By Auburn Red
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. They are the proud creations of Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft. I did create the characters of Justin and Emily Leigh and many of the situations presented in this fic. The title is a play on the meaning of Shirley's name "Bright Meadow." If you wish to keep things less confusing, think of this as an alternate universe story in which Miss Brahms left Grace Bros. and Mr. Lucas returned after a temporary leave. (You will see later that the Millstone Manor folks and Mr. Spooner are referred to so they do exist in this series. Their involvement is just played around for a bit for the purpose of my story and to put in the idea of the romance and eventual wedding of Bert Spooner and Mavis Moulterd, two characters who never met in canon but I was just overwhelmed with the possibilities of them being a couple. :D)
Chapter One: Bus Stop
Dick Lucas practically sprinted for the bus jumping on it before he was too late and it rolled away. He pushed past riders, tourists mostly and a few people like him on their way to work or school. He mumbled apologies. "Watch it you," an older woman commanded as he brushed past her knees. "Your knees."
"Sorry, mum," Mr. Lucas said smiling his cheeky grin. "Like 'em?" The woman hummphed. Mr. Lucas shook his head. She reminded him of Mrs. Slocombe, it wasn't funny. He finally managed to sit in an aisle seat and glance out the window and sighed.
His home was quiet, too quiet. He wasn't quite used to having the place to himself yet. He knew of course his mum couldn't live forever. But he thought eventually she would have to be put in a retirement home. Her dizzy spells, absent mindedness, and faculties were getting worse. The financial strain was also becoming rather overpowering. Plus it was a bit disconcerting to bring dates home. His Mum was very understanding about it, but he still felt like an adolescent trying to grab a feel with his Mummy in the next room. In fact he had been considering senior care for awhile before fate intervened and she had her final spell.
He kept telling himself that it was a good thing that he had arrived in time and rang the ambulance so she could go quietly in the hospital for a few days in comfort with her son nearby. If traffic had been too congested, if he had lost his keys, or if he had been delayed a half-second longer, well... he couldn't have lived with himself if she died alone and in pain. That was some comfort at least. She was with his Dad, wherever that was, despite the vicar's reassurances Mr. Lucas never knew for sure. Still he felt the loss weigh on him each time he thought of it. He winced to bury feelings that he didn't want to surface in public.
The bus door opened and a group of passengers had entered. They were the typical motley sort of passengers, kids with backpacks, men with briefcases, a couple of gossips sitting together talking loudly about their husbands when the woman entered. She was hand in hand with a small girl. She muttered a few apologies before she sat in the seats right across from where Mr. Lucas sat.
She looked familiar. Mr. Lucas squinted, could it be? He shook his head, no, impossible. All of the dreaming about her, looking at several women and seeing her face, dating others who always he rejected because they weren't her was finally getting to him. Now he was seeing her in total strangers. It was seven years ago, he chided himself, stop acting like a lovestruck girl! She was dressed in an elegant long dark blue skirt over a white short sleeved shirt with fat blue buttons. Her white hat had a blue brim around it and her hair was tied back in an almost severe ponytail. Mr. Lucas tried to meet her eye and smiled. She smiled at first politely, but her eyes widened in recognition and she paled. First, she glanced out the window as if expecting someone to watch her, but then she glanced forward away from Mr. Lucas as if purposely avoiding his gaze.
The little girl looked straight at Mr. Lucas who smiled and waved. She gave a sort of half-wave. Her hair was the same color as the woman's, and was braided in pigtails. She was dressed in a long blue jumper dress. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Mr. Lucas was about to get the woman's attention when the girl tapped her on the shoulder. "Mom," she asked in a clearly American accent. "Are we going to the London Zoo, you promised," the girl reminded her.
The woman glanced towards her daughter. "Probably later, Em," she said. "We still have time to go before we meet your father." The girl nodded. Mr. Lucas' eyes widened as he listened: The voice was unmistakeably hers! True, the Cockney accent that he teased her about but knew and loved so well was buried under a posher upperclass style mixed in with some American flattened vowels, but it was her.
"Shirley!" he called before he could stop himself. "Miss Brahms!"
Her eyes widened again and her lip quivered but she retained her cool demeanour. She glanced towards her daughter and back to him. "Do I know you sir?" she asked.
"You should," he said. "Mr. Lucas, remember?"
"You know my Mom?" the girl asked warily.
"Emilia Adelaide Margaret Leigh remember your manners," Miss Brahms lectured.
" 'S alright," Mr. Lucas said. "Your mum and I worke-" Miss Brahms shook her head frantically. He glanced at her confused but shrugged. "We went to school together." At her nod, he realized that he was on the right track. "We're old friends. The name's Dick Lucas." He shook the little girl's hand.
"I'm Emily Leigh," she said. "I just had a birthday."
"Really," Mr. Lucas said. "And how old are you? 23? 31? 19?"
"No," Emily drawled at his silliness. "I'm 6."
"Ah well Happy Late Birthday then," Mr. Lucas said.
The bus pulled over near Grace Brothers and Mr. Lucas stepped off. He was half-tempted to stay on, and ride with her just to chat, but he knew Captain Peacock would have his head if he were late. So, he reluctantly got off. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Miss Brahms hesitate and motion her daughter as the two got off the bus and followed him. "Come on, Emily," she said.
"Mr. Lucas wait," she called. Mr. Lucas turned to see her leave the bus and follow him. " It is good to see you again. How have you been? How's everyone?"
Mr. Lucas shrugged. "Same as ever, nothing's changed. The new girl's working out rather well."
"And you fancy her?" Miss Brahms teased.
"Miss Thompson's alright, I guess," Mr. Lucas said. "Short, chatty, wears glasses, likes a good tease every now and again. Though not much."
"Oh," Miss Brahms said rather wistful. "So you two-"
A mischievous grin spread across Mr. Lucas' face. He was half-tempted to make up something about how Miss Thompson was a real goer, a partier, and life was one big discotheque whenever she was around. "Nah, not interested. She's not my type."
"And are you with anyone I mean-"
"Nah no ring on my finger, still a regular ladies' man," he said lavisciously.
Shirley rolled her eyes. "Yeah I'll bet you have 'em all don't you?"
"Nothing just ever worked out with them," he said. "They just weren't you know anything-" They weren't you, he wanted to say.
"And how's your Mother?" Miss Brahms asked.
"She died about a month ago," Mr. Lucas answered.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"She'd been going for quite a while, so it wasn't a complete surprise. But still-"
"-You didn't want it to happen," Miss Brahms added. He nodded. She had lost her own parents in an automobile accident shortly before her marriage. Unlike Mr. Lucas' it wasn't expected, but still no lighter a burden. In fact her confused and lost state from the deaths of her parents was among the reasons why she threw herself into a whirlwind marriage so soon after meeting Justin. Well that and Justin himself. She cleared her throat. "Really it's good seeing you. I haven't seen you since-"
"-Spooner's wedding," Mr. Lucas agreed. Really he didn't know Mr. Spooner that well. He had met him a few times at the Canteen but he seemed like a decent sort and the two had a few laughs and a bit in common. He knew the bride, Mavis Moulterd even less, but she was sweet. No, the only reason that he attended the wedding was just to get a final glimpse of Miss Brahms. She barely spoke to him, since she was there with her then-fiancee, Justin Leigh. She only said a few words and gave him an awkward kiss on the cheek and left his life, at the time he thought for good. But it was enough for him to remember and hold close to him."My God, seven years ago."
Miss Brahms nodded. "Time flies doesn't it?" He invited her to walk with him down the street. She was different than the woman that he knew. True her clothes were posher, her posture was straightened, and there was an artifice about the way she spoke. But there was also something that he could tell was lost in her. She was quieter, subdued. She looked almost sad.
Emily started approaching her mother with a concerned look on her face, but instead she grinned and ran to the ledge of a stairwell and hung off one foot. "Hey Mom look at me," she yelled.
"I see you love," Shirley called. "Get down from there."
"Cute kid," Mr. Lucas said as the girl jumped down and sighed. "Very American."
"She's a handful, but I don't know what I'd do without her," she said. "She makes it worth being-"
"Being what?" Mr. Lucas asked. He wasn't by any means sensitive to pain in others, but there was something lost and upsetting about her.
"Oh nothing," Miss Brahms brushed it off.
"What is it Emilia Adelaide Margaret," Mr. Lucas teased. "That's a mouthful isn't it? Sounds like the name of someone's gran!"
Miss Brahms laughed. "You ai-aren't too far off. Justin is stuck on traditional names, so he named Emily after his mum-Mother and Grandmothers." She smiled. " I always said too long for such a small girl, so when he's not around, I usually call her Emily or Emmy but he 'a-hates that." She said. "Turns out he hates a lot of things."
"Like your accent," Mr. Lucas guessed.
"I haven't used my original accent in years," she sighed, her new manner of speaking being completely emphasized. "It's not proper for his wife to talk like Eliza Doolittle, he said. So when I moved to Long Island, I studied speech lessons to make him happy." What she didn't tell her former friend was that the press and Justin's family and friends were rather unmerciful about the wife of multi-millionaire Justin Leigh calling her "Eliza Doolittle" and "Eva Peron," judging her as a gold-digger, a commoner who slept her way into their inner sanctum. The scrutiny embarrassed her enough and well certainly Justin's criticisms didn't help either and when he became physical about it well-certainly a few elocution lessons with a dialect coach were preferred to the other options.
"I well that is, liked your accent," Mr. Lucas said almost shyly scuffing his toes like a kid and speaking in that nervous tone that he always did.
"You always teased me saying it was common," Miss Brahms objected.
"Yeah well on you it sounded right," he said. "Besides I well I kind of miss hearing it."
She smiled. "And does that extend to why you don't want it known how you know me?" Mr. Lucas asked pointing to Emily who walked ahead of her mother and her mother's friend skipping on some of the steps.
"She doesn't know that her mother used to be a shopgirl and he-I-we want to keep it that way," Miss Brahms said.
"Hence why none of us were invited to the wedding," Mr. Lucas realized. He remembered the grumbles when it happened. Mrs. Slocombe saying that Miss Brahms was getting all uppity and above her station. Mr. Humphries dithering but also wondering exactly what he would have worn if he had been invited. They even mentioned the fact that even though Mr. Spooner had gone on to become rich and famous as a pop singer, he never forgot where he came from and invited everyone. (Of course since Mavis was also their friend, it was to be expected).
"Justin wouldn't like it if I mentioned too much about my past," she said sounding bitter. "He always said that he saved me from that drudge and made me respectable as though I were a tart or something." She cleared her throat. "I sound like I'm complaining don't I? We have a large mansion on Long Island, summer home in the Hamptons, we are constantly seen. I have a handsome wealthy husband, a lovely daughter, designer clothes. It's like I always hoped, it's Dynasty. I'm happy. Really happy."
"You have to say it like that, I almost believe you," Mr. Lucas said dryly.
Miss Brahms was about to say something more when she looked at her watch. "Damn," she said. "I have to go. Emily come on if you want to go to the Zoo, we'd better get moving."
Emily ran towards her mother. "Okay, Mom," she said.
"If you hurry, I'll get you a stuffed animal," she said.
"Yes," the little girl said excited. "Can it be a lion?"
"We'll see what they have," she said. Miss Brahms shook her head. "She's mad for cats." She said almost apologetically.
Miss Brahms turned to Mr. Lucas. "It was nice seeing you again." She gently pushed on her daughter's hand wordlessly reminding her of her manners.
"It was nice meeting you Mr. Lucas," Emily said with a curtsy.
Mr. Lucas laughed and bowed. "Well it was nice meeting you too, Emily."
Miss Brahms grinned at the two and was about to turn away. "Mrs. Leigh," Mr. Lucas called.
She turned back. "Would you care to meet an old friend for a few drinks?"
"I don't know," Shirley hesitated. "Her father's coming in tomorrow, we are supposed to meet him. This is the only day that we were- and I was going to show her around town."
"Hey, I will be a gentleman," he said. "We can even bring a chaperone if you like." He nodded at Emily." I hear Bambi's in town with The Satisfied Virgin and I've seen The Satisfied Virgin." He winked at the memory.
Miss Brahms bristled. "What's a satisfied virgin, Mom?" Emily asked.
Shirley rolled her eyes. "Thanks a lot," she said to him sarcastically. "Alright, we'll meet you in front of Grace Brothers if you like after work tonight."
"Good," he said. "I'll see you ladies later." He waved at them both as he turned to head to the department store.
"He's nice Mom, I like him," Emily said.
Shirley Leigh, nee Brahms, turned sadly to her daughter. "Emily I don't want you telling your father about meeting him alright? He would be very mad." She self-consciously put a hand on her braceleted wrist to cover the bruise that still remained. Her wrists were still swollen and the marks were still a faint, but ugly black and blue but still she got off easy this time. At least he didn't hurt Emily, then.
Emily Leigh nodded. She was familiar with her father's temper. "Okay, Mama," she said.
"That's a good girl," she said giving her daughter a large hug."Now come on, there are some animals that are waiting for us."
Mr. Lucas entered the Men's Wear department and signed his name to the book. He hoped that if he turned invisible that Captain Peacock wouldn't see him. "Mr. Lucas," the domineering voice said. Mr. Lucas shook his head remembering that he wasn't a superhero with invisibility powers. "I assume you have a clever excuse for why you were late this morning." The middle-aged mustachioed floorwalker readied himself for another of his subordinate's legendary stories.
Mr. Lucas was so flustered from seeing Shirley Brahms again that he couldn't think straight. "I'm sorry Captain Peacock, it won't happen again," he said.
"Very well, return to your station," Peacock said sounding just as surprised as Mr. Lucas felt that he didn't make something up.
Mr. Lucas greeted Mr. Humphries at the desk. The silver haired sales associate glanced at his friend. "Just 'I'm sorry' What no Soviets chasing after you? No terrorist threat to destroy the free world. No caught in a crossfire with only Rambo to rescue you?" Mr. Humphries shuddered seductively about the possibility of Rambo coming to the rescue.
"Just not in top form today, I suppose," Mr. Lucas shrugged and helped ready the desk to serve the customers for the day.