The sound of wheels scraping over rough, rock-strewn ground served as my alarm clock. I detached myself from the window, shook my head slightly and tried to focus. I’d had such a nice dream… something about… chocolate chip cookies. Mum and Arthur were still talking. It didn’t look like they’d even noticed my forty-minute silence. But something else had changed. I blinked several times to get a clear vision and then stared out of the window. WOW!
It was beautiful. Arthur was steering the car towards a large old farmhouse that stretched in front of us, its polished windows glinting lazily in the morning sun (It was 11am at that moment). The ancient trees all around us filtered the light with their huge light green leaves turning it all green and mellow. I started to grin almost automatically. I always smile at pretty things.
The car came to a halt outside a garage to the side of the house. Mum jumped out immediately, voicing her enthusiasm loudly and in a strong French accent. I got out of the car too and was momentarily paralyzed by the pleasant summer air. But wait a minute… mum hadn’t had that much of an accent when she had talked to the airport staff. Or anyone else. But then I saw the look on Arthur’s face and thought I understood why she was doing it. But before I had time to be embarrassed about her (seriously, that was teenager-stile, wasn’t it?), the polished green door of the farmhouse opened.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” A woman stepped out of the open door, clasping her hands and beaming at mum and me. “You must be the Rangottières.”
“Yes we are.” Mum stepped forward to shake the woman’s hand, smiling. “And you are Mrs. Alroy?”
“Correct.” Mrs. Alroy nodded. She was a short, but strangely elegant woman. Her dark hair was piled messily on top of her head, her jeans and blouse were covered in flour (it looked like she had been baking), but her dark eyes shone brightly out of her freckly face and she moved forwards gracefully to shake my hand as well.
“You must be Mathilde. How nice to meet you and your mother.” I wanted to answer and say hello, but Mrs. Alroy just kept talking, putting one hand onto my shoulder in a motherly gesture. She was about a head shorter than me so it must have looked pretty strange. “Why don’t you follow me to the kitchen while Arthur takes your luggage down to the cottage? Tell us, when you’re ready, won’t you Arthur? And meanwhile we can a have a little welcoming drink.”
Leaving Arthur to unload the car, Mrs. Alroy stepped up to mum took her arm and led her into the house. I waved at Arthur and followed, more slowly though, taking my time to admire the house. It was made of bright red bricks that were slowly heating up in the morning sun. Bees and other insects buzzed around the roses that climbed the wall around the front door which was protected from rain and snow by a small wooden roof above it, also painted green. All the window-frames were painted green too, as well as the opened blinds on either side of them.
When I stepped inside the house, I was welcomed by the soft, cool air coming from within. The hallway looked plain on first site. Simple wooden floor boards, white walls, a narrow wooden staircase further along the hallway. But framed photographs hanging here and there as well as flowers placed in vases on several small tables and the overflowing coat-hanger gave the room a cozy feeling.
Mum and Mrs. Alroy were talking to each other in the room to the right of the hallway. There was no door separating it from the place where I was standing, only a dark-green frame. I stepped through it and into a roomy kitchen. Mum was leaning against a kitchen-counter, holding a glass and obviously at ease with herself. Mrs. Alroy had gone back to what she had been doing before our arrival: she seemed to be making bread and was attacking the dough with her small hands.
They both turned around when they heard me enter. “Do you like the house?”, Mrs. Alroy asked. And then, again without waiting for an answer: “You two should wait until you see the cottage. Small, but very comfortable. I’m sure you will like it a lot and it’s close to the paddock too. Mathilde, would you like to drink something?” Before I knew it, she had skipped to the fridge, poured some golden liquid into a glass and handed it to me. It turned out to be apple juice.
When Mrs. Alroy had placed two loafs of bread into the antique-looking oven to bake, we all sat around the kitchen table. It too had a vase with wild flowers on it. Over the course of the next half hour, mum and Mrs. Alroy talked about their work. I didn’t say much, I liked listening to them. Mrs. Alroy usually worked in an office during winter, but took her work home over the summer so she could look after the farm and the guests. “Oh, and the horses, of course.”, she said, laughing. I looked up at that. Horses? I hadn’t seen any yet.
Her husband went to the office every day and only returned in the afternoon. “I’m so glad to have Arthur around. He’s a great help.”
Weird… so Arthur and Mrs. Alroy weren’t married? I could see mum coming to the same conclusion next to me and grinned to myself.
As if he’d heard his name, Arthur appeared in the doorway, crouching slightly and one of his huge hands on the frame. He smiled  as he addressed Mrs. Alroy “If you don’t mind, Marissa, I’ll get started on the mail now. It’s piling up again.”
“Mind? Why should I mind? Thank you so much.” Mrs. Alroy got up and walked over to the oven to check on the baking bread. “So it’s going to be on me to show our guests to the cottage.” She grinned at mum and me. I could tell that mum was a little disappointed. I had to digest that for a second. Mum had known Arthur for, what, two hours? Had something happened while I had slept during the car-ride? Of course not. But if it had… I should be happy for mum. But I just didn’t have a good feeling around him.
“Mathilde, are you coming?” Mum’s voice brought me back to earth. The three adults were all standing by the door, giving me questioning looks.
“Ya, sorry, I… was dreaming.” I got up quickly and followed mum and Mrs. Alroy out of the house, leaving Arthur to disappear into one of its cool rooms.

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