tagMatureEarning His Wings

Earning His Wings

byAnn Douglas©

Author's note: Any geographical errors are my own as I've never been to England and there is only so much you can learn from looking at a map.

*****

'Now isn't that just fuckin' perfect,' Chris Ryan thought as he inspected the damage to the rear tire of his bike.

From the length and location of the tear, he was certain that the repair kit in his bag wasn't going to be much help. Not unless they'd started including spare inner tubes in with the patches, tape and glue.

"Just when I think nothing else could make this trip any worse," the short haired blond said to the empty air as he rose back to his feet.

A month before, when he'd signed up for Britain '67, the University's annual summer excursion, it had seemed like a really great idea. Not because Chris had a lot of interest in medieval castles and such, but because when he glanced out the sign-up sheet, the very first name on it was Cheryl Simpson - who he did have a great deal of interest in. He had asked the curvaceous brunette out a half dozen times during the semester, only to be told each time that she didn't date during the school year. Spending two weeks riding through the English countryside with her over the summer seemed an opportunity made in heaven.

He literally hadn't even left the gate yet when that opportunity became something less than heaven sent. At the airport, on the day of departure, he'd learned that Cheryl was no longer going on the tour. Her younger brother had come down with chicken pox a week prior and, not having had it before, Cheryl was at risk of coming down with it mid-tour. Not willing to take that chance, she had given up her spot to Noreen Whitman, who was definitely not someone Chris wanted to get to know better.

Short of trying to claim some sudden illness himself, there was no way for Chris to back out at that point. Not with all of the promises he had to make to his parents to convince them to pay for the expensive trip. So, disappointed as he was about Cheryl, the nineteen-year-old resigned himself to try and make the best of it. After all, it was two weeks in England, how bad could it be?

It turned out to be pretty bad, at least from his perspective. Oh, the castles, the abbeys and the occasional Roman ruins were interesting enough, at least in the beginning, but it really didn't take all that long for them to become familiar and even commonplace. So much so that by the end of the first week, Chris was already counting the days until they were to head back home.

And it wasn't like he could compensate for the lack of excitement during the day by taking advantage of the local nightlife, such as it was in the small towns they were staying in. By an almost unanimous vote, the group had opted to forego going out at night and retire early, allowing them to get on the road come the dawn. After all, they agreed, they'd come to see the sights, not party.

Finally, today, with only more two days left to go, the second of which was their date of departure, the tour finally came across something that Chris found interesting - an old US Army Air Force base just off the road between Southbrook and Foxwick. Long abandoned and fallen into disrepair, the decades old World War II aerodrome was at least a part of history that Chris could connect with. His uncle, Charles Ryan, had been the navigator on a B-17 crew, although he'd flown in the Pacific Theatre, not in Europe. Everyone else in the group only gave the base a passing notice, preferring to press on to their next rest point for an early dinner. This time, however, Chris decided to take a stand and announced that he was going to stay behind a while and explore the base. It was still only mid-afternoon; he'd have plenty of time to catch up with the rest of them later.

Once he'd started to ride around the air field, Chris found that most of the runways where B-17s and B-24s had once thundered into the skies had long since been reclaimed by nature. Also, of those buildings still standing, few looked all that safe to enter. After all, they had been built as temporary structures before he'd been born and stood empty longer than he'd been alive. Still, using his imagination and what he'd read of those times, he was able to bring it all to life in his mind.

'Well, now it's time to pay the piper,' Chris thought, his detour being responsible for his current situation. 'Can't see as I have all that many choices.'

The closest professional help was at least ten miles behind him in Southbrook. Foxwick was only half that distance in front of him, but there was no guarantee he could get the tire replaced there. Besides, it was better to go forward, especially since he was now on foot. There had to be smaller villages along the way, but they weren't always visible from the main road. Unless he came across a sign that showed where to turn off, finding one of those wasn't a promising prospect.

Which left encountering a helpful motorist who could give him a lift. A hope he didn't put a lot of faith in either, given the scarcity of vehicles that had passed him during the day. Despite that, he looked again up and down the road, only to once more find nothing in either direction. At least nothing on the road.

"I really have to stop asking how this could get any worse," Chris said after having shifted his gaze from the empty road to the sky above it, where he found another more immediate concern.

When he'd left the air base, Chris had noticed a row of dark storm clouds on the horizon, back in the direction of Southbrook. Since he was going in the opposite direction, they hadn't concerned him all that much. Now, however, they looked to have moved a lot closer than when he'd first spotted them. At the rate they seemed to be moving, he figured he had a half hour or so before they caught up to him. So, staying put definitely wasn't an attractive option.

"Time to get moving," Chris said to himself as he untied his rucksack from the back of the bike and slipped it onto his back.

He walked the damaged bicycle over to the side of the road and laid it down where it wouldn't be an impediment to oncoming traffic, assuming any ever came. The bike was a rental, making him financially responsible for it, but he'd be damned if he was going to push it all the way to Foxwick.

Chris had gone about a half mile down the road when he felt the first drops of rain. The darker clouds, with their heavier downpour, were still to come, but even so he was already thankful that he'd set out this morning in shorts and a t-shirt. By the time this was all over, he'd undoubtedly be soaked to the skin. Doubling his pace, if for no other reason that than that wasn't anything else he could do, Chris continued onward.

Ten minutes later, with the rain coming down a bit steadier, Chris had his first bit of good luck. There in the distance, coming up on the road behind him, was an odd vehicle, the likes of which he'd never seen before. Later he'd learn it was a Morris Minor Traveller, a uniquely British automobile with no American counterpart. It looked to be at least ten years old, with more than its share of road wear, but right now Chris would've been overjoyed to see even a horse and buggy cresting the hill.

Reminding himself that the driver would driving on the left side of the road, Chris moved to that side and began to frantically wave his arms in order to catch their attention. He was also mindful to ensure that he had enough space to get out of the way in case they didn't see him in the rain. Thankfully that didn't prove the case, as the vehicle slowed and stopped a good ten feet in front of him, the driver's side window cranking down once it did.

The window was totally down by the time Chris reached it and when he glanced inside, he saw an older woman behind the wheel. If he had to guess, he would've taken her to be in her mid-forties, with short brown hair liberally mixed with grey. She had on a yellow summer blouse and a dark full-length skirt that came down to just below her knees.

"Having a spot of trouble?" the woman asked, flashing a broad smile as she did.

"What?" Chris said, caught off guard for a second by the question. "Yeah, a bit."

"Well, then, let's get you out of this rain and you can tell me all about it," the woman said, motioning to the opposite side door with a motion of her head. "Climb in."

Chris quickly raced around the front of the car, climbing into the passenger seat bare seconds before the sky really opened up and a virtual deluge fell out of the sky.

"Wow, that was close," Chris exclaimed as his rescuer hastily rolled up her window, splashes of rainwater hitting her as she did.

"I'm assuming that was your bicycle back there on the verge," she said as she turned her attention from the window to him.

"I had a blowout," Chris responded, thinking the statement both an acknowledgement and an explanation of how he wound up where he was.

"Well, I'm afraid that it's going to have to wait until this lets up a bit," she said as she put the Traveller back in gear. "The roads around here can get a bit dodgy when it comes down like this; I'd rather not have to cover the same ground twice. Besides, it'd be a lot easier to carry it along if we came back with the estate car; otherwise we'd have to tie it down on the boot."

"That's fine," Chris said, not really worried too much about the bike, at least not more than his appreciation that he was out of the rain now pounding on the windows. "Chris Ryan," he added in way of introduction.

"Margaret Dawson, but everyone calls me Peggy," she replied, offering a smile in lieu of one of her hands, both of which she kept tightly on the wheel. "You're a Yank, aren't you? From New York City I'm willing to bet."

"How can you tell that?" Chris said, glancing down at his attire to see if he was wearing anything that said New York on it.

"Your accent," Peggy offered, "it's rather distinctive. I used to hear it a lot back when, well ... let's just say I've heard it before."

Until he'd left his native Brooklyn for the first time back in high school, traveling to different states to look at colleges, Chris never realized just how much of an accent he actually had. When a young woman in one of the registrar's offices remarked what a funny accent he had, his reply had been - "I have a funny accent?" The girl had a deep southern drawl, the likes of which he'd never heard outside of the movies.

"So, what brings you all the way across the pond," Peggy inquired as she carefully navigated the water-logged road, "holiday or business?"

"Probably a bit of both - it's a school trip," Chris explained as he told her a little about the excursion and how he'd gotten separated from the rest of the group.

"Well, I have to say, it was quite a bit of luck for you that I came along when I did. Not many people even use this old road any more, not since they opened the new motorway down by the coast," Peggy said. "I went into town this morning to stop by Doc Willard's surgery and then pick up a prescription at the chemist..."

She paused for a moment, then added.

"... don't worry, I don't have anything contagious. Just one of those old lady things."

"I wouldn't take you for an old lady," Chris grinned.

"Really, do you think I could get that in writing?" Peggy laughed. "But where was I, oh yes, I had planned to have a bite to eat and then catch the new Sean Connery film at the cinema, but the queue at the chemist was so long that I missed the start of the film. So I just decided to head home instead."

"I guess I was really lucky then," Chris remarked.

"So, what was so interesting that you didn't go on to Foxwick with your friends?" Peggy asked.

"We came across one of the old 8th Army Air Force bases from the war," Chris replied, not thinking it pertinent to point out that the others in the group really weren't his friends. "Since it wasn't a couple of hundred years old, no one else thought it historically interesting. But I wanted to take a look anyway."

"Miller Field," Peggy asked, "just outside of Grimhill?"

"The sign in front of what I think was base operations was pretty faded, but it could've said Miller," Chris said, the name of the town not ringing any bells.

"It had to be Miller, it was the only bomber base in the area," Peggy noted. "The other two aerodromes were used for fighter planes. One belonged to the Americans, the other was RAF."

"You sound like you know a lot more about it than I do," Chris pointed out.

"I grew up in Grimhill," Peggy replied. "In fact, back before I got married, I worked at the old Bell and Candle, a pub that was quite popular with your countrymen."

"What did you do there?" Chris asked, thinking that explained how she was able to place his accent so easily.

"Pretty much a little bit of everything," she smiled. "Worked behind the bar, waited tables, mopped up after closing. My uncle owned the place."

"Did you ever go out to the base?" Chris asked, thinking she might be able to tell him a bit more about it.

"A few times, when they had a social event, but those were few and far between," she replied. "I really just got to know the lads when they came in for a pint or two. Fine boys they were, even if I was older than most of them. Still, some became friends, some even more than that."

Chris was curious as to what that last comment meant, but before he could inquire, Peggy made an additional comment that made him decide to change the subject.

"Far too many of them took off on a fine morning and never came back," she said. "Still makes me sad sometimes when I remember that."

"It doesn't look like it's going to let up any time soon," he said in reference to the rain.

"That it doesn't," Peggy agreed as she turned them onto a side road, the entrance to which was barely visible between an opening in the shrubbery, "but we'll be indoors soon enough."

If there'd been a sign indicating the turnoff, Chris hadn't seen it. He was about to ask how much further they had to go when they rolled into a large clearing, in the center of which stood a small country cottage. Red brick with a thatched roof, it looked right out of a story book. Peggy pulled in right beside the kitchen door, the overhead providing at least partial protection from the rain.

"Welcome to Westbury Green," Peggy announced.

From the driver's side, she was able to slide out the door and right into the house without getting any wetter. Chris didn't fare as well as rather than climb over the front bench, he dashed around the car after exiting from the exposed side. He still would've avoided the worst of it except that he paused for a long moment to take in the garden around them, a display that looked not to have changed in fifty years. In the distance, Chris could make out the roofs of two similar structures within easy walking distance.

-=-=-=-

The interior of the small home was equally old-fashioned, with exposed ceiling beams visible in both the kitchen and the common room beyond. The furniture looked to be from a decade or more before Chris had been born but exuded a warm charm - much like the woman who had rescued him.

"It might do to get you warmed up a bit," Peggy suggested. "Some tea perhaps, or if you're hungry, I'm sure there are a few tins of soup in the cupboard."

"Tea would be great," Chris said, feeling a bit chilled in his wet clothing.

"Won't take a minute," Peggy said as she filled the kettle and lit a burner on the stove with a match.

As the water began to boil, she took a square tin off a shelf and laid out a small assortment of biscuits on a plate. While he watched her, Chris took a moment to assess his hostess.

Peggy stood about five one, a good half foot shorter than him, and looked as if she weighted about a hundred and forty-five pounds - a bit overweight, but no more than many women her age. Her hair, as he noted before, was a mix of brown and grey, but an old photo on the mantle showed it to have once been dark brown and hung midway down her chest. She had a not unimpressive bust, which seemed strange to take note of on a woman her age - but he found himself doing so before he realized he was. In her younger days, at least from the photograph, Peggy certainly had been a looker - not that she still wasn't attractive, in a mature sort of way.

The kettle whistled and Peggy poured them both a cup, laying them down on the heavy oak table in the center of the kitchen, right next to the plate of biscuits. She invited Chris to have a seat, and they warmed themselves with the hot beverage and shared a few of the small cookies.

"That helped a lot," Chris said as he laid down the cup after finishing more than half of it.

"We should still get you out of those wet things, though," Peggy said after draining her own cup. "I don't suppose you have a change of clothing in that bag of yours?"

With a shake of his head, Chris said he didn't. His duffle bag, with all his gear, had gone ahead to Foxwick on the van that had been hired to carry their luggage.

"Well, we should do something," Peggy said as she got up from the table. "Wait, I have a thought, I'll be back in a jiffy."

She disappeared into one of the rooms off to the side, to reemerge a few minutes later carrying a dark green garment draped over her arm.

"I was sure I still had one of my mister's dressing gowns in the back of the wardrobe," she said once back into the kitchen. "You can put this on while I lay out your things on a rack by the oven and let them dry out. Wouldn't do to hang them out on the line in this downpour," she added with a laugh.

As she handed Chris the robe, he couldn't help but think that the old-fashioned wrap seemed more like the sort of thing a woman would wear. Still, beggars couldn't be choosy.

"Are you sure he won't mind?" Chris asked, now wondering where Mr. Dawson might be.

"I hardly think so," Peggy smiled, "not with him being in the ground over at Saint Matthew's for coming up on five years now."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Chris said softly, not wanting to even think that he was going to be wearing a dead man's clothes.

"It was his time," Peggy said, putting the loss in perspective. "You can change in the toilet, it's right through there," she added, pointing out a closed door next to the bedroom she had gotten the robe from. "And don't forget your socks and sand shoes, there are some slippers in there that you can also use."

Peggy had the oven going by the time Chris came back out of the bathroom and handed her his clothing. He felt a bit funny that he was totally naked under the thin robe, especially since it became immediately apparent that it offered absolutely nothing in the way of support. He was, as they say, hanging in the breeze. Hopefully it wouldn't take all that long for his clothes to dry.

"I didn't get as wet as you, but I think I'll get out of these things too," Peggy said after she finishing arranging his things on the drying rack. "You can see what's on the telly or listen to the wireless if you prefer."

As Peggy went off to change, Chris decided on the radio and tuned in a local station to see if he could find out when the rain might end. The news wasn't good, as the storm had turned out to be worse than expected.

"The radio says that the road to Foxwick is under water," Chris said when Peggy came back into the room a few minutes later. "They don't expect it to be clear until the morning."

"I was afraid of that," Peggy, who had changed into a simple blue housedress, said. "It happens sometimes."

"So, what do I do now?" Chris thought aloud.

"Well, the first thing you should do is ring up your friends and let them know that you are all right," Peggy said. "Did they say where they would be staying in Foxwick?"

Chris said that they did and after an initial call to get the number for the hostel, Peggy called it, handing the phone to Chris once the connection had been made. He was only on the phone a few minutes, just long enough to assure them that he was fine and that Peggy had promised to go back with him in the morning and get his bike.

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byAnn Douglas© 20 comments/ 35111 views/ 29 favorites

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