In November, Megan Thomas moved into Flat 4 of East Cliff Lodge, after it was hastily vacated by Emily Waugh who was reconciled with her ex-husband, and moved back in with him.
Megan was an only child and had spent all of her adult life nursing her invalid mother.
It was a thankless task, for her mother Edith was a bitter and demanding woman who put her timid daughter through the proverbial ringer.
When Edith finally shuffled off this mortal coil the overwhelming feeling that Megan had was one of relief.
At the funeral she looked every bit like a mournful daughter, but she was not grieving, it was just that life with Edith had drained her with the result that she was pale and drawn and she looked five years older than her 47 years.
Not that she ever had a lot of flesh on her bones, the years of being her mother’s skivvy had kept her thin and left her with a gaunt expression.
After the funeral and the reading of Edith’s last will and testament, Megan decided it was time for her to take stock of her life.
Although her mother had left her comfortably off in the financial sense but she was left with no family, no friends, no profession and most of all with no discernible purpose.
It took Megan several weeks to come to terms with her situation and to decide what path she should follow with her new found freedom.
Her mother Edith was a tyrant who imposed all of her draconian rules and Victorian prejudices on her dutiful brow beaten daughter.
Her mother hated the country so they lived in the city, Edith hated dogs so Megan wasn’t allowed a dog, and she didn’t like Television so TV’s weren’t allowed in the house.
She decided what books she shouldn’t read, what clothes she should wear, and what thoughts should occupy her mind.
And over the years of her servitude there were a million other petty little dictates and prejudices Megan had to adhere to and Edith revelled in them.
One of Edith’s prejudices was driving, Megan didn’t drive, because her mother thought car drivers in general were vulgar, and for women she didn’t think it was ladylike.
The day after the funeral Megan had her first driving lesson.
Finally three months after she had buried her mother Megan made a life changing decision, the first of many, the house that Edith called home and Megan called a prison was put on the market.
It sold within a week.
Megan’s next decision was to fulfil a lifelong dream of living in the country but she lacked the knowledge of how to proceed, her new found freedom was in the hands of someone not equipped to use it, yet.
So she spoke to the family solicitors, Stanislas, Boivin and Champeaux and instructed them to find her somewhere to live in the country.
As luck would have it her Solicitors also administered the Lakeside estate, in Shallowfield and the Dancingdean Forest which was how Megan Thomas came to move to Teardrop Lake.
Once she had moved in to her new home, her first action was to buy a dog.
She didn’t know what sort of dog she wanted other than the size.
The dog couldn’t be so big that it took her for a walk and nor could it be one of those ridiculous creatures that celebrities carried around in their handbags, other than that she was open to anything.
She read through the advertisement in the Shallowfield and Childean Chronicle and there were a number of dogs for sale but the one that caught her eye was placed by Erica Pritchard, an elderly lady who lived in a bungalow on the Childean Road in Shallowfield.
The advert stated that the lady was not looking to sell the dog but she did have to meet the potential recipients before she let him go.
When she realised it was an elderly lady it did put her off somewhat.
She had had enough of cranky old women to last her a life time.
But Megan phoned the number anyway and arranged a mutually convenient time for her to go round.
Even though Megan could now drive she decided she would walk to Mrs Pritchard’s bungalow, which took her about 35 minutes.
Any misgivings she may have had about elderly ladies were immediately dispelled when she met Erica.
She couldn’t have been any more different to her cantankerous mother.
Erica was lovely and so was the dog, it was a honey coloured American Cocker Spaniel called Skipper, wagged his stump of a tail frantically as Megan made a fuss of him.
“Well I can see he’s made up his mind about you already”
“He’s adorable” Megan said “How can you bare to part with him”
“Well I have to admit it’s not through choice” she replied
“I’ve reached the point where I’m struggling to look after myself let alone that little fella” she explained
“So I’m moving into sheltered accommodation, and unfortunately he’s not allowed”
“That’s really sad” Megan said
Erica made up her mind within a few minutes that Megan was the right person to take on Skipper.
But they still sat talking for over an hour before Megan took her leave.
Megan wrote down her phone number and handed it to Erica
“If you let me know your address I can bring him to visit you”
“Would you dear?” Erica said “That would be lovely”
Megan thought Erica was crying as she waved them off but she just returned her wave and carried on.
The next thing she got herself was a Television, but she didn’t like it, a lot of the programs were quite distasteful and the language was appalling.
Her Mother Edith didn’t like Television, and Megan had to admit she had a point.
Edith also thought everyone on TV was a degenerate but Megan thought that was stretching the point.
Over the years of her servitude her only friends were the books she read because although her mother sanctioned what books she could read she was unable to actually influence her choices.
Megan just got whatever books from the library she fancied.
Those books and there wonderful characters would always be her friends and when she discovered something called a Kindle her circle of friends grew exponentially.
So after she moved into her flat that was how she filled her days reading books and taking Skipper for long walks in the woods.
And the effect on her was startling, she had lost her unhealthy pallor and gaunt appearance and her skin had a healthy lustre to it.
And even her copper coloured hair had body and vitality, her new life on Teardrop Lake certainly seemed to agree with her.
It was on one such walk on a cold and damp November morning two weeks or so after her life began, that Megan and Skipper went up to Coopers Folly.
According to Wikipedia there were two Folly’s in the area around the Lake the first one was built in the early 19th century by the local Nobleman, the 8th Earl of Dancingdean who had it built for himself, in the style of a Castle Keep.
He was an exceptionally vain man and so he had the an area of Forest cleared on top of a hill and had the Folly built there and then so everyone around the lake would know whose it was he hoisted his standard high above the turret.
Wikipedia went on to say that second was erected as an act of retaliation by Ezekiel Cooper who lived on the opposite side of the Lake.
Ezekiel was not of the nobility, he was a self-made man and he made his money in the cotton Mills of Lancashire, and he despised the Nobles and the way they looked down on him.
So in response to the Earl’s construction he had built an even gaudier Folly of his own in the Victorian Gothic style.
Like his noble adversary he built his atop a deforested hill and had his standard flying.
Megan took Skipper to see the latter building, she hadn’t seen it before and she wasn’t sure she liked what she saw.
“It’s hideous isn’t it?” a voice behind her said
Megan turned around to see a tall slim woman close to her own age with Slavic features.
“It is rather” Megan agreed
“I am Angelika” the woman said with the hint of an accent
“And this fellow is Paris”
Paris was a chocolate coloured Labrador
“Megan” she said and shook her hand “and this is Skipper”
“That’s a lovely name” She said
“It’s short for “Golden Skipper Delight”” Megan said and Angelika roared with laughter
“No I meant Megan is a lovely name”
“Oh I see” she said and laughed “I always thought it was rather a dull name”
“Nonsense it’s an Anglo Saxon name which means “Little Pearl”” Angelika explained
“Really? I didn’t know that” Megan responded
“I have seen you before from a distance I think” Angelika said
“That’s right” Megan said “but I haven’t been up here before, we’re new so we are still exploring”
“There is a lot to explore” Angelika agreed “perhaps we will meet again sometime on one of your explorations”
“I hope so” Megan said and then they went their separate ways
Angelika Schmeltz was not, like Megan, a newcomer to Teardrop Lake she had lived in Coopers Hill Cottage, on a hill high above the Southern Perimeter road, just a stone’s throw from the Folly, for 30 years.
She was only 18 when she left her native Netherlands and moved in with her lover and she had never regretted it for a moment but death visited them five years earlier and she still hurt.
She was an elegant looking woman with striking looks and mesmeric green eyes full of sadness.
Her short strawberry blonde hair was now streaked with grey.
Like Megan, Angelika had also been left comfortable after her bereavement but unlike Megan she did grieve and still grieved.
She filled her days reading old detective fiction, watching old movies, doing jigsaw puzzles and missing Charlie.
Angelika was not made to live alone, she needed company, but nor was she a natural mixer and she didn’t form attachments easily.
Her first impression of the lady at the Folly was a favourable one and she hoped she might bump into her again.
A mutually beneficial friendship might well develop if they could find some common ground.
They were both soppy about their dogs so that was a start.
The next morning Megan went to St Mary’s Church in Shallowfield.
A strong Christian faith was the only common ground between her and her mother and they maintained a regular attendance.
She was a little nervous as she walked in, she was quite self-conscious being the newcomer, but she was made very welcome, firstly by the Ben Shenton, the vicar, and then by his wife Olivia, who took her under her wing and introduced her to some of the congregation.
During the service Megan looked around to see if the lady with the chocolate Lab was there but she couldn’t see her.
And there was a very good reason why Megan couldn’t see Angelika at St Marys because Angelika hadn’t been to Church since Charlie passed.
She was angry with God for taking the love of her life and she was very unforgiving.
It was a week after their first meeting, on a crisp frosty autumn morning, when they met again.
The sky was a brilliant blue and the leaves crunched underfoot and the air was the freshest she had ever known.
It was the dogs who spotted each other first.
Megan and Skipper had just left East Cliff Lodge and were on the road about to head down the hill,
Angelika and Paris were coming the other way the latter considerable faster than the former.
“Good morning” Megan called brightly, she was hoping to run into her again at some time.
“Morning” Angelika said breathlessly “That dog will be the death of me”
“He’s hardly panting at all” Megan pointed out and laughed
Angelika would have laughed if she’d had the breath for it she just about had enough breath to say
“Well he’s a lot younger than me”
When she had completely got her wind back she asked
“So where are you off to?”
“Nowhere special we’re still exploring” Megan replied
“We’re off to Lovers Leap” she said
“Lovers Leap?” Megan repeated “I didn’t know there was one”
“Yes it’s a rocky outcrop above the cliffs, on a day like today the view is spectacular” she enthused
“Would you mind if we tagged along?” Megan asked hopefully
“Not at all, I would appreciate the company” Angelika replied and smiled
The cliffs that Angelika mentioned were an extension of those that formed part of the northern side of Teardrop Lake and formed the natural border between the Teardrop estate and the Dancingdean Forest proper.
Lovers Leap was so called because it was where desperate and broken hearted lovers would leap to their deaths although there was no evidence that anyone actually had but it made a good story.
It wasn’t a long walk from where they met but it wasn’t an easy one either.
The dogs reached the top first and then Angelika and some distance behind was Megan who was extremely out of breath.
“I thought you had decided not to come” Angelika said jovially
“You must have the constitution of a mounting goat” Megan retorted
“The legs certainly” she agreed and laughed
By the time they reached Lovers Leap Megan was panting worse than the dogs and as she walked onto the shelf that was “Lovers Leap” and took in the vista it took away what little breath she had remaining.
“Wow” she said as she looked out across the russet hues of the deciduous Dancingdean Forest stretching into the distance and they sat down on the rocky shelf.
“This is my favourite place” Angelika said “Charlie and me used to come here often”
“I can see why” Megan said
Angelika almost cried but managed to stop herself.
“It’s different every time I come here, but it’s always special”
The walk back down wasn’t much easier on the legs than the one up was.
And when they reached the road Megan said
“Gosh I’m pooped, I could do with a cup of tea”
Megan was unaccustomed to social etiquette so she just added
“Why don’t you join me?”
“I’d love to” Angelika said pleased that she appeared to have found the friend she was looking for.
Megan on the other hand hadn’t had a friend since she left school so she was particularly pleased to have found a kindred spirit.
The yomp up to Lovers Leap was the first of many walks the four of them took in the forest, all of them ending in Tea or Coffee at whoever’s home they finished up nearest to.
On the first of December they had walked up to the Tower which was at the Southwest corner of the Lake.
The Watch Tower was reputed to date back to the time of the Armada but the truth of that had been disputed and in truth nobody actually knew even Wikipedia was vague on the subject.
But when they got there Megan found it a bit disappointing, it was not dissimilar to the towers you see dotted all over the Mediterranean, not that she’d ever seen one other than in a book.
While they were there the heavens opened so they beat a hasty retreat back to Coopers Hill Cottage.
Angelica opened the door and they both kicked off their boots in the lobby and discarded their coats.
And when they went deeper inside Megan was staggered to see the difference in the place since her last visit two day earlier.
There were coloured lights, garlands and baubles everywhere.
“Goodness me” she exclaimed
“Charlie always went overboard with the decks at Christmas so I’ve kept up the tradition” she said wistfully
“Have you not put yours up yet then?”
“I don’t have any” Megan confessed “Mother didn’t like decorations”
“Well “mother” can’t spoil your fun anymore” Angelika said “So tomorrow morning I’m going to take you to Shallowfield Garden Centre, they really know how to do Christmas”
Angelika would accept no argument and picked her up in her old Mondeo Estate and drove her to the Garden Centre.
Once inside Megan was like a child in a sweetshop at the end of rationing.
She didn’t know where to look first, Angelika had to rein her in a bit at times otherwise she would have bought the whole shop.
By mid-afternoon with Angelika’s help Megan’s flat was every bit as generously decorated as Angelika’s Cottage was.
Megan was absolutely thrilled, her mother would have hated it.
She had never done Christmas to any degree, other than the religious aspect.
There were never any festivities, no decorations, no presents, not even Christmas cards and very definitely no fun.
So this new experience made her tingle all over and with Angelika she felt a real sense of family.
Over the next week or so the walks were foreshortened by the weather which was not conducive to prolonged country walks, but the dogs had to be exercised so some exposure to the elements was necessary.
When there was finally a break in the weather the dogs were given a thorough walking and at the end of it the four of them where shattered.
As they were on the south side of the lake Angelika said
“Let’s go back to mine for lunch and then we can watch “It’s a Wonderful Life””
“What’s that?” Megan asked
“What’s what?” Angelika replied
“It’s a wonderful something” she said
“It’s a Wonderful Life?” Asked Angelika
“It’s a Classic” Angelika said
“A Classic what?”
“Movie, James Stewart, Donna Reed, Clarence the angel?” Angelika said but Megan looked at her blankly and responded
“I’ve never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life””
“Then you my dear are in for an absolute treat” she said and put her arm through Megan’s and they pressed on to the cottage.
At the end of the film both women were in tears
“That was brilliant” Megan said dabbing at her eyes with her hankie
“I can’t believe you’ve never seen it before” Angelika stated
“I’ve never seen a film before” she said
“Not one film?” Angelika asked incredulously
“Well you’ve started with a corker” she said
“I will have to introduce you to some more films”
“Will they be as good as that one?” Megan asked
“Some of them will be even better” Angelika replied
“Then I can’t wait” she admitted
After that they spent every afternoon in either the flat or the cottage watching classic movies, and Megan loved them all.
For Angelika watching Megan experiencing Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It happened one night” or James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in “Shop around the Corner” was almost as special as the movies.
One day when she was on her way home from Angelika’s, Megan had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming that she was happy or that she was just remembering the plot of book she once enjoyed, because she was enjoying her new life and her new friendship so much.
Megan had been so unhappy for so long she didn’t realise just how unhappy she was until it was over.
It was only six months since her mother Edith had passed away but it seemed like a lifetime and in those six short months she had begun to live.
She never in her wildest dreams imagined she could ever be happier than she was at that moment.
A few days after they watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” together Megan and Skipper were just leaving Angelika’s to go home and as she was planning to go to the Carol Service at St Mary’s that night so she decided to ask Angelika if she’d go with her and her response surprised her.
“No, no” Angelika said adamantly “I haven’t set foot inside a Church since Charlie passed”
“But it’s only Carols” Megan said
“No! I am still too angry with God for taking my Charlie” she said
“Well if you’re sure” Megan said brightly
“Ok then I’ll see you tomorrow” she said and left it at that, Megan didn’t want to push her too hard because she didn’t want to risk upsetting her, their friendship was too important to her than that.
And as Angelika closed the cottage door she hoped she hadn’t been too blunt with her, the last thing she wanted to do was hurt Megan in anyway, but she wasn’t ready yet to forgive God.
Megan went to the Carol service alone and thoroughly enjoyed it and she went to the Sunday service a few days later but she didn’t ask Angelika on that occasion though she hadn’t given up on her, she would bide her time.
The day after it was a foggy day, one of those days when the fog clung on all day.
They took the dogs out in the morning but the freezing fog got into their bones so they cut the walk short and went back to the cottage.
Just before lunchtime Coleman Bowers knocked loudly on the door.
He was a proper old country boy in his late fifties with white receding hair and a matching wiry beard.
He worked at the Shallowfield Lodge Hotel as an odd job/handyman and part of his duties was to take his Skiff around the lake twice a week delivering the mail and small parcels.
But that day he was in a van because he was delivering Door Wreathes, Holly boughs and sprigs of Mistletoe.
The Shallowfield Lodge Hotel took advance orders for them and then Coleman delivered them on his rounds.
“I’ve already delivered your’n to the flat” he said to Megan
“Thanks Coleman” she replied
“Can you hang this sprig on that nail?” Angelika asked pointing up at the beam.
“Yes’m” he replied and adopted a broad stance before reaching up.
At which point they both kissed him beneath the mistletoe, just a peck on each cheek, but that was enough to make him turn beetroot red, and leave the cottage unceremoniously.
Both of them fell about laughing at his reaction and then Angelika held the mistletoe above Megan’s head as she adopted Coleman’s distinct stance and she kissed her, but unlike with Coleman it didn’t stop at a peck, in fact it didn’t stop at all, and the recipient didn’t run away red faced into the fog.