It was quick and easy to enjoy their dinner, reheated in the oven, so when they had finished eating and washing up, they retired to the sofa to cuddle up and listen to some music. Suddenly, Devine said, softly, ‘I know we like blowing each other kisses, but would you like to kiss me?’ Rowan thought for a moment about what that meant, then said, ‘Yes.’ Devine puckered up her lips and closed her eyes. Rowan leaned towards her until hir lips just touched hers, then made the same ‘Mwah’ sound as when zhe was blowing a kiss to Devine, and then moved back so their lips were no longer touching. Devine opened hir eyes and laughed, then said, ‘You’re so funny. I love you.’ Rowan was a bit confused about what zhe had done, but guessed that wasn’t what Devine had meant by ‘kiss’. However, zhe gladly said, ‘I love you, too,’ and they snuggled up again until the end of the evening.
On the third day of their holiday, when they had breakfasted and got themselves ready to go out, they wandered back to the stately home to see what else was on offer there. They discovered a transport museum inside one of the barns, so they enjoyed looking at the various artefacts, from ornate horse drawn carriages to vintage cars, pushbikes and motorbikes, and even some wheelchairs. Rowan admired the old chairs, but was very glad hir chair was more streamlined, more comfortable to sit in and much easier to push than the large wicker or metal-framed wheelchairs looked to be.
They had their lunch in the café again, then looked around the boutiques and shops in the main courtyard. They admired the fancy trinkets and souvenirs of the estate, but didn’t need anything large, as they both were living in relatively small places when they were not on holiday. Rowan restricted hirself to buying a keyring as a memento of the holiday, and a postcard showing an aerial view of the estate, in which the stately home and their little cottage were visible. They picked up a few more provisions from the farm shop then wandered back to the cottage so they could freshen up ready for their evening out.
Inside the cottage, Devine disappeared into her bedroom for a moment, then reappeared holding a present wrapped in green paper with a red ribbon tied around it. Honoured to receive the gift, Rowan opened it and discovered the parcel contained a white dress shirt and black bowtie, just like hir avatar had worn in the online community. Devine smiled as Rowan unwrapped the shirt from its packaging and held it up happily. Devine encouraged hir to put it on straight away. Feeling very self-conscious, but trusting Devine absolutely, Rowan took off hir green tunic, revealing hir blue streaked arms and torso to Devine’s unflinching gaze, then Rowan put the shirt on and buttoned it up. Rowan then unwrapped the bowtie from its packaging and studied the instructions for how to put it on. Zhe put the tie round hir neck, but then was struggling to tie the bowtie knot without being able to see what zhe was doing underneath hir chin. Devine came over to help and when the bowtie was securely tied, she leaned over to Rowan until their lips touched. They both said, ‘Mwah’, then Devine giggled to herself at the funny ‘kiss’ as she went into her bedroom to get changed into her own evening wear.
Rowan gasped in delight when Devine emerged from the bedroom a short while later. She wasn’t the Lady in Red Rowan had known from her avatar in the online community. Instead she was a vision of loveliness in a green silky gown that suited her body shape perfectly and also matched the colour of Rowan’s trousers so they looked a perfect couple together. Rowan set up hir camera with a timer and they posed for a few seconds so that Rowan could capture the moment in an image. They both put their coats on, then went outside to make their way to the main house.
It was dark outside, but the path to the stately home was well lit with creamy-white lights, so they made their way along and saw others making their way to the house as well. Inside the house, they were escorted into the dining room to the sound of a piano playing and were seated next to each other at one corner of the large banquet table. The room was quite bright in the light of the chandeliers overhead plus the candelabra on the table (fitted with battery-powered candles rather than authentic candles for safety). When everyone was seated, and the piano player had finished the piece, a lady and gentleman dressed in period costume took up positions at each end of the table and welcomed the select group of guests to their home. When they sat down, waiting staff in black and white outfits began to bring out the food.
The starter Rowan and Devine chose was a delicious, light, vegetable soup, which Rowan enjoyed very much. Zhe noticed how the lady to hir left was using her soup spoon elegantly, so zhe copied the motions, and so did Devine. While they were waiting for everyone to finish and for the bowls to be cleared away ready for the next course, the guests chatted to one another. Devine spoke to the gentleman sitting to her right and learned that he and his wife were also staying in one of the cottages in the grounds of the estate. Rowan enjoyed listening to the lady of the house speaking as if she was living in the late 19th Century and had invited some friends to dinner.
There was a choice of main course. Rowan chose the vegetarian pie option, while Devine decided to choose the venison pie. The large pies were brought to the table with some ceremony and were displayed for everyone to look at before they were cut into slices and served to the guests. The pastry was golden brown and cleverly decorated with pastry leaves and flowers. Rowan was impressed with the slice of pie, with the vegetable fillings arranged into neat layers creating a fascinating blend of flavours. Devine’s pie was also filled in layers, with potatoes and other vegetables interleaved with the meat. Rowan was feeling adventurous on such an unusual occasion, so tried some onion gravy with hir pie as well and found it complemented the flavours, although zhe wasn’t sure the dish needed too much sauce, so the amount zhe took was very small in comparison with the amount taken by other guests, who enjoyed some pie with their gravy.
The meal was leisurely, so Devine and Rowan had time to chat to each other as well as their fellow guests while waiting for the next course to be ready to serve. The desserts were brought out with a flourish and displayed on the table, so that the guests could admire their elegant shapes and colours before they were cut into and served. Rowan admired the blancmange, with its eye-catching pink colour, and ornate shape, but when zhe saw the texture of it, as a portion of it wobbled into a bowl before being served to a guest, zhe decided it was something zhe wouldn’t be able to eat. Devine was served with some Summer Pudding, which had a pleasing purple colour and was amply filled with berries and juice. Rowan instead chose a pineapple-flavoured ice cream that had had been cleverly sculpted into the shape of a tiny pineapple.
Rowan felt quite full after such a substantial meal, but felt relaxed as the staff didn’t rush with clearing away the plates, so everyone was able to keep sitting at the table, talking to their neighbours, or listening to the piano music that drifted around the room from the grand piano in the corner, which was being played by a man in bowtie and tails. In the candle light, sitting next to Devine in her lovely outfit in such grand surroundings, Rowan felt very romantic and happy. Eventually, though, it was time to leave, as the dishes had all been cleared away, and the host and hostess had stood up from the table again. Rowan and Devine made their way out of the house and back along the path to their cottage in the darkness.
After the lovely romantic evening, Rowan and Devine sat themselves down on the sofa and put their arms around each other. Devine said, ‘Would you like me to kiss you?’ and Rowan said, ‘Yes’ and puckered up hir lips as Devine had done the night before. Devine’s lips met Rowan’s lips and she showed Rowan how to kiss the way she liked to be kissed.
Filled up with joy from what felt like the fairy tale True Love’s Kiss, Rowan and Devine cuddled up together for the rest of the evening until they both became sleepy and went their separate ways to bed.
The weather for the fourth day of their holiday was good, so Rowan and Devine walked up to the stately home again, and this time went into the walled garden that stretched for quite some distance along one side of the house. The paths were good, and there were plenty of places for Devine to sit and look at the scenery, so they found it quite easy to explore the blooming flower borders, the neat vegetable garden and the fruit trees that were flourishing under the shelter and protection of the wall. They were able to go into two of the glasshouses to see oranges and lemons, and even grapes growing in the controlled environments, and admired the displays of tiny flowering alpine plants and impressively large cacti. After having their lunch in the café again, they went for a slow wander in the deer park. Rowan spotted some deer and took more photos of them, plus studied the smaller wildlife in the park, taking photos of moss and lichen on the trees, and some photos of the tiny insects in the close-cropped grass, as well as photos of more sweeping landscape scenes.
They didn’t stay out too long, as Devine had suggested they could make another pie (a different type) for their dinner, and it would take a while to cook, so they returned to their cottage in the early afternoon. Rowan again set to work peeling potatoes and carrots, and Devine tackled the onions and other vegetables. While the vegetables were cooking, Devine showed Rowan how to make pastry. Rowan admired the way Devine’s hands worked the ingredients together, and then caressed the ball of pastry until it was ready to be rolled out. Together, the pair added the pie filling to the pie dish, then Devine rolled out a circle of pastry and laid it carefully over the top of the dish. She cut away the excess, and gave it to Rowan. Then she pressed the edges of the pastry circle firmly against the edge of the pie dish and cut a hole in the centre of the circle to allow the steam from the filling to escape when it was being baked. She put the pie in the oven, and set the timer. While they were waiting for the pie to cook, Rowan rolled out hir ball of pastry and cut out shapes to make some pastry biscuits for them to enjoy as a snack the next day. Zhe made star shapes and moon shapes and heart shapes and was very pleased with the results. As the biscuits were only small, Devine popped them in the oven just a few minutes before the pie was ready, so they were all ready at the same time.
Even though they weren’t going out for dinner that night, they both put on their finery again and sat at the dining table to eat the delicious meal that they had prepared. After eating, they rested for a while at the dining table, chatting and listening to the television in the background, then Rowan reached hir hand out to Devine and said, ‘May I have this dance?’ They manoeuvred into the centre of the living room area, and Rowan found the music channel on the television, then zhe supported hirself on Devine’s arms and stood up out of the wheelchair. Slowly counting, ‘One, two, three,’ Rowan led Devine around in a waltz as fast as hir little legs could carry hir (which wasn’t very fast), then they gratefully sat down on the sofa together – dancing and supporting each other was harder than they imagined after their relatively easy time programming their dancing in the online community. When they recovered their breath, they kissed. Devine took Rowan’s hand and put it on her chest, so Rowan could feel her heartbeat as well as the silky fabric. Devine slowly undid the bowtie and then undid the top three buttons of Rowan’s dress shirt, then put hir hand on Rowan’s chest to feel hir heartbeat, too. Instead of feeling the touch on hir skin, Rowan saw Devine’s hand go through what zhe thought was hir flesh. As zhe felt the touch of Devine’s hand on hir body, Rowan felt the flesh dissolving until zhe could see hirself as zhe remembered zhe looked in the days before zhe had turned into the beast. There were still some marks on hir skin showing where the blue streaks had been, but hir body felt free and flexible without the mental weight of beastliness weighing down on hir. Devine truly was the Beauty Rowan’s Beast had needed.