Somerset England, Tuesday August 12th 2262
Simon walked swiftly up the middle of Wrenbury Lane; still finding it a little tricky to walk in a straight line.
The night sky was bright, the moon lit up his way enabling him to keep up his quicker than usual pace.
The temperature in Somerset was noticeably cooler than New York. It was always a shock to the body to leave late afternoon sunshine and emerge in late evening moonlight a few seconds later. A shiver ran up his spine which he shook off his shoulders.
He couldn’t have predicted that his evening was going to end up so well, or that he would be wandering up a secluded lane at such a late hour in need of a jacket. He’d considered porting home first to freshen up and grab one, but decided he didn’t want to waste any time.
The obsolete lane and the adjacent footpath were now considered as one; it had been many a year since a vehicle of any sort had traversed this steep hill. The road on which he now walked hadn’t been maintained; even the old curb stones that separated the path from the road remained. Most places nowadays had them removed; the path and road were then levelled out. Curbs were seen as a potential trip hazard by today’s standards. Warning signs were generally put up if a curb was left in place.
Looking up the lane Simon could make out the long shallow ruts on either side in the dilapidated tarmac surface. These had been made by the wheels of the heavy vehicles that had once used it.
According to Hillary Jane her house was the only one at the top, he hoped he didn’t have much further to go.
The surrounding area was populated by enormous oak trees; they lined either side of the road and were all he could see on the moonlit horizon. The silhouetted oaks loomed over him making him feel a little uneasy for some reason. He quickened his pace further.
The breezeless night left the lane devoid of any natural noise; there wasn’t so much as a rustle of leaves of the trees; his shoes on the road’s failing surface provided a welcome crunch every now and again.
Simon progressed further up the deserted lane. After a few minutes he could see something in the distance. A few more strides and he could just make out a high brick wall and the stark white light of what must be two lanterns fixed to it. He got closer still and spotted the stately looking black and gold iron gates which were set into the perimeter wall. The antique lanterns were positioned on either side of the gates and had been carefully converted to keep their original charm, but now ran on lunar power; rather than the electricity they were originally designed for.
Simon approached the gates and started looking for some way of informing Hillary Jane that he had arrived. This type of house probably had some sort of surveillance built in; he couldn’t see anything obvious though. He raised his wrist to call her when the two gates slowly started to open inwards. They gave a low pitched eerie moan as if it was just too much effort to be operating at this late hour. Simon entered the grounds; noticing the house for the first time which stopped him in his tracks.
“Jeez,” he muttered to himself. This wasn’t just a house it was a mansion. He stood for a few seconds, taking in all its beauty. The directional lighting from the gardens lent enough light to the house to emphasize some of its many charms. He noted the dusky yellow brickwork and the large white stone cills below each of the many windows; with equally majestic lintels above. The tiled roof was quaint, its ridge peaked and troughed like the top of an unkempt hedge. He asked himself again, who was this woman and why would she be interested in him?
The gates started to close again; prompting him to continue his journey up the long red block-paved drive which sliced through the manicured lawns on either side. The red bricks meandered their way from the gates up the gentle slope of the terrain to the front door. Above the door was a datestone, it was a little crumbly in places but the year 2001 was still visible, etched into the centre of it. Jeez, Simon thought, quickly doing the maths. This mansion was over two hundred and sixty years old. He stopped when he got to the front-door which appeared to tower over him. It was painted black and still had the original chrome letter-plate and lions head knocker. How exciting, he thought, it wasn’t often nowadays that he got to actually knock on a front door; especially one that led into such a prestigious dwelling as this. He lifted the chrome ring that the lion gripped firmly in its mouth, and rapped sharply twice. The ring struck the chrome stud beneath the lion’s head, the loud sharp sound of metal on metal startled him as it echoed around the garden.
Simon waited patiently. He was just thinking of knocking again when he heard a key turn in a lock and two heavy sounding bolts slide back. The door opened to reveal Hillary Jane standing suggestively in front of a long hallway; one hand on the front door and the other positioned tea-pot style on her hip. The light from the hall flooded out and lit him up.
“Well, Simon,” she said in a low seductive tone. “I hadn’t expected to see you this soon.”
“Me neither, I was about to go home to bed when I saw this,” he said confidently, holding Tamarah’s gift out in front of him over the threshold.
“I’m such a scatterbrain sometimes,” she said, rolling her eyes and taking it from him. “And where are my manners, do come in.”
She stood aside allowing him to enter. Simon didn’t need asking twice, he stepped into the hall and away from the front door so she could close it behind him.
“I can’t thank you enough for going out of your way to drop this in.”
“That’s quite alright,” Simon replied, feeling a little awkward and nervous now that he was inside.
“Have you got time for a nightcap before you go,” Hillary Jane enquired, “as a small thank you for your trouble, and for such a splendid evening?”
“It would be very rude of me to say no; now that you’ve asked me so nicely,” he said with a smile.
“I don’t want to keep you from your bed,” she joked.
“My bed can wait; why would I return home to an empty bed when I can have a last drink with a beautiful lady in her exquisite home?”
“Oh Simon, you do say the sweetest things,” she said trying to sound modest. “Follow me.”
Hillary Jane led the way down the long hallway, her heeled shoes tapping against the old wooden floorboards as she went; her buttocks sashaying gently from side to side. Simon followed, taking in her rear and his surroundings as they went.
They passed rooms on either side of the hall, all closed off from view behind pine four-panelled doors. These must be the original, he thought, they were the old-fashioned hinged variety and not something you saw too often nowadays. Each door had a chrome knob that flashed up their distorted reflections as they swept by.
They continued past the central staircase, the pine chunky balustrading along with the beige dimpled style carpeting, that ran the length of the stairs, both added to the character of the hall. If it wasn’t for the odd tweak of modern technology here and there Simon would have believed that he had travelled back in time to 2001. Hillary Jane dropped the silver papered gift box on the wider bottom step as she went by, as though it were a piece of rubbish ready for recycle.
She thrust open one of the doors on the right; its hinges gave a genuine low pitched squeak as it opened. The lighting came on as they entered revealing an enormous lounge.
“Take a seat Simon and I will get us both a drink.”
Simon admired the four old-fashioned looking leather sofas that were facing each other in a rectangle in the centre of the room; if these weren’t originals then they had been cleverly made to look it. Distressed was the word that came to him and best described them as he sat down carefully on the edge of one of them.
Hillary Jane opened up a large oak drinks cabinet behind the sofa he was on.
“What can I get you?” she asked as she opened the two glass doors. Simon spun round in his seat. The cabinet held numerous bottles of all shapes, colours and sizes neatly lined up on glass shelves. He was concerned that he would make a fool of himself and ask for the wrong drink for the occasion.
“Just surprise me with something,” he said casually.
“Ok then, let me think,” she said scouring the shelves. “Ah! How about a Bénédictine?”
“Perfect,” Simon replied, not sure what Bénédictine was.
At that point Simon’s strap started pulsing. He glanced down at the display, Spencer was calling him.
“This is my friend,” Simon announced, indicating with his forefinger that he had a call on his strap “The one I was supposed to meet up with tonight; you don’t mind if I just take the call quickly to see how he is do you?”
“Of course not, be my guest. I should really be thanking him for my wonderful evening,” she joked.
Simon smiled; Spendy would love to see just how well he had done for himself this evening. For some reason Maundy Thursday came into his mind, along with the ribbing he had received yet again at the pub in Cornwall. He would show Spencer that not all the women he dated were complete fruit-cakes. “Answer call, projection.”
Simon positioned his strap in his lap so that it could project Spencer’s image in front of him and in clear view of the foxy Hillary Jane. After a second or two the call connected, with audio first as was usual with projection calls.
“Simon? Are you there love?” Came his mum’s voice a few seconds before her flickering image appeared in front of him and stabilised. Simon was horror-struck; he tried to speak but couldn’t get the words out; instead he made a half-gulping, half-gagging sound.
“Oh, there you are, I can see you now…Where are you? Who is that behind you?”
“Mum?” Simon finally managed to spit out. “I don’t understand, my strap said that Spencer was calling me.”
“I’m still at Spencer’s place, he asked me to call you; he’s in no state to do anything for himself just yet, bless him.”
“Why did his name come up on my strap and not yours?”
“I’m in his entertainment room, I guess I didn’t link my strap up with the room properly; you know what I’m like with technology. Where are you Sweetie?”
Simon blushed and cringed at the same time. “I’m at a friend’s house,” he blurted out quickly. “How’s Spencer?”
“What friend? I don’t recognise the room, it does look posh. Who is that behind you in red?”
“That’s my friend, and she can hear everything you’re saying.”
Simon felt like just curling up and dying there and then.
“Hello Simon’s friend!” Bridget said excitedly, blatantly straining to get a closer look while straightening her shocking blue floral Kebaya. She inadvertently rubbed her lips together to revive her usual Autumnal Sunset lipstick.
“Hello!” Hillary Jane said, leaning over the back of the sofa and Simon’s shoulder to hand him his drink.
“I’m Hillary Jane,” she said with a smile; enjoying just how uncomfortable Simon looked.
She noticed at this closer proximity just how nice he smelt, a familiar fragrance too; one that she couldn’t quite place. Her own strap pulsed against her wrist; a glance at the screen showed her that Norman was trying to call. What did he want now? Couldn’t they have one night apart without him calling to check up on her? A little irritated by his interference she decided it was easier to ignore his call than to leave the room and then have to make up a story about a friend or colleague.
Could this get any worse Simon thought as Hillary Jane crouched down behind him and put her head on his shoulder.
“Mum. How is Spencer?” he said firmly, trying to change the subject. “Is he okay?”
“Well, he wouldn’t be if I hadn’t port over to see to him. He has a Clostridium Botulinum; you know he hadn’t even sent the strap diagnosis to his doctor when I got here. I got him to his bed and sent it off straightaway.”
“So what did the doctor do?” Simon asked, wishing Hillary Jane would move her head from his shoulder; he would now have to face a million and one questions tomorrow.
“He sent back a jet-ection with an antidote that I had to administer to the back of his neck; you would think I was going to stab him with an old-fashioned hypodermic the fuss he made about it.”
“He’s not the best patient in the world,” Simon said, recalling many a time in the past when Spencer had been ill with one ailment or another. “How long before he’s fully recovered?”
“The Doctor said he should be back on his feet in two to three hours; he had the jet-ection nearly two hours ago so hopefully it won’t be long now.”
“Knowing Spencer he will milk it for several hours more; you know what he’s like.”
“Tell me about it!” Bridget chuckled. “He’s begged me to stay the night in case he has a relapse. It’s a little spooky really because we were warned by the old grey man about the food in the restaurant; a pity we didn’t take any notice of him. Spencer could have been out with you now and I would have…”
“Mum,” Simon interrupted; keen to end the call. “I’ll call you in the morning; I’ve really got to go now. Give Spendy my love.”
“Oh; okay son. Say no more.” she said with a wink.
He ended the call and closed his eyes for a few seconds taking in a deep breath.
Hillary Jane stood up, moved round to the front of the sofa and sat down right next to him.
“I’m really sorry about that, I had no idea that was my mum or I wouldn’t have answered it.”
Hillary Jane chuckled. “It’s okay; she’s quite a character isn’t she, I thought she was quite sweet.”
“Hmmm,” Simon sighed. “She always seems to call me at just the wrong time; I don’t know how she does it; it’s uncanny the number of times she manages to.”
“I would have known you were related, even if you hadn’t referred to her as mum. You have her eyes,” Hillary Jane informed him. She took hold of his chin with her fingers and gently turned his face towards her.
“Hmmm, yes I can really see it now,” she added, leaning in closer. She let go of his chin.
“Your mum doesn’t have this scar though I bet,” she said with a smile, running her little finger over the scar at the end of his left eyebrow.
Simon blushed with embarrassment once again, hoping she wouldn’t ask how he got it. Hillary Jane moved away slightly and took a sip of her Bénédictine.
He took a large gulp of his. “This is a beautiful place you have here,” he said quickly, trying to get off the subject of both his scar and his mum. ”How long have you been here?”
“Norman and I moved here just over three years ago, we had some great times, I have some wonderful memories that I will cherish forever.” She sipped at her drink again. “Now it’s just me in this big old house; I did consider selling up after Norman died, after a few weeks though I decided that I just couldn’t bear to leave.”
Simon felt a tug at his heart; this poor woman had been through a lot. “It’s not often that somewhere of this age has so much of the original character and charm,” he said, noting the original white plastic windows. “You have managed to subtly modernise with the latest technology, without destroying the true authenticity of the building. In my job I’ve seen some shocking things done to old buildings that were lucky enough to survive the war; only then to have the guts pulled out of them. It’s enough to make you weep.”
Hillary Jane smiled. “That’s very kind of you Simon… Would you like a tour?”
“I would love a tour,” he answered enthusiastically.
“Okay then,” she said getting up, brushing his leg once more in the process. “We will start downstairs and then head on up to the first floor. Bring your drink with you.”
Simon shot up from his seat a little too quickly and came over a little light headed and dizzy for a few seconds. He couldn’t wait to get upstairs with her. He trembled a little in excited anticipation.