To Find Him and Love Him Again (1)

Excerpt

The golden apples of the sun. Lee had been dreaming of sunlight. He liked his Yeats, and for the first minute of waking lay still, recalling what he knew of the words. Though I am old with wandering // Through hollow lands and hilly lands... Yes, he could imagine such a time. The fogous and barrow graves and tors, or just the hollow or high places of the heart—yes, he would come to an end of them one day.

Peace still lay along his bones. He never had feared journey’s end, and since he’d met Gid, he’d known he’d never have to get there alone. I will find out where she has gone // And kiss her lips and take her hands // And walk among long dappled grass // And pluck till time and times are done... Lee’s orchard spirit was a sturdy he, and never had anything less ethereal charged through the trees than Gid in pursuit of his child or the dog. Apple blossom in his hair for sure, but only because he was so tall that he knocked it down. Lee shifted in the deckchair, smiling.

God, it was damp, though! He came to surface with a choked-off gasp. His whole body clenched in a shiver. The golden apples of the sun... No, no. Silver apples of the moon, clustered over his head in mystical profusion, like clustering orbs in a graveyard, invisible to everyone but him. It was dark. Night had come down in the garden. He’d fallen asleep, abandoned his work and his plans and his duty, his household tasks and...

 

His child. Lee catapulted out of the deckchair and stood swaying in the moonlight, grabbed a low branch to keep from falling. His limbs were sluggish, one arm—he’d had it tucked behind his head, for God knew how many hours—numb and useless, first pins and needles trickling into his hand. “Shit,” he got out, voice like sandpaper. “Tamsyn.”

 

He ran for the house. Scenarios flashed at him. The best was social services, a verdict of neglect, utter disgrace. The worst was that headmistress Prynne had waited with his girl after school, turned her back to deal with some other crisis and lost sight of her. The worst was Tamsyn alone on the moors.

He skidded across the dew-damp lawn and onto the drive. Cornering, he saw that lights were on in the kitchen. Christ, perhaps all he had to deal with was Gideon, and somehow that was worst of all—his husband, his first and most sacred trust, coming home to find an empty house, his daughter lost and betrayed. A sob scoured Lee’s throat. Oh, not that. No.

No. Tamsyn was comfortably seated at the kitchen table. Way past her bedtime, but someone had washed her, brushed her hair and put her into her pyjamas. Lee scrambled to a halt, hands on the window ledge. Home-alone scenarios flashed through his head, where the poor kid had done it all for herself, but then another figure appeared in the lamplight, a reassuring shape in floral skirt and pink pullover. Last year’s M&S, he thought irrelevantly, but the idea skimmed off the surface of his waking mind. The old lady placed a glass of milk in front of Tamsyn, then settled on a chair beside her. Both turned their attention back to a huge book lying open on the table. “Oh,” Lee said. “Mrs Coulter. Thank God.”

He let himself in through the back door and scullery, hands clumsy on the latches. Before he could open his mouth, the old lady raised tranquil eyes to him. “Ah, there you are,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. You can see all’s well here.”

 

“I... Yes.” He stopped short against the cabinets. He wanted to run to his child, but he felt as if he’d forfeited the right. “I can see that. I’m so...” His voice faded off in a croak, and he tried again. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“Why, now? You needed the sleep. Tamsyn and I came to see you when I brought her back here after school. Didn’t we, girl?”

 

Tamsyn nodded enthusiastically. She slithered down off the pile of cushions on her kitchen chair and met him with her usual joyous tackle-hug. “Did, Lee. Had my supper, had my bath. Reading with Ganny.”

 

He swept her up. “That’s Mrs Coulter, love, but you’re a very good girl. And she’s extremely kind to look after you. I’m sorry I left you alone.”

 

“Not alone.”

 

“Why didn’t you wake me up, when you found me asleep in my chair?”

 

“Did try. Ganny said Lee was Sleeping Beauty.”

 

“Well, she was half right.”

 

“Buy a hose!”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

Mrs C began to chuckle. “Briar Rose, child. What a card you are! You really mustn’t worry, Lee - we’ve been fine.”

“Next time just tip me out of the chair.”

 

“No, no. We thought your Prince Charming might get back in time to do the job. Speaking of which, you’ll need to keep your strength up. I made a little chicken broth for Tamsyn, and there’s plenty left. Come and sit down.”

 

Lee did as he was bidden. He was deeply shaken, at being invited to sit and eat in his own house, at the necessity, his own incomprehensible neglect. “What on earth time is it? Where’s Gid?”

 

“On his way. Here, eat this up, dear, and drink this glass of milk.”

 

This was ridiculous. What next—cookies, and pyjamas of his own? Before he could protest, Tamsyn snuggled contentedly deeper onto his lap. She planted one forefinger on the open page of the book, which was richly illustrated and adorned with what looked like original handwritten notes. “Pentacle!”

 

“Pentacle?” Lee reached around her and drew the book closer to him. He turned a few pages, careful with their ink-laden fragility. Amusement reached him despite his guilt. “Mrs Coulter? Comparative religion is one thing, but this... this is a grimoire.”

 

She reappeared at his shoulder. “Oh! Here, let me just set these things down.” She deposited a glass of milk and a bowl of savoury soup in front of Lee, then dealt the book a sharp thump with her fist. “Grimoire? Glamour! There, now. Look again, dear—just a lovely book of herbs.”

 

Lee gave it up. He had enough on his plate, or at least in his bowl. Mrs C had whipped up a delicious brew in his cauldron—or a broth in his kitchen; he couldn’t remember and it didn’t seem to matter. He dug in gratefully. “Did you have to go shopping for any of this? Do I owe you anything?”

 

“Heavens, no. Everything I needed was here. Let that warm the damp out of your bones, and...” She took up a seat opposite him, laid her hands palm-up on the table. “Let me take the child home with me tonight.”

 

“What? No. Why?”

 

“Because he is on his way, your fine man. And he’s been good as gold lately, hasn’t he? But a full moon this close to solstice will test his reserves to the limit.”

 

Lee met a lot of nutcases in the course of his work. He was tolerant on the whole, but he had limits of his own. He forgot the absurdity of the whole conversation—forgot the grimoire now gleaming with innocent berries and leaves—and answered Mrs C on her own terms. “If you’re saying he’d harm Tamsyn, I’d rather you just left now.”

 

“Harm her?” She gave a caw of incredulous laughter. “Of course not. But she needs her sleep as much as you did today, and she won’t get it here tonight. Will she?”

 

Cupping his hands around the bowl, Lee conjured a vision of the night to come—of Gideon with used-up reserves of goodness and self-control. “We never disturb her,” he said, barely meaning to speak the words aloud. “Her room’s off down the corridor, and... I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

 

“Because your husband’s coming home, and you have to serve him and save him, and the sounds of that will waken her, even in a great wolf’s lair such as this. You meant to send her off to Sarah Kemp’s for... What is it you call that weekend?”

 

Lee chuckled richly, pointed at the child in his lap, who pointed merrily back at him. “Not something I can say in front of her.”

 

“Well, never mind. It’s always the one nearest full moon, you make sure of that. I’ll have her home

before your husband wakes up in the morning. He’ll never know she was gone.”

 

“As if I wouldn’t tell him! I... I tell him everything. No, Mrs Coulter. We don’t even know where you live.”

 

“Ah, you do. Think about it.”

 

“I don’t.” Lee gave the last spoonful of broth a swirl around the bowl, and then in an abandonment of his table manners lifted it and drank the dregs off. “Wait, yes. Of course I do. Pellar Street, in Granny Ragwen’s old house... No, that’s ridiculous. Madge lives there now.”

 

“Madgie has her flat above the betting shop in Liskeard. Prefers the bustle and bright lights, she does. Let the child come with me now, dear. It’s almost time, and, you know, she’s...” Mrs C paused, rapped her knuckles off the table-top, coughed hollowly. “Glamour! She’s done it many times before.”

 

Of course she had. Suddenly Lee couldn’t work out why he was making such a fuss. “Sorry,” he said, and looked down at the smiling little girl in his lap. “You love your nights with Mrs C, don’t you?”

 

“Yes, Lee.” Her expression became tender, reminding him oddly of Gideon’s. “Do love.”

“I’ll make you up a backpack, then.”

 

She pointed at the floor. Her overnight bag was standing open, her favourite plush toy—the one Ezekiel had given her years ago, half-bald with cherishing but still recognisably a little planet Earth—ready on top, together with the basic two-button phone loaded up with her home number, Zeke’s, and the family mobiles. “But she’s in her pyjamas,” Lee said, in a last attempt at objection. “It’s way past time she was in bed.”

 

“And so she will be, the moment I get her home. My car’s just outside—did you think I was going to march her down the lane in her slippers? I have a child seat. Many children come to me for shelter.”

 

“She doesn’t need... This is her shelter, right here.”

 

“I know. And I know you’re tired and scared, and you don’t want to hear about the damn solstice door. But you’re part of the Frayne brood now, Locryn. Mind it’s not you who falls through.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“You will. You can understand without thinking. You can hear without listening. Hear now.”

 

Lee sat still. The moon had risen, sudden and vast, squarely framed in the southeastern window. If he let go of the ordinary noises of the night, placed his senses beyond them, he could detect...

Yes, an engine. He hadn’t known that he could pick out the note of the police truck from every other car in the village, and certainly not at this distance. He knew, surely as if he’d been a hawk on a thermal above the moor, that Gideon had just passed the St Cleer turn-off and was five minutes from home.

 

He grabbed Tamsyn in one arm, her backpack with his free hand. He hustled and herded Mrs Coulter to the door, suddenly assisted by Isolde, who’d trotted in from business of her own in the garden and was wide-eyed, hackles raised, looking anxiously over her shoulder through the open door. “Will you take the dog too?”

 

“Yes, of course. I’d best, hadn’t I? She’ll only howl.”

 

***

 

The bedroom was painted in moonlight. The twin chests of drawers from Drift farmhouse, lovely in their carvings and their battered coat of white paint, the huge funereal wardrobe which had been Gid’s doubtful contribution from the parish house, reconsecrated by Tamsyn, who used it as a play-house, a castle or cave, depending on the needs of the game—all these had been silvered along their southeastern corners and panels. Through Lee’s eyelashes the solid old pieces became spectral, only their shining parts real. The transmuting light altered everything. Mrs C’s VW Beetle, the modern kind that resembled a vegetable anyway, had looked like a pumpkin rolling away down the lane.

 

He leaned his back against the wardrobe. The Rover’s growl became a reality, a normal disturbance of the air: headlamps strafed the ceiling, and everything began for him, the ordinary, holy routine of his husband’s return from work. Lee had to maintain that normality, as far as possible within his moon-racked home. Christ, he was scared! And so turned on that he could barely breathe, his cock heavy and stiff in his jeans.

The inner door clicked. Lee hadn’t bothered to close the outer one. What was the point, on this fairytale night of grimoires, pumpkin coaches and a wolf who could blow the house down, a wolf whose bigness and badness were surely only a matter of perspective, surely still in Lee’s hands to control? He listened to the soft-footed approach up the stairs, so different to Gid’s normal homecomings, the cheerful yell from the door. Oh God, this potency in the air, this weight and heat...

 

Gideon stepped into the room. His back was to the moon, his detail drenched in darkness. Lee couldn’t see his face. All he could hear were the sounds he was making—the faintest whispering purr on each outbreath, the shadow of a growl. Over a year ago, Lee had taken him into a dream, and there in the place beyond the Men-an-Tol portal Gideon had understood, fearlessly at last, what he was. He’d almost known the real name of their home.

 

But he couldn’t bear the knowledge back into waking life. Lee couldn’t help him, not yet. On some level Lee knew that his failure to do so was building up a price for both of them, a terrible forfeit. “Gideon,” he whispered. “Can you listen to me? Can you still do that?”

 

The great head tilted slightly. Now Lee could see his eyes, amber fire like solar flares around the iris, moonlight through rich Cornish brown. Lee saw his small nod of assent. “All right. My fine... my fine man. Do you remember, you wanted us to dance at Zeke’s wedding—properly, not just shimmying around? So you bought that DVD, and we... we were hopeless, weren’t we, taking turns to have our back to the TV and falling over the furniture. But then you just got it. God, you took me in your arms, and you moved, and suddenly I could do it too, because you were holding me so close.” Lee swallowed a fiery dryness in his throat. “You were so passionate, but so... perfectly, perfectly controlled. Can you still do that?”

 

Another nod, faint this time, just the slightest movement of the sleek dark head. Lee felt the weight of his attention, the honour of it. That Gid would hang on for him. “All right,” Lee whispered. “Come and dance with me, then. Dance.”