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A Week in Winter (Chapter Twenty-Five)

'You'd let me blunder on? Even if it's something avoidable, you'd be afraid to tell me?'

'But I myself don't want to accept that I have them. If I don't tell anyone, then I don't have to face it. I never know when they're going to come, that's what's so unnerving.'

Chicky listened to Freda and shook her head. She had more to say, but there was a commotion in the kitchen; Rigger had just arrived with the vegetables for tonight's dinner and she had work to do. She patted Freda on the arm and left her with Gloria, who had decided that the fringe on the fireside rug was in need of serious chastisement.

The next night, the entire table gave a cheer when Henry and Nicola announced that they would be staying on as doctors in the town. Freda was happy to be part of such a cheerful group, and she went to bed feeling relaxed and content.

There had been something of a fuss earlier on when Miss Howe had suddenly decided to leave. Rigger had been called to drive her to the station, and she had gone without a word to the other guests. There had been something very sad about the droop of her shoulders as she got into the van. It was all a bit unsettling.

All the same, the holiday was turning out to be a great success, each day bringing something new: wild scenery, the trip into town for music with Anders, good food and conversation at night and always at least eight hours' sleep. Freda felt stronger and better every day.

And it was on the last day of her holiday that, just before dinner, Chicky beckoned Freda into the kitchen.

'I wanted to talk to you because I've worked out what you should do about, you know, your problem.'

'You have?'

'I think you should change your tactic,' said Chicky as she laid the table for dinner. 'You say you are afraid that people will know you have this power, so you have been keeping it all a secret.'

'I don't want to admit to anyone, even myself, that what I say might come true.'

'This is the problem, Freda. I think you should tell everyone you meet that you are a psychic, say you can see the future and know what's going to happen. Offer to read their palms, tea leaves, cards. Then it's all out in the open.'

'And how would that help?'

'It would take the magic out of it, the secrecy, the power. People might think you are flaky but it sort of devalues the whole thing. That's what you want, isn't it?'

'Yes, it is, in a way.'

'Then this is the way. This devalues it. This way, nobody will think it's serious, no matter what you see or what you say.'

'You want me to tell people that I have second sight?'

'Call it what you like. Tell them any kind of vague, hopeful things about the future to cheer them up  –  that's all people really want from their horoscope, anyway. It will tame it for you, make it harmless. The way I look at it is that you are full of guilt over these visions. You have to try to make them insignificant. They were just thoughts, like anyone has thoughts, that's all.'

Freda stood there in the kitchen of Stone House and felt everything shift slightly. There was a huge sense of relief as well as the sense of loss. She always thought that Mark had loved her. But why should she have believed this when there was absolutely no evidence that she had been anything except a pleasant distraction? It was both liberating and sad.

'I'll tell them over dinner,' she said. 'I'll tell them all that this is what I do.'

'Let's see how you get on,' said Chicky. 'That's it, Freda. You go and knock them out.'

As Chicky Starr's guests sat down for the last dinner of their winter week together, Freda heard herself telling this group of strangers that she was a psychic. They murmured their response with varying degrees of interest.

John, the American, said that many of his friends in the States consulted psychics regularly; the two doctors looked less enthusiastic but curious all the same. Winnie said cheerfully that she would love to book a session with her, while Lillian said it was a pity that so many so-called psychics, present company excepted of course, were charlatans. Anders said that they had a client in his father's accountancy firm who wouldn't make a single investment without consulting astrologers.

It proved to be just an easy conversational topic. So much more open to discussion than when she had said she was a librarian. The feeling of dread began to recede.

The evening was becoming very animated. The guests were still busy with the competition to set up a great Irish festival, and then someone asked Freda if she would tell their fortune. She looked around her wildly. This had not been part of the plan. Chicky Starr came to her rescue.

'Perhaps Freda might have come on a holiday to escape from her work. We shouldn't impose on her.'

They all looked disappointed; then Freda remembered Chicky saying that all people wanted from psychics was vague good news and promises about the future. She looked around the group. It would be harmless and even easy to tell them that life ahead looked good.

She held their hands and saw all kinds of good things: success and challenges and peace and long relationships.

For Winnie, she saw a wedding in the near future and great happiness in store. Lillian would meet someone at the wedding, possibly for love but certainly for friendship. Lillian's face was pink with pleasure.

So far, so good.

In Henry's hands she saw a new beginning, a happy life.

In Nicola's there was a child. Really, Nicola wondered. A child? Definitely, Freda was certain. And then, suddenly, Freda found herself saying, 'You're pregnant now. A little girl. I can see her. She's lovely!' She could see the little girl wrapping her arms around Nicola's neck. And when she saw the tension disappear from Nicola's forehead and the huge smile break out over her face, Freda realised for the first time that she could bring real joy to people's lives.

For John, or Corry, as they knew him, she foretold a whole change of direction, different kind of work and a different place to live. A much less complicated lifestyle, and a grandchild who would be part of his life. She was moved when she saw tears spring to his eyes.

Anders had a great love in his life; he must go home and ask her to marry him very soon. Only then would he be successful in his business.

For The Walls, she saw a cruise. Somewhere warm; she could see sunshine on the water.

She turned to Chicky Starr last. Freda took her hand and concentrated. Nothing. She paused, and then said hesitantly that Stone House would be a great success and that there would be a man, perhaps someone she had already met.

And then Freda knew. There had been no accident. There had been no wedding. But it didn't matter; Chicky was going to be fine. She smiled. It was all going to be fine.

They were delighted with her. It seemed to end the week well for everyone.

Names, phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged. A toast was proposed to Chicky, to Rigger and his family, to Orla and to Stone House.

They all signed the visitors' book with warm messages. The timetable for the next day was arranged. For those going home by train, Rigger and Chicky would provide a taxi service to the station. Carmel had made a small pot of Stone House marmalade for each guest.

And that night, Freda stroked a gently purring Gloria as she stood at her window looking at the patterns the clouds made going across the moon. She would call Lane and Eva as soon as she got back. Time for dinner at Ennio's. They had a lot of catching-up to do.

It was a scramble in the morning to see everyone off on time. Chicky Starr finally waved goodbye to each of her guests, but she saved a special hug for Freda, who now looked so much happier than when she had arrived.

It was time to get ready for the new guests, who would arrive in just a few hours. Carmel had come in to help clean the rooms, change the bedding and get everything ready for the new intake. Chicky would make a casserole that would cook slowly and be ready whenever they needed it. There would be freshly baked bread, and chocolate mousse for dessert.

Chicky knew she would miss the people who had made her first week at Stone House such a success, but she was looking forward to greeting the newcomers with all their new challenges and demands. She took a deep breath of sea air. She was ready for them.

Gloria wound herself around Chicky's feet. Chicky picked her up and scratched her ears. Then the two of them went back into Stone House.

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