Things are really moving along now for Kate. Join her as she discovers her Cotswolds Cottage.
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Kate stretched like a lazy cat on a sunny windowsill as the first rays of the sun started sneaking through the lace panels at the lead windows. She wiggled her toes and snuggled further into the down comforter, enamored with the warmth emitted by the soft, cotton sheets and fuzzy blanket. A body soothing bubble bath the night before had thankfully countered off a bad cold, or was it the elusive powers of Jasper’s magic coffee? Maybe it was both, but Kate felt lucky that she had awoken feeling no worse for the wear, especially after last night’s unfortunate encounter with some harsh English weather. It would be a small miracle if she was able to thwart off sickness or, as Imogen had called it, the “collywobbles”. Kate conjured up images of some medieval plague, and giggled under her comforter.
What a prize both Imogen and Jasper had been for her. She couldn’t wait to learn more about them. With the proximity of the pub to the River Cottage, she would be stopping in frequently if Imogen’s ham and pea soup were any indication of her culinary skills. Kate could not help but wonder if they were the owners or simply the keepers of the pub and inn. Jasper was obviously well-adapt at bartending. Imogen mentioned that his magic coffee was known far and wide. Kate made a mental note to find out what ingredients went into this peculiar concoction. It tasted similar to an Irish Coffee, but there was an unfamiliar ingredient Kate could not quite place. One thing was for sure, Kate would never forget both Imogen’s and Jasper’s kindness to her last night. From the second she stepped inside their business, they enveloped her with a warm-hearted and sympathetic kindness and a gentle compassion that had immediately touched her heart. They had no clue how weary and spent Kate actually felt when she walked inside the front door of their pub.
Kate allowed one arm to escape the coziness of her blanket cocoon to blindly feel around the bedside table until her hand finally made contact with her iPhone. She squinted and blinked several times so her eyes would adjust enough so that she could make out the time. Six thirty-five. Usually Kate was already up and moving around making coffee and grabbing the Charleston city paper. Her favorite morning pastime was coffee, paper and a toasted bagel. Hundreds of self promises had been made to give up carbs, but those elusive bagels kept sneaking their way into her shopping cart and into her home. They were a hard habit to give up. Kate doubted she would have access to any bagels for the next few months so maybe the absence would help vanquish the addiction. She couldn’t help but remember her husband David’s favorite breakfast during their travels through England. He enjoyed it immensely and without guilt each and every morning. It was known as the Full English Breakfast. Now if you are aware of what a Full English Breakfast consists of, you would understand the enormity of the quantity of food. If not, well…let’s just say that two eggs, a rasher of bacon, 3 sausages (known as bangers), sautéed mushrooms, baked tomatoes, beans and toast was completely filling. Kate licked her lips. Without a doubt she was feeling much better because her stomach started growling at the mere thought of breakfast. For now though, she would make do with some Earl Gray Breakfast Tea and a few of Imogen’s biscuits right here in her room. She needed to send some emails and maybe she could work for an hour or so before attempting to make contact once again with Mr. Alfredson. Given his appearance last night and the suspected number of ales consumed, Kate concluded an early morning meeting was out of the question.
She had at least ten chapters to complete before she could even begin her rewrites. Harriet had practically begged for Kate to present at least three chapters by the end of the week. Chapters. Writing. Book. Romance. Edits. Words which had been such a large part of her life prior to David’s illness and ultimate death. Part of her surged at the opportunity to get back to writing once again, a personal endeavor which fulfilled her soul like nothing else. With intense thought, however, Kate’s nerves felt explosive and apprehensive. Had she lost her creative ability? She personally knew writers whose lives had been marred by tragedy, and they never regained the ability to successfully write again. Romance was such an intimate form of prose to Kate. Many of the love stories she had written were inspired by bits and pieces from her marriage to David. He was the one who initially encouraged her to write her first novel. Kate would never forget how frustrated she was after writing the first five or six chapters. The words and the story seemed forced and, in many ways, amateurish. Something was very disjointed with the story and Kate felt it more and more with every word and every sentence she wrote.
One day, after a frustrating afternoon of writing and rewriting, David offered to read the few chapters that had been written, and reluctantly Kate agreed. He read the chapters not once, not twice, but three times consecutively while Kate nervously paced the room, not wanting to interrupt him. Once he had finished, he removed his glasses and placed the manuscript on the table next to where he sat.
“You want the good news first or the bad?” he had asked.
“I guess the good. You always start with the good, right?” she replied nervously.
“Kate, you have a talent for writing. That is obvious from the first few lines. I know you keep saying that something isn’t quite right and you feel like you’re struggling in putting this story together.”
“I am struggling. I know you’ve been so encouraging to me, darling, but I’m not sure I have it in me like you believe I do,” she admitted, sadly.
David got up from the chair and came to sit beside her on the couch. “If I did not think you had it in you, I would never, ever have encouraged you. I have read your short stories and they are good. They have feeling and depth and your characters seem to jump off of the page. Writing a novel is no different, Kate,” he added.
“Then why does it not feel right to me, David? My short stories just seem to roll onto the paper with no effort. I’m not sure why writing this novel is any different. I either need to figure out what I am doing wrong or admit defeat now and move on.”
“Katherine Parker admit defeat? Do my ears deceive me?” David joked. “Okay, you ready for the bad?”
“Go ahead…give me your best shot.”
“I think you have a solid story line and I can see where your characters are heading, but something is missing. Something beyond themselves which unites them, a common thread, that will keep them together forever. Does that make sense?” he asked.
“Yes! I think so. I have been struggling with that part, I know,” Kate concurred. “I know something is missing, but what?” she asked.
“I think you need to connect something within your own life that you love. Something you can write about and commit to and make your readers fall in love with it, too,” he offered.
“But what? I love you, I love my children, I love Charleston and the South…” she listed out loud.
“What else, Kate? I am surprised you left one thing out,” he responded.
Kate thought hard. She mentally ticked off all of the things within her and David’s life that she held dear to her heart. Something she could share parts of with her readers, and they would be carried into another time or place.
“Place!” Kate shouted out. “Place. That’s it!”
David smiled. “I knew you would finally think of it. What is the one place you love to go, well, other than Jillian’s house and to Savannah to visit David Michael,” he joked.
“England,” she stated emphatically. “It’s perfect, David. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? I need to incorporate our love of England and all of our travels into my stories.” Kate jumped up from the sofa, ran to where David was standing and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you, darling. Maybe you should be writing this book with me. You can offer up the male character’s romantic lines,” she teased. “Or better yet, maybe you can be the rich Duke who rushes in and whips the poor, lovelorn American tourist into a frenzy of passion and adoration.”
“Um…no. I think I would lose my man card if I did that. But, I will help you out with research. In fact, what say we take a little research trip next month. I would like to take a trip to Bosworth Battlefield. I’ve been reading about the War of the Roses.”
Kate playfully and exaggeratedly rolled her eyes. “A battlefield? Are there any good antique shops close by?” she joked.
“Oh, I am sure there are. It’s England after all. The land ‘o antique shops.”
“Good point. When can you get away? I will start booking some Inns and doing some research. I need to figure out what area of England I want the book to be about. Oh, David. I can’t wait. This is exactly the direction and encouragement I needed. How can I thank you?”
David acted like he was contemplating. “How about not naming your first male character David,” he joked.
Kate laughed. “Okay, but I will not negotiate that he looks like you. Tall, dark and handsome and needing a good haircut,” she said tousling his hair.
“You forgot brilliant and has a love for British battlefields.”
“Okay, that, too. Now off I go. I have some books I want to pick up at the library. Love you more,” she called out as she left.
Kate’s first book came together within a few months. After she had completed it, David encouraged her to send it to some publisher’s. She received letter after letter of denial. Just as she was about to give up and file her manuscript away as a “good try” David came bounding into their home calling out her name, waving an envelope in the air. Kate took it from his hand nervously, and wordlessly they looked at each other smiling. She was anxious, but something inside her gut told her it would be good news. She glanced once again at the return address on the envelope. It was from one of the top five romance publishers.
Kate and David celebrated the acceptance of her first romance transcript that same night with champagne and lobsters at their favorite restaurant downtown. About a year later, Kate stood inside Barnes and Nobles giddily staring at her first book in print. It would be the first of many.
An hour and a half later, Kate was dressed, makeup on and hair in a ponytail, ready to hunt down Mr. Alfredson. She was willing to go to his home if need be to obtain a properly working key. She took a final look behind her as she was exiting her room at The Rose and Crown, happy that she had stumbled onto such a cozy little haven in the middle of England during one of the stormiest nights she had encountered in a long while. She pulled the door closed and headed down the creaky, narrow steps in search of some sustenance otherwise known as breakfast.
“Good morning, mum. Don’t you look as fresh as a morning glory,” Imogen greeted her. “I knew my Jasper’s magic coffee would fix you right up. Now all you need is a hearty English breakfast and some strong coffee.”
Kate could not help but give Imogen a soft hug upon seeing her bright face and hearing her sunny voice. “I feel wonderful, Imogen. That room is one of the most charming and cozy that I have ever stayed in, and I mean that. Oh, and Imogen, your biscuits are downright luscious. I may be adding them as romantic enticement in my romance novel,” she winked.
Imogen laughed boisterously. “My biscuits in a romance novel? Wait until I tell my Jasper. He will be plum chuffed about that one,” she chuckled.
Kate made a mental note to look up what “chuffed”meant and hoped it wasn’t anything painful. “Imogen, they are that good. You may get tired of seeing me because I may be over here every other day to get some of your biscuits to keep at my cottage.”
“Mum, I will personally bake you a batch whenever you ask. Now how about that breakfast I promised?” she asked.
“Imogen, I don’t think I can eat a full English. Can I have some eggs and maybe a few of those yummy roasted tomatoes, please?” she asked.
“Coming up, mum. Jasper will bring you over some coffee. Oh, Mr. Alfredson said he would meet you at the River Cottage at half past ten. And he was awfully dread filled when he learned what had happened,” Imogen offered.
“Oh dear, I will let him know there was no harm done. Just think, Imogen, if Mr. Alfredson had given me the proper key I would never have been given the opportunity to meet you and your Jasper,”she admitted warmly.
Imogen looked as if she teared up for a split second before a huge smile extended across her face. “Oh, mum,” was all she could say, “I need to see to your breakfast. Jasper,” she called out, “Kate is waiting on her coffee.”
The cobblestone streets of Bourton-on-the-Water looked refreshed from the previous night’s rain. There was a slight morning chill in the air, but Kate’s light sweater was all that was needed. She stopped just outside of the pub’s doorway, and spent a few minutes marveling at the beauty of this quaint village. She felt revived and ready to tackle not only her book but living in England these next few months. A small disturbance caught her eye and she observed several ducks flapping about in the River Windrush. It was running a little faster than she had remembered, no doubt from last night’s rain. The town was already bustling with mother’s pushing their prams through town, cars scurrying along the cobblestone streets and children feeding the many ducks and geese with bread crumbs. Kate started out towards her cottage in the same direction she had come from last night. It had seemed at least a two mile walk in the dark and the rain, wearing broken and soggy shoes. In fact, she had only walked about four blocks. She crossed over one of the many stone bridges towards Victoria Street. Within only a few minutes, Kate could see her cottage. In fact, it was the last cottage along the riverfront.
In the darkness and in her agitation and fear after her harrowing drive from Heathrow, she failed to noticed the proximity of the cottage to the river. Kate’s excitement grew steadily as she neared 10 Victoria Street. When she was within a few feet, Kate came to a complete halt in the middle of the sidewalk. She felt tears come to her eyes. Whether it was from happiness or excitement mixed with a touch of sadness, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that the little stone cottage with a thatched roof and an English garden sitting at the water’s edge was one of the most ideal storybook cottages she had ever seen.
“Oh Harriet, you scored big on this one,” she said aloud before hurrying on. Kate saw a tall, skinny man with a familiar scraggly beard standing at the front door of the cottage. She pushed open a small wooden gate and thrilled at the hinge, created in part by rope weighted down with a stone which allowed the gate to close on its own. The garden was almost in full bloom, and several perennials were within a few weeks of flowering. Kate immediately imagined mini mixed bouquets placed throughout the cottage and nestled in nooks and crannies. In many ways, this small cottage garden reminded her of her own garden back in Charleston. She and David had committed to turning their *once space side yard* into the English garden of their dreams after their first trip to Britain.
A very humble and embarrassed-acting gentleman removed his hat upon seeing Kate. “Good morning, mum. I am Alfredson.”
“Good morning, Mr. Alfredson,” she offered her hand in greeting. “I am happy to make your acquaintance. I am Katherine Parker, please call me Kate.”
“Mum, I am ever so sorry about leaving you high and dry last night with the wrong key.” He immediately realized that “dry” was not the accurate term. “Well, not so dry at least.”
“Mr. Alfredson, all is well. There was no harm and I had the pleasure of meeting Imogen and Jasper and spending a delightful night at The Rose and Crown. I sure am glad to see you here this morning.” Kate noticed a large farm basket sitting at the stoop of the cottage. “Oh, what is this?”
“That is my way of saying I am sorry. Eggs gathered this morning and my missus made the homemade butter yesterday. And the leeks are from my garden, too.”
“Mr. Alfredson,” Kate said shocked. “These eggs are beautiful, as are these leeks. And homemade butter? Really? Oh, it’s too much and you really didn’t have to,” she said to the now sheepish acting man.
“Yes, mum, I did. I made a mistake and my missus insisted I make it up to you. Well, I wanted to also but she said the two hens I had crated to bring over would probably not be as good as some butter and eggs.”
Kate laughed softly. “I think she’s right. I am afraid the hens would dig up this beautiful garden. But this,” she said while holding up the basket, “is absolutely perfect, and if this is your way of apologizing, I accept. I hope we can become friends, Mr. Alfredson. I don’t know anyone here accept Imogen and Jasper.”
Mortimer Alfredson acted shyly pleased, twisting his hat in his large hands. His genuine smile was proof he would be very pleased to make a new friend. “Maybe I can bring my missus up to meet you one day soon. She was very excited to have an American living nearby. She’s always wanted to go to America. She wanted to know if you knew Julia Roberts?”
“No, I don’t know Julia Roberts but I love all of her movies, especially Knotting Hill. You can tell her we have that in common. Would you?” she asked.
“Sure will, mum. Would you like to go inside your cottage? The missus came over a few days ago and cleaned up some. She cut some flowers and placed them all around,” he said while unlocking the door.
He motioned for Kate to step inside and in that single moment, Kate understood what the word fulfillment meant on so many levels. She couldn’t move, and couldn’t take it all in fast enough. Everything one would expect from an English Cottage was realized right before her eyes.
Sunny windows were hung with rose chintz curtains. Every piece of furniture looked as if it had been lovingly gathered and placed so that it bespoke of English charm. There was a fluffy sofa filled with pillows that beckoned you to lay down and take a nap. Cushiony covered chairs sat on each side. The walls were filled with an assortment of vintage prints, English plates and antique mirrors. The front room was large enough to be considered roomy, yet small enough to fulfill it’s cottage size.
Kate glanced in the corner where an open Welsh cabinet was filled with old books and collectables. A pair of black and white Staffordshire dogs were placed on each side of a matching collection of small, leatherbound books.
Mr. Alfredson coughed softly behind Kate. She had been so lost in her new cottage’s surroundings that she had completely forgotten he was even in the room. She turned to him, and tried to contain her exuberance. “Mr. Alfredson, please thank your sweet wife for the flowers. I assume that was her touch? They are perfect.”
“Yes, mum, I surely will. If you think you will be okay now, I will make my way back home. The boss will be looking for me to report in that you got settled in.”
“Your boss?” Kate asked confused. “Why would he want a report on me?”
“Not so much on you personally, mum, but that you were happy with the cottage. He owns the cottage, mum. I am also the gardener at Rosethorn.”
“Yes, mum, that’s the name of Lord Weston’s Estate. Me and the missus live there, as well.”
“Oh, I see. Well that would make sense if it’s his cottage. Please convey to him that I appreciate his concern and I will take very good care of his cottage while I am here. Will he be stopping by at some point?”
“I couldn’t say, mum. He stays pretty busy running the Estate,” he answered.
“Oh, sure. Of course. Well, let him know I am very pleased and all is well. And tell your wife I cannot wait to meet her, too.”
“Yes, mum. I will see you later this afternoon to make sure you are settled. The stove was replaced a fortnight ago with a brand new one. There’s an electric tea kettle and a box of fine teas the missus insisted I leave here for you. If you need anything, you just call me or ring up the Estate. The number is written beside the phone in the kitchen.”
“I’m sure I will be fine, Mr. Alfredson. I look forward to exploring the cottage.”
Kate closed the door behind him and turned to face the living room of her new cottage. She grabbed the basket and made her way to the back of the cottage in search of the kitchen. Kate saw a small sitting area just off the the Living Room that featured a desk by the window. She instantly decided that would be the perfect space for her to set up the laptop and work on her book.
She continued down a small hallway and all of a sudden, she caught her breath. “Well, hello there you gorgeous cottage kitchen. We’re gonna be good friends you and I.”