Despite her unsettling dream, Meg felt unusually happy and positive for days after the dinner at Jo’s. Even her growing disatisfaction at work couldn’t dampen her mood. She attributed her restlessness at work, to the end-of-year blues, and the impatient anticipation of nearly six weeks of free time. Although she had no real holiday plans, Meg happily contemplated possible day trips to the beach, and to the hills, and blissful hours spent reading and writing.
The sun was shining as Meg left school, and she didn’t at all feel like going straight home from work. Dirty dishes, an unmade bed, and a load of washing waited for her there; chores that seemed a sin on such a beautiful afternoon. Meg thought she might take the chance and drop in on Jo at her shop.
The window was a display of giftware in Jo’s easy exquisite style, an eclectic arrangement of vintage, ethnic earthiness, and desirable kitsch. The shelves of books were mainly of the coffee table variety, on travel, art, photography and the like, together with leather bound journals, and bejewelled notebooks. Tea was served at a collection of small wrought iron tables and chairs, where Meg found Jo chatting animatedly with some customers. She waited until Jo turned back to the counter before approaching her. Jo’s face lit up with a surprised smile.
“Meg! What a lovely surprise!” she sang, enveloping her in a welcoming embrace. “I’m so glad to see you!”
Meg immediately felt her spirits soar, and knew she had made the right decision to pay her friend an impromptu visit.
“Just thought I’d pop in and see what you do all day!” said Meg jokingly. “I’ll try not to get in the way.”
“Never!” retorted Jo. “We’ll have a tea hey?” she asked, and Meg nodded, delighted.
But just then, a noisy group of half a dozen women invaded the shop, ordering refreshments, and browsing enthusiastically. Meg stowed her bag behind the counter, and began to busy herself helping Jo, clearing tables, carrying across the tea and cakes, and even washing a few dishes. Jo mouthed a relieved thankyou. Meg then helped with some last minute gift wrapping, until finally the last of the customers left the shop, leaving a welcome silence behind them. Jo immediately shut the door and turned over the closed sign.
“Ooh, that was madness!” laughed Jo. “You must have known I needed you Meg. I’d let Lily go home just before you arrived,” she continued. “It had been a rather quiet day.” Jo sat down at one of the tables with a tired and satisfied sigh.
“I’ll make us a cup of tea shall I?” Meg asked, taking some clean cups from the shelf.
“You’re a gem!” said Jo, putting her feet up on the opposite chair. “You’re quite a natural at this you know,” she said encouragingly.
“Oh, I used to do something similar through my college days, for pocket money,” Meg replied. “It’s rather refreshing really. I had fun!” she said, sitting down with Jo at the table. They sat quietly for a minute, relishing the silence and the warm tea. Meg looked up to see Jo watching her intently.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Jo, a glint in her eye. “What are you doing on Christmas day Meg? Would you and your mother like to join us for lunch?” she asked, her head cocked questioningly to one side. “Both our families together would almost be a party!”
Meg was more than a little surprised at the offer, and tried in vain to envisage her mother at Jo and Max’s table, deciding she didn’t want her mother’s verdict on her new friends just yet. She smiled with real gratitude.
“That’s a wonderful offer Jo, and as for myself, I couldn’t think of anything else I would like better,” she said. “But I don’t think you are quite ready to meet my mother yet,” she continued with a bemused smile. “Or more correctly, I’m not ready to unleash my mother on you!”
They both laughed with an unspoken understanding. “Well then, how would you feel about spending a couple of weeks with us at the Lodge?” Jo asked, taking Meg’s hand across the table.
It took a second to recall that the Lodge was Jo’s beach house. Two wonderful sun-filled weeks at the beach with her new friend…how could she refuse? And, of course there was Luke…she would have fourteen uninterrupted days and nights to establish a true friendship with Luke before he moved to Sydney. Right at that moment, Meg felt anything was possible. Meg squeezed Jo’s hand, and returned her smile wholeheartedly.
“I would love to! Are you sure Jo? I don’t want to intrude on family time,” she said, already imagining how it might be there, at the Lodge.
“No! Of course not! That’s wonderful! You’ve made my day Meg…in more ways than one,” Jo said beaming. “And darling, you must never think you are intruding,” she continued, a genuine look of concern on her usually happy face. “I know we haven’t known eachother long, but it doesn’t feel that way to me,” Jo confided.
“I feel the same Jo. And you don’t know how much I appreciate the invitation. I think I really need this,” Meg replied in earnest.
The two women exchanged a joyful smile. “More tea?” asked Jo cheerfully, and left Meg hoping the following two weeks leading up to Christmas would pass quickly.