Seasons of Love: A Lesbian Romance Novel, страница 1
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SEASONS OF LOVE
Copyright © Harper Bliss 2016
Cover picture © Depositphotos / AnnaOmelchenko / paprika_
Cover design by Caroline Manchoulas
Published by Ladylit Publishing - Hong Kong
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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For my wife, who supports and loves me through all the seasons.
I try to recline my seat, but as soon as I push the button and apply some pressure, I feel the knees of the passenger behind me resisting my attempt. Perhaps I should have listened to Miranda when she told me to book a business class ticket. “But this is not a business trip,” I’d said, to which she’d just responded with a sigh. Not that I would ever buy an overpriced ticket just to have some more room on any trip—or that I ever go on business trips.
“Some more wine, Ma’am?” a female member of the cabin crew asks.
“No, thank you.” I hand her my empty plastic cup. I’ve had two units already. Despite this being the start of a long overdue holiday, I won’t let go of my health principles so easily.
I close my eyes, the back of my seat straight again, and think about the two weeks of absolute nothingness stretching out in front of me.
“At the end of your life, you won’t wish you had worked more, Alice,” Miranda said a few months ago. “As your partner in this company, I demand you take three weeks off this summer.” She’d offered me her phone and had me flick through some pictures of blue skies and a stylish house a few minutes from the beach in Quinta do Lago. “Consider it booked. How does August 1st till August 21st sound?”
“Three weeks? Have you lost your mind?” I’d glared at her, but had difficulty keeping my gaze off her phone. The last picture she’d shown me was of the swimming pool, which was bathed in the most exquisite light, the water a reflection of all things summer. It didn’t help that she came to me with this on one of London’s more dreary days. “Fine, but it’ll have to be two weeks. Three is just ludicrous.”
Miranda had stretched out her hand and demanded we’d shake on the deal. Apart from a day here and there and a long weekend in Paris or down the coast in Cornwall, I’m not much of a holidaymaker. I’d rather work than spend too much time with my own thoughts, a work ethic that, in my humble opinion, has allowed Miranda to earn enough money to actually buy that house in the Algarve.
But Miranda got her wish and here I am. The plane is about to land at Faro airport.
After going through all airport shenanigans—another reason to only ever travel by car or train—I pick up my rental car and spread out the map over the steering wheel. The lady behind the counter said the car came with a sat nav, but I like to find my destination the old-fashioned way.
By the time I arrive at Miranda’s house, I’m more than ready for a dip in that pool. And I have to agree with her, because as I park my car in front of the house, a sense of summer, of intense leisure, comes over me. A sensation I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Not for a long while, anyway. I’m tired from the journey, but just arriving here engulfs me in an aura of relaxation.
The house looks every bit as stunning as in the pictures. It’s not overly big, but its white walls look picturesque against the blue of the sky, and the pool is surrounded by grass so green and lush, that someone must water it on a daily basis. I hope they won’t intrude on the complete privacy Miranda guaranteed me for the two weeks I’m taking up residence here.
I only brought one suitcase, and I wheel it into the master bedroom, which looks out over the pool area. I inhale deeply, and let the stress of London, work, and the journey here wash off me a little with every exhale.
Before I relax completely and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day, I should get some exercise. The flight was only three hours, but the entire journey took about seven, and my legs are stiff from sitting down too much. In London, my favourite—and only—means of exercise is an hour every morning before work on the stair walker I set up in my spare bedroom. It’s a great way to catch up on the news and stay in shape. When I asked Miranda if there was any gym equipment in her house she’d looked at me funnily, as though that was the most outrageous question ever, even though most hotels around the globe boast some sort of gym on their premises.
“Just relax,” Miranda had said. “Two weeks off won’t destroy your excellent physical condition, Alice.”
It’s not a hardship to have to make do with the pool. I’m not the world’s best swimmer, but it will be good for my biceps, triceps, and deltoids, not to mention release the tension from my legs. I can be adaptable, I want to say to Miranda, but I’ll have to save it for when I see her again in two weeks.
After I’ve emptied my suitcase and given my clothes their rightful place in the wardrobe, I slip into my one-piece bathing suit. I also splashed out on a bikini with a loud floral print and, looking at it again, wonder what on earth came over me when I purchased it. A one-piece will do.
The water is not warm, but not cold either. It’s just the right temperature and before launching into a few laps for sporty reasons, I float on my back, the late afternoon sun still strong enough to pierce underneath my eyelids.
The pool isn’t very long, so I count my laps until I’ve reached forty, after which I sit on the ledge panting. A tall tree casts my chosen spot in shadows, and I breathe in to acquaint myself with the summery smells surrounding me. When Miranda first told me she was buying a house here, I accused her of being foolish with money, but sitting here now, I guess I’m beginning to understand. She’s had this place for eighteen years, has asked me to come here a thousand times, and I see now that I was the foolish one for always having a good reason not to. But summers here were booked up with Miranda and her daughter spending at least a month in the house—a luxury I often scolded her for—and, after Alan left me, I was working all the time anyway. What was I going to do coming here on my own? And travelling with Miranda and her daughter somehow never appealed to me. I don’t dislike children, but, for relaxation purposes, I would never deliberately seek out their company either.
When my stomach starts growling, I take a show
Just when I arrive back at the villa, my phone rings. Miranda advised me to turn it off and hide it in a cupboard, but that was simply one stretch too far. When I look at the screen, I see it’s Miranda calling. Maybe to check if I would answer. Of course I do.
“Alice, isn’t it glorious? Listen to this.” She does something with the phone and I hear a buzzing noise. “That’s the sound of a lovely London rain storm pelting against my office window.”
“It’s rather amazing.” I lean against the table in the open-plan kitchen and I can see the swimming pool from here as well.
“How do you feel?”
How do I feel? Miranda learnt to not ask me that question a long time ago. “Erm, great.” The irony is perfectly audible in my voice.
“Are you relaxed?” She pauses. “Because, well, um, there’s something…” It’s not Miranda’s style to do this much hemming and hawing.
“Is it Mr. Pappas? I knew I shouldn’t—”
“No, Alice, relax. It’s got nothing to do with work.” She clears her throat. “It’s Joy. She’s unexpectedly starting a new job in a week and she’d like to enjoy a bit of summer before going back to work.”
“Okay. Then she should.” I fail to understand why this upsets Miranda so much. She should be happy Joy has a new job, the way that girl flutters from employer to employer.
“Yes, well, the thing is, Alice, she’s asked if she could go to the house… just for a few days. Just for some much needed vitamin D.”
Is Miranda talking about this house? She can’t be. I’m here. I was promised privacy and solitude. “Joy wants to come here?” For once, I don’t hide the outright indignation in my voice.
“Only if you agree. I mean, the house is more than big enough for the two of you. She won’t be a nuisance, I promise you that. She’ll be at the beach most of the time, anyway. You’ll barely notice she’s there.”
No, a little voice in my head screams. But this is Miranda’s house. What am I supposed to say? Your own flesh and blood can’t use it because I’m here? It goes against every rule of politeness I’ve ever lived by. “Well,” I start, but Miranda cuts me off again.
“It’ll only be for a few days. She needs to come back and start work.”
I roll my eyes. The lows Miranda stoops to for her daughter, while a simple “No, the house is occupied” would have sufficed. I don’t know Joy very well. I haven’t seen her in years, but I guess Miranda hasn’t stopped spoiling her after she graduated from university.
“It’s fine, Miranda. I’ll welcome her with open arms.” But only because you’re not giving me a choice. Miranda knew full well I wouldn’t say no. It’s probably much easier for her to make this phone call to me than to say no to her daughter. Children. Neither Alan nor I were very interested in pursuing a traditional family. I got all the satisfaction I needed from pouring all my energy into my career.
“Thank you so much. I owe you,” Miranda says. “I’m well aware. I’ll make it up to you somehow, I swear.”
Miranda then proceeds to tell me Joy, who is apparently sitting next to her while she makes the call to Portugal, will book her flight straightaway. She’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. No need to pick her up at the airport, she’ll get her own car. A rental Miranda will pay for, I’m sure. By the time I put down the phone, my relaxed state has all but dissipated. So much for my holiday. While I prepare a simple salad, I think of ways to make Miranda pay for this. She’s the one who was so dead set on me going on holiday in the first place. It just goes to show where her loyalties lie. Blood is always thicker than the waters of friendship, even though we’ve been friends since before Joy was born.
While I eat my salad overlooking the pool, I exceed my self-imposed daily alcohol limit by drinking two more glasses of wine.
Joy arrives in a bright yellow Mini Cooper—a vehicle I didn’t even know car rental agencies provided—with just a backpack as luggage.
“You travel light,” is the first thing I say to her, which isn’t very courteous, but I can’t help it. I feel as though I need to make clear from the start that I don’t fully agree with how my holiday is being rudely interrupted.
“No need for a lot of clothes here.” Joy shoulders her backpack and walks briskly towards me. “Good to see you, Alice. It’s been ages.” She opens her arms wide. Is she really expecting a hug? I can’t even remember the last time I embraced someone. Before I even have a chance to think of an acceptable manner to refuse her hug, she’s thrown her arms around me and pulls me close to her. I find this manner of greeting a mere acquaintance highly impertinent, and squirm my way out of her impromptu cuddle quickly. When I take a step back she looks at me funnily. “Good grief, Alice, do you have a funeral to attend or something?”
I did throw on black trousers as Joy’s arrival time approached, and covered my upper body with a cream silk blouse. “Some of us like to dress properly,” I retort, and let my glance roam over Joy’s scantily clad body. She’s wearing a tank top through which I can clearly see the contours of a black bra and a pair of shorts that barely covers her behind.
She shrugs and heads into the house, dropping her backpack on the kitchen floor. “Mum has given me instructions to not bother you and avoid you as much as possible.” She opens the fridge door and peers inside. “I promise I’ll go grocery shopping tomorrow, but the food on the plane was horrible and I’m starving.” She turns to me, the fridge door still open. “And gagging for a dip in that pool.” She steps a little farther into the coolness of the wide-open fridge door. “Oh gosh, that feels good.”
Have you lost your mind? I want to ask. Has your mother not taught you how to save energy and behave responsibly? But I’ve never been very adept at communicating my inner emotions—and I never had much need to. “Take whatever you want,” I say, instead. “I’ll be in my room.”
“Thanks,” Joy shouts after me. Already, the effects of the one day of unwinding I got to enjoy are undone. A tightness has crept back into my muscles, and my brain is going into overdrive coming up with ways to make the best of this situation. I lie on my bed, the French windows opened to the pool area, and leaf through a Lee Child book absentmindedly, producing no results. The next five days with Joy will simply be one of those occurrences in life I’ll have to suffer through. Silently, of course, because that’s what I do.
I hear stumbling in the adjoining room. There’s another bedroom on the other side of the house, but it doesn’t lead directly to the pool area. I do hope Joy will at least have good enough manners to not make too much noise during the night. A little later, I see two legs appear in my field of vision. They’re supple, their skin unblemished by age, and they patter to the pool. When I let my glance drift upwards, along a piece of fabric that can hardly be called a pair of bikini bottoms, I can’t believe what I see: Joy’s back is bare. There’s no sign of any string across her back. All I see is naked flesh. I don’t have time to ponder this further, because with a neat splash, Joy dives into the pool.
Shocked, I sit up. Is this how she intends not to bother me? The nerve of this girl. I have to stop myself from reaching for my phone and calling Miranda. But all of this is Miranda’s fault in the first place, and what is she going to do? Call her daughter and tell her to put on a top? That’s even more unlikely than me joining Joy in the pool when she’s dressed like that.
My eyes are still trained on the surface of the pool. Not because I want to see, but because I haven’t been able to look away, so stupefied am I with Joy’s choice of non-dress. All of a sudden, her head bursts through the surface of the water, her face slick and her hair wet, and she rests her arms on the edge.
“Are you going to take those funeral clothes off today or what?” She plasters a self-satisfied grin on her face.
So much for my privacy. Perhaps I should move to the room at the back of the house, so she can’t loo
“The water is gorgeous.” Joy tips her head to the side. “Or are you going to sulk in your room all evening?”
Who does this girl think she is? To talk to me this way? Clearly, Miranda hasn’t taught her about respecting her elders either.
Joy proceeds to hoist herself up out of the pool and sit down cross-legged in the grass, facing me with her bare breasts on full display. To my great dismay, I feel my cheeks flush. I can only hope the distance between my bed and the pool is big enough so Joy doesn’t notice.
“I shall continue to read my book.” I’m happy with the ounce of dignity I manage to inject into my voice.
“Oh yeah? What are you reading?” Joy just doesn’t leave me alone. She’s probably been showered with so much attention throughout her life that she can’t be on her own for five minutes.
“Just the new Jack Reacher.” I picked it up at the WHSmith at the airport. I don’t often allow myself guilty pleasures like these. But, if anything, it seems like the sort of book Joy would like.
“That crap. Really?” She squints. “I hadn’t pegged you for the type, Alice. You surprise me.”
“Oh, and I presume your library is only filled with the likes of Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood?” I retort before I even give myself a chance to think.
“My library?” Joy chuckles. “If you mean the one on my Kindle, then, I guess, yes, my preferences in literature are pretty high-brow.” With drops of water slipping down her cheeks like that, and her long blond hair a tight, wet cap on her head, she looks like the least high-brow person I’ve ever seen. She probably attends raves and watches reality television—the greatest waste of time ever invented.