A Vicarage Reunion By: Kate Hewitt
A Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite Novel
Her mother’s tone of pleased surprise morphed into confusion, and then, predictably, worry, as her kindly face creased with concern. “Why have you got a suitcase?”
“Two suitcases,” Esther Langley answered, and hefted both as she stood on the stone steps, the March wind cold and damp as it buffeted her. “May I come in?”
“Of course, darling. You don’t have to knock. You usually don’t.” Her mother’s forehead was furrowed as she stepped aside so Esther could walk into the Victorian tiled porch of her childhood home, the vicarage of Thornthwaite, a village of two thousand hardy souls nestled at the foot of Lonscale Fell in England’s Lake District.
Esther put the suitcases down in the porch and her mother glanced at them askance. “Shall I put on the kettle?”
Esther nodded in relief, grateful for the momentary reprieve from her mother’s well-meaning concern. “Please.”
She followed her mother down the hall and around the back of the Georgian house to the kitchen, the cosy heart of the home. The family’s elderly black lab, Charlie, was sprawled in his usual place in front of the rather battered Aga, and there was a smell of sugar and spice in the air.
“I’ve just made some Bakewell tarts for the pop-in morning in the church hall,” Ruth said as she filled the electric kettle and switched it on. “But they can spare two, I think.”
“Thanks, Mum.” Esther let out a hefty sigh and sank into one of the colourful, mismatched chairs at the table of scarred oak where she’d eaten countless childhood meals. It felt both good and awful to be back in her childhood home at aged thirty-five, enveloped in the sweet-smelling warmth of the kitchen, yet with a leaden weight of sadness and disappointment in her stomach.
Ruth didn’t ask any prying questions as she made the tea, and Esther rested her chin in her hands, feeling absolutely shattered but knowing she couldn’t show up at the vicarage with two suitcases and no explanations. Her mother deserved to know why she was here. In any case, her life’s trials would inevitably play out on the small stage of the village; that was the price of being one of the vicar’s daughters for the last thirty years. Everyone knew everything about her, sometimes even before she did.
She’d learned their family dog before Charlie, Molly, had died from a well-meaning neighbour expressing condolences as Esther had walked home from school. In her teenaged years, she’d discovered her sister Rachel had been dumped by her boyfriend by the woman at the post office shop. That was how life went in a village like Thornthwaite, and Esther had learned to live with it, mainly by never giving anyone anything to talk about it. Too bad that wasn’t possible now.
“So.” Ruth put down two Bakewell tarts, each on its own little plate with a napkin, on the table. “Is everything all right, Esther?”
Esther took a sip of tea, closing her eyes as she savoured the comforting warmth of the drink her mother believed cured almost every ailment, or at least helped a little. Unfortunately, she still felt empty and aching inside, and no amount of tea, lovingly brewed as it was, could help that. She didn’t think anything could.
“I’ve left Will.” Best to state it plainly, up front, get the worst right out and then try to recover. Soldier on, as she was desperate to do, mostly because she didn’t know what else she could do. Most of her life had been about ploughing ahead, head down, chin tucked low, getting things done.
Ruth goggled at her, nearly spluttering her mouthful of tea. “Left… but…”
“We’re separating,” Esther clarified. “That’s why I’m here. Will offered to be the one to leave, but with the farm it didn’t make much sense.” She put her hands flat on the table, her wedding ring winking in the light. She’d wondered about taking it off, making things clearer, at least in her own mind, but she didn’t feel ready for that yet. She’d only been separated, informally at that, for two hours.
“Oh, Esther.” Ruth bit her lip, looking near tears. “Is this… is this because of the baby?”