Authors: Gillian Villiers
RACHEL'S COMING HOME
With her parents too unwell to run their boarding kennels, twenty-five-year-old Rachel Collington decides to resign her teaching job and come home to help out. After all, how hard can moving back be? She suffers a rude awakening when she finds the kennels' reputation in tatters, her teenage brother going off the rails, and arrogant TV personality Philip Milligan seemingly out to cause trouble for everyone. With life determined to throw obstacles in her path, the last thing she expects is romance, but help often comes from the unlikeliest of places â¦
Everyone seemed to think Rachel Collington was the sort of person who couldn't cope when things got difficult. Maybe it was because she was slight with a pale complexion and soft blonde hair. But they were wrong. Rachel knew she could cope with anything, if she had to. The only problem was persuading other people, and, in particular, her mother, of this.
âOf course I'm going to come home. I'm going to come and look after you both. How could you think otherwise?' Rachel spoke firmly into the telephone receiver, willing her mother to be convinced. She hated arguing with her mother.
âBut Rachel darling, you have such a good job. You can't give that up. Your father and I are so pleased at how you've settled in Liverpool, even if it is a little further away than we would have liked.'
âThe job has been fine, Mum. But now I'm coming home.' Rachel smiled to herself as she said the words. She had been mulling over this idea for a while. Events had just speeded up her decision.
âReally, it's not necessary. Your father and I have decided. We'll just have to put off any clients booked for the next month and then we'll see how things go. We don't like to do it, of course, especially at the moment.' Her mother's voice wavered, then she collected herself and said firmly, âI'm hopeful people will understand.'
âYou can't cancel bookings,' said Rachel quickly. âPeople will already have arranged their holidays, happy in the knowledge that you and Dad will be looking after their darling dogs. It would be awful to cancel at this late stage.'
âI know that, dear.' Rachel's mother sighed. She sounded tired. Rachel wished she could go home right now, but there were still two days until the end of term.
When her father had taken early retirement five years ago, her parents had opened Collington Boarding Kennels in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. It had been a dream come true. Unfortunately, her mother had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis two years later and was finding the work increasingly difficult. Her father falling on a newly-sluiced kennel floor and breaking his ankle had been the incident which precipitated Rachel's decision.
âDon't cancel any bookings yet,' said Rachel firmly. âI'll be home on Saturday. And Anthony's there, isn't he? You said you weren't very busy this week, surely he can help out.' She tried to sound more certain than she felt. Anthony, her younger brother, was on a gap year. This was supposed to involve a mixture of working and travelling but as far as Rachel could tell there hadn't been much of either so far.
âHe has been very good about driving me to and from the hospital,' said her mother cautiously. Rachel could imagine why. Anthony's main love in life, apart from his bed, was cars.
âThat's good,' she said. âGet him to walk the dogs for you. Mum, please don't try to do it yourself. Just think what would happen if you were to have a fall as well.'
âI'm being very careful,' said her mother so hastily that Rachel knew she was doing too much. âMy knees have been much better recently. It's wonderful what these new drugs can do.'
Rachel was delighted that her mother was being prescribed the new, more expensive drugs for her arthritis, and that they were being so successful. She just worried this would make her mother push herself too hard. She wondered if she should try and speak to Anthony, to make sure he was pulling his weight. Then she decided she would be better off waiting until the weekend when they could speak face to face.
âIt's wonderful you're feeling better, but I really don't think you should do too much. Please Mum? You need to save your strength for looking after Dad when he gets home.'
To her relief, her mother could see the sense of this, and they talked for a little longer about likely discharge dates and how good the doctors were being. Eventually, Rachel brought the conversation to an end. She loved chatting to her mother and knew she needed her more than ever now. Unfortunately, there were other things she had to do. âRemember,' she said, âI'll be up as early as I can on Saturday. Definitely before lunch. Don't turn anyone away. Have you any bookings that start before then?'
âJust one, arriving on Saturday morning. A Mr Milligan. He's a new client and he sounded very picky. I don't know about this, Rachel. It might be better just to let him down now. He has two collies and there is no way I'll be able to manage those.'
âThen make sure Anthony is with you until I arrive. Tell him you'll pay him, I'm sure that will help.'
âYes, dear,' said her mother, sounding doubtful. âIt will be nice to see you â¦'
âIt'll be lovely. And it won't just be a visit this time. I'm coming home for good. Now, I must go. Remember to look after yourself and give my love to Dad.'
Rachel replaced the receiver and as she did so the smile faded from her face. She was more worried about her father than she cared to admit. On top of that, she now had to compose a resignation letter to hand in the next morning, and she knew Mrs Dobson, her headmistress, wouldn't be pleased to receive it. She would try to persuade Rachel to stay and Rachel would feel she was letting her down, knowing how much she had learnt from Mrs Dobson. This was what had delayed her decision to resign until now. But she had to be firm. Her family needed her.
Philip Milligan was beginning to think it had been a mistake, returning to Scotland. Everything was so slow here, as though they had barely made it into the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first. True, that was one of the reasons he had chosen the remote Tweed valley, but now he was having second thoughts.
At first he had been pleased that no-one seemed to recognise him. After being mobbed, well, occasionally tailed, in London, it was good to have some peace. Now, however, he was starting to think it would be rather nice if people did know who he was, and gave him the respect and the service he deserved.
He was waiting in a queue at the newsagent's. He had been here ten minutes already and there was only one person in front of him. This one person seemed to know the proprietor well, along with almost everyone in the town, and felt the need to check up on the well-being of each and every one of them.
He cleared his throat. âExcuse me. Perhaps I could just pay for these â¦?' He indicated the newspaper and journal he held and handed over the correct money.
The solid matron who was serving behind the counter now turned her attention to him. âSorry to keep you waiting,' she said, not sounding sorry enough. Then she looked more closely at him. âWhy, aren't you that man off the telly? That history programme? If you just give me a minute I'll remember your name.' She turned to the woman in front of him. âDo you no recognise him? I'm sure it's him.'
Philip was flattered and put out in equal measure. It was good to know someone in these backwoods watched his programmes. But now it would be all over town and he would be pestered to talk to goodness knows how many Women's Rurals and Rotary Clubs and feted as the local celebrity. He really didn't have time for that.
âAye, I mind you,' said the other woman, sounding disapproving rather than impressed. âYou're the one with the long hair. Did your mother no' tell you that a man looks more like a man with a decent short back and sides?'
The observation was so absurd that Philip gave a snort of laughter. These definitely weren't the sort of comments he was used to. He liked the feeling of the dark locks on his shoulders. And hadn't the gossip column of one of the dailies referred to his âByronic good looks' not so very long ago? He wondered again what kind of place he had come to.
As he left the shop, he realised they hadn't even remembered what he was called. So much for being a household name. He shook his head ruefully. The dogs pushed their soft faces into his legs, showing they at least appreciated him. He untied them from the handily placed railing outside the shop â there were some things about country living that he found useful â and set off back up the hill for home.
Maggie Collington smoothed out the duvet and looked around the little room with pleasure. Rachel had already left home by the time they moved to this house, but the end bedroom was always thought of as âher' room. Now she would be staying for a good long time. Maggie loved the idea of having her whole family around her. She hoped they discharged poor John from hospital soon.
She sighed. She was growing anxious about Anthony. He should have been back from Glasgow by now, but he had a habit of running late, so she determined not to worry too much. Rachel said it wasn't good for her and Maggie was sure she was right.
Maggie realised she had taken a little too long preparing the room. She still had the dogs to feed, something that Anthony would have done if he was home. John didn't like her to carry the heavy buckets but she could manage perfectly well, as long as she took her time. She took a deep breath and carefully descended the stairs, then ventured out into the back yard. The sun was shining and the spring birds singing. Her wrists only twinged a very little when she tipped the buckets.
She paused to watch the tractor in the field to her left. That must be Freddy Smith, ploughing the field in preparation for reseeding. He was certainly a hardworking man. A shame he wasn't a little more sociable, but as John said, it took all sorts. Maggie paused to watch the seagulls wheel and dive in the wake of the tractor and then scolded herself for wasting yet more time.
She really wished she wasn't so slow. If she didn't hurry, the morning chores wouldn't be finished by the time Rachel arrived and she was determined her daughter wouldn't spend her first day at home working. She was such a good girl, but she did have this tendency to take over. Maggie liked to think she could manage perfectly well herself, if she stuck at it.
She flushed when she remembered what she had heard the day before in Boroughbie, that the dogs were neglected when John Collington wasn't there. It wasn't true. What a thing to say! Mrs Smart at the butchers had mentioned it to her, saying she thought Maggie should know what people were saying. Maggie gave a little shudder. It
wasn't true, but it puzzled her who should be saying these things.
Not that life was easy with John in hospital. She suddenly remembered that Mr Milligan was bringing his dogs round today. She hadn't made sure that kennel was properly aired. With only a very small groan, she took up her stick once again and set off to do so.
Rachel's spirits rose as she turned her little car off the motorway at Moffat and headed up into the hills beyond the town. She had loved this area from the days when family holidays had been spent here, and more so since her parents had moved to the area permanently. The soft blush of the sun on the rolling green and brown hills and the sparkle of the many streams were such a contrast to her life in Liverpool. Not that there was anything wrong with Liverpool, but she had realised she really wasn't a city person.
It felt good to have finally made the break. Mrs Dobson had been as disappointed by her resignation as Rachel had feared, but her pleas had not changed Rachel's mind. She loved primary school teaching and maybe she would go back to it one day, but it wouldn't be in Liverpool. She was going to make a new life for herself in this wonderful place. Her first task, though, was to help her parents over their current difficulties.
As she drew up before the long, low, white cottage she saw she was not the only arrival. A shiny 4x4 was parked on the gravel drive and a tall man was standing at the front door, apparently waiting for it to be opened.
He looked as though he might have been waiting for a while and Rachel jumped hastily from her car. âCan I help you?' she said, hurrying forward. âRachel Collington,' she said, proffering her hand.