“Friends and Lovers”…..chapter 12

Meg knew that people now wore outfits especially designed for yoga, but all she had was a pair of old tracksuit pants and a t-shirt. It would have to do. She was feeling slightly invigorated at the thought of doing something just for herself. And of course, inexplicably nervous, as she always was facing  anything new. Her heart pounded a little faster as she recalled her first ride on a motorcycle, and also how it felt to put her arms around Luke for the first time.

Margaret Harding was a small sparrow-like woman with spikey grey hair, and she welcomed Meg with a bright warm smile.

“Just follow at your own pace dear, and only do what you can comfortably achieve. Even the smallest amount is beneficial,” she said in a quiet lyrical voice.

 Meg picked up a mat from a pile in the corner, and opened it out  at the back of the room where she might be more inconspicuous. As she stretched her legs out in front of her, feeling with some trepidation the slight resistance of her muscles, another woman rolled out her mat beside her.

“Hello there,” she said, turning a welcoming smile Megs way. A pair of warm hazel eyes shone out of an amiable and attractive face. She appeared to Meg to be a little older than herself, a delightful disarray of dark curls piled on top of her head.

“I’m Joanna….Jo,” she said in a low voice.

“Hi, I’m Meg,” said Meg with an answering smile. Jo’s face became instantly animated.

“Oh, how lovely….like Meg in “Little Women”?” she said with obvious delight. “I always liked her character; she was so self-possessed don’t you think? So peaceful.” Meg couldn’t help but smile.

“I’m glad you think so. I always thought she was a little dull,” offered Meg, but it did make her briefly wonder what her mother’s view of the character had been when she named her. Jo reached across to lightly touch her arm.

“Oh no, no,” she reassured her. “Unlike Jo of course, who was always so flighty, running all over the place, only to end up back where she started,” she finished, with an amused self-deprecating shake of the head. Meg laughed quietly. She liked this slightly kooky, energetic woman, and found herself markedly more relaxed. The soft ring of a bell brought their attention to the front of the room, where Margaret waited to start the class.

Meg found she remembered a lot more of the exercises and poses than she thought she would, but was quite relieved when it was time for meditation and relaxation. At least her muscles were! When it was over she sat up slowly, extremely glad she hadn’t fallen asleep, feeling more relaxed and refreshed than she had in weeks. Meg was aware of Jo rolling up her mat beside her.

“Where did you go?” Jo asked, but when Meg only returned her a puzzled look, she continued. “When you were visualizing?”

“Oh….the water….a lake somewhere,” Meg stammered self consciously. Jo just smiled.

“Me too,” she began. “I went to the ‘Lodge’; our beach house,” she explained. “Water is wonderfully relaxing, it’s universal.” Meg nodded in agreement. They walked together to the door, Meg pulling on her sneakers, and Jo slipping on a turquoise kaftan and a pair of Blundstone boots. As they walked in silence out to the road, Jo suddenly stopped her.

“I hope you don’t think I’m too forward, but I literally live just around the corner; would you consider a cup of coffee?” she asked, her head tilted questioningly  to one side.

Whether it was the lasting effects of the relaxation exercise, or just the contagious sunny disposition of this fascinating woman, Meg found herself accepting with an uncharacteristic lack of reservation!

Jo smiled broadly. “Let’s walk,” she said. “It’s a gorgeous evening isn’t it?” she concluded, offering Meg her arm.

It was a beautiful night, stars brighter than usual in a clear black sky, which also meant it was also unusually cool for early summer. Jo’s house was truly just around the corner. As they got closer, Meg saw it was a mud brick house; a heavy wooden door standing between two stained glass windows, glowing predominantly red and green in the porch light. A door led off the hallway to a large open living area. Meg realized this was just the kind of  home she would have imagined Jo to live in. Two well-loved couches, vast and comfortable, surrounded a large wooden coffee table, made beautifully from one complete piece of timber. A low fire burned in an enclosed fire place, an immense copper flue glowing pink in the soft fire light, reaching up through the wood lined ceiling. One end of the living room opened out to a high cathedral ceiling, a large cast iron chandelier hanging from black chains over a long wooden dining table. Beyond this, large french doors led outside, though Meg couldn’t see past them in the dark. The floor was a combination of timber and slate, overlaid here and there with intricately patterned Persian rugs. Meg’s eyes were drawn from one interesting feature to the next.

“You have a beautiful home Jo,” she said, settling down into one end of the sofa.

“Thankyou so much Meg. You are very kind,” Jo replied. “I try not to let it show, but I do try!” she added with a smile and a shrug.

Jo busied herself making the coffee in the kitchen, which flowed naturally from the living area, a large round painted table its central feature, surrounded by an eclectic assortment of chairs. Copper and cast iron pots hung above it, together with some fragrant bunches of rosemary. A deep window sill stood before a large casement window of old fashioned diamond shaped window panes, shining opaquely in the soft light. A collection of painted tin pots stood along it, growing what Meg guessed were an array of herbs. Jo returned to the loungeroom with two very large mugs of coffee.

“White and one,” she said cheerily. “I guessed,” she added with a beguiling smile.

“That’s just perfect,” Meg replied. “Thankyou.”

They chatted easily for a good half  an hour, and Meg found out that Jo was married with one son.

“We nearly lost eachother during the birth,” Jo explained. “It meant I couldn’t have any more children,” she continued.

“I’m sorry,” Meg answered, not being able to read the thoughtful look in Jo’s eyes. But Jo smiled.

“Oh, don’t be. He has been more than I could ever ask for,” she said with delight. “I think he is an old soul. Sometimes I believe he was sent to look after me!” she added with a laugh. “Do you have a family Meg?” Jo asked.

“No, I’m divorced actually,” Meg answered, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. “We never quite got around to a house and children,” she added ruefully. Jo looked quite disconcerted.

“Oh, I’m sorry Meg,” she said softly. “And here I am going on about my good fortune,” she said with a frown.

“Oh, don’t be Jo,” Meg said reassuringly. “He wasn’t the right one. I live in hope!” she concluded, forcing a confident smile.

Meg also discovered that Jo owned a small giftware and book shop, and that she had just started serving  a select range of teas.

“The tea is a new addition,” Jo said thoughtfully. “The idea was to encourage people to stay in the shop longer! It’s been rather busy since in fact, so I think it must have been a good idea!” she concluded, with a humbly satisfied smile. Meg could almost imagine it.

“What about you Meg…do you enjoy teaching?” Jo asked, her hazel eyes sparking green and amber in turn. “They say it’s a calling,” she added with a questioning tilt of her head. Meg shifted in her seat.

“I do and I don’t,” Meg answered truthfully. “I mean, I’m a bit restless at the moment. I was enjoying it, but there has been a question of a personality clash with one of the staff recently,” Meg said with a frown. “It’s unsettled me a bit…more than a bit really,” she said haltingly, knowing that Luke’s arrival and departure also had a part to play in her discontent. Jo sat quietly for a long moment, a look of deep concern and compassion on her face.

“Conflict is never enjoyable,” she said, hugging her coffee close to her chest. “But sometimes it’s life’s way of nudging us in another direction; a better path,” she added thoughtfully. “Do you think that maybe what’s happenning?” she asked.

“Could be,” said Meg with a little smile. “But I’m one of those people life has to hit over the head sometimes before they get the hint!” she added, and they both laughed. Meg was feeling an encouraging connection with Jo she hadn’t felt since Luke had gone.

They both jumped when they heard the front door close with a thud. “Hi!” a young voice called cheerfully.

“In here sweetheart!” Jo called back, turning to face the hall door, smiling broadly in anticipation. Meg nearly spilled her coffee when Luke appeared in the doorway, holding a colorful bunch of poppies in one hand.

“Hello my love,” Jo crooned, until she noticed Luke’s stunned expression.

“Meg?” he said in astonishment.

“Luke?” Meg replied breathlessly, feeling the blood rush to her cheeks. She quickly lowered her face, trying to hide the blush she knew must be setting it ablaze, as if their history would be written there in her flesh. Jo looked back and forth between them for a moment.

“You’ve met?” she asked, with a surprised smile. Luke found his voice first.

“Yeah,” he said softly. “We taught together last term,” he concluded, his eyes never leaving Meg’s face. Meg managed a smile  as Jo turned to her, not trusting herself to speak just yet. Jo was noticeably excited.

“That’s amazing! It’s such a small world isn’t it?’ she said, standing up and taking the flowers from Luke’s hand. “You two get reacquainted. I’ll put these in water,” she said, standing on tip toe to place a quick kiss on Luke’s cheek. “Thankyou my darling,” she said, her eyes enjoying the wild and colorful bouquet. “I just love poppies!” she gushed as she hurried to the kitchen. Luke managed to pluck a bright red one from the bunch, and held it out to Meg as he took a seat beside her on the sofa.

“It really is nice to see you Meg,” he said quietly, watching her nervously stroke the petals. “I was just a bit shocked to see you here,” he said, the warm smile Meg remembered lighting his face. Meg returned his smile then, although her heart hadn’t quite returned to its normal rhythm.

“Ididn’t know,” she stammered. “I mean, I only met Jo tonight, at yoga class,” she explained awkwardly. Jo returned from the kitchen carrying a fresh cup of coffee for Luke.

“So how did my son perform?” Jo asked cheerfully, settling into the sofa opposite them. Meg caught Luke  hiding a smile behind his coffee mug.

“Oh, I can say without a doubt, he’s a wonderful teacher,” Meg answered, trying desperately to quash some of the more erotic pictures that flashed unbidden across her memory. “I think he definitely has the calling,” she said, watching Jo’s face light with understanding.

“Meg was very supportive,” Luke said. “It can be hard coming into an established staff if you haven’t got an ally,” he said, his green eyes moving between Meg and his mother.

“I knew there was something special about you Meg,” Jo said excitedly. Meg felt her heart quicken again as Jo turned an appreciative smile toward her.

“I didn’t really do anything. Luke is very capable….gifted really,” Meg said, shaking her head shyly.

“She also doesn’t give herself enough credit,” Luke said pointedly, sending a knowing look her way.Meg was starting to feel the weight of all the things Jo couldn’t know about her relationship with Luke, and shifted nervously in her seat.

“I probably should get going though,” Meg said, moving to the edge of the sofa. “I have to get back to the car, and it must be getting late,” she added awkwardly, checking her watch.

“Oh, Luke, you’ll walk Meg back to her car won’t you darling?” Jo asked. Meg opened her mouth to protest, but Luke spoke first, as they all made their way to the front door.

“Of course I will. Can’t have you walking alone this late,” he said, as they stepped out under the porch light. It did little to illuminate the driveway ahead of them, sheltered as it was by overhanging trees. Neither the moon or the street lights could penetrate their canopy. Jo unselfconsciously gathered Meg into her arms, and planted a kiss on her cheek.

“But you haven’t met my Max yet,” she said. “You will come for dinner on Saturday won’t you?” she said.

“Umm,” Meg stammered, not expecting the invitation, and Luke’s sudden appearance clouding all certainty.

“It’s a rhetorical question Meg,” Luke said with a smile. “She won’t give up ’til you say yes anyway,” he added, shaking his head lovingly at his mother.

“Sure, I’d love to,” Meg said finally, but without any real inner conviction.

“Five o’clock then…for pre-dinner drinks,” Jo returned enthusiastically. She turned back towards the door then. “Still a bit chilly these nights,” she said distractedly.

The darkness quickly swallowed them, as Meg made her way with Luke  toward the road. They walked in charged silence until they were just past the house. “How have you been?” Luke asked quietly, and Meg sighed deeply, realizing she had almost been holding her breath.

“I was O.K…..I mean I am O.K.,” she corrected, hoping in vain to keep the conversation neutral. Of course she knew that was impossible, because before tonight she believed she would probably never see Luke again.

“A bit of a Freudian slip….you mean you were O.K. until you saw me again,” Luke said with a crooked smile. Meg stopped then, and turned to face him, knowing they both deserved honesty from eachother.

“No Luke,” she said gently, drawing on all her strength. “I haven’t been O.K. for a very long time, and meeting you was the best thing that happened to me for an even longer time,” she said, imagining the beautiful green of his eyes in the enveloping darkness.

“You’re cold,” he said, his voice oddly strained. He pulled his jumper over his head, and draped it around her shoulders. His body heat trapped in the wool made her shiver, an involuntary reaction, as if he had literally wrapped his arms around her.

“Thankyou,” she whispered, rubbing her cheek against its musky softness. They continued walking.

“You will come on Saturday won’t you?” Luke asked. “I don’t want to think I’ve spoiled something good. Ican tell Mum really likes you, and she could use a good friend right now,” he said, Meg sensing the concern in his voice.

“I know I could use a friend,” Meg answered honestly, knowing she would be very disappointed if she had to end her friendship with Jo before it had the chance to begin. She had been truly excited by the connection she felt with Jo, until this latest, and very unsettling complication. They finally reached her car, and Meg leant against the door, knowing there was more they needed to talk about. Luke came and stood beside her, his arms across his chest against the chilled air.

“She’s been working so hard for so long. You would be good for her Meg,” Luke said. “She knows a kindred spirit when she finds one,” he concluded, turning towards her, awaiting a reply. Meg’s common sense and logical thought, wrestled with the great physical attraction she still felt for Luke. How could she make an informed decision while fighting the almost physical chords drawing her to him? In the absence of her response, and sensing her turmoil, Luke spoke again.

“Just give it a try Meg. I know we can be friends too,” he said, taking her hands in his. Meg felt her resistance dissolving. She wanted to believe him.

“I’d like to think we were always friends Luke,” Meg answered.

“Yes, of course,…but I believe in time, we can be just friends…I’m willing to try if you will,” Luke said, and squeezed her hand hopefully.

Meg wanted so much for Luke to be right. And she wanted time to get to know Jo…she needed a friend. And she needed to take risks, or watch her life stretching endlessly before her as it was now. And with that thought, an unreasonable panic propelled her to her decision.

“O.K., I’ll try,” she sighed, smiling shakily.

“Thanks Meg,” Luke said with obvious relief, and held the unlocked door open for her as she slipped inside.

“Oh, your jumper!” she called.

“Bring it on Saturday,” he replied with a smile, and shut the door.

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