The door to No.10 was propped open, with sunshine pouring in, not too hot, though the clock showed midafternoon of a late summer day. It was one of the lovely benefits of a mountain town—summers were mild, beneficent, treasured. At the entrance, a large clay pot on either side, of riotous red geraniums, welcoming banners of color to those who ventured into the coffee bar for a caffeine pick me up. Marjorie Dashwood, polished glasses behind the counter, pausing, as if someone had said her name quietly but firmly at her shoulder . . .
Kindness. Thank goodness there was no end to it, no limited supply, no expiration date, no final performance. Websters or Google confines it to eight words. “The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” But Marjorie Dashwood knew it could not be confined to eight words, or eight million words. Kindness was in limitless words. And, it was beyond words. May, June, early July, slipped by as mere pages on a calendar, the sweep of a clock, with all the world continuing its tempo and pace, but in Marjorie’s home, time had slowed to being measured in tears, in silence, in anger, and then, in slow and shaky steps of healing. Marjorie hardly noticed the weather those long weeks, or what she ate, or what news threaded into her world from the outside. What she remembered ever after was . . .
Henri Dylan was home. Thinner yet stronger, battered but not beaten. And new hair growth that was promising in the early stages, to be a distinguished shade of silver, less web like in texture, with only one side part instead of three. New times indeed. With chemo and radiation treatment behind him, with a doctor’s blessing of health in front of him, he was feeling like a man released from prison, from death row, a survivor from a sinking ship, cast up on shore, and feeling the firm ground was the finest thing he’d ever felt. Gratitude and appreciation flowed through Henri Dylan like a new found pulse . . .
“Mom, do you think . . . you would . . . ever remarry?” It was an inevitable question. Marjorie had posed it to herself a few times in abject loneliness. It was a topic she and Trixi had once lightly discussed. It was the question that she had known her girls would ask, or at least wonder, once she had admitted her friendship with Henri Dylan or any man . . .
She did not know what compelled her, beyond the hard voyage of sleeplessness, to get up quickly, dress, grab her keys, and drive to No. 10, all with singular determination. Clover had not even lifted her head or opened an eye when Marjorie passed her, perhaps taking this early morning aberration as yet more evidence of the odd currents flowing suddenly through this house. . .
Stella was worried. Something was wrong with Marjorie. A preoccupation, something in her eyes that looked like a mix of fear and anxiety, a smile suddenly forced, laughter less often, subdued—as if she was living on an alternate power source, as if she was holding herself by tight reigns. Stella did not normally operate with such perceptive analysis. She operated with a radar registering largely at face value level. But in the over six months of working at No.10, and within Marjorie’s personal orbit, she knew something was different with her employer. Something was wrong . . .
It had been in some English novel she had once read, an apt description that had stayed with her long after the reading, long after she could even remember the plot line or characters . . .
He had ordered his coffee, hesitated, then asked if she could join him. They sat together in the booth for nearly an hour. He forgot his to-do list for the day; she forgot that he was a good-looking single man. He forgot to wonder when the last time was that he had had such a refreshing conversation with a woman. She forgot, in that little slice of time, that she had a clearly hurting daughter at home, and did not know what to do about it. He did not have his dead wife Gloria in his mind. And she had George, in the wings, but for that interlude, not front and center. For Marjorie Dashwood and James Knightly, it was a very brief and uncomplicated holiday . . .
James Knightly had never been in the children’s store on Downing Street. He had never had a reason to be. Living in Washington DC for years, he had done his shopping there with its many options, or online. But this Saturday morning, he had come into town from his ranch home, to do a few errands. And under a sudden impulse, shop for a gift for a seven-year-old. An old friend from college days was coming that evening, bringing his wife, and seven-year old granddaughter. They were staying a few days, and he supposed the young girl would come laden with her own personal impedimenta . . .
She sat in the car knowing she should not be shocked. Of course time had marked and changed things, wiped away the comforting, the familiar. Still, she had hoped this place would have been the same as it had been ten years ago, when she jogged its length as an eager, energetic teenager. Anne Dashwood felt bitterness and disappointment rise up in her like bile, thinking that if she did not calm down, she would be opening the car door, to lean out and be sick . . .