An Expedition – part 2

“Did you know that Sussex is the most wooded county in England,” Seb says, as we drive through a wood. “That’s why I love it. I love trees.”
“Yes, you told me last time,” I say.
Once, I remember, I asked Seb when he would like to be living, if he could choose any historical period, and he’d avoided the stock answers – Ancient Rome, Tudor England – and said: “the Dark Ages. I’d like to live in a cave and wear an animal skin and hunt with a spear with my wolf and be in nature.”

Then we’re out in the fields again and all of a sudden there’s a huge thud and I’m thrown forward and the seatbelt cuts into my scars and the adrenaline is pumping as we shudder to a halt.
“You ok?” He says, touching my arm. “I’m terribly sorry, Tanya. The car in front braked suddenly.” There’s probably a family of toads crossing the road in front of us or something, I think.
“We could have been killed,” I say. “Or facially disfigured or…”
“We’re wearing our seatbelts,” Seb says, as we set off again, slowly. “The worst that would’ve happened is that the airbags would’ve exploded and given us a fright.”
After our near-death experience I just want to jump on him and snog him but of course I’m not allowed and we don’t need another accident as he no doubt swerves into the oncoming traffic to avoid my attentions.

“Hello lovely,” Seb’s Mum says, drawing me in for a hug as she opens the door. She’s all blonde and tanned and gorgeous and wearing a white top with fluorescent orange embroidery: a sort of kaftan. She could be a blonde Liz Hurley: all swishy hair and perfect teeth and amazing figure.
“Hello,” I say, feeling fat and sweaty and unglamorous in my £20 wig and fit flops and cheap sundress.
“You look wonderful,” she says, in those deep honeyed tones. “Her voice was full of money,” from Gatsby flashes into my mind.
“Thank you,” I say. “I brought you this,” I hand over the Wterloo-station-wine-shop bottle of Chianti in its butterfly print bag. It’s real Chianti – it sports the pink label which we learnt about in Florence – the stamp of authenticity. Seb’s family probably have their own vineyards, I think.
“Oh You shouldn’t have,” she says. “I’m only making lunch.”
“I always bring something if I go to someone’s house,” I say.
“It’s ever so kind of you,” she says.
We walk through the hallway of the enormous house – a converted farmhouse, a manor house, I’m not sure. It’s definitely half-timbered anyway, there are huge beams all over the roof.

There’s a man who I don’t recognise washing something up at the huge island in the centre of the kitchen. The room is an open plan kitchen and conservatory. Outside the two black Labradors laze on the grass.
“Tanya, my brother Henry,” Seb says.
“Hi, I’ve heard so much about you,” I say. So this is the big brother who’s a lawyer.
“And I you,” Henry says, in pretty much Seb’s voice – although it’s not as mellifluous. He doesn’t look much like Seb though: stockier, with a rumpled appearance: dark brown hair curling over his collar, the posh boy outfit of brown corduroy trousers and long-sleeved shirt on this, the hottest day of the year. They don’t really adapt their clothes to the seasons much, I’ve noticed.
“What would you like to drink, lovely?” Seb’s Mum asks me.
“I’m having a Bloody Mary,” Henry says.
“Wine or gin and tonic please,” I say.
“Seb, can you pour Tanya a glass of wine?” Seb’s Mum says.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Seb says, crinkling his eyes, “i can’t.”
“Oh, of course, he’s not allowed to handle alcohol,” his Mum says, in a tone of tolerant but mildly exasperated amusement. “Henry?”
“Delighted,” Henry says, pouring a large glass of white wine and handing it to me.

Seb has put the pizzas in the oven and is busying himself making a salad. Even in black tracksuit bottoms, an old t-shirt and flip flops he is the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.
“We thought we’d eat in the courtyard,” Sebs Mum says, putting some cheeses and bread and crackers onto a tray. “Where we have the weddings.” She rents out a barn and courtyard for this purpose.
“Lovely,” I say. “Please may a borrow a cardigan – I mustn’t get my chest and neck in the sun because of the radiotherapy…”
“Of course – but the table’s in the shade anyway, you won’t need it.”
“Can I help?” I say, stroking my kitten’s mum who has just walked past. She looks tiny compared with her enormous orange son.
“No, there’s nothing to do,” she says.

I follow Seb’s Mum outside, through pampas grass and foxgloves, delphiniums and cornflowers. The garden is beautiful – we could be in Midsomer or St Mary Mead. A little path winds through the flowerbeds and then there’s a walled courtyard with a door in it that we enter. In the middle of the courtyard there’s a huge pond with bulrushes and water irises where enormous koi swim.
“So, um, I’ve got something to tell you,” I say to Seb’s Mum and Henry as we sit at the table. Seb is still in the kitchen. “I love your son and obviously I want to marry him, when he’s bored of the whole celibacy thing, but I’ve started dating and, um, writing a blog about it.”
“Oh, wonderful” Seb’s Mum says. “That’s a great idea. I think he just needs someone to tell him what to do really,” she says, passing me the cheeseboard.
“He knows that I love him,” I say, cutting a couple of slices of cheese. “I can’t force him to go out with me if he…”
“That’s exactly what someone ought to do,” Henry says.
“He has to want to. Doesn’t he? Isn’t the boy meant to chase the lady and…”
“Sebastian’s very confused. He doesn’t know what he wants,” his Mum says, cutting a slice of bread.
“Yes, he’s got problems,” I say, and they both laugh, and I realise that wadsn’t the best thing to say. “I mean – he wanted to be a monk and…”
“Indeed,” Seb’s Mum says, and then I see Seb approaching with the pizza and we change the subject.
I love him, I think, as he sits down next to me on the bench, as far away from me as possible. Maybe I’ll make some progress with him today?

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