Meeting the New Neighbors

The shadows were getting long and it looked like there might be rain in the evening as Truly returned from the day's excursion with Cleggy and Compo. They roamed about, investigated Wesley's latest invention, poked around Auntie Wainwright's store, drank tea at Ivy's café, turned over a few rocks in a field, and lollygagged atop a hill overlooking the town.

Truly pushed open his front gate and then he saw it. His heart sank as he eyed the drooping yellow and red rose dangling from its broken stem. He hurried to the bush and spied a perfect footprint in the rich loam of the flowerbed. Several leaves had broken off and littered the garden.

Mustering his composure, he turned on his heels and marched to his neighbor's house. He firmly rapped on the door and within a few seconds, the porch light flickered on.

Truly's young neighbor opened the door and peered out.

"Yes? May I help you?" she asked inquisitively.

He took a deep breath, accosted by the most tantalizing, delicious aroma of food cooking,"Good evening, Madam. I live next door. My name is Herbert Truelove. I used to be known as Truly of the Yard. Would either of your boys happen to know anything about how my variegated rose came to be broken?"

She looked at him quizzically, "Hmmm? Broken rose, you say? That sounds like their work! Daniel! Donald!" she beckoned.

She was lovely. Auburn hair, blazing green eyes, smallish in stature, and full lips framing beautiful, perfect teeth. He was struck by her; she couldn't be more than thirty years old.

Truly could hear scuttling from within the house as the two boys, ages nine and ten, bounded to the front door. They looked like twins; two skinny, ginger mop-haired, blue eyed, rag tag boys in dungarees and rugby shirts. One appeared to be a little bigger than his brother.

"Yes, Ma'am?" they sang in unison.

"Which one of you yobbos broke Mr. Truelove's rose bush?"

The boys looked down sheepishly.

"There was a footprint in the soil," he accused.

"It was an accident, sir," Donald, the smaller of the two boys, spoke up, "I'm sorry. I kicked the football and it went into your garden. I went to the door and knocked and there was no answer, so I retrieved the ball. I didn't mean to break your plant, sir."

Melanie stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at Daniel, who remained silent, "Well? What was your involvement in this?"

"I-I-I," Daniel stammered, "I kicked the ball to him. I'm sorry as well, Mr. Truelove. It was an accident."

"Apology accepted," he said quietly, smiling. Truly couldn't remain angry at these two. They were enchanting.

"Well, you two will make amends for what you've done. Are there any chores these boys can do for you, Mr. Truelove?"

"Please. Call me 'Truly'," he said, his voice softening, "Well, the roses could use fertilizing and the flower bed could use a good weeding. Tomorrow, with your permission, Ma'am, the boys can ride up to the north pasture to collect manure."

The boys wrinkled their noses and looked disgusted.

"Yes. I think that's fair. And, please, call me Melanie. We're going to live next door to each other, we might as well not have to be so formal. Would you and your wife like to join us for dinner?" Melanie invited, "It's the least we could do for all the trouble we've caused." She did not give her last name.

Truly shifted uncomfortably and shook his head, "I live alone."

"That doesn't mean you have to be alone," she said sympathetically, "Please. We have plenty. It'll be our pleasure. Stay."

The house smelled wonderful, and truth be told, Truly was rather hungry. He didn't want to impose, but it had been years since he'd had a home-cooked meal.

Daniel and Donald began to look at him beseechingly; Mum wouldn't dress them down in front of company.

Truly acquiesced and Melanie held the door open for him. He removed his hat and stepped in. The house was warm and inviting and brightly lit. The table was set and piled with food, as if they were expecting company.

"Donald, please set another plate for Mr. Truelove- er, Mr. Truly," she corrected herself and smiled.

Truly removed his mac.

Daniel held out his hands, "Here, let me take that for you," he offered.

"Thank you."

The dinner was superb and Truly delighted them with stories of his time on the police force. He told the boys about notorious criminals such as: the Shropshire Slasher, the Edinburgh Eviscerator, the Maldon Mangler, and the Stockport Strangler. The names were more likely to belong to professional wrestlers than any villains with whom Truly actually came in contact, but the boys' eyes grew round as saucers as he spoke, embellishing details upon details and always ending with himself as the hero who single-handedly captured the miscreant. He was careful not to put in too many gory descriptions; he didn't want to overload the boys, .

"You're not from Yorkshire, are you" Truly asked, sipping his after-dinner coffee.

"No. I was born in Manchester. Long story short, I married an American and lived in America for several years. Now we're back in England."

"Where is your husband?" he asked.

Melanie's eyes darted from Daniel to Donald furtively. Neither boy said anything and Truly swallowed uncomfortably.

"I beg your pardon. I've touched a nerve; it was rude of me to ask and I'm sorry," Truly apologized.

"We don't talk much about my husband, I'm afraid," she said cautiously.

"Do you still have family in Manchester?"

"Yes, my parents are there; it's not good for us there," she didn't elaborate, "I have an aunt who lives here in Yorkshire."

"Really? Who?" his eyebrows shot up and his interest piqued.

"I only ever called her Auntie Wainwright. She set everything up for us. She's also going to let me work for her," Melanie explained.

"That should be interesting. She's quite a celebrity round here," Truly chuckled.

The clock on the fireplace mantle chimed seven and, laughing to himself, Truly wondered how much Auntie Wainwright charged her niece for that item.

"I must be going, Melanie. Thank you for a wonderful dinner," he said as he stood, "I was planning on a tin of vegetable soup, but this was a much-appreciated treat. I've never had fried chicken! Thank you."

"A little recipe I picked up in the States. A little reminder of home," she said ruefully.

Daniel retrieved Truly's coat as Melanie walked him to the door.

"Here you go, Mr. Truly," Daniel offered.

"Thank you, Daniel."

Truly stepped out into the night air and walked next door to his house, a little more chipper and with a spring in his step, humming a merry little tune.