Stepping Back – Rachel’s Powers of Persuasion

The voyage of discovery took longer than expected and by the time Mark and Rachel were about to leave the house, Sally had already been on the phone declaring that she was starving to death.

“Just one thing,” said Mark as they got into the car.  “How did you get the complaints dropped?”

“Me?” said Sally innocently.

“Yes, you.  Total honesty, remember?”

“When I went to get dressed there was a message from Tony on my phone.  He wanted to know why Sam was in the office looking smug.  I texted him about the complaint, and I may have reminded him about the clause in our contracts that threatens dire consequences if an employee is found to have brought the company into disrepute.  Whatever way you look at it, Sam and Adele both did that by breaking the law.  Sam’s latest piece openly acknowledged that he drove without insurance, and that Adele’s car had originally been taken without consent.  Although she changed her mind, she had to admit all the parking and congestion charges that hadn’t been paid. Tony spiked Sam’s piece as a consequence because it was a clear admission of guilt and did not reflect well on the company.  He was told to go away and write more objectively about the way the locals helped to rescue the car that his girlfriend had lent him.  That’s all.”

“All! You should have been a lawyer. No, that’s wrong.  You are what you are and you are brilliant. Thank you.”

He kissed Rachel very soundly before starting the car, and having to concentrate on the short ride to Lou’s house, where Sally was standing in the front door and rubbing her stomach in agony.

“Over-dramatic Sal.  Have you all decided what you want to eat?” said Mark, picking Sally up and whirling her around.

“Chinese!  We all want Chinese, don’t we Mum?”

“We do,” said Lou, hugging Rachel and whispering in her ear, “Jenny and I have been making up excuses for you two.  I have no intention of asking what took you so long.”

Jenny had already identified the required dishes for everyone bar Mark and Rachel; once they’d added their choices to the list, Mark rang up and ordered the food. “Twenty minutes.  Whose coming with me? If you smile and ask nicely, I’ve heard that they add extra prawn crackers to the bag.”

“Me, me, me.” said Sally as she jumped up and down hanging on to Mark’s arm.

“And me too.” said Sarah.

“You can stay here Pluto.  We’ll make sure that there are enough prawn crackers for everyone.”

“Do dogs eat prawn crackers?” asked Sarah.

“Pluto does.”

Mark kissed Rachel and hugged Lou before being dragged out to the car by his nieces.

Lou looked suspiciously at Rachel. “In the kitchen.  There’s something worrying you and we need to sort it.”

Rachel followed meekly and sat down on her favourite kitchen stool. Lou knew her too well. “Thing is Lou, I was on the pill all the time that Sam and I were together. He wanted children even less than he wanted commitment. I just went along with it.  One of my final acts of rebellion when he left was to throw the pills in the bin.  I haven’t bothered to do anything about it since and well…”

“You and my big brother have been at it like a pair of rabbits.  Sorry to be so crude, but the two of you can barely keep your hands off each other.”

Blushing, Rachel nodded but had to admit the truth of Lou’s assertion. “Neither of us felt this way before.  One thing we are agreed on, is that sex with our previous partners was just that and nothing more. Making love with Mark is incredible, and wonderful, and you are right, we cannot keep our hands off each other.”

“And now you are worried that all this bonking is going to result in a baby?  Have you talked to Mark about this?”

“Not yet. It only really occurred to me just then, watching him with Sally and Sarah. I don’t even know if I can have children.  I’m getting on a bit, and they say that being on the pill for a long time reduces your fertility. He may not even want children.”

“Rubbish.  One thing I remember Mark saying in the days after Sorrel left, was that he would have loved to have children, but that she was incapable of caring for anyone but herself.  You on the other hand, are a brilliant auntie and would make a wonderful mother.  Talk to him tonight when you get home?”

“I will.  Things are looking up workwise for both of us.  All the complaints have been dropped so Mark can go back to work when his leave is over, and Tony has definitely got the book deal for me – and the paper.  We are going to talk about my working from home permanently.  Mark and I are going out to buy me a proper desk and office chair so that I can work more comfortably.  Oh, and paint. We both hate Mark’s dark brown wardrobes so we’re going to paint them in a more soothing colour.”

“You two certainly move fast when you get going.  Though I have to admit that there have been times over the past six months that I’ve wanted to give you both a good kick up the bum to get you going.”

“It was me that needed a kick, not Mark.  He’s known right from the moment we met, but he also knew that he had to give me the space to make my own decisions and not pressure me.  It’s another of the things that I love about him Lou.  It wasn’t until I came here, spent time with you and the girls, and then met Mark, that I realised how much of myself had been lost while I was living with Sam.”

“I know.  I also knew that that for as long as we’ve been friends, you’ve always had to make your own mind up.  I suppose that not having proper parents made you allow Sam to take charge.  Mark will never do that – unless he’s being a policeman of course.  Talking of which, here comes the cavalry with our dinner.  Don’t be upset if Sally and Sarah prevent you from sitting next to your intended.  They might take a while to get used to the situation.”

There was enough food for several banquets, and as Lou predicted, Mark was commandeered by two of his nieces. Jenny consented to come down and join the feast for a while, but found the whole engagement business a bit boring – or so she said.  Lou had a feeling that Jenny was just as torn between Mark and Rachel as her little sisters were. Food settled everyone down however, and gave Mark the opportunity to talk about the funeral arrangements.  “We need to know what you would like before we speak to the funeral directors, girls,” he said. “I know that your Dad went away, and that makes you feel sad, but he was a very popular man once.  Your Auntie Rachel and your Mum knew him best in those days, and so did most of the older people in the Village.  Whatever happened when things went wrong with him and he went away to Portugal, he loved your Mum once, and he has always loved you girls.  What we want to do is to give him a proper send off, a proper goodbye from all of us and from the Village.  What do you think?”

“Will we have a party?” asked Sally.

Lou raised her eyebrows. “It’s called a ‘wake’ darling.  It’s a kind of party, but once it’s over we can have a proper party to celebrate Auntie Rachel and Uncle Mark’s engagement.”

“Can we have new dresses for the funeral?”

“Of course.  Nothing black though.  Your Dad wouldn’t have wanted you dressed like little old ladies.”

“Can we have new dresses for the engagement party too?”

“Definitely.” Mark smiled at Rachel across the table.

“If you are going to get married as well, does that mean you’re going to have bridesmaids and a big white dress like a meringue?”

“Bridesmaids yes.”  Said Rachel. “White meringue no.  I’m relying on you and your Mum to help choose something that is more me than a big white dress.  Perhaps Ben’s friend will have some ideas?”

“That was something else I forgot to tell you Rachel.” said Mark.  “When we were talking about wedding rings, he also mentioned that he had some antique wedding dresses in the back of the shop, but he wouldn’t let me look at them because it was bad luck apparently. I picked something else up in the shop though.”

He handed her the blue velvet box he’d put in his jacket pocket.  Rachel opened it up; a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings that matched her ring, and shone in the lamplight.

“Oh Mark!” she said.  “I didn’t even see you buy these. They are beautiful!”

Lou admired the earrings and gave Rachel a hug.  “Bruv, you are full of surprises. We could spend hours browsing in that shop, Rachel, but between the tea room, cooking and feeding this lot, I don’t have much of a social life anymore, and nothing to dress up for.”

“That will change.  Trust me.” Rachel winked at Lou and mouthed ‘Doctor H?”

Lou blushed and threw a napkin at her before taking plates and cutlery out to the kitchen.

“You entertain these young ladies Mark, Lou and I will clear up.” said Rachel.  “There are still some prawn crackers left and Pluto has his eye on them.”

Stepping Back – Furniture Moving

The little pine dressing table should have been easy for two people to move from one end of the house to the other, but Pluto decided that it was a new game, and getting the way was his main aim.  Just as Mark and Rachel were beginning to feel slightly desperate, relief came in the form of Jenny, Sarah and Sally who had arrived to take Pluto out for a walk – and to find out about the exciting news. Rachel proudly showed off her engagement ring, and explained that they were getting takeaway for tonight’s dinner.

“Does that mean that you and Uncle Mark are getting married?” asked Sally.

“Of course, it does silly. Eventually anyway.” said Jenny.

“We need to arrange your Dad’s funeral first, and when that’s over and done with, we’ll have a big engagement party in the Village, and start planning the wedding.”

“Thank you, Uncle Mark,” said Sarah.  “I never really liked that Sorrel lady that you were married to. I think you’ll be much happier with Aunty Rachel.  You suit each other.”

“Hmm, babes and sucklings and Mrs K, eh?  Can you girls take Pluto home with you after his walk.  We have some furniture moving to do and he doesn’t like it much.”

“Why are you moving furniture?”

“Shut up Sarah.  What kind of takeaway are we having?”

“Whatever you like Jenny.  Have a chat with your Mum, and we’ll be down a bit later.”

“What’s wrong with the furniture?  I don’t understand.”

“I’ll explain on the way home.  Come on.”

Mark winked at Jenny, but wasn’t sure that he had overstepped his role as a sensible uncle just a little. Getting the dressing table into its preferred place was much easier without Pluto.  There was plenty of room but the pale pine made the huge built-in wardrobes look even darker.

“What colour should we paint them?” asked Mark as he sat on the bed and surveyed the bedroom with an ill-disguised dislike.  Rachel sat down next to him and leaned against his shoulder. “Not white or magnolia – too insipid.  How about a sort of pale peach? It would pick up the colours in the dressing table and lift the whole room.”

“Are you any good at painting?”

“I did the flat when I first moved in.  It was totally magnolia and white gloss.  I didn’t go for all this feature wallpaper stuff but I added a bit of colour here and there. It was quite liberating, actually being able to decorate my own space after years of boarding school, halls of residence, and rented houses.”

“You’re one up on me then.  The flat in Edinburgh was decorated by a friend of Sorrel’s.  Much in the way of garish wallpaper, clashing colours, and hideously expensive.  I always felt that a home should be a soothing place, not somewhere that you get migraines every time you look at the walls.”

Rachel lay back on the bed and smiled.  There was a great deal to look forward to. Mark leaned over and kissed her. “It’s only four o’clock. We’ve a couple of hours until we need to leave for Lou’s. So?”

“So, go and double lock the front door – just in case Mrs K decides to pay us an unexpected visit.”

Mark was out of the room like a shot and would have been back even quicker but his work phone rang as he was passing.  Rachel took the opportunity to take off and fold her dress carefully, before getting into bed.  She didn’t hover by the door this time, but Mark wasn’t gone long and when he returned, he was smiling broadly. “Did you squeeze in an opportunity to contact Tony this morning by any chance?”

Rachel shrugged. “I might have done. He likes me to check in every now and then. We had a quick text while I was getting changed into my new dress.”

“Did you tell him about the complaints?”

“I had to.  It was important that nothing happened to get you into more trouble.  What’s up?”

“Nothing.  All complaints against me have been dropped and my enforced leave has been cancelled.”

“Oh.” said Rachel looking rather disappointed, but happy that Tony had somehow managed to persuade Sam and Adele to see sense.

“I told my boss that I would like to take some leave anyway.  He was quite understanding when I explained that you and I had Pete’s funeral to organise, and that we’d just got engaged.  I am on leave for another two weeks which should be enough time to get the funeral out of the way, redecorate and buy some new furniture, shouldn’t it?”

“How much time have we got left today?”

“Plenty.” said Mark. “It was very dark last night, and I think that we were too occupied with taking that first step to get to know each even better.”

“Would that be the first time, the second or the third time?” asked Rachel.

“Three times? I intended to have a full voyage of exploration in the daylight this morning and kiss you all over, starting with your very beautiful toes, but Mrs K’s vacuum disrupted me.  Now I will be making a complete investigation, and ensuring that your pyracanthas scratches and wounds have well and truly healed.”

Rachel giggled. “Something Sam would never do. Far too demeaning.”

“Sod Sam.” said Mark, but this time he said it out loud.

Stepping Back – Mr Davenport-Hooper

By the time they arrived back at the Square, Mrs Kneller had well and truly spread the happy news and everyone they met wanted to admire Rachel’s engagement ring when giving their congratulations. Well, nearly everyone they met.  Edward Davenport-Hooper was sitting on the same bench that Lou’s daughters had occupied when his sons had started their attempted reign of terror.  He stood up when he saw Mark and Rachel walking across the Square. He looked stern, but a little sad. “Hello Mark. My wife has been arrested apparently; attempting to pervert the course of justice regarding her lies about the date of birth of my sons, speeding, dangerous driving, and aiding and abetting an attempted assault.  My boys have been sent back to school and put under a very strict curfew.  My daughter looks like something out of a freak show and won’t leave the house.  I have advised the police that any complaints made against you should be withdrawn.  We are getting a psychiatric assessment for my wife because she doesn’t appear to be in her right mind – if she ever was.  I don’t understand the situation, but I do feel that I need to apologise for the other members of my family.”

He held out his hand to Mark, who took it and shook it warmly. “I know that you have never been involved in this Sir.  Is there any way we can help?”

“Now that my daughter is staying home, she has started learning to cook and do a little housework.  Our housekeeper is giving her lessons, and as it’s estimated that it will take six months or more before the stuff in her face goes down, she has plenty of time to learn and practice.  I think that the boys are safe where they are for now, but my wife may need to go away somewhere for a rest cure. Thank you for asking Mark, and I believe congratulations are in order.”

“Thank you, Sir. Can I introduce you to Rachel; my fiancée.”

Mr D-H took Rachel’s hand and kissed it. He looked up and she was sure that she saw a hint of a smile on his face. “I’ve read some of your work; Damaris and my wife showed the articles to me.  I think that I was supposed to be cross but I couldn’t help chuckling.  Well done on catching those drug smugglers too, Mark.  I’d better be off. I need to sort out the shrink for Doris as soon as possible.”

With that, he doffed his hat and set off across the Square in an almost jaunty fashion.  Lou had come out of the tea shop to see what was going on and grabbed Rachel’s hand to examine the ring. “It’s lovely! So very YOU as well.  I know that I shouldn’t compare, Mark, but it’s far more beautiful than that chunky knuckle duster that Sorrel wore. I always worried that she’d take someone’s eye out with it.”

“Hmm.” said Rachel. “That would have been an arm, several legs and an eye, not to mention the compensation.”

Mark laughed and put his arms around her. “Rachel’s warped sense of humour is just one of the many things that I love about her. Can I treat us all to dinner tonight, Lou? I’d suggest going out but Pluto’s been home all day long and could do with some company.  How about a takeaway to give you a rest from cooking?”

“That would go down well in all areas; you won’t be able to have a celebratory drink if you’re going out to get food though Mark.”

“I’ll drop the food off and take the car back home.  Rachel and I should be safe walking back now that Damaris is off the road.”

“And her mother I hear?”

“That leaves Sam and Adele’s father as far as the complaints are concerned.  To be honest, I am quite glad to have some time off.  Rachel and I need to talk about the house and making a few changes.”

“Did Mrs K actually catch you at it?” said Lou, giggling.

“No, but it was a close thing, and I should have remembered that she comes in earlier on Mondays because of visiting the old people. I think we are forgiven though, and once she actually sees the ring; we will definitely have her blessing.  Ben’s friend says he has another friend who does wedding jewellery, nothing like Sorrel’s hideous lump, just plain gold with a simple pattern that can echo the theme of Rachel’s engagement ring.”

“So that’s what you two were talking about.” said Rachel, unable to avoid admiring the ring again. “It was all very mysterious Lou.”

“Where are you off to now?”

“Back home.” said Mark.  “I think we may need to rearrange some furniture, and look at how we can brighten the old place up a bit.”

Rachel frowned.  “I love it as it is. It’s quirky.”

“Nothing major.  You noticed that the wardrobes in my – our bedroom – are extremely dark and depressing.  I’ve always felt that a dab of paint would improve them but never got around to it.”

Rachel squinted, trying hard to remember the state of the wardrobes but all that had happened since she first saw them had made the memory fail. “I shall look at them with fresh eyes now.”

Just as they were about to get in the car and go home, Mrs Kneller appeared, and departure was delayed whilst she admired the ring and administered maternal hugs. “I called the police and got them to take my copy of the birth announcements from the Evening Echo of Daw’s twins.   That’s put that lie to bed anyway.  I hear she’s been arrested?”

“We spoke to her husband; he was very apologetic and thinks that his wife has flipped.”

“Oh, there’ll be a nice little holiday away for her then.  I took Pluto out in the garden before I left so he’s done his business.  Might need a bit of fussing though.”

“The girls will come up to take him out for a walk in about an hour – so be warned.” said Lou.  “I’ll let you break the news about your engagement and tonight’s takeaway though.”

Driving back home there were a couple of things that puzzled Rachel and needed sorting out. “Did Sorrel like the house?”

“Never saw it.  She was long gone when I bought it.  We lived in a very posh fully furnished rented apartment in the Marina complex when we moved down to help Lou.  Mrs K did for most of the residents and we kind of took a shine to each other from the start.  Sorrel didn’t. When she left, I was looking around for somewhere smaller and more homely that didn’t have any lingering memories, and Mrs K asked if I wanted to have a look at her next-door neighbour’s house.  The owner had passed away in a hospice and his family were looking for a quick sale.  I’d sold our flat in Edinburgh, so I had enough to be a cash buyer, and as soon as I set eyes on it, I knew that it was the bolt hole that I needed.  Something about those funny little porthole windows at the front, and the sail loft.  I bought new furniture.  You can rest assured that you are the only other person to share my bed.”

Rachel blushed but at the same time felt immensely relieved that Sorrel’s ghost would not be haunting them.  Once the London flat was sorted out and sold, Sam’s ghost could also be banished.  She just hoped that her plan to get him and Adele’s father to drop their complaints against Mark had worked.

Pluto was indeed overjoyed to see them, and wandered around in a happy tail-wagging fashion as Mark and Rachel surveyed the bedroom with new eyes.  The wardrobes were of a very old-fashioned dark mahogany, and there was distinct lack of a dressing table and drawer space.

“Could we move the dressing table in here Mark?  I think Mrs K is right about keeping my clothes where they are.  Your police stuff takes up a lot of room, doesn’t it?”

“Considering how rarely I wear it, but I have to be able to access some of it in a hurry.  There’s plenty of room for the dressing table, and I had a thought about your old room.”


“Writers need their space, don’t they?  If we’re rearranging furniture, how about buying a proper desk for you to work at, and a decent chair?  You’d have a lovely view of the garden and it would be an improvement on using the kitchen table – although if you want to use the kitchen table, I’ve no objection to that either. You need to write in a place where you feel comfortable and inspired.”

Pluto started dancing around the room and barking as Rachel sealed her answer with a kiss.

“You’ll need to get used to this mate.” said Mark.