Calypso waved from the midst of greeting Holly and Ivy, then closed the door and looked at the keys in her hand.
It’s not like they didn’t mean the world to her. He’d given her the keys to his home. At least that’s what Cernnunos had implied, maybe he’d just lent them to her to get in.
She looked at the keyring. It was made up of three charms: the letter C, a picture of a rocking chair and her birthstone. These were her keys. She felt a thrill run through her, before it fizzled like a damp sparkler. She wanted to get them from Herne.
She pictured it, maybe over breakfast, maybe at the station as they said goodbye again. Him taking her hand, turning it over and pressing them into her palm with that beautiful half smile of his. She’d throw her arms around him and cover his face with kisses.
Instead, she stood in an empty hallway.
She shook herself. This was life with a vet and the poor dog was far more important than her romantic daydreams. She left her bags where they were and went through to the kitchen to make coffee.
The gravel in front of the house crunched under tyres just over an hour later. Calypso hurried to the front door and threw it open. Herne got out of the car, shoulders drooping.
He looked up and saw her in the doorway. A tired smile lit his face, then faded as he approached. Then he was there and his arms were around her.
It was more than seeing her. She knew. He’d lost the dog.
She put a hand to his cheek, looking into his eyes. He shook his head. “The damage was too much. I knew, deep down, the instant I saw her, but I had to try.”
She shook her head at him. “Of course you did. And no one could have done more, or better. Now do you want a shower? Coffee? Food? Quiet time just sitting?”
He pulled her close again. “Sleep, then food, and the other stuff that’ll make me vaguely civilised. Not much fun for you.”
She steered him towards the stairs. “I have two dogs and a book. I think I’ll manage.”
He staggered a little at the bottom step and she tucked herself under his arm. “Definitely sleep. I’ll wake you in a couple of hours if you haven’t emerged.”
After seeing him safely tucked in, and squashing thoughts of how sweet he must have been as a little boy, she returned to the sitting room and two snoozing hounds.
It felt strange to not be working on her submission; she didn’t quite know what to do with the open hours in front of her. She could head out to the Little Barn and tackle the next layer of sanding, then painting on the sideboard, but she wanted to be there when Herne woke.
Feeling a little hedonistic, she made a cup of tea and curled up on the sofa with her novel.
The quiet idyll was interrupted half an hour later by her phone ringing. It looked like an overseas number. She answered it, ready to hang up if it was some sort of scam.
“And what, precisely, did you think you were doing, sending me that patronising little take-down of my business?”
Calypso debated switching off her phone but knew it would only delay things. “Your submission was missing information for five mandatory fields on the form. I asked Hel for advice, she recommended I give it to Boreas for assessment. So I did, and that’s his feedback. If you feel it’s patronising, I’m sorry, I’m sure he didn’t intend it that way.”
“And since your boss knows this is your submission, I presume that, once the fields are all filled in, you’ll still be able to submit?”
Calypso gritted her teeth. “No, she knows it’s your submission and there is no extension to the deadline for anyone. That’s why I put mine in on Thursday. Leaving it to the last minute is just asking for trouble.”
Hecate’s voice grew shrill. “You put in your own submission? What fool scheme is your father trying to pull off this time? He’s never going to make it past the initial screening.”
Why had she mentioned her effort and why was she seeing red over the assumption it wasn’t her own work? Did her own mother really think she was so lacking?
“Atlas knows nothing about it. I am capable of having my own thoughts and taking my own actions you know.”
Hecate scoffed. “You’d like to think so. What is it? Another ‘classic’ fashion range?”
Calypso physically bit down on her reply. Several deep breaths later, she said. “If you knew me a little better, you might have a slightly better idea of what my interests are. Since you don’t, and don’t care to; I suggest we finish this conversation, and you go back to building your robots.”
Hecate’s retort was more of a squawk. “AI is not robots!”
“And yet, I’m still not interested. Don’t call me again.”
Calypso hung up, then blocked the number.
An hour or so later, the water went on upstairs and Herne shuffled into the kitchen, clean and looking slightly brighter, a short while after that.
She handed him a fresh mug of coffee. “Feeling better?”
He wrapped her in a one-armed hug and tucked her under his chin. “Much. Anything exciting happen while I was asleep?”
Calypso rubbed her nose. “I might have finally managed to get my mother to disown me. Other than that, no.”
Herne leaned back to look at her, then took swig of coffee. “I’m going to need the rest of this, and then possibly a second, before I tackle that little announcement.”
She laughed. “I’ll fill you in over breakfast.”
She looked at the clock. “Or lunch.”
It was nice having someone in your corner. Herne was appalled at her mother’s nerve and thought Calypso’s response was entirely reasonable.
He sat back from his empty plate. “In all, you’ve done her a massive favour with that feedback thing. I’d have given my left arm for some decent business plan advice when I first started running a practice.”
Herne was back to his usual self the next day, and they spent the morning at a food festival in the grounds of The Big House. Calypso was sure the place had another, more dignified, name but she’d never heard it, and the locals’ moniker suited it so well, she’d never chased the alternative.
She was back on the station platform again before she knew it. It was getting harder and harder to get on that train each Sunday.
Monday brought the post-event panickers, desperate to make a change to their saved, locked and sent submission.
Calypso adapted one of Tish’s spreadsheets, explaining to Aaliyah. “I’m making no promises and I’ll only mention this to Hel if it seems relevant at some point, but it makes them feel better.”
Aaliyah added. “And gets them out from under our feet. Alright, boss.”
Eos brought coffee. “Any jitters on your submission?”
Calypso reached for the proffered cup. “I’m refusing to think about it. Not always successfully.”
Aaliyah leaned in. “Speaking of submission forms, did you hear anything back from your mum?”
Eos and Calypso both snorted. When Calypso looked at the other woman in surprise, Eos waved a hand. “You first.”
Calypso gave them the potted rundown of her Saturday phone call, then raised her brows at Eos.
She grinned. “She replied to Boreas’s email. First demanded to know his identity, credentials and how he’d got access to her ‘confidential IP’, then tried to get him to write her a one-size-fits-all funding proposal. She got all-caps shouty and blocked him when he sent her his consulting rates.”
Calypso rolled her eyes, then tensed as Hermes sauntered through the door and up to the reception desk.