Copyright© 2013 by Tedbiker
During the ride back to Emily and Frank's house, Dennis sat in the back with Dulcie. It was a strange experience. There was no doubt in his mind that she was an attractive woman, both physically and personally, but even leaving aside their recent bereavements, there was a ... distance ... about her. Not that she seemed superior exactly; there was no affectation, no... 'side' about her. What was it?
She chatted quite easily, making comments about places they passed, occasionally going silent, when Dennis saw a shadow pass over her face. Lunch was fine ... Emily being an excellent cook ... but eventually Dennis found himself sitting, coffee in hand, across the lounge from Dulcie. Without a single idea in his head as to what to say, he sat in silence, frowning, while Dulcie just sat quietly, patiently, a sad smile on her face.
Before he got really uncomfortable, he said, "I don't know what to say, how to start. I feel like an idiot..."
"You aren't an idiot, Dennis. You felt you wanted ... or needed ... to speak to me. I've learned that impulses like that are to be heeded."
"I know you're not going to hit on me, Dennis. We're neither of us ready for anything like that anyway. Though I'm sure being a fairly good-looking woman is part of what made you want to talk to me. Why don't you tell me about yourself?"
Dennis did so, and talked ... it seemed like a long time, but whenever he wondered if she was bored, he looked at her and she smiled, or nodded, or made sounds indicating he should continue. He wound down when he reached the present. "I suppose I feel guilty, Dulcie. Guilty I didn't try harder at the marriage, that I wasn't there at the moment she was killed – I might have prevented it. Guilty that I'm alive and she's dead, oh..."
"I felt guilt, too, Dennis. It's part of being human, of caring about other people. I loved Peter so much..." she paused for a moment before continuing, "when Sara, Peter's first wife, died, he went into himself, sort of catatonic. I hated that Sara died, she was such a lovely person and she and Peter were so obviously meant for each other, but a little bit of me was glad I had him to myself. When he got better ... Let's see if you understand. Peter started to come out of his ... withdrawal. One night, I heard him sobbing in his bed. I went in my pyjamas and took his wife's place, held him, comforted him, then before he woke, left him there. That morning was the first time since Sara's death that he spoke. It took months after that during which we were like brother and sister, I suppose, though I still loved him. I still felt guilty I was there with him instead of Sara. He took me out for my birthday ... and proposed ... I said yes, of course, and I was happy, but I never lost that bit of guilt. Until now. Because I believe Sara and Peter are together again and, you know, I think one day I'll be with them too. But it's hard being alone."
They were silent together, before Dulcie went on, "May I pray for you?"
"You know I'm not ... I don't know if..."
"You don't have to believe, Dennis; I can do that for both of us."
At his nod, she rose smoothly from her chair and walked over to him. He wasn't quite so shocked that time when the words she spoke were in a language he didn't understand, but he was aware of a sensation of heat that started where her hands were hovering over his head and spread throughout his body. A hard, dark, cold lump in his middle that he hadn't been aware of before shrank, or melted, at the onslaught until all he could sense was warmth. The guilt was still there in his mind; perhaps it always would be ... but he began to believe he would be able to deal with it. "Thank you," he said, looking up into her eyes. They were large, and brown, and warmly expressive. 'I want to know this woman, ' he thought, and opened his mouth to ask if he could see her some more. Before he actually spoke, though, he shut it again. 'She's just lost the husband she loved... '
"Are you returning to London this evening?" Her voice broke into his thoughts.
He shrugged, "My boss is very understanding. I was going to stay a day or so, maybe visit some of the industrial museums, that sort of thing."
"Don't get the wrong idea, Dennis ... but if you'd like some company, I haven't been to any of the Sheffield museums since I was at school. For the first time in years, I have time."
"The wrong idea?"
"I'm not looking for a replacement for Peter – maybe ever. But some sympathetic company might be nice."
He looked at her. 'She's lonely! How can I refuse?' Do I want to refuse? Don't be daft. Of course I don't want to refuse, but... '. "Okay, Dulcie; that sounds as though it might be good."
Before Frank took Dulcie back to Ted and Rose-Marie's, they agreed he would pick her up in the morning after he'd called work to let them know he was taking a couple of weeks off.
She clearly had not expected the car he led her to, his four-year-old Jaguar XK8 (The Audi having been Cathy's), and he caught her expression; probably had expected it. He opened the door for her and she slid in. 'Oh, my ... it's like slipping on a pair of soft leather gloves... '. "Not what I expected," she smiled at him, "I shouldn't stereotype."
"I never drive for work," he commented, "taxi, Tube or DLR day to day. When I do drive, I like to have fun and this car is sex on wheels..." He went bright red and groaned. "Sorry!"
Dulcie laughed ... for the first time since Peter died. "I'm not a prude, Dennis. It may not be practical, it may be conspicuous, but I'd have to agree it's a beautiful car. So drive us."
They visited Kelham Island and marvelled at the great Don Valley Engine, which once powered the rolling mill that produced armour plate for battleships and the 'Little Mesters' making Sheffield's traditional steel products by hand. They visited Abbeydale Hamlet, where once crucible steel was produced. A few words (and a substantial donation) had the water-wheel running. Another day had them walking through Padley Gorge, finding the traces of millstone production, but also enjoying the woods and the bird life.
But wherever they went, they talked, stopped for coffee or tea, had a light meal, and learned a surprising amount about each other. Dulcie found that, apart from the first meeting, she wasn't relating to him in her accustomed 'ministerial' role. Dennis, in his turn, enjoyed her company and was surprised that he wasn't tempted to try to push the relationship beyond friendship. And it was a friendship, for both parties.
Of course, both found time to do things with their hosts. Dulcie, in particular, could not completely avoid the invitations to small group meetings associated with church, especially those with people who had taken her into their hearts during her time there, but the time passed rapidly. When the last weekend was upon them, Dennis offered Dulcie a lift south and she didn't hesitate to accept. In his turn, he accepted the offer of a bed for Friday and Saturday night.
It was very comfortable. 'Sinfully comfortable' Dulcie thought, but she was smiling; she didn't really think it was essentially wrong to be comfortable. She'd never experienced true luxury, at first because of her situation, and later because she had too much else to think about and do, so she had no time to worry about extraneous matters. But the car purred smoothly along, mostly in the centre lane, matching the speed of the rest of the traffic, overtaking only the slower trucks. Less than four hours including a break for a snack.
Emma welcomed Dulcie with a smile, but her eyes widened when she saw Dennis. Dulcie introduced him to the girls then asked Emma to show him to the office and make up the bed.
"It has to double as a bedroom," Dulcie told him, "when we have a houseful, like now."
"I'm sure I'll be quite comfortable," he smiled.
"Who is he?" Liina's voice betrayed her suspicion of the man when he was out of sight.
"I met him at St. Jude's, Liina. His wife was killed a few days after Peter and he needed someone to talk to. He's not a Christian, but I think he's beginning to take the idea seriously. Anyway, he's here for the weekend and he'll be off back to London Sunday evening."
Liina said nothing more.
With a fitted bottom sheet and a duvet, it didn't take long to sort the bed out. When they were about to leave the room, Emma laid her hand on his arm. "We're very fond of Dulcie," she said warningly.
"I understand," he said. "She's a very special lady, isn't she? We're neither of us ready for more than friendship, but I hope we are friends." He looked at her, seeing a young woman in her early twenties; glossy, shoulder-length, brown hair, oval face, blue eyes, 'generous' mouth, medium height. In turn, she saw a thirtyish man, six foot or so, slightly overweight and pale from a sedentary job. Clean shaven, but with the beginnings of bristles at the end of the day. Well dressed, prosperous. The distrust of men that was the legacy of her past was muted for some reason.
"Do you work?" he asked.
"I study, distance learning," she told him, "and help out here and at church. Why don't we go to the kitchen?"
He followed her out of the room. "What are you studying?"
"Business finance and accountancy."
She looked at him and decided he wasn't patronising her. "I found I loved figures and tracking errors. I might specialise in forensic accountancy, I think."
"Well, if you need a placement or intern-ship, Dulcie will know how to contact me. I'm certain we can find a place for you in the company I work for."
They were sitting round the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate, ('Haven't had hot chocolate at night for years!' Dennis commented) when Lydia and Harry came in.
Dulcie stood and went to embrace Lydia. "Everything alright?"
"We've been with Edith Spurgeon. She had a stroke earlier. It's pretty bad, but she's conscious. She ... was asking for you and ... Delia?"
Dulcie nodded. "Delia Westwood. Edith might like to see Edna, too. They were friends once." She turned to Dennis. "I was going to offer you a tour of the town in the morning, but I think I need to visit one of my people in hospital." Then returning her attention to Harry, "Let me introduce Dennis Perkins. He was visiting a couple from St. Jude's and I met him there. He was kind enough to give me a lift back."
Emma was astonished to hear herself saying, "I haven't anything on in the morning. I could do the 'guide' bit if that suits."
Dulcie was taken aback, but managed to hide it, mostly. "That'd be helpful, Emma, if Dennis doesn't mind ... oh dear, that's not very diplomatic, Emma, is it?"
Emma and Dennis looked at each other and smiled, then chuckled. "Do you mind putting up with me, Dennis?"
He bowed slightly, "It wouldn't be putting up with you. I shall be very glad of your company tomorrow."
"Thank you." Emma inclined her head in response. "I think I'm ready for bed, then." She smiled at the others and left the room, followed by Liina.
"I'll say good night," Dennis said, "and see you all in the morning."
Harry waited until Dennis had disappeared into the study/bedroom before asking, "So, Dulcie, how are you doing?"
She took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "I think, Harry, I'm about as alright as I can be just now. In fact, I think I'm ready to go back to work."
Harry nodded in acknowledgement. "I'm glad to hear it. Lydia and I were thinking we might stay a little while anyway. Perhaps see if we can take one of those cruises. All the time we've spent here, we've never been on board one of those barges."
"You deserve a bit of a treat, both of you. I can't tell you how much I've appreciated your support ... and not just this time, either."
Neither of the older couple said any more, but Lydia gave Dulcie one of her special hugs.
When Dulcie got to her room, Liina was there. "May I sleep with you tonight?" the teenager asked.
"Of course; I'd like your company," Dulcie said, heading for the en-suite.
Liina followed and watched Dulcie cleaning her teeth. "Why'd you bring him home with you?"
"He brought me, Liina. But what you're really asking ... he needs a friend and I'm always happy to make new friends."
A little later, they were cuddling together drowsily. "I miss him, Dulcie. I know it was only a few months, but I do. How do you..."
"He belonged to someone else before me. Someone very special, and he's gone to be with her ... and Jesus. I miss him, too ... more than I can say, but I have so many friends to help. I've got you and Emma, Lydia and Harry ... lots of people. Death is a part of life. I'll always have part of him in my heart, and I'll get used to him not being around..."
"It's not fair..."
"Life often seems unfair, Liina. What happened to you was very unfair ... but hopefully we can make the rest of your life better."
"Mmm. You do..."
They were silent then and shortly after, Dulcie realised the girl was asleep in her arms. Dulcie closed her own eyes and talked to her God until she, too, slept.
When Dulcie woke, she slipped out of bed, leaving Liina still asleep. She found Lydia in the kitchen, sitting with her morning coffee and fruit juice.
"Good morning, dear. Coffee?"
"I'm feeling a bit off colour this morning. I think I'll have some redbush and toast." She busied herself at the counter.
Lydia watched as Dulcie nibbled unenthusiastically at a slice of toast. "Is it just this morning, Dulcie ... or have you been feeling nauseated for a while?"
Dulcie shrugged. "I haven't felt right since Peter died, of course. It'll pass."
"Dulcie ... when was your last period?"
Dulcie's jaw dropped and she stared at Lydia. She thought. "Oh. My. Lord."
"It could just be stress, Dulcie ... but I'll pick up a test this morning while you're at the hospital."
"I forgot the jab, Lydia..."
"That would do it."
The shock in Dulcie's expression was slowly replaced ... by hope, then fear. "If ... oh, Lydia!" She went back to her toast with a little more enthusiasm. "Would you mind? I mean, getting the test kit? Though I'm not sure I want to wait until I get back from the hospital..."
"Of course I will, dear."
Dennis appeared, his hair wet from showering. "Good morning, Dulcie ... er ... Lydia?"
"Good morning," two voices responded, not quite in unison.
"Breakfast?" Lydia enquired. "There's cereal, bread or toast or muffins ... eggs ... no bacon this morning, I'm afraid."
"Oh, I don't much bother with breakfast usually. Toast is fine ... coffee."
"I'll start another pot. Granary bread okay?"
"That's fine, thanks."
Liina appeared. Still in pyjamas and slippers, she slipped onto Dulcie's lap and rested her head on her shoulder. Dulcie held her and kissed her hair.