First Friends (Center Point Platinum Fiction (Large Print))

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9781585478460: First Friends (Center Point Platinum Fiction (Large Print))

Cass and Kate meet at school--and are firm friends for the rest of their lives. Both marry naval officers, but Cass's infidelity has far-reaching consequences for her children--and Kate's. Many of the characters in First Friends (published in the UK as Those Who Serve) reappear in later Marcia Willett novels, and we meet their children as well. As always, Marcia Willett's wise understanding of love, loss, marriage, and parenthood is conveyed with honesty, generosity, and compassion.

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About the Author:

Born in Somerset, in the west country of England, Marcia Willett was the youngest of five girls. Her family was unconventional and musical, but Marcia chose to train as a ballet dancer. Unfortunately, her body did not develop with the classic proportions demanded by the Royal Ballet, so she studied to be a ballet teacher. Her first husband was a naval officer in the submarine service; their son, Charles, is now married and a clergyman. Her second husband, Rodney, himself a writer and broadcaster, encouraged Marcia to write fiction. First Friends is the first of several early novels published by Thomas Dunne Books; her more recent novels include A Week in Winter, A Summer in the Country, The Children's Hour, and The Birdcage.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
1964-68
The Isle of Wight, ghostly and featureless, seemed to float on a sea of liquid glass. A faint, thin pencil line of silver indicated the horizon where it merged with a sky of a uniform grey-white. There was a brightness, a gentle glow to the late-autumn afternoon, a promise of sunshine yet to be fulfilled. Kate, scrunching slowly across the beach at Stake’s Bay, was gradually adjusting to her new surroundings. Accustomed to the sandy beaches, rocky outcrops and towering cliffs of the West Country, these shingly flat shores and broad esplanades, with the worn stretches of grassed areas behind them, seemed tame to her. Even the behaviour of the sea itself was much more domesticated here. It lay placidly against the land, retreating calmly, advancing demurely, quite unlike its boisterous, wild poundings on the north Cornish Coast.
Kate glanced into the shelters that were placed at intervals along the esplanade. She was beginning to recognise the elderly regulars who sat there like so many spiders waiting to trap the unwary victim with friendly little nods and bravely pathetic smiles. They were lonely, of course, and so was she, but she knew that if she went too close she would be drawn in by the flying strand of a casual greeting and caught in a web of gently banal conversation which would wind inexorably around her independence, curtailing the freedom of her walk. Almost it was tempting. There would be a certain companionship in sitting idly, half anaesthetised by the gentle hum of reminiscences, knowing that any half-hearted struggles to escape would be obstructed by the sticky flow of talk flowing over and around her.
Kate hardened her heart and turned her head away. Her husband, Mark, had gone to sea for seven weeks and it was early days. Remembering all the advice and warnings that she had received from well-meaning friends on her wedding day nearly two months before, Kate stuck her chin out, thrusting her fists more firmly into her duffel coat pockets. She had no intention of admitting defeat and rushing home the first time that the submarine sailed although it would have helped to have known a few other people in Alverstoke before Mark had left. He didn’t know anyone either. How could he when he had come straight from Britannia Royal Naval College and Fourth Year Courses to HMS Dolphin, the submarine base at Gosport?
Watching the Isle of Wight ferry ploughing out from behind the sea wall, Kate let herself realise how much she missed her closest friend. Cassandra and she, both twelve years old, had first met at boarding school on the north Somerset coast on the edge of the Quantock Hills. The friendship had meshed smoothly and firmly at once. Kate, coming from a home overflowing with brothers, a sister and dogs and presided over by two loving generous parents, had listened, eyes stretched, as Cass, an only child, talked about nannies and Army quarters and her father—now a General—at his wits’ end after her mother’s death in a car accident.
‘Rumour has it,’ disclosed Cass, biting into a forbidden doughnut, ‘that she was eloping with her lover.’
Kate’s eyes grew rounder.
‘Gosh!’ she breathed. ‘But can you elope if you’re already married?’
Cass shrugged, the details were unimportant. She licked up some jam. ‘Ran away, then. Anyway, the car was a write-off. I can’t really remember her. I was only two.’
‘Your poor father.’
‘Devastated, poor old dear. And he simply doesn’t know what to do with me now I’m growing up. That’s why he’s sent me out here, to the back of beyond, for the next five years. He thinks I’ll be safe from temptation.’
Even the way she spoke the word gave it a flavour of excitement and promise. Something to be sought rather than avoided.
The five years had passed, punctuated with crushes on Cliff Richard and Adam Faith followed by agonising infatuations with other girls’ brothers. They had played lacrosse and tennis, rode and swum, passed examinations by the skins of their teeth, chaffed over puppy fat and spots and then, one day, they had woken up and it was all over. The schooldays that had stretched so endlessly ahead were now a thing of the past.
‘But we’ll stay in touch.’
They stood together in the study that they had shared for the last year, their things packed, shelves and desk tops emptied, and looked at each other.
Cassandra, blue-eyed, tall, full-breasted, her long fair hair twisted into a French pleat, was elegant in a cashmere twin set and a navy blue pleated skirt, pearls in place.
Kate grinned. ‘D’you remember sneaking out to see Expresso Bongo?’
‘And that year I got twelve red roses and a Valentine card from Moira’s brother and they were confiscated?’
They roared with laughter.
Kate, with her mop of unruly brown curls and grey eyes, was shorter and stockier than her friend and made no attempt at elegance. She wore honey-coloured tweeds; going-home clothes.
They hugged and hugged.
‘You must come and stay. We’ll have lots of fun.’
They separated. Cass went to her father’s flat in London for a year of relaxation and to think—very vaguely—about getting some sort of job. Kate went to her home in Cornwall to think—very reluctantly—about attending a course on cookery or shorthand typing. Both thought very seriously indeed about falling in love and getting married.
At a party barely a year later, Cass met Tom Wivenhoe, a midshipman in his final year at Britannia Royal Naval College, and shortly afterwards Kate received a telephone call.
‘S’meee. How’s the typing course?’
‘Awful. Terrible. How are you?’
‘Never better. Listen, I’ve met this smashing chap. Now! How about coming to the Summer Ball at Dartmouth? You know, the naval college.’
‘Are you serious? The tickets are like gold dust!’
‘Aha! Trust your Fairy Godmother. You shall go to the ball, Cinderella.’
‘But who shall I... ?’
‘Tom’s got a friend called Mark Webster. His partner’s broken her leg or something and he’s at a loose end. He’s nice. Honestly. A bit quiet but tall, dark and handsome. What about it? We’ll book a double room at the Royal Castle. It will be just like school. What do you say?’
‘Oh, Cass...
A year later, after Fourth Year Courses and a continual round of balls, ladies’ nights and parties, they were both married; Cass and Tom in August with Kate as bridesmaid and, two weeks later, Kate and Mark, with Cass as Matron of Honour. In a rapture of white silk, the thunder of the organ in their ears and a vision of married bliss in their dazed eyes, they passed beneath the arches of naval swords and out into the sunshine of Happy Ever After.
On their return from honeymoon, Kate and Mark had moved into a furnished ground-floor flat in a lovely Georgian terrace in the village of Alverstoke, one road back from the beach. Kate had spent many happy hours making it as cosy and homelike as she could with their few possessions whilst Mark, now a Sub-Lieutenant of sufficient standing for the single gold stripe around each cuff to have lost its obvious newness, went daily into Dolphin to complete his submariner’s specialisation course.
Cass and Tom were in Alverstoke too. He was the only other married man on the course and he and Mark were drawn together, more by their newly-married status and the long-standing relationship between the girls than by any similarity of character or outlook. They started to adopt a more serious and responsible air than the rest of the course who were living in the Mess and whose main topics of conversation were still parties and girls and arrangements for drinking sessions in the pub in the evenings. The four of them often got together for informal suppers at Kate and Mark’s flat or at Cass and Tom’s cottage and sometimes met late on Sunday mornings in the Anglesea Arms for a pint. Tom and Cass often had other members of the course round at the cottage for curry suppers but when Kate tentatively suggested that they might do the same at the flat, Mark said that he had quite enough of them during the day, thanks very much and, although Cass and Tom seemed to have a great deal of fun, Kate was pleased that Mark seemed content with her company.
For Kate, being a naval wife was endowed with far more glamour and responsibility than being any other sort of wife except, perhaps, a doctor’s or a vicar’s. Her mother—and others—had warned her about the loneliness of her life to come, the difficulties involved in dealing with emergencies and moving households from one base to another, often all alone. She had felt pride that she would be ‘doing her bit’ and making sacrifices herself in order that Mark might do a demanding job involving national security whilst having the comfort and support of a home and family in the background to which he could return.
Even so, Kate was beginning to realise how very long a day could be. It was so difficult to spin things out. She had always been an early riser and found it impossible to laze on in bed in the mornings. She would deal with the solid fuel stove and take as long as she could over her bath and breakfast. If it was as late as half-past nine when she’d finished, she felt that she’d done well but there were still twelve long, empty hours to be filled before the bedtime routine could be embarked upon. She made so little work all on her own that after a while she tended to let things mount up so that the jobs seemed worth doing. Preparing food took minutes—it wasn’t worth cooking elaborate meals just for herself—and took even less time to eat and she spent every mealtime with a book propped up in front of her plate. She had mentioned the possibility of g...

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