He smiled at her. He smiled a lot at her.
“With me being as I am”—she hurriedly corrected what she meant to say— “my sprained ankle; there is something I should ask you to do for me, if you don't mind.”
“Anything.” He meant it.
“Would you see to the calves for me please, before you go. I can’t look after them, or the hens, and there will be eggs to collect. If you don’t mind doing that for me?”
“I don’t mind. I thought we’d already agreed to that.”
“The calves will mob you. There are only two of them, but they are becoming a handful for me to manage, and they push me around when I go in there with them. Check that they have water and some hay in the hayrack, and you can give them a bundle of the sweet stalks that the farmer drops off by the wall for them each week.
“It shouldn’t take long, so you won’t miss dinner at the Inn. You shouldn’t miss that, or Annie will worry about you.”
Annie wasn’t the worrying kind.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m late. There’s always something to eat in the bar. What about you?”
“I often eat out of cans, and there is bread, and milk, and cheese. I don’t cook just for myself.”
“I can cook something for you before I go.”
He cooked as well?
“That would be kind of you, but I have lots of leftovers in the fridge and you shouldn’t miss dinner.”
It was obvious she didn’t want him to leave her, any more than he wanted to leave her, and she was concerned about something other than him, but was unable to tell him.
“What’s the problem, Sheila? You can tell me.”
She hummed and hawed, and then got it out at last.
“I’ll be scared and restless when you go back to the Inn. I’m nervous to be left here by myself. There are strange noises all of the night in this old house, and outside of it and I’m not used to being here.”
And I don’t want you to go.
“Are you not used to those noises?”
“No. I didn’t grow up here. We only moved here a few years ago just before dad died, and I didn’t notice them then, though we had visited my aunt often when she had this house, and that was close to when I went to university. City noises are very different." They sure were.
“I’ve never stayed here for any length of time without my mother being here, so I wasn’t scared then, but I was, last night.”
He had to ask. “When did she go away?
“Yesterday morning. I had just the one night alone; last night, and I didn’t sleep a wink, listening to all of the noises outside and even inside that I couldn’t identify. I couldn’t take a week of it.”
She was granting another one of his wishes without even knowing it.
He took her hand again. “I’d offer to stay tonight if that would help you rest and not scare you in another way, me being who and what I am, and already telling you that I loved you. Yes, I did do that didn’t I? Having me stay here tonight might be dangerous for you.”
Even with her the way she was?
She barely hesitated, not even having to think about it, and having balanced the risks that were important to her, and what was needed. If he left, he might not come back, and she might not be healed enough to join him out on the Fell before he disappeared from her life. There was always that possibility. There were no risks on the other side that concerned her now. She needed him close to her, and he needed an excuse to stay here with her.
“Would you stay if I asked you?” She knew the answer before she'd even asked. That was the safest kind of question; the one you already knew the answer to.
He nodded, scarce able to believe what was happening again.
“Thank you, Peter, for understanding. Then please stay with me. That will be such a relief, but you’ll have to let Annie know.”
Sheila was bubbling with happiness now. It was as if she had known he would offer, having pushed him into it, and had been ready for him with that answer.
“I can easily call Annie and explain some of this about your ankle, and you needing my help with the calves, so if you really need me to; and do not object, and feel that you can trust me (so many qualifiers again) I could stay tonight.”
He went even further.
“I could stay for a few nights if you like; to help you, but I doubt you’d want me here for that long.”
It wouldn't get easier.
She was confused by her own feelings, but not so confused as to hesitate when she was being offered so much.
“I would like that, Peter, Thank you. You can stay until Mom gets back, and I don’t mind, honestly. That would be a big help to me. I won’t be scared if you are here.”
She should be scared!
“Oh, but…” she blushed, and hesitated, rethinking it (but not really), beginning to see the dangers of her being alone with him; even, (exciting dangers) or especially the danger with this problem of him being a young male, and admitting that he was in love with her (the best kind of danger). As well as having difficulty controlling himself. But that didn't matter so much now.
“Don’t worry. You are safe, despite all that has happened, and my difficult character. Sisters. Remember?”
Even when they were not with him they were hovering too close over him with their damned clubs.
She nodded, remembering what he had said about them. His sisters would be watching over her. She wasn’t sure she liked that thought of being so well-protected when she didn’t need such protection, nor want it, from sisters that she’d never met.
“Where will I sleep? I saw a settee downstairs.”
No. She wouldn’t allow that.
“There is a spare bed in my mother’s room if you are sure you won’t mind. And you should definitely let Annie know where you will be. She is keeping an eye on me; kind of, while Mom is away. I see her most mornings, so she should know about this.” And about him.
“I’ll call her to check out of my room, or I can go over.”
He thought about it. “I should go over. I’ll need all my toiletries and things, and will have to vacate the room I was in. I’ll have to tell her about this. I’ll cook for you when I come back, so don’t do anything you don’t need to do.”
“Take the bike, Peter, and you might be in time to get dinner at the Inn before you check out. You might starve here with me.”
She thought of something else.
“Annie might want to come back with you to check on me, but you should refuse that if you can. I don’t want her to see how helpless I really am, unable to walk, or me dressed like this (mostly undressed; and some of it for his benefit; he liked to see her like this), or she’ll tell my mother that I was injured, and god knows what else, and I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“So, should I do the calves first, or when I get back.” He looked at her for direction.
“If you have time, the calves first, or I will worry about them. They get very pushy if they feel they are being neglected. It should only take a few minutes for hay, water, and some of those stalks.”
He paused and held her hand as he looked into her face.
“I was brash enough and eager enough to confess my love for you, so now you know too much about me. I will stay here with you, only if you are sure about this, and comfortable with it. You still know nothing about me.”
...While he knew everything about her. He was unknown in so many ways, but not the truly important ones, and she needed him here more than she would ever be afraid of him.
“You are not entirely unknown, Peter. We have a lot in common, and probably a few friends at university who know us both. Some of my friends do the introductory geology courses.” She added more.
“Annie won’t object. I’m twenty-years old. What I choose to do is my own business.”
He doubted that. She might be twenty years old, but she was also too damned innocent of the ways and feelings of men, for her own safety, letting him stay here.
“Your mother would almost certainly object to me staying with you, and so might Annie, and I will have to tell her why I am needed here, so she’ll find out about you being hurt. If she feels the need to come back with me, I won’t be able to stop her but would have to accept it.”
There was always that possibility. “Yes, I suppose so.”
Her mother would have nightmares if she found out about this, or about him staying with her overnight without a chaperone, and for a few days, so she would tell her mother nothing when she called, but that wouldn’t be until eight. In another hour. Only another hour? Where had the time disappeared?
Then, he was gone to do the calves, and would go directly to the Inn afterward to check out and get dinner, if he hadn’t missed it.
She watched him as he headed up through the garden, and climbed over the style at the corner of the garden, before heading over to do the calves as she'd instructed.
She might see him if he came back before he went on to the Inn, or not.
She’d meant to tell him to be careful what he told Annie, with all of her inevitable questions and prying, but it was too late for that, unless he came back through the house.
She sat at the kitchen table and laughed, speaking aloud, with only herself to hear her. “Thank you, Lord. Thank you.”
The day had started as a disaster, but had now become something entirely different. Maybe an even bigger disaster. No, she wouldn't believe that.
She was in love. He was in love, and she had never felt this way before, about anyone.