WRITTEN BY FRANCINE LEE
It’s easy to fall in love in summer. The sun warms your face and kisses your shoulders so that you yearn for lips to join them.
Cassie saw it happen all the time; holiday romances that lasted two or three weeks, as intense as the sun was at that time of year before cooling off as temperatures dropped.
That hadn’t happened to Cassie. Her love had intensified the longer she stayed. Not for her the fleeting passion that enticed others for a while before burning out.
She had fallen in love with a country, a way of life… and now that there were choices to be made, she wasn’t sure what to do.
Indecision had panicked her once more.
She didn’t want her heart broken again.
Cassie took a sip from her water bottle, watching as a herd of goats clambered and skipped along the unmade path on their way home.
Home. It seemed such a long way away – not just in distance, which it was – but another lifetime, another life.
It was as if there were two Cassies. The Cassie who lived amid the lush green fields and hills of Dorset, who went about her days buttoned up, tight and stiff, and the other Cassie, adventurous and free, equally enjoying her inland home and also trips to the coast to walk along the shore, bare-legged and tanned, hair bleached by the sun. She had fallen in love with Spain and never left.
She was beyond thinking ahead or making plans then. She had made plans and they had been for nothing. Such a waste. It was all such a waste.
For a long time she lived life in the moment, going with the flow, staying when she wanted to, moving on when she didn’t.
It had suited her so well… until she had fallen in love with Miguel, taken by his gentlemanly manners, his careful consideration.
He possessed an inner sense of strength and stability that had drawn her to him. She hadn’t wanted to leave after that.
The few trips she had made back to Dorset had been brief, her parents waiting for that first summer to end and return her to them. She grew used to their constant questions, tentative at first, wary of her response.
Questions, questions. Some she couldn’t answer, some she wouldn’t answer.
It must have hurt them so but she was lost; there were no answers.
“When are you coming home?” her mother would ask at the end of their calls until she’d stopped asking altogether. Perhaps they had realised sooner than she had?
Although she’d missed them, she hadn’t missed England – not much, anyway. She realised now that she’d blocked it out.
Any thoughts of lush green hedgerows thick with cow parsley and heavy with brambles had been shunted to the perimeter of her memory, lost along with thoughts of Alex… an old life.
She tilted her head back, closed her eyes. England would be beautiful at this time of year. She used to love it so.
She put a hand to the small of her back, stretching back and forth to ease the ache she felt there.
Alex. He had been the reason she came here, the reason she stayed. Had she stayed too long?
Alex’s death had been so sudden that grief had overwhelmed her, destabilised everything in a world she had seen as solid, safe.
When they had recovered his body from the river, something inside her had withered and died. Winter had settled around her heart and coated it with ice. She’d thought she would never feel warm again.
She had run away, but it was an age before she could admit it to herself.
Distance and miles had been healing, as had the sun. Although she felt the immediate warmth of sun on her shoulders, it had been years before she felt a warmth in her heart.
She couldn’t run away a second time – although that was her instinct when she had arrived home that afternoon.
Maria had made her panic. Had she guessed?
“You seem troubled,” she’d said when Cassie arrived home from work. “Are you unwell?”
It was something about the way she’d asked that made Cassie want to break out and find a quiet place to think, away from the hustle and bustle of the house.
She couldn’t hide it much longer; the queasiness was getting worse.
How long before her tummy swelled visibly with new life?
“There’s a nasty bug going about at the office. Probably got a touch of it myself.”
She had turned her back on Maria, felt the weight of time ticking by, second by second.
Miguel should be the first to know.
A baby wasn’t in her plans; a total surprise. Her head was swimming. There would be no more living in the moment now.
“I’ll take a walk before Miguel gets back, get some fresh air,” she said hurriedly, heading for the door.
How long had she been gone? The goats were well over the hill now, the shepherd keeping them on track with whistles and calls.
They followed the same path, like children on a school party, some plodding steadfastly on, obeying all the rules, while the livelier ones explored a little, skipping back onto the track with guidance from the goatherd.
She ought to get back. She had walked further than she had intended, lost in her thoughts, dizzy with confusion.
The sun was slipping down the sky and Miguel would have arrived home long ago.
She surveyed the hills, the goats in the near distance, dust swirling from the ground as they moved, stirring the still air. Two stragglers appeared, having lost their way like naughty children that hadn’t paid attention.
She watched as they scrabbled across to the peak, scanning the skyline, sniffing the air, looking this way and that, hesitating. Indecision? She smiled.
The sound of a bell sent them scrambling down towards the rest of their tribe.
It had taken longer for Cassie to find her tribe.
Escape had been kind to her. The rivers, the green banks of reed and wildflower back home gave her debilitating panic attacks, disturbed memories she had tried to force into the dark recesses of her head. She couldn’t do it any longer, her life shrinking to nothing.
She had sought peace in a place with no memories, and the aridity of Southern Spain suited her. The red earth, the regimented lines of olive and lemon groves soothed her soul; a feeling of order, the sense of longevity she needed to recover.
It was altogether familiar now, as familiar as green fields had once been. She had been dry and cold and Miguel had warmed her heart, made her blood run rich and red like the rioja they drank as the sun set on the land.
Where once she was arid there was now life. And with life there were choices to be made.
Keeping the baby would mean living in Spain, wouldn’t it? She couldn’t ask Miguel to leave his family, the land where he made his living – generations of farmers, their land extending over time, crops diversifying. Hectares of orange and lemon groves, slopes of avocado trees.
The land was loved and nurtured and it bore fruit. A living for them all.
Sometimes the intensity of their family closeness made her feel suffocated and at times like that she would wander into the hills, find solace in the vastness of the land in front of her, the town in the distance below. That was growing too, spilling into the land surrounding it.
The sound of traffic was getting louder. People would be on the way to the shops again, or meeting up with friends. She smiled; how easy it all seemed, how soon she had accepted the rhythms of life here, familiar and safe.
She couldn’t run away again. She couldn’t hide what wouldn’t be hidden, block it as she had blocked the bad things as well as the good. She had to feel, she had to fully embrace her life again, all of it.
She knew winter; winter was the desolation she’d felt when Alex died, winter was numbness and chill, long dark days and even longer nights. Winter was barren and bleak and she didn’t want it any more.
How could anyone live in sunshine and always feel it was winter? It was like being caught in Narnia under the spell of the white witch.
The spell needed to be broken – but how?
She’d teetered along the edge for so long, never daring to jump. She hung her head and let out a deep, empty sigh, the weight of indecision on her shoulders.
Autumn was around the corner, and then winter would follow. It was always milder here but she would still feel the chill, the need for a warm coat and protection, for log fires that filled the air with the scent of olive wood.
She smiled to herself at the thought of cosy nights snuggled close to Miguel. There was an upside to everything if you thought about it long enough.
Miguel. She’d been looking for the right moment to tell him but couldn’t find the words.
She was so used to pushing things down, blocking them out, that she was afraid of the torrent that would spill from her.
Why was she so afraid to tell him? He loved her, she was certain of that, and she undoubtedly loved him, she didn’t have to question it. So why this panic? Why this need to run again?
As she was about to get up, she saw a figure coming towards her and knew from his ambling gait that it was Miguel.
She felt a surge of happiness as she watched him come towards her, sure-footed and steady like the goats.
He wouldn’t fall. He wouldn’t let her fall, either.
“Thought I’d find you here.” He smiled, his eyes crinkling in delight. He reached out for her hand and she gave it.
He sat down beside her, kissed her cheek. She leaned on his shoulder and they sat for a long time staring across the wide vista before them.
No words were spoken, and that was one more thing to add on the list of why she loved him so. He didn’t need to fill the world with sound for the sake of it, didn’t need to add to the noise inside her head.
As the sun dropped lower, she nuzzled into him. He put his arm around her shoulders and she realised that she didn’t feel restricted at all – only supported.
For too long she had lived her life in black and white, needing strong definition to shore her up, good and bad, happy and sad – and something inside her recognised this for what it was.
It didn’t have to be one thing or another; it could be both.
Their baby would be part of her and part of Miguel – part of something more than the two of them united. A child who would be Spanish and English, a blend of the best of them.
She pulled away from Miguel’s arms, got up and held out a hand.
Winter would come again, it always would – but there would always be spring to look forward to and an endless, endless summer.
“Miguel,” she said softly, turning her face to his. “There’s something I want to tell you…”
Enjoy a new holiday-themed short story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during August