Back to the Farm Ch. 06byevanslily©
I'll start with a couple of apologies--just for a change :-)
First of all, as ever, I apologise for how long it's taken me to produce Chapter 6. I didn't anticipate how long it'd take me to get back into the swing of writing after studying for my exam. Secondly, in this chapter, I'm afraid Matt and Lissy still don't get around to having any sex. I really thought they were going to when I started the chapter but these two refuse to be rushed. So if sex is what you're after (and hey, it probably is, you're reading stories on an erotic fiction site), then you might want to hold off reading this chapter until Chapter 7 appears on these pages in the next few days...
"Lissy? Where are you?"
Melissa gave the wooden shelf above the fireplace one last polish and straightened up, feeling uncomfortably hot and sticky. Typical that they'd arranged to clear out the farm this week, she thought. Slap bang in the middle of a heat-wave. Why couldn't they have come last week when it had done nothing but rain? "In here," she called, dropping the duster to the tiled hearth and rocking back on her heels to appraise the rest of the room.
It had taken the best part of a day and a half to sort through the clutter in the second bedroom. Most of the teetering piles of boxes were now gone, their contents unceremoniously tipped into the skip parked outside the front of the bungalow. She'd taken care to check the contents of each carton before disposal, but was no closer to understanding why their uncle had felt compelled to keep every plastic bottle, ice-cream tub and jam jar he'd emptied in the last decade.
"Wow. You've nearly finished."
Even though she'd known he was searching for her, the nearness of Matt's voice still made her jump. Coughing to disguise her startled yelp, she looked up to find him leaning against the doorjamb, her mouth going dry as she saw he was naked from the waist up, his khaki shorts slung low on his hips. "Getting there. How's it going out in the garden?" she asked, trying her hardest to focus only on his face.
"Making progress." If Matt had any idea of the effect the exposure of his glistening upper body was having on her, he showed no sign. "I hacked down the worst of the weeds and grass with shears in the end. There's no way I could've tackled the lawn from scratch with the mower. The thing is, after all the rain we've had and now this--" He gestured toward the expanse of cloudless blue sky visible though the window. "The weeds have grown like..." Shaking his head, he trailed off for want of a fitting simile.
"Weeds?" Melissa suggested, somewhat over-brightly. Why did she always feel so nervous whenever Matt was around?
He gave a short laugh. "Yep, like weeds." His eyes softened. "You look like you could use a break. Cup of tea?"
"Well." She sighed, turning to regard the last dozen or so boxes still to be unpacked, now neatly stacked against the far wall. "I ought to keep going. There's still so much to do. We've been at this for two days and we've only cleared two rooms."
"The two worst rooms," he said reassuringly, extending his arm towards her. "Come on, you can stop for a bit. The rest won't take so long."
"You're kidding, right?" she said, hesitating again before grasping his hand. To her annoyance, a sharp tingle rippled down her spine as his fingers curled around her palm. What on earth...? "Matt," she carried on quickly, snatching her hand away the moment he'd helped her to her feet, "this room and the study might well have been the worst, but every room in this house is a disaster area. The skip's almost full already."
"I know." He sounded unperturbed. "I've called Jason and he's organising for another one to be delivered tomorrow."
"Great," she responded without enthusiasm, following him out to the kitchen and watching as he filled the kettle. "Something to look forward to."
"I wish you two could get along. He's changed, Lissy, okay? He's not that obnoxious kid you remember."
"Really?" In an attempt to block the return of an unwelcome flood of memories from Charlie's funeral, she crossed to the window and gazed out at the garden. Come on, Melissa, get a grip... "Great job," she said with rather more sarcasm than she'd intended. "That looks so much better." The grass appeared more yellow than green, having grown unchecked for so long the base of each blade had become straw-like. The overall effect was newly-harvested field rather than garden lawn. "I'm not sure why you bothered. We're going to flatten the place. Surely there wasn't a whole lot of point in cutting the grass?"
Matt grimaced at her over his shoulder. "I just thought it'd look better. Besides, we haven't decided whether we're going to be doing the building work here or whether we're going to sell, have we? And you never know, if we sell, there's a chance that whoever buys the place won't want to demolish the existing buildings. There's nothing structurally wrong with this bungalow, after all."
"What?" Melissa stared at him. "Then why are we going to demolish it?"
"Because that's what Charlie wanted to do. I offered to draw up plans that would include keeping the bungalow and converting the barn, but when he realised that meant we'd only be able to build four houses up here instead of eight, he wouldn't hear of it. He wanted us to maximise--"
"--the worth of his estate, yes I know," she finished, frowning. "But why? Why was he obsessed with making so much money from this place? It doesn't make any sense. Charlie never cared about money."
"No. But he--" Rather to her surprise, Matt closed his eyes briefly, once again seeming to have difficulty in choosing the right words. "Look, he knew that whoever bought the place would probably build as many houses as they could get planning permission for. So he took the view that if anyone was going to do that, it should be us that got the full benefit. That's all. Plus..." He hesitated again. "He wanted to put some work Jason's way too. He wanted him to be project manager."
Melissa made herself take a breath before responding. "I see," she said tightly, turning to look out of the window again so he couldn't see her expression. "Well, if that's what Charlie wanted, I can't very well argue, can I?"
"It's okay, I understand," she interrupted, her gaze falling upon the tree-house Charlie had built for them in and around the lower branches of the huge oak dominating the bottom left hand corner of the garden. That too might soon be gone, she realised, experiencing a sharp pang of regret. "So let me get this straight. If we don't sell, we could convert the barn?"
"Yep. It's still an option. I meant what I said at the funeral, Liss. We don't have to make any hasty decisions here."
"And what about this place?" Swivelling around again, she was unsettled to see Matt propped against the worktop watching her. "Th-the bungalow. If we don't demolish it, what could we do?"
"Well, quite a bit. There are cosmetic changes we could make. Like, for example," he rapped his knuckles on the wall behind him, "this could go. We could open this room out into the second bedroom. Knock through into the lean-to as well and make one big kitchen diner."
She nodded, already picturing the result in her mind. "Or," she suggested, reaching across to touch the wall behind the table, "take this out instead, extend into the dining room and have that as the kitchen diner. Put French doors in place of the window in the dining room. The whole thing would look out over the garden then."
Matt's eyes narrowed for a moment. "That's a much better idea," he conceded with a smile. "Why didn't I think of that?"
Not believing for a moment he hadn't, Melissa nonetheless experienced a rush of pleasure at the unexpected praise. She fanned her face with her hand. "I can't believe how warm it is," she said hurriedly, already moving across the kitchen. "I think I need to go and get some fresh air."
"I don't think it's much fresher outside, to be honest," Matt warned as she reached the door. "But I'll bring out the tea when I've made it."
The moment she stepped out into the garden she realised he was right, the sultry air making her skin even clammier. Hoping the shade of the trees straining against the fence would provide some relief, she kicked off her shoes at the edge of the patio and carried them on to the grass, the butchered stalks prickling her bare feet.
So far, being at the farm with Matt hadn't been at all what she'd expected, she thought, moving towards the tree-house, drawn like a moth to a flame. She'd known going through her uncle's cluttered possessions would be painful. She'd realised stirring up so many memories was bound to be traumatic. And she'd been prepared to find it uncomfortable being with Matt at the farm. Even after their uneasy truce at the funeral, too many years had passed, too much had been left unsaid for it to be anything other than uncomfortable. What she hadn't expected was that they'd barely spend any time together at all.
He'd collected her from Gemma's at noon on Monday, Melissa having once again requested to pretend her friend's flat was her own. This time, Gemma had seemed dubious. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" she'd asked. "Don't you think you ought to tell him the truth now that you two are getting on better?"
"Oh, and how would that look?" Melissa had retorted. "I swear he already thinks I'm being hysterical about everything. I know he thinks I've made too much of a fuss about being the last to know that Charlie was dying--and about being the last to know they were planning to build all these new houses at the farm. If I admit I lied about where I live, he really will think I've got a screw loose."
Reluctantly, Gemma had agreed to the continuing deception. "But he's bound to find out eventually," she'd cautioned as she'd handed Melissa a spare set of keys. "How are you going to explain when he does?"
Melissa had shaken her head. "I won't need to explain. We're going to spend a week together clearing out the farm and then it'll probably be another fourteen years before I see him again. How is he ever going to find out?"
If Matt had had any doubts that she lived at Barrington Heights, he certainly hadn't shown them. But then he'd been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the journey, blocking virtually all of Melissa's attempts at small talk. Concerned, she'd finally plucked up the courage to ask whether everything was all right when they stopped off en route to pick up a few basic supplies from the village store.
Matt had sent her an apologetic look. "God, I'm sorry. I've been terrible company, haven't I?" he'd said before going on to explain there'd been problems with the Singapore project.
"Serious problems?" she'd asked, relieved it hadn't been anything she'd said or done.
He'd grimaced. "Serious enough that I may have to go back out there sooner than I'd like. I was hoping to be here for another month."
He hadn't seemed keen to discuss the matter any further and Melissa chose not to push him. On their arrival, they agreed she would make a start on what had been Charlie's bedroom. She'd been dreading bagging up her uncle's clothes and had reasoned it would be best to get it over as soon as possible. Rather to her surprise, instead of offering to help, Matt had opted to work on the dining room. It made sense, she'd realised. They'd probably make much faster progress working on two rooms at once. Given how anxious she'd felt about staying at the farm with Matt, it had seemed ridiculous to admit she would have preferred to have his company.
By early evening, deciding the rest of Charlie's bedroom could wait--dealing with his clothes had been distressing enough for one day--she'd moved on to the boxes in the second bedroom whilst Matt continued digging through the papers stuffed into the cabinets in the dining room.
It was only as the light began to fade she realised they hadn't stopped for a meal and was astonished to discover it was past nine o'clock. Neither of them could face the thought of carrying on after they'd eaten. Matt offered to sleep on the settee and she'd dragged herself off to the bed in Charlie's room. Having fallen into an exhausted slumber, she'd overslept the following morning, emerging to discover Matt already hard at work back in the dining room.
No, there'd been no need to worry about things being uncomfortable with Matt, she thought, arriving at the foot of the great oak. He'd been the perfect gentleman, as though he'd sensed she'd need as much space as he could give her. In fact, she mused, more confused than ever, if she hadn't known better, she would've said he was deliberately trying to avoid her. That should've been a good thing, shouldn't it? Then why on earth did she feel so absurdly disappointed?
Because she'd psyched herself up to be strong, she decided, staring up at the tree-house, marvelling anew at the craftsmanship of the man who'd built it, feeling a lurch in the pit of her stomach at the sight of those familiar worn beams. Because she'd promised herself she'd stand up for herself, that she'd show Matt she was a woman to be reckoned with, that she was a woman who knew her own mind and what she wanted out of life. That was it. He hadn't given her a chance to demonstrate any of that.
She felt ashamed every time she recalled her behaviour that first night at the farm and cringed every time she thought of how she'd woken up in his arms, wishing she hadn't passed comment on the fact she'd felt the evidence of his morning arousal...
Flinching anew at the memory, her gaze fell on the thick rope hanging down between the boughs, then upon the rather haphazard arrangement of footholds scattered across the trunk of the huge tree. And suddenly, Melissa found herself transported back to her childhood, the desire to climb up to the platform of the wooden fort irresistible. She reached forward and tugged at the rope. It seemed sound enough. Without further thought, she slipped her shoes back on then reached high and grasped the knotted twine, allowing gravity to swing her in against the trunk.
Though it had been years--goodness, how many years?--her movements were instinctive, her feet working up the ridges in the bark, her hands crossing one over the other as she hauled herself upwards. She could still do this, she marvelled, experiencing a curious sense of elation. Though she clearly wasn't as fit as she used to be. Panting hard by the times she reached the platform, she scrambled on to the deck on her hands and knees and then turned to look back at the bungalow, her euphoria dissipating the moment she realised how much higher from the ground the tree-house was than she remembered.
"Oh no," she murmured as she gazed down at the grass, experiencing another lurch in her stomach that this time had nothing to do with nostalgia and everything to do with vertigo. Exhorting herself not to panic, she cautiously twisted around into a sitting position then inched forward to the edge of the platform before swinging her legs over the side. When she dared to look down again, it was to see Matt, having now donned a faded black T-shirt, gazing back at her, his face a picture of amusement. And all at once, she remembered exactly how many years it had been since she'd last climbed up into the tree-house...
"What in the world are you doing?" he asked, his smile broadening as Melissa, having noticed her short skirt had ridden high on her thighs, yanked it down to a more modest level. "I've made the tea," he added, nodding towards the mugs he carried. "Are you coming down?"
Melissa wasn't sure she could. But unwilling to admit she'd got herself into a mess she might not be able to get out of, she was relieved when her gaze fell upon the bough supporting the makeshift pulley system Charlie had rigged up years ago. "You think the lift will work?" she called down hopefully, not quite able to meet his gaze, her cheeks remaining hot with colour.
Matt gave a deep chuckle. "You want your tea up there?"
"I thought it might be nice," she lied. "I think it's a bit cooler here."
He shrugged, grinning now. "Sure, see if it works."
She could feel him watching as she reached for the rickety crate they'd used as a dumb waiter all those years ago and began unwrapping the cord. Then easing the crate over the side of the platform, she began lowering it towards Matt, the wheels of the pulley making high-pitched squeaks during its descent.
"Sounds like it could use some oil," she heard him say. Not daring to peer over the side to watch, she felt the lessening of the tension as he caught the crate then sensed the weight of her mug as he placed it in the bottom of the tray. "Okay, haul away."
This was the tricky bit, Melissa remembered, taking care to pull on the cord as smoothly as possible. It'd always been a challenge to raise the lift without losing the contents of their cups. But when at last she was able to reach over and lift the crate back on to the platform, her smile of satisfaction at not having spilled a drop faded the second she saw there were two mugs in the tray.
"Don't mind if I join you, do you?" She gasped as Matt appeared to her right, springing up on to the deck with Tarzan-like grace. "Lissy! That's the second time I've made you jump in ten minutes," he added with a grin, dropping down beside her before extending his legs over the edge. "You okay?"
Define okay, Melissa thought, acutely unnerved. The platform wasn't wide enough for them to sit side by side without touching, the heat from his thigh radiating through the thin fabric of her skirt. "Fine," she murmured, grateful that the act of reaching around for his mug of tea spared her from having to make eye contact.
"You sure?" As she handed him the mug their eyes met and Melissa felt her face flame with colour. "Or should I go? Only it seems to me as though the last place you want to be is up here with me."
Startled, she found she couldn't look away this time, grateful he couldn't read her mind. It wouldn't do for him to realise she was remembering the last time they'd sat there together on a similarly hot day in August, fifteen years before. "What do you mean?" she said, forcing a laugh. "I don't have a problem with you being here."
"Really?" Still watching her, he lifted his mug to his lips and took a sip. "In that case, you won't mind if I ask you a question? You see, I think there's something we really ought to talk about."
"Oh?"Melissa tried hard to keep her tone neutral. It wasn't as though that was going to be what he wanted to ask about, was it?
"Why didn't you write to me?"
Oh God, it was. Or was it? Aware she'd look a fool if he happened to be referring to some other occasion, she decided upon a non-committal answer. "Write to you when?"
He rolled his eyes. "You know when, Lissy. Don't tell me you don't. You promised you would, remember? That day I kissed you. That day I told you I loved you." Matt sounded as though he was saying something almost inconsequential, as though her answer didn't really mean anything to him. Yet something in his expression hinted it did. "We promised to write to each other, remember? You said you'd write to me when I was back at school." And then he gave a grin. "Hell, you said you'd write every day."
"But I did write every day!" she burst out, unable to bear his casual approach any longer. "I wrote every day for a fortnight. Every day. You were the one who didn't write. You didn't answer a single one of my letters."
He frowned. "What? Liss, I wrote you letters. Not every day maybe, but I remember writing to you twice that first week I was back at school. You know how much I hated it there. God, I remember pouring it all out to you. How I couldn't wait to leave, how sick I was of being locked up there--it was like being in a prison sometimes. I was going on seventeen, but I might as well have been ten. Lissy--" Matt hesitated, placing his free hand on her forearm. "Liss, I wrote to you. But I never heard anything back from you. I thought you must've decided it'd all been a mistake. That kissing me had been a really bad idea--that maybe you wished it hadn't happened--"