Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery 2018(3)

By: Cathy Bramley

‘What an image.’ I winced. ‘I’ve made ten pies for the old people’s monthly luncheon and some little gift bags for my mother-in-law for this week’s Women’s Institute raffle. I thought that was enough.’

I’d also sat up half the night in front of the Aga with Rusty as he’d been struggling for breath and too weak to make it up to his usual spot on the landing outside my bedroom door, but I kept that to myself. Anna and I shared everything usually but it would only take the slightest kindness to make me cry; she knew how much I loved that dog.

‘Honestly,’ she went on, ‘being a school nurse in a secondary school is worse than working the Saturday-night shift at A&E. Hold on, nearly forgot.’

We’d reached the bottom of the steps which led to the revolving doors. She stopped to roll up the waistband of her skirt, then pulled a pair of stilettos out of her bag, swapping them for her sensible shoes.

I had to smile; she was thirty-three, but sometimes she acted like the teenager she’d been when I met her. ‘You’ll embarrass Bart doing that.’

‘Pfff. He’s only a baby; he doesn’t notice that sort of thing.’

Somehow I managed to hold my tongue; she was kidding herself there. Poppy said he was very popular with the girls. ‘What are you doing it for, anyway?’

‘Who, you mean. Look out for Bart’s form tutor, Mr Purkiss. I mean, what a name, it’s got purr and kiss in it.’ She winked. ‘Plus, he’s hot to trot.’

That was the other thing about Anna that hadn’t changed: she was always on the lookout for the perfect man.

Inside, the hall was packed with gangs of teenagers, all doing their best to stay with their friends and away from their parents for as long as possible.

Anna scanned the room for her son, while I looked for Poppy. Bart wasn’t difficult to spot; he was tall for his age and had the same white-blond hair as his mother. He stuck his hand up self-consciously, Anna went straight over and I smiled at him, feeling a sudden wave of sadness that his father would never know what an amazing human being he’d helped to create. Bart was the result of a one-night stand early on in Anna’s gap year and she had no way of tracing the father. She’d arrived back in Carsdale with a baby boy. But other than knowing he’d been named after his father, Bart knew nothing about him and I sometimes wondered how he felt not having a man to call Dad.

‘Mum? How’s Rusty?’ Poppy sidled up, her face, under a heavy fringe of auburn hair, was etched with concern. She had a crumpled appointment card in her hand, her shirt was untucked, there were two large holes in her tights and pen drawings all over the back of her left hand. She reminded me of me at her age and my heart filled with love for my only child.

‘Doing okay.’ I resisted the urge to stroke her face, but gestured to her appointment card instead, avoiding her eye. ‘He’s at the vet’s now. Sally’s giving him a full check-over; we’ll find out later. Card please.’

Her fingers brushed against mine as I took the card from her and she gave my hand a quick squeeze. Hugging your mother at school was social suicide, but I could see she was dying to fold herself into my arms.

‘He’ll get through it,’ she said. ‘He gets through everything.’

‘I hope so.’ I looked at my girl, wondering when she’d started sounding so grown-up, and wished I could believe her. She was almost as tall as me now, her blazer was looking a bit tight across the chest and short at the sleeves too; she must be having another growth spurt. Another expense we could do without.

She leaned in towards me. ‘We could just skip this and go and find out?’

‘Nice try. Sally will call us as soon as she knows anything.’ I looked down at the list of teachers’ names. ‘Come on. Who’s first?’

Together we walked into the cafeteria where all the teachers were sitting behind small tables in rows and clusters of eager parents were hanging around trying to jostle for earlier appointment slots.

‘Maths.’ Poppy’s shoulders fell. ‘Ugh. I mean, seriously, who even cares?’

‘I love maths!’ I retorted.