From December to May

by Barbara Peterson

using characters from As Time Goes By, for a fan-fiction

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Please note the first part of this story contains verbatim dialog from Episode 3, Season 2. No infringement of copyright is intended, just need to set the scene for the story.

Lionel Hardcastle and Jean Pargeter sat in a taxi, threading its way through London streets from Charing Cross station to Jean's house. They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Lionel was a man in his late fifties, with greying hair which he made no attempt to comb over his bald spot, sagging jowls which gave him a sad, bloodhoundish expression even at the most cheerful of times, and an incipient paunch. Jean, also in her late fifties, was half a foot shorter than he, with a cap of silvery hair framing a pretty, gamine face, beautiful as old parchment.

They had just been to visit Lionel's father in the country. Jean had gotten over her initial butterflies and enjoyed the visit immensely, especially the old man, Lionel's father. He had been so ebullient, so self-assured, so full of life. He had reminded her of someone, and with somewhat of a shock she realized that he reminded her of Alistair Deacon. He was unpredictable, liked Alistair, child-like, living life in the now and enjoying every minute of it. He was what Alistair would probably be in sixty years....

Jean glanced over at Lionel, who was staring out the window of the taxi. She felt a fondness for him, a sort of pity, for his sad look. Not his fault, really, it was those eyes and those jowls of his - he probably felt quite cheerful, not sad at all. But she remembered his words at his father's house.

''If in doubt, don't do it,'' Lionel had said, describing his life. ''If it's new, don't try it.'' He had given her hope though, when he'd told her that the only chance he'd ever have had of kicking over the traces was in knowing her. But then he'd fallen back on that old refrain. The past tense. Then. Then he could have done anything, or he was prepared to try to do anything. But not anymore.

The years had changed him. Had it been living in Kenya that had done it, or would it have happened just the same? Could he be brought out of himself? Taught to enjoy life like his father? She wanted to try. She had loved him once, thirty-eight years ago. Surely they could rekindle that spark of love and she could make him happy, to make up for the years she hadn't been there for him.

The taxi drew to a halt in front of the semi-detached house that served as home for Jean and her daughter, the twice-divorced Judith. They entered the sitting room, and as Jean shifted a magazine quickly so Lionel could sit down she said, ''You were very quiet on the way home.''

''I thought you were very quiet.'' Lionel countered.

Jean turned off a radio playing music, then opened up the small white gift box she carried and took out a cricket ball, which she placed on the mantelpiece. Lionel's father had given it to her.

Lionel laughed. ''You're not actually going to leave that there, are you?''

''Of course. It's the most unusual present I've ever been given.''

''Yes, I suppose it would be.''

''Your first half-century,'' commented Judy. This was the term to signify that a cricket batsman had scored fifty runs in a single game. The goal of a century - a hundred runs - was the epitome of the batsman's skill.

''And now I'm working on my second,'' said Lionel dryly.

''Are you going to take up cricket again?'' Jean asked, deliberately misunderstanding him.

''I was talking of years,'' said Lionel, again dryly.

''Oh,'' Judy laughed.

''It was something my father said.''

Judy became very still. She had heard what his father had said. It actually felt like several seconds before her heart commenced to beat again. ''Oh,'' she said. 'What did he say.?'

Lionel began to straighten in his chair, a rueful smile on his face. ''Well...''

High-heeled footsteps sounded in the hallway, and Judy, Jean's daughter, entered the room, dressed in a fetching red frock and carrying a purse. ''Hello, how was it?'' she said cheerfully, her voice loud in the sudden silence. ''Did you get the 'nod from father'?''

Lionel settled back in his chair. ''I didn't take her to get 'the nod' from anybody.''

''Oh, all right.'' Judy turned to her mother, smiling mischieviously. ''Did he take you into his study and ask you about 'your prospects'?''

Jean looked at her daughter, quite annoyed. ''You're in one of your silly moods,'' she said.

Judy turned to Lionel. ''Alistair phoned.''

''No wonder you're in a silly mood,'' Lionel said dryly.

''What did he want?'' asked Jean.

''Message for Lionel. The book launch has been advanced by a week.''

''Oh, god,'' said Lionel quietly.

''No, don't be like that. Alistair sounded very positive, and very up.''

''He's always up, that's the trouble.'' Lionel said irritably.

''Look on the bright side,'' encouraged Jean. ''Get to dream that the book might actually sell a couple of copies.''

''Yeah,'' said Judy from the table at the back of the room where she was puttering in her purse. ''I shall buy one. Mum shall buy one. There you are. Two gone before it's hit the bookshelves.''

''This time next week there'll be a horde of Hollywood producers knocking on that door demanding the film rights.'' said Jean encouragingly.

''That's not my door,'' Lionel told her.

Did that have an ulterior meaning, wondered Jean, even as she said quietly, ''Now you're splitting hairs.''

Judy turned towards them again, sweater in hand, looking concerned. ''Have you two had a row?''

''No,'' said the two of them simultaneously.

''You don't look very jolly.''

''My father provided the jollity.'' commented Lionel.

''Oh, he's a lovely man,'' said Jean warmly. ''''He's 85 and he's planning to remarry. He asked me to be a bridesmaid.''

''You mean a matron of honor.''

''No,'' said Jean sharply. Then, more calmly, ''I mean a bridesmaid.''

''Oh. Sorry.'' Judy glanced at Lionel. ''You don't look very excited about the news.''

''Excited?'' said Lionel with a huff. ''The way he goes about life he's only got two or three years left at best.''

''Oh well,'' said Judy, ''All the more reason, grab it while you can,'' and she made a grabbing motion as she made this comment which made Jean think of Alistair. ''That's what I thought,'' she agreed. ''I didn't put it quite like that, though.''

''I simply didn't see the need,'' Lionel said stubbornly. ''They've been having an affair for the last six years, to my knowledge.''

Two pairs of eyes looked at him, shocked at his matter-of-fact tone.

''An affair?'' Jean said incredulously, and her eyes met her daughter's.

Lionel misunderstood their reaction, that he'd prefer his father to continue to have an affair rather than get married. ''Yes. I don't see what you two are giggling about. It's my father we're talking about.''

''You straight-laced old thing,'' Judy told him fondly. She turned to her mother. ''Tell me more later, mum. I've got to go.'' She paused. '' going for a drink with Alistair.''

She looked at their shocked faces and grinned. ''You looked like parents then.''

''I am one. Remember?'' commented her mother

Judy smiled at her and headed for the door. ''Bye. Be good.'' She stopped, turned and looked at them meaningly. ''Oh, what am I saying?'' A few seconds later the front door slammed.

''Well, I'd better go home,'' said Lionel. ''Start reading my bible.''

''You're in a very Calvinist mood.''

''Oh, the guff Alistair gave me. 101 ways to look like an author.''

''Oh. Best read it, then.'' said Jean with a smile.

''I suppose so.'' Lionel got to his feet. He turned for the door, then turned back. There was a strange expression on his face. ''By the way...have you ever considered marriage?''

Jean stared at him, her surprise plain on her face. She hadn't expected Lionel to actually say anything about it. ''What?''

''Have you ever considered marriage?'' Lionel repeated.

What on earth was he playing at, Jean thought. Why phrase it like that? ''Well, I was married once,'' she said, flustered, ''I must have done.''

''No, Lionel said with his brief smile. ''I meant...recently.''

Jean panicked. ''No.'' she said, in a voice more determined than she had meant it to be.

''No,'' said Lionel quickly. ''Nor've I.''

''Why bring it up then?''

''Well, father said I should brighten up and marry you.''

''Oh, did he?'' Jean said feebly. ''I see.''

''Parting words.''


''And what?''

''Well, are you proposing?''

Lionel smiled. A sad little smile, it looked. ''Certainly not.''

Through a sudden coldness that gripped her, Jean said, quickly, ''Oh, good.''

Lionel started to turn away, and then turned back. ''He sees things too simply, you see. That's the trouble.''

''And what about you?''

''Oh, I've never seen anything simply.''

''But do you have an opinion on the subject?''

''Do you?''

''I asked you first.''

Lionel smiled that sad, defeated smile of his again. ''I think it's all, too late.''

His words hit her like ice.

''Yes,'' said Jean, softly, looking up at him...this defeated man.

''Too set,'' Lionel nodded.

Again Jean agreed. ''Yes, like old jellies.''

They nodded at each other like Chinese mandarins. Lionel turned. ''Well, I'll be off.''

Jean walked with him to the door. He bent to kiss her on the cheek. ''Cheerio,'' she told him, and closed the door behind him. She walked back into the sitting room, one hand to her breast. She felt sick, as if she'd been kicked in the stomach. She paused, looking around the empty room. Then, she went to the mantelpiece, took down the cricket ball, and replaced it in its box. She placed the cover on top of it with finality. ''Too set,'' she mused.

She started as the doorbell rang. Could it possibly be Lionel coming back? She hurried to the door. The figure there was young, slender, grinning from ear to ear. Alistair. ''Oh, it's you.'' Yet another disappointment, or merely confirmation, made her turn her back hurriedly and wipe a hard hand across her eyes.

Alastair's smiling face fell. ''Jean,'' he said reproachfully.

Jean turned back to him quickly. ''Oh, I'm sorry, Alastair, I didn't mean it like that. I was hop--I mean, I was expecting someone else.'' Then she blinked. ''But what are you doing here? You and Judy were going out for a drink!''

''I know. I'm here to pick her up.''

''She's already gone!''

''Gone?!!'' Alistair blinked.

''Did you tell her you'd pick her up?''

''Well, no. I just said I'd 'see her in a few'. But what a silly girl! Why would she take her car to the pub when she could ride in my Aston Martin?''

Jean held her hands palms up. ''Why do people do anything?''

Alistair's eyes narrowed in concern. He moved forward and drew her to sit beside him on the settee. ''I sense a touch of bitterness there, old thing. What on earth's the matter?''

Jean smiled at him, her impish, gamine smile that set his heart to beating faster. ''I met you today, Alistair. Or at least, how I think you'll be fifty years from now.''

''Oh, yes?''

''Yes. Lionel's father. A man who made me feel like I was twenty years old again.''

''Hey, hey,'' said Alistair with his broad smile. ''Do I scent a rival for your affections?''

''Oh, don't!'' Jean jumped to her feet, hands to her face.

Alistair rose as well and went to her. He wanted to embrace her, had wanted to ever since the first minute he'd laid eyes on her, when Lionel had brought her to a party he had given and she had pronounced doom on the drink he'd given her. She'd been so poised, so sure of herself in the sea of unfamiliar faces. But now...he gently took her by the arms and turned her around. Lifted her chin. ''What's wrong, love?''

Jean took a deep breath. ''I don't know,'' she said with a tremulous smile. ''I suppose...I suppose I got a bit of a shock today.''

Shock? Well, perhaps not a shock. But her relationship to Lionel had been crystallized. He wasn't interested in rekindling their romance, in getting married....he was merely looking for...a warm body, a convenient that woman of his in Norwich. Someone to spend time with, no strings attached.

She looked at Alistair. She knew how he felt about her. She also did not deny that she had felt attracted by his attraction. He was very handsome when he took off those glasses of his, and though his cheerful ebullience did tend to wear on one, so did other people's constant dog in the manger looks.

But Alistair was thirty five and unmarried and could have any woman he wanted. He too was simply looking for a convenient body. It was certainly flattering that it should be her body, but nevertheless...

''I don't want to have an affair, Alistair, that's the trouble,'' she said softly. ''And that's all Lionel wants. And that's all you want, too, isn't it?''

Alistair stared at her, stunned. ''Sit down, Jean.'' he said quietly, and drew her back to the sofa. He took off his glasses and his wide, mobile mouth was compressed into seriousness. His eyes sparkled as usual but there was a serious look in them as well.

''I fell for you like a ton of bricks the first second I saw you,'' he told her quietly. ''You are unlike any other woman I've ever known. You've got..substance. you''d be...for the long term.''

She looked into his eyes. He leaned forward and very gently pressed his lips against hers. Not as Lionel always did, a peck on the cheek, but a kiss right on the lips. But no more than that. He withdrew as quickly, looking at her anxiously.

She touched her fingers to her mouth, but didn't look at all offended. Tears glittered in her eyes but she did not take her hand from his.

Then, suddenly, as the clock chimed... ''What about Judy?''

''What about her?'' Alistair asked absently, gazing at her.

''You've got a date with her, Alistair. At the pub. And I won't have her hurt.''

''Oh, right.'' Alistair turned to look at the clock, then hurriedly put on his glasses. ''Not to worry, Jean. I'll pop round there now and we'll have a talk. I'll make it clear I want her friendship a mate. She doesn't really fancy me, you know. She's like me. She goes for people with more substance.''

''Don't even joke about that,'' Jean said sharply.

Alistair stood up, and Jean with him.

''You will let me....court you...won't you...?'' he said. ''You didn't like my band, or my gorilla gram...or the balloons...''

''I liked them, Alistair, but they were all so...embarrassing, so flaunting of your wealth.''

''Flaunting?'' said Alistair, hurt.

''Well, that was a bad word. You're too ostentatious, Alistair. A woman wants to feel she's the most eye-catching thing in the room. How can she do that when there are pots of beautiful flowers competing with her for her attention?''

''Subtle,'' said Alistair, nodding. ''You want me to be subtle. The gift of a single rose, which pales in comparison when you hold it.''

Jean smiled...tremulously. Even back in the days when Lionel was willing to try anything, he'd never tried to wax poetic with her.

All right, dear. Let me go and talk to Judy. Then...''

''We'll see,'' said Jean. But when he took her hands again she did not withdraw them, and when he bent to kiss her she did not turn her cheek to him.

The door closed behind him and Jean stood in the hallway, her hand once more to her breast. But this time she did not feel sick. She felt her heart beating within her, and laughter bubbling up to her lips. ''I'm old,'' Lionel's father had said. ''All the more reason to rock on.''

''Rock on,'' said Jean, very softly. She turned and started up the stairs to bed.

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