Mum and I left the farmhouse at a quarter to midnight, both in very high spirits. There had been a lot of laughter over desert when the wine had broken through the restraints people usually put on themselves in unknown company. I didn’t drink alcohol on principle, but I had found it easy to laugh along with everyone else. Now and then, Fred would catch my eye and grin and I would feel very light somehow. No surprises there, tiredness had been bound to appear at some point and bound to turn me into a smiling zombie.
“That was delightful!”, said mum, raising her hand once again to wave at the Alroys who were still standing in the doorway of the farmhouse.
“At what time are you leaving tomorrow?”, I asked, slipping my hand into hers as we entered the dark forest and pointed a flashlight at the path that shimmered milky gray in the moonlight. Arthur had offered to accompany us and by now, I was regretting that we had turned down his offer.
Mum groaned. “Six-thirty. Arthur says it’s the best time to leave. We’ll get to Dublin ahead of the traffic. But I’ll be gone all day. Are you sure you don’t want to come along?”
I nodded my head vigorously. I would never have told mum, but I preferred one lonely day to hours and hours of her flirty French accent. Plus, she needed to figure out where things were going with Arthur (if they were moving at all) or I would have to analyse them for her. Was I thinking too fast? No. She was using the accent. She was definitely flirting. Oh mum, why?
“I’ll be fine.”, I told her confidently. “I’m going to read and take a walk and be lazy. And there’s still Fred. Or Mrs Alroy.”
“I don’t like the way he looks at you. I don’t trust him at all. He’s too friendly. And so merry. Be careful, will you, honey? This boy looks like he’s broken many hearts.”
Look who’s talking. What about Arthur then? He’s not someone to be worried about? I didn’t say that of course.
“I don’t have any intention of falling in love or having my heart broken.”, I said. “This vacation belongs to the two of us. I love you, mum.” I just had the urge to voice these things. Especially the last one.
“I love you too… but tell me, when did you grow up? I should have been there.”
Silence had swallowed the cottage. I was lying in bed, snuggled up under the sheets, extremely tired, but unable to fall asleep. Mum was already snoring lightly in the other bedroom. I was turning the things she had said about Fred over and over in my mind. Mothers had this supernatural detector of untrustworthyness, hadn’t they? Could she be right? I would have to be on my guard. After all, I was my mother’s daughter which meant that mum wasn’t the only one who fell in love too fast.
The only comforting aspect about these thoughts was the conclusion I reached: If I was still able to think about this rationally, I would definitely not be tempted easily. I would be able to put up defenses. At this point, I figured that I really ought to go to sleep. Me beginning to think in “The Lord of the Rings” terms was a sign of abnormal tiredness.
Just before sleep washed over me, I remembered Emma. She wanted updates. But there was nothing to tell her. Nothing had happened, really.
I should have remembered to draw the curtains shut. I should have closed the window. Judging by the racket the birds made, it had to be well past daybreak, maybe even morning. My head was aching. Just let me go back to sleep… The bed was so comfortable. Just go back to –
“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
What the hell? Who was that? Moaning, I rolled over to check my watch. 8am. Time to wake up. Why hadn’t I heard mum leaving?
“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already – Good morning, Mag!”
I had somehow managed to get out of bed. Shielding my eyes against the bright sunlight, I had lumbered towards the window, thrown one look outside and yanked the curtains shut. Fred. I ran my fingers through my messy hair. What was he doing here? I reopened my eyes with some difficulty and peered through a crack in the curtains.
Fred was standing below my window, reading from a battered little copy of Romeo and Juliet. “ – Who is already sick and pale with grief, – Why don’t you come down, Mag? My voice is getting horse.”
“Merde…”, I mumbled so quietly that he couldn’t possibly hear me. “Du balai, Fred!”
“TEN minutes, ok?”
Don’t get me wrong: I am a morning person. I just like to spend my mornings alone. I like to wake up peacefully at eight in the morning, have breakfast with a good book in my hand and get to work on whatever I’m planning on doing that day. I don’t use my social skills in the morning. Everyone knows that. Well, everyone except Fred who had tickled the sleeping dragon without even meaning to. The Romeo and Juliet – thing had been a sweet idea, though.
Ten minutes later, I stepped onto the cottage’s small terrace, reasonably awake and hungry.
“What are you doing here?”, I asked, still a little annoyed. “It’s eight in the morning. And I’m on vacation!”
“It’s nice to see you too.” Fred grinned. “I was thinking, seeing that you’re all alone today and your mum can’t possibly say no, because she isn’t there – well, I was thinking that you might want to join me on a ride. Will’st thou? I’m taking the horses to the lake so they can go swimming and cool down a bit. Look, I even brought you something to wear.”
He held up a pair of baggy old jeans and a T-shirt.
“Um, thanks?” The temptation was strong. I hadn’t ridden on horseback since, well, I probably shouldn’t give it a try. But hadn’t mum said just before the holidays that I should learn to take risks?
“I’ll be back here in twenty minutes.”; said Fred. “You can have breakfast, change and pack some water and a book. And maybe a towel. We’ll be gone for a couple of hours. So… Are you coming?”
Still a little perplexed, I nodded. “Sure. Sounds like fun.”