A Can of Worms

A short story by Chris Fairthorne

Lilian woke at 7.00am. Ever since her retirement, seven years ago,

she had allowed herself the luxury of not using an alarm clock, but

she always woke at 7.00am without fail. She put it down to thirty-five years of working at the bank and rising at the same time. It was annoying on Sundays! She had washed and dressed and eaten her breakfast by 7.45am and was about to set out on her morning walk to the paper shop. It was a regular part of Lilian’s fitness regime, that and her weekly swimming club.  Apart from these and her monthly attendance at the book club, she rarely went out. The garden was her main hobby. It wasn’t large but it was enough work for her at seventy-two years old. It was her roses that she loved the most and she would spend hours pruning and spraying them. They really were quite magnificent.


Lilian stepped out into the warm June sunshine, she would enjoy todays walk through the park, the azaleas were in full bloom and the heavy scent from the pink, red and burgundy blooms would rival the finest rose.


Mr Johnson was busy tidying the magazines rack when Lilian walked into the newsagents. He noticed her straight away.


 “Good morning, Ms. Widdowson. Lovely day.


“Beautiful, absolutely beautiful Mr Johnson, I’ve just walked through the park and the azaleas are stunning. Have you seen them yet this year?”


Mr. Johnson replied he had not as he handed her the paper.


“Well you must!” Lilian told him and wishing him good morning left the shop.


Whilst Lilian was making her way back across the park, she decided it would be nice to sit and read some of her newspaper in the sunshine. When she reached the park bench at the top of the rise, she noticed a young woman sitting there studying her phone. She had long fair hair that she wore in a ponytail, she was a pretty girl with hazel eyes and a soft complexion.


Lilian asked if she could join her on the bench. The young woman smiled at her and moved over to make extra room.


As she sat Lilian explained that she was glad the young woman was there as she did get a little nervous sitting in the park on her own. The young woman smiled again and continued to look at her mobile phone.


“On your way to work dear?” Lilian asked.


“No, I’m on my way home from work”, she replied without looking up from her phone.




The young woman looked at her. “I’m a junior doctor at the hospital, I’ve been on nights.”


“What a rewarding job!” Lilian said making no attempt to disguise her admiration.


“In many ways it is yes, but not financially, not for junior doctors anyway!” Her reply was pleasant but laced with cynicism.


Lilian explained that just helping people and making them well again was what she had meant.


“Sometimes they die”, the young woman told her.


“I’m sure they do dear, but you make a difference.”


Lilian noticed that the woman was wearing a wedding ring. “Your husband must be very proud of you.”


The woman turned to her. “My wife”, she replied, “I am married to a woman.”


Lilian was taken aback, not shocked, but taken aback. She hoped she had not offended the woman, after all it had been a fair enough assumption.


“Oh, I am sorry”, Lilian replied.


“Why? Because I am married to a woman?” Up to now the woman’s voice had been quiet, but still carrying the authority and confidence that might be expected of a doctor, but her last reply came with a defensive tone.


“No dear not at all.” Lilian was hesitant.


The young woman told Lilian that it had been nice talking to her and started to get up, explaining that she needed to get home.


“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” Lilian said.


“You haven’t”, she replied, “it’s normal, people think a young woman should be married to a young man, you see that’s the norm, that’s the way people think.”


I don’t”, Lilian answered, sticking out her hand. “My name is Lilian.”


“Well, as I said Lilian, I must get home.”


“What does your wife do?” Lilian persisted.


“She’s a reporter on the local paper.”


“How interesting”, Lilian replied. “Is she at work now?”


The young woman looked at her watch. 8.45am.

“She’s on her way.”  


“Then can’t you spend a few minutes to talk to me?” Lilian’s tone was needy and she knew it, but she wanted desperately to talk more to this woman, she needed to ask her things.


The young woman looked at her, smiled, hesitated and then sat back down.


“I suppose I can Lilian, why not?”


Lilian wasted no time. Her first question was cutting and took her new friend off guard.


“How old were you when you realised you were gay?”


The young woman laughed. “Well don’t hold back Lilian, get straight to the point!  My name is Claire by the way. I think I’ve always known. I wasn’t interested in boys at school. Started to get crushes on girls when I was about twelve.”  


“So, when did you come out?”


Again, the bluntness of Lilian’s question made Claire laughed. “Not sure I was ever really in.  I never tried to hide it, my parents and my friends seemed to have known forever.”


“How very brave of you”, Lilian replied.


Claire looked at her, and for the first time studied the older lady’s face. There remained a beauty that time had not masked, the vivid blue eyes that seemed to have the power to see right into your soul! Claire realised how beautiful the woman must have been in her youth.


“I wish I could have been as brave as you”, Lilian continued with a sigh.


Claire said nothing, she was surprised by Lilian’s comment, but said nothing.


Lilian started to tell Claire her story, it was as if the flood gates had opened and Lilian’s words were flowing out unhindered.  Claire realised that Lilian wanted to tell her story, needed to tell her story. She told her of her life as a young woman and of how she joined the R.A.F, adding that she was not quite sure as to why she had joined but most probably because she liked the uniform. After basic training she had been stationed at R.A.F Northolt, and it was there that she had met Jenny.  She had fallen hopelessly in love with her the very first time they met. Jenny was tall and graceful with the most beautiful long fair hair. Claire noticed the look in Lilian’s eyes as she spoke of her, a faraway look, a look that said the love remained with her.   


“She wore it long tied back in a ponytail and curled up under her hat.” Lilian continued, “We became friends immediately, spending all our spare time together, it was as if we fitted, we were right together. We had both fallen in love.”


Lilian stopped.


“Why have you stopped?” Claire asked.


“Life is a funny old thing”, Lilian replied. “I’m seventy-two years old and only just come out to a young woman in the park that I’ve never met before!”


 “Lilian that’s good!” Claire said, taking her hand. “It’s well overdue but it’s good.”

Lilian turned to her. “I did love her so Claire.  We wanted to spend our lives together.”


 “Then why didn’t you?” Claire asked.


Lilian continued with her story saying that it was 1967 and things were very different then, how being gay was frowned upon, not natural, not acceptable.”

Claire noticed a tear run down Lilian’s cheek.


“We were reported”, she continued, “a young girl in our section had seen us kiss one day, it had been a silly mistake. She reported us.”


“What happened then?”  Claire was hooked, she felt sorry for Lilian and wanted to know more.


“We both denied it of course but it was no good, and to be fair our commanding officer suggested we both leave the R.A.F. and so avoid the risk of being discharged.”


“And did you?”


“Oh yes dear, the writing was on the wall, we had little option. We tried to stay together but there was resentment. Jenny had always wanted to be in the R.A.F. Her father had been a wing commander during the war and she desperately wanted to please him and her family. Thinking about it now perhaps it was her father’s past rank that allowed us to slip away so to speak.  Our C.O had known Jenny’s father when he was in the Air Force.”


“What did you do then?” Claire questioned.


“Jenny joined the police force. It was the next best thing for her. I went into the bank—got a job in administration at first and worked my way up from there. Jenny went away for training and I never saw her again after that. She wrote of course, she told me she couldn’t risk ruining another career because of us. I am afraid that was that.”


Lilian turned to Claire. “I loved her then and I love her now. It never stopped for me. She was the one true love of my life, there has never been another.” The tears ran freely down Lilian’s face now.


Claire could not help it, she took her and hugged her. “People don’t understand Lilian, how could they?”


It was a wasted love, Claire”, Lilian said. “Wasted because of prejudice.”


Lilian pulled back from the hug. “I’m so sorry Claire, I’m just a stupid sad old woman. Spilling out my story to a stranger in the park just because you told me you were gay. Look at you, a beautiful, strong, intelligent modern woman, gay and proud of it. Oh, how I envy your freedom to love the way you want to love, your bravery, your modern life.”


“We’ve had our hills to climb as well Lilian, prejudice lives on even in today’s modern world. Prejudice in the workplace, prejudice against gays, prejudice against race. My wife is mixed race Lilian, we still have to deal with prejudice every day of our gay lives together. It’s easier nowadays yes, but it’s still there.”


Lilian felt ashamed, she had been so caught up in her own misery that she had forgotten others were still fighting their fight.


“So, do you know how Jenny ended up?” Claire asked.


“Oh yes dear, I followed her career. She retired some time ago. I think she became an inspector. She kept her maiden name so I’m not sure if she ever married or not.”


“So, what was her maiden name?”


“Ellis, Inspector Jenny Ellis.”


Claire took Lilian’s hand.


“Would you mind very much if I walked you home?”


“That would be nice dear, I’d like that.”




As Donna opened the front door, she was greeted by the wonderful smell of one of Claire’s curries. “That smells good”, she shouted, “chicken or lamb?”


“Your favourite—chicken Madras”, came the reply.


Donna walked into the kitchen. “Good.” She kissed Claire on the cheek. “I do love you so.”





“Me or my curries?”


“Both”, Donna answered, putting a bottle of white on the worktop.


“It’s cold, I got it out of the cold cabinet at the off-licence.”


“Best get it poured then”, Claire said, “dinner will be ready in ten minutes.”


The curry was excellent and Donna ate hungrily. “Pass me the pickles again darling”, she requested, reaching out her hand. “You know Claire you make a better Madras than my mum and she was bloody born there!”


Claire smiled, “You always say that and you know it’s called Chennai now anyway.”


“Yeah, but if you went into an Indian restaurant and asked for a chicken Chennai, Christ knows what you’d get, and it was called Madras when mum was born there. Smart arse.”


Again, Claire smiled. Donna’s life in journalism had taught her not to

mince her words. She did not suffer fools easily, had a great nose for a story and had to fight every inch to build a career in a male dominated industry. She was good at her job. Donna’s childhood and education had taken a much different route to Claire’s. There had been no grammar school and then university for her. No, she had attended the local comprehensive school in Hayes, excelled at netball and athletics and had been a reasonable scholar with an inquisitive mind. She left school with good English grades and then went on to study journalism at college.  She spoke with a distinct London accent and often her language could be colourful.  


 “I met a woman in the park today Don”, Claire told her.


Donna stopped eating and looked up. “Should I be worried?” she asked.


Claire looked into the large dark eyes that were fixed on her and smiled. “You will never, ever have anything to worry about my love. Anyway, she’s seventy-two.”


“Well maybe you’ve got a thing for the older woman that I didn’t know about?”


“Don, will you stop it! I’m trying to tell you something.”


“Sorry,” Donna took another spoonful of curry from the serving dish.


“Her name is Lilian, Lilian Williams.” Claire told Donna the story about Lilian and her lost love whilst they finished their meal and the rest of the wine. “Don?” Claire said.


“I know that tone Claire, something’s coming isn’t it.”


“No! Well yes”, Claire replied.


“I’m waiting.”


“Well…with your contacts at the paper and your journalistic skills.”


“Cut the crap Claire, you’re going to ask me to find the missing policewoman, aren’t you?”


“Yes”, Claire replied.


“God knows what that would do to them both! They haven’t seen each other in nearly fifty years. You are going to open a can of worms Claire. You’re a romantic, a lover of fairy tales and happy endings, but life’s not like that.”


“It was for us!” Claire replied with a warm smile.


“Don’t smile at me like that, you’re using your charms to persuade me now.”


“Now Don, would I do that?” 




“Don, my little dark-skinned beauty, would I do that?”


“Ok, you win, I’ll look into it tomorrow, but be warned Claire it’s a can of worms. Now, you need to thank me properly.”


Donna got up from the table and took Claire’s hand.


“What about the dishes?” Claire asked.


“What about them?”




Claire did not get up early, she didn’t have to. She was on a two off shift rotation so she had made up for some lost sleep. When she did rise, she cleared away the dishes from last night’s dinner, put the dishwasher on and then made herself a coffee. The phone rang.


“I just know I’m going to regret this.” It was Donna.


“Your policewoman, she lives at Whites Cottage, Bridge Lane, Thame. Have you got a pen Claire?”


“Yes, yes.” Claire replied, opening the drawer and pulling out a pad and pen.


“This is her phone number, and by the way she reached the rank of chief inspector and never married. You owe me big time my darling, big time and remember you never got it from me.” The phone went dead.


Thame, it was only forty minutes away by car. She looked at her watch, 11.20am, she had time.




It was 12.30pm when Claire turned the car of the M40 and headed into Thame. She hadn’t thought about what she would say or do. She just knew that she needed to talk to Chief Inspector Jenny Ellis, ask her about Lilian, and see if she still cared. The satnav took her almost right to the door, she turned off the engine and sat looking at the cottage. It was a very pretty flint stone building with a large oak front door and timbered porch. The property sat back, away from the road. The garden was neat with well-trimmed lawns and tidy flower beds. Claire was suddenly very nervous, was she about to open a can of worms as Don had warned her? She didn’t know, and what right did she have to interfere in these two people’s lives? But what she did know was if there was a chance for Lilian to find happiness then surely there could be nothing to lose. Summoning all her nerve she got out of the car and made her way to the front door. She knocked and waited, too late now she told herself.  After a minute or so it opened to reveal a tall well-dressed lady in her seventies.


“Yes?” she said.


“Good morning” Claire replied. “I’m sorry to bother you but am I right in thinking you are Miss Jenny Ellis?”




The woman looked concerned.


“Yes”, she replied.


“Miss Ellis, you don’t know me, but my name is Claire James.”


“Yes?” The woman repeated herself looking somewhat irritated.


“Miss Ellis I was talking to an old friend of yours, Lilian. You were in the R.A.F together.” Claire saw the woman’s face instantly change.


“Is she ok?” she asked.


“Oh yes! She’s fine.”


“Then what are you doing here?”


“It’s awkward Miss Ellis, can I come in please?”


“No.” The woman’s answer surprised Claire.


“It’s just that I wanted to talk to you about Lilian.”


“You turn up on my doorstep out of the blue and start talking about a woman called Lilian that I may have known fifty years ago. Are you from the press?”


“No, no, I’m a doctor.”


“Then she is ill?”  The concern in her voice becoming obvious.


“No, Miss Ellis I want to explain, please.”


Jenny Ellis looked at her, it was a look shrouded in caution.


“In the garden then.” She pointed to a small table on the lawn. “Go and sit there, I’ll join you in a moment.” Jenny instructed turning her back on her and closing the door.


Claire took a seat at the table and again admired the garden. Jenny Ellis followed a minute or two later, locking the front door behind her.


“Well?” She asked as she sat herself down at the table opposite Claire.


“Ok Miss Ellis, or can I call you Jenny?”


“As you wish”, her reply was curt.


“Jenny, the other day I was sitting in the park when Lilian asked if she could sit with me on the bench and read her paper.”


“What park?”


“Alexandra Park.”


“Alexandra Park where?”


“South Harrow”, Claire replied.


Jenny smiled slightly. Claire noticed the smile; it was a smile of confirmation. “You know where she lives don’t you!”


“I was a chief inspector in the police young lady, of course I know where she lives. Does she know you’re here?”


Claire shook her head. “Why on earth haven’t you contacted her, or spoken to her?”


“Did you say your name was Claire?” Jenny asked. Claire nodded. “It’s been fifty years Claire, a lifetime. Did she tell you that?” Again, Claire nodded.


 “She said you loved each other very much, were going to make a life together.”


“We were young Claire, just nineteen when we first met, nearly twenty before we…”, Jenny stopped.


“Before you slept together?”


“How simple it is for you to talk like that”, Jenny’s reply was fierce. “You have no idea what it was like for us then— the prejudice. People would swear at you, even spit at you if they thought you were different, or gay as you say now.”


“You can’t tell me anything about prejudice”, Claire replied.


“I have little doubt that you have experienced prejudice. But you could never really understand what it was like for us then. We were forced to leave the R.A.F.  shunned by friends and couldn’t tell our families. I had lost the job I had wanted most in the world, disappointed my family. I had to succeed in the police, but they would never have tolerated it they knew. My life would have been a misery, they would have got me out. So, I made a choice, a career choice, I gave her up. Walking away from Lilian, broke both our hearts.”


“But wasn’t your love worth more than that?” Claire asked.


“Looking back now Claire I can’t allow myself to think that.”  For the first time Jenny’s voice revealed her sadness.


“But later you could have seen her, or spoken to her, at least explained”, Claire insisted.


“No Claire, I couldn’t risk it. I knew that I still loved her. If I saw her again, I wasn’t sure that I could leave her a second time.”


“It doesn’t matter now Jenny, you’re not in the police anymore. They don’t care a fig about what you do now! Let me arrange for you to meet her.” Claire watched as the colour in Jenny’s face drained slowly away.


 “No! No, I can’t allow that.” Jenny shook her head, emphatically. We’re two old women now, we haven’t seen each other for fifty years. Do you think we would fall into each other’s arms and brush away fifty years as if they never happened? She must hate me for what I did to her, hate me!”


“So, you’re scared of rejection is that it, Jenny? You’re scared of feeling hurt again.”


Jenny was quiet for a while. “I suppose I am Claire.  That and hurting her again.”


 Claire took this as her cue. “But she told me Jenny, she said she loved you then and she still loves you now.”


After a moment’s silence, Jenny stood up, she thanked Claire for coming and told her that she appreciated it.  “I’m afraid it’s all too late for us now Claire. Lilian’s in love with the memory, that’s all Claire. I’m a realist, we’ve had our time and I threw it away we can’t turn the clock back. Drive safely Claire, thank you again.” She turned to walk away.


“Wait!” Claire called after her, she took out a pen and scribbled her mobile number onto a scrap of paper. “Take this, please take it in case you have second thoughts. Call me any time Jenny please.”


Jenny took the paper “You won’t tell her about today will you Claire?”


Claire reassured her she wouldn’t and left Jenny standing alone in her garden.




“I told you when you started this”, Donna said as she took the shepherds pie out of the oven, “a can of worms, I told you.”


“Shut up Don, ok you were right! She’s a stubborn old woman who’s scared of being hurt and still too frightened to admit to the world that she is gay.” Claire admitted reluctantly.


“What did you expect? Both these women are from a different time. You can’t expect them to change now and just sweep away the past. It doesn’t work like that.”


“Well, I’ve not given up hope yet. Look at us—our life together. Two openly gay women, no need to hide it from the world, married for God’s sake, both with jobs we love. And what did they have? Nothing. They had nothing but a year or so of hidden love and a lifetime of broken hearts. No, I’ve not given up hope yet.”


Donna could hear the determination in Claire’s voice. “I was worried about that.” Donna replied wearily. “Look you haven’t heard from the copper yet have you, and how long has it been?”


“Her name is Jenny and it’s only been a week or so”, Claire snapped back at her.


“It’s been ten days Claire, that’s how long, and how many times have you seen Lilian since then?”


 “I don’t know.” Claire replied.


“Well, I do Claire—you have seen her four times since then and that’s only the times I know of. Has she even mentioned Jenny again to you? Well, has she?”


Claire was clearly agitated “Are we going to eat this bloody shepherd’s pie or watch it go cold?” she snapped.


“Don’t avoid the question Claire, has Lilian mentioned her again?”


“No! No, she hasn’t.” Claire hated to admit it but maybe Donna had a point.


Donna pushed on, more gently this time. “Well it seems to me Claire that maybe you care more about this than they do.”


“Bugger you Don!” Claire took a bottle of Rioja from the rack and with two wine glasses in one hand and the bottle in the other stalked off into the dining area. “I’m going to sit at the table in the vain hope that dinner will actually be ready sometime tonight!”


Donna smiled to herself and started to dish up the meal.



It was Saturday morning; Claire had made her way home having just finished her last shift at the hospital. She had opened the front door quietly and was now making a coffee to take into Donna. Suddenly the bedroom door opened and Donna walked into the kitchen wearing her yellow pjs and yawning.


“Just making you a coffee darling.” Claire kissed her and handed her the steaming mug. They both sat at the small breakfast bar and silently sipped for a few minutes.


“Good night Claire?” Donna asked.


“Busy”, Claire replied. “How about you?”


Donna nodded. “Mine was busy too, I had the women’s church choir over for the night, they’ve only just left. Didn’t you run into them on the stairs?”


“Very funny”, Claire replied.


“That’s your mobile ringing Claire. You’ve probably left it in your jacket in the hall.”


“I can’t hear it”, Claire replied. She got up and retrieved her phone. “Claire James.” She said putting the phone to her ear. 


“Um…good morning Claire, this is Jenny, Jenny Ellis.”


“Oh, good morning Jenny!” Claire replied in a loud voice. Donna looked up and rolled her eyes. “Are you well Jenny?”


Jenny never answered the question. “I can’t stop thinking about our conversation the other day. I’m afraid I was rude to you, dismissing you the way I did.”


Claire told her not to worry about it and that she understood how strange the whole situation must have been for her. “After all I turned up on your doorstep, a woman you never knew talking about something that happened years earlier.”


Donna had got up and was frantically signalling for Claire to put the call on loudspeaker. Claire obliged.


“No Claire, I’ve been rude and somewhat stupid; you went to a lot of trouble to visit me.” There was a pause. “You said Lilian told you that she loved me then and she still loves me now?”


“That’s what she said Jenny, yes.”


“Well then I must take the chance and meet her before I lose my nerve. I owe her that. Will you see her for me and tell her I want to meet with her if she would like to meet me too? I could come tomorrow, perhaps to the park. I don’t want to waste any more time Claire.”


Claire smiled. “I’ve just come off shift, I’ll get a few hours sleep and I’ll go and see her this afternoon, I’ll ring you this evening.” Claire hung up and beamed at Donna. “I told you I wouldn’t give up!”


“You’ve only managed half the equation Claire, let’s hope Lilian doesn’t disappoint.”


Claire had not slept well; she had been too excited about the prospect of reuniting Lilian and Jenny. By 2.00pm she had given up trying sleep and instead showered, dressed and was on her way to Lilian’s.


Lilian opened the door. “Hello Claire! I wasn’t expecting to see you today, come in.”


“I need to talk to you Lilian.” Claire said as she followed Lilian into the front room. Lilian turned to face her. “That sounds ominous, is there something wrong? I’ll put the kettle on.”


“No, come and sit here with me.” Claire sat on the sofa. Lilian looked concerned and sat as instructed. “Don’t look so worried Lilian I’ve come to tell you something you will like, something you’ll be happy to hear.” Lilian forced a smile. “I’ve spoken to her.”


Lilian looked blank. “Spoken to whom dear?”

 “Jenny, Jenny Ellis.” Lilian’s mouth dropped open. “I found her, went to see her, we had quite a chat.”


“Oh my God Claire, what have you done?”


 Claire was taken aback but pushed on. “She wants to meet you again, spend a little time with you. Catch up so to speak.”


“Catch up? Catch up? How can we catch up on fifty years Claire? We don’t have enough time left to catch up!”


“But you can meet, she retired from the police force years ago. Her family is dead so why not Lilian?”


“I know her father is dead Claire; I went to his funeral back in 1987… I think it was.” Lilian could see the surprise in Claire’s face.


 “You did what?”


“Oh, I wasn’t invited or anything and I never went into the church, or the graveyard come to that. I watched from behind the wall at the far end of the graveyard.”


“Why did you go?” Claire asked.


“I read his obituary in the local paper. ‘Local war hero dies’ It said. I hoped to get a glimpse of Jenny—that was one of the reasons I went.”


“And did you?”


“Yes, she was there. She was dressed in her police uniform and she still was wearing her hair in a ponytail tucked up under her hat. She was just as beautiful as I had remembered her. But that wasn’t the only reason I went.”


“Wasn’t it?”


“Oh no Claire, I wanted to make sure that old bastard was dead and buried.”


It was Claire’s turn for her mouth to drop open.


Lilian continued. “You see, Jenny thought he didn’t know anything about us, but he did. He had found out. He came to the flat after Jenny had left to do her basic training. He barged in, called me a filthy queer, and accused me of corrupting his daughter. He threatened me, saying I would never work again if I went anywhere near her, told me it was over and that she wouldn’t be coming back. As he left, he took an envelope out of his pocket and threw it on the table. ‘Here you are you dirty queer whore, this is what you’ve been after all along.’ Then he turned and was gone.”


The two women sat in silence for a moment as Claire processed the painful memory that Lilian had shared.


“I’m so sorry Lilian, you never told me that.”


“It’s not the sort of thing you like to tell people, maybe it’s too close to the truth”, she shrugged.


“That’s crap Lilian and you know it!”


“I opened the envelope Claire, there was five hundred pounds in it.”


“What did you do with it?”  


“I kept it and put it into a savings account. Later after I had worked at the bank for a few years. I put it towards a mortgage and bought a house—this house. I’ve been living here ever since.”


“I’ll put the kettle on”, Claire said, “I think we need a cup of tea.”



“As I see it, Lilian”, Claire said returning from the kitchen and putting two cups of tea on the table, “you had little option other than to keep the money: he threw it on the table and left.”


“But I could have sent it to Jenny, told her what had happened. What if he told her? What if she knows I took the money?”


Claire shook her head. “He wouldn’t have told her, that’s the last thing he would have done Lilian.”


“But how can I meet her—face her—knowing that I kept his money. I’d have to tell her!”


“Ok then Lilian, tell her, tell her what happened. If she is angry about the money then you have lost nothing, you’re just back where you started, loving a dream. But if she doesn’t care, then who knows, that dream may become a reality.”



Sunday morning found Claire and Lilian walking together to the park.


“I’m so nervous Claire.”


“It will be fine.” Claire smiled. “It will be just fine.”


When they reached the park gates Lilian stopped. “No this isn’t right, not after all these years. I can’t do this.” She turned to walk away.


“Are you going to just leave her there? Like she left you all those years ago. Neither of you knowing if you could at least be friends again. Are you running back to your dream Lilian?”


Lilian stopped and turned to Claire, “At least I’m safe in my dream, I can’t be hurt again.”


Claire took her arm. “Come on Lilian be brave, let’s find out if the love is still there.”


Jenny was sat on the bench as arranged. She looked elegant in a bright summer blouse, and long cream skirt, a matching cream sweater hung from her shoulders, and her long hair was tied back.


“She’s here Lilian.” Claire said. Lilian’s grip tightened on her arm.


Jenny turned to face the two of them as they approached. She stood up brushing her hair back over her shoulder and smiled.


For a moment the two stood in silence, looking at each other. Then Jenny spoke first. “Time has been kind to you Lilian, you’re still beautiful.” She reached out and hugged Lilian. Come sit with me please, we have so much to catch up on.” She took Lilian’s hand and guided her to the bench.


“I can’t stop looking at you Jenny.” Lilian said as she sat down with her.  I have always hoped we would meet again”, she said wiping the tears from her eyes.


Claire spoke.  “I have some shopping to do so I’ll be back to walk home with you Lilian.” Claire smiled at them both, turned and walked way.


 “Before we start there’s something that I need to tell you Jenny, you need to know, and I need to tell you”, Lilian said.


As Claire made her way to the local Spar shop, she started to have doubts. Doubts about whether she had done the right thing in bringing the two women together. What if they got hurt? But she could change nothing now, as Donna would say the can of worms was well and truly open. She forced herself to shop slowly and not rush back. She wandered up and down the small store picking up items and looking at them, items she really had little interest in. She was determined to give them at least half an hour, she thought that would be enough time for them to break the ice. Claire checked her watch several times, how the time dragged and with every minute Claire’s anxiety climbed. Finally, Claire left the shop and   made her way back to the park.



From the park gates the bench was clearly visible, sitting as it did at the top of the rise. Claire could see that it was empty and began to panic, what had happened? Had Lilian told Jenney about the money? Had they argued? Why hadn’t Lilian waited for her? In her hurry Claire turned off the path and cut across the grass, it would get her to the bench quicker. It only took a few minutes for her to reach it. She stopped and looked around.


The top of the rise was a vantage point that allowed you to see down one side of the park to the children’s play area. She could see some people there and children on the swings, but no Lilian or Jenny. Lilian must have returned home, she told herself, they must have argued and both left the park. Claire knew she had to find Lilian and comfort her. She started to make her way quickly to the gate that opened onto Park Lane. She would return to Lilian’s house; she would have gone home.  She had almost reached the gate when the pair of them appeared almost in front of her, strolling arm-in-arm and chatting happily. They had turned off the path that ran down to the azalea bushes.


“Claire!” Lilian said, “we didn’t think you’d be back yet.”


 “Is everything ok?”  Claire asked.


“Lilian was just showing me the azaleas”, Jenny replied.


“We thought we would spend a little longer in the park”, Lilian added.


“Good”, Claire replied, “that’s great, I’ll get off home then if that’s ok Lilian? Let you two old friends get to know each other again.”


Jenny reached forward and put her arms around Claire. “Thank you Claire”, she said quietly, “thank you so very much.”


“I’ll see you in the week Lilian. Bye Jenny.” Claire smiled, turned and walked away.


Donna answered her mobile. “Well,” she asked, “how did it go?”


Claire didn’t answer the question, “Get yourself ready Don, we’re going out to eat tonight, my treat.”


“What are we celebrating?” Donna asked.


“Opening a can of worms Don, opening a can of worms.”