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Welcome to my latest story. It is not a long as some of my recent stories — that will no doubt please some and disappoint others – but I hope you will enjoy it in either case. As ever, comments and feedback are very welcome and, as this is my submission for the 2017 Winter Holiday Story Competition, please take a moment to vote.
Thanks, as always, to Winterreisser for his skilful (and phenomenally speedy!) editing.
A note for my American readers: just to avoid any confusion, mentions of “football” of course mean soccer and not American Football ??
Copyright © ScattySue 2017
“No, Mum, I don’t have to go!” I insist.
“Okay, Amy, I know: you’re eighteen, you’re a big girl, you can look after yourself, yadda yadda yadda… I get it. Contrary to what you think, I was eighteen myself once and I know that spending Christmas in the middle of nowhere with a ninety-six-year-old great aunt isn’t going to be on your bucket list. Hell, it wouldn’t exactly make it onto my list of fifty things I’d rather do than watch paint dry!” Mum’s eyes soften slightly and I know she’s noticed the slight smile her comments have managed to elicit from me. That doesn’t mean she’s won though.
“See, even you don’t want to go so why are we even discussing this?” I retort with what I feel is a compelling argument. “Life’s too short!”
“Life is short, and for what’s left to Aunt Winnie, that’s definitely true.” Mum sighs and I can tell she’s going to try a new approach. “Listen, Amy; Winnie can’t have much longer and we’re practically the only family she has left after Mum going last year.” The sadness in Mum’s voice makes me wonder if the new tactic is going to be guilt. “Besides, Winnie wrote to ask us to visit her over Christmas…”
“Wrote to me, you mean,” I point out.
“Yes, and she seemed to want to see us — you especially — so much. Amy, did you not wonder why? This is going to sound horribly mercenary but I need to say it: her money’s got to go somewhere when she dies, so perhaps she’s thinking of us. Don’t look at me like that: I really don’t wish any ill on her but you can’t pretend what I’ve said isn’t true.” I give a reluctant nod; there has to be a reason for Great Aunt Winnie’s unexpected invitation so maybe Mum is right. “God knows I do what I can but we’re not exactly loaded, are we?” Ah, so it’s the ‘talk to me like an adult’ tactic. “Would it really kill you to spend one Christmas away from your mates?” she adds.
She has a point and what makes it harder is what she doesn’t say: she doesn’t try to guilt me by pointing out my desire to go to university next year, or that what I make from my part-time job she lets me keep, or even that she’s noticed that things have been a bit strained recently between me and Ciara, my closest friend. “Okay,” I agree, “but does it have to be…”
“Yes, we’re going to go until the Wednesday after Christmas, as she’s asked us,” Mum states firmly.
“Shit. That’ll be, like, six days!”
— ? — ? + + + + + * + + + + + — ? ? —
I peer at the screen of my phone trying to navigate the final part of the journey. The sat nav app was fine for most of the journey but things like postcodes and house numbers don’t seem to apply in the middle of the countryside.
“You said Great Aunt told you it was just past a fork in the road, didn’t you?” I ask Mum, “There looks like a fork coming up, just around this bend.”
“Okay,” she replies, slowing down a little. It’s only a little after four but the day’s dark grey, cloudy sky is already almost night-black. Headlights probe ahead, the hard light making the hedges and shrubs beside the road curiously two dimensional. I imagine looking down from above and seeing the road lined by flats, like some kind of film set, with struts behind them propping them up. “It’s the right fork I take, yes?” Mum asks urgently, snapping me back to reality.
“Uh, yes,” I reply, hastily looking back down at my phone to check.
“Okay, so…” We follow the road to the right. “How much… no, I think that’s it, on the left.” Mum slow the car as we approach. “Yes, Violet Cottage,” she says and I see the rather weather-worn wooden sign that she has already spotted, the faded words of the house name still readable in the headlights’ glare.
She turns carefully through the narrow gateway into the drive. At the top of the short driveway is a lean-to under which is a dirty, dilapidated old car that seems like it hasn’t moved in years by the look of the leaves that rest at the base of the windscreen and in small drifts by the wheels. This is not a good sign.
We climb out of the car into the chill, slightly damp air and Mum stretches, arching backwards to ease her spine. I look towards the house where there is little to see save the glow of light from the curtains of two windows and from the little window in the front door. “Come on,” Mum instructs “we’ll come back and unpack casino siteleri the car in a bit.” I feel a little spike of hope: perhaps it’ll be so dire inside that Mum can’t face staying either and we’ll immediately come back out and just drive away.
There’s a wait on the doorstep that’s long enough for the cold to start chilling the tips of my fingers and nose before the door eventually opens to Mum’s knocking. There’s only the briefest glimpse of Great Aunt Winnie before she steps back, the door hiding her as she holds it open, asking us to come in. We enter the spacious hallway as she closes the door behind us, then steps forward to take Mum’s hand, welcoming her as she kisses her cheek. “Nice to see you again, Aunt Winnie,” Mum says.
Now it’s my turn; her hand, thin and delicate, is cool against my skin while her wrinkled lips touch, dry and soft to my cheek. “Hello Amy; you’re just as pretty as I remember,” Great Aunt Winnie tells me, which is a curious non-compliment. I’d last seen her about eighteen months ago, at Gran’s funeral, so she’s basically saying I haven’t changed, which is a bit insulting as I feel my body and face have finally got their act together: my boobs, while not huge, at least show enough to get noticed, my acne has finally pissed off and joining the girl’s football team at college has had the extra benefit of shifting the last pre-teen puppy fat and giving my arse and legs some tone. So, yeah, I’m no supermodel but I reckon I’m more than ‘just as pretty’!
“Hello, Great Aunt,” I reply, “You’re looking…” I catch Mum’s warning look, “very well.” In truth, her appearance has surprised me; the dark, slim-fitting trousers and thick-knit burgundy roll-neck jumper are at odds with my preconceptions of what a ninety-six-year-old Great Aunt would be wearing.
“I think, if we are to spend the week in each other’s company, that we should dispense with the undue formality of honorifics; just ‘Winnie’, or ‘Win’, if you prefer.” Under the slightly hoarse quaver of old age, her voice is precise and clipped, almost the old-fashioned ‘BBC English’ accent of old newsreels and 1940’s radio. “That applies to you too, Jane,” she adds, looking at Mum, who nods. “Very well then. Are you hungry? Young Suzie, my home help lady, has helped me prepare a boef Bourguignonne for us all. I thought it should be nice to dine together and perhaps get to know one another a little.”
“Okay, Au… Winnie. Should we bring our cases in from the car first?” Mum asks.
“Oh, what a thoughtless hostess you must think me. Yes, yes… let us get you settled in first; you’ll not want to be fetching suitcases and unpacking after a meal, will you?”
And so that is what we do for the next quarter of an hour: lug cases in and up the stairs to our allocated rooms. Winnie apologises for not showing us but her “legs aren’t what they used to be” apparently and she now has her bedroom on the ground floor. However, the rooms are easy to find: Mum has the master bedroom that contains a surprisingly large double bed and I get the next room with its single bed, though it’s much better than the last bedroom that lacks even a bed. That’s an interesting philosophical question — is it a bedroom if there’s no bed? Mum insists it is because that’s what it was built to be. When I ask if that means that a bedroom converted to a bathroom is still a bedroom, she tells me to get on and unpack.
Mine is very much a guest room by the feel of it, bare save for a couple of watercolour paintings — by a skilled amateur, I guess — a house in one picture and the other a landscape: countryside in autumn. I sit on the bed and try to analyse my feelings now we’re here. Realistically, I had no choice but to come and I know it was probably unrealistic but I had hoped that just maybe, sometime over Christmas, Ciara might call me.
I can imagine her voice, nervous of course as she holds my hands and apologises. “I’m sorry, Amy but it was like a total shock finding out that you, like, actually fancied me in like a ‘in love with you, wanna be your girlfriend’ way and I know I shouldn’t have freaked out and said that stuff ’cause I’ve had such a crush on you since, like, forever and I just want to…” In my imagination, she licks her lips and she leans in to kiss me, a soft kiss that will be the first of many… It’s not going to happen, I know that. However much I want to believe her anger came from confusion at unexpected feelings of attraction to me, deep down I know that it wasn’t confusion but disgust; disgust at the idea that I’d been ‘perving’ over her body and revulsion that I could ever think that she might be a lesbian — ‘a dirty rug-muncher like you’ as she’d put it.
“Are you done, Amy?” Mum’s voice interrupts my sad thoughts. “Come and help me get the last things from the car.”
“Coming,” I reply with a sigh as we complete the unloading. There are several bags of food that we bought on our way here — Mum feeling that we ought to bring something to contribute canlı casino — and the box of Christmas tree decorations that Mum got all sentimental about. Thankfully we didn’t bring our slightly tatty artificial Christmas tree; as I pointed out, living in the country Winnie is probably the sort of person who has a real tree.
When we’ve finished, Winnie leads us to the dining room and then immediately asks us to help bring the food through from the kitchen — a casserole dish containing the boef Bourguignonne and bowls with the jacket potatoes and green beans — and place them on the dining table.
The food is served and Mum and I both compliment Winnie, though a little malicious thought wonders how much is Winnie’s work and how much is down to ‘Young Suzie’. I guess it doesn’t matter when the food is so good.
Mum and Winnie chat, small talk, which of course means the weather and whether it really will snow. “Oh yes, I really think it will,” Winnie assures Mum, “a little, anyway.” Though I say nothing, I hope it does; actual snow at Christmas would be pretty cool.
Winnie asks how Mum’s work is going and how she’s feeling – by which she means how is Mum coping after Gran’s death, I’m sure. “Do you miss Gran?” I ask Winnie on impulse, making Mum frown. She clearly thinks I’m being inappropriate but I am actually interested.
“Hmm, it was certainly a surprise, a shock really; Iris was fifteen years younger than I, you know, so I never thought that I might outlive her.” She gives her head a little shake as she looks at me. “I shall be ninety-six on the first of February, you know? However, if truth be told,” and she glances at Mum, a cryptic, unreadable expression on her face, “Iris and I were never especially close and, well, I suppose we had become somewhat estranged over the years. Sad, really, and not my choice but these things happen.” I am, and to my surprise, somewhat intrigued: what is it like at fifteen to suddenly have a baby sister? I thought the nearly thirteen-year gap between Rosie and me was huge, but over fifteen years? And what happened between these two sisters, I wonder, to push them apart?
“Tell me, Amy, what A Levels are you studying?” Winnie asks, killing my chance to question her.
“Oh, er, History, English Literature and Philosophy.”
“That sounds very interesting. I studied history myself, though there weren’t A-Levels back then, of course, just the School Leaving Certificates,” Winnie explains. She has that distracted look of someone remembering their past and I find myself studying her face. She is old, obviously, and thin. Her pale lips are wrinkled like much of her skin while deeper creases line her face, especially below her eyes and around her mouth. Her wavy hair is white with touches of grey and has been cut in a short, layered style that suits her and her watery-blue eyes are surprisingly alert and intelligent.
“It must have been good not to have to pick subjects at sixteen,” Mum comments, “you remember the struggle you had settling on the right three subjects, Amy?”
“No, Jane, you’re mistaken; I also studied just three subjects — German, History and Maths, in fact — but there was just the Higher School Leaving Certificate.” Winnie looks back to me. “And are you planning to go to University, Amy?” she asks me.
“Yes, to study History, or maybe Ancient History, if I get the grades. Did you go to Uni, Winnie?”
“Yes, I did. Now, who would like some dessert? Apple pie and cream.”
The table is cleared and dessert served and eaten but the conversation becomes more stilted, awkward even. Winnie apologises, saying she is tired. “Alas, I am not the girl I once was who could work a ten-hour shift and still have the energy to go out with friends.”
“We’ll wash up,” Mum says, selflessly volunteering me as well as herself. Still, the wine and food have been good and I’m feeling mellow. “Goodnight Winnie.”
“Yeah, goodnight,” I add.
— ? — ? + + + + + * + + + + + — ? ? —
There is a buzz of excitement as I wake. Not being here, obviously; even if Winnie seems not to be the crotchety old harridan I’d feared, yesterday was dull and boring. Damp, cold and grey outside I’d spent most of the day kicking my heels. Decorating the tree had been frustrating, with Mum continually criticising where I’d hung decorations. In the evening, Winnie dragged out an ancient Scrabble set and proceeded to thoroughly humiliate Mum and me, though I at least had the satisfaction of beating Mum by forty-eight points. Even my attempts to sneak off for a little intimate me time came to nothing. Fortunately, the squeaky floorboards alerted me because otherwise Mum would have walked into the bedroom and found me with my hands in my panties and a very frustrated look on my face!
No, the reason for my excitement is that looking out of my bedroom window last night, I saw small white dots falling: it was snowing! The question is, has it settled? My fingers caress the smooth skin of my kaçak casino mound and trace the moist line of my slit. Lying in bed last night I’d taken advantage of the privacy, though Mum sleeping next door meant I’d had to bury my face in the pillow when I finally came. Still, it’s tempting to take another turn… No, let’s check the snow first. If there’s nothing there then I can at least cheer myself up with an orgasm!
The air is chill as I slip from the snug warmth of the bed, my nightshirt doing nothing to keep my legs and feet warm. I tug the curtain aside and while it is no pristine-white, winter wonderland, there is a thick dusting of snow on grass and leaves that make the kid inside me giggle, just a bit. I know it’s only Christmas Eve and the snow isn’t that deep but a white Christmas would make the stay here a little bit more… well, Christmassy, I suppose.
However, when I tell Mum an hour later, over breakfast, that I’m going to go out for a walk in the snow, her reply is a curt, “Don’t be ridiculous, Amy; you’re not twelve anymore and you’ll just get cold and wet. Anyway, it’s Christmas Eve and we can help get everything ready.” I’m about to point out that being stuck here, just the three of us cooped up indoors for another five days, will drive me nuts when, to my surprise, Winnie speaks up for me.
“Now Jane, don’t be such an old fuddy-duddy; leave that to me. Let her go out and enjoy the snow and the fresh air and the countryside if she wishes. I’m sure at eighteen you wouldn’t have wanted to be stuck indoors with just your mother and an elderly relative,” she says, before turning to me. “I can lend you a pair of my old walking boots, I’m sure they’ll fit you, and some thick socks. If you’re interested, there’s a nice walk across the fields and through Long Acre Coppice over the hill to Brichester. There’ll be a few shops and a café there where you can warm up.”
“It’s a little town, Amy. There were signposts to it as we drove here; you obviously didn’t notice them,” Mum tells me. I decide not to argue.
“Thanks, Winnie, that sounds good,” I say, hoping that ends any further discussion on me staying in.
With breakfast over, I follow Winnie to the little utility room off the kitchen where the washing machine and tumble dryer reside, carrying the rolled-up pair of socks she’s found for me. In the corner are two pairs of Wellington boots and two pairs of walking boots. I reach for the pair of green wellingtons that look about my size but Winnie stops me. “I think these would be better; they are much warmer than the Wellies,” she says, bending slowly to pick up the larger pair of walking boots and hand them to me. I’m tempted to ask why there are two pairs of each but don’t feel I should pry when Winnie is being so considerate and helpful.
“They used to belong to my friend Audrey,” Winnie says, answering my unasked question. “She was my best friend and we would often go walking together until she became too ill…” There is a note of deep sadness and loss in Winnie’s voice and one that causes me an upsurge of empathy after what happened between me and my friend Ciara a few weeks ago. Ciara is still very much alive, of course, but I can understand missing your best friend and I place my hand on her arm, trying to give her a little comfort. “Thank you, Amy,” she says, her voice tight, giving my hand a little pat. “Here, sit on that box and try them on.”
I do as instructed — the thick socks and then the boots — and it seems she was right about my feet for the boots fit very well indeed. “I think we should do something about that coat of yours too,” she says and turns to move away.
“Why?” I ask, “This is quite warm.”
“Perhaps, but it does not look to be particularly waterproof, should it snow again, and it only comes down to your waist. I might suggest that not being able to show your tight trousered bottom is a reasonable sacrifice for not freezing your arse off — if you will pardon my language. The wind will be cold out in the fields,” she adds. I’m still trying to process Winnie’s unexpected comment on my bum as she hands me a dark turquoise coat that looks like it could be used for tackling some serious hiking, up to and including small mountains. However, I yield to her insistence that I try it on and I have to admit that it feels very warm and comfortable. “And look, it has a little pocket on the sleeve to hold a mobile phone,” she says, pointing to the short zip on the left forearm of the coat.”
“Thank you, Winnie, for the coat and the boots. Oh, yes, and also for what you said to Mum about letting me go for this walk.”
“Think nothing of it,” she replies with a wave of her hand. “I’m grateful that you’re here and that I shall not be on my own this Christmas.”
“Will you and Mum be okay?” I ask, thinking for the first time that Mum might not choose to be stuck indoors with Winnie any more than I would.
“Oh yes, don’t worry about us. I am going to ask Jane to drive me to a farm a few miles away; it has a farm shop so we might purchase some things for tomorrow’s dinner. It has a tea room too, so take whatever time you want; we’ll be gone for an hour or two, I should think.”
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