The Touch Ch. 32byGreenFingers©
WARNING TO READERS - This is a long, rambling, multi-part story and VERY British. The individual chapters will make more sense if read in sequence.
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Chapter 32: The Only One
The next week seemed to fly past very quickly. The weather had changed again on Sunday and was cool and wet with strong winds and stayed like that for most of the week which made progressing the outside contract work difficult, although Colin and I went out to Craven Manor for a couple of hours both Monday and Tuesday in the late afternoon when the rain eased and planted out the rhododendron bushes and tea roses at the front of the house. I did not see Georgia, she was probably at her London office and we were gone before she got home.
Mostly we all spent time at the garden centre, there were plenty of jobs that each of us could find to do. Emma divided her time between training the new office girl Tayler and making sure that the rest of us completed the multitude of small tasks that she set us from helping Jack in the greenhouses to re-arranging the displays or making small local deliveries or pick-ups.
The general office was quite large and so Steve and I had put another desk and telephone in for Tayler. They seemed to get on well together and so I think that Emma was quite pleased to have the company; if there was a lot of outside work on she was often stuck with long hours on her own in the office. Having another person also relieved the pressure on Maggie and I over covering Emma's days off and holidays.
I was really pleased we had acquired somebody as experienced as Tayler because I had not been looking forward to having to spend nearly a fortnight doing the daily books, the payroll for the casual workers and cover the telephone whilst Maggie and Emma were away in France with the twins. Maggie and Emma had trained me in handling the admin work and I was comfortable in my ability to do all those tasks; but given an option I would probably choose to be working outside in the rain on a cold day in leaky boots, over sitting in a nice warm office doing the payroll.
Not being able to get out also gave Maggie and I the time to shut ourselves in our own office to discuss the progress of the work in hand and plan for the projects that were yet to be started.
There were usually about half a dozen smaller gardening jobs on the books any given week, but we also had the ongoing make-over and maintenance projects at The Cedars, Craven Manor and a newly acquired grounds maintenance contract at the Wilton Carpets factory just outside the city which was due to start in September.
There were also the three new major projects not yet in progress. Two were very similar, Shelby House and The Old Rectory Restaurant, a three month undertaking, due to start in July, which Maggie had quoted for earlier in the year and had now been accepted. It was a small hotel to the north west of Salisbury near Warminster that had changed hands several times and seriously needed the garden areas refurbished if the new owners were to make a success of the venture. The real pain in the arse job was going to be Caroline's roof garden project as it would involve one or more of us either commuting to London for several weeks or staying over but I had already told her that it was unlikely we would be able to start the job for at least a month.
The prospective addition of Basil Day to Jack's growing team would bring them up to strength in September and would give us an incredibly strong and skilled nursery team when it was needed in the autumn and spring.
There was now a whole clutch of students working part time and during 'tween-term holidays as general help and sales assistants. Kitty and Emma had ruthlessly assessed the current batch of students doing the horticulture course at the college, ambushed them in the college canteen, and had enlisted the cream of the crop, plus it was possible that Joanna and Debbie would be back during their University summer recess; but we were desperately short of one, perhaps two experienced gardeners to help with the outside contracts; we would be seriously shorthanded if any more work came in. We were all more than willing to take trainees out on landscaping job, it was valuable training for them and an investment in the future of British gardening, but we were short of knowledgeable supervisors.
At least we now had the key summer holidays settled. Maggie and Emma were having time off to go back to France with the twins in May; Colin had booked a fortnight off in June and Gwen and I had arranged to have a couple of weeks sailing in Cornwall in July. I had also promised Kitty six weeks leave to go to Australia at the end of September.
Emma had placed a couple of advertisements in the local press for experienced gardeners and we had received a multitude of replies already, it did look as though we were gaining the reputation of being a good employer to work for. She had been through all of the applications and CVs with Maggie and me and we had selected eight of the most promising candidates to interview later in the week.
The first floor of the old farmhouse which was now the garden centre admin building and gift shop, had been converted into two large offices and there was a smaller room at one end which had a new large picture window and had been fitted out as a design studio for Maggie and I with a couple of drawing boards and a plan table. There were three smaller attic rooms above which would have made a really nice little flat but were used at present for storage.
The office that Maggie and I shared was comfortable and roomy and Maggie had bought a multi-part sofa unit for one end which could be broken into individual chairs for client conferences or staff interviews, but we normally left the unit in a L-shape with the large occasional table in front. It was comfortable and convenient if we wanted to sit side by side and spread out documents or plans to work on together.
The added bonus was that I got to sit very close to Maggie, our thighs and knees constantly touching and my head filled with the faint herbal essence of her shampoo. The disadvantage was that whilst I could revel in her nearness without being unduly distracted from my work most of the time, it did sometimes have a physical effect and I often left the room seriously horny and searching for a novel way to conceal my uncontrollable erections. If Maggie noticed the effect she had on me she never showed any sign of embarrassment... although it was probably hard to miss, but neither did she try to avoid tactile contact with me. I guess that after our nude swim a few nights previous there really was no point in false coyness, there wasn't anything she hadn't seen already.
We did get a lot of work done but we always had fun, we laughed and teased each other and I think that sometimes Maggie enjoyed my company almost as much as I revelled in hers. They were happy hours for me; just being with Maggie was a real dividend.
Tuesday afternoon I received a telephone call from Caroline explaining that she might not be able to make our meeting on Wednesday in London to look at her proposed roof garden as it was possible that she would need to fly to New York on business earlier than she had expected.
"It's OK," I told her, "It can't be helped, and we can just do it some other time."
"Oh no, you are not wriggling off the hook that easily," she laughed. "There is no reason that you cannot go to the flat and take a look for yourself and then come up with some ideas to show me; I would like your friend Rebecca to do me some more watercolour impressions as well... I will arrange for my 'daily' to be there all morning to let you in and show you around."
"If you really are sure that you don't need to be there....?"
"It's you who needs to see the place and come up with some ideas. I really, really would like to have it presentable by the end of August..." she wheedled. "I want to use it for my birthday party and you will definitely NOT be invited if it is still a fucking mess!"
"OK," I laughed, "I will try not to spend all my time sitting on my arse smoking."
That call changed my original plans for the London trip the next day. My intention had been to drive up early morning, meet Caroline to view the roof-top site, buy her lunch and then drive back in the afternoon. I would now be under considerably less pressure and so I decided to go up by train rather than drive through the rain, fighting constantly with the heavy commuter traffic on the motorway. I would go to Caroline's flat and then spend a couple of hours doing some personal shopping in the West End or maybe even catch a film or the afternoon matinee of a show and get a late train home, treat it as my day off.
I would really have liked either Gwen or Maggie, or both, to have come up to town with me and make a day of it, but I knew that they had full diaries for the day.
The wet weather had also given Gwen and I some time together on Sunday, not totally alone as Emma was at home but the three of us managed to spend some quality time as a family just enjoying each others company for the whole day, something that happened all too infrequently. Gwen made a enormous game stew for lunch with boiled potatoes, carrots and mashed swede and a Dundee Pudding to follow, then afterwards we all spent the afternoon collapsed in the sitting room and watched a re-run of the John Wayne film, 'The Alamo', just like a normal family. Except that Gwen and I were not husband and wife, we were mother and son and our passion for each other had to be carefully concealed from Emma who thankfully seemed totally obvious that anything had changed in our relationship. Her own crush on me seemed to have subsided for the moment for which I was really grateful; her insistent flirting had become a problem as despite my good intentions I was starting to see her as a girl not just my sister.
Gwen and I managed to grab a few hours alone late on Sunday and Monday evenings after Emma had turned in for the night, just snugged up together on the couch reading, immersed in the warmth of being together and sharing some all too brief stolen minutes in each other's arms, grateful for any time alone that we could snatch. Gwen still made me seriously horny just being with her but constant sex was not just impossible, but strangely had become less important than just being together.
Our forbidden love came with a whole raft of difficulties which had the potential to destroy not just us but everybody around us that we cared for, but I would not have changed our decision for anything or anyone, not even Maggie.
Perhaps my personal slant on relationships was unusual... I really don't know.
My school friend Richard had met his future wife Katy when they were eleven, even then they were inseparable friends and by the time they were fourteen it was obvious to every body that there was a serious teenage romance blossoming. Naturally the grown-ups intervened and they were separated and banned from seeing each other, but would meet secretly after school and sometimes when there was no one at home I would let them come to our house to have some private time together.
By the time that they were sixteen and could no longer be forcibly kept apart their parents had tentatively accepted that they were going to be together in spite of anything they could do. The two star crossed lovers seemed joined at the hip and stayed together through sixth form and then went to the same university, shared digs and eventually married. For Richard and Katy each was 'the only one', the love of their life, the only person that either of them would ever love.
You often hear girls talking about the 'only one', that special person that they have yet to meet who will be their one and only love for the rest of their life who would feel the same way about them.
I guess that loving just one person to distraction was what happened to most people but it had never been that way for me. I whole heartedly believed that it was possible to genuinely love more than one woman at the same time, I do not believe that I could have felt a greater love than I did for Gwen, but I believe that I felt the same level of love and affection for Maggie as well. I loved them both, but those loves were different and unique just as they themselves were different and unique people despite being twins.
If I were to be asked about the other women who moved through my life, I would need to answer truthfully that yes, I loved each of them in their own way for what they were and what they meant to me when we were together and each of them were matchless and would always have their own special place in my affections, but those affections in no way diminished the love I had for the two most important people in my life or they for each other.
Wednesday morning was cloudy with the promise of showers all day and so I had dressed casually in biscuit coloured chinos, a dark brown cotton shirt beneath my waterproof Barbour jacket. I decided to catch the commuter train to London which left just after six-thirty and with the normal delays was disembarked at Waterloo station a bit before eight-thirty some thirty minutes late which was relatively good for British Rail. The train ride had brought back memories of meeting Gill for the first time and the incredible day in town with Gwen, our feelings for each other finally finding voice and culminating in that first fantastic night of forbidden love and passion.
As I had left before Gwen and Emma were awake I had only grabbed a quick cup of coffee on Salisbury station and so ate a full breakfast at the Waterloo buffet room and then got a cab to Caroline's flat. Road works meant that the driver needed to drop me off in Palace Street at the end of the road I was looking for and I walked down to the number Caroline had written on her business card. The building was an attractive 18th Century double fronted town house which had been converted into two split level flats, the basement and ground floor comprising one, and the first and second floors the other with the roof garden above although from the street the only evidence of a garden was a straggle of dead ivy clothing the front parapet.
I mounted the steps to the impressive freshly painted, gloss black Regency front door and pressed the call button for the upper flat. It was almost immediately answered by a woman's voice, it wasn't Caroline and so I announced myself to the voice box and was instructed to push the front door after the buzzer sounded. Inside the main door the original hallway was floored with a traditional chequer pattern of black and white tiles and there were signs on the walls either side; the first directed visitors to 'FLAT ONE -- Dr. J. BRYCE', with an arrow pointing down the corridor on the left and the other to 'FLAT TWO -- C. BROOKES' and had an arrow pointing up the wide carpeted stairs.
When I reached the upper landing the door to the flat was standing open and there was a good looking woman of about thirty standing waiting for me just inside.
"Mr. Riley?" she asked. I nodded and she stood aside to allow me to enter and then closed the door behind me. "Follow me... through here." She instructed and led me into a kitchen that appeared to be straight from the Ideal Home Exhibition.
It was completely fitted on three walls with top quality units with real oak doors and panels and graphite and steel work tops throughout. There were the most enormous stainless steel, floor to ceiling fitted freezer and fridge units that I had ever seen outside of a catering establishment, a matching steel six ring hob and cooker and the centre of the room was occupied by a six foot by four foot island unit with oak doored cupboards beneath and a graphite top with fitted butchers block and vegetable preparation sink with swan neck tap.
"Ms. Brookes told me to have black coffee waiting for you..." she said picking up a jug from a large Melitta filter coffee machine, "You would like, yes?"
She had a slight Central European accent that I pegged as possibly Polish or Czech, it was soft and rather sexy. When Caroline had said that she would arrange for her 'daily' to let me in I had envisaged the stereotype cleaner, a Mrs. Mopp sort of char, elderly, rotund and wearing a flowered pinafore and knotted head scarf who perpetually carried a feather duster like some sort of domestic fairy wand. This woman was all together something different, she was quite tall and slender with a nicely rounded arse, narrow waist and very pointed tits all of which filled her plain dark grey, straight dress to perfection. Her face was not what you would call pretty but was strikingly handsome, perhaps more so because she wore no make-up except for a pale red lipstick, her hair was very dark and tied back in a long neat pony tail.
"I would like coffee, yes." I answered, then as she handed me a steaming glass coffee mug in a stainless steel holder, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch you name...er?"
She arched one eyebrow as if to silently indicate that she had not offered it, and then relented, "It is Sofia.... I am... how do you say it? Ms. Brookes 'domestic help', yes?"
"Have you been with Caroline for very long?" I probed gently.
"Oh yes, for nearly two years... I was her helper at her other house before she moved here... this is much nicer, very smart, simple to clean, every thing modern, yes?" She smiled. "I come here, three times each week, but she works me not very hard, I clean, I wash and iron her clothes and sometimes I help with the food if she has guests for their dinner at night. Ms. Brookes likes very much to cook."
That was something else new that I had learned about Caroline and it explained the expensive professional quality kitchen. I was already aware that she was something of a 'foodie' and knowledgeable about wines but hadn't had her pegged for somebody who liked to cook.
I had finished my coffee and put the mug down on the work surface. "Caroline has told you that I need to see the roof garden?" I asked.
"Yes, if you follow me again, please.." she led the way to a narrow door in one corner of the kitchen which I had previously not noticed, opened it and disappeared from sight. I stepped into the narrow stairwell and watched her firm round buttocks ascending in front of me until she opened another door at the top of the flight letting in daylight and the sound of a flock of pigeons taking flight as the door swung open.
I was not sure what I had expected the roof area to be like but it certainly wasn't the 'fucking mess' that Caroline had suggested although there was a lot of work needed doing. It was on two levels, the larger area being above the main rooms of the flat and measured about 20' x 15' and fronted onto the street with two six foot red brick, chimney stacks, but there was a slightly smaller raised area at the rear which overlooked a narrow mews and what was evidently a resident's car park as I could see Caroline's black BMW parked in one of the spaces. There was no sign of the yellow Lotus Elan and I guessed that it had probably gone for repair.
The front area had been paved with plain grey, cheap slabs sometime in the last few years, not very well as many were loose and several had split, there were several plastic containers screwed to the inside of the front parapet containing strands of dead ivy and shrivelled up lobelia. There were a couple of old galvanised dustbins, a heap of rubbish by a broken yard broom and two cheap white plastic garden chairs each with a pile of bricks on the seat to stop them blowing about. Somebody in the past had used the area to dry washing as there were two washing lines loosely strung between three rusty poles.