I drove up the track, worrying for the hundredth time about the state of it, the winter frosts had eroded great tracts of it, making the suspension work hard, I thought again of asking Da to arrange for a lorry load of tarmac and a couple of men to sort it.
I was glad the skies had cleared. I could rescue part of my scheduled work at least, there were two sets of comparison shots I wanted to complete, half an hour shutter time each. I also had the next set of three to start.
There, round the final corner was my converted barn, the telescope and its little dome sitting like a bubble of the roof. I left the motor running while I opened the big doors to drive inside, I'd got a mattress in the back to lay on while I worked on my book in the down time.
Inside, I climbed to the loft and fired up my the computer and the various monitors, sitting back while it booted, instead of the book I was working on my thesis, a critique of the relative merits of sections of the penal code of differing nations, the British model and it's Canadian derivative against the American system.
The raw statistics of the number of offences had almost overwhelmed me at first but I now had ten manageable subsections and the variables coded.
I heard the motors die as the scope locked in position, and with a few fine adjustments I paired the marker star and was ready for the first long exposure. I pressed the button and stood, heading back down to the van for the first coffee of many.
"Gary!" The word cut through my sleepy state. I raised my head and looked at the alarm; it was just past eight 'o' clock. I hadn't gotten home till after three, four hours sleep would leave me bleary eyed for the rest of the day.
"Gary!" my mother called again.
"Yes Mam." I answered back.
"Your dad and I are off into town, anything you want while we're there?"
I snuggled back down into the bed, if I was lucky I could get a few more hours in before they returned
When I woke next the clock was showing just to eleven, now it was time to get up. I had a lazy shower and was dressed, down eating breakfast when my parents returned. I had been planning to run the new scans see if anything showed up.
Back up in my room I brought my computer back online, immediately my email pinged, it was a message from Bri. I hadn't heard from her in months, she and Glynda wanted to borrow my camera. Seeing Glynda's name there brought back some of the hard bitter feelings.
I'd had a thing in school with Glynda, we'd been an item during our last few years, our breakup still plagued me in its suddenness and mystery, everything falling apart after the party.
My camera was specially adapted for my telescope, but I still had lenses to do ordinary work. As the forecast was for overcast and cloudy weather for the next few days I was okay to lend it to them. I emailed back that they could come and pick it up; I'd show them how to use it.
Glynda came to collect it later that day, I was working still on my three shot comparisons, Mam called me and sent her up.
"Hi Gary, how are you doing? I haven't seen you since the wedding," She said, standing in the doorway.
My heart fluttered at the sound of her voice, I almost wished I didn't have to face her, I steadied myself and swivelled the chair round.
"I'm doing ok," I replied, willing my voice to be steady. "I hear that you've got a job on that big new trading estate, how's the life of an architect suiting you?"
"It's not what I was hoping for, but I've got time to get there yet."
"So, what do you want the camera for? More things to sell on Ebay?
"No, Bri wants to take some photos for a portfolio, she wants to do some modelling."
"Well, she's certainly got the looks." She'd looked real beautiful in the pictures of her eighteenth that me Mam had shown me I remembered. "But I thought she was going to university? Doing social and political history?"
"She is, this is to earn some money on the side. Without Da money's a bit tight for mother now"
Her Da had been killed in an accident just after Glynda's wedding, they'd had to sell the pub they'd owned and her Mam was scraping by still on the proceeds.
"I'm helping out, but with Davyth not working we can't afford much either."
"Well, taking pictures with this." I nodded to the camera on the bed. "Isn't as simple as the point and shoot variety, it's got auto focus but you have to set the aperture and exposure. Here, I'll show you."
We both walked to the bed. I extracted the camera from the case and locked on the 80 – 200 zoom.
"Now." She was standing close, watching what I was doing, the aroma of her perfume unlocking memories I'd shut away a long time ago. "You set the f stop, the aperture for depth of field, the higher the number." I showed her the click ring on the lens. "The sharper the focus on the subject, f8 is ok for general portrait work."
She nodded understanding. I looked at her, standing calm and collected while I was wrestling with the demons I thought I'd vanquished a long time ago.
"The exposure is how long the shutter is open, the brighter the light or the faster the movement the faster the speed. Start with 1/60th of a second, if you get any camera shake go to the next higher setting and try again."
She nodded again.
"Are you sure you got all that?"
"Yes, this is like the camera I used at college. The old Pentax slr."
"Yep, if you managed on that you should be ok with this. It's got a 20MByte detector, you'll be able to see individual eyelashes if you wanted."
And that was it, she made her excuses and left. Leaving me with a ghost and a realisation that I still loved her, even if I was a little angry with her now for reminding me of it, her beauty and grace as enthralling now as it had ever been.
This was the first time we had been alone together since the GCSE bash, I still didn't understand why she dumped me back then and I'd been too busy for any other real involvement since then.
That's not to say I was some twenty two year old virgin, I'd had casual affairs and even an orgy once, but no one had taken my heart quite like Glynda. Seeing her now, married to that second string rugby player, made me wonder about what might have been.
I put the camera and Glynda out of my mind, I had an hour's more processing then I'd have to devote the rest of the day to my research if I was to earn that degree.
Last of all for processing were the first I'd taken that night, the ones that were three days overdue, I had to look three times for the tiny little smudge that the software flagged. It was a vertical streak, not what I'd been looking for.
I felt a slight disappointment as the odds of it being a comet went down, I could just hope that it wasn't a known; it was just a small thing with a magnitude of -15 to -16, so the odds on that were good.
I felt my heart beating as I grew more certain of my discovery, my name in the book, my claim on immortality. My hands were trembling slightly as I composed the email, spelling out the co-ordinates and screen shots of the magnified track.
I sent the info off to the JPL tracking centre and sat back. The long years of searching with the multitude of known ones I'd seen along the way looked like paying off; my spirits were soaring as the potential payoff looked more certain.
It wasn't till days after that they returned it, with my excitement now ebbing away as I awaited confirmation of my find. With the skies brightened and I pulled the camera out and saw the picture count as I checked it over; the memory card was still loaded with the photo shoot that Glynda had done.
Gone was my intention to visit the observatory for more observations. I was intrigued by the voyeuristic chance to get an in on the secret, a taste of the forbidden fruit. I connected up the laptop and hi-res screen, scrolling quickly through the photos.
As I got farther into the shoot, I saw fewer clothes and more Bri. For a portfolio the pictures were atrocious. There was little framing, some of the shots were angled wrong, the exposure was off in others. It just looked wholly amateur.
This wasn't going to get her any kind of modelling job, you could see that Bri had a nice face and figure well before she stripped to her frillies, but Glynda had no eye to bring out the full potential. I'd bet whoever got these was still laughing.
Sure enough Bri emailed me again; she needed the camera for more shots. This time I persuaded her to come up herself, in the mean time I downloaded a few sets of artistic glamour shoots to show her what was expected.
I took Bri up to my bed room and sat her in front of the monitor.
"First, I think I need to apologise, you left the pictures on the memory card, when I was setting up the camera I saw them, I know I shouldn't have but I was curious," I told her.
"So you saw them? What did you think?"
"That they aren't nearly glamorous enough in all honesty, they're more like sexy snaps your boyfriend took. No publisher or agent is going to look twice at a set like that," I went on.
"This is the kind of shot their looking for, one that shows you in an expressive pose," I explained, showing her the photos that I'd culled from the net.
She looked as I scrolled through, many were nudes, tasteful nudes, not openly displaying their genitals but not hiding their nudity either.
"If I put these on disc for you, you can get Glynda to look at them and see if she can copy the poses."
"Ok, thanks, we took the last lot just as they came, at least this will give use something to aim for this time. You should see the letter we got back from the agent; he called us schoolgirls messing around, that he'd give us one more chance to prove we weren't just wasting his time. He wants us to use a professional studio but they want hundreds just for the one shoot. I'm trying to make money, not spend it."
"Sometimes you've got to speculate to accumulate," I said, repeating the old axiom.
"Yes, if he was guaranteeing work it'd be ok, but I haven't got that kind of money just to spend like that."
"Well, see what you can do this time, I'll delete all these old ones now, you don't need them do you?"
"No, god, they'd be an embarrassment if they got out."
I made the disc for her, she talked about how impressed Glynda had been with me, getting ahead as I was. I made some small talk about astronomy.
I sacrificed three good nights observing waiting for the camera back and eventually emailed Bri, I was really surprised to get an email back from Glynda, she asked if they could come round and talk to me.
She had included her mobile number and I rang and arranged that they come round tomorrow, Tuesday.
Tuesday morning I got my long awaited reply, I was credited as its discoverer, once again my spirits soared. It was there for posterity to see, my name in that long column of luminaries. I bolted downstairs to tell my parents, I'd dropped a few enigmatic hints and now I could surprise them.
Da was more pragmatic, reminding me that I was just another name in a list of thousands, my immortality buried beneath the greats going back to Galileo. To me it didn't matter, for however long mankind continued I would be a fact of history.
They showed up right on time in the late afternoon. I was impressed; she'd believed in being fashionably late during our relationship.
I answered the door, inviting them in. Bri was dressed casually, while Glynda looked like she'd come straight from work, dressed in her business clothes. I was bubbling for the opportunity to drop my discovery into the conversation.
I showed them through to the back sitting room, where it was cosy.
"Well girls," I said, bidding them sit. "What can I do for you?"
There was only one thing it could be about, the photos.
"Garry," Glynda started. "I'm not very good with the camera; I can't seem to get it right."
From out of her bag she retrieved the camera.
She held it out. "You can look at the ones that I took with your memory trick."
I looked at Bri, she gave the slightest of nods, a resigned look on her face.
Taking the camera I said. "Let's go upstairs, I'll set up the laptop, we can see it on the big screen."
But for my parents return I would have plugged the card into our main TV, but the smaller hi-res monitor upstairs would have to suffice.
We went upstairs and straight to my room, me crossing to get my system up. With the camera plugged into the laptop I clicked the folder open; she went through a slow strip tease, from a quick removal of the dress, to the final shots with her panties off.
Some of the poses were ok, but too many had her looking awkward, contrived.
"How can I help?" I asked, conjuring with the thought that yes, I could take the photos.
"Well," Glynda drew a breath. "Bri will let you take the photos, I've told her that she can trust you, you'll just take the photos and I'll be there. She doesn't want people to find out especially."
I could understand that, the gossips in a small country village would be 'over the moon' with such a juicy titbit. In the big city you were just another face, here you had a history, generations of roots. That sort of 'behaviour' would see her ostracised.
The next question was where; Bri's home would be the best place, but if I wanted to use lights to get the best results that might be tricky. We had some industrial lighting, but setting that up and dismantling it might be a problem.
The only other place was the observatory, the old converted barn. It had power, space and even a hay bed I used to lounge on.
"We could do it in our flat, while mum is out, that's how we shot those," Bri replied.
"Yes, that was my first idea, but I'd like to use lights, besides creating mood effects, we'll need them to get the best out of the camera." I explained. "What do you think of my observatory, its right out the way, so there's privacy, there's plenty of space, there's some old stuff we can use as props."
Bri looked at Glynda who gave a shrug with her face, skewing her lips and raising her eyebrows.
"Ok, if you want," Bri replied, taking the decision. "Now when can we do it?"
"I can take a day off whenever you want, it's up to you." I was hoping for a day's grace at least, but this had dragged on for over two weeks for them.
"Would tomorrow be ok," Bri asked hesitantly
"Yes. No problem, morning or afternoon?"
"Evening would be better if Glynda's going to be there," she replied.
"Yes of course, sorry, silly of me. Tomorrow evening is fine, would seven be ok? I can have things set up and we can start straight away."
She glanced over at Glyn who nodded.
"Ok then," she agreed. "We'll be here by seven."
"You want to do the same routine again, you know, with the dress and everything?"
There was a slight hesitation.
I looked at Glynda, then back to Bri.
"Ok, seven it is then."
After they left I wondered a little what I'd gotten myself into, this close proximity to Glynda was stirring memories best left buried, I was still just as attracted to her. Still, it wasn't as if this was going to be a regular thing. She and Bri would soon be doing it for a regular photographer.
I spent the next day preparing the barn, getting the lights up there and setting them up, I put up an old Axminster as a backdrop, its dark diagonals a good contrast. I had a stepladder for aerial shots and an old bedspread on top of a bale of hay as a platform, her legs should just dangle if she sat back.
I sat waiting in my VW; they could follow me up the lanes making us both independent. When they arrived I led them there, parking just down from the door. I led them in and showed them the setup. Both agreed it was ok.
We were at the embarrassing stage now, I had curtained off one of the stalls, I'd covered the straw bale in there with a white bath towel, somewhere to sit whilst she changed.
"Why don't you change in that stall," I said, turning my head to point, "I'll get the camera and lights set up, it'll be dark in an hour or so and it can get cold up here."
Bri and Glynda walked into the stall, I could hear some whispered chattering, not clear enough to make out, but enough to intrigue me.
I set up the lights, and unpacked my camera and laptop, connecting them up. Now it was time for them to come and play.
"Ready!?" my request sounded loud, but it was the acoustics.
Glynda came out first, followed by Bri.
Bri was wearing a light cotton dress, and walked over to the hay with its old bedspread and sat on the corner, Glynda came and stood behind me. All was ready.
"Now, look at the lens of the camera, I want to run some practice shots off first. All I want you to do is put different expressions on your face, you know, happy, sad, surprised, then work your way to feeling exotic, but not overtly sexy," I said, making a final adjustment to the tripod.
As she started her performance I started clicking, looking more at the image on the laptop than the viewfinder. What I wanted was a 'Mona Liza' enigmatic expression, this was to warm her up and get the pictures they wanted, then I could try for my more arty ones as well.
In all honesty she was a bit wooden, I turned and looked at Glynda, she looked back at me quizzically.
As I carried on taking shots she came close, bending and whispering in my ear. "I know how to cure that, but she'll probably be a bit reluctant. I want to hypnotise her again, to help her relax and just let herself do it," she said.
"Hypnotise her? When did you learn to do that?" I asked, intrigued at her revelation.
"From one of my classmates at uni," she replied, amusement colouring her voice.
I stood up. "Bri, it'd be a lot better if you weren't so nervous, you're holding your body too stiff, you're trying too hard to pose for the shots. Glynda just said that she can hypnotise you to make this work better," I said. "It's no good like this; I think it's worth a shot don't you?"
She sat back. "Alright, but this time I want to remember everything, no more surprises. Right!"
Glynda looked a bit sheepish when I glanced at her.
"Do you want to try?" I asked, looking her in the eye.
"Last time was fun and games, this is to help you," she said, turning to address Bri.
She hypnotised Bri, putting the confidence that she was a model in her, telling her.
"You need to project, be the seductress, be the temptress, be their next wet dream. You've got to sell your body to the lens, from being coy and enticing to being open and inviting."
Giving her the key words 'Briallan plays model' to put her into the trance. She also told her to remember everything, but to forget she'd been hypnotised, if she thought she was just doing it normally then it would build up her confidence.
She started to relax properly, as she brought a half smile to her face I prepared to take the serious shots, the ones that would count.
"Right, Bri can you slide forwards on the hay, bend your head as if you're looking at something on your leg and hitch your dress up till it nearly shows your panties," I asked.
We went on teasing, exposing various parts till she had the shoulder strap of both the dress and her bra loose and was letting one boob hang out. Then we lost the dress to her waist and shot a few teasing with her breasts.
She was stripping for the camera but behind the lens her sexuality was arousing me, much as I wished to remain detached, professional, the erotic vision in front of me was raising a bulge in my trousers. I could hide it from Glyn but Bri was getting an eyeful.
She had lost her embarrassment in front of me and was just following my requests. I led her through more shots, pealing her panties down finally before the last dozen or so naked shots.