Chris pulled into the driveway of Ally’s cottage and shook his head apologetically at her offer of dinner.
“I’d love to spend the evening with you but I have to go. Mrs Rightmore texted earlier. She saw my parents in the village this afternoon and I’m sure they’re going to be camped out in my courtyard, being upset by my audacity to not be there.”
“Do you want support?”
“Yes, but not as much as I want to keep them at arm’s length from us as long as possible. They’re my parents, I love them, but they’re relentless social climbers and I’m betting this visit is a direct result of that photo from the visit to your Grandmother.”
“Chris, I’m going to have to meet them sooner or later.”
“Later, definitely later. You need to meet my grandparents first, I can be proud of them and they’ll never try to use you. Send me your schedule for the next week or two and I’ll set up a visit.”
Ally studied him for a moment, he was as calm as ever but resolute and on the rare moments Chris dug his heels in, there was no moving him.
She leaned across and kissed him, then hopped out of the car with a stern command to call later. That brought a smile and a promise. Ally let herself into her cottage somewhat appeased, but afire with curiosity.
Information was needed and the font of all local knowledge was only a text and invitation to tea away.
The next day, Mrs Rightmore arrived on time, with her twinkling smile well in place.
Ally served tea and cake and Mrs Rightmore repaid the courtesy by getting straight down to business.
“I’m guessing you’re wanting to know what I can tell you about the elder Whittakers and how they interact with their son.”
“Well, yes, but only what’s suitable for sharing, I don’t want to make things uncomfortable.”
“Don’t worry, I’m only sharing what everyone knows, and that Chris will probably expect you to have already picked up through the grapevine.”
Ally grimaced and Mrs Rightmore patted her hand, “We all know you have more reason than most to dislike gossip, so we’re not about to push rumours or suppositions on you, but by the same token a little local knowledge can be useful.”
“That is very true, thank you.”
“Now Chris’s grandparents are local, born and bred, and raised their daughter here. She found a life, a career and a husband up in London – she never liked the quiet of the country, too restrictive. She and the husband had two children, Marlie and Chris.”
“I’ve seen photos of her and her family in Chris’s home, they live in Canada don’t they?”
“Yes, and I do think the move was at least in part to get away from her parents. Really those two should never have had children. They were, and still are, completely focused on their careers and becoming well connected, whatever that means.”
Ally grimaced, “Chris said they were social climbers and probably came to meet me for just that reason.”
“He’s probably right. Anyway, their only interest in their children was ‘managing their development’.”
“That’s how they put it. In practice, they pushed them into the most exclusive schools, and every extra activity they could find that gave them a chance to meet the right people. The only break they had was summer school holidays. Too long for tennis camp or the school ski trip, so they were sent down here to her parents. They’ll both happily tell you those summers were the high points of their childhood. That and Christmas – they were usually sent down for that too.”
Ally gaped, “My family has never been big on traditions but we were always together for Christmas. Grandma says Lexi and I were the reason she started enjoying it again.”
“See your Grandma is cut from very similar cloth to Chris’s and I think she’ll like you a great deal. The pair of them retired down to the coast a few years ago, annoyed their daughter no end by coming to some arrangement with Chris and Marlie about him taking over ownership of the farm which cut her right out, and are happily watching the waves roll in from their own little piece of paradise.”
“A piece of paradise Chris is planning on taking me to in the next week or so apparently. He says I need to meet his grandparents before any of the others.”
“If he’s smart, he’ll be able to get you in front of them, and Marlie before his parents even come close. They’ll be off to somewhere in France shortly for some big event they’ve managed to scramble into the edges of and won’t be back for at least a month. Marlie’s usually over around then so she can avoid seeing them and I’m sure she’s dying to meet you.”
Ally flushed bright red, “It was so much easier when it was just the two of us. Now there’s family flooding in from everywhere and they all have opinions. What if they don’t like me?”
Mrs Rightmore threw back her head with laughter, “My dear girl, they all adore you already for making Chris happy, you have absolutely nothing to worry about I promise.”
Ally smiled back, more relieved than she cared to admit, and moved the conversation on to more general village happenings, who was leading in the Mahjong league, when the next home rugby game was scheduled, and plans for a pot luck supper and fundraiser for the local library.
Ally was keen to help with the latter, “After all, if it hadn’t been for the note about the car boot sale on their bulletin board, I might not have met Chris.”
“Well, I’m sure you would have, it’s a small place after all but it may have taken you somewhat longer and you certainly wouldn’t have had the fun with the wooden chest.”
“And who knows how long it would have taken me to get the attic door open.”
This led to questions about the progress of the various bits of furniture being restored and Ally kindly indulging Mrs Rightmore’s curiosity over the concept of a home office.
“It just looks like a study really, just more screens and boards and things.”
“I suppose that’s what studies were in the beginning, the offices for the gentry, and since their businesses were their homes and lands, that’s where the office was located.”
“And your screens and those whiteboards are their big log books and the such.”
“Exactly. You know things never really change as much as people like to think.”
“Oh I think they change, it’s the people that don’t.”
“That’s true, we still worry and fuss and fret over the same things, and call on our neighbours for information and help.”
Mrs Rightmore agreed and left for her next appointment, a quick after-school cuppa with the local librarian.