Just Cruising

Mature couple in evening dress with glasses of sparkling wine lean on rail of cruise ship deck

When her daughter finally moves out, Veronica finds the perfect way to buoy her sinking spirits…

The dragonfly settled on the lily pad, its iridescent wings sparkling in the August sunshine.

Veronica watched it as she sipped her coffee, enjoying the sun on her bare legs.

What a difference six months made! She smiled wryly at the thought. In the first months of the year there had hardly been a dry day for weeks on end. Every night the news was full of record rainfalls and the resultant flooding.

The dragonfly took off suddenly, and began to patrol the garden. Such a sense of purpose, so single-minded. She smiled again, thinking of her daughter, Anna.

Brisk, efficient Anna had always known her own mind.

She’d worked for the same company since she left school, rising quickly up the ranks, dedicating every waking hour to her job.

The office was conveniently close to her parents’ house so she had never bothered – or really had time – to leave home. Then, when Roger had died, it had been such a comfort to Veronica to have her there.

She supposed she should have tried a bit harder to encourage Anna to fly the nest, but… well, anyway, she hadn’t. Then suddenly Anna was thirty-seven and Veronica realised guiltily that the time for her to leave home might have passed.

Until, that was, last summer.

Anna’s boss, the managing director, was about to retire and she had applied for his job. For weeks before the selection process Anna stayed at the office late every night, then after several promising interviews they waited on tenterhooks for Head Office to reach a decision.

On the appointed day Veronica jumped each time the phone rang, expecting it to be Anna, and leaped to her feet when she at last heard Anna’s key in the lock.

Even before Veronica had made it to the fridge to fetch the waiting bottle of fizz, Anna’s wail reached her.

“They’ve offered it to some unknown man! They said it was a hard decision, but that I was too young! And they said…”

But what they said was lost in Veronica’s commiserating hug, and the tears that Anna had held at bay all day.

For the next few days Anna did what could only be described as sulk. In the case of hard-working Anna, this took the form of leaving the office at six instead of nine or ten, and sometimes taking a walk in the park in her lunch hour instead of forgetting to eat lunch altogether.

She talked of finding another job, of leaving the area, of turning her life around. And after a while Veronica realised Anna was making some of the changes she’d talked of.

Her hair looked different, and there was a bit of a spring in her step.

Actually, when Veronica looked at her more closely, there was a definite bloom to her cheeks, and she seemed to be splashing out a bit on new clothes.

Well, good! She hadn’t taken the disappointment too much to heart, then.

The name of the new managing director began to come up in conversation a little more often. Mr Thompson thinks this, Alex Thompson thinks that, Alex wants to make changes, Alex and I are thinking of doing such and such.

The “Alex and I” sentences began to sound a bit on the breathy side, and were always accompanied by a smile, sometimes even a blush… And Anna was staying late at the office again.

It took until late October for Anna to suggest she might bring Alex home to meet Veronica.

On the appointed evening Anna looked her mother up and down, adjusted her collar and gave a jerky little nod of approval, before answering the door and letting Alex in.

It was clear that they were utterly besotted with each other, and Veronica was not in the least surprised when they announced their engagement that very evening.

Once the ball was rolling, there was no stopping them. Anna and Alex were married in the village church soon after Christmas, and went off on honeymoon without a care in the world.

Strange, really, Veronica mused, that the office which had taken up Anna and Alex’s every waking moment not long ago, could suddenly function perfectly well without either of them for two whole weeks…

And how fortunate they were to be away that particular fortnight.

The heavens opened almost the moment they got on the plane and didn’t let up.

The house felt oddly empty, and for the first time the future seemed a little bleak.

For goodness’ sake, pull yourself together, Veronica told herself sternly the second time she caught herself dwelling on her impending isolation. It’s just the weather getting you down. Everyone’s miserable.

They’ll only be a couple of miles away. And you’ll be able to do exactly as you like: you can have cornflakes for supper if you want to, in front of the television!

The day before Anna and Alex were due back, Veronica bought a few essentials – milk, bread and so forth – for their return, intending to deliver them to Alex’s rented riverside cottage in the neighbouring village, where they were to start married life.

She was just leaving when the phone rang. It was Alex’s neighbour to say that the cottage – and in fact, most of the village – was flooded. Their whole ground floor was awash.

Veronica spent the day doing what she could, then came home and made endless phone calls. Even when the water receded, it would be weeks before the house was habitable again.

It was no way to start married life, Veronica reflected sadly as she finally came off the phone. Anna had lived with her for long enough. Surely she should be allowed to settle into life with Alex without this sort of complication.

In the short term, of course, both of them moving in with her was the most practical solution, while their own house was drying out.

There were no other houses to rent as close to their office as hers was, and she had plenty of room.

Even so… Veronica sat down in front of the television still wondering what she would do, and half-heartedly listening to the weather forecast. Yet more rain! She was fed up with it.

The next programme began: yet another reality TV show. She switched it off and went to make a cup of tea. What she could do with was a bit of sunshine.

It took her a moment to realise that was the solution. She should go away.

Yes – she could go on a nice long cruise, leaving Anna and Alex in her house while they sorted out what they were going to do.

She almost skipped back into the sitting-room and began flicking furiously through the paper. She’d seen an ad…

It had worked out perfectly. Before Alex and Anna had been back a week from their honeymoon, Veronica was half way across the Atlantic.

She had booked at the very last minute, so it had been a bit of a bargain really. Well, a lot less than she’d been expecting. In two days’ time the ship would dock in New York – and from there they would head for the Caribbean.

She’d already caught herself humming calypso music in the shower in her rather swish cabin bathroom. She could hardly wait.

The only slight – and really, it was very slight – disappointment was her table in the restaurant.

The food was unbelievable – and so much choice! – but she had found herself on a table of… singletons, she supposed they were called these days.

There were eight of them on the table, according to the seating plan, but so far she’d only met six of the others, and she was at least twenty years older than any of them.

Not that they weren’t pleasant; it was just that she often didn’t understand what they were talking about.

Veronica glanced at her watch. It was almost half past seven; she ought to go down to dinner.

She dressed carefully (that was another thing she was enjoying – it made a change to get dressed up) and made her way down to the dining-room. There were always lots of things to do after dinner – shows and so forth – and there were lots of people of her own age to talk to then.

She crossed the room, smiling determinedly at the least comprehensible man on her table.

When she reached him, however, she found he’d started talking to an attractive man a few years older than she was.

“Hello, I’m David Masters,” the newcomer said, turning to her. “I’m afraid it always takes me a day or two to get my sea legs. I believe we’re on the same table. I’ve just been talking to this gentleman –” But the young man in question had turned to speak to someone else.

“I’m afraid I can’t remember his name,” David said in a conspiratorial whisper. “I scarcely understood a syllable he uttered.”

Veronica hooted with laughter.

“I’ve been having that problem all week! I thought I was just me.”

“Nonsense,” David said. “It’s these young people. They mumble.”

The cruise, Veronica reflected, had taken a very definite turn for the better.

That night she and David went to watch a show together, and in New York they went ashore together, only just making it back before the ship sailed.

By the time they reached Barbados the other passengers treated them as an item.

When they reached Jamaica they had started making plans to see each other back home.

The days passed gloriously slowly. When they were ashore, she and David took leisurely meals together, shopped in picturesque markets and swam in tropical coves.

On board they enjoyed the same shows, and talked for hours over cocktails.

They even danced! Veronica couldn’t remember when she’d last danced.

The last wonderful evening was tinged with dismay as they both realised that the next day, they’d be back in England.

You must be glad to be back,” Alex said over his shoulder as he took Veronica’s suitcase into the hall.

And she was. So glad to be back on terra firma – not just in the sense of being on dry land, but also known territory.

Even if it did mean that she had to start worrying that her shipboard romance would turn out to be just that; a passing fancy, ships that passed in the night.

Not that it would if she had anything to do with it. She knew where her heart lay. Maybe she could give him a ring, find out if he’d got home safely.

Women did that these days, didn’t they? They didn’t wait for the man to ring. Did they?

Goodness, it was a long, long time since she’d been in this position; she didn’t know the rules any more.

“You must be tired after your journey,” Anna said. “I’ll go and put the kettle on. Or maybe,” she said apologetically as the phone began to ring, “you could. That’s probably for me. I’m afraid it may take a few days for our friends to realise we’re back in our own house.”

Veronica raised her eyebrows, but went obediently into the kitchen.

The presumption of youth. Well, relative youth, anyway.

Anna followed her almost immediately, holding out the phone.

“It’s for you,” she said, her voice pregnant with curiosity.

Veronica’s heart leapt. She had, of course, hoped it might be.

“I was just ringing to check you’d got home safely.”

His voice sounded like chocolate. Maybe it always did, and she just hadn’t noticed until she hadn’t heard it for a day.

Her heart did a little jig. Not just a holiday romance, then!

Anna was looking at her strangely, and she realised she was grinning.

Now he was inviting himself down the day after tomorrow, talking about staying in a local pub.

“Oh no,” Veronica said, “you must stay with me. There’s plenty of room.”

She hung up feeling euphoric.

“David will be here on Tuesday,” she said as nonchalantly as she could, considering Anna was practically shining a searchlight in her eyes. “I met him on the cruise. We… got on really well. You’ll be back in your own house by then, won’t you?”

“Well, I hope so, Mum. Do you think I should book a room for this David at the Coach and Horses just in case? It will be crowded if we’re all here.”

The excited jig stopped abruptly and Veronica’s heart began to sink. She could feel herself about to agree when her son-in-law interrupted.

“No, of course not. Your mother’s given up her house for quite long enough.

“I’m sure our house will be habitable, and if it isn’t, then we’ll book in at the pub.

“I would hate,” he said, looking seriously at Veronica, “to cramp your style. And am I right in thinking,” he added gently, “that we may be seeing a lot more of this David?”

Veronica looked at them both.

“I do hope so. But not perhaps on this occasion. Too early to meet the parents.”

“Meet the parents?” Anna asked with a bit of a shriek.

“You know what I mean.”

In the event they did meet him. Veronica had the impression that Anna was loitering with intent. Alex was trying to coax her into the car when David arrived, holding a bunch of long-stemmed roses.

Seeing him on her home ground, Veronica was struck again by how good-looking he was.

She knew beyond a shadow of doubt that she wanted to look into his dear, kind face for the rest of her life.

She took the roses from him and before she’d even put them to a vase, he was kissing her, and he just looked so… well, at home, in her kitchen that in no time flat he’d been staying with her for a week.

Veronica took a sip of coffee and looked around. The dragonfly was still patrolling. So much had happened since her winter cruise.

Anna was a changed woman. Marriage really suited her.

She and Alex had given up the rented cottage and bought a house a few miles away. Anna was also showing some rather late nesting instincts… as she said, they had no time to lose!

And as for herself, well… she could scarcely believe it. Here she was on the eve of her wedding. Two weddings in the family. She couldn’t be happier.

And all because of a spot of rain.