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(Part of) Chapter One - `Forrest`s Formula`

by  Elena

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2003
Word Count: 2423
Summary: Here is the beginning of chapter one of a new novel I am working on entitled "Forrest's Formula" [working title]. It is about a magazine journalist, Roberta Forrest, who is sent on an unwanted assignment and unexpectedly encounters romance on the way. I have written it with quite a lot of humour and it is meant as a light-hearted read, rather than a heavy duty romance.

Daisies dotted the grass, their tiny heads straining towards the sun; large yellow centres round and full, white petals bright and fragile. They looked like a gathering of miniature parasols, waiting patiently for a gathering of joyful fairies. The grass was long but not overgrown, its luscious spread laid out like a carpet created by nature. Roberta Forrest kicked off her shoes, longing to feel the blades of bright green, tickling her bare, pink-painted toes.

The warm sun beat down onto her virgin skin, as yet untouched by the summer weather. The intoxicating scent of nearby rambling roses saturated her nostrils and consumed her attention for a few long seconds, as she languorously inhaled the perfume. A slight breeze passed by, a small relief to the heat, lifting her mouse brown hair. Tendrils fell around her freckled shoulders that gleamed pale pink in the warmth of the day.

She began to walk lethargically towards a grouping of trees that offered a scattering of shade, and a lonely log on which to sit. Removing her plain, straw, wide-brimmed hat and seating herself she sighed with sheer satisfaction. It was a beautiful day. She looked over at her boisterous spaniel who was enjoying this walk more than her, it seemed.

Galloping around, unwittingly crushing the patches of daisies, was Marley. His permed, flopping brown ears bounced up and down as he ran. Behind him, his longhaired tail whipped in circles propelling him in all directions. A butterfly caught his attention and he darted sideways, his brown and cream body struggling to catch up with his intentions. He lunged into the air; baggy lips leaving him behind, lifting like heavy velour curtains to reveal white teeth.

They often took this walk; it was one of the most private and secluded. Staying with her parents was always relaxing. She could escape from the ever-ringing mobile ‘phone and harassment from her magazine Editor. Reporting on the flamboyant lifestyles of actors and singers, soap stars and celebrity couples had its moments. For the most part Roberta loved every minute of it. But there were times, like this precious, quiet moment, when it was good to get away. She just wished these famous people would emigrate during the summer, maybe somewhere like the moon? Then, perhaps, she herself could manage to scrape together some kind of holiday. For now, she had to remain contented with a long weekend at her parents’ home. Buried in the rural English countryside and having her meals cooked for her was a deeply appreciated situation.

A generous gust took hold of the hem of her full-length, cream silk dress, tossing the skirt about her shapely ankles. The brush of the soft material on her skin was therapeutic, massaging. The dappled shade had cooled her arms too, easing the first signs of sunburn.

Marley collapsed at her feet, dropping a short stick, panting heavily. The chunky piece of wood was soaked with saliva and Roberta had no intention of commencing any sort of game with it. The dog looked at her with his soulful brown eyes, his front paws creeping further towards her, inch by inch. She held out a flat hand, palm down, silently instructing the canine that games were over for the day. Her command was received with a roll and the offering of a creamy underbelly, just waiting to be tickled. She laughed, giving in to the animal’s request.

Back at her parents’ house pandemonium had set in. She returned from her tranquil meander through the nearby woods, confronted by a giant white lorry on the front driveway and her mother shouting orders to several workmen. It appeared that some new furniture had been ordered for their bedroom and a problem had arisen with delivery through the narrow hall and winding staircase.

Marley dashed up the cobbled path at full pelt, almost taking the legs from beneath one of the men, whose arms flew in the air paddling desperately to keep his balance. Stature restored, the man continued to discuss strategies with his bossy customer. Agatha Forrest had been a school head mistress and once she began, she had to finish!

“Young man,” she began, throwing the greying, forty-something driver into confusion, “If you will just concentrate for ONE minute!” she thrust a single finger under his nose, cementing the time frame, “You will have to use the patio.”

By this time, Roberta had reached the fracas and peered into the back of the lorry that faced the house. A selection of delivery men stood idle, leaning against different pieces of polythene wrapped furniture, no doubt awaiting their final instructions.

“Roberta!” her mother was momentarily distracted by her daughter’s return, “There’s some lemonade in the fridge and,” a quick glance at the reddened shoulders, “Goodness me, you’ve caught the sun! Put some lotion on those.”

Reduced from twenty-seven to seven in the space of a split second, Roberta’s smile dropped and she plodded towards the iron side gate to the back garden. Crossing the gravel path to the large, Cotswold stone patio, she found her father. Lying prostrate on a wooden sun lounger, fishing hat firmly on his head and pipe hanging out of the side of his mouth, he was oblivious to the noise being created out front. He wore one of his white shirts, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, and cream casual trousers. On his feet were the usual grey socks and brown leather sandals he favoured during summer. He was asleep.

She carried on into the cool confines of the lounge, passing through the hall to fetch some of that lemonade from the kitchen. Most of the house was decorated with checks and florals, lots of Regency style furniture and plenty of frilly lampshades. Her mother liked lights. She read a vast variety of books often, and insisted on good visibility. For these occasions, Roberta’s father had a small study on the ground floor; a place where he could seek refuge if the garden was out of bounds in bad weather. In it he kept his music collection and a large, burgundy leather armchair that was low-lying and well worn. He could while away the hours, half asleep on the chair, listening to opera or classical music – sometimes a little light jazz if he was feeling adventurous.

Roberta found the traditional, still lemonade in a jug. Slices of lemon and ice cubes bobbed around in the top. She poured herself a tall glass and decided to join her father on the patio. The sun had moved off there now, and it was quite pleasant. As she stepped out through the French doors and took up a wooden chair, Marley raced into the back garden. He took one look at his reclining master and landed on the lounger, all wet tongue and hot breath in the old man’s face.

“Good gracious!” exclaimed Gerald Forrest, spitting his pipe onto the floor and taking the dog by the ears, “Get off me you mad hound!”

Roberta giggled, watching man and beast wrestle on the garden chair. Marley was keen to remain on his owner’s lap, but Gerald was eager to enjoy his pipe in peace.

“I think you’ll find he’s a gun dog, Gerald, not a hound,” Agatha corrected as she sauntered across the lawn to join her family.

She was a tall, slim woman with a sharp nose that matched her tongue. She was witty and head strong, full of ideas and also full of love, in a distant, teacher-like sort of way. Agatha was always immaculately presented, whether alone or in public and today was no exception. Because of her height she never wore heels and instead preferred flat shoes. As she was mostly in the garden on this lovely, bright day she had chosen her white pumps; they gave her a youthful, girlish appearance, defying her sixty-eight years. She wore pastels, which complemented her short cut silver-grey hair and English Rose complexion. Her pink blouse had delicate cap sleeves, covered buttons and was fitted at the waist. To complement, she had paired it with a well cut, bias skirt in baby blue that hung just past her knees. Her make up was light and natural, a hint of blue around her eyelids and a subtle lipstick that highlighted the tone of her own lips.

“Have you sorted them out yet?” Roberta referred to the congregation of men in the front garden, hopefully now delivering with purpose.

Agatha took up a chair next to her daughter, “Oh yes,” she said, reaching for her own glass of lemonade she had abandoned earlier and sinking back against the cream cushion of the chair.

Gerald looked across at the two women, bewildered, “Sorted who out?”

His wife’s eyes rolled skywards in exasperation, “The furniture delivery men!”

“Oh, they’re here are they?” came the realisation.

“Good Lord, Gerald!” Agatha reprimanded sharply, throwing Roberta a smile.

Roberta was used to these peculiar arguments that were her parents’ usual conversations. Although her mother often spoke as if her patience was waning, it was laced with sarcasm and had meant to be taken in good jest. Her father was familiar with the tone and it seemed to pass him by unnoticed.

“They have finally agreed to use the patio,” the older woman continued, “They just will not be able to squash those pieces through that tiny hallway. The staircase is too sharp a turn from there.”

Gerald, finally free from Marley’s attentions, reclined once more, reuniting his pipe with his mouth, “You’ve managed to persuade them have you?” he grinned, chuckling, “That’s my girl!”

Roberta and her mother paused, waiting for the inevitable reaction from Gerald, when he realised he would have to move his chair out of the way to allow the delivery men access. A frown was followed by the removal of the pipe from his mouth. He sat bolt upright.

“Through the patio?” he shouted, “I’ll have to move!”

Gerald’s moments in the garden were the cornerstone of his summer life. Apart from the odd game of bowls down at the local green, or a fishing weekend in Scotland with his best friend Jonas, this was the mainstay of his retirement. Man, pipe and sun lounger grudgingly moved further down the garden, taking up residence under the large willow tree. The girls stayed seated on the patio, waiting until the men appeared through the gate with the first of the bedroom furniture. They stood and took their chairs and the table out onto the finely cut lawn. Marley hovered between them and Gerald, not knowing who to sit with.

A short while later Roberta and her mother were in the front bedroom, admiring the new arrivals. The polythene had been removed, as well as the old furniture. Everything was in its place and all that was required was a good polish and the contents. Agatha had changed her dated white Formica for mahogany reproduction Victorian. An elegant triple mirror dressing table sat at the large, rectangular front window where the view took the eye across the road and into fields of sheep and cattle that led to the horizon. A three-door wardrobe hugged the wall on the opposite side and against the wall as you entered the room stood an eight-drawer chest. Roberta was leaning in the doorway, her mother sat opposite her on the end of the bed.

“What do you think?” her mother was asking.

Roberta considered the objects. The dark wood would not have been her first choice, but it worked well with the plain buttermilk walls and biscuit carpet. The soft furnishings were embellished with roses.

“It all goes really well,” she replied honestly, “What about your clothes?”

Agatha gazed around the room, “They’re on the bed in the spare room,” and then to her daughter, “Maybe you could help me put them away after dinner?”

Roberta smiled warmly, “Of course.”

They were distracted by shouting and barking. Agatha stood and followed Roberta into her room at the back of the house. They drew up shoulder-to-shoulder at the open window and peered down into the garden, laughing. Marley had made a second attempt to join Gerald on the sun lounger. There was a flurry of human arms and legs, and the furry ears and tail of Marley, all vying for space on the chair. Gerald’s eyes followed the reverberating hilarity emanating from the upstairs window and shrugged helplessly, as the dog trampled grass stains all over his pale clothing.

Agatha wiped tears of laughter from her eyes and moved away from the window, “Oh dear!” she turned to Roberta, “That dog loves your father too much, I think.”

Roberta agreed, “He always goes to Dad, probably because he never talks to him,” she smiled, glancing at her watch, “Do you want a hand with dinner?”

“No, I have it in hand,” the older woman waved dismissively.

Roberta knew otherwise, her mother always refused, “Well, let’s have a look anyway.”

Downstairs, mother and daughter had begun preparing the evening meal in the spacious country kitchen. They were having a warm salad with a heated quiche, steamed new potatoes in butter and parsley, thick cut ham and a selection of salad vegetables. Roberta had convinced her mother to let her prepare the salad accompaniment. She was washing the lettuce leaves in the large Butler’s sink while Agatha set the eye-level oven for the quiche. Gerald appeared in the doorway looking like a green Martian.

“Look what that dog’s done to me!” he declared, arms spread, considering his dishevelled, stained clothes in dismay.

Roberta turned round from the sink, “Oh Dad! Will that come out?” she enquired, putting fear into her father’s eyes.

“Agatha?” he demanded, his voice trembling. He needed his white shirts for bowling.

She didn’t look round, but instead carried on, her attention fixed on the oven. She waved a hand in the air, “Don’t panic. I have something that will shift it.”

Relief swept across his face and he disappeared upstairs to change. Agatha joined Roberta at the sink, taking the lettuce from her and beginning to slice it into shreds on the wooden board next to them.

“Sometimes I don’t know what to do with the man,” she smiled, “He’d have a fit if there were no white shirts left for bowling tomorrow.”

Roberta grinned, just about to respond when a desperate voice rang out from above, “Where are all my clothes?”

Turning together and crying out in unison, Agatha and Roberta replied, “In the spare room!”