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London Calling

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Anne sighed satisfactorily as she surveyed the work she and John had done to the small cottage in less than twenty-four hours. The small building was a brisk ten minute walk from the Hall - or fifteen if John was with her. She remembered reading about it in the Shibden records, the chaumiere - as it had been referred to, had previously been used as a sort of summer house by previous generations of Listers. They’d probably built it to try and get some privacy, a sentiment she was more than familiar with.

More recently it had been used as a groundskeeper cottage when they had a much larger staff. John had done a lot of work lately to clear it out and had started to use it as a shed, storing items that needed to be protected from the elements but didn’t need to be so close to the Hall. She had almost felt guilty at having him haul most of the items he’d stored there back up to the stables but she thought he should have asked her first before commandeering the building.

It really was the perfect little retreat. There was a reasonably sized living area with a small table and chair set by the window. John had also moved the old sofa from the Hall down there when Marian had ordered new ones for the parlour after Christmas. She much preferred the old ones so was glad that at least one had been rescued. She suspected that he had intended to use the cottage as a refuge too but refrained from rebuking him too harshly since it had worked to her advantage. She could easily add a few bookshelves and bring down a few volumes of her favourite texts from her library.

What was more exciting about the cottage was the small bedroom just off of the main room. There was an old double bed frame that had been pushed up against the wall that with a few minor repairs they had been able to salvage. With Eugenie’s help they had ordered a new mattress that would be arriving later that day. Another reason why she had to remember to review her pay once they got back.

All of the walls could do with a coat of paint and she would have to get a plumber out to make sure all the pipes and heating still worked, but those were jobs John could continue with. She supposed she should also look at a way to amplify the mobile phone reception but for now that was the least of her priorities. There were just a few old boxes that she needed to go through to ensure they didn’t contain anything important like the deeds to Shibden.

Despite the hard work she felt rejuvenated, Ann would love her surprise. Not just for this trip but hopefully future ones, and dare she consider it - if Ann chose to live with her at Shibden. She shook her head, quickly dismissing that idea. It was far too soon to think of something like that. They’d only been back in each other’s life for a month, even that had not been straightforward. She had made the mistake before of thinking a relationship was further than it actually was, she wouldn’t do that again.

When she’d cleaned every possible surface she collapsed heavily on the sofa. Thankfully they’d given all the cushions a thorough beating so they were no longer caked in dust. She pulled one of the cardboard boxes towards her, she thought she might as well get started since Marian and Ann wouldn’t be back for a while.

The box contained a series of frames, this didn’t surprise her. There had been a constant rotation of photos adorning Sibden’s walls that she never remembered whose portrait was watching them. Perhaps it was time to refresh the current selection. She pulled a couple out, her brow furrowed as she realised they didn’t contain photos. She examined them more closely, they were certificates for equestrian competitions. She quickly flicked through the other frames in the box, all certificates. She realised it must be a box containing all of the gear they’d packed up when they closed the stables.

She sat forward as she pushed the box aside and pulled another one closer to her. This one contained a variety of ribbons that Sam must have won to go with the certificates. She remembered the large wall display that he used to house them in. He was rightfully proud of all of his achievements. She dug further in the box, there was another frame at the bottom. It was smaller than the others, but curiously wrapped in a light cloth. Anne placed it on her lap and slowly unwrapped it.

The thin material fell away and a picture of her and Sam that she hadn’t looked at in over fifteen years stared back at her. She was twenty-two in the photo, her first summer home after she’d finished her four year undergraduate degree. Hotspur stood proudly beside them as she sat precariously atop the stable doors, leaning her arms on Sam’s head as he stood in front of her. He always told her she’d fall and crack her skull and damage that brilliant brain they’d spent so much money on.

The photo had hung on the far wall of the stables, next to the trophy case because he said she was another of his achievements. Turning his awkward gangly little sister into one of the best horsewomen in Halifax, despite her stubbornness. He’d warned her often that the horse took on the temperament of its rider, which is why they never obeyed her commands.

She barely recognised herself. It was before she had switched to her monochromatic attire. They were both in matching crisp white t-shirts, tan jodhpurs, and black riding boots. The brightness of their smiles eclipsed only by the hopeful glint in their eyes. He’d just been made a Lieutenant in the Yorks Regiment and was on the military career path, just like their father had been. She had graduated with honours and was going to spend the rest of the summer with Mariana, who’d promised her that she was finally going to tell her family about them. They had their whole lives ahead of them.

She leaned back, sinking into the sofa as she contemplated how different their lives had turned out. She gulped back the lump that had formed in her throat as the unbidden tears fell. Her heart ached as she allowed herself to remember how much she missed him, how much she missed the life that they thought they would lead.

Sam was never far from her thoughts, especially at Shibden, but the memory of his conversation with Ann, her mention of him at dinner, and now this box of belongings forced him to the forefront. Months ago she’d asked herself what he would think of her life, knowing the answer had been the impetus to finally end things with Mariana for good. She wished he was here now to see how much she’d changed, to finally see her happy. She sat up and wiped the tears from her eyes as she placed the photo carefully down on the sofa next to her. She smiled down at the picture of the two of them before standing and leaving briskly.

===

Marian found Ann happily enveloped in a large wicker egg chair, a childlike glee on her face. She looked so content that she would have gladly allowed her to sit in it all day except she knew Anne would scream blue murder if she dared come home without her. She took the opportunity to have a seat in the rather less encompassing, but still comfortable wooden garden chair next to her.

“Did you find everything you need?” Ann nodded and held up the two glass jars, each containing a single white candle. The jars were both etched with delicate summer flowers around the sides. Marian thought that she’d seen something similar before but couldn’t quite place them. “Could you drop me off at St. Matthew’s? I can walk back to Shibden from there.”

“Of course.” Marian recalled that Ann’s family were buried there, including her brother John. She was too young to remember him, but she knew that he and Sam had been around the same age when they passed. She thought for a moment and quickly did the maths. It also meant that both she and Anne had been in their early-twenties when they lost their brothers. A truly tragic common history.

She was a little confused, as far as she knew the Walkers had a family vault at the church. One of the more morbid subjects Anne had lectured her on when they were at the Minster and she had decided to educate her on the Lister family vault. There wasn’t really anywhere for her to place candles, unless she planned to place them outside, but wouldn’t she just need one then? “I don’t mean to pry, but why do you need two candles?”

Ann turned her head and stared at the floor for a beat longer than seemed necessary, she bit her bottom lip nervously as she answered quietly, “Sam.” It all fell into place, that’s where Marian had seen the beautifully decorated glass jars before, at Sam’s grave. She’d always thought that it was something the church must have done. “I light one for my brother, John. And I know you don’t always get to visit Sam.” Marian hung her head, she didn’t visit Sam’s grave nearly as often as she knew she should but that cold piece of stone always felt so far removed from the brother she remembered.

“You’re busy running the estate, and Sam was always so kind to me.” She paused for a moment as she remembered him, “We were friends. So I light one for him too.” Marian choked back the tears she felt forming. Whatever Anne had done to deserve having someone as pure and good as Ann in her life, she was thankful for it. She looked across at Ann, her brow creased with concern at having overstepped. “That’s very kind of you, we appreciate it. Even if we didn’t know it was you.”

Ann seemed to relax after Marian had told her that, a small smile forming. “I asked James to make sure that both graves were kept tidy, whilst I was in London. You don’t need to worry.” That finished her. Marian fanned her eyes as she tried, unsuccessfully now, to hold the tears back. Ann reached into her purse and pulled out a packet of tissues. Normally she was the one who needed them. Marian took one readily and wiped her eyes before blowing her nose loudly, that made both of them laugh. She noticed the concerned look on Ann’s face as she sniffed back the last of her tears, “I’m fine, really.”

“Hmm, you’re starting to sound like Anne.” Marian fired back a sharp look that made Ann giggle again. They really did hate being compared to each other, despite their similarities. As Marian continued to stare silently at her she thought for a moment that she’d make her take it back. She glanced down at the ground, not sure how to frame what she wanted to say. Ann waited patiently for her to speak. “Have you noticed how she doesn’t call Sam Washington, Sam? It’s always Samuel, Washington, Mayor. Never just Sam.”

“Because of her Sam?”

Marian smiled at her choice of words, “Yes, her Sam. Exactly that.” Ann nodded, it was something she had spotted but had thought it was just a formality that Anne used to establish their professional relationship. “He was the most important person in the world to her.” That was something Ann did know.

Her family had hosted many events that the Listers had been invited to. No matter what the occasion, they always managed to become the centre of attention - handsome Lieutenant Sam Lister and his equally handsome and brilliant sister, Anne. They played off each other perfectly, always in total synchronicity. When she’d spoken to Sam about her he always swelled with pride, even when he was telling her about what trouble she’d recently gotten into. She could tell he adored her, and that she did in return.

“She loves me, she does, the only way she can. But I have no doubt that Sam will always be her favourite.”

Ann noticed the hint of sadness in her voice, “Marian -”

“It’s okay Ann. He’d probably be my favourite too.” Ann remembered how after Sam’s passing the entire family had closed themselves off. It wasn’t much longer after that Anne decided to move to London permanently, only returning to check on the estate a few times a year. They still attended the main events in the social calendar, and that’s when Ann would see her.

Those first few years there was a palpable sadness that surrounded them, well wishers always reminding them of what a great man Sam was and how tragic it was to have lost him so soon. She didn’t know it then, but it would be much the same when John died. Only with the Listers, that talk eventually gave way to the dazzling career Anne had forged herself. Whilst for the Walkers, the focus fell on Ann, and how she’d still not found herself a husband.

“There aren’t many people that remember him now.” Ann placed her hand on Marian’s and gently squeezed it. She knew that the Listers rarely spoke about him. She had been nearby a few times when Sam was brought up at a party and Anne always skillfully changed the subject. “It hurts too much for father, and Aunt Anne won’t bring him up because she hates to see Anne sad. Only what hurts her the most is that she’s afraid she’ll forget him. That everyone will.”

“That’s why she named the business after Hotspur?” Marian marvelled at how perceptive Ann was. She had always known that she was a lot smarter than the rest of her family believed and foolishly not given her the chance to show. Anne had asked her that morning before breakfast if she’d spoken to Ann about Sam, explaining that she’d mentioned him at dinner. She hadn’t known that they had been friends, but she was not surprised by it.

“Yes. And that you know that without her having to explain, it means a lot to her. You have memories with him that she knew nothing about-”

“But she didn’t say anything. I thought she might be upset that I brought him up.”

“That’s my sister.” Even in the short space of time they had been seeing each other Ann had learnt that there were still parts of her life that she found it difficult to talk about. She tried to believe what Marian was telling her but she was still worried that she’d brought back memories Anne would prefer to keep private. She felt Marian place her hand over hers, “Trust me, she isn’t upset. It means the world to her, it’s like having him back again. You’ve given him back to her.”

===

Marian finished parking the car just as her phone started to ring. She took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever was to come next as she answered the call, “Yes Tib, how can I help you?”

“Oh you Listers, always so accommodating!” TIb said cheerily, a little too cheerily for Marian not to be immediately suspicious.

“What have you done?” she asked flatly.

There was an audible gasp on the other end of the phone as Tib feigned outrage. “I haven’t done anything!” Marian tapped her finger on the top of the steering wheel as she waited for an answer to her question. After a few moments there was a deep breath as Tib let loose a deluge of words, “I’ve solved all your problems! Well, I’ve solved the Annes’ problems.” Marian sighed, this should be good.

“I’ve got tickets for you all to attend the Norcliffe Charity Gala Concert tonight in York. You’ll need to pack bags for yourself and Aunt Anne and the Captain. Something dressy.” Marian opened her mouth to protest but she hadn’t finished. “Don’t worry I’ve already called ahead and told them. You know your aunt can never say no to me. Much like the younger Anne Lister once upon a time.” Marian giggled, Tib really did take liberties when Anne wasn’t around to listen.

“I’ve taken care of all the accommodation, I’ve even arranged for a driver to come and collect you. He’ll be at your disposal the whole time and then he’ll drive you back tomorrow, at a suitably late hour. The Annes should have peeled themselves apart after a night of total debauchery in an empty house and made themselves decent for polite company again.” There were several moments of silence as Marian waited for Tib to continue. “Marian, are you still alive? Say something.”

“What am I supposed to say to all of that?” She was truly overwhelmed by the lengths she would go for Anne.

“Say Tib you are a genius and I adore you! I don’t know how my sister could have possibly left you, she’s a fo-”

“Alright, alright I get the idea.” There was a pause as Tib waited for the praises to be lauded at her, “Tib, you’re a genius.” Marian shook her head, she could practically hear Tib smiling triumphantly, waiting for the adoration. She folded her arm across her chest, “And that’s all you’re getting from this Lister!”

If she hadn’t been so amused she would have been outraged, “Ha! I always knew you were the smart one!” Marian smiled smugly, allowing herself to believe for a moment that Anne’s best friend thought she was smarter than her.

===

The churchyard was always so peaceful in the summer Ann thought as she sat on the bench by her brother’s gravestone. She supposed people had other places they wanted to be on a beautiful day like today, clear blue sky, the warmth of the summer sun. She loved these moments though, they were one of the few things she missed about Halifax since she had been in London. This was her quiet space, where she knew the tribe would never intrude.

In the months that followed her brother’s death she would come here to get away from all the well-meaning relatives that claimed they had her best interests at heart. She wondered if they did. There were always so many of them though, making polite enquiries about her life. It was worse when Elizabeth had to go back up to Scotland with her family.

For a time she considered going up there with her, but what would she do there? Live in her sister’s home, in a town she barely knew, without any other friends or family. No, she was better off in Halifax. At least there she had Crow Nest, and Catherine, and always the promise that Anne Lister would one day show up at her door to sweep her off her feet and take her away from all of it.

She smiled as she thought of all the hours she’d spent on this very bench dreaming of Anne coming to rescue her. In a funny way that’s exactly what she had done, she laughed as she remembered just how many times Anne had swept her up as though she weighed no more than a feather. She had rescued her time and time again, from actual danger, from her own fears, from the tribe.

Instead of taking her away from Halifax she’d brought her back, and for the first time Ann didn’t feel trapped there. She inhaled deeply knowing that after she left the quiet of the churchyard she wasn’t going back to an empty home, or worse - one of her relatives waiting for her. She was going back to Anne, at Shibden. As the thought of Anne wrapping her arms around her as they sat comfortably on the large sofa in the parlour filled her mind she couldn’t wait to be back there.

She swung herself up from the bench and walked over to the gravestone, gently tracing her fingers over his name the same way she used to brush away the wisps of hair from his forehead. A sad smile forming on her lips, “I wish you could know how happy she makes me.” She touched two fingers to her lips before pressing them to his name. As she stood she glanced down at the glass jar, the candle still burning inside it. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, saying a silent prayer before she turned up the path and further into the churchyard.

The birdsong that surrounded her filled her ears as she walked towards the back of the cemetery. She was so distracted by one particular melody that she almost didn’t notice the black clad figure sat on the patch of grass by the gravestone. For a moment she wondered whether she should turn around before Anne noticed she was there, she didn’t want to encroach on such a private moment. But then she heard the most perfect sound, the one she loved more than any other, Anne’s laugh.

She made her way quietly towards her, not wanting to startle her she made sure her footsteps were loud enough that Anne would hear them. Somehow she knew that Anne would know it was her. As she went to place her hand on her shoulder Anne’s hand came up automatically to hold hers. She tilted her head down and smiled as her eyes met Anne's deep brown ones. Silently Ann knelt down next to her, tucking her legs beneath her.

“I was telling Sam about the white noise machine,” she smiled mischievously as she wiggled her eyebrows at Ann.

“Oh I’m sure he would have loved that.” Anne’s heart swelled at the way Ann spoke about Sam, like he was still very much a real person, not just a faded memory.

“He would, completely. Only he’d make sure Marian’s one was broken so that when she tried to use it she couldn’t and she’d have to suffer father’s snoring all night.” Her bright laughter filled the air again as Ann shook her head. She dreaded to imagine the horrors poor Marian had suffered at the hands of her older siblings, although she had a sneaking suspicion that it would have been Anne who had been the chief prankster.

As Anne continued to laugh Ann reached into her bag, pulling out the matching jar. She took the small box of matches and lit the candle before placing it in front of Sam’s gravestone. Anne had fallen silent as she watched her perform the simple task with total care and reverence. When she was finished Ann turned to her with a small expectant smile as she could see Anne’s brilliant mind working behind her dark eyes.

Anne’s mouth hung slightly open as the pieces of the puzzle clicked together to form the most perfect picture, “That jar-” Ann glanced down, she hadn’t even considered that it might upset her. Only when she looked back she didn’t look angry or hurt, it felt like she was searching for something. “Yes,” Ann answered in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I’ve seen them before.” Ann nodded. “At Christmas, there was one. With little fir trees etched on the side.” She looked down at the jar and saw the colourful summer flowers. Anne turned her head up as her hand slowly rose to caress Ann’s cheek. Ann closed her eyes and leaned into the touch as Anne took in every part of her perfect face. Ann pressed a soft kiss to the inside of her palm before opening her eyes. “It was you.” It wasn’t a question but Ann nodded anyway as Anne leaned forward pressing their lips together tenderly.

They allowed themselves to lose track of time as they continued to kiss languorously, their hands finding each other in their laps. They were in no rush to be anywhere but there in that moment, together, feeling each other close. Their kisses soft and searching as their fingers entwined, grounding themselves to each other.

Anne slowly pulled back, their heads resting together for a moment before she sat back. Ann’s cheeks were slightly flushed, the light breeze slightly ruffling her golden locks, her deep blue eyes staring back warmly at her. Anne couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this at peace. She ran the tip of her tongue against her bottom lip as she wondered whether to tell her the thoughts that played on her mind.

Ann tilted her head slightly, knowing that there was something she wanted to say. Anne quickly glanced at the gravestone, and nodded. “Sam said that I’d break your heart.” Ann evaded her gaze as the blush filled her face, of course he said that. He was always warning her not to fall for his sister, and then tagging on a ‘not yet’ to the end. Anne looked at her curiously at the unexpected smile crept across Ann’s face.

She raised her head, smiling confidently, “You will.” Anne’s brow furrowed as Ann slowly shook her head slightly, “Do it anyway.” A small laugh escaped Anne’s lips as Ann lifted her hand and tucked the lock of chestnut hair that had fallen across her forehead behind her ear. Her hand brushed Anne’s cheek on the way back down. She captured it and held it close against her face as she looked back at her.

She’d confessed to her that her brother, the one who knew who better than anyone in the world, had said she would break her heart. Instead of running from her she’d stayed. Her eyes filled with a certainty she’d never seen before. How was this extraordinary woman in her life? “Anne?” The question so quietly spoken she almost hadn’t heard it even though they were less than a foot apart. Her head nodded slightly in response. “Let’s go home.”