Maggie glanced out the window, rubbing her hands across her arms. It was February, so still chilly outside. But this morning she'd remembered her coat, and she had a bit of extra money tucked away in her pocket. Nancy, Father Michael's niece, had given it to her for all the errands Maggie had ran for her the other day. Good thing, too, since she'd left the lunch she'd packed the night before sitting on the counter in her kitchen, and if she wanted it she'd have to take the bus all the way back home. Or she could stop somewhere and buy something--though probably the sensible thing to do would be to go home and get the food she'd already made. It would be wicked to waste it after all.
Sighing, she stuffed her hands into her pockets, shouldered the door to the office building open and stepped outside. London was still crowded. Still noisy. Still too full of people. But she'd found a few quiet places and, abruptly, she turned and began to make for one of them. She would simply eat her lunch for supper, and that way it wouldn't be wasted, and she could slip off for a bit of quiet during her lunch hour. That would be a better use of her time anyway.
The office she'd cleaned had been full today of men in suits, all dashing from one meeting to the next, and she'd spent most of the morning dodging them, slipping out of their way into empty offices or barren hallways. Why had they scheduled her today, when there were more people than usual, and most of the rooms she couldn't even get into? Surely they knew their schedules. Couldn't she have come some other time, when the building was empty?
Shrugging as she walked, Maggie tried to put the questions out of her head. She rarely knew why anyone did anything. Little wonder she didn't understand this decision either. Father Michael would say she was being silly, and probably he would explain it if she asked, but mostly she wanted to stop thinking about it.
At least she had a bit longer than usual for lunch. One of the other buildings she usually cleaned was closed today for repairs, so she'd have two hours off instead of one. That was good, good, good. She'd have even more time than usual to wander around the gardens. They lay down Broomfield Road and she'd found them last Saturday, when she'd gone for a ramble around London.
That was a habit she'd began not long after she got her flat--walking to interesting places around the city. She'd seen the Tower, the outside of Buckingham Palace, and now the Kew Gardens. Probably she should tell Father Michael about her wanderings, but she hadn't yet. He'd only say she was foolish, bound to get lost or run into trouble, and, well, then she'd have to stop, and she had nothing else to do. She'd tell him--eventually. But first she wanted at least one more visit to the Gardens.
So she turned down the familiar street, walked up to the gate, paid the man the fare and went in. She felt herself going a little limp as she stepped through the gate. This was so much better. When she was by herself--as a quick glance around confirmed she was--she didn't have to worry so much about, well everything. She didn't have to think about how she was walking--too slow, too fast, if she'd started walking on her toes again--or if she was standing up straight or hunching over, or if she'd forgotten and drawn her arms up, elbows bent and palms facing out--or sometimes in--the way she found herself doing when she was on her own in her flat. Nobody was around to see her, so if she bounced onto her toes a little, or bent down to look at an especially pretty flower--usually she didn't touch them but sometimes she did--there would be no one about to think she was strange. That was nice, nice, nice.
She crossed to one of the gazebos, curiously called The Palm House, and ducked inside. From there she could see a lot of the garden. She could also sit down and watch the birds and butterflies that flitted around, and that was nice too. The upper story was her favorite spot, and she let herself dash up the steps, feet pounding as she went, as there wasn't anyone about for her to disturb. At the top she paused to catch her breath--and, oh dear, she'd been wrong earlier. There was a man sitting on one of the benches. Maybe her racket hadn't troubled him too much.
As she made her way toward a bench, Maggie paused. The man was dressed in a red coat and green jumper--rather like a Christmas tree. The thought made her grin, and she bit her tongue to keep from blurting it out. Probably, the stranger wouldn't find her comparison as wonderful as she had. Unless that was why he'd chosen the outfit. Maybe he liked Christmas as much as she did. That was a harmless question to ask, surely. Unless it wasn't. Usually she was wrong about such things. Maybe she should comment about the gazebo instead, or the garden. Maybe she should ask if she could sit by him. Probably, she should apologize for disturbing him, too. Then she could ask about Christmas, once she knew him a little.
Maggie stepped up to him. "L-Lovely view, is, isn't it? May I sit here? I don't, I don't want to disturb you." Now the she was closer, she realized the stranger was doing something. He had a notebook out. Oh dear. She'd surely interrupted him. S-sorry about, about all the noise. C-coming up the stairs I mean. I didn't know you'd be here." Maggie twisted her fingers together and added, "I mean, I didn't know anyone else was up here. I don't know you. That is, I don't think I do. Do I? I, I'm sorry if I do. I'm rubbish with faces. And names." And having a normal conversation Maggie added to herself, but clamped her mouth shut before that, too, escaped. Probably she should just leave the man to whatever he was doing, but now that she'd said all that, she couldn't just turn and run. That would be rude. So she made herself stand there and give him time to answer.