‘That’s fine. I’ve actually set it up in my garden instead, but if you’ve eaten or you need to go and talk to them some more, then don’t worry.’
‘Have you really?’ Jessie smiled.
‘Come and see.’
Stepping outside, Jessie grinned. He’d laid the picnic rug on the grass and a curtain of twinkling fairy lights draped from the washing line beyond. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘Sit down and I’ll pour you a drink.’ Opening the picnic basket, he pulled out two glasses and a bottle.
Taking the glass, Jessie watched as Simon pulled scones, jam, cream, and strawberries from the basket. Everything was so perfect. He’d prepared all of this for her.
Pausing, he looked at her. ‘Is everything okay? You’re crying.’
Jessie wiped her eyes with her fingers. She was. ‘It’s just so perfect. I don’t even know why I’m crying. I guess I feel guilty. Kelly was trying to get me to go back home with them.’
‘Really? Why?’ Reaching across, he took her hand.
‘Because she feels lonely. Because she wants to make things up to me. I don’t know.’ Jessie shrugged.
‘And what did you say?’
‘I said that I was here for a few more weeks.’ She couldn’t even picture stepping back into her life back home, not now at least. She was a different person. She’d felt so let down by her family, even if they’d only been trying their best. Here, she felt as though she could be herself. She felt in control, more confident. She may only have been away from home for a short time, away from the town where people knew her as ‘that poor woman whose ex-fiancé got together with her sister’, away from her past, her history, but she was beginning to feel more comfortable with herself, to even like herself again. To feel worthy.
‘Do you think you should go back earlier?’
Looking down at their hands, she watched as Simon traced the pad of his thumb along her wrist. ‘What do you mean?’
Shifting position, Simon pulled his hand away. ‘Do you want to go back and support your sister? You mentioned before that you thought you should.’
‘I...’ Did she? She wanted to stay here, in Penworth Bay, with Simon. She wanted to continue working at Elsie’s bakery for as long as she could, amongst the people she could now call friends.
‘I understand. I really do. I know how important family is. Especially now.’ Looking down, he rubbed the back of his neck.
What was she supposed to say? To do? Kelly had begged her to go back home with them and now Simon was saying he thought she should too. She looked at the scone on her plate. They looked homemade. Had he baked them? ‘You think I should go?’
‘I think you should do what you think is best. For you.’
There it was again. The answer that meant nothing. The answer that told her he wasn’t particularly bothered. She had got this wrong. She’d read it all wrong. Him. What she’d felt between them. She pushed her plate away. Standing up, she paused as she struggled to catch her breath. She’d come here to enjoy the evening with him. She’d come here expecting him to listen, to support her. Instead, she’d discovered how he really felt about her. ‘I need to go.’
‘What? Now? But...’ Scrambling to his feet, Simon took her hand. ‘Are...’
Pulling her hand away, she turned. She could hear him behind her as she ran through his gate. She could hear him calling her name as her feet hit the path leading down the hill. She didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want to hear what he had to say. She’d heard enough. She’d heard him say she should go back with Kelly, with her mum.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, she took the steps down to the beach two at a time. She just needed to be alone for a few minutes. She didn’t need to hear Kelly, her mum or Simon encouraging her to leave. She just wanted to be alone. To listen to her thoughts.
She walked to the water’s edge and kicked her sandals off before stepping in. The cold rushed from her feet to her legs. Standing still, she focused on the chill of the water. She should go home. Penworth Bay had been an amazing escape, but that was all it was, an escape. Whether she went back home now or in a few weeks, she’d still be facing the same reality. All of her problems were only going to be waiting for her the moment she arrived home. Was there any point in waiting?
Jessie began walking along the beach in the bakery's direction. If she worked out her time here, it would only make it more difficult to get used to being back home again. She’d have had longer to get to know everyone in the bakery, in the bay, and that would only make it more difficult to leave. Besides, she’d have to get used to seeing Simon about the bay, Simon, who had wanted her to leave. Simon, who thought she should do the right thing.
Pausing, she dug her toes into the wet sand. The problem was the right thing for other people was the complete opposite to what she needed, what she wanted. Coming here to the bay had opened her mind as to the possibilities that were out there for her. It had taught her shedidhave choices, even though it felt as though she didn’t. She did. By her choosing to go back home, she was choosing to go back to her old life, but if she didn’t, then she was letting her family down. She was letting Kelly down. Could she do that? Kelly needed her. She’d been hurt by Brad too; she’d been duped by his promises of loving her. Jessie couldn’t turn her back on her.
‘Jessie, please, wait.’
Jerking her head around, she watched as Simon ran towards her. Hadn’t he said all he needed to? He’d made it perfectly clear what he wanted, what he thought she should do.
Coming to a stop a few feet from her, Simon interlocked his hands behind his neck and looked at her. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for what I said to come out the way it did. Obviously, I don’t want you to go. There’s nothing more I want than for you to stay here, in Penworth Bay, with me. That’s all I want, but I know how much your sister means to you. I know you’ve both got a lot of things to sort through, and I can’t be the one to hold you back from doing that. I’d never forgive myself.’
She looked at him, fixing his gaze. Did he really mean that? Did he really want her to stay? Or was he just saying that? Was he just letting her down gently? Trying not to hurt her?