‘Mrs Bradshaw? I believe you’re renting out your cottage. The estate agent gave me the details.’ He showed the old lady the letter the agency had given him and smiled at her. ‘They said they would ring and let you know I was coming.’
‘That’s right, dear. Come in, come in.’ She opened the door wider and ushered him inside. ‘I’m off to New Zealand, you see, to stay with my son and his wife over Christmas. They’ve asked me umpteen times if I’d go and stay with them but I’ve always refused in the past because I didn’t want to leave Henry.’ She sighed. ‘He’s no longer with us, I’m afraid, so I’ve no excuse not to go now.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Sean said quietly, thinking how sad it must be to lose one’s partner after what must have been a lengthy relationship. ‘Were you married a long time?’
‘Married?’ The old lady laughed. ‘Oh, no. Henry wasn’t my husband, dear. He died many years ago. Henry was my dog and a bad-tempered old thing too, but I still loved him. He finally went to doggy heaven a month ago so I decided to book my flight. The problem is that I don’t like the thought of leaving the cottage standing empty while I’m away. One of my neighbours, who lives just round the corner, did offer to pop in and check everything was all right, but I thought it was too much for her when she’s so busy working, which is why I decided to rent it out.’
‘I see.’ Sean laughed at his mistake then looked around the living room. It was small, admittedly, but it felt wonderfully cosy and inviting. ‘This is lovely,’ he said truthfully. ‘It feels so...well, homely, is the best way to describe it.’
‘I’m glad you like it, dear. I’ve lived here for over forty years and I love the place. Why don’t you look round and see if it’s suitable for you?’ the old lady suggested. ‘I’ll put the kettle on and make us a cup of tea.’
Sean did as he was told, checking out the small but functional kitchen, the bedroom with its old-fashioned dark wood furniture and the surprisingly large and well-equipped bathroom. He had already decided to take it by the time he returned to the living room and he told Mrs Bradshaw that he would get straight onto the agency.
‘That is good news, dear.’ Mrs Bradshaw beamed as she handed him a delicate china cup and saucer. ‘I’m so pleased. Not only will I know the place is being well looked after but it means that Molly won’t have to bother about it.’
‘Molly,’ Sean repeated, his hand shaking ever so slightly so that the cup started to rattle in its saucer. He hurriedly set it safely down on the end table, telling himself that he was being silly. It wouldn’t be his Molly; that would be too much of a coincidence. No, Mrs Bradshaw’s Molly was most likely a kindly older lady like herself. ‘Is she a friend of yours?’
‘Yes. Molly’s a real sweetheart. I’m sure you’ll like her. She’s been like a daughter to me—pops to the shop for bread and milk if I run out; fetches my Sunday paper if she’s not working at the weekend.’ Mrs Bradshaw sighed. ‘She’s a nurse in the A&E department at the hospital and she works the most terrible hours but she still finds the time to visit me. You can understand why I don’t want to burden her with having to look after my cottage while I’m away, can’t you?’
‘I...erm...yes. Of course,’ Sean replied, his heart sinking as he realised that he couldn’t in all conscience take the cottage now he knew that there was a very real risk of him bumping into Molly.
‘Mrs Bradshaw,’ he began, knowing that he had no choice in the circumstances other than to tell the old lady that he had changed his mind. Maybe he did love the cottage but it wasn’t worth taking it if it meant upsetting Molly.
‘It’s such a weight off my mind!’ the old lady declared, cutting him off mid-flow. She patted his hand. ‘Now I shall be able to go off and enjoy my holiday without having to worry. I just know that you will take very good care of everything here, dear.’
‘Of course,’ Sean murmured because he really couldn’t find it in his heart to disappoint her after hearing that.
Maybe there was no need to do so either, he thought as he picked up his cup and drank his tea. He would just have to be extra careful to stay out of Molly’s way. After all, with him there, taking care of the cottage, there would be no need for Molly to pop in, would there? By the time he left, he had more or less convinced himself that there was nothing to worry about. After all, he needed somewhere to live and the cottage was perfect for his needs. The downside of living the way he did was that he had never had a real home and all of a sudden he found himself longing for a place of his own.