“I remember when I r-ran Mrs. Birch over…”
Cain shook his head as Sam stared into his drink, the small group of Dingles gathered around a pub table.
“And then ya dropped me right in it…fat egg.”
Sam allowed himself a sheepish smile.
He supped the rest of his pint, taking a long pause before the last sip.
“She was dead nice about it. Always dead nice…once ya got to know her.”
Not far away, Aaron stood at the bar with Adam and Victoria, supping the free pint Moira served in her brief return to the other side of the counter.
“She was always there for us after John…” Moira said somberly, noticing Cain stiffen slightly, as he always did when she mentioned her late husband.
“I was a right brat to her,” Victoria said, speaking quietly, ashamed. “Even slapped me in the face. I can still feel me teeth rattlin’.”
“Aw, babes,” Adam said, kissing the side of her head.
“I deserved it,” Victoria continued. “I just hope she knew how, how sorry I was…”
Aaron had barely spoken to Victoria in the last few weeks, but he hated seeing her in pain.
“Doubt ya were half as big a prat to ‘er as I was.”
He thought of all the times he’d called Edna names, yelled at her, ignored her attempts to help, even after she’d talked to him about Batley when he’d lost Clyde. He’d taken it out on her. Always took his pain out on somebody. That was what he did best.
He didn’t believe in much of anything, but he hoped she was with Clyde now. Clyde and Jackson.
Adam looked from one to the other.
“Sorta the natural order an’all. Kids raise hell and the Ednas o’the world get us back in line.”
He grabbed Aaron’s pint to finish it off, forcing a bemused grimace out of his best mate.
“Tell ya what - since you both feel so bad, you can cook me dinner tonight.”
Moira, Aaron and Victoria rolled their eyes in unison, but it had the desired effect.
“Vic’s a great cook. I’ll just open the tins.”
“Fine, but you’re doin’ the dishes.”
As Victoria and Moira went into the kitchen, and Aaron was left alone with Adam, he thought of his talks with Edna when he got back last year. So many things she’d said to him that he hadn’t wanted to hear, but knew he needed to. So many things he’d never get to say to her.
He remembered what she’d said to him about Adam, someone else he’d never be able to tell the whole truth to about all the screwed up thoughts and feelings in his head.
Something in him wanted to at least get some part out, while Adam was still there, still a part of him.
“Adam…” he started, running his finger around the empty glass. “I love ya.”
Adam smiled affectionately.
“Course ya do. Everybody loves me, mate.”
Aaron had to accept it - and live with it. If Edna taught him anything it was that not getting what you wanted doesn’t give you an excuse to be the worst of life. In a lot of ways, she was the best.
Adam’s smile faded just a bit as he kissed the side of Aaron’s head, the way he’d kissed Vic’s a few minutes earlier.
“I love you too,” he whispered in Aaron’s ear.
“If you don’t think I should be here…”
Brenda looked over at Chrissie and Lawrence as she put a small framed photo of Edna beside Ruby on the cafe counter.
“Oh, don’t be silly. Edna would want us to forgive. So would Ruby. I think - I think today should just be about her, don’t you?”
Chrissie nodded tersely as she went to pay for their coffees.
As she went to sit down, Lawrence was still looking at the photo.
“Dad?” she asked, meekly.
He joined her, holding the half-warm mug in his hands.
“I was just thinking about Harold.”
Chrissie flinched, as she often did when reminded of his past.
“If you don’t want to be -”
Lawrence shook his head.
“It’s fine. I loved him. So did Edna. And we hated each other.”
She squeezed his hand.
“You made your peace.”
“Yes. Yes, we did. One of the only reasons I’m glad we moved to this godforsaken place. That and -”
He looked at his wedding ring, making Chrissie flinch again.
“I used to think, after…”
He couldn’t talk about prison, but she knew what he meant.
“I used to think she had everything and I had nothing. And now - I think of what she lost, how humiliated she must have been…”
Chrissie patted his hand again.
“She had the community, and so many friends…and her church.”
Brenda put their lunch orders on the table.
“After my Bob went to prison, she was always here. Never took a dime. She worked harder than I did. She was a wonderful woman.”
Lawrence thought of what Betty had told him not long after he moved to the village, about Tom King, and how awful he’d been to Edna before he’d died, and how Home Farm had made him pay for it. He wondered now if it was a veiled threat to treat Edna right.
“Brenda - when Reverend Thomas comes in later, could you tell him I want to talk to him? I’d like to set up something in Edna’s name.”
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Brenda said, clasping her hands together.
Chrissie looked at the photos on the counter one last time.
“I suppose it’s the least we owe.”
Sandy put down his scotch long enough to admire the poem Amelia had written for him.
“I’m lost for words…and we know how rare that is.”
“I hope Mrs. Birch would like it. She’s with Ruby now, in Heaven. They’re so happy.”
Sandy shared a quiet glance with Ashley, then Dan - both as haunted as he was.
“Yes. I believe they are.”
He didn’t believe in Heaven, or God, to Edna’s eternal displeasure, but he wasn’t going to tell little Amelia that. He’d traumatized Ashley enough as a child that he tried not to repeat bad habits this late in life.
He glanced over at Kerry, wearing an eyepatch with a white cross emblazoned on the front.
“You look ridiculous,” he chortled.
“Thanks, man. Proper bringer o’good cheer you are.”
“Just because I fit the description of Father Christmas doesn’t mean I actually am, you know.”
They all shared a much-needed laugh.
“Oh, mate,” Dan said, “Got a text off our Sean. Said he’s thinkin’ of ya, and he’s gonna down a can in Edna’s memory.”
“Ah. Th-That’s nice,” Sandy said, haltingly. He missed Sean. He missed so many people…
Sensing his change in mood, what remained of the Spencer clan let themselves out.
“Thank you,” Ashley said, earnestly.
“For what? Not reducing a child to tears? Still being able to draw a breath in my body?”
Sandy couldn’t stop the tears he’d kept in with company around.
“I do not understand how a pickled old letch is still very feebly walking this good earth while Ruby and Edna and…your mother and Daniel are gone. And so many others…”
“God doesn’t work that way.”
“Indeed. If He or She did, then perhaps I would understand why my dear Edna loved Them so.”
Before Ashley could say any more, Harriet and Laurel arrived with Tootsie, frightened at the loss of her owner.
When Sandy looked in her eyes, he saw himself.
“Leave us alone.”
Ashley shook his head.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Sandy gave them the look that told him he was not taking no for an answer.
“I will be my most charming, rakish self to the world as soon as I very, very slowly step foot outside this house. And at approximately 11:55 on New Year’s Eve - that is, if I’m still here - I will regale the Woolpack with ribald tales of my treasured friend Edna Birch, and bring in the New Year in her memory. But for right now, to quote Greta Garbo - I want to be alone.”
They filed out, Ashley last, loitering at the door before quietly closing it behind him.
“Ahhhh, Toosie,” he said, scratching her ears the way Edna would have. He pulled out his reading glasses and took a quick look at Amelia’s poem. ”Let’s see what we have here, shall we?”
Rhona, holding a heavy coat and scarf, found Pearl at Len Reynolds’ grave.
“You’ll catch your -” Rhona started, quickly stopping before the last word.
Pearl waved her hand a few times.
“I’m fine. Absolutely fine.”
They both knew that wasn’t true.
“I couldn’t find Lily - Lily is…was her sister - anywhere. I’d rather not invite her son, if that’s alright with you. Horrible man. I managed to track down Eve. You remember Eve?”
“Better not sit her near Chas.”
“Oh, surely they can get over those silly things for her. Of course who I am to talk…”
She stared at Len’s snow-covered grave.
“Right now he’s giving her a big hug and saying, ‘Silly old woman…took ya long enough! I couldn’t keep this seat saved forever!’”
“You know, Rhona, I banned her from his funeral. If I’d had the money I probably would have hired bouncers.”
Rhona didn’t bother to hide her surprise.
“I’m not sure there’s anything worse in this world than to know a man pities you…cares about you…but can never be in love with you.”
She wiped her eyes as Rhona put the coat over her shoulders, rested her head on Pearl’s left shoulder.
“I’m just a silly old woman,” she laughed. “I can say it now, but when I first realized how much Len loved her, I always thought - I don’t act old. SHE acts positively 200. Why can’t he see me?”
She brushed some of the snow away from his headstone.
“It wasn’t until after he was gone that I could understand. I was going to lose my house…his house - and she stayed with me. No power. No toilet. We were lucky we had walls by the end. She had a terrible hip…and she never said a word. I suppose I complained enough for the both of us.”
She wrapped the scarf around her neck.
“She was absolutely wonderful. She was my best friend. I’m not sure I ever told her. Not the way I should have.”
“I’m sure she knew, Pearl.”
“I hope so.”
She blew a kiss to her Leonard’s grave.
“I still miss him, especially on days like today.”
“And I’m going to miss her so much. I already do.”
Rhona hugged her tight.
“We’re all going to miss her. We’re going to miss her so much…”
Pearl turned to look at the grave one more time before heading back to the cottage.
“Goodbye, my dear, dear friend.”