by Lynne Roberts
Copyright 2014 Lynne Roberts
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‘This is the worst holiday I have ever had,’ muttered Toby, as he kicked savagely at a clump of grass. Toby usually enjoyed school holidays and had been looking forward to this one all year. His whole family were going to walk the Milford track and camp out in huts, then he and his brother were going to the Scout Jamboree while his parents went to a business conference in Australia. Toby had already chosen the events he intended to do at the Jamboree. Weeks of pleading and saving of pocket money had resulted in him being allowed to enrol in the abseiling course, kayaking and water skiing. It was going to be the best holiday ever, then he had to go and get sick.
‘Glandular fever,’ the doctor had announced. ‘Plenty of rest and nothing too strenuous and you’ll be a box of birds again in a month or so.’
It was appalling. Toby had moped through the last week of the term. While his classmates were going on end of year picnics and outings he had been at home in bed. Even Christmas hadn’t been all that great as he was still feeling weak and wobbly and inclined to headaches while everyone else was disgustingly cheerful. The worst part, the very worst part, was that his parents and brother Jack were still going on their holiday and Jack had taken a friend along as well.
‘We couldn’t get our money back if we cancelled,’ explained his mother apologetically. ‘And it really wouldn’t be fair for all of us to stay at home because you were sick.’
Toby knew this was only reasonable but he scowled and sulked as his brother said he would bring back souvenirs from the Jamboree. Toby knew he couldn’t do all the Scout things as he still felt very washed out and his energy seemed to have gone completely. He asked his parents hopefully if he could go over to Australia with them. His father gave him a sympathetic smile but said, ‘I’m afraid not, son.’
‘Why not?’ Toby had demanded. ‘Why can’t I come too?’
His mother had patiently explained that she would be busy every day, as the conference had organised events for wives and partners.
‘You know you would hate going on bus trips to gardens and historic buildings,’ Mrs Rattray had pointed out. She had then gone ahead and arranged for Toby to spend the rest of the holidays with his aunt and uncle and their daughter Rachel who lived in the country. Toby was furious when he discovered this.
‘It will be so boring,’ he wailed.
‘It might be a lot of fun,’ his father pointed out. ‘You always said you wished we lived on a farm.’
‘But they don’t live on a farm. They just live next to one. You can’t call a piddly little orchard a farm. Anyway, Uncle Neville doesn’t even work on it, apart from weekends. He works in an office in the town.’
‘You’ll be able to play with Rachel,’ said his mother hopefully, but Toby had replied with a very rude word, which had him sent to bed early with no dessert. Nothing he could do would change his parents’ minds. They refused to let him stay at home alone and even his best friend let him down by inconsiderately going on holiday himself to cousins in Whangarei for four weeks.
Aunt Phoebe had made Toby very welcome, and at least he had a room of his own, but Toby very soon became bored. Rachel was no fun to play with. She would far rather read a book than kick a ball around or do anything even slightly interesting. She was perfectly polite whenever Toby spoke to her, which was as little as possible, but gave the impression she couldn’t wait until he went away so she could go on with reading her book.
‘Rachel is boring, boring, boring,’ muttered Toby hacking at another lump of grass. ‘She’s just a spoiled only child.’ He knew even as he spoke that this was hardly fair. Rachel may have been an only child but she certainly wasn’t spoiled. Her parents hardly fussed over her at all and Rachel herself was quiet and shy.
Toby had been installed in the guest bedroom, which was clean and tidy and completely uninteresting. The bed was hard and unfriendly, not like his one where the mattress had familiar lumps and hollows just right for curling up in. Aunt Phoebe insisted that Toby have a rest each afternoon which meant lying on the concrete hard bed in the boring room looking at boring cream walls and even more boring blue curtains and thinking boring thoughts. Even his head wasn’t working properly. Instead of planning how to murder his entire family, starting with Jack, sixteen different ways, he couldn’t be bothered thinking of any. Sometimes, to his shame, he found he fell asleep and staggered out a few hours later feeling as if his mouth was stuffed with sawdust. Aunt Phoebe was obviously determined to see that he had plenty of rest but Toby was getting frantic with the sheer monotony of it all.
Each dreary day was the same. Aunt Phoebe would ask what the children were going to do. Rachel would say, ‘read my book’, and Toby would say, ‘I don’t know, just muck around, I guess.’ He had explored the orchard, which took all of ten minutes, and found nothing interesting there. A few dozen citrus trees and the fruit wasn’t even ripe! The dairy farm next door looked more promising but the cows were grazing on the far side and the flat paddocks were damp and uninviting. Aunt Phoebe had a small garden which consisted of a few flowering shrubs, most of which were currently losing their leaves, and a shallow weed-choked fishpond with a small bridge crossing it. Toby considered digging into the pond to see if there were any fish there, but after pulling a handful of slimy mud encrusted weed onto the side he changed his mind. The smell was appalling and Aunt Phoebe had hastily requested him not to touch it.
‘I’m thinking of getting your Uncle to fill it in. There haven’t been any fish there for quite a while and its beginning to attract mosquitoes.’
Toby offered to mow the lawns, as he had seen a large ride-on mower in the shed and he fancied himself riding it. Uncle Neville had turned this down.
‘The grass isn’t growing very quickly at this time of year and I like to do it myself, and check the trees and crop at the same time. Why don’t you run along and play with Rachel?’
Even the weather was against him. Summer should have well and truly arrived by now but it looked as if it had decided to give this year a miss. Wet dismal day followed wet dismal day until Toby was ready to scream. He was feeling particularly cross. The previous evening he had taken a turn at washing the tea dishes and broken a plate. Rachel, who had been drying the dishes, went pale and gasped.
‘What’s the matter? It’s only a plate. I didn’t do it on purpose.’
‘But it’s part of a set. Mum loves these plates. They’re called Willow Pattern.’
‘I’ll buy another one to replace it,’ offered Toby.
‘You can’t. They don’t make them anymore. I know, because Mum tried to get more of them a couple of months ago.’
Aunt Phoebe had said, ‘never mind, it doesn’t matter,’ but Toby could see by the expression on her face that it really did matter. He was starting to kick at another clump of grass, and was creating quite a bare patch in the corner of the back yard, when Rachel came out.
‘Mum and I are going to the shops. Do you want to come?’ she asked ungraciously.
‘Yes, I will,’ decided Toby. Anything would be more interesting than hanging around here.
‘Is there a movie theatre?’ he asked hopefully, as he and Rachel climbed into the car.
Aunt Phoebe laughed. ‘Oh dear me, no. This is a little village really. Just a service station and a food market and post office. There are a few craft shops as well for passing tourists.’
Toby’s excitement dimmed. ‘Maybe I can buy a few comics,’ he thought.
Aunt Phoebe disappeared into the food market to buy her weekly groceries while Toby and Rachel wandered around the few shops. A second hand shop looked interesting but when Toby went in he saw a large closing down notice. A few pieces of battered furniture were piled in a corner and cardboard cartons, containing what looked like old bits of car engine and a few kitchen utensils, were stacked by the counter.
‘Two dollars a box mate,’ called a middle aged shopkeeper cheerfully as he dismantled and stacked a shelving unit at one side of the shop.
‘I’m just looking,’ said Toby hastily, then a gleam of china caught his eye. ‘Hey Rachel, isn’t that the same plate as your Mums?’
Rachel looked up from the floor where she had been inspecting an old moth-eaten rug.
‘Here in this box.’
‘Yes that’s it. Look, there’s more of it here.’
She began to unpack the box, looking more excited than Toby had ever seen her.
‘Hey, none of that’, called the shopkeeper. ‘I told you. Two dollars a box. You can’t pick bits out of it.’
‘We’ll take the whole box then,’ said Toby, and paid his money promptly before picking up the box.
‘Wow, its heavy. Can you take one end of it?’
Rachel silently took the other end of the carton and together they carried it to the car. Aunt Phoebe was taken aback.
‘What on earth do you want with that box of rubbish?’ she asked.
‘It’s got a Willow Pattern plate in it, Mum. It matches our set,’ explained Rachel. Her mother was delighted but at that minute the rain, which had been drizzling softly all morning, began to fall in earnest
‘Quick, into the car. Well look at it properly when we get home.’
Jigsaw by Lynne Roberts / Fantasy have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on36 votes