I wanted to finish the story with this episode. I could have had the main character’s trust in her companion turn out to be misplaced. But I couldn’t introduce anything unsuitable for a readership that could include minors. Your comments on the conclusion I finally arrived at would be most welcome. New readers start here.
Unlike the others, this door opens outwards. My friend tugs it until it jams against the uneven flags. He stands back, bows and gestures with a hand, inviting me to go ahead. My torch reveals a bare wooden staircase leading up. I step back.
“It’s a staircase. Probably leading up to the main rooms.”
“Makes sense. It would have been the way the servants took food to the diners.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough. Shall we get on with our painting?”
He shoulders the door back into place and we exit the vestibule. As we walk towards our cars he places an arm across my shoulders.
“Are you okay? You seemed nervous when I arrived.”
“It was the bats. When I got the door open they flew straight at me.” I don’t tell him how I ran in terror.
“But you are alright now?”
“Alright now,” I confirm, looking up into his smiling face.
He draws me closer to him and lowers his head as if to kiss me. We are by the cars. I pull away, placing the little tool box into the still open trunk of my vehicle.
He makes no move to open his own trunk. “What were you doing with the tool box?”
“The door was locked. I picked it.”
His eyes crinkle in puzzlement. “You picked it? I didn’t have you down as a sneak thief.”
He’s laughing but I can see he’s worried, too.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me. Does the fact I can pick locks mean I can’t be your friend?”
He doesn’t answer at once. I carry on gathering my painting materials, my easel and portfolio of sketching and water-color paper. My hands are shaking, I can hardly breathe as I await his response.
“Have you ever done anything like this before?”
How will I tell him the truth? But there is no need, as his next sentence shows he is changing the subject.
“Have you thought that with this breeze none of our potential subjects will stay still long enough? It would be much better to collect a few specimens and take them back to paint at home.”
I can see the sense of that, but I also see a problem. “How will we keep them fresh?”
“I thought of that.” He is opening his trunk now. He turns and I see he is holding up four jam jars, one finger of his left hand in each, gripping them against his palm. In his right hand is a plastic container. I assume it holds water. I return my equipment to the trunk, close and lock it.
“How clever of you. Can I help? Carry something?”
“You can bring these,” he says, pointing to a bunch of brown paper bags threaded on a piece of white cord.
As we walk towards the small copse at the bottom of a gentle slope I feel a sensation I have not experienced in a very long time. Afraid that my past will destroy any relationship I might form, I have avoided getting too close to anyone. At last I can dare to think I have someone who is prepared to take me as I am, not probe too deeply into those dark days that I do not care to recall.