Mari's been a widow since the tragic death of her husband several years earlier. Since then, she has thrown herself into her life as a single mom, raising her two sons, Steven and David, and working a full time job. Now that her two sons are in college, it is time for Mari to figure out who she is. At the urging of her family, to "get away", Mari sets out on a quest to connect with her grandfather's homeland and family in Wales. She never expected to find Relative Love along the way.
It was never planned. It surprised them both. Was it the look, the touch, a remembered dream?
Mari had seen this man before in a dream months ago, curly chestnut colored hair, reddish beard, laughing blue eyes. Now dream and reality blurred. The face seemed so familiar.
Richard stood ahead of a very attractive woman in the coffee line. Their eyes met. He caught her watching him as he looked for a vacant table and she’d nearly spilled hot coffee over her hand. He watched as she chose a table quite near his. He could see that she was watching him. He thought she was very attractive, with that crown of ash blond hair, a curvaceous body and a great pair of legs.
Mari was extremely tired from her long bus ride. Beautiful country scenes, mixed with a myriad of emotions, played through her mind as she sat drinking coffee. This was a “love” pilgrimage. Her destination was still miles away. Mari had gotten off the bus here, at Knutsford Plaza, to meet a cousin, but she did not know what he looked like or if he’d even arrived. All Mari knew was a name, Richard Jones. She sipped the coffee, anxiously watching the entrance to the Knutsford Plaza Happy Chef that was situated in the medium of the M6 highway.
She picked up her purse, searching for the notes she’d made from Richard’s letter of a few weeks ago. Perhaps she was late and had missed him, or worse, maybe this wasn’t the right plaza. Mari frantically dumped out the contents of her purse onto the table. With wallet, compact, makeup bag, traveler’s checks and comb littering the tabletop, she had quite a mess. Mari mumbled to herself and cursed the stupidity at not putting the piece of paper where it would be safe, like in her bra.
Richard watched the stranger’s dilemma trying to decide if this could possibly be the woman his mother, Margaret, had sent him to meet. He checked a note pad he carried tucked in the breast pocket of his tweed jacket. It couldn’t be! She was beautiful. When their eyes met at the coffee counter, there was something, something so familiar. Richard smiled to himself as he saw the mound of women’s paraphernalia get larger. He heard an occasional muffled oath. He hoped that Mari, the woman he was to meet, was as pleasant to look at as this woman he’d been ogling. Oh good lord, Mari could be huge with rolling waves of fat, or worse. His musings were abruptly halted when the woman spoke.
“Thank God,” she sighed out loud. She pulled a crumpled piece of paper from the bottom of her purse. Richard looked up to see she had found what she’d been looking for.
The woman pulled her glasses from their case, put them on and carefully read the paper. She looked at her surroundings, looked again at the paper. “Yes, this is Knutsford Plaza,” she muttered aloud. “Yes, the correct meeting time was to have been three p.m.” She checked her watch. It was nearly three-thirty. “I’m certain I’ve missed him. My bus was late. But who is he?”
She looked distraught. She clenched the piece of paper in her teeth while shoving everything back into the purse. Undoubtedly she would organize it later. Glancing around the coffee shop, he watched as she checked the time on the Happy Chef wall clock and again met his eyes. He smiled. He knew he must have a perplexed look on his face. She returned the smile and continued to fumble with her purse, putting away the glasses. He pushed his chair back, hesitated and then approached her. Politely, she nodded as he came toward her. “May I be of help? You seem to be looking for someone.”
“Yes, yes I am. I …I was supposed to meet a gentleman here. Someone I’ve never met, and, and he was to take me to my grandfather’s...I’m afraid I may have missed him.”
“Wait a moment; slow down,” he said. “What is your name?”
“My name?” She had a puzzled look on her face as though he’d asked a question she might have trouble answering. “My name is Mari...”
“You are? Really? I don’t believe it! I am Richard, Richard Jones of Coed Mawr.”
Mari jumped up, “Oh, am I happy to see you. I was getting very worried.”
“Yes, I could see you were quite agitated. I was watching you. It was really quite amusing, you know please forgive me. I am delighted to see you are all right.” He wrapped his arms around her, holding her just a little too close, even though it might make her uncomfortable, it felt natural. “Welcome ‘home,’ luv.”
“It is good to meet you. I am relieved you are here, that you are you! I was rather frantic,” she mumbled into his shoulder as he held her to him. Mari pulled back. He saw the questioning look on her face.
Richard laughed, picked up her luggage and said, “Come, luv, mum is waiting tea for us. I know she is most anxious to meet you.” They walked out of the Happy Chef through the parking lot to his little blue Triumph sports car. He put her luggage in the small “boot,” and drove off. He could see Mari was becoming more comfortable with each passing moment.
“You look like the Jones side of the family, you know. I should have guessed who you were the moment I first saw you in the coffee line. From the pictures I’ve seen of your great-grandmum, you look very much like her. Your nose and especially your eyes.”
Mari smiled and thanked him for the compliment. From the expression on her face, he wondered if she’d ever seen the picture he remembered from the family album his mother kept at the house. Did she have a copy of it? If not, he’d be certain to look it up so she could see the resemblance for herself.
He could see that Mari became less relaxed as he increased the speed. Richard smiled to himself. He was a very fast driver. The countryside became a blur. Could it be she considered his excessive speed unnecessary in this ancient land where a horse and carriage would seem more natural?
Richard laughed at Mari’s description of her bumpy, smelly trip from the airport. He realized just how much the trip affected her when her head bobbed and she drifted off to sleep. In spite of everything, her head bobbed as she drifted off to sleep.
A flock of sheep appeared around the next curve, causing Richard to slam on his breaks. As the car came to a stop, a safe distance from the sheep, he glanced at Mari and saw her eyes open in surprise.
“Where are we?” she asked, a bit groggy. Richard got out and opened Mari’s door.
“Come,” he said, “I want you to experience this. And I do mean experience, because what you are about to see will affect all your senses. Feel that moist air from the sea.” Mari nodded. “It will quench your skin’s thirst for moisture. The view is wonderful everywhere you look from up here. Can you believe how quiet it is? And to touch your heart, Mari---right down there in the valley, that house, right there? That is Coed Mawr, your ancestral home. My home.”
When he turned to ask what she thought, he was surprised to see tears brimming in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. She was trembling. He cautiously moved to her, reached out and tentatively put his arm around her. She was crying. He didn’t quite know what to do. Her closeness was bringing back feelings he had almost forgotten.
Richard had a brief marriage to Rhiannon when he was in his twenties. It had begun with such promise until she realized a young artist didn’t make the thousands of pounds she’d envisioned. The once appealing romantic, bohemian lifestyle in a starving artist’s garret had tarnished. Rhiannon soon fled into the arms of a wealthy older man.
Richard brushed a tear away from Mari’s cheek, then another. Unexpectedly, his lips brushed against her moist face. She nestled deeper into his arms. He was amazed how warm, vulnerable and lovely she looked. Reluctantly, they finally walked back to the car. He held her door as she sat down. Once he was assured she was securely buckled into her seat, he walked slowly to the driver’s side, slid in and waited. Mari’s lovely face was tear-streaked, her eyes red, a tear clinging to her long lashes.
Richard took a handkerchief from his pocket, leaned over and gently dabbed the tears from Mari’s face.
She turned to him, “It’s far more beautiful than I thought it could be. No wonder Grandpa wanted to come back one last time. I just can’t believe I am here! This has been a dream for so long,” she paused, “it still feels like a dream.”
Richard understood but did not yet fully comprehend. As she absorbed the panorama that stretched out before her, Richard saw the reflections of their ancestors in her face. He gently put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. Absently, he caressed her cheek.
As she turned to him, Mari’s trembling lips brushed his. They searched each other’s faces as if seeking answers to questions yet unasked. Breathlessly Mari said, “Richard, we must be going, I am sure your mother is concerned, and...”
“I cannot believe how wonderful you are,” Richard said, in an attempt to calm her fears. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”
Mari smiled wistfully, and laughed nervously, “You are teasing me, aren’t you? We’ve only just met.”
“No, it’s true. I can’t explain this feeling that’s come over me ever since I first saw you there in the Happy Chef. Perhaps I will be able to put it into words later.” Safely buckled in, Richard squeezed her hand, kissed her open palm and reluctantly started the car. Before driving off, he turned to her again, “We must talk. After mum has gone to bed, please stay with me.”
“Oh, I don’t think I can. Your mom will be expecting me to be very tired, and ready for a good night’s rest. I am exhausted.” Brightening, she said, “but I could say I am too keyed up to sleep.”
“Good,” he said. As they drove into the valley below, the lengthening twilight lingered holding shadows of another time.
As Mari expected Margaret welcomed her with open arms of love. “I am so sorry I wasn’t able to come along with Richard.”
What a dear, lovely lady she was. She treated Mari as one of the family immediately, insisting she wanted to be called ‘Aunt Margaret’. The tea she prepared was delightful, but something Mari would have called a late afternoon snack, consisting of a fresh salad, bread, ham, tea and trifle for dessert.
Margaret wanted to know all about Mari, how her family was doing, and what she thought about her trip so far. Again and again she expressed her delight at having Mari with them. After tea, she hustled her son and guest out of the kitchen and into the parlor. She would not hear of being helped.
Richard put more coal on the fire. The three of them sat trying to piece together the family tree. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle with one of the pieces missing. Mari listened as Richard said he thought he might know where the ‘missing’ piece might be found. Unfortunately, he could not lay his hands on the legal document he had searched for so diligently.
It was a wonderful evening. It had turned quite cold outside as the wind blew, gale-like, in from the Irish Sea. Nevertheless, they were cozy by the fire with the two-foot thick walls and heavy drapes to protect them from the chill.
Margaret went to the electric organ in the corner of the room and began to play some of their favorite Welsh hymns, without a note of music before her. Mari hid her tears as they sang some of the hymns that were especially meaningful to her.
The ashes in the grate began to fade. Margaret said she would show Mari to her room and the ‘necessary’. She led the way up the stairs to one of the bedrooms at the front of the three hundred year old farmhouse. Mari asked, “Aunt Margaret, would you mind if I took my book down by the fire and read awhile? I am just too keyed up to sleep right now, even though it has been a very long day.”
“Mari, luv, you make my home your home while you are here. I will go on to bed. Sleep as late as you like in the morning.”
Mari nodded. Margaret hugged her and kissed her goodnight, again expressing her delight at having her with them.
Mari freshened up, got her book and quietly slipped downstairs where she knew Richard waited for her. He came to meet her as she entered the parlor, put his arms around her and kissed her.
She protested weakly, melting in his embrace. He traced her mouth, eyes and nose with his sensitive artist’s hands. They gazed into each other’s eyes as he kissed her again, pressing himself closer to her.
“I thought you wanted to talk,” she gasped.
“I am talking,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “Come, sit here with me.” They sat on the sofa closest to the fire.
“Richard, I am greatly attracted to you, too. Maybe we have to stop and think about this. You know, we just met! Add to that the fact I am a bit older than you. We have so much to talk about. I really want to learn more about you, about our families. There is so much I need to know and understand.”
He reluctantly agreed. They talked of everything and anything, discovering new, interesting facts about certain members of the family, and began to learn more about themselves in the process. Before they knew it, the clock chimed three times.
It was difficult to say goodnight. One kiss led to another; each kiss brought an increased intensity. As the last embers died, Richard walked Mari to her room, followed her in and vowed, “Tomorrow I will show you my land and make it your land, too.” With one last kiss, he wished her sweet dreams and quietly left.
Mari quickly undressed in the cold room and dashed into the warmth of the bed piled high with comforters. Her head was spinning. Too much had happened too fast, but she was happy, warm and content.