The car hops like a kangaroo. It crunches and screeches and then comes to a thankful halt. Nick leans over and pulls the hand brake up. “Push the clutch.” She does so and he puts the car into neutral. Emily sits in the back seat, she has taken Poppy out of her car seat and holds her to her chest, tightly. Even Poppy’s eyes are wide with fear. Emily has her lips pressed tightly together and her feet on the chair, hunching her knees up to her chest. “Can we maybe stop now?”
“No, she can do it.” He calls back. “Alright,” he says to Olivia, “just try again. Take a deep breath. Don’t just pull your foot straight off the clutch, gradually lift up your left foot as you push your right foot on the gas. It helped me, when I first started to learn, to watch the rev count. When it hit two, I was able to fully lift the clutch and push the accelerator down further. After you get going in first gear, it’s so much easier to move into second and so on.” She nods in understanding.
“Try again.” She nods again, pushes the clutch, puts the car in first gear, takes the hand brake off, pushes slightly on the gas and lifts slightly off the clutch. As soon as the rev count hits two, she slowly takes her foot off the clutch and pushes harder on the accelerator. The car moves, smoothly and slowly down the dirt track. Emily leans forward to watch as Olivia yells out in joy and a little bit of fear. Nick laughs loudly and claps his hands together. “That’s it!” The car roars a little. “Okay, if you feel ready, try going into second.” Olivia is confident and feels amazing. She puts the car into second gear, it moves a little faster now, the roaring subsides. “Eek!” She squeals.
“You’re a natural.” The car picks up a little speed. “Okay, now take your foot off the accelerator and push down on the brake at the same time as the clutch. Gently.” She doesn’t do it quite fast enough and the car exits the dirt track, coming out onto the car park, just as a truck is driving by, a little too quickly. It beeps its horn as they almost collide. Emily screams, Olivia screams, Nick yells a bad word. The truck narrowly misses them as Olivia swerves to the side and slams down on the brake. The car comes to an aggressive stop. There is silence. Everyone pants. Poppy is on the floor in the back, half wedged under the front passenger seat. They all stare forward trying to compose their thoughts. Poppy jumps between the front seats onto Nicks lap. She stands on her hind legs and puts her paws on his chest in a way that says, “Do not let her touch that wheel again!” Nick and Olivia burst out laughing. Its funny. They could have died, but somehow its absolutely hilarious. Emily doesn’t think so and sits in the back clutching her chest, like a passionate old lady who has just been disrespected by a teenager who dared to leave the house in a skirt above her knees. She looks between Olivia and Nick with a look that expresses fear for their mental health, as they hold their stomachs from the pain of laughing so hard. The best pain in the world. Olivia holds her face. “Stop! Stop! My cheeks hurt!” They ache from grinning so much. Tears run down Nicks face and his eyes crease and almost close. They take deep breaths to calm themselves. “Okay. Okay.” Nick pants. “I’m good. Are you good? Is everyone good?” Olivia nods and laughs a few more times before composing herself.
“Yeah, I’m great.” Emily mutters sarcastically. “Not a big fan of the role reversal there…when did it come to be, that you were the insane one, and I’m the responsible one?”
“Blame the British sunshine…it drives everyone crazy.” Nick calls back. “Come on. That’s enough for one day.” He jumps out and him and Olivia swap places. Poppy is set back in her car seat and strapped in. The group have their seat belts tightly fastened. Olivia picks up her drink, which has miraculously not been thrown over the front of the car, and she sips through the straw. She looks sideways at Nick and sees he is glancing at her, she turns to face him and winks, gazing up at him through her lashes. He looks away and smirks. They drive out of the services and back onto the motorway, bound for the Lake District.
The motorway is roaring by the windows and as they draw closer to Cumbria, the towns and city skylines that sit on the horizons beyond the hills are thinning out. Cities become, towns and the towns become villages and the villages become nothing. Trees take the place of the houses and bushes take the place of the roads. Birds travel in flocks where skyscrapers used to stand and the image of buildings streaming by the windows, is replaced by a dense woodland. Woodlands are accompanied by the unfortunate sight of roadkill. Along the side of the motorway lie the occasional body of badgers and hedgehogs and foxes. “Don’t look.” Nick whispers. He turns the music up and the sound of Panic at the Disco’s “High Hopes” drowns out the thoughts for those poor animals. “You’re a vegan in the making.”
“You’re vegan?” She says with a slight smirk.
“It’s not a dirty word. I just…wouldn’t hurt my dog, so I’m not going to pay someone to hurt any other animal. ‘Food’ or otherwise…not when I have another option.” Olivia ponders this. “I’ll take it under advisement.” He stares at her, shocked.
“Most people just argue their excuses for not being vegan.”
“Who’s that going to help?” He smiles. It makes Olivia feel warm. She winds the window down a little, the speed of the car, pushing through a wave of wind. Her hair floats and twists around her face. It feels sharp, though her hair is soft. Somewhere in the backseat, Emily snores. They snigger. The car passes an old bridge, made entirely of bricks which are covered in moss. The colouring of the stone is almost bronze, and Olivia can imagine they are misplaced on the road. They belong on the pillars besides a draw bridge in fifteenth century England. No, she is wrong about that. Actually, as they pass under it, the other side reveals a whole world. In fact, the bridge isn’t a bridge for the feet, or a vehicle, it’s a bridge between dimensions. The land they leave behind is commercial and stuffy. It’s bland and indifferent. It is too many people, living in too many buildings that all look the same. This. This world that they’re driving in to, is another level of living. It is simpler and secluded. It’s possible, in Olivia’s mind, that you could stop the car on the side of this road and walk into a clearing in the trees and be happy to never come out again. The foliage are multiple shades of green, more shades of green than Olivia has ever seen before. More than she knew existed. The colour is low, it lies in the bushes and decorates the ground with daisies and dandelions and flowers that she doesn’t know how to name. They look like a feeling. When you’re with people who make you feel comfortable and at peace, it’s certain you can sit in total silence with them and know that they’re comfortable too. Those flowers are that feeling. Maybe that’s what they should be called: Comforts. They’re lilac at a distance but could be a brand-new colour up close. Imagine that: finding a brand-new colour in the countryside of Cumbria. They pass a brown sign, advising them that they are in the Lake District. Boy, are they? They are not more than fifteen minutes into the area when they find themselves passing over a gigantic lake. They are off the motorway now. Olivia isn’t entirely certain when that happened, the drive was like a dream. She presses her nose up against the glass. It rolls down. Nick lowered the window for her. She smiles by way of thanks and turns back to look out onto the body of water. It’s long and it’s wide and potentially so deep that it could host a variety of life. Mermaids, maybe? She chuckles at the idea. “What’s that called?” She asks Nick.
“No idea! Beautiful though, right?” She nods by way of response and sits back against the chair. She closes her eyes and lets the cool breeze play with her lashes. “You haven’t seen anything yet.” He is right.
They take a few turnings and find themselves on a long, winding country trail. The tarmac is gone, and they bump and jump over holes in the ground. Every now and then, they stop to let a larger vehicle pass them. They have to pull into the side and Olivia bites her lip, hard, until they have passed. Nick has to pull in his wing mirrors for fear of losing them to the passing truck or van. It’s about half-past seven in the morning and the sun is about halfway up into the sky. The car is now getting stuffy and sticky. Having the windows down doesn’t seem to be helping any more, due to their slowing pace. “Bloody hell!” Emily wakes in the back, she winds the window down and sticks her head out, careful not to lose it to any low hanging branches. “It’s hot!”
“Understatement.” Nick wipes at his brow, which gleams with sweat. Poppy seems to be doing okay, but they are winding all the windows down to let in as much air as possible. “We’re not far off.” Nick promises. A lie. They go around corners and over hills. There are drops in the road that make Olivia’s stomach turn, and Emily’s too judging by the funny noise she makes as they drop into the dip of the road. Nick chortles, cruelly. He speeds up on purpose to make the next dip feel more like a roller coaster. The girls mimic vomiting noises. “I’m going to kick your arse, when we stop.” Emily growls. The views from the ever-ascending dirt road, are breath taking. Olivia, once more, focuses on the land outside the car. She can see small villages, dotted around below. From up in the hills, it’s possible that they are all closely knitted together but in actual fact, they’re most likely half an hour apart, by car. The villages disappear behind a gigantic hill. A mountain. Mountains. Many mountains. Olivia can’t quiet take them all in. “Wow. This never gets old.” Emily gawps from the back seat. She is leaning forward to look out the front window. Ahead of them are a crowd of mountains. Brilliant and gigantic. They tower over the land below and whilst there are huge rocks and boulders sticking out of them at odd angles, the majority of their surface area is covered in greenery and fauna. Olivia imagines that in the winter they would be capped with snow – a blizzard as equally beautiful as the scene before them. It’s fresh and the brightness cools Olivia’s eyes. It’s a visual remedy from the blistering sun, which hides behind the biggest mountain of them all. The road twists through them like a vine around an ant hill. They are the ants. “You still, haven’t seen anything yet.” Nick says, ominously. Olivia’s stomach leaps and she smiles widely. She is excited and infatuated with the earth she exists on. A village comes into view ahead. There are numerous hotels, each one looking more exclusive than the one before. Expensive cars drive by, Olivia can’t see a single one worth less than twenty-thousand pounds. There’s a supermarket and spas, there’s even a country club. However, despite their expense, these businesses are based in buildings that match the surroundings, albeit more like putting a plastic tree in a row of real ones, than having the real thing. Olivia finds herself a little disappointed. She was imagining a secluded space…whilst this is secluded, it’s attempts at turning a gem into gold felt a little disgusting. She didn’t like the way they had tried to monopolise an area perfected by the hands of mother nature herself. Nick sees her face. “This isn’t it.”
“Oh.” She’s a little uncomfortable that her face shows so much dismay. She smiles gently and decides he probably understands, so she says, “Good.” He nods in agreement.
He’s right. They travel through the town and then out the other side, back to another wide country road. They drive for what seems like an eternity, though it’s most likely only been a short while. The posh village is lost to them and all that remains is an open wooded area on either side. They, finally, see a large lake ahead. “There she is.” Nick points. “Coniston water.”
Olivia sits up straight and looks out to the lake. It’s genuinely beautiful. The purest form Olivia had ever seen. Its wide water reaches from the edge of the woodland and out to the tip of the horizon. A large mountain oversees it. “That’s the Old Man of Coniston.”
“The mountain. It’s called the Old Man.” Nick explains.
“It’s…it’s…” She’s at a loss for words. Emily leans forward and puts her arms around the front seat, embracing Olivia in a half hug. She grins at her friend. “It’s beautiful…but the word seems dull somehow, doesn’t it?” Nick coughs.
“A word can change its meaning entirely by the way it’s said.” They carry on in awe at the surrounding, until finally, they turn a sharp corner and they’re on rubble. The tyres crunch as they go over a gravel drive, leading up to a large house. It’s stunning. Truly. Stunning. A large white home, with a blue slated roof. It is a two-story cube, hidden behind an array of trees, that wind and bow over the windows. The windows are French. They are tall and have blue frames. A blue door with a porch roof has hanging flower baskets by the side. The front of the house sits facing a wide-open hill, which in turn, sits at the bottom of a tall hill, atop of that hill is another white house, though that one is a little smaller than Nick’s. The car stops and Nick turns off the engine.
They dive out of the car and allow Poppy to run ahead. She resembles a young child running down the stairs on Christmas morning. She knows exactly where home is. Emily stretches her neck, throwing her hand behind her back and pulling until her back cracks. She inhales and exhales. “Smell that? That’s the definition of fresh air.” Olivia breathes in. She’s right. It smells incredible. Nick beckons them up to the house, they walk up the path together, lugging their luggage behind them. Nick catches Olivia losing her breath from the heavy bag and takes it from her, throwing it over his shoulder. “Take it easy. You’re here to recover, remember.” She shoves him playfully with her shoulder and he gently returns the push. Emily walks up between them, separating them and then takes the lead to the house. A gentle reminder that she still exists. Nick and Olivia exchange glances. Olivia jogs ahead to catch up with her, meeting Poppy, who sits panting in the shade of the house. A bumble bee floats by their faces and settles down on a blue bell, sucking its nectar. Nick comes by and opens up the front door.
Olivia, Nick and Emily step into the house. It is just as beautiful as Emily’s house, except in a totally different way. Where Emily’s home is three storeys, Nick’s is wider and only needs the two stories, though his home is somehow roomier. The ceilings are higher here and are adorned with dark wooded beams. It’s not as futuristic as Emily’s house. There are carpets and colour. The fireplace in the sitting room is real, and it’s an open floor plan. The sitting area opens into a dining area, which is also the kitchen. The couches are deep red, and a wooden staircase goes from the centre of the hallway, up to the first floor. There is a black and white balcony that goes around the entire upstairs and you can see doors lined up and down the corridor. The true feature is a large set of double, glass doors at the far end of the kitchen. Nick is stood by them and opens them wide. Olivia stops in her tracks. She stares out and walks, in a trance like state, past Nick and down a pebbled path. She passes a patio set and a BBQ, she heads past a set of twisted trees, that has roots bared above the ground. They look like a claw, grabbing at the soil and the way their trunks twist is like liquorice. She walks over a tiny wooden bridge, that takes her from Nicks garden, over a tiny trickling stream and straight to a beige dock. The dock, extends out, right out, into the Coniston water. She walks out and out and out, as far as she can go, till she reaches the edge. The water causes a breeze, it’s the coolest she has felt in over a month. She looks down and the water appears so fresh, she could dive right in, mouth open and sip the lake dry. They are surrounded by mountains, The Old Man to their right, overlooking what appears to be a very tiny village. The sun is rising behind her and her eyes can only drink in a small amount of the wonder before her. She closes her eyes and feels it. She hears bird’s overhead and the water splashing against the edge of the land. Every place it dips in, she hears it, from one ear to the next. It’s the surround sound of a Goddess crying. She feels the land, the water and the sky, embracing her skin, licking her wounds and purifying her soul. She opens her eyes and sees Nick is standing next to her, looking out at the same beauty. His eyes smile, his mouth doesn’t move. His hand hangs by his side and Olivia resists the urge to hold it. Instead she lets her own hand hang beside his. They don’t see the sun peeking above the house behind them, sending a stream of sunshine between them, if they had looked down at their reflections, they would see the ripples of water pushing their hands together. The water agreeing with the match. The branches in the trees nod and bow in approval. The whole universe is trying the push them together.