|The next day, Jo arrived promtly, and Kathy directed her round to the little garage that held the little car. Jo exclaimed and went forward to touch it. |
"Oh! It's the same one! Isn't it?"
Kathie nodded, and smiled as Jo broke into a grin.
"I can't believe it's still running!"
"You can thank Jack Lambert for that. She was constantly tinkering with it, keeping it in good condition. Then she inspired Jocelyn, who passed the mantle on to a succesion of young aspiring mechanics! I sometimes feel that car has had more cleaning, new parts and oil changes than I've had hot dinners!"
Jo laughed and settled herself in the seat, enjoying that smell that only classic cars have. It wasn't dirty, but just the smell of many years of use, and the raw smell of real mechanical parts, and oil. Her own car smelled mainly of plastic, if of anything at all.
It was a good journey out, and they chatted about anything and everything except their loved ones in the hospital. Kathie was surprised how quickly they reached Armishire. The road up to the hospital was wide for the area, and had been well maintained.
Finally they pulled up in front of the old San.
"Look, it's got balconies with carved flowers on - just like our San!" Jo exclaimed.
Kathie smiled, and realised she had never really noticed that detail much before on the Swiss San, but Jo was right. The carvings were subtle but did give a sense of welcome, of a much less clinical feel than most hospitals.
As they toured the half finished flats and houses that made up the complex, Kathie found herself almost changing her mind. Especially when Madge took them up to a little front door, knocked and a beaming Nell and Hilda invited them in. While everyone exclaimed at seeing Jo, and insisted that she must help them choose the fabrics and wallpaper, Kathie had time to take in the details.
It was plainly decorated at the moment, neutral paint on replastered wall. But the huge old windows flooded the place with light, and the the big lifts at either end of the building made even the second floor feel easily accessible.
The view was peaceful, across trees and fields, passing down into the valley without interruption for many miles. Just below she could see the cluster of buildings making up Howells village. There was a familiarity to it, a sense of being back in the Alps, but still having that slight difference in colour, in mix of the leaves, that matched her memories of a less congested, more countrified England.
Nancy would like it here. She might even see the point of doing her exercises more, if there was somewhere interesting to walk to, something to aim for. Even if she would always struggle, even maybe be stuck in a chair, at least she could look out onto something. There was colour and light everywhere. Nothing like the brick wall, obligatory small patio area and main road that most of the flats she had seen so far seemed to consider adequate for outside space.
And maybe, just maybe, Kathie could go for a walk herself sometimes. Not a stagger round the garden on two sticks, being sworn at by Nancy, but a real, leg aching hike.
"How is she?"
Kathie started slightly and turned away from the window, blinking a little as she did so, and feeling guilty, as if her thoughts would show. Nell came into focus, and she and Hilda listened carefully as Kathie gave her the latest news.
"And what about you?"
It was an unexpected question, and Kathie didn't quite know how to answer. She had never been anything but honest with this pair, and she knew they would see through a breezy 'I'm fine!' but there wasn't a simple answer to the question.
"Let me guess." Madge had joined them now, having shown Jo Scott through to where Tom and Bride were poring over plans for their own house. They had been thrilled to see her too, and pretty much commisioned Jo on the spot to do the finishing parts of the decoration.
"You're coping, and have been running on adrenaline while you were so worried about Nancy. I'd also bet she's finally well enough for you to be able to think a little of yourself. After so many months on high alert, you desperately need some time off, but feel guilty for even a half hour spent NOT thinking about her."
Kathie gaped at her. She didn't really know Madge, although they'd seen each other often over the years when Lady Russell had visited the school. How could she put into words what Kathie had just been feeling so well?
Madge made a sign to Nell and Hilda, and they disappeared off to the kitchen, suggesting they made some tea and coffee for them all. She put her arm chummily through Kathie's and walked her out of some nearby french doors, down some steps into the garden.
"Don't look so surprised, my dear. You aren't the first to feel that, and sadly you won't be the last. I know that every time Jem went in for treatment I fought just those emotions. You feel you have nothing to complain about. After all they are the ones going through the pain, and their lot is much much worse than your own. Only it's not. It's just different."
Kathie had forgotten Jem's many years of illness. She hadn't really known him well at all, only as a passing figure sometimes at Chalet School events. She knew he was quite a bit older than Madge, and suddenly she realised that her ex employer DID have a bit of an idea of how she might feel.
"I... Thank you..."
Kathy bit her lip, wanting to cry, but knowing that if she did she might not stop. She cast around her for a chance of subject.
"These...These gardens are magnificent."
Madge was wise in her years, and didn't push for any details of how Kathie was feeling. For all that she knew Kathie needed to let go, to talk to someone, she also knew just how hard it would be to then head into the hospital later and not show Nancy she'd been upset. Having seen how Kathie looked longingly back at the building, she suspected that they would be neighbours soon enough. Determined to make that a reality, she tested the water, and as she suspected, Kathie loved the place, but was reticent about seeming too keen, was holding something back. Madge suspected that money was the main limiting factor, and had planned for this.
"I had a request, if you would consider it?" She began, directing Kathie back along a path towards another area of the building.
"You see we want to build this up, not just as a collection of homes, but as a community."
Kathie nodded, although she couldn't see how this might affect her.
"We need someone to organise things, plan trips and activities. I wondered whether you might consider it? The rest of us would help of course, but we really need someone younger, someone who could bring the different groups together a bit?"
Kathy frowned and asked what she meant.
"Well these are mostly retirement apartments, but not all of them. You see we have a few of the younger generation that want to come and join us, Tom and Bride among them. I think as time goes on we might well have more. We want to make it a cental gathering point for reunions, and maybe arrange trips away with Old Girls. You know so many of them, it would really be rather a help if you could take the job."
Kathie had already begun to mentally shut down. She would love to live here, and love to do a volunteer job like that, but the realities of their finances meant that she would need to find employment at some stage, although how and what, she didn't know.
Madge had steered them into a large room surrounded with bookshelves.
"This was Jem's office once upon a time. I've been selfish I'm afraid and earmarked this part for my own abode."
Kathie hadn't realised that Madge was going to live here too, but as she listened, she understood. It made a lot of sense for David to take over the Round House, at least in offical ownership, and it would simplify things a lot tax wise if anything happened to Madge.
"Right, lets get down to business."
Kathie nearly sighed. They couldn't afford this, she was sure. She had been shocked by property prices when returning to the UK, and something as lovely as these apartments were turning out to be would be far above their possible budget.
"Now the post I am talking about wouldn't just be running an old girl's association. I need help taking over some of my duties within the Chalet School company. There aren't many, but I need to know that someone is overseeing things. You know both Nell Randolph and Len well, and you have proven yourself time and time again to have good judgement. You seem to be the obvious choice."
Kathie gaped at her for the second time that day. This sounded suspiciously like Madge was offering her not just a hobby, but a job... In fact her own role as Chief executive of the Chalet School company?.
"But...what about Joey, or ... Or... Hilda, Nell... Surely they are more suitable?"
"They will all be around to offer advice, but no, we need someone younger, or in Jo's case more able to devote time to it. She doesn't want the role, never has, although I've relied on her judgement many times over the years. We all want you. Well you and Nancy, if you'll accept a joint appointment?"
Kathie was still speechless. The last objection seemed to have been swept away. She couldn't see how she could do that to Nancy, after all if she hadn't had the stroke she would have been the senior of them, and certainly knew more of the old girls. It had felt awkward when Kathie had been made deputy head before rather than Nancy, but Nancy's hatred of administration had made her a more logical choice.
Madge was still talking, and Kathie rapidly swung her attention back to her, hoping she hadn't missed anything critical.
"You could choose, either to buy the flat, or have it as rented or in lieu of wages - whichever will suit you best."
"I...um... I don't know."
"Of course - you need to talk to Nancy, after all. There is no rush. One last thing though. The job does include healthcare at either San as needed for you both."
Kathie gulped, and finally the threatened tears came, only a different type to those she had been so determinedly trying to hold back before. Those had been anger, frustration, grief - these were nothing more or less than relief. Madge was offering not just a home, but a lifeline. And something to aim towards. Nancy could do a lot of the Old girl liason part from her chair, even if she didn't manage to get mobile again properly.
It was more than the financial side, welcome though that was. For the first time in many months, Kathie didn't feel alone. And the way Madge kept determinedly talking about WHEN Nancy recovered, rather than IF was such a change.
Both of them had become so limited in their view of the future, just seeing where Nancy was now, in the hospital and struggling to move smoothly. But it was still very early days, and the medical team did keep saying that they thought she was doing well, and a good chance of getting back even more control than she had.
When Kathie collected herself enough, they moved on. As they went into the ground floor flat Madge had tentatively suggested for them, she almost burst into tears again. It wasn't a sterile, boxy collection of rooms, but a real home. French windows opened out onto a terrace overlooking the gardens, and all of the doors were wide enough for a wheelchair. Wide enough in fact for a whole bed on wheels, and Kathie realised that this wasn't an afterthought or building regulations. The San had been built to make movement of hospital beds easy, but also to help the patient feel at home, able to recover. There were grab handles everywhere, and even a track in the ceiling for a device to help Nancy get out of bed and to the bathroom herself.
It had been only an excuse for a trip out, this visit today, she hadn't seriously considered this could work. It had seemed completely impractical, the idea of moving to somewhere completely new, out in the country.
But in true Chalet School fashion, Kathie realised that everything had been considered. Even the fact that they hadn't invited her or Nancy over until more of thebuilding work was done, so it was a safe environment for Nancy to be in right from the beginning.
She would go back and talk to Nancy, show her pictures and explain the offer, but Kathie knew this was it, this was the solution that they hadn't even really hoped for. A part time job, not just for her but also Nancy, and a place they could stay in no matter how slow Nancy's recovery was.
A real home.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Sorry for delay. I suspect it could be a little while before the next update too, so I've left this as a fairly long update, since it didn't have many good stopping points. Thanks for your patience to still be reading ! Weirdly, I've just read an article and found out that a collection of women have actually done this, created their own retirement community, supporting each other ! I hadn't heard of it when I started this, but am unexpectedly true to life ! I kept looking at the pictures and slightly expecting to see Nell, Hilda, Madge et al in the names of the people who had built the group of homes!