Waves crashed against jagged grey rocks below the bench perched on the cliff above the English Channel. Fifty-year-old Sophia Langley sat on that bench watching the swell slam against the base of the cliff. White foam spewed into the air. Her thoughts strayed to the engraved brass plate attached to the back of the bench.
Spent Many Happy Hours
Edna and Tristen
She contemplated Edna and Tristen ‘s relationship. What type of life had they shared? Prior to their years on the bench, had they been content, sad, or did they tolerate one another?
Sophia scanned the hillside. Late spring wildflowers bloomed in abandon. The pinks, yellows, and purples formed a picturesque background of where the English Channel met the eastern Cornish coast. Its rugged beauty had appealed to her from pictures she’d seen for decades—calling to her.
Sophia closed her eyes and inhaled the salty air, the sweet scent of the flowers, even the smell of spicy food that wafted up the hill from one of the local pubs. She’d made it to her dream spot, but at what cost? She placed her hand over her grumbling stomach. It had been a long time since breakfast. With a sigh, she stuffed her journal in her backpack then drank deeply from a bottle of water. She’d return in the evening and listen to the waves at dusk. Perhaps it would inspire a different prayer for a solution to her dilemma.
The walk on the coastal path to the village was pleasant enough. She pushed her wind-blown hair from her eyes, sad that it had taken the loss of her only sister to bring her to Cornwall. Her loss hurt, yet she grieved the twenty years between them even more. Why she insisted Sophia come to Cornwall was a mystery.
The heavy wood door creaked as Sophia pushed it inward, bringing a gust of chilly sea air into the Buccaneer Pub. The buzz of conversations enveloped her as she glanced around searching for a vacant table. She spotted one by the window overlooking the harbor wall. Gulls swooped into the water, the sun glinting off the silvery scales of the fish they caught in their beaks, water streaming beneath them as they took flight. A perky young server handed her a menu and placed silverware in front of her. “Good afternoon. Ale for you?”
“No, thank you. Just a cup of tea with lemon, please.” Sophia smiled at her and the girl bounced away, ponytail swinging.
She glanced over the entrees and chose from the selections. Taking in the room and its contents she observed a man staring at her. She ran her hands through her tousled hair as she looked at the harbor. Her server returned with the tea and seeing the discarded menu, asked, “Decided?”
“Yes, I’ll have the sea scallops, please.” Sophia glanced up to see the man still watching her. She leaned toward the girl and whispered, “Do you have another table?”
The girl followed her gaze and turned back to Sophia. “Oh, don’t mind him. He’s a nice chap. You resemble someone who used to come here every summer.” She sprang away again.
Sophia’s shoulders relaxed as she returned to her wool-gathering. Moments later a deep voice startled her—he had a British accent.
“Good evening. I didn’t mean to alarm you. You favor someone I used to know.” He shoved his hands deep into his pockets as if waiting for an invitation to join her.
“That would’ve been Marla, my twin.” She reached for the tea cup, hands shaking, and took a sip of the dark brew.
The man’s shoulders sagged as he pulled out a chair and seated himself without encouragement from her. “So… she was your sister.” A smile flitted across his face as he realized his unintentional blunder. “Your twin sister.”
“She died a few months ago.” Her eyes remained dry and her voice held no tone of sympathy.
“I’m sorry.” The man uttered, his eyes turning to the window.
“How did you meet her?” Sophia fumbled with her napkin as she looked at him. He had wavy salt and pepper hair. He was tall, slender, athletic looking. Her sister would’ve called him, ‘dishy.’ She couldn’t supress the faint smile that curved her lips.
His voice shook as he toyed with the pepper shaker on the table. “We used to walk up the coastal path and sit on Edna and Tristen ’s bench. We’d talk for hours.”
A chill rippled through Sophia. “Are you familiar with Tristen and Edna’s story?”
His eyes met hers. “Yes. I was a small child when they moved here to set up a curiosity shop. They were a young married couple, so much in love. Lived a very happy life until they became old and feeble. Died within days of one another. Marla thought if she sat on that bench, she might absorb a bit of their happiness.”
“Really?” Sophia’s voice was tinted with sarcasm. She chewed the inside of her cheek nervously.
Michael’s gaze fixed onto hers. “I’m sure you’re aware of her regrets and pain.”
Sophia shook her head. “I can’t say that I am. She caused me enough hurt.” Her voice was sharp, her face pinched into a frown. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
His blue eyes pierced hers. “Don’t apologize. I’m aware of your story.”
Sophia froze. Her thoughts grew frantic. Marla telling someone of her own past was one thing, but to tell a complete stranger about Sophia’s was another of her sister’s deceitful, nasty deeds. “Look, Mr.—I, I’m not sure why you’re telling me this, but it’s not your concern. If you and my sister had an affair every summer while she left her husband, that’s on your conscience, but I don’t appreciate …” She reached for her backpack and shoved her chair back.
He interrupted her tirade with an upraised hand. “No, please. You don’t understand. I’m sorry. I guess that’s not the best way to tell you the story. I’m the vicar here in Polperro. Marla came to see me the first summer she visited. She wanted counselling, and my wife was too sick to meet with her. It’s customary for women to meet with her, not me.”
Sophia’s eyes grew wide. “So that’s why you went to Edna and Tristen’s bench? To counsel Marla?”
“Well … no, not at first. During my daily walk, I discovered her there one morning, broken and sobbing. I stopped to chat a moment until assured she’d be fine and then left. The following day she sought me out. Over that first summer, she told me her life story. The hurt she caused you—and others. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to tell you how sorry she was.” He paused, as if to say more, shrugged and grew silent.
Sophia’s food arrived and she stared at it for a moment. Biting her lip, she glanced up at the vicar. “I’m sorry. I didn’t ask your name.”
“Please call me Michael.” He extended his hand.
She hesitated then stretched her hand to meet his, smiled and said, “I suppose you know my name is Sophia?”
The server appeared and asked him if he wanted his meal brought to Sophia’s table. Her eyes implied an unspoken question to Sophia. She nodded her approval.
After his food arrived, they ate in silent companionship for a few minutes before Michael asked, “Why did you come to Cornwall?”
She drew in a deep breath and bowed her head. “After Marla died, I received a note from an attorney saying she’d wanted her ashes spread over the cliffs on the coast North of Polperro, below Tristen and Edna’s bench. I haven’t been able to do it yet, I’ve been praying for days but she caused me so much heartache—giving her what she wants is too much right now.
“I’m familiar with emotional pain. Not your brand, but losing my wife was painful.” He drew his eyes away from hers and to his plate.
“I’m so sorry. How long ago?”
“Three years this winter.” He finished his food then leaned back. “But we move on—God knows our sorrows. We need to seek Him for healing. Just as you need to seek Him to give you strength to forgive your sister—and your ex-husband.”
She winced, his boldness cutting straight to her heart.
“Sophia, Marla told me you’d be here one day. She knew she was dying on her first trip to Cornwall.”
Sophia’s eyes misted in response to the revelation. She retrieved a tissue.
He continued, “She learned you longed to see Cornwall. That’s why she came, realizing you’d come—for her.”
Tears flowed down Sophia’s face. She was finally crying for her sister. Her emotions swelled inside as her throat closed around the swallow she couldn’t take.
Hesitantly, Michael reached across the small table and took her hand. “She told me the biggest mistake she’d ever made was taking your husband from you and your children. She couldn’t ask your forgiveness because she couldn’t forgive herself.” His warm hand comforted her. His eyes met hers in genuine understanding.
Time decelerated as the space between them appeared to diminish. Sophia gently pulled her hand away and brushed away her tears. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get so emotional.”
“No need to apologize. Releasing your tears of resentment has been long in coming.” His gaze stayed focused on her face.
“What else can I say? You must’ve helped … her, a great deal. You’ve certainly summed up my burden.” Sophia shook her head, eyes downcast.
“May I suggest we enjoy the rest of our meal and then go for a walk along the coast?” He smiled and added, “The southern coastal path—away from Edna and Tristen ’s bench.”
Sophia felt the corners of her mouth move up into an encouraging smile. It had been a long time. “I’d like that.”
The following morning, Sophia awakened in time to see the sun rise over the Cornish coast. Brilliant oranges and yellows greeted her, climbing above the water reflected in a mirror image. It was a perfect time to release Marla’s ashes. Afterward, she’d found solace in walking.
She remembered the walk that she and Michael had taken the previous day. As they’d ambled, his blue eyes strayed to her often, intent on her every word. She felt comfortable and relaxed in his presence. The path was narrow in sections, so he stepped aside into the long grass, allowing her to move ahead, away from the steep drop to the rocks below. She smiled as she remembered his courtesy. A bench tucked into a small shelter caught her attention so she settled on it to absorb the quiet peace while the sun continued its colourful ascent.
“Good morning.” A familiar voice spoke from the shadows.
Sophia started at the masculine sound. Michael leaned against the outside wall of the shelter. He ducked his head and took a seat beside her. “Fancy seeing you here this time of day.” His face registered a self-satisfied smile at finding her out so early.
Her hand clutched her throat where it had landed when he’d surprised her. “You took ten years off my life!” Catching her breath, she lowered her hand to grab the edge of the bench.
“Sorry. Wasn’t my intention to upset you.” He gave her a lop-sided grin. “Do you mind if I join you?” He began to push himself off the bench.
“No. I don’t mind. But promise me you’ll not sneak up on me again. Please?”
“I’ll do my level best.” He turned to stare at the sunrise. “Didn’t peg you for an early riser.”
She caught the humor in his voice. “Oh, really? Do you assume I’m lazy?”
“Never. Thought being a tourist and all, you’d be abed half the morning.” They smiled at one another.
Sophia brought her gaze toward the incoming waves below. “No. I think I’m done with being a tourist.”
Six months later, the cool autumn wind whipped Sophia’s hair around her face as she sat on Edna and Tristen ’s bench. She remembered the day she’d met Michael at the Buccaneer—the same way her sister had met him on this bench—alone and grieving. Marla had taken away the man she’d loved—had children with. Ironic how all the agony Marla caused had brought her to the man she’d married a short time ago. Sophia spun her new wedding band around her finger, smiling to herself. The sound of footsteps on the path brought Sophia’s head up into the wind.
“Hi.” She gave him her brightest smile.
“Hi, yourself.” Michael swaggered over to the bench and sat, stretching his long legs out in front of him, he crossed them at the ankles. His arm went around her shoulders as he propped it on the back of the bench, pulling her closer.
Sophia leaned her head against his shoulder. “How was your counselling session?”
“Oh, fine. I think we’re making progress.” He took one of her hands in his. “A good feeling knowing that God is reaching someone.” He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
“Uh-huh.” Sophia sighed.
Michael squeezed her shoulder. “Are you listening to me?” Straightening his head, he opened his eyes and narrowed them at her.
She signed again, “Absolutely. Relaxed … and content.”
“Glad to hear it.” He cleared his throat. “Would hate to discover my new bride has become bored already.”
Sophia stood and pulled him to his feet. “Come on.”
Hand in hand they walked a short distance to a new bench with a brass plaque shining brightly in the sun.
In loving memory of Marla Langley
Her heart forever remains on the Cornish Coast
Sophia looked up at Michael, her eyes misted with tears. She leaned over and rubbed the plaque with the sleeve of her sweater.
Michael put an arm around her and pulled her close. “It’s perfect.” He dropped his arm, took her hand in his and led her along the coastal path toward their cottage.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28