To all of you who have read, favourited, followed and/or reviewed this story, thank you. I loved to write it, and it means a lot that you've taken time to read it; the writing process is never complete until a reader deigns to receive the story. It only takes one reader for that exchange to take place; that there have been more is often unbelievable to me. Thank you, always.


It is early in October, the leaves rusted and yellowed with wear as they come to ground, that Mia and Victor are married. It is a quiet affair, presided over by Fr. Cameron, his voice more lilting and musical than ever in his contentment as he reads the service. Nina travels down from London on purpose, when the news comes by way of an Oxford epistle, but otherwise there is only Carl and Persis, with small Scilla for witnesses. Excepting Scilla's gently babbled approval, the church is heavy with stillness, dust motes iridescent in the multicoloured illumination of the stained glass.

Afterwards they return to the clergy house for tea. Mia's college china is in evidence, Aviemore, Spring Violets, Dresden Rose, augmented now, Persis suspects by two teacups in the Royal Albert old country rose. The sight of it laid out unassuming on the table provokes them finally to speech. At least, it provokes Fr. Cameron, who sees it, and smiles suddenly as a sunburst as he seizes upon his old teacup as if it were a former acquaintance.

'I'd not realised I'd missed this,' he says.

'Nor had I,' says Mia.

She has not yet lost look of a woman irradiated by deep-sprung happiness, and Persis tends to think this unlikely thing will never come to pass. She accepts a piece of the St Hilda's era china and decides that the clergy house suits Mia, that it will be more than worth the double wrench of losing her not only as a neighbour but an inhabitant of Silver Moon. Nestled into a sling across her mother's chest, Scilla thinks so too; her eyes are wide, the better to inhale the strange newness of the clergy house to her, and she pummels delighted hands against herm mother's shoulder to mark her approval. Carl says something to make Victor smile, and by the window Nina is humming a snatch of something that makes Fr. Cameron's eyes crinkle in delight. The china chatters on so many wafer-thin saucers and it is in laughter they sit down around the table, solidifying hopes, possibilities, and well-worn but lasting friendships.


'Nervous?'

'Only a little,' says Carl.

They are standing at the window looking out onto the road, watching for some sign to herald the arrival of the retired messenger dog. The Michaelmas term is now in full swing, the university bustling with gowned students who swarm the centre amassing books, and obscuring the pavement where they stop in spontaneous clusters to argue the virtues or otherwise of their lecturers and their ideas. The result of this mild-mannered chaos is that spotting with anything like accuracy the people accompanying the messenger dog presents unlooked for challenges.

'What will we do if Symp objects, as he almost certainly will?' Carl asks when another gowned don en route to college has been mistaken for their much-anticipated company.

Persis shifts Scilla in her arms and finds she has no answer. She thinks of Mia saying on that afternoon in March; I do not know how to be any more and thinks she understands more than ever what she meant. There never used to be, Persis thinks, with another glance out the window, so many what ifs to contend with. Life was indeed simpler before the war.

'I expect we'll think of something,' she says.

Outside, Symp pauses in his mincing along the steps of the house, his back arched like some caricatured cat in the papers.

'Shall we join him, see what's caught his attention?' asks Persis.

'It's probably one of the undergraduates, streamers flapping as they fly between lectures,' says Carl, and while this is probable, even likely, they go outside all the same.

That is why they are standing out in front of the house when the former messenger dog and her people arrive. They have warned the Oxford Merediths to expect a certain amount of skittishness from her. In the event it is difficult to say who is more confused when the dog slips her collar –Carl or her handlers –and comes tearing towards Carl like a meteor. In any case the confusion only lasts a moment, because suddenly Carl is running to meet her, this supposedly nervous messenger dog, a great German Shepherd, who blazes white against the lowering grey of the sky and that might so easily be mistaken for an undersized wolf. They meet at the place where the pavement runs up against the stoop of the house, much barking on her side and laughter on Carl's. There is nothing skittish in this dog; she is eager, joyful, excited certainly, but hardly nervous. Neither is Carl. His hands go round her neck and she pushes him playfully to the ground, sending leaves at dried catkins scattering.

No one hears the apology offered by the officials because Carl is laughing and saying, 'Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, oh Lucy-for-light, they never said it was you. If I'd known you'd have come to me first, I'd have told them to send you. I've missed you so. Oh Lucy, Lucy, Lucy.'

He scratches her ears as he speaks, fingers tangled in the whirls of her fur; Lucy has her paws on his chest, pink tongue very much in evidence as she washes Carl's face, exultate iubilate in the parlance of a dog.

In the doorway, Symp rubs his head against Persis's ankles and climbs her knees, purring for reassurance; you at least, are mine.

'Come on,' says Persis to the cat, nudging him in the direction of the door, 'we'll let them catch up. We'll be waiting when we're needed.'

Lucy's handlers linger uncertainly a minute longer, before deciding any information they might communicate to be superfluous and vanishing into the swirl of North Oxford traffic.

When at length man and dog have had their fill of reunion Carl scrabbles upright, pushing Lucy with him. He stands clumsily and with a last pat for Lucy, gathers the scruff of her neck in his hand.

'Come on,' he says, turning her towards the door, 'there are people I want you to meet,' and so saying, he opens the door of Silver Moon and beckons her in.

Fin.