Maggie grasped the chance of Mrs. Brumby’s offer to meet Joe from work. ‘With the grace of God, girl, you’ll bring home good news,’ the woman had said. Crossing her fingers at this statement, she too, hoped it’d be so.
By late afternoon, she set off, leaving the coolness of the kitchen for the muggy heat.
Maggie wondered how Joe would receive the news. “He needs to be told and then do the honest thing by yer and marry yer”, Cook had said, and it was on these words Maggie’s mind had raced. It was all she ever wanted, to have Joe as her husband and to have his children. Already, she’d forgotten the physical pain he’d caused her, but his evasiveness of late was something that still bothered her.
The walk into Scanby didn’t take any time at all and within minutes, she reached the village green. In the distance, stood the long narrow wooden hut used as a pavilion of sorts for local villagers whenever a cricket match took place. Knowing it’d be cooler beneath the shade of the veranda, Maggie walked a little faster, easing her clothing away from her sticky body as she went. She wondered if she’d have the courage to come right out and tell Joe about the baby she now carried and not pussyfoot like she’d done with Cook that morning.
Maggie swiped away the beads of perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. Stepping into the shade, she fanned her flushed face and then eased her sleeves further up her arms.
Maggie had been waiting twenty minutes or more. She hoped Joe wouldn’t be much longer as already the heat had brought on a headache and the sickness she’d battled with this morning was slowly returning. Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, Maggie constantly peeped around the corner of the building to see if there was any sign of him.
It hadn’t occurred until now, he may have taken a different route home. If that were the case, then she’d just have to go to the forge tomorrow in the hope she’d catch him before he left for home.
The thought of bumping into Dan Broughton at the forge caused Maggie to screw up her nose. No doubt she’d have to explain herself to him and that didn’t appeal to her in the least, for surely he’d consider her business his, especially if it concerned his Joe.
Her thoughts then went to Joe’s mother and her heart softened. Maggie liked Ellen Broughton. The kind, gentle woman was often seen scurrying about Scanby, doing the best for her family. How fussy she’d be, Maggie thought, when told her Joe was going to be a father, and she, a grandmother. There was no misunderstanding as regards how Dan would take the news. His views would no doubt cloud everyone’s happiness, knowing him.
It was then a niggling doubt wormed its way into her mind. Her stomach twisted with newfound nerves. What if Joe didn’t stand by her, then what? As quick as the idea entered her head, she banished it, telling herself she was being silly. Why wouldn’t he stand by her? Her brow furrowed. Surely, he’d not turn his back on his own child. She chewed on her bottom lip. But, what if he did, what if –?
A dark shadow suddenly loomed from around the corner. So caught up in her wild imaginings, Maggie physically jumped. She hadn’t heard Joe approach, his footsteps falling silently upon the soft grass.
He strode on, not seeing her at first, but as she moved from out of the shade, his head twitched in recognition of her. He continued to walk on but then stopped. Peering over his shoulder, she felt his unwelcoming dark eyes burn into her.
‘That’s all I need,’ she heard him say. He half turned, tipping his head to one side to watch her walk towards him.
‘I was hoping I’d catch you. I didn’t want to call on you at work, knowing you'd be busy like, the Show and everything.’ Maggie cupped her hand to her forehead to shade the sun from her eyes. It was hard not to notice the angry glare he threw at her. Instantly what little confidence she’d mustered, dissolved, leaving her weak and feeble. ‘Joe?’ she said faintly.
He stood with his thumbs looped in the opening of his trouser pockets, his stare now flitting anywhere but on her. ‘Now you've caught me, what do yer want.’
Two distant figures were walking across the green, their existence drawing Joe’s attention. He frowned as he watched them make for the cut-in leading to the main road.
Maggie followed his gaze to the two men. They appeared deep in conversation for their heads drawn together and bowed. ‘Somebody you know?’
‘Might be,’ he said, not giving anything away.
‘That’s a funny statement.’
He turned and glared back at her. ‘Not, if you don’t want the breath squeezing out of you a second time. That’s what’ll happen if they cap eyes at me with –’ He stopped.
Maggie frowned. ‘Is someone threatening you, Joe?’
‘Don’t talk wet,’ he said, brushing past her. Changing the subject, he asked, ‘So, what do you want?’
Maggie slowly followed him into the shade and went to stand a little distance away from him. She longed to close the empty space between them, but it seemed as if an invisible barrier barred her way.
She hadn’t forgotten what it was like to feel Joe’s arms around her, to steep in the warmth of his embrace. But his coldness told her there was no likelihood of that happening and Maggie chastised herself for thinking so brazenly.
‘We need to talk, Joe. You and me, like. There’s things that need sorting urgently.’
‘And, what would they be, then?’ he asked her guardedly. ‘What’s so urgent?’ When she didn’t answer straight away, he gave a heavy sigh. Dropping his shoulders, he leaned against the framework of the veranda, crossing one foot over the other. ‘Well?’
Maggie loosened her shawl and let it slip from her shoulders. Her simple action, catching his attention, caused his gaze to shift from his feet and settle on her heart-shaped face. He regarded her solemnly and she wondered what he was truly thinking.
‘I haven’t seen you lately, Joe,’ she tried to say brightly. ‘I realise you’ve been busy, but –’ She blushed, feeling a little awkward. She began to fiddle with the fringe of her shawl lying over her bare arm.
He continued to look at her, his hard expression softening slightly, and just for a moment, it seemed as if he was warming towards her. But in a blink of an eye, the cold and angry expression returned.
‘There’s no “buts” about it,’ he said. ‘You’ve just said yourself, I’ve been busy.’
Maggie reached out, but her hand stopped midway, unsure of its actions. ‘Why have you been avoiding me? Whenever I’ve seen you in the village, you’ve done your utmost to steer clear of me. Why do you always turn the other cheek when you see me?’
‘If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think there’s a law to say who I speak to and who I don’t. And as regards of you doing something wrong, as you put it, you know damn well, it’s none of your doing.’ He stopped. ‘I’ve already told you I’m sorry, what more do you want.’
Guilt riddling his face, he was forced to look away from her.
‘So that makes it all right, does it?’
‘In my eyes it does.’ Joe held his arms out wide and released a weary sigh. ‘Where’s all this leading, eh? As you see, Maggie, I’ve just finished work. I’m tired and the last thing I want right now, is you hounding me. I’ve got far better things to be doing with my time than wasting it here with you.’
His words stabbed like a knife in her heart. In desperation, she reached out a second time, grasping the tanned arm. ‘Joe! Just spare me a few minutes. Please!’ The muscles tightened beneath her grip. She took a deep breath and wondered if he could hear the wild beating of her heart. ‘Before you rush off, there’s something you need to know.’
‘If you’re going to tell me we’ve a chance of getting together, then you’re sadly mistaken. What we might’ve had or could have will never be. Not now, or ever.’ Joe then pulled away from her.
‘How can you say that? Surely you feel something for me?’ Suppressing the anger to hit out at him, her clenched hands remained by her side. But then his next words completely took her breath away.
‘If you really want to know, I wanted us to be special. I saw in you something I’ve never seen in any other girl, but I,’ he said, jabbing his finger to his chest, ‘went and spoiled it, all right.’ He groaned. ‘But that’s by and by. Things have changed now.’
‘What do you mean, changed? You’ve just said yourself you still have feelings for me.’ Maggie gave an irritable tug at the fringe on her shawl. ‘Obviously, I’m not good enough for the likes of you, is that it?’
Joe shook his head. ‘It’s nothing like that.’
‘Then, tell me what it is, then.’ She went to stand a little closer to him and looked up into his deep brown eyes that even now, still took her breath away. ‘I’m not the sort of girl who gives herself freely to anyone. You know what I mean?’ she said, her cheeks colouring profusely at the intimacy they’d shared.
He took hold of both her hands and squeezed them within his own. ‘I don’t know what you want from me, Maggie, but like I said, there’ll be nothing between us.’ Lowering his voice, he murmured, ‘not now, or ever. For once in my life I wanted to do things right. But I went and messed up.’ His gaze travelled from her hands, stopping briefly at the swell of her breasts, before resting on her face. ‘You deserve someone better, Maggie. I treated you bad. I should’ve given you the respect you deserved, but I didn’t.’ Letting go of one hand, he stroked her cheek. ‘You’re not like the other lasses I’ve known.’ It was then he let go of her other hand.
‘But I need you,’ Maggie pleaded, tears springing to her eyes. ‘We can still be together. Don’t you want that, Joe?’ Hoping against hope he’d agree and this whole matter be settled, she went on, ‘And what I’ve come to tell you, will change your mind, I know it will.’ Joe viewed her cautiously, and Maggie wondered if he sensed what she was about to say. ‘Something has happened and it’s for that reason – ’
Almost drawn in by her words, Joe visibly shuddered and then stepped out into the sun. ‘Like I say, everything’s changed. Save your affections for someone who’ll return them.’ He began to walk away.
In one desperate attempt, Maggie opened out her heart in the vain hope he’d see reason. ‘I want you, Joe, don’t you understand? I need you! I’m having –’
‘Look,’ he said, irritably, spinning round to face her. ‘I’m sorry, truly I am. If I could turn the clock back, I would.’ His tone then softened and for a moment Maggie thought he was going to surrender to this fight he seemed to be battling with. But, sadly, it was not to be. ‘Stop carrying these feelings I can’t return.’ Dropping his head to his chest, he murmured, ‘I didn’t want to tell you, but – there’s someone else, Maggie – I’m spoken for.’
Lost for words, her jaw dropped in disbelief. ‘What do you mean someone else?’
‘What I said! The wedding plans are all ready in place and in a couple of weeks it’ll be all over and done with.’
Desolation ravishing his face, Joe turned for the last time and walked away.
Stunned, Maggie struck back with harsh words. ‘For someone getting wed, you don’t look too happy about it.’
Through blinding tears, she watched Joe walk away from her. What was she to do now? Her dreams of a life with him now crumbled before her eyes.
‘Some of us don’t have a say in the matter,’ she heard him call out.
‘Forget it,’ he said, waving his words away.
Maggie looked on as the distance widened, his long strides taking him further away from her and out of her life forever. ‘Joe!’
She slipped to the wooden bench. Knowing he’d not be able to hear her now, she choked back a heart-wrenching sob and wept, ‘I’m having your baby.’