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Calm, fair day. Out early to Leeds with Miss W--. Her first time climbing. She did well, though admitted having watched tutorials last night. Had lunch at Crow Nest with Miss W--, pancakes. Miss W--’s friends from India popped by. The girl, Harriet, tolerable, but noisy and much too enthusiastic. The boy, Ryan, an absolute noodle. Miss W-- told me he harassed her in Himachal Pradesh; one of the reasons why she left for home. Miss W-- pale and trembling when they arrived - he had the nerve to try and approach her! Would have told them to leave, but Miss W-- said no!-- she did not wish to insult them. They are, to boot, a new couple, which makes the whole thing all the more outrageous. Apparently Miss Harriet has no idea about what went on with her waste-of-space boyfriend and her friend before. Staid with Miss W-- while they were there - did not feel comfortable leaving her alone. There can’t be anything worse than having to listen to travel stories from people who haven’t done anything of interest and lack the talent to at least make it sound like they have. Asked the boy why he chose the volunteer program he was on. He said--- to make a difference. Vapid half-person. I said--- bit of a philanthropist, are you? --- what’s that, he said. Composed myself but I heard Miss W-- giggle. He said he was very much in love with Harriet, how he had realised it when Miss W-- had left and they were alone. So cross with his words and behaviour that I snapped in two the wooden paper knife I had been toying with! Miss W--’s cousin brought it from South Africa--- really truly sorry I broke it. Cut my hand handsomely as well--- Miss W-- dismissing the whole thing, more worried for my wound. Very attentive. Said how sorry I was, how could I replace it, she said no--- it didn’t matter. Promised I would think of something. She said she would hold it just as dear. No doubt the hassle  about my cut proved much to them, and they left, having staid barely an hour. Miss W-- timorous until the moment they left. His presence no doubt shocking to her, and his visit unwanted. He seemed annoyingly harmless, dumb as a boot--- hard to say whether he enjoyed seeing her so shaky or not--- a simpleton like that might not even think he’s done any harm. How it pains me that someone so absolutely useless has hurt her so much! Lingered for a few more hours at Crow Nest-- a good walk in the garden, tea and the rest of the pancakes in the sunroom. Miss W--’s mood greatly relaxed and elated once we were alone.

 

What a curious little thing she is! One minute she seems nothing but comfortable in my presence; the other she pulls back and acts cool. I don’t quite know what to make of it all, but I’ve seen the way she looks at me. I am now all too aware that she has some kind of emotional baggage that prevents her from thoroughly enjoying my company, something she has not shared with me yet, something that makes her avoid my touch and herself touching me. Either it will prove a problem or it will dissolve with time-- I will spend more time with her-- I have decided to pursue this woman. I am not certain of anything yet, but I find her company pleasing and her person relatively interesting; good education, clearly something of an adventurous nature, albeit a bit lost with herself for now at least. And, if I construe correctly from her talking and manner, she is probably the cutest and most innocent queer woman I have ever come across, though she hardly knows it herself. That alone makes it worthwhile to get closer to her. I find I am somewhat smitten with her; today it was nigh impossible to think straight (pun intended) in her presence. Could hardly take my eyes off her, stumbling on my words etc. I must take care not to push her in any way. I might be wrong (rare, but not unheard of), and I don’t want to risk losing her friendship over folly summer infatuation. Testing the water today; as I was leaving, we were joking about one thing or the other, she lamenting about how it is her lot in life to periodically have some man pester her, wishing she’d have me by her side to shoo them off. Said I would happily, as I was very fond of her already. Said I reckoned she felt the same about me. How I confused her! Said I regretted telling her, she must think badly of me or despise me, no! -- she, unwavering, said she never could think ill of me. She said she was glad I had told her, shaking her head, though, saying she did not know what to think. Then said she was fond of me too, but rather as a friend. Took her hand and told her very firmly she needn’t be afraid; I would not hurt her, and would always respect our friendship over everything. Thought to myself I was only flirting, but how my heart raced! She timid still, when I held her hand, but much less so than before. I will give her space now, and not visit for a day or two -- she seemed shaken and in need of space for her thoughts. She is to go to the Lakes next week for a month. I am sorry to see her go, but I have a feeling I needn’t fear losing her affection. She will likely be in touch sooner or later. In any case, some time alone to reflect and compose is welcome.

 

Anne tossed her pen to the pencil holder on her desk and sat back with a sigh, a content smile on her lips. 

 

Quite a day.

 

The cut on her palm had gone from bluntly aching to itching, and she tapped the patch on it lightly. It meant no climbing for some time, but she didn’t mind. Other matters were more pressing, more engaging now. 

 

She pressed her phone’s home button to check the time and remembered she’d promised to call Vere today. The mere thought of it made her stretch her neck irritated. The bubbly, elated feeling in her chest was gone, and all of a sudden her lungs shrunk and she felt she couldn’t fill them no matter how deep a breath she took. She knew the matter couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be avoided, but she was standing on a mental cliff’s edge. She had pushed all memory of Vere so far away she struggled to remember what she looked, smelled and sounded like, but the prospect of contacting Vere again blew a heavy wind over a valley covered in fog, revealing a landscape of memories painfully clear and raw. She shot up from her chair and very nearly sent another phone flying across the room, but controlled herself and just firmly patted her desk.

 

Don’t be a fool. You need to make your peace with it.

 

She opened her phone, found Vere’s number and brought the phone to her ear. Perhaps she was busy and wouldn’t pick up. That’d give Anne some more time to avoid getting in touch. 

 

Nonsense. You don’t need more time. 

 

“Hello?” 

 

Anne was not prepared to hear her voice.

 

“Hello…? Anne? Is that you?”

 

“Ye-- yes. Hello.” 

 

“Oh, thank god!”

 

Anne clenched her teeth and closed her eyes. The relief in Vere’s tone was unbearable to hear. 

 

“I’ve been so worried, you didn’t say anything--- I thought you hated me!”

 

That isn’t entirely out of the picture.

 

 “I’m sorry” Anne managed to whisper, “how are you?”

 

“Oh, me? Good. It’s--- I’m good. And you? Are you in London?”

 

“No, I’m home. For the time being.”

 

“Oh. I see. What’s the weather like in Halifax?”

 

Is that what you wanted to talk about? The weather?  

 

“It’s a lovely summer evening.” 

 

“That’s nice. It’s looking like a windy night here. Donald’s just gotten back from---”

 

“What did you want to talk about?” Anne spat, cutting Vere off. Her shoulders tensed and she bit her lip. 

 

“Anne, I---” Vere started, but fell silent. Anne didn’t encourage her to continue. 

 

“Anne, I’m sorry.” 

 

“About what?” Anne huffed and avoided a sniff by quietly wiping her nose to the back of her hand. 

 

“About… how we parted. I didn’t--- and please believe me--- I didn’t realize we were not… on the same page about-- Well, you know.” 

 

Do I? You can’t even say it out loud. 

 

“Anne?”

 

“Mhh?”

 

“Are you still there?”

 

“... Yes.” 

 

“Are you in London any time soon?” Vere asked, her whisper so kind and gentle it shattered Anne’s heart, “I’d really much rather talk to you face to face.” 

 

“I… I don’t know.” 

 

I don’t know about London. I don’t know about talking face to face.

 

“Well, I’m… I’m going next week. Let me know if you--”

 

“I’ll think about it.” 

 

“Thank you. Oh, I could bring your hoodie. You forgot it here.”

 

“Oh. Which one?”

 

“The Calvin Klein one. The one I… The one I borrowed.”

 

Anne felt a rapid, stinging frost grow over her lungs. The one Vere had borrowed. The one she’d snatched to herself every time she was cold and they’d cuddle on the sofa in front of the fireplace under the massive blanket. 

 

“You can keep it.” Anne let the phone drop from her ear. 

 

“Anne. Anne!” She heard Vere call her and reluctantly brought the phone to her ear again, “Anne, I don’t want there to be bad blood between us--”

 

“There isn’t” Anne croaked, “I have to go now.” 

 

“Anne---!” 

 

Anne ended the call before she could hear one more word from Vere. She shook, and with trembling hands she turned off her phone and tossed it on the desk. A stiffening wave of shock washed over her, and as soon as it was over, she felt a bout of nausea coming in. She rushed out of her study, down the corridor to the bathroom and barely had the time to shut the door before throwing herself over the toilet and emptying her stomach. 

 

The cramp in her gut refused to relent and it had her gagging and gasping curled up on the bathroom floor for a good while. Gingerly, she rubbed her stomach, steadied her breathing, letting the weird but welcome physical bliss that followed vomiting sooth her. When she felt like she could move again, she carefully sat up and rested against the sink cabinet, wiping her mouth to her hand. The coarse patch on her palm brushed against her lips and she was gently reminded that other things had happened today.  

 

She had a new person in her hands now. Someone interesting. Interesting enough to provide Anne with the distraction she desperately now needed. And she just might prove good enough. A friend, if nothing else. Someone who still wanted her company. So, she’d concentrate on her. Her fae of a neighbour.



***

 

Ann sat down on the utility room floor and rested against the quietly humming washing machine. Anne Lister had just left, packed her things back to her holdall bag; Ann could still smell her - well, she wasn’t sure if it was her perfume or shampoo or just… Anne Lister, but there was still a whiff of sweat, salt, juniper and rosemary in the air. Anne Lister had just left. Anne Lister had just left and said---

 

“You dealt with him so… well. I wish I’d always have you with me” Ann had shaken her head, smiling sadly. 

 

“You could have” Anne Lister had said, in the doorway, her smile bright, but a bit shy. 

 

“Hmm?” Ann had bit her lip, given Anne Lister a minute head shake. 

 

“I-- I could be here. For you. If you-- If that’s what you want.” 

 

Anne Lister had stepped closer, brushing Ann’s hand gingerly. 

 

“What…?” 

 

“I… Mhh… I’ve come to care about you, Ann” Anne Lister had whispered, locking eyes with Ann, “and I think you feel the same way about me.”

 

Ann buried her face in her hands and groaned. Something clonked loudly in the washing machine, and made her jolt. Ann had wanted to take Anne Lister’s hand, but instead she had pulled away, stepping back. Anne Lister’s smile had dropped and she’d bowed her head. Anne Lister had muttered she was sorry. Ann’s heart had clenched. 

 

“I’m sorry” Anne Lister had said, “You must think so poorly of me. You’ve just been forced to meet the guy who harassed you, and here I am---”

 

“No, Anne, I---”

 

“Forcing myself on you, not one bit better---”

 

Ann had finally taken her hand. Assured her she was a thousand times better than Ryan. Anne Lister had lamented her conduct and how Ann must despise her now. Ann had very firmly told her she could never despise Anne Lister. Anne Lister had nodded and stepped back, and had looked at Ann evaluatively, her head tilted. 

 

“Well, I… Have I… Misunderstood you?” Anne Lister had said. Ann’s heart had pounded in her chest like roaring thunder. 

 

“No, I… I care about you, too, Anne, just... “ her words had just been a quivering breath. Anne Lister had pursed her lips minutely, then smiled and nodded.

 

“I understand. I’m sorry, I’ve insulted you---”

 

“No, no you haven’t, Anne--”

 

“No, I have. And I’m sorry.”

 

Anne Lister had assured her she valued their friendship and would do anything to protect and respect it. Ann had wanted to take her hand, but hadn't dared approach Anne Lister. 

 

“You don’t need to be frightened. And I hope this won’t make things awkward” Anne Lister had said, “I will never hurt you, Ann, and I’m grateful and delighted to have you as my friend. I hope that won’t change.”

 

Ann had only managed to shake her head. Anne Lister had just briefly patted her on the shoulder quite cumbersomely, and left. They’d shared one shy smile before Anne Lister had gotten into her car. Ann had only returned inside, when she could no longer see Anne Lister’s car driving down the driveway. 

 

Ann had wanted to say something. She had wanted to say how her heart leapt when Anne Lister smiled at her. How she felt like she was floating when Anne Lister touched her. How every hug they shared seemed to take away an ache on her body. Anne Lister brought such light to her days, and she never wanted to lose her. She had wanted to say all of that, but of course she couldn’t tell Anne Lister. How embarrassing and off-putting would that be.

 

Anne Lister told me she liked me.

 

The thought brought a faint smile on her lips. 

 

Anne Lister told me she cared about me. Well. That isn’t the same as liking me. There’s not much to like about me. 

 

But she did say that. 

 

Ann got up, smiling, biting her lip. She cared very much about Anne Lister, too. She left the laundry room, turned off the light and closed the door. A frown took over her expression. 

 

She’ll get bored of me. I’m not what she’s looking for. I read her blog. I know what she wants. I can’t give her that. She’ll be fed up with me. Either as a friend or--- Well, as a friend.

 

She spotted the frying pan in the sink, their glasses and plates on the stone counter. She fought a smile and shook her head.

 

But she did say that.



***

 

Cloudy for two days now. Visited Eliza again yesterday-- she still did not want to receive me. Left her a little note, and she called this morning-- on the phone for ½ hour. She poorly for some time now, did not want to see me, being cranky and tired. I very sympathetic. Said nothing about Vere or having befriended Miss W-- Such talk always upsets her. Ended the phone call very good friends. Out with Jack and Argus for 1 ½ hours after lunch. Planning on visiting Miss W-- briefly this evening; she travels to the Lakes tomorrow. I have kept my distance; only brief texting, she asking about my hand etc. Told her I was away for these two days, which is partially true. She has not asked much after me, and I daren’t think what she thinks of me now. Could well be I ruined the whole affair saying what I did last time. I will pop by today unannounced and see how she receives me (if at all). My instinct tells me I need not fret one bit; she likes me well, and I know how to navigate situations like this. She’s certainly not the first woman to have a crush on me, and I doubt she’ll be the last. I need only to be careful - she can’t get the idea that I’m pushing her in any way. Which I’m not--- surely this is more a gentle nudge. But best be on my backfoot for now and give her ample time to think. I thought long about what to give her to replace the paper knife. I think I’ve found something I’m happy to part with and she will like. I want things to go smoothly and be in my control-- I will wear my turtle neck top I remember her admiring (though she never said anything; but I saw her eyes linger on me), and I will take Jack with me. She can turn me down, but I doubt she’ll say no to him. 

 

Anne’s phone buzzed in her pocket, interrupting her. She pushed back in her chair, sighing annoyed, digging it out. 

 

Ann Walker

I don’t want to pack

 

Ann Walker

Why is packing so awful

 

Anne chuckled and ran her thumb over her lips before opening her phone and typing a reply. 

 

Okay first

You need to pick one bag

Just one

 

I’ve got three now

 

Good Lord

How long are you going for again?



4 weeks

I need a lot of stuff




I suppose they’ve got a laundry machine over there



Yes ofc



Well then

Then you only need to 

pack enough knickers and socks for 2 weeks

 

I’m not going to hang out

in my underwear for 4 weeks Anne



I wasn’t finished

Here:

1 pair of jeans

1 pair of hiking trousers

3 t-shirts

1 hoodie

1 pair of sneakers

hiking boots

Wind breaker

Swimsuit

 

+ one smart casual outfit

 

And you’re good to go




It’s July

I will need shorts

And a few dresses at least

Ugh 

This is agony




You spent 2 years in India

I bet you didn’t have 3 bags with you there



You’re right

I had 7

 

Good heavens



See?

I’m hopeless

Come over and help?



Anne’s heart fluttered at the last message. Before she knew what to reply, Ann Walker was typing again.

 

My cousin’s here, but she’s useless

As bad as me

Or worse




The situation does sound dire

Perhaps I can bring someone with me?



“Jack!” she called the puppy gently. He was sleeping under the desk, curled up at her feet. Sloppy, he crawled out and turned his tired eyes to her. Anne snapped a picture and sent it to Ann Walker. Jack slumped down and rolled on his side. 



YES

YES PLEASE



I’ll see you soon

Don’t pick any more clothes



Yes, ma’am

See you soon



Anne hummed and got up, a soft smile dangling on her lips. She made her way to her nightstand and opened the middle drawer, digging out her jewellery box. 

 

Yes. Yes, I think she’ll like this very much. 

 

She closed the drawer, shoved the small leather pouch in her pocket and went to pick up the sleepy puppy. 

 

“I’m taking you with me” she spoke to him as he yawned, “I’m sure you’ve missed her.” The puppy wagged its tail lazily. 

 

***

 

“What’s so funny?” Catherine’s voice was a gentle snap to Ann, who immediately put her phone away. 

 

“Ah--- nothing” Ann frowned and tossed her phone on her bed, returning to the task at hand, “just Anne sending pics of Jack.” 

 

“Jack? Oh, the p---”

 

“The puppy, yeah.”

 

“Is she going to dump him with you again?” Cath mused slightly bitterly, “while she’s off to wherever.”

 

“No, she’s not” Ann cut her off, “she knows I miss him.”

 

“Have you been seeing her?”

 

“Wha-- what do you mean, ‘seeing her’?” Ann frowned and let out a disbelieving chuckle, “I saw her a few days ago, we went climbing--”

 

“Climbing?” Cath was astonished, “you? Up--- up a wall?”

 

“Yes, Cath, up a wall---”

 

“Well, I… I take it you’re still friends. With her, then” Cath cut her off and pursed her lips. 

 

“Yes, yes I am. Why? Is there a problem?” Ann cocked her head. 

 

Cath shrugged, looking mildly displeased and suspicious. 

 

“No, I… I just thought… You know, don’t gay people usually befriend other… other gay people? Why is she suddenly all over you?”

 

“Because we’re neighbours, for heaven’s sake!” Ann laughed out loud, “Cath, come on. What are you getting at?”

 

“Nothing! I just… I just wanted to make sure she hasn’t… you know… Done anything to you. And it’s just--- you’re not gay, are you?”

 

“No, Cath, I’m not gay---” Ann sighed and rubbed her temples.

 

“So, yeah, I think she’s a bit too friendly--”

 

“Too friendly? How’d you even know? You haven’t even met her.”

 

“You bring her up every time we talk--”

 

“Because you ask what I’ve been up to, and I’ve been spending time with her!” Ann was losing her cool, “Cath, I really don’t get it, why are you so upset about--”

 

“Because!” Cath cut her off, but didn’t seem to be able to continue.

 

“Hmm? Yes?” Ann pushed her, placing her hands on her hips.

 

“Because… Because I think she’s just trying to get in your pants” she declared. Ann laughed in disbelief, “I read her blog! Seriously, Ann, she’s--- she’s a casanova, and I… I don’t want you to be involved with someone like that. I don’t want her to hurt you--”

 

“Oh, oh thank you. Thank you, Catherine, for doing such thorough research for me. Thank you for also doing that with every single bloke that’s ever approached me” Ann spat sarcastically, “Thank you for also checking them and making sure I don’t get hurt.” 

 

“Ann! This is different---”

 

“How? How is it different?” Ann interrupted, “Anne is kind, caring and nothing but civil with me. She’s given me something else but my own misery and loneliness to think about. And I’m gutted that you think she’s got some… ulterior motive just because she’s gay.” 

 

“It’s not because she’s gay!”

 

“Oh, oh really?”

 

“Really. It’s because she’s--- Anne Lister.”

 

“Oh, please. Just because someone writes a bit of raunchy stuff on their blog doesn’t mean they bed their friends.” 

 

“Well, she does.”

 

“Well, not me.” Ann was cross, and took her anger out on one of her stuffed bags, opening it and pouring its contents on the floor. 

 

If you’d really read her blog, and not just the juicy bits, you’d know she’s had her heart broken time and time again. 

 

Cath sighed and slumped down on the bed.

 

“Ann, I’m sorry” she spoke, “I really am. And I’m glad you’ve got a friend, please believe me. It’s just… people talk, and it’s hard to not mind what they say. Perhaps, if I could meet her in person--”

 

The bedroom door opened on its own and both women froze to their spots. At first, they saw no one step in, but then a red setter puppy dashed across the room to Ann. 

 

“Oh---!” Ann crouched and greeted the enthusiastic puppy, “hello, Jack, hello---! Oh, I know, I know, it’s been ages! Oh---” the puppy jumped against her and she stumbled down, “oh, hello, darling---” 

 

Catherine stared at the pair of them, colour slowly draining from her face. Ann got back up on her feet and picked the puppy up. 

 

“Well” she turned to her cousin, smirking at her obvious horror, “it appears some dreams do come true, Cath. Come say hi.” She bit her lip at Cath’s audible gulp, and left the room. 

 

“Coming!” she called downstairs, unable to contain her wide grin. 



***

 

Anne had given her opinion on so many pieces of clothing that all fabrics, prints and colours looked the same to her now, but they had managed to narrow Ann Walker’s luggage down to one bag and one backpack. Anne sipped her wine casually, watching amused as Ann Walker and her cousin bickered over one final piece Ann Walker apparently needed for her stay; a cocktail dress. Ann Walker wanted to take a sage maxi dress, but her cousin insisted on a light blue a-line halter neck dress with a subtle lace pattern. 

 

“I like the colour better” Ann Walker looked at the sage dress evaluatively, “and this is a bit more comfortable.”

 

“You already have a maxi dress packed” Catherine counter-argued, “and besides, this is just in case you need something a bit more formal.”

 

Ann Walker turned to Anne, raising a quizzical brow. Anne shrugged.

 

“You’re only two hours away, so I wouldn’t overthink it” Anne tried to navigate, “but I’m with Catherine here. I think light blue would suit you better---”

 

“Yes! Thank you!” Catherine squealed, “you’re absolutely right, she looks like a corpse in sage--”

 

Anne chortled to her wine. 

 

“CATH!” 

 

“Well, it isn’t your best colour---”

 

“I’ve worked at a morgue, and I can tell sage isn’t the colour you’re looking for” Anne mused, grinning, drawing out a giggle from Ann Walker. 

 

“You’ve--- worked at a--- morgue?!” Catherine’s jaw dropped. 

 

“Coroner’s office” Anne corrected, “dead bodies anyway.” Catherine looked like she didn’t know if it was horrifying or fantastic. 

 

“Okay, can we then perhaps establish” Ann Walker spoke, “that I do not look like a corpse in sage.”

 

“I’m sure you look just fine” Anne smiled, but apparently that was not the answer Ann Walker wanted.

 

“Just fine?” she cocked her head, her brow raised, “not helping, Anne.” Anne snorted and signalled towards the open suitcase.

 

“I got you from three bags to one--” she started but was cut off by Ann Walker.

 

“Yeah, fair enough. Fair enough. Fine, I’ll leave this” she put the sage dress back in the wardrobe.

 

“Good. It’s always good to leave at least one item in” Anne teased, “lest the wardrobe think you’ve abandoned it for good.” Catherine laughed out loud at Anne’s remark, and Anne barely dodged the bundled pair of socks Ann Walker sent flying her way.

 

“Not helping!” Ann Walker declared again, but her stern tone melted into a laugh. Anne bit her lip. She enjoyed the relaxed mood; Catherine had been as stiff as a board when Anne had arrived, but once Anne had quite leisurely teased her about her remarks on Anne’s character to Ann Walker before (which had mortified the poor girl, but at least she’d seen Anne wasn’t someone to be afraid of) and they’d opened the wine, packing and chit chat had taken a much smoother, more pleasing course. 

 

“I thought you were done” Anne sniggered and tossed the socks back to Ann Walker, who caught them and dropped them in the suitcase, before placing her hands on her hips conclusively. 

 

“I am. I think I am--” a car honked and interrupted her.

 

“That’s dad” Catherine got up from the bed, “I’ll let him in. You better be ready in 5 minutes” she pointed at Ann, “ah---! Jack!” the dog had jumped against her leg and she nearly fell stumbling out the bedroom to the hallway. Ann Walker giggled at the sight before turning to Anne, who also got up, ready to leave. 

 

“Are you sure you can’t give him to me for the trip?” Ann Walker asked, smiling sadly. Anne huffed and shook her head.

 

“No. A month is too long. I’d miss him. And he’d miss home.” 

 

“I won’t see you for the longest time” Ann Walker spoke, and Anne had an inkling she perhaps did not mean the pair of them. 

 

“Mhh” Anne could only nod in response, “oh--! I meant to give you something. Before you leave” she searched her pocket, “for the paper knife I broke…” she pulled out the little leather pouch. Ann Walker came to her. 

 

“You shouldn't have, Anne. I told you---” she mumbled, when Anne handed her the pouch, “what is it?”

 

“Open it.” 

 

Anne sought to keep her smile at bay as she watched Ann Walker pull out an emerald pendant on a gold necklace.

 

“I bought it in Venice, a million years ago” Anne frowned slightly, “it’s something I’ve had with me on my travels many times. It’s silly, and not very useful--”

 

“It’s beautiful” Ann Walker muttered, eyeing the pendant, looking slightly stunned, “Is it--?”

 

“An emerald? Yes.”

 

“Anne, I can’t take it--” Ann Walker breathed, but Anne cut her off.

 

“Nonsense. Of course you can. I’m giving it to you” she insisted gently. Ann Walker gave her a bright smile and then sought to unclasp the necklace. Anne took it from her gingerly.

 

“May I?” she suggested. Ann Walker nodded and lifted her hair. Anne stepped behind her and carefully put the necklace around Ann Walker’s neck. She could catch the scent of jasmine on Ann Walker’s hair and skin. She closed her eyes for a moment, before she clasped the necklace and stepped back. 

 

“There.” 

 

Ann Walker turned and fiddled with the pendant, a shy smile on her face. 

 

“How does it look?” she muttered.

 

“It suits you” Anne spoke, her eyes keen on Ann Walker’s hands fiddling with the necklace. 

 

“Not just ‘just fine’?” Ann Walker smirked and Anne let out a soft laugh, “thank you, Anne. It’s perfect.” 

 

“I’m glad you like it. Anyway, it hasn’t seen any adventures with me lately” Anne huffed and waved her hands, “a jaunt to the lakes should do it good.” 

 

“I find that hard to believe,” Ann Walker smirked. Anne blinked, confused. 

 

“Well, fresh air has multiple health benefits--” she started, but was interrupted by Ann Walker’s hearty giggle.

 

“No, I mean…” she bit her lip, “you not having any adventures.” Anne laughed and tossed her head back.

 

“Ah-- well. Sometimes it’s good to just… take some time at home” she looked at Ann Walker smiling, “for now, that’s proved the best for me.” Ann Walker huffed a shy laugh. 

 

“I’ll miss you” she then spoke barely audibly. Anne stepped closer and placed her hands on Ann Walker’s shoulders. 

 

“I’ll miss you too” she said, “what plans do you have for the Lakes?”

 

Ann Walker shook her head. 

 

“I know you’ll think it’s absolutely criminal, but I’ll probably just occupy the sun bed for the most of the time” she admitted, sounding embarrassed, “what are you up to?”

 

“I need to go to London next week” Anne sighed and a wave of fatigue and low-key annoyance washed over her, “I need to meet with my publisher and… I decided to meet with Vere. I haven’t told her yet, in case I change my mind but… I think I will.” She looked down and twitched ever so slightly, when she felt Ann Walker’s hands on her arms. 

 

“I’m happy for you” Ann Walker spoke, “It must be hard, but I… I think you’ll feel better afterwards. Having done things your way. Setting the pace.” 

 

Anne lifted her eyes and met with Ann Walker’s. Ann Walker’s smile was faint, but kind and warm, and Anne felt herself melt before it. 

 

“You better be ready---” they heard Catherine a second before she burst in the bedroom, “oh--- Are you ready? Dad’s sour; Delia took 4 hours to pack her things.” Anne glanced at Catherine and received an icy, evaluating gaze in return. She stepped in to hug Ann Walker, and was surprised at how tightly Ann Walker hugged her back.

 

“Have a safe trip” Anne spoke and stepped away, “let me know when you get there. And any tips for hikes and whatnot, you know how to reach me.” Ann Walker bit her lip and nodded.

 

“I know. Thank you. Cuddle Jack for me, will you?” 

 

“I can’t promise you that. I’m not very cuddly.” Ann Walker smirked and narrowed her eyes at Anne’s words, but then shook her head. 

 

“Right, I’m off” Anne declared and patted the side of her leg. Jack came to her and followed her to the door, “Catherine, look after that one. And don’t let her wear sage.” Her last words made Catherine chuckle. 

 

“I won’t. Nice meeting you.”

 

“Pleasure’s all mine” Anne said, “come on, Jack. Bye” she turned to the room once more and made a silly little bow to them both. Ann Walker tittered. 

 

“Bye, Anne.” 

 

Anne closed the door after her, but left it just minutely ajar. Jack jogged down the hallway towards the stairs, but Anne listened on for a second longer. 

 

“What was that about?” she heard Catherine, snarky. 

 

“We hugged, Cath, for fuck’s sake--” 

 

Anne bit her lip and walked down the hallway. Jack was patiently waiting for her at the stairs.

 

“Come on, then, boy” she gave him a brief scratch on his neck before descending, “time to go home.”