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Highland Fling

By Anna Larner

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Anna Larner

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Highland Fling

Eve Eddison describes her ideal woman to her best friend, Roxanne, over pints in their local pub a few days before she travels to the Scottish Highlands. There she falls head over heels for an enigmatic local, Moira Burns, and the usually reticent Eve wants more than a holiday romance. Forestry officer Moira Burns has no intention of letting go—either of past pain or for present pleasure. If that means she misses out on her chance at happiness, so be it. Convinced Eve is headed for heartbreak, Roxanne advises her to let Moira go…but has Eve found her ideal woman at last?

From the breathtaking Highlands of Scotland to the buzz of a Leicester gay bar, family and friendship are tested to breaking point, as letting go proves painfully hard.

Highland Fling

© 2017 By Anna Larner. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13: 978-1-62639-854-2

This Electronic book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: April 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Ruth Sternglantz

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail.com)

Acknowledgments

A novel isn’t the work of one person but the joyful result of many people’s contribution.

A heartfelt thank you to the BSB team, in particular, Len Barot, Sandy Lowe, and Ruth Sternglantz.

To my awesome beta-readers, Bridget, Jen, Kay, Lis, Rita, Sue G, Sue L, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your amazing support.

To my wonderful family and friends—thank you for your love.

Highland Fling would not exist without my partner, Ang—for whom thank you is not enough.

Dedication

For Ang

Chapter One

“Hottie alert! Two o’clock.” Roxanne ran her hands through her hair and brushed away the debris of prawn-cocktail flavoured crisps from her chest.

“Where?” Eve looked around the heaving pub, trying to tease out individuals from the entangled mass of jeans, T-shirts, and hair gel.

Roxanne grabbed Eve’s arm. “Don’t look round.”

“Right, so I’m supposed to look without looking?”

“Uh-huh. That’s right, Evie—like how you get dressed in the morning,” Roxanne said with a smirk.

“Yeah. Anyway. Don’t let me forget to give you my spare keys. Rox?” Eve poked Roxanne in the ribs to get her attention.

“Ouch. What?”

“My holiday. You haven’t forgotten already, have you?”

“Oh, yeah.” Roxanne flicked at the rings of wet on the table, spritzing Eve in eau de lager.

“Nice, Rox, really nice.” Eve screwed her face in disgust at her beer-stained shirt. “Remind me again why I’m letting you stay in my flat while I’m away.”

Roxanne shrugged, her gaze straying, like a tomcat, in the direction of the hottie. “Because you feel sorry for me living in nurses’ accommodation and you need someone to water your plants.”

“Yeah, one of those is true. So you remember what we discussed? No sex in my bed.” Eve watched a mischievous smile break across Roxanne’s face. “Bin day’s Tuesday. Best to put the rubbish out Monday night as they come, like, super early. Oh, and Rox, the funny noise you hear when you run the bath—”

“Completely normal.”

“Exactly. Oh, and the washing machine door—”

“Sticks and I’m not to overwater the cactus, or leave the television on standby, or flirt with the neighbour but one, or forget to check your postbox, blah-blah-blah.”

“Well…yes—”

“Oh God, she’s coming over. Casual, Eve, casual.” Roxanne’s voice strained to an octave higher than usual.

The approaching woman was somewhere in her twenties and had chosen to complement her cropped vixen-red hair with a low-cut blouse and denim skirt, which every so often she tugged at to prevent from riding up.

“Oops, nearly.” The woman giggled, smoothing her skirt back in place, as she perched one hip on the edge of their table.

Roxanne was enthralled. Eve suspected by Roxanne’s wide eyes that she was thinking, Please God let her drop something.

Roxanne cooed, “Hi, gorgeous, how’s things?”

Eve raised her eyebrows at Roxanne, who ignored her.

“I just thought I’d say hi. So hi.” The woman dragged out hi as if she was striking the first note of a song. “I’m Belinda.”

“I’m Roxanne—feel free to call me Roxy.”

Eve couldn’t help but notice that despite a valiant effort to make polite eye-to-eye conversation, Roxanne couldn’t quite manage to raise her eyes above Belinda’s ample chest line.

“And I’m Eve, pleased to meet you.” Eve gave a closed-mouth smile in Belinda’s direction.

“Well, it was nice to meet you both. So, see you around.” Belinda winked at Roxanne, drifting her hand across Roxanne’s shoulder, the tips of her fingers lightly caressing the nape of her neck.

Utterly spellbound, Roxanne’s entranced stare followed every hypnotic sway of Belinda’s curvaceous hips as she slipped back into the crowd.

“Wow,” Roxanne gasped. “I need another. You’re nearest. Two more pints and don’t forget the crisps.”

“Oh my God, Rox, I can’t even see the bar.”

Roxanne glanced at the thronging, pressing crowds and then at Eve. “Elbows out and show no fear.”

Standing on tiptoes, Eve shouted her order to the barman. Her trip to the bar left her dishevelled and mildly traumatized. Eve looked back at the crowds, at the faces she saw each Saturday night.

It wasn’t that The Brewer’s Arms was the only gay pub in the Midlands, it just seemed to be the place everyone gravitated towards, the familiar life-worn face in a world of strangers. It felt like every important event, each birthday, any cause of celebration in Eve’s life had been marked by a pint in The Brewer’s. And now Eve was older and so was her favourite pub. Eve looked at the carpet, which once had a pattern of sorts and now appeared plain. The uneven walls, once bright white, would likely be described in Farrow & Ball’s paint chart as Tobacco Yellow. Tufts of royal blue velour fabric, sticking out from between seat and arm, merely hinted at the luxurious upholstered seating of the past. And the loos—well, Eve sighed—in many ways it was a shame that the toilet in best repair was the one without the lock. And if it was Saturday night and you had not claimed a seat by nine o’clock, then Eve was all too aware that you’d likely be standing, leaning on something sticky, for the rest of the evening.

She was thankful for Roxanne’s unstinting dedication to drinking and to watching Saturday afternoon sport on the pub’s television, for this meant that more often than not they secured their favourite booth in the bay of the front window.

A slow smile drifted over Eve’s face, as she wondered what she would do without her best mate.

Eve Eddison had first met Roxanne Barns at the age of nine. Roxanne had shown her precisely where she could hang her pump bag, which teacher was nice, and who to avoid. As they grew older, it was Roxanne Eve turned to with her worries—she was her ally against the mad world.

Eve, in turn, had always been there for Roxanne: from homework and job applications; to food and frequent shelter; to gentle words of consolation, many mornings after many misspent nights before. Eve knew they were more than just best friends, they were family.

Eve weaved her way back to her seat, crisp bags dangling from her mouth, her cheeks tingling with the concentration of carrying two overflowing beers.

Eve slid next to Roxanne. “I swear there’s more beer in my shoes than in the glass.”

“Yeah, whatever. We, my lovely, are hatching a plan.”

“Really? That sounds exciting.” Eve was intrigued, if a little nervous as to what exploits she was about to be dragged into.

“To find you a woman,” Roxanne firmly asserted.

“What, I mean, why?” Eve felt herself blush and took a long glug of her beer.

“When did you last have a date?”

“A date?”

“Yes, a date. You know—agree to meet someone. Have a drink, meal maybe. Go back to theirs. Lez on.”

“Lez on?” Eve giggled. “Well, a couple of months back—you remember, Janie. You know, Gym Janie, who can lift her own body weight with one arm.” Eve proceeded to give an impression of someone lifting weights. “Although, come to think of it, it was less sexy than wrestle-y, one-er, two-er, three-er.” Eve shook her head at the memory.

Eve had always joked about the women she had fancied. On reflection, she could never imagine falling in love with any of them. Romances had ended before they had begun and Eve worried that she’d spoken with more affection about her childhood pet goldfish than any former lover.

It didn’t help that Eve was also absolutely oblivious to those who fancied her, prompting Roxanne to often tease Eve for her lack of gaydar skills. Conversations would frequently end with Roxanne exasperated, complaining, “What do you mean she’s just being friendly. She didn’t offer to buy me a drink.”

Seeing Roxanne’s I can’t believe you bought us cheese-and-onion crisps when I’ve just pulled expression, Eve said, “They’re my favourite. I’m sorry, Rox. I didn’t think.”

Roxanne shook her head. “That’s not your problem.”

“What’s not my problem?”

“Not thinking. You think too much,” Roxanne declared in a spirit of intervention.

“I don’t get you.” Eve crunched in reply.

Roxanne moved the crisps away. “You think too critically about the girls you like and not enough action. You’re too, how can I put it—”

“Appropriately selective?” Eve suggested with a shrug.

“Reticent.”

“Reticent!”

“You overthink things, mate—you seem to be looking for the one, when you should be looking for the many.”

“Well thank you for that observation, Nurse Barns,” Eve said, smiling.

“Don’t you go thinking that that advice is free, just because I work for the NHS. It’ll cost you a pack of plain crisps.”

Eve went a little quiet, serious.

“Look, I have a fab idea, Evie. Let’s list down what you want in a woman. You know—physical features, personality, et cetera.” Turning over a dog-eared beer mat to the less stained side, Roxanne divided the small card space into two, with looks on one side and personality on the other. “Right, what do you want her to look like? Her, of course, who is one of many.”

“I don’t know, Rox.”

“Think, Eve.”

Eve could discern a certain frustration in Roxanne’s voice. “Okay, well…I don’t know, maybe—”

“Spill,” Roxanne asserted. “This is no time for shyness.”

“I quite like an older woman.” Eve spoke the words into her beer. It felt very much as if she was revealing the details of a guilty crush.

“Please don’t say Nigella Lawson, as I can confirm there are no Nigella lookalikes in this bar this evening.”

Eve shook her head slowly. She thought Roxanne’s game was kind of fun.

“Right, well, older woman, that’s a start.” Roxanne looked at her two columns.

“It’ll probably need to go into both,” Eve suggested, as she leant over her friend’s shoulder.

“Will she have her own teeth?” Roxanne added without a hint of a smirk.

Eve gave Roxanne a withering expression in reply.

Roxanne held her hands up. “Just checking, mate. Okay, hairstyle.”

“Curly.”

“Curly? Since when has curly been a hairstyle?”

“What can I say, I like curly hair.”

Roxanne gave Eve a look that said You’d better not be taking the piss. “Right, old with curly hair—that’s narrowed it down, narrowed it down to my gran’s care home.”

“I didn’t say old, I said older. And I like someone who’s brave and intelligent, yet intriguing and private.” Eve could sense Roxanne was already getting bored. “Rox?”

“Yep.” Roxanne nodded as she wrote the words under the right-hand column.

Eve continued, “Sort of broody, maybe, with a clear sense of herself—but not a sulky big gob. And she has to be kind, and honest, and trustworthy.” Eve nodded to herself.

Looking down at the list and doing a surveying sweep of the room, Roxanne quipped, “I think hair straighteners are in.”

Eve looked around. “Okay, I don’t want to alarm you, but I reckon we are amongst the oldest in this bar.”

“Nonsense.” Roxanne shook her head, as if refusing to accept any suggestion that they were past it. “We’re only twenty-six.”

“I didn’t know you were nearly thirty,” Belinda remarked with a surprised tone, reappearing at their table as surreptitiously as the draft from an open door.

“Like I said, we’re twenty-six and in the mix.” Roxanne clambered from the booth, slung her arm over Belinda’s shoulder, and gave her a squeeze, adding, “What are you drinking?”

Belinda slipped seductively into their booth as she requested, “Cider—a pint, honey.”

“I’ll come with you to the bar,” Eve said, taking care to tuck the heavily inked beer mat into her pocket.

As they waited to be served, Eve leant in to Roxanne to confess, “I like outdoorsy types—Land Rovers, that kind of thing.”

“Really?” Roxanne giggled and then looked puzzled, shortly followed by an expression of concern. “What, like the Queen drives? Oh my God. Please don’t tell me you fancy the Queen.”

The barman looked at Eve.

No. Why would I fancy the Queen?” Eve spoke as much to the barman as Roxanne. “In any case, I’m not overly keen on corgis.”

“You’re a worry, Eddison.” Roxanne shook her head, paid the barman, and took a deep intake of breath in Belinda’s direction, exhaling, “I’m going in.” Before she could add, You can have my k.d. lang collection if I don’t make it out alive, Eve was turning away to head to the loo.

*

Although the toilets of The Brewer’s Arms were not a place to loiter any longer than absolutely necessary, what Roxanne had suggested was making Eve linger and think. She couldn’t help but wonder: Was she too reticent? She really liked women, and it wasn’t that the women out there weren’t fun, or nice, or in any way not good looking, it’s just that they left her feeling kind of empty.

The dim lighting in the toilet just about gave Eve enough light to check her look in the cracked full-length mirror. She couldn’t decide whether the twenty-six-year-old woman looking back at her would be considered good-looking or not. Was her short brown hair, with side parting, too tidy to be trendy? Did her favourite scarf, casually draped around her neck, evoke dusty travels across Asian continents or the onset of middle age? Eve couldn’t decide. She thought her fitted grey T-shirt, white linen shirt, faded blue jeans, and beaten-up canvas shoes looked kind of cool, and gave her just enough of the confidence she needed to step back out into the crowded bar.

Their table was now packed with Belinda’s friends. Roxanne and Belinda were pinned up a corner—not that they seemed to mind. The thought of staying any longer, the third wheel once again, was frankly depressing.

“I’m going to head off.” Eve nodded to the door. “I’ve got packing and stuff to do. Rox?”

“Yeah, I’ll call you later,” Roxanne said, without taking her eyes off Belinda and her low-cut top.

Pulling on her jacket, the doors of The Brewer’s Arms swinging closed behind her, Eve made her way out into the street. A few yards down the road she heard, “Eve. Evie wait.”

Eve looked behind her to see Roxanne striding up the street towards her.

“Hey, Rox. You didn’t want to stay after all?”

Catching her breath, Roxanne said, “You forgot to give me your keys, plonker.”

“Oh shit, yeah.” Eve dug deeply into the pocket of her jeans, separating her spare set of door keys from the remnants of a tissue. “Thanks for looking after my flat.”

“No worries. I may not have a chance to see you before your hols, so have a good time. Oh, and say hi to your mum and dad for me and tell your sister, Gary’s a prick.”

“Thanks, Rox. I’ll say you say hi. Mum thinks the holiday will help Esther, what with the divorce and everything, and she didn’t want her to be bored—”

“And yet you still got invited?” Roxanne grinned broadly.

“Yeah, nobody’s laughing.” Eve looked around the empty street. “See.”

Smiling, Roxanne asked, “So you’re looking forward to it?”

Eve nodded. “Uh-huh.” At least, I think I am. The memory of her recent phone call with her mother came flooding back.

It’ll be good for us all, darling, to have a break, in any case. It’s been quite upsetting all round. Divorce. Just awful, awful. Your poor sister, it’s really taken its toll. Oh, and at her age, so unfortunate. Well, I knew you would want to help your sister by joining in. It would be no fun for Esther with just your father and me. And the Highlands, well, they’re just a delight at this time of year. A delight. So you’ll come. Yes, marvellous, I’ll confirm the booking with the agent.

At no point had Eve’s mother, Lillian, paused to draw breath or to allow Eve to comment, or indeed implied by her tone that anything she said was a question that Eve might wish to answer. In any case, Eve could not remember specifically agreeing or, for that matter, speaking at all, beyond Hello, Mum and Goodbye.

“You’ll be fine.” Roxanne’s reassurance interrupted the memory. “It will go really quickly. You’ll be in The Brewer’s boring me—sorry, telling me all about your hols before you know what.” Roxanne eye’s glinted with mischief.

Eve looked back towards the glowing windows of the bar.

“So, yeah…’night Rox. I’ll text you when I get there.”

“Take care, Evie Eds.”

Just as she was about to step back into the bar, Roxanne hollered, “Oh, Evie. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Eve shook her head, turned, and walked away, the dog-eared beer mat warm against her thigh.

Chapter Two

It had been at least fifteen years since Eve, as a child, had last visited Scotland. Gazing out of the back seat window, her head rested against the glass, the Scotland of Eve’s memories gave way to the vivid wonder that surrounded her. Eve turned to glance at her sister and couldn’t help but feel that the journey to the Highlands, past glinting lochs and the majestic ice-sculptured slopes of Glen Coe, would gladden the saddest of hearts and renew the weariest of souls.

It was almost six o’clock on the last Sunday in May when the Eddison family drove up the steep, winding road to the Highland hamlet of Newland.

Loch View. Eve’s tired eyes traced the mesmeric swirls of the hand-painted wooden nameplate, which hung, weather-beaten, against the cream render of their holiday let.

Rather than follow her bustling family into their accommodation, Eve, feeling decidedly travel sick, pulled on her coat and walked the short path down the side of the house, and stood at the top of a long garden. She could not have expected the sight that greeted her.

With eyes saucer wide and lips parted in wonder, Eve gasped. “Okay. Wow. This, this is seriously cool.”

A barely tamed lawn unfurled before her into meadow, where wisps of grasses dropped breathlessly away to reveal the distant rippling waters of Loch Ness, shining, dark, and beautiful. At the edges of the loch dense pine woods fringed rocky slopes of green, veined grey with hillside tracks. Clouds shadowed and broke to conceal and then reveal the drama of snow-capped mountains endlessly repeating themselves into the distant disappearing horizon.

It was quite simply the most beautiful view she had ever seen. Standing motionless, absorbed in the scene, it was as if sketchy, monochrome memories were being redrawn with a palette of intense colours and sensations that left her reeling.

“What the…?” Eve tipped her face to the sky, tracing the urgent flight of house martins, as they swooped and surprised in the air above, effortlessly cutting wing-shaped silhouettes against the evening sun. She spun around several times, her senses straining to absorb every pine-scented enchanting detail.

Eve’s gaze eventually settled on their holiday accommodation. Nestled on the steep hillside, Loch View stood impressively in its grounds. Traditionally finished in cream render, with a sweeping slate-grey arched roof, it struck a striking architectural note. Sets of french doors opened out into the garden from both the living room and dining room, and a short run of three wide steps led to the grass below. By the living room window, a large bird table was crowded with feeding tits and finches.

To the right of Loch View was a further collection of discreetly situated holiday lets. To the left, a larger house, covered with climbing roses and ivy, sat informally, languidly on the hillside. A barn building, attached to this neighbouring property, reinforced the rural setting. If she was honest, the neighbouring house looked a bit ramshackle. It was clearly not a holiday let. Hens could be heard clucking and various sprouting veg on climbing stakes could be seen waving in the breeze from above the boundary fence.

“Eve, Eve! Can you help your father? Otherwise we shall be unpacking in the dark.” Like the shock of a dropped glass, Lillian’s high-pitched call shattered and broke upon the enchanting scene. The sudden crashing and charging of a rhino in a rainforest would have been less startling.

“Sure, coming.” Eve took a long last gaze at the seductive view.

From the front of the house, lapping at the boundaries of the driveway, green rich views of hills and woodland washed away any lingering images of glass buildings and concrete horizons. The city, grey and fast-paced, felt like another world.

“It’s beautiful, don’t you think, Dad?” Eve said earnestly, as she diligently made the many trips from car to house, with bags, cases, raincoats, and wellingtons. “I mean, really amazing. I think it’s going to be good being here.”

“Excellent, Eve. Excellent.” With these words, Henry grasped Eve and bear hugged the air out of his younger daughter’s lungs.

Over his shoulder, Eve caught sight of a red Land Rover driving past, heading towards the neighbouring houses. She could not clearly discern who was driving, but if she was not mistaken, it seemed to be a woman. How cool was that?

“Right, that’s me, Eve. Anything remaining will have to be dealt with in the morning. I’m ready for a gin and a sit.”

Eve stood motionless staring out at the woodland view.

“Eve? Are you coming in?” Henry asked, the gin bottle clasped to his chest.

“I can’t take my eyes off it.”

“Yes, that’s some view. It’ll be there in the morning though.”

Eve heard Henry chuckle. “Unlike this bottle of gin,” he said as he disappeared inside.

*

Eve’s sister, Esther, decided that she wanted the room at the front of the house with the woodland view. She told her family that the room facing the loch would be too bright. Since the finalization of her divorce, Esther had declared that she liked to sleep in the pitch dark. Although Esther would have had her family believe that her statement was one of confident independence, Eve suspected that the darkness helped mask an empty bed. Eve was pleased, not of course that her sister was sad, but that this meant that the bedroom overlooking the loch could be hers. It was a fab room. Eve loved it. Set in the eaves of the house, it had a little en suite with a bathtub, and a small window seat on which to sit and admire the views. The bed linen was a pretty yellow and blue check, cut from the same cloth as the curtains and lampshades.

Eve unpacked just her pyjamas, dressing gown, slippers, and toiletries. The other unpacking, Eve reasoned wearily, could wait until tomorrow or indeed whenever.

Sitting on her bed, Eve texted Roxanne. Arrived safely. Cottage super nice with ace views. Will text again tomoz. E X

Like a distant beacon signalling from a remote land, Eve’s phoned beeped and blinked, R X

Chapter Three

Eve slept more soundly than she had done for ages. She did not dream or wake for a wee. Before she knew it, her bedroom was light and she could hear the clucking and flustered flapping of hens from next door. It was nine o’clock. With some effort, Eve pulled on her dressing gown and yawned her way downstairs.

Patting sticking up bed-hair into place, Eve stared out the french doors to the garden.

“Morning, Eve. Here—tea,” Esther said, holding out an earthenware mug.

“Thanks, sis. So what’s the plan for today?”

“Well, Dad’s suggested a walk. Mum’s not sure. It does look quite hilly out there.” Esther nursed a mug of tea at her chest and directed a frown at the view outside.

“Hilly?” It took all of Eve’s slim reserves of maturity not to add, And you expected it to be flat because…?

Esther sighed. “You know what I mean. Anyway you’d better hurry up. There’s talk of leaving by ten.” Esther held up her watch, lifting her wrist awkwardly at Eve, to make the point. “Ten. Oh, and wrap up, Mum’s heard the forecast and it’s changeable.”

Eve nodded. “Absolutely. I’m a welly away from ready. Is there any toast?”

Esther pointed to the toaster and walked away, shaking her head.

*

It was midday when the Eddisons emerged through the woods to the car park of the Newland Forest Trust.

Their first walk had been hilly and hot. Meandering hillside tracks, where tadpoles scooted in the puddles of the ruts left by tractor tyres, gave way to steep moorland slopes. With each promise of a summit came a further rising hill. And with the exertion of each new hill, Eve took off a layer of clothing, wrapping the discarded item around her waist. Her back felt damp underneath her rucksack and her rain hat kept tipping in front of her eyes obscuring her view.

The relief to have found the car park, and what they thought to be toilets and a café was palpable. The relief was also short-lived.

Covered in grass, the two wooden toilet huts rather caught Eve off guard. Had she not been bursting for the loo, she would have given them a miss. For whilst there was a toilet seat, there was no toilet as such, merely a hole in the ground, where according to a note pinned to the wall, if one had the stomach to look, organic composting was taking place.

Eve hovered over the toilet, feeling the pain of tired calf and thigh muscles. She did her best not to look for spiders, convincing herself that if she could not see them, they were not there. Eve emerged having left any tucking in of clothes until she was outside the loo.

“I’m holding on,” Esther whispered to Eve.

Eve nodded in agreement. “On balance, advisable.”

Eve looked at the large wooden building in front of them. It had something of the Swiss chalet about it. Logs created the walls and roof and it had a carved wooden veranda, with stilts to the floor.

The whole set up—the loos, the chalet, the trails, the wooden benches, and carvings dotted around—had the feeling of something organic. It was very much as if the place and its contents were made from, and spoke of their environment.

“I imagine their carbon footprint to be quite low,” Esther said. “What d’you think?”

“Yep. It’s really cool isn’t it?” Eve adjusted the rain hat on her head and retied her raincoat around her waist. She watched as her parents disappeared inside the chalet-style building. Shielding her eyes with her hand and tilting her head to one side, Eve observed, “There’s no ice cream sign.”

*

Moira Burns looked up from her work, surprised at the unexpected arrivals at the education centre. She glanced across at her colleague, Alice Campbell, who appeared equally taken aback. It was not that the sight of a family of four was rare. It was rather that the appearance of this particular group of individuals was less…usual.

The male of the group, who, if Moira was not mistaken, was the father, stood tall, mopping at his forehead with his cloth hanky. He was scanning the room with an expression that suggested he was absolutely delighted by the forest hideout they had stumbled on. The older of the three women, the mother, Moira presumed, appeared rather underwhelmed and seemed to be scanning the room for a seat. Her hair, swept high above her head in a silver beehive, resisted any movement. A leaf, daring to have fixed itself to the side of her head, was the only indication that any physical exertion might have taken place. Of the two younger women, one stood awkwardly with her arms folded and her legs crossed—she looked more than a little on edge. The other, the youngest of the group, appeared to have what looked like nearly all the clothes she had once been wearing tied around her middle. Her beaten-up rucksack, slung over her shoulder, was covered all over in brightly coloured badges. Moira noticed that she seemed particularly shy, embarrassed perhaps.

“Did you want something?” Alice’s question to the visitors was more cold accusation than warm welcome.

Moira smiled warmly at the gathered group, quickly intervening with, “Hello. Welcome to Newland Forest Trust’s Education Centre. I’m Moira Burns, and this is my colleague, Alice Campbell. How can we be of help?”

Henry stepped forward and firmly shook Moira’s hand. “We’re very pleased to meet you. I’m Henry Eddison, this is my wife Lillian, and our daughters Esther and Eve. We’re on our holidays and have just enjoyed our first expedition—”

Eve looked up. “I’m sorry did you say education centre?”

Moira smiled and said gently, “Yes.” She watched Eve swallow, and her flushed cheeks glowed to an even deeper red.

Lillian could not conceal her disappointment and hopelessly blurted out, “We were rather hoping for a skinny cappuccino.”

Before the Eddisons could apologize and leave with what little dignity they had intact, Moira was filling the kettle and asking how they took their coffee.

Henry shook his head. “Oh gosh, that’s not necessary, really, we’re—”

“Gasping. Yes, milk no sugar.” Lillian finished Henry’s sentence very much as if she had started it.

“We’ve no milk,” Alice said, abruptly. Her tone suggested that the sentence continued in her head with so you may as well go.

Mugs were filled and Moira handed the coffee around.

Eve stared at the floor, fixing her gaze away from the humiliating scene.

“Here.” Moira handed Eve a biscuit.

“Oh, no, thank you.” Eve raised her eyes so as not to be rude.

Meeting Eve’s glance, Moira smiled, asking, “Are you sure?”

Eve felt a rush of self-consciousness, nodded, and blushed. To her increasing embarrassment the woman seemed a little slow to move away and Eve could see that she was looking at her, at her outfit.

“I wasn’t expecting the sun.” Eve shrugged in the direction of her wellington boots.

“No, it’s okay, I wasn’t…” Moira paused.

Eve thought she saw the woman’s cheeks colour.

Moira continued, “It doesn’t always rain in Scotland, you know.”

“No, I know,” Eve said, quickly, removing her rain hat and patting her hair into place. “And I also know you don’t have midges all year round.”

Moira nodded and broke into a smile again.

Impressing herself with her expert knowledge, Eve suggested, “And you probably don’t wear kilts. Or eat haggis.”

Moira replied diplomatically, “Well…some do.”

“Oh, of course,” Eve said, flustered. “I’m sure that it’s a delicious favourite.” Oh my God. Stop talking. Stop talking now.

Henry piped up, beaming with pride, “We’ve just come down from the mountain.”

Alice and Moira looked quizzically at each other.

“Oh, you’ve come over the hill,” Alice said, with a flat, decidedly unimpressed tone.

There was a pause, as the Eddisons took in the news that the mountain they had just bravely conquered was considered by the locals to be less of a Ben Nevis and more of a Murray mound.

Henry looked deflated.

“Yes”—Eve cleared her throat—“that’s right. Although I think we all feel like we’ve climbed a mountain.”

“Well, it’s good that you are enjoying the walks here. Are you staying locally?” Moira directed her question back at Eve.

Before Eve could reply, Lillian gasped with pride, “Yes, oh yes, Loch View, Loch View.” Lillian held her hand to her throat as she spoke, as if the thought of the magnificence of their holiday accommodation had momentarily all but overwhelmed her.

Eve watched Alice smirk into her drink. Somewhere in her early twenties, Alice was pretty and her long straight blond hair was scraped back in a plaited ponytail. She was tall and rested one hand on her hip as she spoke. She was casually dressed in jeans and a cream jumper and trendy outdoor shoes. She looked kind of mountain ski-style cool. Eve was certain Roxanne would approve.

“Yes. It’s a lovely spot,” Moira said. “I live next door in Foxglove Croft—the building attached to Foxglove, the main house.”

Eve felt a tingle of recognition at Moira’s reply. The Land Rover driver?

Eve braved a glance at Moira. With unkempt greying curly hair, bearing the imprint of having been wearing a cap, Moira appeared to be in her forties maybe. She wore lightweight black walking trousers and a grey fleece. Each pocket of her trousers seemed to contain something. Eve could see twine dangling out of a leg pocket and what looked like a piece of twig emerging from the left pocket at her hip. A whistle hung loosely from her neck. She was clearly dressed to work in the woods, to walk the hilltop bogs and the heather moors. Her muddy walking boots confirmed Eve’s suspicions. She was obviously the more outdoorsy of the two women. She was dressed for action, Eve decided, rather than for the superficial whims of fashion.

Action woman, hey? Eve caught Moira’s eye. Eve immediately took a was definitely not checking you out gulp of her drink. Moira shifted slightly and resettled.

“Oh, how lovely,” Lillian said, resting both hands at her throat. Her eyes flickered over Moira.

Eve suspected her mother was trying to place their neighbour on the lawn at six, with Moira valiantly negotiating a bobbing olive in her pre-dinner martini.

Alice scoffed, “Yes, amazing isn’t it, given that holiday lets normally push out the locals to steal the best views.” Alice leant back slightly, her arms folded unapologetically in front of her, her eyes avoiding Moira’s.

Lillian’s expression turned to one of horror at the thought of being complicit in a crime. “But surely,” she stammered back at Alice, “I would imagine tourists are important too?”

“Oh yes, we’re very pleased to welcome visitors to Newland,” Moira quickly intervened, “of course.” As she said this, she glanced at Eve, who smiled self-consciously in response.

At that moment two children bustled in, nets in hand. Moira promptly told them to leave their nets against the wall and to wash their hands at the painting sink. With this interruption, the Eddisons took their leave.

*

Moira found it difficult to sleep that night. She gave up trying and stood waiting for her stovetop kettle to come to the boil. She filled her mug with camomile tea and leant against the worktop. A hen squawked and she instinctively looked at the kitchen window, which by day, revealed the beauty of the hills and loch, and by night, became a black mirror. Moira looked at the reflection of the woman looking back at her. The curls of her hair, wild, the creases around her eyes signalling the pathways of past expressions. Her mouth, sad perhaps, she thought, turning down at the edges. The white letter S on her black T-shirt stood out, illuminated by the kitchen light. The surface of the letter was cracked and worn. Moira placed her hand over the letter in an urgent way, as if she was checking that it was still there.

Staring back absorbed by her reflection, Moira felt the years rushing back towards her youth. She was twenty again, dancing in her T-shirt, moving with the crowd, looking up at the stage, her heart beating strong and fast with the rhythmic music. Moira felt her head spin and opened the kitchen door to seek relief from the warm night in the hope that it would still her heart. In doing so, she disturbed a hen.

Shh now, shh.”

Moira looked at the windows of Loch View, worried that she might have disturbed her neighbours. She found herself smiling again at the thought of the Eddisons, at the thought of Eve. She recalled Eve’s face, her smiling, shy eyes, and instinctively reached again for the S of her T-shirt, resting her hand once more across her chest.

The blinking headlights of a car travelling along the road on the opposite edge of the loch intermittently illuminated the dark surface of the distant water. She watched the moving light, the flickering movement inducing a trancelike state and the beginnings of sleep.

Moira took one last look at the windows of Loch View. She wondered how long the Eddisons were staying. The dark curtained windows gave no clue. Shaking her head, closing her kitchen door firmly, Moira chastised herself. “What does it matter to you, Moira Burns, what does it matter?”

*

Eve kept playing the scene at the centre over and over in her head. I can’t believe we thought it was a coffee shop, oh my God, how embarrassing. Wait till Rox finds out—I’ll never hear the end of it. Startled by a hen squawking, Eve looked across to the window, just visible in the moon-lit night. She nestled down into her sheets and closed her eyes. She called to mind the two women at the centre, the aloof hot blonde and the friendlier neighbour. Eve’s mouth felt dry and her body hot. She swallowed, pulled the bedding down from her torso, and reclosed her eyes.

In that private, blurry space between awake and asleep, the friendly neighbour stood smiling, drawing Eve towards her. Aroused by the unexpected images conjuring themselves in her head, Eve moved her left hand across her chest; she could feel her heart beating. Thoughtlessly, sleepily, her right hand slipped beneath the sheets. She imagined herself undressing slowly, deliberately in front of the woman, who kept smiling, beckoning, and inviting…

A hen squawked again and flapped outside. Eve rolled over. “Eve Eddison, it’s your Land Rover fetish.” And with this giggly thought Eve drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Four

Eve woke to her phone beeping with a text.

Just got back from night shift (yawn) had patient in A&E tell me that he had seen the Loch Ness Monster. Thought of you. R X

Eve pulled on her dressing gown, drew back the curtains, and sat heavily on the window seat. Squinting from the bright morning light, she dialled Roxanne’s number.

“Och aye the noo!”

Eve moved her ear briefly away from the speaker as Roxanne’s voice bellowed down the phone.

“So, bored, eh?” Eve asked with a giggle.

“Absolutely not,” Roxanne said, with a serious tone. “I have watered your plants, eaten the last of your custard creams, and graded each BBC Breakfast presenter’s outfit out of ten.”

“Wow, hectic. And? No, let me guess. Carol the weather girl, top marks again?”

“No, she looks a little frazzled.”

“I know how she feels. We did this long hilly walk yesterday. It was good, but Rox, I’m knackered today.” Eve could hear Roxanne munching. “I thought you’d finished the custard creams?”

“Yes, I have, but now I’ve moved on to your ginger nuts.” Roxanne failed to suppress an immature snigger. “I know strictly speaking there’s nothing funny about ginger nuts but…”

Eve could hear the clucking of next door’s hens. She could also hear the voice of her neighbour calling the hens to feed.

“Why can I hear chickens?” Roxanne asked. “You sound like you’re on a farm.”

“It’s our neighbour—she keeps hens. We met her yesterday in fact. She works for the Newland Forest Trust. She’s nice.”

“The what?”

“The land around here’s owned by the local community, she works for them.”

“Oh, right. You seem to know a lot about her.”

“No, not really,” Eve said, matter-of-factly. “Like I said, we bumped into her yesterday.”

“Okay. So any Highland McTotty?”

“I’ve only been here a day, Rox, give me a chance.”

“Well you seem to have got to know all about Newland and the chicken woman already.” There was a pause. “Is the chicken woman hot?”

As Roxanne spoke, Moira came into view. She was dressed in blue cords and a green and blue chequered shirt.

Eve watched as Moira’s shirt blew in the wind, hugging against her with each gust. Whether it was because Eve had fantasized about Moira the night before, or whether she was not expecting to see her, Eve found she couldn’t take her eyes off her.

“Eve?”

“Huh? Sorry, Rox.”

“So, this neighbour, worth asking for a private woodland tour?”

“No, I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I need a tea. I’ve just woken up. Oh my God.” Eve ducked below the window.

“Eve, what?”

“She saw me looking at her.”

“Why are you whispering? Who saw you looking?”

“The neighbour. Oh my God, she’s going to think I’m a perv.”

Roxanne asked, with complete seriousness, “Why? Is she naked?”

“Naked? No. Why would she be feeding her hens naked?”

“Well then, why would you think she would think you were perving? Unless, of course, you were. Oh my God, you were.

Eve over-protested, “No.”

“Okay, just one question will settle this. Has she got curly hair?”

“I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

“Can’t remember? As if. Have another look.”

“What? No. I can’t look again. I’m going to have to crawl out of my room. That’s what I’m going to have to do.”

On her knees, Eve crawled underneath the window, emerging from her bedroom onto the landing, with her phone pressed to her ear.

“Morning.” Esther, freshly showered and immaculate, looked down at Eve, somewhat confused.

Eve quickly said, “It’s my back, it goes sometimes.” She eased herself up, held the small of her back, and stretched. “There, that’s better. You look a little tired, you okay, sis?”

Esther nodded, and with an amused, somewhat suspicious smile, said, “Tea? Mum and Dad have gone to the local shop for supplies for a barbecue tonight.”

“Sounds cool. Yes, please, to tea. I’ll be down in a sec. I’m just on the phone to Rox.”

Eve watched Esther disappear downstairs.

“Your back? Don’t you mean your mind?” Roxanne asked through a mouthful of ginger nut.

“Yes, thank you for your morning input, Rox.”

“Pleasure. Oh, and Eve, keep me updated on the naked curly-haired chicken neighbour situation.”

“She wasn’t naked.”

“Yeah, whatever you say.”

“I’ll give you a ring tomorrow, Rox. See ya.”

Roxanne, despite the teasing, always made Eve feel good. She also, Eve was certain, had a way of knowing when Eve fancied someone, whether or not Eve herself was yet to realize.

*

Eve opened the french doors from the kitchen. She drank her morning tea seated on the steps to the garden, gazing sleepily at the softly shifting waters of the loch. She couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place.

Eve glanced across to the neighbouring fence. All was quiet.

With tea in hand, accompanied by the odd yawn or two, she took a leisurely, sleepy stroll around the garden.

The garden of Loch View was orderly and yet kind of wild at the same time. Rocky mounds were littered with border plants and areas of grass were allowed to grow long for meadow flowers to flourish.

Eve let the smooth grasses and soft flower heads run through her fingers. Rain in the night had left a reviving, sweet, oxygenated air. Eve could smell coconut. Okay, odd.

As she pottered by the lower part of the neighbour’s fence, she was startled by a kerfuffle at the bird feeder, on the other side of the garden.

Eve spluttered, “No way. That’s so funny.”

A pheasant had managed to land itself on the feeder, which rocked precariously.

Before Eve could fetch Esther, she heard a familiar voice from over the fence observe, “They’re not the brightest.”

Eve jumped.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” Moira said, standing facing Eve, spade in hand, smiling.

“Oh, no, it’s okay. Hi.” Eve felt herself blush as she tried to gather herself together. Should she mention perhaps that she was just taking in the view from her window? No, on reflection that sounded…pervy. She could say, I wasn’t looking at you earlier, but then no, that would be rude. Eve desperately searched for something to say that wouldn’t give Moira the impression she was weird.

Looking over to the birds, Eve said, “They’re very pretty though, I mean the colours and everything. It’s the male isn’t it, that, you know, looks the prettiest?”

Moira nodded. “Need to look their best to attract a mate, poor things—a lot of pressure really for them.”

“Yeah,” Eve said with a shrug. “It’s not like they can just hang out in their dressing gown and slippers, I mean, it’s not like they’d have much chance to pull like that.”

There was a slight pause.

Moira briefly glanced up and down at Eve.

Eve felt her stomach drop. Oh my God.

Eve looked at her slippers, placed her mug on the ground, and wrapped her dressing gown more closely around her.

“No, indeed”—Moira cleared her throat—“although, of course, you don’t see that many pheasants in their dressing gowns.”

Eve said emphatically, “Well, my point exactly, we know why.”

Moira looked down and shook her head in amused disbelief that she was engaging in a conversation which she knew to be completely ridiculous but at the same time felt peculiarly insightful.

Before Eve could politely excuse herself, a second pheasant, a female, joined the first.

“Really?” Eve puffed out her cheeks. “Something’s gotta give.”

Sure enough, the feeder toppled, causing an ungainly flap of feathers and the spilling of seeds onto the lawn and nearby step. The smaller birds let out a united chirp of disapproval, as the two culprits strutted nonchalantly away.

Moira leant against the fence, elbow propped, left hand casually supporting her chin. She was watching Eve who was captivated by the pheasants.

“Blimey, they’re a hazard aren’t they?” Eve said, her gaze falling to Moira’s hand. Okay—no wedding ring.

“Yes, troublesome. Need some help?” Moira pointed to the fallen bird feeder.

“Oh.” Eve felt a little panicked. “I don’t know, I don’t want to trouble you.”

Moira gestured towards her vegetables. “The beans can wait.”

“Well, if you’re sure, then, yes, thank you. I’ll let you in.” Eve felt herself blush again. She suspected that she had been blushing for most of their conversation.

“Okay, I’ll get my toolkit.” Moira fixed her spade firmly into the ground and headed to her croft. Stopping at the door to bang her boots free of mud, she glanced back at Eve.

Without thinking Eve waved goodbye. She had no idea why she was waving at her. She was seeing her in a few minutes.

Moira nodded in acknowledgement and then disappeared into her croft.

Turning towards Loch View, Eve paused. Toolkit, eh? Eve looked back towards where Moira had stood. Nah, it’s her job isn’t it? Not everyone is gay, Eve Eddison, not everyone. I mean straight women can be good at DIY can’t they? I mean, there’s… As Eve walked towards the house, her reflection in the french doors reminded her, once more, that she was in her dressing gown. I’m such a tit! “Esther.” Eve called her sister for help. “Our neighbour’s coming over to help put the bird feeder back up.”

“What?” Esther called in confusion from the kitchen. “What’s wrong with the feeder? Eve?”

Eve bounded up the stairs. “You’ll need to let her in.”

Eve, rushing, pulled on her jeans and her favourite FatFace blue hooded top. Giving her bed-hair a ruffle back into shape, she checked her look in the mirror.

“Okay you’re behaving like a fool. Why do you care what she thinks? She’s just the nice woman from next door. It’s not a date, calm it down.” Eve tried to breathe slowly in and out. “Calm it down.”

*

“Hello again.” Reappearing in the garden, Eve spoke as nonchalantly as she could manage.

Moira looked up from working on the fallen feeder. She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, tucked a curl of hair behind her ear, and replied with a smile, “Hello again.”

“Here you go, milk no sugar, right?” Esther emerged, balancing three mugs in her hands. “It’s Moira, isn’t it?” Esther asked, handing Moira her tea.

“Thanks. Yes, that’s right. I’m sorry, are you Esther or Eve?”

“I’m Esther, Esther Roberts.” Esther paused, her eyes, for no apparent reason, filled with tears. “Pleased to meet you.”

Eve rubbed her sister’s arm. “It’s okay.”

Looking anxiously at Eve, Esther frowned. “Should I be using Eddison now?”

Eve shrugged, taking her tea. “I don’t know how it works. All I know is that he was a complete bastard for cheating on you and you did absolutely the right thing dumping him. No question about that.”

Esther thrust her shoulders back, stuck out her chest, and took a deep breath. “Anyway—what does it matter?” Esther directed the question at Moira, who gave a blank look in reply.

There was an awkward pause in the conversation.

“I’m sorry about that whole coffee thing yesterday. You must have thought we were bonkers,” Eve said.

“You weren’t the first to make that mistake and you won’t, I’m sure, be the last, although”—Moira blew over her tea to cool it—“you were admittedly the first to request a skinny cappuccino.”

Eve placed her hand over her face with embarrassment.

“It’s our mother’s favourite, you see. Sorry about that,” Esther said, chuckling at Eve’s reaction. She placed a protective arm around Eve and gave her a squeeze. “And this is my sister, Eve Eddison. Right, I’ll leave you guys to it. Nice to meet you, again, Moira.”

“Yes, you too, Esther.”

Behind Moira’s back, Esther gave Eve a wide-eyed knowing look.

Eve returned the glare with a look of exaggerated puzzlement.

When Roxanne had let slip to Esther that Eve was a lesbian, Esther had not commented either way. Eve sensed there had probably been much discussion about what the Eddisons should do about the gay thing, which Eve had been grateful that she had not been party to. Eve had noticed, however, that since the revelation, Esther would, now and then, give her sister the knowing wide-eyed glare, after spotting that Eve liked someone or that someone was paying Eve particular attention. Esther’s gaydar was, however, somewhat unnervingly hit and miss. After all, less than a month ago, Eve had explained to an earnest Esther that no, the lollipop lady didn’t fancy her, because unless Esther hadn’t noticed, she stopped the traffic for everyone. Esther had taken the opportunity to suggest to Eve that she should be open to all possibilities.

Moira gave the feeder a nudge. “It’s not going anywhere for now, but it probably needs concreting in. But that’s for the owner to do.”

“Okay. Right.” Eve stood looking fixedly at the feeder, with her hands on her hips. She hoped her stance suggested knowledgeable consideration, but she rather feared Moira could tell she was in fact thinking, Yeah, I haven’t a chuffing clue. “Thanks, Moira.”

Despite having mended the feeder and finished her tea, Moira did not seem to be in any particular hurry to return to her beans. She continued chatting happily with Eve. She pointed out the names of the hills, lochs, and hamlets Eve could see from the garden.

It was becoming clear to Eve that, effortlessly and without a hint of arrogance, Moira Burns could likely identify each flower, fern, shrub, and tree that blanketed Newland. Eve felt certain that the landscape of Newland was as familiar to Moira as the face of her dearest friend.

Eve enthused, “It’s so beautiful here, Moira, really, so beautiful.”

Moira blushed in response.

“Refill?” Eve held out her hand for Moira’s mug. The Eddisons’ car could be heard pulling into the drive.

Moira looked towards the driveway. “Best get back to my beans.” Seeing a fleeting look of disappointment on Eve’s face, Moira added, “I’m leading a walk tomorrow afternoon, if you, and your family, of course, want to join in. It’s just through the woods. It starts at two, if you can make it, that is.”

“What starts at two?” Henry stood smiling broadly at Moira.

Moira held out her hand. “Hello again, Mr. Eddison.”

Henry shook Moira’s hand firmly. “Henry, please. Thank you for your hospitality yesterday. Much appreciated by all. So, what’s happening at two tomorrow?”

Eve said, smiling admiringly at Moira, “Moira’s leading a woodland walk.”

“Yes, from the centre,” Moira said, smiling back at Eve. “Just sturdy shoes will be fine. Unless, of course, it rains, then walking boots would be better.” Moira looked at Henry’s sandals.

“Well, that sounds great—count me in.” Henry beamed at Moira.

“Great, well, I’ll see you then.” Moira turned to Eve, and said softly, “Thank you for the tea and the chat.”

Eve blushed. “See you tomorrow.”

Chapter Five

Eve arrived fifteen minutes late for the woodland tour. She had missed the introductory talk, which had helpfully included orientation, and caught up with the group at a collection of wooden totem poles. Eve stood partially hidden behind the small gathering of two couples, listening to Moira’s instructions.

“The wildlife here in Newland is quite used to us humans.” Moira addressed her walking group with a relaxed, open, and confident demeanour. “That said, remember to take care to stay on the designated paths as we walk. We will stop regularly to take a break. Ask any questions that occur to you as we go along.”

One couple, German and well suited to the outdoors, had explained at the start that they could sadly only stay with the tour for a short while, as they were completing the West Highland Way to Inverness. The other couple, young, from Surrey and on their honeymoon, kept looking furtively for lovemaking spots. The group soon lost them by a grassy mound.

“Right, shall we carry on?” Moira cast her eye over her walking group, her gaze briefly resting on Eve.

Eve felt herself blush and raised her hand to wave hello.

Moira simply looked away without acknowledging their brief exchange.

Eve looked quickly down. She felt mortified and leapt to the conclusion that Moira had only invited her on the walk to be polite. Just the sight of her had obviously made Moira instantly regret her offer.

“Are these willows?” The German husband squinted into the canopy above.

Moira nodded. “Yes, that’s right, Otto, these willows are part of our diversity plan, along with the Scotch pine and downy birch.” Moira then pointed to the forest floor. “The brash piles between the trees provide excellent habitats for invertebrates.”

Moira’s voice was smooth and lyrical. Eve could have listened to her all day.

“Everything is really vibrant,” Eve chipped in, “really green, almost fluorescent.”

“Yes. I agree with that statement.” Otto’s wife, Gertrud, held Eve’s forearm tightly, in a gesture of physical and intellectual togetherness. “Nourishing. Yes, it’s all very nourishing.”

Moira made no comment as she guided the group further into the woods.

Eve pulled up the hood of her raincoat, stuffed her hands into her pockets, and gave a sharp sniff. She regretted talking so much yesterday, certain that Moira was thinking, Better not encourage that loon to start talking—never shut her up.

Looking up into the trees, Moira pointed above her. “You will see that we have been working hard to thin out the denser pinewood, to allow more light onto the forest floor. We have already seen that this method is producing a better diversity and quality of forest flora.”

Eve tipped her head back and squinted into the canopy of soft hazy green. The sunlight shone through the trees, dissolving their definition, breaking them down into shining, intense colour. Eve held her hand over her eyes, shielding them from the sunlight, and watched as the space between her fingers glowed orange.

The sting of Moira’s rejection smarted in her chest. Eve closed her eyes, the impression of the trees imprinted on her closed lids, and for the briefest of moments she was sixteen again, zipped up in a sleeping bag, blinking into a bright light, and trying her best not to care.

#

No—not yet, Evie Eds. Okay, I’m dressed. You can look now.”

Eve dropped her hands from her face and looked straight into the blinding light of Roxanne’s torch.

You’re sooo easy to play pranks on, Evie.” Roxanne tucked herself into her sleeping bag as Eve blinked until her vision became less green.

You’re sooo dead.” Eve shoved her pillow onto Roxanne’s face, smothering her briefly. She stopped, let Roxanne take a breath, and then smothered her again before she could speak. Eve could hear a muffled sorry through the cotton and feathers. “What’s that? I can’t hear you.” Eve removed the pillow and grinned mischievously at her best mate.


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