Country Cottage

She found her cafe, and her tea and cake, then settled into a table by the window to pore over the file of notes and advice Pythia had given her. If Hermes had followed, and managed to get a photo of her, hunched over and serious, well, that was no matter of hers.

She spent much of the afternoon in that friendly cafe, drinking tea and getting to know her new computer. She fired off updates to Circe and Hecate, heartfelt thanks to both Hephaestus and Athena, and a quick assurance to the reception team. She toyed with the idea of sending a note to someone in Singapore, but decided to take a small piece of advice Pythia had shared earlier.

She had been running through CV requirements and layouts, then paused, fixing Calypso once more with that stare. “One thing I will strongly suggest is that you don’t borrow other people’s problems. They’re all adults and can sort themselves out. If you focus on yourself for the next little while, you will be fine. And then you can start dithering over your friends again.”

Somehow, that felt like the most important part of the appointment. Calypso sipped the last of her tea, nodded to herself and shut the computer.

That evening, she shared the highlights of her afternoon with Jason and Hercules, who nodded sagely at Pythia’s pronouncements and sniggered at her encounter with Hermes. She slept better that night and woke up eager to get started on her list of projects.

The drive down was uneventful, with Hercules focused on directions once they turned off the motorway and onto the maze of back country roads leading to the mysterious cottage.

Hercules broke her abstraction. “We’re about ten minutes away now. It’s on the edge of a large-ish village, so there’s a CoOp and other things within walking distance.”

“Oh good, I was wondering whether I’d need to be organised about ordering in groceries.”

She looked out of the window of the black BMW chosen for the day’s excursion and felt her stomach turn to lead.

This was familiar, so familiar. She turned to Hercules. “Do you know the name of the village?”

“Little Melting.”

She swallowed. It was a large village, there were a lot of houses on its outskirts.

The car purred down the high street, one she’d known so well for many years. Her hands clenched in her lap, tighter with every new but familiar landmark.

Finally, the stone gate pillars appeared and Hercules flicked on the indicator. She wanted to close her eyes, she didn’t want to see it, but there it was. She’d all but grown up in this house. Weekdays had been spent in the Victorian terrace house near her father’s office in London, but every Friday, they’d load up the car and come down here. Then, when she was old enough, she’d spent most of the summer holidays roaming the countryside, with her dog at her heels, only returning for meals from the motherly housekeeper Atlas employed for her care.

He’d sold it just after she’d gone away to finishing school. She’d cried when he told her, but they really weren’t using it any more and, now, she wondered if it had been a sign of things to come.

The car drew up and Hercules gave her a grin as he switched it off and jumped out, stretching.

She got out and looked at the cottage, although it was really more of a house, and a generous one at that. There had been work done, that was certain. The grey stone walls had been cleaned and a different type of vine was trailing its way over the front porch. She supposed the ivy had become a bit heavy.

The slate roof looked fresh and new as well, and she thought there might be some sort of addition at the back. The house still beckoned her with open arms though and she bit down on a sob as her heart tried to break and mend at the same time.

Hercules turned when she didn’t follow him across the gravel to the front door. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m guessing the current owners bought this about six years ago?”

“I think so, how did you know?”

“That was when my father sold it.”

He looked like she’d just punched him in the stomach. She knew the feeling.

She looked over the front of the house again as she rounded the car and walked towards him. “The front door used to be red. I think the natural wood suits it better.”

“Do you want to go somewhere else?”

“No, it’s fine, honestly. I know this area, I know my way to the CoOp and whatever the Post Office is now. It will be nice to revisit old haunts for a little while.”

“If it helps at all, I don’t think the current owners have any idea who they bought it from.”

“It does a little, thank you.”

Hercules sighed, shook his head and unlocked the front door. “I’m told they made some changes, added a bit on the back, just after they bought it. So how about I get the stuff in from the car while you take a look around.”

“That would be nice.” She stopped short of thanking him again, and settled for an awkward half smile.

She walked into the front room on her right. Still the sitting room, the furniture still clustered around the focus of the open fire. It looked like they’d changed it to gas though, much easier than lugging wood through from the shed outside the kitchen on a dark winter’s evening. The furniture itself was startlingly different; modern, clean lines in sage green and creams and browns, that sat well with the simple box shape of the room itself. Probably better than her father’s old, ornately carved pieces had if she was honest.

She swallowed hard and poked her head into the room on the other side of the hall. Now this had changed. Gone was the formal dining room and in its place was a honest-to-goodness, floor-to-ceiling, stacked-with-books library. Oh heavens. The fireplace in this room had also been converted to gas, and deep brown leather sofas with lamps perfectly placed for reading were set neatly facing each other across a coffee table in front of it.

There was a large desk in some dark wood, mahogany maybe, that blended beautifully with the deep reds in the ornate rug covering much of the carpet.

Rather than venture too soon into the new area, and have to make conversation with Hercules, who was noisily putting groceries away, Calypso picked up her suitcase from its spot in the hall and went upstairs. No point in doing two trips.

The room above the library was now clearly the master bedroom, the small, third bedroom that had sat behind it sacrificed for an ensuite and walk-in cupboard. She chose the other bedroom as hers, leaving her suitcase beside the bed. The soothing blues were more in keeping with her mood than the dark wood and burgundy of the larger room, and this way she felt slightly less like an invader. That bedroom was personal space.

The main bathroom was still there, next to her room, and again, modernised in a way that seemed to suit the house better than the fixtures she’d grown up with.

The door at the end of the corridor was new. She opened it, and walked into a perfect haven. Large windows looked out over achingly familiar fields and woods, while the soft summery yellows of the room’s furnishings lent a hint of sunshine to the drab, grey day outside. If the library downstairs was for the man of the house, this was where the lady spent her time, reading on one of the comfortable sofas, watching TV, or working at the elegantly carved desk set below one of the windows.

It was so perfect, but so alien, she had to put a hand against the door frame to steady herself. This, very definitely, was no longer her home. It was beautiful, and loved, and the perfect hideaway for right now. But not home, and she sternly told herself that was a good thing.

One last breath and she turned to go back downstairs, to the new kitchen area, and Hercules.

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