Disclaimer: None of this is mine, not making any money off this.
Summary: “So, let me get this straight,” Jess said, trying to wrap her brain around the bombshell that had just been dropped. “Your parents are both new age, hippy-type people who founded a commune. You were born in a commune. You have sisters called Rainbow Starborn and Poplar. Your grandmother is the only person in your family that doesn’t live the commune, but she lives in a gatehouse. Becker, are your family posh hippies?”
Note: Sequel to Not Exactly Wedding Of The Year
Thankfully, she was able to slip right up into her room without being spotted by any of Becker’s family. The guest room had the world’s smallest en suite bathroom attached to it, and Jess took the opportunity to wash the adventures of the day away.
It was getting dark now; normally at this time on a Friday night (barring any unforeseen anomalies) the team would be gathered for pizza and beers at one of the flats. They’d talk about their week, decompress a little and try to remember that they had lives outside of the ARC. Sometimes they’d watch a movie, some ‘classic’ that neither Matt nor Emily had seen, then would spend longer than the length of the film explaining it to them to their confused, time-travelling friends.
It was strange to miss the get-together; it wasn’t as if they didn’t see each other at work anyway. But as Jess put on the green dress that Becker liked so much, styled her hair and put on her make-up, she wondered what the others were doing, if they’d bothered to meet up that night or not.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts, and Rosemary popped her head around it, smiling at her.
“Oh Jessica, you look lovely.”
“Thank you,” Jess said, tugging on her wellingtons. “I was worried that I’d be a little over-dressed.”
“Well, you probably will be,” Rosemary sighed. “But then, so will I.”
She stepped into the room to reveal an elegant navy blue dress that fell at calf length, worn with what was obviously a very expensive rope of pearls.
“If you can’t dress up for a christening, what can you dress up for, that’s what I say,” Rosemary went on. “Oh, I know, it’s a naming ceremony,” she said, peeking in Jess’ mirror and adjusting her hair slightly. “But the meaning is the same.”
“Well, you look very elegant,” Jess told her. “It’s only a pity that we have to wear wellington boots!”
“Oh my dear, I know!” Rosemary exclaimed. “I have the most lovely navy shoes that I usually wear with this dress – kitten heel, peep toe – and it just kills me to leave them in their box.”
“It’s better than ruining them in the mud,” Jess said, wrinkling her nose at the prospect. “But I have to admit, shopping for these was the least amount of fun I’ve ever had in a shoe shop.”
“Jess, did you happen to put my shaving kit in…”
Becker walked into the bedroom without knocking, and stopped sharply when he saw his grandmother talking animatedly with his girlfriend.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, there wasn’t room in your bag for it, so I put it in my suitcase,” Jess said, fishing about for it in the case. “Sorry.”
“No problem,” he said, taking in her appearance. “The dress looks beautiful, but those wellies…”
“Are very glamorous,” Rosemary said firmly. “Now go and shave, young man.”
“Yes, Gran,” he said obediently, collected his shaving kit and disappeared.
“He looks so much better,” Rosemary said suddenly. “And I know we have you to thank for that, Jessica.”
“I’m not sure I have much to do with that,” Jess demurred, but Rosemary wasn’t to be put off by Jess’ modesty.
“He rings me, you know,” Rosemary told her. “Not every week, but often enough. He tried to hide it, but he always sounded so weary on the telephone. And when he did make it down here for a visit, or I escaped up to London for a spot of shopping and visited him, he looked…tight. Like he was locking everything up inside him.”
Tight was a good word, Jess reflected. When she had first met Becker, he had been incredibly tightly-wound. He had loosened up a little with the others on the team – she couldn’t imagine Becker of two years ago willingly attending Friday night pizza – and with her, in private, he was a completely different man. But she hadn’t realised that others had seen that change too.
“But then he changed,” Rosemary said, smiling at Jess. “It took me a little while, but he eventually admitted that he was seeing someone. I’m so very glad you came into his life, Jessica, because I really think you’ve changed it, for the better.”
Jess tried to blink back the tears that were forming.
“I hope so,” she managed. “I love him very much.”
Rosemary hugged her, and the smell of Chanel No.5 enveloped Jess subtly.
“I’m very glad of it,” she said sincerely. “And I hope that this is just the first visit you make here to Greenfields. Perhaps before long I’ll be able to give you the same room?”
Winking, Rosemary picked up Jess’ left hand and looked at it critically.
“That finger looks a little empty to me,” she teased.
Jess laughed, embarrassed.
“We’ve only been going out for six months,” she protested. “I think it’s a little early to think about getting engaged.”
“I don’t,” Rosemary said, with a jovial finality that made Jess feel a little sorry for Becker. Clearly, any conversation he had with his grandmother in the future was going to centre around how long he was going to take to propose to Jess.
The thought made her smile a little, and a little curl of excitement flared inside her. She tried to tamp it down; marriage was a huge commitment, and not something to rush into lightly. But the idea of Becker wearing a simple gold band, proclaiming himself to the world at large as taken, by her, was incredibly seductive.
Idly, Jess wondered when the next leap year was; it was traditional for women to propose in a leap year, wasn’t it? Not that they had to get married, of course; there were plenty of happy and harmonious partnerships here at the commune that showed that. But in some ways Jess was a traditional girl, and this appeared to be one of them.
Lights bobbing up and down in the dark night outside caught her attention. People were walking with lighted torches, heading away from the house down towards a forested area.
“Looks like it’s getting started,” Rosemary observed. “We’d best get a wriggle on. Do you have a warm enough coat, dear?”
“Oh yes,” Jess assured her, pulling out a green half-cape coat from the wardrobe that matched her dress perfectly.
“I had a coat just like that once!” Rosemary marvelled, taking in the swing of the coat as Jess pulled it on. “It wasn’t such a lovely colour, but I did so adore the cut.”
“They’re very fashionable at the moment,” Jess told her. “You should come up to London some time, and we’ll go shopping.”
“I’d love that,” Rosemary said, looking excited. “You’ll be able to show me all the young shops. I do so hate dressing like an old woman.”
They went downstairs, where Becker was waiting patiently with boots for his grandmother, and then they too made their way to the forest. Becker walked with a woman on each arm, and looked stoically resigned as Rosemary and Jess began to organise a date that they could take the shops of London by storm on. He knew that he’d have to go with them; she was his grandmother, after all, and he would win some serious brownie points with both of them if he was willing to open doors and carry bags.
He just couldn’t let Matt or Connor find out, otherwise he’d be the butt of their jokes for weeks.
The lights ahead had stopped moving, and when they caught up with the rest of the group they found that the lighted torches had been planted firmly in the ground, and the members of the commune were busy building a large bonfire. There were people going around with some cups of what turned out to be very strong home made wine, and various musical instruments were being twanged, strummed and beaten, creating an unusual but not unpleasant musical accompaniment.
Rosemary went to talk to her daughter, leaving Becker and Jess to sip at their cups.
“This is quite nice,” Jess said, taking a large swallow.
“Careful,” cautioned Becker. “It’s really strong, Jess. It’ll get you drunk very quickly.”
“What’s in it?” Jess asked, ignoring him and taking another large gulp.
“God only knows,” Becker said, grimacing. “But seriously, take it slowly or you’ll be suffering tomorrow. Trust me, I know what this stuff can do.”
“Oh yes?” Jess asked, intrigued.
Thanks to the light of a nearby torch, Jess could see Becker blush ever so slightly. She immediately found it adorable.
“I lost my virginity after drinking a lot of this stuff,” he told her quietly, his eyes darting around to make sure nobody else could hear him. “I was fifteen, home for the holidays from school and there was a big bash to celebrate the summer solstice. I got pissed on the homebrew. I woke up the next morning, stark naked in one of the guest yurts, clutching a pair of knickers. I was too embarrassed to ask around and find out what happened.”
“Oh my God!” Jess laughed, clutching onto his arm. “Did you ever find out?”
“No!” he hissed. “It could have been any one of six or seven girls my age, and none of them ever said anything to me about that night afterwards.”
Jess couldn’t help herself.
“Maybe it wasn’t a girl your age,” she said, smirking. “Maybe an older woman couldn’t help herself and decided she had to be the one to break you in.”
The look on his face was a mixture of revulsion, fear and the very slightest hint of wonder.
“After all,” Jess went on, emboldened by the wine, “You are a stunningly handsome man now, so you must have been a beautiful teenager.”
“You’re getting drunk,” he said, shaking his head.
“Beautiful,” Jess insisted, shaking her head and finishing her cup.
“It’s time for the ceremony to start!” somebody called.
The crowd of people gathered into a loose circle. Jess stood between Becker and Poplar. Athena moved into the centre of the circle, near the bonfire, and stood on a small bench that somebody had brought with them.
“Friends!” she called. “We are gathered here today to welcome a new soul into our family of love! Hold hands with your neighbour, and let’s create a circle of positive energy for our ceremony. ”
There were bursts of applause and cheers, and Athena waited patiently for them to stop with a happy smile on her face. The crowd joined hands.
“My beautiful daughter Rainbow, and her partner Wolf, have been blessed with a son who they have decided to name Tiger Fire,” Athena told the crowd.
In the light of the torches, Jess could see Becker wince. As Athena started to talk about the significance of the child’s name, Jess’ mind began to wander. She imagined the scene, a few years in the future, when she and Becker came to visit with their child. Would Artemis and Tiger Fire feel sorry for a cousin called Eleanor, or Alexander? She snorted as quietly as she could. Poor hypothetical Baby Becker. He or she would have cousins called Bliss, Unique, Artemis and Tiger. Giving him or her a traditional name would make them the odd one out. Jess shook her head. Izzie, darling little Izzie. She had a normal name, and she’d look out for her cousin and stop the weird named kids from beating them up.
“What’s up?” Becker asked her quietly.
“Izzie is going to have to be back up for our future baby,” Jess hissed at him. “Otherwise he or she is going to get picked on for not having a weird name.”
Becker shook his head, amused.
“I think you’ve had too much of that home made wine,” he told her.
“I’m being serious!” Jess whispered. “Children can be mean.”
“I’m sure that Izzie will be adequate backup,” Becker said solemnly. “She’ll be utterly terrifying in a few years time. Takes after her aunt.”
Jess’ indignant gasp was lost in another round of cheers and applause from the crowd as Athena finished her speech. The music started back up as baby Tiger was passed from person to person around the large circle. Wolf and Rainbow followed his journey around the circle, accepting hugs, kisses, good wishes and presents from their friends and family. When he arrived at Becker, he held him securely in the crook of his arm as he shook Wolf’s hand firmly, then kissed Rainbow on the cheek.
“Well done, Rainbow,” Becker told her, looking down at his nephew. “He’s got the Becker hair.”
“Mum says he’s the spitting image of you when you were born,” Rainbow said, her tone light hearted. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was the excitement of the ceremony, but the sanctimonious Rainbow of earlier had disappeared, and a new Rainbow was in front of them.
Becker passed Tiger onto Jess as he handed over the envelope he’d had tucked into his back pocket.
“It’s an adoption certificate,” Becker told his sister. “I’ve adopted a tiger in India in his name. The money goes to a wildlife reserve that are trying to increase the number of tigers in the wild.”
Tears started to form in Rainbow’s eyes.
“That’s so sweet of you,” she said, impulsively hugging him. The move clearly took Becker by surprise, but he gingerly put his arms around her and hugged her back. “I thought you’d buy him a toy tank or something.”
“He’s not old enough,” Becker said, his tone light and cheerful. “Wait until he’s five or six.”
Rainbow slapped him on the arm, but her heart wasn’t really in it.
“Thanks for coming,” she told him, then surprised Jess by including her in a quick hug. “Both of you.”
Then she moved down the circle, and Jess passed the sleeping baby to Poplar, who was already crying unashamedly.
It took a long time for the newest member of the Greenfields commune to make his rounds. The other children were getting tired, and some were already asleep in their parents’ arms. Jess found herself leaning against Becker, who let go of her hand to put his arm around her shoulder.
“Won’t be long now,” he told her. “Just got to have the blessing from Dad and put the fire out, then we can go.”
The blessing turned out to be a strange mix of ideas and traditions, and Jess didn’t recognise half of the names that Grey Owl invited to show good favour to the commune, but it was much shorter than a sermon would be in church, and for that she was grateful.
People started to drift away, back to their yurts and cabins. Some stayed to put the fire out, but Becker escorted his grandmother and Jess back up to the gatehouse. They left their muddy boots in the mud room just inside the back door, and said their goodnights at the top of the stairs. Becker kissed his grandmother chastely on the cheek, and Jess firmly on the lips, then shut the door to his room firmly behind him.
In her room, Jess caught the scent of woodsmoke in her hair and frowned. If she went to bed like this, it would make the lovely linens on the bed smell too. Leaving her clothes in an untidy pile on the floor, she took a quick shower to wash her hair again. The lateness of the hour and the strength of the wine took her a little by surprise; she found herself wobbling slightly as she got out of the shower and towelled herself off.
As she went back into the bedroom she stopped suddenly and had to hold the wall for support.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed. “Your grandmother…”
“Is very old fashioned,” Becker finished. “And a sound sleeper. Get into bed, it’s cold.”
Jess dropped the towel on the floor and joined him in bed. He protested at the coldness of her feet, but Jess kissed him until he stopped trying to talk and kissed her back. They were slow, sleepy kisses, not designed to arouse but to communicate.
“Love you,” Jess told him. “Told you your weird family wouldn’t scare me away.”
“You’re a bit drunk,” he said fondly. “Tell me that tomorrow.”
“I won’t change my mind,” Jess yawned.
“Sssh,” he said. “Go to sleep.”
Jess woke late the next day. Sunlight was streaming in through the gap in the curtains, and she could hear the buzz of voices from outside her window. Becker’s half of the bed was empty, and the sheets were cool.
A knock at the door sounded just as Jess was pulling her nightgown over her head. Rosemary entered the room carrying a tray with a small pot of tea, a glass of orange juice and a large plate piled with toast, oozing with butter.
“I thought you might be coming too about now,” Rosemary said brightly.
“What time is it?” Jess asked, yawning and hoping her hair wasn’t as bad as it usually was in the morning.
“Half past ten,” Rosemary said, depositing the tray on the bed and briskly opening the curtains.
Jess’ eyes widened in surprise.
“I don’t usually sleep this late,” she said, embarrassed. “You must think I’m very lazy.”
“Nonsense,” Rosemary laughed. “It’s that home made wine that Nathan makes. It’s lethal. We’re all just used to it, that’s all. Plenty of fluid, and lots of toast, that’s the cure. You eat up, and bring the tray down when you’re dressed.”
“Where’s Hilary?” Jess asked, picking up a small pot of raspberry jam and slathering the first slice of toast with it.
“He said that he noticed that one of the water filters on the irrigation system wasn’t working yesterday when he went for his walk. He was going to see if he could fix it.”
“He knows how to do that?” Jess asked, around the toast and the heavenly jam.
“Oh yes,” Rosemary said. “Everybody here has a trade or three. Hilary was always good with his hands.”
Jess flashed back to yesterday’s adventure on the chaise longue, and choked a little on her toast.
“Went down the wrong way,” Jess squeaked, clearing her throat. “Lovely jam. Do you make it yourself?”
“Rainbow does,” Rosemary said. “You should try the blackcurrant, it’s even better. I’ll give you some jars to go home with. Eat up, now, and I’ll see you later.”
Six slices of toast, two cups of tea and a shower later, Jess felt ready to face the world again. She brought the tray downstairs and washed up her plates, because she already felt bad about having breakfast in bed. Then she put her wellingtons on over her purple footless tights, adjusted her longline cardigan so it fell correctly over her denim miniskirt and headed out to track down her boyfriend.
Lots of people stopped to say hello to her as she wandered through the commune. Many of them were busy at work, and Jess watched as the span wool, threw pots, carved wood and made delicate jewellery. Everyone had a purpose here, she realised. There was a job for everyone, and she felt out of place as she meandered through the long lawns at the back of the big house.
She heard someone calling her name, and turned around to find Athena bearing down on her.
“Morning!” she said cheerfully. “Did you enjoy the ceremony last night?”
“Yes,” Jess said truthfully. “But I think that wine should come with a warning label.”
“It is very strong,” Athena said, smiling. “But that blue lace agate should help. Speaking of it, do you have time for that aura cleansing now?”
“Sure,” Jess said. “I was trying to find Hilary, but he can wait.”
“Good girl,” Athena said, taking her by the arm. “This way.”
Athena took her back to her own personal yurt that she shared with Grey Owl. Jess hadn’t known what to expect when she entered, but she was surprised by the warmth and brightness inside the circular structure. She toed off her muddy boots at the entrance, and walked in her stockinged feet over the gleaming wooden floor. The space was big enough for chairs, tables, storage units and a very large bed, made up with very ordinary-looking pillows and blankets.
A large dream catcher hung over the bed. Small collections of coloured crystals were piled in small heaps on different surfaces in the yurt. In the middle of the room was a circular firepit. A banked fire warmed the yurt, and smoke was drawn up through a hole in the roof.
“Please, have a seat,” Athena said, gesturing to a very comfortable looking beanbag that was close to the fire.
Jess sat in it and immediately slouched into a reclining position.
“Perfect,” Athena said happily. “Now, just shut your eyes and relax.”
Jess did as she was told, and she felt Athena’s fingers on her temples. She started a soothing circular motion, and Jess relaxed even further as her boyfriend’s mother started the most blissful head massage she’d ever had.
“The blue agate has helped,” she said eventually. “There are far fewer dark spots in your aura today.”
“Thanks,” Jess said dreamily. “It’s a lovely necklace.”
“You keep it,” Athena said happily. “It will work better when you’ve been wearing it for a week or two.”
“Thank you,” Jess said again. “It’s very generous of you.”
“Nonsense,” Athena said, making the same plucking gestures around Jess’ head that she had the day before. “If anything I should be thanking you. Hilary’s aura is the lightest I’ve seen it since he was a child.”
“That’s good then, is it?” Jess asked.
“Oh yes,” Athena nodded. “In very general terms, the lighter the aura, the more content and happier the person is, physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
She sighed, and Jess could hear the pain in her voice.
“Hilary didn’t feel comfortable here, when he was growing up. I’m sure he’s told you.”
“Recently,” Jess said carefully. “When he got the invitation to the naming ceremony, he told me a little about you all then.”
Athena shook her head. “His father and I were so desperate to keep him here, with us, that we didn’t listen to what he was trying to tell us. He was always so different to my other two children. His choosing to go away to school was very hard on all of us.”
She was silent for a while, and continued her plucking motions.
“In the last few years, when he’d come to visit us, he’d been darker and darker. I was very concerned for him two years ago. He was in real emotional pain.”
Jess nodded. That was when she had met him, after the deaths of so many of his friends.
“I can’t say much about that,” Jess said eventually. “I wish I could, because it would explain so much and there are so many amazing things he’s done…” She broke off, and shook her head.
“All I can say is that he is very important to all of us, where we work. He protects us, and keeps us all safe. He’s saved my life on more than one occasion, and the lives of so many others.”
Athena sniffed, and dabbed at her eye with her sleeve.
“He’s happy,” she said. “You see it when he looks at you. His whole body language is different. His aura is practically shining. You’re very good for him, Jess. And I want you to know that you’re always welcome here. Maybe now he’s happier, you’ll be able to persuade him to come back more often?”
Athena’s voice sounded hopeful. Jess’ heart went out to her.
“I’ll certainly try,” she said firmly. “This is a lovely place. Our jobs don’t always keep a strict schedule, but we can certainly make an effort to get here more often.”
“Good,” Athena said, and got back to the business of cleaning Jess’ aura.
Aura cleansed, Jess wandered back out into the lawns of the big house in search of Becker. A couple of teenage girls told her that he was in the old stable block, which functioned as a home for the machinery the community used to farm.
They escorted her there and unabashedly plied her with questions about him. Jess decided to tease him about his fan club later, and then realised with a grin that until fairly recently she would have qualified as one of the club.
She found him with a group of other men, all standing around the open engine of some kind of machine. Jess wasn’t up on her farmyard equipment, but it looked a little like a tractor with some kind of strange attachment on the back. Becker was leaning over the engine, his jeans stretched tautly over his backside. His sweater was draped over a chair and he’d stripped down to just his white t-shirt. Jess could see smears of engine oil over his forearms, and his hair was ever so slightly tousled from where he’d obviously run his hands through it.
The whole scene was oddly arousing, and Jess wondered if she could make him do things with her car engine at home, just so she could take some pictures.
“Sleeping Beauty woke up,” he teased, noticing her arrival.
“Sleeping Beauty should have listened to you about the wine,” she replied, pecking him on the cheek that didn’t have oil smudged on it. “What are you doing?”
“Cleaning up the engine of this old cultivator,” he said, wiping his hands on a rag. “Alright Charlie, try turning it over now.”
One of the men hopped up into the cab of the tractor and turned the engine over. It caught straight away, and Becker nodded, looking pleased.
“Just a clogged fuel line and new sparkplugs,” he told another man, shutting the bonnet lid. “You know how to deal with that now?”
“All in here,” the man replied, tapping his forehead. “Thanks, Hilary.”
Jess followed Becker to a small room with an old, chipped sink. He scooped a big handful of some lemon-scented yellow gunk from a big tub and started to scrub his hands with it.
“Did you fix the water filter as well?” Jess asked, twisting one of the taps and letting water splash down into the sink.
“I patched it up,” he told her. “It’ll work for a while, long enough for Dad to get the parts he needs to build a new one.”
“I never knew you could do all this,” Jess said, waving her hand. “Fix engines, repair machines…”
“I learnt it all here,” Becker told her. “Everyone has a trade or three in a commune. You learn by watching others and helping out. I was pretty awful as a potter, but I liked working with machines. When I joined the army it became one of my specialties. If your unit breaks down in the desert, you’d better have somebody around who knows how to get you moving again.”
“I’m very impressed,” Jess told him. “It’s very sexy.”
“You think everything I do is sexy,” Becker teased.
“Yes, but this is super-sexy,” Jess informed him. “I think you need to poke around in my engine when we get home.”
“If you hadn’t been drunk last night I could have poked around in…” Becker began, but he was interrupted by his father coming into the doorway.
“Thanks for taking a look at the water filter,” he said, a little gruffly. “You’ve got it working, then.”
“For now,” Becker said, wiping his hands on his jeans. “But it won’t last forever, you’re going to have to buy a new valve, and the hose is looking a bit worn.”
Grey Owl nodded, looked as if he was going to say something, then stopped. Becker watched him warily, opened his mouth, gave a little sigh, and turned back to the sink.
Jess couldn’t help it. Her organisational instincts kicked in.
“We passed a little DIY shop in the last town we came through,” she said brightly. “Why don’t you take your dad there and get what you need now?”
“I wouldn’t want to bother Hilary with that,” Grey Owl said, stepping back.
“It’s no bother, Dad,” Becker said.
“Poplar said that there were a few things she had to do in town today,” Jess went on ruthlessly. “You two could go and do them for her, give her a bit of a break. She works very hard, you know.”
She put on her best pleading face and aimed it at Becker, who caved under its intensity, as he always did. She then aimed it at his father, adding a small smile. He too soon collapsed under the gentle pressure of Jess’ interference.
“It would save petrol if we made one trip,” Grey Owl said apologetically to Becker.
“You could stop off at that pub for lunch and have a drink,” Jess went on.
“Don’t push it,” Becker warned her, dropping a brief kiss on her lips as he left the stable block with his father.
She walked with them to the big house where Poplar looked incredibly grateful as she handed over a list of things that had to be done in town. Together they waved them off as Becker pointed his car back in the direction of the nearest big town to Greenfields.
“I’m beginning to think you’re a miracle worker,” Poplar said as they headed back inside. “I don’t remember the last time Dad and Hilary did something like that.”
“That’s a shame,” Jess said, frowning. “It hurts Hilary that he doesn’t have a better relationship with his father.”
“Dad’s pretty cut up about it too,” Poplar confided. “When Hilary was deployed overseas, Dad used to cycle into town everyday to read the newspapers at the library, trying to keep track of where he was and what was going on. He was frightened that he’d get hurt out there. Or worse.”
“Why can’t they just talk about it?” Jess asked, sighing. “I would have thought that your dad would have been a bit better at talking about his feelings than most men.”
“You would have thought that, but not when it comes to Hilary,” Poplar sighed. “I don’t know how you managed to get him to go with Hilary, in a car no less, but whatever you did, we’re grateful for it.”
“They may just argue,” Jess pointed out.
“Oh, they’ll spend most of their time arguing,” Poplar agreed. “But sometimes you have to really let all your primal rage out before healing can begin. Have you ever been part of a primal rage workshop, Jess?”
“No,” Jess said, smiling. “But I have been on the M25 at rush hour.”
“Not quite the same thing,” Poplar said. “I’ll give you some brochures about the courses we run.”
She handed Jess a stack of them, and then went off cheerfully to help Danny and the older children fix the fencing around the goat pen that the mischievous creatures had eaten through the day before. Jess found a lovely hand-carved wooden bench under a tree and read through the brochures.
She was surprised by the variety of experiences the community offered. There were practical courses about living in an ecologically balanced way, animal husbandry, bee keeping, natural sustainability – things that she knew that Abby would really be interested in. Then there were the courses and workshops of a slightly more esoteric nature. There was an astrophysicist that led courses on The Wonder of Being, a psychotherapist that taught a week-long course on Humanising The Workplace and an ex-Royal Ballet choreographer that ran a course called Sacred Dance Teacher Training.
There were leaflets for yoga classes, meditation sessions, pottery classes and even on sacred sexuality. Jess opened that leaflet then blanched and shut it again when she saw a happily naked Athena and Grey Owl contorted into a bizarre position inside it.
There were some things that you were just not meant to see, and your boyfriends’ parents displaying the Elephant Rising position for a group of trainees was one of them. Another quick look confirmed that some of Becker’s…features were definitely genetic, then Jess hurriedly shuffled the leaflet to the bottom of the stack.
Conscious of the environmentally friendly atmosphere of Greenfields, Jess put the brochures back on the pile on the reception desk on her way into lunch. She sat with Poplar and Danny again and began to quiz Poplar about the commune’s website. Shocked to discover that they didn’t have one, Jess immediately began to sell Poplar on the importance of having a web presence. Her iPhone still had a signal, so after a quick Google search she brought up the websites of some other communities that were similar to Greenfields.
Poplar’s eyes narrowed as she scanned through the sites, and she immediately began to scribble notes on a small pad that she whipped out of the pocket of the long, orange skirt she was wearing.
“How do you make a website?” she demanded of Jess.
Jess shrugged. “I could manage something fairly simple,” she told her. “But if you want something as glossy as these, you’d have to pay a professional to do it. They’re not cheap, but if you make more bookings because of the site, it should soon pay for itself. And your broadband connection, of course.”
The rest of the delicious lunch was taken up with discussions about websites, and the realisation by Poplar that she’d have to upgrade the community’s computer. Jess gave her some suggestions about makes and models and they discussed the merits of cheaper, second hand computers against buying a new machine that would be insured.
Danny left them to return with the kids to the goat pen, happy that Poplar had a project to sink her teeth into. Jess and Poplar went back to the office to hash out plans and designs for the website, and it was there that Becker found them, a few hours later.
“Come for a walk?” he asked, and Jess could see the strain in his eyes and the rigid set of his shoulders.
“Show her the river,” Poplar said, staring at her brother and frowning slightly at his obvious agitation. “Nice and quiet down there.”
Jess went with Becker, who draped a heavy arm over her shoulder as they walked, in silence, away from the house and the community buildings. They followed a footpath into the calm, cool forested area, and in the distance Jess could hear the faint noise of flowing water.
They walked onwards, through the trees, and the noise of the water got louder. The path twisted and turned, and then suddenly emerged from the darkened forest into the bright sunlight and Jess was on the bank of a small river. The water moved fairy quickly, and she could see small flashes of silver as fish darted through it. Bright wildflowers grew along the riverbank, and there was a set of mossy green stepping-stones for anyone who wished to cross the water.
Becker led her to a big rock that sat perched at the water’s edge, and helped her to climb up on it. They sat there together for a while, enjoying the silence, until Becker suddenly leant over and kissed her deeply. Jess fell into it immediately, and clutched at his jumper with one hand to keep him firmly in place.
“That bad, eh?” she asked, once they’d parted.
He let out a deep, heartfelt sigh that told her everything she needed to know.
“That was the longest I’ve spent alone with him in years,” he admitted. “And we argued for every second of it.”
Jess winced. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have suggested you go off together.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It wasn’t that bad, actually. I got to say some stuff I’d been wanting to say for a while. So did he.”
“Are you two alright?” she asked, still worried that she’d forced Becker to damage the relationship with his father permanently.
“We’re…better than we’ve been before,” he said, after thinking about it for a while. “So that’s something.”
He pulled her in for a hug and kissed her on the forehead.
“Don’t worry about it,” he told her.
They sat in silence for a while, watching the fish dart in the river and bees buzz about the wildflowers. Birds darted from branch to branch. It was gloriously peaceful, and quite the most beautiful place Jess had seen for a long time.
“Your family is lovely,” she said after a while. “And this place is beautiful. But I’ve got to have a sausage sandwich soon or I’ll cry.”
Becker laughed, and kissed her again.
“I know a place nearby,” he said. “Come on, I’m buying.”
They hurried back through the forest and up the footpath to the gatehouse, and Becker’s car. Just before he turned the engine over, he leaned over and kissed her again.
“What was that for?” she asked, smiling and touching his cheek.
“For having your aura cleansed, and talking about computers with Poppy, and wearing that silly necklace and not smacking Rainbow and talking about shoes with my grandmother,” he said. “Thanks, Jess. It means…well, it means a lot that you came.”
“I’d go anywhere for you, you silly boy,” she told him. “And it’s really nice here. But I swear, if there isn’t a sausage sandwich on the horizon soon, I’m going to go mental.”
“Orders received and understood,” he said, kissing her again briefly, before putting the car in gear. “So, what have you been doing with yourself today?”
“I’ve been reading about some of the courses the community offers,” she said slyly, watching his reaction.
“Oh, the bee keeping and the pottery stuff?” he asked.
“And the sacred dance teacher training, and the humanising the work place course,” she told him. “I’m thinking about signing Lester up for that one.”
“I can just see him sitting on a yoga mat and getting to grips with opening his third eye,” Becker snorted.
“And there’s the sacred sensuality one,” Jess said, running her hand along Becker’s thigh.
“That’s a new one, but I like the sound of it,” he said, raising it to his lips and dropping a kiss on the back of it.
“Ask your mother about it later,” she said with a straight face.
He did, at dinner. Athena was all too eager to go into excruciating detail. The look on his face was an absolute picture, which Jess knew for a fact because she snapped it with her iPhone and refused to delete it. His dark look in her direction promised retribution, but as both Poplar and Rainbow joined in the laughing with Jess, she didn’t mind. Even Grey Owl smiled at his son’s reaction.
It was worth it to make everyone smile.
And as Becker snuck into her pretty pink guest room later that night and took his retribution out on her willing body, Jess thought it was totally worth it, even if she did have to be careful not to wake his grandmother up with her screams of pleasure.
Oh yes, she thought, as she collapsed into a sweaty heap on top of a snoring boyfriend. Totally worth it.
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