TITLE: Abigail Comes 'Home'
By Kathleen Langridge
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Abigail made her way to the ferry’s railing. She had to see them; it meant she was truly going to England. The White Cliffs of Dover, and there they were sparkling in the fresh May sunshine. She pulled her scarf forward so no one would see her tears of joy. How could she explain to her new colleagues, whom she’d only known for a little over a week, the deep emotional attachment she felt for a land she had never seen?
She wasn’t sure she understood why she had always loved all things English, growing up as she did and living most of her 50+ years in the Northwest of the United States. She had even dabbled a bit into her family history to see if there was some connection and what she found didn’t explain things satisfactorily. There were family connections with England but so far back as not to have any reasonable influence on her life, right?
Abigail’s deep emotional feelings did not lessen as she stepped off the coach and onto English ground or rather the pavement headed towards Passport Control. She and the coach full of people she had travelled with from the conference in Germany still faced a few hours of the journey to Worcestershire but at least she was really here in England. They were due to travel first to London to drop off a few passengers who were headed for the London office of the training company who had hired her and then up the motorway to Worcestershire. Moving easily through Passport Control, Abigail, the other foreigners and their British friends settled back on the coach for the next part of their journey.
Abigail’s new friend Janet, who was originally from Scotland, slipped into her seat beside Abigail as the coach pulled out of the ferry parking lot. “So, how do you feel being in England? Ach I know you haven’t seen much yet but have ya a feeeel for the place?” Janet queried Abigail. She smiled at Janet, sometimes she was certain Janet put on her charming Scottish accent a bit thick for effect but she loved hearing it thick or not.
“It’s funny you should ask, Janet. I have some sort of emotional connection to this place, I really can’t explain it. As I told you I have always loved all things English since I was a ‘wee geril’ to use your phrase.
“Well, maybe you’ll fall in love and marry an Englishman and all will come right. Stranger things have happened,” Janet smiled at Abigail.
“I heard you were a romantic and a hardworking matchmaker Janet McDonald, but you can just put my file through the office shredder and slam the file drawer shut. I did not come here looking for a husband. You’d be wasting your time with me, trying to match me up with anyone.” Abigail was sorry her tone had been so firm as she saw the look of dismay cross Janet’s face. She quickly said, “Tell me more about your husband and family. I love family stories.”
They chatted happily, the momentary disappointment Janet had shown seemed quickly forgotten continuing their conversation right into Worcestershire. Abigail was glad for the diversion. She had been anxious about her accommodation since she was told she would be staying at the Training Centre itself.
The Training Centre was certainly nothing to look at and as she stood in the driveway she grasped why there had been no pictures of the outside of the building. To use a phrase some British character in a book once said, “Pig ugly.” She was ever so glad she didn’t use the phrase ‘homely’ to her new British friends as it was one of the first differences between American and British English she discovered. Homely in the British sense means a place of comfort and warmth, unlike the American word meaning ugly. She hoped better things awaited her inside.
As Abigail walked through the inner doors of her new ‘home’ her heart sank. Though many of the staff gathered to welcome the newcomers, she couldn’t help looking at the surrounding walls and furniture. The décor was utilitarian at best. Other words like ‘worn, shabby, and depressing’ came to mind. A smiling woman approached saying, “Hi, I am Bee your roommate. I’ll show you to our room.”
Summoning up all her strength Abigail smiled and said, “Great.” Feeling anything but great she followed Bee across a large common room and down a narrow ‘Pepto Bismal pink’ hallway. A small narrow room fitted with two twin beds, two wardrobes and two desks awaited Abigail’s further sinking heart. At least the beds were at opposite ends of the room she noted thankfully.
“I leave you to get settled in and then come join us in the lounge for a snack.” Bee said smiling knowingly. Bee’s heart went out to this older woman. I know just how she feels, tired and disappointed. She looks like someone who wants to accept what she sees yet is not used to such a minimalist lifestyle nor sharing sleeping accommodation. Hopefully she will feel better after some food and rest. Bee went quietly out and shut the door.
Abigail sank down on her assigned bed and resisted the urge to let the tears fall that had been gathering since she had arrived. Quietly she prayed, “Lord give me strength and a thankful heart.” She stood up took off her coat and hung it in the wardrobe. Hopefully, she walked over to the window near her bed and looked out. No views of a lovely village green met her eyes instead more one-story buildings and a few bare trees in the distance. OK Abigail, enough of this pity party. Start to practice thankfulness, she told herself sternly. She opened her suitcase unpacking her clothes and a few personal items. When she finished she looked at the lacy heart pillow on her bed, the cuddly bear sitting happily in front of the heart pillow and the colourful rag rug on the floor by the bed. At last, some colour in this room. Now off to meet and greet. Knowing she was energized through time spent being with other people she hoped today would be no exception.
Her new friend, Janet saw her walk in and came quickly over to her, “Come and meet some of the volunteers who work with us. They want to welcome you, and maybe even invite you out for a meal or take you to see the sights.” Janet had seen the disappointment on Abigail’s face as they came into the building. She wanted to cheer her up before she found her way to the airport and on a plane back to the Pacific Northwest.
“Thanks Janet that would be nice. I would love meeting volunteers, especially British ones,” Abigail smiled as she spoke. She spent the next hour or so in enjoyable conversation with Anne and Nigel who lived in the city of Worcester. Both were widowed but as Abigail learned later from Janet they were just friends from the same church but not an ‘item.’
Life settled into pleasant patterns with her work and social life. She discovered the beautiful city of Worcester that was close by the Training Centre. Her friendships with Anne, Janet and even Nigel deepened over the days, weeks and then months. Often she, Anne and Nigel would go to National Trust properties in the surrounding countryside. They spent enjoyable hours having cream teas in lovely café’s and occasionally stopping at charming country pubs for a meal.
One day, late in summer, Janet knocked on her office door and entered beaming from ear to ear. “I have some wonderful news for you, Abigail. I found a nice wee cottage just outside Worcester, we can go and look at it right away, if you would like.” Janet was so pleased with herself for finding this potential answer to Abigail’s need for proper housing. She only hoped Abigail felt the same.
As they pulled into the driveway half an hour later, Abigail’s heart soared. She couldn’t believe her eyes it was the cottage she had literally dreamed about before she came to England. Green shutters at the windows, matching green door, rose trellis beside the small porch, deep borders of flowers all around the small garden, she cried out, “It’s perfect, absolutely perfect.” Inside the rapturous comments continued. It had been lovingly modernized yet retaining all its cottage charm. From the polished oak floors to the wood-burning stove fitted into the old fireplace to the charmingly appointed bedrooms up the widened oak stairs, it all felt like home to Abigail. “But can I afford it?” said Abigail tentatively.
“Yes, you can with your salary and the housing allowance you will get it can be yours. The great thing is you already know your landlord,” smiled Janet. Hoping she’d done the right thing in agreeing with Nigel to show the cottage to Abigail. She knew from the hints he had dropped that he cared for Abigail and probably with more than just friendship. If only Abigail would warm toward him things might really move along, thought the committed matchmaker.
“Who is the landlord?” asked Abigail, remembering Nigel had once remarked that he had a rental cottage but that it was occupied. They had been on one of their rambles with Anne when Abigail had shared, she wanted desperately to get her own place even though she now had a room for her own at the Training Centre. Against her own better judgement she often found herself thinking about Nigel, his kindness, good looks, generosity and sensitivity all wrapped up in a very manly package.
Janet replied carefully, “Why it’s your friend, Nigel. He said he told you about the cottage and wanted to offer it to you first before he advertised it again.”
“No wonder it is so perfect, he has such a lovely sense of just how a room should look and feel. “ At that moment sounds of a car pulling into the driveway sent them both to the front windows as Nigel got out of his green, classically restored, Austin sports car. To Janet’s surprise, Abigail turned quickly toward the front door opening it and smiling warmly at Nigel as he entered.
“So ladies, do I have a new tenant for my cottage?” said Nigel smiling as he looked only at Abigail, his blue eyes sparkling with hope.
Abigail returned his smile resisting the urge to turn away from what she read in his face, “Yes, kind sir, you have a new tenant. Just as soon as I can arrange to beg, borrow or steal a few pieces of furniture.”
“The best news I’ve had all week, maybe all month and I know a great shop where the price is perfect. I have a storage place filled with furniture, you can have anything you like and it will be cheerfully delivered all free of cost. The former tenants accidentally ruined the couch and matching chair I had in here so new ones must be purchased and as the new tenant you will get to choose whatever you want, within reason,” he added with a wry grin.
A few weeks later Abigail was checking on the dinner she was cooking looking forward to celebrating her new home with friends. She had invited Nigel, of course, along with Janet and Anne. Janet had rung that afternoon to say, sorry, she couldn’t make it her husband needed some kind of help. That left just the ‘three musketeers’ as they had dubbed themselves. For some reason she couldn’t explain Abigail had really taken care over this meal, she wanted it to be just right. She had never had the opportunity to cook for her British friends or even entertain them before, not having her own home. Just then she heard Nigel’s car on the drive. She checked her hair and makeup in the mirror near the door, placed there for just that reason. She had never considered herself a ‘beauty’ but others had said she was ‘attractive’. Her auburn hair cut to encourage her natural curls lay softly framing her face; green eyes sparkled beneath less that perfect brows with laugh lines becoming more obvious each day; her upturned nose sat perkily above her full mouth and as she patted an errant curl in place she thought, ‘right, that’s as good as it gets.’ As the knocker sounded she waited just a tic and then opened the door smiling a warm welcome. “Hello Nigel and welcome to my new home.”
He came through the door bending to give Abigail a hug and a kiss on each cheek, while struggling to hold on to the large bouquet of flowers just managing not to drop the bottle of wine he held in his other hand. He then offered them both to her saying, “For the hostess with the ‘mostess’, as I believe you Americans say.”
“Thank you the flowers are achingly beautiful and I am certain the wine will be perfect. Let me take care of them while you make yourself comfortable.” Abigail hoped her voice felt more confident than she felt at that moment. How did Nigel know that her favourite flowers were cream roses and Stargazer lilies? Breathing in the rich layered aroma of the flowers she removed the cream coloured satin bow and gently unwrapped the clear cellophane. She made certain to tuck the bow away carefully in a cupboard somehow she thought, it worth saving as a memento. Realizing the wine was a Syrah; she uncorked it and poured it into a cut glass decanter putting it in a warm spot in the kitchen ready to serve with the dinner. Taking down one of her favourite crystal vases filling it with water, cutting the ends off the flower stems she arranged them lovingly and placed them prominently in the sitting room just as the phone rang. “Hello, Collins residence.” It was Anne calling to say her mother had fallen and she was at the hospital with her and couldn’t make it over for dinner, so sorry. Abigail expressed her concern and assured Anne she understood. “Another time, then. Poor Nigel is stuck with just me but hopefully he will survive.” Relaying Anne’s situation, Abigail wondered why she wasn’t more concerned at being alone for a whole evening with Nigel. ‘Poor’ Nigel, while hoping Anne’s mother wasn’t seriously hurt, couldn’t believe the perfect timing of the sad event.
Eighteen months later at Abigail and Nigel’s wedding reception, surrounded by cream roses and Stargazer lilies, Nigel’s brother and best man raised his glass in a toast “Welcome home Abigail with a special thanks to Anne’s mother and her timely sprained ankle.”
The 200 guests raised their glasses joyfully saying, “Welcome Home Abigail!”
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