Helen picked up her luggage and stepped off the train. Newly retired and single, it felt good to enjoy her freedom.
After forty three years, it was strange to be back in the cosy Scottish seaside resort of Farlington. The fresh coastal air and the sound of seagulls cawing brought back memories...but would Helen find Ben here?
She'd booked her stay online. To her surprise, when she'd searched for the old B&B, The Bluebell wasn't a down- at- heel establishment any more.
It had been upgraded into a luxury five star hotel, with a bistro bar and a fleet of sparkling clean en- suite rooms.
“What a difference!” she exclaimed.
When Helen last holidayed here, back in the late 1970's,the rooms were basic, with threadbare carpets, nylon sheets, thin curtains that let in light and saggy mattresses that gave guests backache.
Shared bathrooms (with no heating, of course) were the norm.
Helen checked in. In reception, the delicate scent from fresh flowers greeted her. She was shown to room 5 by a smartly dressed member of staff.
I'm sure this is the same room Aunty Vi and I stayed in, she thought.
The room now boasted a coffee maker, digital TV, a soft carpet, and a bowl of fruit. In the en-suite, she found top- notch toiletries, a fluffy dressing- gown and a jacuzzi bath.
After unpacking, Helen wandered down to the bar, where she ordered a latte, scooped up a complimentary newspaper and settled in a comfy chair.
How should she start searching for Ben? When the barman brought her coffee, she decided to quiz him.
He was quite attractive, around her own age (late fifties) slim, with warm, deep brown eyes and neat salt and pepper hair. His name badge identified him as Cameron.
“I'm sorry to bother you, Cameron,” she began “But are you local?”
He smiled. “Aye. I was born and bred in Farlington.”
Helen ploughed straight in. “I'm going back a while, but in 1978, a family called McDonald ran The Bluebell. A mum and dad, and their teenage son called Ben. Do you remember them, or know them?”
Cameron shook his head. “I began working here five years ago. I'm part – time too, with day shifts. Sorry, hen.”
Her spirit sank. Well, it was worth a try.
Cameron must have noticed her downcast expression, as he lingered. “I can have a wee word with the hotel manager, see if they remember the McDonalds?”
“Thanks. I'm not good at IT, but I could post an appeal on social media. Only, I haven't got round to setting up an account.”
He smiled. “I could help you set up a SM account, if you'd like?”
Suddenly, Helen was flustered. Was Cameron flirting? “Oh - well -”
“Have a think about it. There's no pressure.”
It had all begun with Aunty Vi, Helen's Mum's sister.
Aunty Vi couldn't have children, so Vi and her accountant husband Eric doted on Helen, treating her to sweets and fun days out.
Then, when Helen was sixteen, out of the blue, Eric left Aunt Vi for another woman.
Everyone in the family was astounded.
“I don't know what I'm going to do about a holiday this year,” Aunty Vi fretted to Helen's Mum when she popped round. “I've always gone away up to Scotland's coast with Eric. We like Farlington.”
“Well, why not take our Helen with you?” she suggested.
Helen spun round. “I'd love to come!”
“That's settled then,” Helen's Mum beamed.
As a teenager, Helen hated tagging along with her parents on holiday, but Aunty Vi was different - she was a friend. Helen pictured them shopping for a holiday wardrobe...yet strangely, this didn't happen.
“Since Eric left, Aunty Vi can't afford to splash out,” Mum said “You'll have to make do with last year's holiday clothes instead. Don't expect a never- ending ice- cream when you're away, either.”
When they arrived at Fairfield, it was absolutely lashing down.
“It's only a short stroll to the B&B,” Aunty Vi chirped, as they arrived at the train station.
It had taken hours to travel to Scotland. Helen was bored and fed- up.
Helen thought that skipping a taxi was probably a money saving exercise.
Clutching flimsy umbrellas that blew inside out, they dragged their cases through the crashing cascade and arrived at The Bluebell looking like a couple of drowned rats.
In the check- in area, a young jeans- clad boy glanced up from his music magazine. Helen's heart thudded.
He was gorgeous! With his slight tan, blue eyes and a messy mop of blonde hair, he was dreamy holiday romance material. Oh, but she looked like such a mess!
“Have you booked?” he enquired. Helen loved his unfamiliar soft Scottish accent - it made her go all tingly inside!
“I certainly have, young man,” Aunty Vi boomed.
Helen cringed. This wasn't like Aunty Vi at all. She was usually laid back with young people. What had changed?
She realised that the divorce had affected her aunt deeply. The cheerful warm, fairy godmother had vanished into thin air.
Aunty Vi gave their names, and the boy glanced at the diary. “Aye. You're booked in.”
He grabbed a key from the pin board behind him. “I'll show you to your room. You're in number 5.”
He winked at Helen as he scooped up their soaked luggage. “I'm Ben.”
“I'm Helen,” she whispered.
“I'll see you around.”
Her pulse quickened.
The rain continued, yet this worked to Helen's and Ben's advantage.
Ben's parents suggested the two teens go to Ben's room to play Scrabble, as the guest lounge was already cramped with holidaymakers watching daytime TV.
Aunty Vi could hardly object, when the host couple had done their best to keep spirits up with endless cups of tea and shortbread biscuits.
“Locked away with a pretty wee lass. That's my idea of a holiday,” Ben grinned. Then he pulled Helen towards him and kissed her...
On day three, warm sun and blue skies finally made an appearance, so Helen was whisked away from Ben's arms to tramp around with Aunty Vi.
After the evening meal, Aunty Vi said she had a migraine from the sun - she was going to bed early, so Helen was to entertain herself.
She found Ben and he grabbed her hand. “Let's go to the beach.”
In a secluded cove, under a beautiful Scotland sunset, Helen finally gave in to passion...
It was three months later when Helen realised she was pregnant.
The first person she'd have normally turned to was Aunty Vi, but...
When Helen and her Mum were washing up after the evening meal, she decided to simply blurt it out.
“Mum, I'm pregnant.”
Mum paled and clutched a tea towel. “What?”
'I'm pregnant, Mum. I'm so sorry!” she sobbed.
Her face was grim. “I'd better tell Dad.”
“Could we keep it between us?” she begged.
“I'm sorry, love. Look, we can't keep it a secret forever, can we?”
Before Helen could object, Mum had swept out of the kitchen. She overheard mumbling, then two minutes later, Dad came in.
“Is this true?” he demanded.
She nodded. Stumbling over her words, almost in tears, Helen explained how she'd met Ben on holiday.
“What was Vi doing, leaving our Helen alone with a strange boy?” he fumed.
“It wasn't like that,” Helen protested.
“Don't even think about getting that Fairfield boy involved. This is our mess. I don't want his family dragged into it,” he said.
Helen kept her counsel, yet actually, she agreed with him. Ben hadn't struck her as a mature type.
A few days later, a sensible discussion was held between Helen and her parents.
“What do you want to do, love?” Mum's tone was gentle.
“I want to keep the baby,” she stated. There was no other option for her.
“What about your O levels?” Mum asked.
“You can wave goodbye to university, lady.” Dad's tone was sour.
Helen hung her head. They were disappointed. She was their only child and their high hopes had just been smashed.
“Not necessarily,” Mum cut in. “If Helen applies to a local university, she can live here at home while she studies. If I drop down to part- time hours at work, I can help look after the baby. I'm sure Vi would be happy to babysit too.”
Helen's heart lifted. It was a good plan.
“That sounds like the best option, Dad,” she said.
Dad nodded wearily. “Alright.”
When Aunty Vi learned of Helen's pregnancy, instead of being angry and disappointed, she was thrilled. In a rush of excitement, she bought baby clothes, a pram and a cot.
It was all for nothing, because sadly, Helen lost the baby.
Back in Farlington, Helen took a seat in a cafe.
She ordered a cuppa and began people-watching while she waited.
A good looking guy strolling along the harbour caught her eye. She jolted.
He'd lost most of his blonde locks and he'd put on weight but the man was Ben! She was sure of it.
She ran after him.
“Excuse me,” she panted. “Are you Ben McDonald? If you are, I used to know you, a long time ago. I'm Helen.”
He frowned. “I'm Ben McDonald, but I'm afraid I don't recognise you.”
“Look, I've just ordered at the harbourside cafe. Do you fancy a coffee?” she suggested.
He glanced at his watch, then nodded.
They took a seat at her table, where she found her tea waiting.
The cafe was busy - it was hardly the place for a confidential chat, she thought. But at least she'd found him.
“We met at The Bluebell guest house when I was a teenager,” she began. “I was on holiday with my Aunty Vi.”
He smiled. “Ah yes. I remember now.”
Yet she somehow sensed that he didn't. Let's face it, she mused, he must have met quite a few girls staying there in the summer... I was probably one of his many conquests.
“We became close and later, I discovered I was pregnant.”
He paled. “You didn't tell me.”
“I would have done. Only - well, I lost the baby,” she whispered.
Helen found it difficult when an expression of relief crossed his face.
“I'm sorry,” he said gently.
She nodded. Just then, a glamorous young woman, wearing teeny shorts, heels and sunglasses sailed up. “Ben! I've been looking everywhere for you! I thought we were meeting at the pub.”
She eyed Helen with suspicion.
“We are. I was waylaid by an old friend. I'll say goodbye now, Helen. It was nice to catch up.” He ambled away and snaked his arm around the woman's waist.
If their child had survived, their son or daughter would be forty three. Ben clearly didn't give a hoot.... blinking back tears, she reflected.
She was sad for a long while but eventually, time had healed. Helen secured a place at uni, completed her degree and began her teaching career.
Then one Christmas, Aunty Vi met Dad's cheery colleague at the family's Christmas lunch. He and Vi married soon after.
Helen too, had found love and had married Terry, a chef.
She and Terry had two children - their twin boys were adults now, with children of their own.
But Helen and Terry had very different ideas on how to spend their retirement. Terry wanted to live in Spain, for the relaxed lifestyle and the climate.
It was something they'd often discussed, but it was Terry's dream - not Helen's. So they'd decided to break up and –
Helen frowned as she looked up. The guy was vaguely familiar, yet she couldn't place where she'd seen him before...
“It's Cameron from The Bluebell. I'm glad I've seen you. I've spoken with the hotel manager. She's found an address for the McDonald family. Did you say the son's name was Ben? Anyway, he still lives locally.”
“That's very kind of you, but there's no longer any need for me to pursue it.”
She realised it was true.
“So you won't need my help setting up a social media account?”
“No, but please take a seat. Would you like to share lunch with me?”
He sat next to her. “I'd love to. Sorry, I don't know your name, hen.”
“It's good to meet you, Helen.”
She smiled. “It's good to meet you too, Cameron.”
A new start beckoned. It was time to let go of the past.