The woman in the florists was adamant: There was not even one male member of staff, let alone anyone matching Elena’s description of the young man she thought had served her.
“Back to square one, Dear,” Mary whispered as they exited the florists into the cold drizzle.
“Maybe I dreamed of meeting him here, too,” Elena said, opening her umbrella.
Mary tugged at her arm. “Stick to your guns, you saw what you saw. I believe you.”
“You are probably the only one who would.”
That night Elena didn’t feel much like talking to Michael. Complaining of a headache, she went to bed early and started to read. Unexpectedly, she found herself nodding off within only a few minutes.
She became aware of standing on grass in warm sunlight. It looked like a park of some kind. There was a copse of ash trees on a nearby hillock in full leaf, partly obscuring the sun. What sounded like a flock of geese was squawking away, somewhere nearby, but as yet unseen. It might have been a summer’s evening, it felt too warm to be morning. She was standing by a few large oak trees, and could reach out and touch the bark of the nearest one. Some of it flaked off between her fingers. This time her dress was a dark blue with the widest cuffs she’d ever seen. Looking down, Elena could also see she was wearing a very fine necklace, maybe diamonds and pearls. She touched them, rolling a few between her fingers. They looked and felt real.
Then she spotted something carved into the bark of the nearest oak. A heart and two initials, PH. It had only just registered in her mind what she was looking at, when he stepped out from behind the bole of the tree. She had almost been expecting him. He had that telling little smirk on his face, like some mischievous boy might have. But this boy was definitely a man. He reached forward, pulling her towards him, kissing her gently.
“Elena, you feed me,” he said. This time it was coming from his lips.
“What do you mean? Are you hungry?”
“Elena, you feed me!” His hands clutched his heart in a dramatic stance. He smiled, broadly for the first time and bowed gracefully towards her like some actor.
“I’m glad, I think. But who are you?”
He took her hand and they began to saunter through the grass. It was quite long, there were red splashes of poppies strewn ahead of them, amid the gentle summer fragrances wafting all around. She figured it was around early July. Soon they reached the ash copse and began to follow the path around it. In all this time, they said nothing.
As they cleared the corner of the copse, a large country house came into view at the bottom of a hill. It nearly took her breath away, the mellow golden stone shining in the lowering sun, its tall chimneys as high as steeples. She knew it wasn’t his own house, it was a friend’s, though what they were doing there was anyone’s guess.
He led her down the hill towards the house. There was no one else about, only a few deer and some cows. When they got to the walls she touched them. It all seemed like recent work, newly built.
They entered what appeared to be a courtyard with a tree at the centre, some shade. She sat down as best she could on the wooden seat, the dress was hard to brush underneath. Where had he gone? She became aware of a light high up, it wasn’t the sun. It began to spin round and round.
Elena was sitting on the toilet.
“Elena? Are you ok?” Michael tapped on the partly open door.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Why were you walking about?”
“What do you mean?”
“I woke up and heard you pacing along the landing and then into the small bedroom.”
“What? I’m… are you sure?”
“Were you sleepwalking?”
“I don’t know, maybe I was.”
“Ok, well, are you coming back to bed?”
She stood up, looking at her tired face in the mirror, the dark blue nightdress she was wearing.