Happy Ever After

Lady on sofa with dogs Illustration: Shutterstock


The old longhouse had seemed idyllic in summer but now winter had arrived, would their dream home fall apart?

“Move, you horror!” Trudy heaved the bed to shift it away from the stream of water pouring through the bedroom ceiling. It budged barely two inches.

“Sebastian, please get down.” She pushed her Alsatian onto the floor and hauled at another corner of the bed as howling storm Gretel battered already loose window panes.

All sense of coming home she’d felt when she and husband Garth first stumbled across Ladybarrow Croft had well and truly evaporated.

The house had been derelict, standing in an overgrown garden like the ghost of times past, but she and Garth, who were looking for their first home, had been drawn to it instantly.

Cautiously, yet with excitement, they’d pushed open the door that hung by one hinge. Then Garth, a specialist in historic restoration techniques, had instantly realised it was a rare beast – a 14th-century longhouse. Their eyes had met with unspoken agreement: what a perfect place to restore and make their forever home. They simply had to make it theirs. It would be such a happy place.

That was in August with the sun beating down and corn turning gold in the fields. Now it was February. Garth was away, replacing architraves at a Georgian gentleman’s house for desperately needed cash, and Trudy was alone with three dogs in the cold and dark.

The tarpaulins that at dusk had covered the roof structures were probably halfway to Dover.

As for electricity…

A cold nose touched her calf. Trudy shone her torch down. Her Yorkshire terrier looked up with big, puppy eyes.

“Oh, Poppet!” She scooped the dog into her arms and hugged her. Poppet licked her face once. “I’m so sorry. You dogs can’t be enjoying this either. We meant to have the roof fixed before we moved in,” she reminded herself, but life hadn’t worked out like that. There’d been delays with funding followed by an atrocious winter.

Trudy decided to abandon the sodden bed. “Let’s go downstairs.” Sebastian and Diggory, her retriever, trotted for the door, tails wagging. “We’ll rekindle the fire.” With any luck, it would still be lit. “Won’t that be nice?”

To her relief, she found the firewood was dry. Soon, the open fire roared back into life, and all four of them settled under throws on the three-seater sofa. It was a tight fit with the two large dogs, but soon they were all dry and warm. Trudy fell asleep, dreaming of central heating, a cooker and putting the house back on the market. The idea of the fairytale life she and Garth had envisaged in a lovingly restored idyllic farmhouse lay in tatters.

Trudy woke when the roofer, Chris, arrived.

“Are you alright?” he asked, water trickling along the furrows of his brow.

The bigger dogs engulfed him in wags, licks and paws.

“Just about.” Trudy unfurled herself. Poppet remained on her lap, enjoying the warmth. “Why are you wearing waders?”

“The ford,” he said. “I daren’t bring the pickup through.”

Trudy stared at him. The lane to the house crossed a very shallow river placed in a dip. If it was too deep to drive through, he must have risked his life!

“There were two of us,” he reassured her. “We used a rope. We were safe. I was worried about you.”

I’d offer you some tea, but the generator’s packed up again.

Trudy flicked a light switch with no response.

“I think you need a hot drink more than us, Trudy. We’ll get you back to the village. When the wind has dropped, we’ll re-cover the roof and fix the generator.”

Trudy sighed. “That’s kind, Chris, but I think I need to pack up and go home. Garth and I have bitten off more than we can manage.”

“Don’t do anything hasty just yet,” Chris urged.

Trudy wondered if he was worried about his bill: if they abandoned the house, this job would end.

“Stay with us tonight,” he continued. “Our kids have left home and Beth, my wife, would love someone to fuss over. She’s struggling with the empty nest.”

It was a tempting offer, and if Chris’s pickup couldn’t get through the river, her little run-around certainly wouldn’t. “Beth knows I’ve got three dogs, right?”

“We’ve got three of our own,” he said. “Two spaniels and a Labradoodle. We’ll barely notice the extra.” He smiled. “I know this seems overwhelming right now, but better days will come. This is a wonderful house. There’s been a Ladybarrow Croft here since at least Domesday. Watching it deteriorate over the years has been painful. It makes me and Beth so happy to see you restoring it with the love it deserves. We’ll help in any way we can.”

Right now, Trudy didn’t love the house, but she very much appreciated Chris’s help. She got up and hugged him.

An hour later, the two burly roofers helped Trudy and the dogs through the torrent that was normally only three inches deep. Poppet travelled across in some sort of harness on Chris’s chest.

Soon they were all in a warm, dry country kitchen. The six dogs kissed noses, sniffed butts, and ran in circles before Beth lured them into the conservatory with food and water, then insisted on making a cooked breakfast.

Hot meals for Trudy and Garth recently comprised reheated beans on bread toasted on the open fire. It was an absolute age since cooking over a primus stove in the shell of their dream home had seemed romantic.

Now, the crispy bacon, poached eggs and hot tea were heavenly and Trudy felt instantly better.

Beth showed her how to work the shower and produced clean towels. “You can sleep in Clint’s old room,” she added, pointing to a door across the way.

“I’ll take the dogs out while you make yourself more human.”

The wind and rain were easing but, “Poppet won’t walk in this weather,” Trudy said.

“She won’t want to be left behind, either,” Beth noted. “I have the ideal solution.”

She held up the orange and green contraption Trudy had seen Chris use earlier. “It’s a doggie sling for just such eventualities. She can come along with the rest of us without getting blown away or drenched.”

What a great idea, Trudy thought. She showered, certain her dogs were in caring hands, then fell into the soft, dry bed and into a deep, deep sleep. She was soon dreaming of summer holidays and a new colour scheme for Ladybarrow’s future bathroom.

When she awoke, she felt much more positive. She phoned Garth and explained the latest disaster. He wanted to come straight home, but what was the point in them all being cold and wet?

After lunch, the wind had blown itself out, and Chris left to restore the tarps over Ladybarrow’s roof. Beth urged Trudy to stay until he’d got at least the roof over the bedroom finished so they could sleep in the dry.

That would take a week. “You’ve been too kind already.” Trudy hugged Poppet to her. She licked Trudy’s chin then wriggled free to chase the Labradoodle around the kitchen as though to say, Can we, Mum? I like it here.

“You can’t go back yet,” Beth continued. “You’ll catch your death.”

Trudy sighed. It wasn’t only her at risk, but the dogs. “Garth and I knew what we were getting into when we bought it.” This was an overstatement. They hadn’t anticipated the funding delays and wettest winter for years. “We can’t put you out for our folly, Beth.”

Beth looked about to argue but changed her mind.

Well, at least stay tonight. I refuse to send you back to a cold, damp bed.

One night, Trudy thought. That was reasonable. She’d talk to Garth again and make a plan.

Her eye fell on the dog sling. She picked it up. “This is brilliant. I usually carry Poppet in my coat on days like this and end up smelling of dog. How does it actually work?”

Beth showed her. Poppet looked so comfortable in it. She smiled up at Trudy and woofed in approval. Presumably, she thought she was going for another “walk”.

“Where can I buy one?” she asked.

Beth laughed. “Six months ago, from my website.”

“You make them?”

Beth nodded, but then turned away and started unloading the dishwasher.

I thought running a business would be a great way to keep busy now that the kids have gone. I just about broke even before giving up.

Trudy saw a way forward. “Show me.”

Beth looked at her quizzically. “Why?”

“Because my day job – when we have internet,” Trudy paused for an eye roll, “– is internet marketing.”

“You mean you can’t work until you get an internet connection?” Beth asked.

Trudy nodded. And for that, she needed reliable electricity and dry walls.

Beth showed her the website. They talked about sales, promotions and markets – there are lots of less-mobile and smaller dogs that sometimes need carrying, Beth told her. Trudy’s excitement grew constantly. She thought about her mum, whose arthritic Jack Russell could only manage once round the block now. With a sling, her mum could take her on long walks again.

Beth also made doggie rucksacks for slightly heavier dogs. Trudy knew someone who might use one of those.

“You didn’t give it long enough,” she concluded. “Your marketing could have been better, and I can suggest improvements to the website.”

Beth looked dubious. “How much do you charge?”

Trudy grinned. “How about bed-and-breakfast until Chris has got a roof over my bedroom? I’ll tweak your website, find you a good host, and run your marketing campaign for the first three months. Lack of experience is all that’s holding you back.”

Beth agreed and Trudy set to work. It took eight days to get the croft sufficiently watertight and dry. Each day Beth and Trudy walked the six dogs together, talking as easily as if they’d known each other forever.

Finally, Trudy and the dogs moved back home.

Storm Gretel had given way to freezing moonlit nights and breathtaking frosty mornings, with mist hugging the fields and dew freezing the long grass into ice sculptures. The three dogs spent happy hours romping through the countryside or lazing before the fire.

Garth came home the evening after Trudy. The “garden” of long grass and blousy shrubs was still frosted from the night before. Tall seed heads shimmered silver under the full moon. Farm lights twinkled on the other side of the valley, and tawny owls hooted in welcome.

Garth eased out of the ancient Jeep and smiled at all four of them lined up like servants greeting the master of the grand house. A shooting star arced across the sky.

He grinned and kissed Trudy’s cheek.

What did you wish for?

“I don’t need anything,” Trudy answered truthfully. “I have everything I need right here.”

It was true. She had faced the Wicked Witch of weather and come back stronger. She’d made a good friend with a lifeline of the internet.

She was living in her dream house, in her dream spot, on a perfect winter’s night, with a roaring log fire warming the living room. She had her beloved pets and her own prince charming had come home to kiss her.

Snowdrops pushing through the earth heralded spring and better times to come.

What else could a fairytale want?

Inside our current issue is a fiction mini-mag featuring 10 romantic stories!

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.