Delia squeezed the brakes on her bike handles and came to a rather squeaky stop in front of the underground station. She made a mental note to look at that later as she dismounted and walked the bike to nearby bench, perched in front of a brownstone Victorian era townhome that looked a picture, the homes practically carbon copies of one another all the way to the end of the city block.
She sat down on the bench and checked the time on her phone, noting that she did not see any weary travelers with bags and suitcases standing around waiting for someone, thankfully. She realized with a breath of relief that she was not late.
Delia put her phone away, making herself comfortable as she could despite now being in the shade of a tree in that summer heat. She wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, hoping she didn't look too much of a mess after biking here from the park.
She dug through her rucksack and pulled out .a well worn paperback book, opening to the last page she earmarked.
Delia did her best to focus on her reading as she waited, but soon felt there were too many distractions. The odd midday jogger trotted by, a stay at home mother's walking along with their children in their prams as they made their way to the park, the odd car honked and sped down the narrow street. Bugs occasionally flew by her head and Delia swatted at them, annoyed.
She could hear the familiar screech of brakes echoing from within the underground station, soon followed by waves of travelers emerging from the stairwell. Delia couldn't help but look closely in those moments to see if the person she was waiting for would appear. Then again, Delia wasn’t sure she knew what to look for other than someone carrying luggage, and even then, several people fitting that description had walked on by without even so much a glance in her direction.
After several moments of attempting to read, only managing to scan the same sentence over and over again, she gave up and closed her book, tossing it back into her bag.
Admittedly, Delia was feeling a little anxious. She had agreed to something that was very much unlike her and it led her to let a stranger stay in her home as a favor to her friend Trixie. Of course, she had only said yes under this special circumstance, as Trixie's best friend in the whole world, Barbara, had tragically succumbed to her illness and passed away several days ago. Trixie was hosting Barbara’s sister and father, both coming in from New Guinea from their religious mission, and the woman simply did not have the space to host their other close friend who was currently residing in Singapore for work.
Patsy Mount, Delia had learned, had worked with Trixie and Barbara at Nonnatus clinic together for several years and they were thick as thieves. Besides being one of the best nurses Trixie ever had the pleasure of working alongside, this Patsy was an avid card player and record collector. That was about the extent of what Trixie was able to disclose before she became too overcome with emotion thinking about the three of them in their heyday and succumbing to tears again at the fond memories.
Delia watched as another group of passengers walked by and she began to wonder if she had come to the right station.
The day before she had sat with Trixie while she called Patsy on Whatsapp, the woman already at the airport in Singapore and waiting for her flight to board. The call allowed for Trixie to make introductions and for the three of them to make arrangements for when she arrived in London. She began to wish she had the wherewithal in the moment to ask for Patsy’s phone number to get in touch.
Trixie had said Patsy would be meeting her here at the station closest to her flat, but what if Patsy had gotten lost? What if her flight had been late? What if she had come early and Delia missed her?
Delia grew even more annoyed. The rational part of her knew that Trixie was in no state to cater to anyone's needs but her own at the moment while she practically organized a funeral herself, but she had wished Trixie had given her a bit more to go on with this Patsy person. What did she even look like anyway?
Delia whirled her head around at her name being tentatively asked. Her eyes landed on a woman who looked right back at her curiously. She looked tired, Delia noted, which of course anyone would after a long flight like hers had been. She had a duffel bag slung around her body and a garment bag hitched over her shoulder. Her red hair was pulled back and hung in loose tendrils around her ears and neck. The summer heat looked to be getting to her too, as Delia noticed the sweat on her brow had her fringe sticking to the sides of her forehead.
She was also tall, with long arms and legs and the most brilliant green eyes Delia had ever seen. The sight of the woman made her heart skip a beat.
‘Patsy?’ Delia asked, rising from her seat at once.
‘Yes,’ Patsy smiled brilliantly and give a sigh of relief, ‘Hi,’
Delia beamed, ‘Hi,’
The two brought their hands together for a friendly shake.
‘It’s wonderful to meet you in person, Delia.’
‘You too,’ Delia replied, finding the woman's smile rather addictive as she grinned right back at her, ‘really nice to put a face to the voice.’
‘Likewise,’ Patsy said before letting go.
The two pulled away and merely looked at one another, smiling. Delia was so drawn in by Patsy’s eyes that she barely realized that she had been standing there silently staring at the woman for god knows how long with a goofy grin on her face. She was about to start blathering about the first thing that came to her mind to break the silence, but to her relief, Patsy did that for her.
‘I hope you can forgive my poor state,’ Patsy said as she brought the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her brow, ‘All the heat and humidity in the city seem to be trapped in the underground.’
‘No worries, here,’ Delia opened her rucksack and shuffled around, extracting an unopened bottle of water and holding it out for Patsy to take.
‘That’s very kind of you, thank you,’ Patsy said, looking genuinely grateful as she hoisted the duffel bag over her shoulder for a better grip.
Delia remembered that the woman was here for he funeral of her dear friend and she was exhausted from traveling all day. She jumped into action and went into hospitality overload.
‘Here, I can take your bags for you,’ she said, reaching out for the bags in Patsy’s hand before the woman had a chance to protest. The duffel bag was placed on the carrier and held down with a bungee cord. Delia took Patsy’s garment bag and hooked it onto the carrier, and it hung without touching the ground so long as the bike was upright.
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ Patsy feebly protested.
‘Already done,’ Delia shrugged, taking hold of the bike handles, ‘come on then, only one more street to go and you can have a nice long soak in the tub,’ she smiled as the two of them began to walk side by side with the bicycle in between them.
‘Mmm,’ Patsy hummed affirmatively as she gulped down her water, ‘Delia, you have no idea how wonderful that sounds.’
‘I imagine you’re tired and hungry as well?’ Delia offered, looking up at the woman for validation.
‘Famished,’ Patsy replied simply, ‘though I think I’m alright in regards to sleep. Managed to get a few hours in on the last leg from Croatia to here.’
‘Trixie is coming over a little later for a bit of super if you’re up for it,’ Delia replied, ‘thought I’d make just a little something simple, but I can whip you up something now to hold you over until then?’
‘That sounds wonderful, but I don’t want to put you out,’ Patsy insisted, ‘I already feel like I’m imposing for staying with you on such short notice.’
‘Nonsense,’ Delia smiled back at her, ‘I don’t really mind it at all. Besides, you being here under these circumstances… I just want to do what I can to make your stay as pleasant as possible.’
Patsy smiled sadly back at Delia, who shyly looked away as the two of them walked on.
‘How is Trixie?’ Patsy asked tentatively.
‘An absolute wreck,’ Delia said honestly.
Patsy sighed sadly, ‘Makes sense. Those two were so close. Like sisters.’
‘You were close with them, too, right?’
‘Well sure, but they were best friends. Always tied at the hip and sharing everything with one another. I was their friend, too, but most the time I felt like a third wheel when we were together.’
Delia nodded, thinking that things hadn’t changed in the time Patsy had left, it seemed. When Delia arrived at Nonnatus she had been welcomed into their little group of friends but there was no room to edge in between those two when it came to friendly affections.
‘I’ll have to ask Trixie about the others. See how everyone is holding up. Phyllis especially,’ Patsy mused to herself.
‘Phyllis?’ Delia asked, ‘Phyllis is understandably upset but she’s handling it well. On the outside anyway, could have sworn I heard her crying in the stairwell the other day between shifts. Would have gone out there and said something but I didn't know if she would have wanted that…’ Delia trailed off, feeling shy.
‘You know Phyllis?’ Patsy asked, her eyes wide and disbelieving.
‘Of course I do,’ Delia replied, giving Patsy a rather curious look, ‘she’s my supervisor at Nonnatus.’
‘You’re a nurse there?’ Patsy asked, again, surprised.
‘I see Trixie was as sparse on my details as she was with yours,’ Delia quipped, ‘but yes, I am a nurse and midwife at Nonnatus clinic. I was hired about a year ago to replace you , actually, if I recall correctly.’
Patsy smacked her forehead, ‘Gosh, I’m so sorry. Of course you work at the clinic,’ she said apologetically, ‘I had it in my head that you were a friend of Trixie’s she met through her aerobics class or something.’
Delia smiled a she came to a stop in front of another brownstone row home with a red door, ‘Patsy, that’s alright. Why don’t we get you settled in and we can have a chat over a cuppa?’
‘Sounds grand,’ Patsy said, letting out a rather relieved sigh.
Delia handed Patsy her garment bag and hitched her duffel bag over her shoulder, batting away Patsy’s hands playfully when she tried to take it for herself. She lifted her bicycle with her other hand and led Patsy inside and up the stairs to the second floor where she opened the door to her flat.
It was a simple space. A small but useful kitchen immediately to their left, a lounge area with a dining table just beyond that. There was a grey sofa and a coffee table with a laptop, a modest television perched on another table against the wall. A glass sliding door led out to a balcony, and curtains were pulled back to let in the natural light which filled the room and gave it a warm glow. The space was decorated with pictures of family and trips taken near and far, some hanging plants and a vase of flowers on the coffee table Delia picked up special for this occasion, thinking her flat could use a little colour.
‘Charming place you have here, Delia,’ Patsy offered kindly, taking in the view.
Delia smiled over at Patsy as she leaned her bike against the wall.
‘You’ll be in here, if you don’t mind a pull out sofa bed,’ Delia said as she walked into her lounge and placed Patsy’s bag on the coffee table.
‘Not at all. I’ll be alright.’
There was another moment of silence between the two where neither quite knew what to do with themselves.
Delia ran her fingers through her hair, feeling the sweat that accumulated under her brow and made to turn on the standing fan that was in the corner. The cool breeze relieved her nerves in an instant. She decided to get busy and went into hospitality mode again.
‘Patsy, why don’t you go ahead and take that bath?’ she offered, walking past Patsy and opening another door that was by the coat closet, revealing a small, but functional bathroom, ‘fresh towels are on the sink. Feel free to take your time. I’ll put the water on and have tea waiting for you when you come out.’
‘That all sounds heavenly,’ Patsy practically gushed, and Delia felt rather proud of herself that she seemed to be doing a great job at making a first impression.
‘I’ll just be in in the kitchen prepping things for supper so just give a shout if you need anything.’
Patsy gave her a grateful smile as she collected her bag and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving a rather flustered Delia not knowing what else to do but start chopping herbs and vegetables.