Des, pretending to be betrayed.
“At least I didn’t find mine in a Christmas cracker, like someone I know.” Stella humphed, and went out to the kitchen.
“Put the kettle on Stella,” I called to her.
“Can’t, it won’t fit.”
“I hope you realise what you’ve done?” I laughed at Des.
“I think so, I’ve known her a long time. However, it ain’t fair, you marry her brother and become a lady, I marry Stella and she becomes plain old Mrs Lane.”
“Well, if you go through what I did, you can marry Simon, instead.”
“Just for a title, you’re joking.”
“You get to sleep with him as well,” I smiled.
“I’ve slept with him before, remember we were in the same dorm. Snores like a deranged lawnmower, no thanks. Besides, come the revolution, I won’t get a free ride in a tumbrel.”
“I’ll try not to lose my head if I do.”
“Oh goodness, Cathy, can’t you do better than that?”
“It was as good as your bigamy joke.”
“See you just don’t appreciate good puns.”
“I don’t? Hark who’s talking—you wouldn’t know a good pun if it hit you on the funny bone.”
“Cathy Watts, you are a fibber.”
“Keep your voice down, you’ll wake my dormouse.”
“Who wants tea?” called a voice from the kitchen.
Des and I went into the kitchen to collect our mugs, instead of finding more comfortable seats, we sat at the kitchen table and chatted about any and everything.
“Do you think the university would allow me to film in their woods?”
“Do you think my Dad would go for a double wedding?”
“I wonder how Tom is, when are you going to tell him? What about Simon and Henry?”
“How secure is the Forest of Dean? Could I film there without drawing attention to the dormice?”
“What colour are you wearing, Cathy, I wonder if it would clash with my bridesmaids?”
“I’m arriving on a bike, and we’re leaving on a tandem,” I joked.
“Can we concentrate on one thing? Stella, we’ve only just got engaged, so can we discuss the wedding in a few decades time? Cathy, you’ll still be messing Simon around, so can we discuss your wedding plans after the next millennium ? Which leaves the only other item on the agenda, the dormouse film, we seriously need to get some of that done and soon.”
“I know Des, but I’ve got the summer school next week, and it will depend upon the weather after that.”
“Have you done the survey for Bristol Uni?”
“I’ve had a cursory look at the two sites and found evidence of dormice, from nuts and acorns. If they want me to give evidence of the population, that’s a much bigger commitment in time and will require some help.”
“Me please, teacher, meeee!” he said holding up his hand.
“I was thinking of using an undergrad or three, and do similar to what I ran at Portsmouth.”
“I think they were crazy to sack you,” Des looked a little angry.
“They didn’t, I resigned.”
“Yeah, only because they leant on you,” he still sounded angry.
“No, it was because I assaulted Tom in front of a whole room full of professors. I lost it, and regret it.”
“I don’t understand what happened there, especially to your captive breeding programme.”
“Nor me, the explanations I’ve heard so far were less than satisfactory. Almost as if they didn’t expect me to come back, or something.”
“Tom was very worried about you for a couple of weeks. We really thought you might not make it.” Stella sounded sad as she recalled my hospitalisation.
“I think if I had known what they had done to my programme, I wouldn’t have bothered to pull through.”
“Really? What about me an’ Simon?” Stella looked shocked.
“As far as I can recall from those dark days in ICU, it would only have taken the tiniest piece of bad news to make me say, “Oh sod it, I’m off!”
“I’m glad you didn’t, Sis.” Stella put her hand on my arm.
“Yeah, I think I’m probably in agreement.”
“Well, I’m more than probably, I’m in total agreement.” Des beamed at both of us, “What could be better than having the two most beautiful women in Bristol as wife and sister in law?”
“Having the two most beautiful and wealthiest?” suggested Stella.
“Healthiest?” I proffered.
“Nah, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. I’m quite happy with it.”
“So how about telling Simon and Tom?” I asked.
“Okay, I’ll go and call Simon and then tell Tom when I get home tonight.”
“How come he didn’t phone here when you were late back?”
“Oh, I told him we were going off for a couple or three days.”
“What, you and me?” I asked and she nodded. “That’s a lie, Stella.”
“I know, and I’ll tell him the truth tonight.”
“What about, Henry?”
“Have you met my dad, Des?”
“Yeah, once or twice. He won’t approve of me.”
“I thought that, about myself, I mean,” I reassured him, “Henry was super and still is, not that I see him very often.”
“He’ll have to like you, I’ll insist upon it.” Stella spoke firmly and I wouldn’t have enjoyed being between the two of them when she did tell him, the cross fire would be withering.
“I’m sure he’ll be delighted.” I lied.
“What about a double wedding?” Stella asked.
“I don’t know Stella, I’d need to speak with Simon, and there’d be a lot of other things to take into account.”
“You don’t like the idea, do you?”
“I’ve barely had time to get used to it, Stella. Besides you might want to get married first, I’m in no hurry.”
“Oh, does Simon realise this?”
“Yes, I told him from the beginning.”
“See,” said Des, “I told you after the next millennium.”
“There’s no need for me to hurry, it’s not as if there’d be a great hurry for children, is there?” As soon as I said it, I realised I’d hurt her, but it was unintentional.
She began to sniff and then she sobbed. She got up from the table and left the room. Des went to go after her, but I pushed him back in his seat, “I’ll go.” I followed her into the lounge. “I’m sorry, Sis, I didn’t mean to bring up all that again.”
We hugged, “It’s not your fault, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have any either after killing the first one. I hardly deserve any, do I?”
“Stella, please don’t think like that, you made what you considered was the best decision at the time. We often see things differently on reflection. When the pressure is off, but we can’t change the past. I can never deny I was once a male, legally if not emotionally. You can’t deny you lost a baby, but see it as that, a loss, which today might have been different.”
“Yeah, I gave it up for my job, then lose that as well. Great—what a runaway success that was.”
“There will be other jobs, hopefully other children and all the future to look forward to. Try to see it positively and not with regrets about the past.”
“It’s alright for you, you didn’t do it, did you?”
“No, but I could have done in your position. Learn from your mistake and move on, make any future children you have, the happiest kids in the world.”
“I still killed the first one.”
“Yes, if you see it that way, so you owe it to that first baby, to make any siblings it would have had, as happy and healthy as you can make them.”
“What if I can’t have any, because of what I did? Would that be God’s judgement on me? Serve me right, I don’t deserve any?”
“Why don’t you wait and see what happens, you’ve only just become engaged, I don’t think I want to see Henry walking down the aisle with a large bore shotgun.”
“You fool,” she said and laughed. “Should I tell Des?”
“That’s between you two.”
“Yeah, but what do you think?”
“I just told you.”
“Oh, alright. What shall we tell him about this?”
“Leave that to me. Give me two minutes, then come back, okay?” She nodded at me we hugged again. I went back to the kitchen.
“Is she okay?” Des looked quite worried.
“Yes, she’s fine. It’s old stuff which she might tell you about one day, but please let it go for now.”
“There’s nothing I should know?”
“Not as far as I know—oh about this, no, we have some history which was upsetting to both of us. I accidentally stirred it up just now, she’ll be alright, honestly.”
“Okay, thanks for calming her down.”
“That is part of our functions, Stella and me—we pour oil on each other’s troubled waters.”
“You two have really gelled, haven’t you, like real sisters?”
“Better than that, we’re friends as well, good friends. I owe her a lot.”
“I owe you my life,” said Stella as she came back into the room.
“Well, we’re quits on that score,” I was able to reply.
“No we’re not, Cathy, not by a long chalk. Des, you ought to know a few things about me. I had an abortion and I bled badly a few days later. Cathy, saved my life. I tried to kill myself, Cathy found me and saved my life. I want you to know what you’re taking on, and if it’s too much, you can walk away now without any embarrassment, we’ve told no one but Cathy.”
“Wow! Erm, I don’t know what to say.”
“If you want to go and think about it for a while, just say. If you want to keep the ring until you’ve decided, that’s okay.” Stella was being very brave and I wanted to hug her.
“Erm, I still don’t know what to say, except, I appreciate your honesty. I need to get some air. I’ll call.” He left and as we heard the door shut, she collapsed in my arms.
“I’ve lost him, haven’t I? I should have listened to you. I’m sorry Cathy, I always mess things up, you should have let me die.” She sobbed as I held her.
“You did the right thing as always, Stella. Now we see if his love for you is as strong as he says it is.”
“Why didn’t you let me die?”
“Because you have lots of living to do, and I need you. I haven’t had a sister for very long, I don’t intend to lose her without a fight. I love you, Sister, I need you.”
“I love you too, and it looks like I need you even more than you do me?”
“Come on, let’s have a fresh cuppa.” I led her back into the kitchen and wondered how long it would take Des to make his decision and what would happen after it?
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