New Beginnings

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a follow on story for The Last Goodbye, my book published recently. If you haven't read it yet may I suggest dear reader you read it first as this is in effect Episode 2. I hope you enjoy catching up with all the characters.

New Beginnings

Jenny was waiting at Cambridge Station.  She was always early so used the time to sit and check on her messages.  Hopefully the train would be on time as she and Annie were going to a lovely little boutique they had been recommended to in Bury St Edmunds and had made  an appointment so didn't want to be late.

Chapter 1 - Penny

Penny began working with Mr Cotton soon after he and Mr Neville had started up their partnership.  She was straight out of Secretarial college and arrived at her interview with distinctions in all her diplomas in shorthand, bookkeeping and typing.  She was keen and looking forward to starting her first proper job.  When she left school with 4 good A levels in her pocket she was a bit unsure of which path to take.  As 2 of her A levels were in languages, French and Spanish, she had toyed with the idea as working as a translator but then her parents suggested she train a bit more and they paid for her to go to Secretarial College.  Secretaries were paid well and if she looked for a post with that experience and the added knowledge of languages they thought she would enjoy a good earning potential in  the future.  Penny heeded their advice and enjoyed her training.  She was still living at home and there was a Pitmans college in Cambridge so that is where she went. Part of her course was a 6 month work experience placement and she was lucky enough to find a post in one of the many colleges in Cambridge.  This experience helped her to make up her mind inasmuch as she didn't really want to work in a college so she signed up with an agency to find another post in a different field. 

Cotton and Neville was her second interview and she felt at home straight away.  Both partners seemed very nurturing and were interested in her not just what she could offer the Company.  They offered her the job straight away but asked her to go home and discuss it with her parents before she made her decision.  She had already decided in her head but she did as she was asked and phoned the next day to say she would like to take the job please.

The offices were located in the centre of Cambridge and in a beautiful old house which had been converted.  Besides Mr Cotton and Mr Neville there was another member of staff who was responsible for the accounts and bookkeeping.  She was assigned the post of Secretary to the two Partners.  As the business grew more staff were taken on and eventually she was in charge of 4 Secretaries and promoted to PA to Mr Cotton who was the senior partner.  Mr Neville had his own PA.  She loved her job and couldn't wait to get to work in the morning.  It was a happy place to work and although the Company had grown there was still a friendly feel to the place and the partners still made it their business to know about their staff and their lives.

When Sam Cotton  left university and decided he wanted to work in the business he was signed on for articles like any other trainee accountant and was expected to work from the bottom up.  He did his share of making the tea and collecting staff timesheets.  By the time he had finished and qualified there were 6 partners and the offices had taken over the whole house.  Sam was encouraged to bring new ideas to the Company and one of these was to move to larger premises.  It was getting a bit cramped at Cambridge.  At the time the rents in Cambridge were increasing at an alarming pace and Companies were being encouraged, with grants, to move out of the City.  Mr Neville was against it at first as said Cambridge was so central for their clients and he thought moving to Huntingdon may be a bad move.  Mr Cotton however, could see the future and was all for it.  It would mean they would own the building and could future proof it for expansion.  Business was good and they had a brilliant reputation so why not take the risk.  They decided to keep a small office in Cambridge and take on new staff to work there.

They had a site meeting at Huntingdon and found the building was just off the A14 and convenient for transport both rail and bus.  It was nearly finished and would be completely ready to move in within 3 months.  Finance sorted out they signed the contracts and awaited the moving date.

Once the existing staff had been informed they were offered the chance to apply for the jobs in Huntingdon.  Many of the existing staff did not want the additional travel to Huntingdon.

Penny thought this could become a problem so was given the job of looking for ways around it.  Obviously they wanted to keep their existing staff  but had to think of the long term.  The offices in Cambridge were full to bursting now and to be able to expand they needed more room.  She suggested that perhaps the Company could run a bus service but enquiries resulted in this being far too expensive plus the fact lots of staff did irregular hours so to run a bus half full would not be cost effective.  Car sharing was another option and could work and this was the one she put forward to the Partners.  It was agreed that this seemed the most sensible option but there were a few of their staff who relied on the busses as they lived near to Cambridge.  They all agreed to put it to the staff and see what their feelings were.  Most of the support staff agreed that this was the best idea and were happy to work it out between themselves.  There would be free parking at Huntingdon as there was a substantial car park which was a bonus as the parking in Cambridge was very expensive.  There were a few objectors but they mainly came from the audit staff who said they needed to be near the train station as a lot of their work was away from the office but often they had to collect documents from the office before going to the clients.  Everyone thought this could be addressed by an internal mail system and the documents could be collected from the Cambridge office.

Once they moved into the Huntingdon Offices it was time for Penny to address the hiring of  additional staff.  The department in Cambridge  would  stay in the existing offices but just the first floor. The ground floor would be rented  to someone else which would halve the rent.  Penny enjoyed this part of her job but with all her other duties she was finding it hard to fit everything in her day.  Mr Cotton was mindful of this and suggested maybe she should hire a temporary assistant? Just to tide them over the initial period of moving and settling people into the new offices.  She was resistant at first as she saw it as a sign she couldn't cope but in all truth she couldn't at the moment.

Contrary to Company Policy she had been taking work home with her.  She had a sheaf of application forms in her bag now to read tonight regarding the new appointments. 

She capitulated in the end and they agreed that once the initial settling down was completed they would review the position and see if the need was there for Penny to have a full time assistant.  In the event she found she only needed her for 3 months and then was happy not to be sharing her office with someone else.

The two new partners  for Cambridge were easy to choose as they were known to the existing Partners and it was only a matter of  taking up references to confirm their applications.  Ben and Henry worked together now and were just looking for a bigger partnership with a chance of  promotion.  Penny sent for their references and then called them in for interview.  This process all went smoothly and once all the contracts  were settled they were ready to undertake their Company Training.  Then when  this was complete they could move into the Cambridge Office.  The 4 support staff had already been appointed and it was just introducing them to the new Partners who  they  would be working for.  Once Ben and Henry had completed their training Penny would set up a breakfast meeting for them all so they could get acquainted and all be allocated their roles.

After initial teething problems Huntingdon settled down well.  As it was a brand new building there were lots of open plan offices and a lovely garden surrounding it.  There was a purpose built coffee shop which opened out on to the garden area,  you could buy snacks and drinks all at subsidised prices and the staff appreciated the home made produce sold there.  This was another project that Penny had been charged with and everyone said what a brilliant job she had done.  She felt very proud of her achievements and Mr Cotton was always generous with his praise.

With her job taking up all of her time Penny didn't have much time for a social life outside of work.  She took advantage of  free tickets she was given for concerts and she loved going to watch the ballet in Cambridge.  Often she took her mother with her as she didn't have many friends.  She had made a couple of friends when she was at college but over the years they had moved on with their lives and had married and had families so apart from the odd phone call and invite to lunch there was not much contact.  She kept herself mostly to herself at work.  Mainly because ofher position.  She was usually surrounded by the Partners and talk was of work and the Company. 

There was only her and Mr Neville's PA Jane who were on the Senior Management team.  Jane was married and spent any of her spare time looking at soft furnishings for her soon to be completed house she had bought.  Occasionally she would wander into  Penny's office with a magazine and ask her opinions on the latest styles but soon gave up as Penny didn't show much interest. 

It did spark up an interest in Penny though.  She was still living with her parents in Cambridge.  She had her own car now so her journey to and from work was not a problem but she thought it would be nice to have her own little flat.  She was growing older now and thought maybe it was time to spread her wings.  On her journey into work she had noticed a new development being built on the edge of Huntingdon.  There were several units being built for sale and she wondered if maybe she could take a look at what was on offer.  She was earning a good salary and felt sure she would be able to afford a mortgage.  Her savings were quite healthy and she knew her parents would be happy to help her out if need be.  She had always been encouraged to save and to never have any debt.  Her parents were also getting older and had hinted  lately that the house was getting a bit big for them now and as they were nearing their retirement would love to live in a bungalow.  Penny had thought about this a lot and thought maybe it was a hint for her to look for a place of her own. She also felt it would be a good idea for them to move while they were still fit and able to look after themselves.  She made up her mind to send for some brochures.  Maybe they could both move to the same development?  This would ensure their long time care if they were close to her.

The brochures arrived and the flats were going to be in the first phase of the development.  They were more like maisonettes really which Penny liked the look of from the artists impression.  They would be built around a courtyard but all had small back gardens.  The first ones would be ready in 6 months.  There were bungalows as well but they would not be ready for another year.  This would give her parents the time to put their house on the market and would only mean then a year before their retirement date so they could move in and familiarise with their surroundings before they fully retired. 

Although her father worked as a proof reader for a Publishers in Cambridge and still intended to do some freelance work for them which he could do from home.

A year later Penny had moved into her flat and her parents move was imminent.  Her mother was very excited and Penny seemed to spend most of her weekends trawling round John Lewis looking at furnishings and the kitchen department.  As it was a new bungalow her mother was adamant that none of her things from the house would be suitable so she needed everything new.  Penny smiled but she thought her mother deserved this as her father had always bought  quality to last.  They only ever had new things in the house when something wore out which was not often.  Her father was horrified at how much she was spending but they had realised a good price for the house and there was a lot of equity  from thehouse to put towards the bungalow which had been quite a bit cheaper.  Penny was sure they would be happy there and her father was already planning the garden.

Penny had made her flat comfortable and  cosy and enjoyed planning her rooms out.  She had two bedrooms and was on the ground floor with a small patio out into the garden.  It was just a small garden but big enough for her and Mr Cotton had bought her a beautiful stone  planter as a housewarming present which took pride of place.  Her parents had bought her a small Bistro seating set and a garden bench so her garden was looking good all ready for the sunny weather.  She had only furnished her bedroom and the living room so far as she was buying things as she could afford them.  It was near enough to walk to work if she wanted to but most days she took the car.  She had a hard standing for the car by the side of the building with an extra parking spot for visitors.  The whole courtyard was finished now and the neighbours seemed really friendly.  Her upstairs maisonette was occupied by a single lady but like Penny she kept herself to herself apart from passing the time of day.  She was a nurse by the look of her uniform and kept pretty irregular hours but Penny hardly heard her.  The neighbours on the side of her were two young couples and seemed to be friendly with each other but they always stopped to chat and she had even been invited in to the downstairs flat for coffee.  They had just got married and it was their first home together. 

They had fitted it out beautifully, very modern but tasteful.  He worked in Cambridge and she in Huntingdon.  They said if there was anything she needed help with to knock at the door and Penny felt they really meant it.

Apart from the neighbours Paul and Sue and her parents Penny never had any visitors.  Penny had reciprocated the coffee invitation to Paul and Sue one Sunday morning when she saw them outside while she was cleaning her car.  She thought of asking Jane back one day maybe for lunch but then often they didn't take a full hour and she would need to shop the day before to prepare it .  In the end she decided it would be too much effort.Mr Cotton had reduced his hours and was only coming to the office 3 days a week.  Sam had been made a Senior Partner now and besides his own work was taking over his father's clients.  He had never had a secretary of  his own as the Junior Partners admin was shared out by the Secretarial Department.  Mr Cotton and Sam decided to have a meeting with Penny to talk about her workload as they thought with her forthcoming workload with Sam and the additional part time duties with Mr Cotton maybe they should think of ways of lightening her load. 

Penny felt a bit hurt at first as she thought she did a good job, saw it as a negative but they had noticed how she had been staying late again and now that she was closer to the office was coming in early as well.  As much as they appreciated her input they did not want her to work these extended hours.  They said they had been thinking for a while about starting a dedicated HR department.  With the staff expanding Penny was spending a lot of her time on HR tasks.  They had obviously done their  homework as they had in front of them an analysis of her time sheets for the past 12 months.  They thought that with this work taken away and someone else appointed as HR Officer this would free her time to work exclusively for Sam and Mr Cotton.  She knew it made sense but with her strong streak of independence and her sense of duty she had mixed feelings about handing over the post of HR Officer.  She enjoyed that part of her job and was proud of the fact that she knew most of the staff who worked for the Company as she had employed them. 

Sam drew another sheet of paper out of the pile and said they had made a list of the tasks they would like her to hand over and another list of the training the new applicant would need to undertake before being put in post.They finished by asking her to look through everything and come back to them with any questions or suggestions next week.  Mr Cotton looked a bit sad as  she left as she was a very highly valued member of staff and he didn't want to cause her any embarrassment or ill feeling.  Sam looked at it from another point of view and said once she had thought it through he knew she would see it made sense.

Penny went back to her office and cleared her desk.  It was only 4pm but she needed to get her head round all that had been said and wanted to concentrate on it without the constant noise of the phones and the noise beyond her office. It was Friday so she had the weekend to read and absorb all the information.She tapped on Mr Cotton's door and said she was off for an early day if that was alright.  He smiled at her and said he would see her on Tuesday.

She decided to go to her parents house not to discuss it but just to have a little bit of calm in her life. Her mother was pleased to see her and plied  her with homemade cake and tea.  She was full of what she had bought for the bungalow and insisted on showing Penny how she had furnished the spare room - just in case Penny wanted to stay.  It looked really pretty and a lot of thought had gone into it.  Penny was touched that she had chosen all her favourite colours of lilac and rose.  It was unlikely she would ever stay there as she only lived a five minute walk away but it was a lovely thought.  Penny's aunt was going to pay a visit in the near future and her mother was excited to be able to show her what they had done.  It looked so different from the old house and her father was enjoying putting his planning into place for the garden. He had even made a raised bed for vegetables and herbs and offered to make one for Penny.  It had given him a new lease of life and she was so pleased they had made the move when they did.  She declined their offer to stay for dinner as she wanted to go home and read through her papers.  She would come as usual on Sunday and hopefully she would have made up her mind by then.

Penny spent the rest of the evening reading through the plans for her future and alternating between feeling inadequate that she couldn't carry on as she was to being grateful that she would be able to go back to being a dedicated PA to the two Partners.  She noted that they had included the arranging of the annual dinner dance to her and her favourite event of the conference.  She saw these two things as being the ones that she was tasked with because of her important position in the Company. 

In the end she made a few notes and decided that the new job role would be one she would undertake with grace and would be happy to train a new HR Officer to take over the other  duties.

Monday was spent in a Training Day for new staff, one of the things that the new HR Officer would take over.  It meant a lot of preparation beforehand but Penny had everything in a file and all the necessary forms were printed and stored on file on her computer.  The day flew and as she planned all the training was completed by 4.30pm giving the last half an hour for a question and answer session.  There were 6 attendees in all from 2 different departments and they were all engaged throughout the day. Penny kept the groups intentionally small as thought then people would not be intimidated by a large group.  Also she never included more than 2 departments as this  kept the training more relevant.  They all thanked Penny for a very informative and interesting day and their exit forms were all complimentary.

Her meeting with Mr Cotton and Sam was scheduled for 9.30am on Tuesday and she arrived early to check her diary for the rest of the day and to complete any tasks she had to do for Mr Cotton and Sam.  Sam tapped on her office door at 9.25am and said they were ready for her.  They met in Mr Cotton's office and he had arranged for coffee and biscuits to be brought up from the snack bar.  It all went very well and she could see the relief on Mr Cotton's face when she said she would accept her new role and would be happy to recruit and train the new HR Officer.  It was agreed that the post would be advertised on the internal mail in the first instance and if there was nobody suitable within the Company would advertise externally.  As it was a brand new post they would prefer to have someone already employed as they liked their staff to progress where possible.  They asked Penny if she knew of anyone who would be interested but she didn't have anyone in mind.  Sam pondered on this for a while as he had an idea but was not sure if the person in question would be ready for the challenge.  He thought once the internal mail was sent it would determine this.

There were 3 applicants from the internal mail.  None of them with experience.  Sam made some tentative enquiries and one person stood out and was someone who had done some work for him quite recently.  He thought with the right training and Mentor she would be a good fit. He decided to make a quick phone call to her Head of Department to see what they thought.  He agreed and although she had only been with the Company for 2 years she was keen to learn and wanted to progress.  This could be just the opportunity for her.  Sam set up interviews for the 3 applicants and asked Penny to dig out their files.  He asked her to read through them and tell him what she thought.  She did this and although she had not had any recent contact with Jenny she knew who she was and was impressed with the reports on her yearly appraisals.  Out of the 3 she thought she would be ideal for the post but she needed to meet her as she would be working closely with her for quite a while and sharing an office.

The interviews went well and Penny sat in on them although Sam conducted the interview.  He dismissed the first one out of hand as he said she had a very strange idea of what HR was all about and thought it was just concerned with the welfare of the employees.  He had a sheet of questions he wanted to ask and she couldn't answer half of them due to her lack of knowledge.  He put a note on her file for further training as the questions about the Company went right over her head!

Jenny was next and walked into the room with her head held high and full of confidence.  She answered all the questions satisfactorily and even added another couple of her own which she threw back at Sam.  He was intrigued - someone who could think for herself.  Although she had not had any formal HR training she said she had researched it and thought it was something she would like to do.  She realised it would be a lot of training and quoted qualifications from the Institute and asked if these would be included, if not she was happy to complete these in her own time.  She said she was looking to progress her career and was willing to work hard to achieve this.  She smiled at Penny as she said this.  As she left she thanked them for their time and said she was happy to answer any more questions if they felt they had forgotten anything.

She was hardly through the door when Sam and Penny burst out laughing!!! Who was interviewing who here?  Needless to say they were mightily impressed.

The third applicant was a man.  He had worked for the Company for 10 years now and although very knowledgeable about the Company  didn't seem to have much of a grasp about the machinations of a HR role.  He was also a bit vague when asked why he had applied for the job and seemed to be thinking hard before he replied in case it compromised his current position.  Sam saw he was a bit nervous so asked him if he didn't get this job what would he like to do?  He worked as an Auditor at the moment and said he would like to be able to be Head of his own team.  He then spent the next 10 minutes in full flow about why he would be suitable for that role.  Sam agreed with him and made a note to make more training available to him and he would speak to his Head of Department.

Sam and Penny agreed in Jenny they had found their new HR officer and set up another interview with Mr Cotton so he could formally offer her the position.

Penny went back to her office and prepared Jenny's new contract and made up a file of all the training she would be expected to do.  It appeared that she had already researched the role and in some ways knew more about it than Penny who had never taken any formal training.  She felt happy about working with Jenny and could see she was eager to learn and she liked that.

Jenny moved into Penny's office and commenced her training.  The Company Training was done In-House and Jenny was expected to attend all the training of new employees during her own training by shadowing Penny.  Her external training was arranged over the year as there was a lot to do but they managed to get it organised.  Jenny found Penny a brilliant teacher and Mentor but from the personal point of things she was a closed book.  She tended to take her lunch break at her desk and if Jenny ever asked her if she fancied a trip to the shops at lunchtime she was always met with a thank you but too busy.  She gave up in the end as she made it quite clear she just preferred her own company.

 Luckily Jenny had still kept contact with her previous colleagues otherwise she would have been very lonely and end up like Penny.

Often Jenny would have to work on her own in the office while Penny attended to her other duties, most of them pertaining to the Partners diaries.  Occasionally Penny would pop out of the office and Jenny would take phone calls.  Often she just left messages  but this particular day the caller said be sure to tell Penny in person as its urgent.  I am supposed to be meeting her for lunch and can't make it.  She wrote this all down with the name and number and waited for Penny to come back from the Ladies.  She had not noticed earlier but Penny looked really nice today and had a really pretty dress on and had had her hair done.  Jenny relayed the message and she saw Penny's shoulders visibly slump.  She then excused herself and said she would be back in half an hour then Jenny could go to lunch.  Jenny didn't know what to make of it really but thought it was probably work related otherwise why wouldn't he ring her mobile.  A couple of days later Penny walked in wearing her new dress and said she was going out for lunch today so could Jenny take her lunch break  earlier or later than 1pm.  Jenny didn't have any plans so just said she would go early.  She went down to the snack bar where she met up with a couple of people from her old department. 

It was 2.30pm when Penny returned to the office glowing and apologised for being late.  She was like a skittish schoolgirl all afternoon and even made a couple of funny jokes which was quite unlike her.  This was to happen for the next 4 weeks, a different day each week and always she was late back.  On the 5th week Sam tapped at their door and asked Penny if she was ready.  Behind him she could see the back of someone's head but she couldn't make out who it was.  This day she came back even later bearing a cream cake in way of apology.  Sam had asked her out to lunch with an associate who he wanted her to meet as it was likely there would be a lot of contact through the office between them. Jenny said thank you and would it be alright if she went and bought a cup of tea to go with her cake. 

As nice as the lunch dates were they didn't last.  Penny was at a loss as to why but it appeared that Lee was working through the Cambridge office now and had been passed over to Ben.

 Penny  was sad for a while but then came to the conclusion that someone like Lee who could have the pick of any pretty girl with looks like his was hardly likely to choose her for a lunch date was he.  She soon settled down to her old routine and keeping herself to herself. 

Jenny's training was almost complete and she was given some tasks to do on her own.  She still asked Penny out to lunch on the odd occasion and still received the same answer.  When she finally left Penny's tutelage she bought her the most beautiful basket of flowers to say thank you.  Penny was touched to be appreciated.

Conference was expanding and from being a small corporate gathering of 6 - 8 people it had grown to a big event and this year there were going to be 30 delegates.  Sam suggested that Penny have some temporary help this year as he didn't want her overwhelmed.  She had done most of the groundwork like booking the hotel and making sure they would be able to cater for the party of delegates.  They were using somewhere new this year so Sam suggested they take a trip out and give it the once over and try out the menu.  He said he was seeing Lee this week so perhaps he would invite him as well as he usually attended the conference and it would be good to have a view from the other side of the fence so to speak.  Penny didn't know how to get out of this one but she had not heard or seen Lee for some months now. 

Penny had made rather a fool of herself with Lee and he had taken the bull by the horns and told her in very gentle terms that he saw her a work colleague and nothing more.  He was happy to take her out to lunch but just on that basis.  She left the restaurant by the back door and ran to her car in tears.  She had asked him to meet her for an early dinner as the meeting with Sam that day had gone on all afternoon and he said before the meeting he had not had time for lunch.  When he came out of the meeting she stood there with his coat and said she had booked an early dinner for them both as she was sure he would be hungry having no lunch.  He looked a bit taken aback but without causing her embarrassment he just said thank you and he would see her downstairs.  They walked to the restaurant in silence and took their seats at the table.  Penny was in a chatty mood and was acting as if it was a date. 

She could see Lee was feeling very uncomfortable which is when he made his statement.  Penny was mortified and sat in her car until the tears subsided.  He didn't follow her.

On the day of the proposed lunch with Sam and Lee she bailed out with a migraine.  She left it till about 11.00am and said she had to go home as it had got worse during the morning.  Sam said of course and he would ask Jenny to go in her place if it was alright with her.  At that moment he could have asked the Queen of Sheeba for all she cared she just wanted her bed.  Jenny had a lovely time and it was the first time she had met Lee and found him great company.  They were all very pleased with the venue and said Penny had chosen well.  Sam made a mental note to take her there for lunch on her birthday which was in a few weeks time.

Penny agreed to the temporary help for the conference and agreed that help with the preparation would be welcome.  There was a lot of essential tasks to do which were time consuming.  Annie was temping at the Cambridge Office at the time but was happy to go back and work at Huntingdon.

The conference was all ready to go and everything was in place.  Penny's meticulous planning paid off until Lee arrived and thought it would be funny to rearrange all the place names at the dinner table which had caused a bit of a stir.  She was a bit surprised to see Annie sitting opposite Lee as she distinctly remembered putting Annie at one end of the table and herself at the other so they would be able to get up quickly if there were any problems.  Oh well, no matter.  She was still not properly over Lee and still had thoughts of "what if" so she enjoyed watching him but knew there could never be anything between them.  He just stirred her up and she had never felt like this before.  He was also very popular and could be the clown in the middle of the room.  He was certainly a presence all right.  She watched him for a while then saw a knowing look at Annie.  How did he know her?  As it was obvious he did.  She would have to ask Sam later he would know.

After dinner Sam suggested that Penny and Annie take their leave if they wanted to as they both had early starts tomorrow.  Annie said thank you and said she would as she needed to make some phone calls. 

Penny decided to stay downstairs hoping she would see Lee but he seemed to have disappeared.  She went to the bar with Sam who bought her a drink and asked Sam how did Lee know Annie and he said he had met  her in the Cambridge office.  Then they talked about other things.  Penny thought she needed to head Annie off about Lee as she knew she was married and knew that he would string her along like he did to her.  Not tonight though, tomorrow would do.

The next morning after breakfast when the delegates were in their conference Penny found Annie and just warned her to be careful with Lee.  He comes across as your friend but then he lets you down.  Just be careful.  Annie looked shocked but never replied and Penny went to check on lunch.

After the conference Penny had enjoyed the day trip to the Science Park and had been in the Company of one of the delegates who she had only met once before.  He remembered her from last year and they chatted on the bus.  He lived in Peterborough and was about her age.  He asked her what she did in her spare time when she was not organising conferences.  Penny was at a loss really and said her life was mostly taken up with work.  He was very pleasant to chat to and said he was often in Cambridge for work so maybe they could meet up for dinner one evening and gave her his number.  Penny hesitated then he said it was ok when she didn't take it.  She pulled herself back then and thought why not.  He seemed nice enough and had already told her he was single.  She pulled out her wallet and wrote her mobile number of the back of one of her business cards.  When they said goodbye she never gave him another thought as she was not used to the attention.

A couple of weeks later she had a missed call on her mobile and didn't recognise the number then she had a text.  It was just a short message saying he was in Cambridge on Friday afternoon would she like to meet up for dinner.  This was on the Tuesday.  She wasn't sure and as she had only met him twice wasn't sure she wanted to spend the evening with him.  She pulled out the file from the conference just to check what he did.  He was a consultant and specialised in Company Law.  She thought she would just drop his name in conversation when she was talking to Sam.  Her chance came the next day.  Sam said he was a very nice chap and he was hoping he would be available to do some freelance work for the Company then asked her why did she ask about him.  Penny didn't want to give too much away but Sam could see through the smoke and said she would be as safe as houses with him and should go.  She found this reassuring as she knew Sam would be in her corner.  His name was Gerry.  She text him back and asked if he had anywhere in mind and he replied straight away.  They arranged to meet in Huntingdon as if the evening went badly she could just drive herself home or get a taxi.

She was like a  teenager on the Friday and worked her lunch so she could leave early to get ready.  Sam wished her a good weekend and said he hoped she had a nice evening.  It was the first time she had been out to dinner with a man for a long while now so was a bit worried at how to behave.  She need not have worried Gerry was the perfect gentleman and was so easy to talk to she felt she had known him forever.  They had quite a lot in common and he said he liked the same music and always came down to Cambridge once a year to see the ballet.  He lived on his own in Peterborough in a small house he was renovating.  He showed her the pictures and asked her to remember it was a work in progress.  She laughed when she saw the tumbledown kitchen and asked him how did he manage to cook in that. He replied that he wasn't the world's greatest chef and ate out most of the time.  Apart from the few times his mother or sister in law took pity on him. She didn't want the evening to end and was thrilled when he suggested they meet up again in a couple of weeks.  They arranged a time and a date and both put it in their diaries.  He was going to be away for the next week on a big case he was working on in Scotland but said he would keep in touch by text if that was ok.  As they left the restaurant He just gave her a peck on the cheek and said thank you for a lovely evening he had really enjoyed himself.  He saw her to her car and said to drive safely and he would keep in touch. 

Penny thought of all the things they had said and hoped that this time there would be a new beginning for her.

Chapter 2 - Jenny

Annie had been through a lot over the past few years but thankfully life was on the up for her.  Jenny had been by her side through the bad time and when Annie sold her house she was glad she could help her by offering her a room to stay in while she sorted out her flat in Northampton.

Jenny was a giver - always helping out someone or other.  Chris said she attracted lame ducks and she countered with that's probably why we ended up together.  He thought he had landed in heaven the day he met her.  He was going through a very messy divorce and with his ex wife taking him for every penny he had he ended up in a grotty bedsit in Cambridge.  Not the right place for an up and coming Solicitor.  Going home to the parents was not an option as they had retired while he was at university and decided to move to Spain where the climate was better for their arthritic bones.  His dad suffered the most and found winters in the UK were especially hard.  He met Jenny through a mutual friend and they clicked straight  away .  She had been left some money by her grandmother and used that and her savings to buy a small house in a village just outside Cambridge.  To help with her mortgage she had to take in a lodger so Chris moved out of his bedsit and in with her. 

Jenny was a career girl and was intent at climbing the ladder as high as she could.  When she started working for Sam she had felt blessed she had landed on her feet.  Sam's dad was Senior Partner then but he was looking to retirement and with Sam waiting in the wings he started to decrease his working hours until he thought Sam was ready to take the reins.  Mr Cotton was a real gentleman and knew every one of his employees by their first names and was always there at the annual dinner dance.  He made it a rule that he was  always present at the final interview for new staff and made them feel they were part of his extended family. 

Jenny started as a junior audit clerk.  When she came out of university  she did think about going on and completing her articles but her mother was ill with breast cancer and she was needed at home.  Fortunately her mother recovered this time so she started to look for other openings in the Company as it was growing now.  Sam was impressed with her work and thought with some more training she would be an asset.  He had been thinking for a while of starting a dedicated HR department as up until then it had been undertaken by his PA but he thought maybe the time was right.  He approached her Head of Department and asked him if he thought she was ready.  He assured Sam she was and said she soaked up knowledge like a sponge.  Jenny was called to the boardroom and the idea was floated.  She was excited as felt she was ready for a new challenge and promised she would give it her all. The next step was a formal interview.

She was seconded to Sam's PA who guided her through the available training and as she was to be her Mentor said she would be there for her at every step.  There was a lot to do and exams at the end of it.  While she was doing this she was to work with the PA as she needed a good knowledge of the Company as well.  After 18 months and a distinction in her exam everyone thought she was ready to go out on her own.  She was given her own office alongside the wages department who she was to work closely with.  Eventually they would merge to become one department.  Sally the Head of Wages was a motherly sort and took her under her wing.  As Sally was older Jenny assumed that she was nearing her retirement so they were training her up to take over. 

Nevertheless Sally was a great help to her and was never too busy to answer her questions.  She had started as a Junior Clerk straight out of school so she had worked with Mr Cotton and Mr Neville his partner and watched the Company grow.  They had started in the Cambridge office and besides the first floor offices where Ben worked they had the ground floor as well.  As they outgrew this space they moved to Huntingdon to enable the Company to expand. 

Sally finally retired and as Jenny envisaged the HR department and the Wages Department merged and she was offered the post of overall Manager.  She knew most of the wages staff as she had been working with them for two years but now needed to hire her own staff as the Company had now grown to over 100 which included the office in Cambridge.  True most of them worked out of the office most of the time as they worked with the clients mainly but the core offices still had to be staffed.  Jenny was excited at being able to choose her own staff and as was Company Policy the vacancies had to be first advertised internally.  Initially she needed 2 members of staff to work for her a PA and a data clerk to take care of all the personal files.  The latter could be filled by a part time post and she was aware of several employees who would be interested in that one.  As it turned out she had 20 applicants!!! Sadly only 5 were suitable as she couldn't accommodate the required hours for the rest.Most of them were looking for school hours but she needed someone all the year round not just for term time.  Once that post was filled she started her hunt for a PA.  This was a bit more tricky as they also had to step up to be second in charge of the department when Jenny was not available.  The  internal applicants came from several departments but unfortunately after interviewing 8 Jenny could not find anyone suitable so had to advertise.  This was the first test of her job as it was hard to find someone with the right qualifications and experience to be able to meet the criteria.  In the end she had to go to Penny who was her Mentor and ask her advice.  Together they looked again at the application forms and Penny questioned Jenny on what exactly she was looking for.  After a good couple of hours they whittled it down to 4.  2 of them Jenny had already interviewed and 2 she had not.  Cathy looked great on her application form.  Her qualifications were outstanding she was the right age, had some experience of working in an Accountants and had already been working for the Company for 2 years. 

However, at interview she came over sullen, uninterested and the one and only question she asked was how much she was going to be paid!  Next! Just goes to show you can't always tell to you meet them.  Eventually Gail's Head of Department phoned and practically begged Jenny for an interview.  Jenny agreed to see her if she came after work, that would show her commitment!!  Penny  agreed to sit in and sure enough 5pm on the dot there was a knock on the door and in walked Gail.  She was the one.!!!!! She stayed with Jenny for 5 years and only left because she wanted to start her family.  She returned to the Company part time when her last child went to school.

Jenny thrived on hard work and was always looking for little projects to give her staff for training.  Lisa her original data clerk had indicated her  desire to undertake further IT Training.  Jenny then contacted the IT Manager and asked if she could work with him to ascertain if it was right for her.  She took to it like a duck to water and ended up as the In House Trouble shooter.  With her ready smile and commonsense she was a great asset.  Of course Jenny had to replace her but she was pleased to have been able to further her career. Jo arrived to replace Gail and when Lisa left she said to Jenny she thought she would be able to cover Lisa's workload as well.  She would give it a try anyway.  It was only after a few months when Jo was working longer and longer hours that Jenny realised they did need another member of staff after all and explained to Jo as much as she appreciated her efforts she didn't want her working those long hours. 

Jo was an ideal match for Jenny.  She was efficient and always willing.  Jenny felt secure in the knowledge that the office was in safe hands when she was out.  She was mightily impressed when Jo offered to mentor Annie and thought if she does come back at a later date staff  training would be something she could do part time.

Jenny loved her job there was no doubt but she hated the journey into Huntingdon every day as it meant going through Cambridge which was a nightmare.  She had suggested to Sam that maybe they could try Flexi-time as it was quite popular in and around Cambridge.  He was not keen and although she broached it a couple of times there was always a reason why it wouldn't work.

Her only other option was to move nearer to Huntingdon.  She had looked around at houses and found that it was cheaper than where she lived at the moment so she may be able to buy a 3 bed roomed house for the same mortgage as she had now.  Chris was still her lodger but she didn't see much of him as he was nearly at the end of his exams and what with all the day to day work he had was always busy.  Still just another 6 months and he would be a fully qualified practicing solicitor.  He worked for a practice in Cambridge and was very happy there.  In a rare conversation he had said he would like to stay there if they will have him.  His divorce had been finalised and he had managed to get a reduced settlement which meant he could not only pay his rent but he could eat as well!  Jenny loved to cook and often left him something cooked in the fridge with a note to help himself during the week. 

Sundays she usually went to see her parents. 

Jenny had not had time for boyfriends.  There was one she went out with for a while but he was quite needy and couldn't understand why she poured so much into her job.  She just came to the conclusion they would not be suited as he just saw work as a means to earn money to spend on drink over the weekend.  The downside being when they went out they either had to pay for a taxi or she had to drive.

Once Chris had finished his exams she broached the subject of moving house.  He took it totally the wrong way and his face fell till she thought he was going to cry.  She explained that she wasn't asking him to leave just what did he think?  He breathed a sigh of relief then as he knew he would never find lodgings as nice as this for the rent he paid in Cambridge.  He was fine with the idea as he said the journey from Huntingdon to his office wasn't a problem as he could get the train.  That settled Jenny started to look properly for a house.  Chris said if she found something he was happy to give her more rent as he was in a better financial situation now.  The Practice he worked for had offered him a Junior Solicitor post and this would mean a better salary.

Jenny felt more secure now as meant she could look for something she really liked rather than what she could afford.  She and Chris were happy housemates and if they had a social event when they needed a plus one like her Annual Dinner Dance or a party they often went together.  They had been living together for 2 years when he finally plucked up the courage to ask her out on a real date.  She was flattered at first then worried in case they didn't really get on in that situation which was a bit stupid as they had effectively been going out together for about a year so told herself not to be silly.  She had even took him to meet her parents who got on with him really well, especially her dad.  When Chris's parents came over for his brother's wedding he even asked her to go with him to that.  Jenny did feel a bit awkward on that occasion as everyone thought they were together and they had to endure the inevitable "your turn next"! They both took it in good humour and just laughed it off.  The date went well and they found out, once they actually had the time to talk to each other, that they had a lot in common.  One date led to another and it soon became evident that there was a spark on both sides.  They even booked a holiday together to Portugal calling in at his parents who made her very welcome.  It was soon after that it got serious and Chris was talking about getting married.  Jenny wasn't sure as she was still totally wrapped up in her job and knew he was too in his.  They just agreed to wait a bit longer and see how they felt as they were happy as they were.  The epiphany came at the most unexpected time when Jo had her baby.

Jenny had never really thought about children.  She was an only child and had never really had much to do with them.  With all her time devoted to her job she couldn't really see a future giving it all up for a child.  Until she met Charlie.  He was everyone's favourite baby and enchanted all that met him.  When Jo asked her to be his Godmother she was totally in awe and delighted to be given this privilege.  He was eighteen months now and clambering about all over the place.  Chris just watched her with him and his heart melted.  He just saw the future and them with their own baby.  It was then he asked her to marry him - again!!!  She didn't know if it was her hormones or the fact that this little boy had captured her heart but she said yes straight away.  It was time to plan a wedding!

Chapter 3 - Laura

Laura was, as usual, chasing her tail.  The boys always had to be taken somewhere and Kenny was rarely around these days.  He had started his own business now which meant if he wasn't out working or looking for work, he was holed up in the study with his accounts.  His first step into renovation at Kitty's house had inspired him and he said to Laura he was fed up just making money for someone else and wanted to go it alone.  He was a hard worker and never minded the time he spent working but it was hard on the boys as they missed him being at home.  Laura just wanted him to share a bit more as she felt like a single parent at the moment.  Her own job was taking up so much time that she had to juggle her diary just so she could go and have a haircut.  She longed for school holidays and summer camp so the boys would be taken care of.  They didn't even have Centre Parcs any more as Grandad had broken his hip and Nonna couldn't manage them on her own.  Kenny's sister offered to take them but Laura thought that was a bit too much as she had two of her own.  Also, she would have to reciprocate and she really didn't think she had the energy for taking four children on holiday.

Kenny had completed the house in Cambridge and invited 3 different estate agents round to value it.  He was pleasantly surprised at the valuations  and so it would be sold quickly he opted for a multi agent deal.  He was hoping to be able to sell it within 6 months but sadly with a buyer that couldn't make up her mind, it dragged on till he had to take it off the market and let it out.  This was another added pressure as he had to maintain it and collect the rents.  After 3 months the original buyer came back with a lower offer but said they had sold their house and were ready to move.  He explained that the leases were 6 months so they couldn't move in for another 3 months.  As expected they walked away but obviously some things happen for a reason.  A few weeks later he was approached by one of the tenants asking if he was interested in selling the house as his father was an entrepreneur and was looking for a student house to buy.  Deal done.  He paid a fair price and because of the buyer's contacts and experience of the housing market it went through really quickly.

With the money paid in to Kitty's bank account Kenny could concentrate on his own business.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief - especially Kitty - as she was beginning to worry her savings would run out and she would struggle to find her rent.

Kenny had been looking around for a property to develop on the outskirts of Cambridge.  He was struggling to find one at the right price then one day while driving home he found a tumbledown house with a huge garden.  There was no for sale sign or anything but it looked as if someone had been living there.  When he got home he looked on the internet to see if he could find any information on it as it was just a small village location.  He was unlucky on this occasion and drew a blank.  Hs next idea was to contact the local estate agent and see if they knew of it.  They didn't.  He had to leave it for now as he already had plenty of work on at the moment but would keep it in mind.

Laura thought he was mad as he was working 12 hour days and most Saturdays, he needed to slow down a bit.  She was also worried about Kitty.  She had not taken the breakup of Annie and Tim's marriage well and although Tim had been to see her and even took her to Southampton to see his flat and to meet Julie she was not happy about it all.  She didn't say anything in front of Julie but she certainly had a lot to say to Tim when he was taking her home.  He told Laura after he wished he had earplugs!  Kitty was also upset as she felt with all her health problems she had played a small part in the situation.  No matter how many times Laura and Tim tried to reassure her she was still adamant that if Tim had not been staying with her while she was ill he and Annie would not have grown apart like they did.  Tim could not placate her and said he didn't blame her and was glad he could look after her like he did. 

Kitty missed Annie.  She thought of her as a daughter and with the absence of her own mother she had always been close to Annie. 

Apart from the odd postcard and birthday and Christmas cards she had not seen or heard from Annie for some time and this hurt.  Laura had tried to meet up with her but Annie was always too busy and now that she had finally moved to Northampton she seemed to have severed all her connections.  She still sent them cards and presents for the boys but apart from that there was no contact.  Laura missed her too as they were closer sisters than Annie was to her own sister.  Laura felt like she had lost her best friend.  Kenny tried to console her and said they had to accept that Annie had a different life now.  Kitty's 80th birthday was getting ever closer and Laura wanted to have a small celebration for her as it was a big milestone.  She told Tim they ought to do something but him being in Southampton he was not a lot of help and just said for her to go ahead and he would foot the bill.  She still had almost a year to go so she would put it on hold for the moment.

Kenny had still not given up on the tumbledown house and decided he would take a ride out there one Sunday and just see if there was anyone in the village who knew who it belonged to.  He had asked in the local shop and a couple of people who were walking their dogs but nobody seemed to know until he saw a very old man digging his garden at the end of the village.  He just passed the time of day and admired his vegetables then he asked if he knew he owned the house.  He had struck gold.  The old man told him that the house had been empty for some time now but it was left to the church in a will.  The church had not done anything with it because it was going to cost too much to renovate.  His theory was with the added land they were waiting for the right offer from a developer who would probably knock down the house and build a housing estate on it.  Kenny was intrigued and made a mental note to find the church and speak to the churchwarden.  He bade the  old man goodbye and went off in search of the church.  He found it eventually tucked up the end of a tiny unmarked lane.  This building also looked neglected and when he tried the door it felt as if it had not been opened for a long while it was stuck fast.  He couldn't find a notice board or any sign of a vicarage.  He was about to give up and go home when he heard a rustling in the small graveyard which surrounded the church.  He walked around the side of the church and saw a man in a clerics collar tending one of the graves.  He didn't want to startle him so he walked as slowly as he could trying to be as quiet as a mouse.  The man must have sensed him as he turned round and smiled.  He was indeed the Vicar but he was in charge of 4 parishes now so there was only a service here once a month.  Kenny asked him about the house and he confirmed it was indeed owned by the church.  He also said they had been approached by a local builder to build 8 houses on the site but he wanted to knock down the house and clear the site. A condition of the will was that the house had to be retained. It never even went to planning as there were so many objections from the local community the builder didn't have the heart for it.  Kenny took all this information and wondered if it would be a good idea to float his plan.  The Vicar did look friendly and approachable but Kenny thought maybe now was not the right time.  He suggested he could come back and maybe discuss it further.  The Vicar replied that any plans would have to go in front of the Bishop before any decisions were discussed so he suggested that he phone him and set up a meeting.  They exchanged telephone numbers and Kenny made his way home.  This could be a new beginning for his family.

It was still light when he arrived home so he suggested to the boys they go to the park for a kickabout.  He had not done this for a long time and felt he needed some time with his sons.  Laura just smiled and waved them off.

Chapter 4 - Tim

Tim opened the envelope that the postman had just put through the letterbox it was from the divorce solicitor.  He called to Julie who was in the kitchen and waved the piece of paper in front of her.  They both whooped for joy.  It was his divorce absolute - they could now arrange their wedding.

Tim went onto the balcony  with his coffee and sat and reflected on the past few years. It had been hard at times what with his health and Kitty's fall and her move.  At times he never thought he would ever get to this point.

When he and Annie moved to Huntingdon it was like a new start for them.  London was ok but when he was made redundant from the bank he felt like his whole world had collapsed.  It wasn't just the loss of earnings, although that was a body blow as no matter how much you earn you always live to that and his earnings were huge.  Looking back he just couldn't imagine how they managed to spend that much each month and not have a lot to show for it.  Luckily Annie was very good with money and she had always managed to spirit some away into savings when he was yearning for the latest phone or watch or his worst extravagance - first edition books.  Some of them cost a fortune and he hardly ever read them so that was a total waste.  They really felt the pinch when his earnings dropped but Annie still managed to save.  This was just as well because when they decided to move to Huntingdon and buy the house they needed every penny they had.  They had not realised at the outset how many costs there were around buying a house like legal fees and stamp duty to name the most expensive ones.

They managed to survive for a few months but Tim had to find a job with a good wage for them to manage.  It was while he was looking for work that Julie popped up on his radar.  She had retrained to be a Programmer and was doing very nicely thank you.  They still kept in touch by the odd email and he was putting out contacts to everyone he knew to be able to find a job.  She sent him all the details and her contacts for the training which he followed up.  Once he completed his training he emailed her to thank her and said he owed her a drink.  She replied that it would be lovely but she was in Hong Kong working so maybe when she came home.  He never gave her another thought until the phone call from Dan in Southampton.

When the call came Tim was not in a good place.  He had finished his current contract and although there were others in the pipeline he was in danger of running out of work.  He didn't tell Annie any of this as something usually turned up and she had enough on her plate with the new job and everything.  As he was staying with Kitty at the time they were not really communicating very much anyway.  He felt they were drawing apart as all they ever talked about where practicalities .  The odd couple of times he had tried to talk to her she had to meet up with her colleagues, or she had planning to do, or a course she had to attend.  There was never any time for him.

He liked the sound of the contract in Southampton and thought maybe a proper break would be good for them both.  He wasn't to know at the time about the future plans for him this came later.  He had also started to feel unwell.  Nothing specific but just not right in himself.  His trip to the doctor though made him feel worse.  Jeff had been at university with Tim and they had both been in the rugby team so were good friends back in the day.  Medically the doctor thought there was nothing to worry about and wrote him a prescription for antibiotics.  Then he started to talk of more personal things and asked Tim if he was still with Annie.  Tim just laughed and said what an odd question but it worried him.  Jeff was a bit embarrassed then but he had to finish as Tim was waiting for him to continue.  Jeff had seen Annie with another man.  Not once but twice and it was the same man.  Tim said it was probably work related as she had just started a new job and was taking a lot of training at the moment.  When he left the doctors though he was puzzled.

He was in two minds whether to mention the conversation to Annie, either about his health or the fact she had been seen with another man.  In the end he needed to see if the antibiotics worked and didn't want to mention it to her and worry her unnecessarily.  Therefore he couldn't mention the conversation with Jeff either.  The one thing he could share with her was the trip to Southampton.  She was fine with it and said she had to go away to a conference and also some training courses.  Tim accepted this as they had never held each other back, nor been jealous of the time spent apart.  They trusted each other.

As time went on and Annie was away more and more Tim began to wonder if there was in fact another man around.  They were still spending time on their own even when they were both home and if he asked her to go over to his mother's she was always making the time spent there shorter and shorter.  His mother had mentioned it a couple of times always ending with the fact Annie is always so busy these days.

When he was offered the permanent position in Southampton he had hoped she would come with him and they could make another new start.  He had made friends there now and was building up his contacts.  Julie had not told him beforehand that  she was working for Dan now in the field and was around a lot.  They did go for that drink he owed her and ended up going for many more.  He could talk to her and with her sharing a flat with a nurse he often asked her questions about his health problem which had not gone away.  It was Julie that had persuaded him to take advantage of the private health insurance and get a second opinion.  They were still good mates at this point and although they spent a lot of time together they never overstepped the boundaries as she knew he was married.  It was only when he came back and had the showdown with Annie about moving to Southampton that he realised it wasn't going to happen and their marriage was all but over.  He waited for her to tell him about the other man but she never did.  That's when he knew as he went home one day to the house unexpectedly and she had left her laptop on with Lee's emails on the screen.  He could have asked her what was going on but he knew it was too late for that.

The weekend that he stormed out the house was her last chance to tell him but she didn't and he realised then that she had decided what she wanted and it wasn't Southampton and it wasn't him.  He had to go back on the Saturday for an appointment at the clinic and was going to ask her to go with him.  In the event Julie went with him and all the appointments and scans since.  She had put her life on hold for him and had done it gladly.  It took something like that to make him realise how much he thought of her and what she meant to him.

They were going to have a quiet wedding just their immediate families.  He had hoped Kitty would be able to make it  but she wasn't a good traveller for long journeys so they agreed to go up and see her and take her out for dinner.  Laura and Kenny with the boys were coming and Julie's parents and sister.  Kath her flatmate and Sam were going to be witnesses. Now they could start their new beginning.

Chapter 5 - Annie

Annie continued to live her life in a whirl.  She had started her new job in Northampton which brought many more responsibilities with it.  She thrived on it though and although there never seemed to be enough hours in the day for her she loved it.  She had built a brilliant staff around her department and all the support staff were now in place.  Joe Bugg one of the Senior Partners had worked alongside her from the outset and they had a really good working relationship.  He was slow and steady but always had the Company at heart.

She had finally moved in to her flat and she and Lee agreed it would probably be the best option for them for a while.  He had expanded his business and had even had an office built on the side of his house with room for a full time secretary who he employed to keep his diary and arrange his many appointments.  He was travelling a wider area now so his journeys in the week were often further afield meaning he needed to stay away more.  Weekends were sacrosanct though and Annie always drove up to Nottingham on Friday nights to stay the weekends at the house.  They were often tired after a busy week but they made the best of the two days they had together.

They did eventually take their holiday and on the recommendations of Lizzie, Annie's sister, went to Antigua for a wonderful 2 week break where they just lazed by the beautiful pool in the hotel or swam in the azure blue sea.  It was bliss and a break they both needed.  The hotel was on a private headland and the views were magical.  Everything you could ever imagine was catered for.  Being very private it was a popular destination for weddings but they were provided for in a very select separate part of the complex.  In fact there were 3 weddings there while they were there but you would never have known.  Lee was very tempted to book their wedding there but Annie held back and said they should not decide right now but to give it some thought and just asked for the brochures and prices.  As she thought it would have been prohibitively expensive but it could work if they just had a quiet wedding and a reception when they got home.  It was something to ponder on.

They were not home for long when the madness took over and they were both fully immersed in their jobs.

Connie, Annie's mother, was threatening to pay another visit but Annie didn't know if she could face that at the moment.  She had not even told her that she and Tim were in the middle of a divorce as she never replied to emails and only ever contacted Annie when she wanted to come and stay.  She had not heard from her for 2 years.  Lizzie said the same.  She had even asked if she could go and see her in New Zealand as Phil her husband was planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand but she never replied to her emails, texts or her phone calls.  The nearest she got was when she rang the home phone number she had and Brian answered and said she was on another cruise and wouldn't be there when they were planning to visit.  Lizzie had all but given up on her and said Annie should too.  Annie just put it on the back burner she had too many other things to think about.

Jenny and Chris were getting married and she had promised Jenny she would look at wedding dresses with her.  Sadly Jenny's mother had lost her fight with breast cancer at the beginning of the year and died before  Jenny and Chris had had time to tell her about the wedding.  It was a sad time for Jenny but she felt better able to continue with her plans and asked Annie to help her.  Annie was touched that she asked her and said she would be delighted.  It set her thinking about her own wedding to Lee. 

Lee was working all hours that God sent at the moment and was thinking of taking on an assistant to help him.  He had taken on a Secretary who was doing a grand job and very efficient.  It took the admin tasks away from him so he was not poring over his diary every weekend and arranging appointments.  He just arrived home on Friday night to a printed list of appointments and phone calls for the next week. 

Together with hotel reservations if appropriate.  Sue also updated his diary daily online so wherever he was he could check on his schedule.  She was worth her weight in gold.  He tried to make time for a meeting with her once a month face to face as well.  It meant weekends were spent with Annie and they could enjoy their little time together.  He still wanted her to come and live with him permanently but she said she needed a bit more time.  Their holiday had been fantastic.  He just wished he could have her at home with him all the time but he wouldn't put pressure on her as he wanted it to be her decision.

Annie was pleased with her small flat, it was just a small 2  bedroom in a block of 6 but it was all hers.  She was happy for the time being and had only bought the minimum of furniture as the estate agent advised her if  she was thinking of renting it in the future unfurnished flats were easier to rent.  The kitchen was fully fitted and there was a small shower and bath.She just had a sofa and a coffee table in the lounge along with a big comfy armchair which she had brought from Lee's house. There was no tv but she had bought a Bose music player as she liked to wind down with some music and always liked it in the background if she was working. She felt most comfortable settled down and  curled up in Lee's chair with  its deep softness and she felt closer to him with it there.  He had helped her to choose the bed as he said she needed to have a comfy bed for when he stayed over which was not often. There were built in wardrobes and a small dressing table. Jenny had stayed a couple of times when she had been visiting the Northampton office and they had enjoyed their couple of bottles of wine and usually had a takeaway to save the effort of cooking.  She had been there for a year now and although Lee was not pushing her to move in with him she really thought perhaps it was time to make the decision.

Annie looked at her watch.  She wished she had brought the car now, the train had been late leaving and she was already 5 minutes late.  She knew Jenny would be waiting for her as she was always early.  today was going to be bittersweet as it was a time mums and daughters shared as special.  Not that it would happen in Annie's case as her mother had just about made it in time to her first wedding so was not holding her breath she would make it on time for the next one.  Still, that was Connie.  Unconventional and very self centred, she wasn't going to change now.

The train picked up speed and she finally arrived at Cambridge station  7 minutes late.

They had not seen each other for a month so there was plenty to catch up on during the drive to Bury St Edmunds.  They parked the car and continued to the boutique which was in a small side road tucked out of the way.  Luckily they had googled it beforehand or they would never have found it.  It was only small but seemed to go backwards like a tardis and there were so many dresses to choose from.  Jenny had in mind what she wanted but with all the choice the owner suggested different styles for her to try on.  It was a wonderful day and Jenny finally chose "the one" from all the dresses she had tried on.  Once decided and the first fitting arranged they floated out into the street and decided to go for lunch.  With all the thoughts of the gorgeous dresses Annie decided there and then she would be back for her own wedding dress.  The shopping centre was very inviting and neither of them were in a hurry so they had a good look around the shops while they were there.  Jenny had not decided on her bridesmaids yet but Chris did have a young niece who was champing at the bit so they took a trip around the bridal department in Debenhams for ideas.  Jenny took a few pictures of those she liked which she could send to Chris's mum so she could share in it too.  She had thought of asking her along today but she was in Spain and  not very mobile so Chris said it wouldn't be a good idea but would be nice to keep her in the loop.  Annie had also taken a picture of her in her dress so Jenny could show Chris's mum.  It was while they were looking at bridesmaids dresses that she asked Annie if she would be her Maid of Honour.  She was an only child and there were not many cousins she could ask as she was a lot younger than they were.  Annie was delighted and said she would love to.  They spent the next hour trying on bridesmaids dresses and shoes.  It turned out to be a lovely day and although Annie didn't buy her dress they agreed when they came back for Jenny's fitting they would buy it then along with one for Chris's niece.  Jenny also wanted to look for flowers.  As Chris suffered from awful hay fever they had to go for silk flowers or he would be sneezing all day!

The wedding was to be in a small hotel in Cambridge.  Neither of them were religious so they had chosen a civil ceremony and were having the whole day there.  It was in a pretty spot near the river.  Jenny said next time she came down she would take Annie to see it.  That was all booked and they provided a full wedding package from the Friday night so there were no cars required.  Chris had been tasked with the honeymoon arrangements and Jenny was hoping they were not going to stay in his parents' villa while they were here visiting their daughter after the wedding.  He was being a bit shifty about it all at the moment.

Annie had really enjoyed herself with Jenny and when Jenny suggested she stay over and go back in the morning she was really tempted but she knew Lee would be waiting for her so she declined but promised next time he was away on a weekend she would come for the whole weekend.  He had to go and see his dad quite soon as he had not been well again.  She did go with him the last time but it was a bit fraught as his dad was having a bad day and the sight of stranger seemed to set him off.  Lee said he felt awful she had to see him like that but Annie had seen Tim's granddad with dementia so she knew what to expect and it didn't worry her.  While she was there she met Zoe, Lee's sister and her family.  She made her feel so welcome and aid she couldn't wait for them to settle down together.  She was not sure what Lee had said so she just smiled.  Lee's niece and nephew were adorable and Tilly asked when we were getting married.  Lee looked horrified but 8 year olds just say what they think with no filters.  Zoe told Lee to shut his mouth as there was a bus coming.  This made Tilly worse as she told all the adults mummy was being silly as they didn't have busses coming through the kitchen which set everyone off laughing.  Leo the 10 year old just looked at his sister with the expression of "here she goes again".  He looked very long suffering and was quite serious.  They left with bags of produce from the garden and homemade jam and marmalade with a promise to Tilly they would see her very soon and maybe she could come and visit them.  Lee chuckled as he got in the car and said you know she will be asking Zoe every day now when they are coming to see us.  Oops poor Zoe. 

Sadly Lee had to go to his dad sooner than he expected  as he had been poorly with pneumonia and he doctor said he should come.  He lasted another 3 days going in and out of consciousness but lost his fight the day before his 79th birthday.  Lee stayed on with Zoe to arrange the funeral.  He was going to have a cremation in Devon but they were going to bring the ashes back to Northampton and have a memorial service.  They had already arranged when his mother died to place his ashes next to hers in the local churchyard.  Lee's parents had been very well respected in the community and were both very active in local groups.  When his mother was alive they used to open the gardens once a year for charity and often had the garden fete there.  They were well loved.  Since his mother died they had built a new sports pavilion in the village.  Lee thought it would be a nice gesture of remembrance to site a memorial bench outside the pavilion in their honour.  Zoe and Annie thought this was a very thoughtful.

Lee was away for 3 weeks in the end with all the arrangements and the funeral.  He had to deal with the will but that was straightforward as everything had been left to him and Zoe equally with a small trust for any grandchildren.  Lee's mother had only met Leo as she died when Zoe was having Tilly.  Annie went down for the funeral on the train and then came back with Lee in the car the day after.  He was exhausted as had taken on the lion's share of the arrangements with  a little help from Zoe.  Annie drove while Lee slept. 

Annie arrived back at Nottingham to find the house empty and the car gone.  She phoned Lee on his mobile but he didn't answer which was odd.  She was a bit worried as it was getting late and she was later than she expected to be.  She tried his mobile again half an hour later but this time it went straight to ansafone.  She checked in his diary which Sue had left on the kitchen table.  That was another strange thing, as once he had read it he usually put it back in the office.  She wondered if he had been home.  She checked her watch and saw it was nearly 9pm so she looked at to see if Amy's light was on in the cottage.  As it was she just tapped on the door and asked her if she had seen him today.  She said she hadn't and he always popped in to see Bobby so she thought we were away.  Annie didn't want to worry Amy so she said perhaps she had misunderstood the arrangements and wandered back to the house.  It was half an hour later when she found a message from him on her phone asking her if she was staying over at Jenny's for the night.  He was at her flat and had popped out to get fish and chips when she had been ringing him and had forgotten to take his phone!!!!!  They agreed that he would come to the house then at least they would have Sunday together!!!.  He had totally misunderstood it when she said she would drive back to the house Saturday night.  He thought she had meant the flat when she said she would drive home.  Annie was in tears now as she had really worried that something had happened to him and he was hurt.

He was back at the house in 50 mins carrying a carrier bag with saveloys and pineapple fritters.  Her favourites.  She fell into his arms at the door and realised no matter whether he was physically here all the time or not her future was with him in his house.  She had prevaricated enough it was time to put the flat on the market, move in and plan a wedding.  Her new beginnings start on Monday but first where is that supper.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: May 22, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Marlene49. All rights reserved.

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