Rowan’s Way: 6 Red Beret

 

The day passed in a blur. After what seemed endless phone calls, things were arranged for Sunday. I would do the 8 o’clock in town and then Communion at 11 at Dunhelm. Stephen, one of the non-stipendiaries, would do the 9 o’clock at Clendon and evensong at Clendon Magna, Stephanie would do the family service at Arburgh at 11 and I would do evensong (traditional language) at Stopford. Little Linstead would, I feared, have to take care of itself. Lord Surtees hardly ever went, and the villagers tended to follow his lead. I checked with the estate manager and he confirmed that would be in order. Seven Churches was just too much for our reduced contingent. I was not sure how I would manage three services, but Vera, the other church warden at St Hilda’s was happy to act as my taxi service. It was a reminder that I really did need it to get on with the driving lessons, though goodness knows when I’d find the time.

By the time all that was done, and I’d phoned Susan, who told me how guilty she felt, and let the webmaster know the arrangements so he could put them all up on the site, I felt as though all I wanted to do was collapse onto the sofa and listen to some music. Instead, I had to get myself ready for Ryan. I could, of course, have cancelled, but as he’d come up earlier from town … gosh, the fibs one tells oneself, I reflected, as I perfected my lipstick, adjusted my silver necklace, and checked that my striped top was properly tucked into my slightly short black, pleated skirt. I thought the red beret would set it all off well.

Bang on the dot of seven the doorbell rang.

“That red beret, just the thing. Suits you Ma’am,” he joked. “I thought you might like the Goose and egg out at Dunhelm, so took the liberty of booking.”

It was the most expensive restaurant in twenty miles, a Michelin star and rave reviews in one of the Sunday nationals.

“Sounds like the first of many liberties, Ryan,” I laughed.

“That’s up to you, and I make it a rule never to tangle with anyone wearing a red beret.”

The restaurant lived up to its reputation, and I felt at ease with him. Yet again, he went the carnivore route, this time guinea-fowl with a white wine reduction, while, again, I went the vegetarian, this time pomegranate quinoa salad with kale. The Chardonnay was excellent, but this time he limited himself to the wine, and one glass at that. By the time the waitress brought the cheese and biscuits, we had relaxed into each other’s company, and the verbal sparring had stopped.

“Is it a cease-fire?” It was as though he’d read my mind.

“Were we at war, then?” I teased back.

“Only the eternal war of the sexes.”

“That,” I said with more cynicism than I had meant to show, “ceases only when the man has taken his prey.”

“I will take your word on anything to do with praying,” he joked, and I enjoyed the pun.

“And Allegra?” I queried, raising the name of his girlfriend.

“She may exemplify your maxim, Rowan, but to be accurate, you’d have to add the prefix, ‘ex’ as that is her status.”

“You or her?” I looked him in the eye. A direct question for once, and I signalled I was expecting a straight answer.

“You!” He smiled. I hesitated, not quite knowing what to say.

Seeing that, he added:

“If I want a chance with you, it would be unfair to lead Allegra on, and as she wasn’t prepared to wait to see how rural affairs developed, we agreed to end it – amicably.”

Now I was genuinely unsure what to say. Of course, he could be making it all up, how was I to know? But as he thought it worth going there, I could hardly question his good faith unless, of course, I wanted to signal that I was not interested; and I was – very.

“Don’t tell me I have finally reduced you to silence?” His broad smile told me he was anything but sorry if that had been the case.

“I dare say there are many more fish in the sea.” I parried back.

“My nets are cast your side of the boat, Rowan.”

“Are you sure you want to catch a lady Vicar?”

“I didn’t bring you here to say I don’t want to see you again, so you can assume I do want to catch you.”

“And I didn’t come, after an exhausting day, to tell you thanks but no thanks.” There, I had said it.

I was not in the mood for coffee, so ordered some fennel tisane, while he, as usual, had an espresso.

As we settled until the easy chairs, he stretched out his hand. I responded. His hand was cooler than mine and strong; I liked the firmness. His eyes met mine.

“Let me get this out now before I regret it.”
I looked at him questioningly.

“From what you said last time, I am assuming that you wouldn’t welcome a full -scale assault on your virtue, so I shan’t try. I mention it in case you have changed your mind, and so you don’t think I don’t want you.”

I heard myself laugh, though did not consciously do so.

“I am an old-fashioned girl,” Ryan, “and if you want modern mores, I’m not the girl for you.”

“You intrigue me, shall we say, and I am curious but patient. We have time.”

“All the time in the world,” I added.

He paid, again, and helped me in with my coat.

“I do like that beret, but I am afraid I lied earlier?”

I began to ask how but discovered that he was not averse to tangling with someone wearing a red beret as he pulled me to him and kissed me. Shivers shot through me, I tingled in places I didn’t usually and found my lips opening. His tongue felt its way in, and I found myself on tiptoe. It was everything those novels said it should be.

I don’t know how long we stayed like that. My arms clung round his neck, and I felt myself pulled into him, his hands on my hips. He felt warm, he smelt delicious. After what seemed an age, we disengaged. He looked at me.

“It’s a good job I made the other promise, the one I intend to stick to.”

Breathing heavily, I could only agree. I had never felt this way before. I was in a daze as he drove me back. As I unfastened my safety-belt he leaned over, and again our lips met. For a moment I struggled with the feelings surging through me, but I held firm.
“Thank you,” I said, “that was … .”

“That words fail you tells me more than you could say, Rowan. Let me ring you tomorrow, and see whether by then words have come.”

He kissed me once more.

As I watched him drive off, I realised that for the first time in my life, I was facing a challenge to my principles. As I hung my beret up, I giggled to myself. It was all very well him tangling with a red beret wearer, but was I up to resisting?

 

About JessicaHoff
Church of England. Survivor. Grateful. Rabid feminist lefty, according to some, wishy-washy liberal according to me.

9 Responses to Rowan’s Way: 6 Red Beret

  1. Nicholas says:

    I keep expecting this to turn into a crime or horror story where Ryan turns out to be a psychopath and locks Rowan in the family mausoleum or wine cellar. That would not be cheerful.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 01.12.21 : The Other McCain

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