Back in the quieter warmth of the old rectory, Danny and Paul had finished packing the camper.
“We were going to make an early start tomorrow,” Danny said. “But now we’re thinking we could start right away. Get a few miles under our belts before we find somewhere to sleep.”
“Okay,” Anna said equably. “I’ve been online and added you two to the insurance. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll have some sandwiches made for your supper.”
Danny kissed her affectionately before he ambled off.
“You are a good, kind girl.”
Sam grinned at her.
“You are indeed. Do you think a couple of flasks of hot drink might be a good idea to go with the sandwiches?”
“Oh yes. But do we have flasks?”
“Many. In the garage. All clean. Two enough? Maybe three. If you have soup…”
“I do. One coffee, black. One hot chocolate. One soup. That would be brilliant.”
Sam disappeared and returned quite quickly bearing a large cardboard box. It contained about two dozen thermos flasks. Anna raised her eyebrows.
“Mrs Jackson used to give me flasks of soup. Home made and nearly as good as yours. But between us we kept losing flasks. So…”
Anna laughed and rooted in the box.
“Blimey, Sam. These are all expensive jobs.”
“Yeah. They keep soup hot for twenty-four hours. Which is why I didn’t throw them away. Now. Which do we use?”
“You making the beverages?”
“Okay. This one of coffee. This one chocolate.”
“I’m on it.”
By the time Danny and Paul were ready, there was a neat pile of sustenance on the kitchen table. Paul raised his eyebrows.
“Coffee. Drinking chocolate. Chicken soup. Sandwiches. Cake. Brownies.”
Anna ticked things off on her fingers as Sam packed a large cloth bag. Danny hugged her.
“S’okay. Sam made the coffee and the chocolate. Which is the proper sort.”
“I’m not hugging him. But thanks.”
“Where’d the flasks come from?” Paul asked idly. “These big ones run out about fifty quid each.”
“Sam’s lady friend used to give him soup in them. And they just mounted up.”
“Talking of mounting up. It’s time we weren’t here.”
He kissed Anna, stroked Bonnie, and thumped Sam on the shoulder. Paul picked up the bag and followed him, turning to wave from the doorway.
“See you on the twenty-seventh or the twenty-eighth if the fish are biting.”
Then he was gone too. The camper could be heard starting up and Danny’s voice adjuring Paul to get the side gate. For a few moments there was a small bustle of departure. Sam and Anna went to the front door to wave goodbye. The camper made its stately way out and both Paul and Danny waved frantically. Then they were gone and Sam shut the gate.
He jogged back and grinned down at Anna.
“I’m guessing,” he said “that your Danny is not a man given to hanging around.”
“No,” she said in a small, sad voice. “Dad used to call him sudden Daniel. He has always been the same. Here one minute, gone the next. The only person he can stand to be around all the time is Paul.”
Sam grabbed her in one of his bear hugs.
“That must’ve hurt when you were a kid. At least you’ve got me now, so you won’t be lonely ever again.”
Anna rubbed her face in his chest.
“It’s such a novelty to be understood. And you’re right about how he used to hurt me, though he never meant to. I always felt bereft when he went, and I suppose I expected to feel like that now. But I don’t. I have you now, and pleased though I was to see Danny, he isn’t the centre of my world any more. You’re that.”
Sam bent his head and kissed her slowly and with immense tenderness.
“You’re the centre of my world too,” he said lovingly. Where that might have gone is anybody’s guess, but Bonnie chose that precise moment to wriggle between them and insert her canine kisses into the mix.
“Want a walk minx?” Sam asked lovingly; Bonnie wagged her tail and jumped about excitedly.
“We’ll take that as a yes, shall we? You walking Anna?”
“Yeah. Why not? Let me just change my shoes and grab a jacket.”
“Ditto. I’ll race you.”
By dint of a bit of cheating, Anna managed to get to the front door about half a second in front of Sam, who grinned good-naturedly and clipped on Bonnie’s lead.
They had a long tramp, and returned home muddy, tired, and happy.
“That was so good,” Anna laughed. “For the first time in my life I’ve found somebody who likes walking as much as I do. Or are you just being good natured Sam?”
“Nope. Love a good brisk walk. What I don’t like is jogging. It’s bad for your joints, and it’s bloody pointless. How many so-called joggers did we pass by just walking briskly?”
“Lots,” then she giggled. “Sam. You’ve got a soapbox too. I wouldn’t have believed it.”
His grin was wry.
“Got a few actually. I’m just dribbling them into the conversation slowly so as not to frighten you off.”
“Okay. I’m with you on the utter pointlessness of jogging. Gimme another while I’m nice and mellow.”
“Elective cosmetic surgery.’
“Fair enough. Vanity gets on my tits too. I take it we’re not against reconstructive stuff?”
“No. Just vanity ops. Especially as a lot of silly young women are getting tit surgery in back street clinics in Eastern Europe, where it costs peanuts, then coming home and needing NHS time and resources to clear up the resulting botch jobs.”
“Yes. That is bad. Bad and stupid.”
He dropped a kiss on her head.
“You even agree when I’m on my favourite soapbox. Christina couldn’t get her head around that one at all. She felt it was admirable that these young girls wanted to look their best.”
“That’s just plain sad. It comes from the same place as anorexia and other eating disorders, don’t it?”
“It does. And it scares me. How can we stop it?”
“We can’t. It’s gone too far already. When you consider that a girl who is a size ten is called ‘plus size’ in the world of fashion, ordinary kids are on a hiding to nothing. Not to mention websites dedicated to being thin, websites full of ways of making yourself thin, and websites ridiculing fat people. Fat-ism is the only politically acceptable form of bullying now sexism and racism are out. Oops. My feet on soapbox now.”
“Don’t apologise. You are only right. I’ve had to reprimand junior doctors for ridiculing bigger people, and I’ve even heard suggestions that fat people shouldn’t be treated. Makes me very angry, when people of perfectly normal body type are being told they are fat. Particularly as many of my colleagues in general practice lack the moral fibre to tell the really obese what they are doing to their bodies. It’s so much easier to get a normal woman to drop half a stone, and claim your bonus for treating obesity.”
“Oh. Does that really happen?”
“Regularly. It’s much the same with prescribing statins. Write a script and get a bonus. Shouldn’t happen, but it does. Anyway. Enough of my soapbox. Coffee?”