by Susan Willis
a cup of strong tea
Where is he, Sheila thought for the umpteenth time in the last two hours. She started to pace around the lounge wringing her hands. Her mind was in fast-forward and she didn’t know how to slow it down.
She’d heard on the news about the incident near the royal garden party at the palace and the whole of her insides had sunk with a worrying sickness.
Her husband, Jack, was one of the personal protection officers to the royal family and, although for security reasons she never knew exactly where he was, she remembered his words this morning.
“More tea and cakes this afternoon,” he’d grimaced struggling to fasten the button on the waistband of his trousers. “I’m going to have to go on a diet.”
She’d tutted and lovingly put her arms around him snuggling her face into his neck. “No, Jack, I love you just the way you are.”
Over the years, Jack had risen to Inspector working for The Metropolitan Police Service and then had been approached to train and successfully became one of the family’s bodyguards. He’d always said, “I don’t think of it as a job, Sheila. It’s an honour to look after them.”
And she’d agreed with him but the worry and concern that went with the job wasn’t easy to live with. She smiled now remembering when they were first married. And yes, she’d been extraordinarily proud of him, and still was, but the job had never been conducive to family life. However, she’d had her mum living close by which had been a blessing. She’d been on hand when the girls were young to do the school runs and after school activities. “Where’s Dad,” they’d often asked. Or, “Is Dad not coming to the zoo?”
She’d tried to explain that he couldn’t tell them because his work was a big secret, which had sufficed but as they grew into teenagers, she’d often seen disbelief and mistrust in their eyes.
It had been difficult because no one ever knew where he and the other bodyguards were because they were covertly dressed in ceremonial uniforms. Riding on the back of the carriages at the royal weddings, tours abroad, and even Scottish dancing up at Balmoral Castle. Maybe, she thought now, if she’d been able to point him out on TV to the girls, they’d have believed her more?
She recalled his stints up at Balmoral and how she’d teased him about the kilt he’d had to wear. But then sighed remembering his darker words. “Sheila,’ he’d often said. ‘The family are just as vulnerable, if not more so, to an attack in the Scottish Highlands as they are in any of the London palaces.”
She picked up her cup to sip the tea but realised it had gone cold and clattered it back into the saucer with trembling hands.
Oh, where is he, and why doesn’t he ring? She fretted and felt tears well-up in her eyes. She longed for her mobile to ring so she could hear his voice, but, at the same time dreaded a call on the landline to say he’d been injured, or worse?
He had a lovely voice. It was one of the things she’d loved about him when they’d first met. Deep and mannish with just a hint of his old North East accent. Now, with age it was gravellier and more authoritative, yet you could still hear his kind and considerate nature that was at the very core of him.
She slumped down onto the sofa and looked up at his photograph on the mantelpiece. It was taken last year, and he is surrounded by the young recruits he trained now-a-days. They are all looking at him with respect and adoration in their eyes. It’s what he instilled into them. Respect and diligence. And, although he was mainly office-based now, he did still fill-in when they were short-staffed. Hence today.
Their daughters were in a photograph next to his. Of course, they were young women now and seemed to regard their father as some type of super-hero? They thought it was a terribly exciting job to have and only last week had teased her, “When he was younger, was Dad like Richard Madden in the Bodyguard program, Mum?”
She’d smiled and because she’d always played down the danger of his job to stop them worrying, she’d nodded. “Yes, he was a handsome young devil and I fell for him hook-line-and sinker.”
However, she thought, on days like this there was nothing exciting or impressive about being concerned for his safety.
Only recently she’d tackled Jack and insisted they have the dreaded retirement discussion. She’d retired this year and wanted him home with her to do all the things they’d planned. “It’ll not be long now, Sheila,” he’d said. “I just need to finish this program I’m working on. Then I’m all yours!”
She’d known he was trying to pacify her. She’d seen the wary look in his eyes. The, please trust me look, that she’d seen countless times over the years. But now, she pulled her shoulders back, determined when he got home the retirement issue was going to be top of her agenda. She felt too weary to go through any more of these agonising days.
Suddenly, a text pinged onto her mobile and she snatched it up from the coffee table. She held her breath and pressed the read button.
“I’m okay, Sheila. Just sorting out a few things that have happened and will be home soon. XXX”
Sheila burst into tears as blessed relief surged through her body. She clutched the mobile to her chest and looked upwards.
“Thank you, God,” she whispered and grinned knowing he was safe once more.