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December 3rd 1882 Mr Dashby watched the little coil of steam slowly rising from the cup of camomile and condensing on the window pane before him. Resolutely, he took a sip from it and stared out at the fields that lay beyond the manor house, blanketed in snow. He pondered how detrimental the weather would be to the trade routes leading into town; transport always became temperamental during the festive season. Behind him, the ladies‟ voices floated in from the drawing room. “I was certainly shocked to hear about the whole affair,” one voice said. “Oh, indeed,” another replied. “It was a shock to us all. Especially considering Lady Farringdon‟s reputation. Never a hair out of place, such a fine example. One would never have supposed her to possess such a…” “Promiscuous nature?” the first said. “Precisely. Promiscuous is the only word for it. Goodness, its mere association with a name of such repute seems unthinkable…mustn‟t she know her reputation? Her recent suitors have been hardly the respectable type. All too eager to attend the local taverns.” A measured pause. “I believe a lady as free-willed as Lady Farringdon should be well aware of the reputation she carries, and thereby chooses to jeopardise with the company she keeps.” A trickling of wine into glasses followed, and Mr Dashby let a deep sigh escape him, fogging the pane inches away from his lips. This would be the fourteenth Christmas he would spend at Compton House, with only the maids and butler for


Friday Nights at Comptons Bex wiped Bacardi off her boobs, watched her fag-end burn out and dropped it in the toilet. Tonight just wasn’t working—drilling bass-line, free drinks from that random bloke in Lloyds, the perfect high heels and short skirt, none of it felt good. Two years ago, when she was underage and had to show her chest as ID to get past the bouncers on the door, she’d have been smashed out of her face and having a fucking awesome night. Two years ago she wouldn’t have been sneaking a fag in the toilets on her own, she’d have been squashed in here with Lucy, doing coke off the toilet seat and screeching loudly about that cute barman ohmigod he totally fancies you! God, it’s fucking tragic to be a washed up club kid by eighteen. A burst of Promiscuous Girl as the door swung open. A giggle of girls stumbled in. “Oh my god, have you seen her?” screeched one tart. Fuck, they sound like bad extras in The OC. Do they not listen to themselves? “She is such a slag. Like, it’s so inappropriate her out there practically shagging your ex on the dance-floor.” “I know! Like, she totally asked me if it was okay, and I said, er…yeah, of course, see if I fuckin’ care, but she’s still totally trying to shag him.” “Well, he’s a moron. You’re well prettier than her.” The tart was, predictably, applying more makeup than a drag queen as Bex slammed through the cubicle door. Satisfyingly, she jumped and smeared eyeliner across her forehead. Unconcerned, Bex headed for the door. The tarts glared at her. 9|Page

company. Of course, there were also the weekly „social gatherings‟ but for a man in his late twenties her bore considerable lack of a personal life. He had had several courting prospects before, but for all their infallible social graces, they rarely captured Dashby‟s attention for long. He had never considered Lady Farringdon a potential, but when rumours of her late night indiscretions began, he became curiously intrigued. News of her activities had granted her an air of mystique that Dashby found compelling. Ironic, then, that the very thing that excited him about Lady Farringdon should remove her from the list of potential suitors in the public eye. He finished the tea and set the cup neatly on the table. “All alone in here?” said a voice from behind Dashby. He turned round to face a young, buxom girl a red dress with auburn curls. She was smiling brightly and cradling a glass of wine precariously in her left hand. “You must be the young Mr Dashby. Your father has been telling us everything about you!” Dashby bowed his head slightly. “I sincerely hope not.” “What an earth are you doing in here on your own?” She slurred her words slightly. “Just taking a moment to myself.” The girl nodded and rolled her eyes as she advanced on Dashby. “Well, you must come and join us, we‟re about to begin Charades!” “I‟m afraid I‟m not partial to them,” he said, not being able to think of anything worse “Oh, tosh! You can be on my team!” She gave a slight curtsy, and smiled. “I‟m afraid we haven‟t been introduced, I‟m Samantha.” “William,” Dashby said. 10 | P a g e

“Fuck’s her problem?” Bex shrugged off the sideways looks, and strode out into the club with as much cool-collected-ice-queen as she could manage with Bacardi stains on her chest. Then—oh shit, Sammy was on the dancefloor. There, dead centre of the lights, just as the music dropped to a thudding heartbeat bass, just as everyone became single frames of film jump-cutting in the flashing blue strobes, just as he looked straight up at her. Fuck. Sammy, Sammy. Ex’s went one of two ways: you either broke up with them and, when you saw them six months down the line, you found every little thing about them annoying. Or, you realised you were a complete tool for letting them go, and that they were probably the love of your life. And, god, did he look hot out there. I should go say hi. That’s a terrible idea. She hesitated for a second. Fuck it. She felt a little like she was in slow motion as she moved through the jumping mass of people—the strobes made her move in centimetre jumps. See him, say hi, let him know you don’t care, you don’t need him—no, I can’t—fuck it, get it together, you broke up with him. He turned into her as she approached, and before she could speak, he grabbed her by the waist and kissed her. Fingers traced up the small of her back, slid under the edge of her top. His tongue parted her lips, swept gently against her own, and slid something hard and circular into her mouth. 11 | P a g e

“Well, William, won‟t you at least join me for tea?” “That would be ecstasy.” “Glad to hear it!” she said, grabbing for his hand. “But later we must rejoin the others. Even strapping young men like you must face the music!” As Samantha led Dashby along the hall towards the pantry, she seemed to be very invested in finding out every detail concerning the manor and Dashby‟s life up until the present day. She guided him with a hand on the small of his back as light as air, but Dashby felt its presence and prepared himself for a long evening. ~ “Waltzing! Oh, I do enjoy waltzing! Such a graceful dance, with all that bending and lifting. A triumph of elegance, wouldn‟t you say?” She busied herself with a porcelain tea-set, her back turned towards Dashby, who shifted uncomfortably by the door. “A wonderful display of dexterity!” she wittered digging into the sugar pot, “Of course, finding the right gentleman to waltz with, Mr Dashby, that‟s the real challenge. Would you like sugar?” The question snapped Dashby out of a shallow daze. He released his firm grip on the door handle and accepted the cup of tea. With the accompanying silver spoon, he penetrated the surface of the hot liquid, and stirred fervently, breaking the skin the milk had made. The process did much to relax him, and a soothing aroma was carried up to him on a passage of steam. Samantha watched him as he blew gently across the surface of the cup, making little tremors appear in the liquid as he slowly pulled it towards him. He misjudged the force with which he tipped the cup, and scalding fluid burnt his chest. “Blast!” He dabbed the spot of

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“Fuck—Sammy! What was that?” “That would be ecstasy.” She shoved him away. “I haven’t done any in ages.” Pulling her back: “Relax, sugar. Just ride the music.” Which, in retrospect, was when the night really kicked in. All of a sudden the bass was moving her feet, the chorus was in her bloodstream, the words stretching through every muscle. The feel of Sammy’s hands up her back, pulling her hips against his as they gyrated in the centre of the dance-floor. His hands sliding down the back of her jeans—

—waltzing up the empty high street, a tango across the bridge, a bend and lift up her front door step, and a frenzied undressing as she pulled him up the stairs, hands grabbing at clothes, pulling up to reveal tantalising skin. He had her naked by the landing, shoving her up against the door of her bedroom, sliding two fingers between her legs and digging. He thrust his face into her neck, whispering. “Fuck yeah, sugar, how’s that? You fucking like that?” Jesus, he couldn’t find my clit if I drew him a diagram. She groped for the door-handle and they fell onto her floor in a tangle of limbs. She pulled off his shirt, ran her hands down his naked torso. God, she needed this—it had been too long since a good honest fuck. Ages since the last time she’d felt two bodies becoming one body, skin on skin, the pleasure blossoming outwards between them. What housewives called making love. She unzipped him as she kissed him, pulled him towards her, and into her. Then he flipped her on her front. She felt carpet burns up her chest as he shoved his weight on top of her and the

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heat on his body – rapidly turning cold – with the back of his hand. “Oh dear! Here let me help you,” Samantha said, snatching a tea-towel from the countertop. She began thrusting the towel rhythmically into the stained area. “I would never have supposed you were a clumsy man, Mr Dashby! Not with those big strong-looking hands. Oh my!” Samantha‟s enthusiastic efforts had extended to other areas of his clothing and become more vigorous. Dashby failed to restrain his tea within the force of the thrusts and he felt another warm, wet explosion, this time on his trousers. “Goodness me, it looks as if clumsiness is contagious!” she indicated the dark patch on his trousers. “Get those off. I‟ll fetch some spares from the linen closet upstairs. Wait here, I will return!” And with that she left, leaving Dashby standing awkwardly in his damp garments. From somewhere upstairs a cackle of laughter erupted, followed by short applause. He wondered if he should take the opportunity to make his escape. Samantha seemed perfectly accommodating, he had decided, but once again he had been put off by the prim ritual of courtship and her eagerness to conform to it. She had none of Lady Farringdon‟s wayward charm or audacity. What he truly yearned for he suspected was the exact opposite of his own character, free-spirited and liberated from the corseting confines he felt himself to be trapped within at Compton House. Tea was a disposable refuge. Nevertheless, he mourned the loss of his last cup. “One new message, sir,” came a voice from the doorway.

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heat of his body on her back. He yanked her hair, kissed her neck as he shoved roughly into her, moaning. And that was all she felt, apart from a stabbing pain, and tears welling up. She stared blankly ahead at the edge of her curtains as daylight started to filter past them until he shuddered, and rolled off. She dragged her body up onto the bed and wrapped herself in her duvet. Sammy lay passed out on the floor. He hadn’t even bothered to take his trousers off, he just lay there on his back with his cock flopping across his leg in the remnants of the warm, wet explosion she had felt. A strong desire to stamp on it rose in her. Daylight slowly stretched across the walls. The room filled with a damp grey light. Bex just lay there, staring across the room. An hour later, she silently slipped out of the bed, and padded down the stairs, collecting her clothes, listening for the creak of any of her housemates stirring. Nothing, and no-one. Curled back in bed, she checked her phone—No Messages. She opened a new message, stared at its blank lines, wondered who she could text. The E was starting to leave her system now, her limbs starting deaden, the alcohol making her drowsy. She couldn’t face sleep though. So instead, she started typing, haltingly, a message. With no idea of its destination, no intentions of anyone ever reading it, she filled the lines with her thoughts. When she had finished, she pressed send.

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Im sick of being an object. I like sex trust me but im sick of my body being used. I dont no who to talk to about this, or if anyone would understand. I feel like screaming, ripping up the world, because it calls me a whore to be used and thrown away. I am SO much more. Tb x Dashby squinted at the The sound of the alarm crumpled note the butler was not the most had left with him. The pleasant awakening. It message was scrawled and rattled around inside initially difficult to Bex’s addled morningdecipher, and the language after brain. As did the it used was strange and slam of the front door, poorly punctuated. At first, the relentless thundering he thought he might be of the bus up to campus, being accused of doing and the din of the something terrible, so thronging students. infused with rage were the Bex found herself words. But on closer inspection, the pain they slumped in the back of a conveyed seemed to lack lecture hall, thinking that direction, fuelled more by first-year Philosophy was desperation than resolve. the very last place she Most perplexingly, Dashby wanted to be with a could not recall being familiar with anyone hangover and throbbing bearing the initials T.B.x. comedown. Rick, the Dashby headed grey-haired lecturer who out of the pantry and into Bex reckoned was a dead the main hall. The merry ringer for Einstein, was revelry of the manorâ€&#x;s

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guests had reduced to a subdued murmur. He quickly spied the butler sweeping up leaves in the courtyard at the front of the mansion. He opened the main door of the mansion and stepped out into the frosty night air. “Robert,” he called to the butler. “Sir?” said Robert, duly standing to attention and holding his broom at ease. “This letter, when did it arrive?” “This very evening, sir. It must have missed the afternoon post. Do you wish to send a reply?” He spent a few moments considering what a reply ought to be. Without knowing the identity of his sender, this proved a challenge. He sifted through known names and addresses and discounted a few, wondering whether the letter had simply arrived at

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droning on about his usual crap. Several forgotten things jumped on her all at once. First: Sammy was still passed out on her floor. She’d totally ignored him when she fumbled out an hour ago. Second: her matching bra and panty set were still hanging from the banister rail. Third: she’d sent an embarrassing rambling drunken text message to… God, who? She snuck out her phone under the table and checked her saved messages. I feel like screaming…what am I, thirteen? Jesus. Weirdly, there was a blank space where the name of whoever she’d sent it was. She started to flip through her phonebook, to see if she could find a number. “Excuse me. Phone.” She shoved the phone under one of her

the wrong destination. He examined the head of the letter again; sure enough, the address of Compton House was roughly legible alongside a number he did not recognise. An inaccuracy in the date caught his eye: December 3rd 2009? He reread the body of the message. Dashby was intrigued. Had the sender intended to reach him? A humourless prude? A brooding recluse, merely the sum of his parents‟ success? No answer presented itself. Dashby returned to the main hall, his mind a myriad of deliberations. The sender was presumably a woman, and an inarticulate one at that. He repeatedly folded and unfolded the note, as if doing so would expose a further clue to the puzzle that gripped him. He wondered aloud: “Who are you?“ 21 | P a g e

legs and tried unconvincingly to look innocent. Rick wasn’t fooled. “Kindly switch your phones off in my lectures. Now… where were we. Ah, yes, Rebecca. Could you kindly answer the question: ‘who are you?’” Bex stared blankly at him. Several answers buzzed across her brain. Pilled-up slag on a comedown? A lost girl? A sum of my parents’ failures? She managed, “No idea,” and shrugged. Rick blinked slowly at her then spun excitedly and waved his cane at the board. “Precisely! Who really can say who they are? Despite this, however, that’s precisely the homework. I want you to think, very hard, for a definition of ‘who are you?’”

He ran his finger along the obscure date and strange number next to his own address, and furrowed his brow. Hot tea and warm sheets had cast their thrall upon him by the time he had reached his bedchamber. The enigma had exasperated him, and his eyes grew heavy with sleep. He spotted a small note that had been pushed under his door. He slumped onto the four poster bed, with the mysterious epistle pressed to his chest. Any attempt for further contemplation proved fruitless. He was beginning to drift off, when the sound of a note being pushed under the door roused him. Samanthaâ€&#x;s soft footsteps receded down the corridor outside. Dashby padded over to the note, and examined it. It read: A perfect gentleman.

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Rolling her eyes, Bex shuffled out the lecture hall with the rest of the dazed early-morning students, mind fixed on the idea of coffee and the warmth of her bed. She was five minutes to the bus-stop when she remembered her bag, lying under the seat in the lecture theatre, and had to run back for it. She narrowly avoided a collision with Bob the caretaker, sweeping the auditorium languidly with a broom. She made the bus home with seconds to spare, brain rattling in her head as she dashed the last few metres to jump on. Sammy was long gone by the time she got home. The bra and panties had been cheerfully pinned to her door by Jake, her housemate, with a post-it reading you great big ho ;-)

He placed the note neatly on the dresser, snuffed out the candle by the bedside and turned his head to face the window, through which a solitary moonbeam drifted. It had begun to snow, and the glistening flakes pirouetted before the glass, sending dancing shadows into the room. Gazing beyond the pale light, Dashby observed the stars carefully disposed about the blanket of sky, blinking knowingly at him. He wanted, however fleetingly, to borrow their perspective, if only to stare into the eyes of another looking up at them. His anonymous sender. Dashby cleared his throat and, staring fixedly into the building blizzard outside, and spoke out his reply to the letter just loud enough for the stars to hear:

She threw the underwear and note in a pile in the corner and collapsed onto her The curtains were drawn, the room still dark. She sank into the bed, arms outstretched like a snow angel. She must have lit the fairy-lights that surrounded her bed last night. They looked down on her like curiously ordered stars. It reminded her of being a kid, when she used to lie on the steps outside her kitchen, staring up at the clouds moving by so slow. Her laptop beeped as an email popped up in its little blue box in the corner of the screen. You have received an email from <no sender>. She clicked it. It read:

Who are you?

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* * * Bex stared blankly at the When Dashby three words on the opened his eyes again, the screen. No sender—how moonbeam had been bizarre. She clicked the replaced by a brazen shaft reply button, and of sunlight that rudely hovered her fingers over glared into the the keys. The blank page bedchamber. Dashby of the email sat there, turned himself towards the cursor blinking. bedside table and saw it This is ridiculous. I instantly: a new letter. don’t even know who I’m Dashby pushed himself writing this to. upright and fixed his gaze Then: Fuck it, why upon it. Cautiously, he not. She started typing: picked it up and unfolded it. I am several things: a girl, a teenager and a legal adult. I am the daughter of a plumber who left when I was four, and a secondary school teacher. My mother is only fifteen years older than me, and her last boyfriend was younger than me, which probably explains why I just sleep with guys instead of being in a relationship with them. I’m cynical and homesick for the times before I got this jaded. I can’t find any way to connect to my friends here, and all I wish at the moment was that there was someone to just listen to me.

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Dashby reread the letter four or five times before drawing in any breath. It bore the same strange number and date, and the hand-writing matched the first he had received, but it somehow seemed more measured, more controlled. The furious tone was no longer present. Some of the words were alien to him: he pondered the significance of “boyfriend” and “guys”. Most striking though , the ending of the letter resonated profoundly with him: As he stared at the words, the ink glinted at him as if still wet. Just listen

to me. With a renewed vitality, Dashby burst from the room and marched towards his study, clutching the precious document tightly. He snatched his quill from the writing desk

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Seconds after hitting the send button, she regretted it. None of the words she’d written seemed to have shaped themselves properly. On the page, it sounded so drearily teenage. ‘Look at me, I’m so screwed up, love me!’ She was almost certain it wasn’t what Rick had been looking for in the way of an answer. And not only that, but she had sent this tired rant out into the ether where god knows who would read it. She half-expected spam to pop into her email box: “Tired of life? Absent father? Inappropriate mother? Moronic friends? Never worry again with penis extensions from CyniCorp.”

and began to scribe in his best calligraphy:

With that, the email pinged:

Dear T.B.x, It is my highest hope that you get this letter. Have we met before? If the answer to that is yes, then you must forgive my lack of recollection. I profess that your words have become the recent target of my obsession. I know little of who you are, or how you came to write to me, but it is my wish that you know this: I am listening. Yours sincerely, William Dashby

He sealed the letter with a wax stamp and held it in both hands for a few moments. Then he pushed his chair back and stood determinedly, striding out of the study and back to the main hall. He found Robert on his hands and knees polishing ornaments in the leisure room.

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So not only was her email talking to her, it also wrote in full letters. And who the hell was Tbx? Bex really wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t in the mood for this. She slammed down the laptop lid and rolled over on her side.

“Robert, do you have a return address for this letter?” Robert looked up from his labour, and smiled at the article being held towards him. “Don‟t worry about that, sir,” he said. “You leave that to me.” The next reply came just as quickly, and Dashby risked damaging it in his keenness to open it. His hands trembled as he scanned the words on the page.

Writing the first email seemed to have drained her, the last thing she wanted felt like doing now was writing more about herself. Especially to some disembodied person—what was the name at the bottom? William Dashby. The name struck her as familiar, but she couldn’t think why. She reached back for the laptop, and brought herself up an internet page.

William Dashby? That wouldn’t by any chance be Sir William Dashby, of Compton Hall… the one that’s a club now? See, I googled your ass! Seriously, who actually are you? I don’t really feel like ranting anymore, it’s kinda made it all feel a bit pointless. Sorry for you having to read all that, I really should stop drinking. PS. My name’s not Tbx, you must have misread – it’s Bex.

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Dashby was once again left bamboozled by the message, but it was a feeling he enjoyed: one of thrilled bewilderment. It appeared as though the sender knew vaguely of him, perhaps from the town gossip, but “googled your ass” baffled him. He wondered whether his new pen-friend was even native to English shores. In either case, he knew he hadn‟t misread the sign-off T.B.x. He picked up his quill.

She was surprised to find herself eagerly awaiting a reply to her email and wishing she’d managed to be just a little wittier in it. Imagine if it was the nineteenth century Dashby. She amused herself with elaborate Victorian gentleman fantasies, involving lakes and wet shirts. And all those top hats. Beep! Inbox:

Dear Miss Bex I assumed you might know who I was, seeing as it was you who initiated our discourse and addressed your message to my residence. Your name is very unusual, I‟ve never come across one like it. Are you from an exotic land? I‟m afraid I must inform you that I have in my possession no beasts of burden, so it is not my ass that you encountered. Are you certain you have the right person? Yours sincerely William Dashby of Compton House

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The response was almost immediate, despite the worsening winter weather.

Roleplay—nice. She set about formulating her reply, chewing her nails fretfully.

Actually, my name’s Rebecca, but I don’t like it. So Bex it is! Sorry, but I actually don’t know who you are, I’m not even sure how my message got to you. Still, you seem nice—you’re not an axe murderer or anything are you? Promise! My mother warned me against talking to strangers, but sod that—carpe diem and all. Tell me about yourself, Mr Dashby. Do you by any chance know a Mr D’Arcy? :P Bex xx

Dashby smiled as he read the letters, and placed each carefully inside his bedside drawer of personal effects. Each new one fed his curiosity, and gave him shallow glimpses of a face he had never laid eyes on. Each strange word or misplaced punctuation

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She set about distracting herself, determined not to just sit around waiting. Her heart was beating just a little faster—she felt like a schoolgirl giggling with her friends when a cute boy looked over at her.

mark seemed to carry with it a small taste of her breath, a flash of her smile. Dashby revelled in writing back.

All good intentions, and everything. Still, the beep of her email sent her scrambling up stairs.

Dearest Rebecca, What a beautiful name. Your mother advises you well, but please know that I am not now nor ever will be inclined to indulge in acts of murder. I‟m much more likely to enjoy a cup of Earl Grey and a punt on the lake. I take it from the latin reference you‟re familiar with the works of Horace then? I find it all a bit heavy going, I‟m more partial to a bit of Dickens before retiring! How do you like to pass the time? I very much look forward to your next letter. Yours sincerely, W. Dashby P.S. I am unfamiliar with any Mr D‟Arcy P I am afraid – is he local to Bromley? On the days between letters, Dashby found himself at his usual sentry post by the window, sipping tea and staring out. He had the lingering hope

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Bex found herself, against her better judgement, grinning widely. All the memories night before, of Sammy,

that if he stood long enough, he might see the postal carriage arrive out of the white haze, carrying with it the next precious message. He never quite managed to catch it. Even so, the rules of courting women were made more obsolete with every intimate note that Rebecca sent him. Soon enough, he didn‟t even stop to think about the more obscure phrases she employed. He drank in the sentiment and savoured it.

scuttled into the back corners of her mind. She really did feel like she was back in school, fidgeting in front of an msn screen, tentatively learning the rules of talking to boys—the turnover of her stomach every time a new message arrived. She didn’t even stop and think about what she was writing this time. She just let the words flow out of her.

Punting and tea? Rock and roll. I’m more of a dancing and whiskey girl myself. We studied Horace this year in Philosophy. Wasn’t a fan myself. But enough about my uni course, can’t have you think I’m boring. And you know what, Bill… I look forward to your next letter too! Bex xxxx P.S. Why do you show up as nothing?

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A foreign scene The familiar roads trundled by the window sprawled past the of the carriage to town. windscreen as Bex Dashby gazed out of it drove through her old and admired the hometown. The last transforming effect that two weeks of term had two weeks heavy been winding down to snowfall could have. this—the first return During the Christmas home, relinquishing to period, Dashby had the pull of a family always found it Christmas. necessary to leave Here we go, Compton, if only to crawling back escape the prison to the the place had womb. become, his cradle. Everything All the clichés was bigger in town than stood true: the town in the country where the did seem smaller, manor lay. A constant all of the roads energy could be felt throbbing shortershorter. shorter. Even through its heart, as if ready to spill her mum’s to the edges. Everything seemed car—a bright bigger, brighter, incandescent. And yet for all its gas-lit splendour, yellow Mini— Dashby found the glare coarse and seemed to overwhelming. He shied away have faded. from it. But the town served its purpose as a distraction.

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She’d about

deliberated packing for

It stopped Dashby fixating nearly the whole on the one thing he yearned week. In the end, to see: Rebecca‟s next she’d just thrown a message, unfolded in his bag of clothes in the hands. He hadn‟t spent a back of the car. That, single night at Compton House without the bedside and the box of email drawer open, its precious printouts on the contents littering the passenger seat. bedsheets where he slept. The last month For him, the last month had dragged on unbearably, with social for her had gatherings at the mansion becoming seemed to go less of a faint irritancy than what by a lot faster Bex would describe as „a total drag‟. than any The ladies present duly played their parts in the recycled ritual of of the courtship, and Dashby assumed his role others. perfectly. It was a routine he could step She through with both eyes closed, and so he counted did. While his mouth described the wealth time in of his family‟s estate, he counted in his head the moments that filled the gaps a gaps between his seconds spent with the letters. between His interludes by the window grew more checking frequent, and his lookout for the postal her delivery became habitual. email. She found Eventually, he had taken to herself doodling watching the kettle in the pantry instead, waiting for it to cartoons of a boil. Victorian gentle-

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The carriage man — slowed to a halt and Dashby frock coat, top hat, assembled his town-coat, cane—in the margins Pocket Hat and walking of her notes. One stick. He gave a small nod time, she thought he to Robert holding the door open as he stepped out of winked up at her. the carriage onto the Once, she’d even cobbled street. While he sunk to writing I  searched his pockets for Dashby on the gloves, his hand brushed paper. One of the few bottom of her letters from Bex he always Aristotle paper, then carried with him. had scrubbed it out in Something had been made embarrassment. indecipherable at the bottom of the page. Her mother One day he would ask launched herself at her her what it was. like a pitbull, shrieking beforea like Bex was across the front porch. The “Rebecccca! Darling! It’s so good market was a hive of activity. to see you. You look so thin. You “Apples!” better have been eating properly “Pies!” “Meat!” young lady.” “Here!” Proper speech seemed to have no place in the centre of town.

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“Yes, mum.” Bex suspected that most of her mother’s speech was informed by daytime TV, and that she didn’t

Dashby browsed the food stalls apathetically. He thought of the corseted ladies who attended banquets at Compton only to peck at the food like sparrows. Thin was something to aspire to. Dashby set about what he had arrived in town to do, and attempted to occupy himself in any way possible. He perused the trinket stores, hat makers and even stopped briefly in a local tavern. He kept his body active, marching back and forth along the icy cobbles, inviting diversion at every turn. But inevitably, his mind turned to his his pocket, to the letter within, and to Miss Bex.

really mean a great deal of it. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d been doing diet programs for as long as she could remember. Thin was something to aspire to. As befitting the long-awaited homecoming, Bex retired to the sofa, and stayed there all afternoon, watching TV. Her mum walked back and forth through the living room talking about this and that, but Bex let her mind drift to

Mr Dashby. What was What was she doing he doing now, he now, she wondered. wondered. He pictured She pictured him

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riding in cars or planes, or any other manner of strange contraption she had described, perhaps to the „supermarket‟: he could scarcely imagine the wonders found there. He started to question what he could possibly offer a girl like Bex. A nice, reliable man: was that really what she desired? He let his hopes rise before letting them go again. All he had left to hold on to were the words. Her strange and beautiful words. He clutched the note in his pocket almost too tightly. He imaged her before him. He pictured them both in the dappled shade of some romantic idyll, her sighing in his arms. And he kept them there.

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him out hunting, shooting pheasants or grouse in the grounds of his country manor. “So, have you found yourself a man yet?” “Mum…” “What? It’s about time you found a nice, reliable man, stop just letting them into your knickers and letting them go.” “Mum!” “I’m only saying! What do you think of these jeans, by the way. Are they too tight?” “Not for a hooker.” “Ideal.” Bex closed her eyes and sighed. She’d been here an

A few futile hours later, having terminated his excursion, Dashby rode back to Compton House. The manor loomed on the horizon as the carriage approached, and Dashby felt a curious dread come upon him, a feeling that he had never left it.

hour and already time was crawling. “I’m just going out for a bit, will you be okay on your own?” “Yes, mother. I’m an adult remember.” “Of course you are, darling.” In the absence He soon found of her mother, Bex himself wandering the wandered around the corridors of the great house. It was still construct, running his remarkably the same fingers along the oak as it had always been. panelling of the walls. Only Yet something the look of the place seemed cold about seemed familiar; everything it—it took her a while else felt alien to him. He to grasp what. It clicked as she stood staggered up the stairway, looking at the collapsed into the welcome mat, bedchamber and yanked brashly announcing open the drawer. He didn‟t “Welcome Home”. want to be here. This place That was the was no longer his home. He difference —it wasn’t wanted to be home anymore. It wherever she was just a house. was. was.

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He One of the pulled one of messages from the letters from Dashby crossed the drawer. It her mind. He’d spoke the first told her how time her mother the only only good good had taken her to memory memory ofof his his horse-riding lessons, father was had cloudfather he at nine years old. The spotting with him in was horse had reared up, his ory infancy. , conjuring kicking its feet and she had shapes out of the sky. gotten scared. He‟d told She’d told him—for her that there was no need the second time—how to be scared of horses, and she used to lie on the that there were horses in kitchen steps and the field next to the manor watch the clouds as a in summer, and how he would take her to watch child. It was a very them them cold day for it, but As he looked down at the letter, he felt the nevertheless, she lay the strange feeling down on the that she was freezing concrete, looking back and stared up.

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He closed his eyes and pressed the letter to his chest, scarcely noticing the fresh flakes of snow tapping at the window. It was as if they were asking to come in, or asking him to * come out.

* * * * * * *

* *

A few solitary flakes of snow drifted * down from the diffuse * skies and kissed her on ** the cheek. father he had * * was She awoke. Out of * greyness, the stark * a revelation came. All * * she wanted right * He thought he could now was to see him, the words made see something * in the great white blank * flesh. flesh.She longed for before *him. He him to wrap his reached out both arms around her, his arms. enfolding her. Nothing could be heard in the blizzardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s embrace, save for three words sent skywards.

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* * *

I love you.

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“Hello Bex.” A smile. “Hello William.” “You‟re a lot taller than I imagined.” “Is that a good thing? I guess the heels add a lot.” “You look beautiful.” A blush. “Is this just a dream?” “Hasn‟t it always been?” “I wish I was with you.” “And I too.” “And then I don’t want it to end.” “There is a way.” “Tell me.” “There is a small wood near Compton House, with a willow tree in the centre. Come there at 3 o‟clock on the 31st December. That‟s where I‟ll be.” “There are centuries between us.” “Yes, but at the same time, there‟s no time at all.” A final smile. “Wait for me.”

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3.00pm December 31st Snow had begun to settle upon the branches of the wood by the time Bex had arrived, breathless. She was clutching the stack of Dashbyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s e-mails close to her chest, with a red ribbon tied round the bundle. The wind appeared to be picking up; it whispered through the trees and kept blowing the hood of her jacket off of her head. The wood was small; she reached the clearing where the willow tree stood swiftly. There was no one there. She wiped the snowflakes from the screen of her phone to check the time, before inspecting the clearing again. Perhaps she was too early. It was then that she noticed it. 23 | P a g e 47

On a small spot on the willow where no snow had gathered, something had been carved. She stepped forward to get a better look. The little carving was a stick figure of a girl with one hand on her hip. The other held the hand of a larger figure, wearing a top hat and a cane. Cut underneath, the words: I WILL WAIT FOR YOU ALWAYS He had been here. She traced the carving with her fingers, grinned, and started the walk back. She stopped at the edge of the wood she undid the ribbon binding the messages and watched them take flight in the wind, soaring skywards. Silently, gracefully, Dashbyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s words danced a waltz in the air, until they settled somewhere on the banks of snow. 24 | P a g e 48

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Between The Lines  

"A couple of short stories; A short story of couples." "Words on the page literally collide in this story as two tales seperated by centuri...

Between The Lines  

"A couple of short stories; A short story of couples." "Words on the page literally collide in this story as two tales seperated by centuri...