Seduction Never Lies

By: Sara Craven

OCTAVIA DENISON FED the last newsletter through the final letter box in the row of cottages and, with a sigh of relief, remounted her bicycle and began the long hot ride back to the Vicarage.

There were times, and this was one of them, when she wished the Reverend Lloyd Denison would email his monthly message to his parishioners instead.

‘After all,’ as Patrick had commented more than once, ‘Everyone in the village must have a computer these days.’

But her father preferred the personal touch, and when Tavy came across someone like old Mrs Lewis longing for a chat over a cup of tea because her niece was away on holiday, and who certainly had no computer or even a mobile phone, she supposed wryly that Dad had a point.

All the same, this was not an ideal day for a cycle tour of the village on an old boneshaker.

For once, late May had produced a mini-heatwave with cloudless skies and temperatures up in the Seventies, which had also managed to coincide with Greenbrook School’s half-term holiday.

Nice for the kids, thought Tavy as she pedalled but, for her, it would be business as usual tomorrow.

Her employer, Eunice Wilding, paid her what she considered was the appropriate rate for a young and unqualified school secretary, but she expected, according to the local saying, ‘her cake for her ha’penny’.

But at the time the job had seemed a lifeline in spite of the poor pay. One small ray of light in the encircling darkness of the stunned grief she shared with her father at her mother’s sudden death from a totally unsuspected heart condition.

He’d protested, of course, when she’d announced she was giving up her university course to come home and keep house for him, but she’d read the relief in his eyes, swallowed her regrets, and set herself to rebuilding both their lives, cautiously tackling the parish tasks that her mother had fulfilled with such warmth and good humour, while discovering that, in Mrs Wilding’s vocabulary, ‘assistant’ was another word for ‘dogsbody’.

But in spite of its drawbacks, the job enabled her to maintain a restricted level of independence and pay a contribution to the Vicarage budget.

In return, she was expected to put in normal office hours, five and a half days a week, with just a fortnight’s holiday taken in two weekly instalments in spring and autumn, and far removed from the lengthy vacations enjoyed by the teaching staff.

And half-term breaks did not feature either, so this particular afternoon was a concession, while Mrs Wilding conducted her usual staff room inquisition into the events of the past weeks, and outlined the progress she expected in the next half.

It was her ability to achieve these targets that had made Greenbrook School an undoubted success in spite of its high fees. Mrs Wilding herself did not teach, calling herself the Director rather than the headmistress, but she had a knack for picking those that could, and even the most unpromising pupils were given the start they needed.

When she eventually retired, the school would continue to flourish under the leadership of Patrick, her only son, who’d returned from London the previous year to become a partner in an accountancy firm in the nearby market town, and who already acted as Greenbrook’s part-time bursar.

And his wife, when he had one, would also have a part to play, thought Tavy, feeling an inner glow that had nothing to do with the sun.

She’d known Patrick all her life of course, and he’d been the object of her first early teen crush. While her school friends giggled and fantasised over pop stars and soap actors, her sole focus had been the tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed Adonis who lived in her own village.

Although it might as well have been one of the moons of Jupiter for all the notice he took of her. She could remember basking for weeks in the memory of a casual ‘Thanks’ when she’d been ball girl for his final match in the annual village tennis tournament. Could recall the excitement building as the university vacations approached and she knew he would be home, but also crying herself to sleep when he spent his holidays elsewhere, as he often did.

But then real life in the shape of public examinations and career choices intervened and took priority, so that when she heard her father mention casually to her mother that Patrick was off to the States for some form of post-graduate study, the worst she had to suffer was a small pang of regret.

Since that time, he’d come back only for fleeting visits, and the last thing Tavy expected was that he would ever return to live in the area. Yet six months ago that was exactly what had happened.

And the first she’d known of it was when his mother brought him one afternoon into the cubbyhole which served as her office.

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