In a stark contrast to the manner in which Ann had woken up the previous morning, full of trepidation and a healthy dose of dread, she opened her eyes gently, feeling sated and full for the first time in a while. The beams on the ceiling were the first things she saw, her eyes still blurry from slumber, brown and stretching through the room and framing the open window. A breeze was wafting inwards, bowing out the white curtains that let in a smattering of light on the floor. The sun must just have risen, for besides the orange glow rising barely above the tree line, the dimness and fog of early morning still hung outside.
With a start, Ann realized that the bed beside her was empty, cold—she felt bereft for a moment and her stomach twisted, her pessimistic mind going to the worst possible scenario: Anne had left. Then, after a spell, rational thought pushed through—ever perseverant—and Ann realized that it was her house. She was probably eating breakfast—Anne Lister didn’t strike her as the kind of person that slept in late.
Fully placated, Ann relaxed against the pillows with a wild grin. She shut her eyes and bit her lip to try to shake of the absurd feeling of excitement she had, but she couldn’t lose it. She’d finally… done it and enjoyed it. And somehow, she’d been worthy of the most interesting person she’d ever met. Who was… very good with her hands.
The feelings she’d felt last night… Ann tangled herself in the sheets again with a sigh. She could still feel Ann’s hands on her, grasping and touching and doing… that. She tried to will the stupid grin off her face but found her efforts futile. She was stupidly, dumbly happy.
Loathe to get out of bed at the early hour of—she checked the nightstand—six forty, she slipped the covers off and cast her eyes to the ground in an effort to find her dress from the night before. It was momentarily obscured from view by the previously discarded Cambridge sweatshirt, a view that made Ann smirk. She padded into the bathroom, the tile cold, and took in the sight of herself in the mirror. Oh, God, had Anne seen her this morning?
Her curly blonde hair was more like a mass of tangled, yellow straw, an image her mother might have called a bird’s nest in Ann’s youth. Her face was still puffy with sleep, and just below her collarbone, was that—Ann frowned. Damn Anne and her accursed mouth. Shrugging on her dress, though, she realized it covered the offending mark well enough to save her from explaining it to the Priestley’s. It was for their sake, then, that she attempted to brush through the matted curls with her fingers, before ultimately tying it in a knot on the top of her head. It was loose, shoddy at best, but she doubted Anne had any hair ties lying around.
Giving her appearance one last up and down, she took a deep breath and made her way down not one but two flights of stairs—this damn house, she thought—and moved into the kitchen. There was a steaming kettle on one of the burners, but that was the only clue that anyone was awake or even downstairs. Ann wandered around a bit, looking for a tea pot, perhaps, until she saw that one of the patio doors was open and was letting a gentle breeze in. The rich smell of flowers from the expansive gardens blew in and Ann inhaled with a small smile. There, sitting with her back to her, was a figure Ann knew without a doubt was Anne. She was reading something and sipping tea, looking out on the hills and trees and the lake behind her house. Ann felt herself smile involuntarily and stepped out to meet her.
The light from the east nearly blinded Ann as she stepped onto the patio, reflected from the glass of the greenhouse she’d seen when she first arrived. The patio looked different in this light, in any light, really, and when she looked up to the sky, she could still imagine the massive expanse of stars that had been there just hours ago. Anne was buried deep in a book, tea cup in one hand, her hair tucked behind her ears charmingly. Ann took a moment to appreciate the sight of her before ruining her pleasant silence.
“Good morning,” she said softly, and Anne looked up in mild surprise, which quickly morphed into a satisfied smile.
“Good morning, Ann,” she said softly, and the way she said her name made Ann shiver. Anne set down her book and motioned her to sit, and Ann did, trying her best to smooth out her dress. Ann debated telling the other woman about the mark she’d left but ultimately decided against it. Best not start the morning on that particular subject.
“Yes, please.” Anne had already set a few other cups out, and readied cream and sugar for the others who spent the night and might’ve wakened early. “I’ll just have cream, please.” Anne looked at her, eyebrow quirked, for just a moment too long before pouring the tea over the cream and handing it to Ann. As she stretched her arm out, Ann suddenly had an unobstructed view of what the other woman was wearing. Ann had been too wrapped up in her own appearance and how rumpled she must have looked in yesterday’s dress to even notice Anne’s. It was a simple long sleeve top and slacks, not really anything out of the ordinary, but she looked somehow both professional and yet at utter leisure. Perhaps what made Ann feel a little warm, then, was the way the woman had her legs stretched forward, spread, with one hand holding the book she had picked up again and the other with fingers spread throughout the pages. It was such a mundane gesture, but it didn’t look mundane on her. Ann tried not to stare as she fingered the corner of a page.
“Did you sleep well?” The question might’ve been innocent, but Ann flushed deeply anyway and hid her face behind the act of sipping tea.
“I—yes, I did.” She sipped. “Did you?” Anne hummed in response, still reading her book. Ann craned her neck to see the title—Life After Warming. Good Lord, did this woman ever take a break? Who reads doomsday environmental essays before eight in the morning?
Ann cleared her throat, but Anne ignored her, thumbing to the next page and breathing out her nose. Ann looked down at her tea, her eyes flitting between them, before Anne’s eyes met hers again with a quirked eyebrow. It pulled her lips up into a small smirk, one Ann had to already be looking for to see, and then—dammit. She was looking at her mouth again.
“So,” Anne said, and her book snapped close with a sound that nearly made Ann jump in her seat. “I don’t think I’ve had the privilege of showing you the greenhouse yet.” Ann felt her face light up, as if she weren’t in control of her own expressions. She inwardly grimaced at her own enthusiasm and hoped for a fraction of a second that Anne hadn’t seen. Anne’s smirk grew, laughing a bit with it, and Ann sighed. One day, maybe, she’d be able to conjure some sort of poker face around this woman to hide her unfortunate obsession. But when Anne rolled her shoulders and cracked her neck with a small sigh, it was all Ann could do not to jump her right then and there. Maybe someday.
Anne nodded her head towards the direction of the greenhouse, and obediently Ann followed her. The morning light was a watery yellow color, streaking across the still-wet grass and glistening as they walked across it. Anne was walking a ways in front of her, their pace quick towards the expansive glass structure, and Ann frowned at her back as she struggled to keep up.
Inside the greenhouse, the air was thick and humid, smelling like soil and flowers and greenery. Ann couldn’t help but take a deep breath in, letting her eyes close. It was beautiful inside, and the warmth of the air brushed over her arms and the skin of her legs. Much like something else had the night prior.
In a moment Ann was looking curiously at a large pot perched on a glass table, trying to push away the unbidden thought. Down, girl, she chastised herself, and lifted her finger to the petal of the gorgeous lily in front of her.
“Anne, these are absolutely gorgeous,” she breathed, and flitted towards another, larger section filled with hydrangeas. “These are so tall! How did you get them to grow like this? The ones I’ve seen in London have been so short—oh, Lord, and these hollyhocks are stunning!” Ann was making her rounds through the greenhouse, touching each flower and leaf with the same gentleness she treated her plants at home with. These plants, however, were much more exquisite than her own, something she hoped her plants would never hear her say. Her small apartment, however, never would have fit an entire bush of hydrangeas, much less had the light for them to flourish the way Anne’s had. Her devil’s ivy would have to do.
Ann pushed forward, meandering towards a group of hanging plants and a stack of pallets with an abundance of smaller pots of flowers perched atop them. Ann couldn’t keep the smile off her face at the tiny marigolds shining in front of her, illuminated by the orange rays of sun beginning to peek over the hill.
She turned towards Anne, who had followed behind her and was staring at Ann with an odd expression on her face. “These are…” Ann began, clearing her throat lightly as Anne moved to lean her back against the pallets next to Ann. Anne crossed her legs in front of her, her eyes never leaving Ann’s, and she swallowed. “This is just… amazing. I’m not sure I could’ve done something as lovely as this, even with the supplies, I’m just—” I’m blown away, she thought, and bit her lip.
She was about to reach out and brush one of the larger blooms with her finger, delighting at the softness of the petals, before Anne blurted out, “Have you ever done this before?” Ann’s hand stopped mid reach and she furrowed her brow. Had she ever gardened before? Well, of course—wasn’t that the point of bringing her out here?
“I mean, I have my own collection of plants at home, and before um… my parents died, I used to help my mom in her gardens outside—”
“No, Ann, not—not gardening, I mean…” Ann turned to her left, where Anne’s gaze was on the floor. Anne bit her lip and looked to the ceiling, as if bracing herself for something. Anne took a steadying breath. “Ann, have you ever done…” she gestured between them, and Ann felt the beginnings of a flush rise on her neck from her foolishness. “Have you done… this before?” Well, had she ever hooked up with a friend of a friend while said friends slept in complete ignorance a floor below and had one of the best nights of her life? Her answer was a most definite no, she had not, but Ann didn’t think that was what Anne was asking, nor did she find that in any way an appropriate answer. Ann didn’t exactly give off the sense that she might be… into women, at least not in the way Anne did. And she supposed Anne was right in asking—no, she’d never done that before.
“I haven’t,” Ann replied after a beat, and her voice was a little too quiet. She cleared her throat, mimicking Anne and looking at the floor. “But that doesn’t mean that I… that I, like, regret it or anything.” She pulled her bottom lip into her mouth. “It felt… right, I guess,” she breathed, and shrugged her shoulders in a poor imitation of nonchalance. Ann turned her head and finally looked up at Anne.
The older woman was watching at her with her lips parted and that thing in her eyes from the night before, and suddenly the prickling warmth of the greenhouse seemed to grow sharper, and she was surrounded by a stifling heat. Ann swallowed thickly and flinched as the fingers of Anne’s right hand brushed her left.
“You know,” Anne murmured, her fingers grazing more purposely against Ann’s. “I have some business in London in the next few weeks. Perhaps I could come… visit, or something.”
It was all Ann could do to keep her mouth from dropping open at Anne’s admittance. She wanted to… she wanted to see her again. See her home, where she lived. Maybe even her meek excuse for a garden. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and it came out in a short sigh.
“That would be… I mean, yes, I’d love it if you’d come visit,” she stammered, her voice breathy and words coming out fast. She couldn’t keep the dumb smile off her face. The poker-face-in-practice would have to wait. “My apartment isn’t nearly as grand as this, or as Eliza’s house, so don’t be disappointed, but… but I could make us a nice meal, and—” Ann never finished, because Anne brought her hand to the back of Ann’s neck and pulled their mouths together.
Somehow, it felt just as brilliant as the night before, perhaps even better with the absence of Ann’s trepidation. But her chest filled with that same warmth that travelled low, and her stomach filled with it, like butterflies. Her hands itched and she reached up to thread her fingers through Anne’s hair, the soft, dark strands feeling like silk beneath her fingers as their lips moved together.
Anne, who had clearly meant for the kiss to be rather chaste, moved to pull away, but Ann’s mouth immediately transferred to the other woman’s neck. She needed Anne close to her, the warmth inside her demanded it, and she felt a sigh leave Anne’s throat as she pressed her lips to the warm skin.
Then, a brilliant idea struck her.
Taking hints from what Anne had done the night before, Ann mouthed at the pulse point below her jaw, forcing an exhale again from Anne. When a nip of Ann’s teeth made the woman clench her hands into Ann’s forearms, she moved up towards her ear, bringing the lobe between her teeth and tugging at it.
The sound Anne let out, then, was worth waiting for years to hear.
Ann felt herself being backed up against the pallets behind her, the wood digging into her back in a way that only sent more heat unfurling within her, reaching down towards the apex of her thighs. Anne’s hands were on her hips, steadying her, as her aggressive mouth claimed Ann’s once more. She sighed, hips canting towards Anne’s, delighting in the feeling of being trapped by her.
“You’re a fast learner,” Anne breathed, her own breaths coming out quick as she pulled Ann’s dress over her shoulder to kiss her there. Ann shuddered below her, her head hanging back. The leaves of the plants above her brushed her face, and the added stimulation made her clench her hands again and hum through her mouth.
Anne’s lips glided over the bare skin of her collar bone and shoulder, her tongue darting out to lick a path for her mouth to follow. Ann reached her hands under the shirt Anne was wearing and pulled Anne closer to her, searching for some kind of friction to ease the ache that had irrefutably settled in her core. “Your skin tastes—” Anne paused, mid endearment, bringing her head up from mouthing at her chest to look at something more closely. Ann squirmed against her, almost mewling at the loss on contact, before she realized what Anne must be looking at. She paled, looking up into Anne’s eyes, but they were still trained on the love bite on her chest. Anne’s lips were parted, her hair a mess, and her eyes wild—to Ann, she had never looked hotter than she did right at that moment. Her throat felt dry as she swallowed, and she felt her underwear begin to grow damp the longer Anne Lister stared at her with unabashed hunger in her eyes.
Anne licked her lips, finally looking back to Ann, before moving forward to kiss her again, her mouth less controlled than before, less coordinated. Anne brushed her tongue against Ann’s, and Ann suddenly felt a nudge between her legs. Almost on instinct, Ann spread them, and suddenly Anne’s thigh was between her own, and she was pressed even tighter between Anne and the pallets.
“You’re so…” Ann grazed her teeth on Anne’s bottom lip, and Anne let out a low noise before giving Ann a punishing kiss that made Ann’s head spin. “Fuck—”
Her hands fisting in Anne’s hair again, Ann gave an experimental roll of her hips on the other woman’s leg, and both women let out a groan at the much-needed relief. Anne pulled away from her, looking into her eyes. Ann shivered, and as she ground against her thigh again, Anne brought her hands up to her waist, her fingers brushing the undersides of her breasts, her mouth hanging open as she brushed her fingers against them.
“Oh, Lord,” sighed Ann, her voice high and breathy. Her hands pulled Anne closer, the other woman’s mouth finding solace in sloppily spotting kissing across Ann’s jawline. She staggered, then, forcefully shoving Ann against the wood behind her in a way that made Ann’s vision go white with pleasure, but also had the unfortunate repercussion of sending a single marigold pot tumbling to the floor, where is shattered loudly.
Ann gasped in surprise, her eyes opening to see the mess, but Anne simply reached to her face and held her by her jaw, tilting her head away to nip at her neck. Hopefully this time it was done carefully enough not to leave a mark.
“Ignore it,” came Anne’s hissed reply to the massacred marigold pot, her face still buried in Ann’s neck. “You’re so beautiful… you make me—”
Ann’s hearing seemed to short out for a moment, her eyes still staring at the shattered remains of the plant. Her mind flew back to the night before, where she’d immediately fallen asleep without doing anything to Anne. Oh, Lord, she thought, biting her lip as a familiar wave of anxiety hit her. What did she think of her, taking everything and giving nothing? Would she have been any good if she’d tried it?
The idea that Anne was so frantic right then because she had… rather pent up feelings from the night prior made Ann’s heart sink in her chest. She pulled her neck, probably covered in bites now, away from Anne. The other woman’s eyes were still wild, her lips parted and swollen, much like Ann’s probably were, and she felt another pulse of heat at her core. It sent a wash of guilt through Ann—what right did she have to want to do this, when she’d been properly sated the night before, when she’d left Anne completely wanting?.
Anne swallowed, wiping at her mouth with her wrist, and leaned back. She was still breathing heavily, her eyes trained on the floor. Make this better! Ann thought to herself, but she had no idea what she could do now for her. She blew out a steadying breath.
“What if…” Ann began softly. “What if the others are awake, now?” Anne sighed, the disappointment in her eyes flashing as she looked back to the ground.
“You’re right, of course,” she said, and her voice was low in a way that still made Ann shiver. Anne looked back to her and pushed a few flyaways behind her ears, in an affectionate yet still somehow very sexy gesture. “I want you to know I had a really, really good time last night.” She pressed her lips one last time to Ann’s, and Ann couldn’t help but lean into her as she pulled away, chasing her lips. Had she read her mind? Anne smiled against her, her eyes still closed. “And I’d really, really like it if I could see you again soon.” Ann beamed.
Anne pulled away from her and backed up, smoothing out her shirt and allowing Ann time to retie her dress and shake the wrinkles out of it once more. Fishing her phone out of her pocket, Anne handed it to Ann and gestured for her to take it.
“Your number,” she said, smirking out the side of her mouth. Ann flushed but took the phone and entered her contact information. “This way I can find you without having to ask nosy Eliza where you live.” Ann let out a snort and handed the phone back to her.
“Are you sure you want to take that away from her?” Ann asked as they moved out of the greenhouse, leaving the poor marigold plant unattended. “She really is in need for new gossip soon. I’m quite tired of hearing the same stories over and over again.” Anne smiled as they stepped into the sun outside.
“Hopefully, the next time you and I won’t figure so heavily into it.”
This time, as they walked to the house, Anne walked next to her with their fingers intertwined, lightly brushing as they entered into the large cottage once more.
Hugging Anne goodbye hadn’t been the anxiety inducing experience Ann would have thought it to be. John and Eugenie hadn’t even wakened by the time Eliza wished to leave, so the Priestley’s and Ann settled with saying goodbye to Anne’s aunt, her father, and Marian, who raised her eyebrows at Ann after she told them she’d had a wonderful night. Ann had turned red, and Anne had given some tongue in cheek comment about it being no thanks to Marian.
They settled in the car—Ann, the Priestley’s, and Lady—and William made the strenuous adventure of backing the vehicle down the driveway. Then, they were off, Lady’s head resting on the Anais Nin book in her lap that Anne had forced into her hands on the way out. “You mustn’t forget this,” she’d said with a wink, and Ann had found herself reddening for the umpteenth time that morning.
Ann ran her fingers over the cover, feeling the indentations of the title. Loathe to disturb Lady’s relaxation on the book cover, she carefully slipped it out and flipped the book open. It fell open to the passage Anne had read to her last night, and a small bookmark settled in the pages. For your personal enjoyment, it read. Signed, AL. Ann grinned down at the book, biting her lip and looking out the window.
“Ann, dear,” came Eliza’s voice from the front of the car. Ann met her eyes in the rearview mirror with a small smile. “What are you smiling about?”
“Oh, nothing,” she murmured, petting Lady’s head as the car jostled over a bump. “Just happy to be going home, I suppose.” Eliza hummed in response, looking back down at the book in front of her and leaving Ann to stare out the window at the scenery as they exited the Lake District.
She hadn’t completely lied to Eliza, she thought. There was some bit of truth to it. She was glad to be going back to London, back to her plants, her neighbors, her students, and the friends she’d made. And her mind was already thinking about when Anne was coming to visit her, and the things they’d to together—or, to each other. Ann smiled down at the book.
For her personal enjoyment, indeed.