There was a noise behind us – heavy feet coming through the bushes. A large man was ploughing through the undergrowth, a huge grin splitting his face. He seemed to be making directly for me - his big hand already held out, half to shake my hand, half waving. Finn grinned back at him.
“This is Davey.” He spoke to me in an undertone. “He’s been here a long time but hasn’t quite grasped social skills – you’ll have to give him a bit of leeway, I’m afraid.”
As he said it, the man Davey reached us and to my surprised, grabbed me in a bear hug. Eep. I tried to look as happy about it as I could in the circumstances but I honestly think that Davey would have swung me round like a doll had Finn not grabbed his arm.
“Come on Davey, let the poor girl be. Just pleased to meet her, aren’t you?”
Davey kept grinning. “That I am. It’s properly nice to see you here, Miss Lily.” He inclined his head in a half bow. I didn’t know whether to thank him or curtsey, but settled for a smile and another handshake.
“Davey keeps an eye on everything, makes sure we’re all safe. Don’t you, Davey?”
“I do, aye I do that. Don’t want noone we don’t like coming through, do we miss?” I was having trouble understanding him – he spoke slowly and carefully, but his voice was so deep that it was difficult to make the words out. He seemed harmless enough though, and certainly eager to be friends.
Finn sat himself down on the grass. Outside the confines of the caravan his height wasn’t so noticeable, but he almost had to concertina himself to sit cross-legged with his back to the stones of the well.
Davey thumped down onto the grass and started fiddling with something in his hands, but I couldn’t see what it was. I felt silly being the only person left standing, so I took the only obvious action and slid down the wall behind me until I was sitting on the grass next to Finn. The sun was warm where it filtered through the trees and the silent company seemed comfortable rather than awkward.
I leaned my head back against the old bricks and closed my eyes - the warmth made me feel almost sleepy. We sat like that for a while, the three of us. It’s amazing how quickly I get used to being in a completely different environment - one where time means nothing.
My hands were loose on my lap and I felt something touch the back of my fingers. Opening one eye I saw Finn still sitting with his eyes shut, but with his hand now lightly resting on mine. Almost without thinking, I twined my fingers into his. A tiny smile crinkle the sides of his mouth, but his eyes didn’t open.
I smiled too, and lay my head back again. It was so peaceful, I could have sat like that for ages. But Davey’s deep voice broke the silence.
“Miss Lily, I made you a present. Would you like it?” He had a broad, almost cheeky smile, like a little boy who’s got the lid off the sweetie jar.
In his hands was a daisy chain, of all things. That must be what he’d been doing whilst Finn and I sat daydreaming. I’d never have thought that his chunky fingers would be capable of making something so delicate, but there it was.
Unfortunately his guess at the size of my wrist was a bit off - my new flower bracelet was miles too big.
So I made Davey laugh by balancing it precariously on my head instead, for all the world like the Queen of the Fairies. Hahaha - I’m not exactly elegant, I think the fairies would fire me for crimes against daintiness to be honest.
“How long have you been here, Davey?” I was curious - he must have originally come from somewhere local after all, and I wondered if he’d been here for long or whether I might still know his family. If so, where did they think he’d gone?
It’s confusing, all this ‘parallel universe’ lark - how do people get away with just disappearing from their daily lives without it being commented on?
Davey’s eyes had lost their twinkle, but he still smiled - a bit wistfully, I thought.
“I’ve been here a good while, miss. Not sure how long really. Finn was already here of course, and Miss Rebecca. It were before your aunt Maggie was around, there was another lady though. She was nice, but she left us. Didn’t she Finn?”
I was really curious now and looked over to where Finn still sat. He stayed leaning back against the wall but his eyes were open and he squinted against the glare of the afternoon sun that still came through the trees.
“Yeah, Emmie. Emmie was nice.” Finn half smiled. “She thought we were all mad, didn’t she, Davey?” Davey was nodding enthusiastically in agreement.
“So come on then,” I smiled encouragingly, “tell me about Emmie. I can’t imagine why she might suspect you all of being crazy - I mean, it’s not like you all live in a secret world inside the normal world, occupied only by people with tragic pasts, is it?” Finn grinned at my sarcasm - Davey showed no sign of understanding a word I was saying.
“So. Emmie. Young, old, pretty, gruesome old boot?” I know, I’m transparent - I couldn’t help myself, honestly. I just like to figure out how I measure up against my predecessors, is all.
Finn smiled lazily. “She was pretty. Bit older than you, Lily - not much, though. She was here before me, actually - it was Emmie that took me in after my mother died.”
So Emmie was Finn’s original saviour, then? For some reason I’d got it into my head that the woman he’d met when he first came to the Other Side was some sort of middle-aged, mumsy type. You know, that looked after him and made him wear a vest and cooked soup and things like that. Not some young pretty thing with fluttery eyelashes and glossy hair and, and...legs and stuff! Humph.
Not that I was going to let Finn know that it bothered me, oh no. I smiled brightly.
“Nice then, your Emmie? You were very lucky she was here - you know, to explain things and everything...” I trailed off and looked at him expectantly.
Finn laughed “Yes, I was lucky. Emmie was wonderful, she made a very difficult time bearable.”
I bet she bloody well did.
“She was so kind. Proper little Mother Nature, she was - always taking in waifs and strays, animal as well as human. She found your George for you Davey, didn’t she?”
Davey’s eyes shone - he evidently adored George, whatever George might be.
Davey saw the confused look in my eyes. “My cat, miss. Proper cuddly thing, George is.”
Finn’s rolling eyes suggested that George might not be quite as cuddly as Davey made out.
“Miss Emmie found him stuck in a trap. Nearly lost a leg, he had. She cleaned him up and he mended really good - she gave him to me ‘cos she thought we’d be friends. She was right you know!”
Yeah, I bet she was. Right about everything. Miss Bloody Perfect Nature Lover. Humph. Again.
“Why the face, Lil?” Finn was looking at me with innocent eyes, but I’d bet he knew exactly what was going on in my head.
“What face?! I’m just, you know, curious. I seem to be one in a very long line of female friends that you’ve had and I’m wondering how long I’ll last, that’s all.
“In fact - now I think about it, what happened to Emmie? Why isn’t she still here, if she was so marvellous?”
Ooh, getting a bit sharp there, whoops...
Finn smiled just as easily as before. “We’d have told you all about it, if you’d given us chance. Emmie got married and left us, didn’t she Davey? Her husband didn’t like her spending so much time in the woods alone, he said. He didn’t know about us. So she came here less and less often and eventually didn’t come at all.
“She met him in the village - she used to go back and forth a lot, taking in sewing and stuff like that. People didn’t ask questions of her - I guess that noone wanted to have to feel responsible if she’d had said she had no family. Not that she would have needed their help anyway - very independent, was Emmie” He grinned, as if at a distant memory.
“She met John, fell in love, and that’s all there was to it, really. I’d been here long enough to know how to look after myself, and Rebecca and Davey were around, so none of us were alone.
“We survived - we can manage without a Guardian, you know,” he winked at me, “but it’s easier if there’s someone from the outside that’s in on the ‘secret’ as it were.”
“Davey missed her terribly - although Emie was only young she was like a mum to you, wasn’t she?”
He patted Davey’s hand and the big man looked worryingly close to tears. His voice was gruff.
“I loved my mum, Miss Lily. She thought I was no good though. Said I was stupid and wouldn’t do nothing with my life. That last day, we had a proper argument - I tried to hug her but she said I was too old for all that nonsense and I should get out and learn to do stuff for myself. So I went to the village to see if anyone wanted any jobs doing, but they didn’t.
“And when I went home that night she wouldn’t open the door. It got cold, so I thought I’d go for a walk in the woods to warm up, and I saw a light.
“Turned out to be Miss Emmie’s lamp, it did. She took me in and made me a bed in front of the fire. Hardly said a word, just carried on with her sewing.
“Then next day she showed me where I could live on my own, with her nearby. I missed my mum something terrible” - he sounded a bit sniffly by this point - “but I got used to being here, especially once I got George.”
Davey looked up at me with a wobbly grin.
“Aye, but we don’t have to worry no more Miss Lily, cos you’re here to look after us! So things will be nice and normal again, won’t they? Won’t they, Mr Finn?”
Oh shit, what on earth am I getting into?! Nursemaid to an overgrown baby of uncertain years and apparent companion to a rather lovely yet annoying two hundred year old man. It feels like I’ve stepped into an episode of Doctor-bloody-Who.
I’m sure it can’t be real, I must just be having a series of intense dreams. Really intense dreams...
But it couldn’t be. Because I could feel the wall behind me and the sun on my face. And I was aware of thinking about whether it was a dream or not. Normally when that happens you know it’s a dream, yes? This felt ominously real, even down to the damp moss making my tights stick to the back of my legs. You’d think that fantasy worlds would at least be a bit glamorous, but nooooo...
The sinking sun reminded me that I had another home to get to - one that would involve a lot of explaining if I didn’t get back to it pretty sharpish.
It also occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea which part of the woods I was in, nor how to get back out. Pooch was still snuffling around happily but I wouldn’t trust him to find his way out of a paper bag, to be honest.
“I need to get home, Finn. They’re going to start asking questions with all the time I’m spending out of the house - it’s not as if I’m usually the world’s most enthusiastic dog walker.”
He opened one eye lazily and grinned at me. “Come on then lady, let’s get you back. I’m sure Davey will be happy to chat again another time.” Davey grinned enthusiastically and I suspected that I would know every last detail of his old life before too long.
Finn stood up and I was struck again by his height. Christ, that boy’s tall! Elegant with it, tho - not all gangly and awkward like most of the men I’ve been in contact with.
Men, ha! Boys, to be more accurate. Finn’s the first properly grown up man I’ve ever had a real conversation with, if you discount dad. Which I do - dad’s are out of bounds, so far as Deep and Meaningful is concerned.
My dad would go red and find an excuse to leave the room if I ever expected him to talk about anything more than what time he’ll be back from work.
“Bye, Davey.” I was almost sorry to leave him - he had a faraway look in his eyes, as if the person inside was lost and looking for a way out. But he just grinned and went back to picking daisies.
Finn took my hand and led me back to the path, but instead of following the track back the way we came he turned left through the trees and I followed him, Pooch at my heels. There was no noticeable trail, but Finn seemed sure of where he was headed. He was careful not to walk to fast for me and pulled brambles out of the way when needed.
As the undergrowth thinned out enough for us to walk next to each other he took my hand again, linking fingers and swinging them slightly as we walked.
I risked a sideways glance at him - he was looking straight ahead but the faint smile was back on his face. My fingers must have tensed in his, because he turned and caught me watching him.
“You okay, Lily? I know it’s a bit weird - it took me a long time to get my head around it all when I first came here.”
“You can say that again” I half laughed as I spoke, “I’m still wondering when I’m going to wake up.”
“You won’t wake up, Lily - this is real. Is that good or bad?” Finn looked genuinely concerned. We’d stopped by this point and were stood looking at each other, still holding hands.
What was I supposed to say? I mean - finding a very attractive bloke in the middle of the boring old woods who seems to think I’m the answer to all his problems, now that isn’t a bad thing I guess.
But the fact that it seems to come with an awful lot of other obligations was worrying, to say the least. The most responsibility I’d had up to now was looking after Rachel’s gerbils the last time she was on holiday. And one of them died.
But I got the distinct impression that I didn’t have a choice in what was happening - that things would unfold the way they wanted to and I could either enjoy the ride or get dragged along anyway, kicking and probably screaming.
Bloody hell. Bloody, bloody hell. I really should have run away right there and then. Raced home and told mum I was having hallucinations and that I needed bed rest for a very, very long time. Probably in a nice quiet room with attendants in white coats.
But I’m not that sensible. Instead I gripped Finn’s hand and looked him straight in the eye.
“It’s good. Really good. I promise.”
And I just hoped that I would eventually come to believe my own words.