Helen parks her two-year-old Ford Fiesta (dark blue, low mileage, immaculate when she got it although it could do with a good clean now) and looks around for a ticket machine. There doesn’t seem to be one. Fair enough. Haven’t the Welsh cottoned on to charging for parking yet? They must be pretty relaxed about it. Not that there’s been a great deal of traffic on the roads for the last seventy miles or so, and not that much here in Lampeter for that matter. But this is Saturday afternoon (although admittedly late; going on for a quarter to five) for goodness sake. Northallerton would be heaving. Where is everybody? Not been a nuclear war, has there? Oh well.
She gathers up her bag, gets out, locks the door and looks around the square, which seems to be given over entirely to car parking, although it’s barely a quarter full. It’s pretty though; spick and span with small neat terraced houses ranged along three sides, their walls tricked out in various colours, like a paint sample card, some of them unapologetically strong. The house is on the north side of the square, Tomos said. Typical man! How the hell is she supposed to know which the north is? She doesn’t carry a bloody compass around with her! But he also said, helpfully, that his little house is painted bright blue and that there’ll probably be Mair’s little red Citroen parked outside. Yes, there it is, to her left, almost directly in front of her. Blue house, red car. That must be it; it must surely be a unique combination of house, car colour and car make. Well, almost. Anyway, glancing around again, there’s no other bright blue house to be seen.
She heads towards the house, already feeling a little nervous. Surely Tomos didn’t choose that colour himself, did he, she thinks, it’s a touch on the excessive side. She reaches the white plastic door, hesitates a moment, rings the bell.
It’s only moments before the door is opened. A small slight blonde girl; black skinny jeans, big bottle-green jumper halfway down her thin thighs stands there, a questioning expression quickly giving way to broad grin.
‘Helen?’ she says, unnecessarily.
‘The same!’ Helen grins back. This must be Mair. Seems nice. Very welcoming anyway.
‘Mair I take it?’ She tries to pronounce the name properly, the way Tomos told her.
Mair seems uncertain whether to extend her hand for shaking or open her arms for a hug, so Helen takes the initiative and opens her own, embraces her and pecks a cheek. Well, she’s sort of family, after all.
‘Lovely to see you,’ says Mair, ‘I’ve heard so much about you.’
Then remembers herself. She becomes solemn. ‘Er, I’m so sorry . . .’ She flounders a little, searching for appropriate words.
‘That’s okay,’ says Helen. ‘I know; it’s an odd sort of situation. You must have mixed up feelings about it. I’m getting over it, slowly, though.’
Mair says, relieved to be extricated from awkwardness, ‘Anyway do come in; it’s not very warm out here. Rain coming by the look of that sky.’
She backs into the room (the door opens directly into the snug, low-ceilinged lounge), allowing Helen in, as Tomos rises from the sofa and turns to greet her. It’s only the third time she’s seen him, actually, and there’s the same jolt of surprise, of recognition. God; you’re so incredibly like your brother. I can never get over it. Well, apart from the long hair of course. Apart from that, so like Wayne. Now you’re filling out, the sameness is even more pronounced.
Tomos comes around the end of the sofa, arms open. He’s not unsure as to the correct welcome, anyway. Helen embraces him. She’s not sure how delicate he still is, but he seems remarkably strong, and his kiss on her cheek is generous. The embrace seems to last just slightly too long for propriety; teeters perilously close to the embarrassing, but then he pulls away. His familiar hazel eyes dance.
‘Hello Helen. Thanks for coming. Great to see you.’
‘And you too Tomos. You look really well.’
‘Yes, and I feel it, thanks. A lot better than four months ago, that’s for sure.’
‘Good! I’m really pleased!’
He indicates the only other seating in the little room, a blue repp covered armchair. ‘Sit down, please. Oh; sorry, let’s take your coat.’
Helen drops her bag down by the armchair and unbuttons, removes her parka. He takes it from her and hands it to Mair (‘Hang this up Cariad, you’re nearer’) who hangs it on the rack by the front door. She sinks down into the armchair as Tomos resumes his seat on the sofa. He’s looking at her with that so-familiar, slightly lop-sided grin on his face. He’s still not as beefy as Wayne and perhaps never will be. But then poor Tomos is hardly in the Welsh rugby player bracket, far from it.
She relaxes back against the cushions. It’s been a long journey. This is all very comfy. She smiles back at Tomos. Look at you, sitting there in your blue sweater, looking almost muscular. Perhaps you will be, given time. You look as if nothing’s happened, almost. There’s a little colour in your cheeks. And you’ve got this nice little house. And Mair. Lucky you, Tomos.
Then catches herself. Well; lucky now anyway, but you certainly weren’t before. It looks as if you’re going to be fine, but you must have been through hell.
Mair pipes up: ‘Anyone for tea? Or coffee? What’ll it be for you Helen?’
‘Oh, tea, please Mair. I’m gasping. Milk, no sugar, thanks.’
Helen stretches her fur-lined (artificial of course) booted feet out in front of her, crossing them at her slightly thick ankles. She’d no idea what sort of weather to expect this far south, but it was still pretty parky back home and had decided to wear them just in case. Needn’t have bothered as it’s turned out, with the nice fire (well, gas-fired pretend woodstove, by the look of things). She might have to take them off in a bit. Tomos is still looking at her fixedly, still grinning. She almost wishes he’d stop; it’s getting a little unnerving. But then the grin deserts his face. He’s all solicitousness.
‘And you’re really okay, are you, Helen?’
Helen sighs; trots out the usual reassurance. ‘Yes, I really am fine now Tomos. Can’t rewrite the past. You’re the one who matters now.’