Ann stepped cautiously out of the carriage and looked up at the Shibden estate. She already felt more at home here than she ever had at crows nest, but she had been dreading going back, knowing she had to deal with everything now. The tribe and their questions and opinions.. she didn’t care what they thought, really, but the whole ordeal would be exhausting, she was tired just thinking about it. It could be postponed but soon she couldn’t hide from them any longer. Anne stepped out after her and they walked up to the entrance of the Shibden estate, their groom taking care of their bags and the carriage.
“I know it isn’t like the white and gold palace in France or the mansions there, but we can go traveling again soon. Rome this time.” Anne said as she looked at her. “This is much better than some flashy palace Anne. I was just thinking about my relatives.”
Anne glanced sideways at her. “Ah.” She nodded. “Yes they have to be dealt with.” She strode up to the door which opened just in time and she waltzed by the servant, going directly up to her aunt, Ann staying on the lower floor. Anne and her aunt had a very close relationship and they’d probably want a moment alone.
“Ann! I thought I heard the carriage.” Ann turned to Marian. “Oh, yes we just came. Anne is saying hello to aunt Anne.” The two shared a hug and Ann smiled. “Yes, well me and father are a bit of second citizens when it comes to those two. Why don’t you go wash off I’ll ask for some tea and crumpets, and the two of you can tell us all about your travels, if you’d like.” Ann nodded enthusiastically and walked up to her and Annes room, a water pitcher and bowl coming up only moments later, Marian must have ordered it for her.
She took off her hat and scarf and washed up, feeling much fresher when she came downstairs. Everyone was already sitting around the table including Anne and aunt Anne, and when Ann seated the servants started pouring tea up.
Ann reached for a cookie at the same time as Anne and their fingers collided. Anne smiled, her fingers lingering. “Go ahead.” She then said, scooting the plate slightly more to Ann but took the cookie she had reached for. If they had been alone Ann would have taken it, eaten half before feeding Anne the rest. But they weren’t in private so Ann took one of the identical cookies instead. “Thank you.”
Annes father Jeremy started talking about what had happened in Halifax when they were away, but Ann’s thoughts drifted when she saw Anne eating her cookie slowly, seeing her mouth move, the tip of her tongue moving out to clean her mouth of any stray crumbs. Jeremys voice sounded as if it was far away, through some distant tunnel. It wasn’t until Anne noticed her gaze and raised a brow that Ann snapped out of it and blushed, forcing her focus on listening.
As expected nothing worth noting had happened when they were gone, except for an old widow passing away, a pastry chef raising his price of bread with a shilling and a marriage between two people Ann hadn’t heard of before.
“That’s a relief, that all is well with everyone.. err.. except for the widow.” Ann said awkwardly, Anne shooting her an amusing look. “Yes well never a dull moment here.” Anne said with an eyeroll. “I know Halifax isn’t Paris or Denmark but it’s your home Anne.” Her father said. “Yes, sadly.” Anne said and leaned back.
“A letter came for you whilst you were away. From Mrs Lawton.” Jeremy said and Anne sighed. “Ah, yes. She sent me a letter early on in our travels, she’s probably wondering why I haven’t responded. Eugenie please fetch the letter, is it in my office?” Jeremy nodded and Eugenie scurried off. “Maybe you could read it after tea.” Marian suggested. “Better to get it over with right away, I think.” Anne said and Eugenie came back with the letter and her letter opener and Anne ripped it open with the sharper side of the blade and red the letter quickly, skimming through it. “Mm. Ah.” She said as she red. “What is it?” Ann asked.
“Seems she is coming to visit. The week after this one, so in three days.” She said and handed the objects back to her lady maid. “Is she out traveling?” her aunt asked. “No she’s coming all this way to, as she put it, ‘meet your funny little friend that keeps you so occupied you can’t reply to my letters.’ Anne rolled her eyes again and Ann bit her lip, had she talked about her a lot to this friend?
“Well seems Mariana is herself. I’ll make room preparations for her in my old room. Or well.. Eugenie will.” Anne said with a shrug before taking another cookie. “I think I am quite full of these. Join me for a walk, won't you Ann?” She rose. “But you were going to tell us all about your travels.” Her aunt protested. “At dinner, we’ve both been trapped in the carriage for so long I think we both want to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. Ann?”
Ann hesitated, not wanting to be rude but rose. “That sounds lovely, actually.” She left the table with a silent apology before they walked out. “Come, I’ll show you the best route for a walk.” Anne said and led her to the empty green lands of Shibden.
Ann linked their arms together and glanced at her. “So.. your friend Mariana.. have you known each other for long?” Anne nodded. “Maybe too long. She’s.. a very close friend, but she can be bothersome.” She replied with a sigh, leading Ann down to the waters. “How so? Do you have a troubled history?” Ann asked curiously and Anne nodded. “But let us talk no more about her. We should enjoy the view instead. Shibden is really quite beautiful.”
They walked in silence for a while, Ann looking with eager eye at the gleaming water, the full trees and enjoyed the fresh air. There hadn’t been much of nature on their travels so it was refreshing. Anne started talking as they headed back, about changes she wanted to reinforce, and the history of Shibden. When they returned inside they shared a long hot bath drawn by Eugenie, washing each other as they did on their honeymoon.
Ann woke up early next morning, lying in bed thinking for a good while before Anne woke up, but soon she turned impatient and turned and kissed Annes cheek. “Time to wake up.” Ann said and kissed her neck. “Mm I’d rather stay in this dream..” Anne said with a grin and Ann chuckled. “Mm I bet.” She replied and kissed her chin before sitting, pulling Anne with her who opened her eyes at last.
“Why don’t we ask them to send our breakfast up? we can spend the morning in bed.. just you and me.” Ann glanced at her, hesitating. “I don’t want to be rude Anne.” She said but Anne shook her head. “You’re not. And I’ll say I’m the one who want us to eat in private. I insist.”
Ann nodded and Anne ordered up some breakfast, Ann getting up to get dressed. “Sit, let me take care of you.” Anne said and Ann seated on the edge of the bed, Anne moving her gentle and nimble fingers through her hair flowing free over her shoulders, moving it into a loose braid before taking the cream by the night stand and started rubbing it into Ann’s back, leaving kisses on her shoulders.
Ann seemed to relax a bit but remained quiet, and Anne breathed out, nervous. She prayed almost every day that Ann’s health wouldn’t get worse, that she’d remain happy, but sometimes she could see a shift in Ann, and she knew she had troubled thoughts, and at times she would wake up from nightmares. She never heard voices again, or got as bad as.. it had been before going to her sister, but Anne knew she wasn’t completely well. She decided to take her to the doctor again as soon as possible, but it would have to be after Marianas visit.
“Do you think my mother would approve of.. us? me?” Ann asked suddenly, her voice absent and weak. Anne frowned, opening and closing her mouth. She pulled Ann into her lap who looked up at her. “Do you?” she asked again, her eyes shining and Anne nodded.
“How could she not? You’re perfect. And any mother, or parent, should want their child to be happy.” Ann nodded and rested her head on Annes chest. “I love you.” She mumbled and Anne nodded. “Quite right you do.. And.. I love you too.”
Ann looked up at her surprised. Anne had never said it out loud before. She had showed it, with her actions and the way she took care of her and the things she’d say so Ann had never worried but she had never heard it. She grinned and pulled up to meet Annes lips, enthusiastically pushing Anne to the bed on her back and kissed her. Anne kissing her back and cupped her face, chuckling when they parted and she left kisses on Ann’s freckles which made the petite blonde to laugh as well.
Next morning Anne reached for her wife and was disappointed to find nothing but empty sheets. She opened her eyes, rubbing them so she could see properly before seating and her eyes widened when she took in the sight. Ann was sitting in a chair she had brought to the foot of the bed, drawing it seemed like. But she was wearing Annes clothes, her gray pants she had bought on their travels and a white shirt with her hair falling free, spilling down her shoulders. The sunlight from the big window hit her perfectly and Anne watched her in awe. She preferred her women more feminine, but she would be lying if she said Ann didn’t look amazing in her clothes.
“No moving, you’re destroying my painting.” Ann pouted, having noticed Anne waking up from her peripheral vision though she never looked up from her sketchbook. “Are you drawing me?” Anne asked, scooting up to take a peek. “Yes.. but I need my muse to remain still.” Ann looked up at her sternly but couldn’t help but smile and give her a quick kiss. “There. Now go back to bed.” Anne considered arguing but did as she said. “I wish I could draw like you.. you’re certainly a vision I want to frame right now.” Anne said as she lay down in her previous sleep position.
“Sleeping people don’t talk.. but thank you.” Ann grinned, drawing with careful motions, finishing before putting down the sketch book and rose, walking up to Anne who pulled her into bed. “Mm.. I guess I’ll have to rely on my memory.” She looked her over.
“If I knew you’d like this so much I’d have stolen your clothes sooner.. though I don’t compare to you in them, trust me.” Anne kissed her quickly. “I don’t trust you.” She teased before kissing her again, only parting to douse kisses on her jaw and chin, soon kissing her lips again. Ann kissed her back and deepened it, wrapping her arms around her neck.
They lay both happy and relaxed, cuddled close, the odd kiss or stroke landing in different places, until they felt they had to go up, to both their dismay.
Ann changed into one of her dresses and put her hair up, Anne getting dressed in her standard black skirt. She preferred the pants, but Halifax was a small town, and the more she stood out, the more backlash Ann was in danger of experiencing.
“Good morning!” Aunt Anne said with a smile, all already gathered by the breakfast table. “Good morning everyone.” Ann said flushed and smiled, Anne pulling out a chair for her and she seated. “How did everyone sleep?” She asked, starting to eat when her stomach growled and she blushed. “Good, good. What about you dear?” Aunt Anne responded as Marian and Jeremy simply nodded a reply, and Ann smiled. “Wonderfully, thank you.” She said and sipped some tea.
“Yes well this is derivative and all, but I have rents to collect. See you all later.” She left a kiss on Ann’s head before walking into her office to fetch the necessary equipment before heading out, Jeremy following.
“Well she seemed very friendly, but maybe she just wanted to be my letter friend to be nice?” Ann looked between the Lister women nervously. She, Aunt Anne and Marian had seated in the couch of the company room, Ann telling them some more about the honeymoon trip. “Oh I doubt that. I bet you’re a very skillful letter writer.” The aunt said ensuring and Ann smiled. “I suppose I’ll craft a letter tonight.. who knows maybe we will be as close as Anne and her letter friend are.” The other two women shared a look and Ann opened her mouth to question it when Marian talked instead. “Anyways, you should accompany me to Halifax first thing tomorrow, we could get some new stashes.. and maybe look at hats?” She proposed and Ann smiled. “I’d love to.”
“Love’d to what?” Anne asked, entering the room with graceful yet quite steps as usual. “That went quickly.” Ann said surprised. “Mhm. Now what would you love to?” She asked, seating at the back of the couch and took an apple from the fruit bowl, taking a bite. “I’m going shopping tomorrow with Marian.”
Ann said, waiting for Annes reaction as she chewed. “Oh. Well, as long as I’m not obliged to go with.” Marian winced and rose. “Yes well we all know no force in the world would make you spend time with your family.” She said and walked out of the room. Anne raised a brow and Ann pressed her lips together.
“Oh don’t mind it dear it’s just their way, sibling squabble and all that. I’m sure you were like that with your sister.” Aunt Anne said, Ann getting a sad expression over her face and she bit her lip. “Um, no, but yes it’s fine I’m sure.” She leaned back and Anne patted her shoulder. “Forgive me, I think it’s time for me to take a nap.” Aunt Anne said and took Ann’s hand and squeezed it before letting go and walked out of the room. “Wouldn’t kill you to spend some more time with your family.. especially your aunt, she might not have long for this world you know.” Ann said but received only a look that meant they were not discussing this as an answer.
“Why don’t we go to the study? I’ll let you thrash me in backgammon.” Anne smirked. “Let you?” Ann raised a brow. “Well I did win the last time..” Anne said, going ahead to the office and Ann followed. “Because you cheated!” Anne smiled devilishly at her but didn’t reply, just cleaned away a bit to find a place for them to play. “What’s this?” Anne asked, finding a rough sketch, and a list next to it. “Oh, that.. it’s my plans for Shibden, that I was talking about on our walk. It’ll take a while until I can begin on them properly though.. right now I’m not quite there financially.”
Ann nodded, looking the sketch over one last time. “What is going in here?” She traced a tower. “Oh.. I’m indecisive. Maybe a library.” Ann smiled. “I like that idea.” She said before she placed it to the side to begin the game.
The rest of the day went by fairly uneventful, they spent some time with the family but mostly found excuses to be alone, mostly by Anne’s desire.
After breakfast next morning Ann and Marian had headed into town. “Is there anything else you want to look at Ann?” Marian asked when they had bought some fabric to make scarves and stashes, and a new belt for Ann. “No, I’m not much of a shopper in all honesty.” Her eyes scanned something in the window in one of the store fronts, a black pair of cufflinks, and it triggered a memory from her and Annes trip.
It was their last night in France, and Ann had arranged so they’d get the dinner and night for themselves. They had spent the day with Annes friends, celebrating her birthday, but the night she wanted the birthday girl all for herself. She had prepared a dinner, placed on the small table in their chamber, candles litten for atmosphere. She had been wearing Annes favorite dress of hers, the blue one, and Ann had looked dashing in a dark blue outfit. Anne entered from the hallway of their chambers, they had a bedroom, a bathroom, an office of sort and a social room all to themselves, which is where Ann had set up.
“Happy birthday love.” She said and tugged her down to the table, Anne looking at the set up and then at her. “What a lovely surprise.” She kissed Ann’s cheek. “Well it’s the first birthday of yours I get to celebrate.. I wanted to enjoy it a little on my own. With you. And I got you a gift, I didn’t want to give it to you in front of your friends.” She moved a small box out from behind a napkin and Anne, smiled. “Have anyone told you you’re really too kind?” She took the box and opened it, Ann biting her lip nervously. “Do you like them?” She asked, looking down at the cufflinks she had gotten Anne. They were black, with a golden embedded ‘L.’ because she knew she took great pride in her last name. “If you don’t I can return them or change them, I’ll get you something better or..” Her rambling was interrupted when Anne put her lips on her for a short second before parting. “They’re perfect. Thank you.”
“Ann? see anything you like?” Ann was brought back to reality and turned to Marian. “No, sorry. I was just thinking about our trip. Both mine and Annes birthday passed.. I was just thinking of hers. I got her a pair of cufflinks.” Marian nodded. “What did she get you?” She asked, Ann smiling, a small blush spreading on her cheeks. “Oh, it’s a secret. She’d be cross if I told anyone.” Marian raised a brow but dropped the subject and they continued walking through Halifax to pick up any needed supplies.
They returned to Shibden in time for tea time, everyone seating around the table. “How did shopping go?” Aunt Anne asked and Marian filled her in on what they bought, Ann feeling a foot nudge hers and she looked up to see Anne smiling innocently at her.
“Did Eugenie make the arrangements for mrs. Lawton? She’s coming tomorrow right?” Jeremy asked when the conversation died down and Anne glanced at him. “Yes, everything is set up. She didn’t say what time she’s coming but I made sure there will be enough food at every meal just in case.”
Ann glanced at her wife, she was nervous about meeting the esteemed Mariana, worried Annes closest friend wouldn’t like her, or approve of her. Later at night, when the couple were getting ready for bed, Anne rubbing her back as usually, Ann bit her lip. “Does Mariana know.. about you know..?” she asked, Annes movement stopping for a moment before she continued. “She knows, and the secret is safe with her, don’t worry.” She felt a kiss on her shoulder and relaxed, relieved she wouldn’t have to pretend with one more person.