tagRomanceHe Had Time to Spend

He Had Time to Spend


He had time to spend, and spent some of it in a small village on a small island. He'd been here most of a week, with his sketch book and his paint box and his walking stick, and the weather had been glorious.

This morning was not glorious but overcast; rain had fallen overnight, and more was predicted for the afternoon. Sketchbook and paints did not fare well in the wet, but he was less delicate. He loaded his backpack with rain gear and a few prudent essentials – first aid kit, his passport, dry socks, water bottle – then told the landlady he'd be hiking up the coast path for the day, and walked up the high street to where a footpath led away to the north. It wasn't three mile by road to the next village, and the footpath that skirted the coast ran perhaps four miles to the same end. He could be in a pub by lunch time and back well before dinner.

He had spent most of his life in offices, in cities, in the States. This complete change of situation was a delight. Damp grass, cloudy sky, muddy path, and brisk wind were not new experiences for him, certainly, but he was on holiday and he welcomed them as if they were a new world worth exploring. When the path first came close to a cliff above the shore he stopped for several minutes, looking west out to the loch and the sea beyond, and up and down the coast. He set his pack down, got his camera out, and took photos; he hung the camera around his neck, then shouldered his pack again and set off to the north.

There was no one expecting him at the pub, no schedule but his stomach, no one alongside him to keep pace with. That was sad, yes, but here he was on his own and that's how it was now. He stopped when he felt like it and took pictures of sheep on the hillside above the path and of birds scavenging among the seaweed on the pebbly beach below. The path wandered away from the sea for a stretch, over a rise, then down again. A wooden bridge crossed a rill swollen with last night's rain. He leaned on the bridge railing and pulled at his beard and looked for some way down to where the stream splashed its way down the rocks and to the loch. The grass and rocks both looked treacherous when wet. He took a few photos and stayed on the footpath.

Beyond the bridge the path climbed the shoulder of a hill. In steeper parts a few stones were placed to form steps, but elsewhere the mud and gravel underfoot were slippery. He relied on his walking stick to keep himself upright. A drystone wall was on his right, and a dozen or so sheep beyond. Near the crest, as the way leveled out, there was a stone cottage to the left, separated from the path by a fence and a small flower garden, with a short stretch of grass below the cottage before the edge of a cliff above the shore. A woman stood in the garden, her back to him, hands on hips, surveying the flowers. Still twenty paces away, he raised his camera and took one photo of the scene, then walked closer, tapping his stick as he went, until the woman heard and turned toward him.

Her look was neutral, neither surprised nor pleased nor displeased to see a walker. He nodded to her, smiled, and said "Good morning."

"Yes, it is. So far."

"Would you mind if I took photographs of your house and garden?"

She looked at him a second longer. "Snap away. They aren't mine, anyway. They're MacKeith's." She gestured up the hill to where a stand of trees might conceal a farmhouse. "I just rent." She walked along the fence toward him and on past, to give him an unobstructed view of the cottage.

He took several shots, some wider angle capturing the surrounding scene, others zoomed in to catch some detail. The clouds had thinned enough for the sun to cast weak shadows, but nothing clearly defined. A bright day, with the sun past noon, would make for better pictures.

"I may come back another day when the light's better. Thank you, it's a lovely scene."

"What do you think is lovely about it? Mind, I'm not saying it isn't, I'm just curious what it is you see in it."

"Oh, the dark gray of the slate seen against the sky and the light gray of the stone walls against the green of the grass and the garden, with all the spots of color from the flowers giving a sort of liveliness to the lower right patch of the scene. It'd be different under a blue sky. Maybe if I stood on top of the wall there, or climbed the hill, I could look down and get a bit of the ocean in the background."

"Well, there's a stile up ahead that'll get you to the top of the wall if you're careful."

She came through the gate and walked up the path, leaving him to follow. She was a big woman, nearly as tall as he was, and wore trousers tucked into knee high, bright green Wellingtons, with a long sleeved, cream-colored blouse that had precious little slack in the bodice. He followed her a short way to where several long stones had been built protruding from the wall bounding the pasture, forming stair steps.

"Ah. This might be better navigated with fewer encumbrances." He unfasted his pack and slid it off, propping it on top of the wall. "Would you hold my stick?" He held out the walking stick and she took it. He climbed to the top of the wall holding his camera in one hand and extending the other for balance.

"Oh, this is a sweet view!" He was looking back at the cottage, with some contrast now between its east wall in the watery light and the north wall still in shade. From here the ocean was indeed visible beyond points of land embracing the loch. He took photos centered on the cottage, of the horizon with the cottage filling only a part of the frame, of the path and garden with the cottage as backdrop, then climbed carefully back down.

"Thank you! An excellent suggestion!" He fished the lens cap out of his pocket and put it back on the camera. "My name is Andrew. I should have introduced myself sooner."

She half smiled. "I'm Florence. You're American?"

"The speech impediment gives it away, heh? Yes. Taking a long holiday. Are you from the island?"

"Me? No! Not Scots at all! You have a thing or two to learn about accents. But I'm on a sort of holiday myself. Rented the cottage for four months so I could hide from the world and get some writing done."

"Well this is the place to hide, I should think. A long walk into town."

"Nah. Just up the hill to the MacKeiths' and they'll give me a lift when I need to go in for groceries. And they won't let me starve or I couldn't pay the rent."

"Speaking of starving, I'm aiming at having lunch in Roskhill so I need to walk on. And you need to get back to writing!"

"Not till you've shown me those photos, I don't." She pointed at his camera.

Andrew smiled, flipped the screen at the back of the camera open, pushed the button for review, and held the camera out to her. She took it and squinted at the tiny screen.

"That's the last one I took. Click the left arrow—" He pointed at the button on the back of the camera "—to scroll back through all of them."

Florence did so. "You know, I think the cottage is more interesting when it's just off to the side and you only see a small part of it, like this." She turned the camera around so he could see which photo she was referring to. "It's better, somehow, being part of the scenery when you're centered on the ocean than it is being the center of attention with the ocean in the background."

"Quite right! It's hard to know until you've looked at it both ways, but it's often the case that the best way of looking at something is sidelong. This backside of the cottage is a good backdrop for your flowers, and a good bookend for a view out over the loch, but it doesn't want to be the star of the show."

"Good writing can be like that, as well. Mine's not there yet."

"Well, then, you need more practice! I'll have a pint on your behalf in Roskhill while you're typing your fingers to the bone back here."

She rolled her eyes and thrust his walking stick back at him. He took it and grinned, then took the time to put his camera back in his pack and secure the flap before he pulled the pack from the top of the wall and shrugged it on.

"Well, Miss Florence, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. I'll say hello if you're out and about when I come back by this evening."

She gave a mock curtsy. "It's been a pleasure making your acquaintance, Andrew the Yank. Have a stout for me." She turned and walked back up the path to her gate. He watched for a few seconds before turning back north.

* * *

Roskhill was small and unremarkable. The pub was like any other. Andrew had a pint, fish and chips and peas, and a second pint. He asked the barman "Do you sell bottles for off premises?" and was told "Of course," and so he put two pints in his pack (cushioned by slipping each bottle into one of his dry socks) and set out back south.

The clouds had thickened while he was having lunch, and the horizon was blurred. He set a brisk pace for fear rain was coming, which it was. Within an hour it started, and he stopped and dropped his pack, got out his foul weather gear – drab green rain coveralls and jacket, and a rain shroud for his pack. He got it all pulled on, zipped and snapped, and the hood of the jacket pulled up, before the clouds really opened up. Wearing the pack over the jacket was awkward; he loosened the chest strap for a better fit, then resumed his hike. The wind wasn't fierce, but the rain was cold. He kept one hand in his jacket pocket while the other gripped his stick; he watched every step. The path collected puddles in places, and he avoided them as best he could. When the walking was level it wasn't bad, but slopes were dangerously slick. It made for slow going.

Another hour trekking through the rain and he came to the top of a rise and there on his right was a fence and a flower garden and a gray stone cottage. He didn't hesitate to let himself through the gate and down the flagged walk around the end of the little house and onto the covered porch that looked out over the loch and out to sea. He knocked on the door with his stick and pulled his hood back.

It was only a few seconds before Florence threw the door open. He face changed from worried to relieved as soon as she saw him.

"Would you give a drowned rat shelter from the storm?"

"Oh, for God's sake! Step in! What are you doing out in that?"

He shook as much rain from his coat as he could, then stepped through the door. He was glad to see the floor was flagstone.

"I was just walking along, not bothering anybody, when the sky opened up. What else could I do?"

"You do know there's a bus, don't you? You didn't have to come back down the path. Here, let me take your pack." They were in a small foyer, an enclosed part of the porch, really, with a short bench and pegs on one wall for coats. He leaned his stick against the wall and unfastened his pack. Florence helped it slide off his shoulders, and leaned it next to his stick.

"Now, I'm going to stand back here where it's dry, and you're going to shuck everything that's wet. Hang your coat next to mine. Right."

Andrew hung the jacket on a peg, then slipped the coveralls' straps off his shoulders and pealed it down to his knees. He sat on the bench and unlaced his boots, pried them off, and stood them next to a pair of green Wellies at the end of the bench. He pulled the coveralls the rest of the way off, then stood up and hung them on the next peg. Florence stepped back and gestured him on in to the main room of the cottage, a step up from the porch, but before he did as she bid he stooped and took the rain shroud off his pack and hung it on the last peg. The pack itself was fairly dry, and he carried it in with him.

There was a wooden table with an open laptop on it, and two wooden chairs, and behind it a single counter that served as a kitchen. A door to the left of the counter appeared to lead to a bathroom. To his right, the other half the room held a bed and a dresser. Several books were stacked on top of the dresser. He set his pack on one of the chairs and opened the flap.

"I wouldn't have dreamed of knocking on your door without a hostess gift." He pulled out a woolen sock and extracted from it a pint bottle of oatmeal stout which he presented to her. He pulled the other bottle out and set it on the table. Florence goggled.

"Well, I suppose I shouldn't complain! I could have hoped for Talisker, but it'll do for a start!"

"A pint of Talisker for each of us? You writers are serious drinkers."

"Ha! No, no, drinking by my lonesome isn't a good idea. I don't do it more than four or five nights a week. There's a church key in one of these drawers."

"I've got an opener on my pocket knife."

"No, here it is." She moved the laptop to a corner of the table, set a glass in front of each chair, and opened and poured the two pints.

Andrew set his pack back in the foyer, next to his boots. He was still holding the dry socks. "If you don't mind, I'd like to freshen up a bit."

"Oh, yes! Through there. Yes. Freshen, as you say, to your heart's content."

He went through into the bathroom and relieved himself of his lunchtime pints. Then he changed into dry socks, washed and dried his hands, dabbed at his wet beard with the towel, and returned to the main room.

Florence was sitting at one side of the table, her back to the counter. Andrew sat opposite her, his back to the foyer, and they raised their glasses. "To the gentle rains!" she proposed.

Andrew looked sheepish. "To the rains, then. 'Rain on the green grass, rain on the tree, rain on the house top, but not on me!'"

"Ha! Perfect!" They bumped the rims of their glasses gently together and drank.

She set her glass down, leaned forward on her folded arms, looked at Andrew and said "I've been playing this game a long time. Do you really think I'm so desperate that I'll spread my legs for the first old man who offers me a drink?"

Andrew's eyebrows shot up. He stared at Florence, put his glass down rather harder than he meant to, and said "No! Not at all! I wasn't— I was thinking that if I came back and asked politely you might tell me something about your writing!"

The smug look melted from Florence's face. "My what?"

"You said you came here to write. What are you writing? A novel? A play? A textbook? A sonnet sequence?"

"Oh. A novel. I hope. But you didn't walk all the way back here from Roskhill in the rain to ask me about my book!"

"In my defense, it wasn't yet raining when I set out. But what sort of novel? Science fiction? Magic realism? Nouvelle roman? Roman a clef? Young adult? Romance? Plain, old-fashioned, straight-ahead story telling?"

"Um, plain story telling. About a failed marriage. You really give a flying fuck? It's not ready for anybody to look at it yet. Maybe it never will be. I've had a couple short stories published, but a novel is a whole different world, and I'm having a hard–" She caught herself. She didn't want to talk about the damned novel, she didn't want to talk about writing the damned novel, and above all she didn't want to talk about how she felt about writing the damned novel. "Why would you even go to the trouble of opening the garden gate to ask me about what I'm writing?"

Andrew shrugged. "When I wanted to take photos of the cottage, you stood aside to give me a clear shot, walked up to show me the stile – opening the garden gate yourself, I might point out – and held my walking stick while I stood on top of the wall. You looked back and forth at the scene like you were trying to see what I saw through the lens. You took an interest in my pictures. So I took an interest in your words."

Florence looked down at the table, sighed, looked back up at Andrew. "All right. Fair enough. Lord help us all, a man comes calling because he's interested in my mind. I still won't let anyone read what I'm writing until its ready."

"Fair enough, as you say. I'm grateful for you keeping the rain off my head for an hour. Anything beyond that would just be greedy."

"And you're never greedy?"

"Well, now, I didn't say that, I am sometimes greedy, but I try to keep it politely hidden. Leering at your mind is one thing, admitting to anything more might give offense. Wouldn't want you to toss me out the door!"

"Oh, I could toss you further than that, with the right motivation. And the tide should be up about now; they might not find your body till it washed up against Cornwall."

"I was in Cornwall once. Not a bad place for a body to wash up." He raised his half-full glass. "Over The Waves! To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway!"

Florence looked mystified, then laughed. "You are a nutter, aren't you?"

"But a discretely greedy nutter."

"This is your idea of discrete, is it? I've no doubt you'd like a taste, if any is on offer."

"Oh, always and everywhere! A taste? A woman is a banquet! I can't deny that. But it would be impolite to ask."

"So you won't beg?"

"Eh, well, that depends on you, I suppose. Do you enjoy seeing a man beg?"

"You've no idea what I enjoy, do you?"

"None. How could I? I like to be accommodating, but you're right, I've no idea what it would take to please you. You'll have to be quite clear in your demands. Requests. Instructions. Whatever. For all I know, you're as greedy as I am."

Florence grinned, drained her glass, and leaned back in her chair, considering.

"All right, I'm greedy. So, instructions: stand up, come round the end of the table, here, and kiss me." She stood and waited for him to come to her.

He finished his own drink and dabbed the last of the foam out of his mustached with his handkerchief before standing and doing as he'd been told. He put his left hand under her chin, though she was tall enough he certainly didn't need to tip her head up, and kissed her gently, twice. He touched her cheek with his right hand and kissed her again, slipping his hand under her hair and around to the back of her neck. She kissed him back and put her arms around his waist.

His hand slid from her chin to the side of her neck and down her shoulder to her upper arm, confirming her embrace of him. He tipped his head to one side and breathed, very softly and warm, into her ear and was rewarded by the slightest of gasps. He nuzzled her neck, then nibbled her earlobe, then kissed her on the lips again. He looked into her eyes and smiled.

Her arms still around his waist, she hugged him to her, hard, and whispered "If you stop now, I'll snap you in half."

Andrew's smile became a grin. He put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her again, his mouth opening, and Florence's tongue darted in, and it was his turn to have trouble controlling his breathing. They kissed again and again, until Andrew ran his hands down, lightly but deliberately, over her breasts and past her waist to her hips. Glancing down, he could see her nipples stand out through her blouse but he resisted the temptation to move his hands from her hips. Florence moved her own hands, placed them flat on his chest.

"All right, I said I'm not desperate, but I am demanding." She slowly sank to her knees, running her hands down his body as she did so. He had to take a half-step back to give her room, and wound up leaning against the edge of the table. Florence unfastened his belt in two quick motions, unsnapped his waistband and unzipped his fly in two more, then pulled his shirttail out at the sides and hooked her thumbs inside the elastic of his shorts. He straightened. One firm, continuous pull dragged his trousers and shorts together down to the middle of his thighs. His cock stood out straight, as hard as it had been in years. Florence wrapped thumb and finger around it at the base, appraised it, squeezed, smiled at the result, and ran her tongue up the length of it twice before taking it into her mouth. She paused a moment, opened her throat, and impaled herself in one smooth motion. Andrew made some little noise, and rested his hands on top of her head, stroking her hair. She withdrew slowly and plunged again. Again. Her hands cradles his balls, squeezed and tugged. She sucked hard. Andrew laced his fingers into her hair.

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