Hattie took a deep breath. It got no easier, but she owed it to Tom. He had made plans for her after his death and she had to get out and see them through. It had been the only thing that kept him going through the failed treatments, the tears and disbelief, and finally the acceptance that there were no second chances.
Every anniversary—of which there were many—he had left instructions. Today was the anniversary of their first date. She swallowed as she peeled open the envelope and read the words in his familiar neat writing. An art gallery, of all things. Tom knew she hated the pretentiousness of those who thought themselves art boffins. She hadn’t really cared before they had visited the Tate Modern on a rare trip to London. It was the day the ‘wobbly’ Millennium Bridge had opened and hastily closed as the rocking of many feet threatened to throw people off into the Thames. Tom had laughed at her look of horror.
‘We are not going across that, are we, Tom?’ she had asked as he took her hand.
‘No, we’re going in the Tate. Time for a bit of culture.’ Hattie, two and a half long hours after, still didn’t get ‘culture’. They had stood in rooms with canvases just painted with one colour. A one-year-old with a box of pot paints could do better. They watched a video on a loop that showed a naked man, jumping up and down in a shower. And Hattie had listened to the people around her, oohing and aahing, agreeing ‘how cool’ the exhibition was. The only part which Hattie had enjoyed was the enormous metal spider that hung from the ceiling, protecting a cluster of pearly white eggs.
Hattie sighed, where was she going to find an art gallery around here? Her gaze fell onto the local paper in which a large announcement heralded ‘The Sleeping Gypsy – famous Rousseau painting on show at Stourhead House.’
Thirty minutes later she stood admiring the picture of a sleeping woman under moonlight and a lion prowling beside her. The colours were vivid and Hattie almost felt she could reach out and grab a handful of sand. She took a step backwards and bumped heavily into someone. Her bag fell to the floor, scattering her stuff everywhere as a muscular arm caught hers. She found herself wrapped in the arms of a man, with a headful of blonde hair that hung over his eyes and a bright smile. She caught her breath, ‘I’m so sorry, I should have looked…’
‘Don’t worry, my fault too…’ his gaze fell onto the painting. ‘Oh, yes, quite wonderful, don’t you think?’ His voice trailed off, his brow furrowed.
‘Well, I’m no expert,’ Hattie said ‘and I’m not really into art…’ She watched as the man picked up her stuff and the papers he had been carrying.
‘Me neither,’ he admitted, running a hand through his fringe and staring at her with deep sea-blue eyes. Hattie shoved her hands in her pockets and mumbled something about having to get going, running away like a shy schoolgirl.
Back at home, she scolded Tom. ‘I know you want me to get out and about, but it’s so hard on my own,’ she complained, rattling a spoon around a large spotty teacup. ‘It’s time to stop. Honestly.’ Tom’s face stared back at her and she felt the familiar longing tugging at her heart. She swallowed down her tears as a loud rapping came from the front door. It was the man from Stourhead.
‘Um, I’m sorry I know it looks like I’m following you,’ he waved a piece of paper at her. ‘But I think this is yours, I must have picked it up by mistake. It had an address on it and I knew it wasn’t far… so I thought I would—‘
Hattie looked back at Tom’s picture. Time to move on. She smiled sadly. Tom had died two years previously, but in the months before his death was determined that she would not wallow in sorrow. Today’s note had been the last one. He had figured that Hattie would have found some solace somewhere. Not until now, she thought as she opened the door wide.
‘That’s very kind, please come in. A cup of tea, perhaps? I’m Hattie,’ she held out her hand as he blushed and took it gently in his as he passed by.
‘I’m Alec,’ he said as Hattie followed him, turning the picture of Tom towards the wall, knowing that he would understand.