Tessa and Timmy had been neighbours for over 40 years.
They had seen each other grow, get married and divorced – in Timmy’s case. And widowed – in Tessa’s case. More years ago than they cared to remember – they had had a fight. Something to do with Timmy breaking a garden gnome. It was accidental but Tessa flipped. She loved her gnomes like they were her children. This particular one was part of a set of two and it was the last gift from her grandmother before she passed away. From that day on she loved her gnomes. Timmy tripped over it and the head broke off. She was heartbroken and vowed never to speak to him again.
This started a feud between them that would last nearly 30 years. It bordered on the ridiculous. She would “accidentally” cut the heads off his roses while trimming the hedge. He would purposely place her dustbin in her driveway, so she had to get out of her car and move it before pulling in. Silly, petty and ridiculous things. The years passed and the feud continued.
When Tessa lost her husband Graham, things changed. They had been getting ready to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Graham had headed out to the pub, put away 1 too many and was coming home. Even though he was drunk it wasn’t his fault. The truck’s tyre burst, forcing it up over the pavement in a shower of sparks. Graham got wedged between a concrete wall and the truck. He never stood a chance.
Tessa was devastated. Timmy could hear her crying and felt her sadness. When his wife had left him, it was the quiet house that was the worst. Coming home to a house that no longer smelt of bacon and eggs or his favourite coffee brewing was terrible. It made him want to stay at the office. But eventually that too became quiet and lonely. As soon as he got home he would put the TV on and boil water for coffee just for the noise.
Tessa stopped cutting his roses and even made sure that she cut his part of the hedge. He never left her dustbin in driveway anymore. Early one Saturday morning they were both enjoyed the freshness of a mid-summer morning outside on their patios. He was shocked to see how drawn and pale she was. Her lovely, long auburn hair now tinged with grey, was limp. He smiled and lifted his cup to her. Tessa turned and went inside.
“I guess the feud’s not over” he sighed.
Every Saturday morning for months it was the same. He would greet her and she would ignore him. He still heard her cry every evening and his heart went out to her. One Sunday he baked fresh cheese bread. He cut a few slices and put them in a teacloth, leaving it on her porch. After a while – he looked outside, and it was gone. He wondered if he would find it back on his porch intact or perhaps she would feed the birds with it. But she didn’t.
Friday night when he got home he found the teacloth on his porch. Inside was a moist fruit cake. Freshly baked. He wondered if she knew it was his favourite or had made it coincidentally. This went on week after week. Chocolate biscuits came and blueberry muffins went back. Oatmeal cakes came and dense brownies went back.
Not a word was spoken. Each Saturday morning they came out onto their patios and over time a nod became a smile, became a greeting. Timmy realised that this was the highlight of his lonely week.
He started spending Sundays scouring 2nd had stores and garden centres hoping to find a replica of the gnome that he had murdered. Well according to Tessa anyway. He slowly felt a little less lonely. What with the baking and shopping he only had time on the quiet week evenings to feel it. He wished he could read Tessa’s mind. Would it be too much to ask her to tea? After all the years of nastiness – he couldn’t. If she said no and then stopped dropping off her baked goods – his life would feel even emptier than before.
It was a day he would never forget. A chilling rain had set in – winter was calling. He was buttoned up tight but the cold seeped through with icy digits and tickled his neck and ankles. Arriving home he was excited to see the teacloth on his patio. Muffins? Croissants? He couldn’t wait. Getting closer he could see it was laid flat. There was nothing in it. His heart plunged into his soggy shoes. Sadly and slowly he picked it up and placed it on the kitchen table. He removed his shoes, put the kettle and TV on and sat down with a sigh. That’s that then. Flipping the cloth to hang it up he realised that there was something inside.
“Timmy would you like to come for tea on Saturday?” his heart did a somersault.
“No need to bring anything. Just leave the teacloth on my patio if you want to.”
She signed it “Tess” not “Tessa”. He was so excited he didn’t even realise that he was freezing. Eventually his feet got the message to him and he put his slippers on and cuddled his tea.
Saturday came and he was so nervous he changed his shirt 3 times.
“This is ridiculous. I’m not a teenager on my first date” he mumbled to himself. One more anxious sigh and he went over. There was a gap in the hedge halfway down that neither of them had been able to get to close and he popped through it just as she opened the door.
“Hi” she smiled shyly. “Hi” he said back – hoping his heartbeat wasn’t visible in his neck.
“Come on in” she gestured. He did. It was awkward at first. He couldn’t remember being in her house although they had been friends as children. The house was a mirror of his. Tiny, cosy and as feminine as his was masculine. It seemed like she had removed all traces of Graham except for 2 photos on her TV.
They sat in the kitchen, drinking tea, nibbling buttery scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. They chatted, shyly at first until they realised that they had 40 years to catch up on. He told her about his divorce, she spoke about losing Graham 2 years before. Timmy couldn’t believe it was that long ago. Two little tears ran down her powdered cheek and she brushed them away with the back of her hand. He noticed long laugh-lines around her eyes and wrinkles on her hands that weren’t there years before. She had taken a lot of time with her appearance. Her hair was pulled up to cascade down one side of her lightly made up face. She was enchanting.
Tessa stopped talking and looked down. He realised he was staring and blushed. Picking up his tea he referred to their feud and they laughed. “Its been a while since I heard myself laugh” she said. “Me too”, Timmy replied. The evening passed way too quickly and he didn’t want to leave. At the door he gave her a quick hug and they parted ways. Both were glowing with a timid happiness.
They met every Saturday for tea. Then Sundays too. And Wednesday evenings. Eventually they could not keep away from each other. The first time they made love was not earth-shattering, but they connected and spent ages cuddling.
“I’ve missed this” Timmy whispered to her. “Me too” she said snuggling deeper in his arms. “We’ve wasted 40 years” she said.
“Yes we have. It’s so sad”.
On Sundays Timmy still visited garden shops and 2nd hand stores – never letting on what he was looking for. She loved plants and spent hours happily looking with him. Their caring grew to affection then to love. They couldn’t believe their luck and still laughed at their feud.
Finally, it happened. He found them. A set of garden gnomes that looked as much as the first pair as he could remember. It was a year since they started seeing each other. He had been searching for something special to give her. He quickly asked the assistant to keep these for him pushing money into her hand to ensure that it was safe, saying he would return the next day. They left and went home to hot stew and dumplings.
He was beyond excited to give her his gift. Fidgeting and wiggling in his chair he finally gave in and presented her with it. Smiling she opened it. Her mouth made a perfect “O” as she gasped her surprise.
“You remembered I love gnomes?” she smiled sparkly tears in her eyes.
“Of course,” he laughed giving her a quick hug.
“Here’s yours” she handed him a large box. Inside was a lovely rose bush exactly like the one that had been struggling to grow in his yard.
Together they giggled and hugged. It was a perfect day.