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Chapter Eleven

‘Are they your brother’schildren?’

‘Yes.’ He grinned as he watched them leave before turning and taking his chip cone. ‘Thanks.’

‘Aw, they’re really cute.’

‘They are, and they know they are. They have me twisted around their little fingers.’ He laughed. ‘I wouldn’t change it, though. I spent a lot of time with them after my brother passed away. You know, helping Selina back on her feet. It’s been a tough few years, made a little easier by those guys. Gavin seems a good bloke too. I think my brother would approve.’

Smiling, Jessie nodded. She couldn’t even imagine what he must have gone through.

‘Do you fancy walking along the pier? You can see Penworth Bay from the end.’ He pointed towards the entrance to the pier,.

‘Can you really? My sense of direction is awful and I wouldn’t even have a clue what direction to look in.’ Jessie laughed as they stepped onto the wooden floor; numerous coin-operated rides from the classic train to a kangaroo lined the first few metres of the pier

‘I’m sure you’re not that bad.’ Looking across at her, he grinned.

‘Oh, I am. Honestly. Before I had a SatNav, I had all these hand-drawn maps stuck in my glovebox of places I regularly used to go. Even now, with my SatNav, I still get lost. She laughed. The further along the pier they walked, the more spaced out the stalls became until it was just the two of them, the ornate metal railings and the vast ocean. A couple walked past them, heading back towards the fairground rides. Apart from them, the pier was empty, everyone else being lured by the bright lights and loud music behind them.

‘Here we go. I hoped it would still be here.’ Walking towards the end of the pier, Simon grinned and, resting his hand on the bright yellow telescope, rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a coin.

‘You can see Penworth Bay through that?’ Standing next to him, Jessie placed her hands on the ornate metal railing surrounding the pier and looked across the ocean. If she squinted, she could just make out a coastline to the left of them. ‘Is that it over there?’

‘It sure is. Do you want to see?’ Placing the coin in the slot, he indicated the telescope.

‘Thanks.’ Bending down, she looked through the small eyepiece and, sure enough, she could make out Penworth Bay. Following the unmistakable red and white stripes of the lighthouse, she focused in on the bay, the row of shops and the bakery, all miniature in the distance. ‘Is that a smaller bay next to it?’

‘That’ll be the cove. It’s lovely there. A really peaceful spot. Not many tourists know about it. They assume the cliffs hugging the bay continue.’

‘You’ve been?’ Straightening her back, she stepped away, letting Simon look.

‘Yep. It was a favourite spot of mine and my brother’s growing up.’

‘You grew up in Penworth Bay?’

‘I sure did.’ Standing back up, he looked at her. ‘I loved it for the most part.’

‘What do you mean, for the most part?’

Looking down, he rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Everyone knows everyone else and everyone knows everyone else’s business.’

‘Isn’t that a good thing? I didn’t even know my neighbours growing up. It was everyone for themselves. I’ve always imagined it would be lovely living somewhere you could pop round to your neighbour’s house for a cuppa or even just to chat while putting the bins out.’ She laughed.

‘It would have been. And it certainly is now, but I was a bit of a wayward teenager. I’m pretty certain I brought embarrassment to my parents’ doorstep on more than one occasion, but, saying that living in Penworth Bay had a massive positive impact on me. I dread to think the path my life would have taken if I’d lived anywhere else.’

‘You were a wayward teenager? But you’re a police officer.’ Jessie frowned.

‘Ha-ha yes, and that’s definitely thanks to living in the bay, or more accurately having a police officer living a few doors away from me. He picked me up once after I’d been getting into trouble with the group of kids I hung around with and he made me realise my so-called mates didn’t have my best interests at heart. He became a bit of a mentor figure in my life and steered me in the right direction.’

‘Wow, I hadn’t been expecting that!’

Laughing, Simon leaned against the railings and crossed his arm. ‘Don’t look at me like that. I wasn’t robbing banks or anything. It was all low-key, vandalising, things like that.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s no excuse, but I fell into the wrong group at secondary school. Thankfully, because of the close-knit community of the bay, I had people looking out for me and had the support and guidance to move away from that group before I got myself into serious trouble. So, yes, living in a place like the bay has its benefits even if I didn’t appreciate it when I was younger.’

‘Well, I’m glad you had that support.’ Holding the rail, she looked out across the ocean in the general direction of Penworth Bay. How could such a small place have had such a positive impact on so many? Wendy had told her all about the numerous volunteers that had decided to stay and make the bay their home—Daisy, Molly, Freya, Heidi, Brooke—she was sure there had been others. And Wendy herself too. And Diane. And Teresa. All of these people who, for whatever reason, had been just like herself, turning up at the bakery, needing an escape from their lives back home, and they’d stayed. She rolled her shoulders back, relaxing as she took a deep breath of air, the comforting salty aroma of the ocean filling her lungs. And now Simon, who had grown up in the bay, was telling her how much an impact the local residents and close-knit nature of the small community had had upon his life. What was it about that place?

‘Have I made you feel uncomfortable?’

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