Jack travelled to Sharping-St-Mary by car and misjudged the travel time and reached the Hotel more than an hour early so he parked the car and went for a walk around the Village to kill some time finally arriving at the Coachman’s Arms just before 3.00pm.
He bought a drink and sat down at a table with a view of the door and looked around the bar at the other customers.
Jack looked away when he heard someone enter from reception but it wasn’t Kayleigh so he resumed his perusal of the other guests.
When he first arrived he wasn’t sure if he should go to the bar and order himself a drink or report to reception, he decided on the former but having sat in the bar nursing a drink for 20 minutes he guessed he had made the wrong choice.
So he finished his drink and was on his way to reception when he met Kayleigh coming the other way.
“Oh hello” She said avoiding eye contact
“Hi” he said, “are you ok?”
“Yes” she replied blandly as she looked randomly around anywhere than at him.
“Let’s go upstairs”
Kayleigh turned around and Jack followed her but was beginning to wish he’d stayed at home, she didn’t speak a word for the whole way and they reached the door to the room and still not a word and she opened the door and they entered, still in silence, and Jack closed the door and dropped his bag on the floor.
“What the hell is going on Kayleigh?” he snapped and she turned around and looked him in the eye for the first time and tears started to well up in her eyes and then ran down her cheeks as she sobbed before throwing herself into his arms.
“I’m sorry” she said and buried her tearstained face in his neck and he made encouraging noises and stroked her back but being a shoulder to cry on was the full extent of his expertise and they held that position for some time until Kayleigh’s sobs began to get shallower and shallower and eventually abated altogether, but still she held on to him.
The room was cool as they sat on the sofa and sat there in each other’s arms and he asked
“So what’s going on Kayleigh?”
She didn’t reply she just sat with her face turned away from him.
“Why have you been avoiding me? Why have you been ignoring my phone calls and texts?” he asked
“I’m sorry Jack” she replied
“Earlier you couldn’t even look at me” he said, “What have I done?”
She quickly turned to look at him
“You haven’t done anything” she said and kissed his cheek
“So why did you make me promise not to be angry?” he asked her
“Because I have to tell you something” Kayleigh replied
“That you probably won’t want to hear”
“I don’t understand,” he said
“What won’t I want to hear?” he asked
“It’s about Katie” she said
“The Vicar? What about her?”
“She’s dying” Kayleigh said flatly
“What?” he said
“She’s dying,” she repeated
Jack was stunned into silence and he suddenly felt rather small.
“How?” he asked though it didn’t really matter, he didn’t know what else to say.
“Cancer” Kayleigh said “very aggressive”
“Where?” He asked again for want of something worthwhile.
“Her brain” she replied “to begin with, but its metastasized”
“What’s the prognosis?” he asked hopefully
Kayleigh shook her head in response.
“Is there no treatment?” Jack asked
“Yes but it will only delay its progress and she doesn’t want to prolong it any longer than necessary”
“Doesn’t she want to fight it?” he said angrily
“She has no fear of death” Kayleigh replied, “She knows where she is bound”
There was a prolonged silence as he took in the news and tried to process it and after about 10 minutes he said
“How long have you known?”
“About the cancer, since November, and about her dying she told me when I spent the day with her before New Year’s Eve” she replied
“Who else knows?” he asked
“Just Doctor Anderson, me and the Bishop” she answered and sobbed.
“It must have been hell” Jack said and kissed her forehead and as tears ran down her cheeks and he began to cry.
Obviously Jack had lost people dear to him during his life and had had to cope with the resulting grief, but this was something else, something for which he had no frame of reference.
She was a dear friend and a minister of God, a good and Godly person, an ally against the dark, one of the angels and a force for good.
There was no point asking why the God she loved so much was taking her, and she didn’t question it; she was prepared for it and content with it.
All they could do was be there for her and support her and it would have been the only thing that she wished for, and she could have demanded any number of things and they would have been forth coming because she was so beloved.
But their love and friendship was the only thing she craved, she was content to go then.
All they had to do was agree and they did unreservedly, how could they refuse the dying wish from the most unselfish person either of them had ever met.
Once Kayleigh and Jack had composed themselves it was well into the evening and they were very hungry so they freshened up and went in search of food.
When they had returned to the hotel they were ready for bed and when he had finished in the bathroom Kayleigh was in bed lying on her side and he slipped under the duvet and snuggled up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m sorry” Kayleigh said “For avoiding you”
“There’s nothing to apologize for” he responded and they lay quietly under the covers until he asked
“Why did you want to tell me here and not in the Village?”
“Because I knew I would breakdown and I would need you to hold me in your loving arms and then I would reveal to the whole village that I love you” she said “and that would be a terrible betrayal of Carl”
“I understand” he replied and for the first time ever they went to sleep without making love.
When morning came they awoke to find they were still in each other’s arms in much the same position as they were when they went to sleep.
It was a unique experience for them to occupy the same bed and not to have made love but it happened nonetheless and furthermore they didn’t make love that Sunday morning either, but only because it was late and he and Kayleigh wanted to get back to the village for the morning service as they were in desperate need of spiritual refreshment.
In the week that followed Kayleigh clung to him like a limpet and only left his side to go and visit Carl and even then they were short visits.
He was grateful for her company however because when he was left alone with his own thoughts he found them uncomfortable companions.