Harriet Golden propped her bicycle against the laurel hedge, removed her helmet, and brushed wisps of chestnut hair from her face. She paused for a moment to take in a generous inhalation of the crisp Welsh air. She was sure she could feel the oxygen flooding into her lungs and having their own little wellbeing party. She did a full turn and took in the picturesque scenery before her. It had barely changed in her twenty-year absence. How was it possible for a place to remain so unspoilt? There wasn’t a single high rise, supermarket, or factory insight. The school was recognisable by its huge bell and walled playground, and the church looked like a church, as opposed to the trend of coffee shop, or warehouse churches.
This was her new home, and what a beauty it was. Over there she saw rolling lush green hills, and over there she saw a dense forest, behind her were more hills, and in the far distance, she could see the horizon line over the sea.
“Morning Farmer Bruce,” she chirped.
Wow, he’s aged badly.
She took in his balding grey hair, huge gut, and bulbous nose. He frowned slightly, curiously taking in her suited appearance and nodded, but didn’t reply.
“You don’t recognise me?”
“No,” he grumbled and walked towards the shop, without asking who she was. Harriet let this slip, after all she was now a stranger to him, and perhaps the welly booted, pot-bellied man was suspicious of newcomers. He would soon get used to her, everyone would.
When Harriet entered the shop, a bell rang, announcing her arrival. The shop was filled with mahogany, from the counter to the rows of Welsh dressers which contained tins and packets of unknown brands, homemade jams and pickles, and baskets of probably homemade bread and pies. The only modern looking item was a fridge containing cans of soda and beer. It looked out of place. She picked up her wicker shopping basket and looked around for what she needed.
“Another tourist,” sneered Patsy, a broad shouldered, generously hipped, thick-ankled woman, as she inconspicuously once again pulled up her waistband.
“She’s probably on the way to that dreadful caravan site,” replied her friend Deirdre, whose proportions were slightly more feminine, however her chin had a few blond whiskers, which seemed to grow back thicker every time she shaved, so she gave up.
“Good morning,” said Mavis, the shopkeeper, as Harriet walked past them.
“Hello,” she smiled, and continued browsing.
“BTW, have you two heard, Harry Golden’s daughter has bought the old cottage. I never thought I’d see that family again.” Said Patsy. The shopkeeper put her finger to her mouth and urged her to be quiet, however she didn’t take notice and continued in a gossipy tone.
“I wonder if she’ll be reopening the ice cream shop?” Said Deirdre. “And it’s ‘by the way’ not ‘BTW’.”
“So many people, including my Denny, lost his job because of the relocation,” continued Patsy, ignoring her friend’s correction. She knew it was ‘by the way.’ But she also knew that unnecessary abbreviations irritated the retired schoolteacher. “If Denny hadn’t lost his job, he may never have been tempted by that hussy.”
“You can’t blame his infidelity on that, I offered him work several times, but he wasn’t interested in working for a woman,” said Mavis.
“Huh! Well a man must have some pride, and that dreadful Golden family stole it from him.”
“I agree,” replied Deirdre. “They were a selfish lot, only thought about money. Heathens.”
The shopkeeper coughed to interrupt their conversation, and they both frowned in unison, then looked in the direction of her eyes to see Harriet Golden pretending to ignore them.
“Harriet Golden,” mouthed Mavis. “How are you settling in, dear?” She called.
“Fine thank you,” she replied civilly, as she browsed the shelves.
“Is there anything you need in particular?”
“I’m sure I’ll find it.”
Patsy and Deirdre stared at each other and reading each other’s minds. “Rude.” One mumbled under breath and the other nodded.
“Where do you keep your washing powder?” Asked Harriet.
“Over there.” Mavis leaned her ample frame over the counter and pointed to the left.
“Thank you,” Harriet strolled over to the aisle, picking up bread and eggs on her way.
“She could help so many of us if she wanted,” whispered Patsy loudly.
“When someone’s that rich, they should help the more unfortunate. I would.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Harriet, putting her basket on the counter. She put her hand out for Patsy, Deirdre, and finally Mavis to shake. “Harriet Golden, Harry’s daughter.”
“You’re Harriet? We didn’t realise.” Said Patsy.
“We weren’t gossiping about you, we were just saying how wonderful it is that you’ve moved here.” Said Deirdre, leaning on Patsy’s shoulder.
“Will you be staying long?”
“That’s the plan.” She watched in amusement as Mavis used paper and pencil to calculate her shopping.
“I take it you’re not busy often?” She mused, handing over a twenty-pound note, and painstakingly waiting for Mavis to calculate her change.
“Thank you,” she replied, taking her money.
“Will your parents be moving back too?”
“No,” she replied bluntly and left.
“Talk about high and mighty.” Scoffed Patsy, planting her large, red-knuckled hand on her hip.
“If she wants to live around here, she’ll have to get off her high horse,” hissed Deirdre.
Harriet placed her paper shopping bag inside the basket and clipped her helmet on. Just as she precariously swung her leg over the seat; another cyclist stopped near her.
“Harriet Golden!” beamed the tall stranger, dismounting his black and silver bicycle, propped it against the hedge and stuck his hand out to shake. She awkwardly took his hand in hers. It was warm and strong, and he preceded to shake her hand with jubilant force.
“It’s so good to see you again, I was thrilled when I heard you had moved back home.”
“Thanks,” she replied, rescuing her hand and giving it a not so discrete rub. Perhaps that would encourage him to have more self-control. “Sorry, who are you?”
“Crikey,” he pulled his hand through his black hair. “You don’t remember me?” She wondered why he blushed. Did they have a romantic past she had callously forgotten? But considering she left when she was seven, she knew it wouldn’t be anything more than exchanged daisy chains or buttercups.
“Sorry, I don’t.”
“Liam,” he smiled. “We went to the same school together?” He said, hoping it would jog her memory.
“Sorry, I don’t remember you.” She prepared to cycle away.
“If there’s anything you need, anything at all, please let me know.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. Well, I’ve got important washing to do.”
“Okay, I guess I’ll see you around?” He called as she peddled off. “Be careful on the bends, a storm is brewing.” She briefly raised her eyes to the heavens and tutted.
Liam walked into the shop to be greeted by adulation from the three women.
“Pastor!” Cheered Patsy. “How lovely to see you.”
“You too, Patsy.” He picked up a basket. “I’ve just spoken to our new resident.”
“And?” they replied frostily.
“She seemed a little flustered, I’ll drop in on her later.”
“Maybe let her settle in first?” Said Mavis gently.
“She’s been here for almost a week, I’m sure she could do with a friendly face.”
“Well, we tried to give her a friendly face,” hissed Patsy, “but she practically ignored us and Mavis.” Mavis took the opportunity to check the stock as she clearly wasn’t included in the intimate ‘us.’
And Mavis? How thoughtful to be remembered.
“Give her a chance,” smiled Liam, picking up three large dirty potatoes and a bunch of carrots with their tops on. “Mavis?”
“Coming right over.” She got behind the till, turned to a fresh sheet of paper and began her scribbled calculations.
“When she’s settled in, I’ll invite her to church,” he said brightly as he read the blackboard behind the counter. “What’s the special today?”
“Glad you asked,” grinned Mavis, raising the cake to sight. “Chocolate truffle and raspberry cream sponge.”
“Sounds heavenly, I’ll have a slice. Actually, I’ll have two, I think I’ll call on Miss Golden sooner rather than later.”
“And you think you’ll be welcome?” Snorted Patsy.
“Cake’s always welcome.” he smiled. “I’ll see you wonderful women on Sunday.”
“Bright and early,” Chirped Mavis. Liam paid for his shopping and attempted to leave the shop when a gust of wind slammed it shut.
“Oh dear, the storm’s arrived sooner than I thought.”
“What storm?” asked Deirdre. They all stared at her in surprise.
“It’s been all over the news dear.” Patsy showed her phone indicating the arrival of the storm. “Don’t you read the news?” Asked Mavis.
“But highly useful. I’ve prepared sandbags outside my house and tapped up the windows.” It was now Patsy’s turn for everyone to stare at her.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” she grumbled.
“I guess so,” replied Liam, and tried to leave again.
“Be careful pastor, go straight home, no dropping of cake to anyone.” He smiled and left the shop. The wind blew him in several directions before he finally reached his bicycle. He balanced the two shopping bags on the handles and swerved down the road, leaves swirling towards him.
“I hope he’ll be okay,” said Patsy, watching him from the window.
“I hope so too. Listen, ladies, I don’t think anyone will come out in this weather, I’m going to close early for today.”
“Yes, of course. Deirdre would you like a lift home?”
“You’re a mind reader.”
“Drive safely,” said Mavis, opening the door for them. Rain burst into the shop, soaking the floor. They buttoned up their woollen coats and fought their way out of the shop to Patsy’s car. Mavis turned the sign to ‘closed’ and locked the door.