“Another day of self-pity,” James muttered to himself and got up to make himself some lunch. He fancied Lindy in the kitchen making a salad for him, but faced the hard and cold reality—she wasn’t there. He sighed deeply and made a grilled cheese sandwich and drank some Coke. He decided he’d go for a walk—he needed to get out of the house. He pulled on a sweater though the day was warm and went outside into the sunshine. He looked out towards the car-path and to his surprise, saw something there. He wondered vaguely what it was.
“I need some adventure,” he told the horses as he set off down the path, wishing Lindy were walking with him.
He came upon the thing and saw that it was a girl, covered in mud. She was wearing flared blue jeans and a white shirt with white flowers embroidering it. She wore a gold locket around her neck and had one shoe on. It was a child; he reckoned, about thirteen—no, fourteen. She would look nice if she were clean; he thought and noticed a star-like quality about her features. All of this he took in a flash and saw her foot, resting on a backpack and it looked like something was wrong with it because it was a little plump.
“My God,” he murmured and picked up the form after slinging the backpack over his shoulder and tucking the strayed shoe in it. He carried her back to the house and then laid her on a couch. He cleaned her up and found a spare set of clothes in her backpack. He peeled the sock off of the strange ankle and knew it was sprained. He put medicine that Lindy had concocted before her death on some bandages and tied it up. He then fixed a meal for the child and left it on a table beside her.
At first, seeing her from a distance had given him a feeling of indifference, but now he was interested and concerned. He’d had children of his own so he could handle kids, but there was something faintly different about this one.
The girl opened her eyes as he picked up his acoustic guitar that leaned against the wall and strummed a few chords. She sat up immediately and he looked into a pair of big, long-lashed, greenish-gray-blue-gold-brown eyes that were very dreamy, expressive and lovely. He kept playing, held her eyes and watched her.
James knew from a glance that he was entertaining a musical and literary person and he was pleased. The girl sat up completely, very alert and then she started singing the song he was playing. Then she stopped, as quickly as she had begun and looked at the guitar player.
“I made it,” she whispered wonderingly. “I made it!”
James was surprised; the girl was actually an American and not many of them were in Rye. But he had nothing against them—Lindy was one.
“What’s your name?” James asked her and laid his guitar across his lap.
She looked at him and smiled warmly.
“My name’s Shelle Stanley. I’m from California. Hello, Mr. Mac.” She extended her hand with sparkling eyes.
He took her hand and shook it heartily.
“Call me James,” he said cordially. “Welcome to my farm—and to England. I was wondering—” here he looked at her “—what’re you doing in Rye—alone?”
Shelle looked at him. “Do you want the truth, no fancy frills or anything?”
James looked a little bemused, but said, “Yes.”
“All right, here it goes.” Shelle told him why she had come and every single detail. He had pain in his eyes at the mention of Lindy, but he discovered that something about Shelle softened the sharpness of the reality. Maybe it was because of the extent of her caring, because she cared about him and Lindy; she was very much in earnest or else she wouldn’t have traveled so far. And James found himself feeling as if Shelle were his daughter or niece and told her so, at which she told him that she felt like James were her uncle and one that was easy to talk to. James grinned at the child; he felt so free in her company, like he had known her his whole life—they were both “kindred spirits” and recognized each other. After a few hours of taking care of the farm and talking, Shelle felt a ray of sunshine in her soul: she was helping James in the ways she had dreamed and wanted!
“Can I—I mean, may I call you Uncle James?” Shelle asked him, with a wistful note in her voice.
“If I can say you’re my niece,” James answered, poking fun, but being serious.
“Suits me,” she smiled. “But what am I going to do? I can’t go back to the hotel without crutches and I don’t have enough money to see a doctor.”
“Why don’t you stay here awhile?” James suggested. “It’d be better if you were here instead of that hotel hiking all the time to come see me. We’ll pick up your stuff later—are you okay with all this, niece?”
Shelle, who had been thinking of what a miracle it was that they had taken to each other so well, responded, “You know I am, Uncle James. But you don’t have to do any of this for me—really you don’t. I wouldn’t mind staying in the hotel.”
“No, it wouldn’t be right for a relation of mine to be there. You’ll stay with me.”
“Wonderful—if that’s good with you. But my parents—what am I going to do? They’ll murder me for sure if I go home and tell them what I did for five weeks.”
“Don’t you go worrying your starry head about them. I’ve got a plan of my own and I’ll tell you when it’s time for you to know.”
“You’re a kindred spirit,” Shelle told him and he smiled absently.
“My daughter Estella used to tell decent people she liked that very same thing. Her real name’s Stella; don’t know why we tacked on the ‘E’ in the beginning. I think it was because she came home one day and told me about reading Great Expectations and the characters Estella and Pip and how stuck-up Estella was. Then we called her ‘ “Estella.’”
“I’ve read that book.”
“Have you? Have you ever read The Complete Works of Winston Churchill?”
“No, I haven’t, but I’ve been planning to.”
“My best friend read it or them, but I never have, though I bought it and it’s in my library somewhere.”
“You have a library?”
“Well, Shelle, I’m going to take you to the doctor and get you some crutches. What do you say?”
“Thank you very much.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“And so you’re a musician?”
“How did you know?”
“I can tell.”
“Just like me. Well, I’ve been playing piano for seven years.”
“How old are you?”
“Fourteen. Just turned it.”
“Ah. Well, I happen to have—”
Shelle interrupted him. “A piano,” she finished. “I saw it in a book I have at home.”
“You’re a fan of my bands?”
“Of course. Who isn’t?”
“Is that the real reason you came—just to meet your favourite musician?” James feigned hurt, but he knew that Shelle, fan though she was, did not come because of that.
“Of course not, though I’ve always wanted to meet you. I came to help you, if it’s shoveling hay, feeding horses, or whatever. But you know.” As long as I’m helping you through this, she thought, but did not say.
“Yeah, I do,” James said, as if he were hearing the words for the first time. “Hold on to me and I’ll carry you to the car.”
“All right, uncle.”
James picked Shelle up carefully and felt in his heart what he had felt a few days ago—he was helping a child.