Beauty or Beast? Chapter 23 – Et in Arcadia Ego… Revisited

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Devine had booked the holiday cottage for five days and six nights, to give plenty of time at the weekends to prepare for the trip and to recover after the holiday (as she often found that she needed a day to rest after having travelled to and from a holiday and taking in all the new and exciting sights while she was there). Rowan and Devine agreed that Devine would arrive at the cottage first, to collect the key and make sure that everything was suitable for Rowan’s arrival, and she could also buy some food for their stay from the local shop. As the cottage was not too far away, only on the outskirts of the city, Rowan didn’t need to worry about taking a train or other long-distance form of transport – a taxi would get hir there quickly enough.

Rowan spent the Saturday working online to earn some money to cover any expenses zhe may have during the holiday, and then began packing enough for a week into one of hir bags. The cottage was fully equipped with cutlery and crockery, and bedlinen and towels and suchlike, so Rowan didn’t need to carry too much with hir. In the evening, Rowan told Ash about the plan for the week, and promised to telephone again when zhe was back in hir room after the holiday. Then Rowan logged on to chat to Devine and confirm their plans after Devine’s arrival at the cottage the following day. Devine was to get a taxi that would take her to the cottage at 4pm, which was the time when the key would be available to collect. She would then go into the cottage and sign in to the internet connection there. She would check that the facilities were as they expected them to be, and then message Rowan to say either: yes, Rowan should set off and join her as soon as possible, or no, there was a problem so Rowan should stay where zhe was.

Next morning, Rowan began to get properly excited. Zhe remembered hir first meeting with Devine, and how them meeting in person rather than through their avatars had only made their connection stronger, so zhe felt sure that spending whole days and nights in the same house as Devine could only be a positive thing. Zhe got dressed and finished packing hir bag, then did some work to try to take hir mind off the anticipation of the holiday for a while, as there were still hours to wait before Devine would contact hir. Zhe almost didn’t feel like eating at brunch time (the morning meal paid for by the vouchers was later on weekends), but went to the catering outlet for some pasta (minus the chips) to keep hir going until the evening meal, wherever that might be.

Rowan did some more work in the afternoon, and also did some pacing up and down in hir room while zhe waited for the time when the message from Devine would come through. Eventually, the hour arrived. Rowan sat still then, and imagined Devine arriving at the cottage at 4pm, then making her way to the key collection point, then making her way back to the cottage, then letting herself in, then putting her bag down, then looking around the cottage to check all the facilities, then sitting at the dining room table to write a message to Rowan on her portable computer, then sending it. No message arrived when Rowan reached that point in hir imaginary vision, so zhe paced up and down some more. Hir imagination started thinking of all the kinds of problems that Devine might have encountered, and was sure the message would say the holiday would be no good, when zhe heard the chime on hir computer to indicate a message had arrived.

The message said, ‘All good – see you soon! Kiss, kiss. D’. Rowan celebrated for a moment, then sprang into action in accordance with their plan. Zhe telephoned for a taxi and was able to get one that would be arriving in a few minutes, so zhe got ready, picked up hir bag, locked up hir room and then went outside to wait in the foyer of the building. The taxi driver arrived promptly, and loaded Rowan, the wheelchair and the bag into the car and then they set off. The driver was familiar with the stately home and the holiday cottages, so it didn’t take them long to get there, and the driver dropped Rowan off almost at the door of the cottage Devine had booked. Rowan paid the driver, picked up hir bag again, then headed round the corner and knocked on the quaint wooden door.

In the few moments while Rowan was waiting for Devine to open the door, zhe looked at the cottage and its surroundings. The path that led round the cottage and up to the door was smooth and paved, and low-growing colourful plants lined its edge. The cottage itself was painted white, and it had a thatched roof. It was just one storey tall, but impressively wide and deep. The windows at the front were quite large, but divided into small squares by metal strips. The cottage’s nearest neighbours were quite far away, so the cottage felt secluded and peaceful, and yet not too far away from useful amenities.

When Devine opened the door and saw that Rowan had arrived, her face lit up with a smile. She blew kisses to Rowan and Rowan blew kisses back. They shook hands, then Devine ushered Rowan indoors. The ramp into the cottage was easy to negotiate, and Rowan saw that the door opened into a large open-plan living room, dining room and kitchen area. A door at the far end of the living room led through to the bathroom and bedrooms. The living room area was cosy with carpeting that was not too difficult for Rowan’s wheelchair to move over, and a large comfortable couch. The kitchen and dining room had a smooth floor that would be easy to wash, but was not slippery. There was a dining table that was large enough for Devine’s portable computer plus it had space for Rowan and Devine to eat their meals on it. The kitchen was compact but contained an oven and hob as well as a fridge and sink, and some drawers and cupboards that had the cooking pans and trays plus crockery and cutlery in them.

Rowan could smell something cooking, and it smelled like pasta. Devine laughed and said that it was indeed pasta – she was making Rowan’s favourite meal for their first night in the cottage. Devine showed Rowan the bathroom, which was impressively spacious and accessible. She then showed Rowan the bedrooms. She had picked the one at the front of the house for herself, and Rowan’s would be the one at the back of the house, as there was more room for the wheelchair in there. Rowan went in and put hir bag down, then unpacked some of hir belongings before rejoining Devine in the kitchen to watch hir finish cooking their meal.

Rowan was impressed by the expert way Devine rustled up a tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs with olive oil. She drained the pasta and then stirred it into the sauce, then served the meal on to two plates and brought them over to the dining table. Rowan fetched the knives and forks, then sat next to Devine and they ate and chatted about their day. Devine was pleased with how well the plan had turned out so far, and looked forward to the rest of the week. Rowan was very impressed with the pasta meal that Devine had cooked. Zhe did notice there were extra vegetables in there, not just tomatoes and herbs, but found the shredded carrots and finely chopped green beans enhanced rather than detracted from the dish. Devine smiled and said she was making sure they both got a variety of vitamins in their diet. When they had finished eating, Devine took the plates to the sink and Rowan gladly washed up as Devine had cooked the delicious meal for hir and the sink was at just the right height for Rowan to be able to reach comfortably (whereas it was a tad low for Devine, as she was tall and stood up in the kitchen rather than sitting down as Rowan did).

When Rowan had dried the dishes and put them back where they had come from, zhe went over to the living room area where Devine was sitting on the sofa and flicking through the channels on the television. Devine found an easy-listening music channel, then suggested that Rowan could sit on the sofa next to her. Rowan transferred out of the wheelchair and on to the sofa, and Devine put her arm around hir. The sensation was more contact than Rowan was used to, but the touch of Devine’s arm made hir feel safe and warm. After a while, when Rowan realised the closeness to Devine was pleasant and safe, zhe rested hir head on Devine’s shoulder and put hir arm around her back. Devine squeezed Rowan just a bit to confirm she was very happy with that. Together they listened to the music in comfort until Rowan became sleepy and Devine shooed hir off to bed. From hir room, Rowan heard Devine staying up a bit longer to finish her computer work, then she started getting ready for bed just as Rowan fell asleep.

In the morning, Rowan woke up quite early, as the sun was shining brightly through the thin curtains on the window of hir bedroom. Zhe got up and did hir morning ablutions then got dressed and went into the kitchen. Zhe discovered that Devine had bought croissants. Rowan heard Devine go into the bathroom, and then heard her showering. Zhe put the kettle on and made them both a cup of tea, then carefully carried the cups one by one over to the dining table. Rowan put two croissants on to two plates and then carried them over to the table as well. Just as zhe manoeuvred into position at the table ready to eat, Devine emerged from the bathroom, fetched a glass of water from the kitchen and sat down with Rowan, blowing hir a kiss. Before she ate anything, Devine took a box of pills from her bag and laid some out on the table, all different colours and sizes. Devine saw a look of worry on Rowan’s face, so she explained to Rowan what each pill was for (including the ones that were to treat the side effects that she experienced with the others) and how they helped her to keep as well as possible given the problem with her legs. Rowan mentally took note while Devine swallowed each one with a sip of water.

Once that was done, they each ate their croissant and laughed at the crumbs they each made as they bit into the flaky but delicious pastry. They then sipped their tea while discussing the plan for that day. Devine checked her computer and saw the weather promised to be quite good that morning, although rain was expected in the afternoon, so they decided to go for a walk around the estate when they were ready, then find something for lunch and visit the stately home after that.

Both Rowan and Devine had brought their cameras with them, to capture some memories of their holiday. Before they set off, Rowan took a photo of Devine sitting at the table with her computer, and Devine took a photo of Rowan sitting in front of the door with hir camera. When they were ready, they went outside. Devine locked up and then they walked round their cottage, past the neighbouring cottages and then along the path towards the stately home.

There were various options they could take on their route. They decided to venture a short way into the deer park area to see what they could see. Rowan found a bench for Devine to sit on, then they waited for a while to listen for birds and look out for insects and other wildlife. Their patience was rewarded with the sight of a couple of deer in the distance, so they both took some photographs with their cameras. The deer were reluctant to approach any closer, so Rowan and Devine moved on and went to the meadow area for a bit. There was another bench for Devine to sit on, and they enjoyed watching the meadow grasses and flowers moving softly from side to side in the gentle breeze, and seeing the bees and other insects visiting the flowers to drink their nectar. Screened from the outside world by the long grasses, Rowan felt as though zhe was in Arcadia again, and reached for Devine’s hand. They sat there for a pleasantly long time, holding hands and looking at each other with love while listening to the sounds of the breeze rustling through the leaves of the grasses and trees.

Soon, as forecast, the breeze became stronger, and dark clouds appeared in the sky. Rowan and Devine let go of each other’s hands, then moved out of the meadow area and started walking towards the stately home again. Just as some raindrops started to fall, they reached the entrance courtyard and saw a café in a converted barn. They headed over and found a table inside, then studied a menu. Rowan decided the children’s menu, and a jam sandwich, was just what zhe needed, while Devine chose soup. The café was not very busy, so they were served promptly, and were able to talk without having to shout as the hubbub of cutlery and other people talking was not too loud.

Rowan paid for the food, as Devine had bought all the shopping for their evening meals, and then they went over to the entrance of the stately home. As they were staying in the grounds, they were able to show their door key and receive free entry to the tour of the house. Rowan was impressed by the exterior of the house, with its grand entrance flanked by columns, and its many windows. The ramp to enter the main door was good, and Rowan felt more awe on entering the grand hallway. A black and white pattern of tiles was on the floor, and looking straight ahead zhe could see the room opened into another room containing a red carpeted staircase with mahogany bannisters. Their tour began by turning left and entering a grand room with high ceilings decorated with panels painted with portraits of people. The room was carpeted with large rugs and contained large sofas arranged around a huge fireplace with a gold-framed portrait of a family above it. There were gold-coloured posts with red ropes cordoning off the main body of the room, so Rowan and Devine and the other three people on the tour were only able to go along one edge of the room, but they still had a good view of the large windows to their left and the impressive furniture to their right as they walked forward to the door of the next room.

The next room was the dining room. Again, visitors were restricted to one side of the room, but there was still a good view of the long dining table, with candelabra and ornate floral table decorations in the centre, plus plates and cutlery laid out as if for a dinner party. Another large fireplace could also be seen, and the high ceilings were painted white but patterned with stylised flowers in relief. The tour guide described some of the food that would have been served at the banquets that took place in the past, and also showed the visitors an intricately patterned piece of furniture that was specifically designed to store the various spices that would have been used to enhance the dishes that were served.

The tour then moved through the next door into a corridor with more rooms leading off it. There was a parlour, which was more cosy than the grand room, with lower ceilings and warm rose-painted walls. It contained elegant chairs and a two-seater sofa all upholstered in fabric that complemented the rose pink of the walls. Another room they encountered was a nursery, or room for children, with traditional toys displayed for the visitors to look at, such as wooden blocks that could be put together to form pictures, building bricks and ball games. Rowan and Devine admired the tiny chairs and the beautiful rocking horse, too.

The visitors were taken through into the kitchen, which felt much cooler than the carpeted rooms as it had paving slabs on the floor, and copper pans displayed on the plain white walls. The cast iron range was impressive, with various ovens and cooking surfaces, and there was a large heavy wooden kitchen table in the centre of the room with mixing bowls and other practical items for catering displayed on it. They were allowed to wander more freely around the room, as most of the items were replicas rather than original, so Rowan had a good look at the pans, and at the table, which was designed for people to stand at or sit on high benches so the surface was almost above hir head.

The tour then finished, but the tour guide explained that the upper rooms had been converted into an art gallery, and there was a lift to get up there, so the visitors were welcome to explore it that day, or on any other day that the house was open. By then, Devine and Rowan decided they had done enough walking and looking for one day, so they left the house and walked back to their cottage.

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