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Prologue – Before

Jennifer is still dreaming, though she won’t recall the details when she wakes. It’s the same dream she has been having for more than twenty years and she’s not managed to remember it yet. Nonetheless though, it insists on coming back. At first she’d had it almost every night, and back then in the early days its fading afterimage, all she has ever retained in her conscious mind, had left her with a terrible sense of loss. She’d wept on waking, grown to dread those mornings, had to work really hard just to deal with the days after the dream. Then over the years it would come progressively more rarely until, with months having passed sometimes, it seemed almost certain it was gone for good. A blessed relief you might well think.

But somehow as time had gone on her feelings toward the dream had changed. The impression of loss had metamorphosed by tiny increments into wistfulness, then eventually nostalgia, which she found after these interludes that she missed. And then eventually after a season, or two, maybe even once after a whole year had passed – out of the blue it would be back. One morning, long after hope had faded and resignation grown familiar, she’d wake excited, knowing it had happened again.

And now, joy of joys, over the last few months she’s been waking two or three times a week with that familiarly shaped fragment of a memory skipping smoothly away out of focus. Slipping tantalisingly out of reach when she tries to grasp hold of it, like a mote of dust suspended on the water’s surface, skating out from between questing fingers.

And, though despite all her efforts, even now she cannot recall the specifics, still each day following the dream is always instilled with a hint of its flavour. A flavour which has changed yet again to a different and finally evolved character – no longer nostalgia now but an emotion she can’t even name. It puts a hint of a bounce into her step though, a roll into her stride, a humour into her manner. Something which those around her can’t explain but equally can’t fail to notice.

Occasional puzzled glances have been passing covertly between friends and acquaintances. There have, in recent weeks, even been two short light-hearted conversations, between different pairs of people who know her particularly well, half in jest (but not really in jest) about what’s going on with Jen.

It wouldn’t be right to say exactly what she’s dreaming about, when she doesn’t even know it herself. But the important thing, the wonderful thing, the delightful, the magical, the glorious thing, is that Jennifer…

…is still dreaming.

Morning

It was the day that Lynne was coming to stay and her impending arrival had been messing with Jen’s mind since she had first woken up. It was filling her head, draining her of all the mental processing power she might have been usefully assigning to other tasks. Effortlessly breaking her various trains of thought to the point that she could hardly even keep her attention focussed long enough to make breakfast.

If Jen had been thinking rationally she might have considered that Lynne wasn’t much of an early riser, and that it was several hundred miles down the country from the far north where she lived. But rational thought was in short supply this morning so whenever she heard, or more often imagined, a sound outside in the yard, she would glance out through the window yet again.

In spite of this distraction she had managed to put out food for her son Mike. He had also woken early, though not as early as Jen, and had come down to the farmhouse to eat from the cottage where he and his wife Julie lived. Then Jen had also fed Ray and Sarah when they had surfaced quite a lot later, mid morning really. That was understandable though she had thought, they were on their holidays after all.

While washing up after everyone had finished eating Jen was well placed to continue her irrational vigil – the sink stood in front of the kitchen window so she was facing directly out onto the yard. It was a modern kitchen, fitted only a few years ago, and there was a perfectly good dishwasher, but old habits die hard and she had fallen absentmindedly into the routine of running a bowl of water once she had finished her coffee.

Sarah had eventually noticed that Jen was doing all the clearing up and, feeling suddenly guilty for being a lazy guest, she’d grabbed a drying up cloth to help out. Ray had joined in too, gathering up the last of the crockery, a few mugs, a couple of plates, and bringing them through to the kitchen.

Ray was just getting on with the work, the undercurrent of emotional tension passing over her as ever as if it didn’t exist at all. Sarah however was entirely in tune with Jen’s nervousness and it was making her jumpy as Jen was. Eventually, as the older woman’s gaze flicked back up to the window yet again, Sarah flinched, fumbled the plate she was drying and dropped it. It shattered loudly startling them all as it hit the stone floor. Then of course canlı bahis Ray had reached down without thinking in her rush to help pick up the pieces and cut her hand.

“Look Ray do you mind if we go out for a while.” Ray was perched on the side of the bath with her hand over the sink. The bleeding had finally slowed and, having wiped the small but impressively messy wound clean, Sarah was carefully positioning a second plaster to hold the first in place.

“Jen’s so highly strung today she can barely speak and it’s getting to me. I could do with some clear air.”

Although Jen’s mood was essentially invisible to her Ray had learnt not to question this kind of statement from her girlfriend. What’s more she was entirely happy to adapt to the plan anyway. For Ray a day out with Sarah was always one of the best things which could possibly happen in the world, so really this turn of events was a small dream come true.

“No problem, we can borrow Julie’s car for the day, she won’t be needing it. What about Glastonbury? Full of druids, hippies, and other assorted nutters. Quite fun at this time of year although not as good as it is in the summer. We’d best avoid Wells, the Christmas market will be good but it’ll be overcrowded, and a bit over-the-top churchy too.”

Sarah finished up her first aid and, crumpling the packaging into her hand, kissed Ray on the forehead. “There you go, all fixed up, don’t do it again. Glastonbury sounds perfect then. We should get changed, it’s going to be cold.”

Not long later the two of them were tucked snugly into the Mini and on their way down the track to the main road. Folded in Ray’s wallet was the last minute shopping list from the front of the fridge (Jen was never one to waste the opportunity to delegate some housework) but other than that they were free for the day.

After the girls had driven off Jen had the house to herself. She took fresh linen upstairs and made up the bed in one of the spare rooms for Lynne. Then she brewed another cup of coffee and went with it to her armchair in the sitting room where she read for a while. Although it was a decent dose of caffeine, and she was quite enjoying the book, her early rise that morning had left her short of rest and her eyes gradually closed. She was pulled back awake a couple of times from the edge of sleep by little hypnic jerks, resolving each time, as you do, to concentrate better. So she would straighten up in the chair and, finding the beginning of the last paragraph she could remember, start reading again.

And then inevitably despite her best intentions, she slept, only jumping awake much later, with half a mug of cold coffee still on the table beside her and the book in her lap where it had come to rest. The vigorous knocking which had roused her was coming from the kitchen door.

Noon

Of course Lynne hadn’t found some miraculous shortcut. Some handy fold in time or space which was going to shave several hours off her journey. Instead she had been trapped for most of the morning on slow roads and in pouring rain on the motorway. The tide of traffic edged forward in tedious starts and stops, often far more slowly than she could have walked. Every time she looked at the sat nav her destination seemed to have skipped another twenty minutes or so further into the future, which was boding pretty ill for the road ahead.

Annie Lennox looping on the CD player was on her third time around and sweet dreams were quite definitely not made of this and hadn’t been for some time. But Lynne couldn’t summon the motivation to rummage through the chaos on the passenger seat and find an alternative so the band played on. Could have been worse, she thought, could have been Talking Heads.

*****

She wasn’t even quite sure how she had ended up driving south, but the initial seed which started it off was that both her kids were going to be elsewhere for Christmas. Adrian reasonably enough because he was spending a year abroad in New Zealand and it wouldn’t have been sensible, or even feasible, to come all the way back for a long weekend at home. But then, only a couple of weeks ago, Erica had mentioned that she was going to spend the holiday with her boyfriend and his family.

The cynic in Lynne half suspected that the deed had been done by email rather than on the phone to make things less awkward for her daughter. To allow her to present this as a fait accompli without discussion. Erica was, and there was no kind way of putting it, going through a phase of being a bit of a manipulative cow at the moment. She’d grow out of it sooner or later but for the time being the best thing to do had been just to shrug and move on. She’d only have ended up being a misery all weekend if Lynne had talked her into coming over anyway.

And after all it hadn’t been as if it was going to be the first Christmas without Carol. Realistically she couldn’t expect the kids to keep reorganising their lives around her forever and they’d both been there for her the year before.

Still bahis siteleri though the point in this instance was that she’d been left at a loose end. So when Jen had asked after her plans she’d let it slip out that she’d not got any, and then nothing had seemed more natural than to take her up on her offer to come and stay for a few nights.

Once it had been agreed though, dates set and all the rest, Lynne had had time to dwell on the idea and give it a decent overthinking. It had started to seem less and less sensible. The practical logical side of her, holding court at the surface of her thoughts, asked what exactly they were to each other now. Old friends separated by half a lifetime of experience? They might not even get on any more it argued. And going down to the farm again after the way it had turned out last time – well it seemed like a chancy prospect to say the best.

But deeper down, more viscerally, beneath this dissenting voice, it wasn’t as if she didn’t know she wanted to see Jen, she really did. Sure they’d been keeping in touch via email and instant messaging almost daily. But while that was all very well it was no real substitute for the full on sensory experience of actually being there, talking with her.

Meeting up at the beginning of November had been a bit of a revelation really. The woman she had met up with on the moor and taken off to the pub for lunch had seemed so well rounded, content, self assured. Hearing her talk almost offhandedly about the strength she had shown in bringing up her two sons and running the farm at the same time had impressed Lynne. Then hearing about how, with all that already on her plate, she had taken on Grace’s daughter too and raised her, had been astonishing.

If she were completely honest with herself she would have had to admit that she had found Jen magnetically attractive that day. Much more so than she had when they had first known each other all those years ago. Back in those days poor little Jennie had been a bit of a neurotic mess but there wasn’t a hint of that left any more. All the old mannerisms and styles of thought were still there for sure. Recognisable but somehow reorganised into a clearer synergy now. Working as they were, smoothly, confidently, in harmony, breathtaking.

It was inevitable really she supposed that time and a tough life were going to rebuild those who they didn’t shatter. And certainly Jen had not broken. Seeing the transformation manifested right there in front of her though had caught Lynne entirely by surprise.

Lynne had found herself wanting desperately to build a new connection with this greater Jennie. Not at all a revival of the relationship they had had before, she could recognise now how sadly flawed that had been, but perhaps the chance of something entirely different. And really, as she made her way down the road, the seductive possibility of that new connection was what she was finding most troubling.

Even if there was the hint of a spark there, a prospect she was just edging toward letting herself think about directly at that point (although as we have seen it had already been gaining weight in the deeper currents of her thoughts). Even if there was a spark, was she going to end up tiptoeing around the farm all over again. Hiding everything she wanted to say from another generation of Jennie’s family. Acting out some kind of, no doubt equally frustrating, restaging of the last time she had been there.

What had tipped the balance for her in the end was a solid reliable life lesson she’d picked up years before. You had to grab the opportunities fate presented you with – you couldn’t rely on them to keep on cropping up on demand. So she’d take the plunge, explore this unexpected possibility and see whether it might blossom into something interesting. Better that than just sit at home with only her crappy fake tree and the constant temptation of far too much easily accessible booze for company. Better that than staring across the room at the gap in her life where Carol had used to be.

*****

The congestion gradually cleared, and the starts became longer than the stops. In time they merged together and the queuing transformed imperceptibly at first into busy traffic and finally into open road.

Once she had found her way back into the rhythm of efficient motorway driving the miles started to add up fast and it seemed hardly any time at all before she was drifting down the slip road at her exit. From there the roads narrowed almost immediately as she twisted her way deep into the countryside. She was glad of the sat nav, otherwise she would have been fumbling with a road atlas as she didn’t know the way at all. Last time she had been here they had caught the train down and Jen’s father had picked them up from the station in his ancient Land Rover.

*****

That weekend had been the only time she had ever met him, ever met any of Jennie’s family actually. He had been a serious man, happier out in the orchards with his bahis şirketleri trees than with people, but disarmingly delighted to see his older daughter and keen to make Lynne welcome as her friend. He had been having a tough time, his wife had already been ill by then. Not bedbound yet though that would come soon enough, but pretty much housebound. She’d still hang on for another couple of years. Plenty of time to keep Jen’s head messed up while her and Lynne’s breakup had run its painful course. Then just long enough after that to meet her first grandchildren before she finally clocked off.

*****

Lynne kept on following the calm instructions of the machine as it guided her along. Eventually she reached the last turning off the public road up onto the track between the orchards. A lot had changed since she had last been here but somehow it was the same as well. The small group of buildings clustered around the farmhouse and nestled deep in the little valley had changed shape but it was still essentially the same place.

Several large modern outbuildings crowded around the yard now, homes to the various components of the brandy project she’d been told so much about – the new direction their business was taking. In the yard itself was one solitary vehicle, a Range Rover up next to the main house, which made it unusually quiet for a working farm. Lynne tucked her van in alongside, hearing the wheels crunching satisfyingly into the deep gravel as she came to a halt.

She’d been sort of expecting to see someone come to the door as she drove up. It wasn’t as if they’d have any through traffic after all and they knew she was coming. There was no sign of anybody around though so out she jumped, enjoying the feeling of stretching her legs even a little after so long trapped behind the driving seat. She peered in through the window into the empty kitchen as she made her way to the door.

Getting there she gave it a decent bashing with the heel of her palm, hard enough to make the latch rattle, to see if she could summon anyone up that way. On the point of giving up hope she was about to give in to bad manners and try the handle to see if the door was unlocked when at last she heard it being opened from the other side.

Peering out as it swung back was of course Jen, her pinkish complexion and drowsy eyes making it clear she’d been disturbed from a nap. Lynne found herself breaking into a broad smile, happier than she had even imagined she might be to see her friend. Jen had always looked unreasonably lovely when she had just been asleep.

“Have I woken you up again? I’ve not brought any coffee with me this time so we’ll have to use some of yours.”

Jen grabbed Lynne for a quick hug with one arm and then used the leverage to guide her into the kitchen.

“Come on in, I’ll put the kettle on. How was the drive down?”

“Traffic was bloody awful, weather was bloody awful, and it’ll be a long time before I want to hear the Eurythmics again. Everybody out are they? Thought there’d at least be a few people around the place?”

“It’s an off week, nobody renting time on the stills, same goes for next week actually. Julie’ll be up at the cottage, she’s eight months and finding it tiring so she’s not getting about much. Let’s see, the boys are off peddling our wares at one of the local markets, can’t recall which, maybe Bath? We’ve got people running stalls at about a dozen of them and Michael and Stephen are showing up at a different one every day.

“And Ray and Sarah have gone off the Glastonbury for the afternoon where they’ll undoubtedly buy a load of horrible tat and then completely lose interest in it as soon as they get it home.”

Lynne smiled, thinking of a chunk of rose quartz which she probably still had at the back of a drawer somewhere, “That’s basically compulsory at their age isn’t it?”

“Yup, total rite of passage.” Jen chuckled, “They’ll forget the shopping I’ve asked them to pick up too, I’d put money on it.”

The two of them sat at the table with their drinks. A farm kitchen is the usual focus of shared activity during the day, softer spaces with carpets and sofas only coming into play after dark.

“Brings back so many memories being here again.” said Lynne, “I’m quite glad it’s just you for now actually while I let it all sink in. I keep thinking about how much your mother disliked me, I’m not sure I realised until now how much that had cast a shadow over my visit.”

Jen looked down at her coffee, “She guessed what we were to each other of course, and hated it, so she decided to take it out on you knowing that would hurt me as well. She could be a vicious bitch when she wanted to be. I might try to excuse it by claiming it was because she was ill but actually you know what – I think she was just like that.

“Dad was clueless of course, he couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on all weekend.”

“Your father was a decent man and I liked him very much.”

“Yes, it’s true he was lovely, but he had the emotional insight of a rock. Grace’s daughter takes after him that way actually, and you’ll like her too I’m sure. But she can’t see the nose in front of her face sometimes either, even when you do point it out.

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