Chapter 35: Chapter 3
When I walked into the crowded staff room all the conversation seemed to stop. You know that feeling you get when it seems like everyone was talking about you seconds before you walk into a room, and you convince yourself that no, they couldn’t possibly have been, but really they were and they know it and you know it but everyone is too polite to say so? Well apparently no one had told the headteacher of Gloddfa Bont Primary School about this unwritten rule of etiquette. Mrs Jones was quick to confirm that yes, they had been talking about me. She said they’d heard all about me, and that they were absolutely delighted to meet me!
“I was saying to Tom just last week that it’d be nice to see that old cottage inhabited again. It just doesn’t look good, having it stand empty like that, and then here you are, ready to take it on. We are thrilled!”
Mrs Jones smiled at me and gave me a hug. Her ample bosoms squidged up against me, leaving me feeling like I was being embraced by a warm marshmallow. She smelled of apple strudel and left me feeling strangely comforted. This was unlike anything I’d been expecting when I’d move into my little cottage.
“Milk? Sugar?” Oliver had taken control of the kitchen area, busying himself with the kettle. He’d even found a packet of chocolate digestives. Yummy, my favourite.
With coffee in hand and a plate of biscuits on the table I was led to a chair at the very end of the staff room opposite a mousy looking girl with large glasses. She glanced up at me, smiled, and then returned to her book. Oliver sat next to me and offered me a biscuit.
“That’s Louise. She’s a student.” As if this were explanation enough, I nodded and took two, suddenly aware of just how hungry I was. Breakfast felt like a long time ago now. Note to self: Must unpack kitchen.
“So tell us about you Amy. What’s your name and where’d you come from?” Mrs Jones’s booming Cilla Black impersonation came from across the other side of the staff room, startling me from my thoughts.
“Not a lot to tell really Mrs Jones.”
“Oh please, call me Stella.”
“OK, Stella.” I tried her name out for size. This was going to take some getting used to. I’d always been in awe of my teachers so just sitting here, in the inner sanctum, was enough to make my pulse race. Pull yourself together, you’re a grownup, she’s a grownup. Just talk to the woman!
“I’m Amy Preston, thirty five and a quarter, originally from Southampton …” My voice trailed off. I didn’t really want to go into the rest of it but before Mrs Jones, sorry, I mean Stella, could ask me any more questions I was, quite literally, saved by the bell. Playtime was over. I drained the last of my coffee before taking my mug over to the sink. There was a bright yellow sign with a cute little poem, reminding people about the joys of keeping the kitchen area clean but before I could wash my mug Oliver appeared alongside me and took it.
“Here, allow me.”
“Thank you. And thanks for the coffee. I really needed that, not unpacked the kettle yet.” I shrugged and smiled. “Anyway, I’d better be going. Got to see a man about a roof.” Got to see a man about a roof?!? Idiot!
Oliver doffed an imaginary hat. “My pleasure. Thanks for coming. And welcome to Gloddfa Bont.”
A young chap who I assumed was Josh was waiting for me outside the cottage when I arrived, out of breath from rushing up the hill. It might not be able to do much for my broken spirit but this village was going to do wonders for my fitness levels!
“Josh? Thanks so much for coming.”
“No probs. I was just getting my ladders from the van then I can take a look.”
I realised that this would be about the time one might be expected to make one’s builder a cup of tea. “Uh, I’d offer you a cuppa but I’ve not unpacked the kettle yet.”
“Oh it’s fine, I don’t drink tea anyway. I’ll have a glass of water when you’ve got a minute though.”
Water, hmm, okay, so all I’d need to do is find something to put it in and we’d be fine. It was as I was mentally unpacking the boxes, desperate to remember which one I’d put the glasses in, that a friendly looking woman popped her head around the door.
“Amy? Hello, I’m Judith, from across the road. I thought I’d call round and introduce myself, see if you needed anything?”
“Hello Judith from across the road, nice to meet you.” I was about to thank her and send her on her way when I realised that she might actually be the solution to my most pressing need. “Actually, I don’t suppose I could borrow a glass?”
Judith looked understandably puzzled but didn’t hesitate. “Of course, just the one?”
“Yes please.” I decided she deserved an explanation. “It’s for Josh, the builder? He’s fixing my roof and wanted a glass of water but I haven’t unpacked yet.”
“Josh is here? Oh how lovely! I’ll be right back!”
Judith rushed off as quickly as she’d appeared but was back within minutes with not one but three glasses, a bottle of lemon squash and a plate of what looked like squashed fruit cake with butter on the top.
“It’s bara brith, Josh’s favourite.”
Bara what now? “Pardon?”
“Bara brith. It’s really yummy. Try some …”
I remembered something a bit like this from one of my holidays in the valleys and pulled a face. “Isn’t that made with seaweed?”
“Ha! No, that would be laverbread, not like this at all. This is a bit like fruit cake. Go on, try it, it’s really nice.”
Not wanting to offend my new neighbour I reluctantly took half of the smallest slice on the plate but soon found myself reaching for the other half. It stuff was delicious!
“That’s really good cake Judith!”
Judith’s cheeks flushed with colour. “Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Shall I take some to Josh?”
Josh! I’d totally forgotten about him. “Of course, thank you.”
While Judith took the cake and squash out to Josh, I scanned the boxes in the kitchen, convinced that one of them had to be hiding my kettle. I really wanted to be able to offer Judith more than a glass of water and the kettle was key to that. Six boxes later I admitted defeat and decided we’d have to make do with squash. As I ran the cold tap butterflies returned to my tummy. It had been so nice to have someone else to talk to I’d forgotten why I was here. I had to be careful. I definitely couldn’t let that happen again.