Camellia shoved the car door open and swung her legs round onto the pavement. 'Safehaven' seemed to be leaning over her, ready to collapse out of a startlingly blue sky where puffs of high white cloud were streaming over its grey tiled roof five stories up.
She blinked, and felt dizzy, and raised her hand to shield out the glare. It had been a long drive. Her head hurt and her eyes did too. Robert hurried round to her side of the car and held the door steady.
“When you’re ready,” he said.
Now she was here, she didn't want to get out - just sit - and look. Just let her get her breath, she thought, then, when she'd looked enough, she'd ask Hugh if they could go home.
It was a flat-fronted, medium-grand house in the middle of a terrace which faced The Common. Black railings bordered an old fashioned 'area' and there was a fan shaped flight of steps leading up to a bright yellow front door.
"They like yellow," she observed as Hugh came round to stand next to Robert.
Indeed, they did. There were yellow painted window boxes with yellow daffodils. And the curtains which stood to attention on each side of every sash window were yellow too.
Hugh leant down encouragingly.
"Better than orange," he said.
She sighed and pulled herself up on the frame of the car. She'd have to get out after all.
"I hope they've gone!" she said, quietly, so Robert wouldn't hear.
Hugh understood. Neither of them would have liked to meet a designer who chose nothing but yellow. Despite the sheep and the cats and the dirt, Camellia considered they were people of 'good taste'. By this, she meant the same as the people they'd grown up amongst. People like the parents of the girls she'd been to school with. She shuddered. This was what arriving here reminded her of - being delivered at the beginning of term and left there until it ended.
Hugh read her mind.
"It's only a week," he whispered encouragingly, bringing his lips close to her ear so he could kiss it too.
Robert was levering suitcases out of the boot and lining them neatly along the railings at the foot of the steps. He saw Hugh lean towards Camellia. He saw Camellia clutch Hugh's arm. And he felt guilty.
"For their own good," he told himself - though he was no longer sure. "For the children," he said. And of that, he was certain.
"Look!" said Camellia. She couldn't stop whispering. Beside the front door was a painted notice. Very professional looking. Very smart. Black letters on a yellow background. Camellia winced.
CONVALESCENCE, REST, RESPITE CARE
SHORT AND LONG TERM RESIDENTS
MANAGER - MRS R. BENDICKS
“We must be ‘Short Term’,” she said.
"I hope not!"
Her heart jolted at the thought of being carried out, feet first.
“Mainly young people is it?" Hugh called out jauntily to Robert who was now stretching his back and wondering why the suitcases were so heavy. "Recovering from skiing accidents and that kind of thing? I think we may feel a little out of place here, old chap."
A strong looking woman, of medium height, walked onto the top of the steps. Her hair was a rigid perm and her house coat iridescent with nylon. Her smile was less bright.
“Ah,” said Robert with relief. “Here’s Mrs Bendicks.”
Camellia took one look at Mrs Bendicks and turned anxiously back to Hugh, expecting to see her own consternation mirrored in him. But something odd was happening. Squinting through the bright light, she could see admiring gleams of adoration flitting into his eyes and the twitch of a smile flickering about his lips. He looked younger. He appeared to be entranced and suddenly - surely not? - glad to be here?
“We are going to have the most wonderful time!” he said, speaking through his teeth and out of the corner of his mouth. Mrs Bendicks looked down at his distorted face with concern. At the same time, she seemed quietly pleased.
“Hugh?” said Camellia, still in an undertone. “Are you alright?”
“Just look at that overall!” he breathed rapturously. Violet and purple! Clematis flowers! How charming! And her shoes. She chose them specially to match the front door!
Then he turned to Robert, who was staring at Hugh with almost as much concern as Camellia.
"Robert!" he shouted joyfully! "We are going to have a wonderful time! Thank you so much!" And in an outburst of energy, he grabbed one of the bags from the pavement and bounded up the steps towards the stiff figure of Mrs Bendicks at the top. "Tell Rosemary," he called back. "She has chosen well. We're going to be very happy here!"
To continue - Thirty-Four
For the post before this - Thirty-Two